Catering to Deaf Customers, Holiday Hiring Begins, and Demanding a ‘Candor Clause’

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In response to sexism, flirtation, and harassment from investors, Soona CEO Liz Giorgi added a ‘candor clause’ to her company’s financing contracts: “Soona’s candor clause asks for full disclosure from investors about any past sexual harassment and discrimination claims for everyone in the firm. If being presented with this demand means some investors shy away, great—Giorgi just weeded out somebody they wouldn’t have enjoyed working with anyway. The power of the candor clause is when investors hear it will be coming. They have to sit down with the Soona founders, hear why this is necessary and how they expect a fair, open and trusting business partnership from day one. Soona investors Matchstick Ventures of the Twin Cities and New York-based 2048 Ventures both had no harassment history to disclose, and both were happy to sign Soona’s candor clause. Both also agreed to include it in deals with other companies.”

The Wine Attic survives in the big-box era by lavishing its small customer base with attention. Now they’re using a subscription-based wine club to increase volume without losing the high-touch approach: “‘We sell ourselves, said Juan [Navarro], a 43-year-old former restaurant manager. ‘It’s the Juan and Renée experience. Every second with the customer counts. Once I meet them, I know what every customer wants when they come in. You can’t do that in a high-volume business.’

“The Wine Attic doesn’t make a ton. It grosses about $250,000 in revenue a year, [and it’s] a bit top-heavy with 10 loyal customers who spend $95 per transaction, more than twice the average of $42 per customer. … But the Navarros are working toward broadening their customer base—and their income. That’s where the Wine Attic’s wine club comes in. The club’s 80 members spend $55.67 per month on average, including their monthly charge for two bottles of wine selected by Juan and Renée. That comes to about $4,400 per month from the group. The wine club creates the recurring revenue stream that makes income less ‘lumpy.’”


Viralspace makes artificial intelligence software that predicts the virality of online content: “Viralspace’s virality-prediction algorithm is a multi-modal neural network that analyzes several features of a photo to predict virality, or how well it will perform on social media. Virality can be assessed using public data such as likes and comments. The tool extracts features such as ‘emotions,’ ‘objects,’ ‘colors,’ ‘topics’ and ‘words’ from each image and assesses the effect of each feature on virality. … Chubbies, a men’s shorts company, uses Viralspace’s engagement predictor to select the best images to post out of existing user-generated content. They broadcast these images to their 500,000 Instagram followers. ‘We would only post photos that the AI predictor tells will get to X percent [engagement],’ said the director of content at Chubbies.”

Electreon wants to run a current through roadways that charge electric vehicles as they are driven: “Since there are countless miles of road around the world, Electreon is aiming to electrify urban bus and shuttle routes first, in an effort to clean Israel’s city air and reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil. Over time, Electreon executives hope to go global and make ‘all-electric city transport’ the wave of the future. ‘This project has the potential to move the electrification revolution to mass implementation,’ said Noam Ilan, a company co-founder and vice president for business development.”

Aero is a Millennial-focused private jet company that doesn’t own aircraft: “Unlike other private jet services, Aero aims to stand out by focusing on connecting Millennials with destinations that offer Instagram-worthy experiences. Two upcoming routes include a route from Oakland to the ski slopes of Telluride, Colorado, and between Mykonos, Greece, and the nightlife destination of Ibiza, Spain. Aero doesn’t own or operate aircraft but instead provides ticket resale for flights on registered air carriers on selected routes. That sets it apart from Wheels Up, which runs a private flight membership program and owns dozens of aircraft. It also sets it apart from Zunum, a charter air service backed by the venture arms of Boeing and JetBlue.”


Freelancers are starting to view their independent contract work as more of a long term career: “In a survey of 6,001 US working adultsa mix of freelancers and full-time employeesthe study’s sponsors found that 50 percent of freelancers now view working independently as a permanent career choice, rather than a temporary way to make money. The study also notes that 10 million more Americans consider themselves long-term freelancers now than they did five years ago. … Much of the shift is due to evolving societal perceptions, with a majority of survey respondents saying top professionals in their industry have increasingly chosen to work independently over the past three years. Freelancing is especially common among younger workers, the study found.” 

Mozzeria is a deaf-owned pizzeria fully staffed by deaf-employees soon to open in Washington DC: “This will also mark the second ASL-centric business on H Street joining the Starbucks Signing Store that opened last fall. Mozzeria and other deaf-owned eateries have shown that putting deaf customers front and center can lead to success. According to CSD Social Venture Fund, 70 percent of deaf people are unemployed or underemployed. Dominic Lacy is the Chief Innovation Officer of Communication Service for the Deaf and head of the CSD Social Venture Fund. CSD Social Venture Fund is the nation’s first venture fund for deaf owned and operated businesses which is providing significant support for Mozzeria’s national expansion to D.C. and eventually other cities.”

As the holidays approach, retailers are hiring extra workers: “The National Retail Federation expects retailers to hire between 530,000 and 590,000 temporary employees this year, compared with 554,000 in 2018. Macy’s announced its plan to hire 80,000 temporary workers, while Kohl’s announced it plans to hire 90,000—both in line with their seasonal hiring in 2018. Target plans to hire 130,000, up from the 120,000 it planned to hire last year. With the unemployment rate at a 50-year low, retailers are offering benefits and perks to attract seasonal workers. Best Buy said it offers ‘a flexible schedule, competitive wages, 401k eligibility and an employee discount.’ Last year, retailers became desperate for help during the holidays, offering workers bonuses and gift cards.”

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Here’s how Japan is reinventing the department store: “Marui’s business model used to be to allow suppliers to put their merchandise in its department stores for Marui to sell. This kept suppliers on the hook for inventory risks, at least until their products sold. In the fiscal year through March 2015, Marui became more of a shopping mall operator, leasing space to other retailers on fixed-term contracts. In the five years through this past spring, Marui has allotted some 220,000 sq. meters of floor space to this model. The number accounts for 76 percent of Marui’s total floor space at its stores across Japan. Although other retailers are attempting to convert their stores into showrooms for internet-based services, they are much less earnest about making the pivot. Shopping mall leases usually stipulate that the retailer pay the mall a percentage of sales. But ‘Marui deals with this matter flexibly, depending on tenants’ patterns of operation,’ said Masahisa Aoki, president of Marui Co., the group’s operating arm. In many cases, Aoki said, there are no such commissions.”

Forever 21 may have underestimated the young women it’s trying to reach: “Now, Forever 21 is in trouble for exactly the same reason as the stores it out-muscled: It’s being beaten at its own game. Unlike Millennials, who were compelled by the abundance of Forever 21 and saw its wares as an opportunity to better adhere to existing trends, Generation Z consumers—kids currently in grade school and college—just see a bunch of cheap stuff that everyone already knows about. The familiar is a hard sell to today’s young shoppers, according to Thomai Serdari, a fashion-branding strategist and marketing professor at New York University. ‘A big difference with Generation Z is that they’re not all trying to look the same,’ she says.

“‘Previous generations of consumers were not as informed,’ says Serdari. Gen Z ‘likes to do research, they have a limited budget, they spend online because they can get better deals.’ In other words, being large, cheap, and geographically convenient—Forever 21’s main selling points—are no longer impressive to a huge proportion of its market, even if Forever 21 believes it has the capacity to clothe the goths, the punks, and the VSCO girls.”


Next Insurance, a provider of insurance products to small businesses, raised $250 million in a Series C round that valued the company at $1 billion. “Next Insurance aims to become a one-stop insurance shop for micro and small business insurance needs. Its insurance plans and products are designed to cater the business sectors that are often overlooked by more general insurers.”


Email scammers are getting better at phishing for company secrets by sounding more like employers: “While phishing attacks were once often identified by brusque, broken English, they now often go to greater lengths to imitate the people they’re impersonating. Smart attackers can comb through social media to get a sense of how corporate leaders write and find out something about their targets, so they can initiate an exchange by referencing recent events like vacations or job changes, says Vade Secure chief solutions architect Adrien Gendre. … Attackers often also now use email addresses outside the target corporate domain, like addresses from free email providers, while changing the account name to match whoever they’re imitating.”


As journalism sites flail, two clickbait giants soar: “On many websites, readers who scroll to the very end of an article are likely to encounter rows of small advertisements belonging to a weird subgenre of digital marketing known as chumbox ads. Named for the angler’s practice of using bits of dead fish to lure other fish, these ads comprise arresting images and baffling text. They have one goal: to make readers click. And when they do, readers may find themselves on an unfamiliar website with an odd name, faced with a photo gallery of regrettable tattoos or a listicle on 22 celebrities with ugly spouses. … 

“Those with high standards for their online behavior would never admit clicking on this kind of thing. But enough people are curious enough about something like ‘The 50 Most Evil Looking Buildings on Earth,’ which was the text line for a recent ad on Business Insider, that the digital offerings that fall under ‘sponsored content,’ ‘suggested reading’ or ‘around the web’ have become a multibillion-dollar business. This week, in a long-expected coupling of clickbait giants, the two largest chumbox providers decided to merge. Taboola and Outbrain, both based in New York, have agreed to unite under the Taboola name, with Outbrain investors receiving shares equating to 30 percent of the combined company, plus $250 million in cash. Together, the companies said they bring in more than $2 billion annually in gross revenue.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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