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2021 planning: New business models, big opportunity

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When the pandemic threw the world into disarray in spring 2020, most organizations responded by holding on—barely, at times. Executives assessed the impact on operations and dealt with the immediate emergency. Now businesses are ready to move beyond resilience and recovery and capture growth. 

Certainly, corporate execs and finance professionals have to focus on the future and take advantage of emerging technology. “You have to evolve to succeed,” explains Scott Brown, senior vice president of finance at tech distributor Mouser Electronics. “Whether it’s software, hardware or automation, we are investing in state-of-the-art solutions and systems to help us work smarter across all areas of the company.” 

The good news: Nearly everyone is feeling optimistic. A worldwide survey of 297 business executives conducted by MIT Technology Review Insights, in association with Oracle, shows that organizations are ready to invest in innovative ideas to reinvigorate their organizations. And they’re getting the work underway. 

The journey from survive to thrive 

The pandemic challenged every business in 2020. It tested every element of organizations’ workflows and utterly changed their planning processes. But by autumn, most executives had a handle on the situation. When they spoke with MIT Technology Review Insights, they were busy designing strategic business plans for 2021. Among them: major business model and technology adjustments to help them achieve success. 

Most execs are upbeat about their companies’ future. Few are are postponing any sort of changes for the next 18 months or putting everything on hold until things shake out. 

Overall, 47% expect their business to thrive in 2021, 36% expect their organizations to transform, and only 12% are hunkering down for a bleak year of survival. Herein, “thrive” is distinguished as a successful continuation of an existing business model. Take a manufacturer of standing desks—there’s a good chance it’s selling a lot more with the influx of employees now working from home. Compare that to “transform,” or making significant changes. That might include rethinking how a company sells to customers or adding a new product line. 

The 2021 objectives vary by company size to some degree. Large companies—which in this report are organizations with more than $1 billion in revenue—are more open to transforming; in contrast, small and midsize companies aim to thrive. 

Making big moves 

Perhaps it’s possible to cope in the short term by making modest adjustments, such as renegotiating supply chain contracts or reskilling displaced workers. But many companies have used the pandemic as an opportunity to reassess their business. Which parts can succeed mostly as-is? Which need redirection? Which should be eliminated? Where are the untapped growth areas? Whatever their conclusions, corporate executives are taking action. 

These are rarely small changes. For instance, some in the retail industry quickly found ways to keep business buoyant while stores were closed—bolstering their e-commerce setups and making it easier for customers to shop online or arrange for contactless pickup at a store. The coffee industry made changes across its entire supply chain, from harvest to the local coffee shop, despite the uncertainty of demand. 

In 2021, 80% of businesses surveyed are planning strategic big moves, such as acquisitions, divestitures, new business models, and widespread automation. In fact, 39% have already made a “big move” in 2020. Just over a quarter of businesses, 27%, are contemplating such plans in 2021. In some cases—14% overall—the major plans are underway but are not scheduled for deployment in the next 36 months. 

Big moves are more likely to be undertaken by larger organizations; 87% of businesses with more than $1 billion in revenue have plans, compared with 76% of smaller businesses. These large-scale changes are also more common in the Americas—84%, compared with roughly three quarters with such plans in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), and Asia-Pacific. 

Download the full report.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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This is the new interior of Tesla’s Model S

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The Model S will see some significant changes to its interior this year. After months of rumors, Tesla confirmed the revisions in a few images released just ahead of its quarterly earnings call scheduled for later this afternoon.

Some of the changes — like the shift to a widescreen display — are things that have made their way over from the Model 3. Others are entirely new.

(Update: Tesla has updated its website with refreshed ordering pages that indicate the Model X SUV will be getting the below revisions as well!)

Here’s what we’ve spotted so far:

An airplane-style steering “yoke” (similar to the one spotted in prototypes of Tesla’s new Roadster) instead of a standard round wheel.

Image Credits: Tesla

The front center screen is now a 17″ widescreen display, instead of a 17″ tall/portrait display. The resolution, meanwhile, is shifting from 1900×1200 to 2200×1300.

Image Credits: Tesla

In addition to the 12.3″ driver display above the steering yoke, there’s also now an 8″ display in the rear (presumably so passengers can more easily play the car’s built-in games in the back, as displayed.)

Image Credits: Tesla

Tesla’s earnings call is scheduled to start at 3:30pm Pacific. If they mention anything else changing about the interior, we’ll update this post.

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IAC’s Teltech acquired encrypted mobile messaging app Confide

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IAC has acquired Confide, the encrypted mobile messaging that once made headlines for its use by White House staffers during the Trump administration. The deal, which closed on Dec. 1, 2020 but was not publicly announced, sees Confide joining Teltech, the makers of spam call-busting app Robokiller, which itself had joined IAC’s Mosaic Group by way of a 2018 acquisition.

Teltech confirmed the Confide acquisition, but declined to share the deal terms. The confidential mobile messaging app had raised just $3.5 million in funding, according to Crunchbase data, and had been valued between $10 to $50 million, as a result. (Pitchbook put the valuation at ~$14 million around the same time.)

According to Teltech, the deal was for the Confide IP and technology, but not the team.

The company believes Confide makes for a good fit among its growing group of mobile communication apps, including Robokiller and its latest app, SwitchUp, which offers users a second phone number for additional privacy and spam blocking purposes. Other Teletech apps include phone call recorder TapeACall and blocked call unmasker TrapCall.

Confide, however, may end up being one of the better-known additions among that group, thanks to being remembered as a favored tool of choice among frustrated Washington Republicans during the Trump years.

But despite the user growth that news had driven, things slowed in the months that followed, when researchers published a report that claimed Confide wasn’t as secure as it had promised. Confide quickly fixed its vulnerabilities but then a month later was facing a class action lawsuit (later dismissed by the plaintiff) over the security issues.

Teltech says it was aware of the security concerns, but it had conversations with the prior Confide team and understands that the earlier issues had been “quickly and effectively remediated.”

While IAC won’t speak to its specific plans for Confide’s future, the app will continue to offer users a safe and secure way to communicate. What it won’t do, though, is try to directly compete with Telegram or other private apps that offer large channels or group chats that support tens of thousands of people at once.

“I think one kind of key differentiators is that Confide is definitely more for one-on-one and smaller group communication, rather than with Signal and Telegram where there’s some larger chat dynamics,” notes Giulia Porter, Teltech’s VP of Marketing. “One thing that makes us a little bit different is just that we’re more personal,” she says.

Despite having hit some bumps in the road over the years, Confide as of the time of the acquisition, still had around 100,000 monthly active users. There’s now a team of around 10 assigned to work on the app, adding needed resources to its further development, and soon, an updated logo and branding.

Confide’s existing desktop and mobile apps will also continue to be available, but later updated with new features as part of Teltech’s efforts.

Investors and IAC alike have declined to talk about deal price, but that may speak for itself.

“With the absolute explosion in privacy over the past several years, Confide, which started as a side project, has become a mission-critical platform for sensitive communication throughout the world,” said Confide co-founder and President Jon Brod, in a statement shared with TechCrunch about Confide’s exit.

“We’re thrilled that IAC shares our passion for secure communication and recognizes the unique business we have built. IAC has a proven track record of providing fast-growing companies with the support to reach their full potential and we are excited to see IAC take Confide to the next level,” he said.

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Squarespace files privately to go public

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Squarespace announced this afternoon that it is going public. The online website creation and hosting service is a venture-backed entity, having raised Series A and B rounds in 2010 and 2014, respectively. Those deals were worth a combined $78.5 million, according to Crunchbase data.

But Squarespace is perhaps best known for its epic 2017-era $200 million secondary round that General Atlantic financed. A secondary round is a transaction in which an external party buys share from existing shareholders, instead of the company issuing new equity. Some private companies execute secondary transactions when they do not need additional capital, but are also not near a liquidity event.

The 2017 transaction fits well with the company’s now-impending 2021 IPO.

At the time TechCrunch reported that the company had revenues of around $300 million and that it was profitable.

By filing, Squarespace joins a growing list of companies pursuing the public markets in recent months. At the end of 2020 C3.ai, DoorDash and Airbnb listed. To kick off 2021, Affirm and Poshmark listed to great effect. Coinbase has filed, Robinhood is a hot IPO prospect, and now Squarespace is throwing its hat into the ring.

The Squarespace filing is private, which means that we are waiting for a future public S-1 from the company. Here’s its own words on the current state of affairs:

Squarespace, Inc. today announced that it has confidentially submitted a draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”). The registration statement is expected to become effective after the SEC completes its review process, subject to market and other conditions.

As Squarespace is a software company, a cloud company and a company with a hand in the e-commerce space, we can only presume that it will suffer from a stultifying lack of investor interest when it does file, price and list.1 After all, we’ve not seen a hot software IPO for weeks.

Hat’s off to Squarespace for freeing us from the news doldrums. We’re going back to our nap now.

1This is sarcasm.

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