Kellogg’s pulled its ads from Breitbart News, the fringe-right news site. Breitbart is famous for headlines like “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew” and “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off” — as well as for being a center of support for team Trump, whose head coach, Stephen Bannon, is Breitbart’s chairman. Now Breitbart is fighting back with a shrill campaign to boycott Kellogg’s (Variety).
If you think this is just a media-biz kerfuffle, think again: It’s more a marker of the end of the era in which brands could stand above the U.S.’s increasingly well-defined political and cultural divides and avoid taking sides. Breitbart claims that Kellogg’s is practicing “un-American” “economic censorship.” Kellogg’s says its decision is not about politics at all but about the company’s values.
The problem is that politics is no longer just about supporting one candidate or another; it suffuses all of American business, culture, and life. Support for diversity or opposition to hate speech might seem as American as apple pie to many of us, but these are no longer cost-free expressions of business virtue: They will win some blue-state friends and make some red-state enemies. Lots of companies are beginning to realize that corporate values actually carry risk. It’s also times like these that reveal those values’ fragility or strength.
Product Hunt and the Democratization of Startup Investment
Product Hunt serves as a kind of magnifying glass for the enthusiasms of the tech industry’s early-adopter crowd, and in its three-year existence it has become a very effective tool for the lucky startups whose products get featured there. Now it’s been acquired by AngelList, which matches founders and investors, for a reported $20 million.
Quartz sees the deal as part of a larger trend in which the old-school venture capital network that fueled Silicon Valley’s success is being replaced by a more democratized online investing model. Certainly, the gates of early-stage investment are more open today than they were in the days when every other deal was done over breakfast at Buck’s in Woodside.
The question remains: Are we truly broadening and diversifying access to capital — or just paving the footpaths of existing power networks as they move online? Keep an eye on how much effort Product Hunt and AngelList put into widening their appeal beyond I-280 and Sand Hill Road.
Is the $15 Minimum Wage Speeding Automation?
Former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi blames the $15 minimum wage for killing fast-food jobs and speeding the chain’s adoption of automated ordering (Forbes). As touch-screen self-service kiosks replace order-taking human employees, he writes, service workers are paying the price for a misguided, “Soviet”-style command-economy move.
That makes sense only if you believe that automation is a choice on a menu rather than a technological tide. If you think automation is simply an option companies select when it becomes cheaper to deploy systems and robots than to pay human employees, then you may agree with Rensi. But if you see automation as at least potentially a chance to enhance individual workers’ productivity and make them more valuable to your business, you may wish to argue with him.
Whatever minimum wage we pay, automation is going to happen anyway. When the dust clears, companies will always want to limit costs and workers will always seek higher wages. The challenge is to figure out how the automation revolution can put us on an upward curve in which higher productivity creates more value to be shared — rather than a downward cycle in which higher efficiency gluts the market, strips demand, and impoverishes everyone.
Chickpea Pasta’s Bumpy Success Story
No publicity is bad publicity? The old saw didn’t seem to work, at first, for food startup Banza (The New York Times). The company’s healthy chickpea-based pasta alternative got slammed during its first big media break, when the founders went on TV and their host, restaurateur Joe Bastianich, threw an open package of noodles at them.
But Bastianich later invested in the company. Banza’s founders, brothers Brian and Scott Rudolph, started the company when their original Venture for America fellowship business plan fell through. There’s growing demand for a healthier pasta, but Banza’s road to success was paved with product snafus and bad reviews. The Rudolphs pursued food bloggers, subjected themselves to documentarians’ cameras, and put their pasta through countless unpredictable live taste tests before they finally made it into national chains like Target (they’re now selling 250,000 boxes a month). They understood that they had to risk the setback of an occasional public misfire if they wanted to escape obscurity.
B Corps Go Multinational
The next stage for the B Corp movement, which certifies businesses with missions that tackle social and environmental problems, is to figure out how to place its stamp of approval on multinational corporations (NewCo Shift). That’s a challenge, because multinationals reply on complex legal and organizational structures that are much tougher to monitor than single small companies. B Lab, the nonprofit that administers B Corporation certification, is launching a year-long project to solve this practical problem.