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 Comey memos are more revealing than they seem.
One feature of the truth is that it doesn’t change much. A lie is hard to sustain. The details may change in each retelling because the liar is not actually remembering the events, but instead remembering the telling of the events. The truth, by contrast, is sticky. Consistency is not the only hallmark of truth—some people’s memories are better than other people’s memories, to be sure—but there’s a reason that inconsistency tends to discredit a witness.
If someone had told you a year ago, when news first broke that James Comey had made memos of his conversations with President Trump, that those memos would eventually come out and make little news, you probably wouldn’t have believed it. These memos are, after all, a big deal. They will play a major role in corroborating Comey’s story in the investigative setting.
It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.
Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.
Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.
The Trump administration shouldn’t get too excited about Kim Jong Un’s pledge to limit his weapons program.
Over the past four months, North Korea has been saying all the right things. After weeks of silence regarding his intentions for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, made a dramatic announcement on Saturday morning, pledging unilateral limits on his nuclear weapons and missile programs. Though the announcement has been widely hailed as encouraging—President Donald Trump declared it a sign of “big progress”—it does not, in fact, set up a path to denuclearization. It does, however, open the door to capping Kim’s arsenal, keeping America and its allies safer while talks are underway.
Speaking before the central committee of his country’s governing party, Kim described six so-called “decisions” on nuclear-weapons policy. These included a declaration that North Korea was satisfied with its existing nuclear warhead designs, and that it had discontinued all nuclear and intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) tests and closed its nuclear test site at Punggye Ri. Kim also announced that North Korea would suspend nuclear testing, and reiterated his commitment not to use nuclear weapons “unless there is [a] nuclear threat,” and to stop the proliferation of nuclear technology. In addition, he said that North Korea would concentrate on developing its economy and improving dialogue with neighboring countries.
Floyd Landis, a former teammate of the cyclist’s, just won more than $1 million in a legal case against Armstrong. Here are his thoughts on the suit, cycling, and his onetime rival.
At 5:19 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2010, Floyd Landis hit send on what would prove the most consequential email of his life. Addressed to the then-CEO of USA Cycling, Steve Johnson, the email bore the subject line “nobody is copied on this one so it’s up to you to demonstrate your true colors….” It went on to detail, year by year, how Landis and other members of the United States Postal Service team had used illegal performance-enhancing drugs and methods to dominate the sport of cycling and claim victories at the sport’s premier event, the Tour de France. The email, later included in Landis’s 2012 affidavit for a United States Anti-Doping Agency (usada) investigation, clearly implicated many of his former teammates—most famously, the seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (who declined to comment for this article).
The former first lady was notably eager to learn about people she didn’t understand—and recognize she might have been wrong about them.
Some famous people are much less interesting in person than you would expect. Some are more interesting. And a few—a very few—rock your world. For me, Barbara Bush, who left us on Tuesday, occupies that last category, almost by herself.
Many of the tributes to the former first lady portray her as a throwback to an earlier era of American politics, the silver-haired doyenne of a political dynasty. But I came to value her for an additional reason. Her country changed dramatically during her long, full life. But even as some in her Republican Party recoiled from those shifts, Barbara Bush never ceased questioning, learning, and adapting—changing along with the nation that she and her family served.
Those who don't have sex during their teen years are in the minority, but the reasons for—and effects of—waiting differ for everyone.
Keith McDorman walks into the back room of an Austin, Texas coffee shop. With his dirty-blond hair, light eyes, week-old beard, and striped button-down shirt, he looks like a younger, shorter, bohemian version of Bradley Cooper. He tosses his scooter helmet onto the wooden table, sits across from me at a booth that barely fits us both, and talks before I ask a question.
“My mind doesn’t comprehend how much sex I have,” says McDorman, a 29-year-old carpenter from southern California.
That statement brings glances from studying college students. We opt for more privacy by heading outside, where we talk over a live rock band at a high table near a vegan food truck. McDorman continues by telling me about a conversation he had recently with his girlfriend, in which he expressed fear that his libido had dropped. She laughed, since, well, they had had sex six times that week.
The CDC finally gets people interested in lettuce.
These are nervous days for salad enthusiasts. The green, beating heart of the American salad, romaine lettuce, has been ripped from shelves and refrigerators at the insistence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to a small but potentially serious outbreak.
On Friday the same agency that has long urged people to eat more leafy greens issued an alert to Americans: “Do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.”
This is not always easy to do. The warning calls to mind the ongoing issue that most of us have no idea where our food comes from—a screed for another day. But for now, Yuma is the region to which officials have traced a potentially deadly E. coli fecal bacterial contamination in the supply chain.
Getting the authorities involved is more dangerous for black Americans—which is why they do it less.
The call was brief, and had the relaxed feel of someone making a reservation at a restaurant.
“I have two gentlemen at my cafe who are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager of the Starbucks told the 911 dispatcher. She calmly gave her address, and after being reassured that law enforcement would be on the way shortly, she thanked the dispatcher and hung up. The call, of which audio was released by the Philadelphia police department, lasted roughly 20 seconds.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two men, both black, did not know the manager had called the police. They say that only a few minutes had passed between when they entered Starbucks and when they were surrounded by Philadelphia police officers.
The coffee chain is initiating racial-bias trainings for its employees in the U.S.—but, so far, not for those around the globe.
Starbucks is embroiled in one of its largest scandals to date after two black men were arrested for trespassing in a Philadelphia coffeeshop when they were waiting for a business associate without immediately making a purchase. Video of the incident, which shows police handcuffing 23-year-olds Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, quickly went viral, and a protest was organized. Starbucks issued an apology for what it called a “reprehensible outcome,” announcing that more than 8,000 U.S. stores would be closed next month for a day of racial-bias training.
But when I asked Starbucks if racial-bias trainings were being considered for any of their other global markets, a spokesperson told me the company is focusing on the U.S. trainings first, adding: “Once completed, training materials will be shared with teams around the world, as we work to understand how these important issues impact us on a global scale.” Company-wide trainings aren’t currently being set in motion.
Jazz violinist Regina Carter explains how the jury considered the first rap, and pop, album to win the prestigious honor.
When violinist Regina Carter heard that Kendrick Lamar had won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, she was taken aback. “I was actually a bit shocked!” she says.
Her reaction wasn’t unique—the award for Lamar’s Damn is the most discussed prize in the category in years—but she at least had some warning: Carter served on the jury that selected the finalists for the Pulitzer. Still, after she and her peers sent the finalists on to the final jury, she didn’t learn who the winner was until Monday, along with everyone else.
As Spencer Kornhaber wrote, the decision to give the award to Lamar raises a host of provocative questions. Less provocative, but fascinating, is how the jury came to its choice. Carter was one member of the panel, along with music critic David Hajdu; Paul Cremo of the Metropolitan Opera; Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor of English and African American studies at Columbia University; and composer David Lang. Carter, a distinguished and fiery violinist, represents the jazz world, though she has a foot in classical, as well: In 2001, she was chosen for the rare honor of playing Paganini’s violin. Carter also won a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2006.