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Was the Instant Pot Too Good for Its Own Good?
Let’s not forget that on Amazon Prime Day in 2016, Amazon sold 215,000 Instant Pots in 24 hours—and would have sold more if it had had them.
Here are today’s highlights:
Restaurants are leading early adoption of the four-day workweek.
Younger workers have concluded that job-hopping is a feature, not a bug.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action could have huge ripple effects on the SBA and disadvantaged businesses.
A lawsuit offers a reminder that one difficult customer can inflict serious damage on a business.
We come to praise the Instant Pot: “Remember Amazon Prime Day of 2016—which history will certainly record as Peak Instant Pot if the history of kitchen gizmos is indeed etched into our shared chronicle of civilization—when Amazon sold two hundred and fifteen thousand of them in twenty-four hours, and would have probably sold more, if that number hadn’t represented its available inventory? Remember the Prime Days of 2017 and 2018, which were also dominated by the Instant Pot? That, as they say, was then. Now we are gathered to mourn the Instant Pot.”
“This is not an obituary per se, because, although the device’s parent company, Instant Brands, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Instant Pot is still for sale. Instead, we are bidding farewell to that innocent moment when the Instant Pot seemed like it would finally answer every culinary prayer and make cooking dinner a snap.”
“Introduced in 2010 by a team of engineers in Canada, it had a Veg-o-Matic sort of premise: the squat multitasking vessel could perform as a pressure cooker (fast), a slow cooker (slow), a rice cooker, a steamer, a warmer, an egg cooker, a bottle sterilizer, and a yogurt maker.”
“Business schools may someday make a case study of one of Instant Pot’s vulnerabilities, namely, that it was simply too well made. Once you slapped down your ninety dollars for the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1, you were set for life.”
“It didn’t break, it didn’t wear out, and the company hasn’t introduced major innovations that make you want to level up. As a customer, you were one-and-done, which might make you a happy customer but is hell on profit-and-growth performance metrics.” READ MORE
Restaurants are leading the move to a four-day workweek: “On March 15, 2020, the pandemic forced the chef Dominic Piperno to close Hearthside, his then-two-year-old restaurant in Collingswood, N.J. When he reopened it six months later, industrywide staffing shortages meant he could operate only four days a week. During that period, he noticed what seemed like a better lifestyle for everybody,’ he said. In January, Mr. Piperno added a fifth day of service, but in the return to the 12-hour workdays that are common in the restaurant industry, he worried that he would lose staff members to burnout. So after just one month, he reversed his decision and went back to four days of service, Wednesday through Saturday. ‘That way of life is just not sustainable anymore,’ Mr. Piperno said. ‘Nor should it ever really have been.’”
“While other types of businesses are clamoring to return to pre-pandemic norms, Hearthside is one of an emerging class of restaurants around the country — from New York City to Nashville to Los Angeles — that are paring back their hours to create a more sustainable schedule for their employees and draw wary veteran workers back to the business.” READ MORE
Gene Marks highlights team-building platforms for employees, especially those working remotely: “What can be done to maintain a positive company culture when you employ people who are spread out among geographic areas? While some companies use software to monitor their employees, others have succeeded with a more positive approach: team-building applications. ‘Humans are social animals,’ said Raphael Crawford-Marks, the CEO of Bonusly, a popular team-building and rewards platform that’s used by thousands of workers around the world. ‘We build trust and rapport much more easily when we are having in-person interactions with our colleagues and companies allowing their employees to work from home are looking for ways to keep those interactions and maintain relationships.’”
“Bonus.ly and other rewards and team-building platforms like Awardco, Worktango and Motivosity aim to help solve that problem. These applications are being used by a growing number of companies to improve employee happiness and engagement, help to boost collaboration, and to provide awards to employees for a job well done, regardless of where they’re located.”
“While each application has its own specific features, the approach is generally the same: Using a mobile app or a desktop browser, a manager or fellow employee can award points to their colleagues as recognition for achieving certain goals or to highlight good effort. The points accumulate over a period of time and can then be cashed in for actual rewards like gift cards, donations to charities, company ‘swag’ or straight cash.”
“There are some drawbacks, however. Some organizations may not like the ‘competitiveness’ that the software creates; others may bristle at getting a reward for what is considered to be just part of their normal job responsibilities. And there are always people who prefer not to be in the spotlight.”
“Like any benefit, there is an added cost to the employer as well. In addition to the software’s monthly fee (Bonusly costs anywhere from $3-$5 per month per employee with custom pricing available) an employer would have to fund the purchase of gift cards or other awards and cash payments.” READ MORE
Younger workers see no shame in job-hopping: “Pranav Ravikumar has held three jobs since college, and he’s only 24. One month after graduating in December 2020, he cycled through two rotations of a management training program at the pharmaceutical company Abbott. Mr. Ravikumar became an e-commerce analyst, but he wanted the kind of faster-paced work found at consulting firms and start-ups. The job at Abbott also required him to move to Columbus, Ohio, far from family and friends in Washington, D.C.”
“In October 2021, Mr. Ravikumar left Abbott for a remote job with Dragonfly, a start-up that acquires and develops small e-commerce businesses, and moved back to Washington. A few months in, he spoke to his manager about becoming more involved with strategy, but nothing changed. So a year later, Mr. Ravikumar began job hunting. This February, he started a job in product marketing at Alma, a membership network that helps mental health care providers build their practices.”
“For Mr. Ravikumar, this kind of rapid job hopping has been a positive experience. ‘I’ve almost doubled what my starting salary was at Abbott, and that’s important to me,’ he said. ‘I really wanted the flexibility of remote work, and I’d be hard-pressed now to give that up. And I’ve gotten a lot of professional experience across industries super quickly.”
“Seventy-four percent of 18- to 26-year-olds and 62 percent of 27- to 42-year-olds were searching for a new job or planned to search in the next six months, according to a survey of U.S. employees conducted in May by Robert Half, a human resources consultancy.
“Dawn Fay, operational president for talent solutions and business consulting at Robert Half, said in an email that the survey also asked hiring managers their top concerns when evaluating a candidate’s résumé: 77 percent named job hopping.” READ MORE
Perhaps concerned about looming antitrust litigation, Amazon is dumping its in-house brands: “The Seattle-based company in the past year has decided to eliminate 27 of its 30 clothing brands, such as Lark & Ro, Daily Ritual, and Goodthreads, according to people familiar with the matter. Some of the brands remain on Amazon’s site for now as the company sells off remaining inventory, but when completed its house-label clothing division will have just three brands: Amazon Essentials, Amazon Collection, and Amazon Aware. Amazon also is dropping private-label furniture brands, phasing out Rivet and Stone & Beam once its stock of those items is gone, some of the people said.”
“Exact numbers for brands being cut in other parts of the business couldn’t be learned, but Amazon Basics, which sells a range of home goods and tech accessories, will remain a focus for the company.”
“After years of trying to build the private-label business, Amazon began scaling it back last year following disappointing sales and criticism from lawmakers and others who said it could conflict with the company’s business selling other brands. The company also cut back on giving its private-label products a boost on search results pages in special placements.”
“Amazon’s private-label business had 243,000 products across 45 different house brands as of a company disclosure in 2020.” READ MORE
A teenager turned away by a bar in one of Manhattan’s fanciest hotels set out for revenge: “The trouble began in August 2021, according to the claims in an unusual lawsuit filed in July, when Theodore Weintraub was 17 and attempted something of an American rite of passage: buying alcohol with a fake ID. He tried, and failed, many times. But instead of going into a bodega or Midtown dive bar, he repeatedly chose the bar in one of Manhattan’s most exclusive hotels, attached to a restaurant run by the celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where a cheeseburger with fries costs $60.”
“Mr. Weintraub and another man, referred to as John Doe in the legal filings, became fixtures outside the hotel, the suit contends, chanting and holding protest signs saying ‘The Mark Denies the Holocaust,’ ‘The Mark Spreads Disease,’ and ‘The Mark Supports Epstein,’ in reference to Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender.”
“According to the lawsuit, first reported by Patch.com, they physically accosted hotel guests until, finally, a video shows, a sidewalk brawl erupted in July between the protesters and fans of the rap star Drake, who was staying at the hotel.” READ MORE
The Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action decision may put billions of dollars of federal contracts at risk: “In 2022, the federal government awarded roughly $169.2 billion in contracts to small businesses, with nearly $70 billion going specifically to small disadvantaged businesses, owned by someone who has ‘been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities.’ Experts say those sorts of government set-asides might not pass muster with a conservative Supreme Court. That includes the SBA’s 8(a) business-development program, to which the federal government directs at least 5 percent of its contract spending each year.”
“‘The 8(a) program, which has been challenged more than once, is probably going to be challenged,’ said Tenley Carp, a government-contracting attorney and partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP. ‘It all depends on how disadvantaged persons is defined. But in the regulations, one could argue it's based on race.’”
“The SBA has already lost a court challenge on the basis of race — a lawsuit against a prominent Covid-era small-business rescue program known as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The $28.6 billion grant program first opened its application process to underserved, economically disadvantaged business owners, then to all owners.
“In June of 2021, several lawsuits challenged that priority application period, and rulings by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas and elsewhere forced the SBA to freeze pending payments to 2,965 priority applicants.” READ MORE
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL LIFE
Jean Chatzky has some questions for 21 Hats business owners: This year, 21 Hats is working with personal finance expert Jean Chatzky on anonymized research dedicated to understanding how “financially well” you feel. What does "financially well" mean? It’s basically a measure of how stressed (or not stressed) you feel about money. But it touches a lot of areas — your savings, debt, plans for the future, how you’re tracking to get there, and more. In an effort to better understand the experience of building and running a business, we’d be honored if you would take 10 or so minutes to answer questions that will give us a better sense of your financial wants and needs. If you’d like to be considered for a chance to win a prize (a spa day for two, anyone?), enter your email at the end of the survey. But please know that your responses will be kept strictly confidential and will only be considered in the aggregate. TAKE THE SURVEY
The investing mania over artificial intelligence is triggering flashbacks to the dot-com bubble: “The dot-com bubble taught investors to be wary of stock-market rallies powered by a technological boom—that is, until generative artificial intelligence sent tech stocks soaring this year. Shares of Nvidia, the graphics-chip maker at the heart of the frenzy, have nearly tripled in 2023, while the Nasdaq 100 has climbed 38 percent and the S&P 500 has gained 16 percent. For some investors, the surge in Nvidia—now the fifth-largest U.S. company by market value—is difficult to chalk up to anything but speculative mania. Its weighting in the benchmark stock indexes means everyday investors are at the whims of its trajectory, whether they believe in AI’s potential or not.”
“Nvidia is the primary producer of semiconductors backing artificial-intelligence systems. The company forecast a record $11 billion in sales for the recently ended quarter when it reported results in May, catching analysts off guard with the projected surge in customer demand.”
“The hype has driven companies such as Meta Platforms and Amazon.com that have been building out AI capabilities, he said. Shares of the tech giants are up 154 percent and 65 percent in 2023, respectively. Microsoft, which has climbed 35 percent, has poured billions of dollars into OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a chatbot that can answer difficult questions in seconds.”
“The 10 biggest stocks in the S&P 500 now comprise more than a third of the market, according to Dow Jones Market Data. They represented 27 percent of the index at the start of the year and less than a quarter in 2000.” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST
Can I Go Dig a Hole? This week, in episode 163, Liz Picarazzi, Jennifer Kerhin, and Sarah Segal talk about whether they ever wish they could go back to their corporate lives. For Liz, there was a period during the early days of Covid. For Jennifer, it was when she made the transition from a consulting business to an employee business. These days, none of them can imagine going back—although Sarah did have a rough week recently when she lost two clients. “It's just the way of the world,” she tells us. “When businesses are looking to cut costs, it’s outside agencies that go first. But when it's two of your largest clients in the span of a week, it's like, ‘Really? Can I go dig a hole, put myself in it, and just stay there forever?’”
What she’s actually doing, as we discuss, is figuring out some new ways to attract more clients. We also discuss whether everyone needs a business plan and whether the three owners ever wonder if someone else would do a better job running their businesses.
“‘When I actually put down a business plan in writing, I was able to say, No, to potential or current clients when they asked me for services that I didn't think were in my wheelhouse. Because before, when I was just sort of trying to make it through, sometimes I accepted work that I shouldn't have.’”
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Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren