Five A.I. Business Apps Worth Trying
Yes, there’s a lot of hype, but Gene Marks has some artificial-intelligence app suggestions, including chatbot builders, automation tools, and even website builders.
Here are today’s highlights:
Is there any way that it makes sense for Marriott to have 32 hotel brands?
More companies are giving year-end bonuses this year, and the bonuses are bigger.
A celebrity baker is closing retail shops to focus on ecommerce.
Policy: Does banning cars from a city street help or hurt businesses?
Why have the big hotel companies introduced so many different brands? “Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt. and Accor already offer lodging for every conceivable customer, but are thin-slicing the market into ever more pieces. There aren’t just economy hotels anymore—there are now premium economy hotels. Looking for luxury? There’s classic luxury, distinctive luxury, cutting-edge luxury, all-inclusive luxury and lifestyle luxury. Chains want to keep travelers and hotel developers loyal. But the proliferating offerings—and their interchangeable names—mean travelers face a ‘confusing sea of sameness,’ in the words of Chekitan Dev, a professor at Cornell University’s hotel school.”
“The many flavors of Marriotts have inspired a bingo game making the rounds on Reddit. Its 32 brands include the apartment-like StudioRes coming next year. Hilton has 22 brands, such as premium-economy Spark and an extended-stay chain, temporarily dubbed Project H3. Accor has more than 40 brands, including a new collection of independent hotels called Handwritten.”
“Even seasoned travelers struggle to keep them straight. I mixed up Hyatt House and Hyatt Place this year when telling someone where I was staying. Don’t ask me to tell you how those are different from Hyatt Centric. What I do know is that I’ve stayed at all three this year.”
“‘I think the practice is getting confusing, and they’re not putting enough thought into it,’ Dev says of the multiplying hotel chains. He sees a shakeout coming, with weaker brands disappearing. ... Hotel executives say they know what they’re doing and insist each of the new hotels has a different ‘brand essence,’ marketing speak for distinct offerings.” READ MORE
Gene Marks recommends five artificial intelligence apps for business: “There’s a lot of A.I.-hype going around and a countless number of products that are promising to change the world and your life with just a push of a button. That’s all good and well, but we’ve got companies to run. So what’s really real for your business right now? Many of these apps, in my opinion, are not ready for prime time. For example, the potential for text-to-image and text-to-video is exciting but right now these apps are in their infancy and both the images and videos generated look like they were generated. Apps promising ‘productivity’ and ‘automation’ are mostly just doing what ChatGPT does either for free (version 3.5) or for a nominal fee ($20 per month for their ChatGPT Plus version). However, there are a growing number of reliable, legitimate A.I. tools that can help increase productivity in your business.”
“Chatbot builders: A.I.-based chatbot builders like Droxy.ai will create a knowledge base of information that can be searched conversationally by your employees or made available publicly on your website. For example, you can upload your entire website, any videos you’ve made for training or product demonstrations, or PDFs of spec sheets, quotes, proposals, instructions, and contracts. Yes, there’s a little heavy lifting up front. But once uploaded, people can then ask questions about the information like they do with ChatGPT, but the answers come from your information.”
“Automation tools: Products like Zapier, Workato, and Make have been around for a bit. But they’re now all using A.I. to up their game. These products can connect to hundreds of existing accounting, collaboration, CRM and project management applications and then allow users to set up triggers which then automatically launch a task. Examples: ‘automatically send a customer an email when their invoice goes over 30 days,’ ‘send a candidate a rejection letter when we change a field in our database to rejected,’ or ‘implement these onboarding tasks when a new employee is confirmed in our system.’”
“Website Builders: There are plenty of established website platforms — Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy to name a few — that make it real easy to build a new site. But the new generation of A.I.-based builders, like Mixo, are taking things to a different level. With these tools you or an employee can type in a written description of the site desired and the builder starts building. Because it’s conversational A.I. you can instruct it to make changes, setup your domain, and add security just like you’re talking to a web designer.” READ MORE
Year-end bonuses are back: “Data from staffing firm Robert Half found 96 percent of employers expect to award a year-end bonus to their teams, with 54 percent saying they would offer more than they did a year ago. About 37 percent said their bonuses will remain the same. The share of employers that expect to offer bonuses this year is up from the 57 percent that said they planned on awarding them in 2022. About 77 percent of companies in 2021 said they planned to give year-end bonuses. ‘The demand for skilled talent remains high, and rewarding top performers at the end of the year is an important retention strategy. It’s important for managers to communicate effectively about factors impacting bonus plans, such as individual and company performance,’ the report said.”
“The report said, for companies that cannot increase the size of their bonus, they should consider offering non-monetary benefits such as extra vacation time during the holiday season. A separate survey for Verizon Business conducted by Morning Consult of 681 small and midsize businesses in August found 7 percent planned to reduce or cancel holiday bonuses for employees. That was down from 9 percent in 2022, according to the survey.”
“Many companies have already decided they won't be giving raises to everybody next year. That comes from a recent survey of 600 business leaders by ResumeBuilder.com, which found that, while 74 percent of companies plan on giving raises in 2024, about half of those respondents said they will give raises to less than half of their employees.” READ MORE
Front-line employees don’t envy remote workers, according to Gallup, but they would like more flexibility: “For workers in industries such as retail, health care, manufacturing and transportation, having a say in when they work is what matters most, Gallup’s data shows. When asked what kind of flexibility would entice them to leave their current employer, only 33 percent of front-line workers said their heads would be turned by the ability to work from home. Along with more vacation and paid time off, employees surveyed placed the highest value on being able to choose which days they worked, Gallup’s data found. Workers placed less value on having flexible start and end times to their shifts.”
“Many front-line workers are expected to keep their availability open, said [Daniel Schneider, a sociology professor at Harvard University], who has spent years researching how scheduling affects workers’ lives. Some workers rarely get notice about when they’ll be working; others can’t count on a stable income because they’re often sent home early if business is slow.”
“About 80 percent of front-line workers had little to no input on their schedules before the pandemic, according to Schneider’s research — and he doubts that figure has changed much since. ‘That’s not fair and not sustainable for workers,’ Schneider said. ‘We need to recognize that workers can have constraints to their availability and still be committed to work.’”
“Gallup’s survey found that employees who work in person have far lower engagement than remote workers, or than those who work in person but could do their jobs from home. [Ryan Pendell, senior workplace science editor with Gallup,] said front-line workers often get a ‘command and control’ side of management that is ‘outdated’ and fails to consider research about what motivates employees and makes them feel productive and connected to their workplace.” READ MORE
Do you favor your in-person workers? “According to Executive Network's 2023 Future of Working and Learning Report, 71 percent of senior HR leaders and 62 percent of senior business leaders agreed or strongly agreed that in-person workers are probably benefiting from a proximity bias, the tendency of leadership to show favoritism or preferential treatment to employees that are close to them physically. ‘Unfortunately, some managers and leaders aren't being trained well on how to manage a remote/hybrid workforce, which is causing most of the conflict,’ says Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO of TalenTrust. ‘Look at the actual work production and quality of the work, versus where the work is done.’”
“A 2021 report from SHRM reported that two-thirds of supervisors overseeing remote workers admitted to believing remote employees were more replaceable than their onsite colleagues. Forty-two percent said they sometimes forgot about remote workers when assigning tasks, which could explain why remote workers get promoted less often than their peers, despite being 15 percent more productive on average.”
“‘Employers need to remind themselves that this is an employees' marketplace and will be for the foreseeable future,’ she says. ‘The more flexibility we can provide our workforce, the more retention companies will experience, and they will be able to attract new employees.’”
“Whereas employees in smaller, local businesses may see their employers favoring local hires to strengthen culture, many remote employees at big organizations won't wait around for equal treatment at work. Instead, they'll create jobs where it's a given.” READ MORE
Job openings dropped in October: “Job openings fell considerably in October, hitting the lowest level since March 2021, the Labor Department announced on Tuesday. There were 8.7 million job openings in October, down significantly from 9.3 million in September, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That was lower than economists’ expectations of 9.3 million openings. The rate of layoffs was little changed, as was the rate of quitting, which generally reflects workers’ confidence in their ability to find new employment.”
“Job openings reached a record of more than 12 million in March 2022 and have trended down since. The last time job openings hovered around nine million — where it is now — was in the spring of 2021. There are still ample opportunities for workers. The rate of hiring remained steady in October despite the decline in openings.”
“One difference is that layoffs are lower than they were before the pandemic. That probably reflects companies’ decisions to reduce staffing by natural attrition rather than cuts. ‘This is perhaps the biggest sign that we still have a strong economy and labor market,’ said Sonu Varghese, a strategist at Carson Group, a financial advisory firm.”
“The November jobs report will be released on Friday by the Labor Department. Economists forecast that the unemployment rate will stay around 4 percent, with a gain of about 180,000 jobs.” READ MORE
Cake Boss celebrity baker Buddy Valastro is closing Carlo’s Bake Shops to focus on ecommerce: “A Carlo’s spokesperson told The Inquirer that the company decided not to renew the lease. ‘A key shift in our business model over the past couple of years has been a strong pivot towards e-commerce,’ the spokesperson said. Valastro, whose big personality and zany family matched the over-the-top occasion cakes, hit the cable scene in 2009 with Cake Boss. The reality series, which stopped producing original episodes in 2020, inspired the spin-offs Next Great Baker, Kitchen Boss, Bake You Rich, and Bakery Boss. On Monday, the website TMZ reported the closing of the Carlo’s location in Santa Monica, Calif., as the company moved to online orders only.”
“Valastro, 46, took over his family bakery — established in 1910 in Hoboken. N.J. — when he was 17 after the death of his father, who had taken it over in 1964. He has grown the empire through four books, and expanded into the savory side of the business in 2013 with Buddy V’s Ristorante at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian in Las Vegas.”
“In 2020, Valastro opened PizzaCake at Harrah’s Las Vegas followed by The Boss Cafe by Buddy Valastro and Buddy’s Jersey Eats at the LINQ Hotel + Experience in Las Vegas.” READ MORE
Somehow, a once-beloved electronics chain has transformed into a high-interest online lender: “In that bygone age when internet connections screamed through modems, Fry’s Electronics was Disneyland for techies. It wasn’t just a store to buy a mouse, it was where customers journeyed through jungles and starfields to find one. Some say its quirky themed outlets extended its shelf life; others argue those same expensive gimmicks sped its demise at the hands of online rivals. Regardless, by 2021, Fry’s was closing its 31 stores, sealing off its San Jose, California Mayan-themed outlet, powering down its mock International Space Station in Houston, and draining the waters of its Atlantis in San Marcos, California. What’s left of Fry’s requires a magnifying glass to see, buried as it is in the fine print of consumer loans with some especially aggressive terms.”
“In Salt Lake City, thanks to Utah’s chill attitude towards lending, Fry’s has transformed itself into First Electronic Bank. Once the custodian of Fry’s Electronics customer purchases via store cards, First Electronic now allows lenders in states where interest rates are capped to use the relatively lax laws of Utah to charge consumers as much as 180 percent for loans.”
“Fry’s Electronics first popped up in Sunnyvale, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, in 1985, the brainchild of three Fry brothers — John, Randy and David — and John’s former girlfriend Kathyrn Kolder. It quickly became the West Coast’s temple for the computer obsessed. ... At its peak, Fry’s ran 34 retail outlets and reached $2 billion in annual sales before the digital shopping wave finally got the best of it in 2021.”
“The company launched First Electronic Bank in the dial-up days of 1999. William Fry (who goes by Randy) remains a director at the bank. Today, it’s a clever pivot that keeps the Fry’s name hidden, but in a business that some say can lean toward the shady.”
“First Electronic’s net income also rocketed from $1.7 million in 2020 to $10.6 million in 2021. The man behind the growth is Derek Higginbotham, who took over as CEO in October 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile. Higginbotham came to First Electronic from Applied Data Finance, the company behind Personify, a payday lender known for issuing steep interest rate loans in various states through First Electronic.” READ MORE
Did banning cars destroy San Francisco’s most important street? “In an unprecedented move four years ago, San Francisco made a stunning decision to distinguish its most famous corridor. For the first time in roughly 120 years, the city banned private vehicles from the eastern span of Market Street as part of an ambitious effort to improve public safety and transform San Francisco’s most important traffic artery. A $600 million capital project called Better Market Street promised to create a futuristic boulevard that would safely buffer bicycles and scooters on elevated sidewalk lanes, separating the little wheels from rapid bus lines, vintage streetcars and pedestrians.”
“The new vision for Market Street, advocates said, would create a safer, more vibrant multimodal avenue for the hundreds of thousands of residents, commuters, and tourists who daily traverse the 2.2-mile stretch from the Castro District to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero.”
“Today, the scene on the ground is almost unrecognizable compared to San Francisco’s grand promises. Yes, cars are gone from Market Street. But so are people. Just six weeks after ‘quick build’ projects began in early 2020, the pandemic shut down San Francisco. The rest of the world would soon follow. Better Market Street went on hiatus before plans were significantly scaled back in October 2020.”
“More than a few people in and around City Hall quietly acknowledge that Better Market Street no longer makes sense in a post-pandemic world, as the shift to remote work has slashed weekly office attendance in San Francisco by 44 percent.” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST
We Need to Go Back to Marketing for Humans: This week, Paul Downs tells Jay Goltz and Jaci Russo about the latest developments in his year-long campaign to stop relying so heavily on Google AdWords. At a specially arranged, two-day marketing event, Paul got to sit down with a series of architects and designers who had already been vetted and who he hopes will become repeat customers. So far, Paul says, the results look promising.
“Plus, we also discuss: Do you write your website copy to please Google or to please people? Is there any way around skyrocketing property insurance rates? Why has Jay decided he no longer needs a chief financial officer? How big a disadvantage to owners are the new laws forbidding employers from asking job candidates about their salary histories? And would you reject a candidate simply for trying to negotiate a starting salary? I know someone who would.
You can subscribe to the 21 Hats Podcast wherever you get podcasts.
Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren