The Celery Shortage, a Documentary Targets Yelp, and a Startup Reviews Your Medical Bills (for Free)

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

A documentary, “Billion Dollar Bully,” accuses Yelp of extorting businesses: “Some of the stories in ‘Billion Dollar Bully’ are pretty compelling, irrespective of the movie’s extortion claims. Business owners describe aggressive tactics from Yelp salespeople, hateful rants that clearly violate Yelp’s content guidelines, and endless frustration with Yelp’s mysterious recommendation system, in which some reviews are automatically filtered out of a business’s Yelp profile.”

FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Celery is getting harder to find in Southern California and prices have spiked: “The reason? A growing belief that celery juice may be the key to treating dozens of chronic ailments ranging from eczema to migraines. And that belief is due, largely, to the influence of one man.

“Anthony William, a.k.a. the ‘Medical Medium,’ may have no actual medical training or a professional background in healthcare, but that hasn’t stopped him from publishing four New York Times bestselling nutrition books extolling the benefits of celery juice, all while winning personal endorsements from celebrities including Miranda Kerr, Pharrell Williams and the health and wellness queen herself, Gwyneth Paltrow. …

“The juicing craze has caused celery prices to spike—to as much as $5 a bunch at organic health food stores such as Erewhon. According to the Western Growers Assn., the average retail price for celery in Los Angeles has jumped more than 30 percent over the last year to $2.59 a bunch. Over that same period, the price farmers were paid per bunch of celery has skyrocketed by 670 percent to $2.63.”

TRADE

Even in the “manufacturing capital of the world,” the trade war is sending companies looking for a second China: “Low-end manufacturers, facing rising wages and increased labor and environmental controls, had already started leaving China to seek cheaper labor and looser regulations. Trump’s tariffs are prompting them to move faster. Devereux said his American clients have been calling every other day, asking how quickly they can shift supply chains to Vietnam.

“‘Customers don’t trust Trump, that he’s not suddenly going to come up with more tariffs,’ Devereux said. ‘So they’re looking for us to move products we manufacture that aren’t even covered by the tariffs at the moment, to be ready to move that to Vietnam.’ It’s not just foreign companies shifting supply chains. Chinese companies are also moving to Vietnam, where they can avoid tariffs and pay one-third to half the minimum wage in Guangdong, he said.”

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STARTUPS

Earnin, a company that offers alternatives to high-interest payday loans, now wants to negotiate pricing on customers’ medical bills…for free. “It lets people take pictures of their medical bills and load them into Earnin’s app. From there, the startup’s team, which is trained in medical billing, will negotiate with doctors and hospitals for lower bills or installment payments. These workers will also try to line up financial aid through a medical provider if a patient qualifies. Results can come as quickly as two business days and Earnin says it found savings for 90 percent of users, at an average of $100 per bill [during its pilot program] …

“Earnin’s business model is based on community-supported contributions. If you appreciate the service it’s providing, you can tip the company at whatever level you think is fair; if you can’t afford to pay or don’t want to, you don’t. The company follows the same model for Cash Out, it’s main service providing short-term loans to people ahead of their paydays. Most Earnin users have tipped at least once, the company said.”

HUMAN RESOURCES

A Y Combinator startup, Instawork, matches hospitality workers with employers: “Instawork posts shifts for chefs, event servers, housekeepers, and other positions its customers need to fill quickly (within hours if necessary), which vetted professionals book at their leisure. (Workers are required to submit their full names, a valid phone number, and an email address and home address, along with up-to-date work experience, references, and things like vehicle information and job preferences.) Jobs range in length from a few hours to weeks—workers see the estimated pay, location, and total duration before they commit—and hirers are encouraged to rate workers after the completion of each gig.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEAL OF THE DAY  

Shopify, an e-commerce platform has acquired Handshake, a commerce platform for businesses that sell wholesale goods: “The opportunity that Handshake had identified, and now Shopify is targeting, is the end of the e-commerce market for brands and other merchants selling items wholesale, potentially alongside consumer-focused retail efforts.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

Nutrimedy, a telenutrition platform raised $2.15 million in Seed Funding from Gan Ventures and Innospark Ventures.

Unstoppable Domains, a developer of blockchains designed to replace cryptocurrency addresses with human readable names raised $4 million in a Series A Round.

Rebound Technologies, a developer of refrigeration systems intended to accelerate freezing and save costs raised $600k in a Later Stage VC Round.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Diet Prada founders Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler not only are a leading voice in the fashion world via Instagram, but also act as one of the industry’s top watchdogs against copycats. “Diet Prada has become a champion for design integrity and accountability in an industry undergoing upheaval. Liu and Schuyler, who fund the project through branded merchandise and partnerships with select fashion brands, continue to call out too-close-for-comfort imitations by well-known designers including Virgil Abloh, Jason Wu, and Christian Siriano. But Diet Prada is now equally focused on revealing how fast-fashion brands and influencer-owned labels peddle knock-offs from designers too small to fight back.”

REGULATION

The Illinois Supreme Court has issued a ruling that favors restaurants over food trucks: “The lawsuit, filed in 2012 by food truck owner Laura Pekarik, who runs Cupcakes for Courage, claimed a city rule prohibiting food trucks from parking within 200 feet of any establishment that serves food—a category that includes convenience stores with hot dog rollers—forces food trucks to make concessions to help their bricks-and-mortar competitors succeed. Another part of the law that mandates food trucks carry GPS devices so that the city can track their whereabouts constitutes a ‘warrantless search’ and violates privacy protections, the suit claimed.

“Chicago food truck operators say the city’s restrictions have driven entrepreneurs out of business and stunted the local scene even as it has thrived elsewhere in the nation. … Pekarik had hoped a ruling in her favor would allow her to get her cupcake truck back on the road, but that won’t happen now, she said. She ceased her regular route because the limited parking prevented her from promising customers she would be in a certain location, and she feared getting a ticket. The Cupcakes for Courage truck is now used only for catering or special events and most of Pekarik’s business comes from her storefronts in Elmhurst and Oak Park.”

CANNABIS

Lawyer Amy Margolis launched The Initiative, Oregon’s first accelerator program that promotes elevating women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry: “Some cannabis accelerators have shied away from working with businesses that have direct contact with weed, fearing federal crackdowns on legal markets. The Initiative welcomes them. ‘These are absolutely businesses that are touching the plant,’ Margolis says. … ‘The driving force was, I found this industry to be highly self-congratulatory about the positioning of women,’ Margolis says. ‘I saw fewer and fewer women in leadership positions. If somebody didn’t do something, we really were going to become a cautionary tale.’”

SPACE

Elon Musk is keeping busy. SpaceX just launched hundreds of satellites into orbit: “By next year, SpaceX hopes that hundreds of the devices could be circling the planet, beaming high-speed internet service everywhere. It could allow SpaceX to enter a new business that might generate revenue to finance the dream of sending people to Mars.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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