In another big year for technology news, there were, as always, plenty of winners and losers. Here Red Herring checks out some of those who felt on top of the world, and others whose years they’d rather forget…
2015 was a year in which lots of emergent tech – 3D printing, virtual reality, drones – broke out from the nerdosphere into the wide world of consumer ken. Big firms such as Apple, Facebook and Microsoft continued to grow their multifaceted empires while others, like Netflix – which began making award-winning content as well as beaming it into homes – broke new ground, winning territories and commanding chunks of sectors that, with increased globalization, grow exponentially.
But as all great lists do, we’ve pulled aside some headline winners and losers from 2015 – let us know what you think in the comments below.
Not only has Uber looked to have won over its civilian and government doubters in Europe this year, but the rideshare behemoth has pushed into even more cities and countries, becoming available in 68 nations, as this month was reported to be looking for a $2.1 billion funding round, which would value Travis Kalanick’s 2009-founded firm at a whopping $62.5 billion.
These eye-watering figures don’t disguise the possibility, however, that 2016 could bring differing fortunes for Uber. Lyft, its biggest rival, is itself seeking $500 million – and facsimiles in developing markets, like India’s Ola (featured earlier this year at Red Herring) and GrabTaxi of Singapore, have had Uber scrambling to prevent its self-created market fragmenting.
More worrying for the San Francisco-headquartered company, perhaps, will be September’s ruling that a California driver was an employee, not a contractor, as it had argued. The case, in Los Angeles suburb Inglewood, might spark a succession of similar actions that could dampen, if not destroy, Uber’s business model, which is based on drivers being their own bosses.
Berlin-based Rocket’s motto is ‘We Build Companies’. Some might suggest it should be changed to ‘We Buy or Copy Companies’, but the German giant has had a stellar year nonetheless. It has dominated the European food delivery market with its Global Online Takeaway Group, which made a foray into the Middle East with May’s acquisition of Turkish leader Yemeksepeti. Following its IPO on last year’s curtain call, Oliver Samwer’s charges are worth around €6.1 billion ($6.66 billion).
But a year later, Rocket’s boosters are misfiring just a little. Early this month there were gossipy rumors suggesting employee satisfaction was at a low ebb. Most recently, Samwer had to issue a public statement allaying fears of plummeting profits at the firm, assuring shareholders that Rocket’s best-performing companies had increased revenue by 120% in the first three quarters of 2015.
That may be true. And this latest blip is not enough to knock Rocket off its pad, just yet. But Samwer and co, beware: many of its companies are losing money. And despite a model based, Samwer says, on the quickfire dealings of Alibaba – another of 2015’s big winners – Germany’s most successful incubator-cum-accelerator-cum-startup factory has a lot on its hands in 2016.
Politically it has been a mixed bag for the E.U. The Syrian refugee crisis has showed the best and worst of the union, and has, at times, strained it to its nebulous core. Britain’s leaders want out, Greece has continued to pull on the financial anchor and old tensions in central Europe have tightened – quite literally – with fences and overzealous footmen. With the swell of asylum-seekers set to grow in 2016, it could be make or break for the world’s richest territory.
Technologically, however, the EU has enjoyed something of an annus mirabilis, both in its ability to combine constituent forces against a perceived moral and economic bogeyman – Silicon Valley – and, concomitantly, whack a dent in one of the world’s superpowers – namely, Google.
Whether the E.U.’s fights on the antitrust, tax or Safe Harbor fronts can be viewed as overall wins for technology depend very much on the observer, and his or her politics. But as victories for Brussels, few of this year’s major headlines can be disputed. A new year, and renewed battles in privacy and other matters, will be exciting to observe, even if its outcomes don’t necessarily suit many of the startup community’s free market crusaders.
It barely needs writing, really. Volkswagen Group had been having a good year until, in September, someone at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noticed something awry with the company’s diesel engines’ emissions. Since then the Wolfsburg giant has been on a rapid downward spiral, starting with the resignation of longtime CEO Martin Winterkorn, and most recently the slashing of stablemate Audi’s 2016 budget.
Anyone thinking of making a quick buck on a Teutonic stock resurgence should think twice, too: VW could still be on the receiving end of an $18 billion fine, as the emissions scandal has affected around 11 million vehicles – leaving a monumental mopping-up job for Winterkorn’s successor Matthias Müller. Müller, like his predecessor, was also chief of Porsche. VW investors will be desperately hoping the new leader can steer a global leader away from disaster. It will probably be a slow journey.
Yes, there have been a lot of bad years for technology companies – from the wiping of energy values to Qualcomm’s telco woes. But few firms can count 2015 as badly as semiconductor leader Micron, whose stock has lost almost 60% of its value since January. Put simply, not many people are buying PCs these days – and the Boise, Idaho-headquartered company has had little with which to answer that exodus.
In March this year researcher IDC cut its predictions for the PC market, claiming that shipments would decline by 4.9%. Micron’s dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips lean heavily on that market, so the results have been disastrous. Today the U.S.’ last remaining DRAM chip maker’s revenue is $3.35 billion, down from $4.57 billion last year. With the PC market showing no signs of resurgence, it will be interesting to see how Micron fares in 2016.
Gender equality in tech
Despite the usual tech journalist echo chamber – the ‘Women In Tech On The Rise’ vs ‘Women In Tech Get Raw Deal’ face-off – few can conclude that 2015 has been anything but disappointing at best, for those hoping that humanity’s most advanced industry can achieve something resembling gender equality. From the ongoing woes of Gamergate to Ellen Pao’s battles against Kleiner Perkins and Reddit, little has been done at boardroom level or below, to wright tech’s wrongs and even up its yawning gender gap.
So yawning that fewer than a third of U.S. venture capital firms employ a single female; or that among the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, only 25 are women. 23 of them have an all-male board of directors – something which should stand as a massive shame not only to American society but to technology, which is just as prone as other industries to having a ‘boys’ club’ attitude to business.
All of this is while women adopt technology more readily than men, and that several studies have shown that female employees frequently outperform their male counterparts. “As a woman in tech you will encounter male bias no matter the location of your ecosystem,” Kalie Moore, a Berlin startup expert, told Red Herring for a June report. “I’ve spent significantly more time than my male counterparts proving myself before my opinion is recognized.”