The doggy doo doo hit the fan


November 1, 2019

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The Hustle Daily Email

Happy Friday — and welcome to the month of turkey, dwindling daylight, and elections. Yeah; that happened fast. Today, the big dogs of the pet industry duke it out for pet startups’ bones, and news about the voting machine business is sure to elicit some groans. There’s a lot going out there. Don’t forget to have a great weekend.

Pet startup smackdown leaves vital question unanswered: Who will let the dogs out?

America spends about $70B annually on food, supplies, vet visits, and other pet services — up from around $40B a decade ago. But even with so many dollars dropped on Fido and Fluffy, there’s no clear winner in the Pet Wars.

How much is that doggy biz in the window?

As Recode reports, the dog walking startup Wag is looking for a buyer. Despite having raised $300m in backing from SoftBank — the VC of WeWork, erm, fame — Wag has failed to dominate the market and has come under fire for disasters like runaways and doggy-doo financial performance. Woof.

Wag is currently in talks with Petco, which stands to gain a stronger digital presence and connect with younger pet owners should a deal go through.

Naturally, Petco isn’t the only old-guard dog trying to get in on the digital game. Its immediate rival, PetSmart, acquired Chewy, an online pet product supplier, for $3.35B in 2017. 

This shoulda been a walk in the dog park…

… but in truth, it’s been a bumpy ride. Any startup trying to create an on-demand model faces big challenges. And even as Wag was able to vet and train its walkers, there’s no way to predict how a dog will react to strangers.

Then there’s the business side of things. There have been management shake-ups and several rounds of layoffs. Wag later opened a call center in the Philippines, which did not win over customers who assumed they’d speak to someone local when the dogsh*t hit the fan.

And that ain’t all

Adding to Wag’s woes, California recently passed a law that will require companies to provide benefits to contract workers — like dog walkers. This hasn’t been a boon to the Wag sales process.

Meanwhile, Petco and PetSmart were both bought out by private equity firms, proving there’s truly no single top dog.

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We asked for pizza innovation. You delivered. Now let’s eat already.

Last week, we wrote about America’s lack of pizza innovation, particularly at Pizza Hut. Then we asked you for ideas about what the pizza biz can do to cook up something innovative (perhaps Pizza Hut will listen… ).

Reader Jacob said his parents once sat next to a Pizza Hut executive on a plane and explained how they made a taco pizza for their kids. 

“Soon afterwards,” Jacob wrote, “Pizza Hut started offering a taco pizza.”   

Inspired? So are we. But that’s just the first slice…

Here are the ideas we loved most:

  • Jalapeño popper-stuffed crust 
  • Keto crust
  • Green tomato sauce 
  • Pizza roll-ups in multiple flavors (Greek, Hawaiian, vegetarian, etc.) 
  • Spiced dough (spices on the bottom of the ’za instead of the crust)
  • A cannabis-infused pizza that “both creates and solves the munchies in each exquisite cheesy bite”
  • A cheese-stuffed entire pizza (that’s right: cheese sandwiched between layers of dough throughout the entire pie)
  • Chef collaborations (“like designers do with clothes”) 
  • And this gem: “An environmentally friendly process of wine grape flour infused into the crust to bring wine-flavored crust to the pizza. A Chardonnay Hawaiian pizza, a Merlot pepperoni and sausage  pizza and so many other possible combinations all while saving the planet”
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The biggest business in voting machine industry is busted

It’s election season. You know what that means: thousands of lost votes, missing paper records, and an air of general confusion. 

Sometimes it’s hard not to wonder: “Who the hell makes these things?”

That dubious distinction belongs, primarily, to a company called ES&S, the largest voting machine company in the country. ES&S commands about 50% market share in the voting machine biz.

But, as ProPublica reports, ES&S didn’t become the biggest ballot business by accident…

ES&S strong-arms customers, rivals, and politicians alike

How, exactly? It’s not pretty:

  • It locks customers into contracts by suing them when they try to switch to other voting machine companies (like it did in Cook County, Illinois, in 2018 — the county ultimately used ES&S machines against its wishes). 
  • It donates money to politicians who prevent their jurisdictions from switching to cheaper/better options (like it did in Louisiana, where the governor kept the state in a more expensive ES&S contract at the last minute after years of receiving donations from an ES&S lobbyist).
  • It stifles competition by suing competitors (like it did this year when it sued competitors for bidding on a project in Los Angeles) and suing — or threatening to sue — activists and nonprofits who demand reform.

And, as election season starts, things don’t seem likely to get much better: 

The voting machine biz is relatively small — around $300m in annual revenue — and very niche. 

So, since it often takes more than $1m to get certified as a voting machine manufacturer — and since ES&S routinely sues competitors — innovative new businesses are unlikely to get in the biz.

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This week’s weirdest ways to spend money

Spending $50 for a giraffe costume doesn’t exactly make financial sense (come on, though… sometimes it’s worth it).

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to strange spending. Here are some of the bizarre buys we stumbled across this week:

  • Macallan Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old 1926, $1.9m: A rare bottle of this hoity-toity hooch recently sold for $1.9m, outpouring previous records to become the most expensive spirit ever sold at auction.
  • Kurt Cobain’s dirty cardigan, $334k: A cigarette-burned sweater worn by the Nirvana frontman during his MTV “Unplugged” performance went for top dollar in a recent sale.
  • A law degree that doesn’t let you practice law, $35.6k: Some online schools offer an Executive Juris Doctor (EJD) degree. But, as BuzzFeed reports, recipients can’t become attorneys. The only thing worse than student loans? Student loans for fake degrees.
  • Christie’s “Princie” diamond, $39.3m: A massive, 34.65 carat pink diamond called “the Princie” recently sold for $39.3m to a member of the Qatari royal family — despite ongoing controversy about whether the diamond was stolen.
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SPONSORED

Has a tech company (of all things) finally solved the hardest part of losing weight? 

You know what they say, “the hard part isn’t losing it, the hard part is keeping it off.” 

But Noom, a new wellness app designed by behavioral psychologists, appears to be changing that. They take a hybrid approach to your health, blending the best parts of artificial intelligence (like personalized nutrition breakdowns and biometric tracking) with the empathy and accountability of real people. 

And folks… it’s actually working. 

The result is a process that helps you change your behavior, not just your diet — and that’s the recipe for sustainable weight loss

Take their 30-second quiz and get yourself a plan (and the accountabili-buddy that comes with it). In just 10 minutes a day, you’ll be smooth sailing towards salad-snacking. 

Take the quiz
What Else…

🎮 The rise of the NERDs. Over the past few months, investment companies have launched a number of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) focused specifically on esports and gaming. Their stock tickers are amazing: NERD, ESPO, GAMR, VIDG, and HERO.

🚢 The late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s legacy is still alive… through sunken WWII ships. Allen’s research team discovered a sunken destroyer 20k feet underwater in the Philippine Sea, the deepest any shipwreck has ever been found.

🚗 A new carmaker accelerates into the fast lane. Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot merged in a $48B deal that will make the combined company the 4th-largest carmaker on the planet.

🚭 This week, Juul lost its sparkle. Earlier this week, the troubled vape-maker announced 500 job cuts — around 10-15% of its workforce. Then, Big Cig giant Altria wrote down its investment in Juul by $4.5B, bumping Juul’s presumed valuation down from $38B to just $24B.

Shower Thoughts
  1. Because temperature is dictated by the speed at which molecules vibrate, when you put ice in a drink, you are technically adding slow.
  2. If you pee in your dream and actually wet the bed, that’s technically a dream come true.
  3. As an adult, sometimes being uninvited from events is more exciting than being invited to them.
  4. When someone asks you “which way to the beach?” you can literally point in any direction and be correct.
  5. “Siri, Google Alexa” is a complete sentence.
  6. via Reddit

    PLUS SOME EXTRA READER THOUGHTS…

  • “An actor’s job is to act like they’re not doing their job.” –Tom
  • “Arms for your chairs are just chairs for your arms.” –Scott
  • “We buy plastic trash bags to put plastic trash into.” –Anthony

Have your own Shower Thought? Submit it here. Don’t keep Bobby waiting.

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