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.
The ways some “healthy voice hearers” cope might be able to help people with psychotic disorders.
Jessica Dorner was lying in bed at her cousin’s house when her grandmother, a “pushy lady” in an apron who had been dead for several years, appeared in front of her. “I know you can see me,” Jessica heard her say, “and you need to do something about it.”
It was a lonely time in Jessica’s life. She was living away from home for the first time, and she thinks her grandmother was drawn by some sense of that. She eventually told her parents what happened, and according to her they were concerned, but not overly panicked. “My parents are probably the least judgmental people I know,” she said.
As Jessica tells it, over the next two years, spirits visited her every now and again. Her brother-in-law’s deceased father began forming before her, ghostlike, just as her grandmother did. And while the experiences were intense and at times made her feel “crazy,” she said, they were infrequent, and insists that they were never a real source of suffering.
In 2004, people in the U.K. consumed more alcohol than ever before. How did they get there?
I first met alcohol in the late 1980s. It was the morning after one of my parents’ parties. My sister and I, aged 9 or 10, were up alone. We trawled the lounge for abandoned cans. I remember being methodical: Pick one up, give it a shake to see if there’s anything inside, and if there is, drink! I can still taste the stale, warm metallic tang of Heineken (lager; 5 percent alcohol by volume) on my tongue. Just mind the ones with cigarette butts in them.
Other times we’d sneak a sip of Dad’s Rémy Martin VSOP (cognac; 40 percent) when he wasn’t looking, even though we didn’t like the taste. It came in a heavy glass bottle that he kept in the sideboard. He’d pour himself a glass at night, the ice cubes clinking as he walked to his small office to make phone calls. On special occasions—family birthdays, Christmas lunch—we even got to drink legitimately: usually half a glass of Asti Spumanti (sparkling wine; around 7.5 percent), served in the best glasses.
She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.
The ashes filled a black plastic box about the size of a toaster. It weighed three and a half pounds. I put it in a canvas tote bag and packed it in my suitcase this past July for the transpacific flight to Manila. From there I would travel by car to a rural village. When I arrived, I would hand over all that was left of the woman who had spent 56 years as a slave in my family’s household.
How leaders lose mental capacities—most notably for reading other people—that were essential to their rise
If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?
When various lawmakers lit into John Stumpf at a congressional hearing last fall, each seemed to find a fresh way to flay the now-former CEO of Wells Fargo for failing to stop some 5,000 employees from setting up phony accounts for customers. But it was Stumpf’s performance that stood out. Here was a man who had risen to the top of the world’s most valuable bank, yet he seemed utterly unable to read a room. Although he apologized, he didn’t appear chastened or remorseful. Nor did he seem defiant or smug or even insincere. He looked disoriented, like a jet-lagged space traveler just arrived from Planet Stumpf, where deference to him is a natural law and 5,000 a commendably small number. Even the most direct barbs—“You have got to be kidding me” (Sean Duffy of Wisconsin); “I can’t believe some of what I’m hearing here” (Gregory Meeks of New York)—failed to shake him awake.
The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest is open to submissions until the end of this week, June 30. The grand-prize winner will receive a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago with National Geographic Expeditions. National Geographic was again kind enough to allow me to share more of the entries with you here, gathered from three categories: Nature, Cities, and People. The photos and captions were written by the photographers, and lightly edited for style.
And other tales from the intersection of science and airport security
When Martin Cohn passed through airport security at Ronald Reagan Airport, he figured that he’d probably get some questions about the 3-D-printed model of a mouse penis in his bag.
The model is 15 centimeters long, made of clear translucent plastic, and indisputably phallic— like the dismembered member of some monstrous, transparent, 11-foot rodent. One of Cohn’s colleagues had already been questioned about it when she carried it on an outward flight from Gainesville to Washington D.C. She put it through the security scanner, and the bag got pulled. A TSA official looked inside, winked at her, and let her go. She was amused but embarrassed, so Cohn offered to take the model home on the return flight.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is thinking about his legacy—and his own mortality. He desires power, but not necessarily for its own sake.
Politicians—especially ideological ones—have to eventually deal with the “then what?” question. With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s narrow victory in a tense April referendum granting him sweeping new powers (amid opposition allegations of voter fraud), he could very well dominate the country’s politics through 2029. He would have more than a decade to reshape Turkey, altering the very meaning of what it means to be Turkish.
In the first decade of its rule, beginning in 2002, Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) presided over a rapidly growing economy, pushed through liberal reforms, and sidelined a military that had undermined Turkish democracy in a series of coups over the course of six decades. Could that, though, really have been all the AKP and its fiery, erratic leader hoped to accomplish?
One professor claims that future humans will be made from skin cells and prescreened for things like hair color and sex.
In the future, when a couple wants to reproduce, “they will not make a baby in a bed or in the backseat or a car, or under a ‘Keep Off the Grass’ sign,” says Henry Greely, the director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School.
Instead, they will go to a clinic. Using stem cells from the couple’s skin or other non-reproductive organs, scientists will be able to make eggs and sperm, which will be combined into embryos. “Each of those embryos will have its own gene sequence,” Greely says. “The parents will be asked: ‘What do you want to know about these embryos?’ And they’ll be told.”
Twenty or 30 years from now, parents will be able to screen their potential kids for genetic abnormalities, pre-disposal to disease, sex, and even cosmetic features like hair, eye, and skin color, Greely claims. The new way of baby-making will save women the pain of going through fertility treatments, he says, and it will prevent disease, save health-care costs, and give non-traditional families more chances to have children. If this reproductive future comes to pass, it will also come with a tangle of moral, legal, and medical questions—ones that won’t be easy to resolve, despite what Greely may think.
In dismantling Obamacare and slashing Medicaid, Republicans would strike a blow against signature victories for racial equality in America.
It was a cold March night when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned his pulpit towards health care. Speaking to a packed, mixed-race crowd of physicians and health-care workers in Chicago, King gave one of his most influential late-career speeches, blasting the American Medical Association and other organizations for a “conspiracy of inaction” in the maintenance of a medical apartheid that persisted even then in 1966.
There, King spoke words that have since become a maxim: “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” In the moment, it reflected the work that King and that organization, the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), were doing to advance one of the since-forgotten pillars of the civil-rights movement: the idea that health care is a right. To those heroes of the civil-rights movement, it was clear that the demons of inequality that have always haunted America could not be vanquished without the establishment and protection of that right.