Mobile Use Rises, Oil Prices Fall, and Square Is Sending People The Wrong Receipts

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MARKETING

This year, for the first time ever, Americans will spend more time using mobile devices than watching TV: “The average US adult will spend three hours, 43 minutes on mobile devices in 2019, just above the 3:35 spent on TV. Of time spent on mobile, US consumers will spend 2:55 on smartphones, a 9-minute increase from last year. In 2018, mobile time spent was 3:35, with TV time spent at 3:44.

“Tablet use among US adults continues to lose ground, having peaked at 1:11 daily in 2017 and dipped to 1:08 this year. This trend will continue through 2021. ‘We’ve expected that mobile would overtake TV for a while, but seeing it happen is still surprising,’ said Yoram Wurmser, eMarketer principal analyst. ‘As recently as 2014, the average US adult watched nearly two hours more TV than they spent on their phones.’

“What are people spending time on their devices doing? They’re consistently spending the bulk of their time using apps over web browsers, with the average person spending 2:57 in apps vs. 0:26 on a mobile browser.”

THE ECONOMY

Here’s another reason to worry: oil prices are tumbling: “Always volatile, oil prices have tumbled more than 20 percent since late April because of growing fears that demand is weaker than expected as the global economy slows. Investors are also worried that President Trump’s trade war with China and his threat to put tariffs on imports from Mexico could depress growth even more. On Wednesday, crude oil futures in the United States closed at $51.68 a barrel, down 3.4 percent for the day, even as the stock market closed higher.

“The outlook for oil prices was much different just six weeks ago, when the Trump administration was tightening sanctions on two leading producers, Iran and Venezuela, and civil war was breaking out around Libya’s capital. Some analysts speculated that there wouldn’t be enough oil to go around and that prices could jump to $90 a barrel or even higher.”

PAYMENT

Square has been sending millions of customers the wrong receipts. “With access to years of data on the purchase activity of hundreds of millions of unique credit and debit cards across millions of small businesses, Square has a window into spending patterns that few other tech companies can match. … But misfires happen … At Home on the Range, a kitchenware store in Livingston, MT, asked Square to disable the automated digital receipts following the 2017 holiday season. Owner Jennifer Flight said she heard complaints from a number of customers whose spouses had received itemized receipts for their own Christmas gifts.

“Ms. Flight said that the issue of receipts going to someone other than the purchaser generated ‘the most negative of all of the responses we’ve had from customers.’ She said customers didn’t believe her when she explained that the receipts were likely the result of information they provided to another Square business. ‘It was clear that in his mind I had dropped from the ranks of friend to salesperson, scheming to get his information to market to him,’ Ms. Flight said about one particularly peeved customer.”

STARTUPS

It’s vacation season, and Australian startup Unyoked hopes to take tiny homes from a fad to the cornerstone of a new kind of recreational travel: “‘We see Unyoked as a global network of cabins that make the wilderness accessible,’ [co-founder] Cam [Grant] says. ‘We see it as the antidote to modern life and being able to provide little sanctuaries in reach of major cities around Australia and globally.’

“The cabins are a tiny house of one single room with a gas burner, a bed, a small fridge, a composting toilet, a hot shower and solar power. There is no Wi-Fi and television but provisions such as yoga mats, Penguin classic books, board games and negroni ingredients are supplied.

“At $200 a night and more on weekends, Unyoked has grown quickly from one cabin boot-strapped on the brothers’ savings of $100,000 to six cabins. … Demand continues to exceed supply with a customer waiting list for Unyoked of over 95 percent and the pair are forecasting annual recurring revenue of $5.3 million by June 2020.”

AntiToxin sells software that aims to eliminate online abuse on social platforms and video games: “AntiToxin’s technology plugs into the backends of apps with social communities that either broadcast or message with each other and are thereby exposed to abuse. AntiToxin’s systems privately and securely crunch all the available signals regarding user behavior and policy violation reports, from text to videos to blocking. It then can flag a wide range of toxic actions and let the client decide whether to delete the activity, suspend the user responsible or how else to proceed based on their terms and local laws.

“Through the use of artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, machine learning and computer vision, AntiToxin can identify the intent of behavior to determine if it’s malicious. For example, the company tells me it can distinguish between a married couple consensually exchanging nude photos on a messaging app versus an adult sending inappropriate imagery to a child.”

Fresh Chalk merges key qualities of Facebook and Yelp by having your friends be the primary source for recommendations: “Fresh Chalk essentially transforms [a] spreadsheet into a slick social network that is built around trust—the value you place in a recommendation from a friend, versus some random stranger on the internet. … ‘Other platforms that have recommendation components can go really negative really fast and become a place where people air grievances,’ said [co-founder and CEO Liz] Pearce, who was most recently chief revenue officer at augmented reality startup Streem. ‘When you’re actually looking for someone to hire, that’s a waste of time.’”

EDUCATION

Traditional MBA programs are waning in popularity: “Applications to traditional MBA programs have languished in a strong US job market, declining last year even at Harvard Business School, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and other elite schools. School administrators say Millennials, saddled with more college debt than previous generations, have grown increasingly reluctant to leave jobs for a year or more to pursue one of the nation’s priciest degrees.

“Between 2014 and 2018, the number of accredited full-time MBA programs in the US dropped nine percent to 1,189, according to survey data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Schools such as Wake Forest University and Virginia Polytechnic and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, have also discontinued their traditional two-year programs.”

AGRICULTURE

Farmers are facing an agonizing choice: Should they plant corn? “Heavy, repeated rains over the past two months have left fields saturated throughout the critical planting period for corn, typically the biggest US crop by acreage. Farmers in rain-soaked states now must decide whether to file insurance claims on unplanted fields, potentially making less money off their farms, switch to less-profitable crops or take their chances sowing corn that may not have time to fully mature.

“The inclement weather adds another challenge to a punishing period for farmers, seed and chemical suppliers, and tractor makers. Trade disputes with major US food importers including Mexico and China have cut into crop prices, adding pressure to farm incomes, after several years of bumper harvests swelled global grain supplies.”

Worries of a cocoa shortage spurred companies like Mondelez International into developing systems to combat it, particularly in Africa where most of the world’s cocoa is produced. “So far this year, 1.9 million metric tons have been shipped out of ports in Ivory Coast, the hub for African cocoa production. … Reacting to the reports of a looming shortage, Mondelez International Inc. began a program in 2012 that helped farmers in six cocoa-growing nations learn to grow more efficiently. Mondelez, owner of the Cadbury and Toblerone chocolate brands, said it has been successful in increasing yields, with Ghana farms participating in its program yielding 15 percent more than nonparticipants.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEAL OF THE DAY  

Before the Butcher, a producer of plant-based products was acquired by Gregg and Jeff Hamann, the owners of Jensen Meat Company, a ground beef producer.

M&A

Skills Fund, a financier of educational programs that are not backed by federal loans, was acquired by Goal Structured Solutions, a company that manages consumer and student loans.

ERIE Press Systems, a manufacturer of an open die and closed forging press, was acquired by Park Ohio Holdings, an industrial supply chain logistics and diversified manufacturing company.

VENTURE CAPITAL

FormAssembly, a developer of a web platform that makes surveys and data collection easier raised $13 million in Series A Funding.

Cipher Skin, a developer of wearable technology that tracks three dimensional, asymmetric movement in near-real time raised $1.2 in a Seed Funding Round.

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SPOTLIGHT

Loren’s guest on Mind Your Business today will be Gene Marks, a consultant who helps businesses with their technology needs. He’ll be talking about his list of apps and platforms that his clients can’t live without. Got a suggestion or a question? Call when the show airs today at 1:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM 132. The number to call is 844-942-7866.

As a reminder, the Commerce Dinner at Murphy’s is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tonight in Atlanta followed by the Entrepreneur Briefing at the Porsche Experience Center at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. Contact events@oxfordcenter.com to RSVP or for more information. The featured speakers at the briefing will be Cliff Oxford, founder of the Oxford Center, and Steve Palmer, founder of The Indigo Road restaurant group.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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