Doggy Logistics, a Social Network for Employee Complaints, and the CEO’s Case for Medicare for All

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HUMAN RESOURCES

MCS makes picture frames, decorative mirrors and kitschy wall décor that it sells to Walmart and other big-box chains, but its CEO, Richard Master, says it had to move its manufacturing to China and Mexico largely because of the cost of US health-care: “Today, he’s at the vanguard of a small but growing group of business executives who are lining up to support a ‘Medicare for All’ national health program. He argues not that health care is a human right, but that covering everyone with a government plan and decoupling health care coverage from the workplace would benefit entrepreneurship. …

“In 2018, he formed the Business Initiative for Health Policy, a nonprofit group of business leaders, economists and health policy experts trying to explain the financial benefits of a single-payer system. Dan Wolf, CEO of Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass.-based regional airline that employs 800 people calls himself ‘a free-market guy.’ But he also supports Medicare for All. He said Master helps turn the political argument over single-payer into a practical one.

“‘It’s about good business sense and about caring for his employees and their well-being,’ he said, adding that employers should no longer be straddled with the cost and complexity of health care. ‘It makes no more sense for an airline to understand health policy for the bulk of its workers than for a health facility to have to supply all the air transportation for its employees.’”

Tesla is blocking its employees from using a social network for workplace complaints: “Blind is an anonymous social network that has been used by tech workers to speak freely about grievances related to the workplace, among other concerns. Thousands of Tesla employees have signed up for the service, but now the company is reportedly trying to suppress its workers from joining the network.

Verdict reports that Tesla employees were having trouble getting their verification emails to join the service. While Blind does have a public forum, it also allows workers to join an anonymous Blind community specifically for their company. In order to do so, a worker has to be verified by Blind using their work email address. But according to the report, Tesla was seemingly blocking these verification emails to its employees, meaning they wouldn’t be able to successfully join the Tesla community on Blind. What’s more, employees also reported to Verdict that Tesla was blocking Blind on the company WiFi network. …

“Employees across all of the major tech companies are active on Blind, both publicly and in private forums. A Blind spokesperson said that there are over 55,000 users at Microsoft, 38,000 at Amazon, 16,000 at Google, 13,000 at Facebook, 11,000 at Uber, and 10,000 at Apple.”

STARTUPS

A “doggy logistics” startup, DogSpot, is betting that high-tech kennels stationed around Seattle will win over skeptical pet owners: “‘Yes, it has A/C and air holes,’ reads the message on the side. ‘No, they don’t use it as a bathroom. Yes it locks. No they don’t freak out. Yes, we’re serious.’ … DogSpot’s app includes a map showing where dog houses are available to be rented. Dog owners can reserve a house ahead of time and unlock it upon arrival. Normally, the rental rate is 30 cents per minute, but QFC will offer the houses for free to shoppers.

“The houses give owners the chance to check in on their dogs throughout the stay through a ‘puppy cam’ that they can access through the mobile app. Pet owners can also play music or talk to their dog remotely via the app. Dog owners can book a house up to 15 minutes in advance or on arrival.” Every dog house comes with heat, air conditioning, sanitizing UVC lights and a monitoring team.

Health-care startup Level is making dental care easier for employees and less costly for employers: “Level lists local providers and compares costs up front, meaning no mystery surrounding a procedure’s price. A dashboard organizes all the appointments in one place and keep tabs on remaining benefits. If you get a procedure–basically anything beyond preventative care–you can pay via a stored credit card. …

“‘Oftentimes, employers are spending quite a lot on their policies,’ says Level founder and CEO Paul Aaron. ‘And some people use their benefits a lot, and some people don’t use them at all.’ Employers working with Level only pay for the care their employees actually use. They can also customize plans to include benefits like adult orthodontia and–if they’re feeling generous–teeth whitening. This method, says Aaron, saves companies up to 20 percent on dental benefits spending.”

Cookware startup Great Jones is launching a hotline for home chefs: “Potline is a free text message service where anyone can ask for recipe ideas, or get advice when things are going wrong in the middle of the cooking process, or get tips on how to clean up afterwards. Great Jones co-founder Sierra Tishgart argued this is ‘a really natural extension’ of the brand, particularly since the company has already been getting customer service queries that aren’t really about its cookware. As for why it’s doing this via text message, [Tishgart] said, ‘We really want this to feel like that you are in the middle of making pasta and your sauce isn’t landing—how would you look for help there? I would text somebody.’”

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CYBER SECURITY

To test a company’s cybersecurity, HyperQube makes a digital clone of the company and then subjects it to cyberattack: “‘Being able to rapidly clone entire infrastructure, including the networking, allows enterprises to test in ways that used to be too expensive,’ Craig Stevenson, founder and CEO, told ARLnow. ‘Before HyperQube, probing an enterprise’s defenses was costly and dangerous, since you are probing real systems which can’t be taken offline. Now, you could spin up hundreds of exact copies of an enterprise’s defenses and probe them both risk-free and simultaneously, saving massive amounts of effort and eliminating the risk of taking a production system offline.’”

NETWORKING

Charlene Izere created a networking group for women of color, Melanin & Money, while expanding her fitness business. “[Izere says,] ‘As I was investing in my fitness business and going to events, I realized there weren’t a lot of women of color at the top’ … Headquartered in Knoxville, Izere hosted the organization’s first mixer in March, providing an opportunity for women of color and their allies to learn about the organization, share their entrepreneurial goals and connect. ‘Within entrepreneurship, women of color are the fastest growing segment,’ she said. ‘However, what I’ve noticed is while we are the fastest growing segment it’s harder to secure funds,’ she said.”

THE ECONOMY

A trade war could be on the horizon, so Jerome Powell hinted at cutting interest rates to maintain the current economic expansion: “Mr. Powell did not explicitly say that the Fed will cut interest rates but his comments send a signal that the central bank is watching Mr. Trump’s trade wars warily, ready to fend off any economic damage.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEALS OF THE DAY  

Imperva, a security software firm, has acquired Distil Networks, a cybersecurity company that specializes in block bot attacks on websites, mobile apps and APIs. “Ultimately, it’s all about thwarting automated attacks, which can be used at scale by hackers and fraudsters to infiltrate online accounts and generally wreak havoc.”

PRIVATE EQUITY

Lykan Bioscience Holdings, a provider of clinical and commercial manufacturing services for pharmaceutical and biotech companies, raised an undisclosed amount of development capital from WindRose Health Investors.

APCT Holdings, a manufacturer of printed circuit boards, was acquired by Angeles Equity Partners through an LBO.

VENTURE CAPITAL  

Venture capitalist Nisha Dua believes investors need to go beyond the face value of a dazzling pitch, citing the Theranos debacle: “Theranos is an extreme example, but we live in a moment right now where you have all these buzzwords. So, artificial intelligence is a buzzword and machine learning is a buzzword … and you really need a lot of data to actually make true on the promise that you’re selling. So it’s really critical to dive deeper behind those sort of flashy pitch decks and the buzzwords …

“I am sometimes surprised by the number of investors who get excited by a company and by the idea and by the founder and don’t really dive into what is being built. What is possible? Have I talked to experts who know this area better than me?’ The problem, Dua explained, is that ‘there’s a lot of money in the market and you don’t move quickly enough you might miss a competitive deal. And you are taken by the promise of changing the world sometimes.’”

Cien, a developer of an AI tool for sales teams, raised $4.08 million in a Seed Round.

Prodigy, a provider of an online car selling platform, raised $11.7 in a Series A Round.

MEDIA

Alas, iTunes is no more, but it will be remembered as a cultural milestone in entertainment media: “iTunes entered this world 18 years ago as a ‘digital jukebox’ that let users import their favorite CDs, organize their libraries and burn custom mixes. It then became a music store of its own—a magical, one-click emporium where 99 cents could get you almost any song under the sun. Steve Jobs heralded its birth as the dawn of a new age of media consumption, one in which consumers would own the digital rights to their own music. … That breakthrough not only saved the music industry—it may have saved the film, TV and book publishing industries, too. I’ve come to think of iTunes as a core piece of what I call the Middle Internet—the period between the Wild West days of Napster and the hyper-centralized era of Facebook and YouTube.”

INTERNATIONAL

A chess piece bought for five pounds is actually one of the missing pieces from the Lewis Chessmen set. The piece could go for as many as one million pounds at auction. “The Lewis Chessmen—a famous hoard of 93 objects—were discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. But the whereabouts of five pieces from the collection have remained a mystery. A family has now been told the chess piece their grandfather bought for just £5 in 1964 is one of the missing treasures. The antique dealer from Edinburgh had no idea of the significance of the 8.8 cm piece, made from walrus ivory, which he passed down to his family.”

SPOTLIGHT

In response to Mark Cuban’s comments that he puts more value on liberal arts majors than computer science majors, we have some thoughts from three readers.

The first, from Chris Bachelder: “Like most people today, I believe the purpose of higher education is competence. When education is of high caliber, that’s a consequence, but not its purpose. No one reads Cardinal Newman anymore.”

Todd Hawkins: “I think those that own the best robot in the future will be the top earners. One day in the not so distant future, everyone will buy or receive a robot to do their work. Those with the best robot win. However, it will probably work out like it is today, some people will always have a robot that needs fixing, others will always have new robots that do the work.”

Michael K. Clifford: “Alright, trade education institutions will be forced to adapt to new models. VCs in SV are driving innovation, while the US education industrial complex is collapsing.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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