🧪 Pfizer’s CEO and the vaccine


December 16, 2020

PLUS: Who is the world’s biggest advertiser?
December 16, 2020
The Hustle
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Conga

Google said yesterday that a significant subset of Gmail users were experiencing problems including “high latency and other unexpected behaviour.”

On a related note: If the jokes don’t hit in today’s email, we blame Google.

The Big Idea
virus

How Pfizer’s CEO and its senior team pushed the pharma giant to ready a vaccine

Back in March, shortly after Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla signed a partnership with German biotech firm BioNTech to create a COVID-19 vaccine, researchers told him that the project couldn’t be completed until mid-2021.

As recounted by the Wall Street Journal, Bourla replied, “Sorry, this will not work… People are dying.”

Bourla’s urgency expedited Pfizer’s vaccine timeline. And after receiving emergency authorization from the FDA, the drugmaker began administering doses on Monday.

Bourla trained as a vet and joined Pfizer in the mid-90s

The Greek-born Bourla started in animal health but held numerous positions — including a stint as Pfizer’s global vaccine chief — before taking over as CEO on Jan. 1, 2019.

Early in the pandemic, Bourla’s demands “bordered on the unreasonable.”

Per the WSJ, Mike McDermott, who runs Pfizer’s global manufacturing operation, told Bourla, “What we’re doing is already a miracle.” But Bourla managed to squeeze more out of an already overworked staff, pressing team members to increase production by 10x.

An all-hands-on-deck effort

This pressure resulted in several breakthroughs:

  • Finding the vaccine: Pfizer tested multiple versions of the novel mRNA vaccine, held daily communications with the FDA, and tested animals and humans in parallel.
  • Manufacturing the vaccine: Starting in March, Pfizer plunked down $500m (2x initial projections) to set up an mRNA plant; in April, the firm spent another $1.4B on 7 special mRNA manufacturing machines.

Altogether, the company spent $2B+ prior to FDA approval. And because the company didn’t take government money, the trial process wasn’t slowed down by federal agencies other than the FDA.

Vaccine production started in mid-August

Bourla set a target of 100m doses by October and wanted the company to be ready in the event a government agency gave the green light.

In November, Pfizer announced its vaccine was 90%+ effective with a production capacity of 50m doses — half of Pfizer’s original target.

But for a process that usually takes a decade, it’s a huge achievement. And there’s more to come: the company has plans to ramp up production to 1B+ by the end of 2021.

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Snippets
  • **DJ Khaled voice** Another one: The FDA called Moderna Therapeutics vaccine “highly effective,” and it could be made available under the emergency use authorization as soon as this weekend.
  • Vaccine-industrial complex: Controlant creates supply chain monitoring tech, which is critical for the “cold chain” required to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines. The startup just raised $50m and is — conveniently — based in Iceland.
  • Europe in the house: The European Commission announced a number of new rules for Big Tech meant to better police the platforms, with larger fines and the ultimate threat of a breakup (we’ll have more on this tomorrow).
  • “Private Empire” is the name of a book about Exxon and — for decades — it ran true. Now, Exxon is facing pressure from activist investors to lean up and do more clean energy (read our piece on America’s new energy giant, NextEra).
  • Media madness: Group Nine — the owner of The Dodo, NowThis, Thrillist, and PopSugar — is in talks to form a SPAC so it can roll up other media properties.
  • What were you doing at 16? Well, at that age, Samir Vasavada and Runik Mehrotra founded a fintech firm for financial advisors. Both are now 20 years old and just scored $45m for their startup, Vise.
 
Making the Cut
say no more fam barber meme

The struggle is too real (Source: 9Gag)

The newest tech unicorn is… salon software?

Since March, countless people have given themselves haircuts worthy of a “say no more fam” barber joke.

But in anticipation of post-pandemic normalcy, there has been an influx of funding for SaaS companies that cater to salons and barbers.

One of those companies, Zenoti, just became a unicorn after a $160m Series D investment.

Zenoti has seen 100% YoY growth in 2020…

… and it currently powers 12k+ businesses in 50+ countries.

Launched 10 years ago in India, the company’s cloud-based beauty industry software runs on each user’s phone (rather than an expensive POS terminal), connecting customers with their stylists. It handles:

  • AI-based promotion that contacts clients when they likely need a cut.
  • Inventory management based on preferences of upcoming clients.
  • Contactless scheduling, billing, and even customer reviews.

Franchises are liking the cut of Zenoti’s jib

In November, Hair Cuttery moved 500 locations onto Zenoti. They’re also used by European Wax Center (750 locations), and a number of smaller salon chains.

According to TechCrunch, Zenoti is one of a growing group of SaaS contenders that started in India and are finding success in the US.

Keep an eye on Chargebee and MindTickle here, both of which recently sought funding at $500m+ valuations and heard back from investors: “Say no more, fam.”

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SPONSORED

“Pivot. Pivot. PIVOT!!!”

That’s not the sound of a Friends marathon…  

It’s the sound of business owners around the world trying to adapt to the wild twists and turns of 2020.

If you’re:

  • Struggling to remain nimble in these circumstances
  • Not sure how to navigate the changes the market is throwing at you
  • Have issues keeping customers happy as you shift

Then read this:

“Taking an Agile Approach to Transforming Business Processes” 

Conga worked with Salesforce, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, and 5 digital transformation experts to determine the keys to meeting the challenges of shifting with the market, then threw it all in this free guide that you can download right here.

Why? Because they’re a good Friend (callback alert!!!).

Download your copy →
Q&A

Public co-CEOs Leif Abraham (L) and Jannick Malling (R)

‘Investing is a forcing function for financial literacy’

Retail investing has gotten pretty aggressive in 2020 and — for the uninitiated — this stock trading madness is quite intimidating.

Enter Public, a commission-free trading app and social platform that wants to make the markets accessible to nontraditional investors.

In the wake of the company’s $65m Series C round, we sat down with Public’s co-CEO Leif Abraham to learn a bit more. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation:

Has Public been able to attract nontraditional investors?

If you’re building a mass consumer product, you have to be open to all types of communities and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Right now, 40% of our users are female, and 90% of people on the platform made a self-directed trade for the first time on Public.

Who’s a good example of a nontraditional user?

Look at one of our investors, Tony Hawk [who just added Airbnb to his portfolio].

He has this reputation of a skater guy — and yes, a savvy entrepreneur, too — but he doesn’t come from a traditional investing background. But when people see that he’s investing, they realize, “Hey, I can do this too.”

Warren Buffett advises to only make 20 investments your entire life. How do you view that in relation to Public, a trading app?

So first, we don’t allow day trading [or margin lending] on the platform. The vast majority of our community members are long-term investors.

Further, we believe that investing is more than just “gains.” Investing is a forcing function for financial literacy. If you put in even just $5 [which you can in any stock, with fractional investing], you will start forcing yourself to be educated.

Do you have a request for a startup?

Business insurance in a box.

(Read the full Q&A here)

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Ad Money

Who is the world’s biggest advertiser?

In 1987, the marketing media firm Ad Age created a ranking of the world’s top advertisers.

In the decades since, the consumer giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) — which owns 22 “billion-dollar brands” like Tide and Crest — has been the world’s top advertiser in every year other than 2017 (Samsung) and… 2020.

You might have heard of this year’s top advertiser: Amazon

The ecommerce beast dropped $11B in advertising, marketing, and promotion costs for the fiscal year 2020, topping P&G’s $10.7B spend.

The $11B accounted for 4% of Amazon’s $281B in revenue.

Per Ad Age, Amazon has dropped $47B into advertising over the past 25 years to generate — **checks calculator app** — $1.3T in net sales. Damn!

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Today’s weird science rabbit hole: Carcinisation (also known as the phenomenon where everything evolves into crabs). Read more about it here.

One of the best ways to improve your local SEO, according to Neil Patel? Reviews. Watch the full conversation with Podium’s EVP of Marketing and hear how to grow your business during uncertain times.*

*This is a sponsored post.

Elvis fact of the day
Elvis receiving vaccine

Elvis Presley — the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll — briefly became the King of Needles in 1956. 

In an effort to combat the spread of polio, the US government tapped the singer of “Suspicious Minds” (maybe the greatest song ever) to be an OG celebrity influencer.

Presley received a polio vaccination live on the Ed Sullivan Show, spurring teens and young adults to do the same.

In light of this history, The Verge asks: “Which celebrity should be the face of the COVID-19 vaccine?”

Fresh off his Grammy snub, we nominate R&B artist The Weeknd who — in March — was the only person who could stop coronavirus from being the “most searched thing on YouTube” in every US state.

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