Disappearing Gig Workers, Tracking Cookies, and Telling Your Parents You’re Selling Weed

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MARKETING

Google is looking to limit the use of tracking cookies, which could entrench its own advertising dominance: “A cookie is a small text file stored in an internet browser that lets companies silently follow users around the internet, gathering information such as which sites they have visited and what ads they have viewed or clicked. Initially developed in 1994 to help e-commerce sites remember when a user had placed an item in a shopping cart, cookies have since become ubiquitous across the web—and reviled by privacy advocates and many users.

“Yet cookies also boost competition in the advertising landscape by allowing hundreds of digital firms—large and small—to collect their own user data and sell higher-priced ads based on it. Any restriction on them is a boon to the biggest tech companies, including Google, which can target ads based on the large amount of other information they collect on users through their many products.”

Should there be a tax on targeted ad revenue? “Ad-driven platform companies could avoid the tax entirely by switching to the business model that many digital companies already offer: an ad-free subscription. Under this model, consumers know what they give up, and the success of the business would not hinge on tracking customers with ever more sophisticated surveillance techniques. A company could succeed the old-fashioned way: by delivering a service that is worth more than it costs.”

STARTUPS

Because finding a stylist who matches a customer’s taste can be a challenge, Marisa Milton created Top Knott to connect people with stylists. She says her company bridges “‘the communication gap between the two by providing the clients with the information they are looking for and asking the right questions … When I moved to college three hours from home, I found that I was having the toughest time finding a salon where I was comfortable getting my hair done. I would call and ask them about what products they used, how long a particular stylist had worked there, and in the end, I always ended up driving three hours home to go to the salon I was comfortable with. Not only did I want to make the search for a stylist simpler, but I wanted to find a way to support stylists and salons by offering a way for them to showcase their work and grow their businesses.’”

What ZipCar did for cars and Rent the Runway for clothes, a slew of new startups want to do for furniture: “These new subscription services, including the New York-based Feather and Los Angeles-based Fernish, differ from established furniture-rental companies. As their eco-evocative names suggest, the new companies present renting as an environmental virtue—instead of buying cheap, disposable furniture that ends up in landfills, you can rent better-quality pieces that others use when you’re done with them. They aim at people who have graduated from college but haven’t settled down and who may appreciate fine things but don’t necessarily feel the need to own them just yet.

“Feather, which started two years ago with venture capital backing, approaches its business from a sustainability point of view. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 9.7 million tons of furnishings end up in landfills. That is not good, according to Feather’s founder Jay Reno, age 31, who has a master’s degree in climate and society from Columbia University: ‘We’re trying to kill the notion of fast furniture.’”

GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING

This Forbes Small Giant is hired by government agencies to improve public health: “Jupiter Velvet, a transgender drag queen wearing a hot-pink catsuit and a frizzy blonde wig, is about to lip-sync the Britney Spears hit ‘Breathe on Me’ before hundreds of revelers from Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. But before she begins, she holds a gas mask in front of her face and tells the crowd why she doesn’t smoke. ‘I am tobacco-free because, as a trans woman, it took me years to learn how to love my body,’ she says. ‘And I won’t allow toxins to ruin the relationship I’ve built with my body.’

“The April 2019 event, at a hip Atlanta hotel called The Moxy, is part of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign produced for the FDA by Rescue Agency, a San Diego marketing firm that has found a unique way to get people to lead healthier lives. Its clients are federal, state and local health departments. Rescue’s novel approach: Get to know all it can about the group it’s targeting, then tap people in the group to convey a message that speaks to their most prized values and priorities.”

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M&A

Apple buys another business every couple of weeks: “In roughly the last six months alone, [CEO Tim] Cook said, Apple has bought approximately 20 to 25 companies. Apple often doesn’t announce these deals because the companies are small and Apple is ‘primarily looking for talent and intellectual property,’ Cook told CNBC’s Becky Quick in an interview from Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting over the weekend. The aggressive acquisition style highlights Apple’s massive purchasing power. In its fiscal second-quarter earnings statement, Apple reported a $225.4 billion cash hoard.”

Tumblr is for sale again, and Pornhub might be first in linebut how did the quirky platform fall from a valuation of $1.1 billion? “Tumblr sold to Yahoo (and, later, Yahoo sold to Verizon)—and users didn’t respond well. When the company first sold, nearly 170k circulated a petition of protest. Last December, when Tumblr banned adult content, its viewership dropped 17 percent. Meanwhile, as Tumblr has declined, both Medium and Instagram have soared in popularity, giving former Tumblrs places to post. But Pornhub seems undeterred, having courted Tumblr’s customers for months. When Tumblr made the controversial decision to ban adult content, the adult video site tweeted: ‘Tumblrs: Pornhub welcomes you with open arms.’”

HUMAN RESOURCES

The strong labor market is making it much harder for gig economy companies to find workers: “The unusually high rate of turnover in the gig economy should have the leaders of these companies and their investors worried, says Micah Rowland, chief operating officer of Fountain, a company that helps gig companies acquire new workers by streamlining the hiring process. Because Fountain helps companies hire a higher proportion of the people who show an interest in working for them in the first place, Mr. Rowland’s company benefits from high turnover in the gig economy, but only as long as its clients stay in business.

“For some, he worries the churn rate is so high that it’s unsustainable. ‘It struck me that in some of these markets, they’re processing thousands of job applicants every month, and these are not large cities,’ says Mr. Rowland. ‘I asked, Have you guys ever considered you may burn through the entire available labor market of people interested in or willing to do roles like this? and they did not have an answer for that.’”

With businesses scrambling for workers, Hungary has enacted a “slave law”: “All across Hungary, which has near-record low unemployment and one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, there are not enough workers. Other European countries are grappling with a labor squeeze. But while Germany, Denmark and others have passed immigration laws to attract workers from outside the European Union, Hungary, where automakers like BMW and Audi have factories, is strapped by the policies pursued by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fierce nationalist. Mr. Orban’s government has discouraged immigrants by erecting barriers, including razor-wire fences, along Hungary’s borders and by limiting work permits sharply for most foreigners. …

“The labor shortage has grown so acute that the government recently pushed through a contentious bill to address it. Widely referred to as the slave law, it allows employers to require up to 400 hours of overtime annually from its workers, while delaying compensation for up to three years. Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party promoted the measure as good for workers, saying it would let ‘those who want to work more earn more.’”

CANNABIS

Oregon and Washington state, some of the first states to legalize recreational pot, have a big problem with demand not meeting supply. “To say that Oregon has something of an oversupply issue is a vast understatement. The state’s authorities estimate that demand in the adult use cannabis space is running at just 50 percent of the supply from legal producers between July 2017 and June 2018. … [The state is] sitting on approximately 1.3 million pounds of cannabis that it can’t shift, mainly because of both local and federal laws that prevent sales outside state lines. … Washington has a ‘canopy’, or grow area, [that] is yielding far more flower than retailers can sell. To cut their losses, the state’s growers have simply stopped growing.”

CULTURE

Sometimes it’s just hard to tell your parents what kind of business you’ve decided to start: “Manndie Tingler kept her secret from her parents, certain they would disapprove. And while most Americans have come around, she knew her mom and dad would still consider it ‘a horrible thing.’ She eventually tired of hiding her affairs, so she began bringing up tidbits to ‘gauge their warmth.’ Finally, Ms. Tingler told them: She was helping to build a marijuana startup.

“Her mother’s response was curt: ‘So, are you going to get arrested?’ Parents, at book clubs or block parties, love sharing news of their children’s success. But making joints is a far cry from making partner.” This article was written by a reporter named Julie Weed. Really.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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