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What caught my eye in tech: November 2020

Every month in 2020, I’m going to be sharing the top 5 interesting things in tech that have caught my eye. Enjoy!

Blockbuster Black Friday

It’s November and that means the manic holiday shopping period is upon us! Black Friday and Cyber Monday generally stand out as the peak in which most retailers make a sizeable proportion of their yearly revenue. We always expect eCommerce companies to pump out high YoY growth numbers at this time and it’s no surprise that this year we were expecting numbers to surge. With lockdowns and restrictions globally throughout 2020, eCommerce overall has generally seen an explosive rise this year, resulting in many companies like Shopify growing to new levels.

So, what were the numbers? Using Shopify as an example, they’ve just reported over $5.1 billion of sales occurred globally on their platform, up an incredible 76% from 2019. To give you a taste of just how big an increase that is, in 2019 that figure was $2.9 billion, and in 2018, $1.8 billion. It’s not just Shopify either, Amazon reported their independent business sales were up 60% YoY.  

These figures are staggering and are another highlight of the shift we’ve seen in consumer behaviour this year. The pandemic has no doubt accelerated the switch to eCommerce, giving many their first taste, but how much of this will stick into 2021? 

One thing’s for sure, the sector will continue to grow regardless of the answer to that question. Even after this blockbuster year, only 14.4% of retail sales are via eCommerce in the US in 2020.

More on Shopify’s sales number via the Shopify blog

Apple Silicon is here

The impressive selling points behind Apple’s M1 chip

For some time Apple has been teasing the world with its commitment to ditching Intel and creating its own in-house chips, so they can provide us with more ‘magical’ products. This month saw the long-awaited launch of the M1, Apple’s new CPU set to initially power its Macbook’s and Mac Mini’s… was it worth the wait? Well, yes. Very much so in fact. 

Apple has been working to blur the lines across its iOS and macOS powered products, so that an app works anywhere on any device, but this goal can now only truly be realised by Apple Silicon. Previously this wasn’t possible using Intel chips and the change is arguably a huge boost to developers and customers alike. One app for both desktop and mobile. However, the most impressive thing about the M1 chip is it’s sheer power whilst remaining incredibly efficient. 

Intel chips have been used by Apple since 2006 to power their computers and with each new chip, an incremental power boost came with it. With the M1, the change is beyond incremental, it is literally years ahead of anything else on the market. On an equivalent Mac with an Intel chip, Apple claims a 2x performance improvement! And the efficiency benefit? Well, you can now expect a Macbook Pro’s battery to last 17hrs on a single charge whilst wirelessly browsing the web. Previously on an Intel machine that was 10hrs. For average Joe, this is by far the greatest consumer benefit achieved.

The rest of the higher-powered Mac lineup will be updated to include Apple Silicon in due course. With the improvements seen with the M1, I think it’s safe to say we can expect Apple’s performance variants to be equally as impressive!

Watch Apple’s M1 launch event in full via Apple.com

Uber plans to ditch its self-driving unit

With the EV sector hot right now and the race to produce the first fully autonomous vehicle mimicking the space race, it’s interesting to see Uber backing out. It would make total sense for Uber to want to have autonomous vehicles considering their line of work, but a sale of their autonomous driving unit to Aurora Innovation, a startup founded by employees of Google, Tesla, and Uber, looks set to complete. 

Uber hasn’t commented on the sale so the true reason behind it isn’t known. What is known is that Uber ATG (the unit being sold) is a major financial drain on Uber, which has faced many financial challenges throughout its lifespan and in particular, this year. With delivery and ride-hailing driving the most success for the business, it could simply be a doubling-down on what’s working right now. It’s not the first spin-off by the company either, hinting that focus is very much on CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s agenda. 

There is an argument that Uber puts itself at a future competitive disadvantage by not having proprietary self-driving technology, but one would expect or at least hope, Uber has secured access to Aurora’s future technology as part of the sale. 

More on the sale via TechCrunch

Buzzfeed acquires HuffPost

As a former employee of Verizon Media which owns HuffPost, I was caught by surprise at the news that HuffPost had been acquired by Buzzfeed and the two will merge. The deal brings together two of the original disruptors of traditional media, with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti going full circle having been one of the co-founders of The Huffington Post. 

The merger brings together complimenting audiences which provides an ad-scale boost in an industry struggling with falling ad revenues. Prior to this news, other industry powerhouses such as Vox Media and Vice have looked to scale via acquisitions themselves, and BuzzFeed’s own acquisition is arguably a play to sustain continued competition. 

Best of luck to all my former HuffPost colleagues in this new era for the brand!

More on the acquisition via The Guardian

Airbnb IPO’s on the Nasdaq

2020 has not only been the year of Covid, but also the IPO. 2020 has so far seen 461 of them on US exchanges, a 99.6% increase compared to this date in 2019. One of the biggest companies to be listed is Airbnb.

Airbnb has faced a horrid time this year following years of noted success. A company that heavily relies on travel, one of the worst affected industries of the pandemic, has seen its revenues plummet which resulted in major layoffs and restructuring for the company. With the company incurring net losses since its inception and even prior to the pandemic, free cash flow declining, and slowing revenue growth, the IPO was a much-needed cash injection to survive.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Whilst Airbnb IPO’d at a valuation half of what it was before the pandemic, there is a strong argument that they’re better positioned to take advantage of the recovery and see business boom once again. My bet is hotels are generally crowded, densely populated spaces, and that won’t sit well following a year of distancing. In an Airbnb property, you’re usually going to have the ability to be able to better control your environment. In addition, as Airbnb doesn’t own any of their listed properties, it allows them to easily pivot to meet a consumer behavioral change that results from this year. Brian Chesky, the companies CEO, made an interesting point hinting at this, around a new business model focussing on long-term stays. An example where I can see this working is through the switch to a remote-first working world. Employees can now freely switch up their working environments as they please. Airbnb could be a great place to find a perfect remote working spot for a month or two!

More on Airbnb’s IPO via their SEC filing

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