May 10, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Any stories we should be chasing? Hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Kaveh Waddell is at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: The shaving cabal

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With a pair of improbable billion-dollar acquisitions, conglomerates have snapped up both of the cheap shaving startups that have shaken up the men's grooming business, Erica writes.

  • The deals — for Dollar Shave Club, Harry's and yet a third called Bevel — reflect a trend in which new companies pop up and upend large industries, but don't last long.

Giants like Amazon, Unilever and Walmart, though they are not necessarily stifling innovation, are swiftly buying out plucky companies that start to threaten them.

  • In the past two years, Walmart has scooped up two disruptive clothing companies: Bonobos, a maker of inexpensive yet cool clothes for men, and Eloquii, a popular online plus-size brand.
  • Amazon has used this playbook for decades, acquiring companies like Diapers.com and Zappos after they began to chip away at its market share.
  • Apple buys a company every few weeks, according to CEO Tim Cook, and has acquired 20 to 25 firms in just the last 6 months.

When it comes to shaving, the global industry goes back to the cave days, and is now worth more than $20 billion a year. But there are just 5 major global razor manufacturers, including the startups, says David Pakman, a venture capitalist at Venrock Partners and an early Dollar Shave investor.

  • "It's very, very hard to enter the razor business," he says. "If you try, you will be sued for 3 to 5 years with a battery of patents. All the razor guys have tons of patents."
  • Yet Harry's and Dollar Shave instinctively sensed they were much more vulnerable than they looked.

Before the new companies came along, Schick and Gillette controlled about 90% of the U.S. market. Each charged around $20 for a three-week supply of popular brands like Mach III and Quattro, amounting to about a dollar a shave. And each had steadfast loyalty from its customers.

  • My dad has been using Gillette razors for 25 years. "I'll buy whatever T-shirt. I don't care. But my blades are like Netflix. It's the same cost every month, and I buy the same one every month."
  • Steve has been using Gillette's Mach III for years, too. He even hunted them down when he was reporting from Pakistan.

Men overpaid but what was the alternative if your aim was a naked face?

  • Then came the new kids: Dollar Shave, which offers an entire month's worth of blades for $1, quickly grabbed 8.5% of the market. Within the $3 billion U.S. men's grooming industry, that's over $250 million a year.
  • The rise of Dollar Shave and Harry's shrunk top dog Gillette's share from 70% of the market to 50%, CNBC reports.

Now they've been gobbled up.

Just this week, Edgewell, the parent company of Schick, spent $1.37 billion on Harry's, which was launched in 2013 by two men not named Harry (Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield).

The upside of these acquisitions for industry titans is obvious.

  • In a single transaction, these deals transform upstarts from worthy competitors to weapons in the battle of the giants. The big companies begin to profit from the disruption.
2. Amazon's shipping war

Inside Amazon's Baltimore warehouse. Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios

While Amazon provides UPS, FedEx and USPS with huge business, it is silently collecting mountains of data on the logistics industry through the movement of its own packages.

Erica writes: Amazon already has its own fleet of trucks and planes for some deliveries. With its data stash, it could soon get smart enough to eat the big shippers' lunch.

How it works: Amazon does not decide how a package will be shipped until it gets to the final station within a warehouse (photo above).

  • At that point, Amazon’s own optimization system decides which carrier will take the box based on factors like where it’s going, how big it is and how much space is available on a given truck.

After making billions of decisions about how to ship packages to get them delivered as fast as possible, Amazon has insights any of the big shipping players would want. And it is using them to make its own shipping services sharper.

  • Scott Anderson, director of Amazon Robotics Fulfillment, told me his team regularly shares findings on shipping with Amazon Logistics. "There's a feedback loop," he said.
3. What you may have missed

Photo: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket/Getty

Were you away? No worries. Here is the top of Future for the week:

1. Long Island City's Amazon effect: A post-HQ2 boom

2. The AI weapons race: 7 countries may veer out of control

3. The future of the burger: Another tradition is under threat

4. Predicting the next power disaster: Utility companies are buying up AI

4. Worthy of your time
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Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Interactive: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

It's time to break up Facebook (Chris Hughes - NYT)

The most common jobs by age and pay (Stef Kight - Axios)

Water's most common form in the universe (Joshua Sokol - Quanta)

How to prevent far-right populism (Paul Hockenos - Foreign Policy)

Magic: The Gathering is the world's most complex game (MIT Tech Review)

5. 1 fun thing: Selfies with Dalí

Dalí in Barcelona. Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty

Thirty years after his death, Salvador Dalí wants to take a photo with you.

Kaveh writes: In a Florida museum dedicated to the surrealist’s life, a new installation reanimates him in an interactive AI-altered video, or deepfake, The Verge’s Dami Lee reports.

  • The video was created by training an algorithm on hours of old Dalí interviews. The program pastes the artist's face onto an actor who mimicked him, and he’s voiced by an impersonator.
  • Faux Dalí, invoked with a button mounted on a kiosk, lives in the present day: In the video, he can comment on the weather and read today’s New York Times.
  • After delivering a short spiel about his life, Dalí pulls out the biggest surprise: He turns around and takes a selfie with his audience. If you like how you look in the shot, he can text it to you.

Go deeper: Deepfakes for good (Axios)

Bryan Walsh