An award-winning team of journalists, designers, and videographers who tell brand stories through Fast Company's distinctive lens
The 100 visionary leaders you’ll read about here hail from a wide range of fields. Each person has accomplished something truly novel over the past year that is having an impact on an entire industry. Here's how we chose them.
Since that horrific February day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when 14 students and three faculty members were killed by a former student with an AR-15, classmates Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, and Alex Wind have been working strategically to prevent gun violence from happening anywhere else.
Their grassroots effort has inspired nationwide school walkouts and local legislative changes and drew more than 1.2 million people to Washington, D.C., and cities across the country for the March for Our Lives rally this past spring. The students have ignited a nationwide movement to get young Americans to vote in the midterm elections, and are harnessing social media to engage companies and consumers in increasingly proactive and effective ways. Just as important, they are forging alliances with like-minded groups from a wide range of backgrounds. “It was simple privilege that got us spotlight,” says Kasky. “We have an opportunity, and a platform, and we’re dedicating ourselves to use it for everybody affected by gun violence.”
When Franz von Holzhausen joined Tesla in 2008, the electric-car startup was so inexperienced at vehicle design that it had to outsource most of the work on its original Roadster to the sports-car manufacturer Lotus. Today, its growing product lineup reflects the stylish minimalism of von Holzhausen, a veteran of GM, Mazda, and Volkswagen. For the Model 3 sedan, which arrived in 2017 with a starting price of $35,000, the designer helped figure out how to bring the price down (there’s only one dashboard screen and no self-extending door handles) while still delivering the carmaker’s signature understated, aerodynamic look. For Tesla’s latest Roadster, due in 2020 and priced at $200,000, von Holzhausen ditched the opaque roof of the 2008 model for a lightweight, removable glass one that can be stored in the trunk. The Roadster gave the designer a chance to build the uncompromising electrified hot rod Tesla wasn’t capable of producing a decade ago, and fans are already drooling for it. “We want to show that an electric vehicle can be better than anything,” he says. “Not just better than a normal road car, but better than any supercar.”
“I love a good turnaround story,” says Caryn Seidman Becker, a former hedge fund manager who bought the airport-focused biometric-identity company Clear out of bankruptcy in 2010. Clear’s focus on speeding travelers through security lines had become increasingly niche, especially given the rollout of the TSA’s PreCheck program, but Seidman Becker had a bigger vision for the technology, which uses iris scans, fingerprints, and facial recognition to verify identities of its vetted, $179-a-year members. Not only has she re-established Clear as a leader in airport security, with dedicated lanes at 24 hubs across the country, but through a new partnership with Delta Air Lines, Clear is using biometric verification to automate everything from baggage check to the boarding process, part of her plan to offer totally frictionless “curb-to-gate” experiences for travelers. Seidman Becker is also taking Clear into sports arenas: Ten venues, including New York’s Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, Coors Field in Denver, and San Francisco’s AT&T Park, offer expedited entry to Clear members, a population that grew 130% last year to nearly 2 million people. The company is even testing fast beer lanes at concession stands, which would leverage biometrics to quickly confirm fans’ ages. For Seidman Becker, these kinds of conveniences are just the beginning: “Every vertical—hospitals, real estate, office buildings, universities—is thinking about [how to] ensure security and still have open environments.”
Some major sports leagues (cough! NFL! cough!) issue take-down orders the minute fans upload highlights to social channels, but you won’t hear the NBA crying foul. Where others see a violation of broadcast rights, the NBA sees an opportunity. “You have to trust your fans,” says chief marketing officer Pam El. Since joining the NBA in 2014, she has sought to engage fans on any platform. NBA original productions The Starters and The Warmup run on Twitter, and Outside the NBA airs on Facebook. All were born, El says, “out of our fans wanting more information and contact with the NBA.” Boasting the largest social footprint of any North American league (a combined Facebook/Twitter following exceeding 60 million), the NBA saw TV viewership rise 8% this season. El’s innovations extend beyond social: Last May, she closed a deal with Gatorade to change the name of the NBA’s player-development division from D-League to G-League—the first time a U.S. pro sports league has been named after a sponsor. G-League games, of course, stream on Facebook Live and Twitch.
In the two years since Vishal Shah launched Instagram Business, a free suite of tools that allows companies to use the social platform as a storefront, 25 million businesses have signed on—and half don’t even list an external website in their bios. That means it’s their primary point of advertising and customer interaction, explains Shah. Designed to offer businesses a way to reach customers in a mobile-first, user-friendly environment, the tools Shah and his team built let companies glean traffic insights, shoppable photos, and targeted advertisements on Stories. Two hundred million Instagram users now visit a business profile every day; to them, corporate accounts look nearly identical to those run by their friends or favorite celebrities. “We’re shooting for an ad experience that not only feels native,” says Shah, “but also helps users discover products or services they would actually love to find out about.”
In the past year, Southeast Asian ride-hailing company Grab hit 90 million downloads, reached 196 cities, took in $4 billion in investments, and even acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business. CEO Anthony Tan has fueled this growth by transforming Grab from a mere app into a platform for everything from bike sharing to food delivery to, most recently, mobile payments. Tan initially launched the GrabPay mobile wallet in 2016 to enable transactions between riders and drivers who don’t have traditional bank accounts. Last November, he began integrating other merchants, allowing GrabPay’s 5 million users to shop at participating stores and food stalls. Next up: a partnership with Japan’s Credit Saison to offer microloans and other services to Grab’s growing network of drivers, riders, and small businesses. For Tan, it all starts with asking the question, “How can we make sure [users] are so engaged they don’t even want to leave Grab?”
She turned Gone Girl and Wild into breakout films and followed them up with HBO’s Big Little Lies, sweeping nearly every category for which it was nominated at the 2017 Emmys. Having spent years hearing from studio executives that there was no market for big-budget female-driven content, Reese Witherspoon has succeeded to a degree that proves a hunger is there. “Fortunately,” says Witherspoon, “I like proving people wrong.”
Her instinct for what women want is now being tested on multiple platforms through her pioneering 18-month-old company, Hello Sunshine. Witherspoon and her team are developing a slew of shows and films--with Apple TV, Hulu, NBC, TriStar/Sony Pictures, and more--while also building a direct-to-consumer brand through a fast-growing and influential book club, Facebook and YouTube videos, audiobooks, podcasts, and newsletters. Meanwhile, Witherspoon is advocating successfully for women behind the scenes: Casey Bloys, HBO’s president of programming, admitted in April that the network’s recent equal-pay push (e.g., Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood will earn as much as her male costars starting with season 3) was a “direct result” of encouragement he received from Witherspoon.
Amazon earned its e-commerce bona fides more than 20 years ago by reducing the checkout process to a single click. The company’s new Amazon Go store, in downtown Seattle, represents a similar revolution. Gianna Puerini and Dilip Kumar have redesigned the neighborhood grocery as a cashier-free experience. Shoppers identify themselves (and their Amazon account) by scanning their phones upon entering. Ceiling-mounted cameras and AI software identify items as they’re removed from shelves—and shoppers simply leave when they’re done. People queued up around the block when Go opened in January. Amazon is reportedly planning to open up to six more this year, and the “just walk out” concept has already been cloned in China.
Netflix’s army of subscribers—125 million and counting—drive the investor confidence that saw the company’s stock rise 60% in the first four months of this year. And it’s Chris Jaffe’s task to get those folks to click on, and enjoy, enough TV shows and movies that they’ll stick around. As the company prepares to roll out 80 original movies in 2018, here’s how Jaffe is adapting user experience and playing matchmaker to keep engagement high.
Limit the preamble. Rivals start promoting their big tentpole movies years in advance, but Jaffe says that strategy doesn’t work for Netflix. “I’ve done exhaustive testing—9, 12, 18 months out—and it doesn’t seem to resonate,” he says. Jaffe uses Netflix’s menus, in-app notifications, and even old-fashioned email to alert people to new content when it’s “actionable.”
Tailor the pitch. Jaffe says he is “excited to have people watch Bright or Stranger Things the moment it launches,” but unlike traditional entertainment brands, Netflix doesn’t need blockbuster audiences the first weekend. Jaffe leans on data to figure out when it’s best to suggest a show to viewers. If you’ve been watching programs with strong female leads, Netflix’s interface may recommend Glow. It’s new to you.
Offer a taste: “Our members watch a lot of trailers in our mobile UI,” he says, so in April he introduced Previews, a stand-alone viewing experience where users can watch original 30-second clips in the vertical format. “When you open Netflix, you’re used to seeing rows of posters. Now you can just cycle through and watch trailers all day.”
“Music is one of the most ancient learning tools we have,” says Flocabulary CEO Alex Rappaport, “but for some reason, after kindergarten, it disappears [from the classroom].” He and cofounder Blake Harrison, both musicians, began producing SAT prep hip-hop tunes for teens in 2004, realizing (11 years before the debut of Hamilton) that rap songs are easier to memorize than flash cards. Their company now oversees a 1,000-plus video library that’s accessed by K-12 students at 20,000 schools in all 50 states. Flocabulary’s two- to three-minute-long videos—performed by artists with age-appropriate candor—cover history, math, literature, and other subjects, and come with teacher resources including discussion questions and quizzes. Now, Rappaport is focused on helping kids grapple with social-emotional issues and topics such as race, empathy, and activism. “Students have a lot on their minds,” he says. “We’re pushing the boundaries of what we make videos about.”
Ann McKee has been studying cadaver brains for decades, so when she first discovered signs of neurodegenerative disease in the brain of a former professional football player in 2008, she assumed the NFL would be interested. “They were very dismissive,” recalls McKee. “They were not even willing to entertain it as a possibility.” (The league publicly acknowledged that “concussions can lead to long-term problems” for the first time in 2009.) A decade later, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for football fans to ignore the evidence, thanks in large part to a study McKee published last July in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the brains of 111 NFL players. All but one exhibited chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated head traumas that causes deteriorating cognitive impairment and behavioral changes. The report prompted an NFL statement that emphasized the league’s efforts to address the problem—49 rule changes since 2002 and $200 million committed to ongoing research. But football’s image is taking a hit. Last year, amid the rising concern over CTE, national anthem protests, and changing viewership habits, ratings for regular-season NFL games slid almost 10%. Meanwhile, high school participation is declining: California, historically one of the U.S.’s most fertile sources of gridiron talent, has seen a 10% drop in players over the past decade. “Even the most ardent person who wants to say [the connection between football and CTE] isn’t true is having a hard time when we’re seeing indisputable evidence of brain disease in players who played just three years ago,” McKee says.
Over the past couple of years, Rick Osterloh has transformed Google’s sporadic, often unsuccessful approach to creating consumer electronics into a meaningful effort that harnesses the company’s greatest strength: its software. Under Osterloh, a former president of Motorola, the search giant’s hardware division has used its AI-infused Google Assistant voice service to bolster both the Pixel phones (which let you summon the Assistant with a squeeze) and Google Home smart speakers, which fulfill a long-standing dream of Googlers to create an ambient, interactive presence like the computer from Star Trek. In February, Google released the tiny Clips video camera, targeted at parents and pet lovers. The $250 device uses computer vision to recognize beloved creatures and smiling faces and then deploys machine learning to know when to record and what to keep. “By combining the best of our AI, software, and hardware together,” Osterloh says, “we can innovate for users in a way that would just not be possible if you were doing them separately.”
Scientists around the world have been using the MinION—a handheld device that can sequence DNA and RNA in real time and costs just $1,000—since Oxford Nanopore Technologies first released it four years ago. Real-time sequencing has been a game changer for infectious disease diagnosis, and the portable MinION has helped biologists, environmental researchers, and forensics experts perform rapid analysis of plant, animal, and microbial samples in the field without waiting days or weeks for lab results. A team of scientists even recently published the first full human genome sequence with the device. “I’m an electronics guy,” says CEO Gordon Sanghera, who previously designed blood glucose sensing devices. “I like implementing improvements and seeing the work people are doing.” Last year, Sanghera introduced two new devices that leverage the same “nanopore” technology as the MinION, which draws long strands of DNA through hundreds of nanoscale holes in a special membrane and reads the sequence in real time by detecting its electrical signature. The benchtop GridION (the device is free, reagents start at $50,000) has the capacity of five MinIONs and can quickly analyze mutating viruses, while the even more powerful PromethION (at $135,000 for reagents) is meant to compete with Illumina’s $1 million top-of-the-line sequencing machine. Later this year, Oxford, which recently raised $140 million, plans to release the low-cost SmidgeION, which will plug into a smartphone and could enable anyone at home to diagnose a flu, monitor their telomere length as an indicator of aging, and more.
When Julie Wainwright sees a Gucci or Céline bag on eBay, photographed with poor lighting, she winces. As the CEO of the RealReal, a marketplace for preowned luxury clothes, jewelry, and art, she’s dedicated to making sure that transactions feel luxurious, too. “We didn’t want to break the romance,” she says. The RealReal sends sellers boxes and shipping labels. When goods arrive at the warehouse, they are checked for authenticity before an expert determines their value (the RealReal takes a 30% to 50% cut). The seven-year-old company, which has received $173 million in VC funding and employs 1,500 people, just opened a brick-and-mortar store in New York and expects to bring in $1 billion in revenue over the next couple of years, Wainwright says. This keeps it “defensible against Amazon and Alibaba” (which have never been good at catering to luxury shoppers, she points out). In January, she collaborated with Stella McCartney on an ad campaign to destigmatize luxury consignment. People who sell McCartney’s products on the RealReal will also receive $100 toward new products from the Stella McCartney store.
A specialist in computer vision and image forensics, Dartmouth professor Hany Farid is at the leading edge of policing the growing threat of machine-learning malfeasance. Last October, he helped launch a five-year program for DARPA called MediFor (media forensics), which is developing software that can analyze hundreds of thousands of images a day and immediately assess if they’ve been altered—spotting, for example, if any color pixels have been disturbed. “Looking ahead to the midterms and 2020, we’re likely to see videos in which faces are swapped and voices are altered so that you get candidates saying something controversial,” he says. Farid also coauthored a bombshell study in January that revealed how a popular AI software—commonly used in sentencing and parole decisions to predict criminal offenders’ recidivism rates—was no more accurate than a regular person without any judicial experience.
“With AI on the horizon, training humans to be better robots doesn’t make sense,” says Stephen Klasko, CEO of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Health. “The doctor of the future needs to be self-aware and empathetic.” Klasko, an OB-Gyn and a Wharton MBA, has not only grown the network from three to 14 hospitals and revenues from $1.8 billion to $5.1 billion since taking the helm in 2014 , he’s also finding new ways to foster actual care. A sample:
1. Eighty percent of Jefferson’s doctors are trained in the network’s telehealth platform that offers 24/7 patient assistance. (Most scheduled visits derailed by January’s “bomb cyclone” were able to take place through video chat.)
2. “Virtual rounds” allow family to sit in via videoconferencing software when the doctor visits a recovering patient.
3. Through an initiative called “hotspotting,” med students are paired with patients who tend to overuse the ER, coaching them on self-care skills. The program has helped reduce unnecessary ER visits by 60%.
4. By merging Thomas Jefferson University (a med school plus health and nursing colleges) with design-focused Philadelphia University last July, Klasko has created the first medical school in the U.S. to offer a design certificate within its MD program, encouraging future doctors to discover novel methods for putting patients first.
The Afrofuturist sets of Marvel’s 2018 blockbuster Black Panther, with their blend of modernist forms and traditional African motifs, were the brainchild of Hannah Beachler, the production designer behind Miami’s sun-drenched underside in Moonlight and the working-class Philadelphia of Creed. She also helped develop Beyoncé’s Southern Gothic look for the visual album Lemonade. For Beachler, every project is a distinct creative challenge. “There’s no unique tool that I use, other than my imagination,” she says.
Recognizing that the small, independently owned hotels, inns, and guesthouses that account for most of India’s hotel inventory could offer travelers better experiences with the right technology, Ritesh Agarwal launched Oyo. Five years later, he has knit together the country’s largest budget hospitality company by giving property owners tools that automate room availability, revenue management, customer relations, and marketing, boosting occupancy rates to roughly 75% (65% of guests are repeat visitors). With more than 75,000 rooms spread across India, Nepal, and Malaysia (accounting for 2.2 million room nights in December alone), Oyo is also one of India’s most powerful booking engines: 95% of its reservations are made through company channels, eliminating travel agency fees. “The neighborhood hotel can now fight the big boys,” Agarwal says.
New Orleans designer Bryan C. Lee, Jr. practices “colloquial architecture”—the idea that buildings should reflect a community’s values. Decades after a highway ripped apart one of the city’s traditionally black neighborhoods, Lee is enhancing the underpass with a 19-block-area marketplace for small businesses, classrooms, exhibitions, and demonstrations. Last year, when some of New Orleans’s Civil War monuments were removed, Lee and a team of artists and historians covered the city with posters of the characters and movements that shaped its more constructive past. Local officials are now incorporating the project into their planning, with Lee and his team facilitating talks with residents about future monuments that would move beyond “lionizing individuals in the fight for justice,” he says. Lee also hosts workshops in which he challenges activists and designers to actively address problems like racism and food insecurity; one such group will cover New Orleans with yellow tape this summer to depict the city’s badly gerrymandered districts.
Two boxes, each the size of a microwave oven, sit 250 miles above Earth on the International Space Station. They are miniature R&D labs, built and operated by Twyman Clements’s four-year-old company, Space Tango, that allow customers to test materials and manufacturing methods free of Earth’s gravity. The first TangoLab arrived on the ISS via SpaceX-9 in August 2016; a second went up on SpaceX-12 a year later. Each box can hold up to 21 independent “cube labs,” which run autonomously and stream data back to Space Tango engineers on Earth with a mere 700-millisecond delay, allowing them to observe results and adjust experimental settings quickly. Space Tango launched 30 tests for clients in 2017, its first year of commercial operation, and will send about 50 in 2018. Early customers include Budweiser, which is experimenting with growing barley in space, and companies prototyping space-based production of fiber-optic cable, semiconductors, retinal implants, and drug ingredients. “Research is a constant source of revenue,” says Clements, a mechanical engineer. “But we’ll really be successful when we can take raw materials up, add value, and bring a new product back.”
While many people are working to recalibrate the gender imbalance in software engineering by encouraging young women to study computer science in school, Nikki Katz is taking a different, less obvious approach She’s helping women already at Disney—in nontechnical roles—segue into software careers. She launched a pilot program in 2016 called Code: Rosie (a nod to World War II icon Rosie the Riveter), which offers a rigorous three-month training program and yearlong apprenticeship to female employees, regardless of background, who want to join Disney’s technical ranks. After their coding boot camp, trainees split their apprenticeships into six-month rotations to help them figure out where to take their new skills, and are assigned buddies to ease them into their new positions. “What I’m most proud of is that these women continue to be some of our top performers,” Katz says. (One has even filed a patent for Snapchat-like visual filters that Disney could use in apps.) After the program’s initial 12-woman class, Katz is expanding Code: Rosie company-wide this year, giving aspiring technologists across Disney, from theme parks to ESPN, a shot at a new future.
More than 21 million Americans lack government-issued photo identification, yet an increasing number of states—including Texas, Wisconsin, and Georgia— have passed measures requiring IDs to vote, effectively suppressing turnout, especially among minorities. Last year, Los Angeles–based lawyer Kat Calvin launched the nonprofit Spread the Vote, which helps people, particularly those who are poor, homeless, or immobile, secure official identification. “After the 2016 election, it was pretty obvious to me that voter ID laws had had a massive effect,” she says. “But while there were organizations working on legislative and judicial remedies, I couldn’t find any scalable solutions to just getting people IDs.” Her organization, which now has more than 30 chapters across five states, assists prospective voters by helping them pay all the fees associated with getting an ID and fill out the necessary paperwork, which can otherwise be overwhelming. “We created a digital intake form,” says Calvin, “that can be used on any device that our volunteers take with them to, say, a food bank, where they’ll set up a table and connect with people.” She’s now focused on building out election guides—with comprehensive candidate lists for every office—for each of Spread the Vote’s chapters. “We want to [challenge] this idea that all voting is about the president, that your vote doesn’t matter,” she says. “That kind of perception can be the margin of victory.”
The problem. Entrepreneur Daniela Perdomo was living in Brooklyn in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy struck, and large swaths of New York lost power and internet service. “It was like a Don DeLillo–type apocalypse,” she recalls.
The epiphany. Recognizing the vulnerability of our critical communications infrastructure, Perdomo saw an opportunity to create a network that would allow users to text without a cell signal or Wi-Fi.
The execution. Perdomo and her technologist brother, Jorge, created a thin, 5-inch-long plastic-encased device that pairs with a cell phone via Bluetooth and transmits messages using radio frequencies, sort of like a walkie-talkie. Their second generation product, the goTenna Mesh, added mesh networking—capabilities that broaden the off-grid coverage area by allowing the devices to bounce encrypted messages off each other until they reach their destination. Perdomo calls it “people-powered” communications infrastructure: Because each device acts as a “node”—through which messages can be relayed—the decentralized Mesh network grows more powerful and effective as more people join.
The result. After Puerto Rico was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria last summer, relief workers used Mesh to share critical, sometimes lifesaving, information. The Mesh, which sells for $179 for a two-pack, has also been a hit with the REI crowd (who use it for communication on hikes) and is available—on Amazon and through goTenna’s own website—in 42 countries. The company says it has sold more than 100,000 of the devices.
Charles D. King founded the film, TV, and digital studio Macro in 2015 to tell the stories of what he calls “the new majority”: African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, “people whose stories haven’t traditionally been told.” For King, the effort is as market-based as it is mission-driven. His target audience, young people of color, consumes “more content across every platform” than any other demographic, he says. To achieve his goals, King nurtures diverse talent behind the camera. The 2017 film Mudbound, for example, which Macro coproduced, nabbed four Academy Award nominations, including firsts for an African-American woman for adapted screenplay and for a woman in cinematography. King applies this ethos to Macro’s other projects, such as Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, a workplace satire, which Annapurna Pictures will release this July; and Raising Dion, an upcoming Netflix series starring Michael B. Jordan. With social-minded backers such as Laurene Powell Jobs, King plans to scale up to about a dozen projects per year.
Though Ben & Jerry’s has long worked with Vermont dairy farmers to improve animal welfare and sustainability, the laborers on these farms—often migrant workers—can face brutal conditions, such as long hours, late-night shifts, and low pay. The advocacy group Migrant Justice approached CEO Jostein Solheim four years ago with an idea: Leverage your power over the dairy industry to improve the lives of its workers. After a series of bilingual meetings among Migrant Justice, Ben & Jerry’s farmer network, and laborers, Solheim signed an agreement last fall that commits the company to working exclusively with suppliers that pay the highest local minimum wage (currently $10.50 an hour in Vermont), offer laborers one day off each week, and pro-vide adequate rest and shelter between shifts. In return, Ben & Jerry’s pays farmers a premium for their milk. “The innovation is that the farmworkers had a seat at the table,” Solheim says. “[This agreement] puts them in charge of their own destiny.”
Kay Madati joined Twitter from BET last September to accelerate its live-video ambitions, and he proceeded to close 22 new partnerships in the fourth quarter of 2017. His goal: Find opportunities that complement rather than compete with media brands. “I’m not here to tell [networks] to stop producing content on TV and [only] put it on Twitter,” he says. Here’s how he’s helping partners go #Live.
Buzzfeed. Madati and his team have helped grow BuzzFeed’s AM to DM morning show on Twitter to an average of 1 million daily viewers by offering it on demand, rather than just live, and adding segments showcasing viewer tweets.
Academy Awards. Madati devised three live-video experiences to air before, during, and after the Oscars. PeopleTV hosted the red carpet; IMDB held a live viewing party; and Vanity Fair live-streamed its after-party.
FIFA World Cup 2018. Fox Sports will produce a 30-minute daily recap for Twitter users in the U.S. during the soccer championship. To prepare Footie Twitter, Madati made a deal with Major League Soccer to air a game of the week.
Last year, ride-hailing company Lyft differentiated itself from bad-publicity magnet Uber by playing up its social responsibility. Melissa Waters, who joined Lyft in 2016 from Pandora, oversaw a quirky brand campaign last October with Jordan Peele and Tilda Swinton piloting a space capsule and reminding riders that “it matters how you get there.” Waters also launched a “Round Up and Donate” campaign, giving Lyft riders the option to round up their fare to benefit any of a dozen charities, from Black Girls Code to the USO; since May 2017, more than 770,000 people have contributed more than $5 million. Over the past year, the company extended service to 54 additional U.S. cities, doubled its drivers to 1.4 million, provided rides to 92% more passengers (23 million), and surpassed $1 billion in annual revenue.
Graham Dugoni founded Yondr in an attempt to protect us from our worst impulse in the age of apps: looking down instead of at the world ahead. “When something new comes along, it always displaces something else,” he says. “The question is, What did smartphones push out of the way? And are those things vital to the human experience?” Four years ago, he created a small neoprene pouch that can be locked by a concert or comedy club venue—but stays with users—until a show is over, creating a refreshingly device-free environment. Yondr has taken off among musicians and comedians, including Haim, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock, who use it to keep live audiences engaged and to try out new material without having it uploaded to YouTube. In recent months, the service has also been embraced by educators: Nearly 1,000 schools have used Yondr to keep students from obsessively checking their phones. Dugoni says the company receives more than 100 unsolicited inquiries a day from teachers, entertainers, club owners, and more—a sign of people’s growing discontentment with their phones.
Misha Nonoo is a luxury fashion designer whose eponymous line has been sold at Bergdorf Goodman and worn recently by such tastemakers as Meghan Markle and Gwyneth Paltrow. Two years ago, she grew overwhelmed by the waste she saw in the industry, particularly how many clothes went unsold at the end of every season. “It was worrying to me not just from a balance-sheet perspective, but also from an environmental perspective,” she says. After restructuring her business entirely, she now sells exclusively through her website and eliminates the problem of “dead” inventory by making every piece of clothing only when a customer orders it. (It arrives at the customer’s doorstep a week later.) Nonoo, who is now raising money from angel investors to expand her operation, has also renounced seasonal collections, focusing her energy instead on perfecting eight pieces—updated annually— that can be configured into 22 different outfits that take a woman from work to date night to black-tie gala.
When reporter Elle Reeve traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, last August to cover the Unite the Right rally for HBO’s Vice News Tonight, she expected to file a three-minute clip. But as she and her small video crew began gaining intimate access to thugs with guns and neo-Nazi leader Christopher Cantwell, who claimed, “We’ll fucking kill these people if we have to,” she knew she was onto something more. Having studied online subcultures before, including hateful political movements on 4chan and Reddit, she realized she was observing one of these niche groups violently assert itself in the real world. She delivered a 22-minute documentary that became the basis for a special episode of Vice News Tonight, offering an unfiltered view of a newly emboldened movement. Some 500,000 people watched the episode when it aired on HBO two days after the march. Since then, it’s been viewed more than 50 million times and won multiple awards, most recently a Peabody. “People didn’t want to cover these guys because you don’t want to amplify them,” she says. “But we showed the whole picture.”
Streaming lets us listen to whatever we want, whenever we want, without ever opening our wallets. But “every time you hear a song, it has to be licensed and paid for,” says Jody Gerson, head of Universal Music Publishing Group, which reps major global artists from Bruce Springsteen to Ariana Grande. “That’s what I do.” In an era of industrywide change, Gerson played a key role in bringing together a landmark consortium of music publishers and label executives—parties long at odds over royalty share—to lobby for new legislation in Washington. The Music Modernization Act, which Congress could pass this summer, would establish a first-ever database of songwriters that will enable them to be credited—and thus paid—electronically and automatically, like musicians. She’s also finding new revenue streams for artists, placing their songs in video ads and working with movie studios to build projects around IP in Universal’s catalog.
Saskatchewan-born siblings Chad and Jared Moldenhauer’s first video game—the visually stunning run-and-gunner Cuphead—sold more than 2 million units between its late September 2017 release and the end of the year. Forgoing super-realistic 3D graphics, Cuphead uses hand-drawn animation inspired by 1930s “rubber hose”–style cartoons (think Steamboat Willie) and an original big-band score as the backdrop for an action game that’s addictive yet easy to master. Cuphead was influenced in part by “studying a lot of games” from the Sega Master era, says Chad, a former digital marketer who taught himself to draw by watching old cartoons. Jared, who had worked for the family’s construction business, designed the game play while Chad’s wife, Maja, hand-inked its visuals. The Moldenhauers mortgaged their homes to finish production; a development deal with Microsoft helped with marketing and promotion. While Cuphead appeals to “a nostalgia for any kind of handmade art,” Chad says, it’s also just a nice break. “One can only take so many brown landscapes and bald white dudes.”
The problem. Le Bron James was leaving the Miami Heat in 2014. Omar Raja, a 20-year-old University of Central Florida sophomore, was bummed and looking to console himself by watching funny in-game clips of James on YouTube. There weren’t any.
The epiphany. Raja began to use his iPhone to capture quirky game moments off the TV. Why not share them?
The execution. Raja set up the House of Highlights Instagram account and began to post his clips. Soon he was also uploading highlights sent to him by friends.
The result. Bleacher Report acquired House of Highlights (HoH) in 2015, and since then the account has grown to more than 8 million followers (including A-listers like Cristiano Ronaldo, Nicki Minaj, and LeBron himself). HoH sponsors now include Under Armour and Lexus. Raja signed YouTube star Supremedreams_1 to develop scripted content for HoH’s YouTube channel. The key to connecting with his gen Z audience is authenticity, Raja says, adding, “The second I start selling out is when things go downward.”
With clear language and bracing honesty, Jason Reynolds’s young-adult novels grapple with thorny issues (alcohol abuse, gun violence, police brutality) in contemporary urban settings, offering a subset of readers a literary mirror they’ve never had before. Last fall, the D.C.-born writer tackled a new form—the novel in verse—with Long Way Down, which follows Will, a 15-year-old boy dealing with the shooting death of his brother. The book hit the New York Times best-seller list and was a National Book Award finalist. Reynolds followed up this spring with the poem “For Every One” and the middle-school-age novel Sunny.
For three days last August, Jennifer Saenz’s restaurant, the Spotted Cheetah, was the hottest bistro in New York City. The menu, designed by Food Network celebrity chef Anne Burrell, featured Mac n’ Cheetos, Flamin’ Hot Limon Chicken Tacos, Cheetos Meatballs, and more, attracting media and social attention worldwide. The pop-up is just one of several clever plays that Saenz, who oversees the marketing behind Frito-Lay’s $14 billion snacks business, has generated in the past year for Cheetos alone. (In March, she released a Cheetos Vision app that makes everything look orange.) Saenz conceived the restaurant stunt after her team saw people on social media “using Cheetos in all kinds of recipes, whether it was pizza, bagels, or sushi,” she says. “Cheetos were finding their way into everything!” She broadened the restaurant idea so that people could participate anywhere, publishing an online cookbook with all the recipes. More than 30,000 people downloaded it. To advance the cultural moment, she signed a deal last December with Regal Cinemas to offer Cheetos popcorn at concession stands nationwide.
As the host of WNYC’s six-year-old podcast Note to Self, Manoush Zomorodi helps listeners address some tricky contemporary issues: social media addiction, information overload, diminished privacy. “We can’t base our entire economy on crossing our fingers and hoping that Mark Zuckerberg does the right thing,” she says. As recent news has shown, Facebook may not course-correct without a public outcry. “We are at this moment when the mainstream is starting to question what role these platforms have in their lives.” Zomorodi, a former longtime BBC contributor who describes herself as a “guide to an accelerating world,” encourages listeners to make small behavior modifications, such as changing the privacy settings on apps or keeping phones pocketed while in transit. How engaged is Zomorodi’s audience? In a 2016 joint effort with nonprofit news organization ProPublica, 50,000 Note to Self listeners downloaded and installed a plug-in to monitor Facebook ad targeting. ProPublica’s subsequent article revealed how Facebook used data to sell microtargeted ads capable of blocking viewers by race, forcing Facebook to change its ad-targeting algorithms. One of Zomorodi’s “boot camps”—weeklong interactive programs where subscribers receive a daily assignment (e.g., delete an app from your phone) and a prompt to leave Zomorodi voice mails she may integrate into her podcasts—explored the intellectual benefits of boredom and led to a book, Bored and Brilliant, published last September. In April, she announced the launch of her new female-run media company, Stable Genius Productions.
Amber Ruffin became the first African-American woman ever to write for a late-night talk show when she joined the staff of Late Night With Seth Meyers in 2014, and she’s been crucial to its success in an era of Trump, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter. Over the past year, Ruffin has increasingly appeared on camera, with a series of zany yet incisive bits such as “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell,” in which she and fellow writer Jenny Hagel (who is gay) deliver racism- and sexism-skewering punch lines that Meyers innocently tees up. Segments like “Amber Says What” and “Amber’s Late Night Safe Space” have racked up millions of YouTube views, and feature Ruffin mocking not only the show’s host but white people who can’t tell Colin Kaepernick from Drake. “Every step of the way I’d think, We can’t say these things,” she says. “But now I think the name of the game is to push it as far as we can go.” Ruffin reportedly inked a deal with Meyers and SNL producer Lorne Michaels last October to create a sitcom based on her real-life story of moving to Amsterdam to join an improv group and returning home with a Dutch husband. A musical theater fan, she also recently punched up The Wiz for a modern audience. The show opens in St. Louis in June.
Chompers is a program aimed at the toddler set and available via Amazon’s Echo. Each episode is just a couple of podcast-like minutes of content, but Chompers manages to squeeze in jokes, stories, science, and riddles alongside tooth-brushing instructions and a few subtle nods to the show’s sponsors, Crest and Oral B. The program represents Gimlet Media’s first foray into Alexa skills (apps designed specifically for the Amazon Echo platform), and reveals an eclectic approach to branded audio content that is the brainchild of Nazanin Rafsanjani, who joined Brooklyn-based Gimlet Media in 2015 after a decade working for The Rachel Maddow Show, WNYC, and This American Life. Her mandate over the past year has been to create sponsored podcasts that advertisers feel good about and that people actually want to listen to. For Tinder, Rafsanjani produced a podcast about modern dating, Tinder DTR, that peaked at No. 4 on iTunes and was named one of the 50 best podcasts of 2017 by the Atlantic. In April, Rafsanjani moved into a new role at Gimlet, heading up show development. “There are different constraints on the purely editorial side,” she says, “but if there’s any lesson I’m taking with me, it’s that constraints do spark creativity.”
The problem. Cosmetics brands often source products from European labs at factory prices, then hike the cost to cover distribution and other expenses.
The epiphany. Marcia Kilgore, who sold Bliss Spa to LVMH in 1999, realized she could buy the same products as brands like Armani and La Prairie, then sell direct to consumer with minimal packaging.
The execution. Kilgore launched Beauty Pie in 2016. Though anyone can buy through the site, members who pay a fee can access the brand’s luxury-quality makeup and skincare for cut-rate prices. Beauty Pie’s Everyday Great Skin Foundation is just $6.05 for members. To discourage customers from buying and reselling, Kilgore implemented monthly purchasing limits.
The result. The company has tens of thousands of members, Kilgore says, and nearly everyone who makes a onetime purchase eventually signs up. “We’re trying to unteach [the idea] that the more you pay for cosmetics, the better they must be,” she says. Beauty Pie will add bodycare and haircare products later this year.
Entrepreneur Fabrice Sergent bemoaned years ago that “there wasn’t a Fandango for live music.” He and his business partner, Julien Mitelberg, acquired a Facebook app called Bandsintown, kept the name, and created a site and app where fans could track their favorite artists—and artists could chat directly with (and gather data about) their fans. A 2016 deal with Ticketmaster let concertgoers purchase tickets directly via the platform. Soon Sergent noticed two things: The app had become a hub for frequent concertgoers (who attend an average of eight live music events a year), and 40% of concert tickets in the U.S. typically go unsold. He redesigned the app to scour users’ Spotify and iTunes catalogs, Facebook likes, and more (with their permission), and suggest shows they might enjoy. By the end of 2017, nearly half of Bandsintown’s 41 million users said they’d attended and liked a concert by an act they’d not previously been aware of. “This is also important for artists,” says Sergent. “These days, 90% of the payout comes from live music.”
In February, for the first time, New York Fashion Week offered private dressing areas for models who are typically expected to change in full view of crew and photographers backstage. The development was the result of lobbying by model turned advocate Sara Ziff and Model Alliance, the nonprofit she founded in 2012 as a union alternative for models and, eventually, other independent fashion workers. “There’s an unfortunate sense that models are privileged, and if they don’t like the industry, they should get a ‘real job,’ ” Ziff says. “Though models appear to lead glamorous lives, the reality can be pretty far from it.” She is now working with agencies, publishing companies, and brands to make sure that models are afforded respect on and off the runway. Also through her organization, Ziff has proposed legislation that would apply child labor laws to underage models in New York; partnered with universities to research eating disorders as a workplace issue; and created a discreet grievance reporting system for models contending with sexual harassment and online scouting scams.
Appear Here is an online marketplace for pop-up spaces that entrepreneur and designer Ross Bailey created five years ago in the U.K. It has since been used by more than 150,000 brands—including Apple and Nike—to launch concepts at thousands of locations in London and Paris. Last year, Bailey expanded into New York, inking exclusive deals with the city’s top landlords and real estate firms, and raised more than $20 million from investors to fund the company’s growth.
“Packaging is the new storefront,” says Jesse Genet, who founded Lumi with fellow industrial designer Stephan Ango in 2015 to sell bespoke packing materials—colorful cardboard boxes, eye-catching mailers, logo-printed masking tape and tissue paper, and more—to upstart direct-to-consumer-goods companies looking for an edge in a retail landscape dominated by Amazon. Though Lumi, which grew from 4.7 million shipped units in 2016 to 25 million in 2017, is a DIY platform (clients upload and design their own graphics), Genet excels at coming up with novel solutions to tough production challenges. A few recent clients she’s helped:
The Field Company: After the cookware purveyor’s signature product, a six-pound cast-iron skillet, took off on Kickstarter, the founders approached Lumi for help in getting it to customers efficiently. “Most people would’ve wrapped it in bubble wrap, but that would’ve been wasteful,” says Genet. “We developed a corrugated box that cradles the skillet and [conforms to] its exact profile.”
Rockets of Awesome: For the two-year-old children’s clothing brand, Lumi helped devise a whimsical, briefcase-shaped box that doubles as a coloring book. “Their design team came to us with the idea,” says Genet. She and her staff found affordable cardboard that could withstand water on the outside and take to crayons on the inside.
Sakara Life: The upscale lifestyle food company, which sells ready-to-eat meals and wellness-focused snacks and supplements, approached Lumi to help make its detox- and beauty-themed kits feel more special. “We worked with our structural engineer to create a new cardboard box with an insert that fits the contours of each product,” says Genet. “When you open it up, it feels thoughtfully put together—worthy of the high price point.”
After Donald Trump won the election in 2016, Jessica Alter, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, felt an overwhelming urge to do . . . something. Shouldn’t there be a way, she thought, for politically frustrated tech workers in Silicon Valley to put their skills to use? Alter launched Tech for Campaigns in January 2017 as a way to connect tech workers with Democratic and left-leaning candidates in need of pro bono assistance, from coding and web design to social media strategy. “Having a digital component to a campaign is table stakes now,” says Alter. Volunteers—more than 4,000 so far—devote several hours a week outside of their workday to specific projects, such as building a site or rolling out a Twitter campaign. Last year, those volunteers took on a total of 50 campaign projects, and by the end of 2018, Alter plans to assign tech workers to 500 projects across more than 100 campaigns. “Allowing people to do meaningful work [without having them] give up everything else is difficult to achieve,” Alter says. “But it’s possible—and the campaigns really need it.”
Deforestation is responsible for one-tenth of global warming emissions. Conservation scientist M. Sanjayan has responded by recruiting a diverse coalition of technical and funding partners (from the World Bank to the promoters of the Rock in Rio concert series) to help him undertake the largest-ever tropical-reforestation project. Over the next five years, 73 million new trees will sprout up over 70,000 acres of the Brazilian Amazon (the equivalent of 30,000 soccer fields). Sanjayan is championing a planting technique called muvuca (Portuguese for a lot of people in a small space) that sprinkles seeds for hundreds of native plants rather than engaging in the traditional practice of sowing individual seedlings by hand, which is time- and labor-intensive. Even on fallow land that’s been slashed and burned or cleared for pastureland, 90% of seeds germinate. As they compete for resources like sunlight and water, the strongest survive, and over time, muvuca results in a more diverse, dense, and resilient jungle ecosystem. For the Sri Lanka–born Sanjayan, who lives in the U.S., this isn’t just about trees, but proving a replicable model for climate action at scale, which saves lives. “When governments fail, when societies collapse, when civil war intrudes, when nonprofits and NGOs run away,” he says, “nature is what provides us with the ultimate safety net.”
Katie Finnegan grew up immersed in retail. Her father helped Mickey Drexler reinvent the Gap in the ’90s, and Finnegan remembers spending her adolescence going to store openings, listening to executives talk shop, and even working the cash register—until “my dad heard from his boss that someone from child services had called,” Finnegan recalls with a laugh. She got hooked on retail—“I was always asking things like, ‘Why are you doing it this way? Why not that way?’”—and after college worked under Drexler at J.Crew before launching her own e-shopping concierge. When that startup, Hukkster, was acquired by Jet in 2014, Finnegan stayed to focus on strategic investments. Two years later, after Jet itself was gobbled up by Walmart, she helped launch the retail giant’s e-commerce incubator, Store No. 8 (named after an early company outlet where founder Sam Walton conducted business experiments). Finnegan says her mandate is to ask the same questions she did in her youth. She and her 18-person team focus on imagining what “new verticals, capabilities, and existential threats” the company will face in the next decade so it can develop strategies to stay ahead of competitors, including “the elephant in the room,” Amazon. Store No. 8 acquired its first startup, Spatialand, in February to explore how virtual reality and other emerging technologies can augment shopping. “In seven to 15 years, every household is going to have a super-high-resolution, streamlined VR headset,” she says. “We see that as an opportunity to reinvent merchandise.”
If you’ve ever used emoji like the hijab or the DNA double helix, you can thank Jennifer 8. Lee and Yiying Lu. The pair founded Emojination, a platform that allows anyone to submit a symbol to be considered for the world’s keyboard. Lu, a Chinese-born graphic artist, and Lee, a Chinese-American writer and entrepreneur, started Emojination in 2015, after making plans for a dumpling dinner over text and realizing there was no dumpling emoji. “Dumplings are universal—and emoji is a global universal language,” Lee says. They learned that the Unicode Consortium consists of 12 organizations, including Apple and Google, that pay $18,000 a year for the privilege of voting on the lexicon, a process that can take more than 18 months. “How do you take something run by tech culture and make it inclusive?” Lu says. One way: Lee and Jeanne Brooks cofounded the Emojicon event series, which bring together the emoji community and feeds the submission process. Emojination then offers cloud-based tools to help aspiring contributors with everything from designing icons to writing proposals. Of the 66 new emoji approved for 2018, 45 came from Emojination, including a women’s flat shoe, a mosquito (developed with the Gates Foundation), and, for noshers everywhere, a bagel.
As an app developer in 2011, Aline Lerner volunteered to help her company with recruiting. She learned that the existing practices were less than meritocratic, prioritizing Ivy League degrees, for example, over coding chops, often to the detriment of engineers from underrepresented backgrounds. She and fellow MIT alum Andrew Marsh launched Interviewing.io, a platform that allows applicants to complete an employer-supplied coding exercise anonymously. If they do well, they unlock the option of going on an in-person interview. Lerner says a new engineer registers for Interviewing.io every eight minutes, and 40% of the users are candidates who lack the traditional tech pedigree. Last year, Lerner forged partnerships with Github, Udacity, Quora, and more to help them create pipelines of nontraditional candidates. When you can efficiently evaluate whether people are good at their jobs, Lerner says, “you don’t need resumes.”
The problem. Nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year. Survivors battle after-effects, such as limb paralysis, caused by damaged brain cells.
The epiphany. Tej Tadi was working on a PhD in neuroscience when he realized that virtual reality presented a huge opportunity. When your brain sees someone performing an action, it lights up as it would if you performed that action yourself.
The execution. Tadi founded MindMaze, a mixed-reality and neuroscience company, in 2012, and then launched the MindMotion Pro, a rehabilitation system that projects movements in VR: A person with paralysis in her left arm could move her right arm, and then see a mirror image showing the left arm in motion. “It tricks the brain into believing there can be recovery,” says Tadi. As the patient heals, the virtual environments get more complex.
The result. Patients report feeling more motivated to recover, says Tadi, because of the system’s gamified nature. The device, employed at more than 40 facilities in Europe, was approved last year for use in the U.S.
“When you’re watching a Dodo video,” says Emily Pelleymounter, “you know it’s a Dodo video, regardless of the platform it’s on.” Since joining the four-year-old digital media company in 2015, Pelleymounter has led the effort to professionalize the content under the Dodo’s increasingly sprawling brand, which leverages cute, funny, and heart-wrenching pet videos to support animal rights. This often means repackaging viral-worthy clips floating around the internet with polished graphics, additional footage, interviews, and links to relevant shelters or adoption agencies. Pelleymounter also oversees the look of the Dodo’s recently launched Spanish-language sister channel, El Dodo, along with programs such as Pittie Nation and Odd Couples, which are currently among the most loved original series, per episode, on Facebook Watch. The Dodo, which regularly hits 2 billion monthly video views across its social channels, is now partnering with Animal Planet for a six-episode, one-hour TV show, Dodo Heroes, debuting this summer.
The problem. By using the earth’s natural temperature to either move heat into homes or extract it, geothermal systems can efficiently warm and cool houses with little environmental footprint. Trouble is, they have traditionally been expensive: Digging a ground-loop system into a yard can cost upwards of $80,000.
The epiphany. As a product manager at X, the moonshot factory based at Google (now Alphabet), Kathy Hannun was focused on ways to save energy and cut carbon emissions when one of her colleagues sent her an email in early 2015 about geothermal homes. After extensive research, Hannun realized she could take a page from solar companies, simplifying and standardizing the installation process to reduce costs significantly.
The execution. Hannun hired solar expert James Quazi, and the duo worked for two years to develop an efficient, partially automated drilling rig, along with proprietary piping and software. They spun their efforts out of X, cofounding Dandelion. (Alphabet retains equity in the new company.)
The result. Dandelion has reduced the cost of converting a home to geothermal to about $20,000, and through its financing program, “homeowners who use expensive fuels can switch to [Dandelion’s] system, pay no money down, and still have their financed payment be lower than their normal operational payment,” Hannun says. Within its first year, the Saratoga Springs, New York–based company has sold more than $1 million worth of its systems, with several dozen already installed. It currently operates in 11 New York counties, and plans to expand into Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Liza Koshy has grown into a digital comedic force who’s been described as a millennial Lucille Ball. Koshy’s two YouTube channels—which feature the 22-year-old doing bits like portraying a mustachioed character named Jet Packinski—have 2 billion views. She’s parlayed this popularity into a gig on MTV’s TRL reboot and an upcoming series for YouTube Red, as well as ad deals with Calvin Klein and Nike. Koshy’s zany-yet-approachable humor has made her an in-demand influencer for brands that want to connect with gen Z, but Koshy puts her own twist on things. In an ad for Beats headphones, for example, she improvised lines and came up with a scene where she sits on a toilet with her laptop. Her spot for the campaign had four times the click rate of those starring other celebrities, such as Tom Brady. Beats “allowed me to paint a canvas with them instead of just painting it for me,” she says. “It’s cool when [brands] trust me.”
Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens’s approach to fashion is summarized in his current collection’s tagline: “Not for you—for everyone.” Inclusivity has been the organizing principle of his runway collections since he began in 2006, but the social and political landscape is helping make his defiance of gender, race, and class resonate widely. Last year, Clemens won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund—and was also tasked with creating the uniforms for White Castle’s 15,000 employees.
The problem. Many elderly people lack regular contact with others who might notice a health problem before it turns into a crisis.
The epiphany. American physician Mitch Besser was working in Africa, assisting HIV-positive African moms, when his father wound up in intensive care with an undetected urinary tract infection that could have been treated “by a $5 urine analysis and antibiotics,” Besser says.
The execution. Besser launched AgeWell in 2014 to match compassionate adults with elderly people living alone. After receiving training and a tablet device, AgeWell workers (who “effectively make minimum wage” but sign up, Besser says, for altruistic reasons) take notes that are monitored by doctors who can follow up if they spot a health concern.
The result. AgeWell has received funding from Robert Wood Johnson and other foundations and now operates in South Africa, Ireland, and several U.S. states. Beyond providing an early warning system for illness, AgeWell offers social benefits. “People just want companionship,” Besser says.
Since Nate Fick joined Endgame as CEO in 2012, he has established the company as the go-to endpoint security solution for a mostly confidential client roster that includes parts of the U.S. Department of Defense. Last year, Endgame launched Artemis, a groundbreaking digital assistant for cyberdefense operations that catches security threats through a natural-language, AI-powered interface, allowing employees at subscribing companies to bypass complex query syntax and get simple answers to simple questions. (For example, “Is my computer infected with WannaCry?”) Other cybersecurity companies typically require a dedicated expert to decipher data, but Artemis equips regular staff to prevent breaches. A former Marine and best-selling author, Fick cites an employee at Texas A&M who prevented the school’s network from infection by a malware campaign: “We have examples of junior analysts stopping nation-state-level attacks.”
Pinterest isn’t the largest social network, but it has one major edge over its competitors: 98% of users actually try something they see on the platform—recipes, craft projects, shopping tips, and more. To help every one of Pinterest’s 100 billion pins find its target audience, head of engineering Li Fan led an effort last year to use machine learning to better understand the content and context of each pin, from the images to the comments to the way users tag and arrange them on their own Pinterest boards. By harnessing this data, Pinterest is better able to recommend pins according to each user’s taste—an effort that increased clicks and saves by 20% last year across the home feed. What’s more, Fan uses these insights to help Pinterest promote the most actionable pins, while pruning out the duds. “We get the biggest complaints from our users when they find something they love and they can’t buy it because it’s out of stock, or can’t make it because an instruction is missing,” she says.
Joshua Kissi, who founded the popular style blog Street Etiquette, which morphed into a creative agency, is turning his artistic eye toward the ordinary. Tonl, his new stock photography company, offers original images that feature people of color and different sexual orientations doing everyday things: working out, cooking dinner, hanging at the beach. With customers such as Google, Facebook, and PopSugar deploying Tonl’s images in their marketing and editorial content, the 10-month-old company is already changing standards.
Apple veteran Jennifer Bailey took over Apple Pay in 2014 with the goal of making it possible for iPhone users to leave their wallets at home. She has quickly turned the service into a core piece of the Apple operating system and grown in-store acceptance at U.S. retail locations from about 3% at launch to more than 50% today while also integrating Apple Pay into 85 of the top 100 e-commerce apps. In the process, she’s humanized a financial product in surprising ways—witness the happy face that appears when an iPhone X user authenticates at checkout. “Not only did we want to bring more security to payments,” she says, “we wanted to make the whole experience enjoyable.”
Aaron Fairchild’s general contractor and real estate investment group, Green Canopy, is small ($80 million in revenue to date versus nearly $6 billion for Toll Brothers in 2017 alone), but it’s the only U.S. builder dedicated to erecting exclusively certified “deep green” single- and multi-unit homes. In addition to having more than 80 net-zero-energy homes in development in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, and incorporating sustainable materials and energy-efficient lighting and appliances into all its work, the B Corporation focuses on walkable urban “infill development” (building in vacant or underused parcels within existing urban areas) rather than targeting undeveloped land on the city’s outskirts, which contributes to sprawl. Intensely aware of how “real estate has been used as a weapon to keep historically marginalized populations marginalized,” Fairchild is committed to increasing the percentage of affordable housing in Green Canopy’s portfolio (currently at more than 10%). Last year, he launched a for-profit fund called Cedar that will reserve 25% of new homes to be developed for affordability; the remaining portfolio will go into a community trust for permanently affordable housing.
A former M&A analyst who grew up economically disadvantaged, Kesha Cash founded the Impact America Fund to make strategic early bets on companies that provide services to minority communities. By embracing opportunities usually ignored by traditional investors, the nine companies in Cash’s initial $10 million fund have generated $75 million in revenue since 2014—$35 million last year alone. “The founders who get it right have a deep cultural competency around the markets they serve,” she says. Here are three companies she’s backing.
Mayvenn: Cash invested early in Mayvenn, a platform that taps into the $9 billion a year that black consumers spend on hair and beauty products by enabling independent hairstylists to source and sell weaves and wigs online for a commission. More than 40,000 stylists now use Mayvenn.
ConnXus: In 2014, Cash backed ConnXus, a software tool that lets corporations like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola source goods from suppliers owned by women, minorities, LGBTQ people, and veterans. “Billions of dollars are spent in corporate supply chains,” she says. “We can connect the dots to help small businesses and create jobs for diverse folk.”
PawnGuru: The PawnGuru app brings price transparency to pawn shops by allowing users to upload photos of items and receive bids from local stores. “At first, people questioned if we were doing good with that investment,” says Cash. “But the reality is [this is] how microfinance is done in our community and how people are surviving.”
Falon Fatemi was working as a business development consultant when she realized that her instinct for matchmaking—she introduced Mark Cuban to Dropbox, where he’s now an investor and adviser, and connected the founder of Zappos to a company his startup later merged with—had led to millions of dollars in investments, acquisitions, and hires. “I thought, There’s some algorithm I’ve uncovered that’s creating all this value for people around me,” says Fatemi, once Google’s youngest employee (at age 19). To “productize” herself, as she describes it, she founded Node, which uses AI and machine learning to index the web, creating a network showing how people, companies, and products relate to each other. If a client is looking for new business partners, for example, Node can surface prospects by detecting relevant business patterns. Since launching in 2017, Node has generated more than $200 million in customer revenue for its clients. “We pick up where Google leaves off,” Fatemi says.
Nora Zimmett uses technology and narrative to turn atmospheric disturbances into must-watch events. When a big storm is brewing, viewers can get the temperature or wind speed from an app, but they tune in to the Weather Channel to see an augmented-reality illustration of the damage each additional foot of rain can inflict on a house—or the way weather conditions might affect an NFL game based on players’ past performances. “We are providing you with what the world looks like through numbers,” says Zimmett, a former CNN producer who joined TWC in 2014. This extends to what she calls “preventable disasters.” After a story last summer about a baby perishing in a hot car, Zimmett created the Scorching Car Scale, which uses a formula to translate outside temperatures into how quickly heat escalates in a vehicle. Her overall efforts have delivered the network’s highest ratings in its 35-year history.
Army officer Chris Mercado was completing his master’s at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service when he got a call from his former infantry mate Justin Miller. It had been seven years since Miller served in Iraq, but he was still racked with survivor’s guilt and contemplating suicide. Mercado knew Miller’s plight was common; in the U.S., nearly 20 vets commit suicide daily. The six-hour phone call, which saved Miller’s life, inspired Mercado to develop Objective Zero, which launched last November. Once a veteran logs in to the Objective Zero app, they are immediately connected to one of more than 350 trained volunteers. The app has facilitated more than 3,000 text-message conversations and 1,900 phone hours for nearly 500 users. Mercado is now patenting a feature that tracks text-message patterns to location data to flag signs of distress, allowing mental health workers “to reach out and help users before they even know they’re in trouble,” he says. Next, he plans to incorporate employment resources.
"I come from a place of no. It’s not like the U.S. where you’re taught you can do anything,” says Bolivia-born Rodrigo Bellott, who took his country’s conservatism as a challenge. He went on to direct Bolivia’s first film nominated for an Academy Award (2003’s Sexual Dependency) and to create the biggest theatrical event in its history: Tu Me Manques (I Miss You), a 2015 play about the suicide of Bellott’s closeted lover. To reflect social media’s role as a community builder in a country not known for LGBTQ rights, much of the story features Facebook messaging and Skype calls, performed on audience members’ phones. Bellott tried to stage it on Broadway first, but producers told him the chance of losing Wi-Fi made it too risky. So he produced it in Bolivia—a country with “one of the worst internets in the world”—setting up three Wi-Fi accounts and blocking Wi-Fi–disrupting cell-phone signals. The play, which encouraged hundreds of young Bolivians to come out, is finally reaching Broadway in 2019; a film adaptation will debut at film festivals worldwide beginning this August. Bellott’s next show, a murder mystery, propels the narrative with an app: In other words, for this night of theater, you will be encouraged to keep your cell phone on.
As manager of the design team behind Airbnb’s expansion into China, Vivian Wang is adapting the American home-sharing platform for the Chinese market, which the company thinks will be its biggest by 2020. “China just moves so fast—the design DNA is really shifting,” she says. Her team has rebranded Airbnb as the easier-to-pronounce Ai Bi Ying and localized the onboarding and payments processes by integrating them with ubiquitous Chinese apps WeChat and Alipay. The group also rolled out region-specific features, such as a mobile-only tool that enables users to share travel tips, helping locals get used to the idea of vacationing in a stranger’s home. Airbnb’s China business is exploding, with reportedly more than 150,000 active listings and more than 10 million bookings in 2017—up 180% year over year. Wang sees China as the perfect test bed for new products and features because the market has “trained this generation of [Chinese] consumers to embrace newness and quickly adapt,” she explains. “[Airbnb] can actually launch changes in China first—and then introduce them to the rest of the world.”
When Sylvia Acevedo was a girl in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a Girl Scout troop leader encouraged her to build a model rocket for a science badge. That experience “was an inflection point in my life,” says Acevedo, who became an actual rocket scientist, with an advanced degree in systems engineering from Stanford and a resume that includes stints at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and IBM, plus senior executive roles at Apple, Autodesk, and Dell. After becoming CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA last year, she has been finding creative ways to accelerate the organization’s increasing STEM emphasis.
A fuller spectrum: In May 2017, Acevedo green-lighted the largest rollout of new badges in nearly a decade; 39 of the 47 are in such STEM subjects as weather-pattern analysis, space science, robotics, and cybersecurity.
Expert partners: New STEM-focused educational programs feature curricula developed alongside science organizations such as Palo Alto Networks, NASA, SETI Institute, Society of Women Engineers, and Code.org.
A promise for tomorrow: Last year, Acevedo announced the STEM Pledge—an eight-year initiative to raise $70 million to underwrite further STEM educational programming for Girl Scouts. “The world is being redeveloped in front of us,” she says, “and we need to have girls who can be part of designing that future.”
Tristan Harris was obsessed with magic as a kid and once earned $20 to perform tricks for his fourth-grade class. The experience taught him not only that misdirection could be profitable, but also that “magic is all about identifying the blind spots and vulnerabilities of the human mind,” a skill that would serve him well years later as a design ethicist at Google. His job was to explore how digital platforms that steer users’ thoughts might be created more ethically, but after three years in the role, Harris no longer wanted to remain part of a company that designed products to keep consumers glued to their screens. After leaving Google, his media interviews and talks at TED established him as an industry leader on the potential hazards of digital technology, and in February he cofounded the Center for Humane Technology to raise awareness among consumers—especially parents and teachers—about the harms of digital devices. In partnership with Common Sense Media, CHT is developing an ad campaign targeting 55,000 U.S. public schools; it’s also lobbying to support legislation, at both the national and state levels, that would introduce new digital safeguards. “Our work is all about how social media can cause World War III, political manipulation, depression, and hurt the development of kids,” Harris says. “This is an existential threat, and we need to change it rapidly.”
During the tortuous process of securing FDA approval, many promising drugs stumble over the same hurdle: cardiovascular complications. Misti Ushio’s Tara Biosystems has developed a new platform that can expedite testing and dramatically reduce costs. She and cofounders Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic and Milica Radisic (two longtime collaborators) have developed small strips of live human heart material—about 3 millimeters long—that can be bathed in drug solutions and monitored for reactions, allowing pharmaceutical companies to gauge toxic side effects (and cardiac benefits) before turning to animal testing or human trials. The live heart model is already being used by 10 companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and Regeneron. Ushio compares it to “a tissue machine,” with about 200 mini hearts available at any given time, “so we’re always ready if we need to do a study,” she says.
The problem. Each year, more than 12 million Americans turn to payday lenders in order to access short-term cash, despite onerous fees.
The epiphany. When Marla Blow, a former Capital One executive, joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, she realized the full extent to which credit card companies and banks had pulled back from serving subprime consumers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This left borrowers no option but to rely increasingly on payday lenders when faced with a cash crunch. “That suggested a giant market opportunity,” she says.
The execution. Blow’s startup, FS Card, offers consumers a credit card, called Build, that comes with a $500 limit—slightly more than the average payday loan—and a built-in coach to improve financial health. The company aims to cover its expenses with a $75 annual fee.
The result. In its first 18 months, FS Card signed up 50,000 customers. By the end of last year, the company had extended more than $50 million in credit.
How do you get younger consumers to care about insurance? Comedy and poetry. Last year, Jennifer Fitzgerald decided that her startup, which connects newbies to providers of life, renter’s, disability, pet, and other types of insurance, needed a way to reach potential customers that didn’t involve Google ads (“insurance” is one of the most expensive search keywords) or Facebook. “Nobody’s going to stop and engage with an insurance ad on Facebook,” she says. Fitzgerald decided on an outdoor campaign and then came up with the idea to riff on the New York City subway’s beloved “Poetry in Motion” series, with tongue-in-cheek verse composed in-house. “Blackberries / Fresh milk / All these things / are talked about / in other subway poems. / So / we included them,” one ode began. “New Yorkers got it,” says Fitzgerald, who occasionally does standup comedy. Policygenius has served 4.5 million customers since its 2014 launch.
The problem. Starting in college, through his career as a Hollywood director (2001’s Cats & Dogs) and executive producer (2015’s Holocaust drama Remember), Larry Guterman struggled with hearing loss. Phone calls became particularly difficult, and hearing aids offered little help. He understood how devastating hearing impairment could be: “People become isolated—they stop talking on the phone, watching videos on YouTube, interacting with the people around them,” Guterman says.
The epiphany. Frustrated with expensive hearing aids, Guterman had a thought while talking to his college roommate, engineer John Lederman: Why not embed the functionality of a $5,000 hearing aid in a phone?
The execution. The duo founded SonicCloud in 2012, enlisting Jody Winzelberg, former chief of audiology at Stanford Children’s Health, to help develop an app-based assessment that guides users through a series of exercises and creates a personalized hearing profile. SonicCloud then uses signal processing to tailor calls to a user’s hearing needs.
The result. Guterman called his wife with the prototype, reducing her to tears. “She said, ‘We’ve been married more than 15 years, and you ask me every 30 seconds to repeat myself when we’re on the phone. We just talked for half an hour and you didn’t ask me once,’” he remembers. Featured at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference and Google’s Accessibility Week in 2017, SonicCloud is available in app stores for iPhone and Android for $10 per month.
H&M has experimented for years with eco-friendly fabrics and recycling, but its core business has always been to churn out runway looks at rock-bottom prices. In March, when the company revealed a pile of unsold garments worth $4 billion, the news underscored a need to alter its fundamentals. Former architect Ulrika Bernhardtz, who joined H&M in 2015, launched a spin-off brand last August called Arket, which offers well-crafted, timeless clothes and home goods that are winning fans in the fashion and design worlds. Arket seeks out expert factories for each product and helps them control waste, reducing water and energy use. The full supply chain is made public on Arket’s site, with details about the factory and the workers who made the product customers are about to buy. “It’s a way of showing that we are confident in our suppliers,” Bernhardtz says. Any manufacturing improvements can then be incorporated into Arket’s $28 billion parent company’s supply chain, which has enough scale to affect the industry globally.
When Keir Winesmith joined the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2013, he started an R&D lab with the goal of making the extensive collection, of which only about 5% is ever on public display, “available to people who don’t feel confident in the white walls of the gallery,” he says. Last June, his group launched SendMe SFMOMA, a texting service that acts as a virtual curator: Send the tool a keyword or even an emoji and receive a relevant image from the museum’s 35,000-piece collection. The service went viral (briefly crashing the SFMOMA servers), and the group is helping other museums establish similar programs. Winesmith has also collaborated with local tech companies, creating an experimental photo booth with Adobe to promote a new exhibit and smartphone-enabled audio tours with Groupon founder Andrew Mason’s startup Detour that are voiced by the likes of Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani and public radio’s Marianne McCune.
Michelle Longmire’s fascination with genetics might be, in fact, inherited—her father helped create the first map of the human genome. As a student at Stanford Medical School, however, Longmire realized that in the rush to comb genetic data, doctors overlooked a big opportunity, presented by new technology, to gauge overall health. Medable, which she founded in 2014, is a digital health platform that taps into smartphone sensors and wearables to gather lifestyle data, including sleep patterns, socialization habits, and movement statistics. Currently open to people in clinical drug trials, the platform is used by researchers to understand how a drug affects patients’ everyday lives. “Before our system, [clinicians] didn’t capture data outside the walls of the clinic,” Longmire says. Last year, Medable partnered with hospital systems and biopharmaceutical companies nationwide, which helped it reach a total of 15 million patients and impact more than 6,000 clinical trials.
Tony Soprano’s bathrobe. Dolores Abernathy’s prairie dress. Offred’s red cloak. Veteran costume designer Ane Crabtree has created the iconic looks for numerous shows that have helped define the modern golden age of television, including The Sopranos, Justified, and Masters of Sex. But it’s her work on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and HBO’s Westworld—both came back for their second seasons in April—that has elevated her to dystopian couturier.
Years after the violent 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, homes in the Palestinian territory still lay in rubble. Reconstruction has been a challenge: Israel restricts imports of cement and other basic building materials, saying they can be used for military purposes. But engineer Majd Mashharawi has developed a workaround using materials already inside Gaza’s borders. Her three-year-old startup, GreenCake, employs a new, low-energy manufacturing process to turn ashes, produced by businesses that burn coal or wood, into bricks that are both stronger and cheaper than their conventional alternative. Mashharawi’s company, which now generates up to 5,000 bricks a month, is financially self-sustaining, despite Gaza’s struggling economy, and is reinventing the male-dominated world of construction by hiring women to run the production line. “It’s not just about creating building blocks,” she says. “It’s about creating a system that changes the culture of Gaza.”
Salesforce’s new headquarters is the tallest building in San Francisco and will soon become the largest commercial water-recycling site in the U.S., able to treat and reuse 7.8 million gallons a year. The water project was spearheaded by Suzanne DiBianca, who cofounded the Salesforce Foundation nearly two decades ago and pioneered the company’s model of philanthropy: to donate 1% of product, equity, and employee time to nonprofit causes. (Thousands of companies have since committed to the Pledge 1% movement.) Two years ago, CEO Marc Benioff tapped her to oversee Salesforce’s efforts to integrate social responsibility and philanthropy throughout its business. Last year, she successfully pushed the company to offset its carbon emissions and steered the launch of a $50 million social impact fund as part of Salesforce Ventures, the third-largest corporate VC fund behind Intel and Google. “If you do all these things, you build a better company,” DiBianca says. “[Employee] retention rates go up, and you can even run the business more efficiently.”
When Erika Nardini beat out 74 male candidates to become CEO of the dude-centric lifestyle blog Barstool Sports in 2016, the company had almost no infrastructure, but did boast a rabid, un-PC fan base. Nardini has embraced the attitude but overhauled everything else to turn the Boston-based company into a next-generation sports media brand that brought in more than $30 million in 2017 and is valued at $100 million. Her success in part can be credited to diversifying revenue beyond digital advertising. In addition to selling limited-edition merchandise—this spring, to capture the excitement around Tiger Woods’s comeback, Barstool sold T-shirts with his silhouette and the phrase “Make Sundays Great Again”—she’s steering the brash brand onto more eclectic turf. Last November, Nardini bought Rough and Rowdy, an amateur boxing venture, and turned it into the successful pay-per-view program called Barstool Brawls. “We tend to like things you haven’t seen before,” she says.
Lines at sneaker and streetwear purveyor Kith snake down the sidewalk when a weekly limited-edition product drops. Kith collaborates with a dizzying array of brands (Coca-Cola, Champion, Off-White, and others), and even more than competitors such as Supreme and Flight Club, incorporates its high-low mission into its business model, with boutiques in Bergdorf Goodman and on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue. Several of the seven outposts (in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles) sell cereal and soft-serve under the label “Kith Treats.” “The ’90s molded me,” says CEO Ronnie Fieg, who once sold Timberlands to rappers like Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls. “I was obsessed with product, music, and cereal.” In addition to opening Kith Kids last year and hosting his first New York Fashion Week show, Fieg debuted a version of LeBron James’s Nike basketball shoe that he considers “the biggest moment” yet. The Kith LeBron15 is now a sneakerhead holy grail, selling for as much as $1,325 online.
Chris Jordan, a former director of coffee quality at Starbucks and CEO of Verve Coffee Roasters, drew on his background with farmers to rethink supplier networks when he joined Tartine in 2016. The fast-growing global bakery is now “prefinancing” crops for the Washington State farmers who grow sustainable, high-quality wheat and ancient grains for its California outposts. “We write $40,000 or $50,000 checks every season for their seed,” says Jordan. Tartine then funnels the harvest through a single miller that has optimized its process for the bakery’s recipes. About 80% of bread ingredients will come through this network. “We are dependent on each other,” Jordan says, so “we’ve got to be good at coordinating our schedules. But we are supporting farmers that practice good land stewardship, and our bakers are blown away at the quality of flour we’re getting from the mill.” Now he’s adapting the model to other Tartine markets—a second Seoul location opened in April.
Death cleaning—known in Sweden, its country of origin, as döstädning—may sound morbid. But it’s really an act of love, says Margareta Magnusson, the 84-year-old first-time author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, the New York Times best seller that was originally released in Sweden last October and has been published around the world—eventually, it will reach 29 countries. The slim volume, written with blunt Scandinavian humor and the common sense of someone who’s culled her belongings through 17 moves, guides readers of any age through the process of freeing yourself from unnecessary stuff (before someone else has to do it for you). Shredding old papers and finding a new home for heirlooms before you’re gone “[helps] make your loved ones’ memories of you nice—instead of awful,” Magnusson writes. An accomplished painter and mother of five, she says that while the concept of döstädning is particular to Sweden, the values behind it are not. “Most people have too many things around them,” she says. “They don’t have time to live because they have to take care of all this stuff they don’t really need.”
Known simply as “Mother” in the makeup community, Pat McGrath probably taught your favorite YouTube beauty bloggers everything they know. She has crafted iconic runway looks for Prada and Givenchy, created cosmetics for Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, and serves as beauty editor-at-large for British Vogue. After experimenting with her own limited-edition products, the beauty icon introduced her first permanent makeup collection last fall under the brand Pat McGrath Labs. The line, which is sold through Sephora and expected to exceed $60 million in sales this year, is born from McGrath’s ability to create everyday solutions for fashion-industry problems. Her dramatic, one-swipe matte lipsticks, for example, were inspired by her frustration with having to layer concealer, powder, pencil, and lipstick to achieve a similarly rich color for photo shoots. The shimmering eye shadows are formulated to stand out well on a broad range of skin types and colors—as they must when coming down a runway on dozens of models. “I’m a woman with 87 trunks of makeup, and all I think about all day is what I don’t have,” says McGrath. “The line came from my needs.”
Alma Har’el was tired of hearing the same old excuses for why brands and ad agencies weren’t hiring female directors, so at the end of 2016 she launched Free the Bid to get more women behind the camera. After committing to consider a bid from at least one woman director for every ad they plan to create, agencies and brands gain access to the nonprofit’s curated database of hundreds of top female filmmakers. Nearly 70 agencies and more than a dozen major brands have signed on, including Coke, Diageo, and Levi’s. Two major agencies—BBDO and CP+B—reported a 400% increase in assignments to women, and Free the Bid’s efforts have led to prominent TV spots, including Siri Bunford’s Super Bowl ad for Google Home.
Jeffery T.D. Wallace was working at the Los Angeles Urban League when he wrote to Starbucks's then CEO Howard Schultz seven years ago to advocate for more corporate investment in urban communities. About two years later, that conversation culminated in his taking the helm of a new nonprofit, LeadersUp, funded by a $1 million seed grant from Starbucks. Wallace and his team have since helped more than 70 employers, including Microsoft and AT&T, hire 5,000 young people from low- and middle-income communities, while slashing interview-to-hiring ratios from an average of 18:1 to 3:1. Today, LeadersUp has 20 full-time staffers, a $5 million operating budget (from foundations, corporations, and consulting services), and outposts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Chicago, and, as of last year, New Zealand, where Wallace says marginalized minority millennials also have a difficult time breaking through corporate hiring barriers.
Last year was notable for its privacy scandals, from the Equifax hack to the Uber breach. Ame Elliott, of Berlin-based nonprofit Simply Secure, wants designers to protect people. “It’s about telling designers, ‘Hey—security, privacy, transparency, ethics? That’s your job,’” explains the Ideo and PARC vet. Elliott helps companies and organizations in 12 countries address questions like: How can an app offer transparent, easy-to-use privacy controls? How can strong, consistent branding stymie phishers? In the past year, Simply Secure has consulted with such groups as the U.S.-based Open Tech Fund, Tor, and Germany’s Prototype Fund; hosted a summit of technologists, designers, researchers, and the public to talk about ethical design; offered UX consulting to help organizations make their technology more user-friendly and secure; and provided pro bono advice at the Internet Freedom Festival. As tech companies reckon with data misuse and face the EU’s new privacy regulations, Elliott’s mission looks even more prescient.
It took Joey Gonzalez a year to work up the courage to enter the first Barry’s Bootcamp location, in West Hollywood, California, in 2003. After discovering both a high-intensity workout and an embracing culture, he became a member, then an instructor, and later a manager. Today, as CEO, he’s tempting users around the globe to give the cult-fitness brand’s classes a spin: In the past 18 months, Barry’s has expanded from 36 to 42 cities and touched down in surprising international locations, including Milan, Dubai, and Stockholm, while his rivals stay focused on North America. Some 65,000 people now attend Barry’s classes each week. As he broadens the company’s footprint, Gonzalez maintains its essence (the house music and disco lighting are constants) but tailors outposts to local cultures. “We never roll into a city with the idea: This is who we are, take it or leave it,” Gonzalez says. “Our goal is to create a community.”
In addition to the usual hurdles of fundraising and scaling, African tech founders face the fundamental misperception that they’re working in an innovation-starved environment. French entrepreneurs Haweya Mohamed and Ammin Youssouf—whose families are from Somalia and the Comoro Islands, respectively—are challenging that idea with their three-year-old Afrobytes tech conferences, which bring together international investors and African startups for events in Paris, New York, and Hong Kong. “There are a lot of tech investors who aren’t ready to go directly to Africa, because they are unfamiliar with the landscape,” says Youssouf. “So we bring the startups to them.” The flagship event in Paris last June brought French-, English-, and Portuguese-speaking African entrepreneurs under one roof to raise money and attend panels and workshops on everything from engaging millennials to building smart cities. Afrobytes also serves as a showcase for the inventiveness of African founders, who are skilled at building impactful, mobile-first products with limited resources. “Imagine having to innovate when you don’t have roads, or you’re working with just three or four hours of power each day,” says Youssouf. “You start thinking outside the box.” For Mohamed, allowing entrepreneurs to tell their own stories is crucial to raising the profile of Africa. “Look at the African continent as a brand,” she says. “A brand you don’t like is a brand you don’t invest in. We want to tell the story of our continent.”
Sonia Cheng was not yet 30 when her family’s Hong Kong–based company, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, acquired the Rosewood Hotel Group and installed her as CEO. In the seven years since, she has transformed Rosewood into one of the world’s leading hotel brands, with 23 properties (the newly renovated Hôtel de Crillon reopened in Paris last July) and 16 more in the pipeline. Where other large, high-end hotel companies emphasize consistency and tradition, Cheng is growing Rosewood by pushing boundaries: She added tented suites to a new resort in Laos, serves chic street food in the signature restaurant of her Beijing hotel, and turned the London property’s once-stuffy bar into a speakeasy that’s a local haunt. “We don’t have a formula,” she says—a sensibility that resonates with independent-minded travelers, affluent millennials, and developers as well. Rosewood was recently tapped to open in the former U.S. embassy in London, and Cheng is now entering the business hotel category with a brand called Khos, set to debut in Asia later this year.
For small, direct-to-consumer e-commerce companies, getting into brick and mortar can be expensive—and risky. In November 2016, content marketers Alana Branston and Ali Kriegsman launched Bulletin, a retail concept that invites women-run businesses to stock shelves in its stores. Makers pay the Y Combinator–backed startup, which has three outposts in New York City, a monthly membership fee based on the store location and products the vendor offers. The arrangement appears to be just the break brands were waiting for: Thousands are on a waiting list. Bulletin’s stores are profitable, and a nationwide expansion is planned. “You read headlines about the retail apocalypse, but for us, there’s a huge opportunity,” says Branston. Ten percent of proceeds go to Planned Parenthood; to date, the company has raised more than $80,000 for the nonprofit. “Bulletin doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Kriegsman. “Our customer wants to support Planned Parenthood, but also wants to wear slippers that say queen bitch on them.”
With more than 2 million citizens in jail, the U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate. Raj Jayadev knows that low-income Americans can suffer poor legal representation, so his San Jose–based nonprofit teaches people how to parse legal jargon to help defend loved ones accused of crimes ranging from unpaid parking violations to murder. Last year, Silicon Valley De-Bug nearly doubled its number of educational hubs (now 21 around the country) where family and friends of the accused learn how to scan police reports for inconsistencies, bolster arguments for overtaxed public defenders, and compile biographical information to help a judge see the defendant beyond a case file. Silicon Valley De-Bug has raised over $1 million from Google and Colin Kaepernick, among others, and helped free more than 1,200 people. “Family members come in feeling intimidated by the system,” Jayadev says. But “by working [with us], that power difference dissipates.”
Kelp keeps oceans clean (by absorbing nitrogen), offsets climate change (by exchanging carbon dioxide for lots of oxygen), and grows quickly. A staple of Japanese diets, it’s increasingly featured in recipes at high-end restaurants. Courtney Boyd Myers, an avid kite surfer, snacks on the stuff straight out of the sea. For landlubbers, she’s creating a more accessible option: kelp jerky, sold through her 18-month-old startup, Akua, named for the Polynesian deities “who protect the ocean,” she says. Boyd Myers brought three varieties to New York’s Fancy Food Show in June 2017—salt, BBQ, and High Thai’d—and began shipping packages to her crowdfunders this past December. Consumers can order kelp jerky on the Akua site, and the product will be available this summer on Amazon and Thrive Market, and at specialty retailers, such as L.A.’s organic grocer Erewhon. Meanwhile, Boyd Myers is working with the nonprofit GreenWave, which teaches underemployed fishermen to farm kelp (there are lots of commercial uses), while also creating a larger network of growers. “We’re building [the company] while helping build the supply chain,” she says.
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