The Best Sales App I've Seen in 15 Years and OMG It's Free

What makes a sales app great? Three things: 1) it helps you sell, 2) it’s easy to use, and 3) it costs nothing or next-to-nothing. Using that criteria, it’s obvious why CRM isn’t a great sales tool because while 1) it (arguably) helps you sell, it’s also 2) difficult to use, and 3) can cost you big time in lost opportunity cost, even if you’re using freeware.

Because of that, for the past 15 years, the most valuable sales tool has been LinkedIn. Sales is all about building relationships and that’s impossible without knowing who works inside a company and the role they play in the decision-making. Thus while LinkedIn was designed originally for recruiters, it’s been a total godsend for Sales and Marketing.

However, while LinkedIn has been the king of sales tools since it was launched in 2003, its own email system (InMail) has never caught on as an alternative to regular email. As one of my clients put it a couple of days ago: “I just don’t get many responses when I use it.” And that’s too bad because InMail is theoretically much better than regular email.

Email has become increasing important to sales and marketing because now that most people (especially decision-makers) no longer answer their phones making cold calling obsolete. Today, the only effective form of outbound sales is email marketing which everyone is doing (but most aren’t doing it very well.)

The big challenge with email marketing, however, has always been getting the decision-makers’ email addresses. While you can buy email lists on the open market, the data is often inaccurate or out-of-date. Also, email lists encourage one-to-many email marketing (aka SPAM), which isn’t all that effective.

What IS effective with email marketing is a well-researched personalized email that doesn’t attempt to sell but instead just makes contact and opens up a conversation. I’ve written extensively on how to execute this strategy and helped dozens of companies develop the technique. BTW, if you want to fix your cold emails so that you get geometrically more responses, I’m still available for an hour each week… at least for now.

Once you’ve identified a decision-maker on LinkedIn, the difficult part has always been getting that decision-maker’s real email address (business or, better yet, personal). In the past this involved a online research, guesswork, and even calling the reception desk and asking. None of these approaches were ideal and all consumed a fair amount of time.

Well, no longer, because there are now some very easy-to-use tools that troll through big data on the web and give you the email addresses and even the telephone numbers of the profiles that interest you. I’ve tested several of these tools and have concluded the best is Contact Out, which runs as a Chrome Extension.

Contact Out took me 5 seconds to install and 5 seconds to learn to use (it’s a one-click drop down). To test it, I looked up some of my former editors. Not only did I get their current work emails, I also got personal emails for most of them, and even work telephone numbers. If I’d tried this by hand, it would have taken hours of tedious effort.

Contact Out lets you harvest 50 profiles a day for free, but that’s far more than any salesperson needs if they’re doing personalized emails which, again, is the only form of email marketing that actually works.

I also tried two other Chrome Extensions, Lusha and Hunter, but they didn’t seem to harvest as much data. Hunter was interesting, though, because it got me email addresses associated with a specific website, even if the people in question didn’t have LinkedIn profiles. Since neither tool is expensive, you might want to add them to your tool box, too. 

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Oracle sees strong third quarter on cloud strength, share rise

(Reuters) – Oracle Corp on Monday forecast current-quarter profit above estimates after growth in its cloud services and license support unit helped the business software maker surpass Wall Street expectations for the second quarter.

FILE PHOTO: People gather prior to the start of a keynote speech at the All Things Oracle OpenWorld Summit in San Francisco, California September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jana Asenbrennerova/File Photo

Shares rose 5 percent, with the company saying that excluding fluctuations in exchange rates, it expected third-quarter adjusted profit to be between 86 cents and 88 cents per share.

Analysts on average were expecting 84 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Revenue at its cloud services and license support unit, its biggest, rose 2.7 percent to $6.64 billion and beat analysts’ estimate, as more companies shifted to cloud computing from the traditional on-premise database model to cut costs.

Oracle’s in June created a new revenue reporting structure that merged its cloud and software license businesses, which analysts have said gives little insight into the standalone performance of its cloud unit.

Oracle is a late entrant to the rapidly growing cloud-based software business, but has aggressively stepped up its efforts to catch up with rivals such as Workday Inc, Microsoft Corp and Salesforce.com Inc.

“Oracle’s growth in cloud services and license support of just 3 percent appears to be contradicting the strength in the overall cloud market,” said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager of Synovus Trust Co, which hold 152,500 shares in the company.

Last month, Workday reported a 35 percent jump in cloud subscription revenue, while Salesforce’s flagship product Sales Cloud grew 11 percent.

“Oracle is still dragging behind other old line enterprise software players like Microsoft in its transition to becoming a top cloud company,” said Morgan, whose firm also hold shares in Salesforce and Microsoft Corp.

The company’s net income rose to $2.33 billion, or 61 cents per share, in the second quarter ended Nov. 30. Excluding items, the company earned 80 cents per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 78 cents.

Total revenue fell marginally to $9.56 billion, but brushed past analyst expectation of $9.52 billion.

Shares of the company were up at $48 in after-market trading.

Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

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2019 – The Game Changers

Looking back is not always that easy and sometimes painful. Your vision may not be 20/20 but reasonable clarity may be had by sticking to the facts and the actual data. Having said this, looking forward is a much tougher proposition. You are looking into the unknown. We haven’t gotten there yet.

However, staring into the future is a task that must be undertaken from time to time. I stare hard at pending “Risks.” Others stare hard at pending opportunities. “Preservation of Capital” demands that “Risks” come first, as “avoidance” is often the key to success. If you can stay out of the potholes, you can keep going and proceeding ahead is what gives us all the ability to win at the “Great Game.”

One of the biggest “Game Changers” is the breakage of a fifty year cycle where the United States, and Europe, had to depend upon hostile nations for oil and natural gas. We were hemmed in by them and many political decisions and economic decisions were based upon the fact that we needed their energy. With fracking and re-fracking and horizontal drilling, this has all changed and to the significant benefit of the Western world.

Last week the United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced a groundbreaking oil and gas discovery in the West Texas Permian Basin. According to the organization’s statement, 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids are now believed to lie untapped in the Texan and New Mexican Permian Basin. The figures in last week’s announcement are more than double the previous resource assessment.

“Christmas came a few weeks early this year,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in response to these rather incredible numbers.

American strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy. Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.

Dr. Jim Reilly, the Director of USGS, a part of the U.S. Department of Interior, highlighted how remarkable the discovery was in the larger context of the industry.

In the 1980’s, during my time in the petroleum industry, the Permian and similar mature basins were not considered viable for producing large new recoverable resources. Today, thanks to advances in technology, the Permian Basin continues to impress in terms of resource potential. The results of this most recent assessment and that of the Wolfcamp Formation in the Midland Basin in 2016 are our largest continuous oil and gas assessments ever released. Knowing where these resources are located and how much exists is crucial to ensuring both our energy independence and energy dominance.

What this all means is that we are now capable of breaking OPEC’s back. They have lost control. The United States has gained control. We can now tell them to “Stuff It,” as we not only gain energy independence but a whole new source of revenues, and taxes, that can be used to our advantage, as we export oil and natural gas to both Europe and Asia.

Any fool can know. The point is to understand.

– Albert Einstein

The next, far less pleasant “Game Changer” is the Democrats taking over the House. This is going to cause all kinds of turmoil, in my estimation. They are likely going to try to impeach President Trump and the markets may take a bath if this happens. Bonds or equities, the rancor of serious political infighting is never good news.

Then we have Brexit becoming quite unwieldy, Italy still fighting over its budget with the European Union and the economy of China slowing down as both their internal and external debts rise to record levels. Then there is the Chinese currency, which could get “re-evaluated” several times during the next year. The tariff stand-off with the United States is, in fact, a “Game of Thrones” as each nation vies for global power and influence. All of these issues could change the Game and cause roller coaster rides in the markets.

Next, there is the Fed. They are the central bank of the United States and the continual raising of interest rates is not helping the economy of the country. “Will they stop or will they go on,” is the central question. The Governors have 14 year terms and they can brandish their “Independence” as they wish, but the Fed was created by the Congress in 1913 using the Federal Reserve Act and what is given can be taken away, or muted, if the Congress does not feel that the Fed is acting in the best interests of the country. The Fed is NOT a Constitutional mandate, I remind all of you.

Then there is the CLO market. There are some large financial institutions that are worried that the bottom is about to drop out of this market. As an observation, the total outstanding volume of leveraged loans is about $1,130 billion or 5.5% of the U.S. GDP. CLOs, which are repackaged corporate debt, has made up most of the appetite for these loans.

These instruments hold approximately half, or $600 billion, which is roughly 3.0% of the U.S. GDP. The catalyst for the concern is not so much the drop in prices as the fund flows, with Lipper reporting that loan funds saw a record outflow of $2.53 billion in the week ended December 12, as we are now in the fourth consecutive week of selling. A significant “Game Changer” could be happening here.

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.

– Will Rogers

“Game Changers” now abound all around us. Look closely, think, plan, execute, don’t slow down. Stay out of harm’s way. Avoid the Risks. Choose wisely!

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Amazon Releases $30 Echo Wall Clock

In September, Amazon announced plans to launch an Echo-powered wall clock to help users visually track their timers.

Today, the clock officially became available to the masses.

On the surface, it looks like any other wall clock. The device, however, has 60 LEDs around the clock face to show any active timers you’ve initiated.

For example, if you set a timer for when you need to take a pie out of the oven and another for when your kids absolutely need to stop playing video games and get ready for dinner, you’ll see two LEDs on the clock.

While the clock sports the Echo name, you’ll need to have Alexa set up on another device such as an Echo Dot or your phone to use it. The clock itself doesn’t have any speakers or microphones. It’s meant to work in tandem with another Echo device.

You can snag one of the wall clocks from Amazon for $29.99.

And if you want something a little different, that Billy Big Mouth Bass Echo device has a speaker and microphones, so it works like a traditional Amazon Echo and is definitely bound to start a few conversations with your guests this holiday season.

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Richard Branson Says He Will Travel to Space in Mid-2019, With Tourists to Follow Soon After

Following a successful test launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Thursday, Richard Branson said he’s planning on heading up to space “in the middle of next year” and that space tourists will also make the trip shortly afterward.

Thursday’s test, the fourth so far by Virgin Galactic, carried two pilots and a passenger dummy on a spacecraft more than 50 miles into the air, high enough to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of space. Afterward, Branson was asked on CNBC when the company would start ferrying human passengers.

Branson said that SpaceShipTwo would first be examined to see if changes are needed before facing a few more rounds of tests. “Then we will move the operation to a space port in New Mexico,” he said. “Then I will then go up, and we’ll do another set of tests. If every box is ticked we will start to be able to take members of the public up.”

In the past, Branson noted, his timing estimates have erred on the side of the optimistic. “I always get these estimates wrong. It’s been 14 years to get to this stage. I thought it would be seven,” he said. “But I would hope sometime in the middle of next year, I’ll be going up and quite soon after that members of the public will go up.”

The cost of a trip on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft has been estimated to be between $200,000 and $250,000. In the interview, CEO George Whitesides said that the price for early trips might be higher than that range, although the company hopes it will eventually be lower in the longer term.

To accommodate more passengers, Virgin Galactic is building two more spaceships. Branson said all three may be taking humans to space “in the not too distant future.”

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Starbucks sales growth to be steady despite UberEats deal, plans for China expansion

FILE PHOTO: A Starbucks store is seen inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) said on Thursday it was partnering with UberEats for delivery from about 3,500 U.S. stores and would nearly double its outlets in China over the next four years, but forecast that same-store sales would remain steady, sending shares down 3 percent.

The company said it expects its global same-store sales growth between 3 percent and 4 percent annually in the long term, roughly in line with a forecast that estimates sales growth to be at the lower end of 3 percent to 5 percent this year.

Starbucks has been struggling to lure diners to its restaurants as it faces severe competition from smaller coffee chains that offer exotic coffees as well as fresh food.

In its attempt to withstand competition, the Seattle-based chain that owns about 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. has been revamping its owned and licensed businesses, improving delivery, closing Teavana stores, laying off workers and adding new food as well as drinks to its menu.

The latest delivery initiative, which will commence from the beginning of 2019, builds on a pilot program launched in Miami in September, the company said.

The company said last month it was partnering with UberEats to deliver coffee and food in Tokyo, as part of its plan to boost sales in Japan, one of its major Asia-Pacific markets.

Starbucks also said on Thursday it would raise its store footprint in China, its fastest growing market, to 6,000 stores across 230 cities over the next four years, up from 3,600 stores in 150 cities.

Starbucks has partnered with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) earlier this year for delivering food and coffee in China, as it looks to compete with local coffee chains.

The world’s biggest coffee chain’s shares were down 3 percent at $64.84 in after-hours trading.

Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel

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9 Trumpworld Figures Who Should Fear Mueller the Most

Wednesday’s sentencing of onetime Trump fixer Michael Cohen to 36 months of prison continues a frenetic pace of revelations around the Russia probe. Nearly every single day since Thanksgiving has brought fresh developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

Even as the president continues to rail about the “Witch Hunt” on Twitter, Mueller’s strategy looks like anything but. Nearly every defendant he’s targeted has pleaded guilty, meaning he’s moving against people with overwhelming evidence. Those targets have mostly, in turn, cooperated—naming more alleged crimes and suspects. Similarly, in the one instance he has been forced to go to trial, Mueller prevailed handedly, winning convictions against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in every category of charges he brought. Mueller has also assiduously handed off certain crimes to other prosecutors, be it identity theft stemming from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, foreign lobbying questions, and even referring the original Cohen case to the Southern District in New York.

Together, those facts paint the picture of a conservative prosecutor, focused on demonstrable crimes and clear cases of criminal behavior. Mueller famously sees the world in black and white, right versus wrong, and all of his investigations have Russia and Russian influence as their core focus. Thus far he’s stayed clear of anything that might appear gray.

The pace of developments shows no sign of slowing, either. Thursday apparently will see a guilty plea from alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, whose role in the 2016 election and ties to gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association remain perplexing.

CNN’s John Berman has described it as the “12 days of Mueller.” The filings thus far, taken together, have clarified where Mueller is heading, and appear to help delineate who is likely on the special counsel’s “naughty list” this holiday season. The past two weeks of rapid-fire filings, court appearances, and news reports show several people and entities potentially in Mueller’s sights.

Here are the reasons you should be concerned if you’re:

Jared Kushner

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s original plea deal made clear that he called Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the direction of a “very senior” transition official, which media reports have identified as presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Subsequent court filings have made clear that Flynn’s early cooperation encouraged others to cooperate as well. That likely includes at least K.T. McFarland, another national security aide, whose memory reportedly evolved after Flynn’s plea. Her revised memory likely also ratchets up the scrutiny of Kushner’s role on the campaign, where he was in the room for the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and the transition, where he reportedly tried to create a communications backchannel with Russia and met with the head of the Russian development bank, Sergei Gorkov. Mueller has outlined in recent court filings his view that “senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards,” which sounds like an as-yet-unfired warning shot against other “senior government leaders.” Kushner, as a senior White House adviser, now fits that bill.

Donald Trump, Jr.

Michael Cohen’s plea agreement never mentions the presidential son by name, but it potentially implicates Don Jr. in at least two critical areas. First, vis-à-vis the Trump Tower Moscow deal, Cohen says he kept the Trump Organization and family members up to date on the conversations with Russia, which appears to undercut Don Jr.’s testimony to Congress that he didn’t know much about the proposed development and, besides, the deal never went very far anyway. Cohen, and thus the special counsel, appears to possess evidence that both halves of that dismissal were false. With the Cohen plea agreement 10 days ago, Mueller has made clear that he considers lying to Congress within his purview.

Second, and more intriguing, is how Cohen discusses the November 2015 approach by a Russian intermediary offering “political synergy” with the campaign. One of the most confounding puzzle pieces of the investigation remains publicist Rob Goldstone’s email initiating the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, at which Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russians who had promised to help the campaign. Goldstone’s email said, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” We’ve never known what “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” meant specifically, but the way Goldstone phrased it seems to imply that such help wouldn’t come as a surprise to Don Jr. The Cohen plea agreement now lays the groundwork that such help might have been quite well known inside Trumpworld, given that 2015 overture. The offer of “political synergy,” a synonym that sounds a lot like “collusion” or “conspiracy,” makes it much harder to imagine a naive acceptance of the Russian help come June 2016.

President Donald Trump

While the president tried to brush off recent developments as “peanut stuff” Tuesday night, the potential criminal liability focused on the White House seems to grow with nearly every court filing. Prosecutors have now made clear their belief that the president himself, aka “Individual-1,” directed Michael Cohen to commit campaign finance violations, a felony. Given Cohen’s general slipperiness in court, they’re almost certainly basing that allegation on precise documentary evidence, potentially even the covert recordings that Cohen liked to make. On Wednesday, SDNY reached a deal with National Enquirer publisher AMI that explicitly states that the Cohen payments were intended to prevent a story about Trump’s alleged affair with Karen McDougal from “influencing the election.”

The court filings contain growing signs, too, that Mueller could be building not just a case around conspiracy during the 2016 campaign, but also about “expansive obstruction.” A case like that could include the possible coordination of lies following Russia revelations, such as Cohen’s in front of Congress. A specific line from the special counsel’s filing in Cohen’s case also jumps out: “By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant deliberately shifted the timeline of what had occurred in hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.” It’s not hard to imagine that same line cut-and-pasted into a future obstruction case regarding Donald Trump’s personal handling of a false narrative put out by the White House after reports first surfaced of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Maybe the firing of FBI director James Comey—which has seemed central to any obstruction investigation—will ultimately end up just part of a larger, longer, more coordinated attempt to mislead and misdirect attention around the Russia investigation. After all, there’s historical precedent for this: Part of the Watergate articles of impeachment charged Richard Nixon with “making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States.”

The Trump Organization

In one of my first columns on the special counsel’s investigation, I noted that the FBI focuses on taking down entire, corrupt organizations: mafia families, drug cartels, terrorism rings. That’s its DNA, and why federal investigations take so long; they work step-by-step, from the bottom up, to dismantle the whole enterprise. There are increasing signs that the Trump Organization—the family business built around the Trump brand—might be in its crosshairs. Corporate malfeasance expert Kurt Eichenwald, who literally wrote the book on Enron, points out how closely the Trump Organization appears to be implicated in Cohen’s hush money payments, and the apparently narrow circle of people who could have participated in them. Cohen’s plea deal also alleges that the Trump Organization’s business was closely tied into the Trump Tower Moscow project; BuzzFeed broke word that the company had floated the idea of offering the $50 million penthouse to Putin himself. It’s been known, too, for some time that Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg has been cooperating with investigators. Between him and Cohen—and Cohen’s voluminous seized records—a clear trail may appear for prosecutors to follow. With the Trump Foundation already under legal fire, will the president’s namesake company follow suit? And that’s all before New York’s new attorney general takes office too, promising a fulsome investigation into Trump’s world.

Jerome Corsi and Associates

The alleged criminal liability of conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi has already been laid out in the aborted plea agreement that he leaked after the deal with Mueller’s office fell apart. How far Corsi’s role may stretch to encompass WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Trump associate Roger Stone remains an open question too.

Michael Cohen

Even after Wednesday’s prison sentence, which settles the nine (nine!) felonies he has currently pleaded guilty to, there’s some reason to believe that Cohen might not be out of the woods. The Southern District of New York in its sentencing filing made clear its unhappiness that Cohen didn’t fully cooperate, providing a full and complete list of the crimes he’d participated in over the years. As they wrote, “Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.” Given that those federal prosecutors in Manhattan are likely continuing their reported investigation of the Trump Organization, it seems like Cohen could still face potential criminal liability as the other cases proceed.

Business partners of Michael Flynn

One of the most intriguing aspects of the sentencing memo filed by Michael Flynn’s lawyers was its reference to how Flynn met with prosecutors for over 62 hours, across 19 meetings, and “produced thousands of documents to the Department of Justice,” including “sweeping categories of documents held by his two companies, rather than fight over the breadth of subpoenas, and facilitated the production of electronic devices.” Given that the court filings reference Flynn’s business work—not the Trump campaign—and that part of Flynn’s plea agreement focused on his plotting with the Turkish government, it appears one of the undisclosed criminal investigations he has helped with involves those interactions.

Konstanin Kilimnik

The Ukrainian businessman who served as Paul Manafort’s onetime business partner—and alleged Russian intelligence asset—is all over the Manafort court filings in a way that makes clear the special counsel has a unique, focused interest in him and his role in the campaign. He’s already been implicated in Manafort’s alleged witness tampering scheme, but there’s no reason to think Mueller is done with him. Franklin Foer, who has written the most in-depth coverage of Manafort’s world, says Kilimnik’s appearance in the new documents “foreshadow[s] an ominous return.”

Alexander Torshin

The Russian politician and banker has been linked in court documents to Maria Butina, the alleged spy likely to plead guilty on Thursday. Torshin appeared to “handle” Butina, building ties to the NRA; her guilty plea will likely shed additional light on Torshin’s role, particularly if she provides active cooperation with investigators.


More Great WIRED Stories


Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) is a contributing editor for WIRED and the coauthor of Dawn of the Code War: America’s Battle Against Russia, China, and the Rising Global Cyber Threat. He can be reached at [email protected]

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8 Signs Your Startup Is a Zombie, and 3 Things to Do About It

Even the best investors in the world aren’t right all the time. So most investors apply a portfolio approach to spread their risk and increase the chances for backing a billion-dollar opportunity. In any investor’s portfolio you have three types of ventures: the dogs, the stars, and the zombies.

  • Dogs run out of cash before finding a scalable business model. These companies return nothing to the investors.
  • Stars are the home runs–the investments that generate 10x returns and make up for all the dogs.
  • Zombies are companies that are neither dogs nor stars. They make revenue, perhaps enough to break even, but not enough to generate a huge return for investors. Their growth seems stagnant and they can’t consistently generate more revenue than costs. They are constantly raising money, are focused more on investors than on customers, and rarely have a unique value proposition that generates exponentially more value to customers than existing solutions. Investors see zombie startups as no longer attractive, and not worth a follow-up investment–which can be the kiss of death for those companies.

What Creates a Zombie

From there, one of two things happens: The dip bounces back and starts to trend upward to scale, or the dip turns into a cliff and never bounces back. Godin proposes that at the bottom of the curve–in the dip–founders have to choose to double down or cut their losses. The ability to know when to hold them and when to fold them is the difference between dogs and stars.

Zombies happen because some founders get caught up in the dip, and neither flame out nor take off to greatness.

How to Tell If Your Startup Is Doomed

There are many signs that can alert a founder (or investor) that a venture is stalling and zombie-bound. Danielle Morrill is an outspoken founder on the issue of zombie startups. A few years ago, she published the following signals that you may be in a zombie phase:

  • You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
  • You don’t want to go out in public for fear you’ll have to explain what you do.
  • You haven’t hit 10 percent week-over-week growth on any meaningful metric (revenue, active users, etc).
  • You’re working on the same idea for than a year and still haven’t launched.
  • You’ve launched a consumer service and have less than 2 percent week-over-week growth in signups.
  • You’ve launched an enterprise service and have less than 2 percent week-over-week growth in revenue pipeline.
  • You are the CEO and hole yourself up in the offices so you don’t have to talk to employees and can read TechCrunch.
  • You’ve hired consultants to figure out revenue, culture, or product in a company of less than 10 people.

What You Can Do About It

  1. Accept it. Call it a day, or as some founders choose to, flame out big. Double down on your efforts and fail large instead of quietly fading away.
  2. Pivot one of the parts of your business model. To become a startup unicorn, you likely need an exponential advantage in one of these areas to shift from zombie to star (think: Netflix offers 10x the entertainment of a movie theater for less than half the cost). There are lots of examples of how a pivot evolved a zombie into a star: Yelp, YouTube, PayPal, Flickr, Groupon, and Shopify.
  3. Organize an acquihire and make lemonade from your lemons. Sometimes, others can leverage what you have built to drive growth at their business. This is often done through an acquihire (buying a company as a means of hiring that startup’s people). While this may not be an optimal outcome, it is often the best choice for zombies.

Unlike on the TV show The Walking Dead, zombie status isn’t forever. There are examples of startups pivoting and becoming stars (and many more examples of startups pivoting and becoming dogs). 

But what’s more important that the decision you make is making a decision. Do not delude yourself. Let the data set you free. 

Published on: Dec 11, 2018

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5 Business Lessons Entrepreneurs Often Ignore When They're in Love With Their Product

Most aspiring entrepreneurs are convinced that their idea and passion are so great that failure is not a possibility.

They relate quickly to one of the big successes out there today, including Facebook, Airbnb, or Snap, and can give you a dozen reasons that they are in the same category. It’s a good way to get some inspiration, but not an accurate representation of reality.

As a startup advisor and angel investor, I tend to focus on the much longer list of ways your startup can fail, based on my own experience and inside knowledge from peers who you will never see highlighted on the Internet.

I’m convinced that you can learn more from failure than success, so it pays to take these as lessons to improve your success odds before you start:

1. Creating a new technology doesn’t make a business.

Based on my experience, creating a new business is at least as difficult as creating an innovative solution, and it takes a knowledge of finance, operations, customers and the marketplace.

If you don’t have all these interests and skills, even your most “disruptive” products will likely fail.

For example, the personal motorized scooter Segway was announced as disruptive technology way back in 2002, but is still not a successful business. Despite the technology, the fears of pedestrians and government regulations strangled the business. 

2. If there is no competition, there is likely not a market.

Every potentially successful product has competition, or an alternative, or customers with no interest in change.

If you really believe your idea has no competition, perhaps you haven’t looked, or there is no real business. Competitors arrive rapidly these days, so make sure you look often.

I often hear funding pitches on “nice to have” products, combining the features of several known winners, such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, there are no competitors for this combination, but people rarely pay real money or incur change for nice-to-have solutions.

3. Focus on doing one thing well rather than many things.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. You will likely confuse your target customers, and do everything poorly, because of the limited resources of a startup.

Later, as you scale the business, is the time to add products or service offerings that customers demand to make the business more robust.

For example, Uber built their initial success by simply connecting people looking for intra-city car rides via a smartphone app. Only later did they expand this offering to multiple classes of cars, Uber for business use, package delivery, and even freight hauling.

4. Plan to and assemble the right team, including co-founders.

Building and running a business is not a solo operation. You need skills in finance, operations, and marketing to supplement product development, and more hours of work than one person can manage.

A team with the right skills, chemistry, and culture makes all the difference in business.

I find that most investors invest in the team, more often then they invest in an idea. If you have the right team, you will be able to execute effectively, multiply the impact of your solution by an order of magnitude, and build relationships with customers quickly.

5. Calculate your projected costs, and double the amount.

Both the business and your solution will take more time and money to develop than you expect.

Entrepreneurs always assume everything will go right the first time, and it never happens. Count on at least one required pivot, and several crises that you could never anticipate.

Can you believe that Facebook, for example, required an investment of nearly $350 million before turning cash-flow positive? Even the best entrepreneurs tend to underestimate their requirements, and finding emergency funding is very costly.

There are many more lessons to be learned by listening to advisors, and peers who have gone before you. Even if you fail on your first startup, you should wear it as a badge of courage and lesson learned, rather than be devastated.

Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs experienced early failures, but obviously never gave up. Your legacy will be how far you have travelled, rather than where you started.

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Waymo’s Self-Driving Launch, and More This Week in Cars

Baby steps.

This week, the WIRED Transportation team highlighted (as we often do) a few exciting developments in self-driving cars. The Senate is finally considering self-driving car legislation, and might finalize it before the end of the year. An autonomous vehicle shuttle company bagged some new government contracts, and will open its six-seaters to members of the general public this month. Waymo, the putative leader in the space, finally launched its self-driving car service in metro Phoenix, Arizona.

And then there were some asterisks. That Waymo launch? There will still mostly be safety drivers in the front seats of its cars, monitoring the tech for boo-boos. And Tesla’s Autopilot was under the microscope again this week, with the news that police stopped a Model S on a California highway—while its driver snoozed behind the wheel. The autonomy thing is going slowly, it turns out, and there have been some brakes applied along the way. We are not there yet.

Also this week: Scooters are the best! Maps are too! It’s been a week: Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • We still don’t know whether the Tesla Model S stopped last month by some quick-thinking cops as its driver snoozed in the front seat was on Autopilot, the electric carmaker’s semi-autonomous highway driving feature. But as editor Alex Davies points out, the incident highlights an issue with the feature: that it can fooled into “believing” that its human driver is paying attention, even when they really aren’t.

  • Waymo officially launched its self-driving robotaxi service this week, with some serious caveats. The cars will still mostly have safety drivers in their front seat, which means they’re not totally driving themselves. And the Waymo One program is only open to people who have already taken part in the company’s secretive Early Rider program. Which means: If you’re not one of a handful of Arizonans, your self-driving car is not arriving now.

  • Still, the site of Waymo’s launch is an interesting place. Welcome to Chandler, Arizona, the unlikely birthplace of the self-driving car service.

  • Here’s another company that’s seeing some self-driving success: the small, Michigan-based startup May Mobility, which announced two impending autonomous shuttle launches this week. Right now, the company is tackling the easier parts of self-driving—shorter, repetitive routes—but it’s tackling them in big, busy cities. And actually signing contracts.

  • Here we go again. This week, Senators suddenly began circulating new language for a self-driving car bill that has been in congressional limbo for more than a year. The draft is supposed to be a compromise, setting loose guidelines for AV developers. But will the bill pass before the end of the year?

  • The hot new gig for bike messengers in Seattle right now? Riding a tricycle for a 111-year-old delivery service. UPS is now testing electric delivery trikes in the city, just as a major infrastructure promises to snarl city traffic. Nice timing!

  • Porsche hooks up with the mapmakers at Mapbox, who make slick cartographic interfaces for all sorts of industries. The Germans are hoping a new approach to mapping will add a bit of pizzazz to their in-car infographics, and maybe even convince drivers to go to exploratory pleasure drives. (Yeah, that’s gotta be a challenge for Porsche owners.)

Fun Efficiency Graphic of the Week

We get it—we’re visual learners, too. If you don’t have time to read Levi Tillemann and Lassor Feasley’s fun piece about scooters, make some time for the chart below, which shows how much less it pollutes and costs to power an e-scooter than your other car-based mobility options.

LEVI TILLEMANN/LASSOR FEASLEY

Stat of the Week

40%

The share of older Americans who say they can’t do the activities or chores they’d like because they do not drive, according to a survey by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center. The group advocates for more transit options for those who can’t drive because of age or disability.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s canon

Bad news for world records, great news for you, deep-pocketed car lover: The supersonic Bloodhound, powered by a jet engine bolted to a rocket, is now for sale after the team that was trying to set the land speed record ran out of money. WIRED reported on the supersonic car back in 2015.

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50 Years Later, We Still Don't Grasp the Mother of All Demos

Fifty years ago today, Doug Engelbart showed 2,000 people a preview of the future.

Engelbart gave a demonstration of the “oN-Line System” at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 1968. The oN-Line System was the first hypertext system, preceding the web by more than 20 years. But it was so much more than that. When Engelbart typed a word, it appeared simultaneously on his screen in San Francisco and on a terminal screen at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. When Engelbart moved his mouse, the cursor moved in both locations.

The demonstration was impressive not just because Engelbart showed off Google Docs-style collaboration decades before Google was founded. It was impressive because he and his team at SRI’s Augmentation Research Center had to conceive of and create nearly every piece of technology they displayed, from the window-based graphical interface to the computer mouse.

“It made the interaction with the machine almost compelling, it was intimate,” says Don Nielson, a retired SRI engineer and executive who wrote a history of SRI called Heritage of Innovation. “Up til then, unless you were a programmer you didn’t spend much time in front of a terminal or a teletype or whatever the medium.”

You can draw a line from the technologies introduced at the “Mother of All Demos,” as WIRED writer Steven Levy dubbed the event in his book Insanely Great, to the internet, the web, Wikipedia, the Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, Google Docs, and a host of other technologies that dominated daily life by the time Engelbart died in 2013. To Engelbart, his work was never about the technology itself, but about helping people work together to solve the world’s biggest problems.

“I don’t believe that as he looked around that he thought ‘Oh I had a hand in that,'” says Nielson. “He would say ‘They still don’t understand me.'”

It’s not hard to see why people didn’t understand. Engelbart concluded the 1968 presentation by explaining what he believed he had demonstrated. “It’s an augmentation system that’s provided to augment computer system development,” he says. “And beyond that, we’re also hoping that we’re developing quite a few design principles for developing our augmentation systems. And these, I hope are transferable things.”

In other words, he wasn’t presenting a collection of hardware and software, but a system for developing hardware and software—a system that ideally could be useful in other endeavors. He was demonstrating a way of working.

Bootstrapping Tools

Engelbart founded the Augmentation Research Center in the early 1960s with an eye towards helping humanity tackle its biggest problems, such as poverty, disease, and the effects of war, his daughter Christina Engelbart says.

To solve those problems, Engelbart believed humanity needed new ways of working. “Man’s population and gross product are increasing at considerable rate but the complexity of his problems grows still faster and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater,” he wrote in his 1959 paper “Augmenting Human Intellect.”

He believed that computers would be an important part of enhancing human abilities, but he also believed technology needed to be part of a systematic approach to problem solving and collaboration. Engelbart believed people should focus on creating feedback loops to improve their own effectiveness explains Jeff Rulifson, the computer scientist who developed much of the software on display at the Mother of All Demos. “The idea was to create tools and then use those tools to improve the tools,” Rulifson says. Instead of making the tool once, it would be continually improved, based on the experiences of its users. As the tools improve, they make it possible to make new, more useful tools. Engelbart called the approach “bootstrapping,” named for the bootstrap circuit in radar systems.

The Augmentation Research Center team put the bootstrapping idea into practice. They used the oN-Line System to build the oN-Line System, learning what did and didn’t work as they went. That was the group’s real purpose.

At the event in 1968, Engelbart didn’t just show off the mouse and hypertext documents as cool. He, Rulifson, and fellow Augmented Research Center engineer Bill Paxton demonstrated how the team used the hypertext system to collaborate.

“What we’re saying, we need a research subject group to give them these tools, put them to work with them, study them and improve them,” Engelbart said during the demo. “We’ll do that by making ourselves be the subject group and studying ourselves, and making the tools so that they improve our ability to develop and study these kinds of systems, and to produce in the end, this kind of system discipline.”

From the GUI to Lean Manufacturing

Engelbart’s ideas no longer seem so out there, thanks to management philosophies like lean manufacturing and agile software development that encourage companies to make continuous improvements to their products and processes.

Open source software is perhaps one of the purest embodiments of the Engelbart philosophy. Open source developers from around the world, often from competing companies, collaborate to build the tools they use to build more tools that they use to solve complex problems, such as building artificial intelligence systems. But the struggles of the open source community also expose some of the limitations to Engelbart’s thinking.

Making tools to solve complex problems can create new problems, and tools can be used in ways the creators might not have intended. Facebook used open source software to build a web application capable of serving more than 2 billion people. Now it stands accused of enabling bad actors to foment hate, divide societies, and manipulate elections. Meanwhile, the National Security Agency is using some of those same open source tools as part of its surveillance efforts.

In other words, bad actors can continuously improve too. Just as environmental activists can get better at trying to raise awareness of global warming or creating sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, the fossil fuel industry can get better at convincing the public that global warming doesn’t exist or find better ways to extract oil and gas.

Christina Engelbart, now the executive director of the Douglas Engelbart Institute, says her father was well aware of this issue, and believed it was important for good people to get better as quickly as possible. “He used to call it a race,” she says.

She says her father was pleased with the development of the lean manufacturing methodology and the earlier “total quality management .” But he wanted to see those ideas applied everywhere, not just manufacturing and product development. To that end, the institute will host a series of events beginning Sunday that aim to help people finally understand Engelbart.


More Great WIRED Stories

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Want to Increase Your Revenues Radically? Call a Designer

This week’s New Yorker magazine has The Back Page by Roz Chast and it’s a cartoon called The Big Book of Parent-Child Fights. The Table of Contents has 12 entries starting with Food Arguments and ending with Miscellaneous Battles. It left me in stitches–I have two teens at home. It also made me love the way it takes a complex idea, the relation between parents and their children, and makes it super simple to understand.

Most organizations and leaders don’t know why they need designers. To put it into perspective, think about when you need a lawyer. Or when you need a plumber. Easy, right? The answer is not as easy or intuitive with design. 

If you know why you need design, you can double your growth. You can build trust with your customers. You can get better at navigating the world of uncertainty with agility. I call this having a high Design Quotient (DQ).

If you don’t know when to call a designer, or how to have design embedded into your company culture, you fall behind. You follow versus lead, others eat you for lunch. 

With inspiration from Chast, here is The Big Book of When to Call a Designer. If you answer Yes (Y) to any of the points, it’s time to talk to a designer.

1. You want to increase your revenues radically, and faster. Y/N

“Top-quartile MDI scorers increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders (TRS) substantially faster than their industry counterparts did over a five-year period–32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher TRS growth for the period as a whole.” The Business Value of Design, Mc Kinsey

2. You need to lower your risks but want to increase your rate of innovation. Y/N

The design process inherently reduces risk–its multiple ideas, iteration, rapid prototyping, testing, and reiteration means you can fail fast and at a low cost until you have a winning idea.

“Prototype ideas from low fidelity to high fidelity with increasing evidence that your ideas are going to work.” Alex Osterwalder, author, Business Model Canvas

3. You want to build your customers’ trust and be close to them. Y/N

Organizations that use design tools regularly, such as co-creation and user-journey maps, develop empathy for their users. This leads to a better understanding of their needs, leading to better solutions, and eventually and most importantly, leading to trust. 

4. Your C-suite doesn’t include a design function. Y/N

Most organizations do not have a design function in their C-suite. Yet design can bring user experience-centered, multi-functional vision building and decision making at the highest levels.  Having someone at the top who does this helps to embed it internally and creates long-term returns as noted in point #1.

5. Your organization is siloed, and it gets in the way of effective collaboration. Y/N

Design is collaborative. Designers are generalists. Often what they don’t know, and want to learn, that makes them great at bringing cross-functional teams together. In fact, their superpower is synthesizing diverse knowledge and input into a coherent vision.

6. Your research generates insights that everyone has. Y/N

If you want innovation, you need innovative research tools. Designers constantly invent new qualitative and quantitative research tools–researching other industries, studying outliers, using AI and machine-learning to generate permutations–that bring new insights to old problems.

7. You listen to the customer’s voice, but do not imagine the customer experience. Y/N

Channeling Henry Ford for a moment, the customer’s voice gives you a faster horse. Customer experience, on the other hand, gives you a Model T. Design brings physical, digital, and service together to define experiences that improve our lives. 

8. You have dichotomies, but do not know how to resolve them. Y/N

“Less is more” is my favorite dichotomy. Good design at an affordable price is Target’s. Simple and high performance is Apple’s. Each is a strong design organization with an embedded design culture, and each creates long-term, high value through the resolution of dichotomies.

There’s no one easy answer to when to call a designer; there are many good reasons. But can you afford not to? The answer to that is simple and best said by, Ralph Caplan, author, and National Design Mind Awardee:

“Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”

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Kroger Just Made the Sort of Massive Decision That'll Make Competitors Scramble In Panic

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

There’s panic in the supermarket aisles.

For once, it’s not a vegan who can’t find the right strain of cabbage.

No, this is the panic of supermarket chains worried that the game has changed and no one will tell them the new rules.

Amazon‘s tentacles seem to be wrapping themselves around everything and everyone and the more traditional chains need to react. But how?

In Kroger’s case, the answer seems to be to stop people shopping at Kroger.

Or, rather, to make it not entirely necessary.

The chain has announced that it’ll be perfectly happy if you go to Walgreen’s instead.

In essence, this supermarket within a drugstore will contain “a curated assortment of 2,300 products” that’ll take up around a third of the space in your average Walgreen’s.

Which wise people will do the curating, I hear you cry. 

Oh, not so much people, but “customer data and insights provided by Kroger subsidiary 84.51.”

In 13 Northern Kentucky Walgreen’s, you’ll be able to pick up essentials such as chicken or beef. Or, for the especially adventurous, Home Chef meal kits.

Some might see this as two big brands feeling threatened and huddling together for a little warmth.

This is your number 2 and number 6 biggest American retailers getting together.

But if you’re up against the twisted might of Amazon and Whole Foods, what are you going to do?

You’re going to think about where people regularly go and try and make things easier for them to buy your wares. 

People are lazy. They’re getting lazier. Help them solve their own little daily problems that, for so many, tend to involve surviving more than thriving.

Other chain stores have found it harder to find huddle-partners.

It’s trying to get foot traffic, after all.

And who’s next? Safeway and CVS? 

How about Costco and H&M? 

You have to think creatively about these things. Amazon’s getting into food and fashion. It’s creeping its way into your kitchen, living room and bedroom with its Echo.

There are only so many means of escape.

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Fintech company Calastone to shift fund network to blockchain

LONDON (Reuters) – Calastone, an investment funds transaction network, said on Monday it will shift its entire system to blockchain in May, a move that could slash costs for the sector by billions of dollars a year.

London-based Calastone provides back and middle-office services to more than 1,700 firms such as JP Morgan Asset Management, Schroders and Invesco, helping them sell their funds across the world through banks and other local financial advisors.

The shift will see more than 9 million messages a month between those counterparties – worth more than 170 billion pounds ($217 billion)- completed on blockchain, marking a move into mainstream finance for a technology whose hype has rarely been matched by widespread usage in major industries.

Currently three separate messages are sent digitally between firms as they buy into a fund: one to place orders, another to confirm receipt, and a third to confirm the price.

Though more reliable than manual methods of communicating like faxes – still used by some in the industry – that messaging process is still cumbersome and time-consuming.

Moving to blockchain could slash as much as 3.4 billion pounds ($4.3 billion) a year in global fund industry costs by pooling trading and settlement processes, Calastone said, citing research by consultants Deloitte.

Savings on such a scale would be a boon to the fund industry as it is buffeted by investor pressure to lower fees – its main source of revenue – and rising costs, much of it linked to tougher regulations after the financial crisis.

“The more you can automate, the more you de-risk, you more you streamline, the more you speed up,” said Andrew Tomlinson, chief marketing officer at Calastone.

FROM HYPE TO REALITY?

Originally conceived to underpin the cryptocurrency bitcoin, blockchain is a shared database that can process and settle transactions in minutes. It does not need middlemen for checks and its entries cannot be changed, making it highly secure.

Proponents say it has the power to revolutionise industries from finance to shipping by making back office jobs more efficient. That prospect has sparked tests by banks and other financial companies across the world over the last few years.

But despite the hype, few blockchain projects have been put into practice in the finance sector, due in part to worries over costs, regulation and how widely used it can become.

Banks and asset managers are also concerned about the security of blockchain, said Matthias Huebner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman in Frankfurt.

“How secure is the technology? Is there a risk of fraud? Is there a risk of data just getting lost?” he said.

Still, Calastone said all of its users would see their trades move to the blockchain.

JP Morgan Asset Management and Invesco – listed as clients on Calastone’s website – declined to comment on the shift when contacted by Reuters. Schroders, also listed as a client, did not respond to a request for comment.

Beyond finance, the majority of blockchain projects launched so far have been in peripheral industries such as ticketing or food supply chains.

Recently, though, others have been launched in the commodities sector, suggesting that the technology is catching on in major sectors.

Big oil companies and trading firms, for instance, are now able to finalise crude oil deals on a blockchain-based platform.

Reporting by Tom Wilson and Simon Jessop, editing by Louise Heavens

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New Valve Agreement Gives Developers a Bigger Share of Profits

Valve just made a change to how it splits up revenue from games on its Steam platform that will share more money with developers.

Valve announced the change Friday night, which details updates to its distribution agreement and reveals a new revenue share tier system. After a game makes more than $10 million on Steam, 25% of earnings will go to Steam. At $50 million, 20% will go to Steam. This includes revenue from game packages, downloadable content, in-game sales, and Community Marketplace game fees. This is for revenue from Oct. 1, 2018 and onward, but will not take into account any revenue made prior to that date.

Prior to this change, Steam would take about 30% of all revenue, as noted by The Verge. This was largely true across the board at any revenue level, with exceptions only made for smaller developers that participate in its Steam Direct program, which allows new developers to easily submit their games to the platform.

The move comes as more competitors look to dismantle Steam’s dominance, which for a long time was the main source of PC gaming. EA, one of the largest game developers, has its own Origin platform, Discord, a chat service used heavily in the gaming community announced its competitor The Discord Store just over a month ago, and more developers are self-releasing titles to avoid splitting its revenue.

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7 Great Gifts for the Entrepreneurs in Your Life

Thanksgiving is over, so that means holiday shopping is now upon us. Buying for kids is easy (I should know; I have two boys). But buying for the entrepreneurs in my life–mostly founders at Ryerson Futures, where I mentor–is not an easy task.  

To help me decide what to buy my founders, I tapped several superstars from my network. I asked founders, funders, and startup facilitators what gifts they recommend to solve their entrepreneurial problems. Here is what they suggested. 

For the Founder Who Is Scaling

Leonard Brody, a serial entrepreneur, investor, and chair of Creative Labs, recommends Butler Bot. Brody runs a lot of his business through Trello, which has boards, lists, and cards that help you organize and prioritize your projects. But as the number of projects, teammates, and tasks grows, it can be hard to manage. That’s where Butler Bot comes in. Butler Bot is a rule-based workflow automation tool, which, according to Brody, is a lifesaver as you begin to scale: “It helps me automate thousands of tasks everyday. I keep my whole life in Trello.” 

For the Founder on a Tight Budget

Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank (a.k.a. Mr. Wonderful) is pushing the new “As Seen on Shark Tank” store on Amazon this holiday season. (This makes sense, since he and his fellow Sharks own equity in most of the items listed.) Of all the items listed, my favorite is Screenmend, a $10 kit to repair expensive computer monitors. Most founders spend big money for a high-end monitor to work on. No founder can afford to simply replace their expensive monitor each time it has a scratch. This gift lets entrepreneurs save hundreds on a new monitor with a $10 fix. 

For the Founder Who’s Not Quite Sure About the Numbers

Like O’Leary, Sunil Sharma, a managing director at Techstars Toronto, tweets about his investments as holiday gifts. The Techstars Gift Guide includes dozens of solutions produced by Techstars startups. My favorite is Clever Girl Finance, a platform to teach financial literacy (think cash flow statements, minimizing taxes, and creating pro forma financials). Financial literacy is widely linked to business success, yet many entrepreneurs are financially illiterate, according to an Intuit survey. A few years ago, using data from 509 young entrepreneurs in a program by the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, I proved that increases in financial literacy led to more frequent production of financial statements, which in turn led to lower probability of business failure. That’s why I’m giving out this gift this year.

For Founders with Families 

David Bloom leads LevelJump, a startup funded by Ryerson Futures. He is also a husband and father of three. Bloom’s recommendation is a book by Jim Sheils called The Family Board Meetingwhich is meant to help founders with work-life balance. Reading the cover blurb sold me on this book, and I’m hoping to receive it myself.

“…begin connecting, deepening and strengthening the relationship with your most important asset–your children. Using this simple strategy, busy entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals have been re-grounded in balance between professional and home life.”

For the Stressed-Out Founder

Puneet Tiwari, CEO and co-founder of law tech startup Evichat, recommends that entrepreneurs ask for spa massages. Tiwari says the best way to counter startup stress is a relaxing spa massage with sauna. Can’t argue with that. 

For the Fixated Founder

Rick Spence, a startup journalist who writes for the Financial Post, recommends giving the entrepreneur in your life a gym membership so founders can “…Get out of the office, clear your head, create neutral time for creative thinking, and meet real people.” Like Tiwari’s spa idea, it is hard to argue with Spence that entrepreneurs need to get out of the office and exercise.

For the Time-Constrained Founder 

Ramona Pringle, a tech journalist and director of the Transmedia Zone incubator, suggests the gift that entrepreneurs really need is “an extra 10 hours a week. There has got to be someone working physics on that.” Well I looked and unfortunately, that technology is still under development, but in the meantime we can buy busy founders a TARDIS desk pal (the TARDIS is a time machine from the TV series Doctor Who) to remind them that time is the most valuable resource they have. If you want a more practical tool for startup time management, I recommend David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) program and book. I interviewed Allen in Silicon Valley almost 10 years ago when he launched GTD. Since then, GTD has become the default time management system of startup founders, and Allen has become a productivity guru to millions. 

Note: This article contains affiliate links that may earn Inc.com a small fee on purchases originating from them. They do not influence Inc.com’s editorial decisions to include mention of any products or services in this article.

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Scientist Who Crispr’d Babies Bucked His Own Ethics Policy

We said “don’t freak out,” when scientists first used Crispr to edit DNA in non-viable human embryos. When they tried it in embryos that could theoretically produce babies, we said “don’t panic.” Many years and years of boring bench science remain before anyone could even think about putting it near a woman’s uterus. Well, we might have been wrong. Permission to push the panic button granted.

Late Sunday night, a Chinese researcher stunned the world by claiming to have created the first human babies, a set of twins, with Crispr-edited DNA. “Two beautiful little Chinese girls, Lulu and Nana, came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago,” the scientist, He Jiankiu, said in the first of five promotional videos posted to YouTube hours after MIT Technology Review broke the news.

LEARN MORE

The WIRED Guide to Crispr

Lulu and Nana are reported to have a genetic mutation, courtesy of Crispr, that makes it harder for HIV to invade and infect their white blood cells. The claim, which has yet to be independently verified or backed up by published data, has ignited furious criticism, international outrage, and multiple investigations. The scientific outcry has been so swift because He’s purported work, conducted in secret, bulldozes past existing ethical guidance on so-called “germline editing,” in which alterations to an embryo’s DNA will be passed down to subsequent generations.

What’s perhaps most strange is not that He ignored global recommendations on conducting responsible Crispr research in humans. He also ignored his own advice to the world—guidelines that were published within hours of his transgression becoming public.

On Monday, He and his colleagues at Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, published a set of draft ethical principles “to frame, guide, and restrict clinical applications that communities around the world can share and localize based on religious beliefs, culture, and public-health challenges.” Those principles included transparency and only performing the procedure when the risks are outweighed by serious medical need.

The piece appeared in the The Crispr Journal, a young publication dedicated to Crispr research, commentary, and debate. Rodolphe Barrangou, the journal’s editor in chief, where the peer-reviewed perspective appeared, says that the article was one of two that it had published recently addressing the ethical concerns of human germline editing, the other by a bioethicist at the University of North Carolina. Both papers’ authors had requested that their writing come out ahead of a major gene editing summit taking place this week in Hong Kong. When half-rumors of He’s covert work reached Barrangou over the weekend, his team discussed pulling the paper, but ultimately decided that there was nothing too solid to discredit it, based on the information available at the time.

Now Barrangou and his team are rethinking that decision. For one thing, He did not disclose any conflicts of interest, which is standard practice among respectable journals. It’s since become clear that not only is He at the helm of several genetics companies in China, He was actively pursuing controversial human research long before writing up a scientific and moral code to guide it.“We’re currently assessing whether the omission was a matter of ill-management or ill-intent,” says Barrangou, who added that the journal is now conducting an audit to see if a retraction might be warranted. “It’s perplexing to see authors submit an ethical framework under which work should be done on the one hand, and then concurrently do something that directly contravenes at least two of five of their stated principles.”

One is transparency. Reporting by Tech Review and The Associated Press has raised questions about whether He misled trial participants and Chinese regulators in his ambitions to make the first Crispr’d baby. Two is medical necessity.

Take the gene He’s group chose to edit: CCR5. It codes for a receptor that HIV uses to infiltrate white blood cells, like a key to a locked door. No key, no access. Other controversial Crispr firsts have attempted to correct faulty versions of genes responsible for inherited, often incurable disorders, reverting them back to the healthy version. In contrast, He’s group crippled normal copies of CCR5 to lower the risk of future possible infection with HIV—a disease that is easily prevented, treated, and controlled by means that don’t involve forever changing someone’s DNA. Drugs, condoms, needle-exchange programs are all reasonable alternatives.

“There are all sorts of questions these issues raise, but the most fundamental is the risk-benefit ratio for the babies who are going to be born,” says Hank Greely, an ethicist at Stanford University. “And the risk-benefit ratio on this stinks. Any institutional review board that approved it should be disbanded if not jailed.”

Reporting by Stat indicates that He may have just gotten in over his head and tried to cram a self-guided ethics education into a few short months. The young scientist—records indicate He is just 34—has a background in biophysics, with stints studying in the US at Rice University and in bioengineer Stephen Quake’s lab at Stanford. His resume doesn’t read like someone steeped deeply in the nuances and ethics of human research. Barrangou says that came across in the many rounds of edits He’s framework went through. “The editorial team did spend a significant amount of time improving both the language and the content,” he says.

It’s too soon to say whether He’s stunt will bring him fame or just infamy. He’s still scheduled to speak at the human genome editing summit on Wednesday and Thursday. And China’s central government in Beijing has yet to come down one way or another. Condemnation would make He a rogue and a scientific outcast. Anything else opens the door for a Crispr IVF cottage industry to emerge in China and potentially elsewhere. “It’s hard to imagine this was the only group in the world doing this,” says Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at UC Davis who wrote a book on the future of designer babies called GMO Sapiens. “Some might say this broke the ice. Will others forge ahead and go public with their results or stop what they’re doing and see how this plays out?”

What happens next makes all the difference. The fact that two babies now exist with one gene changed by Crispr to a less common form doesn’t change the world overnight. What changes the world is how society reacts, and whether it decides to let such DNA-altering procedures become common.


More Great WIRED Stories

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Google workers demand end to censored Chinese search project

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – More than 200 engineers, designers and managers at Alphabet Inc’s Google demanded in an open letter on Tuesday that the company end development of a censored search engine for Chinese users, escalating earlier protests against the secretive project.

FILE PHOTO: Google’s booth is pictured at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2017 in Beijing, China April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Google has described the search app, known as Project Dragonfly, as an experiment not close to launching. But as details of it have leaked since August, current and former employees, human rights activists and U.S. lawmakers have criticized Google for not taking a harder line against the Chinese government’s policy that politically sensitive results be blocked.

Human rights group Amnesty International also launched a public petition on Tuesday calling on Google to cancel Dragonfly. The organization said it would encourage Google workers to sign the petition by targeting them on LinkedIn and protesting outside Google offices.

Google declined to comment on the employees’ letter on Tuesday as Alphabet shares fell 0.35 percent to $1,052.28.

Google has long sought to have a bigger presence in China, the world’s largest internet market. It needs government approval to compete with the country’s dominant homegrown internet services.

An official at China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, who was unauthorized to speak publicly, told Reuters on Tuesday there was “no indication” from Google that it had adjusted earlier plans to eventually launch the search app. However, the official described a 2019 release as “unrealistic” without elaborating.

About 1,400 of Google’s tens of thousands of workers urged the company in August to improve oversight of ethically questionable ventures, including Dragonfly.

The nine employees who first signed their names on Tuesday’s letter said they had seen little progress.

The letter expresses concern about the Chinese government tracking dissidents through search data and suppressing truth through content restrictions.

“We object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” the employees said in the letter published on the blogging service Medium.

The employees said they no longer believed Google was “a company willing to place its values over profits,” and cited a string of “disappointments” this year, including acknowledgement of a big payout to an executive who had been accused of sexual harassment.

That incident sparked global protests at Google, which like other big technology companies has seen an uptick in employee activism during the last two years as their services become an integral part of civic infrastructure.

Reporting by Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown

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Microsoft (Yes, Microsoft) Briefly Moves Past Apple as the World’s Most Valuable Company

Microsoft briefly surpassed Apple as the most valuable company in the world Monday as the market cap of Microsoft’s stock traded above Apple’s.

For years, Apple has ruled as the U.S. stock with the largest market cap. In August, Apple’s market cap rose above the $1 trillion level, becoming the first U.S. stock to reach that level. Last month, however, Apple’s stock tumbled on a disappointing outlook for the holiday season this quarter. Microsoft’s stock also fell during the selloff in tech stocks but held up relatively well.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s market cap fell to $812 billion during intraday trading Monday, while Microsoft’s rose to $819 billion. “It most likely won’t be long until Microsoft is firmly entrenched again as No. 1 in the world,” Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide wrote. “Longer-term, Microsoft has continued to roll as the go-to shepherd for corporate clients anxiously navigating technology changes in their industries.”

Microsoft and Apple were bitter rivals for decades. The two companies emerged as leaders in the 1980s during the early days of the personal computer industry. Microsoft became a juggernaut among software makers, while Apple and other Silicon Valley companies fought for market share. Microsoft’s dominance in the PC software market gave it a market value that was larger than Apple’s for years.

In early 2010, Apple’s market cap surpassed that of Microsoft and remained above it for the next eight years, as consumers moved away from desktop computers in favor of smartphones and tablets. Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. Since then, Microsoft has moved away from Windows software as an engine of revenue growth in favor of enterprise software, particularly cloud services like Azure.

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How Galia Lahav's CEO Got His Fairy Tale Ending

How did an e-commerce entrepreneur who came late to the social media revolution become an internationally celebrated innovator and build one of the world’s top luxury bridal brands? For Idan Lahav, CEO of Galia Lahav House of Couture, it took both serendipity and a social-centric strategy.

Galia Lahav’s story reads like both an entrepreneur’s field guide for the digital age and an old-fashioned fairy tale. When I recently sat down to talk with Idan, I found him to be a walking case study of a brand leader whose success has been driven by a deep understanding of the connected consumer.

A new vision.

Galia Lahav is a luxury bridal and evening wear brand with a network of 70 stores across 40 countries that for almost a decade has achieved 40 percent year-over-year growth. Though Galia Lahav was founded in 1984 in Tel Aviv, it was only about ten years ago that the current chapter in its story began.  

At that time, Idan was helping his mom with some Galia Lahav tech issues. As he went through the company’s email, he was shocked to discover something that would forever alter the course of the business. Eighty percent of consumer inquiries were coming from locations outside of Israel where the brand didn’t do business (namely, from the U.S. and Europe). It was then Idan realized that Galia Lahav was destined to be a global brand.  

Making up for lost time.

As a self-proclaimed data geek, Idan immediately set about determining what was driving the international traffic since the brand wasn’t investing in ads or PR. As Idan dug deeper, he quickly came to three realizations. First, that the traffic was being sourced through social media. Second, that he was late to the e-commerce revolution. Last, that he had to act now.

Though Idan had virtually no experience with ecommerce or social media, he immediately began to actively feed the social media platforms that were driving traffic to the Galia Lahav site and sold his first couture wedding gown that very day.

As I learned more of the story behind Galia Lahav’s brand ascendency, I heard Idan speak to three key themes for succeeding in the digital age:

Find and focus on your niche.

“A new business that wants to build a brand has to start within a niche or a well-defined product and be very precise with the message it’s sending out,” says Idan. Galia Lahav found and focused on this niche by being among the first brands to understand that today’s brides wanted more curve-accentuating silhouettes and updated designs than those traditionally available on the market.

But in the early days of the brand’s current incarnation, almost no stores would carry its designs, believing them to be too “sexy” or “fashion forward.” After nearly a year of failed tradeshows on multiple continents, funds were nearly depleted and the brand was in danger of folding. But then serendipity struck. At Galia Lahav’s final trade show in New York, three buyers fell in love with the collection. From there, it wasn’t long before the brand’s designs were available in Bergdorf Goodman, Browns, Takami group and other luxury retailers.

Leverage a clear, consistent, agile social strategy.

Idan realized that social media was the brand’s primary link to global clients, and moved quickly to assemble a multi-disciplinary team to develop a clearly defined campaign that was highly consistent across channels.

“The world is flooded with content, so in order to succeed you have to invest in a strong social media team —  a team of experienced trendsetters and active social users, who specializes in creative, conceptualization and content,” says  Idan. “There is also the image specifications for each channel. Everything is constantly changing so you have to adapt quickly and correctly in each platform as well.”

Listen to and learn from connected consumers.

“It would be shameful to receive free feedback and not take it into account when creating new designs,” Idan told me. In creating its collections, Galia Lahav relies heavily on social media for direct feedback.

It’s this commitment to listening to and learning from connected consumers that keeps the brand constantly evolving.  

Idan also spoke to the crucial role of influencers. “Our biggest and most effective source of exposure is through the presence of digital influencers on social media. Real brides and other customers who share their own imagery and experience online are priceless and give the brand another layer.”  

The meteoric rise of Galia Lahav is a testament to what’s possible for brands who are driven by an understanding of the connected consumer and the rules of engagement for the digital age. Though serendipity opened a new chapter for the brand, it was Idan’s social-centric strategy that saw its story through to a fairy tale ending.  

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Inside Netflix’s Oscar Factory

When her movie Private Life screened for the first time at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Tamara Jenkins says she experienced something she never had in her 27 years as a filmmaker.

“I heard someone behind me laughing, loving the movie,” says Jenkins, who wrote and directed the Netflix-financed film about a New York couple struggling with infertility. “I turn around and it’s Ted Sarandos. He was reacting to it like a film lover. It was startling to see an executive have a visceral reaction like that.”

Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, loved Private Life so much that he added the movie to the streaming giant’s slate of nearly a dozen films it’s pushing during this long Oscar awards season. For the first time in its 20-year history, Netflix’s awards hopefuls are showing in theaters en masse, receiving unprecedented runs ahead of their stream dates. Among them: Private Life, Paul Greengrass’s 22 July, Andy Serkis’s Mowgli, the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Sandra Bullock–starring Bird Box, and director Alfonso Cuarón’s Spanish language Roma. The Cuarón film, Netflix’s Oscar-contender crown jewel, may appear in up to 20 countries theatrically by the time its 130-million-plus subscribers can stream it on Dec. 14.

Director Alfonso Cuarón, won the Oscar for directing and editing "Gravity" in 2014. A feat that Netflix hopes "Roma" will equal.

Director Alfonso Cuarón, won the Oscar for directing and editing “Gravity” in 2014. A feat that Netflix hopes “Roma” will equal.

Jason Merritt—Getty Images

Such a massive rollout bucks Sarandos’s long-standing rule against releasing movies in theaters ahead of their stream dates. It’s a history that one insider says has frustrated theater owners who have been eager to show Netflix films for their cinephile-leaning audiences. It has also opened the door for streaming competitors to establish their own awards-season presence at the multiplex: Amazon’s 2016 film Manchester by the Sea had a three-month theatrical run before it streamed online and went on to earn Best Picture and Best Director nominations and statues for Original Screenplay and Lead Actor.

“Netflix is now prioritizing winning Oscars as a branding benefit for the company,” says Anne Thompson, a veteran film reporter who serves as editor-at-large for the trade publication IndieWire. She says Netflix’s doubling-down on awards was cemented when Sarandos hired Hollywood’s most in-demand Oscar-campaign strategist, Lisa Taback (La La Land, Moonlight), last summer to work in-house for Netflix. Another Hollywood insider, who declined to be named citing active business relationships, estimates the company’s annual awards budget could now be as high as $20 million. “Ted is doing for movies what he’s done for TV,” says Thompson. “And Hollywood is running scared.”

Whether scared or strategic, precious few of the Hollywood executives, campaign strategists, agents, Academy voters, and producers that Fortune asked about Netflix’s awards efforts were willing to speak on the record. (“No one wants to show their hand, especially this year,” one consultant says.) ­Sarandos and Taback also declined to comment for this article, but a Netflix spokesperson did confirm details of the company’s Oscar-season rollout strategy.

Netflix’s luck at the Academy Awards has ebbed and flowed. In 2015, the company positioned Beasts of No Nation as a Best Picture hopeful, but the film failed to connect with voters and performed poorly in theaters. Netflix earned consecutive Best Documentary nominations in 2016 for What Happened, Miss Simone? and in 2017 for Ava DuVernay’s 13th; in January, the critically acclaimed Mudbound earned four major nominations but failed to break into the Best Picture pool.

Sarandos’s hopes this year are pinned on Roma, Cuarón’s love letter to the nanny who helped raise him in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood in the 1970s. It also may be one of the biggest Best Picture gambles of all time. It features no known actors (lead Yalitza Aparicio is a preschool teacher from Oaxaca), it’s filmed in black and white, and it’s in a mix of Spanish and indigenous languages. One Academy member says Roma risks being favored more by voters in “below the line” Oscar categories like cinematography and sound design and may not connect as easily with the Academy’s largest contingent of voters—actors—because the performances are so natural. Cuarón shot Roma in the expansive 65-millimeter format using Dolby Atmos sound technology, all making it likely to attract an audience that’s more art house than Avengers.

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf as Pepe, and Daniela Demesa as Sofi in still from Roma.

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf as Pepe, and Daniela Demesa as Sofi in still from Roma.

Alfonso Cuarón—Netflix

Netflix, according to one executive, therefore will likely employ a “four wall” release strategy for Roma, a tactic in which studios essentially rent out theaters to make films immune to poor box-office performance. Another insider notes that Netflix is “easily” the business’s largest awards advertiser. “It’s all working, because that early sense of elitism among film Academy voters about a ‘TV company’ making Oscar movies is gone,” says Rich Licata, a veteran awards strategist and CEO of Licata & Co. “There was a fallacy of voters being too old to understand Netflix. But the sentiment is positive now. There’s been a need to innovate the awards business. That’s what Netflix and Amazon are both doing. They’re attracting talent, and talent runs Hollywood.”

For Jenkins, whose film Private Life earned nominations for Best Screenplay and Lead Actress from the Gotham Independent Film Awards this fall (often a harbinger of Oscar’s favorites), the idea that a character-driven Netflix movie like hers would land on the big screen across the U.S., in the U.K., and in Canada—let alone be in the mix for Oscars—is still sinking in. “I thought we’d be in one or two theaters total,” she says. “I could have never imagined 21. It actually felt like a real release. It’s been the best of both worlds.”

A version of this article appears in the December 1, 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “Netflix’s Oscar Factory.”

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Russia Sets Out to Prove the U.S. Moon Landing Happened

There’s been a growth in popularity of conspiracy theories in the United States over the past few years, but it seems Russia will be fact-checking a long-standing one.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said in a video posted to Twitter Saturday that Russia will verify if the United States actually went to the moon, the Associated Press reported.

“We have set this objective to fly and verify whether they’ve been there or not,” Rogozin said in the video.

It should be noted that the United States did, in fact, go to the moon in 1969 and Rogozin appeared to make his claim with some humor as he was reportedly smiling and shrugged as he spoke. Rogozin was responding to a question about whether or not the moon landing actually happened.

While conspiracy theories have seen a surge in the U.S., theories on whether or not NASA actually went to the moon are common in Russia, according to the AP.

It’s unclear how concrete Russia’s plans are to verify the moon landing or when they might do so. Russia’s lunar program was shut down in the 1970s.

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Black Friday 2018: Best Laptop, Tablet, and Phone Deals

Laptop makers love to hitch their wagon to a good sale, and Black Friday weekend is one of their favorites. There are a bunch of PC deals going on all the way through Cyber Monday as well. We’ve spent days sifting through sales to find devices worth your time. Below are the best laptop deals we’ve found so far, along with our favorite tablet and smartphone deals for good measure.

Note: Deals tend to flow and out of availability at a rapid rate during Black Friday, and some may not be available until 12 a.m. Friday, or early in the morning. Please bear with us. We will continue to update this list as we learn about new deals, and items sell out. You can read more WIRED Black Friday 2018 Deals guides here.

Best Black Friday Laptop Deals

Microsoft

For a little insight on the laptops we like, check out our new list of Best Laptops for 2018.

Samsung 11-Inch Chromebook 3 $99 ($100 off)

Walmart

This is a petite, lightweight Chromebook for lightweight tasks. It’s good for email, browsing, and some basics but it should do them admirably. At this price, that’s OK.

HP Pavilion 15-Inch Gaming Laptop $750 ($250 off)

Walmart

This HP laptop has a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) CPU, a 1TB hard drive with 16GB of Optane memory, and 8GB RAM. If you like color LED-lit keys, it can likely rip through some office work, as well.

Asus 17-Inch Gaming Laptop for $999 ($400 off)

Best Buy

With an Intel Core i7 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, a 512 GB SSD, and 16 GB of RAM, you should be able to do just about anything on this gaming laptop, even a little VR. To get all that for one grand is a great deal.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with Keyboard for $799 ($260 off)

Microsoft, Newegg (+$20 gift card)

When the first Surface debuted, it was a strange tablet/laptop hybrid. Years later, the Pro 6 is one of the best, most versatile PCs you can buy, and its keyboard rocks (8/10, WIRED Recommends). To get it for under $1,000 with a Keyboard cover is an excellent example of a good Black Friday laptop deal.

Huawei MateBook X Pro with All the Fixins’ for $1,350 ($150 off)

Microsoft Store, B&H, Newegg

If you want just about the most kickass little laptop money can buy, the 14-inch upgraded MateBook X Pro is it (7/10, WIRED Review), with an Intel Core i7 (8th Gen), 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and a Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card. The screen is extra nice on this one. It’s touch and stretches all the way to the edges, meaning you get a 13-inch screen in a much smaller body. The only downside is the webcam, which is stored inside a key on the F keys. It’s really fun to pop open, like old Corvette headlights, but isn’t a fun angle.

SHOP HAPPY

Get Gadget Lab’s picks of the best holiday deals this season. Headphones, laptops, TVs, oh my!

Lenovo Ideapad 720S Laptop with 4K Display for $950 ($550 off)

Newegg, Lenovo ($450 off)

If you want a Retina-like display on a Windows machine, this IdeaPad packs a lot of pixels into a 13-inch rectangle. With an Intel Core i7 (8th Gen), 8GB RAM, a fingerprint reader, and a 512-gigabyte SSD for storage, it should be able to handle most work tasks with ease. If you want to spend a bit less, the Lenovo 710S is also a good buy and only costs $760 on Amazon right now.

Gigabyte Aero 15X VR-Capable Laptop $1,749 ($550 off)

Newegg

Deal ends Saturday, November 24

This is another nice gaming laptop, this one with top-notch specs, 8 GB of video RAM and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, which is quite capable of almost any gaming or VR system you can throw at it. It has all the ports you’ll need too.

Google Pixelbook Chromebook for $899 ($300 off)

Amazon

Is the Pixelbook excessive? Maybe, but even if you’re only running the Chrome browser, it doesn’t hurt to have a powerful processor and plenty of RAM/storage. And that’s just what Google’s official Chromebook has. Read our full review to learn more.

Black Friday Tablet Deals

Apple

To learn more about what’s hot, read our Best Tablets and Best iPads guides.

Apple iPad 2018 for $249 ($80 off)

Amazon, Apple

This is a rare iPad deal. The standard iPad is compatible with the Apple Pencil, making it the most well-rounded affordable tablet you can own. Period. It has better apps and better games than any other platform. It’s the same iPad you’ve seen before, and should last you years.

Apple iPad Mini 4 (128GB) for $300 ($100 off)

Amazon, Apple

Apple only sells a 128GB iPad Mini 4 now. It hasn’t updated its smallest tablet in a while, but it’s still the best option if you want a more travel-friendly screen size—and it still works great. The storage is more than you’ll likely need, and we’ve never seen it at this low a price before.

Apple iPad Pro 10.5 for $575 ($75 off)

Amazon, Apple

Apple may have released a new iPad Pro with Face ID and no home button, but it’s still selling last year’s 10.5-inch Pro, and it’s still an awesome Pro-level tablet. It can do most everything (work-wise) that the new iPads can do, and at this price, it’s hundreds cheaper.

Kindle Paperwhite for $80 ($40 off)

Amazon

No, it’s not technically a laptop, phone, or tablet, but whatcha gonna do? The Kindle is one of the last surviving ebook readers, and for good reason: it’s a fantastic reading device and gets a month of battery life on a charge. This model isn’t the brand new waterproof Kindle, but it’s still fantastic and has a wonderful built-in backlight

Fire HD 10 for $100 ($50 off)

Amazon

The Fire HD 10 is no workhorse, but it’s big enough and powerful enough to act as a second (larger) screen when you need one—perfect for simple games, hands-free Alexa, reading, or Netflix binging. (Of course, Amazon would prefer that you stream Prime Videos instead.)

Best Black Friday Smartphone Deals

Nokia

There are some smartphone deals happening on Black Friday too. To understand the market a bit more, you may want to check our Best Android Phones and Best iPhones guides.

Belkin 5,000mAh Portable Charger for $15 ($15 off)

Amazon

This charger is smaller than your phone, but will recharge it almost two times from an empty battery (depending on your phone model).

OnePlus 6 for $429 ($100 off)

OnePlus

The OnePlus 6 is still as powerful as any phone on the market, with a Snapdragon 845 processor and plenty of RAM. At less than $500, it’s a complete steal. Unlike the new OnePlus 6T (which we also really like!), the 6 still has a headphone jack. It also comes with a case in the box. The only downside: it won’t work on Sprint or Verizon. Read our full review to learn more.

Samsung Galaxy S9 for $520 ($200 off)

Amazon, Walmart, Samsung, Best Buy, B&H

The Galaxy S9 is still at the top of the class of 2018 phones. It’s as fast as they come, and its camera shines brighter than most Android phones outside the Pixel 3 (see below). It’s now on sale for $520 for the holidays, making it the cheapest flagship phone around—even cheaper than the latest OnePlus, though you should consider the OnePlus 6 above if you’re on AT&T or T-Mobile. If not, Samsung’s phone will work on any carrier.

Apple iPhone XR for $600 ($150 off)

Best Buy

This is our favorite new iPhone. It has the full-size screen like the X and XS iPhones, along with Face ID, and it comes in a rainbow assortment of colors. We like that Best Buy is just offering a straight discount on the phone for any carrier, though they like it if you sign up for a 24-month payment plan.

Sandisk 64GB MicroSD Card for $14 ($11 off)

Amazon

If you’re running low on storage and your phone has a MicroSD slot (many do), this is a cheap way to extend the life of your phone—and extend your sanity.

Nokia 6.1 for $180 ($75 off)

Amazon, Best Buy, B&H

The Nokia 6.1 is always a good deal, but during Black Friday weekend, it’s an outstanding phone deal. It’s a bit speedier than a Motorola Moto G6 (the go-to affordable phone), but even cheaper. Thanks to a nice metal unibody design and Android One, it’s a better overall phone. It gets security updates and new OS updates direct from Google. Very few other phones, even expensive ones, will get a fraction of the software love this little Nokia gets. It works on AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

Motorola Moto Z3 Play for $370 ($80 off)

Amazon

The Moto Z3 Play is such a nice mid-range Android phone that I kept using it for more than a month after I wrote my review of it. For a professional phone reviewer, that’s a life time. It doesn’t lag much and I really like the Moto Mod that comes in the box. It’s a magnetic battery pack you can snap on the back, and it’s thin enough that I just kinda left it on for days at a time. With it, you’ll always get at least two days of battery life. It works on all major wireless networks.

Motorola Moto X4 for $180 ($70 off)

Amazon

The Moto X4 is just a nice little phone. It’s right up there with the Nokia 6.1 and a step above the Moto G. If you want a dependable phone that won’t break the bank or drive you nuts, this is it. It’s not perfect, but it works well. It works on any U.S. wireless carrier.

Google Pixel 3 for $650 ($150 off)

Google Store

The Pixel 3 is the best Android phone you can buy for all these reasons. For Black Friday, Google is running a few different Pixel deals. The Pixel 3 will have a discount on it, and if you buy two, you’ll get the second one half off. On Cyber Monday, it will also run a promotion bundling it with the new Home Hub.

Black Friday Sale Pages for 2018

We’ve sifted through the mess of deals, but if you want to look for yourself, here are some links. Many of these prices may not be live until day-of.

When you buy something using the retail links in our articles, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

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French tobacco shops to sell bitcoins via fintech company

PARIS (Reuters) – French tobacco shops, where people go to buy lottery tickets and cigarettes, will start offering bitcoins to customers from early next year via a deal with a French fintech company Keplerk.

FILE PHOTO: A sign indicates a tobacconist shop in Bordeaux, France, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

Keplerk said it has secured a contract with a local cash register software provider to give tobacco shops the possibility to sell the cryptocurrency to their customers.

The tobacco shop owners will sell customers a voucher which can be used to obtain bitcoins via an electronic wallet owned by Keplerk. They will be the first brick and mortar shops to sell bitcoins anywhere in the world, Keplerk said.

“Tobacco shop owners are the best channel as they are trusted by customers and they are used to sell vouchers such as credit for mobile phones,” Adil Zakhar, Keplerk’s director for strategy and development, said.

Keplerk has been working on the project to sell bitcoins to retail investors for a year and a half.

French regulators, including the country’s central bank, have warned savers about the potential risks associated with investing into cryptocurrencies.

The central bank said it does not supervise the Keplerk initiative.

“Those are purely speculative assets and not currencies. Those who invest in bitcoin or other crypto-assets do it at their own risk,” the Central Bank said in a statement on Wednesday.

France’s 24,000 licensed tobacco shops have already diversified to sell lottery tickets, credits for cellphone operators or video and music streaming services.

Keplerk said it will finance the project by charging a 7 percent commission fee on every transaction.

Bitcoin has attracted a mix of investors, some convinced that it can reshape global finance by displacing traditional means of payments and others attracted by rapid gains that pushed it close to $20,000 in December.

It has since lost three-quarters of its value, falling below $4,500 on Tuesday.

Reporting by Inti Landauro, additional reporting from Thomas Wilson. Editing by Jane Merriman

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Have You Built a Culture of Creativity?

But before a company can build their business value of design, some critical building blocks must be in place. 

They must first prime the organization to have a culture of creativity that supports design-centric initiatives.  This only happens when companies get really good at leveraging creativity as an innovation resource.  

I’ve written in an earlier article about the significance of “the human quotient” in companies as they grapple with the future of work in the midst of our 4th Industrial Revolution- a time when we are tethered to cloud technology, AI, VR, robotics and data in ubiquitous ways.  Pointing out the business value of design is another way of acknowledging that when a company starts with their customers’ human needs and desired experiences, and builds products and services around those drivers, it is ultimately a more efficient way to run a business.

The human quotient is grounded in creativity.  Creative approaches to business outcomes can positively affect revenue generation, market share diversification, efficiencies and cost reductions.  This has to happen in an inside-out manner.  That is, the creative impact of your products and services on people’s lives will only come to pass when the company builds a culture of creativity.  This is especially true at a time when employee engagement, generative thinking and thought diversity in a company are critical means to innovation.  

Here are three ways companies can build their creative competencies, and thus prime themselves to build the business value of design.

1.     Encourage Curiosity

Leaders need to model that inquiry – versus certainty- gets us to the next level. There are market leader companies- such as Amazon, Whole Foods and Lyft- who would have never anticipated 5 years ago with certainty, where they are today.  There are new alliances they now make based on macro-environmental drivers.  Encouraging people to ask lots of questions and not equate curiosity with appearing ignorant is a crucial first step.

2.     Improvise

Companies that design flexible structures and processes, versus rigid rulebooks, are better off.  Humans respond well to structure – to an extent.  Structure helps us to understand the limits we can push.  This is the very nature of improvisation.  Like jazz music, all improvisational systems have rules.  It’s the ability to stretch and rebound off the rules which allows for adaptive and responsive solutions to customer needs.  

3.     Intuit

While most corporate boardrooms don’t admit out loud the role of intuition in decision making- because of our culture’s leniency on the rational- the truth of the matter is that plans are fiction:  they haven’t happened yet.  Although honing intuition is not something we teach in business school, the majority of successful entrepreneurs can speak to pivotal moments when they followed their heart, paid attention to subtle patterns, and great things happened.  

Companies that implement great design practice linked to positive business outcomes, have also created opportunities for encouraging curiosity, improvising solutions through adaptive structures and acknowledging intuition.  Try experimenting with implementing your own version of these 3 building blocks, one per month over the next quarter.

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​Dell XPS 13: The best Linux laptop of 2018

Usually, when I get review hardware in, it’s not a big deal. It’s like working in a candy shop. At first, it seems great (“All the candy I can eat!”). Then, you quickly get sick of dealing with the extra equipment.

But, every now and again, I get a really fine machine, like Dell’s latest XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop. And I get excited again.

There’s this persistent fake news story that you can’t buy a computer with Linux pre-installed on it. It’s nonsense. Dell has been selling Ubuntu-Linux powered computers since 2007. What’s also true is that, Dell, like Linux-specific desktop companies such as System76, sells high-end systems like its Precision mobile workstations. At the top end of Dell’s Ubuntu Linux line, you’ll find the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptops.

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What makes them a “Developer Edition” besides the top-of-the-line hardware is its software configuration. Canonical, Ubuntu‘s parent company, and Dell worked together to certify Ubuntu 18.04 LTS on the XPS 13 9370. This worked flawlessly on my review system.

Now, Ubuntu runs without a hitch on almost any PC, but the XPS 13 was the first one I’d seen that comes with the option to automatically install the Canonical Livepatch Service. This Ubuntu Advantage Support package automatically installs critical kernel patches in such a way you won’t need to reboot your system. With new Spectre and Meltdown bugs still appearing, you can count on more critical updates coming down the road.

The XPS 13’s hardware is, in a word, impressive. My best of breed laptop came with an 8th-generation Intel Coffee Lake Core i7-8550U processor. This eight-core CPU runs at 4Ghz.

The system comes with 16GB of RAM. This isn’t plain-Jane RAM. It’s fast 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM. It’s backed by a 512GB PCIe solid state drive (SSD).

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To see how all this hardware would really work for a developer, I ran the Phoronix Test Suite. This is a system benchmark, which focuses primarily on Linux. And, this system averaged 461.5 seconds to compile the 4.18 Linux kernel. For a laptop, those are darn good numbers.

When it comes to graphics, the XPS 13 uses an Intel UHD Graphics 620 chipset. This powers up a 13.3-inch 4K Ultra HD 3840 x 2160 InfinityEdge touch display. This is a lovely screen, but it has two annoyances.

First, when you boot-up, the font is tiny. This quickly changes, but it’s still can lead to a few seconds of screen squinting. The terminal font can also be on the small side. My solution to this was upscaling the display by using Settings > Devices > Displays menu and moving the Scale field from its default 200 percent to a more reasonable — for me — 220 percent. Your eyesight may vary.

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The other problem is, while the thin bezels make the screen attractive, putting the video-cam at the bottom of the screen can lead to some rather unattractive, up-nose video-conferencing moments until you get use to this atypical cam positioning.

The keyboard with its large, responsive keys is a pleasure to use. When you’re a programmer, that’s always important. The trackpad is wide and responsive.

Thinking of battery life, when you’re not working on the XPS 13, it’s very aggressive about shutting things down. Even when you are giving it a workout, I saw a real-world battery life of about nine hours.

One neat feature the XPS 13 includes, which I wish all laptops had, is a battery power indicator on the console’s left edge. You press a tiny button with your fingernail and up to five lights let you know how much juice you have left.

For ports, the XPS 13 has a trio of USB-C ports. If you, like me, have a host of older USB sticks and other devices, Dell kindly provides a USB-A to USB-C adaptor. It also has an audio jack and a MicroSD card reader. Two of the USB-C ports support Thunderbolt, while the other one supports PowerShare. The latter enables you to charge devices from your laptops. In my case, I could charge up my Google Pixel 2 phone

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All this comes in a package that weighs in at a smidge over two-and-a-half pounds. This is a full-powered laptop that comparable in size to a small Chromebook.

While my all-time favorite laptop remains my maxed-out Linux-enabled Pixelbook, the new Dell XPS-13 comes a close second. If you want a Great Linux laptop, this one demands your attention.

But it does have one problem: It’s pricey. The model I tried out lists for $1,779.99. If that’s too rich for your blood, the Dell XPS 13 line starts at $889.99. And even that model is pretty sweet.

Besides, don’t you owe yourself a holiday present for next year’s development work? Sure you do!

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Facebook sued by Russian firm linked to woman charged by U.S.

(Reuters) – A Russian company whose accountant was charged by federal prosecutors for attempting to meddle in U.S. elections sued Facebook Inc (FB.O) on Tuesday, claiming it is a legitimate news outlet and its Facebook account should be restored.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of a displayed Russian flag in this photo illustration taken on August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The Federal Agency of News LLC, known as FAN, and its sole shareholder, Evgeniy Zubarev, filed the lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of California, seeking damages and an injunction to prevent Facebook from blocking its account.

Facebook deleted FAN’s account in April as it purged pages linked to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year for flooding social media with false information in a bid to sow discord in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment.

FAN and Zubarev said they were improperly swept up in Facebook’s purge, which took down more than 270 Russian language accounts and pages, according to the complaint.

“FAN is an independent, authentic and legitimate news agency which publishes reports that are relevant and of interest to the general public,” the company said in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argued that Facebook had effectively acted as an arm of the government in improperly impinging on its right to free speech, and cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in claiming Facebook discriminated against it due to its Russian origins.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, described those arguments as weak and predicted the plaintiffs would have a hard time gaining any traction in the courts.

“It’s safe to say this lawsuit is not going to be very successful,” he said. “At first glance it seems like a PR stunt to me.”

FAN acknowledged previously sharing the same office building as the Internet Research Agency and said it has employed Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, the Russian woman charged by prosecutors last month for attempting to meddle in the 2018 congressional elections, as its chief accountant since August 2016.

But the plaintiffs said Khusyaynova’s role at the company has been limited to overseeing day-to-day bookkeeping, and that she was not an officer and had no discretion over editorial content.

The plaintiffs also said they were not involved in “Project Lakhta,”, a Kremlin-backed information warfare campaign U.S. prosecutors say was started in 2014 and financed by Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” due to his catering company and its ties to the Kremlin, was indicted in February along with the Internet Research Agency, which he controls.

Khusyaynova was the chief accountant for Project Lakhta, according to the charging documents in her case, which is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department’s Eastern District of Virginia.

A spokesman for the district did not respond to a request for comment.

Mueller is not handling Khusyaynova’s case because his focus is on the 2016 presidential election and the charges against her relate to the 2018 midterm elections.

Reporting by Nathan Layne and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang

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Best Cookbooks (Fall 2018): José Andrés, Anissa Helou, Simone Klabin

In this zinger of a year, food’s role in our lives felt like it shifted every day. Cooking at home became more of an oasis than ever, a meal with friends somehow more important. Some nights, though, punting and ordering takeout was not a copout but a necessity. This year’s best books reflect this whipsawing, whether it’s about saving the world (or just a part of it), understanding it a little better, encouraging us to take a load off and pour a nice drink, or just tell us what to do because one more decision was one too many. We’re still hungry, though—more than ever!—and these are the books that reflect our appetites.

We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at A Time

By José Andrés with Richard Wolffe (Anthony Bourdain Books/Ecco)

Ecco Press

The most important food book of 2018 doesn’t contain a single recipe or talk about technique. Instead, it talks about saving lives and keeping people fed in the wake of a disaster. Chef José Andrés is well known for his high-end restaurants in and around Washington, DC, but when Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico in September 2017, killing an estimated 2,975 people, Andrés made his way to the island just a few days later, fighting through the rubble to hand out sandwiches and bowls of sancocho.

Feeding a localized group of people is noble, but Andrés and his assembled team of local chefs had greater ambitions, eventually going on to serve three million meals, a monster feat on a flattened, demoralized island. We Fed an Island is a first-hand look at what it took to do it.

While Washington politicians struggled to help and shifted their focus to Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston, Andrés created a de facto emergency agency in Puerto Rico, forever changing what it means to be a chef. People are still into awards like the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, but for many reasons, those are starting to feel incredibly out of touch with reality. In Puerto Rico and several other disaster zones since, Andrés showed that there’s more important work to do, and in my book at least, he became the indisputable chef of the decade. $28, Buy now.

Prosecco Made Me Do It: 60 Seriously Sparkling Cocktails

By Amy Zavatto (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

It is holiday feast time, and all that reveling requires bubbly and cocktails. For those, food and drink writer extraordinaire Amy Zavatto has us covered. Zavatto’s new book focuses on Italy’s famous fizz, giving some history on the country’s many different proseccos and focusing on its most important grape: the glera. Zavatto gives 60 sparkling cocktail recipes and tells the backstory for each, like the classic Bellini (white peach purée and brut-style Prosecco), the Venetian Spritz she first had at NYC’s Fort Defiance (Aperol, brut-style Prosecco, club soda, and an olive), and the Dance Party (does it matter?), each with Ruby Taylor’s poster-worthy illustrations setting the vibe.

You’ll learn and make some fine cocktails as you go, but Zavatto’s true gift is her take-you-along-for-the-ride charm. Are we learning? Yes! Are we laughing! Hell yes! Do we have a lovely drink in our hand, to boot? Yep! That too. Cheers! $17, Buy now.

Feast: Food of The Islamic World

By Anissa Helou (Ecco)

Art dealer, chef, and author of several cookbooks, Anissa Helou employs most of the skill sets involved in these jobs, and adds a healthy glug of anthropology in this beautiful and important work. For dumpukht/dumpokht biryani, she describes watching a noblewoman in Hyderabad cover goat marinated in papaya, cardamom, cumin, cloves and saffron with long-grain rice and cook it in a tight-lidded pot. When it came off the heat, the noblewoman heated a lump of charcoal over a flame, and dropped it right on the rice for a few minutes, giving the whole dish a smoky flavor.

When Helou finds room for improvement in an established recipe, or finds a way to make something more easily, she trusts herself enough to suggest a change. For complex multilayer breads like Pakistani paratha or Turkish tahinli katmer, where the classic technique can be difficult to master, she suggests a different dough-folding pattern that saves time and still yields excellent results. $60, Buy now.

Food & Drink Infographics: A Visual Guide to Culinary Pleasures

By Simone Klabin and edited by Julius Wiedemann (Taschen)

I may be biased, but while this whopper of a book might be difficult to pick up, it’s surprisingly hard to put down. Infographics are a great way to take a new look at food, and your first impulse with this beautiful tome might be to get out a razor and turn each page into a poster. Resist! At least hold off for a little while and learn visually.

Flip through the pages and certain aspects of food will begin to crystallize in ways they hadn’t before. Meat cut charts reveal the differences between regional and national styles of butchery, maps of cheese production detail mastery, diversity and depth. Conversion charts illustrate volume conversions like the ten tablespoons and two teaspoons in two-thirds of a cup, and if you ponder that for a moment, you might discover the vast superiority of going metric in the kitchen like the rest of the world.

There’s also hidden humor in Heather Jones’ “Correct Plating: And How to Get Through That (Sometimes Awkward) Holiday Dinner,” where she positions three tabs of Xanax just to the right of the soup spoon and not far from the Cognac. There’s also a bit of cross-cultural learning with Pop Chart Labs’ cocktail diagrams labeled “The Poison” across the page from “The Remedy—Hangover Cures From Around The World,” where your interest may be piqued by the Germanic take: mustard berries, juniper berries, and pickled herring. $70, Buy now.

36 Bottles: Less Is More with 3 Recommended Wines Per Month

By Paul Zitarelli (Sasquatch Books)

Sasquatch Books

A confession: I lived in Paris for a decade, where I wrote about food and drank a lot of wine. While I can speak knowledgeably about the latter, my knowledge of individual styles of wine probably isn’t what it should be. In France alone, never mind the rest of the world, there are hundreds of options.

Paul Zitarelli offers a simple, global solution. Focus on just three wines a month: a red, a white and a wildcard like rosé or a sparkler. In November, just drink French Chablis, or Italian Langhe Rosso, and say “oui” to a Thanksgiving-friendly Tavel rosé from the Rhône Valley. Next May, limit your purchases to Austrian grüner veltliners, Oregon pinot noirs, and try a sweet, divine Tokaji or two from Hungary. Each month’s suggestions are accompanied by a couple recipes that quietly affirm that Zitarelli’s good taste extends beyond the bottle.

As someone who’s been overwhelmed by choice, this monthly trifecta strikes me as a great idea. Where 36 Bottles really clinches it is in the writing—both funny and smart—with lines like this: “Ultimately [using sherry in cocktails] reminds me too much of mixing liquid Tylenol into applesauce to get my daughter to take her medicine. If it tastes good in the first place, why do we need to hide it?” $20, Buy now.

Cooking With Scraps: Turn Your Peels, Cores, Rinds, Stems, and Other Odds & Ends into Delicious Meals

By Lindsay-Jean Hard (Workman)

Workman Publishing

We all do it. After a big trip to the produce stand and a nice dinner or two, we end up with a few pounds of wilty bedfellows in the icebox, and a stale bread heel on the counter, all destined for the compost heap, or worse, the trash.

A whopping 40 percent of food in the United States suffers a similar fate, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, a staggering $165 billion worth, but Lindsay-Jean Hard’s new book is an effort to chip away at that number. Hard breaks it all down by key ingredient, giving recipes for each thing you might have too much of: pestos made from asparagus ends or carrot top greens, or an ingenionus mushroom-stem compound butter. I was immediately attracted to the catch-all dishes throughout the book like frittatas, stratas, and stocks. Got extra cauliflower or okra or half a shallot? You can (quick) pickle that! Have some leftover pickle brine? Use it to turbocharge your potato salad.

Hand’s book isn’t the kind of thing you buy just for the recipes, but if you put it on the kitchen reference shelf, you’ll be happy it’s there the next time you have something that needs to be put to use in a hurry. $20, Buy now.

Food writer Joe Ray (@joe_diner) is a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of The Year, a restaurant critic, and author of “Sea and Smoke” with chef Blaine Wetzel.

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How Did the 'Freedom From Facebook' Campaign Get Its Start?

In July, executives from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter testified before Congress about their company’s content moderation practices. While Facebook’s head of global policy Monika Bickert spoke, protesters from a group called Freedom From Facebook, seated just behind her, held signs depicting Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg’s heads atop an octopus whose tentacles reached around the planet.

Freedom From Facebook has garnered renewed attention this week, after The New York Times revealed that Facebook employed an opposition firm called Definers to fight the group. Definers reportedly urged journalists to find links between Freedom From Facebook and billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a frequent target of far-right, anti-semitic conspiracy theories. That direct connection didn’t materialize. But where Freedom From Facebook did come from—and how Facebook countered it—does illustrate how seemingly grassroots movements in Washington aren’t always what they first appear.

The point here isn’t to question Freedom From Facebook’s intentions. Their efforts seem to stem from genuine concern over Facebook’s outsized role in the world. But the labyrinthine relationships and shadowy catalysts of the efforts on all sides of that debate show just how little involvement actual Facebook users have in the fight over reining the company in.

Since the 2016 presidential election, Facebook has confronted an onslaught of scandals, many of which drew scrutiny from federal lawmakers. First, Russian propagandists exploited the social network, using duplicitously bought ads to sway US voters. This March, journalists revealed data firm Cambridge Analytica had siphoned off information belonging to tens of millions of users. In the wake of this second controversy, Freedom From Facebook was born.

The initiative wasn’t formed by everyday Facebook users. It’s instead the product of progressive groups with established records of opposing tech companies, whose own relationships illustrate just how tangled these connections can be.

Specifically, Freedom From Facebook is an offshoot of the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that operated under the auspices of the New America Foundation until OMI head Barry Lynn publicly applauded antitrust fines levied against Google in Europe. Google is a major New America donor; Lynn’s entire team studying tech market dominance and monopolies got the ax, and spun out Open Markets as an independent body.

Earlier this year, former hedge fund executive David Magerman approached Lynn’s group with the idea to start to start a campaign in opposition to Facebook. Magerman poured over $400,000 into what became Freedom From Facebook, according to Axios. His involvement wasn’t known until Thursday. The connected between Freedom From Facebook and OMI was also not entirely explicit.

Freedom From Facebook has done more than stage protests on Capitol Hill. During Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting in May, the group chartered an airplane to fly overhead with a banner that read “YOU BROKE DEMOCRACY.” When Sandberg spoke at MIT in June, Freedom From Facebook took out a full-page advertisement in the student newspaper calling for the social network to be broken up. On Thursday, the group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate a Facebook breach disclosed in September that affected 30 million user accounts.

Freedom From Facebook also formed a coalition with a diverse set of progressive organizations, like Jewish Voice For Peace, which promotes peace in Israel and Palestine, and the Communications Workers of America, a labor union that represents media workers. The coalition now comprises 12 groups, who “all organize around this fundamental principle that Facebook is too powerful,” says Sarah Miller, the deputy director of Open Markets Institute. Confusingly, according to Freedom From Facebook’s website, the coalition also includes Citizens Against Monopoly, a nonprofit Miller says was set up by Open Markets itself.

Eddie Vale, a progressive public affairs consultant, also confirmed in an email that Open Markets hired him to work on the Freedom For Facebook Initiative. He led the protest in July featuring the octopus signs.

Definers began lobbying journalists, including those from WIRED, to look into Freedom From Facebook’s financial ties this past summer. The effort was led by Tim Miller, a former spokesperson for Jeb Bush and an independent public affairs consultant, according to The New York Times. “It matters because people should know whether FFF is a grassroots group as they claimed or something being run by professional Facebook critics,” Miller wrote in a blog post published Friday. He added that he believes the push to connect the group to Soros does not amount to anti-semitism, especially if it contains a modicum of truth. Facebook itself asserted much the same in a statement it released Thursday.

The extent of the Soros relationship seems to be that the billionaire philanthropist does provide funding to both Open Markets and some of the progressive groups who constitute the Freedom From Facebook coalition. There’s no indication, though, that he has any direct involvement with the initiative. Open Markets’ Miller says the think tank wasn’t aware Facebook was paying an opposition firm to ask journalists to look into its work. “I just think knowing Facebook as we do, I don’t know that I would say that we were surprised, but I do think the Soros angle was surprising,” she says.

After The Times published its report Wednesday evening, Facebook severed its ties with Definers. “This type of firm might be normal in Washington, but it’s not the sort of thing I want Facebook associated with,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with reporters Thursday. Both Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg claim they didn’t know Facebook was working with Definers until the The Times published its story. This is not the first time Facebook has employed an opposition research firm. In 2011, the social network hired a public relations firm to plant unflattering stories about Google’s user privacy practices.

By distancing itself from Definers, Zuckerberg and Sandberg are putting space between themselves and how the sausage gets made in Washington. As they have grown more powerful, tech organizations including Facebook, but also Google, Amazon, and others, have poured millions into lobbying on Capitol Hill. Those efforts include fighting back against well-funded and sometimes secretive campaigns, like Freedom From Facebook. Meanwhile, the social network’s over two billion users mostly sit on the sidelines, watching the high-stakes battle unfold.


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Serious About Your Social Mission? Then Innovate It

Corporate philanthropy. Benefit corporations. Nonprofits and non-governmental organizations. Doing well while doing good seems to be all the rage these days. Sounds ideal. But, if we are truly intent on achieving both, we need to start taking social impact just as seriously. Mission-driven organizations have an equal opportunity to apply the principles and practices of innovation to maximize their impact–but few take it.

The obvious place to turn is innovation approaches such as design thinkingrapid prototyping, and open innovation. They have helped businesses break through inertia and build game-changing products, but are still surprisingly uncommon when it comes to social good. While the world around us continues to change at an astonishing pace, the efforts to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and right injustices seem not so dissimilar to a decade ago.

A new book by Silicon Valley tech veteran and innovation advocate Ann Mei Chang, Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good explores the unique challenges that can deter social innovation. With a foreword by Eric Ries, the founder of the Lean Startup movement, Lean Impact shares practical tools with inspiring examples drawn from a diverse array of more than 200 nonprofits, social enterprises, and mission-driven companies Chang interviewed in the course of her research.

And a new mindset is needed, Chang contends. Across donors, impact investors, volunteers, boards, and staff, people are too easily satisfied by the notion of doing some good. Instead, she proposes three core principles that may sound simple, but can lead to lasting, transformative change.

Principle 1: Think Big

When companies build a business strategy, they start with the addressable market and decide where to play. On the other hand, when organizations build an impact strategy, they tend to start with the resources at their disposal and draw up plans based on those constraints. See the disconnect? No wonder few manage to make a dent.

The first mindset shift is to increase the scope of your ambition. Aim high. Set an audacious goal based on the need that exists in the world, then map out what it will take to get there.

This simple stake in the ground is where social innovation begins. If the same old story isn’t going to get you close to your goal, then you’ll be forced to think out of the box and take some risks.

Principle 2: Start Small

Whether due to pressure from funders for tangible results or a desire to do something about real suffering, mission-driven projects tend to focus on delivering as much as possible, as quickly as possible. This makes sense in the rare cases where you have a scalable solution that works. But if not, you’ll make a bigger difference by starting small and prioritizing learning over execution.

In true lean fashion, experiments in the form of minimal viable products (MVPs) can be used to test your biggest risks and optimize your chances for success. The twist? There are three different types of assumptions you’ll need to test:

  • Value. Are you providing something that meets a deeply felt need for your “customers”? Will they demand it, stay engaged, and recommend it to their friends and family? When you are serving people from different cultures and circumstances, your instincts for what matters may be off. What’s more, if your beneficiary isn’t paying for your product or service directly, you can’t rely on purchase behavior as a natural feedback loop.
  •  Growth. Philanthropic dollars can help you get started, but are rarely sufficient to reach the full scope of needs. Thus, if you hope to move the needle appreciably, you’ll need to design and validate an engine that will accelerate growth over time. Potential “business models” for good encompass a broad spectrum and include variations on fee-for-service, replication, and government adoption.
  • Impact. Of course, we can’t forget the most important question: “Does it work?” Are we achieving the social benefit we intend and to a sufficient degree? As many forms of impact can take a long time to fully realize, you may have to test precursors to get an earlier indication of whether you are likely on track.

Principle 3: Relentlessly Seek Impact

You say you care about social good, but when push comes to shove, what drives your decisions? Are you wed to deploying a particular technology? Looking for good public relations for your company? Emotionally attached to an existing solution due to pride of ownership?

To maximize impact, you’ll need to set aside any such attachments and rely on innovation accounting to steer the way. This means focusing on the unit metrics such as conversion rate, success rate, and unit costs that will pay dividends over time.

Delivering on your social mission requires just as much ambition, rigor, and agility as creating a thriving business. It may be hard, but the world will thank you.

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