Hiring Older Workers, Buying an Entire Mall for $10, and Cricket-Based Dog Food

Get the Oxford Morning Report every day. Click here for a free subscription.

POLICY

A lot of business owners are making the case that the Big Tech companies are too powerful: “The Handpulled Noodle, echoing complaints from other small businesses, told the FTC that Google sold ads on its listing in search results. The ads direct customers to delivery apps that charge steep fees and cut into the restaurant’s already thin profit margins. ‘As a small business, it’s like David versus Goliath,’ said Andrew Ding, the owner of the Handpulled Noodle.

“The shop’s Google listing is how most customers find his restaurant, yet, he said, he has no control over how his business is represented. There is no way for him to get rid of the ad next to the Google listing. ‘Google is it,’ Mr. Ding said in an interview. ‘I would love for small business owners that don’t have the clout or the influence to have more say about how their business is represented.’ Google said it allowed companies to place ads next to the listings of other businesses to give users more options.”

MARKETING

Bay Area startup GetThru is turning mass texts into real conversations: “Its ‘peer-to-peer texting’ service lets individual volunteers simultaneously message hundreds of voters around the country. But instead of just sending out massive text blasts, GetThru allows for person-to-person conversations. Any voter can respond to the text message they receive and have a real back-and-forth with a volunteer—asking questions, sharing their opinions or talking about how to get involved …

“Souweine says he discovered ‘that sending out these personalized text messages had a massive impact. You were eight times more likely to RSVP for a phone bank if you got one of these texts than not. And compared with getting a mass text blast asking ‘can you come to this event,’ a person-to-person text was twice as effective.”

One reason Beyond Meat has found initial success is it was able to secure a place in the meat aisle: “If [grocery stores] didn’t sell the product in the meat aisle, Beyond refused to help promote the product’s availability at that location. Though Beyond Meat is a vegan product, it’s designed to appeal to meat eaters who want to diversify their diets or reduce their environmental footprints. And it has: At Kroger, 93 percent of Beyond Burger shoppers also bought meat in the first half of 2018, Beyond reported in financial documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its IPO.”

If you were forwarded this newsletter, click here for a free subscription.

STARTUPS

Haley Russell wanted to sell food with protein derived from crickets but found consumers weren’t ready to eat bugs: “When Russell built a small cricket farm in her family’s Maryland home and tried baking with them, her samplings with friends and family supported that view. One family member, however, had a different reaction: Wren, an 8-year-old goldendoodle. ‘She is a picky eater: the kind of dog who will leave food in her dish,’ Russell says. ‘We gave her a sample and she loved it.’

“Russell pivoted the idea to cricket protein-based pet food, and Chippin was born. Now the two-person company sells several varieties of dog treats that mix crickets with flavors such as peanut butter and apple in stores and through its website. The startup, which launched the products in late November and has sold several thousand units, doesn’t release revenue figures. But it plans to expand into the larger $30 billion pet food industry, most likely starting with cats. ‘You can think of us, eventually, as the Beyond Meat of pet food,’ says Russell.”

PRICING

SoulCycle is trying to monetize loyalty: “Normally, all the bikes for a week of SoulCycle classes are released simultaneously for booking every Monday at noon, and for the most popular classes, there’s a rush to book bikes right when they become available. This is such an ingrained part of SoulCycle culture, the company has even made ‘Noon on Monday’ tanktops. If you wait too long, you may be stuck in the back of the studio or far to the side—or maybe you won’t even be able to get a bike at all.

“But now, the company is offering a product called Soul Early. For an extra $15 per class, you can book your bike starting Sunday at noon. Since a SoulCycle class typically costs about $30, that’s a significant markup. But there’s another way to get Soul Early certificates: If you ride 15 times in a month, the company will give you three Soul Early certificates for the next month—free.”

HUMAN RESOURCES

Even as businesses of all sizes say they are struggling to find workers, older candidates say they can’t get hired: “Tens of thousands of workers say that even with the right qualifications for a job, they are repeatedly turned away because they are over 50, or even 40, and considered too old. The problem is getting more scrutiny after revelations that hundreds of employers shut out middle-aged and older Americans in their recruiting on Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. Those disclosures are supercharging a wave of litigation. But as cases make their way to court, the legal road for proving age discrimination, always difficult, has only roughened. Recent decisions by federal appeals courts in Chicago and Atlanta have limited the reach of anti-discrimination protections and made it even harder for job applicants to win.”

CANNABIS

Los Angeles has a problem with rogue pot shops and legitimate store owners are trying to get them shut down. “In the legal market, marijuana, concentrates, cookies and other products must be tested by independent labs for consumer safety—a requirement that illegal shops can ignore. The group said that the failure to seize cash and pot products from illegal shops after raids allows the business to quickly reopen. … In Los Angeles, the industry group [Southern California Coalition] said that many legal shops are being driven toward bankruptcy because they are surrounded by rogue shops undercutting them. Because of taxes and heavy regulatory fees, legal operators ‘cannot compete with illicit operators,’ the group said.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEALS OF THE DAY  

Metalmixx, an online marketplace where people can buy and sell carbon steel, was acquired by Reibus International, a marketplace for steel and aluminum.

Social and Scientific Systems, a provider of clinical solutions, was acquired by DLH Holdings, a provider of professional healthcare and public services to Government agencies for $70 million.

VENTURE CAPITAL

Alyce, a provider of a platform for sending personalized corporate gifts, raised $11.5 million in a Series A Round.

Vectra, a developer of a network intrusion platform that automates threat detection and response, raised $100 million in a Series E Round.

AGRICULTURE

Many of the pesticides American farmers use on crops are considered unsafe and banned in the EU, China and Brazil. “According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health, over 25 percent of pesticides currently used in the US are banned in the EU. Over three percent used in the US are banned in China, and two percent are banned in Brazil. … For perspective, the US agriculture industry used approximately 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides in 2016, so this is no small matter. … [Regulators rely] on actors in the agricultural and pesticide industry to voluntarily cancel the use of chemicals known to cause harm.”  

RETAIL

An abandoned mall in Bakersfield, California, recently sold for $10 (yes, that’s right. The entire mall sold for $10): “Once a bustling mall, East Hills faltered after losing key tenants Gottschalks and Mervyn’s in the early days of the Great Recession. Hopes for its redevelopment were complicated by the property’s split ownership. Local developers Craig Carver, Grant Carver, Chris Hayden and Mark Shuman agreed in December 2016 to pay then-owner Save Mart $8.75 million for the mall. But rather than insist on outside financing, the Modesto grocery chain agreed to finance the purchase in exchange for a $1 million down payment.

“The local group proposed to tear down the property and replace it with an open-air shopping, dining and entertainment center. City officials supported the concept, even as they became increasingly concerned about the property’s deteriorating condition and signs it had become a de-facto shelter for people with nowhere else to live. Meanwhile, scheduled opening dates came and went without noticeable progress.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

BECOME AN OXFORD MEMBER