TV… but with QR codes


November 4, 2019

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The Hustle Daily Email

Happy Monday, people. Whether you slept in this morning or got up early to, umm, build a birdhouse or something… we hope you all enjoyed that extra hour of sweet, sweet daylight savings sleep. Today, we’re thinking about the future of TV shopping and the high-flying world of aviation startups, which shows no signs of stopping.

NBC launches e-commerce concept optimized for a multi-screen generation

NBCUniversal has been slipping high-tech advertisements into some shows. This system is in its infancy, but execs are excited by the results so far. Critics, however, say it’s a bad reboot nobody asked for.

Wait, is this ‘Roseanne’?

No, it’s called ShoppableTV. QR codes pop up during certain shows — usually unscripted programming like sporting events and talk shows. Viewers use their phones to scan the code, which pulls up an e-commerce site.

So far ShoppableTV has been used to hawk Lumi keyboards during “Songland,” Lacoste’s Novak Djokovic Collection during the French Open tennis tournament, the cycling app Zwift during the Tour de France bike race, and select Walmart merchandise during the “Today” show. 

So where does the reboot come in?

Marketers have been trying to tap into TV’s potential for direct sales since at least 1944, when Macy’s introduced Macy’s Teleshopping. The concept has since re-emerged several times — and it’s always tanked. Analysts say the reason is simple: People just want to veg out when they tune in.

But NBC thinks now is the time to make it work. Modern consumers have an “all-screen” mentality — they crave a cohesive experience between multiple devices. Many already interact with shoppable posts on Instagram and Facebook. And NBC boasts its conversion rate — the number of website visitors who make a purchase — is 30% higher than that of traditional e-commerce sites.

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The most valuable booze biz in the world makes a liquor that tastes like… ethanol? 

China’s Kweichow Moutai Co. produces a version of baijiu — a traditional Chinese liquor made from grains fermented in pits — that retails for nearly $400 a bottle.

The company, whose stock has risen 97% this year, is now valued at $210B. But the strangest part? Most consumers say they don’t even like the taste of the fiery spirit.

A market researcher from Shanghai told The Wall Street Journal that famous Moutai hooch tastes “very much like ethanol.”

So, why do people suffer through the fiery taste?

It is purely based on reputation. 

Moutai has long been seen as a luxury product favored by China’s wealthiest and most powerful Communist party leaders. So, as China’s wealth has increased, more and more people have begun drinking Moutai. 

In some cases, Chinese businesspeople will treat their clients to Moutai — only to wash their mouths out with water afterwards to rid themselves of the nasty aftertaste (of course, not everyone dislikes the booze).

And Kweichow Moutai has leaned in to its new luxury reputation

Kweichow Moutai has kept supplies of its liquor limited to cement its air of exclusivity. The company tells retailers to sell the booze for $213 per half liter — but many sellers charge closer to $400.

And as the spirit’s value has soared, so has the prevalence of entrepreneurs — both legitimate and illegitimate — trying to profit from it…

Investors pour money into mutual funds focused on Kweichow Moutai. Speculators stockpile the liquor in the hopes of reselling it at a profit down the road. Scalpers line up to buy Moutai from Costco members and flip it. Counterfeiters brew up fake Moutai and try to sell it as the real thing.

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As fires rage across California, ‘disaster capitalists’ double down on advertising

In the past few weeks, fires near San Francisco and Los Angeles have plunged parts of California into a state of chaos and disaster. 

The fires forced several hundred thousand people from their homes and left several million people without power.

But, despite the fact that many Californians didn’t have access to power or water (much less Wi-Fi), disaster-preneurs took advantage of the smoke to start hawking everything from high-end air purifiers to solar panels.

First came the smoke… 

Then came the smoke and mirrors. 

Molekule — which makes an air purifier that The New York Times’ Wirecutter called “the worst air purifier” it ever reviewed — began running geo-targeted advertisements for its air purifiers that showed images of wildfires.

After the ad campaign, a Molekule co-founder told The Verge: “It’s obvious we didn’t get it right… We apologize to anyone who found it offensive or exploitative.”

And Molekule wasn’t the only company to blow smoke 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk — who’s gotten in trouble for thoughtless tweets before — advertised a wildfire-specific discount on Tesla’s Solar+Powerwall on Twitter.

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Small business of the week: The ultimate calculator side hustle

Ten years ago, Justin Supak, 39, stumbled across something silly on eBay: used graphing calculators for sale. He happened to own two calculators from his college days at Texas A&M and had no idea they might be worth something. “I just tested it to see if you could actually sell them,” Supak says. “I listed the two on eBay and they sold. So I was like, ‘OK let’s see if we can get more.’”  

Supak has now run SellYourCalculators.com for 10 years as a side business to his work as an IT service desk analyst. His platform provides an easy way for people to sell calculators, which he then sells at a profit. 

After tinkering to build a user-friendly application for customers to sell him their calculators, negotiating shipping deals with the post office, and figuring out how to fix decent calculators into top shape, Supak makes $100k a year in profit while working 25 hours a week. His goal is to eventually give the business to his parents for them to make money in retirement. 

But the work is not for the faint of heart. Supak has dealt with scammers, and the calculator market has seen better days. It’s all part of the challenge for Supak, who is considering diversifying to sell used phones or iPads. 

“What am I going to do at night? Just watch TV?” he asks. “If I can make an extra 100 bucks or 50 bucks, why not do that?” 

Stats at a glance:

  • Founder: Justin Supak
  • Employees: 1
  • Years in business: 10 
  • Cost to launch: $20k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $50k 
  • Current annual revenue: $350k 

Want your story featured? Fill out our Small Business survey. See anonymized financials of 500+ companies by subscribing to Trends.

What Else…

🏃 Google’s gonna start counting its steps. At the end of last week, Google announced plans to buy Fitbit for $2.1B. The deal positions the search giant, which already sells smartphones, tablets, and smart speakers, to compete with hardcore hardware makers like Apple.

Flight startups are taking off. EHang, a “Chinese autonomous air mobility company,” filed for a $100m IPO in yet another sign that the flying taxi market is poised to take off. Meanwhile, an avionics startup called Cirrus recently showed off its self-landing plane.

🍕 Domino’s put WHAT on a pizza? Domino’s recently unveiled a new type of pizza topped with bubble tea bubbles — but, unfortunately for American pizza parties, it’s available only in Taiwan. For more pizza innovation inspiration, check out our recent story on the plight of Pizza Hut.

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