Using Instagram as a Startup Incubator, Creating Retail Experiences, and Damaging Cuban Entrepreneurs

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DAYLIGHT  

The Trump administration is making life difficult for Cuban entrepreneurs: “This week, White House National Security advisor John Bolton announced new policies to further restrict US travel to Cuba, allow lawsuits against businesses operating there, and reduce the previously unlimited amount of money that Cuban-Americans can send back to their families on the island to $1000 per person every three months. …

“Trump is pulling the rug out from Cuba’s cuentrapropistas—literally, self-employed—eliminating their sources of capital and revenue and reducing their influence during the all-important transition to a post-Castro Cuban government. As many as four in ten working-age Cubans work legally in the Cuban private sector. The most visible of these entrepreneurs are in tourist services, operating small private hotels and restaurants, or working as drivers or guides, but their ranks include barbers, retailers, mechanics, and other small businesses who work directly for Cubans. Much of their capital comes from Cuban-Americans, particularly much-needed investment in building renovation that keeps laborers and contractors employed.

Things looked very different in 2015 when Cuban-American relations were on an upswing and the Oxford Center took a trip to Havana.

MARKETING

Instagram can be a surprisingly effective incubator for women-owned startups: “It has become fairly standard for investors to look for early signs of a founder’s charisma on social media, especially when the founder is a woman. Sutian Dong, who launched the Female Founders Fund in 2014 to back women-led companies, consults entrepreneurs’ Instagram accounts to vet them and see how they might engage with their customers. ‘On Instagram, you can create community, which, historically, women have been better at doing,’ she says.

“Jen Rubio, co-founder and chief brand officer of luggage startup Away, began documenting her travels on Instagram long before she started her company. Today, she is both a travel tastemaker and an aspirational female entrepreneur, with 36,000 people watching her hustle to meetings around the globe. She’s become so influential that Nike recently sponsored a post on her account. ‘We’re all influencers at this point,’ says Katherine Power, co-founder and CEO of Clique Brands, which includes the Who What Wear fashion site. ‘An Instagram account is like a homepage—I think of it as the first point of entry for my brand.’”

Top-tier wellness and fitness centers are starting to publish their own media content to increase cash flow: “It’s a tactic that goes beyond basic content marketing designed simply to lure and market to new customers or existing ones. These brands are building out publications, video and audio products, and launching internal media teams to get brands to spend money with them, on display advertising, event sponsorships and more. …

“At SoulCycle, the company has prioritized creating more media content, via live events and more serialized programming. For example, a concert series will feature celebrities performing from a group of riders, as well as other attendees—one such concert, held in October in Harlem, had 300 attendees and was sponsored by Bose and Ketel One. The media team then filmed video of the concert to send out on social channels, especially Instagram, where the brand has 569,000 followers. The brand has since held concerts in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.”

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Last week, the Wing, a members-only, women-focused co-working space, opened its first Southern California location in West Hollywood: “The 11,000-square-foot space, which includes a Little Wing childcare center and full-service cafe with offerings from several women-owned restaurants, will provide a meeting place for Time’s Up and a space for other women and non-binary individuals in Los Angeles to work and build community.

“Founding WeHo members include entertainers Mindy Kaling, Jessica Alba, Katy Perry, Shonda Rhimes, Maya Rudolph, Lucy Liu, Amandla Stenberg, Busy Philipps, Laverne Cox, Lucy Hale, Marisa Tomei, Sharon Stone, Susan Kelechi Watson, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho,​ ​Roxane Gay, Gabourey Sidibe, Hari Nef, Gia Coppola and Liz Goldwyn.”

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STARTUPS

Jumbo wants to simplify the way users manage their privacy online: “Right now, the app can set your Facebook settings to the most private possible version, delete old Tweets, clear your Google search history regularly, and clean out all of the voice recordings Amazon has stored based on your interactions with Alexa. This summer, Jumbo will also offer the ability to set your Twitter, Google, and Amazon accounts to the most private settings possible, all from within the app, all of [which] are things that users can already do on their own, of course. But Jumbo’s interface turns what was once an onerous user experience into something so simple it’s delightful.”

HUMAN RESOURCES

A lot of business owners complain about the tight labor market and how hard it is to find good employees, but maybe they should focus on a pool of talent they wouldn’t need to recruit: their own workers: “Instead of teaching new skills to their current workers, employers often choose the disruption and high costs of layoffs or buyouts. Why? Sometimes the required skills aren’t easily taught to existing employees, experts say. It’s also often because companies have only a hazy sense of what their internal talent is capable of, and migrating large numbers of employees into new positions requires time, money and commitment.”

A female Microsoft employee is publicly criticizing the company’s diversity initiatives: “We still lack any empirical evidence that the demographic distribution in tech is rationally and logically detrimental to the success of the business in this industry … We have a plethora of data available that demonstrate women are less likely to be interested in engineering AT ALL than men … We MUST immediately cease the practice of attaching financial incentives and performance metrics to ‘diversity hiring’ … The internal debate over the merits of diversity comes as Microsoft is grappling with an uproar over allegations of sexism and sexual harassment that some staff said the company hasn’t adequately responded to over the years.”

RETAIL

Godiva, which wants to build 2,000 cafes around the world, opened its first last week in Manhattan: “For the 1,200-square-foot cafe, Godiva created and even trademarked the ‘Croiffle,’ or a croissant pressed into a waffle iron; designed its own signature coffee and teas, such as black tea with Godiva cocoa nibs; and created dark chocolate lava and white raspberry oatmeal cookies inspired by its chocolate flavors. ‘We want to be more engaged with our customers throughout different occasions and through different day parts,’ Godiva CEO Annie Young-Scrivner said in an interview. ‘One of our ideas is to think through, how can we go beyond chocolate? How can we stretch our brand?’”

DSW is another brick-and-mortar store shifting toward “experiences” to lure customers: “For DSW, that means adding nail salons—along with beer and wine offerings—to its big box stores. ‘We’ve been encouraged by the reaction we’ve received to our nail bar test at our two warehouses in Columbus, and we’re excited to expand to two more markets to gather additional learnings,’ said Bill Jordan, president of DSW. ‘The nail services engage customers and create loyalty by inspiring self-expression. They also create repeat visits to the DSW brand.’ The concept is especially appealing to multitasking Millennial shoppers, analysts say.”

Brick-and-mortar cannabis retailers, like Prairie Records, are also using immersive experiences when people walk in to buy products, making it a customer journey. “While the locations are meant to look like a record store, the shelves and racks are actually stocked with covers that have information about cannabis and the strains … where one might expect to find track listings and album credits. … Once they’ve picked something out, customers can bring the record cover to the checkout counter, where they will be given their chosen cannabis products (and even the record cover).”

At Planet13 in Las Vegas, the world’s largest dispensary “…customers can do things like interactive laser graffiti. Beyond selling marijuana products, the attached distillery offers interactive and visual experiences for visitors, like synchronized 3D projections on the lobby walls and walkways lit with sensory activated LED lights, so a trail of colored lights follows guests as they walk.”

PRICING

The Mueller Report is making money for publishers even though it’s available for free on the Department of Justice website. Seriously, “the report wasn’t only fodder for dinner-table I-told-you-sos and Facebook feudsit was also the #1 best-seller on Amazon. And the #2 best-seller. And the #3 best-seller… These popular prints were easy money for publishers, who often struggle to forecast demand. Several publishers put books on pre-sale before the report was published, and Skyhorse printed an initial run of 200,000 books.  …

“For anyone in the market, a tee printed with ‘I investigated Trump for 2 years and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’ is available now on Amazon Prime, in multiple colors, for $17.77.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

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