Category: Business

Wall St. Is A Gambling Proxy

In mid March, when the US became woefully aware to the stark realization of the impact of the COVID-19 virus, we saw the major US stock markets take significant tumbles. The market took some significant dips in the days around St. Patrick’s Day, however they have since rebounded relatively steadily since. And what is interesting is what could be driving this investing activity, against the advise and wisdom of many a seasoned Economist:

In a…presentation to the Economic Club of New York, on Tuesday [May 12], Stanley Druckenmiller, a former hedge-fund manager who now invests his own money, said, “The risk-reward for equity”—that is, stocks—“is maybe as bad as I’ve seen it in my career.” And yet many small investors…do not seem fazed by warnings like these.

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Over the past few years, many brokerage firms have substantially reduced, or outright eliminated, trading fees. While this has reduced the friction for any individual investor to enter the market and invest, the COVID-19 lockdown and the lack of sports may be having an unanticipated impact on market dynamics:

“It could be that it’s just a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands,” he said. “One friend suggested to me it is replacing gambling. The casinos are closed and there are no sports to bet on.”

For some active traders, this theory does seem to apply. “I like betting on sports,” Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, told Business Insider. “Sports ended, and this was something that was still going that I could do during the day.” After the shutdowns began, Portnoy put three million dollars in an E-Trade account “to play around with.” He’s been busy sharing his exploits with his large Twitter following. (On Friday morning, he reported, “I’m up fifty grand.”)

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

The scary thing about what is happening to the Economy as a result of the tepid response by the US Government to the crisis is that few people really, truly understand the crippling effect the shut down dynamics are having on the greater US economy. With so many people’s investments and retirements tied up in the stock market, when the true scope of the damage slowly exposes itself like a slow motion car crash, you have to wonder if the damage will be accelerated by stocks crashing further and impacting individuals who entered the market to satisfy a gambling itch they could not scratch.

Start It Up

If you are a podcast listener, here is one to add to your listening queue.

At one point in the not too distant past, Alex Blumburg was a producer at NPR and was intimately involved in argueably the two best programs on the NPR show list – This American Life and Planet Money (Six years on, the TAL podcast that Blumberg and Ira Glass produced – “The Giant Pool of Money” – about the 2008 financial crisis still resonates with me).

Blumburg recently left NPR to venture into the great blue yonder of starting a business – only he’s producing a podcast series that is documenting his successes, failures, and challenges along the way as he tries to build his company and business.

So if you are in a start up, thinking about starting up a business, or just need some new programming to listen to on your commute to and from your cubicle job, take a listen to the Start Up podcast. The RSS feed of the podcast is here and you can just copy and paste the URL into any Podcast player (I’m a big fan of Marco Arment’s Overcast in the iTunes Store)

Source: Start Up.

Biggy Small

There is always so much hype about how big online commerce and online retail is, yet when you take a step back and compare the share of online purchases against the full market, you realize the vast amount of opportunity that is out there for online retailers to take:

Even on the friendliest turf for online shopping “computers and electronics” Internet stores are claiming just 25% of the market.

Not surprisingly, the Computers, Electronics and Appliances category have the deepest penetration of Online Commerce.

via WSJ

Where Is My Toothpaste?

There is a vast conspiracy against your dental hygiene when you travel.

Why has toothpaste been relegated to this supplementary status? I asked this question of executives at 18 North American hotel chains, and most provided the same pair of explanations. First, they said their in-room amenities are chosen based on extensive consumer research. In other words, if the hotels aren’t giving you toothpaste, it’s because you don’t really want toothpaste. “If such requests did begin to trend, explained a representative from the Wyndham Hotel Group, we would evaluate our brand standards and offerings.

The hotel chains are essentially playing chicken with each other, waiting for the other to move first and put toothpaste in their bathrooms. They don’t currently include toothpaste because they don’t perceive there to be a need for toothpaste from their customers.

Surprise and Delight

This past weekend I went to the NY International Auto Show at the Javits Center in Manhattan. When I made my way over to the BMW pavilion, I saw a small sign telling me that if I was one of the first 5 check ins via Foursquare, I’d receive a gift from BMW. Instantly, I remembered that I received a nice, compact umbrella from BMW when I did the same thing last year. I figured this year’s gift would be along the same lines – a nice parting gift with solid value and utility but nothing more than that.

Well, was I dead wrong.

See those nice Harman Kardon headphones? Yup, that’s what BMW generously provided to the first 5 people who checked in to their pavilion this year. Harman Kardon speakers and audio systems are baked into BMW autos (along with Land Rovers, Mercedes Benz and Mini Cooper), ergo the choice of headphones.

The use of social media and Foursquare to help demonstrate the partnership between BMW and Harman Kardon is really smart. To me, this is the real power of platforms like Foursquare. I’ve received a lot of value and incentives from various check ins and this is just another way that marketing and brands can deliver exceptional value and loyalty to people. No, I don’t own a BMW but let me tell you, little things like this definitely make me seriously consider giving BMW SUV’s a second look.

From an customer experience perspective, BMW giving away a few pairs of headphones demonstrates the quality of the sound systems that are baked into each of their cars in a unique and sustained way that will leave a lasting impression on a few lucky individuals. Implicitly, when I use the headphones to listen to music et al, I’ll have some sort of recall about how I got them. Smart. They are also making an extremely positive association for their brand (and Harman Kardon’s) not to mention talk value, WOM, and fools like me publishing a blog post about it.

I listened to some music with them and watched a few episodes of Game of Thrones with them last night, and the sound was fantastic.

So thank you BMW. I’ll be sure to drop by when I’m ready to replace my 2004 model car.

Lego Pricing Analysis

An impressively thorough analysis of the price of Lego bricks and Lego sets over the years, dating as far back as 1960 when Lego was first brought to market.


Over time, it appears that the price per brick of Lego has actually decreased to the point where the nominal price per brick and the real price per brick is essentially even and on par with what they were in 1980.

So with the pricing of Lego bricks essentially staying flat from 1960 – 2013, Lego had to increase penetration and share by releasing more sets per year. As noted in the graph below, from about 1995 through 2013, the number of sets released per year has roughly tripled.

So even though it feels like we are spending more for Lego sets, what is really happening is that we are getting sucked in by our kids to buy more sets over time.

OK, I need to go to the local Lego store to buy the Chima set for my son.

via Reality Prose.

Cheap Greedy Owners

In case you have not heard, there have been some issues with the NFL referees through the first few weeks of the season because the NFL owners and the Refs can not come to an agreement over a contract.

The uproar over the debacle that was the Seahawks – Packers game on Monday night brought this to a national stage, where even the ladies from The View discussed it.

The NFL is big, big business to the tune of billions of dollars. So what is the sticking point over this negotiation between the NFL owners and the Refs?

The officials work about 36 hours a week — nearly full time — and pension benefits have become an important issue to them. It would probably cost each team about $100,000 to settle the pension issue.

The NFL rakes in billions and the cost to each team to come to agreement with the Refs and end this football nightmare is $100K per team (or a grand total of $3.2 Million)?!? In the context of the NFL, this is a rounding error. The $100K per team impact equates to 1/10 of 1% of Larry Fitzgerald’s 8 year contract with Arizona or Peyton Manning’s contract with Denver. $100K a year per team is probably what each spends on washing the player’s jock straps and towels.

And these jokers can’t figure out a solution? Yes, maybe Roger Goodell should be fired.

SimplyFired

This is just dripping with irony:

VentureBeat has learned that job search startup Simply Hired has laid off approximately 20 percent of its staff, according a source close to the company

But wait, there’s more:

In a second case of irony, Simply Hired owns the website www.simplyfired.com. When you go to simplyfired.com, the site re-directs to simplyhired.com. With regard to the layoffs, that’s unfortunate.

via VentureBeat.

Tipping Point

Is it safe to say that the decline and fall of Malcolm Gladwell is well on its way, if not complete? It was announced today that Gladwell will be receiving paychecks from Bank of America to help them woo Small Business owners to use BofA for their banking needs. I never really saw or bought into all the hype around his books Tipping Point or Outliers. And is he really a big name in the Small Business community? It hasn’t been the best few years for Gladwell as his recent work has received few nice words:

Gladwell’s work has been widely criticized from the pages of New York Magazine (“The bigger criticism of Gladwell is not that he’s unoriginal but that he’s unserious”) to the New York Times (“Mr. Gladwell has conflated fraud with overvaluation.”) to the Columbia Journalism Review (“Of course Gladwell lacks rigor he’s a feature writer, not a brain scientist.) which also notes that he is rather well-remunerated through corporate speaking fees and beyond. Many of those criticisms note that his biggest works are more often than not distillations of other people’s research and ideas and that they tend to almost exclusively support a consumerist, elitist philosophy.

And BofA has had its recent share of PR disasters as well with its TARP bailouts, mass layoffs and $5 bank fee fiasco. Seems to me BofA needs a hell of a lot more than Malcolm Gladwell to get its ship in order, while I will be interested to see how a BofA paycheck will influence Gladwell’s perspective on future books and stories.

Your Logo or Mine?


A neat project where Stefan Asafti over at Behance used competitor logos to render each other’s brands.

There have always existed disputes among the competing parties, divergent opinions, while the fans of each brand were convinced that theirs was the best product. Last, but not least, the rivals have even conducted ad campaigns against the competing brands. This project mostly approaches the visual “conversations” between the company logos and the ways that they influence each other, hence the name of the project, Brandversations. It is a parallel between the modern and the old, some of the slogans dating back to the 40s and 50s.

Yes, I am a heretic for displaying the one above. :)

via Logo Design Love

Mr. Buffett Goes To Washington

Warren Buffett wrote a pretty eye opening OP-ED piece in the NY Times yesterday. Mr. Buffett was amazingly transparent, frank, and candid about the financial issues facing the US of A. He even used his own unique position as an illustration:

Last year my federal tax bill, the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf, was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income (edit: using these numbers, you can back out that his taxable income was roughly $39.878 Million) and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

Edit: using these numbers, you can back out that his taxable income was roughly $39.878 Million

He then illustrated how wealth has shifted so dramatically over the past 20 years:

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion, a staggering $227.4 million on average, but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

Meaning, in 1992, the top 400 earners in the USA had, on average, $42 Million per household, and a federal tax rate of 29.2% – while in 2008, those numbers were $227 Million per household and a federal tax rate of 21.2%. So that’s a 537% increase in per household income and a 36% relative decrease in taxes paid/tax rate (Obviously, the absolute tax dollars has increased with the absolute increase in earnings). Doing some basic thumbnail math, if the tax rate had remained constant at the same 29.2% from 1992, that would be an extra $7 Billion in tax revenue for the USA from this segment of the population.

He then proposed a policy approach to address the top earners in the USA (and I was pretty surprised by how really really small the absolute numbers were):

But for those making more than $1 million, there were 236,883 such households in 2009, I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more, there were 8,274 in 2009, I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

So to put that in perspective, backing out the 8,274 who made $10 Million+, that leaves 228,609 who earned between $1 Million and $10 Million. Again with some thumbnail math since I don’t have the specifics, lets say 50% of those 228K folks earned $1MM, 35% earned $5MM, and 15% earned $9MM. That’s roughly $822 Billion in taxable income. Using the same tax rates noted above, the 2008 taxes at 21.5% of income, represents $177 Billion in tax revenue. Using the 1992 tax rate of 29.2% equates to $240 Billion in tax revenue. Meaning in 2008, the US had $63 Billion less annual tax revenue compared to if the 1992 tax rate was left unchanged.

So if we add up the estimated $7 Billion from the top 400 earners and the estimated $63 Billion from the $1MM – $10MM earners by keeping the tax rates at 1992 levels (29.2%), that’s a grand total of $70 Billion dollars in annual tax revenue we are not accounting for today because of tax rate reductions. Factor in the taxable income for those 7,874 folks who earn between $10MM and $227MM (the latter number is the avg. of the top 400 earners in 2008), and we have a pretty decent chunk of change annually to at least put a dent in our fiscal issues (in addition to the spending cuts).

#imjustsayin

Hangout With Customer Service

Michael Dell posted that he was intrigued and interested in having Dell try to use Google+ Hangouts for customer service.

The reaction to his post was overwhelmingly positive, with hundreds of comments agreeing that this would be a good idea for Dell. And the idea is indeed intriguing: Some customer service needs are very similar, so having a service representative talk to a small group of customers at the same time could be more economical than the traditional one-on-one call. Using video could also humanize tech support, and group settings could even initiate self-help between customers.

I think the service that could be delivered by features like Google Hangouts is very interesting, however I’m really not sure if I’m prepared to see a video of the service rep staring at me from my desktop. I don’t mind them taking over my desktop (a la GoToMyPC) to solve the problem but video seems a little too personal in this situation/user experience.

iPhone Monster

Apple’s iPhone represents about half of their $12.3 Billion in revenue. And while the iPad numbers flattened off in Q1, I would argue that a big reason for that was the impending release of iPad 2 coupled with the inventory issues that hampered iPad 2 sales. None the less, its pretty crazy to look at this graph and think that the iPhone was only released in 2006 and now represents such a huge element of Apple’s business. Amazing.

via Business Insider

Mind The Gap

You may have heard about The Gap’s recent inept attempt to redesign their logo. To demonstrate just how poor the decision making was there, the fine folks at ISO50 held a Gap Logo Redesign Contest, reaching out to the broader interweb design community to submit their own redesigns for the iconic logo. The results are, in my humble opinion, spectacular…with a couple of snarky designs thrown in for good measure! Just some amazing designs that reinforce just how bad the one that The Gap chose really is.

It appears that the geniuses at The Gap are now backpedaling on their decision making processes.

And for those few that really do like the new logo, you can generate a logo of your own right here.

Ad Industry Asleep At The Wheel

Over at Mediapost, a spot on article about how the advertising and ad agency world is lagging behind from a technology and measurement perspective. The article is basically saying that the elevator is going to the top floor, but no one is home. They understand what needs to be done but have zero idea of how to get there. And if they don’t know, someone else will walk in (i.e Google), figure it out, and put them out of their misery.

As much as the industry sees this exciting vision, there are fundamental steps the industry needs to take to get there. Last year the steps required the industry to create open platforms to connect a fragmented industry.

Future steps include:

1) Measurements must align in display ads against consumer behavior such as dwell time or passive or active engagement.

2) Make processes within agencies quicker and easier through technology.

3) One system for all inventory processes.

Agency reps have been spending too much time cutting and pasting into and out of Microsoft Excel. So, MediaMind created a dashboard to centralize all information for media buyers. It aims to simplify the process of managing ad campaigns across Facebook, mobile, display and email. It also helps buyers find audiences.

The MediaMind version 2.0 product launch this week focuses on tackling the immediate tasks at hand, which Donaldson will address at Digital Experience Day (DED). He says it’s necessary for agencies to embrace this concept now to manage any kind of future change as digital and traditional media converge, and look at “smarter’ ways of engaging consumers.” But that’s really only the beginning.

The advertising industry will face serious issues if technologists don’t step up to nurture this transition.

This is hardly a revelation to me since the advertising and marketing world still relies on the dinosaur aged Neilsen Rating system to measure TV audience…a measurement system derived in the 1960’s and 1970’s that is the biggest joke and the industry’s dirty little secret. It still baffles me that an entire multi-billion dollar industry is based completely on a panel based model who’s methodology has not changed much in 25 years.

via mediapost

WSJ on Managing the Future Workplace

Decent article in the WSJ about tips and advice on Managing the Future Workplace. I say decent because many of the tips and pointers are items that are pretty much common sense:

Stay flexible. Managers will need a flexible organization, so that it can be repositioned quickly to address new threats and master new challenges. You will have to be prepared to re-evaluate your mission, strategy and goals more frequently than before, in order to adjust to the uncertain and changing environment.

Devour data. Managers will need to have their “ears to the ground” in order to hear changes as they are coming. That means you’ll need to seek out fresh sources of information, intelligence and data. You’ll need to follow the example of leaders like A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, who required his top executives to go out into the field and talk to the ordinary women who use P&G products.

Insist on candor. To succeed in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment, it’s critical that everyone in an organization be brutally honest. There’s no time for dealing with the small lies that people routinely use to burnish their own record or avoid offending others. Everyone needs to know exactly where things stand at all times.

Several others are there as well. To me, on top of what is said in the article, its about demonstrating leadership and knowing when to help out your team and when to get out of their way.

Onward and upward!

Gaming The Mad Men Viewers

The gaming of the ads on Mad Men is getting out of hand. Yeah, yeah…they did the job because I’m blogging about it. But there were three different ads that were “gaming” the DVR crowd by presenting their ads in the motif of the actual show so that viewers will stop fast forwarding the DVR at what they think is the end of the ad pod. Klondike had two guys in 1960 era suits pitching a new campaign for the brand. Clorox and Hotels.com then led their pedestrian ads with the animated building and red/black lettering so clearly associated with the show itself. The clear irony here is that these advertisers are holding on with their fingernails to the very interruptive, 1960’s era marketing model that is the central focus of the Mad Men show itself.

ComcastCares Loses Its Big Toe

Frank Eliason, the pioneer behind @ComcastCares has left the cable giant to head over to Citibank in a what I would assume to be a role similar to the one at Comcast. With all the new regulations hitting the banking and financial services industry, I would have to imagine that Frank’s experience at Comcast will come in very very handy at Citi as they will have to manage a flood of changes to how customers will interact with their business. It will also be interesting to see what happens with @comcastcares and how it will evolve now that its “voice” has left.

Bubba Likes Soccer

Former President Bill Clinton was in South Africa to take in the US team’s amazing victory in the World Cup. After the game, he visited the US team’s locker room in what was described as a “surreal” experience and visit for the US team:

Someone handed the former President a soda. He put his arm around Donovan. He sought out coach Bob Bradley. The party went on. Clinton wound up just hanging out for 45 minutes; some think he would’ve stayed hours longer if, you know, the guys didn’t have to actually get dressed.

Bubba gave a speech and told the team that they “made him proud to be an American”. Let’s hope that this is the additional motivation the US team needs to make a nice run deep into the Elimination stage of the World Cup.