Breaking Up Facebook, Learning From Dr. Bronner’s, and When Co-Founders Get Pregnant

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HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY  

A co-founder of a robotics company talks about being black, female, and pregnant in Silicon Valley: “The experience of being a black woman on the planet has taught me to walk in my own truth. … When I was raising money as the co-founder of Zume, I was unapologetic. I would say, ‘As you can tell, I’m pregnant.’ Or, ‘As we think about next year, we’re making plans to strengthen the team around me during the time I’ll be away.’

“Make it plain. The folks you want to work with, the people you want to invest in your company and become part of your story, they will get it and they will embrace it. If someone can’t handle a person who is going to become a parentwhen probably they themselves are a parent or going to become oneI just don’t want to work with them.”

When the two co-founders both get pregnant: “We wrote a maternity policy knowing I would be the first to use it. The policy was a combination of our personal preferences, our desire to put a stake in the ground, and trying to understand what other companies at our stage were doing. We decided to offer 12 weeks fully paid leave. It’s gender-agnostic.

“We knew Jordana wanted to have children, and that my husband and I wanted to have another. This was sort of the trial run. How does it work to have co-CEOs pass a business back and forth while one is out? I had been managing marketing, customer operations, and digital. The month before I went out, we started to carve away my ownership of those functions, to make sure Jordana was 100 percent prepared. By the end, I was in more of a shadow role.”

E-COMMERCE

PopSockets, which sells adhesive grips that stick to the back of cell phones, offers a case study into how difficult it can be to sell on Amazon: “Overall, Amazon has been exercising more control over how brands sell on the marketplace in an effort to boost its profits. Typically, brands doing high-volume sales on Amazon are kept on Vendor Central, where they sell wholesale to Amazon. Everyone else can fight it out on Seller Central. As part of this shift in strategy, sellers holding brand trademarks have been given more control: Through Brand Registry, these sellers can register their trademark ID numbers and then, through Amazon’s counterfeit-fighting initiative Project Zero, quash counterfeits independently and then report them to Amazon.

“PopSockets are now available on Amazon again through authorized sellers. It speaks to Amazon’s weight in the industry: Sitting out altogether can hurt brands more. But its fight against fake products continues: CEO David Barnett has said that the company has spent $7 million defending its patent in the past year, and that seemingly ‘hundreds’ of fake products pop up on Amazon and other marketplaces like eBay every day.”

STARTUPS

Target has announced the selection of 18 startups for two startup-accelerator programs its using to find solutions for pain points: “The Metro Target Retail Accelerator, Certified by Techstars, is in its fourth year and for the first time is happening in partnership with German wholesale retailer Metro AG to involve global startups; the other, the Target Incubator, is new this year and will host startups that promote sustainability. …

“For participating startups, the accelerator comes with a $120,000 investment from Target, an eight-week program and a Demo Day pitch to Target executives. The Target Incubator offers a $10,000 stipend and space to work on Target’s campus. Selected startups get to pilot their technology in Target stores following the accelerator, but formal partnerships aren’t guaranteed. The startups chosen touch on a variety of retail problems to be solved, including chatbots, AI, inventory and merchandising management and analytics, last-mile delivery, mobile payments, customer insights and retargeting.”

A small-satellite startup is racking up contracts despite having never sent anything to space: “Relativity, which is building rockets to launch small satellites, said Monday that a company called Spaceflight is purchasing up to six launches. It marked the company’s third major contract announcement in just five weeks. Tim Ellis, Relativity’s CEO who co-founded the company just over three years ago, said Relativity is attracting more attention because people are excited about its novel approach to manufacturing. Its rockets will be 3D-printed top to bottom.”

Menstrual-products startup Blume has built a fast-growing business on sustainability and sex-ed. Founders Taran and Bunny Ghatrora “started selling their organic-cotton tampons and pads in farmers’ markets in Vancouver in 2016, which helped them get to know their customers face-to-face and become familiar with their needs. ‘Girls feel so alone going through puberty … but by sharing stories and speaking with different women, our audience is able to find community in that,’ says Taran, the company’s 27-year-old chief executive, noting that Blume’s blog has become a focal point for clients to share anecdotes and ask questions.”

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REGULATION

A co-founder of Facebook thinks it’s time to break up Facebook: “The FTC’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp. In 2012, the newer platforms were nipping at Facebook’s heels because they had been built for the smartphone, where Facebook was still struggling to gain traction. Mark responded by buying them, and the FTC approved. Neither Instagram nor WhatsApp had any meaningful revenue, but both were incredibly popular. …

“As markets become more concentrated, the number of new start-up businesses declines. This holds true in other high-tech areas dominated by single companies, like search (controlled by Google) and e-commerce (taken over by Amazon). Meanwhile, there has been plenty of innovation in areas where there is no monopolistic domination, such as in workplace productivity (Slack, Trello, Asana), urban transportation (Lyft, Uber, Lime, Bird) and cryptocurrency exchanges (Ripple, Coinbase, Circle).”

Denver is looking to be the first US city to decriminalize hallucinogenic magic mushrooms. “Denver’s vote has attracted national attention. While efforts are afoot to get psilocybin-related measures on the ballot in Oregon and California in 2020, Denver hosted the first-ever US popular vote on the matter, according to organizers. An earlier effort in California last year failed to qualify for the ballot. … Supporters extolled emerging research showing potential health benefits with psychedelic mushrooms. The measure likely was put over the top by younger voters…”

SOCIAL MEDIA

Here’s a story about how parents manage their influencer children: “[For Mai Nguyen-Miyoshi and her seven-year-old daughter Zooey], ‘We thought it was only fair to start charging brands who were using our photography for their own marketing purposes,’ says Nguyen-Miyoshi. As those deals got bigger–Zooey now has 142,000 followers–she signed with a management agency.

“Despite her age, Zooey is kept in the loop as much as possible: She knows which photos are being posted and sometimes even helps with the text posted to her Instagram stories. Nguyen-Miyoshi lets her choose between potential outfits and even shows her select comments. ‘We are very transparent about the whole process with her,’ Nguyen-Miyoshi says. … ‘[Zooey] understands that we need to thank the brands for sending her these things, and we talk about why it’s important that we might need to take a video or pictures of the items for her Instagram,’ Nguyen-Miyoshi says. ‘She’s learning a lot about business from an early age.’”

ZACK AND GRANT’S DEALS OF THE DAY

Netflix has acquired StoryBots, a children’s media company. “The acquisition marks a turn for the company toward buying intellectual property. It’s Netflix’s second content company acquisition after buying MillarWorld in 2017. StoryBots will expand its series offerings within Netflix after the acquisition.”

Redwood Logistics, a third-party logistics provider has acquired Eminent Global Logistics, a software consulting firm specializing in Oracle Transportation Management (OTM). “…Redwood’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Yeager, characterized the deal as extending Redwood’s menu of sophisticated value-add services offered to its shipper clients.”

MARKETING

A decades-old, hippie brand of soap that eschews all marketing offers a lesson in authenticity in the age of Instagram: “For all of this high-profile endorsement, Dr. Bronner’s has paid zero dollars and zero cents. ‘We’re proud to say we’ve never paid for a celebrity endorsement or solicitation,’ president Michael Bronner tells me. The brand has spent the same non-amount on billboards, TV spots, magazine spreads, subway posters, and every other form of traditional advertising in the United States. …

“Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t ‘do’ social media, either. It doesn’t ‘play the game’ the same way, in Michael’s words, paying influencers or otherwise artificially inflating its following. Social media, David told me, ‘isn’t some kind of overwhelming marketing focus for us.’ The company uses social media to advertise and communicate with customers, but also to champion, often in all caps, various causes: raising the federal minimum wage, ending factory farming, ‘CLIMATE ACTION NOW.’

“A perusal of Instagram, however, reveals that Dr. Bronner’s has been co-opted by the very people it claims to care so little about: the trendsetters for whom social media isn’t a diversion but a career, a lifestyle. On Instagram, Dr. Bronner’s is often tagged by users with handles like @cleanandcrueltyfree_ and @littlewaste.lottalove, and appears in pictures alongside products from expensive-sounding brands: Ouai, Norvina, Pinrose, Glossier.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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