Before Amazon disrupted the retail industry, Netflix was the bête noire of the movie industry. Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings co-founded a movie rental service that simply sent discs by mail. The business took off because customers loved a subscription model with no late fees.
As Netflix built the customer base and expanded its movie library, business growth accelerated and the entrenched movie rental retailer Blockbuster was forced to respond. In 2000, Hastings first struggled to win a partnership with Blockbuster, but after several rebuffs he went on to chart an independent course with devastating impact on the largest movie retailer at the time.
In an interview with Readara, award-winning author Gina Keating discusses what led to the rise of Netflix and how the movie rental industry slowly shifted to mail order before launching streaming services. Keating goes on to explain how the digitization and the rapid spread of the Internet led to the fall of the once-mighty retail empire of Blockbuster with its thousands of stores, millions of customers and strong marketing strategies.
In 2004, four years after Netflix was launched, John Antioco, CEO of Blockbuster, realized that Netflix and Redbox are posing a serious threat to the company. After eliminating the annoying late fees that also generated nearly $200 million in profits, he decided to invest an additional $200 million in online operations. However, in 2005, activist shareholder Carl Icahn fired the retail veteran who was taking all the right steps in countering the Netflix threat.
Netflix invested heavily in following and understanding online customer behavior and leveraged that knowledge by building a movie library and improving customer experience. Yet, the final chapter of the company may not be written, as Amazon pursues Netflix customers with a growing library of movies and other offerings at even cheaper subscription prices.
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Sam Zell, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, learned to take risks from his parents at an early age, and rarely missed an opportunity to make profit. Known for creating the largest real estate companies in commercial real estate, Zell went on to find even greater success in other industries including manufacturing, retail, travel, energy and healthcare.
In an interview with Readara, contrarian entrepreneur Zell reviews his childhood, the growth of his real estate business, and the evolution of his management philosophy. Outspoken and blunt, Zell minces no words and lives up to his iconoclastic reputation. In this clear and candid talk, Zell traces his early business ventures and explains how his relentless drive for profit catapulted him to the top of the real estate into more diverse industries. While discussing his success, self-made billionaire Sam Zell also tackles business failures and personal challenges.
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The American Revolutionary War was anything but a lonely struggle, as it is widely believed. In fact, the fight for independence was multi-faced, fought on many fronts, and almost of global proportions.
In an interview with Readara, historian and author Larrie D. Ferreiro pierces the popular myth and explains the global magnitude of those turbulent eight years of international coalition. Ferreiro’s authoritative account is based on original research conducted using personal papers and official documents in several languages.
At the end of the Seven Years’ War, France and Spain were ready to take revenge on Great Britain, which was expected to easily crush the rising rebellion in the American colonies. France was eager to help the recently proclaimed United States and ready to shift the balance of power in its favor in Europe, and so was Spain.
Ferreiro details with meticulous precision the vast sums of money in loans (between five and ten billion dollars in today’s currency) and ammunition made available by King Louise XVI, the endless drive of the Prussian Baron von Steuben to professionalize the continental army, as well as the Dutch merchants’ efforts in providing high-quality gunpowder to the revolutionary forces.
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In 2008, Shai Agassi set out to build electric car infrastructure with a grand vision to change the world but without any experience in the auto industry. A born salesman, young Agassi had the necessary tech savvy and political connections, but went on to build a company that lacked specific purpose.
The rise and failure of Agassi and Better Place is going to be the subject of management schools for decades to come. Was it Agassi’s hubris, his lack of attention to detail, or simply his blind conviction that led to the fall of the once promising startup whose founder lacked operating experience?
In an interview with Readara, Brian Blum, author of Totaled, chronicles the meteoric rise and fall of Better Place along with its founder in four short years. Better Place promised to deliver 30,000 cars at the end of the third year of its existence, only managing to sell a mere 500.
Why did Better Place stumble so fast despite raising astronomical amounts of capital? Blum details how an impatient Agassi failed to appreciate management challenges, was caught up in his hyperbole, ignored customer needs, and ultimately failed to understand what it takes to build a business.
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Generally, the implementation of developing technologies that the majority of the population can use to improve productivity is key to the continual success of an economy. Western Europe and the United States of America developed an array of technologies that continue to advance their economies beyond middle income and to the top of the income pyramid.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, East Asian countries were growing at a rapid pace, primarily driven by the manufacturing sector and export-led growth. These economies lifted millions of people out of poverty, only to start stalling within the following two decades.
In an interview with Readara, Professors Eisenhans and Babones offer an insightful analysis of the drivers of economic growth in these nations as well as the policies that contributed to their economic success.
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Tea was first introduced to Britain and Europe in the early 1800s and quickly came to be seen as a civilizing force among its noble and merchant classes. With the rising popularity of tea, the European merchants rushed to import tea from China, before seeking help from the ruling class to find other sources of the valuable commodity.
In an interview with Readara, Erika Rappaport, explains how British rulers sourced, marketed and taxed tea to finance the expansion of the empire. In her exhaustively detailed book, the author of A Thirst for Empire weaves together the story of Britain’s empire building, the globalization of tea as well as the spread of colonization to India and Africa.
In the early 18th century, alcohol was the beverage of choice because of the lack of potable water on much of the British Isles. As the British government promoted temperance movements, workers around the country were encouraged to drink tea at work, thus trumpeting health and stimulating benefits. This growing popularity of the aromatic beverage prompted the government to monopolize tea trade and promote the Empire Tea as a patriotic drink and a way to support the British overseas expansion. Meanwhile, the British Raj ruthlessly exploited Indian labor in order to grow tea in the Northeastern region of India, allocating all the profits from sales in India, Britain and elsewhere in the Empire into the modernization of its navy and the logistic support for new territorial aspirations.
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In a relatively short period of three decades, China has emerged as the largest trading nation and the second largest economy in the world, a feat that no other nation has been able to achieve in modern history.
Previously, China suffered humiliating defeats in two opium wars, and leaders of the country struggled during a humiliating century of foreign interference that ended in 1939 with the emergence of the communist party system. Although the Han dominate China, this vast nation is made up of 56 ethnic groups, collectively speaking a total of 300 languages. In terms of geographical diversity, the country also shares borders with 11 nations.
Since the opening of China in the late 1960s, the communist party has ruled with an iron fist, but leaders also stepped up economic development primarily by inviting foreign investments in the coastal region. The super charged economic growth in the last two decades has lifted several hundred million people from abject poverty, provided steady jobs, and boosted living standards across the regions. However, growing exports and developments in infrastructure that spearheaded the economic boom also led to a speculative bubble in real estate, capital flight, and a dramatic surge in income inequality.
Both Chinese bureaucrats and provincial leaders are addicted to the debt fueled infrastructure boom, largely funded by state-controlled banks, which may endanger the three-decade long economic expansion as the aspiring nation faces the middle income trap.
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Small startups can end up not only disrupting but also reordering economic segments, especially when capital, technology and entrepreneurship come together. In the last decade, advances in smart phones, animal spirits of young entrepreneurs and surge in venture capital led the rise of two companies – Uber and Airbnb.
In an interview with Readara, celebrated author Brad Stone chronicles that hyper active decade in Silicon Valley. Covering one startup alone is difficult, but Stone weaves together a story of two startups that typified that period in time. The Upstarts offers an inside view in how these two disruptors dealt with regulatory challenges, business growth, and global operations.
Stone interlaces the early struggles and near failures of Uber in cobbling together capital and technology with the similar rise and stumbles at Airbnb. Although the two startups ended up disrupting two markets – local transportation and short term rentals, respectively – Uber and Airbnb pursued different paths in their success journeys and continue to evolve in their own ways.
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In our modern world where most of us take electricity for granted, the constant availability of power that drives our lives is rarely noticed except when the supply breaks down. That constant flow of electricity determines where we live, what we eat, what we read and watch, and what we purchase. All that provided by the electric grid.
In an interview with Readara, cultural anthropologist and author Gretchen Bakke offers an exhaustive view of how the electric grid was created, built and expanded in the past century. After several decades of dueling standards from competing companies, the grid as we know it today, has been a steady source of power driven by stable electricity generation.
Today, with the emergence of renewable energy sources the consumer of power is increasingly becoming an electricity generator. On the downside, the new sources of power are highly variable and dynamic, causing additional chaos to an already outdated electric grid.
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History of the network of bridges and highways that span four million miles to the four corners of the United States is rarely chronicled from the perspective of infrastructure. In fact the use of term is only three-decade old.
In less than nine decades, mud lanes once traveled by horse drawn carriages have evolved to a complex web of highways zoomed by ever faster automobiles and trucks and now are part of the American infrastructure that we all rely on for our daily lives.
These arteries of highways and boulevards played a central role in the development of suburban sprawl and home ownership for younger couples. Coast to Coast commerce thrived after the federal government built a network of highways connected places both near and far. However this ever expanding infrastructure of roads and bridges need timely maintenance and repairs.
The politicians of all kinds for decades have favored building new roads to maintaining as the complex transportation network is forced to support traffic and load at times three to five times larger than the original design.
In an interview with Readara, Henry Petroski, the author of The Road Taken, offers a lively account of the history of transportation infrastructure in the last century and what we need to do now to keep that transportation landscape supporting travel and commerce. Petroski also delves into the politics of financing roads that favors building big projects and neglecting the equally important timely maintenance and repairs.
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