Tag Archives: Business

An Expat by Any Other Name (Is Sometimes a Digital Nomad)

The rise of contemporary startup culture has already reshaped cities like San Francisco and Seattle. But as more and more tech enclaves sprout around the world, we need to pay more attention to the ways tech workers change communities and landscapes in developing countries too. Jessa Crispin does just that in her Outline piece on Roam Co-Living, a startup that caters to other so-called digital nomads who wish to spend long stretches of time (and non-trivial amounts of money) in places like Bali and Costa Rica. She asks important questions about the possibility of experiencing authenticity in perfectly manicured expat bubbles — and about the fundamental power imbalance between affluent Western visitors and local communities.

More than 230 million people live in a different country from the one in which they were born, far more than at any other time in history. We come up with different words for the same experience, based on whether these people are undesirable (brown, poor, Muslim) or desirable (white, upper-middle class, European). The undesirables are migrants or refugees, the desirables are expats or cosmopolitans.

The difference is in the level of choice, whether the person is fleeing war or abject poverty, or simply boredom and Brooklyn. Western migrants are often portrayed as being desirable because they come with money, but they come with other baggage, too. If you place a large population of transient workers with a lot of disposable income in an urban area, that area will inevitably change. Businesses with English-speaking workers that cater to the affluent class, like boutiques and coffee shops and juice bars, will flourish while businesses that cater to long-term residents, like hardware stores and shoe repair shops, will be priced out and disappear as property values rise.

I asked [Roam founder and CEO Bruno] Haid if he feels responsible at all to the neighborhoods he builds his properties in. He said he wants neighborhoods to retain their authentic nature and not become homogenized. “In a place like London,” he said, “we try to have partnerships with businesses that have been around for 25, 30 years and include them in our city guides. We have Paul the pie man, whose bakery has been around for a long time, he comes in once a month and he teaches pie making classes. So we try to integrate this. We try to give people a unique local experience.”

Read the story

Monocle: The Magazine As Boring, Lifestyle, Branding Infastructure

After ten years of selling its slick, globalist vision of sophistication to the world’s elites, Monocle has implemented a redesign, though it’s subtle in voice and vision. At The New Republic, writer Kyle Chayka sizes up a magazine made for the world’s 1%, to see what Monocle represents, how it has shaped or been shaped by the world, and what our era of increasing nationalism holds for heavily sponsored-content that flattens nations into one continuous business and vacation opportunity.

With the recent redesign, some glimmers of political reality are beginning to enter the magazine’s editorial voice. The new page layouts are more text-heavy, with longer articles and fewer glossy photos and twee spot illustrations. The content has a new seriousness, though it remains ever-optimistic. In an interview for the March issue, the CEO of Lufthansa says he is confident that globalization “cannot be stopped or slowed down, even though some people are trying hard.” The president of Portugal, adopting the vocabulary of a start-up founder, pitches his country as “a platform between cultures, civilizations, and seas.” (“We were an empire,” he reassures readers, “but not imperialistic.”)

Monocle views the world as a single, utopian marketplace, linked by digital technology and first-class air travel, bestridden by compelling brands and their executives. Diversity is part of the vision—the magazine’s subjects are from all over the world, and its fashion models come in every skin color—but this diversity is presented, in a vaguely colonialist way, more as a cool look to buy into than a tangible social ideal. Cities and countries are written up as commodities and investment opportunities rather than real places with intractable problems that require more than a subsidy to resolve. If London is too expensive, Brûlé proposes, why not found your next business in Lisbon, or Munich, or Belgrade? If you don’t, someone else will, and you might just get priced out again.

The magazine doesn’t idealize homogeneity of race or gender norms, but rather a global sameness of taste and aspiration. Every Monocle reader, regardless of where they live or work, should want the same things and seek them out wherever they go in the world, forming an identity made up not of places or people but of desirable products: German newspapers, Thai beach festivals, Norwegian television. The end result of this sameness is that a country can pitch itself to the monied Monocle class simply by adopting its chosen signifiers, or hiring Winkreative to do it for them in a rebranding campaign. In this way, the magazine warps the real world in its own editorial image.

Read the story

How Do You Name a Not-Quite-Fat Ken Doll?

The new lineup of Ken Dolls — seeking to represent a more multicultural, physically diverse populace (read: client base) — landed earlier this week to much fanfare. Some of the reactions were laudatory; some were less so (who can resist a man-bun joke, after all?). Caity Weaver, writing at GQ, got to follow the creative process leading to the new dolls’ release. Through her eyes, we learn how even an attempt to “celebrate diversity” often requires so much semantic and design acrobatics that it’s not very clear who the celebration is for, and who might still be excluded from it. Case in point: the tortured internal discussions at Mattel around what to call the “heavier” version of Barbie’s companion — after they’d already decided not to make him fat (“You don’t want to go too much,” as Ray Cavalluzzi, a Mattel sculptor, put it).

“With Barbie [it was] clear what was offensive with the curvier doll versus what wasn’t,” says Michelle Chidoni, a polished, deftly amiable executive from the global brand communications department. We are sitting in a capacious conference room surrounded by Barbies in fashions so cutting-edge that to describe them would be illegal. But I will reveal to the reader that a great multitude of the outfits are both fabulous and fun. “People [in focus groups] didn’t want to be called ‘plus-size.’ ‘Curvy’ was the clear winner. [But] where ‘curvy’ in the female world of fashion has become something that’s desirable and sexy and positive, the men’s fashion world has not gone there yet.”

Mattel’s constant aim when describing body types is to unearth a marketing term with “a neutral-to-positive association.” They don’t always find it on the first try. Or second. Or third. Initially, in their attempt to recapture the proud spirit of “curvy” for a male doll, the Barbie team borrowed a word from the boys’ clothing industry: “husky.” Focus-group reactions were disastrous.

“‘Husky’ just turned off every guy we talked to,” says Chidoni, shaking her head. “A lot were really traumatized by that—as a child, shopping in a husky section.” “Athletic” was rejected on the notion that athletes can have vastly different body types. “Brawny” didn’t fare much better. And so: “broad.”

Read the story

How One Porn Mogul Made His Fortune and Ruined Everything

Despite riches, power, and respect, some people are never satisfied. A poor North Carolina kid named Michael Thevis turned paperback smut and peep show machines into a million-dollar empire, and he shaped America’s porn industry right as laws started to relax around the ownership and production of sexually explicit material. When Thevis crossed into arson, threats, and murder, he brought himself down for good. At The Daily Beast, crime journalist Jeff Maysh gets access to Thevis’ diaries and letters to tell the full story of “The Scarface of Sex” for the first time.

Rival peep machine manufacturers emerged, included those run by Leon and Mike Sokolic, Art Sanders, and Bill Walters. Before now, the most Thevis had ever done to intimidate a rival was let off a stink bomb at a store in Baltimore. Not all competitors rolled over so easily. Nat Bailen, who manufactured a peep show machine for cartoons, started to sell his units to sex-shop owners who used them for porn. In 1970, a customer named Harry Mooney in Michigan asked to lease 50 machines from Thevis—an order so large he couldn’t meet it in time. Instead, Mooney bought his machines outright from Nat Bailen. As he would do so often, Thevis turned to Underhill.

“Something,” Thevis told him, “has to be done with Bailen.”

On April 26, 1970, Underhill drove from Atlanta to Louisville in his yellow station wagon, where he met a paid accomplice, Clifford “Sam” Wilson. In the dead of night, they broke into Bailen’s factory, carrying burglary tools and five-gallon containers of gasoline. They built a bonfire using his furniture and paperwork. When Wilson found some paint cans, he told Underhill, “Let’s really screw this guy,” and poured paint over the desks and carpets. There were four-foot-tall flames licking at the windows by the time the goons fled. Reeking of gasoline, Underhill found a pay phone at the Kentucky Turnpike, and called Thevis at the Central Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

“Veni vidi vici,” Underhill said—I came, I saw, I conquered.

Read the story

Jeff Bezos: Hero or Villain?

Jeff Bezos

When the news of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods broke, some wondered whether Amazon owner Jeff Bezos was flying too close to the anti-trust sun, teetering on the verge of an unfair monopoly.

Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor who specializes in such questions, tweeted:

Wu did not immediately respond to inquiries, but further Twitter-digging showed varied theories about the business deal:

It’s notable that the news broke alongside The New York Times’ report on Bezos’ lack of philanthropic giving. As ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis highlighted on Twitter, Bezos is the second-wealthiest person on the planet and has given away a mere .1 percent of his wealth.

After the Times questioned Bezos, he turned to Twitter with a “request for ideas.” As the Times noted, Bezos is a hero of sorts for some in journalism since he purchased The Washington Post in 2013. The Post is, of course, a for-profit business, so the purchase hardly makes him a philanthropist. But in an industry where the editorial rank-and-file are being laid off in droves, up against ownerships that devalue deep work who are intent on repeating the same failed strategies in floundering attempts to turn a craft into a viable business, the fact that the Post has been on a hiring spree and Bezos has appeared to value good, hard-won journalism is a bright spot in a bleak landscape.

And, for what it’s worth, he threw $1 million at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press last month, an organization that seems increasingly vital as journalists face decades in prison for covering protests on U.S. soil.

Of course, the flipside of that is Amazon. Amazon has:

In The New Republic in 2014, Franklin Foer accused the company of “cannibalizing the economy,” insisting that it “must be stopped.”

Good deeds by Amazon include providing a space to a homeless shelter in Seattle — which could indicate this Whole Foods deal is a chance for Bezos to use his new properties for good in cities like New York and San Francisco, where homelessness is a chronic, persistent issue and housing costs have become prohibitive for many. And while the company is often criticized for lowering prices to a point that is deadly to their competitors, if Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods makes home delivery of healthful groceries affordable for low-income people — who tend to struggle more both with health issues and access to transportation — that would be a good thing.

For now, it’s unclear what Bezos will do with Whole Foods, though Amazon’s foray into brick-and-mortar bookstores may provide a clue.

 

The Circle of Las Vegas Life Is One Never-Ending Buffet

Las Vegas is a twinkling, cream-filled temple of excess where millions of pounds of food go to waste each year. At Eater, John Semley profiles the multi-generational family business that turns casino food waste into the slop that puts fattened pigs back on Vegas buffet plates. R.C. Farms is high-tech, smelly and growing. And that smoked pork shoulder sure is good.

Most importantly, the new facility’s located on landfill property 30 miles north of the city, far away from the prying eyes of tourists and hypersensitive noses of neighbors populating new suburb developments. The Combs boys seemed baffled — and slightly annoyed — by the effect that exurban sprawl had on their dad’s farm. “As the city developed, and encroachment came all around them,” Hank told me, “we would go down to city council meetings and just tell ’em: ‘We’re not moving.’ They’d go ahead and approve the developments anyhow. Right next to him. They have three schools right near there, within a mile.” (The proximity to the farm earned one of these schools the unfortunate nickname “Pigsty High.”) It’s a problem they hope to avoid with their new facility, located on landfill property, surrounded by industrial parks. “That’s the reason we’re here,” Hank noted. “You don’t see a lot of people.”

Hank estimates that the family company currently handles about 15 percent of buffet food waste in Las Vegas. The actual amount is tricky to tabulate, as the total tonnage of food that isn’t diverted to the farms isn’t calculated. “We really don’t know the true number,” Hank said. “Some of these hotels are throwing out eight tons of food a day!”

Read the story

When Innovation Fails: Doing Hard Time in the Offender-Monitoring Business

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Lauren Etter explores another problem with the privatization of law enforcement: technology. From scrambled signals and dead batteries to false violations, the electronic ankle bracelets 3M created failed to protect wearers’ civil liberties even though the process used to design them reflected the company’s way of thinking about innovation and experimentation. Unfortunately, creating monitors for human beings involves higher stakes than yellow stickies.

The sheer amount of data generated by GPS-tracking devices creates problems across the industry and in every state, but the number of alerts in Massachusetts has far exceeded the norm, experts say. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg show that in the 12 months ended in October 2015, 3M bracelets produced 612,492 violation alerts in Massachusetts—more than 50,000 per month, from about 2,800 individuals wearing the devices. Almost 40 percent of the alerts were due to a device not being able to connect to the network or the GPS not being detected. Roughly 1 percent of alerts resulted in an arrest warrant being issued. Tom Pasquarello, former director of the electronic monitoring program for Massachusetts, estimates that half those warrants were potentially based on faulty or incomplete data. That would be roughly 3,000 warrants. “There were people that were pulled from their house in the middle of the night, that lost their kids, people that lost their job,” he says.

The problem of glitchy ankle monitors became so pronounced that the Massachusetts probation department set up an after-hours office in the lobby of a Boston police station so offenders could bring in their bracelets when problems occurred or batteries died. In August 2015, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger became so frustrated with the devices that she vowed to stop sentencing anybody to them. “It is simply administratively improper to run a system in this fashion,” she said, according to a court transcript. “We don’t lose liberty in this country because somebody’s software is not working. It just isn’t right.”

Read the story

Why ESPN Still Can’t Quit Cable

As a casual sports fan, I periodically check in with myself: Do I enjoy watching live sports enough to pay for cable?

The answer for the last few years has been: No thanks, I’ll just check out these GIFs on Twitter.

ESPN is having the exact opposite problem, as Ira Boudway and Max Chafkin explain in their latest Bloomberg Businessweek cover story. No matter how innovative or cutting-edge the sports giant makes itself, the cable money is just too lucrative, and the costs of licensing live sports are just too great, to finally cut the cord and offer itself as a standalone internet subscription service the way HBO did with HBO NOW. Boudway and Chafkin do the math:

Other media companies, most notably HBO, have confronted cord cutting by offering their programming “over the top,” which is TV-speak for “on the internet.” More than 2 million people pay $15 a month for access to the HBO Now app, but that strategy doesn’t translate to ESPN. The network’s programming costs are far greater than those of HBO—the budget for an entire season of Game of Thrones costs around $100 million, or less than what ESPN pays for the rights to air a single Monday Night Football game—and ESPN’s customers are accustomed to getting the network at no additional charge as part of their cable package. If ESPN were to charge $15 a month for a standalone streaming channel, it would need more than 43 million subscribers to match the money it collects from cable carriers. HBO has about 35 million total subscribers in the U.S., including cable and over the top.

Now, I’m obviously just one person, but I’m pretty sure I would subscribe to a service that just offers an endless loop of Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. Just a thought for the folks over in Bristol.

Read the story

We’re Living in the Golden Age of the Corporate Takedown

Miki Agrawal, co-founder and “She-EO” of menstrual underwear phenom Thinx, raised eyebrows when she stepped down from her role in the company in early March. Agrawal had long been infamous for her company’s boundary-pushing ads and her well-publicized hesitance to use the word “feminist.” Within days of Agrawal’s announcement, Racked published a gripping article examining corporate dysfunction and alleged sexism at Thinx, and Agrawal struck back with a lengthy post on Medium that detailed her “incredible ride” with the company. “I didn’t put HR practices in place because I was on the road speaking, doing press, brand partnerships, editing all of the creative and shouting from the rooftops about Thinx,” she wrote. Less than a week later, Agrawal was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee.

Such is the power of the corporate hit piece: Fueled by eyewitness accounts, scorned ex-employees, and juicy tidbits about a CEO’s bad behavior, a corporate identity that took years to build can unravel in days. These piquant stories might smack of a slow-motion trainwreck, but they satisfy more than our inner gossips and gawkers. Today, the myth of a CEO is often of their own making—once minted by years of climbing the corporate ladder, now CEOs are made in weeks or months. CEO, we are told, is less a work status than a state of mind.

Read more…

From Food Scraps to Profit: The Compost King of New York City

At first, I didn’t know what to make of Charles Vigliotti. You seldom hear the words “wealthy” and “composter” strung together. But as he explained his roundabout path to the energy sector, I began to sense Vigliotti’s commitment to solving some serious environmental problems, even as he lined his silky pockets.

After city landfills began closing in the 1980s, Vigliotti found he was spending too much money directing waste out of state. He began to move away from the trash business and in 1991 established with his brother Arnold a compost company in Westbury, N.Y., that transforms Himalayas of landscape debris — grass clippings, leaves, wood chips — into millions of bags of lawn and garden products. Business was good, but Vigliotti remained restless. In 1999, he opened a compost site in Yaphank, where in 2008 he began dabbling in food waste, mixing scraps from a Whole Foods Market and a small-batch won-ton manufacturer into his formula for potting soils. At this point, Vigliotti wasn’t thinking of food waste as a renewable energy source or a way to reduce the city’s far-flung garbage footprint or greenhouse-gas emissions. It was simply a way to take in more volume and thus make more money.

At the New York Times Magazine, Elizabeth Royte reports on “compost king” Charles Vigliotti, chief executive of American Organic Energy, who has a vision for the future: transforming the food waste of New York City into clean energy — and a profit.

Read the story