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Using Startup Ethic to Fight Pirates, and Assessing Apple's Struggles

People walk in front of the 5th avenue Apple store on January 14, 2013 in New York City. Responding to weaker than expected demand, Apple has cut orders for LCD screens and other parts for the iPhone 5 this quarter.

On Mondays we like to talk Big Ideas, and we've got a good one for you. A 50-year-old tech entrepreneur wants to use his startup ethic to fight pirates. Pirates? Yes, pirates. But not online -- on the open seas.

Investor Anthony Sharp started the company Typhon to capitalize on a market for private security firms protecting shipping routes off East Africa. Typhon plans to build up to a fleet of 10 130-foot long ships that would defend vessels from attacks. Spencer Ackerman wrote about the company for Wired Magazine's Danger Room Blog. He says it's an update on an old model. Call it, "Privateering 2.0."

"Privateers were privates ships that countries hired to augment their existing fleets," Ackerman explains. "Instead of a company like Typhon being hired on to protect a country's navy, they're protecting private business."

"This is a 21st century, very hyper-capitalistic upgrade to the privateer model."

So what does the man behind Typhon know about pirates and shipping? Apparently not that much. He does like boats. But Ackerman says Anthony Sharp seems to have the kind of pioneering spirit featured in so many of the startups he's backed in the past.

"He's not listening to naysayers, and he's definitely not willing to allow his lack of background in both international shipping and in private security to get in his way of what he thinks is a good idea," says Ackerman. "That is reminiscent of a lot of tech companies -- both those that have succeeded and those that have failed."

The company launches next week. We've posted a link to Spencer Ackerman's story for Wired on our website, Marketplace Tech dot org.


Apple is no longer number one. They handed over the title of world's most valuable company to Exxon-Mobil last week, thanks to disappointing earnings. Some think it could be the sign the company's king of the tech hill days are over. Adam Lashinsky, senior editor at Forutne Magazine, says just hold on a minute.

"Yes, their growth has slowed. Yes, their facing much stiffer competition. Yes, their products have been slightly wanting. But all of these things do not constitute the end of the world for Apple," says Lashinsky.

He admits that the gadget competition has ramped up, and that the absence of the late Steve Jobs is still being felt. But Lashinsky thinks we may be overreacting.

"This is a company that has changed the world as we know it in four or five different ways." Lashinsky says, the company needs to change the world as we know it -- again.

While it's innovating, Apple also still has to deal with the issues of making its gadgets already ON the market. The company just released their latest supplier responsibility report.

"Each year, in January, they come out with a report which is basically a look at their supply chain, most of which is in China," says Rob Schmitz, Marketplace's China correspondent in Shanghai. "The most egregious labor violation they found this year was actually at a supplier of a supplier.... Apple immediately terminated its business relationship with the supplier and then alerted the government."

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.
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