Edit №049 — Weekly Newsletter on Corporate Innovation & Venture — Power to the Platform, sent August 30, 2020
The Recap — What didn’t Amazon do this week?
We’d never accuse Amazon of shirking an opportunity, but it’s nearly getting silly. Soon we’ll need a dedicated newsletter just for Amazon-related updates. It seems internal project teams have been busy drawing down on some of that inflating float (AMZN stock is up 179% YTD), and this week saw quite a few initiatives receive the spotlight. They’ve stepped deeper into health via their Halo wearable. They’ve expanded into fresh grocery, adding to their GO and WholeFoods stores. They’re rumored to soon be entering High Fashion. They added an AR tool to help mentally place home decor (and hopefully buy quite a few items while you’re at it). And they are pushing ahead with delivery robots.
This epitomizes our theme this week — platform power. Amazon is the ultimate platform. From it’s humble bookselling origins, Bezos has been on a singular mission — extending the platform — which of course is anything but singular in how it manifests. It’s the simplest way to explain the soaring stock value. Amazon is embedded in many facets of our lives, not just one.
Sure, many of these are still experiments — affordable ones for the likes of Bezos. But they’re also brilliant in that they extend along the X, Y and Z axes. Some stretch into new markets, new customers — like the fresh grocery. Some stretch into new capabilities, like the AR shopping tool or the Scout robot. Some are farther out and stretchier, such as the toe-dip into personalized health via the Halo, and some closer in to the core business like the luxe fashion aggregator play. This is strong innovation methodology — something Bezos has shown extreme mastery over. We hope that others without the riches of Amazon will be able to emulate this behavior, because it’s this treatment of the platform — simultaneously leveraging and stretching it — that will see Amazon serving the next several generations, not just this one.
Walmart Reorganizes its E-Commerce Positioning.
Walmart is looking to lean up it’s e-commerce platform profile by jettisoning a couple of it’s e-commerce brands — Shoes.com and Bare Necessities. And no, it isn’t so that it can free up resources for TikTok — though that is apparently a dream that somehow fits into Walmart’s e-commerce ambitions (see here).
Nike too is tightening its digital aperture — in its case dropping a big ole handful of retailers from its “strategic partner” set, including Zappos, Belk, and Dillards. Almost 1,000 retail stores are represented between them.
Sure, this feels quite different from Amazon’s laundry list of innovations, but it’s of similar intent, just a few steps (or giant leaps) behind. These optimization maneuvers center the core of the platform, which for both Nike and Walmart was suffering from a lack of focus. Now, this serves as a key enabling activity for what can come next — focused growth projects into either new customer categories or new capabilities, with a tether to the mothership. Leaning up is just the first step in the pre-launch checklist.
Credit Suisse pivots retail offering to focus on clients with complex needs.
Financial giants are wielding their platform power too. Credit Suisse is re-envisioning its retail locations for clients with complex needs. This will be paired with digital services, as they acknowledge the obvious — that the the digital future of financial services arrived a few months ago. This anchoring in customer needs is a strong position, whether it’s late or not.
Not to be left out of the UK-based challenger bank fun, JP Morgan is launching a digital bank under the Chase brand in the UK some time later this year. Interestingly, this move comes after JPM abandoned Finn, their US mobile bank, in 2019. Given that the UK has been a hot market for challengers, there will be plenty of competition for the latecomer. Plus, there have been noteworthy failures — Bo from Natwest shut down after only 6 months last year. So, will they have learned enough from Finn to succeed where Natwest failed? This question underlies the degree to which they will leverage and extend their platform strength, or miss the mark. Will be interesting to watch play out!
Quick Links — Interesting reads from the rest of the market
The Water Cooler — Conversation starters for around the (virtual) office
Russia just declassified footage of the largest Nuke ever tested. Take a look inside the story of the 25-year, $8 million heist from the Carnegie Library. Tragic College quarantine meals are going viral on TikTok. Rolex launches a concert series to support musicians and artists affected by the current pandemic. The Arkup 75 is the villa-of-the-sea for the ocean lovers who don’t want their yacht to look so much like a normal, everyday boat. Notorious B.I.G’s plastic crown may fetch $300,000 at Sotheby’s.
The Corporate Card — Corporate Venture & M&A Deals
The Bulletin Board — Job openings and opportunities
Vice President — Strategy & Business Development at The Gap. This leader is responsible for helping establish the long-term strategic direction of Gap Inc. along with members of the Senior Leadership Team. This VP will be a key leader in strategic change initiatives to drive growth, develop corporate strategy and will drive new business development opportunities, including M&A. As a key thought leader, this role brings together end to end strategies across brands and functions. This role will help to formulate all aspects of corporate strategy from market & competitor research, planning, initiative management and business development activities.
VP of Corporate Development at Ro. This person will lead Ro’s Corporate Development function. They will source, negotiate, structure, and execute strategic acquisitions and investments that ladder up to Ro’s strategy. Innovation is needed in healthcare now more than ever and it won’t all come from a single company — this role will be instrumental in helping to identify the strategic acquisitions that will enable Ro to achieve it’s overarching goal to become a patient’s first call.