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CONTENTS October 2017
I N N O VAT I O N BY D E S I G N Fast Companyâ€™s annual celebration of the best in worldchanging design. Featuring: Q
. . . and 289 more Begins on page 60
Cover: Groomer: Brent Henry
Airbus designer and engineer Jason Chua has a radical plan to make flying user-friendly. (page 94)
On the cover: Photograph by ioulex This page: Photograph by Tobias Hutzler
October 2017 FastCompany.com 5
COVER STORY 50 Microsoft rewrites the script In less than four years as CEO, Satya Nadella has transformed the tech company’s culture and business— generating $250 billion in market value. Here’s how. By Harry McCracken
Away cofounders Jen Rubio, left, and Steph Korey designed an airline-approved carry-on that might just fit that extra pair of shoes. (page 86)
6 FastCompany.com October 2017
Photograph by Chris Callaway
Introducing the all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek. ®
The all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek. The forecast is for safe and sound, with road-gripping Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive + 33 mpg.* Crosstrek also keeps you connected to conditions along the way with updated SUBARU STARLINK ™ Multimedia with Apple CarPlay™ and Android™ Auto integration.
Crosstrek. Well-equipped at $21,795.†
Subaru and Crosstrek are registered trademarks. *EPA-estimated highway fuel economy for 2018 Subaru Crosstrek CVT models. Actual mileage may vary. †MSRP excludes destination and delivery charges, tax, title, and registration fees. Retailer sets actual price. Certain equipment may be required in specific states, which can modify your MSRP. See your retailer for details. 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited shown has an MSRP of $26,295.
NEXT Music producer Rostam Batmanglij uses collaboration as a tool to unleash creativity. (page 42)
23 Where Apple and Google
Why the most exciting smartphone innovations aren’t coming from the usual suspects.
26 Bumble takes aim
The fast-growing dating app lets users swipe through potential matches—both personal and professional.
30 Whole Foods vs. the
A breakdown of how grocery chains plan to thwart Amazon’s newest disruption.
32 Ellen Pao charges ahead The venture capitalist and former Reddit CEO discusses the lawsuit that sparked a crusade for gender equality in tech, plus what she’s doing to make the industry more accessible.
38 Blockchain transforms
New technology upends the system for dispensing essential supplies to refugees.
42 After Vampire Weekend Four ways music-maker Rostam Batmanglij inspires ingenuity from A-list artists.
46 All hail Patreon! Where YouTubers and other creators go for reliable income.
8 FastCompany.com October 2017
Photograph by Dan Monick
DEPARTMENTS 12 From the Editor 14 Most Creative People After three years leading consumer marketing at Apple Music, Bozoma Saint John is tasked with shifting Uber’s tone.
16 Most Innovative
The latest from Nike, Eataly, Marriott, and more.
18 The Recommender From an inflatable lounger to architectural jewelry, here’s what we’re loving right now.
100 The List Newsletters that are worthy of your inbox. By David Lidsky
Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe is on a mission to give more power to women. (page 26)
10 FastCompany.com October 2017
Photograph by Valerie Chiang
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FROM THE EDITOR
HOW TO LEAD WITH EMPATHY
Nadella, flanked by former Microsoft CEOs Gates, left, and Ballmer, greets his colleagues as their leader for the first time, in February 2014.
Robert Safian firstname.lastname@example.org
12 FastCompany.com October 2017
Showing weakness is a strength. Rather than walking tall and carrying a big stick, Nadella has demonstrated confidence and authority through his willingness to admit fault. A few months into his tenure, he made a major faux pas at a conference for women engineers that spawned a wave of criticism. He owned the mistake and admitted to biases that he hadn’t realized. The episode ended up building his credibility in the long run. 2
Listen and learn. Nadella describes working for Bill Gates in uncompromising terms: “Bill’s not the kind of guy who walks into your office and says, ‘Hey, great job.’ It’s like, ‘Let me start by telling you the 20 things that are wrong with you today.’ ” Nadella’s style is to emphasize what’s been done right. He starts each senior leadership meeting with a segment called “Researcher of the Amazing,” showcasing something inspiring at the company. 3
Patience and urgency can coexist. Nadella says Microsoft’s cultural evolution is an ongoing process. But that hasn’t prevented him from acting boldly—whether shutting down the mobile phone business and eliminating 20,000 jobs or buying LinkedIn.
People can grow. Nadella recruited new talent into the company, and he has emphasized the importance of an outsider’s perspective. But he has put even more focus on unleashing potential within the ranks. He’s relied on instilling a “growth mindset,” a concept borrowed from Stanford professor Carol Dweck. He sees re sistance to change as a behavior rather than a fixed personality trait. 5
Empathy is a tool. Some may look at Nadella’s efforts and say, “All he needed to succeed was to not be a jerk.” That underestimates the nuance of what effective empathy requires. Putting yourself in someone else’s place is a powerful way to alter behavior and outcomes. (Our Innovation by Design Awards honorees, highlighted beginning on page 60, demonstrate this ability.) Admiration and encouragement, high expectations and uncompromising standards: A skillful manager uses all of these to get the best out of us. I have learned that from all my bosses, and from Nadella, too. As leaders, colleagues, employees, and consumers, we are senders and recipients of myriad messages, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and subconscious. In the best case, we take time periodically to step back and assess our actions—and those of others—to appreciate the long-term implications. Only then can we experience the life, the career, and the impact that we want most.
Celine Grouard (Safian); Microsoft/Corbis/Getty Images (Nadella)
My ﬁrst boss was a bully. Just before I started working for him, a rumor circulated that he’d once thrown a desk out the window. Maybe the story was apocryphal, but it didn’t feel that way to those of us under his thumb. He would yell and curse. We were all afraid of him. As unpleasant as it was, though, I have to admit that the fear was a powerful motivator. But there are other, better ways to get a team to perform. In today’s business world, bullying tactics are increasingly backﬁring (case in point: Travis Kalanick at Uber). Meanwhile, a new breed of CEOs is rising, deﬁned less by “command and control” and more by “inspire and empower.” No leader better epitomizes this approach, and its potential for outsize success, than Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Following the notoriously combative Steve Ballmer, Nadella has dramatically revived Microsoft’s reputation and its relevance by emphasizing collaboration and what he calls a “learn-it-all” culture versus the company’s historical know-it-all one. As senior editor Harry McCracken explains in “Microsoft Rewrites the Code” (page 50), the results have been eye-popping: more than $250 billion in market value gains in less than four years—a feat that, quantitatively, puts Nadella in the pantheon of Bezos–Cook–Page–Zuckerberg. Empathy and soft skills have often been derided in the cutthroat bureaucracies of corporate America. “Suck it up” has been the edict to aspiring masters of the universe; generosity of spirit and openness have often taken a backseat to aggressiveness and subterfuge. Which is what makes Nadella’s ascension so refreshing. His playbook includes these ﬁve lessons:
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M O S T C R E AT I V E P E O P L E What’s new with members of our MCP community
STEERING UBER FORWARD Bozoma Saint John Chief brand officer, Uber
During her three years as head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music, Bozoma Saint John used her branding prowess to tap into powerful partnerships (see: an ad that featured Taylor Swift falling off a treadmill while listening to Drake and Future’s “Jumpman”) that helped Apple launch its streaming platform and grow it to 20 million subscribers by the end of 2016. After joining Uber in June, she’s now helping another highproﬁle company navigate an inﬂection point: It’s her job to overhaul the company’s image. “I see myself as chief storyteller,” Saint John says. “There are certainly things that have happened [at Uber] that [we] want to change. . . . I want people to see the humanity in the tech.” This year has been turbulent for Uber. Allegations of sexual harassment led to the ﬁring of more than 20 employees. CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down in June. Before he did, the company hired Saint John, a marketing veteran who spent years at PepsiCo and Ashley Stewart. She’s now one of several women working to course-correct the company, along with board member Arianna Hufﬁngton and SVP of leadership and strategy Frances Frei. Saint John sees similarities between Uber and the music world she hails from, which she plans to draw on in turning the company around. “Music inspires some feeling in you,” she says. “That’s the same way I think about Uber.” Once, she was stranded in India and felt relief when she opened up Uber and saw a car available. “I’m not the only person in the world who has experienced that. It’s about ﬁnding those similar threads.” —Claire Dodson 14 FastCompany.com October 2017
ADVICE SHE’D GIVE HER YOUNGER SELF
“Don’t make pro and con
lists. It’s a waste of time. You gotta go with your gut. It will never steer you wrong.”
RECENT ALBUM SHE’S BEEN LOVING
Seat at the Table. That is the jam. Oh, my God. It’s so beautiful. The entire [album], not just one single.” OF MOST CREATIVE PEOPLE
WHO WOULD BE ON HER LIST.
“Kris Jenner. She has taken the story
lines of her children and turned them into something that is popculturally relevant. They are now undeniable. It’s a master class [in marketing].”
H O W S H E S TAYS PRODUCTIVE
“I always do what I’m most interested in first. It’s a meal, and I get to the salad last. I have no problem with dessert first.”
M O S T I N N O VAT I V E C O M PA N I E S Updates from the MIC alumni
Facebook Nike’s new Fe/Nom bra is made from its lightweight, breathable Flyknit technology.
MILESTONES Facebook has signed partnerships with companies such as Vox, Group Nine Media, and BuzzFeed as it seeks to move into long- and short-form original programming. The shows would allow Facebook to place ads against even more content for users. CHALLENGES Facebook is running out of places to squeeze ads onto its crowded news feed, which makes these video initiatives (and their ad opportunities) more important than ever. BUZZ
Omada Health MILESTONES Insurance provider Cigna is giving eligible members free access to Omada’s health app, which uses coaches and data analytics to help reduce chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT Nike At the 2012 London Olympics, Nike debuted its now-lauded Flyknit technology, a strong and ultralight synthetic yarn used to construct durable, breathable sneakers. Five years later, Nike is now taking Flyknit into a brand-new realm: the sports bra. Launched in July, the Fe/Nom bra is made from a near-seamless, porous fabric that weighs only 73 grams (which is 30% less than any other Nike bra) and solves problems like chaﬁng and constriction. 16 FastCompany.com October 2017
The Flyknit bra is part of Nike’s recent campaign to appeal to women at a time of increasing competition in active apparel. Women now have more options than ever when it comes to running tights and sports bras in the nearly $1.7 trillion sportswear market. To better respond to female consumers, Nike holds focus groups with athletes around the world and uses the resulting insights to design clothes and gear for people of all abilities and sizes. The sports bra is the product of 600 hours of biometric testing by the company’s women’s training division, which scanned athletes to identify areas of heat, sweat, cooling, and movement. “The Flyknit offers the highest levels of support while adjusting to different breast shapes,” says Nicole Rendone, a senior innovation designer. Over the
past year, Nike has also worked with plus-size models and sports ﬁgures to introduce an expanded range of athletic wear in more inclusive sizes, and partnered with Muslim athletes to design a sports hijab. “The thing that continues to ground us,” says Nike’s general manager of women’s, Amy Montagne, “is knowing female athletes better than anyone.” —Elizabeth Segran MILESTONES In July, Nike began selling a selection of products on Amazon. The partnership will help cut down on third-party sales, which Amazon will now actively monitor.
CHALLENGES Omada recently laid off 10% of its workforce as it seeks to become profitable, signaling that it’s still working out the kinks in a business model that relies on employer contracts and outcome-based fees. BUZZ
Tastemade MILESTONES As it prepares to launch new verticals in more countries, viral food-video site Tastemade hired NBCUniversal’s VP of content innovation to be its head of global strategy.
Nike has cut 2% of its workforce as it struggles to produce a breakout hit. 2016’s best-selling shoe by dollar sales was the Adidas Superstar.
CHALLENGES Tastemade is following the BuzzFeed expansion model, but BuzzFeed’s Tasty vertical is already steps ahead with product and content.
Nissan In September, Nissan introduced its next-generation Nissan Leaf, featuring ProPilot tech that enables singlelane autonomous driving and a new e-acceleration pedal that converts to a brake when the foot is off the gas.
CHALLENGES Though the new Leaf has Nissan’s most advanced driverassistance technology yet, it’s still far behind the full-throttle autonomy of Tesla’s Autopilot. BUZZ
shopping app, with curated items pulled from Bloomingdale’s and Reformation. The company also raised $15 million, which it’s using to further e-commerce. CHALLENGES As Clique Media grows—it plans to launch three more product brands, in addition to its Who What Wear clothing line with Target—it will need to continue to balance its content and commerce ambitions. BUZZ
Coca-Cola MILESTONES America’s iconic soda brand is removing the black-can Coke Zero from U.S. stores and replacing it with Coke Zero Sugar, sweetened with aspartame, which is meant to taste more like regular Coke.
Marriott MILESTONES The hotel behemoth is streamlining construction with a new focus on modular rooms. The company will sign 50 hotel deals by the end of 2017 that use prefab spaces. So far, Marriott is using the stacked models for Courtyard, AC Hotels, and Fairfield brands. CHALLENGES Despite Marriott’s efforts to wrest customers back from online booking sites like Expedia and Priceline, a recent study found that online agencies still deliver better deals for travelers. BUZZ
Clique Media MILESTONES Clique Media Group’s fashion blog, Who What Wear, launched its first
Illustration by Daniel González
CHALLENGES The move aims to make Coke more appealing to the healthconscious drinker, but the brand’s diet offerings have struggled as of late. Diet Coke sales fell 4.3% in 2016. BUZZ
Cree MILESTONES LED manufacturer Cree—known for its high-power lights used in places like sports stadiums—is teaming up with China’s San’an Optoelectronics to work on cheaper, mid-power versions with a broader market appeal. CHALLENGES Earlier this year, in an attempt to focus on its core lighting business, Cree tried and failed to sell off its power subsidiary, Wolfspeed. Now it will have to find another way to hold onto the LED industry’s shrinking margins. BUZZ
EATALY TAPS INTO ITS INNER DISNEY Eataly After opening outposts in 31 cities in 12 countries across the globe, the Italian fooderie Eataly is returning to its birthplace with its newest launch: a $118 million experiential park called FICO Eataly World. When it opens in Bologna, Italy, in the fall, Eataly World will span 25 acres and feature pastures, more than 40 restaurants and food stalls, and learning centers that allow visitors to explore the country’s agricultural and food-manufacturing processes (while riding chic adult tricycles from Italian bike maker Bianchi). “Eataly stores are focused on the restaurants and the shopping,” says Eataly World CEO Tiziana Primori. “We’re now going to take you backwards into the production that goes into the culture of how the food is grown and made.” To entertain and educate the expected 6 million annual visitors, Eataly World will have 30 daily
interactive workshops taught by seasoned farmers and chefs. A section of the park called the Area of the Future, designed by architect Carlo Ratti of the MIT Senseable City Lab, will teach visitors about sustainable agriculture by letting them plant seeds in a hydroponic vegetable garden. “Eataly’s mission has always been to share Italy’s quality and biodiversity with the world,” says Eataly USA CEO Nicola Farinetti. (To that end, the company is continuing to focus on U.S. growth and will soon add outposts in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.) But Eataly World takes the mission even further. “This is farm to table in the true sense of the phrase, where you can touch everything with your hands and learn and appreciate it even more.” —Claire Dodson MILESTONES Eataly continues to embrace fast casual with its first all-ravioli takeout counter, which opened in July in New York. CHALLENGES The company’s massive investment in FICO Eataly World could be at stake if retail sales don’t go as planned, since admission to the park will be free. BUZZ
October 2017 FastCompany.com 17
THE RECOMMENDER What the Fast Company community is loving this month
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“I bike everywhere, and when I’m on the go, I need something sturdy to hold my computer, chef’s coat, and cooking tools. This is my favorite bag for that—it’s waterproof and made in Italy from organic cotton.” Brian Bistrong Corporate executive chef for market operations, Dean & DeLuca
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The Jaunt artwork From $75 per print thejaunt.net
“The Jaunt sends artists around the globe for inspiration. You purchase a print before the trip and get it after, not knowing what it will look like.” Brian Smith Cofounder and chief wine officer, Winc
Jenny Wu’s Lace jewelry collection $595 for necklace shown jennywulace.com
“Jenny Wu is a young L.A.-based architect who uses 3-D printing and unusual materials, like steel and nylon, to create high-end architectural jewelry. The results are beautiful statement pieces that are crazy unique.” Kyla Brennan Founder and CEO, HelloSociety
18 FastCompany.com October 2017
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“The Brinery uses local vegetables and traditional fermentation practices. Try its sauerkraut on scrambled eggs or slow-cooked beef for a nice kick.” Martin Rawls-Meehan CEO, Reverie
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“This French TV drama follows a small fictional town occupied by the Nazis during World War II. It’s like The Walking Dead—but it actually happened.” Matthew Amsden CEO, ProofPilot
Girl Is Not a 4 Letter Word gear
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20 FastCompany.com October 2017
356 Mission art space Free admission 356mission.com
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INNOVATION FESTIVA L
10,000 ATTENDEES. 200 SPE A KERS. 125 FAST TR ACKS. O C T O B E R 2 3 – 2 7, N E W Y O R K C I T Y For tickets and more information, visit:
f a s t c o m p a n y. c o m / f c n y Confirmed speakers include: Jessica Alba, FOUNDER, THE HONEST COMPANY | Laura Alber, CEO, WILLIAMS-SONOMA | Mario Batali, CHEF AND RESTAURATEUR | Bonin Bough, HOST, CNBC’S CLEVELAND HUSTLES | John Collison, COFOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, STRIPE | Nicolas Jammet, COFOUNDER AND CO-CEO, SWEETGREEN Derek Jeter, FOUNDING PUBLISHER, THE PLAYERS’ TRIBUNE | Kimbal Musk, COFOUNDER, THE KITCHEN Jonah Peretti, CEO, BUZZFEED | Cecile Richards, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD | Bozoma Saint John, CHIEF BRAND OFFICER, UBER | Elaine Welteroth, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, TEEN VOGUE Fast Tracks include: AB InBev | Bleacher Report | Casper | Deutsch | DonorsChoose | Droga5 | Facebook | Frog | Giphy Hudson Yards | Microsoft | Nelson Byrd Woltz | Paddle8 | Perkins+Will | Pinterest | Shine Snøhetta | Wieden+Kennedy and more
GAME OF PHONES
Why it’s so hard to innovate in a market dominated by Apple, Google, and Samsung By Austin Carr Photographs by Kevin Van Aelst
According to Andy Rubin, the modern mobile ecosystem is broken. He should know: He helped break it. When Rubin, the inventor of the Android operating system and godfather of the smartphone market, surveys the industry today, he sees squandered opportunities everywhere. The open-source platform he brought to the masses while at Google, which commands roughly 85% of the market, is overwhelmed with “bad user experiences,” he says. Devices from makers such as
October 2017 FastCompany.com 23
LG and Huawei are uninspired. Samsung has been too often content with fast following: “Who at Samsung is responsible for your device’s look and UI? It’s a nameless, faceless machine.” And Apple? “The world’s biggest and most successful company doesn’t have a human side to it,” Rubin argues. “The incumbents have lost track of why they exist, why they’re building products, and what they mean in people’s lives.” From consumers and tech insiders, you hear similar complaints: Why can’t new mobile devices deliver the excitement they once did? The breathtaking leaps? The culture-shifting impact? Instead we’ve settled into a schedule of incremental rollouts. In the U.S., the market is dominated by duopolies—Apple and Samsung in hardware, and iOS and Android (which account for all but 0.4% of smartphone sales) in platform. And then there are the four big carriers, lording over retail distribution channels with their outsize marketing budgets and multiyear contracts. These dynamics have stiﬂed innovation, critics say, with the giants focused on holding their leads and other makers churning out cheap devices to avoid becoming rounding errors. This is why early adopters often have to hunt for devices from lesser-known companies to experience the latest specs. And why American consumers have had to wait until this fall to get an edge-to-edge screen on an Apple phone, a full year after such displays began showing up in the Chinese market. One of the biggest challenges for device makers in the U.S. is scale. When you’re expected to sell hundreds of millions of units, your appetite for taking hardware risks changes substantially, says Tony Fadell, who helped pioneer the iPod and iPhone at Apple and went on to found Nest. “[The Apples and Samsungs] have to innovate more cautiously,” Fadell says, “because they don’t want to lose market share or trip up their revenue, which can be disastrous, as we saw when Samsung fouled “The incumbents up.” There’s simply less urgency have lost track of to innovate at the top: According why they exist, to one report, Apple swallowed up why they’re building 104% of all smartphone proﬁts one products, and quarter last year (a ﬁgure made what they mean technically possible by its competiin people’s lives,” tors’ losses). There are pockets of disruption, Rubin says. even among the big guns (see “Breaking the Mold,” right). Google’s Pixel phones offer the sleekest implementation yet of Android. Apple is reportedly experimenting with an ultra-high-end handset that contains more new features than the company has introduced in years. Rubin himself isn’t just sniping at these issues from the sidelines. Three years after leaving Google—where he spent a decade—the 54-year-old engineer turned entrepreneur has designed the device he always wanted through his new startup, Essential. Called simply the Essential Phone, the $699 device is a stripped-down, carrier-agnostic handset with a titanium shell, a ceramic casing that enhances wireless signals, and a snap-on 360-degree camera (which Rubin hopes will seed a whole ecosystem of attachable accessories). Of course, designing a hot product and making it a hit that can shake up a multibillion-dollar marketplace are two very different tasks. As the Essential Phone hits shelves this fall, it is a bellwether for when—and if— innovation might ﬁnally re-emerge in the U.S. mobile market. 24 FastCompany.com October 2017
BRE A K ING T HE MOL D Essential isn’t the only company trying to disrupt the mobile ecosystem. Here are others that signal what’s possible. Modular phone design An attempt at delivering upgradable phones, the devices in Motorola’s Moto Z series come with a variety of back covers, called Mods, that extend the phones’ functionality and life span. This allows parent company Lenovo to support advanced features that would be unwieldy to put in the phone itself, such as a new 360-degree camera that shoots 4K video. Direct-to-consumer retail Shenzhen-based OnePlus has brought higher-end, low-cost devices around the world without the assistance of big carriers, or even much of a retail footprint. Its trick: wordof-mouth marketing, fueled by an invite-only system that gave the small brand a feeling of exclusivity. Today, its OnePlus 5 flagship is poised to go mainstream.
A flexible phone plan A growing number of prepaid carriers offer customers an escape from rigid cell contracts, but few have gained wide traction. Google’s Project Fi presents a compelling alternative: By leasing network space from multiple carriers, the company offers expansive coverage to Pixel and Nexus phone owners, all on a pay-as-you-go basis.
If you want to see a landscape where mobile is thriving, look to China, where companies from Beijing to Shenzhen are producing some of the most innovative devices and services. In this environment, Samsung and Apple can’t rely on sheer scale to sustain their leads. And little-known names can triumph seemingly overnight. BBK subsidiary Oppo saw its market share grow 122% last year, propelling it from fourth place in the industry to the No. 1 slot. To survive in this fast-moving market, Chinese companies have become increasingly experimental. Facebook VR head Hugo Barra, who formerly ran Xiaomi’s international business, says that hardware startups in China constantly take advantage of their proximity to Asian manufacturers to pounce on cutting-edge tech, from the Xiaomi Mi Mix’s near-bezel-less display to the Vivo V5’s groundbreaking 20-megapixel camera. It’s not that Apple is unaware of the advances these nimbler players are making; it’s simply that, at Apple’s size, its suppliers can’t keep up with demand. “When you’re Samsung or Apple and you’re selling tens of millions of units, you need to procure almost everything—screens, processors, whatever—many, many months ahead so suppliers can ramp up,” says Barra. Companies operating at a smaller volume can land new components 6 to 12 months earlier— and that’s especially true for a startup headed by Rubin, an industry “demigod,” according to Barra. You can see that phenomenon in Essential Phone’s attachable 360-degree camera (which requires no app or software and can seamlessly transfer data) and its titanium body: a thin, resilient material that enables the phone to pack in enough antennas to work in every country, regardless of carrier. “[Our product-architecture head] Jason Keats found this small supplier in Germany that does this totally new process for titanium injection molding,” Rubin says. “They told us Apple was there a month ago
and wanted to partner, but [Apple] needed like 200 million units. They were like, ‘There’s no way we could supply that!’ ” Essential’s mission is not just to pioneer new hardware. It also wants to unlock the next phase of platform innovation—at a time when smartphones have become the remote controls for our lives. Hardware and services that revolve around the phone are multiplying, especially in the home. Yet they’re hampered by big companies’ urge to own those ecosystems. Apple, with HomeKit, wants to treat your home like another iOSbased platform, with your smart refrigerator and microwave resembling the apps currently on your iPhone. Google, with its acquisition of Nest, aims to establish an edge by rolling out mass-market home products— thermostats, smoke alarms, security cameras—that connect to your phone. And companies from Amazon to Xiaomi are pushing their own strategies to become the industry leaders in the smart-home space. This
If you want to see a landscape where mobile is thriving, look to China, where companies from Beijing to Shenzhen are producing some of the most innovative devices and services.
is Rubin’s preoccupation as well. “I can’t not be in the phone business and solve the other problems,” he says, “because all of the stuff in your life—the home, the car, the ofﬁce—orbit around the main screen in your life.” Instead of owning the home, though, Rubin wants to empower it. Thus, his next release isn’t another Android-based phone—it’s another Android. Called Ambient OS, it is a similarly spongy platform engineered to hum invisibly in the background and allow fragmented products and services to coordinate seamlessly. “Right now, to just unlock your door and turn on the lights, you need to launch three apps,” Rubin says. “I want [Ambient] to rise above all the other products in your home and provide a holistic user experience that bridges all the islands.” The ﬁrst product built on this platform is the Essential Home, an Amazon Echo–like speaker, but the vision is to enable all your gadgets—whether Samsung TVs, Google Nest thermostats, MacBooks and iPads, or, yes, Essential Phones—to communicate. While many observers are bullish on Rubin’s efforts—especially the investors, including Tencent and Amazon, who have plowed $300 million into his startup—not everyone is a believer. “Neither [Rubin] nor the new Essential brand is known beyond the high-tech media and analyst communities,” says mobile analyst Thomas Husson, of Forrester Research. Rubin, naturally, is aware of the stakes of the absurdly large bet he’s making: “Come on! There’s like 10,000 things that could go wrong!” he says. “We’re in a hits business. If we fail to make a hit, we’re not going to Motown.” This kind of risk-taking spirit is exactly what the bigger players lack. And Rubin sees opportunity in their complacency. But even if Essential’s only success is forcing the incumbents to move faster and innovate again, he will have taken a step toward reinvigorating the mobile ecosystem he helped create. October 2017 FastCompany.com 25
Behind the Brand
BUMBLE GETS DOWN TO BUSINESS
The feminist dating app is swiping right on networking. By Karen Valby Photographs by Valerie Chiang
Last year, two people met cute the modern way. Ashley and Connor matched on Bumble, the dating app where people swipe through potential partners but only women are allowed to initiate a conversation. They started texting. But when Ashley asked an innocent question about work, Connor launched into a misogynistic rant in which he called her a “gold-digging whore.” Bumble’s response, a ﬁery blog post now known as the “Dear Connor” letter, quickly went viral. The company called for a future in which Connor would “engage in everyday conversations with women without being afraid of their power”—and then, in an unusual move, banned him from using the service. W h i t n e y Wo l f e , B u m b l e’s 28-year-old founder and CEO, understands how it feels to be on the receiving end of such messages. Flanked by a handful of the 30 employees (mostly women) who work out of the company’s Austin ofﬁce, she explains that she founded Bumble in 2014 “in response to our dating issues, our issues with men, our issues with gender dynamics.” At the time, Wolfe had been reeling from her dramatic exit from the dating app Tinder, where she served as VP of marketing. Following an ugly breakup with cofounder Justin Mateen, Wolfe brought a sexual harassment suit against her former colleagues, accusing them 26 FastCompany.com October 2017
Professional matchmaker Whitney Wolfe wants Bumble to be about expanding access— not just to love, but to opportunity.
Behind the Brand
P O W E R S W IP E Here’s how Bumble Bizz plans to pair users with professional connections.
ESTABLISH YOUR EXPERTISE
SEPARATE BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
START A CONVERSATION
Initially, Bizz will suggest anyone within a range of 5 to 15 miles. Once you start swiping, the algorithm will learn your preferences and show mostly people in your field.
The app will surface short bios of potential contacts, along with profile photos, educational history, and job status. People who use Bumble Honey or Bumble BFF can maintain independent profiles.
The service will allow men who match with men and women who match with women to start chatting freely. But if a woman matches with a man, she must initiate contact.
of discrimination and stripping her of her cofounder title—claims Tinder called unfounded. Texts in which Mateen repeatedly bashed Wolfe’s romantic life and threatened her future at the company citing their strained relationship were presented as evidence; the case was settled out of court. “I started Bumble because I was sick of being called names by boys,” Wolfe says, “[and] because every woman in this room would beneﬁt from it.” In less than three years, Bumble has amassed more than 20 million users, and it continues to add more than 50,000 new ones per day. It’s on track to take in $150 million in revenue in 2018. (The basic app is free, but more than 10% of its active users pay up to $9.99 per month for a subscription, which grants access to premium features such as a list of people who have already swiped right on them.) Bumble’s users are emboldened by the app’s impressively low rate of abuse reports; in addition to banning people like Connor, Bumble also blocks those who send unwanted nude photos, and it was the ﬁrst dating app to initiate photo veriﬁcation practices, limiting the potential for fake proﬁles.
Now Bumble is betting that its matchmaking technology can do more than foster romantic or personal connections. After launching its Bumble BFF vertical a year ago, which pairs users with new friends, Wolfe is repositioning the company to make room for Bumble Bizz, a professional networking vertical debuting this fall where users can look for work, ﬁnd a business partner, or hire new talent. The original dating service will be rebranded as Bumble Honey. “Whitney’s vision extended well beyond dating from the beginning,” says Wolfe’s business partner, Andrey Andreev, the
founder and CEO of social networking site Badoo. (Andreev owns a majority stake in Bumble.) Giving users more to swipe about than merely romance ﬁts nicely with Bumble’s feminist founding mission. But this approach also taps into a critical cultural zeitgeist as women push back against the subtle and overt harassment they face in business. A rising cohort of women, from venture capitalists to ﬁnance and tech entrepreneurs, are determined to refashion what is acceptable and possible in the workplace. In Wolfe’s case, it starts with a simple question: “Why does it have to be all about love?” she asks. “How do we expand horizons beyond just saying, ‘You’re a female, you have to get married by 30’?”
28 FastCompany.com October 2017
“How do we expand horizons beyond just saying, ‘You’re a female, you have to get married by 30’?”
During a coffee break at Bumble’s ofﬁce, more than a dozen members of the staff, who are as loose and casual with one another as longtime friends, crowd around a laptop perched on the kitchen counter. Wolfe pulls up a video of Bumble’s ﬁrst ad. It features Sam Fulgham, the company’s director of college marketing, then a junior
at the University of Alabama, jumping out of a plane shortly after she started chatting with a match on Bumble (the ad’s closing statement: #taketheleap). Wolfe, who enlisted student ambassadors to make Tinder a hit on college campuses around the country, did the same with Bumble, and now she’s applying a similarly high-energy, wide-net approach to marketing Bumble Bizz. For current users, the concept of Bizz is a relatively easy sell: Set up a discrete proﬁle for networking, all while continuing under the principle that anyone can match, but women alone can initiate contact. Unlike many other professional and social networks, which exist to connect you to people you know, Bizz’s mission is to introduce you to new contacts, with added protections like veriﬁed proﬁles. One key to Bizz’s success will be drawing a new demographic of users into Bumble’s ecosystem. The challenge, says Bumble’s director of marketing, Chelsea Cain Maclin, is convincing “someone like my mother, who is married and has three kids and now wants to get back into healthcare work, that we have something to offer her.” This month, Bumble is launching a targeted national ad campaign, geared toward women and men of varying ages, that will promote the idea that just one connection can transform your professional life. Bizz will debut with veriﬁed brand partners such as Postmates and Outdoor Voices. Hiring managers at those companies will help ﬁll open positions by swiping through candidates they find on Bizz. Bumble has also recruited “Queen Bees”—existing users who are social media inﬂuencers and entrepreneurs—to partner with the app on networking and awareness events. Wolfe believes that Bumble’s mission of empowerment will be as appealing in the professional realm as it is in the personal. “We have women already reaching out saying they’re getting [unwanted Illustrations by Justin Tran
solicitations] on LinkedIn, that they need a professional network where they make the ﬁrst move,” says Wolfe. “Women will always control the experience on Bumble.” Ashley Wright, Bumble’s content manager (whom Wolfe hired after swiping right on her on Bumble BFF), spent seven years working in technology, often at jobs where she says she was dismissed as “the booth girl” at conferences and talked over during staff meetings. “A woman-owned, primarily woman-operated company is mind-blowing in the tech space,” she tells her colleagues. “I’ve worked on the other side, so believe me when I tell you that this is a dream job.” On this day, the team works knee to knee on laptops, with the bathroom serving as space for conference calls in a pinch. There’s a scrawled two-week countdown on the wall until the staff moves into its new headquarters, a 5,000-square-foot space done up in Bumble’s signature canary yellow and equipped with a private room Wolfe calls the Mommy Bar, where new mothers can pump in peace and everyone can enjoy weekly blowouts and manicures on the company’s dime. This is a group that hugs and cheerleads and hyper-communicates, like when Wolfe clariﬁes three times that she was calling something her colleague said “weird,” not the woman herself. The prolonged exchange ended with the two making heart shapes at each other with their hands. “Once a week someone tells me to toughen up, get a sharper edge,” says Wolfe. “I don’t do that.” She insists that Bumble’s culture of positivity is the engine behind the team’s productivity. In July, Bumble launched SuperSwipe, its most recent monetization effort. For $1.99 a pop, users can reinforce their interest in a match by pressing a heart sign over his or her proﬁle picture (it’s similar to a Tinder feature, Super Like). Overnight, SuperSwipe turned the company into the 29th most-proﬁtable app on iTunes, a 35% increase from
Generating buzz Director of marketing Chelsea Cain Maclin, bottom left, and head of brand Alex Williamson are leading Bumble’s transition from a dating app to a connection hub.
its previous position. Next year, Bumble will launch in-app advertising that will be tailored to users. The app will give you the chance to swipe right on pizza, for example, before offering a coupon to the pizzeria around the block. Even as Bumble expands, it could be a long time before it reaches the scale of its contemporaries. It faces stiff competition from the likes of 22-year-old dating site Match .com and Tinder, which has nearly 2 million paying subscribers. And LinkedIn probably doesn’t consider
Bumble Bizz a threat. But in giving users a new set of guidelines for how to relate to one another—both socially and professionally—Wolfe is asking us to reset our expectations for such interactions. Back at the ofﬁce, Wolfe’s team is workshopping new billboard ads for Bizz; “What does your Dad do? What does your Mom do?” is a top contender. Wolfe’s own mom is a brand ambassador who has spent the past six months recruiting the over-50 age group at various events in the Santa Barbara, California,
area. As for her dad—Wolfe’s parents divorced when she was 17—she has a story about him. Wolfe tells her team that she called him recently to share news of Bumble’s rising revenue: “And he said, ‘Well, good for you, now why don’t you just leave it be? Get a CEO in there and take care of [your husband] and enjoy your life.’ ” The room of women (and three men) groans, as Wolfe laughs and throws her arms up in mock outrage. “We need more users,” she says. “Clearly our job isn’t done yet.” October 2017 FastCompany.com 29
THE GROCERY WARS TAKE OFF
Around the time that Amazon was announcing its intent to buy natural-foods pioneer Whole Foods for $13.4 billion this past summer, the little-known (at least in the U.S.) German budget grocer Lidl was opening outposts in Virginia and the Carolinas, kicking off a planned expansion into the States that will bring its number of stores to 100 by next summer. Jeff Bezos’s bold move and Lidl’s international ambition are signs that the grocery wars are just getting started. Here’s how four of the most enterprising chains are planning to keep shoppers—especially health- and budget-conscious ones—in their aisles in the months ahead.
As Amazon looms, physical stores are duking it out to be the grocer of the future. By Claire Dodson Illustrations by Ellen Porteus
365 by Whole Foods
The Big Idea
The kingmaker for artisanal condiments and local farmers is taking a more affordable approach to natural food with its year-and-ahalf-old chain of 365 stores.
Germany’s low-cost grocer is introducing American shoppers to its robust range of private-label goods, presented in an upscale environment.
The big-box market leader is still a hit in rural America, offering fresh food (and, soon, delivery) to far-flung cities and towns.
The cult chain maintains its hipster appeal thanks to cheap and quirky private-label goods like cookie butter and “TwoBuck Chuck” wine.
Make stores more efficient by reducing their size, limiting selection, and adding auto-replenishing technology and order kiosks to trim labor costs.
Undercut rivals’ prices with in-house brands. (Like Bud Light? Try Boss Light!) There are even fair-trade and organic lines, and one devoted to fancy imports.
Pioneer new ways of shopping, including introducing curbside pickup for online orders and a Scan & Go app that eliminates the checkout lane.
Keep ’em coming back by creating here-today, gonetomorrow fad products, such as this summer’s $4 four-pack of Simpler Wines canned rosé.
It’s a stripped-down take on Whole Foods’ industrial chic, with neighborly touches such as outposts of local coffee shops.
As it crossed the Atlantic, Lidl traded its bare-bones aesthetic for spacious aisles and huge, floor-toceiling windows.
Ultrahigh ceilings create the illusion of endlessness and give Walmart its onestop-shop appeal.
A chill, kitschy vibe is enhanced by Hawaiianshirt-wearing associates, but offset by lines that can wrap around city blocks.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, brings unparalleled delivery prowess to this arena.
Über-German Heidi Klum is launching an exclusive fashion line with the chain.
Marc Lore, Jet.com’s visionary, brings his digital savvy as Walmart’s head of e-commerce.
The high-end brands that manufacture TJ’s own product lines prefer anonymity.
365 Everyday Value, the company’s well-regarded organic label, may appear soon on Amazon.
Lidl has luxe flourishes, such as on-site bakeries and an exclusive selection of award-winning wines.
Walmart has struck new partnerships with Uber and Lyft to test its last-mile delivery service.
With its smart use of floor space, TJ’s sells twice as much product per square foot as Whole Foods.
Will new parent company Amazon appreciate the nascent chain’s appeal?
Can an outsider break through in an already crowded space?
As grocery shopping moves online, can Walmart compete with Prime?
Will Lidl’s American expansion encroach on Trader Joe’s private-label territory?
30 FastCompany.com October 2017
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“YOU JUST CAN’T IMAGINE HOW HARD IT IS” Venture capitalist Ellen Pao’s discrimination lawsuit had such an impact on the Valley that it’s been called “the Pao effect,” inspiring more women to speak up. Now she’s on a mission to make the tech industry a more accessible place for everyone. Interview by Kathleen Davis Photograph by Jenny Hueston
In the ﬁve years since Ellen Pao ﬁled her high-proﬁle sex discrimination lawsuit against VC powerhouse Kleiner Perkins—and was later pressured to resign as CEO of Reddit after backlash from users—the conversation about gender inequality in tech has only gotten louder. In her new memoir, Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, out September 19, Pao (now a partner at social impact–focused investment ﬁrm Kapor Capital) reveals what it was like to endure years of workplace sexism and have her professional and personal life scrutinized in a public trial—and why she’s still working to make Silicon Valley a more inclusive place. It’s been a difﬁcult but somewhat validating year for women in Silicon Valley, with revelations of sexual harassment and bias contributing to the departure of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, not to mention several high-powered venture capitalists. Do you feel at all vindicated? I’m hopeful for change. I also feel sad that it has taken so much time and so many people speaking up and being ignored until ﬁnally it’s come to this point. My hope is that people actually do the right things and put in the changes that are going to make a difference. Why has it taken so long for tech as an industry to acknowledge that it has a problem? Do you think companies are only addressing the topic in public now because they’re being forced to? It seems that way, doesn’t it? It’s hard to say, because it’s early yet. You can see Uber taking steps, but 32 FastCompany.com October 2017
A sense of perspective Most tech platforms “were built by people who don’t suffer from the harassment that women and people of color experience,” says Pao. “They don’t know what harassment feels like.”
they were backed into a corner. When it looked like people were going to make money, [the company was] comfortable with whatever was going on. The board wasn’t holding anybody accountable, none of the investors were holding anybody accountable. At any of these companies. And the employees weren’t getting the help they needed from HR or management, and [so] people started speaking out on their own. And that seems to be ﬁnally making a difference. We have seen for the ﬁrst time people at investment ﬁrms being pushed out [for sexual harassment]. But whether [this trend] is short term or long term remains to be seen.
Sharing the message Pao and her legal team speak to the press at the conclusion of her lawsuit in March 2015.
In your book, you talk about trying to heed Sheryl Sandberg’s famous advice to take a seat at the table while you were on a private jet with male colleagues from Kleiner Perkins who insisted on having crude conversations. You concluded that taking a seat at the table isn’t possible when no one wants you there—a feeling that many women can relate to. What’s the best recourse? When you’re in that entry-level job, you’re like a commodity. One of the lawyers I used to work for called us pork bellies. One of you is like any other, and it doesn’t matter what you look like. But [as the ﬁeld] starts to get more competitive, then it starts to matter for some reason what you look like or where you’re from. I wish there was a blanket right answer [for how to address the problem], but it’s much harder than that. Because, for some people, they need that job. For those people, [I’d say,] ﬁgure out if there is a different manager you can work for, a different location that you can go to, try to ﬁnd the people who are more 34 FastCompany.com October 2017
inclusive. If you can get another job, there are companies that may be more inclusive. What about speaking out—and taking legal action—as you did? Your suit against Kleiner Perkins dragged on for almost three years, and resulted in a judgment in favor of your former employer and you being ordered to pay part of their legal fees. What advice would you give to women now who are in the position that you were in then? I would say not to do it. It takes a tremendous toll on you as an individual. You just can’t imagine how hard it is, emotionally, ﬁnancially, and professionally. Is the legal system failing women? And if so, is winning in the court of public opinion, like Susan Fowler did, after writing a
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blog post describing the sexual harassment she endured at Uber, becoming more effective? Yeah, I think [the legal system] is failing women. I think it’s failing people of color, employees who are older. It’s not a great place to try to work out your problems because the company will be able to out-lawyer you, out-PR you, and drag things out and make things expensive and painful for you. I see it as a place of last resort. [Speaking out publicly] is going to be how you inﬂuence the managers, CEOs, VCs, board members. That ends up causing change. In the past, the press has not been so easy to work with. [But] a lot of these male reporters are now much more open and understand the issues a lot better. I think the fact that I lost was validating for some people who had never complained and maybe had an opportunity to litigate and decided not to. They could see that the legal system is not actually a good place to try to resolve these issues. I think it helped some people come to terms with the fact that they didn’t push as hard as maybe they could have because they saw that actually it is not a fruitful path. Why do you think it’s so difﬁcult for the general public to believe women when they say that they’ve been mistreated or discriminated against? Some people [think] that we moved past all this in the ’80s and ’90s. They thought we had resolved all of these issues, and it’s a shock to them that this kind of behavior thrives. And I think some people just don’t want to believe. And then there is a set of people who really don’t think there’s a problem with the behavior, a bigger set than I could possibly have imagined. The election, the behavior of people post-election, the behavior we knew about pre-election and that still got voted in—all of that was a shock to me. After you took over as interim CEO of Reddit in 2013, you banned revenge porn and unauthorized nude photos, which users largely supported. But when you tried to limit harassment on the site, you received a ﬂood of abuse and online threats. Why? Five subreddits [featured] coordinated, targeted harassment of individuals. There was racism. One was transgender-phobic. One was fat-phobic. So we took down those ﬁve sites, and that was when the backlash happened. These subreddits became part of a crusade around free speech. This debate about the limits of free speech is still very much alive in the tech world. What obligation do social media sites have to protect users? There is no way you should allow targeted harassment on your site. Encouraging a variety of views is often what free speech advocates [want]. But bullying people [through] fear tactics shouldn’t be allowed. You could have one vocal group that just harasses every other group off your platform and so you’d have one perspective instead of hundreds of thousands. So when you talk about a free speech platform, part of it is having different perspectives, and that’s not possible if groups are allowed to harass other groups off the platform. If [Reddit] had wanted to go the way of unauthorized nude pictures, [it] could be the site where you could go all day to ﬁnd nude pictures of your favorite celebrity and could push off all other activity. Would that be a good thing for Reddit? Probably not.
“The company will be able to out-lawyer you, out-PR you, and drag things out and make things expensive and painful for you. I see [the legal system] as a place of last resort.”
36 FastCompany.com October 2017
30-SECOND BIO Ellen Pao CURRENT
Cofounder of the nonprofit Project Include; chief diversity and inclusion officer and venture partner at Kapor Capital; author of Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change
So many leaders at otherwise visionary tech companies seem really stymied when it comes to ending harassment on their platforms. Is it really that difﬁcult? It’s complicated. Just taking [hateful content] down is not that easy because it will pop up in different ways. People are always testing the lines. When I was in law school, we had professors who were debating what’s hate speech, and it wasn’t always clear. You can’t pay somebody $15 an hour and have them be able to ﬁgure it out easily. The second problem is that most of these platforms were built by people who don’t suffer from the harassment that women and people of color, and especially women of color, experience. They don’t know what harassment feels like.
Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University; law and business degrees from Harvard University PREVIOUS JOBS
Lawyer for Cravath, Swaine & Moore, followed by tenures at tech startups including BEA Systems and WebTV; chief of staff and junior partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins; interim CEO of Reddit
You titled the chapter about your time at Reddit “The Glass Cliff,” referring to the phenomenon where a woman is brought in to lead a company when it’s having trouble and winds up as the scapegoat. Do you think that you were set up to fail at Reddit? It deﬁnitely felt that way. There was a point when one of the board members said that he wanted me to get to half a billion users by the end of the year, and in my mind that just was so unrealistic. It made me wonder a little bit. But it wasn’t until I had more time and more perspective that it felt more so. While launching your nonproﬁt, Project Include, in 2016, you lamented in a post that most startups take limited and often potentially damaging actions to address diversity. They assume they have to “lower the bar” for hiring. How do you propose that new companies make signiﬁcant positive impact instead? We [at Project Include] ended up coming up with 87 recommendations. For me, it’s [about] shaping companies by shaping the CEOs—and hopefully inﬂuencing VC ﬁrms, if that is possible, so that the right decisions get made, the right cultures get built and retained at scale, and everybody gets a chance to succeed.
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A NEW FOOD CHAIN
How the United Nations is using blockchain to bring stability to the lives of refugees By Ben Paynter Illustrations by Francesco Ciccolella
38 FastCompany.com October 2017
The future of world food aid arrived, in early May, unnoticed by its ﬁrst recipients: the grocery shoppers inside a supermarket at the Azraq camp in Jordan, home to 36,000 Syrian refugees. To be fair, their buying process already looked pretty high-tech, especially for a store with a dirt parking lot in the middle of the desert. Before paying,
each shopper peered into a black, rectangular iris scanner mounted at eye-level, which conﬁrms users’ identities with the camp’s organizing group, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and allows them to access a food stipend from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP). That’s a spiffy authentication process, but it had been there for months. What the shoppers didn’t see was the new back-end procedure. Instead of receiving WFP funds via a third party, such as a bank, the grocery store was reconciling each purchase directly with the aid group through a secure platform called Building Blocks, based on blockchain technology. Inside the store, Houman Haddad, a ﬁnance ofﬁcer for the WFP and the founder of Building Blocks, watched as each eye scan led to a cashier’s tablet ﬂashing a green check mark, signaling a completed transaction. “It was the moment when I knew this was technically possible,” he says. The technology behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum, blockchain is essentially a shared digital ledger system: a decentralized database that allows information to be exchanged among several parties but not altered. Transactions become blocks of data that are chained together, making everything transparent and easy to review. The concept arose in 2008 as a way to securely track and transfer bitcoins. Today, blockchain is being applied to everything from energy trading to legal contracts, and is poised to transform how we store and share personal information. But one of its most profound uses, say advocates, may be in international aid, where documentation is scarce and operating budgets are low. By eliminating intermediaries, blockchain technology creates faster, safer, and, ultimately, cheaper ways of doing business. Organizations working in international relief can lose up to 3.5% of each aid transaction to various fees and costs. What’s more, across
REDUCING TRAFFIC. MOVING LIVES FORWARD. Panama City’s growth has been fast, but success has made commutes slow. To alleviate congestion, the Government of Panama made building a mass transit system a priority. Citi, with a history in the country dating back to funding the Panama Canal, worked with government leaders to arrange ﬁnancing for the Panama Metro project. The end result: Better access to jobs and healthcare services, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions. For over 200 years, Citi’s job has been to believe in people and help make their ideas a reality.
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the industry, an estimated 30% of all development funds don’t reach their intended recipients because of third-party theft or mismanagement. In Jordan, the WFP can use Building Blocks to audit each beneﬁciary’s spending in near-real time. And by paying vendors directly, Building Blocks has reduced money-management costs by 98%, according to Haddad. For an aid organization spending $6 billion annually across 80 countries, that adds up to tens of millions of dollars in savings.
By eliminating intermediaries, blockchain technology creates faster, safer, and, ultimately, cheaper ways of doing business. Bernhard Kowatsch, who heads the WFP’s Innovation Accelerator, which incubated Building Blocks, sees more value: “[Building Blocks] provides even higher assurance to individual donors that if you give to the World Food Programme, that money actually reaches the people it’s intended for.” Haddad, who has worked for the WFP for seven years, approached his employer in mid-2016 about developing a blockchain-based business through its accelerator. The WFP incubator offers intensive coaching and up to $100,000 to social entrepreneurs who share its goal of eradicating global hunger. Once in the program, Haddad joined forces with Alexandra Alden, a Silicon Valley–based mentor, 40 FastCompany.com October 2017
reﬁned the concept during a boot camp run through California’s Singularity University, and, in January of this year, began testing a prototype in the Sindh province of Pakistan, whose rural inhabitants are dependent on food entitlements and direct cash distributions. (This trial didn’t involve fancy iris scanners, relying instead on text-based mobile voucher codes.) The WFP initially scheduled just a one-month trial of Haddad’s technology in Azraq, but the program was surprisingly successful. The organization has asked Building Blocks to stay—and expand to other camps later this year, reaching a total of 100,000 people. An even wider rollout to the country’s half million refugees scattered throughout different host communities will follow. Haddad expects the system to be available in other countries sometime in 2018, along with the ability for recipients to review their balances and itemized lists of purchases. Because the design for Building Blocks is largely open sourced—its ethereum-based operating system allows for customizable applications—Haddad envisions the technology being used well beyond grocery stores. For instance, the WFP’s recipient rolls could be tethered to health data from the World Health Organization, or educational information from UNICEF. That would give aid groups a better understanding of their recipients, and refugees a better way to manage their affairs. And the technology would be easily transferable across borders. “That’s when [it] starts getting pretty interesting and powerful,” says Haddad’s mentor, Alden. Ben Siegel, an impact policy manager at ConsenSys, an ethereum development company that has helped form the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition, considers Building Blocks a “superb” ﬁrst step, and several UN organizations are exploring how to take it further. The ultimate goal, Haddad says, is to give uprooted people “as much control as possible” over their own lives.
BLOCKCH A IN F OR GOOD These other organizations are using secure technology to bring stability to vulnerable communities.
This London-based platform brings transparency to philanthropy by collecting and holding charitable donations—and releasing them only after an organization shares metrics demonstrating its success. Its first project is with a local homeless charity.
Minneapolis’s BanQu uses blockchain to establish “economic identities” for people who lack access to banks. In Kenya, it’s helping refugees secure government aid and services. In Latin America, it has created shareable property registries to help female farmers prove ownership and secure loans.
Like Building Blocks, Aid:Tech eliminates transaction fees and fraud by allowing NGOs to disperse digital cash vouchers directly to recipients. The Irish Red Cross has used it to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
The Cape Town organization, which is running a pilot with South African preschoolers, creates immutable digital identities to help children in Africa receive educational services and subsidies.
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THE MUSIC MAKER
How producer and Vampire Weekend alum Rostam Batmanglij inspires ingenuity from A-list artists By Claire Dodson Photograph by Dan Monick
Mastermind Batmanglij played 11 instruments in his 10 years with Vampire Weekend.
Once you know what you’re listening for, it’s easy to identify Rostam Batmanglij’s ﬁngerprints on a song. The former keyboardist for the altrock band Vampire Weekend is now a producer who has worked with artists including Solange, Frank Ocean, and Kid Cudi. Batmanglij infuses his penchant for uncommon chord progressions and classical music into every album he touches. The result is fully realized, often startling pop, from Carly Rae Jepsen’s heady single “Warm Blood” to the eerie instrumental theme song for Netﬂix’s sci-ﬁ show The OA. This fall, Batmanglij is releasing his ﬁrst solo album, Half-Light. Here’s how he uses collaboration as a tool to unleash creativity, in himself and in others.
Make downtime productive When he’s producing an album, Batmanglij often invites the artist to meet at his Los Angeles home. The cozy surroundings keep things relaxed, but Batmanglij is ready to work at a moment’s notice: The microphones in his home studio are always turned on and ready to record an instrument within 30 seconds. Blurring the lines between brainstorming and recording, says Batmanglij, is an effective way to ward off writer’s block and selfconsciousness. “I like to be able to work quickly, to capture the spark of
42 FastCompany.com October 2017
IBM and its logo and ibm.com are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. See current list at ibm.com/trademark. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. Statements regarding IBM’s future direction and intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice. ©International Business Machines Corp. 2017.
I CAN FIND A BAD APPLE AMONG A BILLION IN JUST SECONDS.
With IBM Blockchain, companies like Walmart will be able to know where their food was grown and how and when it was shipped. Transparent supply chains help them spot food issues faster—so one bad apple doesn’t become one big headache. Find out more at ibm.com/you This is supply chain to the power of IBM.
recognized it as an opportunity to revisit the instrumental ﬂuencies he’d picked up during his Vampire Weekend days and expand his repertoire beyond pop and alt-rock. Batmanglij played the piano, organ, and shaker on Solange’s 2016 track “F.U.B.U.,” which is part of her critically acclaimed album A Seat at the Table.
Don’t make people too comfortable
Team players Performers such as Frank Ocean, above, and Danielle Haim, left, have sought out Batmanglij for his unique perspective.
When Frank Ocean brought Batmanglij a rough, early version of “Ivy,” an R&B track from his 2016 album Blonde, Batmanglij had an idea for the instrumentation that was more guitar-driven than Ocean was accustomed to. He isolated the vocal track, plugged in a guitar, and played a new, more atypical chord progression for Ocean, who was convinced. The distorted, dreamy electric guitar helped turn “Ivy” into a standout ballad. “Artistically I want us to go somewhere that neither of us has been before,” says Batmanglij. “You’ve got to feel a little uncomfortable to push to that place.”
an idea before it goes out,” he says. That sometimes means acting on creative impulses even if there’s no studio nearby. Batmanglij recalls one afternoon sitting in his living room with Haim lead guitarist Danielle Haim when they got an idea for an early version of what would become the bluesy “Kept Me Crying,” which appears on the group’s latest album, Something to Tell You. Not wanting to interrupt 44 FastCompany.com October 2017
the moment, they recorded the riffs and lyrics on their iPhones. Two days later, in the more formal studio setting, they were able to tap into their original ﬂow.
Be ready to shift roles In addition to playing lead guitar and producing all three Vampire Weekend albums, Batmanglij also played the keyboard, banjo, and
drums, among other instruments. Once he left the band, he temporarily set those instruments aside. But last year, Batmanglij ran into Solange and one of her producers, Raphael Saadiq, at a café in Los Angeles. Saadiq said something to Batmanglij that stuck with him: To produce your best work, “you have to be able to shoot from any place on the court.” When Solange later asked Batmanglij to collaborate, he
Despite Batmanglij’s success working with other musicians, he recognizes that some creative efforts require solitude. Half-Light represents years of personal material that Batmanglij wrote between Vampire Weekend gigs. The project also allowed him to experience an artist-producer collaboration from the other side; Wet’s Kelly Zutrau and Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian both provided vocals and cowrote songs. In the past year, Batmanglij has started performing shows under the name Rostam, and incorporating a string quartet and dancers in some numbers. “It’s about building off of one another’s energy,” he says. “There’s a joy I get from collaborating with other artists, and there’s a joy I get from making songs on my own.”
Visionhaus/Getty Images (Ocean); Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images (Haim)
Keep something for yourself
Patreon is changing how creative types make a living. Now it wants to help them build media empires. By Harry McCracken Photograph by Nicholas Albrecht
In the spring of 2013, musician Jack Conte was frustrated with the challenge of supporting himself as a creative person in the internet age. Conte, who performs both solo and—with his wife, Nataly Dawn—as part of an indie-rock duo called Pomplamoose, had sunk $10,000 of his own money into a wildly inventive sci-ﬁ–themed music video, complete with a singing robotic head. It soon racked up a million YouTube views. But Conte’s share of revenue from the ads the site stuck on his work amounted to a pittance: about $150. “It was so weird to see such a discrepancy between the value that I feel like I’m giving to the world and the value that the world returns to me in dollars,” he
Fan favorite Musician and Patreon cofounder Conte is helping artists find ongoing support for their work. 46 FastCompany.com October 2017
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says. The predicament was hardly Conte’s alone. Thanks to YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, and other internet-based platforms, it’s never been easier for content creators to distribute their work. But even those with large and loyal audiences often struggle to monetize their popularity—or even understand who’s paying attention, and why. Conte, however, had already come up with a solution: “What if I just ask my fans for a buck a month, ﬁve bucks a month,” he thought, “so that I [can] keep being an artist and doing what I’m doing?” That proposition turned into Patreon, the San Francisco startup he founded with Sam Yam, his college roommate, and that he now leads as CEO. (Yam is CTO.) Like other crowdfunding platforms, it allows creators to solicit money from their audiences and share updates about their work. But while Kickstarter and Indiegogo focus on speciﬁc projects—a CD, a book, a card game—Patreon asks fans to give on a subscription basis. That allows everyone from cartoonists to podcasters to turn individual pledges into meaningful, ongoing income. Launched in May 2013, Patreon
quickly found success and is still growing rapidly. It now enables more than 50,000 creators to receive payments from a million-plus active patrons, double its 2016 base. It’s on track to pay out $150 million this year, 50% more than the total for its ﬁrst three and a half years combined. Creators receive upwards of 90% of pledges (Patreon keeps 5%; the rest goes to paymentprocessing fees) and net anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to tens of thousands each month (see “Producers Circle,” below). The bonds the company creates between artists and admirers go beyond ﬁnancial transactions. Many creators have used it to reward their patrons with early access to their work: Bay Area technologist Justin de Vesine says that part of his incentive for backing the altrock icon Amanda Palmer—who set a Kickstarter record for music projects in 2012 by raising $1.2 million and is now one of Patreon’s top fundraisers—is getting exclusive access to webcasts in which Palmer plays works in progress and solicits feedback. “I get to be more involved with not just the ﬁnished product but the creation of things,” he says.
“Whether you have a barber shop or you’re a local restaurant owner, there’s lots of tech for you to understand your business.”
Increasingly, Patreon creators are using funds to pay for employees, equipment, and facilities. Kinda Funny, a gaming and pop-culture show, available on YouTube and elsewhere, began with a couple of guys broadcasting from a kitchen table. Today, the set features “a glass desk and this huge screen behind them and these giant cameras that swoop in,” marvels Conte. “They would not have been able to build this without the $50,000 a month they’re generating from Patreon.” This ambition led Conte to conclude that it was time for Patreon to do more for the burgeoning media businesses it helped create. In June, it began rolling out a portfolio of new offerings, including a smart-
phone app called Patreon Lens that lets creators share video clips and photos in a way that’s akin to the “stories” on Snapchat and Instagram, but with the ability to restrict viewership to a paying audience. There are also tools for automating the process of giving patrons the ﬁrst look at fresh content and streaming live video to them. Perhaps most signiﬁcant, Patreon’s dashboard provides creators with insights, such as which posts are most popular with the highestpaying patrons. With these stats, artists can shape future work to appeal to backers, a necessity for the Patreon model to be viable—and something that would be tough to do based on existing resources such as YouTube’s built-in analytics. “Whether you have a barber shop or you’re a local restaurant owner, there’s lots of tech for you to understand your business,” Conte says. If Patreon can give artists and homegrown media enterprises that same level of insight, it could have as much disruptive potential as the company’s subscription-based crowdfunding—an idea that has already turned so many passions into sustainable livelihoods.
PRODUCER S CIRCL E How ﬁve creators use Patreon to ﬁnance their art
A M A N DA PA L M E R
CHAPO TRAP HOUSE
K U R ZG E S AG T
D R E W S C A N LO N
The Builder S I M O N E G I E RTZ
11,463 patrons* $40,715 per project
15,978 patrons $71,154 per month
8,388 patrons $30,368 per month
3,099 patrons $20,061 per month
1,761 patrons $7,040 per month
Palmer uses Patreon funds for new albums, webcasts, performance art, and documentaries. Fans get exclusive content and a peek into her creation process.
The founders of this leftist podcast raised enough money to bring in additional cohosts by sharing every other episode exclusively with Patreon supporters.
Munich-based design studio Kurzgesagt creates quirky cartoons that explain thorny topics. With Patreon, Kurzgesagt has grown from a oneman show to a team of 11.
Scanlon, a former videogame journalist, creates documentaries about gaming culture as he travels to far-flung locations. Patrons get Q&As and bonus footage.
Fans of the Swedish inventor and YouTuber enjoy access to her videos, which revolve around ill-fated robot builds and deadpan humor, plus raffles and live streams.
*ALL FIGURES FROM JULY 2017
48 FastCompany.com October 2017
Illustrations by Raymond Biesinger
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SWANK Y GATHERING JW MARRIOTT DESERT SPRINGS RESORT
MICROSOFT REWRITES THE CODE
CEO S AT YA N A DEL L A , ONCE CONSIDERED AN U N L I K E LY C H O I C E T O LEAD THE TECH BEHEMOTH, HAS STOPPED INFIGHTING, RESTORED MORALE, AND GENER AT ED MORE T H A N $250 BILLION IN M A RK E T VA LUE IN L ES S THAN FOUR YEARS. ALL IT TOOK WAS A LITTLE THOUGHT ABOUT W H AT M ATT E R S M O S T. B y H a r r y Mc Cracken
Photographs by ioulex
Three years after becoming CEO, Nadella is as focused on Microsoftâ€™s culture as he is its business strategy. October 2017 FastCompany.com 51
S AT YA N A D E L L A’ S C O R N E R OFFICE, ON THE FIFTH FLOOR OF BUILDING 34 AT M I C R O S O F T ’ S R E D M O N D , WA S H I N G T O N , H E A D Q U A R T E R S , F E AT U R E S A C A N ’ T- M I S S 8 4 - I N C H TOUCH-SCREEN COMPUTER T H AT D O M I N AT E S O N E WA L L . B U T W H AT DEMANDS EVEN MORE AT T E N T I O N A R E T H E VA S T QUANTITIES OF BOOKS IN THE ROOM. THEY FILL R O W S O F S H E LV E S A N D ARE PILED BY THE DOZEN O N A L O N G TA B L E N E X T T O N A D E L L A’ S D E S K .
The place looks more like a neighborhood bookshop than the command center for the third-most-valuable company on the planet. “I read a few pages here or a few pages there,” Nadella says, in his typically understated manner. He is sitting in a turquoise armchair, with multicolored socks showing above his casual brown shoes. The stacks around him include heady tomes such as Bionomics and How Will Capitalism End?, but his taste is eclectic. At one point during our conversation he references a Virginia Woolf essay about illness; at another, Trinidadian author C.L.R. James’s literary take on cricket. When explaining the impact of Microsoft’s Cortana AI assistant, Nadella eschews market-share data for Shakespeare: “If Othello had Cortana, would he have recognized Iago for who he was?” One of Nadella’s ﬁrst acts after becoming CEO, in February 2014, was to ask the company’s top executives to read Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, a treatise on empathic collaboration. The gesture signaled that Nadella planned to run the company differently from his well-known predecessors, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and address Microsoft’s long-standing reputation as a hive of intense corporate inﬁghting. (Cartoonist Manu Cornet crisply summed up the Microsoft culture in a 2011 org chart spoof that depicted the various operating groups pointing handguns at each other.) “It was the ﬁrst clear indication that Satya was going to focus on transforming not just the business strategy but the culture as well,” says Microsoft president and chief legal ofﬁcer Brad Smith, a 24-year company veteran. Nadella has been committed to altering how Microsoft works by changing how it thinks. The Microsoft that Nadella inherited was regarded by both Wall Street and Silicon Valley as fading toward irrelevance. The tech industry had shifted from desktop computers to smartphones—from Microsoft’s Windows to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. (Windows’ market share on phones was less than 4%.) Apple and Google had soared to record market valuations; Microsoft’s stock price had stalled, despite the fact that revenue had tripled and proﬁts had doubled during Ballmer’s reign as CEO from 2000 to 2014. When Ballmer announced his intention to retire, in August 2013, succeeding him wasn’t necessarily seen as a plum assignment. A Bloomberg story about the search for a successor was simply titled “Why You Don’t Want to Be Microsoft’s CEO.” “I was envisioning [someone with] more of a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality,” says Mason
Leading While Learning Nadella makes it his mission to teach, listen, and absorb new ideas.
Groomer: Brent Henry (portraits). This page: Chip Somoderilla/Getty Images (Trump); Justin Sullivan/Getty Images (HoloLens)
Workplace warrior Nadella, seen here backstage before his first speech to Microsoft employees as their CEO, on February 4, 2014, believed that prioritizing a culture shift would inspire a new approach to the companyâ€™s customers and products.
Master builder Nadella visits a public school in Hyderabad, India, where he grew up. He purchased Minecraft for $2.5 billion in 2014 to push Microsoft into education and grow with his next generation of customers.
Global explorer Nadella regularly visits far-flung places, including this solar-powered internet cafĂŠ in Kenya, to understand how his customers use tech so he can better serve them.
Future seer Nadella has embraced the HoloLens research project because he is open to the idea that augmented reality could be the future of computing.
Tech ambassador Nadella has engaged with the Trump administration because he believes he has a role to play in helping government deploy technology.
Charismatic host In a 1993 satellite broadcast to Microsoft developers, a young Nadella proved himself to be a confident presenter, a skill that would continue to serve him well.
October 2017 FastCompany.com 53
Satya’s Book Club Microsoft’s CEO loves to tell people about the tomes that have inspired him—such as these five on history, economics, technology, and management strategy.
The Great Transformation KARL POLANYI
“My father recommended this book long ago,” says Nadella of the 1944 classic by a HungarianAmerican writer who chronicles the development of England’s market economy and argues that society should drive economic change.
Deep Learning IAN GOODFELLOW, YOSHUA BENGIO, AND AARON COURVILLE
Elon Musk and Facebook AI chief Yann LeCun have praised this textbook on one of software’s most promising frontiers. After its publication, Microsoft signed up coauthor Bengio, a pioneer in machine learning, as an adviser.
The Boys in the Boat DANIEL JAMES BROWN
Nadella calls this tale with a local Seattle connection—it involves an underdog University of Washington crew team and the 1936 Berlin Olympics—“a wonderful illustration of the importance of teamwork, which was a core part of my focus out of the gate as CEO.”
The Great Convergence RICHARD BALDWIN
In this look at how telepresence and telerobotics will increasingly let people cross international borders from the comfort of their own homes, Nadella sees analogies to Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, especially as the technology matures and its cost comes down.
The Rise and Fall of American Growth ROBERT J. GORDON
Covering everything from the combustion engine to the flush toilet—and judging recent breakthroughs with a skeptical eye—this work of economic history “concludes that innovation is the ultimate source of dramatic improvements in the human condition,” says Nadella. 54 FastCompany.com October 2017
Morﬁt, the president and CIO of ValueAct, an activist hedge fund that had gotten a say in the new CEO hire by investing $2 billion in Microsoft. “I was personally more inclined to lean toward an outsider.” So were most other Microsoft watchers. Nadella, who had joined the company in 1992 at the age of 25, was hardly a favorite, despite the fact that he was already running Microsoft’s cloud business. (“There’s no question that I’m an insider,” Nadella says, with a touch of cheerful deﬁance. “And I’m proud of it! I’m a product of Microsoft.”) When his name was announced, some critics described the choice as a fallback. Since then, Nadella has not only restored Microsoft to relevance; he’s generated more than $250 billion in market value in just three and a half years—more value growth over that time than Uber and Airbnb, Netﬂix and Spotify, Snapchat and WeWork. Indeed, more than all of them combined. Only a handful of CEOs—names like Bezos, Cook, Zuckerberg—can boast similarly impressive results. Microsoft’s shares have not only returned to their dotcom-bubble highs but surpassed them. “[Nadella] has exceeded all my expectations,” says Morﬁt, now a member of Microsoft’s board. “I wish I could say we saw it all happening. That wouldn’t be honest.” How Nadella turned things around comes back to the book he had his top lieutenants read, and the culture that took hold from there. He has inspired the company’s 124,000 employees to embrace what he calls “learn-it-all” curiosity (as opposed to what he describes as Microsoft’s historical know-it-all bent) that in turn has inspired developers and customers—and investors—to engage with the company in new, more modern ways. Nadella is a contemporary CEO able to emphasize the kinds of soft skills that are often derided in the cutthroat world of corporate politics but are, in today’s fast-moving marketplace, increasingly essential to outsize performance. “There’s a long list of other leaders Microsoft could have hired,” says Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, which made its name as a cheeky startup by putting up billboards bashing Microsoft but now partners with the company on a variety of efforts. “There aren’t a lot of case studies about cultural shifts of the size and scale that Satya is creating.” It’s 8 o’clock on a Friday morning— which means that the members of Microsoft’s senior leadership team (SLT) are gathering around a horseshoe-shaped table in a boardroom down the hall from Nadella’s ofﬁce. As additional executives stream in, Surface devices in tow, Nadella, dressed in a black Microsoft AI school T-shirt, plops himself in a seat at the middle of the table and picks at a plate of grapes and pineapple chunks. The meeting begins with a regular segment, instituted by Nadella, called “Researcher of the Amazing,” which showcases something inspiring going on at the company. On this day in late June, engineers at Microsoft Turkey, in Istanbul, are patched in via video conference to prototype an app they’ve built for the visually impaired that reads books out loud. After an uplifting opening such as that, the weekly meeting can sometimes stretch for as long as seven hours. Initiated by Ballmer late in his tenure as CEO, the SLT session has become a hallmark of Nadella’s team-sport approach to running Microsoft. He solicits opinions and offers positive feedback throughout, at one point nodding in vigorous agreement with someone’s point while holding a cardboard coffee cup in his clenched teeth, leaving his hands free to gesticulate expansively. The gathering’s relaxed feel is quite a change from the days when collaboration at Microsoft involved a large dose of showing off how smart you were. In the past, says president Smith, “all of us who grew up here knew that we needed to be well prepared for every meeting. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that meant trying to discern the answers before the meeting
“ YOU H AV E TO BE A BLE T O S A Y, ‘ W H E R E I S THIS PERSON COMING FROM? WH AT M A K E S THEM TICK? WHY ARE THEY EXCITED OR FRUSTR ATED BY SOME THING TH AT IS HAPPENING?’”
Lili Cheng, general manager of Microsoft’s experimental FUSE Labs, has been empowered under Nadella to take risks— and recover from any missteps.
began and then being tested on whether your answers were right. Bill [Gates] and Steve [Ballmer] both used that to great effect to tease apart areas where the thinking needed to be developed further.” When I ask Nadella for his own account of working with his predecessors, he’s blunt. “Bill’s not the kind of guy who walks into your ofﬁce and says, ‘Hey, great job,’ ” he tells me. “It’s like, ‘Let me start by telling you the 20 things that are wrong with you today.’ ” Ballmer’s technique, Nadella adds, is similar. He chuckles at the images he’s conjured and emphasizes that he ﬁnds such directness “refreshing.” (Upon becoming CEO, Nadella even asked Gates, who remains a technology adviser to the company, to increase the hours he devotes to giving feedback to product teams.) Nadella’s approach is gentler. He believes human beings are wired to have empathy, and that’s essential not only for creating harmony at work but also for making products that will resonate. “You have to be able to say, ‘Where is this person coming from?’ ” he says. “ ‘What makes them tick? Why are they excited or frustrated by something that is happening, whether it’s about computing or beyond computing?’ ” His philosophy stems from one of the principal events of his personal life. In 1996, his ﬁrst child, Zain, was born with severe cerebral palsy, permanently altering what had been a pretty carefree lifestyle for him and his wife, Anu. For two or three years, Nadella felt sorry for himself. And then—nudged along by Anu, who had given up her career as an architect to care for Zain—his perspective changed. “If anything,” he remembers thinking, “I should be doing everything to put myself in [Zain’s] shoes, given the privilege I have to be able to help him.” Nadella says that this empathy— though he cautions that the word is sometimes overused—“is a massive part of who I am today. . . . I distinctly remember who I was as a person before and after,” he says. “I won’t say I was narrow or selﬁsh or anything, but there was something that was missing.” Zain “is just such a joy at this point,” Nadella says of the ongoing inspiration he draws from his son, who turned 21 in August. “Everything else that’s happening in my life is suddenly brought into perspective when I think about how he has endured through all his challenges. The one thing that he can communicate is, when I get close to him, he’ll smile. And that makes my day, and makes my life.” Growing up in Hyderabad, India, Nadella liked computers almost as much as he did cricket. When he was 15, Nadella’s middle-class parents bought their only child a computer kit October 2017 FastCompany.com 55
from Bangkok. On his 21st birthday, Nadella arrived in the U.S. to study computer science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. After graduation, he spent a couple years at Sun Microsystems before being lured to Microsoft. It was Microsoft’s boom years—the 1990s—and Nadella found himself steadily promoted. “Saying, ‘Well, I’m waiting for the next job to do my best work’ is the worst trap,” he contends. “If you say, ‘The current job I have is everything I ever wanted,’ life becomes just so much more straightforward.” Doug Burgum, who ran Microsoft’s business solutions group and is now governor of North Dakota, became a mentor. “Early on, Jeff Bezos was trying to recruit him [to Amazon],” says Burgum of Nadella. “It was my job to re-recruit him.” Though Amazon had already begun to spread its reach, Burgum successfully argued that the opportunities available at Microsoft beat anything a mere bookseller could offer. “I was wrong about my characterization of Amazon,” Burgum admits, “but I was right about convincing Satya to stay.” Burgum groomed Nadella to be his successor. In 2007, at Burgum’s last customer conference at Microsoft, he lavished praise on Nadella in front of an audience of thousands and then handed the keynote off to him. But right after the conference, Ballmer stepped in, reshufﬂing the staff. He decided that Nadella would be more valuable running a different group, the engineering arm of Windows Live Search, later known as Bing. “Steve was very clear,” recalls Nadella, describing the position, which he felt he couldn’t refuse. “He just said, ‘Look, this is the most important challenge I have. I don’t think this
“ I F Y O U S A Y, ‘ T H E CURRENT JOB I H AV E IS EVERYTHING I E V E R WA N T E D,’ L I F E BECOMES JUST SO MUCH MORE S T R A I G H T F O R WA R D.” 56 FastCompany.com October 2017
The C in CEO Stands for Culture Microsoft’s mind-set for transforming from a place full of know-it-alls to one filled with learn-it-alls By Satya Nadella
The CEO is the curator of an organization’s culture. Anything is possible for a company when its culture is about listening, learning, and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission. Creating that kind of culture is my chief job as CEO. Microsoft’s culture had been rigid. Each employee had to prove to everyone that he or she was the smartest person in the room. Accountability—delivering on time and hitting numbers— trumped everything. Meetings were formal. If a senior leader wanted to tap the energy and creativity of someone lower down in the organization, she or he needed to invite that person’s boss, and so on. Hierarchy and pecking order had taken control, and spontaneity and creativity had suffered. The culture change I wanted was centered on exercising a growth mind-set every day in three distinct ways. First, at the core of our business must be the curiosity and desire to meet a customer’s unarticulated and unmet needs with great technology. This was not abstract: We all get to practice each day. When we talk to customers, we need to listen. We need to be insatiable in our desire to learn from the outside and bring that learning into Microsoft. Second, we are at our best when we actively seek diversity and inclusion. If we are going to serve the planet as our mission states, we need to reflect the planet. The diversity of our workforce must continue to improve, and we need to include a wide range of opinions and perspectives in our thinking and decision
making. In every meeting, don’t just listen—make it possible for others to speak so that everyone’s ideas come through. Inclusiveness will help us become open to learning about our own biases and changing our behaviors so we can tap into the collective power of everyone in the company. As a result, our ideas will be better, our products will be better, and our customers will be better served. Finally, we are one company, one Microsoft—not a confederation of fiefdoms. Innovation and competition don’t respect our silos, so we have to learn to transcend those barriers. It’s our ability to work together that makes our dreams believable and, ultimately, achievable. Taken together, these concepts embody the growth in culture I set out to inculcate at Microsoft. I talked about these ideas every chance I got, but the last thing I wanted was for employees to think of culture as “Satya’s thing.” I wanted them to see it as their thing. The key to the culture change was individual empowerment. We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen, and overestimate what others need to do for us. I became irritated once during an employee Q&A when someone asked me, “Why can’t I print a document from my mobile phone?” I politely told him, “Make it happen. You have full authority.” Because I’ve made culture change at Microsoft such a high priority, people often ask how it’s going. My response is very Eastern: We’re making great progress, but we should never be done. This is a way of being. It’s
about questioning ourselves each day. I’m not exempt from having to ask myself these questions. Do a search for me and karma. It’s a fall day in Phoenix, Arizona, and I am attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Diversity and inclusion is a bedrock strategy in building the culture we need and want, but I recognize that as a company and as an industry we’ve come up far too short. Which makes what I said that day in Phoenix all the more perplexing, not to mention embarrassing. Near the end of my interview onstage, Dr. Maria Klawe—a computer scientist, president of Harvey Mudd Illustration by Chad Hagen
College, and a former Microsoft board member—asked me what advice I had for women seeking a pay raise who are not comfortable asking. It’s a great question, because we know women leave the industry when they are not properly recognized and rewarded. I only wish my answer had been great. I paused for a moment and remembered an early president at Microsoft who had told me once that human resource systems are long-term efficient but shortterm inefficient. “It’s not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along,” I responded. “And that might be one of the additional
superpowers that women who don’t ask for the raise have, because that’s good karma. It’ll come back. Long-term efficiency solves it.” Dr. Klawe, whom I respect enormously, kindly pushed back. She used it as a teaching moment, directing her comments to the women in the audience but clearly giving me a lesson I won’t forget. She told the story of a time when she was asked how much pay would be sufficient, and she just said whatever is fair. By not advocating for herself, she didn’t get what was fair. She encouraged the audience to do their homework and to know what the proper salary is. Afterward, we hugged and left the stage to warm applause. But the damage was done.
The criticism, deserved and biting, came swiftly through waves of social media and international radio, TV, and newspaper coverage. My chief of staff smugly read me a tweet capturing the moment: “I hope Satya’s comms person is a woman and is asking for a raise right now.” I was frustrated, but I also was determined to use the incident to demonstrate what a growth mind-set looks like under pressure. A few hours later I shot off an email to everyone in the company. I encouraged them to watch the video, and I was quick to point out that I had answered the question completely wrong. “When it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice.” A few days later, in my regular all-employee Q&A, I apologized, and explained that I had received this advice from my mentors and had followed it. But this advice underestimated exclusion and bias—conscious and unconscious. Any advice that advocates passivity in the face of bias is wrong. Since my remarks at Grace Hopper, Microsoft has made the commitment to drive real change—linking executive compensation to diversity progress, investing in diversity programs, and sharing data publicly about pay equity for gender, racial, and ethnic minorities. In some ways, I’m glad I messed up in such a public forum because it helped me confront an unconscious bias I didn’t know I had, and it helped me find a new sense of empathy for the great women in my life and at my company. I had gone to Phoenix to learn, and I certainly did.
Adapted from Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella. Copyright © 2017 by Satya Nadella. To be published September 26 by HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
October 2017 FastCompany.com 57
is maybe even a smart decision for you, but I want you to do it. Think wisely, and choose. And by the way, if you fail, there’s no parachute. It’s not like I’m going to come and rescue you and put you back into your old job.’ ” In search, Microsoft was an extreme underdog to Google. To compete, it had to operate in a looser way than it did in other domains. “I remember when most of the senior execs at Bing carried around iPads to meetings,” says Mark Johnson, who worked at the company after Microsoft acquired the startup where he worked and who is now CEO of geographicdata provider Descartes Labs. “It was seen as very hip and a symbol of deﬁance against the Microsoft machine.” Nadella honed an outsider perspective at Bing, which was enhanced when Netﬂix CEO and then–Microsoft board member Reed Hastings invited Nadella to shadow him at Netﬂix meetings. Nadella did so on and off for about a year. “Oh, my God, I learned so much,” remembers Nadella. “One of the things I felt was a big handicap for me was, having grown up at Microsoft, I’d never seen any other company.” Though Nadella cut his Netﬂix adventure short when he was given control of Azure, Microsoft’s web-tools division that competes with Amazon Web Services, he leveraged the experience to make a case for his promotion to CEO. “Netﬂix pivots very quickly based on new data,” ValueAct’s Morﬁt recalls Nadella telling him. “He thought that was very interesting compared to the bureaucracy Microsoft had built up.” Nadella made his ﬁrst public appearance as Microsoft’s CEO at a San Francisco press conference eight weeks after he got the job. He strode out without any introductory hoopla— dressed in black, enthusiastic but calm, a triﬂe owlish in his chunky black-frame eyeglasses. It made for a sharp contrast with the often bombastic Ballmer, and that was before Nadella began paraphrasing T.S. Eliot to describe Microsoft’s goals: “You should never cease from exploration, and at the end of all exploration, you arrive where you started and know the place for the very ﬁrst time.” During the press event, Nadella announced the ﬁrst version of Ofﬁce for Apple’s iPad. It was a meaningful way to mark a new era for Microsoft, even though the software had been in the works long before he took the helm. “We’re not going to say, ‘Only use this device,’ ” Nadella tells me, referring to Microsoft’s Surface tablet and other Windows devices. The company had long aimed to control its ecosystem; by putting ambitious versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Apple’s tablet—before it had comparable touch-screen-friendly (Continued on page 98) 58 FastCompany.com October 2017
Microsoft research chief Harry Shum leads the effort to build new features based on data from Office 365—and now LinkedIn.
FAST COM PA N Y â€™S SIXTH ANNUAL INNOVATION BY DESIGN AWARDS DREW MORE THAN 2,500 SUBMISSIONS. THE 299 HONOREES, CHOSEN BY EXPERT JUDGES IN 13 CATEGORIES, REPRESENT THE BEST PRODUCTS, SERVICES, INTERFACES, AND IDE AS OF 2017. RE AD ON FOR HIGHLIGHTS FROM ADIDAS, FACEBOOK, GOOGLE, SAMSUNG, AND MORE.
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prose; your tweets, so sharp you could
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shave with them. But texting? Let the autocorrect errors ﬂy! Why punctuate? Isn’t that what old people do? In fact, why use words at all when
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any number of pictographic pokes, nods, and grunts available at the press of a button will get the job done faster? Blame the medium, says Jason Cornwell, the chief user experience de-
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signer behind Google’s communications apps. “Chat is inherently limited and low-bandwidth,” he says. It’s also here to stay: “Our phones are basically chat machines at this point. That’s the dominant activity that virtually everyone does on their phone.” ¶ Allo, a mobile messaging app launched by Google in 2016, is the company’s attempt to use machine learning to make chat, if not smarter, then at least a hell of a lot more useful and expressive. Machine learning and artiﬁcial intelligence are becoming the engines behind nearly everything at Google, from Gmail’s spam ﬁlters to AlphaGo, the neural-network-powered software that recently beat the world’s best player at Go (a 2,500-year-old strategy game long considered impregnable by AI). As part of CEO Sundar Pichai’s strategy of transforming Google into an “AI ﬁrst” company, Cornwell’s design team was charged with building “an app that was about chat on your phone, but at its core was about machine learning,” Cornwell explains. Exactly what machine-learning technology
B Y J O H N P AV L U S
Photograph by Damien Maloney
“There’s this key question that designers need to answer,” says Google UX veteran Cornwell: “Which pieces do we automate for you, and which pieces do you need to do yourself?”
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can do for people pecking out slang-ﬁlled, emoji-studded missives to one another is now his job to ﬁgure out. Cornwell had navigated a similar design challenge two years earlier as user experience lead for Gmail’s offshoot app, Inbox, which uses machine learning to power its Smart Reply feature—those little rectangles of suggested text that you can select instead of manually typing your own message. Bringing Smart Reply technology to chat via Allo seemed like an obvious extension, because “editing text on a phone is still painful,” Cornwell says. Existing predictive-text functions and autocomplete help you type individual words slightly faster, but you still have to do the composing. Allo’s approach aimed to leapfrog that step entirely. “The goal was to think of it as a smarter extension of autocomplete, to help you say the thing that you already were thinking about saying, as close to in your voice as possible,” he explains. That’s where Google’s machine-learning capabilities come in: The more you use Allo, the more its algorithms can ascertain what you sound like and generate prewritten responses that don’t sound canned. What’s more, Allo can learn how you text with different recipients—so it can offer up a “nice dude” in response to your best friend, but not when you’re messaging your mom. You can’t edit Allo’s Smart Replies, though, so you’re stuck with using—or ignoring—whatever it serves up. But that’s on purpose: Chat is “a rapid-ﬁre medium,” says Cornwell, and testing showed that “it’s almost just as fast to type something new out” and send it on the heels of a Smart Reply that isn’t quite perfect. Smart Reply also has a stealthy purpose: to introduce users to Google Assistant, the real brains inside Allo, along with the company’s new Google Home smart speaker. If you’ve ever been forced to pop out of your messaging app in order to Google something—say, the location of the restaurant where you’ll be meeting friends, or ﬂight prices for a vacation you’re planning with a loved one—you’ll understand the assistant’s appeal. In Allo, you can just text your query to Google in natural language, as if it’s another person in the chat thread. This user experience is authentically conversational—the assistant doesn’t use punctuation in its texts, either!— and it’s so seamless that newcomers might not even realize they’re using this separate and sophisticated tech product. (To help encourage users to
experiment and discover further capabilities, Smart Reply provides a button to tap that invokes the assistant in an Allo chat window.) It also avoids the dreaded “Microsoft Clippy” problem: Instead of a chirping robot interrupting your conversation to be “helpful,” Smart Reply creates opportunities for the assistant to introduce itself organically. For instance, when a friend messages you asking if you’d like to grab a bite downtown, Smart Reply may offer up a “sure,” “nah,” and an option from the assistant suggesting a search for local restaurants. “It’s not like the assistant is jumping up and down at you,” Cornwell says. “It’s offering you, in this native format, the ability to take the next step.” The discreet way Allo encourages interactions with Google Assistant informed later designs on the assistant’s stand-alone app (available on both Android and iOS). “When you chat with the assistant in Allo, we also prompt you to ask the next question—so if you text ‘weather in mountain view,’ the assistant would provide the weather for that day and then offer up more speciﬁc phrases you could tap on, like ‘how about this weekend?’ ” Cornwell explains. “We found that when people were ﬁrst using the assistant, they would structure their questions very speciﬁcally to get the exact answer they wanted, similar to how you’d type a query in Google search. But we wanted to help people learn not only the types of questions they could ask, but also [how to] speak (Continued on page 99)
“IT’S NOT LIKE T H E A S S I STA N T I S JUMPING UP AND D OW N AT YO U, ” C O R N W E L L S AYS . “IT’S OFFERING YOU, I N T H I S N AT I V E F O R M A T, T H E A B I L I T Y TO TA K E T H E N E X T S T E P. ”
A FAIRER STOCK EXCHANGE In 2007, Brad Katsuyama was trading stocks for the Royal Bank of Canada when he noticed that every time he placed an order, the stock price jumped by one or two cents. He realized that high-frequency traders were using faster connections to buy the stock he wanted and resell it to him for a profit. And it was widespread, costing
investors like him up to $160 million a day. So Katsuyama created the Investors Exchange, an upstart trading platform powered by an ingenious hack: Every trade encounters a virtual “speed bump” to subvert high-frequency traders. In September 2016, IEX opened for public business. User-centered thinking plays a big role. Product
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chief Adrian Facini spent more than a decade on Wall Street, where he grew disillusioned by traders gaming the system. “During the design process, we think about how trading features can be used or abused,” he explains. “If something can be manipulated, we nix it.” The NYSE has now copied IEX’s speed-bump idea. But Facini isn’t bothered by the imitation, insisting that while anyone can copy a feature, “they can’t copy our ethos.” — C L I F F K U A N G
IEX GROUP The Investors Exchange
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ADIDAS Futurecraft 4D
A LEAP TOWARD CUSTOMPRINTED FOOTWEAR The soles look like intricate baskets woven from clear seafoam green toothpaste. The sensation underfoot is bouncy yet ﬁrm, and strangely, you can literally feel the air passing under your feet. There are only a few hundred pairs of Adidas’s radical new 3-D–printed running shoes, known as Futurecraft 4D, in existence, but already they represent an early victory lap around competitors’ attempts, because they are actually coming to market en masse: By the end of the year, Adidas will have produced 5,000 pairs, with 100,000 more planned by the end of 2018. ¶ Industry leader Nike has spent the past two years focused on building better foam midsoles that maximize athletic performance, culminating in its Nike Zoom Vaporﬂy 4% and Nike Zoom Fly shoes, which went on sale in June. Nike, Under Armour, and even New Balance have all revealed 3-D concepts in the past year, but most are either prototypes or rare limited editions. (New Balance has committed to large-scale 3-D printing and manufacturing starting in 2018, but won’t reveal any numbers.) How Adidas, the second-biggest footwear company in the world, pulled ahead in the 3-D race is a story of foresight, perseverance, and strategic collaboration. While the company has been raising its global proﬁle by smartly leveraging creative partnerships with cultural icons such as Pharrell and Kanye West, it has also been upping its technical manufacturing game at its German headquarters, where designers and engineers have been experimenting with 3-D printing since 2010. “If you can eliminate the block of foam under your foot, you have a lot of opportunity to tune and manage attenuate forces, a lot of different experiential beneﬁts,” says Paul Gaudio, Adidas’s global creative director. For the ﬁrst four years, the company’s attempts ended only in failure. Three-dimensional printing materials—the actual polymers used by the machine—are rigid, and therefore brittle under pressure. Not the ideal choice for an athletic shoe. What’s more, 3-D printing is notoriously slow. Traditional EVA foam midsoles, produced through injection molding, can be made in 20 minutes. Printing the same design nanometer by nanometer would take hours. But Adidas designers made signiﬁcant strides when it came to shape, going deep into the physics of lattice structures and exploring how their Photograph by Elizabeth Renstrom
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various geometries—too complicated to draw by hand or even model inside traditional computer drafting programs—could be woven by algorithm into a high-performance construction. “I remember the ﬁrst time I saw one,” Gaudio says of one of the early, stiff 3-D prototypes rendered in lattice. “Someone pulled it out of a bag, and I was like, That’s really cool. I understood immediately the possibility of it.” Eventually, they created a more functional material as well, using a polymer powder resembling the one the company uses for its own Boost line. Adidas 3-D–manufactured a few hundred pairs of shoes with these new soles, under the name 3D Runner, but had trouble with scale. Existing 3-D–printing technologies could build only six midsoles at a time, and that process took 8 to 10 hours. Then the midsoles had to sit for another eight hours cooling in the machine before being cracked out of a powder block—much like saltroasted ﬁsh—and hand-dusted of microparticles. The 3D Runner debuted in December 2016 for $333 to eager collectors, but the shoes cost signiﬁcantly more for Adidas to produce and were sold at a loss. At a St. Louis trade show in 2016, Adidas’s Future engineering director Marco Kormann met Phil DeSimone, the head of business development for a 3-D–printing startup called Carbon, which was already in talks with several of Adidas’s competitors. Carbon had discovered a way to print with liquid instead of powder. Adidas designers brought hockey-puckshaped samples of the printed substance back to their lab in Germany and smashed it with machines to test its feasibility underfoot. “We were immediately impressed,” says Adidas’s Future VP Gerd Manz. “You see a lot of data claims by companies, and they fall down when you test them.” This material lacked the “energy return” of a traditional athletic shoe, they discovered, and it would perform poorly in extreme temperatures, but Carbon’s printing methodology had the potential to make a beautiful shoe out of smooth, translucent webs. And it was undeniably fast. Instead of stacking tiny bits of material layer by layer, Carbon’s system grows products from a pool of liquid resin, much like the milky birth of a Westworld android. Adidas and Carbon made an agreement in the second half of 2016: Carbon could take on other, noncompetitive contracts, such as in the automotive industry, but Adidas would be its exclusive footwear partner. Without
merging, the two entities could still learn from each other, sharing intellectual property and a development team, over a multiyear term, as they codiscovered breakthroughs in design, process, and materials. Because of this arrangement, says Manz, “you don’t need to be afraid information is leaking. You can collaborate as one company.” The two companies have made powerful advances over the past year, creating a printer with 10 times the capacity of Carbon’s older model and a new elastomer with high-end performance specs. When this material is fed into a printer, it can become a midsole in just 30 minutes, plus some bake time in the oven, with no extra dusting or cleaning required. “When it comes to our industry, this hasn’t been done. It’s a paradigm shift,” Gaudio says. The companies are working to bring this technology to scale as fast as possible. Adidas is helping Carbon, a startup with more than $200 million in funding but just over 200 people, build up its industrial supply chain— printing is currently being done at Carbon’s headquarters, in Redwood City, California. By the end of this year, Adidas will begin installing the machinery in its Speedfactory in Germany. Eventually, Adidas plans to distribute these printers across the globe, including in stores, using Futurecraft 4D technology to achieve the holy grail of shoe design: footwear customized to the intricacies of someone’s individual foot shape and gait. “The most appealing bit is the unlimited possibilities,” Gaudio says. —MA RK WILSON
“SOMEONE PULLED IT OUT OF A BAG, AND I W A S L I K E , T H A T ’S R E A L LY C O O L ,” RECALLS ADIDAS G LO B A L C R E AT I V E DIRECTOR PAUL GAUDIO.
A FRONT DESK IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND More than 10 million people worldwide have downloaded Marriott’s app, which poses a challenge: How do you appeal to everyone—from businesstraveling loyalists to brandagnostic millennials—on every leg of a trip? The solution, from agency
Work & Co, was to turn Marriott’s logo, an abstract M, into a functional piece of UI. The symbol sits permanently at the bottom of the screen and serves as a hub for toggling between pages, whether you’re booking a room, reviewing a reservation, checking
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rewards points, or ordering room service. “Touching the Marriott mark gets you where you want to go,” Work & Co partner Diego Zambrano says. The app can also surface a reservation before arrival or a digital room key after check-in. Active users have increased 25% since the new design launched in February, and revenue through the app is up 50%, with more than $1 billion in gross bookings. —SUZANNE L ABARRE
M A R R I O TT A N D W O R K & C O Marriott mobile app
OCULUS To u c h
A NEW SENSATION IN VIRTUAL REALITY VR technology lets you travel from the bottom of the ocean to the top of Mount Everest, glimpsing some of the planet’s most remote sites along the way. And yet it’s always had a shortcoming: You can look, but you can’t touch. Apple vet Caitlin Kalinowski (she helped design the MacBook Air and Mac Pro), who now heads product design engineering at the Facebook-owned VR ﬁrm Oculus, has remedied this. She and her team have developed wireless controllers that give you functional hands in virtual reality for the ﬁrst time, allowing you to feel as if you’re throwing objects and making actual gestures. Called the Oculus Touch, the $100 devices—which started shipping in December 2016 and have won nearly universal acclaim—balance in your palm and feature squeezable grips that can sense when you are trying to reach and grasp objects, while mechanical buttons can detect the presence of your ﬁngers, much like an iPhone screen. This means Touch can mirror your hand movements, however subtle, in the virtual world. Sure, you still can’t feel virtual textures or the weight of objects. But you can grasp a soda can, light ﬁrecrackers, and (adventure-game players, take note) satisfyingly pull a slingshot. Touch looks a lot like plastic brass knuckles. Did you have this shape in mind from the start? We had to get everything wrong over and over to get the right thing. We tried [making it] a sport wrap around the palm, and that didn’t have the right feel. We didn’t have a place where you could rest your thumb, so you’d have your thumb up all the time, which got really tiring. Over a lot of iterations, we developed this yoke on your hand, so you can open and close your ﬁngers without dropping it. Peter Bristol’s industrial design team and our team worked closely on that. There’s also a ring encircling your hand, like a halo, which is tracked by a sensor connected to your computer. Was that as complicated to design as it looks? When you open and close your hand, you don’t hit that ring. The position of it, the location of the infrared LEDs, the way the shape wraps around your hand, and the geometry was a breakthrough. No question. Figuring out a way to do that in a way that doesn’t get in the way of the balance, too. Every tiny change has a million effects for the rest of the device. How did you get touch-screen-like capacitive sensors into the mechanical buttons? There was a time where we weren’t sure we could do it, to be honest. [But] when we experienced it in prototype, that’s when several of us became convinced that we had to do it. With my background, I had some real concerns. I hadn’t seen a mass-produced product that had good capacitive response. But we went for it. — M W
Photograph by Chloe Aftel
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â€œWe had to get everything wrong over and over to get the right thing,â€? admits Oculus Touch design engineer Kalinowski, an Apple vet.
Yoshino Cedar House
Airbnb executives heard an inspiring story a few years ago about a mother who’d created the ﬁrst listing in her town of Tokamachi, Japan. Like many small communities in the country, Tokamachi had been hollowed out by urban migration and an aging population. So the woman, looking for a new way to earn money, got her neighbors to help renovate a vacant house. When guests started streaming through, these neighbors became tour guides. The listing became a capsule tourism economy. “We thought, If she can do that all by herself, what could you do with the resources of Airbnb?” says Joe Gebbia, Airbnb’s cofounder and chief product ofﬁcer. When he and his team were asked in 2016 to create a home of the future for a Japanese design fair, they looked to Tokamachi for inspiration. They wanted to develop something that would give back to the community. The seven-guest Cedar House, built and run by residents of the tiny logging town of Yoshino, opened last March; it currently boasts an 80% occupancy rate. When Gebbia himself stayed there last spring, he was treated to a tour of local forests and a potluck dinner thrown by the hosts. He credits the design of the house itself for fostering these experiences. The project’s architect, Go Hasegawa, prioritized ﬂowing communal spaces and a traditional engawa—a veranda that serves as a rest stop and gathering area. The Cedar House’s engawa connects with the town’s main walking path, encouraging visitors and locals to interact. Airbnb now has a team supporting the spread of the Cedar House model in other towns, such as Civita, Italy, where locals are transforming an old city building into a guesthouse. —CK Illustration by James Gilleard
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Created in Collaboration with GROHE
The Flow of Innovation GROHE, a 100-year-old industry leader in plumbing ﬁxtures, is redesigning how we experience water—the ﬁnal frontier in smart-home technology. By FastCo.Works
When it comes to high-tech home innovation, televisions and sound systems get the lion’s share of attention. But the latest smart-home technology focuses on reimagining everyday objects, such as showers and faucets.
The key to rethinking how we experience water at home isn’t only about incorporating digital bells and whistles. As GROHE, the 100-year-old cutting-edge German water-ﬁxture provider, illustrates, the most successful solutions are rooted in intuitive, user-friendly design. Here, MICHAEL SEUM, GROHE’s vice president of design, shares the thinking behind its award-winning designs, such as the new SmartControl Shower System, and how to create products that change behavior in positive ways.
What’s especially challenging about rethinking an everyday experience like the shower? Water is analog. It’s one of the last frontiers of the smart home that hasn’t been injected with any intelligence. So we see an opportunity to bring water into the 21st century. We’re not just designing the next good-looking shower system. But it’s interesting, because the bath is one of those areas where consumers are emotionally invested. The same is true of the kitchen. When someone decides to renovate those rooms, they put a lot of care into it because they know they’ll be using them daily.
What was the starting point for the SmartControl Shower System? The initial design goal? We wanted to personalize the shower experience. So we didn’t just create a new showerhead. We created a whole shower system based on a unique valve technology, one that allows you to choose the outlet, ﬂow, and temperature all independently of each other. There’s no other experience like it in the world. Think about what it’s like when you walk into a hotel bathroom. You have no idea which control does what. But SmartControl is intuitive. It has simple icons: one for temperature and an independent control for managing water volume and ﬂow. That allows you to have a really dynamic experience, whether you want a strong, powerful rinse or a soft, relaxing stream—all at a consistent, precise temperature. The next evolution will be in even deeper personalization, like a custom shower proﬁle that knows who you are when you walk into your shower.
A shower system is a new concept for consumers. How do you educate them? We deliver products, but we design total consumer experiences, whether that’s in the showroom, the bathroom, or on a digital application. Take installation. A lot of our competitors don’t consider the complexities the plumber encounters, but we’ve gone to great lengths to make SmartControl simple to install. Ultimately, that makes for a better overall experience. The consumer loves the showering experience, and it’s easy to add to their home. That’s forward-thinking design.
GROHE is known for being design driven. How would you describe its design strategy? Design has the unique ability to visualize strategy, and unlike any other function of the company, we can bring a story to life. That’s why we believe in design doing. We’re beyond styling. I look for designers who want to craft a point of view and make products that make a difference. We’re obsessive with prototyping. If we don’t get it right the ﬁrst time, we make another one. We have design values that I literally hold the design team hostage to: Is it easy to use? Is it human? Does it convey performance? Our commitment to consumerfocused design experiences has driven our success.
What other consumer experiences are you focused on redesigning? Look at how bad plastic is for the environment and how inefficient bottled water is. It takes seven liters of water to produce one liter of drinkable bottled water. So we created a product called GROHE Blue that has a chiller, a ﬁlter, and a carbonator under the counter. It eliminates the need for plastic water bottles and delivers perfectly chilled, lightly sparkling or full sparkling water. The future is about changing our relationship with water, this extremely precious resource. Well-designed products help you do that. This story was created with and commissioned by GROHE.
PUSH, TURN, SHOWER
Enjoy a personalized and luxurious shower experience every day. GROHE SmartControl shower system was designed to control and store your desired shower preferences; including outlet choice, temperature and volume adjustment. Attain ultimate comfort with the push of a button. Thatâ€™s Smart. www.grohe.com/us
COCA-COLA AND GENSLER Corporate headquarters
S A D O K C E R VA N T E S A N D D O C T O R S W I T H O U T B O R D E R S MapSwipe
A STIMULATING WORKPLACE Coke is a legacy brand. That’s a key part of its strength. But when it came to the 131-year-old company’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta, whose buildings were mostly 20-plus years old and still featured cloistered cubicles and drab lobbies, it was a liability. Coke committed seven years ago to improving the space for its 5,000 employees there (and their more than 400 daily guests). Architecture firm Gensler linked the ground floors of the campus’s six buildings into a strollable “Main Street,” featuring art-filled
communal lounges, cafés, and amenities such as a pharmacy and medical center. Julie C. Seitz, director of Coca-Cola’s global workplace team, likens the 350,000-square-foot space and central courtyard to “a vibrant student center at a great university.” Since the redesign was completed, in April 2016, she says that division leaders have been hosting more multiday meetings (some with hundreds of attendees) at the campus instead of renting space elsewhere, which has reduced costs and boosted morale. — D I A N A B U D D S
A CROWDSOURCED WAY TO REACH THOSE IN NEED If you heard an app described as “Tinder, but for humanitarian relief,” you’d probably think you were watching an episode of HBO’s satirical TV series Silicon Valley. But MapSwipe—a collaborative effort by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), the American Red Cross, and other nonproﬁts—was pitched in just that way to Sadok Cervantes, the app’s lead product designer, by developers at MSF in March 2016. “My initial reaction was, ‘Not another app aboard the hype train, please!’ ” recalls Cervantes, whose freelance design practice caters to humanitarian causes. “But I knew
LOGITECH AND FEIZ DESIGN K780 Multi-Device Wireless Keyboard
their intentions were in the right place—they wanted the app to
A FINGER-SAVING SOLUTION
MSF’s developer team had thought that the Tinder model would be the best approach for addressing the problem of locating people in remote and largely unmapped regions when disaster strikes. In order to contain disease outbreaks—such as the 2015 measles epidemic in Congo—aid organizations must vaccinate everyone in the affected area as quickly as possible. But pinpointing where people actually live in the locations most vulnerable to the kinds of medical emergencies, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises that MSF and Red Cross tackle, and ﬁguring out how to reach them, isn’t as simple as ﬁring up Google Maps. Basic information about population centers and road networks often doesn’t exist at all, so aid workers have to create ad hoc maps from satellite imagery—a lengthy and tedious process when time equals lives saved (or lost). The concept behind
iPhones. Android tablets. MacBooks. The desktop PC. Traditionally, each device at your work space requires its very own keyboard, and switching among them during the day often requires you to literally juggle. The Logitech K780 keyboard, which went on sale last year, solves this problem by letting you do all your typing in one place. It features an uncannily steady counterweighted cradle that can accommodate a range of touch-screen devices and can Bluetooth-pair with almost any gadget running almost any operating system, allowing you to switch between them instantly with a single button press. The K780 was inspired by consumer research:
be easy, accessible, and usable by everyone. The swipeable-card interface deﬁnitely checks all three of those.”
Americans were toggling between many devices and desired one keyboard to rule them all. As it happened, two years ago, in an effort to transform from a stuffy PC-peripherals company to a lifestyle brand, Logitech began consolidating its keyboard design standards—ergonomic, geometric, and material. The timing was ideal. “We spent a year and a half collecting the wisdom in people’s heads across the company, so when we get into a project like this one, we don’t spend time rebuilding out what we’ve done before,” says Malachy Spollen, one of Logitech’s design leads. “We can focus on the 20% that makes the product unique.” — M W
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Illustration by Ed F airburn
Designer Cervantes worked with major global aid organizations to turn lifesaving landmark-identification work into a fun way for anyone, anywhere, to pass the time.
MapSwipe: Crowdsource this work by parceling out small sections of raw satellite imagery to the smartphones of people anywhere in the world and have them identify dwellings and thoroughfares. Users can select one of several mapping “missions” to undertake, such as “Botswana Malaria Control” or “Disease elimination on Bijagos islands”; the app then shows a small chunk of the satellite view that’s divided by a grid into six tiles. From there, users follow simple instructions like “identify buildings” or “look for huts” by selecting any tiles that contain those features. The app provides a handy tutorial for recognizing them: buildings and huts, for example, appear conspicuously geometric in satellite imagery, which helps them stand out from the natural landscape. Once a volunteer is done inspecting the image, she moves onto another one needing her attention. The app provides a ﬁrst pass on the raw satellite imagery and makes NGOs’ and aid organizations’ ofﬁcial mapping efforts more efﬁcient. It also delivers a signiﬁcant dose of do-gooder pride to ﬁrst-world users, who can accurately claim to be helping save lives merely by poking at photos on their phones. (Beat that, Instagram!) To maximize MapSwipe’s appeal to these casual users, the developers originally wanted Cervantes to clone Tinder’s interface, which is how it got its name. But something about that approach seemed off to the designer. “I said, ‘I know you want young people to use it. You want as many people as possible to use it. But in this case, it will not work.’ ” Cervantes, whose design portfolio includes projects for the MIT Media Lab and Lufthansa, cited the research of usability expert Don Norman in arguing that a “swipe right” interface—while lightweight and fun when applied to online dating—would actually create more work for users already being asked to do something requiring real concentration (i.e., examining blurry satellite photos). “The moment you swipe something away, it’s off your radar,” Cervantes explains. “If you then bring it back again and ask someone to take a closer look, it increases your cognitive load”—Norman’s term for mental effort. “We don’t want that, because we don’t want people to see using this app as a chore.” After testing several user-interface approaches, Cervantes arrived at a solution that preserved Tinder’s simple, swipe-based interaction for navigating between different chunks of satellite imagery, but removed the con-
“MY INITIAL REACTION WAS, ‘NOT ANOTHER APP ABOARD THE HYPE TRAIN, PLEASE!’” C E R VA N T E S S AY S .
fusing experience of having to swipe again on individual tiles in order to label them: Users can mark tiles that contain huts, houses, or roads simply by tapping them—literally “putting families on the map,” as the app’s tagline describes it. Cervantes intended this UX to compete with timewasting games that might already be on someone’s phone. “We live in an era where many people feel like they need to be productive all the time,” he explains. “If you start playing a game on your phone, you feel guilty. With MapSwipe, you may be passing the time, but that time is spent contributing to a greater cause.” Cervantes’s insight paid off: Since its release just over a year ago, MapSwipe has aggregated more than 12 million taps, mapping over 420,000 square kilometers—more than the total area of Germany—in places like Myanmar, Guatemala, and sub-Saharan Africa, whose inhabitants would otherwise be invisible to medical aid organizations. (One user bragged to The Guardian that she “managed to map 100 square kilometers of Nigeria” while watching TV.) Recent MapSwipe initiatives have helped deliver antimalarial sprays to vulnerable residents in Laos and assisted people displaced by cyclones that have ravaged Madagascar. If a particularly nasty disaster occurs, MapSwipe can even send out push notiﬁcations to its roughly 16,000 active users to rally them around the cause. “It feels like a Batsignal,” Cervantes says. As opposed to just reaching out on social media after a crisis, “you are actually contributing to these people in distress, and that’s a real connection.” —J P
A DEEPER LEVEL OF CARE “Empathy” gets a lot of lip service in the design world, but Honor—a company that connects caregivers with seniors needing inhome assistance—makes it a mandate. Every six months, designers at Honor work caregiving shifts them selves, doing everything from helping a client get in and out of bed to scrubbing
a bathtub. Renato Valdés Olmos, head of design at the three-year-old startup (which was founded by an ex-Googler and is backed by VC Marc Andreessen, among others, and operates in four cities) has done all that and more. He refers to the practice as “Method design,” in a nod to the immersive acting technique,
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and says it has shaped important aspects of Honor’s app, which links caregivers with clients and their families. A note-taking function, for example, allows caregivers to log activities, meals, and meds while keeping seniors’ adult children in the loop, reducing friction “between those human-tohuman interactions,” Olmos says. Turnover among caregivers at Honor is less than 20%, compared to 61% industry-wide. —J P
HONOR Honor mobile app
1,261 novelty gift items. 83 credit card transactions daily. 3 sliding ladders to reach the top shelves. 1 fully stocked gift shop.
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P L A N N E D PA R E N T H O O D A N D S M A L L P L A N E T Spot On
A TRUSTWORTHY TRACKER Just before Planned Parenthood began celebrating its 100th birthday in October last year, the organization created its ﬁrst digital product. Spot On is a free period- and birth-control-tracking app that’s been downloaded more than 1 million times since its debut in March 2016. Digital product lab senior director Jenny Friedler explains how the organization’s work at its clinics, visited by 2.4 million people in the U.S. annually, helped differentiate the app from its competitors.
“We wanted to make sure the design—the copy, the emojis— had the feeling of, ‘We are here for you,’ ” says Planned Parenthood’s Friedler.
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Hair and makeup: Christyna Kay at Art Department
We’re the most trusted sexual and reproductive healthcare provider in the country, and we’ve heard every question in the book. Most [tracking apps] focus on fertility and people trying to get pregnant. In the meantime, the average woman will spend about 30 years of her life trying not to get pregnant. We wanted to reﬂect to people the reality of what was going on with their cycle. If you are on the pill, every day it will ask you if you took your pill. In our reviews, the single most impactful piece of praise is “I haven’t missed my pill once since I downloaded this app.” Planned Parenthood is known for providing nonjudgmental, personalized care. We wanted to make sure the design—the copy, the emojis—had the feeling of, “We are here for you.” We wanted the app to be usable for people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity; people love that it’s not pink. What surprised us was that pushing toward gender neutrality would be appreciated by every user. Regardless of how people identify, they just want to be treated as people whose choices are respected. —AS TOLD TO MEG MILLER
CALL FOR ENTRIES
ANNOUNCING THE 2018 WORLD CHANGING IDEAS AWARDS Entries Accepted Until December 7 fastcompany.com/apply/wci
A+ E N E T W O R K S A N D SUNSHINE A+E Networks rebranding
AN EYE-CATCHING NEW LOOK The A+E Networks’ constellation of channels— including Lifetime, Biography, History, and A&E itself—have always been among cable’s top destinations for bio pics and docuseries. But as the video landscape proliferates and competitors emerge (see: HBO’s Robert Durst series, The Jinx, and ESPN’s documentary O.J.: Made in America), the network is responding with a major new visual branding push alongside Sunshine, a creative agency. In keeping with its overall message, “Life,
Magnified,” A+E showcases its content—online, on its app, and on billboards— with rich, intimate photography and sharply written copy in hand-lettered type that skews more editorial than traditional TV marketing. This gives the network a distinct visual style while still leaving room for each channel to differentiate itself. As A+E Networks CMO Amanda Hill says, the updated, cohesive design shifts the focus from hit shows and instead positions A+E as a network that’s “constantly contributing to culture.” — M M
N E W LA B , M A C R O S E A , D B I , A N D M A R V E L A R C H ITECTS New Lab
AN OASIS FOR ENTREPRENEURS “He called me and said, ‘You’ve got to come stand in this space with me,’ ” says entrepreneur and artist Scott Cohen, recalling the day in 2011 when his friend and business partner, real estate developer David Belt, visited an abandoned, decaying structure while on a tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Following a renovation by Belt’s firm, Macro Sea, the cavernous steel turn-ofthe-century shipbuilding site known as Building 128 was reborn last year as New Lab, an interdisciplinary hub where roughly 500 spacesqueezed New York City founders, developers, and designers are creating emerging technology, from cube satellites to experimental smartphones. New Lab’s
95 member companies share access to fabrication labs (with $3.5 million in prototyping tools), studios, meeting spaces, and, most crucially, each other. Casual encounters within the lightfilled space, where three footbridges hang from the building’s old gantry cranes, are “helping a lot of these companies get new ideas,” says Belt. Already, Honeybee Robotics and ColdSteel Laser have collaborated on a laser scalpel, and solarpanel maker Voltaic Systems helped Social Bicycles create a photovoltaic panel for the bike-share network’s fleet. Next year, Belt and Cohen will launch New Lab Ventures, its own $50 million venture-capital fund. — K ELSE Y CA MPBELL-DOLL AGHAN
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Trå d f r i S m a r t B u l b
A BRIGHT IDEA T H E P R O D U C T Swedish furniture and lifestyle
brand Ikea is extending its attractive-yet-affordable design aesthetic to technology. In April, the company launched Wi-Fi– and remote-controlled LED bulbs that allow people to create the right ambience for different activities with a single ﬁxture. They’re dimmable, motion-sensor responsive, and color-changeable. And since most of us are accustomed to using a switch—not an app—to turn lights on and off, Ikea also designed a wireless remote control that can be mounted anywhere. (The $20 starter kit includes the bulb and remote, and a mobile app helps users program settings.) While smart lighting has been on the market for years, it’s been slow to catch on due to price and the perception that it’s complicated to operate. Ikea’s user-centered design, plus the brand’s scale—it has 390 stores in 48 countries—could be the determining factor in widespread adoption. Plus, the system is now compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home. T H E P R O C E S S Ikea spent three years interviewing
prospective customers and learned that living spaces are more ﬂexible than ever—plus people spend more time at home. “Think about all the things you do on your dining table,” says Rebecca Töreman, product developer for Ikea’s Home Smart range. “If you’re doing homework, maybe you want to have cooler light for focusing. If you’re having a family meal, you want something warmer for a cozy atmosphere.” Ikea simpliﬁed the color and brightness options into situational language— there are Everyday, Focus, and Relax modes—but also offers manual control. The company sees more connected-home products in its future. “Start simple with the things that the customer can relate to, and that’s lighting,” Töreman says. —DB
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SAMSUNG AND R/GA Can’t Stop
AN APP TO KEEP YOUNG PEOPLE MOVING As millennials view it, exercise doesn’t just happen at the gym—a day running errands or a night on the dance ﬂoor also count. So when Samsung approached R/GA to create a monthlong launch campaign for a collection of ﬁtness accessories called Move, the digital agency came up with a distinctly DJ-inspired idea. Can’t Stop, released last June, was a web-based app that harnessed the GPS and accelerometer on a user’s phone to play an exclusive mix by DJproducer Diplo—but the only way to hear it all was to keep moving for 30 minutes, the amount of activity recommended by the American Heart Association. “Run, jump, do push-ups,” says R/GA executive creative director Tristan Kincaid. “We didn’t care what you were doing, as long as you were moving.” After Diplo promoted the app on Twitter, 4.1 million people used it in the ﬁrst week, and Move product awareness increased 36%. —MM
Mike Windle/Getty Images (Diplo)
Illustration by Magdiel Lopez
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“A physical product is never done being tweaked,” says Korey, right. She and Away cofounder Rubio respond quickly to customer feedback.
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AWAY The Bigger Carry-On
A SMARTER SUITCASE Warby Parker alums and frequent ﬂiers Jen Rubio and Steph Korey started the luggage company Away in 2016 to solve one of travel’s biggest pains: not having a suitcase that ﬁts your needs (or your shoes). After extensive user research— during which they learned that travelers often felt embarrassed by their luggage, insecure about their packing skills, and frustrated because they were always landing with a dead phone—the duo designed an attractive polycarbonate suitcase with organizational dividers, compression straps, and a built-in charger. The item was popular, but “a physical product is never done being tweaked,” says Korey, who explains that Away relies on constant customer feedback “to design a more and more perfect item.” One of the most frequent comments from users was that other carry-ons had more space. This led Korey and Rubio to discover a loophole in how airlines communicate size requirements: the luggage dimensions that airlines display on their websites are actually smaller than ofﬁcial sizers placed in airports. They quickly created the Bigger Carry-On, which is 20% roomier than the original. Launched in October 2016, it is currently the company’s best seller. Away has sold more than 150,000 suitcases so far and generated over $30 million in sales. Now, Rubio and Korey are extending their userfocused ethos beyond luggage to travel-related accessories, designer collaborations, and Here, a print magazine with travel advice and recommendations. “It’s insane to me how many luggage companies never talk about travel,” Rubio says. She and Korey are proud of their core product, but “it’s super important to give people the context around what this bag and suitcase enable them to do.” — D B
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WILLOW The Willow Pump
A WIRELESS BREAST PUMP T H E P R O D U C T Wireless technology allows us to talk on the phone, listen to
T H E P R O C E S S Working with Ideo, Willow conducted dozens of inter-
music, and print spreadsheets without using a cord. But women who pump breast milk ﬁnd themselves isolated in a room and tethered by tubes to a machine, with sets of bottles dangling from their chests. Willow, a pair of lightweight, battery-powered pumps, offers a solution. Each bra-cup-shaped device slips into a nursing bra—no undressing required—and holds a 4-ounce, BPA-free storage bag. With one two-hour charge, the pump can last up to ﬁve sessions, and through an app, mothers can track milk expression, compare data across pumping sessions, order additional bags, and set timers and alerts. Willow CEO Naomi Kelman plans to release the pump this fall.
views with mothers and realized that they think of pumps as personal-care items rather than milk-delivery systems. So the exterior of each cup features a sleek control pad and a texture “like ﬁne linen,” Kelman says. Her ultimate objective is to allow women to provide for babies without having to pause their everyday lives—or choose between breastfeeding and work, since only 10% of nursing mothers employed full time continue breastfeeding for six months. “We really want to support moms in establishing whatever goals they set for themselves,” Kelman says, “and not step out of life to pump.” —BELINDA LANKS
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We donâ€™t believe in the myth of the lone genius. Not when a union of scholarly minds can create the unprecedented. As a designer, I show her new patterns. as a writer, I help him find the hidden narrative. Collaboration allows us to see the unforeseen.
Imagine the kind of students who graduate from a university that houses the world-renowned design school Parsons, rigorous liberal arts and performing arts colleges, and acclaimed graduate schools including The New School for Social Research. Learn more at newschool.edu/about.
WOLFF OLINS AND ZIGBEE ALLIANCE Dotdot
A LANGUAGE MADE FROM THREE KEYSTROKES What will the internet of things (IoT) look like, really? How will it be when our trash cans can talk to our refrigerators in some sort of meaningful way? Currently, the sector is small—only 5% of U.S. homes contain connected appliances—but it is projected to grow by 20% in the next three years. Of course, it might grow faster if anyone even understood what it was. “A simple image search for ‘IoT’ leads to a landscape of network schematics with icons as nodes and a Wi-Fi–esque radio graphic placed somewhere in the soup,” says Forest Young, head of design at Wolff Olins San Francisco. “This complexity is, in many ways, the biggest bottleneck [when it comes to] mass adoption and enthusiasm.” What if, instead, you could give IoT a face? Like this: :|| Meet the new functional logo—and open-source IoT language—Dotdot. On behalf of the Zigbee Alliance—a consortium of more than 400 universities, agencies, and companies including Amazon, GE, and Huawei—Young led 12 designers last year to imagine a more approachable IoT. Though it resembles a cute emoticon, the logo has various capacities, depending on its audience. “A consumer may see a face,” says Young, and be drawn to it. A retailer may see a quick, graphic way to lure customers. Manufacturers will actually build with it. And appliances will use it to talk to each other. Young explains that the symbol had to be spartan enough to be molded onto a silicon board to designate Dotdot-compatible circuitry and hardware on production lines. The image itself can then foster connectivity between devices. Zigbee engineers developed the underlying Dotdot language that appliances use to communicate with each other, while consumers will also theoretically be able to text the logo to a lightbulb to turn it on, and developers could type it into some Github code to test device-to-device interplay. In this sense, the Dotdot mark becomes not just a bit of branding, but a functional tool for users and coders alike. In tackling the assignment, Young and his team researched historic languages for inspiration, ranging from cuneiform to Esperanto. But they found their answer in the original lingua franca of electronic communication: Morse code. While ﬂying to Hong Kong to pitch the Zigbee board his minimalist-looking design, Young was certain that the room of engineers would appreciate its simplicity and functionality. But, he said, they reacted like your average consumer, too. “There was a moment the CEO said, ‘It just sort of looks like a face! And I like it.’ ” — M W Photograph by Mark Mahaney
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Wolff Olins design chief Young has given the internet of things a friendly identity.
NEBIA The Nebia Shower System
A WATER-SAVING SHOWER T H E P R O D U C T The Nebia Shower System was designed to conserve water—
T H E P R O C E S S Winter and his design team used an array of nozzles
up to 70% per use—while delivering an entirely new cleansing experience. Nebia’s showerhead atomizes water into millions of droplets, dramatically increasing surface area for a steam-room-like effect. Since launching on Kickstarter in August 2015 and raising $3.1 million, Nebia, whose subsequent investors include Apple CEO Tim Cook, has tested its product in the gym showers of Equinox, Google, Apple, and Stanford University. Nebia began shipping to consumers in January 2017; to date, more than 16,000 have been sold. “There’s no meaningful way to create more water [in the world],” says Nebia CEO Philip Winter. “We have to use what we have more efﬁciently.”
borrowed from internal combustion engines and the agricultural and industrial cleaning industries, plus a halo-shaped head that sprays in a pattern designed to maximize body coverage. Even so, the Nebia team wasn’t initially sure the showerhead would work for people with long hair. To test it, they’d arrive at Equinox gyms at 5 a.m., install prototypes in women’s locker rooms, and interview people after they emerged. The Nebia system, users said, was just as effective at removing conditioner as a traditional shower. For remaining skeptics, Winter takes a different tactic: “We invite them to the ofﬁce to take a shower.” — K ATH A RINE SCHWA B
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AIRBUS AND REVERSE Tra n s p o s e
A MODULAR AIRPLANE To the chagrin of cramped coach passengers, airplane-cabin design hasn’t changed signiﬁcantly in decades. That’s not only because it’s most proﬁtable for airlines to jam in as many ﬂiers as possible, but because changing 100 miles of wiring inside a commercial aircraft is complex, time-consuming, and very expensive. But at Airbus’s innovation lab, A3 (pronounced “A-cubed”), designer and engineer Jason Chua is pursuing a radical idea: customizable modules that would enable airlines to reconﬁgure plane interiors to offer ﬂiers more options for how they spend their time in the air. “People value customization, personalization, and choice. We expect it in all aspects of our life,” Chua says. Right now, “we don’t have a lot of those choices when we travel.” Airbus’s concept, called Transpose, would feature sleeping modules, business-focused team pods, mini gyms, and even children’s play areas, with enough seats and seat belts for departure, landing, and turbulence. Chua and his team reengineered the area between the aircraft’s shell and its interiors so that modules can easily be swapped without rewiring. Chua argues that giving airlines more control over the number and conﬁguration of seats would enable them to maximize efﬁciency. For instance, if there are more business-class passengers on a particular ﬂight, the airline could add an extra business-class cabin and replace economy seats with a coworking area. (A study commissioned by Transpose suggests that modular cabins could double proﬁt margins for the airline industry.) Another business model, he says, would allow passengers to choose seating options while booking tickets, paying more for certain arrangements—which could be sponsored by brands in hospitality, food, entertainment, and wellness. A recent Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience study revealed that customers would be willing to pay 35% more than premium economy fares for Transpose’s increased customization. — KS P h o t o g r a p h b y To b i a s H u t z l e r
94 FastCompany.com October 2017
“People value customization, personalization, and choice,” says designer and engineer Chua— and that includes airline travel.
October 2017 FastCompany.com 95
FROM THOUSANDS OF SUBMISSIONS, FAST COMPANY ’S JUDGES SELECTED THESE 299 HONOREES. FOR FULL DESCRIPTIONS AND A LIST OF THE WINNERS, GO TO FASTCODESIGN.COM/IBD.
PRODUCTS 003 Plumen A BODE DI Y SECURIT Y SYSTEM Abode A MP Lyft A RISTOTLE Nabi and Mattel THE BIGGER CA RRY-ON Away BUOY Buoy Labs and Herbst Produkt
FUTURECR A F T 4D Adidas and Carbon GIROP TIC IO Giroptic and Lunar GOOGLE HOME Google GOTENN A MESH goTenna and Pensa GUA RDI A N S Sarcos Robotics HERE ONE Doppler Labs IK E A SM A RT LIGHTING Ikea
POL A RIT Y COLLECTION Visual Magnetics and Visibility POP SMART BUT TON Logitech PRO HIJA B Nike R16 Waarmakers R ACE YA Tomorrow Lab RAPTURE VR HEADSET The Void and Optimal Design
APPS A DA Ada A FFIRM Affirm A LLO Google A RISTOTLE Nabi and Mattel ATLIS Atlis and Rainfall GBOA RD Google
INSIGHT ONE Tascent and Whipsaw
RIPPLE Royal College of Art
CA AVO Caavo and NewDealDesign
JA MBOA RD Google
THE ROA DSTER Vanguard
CASPER DOG M AT TRES S Casper
K 780 Logitech and Feiz Design
RUNW ELL TURNTA BLE Shinola and Astro Studios
M A RRIOT T Marriott and Work & Co
CODING AW BIE Osmo
KURI Mayfield Robotics
CORE Norton and Herbst Produkt
LE V I’S COMMUTER Levi’s and Google
SM ART REMOTE Sevenhugs and Eliumstudio
CUBE T TO Primo Toys
LINK A KC Link AKC and Astro Studios
DAY DRE A M V IE W Google ECHO LOOK Amazon EDGE Movado and Fuseproject ELECTRO DOUGH KIT Technology Will Save Us ELLIQ Intuition Robotics and Fuseproject ESIGHT 3 eSight and Artefact FIRST PERIOD K IT Lola
MOLEKULE Molekule N A NOGRID BioLite THE NEBI A SHOW ER SYSTEM Nebia NIK E ZOOM VA PORFLY 4% Nike ORI Ori and Fuseproject OTHR Othr PACIFIC CH A IR Vitra and Barber & Osgerby
SELF JOURN A L BestSelf Co.
MUSEUM OF GIF A RT (MOG A ) Giphy ONE NIGHT One Night and Code and Theory
WA LM A RT GROCERY Walmart
TECHNOLOGY RE V IE W.COM MIT Technology Review and Upstatement
AUTODR AW Google BOSTON.GOV City of Boston and Ideo
THROUGH THE DA RK Google and R/GA
CHRISTOPHER K IMBA LL’S MILK STREE T Milk Street and Upstatement
USA FACTS.ORG Ballmer Group and Artefact
EDUCATE Intercom ELLE V EST Ellevest
SURFACE DI A L Microsoft
R A PPI Rappi and Imaginamos
FLOODHELPN Y.ORG Center for NYC Neighborhoods and Ideo
WAV E WORK AS SIST V EHICLE Crown WAY TA P Fizzics and Frog WELL Matter and Mindtribe THE W ILLOW PUMP Willow WINSTON RA ZOR Harry’s
THESKIMM theSkimm SPOT ON Planned Parenthood and Small Planet STASH. AI Stash.ai STORY BOA RD VR Artefact
FLE XIBLE LIV ING Bang & Olufsen
PL AYSTATION V R Sony Interactive Entertainment
WOOBI PL AY Kilo
THE FR A ME Samsung and Fuseproject
PLUME WI-FI PODS Plume and Branch
ZONES Teknion and PearsonLloyd
TURBOTA X SELF-EMPLOY ED TurboTax
GOLDEN 1 CENTER Aecom
A LDOSHOES.COM Aldo and Work & Co
SOY ROUTE Soylent and Wieden+Kennedy
TASTECOOK ING .COM Taste and Upstatement
SNOOZ Snooz and Minimal
RE A LI Reali and NewDealDesign
THE FR A NCIS CRICK INSTITUTE HOK
WEBSITES AND P L AT F O R M S
E X IF.CO Scribble Tone
SUZ Y SNOOZE BleepBleeps and Map
SFBA LLET.ORG San Francisco Ballet and Method
STASH. AI Stash.ai
PA PER Dropbox
TODAY NBC News Digital and Huge
96 FastCompany.com October 2017
V IRGIN A MERICA Virgin America and Work & Co
GOOGLE E A RTH Google
S PA C E S, P L A C E S, C I T I E S 350 MIS SION STREET Skidmore, Owings & Merrill AUTODESK TORONTO OFFICE Autodesk and the Living BROCK COMMONS– TA LLWOOD HOUSE Acton Ostry Architects
H A RVA RD GR A DUATE SCHOOL OF DESIGN Harvard Graduate School of Design and Upstatement
CLOV ER HOUSE MAD Architects
NE W A MERICA N ECONOM Y New American Economy and Upstatement
COCA-COL A CORPOR ATE HE A DQUA RTERS Coca-Cola and Gensler
NE WS @ NORTHE ASTERN Northeastern University and Upstatement
COMMON BA LTIC Common and Adam America
P H A RRELL W ILLI A MS.COM Five Hundred PULL STRING PullString
CONDUCT Flavor Paper and UM Project FA EN A FORUM, FA EN A BA Z A A R, A ND FA EN A PA RK Faena and OMA
HUDSON WOODS Lang Architecture THE JA N SHREM A ND M A RI A M A NE T TI SHREM MUSEUM OF A RT SO-IL M A LCOLM X COLLEGE HE A LTH SCIENCES CA MPUS CannonDesign N ATION A L MUSEUM OF A FRICA N AMERICAN HISTORY A ND CULTURE Ralph Appelbaum Associates NE W L A B New Lab, Macro Sea, DBI, and Marvel Architects
DATA SELFIE Data X DECOMPRES SED DESIGN Skylar Jessen THE DERM A L A BYS S MIT Media Lab THE INTERNET PHONE Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design M A SQUE MIT Media Lab NUME PERSON A LIZED NUTRITION Umeå Institute of Design ORI Umeå Institute of Design PA PER Ludwig Rensch
NE W YORK AT IT S CORE The Museum of the City of New York and Local Projects
POLY INTERN ATION A L PL A Z A Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
RIPPLE Royal College of Art
PREPHUBS MIT Urban Risk Lab TENTRR Tentrr TREEPEDI A MIT Senseable City Lab URBA N RIGGER Bjarke Ingels Group V ES SEL AT HUDSON YA RDS Heatherwick Studio
STUDENTS CILLLIA MIT Media Lab CI V IL SERVA NT MIT Media Lab
REHE AT Pratt Institute
ROBOTIC SY MBIONT S MIT Media Lab STASH. AI Stash.ai SY NTHE TIC SENSORS Carnegie Mellon University and Future Interfaces Group TA BL A UC San Francisco, Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at UC Berkeley, and Big Ideas@Berkeley TREESENSE MIT Media Lab WOLV ERINE Shape Lab at Stanford University ZOOIDS Shape Lab at Stanford University
E X P E R I M E N TA L A.I. E X PERIMENTS Google A ROS P UBLIC ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Local Projects AUTONOMICS NewDealDesign CILLLIA MIT Media Lab DUOSK IN MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research ELLIQ Intuition Robotics and Fuseproject
LIFE OF US Within
CA N’T STOP Samsung and R/GA
H A BIT Habit
DOTDOT Wolff Olins and Zigbee Alliance
NOVA RTISPENN CENTER FOR ADVANCED CELLULAR THERAPIES Penn Medicine, Novartis, and CannonDesign
THE ELIA TACTILE A LPHA BET Elia Life Technology HE A RT & STROK E Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Pentagram JFK TERMIN A L 4 JFK International Airport and Base Design L A ND LINES Google M AGIS TO Magisto and Moving Brands
M A SQUE MIT Media Lab
M ASTERCA RD Mastercard and Pentagram
NE X T Smart Design
OP FOREST OP Financial
PEER Moment PROJECT BLOKS Google QUA NTUM E X PERIENCE IBM R A PID LIQUID PRINTING Self-Assembly Lab at MIT and Steelcase ROBOTIC SYMBIONTS MIT Media Lab
TA BLE AU SPATI A L FILE CONNECTOR Tableau TELIA COMPA N Y Telia Company and Wolff Olins
THROUGH THE DARK Google and R/GA TREEPEDI A MIT Senseable City Lab
SA BOTAGE NEUR A L CUBOCC and Spotify
USA FACTS.ORG Ballmer Group and Artefact
V ICE NE W S Vice News
S TORY BOA RD V R Artefact
V ISA Visa
TR A NSPOSE Airbus and Reverse TREESENSE MIT Media Lab WELL Matter and Mindtribe
GRAPHIC DESIGN AND D ATA V I S U A L I Z AT I O N A+E NE T WORKS A+E Networks and Sunshine
BORDER CIT Y INSTA LL ATION Pentagram BRI A N THOMP SON FIN A NCI A L Brian Thompson Financial and Firebelly
WAT SON ART INSTALL ATION Ogilvy and the Mill for IBM THE WING The Wing and Pentagram WITHIN Within
H E A LT H BRIGHTM AT TER Synaptive Medical CA P SULE Capsule Pharmacy COLLECTIV E HE A LTH Collective Health ESIGHT 3 eSight and Artefact
N Y P ONDEM A ND NewYork-Presbyterian, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Weill Cornell Medical School REDI V US A PP Redivus Health RISE SLEEP COACHING SYSTEM Rise Science and Ideo ROUND HE A LTH Circadian Design SPOT ON Planned Parenthood and Small Planet TA LT Z INJECTORS Eli Lilly and Ideo UNI V ERSA L BA BY BOX PROGR A M The Baby Box Co.
H A RRY ’S BA RTERSHOP Harry’s and Partners & Spade
THE LENDUP L A DDER LendUp
NIK E SOHO Nike
M A P SW IP E Sadok Cervantes and Doctors Without Borders
THE OSCAR CENTER Oscar Health OUTPOST The Participation Agency PL A NNED PA RENTHOOD INSTA LL ATION Pentagram and Planned Parenthood
SIMPRINTS Simprints and Smart Design TECHNOLOGY EN A BLED GIRL A MBAS SA DORS Girl Effect UNI V ERSA L BA BY BOX PROGR A M The Baby Box Co.
GIROP TIC IO Giroptic iO and Lunar GUSTO Gusto LINK A KC Link AKC and Astro Studios M A RRIOT T Marriott and Work & Co ORION CYCLING N AV IG ATION Orion PA PER Dropbox PROJECT BLOKS Google
RENT THE RUNWAY N YC FL AGSHIP Rent the Runway and Heitler Houstoun Architects
V ECTRL A P P IBM Health Corps WAY BA ND WearWorks
TA RGE T OPEN HOUSE Target and Local Projects
R A P T URE V R HE A DSE T The Void and Optimal Design
WH AT3WORDS What3Words and Gateway Health Institute
RIPPLE Royal College of Art
WASTED LONDON Blue Hill and Selfridges
YOSHINO CEDA R HOUSE Airbnb and Go Hasegawa
ROBINHOOD GOLD Robinhood ROUND HE A LTH Circadian Design
WAT SON IOT GLOBAL HEADQUARTERS, MUNICH IBM, Universal Design Studio, Map, Vok Dams, Pixomondo, Klangerfinder, and Onformative
SM ART REMOTE Sevenhugs and Eliumstudio
A FFIRM Affirm
SPOT ON Planned Parenthood and Small Planet
W H AT3WORDS What3Words and Gateway Health Institute
THE WHITESPACE Snowe
A LLO Google
TE X TIO Textio
A RISTOTLE Nabi and Mattel
THE W ILLOW PUMP Willow
WA LM A RT GROCERY Walmart
WOOBI PL AY Airmotion Laboratories and Kilo
BAOBA B Arizona State University and Artefact
V IR T U A L BEH AV IOR A L HE A LTH Carolinas HealthCare System
ZOCDOC PATIENTPOWERED SE ARCH Zocdoc
BRANDED ENVIRONMENTS COCA-COL A CORPOR ATE HE A DQUA RTERS Coca-Cola and Gensler COLLECTIV E RE TRE AT S Collective Retreats
THE DA ILY SHOW CON V ENTION SIDESHOW Comedy Central and Sub Rosa FREEDOM FIGHTERS Amnesty International and Brand Union
BATEL A LOBI N A YO Ideo and DKT International CA RINGCROW D Johnson & Johnson, CI&T, R/GA, and Klick Health
A ROS PUBLIC ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Local Projects
ZOCDOC PATIENTPOWERED SE ARCH Zocdoc
ATLIS Atlis and Rainfall BLINK Blink, SapientRazorfish, and Ronald McDonald House Charities
THE ELIA TACTILE A LPHA BET Elia Life Technology
CHRISTOPHER K IMBA LL’S MILK STREE T Milk Street and Upstatement
EMERGENCY FLOOR Good Works Studio
COLLECTIV E HE A LTH Collective Health
HIGH-RISK PREGN A NCY TOOLK IT Philips, Philips Foundation, and International Committee of the Red Cross
ELLE V EST Ellevest ELLIQ Intuition Robotics and Fuseproject
SEPHOR A RESERVATION AS SISTA NT Sephora and Assi.st SYSTEM OF MOTION System of Motion
GENERAL EXCELLENCE* AFFIRM Affirm A LLO Google A RISTOTLE Nabi and Mattel BIODESIGN STUDIO The Tech Museum and Local Projects DATA SCIENCE E X PERIENCE IBM DAY DRE A M V IE W Google GOOGLE HOME Google THE IN V ESTORS E XCH A NGE IEX Group LE V I’S COMMUTER Levi’s and Google NIK E ZOOM VA PORFLY 4% Nike ORI Ori and Fuseproject PA PER Dropbox PRO HIJA B Nike
RIPPLE Royal College of Art
A LDOSHOES.COM Aldo and Work & Co
ROBINHOOD GOLD Robinhood
A P OLLO 3 Ministry of Supply
SH A NGH A I TOW ER Gensler and Shanghai Tower Construction & Development Co.
BIOS SA NCE Biossance and Bartlett Brands DUOSK IN MIT Media Lab DYSON SUPERSONIC Dyson MIMO Plae
FACEBOOK SLIDESHOW Facebook
THE PA NT American Giant
INTERNE T SA ATHI Google and Tata Trusts
THE FR A ME Samsung and Fuseproject
SCIENCE OF A PPA REL Science of Apparel
*Selected by Fast Company editors. **Judges recused themselves from deliberating on entries from companies where they’re employed.
TA RGE T OPEN HOUSE Target and Local Projects TOUCH Oculus USA FACTS.ORG Ballmer Group and Artefact V ISA Visa WAT SON IBM
I B D J U D G E S ** Katie Becker Global senior design director of athletics and training, Adidas Koni Braman Director of store development, Amazon Books Jim Bull Cofounder and CCO, Moving Brands Brendan Cormier Design curator, Victoria and Albert Museum Terry Crews Actor and furniture designer Paul Dillinger Head of global product innovation, Levi Strauss & Co. Ame Elliott Design director, Simply Secure Marcus Engman Head of design, Ikea Behnaz Farahi Designer and PhD candidate, USC Phil Freelon North Carolina design director, Perkins+Will Molly Heintz Program chair, Design Research at SVA Masuma Henry Former COO, Artefact Doreen Lorenzo Director, Center for Integrated Design at the University of Texas at Austin Roman Mars Host and creator, 99% Invisible Netta Marshall Experience designer, Airbnb Justin Moore Executive director, NYC Public Design Commission Stefan Pannenbecker Vice president, Teague Emmanuel Plat Director of merchandising, MoMA Laurie Pressman Vice president, Pantone Color Institute Dominique Price Design director, M Moser Associates Amy Schwartz Design director, Cards Against Humanity Victoria Slaker Vice president of industrial design, Ammunition Yancey Strickler CEO, Kickstarter Kristy Tillman Head of communication design, Slack Joshua To Design director, Google Khoi Vinh Principal designer, Adobe Mehrdad Yazdani Design principal, CannonDesign’s Yazdani Studio Forest Young Head of design, Wolff Olins San Francisco
Microsoft (Continued from page 58)
versions ready for Windows—Microsoft was forging a new direction. Nadella “is bringing Microsoft into [today’s] more open and integrated computing environment,” says Scott McNealy, cofounder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems, one of Microsoft’s principal rivals in the 1990s and Nadella’s ﬁrst employer. “He’s brought a level of diplomacy to it.” When Nadella hired Peggy Johnson from Qualcomm in 2014, it reinforced this message. Her job, as executive VP of business development, would be to strengthen Microsoft’s ties with Silicon Valley and pursue deals with companies it once solely considered rivals, such as Box and Dropbox. “Satya was already on a regular cadence of visiting the Valley, which was new for the CEO of Microsoft,” Johnson says. “And he said to me, ‘I want you to be outside of Redmond as much as you are inside of Redmond.’ ” Today, some of the startups that once would have defaulted to Amazon Web Services are choosing Azure, which—though still playing catch-up—posted 93% revenue growth in the most recent quarter. Nadella also updated Microsoft’s mission statement—once, in Bill Gates’s words, “A PC on every desk and in every home”—with a more modern mantra: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Then he began reﬁning the company’s efforts to reﬂect it, leaning into areas with ambitious strategic promise (Surface, HoloLens) and pruning smaller-impact initiatives like the Fitbit-esque Microsoft Band (which he had proudly sported the ﬁrst time I met him, during a press dinner at a Tuscan restaurant near Microsoft headquarters in November 2014). He wrote off Ballmer’s $7 billion acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone business as a loss, eliminating more than 20,000 jobs in a tacit acknowledgment that Windows was not going to catch the iPhone and Android on mobile any time soon. The company has released more than 100 iOS apps and even embraced Linux, the open-source Windows rival. Microsoft joining the Linux Foundation was a hell-has-frozen-over moment, given that Ballmer famously called Linux “a cancer.” And then there’s Nadella’s $26 billion deal for LinkedIn. Investors have largely applauded the move. Combining Linked In’s 500 million professional users with the 85 million people who use Ofﬁce 365 gives Microsoft a formidable data hoard from which it can glean insights— arguably as valuable and impossible to clone as Facebook’s social network or Google’s search engine. (This past January, Microsoft acquired a hotshot startup in Montreal called Maluuba with technology geared to parse such data.) “We 98 FastCompany.com October 2017
get very excited about this unique Microsoft AI,” says Harry Shum, executive VP of AI and research at Microsoft. Nadella isn’t letting all this activity and achievement swell his ego. As he told me at one point, describing the beneﬁts of the dark-horse perspective he developed during his ascent at Microsoft, “When everybody’s celebrating you is when you should be most scared.” Nadella’s management worldview is deeply inﬂuenced by Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, which outlines two types of thinking. Those who operate with a ﬁxed mind-set are more likely to stick to activities that utilize skills they’ve already mastered, rather than risk embarrassment by failing at something new. Those focused on growth make it their mission to learn new things, understanding that they won’t succeed at all of them.
“OUR COMPANY’S IDENTITY IS F U N D A M E N T A L LY A BOUT CRE ATING TECHNOLOGY SO TH AT OTHERS CA N CRE ATE MORE T E C H N O L O G Y. ” Nadella’s wife, Anu (whom he asserts is the real reader in the family), turned him onto the book a few years before he became Microsoft’s CEO. They found its guidance useful as parents. But it’s easy to see why Nadella would apply its concepts to Microsoft, a company whose philosophy was once so ﬁxed that it could be summed up as “everything has to be on Windows and God forbid we do something that works well on
another platform,” as Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi puts it. After Nadella’s promotion to CEO, as he was crafting a new manifesto for Microsoft employees, he consulted with Dweck and incorporated themes from her work. “We needed a culture that allowed us to constantly refresh and renew,” he explains. For her part, Dweck pronounces Microsoft a “spectacular” example of a large organization with a hunger for new knowledge, and praises Nadella for leading by example. “We’ve seen a lot of places where leaders preach growth mind-set but don’t practice it,” she says. “It’s not easy to grasp it and implement it, especially in a culture of scientists, who tend to worship natural ability.” Nadella admits that some Microsoft managers have misunderstood the concept of ﬁxed and growth mind-sets, seeing them as unalterable personality traits rather than behaviors. He says that some of his colleagues have even attempted to sort members of their team into these two buckets. Mostly, though, he believes that people get it. “No one at Microsoft is inspired by growth mind-set because of Satya Nadella, the CEO,” he says. “It’s because of what it means to them as a better parent, a better partner, a better colleague.” Encouraging a growth mind-set among all employees, Nadella adds, carries some responsibilities, including “ﬂying air cover for someone at some point when they’ve gotten something wrong.” So it was in March 2016, when the researchers at Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs unveiled Tay, an AI-based chatbot trained to converse in the slangy patois of an 18- to 24-year-old American woman (“omg totes exhausted”). Twitter trolls discovered that if they pummeled Tay’s account with racism, sexism, and other hateful rhetoric—a scenario Microsoft had not accounted for—she would spew some of it back. Over the course of one day, trolls brainwashed the bot, who tweeted 96,000 times in increasingly vile fashion, turning Microsoft’s public experiment in AI into a humiliation. “In the morning it was great, and by the evening it wasn’t so great,” says Lili Cheng, FUSE Labs’ general manager. Nadella’s response: to offer encouragement to Tay’s creators, writing in an email, “Keep pushing, and know that I am with you.” Cheng and her colleagues were moved by the gesture. And push they did: That December, Microsoft launched Zo, another bot similar to Tay, but designed to be more troll-resistant. (She’s available on Facebook Messenger and Kik, but so far not Twitter.) The CEO experienced his own difﬁcult lesson in growth just eight months into his tenure. Invited to participate in a Q&A at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a major annual event, he told the largely female audience that women in the tech industry should forgo asking for raises and instead trust that the system would reward them appropriately.
The negative reaction was swift, with attendees quickly tweeting out their pushback. Nadella realized his mistake, and the next day issued an apology. “I answered that question completely wrong,” he wrote in an email to Microsoft employees. Today, he describes his onstage comments as “a nonsense answer from this privileged guy.” But Nadella did more than deliver a mea culpa; he explored his own biases—and pushed his executive team to follow suit. “I became more committed to Satya, not less,” says Microsoft chief people ofﬁcer Kathleen Hogan, the former COO of worldwide sales, whom Nadella promoted into her current role soon after the kerfufﬂe. “He didn’t blame anybody. He owned it. He came out to the entire company, and he said, ‘We’re going to learn, and we’re going to get a lot smarter.’ ” It was a rare public falter for Nadella, but Microsoft got stronger. In the aftermath, one longtime rank-and-ﬁle Microsoftie told me, the company stepped up internal messaging that encouraged employees to respect diversity and combat their unwitting biases. Nadella set an example for the rest of the company: We make mistakes, but we can learn to do better. If you rummage around on YouTube, you can unearth an entertainingly archaic 1993 Microsoft “DevCast” video, produced in the prebroadband days for distribution to developers via satellite uplink. Nadella, then a youthful technical marketing manager a little over a year into his time at the company, appears an hour and 45 minutes into the clip. He sports bushy black hair, and his accent is pronounced. Watching the conﬁdent but raw effort today, it’s clear just how far he’s come. At Microsoft’s Build developer conference this past May, Nadella publicly wrestled with the implications of artiﬁcial intelligence. Within the ﬁrst few minutes of his keynote address, he’d ﬂashed on a screen the covers of George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as he warned of technology’s dark possibilities. It’s hard to envision Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Google’s Sundar Pichai indulging in anything so foreboding as part of a public address. Backstage after his keynote, in the bowels of Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center, I asked Nadella why he chose to bring up his AI fears. “Everyone in our industry should be able to acknowledge that there are unintended consequences of technology,” he says, leaning forward and laughing dryly. “Our company’s identity is fundamentally about creating technology so that others can create more technology. And it’s essential that it is being used for empowering more people.” Nadella’s sense of responsibility, for Microsoft and global society, has been on display in the political realm this year as well. When President Donald Trump signed his initial immigration order in January, Microsoft called it “misguided
and a fundamental step backward,” and Nadella personally critiqued it citing his own experience as an immigrant: “[There’s] no place for bias or bigotry in any society.” Nevertheless, Nadella traveled to Washington, D.C., in June to participate in the ﬁrst meeting of the American Technology Council—a group run by Microsoft’s ex-CFO and charged with exploring ways to modernize government services. Along with Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and others, Nadella met with Trump in the White House’s State Dining Room and participated in breakout sessions. “There cannot be a more important conversation for us to be having with the government, and I’m sort of thrilled to engage in it,” he told me four days later. “Quite frankly, this is not about one administration versus the other. It’s not about one party versus the other. It’s about American competitiveness, and I’m glad to see this administration take that on.” Most major tech CEOs have been loath to poke at the administration, though some in the industry assert that prominent immigrants such as Nadella have a particular duty to speak out, especially in light of comments former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made in 2015 expressing concern about the number of South Asian and Asian executives in Silicon Valley. In Hit Refresh, Nadella’s new book melding personal memoir and technological futurism (see excerpt, page 56), the CEO seemingly alludes to Bannon’s remark without mentioning him by name, writing, “Even when some people in positions of power have remarked that there were too many Asian CEOs in technology, I’ve ignored their ignorance.” He adds that it “infuriates” him to think of his kids and their friends having to grapple with racial slurs. Yet that’s as far as he goes. “I was not elected by anybody,” he tells me. “And so I want to make sure that we don’t act like we have a mandate.” At Microsoft, however, Nadella has certainly earned a mandate, and in the wake of the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, in mid-August, he expressed his vision for leadership in the context of the national conversation, showing just how powerful Nadella’s approach can be. In an email to his senior staff and direct reports on the Monday after the weekend’s violence and racial animus, he shared the “profound impact” the “horriﬁc” event had on him. “In these times,” he wrote, “to me only two things really matter as a leader. The ﬁrst is that we stand for our timeless values, which include diversity and inclusion. . . . The second is that we empathize with the hurt happening around us. At Microsoft, we strive to seek out differences, celebrate them and invite them in. . . . Our growth mindset culture requires us to truly understand and share the feelings of another person. . . . Together, we must embrace our shared humanity, and aspire to create a society that is ﬁlled with respect, empathy and opportunity for all.” email@example.com
Google (Continued from page 64)
more conversationally with their assistant.” The more casual a relationship a user has with her assistant, the more likely she will be to interact with assistant-augmented products that don’t rely on typing or screens at all, like Google Home. But Allo’s most imaginative fusion of chat with machine learning, which it rolled out as an additional Allo feature in 2017, isn’t about helping you respond faster or getting things done. It’s about helping you put your best face forward. Just snap a pic of yourself in Allo, and within seconds Google’s machine-learning capabilities transform it into a suite of 24 “selﬁe stickers”: cute cartoon likenesses (created by Lamar Abrams, a storyboard artist for the Cartoon Network) that you can text and share like hyper-personalized emoji. “There’s a component of chat that’s about identity and how you see yourself—the craft and care that you put into your own communication,” Cornwell says. Bitmoji—a popular third-party app that integrates with Snapchat—lets users create similar avatars too, but only manually. Allo’s automated version gets arguably as close to a good likeness as Bitmoji’s does—but not too close. And that’s by design, according to Cornwell. “Even if the algorithm was perfect, people wouldn’t feel good about [selﬁe stickers] unless they could put their personal stamp on it,” he explains. In other words, there’s something about tweaking a caricature of yourself that’s utterly essential to trusting it. Cornwell draws an analogy to instant cake mixes from the 1950s, which required that you crack an egg into the bowl: “There really is no technical reason to add that to an instant cake mix, but it just didn’t feel like cooking unless you broke an egg. In machine learning,” he explains, “there’s this key question that designers need to answer: Which pieces do we automate for you, and which pieces do you need to do yourself in order to feel good about the end result?” Indeed, Allo provides enough combinations (about 563 quadrillion, if you want to get speciﬁc) that you could literally customize your selﬁe sticker until the sun burns out and still have plenty left to try. But really, what matters most to people “is the hair,” Cornwell says. “It’s one of the most critical features in terms of making people feel like they were seeing an authentic version of themselves on-screen,” or at least the version they wanted others to see. It’s true: When I tested a selﬁe sticker, my machine-learning-generated cartoon hair looked better than the real thing. As Cornwell and his team continue to expand Allo’s capabilities—the app has only a fraction of the user base that iMessage and Facebook Messenger boast—he understands that, when it comes to texting, it’s not just what you type, but how you look. October 2017 FastCompany.com 99
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