Axios What's Next

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What are all those "chief metaverse officers" hired a few months back actually doing every day? Alex recently called them up to find out.

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1 big thing: Checking in with chief metaverse officers

Illustration of a hand reaching out of a portal into the metaverse holding a magnifying glass.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The "chief metaverse officers" hired at big companies around the world in recent months are spending their days crafting big-picture strategy and evangelizing for the underlying technology, even as the metaverse itself — meaning shared, interconnected virtual worlds — remains a fragmented dream, Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

Why it matters: Proponents say the metaverse — essentially the internet made immersive, thanks in part to virtual and augmented reality — is the next big thing in connectivity and commerce.

  • Many Fortune 500 companies are at least metaverse-curious, for fear of missing out on what might be the next big tech opportunity.

What's happening: The metaverse execs who spoke with Axios for this story generally said they're doing a combination of research, strategy and working with colleagues and clients to figure out how to approach the metaverse and related technologies, such as web3.

  • "I spent a year researching, learning, and now educating and bringing the team along because I see the metaverse and web3 technology as not only having fascinating consumer-facing applications, but also as an important part of creating value inside of organizations as tools that can impact all of our working functions," says Sebastian Brauer, head of metaverse and web3 at furniture retailer Crate & Barrel.
  • Over at talent agency CAA, chief metaverse officer Joanna Popper is helping clients understand and capitalize on the space while seeking investment opportunities: "[We] very much see this as a moment to be aligning, testing, learning, experimenting and growing with the industry, but also making bets that are going to pay out over time."
  • Edwina Fitzmaurice, chief customer success officer at consulting firm EY, has been working on the recently launched EY metaverse lab — a "sandbox" where clients can "build out worlds and experiences" before they're ready for the public, she says.

Yes, but: The "metaverse" has become entangled with related but distinct emerging technologies, such as cryptocurrency. And as the crypto market tumbles, it could get harder for metaverse evangelists to convince skeptics — both internally and externally.

The other side: Popper argues that the strongest companies of the current web era — your Googles and Facebooks — arose from the ashes of the dot-com bust.

  • "So many of the companies that are synonymous with how we think about technology companies today... were built coming out of that winter," she says, referring to the early 2000s.

Of note: Fitzmaurice's team is working with disabled, blind and neurodiverse people to better understand how metaverse spaces can be made accessible from the beginning.

  • "We're experimenting and looking at the metaverse worlds from all these angles because we believe that the metaverse should be there for everybody," she says.

💬 Alex's thought bubble: Games like Roblox and Minecraft are the closest thing we have to a fully-formed metaverse, and that'll probably stay true for a while — most consumers don't see the point in shared virtual worlds just yet.

What's next: That said, expect major companies to start rolling out more metaverse initiatives as the underlying tech (like VR headsets) keeps developing.

  • Today's metaverse experiences are like the tip of an iceberg, Brauer says: "What most companies are building now is underwater, and you can't really see them."
  • "But technology has evolved to a place where now we're able to unlock all these experiences. And I think that's coming rather soon."

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2. Vietnamese EVs head stateside

VinFast LLC's VF8 electric vehicles are loaded into a ship for export at a port in Haiphong, Vietnam, on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.

VinFast VF 8 electric vehicles are loaded onto a ship for export at a port in Haiphong, Vietnam, on Nov. 25, 2022. Photo: Linh Pham/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Vietnamese electric vehicle (EV) startup VinFast has shipped almost 1,000 VF 8 models to California, Axios' Ben Geman reports, marking the company's first step in a major global push.

Why it matters: EVs are becoming more widely available in the U.S. and elsewhere as startups and legacy automakers bring new models to market.

  • There were 84 kinds of EVs available in the U.S. in mid-2022, up from 59 at the end of 2020, per a recent BloombergNEF report.

What we're watching: VinFast is planning to build a North Carolina factory that could begin churning out cars in 2024.

3. Spend, spend, spend

Overview of shoppers filling the halls of a New York mall.

Overview of shoppers filling the halls of a New York mall. Photo: Howard Schnapp/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Shoppers spent a record $9.12 billion online during this year's Black Friday sales, Axios' Herb Scribner reports.

Why it matters: These record-breaking sales happened amid rising concerns about inflation and the cost of living.

Details: Black Friday online sales jumped 2.3% year-over-year, according to Adobe Analytics data.

  • Electronics purchases led the way, soaring by 221% compared to an average day in October. Smart home items jumped 271% and audio items rose 230%.
  • Gaming was a popular category, with buyers snagging Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles, as well as popular games FIFA 23, NBA 2K23 and Pokemon Scarlet & Violet.
  • Toys (up 285% compared to last year) and exercise equipment (up 218%) also performed well.

The big picture: Prices for gas, food, rent and essentials are up this year, which has left consumers in search of deals and discounts this holiday shopping season.

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4. 📈 Workers aren't worried about their jobs

Data: Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. workers aren't too worried about job security, Axios' Kate Marino reports.

Why it matters: Despite all the headlines (including ours!) chronicling the wave of layoffs hitting the tech industry, most Americans work in other sectors and still feel pretty good.

State of play: Across all income groups, the share of U.S. adults who fear they could lose their job in the next month ticked down during November — and is sitting near series low points, according to polling for the Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index dating back to May 2020.

Yes, but: When Americans put their consumer hats on, they're less optimistic — consumer sentiment is also near series lows.

The bottom line: "Despite consumers being pessimistic, economists being pessimistic and the Federal Reserve intentionally reducing demand — workers remain very optimistic," says Jesse Wheeler, economic analyst at Morning Consult.

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5. One fun thing: AI art helps young readers

A page from a Two Tails book featuring Maple, the dog. Courtesy of Two Tails

A page from a Two Tails book featuring Maple the dog. Image courtesy of Two Tails

A Denver-based startup is using AI to insert kids' real-life dogs into story and number books for young readers, Axios' John Frank reports.

  • The idea is that seeing their actual pets will make the books more engaging for kids, compared to generic, off-the-shelf options.

How it works: Shoppers send Two Tails Story Co. a couple photos of the family pup.

  • Then the company's AI creates lifelike drawings of the pet and inputs them into premade scenes.
  • Human illustrators also review the work.

What they're saying: "Every dog [in the book] will look like your dog… that's our value proposition. It's not a cartoon," says founder Daniel Cohen. "It's a hand-drawn sketch of your dog, very similar to if you commissioned something."

Read the rest.

Big thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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