Thu, 11/14

Truckers tell California lawmakers to stay in their lane

As the original contractors of the open road, independent truckers take umbrage with a new California law that will make it harder for companies to classify workers as contractors. The California Trucking Association just filed a lawsuit challenging the law, which goes into effect next year.

Kiss my mud flaps

The law’s supporters say it will protect workers –– as many of them are struggling in the gig economy –– by ensuring companies can’t skimp on things like minimum wage, health insurance, and earned time off. But the trucking association says the law would be detrimental to interstate commerce… and slow the roll of some 70k independent truck drivers.

A California assemblywoman countered that lawmakers anticipated blowback from corporate entities, “especially those who have misclassified their workers for years.”

That means you, Uber

On that note, Uber’s not playing around, either. It plans to keep hiring drivers as independent contractors… and said if California wants to @ them, they can do it in court. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash also have vowed to join forces –– to the tune of $90m –– on a 2020 ballot measure to make roadkill of the law. 

As for the truck drivers, the trucking association says many who go independent are seasoned pros who are able to earn a greater living by setting their own schedules. These truckers invest as much as $150k into their rigs, and taking away their ability to pull paychecks would leave many of them stranded.

Thu, 11/14

Milk-ageddon is here, and it’s the end of dairy as we know it

Friendly’s is frowning. The Land O’Lakes are drying up. TruMoo is a sad, chocolate-flavored lie. 

This week, we all have reason to cry over spilt milk: Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy

So, how did the dairy dynasty dry up?

It’s a case of cultural lactose intolerance: Last year, the average American consumed 146 pounds of milk –– 39% less than the average American consumed in 1975, and the lowest amount ever recorded since the US Department of Agriculture began monitoring milk mustaches.

Dean Foods, which still operates 60 dairy processing facilities in 29 states, was udderly overwhelmed by such sour business conditions. The company’s sales have fallen 38% in the past decade despite Dean’s efforts to cut costs.

So Dean Foods –– which owns and operates brands like Friendly’s ice cream and Dairy Pure milk that are beloved by lactose lovers everywhere –– filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to reorganize its debt, satisfy pension obligations, and keep the lights on.

Now, Dean Foods is looking for a buyer

According to a statement, Dean is in conversations with the Dairy Farmers of America, a massive milk marketing cooperative.

The company secured $850m in funding to keep the milk moving during the sale process. 

In the meantime, we hope you like oat milk: Oat milk sales, while much smaller by total volume, increased 636% last year while sales of all types of cow’s milk (1%, 2%, skim, fat-free) declined. 

Thu, 11/14

How do you sell a burger? By NOT featuring scantily clad women, apparently.

Carl’s Jr., AKA Hardee’s, AKA that place you’ve been to only if you were on a road trip and even White Castle was closed, has decided to move on from racy ad campaigns, according to The New York Times

That’s right: The struggling fast food chain that trails McD’s, Wendy’s, BK, and Sonic in sales is pivoting from bikinis to burgers. 

So say goodbye to Paris

In 2005, CKE, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, began a series of commercials that featured women suggestively noshing on the chain’s food, including Paris Hilton. Other featured women included Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, and Hayden Panettiere.

Media outlets roasted the company for objectifying women. Groups like Beauty Redefined suggested Carl’s Jr. was contributing to a public health crisis and called for boycotts.

But CKE remained gung ho on the sexist strategy. In 2017, former CEO Andrew Puzder claimed the ads saved the company, while acknowledging they’d lost some of their usefulness because… the internet.

“You can get sex on the internet — you don’t need a Carl’s Jr. or Hardee’s ad,” he said.   

Sir, this is a Hardee’s

Post #MeToo and the exodus of Puzder, the chain plans to launch an ad campaign next spring that will focus on the quality of its food. It’s working with 72andSunny, which it partnered with two years ago on a “food, not boobs” campaign, which still included images of scantily clad women.

Wed, 11/13

Thirsty international booze baron buys beer brands at a big discount

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Belgium-based international beer-hemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased the remainder of Oregon-based Craft Brew Alliance for around $221m (the Big Bev giant already owned 31.2%).

AB InBev’s purchase price of $16.50 per share — a huge premium over the $7.33 share price at which CBA closed on Monday — sent the smaller company’s share prices up more than 120% yesterday.

It was a deal that had been brewing for a long time…

But it ended up with a very different flavor than anyone could ever have expected at the start.

Craft Brew Alliance — which consisted of Redhook Brewery, Square Mile Cider Co., Widmer Brothers Brewing, and others — partnered with AB InBev in 2016 for a 3-year distribution agreement.

That agreement gave AB InBev the option to buy Craft Brew for $22/share during year 1, $23.50/share during year 2, or $24.50/share during year 3. If AB InBev ultimately chose NOT to buy, it agreed to pay a $20m penalty.

But White Claw tore up the deal

The end of the 3-year partnership came last summer — at the height of the White Claw craze. 

AB InBev, worried about declining beer sales across the board, decided to opt out and pay the $20m penalty.

Then, Craft Brew’s share prices went flat: Although stock prices had ranged between $12-$21 during the partnership, they dropped below $8 after the deal fell through. 

So, after refusing so much as a sip a few months ago, AB InBev decided to swallow CBA’s marked-down beer brands in one gulp.

Wed, 11/13

US tech companies continue to challenge — and copy — TikTok

Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The latest tech talk is who will take down TikTok. The video app has drawn scrutiny –– and a national security review –– for political censorship and privacy concerns…

Which paves the way for a string of challengers

Launched in September 2018, the video-sharing startup Firework already has 3m users and adds about 500k monthly. 

Even with growth as a goal, Firework has no plans to launch in China –– partly due to censorship concerns. But there’s more at play than moral scruples. TikTok already has the video-sharing market cornered in China, so focusing on markets like the US, India, and Brazil is a sound strategy. 

Meanwhile, there are rumblings that Google might acquire Firework. The app currently is valued at over $100m, but a deal could drive that number way up. 

Another video app that could chip away at TikTok’s dominance is Triller, which recently banked $28m in venture funding and has 13m users.

And a familiar face has joined the fray

Instagram just launched a new feature in Brazil. Reels allows users to create short videos, add music, and share them via the Stories feature. 

While startups like Firework and Triller must reach more people to be competitive, Instagram has a ready-made base of 1B users… which could help it go toe-to-toe with TikTok, which boasts close to 1.5B users. 

Limiting Reels’ release to Brazil might seem odd, but it gives Instagram the opportunity to work out any bugs before rolling it out to everyone. This strategy has worked well for Instagram before. It introduced Stories in markets that hadn’t yet been inundated by Snapchat.

Wed, 11/13

What’s up, Doc? Google doubles down on patient data in partnership with Ascension

Since announcing their joint health care initiative in July, Google and US health care giant Ascension have been quietly ramping up their data collection project… and it’s a tad shady. 

Under the deal (code-named “Project Nightingale”), Google provides Ascension with cloud-based storage and other tools to centralize their data management and streamline their patient care. 

Google’s out for your blooooood (test results): Ascension’s care providers now upload patient medical information into the cloud-based Nightingale platform — which then uses machine learning to recommend personalized treatment plans, doctors, etc. 

On one hand, it’s a much-needed face-lift for a fragmented industry

These infrastructure improvements have potential to improve treatment insights, diagnoses, and overall quality of care. So that’s super. 

But it seems motives aren’t 100% pure: According to The Wall Street Journal, Ascension also hopes to uncover opps (e.g., expensive follow-up tests) to squeeze more revenue from patients. 

Google’s power play is aimed at winning valuable market share as rival data giants, including Amazon and Apple, make similar industry forays

Can I get a little privacy here? 

No, no you really can’t. Turns out, Ascension hasn’t notified its doctors nor its tens of millions of patients that dozens of Googlers have their personal info. 

Google — no stranger to security scrutiny — promises that patient info cannot be combined with Google user data or used for anything else… and we see no reason to mistrust big tech privacy assurances, so all good! 

In short, these developments are stirring up a cocktail of truly exciting medical progress with a dash of impending data-driven doom. 

Wed, 11/13

Growth Ninjas and Marketing Rock Stars and Brand Warriors, oh my!

Job titles can be… confusing. 

What exactly is the difference between the Senior Experience Management Specialist and the Executive Vice President of Experience Management? Hard to say. 

Often, identical job titles can mean wildly different things at different companies. As The New York Times wrote last week, the title of “Chief of Staff,” which seems to crop up everywhere, “can mean almost anything.”

But let’s be honest with ourselves: A title like “Chief of Staff” is hardly the strangest thing you’ll find in the dystopian bouillabaisse that is LinkedIn’s job section.

So today, we’re rounding up some of the strangest job titles the internet has to offer… and trying our best to make sense of them.

But first… why did businesses start looking for Wizards + Gurus?

Companies started posting jobs for Ninjas, Wizards, and Rock Stars over the past few years in order to stand out from other employers in tight labor markets –– and make it clear to applicants that they care about “culture.”

And despite indications that overly creative job titles are NOT an effective way to recruit top talent, the practice of posting bizarre job titles has continued. 

According to the employment search engine Indeed.com, the number of job titles containing the word “Ninja” increased 140% between 2015 and 2018. 

Last year, Ninja took the top spot as the most popular weird job title, followed by Rockstar, Genius, Guru, Hero, Wizard, and Superhero. But that’s just the beginning.

Here are some of the strangest job titles we found in the wild…

Followed by our best plain-English attempts to decipher what the jobs actually entail. Buckle up, rock stars:

  • Inbound Shaman: AKA “digital marketer” (post)
  • IT Prodigy: AKA “IT technician” (post)
  • Brand Champion: AKA “PR strategist” (post)
  • Phone Whisperer: AKA “cold caller” (post)
  • Superhero: AKA “employee” (post)
  • Jedi Knight: AKA “product manager” (post)
  • Warehouse Warrior: AKA “physical laborer” (post)
  • Sales Wizard: AKA salesperson” (post)
  • Machine Learning Evangelist: AKA brand marketer” (post
  • FPGA Guru / HDL Gunslinger: AKA programmer” (post) (From the post: “MS or PhD preferred… Extraneous interests in exotic plants, jet engines and curing meats would be kismet.”)
  • Squire: AKA… Oh, wait a minute, this was actually posted by Medieval Times. Umm, never mind on this one (post)
Tue, 11/12

Warmer weather heats up Scandinavian wine industry

News Oresund / Wikipedia

Planning a bachelorette party in wine country? It might be time to nix Napa in favor of… Kalundborg? 

The wine industry is one of many being stomped on by climate change, and some bet Scandinavia will be the next big thing in viticulture.

Warmer temps are redrawing the winemaking map

Climatologists predict that by 2050 Scandinavia will warm up by as much as 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Already, warmer temperatures have contributed to a longer growing season, which has been a boon to white wine production.

Meanwhile, winemakers in France, Italy, and Spain are struggling with record high temperatures. Over the summer, they saw grapes burn on the vine as temps hit 105 degrees. Producers in South America, California, and Australia are also expected to take hits as the world gets warmer.

But don’t look for the Scandi-section at your local market just yet

Scandinavian wine revenues are still small next to those of other countries. Think $15.4m for all three countries compared with $30.8B in France alone. 

It’s still significantly more expensive to produce wine in Scandinavia, in part because these countries do not receive any of the billions in subsidies the European Union gives winemakers in other parts of Europe. And winemakers in Denmark and Sweden have EU approval to grow less than 1k acres of vineyards, while producers in France, Italy, and Spain operate on about 7.5m acres. 

Still, growth has been rapid. In the past 15 years, Denmark went from 2 commercial vineyards to 90. There are about 40 in Sweden and 12 in Norway. How do you say “cheers” in Danish?

Tue, 11/12

The secret to DoorDash’s delivery dominance? The ’burbs, baybeee

Over the past few years, big businesses from Uber Eats to GrubHub have competed to be the one to cook up the most massive food delivery system.

But despite backlash related to its tipping policy, DoorDash surpassed both GrubHHub and Uber Eats over the past year to become the dominant deliverer. 

And now DoorDash is the delivery dynamo to eat beat 

As of September 2019, D-Dash commands roughly 35% of online food delivery sales, well more than GrubHub (~30% market share) and Uber Eats (~20% market share).

Launched in 2013, DoorDash hasn’t been around as long as competitors GrubHub (launched 2004) and Postmates (launched 2011) — although it does predate Uber Eats, which was launched in 2014. 

What it lacks in experience, though, it makes up for in cold hard cash: The delivery dynamo has around $2B in funding since it launched, including a $535m round in 2018 led by controversial Japanese investment giant SoftBank.

But the Big Bucks from SoftBank are only half the story…

DoorDash was only able to hit a growth grand slam by swinging for the fences — the picket fences, to be precise.

Other delivery businesses focused on expanding their services in major cities, but DoorDash instead doubled down on suburbs in an effort to cater to different demographics.

According to Bloomberg, DoorDash operates in 4k towns; Uber Eats, on the other hand, only operates in 500 cities. And, to better serve the ’burbs, DoorDash partnered with almost 90% of the top 100 US restaurant brands, including brands like Chili’s, which operates 80% of its locations in the suburbs.

The suburbs were good for growth…

But they weren’t necessarily good for the business’s bottom line. 

That’s right: Before you start salivating over DoorDash’s delicious business model, be warned: The company’s still not profitable.

Like many other companies that have been turbocharged by investment from SoftBank, DoorDash prioritized growth over profitability — a move that frustrated investors to the point that one even suggested a sale to rival Uber.

It’s a good reminder to investors: Growth comes in many different flavors… but not all of them taste so sweet.

Mon, 11/11

Amtrak is finally on track to make a profit (well, almost)

Last week, Amtrak reported an operating loss of $29.8m across its entire transcontinental network of railroads in the fiscal year 2019 — a huge improvement over its $170.6m loss in 2018.

But, even more surprisingly, Amtrak also announced that it’s on track to break even by next summer — which would be a first in the company’s 48-year history. 

Wait a second — how has Amtrak never turned a profit?

It all has to do with Amtrak’s strange origins: The company — whose full corporate name is technically the “National Railroad Passenger Corporation” — was chartered by Congress to address declining railroad usage across the country.

So, while the company is technically private, it is also almost entirely owned by the government (and, well, you know how that goes… ).

But, although the company has relied on one continuous government rail-out for 50 years, it could finally straighten out its operation soon.

That’s right: Amtrak has finally achieved ‘economies of rail’

So, how did Amtrak reverse its fortunes?

Amtrak says it has doubled down on its service in the Northeast Corridor (AKA between DC and Boston), which is the only regional corridor where it actually makes money. Elsewhere, the company says it has plans to scale back its long-distance, cross-country trips.

The railway’s expansion efforts have garnered mixed reviews among customers in different regions. 

Critics have railed against the company’s plans to cut rural routes, while proponents have gushed over Amtrak’s plush new railcars as just the kind of infrastructural improvements they’d been freighting for.

Mon, 11/11

Dating app Bumble is acquired, but business is still buzzing

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a deal announced Friday, MagicLab leadership sold their stake in the app company — which owns Bumble — to the private-equity biggie Blackstone. The acquisition highlights Bumble’s growth and profitability.

The deal includes a smart exit strategy

As part of the deal, MagicLab founder and majority shareholder Andrey Andreev will sell his entire stake in the company. Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd will retain much of her stake and become the CEO.

With about 75m users, Bumble is one of the top 10 lifestyle apps in the US. It is widely hailed as a feminist dating app because it’s designed to allow women to initiate all conversations… meaning fewer incidents of unsolicited phallus photos.

Things got weird when Forbes published an exposé this summer revealing a culture of misogyny at Badoo, another Andreev-owned dating app. His divestment in MagicLab allows Bumble to lose the baggage.

Meanwhile, let’s look at seriously sexy numbers

Blackstone earlier this year launched a business dedicated to growth investing. 

But rather than racking up minority stakes in unprofitable companies like Uber and Lyft — a standard investor practice for the past few years —  it is going for majority stakes in companies that can make money. MagicLab is profitable and it sees annual revenue growth of about 40%.

The Blackstone deal values MagicLab at about $3B — a nice bump up from a $1B acquisition offer from Match group. As part of the deal, Blackstone will invest in Bumble, which will allow it to expand geographically and develop additional services.

Mon, 11/11

Indiana is rolling out a historic welcome mat for Big Tech. Is it clever… or is it crazy?

Indiana passed a new law offering any business that commits at least $750m towards building a data center in the state 50 freakin’ years of exemption from sales taxes, according to a Bloomberg report.

Since most local neighborhood tech startups don’t have $750m lying around, the legislation seems to be a clear effort to lure Google, Apple, or Facebook — all of which have data centers in other Midwestern states — to the Hoosier state. 

Other states also offer incentives, but Indiana’s is in its own league 

A total of 30 US states offer some kind of deal sweetener to encourage tech companies to build data centers within their borders. 

But, in most cases, those incentives (usually tax breaks) expire in 10 years — maybe 15 — instead of a half century. 

So the question is: Will Indiana’s offer be worth it?

First, the facts: Since Indiana’s sales tax is 7%, the deal would cost the state a guaranteed $70m in tax revenue (and potentially much more) if a company takes the bait for a $1b center. A data center of that size would also provide local construction companies with millions of dollars worth of contracts.

But, beyond those bare bones facts, opinions differ on the law’s ultimate  impact in terms of dollars and sense…

  • The case that it’s clever: Big tech companies are set to spend big bucks on data centers: In 2019 alone, Facebook, Google, and Apple plan to spend $16B, $13B, and $4.5B on data centers, respectively. So proponents of the plan argue that it will ensure a big chunk of that cash ends up in Indiana… and not elsewhere.
  • The case that it’s crazy: The law doesn’t guarantee jobs for Indiana, so critics of the plan say it could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars without providing jobs or protecting workers. Plus, many construction contracts could provide one-time benefits, while tax breaks represent 50 years of costs.

Despite the controversy, other Midwestern states now must decide whether they should offer similar incentives or sit this round out: Michigan legislators are currently debating a proposal to offer data center sales tax breaks through 2055.

So this is either the start of a Midwestern arms race for data center supremacy — or a 50-year headache for Indiana. 

Want to read more about tech’s great migration to the Midwest? Check out this Hustle story about life in the “Silicon Prairie.”

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