Team-Building Nightmares, Helping 40-Somethings With Dating Apps, and a Small Giants Recap

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DAYLIGHT  

Last week, at the Small Giants Summit in Detroit, Steve Palmer, the Oxford member who owns The Indigo Road restaurant group, collected a Forbes Small Giant award and stole the show. Speaking movingly about his own journey from homelessness and addiction to owning a group of 20 restaurants with more than $50 million in revenue, Steve provided the emotional highlight of the three-day conference. He also talked about why he practices open-book management, how he found the perfect investors and why he started Ben’s Friends, a support group for food-and-beverage professionals who struggle with substance abuse and addiction.

SPOTLIGHT

At Cliff Oxford’s request, we are postponing this week’s scheduled Commerce Dinner and Entrepreneurial Briefing until June 6, when the dinner will be at Murphy’s, and June 7, when the briefing will be at the Porsche Experience Center. Cliff will talk about his new book at the briefing, and we have lots of other good stuff in the works.

THE ECONOMY

The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 263,000 jobs in April, well above what analysts had forecast: “The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in half a century last month, capping the longest streak of job creation in modern times and dispelling recession fears that haunted Wall Street at the start of the year. … Employment has grown for more than 100 months in a row, and the economy has created more than 20 million jobs since the Great Recession ended in 2009. …

“The pace of the current recovery has been weaker than during periods like the 1990s, which is among the reasons wage gains were so tepid until recently. It even prompted some economists to assert that a subdued economy was the new normal. But the upside of slower growth during the last 10 years may be a longer, more durable expansion, said Michael Gapen, chief United States economist at Barclays.”

STARTUPS

Entrepreneurs are starting businesses to help people over 40 figure out dating apps: “When Ms. Nobile split from her husband of 20 years in 2018, she ‘attacked’ dating ‘like a job,’ she said. The co-author of four books, including ‘I’d Trade My Husband for a Housekeeper,’ scheduled four to six dates a day—coffee, drinks—until she met the man that she is now happy with, she said. But she had friends who were struggling to click with people. So she started experimenting with writing text messages on their behalf.

“‘I found I have a knack for taking on people’s voices,’ she said. She had become a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac. A business, Love, Amy, was born. ‘People get weird on these apps. They don’t even talk like themselves,’ Ms. Nobile said. “After three or four meetings with my clients, I can banter as them, I can be them.’ Ms. Nobile finds matches and sets updates, taking over the initial back-and-forth messaging (with clients looking over her shoulder.) She hands everything over once dates are set.”

Shellworks was founded by graduate students to make plastic out of lobster shells. “Almost 250,000 tons of crustacean waste are produced every year. ‘In [lobster] shells, we found a product called chitin which can be made into a bioplastic,’ [says co-founder Anthony Edwards]. ‘We used our project to illustrate that the material can actually be formed into lots of applications that can be a really compelling replacement for some single-use plastic items. So we’ve sold things like plant-pots that self-fertilize, you can plant the plastic in the ground so that when it biodegrades, it serves as another fertilizer.’”

First bike-shares, then shared city scooters, now a company wants to bring us one-wheeled skateboards? “Future Motion, the startup [Kyle] Doerksen founded to sell his new invention [Onewheel] … Many buyers are mixed-use customers: They ride their Onewheels to work Monday through Friday, and hit the streets or trails for fun on weekends. Today, Future Motion has 40 employees and $7 million in funding. While Doerksen won’t reveal revenue numbers, he says demand for the boardswhich cost $1,399 and $1,799 for a longer-range versionhas allowed the company’s bottom line to double each year. ‘Transportation is not just about utility. It’s also about personal expression,’ Doerksen says. ‘People who get into Onewheel love snowboarding or surfing, but they can’t really do either of those in Manhattan. So they get their fix while they zoom to work for 20 minutes.’”

Experiencing one of the common struggles of startups, Victor Lysenko developed Osome, an AI chatbot that handles secretarial work, taxation, even payroll: “‘It dawned on me that despite being in Singapore, one of the best places in the world to start a business … I was doing the same thing, in almost exactly the same way as business owners did 100 years ago.’ … The result, he adds, is that you can incorporate a company in minutes, and you can also save countless hours every month for accounting and payroll.”

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E-COMMERCE

In an oral history, Jason Del Rey of Recode writes that Amazon Prime was the ultimate game-changer: “With it, Amazon single-handedly—and permanently—raised the bar for convenience in online shopping. That, in turn, forever changed the types of products shoppers were willing to buy online. Need a last-minute gift or nearing the end of a pack of diapers? Amazon was now an alternative to the immediacy of brick-and-mortar stores. But the idea came with huge risks, and it spurred real tension inside Amazon. Some managers resented that their projects appeared to be deprioritized for a secret program they knew little about. Others feared that Amazon’s top customers were going to abuse the program and ultimately bankrupt the company with soaring shipping costs.”

RETAIL

Nordstrom is opening a new kind of local store: “In September, it will open two small Nordstrom outposts in New York, in the West Village and on the Upper East Side, as part of its new Nordstrom Local chain, the retailer announced Wednesday. The two smaller stores will not carry merchandise. Rather, they will be hubs for online pickups and returns, as well as services like tailoring and personal styling. Unlike the Nordstroms in American malls and the colossus the company is erecting in the middle of the city, the size of the new shops will be comparable to a Lululemon or a Dunkin’ Donuts.”

MARKETING

H&M is ending its 39-year-old print catalog just as Amazon has released its first: While H&M said “catalogs don’t align with shopping behaviors from today’s consumers, there is some indication that they can still work as a shopping channel, specifically during the holiday season. This past November, Amazon mailed out its first toy catalog and there is evidence that suggests catalogs can prove to be a more effective marketing tool than email. ‘What you’re trying to get when you have catalog marketing is a reason to pull consumers into your product selection—and glossy paper tends to be able to do that in a way that an email that’s one of 100 doesn’t really do,’ [says] Greg Portell, lead partner in the global consumer and retail practice of AT Kearney.”

WORKPLACE

The Hustle posted a story about some of the worst company team-building events, including one that involved paintball: “‘We were playing a game of capture the flag, where you had to avoid getting shot by the other team,’ he says. ‘And out of nowhere comes this person in full faux-military fatigues with an automatic paintball gun, just destroying everyone on both sides.’ The rogue paintballer, it turns out, was the company’s head of HR. ‘She told us she was trying to cause an intentional conflict to see how we handled it as a team,’ he says. ‘But she completely took the fun out of it. It felt like some weird guinea pig test or something.’”

Any team-building horror stories you want to share? Email them to Millennial Matt (mattg@oxfordcenter.com).

GRANT AND ZACK’S DEALS OF THE DAY

Ntivia, an IT consulting company has acquired Diverse Technology Solutions, a cloud services provider for an undisclosed amount. “… Ntiva reported that this acquisition will increase its client base to over 700 organizations throughout the US as the two companies work to provide managed and cloud services to businesses looking to successfully compete with tech”

Sensys Networks, a data company designed to help people move through cities has been acquired by Tagmastser, a technology company. The deal is for $16 million or 1.1x revenue.

CANNABIS

Chinese companies can’t sell cannabis in China, but they want to sell it to you: “Two of China’s 34 regions are quietly leading a boom in cultivating cannabis to produce cannabidiol, or CBD, the nonintoxicating compound that has become a consumer health and beauty craze in the United States and beyond. They are doing so even though cannabidiol has not been authorized for consumption in China, a country with some of the strictest drug-enforcement policies in the world.”

OBITUARY

Turning 70, ‘Shark Tank’s’ Barbara Corcoran decided to throw herself a surprise funeralcomplete with a coffin that she jumped out of: “After 90 friends and family paid their respects, I popped out of the coffin in a red Carolina Herrera gown to the Diana Ross song ‘I’m Alive!’, and danced the Tango. What the heck, you only die once, you might as well be around for it!”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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