The Uber Model Isn’t Uber Great for Others

“Investors saw Uber’s success as a template for Ubers for everything … But Uber’s success was in many ways unique,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service.”

“The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. Many people take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.”

“But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins … Another problem was that funding distorted on-demand businesses. So many start-ups raised so much cash in 2014 and 2015 that they were freed from the pressure of having to make money on each of their orders … The lesson so far in the on-demand world is that Uber is the exception, not the norm. Uber, but for Uber — and not much else.”

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Kaiser Re-Designs The Health Care Experience

Fast Company: “The exam room is part of Kaiser Permanente’s championing of a new human-centered, design-driven approach to medicine—and its vision for the future of health care delivery … The experience starts with the waiting rooms, which take their cues from retail and hospitality. At the Manhattan Beach outpost, the vibe is warm, West Coast modernism: There’s lots of wood, natural light, and inviting touches, such as a living wall of green plants. A pair of ATM–like kiosks near the front door allow members to check themselves in if they prefer not to wait for the tablet-wielding receptionist.”

Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson: “The culture of health care has been to get you in and out. We’re inviting you to linger. This is more than a physician visit; this is about your total health.”

“In larger facilities, the reception area will be reimagined as a kind of public square, where patients can wander while they wait, getting free information on nutrition and exercise from staff at a counter called the Thrive Bar. They can also take part in yoga classes, cooking demos, and the other programming that Kaiser is incorporating into ‘community rooms,’ which span both indoor and outdoor space … Kaiser’s new spaces are also about keeping costs low: They are designed to be more efficient at serving patients … Just as important for Kaiser, the hubs will serve as physical anchors for a model of care that aims to move health services, as much as possible, out of hospitals and medical offices and into members’ communities and homes.”

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Broad Museum Broadens Its Appeal for Millennials

“Since opening six months ago,” The Broad Museum in Los Angeles “has attracted a decidedly youthful crowd,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “The Broad’s appeal to young people starts with colorful edgy art, such as Jeff Koons’ glaring, gold-hued sculpture of Michael Jackson and his chimp, Bubbles, and Takashi Murakami’s psychedelic-looking, dancing mushrooms. The museum is also located downtown, increasingly an entertainment and nightlife hub. And it’s free.”

Younger people “seem to be more willing to wait hours in line than their elders … Indeed, the standby line — typically a 45-minute wait on weekdays, twice that on weekends — is a bustling social scene, with spirited attendees exchanging snacks, gossip and cellphone numbers with new friends … Many of the young people in line say they found out about the Broad from social media. Seeing the fun that friends were having from afar, in pictures and videos, they didn’t want to fall prey to FOMO (fear of missing out).”

Visitors “can make reservations on iPads for timed entry to special exhibits, and the museum will text people back when they may enter … Instead of security guards, the Broad has ‘visitor service associates’ who roam the galleries and are happy to chat about the art as well as to point people to the nearest restroom … Of the more than 400,000 people who have streamed through the Broad’s doors so far, 6 out of 10 said their ethnicity was other than Caucasian and 70% were younger than 34.”

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Saturn & The Great Cosmic Joke

Remember Saturn? Jean Thompson does, in The New York Times: “The dealerships offered no-haggle pricing, and emphasized customer-friendly service. When you bought a Saturn, back in those palmy days, the dealer took a picture of you posing next to your new vehicle, wearing a Saturn hat, and perhaps a Saturn T-shirt. You were part of the Saturn family. Yes! There were even Saturn Homecomings where owners drove their cars back to Spring Hill to celebrate the Saturn experience.”

“But G.M. didn’t do right by Saturn. All the upbeat advertising in the world couldn’t seem to make up for some design missteps and lack of resources. The last Saturn was manufactured in 2009.” Jean has been driving her then-new Saturn since 2001. Now, she writes: “For so long the car has been my Millennium Falcon, my African Queen. Those battered but indomitable embodiments of disreputable romance, with hidden reserves of performance for anyone skilled enough to pilot them … One recent morning the emergency brake light came on and a warning began chiming, one last spasm of its softening automotive brain.”

She continues: “It’s only a car, and there’s no point in being sentimental. After all, the universe is organized around the principle of entropy. Systems decay, institutions and landmarks we took for granted vanish, swept over a precipice: the Saturn brand, the Republican Party, the glaciers of Greenland. Ah, love, let us be true to one another! Let us make our stand against the implacable forces that hasten the end of all worthy things. Let us fight the good fight, look our fate unflinchingly in the eye, die with a hammer in our hands. Let us go car shopping.”

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Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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Aston Martin vs. McLaren: Luxury vs. Technology

The Economist offers a study in contrast between two British plates: Aston Martin and McLaren. “Both carmakers are in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph. Yet with their respective focus on luxury and advanced engineering, they are relying on contrasting British strengths.”

“McLarens are wild-looking mid-engined sports machines that harness the firm’s skills in engineering to adapt racetrack materials, such as carbon fibre, and high-tech gizmos to make a car as at home on the circuit as the open road … Aston is first a ‘design company’ … Performance and handling are important but the aim is to make the ‘most beautiful car on the road.’ To do so, Aston has remodelled itself as a luxury-goods firm, emphasising design and craftsmanship that are a British speciality, while trying to extend the brand.”

“McLaren, meanwhile, strives to make its cars the most technically advanced. Last year the firm renamed itself the McLaren Technology Group to emphasise the importance of innovation … Ron Dennis, the firm’s boss, is convinced that its tech business will be its biggest and most important part in years to come. It already serves oil-and-gas, health-care and financial-services firms. Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.”

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Chevy Sets Limit on Teen Spirit

Engadget: “With the 2016 edition, the Chevy Malibu has added a new setting called Teen Driver. Once enabled, the feature lives in the infotainment system in the dash and warns underage drivers when they exceed a predetermined speed limit. At that point, it kills sound from the stereo until the front seat belts are buckled, enables all the safety features like traction control and generates a report card for the whole trip.”

“It’s basically a computer narc tucked behind a four-digit PIN … parents can use the report card to make decisions about future access to the car and use it as an opportunity to talk about their kids’ driving habits. And because it offers up hard evidence — such as when a safety system like stability control was activated and the top speed — a parent has the information necessary to make that conversation count.”

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Connie: Hilton’s Concierge Robot

“Concierge is getting a robotic makeover at one Hilton Hotels location,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. “The McLean, Va., Hilton is the site of a pilot program featuring a robot concierge. The new hire stands in at two-and-a-half feet tall and has been placed on the desk beside human reception staff. More than just a shiny piece of equipment, the robot’s brain is packed with artificial intelligence.”

“Connie, named after Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, is a partnership between Hilton Worldwide and IBM. The brains behind the robot are IBM’s artificial intelligence program Watson and another partner program called WayBlazer, imbuing the new concierge with enough AI to carry on conversations with guests and answer questions about the local area.”

“Connie’s body, though small, is also designed to help it serve. The body is based on the Nao robot designed by Aldebaran, with fully functional arms and legs and eyes that change to express humanlike emotions … Is the future of Hilton concierge robotic? Definitely not, according to Jim Holthouser, Hilton vice president of global brands.”

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Ryanair & The Value of Being Nicer

The Wall Street Journal: Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary “once defended Ryanair’s €70 (about $75) penalty fee for passengers who show up at the airport without a boarding pass, saying they were “being so stupid.” … He has in the past proposed a standing-room only cabin and a charge of one British pound (about $1.41) for using the in-flight toilet … The no-frills model, once novel but now widely mimicked, turned the 32-year-old Ryanair into Europe’s second-biggest airline by passengers flown.”

“In 2013, a price war with full-service carriers and upstart budget airlines alike threatened that success … To win back customers, Mr. O’Leary relaxed onerous hand-luggage restrictions and redesigned Ryanair’s cumbersome website. It cut fees and told staff to be less confrontational. The airline also made headlines by dropping its trademark bugle call, which it blasted through cabins each time a flight arrived on time. The practice, amusing at first, had started to annoy passengers.”

“’Standing room only and charging for toilets was a great PR wheeze when we were young, dumb and growing rapidly,’ Mr. O’Leary said in an interview. But after rivals started painting the moves as cheap and nasty, ‘the laddish noise was displacing the great fares, brilliant punctuality and new aircraft,’ he said. ‘If I had only known that being nicer to our customers was good for business I would have done it years ago,’ Mr. O’Leary says.”

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