Unbranding is the new branding


May 21, 2020

May 21, 2020
The Hustle
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Tulsa ❤️ Tesla. Oklahoma city and Austin, Texas are the front-runners to be the home of Tesla’s new US factory. Tulsa is flirting with Elon Musk by… painting its 75-foot-tall Golden Driller statue to look just like him. Get a load of this dispatch from Tulsa’s mayor:

Thanks to Mayor Bynum for blessing our timelines with an image we will never unsee.

Corporate Catfish?

The newest chain store trend: Going indie

There is no delicate way to put this: The pizza joint that just opened around the block is actually a Chuck E. Cheese

A mysterious new restaurant called Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings has been popping up on delivery apps across the US since April, and the food it serves is… eerily similar to the dishes at your 8th birthday party. 

Over the last couple of weeks, customers uncovered the trickery. Pasqually’s, it turns out, is Chuck E.’s virtual kitchen. It cooks out of Chuck E. Cheese’s regular storefront, shares the same ownership, but it lists the “Pasqually’s” name on delivery services to seem… indie. 

Strangely, we can’t rat on just Chuck for this: Applebee’s has also launched its own set of stores called “Neighborhood Wings,” which sell Applebee’s wings in higher quantities — with, er, a small business flair. 

Buying local? Chain stores want in

In this era of corporate consolidation, consumers want to support small businesses. That poses a problem for giant companies: They can do a lot, but they can’t shrink down to become a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop. 

So they’re splitting the difference. Some companies are launching “unbranded” corporate stores that just seem indie. 

This is not exactly cutting-edge strategy: In the UK, Waterstones — a £400m business — once got caught opening up quaint, one-off bookstores with names like “Southwold Books” and “Stockbridge Books.”

You’d only know the quaint shop’s behemoth status from a handwritten sign in the window: “Southwold Books is the trading name of Waterstones Booksellers Ltd.”

Unbranding is the new branding

Barnes & Noble has dominated the unbranded game for years. Your favorite upstart college bookstore? Probably a B&N. 

Harvard and MIT’s legendary The Coop is brought to you by the chain. Even the Moravian Book Shop — the oldest bookstore in the US — is a B&N property. 

Not to be outdone, Starbucks built a series of covert coffee shops — dubbed “Stealth Starbucks” — to test out new products. 

I regret to inform you that Roy Street Coffee and Tea was not a neighborhood store. It was a piece of Starbucks’ multibillion-dollar empire (but the coffee behemoth shut Roy down last year).

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TLDR: 10 Quick Takes to Catch You Up

New today: Google and Apple’s contact-tracing software goes public, Target sees a huge wave of pandemic shopping, and Reply Guys may lose ground on Twitter.

1️⃣ Apple and Google launched their coronavirus contact-tracing software, and 3 US states have committed to using the technology in their apps.

2️⃣ The US House of Representatives will begin a 45-day period of remote voting — the 1st in the history of Congress.

3️⃣ Facebook will limit the capacity of its offices to 25% and require temperature checks when it brings people back to work, starting in July.

4️⃣ Target’s online sales grew by 141% last quarter, riding a huge wave of pandemic shopping.

5️⃣ Tesla dropped its lawsuit against California’s Alameda County over the reopening of its factory in Fremont.

6️⃣ DoorDash will let customers share their location data with restaurants for faster pickups.

7️⃣ Twitter is testing a new feature that lets users limit who can reply to their tweets — sorry, Reply Guys.

8️⃣ Signal, the secure messaging app, has rolled out PINs that will make it easier to move data across devices.

9️⃣ Aurora Cannabis of Canada entered the US market by acquiring the CBD brand Reliva in an all-stock deal for $40m.

🔟 The folk singer Laura Marling sold out what Variety called the first big geo-blocked concert of the year, with another on the way (and her quarantine-era album, Song for Our Daughter, is recommended listening). 

Like this new section? Let us know by hitting the smileys at the bottom of this email.

In This Economy?!

The case for starting a business in a pandemic economy

If a friend tells you they’ve got the entrepreneurial itch, you might be tempted to dismiss them. Right now? 

Yes. This week, we’ve seen a small wave of stories exploring the question of whether it’s a good idea to start a business in this economic climate. Their answers might surprise you. Here’s a closer look at the arguments.

The case for it

You might find yourself in good company. Axios reported that the startup accelerator Y Combinator is seeing a boomlet in applications for its summer program — a rise of 15-20%.

The New York Times said there have been 500k applications for an employer identification number in about the last 2 months — down 20% from last year, but not flatlined.

Talent is everywhere. Layoffs.fyi says 55k+ startup workers have been laid off since mid-March. Airbnb and Uber launched searchable databases of their laid-off employees to help them find new opportunities.

Is there really such a thing as a good time? At Marker, David Sax noted that many of today’s most successful companies were born in the fires of the Great Recession. Consumer habits are changing, presenting new opportunities for the crafty entrepreneur.

Why you might want to slow your roll

It’s trickier to get capital. Unless you have family or friends who can bankroll your business — as one of Sax’s friends did — you may have to get ready for VC meetings by Zoom.

Your idea might not be that original. As the Times’s Erin Griffith and Taylor Lorenz noted this week: For all its lofty talk of changing the world, Silicon Valley has a tendency to finance and build what it knows — in the case of the buzzy, invite-only Clubhouse app, that’s social networks.

If you’ve got the itch to start something yourself, we can help you scratch it. Our Ideation Bootcamp starts on June 8 — sign up today, and use the code “hustle100” for $100 off.

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Adventures in Branding

Logomania is coming for your face masks

It seems we’ll be covering our ugly mugs for the foreseeable future, so why wouldn’t companies look to slap their brand across your face?

It’s valuable real estate

To date, 60k Etsy sellers have sold a collective 12m masks, bringing in $133m. With a COVID-19 vaccine still far away, it’s likely masks will become as quotidien as socks and undies. 

And just as we assume people have more than one pair of those, it’s likely they eventually will amass a wardrobe of masks, making face coverings a legit revenue source.

The CEO from one licensed merch retailer estimates that Americans will snap up as many as 5B masks during the first 12 months of the pandemic. 

And mask licensing deals are a big get

Disney sells face coverings featuring the likes of Elsa and Anna, Mickey Mouse, and Baby Yoda.

Trevco’s subscription-based MaskClub will send you a mask a month featuring such licensed likenesses as Elmo, Hello Kitty, and the poop emoji. That is, it would have — before its inventory sold out.

Kim Kardashian West’s lingerie line sold out its stock of seamless, skin-tone masks within hours. Keep up with this, bitches.

Businesses gotta put their money… where their mouth is

But it’d be a bad lewk to profit from items deemed so essential. That’s why many companies are donating some or all of their mask-sale proceeds to charity. 

Disney, for one, will donate up to $1m from mask sales to the nonprofit MedShare, which delivers medical supplies to vulnerable communities.

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The Hustle Says

Want live business feedback from ‘The Warren Buffet of the Internet’? Join Andrew Wilkinson of Tiny Capital live today at 12pm PT (3pm ET). He’s slingin’ advice for business builders and doing a live Q&A. 

Want to level up your #quarantinis? Try using one (or lots) of these insanely delicious cocktail syrups from Liber & Co.

Want to start investing? Here are the 10 best stocks for new investors from an investing group that’s survived the dot com bubble and the Great Recession.*

*This is a sponsored post.

The No-Brevity Zone

Earnings calls have become a mouthful

Most companies just wrapped up their quarterly earnings calls, and except for big companies like Amazon or Walmart, head honchos had to cushion some pretty rough numbers.

But if you found yourself dozing off listening to the Q&A portion, you probably weren’t alone: Earnings calls this quarter were longer than ever. 

Where’s the CliffsNotes version?

According to a Bloomberg analysis of 29 companies on the Dow, the calls were about 10 minutes longer than usual. On the high end, Johnson & Johnson went on for 1 hour and 43 minutes — about 26 minutes above the average. 

Outside of the Dow, an earnings call for manufacturing company Emerson Electric dragged on for 2 hours and 45 minutes — so long that one analyst admitted he had to duck out because he was “fixing myself some dinner.”

Even CEOs just need someone to talk to 

Execs are apparently feeling chattier than ever, but some of their comments probably should’ve stayed in the drafts. 

Elon Musk made headlines for railing against “fascist” lockdown measures, but other CEOs were also feeling loose-lipped.

In a presentation that featured galloping unicorns, SoftBank head Masayoshi Son acknowledged his string of bad investments but compared himself to Jesus Christ: He, like the Christian prophet, felt his choices were misunderstood.

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Snippets

🏃 The walking meeting has a new rival: Americans are trying out walking cocktail parties

👄 Off to the dentist this summer? To cut down on germs, expect to swish some hydrogen peroxide around in your mouth before you enter.

⛺️ Some instructions from Ikea that you won’t hate: Directions for building indoor forts

🤔 Has the mystery of who “hacked” Houseparty been solved?

Want snippets like these in your browser? Download our Chrome extension here.

Chris Davis founded Loot Crate and took it from $0 to $170M in 4 years… Then, they went bankrupt. How did “Inc’s fastest growing DTC startup” fail so fast? What would they do differently? And what are they doing now?

🎧 Listen to Exit Strategy here: Apple / Spotify / Castro 🎧

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