P&G’s Plan to Survive Retail Climate and Is Slack Destroying Productivity?

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DAYLIGHT  

Is Slack destroying workplace productivity? “This type of software is meant to get different parts of a company working together, to break down hierarchies, to spark chance interactions and innovations. In practice it can be hell.

“The addition of yet another communications tool can result in a surfeit of information. On average, employees at large companies are each sending more than 200 Slack messages per week, according to Time Is Ltd., a productivity-analytics company that taps into workplace programs—including Slack, calendar apps, and the Office Suite—in order to give companies recommendations on how to be more productive. Power users sending out more than 1,000 messages per day are ‘not an exception.’

“Keeping up with these conversations can seem like a full-time job. After a while, the software goes from helping you work to making it impossible to get work done. Also, workplace software doesn’t seem to have supplanted the very thing it was supposed to fix: email. Most people use both.”

RETAIL

Procter & Gamble plans to survive the current retail climate by acquiring more direct-to-consumer brands: “P&G is looking to buy small, niche products with the potential to scale while maintaining the organic appeal that these smaller brands have. … The company is also looking to bring in and build out these brands without making it too obvious that they are P&G brands at a time when big brands are less appealing for consumers.

“In 2009, 39 percent of online consumers were willing to try out new brands and products; today, that number has increased significantly to 56 percent, per Forrester data. ‘We’ve reached this tipping point,’ said Anjali Lai, senior analyst at Forrester. ‘Consumers are desperate for something new.’

“P&G is already borrowing the DTC marketing playbook, using influencers, PR and social, as well as a more data-centric approach to marketing for brands like Olay and SK-II. It is also focusing less on brand awareness campaigns and more on driving sales for Olay and SK-II brands, taking a performance marketing approach that has been popular with DTC brands.”

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SILICON VALLEY

A tech columnist says ride-sharing was a good idea ruined by a deeply misguided startup culture: “Boy, was I a dope. Nearly a decade later, as Uber begins pitching its business to Wall Street in advance of an initial public offering that could value the company at $100 billion, I’m sickened and saddened by my naïveté.

“In the years since, Uber skirted laws and cut corners to trample over regulators and competitors. It accelerated the startup industry’s misogynistic and reckless hustle culture. And it pushed a frightening new picture of labor—one in which everyone is a contractor, toiling without protection, our hours and our lives ruled by uncaring algorithms in the cloud. Uber—and to a lesser extent, its competitor Lyft—has indeed turned out to be a poster child for Silicon Valley’s messianic vision, but not in a way that should make anyone in this industry proud.”

In March, median home sale prices in the Bay Area went down for the first time in seven years. “Prices for existing homes in the nine-county region fell .6 percent, while the number of home sales plummeted 14 percent from the previous March, according to a report released Monday by real estate data firm CoreLogic. Declining sales and prices in the core Silicon Valley counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara led the drop-off, even as Silicon Valley tech giants continued to add jobs.”

STARTUPS

The first thing insurance company Lemonade did was to eliminate the brokers: “Using artificial intelligence, a mobile app and other tech-centric methods, Lemonade founders Daniel Schreiber and Shai Wininger are turning the centuries-old business of property insurance into a Millennial-friendly consumer product. In 2018, its second full year offering renters and homeowners insurance, Lemonade took in $57 million in premium revenue from 425,000 customers, 75 percent of them under 35 and 90 percent of them buying such insurance for the first time. Already operating in 22 states, the 170-employee New York-based startup expects to double revenue this year and expand to all 50 states and Europe. …

“While Lemonade’s growth has been steep, so too has its learning curve. At the end of 2017, its loss ratio—the amount it pays in claims divided by the premiums it collects—was an unsustainable 166 percent, compared to 65 percent to 70 percent for large insurers. Part of the problem was that Lemonade had too little customer experience on which to train its algorithms, which it uses for approving applicants, pricing risk and determining whether a claim should be paid without humans getting involved (30 percent are). Indeed, by the first quarter of 2019, its loss ratio had dropped to a healthier 86 percent. Schreiber predicts it will continue to fall. ‘What we’re seeing here is something that is going to be very traumatic for the whole insurance space,’’ he says. ‘Data is overtaking expertise.’”

Michelle Kennedy’s sense of isolation as a new mother sparked her starting what she hopes will be the LinkedIn for new moms: “Peanut offers women a safe way to befriend others who just happen to be wide awake at 3 a.m., too. ‘We saw that even women who already have a close group of friends they regularly hang out with wanted a more intimate space to congregate and deepen their conversations,’ says Kennedy, who reports that these more specific groups enjoy four times the engagement.”

Eager to grow, Nurx, a women’s health startup, cut corners: “The company is part of a new wave of startups seeking to upend traditional medicine by marketing prescription drugs and connecting people to physicians online who may prescribe them. Proponents of the approach say that it can significantly improve access to drugs like birth control pills. But many of these sites’ practices, which merge commerce with medical care in new ways, have raised questions because the companies operate in a regulatory vacuum that could increase public health risks.

“At Nurx, in addition to the unorthodox reshipment of returned drugs, executives tried to revise a policy on birth control for women over 35, even though state medical laws typically bar people without medical licenses from influencing medical policy. … ‘It was this mentality of ‘Don’t ask for permission—ask for forgiveness later,’ said Dr. Jessica Knox, Nurx’s former medical director, who worked there from 2015 until this January.”

SUSTAINABILITY

Skipping Rocks Lab brought edible, biodegradable seaweed pouches to the London Marathon: “The squishy pods—which look like tiny pillows and were handed out to thousands of passing runners—gave race organizers a chance to cut down on the flood of plastic waste that accompanies major sporting events. … The seaweed pouches, known as Ooho, … [dissolve] in about a month when discarded, according to the company. To access the ounce of liquid inside each pouch, runners merely have to bite into the pouch or place the entire pod inside their mouth and start chewing.”

CHINA

Bike-sharing startups brought prosperity to a town in China and then left behind a mess: “Hundreds of blue and mint-green bicycles stand in rows on this field in Wangqingtuo, the small community that calls itself ‘bicycle town.’ Only the occasional caretaker and a pen of bleating goats watch over them as they rust.

“Just a year ago, global investors were throwing money at Chinese companies that rented those bicycles to consumers. Bicycle startups became ‘unicorns,’ or new companies worth more than $1 billion. This town, home to factories that made many of the bikes, prospered. Now the boom has become China’s latest investment bust. Too many bikes litter the streets of Chinese cities. Some startups hit financial trouble. Wangqingtuo now has closed factories, a workforce that’s leaving and too many bikes.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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