Industry News The Week That Was

Spotify makes its market debut, a flurry of fintech floats & turbulent tech stocks

Harriet Green
Written by Harriet Green

This will be the last The Week That Was for a while – and for good reason: the OFF3R team are focusing their full attention on building Pia, a brand new AI-enabled investment companion. Now is the time to get on board: click for early access to Pia, and be involved in shaping this brand new product.

If you’re reading this, you’ll likely already be in the know regarding many of the new financial products and services that are transforming investment. Pia is in the vanguard of the very latest wave of technology: using artificial intelligence and machine learning to bring a seamless, bespoke experience to individuals across the financial spectrum. OFF3R would love your help!

In the meantime, here’s what happened this week:-

THE ROUNDUP

Spotify made its market debut with its direct public offering (DPO), where existing shares were sold, rather than new ones being issued. With shares trading around the $150 mark, the Swedish firm is worth around $29bn – more than the likes of Twitter. The main takeaway is that investors plainly believe in Spotify’s streaming model. Of course, the firm still hasn’t turned a profit. Maybe that isn’t important in the medium-term – it took Amazon 15 years to make anything because expansion and dominance took precedence – but you are left wondering if streaming music can ever be a profitable business.

How blockchain could change music. Spotify has paid close to $10bn in royalties since it launched in 2006. It might be the case that someone comes up with a scalable blockchain-based solution for documenting and trading intellectual property. Doing so could dramatically decrease the cost of accessing music – for both the consumer and the middleman platform – because you would have a transparent and permanent record of who owned what, and the ability for them to share. The first to move on this, I think, are likely to be large law firms rolling out private distributed ledgers to do something along these lines, but that will just make lawyers, as middlemen, more efficient, rather than writing them out of the equation.

The DPO comes at a turbulent time for tech stocks. Major US indices fell into correction territory this week, and many analysts are saying this is just the start of a longer downturn. Markets are worried about the worsening trade spat breaking out between the US and China, and the tech titans are each facing their own issues: Facebook’s humungus fine, and is Amazon really worth its valuation?

Tech companies account for almost 80 percent of the top ten market capitalisations. Before the financial crisis, Microsoft was the only tech stock in that group, alongside banks and oil companies. This is the age where networks are valuable. That said, the world’s leading tech firms do all have fundamentally different models, products and services: Alibaba’s marketplace is not the same as Apple’s electronic devices.

But what will come next? In a decade, will the stock market’s biggest players be VR firms, or space exploration companies?

French President Emmanuel Macron said this week that he thinks the internet giants have become too big to govern, comparing them to the oil magnates of the early twentieth century and suggesting they might have to be dismantled. Dismantling tech companies would be on the very strong end of government’s very blunt instrument. Tech firms have benefited from two things: network effects, which engender exponential growth and just about exponential profits too, and government privilege. We mustn’t forget that companies are able to become so large because the state mandates what a company is, via the law. Blockchain believers will tell you that Internet 3.0 will look fundamentally different because it will flatten ownership structures: web infrastructure and application builders will have to operate in an open source environment; the era of walled garden, data-owning-and-using giants will come to an end.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, we’ve seen a flurry of fintech floats this week. The FTSE and Aim have seen 16 IPOs this year, with 11 in the financial services sector, according to a new EY report. Despite activity being down 38 percent on the same period last year, the amount raised climbed 6 percent to £1.3bn. My sense from fintech founders is that most would love to list their companies; it’s just a case of getting big enough to do so – and not selling to a bank or tech firm along the way!

CAUGHT OUR EYE

Person

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a new book out called Skin in the Game. In it, he conjectures that people who don’t have skin in the game but who are rewarded for their time will frequently seek complicated solutions for problems that can be solved with simple solutions. This, to my mind, neatly sums up certainly the nature of public services and probably describes what’s going on in most corporates as well. The output is swathes of middle managers, meetings and various decision-trees. The outcome is that millions of people who think (apparently) and shunt emails for a living may not be doing anything that adds value at all, let alone useful.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you may like to check out the VeraSage Institute and the concept of value pricing. In fact, if you’ve ever worked via or encountered the billable hour, you should take a look!

Tech

Artificial milk is coming. This is a seismic ongoing news story that hasn’t received a lot of coverage: artificial cow’s milk is getting closer to supermarket shelves every day. How many vegans do you know? (Relative to how many you knew two years ago.) How many people find the dairy market ugly? (The farmers always seem to be lovely people, but they do have to turn cows into milk machines and repeatedly take their calves away.)

Californian startup Perfect Day makes milk using a special sort of yeast that has been genetically engineered to produce milk proteins – they call the process the “out-of-body udder”. This isn’t a plant-based milk; it’s synthesised cows milk. And it doesn’t come with the unpleasant environmental baggage that many vegan-related products do. It’ll be more expensive to start with, but will get cheaper, and have a much longer shelf life.

About the author

Harriet Green

Harriet Green

Harriet Green is a former financial and business journalist. She left City AM earlier this year to set up a company that creates new forms of ownership in public services. She covered fintech, alternative finance and entrepreneurship for four years, but now you’ll more likely find her in a public convenience north of Birmingham. Harriet also works as a consultant for venture-stage tech firms.