2014 CNBC Disruptor 50

How to win friends and influence bitter regulators

Source: AirBnB

The latest news on the CNBC Disruptor 50 companies upending the status quo in the markets:

Back during the halcyon days of the real estate boom, books on how to make your millions in residential housing were taking up plenty of real estate on nonfiction/self-help best-seller lists and in airports. Everyone could be a real estate agent if not also a real estate investor—it was just so damn easy! We all know how that went, but ... it won't be too long before The Airbnb Millionaire Real Estate Investor or How to Win Big and Make Millions in the Sharing Economy is published.

These titles are already being published in bits and pieces as it is. Whether these accounts will make Airbnb executives or their frenemy regulators more angry is yet to be determined, but accounts have started showing up in the press detailing the investment strategy known as "I made this much on Airbnb ... and you can, too!" Take Jon Wheatley's post on how to manage an Airbnb investment property remotely—he even included revenue figures for his "business."

Meanwhile, a man going by the name of Tom Slee—who claims to be a chemistry Ph.D. and who wrote the book No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart but we believe to be an automated blog program likely being funded by the New York lodging industry (just kidding, we hope!)—ran an analysis to show that arguments from Airbnb about how its users rent their apartments suggest that "today's Airbnb has nothing to do with the 'origin myth' that the company promotes."

Even the venerable New York Times has gotten in on the Airbnb action, though the old guard of the fifth estate just had to use the word "illegal" in its headline about Airbnb profits, didn't it? Leslie made $90,000 in a year and Joe $2,000 a month, and according to the New York Attorney General's office, the top 40 Airbnb hosts in New York have each grossed at least $400,000 over the past three years, a collective total of more than $35 million. The top 100 hosts in that time period have grossed $54 million.

And you can, too!

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Even Elon Musk has bad days

The "Tony Stark of Silicon Valley" has had the blues. When Elon Musk isn't busy inventing some way-out things like hyperloop transportation and planning for Tesla fast-charge stations on the surface of Mars, he worries. In fact, in a talk at Caltech, the Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder said the early days of SpaceX were some of his toughest. It's not a Tesla catching fire that gets Elon down, but a Sunday morning just before Christmas 2008 when the first three launches of SpaceX had failed, financing for Tesla Motors had failed, the investment bank behind SolarCity couldn't honor its financial agreement, and—as if that wasn't enough—Musk had just gotten divorced. "It was dark," Musk told the audience at CalTech. But the very next day, a $1 billion lifeline saved the superhero. What was it? You'll have to read the Huffington Post's account of Musk's darkest hours.

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Pinterest's Man Show

Fresh off its near-$4 billion valuation, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann took to the stage for a rare appearance at a Fast Company to talk about the company's expansion plans. High on the list: ditching its reputation as a ladies club and making itself more attractive to men. Silbermann said the company, which has less than 200 employees, plans to make a big push into new markets overseas in the coming months—14 new markets by year-end—as well as attract more male users, according to a recap in Women's Wear Daily. Meanwhile, in another sign that journalism is dead and all those in it should run for the exits, Pinterest confirmed this week that San Francisco Chronicle president Joanne Bradford will step down at the end of the month to join Pinterest as head of partnerships. At least the SF Chronicle got the scoop and not Business Insider or BuzzFeed.

Spotify versus the old men of rock: Part 17

Plenty of rock music's elder statesmen have voiced strong opinions—both for and against—Spotify as an artist-friendly innovation. Next up: British folker Billy Bragg, long known for his love of old socialist folk icons like Woody Guthrie and one of the few British rockers who could conceivably bring a Catskills socialist summer camp of the 1930s to its feet. So this should be a nuanced view of Spotify. Bragg said, Blame "the man?" Referring to the record labels, as Bragg explained in a Facebook post.

"I've long felt that artists railing against Spotify is about as helpful to their cause as campaigning against the Sony Walkman would have been in the early 80s. Music fans are increasingly streaming their music and, as artists, we have to adapt ourselves to their behaviour ... artists have identified that the problem lies with the major record labels rather [than] the streaming service."

Actually, that stream of consciousness rant from "the socialist" sounds pretty reasonable.

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If you don't buy Bragg's rant, blame the Silicon Valley companies that keep throwing money at Spotify. It was reported by Sky News this past week that Technology Crossover Ventures, a California-based firm that includes Facebook and Groupon among its investments, was leading a $200 million round for Spotify.

Or blame Deezer, the streaming music service that reported it has doubled its paying subscribers to 5 million, closing in on Spotify, according to a report in The Guardian.

Couldn't have happened without Kickstarter: Episode 47

The newspaper business needs to find a new economic model, but this use of Kickstarter by a city paper is really uncharted territory: An Atlanta man, Chris Lindland, has created a $50,000 Kickstarter campaign to create a 40-foot-tall vine-covered monster he dubbed "Kudzilla," with the assistance of Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist and "Georgia Garderner" Walter Reeves.

The 40-foot-tall kudzu vine-covered creature will become—at least, in Lindland's imagination— "America's next great roadside attraction," according to the Journal-Constitution.

Turning kudzu—an invasive plant species that has become a plague across America—into the next World's Largest Ball of Twine or Carhenge would be quite an achievement for Kickstarter. From crowdfunded sea to shining sea, God bless America.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Kickstarter announced that it has reached the level of $36 million in U.K. projects in its first year of operation there. Of those, $27 million became successful projects.

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Airbnb CEO: 'We're in over 34,000 cities'

And then there was Uber?

Twitter's IPO is a done deal. Is private car service Uber next in line to tap the public markets? Nope. Not according to its CEO, Travis Kalanick. Plenty of more global expansion to do, and more global and local regulators to run afoul of, before Uber even thinks about hailing an investment banker and stock exchange. Uber's current valuation is near $4 billion.

So then the next Twitter is Opower?

Utility industry energy-efficiency pure play Opower may be next in line to tap the hot IPO market, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Nest, the maker of fancy thermostats and, more recently, a smoke detector, may be the hippest energy-efficiency kid on the block, but Opower has the hippest IPO trend to talk up: big data. Opower's software helps utilities analyze their customers' energy usage and provide customers—via text, emails and other electronic means—with detailed reports on matters such as how much energy they consume compared with their neighbors. The WSJ reported Opower has tapped Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group to lead the underwriting of an IPO that could come in the next few months, but the company and its reported bankers all declined comment.

By Eric Rosenbaum, CNBC.com