PLUS: Netflix’s new pricing, explained.
|The Big Idea|
While the air travel industry struggles, Southwest Airlines is aggressively expanding. Why?
Captain Obvious says, “Air travel is down big in 2020.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, US airlines are offering 42% fewer flights this month compared to last November — and the biggest players (United, American Airlines, and Delta) lost a jarring $23.5B through September.
But amidst this carnage, one airline — Southwest Airlines (with the glorious ticker symbol $LUV) — has actually decided to expand.
Southwest will add 10 new cities to its network by end-2021
Launched in the late 1960s by former corporate lawyer Herb Kelleher, the airline has always zigged while others zagged.
One major zig: prioritizing employee happiness. “Your employees come first,” Kelleher once said. “And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy.”
Among Kelleher’s other zigs:
Southwest has lost $2.2B+ this year…
… but the airline is well-positioned to expand for 3 reasons:
The Southwest playbook: expanding during crises
During the financial crisis of 2009, Southwest moved into Logan (Boston) and LaGuardia (New York) airports.
Kelleher, who Fortune once called America’s best CEO, had previously spurned these primo locations as “too crowded and expensive.” But he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The new cities contributed 20% of the airline’s 2010 revenue growth — and a decade later, Southwest is clearly trying to recreate the magic.
It’s a ballsy bet
Southwest will snap its 47-year profitability streak in 2020, and it may have to furlough staff for the 1st time ever.
In recent years, the airline’s lower cost advantage has been eroded by the rise of budget airlines, and the reduction of fees by major carriers.
The founding myth of Southwest is that Kelleher drew up the first routes on a cocktail napkin. He died last year — but he’d probably be happy to see his expansion strategy live on.
- Apple’s olive branch: The iPhone maker is lowering its App Store commission rate to 15% for developers making <$1m a year. Amidst App store antitrust talk, this is a big deal.
- Zoombombin’ no more: A new feature from the video chat beast will alert hosts when unwelcome guests are trying to access a room.
- Next-gen concerts: 33m viewers tuned in to watch an animated Lil Nas X pump out 4 shows via gaming platform Roblox, which is prepping for an IPO.
- “Bro. You gotta get in.” The popular 2017 refrain is back in style as Bitcoin tops $18k, continuing a torrid run.
- Um, there’s a mistake… auto-grading bots are evaluating kids’ tests and often failing to get the answers right. Hopefully, the bots aren’t falling for these classic cheats.
Strava, everyone’s favorite fitness tracking app, just raised $110m
Ever have a friend claim, “I was really good at high school track” without a shred of evidence? Enter Strava.
Founded in 2009, the app allows users to share fitness activities with friends, track running and cycling routes, and participate in virtual competitions.
And it just raised a $110m round to keep the party going.
2020 has been good to Strava
Strava counts a long list of pro athletes among its users, but its recent growth goes far beyond ultra-marathoners and triathletes.
In 2020, Strava has notched 70m users at a pace of 2M new users per month — most of whom use the platform’s free tools.
A paid tier (currently $5 per month) offers route planning, segment competitions, and goal setting. It’s been estimated that ~2.2% of users pay for the upgrade, which equates to an annual run rate of $90m+ based on the present pricing.
Strava for X
While Strava supports a wide range of activities, the majority of their features are limited to biking, running, and swimming. This means there’s an opportunity to serve niche interests that Strava isn’t covering.
As recently reported in Trends, horseback riding, fishing, and bird-watching are all activities with devoted hobbyists that would be a great fit for Strava’s social-network component.
The opportunity could be lucrative. If you thought marathoners were hardcore, you should meet some “twitchers.”
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What the automation of telephone operators can tell us about future jobs
The fear that “automation will take our jobs” goes back centuries. When Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in the mid-1400s, a whole class of scribes was put out of work.
During the pandemic, the rapid transition to digital everything has exacerbated these fears.
Against this backdrop, an interesting new research paper from James Feigenbaum and Daniel P. Gross looks at “Automation and the Fate of Young Workers.”
Going back to phone operator times
Per Gross, one of the biggest labor shocks of the 20th century was the automation of telephone operators, a common entry-level role for young women in the 1920s.
At the time, AT&T was the country’s largest employer and had hundreds of thousands of operators on its payroll. Over the next 50 years, it replaced humans with mechanical dials and switches.
By the 1960s, these dials handled more than 60% of AT&T’s network.
What happened to the labor market?
The research found divergent results for two cohorts of labor:
Of course, 2020 is a much different situation than 1920. But this is an interesting reminder that labor markets have historically had the capacity to adjust to massive shocks.
Why Netflix is changing its pricing strategy
If you’re a meticulous observer of your monthly credit card statement you may notice your recurring Netflix charge edge up this cycle.
A few weeks ago the streaming giant announced upcoming changes that will see plan prices increase by $1-2/mo.
While a buck or two more may seem small, the gradual increases will have a huge impact on profits when spread across Netflix’s 193M global subscribers.
An older, more mature Netflix
Roughly 18 months removed from its last price increase, what might seem like a standard bump comes at a critical time for the company.
With the world homebound during the 2020 lockdowns, Netflix saw a massive surge in demand, attracting almost 16m signups in Q1.
But during Q2 (July-September), Netflix managed just 2.2m signups — over a million fewer than Wall Street had projected.
Why jack up prices now?
According to Entertainment Strategy Guy — an anonymous media insider with an extremely descriptive name — Netflix has reached a mature phase of its business, prompting CEO Reed Hastings to shift the company’s focus from revenue to profit.
For many users, Netflix has become a more valued service during the pandemic.
But when normal times return and, you know, we can do things again, the platform’s pricing boost may see a moment of reckoning.
|GIF of the day|
In 1992, Southwest Airlines motto was “Just Plane Smart,” which was eerily similar to the motto for Stevens Aviation, “Plane Smart.” As you can expect from 2 firms that have such an affinity for puns, the trademark dispute was settled by an arm-wrestling match.
Despite smoking a cigarette and wearing a headband, Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher somehow lost the “Malice in Dallas” but was allowed to keep the motto in exchange for a $5k charity donation and dropping all legal claims. (YouTube)
The average return of “All In” stocks? 1,352%
That beats the S&P 500 by more than 12x.
Of course, “All In” stocks have only happened 27 times in the history of Stock Advisor, so they don’t come around often.
But when they do? We take note.
That’s why this most recent one caught our eye. It’s a small internet company in the advertising market (which happens to be 10x bigger than the online streaming industry), and they’re potentially poised for big things.
Interested? Get the full story over at Stock Advisor:
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