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- 08/31/17--15:14: _Meet Sophie — the A...
- 09/01/17--11:44: _The maker of the in...
- 09/04/17--06:00: _A new messaging app...
- 09/05/17--12:43: _Ben Lerer spent his...
- 09/08/17--06:34: _NFL star Russell Wi...
- 09/10/17--02:20: _The VC arm of Googl...
- 09/14/17--11:14: _After cutting price...
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- 09/18/17--17:43: _Rosario Dawson is t...
- 09/20/17--15:14: _Albertsons has acqu...
- 09/21/17--07:24: _The founders of Goo...
- 09/22/17--05:30: _The 'death rate' of...
- 09/23/17--07:30: _An 18-year-old entr...
- 09/29/17--12:46: _Tony Robbins shares...
- 10/10/17--10:27: _A new startup is ta...
- 10/10/17--13:43: _A venture capitalis...
- 10/10/17--14:17: _5 well-known compan...
- 10/11/17--17:34: _Venture Capital spe...
- 10/12/17--02:50: _Tim Cook opened a n...
- 10/12/17--15:01: _America's 10 hottes...
- 08/31/17--15:14: Meet Sophie — the AI assistant that wants to save you money
- 09/01/17--11:44: The maker of the infamous $400 juicer is shutting down
- Islands is a new messaging app aimed at college students.
- It's designed to connect people located within five miles of each other
- Its founder, Greg Isenberg, previously launched a video curation app that he sold to StumbleUpon.
- Ben Lerer founded Thrillist and is now the CEO of Group Nine, a digital holding company for four brands: The Dodo, Seeker, Thrillist and NowThis.
- Lerer comes from a family of founders. He works closely with his father, Ken, who cofounded the The Huffington Post, and his sister, Izzie, who founded animal brand The Dodo. But he has some words for people who accuse him of only being successful because he has successful parents.
- Discovery recently invested $100 million in Group Nine; the company's valued at nearly $600 million.
- PayPal CEO Dan Schulman
- Former Pepsi and Apple CEO John Sculley
- Angel investor Jason Calacanis
- Former Microsoft CEO and LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer
- GV is the venture capital arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, and used to be called Google Ventures.
- The investment firm has backed over 50 healthcare and life science startups looking to reduce human suffering and help people live longer.
- The size of GV's cheques range from $100,000 to hundreds of millions.
- 09/20/17--15:14: Albertsons has acquired meal kit startup Plated
- 09/22/17--05:30: The 'death rate' of America's biggest companies is surging
- 10/10/17--14:17: 5 well-known companies with under-the-radar side projects
- 10/12/17--15:01: America's 10 hottest cities for startups
There is nothing quite like checking your bank statement at the end of the month and realizing you’ve spent a small fortune on $7 lattes.
Managing money is tough. And when your money is spread across multiple accounts and apps like Stash, Robinhood, and Venmo, it's can be even harder.
A new app from Australian entrepreneur Andy Taylor could make things a lot easier.
Called Douugh, the app is designed to be a financial control center. More intriguingly, it employs an intelligent virtual assistant named Sophie to help users fully understand and manage their finances.
Users start by plugging in all their bank account information into Sophie. Once she has access to those, she's able to use them to map out users' financial situations. From there, she can categorize users' spending and see if they're living beyond their means.
You can interact with Sophie via an in-app chatbot. If you ask her, "How much did I spend on food this week?" she'll not only answer your question, she'll tell you if that amount is higher than usual and even help you set a spending target for the rest of the month.
Taylor previously worked at SocietyOne, a marketplace lending platform he cofounded. While there, he realized how much of a problem financial literacy was in Australia and the US. That led him to launch Douugh last year.
"I got quite excited about how we could use tech to empower customers to manage their money and fast track them to financial freedom," Taylor said.
Right now, Sophie is in training mode. Taylor said the company will remain in beta for the rest of the year and launch in February once Sophie has been trained on enough data. Eventually, Douugh plans to build out a full suite of financial products and make Sophie accessible via Alexa and Siri, he said.
In the future, Sophie could serve as a kind of personal banker for users, operating on autopilot and making transactions. For example, if Sophie sees that you're about to be charged an overdraft fee for an account you've kept empty, Sophie could transfer a few dollars from another account to prevent it.
"Sophie should really be like a genie on your shoulder that has got your back with your finances," Taylor said.
Trusting your money to an invisible bot may sound like a terrifying prospect, but that's part of the reason why Douugh is going slowly and not rushing towards an official launch. The company wants to make sure its taken the necessary steps to secure the data it collects from users and is ready to handle anything hackers could throw its way.
"We take that stuff very seriously, which is why we aren't rushing into voice activation," Taylor said. "We want to get everything down pat before we deal with the fun stuff."
Getting people to a place where they can ask a voice assistant to pay their rent might be a long way off. But much sooner than that, people will need to have an AI "genie" like Sophie to understand their finances.
"In the next few years, your money will be everywhere, in so many apps, you'll need some way to make sense of it all," he said.
Juicero has run out of juice.
The San Francisco-based maker of counter-top cold-press juicers said today that it is shutting down operations and suspending the sale of its presses and produce packs immediately.
At the time, Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn wrote in a letter to employees obtained by Fortune that the current prices were “not a realistic way for us to fulfill our mission at the scale to which we aspire.”
But Juicero realized it couldn't bring down the cost of its products as a standalone company. It was too small to achieve the required economies of scale on its own. The company will now focus on finding a buyer, it wrote in Friday's blog post.
A source familiar with the situation said employees are being given 60 days notice and that the company is notifying all customers via email that they can request a refund for the machine for up 90 days.
Before today’s news, Juicero had said it would focus on building a second generation machine that would cost in the $200 range—versus its initial launch price 16 months ago of $699.
Juicero fell under heightened scrutiny after a Bloomberg article in April reported on how consumers could use their hands to squeeze the juice packs without the aid of the Juicero machine.
As Fortune reported earlier this month, Dunn addressed the Bloomberg hand-squeezing issue in a Medium post and again in the letter to employees obtained by Fortune, in which he wrote that “it was frustrating to read that something we always knew about, and that our customers simply aren’t interested in doing, was somehow new and relevant.”
The hand-squeezing dustup inflamed some of the criticism Juicero has gotten since bringing its juicer to market. "Some held up the countertop appliance as a symbol of all that was wrong with Silicon Valley: a $699 connected device that solved a problem most people didn’t even have the luxury of affording—how to get fresh juice on demand at home,"Fortune wrote in January.
The Bloomberg article described Juicero as "one of the most lavishly funded gadget startups in Silicon Valley" and founder Doug Evans once said he planned to do for juicing what Steve Jobs did for computers.
Entrepreneur Greg Isenberg is serious about market research.
He values it so much that when he launched his new messaging app for college students, called Islands, he rented a space in student housing at the University of Western Ontario so he could be closer to his potential customers.
"It was kind of like 21 Jump Street meets Silicon Valley," Isenberg said last week, in an interview with Business Insider.
The app, which officially launched on Wednesday, is a modern take on group messaging. It's designed to allow people in a particular geographic area — they have to be within five miles of one another — to chat with each other. Users communicate through topic-specific groups called islands that they can create on an ad-hoc basis.
Hoping to learn from Yik-Yak
Users have been doing a range of things with Islands, Isenberg said. Sometimes they get on the service to ask where the party is that night or to see if anyone's up for a pickup basketball game. One person recently used the app to see if anyone on the second floor of a campus library had Advil.
Islands permits users to chat anonymously. But it's hoping to prevent the type of harassment that happened on Yik-Yak, the anonymous chat app that targeted college students that was shut down earlier this year. So Islands is encouraging users to connect their accounts on its service with their Snapchat or Instagram accounts as a way of identifying themselves, thinking that will make them more reluctant to abuse others.
Additionally, when users create islands, they become the administrators of those groups, with the power to kick out anyone who is harassing other members. User who are booted out of multiple island groups can be kicked off the app entirely, Isenberg said.
The roundabout path to college
Isenberg and his team didn't create Islands with college students in mind. The original inspiration for the app came from an encounter Isenberg had with a woman in Los Angeles who had been diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. She was part of an email support group with other women who had the same diagnosis.
Isenberg tried to get the group on Slack, even creating accounts on the communications service for members of the email group, figuring it would be more convenient for them than email. But he quickly realized that while Slack can be a helpful business tool, it's not great for more casual conversations.
"It got me thinking about the state of connecting like-minded communities on the internet, especially within local communities," he said.
He soon came to the conclusion that none of the current services or communications tools was up for the job. So he gathered a group from 5by, the video curation app he sold to StumbleUpon in 2013, and got to work making a modern communications tool for communities.
Once the team had created Islands, they tried to figure out which kind of community was most likely to use it. The team settled on college kids.
"It's the single greatest time of self-discovery," Isenberg said.
That's when he decided it was time to go back to college and make some friends. Within 30 days of being on University of Western Ontario's campus, he had convinced 10% of the school to use the app.
"That's when we realized we had something," he said.
Since Isenberg and his team can't spend all of their time camping out at college campuses, they rely on students to promote their app. Typically, they look for ones who are passionate about a particular group on campus, such as the LGBT community or the Greek community, and encourage them to become Islands evangelists to that group.
The Islands app is available at seven US colleges, in addition to the University of Western Ontario. The company plans to make the app available on 75 campuses by September 2018.
But Isenberg is hoping to expand Islands' service beyond college campuses.
"The goal ultimately is to become the de-facto tool for everyone," he said. "Once we’ve saturated college we’ll have to figure out what’s next.”
That could mean high schools, cities, or anywhere else that people are looking for an easy and casual way to connect online.
Ben Lerer spent his 20s cofounding Thrillist, a local-recommendation site for "civilized bros," and he's now the CEO of digital holding company Group Nine.
Earlier this year he huddled with his father, Huffington Post cofounder Ken Lerer, and sister, The Dodo founder Izzie Lerer, to talk about a crazy idea they code-named "Project Family." That ultimately turned into Group Nine, a merger of four brands: Thrillist, The Dodo, video news network NowThis, and Discovery's science site, Seeker.
The process was difficult and messy.
"This is not deal making for the faint of heart," Lerer told Business Insider's podcast, "Success! How I Did It.""These companies have different boards with different investors, with different priorities. They have different management teams."
But they got it done, and Discovery invested about $100 million in the new entity.
Lerer told us how he went from a self-described "decently spoiled kid" to a digital-media mogul, and what drives him to be ambitious despite the large shadow his successful father casts.
You can listen to the full interview with him on "Success! How I Did It," here:
Following is a transcript of the podcast; it has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Alyson Shontell: We're really excited to have you, Ben — thanks for coming.
Ben Lerer: Thanks for having me.
Shontell: You founded Thrillist in 2006, so that would make you an old-timer in media.
Lerer: Yup — you're an old timer too! Remember we met in 2008? So you are also very old.
Learning entrepreneurship from a young age
Shontell: It's true — but you've been at this for a long time and you are from a family of founders. Your dad, Ken Lerer, cofounded the Huffington Post [now HuffPost] and was involved in all sorts of things, like BuzzFeed — even Business Insider. Your sister is a founder — she did The Dodo and she's now at Group Nine, where you are. So you guys do companies. How did that shape you growing up?
Lerer: That's shaped by my dad. For the largest portion of my childhood, he was building a corporate-communications company called Robinson Lerer Montgomery, and then went to work for AOL during the AOL–Time Warner merger. And then after that he took a little time to figure out what he wanted to do next and started HuffPo. For most of my childhood, with, like, one two- or three-year exception, he was always running his own businesses. I never, even for a second, thought about what an actual job would be for myself because I never saw the person who I looked up to having a traditional job.
Shontell: So corporate America was never on your radar? It was always, like, I'm going to start something — that's what I know how to do?
Lerer: I, admittedly, grew up like a decently spoiled kid, and so I didn't think about my future. I was a selfish little kid doing my own thing and I was a perfectly good student or whatever, but I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I was always around media and entrepreneurship, and so that was what always interested me, but not in any particular way until obviously you graduate from college and the rubber hits the road and you're like, 'What the hell am I going to do with my life?' And that's when I first went and worked in hospitality. I worked for André Balazs straight out of school.
Shontell: And you went to Penn.
Lerer: I went to Penn, and then came right home and moved back to New York and worked for André for a little while, and I think what I really loved about André's business was not the hospitality piece of it but the brand piece of it. And then we had this idea for Thrillist really, on the back of our own personal need, which was living in New York. And girls I knew were reading DailyCandy, and I felt like there should be something for people like me.
So a buddy from college, Adam [Rich], and I spent nights and weekends going out and eating a lot and drinking too much and checking out New York and fancied ourselves experts on fun. So that was the impetus for Thrillist, and we started it with really pathetically humble beginnings, and the media landscape evolved around us.
Shontell: So a lot to unpack there, the first of which is DailyCandy. DailyCandy, for people who might not remember, was a big email company. I think it sold for something like tens of millions of dollars.
Lerer: It sold for 125 million bucks, to Comcast.
Shontell: A ton of money. And so you want to create —
Lerer: I mean, that was like the media exit of the decade.
Shontell: Right. This is before it exits, though, you see an opportunity.
Lerer: Yeah, I mean a consumer opportunity. So what did I know about advertising or the business that DailyCandy was in? All I knew is that DailyCandy was influential with women who I knew, so they would read DailyCandy and they would do the things DailyCandy told them to do and it seemed like there was value in that. I didn't know what their business looked like, but I knew that it was clearly growing and they had been out and raising money and Bob Pittman had funded them.
Shontell: And he's now the head of I Heart Media.
Lerer: Yeah, and Bob had sort of famously founded MTV, and he's now the chairman of I Heart. But in between he built a fund called the Pilot Group, which was a private-equity fund that did some good deals and some not-as-good deals, and DailyCandy was one of the good deals, certainly. We had this idea for Thrillist, which was like a de-facto copycat of DailyCandy but with a guy's tone.
Shontell: So a newsletter for guys about how to have fun in Manhattan.
Lerer: A newsletter for guys in Manhattan. Right, exactly. And by the way, it was for a specific kind of guy. It was like Ben and Adam, age 22, 23.
Shontell: So bros.
Lerer: Real d-bags. No — I mean, yeah, bros. Civilized bros. And we ended up going to Bob. We launched Thrillist. That doesn't take a lot of money to start sending an email out to your friends, but we got a little traction, and we were right that there was an opportunity in the market. We went to Bob's fund and said, "Hey, we're doing this thing. You guys are in DailyCandy. Do you want to invest with us?"
It's fortunate he did, because actually, if you think about New York 11 years ago, there was no startup ecosystem, so nobody graduated class of 2003 Penn with me and decided to go and launch a tech company or a media company. Everyone wanted to go to Wall Street, everyone wanted to go to consulting, everyone wanted to go to business school, or everyone wanted to go to law school. That was the way.
So if Bob's fund wasn't there to give us $250,000 in the seed check, I don't know what we would have done, and I sort of had a "I'm not taking money from my dad" thing. Not that he would have given it to me, but we were, like, "Let's go raise money and do this thing and try to build it the right way." And I honestly saw it as just a learning experience. I didn't have a vision for what the future of this would look like, and we did an OK job treating every dollar like it was our last and, over what in today's startup world is an unacceptably long period of time, built a brand. It's just unbelievable how in the startup world it takes a decade to make a brand that anyone gives a sh-- about.
Finding an audience of 'civilized bros'
Shontell: Right, and so now raising money in media-land, it's a lot easier, but back then it was really tough to raise money for anyone, let alone a guy who maybe didn't have a vision, who was trying to start a newsletter company.
So what was the first iteration of Thrillist? What was that first newsletter you sent? And how did you start getting that initial traction?
Lerer: The first newsletter we sent was about a restaurant that is no longer with us, called El Rey Del Sol, which was on 14th Street. It was a Mexican restaurant that we liked, and on the fourth of May, we sent out an email telling people about what they should do on Cinco de Mayo the next day. We still read it at our company anniversary party each year because it was just so atrocious, and I mean, it's like a pleasure to read because anything is possible if that was the first piece of content we created and we built an actual company out of it.
Shontell: So who were the poor recipients of this first sad little email?
Lerer: Six hundred people, who were everyone in my contact list. And actually we were supposed to have launched several weeks prior but the day we were going to launch, we realized that we had not considered the mechanism for actually sending the email. And so I think literally we loaded it up in my Outbox and then got that kickback note that was, like, "You've sent this to too many recipients." I mean, it was as pathetic as it gets, so we hired whatever the cheapest email-newsletter-delivery thing is, and for $29 a month, which was like, "How dare they charge so much money for the service?!" And we sent out our first one.
I will say that, for whatever the quality of the content was, the one thing it had was soul. Regardless of whether it was this super-thoughtful, sophisticated whatever brand, it was a brand. It had a consistency, and it had a way of thinking about the world, and an attitude, which was, "Squeeze as much fun and enjoyment out of every day as you can." And that principle is something that even 11 years later, while the brand has been through a bunch of growth and change, it still comes back to that core proposition around, "Do the things you love better, appreciate the world around you, have fun."
Shontell: And so when did Bob come into the mix? How many of these letters were you sending before you got money to sustain yourself?
Lerer: I would guess maybe we had been creating content for somewhere between three and six months.
Shontell: And did you have traction?
Lerer: Yeah, we had traction. I think we had week over week growth that was accelerating and we had good engagement. I remember that first year where we put local businesses on the map, legitimately, where we went in and we covered something and it became one of those places where there's a line around the corner and the line doesn't stop and we got a reputation for being good at picking winners and presenting it in a light that was just different.
Shontell: So when did you start to shape your vision and realize this could actually be a real, big business?
Lerer: When DailyCandy sold was the first time we ever picked our head up. So we built for two or three years and it was getting bigger and bigger, and we always had DailyCandy's trajectory to compare it against. I remember it was, like, can you get to 35,000 subs in your first year? If you do, you're on DailyCandy trajectory. Then, can you get to 150,000 subs in year two? If you do, you're on DailyCandy trajectory.
And so we had these things that we drove toward, and then there was the same in revenue, and so we had these early DailyCandy metrics that we tracked against and tracked favorably against for two or three years, then they sold for this sort of big number. We worshipped DailyCandy and thought that they were this behemoth. But a little bit of it was "OK, well, great, we're on their trajectory, so my phone must not be working because no one's calling and offering us $125 million for the business — I don't know what's going on."
Shontell: And how many cities were you in at this point?
Lerer: I don't know: eight or 10 or 15 or six. But it felt substantive enough. The audience was great quality, but it was an email newsletter. You know, think about the reach that brands have today. Business Insider has interacted with more people since we've been sitting here than Thrillist did that year. It was hard to say, "Well, where does this thing go?" And we got this bug in our head that there was an opportunity to take this hyper-engaged consumer and find ways to monetize them outside of advertising. And we said, "What else can we do with them?" And just about this time I started investing.
Shontell: And what year is this?
Lerer: Two thousand nine.
Teaming up with his dad to find and fund startups
Shontell: So you are now in a bunch of markets, you've got a good subscriber base, advertisers are interested, they're working with you, but one of the rules a lot of media companies try to follow is don't just have one revenue stream. One thing that you guys figured out and that you tried was a lot of people were pairing commerce and content.
Lerer: That's that turning point for us.
Shontell: Right: So you found this company, JackThreads, and they were a clothing company and you bought them.
Lerer: And this was because I was investing. Is it worth giving that backstory? The LHV backstory? So my dad is running HuffPo, or he's the chairman of HuffPo, and I'm building Thrillist and — actually this comes back to BI — Henry Blodget, my dad's friend, calls him and says, "I'm starting this thing and I'm raising a little bit of money," and so my dad says, "Hey, my friend Henry's starting this thing — what do you think?" He sort of, like, asks my opinion, but like certainly not asking me for any money, because I don't have any, and we're, like, OK sure. So we give Henry a little bit of money and then we make eight or 10 investments in a year or so, and then they start to do well. Just like BI, they're all starting to gain a little momentum. One of them is —
Lerer: BuzzFeed — smart, yes, one of them is BuzzFeed.
Shontell: I know your portfolio better than you do.
Lerer: Right, yup. My dad one day comes to me and goes, "Hey, you know what, I'm an old dude. I've been around a little bit; it's really interesting what's happening right now. Your friends want to go and do tech startups suddenly. I feel like something is happening here and we should try to get involved."
And I said: "Yeah, I appreciate that point. I have a job, you have a job, and I don't even know what you're talking about." And he said, "We should raise a fund and do some investing."
And I said, "That's actually not a terrible idea." The real impetus for it was he read the funding story about Foursquare and he's, like, "I wish we had invested in that." And I'm, like, "I know those dudes. We could have invested in that."
And that was when he said: "You know all the kids are starting companies, and I bet I could raise a little bit of money for us from my friends. Let's put these things together and see if we can start a little fund." And so we raised an $8.5 million fund.
Shontell: And this is Lerer Ventures.
Lerer: And so we started investing and that was an amazing vintage of New York companies. The first generation of great New York tech companies. Then, when my dad sold HuffPo, he said, "Well, what am I going to do now?" And this LV thing is really working and we said, "Let's make this a little more serious," and so then we went and raised another fund and since have raised six funds, each one just about doubling in size from the one before, and we've made over 300 investments in early-stage technology companies and a lot of them are direct-to-consumer commerce, and so I got obsessed with direct-to-consumer commerce.
When I was running Thrillist, I said, "How do we take these direct-to-consumer-commerce companies that we're investing in and some of that philosophy and marry that with what we're building at Thrillist?" JackThreads was a company which was an advertiser at Thrillist, and a successful advertiser — they spent money with us and people signed up, spent money with them, and we said "right time, right place, right value," and we decided to buy JackThreads six years ago at Thrillist to get into content and commerce.
Selling versus spinning out, an emotionally-draining experience
Shontell: So you buy this company and it does boost your revenue a bunch, but then eventually you end up spinning it out. What happened?
Lerer: We brought it in and we started growing two businesses at once: a media business and a commerce business. And as is sometimes the case, the new thing that comes in is the shiny object, and so we start putting a lot of focus into integrating it in, into investing it and growing it, and JackThreads explodes and starts growing super quickly. And you turn back and look at your media business a year later and go, "Ah, that hasn't grown because we haven't put any time into it and we haven't invested money into it and we sort of took for granted that it was going to continue to grow."
You then go back and go, "OK, we've got to get this media business back on track, and then you turn back and look at your retail business six months later and go, 'That's not growing as fast as it was.'" So then we get to this point and go, "OK, guys, we need to divide and conquer, and we need to start growing our management team, we need to put more resources against this." We went out and raised a Series A from Oak, from Fred Harmon at Oak, and that was to fund growth in both business and Fred came in.
Shontell: And he's been an investor in a lot of media companies — Bleacher Report, a bunch.
Lerer: Bleacher, HuffPo, NowThis, Brit and Co. Fred gets it, and we built a great relationship with Fred. A lot of investors loved the idea, but it was harder to raise money than it should have been. We were like, "Eh, look, it is what it is, let's just put our heads down and grow these two businesses" and a few things happened.
One is, each of them started changing, and so Thrillist started becoming more gender-neutral as the audience got bigger, and JackThreads got into the business of making its own stuff, and both businesses as we were investing started requiring more capital, and they need different kinds of capital, and they need different kinds of talent, and so then we built separate management teams and the businesses, which at one point were in the same boat, or in boats sitting beside each other going the same direction, started diverging.
And so you know, whatever it was, two and a half years ago, I think, when we ended up closing the financing, Axel Springer came in and invested and as part of their investment, they basically said, "Look, we love your media business, and we want to grow your media business." As you would know, they are fans of the media business and are now the owners of BI. And actually this was within the same month that they bought BI.
Shontell: This is about two years ago.
Lerer: Two years ago, OK. That's when we closed. I think we looked at Thrillist and said, "A lot has happened in the media business and the rise of social and the opportunity that we saw around the corner with video — which is now the very foundation of what Group Nine is all about — we said there's this bigger, more exciting thing happening and we don't want to be half in, half out, and we want to go and grow media. We said, "Let's spin JackThreads and put it in a separate thing. It'll become an LHV investment and we'll bring in new money and a new CEO and it'll have its own course and it will be a separate thing from us."
So we did that and put our head down on Thrillist and just focused and grew like a weed, and it was like that reminder of, we're good at this business, if we pay attention and if we don't lose sight of the fundamentals of what we're trying to build. And so we grew Thrillist really nicely, and then all the while had this idea that there were changes happening in media that were big and exciting.
That time Thrillist almost got bought by Axel Springer or Viacom
Shontell: Some would look at the big and exciting changes in media and actually be a little bit scared because it means a lot more investment, a whole change in business model to some extent as different medias keep forming. So some would look at that and be, like, "OK, this is time to get out. I've built a great thing, I've built a great brand, I've done this for eight years or whatever it had been at that point. I'm done."
Did you think that? Like, I know that there had been rumors of acquisition talk along the years at Thrillist. What was the closest you ever came?
Lerer: The closest we ever came was when we did the spin of JackThreads, because that was emotionally hard. That was physically hard. You build the team, you build the culture, it's all your people and we're, like, "This is going to be hard," and it was. And that was a moment where when we were splitting the two things. We got really close to selling it and we had multiple people who I think would have bought it and who we were having real conversations with.
Shontell: Like who?
Lerer: Like Axel. We spent a bunch of time with them. It was in the press that we spent a bunch of time with Viacom. By the way, I don't think that selling is in any way, shape, or form giving up or copping out or throwing in the towel — at all. I just thought that it wasn't really the right time for us, and this again comes back to my dad.
At that time, he said something to me that was really important, that was a big driving factor, where he said, "Look at what's happening in media, look at the changes that are going on. This feels like the cable-TV business to me in the '80s, where you have these strong brands that people care about with big growing audiences on the new distribution platforms on social, and it's like the Wild West, and the money's not all there yet but the audiences are huge and, boy, history's repeating itself."
He said, "I see something happening. I remember being almost your exact age, in 1982, and seeing consolidations start to come to cable, and I didn't have a front-row seat. You have your buy-in. You have a chip to play a real role here in Thrillist. You own one of the 20 or 30 or 40 brands that matter in digital, and if I were in your shoes, I would think about taking what you have and doubling down. So you don't build a brand in the wind to get bought, but you build the next holding company."
And we thought about that idea and it sounded really compelling. I literally just looked at everything happening in digital media and I said, "If I started Thrillist again today, how would I built it? What would it look like?" You build totally around your consumer, you unapologetically go to where they are, you unapologetically create in the format that is going to get the most distribution. Go to where the people are and build giant brands that tons of people love and like money always does follow these things.
Creating Group Nine and becoming king
Shontell: So you now run Group Nine, which ended up kind of consolidating all these things into one.
Lerer: The Dodo, NowThis.
Shontell: All these very different companies.
Lerer: And Thrillist.
Shontell: They were all media. How did that discussion happen? How did you decide, "OK, we're going to take NowThis, The Dodo, have them all agree to join," and then come up with this structure where you're suddenly king?
Lerer: Rude! So the structure was — I mean, this is not like deal making for the faint of heart.
I definitively remember this: It was a year ago, it was during the summer because I remember where I was running. I was running outside and I was having a call with Fred and I was telling him about this idea and he said, basically, "Don't quit your day job." Like, "Good luck putting these things together. It's a really great idea, but these companies have different boards with different investors, with different priorities. They have different management teams."
There was a lot of crossover investors, so Axel was in Thrillist and Axel was in NowThis. Greycroft may have been in two out of three, LHV was in all three, Fred Harmon, I believe, was in all three of them. The only outside investor of scale at any of the companies, other than Axel and Fred and Lerer, was Discovery, who was a big investor at The Dodo. It took a lot of spending time with the management teams of the other businesses to all have a meeting of the mind on how this would look and what the structure would be, and we were right about a bunch and wrong about a bunch, and we continue to learn as we put the businesses together.
The philosophy was, if we're going to build the biggest digital holding company for a bunch of reasons, it would make sense to be partnered with one of the biggest traditional holding companies. And so because Discovery had had a very positive experience with the Dodo, and because we thought that it just aligned with us for a bunch of reasons, they were one of a very small handful of folks that we sort of teased this idea to, which we called Project Family. It was our secret name, and Discovery was decisive and aggressive and ambitious and self-aware, and they said, "This is hard and we're doing this here. Let's be all in with you guys while we make a big investment, let's also contribute our digital footprint, and we're not going to try to compete with you. You guys will build digital and we're going to do what we do great and we'll find ways to partner in a thousand different ways, but Seeker will be part of the Group Nine family and so Seeker is our fourth brand."
Shontell: So you're creating content for platforms like Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and you're pumping it out to them and you're letting them be the distribution. Do you guys even need websites or are you just doing distributed?
Lerer: We have websites. I think a website is there because of search and because if you're building brands that answer questions that people might have, you should be there for those people. I think you build them for hyper fan bases. We'll have tens and tens of millions of uniques across our properties because we have brands that matter.
Shontell: Those are people coming to your websites to check it out.
Lerer: Yeah, and we'll have big audiences there. That is an output of having brands that matter. That's not the business.
Shontell: So you're the head now of four different brands?
Lerer: Well, each brand has its own leads. So I'm not the head of the brands; I'm the head of the holding company that owns the brands. But the brands operate totally independently from an editorial perspective. Lots of shared learning, shared insights, shared technology, shared go-to-market from an advertising perspective. Like, we're consolidating at the sort of Group Nine level as much as we can to get best practices and learning and efficiency but the brands themselves are wholly independent editorial operations with their own mission, their own soul, their own direction.
Shontell: And you said that Discover went all in, they invested about $100 million into this new digital entity, holding company, and I think you were valued at $580 million through this deal.
Lerer: I think we want to build the best content brands and the best IP creation brands for the next generation of consumers, and part of the philosophy of creating great content is creating content with the user at the center, meaning, we're going to make it for where people are, not for where we can capture them or trap them.
Shontell: Right: where it's convenient for them. One thing that it seems like you guys and a lot of other folks are really doubling down — and this probably comes into play when you talk about disrupting cable and cable coming together with print and all that — is video. Video is taking over; social video is everywhere.
Are you all video content now? Is that where you're heading? Is text dead? What's happening?
Lerer: We're not all video content. Text is not dead.
We want to first think how a story is told in sight, sound, and motion, but with a lot of stories, that's not the best way to consume, that's not the best way to distribute. And so the idea is we're building brands, brands that stand for something, they're going to create a wide array of content. Most of it, probably, is going to be video, but that is not to say at all that like we don't believe in non-video content, and Thrillist is a perfect example. We're winning James Beard Awards for our journalism and our feature writing, and telling really interesting and important stories. Huge numbers of people are relying on us to come and read about local food and drink, and that's part of being a brand that does everything that your audience could want you to do, but we're a video company.
You know, Facebook is not a social network; Facebook is a mobile-video-distribution platform. All these platforms are trying to build the mobile version of television, and there's a really good reason for it because there's upwards of $70 billion in the US TV market that they would all like to have, and so we're building on the backs of the pipes, and the pipes want video because people want video, and because the business is in video, and so we're building the future of TV networks — and that's video.
What he says to people who say success breeds success
Shontell: So a couple of personal questions to wrap this all up. Don't worry — not too personal.
Lerer: Oh, my God.
Shontell: We've talked a lot about where you came from and your dad and how he's been a big influence on your life, and I would say that one of the biggest criticisms that people who are successful who have successful parents get is “success breeds success, and you are successful because you came from privilege."
So I don't think that you would have stuck it out and gone through all this pain of building a 10-year-plus media company if that were the only thing driving you, but how do you respond to that? When people have that criticism, what do you say?
Lerer: What I would say is like, yeah, I totally get that, and who am I kidding? I just told you the story of my career, and arguably the two most important decisions I've made were in some way, shape, or form taking my father's advice, so I'm hardly shying away from the idea that my dad has been incredibly helpful to me. His success is not what has been helpful for me; he actually helps me. He gives me the best advice ever. So what can I say? I mean, yeah — he's been helpful.
Shontell: But can you be successful without it? Like, not you personally, but in general.
Lerer: Well, of course you can be successful without it.
Shontell: Can you build a big company?
Lerer: Of course you can, and people do that all the time.
I've had the benefit of having him help me, and it's been helpful, and I believe I'm more successful because of the help I've gotten from him, so I'm not going to shy from away from it and be, like, "I would do it all without my dad." My dad has not given me money for my companies, but he's been helpful, and, by the way, where's the line between nepotism and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree? I think that there are people who know my dad, who think my dad's smart, who maybe give me an extra look because they're, like, "Hey, maybe this guy comes from OK genes," and my sister has been pretty successful, like, clearly something OK is going on. We're not morons. I will lean right into, like, "My dad has helped my career and I appreciate it, and I'm happy to acknowledge it."
Shontell: Well, you should never apologize for where you came from, and I think it's a huge testament to you that you've been so ambitious and built such a great career for yourself regardless.
Lerer: That is so sweet of you.
Shontell: Where does that ambition come from? You could have just sat back and been like a sloppy college kid forever, but you're not that person and you built this huge media company that you want to become even bigger, so you're working your butt off. What drives you and how did you get that ambition?
Lerer: One, insecurity, the great motivator.
Shontell: I think when you have successful parents, too, you want to prove that you can do it yourself.
Lerer: You know what's funny, I agree with that. At the same time, I grew up in Manhattan and went to Dalton, and many of my friends had super-successful-whatever parents, and it didn't turn out to be the great motivator for all of them. For me it's fear of failure, first and foremost — that's a huge driver. I wish that wasn't the case, but it is, and then a lot of it is just the meaning of life. What is your life and how do you make the most of it?
There are so many times where this is hard and I'm like, "Oh man, I could live an easier life," but it's not actually appealing. Why get out of bed in the morning? You've got to do stuff and make stuff, and particularly I think Group Nine is really mission-driven. There's been nothing that has been a greater pleasure for me than with this political environment and this disgusting president to have NowThis news be part of our portfolio and to see the change that they're making and the people that they're giving voices to. That's amazing, and I'm really proud of the work that they're doing and feel lucky to be a part of it, and that's an example of, like — that's being alive.
Shontell: Great. Well, thank you so much, Ben. It's been fun.
Lerer: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
The rise of social media has allowed celebrities of all stripes to interact with their fans on a (sometimes terrifyingly) personal level, through platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. But some celebs want more direct control over how they are presenting their lives to superfans than those platforms provide.
Take the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, who debuted a set of subscription apps in 2015 to give people more behind-the-scenes access to their daily lives — for a few bucks a month.
And now NFL superstar Russell Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, is betting there’s a business to be built around creating custom ways for celebs to engage with their superfans.
Wilson has cofounded a startup called TraceMe, which is meant to “control the experience and cadence” of how celebs interact with their biggest supporters, TraceMe CEO and former Hulu exec Jason LeeKeenan told Business Insider. It launches in public beta Friday.
LeeKeenan pointed to the pregnancy of pop star Ciara, Wilson’s wife, as one of the lightbulb moments that led Wilson to found TraceMe. When Ciara was about eight months pregnant, the couple filmed a funny video of her lip syncing to Whitney Houston, which racked up millions of views on social platforms like YouTube and Instagram.
But Wilson wanted there to be a “better” and “more direct” way to share moments of his family’s life, like that one, with fans — and perhaps a more lucrative way, though LeeKeenan didn’t say that. Through that experience and other conversations with his famous friends, who had similar feelings, Wilson decided to seek out a cofounder for TraceMe.
The idea behind TraceMe is to give celebs both the tech and production know-how they need to create their own content empires. In that way, it sounds a bit like Derek Jeter’s startup The Players’ Tribune, which publishes (and helps create) content like essays and videos by athletes. The Players’ Tribune has raised a total of $58 million from venture capitalists, according to Crunchbase. But TraceMe is more personalized to the individual celeb, and not an overarching media brand itself.
While TraceMe will be the overall platform, it will let fans dive into different (custom) celeb worlds — think “Russell’s world,” LeeKeenan said. The first star on the platform, starting Friday, will be Wilson himself.
Wilson’s content will be a mix of “raw and unfiltered” video directly from him, as well as a handful of more polished original series that the TraceMe team will help him produce. The latter will be videos like Wilson talking to legends in different fields, or detailing his workout routines with his personal trainer.
The ultimate idea is to create immersive experiences, in whatever form the celeb wants, LeeKeenan said.
As to a monetization method, there isn’t one in place yet, and LeeKeenan is mum on his plans. But one can imagine a subscription element, like the Kardashians employ, with TraceMe taking a cut of the revenue depending on how much work its team does on the project. And for now, TraceMe has raised a $9 million Series A round of funding from the likes of Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos), and Chad Hurley (cofounder of YouTube).
LeeKeenan’s position is that if they are creating something of value for these celebs, the money will come.
“Russell has this saying, if you're a celebrity you need to be the CEO of your own brand,” LeeKeenan said. “Our job is to support [them] in their endeavor.”
Google became one of the biggest companies in the world after it launched a search engine in 1998 that surpassed the abilities of market leaders Ask Jeeves and Yahoo.
But the $650 billion (£497 billion) business, which today sits under parent company Alphabet, is now looking to cash in on the success of companies operating far beyond the realm of software and search engines — with a particular focus on healthcare.
Through its GV venture capital arm (formerly Google Ventures prior to the restructuring of Google), Alphabet is taking an equity stake in companies looking to reduce human suffering and increase human life expectancy.
These are firms aiming to limit aging and improve how we treat diseases by researching areas like genomics, cell therapy, and biotechnology.
Founded in 2009 by Bill Marris, who left last August, GV has backed more than 300 companies and has over $2.4 billion (£1.9 billion) at its disposal. It provides startups with funding, while also giving them engineering support, PR and marketing advice, and introductions to relevant people at Google.
GV is investing roughly a third of the capital it gets from Alphabet into healthcare and life science startups. It obviously hopes to make a financial profit on its healthcare investments, but says that it's not the only motive. The investment partners at GV also want to ensure that the companies they're backing are given the best opportunity possible to improve the world we live in.
Krishna Yeshwant, a doctor who leads GV's life sciences and health team, told Business Insider: "One of the best things about investing in healthcare is that we can do well by doing good.
"Life expectancy is just one (important) measure of that. If we saw an approach we thought was exciting in human life extension we would absolutely invest. However, we invest across all aspects of life sciences and healthcare delivery, with the primary intent being to reduce human suffering."
GV: Life science startups can become the next tech megacorporations
Several of GV's 12 partners are hunting for potential healthcare and life science deals around the world — but the UK and Ireland are a particular hotbed of activity for the VC.
Speaking to Business Insider at The Ivy in London straight off the back of a meeting with some GV-backed founders, Tom Hulme, a partner at GV, said he's "absolutely" confident that some of today's healthcare startups will evolve into multibillion dollar corporations in the same way that GV portfolio company Uber has.
"I would say by definition these problems [that healthcare startups are working on] are incredibly impactful to a large proportion of humanity and my belief is that will create a large economic opportunity," said Hulme.
"That doesn't mean overcharging or gouging the end customer. It means these problems are so ubiquitous that actually you can have very fairly priced organisations that become massive businesses."
GV has backed over 50 healthcare companies worldwide to date, with investments ranging from $100,000 (£76,000) to tens of millions of dollars.
Hulme said he's comfortable with GV's team size in Europe (two partners and a small support team) even though it was reduced significantly in December 2015 when GV folded a dedicated $125 million (£96 million) European fund into a larger global pot. "The main reason I'm comfortable is we're bolstered by an amazing team in the US," said Hulme, who studied physics at Bristol University followed by an MBA at Harvard Business School.
GV set up its European fund in October 2014 but closed it down just over a year later, with a report in The Financial Times claiming that tension developed between GV's European and US teams on investment strategy. GV denies the claims.
GV is capitalising on the IP coming out of Oxbridge
Of the startups in the GV portfolio, Hulme is particularly bullish about the prospects of Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), which provides capital and scaling expertise to Oxford University businesses based on interesting intellectual property (IP).
OSI has raised £580 million, making it the largest private university fund in the UK. It's unclear how much GV put in.
"You could think of it as a fund," said Hulme in reference to OSI. "I tend to think of it as a really interesting company that's transferring IP effectively. One of the interesting challenges of Oxford is if you look at their base of academic research, it is world class. And I don't think that's ever translated into a throughput of startups. In many ways I think Cambridge's funnel was more efficient historically because of Cambridge Angels and CIC (Cambridge Innovation Capital)."
OSI has made over 40 investments and about half of those investments have been into life science companies. "The quality is absolutely exceptional," Hulme claimed. "They have a relationship with the tech transfer office [at the University of Oxford] and they can get referred into any science department, be it medicine, genomics, etc."
Hulme said he wouldn't be surprised if OSI turns into one of the UK's largest companies in the next 10 years, adding that he expects it to create hundreds of jobs in turn.
Another life science company in the GV stable is Dublin-based Genomics Medicine Ireland, which has raised $40 million (£31 million) from GV and others to carry out genomic research across Ireland while examining the broader relationship between genetics, health, and disease.
There is also Cambridge Epigenetix, which is a biosciences company building easy-to-use epigenetic tools that can be used to study and modify human genes. The five-year-old company has raised $26.5 million (£20.46 million) from GV, Silicon Valley investor Sequoia Capital, and others.
"The revenues are potentially a fair way off [for Cambridge Epigenetix], but the size of the problem we're solving makes us completely comfortable with deferring revenue," said Hulme.
"We've chosen to select companies where I believe that economic return is completely aligned with human well-being. So I'm equally as excited about that as the cash return."
There could be more UK investments on the way soon. "We're currently looking at [another] one in London and another in Oxford," said Hulme.
GV has a "patient capital" approach to investing
There's no immediate pressure for the companies in GV's portfolio to start generating profits for shareholders.
Alphabet does not specify exactly how much money GV should make on its investments, according to Hulme. "The reason for that is the timeline is unknown. What I know they do judge GV on is the historical returns or the progress today that the portfolio is making.
"And they've been great. Alphabet is absolutely satisfied with that, which I think is kind of reflected in the fact that (very generally) the fund has tended to increase in size over time."
After slashing the price of its subscription movie ticket service, MoviePass has been flooded with new subscribers and has had a tough time meeting demand.
After the company last month cut its prices from as much as $50 a month to a flat $9.95 monthly fee, 150,000 people signed up within two days, a MoviePass representative said. As of Tuesday subscriptions had reached 400,000, according to the company representative.
MoviePass has struggled to absorb all those new customers. In order to use the company's service to purchase movie tickets at their local theater, customers typically need to use a MoviePass-issued debit card. In a blog post published on its site on Wednesday, MoviePass warned customers they should expect to wait two-to-three weeks to get their card.
"Though we increased our staff in anticipation of the new plan, the response has been overwhelming," the company said in its blog post. "In an effort to address all of your questions, we’ve tripled the size of our team, which is working to respond to everyone as quickly as possible."
To better meet the demand, MoviePass has not only hired customer service workers, it's having them work longer hours, the company said in its post. It's also opened an additional fulfillment center to process card orders.
Although MoviePass typically ships cards on a first-come, first-served basis, the company's order queue was "shuffled" recently and some cards were shipped out of order, potentially contributing to the delays, it added.
MoviePass' customer service employees have "received hundreds of thousands of emails and tens of thousands of chats" through it customer service channels, the company said in the post.
CEO Mitch Lowe, a co-founder of Netflix, told Bloomberg he "totally underestimated demand."
MoviePass' service allows customers to see one movie a day at their local theater for just their $9.95 monthly subscription fee. When they go to a theater and choose a movie to see, the company loads their debit cards with enough money to buy a ticket.
The company's struggles to meet demand for its service come amid complaints from movie industry executives that its business model isn't sustainable.
At many theaters, the monthly fee MoviePass earns from customers isn't enough to cover the price of one ticket, much less one for each day of the month. The company has said it plans to make up the difference between the cost of buying tickets and the limited fees it earns by collecting and selling data on customers' movie-watching habits.
Prior to cutting its prices last month, MoviePass offered a range of different subscription tiers that allowed customers to watch anywhere from two movies a month to one every day. It previously charged $50 a month for that latter plan.
After the original price cut announcement, Fox Film CEO Stacy Snider said MoviePass sounded "like a wacky business model."
AMC, the world's largest theater operator also pushed back, stating it would work with attorneys to see about blocking MoviePass use at its theaters.
Twitter users across the US howled in rage on Wednesday after getting wind of Bodega, the startup whose internet-connected pantry boxes want to replace your local corner store.
Many observers criticized the choice of the Bodega name — which traditionally refers to mom-and-pop convenience stores in large American cities — and the notion that two former Google employees could put the beloved local shops out of business. In the Fast Company profile that ignited the storm, cofounder Paul McDonald laid out his vision for the automated kiosks. "Eventually, centralized shopping locations won't be necessary," he said, "because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you."
Others were quick to label the Bodega boxes as the latest internet folly (See: Juicero), dismissing the kiosks as nothing more than a glorified vending machine for the millennial tech set.
With so much hubbub we decided we needed to find a Bodega in the wild and see what it was like to actually use one. It turned out that finding a Bodega was not as simple as we expected it to be, but we eventually tracked one down. Here's what we found:
Bodega listed 30 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area on its website, a few of which are in easy walking distance of the Business Insider office in San Francisco's financial district.
I started at the infamous Millennium Tower, a modern-day San Francisco landmark because of the unfortunate fact that it has sunk 17 inches into the ground and tilted 14 inches to the side.
The sinking 58-story tower is a private residence, and I couldn't make it past the receptionist, who made it clear there were no Bodegas in the building, despite what the Bodega website said.
Next, I walked to JLL Real Estate. The commercial real-estate firm's office was on an upper floor of the building, and I couldn't make it past the lobby without an appointment. After calling JLL I was told: 1) The company didn't have time for me to come up; and 2) It had no Bodega in the office.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Now it's an app for booze that's drawing the star power, and the celebrities are supporting the app with their own money.
Hooch, a subscription-based app that gets you one "free" drink every day of the month with a $9.99 monthly subscription fee, is amassing a collection of celebrity backers, with Rosario Dawson becoming the latest investor.
Dawson was among the investors that pitched in on Hooch's $5 million funding round that closed last week, according to a company spokesperson. Other investors in the round FJ Labs, Blue Scorpion Investments, and Revelis Capital.
Dawson, who starred Men in Black II and Eagle Eye, joins a list of celebrity investors in Hooch that already includes Shaun White and Russel Simmons.
A drink a day
The Hooch app is basically MoviePass but for drinking. Members sign up and can redeem a drink every day of the month in ten different cities and 450 venues around the globe.
Dawson was first introduced to the app at a charity event Hooch sponsored for CureBatten.org. Her and actor Scott Eastwood donned Hooch branded Santa hats, got behind the bar and started serving up free drinks on Hooch to everyone there. The next year, after a reintroduction from VC Blue Scorpion, the pair partnered up on the store launch of her fashion brand, Studio One Eighty Nine. Not long after, Blue Scorpion recommended she invest herself.
If you've ever bought a drink in a major city you know that the $9.99 membership fee is a steal. So how does Hooch makes money? It's unclear, but it looks like the app is basically acting as a free promo service for bars. Customers are motivated to come in to get their "free" drink and end up staying and raking up tabs. In 2016, CEO Lin Dai told TechCrunch that members spent an average of $30-$40 at Hooch partner venues after getting their first free-ish drink. They also are scoring a lot of valuable data on their members, like what times of day are most popular for drinking in different cities, and purchasing trends of certain beverages.
Founded in 2014, Hooch has raised a total of $2.7 million so far. Cofounder Aleksey Kernes came up with the idea while working as a doorman for NYC's Hotel Chantelle and watching people react to their free welcome drink. Everyone loves feeling like they are the savviest consumer in the room, scoring "freebies" for their smarts.
Bar hopping enthusiasts shouldn't get too excited however – after redeeming your one drink of the day you have to wait until the next day to get another drink on Hooch, and you can't just move to another partner bar for your second round.
Sept 20 (Reuters) - Albertsons Companies Inc. has acquired meal kit startup Plated to transform the food experience for consumers.
Plated, which delivers meal ingredients to customers in a subscription model, will continue to operate as a distinct consumer brand with its own leadership team led by co-founder and CEO Josh Hix. Albertsons says Plated will operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Albertsons Cos.
According to a press release, Plated meal kits will become available in some Albertsons grocery stores.
"Today's consumer is looking for a variety of personalized shopping alternatives, and this transaction is the latest example of Albertsons Cos. meeting our customers wherever and however they like to shop," said Bob Miller, chairman and CEO of Albertsons Companies. "With Plated, we've found a partner who shares our commitment to delicious, affordable food; superior technology and innovation; and world class customer service."
Hix said: "Joining Albertsons Companies presents an amazing opportunity to accelerate our positive impact on the future of food in America by making fresh, delicious food more widely available. Albertsons Cos. is at the forefront of the changing food and grocery landscape with their customer obsession, their large national store footprint, and their exciting plans for the future of the grocery store."
"We're excited to be partnering with them to shepherd our growth while preserving the unique strengths that define Plated today. There's tremendous upside for Plated’s customers whose experience with our brand will only get better. As meal kits continue to gain traction in the marketplace, we believe the winning formula combines choice, flexibility, culinary expertise, and the ability for customers to buy across channels — all of which we are now singularly positioned to deliver in collaboration with Albertsons Cos."
Albertsons operates more than 2,300 grocery stores in the US.
Pointy, a Dublin startup with a device that shopkeepers can use to list their products online, has raised $6 million (£4 million) from a host of big name investors.
The Series A funding comes from Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, Lars Rasmussen cofounder of Google Maps, Taavet Hinrikus cofounder of TransferWise, and Michael Birch cofounder of Bebo.
Venture capital firms Draper Associates and Frontline Ventures also participated in the round, which brings total investment in Pointy up to around $7.2 million (£5.3 million).
Founded by Mark Cummins and Charles Bibby, who met while studying their PhDs in robotics, Pointy provides local stores with a way to list all of their products online.
The company's "Pointy box" device connects to a store's barcode scanner and automatically puts scanned items on a website for the store. Pointy says that store pages are optimised for search engines, so that when local customers search for products, they find results from local stores.
"For many local retailers, keeping up with technology can feel like too much," said Cummins in a statement. "They have full time jobs to do already, they don't have the time or expertise to create digital stores as well. But consumers increasingly expect to find everything on their smartphones.
"If someone takes out their phone to search for a product they want to buy, they're likely to see a result from Amazon, even if a local store 50 feet away has the product in stock. It's a frustrating for retailers and consumers alike. Pointy is solving that problem in a way that's effortless for retailers."
Savor the time you have with the companies in the S&P 500, because in 10 years half of them will be replaced.
The length of time large-cap stocks have spent in the benchmark index has been declining, from 33 years on average in 1985 to 20 years as of 1990. And their window is forecast to get even smaller in the future, shrinking to 14 years by 2026, CLSA wrote in a client note, citing data from Innosight.
Those dwindling S&P 500 shelf lives are being driven by record merger-and-acquisition activity as well as the rapid growth of startups that are achieving multibillion-dollar valuations faster than ever, the CLSA investment strategist Damian Kestel said.
"A period of relative stability is ending," Kestel wrote in a client note. "An increasing number of corporate leaders will lose control of their firm's future."
While getting the boot from a major index like the S&P 500 isn't the end of the world for a company, it can certainly have some adverse effects. After a stock is no longer included in various index funds and exchange-traded products tracking the gauge — some of which are among the most heavily traded in the world — it can see a large drop in trading volume and overall investor interest.
Still, it's also important to note that increased turnover in major indexes isn't directly negative for the market as a whole. Each company that's removed from the S&P 500 is replaced by another, in what amounts to a simple rotation.
Here's a look at which stocks have shuttled in and out of the benchmark during the eight-year bull market, according to CLSA:
Companies that have entered the S&P 500 over the past eight years: Dollar General, Facebook, Regeneron, Accenture, Fossil, Level 3 Communications, Activision Blizzard, Trip Advisor, PayPal, Universal Health Services, Altera, Under Armour, Illumina, Seagate Technology, NRG Energy, Netflix
Companies that have exited the S&P 500 over the past eight years: Family Dollar, Eastman Kodak, Covidien, Computer Sciences, Abercrombie & Fitch, Sprint, International Game Tech, J.C. Penney, National Semiconductor, Safeway, HJ Heinz, US Steel, Radio Shack, Dell Computer, Avon, The New York Times
Sharon Lin is not your typical 18-year-old.
A freshman at MIT, Lin helped develop an Android app while interning at the US State Department. She's this year's Youth Poet Laureate in New York City. And She was named to Crain's 20 under 20 list.
She's also prospective entrepreneur who's CEO of her own company. And in that role, she could help reshape the tech industry and possibly change the world, if a recent contest is any indication.
This week, Lin won the annual #BuiltByGirls startup challenge and its $10,000 prize. She was recognized for an app she developing to help impoverished communities around the world cheaply and easily find out whether their water supplies are contaminated with harmful bacteria.
"You only have to look at the finalists of the #BuiltByGirls Challenge ... to know that the future is in good hands," said Nisha Dua, the founder of #BuiltByGirls, the organization behind the contest.
Run by Verizon-owned Oath, #BuiltByGirls works to promote women in tech. It offers mentorships to young women and helps them get hands-on experience at top tech companies and venture capital funds. It also runs a yearly contest focused on encouraging women who are interested in becoming tech entrepreneurs.
At this year's contest, five finalists pitched their startup ideas to a panel of judges at Spotify’s San Francisco offices. They had been selected from among 450 applicants.
The finalists, some of whom were solo entrepreneurs like Lin and some of which were parts of multi-person teams, had each taken a few days off school to fly in and compete for the prize. Gold and blue balloons waved from the stage and vegan cupcakes sat waiting as the entrepreneurs pitched their ideas for solving problems including autism-related anxiety, waste decomposition, and knee injuries.
Lin was the the last entrepreneur to take the stage. Her presentation walked the audience through microbial analysis and the app she's developing. The app uses machine learning to analyze photos of water samples and can recognize different bacterial strains. To show how it works, Lin, who created a company called White Water to develop the app, tested it on photos sent from a family in China.
White Water's app isn't fully developed; Lin still needs to build out a database of water samples. But the program could have a lot of promise — it was designed so that even people without a background in science could use it to test their water.
The contest judges were obviously impressed. After only a brief deliberation, they named Lin the winner of the contest.
Lin was excited not only about winning, but also what that might mean for her company and idea.
"It's given me the confidence of knowing that there are people who care about issues such as water quality analysis, and that there is genuine interest in developing enterprise software for developing nations," she said.
From personal interest to winning app
Lin's own interest in solving the problem of water quality came from personal connections. She has family in China who live in small villages that lack the money and resources to perform lab tests on their well water. She'd heard enough of stories about water-related disease outbreaks there to know they didn't have a good way to make sure their water was drinkable.
As a senior in high school, she participated in a Science Olympiad competition, where she saw presentations on water quality testing systems. She wanted to find out more, so she reached out to university professors for more information.
Eventually, she came up with her idea for White Water. She decided to enter the #BuiltByGirls challenge to spur her to develop the White Water app past its prototype stage and figure out how she could scale the product to market.
"I was excited about the opportunity to meet other girls who were also pursuing innovative ideas, and who I could look to for inspiration as a female founder," Lin said.
She's not quite sure what she is going to do with her prize money. She knows she has a lot more research to do, and that building up a database of water samples will not be simple.
Right now, she's balancing White Water with her first semester at MIT. She starts each day at 7 a.m. and either finishes up homework or works on her app for a few hours before her 11 a.m. class. Balancing her time between classes, White Water, and off-campus activities can be tough, but Lin seems to know how to handle it better than most.
She still has a ways to go before making her full entrance into the tech world. But as her win at the #BuiltByGirls challenge indicates, she's already making a big impression.
While all of Tony Robbins' one-on-one coaching sessions are personalized, they're drawn from more than 30 years of experience in coaching — and for his business clients, what he's learned from running his own portfolio of companies.
In September, the winners of Shopify's Build a Bigger Business competition won the chance to be personally mentored by Robbins at his Fiji resort, Namale. The winners are the founders of profitable online retailers bringing in millions of dollars in sales who are in the midst of scaled growth. While that's a mark of success by most measures, each of the entrepreneurs are in fragile positions that will determine the fate of their business.
We went to Fiji to spend time with Robbins and the winners, and in a podcast interview — which you can listen to below — he told us that there were two fundamental insights that guided each of his mentorship sessions.
Listen to the whole episode and subscribe for more Success!
Prioritize your customers, not your product ideas.
"I'd say there's only one way to really succeed long term — and it's simplistic but it's true," Robbins said. "It's add more value than anybody else." And the way to do that, he said, is by falling in love with your customer, not your product.
"If you fall in love with your product, you're screwed," he said.
A common mistake new entrepreneurs make, he explained, is failing to notice changes in demand from their customer base because they've wrapped their identity in their company's first offering. That said, expanding the brand or pivoting to a new approach will be just as fruitless if the decision is catered to vague market developments rather than a relationship with a specific customer base.
"You've got to figure out how to know more about them than anybody else does," he said. "Maybe they know about themselves in some areas."
Pinpoint your 'threshold of control' and learn to overcome it.
Throughout Robbins' week with the Shopify winners on Fiji, he repeatedly had them pinpoint their "threshold of control," to help them learn to overcome it.
Robbins used an example from skiing: You're an intermediate skier who skis blue square (intermediate) slopes, but one trip up the mountain you realize you've accidentally begun going down a black diamond (expert) slope. Skiing is dangerous, and potentially fatal if you don't know what you're doing. You then have the option to either intensely focus and figure out a way to make it through the trail, or else slide or walk down the rest of trail. If you choose the former and make it down on your skis, even if sloppily, you've passed a threshold of control.
This same fear is common among entrepreneurs who suddenly find themselves in charge of both a rapidly growing team and millions of dollars. Running a scaling company can seem like the black diamond slope for a founder who feels comfortable running a successful small startup.
There are many factors, including luck, that determine whether a company can achieve long-term sustainability, but a crucial factor for success is the founder's ability to determine their threshold and push past it.
"Courage isn't that you're not afraid, it's you're scared sh--less but you decide that you're going to focus on what you're here to do versus on what you fear, and you push yourself," Robbins said.
In the US, computer science jobs are often confined to the coasts — particularly the one hugging the Pacific Ocean.
In recent years, however, a growing number of startups have begun cropping up in America's heartland. A new coding bootcamp called Kenzie Academy hopes to capitalize on that budding interest.
Instead of growing the bubble of Silicon Valley, Kenzie Academy wants to strengthen middle America by teaching non-tech workers, primarily those between 19 and 40 years old, the ins and outs of ones and zeroes.
From zero to engineer in two years
One of the guiding missions, according to Kenzie cofounder and CEO Chok Ooi, is to equip those working in jobs vulnerable to automation with flexible skills that could survive the 21st century.
"There's going to be a lot of new jobs coming up as new technology is being introduced," Ooi told Business Insider. "So we want to retrain people from all these jobs that are being automated away toward the new jobs that are coming up."
In early October, Kenzie set up shop at its first location in a coworking space in Indianapolis, Indiana. The goal will be to recruit about 25 students who can pursue one of three tracks.
The first is a six-month program to become a junior front-end developer — someone who can capably design the face of a web application. The second is a one-year program to learn both the front and back ends, otherwise known as "full stack." The third is a two-year track that teaches not just coding, but computer science as a whole.
"When they graduate, they'll have the capacity to architect and design more complex systems," Ooi said. "This is what will allow them to compete effectively against someone who's gone through a four-year computer science program."
Dropping anchor into communities
Not everyone shares Ooi's optimism that coding bootcamps are a ticket into the tech world. Over the past few years years, a number of graduates and tech executives have expressed doubt that these classes can actually compete with an undergraduate degree. At both Google and Autodesk, coding schools supply a small and sometimes negligible portion of the total staff, Bloomberg reported in 2016.
"These tech bootcamps are a freaking joke," Mark Dinan, a Bay-Area recruiter for tech companies, told Bloomberg. "My clients are looking for a solid CS [computer science] degree from a reputable university or relevant work experience."
At Kenzie, classes will run five days a week for about eight hours at a time. Students will have the opportunity to stream the classes online, but for the sake of increasing bonds between students and mentors, Kenzie cofounder and COO Rehan Hasan said the class needed a physical meeting space.
"We're dropping anchor to be parts of communities, where we'll have a hyperlocalized view of things," Hasan told Business Insider. "There's no better way to do that than actually live and work within the coworking spaces where the community gathers."
A step further than school
Kenzie doesn't come cheap. The company charges $12,000 for the six-month program. If students choose the 12-month track, at the six-month mark they can start doing consulting work for Kenzie that can subsidize a $20,000 price tag. The two-year track is also $20,000 — the idea being that the entire second year will pay for itself through consulting work, Ooi said.
The company has only just launched in Indiana, but already has its sights set on other cities, including Kansas City, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, or Detroit. Wherever it expands, Hasan and Ooi said, the goal will be to tap into an emerging market of talent, no matter the age.
"Schools focus a lot on the education part," Ooi said. "Our focus is the education, the mentorship, and the job placement. It's actually integral to our program. We're actually going to be active advocates."
Silicon Valley's "bro culture" was turned upside down earlier this year after a succession of women stepped forward with stories of sexual harassment and discrimination at the hands of male venture capitalists.
Influential executives like Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, Dave McClure of accelerator 500 Startups, and celebrity investor Chris Sacca were implicated in allegations of misconduct and forced out.
As companies condemned the behavior and took steps to investigate claims, it seemed like Silicon Valley had finally started to move towards making the tech industry a better place for women. But a new report from The New York Times shows that all the well-intentioned promises may have resulted in some serious unintended consequences.
"A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyper-aware and scared of behaving wrongly, so I think they’re drawing all kinds of parameters," an anonymous venture capitalist told the Times.
The anonymous VC told the Times that he's actually cancelled one-on-one meetings with female engineers and potential recruits to protect himself from any "reputational risk."
It's not clear how widespread this type of reaction might be. But it highlights the challenges facing women startup founders in an industry in which casual networking and meetings are critical to securing funding.
Women entrepreneurs are already under-represented when it comes to raising funding. Data shows that women led startups received $1.46 billion in venture capital funding compared to $58.2 billion given to all male companies in 2016. The problem is made even worse by the fact that the majority of venture capitalists are male. The Harvard Business Review estimates that only 7% of venture capitalists are female.
Every workplace is different, and it doesn't seem like there is going to be a one size fits all solution in the near future. Women make up 48% of the entry level workforce but only 21% at the top. To get past all of the roadblocks on the way up, both men and women need to remain aware of the consequences – unintentional or otherwise – at every level.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. The same goes for large businesses -- putting all of your company's effort into a single product can lead to stagnation and stale ideas. Exploring new ideas is one way to keep your company relevant for the long haul, even if the side business doesn't have much to do with your main operations.
You're about to see some examples of this from large household names in the American business world. We will explore some interesting side projects from Tesla, Walt Disney, Alphabet, IBM, and Amazon.com.
These ideas may grow into their breeches over time, but they look kind of crazy right now.
Disney tackles robotics
You've seen Disney robots at their theme parks -- animatronics have been a vital part of the Disneyland and Disney World experience for decades. But the House of Mouse didn't stop there.
The company is not only advancing the state of the art in basic robotics, but also working out better ways to interact with computers and machines. Disney is building two-legged robots with the ability to walk on top of a ball, a swarm of robots with colored lights acting as pixels in a larger image, and human-like machines that could play catch with actual humans.
Some of these technologies will surely be used in future theme park attractions or in the movie studio, but that's not all. Look back at the ambitious Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow park, better known as EPCOT, for examples of Disney thinking far outside the theme park box, followed by the experimental community of Celebration, Florida. Those robots might find their way on regular city streets in the end.
Alphabet wants to crack human aging
The company formerly known as Google still collects more than 99% of its quarterly revenue from that division's online search and advertising operations. That hasn't stopped Alphabet from pursuing a number of interesting side businesses, many of which hold serious promise in the far future.
Among Alphabet's many side bets, the most interesting one is the medical research lab known as Calico.
Created as a division of Google, and later of Alphabet, Calico wants to stop or slow human aging. This is done by a combination of traditional medical research and advanced data analysis. Calico is led by a crack team of medical scientists, and is quick to collaborate with other medical experts and research universities along the way. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, who hopes to achieve immortality for himself and others, is an advisor to Calico.
Stop aging, heal any ailment, live forever. That's probably the most ambitious business idea I've ever seen.
Tesla's energy hobby, soon to be the main business
We know Tesla as a maker of fast, upscale electric cars. That's what pays the bills today and how the company got to where it is.
But the company's ultimate plan is to become an energy company, and those electric cars are only a small piece of that long-term strategy. The Gigafactory is building batteries on a game-changing scale, and the SolarCity buyout added solar panel installations and Powerwall battery packs to Tesla's business operations.
Energy products accounted for just 12.5% of Tesla's total sales in the second quarter of 2017 and the growth rate is slowing down while Tesla shifts its focus from sales volume to profitability. That crazy side business is growing up in a hurry, and you won't think of Tesla as a pure car maker for much longer.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Venture capitalists have been on a spending spree so far in 2017, but have been funding significantly fewer companies than in the past. According to data from PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor, charted here by Statista, the number of deals that closed in the first nine months of 2017 is lower than it has been since 2011. Companies lucky enough to be part of these deals are being valued a lot higher than their predecessors, and are getting a lot more capital as a result.
One of the biggest trends in venture capital so far this year has been the uptick in initial coin offerings, or ICOs. Companies are able to raise massive amounts of capital quickly by selling huge amounts of cryptocurrency tokens. Some critics are wary of the trend however, pointing out that much of the currency is being funneled into young startups that lack the mettle to become successful.
Apple CEO Tim Cook opened a new startup hub at the University of Oxford on Wednesday called The Oxford Foundry.
The facility, based out of a Victorian building previously used as an ice factory and a student night club, has been backed with a $1 million donation from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.
It will aim to support entrepreneurial students as they look to set up and grow their own companies.
The Oxford Foundry — a part of the university's Saïd Business School — will be open to all students, as well as Oxford alumni. There will be an exclusive startup accelerator programme where students with the best ideas will be housed and given mentorship.
Speaking at the launch, Louise Richards, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, said The Oxford Foundry is "going to build on the entrepreneurial skills of 23,000 students across the university."
Cook told students about his own university experience, before passing on a few words of wisdom.
"By the time I was in Duke [University] I had begun to think what is my purpose in life," he said. "I was struggling with a lot of things personally and professionally at that time. It began to dawn on me then that the purpose of life wasn't to love your job but to serve humanity. The outcome of that would mean that you'll love your job.
"I began to switch companies and jobs and sort of be on this search and then one day out of the blue Steve [Jobs] has come back to Apple and essentially fired everybody that was working for him at that time and began to recruit. It was only after I joined Apple that my values and my work began to align."
Not every startup succeeds and Cook gave some advice on what to do when things aren't working out.
"Look in the mirror and watch the person breath," he said. It didn't kill you. You're not dead. So it's not the biggest thing in the world. I do that several times a day when things aren't going well."
He went on to tell students at the launch of The Oxford Foundry how important it is to become a leader. "I think it's very important that everyone has leadership skills," he said.
"Some people get tripped up on that leadership is a static thing or that the manager is the leader. We don't run Apple like that."
The launch of The Oxford Foundry comes just weeks after startup investor Tom Hulme, a partner at Alphabet-owned GV (formerly Google Ventures), told Business Insider that Cambridge University has the edge on Oxford when it comes to technology startups. Oxford fired back, saying this was not the case.
"One of the interesting challenges of Oxford is, if you look at their base of academic research, it is world class," said Hulme. "And I don't think that's ever translated into a throughput of startups."
Cambridge has produced a number of sizeable technology companies including Autonomy, Cambridge Silicon Radio, and ARM. By comparison, Oxford has had fewer successes of the same magnitude.
Thanks to Free Enterprise for providing this content.
Tech startups are the small but mighty heroes of the innovation revolution. They create jobs, stimulate the economy and bring bold, often life-changing new ideas and inventions to the fore. Reflecting this rising trend, cities all across America are home to an ever-growing crop of transformative startups — and the next generation of skilled tech talent propelling them forward.
To better understand the U.S. cities driving the digital revolution — and to highlight exemplary patterns within their startup ecosystems that entrepreneurs and civic leaders can learn from to bolster their region’s competitive edge — 1776, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center and FreeEnterprise.com developed the Innovation That Matters (ITM) report.
Drawing off of survey data collected from local tech startup founders and public and private sector leaders, the annual extensive research project, now in its third year, ranks 25 American cities’ readiness to capitalize on the shift to the digital economy.
The 413 entrepreneurs and business influencers polled (via an 18-point questionnaire) are working to solve problems in the healthcare, energy, education and smart cities sectors through technology and innovation. The information and feedback they provided centered around six key areas — startup capital, connectivity, culture, density, industry specialization and talent — was used to rank the various metropolitan areas.
“We’re in the midst of a digital revolution has the potential to make winners of some cities and leave others behind,” said J.D. Harrison, senior director of strategic communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The cities that embrace this shift to a digital economy and actively support technology startups will be best positioned to unleash the power of high-impact innovation and cultivate vibrant, thriving communities.”
Of the many tech hubs examined, 10 rose to the top as the hottest American cities to launch a tech startup from right now. They are:
10. Portland, Ore.
Nicknamed “Silicon Forest” and home to a booming green tech sector, Portland jumped up two spots in the overall ITM report rankings this year to nab the 10th spot. This ascent is mainly due to significant gains in startup density. Additionally, the city saw a two-place improvement in startup culture, as well as a one-place upward jump in availability of skilled talent.
9. New York City
Coming in at 9th in this year’s ITM report, New York City’s technology ecosystem, sometimes called “Silicon Alley,” is home to just about every startup niche imaginable, with notable sectors including education tech, health tech and financial tech playing a big role. Specifically, over the past year, the largest East Coast technology hub saw a 10-place increase in availability of skilled tech talent and a 10-place increase in startup culture.
Seattle, increasingly known as “Silicon Canal,” climbed from 11th on the ITM report to 8th this year in the overall rankings. Washington state’s largest metropolis — home to Amazon.com and several other prominent tech firms, with Microsoft headquartered out of nearby Redmond — saw a 7-place improvement in startup density, a 3-place improvement in access to talent and a 1-place improvement in venture capital.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider