"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure. That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
If you're not from Chicago and you think, "Chicago startups," the company that probably comes to mind is Groupon. Groupon had a heralded IPO and, in recent months, an equally heralded decline. So, perhaps the question I was most interested in answering during our time in the city was, "How has Groupon's meteoric rise and fall changed the startup scene?"
For the answer to that question, I went to Terry Howerton, who has been around the Chicago startup scene since the mid-2000s. He founded the Illinois Technology Association seven years ago, and later, the community hub, TechNexus in 2007. He's met thousands of people in the city's tech scene and has watched more than a few trends rise and fall. In other words, if anyone can say how the Chicago startup scene has been changed by Groupon's story, it's him.
"Groupon was a flare that went up and lit up the ground below, and people looked around and said, 'Huh, there's a lot here.'" Howerton said. "The danger is once that flare starts to extinguish as maybe happened with Groupon -- as probably happened with Groupon -- are there any lights remaining?"
Traditionally, the thought has been that once a city has a company with a big IPO -- think PayPal or Microsoft or Google -- that pumps a lot of money into the place's startup ecosystem. You've got a bunch of youngish people walking around with huge bank accounts and substantial risk tolerance. While he acknowledged the venture capital firm, Lightbank, which was formed by Groupon co-founders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, Howerton said that Groupon has not been a boon to Chicago's startup scene, at least not yet.
"I don't think there has been a lot of capital that has flooded into Chicago through the Groupon exit," Howerton said. "You think about the success of a company like Microsoft and the early days of Microsoft in Seattle. It was not that 10 guys got wealthy but hundreds and hundreds of people became millionaires. We haven't yet seen that from Groupon. In some ways, it's not a tech company. You just don't have hundreds of engineers who made a million dollars."
Even so, Howerton seems content with that reality. After all, he thinks Chicago shouldn't lionize business-to-consumer startups just because the media (like your loyal correspondent) like them more. In fact, Howerton is excited about a whole different class of companies and types of work.
"A lot of the technology that exists here today isn't B2C, it's B2B, it's industry transformative and it's incredibly important," he said. "It's companies like ArrowStream that do $100 million a year doing supply chain management for paper products for fast food restaurants. If they were doing $100 million a year in any B2C, they'd be written about as if they were the second coming."
It's actually amazing. If you look at ArrowStream's customer list -- IHOP, Wendy's, Cinnabon, Panda Express, KFC, Friendly's, etc. -- they're probably helping a restaurant on every street in America. But he's right: Who has ever heard of ArrowStream?
In fact, Howerton thinks that companies like that could be Chicago's tech scene bread and butter. There are already so many established large corporations in Chicago in logistics, finance, and healthcare that he sees the city as a place that could provide unique collaborations between startups and big business.
Howerton said that there are several macro trends driving corporations to work with new companies. For one, big businesses have unprecedented amounts of cash on their balance sheets. It's not just Apple that's sitting on money. Recent reports peg the amount of dollars on corporate balance sheets at nearly $2 trillion! Those companies, like State Farm Insurance or Walgreens, want to innovate and stay ahead of potential disruptive competitors, but they just don't know how.
"State Farm has 12,000 employees in IT in Bloomington," Howerton said. "I'm sure many of those employees are really smart people, but how innovative can you be with 12,000 IT workers in your bureaucratic corporate environment in an industry as historic as insurance?"
Or take Walgreens. They recently released an API for their "QuickPrint" feature, which allows you to send photos to Walgreen's and pick them up in a store. "They invited us to organize hackathons for them to bring dozens of technology teams to brainstorm business and app ideas that integrate QuickPrints," he said. The teams get access to the people who built the API and the winners of the competitions make some money. Meanwhile, Walgreens gets technologists building apps using their platform in a way that they probably wouldn't themselves.
With the right corporate friends and deep knowledge of the technology scene in Chicago, TechNexus isn't trying to be like it's flashy neighbor, 1871 Chicago. They're not trying to draw the latest web startup. What they want to do is create an environment where all kinds of technology startups -- especially those with hardcore engineering and computer science at their cores -- can find serious investors and partners.
All this to say: Howerton's idea of a real technology scene in Chicago doesn't end with a certain daily-deals company that happened to go public last year.
"Groupon was a huge huge success and potentially a huge huge failure," Howeton said. "That neither made Chicago nor does it need to break Chicago."
Activists threatened to drag local Republicans off a parade route if they weren’t excluded from a local celebration. Organizers cancelled the entire event in response.
On the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, perhaps 3 million Americans took to the streets in peaceful protest to register their opposition. When news of his travel ban broke, I stood at LAX watching Angelenos sing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace. Across the nation, peaceful protest against President Trump continues. But a violent fringe has been using Trump’s rise as a justification for political violence, as if his authoritarian impulses justify authoritarianism from his opponents.
This tiny faction knows that most of their compatriots on the left are committed to nonviolence, so they frame their aggressive actions as a narrow exception to the rule.
Most famously, they insisted that it was okay, or even righteous, to punch white supremacist Richard Spencer because he was “a Nazi.” That position impels the debate down a slippery slope. And now, activists in Oregon caused the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, a community event in the southeast quadrant of Portland, by threatening to forcibly drag “fascists” off the parade route if they weren’t excluded.
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”
Who wins (the rich), who loses (anybody who doesn’t like deficits), and why it might take a miracle for the plan to become a law
There are two compelling narratives around President Donald Trump’s first 100 days. The first is his transformation from heterodox populist to orthodox Republican. Although he ran as a mold-breaking renegade, his economic policies come straight out of the conservative mold, from cutting business regulations to backing off threats to label China a currency manipulator and supporting plans to reduce health-insurance coverage for the poor.
The second story is that Trump has been more focused on optimizing for his own income and branding than for political victories. He has visited no foreign leaders, passed no major laws, given no major political addresses, and disappeared as the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare failed, all while doing little to refute accusations that he’s using the office to raise membership revenue at Mar-a-Lago and mixing business and politics in ways that are unprecedented for a sitting president.
The nationalists in Donald Trump's White House appear to have come very close to persuading the president to sign an executive order withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
A proposed draft executive order that would pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement set off the latest round in a now-familiar series in Trump’s White House: The friction of Donald Trump’s nationalist campaign promises against the reality of governance, and the tension between moderating forces within the White House and more aggressive ideological purists.
The draft of the executive order, its existence first reported by Politico, is “in advanced stages of the process,” a senior White House official told me on Wednesday afternoon. But on Wednesday evening, the White House released a readout of a call between President Trump, President Pena Nieto of Mexico, and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, saying that Trump had “agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time.” It quoted Trump as saying: “It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date at this time,” and said the three leaders had agreed to embark on renegotiation of the deal.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs represent one of the most dangerous challenges since the end of the Cold War. But there are opportunities to stop it.
The drama that is playing out now over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program—accentuated Tuesday by that regime’s large-scale artillery drill—represents one of the most dangerous challenges for U.S. national security since the end of the Cold War. It is a crisis that has been building for a long time, as North Korea has broken through the nuclear barrier and possesses fissile material sufficient for 20 to 25 nuclear weapons, by one estimate. After many failed attempts, through pressure and negotiations, to bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, three new elements have heightened the urgency of the situation.
First, North Korea is racing to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the continental United States. In his annual New Years address in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his country to be “in the final stage of preparation for the test launch” of such a missile. Moreover, experts warn, North Korea could at some point in the next few year years make the terrifying technological leap to a hydrogen bomb, which could be up to 1,000 times more destructive than the nuclear weapons that now comprise the North Korean arsenal.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
The semiaquatic mammal leverages its own buoyancy and bone density to charge through the water.
People are talking about hippos this week, at least in part because the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved baby hippopotamus, Fiona, is now three months old—a milestone that seemed uncertain when she was born prematurely in January.
Fiona’s doing great—so great that she’s “a little bit dangerous to actually cuddle and snuggle” anymore, the zookeeper Jenna Wingate told local reporters.
Which reminds me that wee Fiona will eventually, if she continues to thrive, turn into a grown-up hippo. And grown-up hippos are not—I repeat, not—to be trifled with. Consider, for example, this video, which my colleague Ed Yong shared with me yesterday:
Look at that hippopotamus go! After sharing this video on Twitter, I got several perplexing responses. Comments like this: “Not bad for an animal that doesn’t swim,” and “And … they can’t even swim!” There is even, someone told me, a children’s book about this: Hippos Can't Swim: And Other Fun Facts. As a long-time skeptic of “fun facts,” I obviously had to know more.
The legal procedure for an “Amerexit” isn’t as straightforward as Brexit.
President Trump is reportedly mulling an executive order to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, a major trade deal with Canada and Mexico that reshaped broad sections of the U.S. economy after going into effect in 1994. But it might not be as easy to get out of NAFTA as Trump may think.
The president’s aversion toward multilateral trade agreements placed him in a similar ideological camp as pro-Brexit voters in Britain, who narrowly won a referendum last year to withdraw their country from the European Union. Trump celebrated the result at the time and claimed he successfully predicted it, even referring to himself as “Mr. Brexit.” For him and his supporters, the surprise result across the Atlantic showed their upset victory could also be possible. It additionally demonstrated a broader populist backlash against establishment institutions.