Affirm’s IPO pop shows that the 2020 IPO fever hasn’t yet broken. The buy-now-pay-later fintech startup founded and run by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin went public on the Nasdaq yesterday, after having postponed its initial IPO plans in December to raise its share price from $33–$38 to $49. In doing so, Affirm was aiming to avoid a situation in which it underpriced itself relative to market expectations and ended up leaving a large chunk of money on the table, as Airbnb and DoorDash did when they went public last month. But almost as soon as they began trading, Affirm shares shot up to $90.90, and ended the day at $97.24, nearly double the initial price. (In the process, the merchant platform Shopify ended up gaining $2 billion, thanks to its ownership of a stake in Affirm). Yesterday, in The Ticker, Mario Gabriele explained why, despite being one of several companies operating in the buy-now-pay-later space, investors seemed bullish on Affirm. …


That’s Dickson Despommier, PhD, professor of microbiology and author of the book The Vertical Farm, quoted in a story by Laura Marie in Future Human. Despommier discusses the promise that…


2020 was a lot of things, but don’t forget it was also the 25th anniversary of Windows 95. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the halcyon days of Windows’ pixelated yet…


Best Business Books of 2020

An interview with Erin Meyer, co-author of ‘No Rules Rules,’ one of Marker’s ‘5 Best Business Books of the Year’

A view of the Netflix logo on the exterior of its corporate office at Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles.
A view of the Netflix logo on the exterior of its corporate office at Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles.
Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

In Marker’s analysis of the “best of 2020 business books” lists, the book that appeared on most lists from the business media and booksellers was No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. Hastings, co-founder and co-CEO of Netflix, and Meyer, a professor at the business school INSEAD and author of The Culture Map, take turns narrating this book about how Netflix’s unique organizational culture evolved and how it works.

Built around maxims like “We are a team, not a family” and “Adequate performance gets a generous severance,” doing away with controls like vacation limits and expense approvals, and allowing all employees to have visibility into the company’s decision-making and finances, Netflix is, in many ways, a culture of extremes. …


Those are Mark Zuckerberg’s words, in a little red-orange book handed to new Facebook employees, according to reporter Sarah Frier’s award-winning book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram. In an excerpt from the book on OneZero, Frier explains how Zuckerberg’s paranoia that Instagram might become the more popular social network drove his decision to acquire it. Yesterday, the FTC and dozens of states filed two antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, with the aim of requiring it to divest WhatsApp and Instagram. The thing that kills Facebook might be created by someone else after all.


As Franklin Foer writes in The Atlantic, the proposed merger, announced last week, between book publisher Simon & Schuster (currently owned by ViacomCBS) and Penguin Random House, the biggest book publisher in the world (owned by private German media conglomerate Bertelsmann), would publish roughly a third of all books in the U.S. and reduce the “Big Five” publishers into the “Big Four” (Hachette, Macmillan, and HarperCollins comprising the other three). The less competitive landscape would certainly mean less leverage for book authors and their agents. But Foer argues that this proposed merger needs to be understood in context: Book publishers are looking for leverage, too, against the behemoth that sells 49% of all books in the U.S.: …


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Ethan Miller / Getty Images Staff

What should a company’s relationship to its employees be? In April, I spoke to Bob Chapman, CEO of a 12,000-person manufacturing technology company, who made the case for Why Companies Don’t Need to Lay People Off to Survive. Chapman describes how taking extreme measures to prevent layoffs during the 2008 recession helped his company rebound strongly during the recovery. “You need to think of your people not as employees fulfilling functions, but as each one being somebody’s child who has been placed in your care,” he says.

Embodying the opposite approach is Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings. In an excerpt from his recent book No Rules Rules [update 12/3: the article and author account have since been deleted], Hastings describes how layoffs he was forced to make following the 2001 dot-com crash led to an unexpected burst of productivity, causing him to rethink how a company should relate to its employees. He outlines the culture Netflix since developed around managing talent, which include the maxims We are a team, not a family”, and “Adequate performance gets a generous severance.” These principles, he argues, create a high degree of “talent density”. He may be on to something: The Economist calculated that Netflix earns a staggering $2.6 …


Despite all the warnings from political scientists that we might not see a clear winner of the presidential election on election night, the uncertainty of last night’s vote count felt disorientating, and many expressed frustration with polls and forecast models that suggested we might have a more definitive result.

Back in April, just weeks after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, I spoke with Mervyn King, an economist, former governor of the Bank of England, and co-author of the book Radical Uncertainty. In our conversation, centering on the business response to the coronavirus outbreak, he explained why assigning probabilities to uncertain future outcomes isn’t helpful for decision-making, and that we should instead work toward building robustness and resilience in our systems to be better equipped to deal with a range of possible outcomes. …


Today on his blog Stratechery, Ben Thompson responds to Tim Wu’s criticism from last week that he overextends the use of his signature “Aggregation Theory” to defend tech giants against antitrust claims. Thompson reiterates that his definition of what he calls “aggregators” does not include companies like Apple and Amazon, which sell physical products.

Both Wu’s critique and Thompson’s response are worth reading in full (but only after you’ve voted, or while you’re standing in line to). It does appear that they actually agree on a number of points, and talk past each other in other places. The quote above from Thompson is his explanation of where he disagrees with Wu, but Wu’s point appears to be that these companies use their scale to break the law, block competition, and cement their dominance. …


That’s author and Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, in his review today of the popular business and tech blog Stratechery written by Ben Thompson. Wu argues that while Thompson’s signature concept of “aggregation theory” is a useful lens through which to understand the idealized workings of a digital platform business, it’s insufficient when applied to the antitrust arguments against the tech giants. …

About

Kaushik Viswanath

Senior Editor, Books/Marker @Medium

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