All posts in “Amazon”

EBay sues Amazon for systematically poaching sellers

EBay is suing Amazon, alleging sellers were being poached.
EBay is suing Amazon, alleging sellers were being poached.

Image: Mashable Composite / getty images

They don’t call it “ruthless capitalism” for nothing!

Ebay has filed a lawsuit against fellow online retail giant Amazon, reports the Wall Street Journal. The charge? Amazon used EBay’s internal messaging system — intended for use between EBay merchants and customers — to poach sellers and bring them over to Amazon. 

The scheme occurred both internationally and within the U.S., and the tactics cited in the lawsuit are pretty blatant. Many of the poachers use boilerplate language from one solicitation to another. And they even discuss their activities within the platform itself.

EBay seems to have very strong evidence that this was going on. The question is whether it was actually illegal, or just shady behavior. EBay is suing on the grounds of “intentional interference with contractual relations and economic relations,” according to the Wall Street Journal report. And, “fraud and violation of the California penal and business and professions codes.”

EBay sent a cease and desist letter to Amazon on October 1. But, since it has now filed the suit, apparently the seller seduction is ongoing. 

It’s a billion dollar business eat billion dollar business world out there, folks.

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Building a great startup requires more than genius and a great invention

Many entrepreneurs assume that an invention carries intrinsic value, but that assumption is a fallacy.

Here, the examples of the 19th and 20th century inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla are instructive. Even as aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors lionize Edison for his myriad inventions and business acumen, they conveniently fail to recognize Tesla, despite having far greater contributions to how we generate, move, and harness power. Edison is the exception, with the legendary penniless Tesla as the norm.

Universities are the epicenter of pure innovation research. But the reality is that academic research is supported by tax dollars. The zero-sum game of attracting government funding is mastered by selling two concepts: Technical merit, and and broader impact toward benefiting society as a whole. These concepts are usually at odds with building a company, which succeeds only by generating and maintaining competitive advantage through barriers to entry.

In rare cases, the transition from intellectual merit to barrier to entry is successful. In most cases, the technology, though cool, doesn’t give the a fledgling company the competitive advantage it needs to exist among incumbents, and inevitable copycats. Academics, having emphasized technical merit and broader impact to attract support for their research, often fail to solve for competitive advantage, thereby creating great technology in search for a business application.

Of course there are exceptions: Time and time again, whether it’s driven by hype or perceived existential threat, big incumbents will be quick to buy companies purely for technology.  Cruise/GM (autonomous cars), DeepMind/Google (AI), and Nervana/Intel (AI chips). But as we move from 0-1 to 1-N in a given field, success is determined by winning talent over winning technology. Technology becomes less interesting; the onus on the startup to build a real business.

If a startup chooses to take venture capital, it not only needs to build a real business, but one that will be valued in the billions. the question becomes how a startup can create durable, attractive business, with a transient, short-lived technological advantage.

Most investors understand this stark reality. Unfortunately, while dabbling in technologies which appeared like magic to them during the cleantech boom, many investors were lured back into the innovation fallacy, believing that pure technological advancement would equal value creation. Many of them re-learned this lesson the hard way. As frontier technologies are attracting broader attention, I believe many are falling back into the innovation trap.

So what should aspiring frontier inventors solve for as they seek to invest capital to translate pure discovery to building billion-dollar companies?  How can the technology be cast into an unfair advantage that will yield big margins and growth that underpin billion-dollar businesses?

Talent productivity: In this age of automation, human talent is scarce, and there is incredible value attributed to retaining and maximizing human creativity.  Leading companies seek to gain an advantage by attracting the very best talent. If your technology can help you make more scarce talent more productive, or help your customers become more productive, then you are creating an unfair advantage internally, while establishing yourself as the de facto product for your customers.

Great companies such as Tesla and Google have built tools for their own scarce talent, and build products their customers, in their own ways, can’t do without. Microsoft mastered this with its Office products in the 90s, through innovation and acquisition, Autodesk with its creativity tools, and Amazon with its AWS Suite. Supercharging talent yields one of the most valuable sources of competitive advantage: switchover cost.  When teams are empowered with tools they love, they will loathe the notion of migrating to shiny new objects, and stick to what helps them achieve their maximum potential.

Marketing and Distribution Efficiency: Companies are worth the markets they serve.  They are valued for their audience and reach.  Even if their products in of themselves don’t unlock the entire value of the market they serve, they will be valued for their potential to, at some point in the future, be able to sell to the customers that have been tee’d up with their brands. AOL leveraged cheap CD-ROMs and the postal system to get families online, and on email.

Dollar Shave Club leveraged social media and an otherwise abandoned demographic to lock down a sales channel that was ultimately valued at a billion dollars. The inventions in these examples were in how efficiently these companies built and accessed markets, which ultimately made them incredibly valuable.

Network effects: Its power has ultimately led to its abuse in startup fundraising pitches. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram generate their network effects through Internet and Mobile. Most marketplace companies need to undergo the arduous, expensive process of attracting vendors and customers.  Uber identified macro trends (e.g., urban living) and leveraged technology (GPS in cheap smartphones) to yield massive growth in building up supply (drivers) and demand (riders).

Our portfolio company Zoox will benefit from every car benefitting from edge cases every vehicle encounters: akin to the driving population immediately learning from special situations any individual driver encounters. Startups should think about how their inventions can enable network effects where none existed, so that they are able to achieve massive scale and barriers by the time competitors inevitably get access to the same technology.

Offering an end-to-end solution: There isn’t intrinsic value in a piece of technology; it’s offering a complete solution that delivers on an unmet need deep-pocketed customers are begging for. Does your invention, when coupled to a few other products, yield a solution that’s worth far more than the sum of its parts? For example, are you selling a chip, along with design environments, sample neural network frameworks, and datasets, that will empower your customers to deliver magical products? Or, in contrast, does it make more sense to offer standard chips, licensing software, or tag data?

If the answer is to offer components of the solution, then prepare to enter a commodity, margin-eroding, race-to-the-bottom business. The former, “vertical” approach is characteristic of more nascent technologies, such as operating robots-taxis, quantum computing, and launching small payloads into space. As the technology matures and becomes more modular, vendors can sell standard components into standard supply chains, but face the pressure of commoditization.

A simple example is Personal Computers, where Intel and Microsoft attracted outsized margins while other vendors of disk drives, motherboards, printers, and memory faced crushing downward pricing pressure.  As technology matures, the earlier vertical players must differentiate with their brands, reach to customers, and differentiated product, while leveraging what’s likely going to be an endless number of vendors providing technology into their supply chains.

A magical new technology does not go far beyond the resumes of the founding team.

What gets me excited is how the team will leverage the innovation, and attract more amazing people to establish a dominant position in a market that doesn’t yet exist. Is this team and technology the kernel of a virtuous cycle that will punch above its weight to attract more money, more talent, and be recognized for more than it’s product?

These are the most successful companies to emerge from Y Combinator

Earlier this month, Brex, a credit card provider to startups, announced it had raised $125 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

The round was impressive for a couple of reasons. 1. The founders are a pair of 22-year-olds that had set out to build a virtual reality company before pivoting to payments. And 2. They had only completed Y Combinator, a well-known Silicon Valley startup accelerator, the year prior.

Y Combinator is responsible for many successes in the startup world, certainly more than its fellow accelerators, which are all known to provide early-stage companies with a seed investment  — in YC’s case, $150,000 — mentorship and educational resources through a short-term program that culminates in a demo day.

Today, YC has released the latest list of its most successful companies since it began backing startups in 2005. Ranked by valuation and/or market cap, Brex, sure enough, is the youngest company to crack the top 20:

  1. Airbnb: An online travel community and room-sharing platform founded by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk. Valuation: $31 billion. YC W2009.
  2. Stripe: A provider of an online payment processing system for internet businesses founded by John and Patrick Collison. Valuation: $20 billion. YC S2009.
  3. Cruise: Acquired by GM in 2006, the company is building autonomous vehicles. It was founded by Kyle Vogt and Daniel Kan. Valuation: $14 billion. YC W2014.
  4. Dropbox: A file hosting service and workplace collaboration platform founded by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi that went public in March. Market cap: >$10 billion. YC S2007.
  5. Instacart: A grocery and home essentials delivery service founded by Apoorva Mehta, Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo. Valuation: $7.6 billion. YC S2012.
  6. Machine Zone: A mobile games company, founded by Mike Sherril, Gabriel Leydon and Halbert Nakagawa, known for “Game of War.” Valuation: >$5 billion. YC W2008.
  7. DoorDash: An app-based food delivery service founded by Tony Xu, Stanley Tang and Andy Fang. Valuation: $4 billion. YC S2013.
  8. Zenefits: The provider of human resources software for small and medium-sized businesses founded by Laks Srini and Parker Conrad. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2013.
  9. Gusto: The provider of software that automates and simplifies payroll for businesses, founded by Josh Reeves, Tomer London and Edward Kim. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2012.
  10.  Reddit: An online platform for conversation and thousands of communities founded by Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Valuation: $1.8 billion. YC S2005.
  11.  Coinbase: An digital cryptocurrency exchange and wallet platform founded by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. Valuation ~$1.6 billion. YC S2012.
  12.  PagerDuty: A digital ops management platform for businesses founded by Baskar Puvanathasan, Andrew Miklas and Alex Solomon. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2012.
  13.  Docker: A platform for applications that gives developers the freedom to build, manage and secure business-critical applications, founded by Solomon Hykes and Sebastien Pahl. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2010.
  14.  Ginkgo Bioworks: A biotech company focused on designing custom microbes founded by Reshma Shetty, Jason Kelly, Barry Canton and others. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC S2014.
  15.  Rappi: A Latin American on-demand delivery startup founded by Felipe Villamarin, Simon Borrero and Sebastian Mejia. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC W2016.
  16.  Brex: A B2B financial startup that provides corporate cards to startups. Its founders include Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2017.
  17.  GitLab: A developer service founded by Sid Sijbrandij and Dmitriy Zaporozhets, that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2015.
  18.  Twitch: An Amazon-acquired live streaming platform for video games used by millions. Its founders include Emmett Shear, Justin Kan, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt. YC W2007.
  19.  Flexport: A logistics company that moves freight globally by air, ocean, rail and truck founded by Ryan Petersen. Valuation: ~$1 billion. YC W2014.
  20.  Mixpanel: A user analytics platform that helps each person at a business understand its users founded by Suhail Doshi and Tim Trefren. Valuation: >$865 million. YC S2009.

The full list of Y Combinator’s 100 most successful companies is available here.

Receive a 60-day free trial of Audible with selected electronic products

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Switch off in style.
Switch off in style.

Image: pexels

Driving or commuting can be a real drag. It doesn’t have to be this way though. That time when you are physically occupied but your mind is free can be harnessed and transformed into a time for relaxation and reflection.

This is where Audible come in. Audible sells digital audiobooks, radio and TV programs, and audio versions of magazines and newspapers. So you can make the most of those otherwise misspent hours.  

Right up until Dec. 26, Amazon customers can receive a 60-day free trial of Audible membership when they purchase qualifying consumer electronics items. 

If the 60-day free trail wasn’t pursuading enough, you can make some great savings on the qualifying items too. For example, you can pick up a Huawei Mate 10 Pro for £379.99, down from £699.99. Elsewhere, you can save on Sony wireless bluetooth headphones, available for £36.87 from £60.00.

If you’ve been listening out for an opportunity to get Audible for nothing, with a great deal lumped in too, then this is the offer for you.

Amazon’s new Kindle Paperwhite shows e-readers can still get better

There are very few gadgets in this world I consider to be perfect. But one of them, or at least one that comes pretty damn close, is my Amazon Kindle e-reader. I’ve been a huge fan since I bought my first Kindle (third-generation) back in 2007, and my admiration for these wonderfully simple machines only grew when I upgraded to the backlit Kindle Voyage in 2014.

So when Amazon asked if I wanted to try the brand new Kindle Paperwhite —  available for pre-order today for $129.99 — I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And as it turns out, I was amazed during my short time messing around with it. Amazon, somehow, continues to refine a device that is already teetering on the brink of perfection.

There’s a lot to go over with the brand new Kindle Paperwhite, so let’s go ahead and jump right in. The new Kindle features lighter hardware, better durability, and more bonus content than ever before. So without further adieu, here are my first impressions of the new Kindle Paperwhite.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is 10 percent lighter and thinner than the previous generation.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is 10 percent lighter and thinner than the previous generation.

Image: Michael Nunez / mashable

Thinner and lighter than ever

One thing I’ve always loved about the Amazon Kindle e-readers is that they’re made for one specific purpose: displaying text on a screen for long periods of time. I first fell in love with my Amazon Kindle while I was living in Seoul, Korea. I was reading more novels than I ever had, and I loved that I could travel everywhere with my entire library. Plus, it didn’t add much weight to my luggage.

The new Kindle Paperwhite builds on some of the best elements of previous Kindle products. It looks nearly identical to the previous-generation Paperwhite, but it’s 10 percent lighter, 10 percent brighter, and 10 percent thinner according to Amazon. It also has more storage than before, starting at 8 GB (twice the previous generation) and maxing out at 32 GB. This ultimately means you can save more content on your device than you could in the past.

These small upgrades aren’t exactly noticeable when you first pick up the device, but the Kindle Paperwhite is still as impressive as ever. It’s light enough that you can imagine reading it for hours at a time without getting a cramp in your hand (something I dealt with using previous-generation Kindles). And the new soft material on the back is a nice bonus — but certainly not something I’d base an entire purchasing decision on.

Another small tweak Amazon made was making the front of the device completely flush, or flat, rather than having the screen ever-so-slightly set into the body of the device. Inevitably, the new flat design does not make a difference to the reading experience, but it does help with the Kindle’s durability. (We’ll get deeper into that later.) The display is still a touchscreen, meaning that you tap to navigate, and tap the right and left sides to flip pages forward and backward. It’s still super intuitive, and frankly, almost impossible to mess up. This is why the product is damn near perfect!

Loaded with useful features

The Kindle Paperwhite also comes packed with a bunch of new features, but none is more interesting than the inclusion of Amazon’s Whispersync For Voice technology. What this means is that you can now synchronize your reading progress, bookmarks, and digital annotations across all Kindle devices — and also sync your progress with Audible audiobooks.

What this means in practical terms is you can easily switch between the text and audio versions of the same book. For example, you can start reading something on your Kindle Paperwhite before bed, then switch to the Audible audiobook during your commute. This is a feature I had a limited time testing (only a few minutes), but I plan to stress test for our official review. It’s a great use of Amazon’s powerful cloud technology and one feature I can easily imagine myself using.

Another great inclusion is X-Ray, though we should note that it was included on the previous version of the Kindle Paperwhite. The feature lets you quickly search for things mentioned in books such as ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places, and topics by tapping on them. An Amazon spokesperson said this can be especially helpful for young readers who might be wondering whether a word is a magical spell in Harry Potter, or whether it’s a real word. I’m a little skeptical about whether I’d actually use this feature (I’d probably just Google it), but again, it’s something that we’ll have to test in greater detail during our official review.

Finally, Amazon is making it easier for families to share a Kindle device by adding personalized reading settings. Now you can save font size, boldness, and orientation settings as a profile, and you can quickly switch between profiles from the home screen. There is also the added bonus of including family libraries, which makes it easier for people to access books from an account of a spouse or partner. In sum, the Kindle Paperwhite does a lot more than display text — but it crucially remains free of distractions, which I consider to be quite an amazing feat.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is now waterproof.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is now waterproof.

Image: Amazon

Drop it in the freaking hot tub

You’re probably not going to be reading underwater very much, but now, technically, if you really want to, you can. The new Kindle Paperwhite is fully waterproof (IPX8 rated) in up to two meters of water for 60 minutes. What that inevitably means is you can literally throw your Kindle Paperwhite in your swimming pool, play a game of Marco Polo, then swim down to the surface to fish it out an hour later — and it will still work.

The more practical use case is probably sitting by the beach or by the pool. The Kindle’s IPX8 rating means that you don’t have to worry about getting sand on it or dropping it, either. This is the most durable Kindle yet — something that comes as a welcome reprieve to someone who shattered his old Kindle on an airplane. Now, the Kindle is ready to take a beating, and as someone who frequently tosses his in a suitcase last minute, I genuinely appreciate this.

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with six months of Kindle Unlimited for free ($60 value).

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with six months of Kindle Unlimited for free ($60 value).

Image: Michael Nunez / mashable

So. Many. Extras.

The Kindle Paperwhite is a great product on its own, but what really sweetens the deal this time around are all the different freebies. Let’s start with Kindle Unlimited.

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that costs $10/month and gives you access to more than one million titles from the Kindle Store. It includes books, audiobooks, and magazines, and it also includes thousands of audiobooks on Audible (one of the things that makes it such a great deal, in my opinion).

Basically, if you’re reading anything popular at the moment, it’s probably available through Kindle Unlimited. What’s great about this deal is that most people probably wouldn’t buy Kindle Unlimited right after purchasing their e-reader (unless they expect to devour several books each month), but Amazon is making is much easier to justify by giving owners about half off of the first year.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite owners will now get a six-month free trial ($60 value) with the purchase of the device. The catch is that you need to remember to cancel your subscription at the end of the trial — or keep enjoying the gigantic library and pay the full price. Whether Kindle Unlimited is a good deal for you is dependent on how many books you plan to read each year, but six free months should be enough time to make that determination.

Finally, there’s the addition of Bluetooth and the Audible library. The inclusion of these is a great bonus for anyone who prefers to listen to books — but I don’t think it should really be confused with the core purpose of the device. At the end of the day, if you buy a new Kindle Paperwhite, you should spend most of your time on it reading and enjoying the weeks-long battery life. Audible is better on a smartphone or Amazon Echo speaker.

Final Thoughts

The new Kindle Paperwhite is great. In fact, it’s better than I ever could have possibly imagined. As an owner and evangelist of one of the best available Kindle products to date (Kindle Voyage), I was surprised by how much I appreciated each refinement in the new version.

With my limited time of use, this seems to be the best available e-reader in terms of value. It’s hard to say for sure, since I haven’t spent days or weeks with the device like I normally would for a full review, but my first impressions are great. Who says e-readers don’t have any more room to innovate?

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