Harley-Davidson Goes Electric, A Housing Boom in the Midwest, and Remembering the Worst Sales Promotion in History

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Harley-Davidson is pivoting to electric motorcycles in an effort to boost sales with the LiveWire: “The country’s oldest (116 years) and best-known motorcycle maker, Harley wants ‘to lead in the electrification of this sport’ just as it led with traditional, gas-powered motorcycles more than a century ago, said Matt Levatich, the chief executive. ‘We are as a company shifting our mind-set from where our first thought in the morning was ‘We build great motorcycles’ to our first thought having to be ‘We build riders,’ he said. …

“Arriving at dealers in September, the LiveWire is targeting a new audience for Harley—one that is young, affluent and urban, and eager to adopt new technology. And it’s hoping to do it with a bike that looks and feels as progressive as the company’s new mode of thinking. Harley, like most other motorcycle companies, is trying to reverse a steep sales decline. It sold 132,868 bikes in the United States last year—down 10 percent from 2017 and 18 percent from 2016. It’s an industry problem. Domestic sales peaked at 1.1 million in 2006 but struggle to reach 500,000 annually now.”


The Midwest is seeing a housing boom in small to mid-size cities like Boise, Idaho. Some companies in the region are experiencing the pains of high demand: “Many Midwestern markets have heated up so quickly they are now experiencing some of the downsides of a hot market: shortages of inventory and rising prices that are blocking first-time buyers from entering the market. Anthony West, a Realtor in Kansas City, Mo., said the rise in competition and lack of inventory have prolonged the buying process for Millennials and increased prices of lower-cost homes. He said younger buyers are having to make compromises, such as choosing an inconvenient location, forgoing the inspection period, or stretching themselves financially to pay for homes. ‘That’s got me concerned for them down the road as to will they recoup those extra funds that they purchased this property for?’ Mr. West said.”


Biotech researchers are branching out to launch startups of their own: “In the past, biotech VC firms handled this combination of specialized knowledge + binary risk + outsized opportunity with a unique ‘company creation’ model. In this model, there are scientific founders, yes; but the VC firm essentially founded and built the company itself … But the ecosystem this model evolved from is evolving itself. Emerging fields like computational biology and biological engineering have created a new breed of founder, native to biology … are helping change the industry, shifting drug discovery away from a highly bespoke process—where little knowledge carries over from the success or failure of one drug to the next—to a more iterative, building-block approach like engineering.”

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Architect Rick Mungeam reinvented himself after the financial crisis and now he has a $350,000 annual revenue business where he teaches people how to build sandcastles: “Most of [Beach Sand Sculptures’] clients are families vacationing on Florida’s Emerald Coast, roughly 100 miles of sugar-white sand along the Gulf of Mexico from Panama City to Pensacola. But the couple also flies around the country to run team-building exercises or create giant projects for corporations, the largest, most elaborate of which they might spend a week to construct for a charge up to $15,000. Among their most ambitious sculptures: a 50-ton bartending octopus in pirate garb they erected for Bud Light at a music festival. Recently the Mungeams have begun licensing their sandcastle instruction methodology to Princess Cruise Lines. … The Mungeams, who employ 15 instructors during their busy seasons, charge $220 to $370 for a two-hour lesson, depending on the size of the group.”


27 years ago, the vacuum-maker Hoover put together one of the worst sales promotions in history: “A sales promotion where anyone who spent more than £100 (~$250 USD today) on a Hoover product at a qualifying department store would get two free round-trip tickets to a destination in Europe. On paper, it seemed like a win-win: Hoover would sell its excess inventory and boost sales; JSI would sell flights in bulk to Hoover and handle the bookings. … Initially, things went according to plan. Department stores all over the UK became an ‘uncivilized scene’ as thousands of people clamored to buy the cheapest Hoover products they could find. … Sales (and entries in the free flight promotion) soon outpaced Hoover’s projections by 10x: an estimated 300k people bought qualifying products—600k flights that Hoover would potentially have to pay for. And contrary to its projections, customers were not spending significantly more than the minimum £100. … Though the company generated around £30m in gross sales from the promotion, the cost of the flights was conservatively estimated to be more than £100m.”


Dumpling is a platform that helps food delivery workers start their own businesses: “Its big idea: turn today’s delivery workers into ‘solopreneurs’ who build their own book of clients and keep much more of the money. … [Co-founder Joel Shapiro says,] ‘Our philosophy was to build a platform that supports the person. When you run a business and build a clientele that you get to know, you’re incentivized for that [client] to have a good experience. So we wondered, how do we provide tools for someone who has done personal shopping and who not only needs funds to shop but also help with marketing and a website and training so they can promote their services?’ 

“[Co-founder Nate D’Anna says,] ‘We also realized that to help business owners succeed that we needed to lower the transaction cost for them to find customers, so we created a marketplace where shoppers can look at reviews, understand different shoppers’ knowledge regarding when it comes to various specialties and stores, then help match them.’ [Joel Shapiro:] ‘More than 500 across the country are operating in 37 states [use Dumpling]. And we want to give them everything they need. A big part of that is capital, so we give [them] a credit card, then it’s effectively the operational support, including order management, customer relationship functionality, customer communication, a storefront, an app that they can use to run their business from their phone.’” 


Groupon, an online provider of coupons, has acquired Presence AI, a company developing a communications platform that automates business-to-customer calls and messaging. “…chief product officer Sarah Butterfass said that Presence AI’s portfolio will complement Groupon’s existing booking products and help to ‘accelerate’ its development roadmap”

H2M Group, a provider of intelligence analysis services for the defense and space industry, was acquired by ManTech International, an information technology company that provide advanced technological services to the United States government. 


Cambridge Crops, a developer of allnatural preservatives intended to extend the life of food products, raised $4 million of Seed Funding.

Proterra, a designer and manufacturer of zero-emission buses designed to offer smart, safer transit, raised $75.03 million in a Series 8 round. The valuation of the company is $1.04 billion following the round. 


Sherm Poppen, the man who invented the modern snowboard in the 1960s, died at 89. Fun fact, it was originally called a “snurfer”: “He was prescient. Decades later the snowboard would become the basis of a major new recreational business at ski resorts and integral to extreme sports competitions and, in the 1990s, the Winter Olympics. Granted the patent in 1968, he licensed the Snurfer’s manufacturing rights later that year to the Brunswick Corporation, a bowling alley equipment manufacturer with a factory in Muskegon that was expanding into consumer products. By Christmas, Brunswick was selling Snurfers made of the same laminated wood it used for bowling alleys. ‘Sherman Poppen definitely didn’t feed off anything else,’ [Burton Boards founder Jake Burton Carpenter] said, referring to earlier attempts at creating snowboards, like one called a skiboggan. ‘It was his own imagination and creativity that made the Snurfer.’”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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