Thu, 4/18

Why would a successful Instagram business launch a print newspaper?

The popular “Overheard LA” Instagram account has grown from a tiny hobby project to a massive, recognizable brand with 1.2m followers and 7 spinoffs since it launched in 2015. 

Now, according to The New York Times, the brand is so successful that it is expanding to new formats — starting with a print newspaper.

The Overheard Post

Why take a successful social media business and expand to newspaper?

Overheard’s founder, Jesse Margolis, says he doesn’t want the brand to be “siloed” on a single platform like Instagram. 

For Margolis, newspapers are a great place to start. Distributing newspapers across LA is great marketing, and the newspaper format is a great match for the brand; The Overheard Post will feature millennial weather reports and obituaries for plastic straws.

The limits of the ’Gram

Overheard’s unorthodox expansion plan highlights the challenge of building a stable, well-rounded business.

As an Instagram-only brand, Overheard already employs 5 staff members and several freelancers. But in order to keep the brand growing, Margolis has chosen to take his humor offline.

“I’m old enough to remember when everyone was offline scrambling to establish a presence online,” Margolis told the NYT. “And now I started something online. And I’m trying to establish its presence offline.”

Thu, 4/18

Monster’s massive market share suddenly looks a lot less menacing…

Monster Energy’s market share fell from 45% to 41%, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Monster, an energy drink company known for its sexual harassment problem and its boys-club marketing, is up against several new competitors — and many people seem more interested in wellness than “Monster Girls” at NASCAR races. 

Monster’s macho buzz is wearing off

In 2016, Red Bull more than doubled Monster’s sales. But a lower price point and aggressive marketing helped Monster claw its way to the top of the market, beating out Red Bull with 43% market share.

But, thanks to new competitors and shifting consumer preferences, Monster’s grip on the market is slipping.

Monster marketed its drinks with extreme motorsports, scantily clad women, and video games, amassing a loyal following among Xbox-playing teenage boys — but the company may have limited its audience. 

Now, everyone’s into energy

As it turns out, Call of Duty fans aren’t the only people who want a caffeine kick. In fact, market research shows that many caffeine consumers are looking for health and wellness options.

Several companies have already doubled down on wellness-focused energy drinks: AB-InBev bought HiBall, Amazon launched its own Monster competitor, and fitness-focused Bang is growing rapidly. Keurig Dr Pepper will soon launch a new competitor called Adrenaline Shoc.

Even Coca-Cola, which owns an 18.5% stake in Monster and distributes the brand, is trying to kill the creature under the bed: Coke launched a product called “Coca-Cola Energy” in Europe.

Thu, 4/18

Meme lords are hitting the collective bargaining circuit

The Atlantic reports that Memers have had it with corporations (really everyone) posting their art without compensation — and now, they’re unionizing.

“Solidarity actions with memers. Memers of the world unite,” the union’s Instagram page read, as it encouraged followers to “seize the memes of production.” 

They’re looking at you, Instagram

The memery generates engagement that helps keep Instagram growing — but, they argue, the multibillion-dollar platform doesn’t pay them for their work, or give them any say in how it’s displayed.

Like every other social media platform, Instagram is free to use, yet the company is allowed to monetize the content to sell ads.

Will the National Labor Relations Board take this seriously?

Most signs point to fat chance, but the IG Meme Union Local 69-420 (this is not a joke, we repeat: this is not a joke) isn’t laughing.

Regardless, it plans to act as a union, and use some of the same tactics to protect their dank, steel-beam melting work.

Thu, 4/18

When cell-cultured meat hits the market, it’s gonna be expensive

When Dutch scientist Mark Post became the first person in the world to make a cell-cultured beef burger — the pound of lab-made beef would have cost around $1.2m.

Over the years that number has dropped exponentially, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be cheap when it’s expected to hit markets in 2020.

According to Bruce Friedrich, founder of the Good Food Institute, people will have to stomach a $50 price tag on cell-cultured meat, chicken, or fish — whatever meat ends up being the first to touch down.

It’s for a good cause, people! 

Aside from the fact that living, burping livestock is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the ever-rising human population (and our respective appetites) will demand an estimated 70% to 100% more meat by 2050.

Put those two things together and alt-beef becomes a hot commodity. But, in San Francisco a plant-based Impossible burger costs around $19, so why would anyone buy clean meat for $50?

People must really hate veggies

In an interview with the BBC, Friedrich boasted that the Good Food Institute’s meat patty is “not yet another veggie burger” — hmm, weird flex.

Clean-meat still isn’t technically vegetarian (it’s cultured from animal cells), which could be a prime selling point to carnivore traditionalists, who often think of veggies as Satan’s meal of choice.

Wed, 4/17

Kickstarter and Indiegogo are getting more involved in crowdsourcing campaigns

As many crowdsourced projects often fail to deliver (figuratively and literally), companies like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have started breaking down barriers between the platforms and their campaigners and backers. 

Story time…

When Mousr, an autonomous cat toy maker, raised $17k over the company’s $100k goal, the company took the money and got to work, setting an approximate shipping date within a year of launch.

But backers didn’t receive their toy until 4 years later (around a quarter of the average cat’s lifespan), meaning many of the cats had died before getting to play with ol’ android vermin surprise.

The reality is… 

Crowdfunded gadgets are often delayed for months or years, sometimes never shipping at all.

To address mishaps like Mousr (and too many others to count), Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made changes designed to keep backers informed, provide a fail-safe to campaigners, and ensure accountability if they do.

That’s enough from the peanut gallery

  • Both companies have added third-party resources and tools to help get first-time hardware makers through the production process.
  • Indiegogo told The Verge it will also launch multiple campaigns this year with an optional “guaranteed delivery” badge that tells backers they’ll either receive their product or get a refund.
  • Under this model, founders won’t receive their raised funds until they begin to ship — which means companies have to already have enough cash to develop and make their product.

Doesn’t this defeat the purpose?

While it’s obviously good to have support, the very core concept of crowdfunding is the idea of risk and reward. Without those elements, what is it?

Wed, 4/17

What will happen to wellness programs that don’t keep budgets healthy?

New research suggests that wellness programs may not improve employee health or decrease healthcare spending, as many companies previously believed.

Now that companies know wellness won’t cut healthcare costs, they’ll have to decide whether they’re still willing to invest in employee wellness.

Wellness programs don’t work as well as we thought

Research based on 33k workers at BJ’s Wholesale Club showed that workers enrolled in wellness programs for 1.5 years didn’t end up with better blood pressure levels, body mass indices, or cholesterol levels than their non-wellness peers — and their healthcare costs weren’t any lower.

But even though they didn’t look different on scales or in blood samples, they reportedly exercised more and watched their weight more carefully — which could lead to improved lifetime outcomes.

These findings contradict the generally accepted idea that wellness programs lower costs for businesses. But, more importantly, it confronts businesses with a difficult question…

Are wellness programs designed to cut costs or promote health?

In 2018, 82% of companies with more than 200 employees offered some kind of wellness program. But most of these programs were built on the belief that healthy employees beget healthy balance sheets.

In the name of cutting costs, some companies have even begun using 3rd-party data from connected devices like Apple Watches to make hyper-specific wellness programs, inviting lawsuits.

But some companies have begun prioritizing mental health, stress reduction, and overall life satisfaction over specific metrics like blood pressure or BMI. Based on this research, that trend will likely continue.

Wed, 4/17

Obsessive phone scrolling is kicking off a pickpocket renaissance

When pockets started filling up with credit cards instead of cash wads around 2000, it appeared as though career wallet-whisperers would have to pick a new type of petty crime.

But, despite constant reports of the coming of a cashless economy, cash didn’t disappear as completely as expected. Now that pedestrians are more digitally distracted than ever, pickpockets are making an unlikely comeback, The Atlantic reports.

A pocket half empty becomes a pocket half full

Good pickpockets made $12k a month (inflation-adjusted) in the ’80s and ’90s. But from 2000 to 2010, the number of slick picks dwindled to the point that cops estimated only 40 career picks were left in Manhattan.

But then something strange began to happen — pocket-picking started increasing again. 

Last year, pickpocketing on transit systems increased 15% in Manhattan and 13% in Chicago. Even San Francisco, ground zero for cashless convenience, saw an 8% uptick in public-transit-pocketing. 

So, why did pickpocketing pick up again?

In a word: distraction. Pickpocketing is built on distraction, and thanks to the constant connectedness that comes with smartphones, people in public are more distracted than ever.

By combining classic sleight-of-hand techniques like “the sandwich” (bumping from one side and swiping from the other) with dastardly digital tricks like “shoulder surfing” (peeking at PIN numbers from over the shoulder), pickpockets can profit from cash, debit cards, and phones.

Smartphones, which resell for $200 even when disabled, are now the top pick. But debit cards (which still yield a profit) and cash (which is still the most popular payment method) are also still swiped.

Wed, 4/17

Companies are focused on antitrust violations, and Apple’s heavily in the mix

As regulators continue to move at a glacial pace, Axios reports that companies themselves are subjecting rivals to charges of unfair monopolies to disrupt Big Tech market dominance.

First established as the Sherman Act in 1890, antitrust laws were put into place to allow the government to set up roadblocks to neutralize major monopolistic behavior. 

Keepin’ the competition honest

In 2016, we saw Walmart file an antitrust suit against the “big three” tuna providers (Chicken of the Sea, StarKist, and BumbleBee) over fixing canned-tuna prices

But wait, there’s more…

Apple’s not far from the antitrust tree either

The tech powerhouse is getting caught up on both sides of the coin.

In a private antitrust action of sorts, The NYT and WaPo told Apple to “kick rocks” when it asked the storied news publications to join Apple’s news service that offers access to a variety of publications for a fixed price of $9.99.

Of course, it’s the 50% cut of each publication’s subscription revenue demanded by Apple that the news producers are balking at.

Then yesterday, Apple and Qualcomm settled their two years-long tussle over the 5% royalty the chip-making giant was netting on all iPhone sales — a move Apple has long called an unfair monopoly due to the company’s chip-making prowess.

But wait, there’s more

Last month it was Spotify that filed a complaint against Apple for its insane 30% tax on app store purchases (yes, the same reason Apple sued Qualcomm).

This comes after a group of iPhone users sued Apple for the exact same thing.

Tue, 4/16

Volkswagen will begin building a fully electric SUV in 2021

CNBC reports that VW unveiled its new electric SUV concept, the ID ROOMZZ, in Shanghai this weekend. The new whip drives 450 kilometers on a single charge, features level 4 AV driving, a sleek glass control panel, and floating steering wheel. 

The ID ROOMZZ, which will compete directly with Tesla’s Model X, will take EV-buyers for a (literal) spin — with seats that swivel to allow for lounging. 

China’s auto market is electric these days

China is currently the largest player in the global zero-emission market, and the industry minister predicts that annual “new energy vehicle” output will spike to 2m in 2020 and sales will rise to 7m by 2025.

This strong growth is due in large part to the incentives offered by the Chinese government to energy-efficient vehicle makers. According to ZoZo Go, they’ve shelled out $60B worth of subsidies since 2012.

That sound you don’t quite hear is EVs racing in China 

These incentives have left domestic and foreign automakers battling for ground in China. Tesla has been hard at work revving up its Shanghai gigafactory, speeding to seize upon subsidies while they last. 

And while Volkswagen currently churns out under 50,000 fully electric vehicles annually, CEO Herbert Diess announced plans to ramp up emission-free production with 22m cars over the next 10 years. VW will merge its China-based R&D ops with those of its premium brand, Audi.

Tue, 4/16

Pepsi considers giant space billboard for its energy drink

In partnership with space-advertising startup StartRocket, PepsiCo briefly transformed the sky into an advertisement for its new energy drink, Adrenaline Rush, in a test involving a stratospheric balloon (Pepsi spokespeople say it was a one-time test).

A soda ad in space sounds like a dark, dystopian joke out of a Don DeLillo novel. But, thanks to this space-case startup, space ads could soon be very real — and people aren’t pleased.

Advertising’s final frontier

Starry-eyed entrepreneurs have dreamed up ways to put advertisements alongside the stars for decades, but high costs have prevented these schemes from leaving the stratosphere.

But now that the cost of satellites has finally fallen, StartRocket has designed a system that will use tiny, reflective satellites as space-pixels to project images in the night sky for 8 hours at a time for $20k.

“Andy Warhol said: ‘The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s.’ Space has to be beautiful,” reads StartRocket’s website. “With the best brands our sky will amaze us every night.”

The company considers itself a new media company that will make the night sky more beautiful — but not everyone agrees that McDonald’s ads in space will be “beautiful.”

Counterfeit constellations

Look at the beautiful night sky, son — it’s the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, and… an ad for Pepsi’s new energy drink?

But space ads are more than interstellar eyesores: Scientists warn that adding satellites into low orbit increases the risk of dangerous collisions with the growing amount of space junk floating around overhead.

Pepsi’s partnership was only a test, and Pepsi has no plans to pursue further projects with StartRocket. But the test opened up space for other businesses to shoot for the stars.

America banned space-based advertising in 1993, but Russia has no laws preventing StartRocket from plastering the cosmos with ads for fast food.

[Update: Journalist Jon Christian reached out to let us know that Pepsi’s test with StartRocket involved a balloon, not an entire orbital array. This post has been updated to reflect this information.]

Tue, 4/16

Amazon wants to live the stream

Amazon is reportedly in talks with major record labels to roll out its own free, ad-supported music streaming service. Until now, the ’Zon has offered its limited Prime Music service for Primers, plus standalone Amazon Music Unlimited subscriptions for $10/month.

According to Billboard, Amazon would start with a limited catalog and pay record labels on a per-stream basis, regardless of ad revenue. Amazon may also be able to make use of its label relationships from its CD-selling days (remember CDs, kids?). 

Will Spotify soon be playing second fiddle?

Spotify, with its 100m paid subscribers, is the only subscription-based streaming model with a free tier. But the industry leader, which has long-struggled to become profitable, may be losing stream. 

With this entry into the market, Amazon is flexing its ability to be a loss leader in a highly competitive space: Spotify shares slid 4% in response to the news.

Sizing up the rest of the competition, big and small…

YouTube, which accounts for nearly half of global tunage consumption, has long rock-blocked paid streaming services, and Apple Music has strong numbers, but no free offerings. SoundCloud’s recent positioning change-up pulled its 175m users out of direct competition. 

Though reports suggest there are only 20m Amazon music subscribers, Amazon will likely push on the Echo integration aspect and look to pull conversions from its substantial Prime base. 

Rumor has it the new ad-supported service will be available through Echo speakers, possibly this month.

Tue, 4/16

The world’s at war over the workweek, and Chinese billionaires won’t let the slackers win

Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba, posted a lengthy rant in support of China’s culture of extreme overtime work, drawing scorn from bleary-eyed Chinese engineers.

Ma and other billionaires celebrate 70-, 80-, and 130-hour workweeks. But workers worn thin by grueling hours are starting to protest — and research suggests longer hours don’t always lead to higher productivity.

The 996 is the new 9-to-5

Chinese tech companies are famous for a “996” culture, where sleep-deprived employees slave away from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week. 

But overworked Chinese employees finally put their feet down in March by launching 996.ICU, a Github campaign to raise awareness about unhealthy working conditions and call out companies imposing them. 

Yet when Chinese tech giants — including Alibaba, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Huawei, and ByteDance — landed on the list, many of their billionaire founders publicly protested.

Billionaires love busy-ness

JD.com founder Richard Liu called people who protest 996 “slackers,” and insisted that he personally can work 8116 (aka 8 am to 11 pm, 6 days a week — or 90 hours per week).

It’s not just a Chinese phenomenon: Physically unhealthy overwork cultures exist in South Korea, Japan, and, of course, the US — where founders like Musk have turned work obsession into a secular religion.

America’s execs exalt overwork: Google exec Marissa Mayer boasts about 130-hour weeks, and Elon Musk — who works 120-hour weeks — famously claimed that “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

Does Musk’s manic model actually work?

Research shows that never-ending workweeks aren’t the most productive: According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, worker output begins to drop once workers clock more than 48 hours per week.

Plus, the CDC reports that workers who are consistently putting in overtime are more susceptible to illness, alcohol use, smoking, and death.

The war for the workweek is just getting started in the US and China, but other countries are already tackling overwork: South Korea reduced its workweek from 68 to 52 hours, and Japan recently instituted its first cap on overtime to reduce karoshi — or “death by overwork.”

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