2017 was a crazy year of dramatic wins and terrible losses for tech. It included the largest investment ever and one of the worst IPOs in a decade; the expansion of giant empires and the unraveling of a Silicon Valley poster child; the aggressive rise of Chinese tech giants and the reckoning of American ones.
Here are the highs and lows.
Amazon. Amazon is everywhere and it became even more present in our lives after its blockbuster $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods. The company has already taken advantage of its new brick-and-mortar footprint by promoting products like the Amazon Echo in stores and installing Amazon lockers in certain locations for customers to pick up and drop off orders from Amazon.com. Its widely publicized search to find a home for HQ2 brilliantly pitted North American cities against each other to offer up the biggest, most enticing incentives. With a more than 50% increase in stock price since Jan. 3, 2017 was undoubtedly a strong year for Amazon, and it’s poised for an equally big 2018.
Alibaba. Amazon’s number one rival in China had an equally excellent year, with its share price doubling. In addition to its rapid growth and another record-breaking Singles Day (an annual day-long Black Friday-esque online shopping bonanza), the company has pressed forward beyond its e-commerce ambitions with an investment of $15 billion into research and development over the next three years.
SoftBank. SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the largest corporate venture capital fund ever at $100 billion, went on an investment tear in 2017. According to Crunchbase, it invested in 61 deals—42 of which it led—worth a total of $31.1 billion (inclusive of other investors). Compare this to its 2016 record, when it closed 38 deals, totaling $7.7 billion, and it’s clear the firm is testing out a new and aggressive expansion strategy. SoftBank’s largest investments have gone to late-stage companies, including WeWork, Didi Chuxing, Slack, and Uber, but it has also injected vital funds to early- and mid-stage startups, like its most recent $120 million investment in insurance startup Lemonade.
WeWork. In August, WeWork won a $4.4 billion investment to expand its co-working empire. The new funding brought the company’s valuation to $20 billion, making it among the world’s five most-valuable tech startups, and set off a company buying spree. Its acquisitions have included a construction management platform, a New York-based coding bootcamp, an iconic department store to serve as its new headquarters, and the hobby community platform Meetup.com.
Stitch Fix. In a year of disastrous IPOs, Stitch Fix’s mediocre debut still earns the company a win. On Nov. 17, its share price popped to $16.90, above its $15 set price. It has since gained roughly 59%, closing at $26.93 on Dec. 28. A true rarity, not only is the company already profitable, but it was also the first internet company to go public this year with a woman at its helm.
Didi Chuxing. For the second year in a row, Didi, China’s Uber rival, has topped the annual list of biggest venture capital deals. In April, it closed a $5.5 billion round, the largest round ever for a tech company, and on Dec. 21, it closed yet another $4 billion round. As Didi expands its international influence—it currently funds Uber rivals in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America and plans to enter Mexico next year—and grows beyond its core ride-hailing service—it opened an AI lab in the US and is experimenting with “smart city” projects in China—it could overtake Uber on the global stage.
Bitcoin. Well, here we are, at the end of Bitcoin’s dramatic rise to nearly $20,000 on Dec. 17. Despite suffering an equally dramatic drop to below $11,000 only a few days later during the market’s ongoing correction, bitcoin, along with other cryptocurrencies, was a big winner in 2017. The total value of all bitcoin went from just under $10 billion on Jan. 1, 2017 to $245 billion on Dec. 29. That surge has pushed bitcoin from the fringes of finance into the mainstream, ultimately leading to the creation of bitcoin futures.
Net neutrality. In a contentious move that critics say will end the open internet, the US Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality on Dec. 14. The decision has the potential to hand players who can pay for “fast lanes” a big advantage over those who can’t. But proponents say it could also encourage internet service providers to offer more low-cost options for low-income consumers now that they can charge bigger companies higher prices. It remains to be seen how the full effects will play out, which experts agree will take years.
Facebook. Facebook had a major reckoning this year with questions over its influence on the 2016 US presidential election. After CEO Mark Zuckerberg vehemently denied that the proliferation of fake news on his platform could have swayed the election—famously calling the idea “crazy”—an early September investigation revealed that Russian-linked accounts bought $150,000 in ads from June 2015 to May 2017. On Oct. 1, it agreed to hand over roughly 3,000 ads to Congress and has since publicly voiced its commitment to double down on combatting fake news and hate speech.
Uber. Uber’s spectacular downfall began on Feb. 19 with former engineer Susan Fowler’s 3,000-word exposé on the toxic culture and rampant sexism and harassment she faced at the company. Fowler set in motion co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick’s dramatic ousting, which—coupled with a string of other scandals, including multiple lawsuits and federal investigations, a massive undisclosed data breach, and covert surveillance programs—has shattered the startup’s image and hit its lofty valuation.
Blue Apron. Blue Apron, once Silicon Valley’s meal-kit darling, had the worst-performing major IPO this year and one of the worst of the decade. On June 29, the company opened the day at $10—already below the $15 to $17 price range it had hoped for—and closed at the exact same price. The stock has since tumbled nearly 60%, closing at $4.29 on Dec. 28. Blue Apron’s failure is a story of terrible timing—two weeks before its IPO, Amazon announced plans to acquire Whole Foods—but also of startup hubris in taking an unprofitable, largely untested business model public. In October, it laid off 6% of its staff, and in late November its CEO stepped down.
Snap. On the day it went public, March 2, Snap’s stock did what it was supposed to do, jumping 40% over its $17 IPO price. But that price quickly tumbled in the months that followed, falling below IPO price on July 10 and never recovering. On Nov. 7, the company posted an ugly earnings report: it had lost $3 billion since its debut and its user growth had slowed to a crawl. Despite its financial troubles, Snap did push the envelope of innovation this year with the launch of Snap Maps, which allows you to see where your friends are hanging out, and Context Cards, which give users more information about the places from which people are snapping.
Juicero. Juicero, the maker of a $400 wifi-connected juicer, is the poster child of all the worst ideas from tech this year. In April, a scathing Bloomberg investigation revealed that the $120 million startup’s specially designed juice packs could literally be squeezed by hand to produce the same results as the expensive juicer. In other words, Juicero had simply reinvented hands. From WeWork’s attempt to reinvent roommates with its communal housing offshoot WeLive to Bodega’s faux pas of naming its app-enabled vending machine after the local corner stores it intends to put out of business, 2017 truly showed off how out of touch and out of ideas Silicon Valley has become.