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American Orthography

trThink of Teddy Roosevelt the next time you drive through a drive-thru, suggests Thomas V. DiBacco in The Wall Street Journal (4/16/15). The 26th US president, in 1906, issued an executive order intended to “transform the English language” via simplified spelling. TR, along with industrialist Andrew Carnegie “looked at spelling reform as efficient and cost-cutting, meaning that newspaper, magazine and book sizes could be reduced, as could class time devoted to spelling.” The extra letters in English and French spellings were a special target.

At the time, some streamlined spellings “were already in use, including ‘arbor,’ ‘ardor,’ and ‘clamor,’ (instead of arbour/ardour/clamour) or ‘judgment’ and ‘acknowledgment’ (without the silent ‘e’).” Others were a tougher sell, such as ‘blest’ instead of ‘blessed’, ‘kist’ rather than ‘kissed’ and ‘past’ instead of ‘passed.’ TR also sought to drop the extra ‘r’ on ‘purr’ and consolidate the “combined letters ‘oe’ as in ‘subpoena’” into just an ‘e.’ Transforming ‘tonight’ into ‘tonite’ and ‘though’ into ‘tho’ certainly have enjoyed some staying power.

TR’s executive order (one of 1,081 he issued during his tenure) “directed that all publications of the executive department adhere to the … new spellings for 300 words delineated in his order.” He said his goal was “to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic.” In the other branches of government, the Supreme Court ignored TR’s guidance, while the House of Representatives issued a resolution “urging that all government documents” stick with standard orthography. TR “immediately withdrew his executive order.”

They Is

shakespeareEven grammar police are starting to give a pass to those who use ‘they’, reports Ben Zimmer in The Wall Street Journal (4/10/15). “According to standard grammar, ‘they’ and its related forms can only agree with plural antecedents. But English sorely lacks a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun and ‘they’ has for centuries been pressed into service for that purpose, much to the grammarians’ chagrin,” Ben writes. “Now, it seems, those who have held the line against singular ‘they’ may be easing their stance.”

It’s not uncommon — and probably more common than not — for ‘they’ to turn “singular … when its antecedent is considered generic, not referring to a single known person. Nearly everyone would find that they can stomach the ‘they’ in this very sentence, agreeing with ‘nearly everyone’. Things get trickier when the antecedent of ‘they’ more clearly refers to one person,” Ben continues. “A reader … may not like what they see in this sentence, for instance.”

The thing is “that ‘they’ is more idiomatic than clunky alternatives that include both genders, as in ‘he’ or ‘she,’ ‘he/she’ or ‘s/he’.” The issue began stirring with advent of “nonsexist language in the 1970s” and has intensified with the rise of “transgender issue.” Alternative pronouns, such as ‘thon’, ‘xe’ and ‘ze’ have been suggested over the years, but none has caught on. The reality is that ‘they’ as a singular pronoun has been in use “for about seven centuries, appearing in the work of writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Jane Austen.”

Big Red Refuel

cornell-dairyCornell University’s dairy bar has formulated a recovery drink for athletes, reports Seth Berkman in The New York Times (4/18/15). The drink, known as Big Red Refuel, is basically a low-fat chocolate milk, “similar to what is found in standard school lunches.” However, it has been tweaked to deliver “16 grams of protein and 230 calories per eight ounce serving,” compared to a “similar serving of low-fat chocolate milk,” which “has 8 grams of protein and 160 calories.”

The 16 grams of protein is close to “optimal for muscle recovery for an athlete weighing 150 to 160 pounds.” More than 20 grams of protein is “stored as body fat.” Bigger athletes, “with greater muscle mass might need around 30 to 35 grams of protein,” and are advised to supplement with “a bar or another drink.” The key is that Big Red Refuel provides athletes, who often are rushing off to class after workouts, with something that easily provides immediate replenishment. Athletes of all sizes are said to “savor the taste,” too.

The drinks development is a collaboration between Clint Wattenberg, who coordinates sports nutrition at Cornell, and Jason Huck, Cornell’s former dairy plant manager. “Creating the ideal chocolate milk recipe was akin to harvesting the ingredients for a fine wine. At one point, Jason wanted to fortify the drink with Omega 3, but that would have boosted the fat content significantly.” Too much sugar “could cause gastric distress.” Cornell will make Big Red Refuel available to all of its students, and may distribute it to other schools, as well.

Culinary Couture

cricket-flour“Food trends typically advance in predictable stages,” reports Sarah Nassauer in The Wall Street Journal (4/15/15). In the first stage, “culinary fashions often appear in a creative chef’s kitchen, at an ethnic restaurant or are invented by the eccentric owner of a small food company, says Kimberly Egan” of CCD Innovation. Right now, cricket flour is having its early stage “day in the sun,” being touted “as cheap protein that is better for the environment than chicken or cattle.” The thought is that people will eat cricket flour in snack bars, for example.

In the second stage, the food item “shows up on food blogs, food truck menus and in high-end cooking stores like Sur la Table. Later it might make its way to menus at casual chains like Bonefish Grill or Chili’s and food TV shows … The trend usually hits recipe websites before finally ending up on fast-food menus and grocery shelves … Quinoa, chia seeds and siracha, a hot chili pepper sauce have hit this level. For big companies, the trick is to jump on trends quickly, but not so quickly that they overcommit to a passing fad.”

Protein “at non-traditional moments” is one such trend, and big food companies are responding “with plant-protein-laden bars, breakfast drinks and cereal and pointing out on labels that it is in hot dogs and candy bars. Americans bought $16 billion worth of food with protein claims last year, a 5.3% annual increase, according to Nielsen.” However, plant-based protein is not yet mainstream, but food marketers anticipate that US government dietary guidelines recommending consumption of less animal protein will change this over time.

Art of Tiffany

tiffany-boxFrancesca Amfitheatrof has “the daunting task of restoring artistic luster to Tiffany,” reports Guy Trebay in The New York Times (4/16/15). “You have a company that’s 177 years old and still here,” notes Stellene Volandes of Town & Country. However: “if you really think of Tiffany & Company in the last couple of decades, there’s not been very much new or creative,” says Daniela Mascetti of Sotheby’s. “They have a legacy to respect but at the same time need to come up with new ideas to bring Tiffany to the forefront again.”

It’s an interesting challenge because, on the one hand, Francesca needs to design “high jewelry,” costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, she created a $400,000 “jeweled bib” worn by Cate Blanchett at the Oscars that involved hundreds of carats of turquoise, diamonds and aquamarines “all contrived to imitate the effect of sunlight refracted through water.” (image) It set off a “frenzy of social media ‘likes’ and ‘favorites’.” Such pieces “increase the luster of a luxury brand in an increasingly competitive market.”

On the other hand, “Tiffany’s bottom line is built on far more prosaic stuff,” such as “Elsa Peretti’s silver heart on a chain — priced at $200.” (image) Francesca seems equally comfortable with both. “I don’t think about the value of the materials all that much,” Francesca says. Indeed, she’s known to pair “relatively worthless minerals like rock crystal with platinum, setting semiprecious gems like opals in diamond-studded bracelets.” “In general I try not to be intimidated,” says Francesca, “and just focus on the design.”

The Shapes Project

shape-projectAllan McCollum is using “methods of mass production to create unique objects,” reports Randy Kennedy in The New York Times (4/17/15). He’s been at this since 2005, with The Shapes Project, “a software system that allows him to hand-design 31 billion two-dimensional shapes, no two alike — far more than enough so that every person projected to be on the planet by the middle of this century could have one of his or her own, as a print, for example, or a sculptural object.”

“I also sometimes imagine a unique shape coming up every time someone goes to Google, or selling them on Amazon for 95 cents each,” says Allan. For a newspaper, the aspiration is even loftier: “Ideally, every newspaper would be printed with a different unique shape on the page, but I guess that would require printing technology that no one has.” However, for The New York Times, “he created 108 unique shapes” that “can be cut out and saved, or in a digital image that can be used in any number of ways.” (link)

“Most of what I grew up with were things that were mass produced, and I’ve always felt that what’s missing in the fine-art world is a sense of the excitement of mass production … like a chorus singing, and the thought that everyone could have something.” Since Allan can’t possibly complete his project in his lifetime (he’s now 70), he hopes that “having it in a newspaper where it might be seen by hundreds of thousands of people means that more people will be aware of it, and maybe they’ll become involved and help.”

Light of Luxury

ledFor LVMH, luxury is all in the lighting, reports Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal (4/16/15). “Just as we feel about quality craftsmanship, innovation and creativity, the environment has become a driver of progress for LVMH and we see it as key to the growth of our brands,” says Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive. The importance of lighting is affirmed on the company’s website: “Optimal lighting is the powerful gleam that radiates the splendor and aesthetics of beautiful products.”

As it happens, more energy-efficient lighting — LEDs — does “a better job of highlighting products’ features and are more pleasing to shoppers than incandescents or fluorescents.” That’s according to Sylvie Benard, an agronomist who leads LVMH’s efforts to reduce its energy consumption, “as well as its sustainability and biodiversity efforts.” LVMH occupies “nearly 11 million square feet of retail space” worldwide, which claim “70% of its energy usage … not its factories, shipping or other activities.”

Sylvie’s other initiatives include pushing “for the selection of wood from sustainably managed forests for packaging and cabinetry in boutiques.” The company is also replacing “air freight with ocean shipping,” to reduce greenhouse gases. Among Sylvie’s “latest concerns is all the new screens in LVMH stores. After measuring energy used by escalators, air-conditioning, lighting and other uses, the company realized that computer and digital display screens were devouring almost as much as what the company was saving in LED light bulbs.”

Sunshine Laundromat

pinballPinball (not washing) machines are the main attraction at the Sunshine Laundromat, reports Corinne Ramey in The Wall Street Journal (3/14/15). Located in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, Sunshine is said to have “one of the city’s top pinball-machine collections.” Peter Rose, its co-owner and manager, is now also “seeking a beer-and-wine license,” which would make it “the only laundromat in New York City that legally serves alcohol,” as well. But he wants it to be “pinball place that serves beer,” and not the other way around.

“For years, I’ve had a dream of having a pinball venue,” says Peter, who has been collecting pinball machines for 25 years. His day job is servicing “coin-operated video games, vending machines and pinball machines around the city.” He happened upon Sunshine after selling “its previous owner a change machine,” and became half-owner when its former manager died. In addition to the pinball machines, his twists include “an outlandish take on interior design,” including “balloons in a washer” and “lampshades made of detergent bottles.”

Sunshine also specializes in “whimsical” signage, such as: “Try our gourmet vegetarian washing machines and vegan dryers.” There’s also a video game “installed, and playable, inside a dryer” and “a fortune-teller machine, which contains a mechanized chimpanzee holding a crystal ball and cigar.” Sunshine has also hosted the New York State Pinball Championship. Peter says his customer base has “quintupled” in three years. “I spend a lot of time here,” he says, “so I figured I have to make it enjoyable.”

Brown Gold

brown-formanLike every astute marketer, George Garvin Brown, founder of the Brown-Forman Company, began with a keen insight. The year was 1870. Mr. Brown was a pharmaceutical salesman and his new venture was selling bourbon to pharmacies. The insight was that his product’s purity would set it apart. So, he produced the first-ever bourbon sold in bottles, which he sealed and personally signed at the distillery. That was a very cool innovation, made possible by emerging bottling technologies. The depth of George Brown’s insight did not stop there, however. It wasn’t so much that his bourbon was the first to be bottled; it was that the brand was sold that way exclusively. It was his way of assuring customers that the integrity of his bourbon hadn’t been compromised.

Can you name that drink? It wasn’t Jack Daniel’s, a whiskey which records show wasn’t established until about five years later. It was Old Forester, which legend has it was named after a pharmacist, and is today the world’s oldest bourbon brand (it outfoxed Prohibition by gaining designation as a medicinal product). Brown-Forman didn’t acquire Jack Daniel’s until 1956.George Brown’s great-great grandchildren continue to build both labels, which are currently riding an astonishing, millennial-fueled whiskey revival.

Jack Daniel’s is, of course, the best known of the company’s many brands, a genuine article of Americana and pop culture, unbound by the usual brand shackles of generation, geography or psychology.What makes this possible? Chief Brands & Strategy Officer Lawson Whiting says it’s all about real people, real stories and a real place: Lynchburg, Tennessee. “Stories about a town with one stoplight resonates with many different age groups,” says Lawson. “At first glance it might not seem to, but it really does.”Authenticity may have devolved into a marketing cliché in a world draped in artifice, but for Brown-Forman, it is a time-honored way of life. Read The Hub Q&A with Lawson Whiting of Brown-Forman.

Tough Lovin’

tough-lovinScarcely a day goes by without news-media coverage about what’s gone wrong at McDonald’s and what to do about it. With a new CEO coming on board, we thought this would be a good time to ask Cool News readers to weigh in: Can McDonald’s recover? What should it do? Clearly, all that glitters is not Golden Arches at the moment. Our survey found that 73 percent are “not lovin’ it” and give Mickey D’s just two gold stars out of a possible five. The overwhelming majority of respondents (96%) said they eat fast food, with 64 percent of those doing so at least once a month.

However, 50 percent said they ate at McDonald’s less frequently than two years ago, and just eight percent said they were eating at McDonalds more often today. This pattern didn’t exactly parallel overall opinions of the chain, which 55 percent said was unchanged relative to two years ago, and 34 percent said had worsened. Only 11 percent said their opinion of McDonald’s had improved.To some extent, these changes in dining habits had to do with life stage: “I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s since my kids were little,” wrote one respondent. For others, it was just the reverse: “I have kids now and don’t want them to get used to it.”

Still others said their kids no longer liked the food, with one reporting that “kids are taught at school not to eat at McDonald’s.” The primary reason, however, simply seems to be the quality of the food, which only one percent deemed ‘excellent’ and just eight percent said was ‘very good.’ A respectable 34 percent said the food is ‘good,’ however slightly more (38%) said it was just ‘fair,’ and 18 percent judged it ‘poor.’ Several commented that the food gives them a stomachache. In terms of what McDonald’s needs to do to fix this, ‘fat content’ was the number-one issue, cited by 58 percent of respondents. Continue Reading.

Holy Mayo!

dukes-mayoMayonnaise is a “bland emulsion” that “triggers profound responses,” reports Kim Severson in The New York Times (4/15/15). Mayo is basically just oil and egg, but there can be “a measure of paprika or mustard, and the method of whipping can create differences that seem insignificant on paper but are profound in the jar. Add too much vinegar, and a brand will be dismissed out of hand.” “There is nothing more personal than mayonnaise,” says Robin Fisher of Duke’s, a “Southern-made mayonnaise, rich with egg yolks and tart with cider vinegar.”

Duke’s dates back to 1917, and a time when “there may have been as many as 600 brands of commercial mayonnaise in America … The number of commercial brands has dwindled to a handful” since then, but Americans today “spend about $1.86 billion annually on mayonnaise, nearly half of that on Hellmann’s,” according to Nielsen. Russians eat about twice as much as Americans — on herring and in potato, egg, chicken and bologna salad, with pickles. “Belgians and Germans eat it with fries, and the Japanese squeeze it on nearly everything, even pizza.”

Mayo is America’s favorite condiment, “outpacing ketchup by half in terms of sales. Mustard sales aren’t even close.” Regional preferences run strong, however. Ina Garten, a cookbook author, says she won’t use Best Foods mayo — only Hellmann’s — even though they are both made using the same formula. “If you can’t buy it in Kansas City, it’s not going into a recipe,” she says. And then there’s “a man from North Carolina,” whose devotion to Duke’s mayo is so intense he “ordered a customized Duke’s mayonnaise jar in which to store his remains.”

Urban Death Project

urban-death-projectKatrina Spade thinks “bodies should be composted, not buried,” reports Catrin Einhorn in The New York Times (4/14/15). “Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” she says. But she thinks it would be really cool if people could “grow new life” after they’ve died. So, Katrina, an architect, “has designed a building for human composting that aims to marry the efficiency of this biological process with the ritual and symbolism that mourners crave.” She has also formed a non-profit, The Urban Death Project.

The “facility would be centered around a three-story vault … Loved ones would carry their deceased, wrapped in a shroud, up a circular ramp to the top.” The body would be placed “in the core, which could hold perhaps 30 corpses at a time. Over the next several weeks, each body would move down the core until the first stage of composting was complete. In a second stage, material would be screened, along with any remaining bones, and the compost would be cured.” Each body would produce about three cubic feet of compost.

Loved ones “could collect some of compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree.” The cost would be “about $2,500 … Beyond the environmental benefits,” Katrina “believes there is a spiritual one: connecting death to the cycle of nature will help people face their own mortality and bring comfort to the bereaved.” Katrina is still perfecting the methodology (the pile has to reach 140 degrees to work) but hopes to build her first facility in Seattle, and develop a template for “locally designed facilities.” “Like libraries,” she says.

Powder Mountain

powder-mountainA group of young entrepreneurs is creating “a next-generation alpine town,” reports Andy Isaacson in The New York Times (4/12/15). “Picture a vehicle-free Main Street lined with farm-to-table restaurants and pop-up stores and co-working spaces and second-story condos. It will have funding for public art and only environmentally friendly hotels; naturally the cafes will provide almond milk without your having to ask for it.” “What Tesla did to cars, we’re going to do with towns,” says Elliott Bisnow, a co-owner of Powder Mountain in Utah.

Among those buying in are Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, and Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms shoes. The village will sit at Powder Mountain’s base, “and in addition to bars, restaurants and what organizers call a ‘curated artisanal retail experience,’ there are plans for education facilities, a culinary school, an innovation lab and a recording studio. Powder’s owners are in closing discussions with several boutique hotel groups. The overarching design” aesthetic is described as “organic modernism.”

“We crowdsourced the funding, the development, the design, the architecture,” says Elliott. Adds co-founder Jeff Rosenthal: “We’re not merchant developers trying to build as many units as possible and then going back to our houses in Florida.” The project grew out of a 2008 meeting of “19 entrepreneurs at the Alta Mountain ski area in Utah,” which evolved “into a company called Summit Series.” “Our convening power grew because no one was really reaching out to a generation of entrepreneurs,” says Jeff.

DeKalb Market Hall

dekalbLocal food-vendors are the linchpin of a retail project at Brooklyn’s City Point, reports Keiko Morris in The Wall Street Journal (4/13/15). At DeKalb Market Hall, “a distinctive New York food experience” will “drive higher rents on the floors above and attract tenants who might otherwise not have considered downtown Brooklyn.” “As we thought more about the market hall, we wanted something that would have tenants you wouldn’t see in every other food hall in the city,” says Paul Travis of co-developer Washington Square Partners.

That’s not to say the food hall won’t “have established names,” just that it “will include a large number of smaller and newer enterprises among the 35 to 45 vendors expected to fill it. The range of discounted base rents starts at about $3,750 a month for a stall for the first two years, in addition to a percentage of sales after a certain threshold is reached.” For Bill Fletcher, this means he can open a barbecue joint for about “$20,000, compared with $200,000 to $400,000 to set up a new spot on his own.”

Anna Castellani, “one of Dumbo’s pioneering retailers,” will create the hall, which she says won’t be “super slick.” Vendors will be free to “have their own signs and light their own spaces.” Says Anna: “We wanted to create a resting place in the city with food and people that reflect the city.” The hall, says Christopher Conlon of co-developer Acadia Realty Trust, “is critical to the execution of everything else … If retailers coming here can project higher sales, they can pay higher rents.”

Glorious Food

strawberries 4.44.38 PM“Food has been getting blander” but “we eat because food is delicious,” writes Mark Schatzker in The Wall Street Journal (4/9/15). “Flavor is the body’s way of identifying important nutrients and remembering what foods they come from,” says Fred Provenza of Utah State University. A study dating back to 1939, “in which a group of toddlers were put in charge of feeding themselves,” confirmed this: “They ate more protein during growth spurts and more carbs and fats during peak activity … They just ate what tasted good to them.”

Since that time, however, “flavor’s relationship to food has” changed. “For more than 50 years, the food that we grow has been getting blander. As our crops and livestock become more productive, affordable and disease-resistant, they keep losing flavor … As flavor diminishes, so does nutrition.” We tend to drown “bland food in the only things that make it taste good — ranch dressing, whipped cream, ketchup or barbecue sauce.” The flavors we naturally crave, meanwhile, are increasingly produced in factories.

Mark writes: “While the US government has busied itself with promulgating pictures of food pyramids, Americans have been consuming more than 600 million pounds of synthetic flavorings a year, according to Euromonitor International … If the federal government really wants to tell people what to eat, here’s some sound advice it could offer: Eat food that tastes better … The more you let flavor and pleasure be your guide, the better your eating choices will be … Stop counting carbs. Don’t live in fear of fat. Start eating food that tastes better.”

Loco’l Chefs

locolA pair of “prominent” chefs seek to provide “delicious fare” in tough neighborhoods, reports Howie Kahn in The Wall Street Journal (3/30/15). “We’re going to build a concept that has the heart and the ideology and the science of a chef, but it’ll have the relevance of McDonald’s and Burger King,” says Roy Choi, best known for his “fleet of Kogi Korean taco trucks.” The concept translates into a burger that “is two-thirds meat and one-third whole grain. It’s made from a mix of beef, quinoa, barley, seaweed white soy and garum,” a fermented beef extract.

Known as Loco’l, the new restaurant offers items classified as “Rollies, Foldies, Bowls, Burgs, Yotchays [snacks and veggies] and Dulces. Items will mostly cost between 99 cents and $6, with a few as much as $8.” Roy envisions these handles becoming part of urban culture and “part of reality, like, imagine these kids rolling up, being like, ‘Gimme two Foldies, a Rollie and a Burg.’” Loco’l co-founder, two-Michelin-star chef Daniel Patterson, meanwhile, is “thinking about mobility, taking it outside, skateboarding with it, eating it on a bike.”

To that end, sandwich buns are pressed “so burgers can be more easily consumed on the go.” Choi also sees vernacular potential here: “Me saying, ‘Press a sandwich’ isn’t Stephen Hawking … but it could be the thing that makes … Loco’l relevant.” In addition to serving high-quality food, the goal is to teach kitchen skills at “around 20 percent higher than minimum wage.” The first Loco’l is expected to open later this year in the Tenderloin, “San Francisco’s toughest neighborhood.”

Shop ‘Til You Profit

scanpowerPrice-checking apps are helping entrepreneurs make money on Amazon, reports Greg Bensinger in The Wall Street Journal (4/10/15). It’s kind of a twist. Typically, price-checking apps are used to compare prices found in-store with those available elsewhere to find the lowest price, often online. Some enterprising souls, like Anne Zarraonandia, use an app to determine the online resale value of items found in stores. So, if she finds, say, canned pumpkin for $2 but it sells on Amazon for $13, she buys a supply and sells it on Amazon.

Anne “estimates that she sells about $30,000 worth of goods annually on Amazon, generating a profit of about $12,000.” Anne is one of “more than two million independent merchants selling goods on Amazon.” Another merchant, Chris Green, says he’s sold as much as $800,000 per year and has since created ScanPower, an app designed to help others determine potential margins. “Another app, from A Seller Tool Inc., plays a ‘Booyah’ sound when it calculates that a scanned item can be resold for a profit.”

Amazon won’t comment on what some call “retail arbitrage,” but confirms that independent merchants account for “more than 40% of its sales by unit.” A Piper Jaffray analyst calculates that this translates into “about 12%, or $12.2 billion, of Amazon’s revenue this year.” Sam Cohen of DWNY represents a notable chunk of that, with some $10 million in sales via Amazon this year. Sam has about a dozen employees trawling brick retailers and “estimates he stores about 500,000 items in Amazon warehouses at a given time.”

Local vs. Social

social-localThe value of social media remains elusive for small, local businesses, reports Vindu Goel in The New York Times (4/10/15). The issue appears particularly acute for car dealers, like Matt Howell, who sells Hyundais in Huntsville, Texas. Matt says in his 18 years in business he can only “think of one deal that originated on Facebook.” That includes time (and $275 a month) spent using software provided by Hyundai headquarters “to post videos, photos and text updates suggested by the company on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.”

Matt’s conclusion is that “personal relationships are more important,” and that it’s more a matter of treating customers well than maintaining a social-media presence. However, the secret to social-media success may be “something that Hyundai is not yet teaching its dealers” — that “the most reliable route to success is to pay to promote posts as ads.” At least that’s according to Dan Levy of Facebook: “If you want predictable results for your business, ads are a cost-effective way to get them,” he says.

Another car dealer, Joe Castle, confirms this, saying social-media ads can cut “sales and marketing expenses per car sold to $90 from $500.” A study by Capgemini meanwhile found that “social media ranked far below dealer websites, web searching and the automotive news media as sources for information for buyers. But most respondents also said they used social media to research cars, planned to post something about their buying experience and expected dealers to have an active social-media presence.”

Work Rules!

work-rulesGoogle spends twice as much on recruiting than the average company, reports Daniel Freedman in a Wall Street Journal review of Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock (4/8/15). That’s all the more startling given that Google attracts “around two million applicants every year for a few thousand positions.” The reason is that “the best and brightest are usually not looking for a job.” So, Google cultivates them, “sometimes over years … networking with them through phone calls and emails, doing whatever it takes to get them hired.”

In some cases, this has meant “agreeing to hire away entire teams and open new offices.” Also unlike other companies, Google doesn’t “limit where they recruit from and the avenues from which to apply.” Instead, they “increase access” and use “smarter filters. In Google’s case this involves using an internal tool called qDroid that provides interviewers with pre-formulated questions.” Most important is a “work test.” For example, “watching how the person would solve a coding challenge” is a more useful filter than reading a resume.

Google stays away from job boards and recruiting firms — the former because they produce few hires and the latter because they “tend to provide specialists and Google wants generalists.” While “it’s harder to get a job at Google than it is to get accepted at Harvard … the company today prefers ‘to take a bright, hard-working student who graduated from the top of her class at a state school over an average or even above-average Ivy League grad’ because Google prioritizes resilience and overcoming hardship.”

PayPal Mafia

paypalA surprising number of today’s most valuable tech companies have their roots in PayPal, reports David Gelles in The New York Times (4/2/15). Uber, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Yelp, Square, YouTube and, yes, Tesla, all include PayPal people in their family tree. The phenomenon is all the more striking given that PayPal’s own success happened “against all odds,” notes co-founder Max Levchin. “Like veterans of an intense military campaign, we fall back on lessons learned, and relationships established in our early 20s,” says Max.

After eBay acquired PayPal in 2002, its founders “emerged as among the few willing to invest in new tech startups.” “We went from this bunch of misfits to the center of the ecosystem,” says Keith Rabois, now a partner in Khosla Ventures. “Entrepreneurs needed capital, and the only place to get the capital was from us.” Informally, the PayPal alumni are known as the PayPal Mafia, and are “all men, mostly white, and under the age of 50.” In many ways, their story underscores the old adage that “success begets success.”

“If you have a name that’s associated with success, people will seek you out,” says Jeremy Stoppelman, a former PayPal vp of engineering. “Why do smart people go to Harvard? Because previous smart people went to Harvard,” he says. Adds Scott Banister, a former PayPal board member: “We have a very good collective resume … It’s not just that you’re associated with the company, it’s that you’re associated with the other people associated with the company.”