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 class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.
1. The Aristocracy Is Dead …
For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette. At the age of 11 or 12, I gathered from him, between his puffs of cigar smoke, that we owed our weeks of plenty to Great-Grandfather, Colonel Robert W. Stewart, a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt who made his fortune as the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana in the 1920s. I was also given to understand that, for reasons traceable to some ancient and incomprehensible dispute, the Rockefellers were the mortal enemies of our clan.
They somehow seem to have evolved this weird trait several times.
In 1969, two biologists wrote about three lizards from New Guinea whose insides were green. The color ranged from a deep blue-green to a vivid lime hue, and it was everywhere. The lizards’ bodies, when dissected, revealed green bones, muscles, and blood. Their mouths, when opened, were green. Their eggs, when held up to a light, looked green inside their shells.
Christopher Austin was just 3 years old when the two scientists, Allan Greer and Gary Raizes, wrote about the lizards, and he was 22 when he finally learned about them. But he quickly became enthralled. Green! Why green? “It’s very, very striking,” he says.
Animal blood comes in a rainbow of hues because of the varying chemistry of the molecules it uses to carry oxygen. Humans use hemoglobin, whose iron content imparts a crimson color to our red blood cells. Octopuses, lobsters, and horseshoe crabs use hemocyanin, which has copper instead of iron, and is blue instead of red—that’s why these creatures bleed blue. Other related molecules are responsible for the violet blood of some marine worms, and the green blood of leeches. But the green-blooded lizards use good old hemoglobin. Their red blood cells are, well, red. Their green has a stranger origin.
A conversation with Mark Salter about the core tenet of the senator’s worldview: Always speak up. Especially in Donald Trump’s America.
Let me stipulate at the outset that I am like many journalists in my fondness for Senator John McCain; let me also stipulate that this fondness derives in part from happy memories trailing McCain through Hungary and Germany and Ohio and the Middle East; and I will further note that this fondness also derives from a belief that McCain represents, at his best, something larger than partisanship and mercantilism and cynicism and the advancement of narrow self-interest. (Suggested reading: Dana Milbank and Anne Applebaum on McCain’s meaning and legacy.)
I am also aware that McCain is a flawed man, a flawed thinker, and a flawed politician, though I am not so interested in enumerating these flaws, in part because they are, generally speaking, either minor, or borne of good intentions, or both, and in part, of course, because he is slipping away from us, and now is the time to focus on the useful things he has done, and the things that he won’t get to do. This latter category is the troublesome category, because McCain’s cancer comes at a particularly inopportune moment in the life of this country.
Sites like Wish.com are taking out the middleman in retail. Will customers like this new dynamic?
The package came in a small black box, covered in tape. It had no return address. Under layers of packaging, there was a box labeled Smart Watch, with no brand name. Inside the box was the watch itself, which looked nothing like the inexpensive Apple Watch I’d hoped it would be. Instead, the large digital face featured icons for Twitter, Facebook, a pedometer, and a photo-taking app called “Camina” rather than “camera.” It was about what you’d expect for a smart watch that cost less than $20.
I ordered the watch from Wish.com, one of a growing number of sites that allows consumers from around the world to buy deeply discounted goods from China, directly from sellers or manufacturers there. After receiving promotional emails from Wish offering bikinis for $4 (marked down from $75!), camera drones for $29 (down from $1,399!), and, for some reason, a spoon that says “My Peanut-Butter Spoon” for $1 (down from $12), I could no longer resist. I ordered the smart watch, advertised as “Hot Sell New product Q18S Smart Wrist Watch” for $18, marked down, supposedly, from $896. The product had more than 8,000 reviews in dozens of languages, averaging four stars. “Its cool I like it for the price,” read one.
The 5-4 ruling in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis could weaken workplace protections—and the justices on both sides knew it.
False dichotomy, meretricious piety, and pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain misdirection are vital arrows in the quiver of any lawyer or judge, no matter of what persuasion. These tricks were on particularly egregious display in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, a 5-4 decision announced Monday in which the Supreme Court’s conservative majority continued its drive to narrow protection for employee rights. (The opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito; the dissent, by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.)
The issue in Epic Systems was this: Can an employer require its employees, as a condition of keeping their jobs, to submit to individual arbitration of wage-and-hour and other workplace-condition claims—not only without an option to go to court, but without an option to pursue even private arbitration in common with other employees making the same claim? Employees’ objection to a “no group arbitration” clause is that individual arbitration may concern amounts too small to make pursuing them worthwhile. Thus, these clauses make it easier for employers to maintain unfair or even unlawful employment structures and salary systems.
The former education secretary thinks parents need to take radical action to change the country's gun laws.
The former education secretary says it’s time for American families to boycott school to fight for stricter gun laws.
Over the weekend, Arne Duncan, who served in the Obama administration, replied approvingly to a radical suggestion from a former colleague. “Maybe it’s time for America’s 50 million school parents to simply pull their kids out of school until we have better gun laws,” tweeted Peter Cunningham, another Obama-era education official. Duncan’s reply: “This is brilliant, and tragically necessary. What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?”
“Bird hunting” has become a pastime and a side hustle for teens and young professionals, but for some it’s a cutthroat business.
Every afternoon around 4 p.m., when school lets out, Brandon, an 18-year-old high-school senior in Los Angeles who asked to be referred to only by his first name, goes “Bird hunting.” He heads for his minivan and, on the drive home, he’ll swing through convenient neighborhoods, picking up about 13 Bird electric scooters along the way, tossing them into the back of his car.
“I have a whole system,” he says. “I’ll go home, put the 13 I initially caught on the chargers. They’ll charge for about three hours until around 7 or 8 p.m.”—when Bird makes more scooters available for charger pickup. “Then I’ll go back out.”
Over the course of the next few hours, Brandon loops around his Santa Monica, California, neighborhood collecting as many scooters as possible. He brings back his bounty and, as his parents sleep, neatly sets them up to charge in batches overnight.
Normally filled with news and Trump memes, the page is now covered in photos of “the one true Donald’s” face.
Donald Glover fans have taken control of a popular Trump fan page on Reddit.
The subreddit, thedonald, which has about 17,000 subscribers, is not to be confused with Reddit’s much larger and more famous Trump fan page, The_Donald, which has over 600,000 subscribers.
The takeover began on Monday when fans began posting photos and memes of the acclaimed actor and recording artist. “The One True Donald,” one user posted on Monday, along with a black-and-white head shot of Glover. The post received over 45,000 upvotes.
“Not a racist. Not a rapist. Can read. Was never bankrupt. Likes Mexicans. Talented. Pays his taxes. Handsome. Loves immigrants. Not a puppet for Russia. Doesn’t want to [redacted] his daughter. Must be the real one true Donald,” another posted above a picture of Donald Glover. Others posted artwork of Glover and calls to vote for Donald Glover for president.
A new book from Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz argues that removing a president, even when justified, can be an unwise move.
The title and timing of To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment might lead the unwary reader to expect a polemic. But no. Inside these covers is a learned, judicious, and surprisingly cautious study of the impeachment power by Laurence Tribe, who ranks high among America’s leading constitutional scholars, and his former student, Joshua Matz. Their message: Impeachment is a very, very dangerous thing. Proceed with caution.
Worse: “Well-justified calls to impeach the president can simultaneously empower him, harm his political opponents, and make his removal from office less likely … Because removing a truly determined tyrant may unleash havoc, the risks of impeaching a president are apt to be most extreme precisely when ending his tenure is most necessary.”