THESE COMPANIES WA N T YO U !
DE T H E
S E P T E M B E R 2019
T EC H
B E YO N D
SILICON VALLEY G r e a t v i b e. L o w r e n t s. W hy fo u n d e r s l i ke Tr i s t a n Wa l ke r l ove AT L A N TA, A m e r i c a’s n e w s t a r t u p c a p i t a l
Y E S, WE’R E ROOTI NG FOR
TESLA (DESPITE EVERY THING)
BURNING MAN VS
THE INFLUENCER CULTURE
Walker & Company CEO Tristan Walker, new Atlanta resident
Keep 1999â€™s portfolio on track for 2039.
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CONTENTS 26 Trendspotting Clique Brands (and Who What Wear) cofounder Katherine Power explains how customer insight can lead to brands people love.
S E P T E M B E R
Cover: Barber: Lauren Owens at Furious Styles, Atlanta; groomer: Corianne Cowan at The Spin Style Agency
2 0 1 9 On the Cover Tristan Walker, CEO of Walker & Company, photographed by Paper Monday
PHOTOGR APH BY CAR A ROBBINS
N o. 23 4
N o. 23 4
72 THE EXPERIENCE ECONOMY
The Softer Side of Hardware An exclusive look inside Google’s Design Lab, where VP Ivy Ross (left) leads the effort to make beautiful, touchable tech.
84 The Battle for Burning Man As influencers flock, the commerce-averse event wrestles for its soul.
46 Atlanta Opportunity Black entrepreneurs, including Paul Judge of TechSquare Labs (below, left), are building a tech-startup scene down south.
56 50 Best Workplaces for Innovators
The top havens for creatives and experimenters.
C O N T E N T S
66 4 FASTCOMPANY.COM
“If we [in Washington] could reclaim the ability to set the rules, I think the rest of the world would follow suit.” —Senator Mark Warner PHOTOGR APH BY CODY PICKENS
Matt Odom (Judge); Benedict Evans (Warner)
CL E R MON T K . Y.
U. S .
A GOOD INVESTMENT OF TIME ALWAYS PAYS DIVIDENDS.
EVERY BIT EARNED
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C O N T E N T S N o. 23 4
33 Behind the Brand Back Market is making refurbished phones chic.
30 Building Blocks
A new addition transforms Singapore’s airport into a destination.
—Daniel Baker (aka Desus Nice), cohost of Showtime’s Desus and Mero PAGE 18
“IT HAS THE SUPPORT OF MEMORY FOAM AND THE COMFORT OF DOWN IN ONE PILLOW.” —Darren Eales, president, Atlanta United, on the Coop Home Goods memory foam pillow
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Favo rit e Th i ng
E X I T S T R AT E GY
16 Data Dive How Silicon Valley’s founders and CEOs are donating to (and shaping) America’s schools. SEPTEMBER 2019
“Siri, find my phone . . . Siri?”
Julie Glassberg (Behind the Brand); Will Styer (Recommender); 8EyedSpud (Exit Strategy); Kyle Bean (Data Dive); James Gilleard (Building Blocks); Andre L. Perry (Creative Conversation); L-Dopa Design (Big Idea)
Big Idea Elon Musk doesn’t make himself easy to root for—but given the impending environmental crisis, we don’t have much choice.
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F R O M
T H E
E D I T O R
N o. 23 4
NEW VANTAGE POINTS
PORTR A IT OF T HE A R T ISTS Photographers Rog and Bee Walker, aka Paper Monday, captured Tristan Walker (no relation) for this issue.
The tale of Atlanta’s rise serves as a centerpiece for an issue that is packed with stories highlighting Fast Company’s editorial focus on innovation. Our inaugural list of the Best Workplaces for Innovators recognizes 50 companies that have created cultures where employees throughout the organization can put their ideas into motion and make meaningful contributions to their businesses, and beyond. We’ve also produced, with the support of SAP, a deep dive into the so-called experience economy, a term coined by a couple of management advisers who determined that the concept of “services” wasn’t sufﬁcient to capture an entirely new and distinct economic offering. A typical grocery store offers a service. Stew Leonard’s, a Connecticut-based retailer, sells food and features a petting zoo in the summer, hayrides in the fall, and free coffee or ice cream (with purchase) all year long. It shows that applying just a little bit of innovation can elevate a company into a completely different category. Stephanie Mehta Editor-in-Chief
PHOTOGR APH BY PAPER MONDAY
Celine Grouard (Mehta)
Five years ago, Fast Company published a profile of entrepreneur Tristan Walker, a Foursquare veteran who was building a shaving and skincare business called Walker & Company. Written by contributor J.J. McCorvey, it was a candid portrayal of an African American founder trying to make his way in Silicon Valley, a place with a grim record on racial inclusion, despite the fact that so many of the iconic companies founded there consider themselves to be models of meritocracy. McCorvey revealed the complexities of navigating Sand Hill Road while black: Did the venture capitalists throwing “entrepreneur-in-residence” offers at Walker really value his potential as a founder, or were they looking for a quick way to diversify their ranks? For Walker, was it reckless of him, after earning a Stanford MBA, to bypass steady, lucrative gigs in management consulting for the uncertainty of startup life? “As a black man, you don’t take risks like that,” Walker’s wife, Amoy, told McCorvey. She also admitted to him that Silicon Valley was not her ﬁrst choice as a location to put down roots. “We would have ﬁt into Atlanta like a hand ﬁts into a glove,” she said at the time. So when Walker recently decided to relocate his family and his business (now part of Procter & Gamble) to Atlanta, McCorvey caught up with him to learn why—and to investigate what is happening within the city’s robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. McCorvey’s story, with photos by Paper Monday and Matt Odom, is encouraging, though there are tough issues facing the black business elite. How do they keep Atlanta from resembling the Bay Area, where wealthy tech carpetbaggers are displacing longtime residents? Do founders of color have an obligation to make sure that job opportunities and wealth are more equally distributed? These aren’t merely theoretical questions: If the community’s business and political leaders can ﬁgure out a way to ensure that its growth is truly inclusive, other cities could follow suit. “There should be 50 Atlantas,” Walker tells McCorvey. We couldn’t agree more.
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N o. 23 4
2 0 1 9
ELON VERSUS THE WO R L D WHY TESLA’S CEO NEEDS TO CHANGE COURSE BY A I N S L E Y H A R R I S
Yo Elon, you okay? Asking for a friend. I think you know her: the planet. Over the past year, Tesla cofounder and CEO Elon Musk’s leadership has been as erratic as his company’s performance. He announced that Tesla would close its stores, only to reverse that decision less than two weeks later. He promised for almost a year that the “Enhanced Summon” feature, which would allow drivers to have their Tesla pick them up curbside, was imminent, only to acknowledge at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in June that “there’s a lot of complexity in parking lots.” Perhaps most important, after months of stressing that Tesla must become ILLUSTR ATION BY NIGEL BUCHANAN
NEXT Big Idea
Tesla Leads Its Rivals… BUT IT NEEDS ITS TRUE BELIEVERS TO KEEP IT AFLOAT.
360K–400K Vehicles Tesla expects to deliver to customers worldwide in 2019 Percentage of Tesla deliveries in Q1 2019 that took place in the final 10 days of the quarter
Rank of Tesla’s Model 3 in small- to midsize luxury-vehicle U.S. sales in Q1 2019
Vehicles Tesla produced in Q1 2019
Percentage lead over the No. 2 best seller, Mercedes C-Class
Percentage decrease of Tesla’s Q1 2019 sales compared with Q4 2018
proﬁtable as a matter of “life or death,” Musk changed his stance yet again, saying that growth is paramount and proﬁtability can wait. This backtracking, along with a disastrous ﬁrst quarter in which Tesla lost $702 million, helps explain both the record number of short sellers betting against the company as well as its stock shedding almost $30 billion in market cap over six months. Musk’s behavior is more than just fodder for CNBC hot takes. It’s a calamity in the making for anyone who cares about weaning the $5.1 trillion global transportation industry from its potentially catastrophic dependence on fossil fuels. When Tesla ﬁrst started selling cars, 11 years ago, no one knew if people would ever feel anything more than a dutiful attraction to electric vehicles. Since then, Musk has sold more than 500,000 cars and established the next direction of the entire industry. GM, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and hundreds of startups in China have followed Musk’s lead and developed electric-car options that customers covet. When VW opened up presales in the spring for its ID.3 and Porsche Taycan EVs, they quickly generated a Tesla-like response, garnering 20,000 reservations apiece. If every vehicle purchased in the U.S. this year were electric, the environmental impact would be the equivalent of Washington, D.C., becoming carbon-neutral overnight. Musk is Wall Street’s most polarizing CEO. You’re either one of his acolytes or rooting for his comeuppance. But in a world of climate villains, for the time being he’s all that we’ve got. Since the first Teslas debuted in 2008, Musk has cycled through his “secret” Master Plan to produce more affordable, mass-market electric cars at a rapid clip. “The point of all this was, and remains, accelerating the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good,” Musk wrote in 2016 in his “Master Plan, Part Deux.” Along the way, Tesla has mainstreamed such innovations as dealer-less sales channels, screen-based dashboards, and over-the-air software updates so that cars on the road can be improved at any time rather than annually. Tesla vehicles are more powerful and have a longer range than their peers, thanks in large part to the software that manages their batteries. “I give them, chalk it up, full leadership in that space,” says Cowen analyst Jeffrey Osborne, who nevertheless rates the stock “underperform.” No surprise, then, that Tesla’s Model 3 is the best-selling premium sedan of any car in the United States. “Tesla has proven there is signiﬁcant demand for 12 FASTCOMPANY.COM
Tesla market cap on December 10, 2018, the day after Musk appeared on 60 Minutes mocking the SEC’s monitoring of his public statements
Tesla market cap on June 3, 2019, after six months of chaotic management, Twitter drama, and concerns about the company’s viability
cars that combine sustainability with performance and design,” Klaus Zellmer, CEO of Porsche North America, acknowledged in a June op-ed. Like other traditional carmakers, Zellmer has been prodded by Musk into producing electric vehicles. Some rival offerings are even chipping away at Tesla’s dominance. GM’s Chevy Bolt, for example, costs $36,000 and is capable of traveling 238 miles on a single charge—just 2 miles less than Tesla’s standard-version Model 3. Even compared with certain of Tesla’s statistics that its fans love to brag about, such as “efﬁciency ratio” (a measure of kilowatt-hours per miles of range per weight), Hyundai’s and Volvo’s specs hold up. Tesla, though, continues to set the pace, as reﬂected in its beating expectations for deliveries in the second quarter of 2019. It is trying to upgrade its battery chemistry later this year (thanks to its acquisition in May of battery maker Maxwell for more than $200 million), and it is rumored to be refreshing the interior design of its Models S and X vehicles. But for a company whose stated mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” Tesla is increasingly going it alone at a time when the rest of the industry is ﬁnding ways to collaborate in order to stimulate EV advancements and sales. BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, for example, are working together to develop and manufacture a next-generation electric motor. Tesla, meanwhile, continues to build its own charging infrastructure rather than collaborate with ILLUSTR ATIONS BY L-DOPA DESIGN
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Here Comes Tesla’s Competition MUSK HAS INSPIRED RIVAL AUTOMAKERS TO RAMP UP ELECTRIC-VEHICLE PRODUCTION. Hyundai Motor Group The Korean automaker has become the most aressive traditional Asian player in the EV space, and it just partnered with Croatian electric-sportscar maker Rimac on a new model.
Goals: Spend $40 billion to build its own electric platform so it can launch 44 EV models by 2025
Goals: 12 fully electric models by 2025
Goals: 70 models and 22 million cars produced by 2028
Goals: 20 fully electric models by 2023
Goals: Dominate the premium segment of China EVs
BMW Launched the i3 in 2013, but it’s always been an odd duck— it doesn’t look like a BMW—and the company has been criticized for not exploring new business models.
Volkswagen Aressively boosting production of new models, and both Porsche Taycan and VW’s ID.3 have racked up tens of thousands of preorders.
GM First rolled out the Chevy Bolt in late 2016, to good reviews, though now the company intends to make Cadillac its EV brand. Has a dizzying array of partnerships covering its bets on the future.
Nio The “Tesla of China” sells two SUVs, including its flagship ES8, and a sportscar in the booming Chinese EV market where Tesla is investing heavily, though struling with deliveries and price.
EV competitors on a plan to raise the estimated $50 billion needed to create a charging infrastructure for all electric vehicles by 2030. In China, where government ofﬁcials have invested more than $30 billion to seed the development of 500 homegrown EV manufacturers, consumers bought 1.1 million electric vehicles last year. Rather than partner with a local company, Musk is building his own factory on 200-plus acres outside Shanghai. Even after avoiding import tariffs, Teslas will still be a luxury item in China, and the company has yet to prove that it can reﬁne its production to an extent that would improve its economics. “[E]xcessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” Musk tweeted in April about his effort to use robots to help Tesla build cars faster and cheaper. “To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.” Worse, Musk continues to embark on solo missions to new frontiers. His current obsession is self-driving technology. In April, he projected that Tesla would have 1 million autonomous robotaxis on the road next year. What he left unsaid: Reaching that goal without bankrupting the company will require that Tesla eschew the types of pricey sensors many competitors consider crucial to safety. (Also not mentioned: Autonomous systems can increase emissions.) Making electric vehicles sexy has been “a wonderful service to humanity,” says Dean Pomerleau, who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the world’s preeminent hubs for autonomous driving. “On the other hand, [Musk has] deﬁnitely oversold his self-driving technology and threatens to basically sour the waters for approaches that are more viable and responsible.” What’s more, Tesla’s innovative use of over-the-air software updates to its vehicles wreaks havoc with insurance rates, a problem the two industries should work together to rectify. “When you start to change how the car itself works in real time, it fundamentally changes the risk of a car,” says Dan Preston, CEO of pay-per-mile insurer Metromile. Musk decided in April that Tesla should offer its own insurance, maintaining that its product “will be more compelling than anything else” available. Musk’s latest moves signal that he’s bought into the Silicon Valley narrative that creating a vertically integrated monopoly is the only way to win. That’s a problem, because vertically integrated companies are rarely nimble enough to innovate, and monopolies don’t need to. Also, there is simply no way that one company could ever own the global transportation industry. At the precise moment when the industry needs Musk to lead it to expand consumer demand and push the technical boundaries of what an electric vehicle can do and the experience it can provide, he’s boring inward. (Tesla declined to comment.) Navigate any clogged intersection—what Silicon Valley software engineers call an “edge case” and everyone else calls “trafﬁc”—and you will quickly be reminded that drivers, whether human or machine, need to work in concert with one another, not to mention with existing systems and institutions. The Twitterhappy Musk can’t even summon a modicum of respect for the SEC and its guidelines around ﬁnancial disclosure. He’s going to kowtow to the demands of 50 state insurance commissioners? It’s not hard to imagine how all of this could go wrong. So, Elon, please get some sleep, and, more important, make some friends off Twitter. Saving the planet isn’t a one-person job.
*Q1 2019 global vehicle sales; **Audi only; ***Only includes U.S., Mexico, and South Korea. GM doesn’t break out its China EV sales; ****Deliveries
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NEXT Data Dive
H EAD S OF THE C LAS S SILICON VALLEY BILLIONAIRES HAVE BIG IDEAS FOR EDUCATION. BY A I N S L E Y H A R R I S
Bill and Melinda Gates
Their foundation is education’s biest philanthropic donor. Over the past two decades, it has given:
The Netflix CEO is one of the founding backers of the NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports educators and entrepreneurs improving public schools. Grants paid out, by year:
$1.57B College Scholarships
$1OO,OOO Marc Benioff
$826M Colleges and Universities
$2.48B K-12 Education
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan Through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Facebook CEO and his wife back Summit Learning, a digital platform that manages students’ tasks and progress—and is subject to a growing backlash. Who’s using the platform: SCHOOLS
T E A CHERS
ST UDE N TS
100 BROOKLYN STUDENTS STAGED A WALKOUT IN 2018 OVER THE PLATFORM’S INEFFECTIVENESS.
Laurene Powell Jobs Through her XQ Institute,* Powell Jobs has awarded $130 million to schools that have proposed innovative education ideas.
700 The amount that 21 middle school principals in the San Francisco Unified School District each received annually since 2013 from Benioff’s spin-out, Salesforce.org, to support “innovation” as they see fit
schools submitted applications
schools receiving funds for transformations
*XQ Institute is an organization dedicated to overhauling the traditional U.S. high school.
Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos Amount the former couple pledged last September to creating Montessori schools and supporting homeless families through their Day One Fund:
TECH FOU N DERS W HO AT TE N DED M O N TES SOR I SCHOOLS
Michael and Susan Dell
32.2 M ILL IO N
Students reached by Ed-Fi Alliance, a seven-year-old nonprofit that helps schools use data to measure individual students’ achievements
 Sergey Brin  Mark Zuckerberg Larry Page Bill Gates Jeff Bezos
ILLUSTR ATION BY KYLE BEAN
WENN Rights Ltd/Alamy (Brin); Ron Sachs/Consolidated/dpa/Alamy (Zuckerberg); Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images (Page); The Gates Notes LLC (Gates); Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Alamy (Bezos)
Tech billionaires are pouring millions of dollars into education causes every year in attempts to revamp schools, build a better workforce, and even win over America’s youth. Here’s a look at their signature education projects, and who stands to beneﬁt from them.
Simulation is a Game-Changer in the Real World FASTER, LESS EXPENSIVE, BETTER PRODUCTS ARE POSSIBLE WITH SIMULATION More than a decade ago, a serious car crash nearly destroyed one young Australian woman’s jaw, breaking it in three places. A series of agonizing surgeries failed to reduce her unrelenting pain, and in 2017 her jaw began locking up to the point she could barely eat. Her oral surgeon recognized that the problem was a failed bone graft. She needed a new bone created from scratch using 3D-printing technology. Craniomaxillofacial surgical device designer OM X Solutions turned to ANSYS's engineering simulation software to measure, design, and then produce a new piece of simulated bone to be surgically implanted. The implant surgery took less than an hour, thanks to a perfect fit, and minutes after the anesthesia wore off, the patient was able to talk pain-free. The life-changing surgery was only possible because ANSYS's simulation technology so accurately designed and produced a replacement. AN INNOVATION DRIVER A NSYS is a simulation technolog y pioneer. Founded nearly 50 years ago, ANSYS established and commercialized the industry of creating a computerized version of a real-life process. These precise simulations are used by some of the most cutting-edge companies around the world to bring design concepts to market faster and at lower cost. While the company has its origins in the nuclear industry, today ANSYS is an industry leader that applies engineering simulation software in the aerospace and automotive industries, as well as health care, industrial oil pumps, smartphones, and other
consumer product categories. With more than 750 PhDs on staff, ANSYS has the expertise to help companies overcome their most difficult design challenges. Simulation was once limited to testing the end product. However, the application is now found at all stages of production—something ANSYS calls pervasive simulation. Engineers can design and then modify prototype renderings to scope out the impact of a design change before a sample is produced, for example. Simulation has also evolved to include multiple areas of physics—called “multiphysics”—including fluid forces, electromagnetic currents, and thermal effects. Understanding how these physical forces interact with one another to impact the function of a product is critical to testing reliability and understanding performance in different conditions. To ensure accuracy in its simulations, ANSYS does not limit itself to working in only one area of physics at a time. The company has supported Volkswagen’s work on vehicle electrification, BMW’s work on autonomous vehicles, and LG’s new consumer product development, to name a few projects. Ajei Gopal, ANSYS CEO, says the company’s culture has helped make it an industry leader. “Our team is encouraged to test out new ideas with a fail-fast approach, because when you’re exploring ‘what if’ scenarios, you need to learn by failing,” Gopal says. That work process is also consistent with ANSYS's innovative culture, which is what earned the company a spot on Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators list. SIMULATION AT A TIPPING POINT Megatrends, including 5G communications, the industrial internet of things, artificial intelligence, electrification of vehicles, and the autonomy movement are driv ing expanded use of simulation, Gopal says. The result is the ability to create new products faster, less expensively, and better. Companies that are using simulation through all aspects of production are benefiting from the competitive advantage it prov ides—namely, improved efficiency, shortened development time, and lower cost, Gopal says. ANSYS's culture of innovation helps spur innovative thinking throughout the organization and keeps it at the head of the simulation pack.
C RE AT E D B Y FA S T C O W ORK S C ON T E N T S T UDIO A ND C OMMIS SIONE D B Y
A FLUID DYNAMICS
simulation to optimize aerodynamic performance.
NEXT Creative Conversation
DE S U S A N D M E RO’S CO L D OP E N
WITH THEIR FREE-FLOWING SHOW, NOW RUNNING TWICE A WEEK ON SHOWTIME, THE TWITTER-BORN DUO ARE GIVING LATE-NIGHT COMEDY NEW LIFE. BY J O E B E R KOW I T Z
BRONX NATIVES DANIEL BAKER (DESUS NICE) AND JOEL MARTINEZ (THE KID MERO)
met in high school. After honing their rapid-fire cultural commentary on Twitter, Baker, a former small-business columnist, and Martinez, a onetime public-school teacher, parlayed their viral popularity into a podcast on Complex before adding TV, first with an ill-fitting stint at MTV2 and then with a hit nightly show on Viceland. Now, the sons of Jamaican and Latino immigrants, respectively, are working with a writers’ room for the first time and translating their off-the-cuff humor for a broader audience with the seven-month-old Desus and Mero. Desus and Mero doesn’t follow the same template as other late-night shows. For example, there is no opening monologue. What did you set out to give your audience instead? DB I think the perfect late-night show would be something I could show to my parents and they’re just like, “What the hell is that?” Something that makes other people uncomfortable, like The Eric Andre Show, on Adult Swim. The problem with [most] late-night television now is you have to reach a certain [level of fame] in order to be Daniel Baker invited on [as a guest]. They’re and Joel behind the curve: We’re going to Martinez have this person on because we COMPANY Showtime see that you guys liked this and POSITION we don’t have any feelers on the Talk-show hosts ground. Whereas we’re in tune EARLY JOBS with the culture. We have our DB Columnist for ear to the streets and we know Black Enterprise magazine things way before it’s in the zeitJM Middle-school geist for other people. If you’re teaching assistant just picking up on something PHOTOGR APHS BY ANDRE L . PERRY
after it’s already hit mainstream, you seem antiquated, like, “Hey, fellow kids.” JM It should be conversational. It should feel natural and not just like, you know, “Rim shot, here’s so-and-so, blah blah blah.” It should be more like Talk Soup, [which was] super lo-ﬁ and you would occasionally hear the crew laughing. Also, I want to see somebody who might not necessarily come from where I come from, but who is in tune with what I’m in tune with and makes me feel like I’m a part of it. Viewers today—especially younger viewers— watch television differently. They’re mainly just watching clips on their phones. How does that affect the way you approach your work? DB We’ve been guests on network shows where someone in marketing says, “Just have a viral moment.” That’s not how viral moments work. You can’t plan for them. In television, they want this moment to go viral and they don’t put that same effort into the rest of the show. If something happens and goes viral, that’s cool, but we never sit down like, “Yo, we need this to trend!” On our show, people see things in the news and they tweet directly at FASTCOMPANY.COM 19
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our account. They will say, “We want to see this on the Monday night show,” and we have no choice but to follow. We have a direct connection with our fans. It’s hard for the bigger platforms and bigger shows to have that intimate relationship with an audience.
and show real emotions, and now you wouldn’t dare put anything personal on Twitter because someone might throw it back in your face or you get doxed.
During the show, you two talk to each other, dissect the news, and interview guests such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Issa Rae. But you’re also working with a writers’ room now and You have both acknowledged saying things in the featuring scripted sketches for the first time. What has that early days of your comedy that now seem controvertransition been like? JM It was difﬁcult at ﬁrst. Coming into a writsial, such as when you mocked leaked nude pictures of celebrities. What do you think about comedians ers’ room expecting everything to be a smash hit is the wrong way to who complain about not being allowed to make the go. We might not like 8 out of 10 things submitted, but those 2 things jokes they used to make? JM It’s lame. Imagine if the that we like, we’re going to beat up into something really good. DB It’s NBA was still the NBA of the 1950s, and Bob Cousy was, difﬁcult for the writers of our show because we’re not scripted people. like, the best dribbler you’ve It’s like, “All right, thank you ever seen in your life. There’s no for your script, we’re going to From AOC to Cardi B evolution there. It would suck. freestyle this part or improv this THE TALK-SHOW DUO RIFF ON THEIR I wouldn’t watch basketball if it stuff.” As long as it’s a safe space FAMOUS FRIENDS. looked like that. I watch basketand no one feels like they’re going ball because people are dunking to get embarrassed or chastised, and the game evolved. Comedy you’re going to get the best ideas. evolves. You’ve got to either No one’s afraid of pitching someevolve with it or become extinct. thing in fear, like we’re going to “It’s funny watching say, “That was stupid. Get out of DB They’re complaining, “You “Watching her is like people [claim], watching your sis‘You’re not really ALEXANDRIA here.” We’re not at that point yet. can’t say this. You can’t say that.” ter,” says Martinez. from the Bronx,’ ” OCASIO-CORTEZ Season 5 deﬁnitely gonna be like No one says you can’t say that. It’s Baker explains, Baker says of their U.S. Representative, that. [Laughs] just that if you say that, you’re not “We knew her from New York’s first guest on Show14th Congressional Bronx strip clubs. time. “When we’re going to get this commercial or District Our glow-up was talking to her, she’s this Netﬂix special or such and On your show, just as on your at the same time. making references such. If you elevate your comedy five-year-old podcast, Bodega You feel bad for her, you cannot Google, and make people actually think, Boys, you riff off the news of seeing how she rethat unless you acts on Twitter and lived in the Bronx, or show that there’s some comthe day, cold. How do you deInstagram [when] you don’t know.” passion or humanity in it, people cide what topics to cover? DB people she doesn’t appreciate that, and they talk [The producers] tell us ahead of know get under her skin and she about you on a different level. time. I try not to look at the news “He was the coolest curses them out. I stories because I’d rather be surCHRIS HAYES person in middle know what it’s like. Host, All In prised, the same way the audience Twitter is where you two first school, which It’s a cautionary tale.” With Chris Hayes, makes absolutely is surprised. If something is trendgained recognition, back in on MSNBC no sense,” says ing that weekend or something 2009. Desus, you’ve said that Baker. The two big happened, we’re going to cover “the point of Twitter is to use were classmates at it. JM If you follow us on Twitter Twitter to get off Twitter”— Pablo Casals Middle “He hit me up on School in the Bronx. and that you might be some of and are listening to the podcast— Twitter,” Martinez “Girls would be says. “I was working the only people who’ve done if you’re already a fan—you can like, ‘Oh my God, at a school and he that. What do you think of the tell what’s going to be on the Chris.’ He would had been a teacher always get picked platform these days? DB It’s a show. Like, just by what’s makCARDI B in Bed-Stuy. We as the quarterback. Rapper and [talked] about ing the rounds on social media hellscape. They should just shut I make this joke: Television Host working in a public and what people are talking about it down. Twitter used to be fun. I I didn’t know Chris school in the hood, Hayes was white and what’s getting memed to know I’m going to sound like the the parallels beuntil seventh grade. death. And then we both have wild old 80-year-old comedian tween a white CoI thought he was lumbia grad and me, our own interests. talking about PC culture, but bejust light-skinned. who barely finished fore, Twitter was like, Oh, here’s When I had a school. We’re writcrappy job a couple what happened to me today. Now So much changes between ing a show about of years ago and it.” “He’s incredible everyone’s using Twitter to bethe live show you perform for saw him on at Sega Genesis EZRA KOENIG come popular or viral. It’s not the the audience in New York and MSNBC, I was like, games. I was like, Singer-Songwriter, ‘One of us made it.’” same; it’s not authentic. Before, what gets edited into the half‘You are a god,’” Vampire Weekend, and says Baker. people used to use it like a diary hour version on Showtime. Creator, Neo Yokio 20 FASTCOMPANY.COM
Opening spread: Stylist: Satthra San; groomer: Melissa Adelaide at The Wall Group; photographed on location at Harlem Shake, NYC. This page: Samantha Burkardt/Getty Images (Ocasio-Cortez); Astrid Stawiarz/MSNBC/2019 NBCUniversal Media, LLC (Hayes); Judy Eddy/WENN Rights Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo (Cardi B); Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images (Koenig)
Does it feel like you’re making two shows at once? DB Most people don’t realize how much extra stuff we leave on the ﬂoor. We’re interacting with the crowd. Something we’re working hard to do with the TV show is capture what makes it feel not prompter-ish, not scripted, just off the cuff, just homies chillin’. JM We’re glad people are allowed to have their phones [on in the studio], because so many videos pop up on Twitter of people in the audience, like, “Yo, I’m going to a live taping of Desus and Mero. It’s like a two-hour bonanza.” And it’s true, there’s so much stuff. We have the ﬂoor for as long as we want. You know how some talk shows have a warm-up comic who’ll come out throwing T-shirts into the crowd and be like, “Hey, I just ﬂew in from Chicago and boy my arms are tired?” That guy? We don’t need that guy because we are that guy. And we’re not corny, so we just come out and do what people want more of, which is back-and-forth banter about whatever, that could go in any direction. How do you get hyped up to do your show twice a week, and your weekly podcast? And how do you decompress afterward? DB To get hyped up, we look at our day rate. To calm down at night, we look at our bills.
Talking the Talk HOW DESUS AND MERO LEAPT FROM TWITTER TO SHOWTIME, WHILE KEEPING IT RAW
D B Kwak pitched it to Complex. We did a test recording. I remember it was us and a guy in a room with one of those MP3 recorders. I still have it on my phone. Complex was like, “This is gold, right here.”
The high school acquaintances reconnect and start trading jokes on Twitter, swapping quips about pop culture and oddball news.
I called it “joke tennis.” I would say a joke, and then he would piyback off it, or he would say a joke and I would piyback off it, and it [would go] back and forth.
MTV2 signs the comedians to a TV show. Creatively dissatisﬁed, they start another podcast, called Bodega Boys, on the side.
Donnie Kwak, then an editor at Complex Magazine, persuades the duo to try out their offbeat riffs on a podcast, Desus vs. Mero.
D B Making our show at Vice was a great experience. It was where we learned how to make a TV show—camera blocking, sound, creative concepts, etc.
Part of [the MTV2 contract] was “you have to end Desus vs. Mero.” After [we restarted a podcast], [fans] were like, “This is the kind of humor we want from you. We don’t like what you were doing over there at Viacom.”
Vice Media gives the duo a nightly show broadcast on Viceland.
Baker and Martinez score a deal with Showtime for a weekly show, which debuts in February. It’s so popular that it begins airing biweekly in May.
Having done as many shows as we did at Vice, we were able to figure out how we wanted to take our show to the next level, which is what we are doing now.
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BA S E B A L L’ S T E C H R E VO L U T I O N A NEW GENERATION OF CAMERAS AND MOTION-CAPTURE DEVICES IS REDEFINING AMERICA’S PASTIME. BY JAY WO O D RU F F
Baseball has always been as much a science as it is a sport: A sportswriter introduced the box score in 1859, and 30 years ago the Padres’ Tony Gwynn pioneered video as a tool to improve his swing. Today, Major League Baseball’s commitment to technology is changing the game for fans, players, and coaches. In February, the MLB announced a pilot program for new rules and equipment, including a camera- and radar-based replacement for home-plate umpires. Here are ﬁve innovations teams are adopting to gain insight into player performance.
1. K-Vest The K-Vest places sensors on a batter’s upper torso, pelvis, and lead arm and hand to capture motion for a detailed analysis of swing efficiency. Each sensor gathers 200 data points per second, which are transmitted to a laptop and turned into a 3D rendering of swing mechanics. The system can be customized to focus on such things as pelvis rotation or torso bend. K-Vest is currently used by 21 MLB teams, plus hitting academies and individual players. ($5,500 per kit) 22 FASTCOMPANY.COM
Currently used by 15 MLB teams, the SwingTracker sensor attaches to the knob of a bat and transmits data about angles, planes, and velocity to produce a 3D model of a player’s swing. In the batting cage, the “damage potential” feature estimates flight distance and the path of a ball. An affordable price tag makes it an option “for 10-year-olds up to half of the MLB,” says manufacturer Diamond Kinetics’ chief commercial officer Jeff Schuldt. ($99.99; $4.99 per month for software)
The KinaTrax system consists of 8 to 16 high-speed synchronized video cameras installed along the first- and third-base lines that capture every movement of the pitcher and hitter. The system then uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide 3D rotational and positional data for every joint in their bodies. KinaTrax requires about 10 hours to turn the footage into data, which can enable teams to identify subtle shifts in mechanics that might hamper performance or lead to injury. It’s currently deployed by four major-league teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. ($80,000– $150,000)
The Edgertronic SC1 is a high-speed video camera capable of capturing up to 22,000 frames per second. Teams use the slow-motion visuals to see how a pitcher’s grip changes as he releases a ball, or how subtle adjustments in finger position affect ball rotation. Edgertronic is currently used by most MLB teams. “The baseball people got this early,” says Edgertronic’s inventor, Mike Matter. “I rarely see a customer who’s as sophisticated about tech as our average baseball customer.” ($6,495)
Situated on the ground between the mound and home plate, Rapsodo’s units combine radar with a camera to generate data on ball speed, velocity, and spin for pitchers, and velocity, spin, launch angle, and projected hit outcome for batters. Whereas other technologies focus on body mechanics, Edgertronic and Rapsodo focus on the ball. Every MLB team currently uses Rapsodo, as do more than 100 individual players, 500 colleges, and 400 baseball academies. ($4,000 per unit) ILLUSTR ATION BY BR ATISLAV MILENKOVIĆ
HR Tech Helps Fuel a Culture of Innovation TECHNOLOGY’S ABILITY TO CUT HR COSTS IS WELL DOCUMENTED, BUT ITS MOST EXCITING PROMISE IS IN HELPING TO BUILD A CULTURE OF INNOVATION
Technology is the primary driver of innovation at all kinds of businesses. It’s widely used in areas such as marketing, supply chain logistics, commerce solutions, and others. Businesses that embrace technology are much more likely to develop a culture of innovation than those that don’t. When that mindset is expanded to include the human resources function, the impact can be dramatic. The lion’s share of the costs involved with common HR tasks are labor-related, according to a recent report by consulting firm EY. For example, labor accounts for 95% of the average cost of onboarding a new employee. Using technology to automate HR processes can return significant savings: 7% on talent acquisition, 15% on people management, and 37% on HR analytics, in the case of one economic analysis recently conducted by Forrester. But even more important than HR technology’s potential cost savings is the effect it can have on corporate culture. In a 2019 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, 80% of HR leaders said they focus on culture to drive results. Tom Hammond, Paychex VP of corporate strategy and product management, says this is where HR tech really shines. “HR technology delivers tools that cultivate a great working environment, helping to support a company’s vision, culture, and shared values,” he says. The way it does this is by making communication more flexible and effective, whether it be between HR and employees or amongst employees themselves, he explains. FACILITATING THE FUTURE OF WORK “By automating HR processes, such as the accessibility of HR data that employees want to access, it increases efficiency and supports employee engagement through
functions like social collaboration, online chat, and mobile access to all relevant tools and data,” Hammond says. “As workplaces embrace new mindsets and modern behaviors, they must also embrace the tools that facilitate the future of work.” Hammond’s observations are borne out by research done at PwC’s Katzenbach Center. In its latest Global Culture Survey, 65% of business leaders surveyed said that culture is more impor tant to their organization’s success than strateg y or operating model, and 80% acknowledged a need to evolve their culture in order to grow and retain the best employees. HR tech is a hotbed of activity lately, and it’s important that businesses find the solutions that best meet their needs. Hammond says one must-have is an effective employee management solution that enables online capturing of Internal Revenue Service Forms W-4 and I-9 for compliance, delivers mobile employee self-service, maintains employee demographic information, and captures and tracks requests for time off. A flexible payroll offering—which is an extension of the employer-employee relationship and the driver of everything else in an HR application—and a solution that manages core HR functions (time and attendance, benefits administration, recruitment, training, etc.) are other essentials. “HR technology continues to evolve, and it’s not slowing down,” Hammond says. “Significant enhancements are being released by providers like us every day to increase HR efficiency.” As technology advances continue to disrupt the status quo in human resources administration, forging a culture of innovation becomes ever more attainable for HR leaders.
SP ONSORE D C ON T E N T C RE AT E D B Y FA S T C O W ORK S
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Katherine Power COMPANY Clique Brands POSITION Cofounder and CEO PREVIOUS JOBS Cofounder of fashion blog Who What Wear, editor at Elle magazine
WELL VERS E D
HOW WHO WHAT WEAR COFOUNDER KATHERINE POWER TURNED AN ONLINE FASHION COMMUNITY INTO A BRAND FACTORY BY E L I Z A B E T H S E G R A N 26 FASTCOMPANY.COM
This past May, Target debuted Versed, a 19-piece skincare line free of 1,300 toxic ingredients, priced at less than $20 per item, and packaged in sleek mint-green, teal-blue, and pink tubes and bottles. It’s the latest brainchild of Katherine Power, the cofounder and CEO of Clique Brands, which includes 16 million–person online fashion community Who What Wear and a number of retail lines. Power began her career as an editor at Elle magazine, but found a new media-business model in turning reader insights into e-commerce and products. In 2016, she cocreated the Who What Wear clothing line, sold exclusively at Target. In 2017, she partnered with Target on its in-house activewear brand, Joylab. Now she’s applying her trove of consumer insights to Versed, the ﬁrst spin-off company of Who What Wear. Here’s her playbook for launching affordable, breakthrough brands. PHOTOGR APH BY CAR A ROBBINS
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TALK TO YOUR (FUTURE) CUSTOMERS Power has a six-person team exclusively focused on studying data from the Who What Wear audience (including 3 million Instagram followers and a handful of closed Facebook groups) to spot market opportunities. Many of Versed’s core characteristics were gathered from user activity on the site. “Women were searching for things like ‘acne and anti-aging,’ ” Power says. “No [brand] was addressing how you combine solutions to solve skincare issues.” In response, Versed launched with products that can be used individually or together, such as a ﬁrming serum and a complexion solution. Four months before launching, Versed created a 2,159-member Facebook group dedicated to skincare, which yielded speciﬁc product suggestions that Versed is currently working on—such as a nonirritating retinol. EMBRACE THE MIDDLEMAN With minimalist packaging, Versed’s products look at home on Instagram next to direct-to-consumer brands such as Away, Glossier, and Warby Parker—but Power turned the typical DTC model on its head. Versed debuted in 1,400 Target stores and on its website. It has since rolled out to e-commerce site Revolve, and will begin selling directly to customers via its own website in October. Power believes that the majority of Americans still get to know brands ofﬂine (a Who What Wear survey found that 94% of respondents discover skincare in-store), and going through a big-box retailer makes her products widely accessible. “Women in the middle of the country have the same appetite for style and quality as women on the coasts,” she says. “Largely, they have only had access to these trends through online retail, and a lot of their discovery is still happening in real life.” Versed’s packaging, product names, and even the models in its ad campaigns were focus-grouped with the Who What Wear community to ensure the line would stand out in Target. The brand’s e-commerce site will use more traditional DTC marketing tactics (sleek visuals, education on ingredients, social media engagement) while providing an easy way for Target converts to replenish each month.
What the People Want EACH CLIQUE BRANDS LINE WAS INSPIRED BY WHO WHAT WEAR READERS.
DON’T SKIMP ON THE GOOD STUFF DTC brands often highlight how they can bring luxury products to consumers for less 28 FASTCOMPANY.COM
1. WHO WHAT WEAR A Who What Wear survey with 26,000 respondents found that 72% of readers were looking for “affordable, fashionable workwear.”
2. JOYLAB Joylab’s matte leggings and colorful palette deliver high-end athleisure trends at $44.99 or less per piece.
3. VERSED In development surveys for Versed, 67% of respondents said they wished their skincare regimen had “cleaner” ingredients and packaging.
by cutting out retailers. But Power has found that her Target partnerships help her elevate her products. Even though Versed avoids 1,300 typical cosmetic ingredients (those that are banned in Europe), it was able to deliver safe, highquality formulations at under $20 per item—while premium brands such as Beautycounter and Drunk Elephant charge two or three times more—because the products are made at scale. “There are certain cost efﬁciencies that occur by buying in such large quantities,” Power says. And while beauty brands are notorious for using just enough of an expensive ingredient to list it on the label, Versed instead uses high doses of more common ingredients that are safe and effective, including eucalyptus oil, aloe, vitamin C, and glycolic acid. LEVERAGE YOUR LOYAL FANS Power credits the Who What Wear site’s democratic, affordable approach to style with helping her reach women outside major city markets. A recent survey Clique conducted of 1,000 women across the U.S. found that a quarter of those between the ages of 18 and 49 are familiar with Who What Wear, and 65% have been aware of the site for two or more years. Much of her company’s growth, Power says, has come from readers who have big followings in their own right—of Who What Wear’s 3 million Instagram followers, more than 80,000 have 2,000 or more followers of their own. They often serve as advocates for Clique’s brands. “It’s the dental hygienist who always has the best lip-gloss color or the paralegal with the best handbag,” she says. “By focusing on her, we reach the rest of the masses. There’s a ﬁnite amount of women who are going to seek out fashion and beauty content, and for the women who aren’t going to do that, they’re getting recommendations from that friend.”
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JEWE L I N T H E C ROW N SAFDIE ARCHITECTS REIMAGINES THE AIRPORT WITH SINGAPORE’S JEWEL CHANGI EXTENSION.
A Paradisal Oasis The centerpiece of Jewel is a tropical garden that spreads across 270 square feet and five stories, and contains more
than 2,000 trees and palms and 100,000 shrubs. Visitors can explore the area, accessible 24 hours a day, via trails, and walk (or bounce) above the treetops
BY YA S M I N G AG N E
With 65 million travelers passing through in 2018 alone and amenities that include a butterﬂy garden and a rooftop swimming pool, Changi Airport is one of the world’s leading transit hubs and a prominent part of Singapore’s identity. It’s now part of the city itself, thanks to the four-month-old, $1.3 billion Jewel extension. Safdie Architects’ lead architect, Moshe Safdie, says he wanted the 1.4-million-square-foot complex to attract travelers and locals alike. He succeeded: Today, about 60% of Jewel’s visitors are from Singapore. “Many developers want Disneylike attractions,” he says. “[But those] have limited appeal for return visitors. I wanted something timeless that could uplift passengers from the stress of travel.”
on a pair of sturdy, 82-foot-high nets. A glass canopy bridge (1) is suspended more than 75 feet above the ground. On top of everything sits the domed roof, made from 9,000 soundproof glass panels with small gaps between them for circulation. The 2,563 tons of glass filter in light for the plants while reducing heat. Safdie installed a displacement ventilation system to keep conditions warm for the plants. Mist from the waterfall cools the space and reduces the load on the cooling system.
ILLUSTR ATION BY JAMES GILLEARD
To avoid cluttering the main areas with lots of columns, each of the building’s 10 floors is held up by column clusters that start from a single base and fan out as they reach the ceiling.
An Unnatural Wonder The building is shaped like a doughnut; rainwater flows into a hole where the world’s largest indoor waterfall sits—the Rain Vortex (2). Five hundred thousand
liters of water pour from the opening in the dome to the building’s basement. When it is not raining, recirculated water is pumped back up to keep it running. California-based WET Design, run by former Disney Imagineers, created animated light shows to project onto the cascade. An acrylic column catches the water as it reaches
the bottom of the building, to prevent splashing.
Refreshing Experiences Away from the garden, the retail complex contains 200 stores, including the first Pokémon center in Asia outside of Japan, and Nike’s largest outpost in Southeast Asia. The 90 restaurants range from A&W and Shake Shack to Singapore’s own Violet Oon (serving kueh pie tee and other Peranakan dishes) and Shang Social (3), the Shangri-La hotel group’s first standalone restaurant. Jewel’s top floor is devoted to recreational space, including outdoor terrace
dining and an events plaza that holds up to 1,000 people. There’s also a hedge maze (4) and an enormous four-sided sculpture that doubles as a series of slides.
Seamless Connections Changi worked with more than two dozen airlines to install earlycheck-in stations (5), allowing travelers to drop off their bags before exploring the extension. The complex houses a luxury lounge for passengers connecting to cruise
ships and ferries, and a YotelAir hotel, which contains 130 “cabins” bookable by the hour. A skytrain that connects to the terminals gives passengers a view of the garden and waterfall. To accommodate the influx of visitors, the airport parking lot was expanded to five levels that house some 2,500 cars. Jewel Changi is set to receive the highest rating from Singapore’s Green Mark program for environmentally sustainable buildings.
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R E D U C E, R E U S E, REFURBISH THIS FRENCH E-COMMERCE PLATFORM IS MAKING YOUR “VINTAGE” IPHONE COOL AGAIN. BY DA R R E L L H A RT M A N
PHOTOGR APHS BY JULIE GLASSBERG
Society’s obsession with new gadgetry has wreaked havoc on the environment: Close to 50 million tons of toxic e-waste are generated each year, and the mostly Africa-based supply chains for cobalt and rare earth metals used in components are riddled with human rights violations and planet-damaging mining practices. The problem is exacerbated in part by the yearly parade of new models of smartphones, tablets, and wearables from tech giants such as Apple, Samsung, and Google, and all the marketing dollars put behind these launches. But as phones become more durable, more expensive, and less differentiated from previous iterations, French refurbishedelectronics marketplace Back Market is working to convince Americans that “new is not exciting,” says CEO Thibaud Hug de Larauze. SEPTEMBER 2019
REUSERSI N -CHIEF Back Market chief creative officer Vianney Vaute (left) and chief technology officer Quentin Le Brouster
4 ways machine learning powers better marketing BY CASSIE KOZYRKOV, CHIEF DECISION SCIENTIST, GOOGLE CLOUD
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37% of app installs remain in use after seven days.
+H[QWÅ¨TGWUKPIUKNQGFUQWTEGUVQKFGPVKH[[QWTCWFKGPEG[QW might be missing out. Machine learning can sort and analyze sources to help you learn which users are most valuable, and help you maximize your budget by showing ads only to users who are most likely to download and use your app.
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NEXT Behind the Brand
“There hasn’t been major innovation in smartphones in four years,” says Hug de Larauze, who uses a ﬁve-yearold iPhone 6 that would retail for about $200 on his site. “It’s mostly psychological, with advertising telling you that you need a new one.” The global market for used and refurbished smartphones is growing—it was $19 billion in 2017 and will reach $44 billion by 2027, according to Performance Market Research—while new smartphone sales contracted by 4% worldwide in 2018. But U.S. consumers are simultaneously more familiar with and less excited about buying pre-owned phones. A 2019 poll by Back Market found that 80% of Americans never shop for refurbished electronics. Of those, half said they didn’t trust resale devices; the other half had never considered them. After launching in the U.S. and raising $48 million in Series B funding in 2018, ﬁve-year-old Back Market is moving to change that, and do for used gadgets what Airbnb did for renting strangers’ homes: reposition them as something people would conﬁdently spend money on. For a 10% commission on each transaction, Back Market facilitates sales from more than 600 refurbishing outﬁts worldwide, including multinational behemoth Brightstar, mom-and-pop shops, and Apple’s and Dyson’s refurbishing units. Products must pass a 23-point test before being sold on the platform, and new sellers go through a trial period with restricted sales until they prove themselves reliable. In Europe, Back Market is a successful and trusted platform: Gross sales grew from $4 million in 2015 to $120 million in 2017. In 2018, after the U.S. launch, they reached $300 million, a ﬁgure the company hopes to double this year. (Back Market does not release its U.S. sales figures.) But Americans will be harder to sway than their European peers. Jeff Fieldhack, a research director at Counterpoint Research, says that carriers in the U.S. have squeezed more money out of refurbished phones than their Chinese and European counterparts, but put most of their effort into selling new phones. The emergence of Back Market, he says, is forcing everyone to take refurbishing more seriously. Back Market is wooing Americans by offering a more efﬁcient and formalized user experience than existing megaplatforms such as eBay and Amazon. Phones are rated on aesthetic appearance, and searches on Back Market only surface the best-priced option in each category— allowing users to compare the price of, say, a scratched 32 GB iPhone 6 with one that looks new. Each purchase comes with a 30-day return policy and a minimum warranty of six months in the U.S., and customer-care representatives ﬁeld complaints. This is, in short, not the ﬂea-market atmosphere of eBay. The company is also expanding its services, including theft-and-breakage plans (a ﬁrst for pre-owned phones in the French market) and warranty extensions. “Marketplaces in Europe are now following in Back Market’s 36 FASTCOMPANY.COM
Toxic Trend AS SMARTPHONES PROLIFERATE, SO DO THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES. Number of smartphones owned (in billions): 2.995
3.513 3.763 3.257
2017 2018 2019 2020* 2021*
A 64GB iPhone X model creates: 80% Production
79KG OF CO2 EMISS IONS OVER ITS LIFE SPAN
17% Customer use 2% Transport 1% Recycling
Electronic waste created in 2016:
7M tons in the U.S.
footsteps and putting more into the refurbished market,” says Albert Mita, VP of e-commerce for Thibaud Hug buyback giant PCS Wireless. de Larauze But beyond ﬁnding new cusCOMPANY Back Market tomers, the big idea is to “free the POSITION CEO world from tech obsolescence,” says CCO Vianney Vaute, who coPREVIOUS JOB Managing merchant invenfounded the company with Hug tories on eBay and de Larauze and CTO Quentin Le other marketplaces Brouster. Back Market’s internal PHONE MODEL iPhone 6 motto is “Screw New.” The founders invoke efforts such as American Express’s recycled-plastic credit card as signs of greater changes afoot. Indeed, nearly half of U.S. consumers said “they would deﬁnitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment,” according to a 2018 Nielsen study. And unlike most organic and fair-trade products, Back Market’s ethical tech costs less than the alternative. A recent rebrand by a London-based agency known for its work with Airbnb, unveiled in June, has ampliﬁed Back Market’s eco-messaging. Its website now proudly announces the company’s vision as “redemption through circulation” of old devices through the economy. “We are on this mission more than ever,” Vaute says.
Sources: Newzoo’s Global Mobile Market Report 2018, *Projected (smartphones); Apple’s iPhone X Environmental Report (iPhone X); UN University Global E-Waste Monitor 2017 (e-waste)
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TURNING TRASH INTO TREASURE
Designer Sophie Rowley transforms recycled jeans into denim furniture. BY YA S M I N G AG N E
R. T H E
R E C O M M E N D E R
Berlin-based designer Sophie Rowley, who began experimenting with recycled materials as a master’s student at Central Saint Martins, in London, creates the marblelike surfaces of her Bahia Slate Tables from used denim, collected from recycling centers in Germany. She dips the fabric in bioresin (a plastic made from organic compounds) and dries it into a mold to make a sturdy three-dimensional shape. The ﬁnal table feels more like fabric than plastic. “The exposed surface is jeans, so it has a soft and warm sensation,” says Rowley. (Prices starting at $700)
N o. 23 4
PHOTOGR APHS BY WILL ST YER
N EC E S S ARY V IC E
The Daily Soundtrack
Music for Every Moment MYLES JONES, ATHLETE, CHAOS LACROSSE CLUB Waking Up
“GOOD MORNING,” K ANYE WEST
The title says it all. The first verse of Kanye’s upbeat “Good Morning” provides a great soundtrack for the start of the day.
“DIGITAL DASH,” DR AKE AND FUTURE
The strong bass gives the song an energetic vibe, and I love the flow between both artists. It gets me in the zone.
Casamigos Reposado ( S TA R T I N G AT $ 2 5 . 9 9 , C A S A M I G O S T E Q U I L A . C O M )
“I love the taste of this tequila. I look forward to my Friday night Casamigos on the rocks— and my kids look forward to my extra-entertaining bedtime stories. It’s a parenting winwin.” —Sarah Harden, CEO, Hello Sunshine
End of the Day
“SATURDAY NIGHT,” KHALID
The song’s chill melody, played on an acoustic guitar, is great for unwinding.
Driving This song has a lot of different artists and styles; its switches are perfect when I’m traveling from place to place, matching the changing scenery.
Hard at Work
“8 OUT OF 10,” DR AKE
The beat—and the way Drake delivers his message—never fails to motivate me.
Retreat and Advance
Desert Diamond “The Mountain Shadows Resort, in Paradise Valley, Phoenix, is a beautiful, quiet jewel—restored from the original mid-century property. My bathtub had a stunning view of Camelback Mountain.” —Christene Barberich, cofounder and global editorin-chief, Refinery29 SEPTEMBER 2019
“If I need something to really clear the mind, I go with friends to the local BMX jump park. There’s nothing like terror to turn off nagging thoughts.” —Coulter Lewis, founder and CEO, Sunday
ILLUSTR ATIONS BY CYNTHIA KITTLER
Portrait: Irina Kruglova
“WE THE ONES,” QUALIT Y CONTROL
ALL THE MOMENTS WE STAND UP
JOE MANGANIELLO Stand Up To Cancer Ambassador
Since 2008, Major League BaseballÂŽ has supported Stand Up To Cancer in its mission to fund groundbreaking research and get treatments to patients faster than ever before. Join us as we stand united to show our support for loved ones affected by cancer.
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Is there a businessperson you admire? Oprah created an empire and stayed true to herself while doing it. She has certainly overcome obstacles, but she’s made it look effortless. What’s the best mistake you ever made? I don’t consider it a mistake if you learn from it.
MY OPERATING SYSTEM DESIGNER MISHA NONOO The fashion designer known for dressing British royals takes our career questionnaire. What’s your best habit, and your worst? My best is my discipline and that I practice daily meditation. My worst is my capacity for procrastination. What advice are you glad you ignored? “Hire to your weaknesses.” It’s every entrepreneur’s dream
to pass off the aspects of the business that they don’t feel comfortable with, but until you fully understand how something needs to be done, it is hard to hire the right team to execute for you. What advice would you give your younger self? Don’t be so impatient. Everything
When I’m creatively stuck, I… Take a walk with my dog, Thatcher. I come up with my best ideas in the fresh air and return to the ofﬁce feeling reenergized. What buzzword do you never want to hear again? Curate is the most overused word. I hear it applied to everything, and I feel as though it barely makes sense anymore.
but a week later I switched to French. Living in Paris for almost two years changed my life and aesthetic sensibility indelibly. Do you have a work uniform? Our [collared, button-down] Husband Shirt in every color. How do you exercise? I do Tracy Anderson religiously. I do the double—one hour of dance cardio and one hour of muscular exercise—each morning before work. I love the music, dance, and effectiveness of the workout. What TV show are you mid-binge on? I love the comedian Gad Elmaleh and his show Huge in France. I also enjoy Chef ’s Table. Do you have a mantra? It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.
Is there a book you recommend to everyone? The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. I have read it at least ﬁve times and each time I discover new wisdom in its pages.
Do you have a favorite podcast? How to Fail. In addition to hosting such an inspirational podcast, Elizabeth Day is a brilliant writer.
What was your career fork in the road? At university, I studied a language as part of my international business degree. I chose Italian,
What is your go-to food for fast fuel? I pick up a matcha latte when I’m on the go and need a quick burst of energy.
What are your favorite Instagram accounts? @ACCIDENTALLY WESANDERSON For the pure beauty of the imagery.
@OKA This account, a collection of interiors, inspires me to dream.
@HAPPYNOTPERFECT When I find myself spending too much time on Instagram, their posts remind me to get back to reality.
@STUDIOMELLONE For beautiful interior inspiration.
@LESROCHESROUGES This Côte d’Azur hotel is beautifully designed. I loves its commitment to sustainability.
ILLUSTR ATION BY BARTOSZ KOSOWSKI
@decafbutter (@accidentallywesanderson); @paullmcraig (@oka); Sissi Lu (@happynotperfect); Pippa Drummond (@studiomellone); Michelle Beatty (@lesrochesrouges)
you wish for will happen at the right time.
My Daily Media Diet
@IANBREMMER @PREETBHAR AR A
THE WEST WING
The BBC’s The Assassination, by Owen Bennett-Jones, goes into great detail investigating the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
I’m a West Wing fan for life. I also really loved The Americans and The Tudors. I recently bingewatched The Man in the High Castle.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say Funnyordie.com is my favorite website.
Humans of New York is brilliant. It’s a reminder of how vast and diverse and inspiring the world is.
JARED COHEN, CEO, JIGSAW
It’s a tie between two friends who have a way of cutting through the BS without losing their sense of humor.
Memory Foam Pillow ($64 .99, COO PH O M E G OO D S .CO M)
“This pillow is customizable; you can add or remove ﬁlling depending on your preference. It’s the best of both worlds: the support of memory foam and the comfort of down.” —Darren Eales, president, Atlanta United 1
How to cut plastic out of your kitchen FAVO R I T E THING
1 Ditch the Ziplock Bags
Clear out your Saran wrap and plastic-bag drawer and fill it with reusable products, such as lightweight silicone Stasher bags (starting at $10) and Abeego beeswaxcoated fabric food wrap ($15). Many grocery stores sell rice, pasta, beans, nuts, flour, and other ingredients in bulk. Skip the store’s plastic bags and bring your own containers.
Buy in Bulk
3 Get a SodaStream
Recycling can’t solve everything. If you find yourself going through a lot of cans and bottles, try a SodaStream Fizzi ($90), which comes with refillable glass bottles.
Illustration: Cynthia Kittler
“JetSuiteX’s private jet service lets me Uber to the airport, walk right onto the tarmac, and get to the Bay Area from L.A. in 45 minutes, for under $200.” —Zack Onisko, CEO, Dribbble
PORTR AIT BY IRINA KRUGLOVA
IT NEVER G E T S OL D
How microaggressions are experienced by different U.S. employees WHITE WOMEN
Having your judgment questioned in your area of expertise 36%
Being mistaken for someone at a much lower level than you
Needing to provide more evidence of your competence than others do 29%
Uniqlo Down Jacket
( S TA R T I N G AT $ 6 9 . 9 9 , U N I Q L O . C O M )
“I’m always afraid of being cold. Uniqlo’s light down jackets take up virtually no space, so I always have one with me.” —Carine Roitfeld, founder, Carine Roitfeld Parfums, CR Fashion Book, and CR Studio
The Books That Inspire Me AMANDA HESSER, COFOUNDER AND CEO, FOOD52 44 FASTCOMPANY.COM
The Gastronomical Me
What You Do Is Who You Are
Happiness Is Baking
BEN HOROWITZ (OUT OCTOBER 2019)
MAIDA HEAT TER
Heatter’s writing reminds me that it’s substance and quality that matter. Her writing on home baking has been the gold standard for decades.
Business pressures often put a company at odds with its customers. This book explains the customer-first culture at Zappos. It’s a reminder that this doesn’t have to be the case.
Fisher’s 1943 memoir, of her years growing up in California through her early adult life in Europe, inspired me to pursue writing and a career in food.
Horowitz looks to different leaders (the leader of the slave rebellion that freed Haiti, the head of a Michigan prison gang) to draw insights for work culture.
Portrait: Irina Kruglova; illustration: Cynthia Kittler. Source: “Women in the Workplace 2018,” McKinsey & Co., Alexis Krivkovich, Marie-Claude Nadeau, Kelsey Robinson, Nicole Robinson, Irina Starikova, and Lareina Yee (Hire Learning)
Fighting for Online Freedom
HERE’S HOW MOZILLA USES A GLOBAL TEAM TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY ONLINE In a world where privacy is evaporating, one tech organization is ta king a stand. Mozilla works to preserve an open, global internet by advancing public policy and creating technologies that protect people’s right to explore and create online without fear of surveillance. Mozilla began in 1998 as a community open source project. Today, it’s an internet leader w ith a team of more than 1,000. Its well-known web browser, Firefox, protects user privacy with features like Enhanced Tracking Protection, a now default setting that blocks cookies so companies can’t track you. Like all Mozilla solutions, it’s the product of international collaboration and diversity of thought. FROM THE OUTSIDE-IN Mozilla’s ability to innovate across borders—with the purpose of ensuring the internet is a global public resource, accessible to all—earned it a spot on Fast Company’s Best Workplaces for Innovators list. Selena Deckelmann, senior director of Firefox Browser Engineering, says Mozilla takes an outside-in approach to innovation. When brainstorming, employees are encouraged to consider how new products would affect ordinary people’s internet experience. When someone has an idea, they discuss it with colleagues, then quickly move to practical steps so Mozilla can bring advancements to market quickly. W hen the Facebook- Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, the product team released a quick rebuttal. They used recently developed technology to create a browser extension that would help Firefox users have more control of their data on Facebook.
A team of employees from the U.S. and Berlin decided to move forward in three hours. Within five hours of starting, they built a working prototype, and they launched it within eight days. With close to 2.5 million downloads to date, the product, Facebook Container, is Mozilla’s most popular browser extension. FREEDOM TO BE Mozilla articulates its principles in the Mozilla Manifesto, a document that acts as a touchstone for everything the organization does. Mozilla’s unique company structure also furthers its mission: Mozilla Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, which allows it to put people before profit. This prioritization of values has led to developments like Firefox Sync, a tool that encrypts private data in a way not even Mozilla employees can access, and Firefox Monitor, a service that allows people to use their email address to check if their data has been compromised by a security breach. Deckelmann says the team will continue to develop technologies, for the browser and beyond, that make the internet a better place. While keeping a dispersed workforce a lig ned ca n be cha lleng ing, Mozilla sees its global perspective as a n adv a nt a ge. T he or g a n i z at ion brings the entire team together twice a year for learning and team-building, choosing a new location each time to create diverse experiences. But innovation and collaboration aren’t limited to in-person events. They happen ever y day, in a way that transforms ideas into reality. Talented minds are attracted to Mozilla’s mission and technology, but also to its culture. If Mozilla is going to preserve the internet for everyone, the team working on that directive needs to ref lect as many perspectives as possible, cultivating a diverse, open culture of collaboration. Its workplace is a microcosm of the paradigm Mozilla is fighting for at scale: a place where people are free to explore, invent, and be themselves.
C RE AT E D B Y FA S T C O W ORK S C ON T E N T S T UDIO A ND C OMMIS SIONE D B Y
Firefox's security team lead, addresses employees at Mozilla's biannual “All Hands” meeting in Whistler, BC, June 2019.
T HE N E W CO M ER Bevel founder Tristan Walker moved his company from San Francisco to Atlanta this year to join the cityâ€™s entrepreneurial scene.
P H OTO G R A P H BY R O G & B E E WA L K E R
Startups corporations and aspiring entrepreneurs are ﬂeeing the Bay Area for the socalled black mecca. Here’s why the tech world’s center is shifting— and what it means for Atlanta PA G E 4 7
“LOOK AT THIS, MAN,” TRISTAN WALKER SAYS AS HE LEANS He forms his thumbs and index ﬁngers into a rectangle and squints through it at the seven-bedroom literal house on a hill before us. It’s a warm April afternoon, too early yet for Georgia’s notorious swelter. Blues singer Tyrone Davis’s “Baby, Can I Change My Mind?” plays from a glowing Bluetooth speaker that doubles as a sleek outdoor light. “When I was 20 years old, and I was like, ‘What does the vision of [my] world look like?’ ” he recalls. “This frame is it.” Walker and his family have been in this house, in Atlanta’s northern Buckhead neighborhood, for all of two weeks. It’s the ﬁrst time the Queens, New York, native has had a backyard, and he’s been stringing lights, planting hydrangeas, and kicking around a soccer ball with his 4-year-old son, Avery James. In the fall, Avery James will attend a nearby private school with a black headmaster who, Walker informs me, is a patron of Bevel, the shaving system geared toward men of color that Walker launched in 2013. Walker’s wife, Amoy, steps out of the kitchen to greet me and announce that she’s making salmon burgers. In a month—on Mother’s Day—she’ll give birth to their second son, August Julian. “I’ll have a kid born in Palo Alto, and a kid born in Atlanta,” Walker tells me. “It’s a reset moment!” Atlanta is where the Walkers were supposed to end up after they graduated from New York’s Stony Brook University, on Long Island, 14 years ago. Amoy had hoped to start their married life surrounded by a like-minded community in the southern city. Instead, Tristan took a risk on Silicon Valley, lured by its promises of meritocracy and innovative business thinking. He interned at Twitter and attended Stanford University’s business school; after making his name as the businessdevelopment lead for Foursquare, he became an entrepreneurin-residence at the Menlo Park–based venture capital ﬁrm Andreessen Horowitz, then raised more than $30 million to create Walker & Company, a hair-and-skincare-product company focused on solving the needs of people of color. As a rare black founder raising money on Sand Hill Road, he got a lot of attention, and smartly used it to raise awareness for his brand and advocate for inclusive hiring and product development in the Valley. (Palo Alto, where Walker was headquartered, is only 1.9% black; San Francisco’s black population has dropped from 9% in 2017 to just 5% today.) He also cofounded the not-for-proﬁt Code2040, which trains black and Latino college students in STEM and places them in Bay Area internships. By 2018, though, Walker realized that he’d been recruiting other young minorities to a place he was no longer so keen on himself. He had difﬁculty raising additional capital, even as his investors sowed 48 FASTCOMPANY.COM
T HE C O M M U N I T Y B UILDER Jewel Burks Solomon, who sold her company, Partpic, to Amazon, but kept it in Atlanta, is developing the city’s next generation of founders.
PHOTOGR APHS BY MATT ODOM
Opening spread: Barber: Lauren Owens at Furious Styles, Atlanta; groomer: Corianne Cowan at The Spin Style Agency
INTO A WOODEN LAWN CHAIR IN HIS BACKYARD.
T HE R A I N M A K ER Serial entrepreneur Paul Judge’s TechSquare Labs has helped seed Atlanta’s flourishing startup landscape.
hundreds of millions into mass-market competitors like Harry’s. Meanwhile, as the Bay Area’s inequity came into fuller view, Big Tech was doing little to address racial bias on its platforms or within its walls. Google, which continues to be plagued by racist results in its auto-complete feature, has been struggling to retain its 2.5% of black employees. Facebook—already criticized for its meager 4% black workforce and mired in a sea of privacy-related transgressions—is facing lawsuits over programs that allowed lenders and landlords to exclude minorities when advertising on its platform. It had become clear that Silicon Valley did not speak either Walker’s or his customers’ language. “Walker & Company should not have been built in Silicon Valley,” he says. Over the years, Tristan and Amoy had ﬂirted with the idea of leaving the West Coast. Last August, while visiting friends in Atlanta, they went house hunting, out of “curiosity,” Walker says. Within four months, that curiosity had given rise to a headline: Walker was selling Walker & Company to Procter & Gamble, staying on as CEO, and moving the company to Atlanta rather than to P&G’s corporate headquarters, in Cincinnati. Reports placed the acquisition price somewhere between $20 million and $40 million (which would mean investors didn’t generate a return), but Walker seems pleased with the outcome. “In a world where you can’t raise money and you need to ensure that your vision remains true, you gotta do what’s in
the best interest of the company,” he says. Already, Atlanta has Bevel’s highest per capita concentration of customers. Now, with the backing of P&G’s corporate infrastructure— including its $2 billion R&D budget—Walker is laying plans to learn from the nation’s black capital, and to send those ﬁndings back to his new parent company. The Walkers have joined an exodus—what some have called the “reverse Great Migration”—of black Americans who are leaving dense and expensive northern metropolises to seek harbor in the same Southern cities that many of their ancestors ﬂed. According to the Brookings Institution, the Atlanta area has attracted the majority of these migrants, the population quintupling since 1970. The Atlanta metro area also has the second-fastestgrowing economy in the country (behind San Francisco), spurred by its tech industry, which accounts for nearly 12.5% of the city’s revenues, according to CompTIA. Home Depot, UPS, Delta Airlines, the Coca-Cola Company, and Equifax are headquartered here. Twilio, Salesforce, and Pandora have all recently set up outposts, drawn by the talent coming out of Georgia Tech and the Atlanta University Center, the largest and oldest consortium of historically black colleges and universities. And here’s the kicker: In Atlanta’s tech industry, an astounding 25% of employees are black. In San Francisco, it’s 6%. As San Francisco’s high rents and dusty emphasis on “culture ﬁt” repel enterprising talent, new innovation
Atlanta’s surging economy is transforming the city. Here’s a neighborhood-by-neighborhood look:
This affluent, mostly white district in north Atlanta is home to entrepreneur David Cummings’s seven-year-old startup incubator, Atlanta Tech Village.
Atlanta’s corporate heart is now home to the Technology Square innovation hub. Georgia Tech, TechSquare Labs, and the AT&T Foundry are here, along with the new Coda building, which opened in May. 1
The 42,000-squarefoot National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened here in 2014, on land donated by Coca-Cola, near Centennial Olympic Park. It contains many of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal papers and items.
The Old Fourth Ward, site of King’s childhood home and his Ebenezer Baptist Church, has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks in part to the completion of the BeltLine Eastside Trail, in 2017.
2 5 6
With the BeltLine Westside Trail underway, activists are fighting rising rents. Atlanta BeltLine founder Ryan Gravel, who resigned from the project to protest its gentrifying influence, is now developing a mixeduse building with affordable housing in the area. ILLUSTR ATION BY ADAM SIMPSON
Southwest Atlanta The Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship opens later this year near the historically black institutions Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University to offer business-skills training to locals.
Much of Atlanta’s cultural prowess comes from its robust entertainment scene. These are the players. HITMAKERS
ORGANIZED NOIZE Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown
WILL PACKER Will Packer Productions
TYLER PERRY Tyler Perry Studios
AFTER A 15-MINUTE DRIVE FROM WALKER’S HOME, MY UBER
L.A. REID AND Babyface LaFace Records*
LUDACRIS Disturbing tha Peace
JERMAINE DUPRI So So Def
TRICKY STEWART RedZone Entertainment
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Speech, Tasha LaRae, 1 Love, JJ Boogie, and Fareedah
MIGOS Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff
OUTKAST Big Boi and André 3000
LIL NAS X
driver—one of several during my Atlanta stay who will try to sell me a piece of real estate—lets me off at KR SteakBar, a chic restaurant with a friendly maître d’ who guides me to a heavy curtain near the rear of the building. He pulls it back to reveal my ﬁrst true glimpse of why the city is so often called the “black mecca”: Dozens of African American executives, tech entrepreneurs, inﬂuencers, and politicians, many of whom are millionaires several times over, are here for a private dinner. A sunglasses-laden Tricky Stewart, the super-producer responsible for hits like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” is chatting with Russell Stokes, president and CEO of GE’s energy-generation business. Ryan Glover, who sold his African American–focused digital broadcast network, BounceTV, to Scripps in 2017, shares a joke with Kasim Reed, Atlanta’s mayor until 2018. Jewel Burks Solomon, cofounder and CEO of Partpic, a computer-vision startup that Amazon bought in 2016, is here too. (She negotiated to keep her team intact and in Atlanta.) In another corner of the room, I spot Walker sharing daps and shaving advice with George Azih, founder and CEO of LeaseQuery, an accounting app with more than $100 million in revenue. “Everybody in this room, we’ve either been in the trenches together building companies or brought in the wee hours of the morning together . . . or we’ve done both,” says Paul Judge, the event’s host, as he settles people into their seats. Judge is the cofounder and chairman of eight-year-old Pindrop Security, which develops voicebased anti-fraud technology, and one of the city’s most prominent venture investors. The ﬁrm he cofounded, TechSquare Labs, has poured millions into some 30 seed-stage companies that specialize in everything from blockchain and ﬁnance to marketing technologies. Judge is also a master networker, and he has orchestrated tonight’s gathering with a very speciﬁc goal: to show two Bay Area visitors that there is a thriving tech scene in Atlanta, with a wealth of young companies worth investing in. Judge stands at the head of the table and introduces the 30-odd guests to Lisa Gevelber, Google’s former VP of
This page: Hitmakers: Nick Onken (Lil Jon); Osborne Macharia (Metro Boomin). Moguls: Courtesy of OWN/Peggy Sirota (Packer); Kwaku Alston (Perry); dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo (Dupri); *Now defunct. Streaming Stars: Hubert Boesl/dpa/Alamy Stock Photo (Future); Mihailo Andic (Lil Yachty); Matt Swinsky (21 Savage); Rony Alwin (Migos); Tanima Mehrotra (Lil Nas X); Jonathan Mannion (2 Chainz); Garfield Larmond (Young Thug). Forerunners: Jonathan Mannion (Gucci Mane); ZUMA Press/Alamy Stock Photo (Monica); Todd McPhetridge (Arrested Development); Jason Mendez/Everett Collection/Alamy Live News (Braxton); Kurt Iswarienko/RCA Records (Usher); Drea Nicola Photography (Burruss). Multi-hyphenates: JUCO (Monáe); Ibra Ake (Glover)
CITY OF STARS
hubs are emerging across the country to threaten its dominance. But Atlanta stands apart—and is uniquely positioned to fundamentally change the trajectory of entrepreneurship in this country—thanks to the community of black founders that have been coalescing here over the past decade. Some are homegrown; others are transplants, like Walker, who are seeking literal greener pastures and new opportunities. “Atlanta is just so black, like blackityblack,” says Iris Nevins, a 26-year-old software engineer for Mailchimp, the email-marketing platform. In February, she left the company’s Oakland, California, ofﬁces to join its Atlanta headquarters. “And I love that.” Is it really a wonder, then, that technologists of color looking to launch or join an exciting new company would consider Atlanta—where trap music and Martin Luther King Jr. were born; Spelman and Morehouse colleges rise; a mayor named Keisha presides; Black Panther was produced and ﬁlmed; and more than half the population looks like you—a modern-day Wakanda? How long it can remain that way is another question.
T HE HOSTS TK Petersen (left) and Ryan Wilson’s private-membership club, the Gathering Spot, has become a hub for creative entrepreneurs.
marketing who now runs Google for Startups: “Lisa wanted to come into town, learn more about the ecosystem, diversity, and how Google can help level the playing ﬁeld.” His other guest of honor is Chris Lyons, an Atlanta native who heads up Andreessen Horowitz’s new Cultural Leadership Fund, which makes tech investments with a group of prominent African American limited partners. (Judge is an investor in the fund, alongside Shonda Rhimes, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Girls Trip producer and fellow Atlantan Will Packer.) Judge then urges the rest of the attendees to say something about themselves. “I moved here 14 days ago, because I believe in us— and by us, I mean black folks,” Walker says, when it’s his turn. “Our ability to inﬂuence culture, our buying power, our inﬂuence on the world, is palpable and important. This,” he says, “looks different than Palo Alto.” If Walker sees opportunity in Atlanta, Judge is, in part, to thank. Known locally as the Godfather of Tech, Judge grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and drank in the power of the C-prompt tool when his mother, an instructor at a technical college, brought home a computer during his high school years. He received a computer science degree from Morehouse College and then a doctorate, in network security, from Georgia Tech. It was during grad school that Judge got his ﬁrst taste of startup life, joining CipherTrust, an Alpharetta, Georgia–based anti-spam email service, as one of its ﬁrst
employees. When that company was acquired, in 2006, for $274 million, Judge—by then its CTO—saw his ﬁrst seven ﬁgures. This is how this works, he thought. He started and sold two more companies, including smartrouter maker Luma, within a decade. Pindrop, his latest, recently raised a $90 million Series D round that included Andreessen Horowitz. These days, Judge is increasingly focused on raising Atlanta’s ﬂag as one of the world’s burgeoning tech hubs. Flush with connections and swagger, he makes a damned good ambassador. “The city is ready to step up,” he says. “People will overlook Atlanta if its story isn’t told.” Judge recently acquired the A3C music and tech festival, which is held every October, in hopes of expanding it into Atlanta’s own SXSW. And his relationship with Andreessen seems to have solidiﬁed his role as something of a ﬁber-optic cable running from the Bay Area to Atlanta, conducting crucial data about startup culture and strategy. (After our dinner wrapped, around midnight, Judge hopped an 8 a.m. ﬂight to San Francisco for a board meeting at Andreessen—and was back the next morning.) He and his ﬁancée, Tanya Sam—who is director of partnerships at TechSquare—used to keep an apartment in San Francisco. About a year ago, they let go of the lease. “That was a big moment for us. We’re saying we’re gonna build the next 20 years here,” Judge says. (He hasn’t been averse to calling out Silicon Valley’s shortcomings in the (Continued on page 92)
Turbocharge Your Marketing Strategy HOW BIOREPUBLIC SKINCARE TOOK OFF AFTER FINDING INNOVATIVE WAYS TO ENGAGE ITS CUSTOMERS
Mentonelli found his solution in Mailchimp. The company that made its (whimsical) name providing mass email has evolved into a full-service marketing platform, providing insights and analytics, automation, machine learning, AI, and more, all aimed at maximizing companies’ customer relationship management. Mailchimp utilizes predictive algorithms culled from machine learning to provide Mentonelli with a targeting feature that helps determine which products to tout to specific customers. Mentonelli likens it to a “black box,” but one that has reaped rewards. “It’s so easy to use,” he says. “It doesn’t overload you with too much information or make you do a lot of analysis outside of the app.”
BioRepublic Skincare Founder Paolo Mentonelli (center, with Cofounder Justin Hong and Marketing Manager Gia Bottiglione) saw his company’s customer base blossom after taking advantage of Mailchimp’s full suite of marketing services.
These days, the marketing playbook for any innovative company looking to scale must include automation, AI, and machine learning. The rapid data analysis and subsequent predictive algorithms that machine learning allows is a sure-fire way to reach new customers—and quickly. But what if you’re a small but beloved business that has only four full-time employees? That was the problem Paolo Mentonelli faced when he founded BioRepublic Skincare four and a half years ago. “We didn’t have the capabilities to do advanced segmentation and customizing of our message to specif ic groups of customers,” he says. What Mentonelli really needed was a robust marketing strategy, one capable of “specifically targeting groups of customers based on purchase history, demographics, even psychographics.”
THE “SPECIAL SAUCE” Mailchimp brings further value to BioRepublic in the way it incorporates machine learning to integrate with Facebook data and Facebook’s ad product. “You have the ability to target people with ads based on likes, preferences, and so on,” Mentonelli says. This lets Mentonelli reach individuals who like BioRepublic Skincare without revealing the specific features that make them the sort of people who would like their products. “There may be attributes of those groups of people that we’re not cognizant of, which we can then target.” Say, for instance, Mentonelli wants to market to consumers in a certain area who have indicated they like yoga and Whole Foods. To do this, he pushes his customer list to Facebook, whose algorithms cross check with its registered users, which then tabulates what characterizes those people in the Facebook universe. The result is what Mentonelli describes as its “special sauce” of what a BioRepublic Skincare fan tends to look like. Through its integration with Facebook, Mailchimp can then target BioRepublic Skincare ads to those individuals. Today BioRepublic supplies 12 distinct skincare products to the likes of Bloomingdale’s, Target, and Whole Foods. Mentonelli credits Mailchimp with providing the marketing muscle that helped take his company to the next level. “You don’t want to waste your marketing money on things that don’t necessarily work,” he says. “Mailchimp is basically a full-service portal. But the big story is how it allows small, non-technical teams do things that in the past required a dedicated team of analysts to execute.”
C RE AT E D B Y FA S T C O W ORK S C ON T E N T S T UDIO A ND C OMMIS SIONE D B Y
Best Workplaces for Innovators
E X PE R I M E N TAT ION ZONES
PRODUCT L A B OR ATOR I E S
Most companies these days claim to embrace innovation. Fast Company partnered with Accenture to identify 50 organizations that actually cultivate big ideas and encourage experimentation.
C R E AT I V I T Y HUBS
Photographs by Sam Kaplan
COL L A B OR AT ION C U LT U R E S
RS BE S TO
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“L E A P F R O G T E A M S” A N D AU G M E N T E D R E A L I T Y: 10 C O M PA N I E S PI O N E E R I N G N E W WAYS TO DE V E LOP T H E I R PRODUC T S
M A PLEWOOD, MN
SAN FR ANCISCO
The manufacturing conglomerate famous for Post-it Notes and Scotch tape earns about 3,000 patents every year and encourages its 91,000 employees to devote 15% of working time to projects outside the normal scope of their jobs.
To create products that improve website security and performance, Cloudflare’s R&D lab incubates new ideas through rapid iteration. Cloudflare also conducts two-week experiments called “spikes”: Employees test new ideas to determine whether they warrant further investment. In 2018, the company launched eight new products and services, including 220.127.116.11, which provides consumers with faster and more secure internet connections.
AMD SA N TA C L A R A , C A
AMD, a semiconductor company, uses “leapfrog teams”—discrete groups of engineers who simultaneously work on successive generations of core chip designs—to ensure the consistent communication, preservation of knowledge, and enforcement of best practices that can help spur innovation.
Kronos Incorporated LOW ELL , M A
Six years ago, executives at the workforce-
L’ORÉAL C L I C H Y, F R A N C E
The 110-year-old cosmetics maker, which has an internal technology incubator and more than 4,000 employees dedicated full-time to research and innovation, registered 505 patents in 2018. Last November, it became the first beauty company to launch a tech product, My Skin Track UV, a battery-free wearable UV sensor, sold exclusively through Apple.
Opening spread and following pages: Prop stylists: Emily + Tony Mullin at Hello Artists
t’s not about the perks.
For Fast Company’s inaugural Best Workplaces for Innovators list, we set out to ﬁnd companies that empower all employees—not just top executives, scientists, or coders—to create new products, improve operations, and take risks. We searched for businesses where innovation isn’t just a buzzword but a part of the value system and culture. The result is an authoritative guide to the professional ecosystems where innovators and would-be innovators can thrive. It includes several of the giants and stalwarts that you might expect (Amazon, Salesforce, 3M) and numerous surprises, such as yogurt maker Chobani and Versa, an Australian marketing agency. The need to develop a culture that fosters inventive thinking has never been more urgent, says Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation ofﬁcer at Accenture, and one of the experts we tapped to help judge the entries. (Accenture served as Fast Company’s research partner for the list.) Many companies tout their creative chops as a way to attract scarce talent, but not all deliver. “People are going to go where they feel innovation is valued,” he says. Fast Company’s list, unlike other “best workplaces” rankings you’ll see in the media, isn’t a catalog of companies offering the choicest freebies or the most comprehensive beneﬁts—although you’ll ﬁnd plenty of great snacks and generous leave policies at many of the organizations included. Instead, we honor businesses doing things like offering people time to pursue bold projects (both within and outside their main jobs), conﬁguring work spaces in a way that has led to greater collaboration across teams, putting premiums on inclusivity, and giving people room to fail. Employees—from entry-level hires to senior leadership—have an opportunity to make a real difference in these kinds of environments. And that may be the best perk of all. —Stephanie Mehta
*From a study of 3,089 respondents, conducted May 20-26, 2019, by SurveyMonkey exclusively for Fast Company
management software company sequestered a team of 25 to reinvent Kronos’s core product. That group, dubbed “Project Falcon,” eventually swelled to 600 and created a new cloudbased workforcemanagement platform called Workforce Dimensions, which has helped drive up company revenue by 38%.
The 70-person cloud and mobile software company acts “as a virtual VC,” helping engineers learn how the software business works beyond technological development. In its first year, the program has
spawned three subsidiary corporations focused on software, security, and marketplaces for healthcare and other industries.
Rockwell Automation M I LWAU K E E
Century-old Rockwell Automation recently added an electric-vehicle research center that will be accessible from anywhere in the world through augmented reality. Company leaders post “wanted” ads for solutions that any self-formed team within Rockwell can tackle and be rewarded for developing.
Merck K E N I LWO R T H , N J
BIG IDEAS ARE WELCOME
63% of respondents say their workplaces encourage new and innovative ideas.*
ILLUSTR ATIONS BY GOR AN FACTORY
In 2018, the drugmaker spent nearly $10 billion on R&D. This year, the company announced an additional five-year, $16 billion investment in projects to improve development, capabilities, and innovations. Its ventures fund has committed more than $85 million toward treatments for a variety of conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and resistant bacterial infections.
Morgan Stanley N E W YOR K
The banking company’s Technology Innovation Office funds promising employee projects in key areas, including artificial intelligence, data analytics, and fintech, and offers an accelerator program to expedite the patent-filing process. Its Innovation Lab provides a digital
“sandbox” environment where any employee can experiment with code, software, and other technologies.
OSF Global Services QUEBEC
At OSF Global Services, a Canadian company that implements custom commerce platforms, any
employee can submit a proposal to the Product Lab and, if approved, receive funding and resources to develop it. Incentives are shared by the idea’s originator and the team that’s assigned to help them build it. In the program’s three years, OSF has launched 28 new products, including 9 in 2018 alone.
Experimentation Zones AT T H E S E R I S K- E M B R AC I N G C O M PA N I E S , C O N S TA N T E X P L O R AT I O N I S S TA N DA R D OPE R AT I NG PRO C E DU R E .
Amazon S E AT T L E
One way Amazon cultivates ideas from more than 600,000 employees is via a process called “working backwards”: Any employee with a big idea is encouraged to create a plan that includes a customerimpact statement, a mock press release, key questions, and perspectives from different business areas. It’s how site fea-
tures such as Prime Now and AmazonSmile began.
Ansys C A N O N S B U RG , PA
A small group of Ansys developers had an idea: Use graphics processing units rather than slower conventional central processing units for the company’s core software product. Management gave them dedicated working space, serv-
A C O R E VA L U E FOR E M PLOY EE S
Sonatype F U LT O N , M D
TA R RY TOW N , N Y
The language-learning platform has a website section, Duolingo Labs, that allows employees and the site’s 300 million global users to suggest enhancements for projects in development, such as a Spanish podcast that was downloaded more than 8 million times last year, topping the education category on Apple Podcasts.
ers, and relief from their normal duties. Discovery Live launched last year— the first engineering software that provides real-time physics simulation and geometry editing.
EpsilonConversant IRVING, TX
Recently acquired by Publicis, the marketing company has an “automate to innovate” ethos underlying proprietary technologies like Grasshopper, which translates digital ad campaign assets into fully formatted interactive ad units of all sizes, reducing the number of hours digital producers spend formatting by nearly 400% per campaign.
Genentech SAN FR ANCISCO
peer-reviewed journals. Its innovation fund and incubator support employees with novel ideas that aren’t necessarily being explored by the company, such as new drug-delivery systems or applying AI to drug design.
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory L AU R EL , MD
Associates and fellows at the state-ofthe-art research complex have 24/7 access to 3D printing, a VR/AR room, and an electronics workbench; a centralized database keeps researchers abreast of new developments in other labs. Last year, the APL reported 419 new inventions and 30 new patents.
The biotech firm employs more than 120 postdoctoral fellows engaged in basic discovery research and generates about 350 articles each year in
The independent digital health-marketing agency uses its innovation lab to experiment with emerging tech platforms. In
the six years since it began operating, Klick’s software company, Sensei Labs, thas produced a patentpending technology that records and transmits Parkinson’s tremors in real time, a patented VR app that offers patients 3D visual perspectives on their internal medical conditions, and an enterpriselevel collaborative work-management platform.
Procter & Gamble C I NC I N N AT I
Here’s how the CPG giant’s GrowthWorks program functions: After conducting consumer research to identify a problem, a small team prototypes and tests a solution on a metered-funding basis, earning additional investment upon reaching preestablished milestones. GrowthWorks currently has more than 130 experiments running, including 10 that have launched.
At science-based organizations, employees typically need a PhD to be promoted from research associate to staff scientist. Biotechnology company Regeneron, however, tracks and rewards practical training as research associates accumulate it, recognizing the value of realworld, on-the-job experience.
91% of employees say it’s important to them to work at a company that values innovation.
At Sonatype, which makes products that help developers and security professionals manage open-source code, designated “innovation days” take place every other week, allowing employees to explore and tinker. Last year, employees worked on 511 projects stemming from the program.
Workday PLEASANTON, CA
Salesforce The provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and HR holds a semiannual Spelunking Conference, where employees present lessons gleaned from project failures. The company plows more than 30% of revenue back into R&D and has a 40-person research team focused on incubating new products.
SAN FR ANCISCO
Employees on Salesforce’s technology and product team can move to another group within the department, gaining exposure to a totally new range of technologies and customers. Nearly 30% of the open jobs in Technology and Product are filled via internal transfers.
CHARITY: WATER N E W YOR K
Dedicated to bringing safe drinking water to developing countries, Charity: Water secures donations through creative storytelling. Employees have rigged GoPro cameras to capture the perspective of an Ethiopian child, and surrounded guests at the company’s annual fundraiser with a wraparound, football-field-size LED screen to show a woman making her daily trek to a distant well.
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cution) in-house, creating a 359-person department that operates under one budget. The change allowed Chobani to take its Less Sugar Greek Yogurt product from concept to stores in less than six months.
Forward N E W YOR K
W H E T H E R T H R O UG H I N T E R DE PA R T M E N TA L T R A N S PA R E N C Y O R I N T E R N A L C R OW D S O U R C I N G , T H E S E 15 CO M PA N I E S A R E F I N DI N G E F F E C T I V E WAY S T O E N G I N E E R C R E AT I V E C H E M I S T R Y.
cial intelligence lab in its London facility.
SAN FR ANCISCO
The cybersecurity firm, which deploys technology to help businesses detect and respond to attacks, assigns a “champion” to mentor each new hire, boasts a 93% annual employee-retention rate, and reinvests one-third of revenues into research and development.
The three-year-old primary-care practice, which provides services for a monthly fee, pairs engineers with physicians to develop new, advanced medical technology.
Blue Prism WA R R I NG TON , ENGLAND
The robotic-process automation company makes its proprietary software and training materials available to universities (including Texas A&M, Aditya Engineering College, and the University of Manchester), and in January opened a new artifi-
NORWICH, N Y
To reduce inefficiencies and increase collaboration, the private yogurt company brought 90% of its agency work (including advertising, PR, design, consumer research, and retail exe-
Industrial manufacturer Siemens holds more than 15,000 patents in the United States alone, with more than 43,000 R&D-focused employees worldwide. Its Quickstarter program allows Siemens employees to independently (and democratically) allocate company money to support the development of colleagues’ ideas. 62 FASTCOMPANY.COM
MOU N TA I N V I E W, C A
Mozilla has a tradition of building opensource technologies, allowing any user to access and use and modify its code. The company has awarded $6.4 million to universities, research nonprofits, and other noncommercial partners since 2015, with its Open Innovation team advising, financing, and collaborating on products that keep the internet “safe, open, and accessible to all as it evolves.”
SAN FR ANCISCO
Three times a year, the Swedish creative agency assigns one team member from each of its five global offices to spend several days in the company’s Barcelona R&D lab to work on a custom brief designed around a significant challenge, such as creating a new application for Google’s AR Core product.
The seven-year-old database company’s main product, InfluxDB, is an opensource technology designed to manage and store massive volumes of timestamped data. To ensure effective communication with a largely remote engineering staff, InfluxData applies the same open-source ethos of transparency: All trainings, documentation, and presentations are available via its YouTube channel, blog posts, and webinars on the company’s site.
SAN FR ANCISCO
Notable uses its automated laboratory and artificial intelligence to predict how cancer cells will react to drugs. The company brings together engineers, doctors, scientists, and healthcare experts to inform its product and has large-scale partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, publicly traded biotech startups, and research institutions like MD Anderson Cancer Center and Stanford.
Pivotal SAN FR ANCISCO
LexisNexis N E W YOR K
Employee volunteers at the legal and professional services provider worked closely with the International Bar Association to develop the eyeWitness to Atrocities app, the first-ever smartphone app designed to document human rights abuses, marking and safeguarding images so they can be entered as evidence in court.
Cloud-based software maker Pivotal requires all of its programmers to write software in pairs. This, the company says, motivates employees to “push each other to meet goals,” while also providing a safety net to test, experiment, and fix code together. Partners rotate and work within various larger teams to ensure that everyone in the company is exposed to new perspectives regularly.
Rubikloud Technologies TORONTO
Rubikloud Technologies combines retail data with machine learning and artificial intelligence to help businesses market and manage customer experiences. The company has a close relationship with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Ontario, where members of Rubikloud’s team work directly with PhD candidates to re-
search and solve machine-learning and data-science issues in Rubikloud’s products.
T H E I N N OVAT I V E P A R T-T I M E R S
Building technology to defend children against sexual abuse, nonprofit Thorn collaborates with law enforcement, NGOs, governments, and private-sector partners. With fewer than 50 employees, Thorn has successfully identified more than 9,000 victims across
Part-time workers are this much more likely than full-time workers to choose a more innovative job over a higher-paying job.
35 countries, in large part due to partnerships with tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which provide resources, technology, and expertise. A recent partnership with Google, for example, included integrating full-time Google engineers into Thorn’s product team for a six-month fellowship.
Workiva AMES, IA
Workiva attributes the success of its
Johnson & Johnson NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ
Beginning as a one-off presentation that attracted 60 people in 2011, TEDxJNJ has evolved into an ongoing vehicle for employees at the CPG/pharma giant to share experiences, information, and points of view, with 76 events in 19 countries yielding more than 500 speaker videos.
cloud-based data-management tools (more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies use them) to a highly collaborative product-
development process: The R&D groups work closely with finance, accounting, and operations teams to coordinate require-
ments, while developers and product managers meet regularly with customers throughout a product’s life cycle.
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Creativity Hubs T H E S E CO M PA N I E S A R E F I N DI NG NOV E L WAYS TO I N S PI R E V I TA L B R E A K T H ROUG H S .
Intuit M O U N TA I N V I E W, C A
The company behind QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Mint supports employees developing new ideas for communities that most need them. Through a project called Mission Hope, Intuit’s customersuccess team is opening new customer service call centers in local economies that have experienced serious downturns. In the past two years, the initiative created more than 900 jobs in Wise, Virginia, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Intuit has recently announced a third center (in Bluefield, West Virginia).
Compass N E W YOR K
Real estate brokerage Compass runs on a proprietary tech platform that elicits internal feedback through a digital forum that allows up and down voting from all of its agents and employees. Suestions that make it to the top of the leaderboard become eligible for some of the hundreds of millions in funding the company has committed to de-
veloping new initiatives, such as health insurance for agents.
JLL CHIC AGO
The commercial real estate services firm built its own cloudbased mobile tool (Idea Stream) to allow all 91,000 global employees to share ideas, best practices, and solutions. All entries are vetted by subject-matter experts and include feedback from employees and examples of client implementations.
Narrativ N E W YOR K
The shopping-tech startup is mining data in a way that’s useful (rather than intrusive) for the consumer, creating the world’s largest nonAmazon database of product SKUs linked to expert reviews. Narrativ employs machine learning to match products with the expert content written about them. The company cites its focus on innovation as the main reason it boasted a 100% retention rate in its engineering group in 2018.
ACTIVISION BLIZZARD SA N TA MON IC A , C A
The video-game publisher (World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, Call of Duty) and esports pioneer (Overwatch League) encourages employees to participate in a semiannual challenge called the 5x5, a tournament in which teams of five people are given five weeks and a $5,000 research budget to create a pitch to address a real company challenge, such as enhancing a key franchise. Proximity Designs
MONEY S T I L L TA L K S
YA NG ON, M YA N M A R
Myanmar-based notfor-profit Proximity Designs works with rural farmers in the longisolated country. The company has spent more than $1 million in agricultural research over the past five years. Employees from all departments pursue research in the field, conducting oneon-one interviews, focus-group surveys, and crop studies.
68% of workers would choose a job that paid $20k more over one that offered 20% of time spent on innovation.
Reverb CHIC AGO
To get acclimated, new employees at the used-musicalinstrument marketplace enter a program called the Contest:
Each employee is given $1,000 and five weeks to buy and sell as many guitar pedals as they can on the website, using whatever skills they have, whether through beautiful design or effective keywords. The most successful win cash prizes.
transforming special education through AI and language analytics, now sits on the board of a national association for children with special needs.
Sephora SAN FR ANCISCO
Sephora Accelerate, an incubation program, is exclusively for female founders in beauty; it includes a weeklong business boot camp, one-onone mentoring from Sephora partners and leaders, grants, and a demo day where founders get the opportunity to present their companies to venture partners and Sephora’s senior team.
SAS C A R Y, N C
CREMORNE, AUSTR A L I A
Employees at software company SAS give presentations meant to inspire and motivate their peers. The most effective presenters are featured on the main stage at the company’s annual conference and represent the company externally. One presenter, who gave a talk about
The digital agency develops voiceactivation tools for brands such as CocaCola, Domino’s, Pfizer, and the Red Cross. The company runs an entrepreneurship program for employees, which in just two years has already spawned two new companies: Code Like a Girl and Initio Insurance.
WeTransfer A MSTER DA M
The Dutch filetransfer company does more than just nod to research suesting clear links between diversity and innovation: It boasts an even 50-50 gender split among employees who hail from 38 countries. All of them get one full “Innovative Friday” each month to work on a project of their choosing, some of which (such as a mobile uploader) have been incorporated into the company’s products.
Xinova S E AT T L E
Originally a spin-off of Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectural Ventures, Xinova has created a network of more than 12,000 innovators in 118 countries that clients can tap into as an extension of their own R&D. This brain trust helps develop commercial solutions to particular technical challenges, and network members whose ideas are adopted earn cash, royalties, and equity.
More than 360 companies applied between January 29 and March 22, 2019, answering 10 questions about R&D investment and company-wide programs and processes. All applications were assessed separately by Fast Company editors and Accenture researchers, and the two sets of scores were then combined. The judging panel reviewed the 60 companies with the highest scores and recommended the final Top 50.
Laszlo Bock, cofounder and CEO, Humu
Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief, Fast Company
Susan Chambers, former executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Walmart
Jeff Sanders, vice chairman and co-managing partner, global CEO and board practice, Heidrick & Strules
Saikat Chaudhuri, executive director, Mack Institute for Innovation Management, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer, Accenture
Reshma Saujani, founder, Girls Who Code Bill Taylor, cofounder, Fast Company
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BENEDICT EVANS
THE REGULATOR SENATOR MARK W A R N E R, A F O R M E R TELECOM INVESTOR A N D E N T R E P R E N E U R, IS SOUNDING THE ALARM ON HOW CHINESE ADVANCEMENT A N D B I G T E C H’S MISCONDUCT ARE ALTERING A M E R I C A’S GEOPOLITICAL S T A T U S. N O W H E’S T R Y I N G T O GET BOTH CONGRESS AND SILICON VALLEY TO DO SOMETHING A B O U T I T.
BY AINSLEY HARRIS
A dozen venture capital investors in dark suits enter the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on an overcast November afternoon, pass through security, and make their way to the basement, where a police ofﬁcer guards the entrance to the Senate’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Through the double doors, the VCs place their phones and Apple Watches in wooden cubbies; their host for the afternoon, Senator Mark Warner, has a clearly labeled cubby of his own, as do all 99 of his Senate colleagues. Warner, a Virginia Democrat who serves as vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, has invited the group to Capitol Hill for a classiﬁed brieﬁng on China. They follow National Venture Capital Association president and CEO Bobby Franklin into the SCIF’s soundproof, spyproof underground auditorium and take their seats at a large round table alongside top ofﬁcials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, as well as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican member of the Select Committee. The VCs sign nondisclosure agreements and are “read in” on the rules governing the sensitive information they are about to receive before Warner and Rubio spend half an hour framing the conversation that will follow. Warner will go on to organize 10 more brieﬁngs like this for civilian leaders in business and academia over the next seven months. The former entrepreneur and tech investor feels compelled to “sound the alarm” about China,
WIRED FOR POLITICS Senator Mark Warner has spent four decades at the intersection of tech and government.
1973 The Indiana-born Warner enrolls at George Washington University and is the
first in his family to finish college. After Harvard Law School, he works for Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and the Democratic National Committee.
he’ll tell me when we meet in his double-height corner ofﬁce near the Capitol a few months later, an American ﬂag shivering in the breeze outside the window. He is also trying to make up for lost time. “We were late,” he says, referring to 5G in particular—a technological shift involving faster wireless speeds that he likens to the leap from radio to television. China invested nearly $300 billion last year in research and development on technology like 5G, while supporting the rise of homegrown startups such as Huawei, a telecom giant that boasts more 5G patents than any other company in the world and 2018 revenues of $100 billion, making it roughly the same size as Microsoft. Warner believes that China is positioning itself, through companies like Huawei that operate internationally (Huawei does business in 170 countries), to export a model of internet governance that runs counter to U.S. priorities, not to mention existing U.S.-deﬁned norms. At the most basic level, Huawei’s 5G hardware could serve as a back door for Chinese spies looking to listen in on foreign networks. In a more expansive way, China could use Huawei and its peers to export a tool kit for internet-enabled state surveillance. (A Huawei spokesperson dismissed such claims, describing the company as a “vendor” deeply integrated into complex global supply chains.) “For all our ﬂaws, don’t call our [democratic] system equivalent to what the Chinese are practicing,” Warner says. Meanwhile, America remains stuck on the question of how to regulate 4G-era players such as Facebook and Google, which may soon face their comeuppance (in court, and perhaps in Congress) for anticompetitive and deceptive business practices that have prioritized proﬁt over user privacy and had a corrosive effect on civic discourse and democratic elections worldwide. All of this is on Warner’s mind in the subterranean SCIF (pronounced skiff) as he introduces the classiﬁed information that the assembled VCs are about to hear. The investors have gathered today out of a sense of duty, and perhaps some curiosity. They may also be feeling the sting from China’s plunging direct investment in the U.S., down from $46 billion in 2016 to $5 billion last year. But they’re also here because of Warner himself. Given his background, the 64-year-old senator has a unique ability to connect Silicon Valley and Washington. He believes the time has come to rein in Big Tech by tackling how platforms make money, which should tell you something about just how bad it’s gotten for American consumers. And he is going out of his way to educate tech leaders on foreign policy issues like China, which should tell you just how woefully unprepared Silicon Valley is to manage its own inﬂuence over national security and world events. On China, Warner has become convinced that, with an assist from stolen intellectual property, President Xi Jinping and his Communist Party are laying the groundwork to control the next era of the internet. The VCs, in other words, are playing a more complicated global game than they may realize. One investor will later describe the conﬁdential material about China’s zero-sum ambitions and the country’s success in exploiting American vulnerabilities as “eye-opening.” Another, echoing comments that Warner has heard from allies overseas, wonders what exactly the U.S. government plans to do about the situation. Two and a half hours later, the attendees emerge to fading daylight. They have been forewarned.
1982 In the wake of an FCC policy change that establishes a lottery system for awarding cellphone licenses, Warner has an idea. He begins applying for licenses on behalf of investor groups, negotiating a 5% stake in the ones he secures. He then
resells these licenses at higher prices. The practice, which is entirely legal, reportedly earns him $150 million over 10 years. (The FCC reverts to an auction-based method of assigning licenses in 1994.) 1989 Serves as campaign director for Douglas Wilder,
who becomes Virginia’s first African American governor. This same year, he co-launches VC firm Columbia Capital. Warner cofounds a telecom company that becomes wireless-services giant Nextel, which Sprint will acquire in 2005 for $35 billion.
1993–1995 Chair of Virginia’s Democratic Party 2002-2006 Governor of Virginia 2009-PRESE N T U.S. senator for Virginia; vice chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence (since 2017)
ILLUMINATING “DARK PATTERNS”
Senator Warner is currently sponsoring or cosponsoring numerous pieces of legislation focused on business or technology, including a suite of bills that would give gig economy workers, such as Uber drivers, better benefits, and the Honest Ads Act, which would require social media companies to be transparent about political advertising. The Detour Act, perhaps Warner’s most comprehensive and ex-
acting proposal (cosponsored with Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer), would bar digital platforms with more than 100 million monthly users from using deceptive design tricks known as “dark patterns,” a term coined in 2010 by UX researcher Harry Brignull. If passed, the Detour Act would create a professional standards body in the FTC and outlaw the following types of common ploys. —Lara Sorokanich
PR I VA CY PIR A CY Social platforms release more information to brokers than you realize. Also known as “Privacy Zuckering,” after Facebook’s CEO.
M ISDIREC T IO N Page or app design purposefully focuses your attention on one thing to distract your attention from another.
DISGUISED AD S Advertisements are cloaked as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to elicit a response from you.
B A I T A N D S W I TCH Software entices you to do one thing, but an undesirable thing happens instead.
Airbnb displays “per night” prices for listings, but other expensive line items such as cleaning, service fees, and tax aren’t shown until the booking process.
Although Google’s advertising platform has regulations against them, some ads it displays use fake “download” buttons to trick users into clicking on them.
Microsoft was criticized in 2016 when users noticed that hitting the X on a software update pop-up would actually download an app instead of closing the window.
Facebook shares user data with advertisers by default. Users must change settings manually to opt out.
With a net worth of more than $230 million, the Indiana-born Warner is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. His fortune stems from a bet he made in the mid-1980s that wireless technology would be the future of telecommunications. After graduating from Harvard Law School, working for Democratic organizations, and experimenting with entrepreneurship, Warner noticed a change in how the FCC awarded wireless spectrum licenses and became a broker of sorts, connecting parties looking to buy and sell the rights. The ﬁrst years were lean: Warner sometimes slept in his car rather than pay for a hotel while on the road. He kept at it, building a reputation as an honest and relentless deal maker, even though some viewed his practices as a brazen cash grab. “He had an almost pushy way about him that could force people to a conclusion,” says venture investor James Murray, one of Warner’s business partners at the time. Later, with Murray and three others, Warner began putting his own money into deals, eventually forming what would become the venture ﬁrm Columbia Capital. But Warner remained attracted to politics, which had ﬁrst drawn him to Washington as an undergraduate at George Washington University. He applied his dealmaking skills to fundraising in the late ’80s, taking a leave of absence from Columbia Capital to secure checks and run the campaign of Douglas Wilder, who became Virginia’s ﬁrst African American governor. Years later, in his own successful 2001 campaign for Virginia governor, Warner out-raised his opponent 2 to 1—and served a single term with approval ratings consistently topping 70%. When Warner arrived in the U.S. Senate in 2009, he was viewed as a rising star within the Democratic Party; he 70 FASTCOMPANY.COM
delivered the keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and his name was ﬂoated as a presidential or vice presidential nominee. This was also an era in which Silicon Valley was esteemed in Washington. Tech leaders were being hailed as American innovators, and the White House, under President Barack Obama, made a habit of welcoming their input (a 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation found that Google employees had been meeting with senior White House ofﬁcials pretty much once a week for six years). Warner made regular visits to the Bay Area for fundraising, collecting checks from the likes of Sheryl Sandberg and John Doerr. He also stayed current on tech innovation through the network he had built during his time at Columbia Capital. AOL founder Steve Case and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler both separately recall dining out with Warner and discussing the gig economy, long before Uber became a household name. (Warner later proposed a bill that would give gig economy workers access to portable beneﬁts, one of the few proposals involving this new mode of labor at the federal level.) “I believe he’s pro-business, pro-tech, pro-innovation,” says Case. “But he also recognized that as the internet becomes part of everyday life, policy does become more important. It makes sense to take a fresh look at what the policies are with a Facebook that has 2 billion users and is more powerful than any media company.” Like most of his elected peers, Warner didn’t initially see a need to rein in Big Tech, let alone consider how the Chinese government might wield technology as an empire-building tool. “We were kind of nibbling around the edges,” he says. Several years ago, his ofﬁce raised questions, for example, about fraud in online advertising markets and connected devices capable of spying on children. The turning point for Warner was Russia’s interference, via social media, in the 2016 presidential election, which the Select Committee on Intelligence has been investigating since 2017. “I still remember the totally arrogant and over-the-top reaction from [CEO Mark] Zuckerberg and the Facebook folks—well, that must be ‘crazy,’ ” he says, paraphrasing remarks that Zuckerberg made in 2016 regarding fake news on Facebook and its inﬂuence on the presidential election. The committee has yet to complete its investigation, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and 3 Russian organizations in February 2018, noting that Russia’s Internet Research ILLUSTR ATIONS BY FR ANCESCO CICCOLELLA
The dark-pattern-stopping Detour Act would apply to U.S.-based platforms with more than 100 million monthly active users. So, most likely, these: SNAPCHAT LINKEDIN
SOCIAL M EDI A
CO N F IR M SH A M I N G The option to decline or opt out of a function or service is worded in such a way as to make users second-guess themselves.
FR IE N D SPA M A site asks for your email or social media permissions under false pretenses, then spams your contacts in a message claiming to be from you.
To cancel Amazon Prime, users have to push buttons that read “Cancel membership and end benefits” and “I do not want my benefits.”
LinkedIn settled a class action lawsuit in 2015 for spamming users’ entire email contact lists when they clicked an “add to your network” button while signing up.
STRE A M I N G SERV ICES SPOTIFY FACEBOOK MESSENGER
GOOGLE MAPS APPLE MESSAGES
input, Warner published a white paper last summer that Agency “had a featured a menu of 20 policy proposals, culled from an initial strategic goal to 50, which has served as a starting point for discussion on tech sow discord in policy regulation. Unabashedly designed for wonks, the white the U.S. political paper did not attract much attention on cable TV. But it got system.” In Facepeople talking on the Hill: In the months that followed, Warbook, Instagram, ner was able to unveil three tech policy bills, with Republican and Twitter, the Russian IRA found WHEN IT COMES TO cosponsors. More are in the works. “In my experience, time the perfect weapons to do so. I N T E R A C T I N G W I T H spent on Capitol Hill is almost always wasted time,” says one It wasn’t until the spring of 2018 startup CEO who provided feedback. “With [Warner], it’s not.” that Silicon Valley was ofﬁcially THE BIG TECH One of Warner’s white-paper proposals would require the brought before Capitol Hill, with C O M P A N I E S, W A R N E R conspicuous labeling of fake accounts on social media, since Zuckerberg testifying for a comS A Y S, “T H E R E’S A they play a central role in amplifying misinformation. Anbined 10 hours before Senate and other, which his ofﬁce has expanded into a bill (cosponsored House committees in April about B I T O F R O P E-A-D O P E by Nebraska Republican Senator Deb Fischer, see sidebar, privacy, political polarization, and G O I N G O N.” “Illuminating ‘Dark Patterns’ ”), targets “dark patterns,” a the mechanics of how Facebook term for intentionally deceptive interfaces commonly used makes money. Facebook COO Sandby large tech companies. And yet another proposal would berg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey got their moment under the lights in September, appearing require platforms such as Facebook to calculate each user’s value, in advertising before Warner and the Select Committee. Alphabet CEO dollars, and make the information available on demand in order to demystify the Larry Page, invited by Select Committee chairman Senator platforms’ business models. He followed through on this idea in June, cosponRichard Burr, was a no-show. “I am deeply disappointed soring (with Republican Senator Josh Hawley) the Dashboard Act, which would that [Alphabet-owned] Google, one of the most inﬂuen- compel big tech companies to disclose what individuals’ data—their relationship tial digital platforms in the world, chose not to send its status, age, travel plans, and more—is worth. If the bill becomes law, it could shift own top corporate leadership to engage this committee,” the balance of power to consumers and antitrust enforcers. But the momentum has stalled on broader privacy legislation, making Warner said at the time. (Google has privately admitted to lawmakers that the decision not to come was a mistake.) Warner’s individual bills appear less likely to pass, too, in large part because At the same time, Warner and his staff were talking their fate rests in the hands of the Republican leaders who control the Senate, with startup founders, academics, and privacy advocates— including Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Comincluding Tristan Harris, cofounder and executive direc- mittee. One day last fall, before Google CEO Sundar Pichai was scheduled to sit tor of the Center for Humane Technology, and Jim Steyer, down privately with lawmakers, including Graham, Warner spotted the South founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. With their Carolina Republican at the Senate’s members-only gym. (Continued on page 94)
Why everyone is betting on experience PAGE 77
The impersonal nature of automation, e-commerce, and streaming has produced the inevitable backlash: Consumers and companies are prioritizing encounters and connections over more stuff. This is how we come together, right now. ILLUSTR ATIONS BY MEREDITH MIOTKE
Fourteen unique encounters getting people talking PAGE 73
What price, Burning Man? PAGE 84
Google, by design PAGE 78
Urban Infrastructure Parks Cities are converting industrial land into local attractions to draw visitors and boost real estate values.
Branded Experiences Distinctive IRL stunts translate into free media. Three recent hits:
IMPRESSIONS IN BILLIONS
Atlanta BeltLine Miami Underline
2 “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical”
New York High Line
Immersive Art Experiences Tickets for these ’gram-friendly exhibits run as high as $38.
Museum of Ice Cream
W H E N A I R B N B L AU N C H E D A I R B N B
Experiences, in 2016, the move was an acknowledgment that modern travelers want more than a place to sleep. Many want quirky journeys, tours, and classes hosted by local experts. They want memories. Airbnb’s core product—easy-to-navigate online room and home rentals—had now become a service. To keep growing, Airbnb had to embrace the “experience economy.” In a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” authors B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore identiﬁed experiences as an entirely distinct economic category. “An experience is not an amorphous construct; it is as real an offering as any service, good, or commodity,” they wrote. There’s certainly been a surge in supply and demand for experiences: Companies understand that immersive, “in real life” moments are harder for technology to displace, and that pristine customer service and beautifully designed interfaces are competitive advantages. Consumers, meanwhile, seem to be forgoing stuff for adventures: Experience-related spending in recent years grew more than four times faster than spending on goods, according to a McKinsey study of U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Fast Company, with the support of SAP, set out to examine how the experience economy has evolved and expanded. We visited Google’s Design Lab to observe how the tech giant practices the art of “user experience.” We took a close look at Burning Man, the 33-year-old arts event that is struggling to maintain its identity amid the growing demand for cool gatherings— especially ones that look great on Instagram. And we offer a glimpse of funky and unexpected activities around the world, from ax-throwing bars in Milwaukee to an esports town in Hangzhou, China. The upshot? We hope you enjoy the experience of reading these features. —Stephanie Mehta
Bud Light/ Cleveland Browns Victory Fridges
TORONTO MILWAUKEE CLEVELAND
SAN FRANCISCO ORLANDO
Theme Parks Disney, the industry leader, is growing attendees, revenues, and revenue per visitor. 2017
150M VISITORS $18.4B $122 PER VISITOR
157.3M VISITORS $20.3B $129 PER VISITOR
RIO DE JANEIRO
Leisure-Centric Retail These are the most popular grown-up play spaces for shopping centers embracing experience. 7.1% Esports lounges
4.8% Escape rooms Competitive socializing (ping-pong, ax throwing, etc.)
Observation Experiences A breathtaking view (plus a selfie) is worth the wait. 2018 VISITORS
Coca-Cola London Eye
Empire State Building
26.2% 7.1% VR arcades
At the Christ Top, Burj the Redeemer Khalifa
Customer Service The average American shares a bad customer experience with more folks than a good one…
Museums Beyoncé’s video shot in the Louvre spiked attendance. Now, other institutions want in. 10.2 M VISITORS
+76.9% AFTER THE
Culinary Tourism Food is its own destination, from Cusco, Peru, to Cape Town, South Africa. GLOBAL REVENUE IN BILLIONS
Escape Rooms These puzzle-solving spaces started in Japan but are now highly popular in the U.S.
1.3 M VISITORS
2.3 M VISITORS
United States $150
…except millennials, who are the only group who tell more people about positive encounters.
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Death Cafés Communal grieving gatherings are a thing. 10,000
CAPE TOWN 5,000
Music Festivals They’re a global phenomenon, on almost every continent. 2018 VISITORS
Esports Arenas Hangzhou, China, is building an esports town.
3.94M Square Feet 770K
Wellness Tourism “Me time” is not just for Americans.
TRIPS EXPENDITURES U.S.
Mawazine (Rabat, Morocco)
Summerfest Rock in Rio (Milwaukee) (Rio de Janeiro)
70.2M $31.7B 56M
India 68 football fields
At this moment, someone is deciding if they want to love you or leave you. Today, customers expect better and more personal experiences. SAP® Experience Management solutions help you connect experience data (X) with operational data (O) so you can listen to what customers are saying and act on it. Because when customers love their experience, they’ll love your company. Experience Management is here. Experience more at sap.com/XM
© 2019 SAP SE or an SAP affiliate company. All rights reserved.
WHEN I CALL CUSTOMER SERVICE I WANT TO SPEAK TO Oh, hello David A REAL PERSON. With SAPÂŽ Experience Management solutions, your company understands the right moment a customer needs a human to step in and take over a call. These are the kinds of experiences that companies can now deliver when experience data (X) meets operational data (O). Experience Management is here. Experience more at sap.com/XM
ÂŠ 2019 SAP SE or an SAP affiliate company. All rights reserved.
Malls, retailers, and even Airbnb believe it’s the future. BY CL AIRE MILLER
Millennials are more motivated than boomers to visit a shopping center if it has a leisure or entertainment experience.
U.S. malls are devoting more real estate to experiential offerings.
Fitness can turn a shopping center into a destination... 15,000
NUMBER OF RETAIL DEVELOPMENTS THAT INCLUDE GYMS OR BOUTIQUE FITNESS SUCH AS YOGA OR CYCLING
19.2% 73% more likely
46% more likely
...and a health and wellness visit inspires higher retail spending. 21- to 38year-olds
55- to 73year-olds
Major retailers are investing to renovate their stores. Four recent commitments:
Average retail-goods expenditure per shopping center visit
2030 projected spending on the experience economy
$1 billion (325 stores)
$1.6 billion (1,300 stores)
2022 projected spending on global entertainment, sports, and media
If a shopper has a wellness visit
Airbnb is now an experiences platform. LISTINGS
Tiffany & Co.
Walmart $11 billion (520 stores) $250 million (1 store)
2021 projected spending on global sporting events
2018 spending on global sports betting and lotteries
500 2016 launch
12 2016 launch
Sources, previous spread: Branded Experiences: AB InBev/Weber Shandwick (Bud Light/Cleveland Browns); HBO (HBO SXSWestworld); ICF Next/Skittles (Skittles). Theme Parks: “Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Financial Report,” The Walt Disney Company (revenue stat); TEA/AECOM 2018 Theme Index and Museum Index: The Global Attractions Attendance Report, Themed Entertainment Association (attendance stat, Observation Experiences, and Museums). “Playing Games” 2019, JLL Research (Leisure-Centric Retail); High Line Network (Urban Infrastructure Parks). Immersive Art Experiences: @museumoficecream; @meow__wolf; @thecandytopia (Instagram). “#WellActually, Americans Say Customer Service Is Better Than Ever,” Dec. 15, 2017, American Express (Customer Service); “The Largest Music Festivals in the World,” April 18, 2019, Statista (Music Festivals); deathcafe.com (Death Cafés); “Hangzhou Is Investing in Becoming the Esports Capital of the World,” Nov. 26, 2018, Quartz (Esports Arenas); Global Culinary Tourism Market 2019–2023, Technavio, Jan. 2019 (Culinary Tourism); roomescapeartist.com (Escape Rooms); Global Wellness Economy Monitor, 2018, Global Wellness Institute (Wellness Tourism). This page: Mixed-Use Properties: A Convenient Option for Shoppers, April 12, 2019, ICSC (Millennials, U.S. malls, and Fitness stats); More Retailers Are Investing in Physical Stores, Dec. 4, 2018, Coresight Research (Major retailers); “Health and Wellness Tenants Create Multiple Synergies,” May 7, 2018, ICSC (Health and wellness); Airbnb (Airbnb); “The Search for More Travel Experiences and Less Material Goods,” April 30, 2018, Euromonitor International ($8 trillion); Endeavor ($2.4 trillion and $180 billion); “Legalized Sports Betting Affects Market Potential,” June 26, 2018, IBIS ($214 billion)
The secret behind Google’s breakout hardware products is its year-old Design Lab. Here’s an exclusive look inside. BY MARK WILSON PHOTOGR APHS BY CODY PICKENS
PAGE 79 The two-story entrance to Googleâ€™s Design Lab serves as both a gathering spot for the buildingâ€™s 150 or so employees and a library.
Hardware design chief Ivy Ross (right) and designer Leslie Greene compare colors across Google product lines, from Nest stands to Pixel phones, in the lab’s Color room.
THERE’S A BUILDING ON GOOGLE’S
Mountain View, California, campus that’s off-limits to most of the company’s own employees. The 70,000-square-foot Design Lab, which opened last June, houses around 150 designers and dozens of top-secret projects under the leadership of VP and head of hardware design Ivy Ross, a former jewelry artist who has led the company’s push into gadgets ranging from the groundbreaking Google Home Mini speaker to the playful line of Pixel phones. Inside the lab— and away from the cubicle culture of the engineering-driven Googleplex—industrial designers, artists, and sculptors are free to collaborate. “Google’s blueprint for how they optimize is great for most people [at the company],” says Ross. “Designers need different things.” Each space in the lab was constructed to help Ross’s team marry tactile experiences (understated, fabric-covered gadgets that feel at home in the home) with digital ones (Google’s unobtrusive UX). In the two-story, skylit atrium entrance, for example, a birchwood staircase leads to a library ﬁlled with the design team’s favorite books. “We’re the company that digitized the world’s information,” says Ross, “[but] sometimes, designers need to hold things.” Inside, the lab has entire rooms devoted to colors and materials, along with curated collections of outside objects to inspire designers as they decide on Google’s palette and textiles. There are also Garage rooms (for working out engineering challenges), the Model Shop (where designers build prototypes), and an area with a pair of “refueling station” beds, where staff can lie back, don headphones, and recharge. The one thing in short supply: conference rooms. Most business meetings take place in other buildings. The lab, stresses Ross, “is a sanctuary to get the design work done.”
Designers hash out product schematics in one of the lab’s Garages.
Google designers, who often draw inspiration from everyday objects (including socks and carabiners), look at swatches for an unreleased wearable the team developed for the Milan Furniture Fair.
Hannah Somerville, the archivist for the Materials room library, arranges textile swatches above a museum-style display of objects that designers can peruse.
Sketches of the companyâ€™s last iteration of the Pixel phone hang on the walls of a Garage.
A pair of mesh Adidas by Stella McCartney Pureboost sneakers are on display in the Materials room.
The annual mecca for the experimental and weird has become one of the world’s most iconic arts events by keeping the forces of commercialization at bay. If only it weren’t so Instagrammable. BY CARRIE BAT TAN ILLUSTR ATIONS BY MEREDITH MIOTKE
THE EXPERIENCE ECONOMY
A N D T H E B U R N E RS W E R E LO O K I N G D I S H E V E L E D.
Days of camping, cooking, exploring, and partying with limited resources on the remote arid terrain where Burning Man is held at the end of August each year had stripped most attendees of any polish they had arrived with. But one cohort looked suspiciously wellpreserved. They appeared freshly showered in their carefully selected getups, often some combination of wings, glitter, and exposed midriffs. They looked as though they were heading to a photo shoot—and some of them were, posing for Instagram-worthy desert pics with all the relevant hashtags. While most of the 70,000plus Burning Man attendees were bunking in RVs and makeshift tents, a growing number of these polished burners had more luxurious digs: all-inclusive camps with air-conditioning, showers, reliable Wi-Fi, and large beds. One boutique-hotel-style fortress, called Camp Humano, featured a selection of “bedouin tents” ($25,000 a week) and two-bedroom lodges ($100,000 a week), along with “personal sherpas” for guests. Humano’s organizers had promoted these accommodations online as “the perfect place to escape from all the madness.”
Over its 33-year history, Burning Man, an eight-day-long experiment in radical, commerce-free living, has drawn a wildly diverse crowd. It’s been home to hippies, artists, and activists; pranksters, ravers, and techno-utopians; punk, grunge, and EDM enthusiasts; libertarians, socialists, and even billionaires. They’ve all embraced—to varying degrees—the 10 principles that founder Larry Harvey laid out in 2004, including selfreliance, self-expression, inclusion, gifting, and decommodiﬁcation. But during the 2018 event, many longtime denizens of the playa (burner parlance for the Black Rock Desert) found themselves running into a group that even they had trouble assimilating. The inﬂuencers had arrived. Although Burning Man’s organizers avoid the term “festival,” preferring to call it a “catalyst for creative culture,” the event is part of a global boom in culturally focused, cross-disciplinary gatherings that today include everything from Pharrell Williams’s new Something in the Water music and ideas festival and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Wellness Summit to stalwarts like the Frieze art fairs and South by Southwest. Live music events alone are forecast to grow from a $25.6 billion to a $31 billion global industry by 2022. Coachella, for example, drew 125,000 attendees during each of its two weekends in 2017 and took in $116 million, a tenfold increase from 2007, fueled by ticket and merchandise sales, corporate sponsorships, and other brand partnerships. 2018’s Coachella
PASS I O N I N TH E D E S E RT Burning Man has wrestled with its identity since its founding. 1986 The event starts on Baker Beach near San Francisco, when Larry Harvey and Jerry James burn an 8-foot-tall wooden model of a man as bystanders watch.
1988 Harvey names the statue “Burning Man,” and he and James start promoting their Baker Beach event with posters, flyers, and T-shirts.
1990 Police break up the event at the beach on Memorial Day. At the suggestion of the Cacophony Society, a group of neo–Merry Pranksters, it moves to the Black Rock Desert over Labor Day weekend. About 90 people attend.
event generated 4 million hashtags, many of them from social media inﬂuencers using the festival as a backdrop for a product plug. Burning Man, which will take place from August 25 to September 2 this year, may bring in more than $45 million annually in revenue, but it has stubbornly deﬁed commercialization, using most of its ticket sales to sponsor community-building activities around the globe and offer artists grants to create large-scale installations for the event. There are no merch tables or food purveyors at Burning Man. Every experience—music, art, and more—is free. According to Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell, who has led the 120-employee nonproﬁt behind the event since 2013, the organization has rebuffed would-be sponsors and acquirers over the years. Burning Man’s remote location and spotty connectivity have made it relatively easy for it to resist the forces of commerce. But the 2018 gathering—the ﬁrst without founder Larry Harvey, who had passed away a few months prior—was different. Goodell and other members of the leadership team noticed ruptures in the social fabric of the playa: too many smartphones, those private camps, people seemingly more interested in crossing things off their bucket lists than in joining a community. She and her colleagues had heard about a 70-year-old burner who’d tried to board an art car (the Burning Man equivalent of a parade ﬂoat mashed up with a party boat) and had been rebuffed for not being “a hot girl.” Goodell
herself recalled an encounter with an electronica-blasting art car whose champagnedrinking passengers had repeatedly refused to turn down the music during the event’s climactic burning of its namesake “man” statue, a moment that usually inspires at least some reﬂection among participants. Goodell sensed that one Burning Man contingent was behaving like “it [was] Tulum on New Year’s Eve.” Worse still was the commerce. At Goodell’s request, employees pulled together a 55-page report documenting it all. There were the concierge-style travel services and so-called plugand-play camps—some seeking proﬁt, others that were simply exclusionary. There was a still-in-beta social-networking app that had been using Burning Man email lists to solicit users. A sculpture from the playa had been licensed to Coach and appeared on a line of sandals. Fashion designer Manish Arora, a longtime burner, showed a collection at Paris Fashion Week that incorporated images and words from Burning Man installations without the artists’ approval. There were photo shoots, product placements, and even some product launches at Black Rock City. “You have people out there [on Instagram] saying what brand of bicycle [they’re riding at Burning Man], what boots they have,” says Goodell. “Why would you do that? You’ve missed the whole point.” Burning Man deﬁnes itself by its laissez-faire ethos, but Goodell decided to impose some limits. In February, she published a lengthy piece on the Burning Man website called “Cultural Course Correcting: Black Rock City 2019,” announcing a mandate to refocus Burning Man around its core principles. Goodell said that Burning Man was introducing more of its designated “low-income” tickets (for $210) and reducing the number of high-price ones, which reach up to $1,400, depending on when you buy. It was also prioritizing access for established art collectives and looking hard at the applications submitted by people hoping to set up a themed camp. “If a camp is too big and fancy, then it’s our job to say, ‘Start small,’ ” says Goodell. Humano, for one, was not invited back for 2019. And Burning Man would use its website and community forums to educate attendees about decommodiﬁcation, especially around product posts and hashtags on social media. “The outside world has tools that are starting to affect our values,” Goodell says. “[But] we didn’t scream and tell everybody to put their phones away. How can the organization do this stuff by ourselves? We can’t. We have to do it with the community.” Ultimately, to maintain the integrity of Burning Man—to keep it a place that refracts rather than reﬂects the world beyond the playa—Goodell is relying on attendees to change their ways. But in the era of spon-con and afﬁliate links, when every photograph is a potential product endorsement and every person is a brand just waiting for a collab, Burning Man’s desert ecosystem is increasingly endangered.
Jerry James (1986); Scott London (1992, 2000, 2001); Sebastian Hyde (1997)
1992 Attendees begin establishing theme camps, and “rangers” form to protect attendees from getting lost in the desert. Rave culture arrives.
Wired runs a “Greetings From Burning Man” cover story. The event gets its first webcast, using streaming technology from MediaCast.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin create the first Google Doodle by embedding the Burning Man symbol in the Google logo to serve as an outof-office message while they’re away on the playa. Tickets reach $100.
Installation artists David Best and Jack Haye build the enormous Temple of the Mind at Burning Man. It’s the first of many temples from Best, one of the event’s most famous artists.
1995 An email discussion list is established.
1991 Burning Man receives a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. After inspecting the site, post-event, the BLM concludes that “no trace of the burning ceremony or the campsite can be found,” inspiring Burning Man’s “leave no trace” edict.
1994 The first documented internet connection is forged when attendees beam a signal into the desert from a nearby motel and begin uploading pictures from the event to a website. It takes a half hour per photo.
Rules arrive: Black Rock City is laid out with planned streets; driving cars and shooting guns are banned. Burning Man LLC forms with seven members, though not cofounder John Law, who had broken with the event a year earlier after an attendee died. He questions how it can grow and stay true to its ethos.
Burning Man forms the Black Rock Arts Foundation to support work on the playa and elsewhere from artists “whose careers exist beyond the institutional mainstream.” The organization offers $270,000 in grants for on-site art in its first year.
of Burning Man to know that it’s dramatically gorgeous,” says John Styn, who goes by the name Halcyon and favors hot-pink hair and gauge ear piercings. For the past 20 summers, he has made the pilgrimage to Black Rock City’s sun-scorched landscape, which is dotted with absurdist, oversize works of art that look like they were dreamed up by Disney Imagineers on LSD. “If you’ve made a career out of being dramatically gorgeous and being an inﬂuencer, it makes sense that you would want to go.” Last year, a Los Angeles–based model named Natasha Wagner, one of hundreds of inﬂuencers who use the hashtag #Burnerettes, attended Burning Man for the third time. She was part of a group called Camp 747, which hauled an old Boeing 747 into the desert and turned it into a nightclub. Some burners viewed the effort as the pinnacle of imagination; others saw it as an elitist and ostentatious display. Her camp provided its guests with two daily meals, along with showers, Paul Mitchell hair products, and Patrón tequila, which were provided by Paul Mitchell CEO, Patrón cofounder, and 747 attendee John Paul DeJoria. A designer friend had given Wagner a faux-fur vest to wear at Burning Man. Wagner had no cell service in Black Rock City, but when she returned home, she tagged the designer in one of her Instagram posts and sent her a photo. The designer then posted the image on her company’s Instagram account. Later, after reading about Burning Man’s “cultural course-correcting efforts,” Wagner realized this was an infraction of the Burning Man ethos. “We don’t want Burning Man to turn into a big corporate campaign,” she admits. “It’s supposed to be about . . . What do you call it? Decommodiﬁcation. But at the same time, your outﬁts [are] part of the art. And it’s nice to give credit to the person whose art you’re wearing.” Ultimately, neither the designer nor Wagner removed their posts, despite Goodell’s online condemnation of such practices. This is hardly the ﬁrst time Burning Man has wrestled for its soul. Any longtime burner will joke about the event’s long history of identity crises. The gathering began when Larry Harvey, a San Francisco artist, built an 8-foot-tall wooden structure of a man in 1986 and burned it on a local beach with some friends. He repeated the cathartic ceremony the following year, and it soon became an annual tradition in his San Francisco art community. Eventually, Harvey obtained a permit from the state of Nevada to formalize the event in the desert. Word of mouth spread among the arts and tech communities, and by the mid-1990s, about 10,000 people were heading to the desert at the end of every August to experience what had
2004 With the event growing and a network of regional festivals sprouting up, cofounder and “chief philosopher” Larry Harvey writes down the 10 Principles of Burning Man as a guiding ethos.
2002 Burningman.com is a finalist for a Webby award in the Community category.
become a bacchanalia of ﬁre-emitting sculptures, souped-up art cars, dance parties, and wild costumes (or no clothes at all), with no police or security on the premises and no ofﬁcial rules. Guns weren’t banned until 1997. Commerce was present, in the form of the occasional food stall or barter station, but the event’s anticapitalist spirit was strong enough that when Goodell began attending in 1995, she boycotted an assigned shift at a T-shirt stand, feeling that it broke with the intended spirit of Burning Man. She could already sense Burning Man’s culture coming under siege. During the dotcom boom of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, Burning Man’s vision of a creative utopia came into clearer focus, and it became a destination for mind-bending industrial art. It also started drawing in Silicon Valley types, who saw in the gathering a reﬂection of their disruptive style of entrepreneurship. (Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page attended in 1998.) By this time, Goodell, who had dated Harvey in the ’90s, was part of the Burning Man inner circle: She had become the event’s communications lead and established its ﬁrst email newsletter. Goodell began noticing quirky logos placed in front of some camps and thought they were just eccentric designs, until a friend informed her that they belonged to tech companies. “We found ourselves going, ‘No, that is not okay,’ ” she says. As Burning Man ballooned—it reached 20,000 attendees in 1999 and was at 35,000 by 2004—Harvey began formalizing it. He, Goodell, and a handful of other early burners
2007 Cofounder John Law unsuccessfully sues the organization to release the Burning Man name and trademark to the public. “If Burning Man is really a movement,” he argues, “the name should belong to everyone, not three guys who don’t get along anymore.” The organization counters that public ownership would open the floodgates for commercialization.
2006 Google Earth adds a satellite image of Black Rock City to its free online imagery. Al Gore’s Current TV creates TV Free Burning Man, which shoots, edits, and uploads, via satellite, several episodes during the event. They air, without advertisements, on Current TV cable stations.
A wireless company installs a temporary cellular tower on private land near Burning Man and offers satellite-connected phone calls to attendees. People in the area make and receive about 300,000 calls during the event. Burning Man responds to the outcry by urging its community to remember that “the dynamics of the Burning Man event will always be changing, and that our community can and will adapt to any new aspect that comes along.”
2011 2010 Attendance crosses 50,000 people.
Burning Man sells out: For the first time, more people want to come to Burning Man than the organization’s 50,000-person permit allows. It’s forced to halt ticket sales more than a month before the event. Krug champagne gets in hot water by staging an elaborate dinner party at Burning Man and inviting media to photograph and cover it.
Scott London (2004, 2007, 2011); Andrew Wegst (2012); Lisa Keating (2013); John Curley (2014); Philippe Glade (2015); Edmund Fisher (2019)
“ Y O U O N LY H AV E T O S E E A F E W P I C T U R E S
established the governing Black Rock City community online, and eventually apologized and resigned from the board after just a year. LCC, and later created a foundation arm to The frustration among burners, says Halcyon, “was made worse by the fact that people on dispense proﬁts from the event to artists. the [Burning Man] board had connections to high-budget camps.” (These moves to create a formal structure Policing bad behavior at Burning Man is hard. For one, there’s Harvey’s persnickety dismayed some longtime burners, including principle of radical inclusion. Second, there is no explicit rule against being comfortable or cofounder John Law, who quit the organiza- rich. In fact, the Silicon Valley elite are typically the ones most eager to prove they’re playing tion in 1997.) In 2004, Harvey helped draw up by the rules. “The rich and famous in Silicon Valley are not creating plug-and-play camps,” the 10 Principles, which ﬁrmly established Conley argues. “They’re doing it in a way that’s more upscale, for sure, but they generally Burning Man as a commerce-free space. At [keep] a pretty low-proﬁle.” least in theory. It is the consumers of these tech titans’ products—the throngs of Instagram and FaceThe event’s leaders couldn’t deter wealth book users who have grown accustomed to the norms of those platforms—who represent and its trappings, and over the next decade, the bigger threat. Halcyon has spent two decades watching waves of change pass through Burning Man became a hub for the increas- Black Rock City, and he says something new settled in last year: a sense of defeat among ingly moneyed world of Silicon Valley. Mark old-guard burners who are starting to feel that “the genie is out of the bottle.” Zuckerberg and Elon Musk made appearances, along with other adventure-seeking “ W E A R E A L L I N D I V I D U A L B R A N D S T H E S E D AY S ,” S AY S J U K K A - P E K K A members of the 1%. With this inﬂux of pros- Heikkilä, a Finnish academic who has been studying Burning Man communities for several perity came luxurious extras, such as private years through the lens of commerce and entrepreneurship. “Burning Man is also a brand, jets, personal chefs, and on-site stylists who and that brand is going through an evolution.” could create bespoke looks for a $10,000 fee. There was a time when some artists downplayed At the same time, the Burning Man orgatheir association with the event, afraid it might seem nization started to embrace some of these too out of the mainstream. Today, creating a large-scale iconoclastic capitalists. piece of art for the playa can launch a career. The SmithThe results were uneven. Chip Conley, sonian debuted an exhibition last summer called No who founded the Joie de Vivre hotel group Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, featuring some of and later was named an Airbnb executive, the installations the event has inspired and sponsored, became a Burning Man board member in which is currently touring museums around the coun2009; he introduced Airbnb cofounder Brian try. Big-name artists, including architect Bjarke Ingels, Chesky to the playa in 2013 and became an now create work speciﬁcally for the event. If you’ve made a career advocate for Burning Man’s decommodiﬁed Burning Man’s inﬂuence has expanded well beyond out of being dramatimission. Jim Tananbaum, CEO of Foresite art into the fuzzier realm of lifestyle brands. A glamorCapital, became a board member in 2014. cally gorgeous and ous “dinner in the desert” that Krug champagne hosted being an influencer, Tananbaum celebrated by creating a camp at Burning Man in 2012 was photographed and covered it makes sense that for that year’s event that he likened to by several glossy magazines. (The public shaming that you would want to go “staying at a pop-up W Hotel” and that cost followed was perhaps only slightly less intense than $15,000 a person. He was excoriated by the [to Burning Man].” the one Tananbaum experienced for his luxe camp.)
A few months after his IPO, Mark Zuckerberg helicopters in to spend a day at Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz’s camp. Artist Otto Von Danger, meanwhile, creates an elaborate scale model of Wall Street—and burns it down in homage to the Occupy movement.
2012 2013 Invited by Burning Man board member Chip Conley, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky attends. According to Conley, the awestruck Chesky declares that “Burning Man is what life would be like if artists ruled the world.”
Reports circulate on Facebook about Tananbaum’s ultra-highend Caravansicle camp from 2014, which included a geodesic dome, private showers, Wi-Fi, and fullservice staff. They set off a debate about turnkey camps. Tananbaum resigns from the board.
2014 Burning Man becomes a nonprofit with 70 employees, a budget of $30 million, and Marian Goodell at the helm. Private-equity billionaire Jim Tananbaum joins the board and attends the event. Also there: Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes any increases in corporate taxes and regulations.
As Goodell pushes back on Instagram culture and turnkey camps, the Bureau of Land Management denies the organization’s request to grow to 100,000 attendees and signals it may introduce drug screenings.
2017 A first-time Burning Man participant dies after running into the fire during the burning of the Man.
2016 Three-year-old White Ocean, a luxury camp founded by celebrity DJ Paul Oakenfold and Russian billionaire heir Timur Sardarov, is flooded and sabotaged by fellow burners.
2018 Larry Harvey dies. The Smithsonian American Art Museum debuts the traveling exhibit No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.
Consumer research ﬁrm Trendalytics noted, in 2016, that Instagram interactions related to Burning Man had increased 2,000% from 2014 to 2016, and cited the event as a launching pad for new fashion trends, such as Dutch braids. The following year, the ﬁrm released a report with advice for brands on how to leverage Burning Man, Coachella, Art Basel, and other “festival microcommunities.” Among the tips: Increase your brand’s SEO by marketing special festival shops online from April to August, and lock in “strategic partnerships” to expand your reach at events. In order to prevent this unwanted commercialization, the nonproﬁt Burning Man Project (which succeeded the for-proﬁt Black Rock City LLC in 2014) exercises unusually tight control over the use of its intellectual property—which includes the Burning Man logo, the design of the actual burning man sculpture, and even the map of Black Rock City. (We’re a long way from 2006, when cofounder John Law unsuccessfully sued the organization over rights to its logo, arguing that “Burning Man is for everyone.”) What’s more, according to ticket-buying terms and conditions, the copyright for any photo taken at the event belongs jointly to the photographer and Burning Man, allowing the organization to issue cease-and-desist letters if images are used for anything other than personal reasons. There’s also a stricture against using Burning Man photos to promote commercial products, services, or brands on personal social media accounts, though enforcing these infractions is difﬁcult. For the uneducated burner with an Instagram page, or a well-intentioned company looking to join in, Burning Man can be a mineﬁeld. Halcyon consults part-time with corporations, instructing them on how to infuse their businesses with the Burning Man ethos. He says even he struggles to ﬁnd the line between proselytization and commodiﬁcation. “I’m basically
trying to sell my experience of Burning Man without selling Burning Man,” he explains. When Paciﬁc Gas & Electric donated felled trees to support a Burning Man installation in 2017, the gift was gratefully accepted. But when the company issued a press release about the “partnership,” Burning Man gave it a behind-the-scenes scolding. The boundary grows blurrier still for artists, whose installations often require thousands of (often unpaid) hours and tens of thousands of dollars to construct. Last year, an art collective called Studio Drift created a massive drone project at Burning Man, a groundbreaking endeavor that was originally shown at Art Basel with funding from BMW. Does that afﬁliate Burning Man with BMW? “We have to deal with those kinds of examples on a case-by-case basis,” says Goodell, who notes that the Burning Man drone performance was not funded by the carmaker.
Music is even more complicated. Many of Burning Man’s most ardent burners strongly resisted the encroaching force of rave culture. “I think I was the ﬁrst big-name DJ,” says electronic-dance legend Paul Oakenfold, who began attending Burning Man in 1999. “I was lightly warned by friends that this is not a music festival and that I should keep everything about Burning Man private and not document it, which I found strange.” The arrival of prominent DJs brought along a new kind of crowd, including the inﬂuencer types who ﬂock to music festivals around the world. Oakenfold founded an EDM-themed camp in 2013, called White Ocean, that hosted DJs and held dance parties throughout the event and promoted, online, both its lineups and the resulting tracks. The camp was vandalized in 2016 by a group of old-guard burners wishing to make a statement. Oakenfold continues to attend Burning Man, although White Ocean hasn’t returned. “I think White Ocean was targeted unfairly,” he says. “I work in music, and it’s not about stopping and saying, ‘This is mine.’ It’s about sharing and moving forward.” He sees a profound cultural change on the horizon. “It was natural that [social media] was going to be the next progression. Burning Man was always going to go that way.” No matter what, Burning Man is at a crossroads. It can continue to educate the public, energize the community, encourage best practices, and protect its intellectual property. But in trying too hard to preserve itself, it risks undermining the free-spiritedness of the event and creating a kind of civil war on the playa. Goodell says she has been heartened so far by the reaction to her course-correction post: She believes it gained extra momentum online in the wake of the Netﬂix and Hulu documentaries about the inﬂuencer-driven Fyre Festival, which she describes as “just one big plug-and-play camp.” But Goodell is facing a new threat. In June, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees Burning Man’s permit for the Black Rock Desert, released an environmental impact statement that recommended, among other things, instating a private security ﬁrm to screen attendees for drugs and weapons. Goodell quickly condemned the idea of subjecting “a peaceable gathering of people to searches without probable cause other than the desire to attend Burning Man.” And—like any good CEO—she has hired a top D.C. lobbying ﬁrm to help appeal the proposal. EDITORS@FASTCOMPANY.COM
STO KI N G TH E F I RE
A look at Burning Man’s growth, by the numbers
Number of attendees 80,000
3,650 Instagram posts tagged #BurningMan
Art installations for Black Rock City that Burning Man has helped fund since its inception
Black Rock City acreage in 2018
Number of theme camps and art installations 1,500
383 DATA NOT AVAILABLE BEFORE 1991
Total of Burning Man grants, offered to 101 artists, in 2017
Ticket price range $1,400
HIGHEST-PRICE TIER LOW-INCOME PRICE
$210 0 1986
@burningman (official account)
Year-round employees of the Burning Man Project in 2017
Temporary staff in 2017
$12,168,135 Total Burning Man payroll in 2017
Height of the Man
60 30 0 1986
Atlanta (Continued from page 53)
past. When TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington told CNN in 2011 that he didn’t know any black entrepreneurs, Judge quickly dropped him an email “to introduce myself so you can tell your buddies that you now know a black entrepreneur.”) Judge also puts his charm to use on television. Despite being vocal in the past about wanting Atlanta to be known for more than just reality TV, he and Sam decided to join Bravo’s long-running, top-rated Real Housewives of Atlanta last fall. There, they get to namedrop their businesses and socialize with pop-culture ﬁgures like Kandi Burruss and NeNe Leakes. Judge says he’s giving viewers, many of them local, insight into how the city’s startup ecosystem works. “If that’s the price to raise awareness and help more people,” he says, “it’s easy.” He’s also a member of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the mayor’s business-advisory board, which includes CEOs and the presidents of local universities. “As we have focused on economic development, we made a choice to go after tech business,” says Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who was elected in 2017. Bottoms is the latest in a line of consecutive black Atlanta mayors that stretches back to the 1973 election of the legendary Maynard Jackson, who defeated an incumbent who openly pleaded with voters that “Atlanta was too young to die.” Jackson is largely remembered for helping to create the city’s brawny black middle class, in part by instituting quotas for black contractors during the construction of the Hartsﬁeld-Jackson airport. “We’ve been able to give incentive packages and other things that make Atlanta an even more attractive place,” says Bottoms. Many of these incentives are focused around the city’s Tech Square neighborhood, in Midtown. Over the past 15 years, stretches of barren parking lots have been transformed into an innovation hub, home to several Georgia Tech buildings, more than 100 startups, a handful of accelerators, and the two-level ofﬁce and event space that holds Judge’s TechSquare Labs. Judge opened TechSquare in 2016 to house the operations of his seed-stage fund and to double as a corporate innovation center, allowing his portfolio companies to sign local giants, including Georgia Paciﬁc and Delta Airlines, as early clients. I visit the ofﬁce one April evening to witness the ﬁrm’s quarterly Atlanta Startup Battle pitch competition, in which ﬁve ﬁnalists— whittled down from 500—will duke it out for 92 FASTCOMPANY.COM
a $100,000 prize. Judge darts across the ﬂoor and whispers errands into ears as I arrive, then settles into the front row of the packed 15,000-square-foot space. The hundreds of audience members, a diverse group, listen as Judge’s investment partner, Allen Nance, a serial entrepreneur with a background in e-commerce and marketing, kicks things off. “At the end of the day,” he says, “this event is reﬂective of how we view entrepreneurship and how we view the world, from the music, to the clothes, to the people who are here.” By the end of the night, Judge and Nance will surprise everyone by choosing two winners: a developer of an AI-powered lawn mower and a database for construction permits. Jarringly, in a city that is 52% black, the only black people involved in the live-pitch competition are one of the VC guest judges and one of the nonwinning founders. If the Startup Battle didn’t exactly represent Atlanta, Judge’s decision to end the night by taking a group to the nearby Cheetah strip club does. Strip clubs are more than just boys’night-out playgrounds here: They’re social clubs, red-carpet venues, testing grounds for radio bangers, and, as Partpic’s Jewel Burks Solomon will explain to me when we meet the next day, a traditional source of black capital in the city. Many of the largest ones (though not Cheetah) are black-owned businesses. A few hours go by as the group, which now includes ﬁve cast members of the Housewives franchise, including Judge’s ﬁancée, drinks Veuve Clicquot and devours the best buffalo wings I’ve had in my life. An announcer calls Cher Bear, Blue Amber, and Amanda to “stage two.” “I am the tourism board, and you leaving Atlanta without a lap dance is not acceptable!” Judge yells at the night’s ﬁrst defector. (He offers me one; I’m satisﬁed with the chicken.) “Where else do you see a Super Bowl champion pitching a business idea at midnight over wings?” he asks, alerting me to a nearby conversation about cap tables featuring a former defensive tackle for the Saints. Judge has an 8 a.m. meeting with Google, but he doesn’t appear to be winding down anytime soon. Tonight was a win, and it’s time to celebrate. “To changing our history, and our future,” he toasts. WHEN VISITORS ARRIVE AT THE GATHERING
Spot, a private-membership club on the northwest side of Atlanta, they’re greeted by a sign that reminds them what they’re joining: “A diverse community of thinkers, creatives, and connectors driven to leave their mark on the world.” Converted from an old railroad depot, the 25,000-square-foot building features private conference rooms, podcasting studios, an event space, and several thousand paying
members, 70% of whom are black. Its hallways feature artwork from DL Warﬁeld (creator of OutKast’s iconic ATLiens and Aquemini album covers), including an image of a young Lena Horne wearing a baseball cap that reads MAKE WOMEN QUEENS AGAIN. Ryan Wilson, who cofounded the Gathering Spot in 2016 with TK Petersen (and who is part owner of the A3C Festival with Judge), shows me around, and in the span of a couple hours he’s pointed out the managers for both Washington Wizards center Dwight Howard and Ludacris; the owner of the black business-lifestyle publication Atlanta Tribune; and Ingrid Saunders Jones, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women and previous chair of the Coca-Cola Foundation. “This is one of the few places where you can be black and not be wholly focused on solving the problem of ﬁguring out how to be included,” says Wilson. “Is it exclusive? No. But are we highly interested in making sure that people who have traditionally been excluded from these environments have access? Yes.” All over the Gathering Spot, you ﬁnd folks who feel similarly—Burks Solomon, among them. Having built a computer-vision company that was picked up by Amazon (Burks Solomon won’t reveal the terms of Partpic’s acquisition but says it was a mix of cash and stock), she’s something of an icon to local tech founders. I spot her at a table giving advice to a young app developer, one of six founders whom Burks Solomon will critique today. “If there’s a black tech startup doing something in Atlanta, I’ve probably met with them or heard of them,” she says. “That’s how you build up an ecosystem.” Earlier this year, the 30-year-old launched an investment ﬁrm called Collab that offers both funding and mentorship to new entrepreneurs. While it’s true that venture capital is pouring into Atlanta—startups raised $625 million in Q4 of last year, up $71.25 million year over year, according to Pitchbook— black entrepreneurs aren’t seeing much of it yet. (Among the top-10 deals during that period was Pindrop, the only startup with a black founder.) Collab, which Burks Solomon cofounded with local entrepreneurs Justin Dawkins and Barry Givens, aims to change that: It’s in the midst of raising a $10 million fund from local leaders in industries like sports, ﬁlm, and tech. “The big thing I’m interested in is, how do we unlock the moneybags and get them distributed to the right people? Because it’s still being afforded by a select few,” says Burks Solomon. “Even those who are black don’t necessarily pass it back.” Burks Solomon gets her entrepreneurial passion from her grandfather, who started 10 businesses in Mobile, Alabama, during
the fever pitch of Jim Crow. After graduating from Howard University, she moved to California and spent two years at Google, onboarding businesses onto the company’s cloud services. But when family members fell ill, she settled in Atlanta and began working at an industrial-parts company. One day, in 2012, her grandfather called her for help ﬁnding a tractor part. How simple would it be, she thought, if he could just take a picture of where the part would go and search for it that way? Partpic launched in 2013. When Burks Solomon sold the company to Amazon, in 2016, she made clear that it was a “nonnegotiable” that her 14-person team stay in Atlanta. She cited Georgia Tech’s deep talent pipeline and how much easier it would be for Partpic to recruit people from Atlanta rather than compete with Facebook or Apple in Silicon Valley, or with Microsoft down the street. What she didn’t disclose: She had witnessed the effects of technology’s unchecked growth in Silicon Valley and had no interest in participating in it in Seattle. “When I was working at Google, I was living in an apartment complex in downtown Oakland that I’m sure displaced people. I felt like I was part of the problem,” she says. “There’s a big income inequality in Atlanta, but here I feel like I can change it.” San Francisco recently topped New York as the country’s most expensive city to reside in. Atlanta is more affordable than both cities by several orders of magnitude. Charles Pridgen, an account executive with the San Francisco–based cloud-communications platform Twilio, was paying $3,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area. Since moving to set up the company’s Atlanta operations, he pays $1,200 a month for a onebedroom in Midtown and nets enough to help send his sister to college. Like Iris Nevins at Mailchimp, Pridgen is attracted to Atlanta culturally. For both of them, though, the cost of living is the main draw. Nevins left behind a tiny loft in Oakland for a ﬁve-bedroom home in the western suburb of Cascade Heights. By renting out two of her rooms, she’s able to cover most of her monthly mortgage payments. “I’m really building wealth and ﬁnancial security, which requires more than just making a good income,” she says. As newcomers like Pridgen and Nevins seek out affordability, some long-term residents are being displaced. In neighborhoods such as Old Fourth Ward, the preaching grounds of Martin Luther King Jr., home prices have more than doubled in the past ﬁve years, transﬁguring the community from black and elderly to young, white, and afﬂuent. According to Remax, the median home sales price in Atlanta jumped 16% in the past year, four times the national average.
“Atlanta is a unique place for black people, but to sit here and believe that this is a land of milk and honey for all black people is foolhardy,” says Maurice Hobson, an assistant professor of African American studies at Georgia State University and author of The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta. “Are we doing this tech stuff so that we can get richer, or are we doing it to make the city more accessible and inclusive?” Hobson is one of many voices who warn that the city’s tax incentives and concessions to lure businesses will exacerbate its economic divisions. When the city council approved a $2 billion package in November for a downtown revitalization project— proposed by San Francisco–based CIM Group— Councilman Andre Dickens was one of six who voted no. “There’s a Goodie Mob verse that says, ‘Don’t come in my house without wiping your feet on the rug,’ ” says Dickens, who founded the Atlanta chapter of TechBridge, a not-for-proﬁt that teaches coding skills and ﬁnancial literacy to low-income communities. He is adamant that companies opening ofﬁces in Atlanta need to dedicate resources to job training for locals. A recent report from the consulting group McKinsey & Company that focused on Georgia describes a state and city where economic growth could stall if it doesn’t prepare residents to work within the new industries it’s attracting. High-skilled sectors, including “computation” and “mathematics,” are growing 15% annually and post 10 openings for every qualiﬁed Georgian candidate. For lowerskilled workers, it’s becoming the inverse. The report also found that while there are plenty of resources here to launch a new business— Georgia ranks 11th for new companies—the state ranks 45th in startup survival rate, with more than half petering out after ﬁve years. Mayor Bottoms has launched several initiatives to address these issues, including committing $200 million to affordable housing. But her job is as complicated as you’d expect it to be for a black female mayor of a majority-black city in a conservative state like Georgia. When she was announced as Spelman College’s commencement speaker this year, some students protested, criticizing her inability to tame gentriﬁcation. In May, the state government passed one of the strictest abortion bills in the country, prompting calls for boycotts by the entertainment studios that Bottoms and her predecessors have assiduously wooed. (“We’re going to feel it,” Bottoms says of the bill.) And in April, the Georgia House and Senate attempted, but failed, to wrest Hartsﬁeld-Jackson airport, long viewed as a symbol of Atlanta’s black economic and political power, from city control.
Not far from the ﬁve-year-old National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which holds many of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers, I meet up with Burks Solomon on the steps of the lesser-known Hammonds House Museum. Set in the West End, a middleclass neighborhood that was a crucible for many of Atlanta’s civil rights leaders, the red-and-green-trimmed Victorian once belonged to Dr. Otis Hammonds, a prominent black physician who, before his death in 1985, amassed a collection of more than 250 artworks by emerging black artists. Today, it doubles as an event space, and inside, a group of students from Clark Atlanta University are taking part in a poetry slam. “I do think Atlanta is the best place for black people to build any business,” Burks Solomon says, tightening her black, silklike kimono over an olive-green dress. Atlanta is “the last remaining Chocolate City,” she points out, in a not-so-subtle dig at Washington, D.C. “There are people here really trying to build something special, and it’s a work in progress.” “THERE SHOULD BE 50 ATLANTAS,” WALKER
says, as we chat in his backyard. “Everybody will soon pay attention to what’s happening here.” Already, a sense of urgency is driving Atlanta’s black tech entrepreneurs, who seem as though they are girding themselves, putting things into place, before something more powerful arrives. “This technology revolution is gonna eat up whatever you think you have if you don’t prepare for it,” says Judge. That makes some entrepreneurs wary of outsiders. Amanda Sabreah, founder and CEO of Partnr—a digital portfolio for creatives— recently rejected a deal from Kleiner Perkins, the legendary Silicon Valley VC ﬁrm, to move her company out west, because the cost of living would have outstripped her funding. On Burks Solomon’s advice, she also passed up investment from another VC when the terms left her with less equity than she’d like. But Sabreah still takes an annual trip to the Bay Area. “Entrepreneurs in Atlanta have to build an advisory network in other cities to be able to compete,” she says. Atlanta’s inﬂux of new arrivals, meanwhile, is transforming the city’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, along with the lives of all of its residents. But it’s not quite clear yet how. Given Walker’s outsize presence in Silicon Valley, I wonder how he plans to insert himself into his new community. He’s considering my question when he glances up at the ominously darkening sky. “It looks like it’s about to fucking go down!” he shouts. We grab our things and race inside. Dinner is just about ready. EDITORS@FASTCOMPANY.COM
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Warner cornered his colleague to talk up the policy ideas in his white paper, promising to get Graham a copy. “Read it before you see Sundar,” he implored. But Graham continues to show little interest in the minutiae of tech regulation, despite the fact that his committee can claim some jurisdiction. (Why bother, some might add: Only 17% of registered voters say that tech regulation should be a top priority for Congress.) Graham has also allowed his committee to serve as an ampliﬁer of claims that platforms such as Google are biased against conservatives. Pichai testiﬁed at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in December, at last giving Google a public face in Washington. But this time, it was Congress that served to disappoint. One House member, for example, asked Pichai about iPhone settings—seemingly oblivious to the fact that his question would be better directed at Apple. Exchanges like this make Ro Khanna, the Democratic congressman representing the district that includes Silicon Valley, understand technology executives’ reluctance to engage. “The ignorance of some of the questions—I mean, ﬁfth graders could ask better questions,” he tells me between House votes at the Capitol. “I do think [Google] should participate. But when you have [to have] the CEO explain that Google doesn’t make the iPhone—you can understand their skepticism.” Khanna also resists the idea that tech CEOs should be held personally responsible for mistakes made on their watch, an idea that has been ﬂoated in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission’s multi-billion-dollar settlement with Facebook over privacy violations. “I still think these individuals have done more good for the world than bad,” he says. When pressed for an example of the good, he pauses and walks over to the large marble ﬁreplace near our table at the Rayburn Room, where his iPhone has been charging at an outlet embedded in the walnut paneling. “These platforms have allowed for the Parkland students, for #MeToo, for civil disobedience in Iran, for people to keep in touch with families across the world . . . ,” he trails off, checking his notiﬁcations. While Washington dithers on tech regulation, we continue to live in Silicon Valley’s operating system.
foreign parties from targeting American voters. In other words, by “innovating” faster than lawmakers can act, Silicon Valley has found a way to elude regulation. “I think they have tried. But they tried the narrowest interpretation,” Warner says. (Facebook declined to comment for this article.) Calling Facebook proactive is “too generous,” in his view. “I think they’re trying to do small incremental things just to spare them from some of the most onerous of rules. But I don’t think they’re doing big stuff.” When Warner and I meet again at his ofﬁce in late May, he has just had another meeting with Facebook’s Sandberg, whose well-publicized Capitol Hill charm offensive remains unrelenting. She has also tried to use fears about China’s rise to Facebook’s advantage, telling CNBC, “While people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there’s also a concern in the United States with the size and power of Chinese companies, and the realization that those companies are not going to be broken up.” Warner is used to hearing tech leaders evoke China as a bogeyman—a tactic they can hide behind. And he is losing patience with their stonewalling. “They’re always cordial, they’re always, ‘We want to work with you,’ but rarely are they [amenable to concessions on things like] valuation transparencies,” he says, referring to his push to make companies like Facebook reveal to people what their data is worth. “There’s a bit of rope-a-dope going on.” For a deal maker like Warner, the stalemate is excruciating. California and Maine have passed privacy bills echoing Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which are set to go into effect on January 1. But GDPR, while encouraging in theory, has yet to restore meaningful market power to consumers. The new laws also threaten to create a tangle of regulatory arrangements that only large companies with armies of lawyers and lobbyists can navigate. “If we [in Washington] could reclaim the ability to set the rules, I think the rest of the world would follow suit,” Warner says. But so far, federal regulators have been unable to agree on how privacy should be protected. Layer on the complexities of a 5G-enabled world, from abstruse AI algorithms to “smart” and watchful cities and sensors, and a global standards-setting consensus emanating from Capitol Hill seems even more unlikely. “I have been pretty disappointed that I’ve not been able to put more points on the board,” Warner admits. “My mood, it goes up and down.” AHARRIS@FASTCOMPANY.COM Y
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Of the 20 proposals Warner includes in his white paper, none calls for making any of the big tech companies smaller, even as his party moves to assert its antitrust authority. “I’m not yet joining the cries for the breakup [of companies like Facebook], because I’d like to see if there are other rules of the road ﬁrst,” he says. He’s encouraged by the fact that the government’s enforcers—the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission—have opened investigations that may lead to penalties. Meanwhile, policy makers from both parties have heightened their rhetoric. Democratic senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for the breakup of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Republican Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri freshman, has gone one step further, writing in a May USA Today op-ed that social media is a “digital drug” and suggesting that “maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared.” (Michael Beckerman, president of a trade association that represents Facebook and other big companies, called the op-ed “irresponsible” and “cavalier.”) Matt Stoller, of the think tank Open Markets Institute, is another voice agitating for policy makers to address Silicon Valley’s “concentrations of capital” and perverse incentives. “Facebook and Google have giant manipulation machines,” he says. “[They say to people], ‘You have to use us, we’re a communication network, and oh, by the way, we manipulate you, third parties pay us [for your data], and that’s our business model.’ So who’s willing to pay? Well, foreign adversaries are willing to do it. [The maker of] Snickers is willing to do it to sell more Snickers, but so is Saudi Arabia, to change [its] framing in D.C. That’s the problem here.” Warner recognizes this. But rather than break up Silicon Valley’s giants, he would prefer to hold them to higher standards. His Honest Ads Act, for example, would curtail foreign interference in U.S. elections and improve the transparency of political ads on social media. But, in keeping with the typical pace of congressional action, the bill has yet to come up for a vote since Warner cosponsored it in 2017. In the interim, Facebook has raced to implement an election-ad database of its own design, scoring some points for its efforts but drawing criticism from researchers who say its structure makes the types of analyses they would like to conduct difﬁcult, if not impossible. And still no one is authorized to determine whether Facebook is, as the bill would require, making a reasonable effort to prevent
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