Amazon’s Devastating Numbers, Facebook’s Discriminatory Targeting, and India’s Startup Problems

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DAYLIGHT  

Bloomberg has put together some graphics that offer a devastating demonstration of how thoroughly Amazon dominates the economy: “Even if the Massachusetts senator’s call to break up Amazon is mostly aspirational right now, it’s not hard to see why [Elizabeth] Warren felt justified in putting the Seattle leviathan on her list of targets. Perhaps more than any other US technology company, Amazon has come to resemble a conglomerate, with a growing presence in multiple markets.” For example: with $70 billion in sales, it owns 35 percent of the online apparel market. Macy’s is next at 8.7 percent.

THE ECONOMY

The US economy finished 2018 at a slower pace than originally estimated: “On Thursday, the Commerce Department issued a downward revision of its estimates for economic growth in the fourth quarter, pushing one measure of the full year’s growth down as well. Forecasters outside the White House, including officials at the Fed, expect growth to slow even more this year. Economic data suggests that slowdown is already underway in the first quarter. Manufacturing is losing some of its steam from last year’s rapid growth, and job creation is also moderating. Chief executives of some of the nation’s biggest companies see investment, hiring and sales growth all slowing this year. Three-quarters of business economists say they are more worried about growth undershooting their forecasts than overshooting it, and half have revised those forecasts downward for this year.”

MARKETING

The Department of Housing and Urban Development charged Facebook with violating the Fair Housing Act because of ad targeting: “Three years ago, the world’s largest social network was found to have been allowing advertisers to exclude targets by ‘ethnic affinities,’ … that it was able to buy ads that could not be seen by Facebook users with African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic ethnic affinities in the United States.

“At the time, Facebook referred to the practice as ‘multicultural advertising’ and said it did not consider ethnic affinity to necessarily mean race because it was based on the posts and pages users liked. The company also defended micro-targeting—being able to include and exclude certain groups in targeting advertising—which is key to its lucrative business.”  

Vrbo is changing its name—or the pronunciation, at least—to what many people already thought it was: “An ad campaign starting next month calls the company ‘VER-bo,’ replacing the letter-by-letter acronym that has stood for Vacation Rentals by Owner since the company launched in 1995. Vrbo is introducing a new logo to match, dropping the all-caps styling. … Vrbo executives said they had been hearing the alternative pronunciation for a long time. Recent tests showed that it was more memorable and easier to say in more languages.”

SPOTLIGHT

Yesterday, we had an item on increasing the minimum wage and Todd Hawkins reached out to Millennial Matt to discuss.

TH: I believe the minimum wage [increase] will only be beneficial for a short time, then all items will rise in price accordingly, is that correct thinking or am I off?

MM: Companies are having trouble attracting workers, so they are moving independently of the federal minimum.

TH: I understand your point on worker shortages. A limited amount of research demonstrates that the amount of workers making just minimum wage is small at or about four percent, while those workers slightly above minimum, but below a living wage may increase the number of people to 30 percent. … My view is that companies need to fix this without government intrusion, but before the sentence is finished, the realization is that many will not step up to fix it unless compelled by authority.

HUMAN RESOURCES

Translator digitizes diversity and inclusion training and hopes to change the way companies conduct and evaluate D&I initiatives: “The programming is not unlike typical diversity and inclusion exercises with the added advantage of anonymity, allowing participants to ask questions and interact more freely. Digitizing what has historically been a very analog process not only enables remote participation, but also provides a layer of data to facilitators based on anonymous surveys and questionnaires.

“‘Our tools are designed to create an entire data layer over that experience so that they not only help you understand if the training is working, but they also provide a canary in the coal mine for understanding issues inside these diverse communities before they become much bigger employee retention and engagement problems,’ says [founder Natalie] Egan.”

India is the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world behind the US and the UK, but less than 10 percent of its engineers want to work at a startup. “At established organizations, job roles are well-defined and they tend to offer ‘higher job security and remuneration,’ said Neha Kaul, head of brand and growth marketing at recruitment portal Shine.com.

“While Indian startups have made headlines for offering eye-popping salaries in recent years, that trend is limited to top-level talent. For entry-level staff, these young companies don’t offer much, experts say. … Moreover, India’s startups are caught in a bubble, with nine in 10 failing within five years of founding.”

PRICING

Lululemon, the apparel brand, plans to take its subscription service for athleisure national. “The service offers subscribers a pair of pants or shirts, access to events inside Lululemon stores and free shipping. Lululemon first tested the service in Edmonton, Canada at $128 annually followed by a $148 offering in Denver. … For Lululemon, the service … injects the company with a steady stream of cash to be reinvested elsewhere. It also gets people into Lululemon stores, where they can purchase more stuff.”

The New York Mets are one of several MLB teams offering a subscription service guaranteeing standing-room tickets to every regular season home game for $39 a month. It’s a move to attract a younger, more casual fan: “… it’s fair to suggest that these insanely cheap tickets could help turn a ‘post-work trip to the ballpark’ into the new ‘post-work trip to the bar’ for some people. …

“The Mets deal allows users to buy up to six subscriptions each, which makes it the perfect thing for, say, your company’s sales team to enjoy together. … In order for this ticket deal to reach its full potential, the stadium must be conveniently located, ideally downtown. That way, fans can make game-time decisions as they’re leaving the office.”

BUYING A BUSINESS

It’s impossible to know everything you’d like to know when buying a company: “When Matt Barber and Joel Doub bought a fishing rod manufacturer two years ago, the plan was for previous owner Tom Morgan to stay with the business for five years to mentor them. But six months after the deal closed, Morgan died unexpectedly. ‘It forced us to sink or swim and accelerated our learning curve,’  says Barber, co-owner of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths in Bozeman, Montana.

“‘It’s always a leap of faith that you’re taking,’ says Gene Marks, owner of The Marks Group, a small business consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. ‘You think you’ve figured out 80 or 90 percent, but there’s always another 10 or 20 percent you can’t predict.’”

Grindr is on the market again after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States informed the gay dating app’s Chinese parent company that its ownership poses a national security risk. “Grindr, which describes itself as the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, had 27 million users as of 2017. The company collects personal information submitted by its users, including a person’s location, messages, and in some cases even someone’s HIV status, according to its privacy policy.”

FOOD

Is it a felony to “bread-slice” a bagel? Some people think it should be: “A style of slicing bagels as you would a loaf of bread—aka ‘bread-sliced’—has caused OUTRAGE among a lot of people this week. (Ok, so not real outrage, but, like, bread outrage). The drama all started when Alek Krautmann, a St. Louis native and employee of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, tweeted a photo on Monday of a box of Panera bagels looking like they’d gone through a paper shredder. ‘Today I introduced my coworkers to the St. Louis secret of ordering bagels bread sliced,’ he tweeted. ‘It was a hit!’”

Not with everyone. Here’s one representative response: “I believe this is a Class A felony in New York City. And if it’s not, it should be.”

Please send comments and suggestions to mattg@oxfordcenter.com and lfeldman@oxfordcenter.com.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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