A behind-the-scenes account of how Travis Kalanick was ousted from Uber as chief executive officer.
In an excerpt from his new book The Everything Store, Brad Stone explores how Jeff Bezos turned Amazon into an online retailing giant—and tracks down Bezos’s biological father:
“I found Ted Jorgensen, Jeff Bezos’s biological father, behind the counter of his bike shop in late 2012. I’d considered a number of ways he might react to my unannounced appearance but gave a very low probability to the likelihood of what actually happened: He had no idea what I was talking about. Jorgensen said he didn’t know who Jeff Bezos was and was baffled by my suggestion that he was the father of this famous CEO.
“I mentioned Jacklyn Gise and Jeffrey, the son they had during their brief teenage marriage. The old man’s face flushed with recognition. ‘Is he still alive?’ he asked, not yet fully comprehending.
“‘Your son is one of the most successful men on the planet,’ I told him. I showed him some Internet photographs on my smartphone, and for the first time in 45 years, Jorgensen saw his biological son. His eyes filled with sorrow and disbelief.”
What the Facebook founder did to outmaneuver his competitors, and the challenges he faces to keep employees motivated and investors happy after the IPO:
“One area Facebook will have to prove itself in is mobile. Earlier this month, it amended its public filings with the SEC to disclose that it doesn’t collect any meaningful revenue from smartphones and tablets, and its failure to do so is dampening per-user revenue. Mobile has flummoxed the company for years. In 2008, Jobs asked Facebook to present its iPhone app at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity himself, Zuckerberg sent a Facebook engineer and a marketing manager to handle it. They did such a poor job in auditions attended by Jobs and other Apple executives that Apple pulled them from the presentation, according to the person, who declined to be named for fear of alienating both companies.”
Inside CEO Dick Costolo’s efforts to perfect the company’s revenue model and compete with Google and Facebook for ad dollars:
“Twitter still makes money with licensing deals—Microsoft pays to get a real-time feed of tweets for its search engine, Bing. But Costolo firmly established the company’s primary identity as a communications tool that lets advertisers contribute content along with other users free of charge—and then pay extra to make their messages more prominent. The centerpiece of Twitter’s plans, what Costolo calls ‘the atomic unit of our ad strategy,’ is the ‘promoted tweet,’ a message from an advertiser that appears near the top of a user’s feed. Advertisers pay only when a user ‘engages’ with the tweet—retweets it, say, or clicks on a link. The more people click on an ad, the more the ad appears. Twitter executives trumpet an engagement rate of 3 percent to 5 percent, compared with less than 0.5 percent for normal banner ads.”
Former Time Warner Book Group CEO Larry Kirshbaum jumps from the traditional publishing world to “the dark side,” heading up Amazon Publishing. Meanwhile, the Big Six watch closely:
“Amazon could be an unstoppable competitor to big publishing houses. If history is any guide, Jeff Bezos, who declined to comment for this story, doesn’t care whether he loses money on books for the larger cause of stocking the Kindle with exclusive content unavailable in Barnes & Noble’s Nook or Apple’s iBookstores. He’s also got almost infinitely deep pockets for spending on advances to top authors. Even more awkwardly for publishers, Amazon is their largest retailer, so they are now in the position of having to compete against an important business partner. On the West Coast people cheerfully call this kind of arrangement coopetition. On the East Coast it’s usually referred to as getting stabbed in the back.”
Depending where you fall on the spectrum between civil liberties absolutism and homeland security lockdown, Palantir’s technology is either creepy or heroic. Judging by the company’s growth, opinion in Washington and elsewhere has veered toward the latter. Palantir has built a customer list that includes the U.S. Defense Dept., CIA, FBI, Army, Marines, Air Force, the police departments of New York and Los Angeles, and a growing number of financial institutions trying to detect bank fraud. These deals have turned the company into one of the quietest success stories in Silicon Valley—it’s on track to hit $250 million in sales this year—and a candidate for an initial public offering. Palantir has been used to find suspects in a case involving the murder of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent, and to uncover bombing networks in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. “It’s like plugging into the Matrix,” says a Special Forces member stationed in Afghanistan who requested anonymity out of security concerns. “The first time I saw it, I was like, ‘Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.’”
Jeff Bezos is channeling Steve Jobs. It’s mid-September and the wiry billionaire founder of Amazon.com is at his brand new corporate headquarters in Seattle, in a building named “Day One South” after his conviction that 17-year-old Amazon is still in its infancy. Almost giddy with excitement, Bezos retrieves one by one the new crop of dirt-cheap Kindle e-readers—they start at $79—from a hidden perch on a chair tucked into a conference room table. When he’s done showing them off, he stands up, and, for an audience of a single journalist, announces, “Now, I’ve got one more thing to show you.” He waits a half-beat to make sure the reference to Jobs’ famous line from Apple presentations hasn’t been missed, then gives his notorious barking laugh. With that, Bezos pulls out the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s long-anticipated tablet computer—and the first credible response to the Apple iPad.
“There are compromises on not being in China, and there are compromises on being in China. It’s not clear to me which one is bigger,” she says. Three people familiar with these internal deliberations say that Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg fundamentally disagree on the issue. Zuckerberg believes that Facebook can be an agent of change in China, as it has been in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. Sandberg, a veteran of Google’s expensive misadventures in the world’s most populous country, is wary about the compromises Facebook would have to make to do business there.
Vince Thompson doesn’t appear in any accounts of Facebook’s early years. Few of the more than 2,000 employees at the company even know his name. The AOL veteran’s brief stint as Facebook’s first official ad-sales chief lasted less than six months. Even so, when Thompson left the company in early 2006, he exercised his options to buy Facebook stock, as is the custom in Silicon Valley, and took a sizable chunk of shares with him. About 18 months later he moved to Los Angeles and started consulting for media clients such as TVGuide.com on how to tap new sources of revenue, and he began to think about how to create one for himself. He set out on a quest, talking to friends in the New York investment banking world about an unorthodox idea: selling a portion of his Facebook shares, packaged with those of a colleague who left Facebook shortly after he did.
In the 1.0 era, which ran from 1996 to 2001, Page and Brin incubated the company at Stanford University and in a Menlo Park (Calif.) garage. In 2001 they ushered in the triumphant 2.0 era by hiring Schmidt, a tech industry grown-up who’d been CEO of Novell. Now comes the third phase, led by Page and dedicated to rooting out bureaucracy and rediscovering the nimble moves of youth.