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Business Unusual

Business Unusual - Recap 2019

23 October 2019 7:15 PM
There have been over 150 episodes of Business Unusual. Many cover subjects that are still developing stories, here are some updates on those past episodes.

Meat Alternatives

Let’s begin with something you can sink your teeth into. In May we covered the meat-free startups Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Beyond Meat listed in May at $66 rising to $234 in July before coming back to the $100 dollar level at the moment. The closed period for trades ends at the end of the month and it is expected many early backers will cash our some shares. The demand for shares may have eased but the demand for the alternatives is growing. Fast Food chains that did tests were so encouraged to that they have rolled out the burgers to multiple venues in the US and Internationally. If there is a cloud on the horizon then it will be from the large food suppliers that will very likely look to create their own versions. Cows and the climate may get to breathe a sigh of relief sooner rather than later.

Doomsday Weapons

Two Russian nuclear bombers landed in SA in October, but in August we looked at what the modern arsenal of weapons that could end the world looks like. An accident reported in August was updated in October to say that the explosion resulted from a failed attempt to retrieve a Skyfall nuclear cruise missile that was lost in 2018. It is not only the concern that these weapons exist, but who will get access and whether they may be willing to use them.

WhatsApp taxes

Uganda attempted to raise additional funds on digital transactions which resulted in mass protests, the government walked back most of the charges, Lebanon recently attempted to do the same as part of a range of issues to increase funds. The resulting protest which is ongoing saw mass protests and an undertaking by the government to drop the digital tax. It also led to the bizarre scenario of a driver asking the protestors to not scare her young child in the car with her as she tried to may her way home. Protestors began singing Baby Shark must the bemusement of the young boy.

Compulsory coding at schools

In April, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a reply during a Twitter Q&A that he wanted to introduce compulsory coding at public schools. Since then the Department of Education has said that coding will be one of the streams available to Grade 9’s when a new system for the final part of high school is rolled out. It is a positive step, but coding needs to be introduced at an earlier age if it is going to be effective. It does not help that the Deputy President while answering questions in Parliament did not know which industrial revolutions had already taken place.


There are multiple takes that have looked at how effective Facebook was as a disruptor, how effective it was as an ad platform and how terrible it has been for privacy and truth. Facebook has typically acknowledged the errors and committed to fixing them. Although now as they pass 2,4 billion monthly active users, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is less apologetic and instead is committing to not limit information on the site not because they can’t stop it but because he wants to promote freedom of expression. It may be that trying to control the flood of information is just too hard, or that there is a perception that clamping down on problematic posts may affect conservative users more than others. Even with significant improvements for users in the US, the relatively hands-off approach in many other countries it operates does not suggest things are going to get better any time soon.


The office rental company was last featured in September but has had a full-blown meltdown since then. There was doubt that the planned IPO would go ahead and in the end, it was postponed. The unrealistic valuation, the expectation that the unconventional CEO would be able to retain significant control and the actions by senior members of the management team left investors cold. Now the principal Venture Capital investor SoftBank has effectively taken over the business to prevent them from running out of cash. The CEO will be paid out almost $2 billion in what is likely to be the last of the high flying loss-making businesses chasing scale.


The other crazy experiment to burn through cash to create a business without a profit plan was MoviePass. The idea was to create a Netflix of movies by offering moviegoers a low price subscription option to watch unlimited movies. That was soon changed as thousands signed up. With no way to generate more money than they spent it was only a matter of time before it failed. That day came on 14 September, while the official status is that this is just a service disruption, it is likely to be an indefinite disruption. Cinemas have shown some desire to create a version of MoviePass, but one that would increase attendance and add to the bottom line. There is still some consternation from subscribers who say they are still being billed.

Not all are bad news

Quantum Computing

While still in the experimental phase these mind-bending computers are able to do a magnitude of calculations more and faster than traditional computers. They remain unaffordable for most applications but this week, the Google lab that built a 54 Qubit machine declared that it was able to run a calculation that would take traditional computing 10 000 years to complete that its machine was able to finish in under 4 minutes. Not everyone agrees, but even the revised time for the world’s most powerful traditional computers would take over two and a half days to finish.


When it comes to new earning opportunities then YouTube appears to have created the largest opportunity for new forms of income. Gamers can now earn a living just by sharing their comments and screens while playing games. YouTuber PewDiePie has 101 million subscribers ready to watch the new videos and the ads that are played on the channel. There is another channel though that is in a class of its own. The star is an 8-year-old boy that shares his views of toys that his parents ask him to play with and review. He has over 20 million subscribers and will get over a million views in 24 hours of posting a new video. Ads and endorsements saw him earn over R100 million in 2017 which has risen to over R350 million in 2018.

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23 October 2019 7:15 PM

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