What robots bearing tacos can teach startups about navigating the Trough of Sorrow.
Some companies are born great, some companies achieve greatness, and some companies drop greatness on your face -- in the form of a taco.
The latter certainly applied to one of the greatest fake startups ever: TacoCopter. The prank company drew headlines with its stated plan to use "flying robots" to deliver tacos to smartphone-ordering customers. Basically, they wanted to use automated helicopters to reign deliciousness down on people. It was genius.
It was also illegal. A short brainstorm of air-dropping tacos on customers uncovers a number of drawbacks, including but not limited to: What if the tacos hit somebody else? What if somebody steals your taco from the toy helicopter? What if the copter crashes into a building? What if the FAA opts to clear the skies of Mexican delivery? But all of this was besides the point.
The real key is marketing. This brouhaha is exactly the kind of publicity that can help a new startup get traction. I know from personal experience. Out of college, a couple of friends and I co-founded a social gaming company. After the initial burst of attention and exhilaration that comes from launching, there was ... nothing. Users disappear. It's all about iterating, and trying to build something that people want. Of course, it's hard to know if people really want what you're building when almost nobody knows about you. It's what Y Combinator's Paul Graham calls the "Trough of Sorrow."
The Trough of Sorrow is where most startups meet their demise. It's easy to give up when nobody's paying attention. Anything that kicks the company out of the shadows during these lean months (or years) is by definition good. Even if that means floating outlandish plans to parachute tacos down to customers.
There's an obvious caveat here: TacoCopter isn't real. But there easily could have been a legitimate company behind the farce. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine a taco food truck equivalent of The Melt. Smartphone ordering may not seem all that innovative, but it's the kind of incremental improvement that can make a difference -- with the right marketing.
None of this is to subscribe to an Underpants Gnome theory of startups. It's slightly more complicated than a three-step process of 1) Unleash a viral marketing campaign 2) ??? 3) IPO! There's no substitute for the grueling work of iterating and slowly figuring out what it is that people actually want. But eyeballs are precious. If promises of robots dropping tacos from the sky gets people on your app, so be it.
Brands are a powerful thing. Usually it takes years, if not decades, to cultivate a brand that customers remember. The power of the web is such that a single memorable prank or video can launch a brand overnight. Just ask the Dollar Shave Club. The Internet has disrupted many industries, but one of the most important industry it's disrupted for startups might be marketing. The barrier to entry for going viral is the ability to upload a funny idea to the Internet -- which benefits the landscape for all upstart companies.
Expect smart companies to keep dropping those tacos.
In federal court and the public consciousness, his moralizing accelerated the cultural backlash against him and provided evidence that would be used against him at trial.
On Thursday “America’s Dad” was convicted of sexual assault.
Cosby’s image as a wholesome sitcom dad and moral exemplar had been irreparably tarnished in the past few years by dozens of women coming forward with stories of drug-induced sexual assault, some new, some raised a decade ago. But the conviction will define his legacy forever, even if he never spends a day in prison. He went from selling pudding pops and gelatin, from being a comedian who told “clean” jokes and coaxed children into saying funny things, to becoming a symbol of how society allows sexual abuse by powerful men to go unpunished.
And if it hadn’t been for his decision to scold poor black Americans for their moral failures while decades of sexual assault allegations had remained hidden, it’s possible none of Cosby’s victims would have gotten their day in court.
In a rambling interview, the president threatened to intervene in the Justice Department, disclosed “very, very secret” meetings with North Korea, and revealed that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
Updated on April 26 at 10:21 a.m.
President Trump isn’t great at avoiding trouble. On Thursday alone, his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson, withdrew amid allegations of misconduct; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is set to be grilled about allegations of misconduct on Capitol Hill; and his longtime fixer Michael Cohen was set to appear at a court hearing in Manhattan, a day after saying he’d invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a suit in California.
But if Trump can’t avoid problems, he can at least try to grab the spotlight himself when they crop up. That’s what the president did during a wide-ranging and characteristically bizarre call-in to Fox and Friends Thursday morning. It was the president’s first television interview in some time—he called in to another Fox show two months ago—and he didn’t hesitate to make news, if not sense. The hosts seemed shell-shocked when it was over.
To get a job at the Museum of Ice Cream, hopeful future employees show up at the weekly casting call, Tuesdays at noon. They head to the former Savings Union Bank in San Francisco’s financial district, where pink banners announce, in minimalist font, the name of the employer-to-be. Inside, there are giant animal cookies on carousel mounts. Gardens of gummies. A minty scent wafting through a jungle of mint leaves. Each day, roughly 1,700 people pay $38 a ticket to march through the maze of rooms, licking pink vanilla soft-serve cones, following instructions from a cotton candy server to text someone in their life whom they consider the “cherry on top,” and, all the while, angling for photos. It is as if Willy Wonka had redesigned his factory for the selfie age.
A spate of #MeToo comeback stories—including a rumor about a confessional TV show hosted by Charlie Rose—ask uncomfortable questions about who deserves redemption.
In sitcoms, there’s a thing that will sometimes happen when a new character is introduced to the show: The newbie, often but not always a fleeting love interest of one of the main characters, will arrive on the scene … and then promptly be dismissed as narratively expendable. Tasha on Insecure, Emily on Friends, the Mother (her name is pretty much irrelevant) on How I Met Your Mother: They are good characters who serve, in the end, primarily as foils for the people the audience already knows—the people the audience has been trained, episode after episode, to care about. Issa. Rachel. Robin. So: After Ross, reciting his wedding vows to Emily, pledged his undying love to Rachel… Friends proceeded to treat the bride’s anger not as an eminently reasonable reaction to this turn of events, but rather as proof of her unfitness to become a permanent member of the tight-knit group at the show’s core. (This despite the manifest evidence that Emily’s love life, too, is DOA.)
Today marks the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26, 1986, technicians conducting a test inadvertently caused the fourth reactor to explode, causing the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster.
Today marks the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26, 1986, technicians conducting a test inadvertently caused the fourth reactor to explode. Several hundred staff members and firefighters then tackled a blaze that burned for 10 days and sent a plume of radiation around the world in the worst-ever civil nuclear disaster. More than 50 reactor and emergency workers were killed at the time. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from the city of Pripyat. Below, recent images from Chernobyl and nearby ghost towns within the exclusion zone, as well as memorials held in Ukraine and Russia.
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.
I have seen the future, and it is in the United States.
After a several-year immersion in parts of the country that make the news mainly after a natural disaster or a shooting, or for follow-up stories on how the Donald Trump voters of 2016 now feel about Trump, I have a journalistic impulse similar to the one that dominated my years of living in China. That is the desire to tell people how much more is going on, in places they had barely thought about or even heard of, than they might have imagined.
In the case of China, that impulse matched the mood of the times. In the years before and after the world financial crisis of 2008, everyone knew that China was on the way up; reporters like me were just filling in the details. In the case of the modern United States, I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous. Everyone knows how genuinely troubled the United States is at the level of national politics and governance. It is natural to assume that these disorders must reflect a deeper rot across the country. And indeed, you can’t travel extensively through today’s America, as my wife, Deb, and I have been doing in recent years, without being exposed to signs of rot, from opioid addiction to calcifying class barriers.
The rapper and president are bros now. Here’s why.
The scandals are like sediment in the delta of Kanye West. Each new controversy—each paparazzi fight, each “BILL COSBY INNOCENT,” each repackaging of ratty apocalypse couture as expensive fashion, each “multiracial women only” casting call—instead of burying him, only builds up higher and higher until it somehow becomes the very thing that grounds him. It’s worth wondering if, some untold number of years in the future, contemporaries will reflect on West and struggle to remember past the questionable comments and erratic behavior to even recognize his brilliant artistic contributions. The rapper and producer has become a pulsar of nihilism, an object to be followed closely only if one wants to have their faith in humans tested.
The conviction of the actor and comedian is a testament to the power of #MeToo.
“Let’s face it: She went up to his house with a bare midriff and incense and bath salts. What the heck?”
That was one of the jurors in the 2017 trial of Bill Cosby, in which the actor and comedian defended himself against charges that, in 2004, he had drugged and then raped Andrea Constand, at the time a Temple University employee for whom he had served as a mentor. The jury in that trial, after more than50 hours of deliberation, found itself unable to reach a conclusion about the facts of the case. And that anonymous juror suggested to the Philadelphia Inquirer why the jury couldn’t bring itself to convict Cosby: It wasn’t clear to all 12 members, it seems, that the sex that took place between Cosby and Constand wasn’t consensual. After all: the bare midriff. And the incense. What the heck?
In an echo of past controversies, the EPA administrator initially denied approving salary hikes for his top aides, but admitted he did so when questioned before Congress.
In the hierarchy of Donald Trump-era scandals, from the brazen to the boorish, pay raises in a low-level agency shouldn’t crack the top quartile. But on Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt managed to spin his hiring practices into a cobweb beyond his control—leaving some reporters to question whether a low-stakes snafu could now be the “end of the line.”
In his hearing before the House energy panel, Pruitt struggled to answer questions about salary hikes given to two of Pruitt’s closest aides. As The Atlantic first reported earlier this month, Pruitt bypassed the White House to give raises of 33 percent and 52 percent to Millan Hupp and Sarah Greenwalt, respectively, both of whom had worked for Pruitt while he was attorney general of Oklahoma. At the time, Pruitt denied any knowledge of the raises, telling Fox News’s Ed Henry that he didn’t know who on his staff had authorized them. Democratic lawmakers quickly questioned Pruitt’s account, prompting the agency’s inspector general to start digging. Pruitt has also been under scrutiny for leasing a condo from the wife of a lobbyist and for spending more than $40,000 for a soundproof booth around his office.