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09.22.16 | 2:31 pm

Google’s Daydream VR platform opens to developers

Google is going all-in on mobile virtual reality with its forthcoming Daydream platform. And now it's ready for developers to start building for the system.

Today the company announced that its VR software developers tools have "graduated out of beta," meaning third parties can "focus on building immersive, interactive mobile VR applications for Daydream-ready phones and headsets."

Scuttlebutt has it that Google will launch Daydream at an event in San Francisco on October 4.

03.23.17 | 25 minutes ago

SoundCloud has raised $70 million to stay afloat

The cloud of uncertainty hanging over SoundCloud this year has been lifted, at least temporarily. The streaming music platform just raised a $70 million debt round, enabling it to keep chugging along as it coaxes subscribers and, eventually, a buyer. Last fall, rumors swirled that Spotify may be interested in snatching up SoundCloud, but those talks reportedly fizzled out. Since last March, SoundCloud has been struggling to turn its free, user-uploaded audio service into a subscription business with its SoundCloud Go tier

03.23.17 | 32 minutes ago

What Silicon Valley can do to bring jobs to Appalachia

The new congressman representing the northern California district where tech giants like Google and Facebook and Apple are based recently visited eastern Kentucky to meet former coal miners training to be mobile app developers. Rep. Ro Khanna talked to Fast Company about his experience and the lessons he learned about how Silicon Valley can build bridges with "Silicon Holler," as that part of Appalachia is called. 

"We can do a better job—to bring them into the 21st-century economy. And how are we going to provide a middle-class life for them? For me, that means investing in the apprenticeship and training programs. Creating partnerships that rewire labor markets so that people are getting the right skills and employers are taking a chance on those skills."

Read the full interview here.

03.23.17 | an hour ago

Eberjey’s secret to thriving brick-and-mortar stores

Fashion brand Bebe just announced it is shutting down its retail presence and focusing entirely on e-commerce after losing $200 million over the last four years. It is following in the footsteps of brands like American Apparel, Wet Seal, and the Limited. 

In the midst of this harsh retail environment, I'm always surprised to hear about brands whose brick and mortar stores are driving the business forward. One such brand is Eberjey, which launched in 1996, but only opened its first retail store five years ago. That store did so well, it will have a total of five by the end of this year (including it's first New York store).

Mariela Rovito, co-founder and president, attributes this success to an obsessive attention to customer experience. This means tailoring the clientele in each and lighting candles, like you would in your home. But mostly, it means training store representatives. "We ask our staff to treat each customer as a guest in their house, and we mean this literally," she says. "Would you give your guest a glass of water when they come through the door? Would you talk their ear off if all they wanted was to come and hang out?" 

Employees are also encouraged to always try to accommodate customer requests as much as humanly possible. Last week, one customer came to the with an elaborate plan to surprise his significant other with a scavenger-hunt-like experience that required the help of the staff. They immediately agreed. Rovito believes that each customer that has a superlative experience will advocate for the brand and, so far, that's proven true. 

03.23.17 | an hour ago

Even in 1883, tech journalists were the worst

I recently came across this passage from Doug Most's book The Race Underground, which recounts the story of how the subways got built in New York and Boston. In the passage, Most tells of how a trade magazine called Electrical World took a few cheap shots at Thomas Edison in 1883 because they were already bored with the electric light and were wondering what inventors were going to do next. Keep in mind, this was less than five years after Edison first demonstrated the miracle of light in 1879—an invention that transformed the world. Wrote the magazine: "The electric light has long ceased to be a curiosity or even a novelty." Guys, really?    

03.23.17 | 2 hours ago

I’m super ambivalent about Thinx

I've been reporting about Thinx for a year. I've been impressed with the company's product, and its commitment to eradicating the social taboo around menstruation. But I'm also horrified to hear former staff members talk about the terrible working conditions they faced at the company. 

In today's issue of my weekly fashion newsletter, "Moving the Needle," I write about how I'm wrestling with these two images of Thinx. You can read the letter here. And if you're interested in signing up, you can do so using this link. (Just click the option for "Fashion Weekly.")

When a business leader comes under fire, it's easy to dismiss the entire company and mission. But I've found that things are rarely black and white, and I'm left with mixed feelings. Do you feel the same way? Tell me more at esegran@fastcompany.com or @LizSegran

03.23.17 | 2 hours ago

A new Microsoft partnership signals a mellower approach to smart cars

In a new deal with Toyota, Microsoft will license out its patented technology to help power smarter vehicles. This is a far more laid-back partnership than the company has made in the past—and a more casual strategy than its competitors are taking to make cars intelligent.   

Microsoft maintains that it doesn't make cars, but that doesn't mean it's not interested in the future of car software. After all, its Azure platform is used by plenty of automakers, the company says. And carmakers like Nissan and BMW have already singed deals to embed its personal assistant, Cortana. So while other companies build their own autonomous cars, Microsoft may be content to cash in on less sexy endeavors. (h/t: the Verge)

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

03.23.17 | 3 hours ago

Bob Iger agrees to stick around. Disney magic ensues.

Shares of the Walt Disney Company jumped today on the news that CEO Bob Iger has extended his contract to July 2019. Iger had planned to step down a year earlier. His imminent departure and the lack of an apparent successor are worrying investors at a time when Disney-owned ESPN and the rest of the legacy cable business are facing challenges from the rise of streaming.

03.23.17 | 4 hours ago

Zuri makes it easier for Americans to wear fabulous African prints

Zuri is a startup based in Nairobi, Kenya, founded by two American expats. The company works with East African craftsmen who create fabrics using a wax-printing technique called kitenge–similar to batik–to create clothing. Or rather, a single piece of clothing. 

Zuri's founders, Sandra Zhao and Ashleigh Miller, created a pattern for an outfit that can be worn as a dress, a skirt, a tunic, and a coat. Their idea was to have one versatile garment that would be easy to pack on a trip and would reduce your need for so many clothes. The design has been popular in Kenya, where it is different from traditional clothing silhouettes there, and also in the U.S., where women are drawn to the colorful patterns. Each garment retails for $145. 

The brand, which launched last year, has been growing fast in both continents, selling several hundred products a month. They've recently had to move into a larger factory to keep up with the demand. 

03.23.17 | 4 hours ago

Senate votes to allow Verizon, Comcast, et al., to collect your personal information without permission

The Senate Thursday voted 50-48 to repeal an Obama administration FCC rule limiting the gathering of customer data by internet service providers. Big ISPs like Verizon and Comcast will now be able to collect personal browsing data on the users they connect to the internet without first asking their permission. The resolution must now be voted on by the GOP-controlled House.

Research shows that Americans are increasingly concerned about the privacy and security of their personal information, as data theft by hackers continues to accelerate. The bulk collection of browsing data provides another massive target for hackers, who steal large blocks of data and sell it on the dark web to those who combine it with other data to complete the identities of potential victims.

Wireless and wired internet service providers have for years sought to buffer their low-growth broadband businesses by selling user data to data brokers who sell ad-targeting data to advertisers. 

03.23.17 | 11:00 am

With reactions and mentions, Facebook Messenger will feel even more like a social network 

Facebook's Messenger—which recently introduced Messenger Day, a share-your-life feature akin to "Stories" as seen on Snapchat and Instagram—is adding two additional capabilities aimed at optimizing the service for group conversations rather than just chatting with one friend at a time:

• Similar to their counterparts in Facebook's own app, reactions let you quickly respond to a specific message with an emoji-like icon, representing "love," "smile," "wow," "sad," "angry," "yes," or "no." (That last one isn't available on Facebook itself.)

Mentions let you reference friends by typing an @ sign and their user name, just as you can on Twitter and Facebook. If you do, they'll receive a notification so they can join the discussion.

03.23.17 | 10:36 am

After hitting a few speed bumps, Hyperloop One hires some Republicans to lobby the Trump administration 

The high-speed transport company still reeling from a nasty lawsuit involving allegations of harassment and threats recently hired a few former GOP congressional staffers with Jochum Shore & Trossevin to lobby for them in Washington, D.C., reports Recode's Tony Romm.

Read the full story here.

03.23.17 | 10:17 am

Cambridge Satchel Co.’s founder is committed to British manufacturing in a post-Brexit world

The choice to leave the European Union impacted British manufacturing because it reduced the access to the European market, one of Britain's most important trading partners. Cambridge Satchel Company's founder and CEO, Julie Deane, is working hard to highlight the value of British manufacturing. The brand's classic leather bags, which suddenly became a fashion icon in the last decade, are all made in the U.K. The brand has recently partnered with Brompton Bicycles, which also manufactures in the U.K., on a collaboration of bags and fold-up bikes in matching colors.