Big Gay Ice Cream Celebrates, the Next Marijuana, and How the Trade Wars Are Making the World Riskier

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GOING PUBLIC

Slack goes public today but not with an IPO; instead, the company has opted for a direct-listing: “Unlike an ordinary IPO, a direct listing means the company doesn’t issue any new shares and doesn’t raise additional capital. It’s primarily a way for company insiders to sell some of their holdings to investors, while bypassing the formidable fees and requirements of using an underwriter. As Fortune has reported, only companies that are in excellent financial shape and already have widespread name recognition are good candidates for direct listings. According to the most recent reports, the collaboration software company will be seeking a $16 billion to $17 billion valuation—over double their value during their most recent private valuation of $7 billion.”

TRADE

President Trump has fundamentally changed the way the world does business: “The trade war unleashed by Mr. Trump has injected higher costs and confusion into the global economy, forcing businesses to anticipate the next venue for hostilities. American retailers and manufacturers voiced that complaint on Monday in testimony to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, ahead of Mr. Trump’s plans to put tariffs on a further $300 billion worth of Chinese imports. ‘This is now the post-American world economy, one in which globalization is much more spotty,’ said Adam S. Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. ‘The world is a riskier place, where access to markets is a lot less sure.’”

By the way, most bibles are made in China: “Publishers say that if Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs of 25 percent or ‘much higher’ on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods kicks into effect—which he has threatened to do if Chinese president Xi Jinping refuses to meet at the G20 summit—Bibles will be made much more expensive in the US. Printed materials are included in the extensive list of Chinese goods that would be hit with the latest duties. Particularly hard hit would be Bible producers, according to testimony submitted by HarperCollins Christian Publishing ahead of the seven-day public hearing on the tariffs that began on Monday.”

TAXES

The Opportunity Zone tax break was intended to spur new investment in poor areas but Kevin Plank, the billionaire founder of Under Armour, is getting one for an investment that’s not new in an area that’s not poor: “As the selection process was underway, a deputy chief of staff to Maryland’s governor wrote in an email that ‘Port Covington does not qualify’ as an opportunity zone. Maryland’s governor chose the area for the program anyway—after his aides met with the lobbyists for Plank, who owns about 40 percent of the zone. ‘This is a classic example of a windfall benefit,’ said Robert Stoker, a George Washington University professor who has studied economic development in Baltimore for decades. ‘A major investment was already planned and now is in a zone where they are going to qualify for all kinds of beneficial tax treatment.’ …

“In early 2015, more than two and a half years before Trump’s tax law passed, Plank revealed himself as the money behind the purchases. He planned a new development and headquarters for Under Armour, the sports apparel company he started after coming up with the idea as a University of Maryland football player. Today, Under Armour employs 15,000 people. Plank has a net worth of around $2 billion.”

RETAIL

Boutique fitness brands are moving into mall spaces after retailers move out: “Fitness clusters” like NY’s Rye Ridge shopping center have “emerged in suburban shopping developments and gentrifying city neighborhoods. These new storefronts are rendering the old concept of ‘mall walking’ absolutely antiquated, if at a comparative bargain. … As brick-and-mortar retail stores have taken a beating from the internet, yoga, Pilates, rowing, boxing, cycling, barre and H.I.I.T. studios are entering the spaces formerly inhabited by apparel, books and electronics stores: catering to a consumer class seemingly more interested in investing in the shape of their bodies than the clothes that cover them.

“[Strengthen Lengthen Tone founder Amanda] Freeman told me that when opening a new studio, she sometimes looks for real estate near other boutique fitness studios. A customer who passes by SLT on the way to another such exercise class is already used to paying $35 or $40 a pop. And there is the potential for the ‘restaurant effect,’ which is when a row of eateries becomes a dining destination for customers who may want Italian one night and Thai another. ‘If I’m opening a new location, I want to open where a comparably priced studio is already thriving by offering a different workout,’ Ms. Freeman said. ‘What I don’t want is to open near a $20-a-class yoga studio where people are going to ask, ‘Why is your studio $40?’”

FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Papa John’s board member Shaquille O’Neal opened a remodeled franchise on Georgia Tech’s main campus as part of the pizza company’s efforts to rebrand itself: “The remodeled midtown Atlanta Papa John’s now sports O’Neal’s size 22 shoe prints at its entrance, his signature along the front of the building, and a phone number bearing his nickname—470-444-SHAQ. In addition to midtown, O’Neal invested in Papa John’s shops in Forest Park, College Park, Riverdale, Morrow, Stockbridge, and McDonough. O’Neal also owns the historic (and 24-hour) Krispy Kreme on Ponce De Leon Avenue in midtown. O’Neal recently became a board member for the pizza delivery company, which saw founder John Schnatter resign as chairman last year after the release of a leaked recording of him using a racial slur during a conference call.”

Big Gay Ice Cream is celebrating its 10th anniversary: “Birthed in a food truck by [Doug] Quint and Bryan Petroff (then a couple, now not), Big Gay Ice Cream was meant to be a lark, a bit of performance art, and a brief respite for Quint, who was coming off comprehensive exams for his doctorate of musical arts. To its founders’ delight and bafflement, it has grown into one of the most distinctive and engaging ice cream companies since Ben & Jerry rode a cow to nationwide prominence.

“From the beginning, Petroff shaped and fiercely guarded the company’s brand, the source of much of its popularity. Colors pop; music bops. Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s wrote and performs the company’s earworm theme song. The menu is awash in whimsy, like Ben & Jerry’s but a titch naughtier. Half the fun is saying to the counterperson, ‘I’d like a Salty Pimp.’ (Injected with dulce du leche and enrobed with chocolate, that cone is named for the TV show Pimp My Ride, although the reference isn’t obvious.) Quint says Big Gay Ice Cream is not an LGBTQ brand so much as a brand that celebrates the humor, camp, and kitsch embraced by gay culture. The word ‘gay,’ he points out, refers to orientation but also to joy.”

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REAL ESTATE

Google pledged $1 billion to build 20,000 homes to remedy the Bay Area’s housing crisis: “CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post that Google plans to repurpose at least $750 million worth of land it owns for residential housing. Through this, the company hopes to ‘support the development of at least 15,000 new homes at all income levels in the Bay Area, including housing options for middle and low-income families.’ Additionally, Google is setting up a $250 million investment fund for developers to build more than 5,000 affordable housing units in the area. It also plans to give $50 million to nonprofits focused on homelessness and displacement.”

STARTUPS

Youper is a mental health app with an AI chatbot created to break down barriers that keep many people from seeking help: “Youper is part of a growing roster of apps that use AI-based chatbots to help users improve their emotional health, including Woebot, Wysa and X2’s Tess. Hamilton says Youper wants to differentiate with its focus on personalization, combining mental health research and user data to match the right psychological techniques with users. …

“Youper’s chatbot asks users to focus on their thoughts and identify how they are feeling from a menu of descriptive words. Then a scale lets them rate the strength of that emotion from ‘slightly’ to ‘extremely.’ More questions help them narrow down what is causing those feelings and track their mood. Users are also given options for mindfulness exercises and journaling prompts. [Founder Dr. Jose] Hamilton says that the average time users spend during each session with its chatbot is about seven minutes, with 80 percent reporting a reduction in negative moods after one conversation.”

Field Trip Ventures, a startup run by three Canadian ex-cannabis founders is betting that psilocybin—the active ingredient in magic mushroomswill be the next marijuana: “Advocates say mushrooms have untapped medical potential that could be as big as cannabis, particularly for treating depression and addiction. The US Food and Drug Administration granted ‘breakthrough therapy’ status in October to Compass Pathways Ltd. to test the drug for treatment-resistant depression, expediting the development process. The London-based company says it’s now proceeding with a large-scale clinical trial in Europe and North America.

“‘The medical and therapeutic applications are becoming incontrovertible in a world where depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions,’ said Ronan Levy, a former executive at Aurora Cannabis Inc. and co-founder of Toronto-based Field Trip Ventures … Levy believes it’s only a matter of time before others–including many former cannabis executives–realize the potential of psychedelics and start to look for investors.”

Henry the Dentist is a mobile fleet of dental care facilities that park in front of office buildings so that employees can get their routine cleaning without leaving the office. “The company’s fleet services companies in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia. It targets large employer groups with at least 1,000 employees, and aims to sell itself to those employees on the promise of convenience and modernity. [Justin] Joffe, who is the CEO, said the mobile practices are equipped with the latest dental technologies for its patients. And for those who are nervous about going to the dentist? They can put on headphones and watch Netflix or HBO to distract them from the cleaning and checkup process.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEALS OF THE DAY

AdParlor, a provider of online advertising management services, was acquired by Fluent, a digital consumer engagement company, for a total consideration of $10 million. “The plan is to integrate AdParlor’s  technology and services—which works across not just Facebook and Twitter but also Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube and other display-based inventory—to its larger stack of martech tools.”  

M&A

Vida Health, a developer of a mobile health coaching application designed to eradicate chronic disease, raised $30 million in a Series C Round.

Defendify, a developer of a cybersecurity platform designed to access and eliminate cyber threats, raised $1.6 million in a Seed Funding Round.

Mattermost, a provider of an open source messaging platform that facilitates secure team collaboration, raised $50 million in a Series B Round.

SPOTLIGHT

What should a business owner expect from an accountant? Tax filing and advice? Business advice too? How much should it cost? Can an accountant help you decide when to take money off the table and when to put it back in the business? Today on Mind Your Business, Loren will be discussing these questions and more with a couple of pros, Lou Mosca, who runs the consulting firm American Management Services and Richard Kopelman, who runs the unusually entrepreneurial accounting firm Aprio. Got a question for them? Call when the show airs at 1:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM 132. Here’s the number to call: 844-942-7866.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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