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THE WORLD’S 50 MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES THE BUSINESSES THAT MATTER MOST IN 2017
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CONTENTS March 2017
Drone Racing League melds sports, tech, and entertainment into a memorable spectacle. See page 90.
THE WORLDâ€™S 50 MOST I N N O VAT I V E C O M PA N I E S Our annual guide to the businesses that matter the most. Begins on page 24
HIGHLIGHTS Innovation Lessons for 2017 18 How to achieve impact in a time of constant change. By Robert Safian
Most Innovative Alumni 20 Updates on Target, Moleskine, Boeing, and more.
Top 10 Lists 92 The most innovative companies in 28 sectors, from advertising to virtual reality.
The Future Is Here 108 Ten past Most Innovative
Production: Ville Gobi Andersson
honorees that signaled business and cultural developments to come.
On the cover: Photograph by Peter Hapak This page: Photograph by Tobias Hutzler
March 2017 FastCompany.com 7
HIGHLIGHTS No. 1 / Prime Time for Amazon 26 The e-commerce giant is amping up its membership program and taking bold leaps into the real world. By Noah Robischon
No. 2 / Google Pictures Perfect 32 With the help of unparalleled computing resources and a dash of AI, your photographic memories are becoming searchable.
No. 5 / Snap, Crackle, Pop 34 Snapchat’s future is so bright, it had to make its own shades. By Mark Wilson
No. 7 / Netflix Streams Ahead 42 The entertainment empire is bringing the serendipity back to channel surfing.
“Snapchat is nice because it isn’t a bulletin board of nowirrelevant things like Twitter is,” says screenwriter and Snapchat star Kelly Oxford. “It disappears.” See page 36.
10 FastCompany.com March 2017
Photograph by Aaron Feaver
HIGHLIGHTS Nos. 11–16 / China Leads the Way 46 How Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi, BBK Electronics, Huawei, and Dalian Wanda are setting the global standard for big ideas. By Austin Carr
Nos. 24–28 / Conversation Theory 5 6 Glossier, Kenzo, Clique Media Group, Hypebeast, and RewardStyle convert personality-driven content into sales.
No. 29 / The Internet’s Good Samaritan 6 6 GoFundMe spreads positivity to help deserving fundraising campaigns go viral. By Ainsley Harris
No. 31 / Microsoft Makes the Honor Roll 71 Minecraft allows the company to turn learning into an otherworldly adventure.
No. 36 / Casper Goes to the Mattresses 76 The fast-growing startup is launching a playful assault on sleepless nights. By Jonathan Ringen
Glossier founder Emily Weiss uses social media to bring her customers into cosmetics creation. See page 56. 12 FastCompany.com March 2017
Photograph by Shae DeTar
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES 2017 Top 50
Most Innovative Companies Index A–C Abbott Chicago PAGE 92
ABB Robotics Shanghai PAGE 96
AccorHotels Issy-les-Moulineaux, France PAGE 97
Activision Blizzard Santa Monica, California
Bandier New York
CJ 4DPlex Seoul
ESPN Bristol, Connecticut
General Motors Detroit
BBK Electronics Dongguan, China PAGES 46, 92
Beautiful Destinations New York
PAGES 46, 92, 94
AliveCor Mountain View, California PAGE 94
Amazon Seattle PAGE 26
Ammunition San Francisco PAGE 93
Andela New York PAGE 92
Anki San Francisco PAGE 96
Ant Financial Hangzhou, China PAGE 93
Ethereum Zug, Switzerland
Beyond Meat El Segundo, California
PAGES 89, 94
PAGES 92, 97
Blue Origin Kent, Washington
CyPhy Works Danvers, Massachusetts
Facebook Menlo Park, California
Boom Centennial, Colorado PAGE 97
Braeburn Pharmaceuticals Princeton, New Jersey PAGE 92
BuzzFeed New York PAGES 50, 95, 97
Byju’s Bangalore, India PAGE 94
Carnival Cruise Line Miami PAGES 93, 97
Casper New York PAGE 76
Celmatix New York PAGES 88, 92
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Menlo Park, California
D–F Dalian Wanda Beijing PAGES 46, 92, 94
DataKind New York
PAGES 40, 95, 96, 97
FieldLevel Pacific Palisades, California
GoFundMe San Diego
Descartes Labs Los Alamos, New Mexico
FocusMotion Los Angeles
Didi Chuxing Beijing
Forerunner Ventures San Francisco
Disney Burbank, California
Foursquare New York PAGE 93
PAGES 94, 97
Foxconn New Taipei City, Taiwan
DJI Shenzhen, China
iCarbonX Shenzhen, China
Livspace Bangalore, India
IEX New York
Lola New York
Illumina San Diego
L’Oréal New York
Illumination Entertainment Santa Monica, California
PAGES 52, 94
Madison Wells Media Chicago
Instagram Menlo Park, California
Intuit Mountain View, California PAGE 93
The Guardian London
PAGES 94, 95
PAGES 90, 96
G–I GE Fairfield, Connecticut
Halo Neuroscience San Francisco PAGE 93
Headspace Santa Monica, California PAGES 85, 93
Hive New York
Dyson Malmesbury, England
GE Healthcare Little Chalfont, England
The Home Depot Atlanta
Ingo Stockholm Stockholm
Drone Racing League New York
14 FastCompany.com March 2017
PAGES 54, 92
Cheddar New York
PAGES 44, 94, 96
Levita Magnetics San Mateo, California
iRobot Bedford, Massachusetts
FX Networks Los Angeles
Chobani Norwich, New York
IBM Armonk, New York
Gro Intelligence New York
PAGES 32, 92, 93, 96, 97
Fulwell 73 London
Google Mountain View, California
Hypebeast Hong Kong
Bandcamp San Francisco
Good Ventures San Francisco
Kobalt New York
PAGES 94, 97
Droga5 New York
China Aerospace Science and Technology Beijing
PAGES 56, 95
Kymeta Redmond, Washington
The Charity Network New York
GolfTEC Centennial, Colorado
Hulu Los Angeles
PAGES 46, 92
Iris AI Oslo
Fund for Public Housing New York
Goldman Sachs New York
Huawei Shenzhen, China
Frog San Francisco
PAGES 66, 96
Green Mountain Power Colchester, Vermont
PAGES 33, 94
Atlantic Records New York
PAGES 56, 96
PAGES 74, 94
Digit San Francisco
Glossier New York GoEuro Berlin
Farmers Business Network San Carlos, California
Domino’s Ann Arbor, Michigan
GiveDirectly New York Global Kinetics Corporation Cape Town, South Africa
Blue River Technology Sunnyvale, California
Alibaba Hangzhou, China
Adobe San Jose
PAGES 50, 93, 97
Color Genomics Burlingame, California
Get Schooled New York
Etho Capital Pittsburgh
Airbnb San Francisco
Esri Redlands, California
PAGES 74, 93
Clique Media Group Los Angeles
HTC New Taipei City, Taiwan
Iroko Lagos, Nigeria PAGE 92
Marriott Bethesda, Maryland PAGES 81, 97
Medtronic Dublin PAGES 82, 92
MFS Africa Johannesburg PAGE 92
Microsoft Redmond, Washington PAGE 71
Moog Music Asheville, North Carolina
Johnson & Johnson New Brunswick, New Jersey
Moon Express Cape Canaveral, Florida
Kaiser Permanente Oakland, California
The Movement for Black Lives Nationwide
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
Musical.ly San Francisco
Otherlab San Francisco
Naritiv Venice, California
OVO Sound Toronto
NASA Washington, D.C. PAGE 93
Netflix Los Gatos, California PAGES 42, 93
Netmarble Seoul PAGE 94
NetScout Westford, Massachusetts PAGE 95
Radiotopia Cambridge, Massachusetts
SkyQuest Gujarat, India
Taco Bell Irvine, California
Slack San Francisco
Tait Lititz, Pennsylvania
UpGrad Mumbai, India
Snap Venice, California
TaskRabbit San Francisco
PAGES 34, 93, 96, 97
PAGES 86, 93
Social Tables Washington, D.C.
Tencent Shenzhen, China
Vail Resorts Broomfield, Colorado
PAGES 46, 92, 96
Tesla Palo Alto
Respawn Entertainment Sherman Oaks, California
PAGES 93, 97
Sonnen Bavaria, Germany
Thinx New York
Venables Bell & Partners San Francisco
Restart Life Fall City, Washington
PAGES 94, 97
SOSV Princeton, New Jersey
TodayTix New York
Refinery29 New York PAGE 95
P–R Parker Institute San Francisco PAGE 92
Parkwood Entertainment New York PAGE 95
Patagonia Ventura, California PAGE 96
Related Companies New York
New Story San Francisco
PatientsLikeMe Cambridge, Massachusetts
Resy New York
NextVR Laguna Beach, California
Paytm Noida, India
PAGES 81, 94
ReverbNation Durham, North Carolina
Niantic San Francisco PAGE 97
Nike Beaverton, Oregon
Peloton New York PAGE 93
PicoBrew Seattle PAGE 94
PAGES 93, 96
Pinterest San Francisco
Nintendo Kyoto, Japan
Njorku Buea, Cameroon PAGE 92
Noora Health Stanford, California PAGE 94
Norwegian Air Bærum, Norway
The Players’ Tribune New York
PAGES 74, 94
Open Whisper Systems San Francisco PAGE 51
Orbital Insight Palo Alto PAGES 72, 96
SpaceX Hawthorne, California
R/GA New York
Verily San Francisco PAGE 94
Wilderness Safaris Gaborone, Botswana PAGE 92
The Wirecutter New York PAGE 95
WME IMG Los Angeles PAGES 94, 95
Work & Co Brooklyn PAGE 93
World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator Munich PAGE 94
Transloc Durham, North Carolina
Vivint Smart Home Provo, Utah
YouTube San Bruno, California
Vox Media New York
PAGES 94, 97
Twilio San Francisco
Rocket Labs Los Angeles
PAGES 44, 93, 95
Pledge 1% San Francisco
Sprinklr New York
PAGES 84, 95
Sacramento Kings Sacramento
Powerhive Berkeley, California
SafeMotos Kigali, Rwanda
Prisma San Francisco
Scopely Culver City, California PAGE 94
The Shade Room Los Angeles PAGE 96
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Osterhout Design Group San Francisco
SirionLabs Gurgaon, India
16 FastCompany.com March 2017
Verdigris Mountain View, California
Rivigo Gurgaon, India
Qlik Radnor, Pennsylvania
Wieden+ Kennedy Portland, Oregon
Sphero Boulder, Colorado
TrademarkVision Brisbane, Australia
Venmo New York
ProPublica New York
WeWork New York
Visa Foster City, California
PlaySight Kefar Sava, Israel
Tough Mudder Brooklyn
Velodyne Lidar Morgan Hill, California
Propeller Madison, Wisconsin
Wevr Venice, California
TransActive Grid Brooklyn
Spire San Francisco
One Medical San Francisco
Nvidia Santa Clara, California
Robinhood Palo Alto
Podozi Lagos, Nigeria
Omada San Francisco
SoundHound Santa Clara, California
PAGES 84, 97
University Interscholastic League Austin
Stanford University Stanford, California
Twitch San Francisco
The Washington Post Washington, D.C.
PAGES 94, 95
Twitter San Francisco
Wasserman Los Angeles
PAGES 95, 96, 97
Stratolaunch Systems Seattle
Uber San Francisco
WaterQuest Hydroresources Management Orem, Utah
Sweat With Kayla Adelaide, Australia PAGE 93
Sweetgreen Los Angeles PAGE 94
Swiss Federal Railways Bern, Switzerland PAGE 97
Sworkit Rockville, Maryland PAGE 93
PAGES 33, 97
Under Armour Baltimore
Wearable X New York
United Airlines Chicago
WeChat Shenzhen, China
Universal Robots Odense, Denmark
WeFarm London PAGE 92
PAGES 46, 92
Zebra Medical Vision Kibbutz Shefayim, Israel PAGE 92
Zipline San Francisco PAGES 96, 97
Zoomcar Bangalore, India PAGE 94
Zuvaa New York PAGE 92
NUMBERS 21st Century Fox New York PAGE 95
23andMe Mountain View, California PAGE 92
2K Novato, California PAGE 94
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FROM THE EDITOR
1 . YO U C A N ’ T PAT E N T I N N O VAT I O N .
LESSONS OF INNOVATION FOR 2017 On September 4, 1921, my grandfather arrived in the United States, 17 years old, with just $25 in his pocket. He became a dressmaker, and in 1937 received a patent for what he called “a new, original, and ornamental design for a Dress Ensemble.” While my grandfather has been gone for many years, I recently asked my uncle about the patent. He claimed that the actress Elizabeth Taylor once wore the dress it describes in a photo shoot for Seventeen. In many ways, my grandfather was an innovator. He launched his own business, and thrived in the teeth of the Great Depression. But beyond our family, his impact was modest. His business closed when he retired. It never achieved scale or left a mark on our culture. This personal story underscores just how difﬁcult it is—and how rare—for even a successful business to break through. Which is part of what makes putting together our annual 50 Most Innovative Companies list such a challenge. Our reporting team sifts through thousands of enterprises each year, searching for those that tap both heartstrings and purse strings and use the engine of commerce to make a difference in the world. Impact is among our key criteria. This year marks the 10th edition of our Most Innovative Companies ranking. Looking back on that history, there are plenty of eye-opening lessons (see my article “Ten Innovation Lessons of the Past 10 Years” on fastcompany.com). This year’s list offers a brand-new slate of forward-looking ideas, from Amazon to Snap, Open Whisper Systems to Orbital Insight. My grandfather would be amazed by the radical, fast-paced changes of these companies. Here are 10 observations about the current state of the innovation economy.
Amazon and its chief, Jeff Bezos, have been defying expectations for more than two decades. The question is: How? Executive editor Noah Robischon sat down with Bezos, and what he learned (page 26) points not to data metrics and rigorous processes— which Amazon deeply relies on—but rather to a willingness to embrace uncertainty, experimentation, and messy inconsistencies. Not everything in the Amazon world is orchestrated for perfection. Bezos doesn’t just tolerate this; he enjoys it. What he understands is that each critical new idea may arise in a different way, from a different source.
2 . YO U T H W I L L BE SERVED. When Fast Company’s ﬁrst Most Innovative Companies list came out, Snapchat didn’t exist. Neither did Airbnb or Uber, Slack or Spotify. The rise of these businesses illuminates the risks that established industries face, and how tastes in modern culture are shifting faster than ever. Younger consumers expect newer, better products all the time. That reality can’t be ignored. And what starts out serving the youth will soon serve us all. As senior writer Mark Wilson notes in his terriﬁc assessment of Snap (page 34), “The only people who underestimate Snap are those who don’t take the time to see what’s right in front of their face.”
3. CHINA IS FOR REAL. Robert Safian email@example.com
18 FastCompany.com March 2017
Six of the companies on this year’s list are
Chinese—more than we’ve ever had before. This was not a strategic objective of ours but a natural result of our bottom-up reporting. The days of dismissing Chinese businesses as mere copycats are long gone. As senior writer Austin Carr reports (page 46), an innovation ecosystem has taken hold in China that is arguably more competitive than Silicon Valley. Outﬁts like Alibaba and Tencent are so forward-focused, even the best U.S.-based businesses have to take note and—with increasing frequency—they ﬁnd themselves playing catch-up. As one source tells Carr regarding the apps Alipay and WeChat, “There is no comparison with anything in the U.S. Maybe Facebook eventually gets there—maybe.”
4 . T H E ‘‘U N D E N I A B LE S’’ ARE BACK. Historically, only a half dozen or so of our 50 Most Innovative Companies are repeats from the prior year. This time, 12 are returnees. That’s because these enterprises continue to set the pace for their industries, showing agility and aggressiveness that makes them undeniable. Netﬂix (page 42) opened up its platform to the majority of the world, and followed that up by adding ofﬂine viewing, a devilishly complex legal and business maneuver. Uber (page 33) pulled a Uturn in its China business, only to double down on self-driving cars. Airbnb (page 50) moved into bookings and is exploring ticket sales, and BuzzFeed (page 50) took the germ of an idea, Tasty, and built a huge success. Google (page 32) is disrupting photo storage,
sharing-economy ideas to mobile-phone data plans in the developing world: Why shouldn’t people be able to sell bandwidth, that they’ve paid for but haven’t used, to others? And then there’s Orbital (page 72), which analyzes satellite imagery to “understand what we’re doing on the earth and to the earth,” as founder James Crawford puts it. While Orbital’s revenue largely derives from ﬁnancial ﬁrms, it’s partnered with the World Resources Institute to help with detecting and stopping deforestation.
7. I N N O VAT I O N H A S A SOUL.
Snap looks at the world differently–in part because it looks different itself. See page 34.
and Apple (page 33) is delving deeper into chip making. Whatever distractions other businesses may face, these leaders seem impervious. They are setting their own course, and everyone else is being forced to follow.
Celine Grouard (Safian)
5 . WAT C H O U T F O R T H AT C L U S T E R ! Some changes are felt before they are seen, an underground tremor that puts us just a bit off balance. That often happens when a group of small yet creative players are deftly disrupting the same area. Beginning on page 56,
we highlight a quintet of companies—Glossier, Kenzo, Clique Media Group, Hypebeast, and RewardStyle—that use content as the engine for commerce. Elsewhere, we highlight Beyond Meat (page 89) and Chobani (page 44), two examples of health-driven disruptions in the food business. One Medical (page 74), Medtronic (page 82), Celmatix (page 88), and Headspace (page 85) point to a wave of coming techcentered changes in the medical ﬁeld, regardless of what policy makers do in D.C.
6 . LITTLE E N G I N E S CA N B L O W YO U R M I N D . Some tech observers critique the way investment dollars are disproportionately allocated to startups aimed at rich, coastal, urban elites—and there’s certainly some basis for that concern. But there are also plenty of groundbreaking operations in other arenas. Farmers Business Network (page 74), for instance, is pooling data and buying power for individual farmers to help them better compete with agribusiness. Simplify Networks (page 89) is a Malaysian outﬁt applying
Clockwise from top left: Photograph by Cru Camara; Ramona Rosales; Eric T. White; Lyndon French
Not every new venture is about making money. Some are about giving it away. Pledge 1% (page 84) is targeting startups with a novel message: Along with setting aside a percentage of your business’s proﬁts for employees and investors, why not take a portion and give it to a cause? Another tactic is at the heart of GoFundMe (page 66), a crowdsourced fundraising utility that has applied the model of Kickstarter and Indiegogo to personal giving—and already generated $3 billion.
8 . W H AT ’ S M U N D A N E C A N B E FA B U L O U S . Who cares about mattresses? As it turns out, a whole lot of people. In just a few years, Casper (page 76), which sees itself as the Nike of sleep, has built a $200-million-ayear operation on just four products. Thinx (page 80) is addressing a different need: menstrual leakage. CEO Miki Agrawal is attacking an unappreciated
arena in our male-centric marketplace—and making millions.
9. GUTS CAN LEAD T O G L O RY. Many of the businesses and services that we love are powered by unseen forces that are essential to their success. Netﬂix, for instance, operates on the back of Amazon Web Services, a $13 billion business inside the e-commerce giant. Twilio (page 44) provides tools to app developers—also including Netﬂix. IBM (page 54) has unleashed its Watson technology to bring AI capabilities to industries from professional sports to health care. MailChimp (page 89) helps myriad small businesses operate with more sophistication and efﬁciency. And then there’s Open Whisper (page 51), whose security protocol not only underpins its own app but is helping Facebook provide its users with safer, more secure communications.
1 0 . F O C U S O N W H AT YO U C A N C O N T R O L . If there’s a single thread that runs through this year’s list, it’s the importance of focus. Over the past year, the nation’s political dialogue offered many reasons for uncertainty and pause. And yet the one sure recipe for obscurity in today’s world is stasis. Culture will keep moving, and those enterprises that move with it—that attack their missions with fearlessness— will ﬁnd themselves in the strongest position to weather whatever political or economic disruption comes our way.
March 2017 FastCompany.com 19
M O S T I N N O VAT I V E C O M PA N I E S Updates from the MIC alumni
Nokia MILESTONES The Nokia brand is returning to phones after being licensed to HMD Global. The $26 Nokia 150 has a monthlong battery and doesn’t look too far off from the Nokia you loved in the mid-aughts. CHALLENGES Nokia/HMD is entering into an especially crowded Android marketplace, where many companies don’t ever reach profitability. In addition, the Google Play Store is currently not available in China, which is the new Nokia 6 smartphone’s first market. BUZZ
Nestlé Scientists at Nestlé figured out how to cut sugar in chocolate by 40%, by making it dissolve quicker to trick the taste buds. Products will roll out in 2018, with gradually reduced sugar so consumers don’t no tice a difference. CHALLENGES Eightythree percent of Nestlé’s revenue comes from its slow-growing food and beverage divisions, compared to rival Unilever’s 43% in those sectors. MILESTONES
OUT OF THE BIG BOX Target The idea of a massive store that looks the same in every region is a thing of the past, at least for Target. In its place is a highly curated version tailored for dense urban areas. “How do we keep our store experience relevant?” asks Mark Schindele, Target’s SVP of properties. “We customize, we evolve, and we understand our guests.” In 2017, Target will roll out 28 new ﬂexible-format stores, double the number it opened in 2016. The company’s ﬁrst small-store effort, 20 FastCompany.com March 2017
City Target, which launched in six locations in 2012, averaged about 100,000 square feet, still too big a footprint for major cities. The company faced a challenge: how to condense even more while providing customers with a total Target experience. Flex formats shrink the size to as little as 12,000 square feet and tailor merchandise to speciﬁc neighborhoods. They also dropped the special moniker: All Targets, regardless of the size or shape, would be known as Target. Manhattan got its ﬁrst ﬂex-format Target in October, in the Tribeca neighborhood, which has been ﬂooded with stylish young families. The two-story outpost emphasizes apparel, toddler, and baby sections. (It’s also the only Target so far to include a Chobani yogurt café in place of the now-standard Starbucks.)
Target, which once stood for consistency and endless choice, now wants to be adaptable, streamlined, and quick—the company can research a new site and have doors open within a year. “We look at what needs aren’t being met by a neighborhood,” Schindele says. “And then we meet them.” —Claire Dodson
CHALLENGES Walmart attempted a similar curated-retail experiment with its Express stores but couldn’t nail the formula. It closed 102 of its smaller format locations in 2016.
MILESTONES The solar energy systems maker is accelerating production of its cost-efficient Series 6 module by a year (it will begin in 2018) and scrapping a planned Series 5 edition. CHALLENGES The move is part of a restructuring that laid off more than 25% of its workforce in an effort to better compete in an overstocked market and recoup lost profits.
MILESTONES Target recently hired former Walmart exec Shekar Natarajan to fill the new role of SVP of network planning and operational design. He is tasked with harnessing tech to speed up Target’s supply chain.
Illustration by Laura Breiling
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M O S T I N N O VAT I V E C O M PA N I E S
MILESTONES Augmentedreality pioneer Blippar has added real-time recognition to its app, letting users scan more than 70,000 faces and pull up related info. It’s like Shazam for public figures. CHALLENGES Blippar must contend with heightened competition from open-AR apps like Vuforia Studio Enterprise, which simplifies AR for businesses. BUZZ
Zaha Hadid Architects MILESTONES The Londonbased architecture firm is set to build the world’s first all-wood stadium for the Forest Green Rovers soccer team in Stroud, England. The sustainable structure will have the lowest amount of embodied carbon of any stadium worldwide. CHALLENGES Principal Patrik Schumacher recently came under fire for calling for the privatization of public spaces. The firm condemned the remarks, saying they were not consistent with the late Zaha Hadid’s way of thinking. BUZZ
Boeing MILESTONES Boeing has reorganized its military and commercial support into a new unit, Boeing Global Services, and has hired former GE Aviation exec Kevin
McAllister to lead its commercial airline business. CHALLENGES In December, Donald Trump tweeted that the order for Boeing’s new Air Force One should be canceled due to what he claimed was a $4 billion cost, causing its stock to slip 1.6%. BUZZ
McDonald’s MILESTONES McDonald’s is selling its operations in China to state-owned Citic. The move allows McDonald’s to reap franchise fees while Citic uses its expertise to better target Chinese customers. CHALLENGES The cost of labor is going up, and the chain’s revenue is still struggling to recover after drops in 2014 and 2015. It’s hard to keep McDonald’s franchisees happy when innovations like new digital kiosks come with a price tag of nearly $60,000 apiece. BUZZ
Rent the Runway MILESTONES In December, the clothing rental company raised a $60 million round of funding and became profitable with $100 million in 2016 revenue. It also launched its first flagship store in New York: 5,000 square feet with personal stylists and store associates who tap into user data to personalize the shopping experience. CHALLENGES Rent the Runway has partnered with Neiman Marcus to open RTR boutiques inside its department stores, which could be risky with Neiman Marcus’s recent revenue struggles, down 4.1% in 2016’s fourth quarter. BUZZ
22 FastCompany.com March 2017
PUTTING SMART PEN TO PAPER Moleskine The success of Moleskine’s classic notebooks in a digital age has been compared to the resurgence of vinyl records or Polaroid cameras. But Moleskine knows that its future hinges on its ability to work in tandem with digital technology. A year ago, Moleskine released its Smart Writing Set, a pen and notebook that converts handwritten notes seamlessly from the page to an app. The company is now taking that idea a step further, leveraging its celebrated Timepage calendar app to work in conjunction with a new physical planner set to be released in 2017. Users can take a snapshot of the day’s to-dos, which the software will recognize and integrate with Timepage. Eventually, the tech could operate like the Smart Writing Set. “We don’t see analog and digital as antagonistic dimensions in the lives of real people,” says CEO Arrigo Berni. To that end, Moleskine continues to ramp up its physical pres-
ence. In addition to opening 40 new retail stores by the end of 2018, the company is working on building out its Moleskine Cafés, which it built in Milan in 2016 and in the Geneva airport in 2015. Inspired by the café littéraires of the 17th century, these storefronts are part art gallery and part meeting space, and they also sell Moleskine products. In addition, Moleskine is expanding the company’s limited-edition notebook selection, which features characters from Hello Kitty, Harry Potter, Marvel and DC, Game of Thrones, Toy Story, and more. Moleskine, being Moleskine, manages to give them a chic spin. “There’s an emphasis on design and creativity with everything we do,” Berni says. “As a brand, we stand for the possibility of expressing yourself in all different forms.” —Claire Dodson MILESTONES Belgian vehicle importer D’Ieteren acquired Moleskine in 2016, giving it a new valuation of almost $600 million. CHALLENGES The brand will have to preserve its creative cachet as it grows so that it doesn’t lose its cult following—as when Starbucks lost the coffee diehards. BUZZ
MIR (Hadid); Celine Grouard (Moleskine)
ONE CAN’T JUST BUILD SOMETHING TRULY ITALIAN. ONLY HISTORY CAN. ©2017 FCA US LLC. All Rights Reserved. ALFA ROMEO is a registered trademark of FCA Group Marketing S.p.A., used with permission.
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C O M PA N I E S
“Our job,” says Amazon CEO Bezos, “is to invent new options that nobody’s ever thought of before and see if customers like them.”
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
0 1|A M A Z ON FOR OFFERING EVEN MORE, E V E N FA S T E R A N D SMARTER By Noah Robischon
Picture your ideal neighborhood. What does it look like? Is it manicured, with buildings set in a pattern so that everything ﬂows together, designed for perfection? Or is it gritty and spontaneous, the kind of place where a restaurant might move into the space that used to house a dry cleaner? Boxes bearing the Amazon logo can arrive at doorsteps in either of these environments, of course, but Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, prefers the second type. “I think neighborhoods, cities, and towns that have evolved are more interesting and delightful than ones that have been carefully top-down planned,” he tells me when I meet him at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in November. “There’s just something very human” about them, he says. It’s a surprising answer from a man known for his disciplined adherence to Six Sigma–style processes and data-driven decision making. But it’s also revealing. Over its nearly 22 years, Amazon has moved into one sector after another and gentriﬁed it, even if that meant tearing down its own existing structures. Amazon’s Echo smart speaker rose on the lot where its Fire Phone ﬂamed out. The latest version of Amazon’s streaming music service, Amazon Music Unlimited, was constructed on top of its initial music store, Amazon MP3, which opened nine years ago. Amazon Studios’ Emmy Award–winning original TV shows are built upon a crowdsourcing platform that the company ﬁrst introduced in 2010 for aspiring scriptwriters. Even the company’s fashion business—Amazon is now the second-largest seller of apparel in the U.S., according to Morgan Stanley—evolved from brand experiments in outdoor furniture (2004), home goods (2008), electronic accessories (2009), diapers (2014), and now perishables such as organic, fair-trade-certiﬁed coffee. Unlike Apple, Google, and Microsoft, Amazon is not ﬁxated on a tightly designed ecosystem of interlocking apps and services. Bezos instead
Photograph by Peter Hapak
March 2017 FastCompany.com 27
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
emphasizes platforms that each serves its own customers in the best and fastest possible way. “Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service,” he says. “And I love that. It’s super-motivating for us.” That impulse has spawned an awesome stream of creative ﬁrsts. Just this past year, Prime Video became available in more than 200 countries and territories, following the November debut of The Grand Tour, Amazon’s mostwatched premiere ever. Twitch, the streaming video-game network that Amazon acquired “OUR CUSTOMERS ARE in 2014, unveiled its ﬁrst three LOYAL TO US RIGHT UP original titles from its recently UNTIL THE SECOND formed studios. Amazon inSOMEBODY OFFERS THEM vested millions in startups that A BETTER SERVICE,” CEO will build voice-control apps for BEZOS SAYS. “AND I LOVE the intelligent assistant Alexa THAT. IT’S SUPERand give her thousands of new MOTIVATING FOR US.” skills. The company opened two dozen new fulﬁllment centers, became the largest online store in India, and made its ﬁrst delivery by autonomous drone in the United Kingdom. Bezos’s strategy of continuous evolution has allowed the company to experiment in adjacent areas—and then build them into franchises. The website that once sold only books now lets anyone set up a storefront and sell just about anything. The warehouse and logistics capabilities that Amazon built to sort, pack, and ship those books are available, for a price, to any seller. Amazon Web Services, which grew out of the company’s own e-commerce infrastructure needs, has become a $13 billion business that not only powers the likes of Airbnb and Netﬂix, but stores your Kindle e-book
Amazon Gets Physical THE E-COMMERCE G I A N T I S N O W F U L LY E N T R E N C H E D IN T H E R E A L W O R L D. H E R E ’ S W H E R E .
TECH HARDWARE Kindle: Popular for a decade and currently in its eighth generation, the e-reader continues to have few rivals (mainly Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Kobo). Fire OS devices: The company’s Fire TV settop boxes and Fire sticks (cheaper, pared-down versions of the boxes) made up 22% of the streaming-media device market in 2015, beating out Apple TV. The $50 Fire tablet has become a popular competitor to the much pricier iPad.
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Dash button: These small, internetconnected tabs that users can push to instantly reorder products are finally catching on: Amazon now carries Dash buttons for more than 200 brands. Echo: The Alexa-embedded smart speaker, which can respond to certain voice commands and integrate with other devices, has given Amazon a healthy head start in the connected-home category (to Google’s chagrin) with an estimated 5 million–plus units sold since late 2014.
library and makes it possible for Alexa to tell you whether or not you’ll need an umbrella today. Amazon is a singular enterprise, one that rises to the top of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list because it has continued to be nimble even as it has achieved enviable scale. To truly understand how Bezos is meshing size and agility in 2017, though, you need to look beyond sales ﬁgures ($100 billion in 2015) and the stock price (up more than 300% in the past ﬁve years) and consider three initiatives that drive Amazon today: Prime, the company’s rapidly proliferating $99-per-year membership program; an incursion into the physical world with brick-and-mortar stores, something the company has long resisted; and a restless rethinking of logistics, epitomized by a new fulﬁllment center an hour outside Seattle that features high-tech robots working alongside human workers like a factory of the future. Our mobile-ﬁrst, on-demand world ﬁnds its roots in Amazon’s founding idea: that digital commerce will radically reshape our marketplace. The company’s impact has already been staggering. In January, the nonproﬁt Institute for Local Self-Reliance conducted a survey of nearly 3,000 independent businesses, half of them retailers, asking them to cite the biggest threats they faced. Competition from chains and big-box stores, health care, ﬁnding employees, and rising rents all ranked near the bottom as modest concerns. “Way above everything was competition from Amazon,” says ILSR codirector Stacy Mitchell. (The study also found that Amazon’s expansion in 2015 led to a net loss across all businesses of 149,000 jobs.) Despite all the twists and surprises in recent decades— all the newcomers with youth, funding, and can-do enthusiasm—Amazon remains the undisputed leader, a startup at heart still striving to remake our expectations. And to repeatedly remake itself.
Household items: AmazonBasics comprises more than 800 products, ranging from USB cables to bath towels; under various other brand names, the company also sells baby wipes (Amazon Elements), laundry detergent (Presto!), and organic, fair-trade coffee and nuts (Happy Belly). Apparel: Amazon rolled out eight proprietary clothing lines in 2016, including Buttoned Down, a menswear brand available only to Prime members.
Airplanes: The company has leased 40 planes for its exclusive use and reportedly plans to have them all in operation by the end of 2018. Last August, it unveiled a Boeing 767-300 bearing the Amazon Prime logo. Trucks: Amazonbranded semis have been cruising highways since late 2015, when the company purchased a fleet to transport inventory. (The company is also looking seaward: Its China subsidiary received a license to ship ocean freight last year.)
Nearly all of Amazon’s most recent innovations share a connection to Prime, which by some estimates accounts for 60% of the total dollar value of all merchandise sold on the site. Between 40 million and 50 million people in the United States use Prime, and, according to Morgan Stanley, those customers spend around $2,500 on Amazon annually, more than four times what nonmembers spend. (Amazon refuses to offer any hard numbers related to Prime membership—that would be competitor focused rather than customer obsessed, as the executives there say—but it will conﬁrm that Prime members spend more and shop across a greater number of categories than other users.) If you somehow manage to take advantage of every Prime membership feature, it’s undeniably a good bargain. Along with free two-day shipping for millions of products, and tens of thousands of items available at your door in an hour or less through Prime Now, there is one-hour restaurant delivery, a free e-book a month (including the entire Harry Potter series), and ad-free viewing of a streaming video-game channel on Twitch—all included in the annual fee. You can get early access to Amazon’s best deals, 20% off diapers, and unlimited photo storage. For a few more dollars, Prime can be upgraded to include unlimited audiobooks, grocery delivery, and a subscription to HBO that can be watched on Amazon’s Fire TV streaming media player. More than 50 “beneﬁts” were added for members around the globe in the second half of 2016 alone, says Greg Greeley, Amazon’s global VP in charge of Prime. “I would like to say that the team thinks, ‘Oh, boy, we’ll take a deep breath here,’ ” he says. “But the way this company [is], it wouldn’t surprise me if we continue to keep accelerating.” What Amazon Prime is selling most of all is time. Every executive I spoke to, when asked about how it all ﬁts together, cites this desire to get you whatever you want in
Drones: A bag of popcorn and a Fire TV became Amazon’s first official drone deliveries, to a farmhouse in En gland in December. The company plans to test its Prime Air service further and, eventually, deliver packages to customers anywhere in less than 30 minutes. Robots: Thanks to its acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012, Amazon controls some 30,000 robots around the globe, which it fully incorporated last year to maximize warehouse and retail efficiency.
the shortest window possible. Stephenie Landry, the Amazon vice president who launched Prime Now in 2014 and has overseen its expansion into 49 cities in seven countries, explains that her business merely has to answer two questions: “Do you have what I want, and can you get it to me when I need it?” The rest of the customer experience is built around answering both questions in the afﬁrmative. The more products and services Amazon is able to cram into Prime, the more likely users are to renew their membership and buy more stuff, which gives “THE WAY THIS COMPANY Amazon more data about their [IS], IT WOULDN’T tastes and what they are likely SURPRISE ME IF WE to buy next. That information CONTINUE TO KEEP is used to spin out new prodACCELERATING,” SAYS ucts and services, such as the GREG GREELEY, AMAZON’S Dash button, which replenishes HEAD OF PRIME. popular items with a tap, and Alexa, which is built, in part, for shopping. “You can just say, ‘Alexa, reorder toothpaste,’ ” says Bezos. “And it knows which kind of toothpaste.” That’s why he has repeatedly called Prime the company’s “ﬂywheel”: a device used in engines that provides constant energy. It is both an accelerant to Amazon’s forward motion and a beneﬁciary. Bezos says that people have been asking him for 20 years whether he would ever open physical stores. The answer, consistently, has been no. “I’ve answered pretty much the same way the whole time, which is that we will if we have a differentiated idea,” Bezos tells me. Yet today, suddenly, Amazon has four concepts in the works. Why the shift? In part it links (Continued on page 98)
At the Amazon Go store, set to open to the public in Seattle this year, customers will be able to simply walk off with merchandise. (Their accounts will be billed automatically.)
R E TA I L Bookstores: Five new brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstores are set to open in the U.S. this year, bringing the total to eight. Grocery stores: “No lines, no checkout” is how the company describes the forthcoming Amazon Go, a smartphone-integrated retail experiment, currently open to beta users in Seattle (and to the public in early 2017). The company looks to be building larger grocery concepts as well. —Kim Lightbody
March 2017 FastCompany.com 29
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
02|GOOGLE FOR DEVELOPING A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY
At its best, Google marries awesome computing resources with algorithmic intelligence to create popular services that no one else can match: Search, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube have been massive hits because they centralize content and make it easy to ﬁnd what you want. With an estimated 1 trillion–plus images now taken annually, storing and presenting photos has become Google’s next big project—and a powerful way to pull users even further into its orbit. “We thought we could apply machine intelligence in an impactful way around photos and videos to make it easier [for users] to enjoy what they create,” says VP of Google Photos Anil Subharwal. Launched
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in May 2015, Google Photos coalesces a user’s images across hard drives and devices, as well as closet shoeboxes, thanks to the PhotoScan app, which debuted last November and digitizes old prints. Drawing from Google’s image-recognition and AI capabilities, the service’s Assistant feature can also curate images into movie montages, animations, and collages. (One movie format, called Lullaby, stitches together images of your sleeping baby.) More than 200 million users have embraced Google Photos—an indication of how the company’s restless invention continues to transform culture. “People still scroll [through images] today,” Subharwal says. “We plan to do more to make even that ﬁrst page of recent photos smarter.” Illustration by Brian Stauffer
03 | UBER For accelerating autonomous driving While experts debated whether self-driving cars would be commercially available in 5 or 10 years, Uber raced ahead and put vehicles on the road. Last August, it launched a program in Pittsburgh that allowed people to summon a self-driving car from their phones. At the same time, Uber acquired autonomous-trucking startup Otto. Together, these moves put the company, valued at $68 billion, at the forefront of transportation’s next wave. “The biggest asset and advantage [of our self-driving efforts] is being part of the larger Uber network,” says Raffi Krikorian, engineering director at the company’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. 1
A smart pilot Uber deliberately chose Pittsburgh for its first fleet because of the city’s erratic weather and winding roads. “If we can drive in Pittsburgh, we [know we] have the features we need to go and drive in other cities,” Krikorian says. The project has since expanded to Phoenix. 2
Automotive allies Last summer, Uber signed a $300 million deal with Volvo, which provides the company’s current fleet of humanassisted self-driving cars. The partners intend to debut a fully autonomous one by 2021. 3
Connected roads In October, Otto completed the first self-driving 18-wheeler delivery (of 50,000 cans of Budweiser). “[One day] our self-driving Ubers will [be able to] drive highways because the truck team is tackling it,” says Krikorian, “and the trucks will drive in cities because Ubers are [there].” Illustration by Tavis Coburn
0 4|A P P L E FOR BAKING IN I T S A D VA N TA G E S Apple isn’t, at its core, a chip company, yet its silicon engineering group shipped four microprocessors in 2016, each paired to a new product, including the iPhone 7 and AirPods. Apple’s commitment to designing the very foundations of its hardware, rather than merely buying them off the shelf, gives it a sustaining advantage in creating the most compelling consumer-electronics experiences. “We pick the projects where we feel like we can make a difference—the big customerimpacting features,” says Anand Shimpi, who works on hardware technologies at Apple. So the stunning depth-of-ﬁeld effect from the iPhone 7 camera? That’s directly enabled by the new A10 chip. “The actual production of the stored portrait image is because
of things that we put into the [image signal processor],” Shimpi says. As Apple has expanded into new product lines, its silicon team has had to ﬁgure out how to realize the vision of the company’s systems and design teams. And it can’t just shove the A10 where it doesn’t belong. The S2 chip, for example, was developed to give the second-generation Apple Watch its lauded performance improvements without sacriﬁcing battery life, and the magic trick of how AirPods simultaneously deliver music to two separate wireless devices is a direct result of programming embedded within their W1 chip. “We want to improve without compromise,” says Shimpi. It’s this mind-set that helped Apple’s “rebuilding year” of ﬁscal 2016 generate more than $215 billion in revenue and almost $46 billion in proﬁt. March 2017 FastCompany.com 33
0 5|S N A P FOR BRINGING CRACKLE A N D P O P T O A N E W WAY O F SEEING THE WORLD By Mark Wilson
On a late summer evening in Phoenix, a group of Alpha Chi Omega sisters sit in the stands of the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium and take selﬁes. They capture duck-face snaps with each other, with churros, and with each other with churros. A bored camera operator spots them in the outﬁeld stands, and two middle-aged MLB announcers have a ﬁeld day, mocking the women’s youthful self-absorption. “That’s the best one of 300 pictures I’ve taken of myself today!” one commentator cracks. “Here’s my ﬁrst bite of the churro!” chirps his coconspirator. “Here’s my second bite of the churro!” “Peralta knocks it into center! . . . And nobody noticed.” The clip went viral because, from the perspective of the MLB broadcast crew, the students seemed disconnected from events on the ﬁeld. But the sorority sisters weren’t living their lives for the TV cameras. They were, in fact, having a great time at the game—via Snapchat. Consumers, advertisers, inﬂuencers, media brands, and rivals are increasingly viewing the world through Snapchat’s lens. In the past 34 FastCompany.com March 2017
Photograph by Eric T. White
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
JULZ GODDARD Mission: Power publicist YesJulz lives her life on Snapchat, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses of cool parties and time with clients like Gucci Mane. “My Snapchat followers are like my family. They’ve seen me at meetings with a record label and going on roller coasters. They’ve seen everything.”
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
K E L LY O X F O R D Mission: The screenwriter and author uses Snapchat for storytelling (of course), sharing life’s funny moments. “As long as there’s an element of humor, it’s always a hit. Yesterday, I passed a restaurant where the sign looked like it said HUMAN TASTY. So many people from L.A. said, ‘I think that every time.’ ”
MANNY MUA Mission: The social beauty vlogger shows off his contouring with brands like Tarte and Benefit Cosmetics, while also offering a glimpse of his life beneath the makeup. “Snapchat allows me to be Manny on an everyday level. I get to show people a side of me I don’t ever get to show on Instagram or YouTube.”
18 months, the photo- and video-sharing app has released a slew of bold (and brazenly imitated) features, from absurdist digital masks to face-swapping to group chat, which have vaulted it to the vanguard of social communication. Snap, as the company is now known, claims more than 150 million daily users, and it reportedly exceeded its lofty goal to generate more than $300 million in revenue for 2016. Its introduction of location-based image enhancements, known as geoﬁlters, and Spectacles, its sunglasses that record 10 seconds of video from the wearer’s point of view, inspired genuine consumer fanaticism for augmented reality and wearable computing in a way that overhyped rivals from Magic Leap to Google haven’t matched. As Snap is expected to go public this year, deconstructing the principles underpinning its products is more important than ever. After all, the only people who underestimate Snap are those who don’t take the time to see what’s right in front of their face. When Snapchat rebranded last September to Snap, CEO Evan Spiegel proclaimed it a camera company. At ﬁrst blush, it’s a curious bit of branding—Kevin Systrom, founder of Snapchat rival Instagram, ardently argues that he runs a communications company—but Snap’s framing is intentional. Camera technologies have driven some of the most important developments in media. In 1888, Thomas Edison’s Kinetograph gave birth to motion pictures, and provided Edison with early control over the ﬁlm industry. In 1957, NBC upgraded to color broadcasting, largely so its owner, RCA, could sell color TVs. Kodak, once one of the world’s most valuable brands, continues to sell off imaging patents to a new generation of camera-obsessed companies, including Facebook, Google, and Apple. Visual information is a conduit for the digitized relationships of the modern era, and Snap effortlessly navigates this conﬂuence of image, communication, and entertainment. Its most impressive illusion is that its app design feels casual or even random, when in fact, it’s a carefully thought-out experience, constantly being honed for maximum engagement. Whether it’s offering up cartoon ghost Snapcode Stickers for you to add a new friend or puppy-nose ﬁlters to apply to your face, Snapchat’s interface reinforces that it’s for fun. “They treat their core product like a utility, and they aren’t overly precious about it, ” says Ryan Rimsnider, Taco Bell’s senior manager of social strategy. “And if they are, they certainly don’t act like it.” For the past two decades, user-interface design has put a premium on an intuitive placement of functions. By contrast, Snapchat forces users to play around. Its design operates like a speakeasy, requiring you to feel for the secret door or have a friend who knows the passcode to unlock the next room. Many of Snapchat’s features, such as long-pressing on your face to bring up ﬁlters or being able to convert yourself into an emoji, need to be discovered. Adding people to follow, whether they’re celebrities or your friends, is another clandestine game, one that rewards good creators rather than merely famous people. And Snap doesn’t generally issue press releases announcing app updates, preferring that users are surprised when they ﬁnd new features on their own. Snapchat is therefore free to experiment more aggressively than competitors with UI shifts and features— and even break its own rules without breaking the app.
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This is why Snapchat has been able to evolve from only allowing photos taken in the moment, which would disappear in 10 seconds, to adding Memories, which makes old content searchable, without a revolt. Ultimately, what Snap offers users is control. “They just want to provide crazy tools that enable fans to create stories with no end,” says Rimsnider. Take Snapchat’s augmented-reality lenses. These silly ﬁlters solve an important problem: They give people something to do when they share. Puking a digital rainbow, one of Snapchat’s photo enhancements, is a prop to overcome stage fright when messaging friends. Stories, a collection of images and video that capture a user’s day and last 24 hours, has become the centerpiece Photograph by Aaron Feaver
of the Snapchat experience. “Snapchat is the reality show about your life that you shoot and edit yourself,” says Jason Stein, CEO of both the marketing agency Laundry Service and Cycle, a media startup. Indeed, some of the most renowned Snapchatters, such as Julz Goddard (better known as YesJulz), effectively use the app to produce a series starring themselves. “I was talking to different networks about a reality show, but I wasn’t really excited about other people having creative control over my content and my image,” Goddard says. “Then I was like, Wow, this Snapchat is incredible. Everyone in the world can have their very own television network.” Snap is watching what its users create and deploying those insights to woo Hollywood talent to embrace the platform as a new entertainment medium. The company Photograph by Ramona Rosales
is in talks with talent agencies and media companies to create scripted and unscripted “Snapchat shows” for the platform. The Snap twist, according to one Hollywood insider: The four-minute-long series would be divided into 10- to 60-second chapters, much like users’ Stories are structured. When Snap internally produced its own test program—the election-year series Good Luck America—it even had the crew shoot host Peter Hamby off-center, at arm’s length, to create the impression that he was ﬁlming himself. In dealings with traditional media partners such as NBC, which creates The Voice on Snapchat and a recurring Jimmy Fallon segment, Snap has offered shot-by-shot analytics from Good Luck America, showing how pacing that’s too slow, or shots that are too dull, will lose viewers in the middle of a video. Ultimately, Snap sees user-generated March 2017 FastCompany.com 37
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
DESIGNER REBECCA MINKOFF COMPARES SPECTACLES TO A PARTY DRESS OR SHOES, AN OVERT PIECE OF FLAIR THAT CALLS ATTENTION TO ITS INTENT. and Hollywood content evolving codependently, with each building off the other. Similarly, Snap’s advertising business directly beneﬁts from the tools it creates for Snapchatters. The design team that builds Snap’s consumer features also creates its advertising products; every tool for marketers began its life delighting users. For example, Snapchat’s Discover channels, which feature original content from media brands such as 38 FastCompany.com March 2017
National Geographic and Vice, introduced the idea that you swipe up to learn more about a given story. “After months of training the behavior,” says Kenny Mitchell, Gatorade’s director of consumer engagement, “Snapchat then launched Snap Ads that allow for consumers to swipe up to get more info.” Snap’s most intriguing ad product has been sponsored lenses, which has attracted the world’s best brand marketers, including Disney, McDonald’s, and Starbucks. For Cinco de Mayo, Taco Bell released a ﬁlter that turned people’s heads into, yes, giant tacos. By most estimates, Taco Bell spent between $500,000 and $750,000 on a ﬁlter that was viewed 224 million times in a single day. That’s double the views of a Super Bowl ad for one-tenth the price, and, unlike TV viewers, Snapchat’s audience is actively using, sharing, and having fun with an ad. Users are already accustomed to adorning their faces with gags to make their friends laugh, so it doesn’t matter that the gag is sponsored. Snap goes so far as to measure what it calls “play time”—how long a user might toy with a giant taco on their face, even if they never take a photo Photograph by Molly Matalon (Kan); Cru Camara (CyreneQ)
wearing it. Because it’s still valuable engagement. “They’re really trying to make social ads suck less,” says Winston Binch, chief digital ofﬁcer of Deutsch North America, which works closely with Taco Bell’s social strategy team. “They’re not trying to reappropriate other digital advertising norms. They want to maintain the integrity of the experience.” In November, Snap introduced yet another strategy to make its platform even more addictive, capable, and advertiser-friendly: hardware. Snap Spectacles transform Snapchat the app into a brash sunglasses-camera that takes circular videos. Spectacles, or Specs, as Snap employees call them, eliminate that ﬁnal point of friction of pulling a phone from one’s pocket to capture life’s spontaneity. They encourage sharing by design: When they initially pair with your phone, Specs actually ﬁlm your ﬁrst snap without warning. (After that, a tap of the frame initiates recording.) “Having a pair has already made a dent in the type of content I’m making,” says Mike Platco, a Snapchat artist and inﬂuencer. “It has made me more excited to post ‘in the moment’ videos Photograph by Lyndon French
that are less focused on a large narrative and more about bringing my audience in on the cool stuff I get to do.” Recently I wore Specs during a Chicago birthday bar crawl, capturing scenes that I’d never have ﬁlmed with my phone. Walking into each dive felt Scorsese-esque as I ﬁlmed it, as if I was shooting my own Goodfellas, but grittier. With both of my hands free to stuff my face, I captured a late-night tamale run as a tube of masa ﬂying right below the camera. If I wanted a selﬁe, I had to have one of those cinematic moments of staring placidly into a bathroom mirror. Unlike Google Glass, which prompted “Glasshole” bans at New York and San Francisco bars, Specs are designed to be nonthreatening. (A playfully twirling LED light broadcasts that they’re ﬁlming.) Spectacles ingeniously package this face camera into something that people might actually want to wear. “It’s a classic shape reinvented,” says fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff of the Ray-Ban–inspired shades, which come in black, coral, and teal. She thought Glass was hideous, but compares Spectacles to a party dress or shoes, an overt piece of ﬂair that calls attention to its intent rather than hiding it. Specs, which Snap conspicuously branded a “toy” when it announced them last fall, are likely just the ﬁrst physical camera that the company will introduce. Reports have circulated that it has considered other forms of wearable cameras, as well as drones. Snap has already tested selling a number of pieces of ofﬁcial merchandise, such as beach towels and backpacks, that hint at how the company thinks about bridging the real and digital worlds. When Snapchat introduced ofﬁcial playing cards, they were more or less a normal deck of cards, save for one thing: They came with instructions for a game called SnapKings. To play, a group of friends in the same room sets the cards on the table, but the game unfolds on Snapchat itself. If you draw a 3, you are instructed to “Snap yourself while making your grossest selﬁe face.” If you pull out a 9, you have to “Bust a rhyme for a 10-second Snap.” Much as with lenses, the cards initiate a Snap session, transforming a mellow Friday night into fodder for an expanding universe of good times. Despite Snap’s relentless creativity and distinct perspective, its future success isn’t assured. Facebook has been rapidly adding Snapchat-like features into Facebook, WhatsApp, and, most notably, Instagram. The rise of Instagram Stories, the 24-hour video-sharing tool that blatantly mimics Snapchat Stories, precipitated Snap’s decision to pursue an IPO, according to one source. “It deﬁnitely caught them off guard,” says a person who does business with Snap. “It’s a huge threat.” With Facebook trying to choke off its rival’s global expansion, investors could also inhibit Snap’s progress by dogging its stock if user and revenue growth don’t exceed the high bar Facebook set for social media. But Spiegel and company understand instinctually that power has shifted. The kids know what they’re doing. They know what they like. And Snap isn’t afraid to tell media companies and advertisers, Hey, shoot this more like the kids do. What those career baseball broadcasters missed as they jeered the Alpha Chi sisters? Those duck-faced women were now the ones in control of the cameras, and they have countless stories to tell. Additional reporting/writing by Jeff Beer, Claire Dodson, and Nicole LaPorte
JUSTIN KAN Mission: The self-proclaimed “Professional Snapchat Q&A Answer Giver” and Y Combinator partner uses Snapchat to mentor young entrepreneurs. “People like the feeling of access that is very raw, unedited, and inspirational. I’m kind of a life coach for thousands of people.”
CYRENEQ Mission: The former Verizon web designer collaborates with such brands as Walmart and Disney to make pop art, including an adventure series starring Frozen’s Anna and Elsa. “On Snapchat, only you can see the engagement. And that’s the best kind of thing to lessen the pressure to post something great.”
KENNY MITCHELL Mission: Gatorade’s director of consumer engagement is reaching teen athletes via programs such as its Super Bowl Dunk lens (160 million views) and even a seven-minute animated film featuring Usain Bolt. “Part of what differentiates Snap Ads is its immersiveness. It’s full-screen with sound on.”
March 2017 FastCompany.com 39
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
0 6|FA C E B O O K FOR LAUNCHING THE RIGHT A D S AT T H E RIGHT MOMENT
“It’s creativity with technology,” says Facebook’s Sandberg of the company’s efforts to develop ad products that drive sales.
Photograph by Mark Mahaney
Facebook’s 1.8 billion users helped it generate more than $26 billion in 2016 revenue—with roughly 80% of it from mobile ads. But scale is only part of what’s driving that dazzling success: COO Sheryl Sandberg and her team have been relentlessly experimenting with how to make ads more compelling despite the limitations of small screens. “Creativity’s never been so important,” Sandberg says. “When TV ads [ﬁrst appeared], people thought the creative was important. Then when you moved into online, what really mattered was the targeting. What we’re [now] seeing on the Facebook platform is that it’s both.” Over the past year, Facebook rolled out several new mobile ad formats, including fullscreen, 360-degree video, and interactive ads that let users swipe, tilt, and zoom through carousels of images. And to help advertisers experiment with and make sense of these products, in November Facebook debuted the Creative Hub, a platform for businesses and agencies to mock up, share, and test ads. With Facebook’s growing focus on video, it’s also encouraging marketers to adapt their materials speciﬁcally to the social network (rather than just repost ready-made TV spots). When Sony Pictures added subtitles to its movie trailers last spring and recut them into a more news feed–friendly square format, it found them ﬁve times more effective in raising awareness than standard reposted previews. “You can’t just take your ads that were on the last platform and then port them over to the new one,” Sandberg says. Facebook is also enabling a more direct connection between online engagement and real-world commerce. Already some brands have used targeting to double the revenue yield from news-feed campaigns, such as when Celebrity Cruises showed users trip itineraries based on Facebook’s insights into where they were planning to visit. The next step is letting users complete the transaction without leaving the platform. In October, Facebook turned its Events calendar into a stand-alone app, allowing groups of friends to, say, buy concert tickets through the service, thanks to its relationships with Ticketmaster and Eventbrite. “We’re thinking about how to make Facebook more useful,” says Andrew Bosworth, VP of ads and business platform. “We’ve got 60 million businesses [with ofﬁcial pages] on the platform. We’ve got 1.8 billion people. All we need to do is connect them.” The marriage of social recommendations with commerce is rapidly attracting advertisers: 4 million on Facebook, 500,000 on Instagram. As Sandberg says, “We want to help them move products off shelves and drive cars off lots.”
March 2017 FastCompany.com 41
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
07|NETFLIX FOR MAKING SURFING FUN AGAIN “When you turn on your TV,” says Chris Jaffe, VP of user-interface innovation at Netflix, “you’re used to things being loud and happening.” That’s what led Netflix to roll out a major UI upgrade in December, replacing static poster images with custom-created preview videos that automatically play when you scroll over a title card. The redesign encourages Netflix’s more than 93 million subscribers to serendipitously discover what to watch rather than tediously browse its catalog and wonder if something is worth sampling. The upgrade, a company-
42 FastCompany.com March 2017
wide effort that took nearly three years, demonstrates Netflix’s commitment to stand out from competitors such as Amazon for more than just content (though Netflix is planning to produce 1,000 hours of original shows in 2017 and plow $6 billion into its library, numbers that far outpace its rivals). The company also recently unleashed Download and Go, which allows users to watch shows like Stranger Things and The Crown offline. “We started  by making Netflix available everywhere,” says Jaffe of the company’s then-surprise expansion into 130 new countries. “We ended it with making sure you could take it anywhere with you.” Illustration by Matt Rota
Slack is where work happens, for millions of people around the world, every day.
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
08|TWILIO FOR GIVING APPS A VOICE
There’s a good chance you use Twilio’s technology daily, though that may come as a surprise. The text message saying your Uber arrived? Twilio sent it. When you lose your Netﬂix password? Twilio delivers the new one. The company, which went public last June and saw its third-quarter revenue jump by 62% to $72 million, sells a diverse set of cloud services that help developers program voice, message, and video communications into apps. “Companies need to support the communications their customers want to use,” says cofounder and CEO Jeff Lawson. Here’s how he’s giving businesses more options.
Customizable alerts Twilio’s new Notify product helps companies determine the best way to reach users based on their preferences, including SMS, Messenger, Apple push notiﬁcation, and Google cloud-messaging service. Nike uses Notify to alert customers when a new shoe drops.
Simple video calls Last year, Twilio began allowing developers to embed videoconferencing within any app. IBM uses the function in a new service called Bluemix that enables doctors at a specialized cancer clinic in Texas to video-chat directly with patients, eliminating long commutes for routine checkups.
Global compatibility Twilio works with more than 1,000 wireless carriers around the world, saving developers the task of coding for each network. Yelp used Twilio to build a global text-based reservation system for restaurants, and Crisis Text Line switched to Twilio’s SMS platform to expand internationally.
09 | CHOBANI
10 | SPOTIFY
For stirring it up in the grocery store
For enticing artists with data
Greek yogurt giant Chobani may sell a smooth product, but it isn’t afraid to play rough. Last year, it poked its rivals General Mills and Dannon with an ad campaign suggesting their yogurts contain unappetizing additives. And its Mezé Dips serve as a direct counter to PepsiCo’s Sabra hummus brand (the soda giant tried to buy a major stake in Chobani early last year). Chobani’s aggressiveness extends to its product development: The company has been expanding to win a greater share in the overall yogurt category, where it generates more than $1.5 billion in revenue annually. In 2016, it launched a new line of yogurt drinks, more variations on its Flip mix-in product, additional yogurt flavors, and a concept café inside a Target in Manhattan. The drizzle of honey on top came last spring when CEO Hamdi Ulukaya rewarded his employees with hundreds of millions in shares. “One thing I always say is, ‘I don’t want more, I just want to do more,’ ” he says of his strategy for investing in others. “Whatever I see in the world that discourages me, I answer with Chobani.”
The leading music service has been plowing even further ahead, adding algorithmically smart playlists like Fresh Finds and Release Radar to its uncannily good Discover Weekly. Its 100 million users—40 million of whom subscribe—can also now integrate Spotify into matchmaking apps Bumble and Tinder. Meanwhile, listening patterns produce data the company can use to identify artists’ superfans and woo musicians to embrace Spotify as a promotional tool. “Artists want to put the fan first,” says Troy Carter, the superstar manager who leads Spotify’s creator services. “We can give them what they want.”
44 FastCompany.com March 2017
Illustration by Jamie Cullen
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
1 1 –1 6 | A L I B A B A , T E N C E N T, X I A O M I , B B K E L E C T R O N I C S , H U AW E I , D A L I A N WA N D A FOR RAMPING UP THE PA C E F O R T H E W O R L D By Austin Carr
In October, Steven Spielberg, the highest-grossing ﬁlm director of all time, traveled to Beijing for a meeting with Jack Ma, China’s second-richest man and the cofounder of Alibaba, one of the most valuable internet companies in the world’s second-largest economy. Together, they inked a deal that gives Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company the ﬁnancial backing of the e-commerce giant, along with its marketing savvy and substantial distribution power—the elusive keys, in other words, to making a truly global blockbuster. Ma, a ﬁlm buff who reportedly loves The Godfather and calls Forrest Gump his hero, had circled Hollywood for some years, and even committed $1.5 billion to a ﬁlm fund that helped bankroll and market Star Trek Beyond and Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, but this was his ﬁrst direct alliance. At a press conference announcing the deal, the titans, dressed alike in dark suits with cups of tea between them, heaped praise on each other. “I never thought in my life I’d see this legendary master,” Ma told the crowd in Beijing, while touting the “cultural bridge” they were building. Spielberg declared that the deal will allow them to “bring more China to America, and bring more America to China.” The sight of Spielberg, the quintessentially American storyteller, seated alongside Ma, the quintessentially Chinese tech entrepreneur, was more than just a signal of China’s growing inﬂuence on the ﬁlm industry.
Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez
March 2017 FastCompany.com 47
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
It was also the latest in a string of recent developments illuminating just how much Chinese companies are inﬂuencing some of the most innovative and important U.S. businesses. With a market that some observers argue has become the most dynamic in the world, China has become a colossal source of capital and creative thinking well beyond its shores. Increasingly, it is leading the way in everything from mobile software and services to devices and entertainment. And it’s accelerating the pace for the rest of the world, whether or not consumers know it. Alibaba is just one of a slew of ambitious Chinese tech companies that has been at the forefront of the convergence between China and America. What they have in common is a birthplace that’s more crucible than cradle. This year, the Chinese box ofﬁce will likely eclipse the U.S.’s. So too could the value of venture-backed investments in China, which approached $50 billion last year (up 943% since 2013). China now ties or tops the U.S. market in online retail, mobile device sales, digital payments, gaming, renewable energy investments, and more. With more than half of its 1.37 billion citizens online, 90% of them via smartphone, China has seen an explosion of tech behemoths and upstarts driving innovation hubs like Beijing and Shenzhen to become more hypercompetitive than even Silicon Valley. Less than a decade ago, China’s reputation was for spinning out shameless copycats of Western products, but today the model has been ﬂipped. Spurred by an inﬂux in VC dollars and talent, increased product sophistication, and a market maturing to meet the unique demands of China’s population, “you ended up with this different evolution from the rest of the world, a continental internet broken off from the Pangaea, which led to different interfaces, different market dynamics,” says Calvin Chin, CEO of Shanghaibased accelerator Transist Impact Labs. Then things really picked up steam. “Imagine The Hunger Games,” says Connie Chan, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who analyzes the Chinese technology industry. “[It comes down to] the sheer size [of the country]. For any one company in the U.S., there might be 10 equivalents in China. In order to survive, you have to iterate that much faster.” This kind of rivalry has catapulted social media platforms WeChat and Alipay well past their American counterparts. When WeChat, which is owned by Tencent, launched six years ago, it was a mere chat app, while Alibaba’s Alipay basically acted as a PayPal for the company’s e-commerce marketplaces. But in fewer than two years, WeChat gained 200 million users, and soon expanded into mobile payments, a move that Alibaba’s Ma called a “Pearl Harbor attack” on his company. The ﬁerce competition led to a spree of innovations, which, by 2015, had propelled China’s mobile-transaction volume ahead of the U.S.’s, to $235 billion, and morphed WeChat and Alipay into services that have become the envy of Facebook, Google, and Snapchat. Hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers now depend on these all-in-one apps to do, well, everything: interact with friends; pay for cabs and utility bills; book hotels, ﬂights, and even dentist appointments; ﬁnd love; and read news. U.S. tech companies have long dreamed of building that kind of universal experience on a single platform, and they’re now scrambling to re-create what’s become standard in China. This year, Facebook began experimenting with 48 FastCompany.com March 2017
11 | ALIBABA For creating new hubs for commerce Its sophisticated set of commerce platforms, including payments, peer-to-peer shopping, and ticketing, helped it ring up $17.8 billion in sales in one 24-hour period during its 2016 Singles Day event.
12 | TENCENT For reinventing messaging, again With the launch of Tencent’s new Mini Program, the 806 million users of its all-in-one WeChat app can now access third-party applications within the messaging platform itself.
13 | XIAOMI For elevating hardware design Xiaomi’s meteoric growth slowed in 2016, but it continues to set a high bar for consumer electronics: Its Mi Mix smartphone has an edge-to-edge screen, and its smart TV is thinner than an iPhone. Its ecosystem of stylish connected devices now includes a rice cooker and a robot vacuum.
14 | BBK ELECTRONICS For igniting new smartphone markets BBK’s Oppo- and Vivobrand smartphones are currently China’s top two sellers because of their clever targeting of third-tier city dwellers via local retailers and youthfriendly features like high-res selfie cams.
incorporating WeChat-inspired customer-service bots and other business features into Messenger, while Snapchat has toyed with integrating payments into its communication platform. Meanwhile, Tencent is already orchestrating its next paradigm shift: It just unveiled Mini Program, a new platform that allows other services to build versions of their apps inside WeChat (like bots, but better), which some believe could transform the messaging service into a full operating system. Albert Liu, EVP of corporate development at Verifone, which partnered with Alipay in October to bring its payments service to North America, now doesn’t know whether to call these messaging platforms “super apps” or gateways to the internet. “The advantage of super lifestyle apps like Alipay or WeChat is they’ve connected incrementally more data than an app that’s just focused on a single area: Alipay knows where you’ve traveled, what movies you saw, what restaurants you ate at,” he says. “There is no comparison with anything in the U.S. Maybe Facebook eventually gets there—maybe.” The velocity of competition is just as torrid in the hardware market. Google veteran Hugo Barra, who recently stepped down as Xiaomi vice president, has witnessed ﬁrsthand the extreme market ﬂuctuations in China, where new brands displace incumbents with lightning speed. When Barra joined Xiaomi in late 2013, the then-three-year-old hardware maker was rocketing to become the No. 1 smartphone maker in China. Clever ﬂash sales of its sleek ﬂagship Mi devices (which rivaled the iPhone in quality) created fervor, and weekly operating-system updates made consumers feel like they were part of the design process. In 2015, with Xiaomi’s growth slowing, Huawei, a telecom manufacturing giant, stole its crown, thanks to its carrier relationships and a massive investment in using its expertise to build its own consumer devices. And then Oppo and Vivo, subsidiaries of BBK Electronics, dominated 2016, by smartly targeting lesser-developed cities (which by American standards are still enormous) while pushing youth-oriented features, such as the new Vivo V5’s 20-megapixel front-facing camera, the perfect tool for the selﬁe-obsessed. “Chinese technology companies, both in hardware and software, are moving so fast from one generation to the next,” Barra says. “There’s so much resource investment here, so much productivity, and obviously the fact that the supply chain is [in China] makes things easier too.” You can be sure that Apple, whose China market share slipped 37% in a single quarter last year, is studying every move. Huawei recently announced its new Mate 9, the ﬁrst smartphone embedded with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. And by the time the iPhone 8 ﬁnally lands this fall with a rumored bezel-less display, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix smartphone, which features a stunning edge-to-edge screen that reviewers have called the future of mobile devices, will have already been on the market for close to a year. “The average Chinese consumer has become incredibly discerning,” says Barra. “Their demand for consumer innovation is ahead of any other market in the world.” In the past year, no industry has attracted more Chinese interest (and raised American alarm) than entertainment, which Chinese companies are pursuing with a mix of prodigious capital and strategic deal-making. Tencent and real
estate giant Dalian Wanda have joined Alibaba in committing billions of dollars to help produce the kind of technologically ambitious and expensive ﬁlm and TV projects that appeal to global audiences. Given the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese market (traditional Western advertising campaigns tend to fall ﬂat there, and the country places strict quotas on non-Chinese ﬁlms), American studios need to partner with these companies to access this key element of the global box ofﬁce. “If you’re going to spend over $100 million on a movie and ignore the Chinese market,” says Max Michael, head of Asian business development for the United Talent Agency, “you’re not doing your job right.” China, in turn, is intent on learning the ins and outs of ﬁlmmaking from Hollywood as it builds up its own moviemaking infrastructure. In 2016, for example, Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China (just ahead of Alibaba’s Ma), helped orchestrate the acquisition of Legendary Entertainment, the production company behind The Dark Knight and The Hangover, for $3.5 billion. Wang previously purchased U.S.-based AMC Theatres, which made Wanda the biggest cinema operator in the world, and more recently struck a high-proﬁle deal with Sony Pictures to coﬁnance and market Sony movies in China. (Last November, he also acquired proliﬁc awards-show producer Dick Clark Productions.) Wang is said to be looking to make similar deals with the other major studios, while working to entice Hollywood
15 | HUAWEI For iterating fast With its new P9 and Mate 9 phones, the telco-hardware giant has elevated its handhelds to rival those of Apple and Samsung— at half the price.
16 | DALIAN WANDA For staging its own dream factory The real estate giant’s bravura deals for Legendary Entertainment and its own $8 billion movie-production facility are helping it amass content for its theaters and theme parks.
to ﬁlm at Wanda’s new $8 billion production facility in Qingdao. “The Chinese market loves Hollywood content. At the same time, they love to learn from Hollywood,” says Jack Gao, Wanda’s head of international investments and operations. The implication of these aggressive moves is palpable. Wanda’s acquisition streak has led members of Congress to request a Justice Department investigation into potential “foreign propaganda inﬂuence over American media.” Meanwhile, in the smartphone arena, suspicions of Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government have kept the telecom company from spreading its wares in the U.S. With isolationist trade policies and a more combative relationship with China likely during the Trump administration, some American and Chinese companies and investors with interests linking the world’s two largest economies are apprehensive about the years ahead. But whether or not a speciﬁc product or brand from China ever becomes ubiquitous in the U.S., the underlying innovations are already being imported and exported, impacting Americans regardless. You can see it reﬂected in the design and build of your phone, in the way you interact with friends and businesses, and in the entertainment you consume. In that sense, the “cultural bridge” Spielberg and Ma discussed in Beijing is already being constructed. And no walls, physical or digital, will likely be able to stop it. Additional reporting/writing by Nicole LaPorte March 2017 FastCompany.com 49
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
17 | AIRBNB For putting a world of experiences at our fingertips The company that lured travelers from hotels to homes is now getting them off tour buses and into the real world. “What’s wrong with much of travel is that it’s so mass-produced and transactional,” says Joe Zadeh, VP of product for Airbnb. In November, CEO Brian Chesky introduced Experiences, local adventures that extend Airbnb’s host-based hospitality into tours and multiday itineraries. The service creates a potentially lucrative revenue stream and marks the next hop in Airbnb’s journey to reimagine travel. 1
Specialized tours Experiences taps Airbnb’s community to offer the kinds of highly curated adventures that were once the exclusive domain of premium travel agents, such as a three-night sake tasting in Tokyo led by a sommelier ($177) and a dip into Paris’s African fashion culture ($60). 2
Armchair inspiration Occupying their own section within Airbnb’s new app, the Experiences listings are elegant, browsable, and highly visual—like a luxe travel magazine. They’re also extremely easy to book. 3
Trips, not tools Airbnb is moving closer to handling users’ entire travel experience. A deal with the app Resy integrates restaurant reservations, and app users can download more than 100 guidebooks. Soon, it may add flight booking. “Can we build out the best trip?” Zadeh asks. “Ultimately that’s what creates a service people love.” 50 FastCompany.com March 2017
1 8|B U Z Z F E E D FOR FEEDING A VIRAL FEVER Tasty, BuzzFeed’s collection of aerial-view, time-lapse cooking videos, has been the ﬁercest test of the company’s thesis that the future of media is in creating winning content for social media platforms. The addictive, cheeseand avocado-laden shorts, part of the company’s ﬁrst vertical that doesn’t bear the BuzzFeed brand, have drawn nearly 40 billion views in less than two years on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Tasty’s own site. The channel has also attracted advertiser love because of how smoothly brands can be integrated. More than 1 million people shared Tasty’s jalapeño popper burger recipe cooked on Oster’s 7-Minute Grill, boosting the appliance-maker’s sales. The vertical has even led BuzzFeed into commerce: Tasty: The Cookbook, a hard-copy collec-
tion that can be customized according to recipe type (from breakfast food to kids’ meals), sold a whopping 100,000 copies in its ﬁrst few weeks. “We didn’t even know the brand was that powerful,” says Tasty’s global general manager Ashley McCollum. BuzzFeed recognized that Tasty could be a test kitchen for other original, service-oriented video brands. So Tasty begot Nifty (do-it-yourself home projects) and Goodful (healthy living). Each new vertical is ﬁrst proven out within the last one, and each has grown faster than its predecessors. By focusing on categories that already have followings—there are 24-hour cable networks devoted to each one— BuzzFeed is wooing cord-cutters and people who’ve never had cable. As long as “Tasty Inc.” is racking up views, McCollum says she’ll follow her company’s mantra: “Don’t fuck with growth.” Illustration by Alexis Facca
19|OPEN WHISPER SYSTEMS F O R B R I N G I N G S E C U R E C O M M U N I C AT I O N TO THE MASSES Some app makers might view the likes of Facebook and Google as competitors, but “we see them as potential partners,” says Open Whisper Systems’ founder Marlinspike.
Art credit teekay Photograph by Noel Spirandelli
In an era when email leaks inﬂuenced a presidential election and fears of government surveillance are on the rise, even laypeople are starting to take precautions. Open Whisper Systems has no marketing budget and has never placed an ad, but its constantly evolving Signal messaging app, which keeps transmissions secret from all but their recipients, has become so attractive to the general public that it’s got millions of users, and its underlying algorithm has been incorporated into apps used by more than 2 billion people. “We’re just the weirdos who are interested in doing this, so that’s what we’re doing,” says founder Moxie Marlinspike, an iconoclastic privacy advocate who runs Open Whisper as an open-source project funded by grants and donations, with just a handful of full-time staff and contributions from a loosely knit group of security-conscious programmers around the world. (Edward Snowden is a fan.) Facebook announced in April that messages sent on the latest versions of WhatsApp would automatically be encrypted with the protocol, and the social networking giant is using it to add a secret messaging mode to its Messenger app as well. Google included the technology in its Allo messaging product, released in September. In addition to security, Signal has recently added features that wouldn’t be out of place in commercial services: It now includes a search tool for GIFs, can sync conversations between mobile and desktop versions, and— naturally—offers messages that automatically disappear after a few seconds.
March 2017 FastCompany.com 51
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
2 0 | I L L U M I N AT I O N E N T E R TA I N M E N T F O R C R E AT I N G A MONSTER OUT OF A MINION What do you get when you pair a latchkey terrier mutt with a hucksterish koala trying to put on a show? A doubleblockbuster year for Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio behind 2016’s The Secret Life of Pets (which grossed more than $875 million worldwide) and Sing ($360 million in its ﬁrst three weeks), as well as the Despicable Me franchise. Its hits, each produced for about half the average ﬁlm budget of rival Disney-Pixar, conﬁrm Illumination’s status as an entertainment company for the digital age, where interstitial ads and smartphone games have to be as compelling as the movies themselves. “Nothing we do is ancillary,” says founder and CEO Chris Meledandri. “Every interaction the audience has with our characters is equally important to us.” Thanks to a dedicated creative unit that functions as an internal ad agency, 20% of the material Illumination creates is simply in support of its movies—some appearing in increments as short as ﬁve seconds long. They’re helped by Illumination’s characters, which communicate in a universal visual language, care of the studio’s diverse group of international artists. And in a rare move, Illumination retains control over licensing deals and partnerships, working to create original stories for projects such as the Minion Rush mobile game (which has 750 million users) and the Minion Mayhem rides currently at a handful of Universal Studios theme parks (Universal co-owns the Illumination brand with Meledandri). It’s part of Meledandri’s ongoing quest to “inspire the same sense of wonder in all forms.” 52 FastCompany.com March 2017
Universal Pictures/Everett Collection (Despicable Me 2, Minions, Sing)
Illustration by Ollanski
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
21 | I B M FOR EMBEDDING WAT S O N W H E R E IT’S NEEDED MOST
In 2016, an estimated 400 million people interacted with IBM’s Watson: The artiﬁcial intelligence platform now processes data to assist in everything from oncology treatments to NBA draft picks. In the past year, dozens of companies, including GM, Japan Airlines, Hilton, and Pﬁzer, have launched initiatives using IBM’s intelligence. Watson owes its ubiquity to the dozens of new AI tools, including emotional analysis and image recognition, that it offers developers. “Our mission is to let people own their own AI,” says David Kenny, general manager of IBM Watson.
Personal shopping Retail outlets such as Macy’s and the Mall of America are employing Watson’s language-processing tools to help shoppers navigate their stores. After the North Face embedded Watson in its website to match users to winter jackets, the company saw a double-digit percentage boost in order value.
Teaching assistants A new collaboration between Sesame Workshop and IBM is leveraging Watson’s pattern recognition and natural languageprocessing skills to create preschool curriculums tailored to children’s learning styles. A Watson-powered vocabulary-builder app will start rolling out this spring.
Union organizing The labor rights group Our Walmart recently created a chat app called WorkIt that uses Watson to digest the retailer’s employment issues and policies (including leave-of-absence and sick-leave procedures) and answer questions that employees may not want to pose to managers.
22 | VIVINT SMART HOME
23 | SLACK
For opening the door to the connected home of the future
For fighting drudge work with bots
“We’re taking what’s very complicated and simplifying it for the consumer,” says Vivint Smart Home cofounder and CEO Todd Pedersen. The Provo, Utah–based company solves the most common problems with intelligent appliances—namely that they’re often difficult to set up and don’t play nice with any other internet-connected devices—by approaching smart-home technology as a subscription-based service. A lot of companies develop a single product, Pedersen says, “but if you try to add additional services and products to your home, they’re completely uncoordinated.” Instead, Vivint’s 1.2 million customers sign up for packages that include the installation of hardware (both its own and that of other companies, such as Nest); 24/7 tech support; repair services; and the seamless coordination of everything—from doorbell cameras to thermostats—via the Vivint app. Last year, this strategy increased annual revenue by roughly 15%, to more than $650 million. The company is now launching an AI assistant that analyzes customers’ behavior to anticipate their preferences. In another grab at the mainstream, Vivint struck a partnership with Airbnb that will let hosts link their accounts to Vivint, and use its equipment to interact with guests via a door cam and allow them keyless entry. 54 FastCompany.com March 2017
The 33,000 corporate teams using the popular workplace messaging app have seen its capabilities explode: Last year, Slack introduced video calling and made the platform more interactive, allowing users to browse flights, approve budgets, and evaluate job candidates—all within the app. It also redoubled its efforts to become a more perceptive office assistant, debuting tools for developers to create AI-based chatbots and investing in startups building Slack-specific apps. “We want to get the annoying, friction-filled stuff out of [your] workday,” says VP of product April Underwood. Slack reached 1.25 million paying users last year, positioning the company to pull in $100 million in annual revenue. Illustration by Rami Niemi
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24â€“28|GLOSSIER, KENZO, CLIQUE MEDIA G R O U P, H Y P E B E A S T, R E WA R D S T Y L E FOR USING CONTENT AS THE ENGINE FOR COMMERCE
56 FastCompany.com March 2017
“A lot of [beauty] products have traditionally been designed for display in retailers,” says Glossier’s Weiss. “We don’t have that concern.”
24 | GLOSSIER For collaborating with customers to create cult cosmetics The beauty industry has generally ﬂowed in one direction: Executives in glass towers decide which products they’re going to put on shelves, and women buy them (or don’t). Glossier founder and CEO Emily Weiss has turned this process into a two-way conversation by asking readers of her beauty news and reviews website, Into the Gloss, to weigh in on every aspect of her three-year-old skincare and makeup company. In 2016, Glossier, which grew by 600% year over year, released a slew of hit products, including the Milky Jelly face wash. Its development started months earlier when Weiss asked her ﬂock what they’d want in their dream cleanser—“to make sure we were putting something
Photograph by Shae DeTar
into the world that really mattered,” she says. Comments poured in, signaling an eager audience. “It’s our most replenished product,” says Weiss. Glossier gets fans to preach (or post) the gospel in other ways. The brand’s modern, minimalist packaging is designed to look good in photographs, and Glossier products arrive in a reusable pink pouch that doubles as an Instagram backdrop. “We think of things from a content perspective: How would this show up in a user-generated photo?” Weiss says. Glossier further buffs its credibility by touting other brands on both its Instagram feed and Into the Gloss. “Where most beauty companies have tried to ignore the fact that women are in an open relationship with beauty brands,” Weiss says, “we have embraced that.”
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
25 | KENZO For ripping up the seams of fashion marketing It was probably the lasers. Yeah, when actress Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) shot lasers from her ﬁngers during an epic dance routine in the Spike Jonze–directed short ﬁlm Kenzo World, that’s likely when every marketer on earth went slack-jawed. Commissioned to celebrate the launch of the French fashion house Kenzo’s ﬁrst fragrance, the surreal and surprising spot, which went viral in September and won a top industry award in November, led to a wildly successful soft launch of the perfume—no paid media or marketing required. (Parent company LVMH cited the campaign as helping to drive the 8% growth in its perfumes and cosmetics division during the ﬁrst nine months of 2016.) Kenzo creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, who also run the retailer and clothing brand Opening Ceremony, have consistently pushed Kenzo beyond fashion and into the larger realm of pop culture through creative risk-taking and collaboration. “It’s exciting for us to tap into culture in any way we can,” says Leon. Two more visionary projects followed in a six-week period, including a Carrie Brownstein–directed short satirizing the hyperbolic world of social media, which served as Kenzo’s fall/winter lookbook, and a video featuring Chance the Rapper that announced Kenzo’s partnership with H&M. “We don’t come from a background of carefully mapped-out marketing,” says Lim. “We just move.”
Hair and makeup: Jillian Halouska at Starworks Artists
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Photograph by Pari Dukovic
“There [is] no reason to be shy. The world is hungry for new things,” says Kenzo’s Lim, near right, of the approach she and her co–creative director Leon take to content marketing.
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26 | CLIQUE MEDIA GROUP For parlaying fashion advice into retail gold Known for its hit lifestyle and e-commerce websites—Who What Wear (fashion), MyDomaine (home decor), and Byrdie (beauty)— Clique Media leaped out of the digital world and into the physical one in January 2016 with a clothing line for Target. The millennial-minded Who What Wear collection offers runway trends at big-box prices ($34.99 for velvet pants, $44.99 for a cape blazer) and keeps up with the frenetic pace of fashion by committing to 12 updates a year. It’s a natural evolution for the 11-yearold company, which grew out of the Who What Wear blog started by Elle magazine veterans Katherine Power and Hillary Kerr. “We felt that the high-end fashion magazines spoke down to women,” says Power, who now serves as CEO. “We wanted to create this friendly voice that felt like your most fashionable friend.” Today, Power’s team uses the information gleaned from Clique Media’s verticals and social media accounts to ﬁgure out what will sell. “We have
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amazing insight into what’s converting: what brands, what silhouettes, what material,” says Power. “We’re also engaging the customer along the way. We’ll be looking through fabric swatches and go on Snapchat and say, ‘Which one do you like better?’ ” The crowdsourcing has worked: Who What Wear’s Target collection has recently expanded into shoes, and Clique Media has more retail collaborations in the works. Last July, Clique Media organized an IRL meetup for readers of Obsessee, its new social-only “publication” for gen-Zers. It put together a pop-up shop at a Los Angeles mall that sold Obsessee-branded T-shirts and school supplies. Teenagers thronged. Over the course of three days, the store processed more than 1,700 transactions. Revenue wasn’t the only goal. “Everything was sold for social currency,” says Power. “To purchase something, you had to make a Snapchat or post an Instagram, and, of course, tag Obsessee.” It’s step one in building a content brand that sells.
Clique Media cofounders Power, left, and Kerr use their in-house data team to inform everything from website content to product development.
Photograph by The Collaborationist
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Ma transformed his former blog into a public company with the debut of Hypebeast on the Hong Kong stock exchange last year.
27 | HYPEBEAST For uniting sneakerheads into a lucrative demographic “In the world of hype, in the world of cool, you need to be the coolest platform selling the coolest products,” says Kevin Ma, the unﬂappable founder of the Hong Kong–based streetwear site Hypebeast. Championing edgy brands such as Raf Simons, Vetements, and Hood by Air, Ma’s site has grown from a simple sneakerhead review hub (created in his Vancouver bedroom) to a multifaceted arbiter of all manner of urban fashion and culture that includes Hypebeast, the year-old female-focused Hypebae, and an online marketplace called HBX that sells everything from Yeezy Boosts to Leica cameras. Proof that Ma knows how to stay on just the right side of the hype cycle: Much of Hypebeast’s 46% increase in revenue in the ﬁrst six months of last year was fueled by its growing creative services division, which helps brands such as Gucci and Adidas produce
Photograph by Chris Schoonover
advertising for both Ma’s sites and others’. Ma is also manipulating the tentacles of his operation to maximum effect. He ignites followers with weekly “Top Drops” on HBX, featuring sales of limited-edition sneakers and T-shirts, and leverages the data generated by Hypebeast and its associated sites to ﬁgure out what to stock on the e-commerce arm. “Once we publish an article about things that we think will be hot, we can see the data and reaction and engagement from the community,” Ma says. “It’s a mix of technology and so-called big data that inﬂuences our buying decisions.” Hypebae, for example, was born last February from the insight that women account for 15% of the trafﬁc to the male-dominated Hypebeast. The company is now growing its editorial staff as it prepares for further global expansion. The United States already accounts for more than half of its sales; mainland China and its billions of feet, Ma hopes, are next.
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
28 | REWARDSTYLE For giving influencers a must-have accessory RewardStyle is realizing the social media world’s longtime dream of converting inﬂuence into e-commerce opportunity. Founder Amber Venz Box has channeled her frustration as a fashion blogger who wanted to make more money into a full suite of back-end publishing and tracking tools. Today, RewardStyle allows her and her fellow bloggers and Instagram personalities the chance to earn commissions on the products they promote. “Our mission is making [inﬂuencers] as economically successful as possible,” she says. Users who like a RewardStyle inﬂuencer’s ’gram receive an email on where to buy the featured look, a clever work-around that avoids forcing people to shop while they’re browsing their feeds. Venz Box negotiates commissions for inﬂuencers and provides tools to help them track the impact of their posts. In 2016, RewardStyle grew its inﬂuencer network to 11,000 people (more than 100,000 have applied) and drove more than $700 million in sales for its retail partners, which include more than 4,000 stores and brands, among them Kate Spade and Sephora. Its stylish crew now creates original content for 30,000 products daily, much of it on Instagram. (RewardStyle’s Instagram-optimized LiketoKnow.it platform drives almost 30% of the company’s sales.) The company’s data and its relationships help it make the best matches between retailers and pitch folk. “If [brands] want someone who drives a high volume of sales in accessories from $50 to $100 and lives in the Midwest,” Venz Box says, “we can [connect them with] that person.” As the shopping potential of Pinterest and Snapchat grows, RewardStyle is pushing to bring its tools to those platforms next.
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Photograph by Trey Wright
“[We’re] helping influencers professionalize,” says RewardStyle founder Venz Box. “Otherwise it’s the Wild West.”
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2 9|G O F U N D M E F O R F I N D I N G T H E VA L U E IN GOOD DEEDS By Ainsley Harris
Last summer, torrential rains dumped 7 trillion gallons of water on Louisiana, sparking ﬂash ﬂoods and setting homes adrift. As images of devastation looped across the nightly news, on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe there were ﬂickers of hope—in the form of digital payments. Moses Wells, a commercial ﬁsherman in Edgewater, Maryland, started a GoFundMe campaign to deliver emergency supplies. “I’m raising money and donations to make multiple trips in a large box truck,” he announced, and $2,381 poured in. In Boston, Louisiana State University fans raised $3,829 to help their bayou-based Tigers. In Texas, a Louisiana native organized an effort on behalf of his hometown: “Please help us as we are just Humans Helping Humans!” Donors responded with $12,403. By the end of the year, funding efforts for Louisiana ﬂood victims had raised $11.2 million. Humans helping humans has helped GoFundMe quietly become the biggest crowdfunding platform on the planet, responsible for more than $3 billion since its launch in 2010. It can now bring in as much as $140 million a month in donations, and generated an estimated $100 million in 2016 revenue. (A for-proﬁt enterprise, it levies a 5% fee on campaigns, in line with other crowdfunding sites.) GoFundMe started as a bootstrapped operation that found its audience in the heartland by embracing virtually any personal cause, from honeyfunds to memorials. While coastal-centric crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo kept their focus on project-based campaigns, GoFundMe connected with families staring down foreclosure, medical bills, and tuition debt. Then, in the summer of 2015, investors, including Accel (which backed Facebook in 2005), acquired and recapitalized GoFundMe, seeking to build on its success and create a fundraising behemoth. The key to this transformation has been GoFundMe’s cultivation of a new kind of campaign organizer: not just people looking for funds for themselves, but the proverbial Good Samaritan who jumped in after the Louisiana ﬂoods. At a basic level, Good Samaritans translate into more campaigns and more activated social networks. Add up their efforts, and the impact is profound: a realignment of how charitable aid is collected
Illustration by Brian Rea
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and distributed, especially in the United States. GoFundMe can raise millions in response to natural disasters and major news events—$9 million for victims of the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, $7.8 million for protesters at Standing Rock, $3 million for Hurricane Matthew relief. In each case, the company provided distant bystanders with easy means to take action, and then worked behind the scenes to make their efforts go viral. Where the government and community organizations can’t (or won’t) help, there’s GoFundMe. “The needs are gigantic,” says chairman and CEO Rob Solomon. “If the holes weren’t huge and gaping, GoFundMe wouldn’t need to exist. We’re this digital safety net”—with more than 25 million donors eagerly holding it up.
At a time when Twitter spats and Insta-glamour seem to dominate the hype cycle, GoFundMe has turned the oldfashioned value of neighborliness into an animating principle. “We’re trying to encourage people to look around them and see who might need help,” says Solomon, a former Groupon and Yahoo executive who joined GoFundMe as part of its mid-2015 reinvention. Under his watch, GoFundMe has stayed true to its heartland roots while becoming a techworld star. “We talk a lot in Silicon Valley about technology changing the world,” he says, “[but individuals] haven’t been empowered to change their worlds all that much.” GoFundMe gives them control, thanks to a ﬁnely tuned product that optimizes for a “pay it forward” ethos. On campaign pages, for example, there is no simple Facebook-style “like” button, which would allow people to feel as though they’re engaging with a project—without contributing to it. “Likes didn’t actually help anyone,” says chief technology ofﬁcer Ujjwal Singh of GoFundMe’s early experiments with the button. “It was an easy way out.” Instead, visitors are given three options: donate, share on Facebook, or tweet. Similarly, in the automated emails that acknowledge donations, GoFundMe encourages sharing by telling people how much their promotion could be worth, in dollar terms, based on analyses of past campaigns. “That’s had a dramatic impact on people sharing more,” says Singh. When clicking POST TO FACEBOOK could be worth $100, it’s hard to say no. This idea—that a modicum of effort can produce outsize results—translates into a new, viral mode of giving. In November, Arizona teacher Lisa Fandrich started a GoFundMe page on behalf of 76-year-old Paul Lomax, whom she had often seen selling copper coins on a busy corner in the Phoenix heat. “Why is a man of his advanced age out here?” she recalls thinking. She pulled over to talk with him, and then turned to GoFundMe. She raised more than $30,000. “Our elderly are not making it,” says Fandrich, who worries about Lomax’s ability to care for his wife and his house, which is in disrepair. She attributes the campaign’s success (she initially set a target of $5,000) to the public’s hunger for good news. “People are so tired of the negativity on the news and social media,” she says. “They want something to believe in.” The site currently hosts 100,000 campaigns a month. GoFundMe owes its explosive reach to its ability to widely disseminate the good news that’s taking place on its service. “We view ourselves as a content-distribution machine,” says Dan Pfeiffer, who joined GoFundMe as its communications and policy chief in late 2015, after serving as a longtime adviser to President Obama. Pfeiffer’s mandate is
When South Carolina teacher Katie Blomquist launched an effort to buy bikes for kids at her elementary school, GoFundMe pushed the story to local papers. Good Morning America and other national outlets picked it up. “Riding a bike symbolizes childhood joy,” says Blomquist, who ultimately raised $78,000.
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A SINGLE GOFUNDME C A M PA I G N C A N H AV E O U T S I Z E I M PA C T. H E R E ’ S H O W. COMMUNITY ACTION
ANIMAL RESCUE “Pets tend to do well,” says GoFundMe’s Dan Pfeiffer. “It’s the internet, and people love cats.” Thousands of users have created pages to pay for veterinary bills, but an effort to save a Calgary, Alberta, animal-rescue organization dwarfed them all, generating more than $100,000 in donations.
CRISIS RESPONSE After 49 people died and 53 were injured in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting last June, advocacy group Equality Florida responded by saying, “We must honor them with action.” Its GoFundMe campaign to support survivors and victims’ families received more than $9 million—an emergency-campaign record.
to help campaigns achieve breakout growth by seeding stories about them on social and traditional media. “In a world where the internet is starving for content, GoFundMe has more than almost any company,” he says. All he needs is a Good Samaritan at the center of the story: “The campaigns that go really big are the ones where strangers are giving.” Pfeiffer and his staff constantly monitor the platform for campaigns with a spike in shares or donations per minute. From there, they start pitching local press; as a story picks up, they reach out to a combination of legacy outlets (NBC’s Today, USA Today) and share-friendly digital media, including BuzzFeed and Reﬁnery29. When a story starts to fade, they ﬁnd ways to bring it back—publishing a list of the top campaigns by state, for example. Last fall, $384,260 in donations poured in to establish a makeshift retirement fund for Fidencio Sanchez, an 89-year-old Chicago Popsicle-cart vendor, after the story was picked up by Chicago-area TV and radio, CNN, and more. In another era, in another place, a church or government program might have provided aging Americans like Sanchez with relief. No longer. “GoFundMe presents a more efﬁcient and effective way to access help,” says Pfeiffer. GoFundMe’s agnostic embrace of campaigns has served it well. While many organizers tug at the heartstrings (cam-
“WE’RE A CONTENTDISTRIBUTION MACHINE,” SAYS COMMUNICATIONS CHIEF DAN PFEIFFER. “THE INTERNET IS STARVING FOR CONTENT [AND] GOFUNDME HAS MORE THAN ALMOST ANY COMPANY.” paigns for children and pets consistently do well), just about any cause is fair game—even fundraising for an abortion, which the company previously banned, is now permitted within legal bounds. Increasingly, the crowdfunding service is a vehicle to push political buttons. A search for “Planned Parenthood,” for example, returns campaigns to help the organization alongside pages dedicated to replacing it. Solomon isn’t concerned. “We’re a neutral platform that’s empowering people to help people,” he says. “It isn’t up to me or the right or the left to be the arbiter of worthy causes.” In the coming months, it may become more difﬁcult for GoFundMe to maintain this nonpartisan posture. But for Solomon, the current political environment—in which major government investments in struggling communities have been stymied by partisan gridlock and distrust— underscores the company’s broader opportunity. In January, GoFundMe acquired nonproﬁt fundraising platform CrowdRise, which has built Facebook-style pages for its members, in a bet that millions more people are interested in deﬁning themselves based on the causes they support. “I don’t think we’re going to solve [through public policy] the education problems, the medical problems, for years,” Solomon says. “There’s a populist movement around effecting change.” And GoFundMe is its Good Samaritan.
*Terms & Conditions Apply Of fer Ends 6/ 30/17
FORGET EVERY THING YOU KNOW ABOUT BUYING A MAT TRESS
YO U DO N ’ T N E E D TO PAY
YO U C A N B U Y IT
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TO P DO L L A R FO R Q UA L IT Y
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B A S E D O N H OW YO U S L E E P
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TaskRabbit’s new app matches taskers with jobs in under five minutes, CEO Brown-Philpot says. “New Yorkers are faster. They’re down to one minute.”
3 0 | TA S K R A B B I T FOR MAKING WORK At a time of anxiety about jobs and living wages, TaskRabbit has emerged as a leading platform for people looking to earn extra cash—mainly because it is the rare sharingeconomy arrangement that can yield significant income. “We’re helping good, hardworking people find meaningful opportunities,” says CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot. Her company has enabled workers to earn an average of $35 per hour (nearly five times the federal minimum wage) by shifting away from a model that has “taskers” bidding to
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win jobs to one that lets them set fixed prices for services, which include minor home repairs and house cleaning. In 2016, Brown-Philpot launched a mobile app that has sped the matching of taskers with tasks, and prioritized ondemand home services, a growing market. As a result, TaskRabbit has quadrupled annual revenue and is profitable in each of its 18 cities. Brown-Philpot is raising the company’s profile further by forging partnerships with major brands: TaskRabbit is now Ikea’s exclusive service provider for help assembling items purchased at its London flagship. Photograph by Chloe Aftel
31|MICROSOFT FOR BUILDING NEW WORLDS IN THE CLASSROOM Minecraft is one of those ﬁendishly clever games with an educational value so baked in that kids (and adults) don’t realize they might be learning something. Microsoft, which acquired the game in 2014 and sold an average of 53,000 licenses every day last year, is now unlocking Minecraft’s book smarts by adapting it to make classroom learning interactive and fun. Minecraft: Education Edition, which launched in November, helps educators apply the game’s world-building approach to topics ranging from art history to math. In the 10,000 classrooms that experimented with the beta, teachers had students assembling human bodies to understand biology; exploring medieval villages to enliven history; and creating roller coasters for a physics lesson. The educational version, which costs between $1 and $5 per student, includes a few tweaks for teachers, such as digital “chalkboards” to deliver instructions. But it keeps Minecraft’s focus on discovery, helping kids develop in-demand computational skills alongside subject-matter knowledge. “A lot of what creates [Minecraft’s] magical educational experience is the no-rules sandbox environment,” says project director Deirdre Quarnstrom. “Students really feel inspired to keep going and create their own challenges, which is exactly what educators want to see.” With more than 100 million Minecraft users worldwide, Microsoft is exploring where else its cultural phenomenon can bring joy, including school ﬁeld trips. The Museum of London, for instance, is now creating Minecraft worlds to accompany exhibitions, bringing some additional heat to its exploration of the Great Fire of 1666.
Illustration by Bratislav Milenkovic
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3 2 | O R B I TA L INSIGHT FOR SEEING THE BIG PICTURE I N S AT E L L I T E IMAGERY If you want to see beautiful images of Earth from a million miles away, visit NASA’s EPIC website—just don’t expect to learn much about the economic or societal trends happening down below. For that, you’ll need Orbital Insight. The Mountain View, California–based company analyzes more than a million square kilometers of high-resolution imagery on a monthly basis from eight of the largest satellite constellations in orbit, and then uses machine-vision algorithms to put hard numbers on everything from the amount of water in reservoirs to the number of active fracking sites in North Dakota to the depth of poverty in Sri Lanka. “We call it a macroscope,” says founder and CEO James Crawford, a former NASA robotics engineer who also led Google’s mission to scan millions of books and make them searchable online. The U.S. government is an Orbital customer, as are more than 70 ﬁnancial ﬁrms, some of which link into Orbital Insight to make market calls. The most popular report measures American retail strength by counting the number of cars in shopping-mall parking lots and predicting daily consumer spending. The newest offering, a World Oil Storage Index, could prove even more valuable: It determines global reserves by country by measuring the length of the shadows cast by the lids of 20,000 storage tanks. Orbital Insight’s goal is more than economic, says Crawford. It’s to “understand what we’re doing on the earth, and to the earth.” The company recently partnered with World Resources Institute to detect patterns, such as when roads appear in previously untouched areas, that could help stop deforestation before it takes place.
Photograph by Mauricio Alejo
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33|ONE MEDICAL FOR CHANGING THE FACE OF PRIMARY CARE
To identify the ways that a doctor’s office can be improved, One Medical founder and CEO Tom Lee, an internist, spent the early days of his primary-care practice serving in a variety of roles, from physician to accountant. He hit on a membership model that adds concierge-style services to a high-tech foundation—allowing him to cut the administrative costs of traditional care by two-thirds, he says. One Medical, which now has 52 offices nationwide, a 40% bump over 2015, offers a template for a health care system in flux. “We’re doing more for less,” says Lee, “and always reengineering our processes.”
Flexible care Stylish ofﬁces with shorter wait times and last-minute availability are One Medical hallmarks. Last year, it doubled its pediatric outposts. “[The company] expands to meet patients where they are,” says Lee, who also offers consultations with nutritionists, acupuncturists, and the like.
Technology backbone Lee was early to adopt electronic health records and patient-physician video chat via the One Medical app. In 2016, he acquired the health-coaching app Rise to assist in preventative care. “[Our] virtual business allows people to get highquality care without co-pays and deductibles,” he says.
Lower costs One Medical’s reliance on virtual care, including electronic messaging and prescription renewals, keeps overhead low, so it can reinvest in innovation. It also cuts the average cost of care for employers by 4.5%. More than 1,000 companies offer One Medical’s services to their employees.
34 | FARMERS BUSINESS NETWORK
35 | ADOBE
For cultivating a new hybrid of data and agriculture
For pushing creativity to the cloud
Independent farmers face a serious silo problem. It’s hard to know which seeds grow best (or even what to pay for them—same with fertilizer and chemicals) when you’re the only operation for miles. So the three-year-old Farmers Business Network empowers growers to harvest each other’s information. Big Ag may be consolidating, but FBN “is reinventing the farm economy” to fight back, says cofounder Charles Baron. The service aggregates and anonymizes data—everything from seed and soil types to elevation and weather patterns— to create a crowdsourced database that eliminates guesswork. “We democratize the information,” says Baron, “for farmers to share with each other and use for their own benefit.” For between $500 and $600 a year, members of the collective can access performance data for more than 25 crops across 2,500 regularly grown seed lines. Growers can also track harvests in real time, giving them a jump on what the national market will look like months ahead of USDA analysts. In addition, FBN combines the buying power of its members to offer chemicals and fertilizer at up to 50% off. In 2016, FBN more than doubled its membership for a group that’s now 3,200 farms strong, representing 11 million acres across 31 states.
Four years after Adobe announced that it was converting its buy-once, use-forever products to web-based services, the controversial decision has proven to be both a financial and creative success. “All technology has a shelf life,” says Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. Using cloud-based intelligence to its advantage, Adobe’s Premiere Pro can now recommend movie edits, and Photoshop can reconstruct missing parts of images— product improvements that are delivered straight to users via cloud-based updates. In turn, Adobe’s 2016 revenue leapt 22%, to $5.85 billion. Beating desktop-software sales with cloud subscriptions? That’s “among [our] biggest milestones,” says Narayen.
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Illustration by Bigshot Toyworks
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36|CASPER FOR MAKING MONEY IN OUR SLEEP By Jonathan Ringen
Last summer, Casper—the New York–based mattress company that aims, as its founders say, to become the Nike of sleep—introduced a surprising new product. It was only Casper’s fourth major launch, after its high-tech foam mattress (which debuted in 2014) and extra-breathable sheets and pillow (2015), but it differed from those products in a major way. This one, it turned out, wasn’t meant for humans. The Casper Dog Mattress, which sells for $125, promises “to create a sleep environment that caters to canines’ natural behaviors.” An R&D team spent 11 months conducting dog sleep studies, consulting with canine psychologists and churning through more than 100 prototypes. “Which is a crazy idea,” admits Neil Parikh, one of Casper’s ﬁve cofounders and its COO. “It’s a dog bed!” The mattress (“Designed for top dogs, by top dogs”) is selling briskly. But that’s only part of the value. As Parikh puts it, it’s an opportunity “to [show] people how we think—to remind them that, ‘Hey, here is a cool group of people that thinks in an interesting way.’ ” If you’re going to convince consumers that sleep is a pursuit as worthy of obsession as exercise or eating, you have to approach things differently. Three years after launching the original one-model-sleeps-all bed-in-a-box, Casper is combining science, design thinking, branding, and a winking sense of humor to redeﬁne the humble mattress and its accoutrements into lifestyle statements. And its hundreds of thousands of customers are proving that being well rested is ﬁnally getting its due. The company, which pulled in an estimated $200 million–plus in 2016 revenue (double the previous year’s), has begun expanding internationally, entering Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the U.K., with more countries soon to follow. “We’ve set up the infrastructure so within a couple months we can turn on a new geography,” says Parikh. “We’ve
Illustration by Ellen Porteus
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
got, like, a SWAT team that can go in [and be] operational within 8 to 10 weeks.” To an outside observer, such excitement for selling mattresses—a single model at that—might seem curious. But, as their foray into dog beds demonstrates, Casper’s founders are on a different mission. “When we talk about becoming a lifestyle brand,” says Luke Sherwin, another cofounder and the chief creative ofﬁcer, “it really is about the idea that whatever question you have about sleep, Casper will have an answer.” Casper gets its whimsy—and relentless drive—from its founders. Parikh, 27, dropped out of medical school, horrifying his physician parents (especially his sleep-doctor dad), to pursue sweet mattress-sales dreams with a group of guys he describes as his closest friends. Sherwin, 28, and chief technology ofﬁcer Gabriel Flateman, 26, attended Brown University with Parikh. (When Sherwin describes fostering a company culture, he tends toward words like dialectically.) Chief product ofﬁcer Jeff Chapin, 40, spent a decade at Ideo, where he designed toilets, car seats, and mattresses, the latter for one of the major players. And CEO Philip Krim, 33, ﬁrst saw opportunity in mattresses as an undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin, where he sold them, among other products, via an early e-commerce startup he ran out of his dorm room. None of the ﬁve has kids, all are hyperarticulate and chatty, and their social and professional lives are completely intertwined. “Where we got lucky was that we found people we really enjoyed working with,” says Parikh. “People will hear us yelling in a room and looking like we’re gonna throw shit at each other, but that’s because it’s a part of our DNA that we debate everything.” When Casper launched, in 2014, the founders’ conﬁdence in the idea was based on several core insights. One, of course, is that buying a mattress is typically an awful consumer experience. Another is that the vast margins (often 100% or more) that the major manufacturers bake in created an opportunity for a nimble new player. And then there were a whole series of fundamental assumptions about consumer behavior that the company cheerfully upended, from the idea that people want a mattress designed for their speciﬁc sleep style to the perception that word-of-mouth sales would be impossible to generate because nobody talks about their mattress (a notion that was shattered by an immediate boom in viral unboxing videos). “Maybe [the videos were] a function of the fact that they like our brand, or the unboxing experience is exciting,” says Parikh, referring to the way the mattress, which comes compressed into a surprisingly tiny roll, unfurls and expands in a dramatic fashion. “But the fact that people actually want to talk about sleep is pretty interesting.” That last idea became a kind of umbrella insight—that sleep is becoming a thing, a major lifestyle component, with a new cohort of evangelists proselytizing that the key to productivity and overall health stems from maximizing the quality of our slumber. (It’s a belief that has found adherents in everyone from users of sleep-tracking apps to Arianna Hufﬁngton.) That thinking runs through all of Casper’s subsequent products. Its sheets, for example, challenge the assumption that higher thread count equals higher quality. From both human testing and material-science research, 78 FastCompany.com March 2017
Dream Weaver HOW CASPER KEEPS T H ING S P L AY F U L IN THE BEDROOM A SHOPPABLE P L AY H O U S E Casper’s new showrooms are designed like two-dimensional houses, with furniture, windows, and other homey details painted on the walls. The only thing in 3-D? The mattresses.
MOBILE NAPS The company decked out an RV with nap pods and visited more than 20 cities on a countrywide tour last year. People at events like Pride Festival in Portland, Oregon, and Chicago’s Ribfest were invited to pop in for a snooze, complete with a prerecorded bedtime story.
SOCIAL OUTREACH Last fall Casper created a pop-culture-savvy text bot, Insomnobot3000, for users to message when they can’t sleep. And on its Snapchat channel, it posts weekly waffle reviews— because breakfast is important too.
P I L L O W TA L K Casper is no longer simply sponsoring other people’s podcasts. For the company’s recent eight-episode series, In Your Dreams, comedians and hosts Chris Gethard and Gary Richardson analyzed listeners’ nighttime visions.
Chapin’s team concluded that densely woven sheets don’t allow for cooling airﬂow, making the microclimate under the covers uncomfortably hot and humid. “The mattress, sheets, and pillow are fundamentally very simple things, so the science around the materials is really critical for how well they work,” says Chapin. “We’ve gotten really good at understanding things like pressure distribution and heat and moisture management.” Chapin and friends are now building out an R&D lab in San Francisco, which will allow for rapid prototyping and even in-house sleep-study bedrooms. Each space can be adjusted to mimic any possible sleep environment in terms of temperature, humidity, and other parameters. “It’s sick,” says Parikh. “[We’re] gonna be able to prototype something, then watch people actually sleeping on it, while our team is at work upstairs.” The art is how Casper has prioritized this science while cultivating its playful image. If Wes Anderson made a movie about a mattress company, it would probably look a lot like Casper—and not just because they’ve conducted sleep studies with dogs. It’s also about the way the marketing is built around meme-y blue-and-white cartoons designed to get people—even if they’re years away from needing new bedding—thinking about the brand. Or the company’s tastefully cheeky nods to the way the mattress, via its springy latex layer, can enhance “indoor sports.” Casper has maintained this puckishness as it moves into physical retail. It’s a dramatic shift for the company, opening it up to more traditional customers who might not feel comfortable making a major purchase online. (A queen-size mattress costs $950.) The company’s showrooms, currently in New York, Los Angeles, and London, feature elements one would never ﬁnd in a Mattress King, including trompe l’oeil paintings of furniture and secret napping spaces in back. In addition, Casper struck a major partnership with the furniture retailer West Elm, which allows customers to check out the mattresses in person at more than 90 stores across North America. (West Elm, for its part, gets a welcome frisson of Casper’s millennialfriendly vibe.) “We went full force with Casper,” says Nancy Tsuei, West Elm’s senior VP of merchandising. “We’ve given them signiﬁcant real estate in our stores, online marketing, home-page marketing, and space in our catalog, which goes out to millions of homes.” Parikh won’t say speciﬁcally where else he’s trying to bring the Casper sleep experience but allows that it includes pretty much anywhere you might ﬁnd yourself snoozing: in hotel beds, on cruise ships, on airplanes. “We’re in the ﬁnal legs of probably closing some stuff [with an airline],” he says. “How do you turn a pseudo-average experience of sleeping on a plane into something awesome? Usually that’s going to involve: How do we make the seats better? How do we think about eye masks, duvets, pillows?” What Parikh ﬁnds most exciting about Casper going mainstream is that it gives him and his buddies the chance to test their own foundational assumptions. “When we ﬁrst started the business, the demographic we thought we were going to hit was millennials,” he says. But hundreds of thousands of customers later, Parikh and company found their beds appealing to a much wider group of users: “I mean, people who are 65 who live in Nebraska also need mattresses,” he says. And if not them, their dogs.
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
Thinx CEO Agrawal runs her brands with the glee of an outlaw.
37|THINX FOR TURNING PERIODS INTO E X C L A M AT I O N POINTS
“I really believe we can change culture,” says Thinx cofounder and CEO Miki Agrawal. That may seem like a lot to ask of a line of stylish underwear designed to prevent menstrual leaks, but Agrawal brings the wit and provocation of a performance artist to marketing products that have historically been associated with shame—and she’s catalyzed a movement along the way. Agrawal ﬁrst grabbed everyone’s attention with a New York subway ad campaign featuring a series of reﬁned, innuendo-ﬁlled images of peeled grapefruit and runny eggs. Last September, in lieu of a traditional New York Fashion
80 FastCompany.com March 2017
Week runway show, she staged an event where models in Thinx (including a trans man in the company’s boy shorts) delivered monologues about oppression. As Thinx expands, Agrawal brings the same approach—a mixture of hightech merchandise, considered design, and a rule-breaking philosophy—to new efforts. Last year, she introduced Icon, a brand of incontinence underwear, and Tushy, a bidet attachment, along with seven different styles of Thinx underwear. The additions helped Thinx reach tens of millions of dollars in revenue in 2016. The company is now creating a line of organic, reusable tampons and athletic clothes that incorporate its moisture-wicking technology. Photograph by Samantha Casolari
38 | RESY For feeding our desire to be VIP diners Resy uses technology to enhance the restaurant experience. Eaters book via a slick reservations app, and restaurateurs use Resy software to reduce no-shows and help staff deliver personalized service. Last year, that combo helped the startup reach 1 million registered users and colonize 1,000 restaurants across 50 cities, each paying up to $899 a month for a subscription. Unlike its reservations-centric rivals, “we’re thinking past the host stand,” says cofounder Ben Leventhal. 1
Easy communication Resy notifies users when tables open up at exclusive spots. Guests can text if they’re running late or bringing extra people. A new partnership with Airbnb will soon allow travelers to book dining with their rooms. 2
Streamlined customer service Managers can use Resy to track what Leventhal calls “microevents”—small interactions that create memorable experiences. Union Square Hospitality Group uses Resy (via an Apple Watch app) to expedite wine service, signal coat check, and recall regulars’ orders. 3
Data distribution Restaurants can choose to share receipt info with other businesses to spot diners who are particularly active or who have specific preferences. “If you get treated as a regular the first time you walk through the door, you are coming back,” says Leventhal. Illustration by Ramona Ring
3 9|M A R R I O T T FOR PRIORITIZING L O YA LT Y When Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in September, it became the world’s largest hospitality company, with more than 6,000 hotels across 120-plus countries. Just as important: It created the industry’s most formidable loyalty program. Overnight, Marriott began allowing the 87 million combined members of the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs to transfer points and book rooms across 29 brands of the megacompany, including the luxury properties of St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton. This rapid integration is part of a broader effort by Marriott to prioritize customer relationships, which has included offering members a slew of new beneﬁts such as free Wi-Fi, exclusive room rates, and the ability to use points to pay for ex-
periences like private wine tastings, museum tours, and even Super Bowl packages. The company also launched a redesigned Marriott app in January, which allows guests to communicate directly with hotels about their preferences before and during their stays, and use their smartphones as room keys at more than 500 properties. “We want travelers to connect the dots: If you book with us, you get more access to more experiences,” says Marriott global marketing ofﬁcer Karin Timpone. “Loyalty is an essential element.” After all, loyalty drives not only repeat bookings but also direct ones, allowing hotels to avoid paying hefty commissions to online travel agencies. (In 2015, those agencies netted an estimated $16 billion in fees.) “By expanding with physical buildings and digital touch points,” says Timpone, “we’re building an audience and enriching our relationship with them.” March 2017 FastCompany.com 81
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
40|MEDTRONIC FOR STREAMLINING DIABETES CARE
The $100 billion medical device maker Medtronic announced in September that it had received FDA approval for a new diabetes management system called the MiniMed 670G. Developed initially for patients with type 1 diabetes, a condition typically diagnosed in children and young adults, the MiniMed consists of a wirelessly connected pump and glucose monitor that continuously track a user’s blood sugar levels and deliver insulin, reducing the need for finger pricks (users still have to recalibrate the device with a traditional finger-stick reading every 12 hours).
82 FastCompany.com March 2017
“We try to do the menial work on the behalf of patients,” says Michael Hill, Medtronic’s VP of R&D. The company took the unusual step of working closely with the FDA to design clinical trials—an effort that resulted in a rapid, 104-day approval process for teens and adults to begin using the device this spring. The MiniMed joins a suite of Medtronic initiatives in diabetes care. Last year, the company launched an app that helps patients determine what they can eat based on their levels. A forthcoming Fitbit integration will let researchers aggregate glucose and activity data, to understand the role of exercise in treating diabetes. Illustration by Kyle Bean; photograph by Sara Morris
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MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
41|N V ID I A FOR POWERING THE FUTURE
Once known as a gaming-centric maker of graphics chips, Nvidia now applies its expertise in computationally intense applications to some of the digital world’s most ambitious new vistas, from virtual reality to autonomous driving to medical research. These technologies have “ﬁnally reached a level where we can solve some really challenging problems,” says Nvidia founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang. Plus, by putting its products into sectors that Silicon Valley is betting on, Nvidia has expanded its business prospects—and delivered double-digit growth every quarter in 2016.
Virtual reality to go Few computing tasks are as demanding as VR, which Huang says “has to be beautiful and lightning fast.” Last August, Nvidia introduced three graphics cards designed to give laptops the desktop-class performance they need to keep up with Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset.
Cars with smarts Elon Musk announced last fall that all new Teslas will ship with the ability to pilot themselves. At the heart of that capability is Nvidia’s Drive PX 2, an onboard computer that’s been adopted by more than 80 companies and research labs to wrangle data from sensors and map routes.
Precision oncology Nvidia is helping to develop a set of AI technologies known as CANDLE (Cancer Distributed Learning Environment) to tackle research challenges and identify new therapies. By running neural networks on Nvidia hardware, the effort aims to accomplish a decade’s worth of progress in ﬁve years.
42 | PLEDGE 1%
43 | THE HOME DEPOT
For seeding early-stage philanthropy
For growing without building
Amy Lesnick is looking for the next Uber—to commit 1% of its equity, product, profit, or time to charity. As the CEO of the nonprofit Pledge 1%, Lesnick thinks like an angel investor, identifying promising startups. But rather than trying to buy a piece of the action, she encourages young brands to nurture a culture of giving and to maximize the potential for philanthropic contributions as they scale. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pioneered what he calls an integrated philanthropic model in his company’s early days, giving away equity and goods, and enabling 1.5 million volunteer hours from employees. After evangelizing for others to follow his model, Benioff spun off the initiative three years ago as Pledge 1%. In 2016, the nonprofit added 700 pledges (more than double its 2015 tally, for a total of more than 1,300 companies), including commitments from Harry’s and General Assembly. Australian software juggernaut Atlassian alone has donated more than $6.5 million to education-focused charities. For Lesnick, the growth is a step toward her ultimate goal: irrelevancy. “In 15 years, we might not even exist,” she says. “[Early-stage philanthropy] will be as common as setting aside equity for future employees.”
In 2016, the Home Depot delivered an estimated $90 billion in annual revenue—and it did it without opening a new U.S. big-box store in the past three years. “Our economic engine used to be driven by new square footage,” admits CFO Carol Tomé. Her orangeaproned crew shifted away from that model by integrating digital and in-store shopping, paying particular attention to products that tend to be unfriendly for e-commerce. Customers who crave in-person advice can now order via the website but pick up at a retail location, or select items in-store and buy online from smartphone-wielding sales associates. “We had to invest in the experience that our customers wanted,” Tomé says.
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Illustration by Dan Matutina
With more than 500,000 subscribers paying an average of roughly $100 a year, meditation aid Headspace has built a real business out of the ethereal realm of mindfulness. The app-based service, which is consistently among the most downloaded health-and-ﬁtness offerings in the Apple App Store, removes the intimidation factor for beginners with an easy-to-use interface, inviting animations, and how-tos about dealing with everything from panic attacks to relationship problems. “It’s our job to get people excited about meditation,” says cofounder Andy Puddicombe, whose relaxed British accent pilots users through Headspace courses. “It’s about putting meditation in places where people wouldn’t expect to ﬁnd it.” Last year,
the company created a surprising ad campaign targeting exercise aﬁcionados; it even ran spots during NFL and NBA games (teams such as the L.A. Lakers use the service). Headspace will reach 750 million airline passengers this year through its own in-ﬂight channel on eight airlines, and it’s planning to install phone-booth-size relaxation “pods” in airports and other high-trafﬁc, high-stress areas. To reach people more familiar with Solange Knowles than Sri Chinmoy, the company also announced bundled subscriptions with Spotify. For Puddicombe, meditation is a springboard for better living. “[There are] other areas of health and well-being that could beneﬁt from [our] platform,” he says. “Whether nutrition or exercise, there is always room for approaching it in a more mindful way.”
4 4 | H E A D S PA C E FOR GIVING US ALL A MUCH-NEEDED MOMENT OF ZEN
Headspace cofounder Puddicombe believes meditation can be a key wellness tool.
Photograph by Alex Hoerner
March 2017 FastCompany.com 85
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
4 5 | R E L AT E D C O M PA N I E S F O R C R E AT I N G A T H R I L L I N G NEW WEST SIDE STORY
86 FastCompany.com March 2017
How do you turn a once-barren stretch of Manhattan’s far West Side into a genuine neighborhood? “It’s as much about embracing the public as it is having commercial spaces and residential units,” says Jeff Blau, CEO of Related Companies, the real estate developer behind the $25 billion Hudson Yards project. “[Hudson Yards] is not meant to be an enclave.” To succeed, Related is bringing together an array of lifestyle brands (including its own, SoulCycle and Equinox) and public amenities to create a private development with broad public appeal. Here’s how the project is creating a new model for urban revival.
1. An elevated food court Related enlisted renowned chef Thomas Keller to curate the site’s 16 dining spaces. The French Laundry owner has already recruited chefs Costas Spiliadis and José Andrés, and is planning his own steak house. Other spots will be grab-and-go casual. “We’re going to have 40,000 office workers and 15,000 residents,” says Blau. “We want places where people can eat every day.” 2. A hardworking hotel The developer will use its cult fitness brands to coax residents into its buildings and attract foot traffic from throughout the
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
neighborhood. The site will host a prominent SoulCycle studio and a 60,000square-foot gym, which will be housed in the company’s first Equinox-branded hotel and spa. 3. A culture hub To create spaces capable of drawing an anticipated 125,000 visitors a day, Related has tapped starchitect Thomas Heatherwick to design Vessel, a $200 million, Instagramready sculpture in the site’s plaza. Nearby will be the Shed, a 200,000-squarefoot art space with a retractable roof for indooroutdoor performances and programming.
4. Retail therapy To anchor its eventual 1 million square feet of retail, Related wooed Neiman Marcus to open its first Manhattan store, due in 2018. Once the deal closed, Related signed more affordable brands such as Zara and H&M. “You have to have a range so people can go for whatever they want,” says Blau. 5. A living landscape A full 50% of the site will remain open, public space. Landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz is developing a soil structure deep enough to accommodate full-scale trees—an expensive investment given the site’s position above active rail yards. But it’s reflective of Related’s approach. “[Hudson Yards] gave us the opportunity to think about how you would develop a city from scratch,” says Blau.
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
4 6 | C E L M AT I X FOR FORECASTING FERTILITY Celmatix CEO Piraye Yurttas Beim says the “wake-up call” to develop her company’s fertility-prediction software, Polaris, came after she was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve at the age of 32. She learned that the nearly 7 million U.S. women struggling to conceive— and the doctors counseling them—were still relying on only the most basic information, such as age, to inform decisions on how to start a family. In an era of big data, she thought, these women should be relying on each other. Polaris, which broke out of trials in mid-2015, is now being used in more than a dozen of the nation’s largest fertility clinics, which serve some 7% of U.S. fertility patients. It allows specialists to compare a woman’s proﬁle to hundreds of thousands of others and calculate likely outcomes based on comparable patients. From there, her physician can propose a more targeted treatment plan, such as when she might begin IVF, or transition to IVF with donor eggs. To date, Polaris has been used to counsel roughly 30,000 women. After adding 45 employees and doubling in size in 2016, Celmatix is teaming up with homeDNA-testing company 23andMe to develop a noninvasive screening test for potential infertility markers, which is due out later this year. “The majority of our executives are women of reproductive age,” Beim says. “We are building products that we intuitively understand.”
Polaris allows fertility specialists to offer counsel based upon data, “which is game changing for patients,” says CEO Beim.
88 FastCompany.com March 2017
Photograph by Elinor Carucci
47|M A ILCHIMP FOR GIVING LITTLE GUYS THE MARKETING S AV V Y O F A N 800-POUND GORILLA
Email-newsletter service MailChimp made a stunning ascent last year into a $400-million-a-year-in-revenue powerhouse. Its secret? An e-commerce solutions division that grew by 46% and has become a crucial marketing and data-analysis platform for 2.4 million companies. “For small businesses that don’t have a technology team, data is really hard to wrangle,” says cofounder and CEO Ben Chestnut. “We’re watching it, collecting it, and making sure it’s paying off.” Here’s a look at how the latest suite of MailChimp tools gives entrepreneurs a heightened impact online.
A/B . . . and C/D/E/F testing
You forgot something
If you like that, try this
MailChimp’s multivariate testing feature allows users to evaluate a variety of email components—from subject lines to send time— in a single test. Customers who use either the service or MailChimp’s standard A/B tests see, on average, a 20% boost in revenue.
A whopping 69% of online shoppers walk away from checkout without making a purchase. MailChimp’s abandoned-cart tool enables businesses to gently remind people of forsaken items. Sellers typically see a $610 bump in monthly sales thanks to the notices.
MailChimp’s new productrecommendation feature uses a customer’s purchase history and predictive data to suggest other products he or she may want from a company’s store. Revenue from campaigns using it jumped an average of 31%.
4 8 | B E Y O N D M E AT
49 | SIMPLIFY NETWORKS
For exceeding beefy expectations
For sharing wireless by the byte
If it looks, cooks, and tastes like a burger, then why shouldn’t a plant-based beef alternative be sold alongside real meat? Especially if it “bleeds” (beet juice). That’s the argument that Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown successfully made to Whole Foods after releasing his company’s ready-to-cook Beyond Burger last spring, a radical leap forward for mainstreaming more sustainable alternatives to animal farming. “The consumer needs to be able to make the decision about plant versus animal [protein] in the meat case itself,” Brown says. The Beyond Burger, now sold at Whole Foods nationwide, is the company’s fourth new meat alternative in as many years. That’s a remarkable pace given the R&D such products require. Brown’s mandate to his chef and science teams: Be first to market and then refine the products—or launch new ones—as the science evolves. It’s an approach that has attracted investors from the Humane Society to (real) meat producer Tyson Foods. “[We want] to change the system from within,” Brown explains, “rather than throw rocks at it.”
Like an Airbnb for cell-phone data, this Malaysia-based service has created a marketplace for people to buy and sell excess megabytes from their monthly plans. Simplify connects users through its encrypted Android app: Sellers set their own prices and buyers pay through PayPal, enabling them to piggyback on other people’s internet access. Simplify, which launched in August, has been adding 1,000 users a day across the globe, with a focus on international travelers. “These [mobile] networks were designed in the 1980s,” says CEO Yen Pei Tay. “To liberate the market, something has to change.”
Illustration by Zohar Lazar
March 2017 FastCompany.com 89
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
50|DRONE R ACING LE AGUE FOR SPEEDING INTO THE MAINSTREAM
90 FastCompany.com March 2017
In 2015, Nicholas Horbaczewski and a friend ventured to a ﬁeld in Long Island, New York, where a group of guys were piloting home-built drones around PVC pipes and pool noodles. It was his ﬁrst encounter with the phenomenon of drone racing. Ten months later, Horbaczewski launched the Drone Racing League, a series of spectacle-ﬁlled competitions in which pilots don VR-like headsets (which provide a drone’s-eye view of the course) and zip their souped-up planes through gnarly, neon-lit obstacle courses. DRL held its ﬁrst ofﬁcial race at the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium at the end of 2015. By the following fall, it had a major sponsor (Bud Light) and deals
Production: Ville Gobi Andersson
Photograph by Tobias Hutzler
with three of the world’s top sports networks—ESPN, Sky Sports in the U.K., and Germany’s ProSieben—to broadcast its inaugural 10-episode, ﬁve-race season. The networks also invested in the league itself: Sky’s and ProSieben’s 7Sports networks are funding some of DRL’s operating costs, and Hearst Ventures, which owns a minority stake in ESPN, participated in a $12 million investment round last fall. “You’re seeing TV networks doing things they don’t normally do, in terms of committing to a new sport and growing it into a major spectator [event],” says Horbaczewski, who continues to ﬁnd creative ways to introduce his league to new audiences. He recently signed a licensing deal to develop DRL-branded racing drones for kids.
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
Most Innovative Companies by Sector WE IDENTIFIED THE 10 MOST E XCITING COMPA NIES ACROSS THE WORLD’S MOST VIBR A NT INDUSTRIES, FROM SOCIA L MEDIA A ND BIOTECH TO ENERGY A ND SPORTS. BELOW IS A SELECTION OF OUR PICKS. FOR THE FULL LIST, VISIT FASTCOMPA N Y.COM/MIC.
For nurturing firstclass coders
For helping farmers spread their knowledge
2. MFS Africa
For facilitating cross-currency payments
Intelligence For tilling agricultural data
For devising cosmetics for diverse complexions
For making job searching simpler
For using luxury travel to fuel conservation 5. Iroko
For streaming Nigeria’s Nollywood
For letting Rwandans hail a safer ride
For bringing African-inspired apparel to global shoppers
BIOTECH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 1. Google 2. IBM 3. Baidu 4. SoundHound 5. Zebra
Medical Vision 6. Prisma 7. Iris AI 8. Pinterest 9. TrademarkVision 10. Descartes Labs
For simplifying diabetes management
6. Color Genomics
For democratizing genetic testing
For mining fertility data to assist conception
For uniting people with chronic diseases
3. Johnson &
Johnson For incubating medical startups
8. Parker Institute
For collaborating on a cancer cure 9. Braeburn
For donating data in the name of research
For getting under opioid addicts’ skin
For making heart surgery safer with dissolvable stents
For taking the cost of DNA sequencing to new lows
CHINA 1. Alibaba
6. Dalian Wanda
For creating new hubs for commerce
For staging its own dream factory
For reinventing the messaging app— again and again
For becoming an all-in-one travel platform
8. Didi Chuxing
For making masterpieces out of snapshots
For taking the edge off hardware design
For riding off with the Chinese rideshare business
The most exciting development in photo sharing in years, Prisma uses artiﬁcial intelligence to turn smartphone images into Picasso-style works of art. Unlike other photo-editing apps, the company doesn’t rely on traditional ﬁlters; Prisma’s ﬁnal product is an all-new composition crafted by the Russian startup’s neural networks in the manner of famous artists. Until late last year, Prisma was mostly a tool for creating stylized photos to share on social networks. In a bid to persuade users to spend more time in the app, Prisma announced the Feed, its own locationbased social feature that allows users to view and interact with each other’s works.
92 FastCompany.com March 2017
For igniting new smartphone markets
For accelerating artificial intelligence
For iterating fast to create high-quality phones
For funding the future of medical research
1. Netflix 2. Spotify 3. WeWork 4. Foursquare 5. NASA 6. The Guardian 7. Esri 8. DNAFit 9. University
Interscholastic League 10. ReverbNation
For creating the power infrastructure of the future
For buying enough renewables to cover its energy output
For building the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm
For using AI to make construction efficient
For making energy education interactive
Mountain Power For turning Vermont (even) greener
For establishing solar microgrids in Africa
For selling energy between batteries
5. TransActive Grid
For harnessing blockchain data to sell clean energy
10. Etho Capital
For offering a fossil-fuel-free ETF
FINANCE 1. Goldman Sachs
For becoming a consumer lender
For crowdsourcing investment algorithms
FOURSQUARE For unlocking a treasure trove of geolocation information Eight years after it introduced the mobile check-in, Foursquare is more focused on packaging insights about foot trafﬁc than making mayors of us all. Through its Pilgrim technology, it can track where its opted-in users are going. Foursquare is now layering that information with its geolocation intelligence to launch tools that allow marketers from companies such as Unilever and Subway to target consumers and measure the impact of digital ads on in-store visits. Last spring, Foursquare demonstrated its analytics prowess by predicting the scale of Chipotle’s sales slump weeks before the earnings results were in.
For turning saving money into a mindless task
For helping human investors compete with computers
For expanding beyond peer-to-peer transactions
For creating a more developer-friendly public blockchain
For empowering payment via wearables
5. Ant Financial
For banking on economic growth in rural China
For investing in the future of commerce
For adding premium perks to trading
DESIGN 1. Snap
For creating a glassescamera people want to wear
For pioneering the use of stretchable electronics in the skin-care industry
For putting new experiences at our fingertips
For creating uncompromising work for unconventional clients
For using the cloud to create software that’s endlessly adaptable
Last year, Intuit overhauled its flagship product, TurboTax, to make it more mobile- and user-friendly. Customers can now log in to the service with Touch ID, take a photo of their W-2 and have it mined for information, and process their refund via Apple Pay.
FITNESS 1. Headspace
For providing us all a moment of Zen
For lacing up for diversity—on and off the field
For making healthy living a lifestyle choice
For maximizing athletic performance
8. Wearable X
For spinning a fitness revolution in your living room
For using fabric to realign the body
For providing design work to startups— then funding them
For making tax preparation a friendly experience—really!
9. Work & Co
For building next-gen products that shape companies’ strategy
For bringing hightech wearables to the high seas
For using nuclear technology to create the ultimate hair dryer
Illustrations by Peter Judson
The San Francisco firm known for designing Beats by Dr. Dre has been demonstrating its versatility, creating everything from a smart dashboard for Lyft to a sophisticated new brand for the Huna Totem Corporation, an Alaska Native company.
For reimagining the retail experience
9. Sweat With Kayla
For turning an Instagram following into an empire
5. Under Armour
For transforming from an underdog to a global force
For personalizing workout routines
March 2017 FastCompany.com 93
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
H E A LT H
FOOD 1. Chobani
For expanding its tastes to win the dairy aisle
For baking technology into every aspect of pizza night
For dishing up healthy food and frictionless checkout
For taking the guesswork out of farming
8. World 3. Resy
For using software to turn a restaurant meal into an entertainment event
Food Programme Innovation Accelerator For taking a Silicon Valley approach to fight world hunger
S TA R B U C K S Changes to the chain’s loyalty program irked some customers last year by rewarding the biggest spenders. Still, the number of active members grew by 18% year over year, with loyalists enjoying more stars for using partner services such as Lyft or Spotify.
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME I N N O VAT I O N A C C E L E R AT O R
4. Beyond Meat
For putting a veggie burger in the meat case
For betting on the artificial future of food
For redesigning the loyalty program without skimping on perks
For creating an ecofriendly Keurig of beer for home brewers
The UN created what it calls an “activist Y Combinator,” giving companies $100,000 to test ideas to help the world’s 795 million undernourished people. There are projects under way to cut harvest losses, reduce waste, and make food donation a tap away.
1. One Medical
For making primary care affordable and convenient
For helping asthma and COPD patients breathe easier
For mining data to build health apps
For putting health data to work
For mobilizing heart monitoring
For using technology to prevent diabetes
9. Global Kinetics
For reducing pain points at health care facilities
For collecting data from wearables to treat Parkinson’s
5. Kaiser Permanente
For investing in virtual office visits
For cutting down on surgical incisions
H O L LY W O O D GAMING 1. Twitch 2. 2K 3. Activision
Blizzard 4. Nintendo 5. Respawn Entertainment 6. Sony 7. Restart Life 8. Turner 9. Get Schooled 10. Netmarble
1. Dalian Wanda
For staging its own dream factory
For finishing first at the box office
For reinventing itself as a livestreaming provider
For dazzling global audiences with its animated features
8. Fulwell 73 3. FX Networks
For taking risks on new voices 4. Alibaba
For boldly making its own pictures
For turning James Corden’s hits into series commitments 9. Madison Wells Media
For fusing movies, VR, and theater
5. WME IMG
For taking its management prowess into live events and more
For marketing The Walking Dead back to life
INDIA 1. Zoomcar
GET SCHOOLED For gamifying the college-admissions process With just one guidance counselor per 500 students at the average U.S. high school, many college-ready seniors, especially in underserved communities, receive little support navigating the admissions process. To help, the education nonproﬁt Get Schooled has been rolling out a series of digital games and competitions that encourage students to improve their attendance records, prep for standardized tests, and familiarize themselves with student aid options. Rewards include everything from grants for their high schools and scholarships to PlayStations and sports memorabilia. Last year, Get Schooled logged nearly 2 million students on its site. 94 FastCompany.com March 2017
For finding new uses for idle cars
6. WaterQuest Hydroresources Management
For locating vital underground rivers
For taking STEM education mobile— and into the countryside 3. Paytm For accelerating a digital economy
For letting software enforce the fine print 8. UpGrad
For training a new generation of entrepreneurs
4. Noora Health
For helping mothers help their babies
For giving inventors a marketplace
For loading trucks with algorithmic efficiencies
For customizing home design
1. WME IMG 2. Twitch 3. Twitter 4. Tait 5. CJ 4DPlex 6. TodayTix 7. Greencopper 8. Tock 9. Tough Mudder 10. Social Tables
6. Vox Media
For feeding a viral fever with Tasty
For doubling down on quality content while expanding
Washington Post For turning a legacy brand into a digital frontrunner
For keeping cord cutters connected to financial news 8. ProPublica
For beaming its voice around the world 4. Refinery29
For expanding online and IRL
For holding local officials accountable 9. Radiotopia
For giving power to podcasting enthusiasts 10. Lenny
5. The Wirecutter
For generating revenue with reviews
For captivating millennial women— on email
MUSIC 1. Spotify
For using data to find the right tunes
For sniffing out artists’ royalties across the web
GREENCOPPER For becoming the go-to app developer for music festivals If you’ve been to Afropunk, Governors Ball, or Panorama and used the music festival’s app, then you’ve used Greencopper. The company caters to events of any size, powering apps on the back end and offering organizers tools for tracking audience engagement. Greencopper’s tech also helps attendees spend their time wisely; a personalization feature, deployed at the Eurosonic showcase, scanned users’ Facebook likes to suggest must-see bands. Last year, Greencopper introduced GoExtra, a pricier subscription level that enables organizers to sell in-app advertising, offer targeted push notiﬁcations, and create image overlays in Google Maps.
For making Lemonade out of a fractured landscape
For becoming BFFs with pop stars 8. Atlantic
For defying the death of downloads
For racking up the gold (and platinum)
4. OVO Sound
9. Moog Music
For making Drake an early winner of the streaming wars
For finding digital relevance for analog synths
For personalizing concert listings
For using chatbots to sell vinyl records
M A R K E T I N G /A D V E R T I S I N G 1. Facebook
For launching creative new advertising products for the smartphone
6. Ingo Stockholm
For using technology to give tourism a personal touch
For putting real art into advertising
For taking risks with new kinds of content
3. FX Networks
For building buzz with backward teasers and unknown actors
For seeing unlimited potential in TV commercials
9. 21st Century Fox
For designing work spaces and digital experiences
For using fart jokes for movie-marketing magic
10. Venables Bell
For turning a B2B marketing strategy into a buzzy feature film
For creating branddefining campaigns for REI, Reebok, and more
INGO STOCKHOLM On behalf of the Swedish Tourist Association, Ingo created a daring travelmarketing campaign: “The Swedish Number” allowed people around the world to dial a number and be connected to a random Swede. Over three months, it received 188,000 calls.
DROGA5 Droga5 has been boldly experimenting with new forms of advertising. In 2016, it created a mobile-first reality show, a motivational app (with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and a series of Under Armour shorts for every postseason three-pointer scored by Stephen Curry.
N O T- F O R - P R O F I T 1. Pledge 1%
For setting the standard for corporate giving
For giving refugees a voice 7. Chan Zuckerberg
For offering aid in the form of cash
For uniting doctors and engineers
8. Good Ventures
Movement for Black Lives
For charting a new approach to grant making
For transitioning from a protest to a political force
9. The Charity
Network 4. DataKind
For informing nonprofits using data
For using star power to fuel digital giving 10. Fund for
5. New Story
For building more houses, faster
For filling in the funding gaps
March 2017 FastCompany.com 95
MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
ROBOTICS 1. DJI
6. CyPhy Works
For flying drones high above the competition
For positioning its drone to become the go-to for parcel delivery
Robots For teaching robots to work side by side with human developers
University For finding sunken treasures with a deepdiving humanoid
For breathing life into artificially (and emotionally) intelligent toys
For giving kids the Force by teaching them to code a robotic ball
DJI DJI extended its status as the gold standard among drone enthusiasts with last fall’s release of the Phantom 4 Pro, which includes a 4K-enabled camera and the ability to avoid obstacles and track objects. Next up: retail outlets. DJI opened a flagship store in South Korea last year.
9. Blue River
For using bots to increase farmers’ yield
For ushering consumer robotics into Asia
For automating its operations in China
For giving users a virtual playground
For letting friends compare notes
7. The Shade
For live broadcasting world-changing events
For Instagramming real-time celeb gossip
For reinventing the messaging app— again and again
For managing big brands’ reputations
For building smarter back-end services for industrial robots
Setting a new bar for robotic toys, Anki’s adorable Cozmo—which resembles a diminutive real-world cousin of Pixar’s Wall-E—is as smart as he is articulate, displaying an impressively lifelike array of emotions through facial expressions and body movements.
SOCIAL GOOD 1. Chobani 2. GoFundMe 3. Zipline 4. Nike 5. Unilever 6. Patagonia 7. Qlik 8. Fitwel 9. Yazda 10. Google
For creating cult products from social insights
For turning online fan fiction into Hollywood entertainment
5. Taco Bell
For turning feedback into viral content
For syncing tweens around the world
SPACE 1. Orbital Insight
For analyzing data from a constellation of satellites
6. China Aerospace Science and Technology
For launching China back into space
For delivering better weather intel
7. Rocket Labs
For giving small satellites liftoff
For reigniting our interest in rockets
For safely redirecting space debris
4. Blue Origin
For making the private space race competitive
Systems For turning a plane into a launchpad
For propelling internet service to new heights
10. Moon Express
For bringing us back to the moon
YA Z D A For holding ISIS accountable After ISIS attacked, raped, and murdered the Yazidi people in northern Iraq in 2014, a group of activists assembled in the U.S. to form Yazda, a nonproﬁt that advocates on behalf of the victims. The group is now taking the campaign public: With the help of human-rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who signed on to represent Yazda last summer, the organization has been pushing for formal recognition of the genocide through the UN Security Council. It’s also harnessing the power of technology to record what might otherwise be overlooked, crowdsourcing video testimonials from survivors to stitch together a timeline and map of ISIS atrocities. 96 FastCompany.com March 2017
Racing League For speeding into the mainstream
For bringing gamechanging analytics to practice
Kings For reinventing the fan experience
For combining live video with digital commentary
For giving wearables new intelligence
For facilitating athlete-brand relationships
For helping athletes get discovered
For using data to demystify the golf swing
5. The Players’ Tribune
For turning sports stars into storytellers
For creating Oscarworthy content
1. Uber 2. Nvidia 3. General Motors 4. Velodyne Lidar 5. Transloc 6. Swiss Federal
For mainstreaming live video
For live streaming must-see news and sports
For empowering users to star in their own reality shows
Railways 7. Zipline 8. United Airlines 9. Tesla 10. Boom
For telling brand and influencer stories on Snapchat
For enabling creators with deeper content and better comments
For serving up a delicious video platform in Tasty
For streaming NBA and ESPN to the sports-obsessed masses in China
For expanding via its own skinny bundle
For programming its ABC app like a network
For blending digital and network viewing
V I R T U A L /A U G M E N T E D R E A L I T Y
BOOM For bringing back supersonic
For giving users control of their own augmented reality
For developing the industry-leading VR system
For using VR to measure your living room
For baking VR into PlayStation 8. Wevr
There was a time when the Concorde was the sexiest thing in the sky: a sleek plane that could travel faster than the speed of sound. High fuel costs and inefﬁciencies grounded the Concorde in 2003, but Boom is at work on a new plane that aims to transport passengers from New York to London in less than 3.5 hours—and at business-class prices. It’s a feat made possible by today’s fuel-efﬁcient engines and lighter, carbon-ﬁber materials, along with Boom’s plans to limit capacity to 45 people. Though passenger service is several years away, Boom has received letters of intent to buy $5 billion worth of aircraft from Virgin Group and another carrier.
For gathering IRL friends in VR
For giving A-list directors VR cameras 9. NextVR
For providing the power to process VR
For enveloping viewers in live events 10. Osterhout
For introducing Pikachu to the real world
For using smart glasses to augment industrial work
TR AV EL 1. Airbnb
6. Norwegian Air
For putting a world of sophisticated new experiences at our fingertips
For ushering in a new era of affordable transatlantic travel 7. AccorHotels
For prioritizing loyalty while becoming a megacompany
For embracing bold hospitality brands 8. Beautiful
Destinations 3. Vail Resorts
For cultivating powder hounds from across the globe
For evolving into a creative agency that optimizes for wanderlust
For becoming the allin-one travel platform for Chinese travelers
Cruise Line For bringing high-tech wearables to the high seas
For pulling planes, trains, and automobiles into a booking platform
For giving travel agents a welcome AI boost
GOEURO Navigating Europe’s robust bus, train, and flight systems can involve visiting dozens of search engines. GoEuro painstakingly gathers that data for 12 European countries (and counting), allowing users to compare and book transportation right in its app.
B E A U T I F U L D E S T I N AT I O N S This former travel-influencer network recently began using its social savvy to offer creative services to the likes of Marriott and Hilton. Once custom “social first” content is conceived, a predictive algorithm anticipates which images will perform best.
How we picked the World’s Most Innovative Companies A cadre of Fast Company reporters surveyed companies across 36 sectors and geographies. Their mandate: Identify the most notable innovations of the year, and trace their impact on businesses, industries, and the larger culture. The results are the top-10 lists that appear here and at fastcompany.com. CONTRIBUTORS: Jeff Beer, Adam Bluestein, John Brownlee, Diana Budds, Kelsey CampbellDollaghan, Austin Carr, Sara Clemence, Morgan Clendaniel, Claire Dodson, Amy Farley, Christina Farr, Ainsley Harris, KC Ifeanyi, Cliff Kuang, Hillel Kuttler, Suzanne LaBarre, Nicole LaPorte, Jessica Leber, David Lidsky, Kim Lightbody, Sheila Marikar, J.J. McCorvey, Harry McCracken, Steven Melendez, Meg Miller, Ben Paynter, Adele Peters, Ruth Reader, Nikita Richardson, Jonathan Ringen, Noah Robischon, Laynie Rose, Chuck Salter, Ben Schiller, Elizabeth Segran, Daniel Taroy, Daniel Terdiman, John Paul Titlow, Cale Weissman, and Mark Wilson
March 2017 FastCompany.com 97
Amazon (Continued from page 29)
back to Prime; retail stores offer a tangible lure for the uninitiated. But, as Bezos explains, Amazon’s technological sophistication also now makes it possible for in-store shoppers to interact with its digital platforms in all-new manners. Monitoring the interplay is a classic Amazon way to spot new opportunities. The ﬁrst wave of Amazon stores is somewhat traditional: More than 30 pop-up shops showcasing Amazon’s electronic gadgets—Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, Fire tablets, and Dash buttons—dotted the country by late last year. The next phase: expanding the highly curated Amazon Books stores—which showcase titles with a higherthan-four-stars customer rating alongside excerpts of reviews from the website—from three locations to eight. But it is the third leg of the company’s retail experiment that begins to rattle expectations. Amazon Go is a convenience-store concept the company announced in December (it will launch publicly in Seattle in early 2017). After a shopper swipes a code on her mobile phone at the entryway turnstile, she can grab whatever items she likes; they are magically added to her digital cart and automatically paid for when she leaves, through her existing account. This ability to skip both the line and any cash register on the way out is made possible by Amazon’s cloud computing, machine learning, voice control, and logistics know-how. It’s also another example of Amazon creating a technology platform that could be sold to other businesses. Finally, and more quietly, another grocery-store concept is also being prepped. Although no one inside Amazon is willing to talk about it, documents ﬁled with local buildings departments in Seattle and the San Francisco suburbs of Sunnyvale and San Carlos show that the company is erecting stores in all three locales. (Construction at the Seattle location—where a Chinese restaurant once stood, on a busy commercial thoroughfare in the fast-growing Ballard neighborhood—appears to be nearly complete.) The documents describe a system that would seem to extend the AmazonFresh grocery service: Customers load their digital carts remotely and pay online, then schedule a physical pickup within a two-hour window. “When picking up purchased items, customers either can drive into a designated parking area with eight parking stalls where the purchased items will be delivered to their cars, or they can walk into the retail area to pick up their items,” the ﬁlings say. These stores are not likely to change the way most Americans get their cornﬂakes overnight. Still, Amazon has always been good at being patient—and incrementally improving its offerings. Since AmazonFresh launched in 2007, the service has slowly expanded to dozens of cities. The Amazon neighborhood continues to change. 98 FastCompany.com March 2017
Planted on the edge of a military base, Amazon’s recently opened fulﬁllment center, in DuPont, Washington, looks from the outside like a generic warehouse, with a line of idling trucks snaking around the building waiting to load and unload product. But what’s inside represents a huge advance in the way Amazon sorts, packs, and ships orders. It starts with a “vision tunnel,” a conveyor belt tented by a dome full of cameras and scanners. As each box comes off the truck, it is photographed and scanned on all sides. Image-recognition algorithms then sort each parcel based on variables such as the type of product or size and weight. What takes humans with bar-code scanners an hour to accomplish at older fulﬁllment centers can now be done in half that time. Boxes are towed from the docks into the million-square-foot warehouse, sometimes by driverless vehicles. This facility handles the largest items that Amazon ships, which is why there’s also a huge, 6-ton yellow robot on the main ﬂoor. It has a six-axis arm that could pick up a car with ease, but today it’s mostly lifting pallets loaded 4 feet high with diapers and Keurig cups to the second ﬂoor of the warehouse where they will await shipping. The arm performs a constant, mostly silent waltz with an ensemble of rolling Amazon robots, which represent the next-generation offspring of the company’s $775 million acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012, and were only fully integrated into the fulﬁllment center workﬂow last year. Once a package leaves the warehouse, it may end up on a Boeing 767 with the Prime Air logo emblazoned on its side. Bezos rolled out the ﬁrst in a ﬂeet of 40 wide-bodies last summer, which will be operated in partnership with two aircraft-leasing companies. These planes, like the thousands of cargo trailers that already sport the Prime logo, make Amazon less dependent on its partnerships with FedEx, DHL, and the United States Postal Service. And, pending FAA approval, those fully operational Amazon delivery drones might one day cut delivery time down to 30 minutes or less. Amazon stresses that its new automated fulﬁllment centers actually require more human workers than the old ones did, because the warehouse can store a signiﬁcantly larger number of products—which all still need people for boxing and general oversight (plus, someone’s got to service those robots when they need repairs). The plant in DuPont, active almost 24/7, employs more than a thousand people full time. At stow station 1405, for instance, I watch a young guy with tattoos, a man bun, and large-gauge ﬂesh-tunnel earrings grab item after item from orange robots, scan each one, and, after the computer gives the green light, send it to be boxed. Over the holiday season, Amazon hired an extra 120,000 workers at centers nationwide to help meet demand. This is what the future of American factory work might look like.
Amazon’s business is not without its challenges. The company’s imperative to deliver more stuff faster has racheted up its annual shipping costs north of $11 billion, reinforcing the pressure to wring efﬁciencies out of the company’s processes and its people. In the run-up to last year’s holiday shopping season, pilots who work for Amazon’s Prime Air shipping contractors went on strike, demanding hiring increases to reduce their workload. It’s no wonder that the blistering 2015 New York Times article about bruising work environments at Amazon remains in the popular consciousness. Amazon is working to counteract this legacy. The company pledged in January to create more than 100,000 full-time positions over the next 18 months, and it’s building a new headquarters complex in the heart of downtown Seattle. Five buildings and a 2,000-seat auditorium will surround a trio of glass-enclosed spheres that, when completed in 2018, will contain more than 3,000 species of plants and trees from around the world. There will be ﬂexible, couch-ﬁlled work spaces and an “Expressions Lab,” where employees can learn to knit or attend a “Bob Ross Paint Night.” One ﬂoor will include a small outdoor dog park, and there will be several markets and cafeterias. Amazon is also funding an additional streetcar for the city, as well as bicycle paths leading to the three-block complex, which includes 1.7 acres of public space. “The biggest thing is probably just that we’re not in a suburban campus,” says Bezos, “which I think would change the vibrancy and energy of Amazon.” In November, Amazon released a video ad portraying a pair of aging friends—a priest and an imam—laughing, hugging, and then ordering the same knee braces for each other. It is a sensitive and moving vignette, portraying Amazon as a connector of cultures, the kind of compassionate business it has not always been given credit for being. The ad arrived just two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, so I ask Bezos what the company’s role might be in bridging the divides that exist in the U.S. After all, he bankrolls The Washington Post, which went after Trump aggressively during the presidential campaign. His answer is almost laughably narrow. “Well, I’ll tell you one way that I don’t think anybody is divided,” Bezos replies. “Everybody wants fast delivery. Low prices. I’m serious about this. Our job is to provide a great customer experience, and that is something that is universally desired all over the world.” It’s tough to argue with his words. And yet this Bezosian boilerplate is certainly less than the full story. Because Amazon is doing more than delivering our next tube of toothpaste. By using the “divine discontent of the customer as a North Star,” as Bezos puts it, the company is energizing a culture of relentless progress. The neighborhood may be changing, but maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s what business in the modern era is all about.
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10 GLIMPSES OF THE WAY FORWARD These past Most Innovative Companies honorees signaled major business and cultural changes to come. By David Lidsky Illustration by Markus Magnusson
Embracing the principles of a then-novel business structure called a B Corporation that made social responsibility as important as profitability, the cleaning-products startup grew to $100 million in annual revenue.
Kiva Systems 2012
The media-backed, streaming TV network created the experience of watching long-form video content on the internet and mobile devices. Today: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, HBO, Apple, and Hulu have continued to innovate, transforming digital TV through daring originals, predictive recommendations, and offline viewing. The Chinese battery manufacturer beat GM, Toyota, and Nissan to market with the first plugin hybrid car. Then its fully electric E6 debuted in 2011, using its lithium-ion ferrous phosphate tech.
Today: BYD’s marriage of energy capture and storage with cars presaged Tesla’s move in the same direction.
Under the leadership of CEO Angela Ahrendts, the iconic fashion house used digital savvy (live-streamed runway shows and instant ordering via in-store iPads) to elevate its fortunes. Today: The fashion industry is fully Instagrammified, while Ahrendts runs Apple Stores, where she has brought fashion to tech.
This collaborative platform for software engineers let organizations such as Facebook and the Obama White House accelerate project development by open-sourcing some code. Today: Coding has emerged as an essential literacy, as GitHub and rivals coax enterprises to value pooled projects over proprietary ones.
Today: There are 1,797 B Corps, including Warby Parker and Revolution Foods.
Today: Amazon acquired Kiva later in 2012 for $775 million. The technology, as well as subsequent enhancements, has delivered for the ur-retailer’s Prime and Prime Now services.
By disrupting wireless carriers’ SMS business, WhatsApp’s bare-bones messaging service accrued 400 million monthly users. Today: Facebook spent $22 billion to purchase WhatsApp, which now has more than 1 billion users and is building a messaging-based operating system. With high-profile deals to power mainstream digital commerce via Apple and Facebook, the back-end payments service rose to prominence. Today: Stripe, which embodies the emergence of application programming interfaces as fuel for the innovation economy, is seeding global entrepreneurship via its new Atlas program. The granddaddy of old-school business conglomerates embraced cloud computing and sensors to optimize heavy machinery such as jet engines and wind turbines, generating $5 billion annually. Today: Sensors, big data, and artificial intelligence are creating an industrial internet and revolutionizing manufacturing productivity.
D ON 10
YCL ED PA P ER
108 FastCompany.com March 2017
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Today: In 2016, streaming became the primary way people listen to music, though Napster (née Rhapsody) has just 3.5 million subs, versus Spotify (40 million) and Apple Music (20 million).
Squat, orange Kiva robots upended warehouse management for such brands as Toys “R” Us and Staples, enabling faster shipping and handling.
With its Rhapsody subscription service, the digital audio pioneer tried to woo users to rent, not buy, tunes, bucking a century of consumer behavior.
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It’s a debut and an encore all at once. THAT’S CONTINE NTAL