Trump Loses the Chamber, Chaos on Amazon’s Marketplace, and Training Bosses How to Fire

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HUMAN RESOURCES

A virtual reality company can teach you the right way to fire employees: “Barry shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He didn’t know why I’d called him into my office, but he knew it couldn’t be good. I told him we had gotten another report of inappropriate behavior—his sixth this year. ‘Oh come on, everyone is so sensitive,’ he said. ‘You know, it wasn’t like this 10 years ago.’ 

“Barry was in his 60s. Finding another job to fill the years before retirement wouldn’t be easy. ‘It doesn’t seem like it now, but this may be a good thing for you,’ I said. Comforting lies were not the move. Barry buried his face in his hands, sobbing. Then everything went black. I took off the virtual reality headset, and the real-life offices of the Culver City VR studio Talespin, the architects of Barry’s very bad day, came back into focus around me. I had failed the termination simulation.”

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have pledged $90 million to fight legislation that would turn gig workers into employees: “As the bill that could give drivers employment status, Assembly Bill 5, winds its way through the Legislature, Uber and Lyft have urged a compromise that would allow drivers to remain independent contractors. But the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, has said she does not foresee a deal with the companies. ‘Billionaires who say they can’t pay minimum wages to their workers say they will spend tens of millions to avoid labor laws,’ Ms. Gonzalez wrote on Twitter on Thursday. ‘Just pay your damn workers!’

“A vote on the bill is expected before the legislative session ends in mid-September. That means time is running out for Uber and Lyft to strike a bargain. The companies said their proposed ballot initiative would preserve drivers’ ability to set their own schedules, while Uber and Lyft would offer a concession on minimum wage standards, health benefits and collective bargaining rights.”

One reason more women aren’t in the workforce is that they are caring for ailing parents and relatives: “Among the 36 industrialized countries currently in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 17th in 2000 in the participation of prime-age women in the workforce. By 2017, it had slid to 30th. [The] lack of family-friendly policies like parental leave and child care subsidies played a role—making it tougher for American women to juggle motherhood and work— … A 2015 study by the Labor Department estimated that if prime-aged American women worked as much in the formal work force as their counterparts in Canada or Germany—which have more generous policies to subsidize care for the young, the sick and the old—5.5 million more women would have been in the labor force in 2014, increasing gross domestic product by 3.5 percent.”

THE ECONOMY

The CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce seems to be losing patience with the president: “Companies are taking stock of the uncertainty at home and abroad and sitting on their cash. The result is the first decline in business investment in three years. The manufacturing sector has been in a downturn since December, and farm incomes have plummeted. This month, we all saw investors panic over ‘inverted yield curves’ in the bond market, historically a harbinger of recession. Wild swings in the stock market are amplifying concerns. At this moment of uncertainty, it is critical that our leaders take decisive steps to bolster the economy and avoid actions that could turn talk of recession into reality.

“For the Trump administration’s part, the escalation of trade tensions with China must come to an end. A US Chamber of Commerce survey of 138 recent earnings calls of Fortune 500 companies revealed that executives are overwhelmingly concerned about the economic impact of tariffs. Deterioration of the US-China relationship is affecting business performance, many reported. And that was before Trump called for US businesses to halt commercial activity in China. The business community shares the administration’s concern over China’s trade and industrial practices, and the US Chamber strongly supports efforts to secure a deal that addresses forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, data privacy and intellectual-property protection, and market access. The initial tariffs have brought China to the negotiating table, but the current path of constant escalation doesn’t increase the likelihood of a deal; it risks a recession here at home.”

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E-COMMERCE

Even Amazon’s own products are being targeted successfully by counterfeiters: “Amazon’s marketplace is so chaotic that not even Amazon itself is safe from getting hijacked. In addition to being a retail platform, Amazon sells its own house-brand goods under names like AmazonBasics, Rivet furniture, Happy Belly food, and hundreds of other labels. Sellers often complain that these brands represent unfair competition, and regulators in Europe and the United States have taken an interest in the matter. But other sellers appear to have found a way to use Amazon’s brands for their own ends. Amazon promotes them heavily, racking up thousands of reviews on listings that the company then abandons when it stops production or comes out with a new version. Enterprising sellers then hijack these pages to hawk their own wares. …

“On better-executed hijackings, the deception can be hard to detect. The Verge was first alerted to the scam by Marketplace Pulse’s Juozas Kaziukėnas, who tracks Amazon brands. He noticed that every week, a handful of dead brands in his roster would reanimate as unrelated goods. ‘It just highlights yet another case of the chaos that exists on Amazon,’ Kaziukėnas says. ‘It’s an almost comical case of the products that, theoretically, Amazon should be curating most because it’s their own brands, being used for notorious purposes.’”

REGULATION

The EPA will cut back on regulations for methane emissions, despite the oppostion of some oil-and-gas companies: “[The] proposed rule aims to eliminate federal requirements that oil and gas companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. … But several of the biggest oil and gas companies have called on the Trump administration to tighten restrictions on methane, not loosen them. The rollback had been sought by smaller companies, which have complained to the Trump administration that requiring them to inspect for leaks was too costly for them. Susan Dio, the chairwoman and president of BP America, wrote an op-ed article in March saying that regulating methane is the ‘right thing to do for the planet’ and for the natural gas industry.” 

STARTUPS

Contrary to conventional wisdom, most entrepreneurs who start successful businesses are middle aged: “[Tony] Fadell’s deep experience and relatively mature age when he started Nest are typical of superstar entrepreneurs, who are rarely fresh out of college—or freshly dropped out of college. That’s what a team of economists discovered when they analyzed high-growth companies in the United States. Their study is being published in the journal American Economic Review: Insights. The researchers looked at startups established between 2007 and 2014 and analyzed the top 0.1 percent—defined as those with the fastest growth in employment and sales. The average age of those companies’ founders was 45.

“There are, of course, famous counterexamples. Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he co-founded Facebook. Bill Gates was 19 when he founded Microsoft with Paul Allen. Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. The origin stories of those companies and a handful of others helped to shape a myth that tech, and American innovation overall, is fueled by wunderkinds. But fresh-faced founders are the exception, not the rule, according to the study.”

Mythic Markets allows consumers to make fractional investments in rare collectibles: “Mythic is capitalizing on the broader trend of fractional ownership that gives numerous investors a piece of the same—hopefully appreciating—asset. The idea dates back 50 years or so to vacation timeshares, but it has picked up momentum of late, with startups asking potential customers to buy parts of new cars, homes, art, sneakers and even virtual items. … For its part, Mythic is focusing on pop culture collectibles, starting with an Alpha Black Lotus, a trading card that only fanatics of the game ‘Magic the Gathering’ might recognize but is apparently worth $90,000 right now. … To be on the safe side, Mythic only offers securities that are regulated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which not only includes rare trading cards but also other things that Mythic plans to start selling next year, including vintage comic books, sci-fi memorabilia and, a little further afield, esports team equity.” 

Workforce management app SINC addresses wants to solve the inefficiencies of  traditional timesheets in “blue-collar small and medium sized enterprises”: “Overcoming such issues, the SINC mobile app or web platform improves the reporting on staff tardiness and no-shows, as well as improving productivity and accountability with job costing analysis capabilities being placed at employer’s fingertips. Additionally, the application reduces payroll administration time by 98 percent and reduces payroll costs by 10-15 percent. … [Co-founder and CEO Sam Dolbel says,] ‘There are currently over 4,000 businesses using the SINC platform.’”

TECHNOLOGY 

Over 1,000 schools across the country will be using Yondr bags to curb students’ cell phone usage during class: “[Yondr is] a pouch system that allows students to lock away their phones while they’re in class. Each morning when students arrive at school, they magnetically lock their devices into their own personal green and gray pouches. They maintain possession of their pouches and devices, but they cannot unlock it until the end of the day, when they tap it on an unlocking magnet station located throughout the school. The concept is not new. Musicians and performers have been using Yondr to prevent people from filming their gigs since the San Francisco-based company launched in 2014.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

Knock Knock, a developer of a gaming and messaging platform raised $4 million in a Series A round.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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