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In the early 1500s, England faced an existential economic crisis: Demand for their most lucrative export, woolen cloth, was plunging in Europe. They needed to find new markets for their product –and fast.
So a group of merchants set their sights on the vast market of Cathay –the word used at the time to refer to China –then the largest economy in the world, with nearly 30 percent of global GDP. (By comparison, India during this period produced roughly 20-25 percent of global GDP. England was peripheral to the world economy, producing an inconsequential 1 percent of global GDP.)
These English merchants sent expeditions in search of a new overland sea route that, they hoped, would take them over the European continent to China, enabling them to avoid having to sail through waters controlled by the Spanish and the Portuguese, their arch rivals.
After failing to reach Cathay (though they did make it as far as Moscow), they decided to turn westward, eventually reaching the shores of America, where they established small trading outposts and, eventually, full-fledged colonies.
This is how the tale begins in a captivating new book by Simon Targett and John Butman, New World, Inc.: The Making of America by England’s Merchant Adventurers. Through meticulous research and a flair for bringing a colorful cast of long-deceased characters back to life, Targett and Butman tell the story of the founding of one of history’s most successful startups: America.
“It’s the ‘prequel’ to the Pilgrims,” Targett told me in a recent podcast conversation. “You can’t really understand America today if you only go as far back as the Pilgrims. Of course they are an important part of the founding. But there were many trips for 70 years before the Pilgrims, who eventually arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. As we delved further, we tracked and traced an unbroken chain of voyages. And we felt the story of these merchant adventurers –what we call the ‘forgotten founders’ – provide a better narrative.”
Targett and Butman relate the fascinating and largely untold story of the earliest days of globalization, of innovation and entrepreneurial risk-taking, and of the creation of some of the earliest venture-financed companies in the world.
“What they did initially was to setup a company,” explains Targett. “This we think of as perhaps the forefrunner of all modern corporations. It was called ‘The Mysterie, Company, and Fellowship of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places Unknown.'”
This was a period when the newly-coined word, “company,” was just starting to become a part of the English language. In a fascinating bit of etymology, Targett explains how the word was formed through the conjunction of the Latin words, “com,” meaning “together,” and “panis,” meaning, “bread.” Together, the word loosely means, “the breaking of bread together.”
Of course, English merchants had supported and funded voyages for decades, and these had often been funded either by private individuals or private syndicates. “But the idea of going across the world required a higher level of organization and financing, so they set up this company which not only allowed them to pool their resources, but also allowed them to attract their resources from people who didn’t want to get involved in the mundane running of company.”
Like the startups of today, most of which are statistically prone to flop, failure was very much a part of the story. “It’s remarkable how many setbacks these people experienced and yet they continued to believe there was a pot of gold or a fortune to be made at the end of it,” observes Targett. “And, in a way, that driving spirit was key to these people. It’s another feature of a modern America that we feel needs to be traced back to before the Pilgrims.”
Targett compares these risk-taking, adventurous ‘forgotten founders’ of 16th and 17th-century England to one of the boldest entrepreneurs of our era, Elon Musk. “To some extent the people that we write about, these ‘forgotten founders,’ were venture capitalists. They were very much the Elon Musks of their day. Just as he is dreaming of new worlds, in his case Mars, their new world was America. And he’s pulling together some of the best minds to help him design some of the rockets and the spaceships that will be needed. Likewise, the merchants pulled together the very best minds of their days, the scientists, the navigators, the buccaneers, the marketers.”
“These ‘forgotten founders’ and the people they sent across were the first people to really experience and live the American dream. These were the people that often went across with nothing but made their place and made their home. They didn’t all make fortunes but they found a life, they found a place in society.”
The newest big trend in tech startups is in turn fueling an emergent youth culture, as teenagers and young adults spend their free time collecting and charging electric scooters. Some compare it to a game—one that they’re getting paid pretty well for playing, but also comes with some real-world risks.
As reported by The Atlantic, the part-time gig is sometimes called ‘Bird hunting.’ That name comes from Bird, the most prominent company in a wave of new “dockless” scooter and bike rental startups, which use smartphone apps to both rent and track light vehicles.
The systems offer a potentially innovative solution to urban transportation, particularly what’s known as the “last mile” problem: how to get users of public transit from stations to their doorsteps. Because they can be dropped off anywhere, the rental vehicles can be more convenient for riders than personal scooters or bikes (though they can also, according to some city officials, create a “public nuisance”).
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The apparent convenience of those systems, though, is created by a lot of behind-the-scenes work, much of it done by contractors, known as “chargers,” who collect and charge the scooters. Several young chargers described their work to The Atlantic as a fun side-hustle—one even compared it to playing Pokémon GO, since it involves using an app to find the GPS-tagged scooters. The “prizes” for finding scooters are also game-like, with chargers paid more for retrieving scooters that are harder to find. Young chargers report teaming up to do the work faster, starting what amount to small businesses with some socializing thrown in for good measure.
Rewards can range up to $ 20 for a single scooter, and chargers described making up to several hundred dollars per night. Those rewards are likely to decline, assuming that Bird and other startups are following the standard tech-industry model of sacrificing revenue for market share early on (at least $ 250 million in venture capital supports Bird and similar companies). But the game-like aspects of charging may make workers less price sensitive.
That said, just as Uber has become a primary source of income for many of its drivers, it’s clear that recharging scooters is not a game for everyone. Chargers interviewed by The Atlantic describe occasional conflicts over scooter bounties, manipulation of the reward systems, and outright theft of the scooters, which criminals have been known to chop up for parts. Perhaps worst of all, some report that criminals are hunting the hunters—using scooters as bait, then mugging the chargers who arrive to retrieve them.
CHIBA (Reuters) – Japanese electronics components firm Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd aims to turn around its money-losing battery business within two to three years as its safety technology draws strong interest from smartphone vendors, its chief executive said.
“We are seeing brisk demand for our smartphone batteries due to their safety performance, particularly since a series of incidents last year involving overheating batteries,” Tsuneo Murata said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday.
The firm’s battery business, most of which it acquired from Sony Corp for 17.5 billion yen ($ 154.8 million) last month, uses gel electrolytes for smartphone batteries, which are less prone to fire than commonly used liquid-type batteries.
Murata plans to boost battery revenue to 200 billion yen in the year through March 2021, up around 30 percent from current levels, with capital investment of 50 billion yen over the next two to three years.
Half of battery revenue currently comes from smartphone batteries, and the proportion will not change in the coming years, the CEO said.
He said sales expansion will come through focusing on battery efficiency, with the aim of raising the sales volume of each product rather than broadening Murata’s product line-up.
He also sees no need to rush into the automotive battery business, which he said is already highly competitive. “It won’t be too late to make decisions after a clear trend emerges in the green-car market,” Murata said.
The CEO also maintained the firm’s 2019 goal of commercializing all-solid-state batteries, a new type of battery that significantly increases safety.
The battery will be initially mounted on wearable devices, where safety is the top priority, Murata said, adding that more work needs to be done to increase energy density before launch.
Toyota Motor Corp is working on an electric car powered by an all-solid-state battery that significantly increases driving range and reduces charging time. Murata said his firm’s battery is different to that of Toyota.
Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki and Yoshiyasu Shida; Editing by Christopher Cushing
The business of e-commerce is booming. And considering how easy it is to build a website, starting an online business has become very competitive. Right from identifying a product with the right target audience, then analyzing its potential, and making a strategic business plan, it involves making many decisions.
A recent report on e-commerce trends revealed more about the growth of e-commerce sales, and insights into the behavior of online shoppers, including:
- E-commerce is growing at a rate of 23 percent every year. Still, 46 percent of small businesses in America do not have a website
51 percent of Americans shop online, while 49 percent prefer to shop at physical stores
Online orders increased 8.9 percent in the third quarter of 2016, while the average order value increased only 0.2 percent.
Of all online shoppers, only 23 percent are swayed by social media references.
Do you notice anything here? Although online sales are increasing, there are many people who still rely on offline shopping. And of those who do shop online, very few are influenced by social media.
So what does it take to convert your website into a highly profitable e-commerce business?
There is no denying the fact that starting an e-commerce business is easy. But scaling up, and making it more profitable than your competitors can be difficult. Here’s a multiple choice question: What do you think is needed to set up a highly profitable e-commerce store?
Directing more traffic to your site,
Improving your conversion rate,
Increasing customer loyalty.
An effective growth strategy actually includes all three of these. And so, that one thing you need to build a more profitable e-commerce business is an effective growth strategy. Let’s take a closer look.
Increase traffic to your website to get noticed.
In the ever-growing space of e-commerce, it can be difficult to get noticed. But there are a number of ways organic traffic techniques that can help drive traffic to your website, including:
Search engine optimization (SEO) – increase your ranking in search engines like Google for more visibility.
Social media marketing – post on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and create YouTube tutorials to reach a wider audience.
Email marketing – drive traffic to your website with email newsletters to keep your subscribers informed about new products and promotions.
Another option is paid ads, which may include:
- Buying ads on Facebook
- Marketing with influencers
- Advertising on Instagram
Improve the conversion rate of your website to increase sales.
If you’ve used the above two techniques effectively, your conversion rate will automatically improve. However, there are some other easy things that you need to take care of in order to increase your e-commerce conversion rate, like:
Make your website mobile friendly and ensuring minimal loading time.
Stop making assumptions about your customer’s needs. Instead use A/B testing to know what they actually need.
Use high quality product images to attract more and more customers to convert them.
Build a user-friendly interface which should include an easy checkout and navigation system.
Use customer retention tools to boost your customer loyalty.
Building a positive user experience isn’t enough. You also need to retain your customers. Acquiring new customers is always a priority for brands. And yes, it is important. But can you afford to lose your existing customer base? No, right?
So once you have customers who have shopped on your website, concentrate on retaining them. No matter how awesome your product or service is, it is your job to make sure your customers are happy and satisfied so that they continue to choose you over your competitors.
A few customer retention strategies that can work for your e-commerce business include:
Introduce loyalty programs and give reward points for repeated sales.
Offer support systems to resolve customer issues and handle their grievances.
Use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to keep a track of the entire journey of your customers.
An effective growth strategy is key to building a more profitable e-commerce business. In addition to the three main components above, you should keep a track of your performance data to help you make improvements when needed.