Investor Woodstock looked very different

May 4, 2020

May 4, 2020
The Hustle

Some people celebrate Star Wars Day, and others make it a whole month. Mark Hamill, AKA Luke Skywalker, counts away the days in May with more than just “May the 4th be with you.” He’s already paid tribute to May the 2nd (“already halfway to May the Fourth”) and May the 3rd (“be assured the absurd is preferred”).

As for us: We’re keeping our fingers crossed for better news by May 31st, because quarantine’s the worst.

Woodstock for Capitalists

What happened when the Oracle of Omaha went virtual

Financial pros like to call Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting “Woodstock for Capitalists” — and 2020’s version looked a lot like every other major festival that decided to forge ahead through the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, Warren Buffett, Berkshire’s billionaire CEO and the so-called “Oracle of Omaha,” held court remotely. 

He typically presents to an audience of thousands in Nebraska’s largest city — last year’s bash brought in 40k+ people, and the event generates an estimated $21.3m for the city.

Investor Woodstock 2020 looked VERY different

For one thing, the virtual version of Buffett-mania devastated Omaha’s local businesses (in 2019, hotel revenue alone totaled $6.7m).

Here are 5 other things we learned:

1️⃣ Buffett believes in America’s long-term economic prospects. We’re still a better country now than at any point in our history — and we’ve been through worse before, Buffett said. His message: “Never bet against America.”

2️⃣ But we’re still waiting for his next big acquisition. Berkshire just reported a $49.7B loss for the 1st quarter. But at the same time, it’s stockpiling cash: $137B worth.

The pandemic may present buying opportunities, but Bloomberg noted that Buffett is staying on the sidelines — in contrast to his strategy during the 2008 financial crisis.

3️⃣ And Berkshire’s airline selloff is a sign of tough times. The conglomerate sold ~$6.5B of stock in April, including its entire stakes in United, American, Delta, and Southwest Airlines. “The world changed for airlines,” Buffett said.

4️⃣ The insurance industry will be the next battleground. Buffett predicted that we’ll see a flood of litigation in the coming months, from companies that go to war with their insurance companies over lost business due to the pandemic.

5️⃣ Buffett may be a billionaire, but he’s also a schlub like the rest of us. It’s been 7 weeks since he’s had a haircut, and 7+ since he last put on a tie. His pandemic wardrobe, he said, is “just a question of which sweatsuit I wear.”

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Bright Spots

From the coronavirus pandemic to, um, murder hornets, there’s no shortage of depressing headlines these days. So we’re highlighting the occasional story that will hopefully brighten your day.

Forget about inviting a goat or a llama to your next Zoom meeting. A Japanese aquarium is asking you to call in to a FaceTime meeting with its eels.

Why? Garden eels are very shy creatures as it is, and they’ve grown accustomed to having no visitors around with the aquarium closed. That means they slither away and hide whenever their keepers approach. 

The museum set up iPads near the eels’ tanks so people can call in, hoping that the eels will #PleaseRememberHumans (yes, that’s a real hashtag).

Like these bright spots? Tell us by hitting the smileys at the bottom of this email.

Methane Markets

There’s big business in cow burps

Despite what your inner 6th-grader may tell you, cow burps and farts are no laughing matter.

Cows are professional methane factories, thanks to their grassy diets. Their gassy emissions are one of the greatest agricultural contributors to climate change. 

Cud for thought: If cows were a country, Bovinia would be the world’s 6th-largest emitter.

That’s why the climate-solutions industry extends all the way down to the burps burbling out of Bessie’s mouth.

The companies want cows to go carbon-Mootral

As much as we’d like to take credit for that pun, we have to tip our cowboy hats to the branding experts. Mootral is the name of a Swiss biotech company focused on squelching the power of the bovine belch. 

The New York Times reported that it’s one of several firms that are tinkering with cows’ digestive chemistry. They’re taking aim at a cow’s diet. 

Allicin, a compound in garlic that’s released when a clove is cut or crushed, targets methane-producing enzymes in a cow’s digestive system. The companies are fortifying feed with allicin, seaweed, and citrus compounds to find the perfect formula for reducing methane emissions.

One challenge: balancin’ the allicin. Add too much, and you might get a glass of refreshing garlic milk.

Don’t close the fridge door just yet

Mootral’s first tests on dairy cows on a real farm reduced methane emissions by 38%.

And as they say: If you can’t beat the burps, catch ‘em. A UK-based startup called Zelp (that’s Zero Emissions Livestock Project, natch) makes a sort of wearable harness that captures the burps and traps them in a methane-absorbing filter.

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This COVID-19 dashboard shows how your performance compares to your competitors

Access the COVD-19 Retail Pulse dashboard here.  

If you’re in the eCommerce game, you’re probably dying to know how other companies are doing right now.

Well, you’re in luck.

WITHIN (the first Performance Branding company) is consulting their team of experts and analyzing data non-stop to create this new Retail Pulse dashboard.

Their  COVID-19 Retail Pulse dashboard gives you access to:

  • Aggregated data from their industry-leading clients to give you perspective on performance
  • Live webinars to give you expert-level advice
  • Strategy whitepapers to guide business decisions
  • Breakdowns on ad spend, revenue, etc.

Basically, any insights your biz needs to beat benchmarks are kept in this seriously strategic dash. 

Do yourself — and your company — a favor, and check it out:

The Dash →
Protect Yourself

Plexiglass could shine in a reopening economy

When’s the last time you spent more than 2 seconds thinking about plexiglass?

Unless you’re a hockey player who’s missing a few Chiclets, or you used to enjoy getting a little too close to the salad bar (eww), we’re gonna guess never.

But the government freeze on our movements is starting to thaw, and that means the normally lukewarm plexiglass market is reaching a melting point.

It could shatter expectations in a post-pandemic world

Marker says the rationale for plexiglass’s sudden rise is clear, even though traditional buyers like the auto and construction industries are still frozen. 

The humble plastic is graduating from sneeze guard, to… well, everything guard.

  • One plexiglass retailer says business is up 200% from last year.
  • A UK manufacturer increased acrylic sheet production by 300% from February to March.

You’ll probably see it dividing booths at restaurants and shielding salon workers from clients. Macy’s plans for reopening its stores include plexiglass barriers installed at registers.

Office cubicle dividers may even protect you from your coworkers when you return to the office (though it probably won’t save you from having to look at them).

The good news: It could be easier to get closer to family

A managing partner at a California provider of senior living told Marker he created a plexiglass box that separates visitors from residents. He calls it “120 square feet of plexiglass safety.”

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Zoom Quandaries

Want to look smart? Try a credibility bookshelf

Toss out your pantsuits, put aside your Ph.D.’s: In quarantine, the surest way to command expertise is to plop yourself in front of a bookshelf

Seemingly every BBC (or BBC-aspiring) commentator has set up their Zoom feeds before a stack of books — all in an effort to garner authority in this era of pixelated video streams.

The best “credibility bookcase,” as The New York Times dubbed it, puts form over function: No bright colors, no flashy modern novels — just rows of dull, leather-bound volumes that scream “I went to grad school.”

A Twitter account called Bookcase Credibility has popped up to track — and dish out snark on — the deluge of Zoom bookshelves. A telling review of newspaper columnist Owen Jones’ double-wide shelf:

This a power credibility grab. The double shoulder presentation combines with the upward angling to give Owen the look of a gang boss flanked by a couple of heavies explaining the facts of life to someone. 

Your home is everybody’s business now

A few celebs have thankfully gotten the memo, and there’s a micro-industry devoted to sleuthing out the books that famous people keep on their shelves.

Cate Blanchett, for one, apparently owns all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Branding goes beyond books: The backgrounds have also become vehicles for plugging Star Wars, United Airlines, and Dunkin’ Donuts

They’re also laying bare class divides between students at the same school or employees at the same office. While one person might Zoom in from a closet in a desperate bid for privacy, another luxuriates in a million-dollar apartment.

Some experts worry that bosses unconsciously judge your work ethic by the clarity of your webcam or the lighting in your room.

Please don’t eat in the middle of this call 

Backgrounds aside, video conferencing is bringing with it a whole new slate of ethical quandaries: Per Digiday, those audio-only lurkers have become a scourge of Zoom meetings everywhere.

Not to mention — god forbid — the Zoom eaters, whose cereal crunching strikes almost as much fear in our hearts as that viral video of Raven-Symoné cackling between sandwich bites.

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94% of shoppers blame the retailer if a delivery goes poorly 

You can have the world’s most beautiful Shopify store, the perfect drip marketing campaign, or even have Zuckerberg himself running your Facebook ads…  

But none of that matters if your customer doesn’t actually get what they ordered.

Solution? Route. This free ecommerce plugin immediately ups your delivery game with visual tracking, real-time shipping updates, and coverage for lost, stolen, or damaged packages. 

Plus, they’ll give you $100 cash  just to give it a try.

Here’s $100 →

🛑 A big win for public-interest advocates: The nonprofit that oversees the internet’s domain-name system rejected the sale of .org to a private-equity group.

🍨 Yum. The ice-cream makers at Blue Bell agreed to pay a $19m fine for shipping contaminated goods during a 2015 listeria outbreak.

📉 Tesla’s stock price tanked after Elon Musk said it was too high. But was Musk’s meltdown illegal?

📦 Where people sell products they’ve never handled to people they’ve never met: Inside the strange world of dropshipping.

👖Sounds about right: A new survey found about half of Americans don’t always wear pants while working from home.

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