Do Therapy Apps Help?

Today’s Highlights: Home prices continue to soar. Reinventing the drive-thru. And vaccine passports become a culture war issue.

REOPENING

The fourth surge is here: “Across the United States, cases have started rising again. In a few cities, even hospitalizations are ticking up. The twists and turns of a pandemic can be hard to predict, but this most recent increase was almost inevitable: A more transmissible and more deadly variant called B.1.1.7 has established itself at the precise moment when many regions are opening up rapidly by lifting mask mandates, indoor-gathering restrictions, and occupancy limits on gyms and restaurants.”

  • “The good news is that this one is different. We now have an unparalleled supply of astonishingly efficacious vaccines being administered at an incredible clip.”

  • “If we act quickly, this surge could be merely a blip for the United States. But if we move too slowly, more people will become infected by this terrible new variant, which is acutely dangerous to those who are not yet vaccinated.” READ MORE

Vaccine passports are becoming a culture war issue: “Republicans are opening a new front in the pandemic culture wars, attacking efforts by the Biden administration to develop guidelines for  coronavirus vaccination passports that businesses can use to determine who can safely participate in activities such as flights, concerts and indoor dining. The issue has received an increasing amount of attention from some of the party’s most extreme members and conservative media figures, but it has also been seized on by Republican leaders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ...”

  • “‘We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida,’ DeSantis said Monday. ‘It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society.’”

  • “The idea behind the passports or certificates is that they would be a way to ensure that people could return to normal activities without risking further spread of a virus that has killed more than 550,000 Americans.”

  • “A growing number of travel and entertainment businesses have said they will require customers to prove they have been vaccinated, but some major businesses have said they remain undecided.” READ MORE

Pizza Hut re-thinks the drive-thru: “The pizza chain announced Tuesday a new pick-up window called ‘The Hut Lane,’ which it said offers ‘convenience and speed without customers ever having to park their cars.’ Customers can pick up orders placed through the Pizza Hut app, website and the restaurant's phone number through the new lane. Pizza Hut developed the Hut Lanes because of changing consumer behavior during the pandemic, the company said. Pizza Hut expanded ways for customers to pick up their pizzas while limiting human contact. For example, it was the first national pizza chain to offer contactless curbside pickup.” READ MORE

ECOMMERCE

Walmart’s third-party marketplace is growing but faces hurdles: “Walmart is positioning its third-party marketplace as a central piece of its e-commerce growth, and to draw new sellers, it is rapidly expanding both its fulfillment services arm and its onboarding process. But Walmart remains far off from rivaling the Amazon Marketplace, which boasts orders of magnitude more sellers than Walmart: 2.4 million active sellers compared to Walmart’s 70,000. And while Walmart is growing fast, it’s struggling to gain traction with its relatively clunky seller system — called Seller Center, not to be confused with Amazon’s Seller Central — that has proven to be especially difficult for smaller and inexperienced sellers to navigate. 

  • “‘As a seller, you really should be more established, more experienced, have a team to handle Walmart, because it’s not as intuitive as Amazon,’ said Pauline Shiu, marketing director at Zentail, which manages listings for third-party sellers.”

  • “Many vendors have complained about waiting weeks or months to hear back from Walmart after applying to sell on the platform, said Shiu. ‘To apply to sell on Amazon, it’s very straightforward,’ she said. ‘The application process for Walmart is significantly more intense.’” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

Are therapy apps promising a service they can’t deliver? “Talkspace is part of a growing field of services that promise mental-health care via smartphone. And unlike many of the problems tech start-ups have set out to solve, this one actually exists: It’s hard to find a therapist. ... In January, Talkspace announced plans to go public this year in a $1.4 billion SPAC deal. A presentation for investors managed to be simultaneously grim and upbeat in outlining the ‘enormous’ market for its services: More than 70 million Americans suffer from mental illness, according to Talkspace, and the country has seen a 30 percent increase in the annual suicide rate since 2001. Talkspace says 60 percent of its users are in therapy for the first time.”

  • “While mood trackers and mindfulness apps can cost $10 or $15 a month, therapy apps like Talkspace, BetterHelp, Brightside, and Calmerry — ones that connect users to an actual licensed human therapist — cost hundreds of dollars. “

  • “Although Talkspace built its business marketing directly to consumers (their ads were, for a time, ubiquitous on the New York City subway), the company is now pursuing institutional clients as well — like employers or the City of Reno.”

  • “The therapy-app experience begins with texting: It is the staple of lower-priced plans; live video sessions tend to be added at a premium.”

  • “Therapy-app users describe experiencing frustration when two or three days pass without a reply. Two or three days would not otherwise seem like an inappropriate wait time for what is essentially a non-emergency email. But the service they have been sold — and for which they’ve paid handsomely — promises something more …’” READ MORE

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THE ECONOMY

Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in 15 years: “A number of forces have merged to fuel the red hot housing market, including mortgage rates dropping below 3 percent in July for the first time ever. Millions of millennials are aging into their prime home-buying years in their 30s. New-home construction has lagged behind demand and homeowners are holding on to their houses longer. The coronavirus pandemic has turbocharged this demand.”

  • “The Case-Shiller 20-city index rose 11.1 percent from a year earlier, and price growth accelerated in all 20 cities. Phoenix had the fastest home-price growth in the country for the 20th straight month, at 15.8 percent, followed by Seattle at 14.3 percent.”

  • “Separately on Tuesday, a house-price index compiled by the Federal Housing Finance Agency found a 12 percent increase in home prices in January from a year earlier, a record annual gain in data going back to 1991, the agency said.”

  • “‘The houses are flying off the shelves,’ said Monika Prasai, a real-estate agent in San Diego. ‘You have buyers who are ready and willing to move, but it’s difficult to find them something because there is no inventory.’” READ MORE

Canada plans to boost its economic recovery through immigration: “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government plans to significantly increase the number of new permanent residents it accepts over the next three years, and officials have taken steps in recent months to increase the pace of permanent resident approvals, largely by drawing on residents already in Canada on a temporary basis.”

  • “‘History teaches us that when we grow our immigration levels, we grow our economy,’ Canadian immigration minister Marco Mendicino said earlier this year.”

  • “Canada is among the most immigrant-reliant advanced economies in the world. Before the pandemic, net migration accounted for more than 80 percent of Canada’s population growth, compared with about 40 percent in the U.S.” READ MORE

LOGISTICS

The giant container ship that blocked the Suez has been freed, but there’s another bottleneck in the supply chain: “On Monday morning, 24 container ships—with a combined maximum carrying capacity nearly 10 times that of the newly freed ship—were anchored off the coast waiting for space at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which keeps tabs on vessels and directs ship traffic. The ships are carrying tens of thousands of boxes holding millions of dollars’ worth of washing machines, medical equipment, consumer electronics and other of the goods that make up global ocean trade, all of it idling in the waters in sight of docks that are jammed with still more containers.”

  • “One was on its 12th day of waiting in the seemingly unending queue. And the vessels keep coming.”

  • “The two ports together handle more than a third of U.S. container imports, and delays there are part of a global supply-chain mess that continues even after the ships are unloaded.” READ MORE

In shipping, it turns out, bigger is not always better: “For decades, shipping lines have been making bigger and bigger vessels, driven by an expanding global appetite for electronics, clothes, toys and other goods. The growth in ship size, which sped up in recent years, often made economic sense: Bigger vessels are generally cheaper to build and operate on a per-container basis. But the largest ships can come with their own set of problems, not only for the canals and ports that have to handle them but for the companies that build them.”

  • “The growth of the shipping industry and ship size has played a central role in creating the modern economy, helping to make China a manufacturing powerhouse and facilitating the rise of everything from e-commerce to retailers like Ikea and Amazon.”

  • “The bigger vessels can also call on fewer ports and navigate through fewer tight waterways. They are also harder to fill, cost more to insure and pose a greater threat to supply chains when things go wrong, like Ever Given’s beaching in the Suez Canal.”

  • “Giant ships are also designed for a world in which trade is growing rapidly, which is far from guaranteed these days given high geopolitical and economic tensions between the United States and China, Britain and the European Union, and other large trading partners.” READ MORE

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THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 55: My Name Is Jay Goltz, and I’m an Entrepreneuraholic: This week, Jay explains why he can’t stop starting businesses. In recent years, he’s considered buying other picture frame shops, he’s bought a firehouse that he thought he might turn into an event space (or a dog kennel), and he’s fantasized about opening an ice cream shop. “I have a whole list of businesses I'm not starting,” says Jay, who has been down this road so many times he’s developed a five-point test for whether he should proceed. And now he’s got a new idea—an online art gallery—that he believes passes the test. “I think I’m going to do it,” he says. Plus: Dana White has a new business, too. And Laura Zander assesses the damage done to the yarn industry by two venture-backed rivals.