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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

A few weeks ago, I discussed a Quora thread explaining “how Apple sends technology back from the future.” The gist is that Apple is phenomenally good at managing its supply chain, particularly for innovative technologies that haven’t hit the market yet.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek expounds on that theme in its latest issue, beginning with the story of a green laser that Apple recently added to show whether MacBook cameras are on. Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows write:

Most of Apple’s customers have probably never given that green light a second thought, but its creation speaks to a massive competitive advantage for Apple: Operations. This is the world of manufacturing, procurement, and logistics in which the new chief executive officer, Tim Cook, excelled, earning him the trust of Steve Jobs. According to more than a dozen interviews with former employees, executives at suppliers, and management experts familiar with the company’s operations, Apple has built a closed ecosystem where it exerts control over nearly every piece of the supply chain, from design to retail store. Because of its volume—and its occasional ruthlessness—Apple gets big discounts on parts, manufacturing capacity, and air freight. “Operations expertise is as big an asset for Apple as product innovation or marketing,” says Mike Fawkes, the former supply-chain chief at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and now a venture capitalist with VantagePoint Capital Partners. “They’ve taken operational excellence to a level never seen before.”

Well worth a read.

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Judging by all the ads I saw on my commute this morning, Capital One has rolled out a new marketing campaign. At least half-a-dozen ads on my Metro car announced that Capital One offers interest rates that are five times higher  than offered by their competitors:

And what is that 5x interest rate? Just one percent.

Such are times–and bank marketing–when short-term rates are almost zero.

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Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, gave subscribers some good news yesterday:

We are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password … in other words, no Qwikster.

As a long time subscriber, I can only say Hallelujah.

But I am not surprised. Hastings has changed course sharply before. Most famously, he killed off a set-up box–the Netflix Player–just weeks before its scheduled launch. I take that as a sign of great leadership. As I wrote two years ago:

Reed Hastings is not a man who gets locked in by sunk costs: he’s willing to kill projects … even if he’s got years invested in them.

That’s a real strength. I am sure he regrets the decision to move toward Qwikster, but kudos to him for reversing course.

P.S. Netflix’s corporate culture was the subject of one of my most popular posts. Favorite line: “Adequate performance gets a generous severance package.”

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Over on Quora, an anonymous author has a fascinating post about another dimension of Apple’s and Steve Jobs’ brilliance–managing its supply chain:

  1. Apple has access to new component technology months or years before its rivals. This allows it to release groundbreaking products that are actuallyimpossible to duplicate. Remember how for up to a year or so after the introduction of the iPhone, none of the would-be iPhone clones could even get a capacitive touchscreen to work as well as the iPhone’s? It wasn’t just the software – Apple simply has access to new components earlier, before anyone else in the world can gain access to it in mass quantities to make a consumer device. One extraordinary example of this is the aluminum machining technology used to make Apple’s laptops – this remains a trade secret that Apple continues to have exclusive access to and allows them to make laptops with (for now) unsurpassed strength and lightness.
  2. Eventually its competitors catch up in component production technology, but by then Apple has their arrangement in place whereby it can source those parts at a lower cost due to the discounted rate they have negotiated with the (now) most-experienced and skilled provider of those parts – who has probably also brought his production costs down too. This discount is also potentially subsidized by its competitors buying those same parts from that provider – the part is now commoditized so the factory is allowed to produce them for all buyers, but Apple gets special pricing.

Apple is not just crushing its rivals through superiority in design, Steve Jobs’s deep experience in hardware mass production (early Apple, NeXT) has been brought to bear in creating an unrivaled exclusive supply chain of advanced technology literally years ahead of anyone else on the planet. If it feels like new Apple products appear futuristic, it is because Apple really is sending back technology from the future.

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The New York Federal Reserve just posted an entertaining analysis of an “Internet blooper” that struck UAL, the parent company of United Airlines a few years ago. As authors Carlos Carvalho, Nicholas Klagge, and Emanuel Moench note in a blog post:

On September 8, 2008, a six-year-old article about the 2002 bankruptcy of United Airlines’ parent company resurfaced on the Internet and was mistakenly believed to be reporting a new bankruptcy filing by the company. This episode caused the company’s stock price to drop by as much as 76 percent in just a few minutes, before NASDAQ halted trading. After the “news” had been identified as false, the stock price rebounded, but still ended the day 11.2 percent below the previous close. Trading volumes skyrocketed during these extreme price movements. In subsequent days, the stock traded as much as 17 percent below its September 8 closing price, and on September 15 it finally traded above the price level seen just before the false news impacted the market.

In short, it took a week for the stock market to flush the “blooper” out of its system.

They then confirm that result using much more sophisticated techniques that allow them to estimate what UAL’s stock price would have been absent the false news:


For bonus points, they also find that similar, but smaller effects on the stock prices of other major airlines.

ht: Paul Kedrosky.

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About a month ago, I remarked on Groupon’s explosive revenue growth (and its equally impressive cost growth).

The company revised its financial results yesterday, and the revenue picture looks less explosive. In the latest update of its S-1 registration statement, Groupon reported $393 million in Q2 revenues. That’s a remarkable figure for such a young company but a far cry from the $878 million it previously reported.

And what happened to the almost $400 million in missing revenue? That money–payments to the merchants who provide goods and services for Groupons–is now subtracted before reporting revenue rather than deducted after as an expense. In short, Groupon went from a gross measure of revenue to a net one.

The bad news for Groupon is that the new presentation makes the company appear less than half as big as it did previously. The good news, I suppose, is that its expenses went down by the same amount.

Groupon’s effort to go public has been one of the bumpier ones in recent memory. Its first filing emphasized a profit measure, essentially profits before less marketing expenses, that was widely ridiculed. That got dropped in the second draft. And now a gigantic restatement of revenue in the third draft. Not to mention, the company’s recent difficulties with the SEC’s quiet period requirements.

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Daily deal leader Groupon continues to grow its revenues at a jaw-dropping pace. According to its updated S-1 filing, the company sold $878 million in Groupons in the second quarter, ten times more than a year earlier:

However, costs have been exploding too. Groupon spent almost $1 billion in Q2:

Put it all together, and Groupon has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars:

Small compared to the billions and trillions of red ink the federal government confronts, but still a formidable problem. Particularly given all the other players in this space, including a certain search company whose $6 billion acquisition offer Groupon spurned last year. I would have taken the money and run. But perhaps I am not seeing the secret ingredient that will give Groupon a persistent competitive advantage in the face of vigorous competition.

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