Wait… the rideshare company is NOT the bad guy?


May 21, 2019

Today, egg substitutes are frying and endangered pangolins are dying, but first…
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Taxi industry insiders — not Uber — created New York City’s cab-tastrophe

Since the New York City taxi medallion market crashed in 2014, 950 cab drivers have declared bankruptcy, causing criticism of Uber and Lyft. 

But, a damning report from The New York Times reveals that ridesharing companies weren’t responsible for New York’s cab crash — instead, it was industry insiders who systematically drove up the price of medallions.

A bubble in the medallion market

New York City created taxi medallions in 1937 to cap the number of taxis, creating a market where medallions were exchanged like stocks.

But between 2002 and 2014, brokers, lawyers, fleet owners, and debt collectors drove up medallion prices to increase profits.

Although medallion prices quintupled from $200k to more than $1m, cab drivers’ salaries stayed the same, so lenders offered drivers predatory loans to buy medallions.

“I don’t think I could concoct a more predatory scheme if I tried,” Roger Bertling, an expert on predatory lending from Harvard, told the NYT. “This was modern-day indentured servitude.”

Downfall of the drivers

Lending companies targeted low-income immigrants who didn’t understand the terms, suckering cab drivers making $30k into $1.7m loans. Some drivers — who often spent half their income paying off these loans — took their own lives.

Yet the “taxi tycoons” who sold them their medallions made enough money to buy yachts or hire Nicki Minaj to perform at a kid’s party. 

So, how did manipulative medallion merchants avoid scrutiny? 

Easy — they directed all the blame at Uber and Lyft, whose negative reputations made them easy targets.

Since Uber arrived in New York in 2011, cab revenues have fallen 10% due to the new competition — but medallion prices have lost more than 90% of their value.

Last year, New York City officials capped the number of rideshares allowed in the city in an apparent effort to protect cab drivers. 

But behind the scenes, city officials helped create the medallion mayhem by advertising medallion sales — which earned $855m for the city under mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio — and then turning a blind eye to extortionate lending practices as they screwed over drivers.

Cabbies should be crabby
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Startups are scrambling to crack the formula for the perfect egg substitute

As rising stars Impossible and Beyond burgers crush the plant-based meat game, others have set sights on the next big thing: egg alternatives. Fueled by a similar mix of motivations — animal welfare, environment, health — the alt-egg market is beginning to boil.

Startups including VeganEgg, Spero and Just Inc. are getting creative with chicken-friendly ingredients like soy powder, pumpkin seeds, algae, and mung beans (hope you’re enjoying your breakfast, btw). 

But demand for old fashioned eggs is still fryin’ high

Egg whites are a pretty bomb source of lean protein, and changing consumer tastes is always tough — especially when you’re trying to market processed products as a healthier alternative to natural ones. 

Also there’s the gag reflex that tends to kick in while watching clear liquid “eggs” pour out of a carton.

In the meantime, there’s a market for sneaky ingredient swap-outs 

SF-based startup Clara Foods has raised $20m for its super-soluble DNA-coded protein. Its first flavorless egg protein product will hatch in 2020 for use in the manufacturing of drinks and baked goods. 

Otherwise, the $7B market for traditional eggs will stay strong until we find a legit substitute for replicating the scrambles and sammies we all know and love.

» Omelet you finish
today in biz-tory

Microsoft announced the release of Xbox One

On this very day in 2013, Microsoft announced the release of its 8th-generation home video game console — the 3rd console in the Xbox family, and everyone’s 2nd favorite gaming system behind the PS4. The name “Xbox One” represents the brand’s first foray into an “all-in-one entertainment system”… Get it?… Xbox ONE. We’re talking games, content streaming, e-commerce — heck even instant messaging, all in one box. The “one” strategy paid off, with an estimated 40m units sold in its lifetime.

It’s also important to note that May 21, 2011, was a date long-feared to be the end of times. Correlation between the Genesis prediction and the wildly popular gaming console? Not at all, but super psyched that the world didn’t end before we had the opportunity to play Halo 5.

In Hong Kong, multiple tons of pangolin scales mysteriously disappeared

Pangolins, whose scales are prized for their supposed medicinal value, are the world’s most trafficked mammal (if you’re trying to remember WTF a pangolin looks like, it’s the Pokémon “Sandshrew”).

But despite a ban on the trade of pangolin scales — which can sell for as much as $3k per kilogram on the black market — that underground business is thriving, according to recent trade reports.

A badly executed ban

After pangolins were identified as the most-trafficked animal in the Asian wildlife black market in 2014 (accounting for as much as 20% of all wildlife trade), the exchange of pangolin scales was formally banned. Now, anyone who owns scales must have a permit.

But this week, trade authorities in Hong Kong (which is the gateway to the massive Chinese market) identified a worrisome permit discrepancy. 

The scales don’t add up

Hong Kong authorities know that 14.2 metric tons of pangolin scales were imported in the 2 years prior to the trade ban, but only one owner has applied for the required permit, for 350 kg worth of scales.

That means that the remaining 14 tons of scales, which could theoretically have been monitored, likely slid right back into the black market.

But these 14 tons of scales in Hong Kong are just the tip of the iceberg: In the first 5 months of this year, authorities across Asia have confiscated 30 metric tons of smuggled scales — signaling that regulation has done little to reduce the massive scale of the global pangolin market.

» Pangolin at the disco

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop goes after the guys

You probably know Paltrow’s $250M wellness empire for its designer fashion lines, luxe events, wellness supplements and — naturally — jade vaginal eggs. 

But now, the historically female-focused Goop is oozing into the dude market with help from its new Goopfellas podcast. 

Goop for guys

Show hosts Seamus Mullen (chef) and Will Cole (functional medicine advocate) will dig into holistic health transformations by speaking with celebs and wellness pundits.

The podcast aims to shed light on misdiagnosis and inspire men to take active and preventive care of themselves (guys — not sure who needs to hear this, but you’re way overdue for a dentist appointment).

Real men drink keto butter coffee

Startups like Ro, Direct Vision and (unicorn) HIMs have recently emerged in the $4.2 trillion (yep, with a ‘t’) wellness industry to offer a range of holistic health and wellness services for men… and Goop wants a scoop.  

Paltrow’s platform is progressing in spite of widespread criticism of Goop’s promotion of dubious (and potentially dangerous) practices. 

The lifestyle brand also plans to launch a newsletter and a men’s clothing line.

» Gooper troopers
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