Managing Remote Employees, Figuring Out What’s Wrong With Your Website, and Even McDonald’s Has a Podcast

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HUMAN RESOURCES

A graduate from Y Combinator’s most recent class is selling technology that helps companies manage remote employees: “Tandem provides a virtual office for remote teams, complete with video-chatting and messaging capabilities, as well as integrations with top enterprise tools including Notion, GitHub and Trello. The service launched one month ago and has signed contracts with Airbnb, Dropbox and others. The company claims to be growing 50 percent week-over-week. ‘Every company is a remote company,’ Tandem chief executive officer Rajiv Ayyangar said during his pitch to investors on day two of Y Combinator Demo Days this week. ‘You have salespeople in the field, [companies with] multiple offices, people working from home. Tandem isn’t just building the future of remote work, it’s building the future of work.’”

The rise of college-educated women in the workforce is compelling companies to change their compensation and benefits structures: “Since 2013, the female share of college-educated workers has been around the 49 percent mark, with 2019 being the year that women cross into a very slight majority. … The rise of these female workers is changing the way companies structure compensation and benefits packages to attract qualified women. According to human resources consulting firm Mercer ’s 2015 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, six percent of employers with 20,000 or more employees covered egg freezing. In 2018, that number nearly tripled to 17 percent. Smaller companies have seen smaller but steady growth in coverage of fertility services in recent years.”

MARKETING

Non-media companies are making podcasts now, and even McDonald’s has one: “And then there was ‘The Sauce.’ That three-episode ‘investigative podcast’ was released last year by the media company Gizmodo and had somewhat lower stakes than the exoneration of a convicted murderer. With an eerie soundtrack meant to recall ‘Serial,’ the show examined the ‘mystery’ of how McDonald’s underestimated demand for a popular dipping sauce, enraging thousands of its customers. The twist? The hard-boiled investigator scrutinizing that sauce shortage was McDonald’s itself.

“‘The Sauce’ was a branded podcast that McDonald’s paid Gizmodo to produce as a tongue-in-cheek apology to disappointed customers. While it’s no exposé, the show offers a vivid illustration of how companies are increasingly using the tropes of popular podcasts in their own audio projects. These are not advertisements, exactly, but subtle brand-building efforts intended to entertain as well as persuade.”

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SPOTLIGHT

Wondering why your website isn’t converting? Not sure if your business should be marketing on Instagram? Can’t figure out how to hire a competent web developer? Trying to choose among Wix, Squarespace, and Magento? Loren’s next guest on Mind Your Business will be Gabriel Shaoolian, founder of global digital agency Blue Fountain Media. Gabe sold Blue Fountain and now he’s a strategic growth consultant who helps businesses with their digital marketing and e-commerce strategies. You can check out his work at his website: take2strategy.com—or better yet, you can call in when the show airs Thursday at 1:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM 132. If you have questions about your site, Gabe will call it up live on the air and offer his analysis live. The number to call is 844-942-7866.

TAXES

Co-working spaces are saving opportunity zone developers: “The opportunity zone program … was created to stimulate private investment in economically distressed communities in exchange for a break on the capital gains tax. … One of the biggest challenges, however, is finding businesses to move into opportunity zones. … Co-working spaces are a natural draw, enticing startups and established companies looking for short-term, flexible office space. Marry the investment via the zones with such entrepreneurial spirit, and the co-working spaces can help incubate the economic turnaround the distressed areas need. Where better for these bigger firms to test ideas and draw fresh brainpower? ‘They can’t recreate Steve Jobs’s garage in a corporate setting,’ [Fuel-QOZ’s Mark] Kennedy said.”

STARTUPS

Homeis, a social network app, helps immigrants find each other in their surrounding communities: “To sign up for Homeis, individuals answer two questions: what is their country of origin and where do they currently live. The company does not currently vet the responses; [founder Ray] Harnevo said some users are joining cities ahead of their moves to line up resources. The app is then set in their native language. Beyond that, users can be anonymous, or opt to provide their real name and picture. Homeis has since expanded to communities for three nationalitiesIsraeli, French, and Indians in select US cities. According to Harnevo, the app has been used by 400,000 immigrants to date and is ‘rapidly growing in these communities.’ About 40 percent of users return monthly to use the app, he said.”

Internal can help keep customer information private: “‘Companies never dedicate enough engineers to [their internal consoles], so they’re often half broken and hard to use and they do a terrible job of limiting access to sensitive customer data,’ adds [co-founder Bob] Remeika. ‘We eliminate the need to build these tools altogether and it just takes minutes to get set up.’ … Internal isn’t disclosing its pricing publicly just yet, but it says its initial target is non-technical users, on operations and customer support teams, for example.”

Women are making progress in the country’s most diverse city, but Houston’s tech ecosystem still has a long way to go: “‘There’s nothing like seeing a 25-year-old in a hoodie give 10-year projections that are so unrealistic, but then he walks out totally funded,’ said Amanda Ducach, co-founder of Houston-based SocialMama, a networking app for mothers. ‘And then you see a woman who has three years of really thought-out forecasted numbers, and you just know that [investors] are never going to get that idea. They don’t understand why a breastfeeding-friendly bathing suit should exist.’

“Houston could be moving in the right direction in terms of supporting women entrepreneurs. Innovation policy group Startup Genome ranked Houston No. 5, in a tie with the Denver-Boulder area, among 60 tech ecosystems for their share of female founders. Women accounted for 20 percent of Houston’s founders. Chicago topped the list with women accounting for more than 25 percent. In Silicon Valley, women represented 16 percent of founders. But 20 percent is still a small share, and local entrepreneurs, investors and startup assistance leaders agreed that Houston needs to continue working to bring women, as well as people of color, into the innovation sector. In other words, as the country’s most diverse city, Houston needs to build a tech ecosystem in its image.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEAL OF THE DAY 

IAC, an internet media holding company, has acquired NurseFly, a creator of a job marketplace for short-term nursing positions. The company was acquired for $15 million. “On NurseFly, on the other hand, nurses can compare multiple offers, chat with employers and research the cost-of-living in different locations.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

BDS Analytics, a developer of a cannabis market analytics platform, raised $7 million in an Early Stage VC round.

H2O.ai, a developer of an open-source machine learning automation platform designed to help in big data analysis, raised $72.5 million in a Series D round.

Reputation.com, a provider of an online reputation platform that controls digital rating and reputation raised $30 million in a Later Stage VC round. The valuation of the company is $375 million following the round. 

RETAIL

After 100 years in Philadelphia, I. Goldberg Army & Navy, a celebrated local retailer of military jackets, work boots, and utilitarian raincoats, is closing: “Nana Goldberg, the third-generation owner of I. Goldberg, said in January they were determined to stay and make it through this competitive retail landscape, despite being forced to move because of rent hikes. … ‘What makes the city special? The Gap does not make the city special. The Apple store does not make the city special and different. The giant banks on every corner do not make the city special,’ Goldberg said in January. ‘I’m not looking for charity, but it would also be nice that when the city talks about uniqueness, with all our special museums, that maybe they point out a couple unique businesses you can only find in Philadelphia.’”

Tiffany has released its first-ever men’s jewelry collection: “This new offering spans nearly 100 different designs across jewelry, home goods, and other accessories. Think stereotypically macho stuff remade as luxury goods, such as sterling silver necklaces that resemble military dog tags, a silver-encased compass, and a cocktail mixer in crystal and sterling silver. The collection will also get its own floor space in Tiffany’s stores, where it’ll range from about $200 to $15,000 for the jewelry and as high as $75,000 for the most expensive home goods and accessories.”

The world’s first “kosher sex store” is hoping to expand into the US: “At first glance, the stylish boutique on Tel Aviv’s Montefiore Street looks like any other fancy store in this swanky part of the city. Hip denim hangs from a single circular rail above polished hardwood floors. Healing crystals are laid out neatly on a shiny mirrored table. But closer inspection of the shelves and the window display suggests something else is on sale here, and it’s something not found anywhere else in the world: kosher sex.

“The shop is named for the controversial, best-selling self-help book ‘Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy’ published 20 years ago by American celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Kosher Sex—the store—was opened last month by Chana Boteach, the rabbi’s daughter, and sells products meant to induce a healthy dose of sexual intimacy and spirituality between committed couples. The store itself is gleaming and airy and open, unlike the kind of ‘red-light district’ shops—as Boteach puts it—in some other parts of Tel Aviv. Boteach added that the inventory has been carefully selected to be both ‘elegant and tasteful.’ … 

“Some of the more high-end products, such as the crystal toys, cost as much as $170. … ‘I understand that not everyone is comfortable with what I am doing here,’ she said. ‘They think it’s too forward, but they are the ones who do not understand Judaism and sexuality.’”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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