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A look back at 10 of Insider’s best business stories of 2021, including coverage of CloudKitchens, Shopify, Robinhood, Blackstone, and more

Happy New Year! I’m Matt Turner, editor-in-chief of business at Insider.

Here at Insider, we have lots planned for the year ahead. But first I want to take a moment to look back at some of our best reporting from 2021. 

These stories touch on some of the biggest storylines in business from the past 12 months. There’s the explosion in retail trading (read this powerful essay on being addicted to Robinhood) to the Great Resignation (we built a database of 250,000 salaries at 250-plus companies). 

There’s a prescient look at the perils of hybrid work (this April story on America’s top WFH expert predicting turmoil), and a look at the growing tension between leaders and employees (check out the essay Shopify’s CEO sent to remind managers they’re on a sports team).

And there are the stories that live up to our name, putting readers inside the companies and industries they care about. These include a close look at CloudKitchens, Travis Kalanick’s new startup, a profile of Blackstone superinvestor Jon Gray, and allegations of sexual exploitation at cult teen brand Brandy Melville. 

We’ll have lots more reporting like this in the months ahead. You can let me know what you think of these and all of our other stories at [email protected].

Lastly, I want to thank you for reading Insider. It’s a privilege to be in your inbox every Sunday, and I wish you every success in 2022. 

Subscribe to Insider for access to all our investigations and features. New to the newsletter? Sign up here.  Download our app for news on the go – click here for iOS and here for Android.

Here’s how much you should be getting paid

Skye Gould/Insider

America has long had a taboo against salary sharing. So Insider compiled more than 250,000 salaries from more than 250 companies to help you determine how much you should be paid. 

Utilizing public disclosures from firms like Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Amazon, Insider created a database, searchable by employer name, industry, type of job, and job location.

Compare salaries from top firms here.

Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens is Uber all over again

travis kalanick cloudkitchen nightmareTravis Kalanick.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; Marianne Ayala/Insider

Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s talent for spotting game-changing trends has made him a key player in the food-delivery business. But this year, hundreds of employees have left his Saudi-backed startup, CloudKitchens.

Meghan Morris reported in April that insiders say his stealth startup is ruled by a “temple of bros,” and many staffers say that the company reinforces a hard-knock and super-secretive culture.

Go behind the scenes of CloudKitchens.

Exploitation at a cult teen brand

Girl with Brandy Melville signGirl with Brandy Melville sign

Courtesy of Weathered Signs

Kate Taylor reported in September that the CEO of the Instagram-popular retailer Brandy Melville wants his staffers to be young, thin, pretty, and white. Former staffers also described how higher-ups crossed professional boundaries regularly. 

One former employee described how a store owner sexually assaulted her, and another described racism and even Hitler memes. 

Read Insider’s bombshell reporting on Brandy Melville.

“I was addicted to Robinhood”

Robinhood app on phone

Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In a powerful essay, a California schoolteacher wrote in February that he contemplated suicide after wiping out his $70,000 savings — and that he blames the popular trading app Robinhood for getting him hooked on gambling in the financial markets. 

After spending time online in the fun WallStreetBets Reddit forum and seeing the confetti animation of the Robinhood app, this retail trader started trading with his tax-sheltered IRA account. 

Here’s how it all went wrong.

Controversy over Zuckerberg’s Hawaii estate

Zuckerberg's estate, Koʻolau mokuZuckerberg’s estate, Koʻolau moku


A visually stunning multimedia report from November explores how the Facebook cofounder’s massive 1,380-acre oceanfront Kauaʻi estate has reignited anger over two centuries of Native Hawaiians being forced off their land. 

Over the course of several years, Mark Zuckerberg used shell companies to acquire the majority of the local parcels of preserved land. He’s the latest in a long line of outsiders using money or power to snatch up large tracts of the island. 

See Insider’s interactive report here.

America’s top WFH expert anticipated turmoil

Stanford economist Nicholas BloomStanford economist Nicholas Bloom

Elizabeth Viggiano for Insider

In April, as companies were exploring hybrid work, Aki Ito spoke with a Stanford economist and WFH expert who had a stern warning: Brace for turmoil.

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom told Ito, “My advice is, in the short run, play it safe because you’re opening Pandora’s box. There are some adventurous firms out there. I would advise to go slowly and learn from their mistakes than from your own mistakes.”

The report has an added relevancy now, as companies grapple with Omicron, adjust their return-to-office dates, and attempt to navigate this new terrain.

Here’s what else the WFH expert said.

Read Shopify CEO’s email to managers

Tobias Lütke shopifyTobias Lütke

Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Over the past year, a debate over the role that companies should have in their employees’ lives played out in the corporate world. Back in August, in the wake of internal discussions about race, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke sent an email to managers outlining the company’s core beliefs. 

We got a copy of that email. 

In the email, Lütke reminded managers that they are a sports team, not a family. 

You can read the full email here.

The man behind the future of Blackstone

Jon GrayJon Gray

Jim Spellman/Getty; Stlaven Vlasic/Getty; Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU; Skye Gould/Insider

Golden boy Jon Gray is the future of Blackstone. He’s the one responsible for putting together the firm’s deal for Bumble, and he’s helped usher in a massive company transformation in a number of ways. 

Last January, Casey Sullivan and Daniel Geiger spoke with 50 company insiders and those close to Gray to find out how he was able to rise to the top of the private-equity giant — and what comes next for the man and the company.

Here’s how Jon Gray is remaking the firm.

Powerful Black women in corporate America

Black women CEOsFrom left: Patricia Lewis (UnitedHealth Group), Carla Vernón (Amazon), Thasunda Duckett (JP Morgan Chase), Aicha S. Evans (Zoox)

Zoox; UnitedHealth; Haythem Lafhaj; JP Morgan Chase; Skye Gould/Insider

Across corporate America, the struggle to place women, especially Black women, at the helm of major companies continues. But paving the way forward are people like TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett and Amazon’s Carla Vernón — two of the 67 Black women Insider spoke with for this powerful package.

Insider asked these successful women to reflect on their rise to the top, the struggle of being a Black woman in corporate America, and the best career advice they’ve received. Their responses are raw, emotional, and powerful.

Here’s how 67 powerful Black women responded.

The Seed 100

seed 100 thumb 2x1From left: Alfred Lin, Kaitlyn Doyle, Michael Seibel, Kirsten Green, Sheel Mohnot, and Ruchi Sanghvi.

Sequoia Capital; TechNexus; Michael Seibel; Forerunner Ventures; Sheel Mohnot; Wikimedia Commons; Skye Gould/Insider

Tens of thousands of institutions and individuals are active seed investors — many of them make money, but only a few succeed repeatedly. 

To keep track of the top players, Insider created the Seed 100: a list of VCs who have mastered early-stage investing, based on data analysis from seed venture-capital firm Tribe Capital. It’s a searchable table that lets you search by name or sector and sort by rank, name, and city. 

Here’s the full list of 100 VCs.

Compiled with help from Phil Rosen.

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