The Marlboro Man’s shilling vaccines now
The Hustle

The Marlboro Man’s shilling vaccines now

April 2, 2020

If you own a small business, you’re probably facing a ton of financial uncertainty right now. Trung Phan — who’s joining our Trends team officially on Monday — put together a free guide with everything small business owners should know about the government’s coronavirus relief bill. It’s got details on programs that can help your company, eligibility requirements, links to application forms, and other resources. All in one tidy package. Check it out here.

Smoke ‘Em If Ya Got ‘Em

Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man are stubbing out their smokes… to find a corona-cure

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: The cure to COVID-19 could come from the same stuff that fills up a Camel cigarette.

Yes, we’re serious (and no… we haven’t been smoking anything).

British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris — the world’s 2 largest tobacco giants — have begun developing coronavirus vaccines out of tobacco leaves.

It may sound ironic… 

Especially because early studies link smoking and vaping with an increased risk of severe coronavirus infection. But units of BAT and Philip Morris actually have experience in biopharma tech. 

Here’s what they’re working on:

  • Kentucky BioProcessing, owned by BAT, cloned part of COVID-19’s genetic sequence to create antigens (substances that jump-start the body’s immune response to the virus), and now it’s inserting them into tobacco plants so they can be used to create a vaccine.
  • Medicago, part-owned by Philip Morris, is growing virus-like particles in crops related to tobacco to create its own plant-based vaccine.

According to BAT, using tobacco could enable vaccine production in about 6 weeks — far less time than conventional methods, which take months.

But wait… why do cig-makers have biopharma divisions again?

Hint: It’s not just because Uncle Phil Morris is turning over a new tobacco leaf and focusing on public health…

Instead, Tobacco Titans have been buying biopharma companies since the start of the vaping boom in the early 2010s. Vape nation boomed from 7m people in 2011 to 41m in 2018, but the Trump administration cracked down this year on flavored pods.

BAT bought Kentucky BioProcessing in 2014 not to develop drugs, but for smoking alternatives. Now Big Cig’s biopharma arms are taking a break to fight the pandemic.

And it ain’t the first time they’ve swapped cigs for safety masks 

In 2014 — the year it was acquired by BAT — Kentucky BioProcessing was involved in developing a drug called ZMapp that used tobacco leaves to fight the ebola virus.

ZMapp never made it to the market. But this time, BAT hopes its COVID-19 cure will make more of an impact. 

BAT is already running pre-clinical trials and says it could produce 1-3m doses per week by June (if it gets approval); Philip Morris hopes to begin human trials this summer.

Tweet of the day

This week, we asked you to show us your best Zoom backgrounds. We see you, #ZoomKing!

We’ll Do It Live

Network news is thriving, but live TV ain’t what it used to be

Getting ready for your close-up looks a little different these days.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing network TV stars to trade in high-tech studios and klieg lights for… well, basements and bathtubs.

The show must go on…

…but it can be hard to keep the camera focused. It’s only a matter of time before we get a repeat of one of the funniest live-TV moments in recent memory.

Meantime, on-air personalities are resorting to all sorts of DIY defense tactics to keep up appearances:

  • One CNBC correspondent turned a guest room into a makeshift TV studio — with a sign that tells the kids when it’s safe to enter.
  • The Fox News anchor Dana Perino distracted her dog with a jar of PB.

But sometimes, TVFH goes off script

Last weekend, another Fox News anchor — Janine Pirro — went live with her first from-home broadcast. Her on-camera mannerisms were so weird that the internet speculated she’d had a few too many before the cameras started rolling.

Pirro and the network blamed technical difficulties — and Pirro herself told one critic to “Keep hating. U wear it well.”

Viewers don’t seem to mind a little static

Fox News just reported its biggest ratings quarter ever. 

ABC’s “World News Tonight” was the top-rated show in the US 3 out of 4 weeks in March, averaging ~11m viewers a night. And CNN — whose anchor Chris Cuomo is dealing with  a COVID-19 diagnosis himself — doubled its March viewership from last year.

Guess we can’t watch Netflix 24/7, right? On second thought… don’t answer that.


Secfi has raised more than half a billion to help you cash in on your equity early

Your contract says you have tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in stock options with your name on them. Cha-ching!

… it also says you can’t cash ‘em in for years. Womp womp.

Years? That’s a loooong time to wait. 

Fortunately, now you don’t have to with Secfi. They’ve raised $550M in financial support to help equity-laden employees get money now, not later.

It’s your money, so use it when you want it

(Kinda makes sense, when you put it that way.)

Secfi’s equity financing allows you to advance anywhere from 25-50% of your equity value right now — not in months or years — while their options financing makes it simple to exercise your stocks and pay Secfi back upon IPO or liquidity event when you have the money to do so. 

But why stop there? Secfi knows the murky waters of equity are often hard to navigate, which is why they also offer assistance for everything else you could need as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed startup employee. 

From personal advisors and tools to tax planning to financing, Secfi will guide you to a more secure financial future (and one you don’t have to wait half a decade to enjoy). 

Already drooling over the possibilities? Then check out Secfi and see what they can do to maximize your money. 

Want, not wait →
Grooms Go Zoom

Coronavirus caused chaos for weddings. Some couples are tying the knot anyway.

We are all Andre Fuller.

A few days before his recent wedding, the Missouri man had never heard of a certain (suddenly surging) video conferencing tool.

“I thought that Zoom was a song by Lionel Richie,” Fuller told KMOV (it’s by The Commodores, so he’s basically right). “I Googled it and I looked it up. This is Zoom, OK.”

Fuller’s pastor officiated his ceremony virtually, so now, he’ll probably never forget the Zoom we’ve grown used to. The coronavirus pandemic may have thrown the wedding industry’s bouquet out the window, but Fuller definitely isn’t alone.

They’re bucking the wedding-biz breakup

The $54B industry is hurting big time thanks to the rise of social distancing. Last year, the average big day attracted 125 guests — definitely a no-no at this point. 

One expert estimated that 57% of couples are either canceling, trying to punt until later this year, or shooting for 2021. (Save the date cards are now “change the date” cards, natch.)

But some people are saying their vows now — with a little quick thinking and socially distant help. As CityLab discovered:

  • One North Carolina couple got hitched at a jail (no judges left at the nearest courthouse).
  • A couple in Israel staged their ceremony in a courtyard, with guests looking on from balconies above.

Companies are still eyeing a slice of the wedding cake, too.

‘I do’ is now ‘I Zoom’

The online wedding planners at Wedfuly coupled up with Zoom to offer virtual ceremonies. Wedfuly says it will run the whole show — including “muting, unmuting and cueing guests to cheer and clap.”

Brides magazine said the first Wedfuly/Zoom ceremony went down last Saturday. The bride walked down the aisle with a cardboard cutout of the officiant — her dad.

The Hustle Says

Forget trendy dog outfits, cute clothes for your drink are now the “it” thing. It may be warming up outside, but that just means that your canned beverage needs a coat. Dress your drink in style with these trendy beer puffer jackets from UncommonGoods. 

How do you know when an idea is worth $2B? Udemy Co-Founder Gagan Biyani wants to teach you. Reserve your spot at today’s Trends lecture, Ideating 101, to learn from him. (April 2 @ 12pm ET)

Life’s so rich – that’s Scott Galloway’s motto. Check out the Prof G Show, the business podcast from bestselling author, NYU Stern Professor, and entrepreneur Prof Galloway for his straight-shooting takes on today’s winner-take-all economy.

*This is a sponsored post.

When Success Stings

In the corona-conomy, it’s not always good to be a winner

It’s obviously bad for business when demand dries up — just ask the bars, caterers, barbershops, and thousands of other businesses that have been forced to close their doors.

But businesses seeing spikes in demand are finding that the surge doesn’t necessarily mean higher profits.

During a pandemic, success can be expensive

Delivery companies, online retailers, and social-media companies are all seeing increasing demand — but also lower margins and rising costs:

Shipping companies like Fedex and UPS saw a 7.2% increase in low-margin residential deliveries, but a 3% decrease in profitable B2B deliveries through the first 3 weeks of March, with even sharper declines in the forecast. They may have to lay off workers.

Twitter’s daily usage has increased 23% this year, but ad revenue declined 20% as advertisers started to cut their budgets.

Zoom added more users in the first 3 months of this year (2.2m) than it did all of last year (1.9m), but privacy concerns have sparked widespread criticism.

Target saw sales of low-margin products like toilet paper increase, while sales of high-margin products flatlined. Target’s sales rose 20% in March, but the company expects its gross margin to fall through the quarter.

Big newspapers like The Boston Globe saw traffic spike up to 140%, but expect ad revenue to drop. Local newspapers had it worse: Gannett’s digital subscriptions increased 72% in a week… but its stock is down 80% since February.


📉 A depressing tally from The New York Times: In the last few weeks, 50+ startups have laid off or furloughed ~6k workers.

⏳ The layoffs are causing outages and delays in an important corner of the web: online systems for unemployment benefits.

🍃 Kabbage cuts off the leaves: The SoftBank-backed lender just shut off loans to its small-business clients.

🍓”You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.” The pandemic puts essential farm workers at risk.

🕺Now for some better news. Jack Black’s dance moves in his TikTok debut were outstanding.

🐐And a final chaser: A town in Wales is on lockdown. Mountain goats took over the streets, and the photos were priceless.

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