How Apple Stores Revolutionized Tech Retail, Bowery Farming's Growth Capital, NerdWallet's Big Move +More

Do this tech journalism thing long enough and eventually you're the old guy telling stories about yesteryear. Well, more often than I'd like to admit, I'm now that guy. And this month, I'm remembering the crazy, risky launch of the very first Apple retail stores.

It's easy to think of the Apple stores' success as inevitable now; after all, 2021 Apple is the most valuable company in the world with a $2 trillion market capitalization, boasting some of the trendiest products. Who wouldn't visit a store stocked with iPods, iPhones, iPads, Beats headphones and Apple Watches?

Well, 20 years when the stores launched, none of those things existed yet.

Plus, as a company, Apple was on the ropes in 2001. Steve Jobs had delivered crowd-pleasing iMacs and iBooks, but he'd shot some airballs, too: Months earlier he'd put DVD burners in Macs instead of CD burners, nearly missed the digital music revolution, released a program called iTunes to catch up. The G4 Cube computer he'd released the year before had flopped. Many thought retail stores to sell computers were a fool's errand. Competitor Gateway had just failed at it, and Dell had proven that you could sell computers by phone and online without expensive overhead.

Of course, Steve Jobs was right about retail. Boy, was he. And in a video below, I dive deep into why retail worked, and why 20 years later the rest of the tech world is still eating Apple's retail dust.

Google's New SJ Campus: Pioneering or Catch-up? On the Other Hand

Google won approval for a multi-billion-dollar campus in downtown San Jose, CA. Is the company pioneering urban work, or playing catch-up? I weighed in, with the latest On the Other Hand on CNBC's Squawk Box:

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Growth Spurt: Bowery Raises Series C for Tech-Driven Urban Farming

Bowery Farming founder and CEO Irving Fain joined me to talk about the progress of indoor farming, plans for expansion, and the $300 million Series C round that values the company at more than $2.3 billion:

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All year I've been searching for signs of economic recovery on Fortt Knox and TechCheck on CNBC. Technology played an important role in helping the global economy through the pandemic, and it's an open question what will happen as we find a new normal. To what extent will people abandon Zoom calls and grocery delivery once we're used to gathering in crowds again? Interviews with two tech CEOs this week added nuance to my understanding of how the process is going:

Small Business Leans into Digital Processes to Fuel Recovery: Intuit CEO

Intuit makes TurboTax. It also makes a suite of software that small businesses use to maintain their financials, including QuickBooks. When the company reported earnings, I spoke with CEO Sasan Goodarzi about what the numbers show about the state of the recovery:

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Building Plans Ramping Up: Autodesk CEO Says Most Countries Hit Pre-COVID Demand

Autodesk gives great insight into an important segment of the global economy: The part that's planning to make stuff. Autodesk software is used to design buildings, machinery and all sorts of things that businesses hope to manufacture. CEO Andrew Anagnost told me the creation pipeline is filling again, in a major way:

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Historical perspective: May 2021 makes 20 years since Apple opened its first retail stores in Virginia and California. I was there when Steve Jobs took reporters into the Tysons Corner store, and I reflect on how the bold idea not only helped fuel Apple's rise to dominance, but also broke with convention on the way:

Shop Different: 20 Years Later, Apple Stores Redefined Retail

I was a young Apple reporter covering the company's nascent turnaround 20 years ago when Steve Jobs pushed the seemingly crazy idea of launching retail stores. They started as showrooms to switch PC users to Macs. They've since rewritten the rules on luxury retail, customer service, store design, urban planning and so much more:

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Beyond Morehouse: Billionaire Robert Smith's HBCU Effort Gains Allies

Historically Black Colleges and Universities need funds and equipment to modernize their tech infrastructure, and students need funds to pursue STEM careers and work after. The Student Freedom Initiative, which grew out of billionaire Robert Smith's donation to Morehouse two years ago, aims to address both. Cisco Systems is its first corporate partner. I speak with Student Freedom Initiative Executive Director Mark Brown and Cisco Chief Operating Officer Maria Martinez:

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Nothing to Lose: NerdWallet CEO Built A Hot Startup After Getting Fired

Personal finance startup NerdWallet filed for an IPO earlier this month, according to Reuters, and could get a valuation as high as $5 billion. I spoke with NerdWallet co-founder and CEO Tim Chen in this Fortt Knox archive conversation about how getting fired during the financial crisis pushed him to think bigger:

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Last year I launched forttmedia.com, with The Black Experience in America: The Course. It's a curriculum I designed to look more closely at the journey America has taken with race, with an eye toward the future. I've intentionally priced them near what you'd pay to purchase a TV episode; it comes out to less if you purchase a bundle: