Voice Marketing, Black Christmas Trees, and a Weakening Global Economy

Get the Oxford Morning Report every day. Click here for a free subscription.

Good Monday Morning,

DAYLIGHT

With hot markets cooling and mortgage rates rising, increasingly desperate homebuilders are giving away free vacations and $100,000 discounts: “On a recent weekday, Konara, the real estate broker, drives his Dodge minivan along Highway 380, a builder battleground, where national giants such as Lennar, Toll Brothers, and PulteGroup go head to head with Texas companies. …

“He points to empty houses that he says were completed six months ago. His own sales are half what they were in 2016. In many cases, he’s rebating to customers all but $1,000 of his commission on each home sale. He walks into an Indian restaurant for lunch and looks up at the television screen. A competitor, the ‘Maximum Cash Back Realtor,’ says he’ll take only $750. ‘You know what that means,’ Konara says. ‘I’ll have to do the same.’”

Only a few months ago, every major economy in the world was growing: “The global economy is now palpably weakening, even as most countries are still grappling with the damage from that last downturn. Many nations are mired in stagnation or sliding that way. Oil prices are falling and factory orders are diminishing, reflecting slackening demand for goods.

“Companies are warning of disappointing profits, sending stock markets into a frenetic bout of selling that reinforces the slowdown. Germany and Japan have both contracted in recent months. China is slowing more than experts anticipated. Even the United States, the world’s largest economy, and oft-trumpeted standout performer, is expected to decelerate next year as the stimulative effects of President Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut wear off, leaving huge public debts.”

By the way, turns out Marriott had a chance to isolate the hackers from their most recent security breach compromising over 500 million customers’ personal information. Security experts believe the company should have used a 2015 breach to prevent this most recent one.  

THE ECONOMY

Every few weeks a clickbait article comes out blaming Millennials for killing the chicken sandwich, basketball or something equally ridiculous. But this new study from the Federal Reserve might put some of that unwarranted smearing to rest. The answer: Millennials are poor and up to their ears in student loans. Unless something drastic happens in the next decade, you can expect that Millennials will always be looking for a bargain.   

MARKETING

It’s still early but brands are increasingly looking for ways to market products through smart speakers, which are expected to be in more than half of all American homes by 2022: “Danielle Reubenstein, executive creative director in the mobile division of the ad agency Possible, said she had been urging brands to view smart speakers as a way to connect with people rather than as a means to sell products – at least for now. ‘It’s not a super-duper e-commerce platform,’ she said. ‘It’s about having your customers interact with you in a way that’s going to make them more loyal to your product.’”

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

With the buy-one-give-one business model becoming increasingly prevalent, a startup called Pledgeling is helping businesses manage their giving – including offering them a calculator that lets consumers see how their purchases help: “Mr. Tighe of Coastal Co. said he liked the ability to show its customers how many beaches were being cleaned up in a given month.

“But Rich Brown, who started La Menagerie, an animal-themed jewelry company, with his wife, Fran, was leery of the calculator. Their charitable beneficiary is the World Wildlife Fund, but because the company is new, the five percent of sales that would go to the charity would be small at first. He said he also feared that displaying the calculator would essentially give his competitors an easy way to calculate his sales.”

Verily Life Sciences, a division of Google parent Alphabet, is trying to wipe out mosquitoes by interfering with their ability to reproduce: “Two Verily trucks ply four different neighborhoods, hitting more than 3,000 homes. Over six months, the company released more than 15 million mosquitoes. Results from 2017 suggested the population of biting female mosquitoes dropped by two-thirds.

“This year, tweaks to the program have cut the mosquito population by a whopping 95 percent. … This bodes well for eventually bringing the technology to other parts of the world – regions ravaged not just by itchy ankles but by deadly disease.”

CULTURE  

The classic Christmas tree colors are red, green, and the occasional silver streamer. But a growing trend is the artificial black Christmas tree; online searches this year have increased by 70 percent, according to Wayfair.com. These plastic trees are greener alternatives to fastening a real one on top of a station wagon and can give shoppers who are busy for the holidays less cleanup with a simple, dignified holiday cheer.

M&A

From M&A Guru Zack Eller – Swander Pace Capital agreed to acquire Nutritional Medicinals, a maker of organic and whole food. The most interesting offering Nutritional Medicinals has is a liquid organic food meal replacement.

Volo City acquired Bitches Who Brunch. Volo City said that this is an effort to broaden its reach to Millennials. Bitches Who Brunch will get immediate expansion into new markets and more people handling it full time.

Bitches Who Brunch is a site that reviews thousands of brunch spots around the world that also covers fashion and events. This will expand their offices from Baltimore to Boston and NYC that will focus more on developing their lifestyle brand which will include female empowerment and yoga. Sunday bottomless mimosa deals just got a whole lot easier to find.

HUMAN RESOURCES

Legal marijuana is growing so fast in Canada that companies are importing workers: “A lack of qualified local labor forced Aphria to dispose of almost 14,000 cannabis plants in the quarter ended Aug. 31 after they weren’t harvested in time, costing it nearly C$1 million ($750,000). Since then, the company has doubled the staff at its Aphria One greenhouse thanks in part to Canada’s Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program, which has allowed it to hire about 50 temporary workers from the Caribbean and Guatemala with plans to bring in up to 100 more.

“Aphria’s experience underscores the swelling demand for labor in Canada’s five-year-old cannabis sector, where openings have tripled in the past year to 34 out of every 10,000 job postings, according to employment search engine Indeed.com.”

Internet media company Mic. just laid off much of its editorial staff, which recently unionized. The union responded:  “This level of deception from Mic co-Founders Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz represents a new low in corporate mendacity.” The layoffs came as the company, once valued at $100 million, has been sold to Bustle chief Bryan Goldberg for less than $5 million.

Among the problems: Facebook canceled a deal and Mic. took very expensive office space at One World Trade Center. “If you’re in journalism and in fancy office space, you better have a Plan B. Almost a sure sign that people are making bad decisions with their investors money,” said Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffrey on Thursday.

HEDGE FUNDS

Vista Equity Partners agreed to make a majority investment in Wrike, a collaborative work management platform for high-performance teams to work on projects in real-time. More than 15,000 companies across the world use the platform.

Swander Pace Capital acquired Nutritional Medicinals, a provider of organic and whole food.

GOING PUBLIC

Biotech giant Moderna looks to raise $689 million IPO, making it the largest public offering from a biotech firm ever. They develop drugs for cancer treatment and genetic disorders. There have been 74 IPOs declared in the health sector this year, the most out of any industry sector.

VENTURE CAPITAL

With venture investors pouring more money into startups than at any other point since the dot-com era, a growing number of VCs are taking temp jobs with the startups – to better assess the business: “‘I think that less than 50 percent of VCs actually understand the business they’re in,’ says Nabeel Hyatt, a venture capitalist at Spark Capital who signed up to do a stint for Postmates, the service that delivers food and other items to customers.

“His work as a Postmate included the eye-opening task of delivering a single cup of Blue Bottle coffee to a client, with the delivery fee – then $5 – costing more than the coffee. Customers’ reliance on the deliveries made Hyatt realize that ‘there are people who are just going to start using it as a utility,’ he said, rather than just ordering on a one-off basis. ‘It made the market feel much larger to me.’”

SPOTLIGHT

Reminder: The Entrepreneur Briefing and Holiday Party is Wednesday, 5:00 to 7:30, at Ray’s on the River. Don’t be late or you’ll miss the briefing, including Kris Maynard of Essential Ingredients talking about why he sold his business to his employees, how that immediately sent the business into a tailspin and what he did to get out of it. Contact events@oxfordcenter.com for more info and to RSVP.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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

BECOME AN OXFORD MEMBER