Four Ways to Start Your Own Business (FT Press Delivers Elements)

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In this part of Warwickshire, the land rolls gently, so that, upon cresting a low rise or passing a copse of wind turbines, you suddenly spot a lot full of lorries or a complex of gigantic sheds. We all have a strange, secondhand familiarity with the warehouses and carrier facilities that exist in places such as this. We see their names or their locations when we thirstily track the progress of our orders, but it is only when a package stalls somewhere that we try to imagine what these sheds look like, how they work or why they might fail.

When Woodbridge started out in real estate in , the biggest sheds measured about , sq ft.

A decade or so later, when Prologis built its first shed for Amazon, e-commerce hit and the warehouses started to tend towards enormous. The warehouses that first occupied the triangle hosted shipments in transit from one business to another: B2B. They were built to move goods in bulk, so they stacked pallet upon pallet, rising in layers in a single, cathedral-like space. Time was not of the essence; a forklift could slowly bring down a pallet from on high and deposit it into a truck for transport. E-commerce sheds have called for altogether new levels of sophistication — new ways to store stuff and to whisk it out at speed to customers.

In these sheds, individual products rest on short racks, so they can be reached more easily by employees who pick and box orders. In order to fit more racks, companies put in several mezzanine levels. E-commerce has turned even the laying of a floor into a fiendishly involved business.

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The concrete floors of B2B sheds were already being built to an exacting degree of flatness, calibrated using lasers, so that forklifts would not teeter while lifting pallets to the highest shelves. But as delivery schedules have dwindled into hours, even the gigantic warehouse full of stuff in a central place such as the triangle is proving insufficient. Now, companies also need smaller distribution centres around the country, to respond rapidly to orders and to abbreviate the last mile as much as possible.

These smaller sheds cannot stock as much, but the foresight of data analytics now makes a keen strategic efficiency possible. Who are they for? The packages held video games, it turned out: the newest edition of the annual Fifa series by Electronic Arts. A video game may have spent weeks traversing half the world, from a factory in China to a shed on the outskirts of a British city.

But its most dangerous hours lie in being rushed from a shed to a home — a last-mile trip it must survive in the cheapest way possible. An average package is dropped 17 times before it reaches its purchaser. In a full truck, a box at the bottom bears the burden of the stack above it. When the truck is half-empty, packages slide about, slamming into each other when the van brakes, as it does often in cities.

Her tone was grim. She made it sound like a wonder that anything ever reaches us in one piece. As a materials scientist, she knows plenty about harsh conditions.

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In the past, she worked for a Nasa contractor that designed spacesuits, and for another firm that developed military parachutes and ballistic vests for Operation Desert Storm. That is the calibre of person who, in the age of express delivery, is working on sciencing-up the plain cardboard box. UPS and FedEx keep in-house researchers to study corrugated cardboard.

For an artefact that lasts just minutes at its destination before proceeding to the recycling bin, the box is subject to an astonishing volume of thought.

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This is where her team punishes Amazon boxes every day, to see how well they protect their contents. For my benefit, a man placed a packed, sealed box on a shoulder-height pedestal, in one or the other of 17 different ways: on its side, on an edge, upside down.


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When he pressed a pedal, the pedestal whipped away, and the box crashed to the floor. Elsewhere, a loud vibrating platform simulated a truck juddering through a city street. A box from a toy company was on the platform, with two barbell weights placed on top of it. The box was suffering; an edge had split and one side sagged.

Nearby, a TV screen displayed an animated video of how boxes smack into each other as they tumble into a silo-like container. It looked like a mad, unwinnable version of Tetris.

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The cardboard box is the most potent symbol of the home-delivered world. It reminds us of the quandary of choosing between our consumption and the health of the planet.

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Even adding 1mm of thickness to the cardboard, to make it hardier, might use up a substantial forest when multiplied across hundreds of billions of boxes. A heavier box costs more to buy, and it also uses more fuel to ship. Like every company, Amazon has been trying to soften the impact of its last mile by designing boxes that are both light and strong. The company used to be notorious for excessive packaging, and social media grew littered with examples: three pairs of socks wrapped in puffy air bladders; hair ties wrapped in layers of cellophane; a small webcam box nestling inside a much larger carton.

In August, the company also announced that it would begin to levy fines on other vendors on its platform who over-package their products. In , researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh estimated that a shopper emits 24 times more carbon dioxide if she drives Besides, not everyone drives across town for one purchase; our patterns of buying are too numerous to be modelled wholesale.


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  • Many of us walk to shops nearby. Many more take public transport. For those of us in cities such as London, Paris or New York, it is difficult to imagine products that are available only at or beyond a Some of us order far more than we need online. Some of us are so deep in the countryside that delivery vans must divert their routes to seek us out. Some of us are not at home when the vans turn up, which requires them to make a repeat visit.

    We shop in as many ways as we live. A s the last mile gets briefer, its relationship with cities everywhere frays and turns tense. The biggest cities feel the most acute impact of the last mile — of the squads of trucks and vans, the parcel hubs and sorting centres, the parking snarls and the discarded boxes. As companies keep paring down their delivery times — from two days to a day to two hours to an hour — longer stretches of the last mile will have to run through urban territory.

    The locus of the most frenetic e-commerce activity — the origin of the last mile — is moving closer and closer to our cities and our homes. Cities are already stretched thin: their streets swarming with regular traffic and new ride-share services, their air degrading, their real estate prices exorbitant. The last mile stresses these resources further still. Big companies buy up land, as Amazon did when it opened two last-mile warehouses in New York City this summer.

    And delivery drivers monopolise the side of the road to load and unload their packages. Cities were not built to handle this volume of last-mile activity — a fact that firms such as UPS realise only too well. The UPS package centre for central London, a brief walk from Kentish Town tube station, holds a below-ground bay in which vans roost every night. Journalists around the world now have less reason to believe that Washington will come to their aid if their basic rights are violated.

    The breakdown of global press freedom is closely related to the broader decline of democracy that Freedom House has tracked for the past 13 years.

    Partly Free countries were almost equally likely to experience a gain as a decline in press freedom, reflecting the volatility of these middle performers and the complex forces influencing their trajectory. The worsening records of Not Free states, combined with the negative trend among Free countries, have driven the overall decline in global press freedom. While populist leaders in democracies seek to secure and build on their gains by taming the press, established autocratic governments continue to tighten the screws on dissenting voices, as any breach in their media dominance threatens to expose official wrongdoing or debunk official narratives.

    In Russia in , authorities moved to block the popular messaging application Telegram after the company refused to hand over its encryption keys to security officials.

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    The government in Cameroon shut down internet service in the restive Anglophone region for most of last year, a heavy-handed reaction to protests and a nascent insurgency stemming from long-standing discrimination against the large Anglophone minority. In Myanmar, two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison after a flawed trial in which the court ignored plain evidence that they had been entrapped to halt their investigation of military atrocities against the Rohingya minority; although they were recently pardoned, they were not exonerated.

    The downgrades in various countries can be attributed to a range of legal, political, and economic factors, but some stand out as more concerning and pervasive. Violence and harassment aimed at particular journalists and media outlets have played some role in 63 percent of the countries with a press freedom score reduction over the past five years.

    The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was the most infamous recent case, but it was hardly unique. Journalists in El Salvador received death threats in after they uncovered stories of police abuse and extrajudicial killings. A Malian journalist who was outspoken about rampant political corruption was shot in the chest in Also that year, a Tanzanian journalist investigating the murders of local officials disappeared, and his fate remains a mystery.

    Trends in press freedom differ by region. Since , there has been no net change in the average press freedom score for the Americas or Asia-Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa has seen a slight increase of 3 percent.