It’s 9 AM. Do You Know Where Your Employees Are?
Combining elements of Slack, Zoom, AI, and Apple tags, Roam aims to help employers manage employees in a hybrid world.
Here are today’s highlights:
AI is helping airlines use dynamic pricing to fill seats at the highest possible fares.
Some of the wealthiest attendees at the Davos World Economic Forum offered a surprising message.
So far, building housing in factories isn’t going the way it was supposed to.
Roam, is a virtual office app that helps manage far-flung employees: Roam “offers a simple 2D representation of an office—who’s online, who’s meeting with whom, and whether they’re available for quick, spontaneous audio or video calls. ‘I wanted to have a way to have the whole company in one HQ and be together without being in a [Zoom] meeting all day,’ [says founder Howard Lerman]. ... At roughly $10 per user per year, Roam targets remote or hybrid businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees, marrying Slack-style messaging, Zoom-style audio, and video and AI meeting summaries within a spare black interface that aims to represent a virtual map of people, teams, and meeting rooms.”
“In Roam, both individual ‘offices’ and team rooms are audio-only, while ‘conference rooms’ and ‘theaters’ offer the option of video. The company says 76 percent of meetings in Roam are audio-only; it purposely removed the camera on-or-off choice from certain ‘rooms’ because even having the option can be stressful.”
“‘The challenge companies need to solve is not just should people be allowed to work from home on Fridays or not? It’s when you have salespeople located in Texas and a call center in the Philippines and a development center in northern Virginia—how do you get all of those different parts of your company working together?’”
“Lerman also says demand is strong, saying Roam had more than 800 waitlist requests in December alone, despite no outbound sales efforts. Roam, like Slack or Teams, offers ‘do not disturb’ features users can set; their data shows users generally log off on nights and weekends.” READ MORE
The impact of artificial intelligence on the travel business will continue to grow this year: “It is hard to believe that it has only been about a year since travelers started dabbling in ChatGPT-created itineraries. This year will bring even more experimentation and innovation. ‘A.I. is like a teenage intern,’ said Chad Burt, co-owner of the travel adviser network Outside Agents, ‘better, smarter, faster than you, but you need to lead them.’ The expanding use of A.I. could influence how we book online, what happens when flights are canceled or delayed, and even how much we pay for tickets.”
“That means travelers will begin interacting with sites like Airbnb, Expedia, and Priceline by typing out questions in addition to ticking boxes to search for lodging, restaurants, and amenities like swimming pools.”
“A.I. will also power what happens behind the scenes at airlines and airports, said Gilbert Ott, director of partnerships at Point.me, which helps travelers find flights to buy with rewards points. For example, it could improve automatic rebooking onto new flights when customers miss connections or weather snarls runways.”
“A.I. systems trained on bigger and more up-to-date data sets will let airlines’ dynamic ticket-pricing algorithms better use data like weather predictions and customer searches to charge as much as they can while still filling planes.” READ MORE
Coursera has created an AI Academy to help both employers and employees: “Most company leaders understand that artificial intelligence will soon play a vital role in their business if it hasn't already. But first they have to educate their employees — and themselves — on how best to use it. Over 50 percent of employees believe that a comprehensive AI skill set will be essential for their role in the future, according to a recent survey from HR consulting firm Randstad. And yet, only one in 10 have been offered any AI training in the last year — an issue online course provider Coursera is attempting to address with its new Generative AI Academy, designed specifically to equip executives and employees with the skills needed to successfully navigate an AI-driven workplace.”
“Generative AI Academy includes five core educational programs from top AI research universities and companies such as Microsoft, Stanford Online, Vanderbilt, DeepLearning.AI, Google Cloud, and AWS. The courses cover a range of topics like ethics and risk policy as well as more tangential topics like prompt engineering.”
“Most notably, Coursera also included a course that targets company leaders and tailors the subject matter to basic knowledge and implementation strategies they need to grasp before imparting it onto their workforce.” READ MORE
Here’s one message that came out of Davos: Tax us! “As world leaders gather in Davos to debate economic issues between nibbles of Swiss chocolates, the super-rich are sending them a message: Take our money. More than 250 billionaires and millionaires have signed on to an open letter calling for wealth taxes to pay for public services around the world. ‘If elected representatives of the world’s leading economies do not take steps to address the dramatic rise of economic inequality, the consequences will continue to be catastrophic,’ the letter writes.”
“‘Our request is simple: we ask you to tax us, the very richest in society. This will not fundamentally alter our standard of living, nor deprive our children, nor harm our nations’ economic growth. But it will turn extreme and unproductive private wealth into an investment for our common democratic future.’”
“A new poll released by advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires finds that 75 percent of the uber-wealthy support a 2-percent wealth tax on billionaires. Plenty are willing to apply that standard to their own bank accounts, too: 66 percent of respondents agreed that they would support higher taxes on themselves if the revenue would be used to provide better public services and a more stable economy.”
“More than half (54 percent) agree that the concentration of extreme wealth is a threat to democracy.” READ MORE
Why are the companies that make homes in factories failing? “Factory-built housing is increasingly being hailed as a solution to the housing shortage and affordability crisis. But the world of modular housing, which includes multi-unit apartment buildings and conventional-looking houses, is littered with companies that have gone bust. One of these was Katerra, a SoftBank-backed firm that sought to be a one-stop shop for factory-made buildings. After investors poured billions of dollars into the much-hyped company, it filed for bankruptcy in 2021. Mark Erlich, a former officer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and the author of ‘The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work,’ chalks many of the failures up to inexperience with the construction industry.”
“‘Katerra was started by guys from Silicon Valley who were going to show the stupid construction industry what a bunch of dinosaurs they were,’ Erlich said. That ‘arrogance’ built the foundation for their demise.”
“There are a slew of other examples of similar failures in the U.S. and around the world, including the California startup Veev, which ran out of money late last year, and the UK company Urban Splash's modular business, named House, which collapsed in 2022.”
“The federal government has made some efforts to cut red tape for factory-built housing. The Biden administration proposed loosening the Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations on manufactured housing to increase the supply, including by legalizing up to three units per factory-built structure. But cities and states would need to liberalize their own regulations to pave the way for more of these homes.” READ MORE
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Maybe San Francisco isn’t doomed: “Far from the palm trees of Miami or Austin’s taco trucks, Catalin Voss has headquartered his literacy start-up between a cannabis club and pawn shop in the heart of the Mission District. Voss rents a nondescript office building in one of San Francisco’s most vibrant neighborhoods as a home base for Ello, a company he co-founded in 2020 that uses speech recognition technology, powered by artificial intelligence, to help struggling students develop their reading skills. The office is within walking distance of his Noe Valley apartment and only steps away from some of the city’s best taquerias and cocktail bars. And those are just a few of the perks he recited in explaining why he is headquartered in San Francisco.”
“Voss is part of a sizable cohort of San Francisco loyalists — old and new — who say they are flummoxed by the ‘all is lost’ narrative propagated by conservative media hosts and more recently a vocal contingent of tech leaders that includes billionaire entrepreneur-turned-agitator Elon Musk.”
“Several tech leaders interviewed — some have spent decades in Silicon Valley, others are newcomers to the region — argue San Francisco and the Bay Area more broadly remain a thriving nerve center of talent, institutional knowledge and bountiful venture capital. They say emerging tech hubs — think Nashville, Miami, Austin — can’t really compare.”
“‘It does feel like this really optimistic and exciting moment in time,’ said Angela Hoover, who recently relocated her AI search chatbot company, Andi, from Miami to San Francisco. ‘People are wanting to be in San Francisco, and the folks that are on my team who live here are falling in love with the city.’” READ MORE
How about a Roomba for snow? “Max Minakov hated shoveling snow. He made something of that early: his sixth-grade science project was a remote-controlled snowblower. Now, at 19, he’s making it into a business. Minakov won the student division of the Minnesota Cup for Nivoso, his startup that makes a ‘Roomba for snow.’ It’s an autonomous robot that — you guessed it — clears snow. He’s been tinkering with the business idea since he got his driver’s license at 16, but said the business really took off last year. Nivoso filed a utility patent, made its first minimum viable product and graduated from Beta.MN’s fall accelerator program.”
“After buying a robot from Nivoso, a customer steers it around the driveway or sidewalk with a remote control so it can record coordinates and use an algorithm to fill in those borders.”
“Nivoso is prioritizing its launch of the commercial robots, which are larger and more powerful than the residential counterparts. The company has partnered with three snow-clearing companies and a large nursing home to pilot the tech.”
“Minakov isn’t in a rush to start fundraising. He said he bootstrapped about $25,000 from a serving job during high school, plus got $26,000 from Minnesota Cup. He's fine with running lean for now.” READ MORE
Charisse McGill, 42, founder of the growing French Toast Bites chain: “In 2018, Ms. McGill quit her job as director of special events at Valley Forge Military Academy to open her French Toast Bites food stand at Philadelphia City Hall’s Christmas Village. The fluffy, spice-sprinkled treats became an instant staple of the market, along with Ms. McGill’s sunny personality and infectious energy. She aspired to be ‘the Auntie Anne of French Toast,’ she told The Inquirer that winter. French Toast Bites’ debut was followed up by hundreds of appearances at special events such as the Roots Picnic, Made in America festival, and the Bronx Night Market. Demand soon led Ms. McGill to open permanent seasonal stands at Spruce Street Harbor Park — where she was the site’s first Black and female-owned business — Cherry Street Pier, and Eastern State Penitentiary, and a year-round stand at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. By 2021, she had furthered the success of French Toast Bites with a branded spice mix, beer, and coffee, tapping collaborators along the way.”
“One of French Toast Bites’ employees is Ms. McGill’s own daughter, Madison, 18, who has already evinced her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit, or perhaps inspired it: In the mother-daughter duo’s Today show appearance, Ms. McGill told the story of Madison launching a lemonade stand at the Lansdale Farmers Market at age 12.”
“‘Baby, lemons ain’t local,’ Ms. McGill told Madison, who responded that she’d use local fruits and herbs from the vendors to make a new flavor each week. ‘She made $6,000 in 14 days,’ Ms. McGill told Today with pride. Madison loaned her mom much of that lemonade-stand money to seed Lokal Artisan Food and French Toast Bites later that year.”
“‘Charisse worked tirelessly to create the company, which she has now left to her daughter, who will continue to run it in memory of her mom — with love and support from family, friends, staff, and community,’ said a statement sent by Kory Aversa, Ms. McGill’s publicist and friend, on behalf of Ms. McGill’s family. ... Her cause of death is not yet known, Aversa said.” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST
The Worker Co-Op Solution: In this week’s bonus episode, Cameron Madill takes us on his succession journey, which began years ago when he started having conversations with older business owners, many of whom seemed to feel trapped. They’d had a lot of success, they were proud of the business they’d built, but they weren’t sure what to do with it or how to leave it. None of the usual options seemed terribly appealing. Hoping to write a different ending, Madill, now in his 40s, started looking for better options much earlier than most owners, and the one he landed on was an unusual choice: a worker cooperative. Now, there are aspects of this model that are likely to give some owners pause. For one, a co-op probably isn’t going to produce the biggest payday for a selling owner. And if the owner wants to stick around as CEO, he or she will have to report to a board, and that board can challenge any and all of the owner’s decisions.
But Madill, as he explains in a conversation we recorded late last year, before he stepped down from his role as CEO, decided to sell to his employees anyway. Not only is he glad he did, he thinks co-ops are an option far more owners, especially those struggling to find a buyer, should consider.
You can subscribe to the 21 Hats Podcast wherever you get podcasts.
Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren