The Sweaty Startup Movement

Today’s Highlights: The economy picked up in January. Zoom has a slew of new competitors. And are we ignoring a burnout crisis?

STARTUPS

There’s a growing movement of down-and-dirty, anti-Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: “This is a decidedly unpolished, unglamorous approach to startup culture that [Nick] Huber, who owns a self-storage company, evangelizes. As Silicon Valley-size fantasies have punctured the imaginations of culture at large over the past decade, his message is practically heresy. Huber suggests entrepreneurs choose a dramatically different, but perhaps more lucrative, path: low-risk, uncompetitive businesses, rather than passionate, world-changing ideas. He’s coined his approach ‘The Sweaty Startup’ — now a podcast, a blog, an online course, and potentially a book — which gives it a ring of one of the many commercial philosophies of entrepreneurialism pedaled over the decades.”

  • “‘The Sweaty Startup’ ... is all about achievability: Create a service business. Do it better than competitors. Make a couple hundred thousand a year, work 40 hours a week or so, and leave plenty of time for family, friends, and hobbies.”

  • “His list of money-making ‘Businesses I Love’ includes plumbing, firewood delivery, and maid services, while ‘Businesses I Hate’ includes everything most entrepreneurs dream of: app development, bakeries, apparel.”

  • “His point: there’s too much competition for the fun stuff — so go for the scut work. ‘People don’t want to hear this stuff,’ Huber says.” READ MORE

OPPORTUNITIES

A new crop of startups is trying to fix virtual meetings: “Gather.town is one of several virtual-meeting start-ups that have emerged as a result of the pandemic, spurred by consumer demand from those stuck at home and fueled by venture capitalists eager to capture a slice of the videoconferencing market currently dominated by the likes of Zoom and Google Meet. Some, including Gather.town and competitors like Kumospace and Pluto, are incorporating spatial dynamics — users move around and interact with one another on virtual maps — and are primarily used for office happy hours or hanging out with friends. Others, like Hopin and Run the World, whose origins predate the pandemic, are focusing on corporate and academic conferences.”

  • “Each event starts at a Hopin profile page. The ‘enter’ button takes you to the virtual-conference home page.”

  • “On the right side, there’s a running group chat. On the left, there’s the banner for the conference and a list of all the live speaker sessions.”

  • “You can also search through a comprehensive list of the conference attendees and invite any of them into an individual video chat.” READ MORE

The pandemic set off a boom in online shopping: “Now a crop of start-ups is focused on making e-commerce more sustainable by reimagining the disposable box, delivery conventions and mailing schedules. One such service, Olive, being rolled out Wednesday by Jet.com co-founder Nathan Faust, is partnering with more than 100 major retailers, including Anthropologie, Paige, Ray-Ban and Ugg, to consolidate home deliveries in reusable tote bags that are dropped off once a week. Other newcomers, meanwhile, offer reusable plastic mailing boxes, compostable packaging and algae-ink shipping labels.”

  • “Boox, started six months ago by restaurateur-turned-entrepreneur Matthew Semmelhack, sells its reusable plastic mailing boxes to more than 30 specialty retailers, including Ren Skincare, Boyish Jeans and Curio Spice Co.”

  • “Each box can be reused about a dozen times, he said. Once returned, they’re quarantined for a week then cleaned using organic soap and water before being redeployed for more deliveries.”

  • “Customers can return or exchange their products in the same box, or they can flatten it into an envelope and return it by mail to Boox for reuse.” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

A Brooklyn restaurant has fired a waitress for refusing vaccination: “Over the weekend, the restaurant, the Red Hook Tavern, required that its employees get vaccinated and then terminated the waitress, Bonnie Jacobson, when she asked for time to study the vaccine’s possible effects on fertility. ‘I totally support the vaccine,’ Ms. Jacobson, 34, said in an interview on Wednesday. She added: ‘If it wasn’t for this one thing, I would probably get it.’ The restaurant’s owner would not comment on Ms. Jacobson’s case specifically, but he said the business’s policies had been revised to make it clearer to employees how they could seek an exemption from getting vaccinated.”

  • “The dispute highlights the challenges that employers across the United States are confronting as they try to figure out how to ensure that their workers are vaccinated, including whether to make it mandatory or perhaps even offer incentives for doing it.”

  • “In New York, restaurant employees are among the first workers outside the healthcare industry to be eligible for the vaccines.” READ MORE

Are we ignoring a burnout crisis? “I’ve studied burnout and worked with organizations to address it for years, but nothing would inform my understanding of the topic more than living through 2020. For some time I’d been sounding the alarm: ‘Burnout is getting worse. People are sick!’ Then we were all suddenly thrust into unknown territory: By April 2.6 billion people had gone into lockdown, and places of employment for 81 percent of the global workforce were fully or partially closed. A huge percentage of knowledge workers began doing their jobs from home — many collaborating on Zoom, whose daily active users skyrocketed from 10 million to 200 million. This sudden shift did what little else had been able to accomplish before: expose how thinly stretched and worn down we all were — and had been for a while. And it also made our burnout much, much worse.”

  • “Millennials have the highest levels of burnout, we found. Much of this is due to having less autonomy at work, lower seniority, and greater financial stressors and feelings of loneliness.”

  • “‘There’s no respite from work,’ shared one woman in our survey. ‘I work 9 to 9 almost every day. My husband is working in the office, and I’m working from the kitchen counter, with the baby in the living room. I don’t get time to focus on anything.’” READ MORE

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THE COVID ECONOMY

Retail sales rose strongly in January: “The U.S. economy’s recovery picked up as consumers used stimulus checks to boost retail spending in January to its largest increase in seven months, a significant jump that comes as manufacturers continued to increase output and employers resumed hiring. The latest positive signs came on Wednesday when the government said retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, jumped a seasonally adjusted 5.3 percent in January from a month earlier, and manufacturing output neared pre-pandemic levels.”

  • “The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow model on Wednesday predicted the economy will grow at a 9.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter, up sharply from a 4.5 percent estimate a week ago.” READ MORE

But millions of lost jobs just are not coming back: “The coronavirus pandemic has triggered permanent shifts in how and where people work. Businesses are planning for a future where more people are working from home, traveling less for business, or replacing workers with robots. All of these modifications mean many workers will not be able to do the same job they did before the pandemic, even after much of the U.S. population gets vaccinated against the deadly virus.”

  • “In a report coming out later this week that was previewed to The Washington Post, the McKinsey Global Institute says that 20 percent of business travel won’t come back and about 20 percent of workers could end up working from home indefinitely.”

  • “These shifts mean fewer jobs at hotels, restaurants and downtown shops, in addition to ongoing automation of office support roles and some factory jobs.” READ MORE

Europe, meanwhile, locked its economy in place. Will it unlock? “Trillions in state-backed subsidies and inexpensive loans have kept businesses alive, while governments pay millions of furloughed workers to stay home. In much of Europe, layoffs or forced bankruptcies are banned. In pursuing such policies, European leaders have bet that, once the pandemic subsides, they can defrost the region’s $18 trillion economy, allowing businesses to fire up quickly and bring back workers. It’s an intentional effort to slow an economic deep clean, dubbed by many economists creative destruction. This reflects a political choice: Europeans are generally less tolerant of the brutal adjustments required by the U.S. model of capitalism.”

  • “But as the pandemic drags on and Europe’s vaccine rollout is expected to stretch through the year and beyond, some policy makers, economists and business executives worry that mothballing the economy for so long will leave it struggling to adapt to the seismic business and social changes the crisis is driving.”

  • “The contrasting policy responses feed a question likely to be debated for years: Which economic model better withstands the maelstrom unleashed by the pandemic?”

  • “The U.S. approach ‘is more brutal but also more flexible,’ said Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University.” READ MORE

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FAILURE

The Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino was destroyed on Wednesday: “The implosion of what was once the premier gaming destination in Atlantic City came less than a month after its best-known former owner, Donald J. Trump, left the White House after losing re-election ... Trump Plaza was the first of three casinos Mr. Trump owned before his gambling businesses in Atlantic City cratered and went bankrupt for good, leaving a trail of unpaid contractors and suppliers — and a bad taste for the Trump brand in this struggling city of 38,000.”

  • Front-row seats to view Wednesday morning’s spectacle were sold on the cheap. Onlookers in cars hoping to witness the symbolic finale of the former president’s casino empire in the seaside resort city were charged $10 and herded into a lot most recently used as a pandemic-era food distribution site.”

  • “‘It’s an end of a not-so-great era,’ said Jennifer Owen, 50, who bid $575 to win a front-row seat at a V.I.P. breakfast in an oceanfront pavilion with a direct view of the implosion.” READ MORE

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Episode 49: How Do We Get Out of This Cage? This week, Karen Clark Cole, William Vanderbloemen, and Laura Zander cover a lot of ground: What do you do when the to-do list seems endless? What do you do when employees decide they want to work remotely from random parts of the country? And Laura confronts several big, interrelated issues. Her co-founder and husband, Doug, is ready to step back from the business. That’s a little tricky because the company operates off a 19-year-old platform that Doug built, and only he knows how to make it work. They’ve been trying to hire tech people for Doug to train, but they’ve been through 15 people in 10 years—and they know they’re doing something wrong. Do they need to hire a recruiter? Is it time to junk the legacy platform and go with Shopify? If they do that, will they forfeit 19 years of SEO value? All of which has left Laura feeling trapped. “That’s this cage that we’re in,” she says. “What the hell do you do?”

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