Lawyers for Rent, Rolling Papers of Gold, and the Right Way to Address Female Founders

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HUMAN RESOURCES

A survey conducted by a video-conferencing company found that remote workers are happier, stay in their jobs longer, and work more hours: “In the study, released on Tuesday, full-time remote workers said they’re happy in their job 22 percent more than people who never work remotely. The reasons respondents said they decided to work remotely were better work-life balance (91 percent), increased productivity/better focus (79 percent), less stress (78 percent), and to avoid a commute (78 percent). Not surprisingly, Owl Labs also found that employees are more loyal to companies that offer them increased flexibility. The remote workers surveyed said they’re likely to stay in their current job for the next five years 13 percent more than on-site workers did.”

One issue propelling the GM strike? The automaker is preparing for a future featuring electric cars: “When United Automobile Workers members walked off the job at 33 General Motors sites around the US on Sunday morning, perhaps the most striking detail was that they only numbered 46,000. The last time the UAW’s GM workers went on strike, in 2007, they were 73,000 strong. And that was a fraction of the 259,000 US hourly production workers GM employed in 1991. UAW membership has ticked upward in recent years, recovering from its post-financial-crisis nadir. Now it faces a new threat from the next great shift for the auto industry. The electric car may be great for the planet and glorious for drivers, but it’s no good for jobs. …

“That change comes with a worrisome footnote for auto workers around the world. Last year, a study by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO found that by 2030, a moderate shift to electric propulsion could leave 75,000 Germans out of work—even accounting for the creation of 25,000 new jobs. That’s because batteries and motors are far simpler machines than internal combustion engines, and require a few hundred parts instead of a few thousand. That’s the same reason maintenance costs for EVs are so low—a problem for dealerships that rely on servicing cars for profits. Fewer parts mean fewer people.”

More companies are reinventing company retreats to improve workplace culture: “Cutting-edge companies are starting to treat company mixers and retreats as an effort to challenge employees, not coddle them, in an effort to inspire them to new professional heights. LinkedIn recently hired a San Francisco-based company called Adventure Architects to push its executives to the limit on a corporate retreat at a ski resort in the back country of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The employees were awakened one morning with a frantic knock on the cabin door, urging them to organize a high-stakes search-and-rescue mission for a fictional missing skier, providing them only with maps, compasses, avalanche beacons and other basic gear. … ‘Teams connect when they are having fun and genuinely challenged,’ said Noah Rainey, a company founder. And connection, after all, is the point. This is particularly crucial in the virtual modern workplace, where even elevator chit chat is being replaced by workers staring glassy-eyed at their smartphones on the trip to the 12th floor.”

STARTUPS

A startup called Atrium rents lawyers to other startups: “Atrium has raised about $75 million from investors to rent lawyers to startups the way WeWork rents them desks. On Sept. 16, Atrium will announce that it’s begun offering startups a ‘membership’ rather than the usual pay-by-the-hour service. For $500 a month, clients get access to a corporate lawyer—Atrium has its own legal team, hired from the big firms and matching their standardized salaries—free initial consultations on new projects, and a software platform that automates simple tasks such as drafting an offer letter or a nondisclosure agreement.

“The subscription includes an hour of lawyering for ‘general’ advice. A deluxe tier costs $1,500, comes with an additional hour, and includes routine legal work on hiring, contracts, and board meetings. Major projects are available for a flat fee, which is generally cheaper than what a typical law firm would charge, according to clients who have been using an early version of Atrium’s services. Lawyering for an early round of venture funding known as a Series A starts at $30,000; if the deal gets more complicated, and thus more expensive than the price quoted upfront, Atrium, rather than its client, eats the difference.”

Gravity Technologies is betting there’s room to reinvent luxury car service and avoid Uber’s challenges: “Gravity has honed its niche for the past two years as an exclusive, membership-based business, ferrying clients to and from events for Harper’s Bazaar and Planned Parenthood. It distinguishes itself by offering a tech-rich experience that can make getting from one place to the next more productive. … [T]he company offers high-speed Wi-Fi, touch screens, streaming media and point-of-sale technology, as well as a chat-based concierge service. Rather than the on-demand model that Uber uses—which [professor turned founder Moshe] Cohen said requires massive investment and, at least initially, massive financial losses—Gravity hopes to expand through a membership model and get the bulk of its clients through referrals. It charges customers based on time. Cohen says Gravity already has generated more than $1 million in revenue.”

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MARKETING 

Some cannabis companies target wealthy consumers with flashy accessories like rolling papers made of gold: “With limited opportunities to advertise, packaging is one of the few ways a brand can catch a customer’s eye. It’s also how aspiring top-shelf brands signal their ambitions. California’s Canndescent, which calls itself ‘ultra-premium,’ uses a burnt orange motif in a nod to the French fashion house Hermes. Another California brand, Beboe, was co-founded by a celebrity tattoo artist, Scott Campbell, and its pastille edibles‘candy tarts of bouginess’—come in lovely little tins. Many dispensaries try to attract affluent shoppers by fashioning themselves after art galleries and boutiques. … 

“There’s also a market of unknown size for what might be called canna-bling. The vaporizer company Double Barrel sells a $100,000 model encrusted in diamonds and white gold, in a camouflage pattern. A company called Shine produces rolling papers made from hemp and ‘the finest edible gold’ for the relative bargain of $10 per sheet.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEALS OF THE DAY  

Twitch, a provider of a live video-game platform, has acquired IGDB (Internet Games Database), a game content sourcing company. This acquisition will improve Twitch users search capabilities and will help Twitch users find the right content. 

Holland Surfaces, a provider of an extensive range of stone products for both residential and commercial markets, was acquired by All Commercial Floors, a commercial flooring company.

VENTURE CAPITAL

120 Water Audit, a provider of subscription-based water testing service intended to test harmful contaminants in water supplies, raised $7 million in a Series A round.

Edgewise Therapeutics, a developer of small molecule therapies intended to treat debilitating musculoskeletal disease, raised $50 million in a Series B round.

RETAIL

J.Crew spinoff brand is outperforming its parent company: “Madewell operated much more like a digitally native direct-to-consumer startup than a heritage brand. It had a much smaller retail footprint, with just over 100 stores, compared to J.Crew’s nearly 400. Madewell stores also had a more local feel, featuring brands and artisanal products from the area. In keeping with the values of millennial consumers, Madewell made an effort to offer ethically made products, including jeans made using eco-friendly and Fair Trade practices.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

A new Baltimore crab house posts a dress code, and a social media controversy ensues: “[Choptank] posted a dress code on the gate outside its doors warning would-be diners of the kinds of sartorial statements not allowed in the establishment. Among the banned items: baggy clothing (‘pants must be worn at the waist’), backward or sideways hats and work and construction boots. A picture of the sign, posted to Twitter, drew criticism for seemingly targeting minorities. ‘No POC is much more succinct,’ commented one user. …

 “Choptank, whose marketing director did not respond to The Washington Post’s calls or emails, responded on Twitter to the initial post, claiming the policy was standard operating procedure in the neighborhood. ‘Being new to the Fells Point neighborhood, we simply implemented the dress code standard that is used by several other properties in the area including Barcocina, Bond Street Social Moby’s and The Horse You Came In On. Have a great day.’ That’s at least partly wrong. Jassera Contreras, a host at Barcocina, said the restaurant has no such policy.”

MANAGEMENT

Not only is WeWork’s IPO delayed, but the company’s other ventures are also losing momentum: “In 2018, the company spent at least $164 million on businesses other than co-working, but it made only $124 million in revenue from all ancillary ventures, according to a recent public filing. … Powered By We, the company’s business to design, renovate and manage other offices already leased or owned by other companies, has also disappointed. Its profit on many early construction projects have been meager or nonexistent. Key customers have spurned add-ons like janitorial services and software, though margins on recent projects are higher, according to people familiar with the matter. … WeLive’s slow start after such high expectations illustrates how We has struggled to find its footing with other real-estate businesses. Mr. Neumann introduced the unit as a communal-living concept, where customers have their own bedrooms or studio apartments but share common areas with others. In a 2014 presentation to investors, the company predicted that WeLive would account for $605.9 million in revenue by 2018.”

Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan writes we should stop giving female founders cute nicknames: “Some women founders are embracing female-forward descriptors, like mompreneur, and titles (boss lady, girl boss, boss babe, she-E-O) as badges of pride. Meanwhile, marketers, bloggers, and support organizations adopt these terms as shorthand for their focus or mission. The fact that girl boss and she-E-O are closely associated with controversial founders who stepped down from leading their companiesSophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal and Miki Agrawal of Thinx, respectivelyhas barely dimmed their currency. … From a semantic viewpoint, the words or phrases express meanings antithetical to their intent. The word entrepreneur derives from the Old French: to undertake an enterprise. Subbing in mom for entre suggestsroughlyundertaking maternity. As for she-E-O, the word being replaced is chief. Why would any woman want to eliminate chief from her title? Isn’t occupying that top slot one reason womenand men—start companies in the first place?”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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