As 2017 comes to a close, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on how the year went for some of the most attention-grabbing tech companies, ordered here conveniently from most screwed to least screwed.
For brevity, I’ve left plenty of tech companies out of this list. Across those listed below there are common threads. They all made big headlines this year while also facing some existential challenges. As a result of their circumstances now, many seem totally doomed, while others are merely somewhat screwed. But no matter how gloomy things seem, all of these businesses will certainly make it out of 2017 alive (RIP Juicero, RIP Jawbone). Let us recount this year’s catastrophes before the holidays end and these companies all start fucking shit up again in 2018.
Methodology: We have quantified each company on this list with a scientific “Screwed Score” that is not, in any way a random or arbitrary number.
Hoooo boy. How long has it been since Snapchat’s parent company went public? It feels like an eternity, but Snap only started trading on the New York Stock Exchange in March. Since then, its stock price has fallen by more than 40 percent as it has dealt dose after dose of disappointment to investors. Snap’s revenue has continuously fallen short of analysts’ estimates, it’s lost a tremendous amount of money, Mark Zuckerberg is hell-bent on destroying it (and his strategy seems to be slowing Snapchat’s growth), and apparent disinterest in Snap’s most exciting project (Spectacles) has cost the company millions—specifically, a least $39.9 Million. Snap’s apps, Snapchat and Bitmoji, may still be pretty damn popular. But Snap, the company, is fucked.
Approximately one good thing happened on Twitter all year. Great. Now that’s out of the way. In April, Twitter reported its first ever quarterly revenue decline. In July, the social network’s executives revealed that basically nobody had joined Twitter for months (net negative growth) and that revenue had fallen again. In October, Twitter admitted to accidentally inflating its user growth for three years, and again reported declining revenue. Often Twitter’s solutions to its growth problems and horribly toxic community fall back on seemingly unrelated product tweaks—the latest: 240-character tweets. And we haven’t even gotten to the 2016 US presidential election propaganda yet. Or the hordes of Nazis.
Way back in January, SoundCloud’s CEO warned that the once industry-leading music service was on track to run out of money in 2017. And after this memo went live, investors did not line up to save it. To buy itself some time, SoundCloud took out a $70 million loan in March. Then in July, it laid off about 40 percent of its staff and shut down offices in London and San Francisco. SoundCloud was handed a $170 million lifeline in August, but seemingly at the expense of its future mainstream relevance. The new infusion of cash will keep SoundCloud around, but its ambitions have reportedly shrunk: “SoundCloud will refocus its business around selling tools for musicians and other content creators,” according to Bloomberg. SoundCloud may find steady revenue by selling stuff to its artists, but the company as we’ve known it—the one that sought to rival Spotify, YouTube, iTunes/Apple Music—that company, like lots of other streaming services, is totally fucked.
Starting a successful hardware business from scratch these days is nearly impossible. But competing in the smartphone business against Apple, Samsung, and Google? You’re practically doomed from the get-go. For Essential, the company’s first smartphone release this year was plagued by delays and overhyped to the extent that no matter what the company released, people were going to wind up disappointed. And disappointed we were. Then, we learned the company was handed a lawsuit for allegedly stealing wireless connector technology. Then the company’s founder, Android creator Andy Rubin, took a leave of absence from Essential. This news arrived with a report that said Rubin had left Google in 2014 because of an “inappropriate relationship” with a subordinate. He has since returned to Essential.
VR has not taken over the world like Facebook, HTC, and Sony have hoped it would, but throughout an entire cycle of first-generation VR hardware releases, Magic Leap has sat on the sidelines, insisting it has some sort of incredible mixed-reality experience in the works.
Yet Magic Leap has reportedly had a terrible time miniaturizing its tech into a form that’s ready for consumers. In February, a photo leaked depicting a headset that looked a lot more like a Ghostbusters Proton Pack than a consumer-ready device. Magic Leap has teased its fans with subtle hints about what’s to come, but so far it’s delivered almost nothing in the way of substantial clues. There’s no evidence that the company is building something that warrants all this suspense—let alone the nearly $2 billion it’s raised. Following another fundraiser in October, Gizmodo revealed that it had entertained throwing a big event to reveal something about its new technology. On December 13th, Magic Leap CEO wrote on Twitter, “(In a quiet whisper) we may share some fun and cool stuff with all of you (maybe next week).” After seven years, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Magic Leap. It either has to magically blow everybody’s minds or else it’ll be laughed out of the industry.
Lots of companies have gone after Blue Apron this year. Amazon and Whole Foods. Walmart and... Buzzfeed. Albertsons and Plated. HelloFresh. Blue Apron beat out plenty of similar services in 2016 as the meal kit trend exploded, but today it’s hard to imagine the company successfully competing with Amazon’s ruthless supply chain. Last month, Recode called Blue Apron “the worst-performing major U.S. IPO this year.” To date Blue Apron’s stock price has fallen about 60 percent since the company went public in June.
For now Nest is a standalone company under the Alphabet umbrella, the group that owns Google. But Nest’s independence may not last. If the rumor that Alphabet might fold the company into Google is accurate, we may wind up seeing Nest regress from standalone organization to subordinate brand within Google’s smart home hobby business. How far was a smart thermostat going to carry the company anyway, after six years? The expectations everybody had for Nest years ago seem totally deflated today. Nest’s big idea for 2017 was remarkably bland: home security.
2017 was the year Fitbit lost its lead as the number one wearables company, albeit so far just for the first half of the year. Fitbit had successfully outpaced Apple in sales, according to research firm IDC, until this past June, when both Apple and Xiaomi knocked it down to third place. This, after the company announced it would lay off six percent of its staff last January after “softer-than-expected” holiday sales. The company’s stock has flatlined all year, down drastically from 2015 highs.
Fitbit’s big launch this year was the Fitbit Ionic, its first real smartwatch—but we hated almost everything about it, aside from great battery life. If Fitbit’s future rests on selling smartwatches, then the company’s in trouble.
We don’t possibly have the time to mention everything Uber fucked up this year, so here are the highlights, ordered from January onwards: Travis Kalanick’s ham-handed response to Trump’s “Muslim ban,” which led to #DeleteUber. That time Kalanick got caught screaming at an Uber driver about responsibility. Uber’s horrendous handling of ex-engineer Susan J. Fowler’s reports of sexual harassment. The “Greyball” and “Hell” revelations. The catastrophe that is the ongoing Waymo lawsuit. The misogynistic comments ex-board member David Bonderman made at a company-wide meeting. The painfully long time it took Kalanick to hand over the reigns to a new CEO. Uber’s London ban that resulted from its overall “lack of corporate responsibility.” And that time Uber got caught paying hackers $100,000 to cover up a data breach that affected some 57 million accounts.
Really, Uber should be the most fucked company on this list, but with more than $11 billion raised, reportedly at a nearly $70 billion valuation, and an insane lead on its competitors across most of the world, Uber may simply be too big to fail.
Tesla has yet to prove it can revolutionize driving for more than just rich people. It’s facing Model 3 production issues. Its production floor is allegedly a “hotbed for racist behavior” (Tesla has refuted this claim). The company has recently laid off or fired as many as 1,200 employees. But time has shown that it doesn’t matter to investors if Elon Musk’s companies are in “good” or “bad” shape. Depending on who you ask, Tesla could be the most or least fucked company on this list. Tesla is not profitable today, but the company reported record deliveries of the Model S and X in November. As long as investors have faith that their investments in Musk will someday pay off, he can basically do whatever he wants. He can buy a solar energy company. He can start a tunnel-boring company. He can announce whatever new vehicles he wants before delivering on the Model 3. He can even waste his time selling hats.
Did we forget any fucked companies? Let us know in the comments below!