June 22, 2020

The buzz behind microtransit

June 22, 2020
The Hustle
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I am distressed to discover that Pizza Hut used to have salad bars. Over the weekend, people took to Twitter to share their grease-soaked nostalgia for Pizza Hut’s heyday — the arcade games, the skillets, the Bigfoot pizza. 

We’ve explored why Pizza Hut got so crusty (it fell behind in the innovation race)… but, salad bars? What I would have done to experience that kind of luxury.

(Editor’s note: If only Michael was old enough to remember the Hut’s “read books, get pizza” program. That was awesome.)

commute
El Taxi?

Public transit is getting the Uber Pool treatment

Infrastructure pros have a new buzzword: Microtransit. 

You can think of “microtransit” as a swankier way of saying “publicly subsidized Uber Pool.” With bus and subway service running on empty because of COVID-19, microtransit projects are revving up.

The Los Angeles Metro system put $29m toward a partnership with RideCo to subsidize transit. Uber just snagged a 3-year contract in Dallas. Salt Lake City and Birmingham are rolling out their own experiments. 

Startups like Spare Labs and Optibus — which can route buses in real time based on demand — are hoping to hitch a ride on the microtransit bandwagon.

Honey, I shrunk the metro

Take one example: In Lubbock, Texas, Citibus ridership is down 50% because of the pandemic. The city had to cut service from every 30 minutes to every hour. 

Now Lubbock is dabbling with microtransit. Residents can download a  CitiBus On Demand app to hail a ride — it pings one of its fleet of roving vans heading in the general direction. The city promises that each van will arrive in under 10 minutes. 

Don’t have a smartphone? You can call instead.

This hype train has been rolling for years

Transit stans point to studies from Boston Consulting Group showing that microtransit projects could cut traffic 15% to 30%. 

But Wired recently pumped the brakes on some of their enthusiasm. Microtransit is expensive: During a pilot, the LA Metro spent 2x more on microtransit trips than on regular buses.

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AI
Valuable Intelligence

AI is helping scientists sort through heaps of coronavirus research

The global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine is creating an enormous pile of medical research — and scientists are turning to AI tools to make sense of it.

They’ll need all the help they can get

The machine-learning company Primer AI created a coronavirus dashboard that tracks scientific papers on COVID-19. It divides the papers (~29k so far) into categories, and tracks which topics, terms, and authors are trending.

It also lets you see which papers are getting the most traction on social media. 

But you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to understand why “most talked-about on Twitter” might be dicey: A Primer AI expert told Axios that the most shared papers are also the most controversial ones. 

They tend to be preprints — work that isn’t yet peer-reviewed. The 2nd most-shared paper, which claimed to find similarities between the new coronavirus and HIV, was withdrawn after experts tore it apart. 

It ain’t perfect, but it’s something

One emergency-medicine doctor told Nature that she used the dashboard to inform protocols for UC-San Francisco’s hospital. In the chaos of daily operations, she said, “the Primer app was actually a really amazing way to cut through the noise.”

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There’s one topic keeping everyone — from startups to big corporations — up at night lately: 

How to prepare for what’s ahead.

This year has forced businesses of all sizes to constantly recalibrate. So how are the most successful ones staying prepped, despite all these unexpected challenges?

By constantly learning, thanks to events like the HPE Discover Virtual Experience.

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  • Business of Sports: 5 leading sports figures provide insights into how the pandemic has affected their business and what the recovery of sports looks like.

Register for HPE Discover Virtual Experience today and they’ll donate $10 to your choice of featured causes. The event starts June 23, so don’t miss out. 

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fireworks
Bang bang

It’s not just in your neighborhood — fireworks sales are booming

Please go easy on your friends from Brooklyn: They probably haven’t slept in weeks.

No matter where you live, early July can be a perilous time to get those 8 hours. But especially in cities, the firework scourge looks different this year. Like everything in 2020, it’s bigger, louder, and poised to go on for way longer than any of us can stand.

In NYC, fireworks complaints for the first half of June are 80x higher than the same time last year. In Boston, complaints flared up from just 22 a year ago to 1,445 (!).

Everyone needs a white-noise machine 

New York Times writer Jamelle Bouie started a thread about the Great Pyrotechnic Explosion of 2020 — and residents of Charlottesville, Oakland, Minneapolis, Rochester, and other cities chimed in to say they were suffering, too.

Our Nick DeSantis can attest: Living in DC means he’s used to July 4th being the worst night of sleep of the year, “but I’d say this year they’ve started earlier and they’re louder.”

Cracking the firework mystery

One explanation is that people are bored in lockdown. But plenty of states have also recently relaxed their fireworks laws, making it easier than ever to stock up on everyone’s least favorite banger.

The American Pyrotechnics Association noted that fireworks sales have exploded across the country, and — god help us all — it’s expecting a “banner year.”

We hope all that melatonin panic-buying will finally go to good use. 

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picasso
Going Once, Going Twice…

Meet the new upstart in the world of high-priced art sales

Buying a prized Picasso painting could be as simple as swiping your finger.

That’s the idea behind Fair Warning, a new app from a former Christie’s specialist who made mountains of money for the British auction house.

Can the ‘rainmaker’ make it rain again?

Loïc Gouzer left the art world behind after spearheading some of its most gonzo sales — like the $450m auction of Salvator Mundi, a Leonardo da Vinci painting whose price tag smashed records.

Gouzer has been called a Christie’s “rainmaker” and “the daredevil of the auction world.” He once politely volleyed away a comparison to… Roger Federer.

With Fair Warning, he wants to disrupt traditional art sales, using a fast bidding system with a clubby feel.

Here’s how it’ll work

Fair Warning will be more exclusive than other auction platforms like Artsy, with Gouzer screening the collectors.

A single work will be auctioned off roughly every week, starting Sunday. Buyers will swipe to bid, and each sale may last just a few minutes.

The bidding may be limited to the Sotheby’s set, but the app has everyman roots: Gouzer launched it after deciding against selling the works over Zoom.

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TRENDS

Keep it simple, stupid

As humans, we overcomplicate things. We think that in order to be successful, we need to raise a bunch of $$$, find a “one in a million” idea, and hire the absolute best. 

But every big biz started out small: Amazon started by selling books, Netflix let you rent DVDs by mail, and Facebook has since rebranded from its “hot or not” origins. The first versions of everything are less than perfect.

That’s why the cofounders of Readwise started with a simple problem: easily syncing Kindle highlights into a beautiful interface. Since then, they’ve evolved to help readers save, surface, and effectively consume content from all over the web. 

Readwise has quietly grown to thousands of loyal customers… completely bootstrapped. We’re bringing in cofounders Dan and Tristan to discuss the hidden opportunities in consumer software, effectively scaling a SaaS product without funding, and how to hone in on a niche customer segment.

Join us on Thursday 5/28, at 3pm ET (12pm PT).

Grab your spot → Snippets

1️⃣  Robinhood announced changes to its free trading app — a 20-year old user died by suicide after seeing an apparent negative $730k balance on his account.

2️⃣  We’ll soon know more about which businesses got coronavirus rescue money: The government agreed to release the names of companies that received $150k or more in Paycheck Protection Program loans.

3️⃣  Nextdoor removed the “Forward to Police” feature in its app — it’s long been criticized for fueling racial profiling.

4️⃣  Another brand gets a refresh: Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream says it will retire its Eskimo Pie, acknowledging that the name is “inappropriate.”

5️⃣  The CEO’s tweets were just the tip of the iceberg. Former employees say CrossFit was overrun by a sexist corporate culture.

6️⃣  Toilet paper shortages are so 3 months ago. Now we’re facing a coin shortage.

7️⃣  Business is booming for San Francisco’s moving companies. Even our own Sam Parr is getting outta Dodge.

8️⃣  Japan’s unemployment rate stayed small while America’s skyrocketed — here’s why.

9️⃣  The pandemic threatens a point of national pride: Britain’s Stilton blue cheese.

🔟  TIL: Google cofounder Sergey Brin started a disaster-relief charity — and it’s been delivering humanitarian assistance for the past 5 years.

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