All eyes on private eyes


October 21, 2019

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Today, bickering shoemakers duke it out over copycat kicks and Mexican entrepreneurs struggle to find a PR fix, but first…

The Hustle Daily Email

The private eye industry is alive and well 

The spy game has changed. In a fascinating interview with The New York Times, Brooklyn-based private investigator Marie Schembri looks back on some of her best lewks… as well as how the profession has evolved in the past 30 years. 

Turns out the private eye isn’t just a film noir trope

Business is booming — to the tune of $6.6B in 2019, and it’s projected to grow.

While it used to be jealous husbands seeking proof of infidelity during divorce proceedings, now more women are hiring PIs to avoid being catfished by potential paramours… or worse. According to stats from the Centers for Disease Control, women are more likely than men to be stalked or abused by a romantic partner.

And what used to be a boys’ club has changed dramatically. According to New York’s Society of Professional investigators, 40% of its members are women and about 40% are people of color. Talk about diversity, inclusion… and a license to thrill.

Technology makes snooping way easier

When the Times first caught up with her in 1995, Schembri revealed herself to be a master of disguise, transforming from prim schoolmarm to sneering punk. But now the stakeout has gone digital.

Surveillance cameras as small as pencil erasers can be hidden in multiple locations, which allows Schembri to do most of her work from a computer. Instead of trailing her targets IRL, she follows their digital trails. Basically, her work has become a sweet work-from-home gig. 

But a good PI is more than an ace Facebook creeper

There’s a lot more to the job than the ability to sift through someone’s news feeds. 

A lot of it is about data and records; knowing how to access them and interpret them is the name of the game. Schembri got her start as a tax investigator specializing in real estate cases and was able to parlay that into a PI career.

» Inspector Gadget
 

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Threat of violence stifles Mexico’s promising startup scene

In the US, startup success is all about that buzz, baby; PR is a must-have for new companies trying to get attention from potential investors and consumers. 

In contrast, entrepreneurs in Mexico tend to avoid the public eye. According to Reuters, company founders rarely publicize funding rounds or strong financial performances — one once-active business leader silenced his Twitter accounts and swapped his flashy transport for tinted SUVs.

The reason for lying so low? Fear of attracting criminal attention

In a country long plagued by gang violence and corruption, many worry that news of financial success would put a bull’s-eye on their backs — provoking extortion or even kidnapping. Mexico has seen an uptick in gang extortion and violence since the cartel crackdown began in 2006. 

While some maintain this fear is overblown, most entrepreneurs understandably prefer not to take chances and choose to avoid the spotlight or even move abroad. Some say the current anti-elitist government has generated additional pressure to clam up.

This collective reticence has implications for the country’s economy 

New businesses are huge for economic stimulation and leveling, but it’s difficult to attract talent and funding while keeping a low profile. The Mexican tech sector raised just $175m last year, while Colombia’s raised almost double — even though its economy is about a quarter of the size of Mexico’s.

Entrepreneurs are in a tough spot and forced to weigh security against business success. As one entrepreneur put it, “There’s an unofficial tax for operating and living in Mexico — and that tax is living at risk.”

» Startup down low

Steve Madden is being accused of ripping off a shoe design… again

The venture-backed shoe startup Rothy’s is the most recent shoemaker to tangle with Steve Madden. 

Rothy’s, recently valued at $700m and known for its comfy flats made from recycled materials, says Steve Madden’s Rosy Flats infringe on its design patents and take too much inspiration from its “The Point” collection (and Steve’s sell for less than half the price).

But the Madden men beg to differ 

After Rothy’s sent their $3B competitor a cease and desist letter, the shoe dogs followed up with a preemptive lawsuit, which claims its flats don’t infringe and that some Rothy patents shouldn’t have been granted in the first place.

This week, Rothy’s kicked back with counterclaims and asserted that “Madden has chosen to slavishly copy [its] product design” instead of actually doing its own product development. 

Yikes, this thing is getting heated.

This isn’t Steve Madden’s first time at the… um… rip-off rodeo

Lots of brands have accused Steve Madden of design theft through the years — including Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, and Allbirds, to name a few — with varied success.

But let’s not single out Steve: Knocking off shoes, clothes, and bags happens a lot, likely because it’s hard to prove design patent infringement. 

You have to prove an “ordinary observer” wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between design 1 and design 2 when they’re side by side, which is a high bar.

» Rothy’s puts its foot down

Small business of the week: $1m cookie company persuades father to come out of retirement

Want your story featured? Fill out our Small Business survey. See anonymized financials of 500+ companies by subscribing to Trends.

In 2016, the Martin family noticed something mundane about corporate gifting: No matter the holiday or special occasion, everyone seemed to receive the same box of crackers, nuts, relish, or Clark Griswold-esque jelly. 

Sensing an opportunity to inject originality, Siblings Trevor and Andie Martin; father Mike Martin; launched Noms, a personalized cookie product. Trevor and Andie had enjoyed their father’s confections throughout childhood, and they convinced him to come out of retirement from his computer engineering career to spearhead product development.

Noms’ customers can request personal messages or corporate branding to be laser-etched onto the cookies. Unlike relish and nuts, the Martins believe the personalization leads to a product people “feel good about sending.” 

The family has kept everything in-house, starting with a home kitchen and upgrading to a commercial kitchen capable of producing 50k cookies a day. Oh yeah, and Noms is doing $1m/year with 20 employees. That’s a lot of cookies.

The business has grown mostly through word-of-mouth and the good ‘ol cold call, but Noms plans to focus on digital and the launch of a subscription service in 2020. 

Monthly personalized cookies? Sounds better than the Jelly of the Month Club.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Trevor Martin, Michael Martin, Andie Martin
  • Employees: 23
  • Years in business: 4
  • Cost to launch: $3m
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, Family/friend contributions, Loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $20k
  • Current annual revenue: $1m
  • Profit margin: 25%
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What Else…

🏀 Airbnb for basketball: Former NBA star Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) launched a startup called XvsX that offers players places to play pickup b-ball across Los Angeles by providing access to a network of 300 courts for $5 a month.

🔓 The great Costco caper: A man hid behind a display sign in a Costo outside Atlanta for nearly 5 hours while the store closed up — and then walked out with more than $13k in stolen jewelry.

🔧 Another delay for the Saudi Aramco IPO: Saudi Aramco, which was expected to hold the world’s largest IPO on October 20, postponed the offering — again — until December or January. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first announced IPO plans in 2016.

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