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THE OXFORD INTERVIEW
Atlanta Developer and long-time Oxford member Jim Jacoby recently spoke with journalist Saul Elbein for the Morning Report about opportunity zones, the surprise result of President Trump’s 2017 tax reform—and how it could bring fish farms to a depressed neighborhood near you.
So what is an opportunity zone?
The idea is, states designate certain depressed areas where investors who sell stock can convert the money, tax-free, into real estate. It’s a way to encourage developers to spend money in low-income areas.
Who stands to benefit from that?
A lot of the drive seems to have been tech money—there were all of these people who were into Apple, Google, at a couple bucks a share. The idea is, if you’ve made a lot of money in stocks, it lets defer your capital gains for a long period of time when you convert your stock into real estate in one of these zones.
So how do you approach this as a developer?
I think we can use it to go into food deserts, places with big abandoned warehouses, and put in businesses and new jobs. I’d like to see things like hydroponics and aquaponics in these areas.
Aquaponics? Like fish farming?
Yeah. I’m starting a project in Florida. We’re doing aquaculture with striped bass, and instead of dumping the effluent we feed it into a greenhouse to raise lettuce, ginger, and other vegetables. No one has done that on a really large scale. I’d love to go to [an Atlanta opportunity zone like] Proctor Creek and take an old KMart or Walmart and divide it up for aquaponics, create some ripe and ready markets. Then you could divide up some old real estate and put affordable housing in the parking lots.
As a developer, do you have any rules of thumb for how to approach this sort of project?
The real estate developments I build have to work without the zone incentives. That’s how I think about government help in general: the idea has to be a good one even without the tax incentives from something like an opportunity zone. But if the project makes sense without it, then something like a zone can help push it to completion.
A Botox competitor took a bunch of top doctors to Cancun—and may have broken some social media rules: “Jeuveau’s manufacturer, Evolus, billed the event as an advisory board meeting. But it also appeared to double as a lavish launch party for Jeuveau, which the company is hoping will compete against Botox in a crowded market that also includes two other products.
“More than a dozen top doctors gushed about the event on social media—using the company’s preferred hashtag, #newtox—without disclosing that Evolus had paid for their trips. The Federal Trade Commission requires social media users to disclose relationships with companies when promoting their products on social media, which has emerged as a potent platform. Medical experts also said the tactics carried echoes of an earlier, anything-goes era of pharmaceutical marketing that the industry largely abandoned after a series of scandals and billion-dollar fines.”
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If you were stuck in traffic, would you order a burger to be delivered? “Burger King certainly thinks so, and it’s taking a serious look at the idea of gridlock Whopper delivery via motorcycle through a concept it calls ‘the Traffic Jam Whopper.’ Created by agency We Believers, the campaign uses a blend of high-tech features and old-school opportunism to deliver Whoppers in highly congested parts of Mexico City. In the case study below, the brand reports a 63 percent increase in delivery orders in the first week of the test, along with a 44 times higher number of Burger King app downloads.”
The newest accessories for hotels in Seattle are murals to attract locals and visitors: “At the State Hotel, which opened in March on 2nd Avenue near Pike Place, General Manager Rob Nichols says his team wanted to the hotel to be ‘an approachable place, something the city and its people can be proud of.’ So they had renowned artist Shephard Fairey (the artist behind the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster) paint an eight-story mural on the outside of the hotel. ‘It was an opportunity to showcase this amazing muralist to a large audience,’ explains Nichols … It’s a slightly different motivation than what brought The Sound Hotel in Belltown to commission its mural. In preparation for their February opening, the management realized they had a few rooms with a problem: some had absolutely terrible views.”
At GitLab, a software-development startup, even the CEO works remotely: “The idea is to remain headquarters free even after GitLab’s initial public offering, planned for late 2020, giving it flexibility to cut costs and hire people world-wide as opposed to relying on expensive talent hubs and office space, said Sid Sijbrandij, the company’s chief executive and co-founder.
“GitLab used to have a headquarters in San Francisco, but got rid of it because employees preferred to work remotely. Today, people who want to visit the company sometimes end up at the unofficial headquarters, Mr. Sijbrandij’s two-bedroom loft in the city’s trendy SoMa neighborhood, where the dining room doubles as a video-conferencing center.
“A 2,000-page handbook of operations, strategies and goals keeps remote employees up to date on processes—and seeks to calm worries about how to show their bosses they are being productive. ‘Someone who took the afternoon off shouldn’t feel like they did something wrong. You don’t have to defend how you spend your day,’ the handbook reads. ‘If you are working too long hours, talk to your manager to discuss solutions.’”
Artificial intelligence isn’t as automated most people think; it actually requires low-wage workers to sift through thousands of pages of data: “These workers—people who affix labels to data so computers can understand what it is—are starting to attract the interest of social scientists and other experts. When it comes to the AI behind driverless technology, for instance, sensors can take fantastically granular pictures of streets and hazards of all types, and AI can be fed with the experience of every type of driving situation. But autonomous technology companies still need humans to inform the AI what it’s looking at—to circle things like trees, stop signs and crosswalks.”
Tech giants like Google and Apple are designing “kill switches” on their devices that stop companies from listening in on you. “This hardware switch, which looks like an elegant version of your average light switch, is part of a growing trend of providing users with a physical way to disable a product’s sensors. Amid a steady series of data breaches and privacy scandals, tech companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon are attempting to address users’ concerns through this simple feature.”
Susie Lu, a Netflix data engineer, has redesigned the sales receipt: “What she created–using a grocery receipt of her own as reference–was a better receipt, with three distinct elements. On top, it features a bubble chart where spending is itemized by category. In her case, ‘meat & seafood’ is a big bubble, representing about a third of her spending, and ‘snacks’ is a tiny bubble, representing only 10 percent. Below that, there’s a standard itemized list for reference, too. But each individual item features a bar chart of its own, representing how expensive it was in relation to other items in the category. … In aggregate, this design lets you skim to see where your dollars went categorically, and by item.”
OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEAL OF THE DAY
SugarCRM, a customer relationship software management provider, has acquired Atlanta-based Salesfusion, a marketing automation platform. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. “CEO Craig Charlton, who joined the company in February, says he recognized that marketing automation was an area of the platform that badly needed enhancing. Faced with a build or buy decision, he decided it would be faster to buy a company and began looking for an acquisition target.”
DNA Script, a developer of a DNA synthesis platform, has raised $38.5 million in a Series B Round.
Wheelwell, a provider of a community backed shopping platform designed for automotive performance, parts and services raised $3 million in an Angel Round from an undisclosed investor. Prior to the Angel Round, the company was valued at $6.5 million.
A US judge has ruled for Louis Vuitton over MGA, which sells Pooey Puitton: A California-based company known for its L.O.L. Surprise and Bratz dolls, MGA had contended that no reasonable consumer would mistake Pooey Puitton, “a poop-shaped toy purse for children” that retails for $59.99, for costlier handbags from Louis Vuitton.
And that’s what’s ahead.