Facebook’s Limited Internet Plan Banned in India

Facebook’s recent attempts to make inroads into India have hit a roadblock. Their Free Basics plan, which is designed to provide free, but limited, Internet access was banned recently. The problem, as Indians and net neutrality proponents see it, is that the plan allows for free access to the Internet, but only to a limited selection of sites and apps. The idea of net neutrality is that all traffic, and all access, to the Internet should be treated equally. That means that companies can’t charge more for users accessing certain sites, like those owned by rival companies.

Although only 252 million of India’s 1.3 billion people have Internet access, the Free Basics plan only enrolled about 1 million people before it was banned. It wasn’t very successful, and part of that was because Facebook didn’t consider that country’s active civil society. Unlike in, say, the United States, people in India actually talk and do things with their neighbors, and they care about their ability to do those things. That translates to the Internet by allowing access to any part of the web, not just those bits your provider feels you should care about.

Although Facebook hasn’t issued any official statements on the ban, hey don’t seem like they’re too upset, and Free Basics is only part of their larger tactic or gaining Indian users. If they’re smart, then what they’ll do is learn more about India, and try to find a way to appeal to Indian users.

In fact, that’s a pretty good idea for any business that’s trying to expand into new markets: instead of assuming that you know what that market needs or wants, assume that you don’t. Because you don’t. Especially when you’re dealing with a different culture than the one you’re used to, you have to actually learn about that culture. Imperialism is dead, you can’t just go to other paces and say “This is how it is now.”

GameStop to Publish their First Video Game

In a continued attempt to keep themselves afloat, GameStop, the largest video game retailer in the country, is making the jump to publishing. They’re starting with one game, called Song of the Deep, which is being developed by Insomniac Games, a studio known for Ratchet and Clank and other games. Insomniac has a respected pedigree, one with quite a few fans, which will probably help the game sell, and it will be released for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, on disc for all three.

That’s the kicker right there, the “on disc” part. Last year, digital video game sales totaled around $61 billion, while they only hit about $5 billion in retail stores. For gamers who use computers, digital purchases are the way to go, not only because they’re easier and often cheaper, but because an increasing number of computers don’t even have disc drives. Physical media is dying, at least as PCs are concerned.

For console games, physical media is still around, although those systems increasingly release content only in digital form. By keeping the game purely physical, GameStop insures that they get those sales, but how many sale is that going to bring in? The game, which will drop in Q2 2016 for $15, a price comparable to digital independent games, might not be enough to bring people into the store who might not otherwise shop there. GameStop does have 43 million PowerUp Rewards members, and 7 million subscribers to the print magazine Game Informer, but there are also a lot of gamers who don’t like the store, and don’t shop there if they can avoid it.

It’s an interesting gambit, and one which they’re taking slowly and carefully. GameStop has made no attempt to interfere with the development process, which should make fans happy, and they’re not planning to publish anything else until they see how this goes.

Twitter Says Goodbye to Five Executives

executives

Twitter has some serious turn-over coming up as five of their top executives are leaving the company. Product head Kevin Weil, media head Katie Jacobs Stanton, senior vice president of engineering Alex Roetter, vice president of human resources Brian Schipper, and Vine head Jason Toff are heading out, and Twitter will be covering their positions while they search for replacements. Rumor has is that vice president of business development Jana Messerschmidt might also be leaving in the near future.

Apparently, they will be appointing two new board members, one of whom is a “big media name,” while also bringing in a new hire who is a well-known executive and CMO. They don’t have replacements lined up for everybody though. Weil and Roetter, who have not been fired, apparently left as part of a decision by the company, while Toff is heading to Google to work on virtual reality.

All of this comes at a time when Twitter is struggling to keep their share prices up. After naming founder Jack Dorsey as CEO, those shares dropped to their lowest point. They then rebounded after a rumor dropped about a tie-in with News Corp that turns out to have been false. As the company fights to increase user growth though, their stock has been under pressure. Twitter growth seems to have hit a significant slowdown, as by this time, the people not using it seem to largely be set in that decision, leaving them waiting for ne users to age into the service, or for new markets to open up. The Internet being what it is though, unavailable markets tend to be in nations without significant access, or which are denied that access by their government.

The dropping value of Twitter stocks have begun to fuel speculation that they could become an acquisition target.

Is It Time to Do Away with Quarterly Earnings Reports?

earnings report

Do quarterly earnings reports bring more trouble than they’re worth? Several financiers and law firms seem to think so, and they agree that it’s time to do away with these reports altogether. Every three months when publicly-traded companies announce their earnings to the public, two things happen: People get agitated and excited over numbers and insights that may or may not be accurate; and businesses—and their investors—lose sight of any long-term profitability. Worse, people and businesses lose sight of long-term goals—and that could kill a company altogether.

Quarterly earnings reports are so problematic because they place too much importance on very small pieces of a business that are liable, and likely, to change. When so much emphasis is placed on such a short period of time, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and future trajectory, encouraging managers to take more risks than they need to when responding to disgruntled investors. Nobody wins.

Henry Kravis, co-founder of financial firm KKR, says, “I think the worst thing to happen to corporate America is quarterly earnings.” He isn’t the only one who feels that way. Law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, & Katz thinks it’s time to focus more on long-term business strategies without quarterly earnings. The firm asked that the Securities and Exchange Commission consider allowing companies in the U.S. to operate sans these reports, which they feel distract executives from long-term goals.

Getting rid of the reports, however, won’t be easy. Many analysts and shareholders depend on them; additionally, it could become harder for companies to communicate with investors.

But despite new difficulties, research could suggest that getting rid of quarterly earnings could be better for business health: Academics from London’s City University and Duke University have found that increased reporting leads to short-term thinking by managers. Firms that increase the frequency of their reports reduce spending on their long-term assets and plans.

Scrapping quarterly earnings reports all at once may not be the right solution for businesses, as the period of adjustment would likely be muddled and possibly detrimental to companies. What’s needed is decreased stress on short-term earnings. Quarterly reports can be useful for analyzing business trends, but it’s not necessary for them to carry the weight of a business alone.

New Battery Tech Could Prevent Electronics Fires

battery technology

You may have heard about so-called “hoverboards” catching fire in recent months. They aren’t the only items prone to this problem, but they are the most newsworthy of late. Like many computers, phones, and other rechargeable technology, they rely on lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have been great for technology, making everyday items like iPhones rechargeable and therefore much more efficient. Unfortunately, in some rare cases, those batteries can overheat, the electrolyte within them can catch fire and sometimes trigger an explosion.

There have been a few attempts to make lithium-ion batteries safer, and by and large they don’t overheat and explode, but a team at Stanford University has developed a new system to keep those batteries from catching fire. They can’t keep them from overheating, that’s largely a matter of using them properly, but they can make them safe and keep them functional and efficient.

A quick science lesson: lithium-ion batteries work by sticking two electrodes in a electrolyte gel and sending charged particles between them. Over about 150 C (300 F), that gel can catch fire. This new system prevents that by shutting the battery down briefly when it reaches a certain temperature. Once the battery has cooled off enough, it kicks back on.

That’s because the electrodes in this system contain spiky particles of nickel, which conduct electricity if they’re touching. They are subsequently suspended in elastic polyethylene which expands when it gets too warm. Upon expanding, it pulls the spikes apart, and the battery shuts down, when it cools, they comes back together and conduct electricity once more.

The temperature threshold can be set, allowing thee battery to shut down at lower, even safer temperatures. This could prove to be a pretty valuable technology, significantly reducing battery fires and keeping them efficient enough to keep up with consumer demands. Don’t be surprised to hear more about these batteries in thee future.

New Program Allows Self-Published D&D Content

dodecahedron

Wizards of the Coast, the company which produces both Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons (the first collectable card game and role-playing game, respectively), has teamed up with OneBookShelf to launch a new program called the Dungeons Masters Guild.

The Dungeon Masters Guild is a marketplace where people can self-publish their own D&D products in PDF (and eventually print) form, and charge whatever they want for them. They get half the cover price, and the rest gets split between Wizards and OneBookshelf. This is a new direction for Wizards, who back in the early 2000s introduced the Open Game License (OGL) for Dungeons & Dragons, which allowed people to use some aspects of the system to publish their own content. The OGL breathed a lot of new life into the role-playing game industry, and even allowed Paizo Publishing to make their Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which outsold the fourth edition of D&D.

The new Guild program is a little different though. Products published through it can only be published there, and contribute to a sort of community pool, allowing people to build off others’ work, within reason. Most importantly, it allows designers to use IP belonging to Wizards, namely the Forgotten Realms, the most popular, and longest continually supported, setting for the D&D game. That wasn’t possible under the old (or the new) OGL.

It’s a very new program, and with most PDF products of this type going for only a couple of bucks, probably isn’t going to bring in a landslide of money. However, it does give Wizards a chance to build a meaningful community, by supporting something players do anyway (making new content) and allowing them to share it easily and make some money off it. It will also give them a ready testing ground for potential new writers, designers, and artists, which are always in demand, but can be hard to actually find.

The Secrets of Persuasion

persuasion

People who are very successful in business tend to have something in common, besides brains and ambition: they’re very persuasive. They know how to play the field, how to get what they want, for themselves or for their companies. Follow some of these suggestions and see if you can’t ring in a little more success this year.

Be likeable.

This is the top tip for a reason. Without likeability, even the most persuasive people have trouble getting anywhere. For many entrepreneurs and highly driven people, likeability is not their first concern. If you need to work on being more likeable, remember to ask questions about other people. Engage in conversation with them, fully, and listen to what they have to say. Don’t judge, don’t brag, don’t forget important things like meetings, and do what you’ll say you will.

Connect with people.

If you don’t form some kind of emotional connection with another person, they’re less likely to be interested in your company. It’s good to get to know the person you’re doing business with a little bit beforehand; if they know you, they are more willing to do business with you. Remember that you’re speaking to another human being, and even if your argument is rock-solid, you need to connect on a personal level before you move forward.

Know when to push and when to pull back.

Really pushy people are not a pleasure to work with. It’s good to be assertive and confident, but don’t be aggressive, especially when the other party doesn’t respond. Don’t be overly persistent or impatient—that’s a real turn-off. If you try to force people to agree with you, they’re less likely to actually do so. Sometimes, patience and confidence are the key to a big win.

Do your best to make other people happy.

Running a business or trying to get what you want can’t always be just about you, right now. Persuasive people do a lot for others. They know when to give in and when to stand their ground, but they are always willing to rearrange or sacrifice to do something for someone else. Often, it’s better to be successful and to build a lasting relationship than it is to be right.

You Are Your Business: Creating a Great Workplace Culture

diverse group of people all working at a table together

Keeping your new company afloat takes a lot more than free-flowing capital or strategic thinking (though those things certainly help). A company, if it’s a good one, won’t just demand great work from employees: it will actually encourage employees to do their best through a supportive, productive workplace culture. It’s necessary to what you want your company’s environment to be straight out of the gate to make sure you’re maximizing your employees’—and your business’s—potential.

Henry Kravis, who has spent decades buying, selling, and building companies, knows the value of getting the culture right. His advice to entrepreneurs setting out on their own is to believe that they are building a real business. To make sure they achieve success, Kravis encourages young companies to define their workplace cultures “as early as [they] can.” If you go into business without a good idea of who you want to be, you risk failure.

When you open your doors, make sure that your vision, mission, and strategy are clear. Because a company’s mission is largely defined by its CEO, make sure that you’re setting a good example for your team and following through with the things you say you’ll do. Furthermore, your team needs to know that they are working towards something. Don’t just describe the mission to your employees—be the mission.

Motivate your team to be supportive, transparent, and efficient. How you do this—office activities, rewards, competition—is up to you, but you need to prepare your employees to fulfill their purpose in your company. Offer managerial support and continued training for your workers so they feel engaged in their work and with each other. If your company values trust and transparency, employees will internalize that and actively contribute to the company culture.

In addition to leading by example, there are a number of other things to do that will ensure a healthy workplace environment. Hire the right staff by choosing the people you think best embody your company’s mission; make sure your employees are comfortable; encourage collaboration and social events; sit down and talk with your employees; and make sure they’re never overloaded or bored.

Creating a great office culture can be tricky, but if you are clear about what your company values and you personally demonstrate those values, you’re on your way.

New Streaming Platform Focuses on E-Sports

video streaming

Streaming live play of video games is a relatively new business, but one that’s doing pretty well for itself. The market is currently dominated by Twitch.tv, which pretty much invented the market, so it makes sense that they’re still on top. They’re the Netflix of streaming video games.

But the market is starting to get more interesting. Last year YouTube got into the scene with YouTube Gaming, but the streaming side of that hasn’t really taken off yet. Not the way the likely want it to. Part of the problem seems to be that YouTube hasn’t pulled on their home team celebrities enough, or found a niche that Twitch doesn’t dominate.

Now a new platform has entered the competition. It’s called Azubu and it recently raised $60 million in bonds to grow the company. Azubu was founded in 2011, has over 75 employees, and gets about 9 million unique viewers a month. 93% of those viewers are watching live video game tournaments, especially those played in South Korea and Brazil. Those countries currently dominate their service, and they’re looking to branch into tournaments with more Western appeal, something Twitch still controls.

Their main plan is focusing on e-sports, competitive gameplay, often team based, which is huge in South Korea and has a massive online following. While they aren’t the only platform that covers e-sports, they have signed a number of contracts that allow them exclusive contracts with tournaments that have a big draw.

The new cash infusion will be used to expand the company, but also to improve its platform so that, when they expand into new markets, they can do so as seamlessly as possible. Keeping technology up to speed is essential for services like this, which can take a nosedive in viewership with even a day of poor service or an outage.

Airbnb’s Success Threatens U.S. Hotel Businesses in Major Metropolitan Areas

hotel

Have you ever used Airbnb? The crowd-sourced that allows people to easily rent a place to stay from a stranger has become an incredibly popular option for today’s travelers, especially young people. It is now that U.S. hotel businesses are realizing the threat that Airbnb poses in large metropolitan areas of the U.S. market.

All said and done, 2015 was a banner year for the U.S. hotel industry. The industry at large saw improvement in three key areas: room occupancy, average daily rates, and revenue per available room!

Here are some numbers to make sense of the stranglehold Airbnb has on large metro areas: the top 10 markets in the country make up 13% of bookings for traditional hotels, but that number jumps to 40% when measuring those same bookings for Airbnb.

The top areas for Airbnb (as the compete with hotels) include Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Miami, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

However, in major metropolitan areas, Airbnb thrives and unquestionably dominates the conventional hotel industry with its specialty and flexibility.

Given the structure of Airbnb, it seems unlikely that the service would be able to thrive in all parts of the country (country areas don’t tend to have a lot of couches to surf on, or even homes that are vacant often) which means that regular-type hotels are definitely here to stay.

In cities, though, there is s still a major brawl to be had. Or is there?

This honestly remains to be seen. Despite Airbnb’s growing success and the obvious overlap in services offered by Airbnb and hotels, both sides are shying away from any fight. In fact, they view each other as complementary. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky avoids using the term “disruption”, and many hotel industry experts recognize that their core base of customers aren’t the same people that frequent Airbnb anyways.

At the end of the day, this town might be big enough for the two of these competitors. And the travelers rejoiced!

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