America’s First Celebrity CEO Dies, The Yield Curve Continues to Flash, and a Vegan Burger Joint Goes Viral

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MARKETING

Slutty Vegan, an Atlanta burger joint, has “a naughty name, a virtuous menu and a line down the block”: “Among its fans are a roster of African-American celebrities, including Jermaine Dupri, Lil Baby, Snoop Dogg, Tyler Perry and Tiffany Haddish, all of whom have been declared ‘sluttified’ on the Slutty Vegan Instagram account, which is inching close to a quarter-million followers. … And after all that waiting, each customer is allowed only two sandwiches. ‘It’s about supply and demand,’ [owner Pinky] Cole said. ‘Who wants something you can get anytime? We want you to beg for it. We’re not selling food. We’re selling the experience.’

“Word has spread beyond Atlanta. She served 900 people at a pop-up in Harlem on Presidents’ Day. In April, Facebook executives flew Ms. Cole to their headquarters in Menlo Park, CA, where she fed 300 employees. In June, she took her burgers to a vegan festival at the Rose Bowl. She’ll be at the Essence Festival in New Orleans this weekend, speaking and serving food. Ms. Cole still runs two Slutty Vegan food trucks, and plans to open two more restaurants soon, one in Jonesboro, a largely African-American city south of Atlanta and another in Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood, not far from the childhood home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Then she hopes to go national.”

As direct-to-consumer brands look to spend less on Facebook advertising, they’re tackling the murky subject of attribution: “One of the most common methods of measurement is last-click attribution—basically, the last ad a customer clicks on before buying a product is the one that is ‘responsible’ for getting the sale. … Another popular attribution method is multi-touch attribution, which tries to track all of the channels a customer comes in contact with that lead to a sale.

“But that can’t track customers converted by subway ads or billboard advertising. “So what a number of brands are now relying on are post-purchase surveys: asking customers ‘how did you hear about us?’ after they buy online. What’s more important than figuring out the right method(s) of attribution is just coming up with a model and sticking to it. That way, if you test out a new channel—say, you decide to allocate five percent of your marketing budget towards Pinterest that month—you have a way of ‘comparing apples to apples.’”

THE ECONOMY

The yield curve just passed an inauspicious milestone, remaining “inverted for three months, or an entire quarter, which has for half a century been a clear signal that the economy is heading for recession in the next nine to 18 months, according to Campbell Harvey, a Duke University finance professor who spoke to NPR on Sunday. His research in the mid-1980s first linked yield curve inversions to recessions. ‘That has been associated with predicting a recession for the last seven recessions,’ Harvey said. ‘From the 1960s, this indicator has been reliable in terms of foretelling a recession, and also importantly, it has not given any false signals yet.’”

TRADE

The Trump administration is now threatening Europe with more tariffs: “Just days after reaching a truce in the US-China trade war, the US government on Monday ratcheted up pressure on Europe in a long-running dispute over aircraft subsidies, threatening tariffs on $4 billion of additional EU goods. The US Trade Representative’s office released a list of additional productsincluding olives, Italian cheese and Scotch whiskeythat could be hit with tariffs, on top of products worth $21 billion that were announced in April.”

TAXES

Small retailers now have to comply with Pennsylvania’s online sales tax: “Pennsylvania’s sales tax is not new. But the way it’s collected is. Up until last year, online merchants selling their products weren’t required to collect and pay in-state and local sales taxes unless they had ‘nexus’ in that state, which mostly means a physical location or employee there. A year ago, the Supreme Court expanded that definition of nexus to also include ‘economic activity.’

“What does that mean? It means ‘a never-ending labyrinth of complicated terminology, numbers and registrations,’ says Jennifer Kirby, the owner of Piggyback Treats, a Philadelphia-based e-commerce business that sells its ‘sustainably crafted goodies for pets’ nationwide. ‘No mere human being can understand it all.’ Kirby, like many other small merchants, has been overwhelmed by the requirements imposed on them as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Why? Because there are a lot of different tax rules in this country. According to a report issued earlier this year by sales tax software provider Vertex Inc., state and local jurisdictions have either initiated or changed 5,886 sales tax rates over the last 10 years. And 2018 alone brought 619 changes. Now it’s Pennsylvania’s turn.”

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STARTUPS

A startup is pitching a gun-detecting artificial intelligence security guard to corporations and school districts: Aegis AI’s system “scans thousands of video feeds for brandished weapons and provides threat-detection alerts to customers within one second, for $30 per camera, per month. … ‘We can take over the role of a security guard with much higher accuracy at a much lower cost,’ Aegis co-founder and chief product officer Ben Ziomek tells TechCrunch.

“[The founders] had to take an ‘aggressive’ data augmentation approach to develop the AI, Ziomek explains, as opposed to just scraping the web for images of weapons to feed to the platform. ‘Traditionally, … you scrape the internet for cats or hot dogs and you use a model based on that,’ he added. ‘What happens when you do that same approach for weapons? You get product images, Instagram shots from people at the shooting range; all of these have no resemblance to real security camera footage.’ To teach its software to identify weapons, Aegis began by scrubbing the web for photos of weapons. … [Then] they got their hands on real security footage and even took their own posed photos holding weapons to fill in any of the AI’s blind spots.”

REAL ESTATE

Technology is changing the way property owners handle their assets: “For starters, the values of many properties have plateaued after rising steadily throughout much of the economic recovery. Many owners view technology as a way to keep growing their bottom lines, either by cutting costs or making their buildings more appealing to tenants. At the same time, traditional owners are turning to technology to defend themselves against major disruptions in their businesses. In a retail world increasingly dominated by e-commerce, for example, mall and shopping-center landlords have started to test facial recognition and artificial intelligence technology to prove the value of bricks and mortar. …

“New technologies being used by Houston-based Hines, one of the biggest global developers, include a drone surveillance service provided by an Israeli startup named SiteAware. Several times a week, a drone flies over Texas Tower, a new office building rising in Houston, taking digital images that Hines compares with job specifications to confirm plans have been accurately followed.”

REGULATION

The EU instituted a new safety rule requiring electric vehicles to make noise: “It follows concerns that low-emission cars and vans are too quiet, putting pedestrians at risk because they cannot be heard as they approach. All new types of four-wheel electric vehicle must be fitted with the device, which sounds like a traditional engine.” 

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEAL OF THE DAY 

D3 Banking, a SaaS and cloud-based banking and financial management platform was acquired by NCR, a technology company that makes self-service kiosks, point-of-sale terminals, automated teller machines, check processing systems, barcode scanners, and business consumables. “For its part, NCR is best known for its cloud-based solutions for the community financial institutions market—and the D3 acquisition now expands its on-premise offerings for large financial institutions.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

Calm, a relaxation-therapy application that is designed to reduce anxiety improve sleep, and increase happiness raised $115 million in Series B funding. The valuation of the company is $1.03 billion following the round.

Immunicom, a developer of therapy services for cancer and autoimmune diseases raised $11 million in a Series B round.

ENVIRONMENT

The sea ice in Antarctica is melting much faster than people thought: “The plunge in the average annual extent means Antarctica lost as much sea ice in four years as the Arctic lost in 34 years. The cause of the sharp Antarctic losses is as yet unknown and only time will tell whether the ice recovers or continues to decline. But researchers said it showed ice could disappear much more rapidly than previously thought. Unlike the melting of ice sheets on land, sea ice melting does not raise sea level. But losing bright white sea ice means the sun’s heat is instead absorbed by dark ocean waters, leading to a vicious circle of heating.”

ENERGY

Even though the US is producing more domestic oil and natural gas than ever before, independence from foreign oil is not proving profitable: “Domestic oil production has increased by more than 60 percent since 2013, to over 12 million barrels a day, making the United States the biggest producer of oil and natural gas in the world and slashing imports. …”

And yet: “In the last four years, roughly 175 oil and gas companies in the United States and Canada with debts totaling about $100 billion have filed for bankruptcy protection. Many borrowed heavily when oil and gas prices were far higher, only to collectively overproduce and undercut their commodity prices. At least six companies have gone bankrupt this year … ‘The psychology has turned,’ said David Katz, president of Matrix Asset Advisors, a New York investment firm that owns Occidental shares. ‘When you talk to investors they are concerned about oil companies spending money on something that will be in decline. There are more concerns that electric cars and hybrid cars are going to get more and more popular.’”

OBITUARY

Lee Iacocca, the first celebrity CEO: “In the 1970s and ’80s, with Detroit still dominating the nation’s automobile market, his name evoked images of executive suites, infighting, power plays and the grit and savvy to sell American cars. He was so widely admired that there was serious talk of his running for president of the United States in 1988. Detractors branded him a Machiavellian huckster who clawed his way to pinnacles of power in 32 years at Ford, building flashy cars like the Mustang, making the covers of Time and Newsweek and becoming the company president at 46, only to be spectacularly fired in 1978 by the founder’s grandson, Henry Ford II.

“But admirers called him a bold, imaginative leader who landed on his feet after his dismissal and, in a 14-year second act that secured his worldwide reputation, took over the floundering Chrysler Corporation and restored it to health in what experts called one of the most brilliant turnarounds in business history. He accomplished it with a controversial $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee, won by convincing the government that Chrysler was vital to the national economy and should not be allowed to fail, and with concessions from unions, new lineups of cars, and a new national spokesman—himself—featured in a decade-long television advertising campaign.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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