‘You Feel Like You’re the Police’

For retail businesses confronting the Delta variant, there are no easy answers.

Good morning!

Here are today’s highlights:

  • Businesses can now say on Yelp whether they require vaccines of customers and employees.

  • Startups are trying to rebrand life insurance so Millennials will buy it.

  • Should you sue an employee who leaves a bad review on Glassdoor?

STARTUPS

The pandemic has driven some co-founders to couples therapy: “Before they were co-founders, Kris Chaisanguanthum and Ryan Damm were friends. Then in 2016 they started Visby, a holographic imaging company. ‘You talk about getting into business with somebody that you get along with, but there’s nothing that you do with your friends that is as intense as starting a company,’ says Chaisanguanthum. ‘It’s in many ways like having a child.’ Chaisanguanthum, who already had a child, was not prepared for the commitment he’d made. He and Damm had trouble navigating decisions when they disagreed. After a difficult day, Damm liked to commiserate; Chaisanguanthum preferred to be left alone. After a few years, the hurt feelings had compounded to make their working relationship untenable.”

  • “Chaisanguanthum remembered an article he’d read about cofounders going to therapy, like troubled couples. ‘I remember thinking, that’s the most Silicon Valley thing ever,’ he says. But what did they have to lose? The two booked an appointment.”

  • “Laura Kasper, a psychologist in San Francisco, noticed a significant uptick in co-founder clients during the pandemic, when external stressors made startup life even more intense. ‘The majority were in crisis,’ she says.”

  • “Power struggles, one of the most common problems among founding teams, were exacerbated by an onslaught of new business decisions, like whether to pivot.” READ MORE

Startups are trying to rebrand life insurance so Millennials will buy it: “Life-insurance companies in the U.S. and U.K. are waking up to the fact that they have a young-people problem. The share of Americans covered by life insurance slid from 63 percent in 2011 to 52 percent in 2021, according to the Life Office Management Association, an industry research group. That has occurred across all age categories, but it is most pronounced among people under 40. The stakes are high, given that, like health insurance, young people tend to subsidize everyone else in the system.”

  • “To stay relevant, a new crop of start-ups, boasting names like YuLife, DeadHappy, Lemonade, Bestow, and Dayforward, are borrowing tactics from plant start-ups, game-development studios, and ride-sharing companies.”

  • “Life insurance 2.0 is a slicker, Millennial-friendly product bursting with brightly colored websites and conversational ad copy that wants you to know that this company isn’t like those other life insurers. But rebranding an industry that the average person tends not to think much about has its challenges.”

  • “What these insurgents don’t seem to want to consider is that maybe the problem isn’t branding but life insurance itself.” READ MORE

THE COVID ECONOMY

Businesses on Yelp can now list whether they require vaccines of customers and employees: “Yelp is rolling out a new set of labels that allow businesses on the platform to specify if they require proof from customers that they are vaccinated and whether their own staff is fully vaccinated. For now, these optional ‘Proof of vaccination required’ and ‘All staff fully vaccinated’ attributes appear to only be available for select businesses, including those operating in the nightlife, restaurant, and food industries.”

  • Yelp is also proactively monitoring the listing of businesses who opt-in to one or both of these new attributes.”

  • “In other words, if your negative Yelp review is about the business’s efforts to help stop the spread of the pandemic and keep everyone safe, expect it to be removed from the business’s listing. Keep doing it, and you can expect to be removed from Yelp, too.”  READ MORE

For businesses, enforcing covid restrictions can feel like police work: “Andy Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of The Salty Donut with five locations in Florida and Texas, will make a call in the next week about whether and how to ask customers to mask up again. ‘We're deciding what to do,’ Rodriguez said, noting that he's waiting either for local authorities to issue their own guidance, or in the absence of that, at least see what other big businesses in the area will do so it won't feel like The Salty Donut is the first out of the gate to make a big change. ‘People got used to walking in without a mask. So you run the risk of making them do something they don't want to do. You feel like you're the police,’ Rodriguez said.”

  • “Claudia Banks is co-owner of a face-painting and entertainment supplies and events company called Silly Farm in South Florida.”

  • “Banks worries though that most businesses in her area aren't taking the latest surge seriously, noting that in a recent visit to Delray Beach, the place was packed and no one was wearing masks, not even waiters in the restaurants.”

  • “‘We live in Florida where nobody cares,’ Banks said.” READ MORE

Corporate America is split on whether to incentivize or mandate vaccines: “Both strategies come with risks for employers, their workers and their customers, and both could shape the course of the pandemic. More than a third of American adults have not gotten vaccinated, according to the latest U.S. data. Firms using a lighter touch risk workplace outbreaks. Those mandating shots risk losing workers in a tight job market. ... Some companies want to reassure the public it is still safe to shop in their stores or visit their theme parks. Others want to prevent worker illnesses or absences from crippling their operations again. Still others want to end remote work and get staff back into offices.”

  • “The move to mandate vaccines has happened fast. As recently as early last month, 15 percent of the roughly 150 employers that responded to a survey commissioned by law firm Blank Rome LLP said they would require vaccines, a figure that was about the same from the firm’s February survey.”

  • “‘Everyone was trying initially to just respect everyone’s perspective around what they want to do [on vaccines], but we know that if we do that we could create a pretty serious situation,’ said Francine Katsoudas, chief people officer at Cisco Systems. READ MORE

Vanguard will pay vaccinated workers $1,000: “Vanguard Group is offering $1,000 to employees who get vaccinated by October, according to a person familiar with the matter. The asset manager is extending the payments to all workers who can prove they’ve gotten a Covid-19 vaccine, even if they were inoculated before the firm extended the offer. A Vanguard spokeswoman confirmed the company is offering an incentive. ‘We are offering a vaccine incentive for crew who provide Covid-19 vaccination proof,’ she said in an emailed statement, adding that the company rewards employees ‘who have taken the time to protect themselves, each other, and our communities by being vaccinated.’”

  • “The program follows Vanguard’s decision to move to a hybrid model earlier this year, allowing most staff to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays.” READ MORE

The New York Auto Show has been canceled: “The New York International Auto Show, which had been scheduled to open to the public in just two weeks, has been canceled due to concerns about the Covid-19 Delta variant and the steps being taken to prevent it. The show was first canceled in the spring of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and this year's event had already been scheduled for later in the year than usual. One of the biggest in the country — as well as the oldest — the New York Auto Show normally takes place in April. This year, it was slated to run from August 20 to 29.” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

Should you sue an employee who leaves a bad review on Glassdoor? “A software engineer who was fired from the fintech startup LoanStreet has been hit with a million-dollar lawsuit over his posts criticizing the company on Glassdoor, Reddit, and the anonymous online forum Blind. Wyatt Troia, who now says he works for Microsoft, began bashing LoanStreet online while he still worked there in 2020, the company's lawsuit against him says. ‘The founders are not skilled nor experienced leaders, with a bias towards pettiness and cowardice,’ Troia wrote on Glassdoor in April 2020. He was fired shortly thereafter, the lawsuit says.”

  • “The company and its CEO, Ian Lampl, sued Troia on July 19, calling his many online allegations false and ‘malicious.’ They also accused Troia of buying Google Ads that draw attention to his negative reviews for anyone who searches for ‘LoanStreet.’”

  • “LoanStreet has called the posts an ‘unabashed online smear campaign.’ Troia's posts ‘threaten to destroy the livelihoods of LoanStreet's over-50 employees,’ the lawsuit says.” READ MORE

MANAGEMENT

A “rock-star” butcher has to shutter after removing Black Lives Matter signs: “The first sign of trouble for Fleisher’s came on July 22. That’s the day Rob Rosania, a leading investor in the Brooklyn-based craft butcher, received a text from a friend in Westport, Connecticut who was offended by symbols supporting Black Lives Matter in the company’s local shop window. Rosania, a real estate developer known for gentrifying urban areas across the county, called CEO John Adams and ordered them removed. Adams, the company’s fourth leader in as many years and just two months into the job, took the train from New York to the company’s outlet in Westport to remove the signs, in addition to ones displaying support of LGBTQ pride, and then returned to do the same at one of its two New York City locations.”

  • “[Ajani] Thompson walked out along with some three dozen workers, forcing the company to close the doors at all of its outlets, as the nation’s worker shortage makes it difficult — if not impossible — for many businesses to fill positions.”

  • “Adams put the signs back up within 24 hours and messaged employees with photos to prove it, and Rosania also apologized in a letter to staff.”

  • “Thousand-dollar dinners aside, the business, which has estimated revenue of between $5 million and $10 million, is unprofitable ...” READ MORE

RETAIL

The star-crossed American Dream will open its luxury retail wing in September: “American Dream, the most expensive U.S. mall ever built at around $6 billion, lies across the Hudson River from Manhattan in East Rutherford, N.J. Nearly two decades in the making, the project formerly known as Xanadu became an eyesore as construction stalled and it cycled through a number of owners. The complex opened in the fall of 2019 as the first mall in the U.S. to devote more space to entertainment, restaurants and theme-park rides than to traditional retail. Its nearly 90-acre site includes a 16-story indoor ski hill, a roller coaster, and a water park with a steep slide that rises 14 stories high.”

  • “Now, more than 150 of the mall’s retailers are open and some 70 stores are under construction. A representative for American Dream said the mall will be more than 85 percent leased by year-end, edging closer to the 90 percent or higher occupancy levels found at the top-performing U.S. malls.”

  • “It will boast many of the world’s premier luxury brands, including Hermès, Tiffany & Co., Dolce & Gabbana, and a Saks Fifth Avenue department store.” READ MORE

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 71: I Had Two Great Candidates. They Both Blew Up: This week, we delve into some specific hiring situations, including Jay Goltz telling Diana Lee and Dana White that he thought he had two terrific candidates to replace his retiring chief financial officer. And then, after conversations with each of them, Jay had no candidates, which led us to some interesting questions: Has there been a more challenging time to hire for cultural fit? How risky is it for a smaller business to hire a candidate accustomed to working at larger businesses? And what does hiring intentionally for diversity mean when your staff is almost entirely African American?

If you see a story that business owners should know about, hit reply and send me the link. If you got something out of this email, you can click the heart symbol, you can click the comment icon below, and you can share it with a friend. Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren