Will businesses keep their corona relief money?

May 19, 2020

May 19, 2020
The Hustle

Memorial Day is going to look a lot different this year. The holiday honors members of the armed services who died while serving. Next Monday, national cemeteries will be open, but many parades and big events have been canceled.

We’d like to know: How are your plans to memorialize a friend or loved one changing this year? Fill out this short survey to share your story.

Corona Cash

Another pandemic trend to watch: How many businesses return their corona relief money

Shake Shack was a trendsetter — and not just for bougie burgers.

Last month, the fast casual chain returned $10m it received under the Paycheck Protection Program, the government’s $650B+ coronavirus relief fund for small businesses. 

It sent back the money to put out the PR grease fire that erupted after people learned that the Shack had nabbed the highly sought after corona cash. Instead of, y’know, small businesses.

Other prominent restaurant chains — like the sandwich slingers at Potbelly ($10m) and the beef barons of Ruth’s Chris Steak House ($20m) — gave back their PPP money, too. 

Now others are deciding whether they’ll do the same

The government gave companies a Monday deadline to return the money without facing consequences (like government audits). 

Last week, it said firms that took loans of less than $2m would be in the clear — but if your firm took more than that, you might have to sweat it out under Uncle Sam’s microscope.

Politico reported that a wave of companies across different industries have returned their PPP money in the last week, including Culp, a mattress fabric company ($7.6m), and the Aspen Institute, a think tank ($8m).

And The New York Times cobbled together a pretty eye-popping figure: Of at least $1.49B that public companies have received, at least $504m (or more than ⅓) has been returned so far.

Meanwhile, there is no joy in Startupland

The pandemic caused Silicon Valley startups to lay off thousands of workers. But from the beginning of the PPP program, there’s been confusion over whether venture-backed startups qualify for relief. 

Bloomberg reported that some of those startups decided not to apply — either because decoding the byzantine rules was too complicated, or because they didn’t want to create a perception that they were taking candy from mom-and-pop shops down the street. 

In other words, they didn’t want to risk getting grilled in public like Shake Shack.

Not everyone has the luxury of deciding

Many minority-owned small businesses struggled to get coronavirus relief money in the first place. Just 12% of owners who applied for the funds said they got what they asked for, according to a new survey

Nearly half of the respondents said they’d have to close permanently in the next 6 months.

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TLDR: 10 Quick Takes to Catch You Up

We want to help you get up to speed on even more of the news — fast. So we’re introducing a new roundup of the day’s big headlines.

Today, we’ll kick things off with a bit of good news from Wall Street.

1️⃣ Stock markets had their best day in weeks yesterday, on the heels of encouraging results from Moderna’s phase one coronavirus vaccine trial.

2️⃣ Square will allow its employees to work from home permanently.

3️⃣ SoftBank posted a $12.7B (or ¥1.36T) annual operating loss — its worst ever.

4️⃣ Uber is cutting 3k more jobs and closing 45 offices — the company has shed ~¼ of its workforce in less than a month.

5️⃣ Apple will reopen 25 more stores in the US this week — part of its plan: temperature checks and masks for everyone.

6️⃣ TikTok announced a new CEO: It’s Kevin Mayer, who led the launch of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+.

7️⃣ JCPenney will close ~29% of its stores (~242 locations) as part of its bankruptcy plan.

8️⃣ Three governors (of California, New York, and Texas) announced their support for a resumption of pro sports in their states.

9️⃣ A record number of Londoners — 97,502 — rented bikes over the weekend, surpassing the previous high of July 2016, as the UK relaxes lockdown restrictions.

🔟 Get your summer reading recs, courtesy of Bill Gates.

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

A trick for building a $100M-a-year company

No one ran a mile in under 4 minutes until Roger Bannister did it in 3:58 in 1954. But within a few months, three other racers joined the sub-4 club. 

People tried it for 100 years. Then, all of a sudden, 3 people did it all at once. Why?

Because it’s much easier to achieve big goals when you know what’s possible. Similarly, if you understand how specific businesses are made and run, you can use that roadmap for yourself. 

That’s why we created The Ideation Bootcamp

This 2-week live bootcamp (no pre-recorded sessions) will show you how to reverse-engineer other companies so you can build one yourself. You’ll learn a systematic framework for finding huge startup or product ideas. 

Our goal is simple: transform how you spot new business and product opportunities. 

I’m teaching this bootcamp with Gagan Biyani, founder of Udemy, a $2B startup. We’ve put hundreds of hours into this and are not sure if we’ll have time to ever do it again. And if we DO do it again, we will charge at least $2,000. 

So, if you’re launching a new product or business on your own (or within a company you work at), join us to increase your odds at winning. 

— Sam, founder of The Hustle 

Sign up here →

P.S. Readers of The Hustle get $100 off with code hustle100.

The Shifting Workplace

In some essential industries, working from home means living at work

In quarantine, working from home can feel like you never quite leave the office. 

The morning “commute” is reduced to a shuffle to the kitchen for that first cup of joe. Signing off in the evening means moving a few feet away… to the couch.

If it feels like the lines between work and home have never been blurrier, consider what some essential workers are going through: The Wall Street Journal says some companies are housing employees at their facilities to reduce the risk of spreading infections.

Live at work is the new work from home

National Grid, a major electric company that operates in the Northeast, had employees start to live on-site in mid-March — when coronavirus cases in New York were starting to surge.

A luxury getaway this ain’t: The company rented trailers in which employees slept, showered, and did laundry. To keep themselves entertained, workers at National Grid’s Massachusetts site played basketball and cornhole.

Not all heroes wear capes, but they DO make PPE

Last month, dozens of factory workers in Pennsylvania clocked out after sleeping and working at the same facility for 28 days.

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Postmates wants you to chaperone its delivery robots

How did the delivery robot cross the road? Turns out: With the help of a human supervisor

The snazziest job at Postmates right now is “autonomous robot guide,” and hiring is on the up and up. Since mid-March, as demand for delivery bots has surged across the country, Postmates has brought on 30% more human robot supervisors.

These employees keep the bots from plowing through stop lights or knocking down toddlers in their paths. They used to do the job from the office, but these days, it’s all from their home computers.

Only Mario Kart can train you for this 

Many of the cities that allow deliveries robots have one big restriction: Every bot needs a human chaperone.

Although we’d prefer to picture a human striding down the street alongside a roving cooler-on-wheels delivery bot — arguably the perfect setup for a Hollywood buddy comedy — chaperones usually work remotely.

They watch a livestream of their bots navigating traffic, and they rate the robots’ choices with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. 

Humans always override the bot with a remote control during the 1st and final 15 feet of any delivery — but if need be, they can jump in at any moment of the delivery. 

And when they do, they can finally say that all those years navigating Yoshi through Rainbow Road paid off.

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This new liquid is 20x more concentrated than traditional coffee

It’s Jot’s “Ultra Coffee”, and it’s fixing every problem we’ve ever had with regular old coffee and that painful morning brew process:

  • Zero prep work: Pour one tablespoon into cold or hot water and bam, you’re ready to caffeinate — even if your eyes are still closed
  • Unparalleled consistency: No more trying to guesstimate the right amount of grounds or water to make a great cup-o-joe
  • Absolute purity: Jot’s Ultra Coffee consists of just two ingredients (organic coffee beans and water), meaning you get the purest flavor imaginable

Each 6.8 oz. bottle of Ultra Coffee is 20x stronger than traditional coffee and can make up to 14 consistently amazing cups — that’s two weeks straight of waking up to the best, easiest coffee of your life. 

Even if you’re not a typical coffee fan, Jot’s got you. Jazz up a mixed drink, drizzle it over ice cream, or kick your brew game into high gear with a classy cappuccino. Talk about versatility.

Try 14 cups of Jot for just $24 and get a free stainless steel tablespoon when you order through the link below:

Buy Ultra Coffee →
Wax Off

The car wax industry is losing its sheen

Car wax merchants are facing a looming crisis: Young people just aren’t getting their buff on anymore.

Sales of the product have always waxed and waned, but around 2013, car wax brands like Meguiar’s, Turtle Wax, and Collinite started to see interest in their products decelerate.

Instead of the traditional wax, younger buyers are opting for longer-lasting — but less flashy — synthetic coatings. 

For this new crop of drivers, aesthetics are taking a back seat to practical use. Cars aren’t spaces of endless possibility as they were for older people.

Are the Kars really 4 Kids?

About a decade ago, auto execs panicked that millenials would stop haggling for cars. That hasn’t happened: Millennials are now taking out auto loans — a metric of car buying — at a slightly higher rate than Gen X did at the same age.

But it is true that young people aren’t as invested in car culture as their elders were. The number of 16-year-olds with driver’s licenses has dropped by almost half since 1983.

And even though young people own cars at roughly the same rate, they enjoy them less: In 2018, young people were more likely to say they’d prefer an alternative to driving.

That’s bad for optional amenities like car wax. Even worse: Car magazines — once a way to rev up excitement for flashy new vehicles — have run out of steam.

The industry is taking a marketing U-turn  

To reach younger buyers, car wax brands are partnering with YouTubers and placing their products in video games like CSR Racing 2. 

But if stan culture is a metric for enthusiasm, public transit advocates may have the car honchos beat. Car culture has nothing on the Numtot movement — a meme-filled call for improved public transit that has amassed 200k+ disciples on Facebook.

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The Hustle Says

Redecorating your apartment while you’re stuck inside? Same. For the kitchen, we’re picking up some handmade ceramics from Soul Matter Studio.

In 2014, Sam gave up drinking. He says it was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. If you’re considering doing the same, check out these online personalized plans from Monument to help you reach your goals.*

This credit card has zero annual fee and $1,148 in added value. Apply for yours today and make your money go further.*

*This is a sponsored post.


🙏 Some tech companies have signed a pledge to support parents while they’re working from home.

🤝 The future of in-person conferences and meetings: Say goodbye to crowded schedules, and hello to lots of deep cleaning.

👀 A court in Texas is trying a pandemic-era first: jurors are hearing a trial by Zoom.

⏰ An app for really short-term rentals (as in, rooms by the hour) is booming, because people need a temporary reprieve from quarantine.

🍕 The strange story of how a pizzeria made money using DoorDash — by buying its own pies.

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