Kick(start)ing unions, punching Nazis


October 17, 2019

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Today, entrepreneurs make big bucks selling worms and a British billionaire buys his own cows on his own terms, but first…

The Hustle Daily Email

Kickstarter kick-starts debate about the future of labor unions in tech

Kickstarter, which has repeatedly refused to recognize an employee-organized labor union, is the latest tech company to grapple with the realities of worker-driven movements. 

It all started with a comic book about punching Nazis 

The crowdfunding company has long sought to portray itself as a corporate do-gooder. Company leadership has vowed to never go public — allowing it to focus less on making money for shareholders and more on social issues.

Since 2009, Kickstarter has generated more than $4.5B for 170k creative projects — including a satirical comic book, “Always Punch Nazis,” inspired by a live-TV punch delivered to white nationalist Richard Spencer.

The right-wing site Breitbart caught wind of the fundraiser and complained it violated Kickstarter’s terms of agreement by promoting violence. After much internal debate, Kickstarter management decided to pull the plug on the project. But employee pressure led the company to reverse its decision.

Despite the reversal, several employees felt Kickstarter was cowing to racists.

So employees formed a labor union

Earlier this month, a group of “Kickstarter United” organizers — in affiliation with the OPEIU Local 153, a nationwide union representing professional workers — officially requested recognition from Kickstarter leadership. 

In addition to input in company decisions, the group called for pay equity and diversity in hiring. Kickstarter declined to recognize the union, but said it would have the National Labor Relations Board conduct a secret-ballot election to settle the matter. 

Meanwhile, Kickstarter fired two union organizers. The company insists the firings were performance-related — but others claim the dismissals did not follow protocol. 

This could be the start of something big

If Kickstarter employees succeed in unionizing, they could portend changes for other tech companies. Amazon and Wayfair both had big employee activist moments this year, but so far Kickstarter is the only one with union rumblings. 

Throughout all of this, Kickstarter has insisted it’s not a union buster, and claims instead that it has concerns about the additional costs associated with union negotiations and the possibility of operational constraints imposed by contracts.

» Don’t be a negoti-hater
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In parts of Asia, fish auctions now happen over Facebook Live

You probably know that you can find a date or lip-synch live on Facebook, but did you know you could haggle with a fishmonger? 

That’s right: Fish auctions, which take place over Facebook Live, are taking off in Malaysia and Thailand.

MyFishman, a pioneer of Facebook Live fish auctions, says most of its online customers are in their 30s and 40s. And in typical millennial fashion, they’d rather contemplate their dinner digitally (and have it shipped to their doorsteps) than actually go somewhere to get it.

Streaming fish streams profits, it seems 

If you peruse the FB page of Malaysian-based MyFishman, you’ll see jittery videos that quickly pan across the catch of the day — sometimes, with an emoji for emphasis. 

The biz has sold as much as 660 pounds of fish during a nightly streaming auction, when they expect up to 1k viewers. And the co-founder says profits have increased by 10-50% since the streaming started. 

As in most things, humor helps

Thai fishmonger Anurak Saruethai draws up to 300k viewers and makes a staggering $32k each night, thanks in part to his comedic flair. 

He keeps his followers engaged by tossing bags of dried fish, chanting, putting his face waaay too close to the camera, and excitedly ringing his auction bell when he gets a sale.

» Fish-Book
The Hustle’s Newsroom…

In the world’s strangest cattle battle, a British billionaire is up against… himself? 

Private equity firm Terra Firma, owned by British entrepreneur Guy Hands, has been trying to sell off a massive Australian cattle company called Consolidated Pastoral for more than a year — but it’s found few buyers. So, in a bizarre agreement, the PE firm will sell off 40% of its lands for $310m to outside buyers, and the remaining 60% for $600m to… Guy Hands. Apparently, this was Plan B(eef): “This seems to be self-dealing out of desperation, not out of greed,” wrote Axios’s Dan Primack.

The next step in Arianna Huffington’s ongoing quest to reprogram us all to chill the f*ck out involves AI-based behavior modification

Arianna Huffington started a company to fight burnout, Thrive Global. How does she plan to pull such an ambitious project off, you ask? Well, if you must know — she just bought a startup, Boundless Mind (formerly called Dopamine Labs) that uses behavioral neuroscience to manipulate people into using apps more, and she now plans to use the technology to encourage healthy habits. What could go wrong? 

After placing another bad bet in Vegas, MGM Resorts is forced to say: “Bye bye, Bellagio”

MGM Resorts International, a hospitality company that owns hotels on the Vegas strip, sold the famous Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to the private equity giant Blackstone for $4.25B (it will lease back the property). Why it’s interesting: It shows that, even though Vegas real estate can be a cash cow, it also takes some really deep pockets to weather the volatility of the strip.

Sure, startups are nice… but roach-preneurs will outlast us all

According to a new VICE report, bulk bug businesspeople sell boxes of up to 10k mealworms and other bugs as a side hustle — sometimes making thousands of dollars a month. At scale, insect margins can be huge: One bug businessman reports he makes $900/month on just a $50 investment.

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What Else…

🎫 Have you gotten your tix to Amazon-chella? Hold on to your body glitter and your Amazon Prime passwords, people: Your friendly, local e-commerce giant is hosting its own desert music festival, Intersect. The lineup includes Kacey Musgraves, the Foo Fighters, and Anderson .Paak. 

🌿 When weed companies ditch their old stashes… they get even higher. CannTrust Holdings, one of several canna-companies implementing a “remediation plan,” plans to destroy $77m worth of weed and plants to win its license back. The news sent company stock 25% higher. 

🎲 The latest type of connected tech? Board games. Move over, “Fortnite”: A connected chess board is trending on Kickstarter, and a former Atari architect has created a tablet especially for board games.

📋 Colleges grade students before they even submit applications. A Washington Post report reveals that many colleges snoop through applicants’ online habits and personal finances before they even apply, putting some applicants at an unseen disadvantage.

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