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He Has 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer and Nowhere to Sell Them

 An Amazon merchant, Matt Colvin, with an overflow stock of cleaning and sanitizing supplies in his garage in Hixson, Tenn.
Credit…Doug Strickland for The New York Times

He Has 17,700 Bottles of Hand Sanitizer and Nowhere to Sell Them

Amazon cracked down on coronavirus price gouging. Now, while the rest of the world searches, some sellers are holding stockpiles of sanitizer and masks.

An Amazon merchant, Matt Colvin, with an overflow stock of cleaning and sanitizing supplies in his garage in Hixson, Tenn.Credit…Doug Strickland for The New York Times

On March 1, the day after the first coronavirus death in the United States was announced, brothers Matt and Noah Colvin set out in a silver S.U.V. to pick up some hand sanitizer. Driving around Chattanooga, Tenn., they hit a Dollar Tree, then a Walmart, a Staples and a Home Depot. At each store, they cleaned out the shelves.

Over the next three days, Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods,” his brother said. “The major metro areas were cleaned out.”

Matt Colvin stayed home near Chattanooga, preparing for pallets of even more wipes and sanitizer he had ordered, and starting to list them on Amazon. Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each, multiples higher than what he had bought them for. To him, “it was crazy money.” To many others, it was profiteering from a pandemic.

The next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.

Now, while millions of people across the country search in vain for hand sanitizer to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Colvin is sitting on 17,700 bottles of the stuff with little idea where to sell them.

“It’s been a huge amount of whiplash,” he said. “From being in a situation where what I’ve got coming and going could potentially put my family in a really good place financially to ‘What the heck am I going to do with all of this?’”

Mr. Colvin is one of probably thousands of sellers who have amassed stockpiles of hand sanitizer and crucial respirator masks that many hospitals are now rationing, according to interviews with eight Amazon sellers and posts in private Facebook and Telegram groups from dozens more. Amazon said it had recently removed hundreds of thousands of listings and suspended thousands of sellers’ accounts for price gouging related to the coronavirus.

Amazon, eBay, Walmart and other online-commerce platforms are trying to stop their sellers from making excessive profits from a public health crisis. While the companies aimed to discourage people from hoarding such products and jacking up their prices, many sellers had already cleared out their local stores and started selling the goods online.

Now both the physical and digital shelves are nearly empty.

Mikeala Kozlowski, a nurse in Dudley, Mass., has been searching for hand sanitizer since before she gave birth to her first child, Nora, on March 5. When she searched stores, which were sold out, she skipped getting gas to avoid handling the pump. And when she checked Amazon, she couldn’t find it for less than $50.

Get an informed guide to the global outbreak with our daily coronavirus newsletter.

“You’re being selfish, hoarding resources for your own personal gain,” she said of the sellers.

Sites like Amazon and eBay have given rise to a growing industry of independent sellers who snatch up discounted or hard-to-find items in stores to post online and sell around the world.

These sellers call it retail arbitrage, a 21st-century career that has adults buying up everything from limited-run cereals to Fingerling Monkeys, a once hot toy. The bargain hunters look for anything they can sell at a sharp markup. In recent weeks, they found perhaps their biggest opportunity: a pandemic.

As they watched the list of Amazon’s most popular searches crowd with terms like “Purell,” “N95 mask” and “Clorox wipes,” sellers said, they did what they had learned to do: Suck up supply and sell it for what the market would bear.

Initially, the strategy worked. For several weeks, prices soared for some of the top results to searches for sanitizer, masks and wipes on Amazon, according to a New York Times analysis of historical prices from Jungle Scout, which tracks data for Amazon sellers. The data shows that both Amazon and third-party sellers like Mr. Colvin increased their prices, which then mostly dropped when Amazon took action against price gouging this month.

Then the companies, pressured by growing criticism from regulators and customers, cracked down. After the measures last week, Amazon went further on Wednesday, restricting sales of any coronavirus-related products from certain sellers.

“Price gouging is a clear violation of our policies, unethical, and in some areas, illegal,” Amazon said in a statement. “In addition to terminating these third party accounts, we welcome the opportunity to work directly with states attorneys general to prosecute bad actors.”

Mr. Colvin, 36, a former Air Force technical sergeant, said he started selling on Amazon in 2015, developing it into a six-figure career by selling Nike shoes and pet toys, and by following trends.

In early February, as headlines announced the coronavirus’s spread in China, Mr. Colvin spotted a chance to capitalize. A nearby liquidation firm was selling 2,000 “pandemic packs,” leftovers from a defunct company. Each came with 50 face masks, four small bottles of hand sanitizer and a thermometer. The price was $5 a pack. Mr. Colvin haggled it to $3.50 and bought them all.

Hand sanitizer that Mr. Colvin is keeping in a storage locker.
Credit…Doug Strickland for The New York Times

He quickly sold all 2,000 of the 50-packs of masks on eBay, pricing them from $40 to $50 each, and sometimes higher. He declined to disclose his profit on the record but said it was substantial.

The success stoked his appetite. When he saw the panicked public starting to pounce on sanitizer and wipes, he and his brother set out to stock up.

Elsewhere in the country, other Amazon sellers were doing the same.

Chris Anderson, an Amazon seller in central Pennsylvania, said he and a friend had driven around Ohio, buying about 10,000 masks from stores. He used coupons to buy packs of 10 for around $15 each and resold them for $40 to $50. After Amazon’s cut and other costs, he estimates, he made a $25,000 profit.

Mr. Anderson is now holding 500 packs of antibacterial wipes after Amazon blocked him from selling them for $19 each, up from $16 weeks earlier. He bought the packs for $3 each.

Eric, a truck driver from Ohio who spoke on the condition that his surname not be published because he feared Amazon would retaliate, said he had also collected about 10,000 masks at stores. He bought each 10-pack for about $20 and sold most for roughly $80 each, though some he priced at $125.

“Even at $125 a box, they were selling almost instantly,” he said. “It was mind-blowing as far as what you could charge.” He estimates he made $35,000 to $40,000 in profit.

Now he has 1,000 more masks on order, but he’s not sure what to do with them. He said Amazon had been vague about what constituted price gouging, scaring away sellers who don’t want to risk losing their ability to sell on its site.

To regulators and many others, the sellers are sitting on a stockpile of medical supplies during a pandemic. The attorney general’s offices in California, Washington and New York are all investigating price gouging related to the coronavirus. California’s price-gouging law bars sellers from increasing prices by more than 10 percent after officials declare an emergency. New York’s law prohibits sellers from charging an “unconscionably excessive price” during emergencies.

An official at the Washington attorney general’s office said the agency believed it could apply the state’s consumer-protection law to sue platforms or sellers, even if they aren’t in Washington, as long as they were trying to sell to Washington residents.

 
 

Mr. Colvin does not believe he was price gouging. While he charged $20 on Amazon for two bottles of Purell that retail for $1 each, he said people forget that his price includes his labor, Amazon’s fees and about $10 in shipping. (Alcohol-based sanitizer is pricey to ship because officials consider it a hazardous material.)

Current price-gouging laws “are not built for today’s day and age,” Mr. Colvin said. “They’re built for Billy Bob’s gas station doubling the amount he charges for gas during a hurricane.”

He added, “Just because it cost me $2 in the store doesn’t mean it’s not going to cost me $16 to get it to your door.”

But what about the morality of hoarding products that can prevent the spread of the virus, just to turn a profit?

Mr. Colvin said he was simply fixing “inefficiencies in the marketplace.” Some areas of the country need these products more than others, and he’s helping send the supply toward the demand.

“There’s a crushing overwhelming demand in certain cities right now,” he said. “The Dollar General in the middle of nowhere outside of Lexington, Ky., doesn’t have that.”

 

He thought about it more. “I honestly feel like it’s a public service,” he added. “I’m being paid for my public service.”

As for his stockpile, Mr. Colvin said he would now probably try to sell it locally. “If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine,” he said. “But I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”

After The Times published this article on Saturday morning, Mr. Colvin said he was exploring ways to donate all the supplies.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Answers to your most common questions:

    Updated March 13, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to lung lesions and pneumonia.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can travel through the air, enveloped in tiny respiratory droplets that are produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 142,100 in at least 113 countries and more than 5,300 have died. The spread has slowed in China but is gaining speed in Europe and the United States. World Health Organization officials said the outbreak qualifies as a pandemic.
    • What symptoms should I look out for?
      Symptoms, which can take between two to 14 days to appear, include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, but people may be able to pass on the virus even before they develop symptoms.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The State Department has issued a global Level 3 health advisory telling United States citizens to “reconsider travel” to all countries because of the worldwide effects of the coronavirus. This is the department’s second-highest advisory.
    • How long will it take to develop a treatment or vaccine?
      Several drugs are being tested, and some initial findings are expected soon. A vaccine to stop the spread is still at least a year away.

 

Startups Weekly: What the E-Trade deal says about Robinhood

[Editor’s note: Want to get this weekly review of news that startups can use by email? Just subscribe here.] 

How well do Robinhood’s financials stack up against incumbent online brokerages? While we wait for the seven-year-old company’s long-planned IPO, Alex Wilhelm examined Morgan Stanley’s big $13 billion purchase of E-Trade for fresh data comparison points. Robinhood has 10 million accounts — twice what E-Trade has — but it also appears to make much less money per user and has far fewer assets under management, as he covered for Extra Crunch. So while its fee-free approach has destroyed a key revenue stream for competitors, it still has to grow its own “order-flow” business into its private-market valuation.

One solution is to make the platform stickier via social features. On the same day as the E-Trade deal announcement, Robinhood launched a new Profiles feature to encourage users to share stock tips. Josh Constine explored the offering and where it is headed on TechCrunch, concluding that “Profiles and lists, and then eventually more social features, could get Robinhood’s users trading more so there’s more order flow to sell and more reason for them to buy subscriptions.”

Alex also took a look at a new report on fintech funding, which found last year was a peak overall — but skewed towards later-stage companies. Certainly, the wealth management segment is looking mature.

But the category is massive, with many more incumbents left to disrupt. What are fintech investors looking for? Check out our popular investor survey on this topic from November.

How your startup can use TikTok for growth

You know that TikTok is where the cool kids are these days, but maybe… how do I say… it is not the social media platform you know best when it comes to growth. So Geneviève Patterson and Hannah Donovan, founders of TikTok-oriented video editing app TRASH, have published a two-part guide to help you figure it out.
The first part, freely available on TechCrunch, walks you through how to increase your authority ranking in the TikTok algorithm, its review process, and pointers for making your own content. The second part, for Extra Crunch subscribers, goes deep on how TikTok decides whose content gets featured more (and less).

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace: the proptech sector is hot despite WeWork

“Our mandate is any technology that can be strategic to the real estate industry,” the prolific investor told Connie Loizos in an extended interview for Extra Crunch this week. While WeWork may have depressed some investor interest, plenty of models are working great across various segments — so he and his partners are raising more funds. One of the hottest sectors, perhaps surprisingly, is in sustainable buildings. As Wallace details, public pressure, large-tenant pressure, large-investor pressure and new metro requirements have removed any choice that the industry has in the matter:

Make no mistake; we are front-and-center to what is happening in the real estate industry and the collision with technology, and this is the single-most-important thing that has happened to the real estate industry in the last five decades. The real estate industry is going to have to go carbon-neutral and that is brand-new.

Is this sector also your focus? Be sure to check out our survey of investors in construction robotics from last week to find out some of the latest opportunities, plus our overview survey of real estate and prop tech investors from November.

The future of manufacturing and warehouse robotics

Ahead of our big robotics conference at UC Berkeley in early March, we have been producing a whole series of surveys on robotics verticals. This week, our resident financial analyst Arman Tabatabai teamed up with our hardware editor turned conference organizer, Brian Heater, to do a series of interviews with VCs who are focused on warehouse and manufacturing robotics. Investors include:

Read more here.

Tell TechCrunch about gaming startups and remote work

Our media columnist Eric Peckham wants to feature your advice in two upcoming articles. If you have relevant expertise, click the links below and share your opinions.

Across the week

Do AI startups have worse economics than SaaS shops? (EC)

Elon Musk says all advanced AI development should be regulated, including at Tesla (TC)

SpaceX alumni are helping build LA’s startup ecosystem (EC)

Dear Sophie: I need the latest details on the new H-1B registration process (TC)

Tracking China’s astounding venture capital slowdown (EC)

The rise of the winged pink unicorn (TC)

Voodoo Games thrives by upending conventional product design (EC)

Ex-YC partner Daniel Gross rethinks the accelerator (TC)

How companies are working around Apple’s ban on vaping apps (EC)

Rippling starts billboard battle with Gusto (TC)

#Equitypod

This week was a fun combination of early-stage and late-stage news, with companies as young as seed stage and as old as PE-worthy joining our list of topics.

Danny and Alex were back on hand to chat once again. Just in case you missed it, they had some fun talking Tesla yesterday, and there are new Equity videos on YouTube. Enjoy!

This week the team argued about org-chart companies, debt raises, some of the items mentioned above, and much more. Details here.

Facebook’s Twitter account compromised, hacker group claims credit

There’s this brilliant feeling on Fridays if you’re a reporter when you think that all the things you have to write about are complete. You kickstart some work for Monday. Maybe you tighten up a to-do list. Hell, you might even read some email.

But then on Fridays like today, something eye-catching happens and the Great Content Gods demand written sacrifice and here we are.

Facebook’s Twitter main page and Messenger were temporarily vandalized by a person or persons claiming to be from the OurMine hacker collective. The action, and the group, should sound slightly familiar as it hacked a bunch of sports-related Twitter accounts just this January.

Trawling the TechCrunch archives turns up the OurMine name more times than I reckoned it would. For example, OurMine also hacked the Twitter account of Niantic’s CEO back in 2016. Later that year, OurMind also hacked several media-related Twitter accounts. Hell, OurMine actually hacked TC once — a fact that this episode brought to my attention.

TechCrunch has reached out to Facebook for comment on the compromise. We’re not expecting to hear back anything of substance but, if we do, we’ll update this post. Twitter provided public comment regarding the hack, saying that it “locked the compromised accounts and are working closely with our partners at Facebook to restore them” when it noticed the matter.

What was posted? The following, per a screenshot taken by TechCrunch’s security sage Zack Whittaker:

lol, what is this, 2016? pic.twitter.com/G59Z5gnZfp

— Zack Whittaker (@zackwhittaker) February 7, 2020

As you can see from the screenshot, the tweet appears to have been posted via Khoros. Khoros, in case you also didn’t know, sells software to help companies use social media to interact with customers and users. So, perhaps the Folks With Time On Their Hands got in that way. Either way it was taken down quickly. (Khoros is based in Austin and has raised no known venture capital, per Crunchbase.)

And with that, Friday really is a go.

5 Critical Life Lessons You Can Learn From Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda is an animated movie that teaches several interesting life lessons, embedded in a predictable storyline. It is highly entertaining, done in a Dreamworks storybook fashion.

Even though we first watched the movie over a week ago, my kids can not stop talking about it.

In the show, the panda, whose name is Po, was chosen by a wise old turtle, Ooguay, as the dragon warrior to defeat the enemy. Unfortunately, Po was an unlikely character for he was fat and clumsy. He was viewed with much skepticism and doubt by his martial-arts teacher, Shifu, and the Furious Five: Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, and Crane.

The highlight of the show, at least in my opinion, clearly belonged to the numerous spouts of wisdom and quotes cleverly delivered by the various characters. Animated or not, wisdom can be found anywhere. All you have to do is look and listen with an open mind.

Here are 5 of the wise sayings that I picked up in the movie:

Living In the Now

Ooguay: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

beat self doubt

We don’t need to read Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” to learn the importance of the present moment. We can simply watch this movie to learn from Ooguay about how necessary it is to let go of our past, doubts, and fears if we want be happy.

Thoughts of the future or baggages of the past take away your joy in the most significant moment which is now. What matters is not what has happened or what is going to take place.

Hence, be faithful to what you are doing. Treat each moment as a gift and you will live life fully!

See Also: Live Life to Its Fullest: 39 Ways to Live and Not Merely Exist

You Can’t Run Away From Your Destiny

Ooguay: “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”

Ever had that tingling sensation that you are meant to do something else? Perhaps it is a dream that you have had since you were young. Or it may just be a recent awakening, like in my case.

I have always thought I would pursue my grand idea of being an accountant or banker. Yes, I know. It sounds like a boring profession, but the thought of having an iron rice bowl appealed to me then.

Even when I first started exploring opportunities on the web, making a ton of money was my first concern. Along the way, someone directed me to watch The Secret movie on Youtube. Well, the rest is history.

I never quite thought that I would be writing articles on self help and personal development. I didn’t imagine that I would be interested in a coaching or healing profession. I’m convinced now that I am threading on the right path since I love what I do passionately. Each day of living this purpose feels so right to me intuitively.

Hence, if you find yourself experiencing that sense of discomfort, that inner knowing that you are in the wrong job or a purpose that you need to fulfill, perhaps it is time to ask yourself what your destiny is. Oddly enough, no matter which way you turn, this destiny calls out to you.

Things Happen For A Reason

Ooguay: “There are no accidents.”

If events do not go according to your expectations, then learn to stop fretting over your suffering and misery. Things often happen for a reason. It may just be a life lesson that you need to take.

As we all know, life is never a bed of roses. If you do not recognize the lesson for what it is, you will find yourself continually stuck or attracting more of the same. You are in a vicious cycle, unable to break out. Step aside, take notes, and learn from there. Then, you will find yourself moving on, becoming a more evolved and higher Self.

Your Passion Keeps You Going

Tigress: “It is said that the Dragon Warrior can go for months without eating, surviving on the dew of a single gingko leaf and the energy of the universe.”

Po: “Then I guess my body doesn’t know I’m the Dragon Warrior yet. It’s gonna take a lot more than dew, and, uh, universe juice.”

Admittedly, it sounds a little far fetched – to be able to survive without eating. But haven’t you experienced several times when you were so absorbed in what you were doing that you forgot to eat?

It is true that our passions can keep us alive. Even in the most challenging of times, they have us going.

A friend I came to know lately shared that her volunteer work in an Aids Organization helped sustained her during a time when she went into depression herself. If not for the patients who needed her and if not for the passion to help others, she would not have survived that period.

You Can Be the Most Unlikely Hero

Po: “There is no charge for awesomeness – or attractiveness.”

At the heart of the story was a character with no apparent gifts or talents. He had to fight feelings of low self-esteem and confidence. He had to endure snide remarks by the Furious Five. Plus, he had to undergo rounds of brutal martial arts training, that kept him from eating.

Towards the end, Po unraveled the secret of the Dragon scroll from a meeting with his father. His father had tried to cheer him by telling him the secret ingredient of the family’s noodle soup: nothing. Things become special, he explained, because people believe them to be special.

As you probably guessed by now, Po saved the day. He realized that he could be awesome if he chose to believe so. And he was indeed the Dragon Warrior, after all!

What you can take from the movie, Kung Fu Panda, is this:

Take action to fulfill your destiny, even if at first you think you suck.

You just need to believe that you are special. And in pursuing your path, you may just discover that awesomeness or attractiveness is being who you really are. There is no charge for that!

Written by Evelyn Lin, the creator of a blog named Attraction Mind Map.

The post 5 Critical Life Lessons You Can Learn From Kung Fu Panda appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

The best and worst moments of the 2020 Golden Globes

The best and worst moments of the 2020 Golden Globes

The 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards started wild and stayed wild. 

Broadcasting live from the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, host Ricky Gervais kicked off the night with a cringe-worthy monologue (including a jab about Jeffrey Epstein.) Then underdog Ramy Youssef (we told you to watch Ramy!) took home a big win, and Matt Bomer and Sofía Vergara had a mix-up with a teleprompter. 

Jason Momoa showed up in a tank top, Cousin Greg did a little dance, Daddy Roy gave a little kiss to Kieran Culkin, Michelle Williams read the house down, Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix made pleas for our planet, and everyone cried with Tom Hanks. Oh, and Fleabag just kept on winning. Read more…

More about Entertainment, Golden Globes, Entertainment, Celebrities, and Movies Tv Shows

Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

Don Imus, Legendary ‘Imus in the Morning’ Host, Dies at 79

The controversial radio personality passed away on Friday morning at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas.

Don Imus, the radio personality whose insult humor and savage comedy catapulted him to a long-lasting and controversial career, has died at 79. His three-hour radio program, Imus in the Morning, was widely popular, especially with the over 25-male demographic.

Imus died Friday morning at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas, after being hospitalized on Christmas Eve, a representative said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mike and the Mad Dog host Mike Francesca tweeted Friday, “Shocking news on the passing of my friend, Don Imus. He will long be remembered as one of the true giants in the history of radio.”

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough added, “Morning Joe obviously owes its format to Don Imus. No one else could have gotten away with that much talk on cable news. Thanks for everything, Don.” Morning Joe started as a fill-in for Imus in the Morning after Imus was fired from MSNBC in 2007.

Imus in the Morning, which debuted on WNBC-AM in New York in 1971, most recently reached radio listeners via Citadel Media and was simulcast on the Fox Business Network.

Imus was loved or hated for his caustic loudmouth. Outspoken in an age of political correctness, his often coarse satire offended sensibilities. Yet his listeners included those whom he often ridiculed. His call-in guests included President Clinton, Dan Rather, Tim Russert, Bill Bradley, David Dinkins, Rudy Giuliani and political analyst Jeff Greenfield, who once remarked, “He’s out there talking the way most of us talk when we’re not in public.”

He sparked national outcry in 2007 when he made derogatory, racist remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. CBS Radio and MSNBC then dropped his show. 

He rebounded by signing a multiyear contract with the Fox Business Network in 2009 to simulcast Imus in the Morning from 6-9 a.m., with Fox anchors appearing during the program.

Imus battled a lifelong addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 2009, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

Imus was often compared to syndicated shock jock Howard Stern, who also had a stint on WNBC radio early in his career, and they frequently appeared on each other’s shows. Although Imus could not match Stern’s audience in terms of numbers, advertisers were well aware of Imus’ better-educated and richer demographic, often preferring him.  

Imus in the Morning sandwiched music around his in-your-face commentary in which he mocked authority figures and ridiculed social and political problems. His no-holds-barred humor, including gags and pranks, spurred the onset of “shock jocks” like Stern. A mix of rock ’n’ roll, raunchy humor, call-ins and hard barbs, Imus in the Morning was a huge hit.  

He also performed stand-up for a time, garnering favorable reviews from such unlikely reviewers as The New York Times

An active philanthropist, Imus and his wife, Deirdre, founded the Imus Ranch in 1999, where each summer children with cancer could enjoy the outdoors.

John Donald Imus Jr., was born on July 23, 1940, in Riverside, California. He was raised in Prescott, Arizona, where his family owned a large ranch. He dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marines and after basic training won a chair in the band.

Following discharge, he worked at an array of odd jobs: window dresser (he was fired for staging mannequin striptease shows), uranium miner and railroad brakeman, where he suffered a serious neck injury and won a large cash settlement.

While recovering, he set his sights on becoming a disc jockey, ostensibly to play his own music on the airwaves. He moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in a Hollywood broadcasting school and landed his first deejay job at KUTY, a station in Palmdale, California. 

During an eight-month stint there, he developed a skill for comic patter and moved to KJOY in Stockton, California, where he staged satirical social and political gags, including an Eldridge Cleaver look-alike contest when the Black Panther was on the lam. His station manager did not see the humor, and he was fired.

He moved to KXOA in Sacramento, where his satirical hijinks were appreciated by the station manager who counseled him that his humor would be more lethal and less likely to attract legal action. Intent on becoming more lethal, Imus created a slew of satirical characters, including the huckster Rev. Billy Sol Hargus.  

His on-air antics infuriated authorities, including the FCC, which was not amused when he phoned a fast-food outlet and ordered 1,200 hamburgers and requested a bizarre array of toppings. The gag resulted in a ruling that deejays must identify themselves when making on-air calls. The clash with government authority, not surprisingly, boosted his ratings, and KXOA was No. 1 in Sacramento while he was there.

Imus is survived by his wife, Deirdre; sons Wyatt and Lt. Zachary Don Cates; and daughters Nadine, Ashley, Elizabeth and Toni.

“Don loved and adored Deirdre, who unconditionally loved him back, loved spending his time watching Wyatt become a highly skilled, champion rodeo rider and calf roper and loved and supported Zachary, who first met the Imus family at age 10 when he participated in the Imus Ranch program for kids with cancer, having battled and overcome leukemia, eventually becoming a member of the Imus family and Don and Deirdre’s second son,” his family said in a statement.

The family will hold a private service in the coming days and asks for donations to be made to the Imus Ranch Foundation.

Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce

Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.

It also promoted Bret Taylor just last week, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

All aboard the gravy train

The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:

How to Create Facebook Video Ads in Minutes: Tips For Beginners

Facebook video ads are an essential part of any business’ social media toolkit. According to Wyzowl, people recall just 20% of the information they read compared to 80% when info is presented in more visual formats. This largely explains the rise of self-directed learning on Youtube.

We’re at an age where every marketer knows videos are important. But not every marketer knows yet that videos are surprisingly easy to make. You might think good video content requires professional gear, complex software, and a big budget — but that’s not the case.

It’s true that making a video ad used to mean hiring a scriptwriter, director, actors, and camera crew — then paying for professional editing on top of that. But advances in technology have changed all that. There are now very simple and inexpensive ways you can do that.

Here how to create Facebook video ads in minutes:

how to create facebook video ads

Take advantage of stock footage and audio

One of the simplest ways to get great content is to use what others have already created. Using stock video footage allows you to include imagery in your video that would be difficult to film yourself.

Say you want a sweeping aerial shot of mountains in your video. Getting that shot yourself would be very difficult and expensive. But if someone else has already filmed it and made it available as stock footage, you can pay a small fee and use it in your own video ad. Most stock video libraries will allow you to search by keywords to quickly find what you’re after.

You might be surprised to know that it’s not the only deadline and budget-driven marketers who use stock media. Even major film studios use stock footage to save time and money.

You can blend stock footage with content you create yourself or even make your entire video from stock by editing various scenes together.

The same goes for stock audio and music. Getting the right to commercially-released music is very expensive and so is hiring a composer. But with stock music, you can add great background music to your video without paying too much.

Use ready-made templates

If you want to create videos very quickly, you can also try using a Facebook video ad template. Templates are helpful because they give you a general outline to fit your content into. These will usually come pre-loaded with stock video and audio, which you can keep or replace, as well as spaces to add your own text.

For example, you could use this travel ad template or this ready-made cafe ad and replace the stock footage provided with original content you’ve shot for your business.

You could also try a dedicated Facebook video ad maker. This will provide you with a simple drag-and-drop interface – just choose stock video and audio that work for your business then add your own text.

Edit your video online

If you are going to use your own video content, it’s helpful to have some basic editing tools on hand. Access to a good editor is helpful because it means you don’t need to nail everything in one take. You can quickly trim down scenes to get the timing right and edit together multiple takes.

There’s plenty of complex and expensive editing software out there but all you need for simple Facebook video ads is a free online editor. With a good editor, you can put together a video and send it straight to your account from the editor.

It may take a little practice, but it’s pretty easy to get the basic editing techniques for making your video content look great.

How to Create Facebook Video Ads That Work

create facebook video ads

It’s one thing to put a video together but another to create effective content. Here are some tips on how to create Facebook video ads that work:

  1. Ensure your videos are exported in the right file type and size to play easily on Facebook. Check out Facebook’s guidelines for video ads, and always ensure your content is optimized for mobile devices as that’s probably where it will be seen.
  2. Keep your videos short – 15-60 seconds is a good general guide. It’s hard enough to grab people’s attention on social media; don’t push your luck once you do.
  3. Mention your brand early – ideally in the first 3 seconds – and make sure your logo or company name also appears on the screen visually, not just in the audio. More than 85% of Facebook users watch videos without sound!
  4. Speaking of soundless videos, ensure your ad has subtitles and text so people can engage with it even if they don’t turn on the sound. This is also a reason to include good music – if people do turn the sound on, they should be rewarded!
  5. Your videos shouldn’t look sloppy but you also don’t want something overly polished. People aren’t on social media looking for slick ads. So go for good, authentic content that adds value to people’s scrolling experience and just happens to also boost your brand.

Get your video in front of the right people

Don’t forget to target your ad when it’s time to share it on Facebook. You can customize the audience for your ad according to location, age, gender, languages, interests, behaviors, and even connections.

Follow those guidelines and start putting video ads together and you’ll start to see great results. Whether you’re starting off with simple templates or editing a mini-masterpiece, online videos should be a key part of your online promotional strategy.

See Also: 8 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Facebook Advertising

The post How to Create Facebook Video Ads in Minutes: Tips For Beginners appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

At the same time the House was voting to impeach him on Wednesday, President Donald Trump was holding a rally in Michigan, tearing into everyone and everything that even slightly displeased him. Among his targets was Rep. Debbie Dingell, who voted for impeachment. 

On Thursday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel highlighted how Trump retaliated against the perceived slight by implying that Dingell’s late husband, long-serving Rep. John Dingell, was in Hell, “looking up” at her.

“Trump believes that since he graciously allowed the flags of federal buildings to be lowered to half mast to honor John Dingell, his widow should have shown her appreciation by voting not to impeach,” said Kimmel.  Read more…

More about Donald Trump, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy Kimmel, John Dingell, and Debbie Dingell

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

Jimmy Kimmel goes after Trump over shocking joke about dead congressman

At the same time the House was voting to impeach him on Wednesday, President Donald Trump was holding a rally in Michigan, tearing into everyone and everything that even slightly displeased him. Among his targets was Rep. Debbie Dingell, who voted for impeachment. 

On Thursday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel highlighted how Trump retaliated against the perceived slight by implying that Dingell’s late husband, long-serving Rep. John Dingell, was in Hell, “looking up” at her.

“Trump believes that since he graciously allowed the flags of federal buildings to be lowered to half mast to honor John Dingell, his widow should have shown her appreciation by voting not to impeach,” said Kimmel.  Read more…

More about Donald Trump, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy Kimmel, John Dingell, and Debbie Dingell

How I Podcast: Family Ghost’s Sam Dingman

The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs.

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

I’m Listening’s Anita Flores
Let’s Talk About Cats’ Mary Phillips-Sandy and Lizzie Jacobs
Broken Record’s Justin Richmond
Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

For three seasons, Panoply’s “Family Ghosts” has explored the deep, dark and true mysteries that have haunted families for generations. Show creator Sam Dingman is a Moth Grand Slam Winner, who also served as the producer for the popular podcasts “Bad With Money” and “You Must Remember This.”

I fell in love with podcasts in 2009, during the depths of my bizarre tenure as a customer support rep at an ill-fated software concern (RIP LimeWire). My job was to answer the phone and tell irate users who’d contracted viruses from illegally downloading music (read: porn) that we didn’t give refunds. Podcasts were a welcome reprieve from this firehose of outrage, and before long, I got up the nerve to start one of my own. I proceeded to fritter away entire workdays combing through recording forums (shout-out to Gearslutz!) and Googling pictures of radio studios, lusting after large diaphragm condenser mics and palpitating over preamps.

Unfortunately, all I could afford was an Audio-Technica AT2020 USB mic — which led to a series of initial recordings which were as spirited as they were unintelligible:


[A recording session for my (mercifully) short-lived first podcast, circa 2009].

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot in the ensuing 10 years, and have also, via the grace of the audio gods, somehow acquired enough of a production budget to build my own studio space in a cozy basement studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Earlier this year, my friend Alan and I spent two truly endless days in said basement attempting to decipher the instructions for constructing a Whisper Room, where I now record all of the narration for “Family Ghosts,” soothing my constant fear that the whole thing is going to collapse on my head with the calming presence of a magenta lava lamp.

My starry-eyed Googling at LimeWire convinced me that a Holy Grail vocal chain could be achieved via the pairing of a Neumann U87 mic with the rich analogue circuitry of a Great River ME-1NV preamp, and I accordingly sprung for both as soon as we got the last screw turned on the Whisper Room. Every time I take the Neumann out of its wooden jeweler’s box for a recording session, I whisper “Hello, Magic Mic.” The Great River sits on my desk with its stately black knobs and austere gain meter, and I love the warmth and nuance it imparts upon the voices that flow through it. 

Of course, recording narration in the Whisper Room is only half the battle for a “Family Ghosts” story — when I’m not in the studio, I’m usually lugging around a backpack full of my field recording gear: a Zoom H5 digital recorder, two Rode NTG2 shotgun mics, two desktop mic stands and XLR cables, a wall adapter and extension cord so that I don’t have to worry about draining the batteries on the Zoom during long interviews, a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones and a stereo ¼” -to-⅛” cable, which allows me to record good-quality phone interviews on the Zoom.

Then I bring the whole works back to the basement in Greenpoint, load the audio into Pro Tools, fire up the lava lamp, buy some coffee and obsessively re-arrange waveforms into the wee small hours of the night, forever grateful that I somehow found a way to leave the screaming customer service calls behind.

The new new weird

Neo-Pentecostal gangs in Brazil, driving out other faiths at gunpoint. A mob of 100 lawyers attacking a hospital in Pakistan to revenge themselves on violent doctors there. Anti-vaxxers, neo-Nazis, and red-pillers. Sometimes it seems like the world has fragmented into a jagged kaleidoscope of countless mobs and subcultures, each more disconcerting than the last.

Much of this is selection bias: if it bleeds, it leads, in both mass media and social-media algorithms. But it does seem plausible that the Internet is contributing to this kaleidoscope, to this growth in worrisome fringe subcultures, in three separate ways: complexity, information, and connectivity.

Connectivity is the most obvious avenue. The Internet empowers everyone to find their like-minded people, and this is as true of the hateful and vengeful as it is of the dispossessed and downtrodden. Furthermore, the power of a group increases nonlinearly with its size. The hateful views of one man in a community of 100 people are unlikely to make a huge collective difference; worst case, they become a fabled missing stair. But 1% of a nation of 100 million? That’s a million people. That’s a movement ready to join, to march, to pay tithes, to reinforce one another.

Information is more subtle. There’s a fascinating quote from the recent New Yorker profile of William Gibson: “Gibson noticed that people with access to unlimited information could develop illusions of omniscience.” You can get any kind of information you want on the Internet. You can find what appear at first glance to be closely argued and well-supported claims that global warming will kill off all but half a billion people by the end of this century, and also, if you prefer, that global warming is an authoritarian hoax.

No wonder people increasingly act as if the truth is something you choose from a buffet rather than a fact that will eventually bite you, hard, if you refuse to believe in it. As Philip K. Dick put it, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” But if all your information comes from the Internet, and is never testable, you never have to stop believing in it … until it’s far too late.

Complexity is, I think, the saddest. It has nothing to do with being led astray by evil companions or disinformation. It’s just that our modern world has become so complicated, such an endless buzz of noise and events and obligations, that lashing back against it, fixating on a simple solution to all the world’s problems, makes people feel strong. This delightful article about schisms among believers in a flat Earth includes the telling quote: “When you find out the Earth is flat … then you become empowered.”

Is the world going to get weirder yet, with new and more bizarre and inexplicable subcultures erupting from the Internet with every passing year? Have we hit the plateau of an S-curve? Or are we in a local minimum, and as we get better at dealing with connectivity and complexity, will we look back on these as the crazy years? My money’s on door number two … but I’ve been outweirded before.

Volkswagen to bring self-driving electric shuttles to Qatar by 2022

Volkswagen Group and Qatar have agreed to develop a public transit system of autonomous shuttles and buses by 2022 for the capital city of Doha.

The agreement signed Saturday by VW Group and the Qatar Investment Authority is an expansive project that will involve four brands under VW Group, including Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania, its shared ride service MOIA and Audi subsidiary Autonomous Intelligent Driving, or AID.

The aim is to develop the entire transport system, including the electric autonomous shuttles and buses, legal framework, city infrastructure and ride-hailing software required to deploy a commercial service there. The autonomous vehicles will be integrated into existing public transit.

“For our cities to progress we need a new wave of innovation,” QIA CEO Mansoor Al Mahmoud said in a statement. “AI-enabled, emission-free transportation technologies will help advance urban mobility, while diminishing congestion and improving energy efficiency.

The fleet will include 35 autonomous electric ID. Buzz vehicles from the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles unit, which will shuttle up to four passengers on semi-fixed routes in a geo-fenced area of Doha. Another 10 Scania buses will be used for larger groups.

Closed testing of the shuttle vehicles and buses is expected to begin in 2020. Trials could start as early as 2021. VW and QIA said the project will go live by the end of 2022.

Reliance Industries acquires a majority stake in SaaS startup NowFloats for $20M

Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest industrial houses, has acquired a majority stake in NowFloats, an Indian startup that helps businesses and individuals build online presence without any web developing skills.

In a regulatory filing on Thursday, Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited said (PDF) it has acquired an 85% stake in NowFloats for 1.4 billion Indian rupees ($20 million).

Seven-and-a-half-year old, Hyderabad-headquartered NowFloats operates an eponymous platform that allows individuals and businesses to easily build an online presence. Using NowFloats’ services, a mom and pop store, for instance, can build a website, publish their catalog, as well as engage with their customers on WhatsApp.

The startup, which has raised about 12 million in equity financing prior to today’s announcement, claims to have helped over 300,000 participating retail partners. NowFloats counts Blume Ventures, Omidyar Network, Iron Pillar, IIFL Wealth Management, and Hyderabad Angels among its investors.

Last year, NowFloats acquired LookUp, an India-based chat service that connects consumers to local business — and is backed by Vinod Khosla’s personal fund Khosla Impact, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures and Global Founders Capital.

Reliance Strategic Business Ventures Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, said that it would invest up to 750 million Indian rupees ($10.6 million) of additional capital into the startup, and raise its stake to about 89.66%, if NowFloats achieves certain unspecified goals by the end of next year.

In a statement, Reliance Industries said the investment will “further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives.” NowFloats is the latest acquisition Reliance has made in the country this year. In August, the conglomerate said it was buying a majority stake in Google-backed Fynd for $42.3 million. In April, it bought a majority stake in Haptik in a deal worth $100 million.

There are about 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India. Like hundreds of millions of Indians, many in small towns and cities, who have come online in recent years thanks to world’s cheapest mobile data plans and inexpensive Android smartphones, businesses are increasingly building online presence as well.

But vast majority of them are still offline, a fact that has created immense opportunities for startups — and VCs looking into this space — and major technology giants. New Delhi-based BharatPe, which helps merchants accept online payments and provides them with working capital, raised $50 million in August. Khatabook and OkCredit, two digital bookkeeping apps for merchants, have also raised significant amount of money this year.

In recent years, Google has also looked into the space. It has launched tools — and offered guidance — to help neighborhood stores establish some presence on the web. In September, the company announced that its Google Pay service, which is used by more than 67 million users in India, will now enable businesses to accept digital payments and reach their customers online.