Sep 14, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

TGIF. With a capital TG. (And also IF).

1 big thing: Jeff Bezos' $2 billion charity push

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has finally joined the ranks of tech billionaires who use their sprawling wealth to shape the world through charity. Axios' David McCabe breaks down the new effort and how it will work.

The details: Bezos and his wife, novelist MacKenzie Bezos, say they will start by spending $2 billion to give to non-profit organizations working on homelessness and to build and operate a network of free, Montessori-inspired preschools for low-income areas.

"If a kid falls behind, it's really difficult to catch up. That head start compounds fantastically. Money spent there will pay gigantic dividends for decades."
— Jeff Bezos, at the Economic Club of Washington D.C., Thursday evening

Why it matters: Bezos is following in the footsteps of Bill Gates and other successful tech players whose approaches to philanthropy share common qualities, like...

  • Influencing big social debates. Bezos is tackling homelessness and access to early childhood education while the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective work on a range of public policy issues. (The Emerson Collective is an investor in Axios.)
  • Combining charity with Silicon Valley methods and mindset. Bezos said in a statement that his project's network of preschools would treat children like “the customer.” Zuckerberg and his wife, physician Priscilla Chan, have built a significant technology team within their philanthropic initiative.
  • Deploying their money in unconventional ways. Tech donors often design their philanthropic organizations to allow for impact investing or political activities. Bezos’ organization, meanwhile, will not just fund preschools but operate them as well.

Yes, but: Bezos is getting into the philanthropy game late, and only after becoming the world’s richest person.

  • He's under growing pressure over Amazon’s role in fueling inequality, from the city around its Seattle headquarters to conditions in its warehouses and on delivery routes.
  • Bezos asked for philanthropic ideas via Twitter last year, and he said he "read through thousands and thousands of responses."
  • Speaking last night, he said he didn't know how much of his fortune he would end up giving away.
"I'm going to give away a lot of money in a non-profit model, but I'm also going to invest a lot of money in something that most investors might say is a terrible investment — like Blue Origin — but that I think is important."

Another perspective: Author Anand Giridharadas argues in his new book "Winners Take All" that the wealthy pursue social change without uprooting the systems that produce inequality.

  • He says Bezos has “a stark opportunity to be a traitor to his class, to actually think about giving in ways that transform the system atop which he stands.”
  • "It is great to be a winner who gives back,” Giridharadas said. “It is even better to be a winner who thinks about how winners can take less."

Meanwhile: Bezos also promised Amazon will make a decision by year's end on where to locate its HQ2.

2. Unanswered questions from Apple's event

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Just what does the world want to know about Apple? I took to Reddit Thursday to find out. In one of the site's signature Ask Me Anything sessions, I weighed in on everything from the pros and cons of the latest iPhones to where Apple is placing its big bets.

Not surprisingly, several of the questions (paraphrased below) were about what we didn't see on Wednesday.

Where are the new Macs or the long-promised AirPower wireless charging mat?

What’s going on with AirPower is one of the big questions left by yesterday’s event. Apple didn’t say a peep on stage or answer anyone’s questions about it. I think it’s a fair conclusion that it is proving to be tougher than Apple had hoped.
Apple really only updated two product lines — the phones and Apple Watch, so I’d expect at least one more event this fall where we should see new Macs, iPads and perhaps AirPower.

What's Apple's long-term plan, and where is it headed next?

I think there are a few areas where Apple is clearly investing (and maybe others where we don't know.)
Augmented reality — Apple has taken its first steps with ARKit on the phone, but I think Apple's interest goes well beyond that. if they could ship a pair of AR goggles that looked good, had decent battery life and were affordable enough for consumers I think they would. But I think it's a year or two at least before that's technically feasible.
Video -— They have struck a bunch of original content deals but have yet to say how those will be packaged and made available. They could be looking to be a much bigger player.
Automotive — Clearly they are interested. They are testing some sort of self-driving tech on the streets of California. I think when this comes out and in what form is still TBD.
Health tech — This might be the biggest opportunity for Apple. Watch is its entry point for this, as was evidenced by yesterday's announcements. But there is way more Apple could do here.

Plus, There were also a surprising number of questions about Apple's move to ax rather than upgrade its small-screen iPhone SE. Note to Apple: Not everyone wants a giant phone.

3. White House seeking to shake up tech hiring

The White House hosted a meeting this week on how to change government hiring to develop a more modern workforce with additional technological and cybersecurity expertise, according to an Office of Management and Budget document Axios obtained and an industry source who attended the event.

Why it matters: The government and the private sector alike have been underinvesting in cybersecurity skills, and this effort is about playing catch-up, Axios' Shannon Vavra reports.

By the numbers: There are currently more than 300,000 open cybersecurity roles in the U.S., but by 2021 that number will reach 3.5 million, per Cybersecurity Ventures.

  • When it comes to just IT roles, the government needs to hire more than 100,000 new employees per year in the next 10 years, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Inside the room: The conversation focused on how the government will find workers with the skills needed to handle "cutting edge innovations," including migration to the cloud, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the industry source who attended the meeting said.

  • According to the source, the government is "beginning to assess how technology will change the jobs we have today and the jobs we’ll have tomorrow…and how to re-skill."

What's next: OMB will issue a report on the matter in the coming weeks.

4. Uber’s legal woes continue

Photo: Uber

Uber faces yet another lawsuit, this time from a ride service rival, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Driving the news: Diva Limousine, a California-based car service, has filed a class action lawsuit against the ride-hailing company, arguing that Uber is flouting the state’s labor laws and an April California Supreme Court ruling by continuing to classify its drivers as independent contractors.

  • The result, per the car service company, is that Uber’s ability to avoid paying minimum wage and employee benefits enables it to unfairly price its service below regulated competitors. In total, the company estimates Uber likely saves $500 million from its California drivers per year.
  • Why it matters: “Gig economy” companies like Uber have long fought attempts to force them to classify their contractors as full employees, arguing that the contractor status allows them to provide the flexibility workers want. But critics argue that it’s actually a way for these companies to avoid additional labor costs and justify their astronomical tech valuations.

Our thought bubble: Uber has faced similar lawsuits before, including one still tied up in appeals courts, but the California Supreme Court could change what happens here.

Separately: Uber said Thursday it would spend $150 million on an engineering hub in Toronto to house its work on self-driving cars and other advanced projects.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Spotify CMO Seth Farbman is out after 3.5 years, according to an SEC filing spotted by Recode's Peter Kafka.
  • Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens, who stepped down as CEO nine months ago, is leaving the company. (GeekWire)


6. After you Login

A nurse in Silicon Valley realized that the premature baby she helped care for nearly three decades ago is now her colleague and a second-year pediatric resident.

Ina Fried