Inside a Pitch Meeting, Why Juul is Thriving and Free Digital Consultations

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DAYLIGHT  

Loren’s guest on Mind Your Business Thursday will be Gabriel Shaoolian, who founded and sold the full-service digital agency Blue Fountain Media and who is now building DesignRush, a marketplace where businesses can post projects and get quotes from full-service agencies. Gabe also does consulting and if you call during the show844-942-7866he’ll review your site and marketing and give you a free consultation. The show airs Thursday at 1:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM 132.

STARTUPS

Red Carpet Home Cinema thinks it may finally have nailed luxury movie rentals: “It’s an idea that has captivated one entrepreneur after another over the years: For a high price, allow … ultra-wealthy people to rent movies—as soon as they come out in theaters—for viewing at home. … But such upstarts have always sputtered. … Film studios, fearful of angering theater chains, have been reluctant to participate. …”

“Red Carpet has contracts with Warner Bros., Paramount, Lionsgate, Annapurna and Disney’s 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight divisions—resulting in some 40 movies annually, including blockbusters like ‘Aquaman’ and ‘A Star Is Born.’ Most studios do not see them as disrupters from Silicon Valley, something that has stalled start-ups like Screening Room.” The price to rent a first-run film: $1,500 to $3,000 apiece.

REGULATION

Somehow, Juul, the San Francisco vaping company, continues to thrive: “The US Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on e-cigarette sales to minors, California lawmakers are weighing a bill to halt the sale of flavored tobacco like Juul pods, and, in the company’s own hometown, the city attorney is pushing to ban e-cigarettes altogether. Juul itself has yanked many of its most popular flavors off of store shelves.

“Yet Juul’s growth prospects remain strong. The company—by far the largest e-cigarette maker in the US—has a private valuation of $38 billion. That’s more than household names such as Airbnb and Lyft. And it is adding jobs, with expansions planned in Mountain View and Austin, Texas. Why is Juul still thriving if many of its users—notably middle and high school students—are now supposedly off-limits? The answer lies in the burgeoning international market and in converting more adult smokers in the United States to vaping.

MARKETING

Twitter is making changes aimed at making the platform a safer space for brands: “Twitter lets brands work with a curated list of more than 200 publishers to buy pre-roll ads or other sponsorships. … That’s ideal for brands who are more risk-averse and may be less willing to tweet their own content and therefore risk being adjacent to hateful content in the feed or have bad actors reply to the ad.”

In addition, “Twitter allows brands to blacklist accounts that have made harmful or negative comments about the brand in the past, so they will not be in the targeting group for an ad. … Twitter also is testing a feature that would allow for comment moderation on organic posts as part of its push to improve conversation in the app. But while brands and agencies can try to manage their own behavior on Twitter, marketers say they would appreciate more effort from Twitter to rid the platform of distasteful content such as white supremacy.”

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HUMAN RESOURCES

Chinese developers are protesting their “9-9-6” work schedules: “A Github user called ‘996icu’ posted a so-called repo (repository) on Tuesday complaining that working 9-9-6 all the time means running the risk of ending up in the intensive care unit …

“Tech firms in China typically expect their employees to work long hours to prove their dedication. However, some young Chinese tech workers are coming to the realization that they need to strike a better work-life balance for the sake of their own health. Beijing-based ByteDance, which runs the popular short video app TikTok, has eased that a bit by introducing a ‘big/small week’ policy, where most of its employees work a six-day week every second week.”

Delta flight attendants’ say their uniforms are causing skin conditions, shortness of breath and hair loss: “‘I noticed right away after I put the uniforms on that I had shortness of breath and I have been a runner my whole life,’ said one Delta flight attendant who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. ‘I don’t smoke or anything like that, so when I couldn’t get up the stairs without being extremely winded, I know there was some sort of problem.’ …

“A 2018 study done by the independent Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study Group of more than 600 flight attendants found that the skin issues, breathing problems, insomnia and other health concerns faced by flight attendants at Alaska Airlines increased dramatically after the introduction of new uniforms in early 2011. The study found that the problems only decreased three years later, in 2014, after the union at Alaska Airlines demanded that new uniforms be implemented. Dr. Irina Mordukhovich of the Harvard group said that Delta had refused to allow the group to come in and study its problem.”

ZACK ELLER’S DEAL OF THE DAY

Ansira Partners, a marketing agency has acquired BrightWave, an email marketing and electronic customer relationship management agency. “BrightWave’s 70 employees will help expand Ansira’s presence in Atlanta and allow the St. Louis company to expand its customer relationship management and loyalty marketing capabilities, Ansira officials said.”

MANUFACTURING

Factories are moving away from China, partially because of the ongoing trade disputes with the US, according to a recent survey. “’The shift is happening,’ said Gerry Mattios, vice president at consulting firm Bain. ‘Back at (the) end of 2018, when we ran a similar report, we found out a lot of companies—over 50 percent—were actually sitting on the fence … there were no major actions taken,’ Mattios told CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ on Monday.

“But now, 60 percent of the respondents said they are ready to take action, as they see headwinds on their balance sheets, he added. ‘They see customers having to pay part of it, and they are trying to see how to reassess their supply chains. What we’re seeing now is due to automation, technological improvements. We move away from this consolidated global manufacturing hubs that we used to have into a more fragmented manufacturing footprint.’”

HOSPITALITY

Booking.com is a site you most likely associate with hotels, but it is currently beating Airbnb in renting out homes and apartments. “Since 2007, 748 million guests have stayed at homes, apartments, or unique listings like yurts and igloos listed on Booking.com, according to its parent company, Booking Holdings. During that same time period, Airbnb says 500 million guests have stayed at one of its listings. …

“‘When you look at our market share in the home area, we’re not as high in the US as a competitor of ours,’ said [CEO Glenn] Fogel, avoiding mentioning Airbnb by name. ‘So we want to make sure the marketing efforts are growing brand awareness in the US.’ Fogel’s plans to make Booking, which also owns Kayak, Rentalcars.com, and OpenTable, a one-stop shop for travel. That includes using its existing brands to provide more customized services.”

TECHNOLOGY

In what is potentially a major breakthrough for the blind community, Aira makes special glasses that allows human agents to livestream and inform those hard of sight what’s in front of them: “‘We believe that for visually impaired people, it’s not lack of sight that’s a problem, but it’s a lack of access to visual information,’ Stilson says. Aira closes that information gap. …

“For users, access to Aira can be transformative. Anirudh Koul, Aira’s head of AI and research, says the team has heard from people for whom the technology has enabled them to do everything from simply taking a walk in their neighborhood by themselves for the first time to hiking in the wilderness to running marathons. Only around 53 percent of blind or low-vision students make it from freshman to sophomore year of college; data from the past year of 100 students using Aira shows that the technology brings that proportion up to 92 percent. …

“Even though it costs, on average, a dollar a minute for a person to purchase and use Aira for their individual use, more and more organizations are starting to offer the technology for free. Aira works directly with a growing number of businesses under their Access Network program, which enables Aira explorers to use the service for free in certain areas.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

Wired takes readers inside an actual VC pitch meeting: “Elman squirms in his seat. He pulls at his face and tugs at his clothes. It’s never easy to bring up what venture capitalists call a down round. The tech graveyard is crowded with companies that were valued at $400 million when they raised a C round (a third round of funding) but only $200 million (rather than, say, the $800 million valuation the founders had been counting on) on the D round.

“That scenario dilutes the ownership stake of the founders and the company’s initial investors—and also all those early employees who had been hired with the promise of owning a sliver of the company. Elman suggests the possibility of a down round, but the CEO shudders at the unpalatable prospect of bursting the bubble of all his hotshot programmers banking on a big payoff once the company hits it big. ‘My engineers would mutiny if I even bring up a down round,’ the CEO says.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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