Saturday, September 21, 2019

Take a first look at the events lined up for Baltimore Innovation Week 2019 - Brooklyn

Take a first look at the events lined up for Baltimore Innovation Week 2019 - Brooklyn

Take a first look at the events lined up for Baltimore Innovation Week 2019 - Brooklyn

Posted: 26 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

As we get ready to head into fall, the eighth annual Baltimore Innovation Week is approaching.

This year's celebration of the local tech, innovation and entrepreneurship is set for Oct. 5-11. Returning as lead organizer for the second year, ETC (Emerging Technology Centers) is taking a collaborative approach, bringing together more than 55 partners from around the community to work together as they planned events.

With more than 40 events now scheduled, ETC is offering a first look at what to expect. Each of the seven days will be organized around a specific area. The goal was to create a calendar that makes it easy to attend multiple events throughout the day, at venues that are easy to reach. Plus, events are free (with the one exception being the closing Innovation Celebration).

And for the third year in a row, local coworking and makerspaces in the city are opening their doors for free drop-in day passes, tours and a caffeine boost as part of Coworking & Coffee.

Below, ETC provided info on each day's theme, and some of the events that are on the schedule. Register and show where you'll be with the hashtag #BIW19!

  • Theme: Developing Community Partnerships and Local Investment
  • Presented by: Baltimore Tree Trust and Break A Difference

By working together, educating, empowering, and investing in the local community, change is possible. Attendees will experience firsthand how the newest technologies and dedicated community groups impact the people that live and work in Baltimore. Kicking off the week, volunteers will join nonprofit partners to plant trees in East Baltimore. Learn more about giving back to your community at a non-profit volunteer showcase and BBQ. In the afternoon, hear from a panel of experts about what new blockchain developments mean for Baltimoreans. Don't miss the chance for you and your families to get involved in an immersive learning experience of robotics, drones, and coding.

The day's events are co-led by Baltimore Tree Trust and Break A Difference. Partner organizations include Trekk Consulting and The Be Org.

Events include:

  • Let's Plant Trees & Volunteer Resource Fair (Baltimore Tree Trust & Break a Difference)
  • What Is Blockchain For Baltimore: Putting Content in Context (Trekk Consulting @ The Startup Nest)
  • Youth Tech Con (The Be Org)
  • Theme: Showcase Baltimore's Neighborhoods, Architecture, and History
  • Presented by: Doors Open Baltimore

This is your chance to explore Baltimore's neighborhoods and peek inside the city's most stunning spaces, while meaningfully connecting with the built environment and the people who design, build, preserve and carry out amazing work for our city. Gain access to Charm City's wealth of architecture and explore its neighborhoods during a citywide open house. Get the inside story on Baltimore's iconic buildings on special tours led by architects and designers at Doors Open Baltimore, organized by Baltimore Architecture Foundation & AIA Baltimore.


  • Theme: Building a Pipeline for Meaningful Change
  • Presented by: University of Baltimore andStartup Maryland

Every day, technology is being developed to provide people with the knowledge and tools to successfully execute ideas and build products that make a difference. At the University of Baltimore, watch students pitch their ideas to the University's entrepreneurial experts on the Startup Maryland Bus. Then head over to Impact Hub Baltimore and enjoy a happy hour while learning from the Teachers Founders Network about how former teachers are using their skills to improve all areas of education; from digital lesson planning to budget management, and mental health support for teachers and students.

The day's events are co-led by University of Baltimore and Startup Maryland. Partner organizations include Common Curriculum, Lifebridge Health, Johns Hopkins FastForwardU, and Teachers Founders Network. Events include

Events include:

  • Startup Maryland Bus @ University of Baltimore (UB, Startup Maryland)
  • Happy Hour & Teachers Founders Network Panel (Common Curriculum @ Impact Hub Baltimore)
  • Theme: Designing the Future of Technology
  • Presented by: Enradius, MICA/BCAN

Technology has evolved into a fully immersive and necessary part of our everyday lives. Learn how Baltimore is creating and using new technology to impact the world in physical and digital art, marketing, and product development. Visit MICA in the morning to see how students are turning artistic vision into biotechnology by exploring intriguing ideas and projects where creative thinking grounded in science can generate significant change. Then, spend the afternoon at the B&O Railroad Museum, where you'll hear expert panelists discuss ecommerce, shipping, online marketing and the 2020 election. Afterwards, experience the advances of AR and VR and see how the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film is connecting the Baltimore creative community.

The day's events are co-led by Enradius and MICA. Partner organizations include Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film, Byte.lion.

Events include:

  • Art & Biology w/ Ryan Hoover (MICA)
  • Augmented Reality + Virtual Reality Event (MICA & Saul Zaentz Innovation + Media Fund)
  •  Rails to the Online Highway – Marketing Innovation Redefined: E-Commerce & Logistics (Enradius @ B&O Railroad Museum)
  •  Rails to the Online Highway – Marketing Innovation Redefined: Mobile Marketing (Enradius @ B&O Railroad Museum)
  •  Rails to the Online Highway – Marketing Innovation Redefined: Vote 2020 (Enradius @ B&O Railroad Museum)
  •  Rails to the Online Highway – Marketing Innovation Redefined: Happy Hour (Enradius @ B&O Railroad Museum)
  • Ultra Lean Product Design & Happy Hour (Byte.lion's @ Clark Burger Harbor East)
  • Theme: Innovation Under Development
  • Presented by: Harbor Designs & 1100 Wicomico

The day consists of educational programming regarding innovative technology, software development, tech projects, Maryland startups, LIVE Demos, an Entrepreneur Fair, and a Made In Baltimore Sourcing & Supplier Fair. Expect panel discussions showcasing technologies of the future, funding and startups, plus technology innovation in products and software. The interactive LIVE Demo area features EcoMap of Baltimore, a local Battle Bot from the Science Channel's "Battle of The Beasts", and Balti Virtual's Virtual and Augmented Reality showcase. The day's events are co-led by Harbor Designs & Manufacturing and 1100 Wicomico. Partner organizations include F3 Tech, Made in Baltimore, Smartlogic, and Startup Grind Columbia.

Events include:

  • Networking & Coffee (1100 Wicomico)
  • An Introduction to React Native (SmartLogic)
  • Developing a successful engineering apprentice program (SmartLogic)
  • 1100 Wicomico Company Tours (1100 Wicomico)
  • 5 things you need to know about finding your customer (Startup Grind Columbia)
  • Technology's rise in the maker movement (Made in Baltimore)
  • Made in Baltimore Sourcing & Supplier fair
  • Entrepreneur Showcase: Inventions you had no idea were made here, featuring live demos with BaltiVirtual AR & VR, Mammoth Celebrity BattleBot, Baltimore EcoMap
  • Agriculture and Technology (F3Tech & Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit)
  • Technologies of the Future (MD MEP, Nemphos Braue)
  • Show me the Money (Squadra)
  • Baltimore Awards & RealLIST Engineers
  • Dev Happy Hour (Nemphos Braue &
  • Theme: Entrepreneurship Tools for Success
  • Presented by: ETC and U.S. Commercial Service Maryland

The journey of growing a successful business is difficult to navigate when new technology is constantly being developed and changing faster than ever. Listen to industry leaders explain how attendees can use these new advancements to their advantage in a series of discussions and showcases. Hear how remote workers are changing the way we think about coworking and the future of the workplace. Marketing and business professionals share their knowledge on how CRM & Loyalty Marketing can generate company-wide adoption, success for the business, and most importantly, stronger, more meaningful relationships with their customers. Startups, small businesses, and freelancers learn how engaging in global markets can increase their chances of building a stable, sustainable business. In the evening, network and connect with local business owners at StartupGrind Baltimore.

The day's events are co-led by ETC (Emerging Technology Centers) and the US Commercial Service Maryland. Partner organizations include Response Labs, Founders Approach, StartupGrind Baltimore and Towson Incubator.

Events include:

  • The Future of CoWorking: Travel with Entrepreneurs & Remote Workers (Founders Approach)
  • CRM & Loyalty Marketing Symposium (Response Labs)
  • Simple Steps to Global Success (U.S. Commercial Service)
  • Business Day Happy Hour (U.S. Commercial Service, Startup Grind)
  • Startup Grind Baltimore
  • EdTech Innovation Showcase (Towson Incubator)
  • Theme: Increasing Equitable Access & Inclusion in Baltimore's Social Innovation Ecosystem
  • Presented by: Innovation Works

Baltimore's neighborhoods and the Baltimoreans who call these neighborhoods home are the best source of how to innovatively transform Baltimore for the better. Expert panelists will explore how certain platforms are working to make data and technology more accessible and relevant to Baltimoreans. There will be a focus on best practice models and the challenges of making social innovation accessible through innovative funding practices. Hear from Baltimore's own innovators who are using entrepreneurship disciplines to transform Baltimore equitably.

The day's events are led by Innovation Works. Partner organizations include Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA), Think|Stack, and EcoMap.

Events include:

  • Data & Technology in Social Innovation (Innovation Works, Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA), Think|Stack, and EcoMap)
  • Social Innovation at the Neighborhood Level (Innovation Works)
  • Lunch & Social Enterprise Expo (Innovation Works)
  • Bridging the Capital Divide: Investing in Social Innovation (Innovation Works)
  • Baltimore Entrepreneurs: Faces of Social Innovation (Innovation Works)

This is the largest celebration of the BIW week, showcasing the city's collaborative, forward-thinking people, products, and organizations. This celebration also serves as a kickoff for the National Society of Black Engineers' Baltimore Metropolitan Area Chapter's Minority Innovation Weekend, which includes amazing speakers, sessions, and culminates in a pitch competition, where the top two winners will each receive a complimentary six-month membership in the ETC's IncubateBaltimore program.

Baltimore Innovation Week is organized by ETC (Emerging Technology Centers) with support from founder Sponsors include Maryland Department of Commerce, Response Labs, Innovation Works, Andre Bean Brand Architecture, Boho Marketing Co., SmartLogic, Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Loyola University, University of Maryland, Baltimore Graduate School.


Suddenly — four years later — Chipotle’s stock has completed its comeback: CEO tells MarketWatch how his company got the job done - MarketWatch

Suddenly — four years later — Chipotle’s stock has completed its comeback: CEO tells MarketWatch how his company got the job done - MarketWatch

Suddenly — four years later — Chipotle’s stock has completed its comeback: CEO tells MarketWatch how his company got the job done - MarketWatch

Posted: 20 Sep 2019 03:44 PM PDT

Everything was going the wrong way for Chipotle when CEO Brian Niccol, a former head honcho at Taco Bell, took the reins in March 2018. The fast-casual chain couldn't seem to shake off the damage done to its previously strong reputation, financial results and stock-market returns by a rash of food-borne-illness outbreaks nearly 2½ years earlier.

Chipotle's stock dropped from $750 at the close on Oct. 13, 2015, to as low as $251.33 on Feb. 13, 2018, shedding 67% of its value as news that customers had fallen sick from E. coli poisoning began making headlines. As management raced to fix one set of problems, others popped up, including a data breach in March and April 2017 that affected restaurants in five states.

Wall Street downgraded the stock as analysts fretted that the company would be unable to win back lost customers.

They were wrong. This Aug. 29, the stock set a fresh all-time closing high of $843.64, topping a record set two days prior. Chipotle's stock, in fact, has soared more than 93% in 2019, compared with the S&P 500 index's SPX, -0.49% 20% gain.

Getty Images
CEO Brian Niccol.

"When I got to Chipotle, the company had tons of ideas — an almost crippling [number]," Niccol told MarketWatch. But now "I think we're focused on the right strategies, execution is getting better, the response has exceeded expectations — I think that's why we've seen the response from the financial markets."

The turnaround at Chipotle extends to most of the business, including — importantly — the food. The company introduced a limited-time carne asada menu item this week that SunTrust Robinson Humphrey said "could be a meaningful traffic and check driver."

See: Chipotle's new menu items are key to its comeback story

CMG, +0.31% You might say Chipotle has gone from making its customers retch to, once again, making its shareholders rich.

The food is the same … sort of

The Chipotle brand has always distinguished itself on issues like sustainability, sound animal husbandry and responsible sourcing.

"Nothing's changed on the culinary aspect and the 'food with integrity' purpose," Niccol said.

Well, not quite "nothing." Chipotle turned its focus to food safety in the months after the illness outbreaks were reported. The company adopted a "stage gate" system that tests, analyzes and gathers feedback about menu ideas to determine what proceeds to a national rollout. So rather than push forward on every idea, the company has instituted a system of improved discipline, Niccol said. "We're using the stage-gate process to ask, 'Does this idea have merit?' "

Prior to stage gate, when, for example, queso was added to the menu, Chipotle stumbled. The rollout was rocky, with negative social-media feedback going viral and "surprising" executives.

Carne asada is available for a limited time.

The new approach seems to be yielding more successes for a company that, while it might have freely explored a multitude of ideas, rarely — as compared with rival counter-service chains and their frequent introductions of seasonal and limited-run items, rarely changed its menu.

One current limited-time-only offer: carne asada. And Chipotle is already testing other items, with queso blanco getting a limited-time push in three cities this summer.

"It's not that they have gone away from that approach towards food, but they have broadened their horizons, in part because they've gotten past the food-safety issues," said Mark Kalinowski, chief executive of Kalinowski Equity Research. "A willingness to have new menu items is a dramatic shift for them culturally. There's more reason, on this front, to go to Chipotle."

Moreover, Chipotle is making news with its newer food items.

"They're in the news for the wrong reasons a lot less," said Kalinowski. "So people can focus on the positive, like [that] the food is tasty and the service is quick."

And: White Claw, Truly and other hard seltzers could take a hit from 'Sober September'

More access, less friction

"It used to be the only way to access Chipotle was to come in and stand in line," Niccol said.

Now there are an app and loyalty program and delivery, which gets orders to customers in an average of 28 minutes. Customers can order through the Chipotle app and then bypass the line to pick up their meals.

"We thought initially the app would be something more for heavy users," Niccol said. But it's also been a plus for new customers, who may grow anxious from the pressure of making ordering decisions and then selecting from among the add-on options with a line of customers waiting behind them.

"They have a great experience, and we find they become a repeat customer," Niccol said.

Investors, who may have been anxious about Chipotle in the recent past, can take comfort in the company's digital business, with sales growing 99% in the second quarter, accounting for 18.2% of total sales for the period. Chipotle revenue in the second quarter came to $1.4 billion.

"Chipotle's digital ecosystem — which includes mobile order and pay loyalty [promotions] and digital delivery — has rapidly become the engine behind its impressive comeback story," wrote KeyBanc Capital Markets in a July note.

Read: Why some restaurants are turning up their noses at Beyond Meat

Chipotle is still focused on food but attributes its turnaround to factors outside of the menu.

Lizzy Freier, managing editor at Technomic, a data and analytics provider for the food-service industry, said digital is "the biggest thing driving Chipotle's turnaround," and these initiatives are key to bringing in millennial and Gen Z customers.

"It takes a while for any chain to come back from widespread reports of food-borne illness," Freier said. "I think the fact that Chipotle changed its whole marketing strategy recently really helped bring it out of its rut. It used to focus on local marketing, but has shifted this past year to national ads to make Chipotle and its branding message more visible to customers."

Niccol, who was the CEO of Yum Brands Inc. YUM, -1.58% chain Taco Bell before joining Chipotle, also highlighted Chipotle's marketing: "You see it in the advertising," he said. "The reason why Chipotle exists is to give people a true culinary experience really fast in an affordable way."

Chipotle became a smooth operator

Operations are where it all begins for Niccol. He said the company has a well-trained team that's executing consistently and getting better over time.

"As digital grows and presents new operational challenges, we expect the company can pivot their store image and design to better emphasize and facilitate this fast-growing channel," wrote Goldman Sachs analysts led by Katherine Fogertey in a June note in which the Goldman team initiated coverage of the restaurant sector. The analysts added Chipotle to their "conviction list," rating the stock a buy with a $1,000 price target.

Read: Wendy's making a $20 million bet on breakfast and analysts are skeptical

"Beyond just improving operations and experience for pickup and delivery orders (while also maintaining a strong dine-in experience), we see opportunities for kiosks and expanded Chipotlanes [drive-through lanes] to help drive digital mix. We have confidence in the management team to implement such changes, and look forward to more announcements that will unlock sales opportunities that can have a powerful impact on traffic and customer service."

The turnaround goes beyond dollars and cents

The opportunities ahead are based on the company as a whole rather than one aspect of the business, according to Josh Ginsberg, chief executive of Zignal Labs, a media analytics and intelligence platform.

"They really aren't associated with food safety and E. coli issues anymore," he said. "The food is a piece of the overall experience but not necessarily the No. 1 thing they're highlighting. They're taking a holistic approach that's positive for their business."

Don't miss: Chicken sandwich wars: Popeyes, Chick-fil-A and Wendy's are waging an all-out food fight on Twitter

When Jack Hartung, Chipotle's chief financial officer, talks about the turnaround, he looks beyond the revenue, profit and stock price. "We know the market is fickle," he said. "We don't celebrate too hard with the stock goes up, and we don't get too down when the stock goes down. We know the stock will take care of itself."

From his perspective, Chipotle is willing to invest in its food mantra, with pricey ingredients like fresh avocados simply a cost of doing business. The comeback rests on what makes it unique and creates better relationships with customers.

Nearly four years on, the turnaround continues.

"We're still in the early innings," said Hartung, "and while we're off to a great start we think we can do a lot more."

WeWork and the Great Unicorn Delusion - The Atlantic

Posted: 20 Sep 2019 03:00 AM PDT

The office-space company WeWork announced that it was postponing its initial public offering this week, a reaction to a sharp decline in its reported valuation from $47 billion a few weeks ago to less than $20 billion today.

In many ways, the company's four-week tailspin has been a one-of-a-kind spectacle. Documents filed in anticipation of its public offering revealed a pattern of behavior from its founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann, that fits somewhere on the spectrum between highly eccentric and vaguely Caligulan. In one lurid example, Neumann insisted that WeWork change its name to the We Company, a title he had already trademarked, thus allowing him to charge his own company nearly $6 million for the shotgun rechristening.

But in at least one way, WeWork (as I will insist on calling it) is utterly familiar, even emblematic of this new age of unicorns: The company is bleeding unseemly amounts of money. WeWork is on pace to lose well in excess of $1 billion this year. Like so many buzzy start-ups in the consumer-tech division, the firm is popular, growing quickly, and deeply in the red.

If you wake up on a Casper mattress, hail a Lyft to get to your desk at WeWork, use DoorDash to order lunch to the office, hail another Lyft home, and have Uber Eats bring you dinner, you have spent your entire day interacting with companies that will collectively lose nearly $13 billion this year. Most have never announced, and may never achieve, a profit.

There are several reasons companies that have become synonymous with consumer tech and the new urban Millennial lifestyle might appear zealously averse to turning a profit. Some are temporarily keeping prices down to grow their price-sensitive customer base with the promise that they'll easily raise prices once they're big enough. Or they're earning on every ride and rice-bowl delivery, but they're losing on customer acquisition. Or they can't raise prices, because they know that if they do, some other venture-capital darling in their market segment will undercut them—or, just as dispiritingly, the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the archangel of superfluous margins, will swoop down and destroy them.

But whatever the rationale behind such colossal losses, it's now clear that the tale private investors heard, and wanted to believe, when they poured tens of billions of dollars into these firms, is in conflict with the less exuberant reality of these companies' precarity, spelled out in each federal filing.

For WeWork and Uber, their valuations soared thanks to private investors like the Japanese firm Softbank buying into extraordinary pitches—reinvent urban office space! reinvent urban transportation! Their initial valuations were predicated on a vision of total planetary conquest, which would require colossal capital infusions to buy real estate, or to pay drivers, subsidize riders, and lobby governments.

But both unicorns have seized up in the harsh light of SEC-compliant scrutiny. What investors and founders may characterize at conferences as an aggressive campaign of global expansion reads as something very different on a simple profit-and-loss statement: ridiculously huge losses. Since going public, Uber's valuation has fallen nearly 50 percent. The company is on pace to lose more than $8 billion this year, due to onetime payouts to Uber employees and mounting quarterly losses. And that was before California codified a court ruling that could force the company to reclassify its workforce as full-time employees, something with the potential to transform its domestic business.

As for WeWork, the firm's SEC filing envisioned an "addressable market opportunity" of $1.6 trillion, with nearly 300 million members. But the same documents showed massive annual deficits, no clear path to profitability, and a history of founder behavior that managed to out–Silicon Valley Silicon Valley.

Without similar documents on other consumer-tech companies, it's hard to gauge the health of their businesses. What we can safely say is that WeWork's and Uber's reports confirm that too many start-ups are caught between the maybe-workable unit economics of their business—that is, the money Uber and WeWork take when you sit in their cars and chairs—and the maybe-not-so-workable extravagance of their visions, which practically require that capital infusions stay as infinitely and reliably free-flowing as a municipal water supply.

So why were investors like Softbank throwing all of this money into "tech" companies in retail, real estate, and infrastructure, if none of them has a clear path to profitability? Maybe Softbank assumed that the sheer magic of long-term thinking and limitless spending was enough to nurture the next generation of Amazons.

But a deeper reason is that the media-tech frontier has closed, and many investors are looking for the next mountain to scale. In the past two years, the so-called FAANGs— Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google—have seen their price-earnings ratios collapse by more than 60 percent; big tech companies are now trading near their lowest multiples in history. Apple and Samsung may have reached the smartphone plateau, as more customers are holding onto old iPhones for longer periods of time. Software ate media, and now investors are eager for tech to chew up the city—to build a new layer of internet-enabled services through which the world's rapidly urbanizing population will sleep, eat, shop, ride, work, and live.

It's a nice vision. And for all the snark directed at companies like WeWork, the truth is that they have built extraordinary businesses with billions of dollars in annual revenue and hundreds of thousands, even tens of millions, of satisfied global customers. But when these companies come to market to sell trillion-dollar dreams with billion-dollar loss statements, it is right and good to laugh. The solution here is not exotic: Lower valuations, tighter margins, and expansion plans whose costs don't resemble a land war in Asia. Not a venture-capital-backed hallucination. A business.

Too many consumer-tech companies nearing their public offerings are selling magic shows at a science fair. The unicorns aren't doomed, even if their old valuations are. But they have to change their stories, and their businesses. Magic made them. Only math will save them.

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'When People Don't Tell Us Our Ideas Are Crazy, We Get Worried.' How These Brothers Are Attacking the Hospitality Industry. - Entrepreneur

Posted: 20 Sep 2019 11:06 AM PDT

Ben and Max Goldberg staked a claim in Nashville hospitality long before the city saw a tourism boom. Here's how they predicted the future.

6 min read

Nashville is having a moment. Besides being named the 15th best place to live in the country and the fourth-best city for startups, Tennessee's capital experienced a record-setting year for tourism in 2018, drawing 15.2 million visitors.

Nashville natives Ben (pictured left in the photo above) and Max Goldberg are not surprised. In fact, the brothers saw all of this coming in 2006 when they launched Strategic Hospitality, a company with 500 employees who work in nine properties, including restaurants, bars, and even a hotel/music venue/ax-throwing complex. The brothers have been nominated multiple times for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award, and they recently announced a partnership that will give the company a 5,000 square-foot presence at Nashville International Airport.

Explaining the appeal of their hometown, Max told Entrepreneur, "Nashville has the confidence of the East with the manners and charm of the South."

Related: Here's How Ace Hotels Pioneered the 'Boutique Hotel' Category

Ben and Max shared insights on how they conceptualize their properties, how they saw this tourist boom coming, and that one time they nearly got into a fistfight.

Many of Strategic Hospitality's concepts combine multiple experiences. Downtown Sporting Club, for example, offers live music, guest rooms, a giant screening area to watch sports, and even ax throwing. What are guests looking for that you're tapping into?

Ben: Our goal is for people to stay in our restaurants longer than they would in any others, so we want to give them opportunities other than just sitting down to eat. Expanding on their experience and their amount of fun in the city is a big part of why we do what we do.

As Nashville natives, how does the city inspire you?

Max: Our businesses have personal touches; some from the city and some from us personally. For example, Pinewood Social was named after our grandfather. He grew up during the Great Depression, and when the economy came back, the first thing he did was buy a farm so he could always feed his family. On that farm were pine wood products. He was the most social guy we know and was loved by all. Hence, Pinewood Social. Also, incorporating the pinewood on a bowling lane is a fun double entendre.

Related: Designed, Built and Financed by Women, This 100-Year-Old Hotel Stays Relevant by Leaning Into Its Past

What's it like working together as brothers?

Ben: It's both the best and the worst. There's no separation between work and hang, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Because our relationship is bigger than just restaurant partners, we can end up saying things to each other that are more intense.

Max: Benjamin is my best friend, my brother, and then my business partner. In that order. In fact, I engraved that on a pocket watch for him when we were opening The Patterson House after nearly getting into a small fistfight. Benjamin is the hardest worker I have ever met and sees the trees in the forest better than anyone I know. It just works.

Strategic Hospitality has over 500 employees. How do you find team members who share your vision?

Ben: It really comes down to the individual. If you're an amazing person but lack experience, that's okay -- we want to work with you, we want you to be a part of our team. 

Max: We want kind people who will do whatever is needed to make people's days better. It's service vs. hospitality. We have to have the service piece, but it's the hospitality that we fight for every day. We need people to obsess over the guest experience. We get to influence people's lives and be a part of their memories. What's better than that?

Related: 6 Tips for Starting a Business That's an Instant Hit With Locals

How do you come up with your concepts?

Ben: We create spaces where we want to go. Typically they're many years in the making, and the concepts we decide to push through are the ones we continue to come back to, year over year. We always, always conceptualize first. 

Max: Good art is borrowed, great art is stolen. We get inspiration from things we see and then we put our own take on it. We're constantly looking for little design elements, food and drink ideas, moves in spaces people make -- we notice those and then apply them to what we're excited about at that time. And while we love the creative aspect, we also have a really sophisticated back of house. It never gets boring, because we get to use both sides of our brain. I love looking at table designs, but I also find P&L's to be really sexy.

What's your response when potential investors, partners or even friends say, "That will never work!"

Ben: We're told it won't work on every project. There's never any market research behind any of our spots. At the end of the day, we are creating spaces we think are fun and dynamic, and we hope people will agree with us.

Max: When people don't tell us our ideas are crazy, we get worried. We structure our deals so that we have final cut and creative control on what we do. The partners we have are betting on the jockeys and hope we have the right horse.

Related: The First New Hotel to Open in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria Is Thriving. Here's What Its Founders Have Learned.

Was there a specific moment when you knew you could make a living through your business?

Max: I knew I could make a living doing this when I didn't want to go on vacations, I didn't need weekends. I love what I do and I very rarely, if ever, feel like it's work. The financial component is a benefit, but my favorite number to talk about is how many jobs and careers we have created in our hometown.

Ben: I still don't know if I can make a living doing this! Our mom still asks us when we're going to get real jobs.

What’s Your Great Beauty Idea? - The New York Times

Posted: 18 Sep 2019 02:01 AM PDT

When Deanna Pai lost her eyebrows to chemotherapy in 2015, she had almost every serum, gel and pencil at her disposal — she was a beauty editor at Cosmopolitan magazine — but no good solution. Her favorite brow gel "looked awful, like watercolor on skin," she said, and she didn't have the energy to try to pencil in a realistic brow.

"It's really hard when there isn't any hair to guide you," said Ms. Pai, 30, who learned she had a rare liver cancer at 23.

What she wanted was natural-looking stick-on replacement brows made of human hair. The ideal was a pair that weren't the exact same shape, because, she said, "the biggest giveaway of fake eyebrows is when they're twins instead of sisters."

So Ms. Pai, now a freelance writer in Manhattan, turned to a crowdsourced company called Volition Beauty. The start-up lets anyone submit a product idea, which is then put to registered users of the site for a vote. The brows made the cut.

After much personal testing by Ms. Pai, who was particularly picky about the glue, shape and color, Volition introduced Mission Brows in 2017.

Mission Brows is by far the most niche of the 26 products Volition has created, but it speaks to the company's philosophy: "If there is an audience for it, we will make it," said Patricia Santos, a founder.

This, Ms. Santos said, is contrary to her years of experience in the beauty industry, "where a lot of innovative products don't get made because they're not million-dollar products. The audience for brows is small, but the people who need it really need it."

Ms. Pai's product is available only on the Volition website, but an eye treatment gel that's also a primer (the idea of a makeup artist) sold out eight times at Sephora, and the Prismatic Luminizing Shield sunscreen (from a beauty editor turned real estate agent) sold out in 24 hours at its debut, then again in the same week. (Allure magazine was sufficiently enamored to alert its readers when the sunscreen was back in stock.)

Cindy Deily, the vice president for skin-care merchandising at Sephora, said via email that the retailer was drawn to Volition because of its "unique" customer focus. It "built a brand around the idea of asking people what they want, turning those wants, needs, and ideas into products," she wrote.

VOLITION ISN'T the first beauty company to crowdsource. In 2015, the Glossier founder Emily Weiss asked readers of her Into the Gloss blog, "What's Your Dream Face Wash?" The answers informed Glossier's best-selling Milky Jelly Cleanser.

But Volition, based in Sausalito, Calif., is the first to allow "innovators," as the company calls them, to drive the idea development — and profit from it. The percentage one receives varies, partly based on how developed the idea is when it's proposed. The cosmetic chemist who already had the formula for the detoxifying silt gelĂ©e mask she proposed gets more than the innovator who has a seedling of an idea.

The women interviewed — so far, all successful products have come from women — could not give figures because of agreements they signed with Volition, but the company said that one innovator will make $100,000 this year and several others $30,000. (Ms. Pai, who has been in remission for three years, has donated her share to the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, which runs a Cancer to 5K training program that she said was key to her recovery.)

Some 4,000 ideas have been submitted in the last two and a half years, though as word has spread, there are now about 100 a week. Volition first makes sure ideas are new and feasible. (A machine that delivers the perfect manicure didn't pass muster because available technology can't yet distinguish between nail and skin.) About 11.5 percent make the cut.

The company's network of chemists helps develop the concept, then a campaign is posted on the site. This is not a first-past-the-post voting system. Volition software determines a different vote threshold for every idea, based partly on a guess of how many voters actually will buy the product, plus the minimum number of customers needed to make the economics work. (Nerd alert: The software is called Pyxis, after the urns used in ancient Greece to store cosmetics.)

Ms. Santos and her business partner, Brandy Hoffman, met in 2012, when they worked at Algenist. They founded Volition partly in reaction to their frustration with the beauty industry's relative slowness to embrace diversity and inclusion.

"When people are talking about inclusion, they're only talking about foundation shades," Ms. Hoffman said. "It's 2019. That should be the bare minimum." She is gay and plus-size (her description) and felt "constantly minimized at meetings." She recalled a team photo at one job, when she was told, "'Brandy, you should have a quote, but you won't be in the photo.'" (Volition recently raised $6 million in funding, led by Unilever Ventures.)

THEY ARE PROUD that ideas roll in from a range of beauty hounds. Volition's Strawberry-C Brightening Serum came from Varika Pinnam, 20, a University of Texas at Dallas student whose D.I.Y. experiments with her sister revealed that fresh-cut strawberries improved skin brightness and tone.

Nastia Liukin, 29, the 2008 Olympic gold-medal gymnast, pitched a celery-powered moisturizer, musing that the celery juice she had drunk daily since she was 8 might benefit her skin as much as her mother always insisted it did her body.

"This was before celery juice was super-in and super-popular," Ms. Liukin said, referring to when she suggested the cream. (Celery has hydrating and anti-inflammatory benefits. Volition said the vegetable's phytonutrients also have pore-minimizing properties, though there are no independent studies that confirm this.)

Ms. Liukin, who discovered Volition when she picked up the luminizing sunscreen on one of her weekly trips to Sephora, went through the same process as everyone else. Unlike other innovators, though, she had nearly a million Instagram followers she could mobilize to vote.

(A number of influencers actually have failed to get their products made. "You'd be surprised who doesn't have engagement," Ms. Santos said.)

Ms. Liukin likened the hands-on development of her Celery Green Cream to refining a gold-medal routine. "I know that sounds cheesy," she said. She held her breath when her product was introduced in July. "I'm an athlete. I'm a competitor. I want it to be successful."

You could say it stuck the landing: It sold out instantly, generating a wait list of 40,000.

'Anyone' could have built Netflix, according to its co-founder - CNBC

Posted: 18 Sep 2019 06:01 AM PDT

It was January 1997 — a typical carpool day for Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings, then colleagues at software development company Pure Atria.

Hastings ran Pure Atria and Randolph served as the vice president of corporate marketing since Hastings had acquired Randolph's company, Integrity QA, earlier that year. But Pure Atria was being acquired too, which meant that both Randolph and Hastings would soon be out of a job. Hastings, then 37, was planning to go back to school to study education, while Randolph, then 39, wanted to launch the next big idea.

That January day during their hour-and-a-half-long car ride from Santa Cruz, California to Silicon Valley, Hastings suggested they brainstorm.

"I said I was ready to launch my next company, and Reed being the entrepreneur that he is said, 'Let's come up with an idea and you can run it and I'll fund it' and away we went," Randolph, the co-founder and first CEO of Netflix, tells CNBC Make It.

For the next six months, as the pair commuted, Randolph pitched Hastings a slew of wacky ideas until something stuck.

"I remember getting into the car all excited and pitching Reed on the idea of doing personalized shampoo," Randolph says. Ideas for customized bats and dog food followed.

Then they hit on movie rentals by mail.

"We were sitting down having coffee one morning in Santa Cruz and we were talking about whether or not you could mail a DVD in a first-class envelope or not," Randolph remembers. So they walked down to a music store, bought a CD and mailed it to Hastings house using a first-class stamp.

When Hastings received the CD undamaged, the pair knew they were on to something.

In August of 1997, the pair launched Netflix — which today is the world's sixth largest internet company by revenue, which exceeded $15.7 billion in 2018 (a 35% increase from 2017). Netflix has now grown from a movie rental company into a streaming and production company producing award-winning original content, with more than 151 million subscribers worldwide.

When the company launched, Randolph was the Netflix's original CEO. He handed the reigns to Hastings in 1999. Then Randolph left the company in 2003, shortly after Netflix went public in 2002.

"Unlike me," Randolph writes in his new memoir, "That Will Never Work," "Reed is not only a phenomenal early-stage CEO — he's good (or better) as a late-stage CEO." Netflix now has a market cap of more than $130 billion.

Randolph says he decided to write about the early days of Netflix to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

"I wanted people to know that I wasn't doing anything special, that anyone could have done something like this," Randolph tells CNBC Make It.

Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings on a jet after Netflix debuted on the Nasdaq on May 29, 2002.

Credit: Marc Randolph

In fact, barely anyone thought Netflix was a good idea. Randolph says he and Hastings were rejected more than 1,000 times when they tried to pitch Netflix to various investors. He remembers Blockbuster CEO John Antioco trying to hold back laughter when the pair pitched him movie rentals by mail.

Still, the pair forged ahead and day by day, Netflix morphed into something bigger.

Randolph says "too many" entrepreneurs get stuck in their own heads by trying to puzzle everything together before launching a project or idea. But the only real way to find out if its going to work is to start.

"If you have an idea, it doesn't make a difference if it's a good idea or a bad idea — the whole point is starting. Once you start, that is when you begin to figure out if it's a good idea or a bad one. It informs you," Randolph says.

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook.

Don't miss: Netflix vs Apple: Here's which stock would have made you richer if you invested $1,000 10 years ago

Marc Randolph, co-founder and first CEO of Netflix

Credit: Paul Riedmiller

Amazon Accelerates Efforts to Fight Climate Change - The New York Times

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 07:37 AM PDT

WASHINGTON — Amazon committed on Thursday to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of schedule and be carbon neutral by 2040, in the company's most ambitious push yet to combat climate change.

Jeff Bezos, the company's chief executive, said that the promises were part of a new effort called the Climate Pledge. Amazon is the first company to join the pledge.

To help meet its goal, Mr. Bezos said Amazon was ordering 100,000 electric delivery trucks from Rivian, a Michigan-based company that Amazon invested in this year.

Mr. Bezos said that climate change had outpaced even the serious predictions the scientific community made five years ago.

"Those predictions were bad but what is actually happening is dire," he said.

Thursday's announcement comes a day before more that 1,500 Amazon employees had planned to walk out of work, in an escalation of almost a year of pressuring Amazon to be more aggressive in its climate goals. The walkout is in conjunction with a day of planned climate strikes around the world.

They pushed Amazon on three issues: That the company have zero emissions by 2030, that it stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels, and that it stop giving campaign donations to politicians who deny climate change is happening.

Mr. Bezos punted on many of their demands. Amazon would still continue to sell its cloud services to the oil and gas industry, he said. "We're going to work hard for energy companies, and in our view we're going to work very hard to make sure that as they transition that they have the best tools possible," he said. "To ask oil and energy companies to do this transition with bad tools is not a good idea and we won't do that."

He said the company was taking a "hard look" at whether its political donations were going to "active climate deniers," but stopped short of saying that the company would not give them more money in the future.

Mr. Bezos said Thursday that Amazon would lobby on a case-by-case basis for political responses to climate change. But he declined to endorse the Green New Deal, which has gained significant traction on the left.

"There are lot of different ideas for what the Green New Deal is and it's probably too broad to say too much about that in particular," he said.

This February, Amazon invested $440 million in Rivian. After almost a decade of work, Rivian last November revealed its battery-powered pickup truck and an electric sport-utility vehicle built on a "skateboard"-like platform that carries the battery, cooling system, motor and other essential parts. It has said it could build other vehicle types on the platform, and the pickup could drive 400 miles between charges.

Amazon said the first Rivian electric delivery trucks would hit the road in 2021, and it planned to have 10,000 in service as early as 2022.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

10 Powerful Women in Finance Share Their Ideas on Achieving on Gender Parity - Entrepreneur

Posted: 20 Sep 2019 10:30 AM PDT

Executives from Fidelity Investments, Western Union, FICO and more share their thoughts on how the finance industry can achieve parity.

10 min read

This story originally appeared on Authority Magazine

Wall Street and the finance industry as a whole used to be an all-white "boys' club." We've made some progress, but there's still a lot more work to do to achieve parity. In our series about Women Leading the Finance Industry, we talked to a number of women who are leaders in finance, asking them:

"In your opinion or experience, which 3 things can be done by a) individuals, b) companies and c) society to support the movement towards greater gender parity in the finance industry?"

Here are insights from ten powerful women in finance. 

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Kathleen Murphy, President of Fidelity Investments

Kathleen Murphy, President of Fidelity Investments

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The ongoing gap is an area Fidelity has given a lot of attention to, and it's a personal focus of mine, too. Here, in my view, are some things stakeholders can ascribe to so they can provide women with the training, confidence and opportunity to shine in financial services.

1. Open-mindedness. Hiring managers need to think much more broadly as to who they may consider as candidates for financial services positions. Don't look at a candidate based on what your workforce currently looks like; you'll never become more diverse with that old-school thinking. Understand your customers, their needs and preferences, and examine your employee demographics. Take some risks with smart, capable people who may not already have a financial background; they can learn! By doing so, your recruiting, hiring, advancement and training practices will evolve accordingly.

2. Fill the pool. Related to the point about open-mindedness, organizations are unable to nurture more diverse talent into the next generation of leaders if few women and other minorities are represented at lower levels of the company. It's simple math: Women will have more opportunities to advance up the ladder if more women are in the workplace.

3. Meaningful mentoring. Establishing and maintaining relationships with customers is incredibly important in this industry. So, too, are strong mentoring relationships within our own house. Mentorship has long been a staple of the business world, but is it as worthwhile and effective as it can be? Leaders need to devote significant time to mentoring up-and-coming talent — especially underrepresented individuals, such as women. Otherwise, they likely will move on to greener pastures.

Caroline Tsai, EVP of Western Union

Caroline Tsai, EVP of Western Union

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. Women at the C-Suite level need to mentor and sponsor women in their companies. In 2015, our CEO, Hikmet Ersek, created an all-female senior advisory group with the mandate to create an action plan to promote women's success at Western Union, through recruiting, mentoring, promoting and measuring progress. We took the opportunity to look more deeply at our gender numbers and, although we rate as better than average, we are aiming to be high-performing in terms of gender equality at the highest levels of our company — that target is 40 percent. In our research, we found that often the root cause is not in hiring or retaining women, but rather in promoting women into new and expanded roles. A host of reasons contribute to this — one example being women not putting up their hands for challenging roles and, concurrently, not always being top of mind when nominations are being considered for promotion. To that end, I would urge individuals — in this case, women themselves — to actively seek out stretch assignments and seize the opportunities they present.

2. Companies must ensure that hiring and promotions are fair, and senior leaders must champion diversity and inclusion. Gender diversity has to be a target, a KPI that is measurable with clear metrics aligned against it. Western Union is a globally diverse company, and we strive for diverse slates and interview panels both internally and externally in our recruitment practices. We've also started piloting gender-neutral presentation of resumes and candidates.

3. The next step is to ensure that our executives are held accountable. A key focus for our executive team in recent years has been making our senior leaders champions of diversity, to inspire diversity of thought, reflecting our customer base. It starts with our leadership and manifests throughout our global workforce and our board. Our board includes three women and three ethnically diverse directors, with half of committees of the board chaired by women. They are actively engaged in reviewing the women in leadership practices throughout the year.

Sally Taylor, VP of FICO

Sally Taylor, VP of FICO

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. Awareness. Those who have privilege don't always see it. It's about becoming more aware of your privilege and that what you take for granted can be a barrier for others. Despite some senior leaders claiming we have reached a meritocracy, there is still progress to be made when you look at those ratios and how far along we are from reaching true gender parity.

2. Taking action. It has to start at the top of the organization, opening their eyes to which leadership skills they are rewarding and which they are undervaluing. We often hear there aren't enough experienced women leaders in the pipeline, but that's simply not true — men tend to be promoted based on potential, whereas that doesn't happen as much with women.

3. Mentorship and sponsorship. There needs to be more mentor and sponsor relationships between those in the club and those outside the club. As with any social movements, walls come down when people respect and understand each other. Of course, those mentors need to keep their minds open and realize mentorship is a two-way learning experience. I once had a senior (male) mentor, and I asked him why another senior (male) executive kept going to two different male peers of mine for a particular solution, despite the fact I had already told him I was working on it and the solution was in my area of responsibility. His response was that I couldn't blame someone for working with those they already know. I beg to differ, especially when "those they already know" are largely male.

Aimee Young, CMO of Quicken

Aimee Young, CMO of Quicken

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. Acknowledge and address gender bias. While companies are paying more attention to diversity, gender bias remains prevalent. It's subtle and often unintentional, such as male and female managers being perceived differently when behaving the same way.

2. Establish better on-ramps for women who have taken time off to be caregivers.

3. Mentor. I feel great responsibility to support women as they navigate their careers. I've often found my own contemporaries to be quite ruthless in their treatment of other women ⁠— likely qualities that were required to succeed in tough environments. It's inspired me to do the opposite.

Diane Gabriel, Head of Next Generation Talent for Wells Fargo Advisers

Diane Gabriel, Head of Next Generation Talent for Wells Fargo Advisers

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. Demonstrate commitment through your actions (not just words) to ensure that you are attracting and hiring a diverse workforce — and promoting and supporting the very best among them to positions of leadership.

2. Be open to hiring outside of your traditional "pool of candidates." Far too often, managers think they have to only hire people within the industry.

3. Start important conversations with children early — if they learn that anything and everything is possible, they will reach for the stars.

Lule Demmissie, President of Ally Invest

Lule Demmissie, President of Ally Invest

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Yes, progress is taking place, but there is certainly room to grow. Diversity engenders better decision-making and a healthier company.

1. Our success in this area will depend on how well we support and nurture diverse and inclusive teams, networks and language within the company.

2. The hard reality is that the potential for bias exists within everyone. The trick is to know how to keep it in check and to always be aware of its presence in our circles and minds.

3. When we're recruiting, it's essential to ensure that the folks who are doing the recruiting are also a diverse bench so we don't end up just hiring people who look and sound like us.

Josephine Moran, EVP of Provident Bank

Josephine Moran, EVP of Provident Bank

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. Diversity must be part of a company's strategic plan. It begins with that. The attitude and influence begins with the executive leadership team. Everyone at that level must buy in and understand why this is important and be ready to execute within this realm.

2. There must be well-run and very defined programs to promote diversity including leadership development programs, mentoring programs and a women's council within the organization that supports and fosters the growth of women. Women in senior positions must be role models for women in the organization and be available for coaching, mentoring and "sharing" their career story.

3. Women need to take ownership of their own careers and be overt about their plans. It takes an entire village and everyone within the organization must be on board to move this forward. One more thought — we have to reach out to young women early to ensure they are aware of the opportunities in the financial world and the benefits of considering a career in finance.

Janice Withers, CIO of TD Bank

Janice Withers, CIO of TD Bank

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

There is a lot of work to be done, but we are starting to take the right steps. There are three things that many companies are already doing that I feel organizations and those in leadership positions need to continue to focus on and, in many cases, increase their focus on. They include:

1. Interviewing diverse sets of candidates when hiring.

2. Enabling mentoring and sponsorships.

3. Implementing internal programs that support and facilitate the development and promotion of women into more senior roles.

I've had the opportunity to benefit from all three of these approaches. They are not mutually exclusive but rather work together to create more opportunities and help rising talent become comfortable working at the next level of leadership.

Lora Vaughn McIntosh, Chief Information Security Officer of Simmons Bank

Lora Vaughn McIntosh, Chief Information Security Officer of Simmons Bank

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. We all tend to hire people like ourselves — it's human nature. I think that we have to be intentional in our hiring to make sure we aren't just selecting candidates whose experiences mirror our own.

2. Women need to support each other. I agree with that Madeline Albright quote: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." If you see a woman in your organization who has potential, help her rise! Mentor her. Talk her up inside the organization. Nominate her for the next big thing.

3. Speak up respectfully. When you see something that's unfair or biased, call it out. When you're in a leadership role, I think you have a responsibility to fight for others. Things only change when leaders speak up about inequality.

Jodi Delahunt Hubbell, COO of First Interstate Bank

Jodi Delahunt Hubbell, COO of First Interstate Bank

Image credit: via Authority Magazine

1. Adopt a maternity and paternity leave policy for employees and build a culture that encourages and supports using the policy.

2. Create career paths for women and men who choose to have children to re-enter the workforce after taking time off — whether that is six months or six years. A great employee is worth it.

3. Implement a formal sponsorship program to give traditionally underserved populations entering the workforce (for this example, women) the opportunity to develop working relationships with senior-level leaders. This also gives senior-level leaders an official platform to advocate for high-potential individuals.

‘PopSockets queen’ says PopSockets stole her idea for PopSockets koozie - The Verge

Posted: 19 Sep 2019 09:50 AM PDT

PopSockets' newest product, a koozie with a PopSocket attached, looked familiar to some PopSockets fans. When the team posted a photo of it to Instagram, fans started commenting about how a prominent PopSockets influencer had come up with the idea first — years ago. "@kimbyrleigha created this first give her her money pleaseeeeeeeeee," one commenter wrote. Another said, "And ur not gonna give her anything ? Not even a dime ?"

That influencer, who goes by her first name, Kimbyr, loves all phone grips, but she especially loves PopSockets. She's been making videos about them for years, showing off new designs, teaching people how to properly apply them, reviewing them, and unboxing them. She has 57 videos filed under her PopSockets playlist in which she describes the popular phone attachment as the most "amazing and greatest phone accessory of all time." She says she owns over 400 PopSockets.

PopSockets is well aware of Kimbyr, too. She toured its headquarters in 2018 and helped assemble some PopSockets for a video showing how the company's creation process works. PopSockets CEO and co-founder David Barnett also emailed her in 2017 to introduce her to a lead PopSockets graphics designer who later facilitated Kimbyr's relationship with the brand in the form of free products and an open line of communication.

So Kimbyr was shocked when she read about PopSockets' plans to expand beyond phone grips and into koozies. The company debuted its PopThirst product last week, which is a cup holder that incorporates a PopSocket for extra grip. She came up with a similar idea for a 2017 PopSockets "hacks" video in which she applied a PopSocket to a plastic cup for extra support. The commenters called her the "PopSockets queen."

"I just find it to be interesting that my video does have like 300,000 views," Kimbyr says. "People did comment on it, and they remember it. It's burned into their memory."

On Instagram, fans tagged her and said she deserved credit. Kimbyr responded to the comments cordially and said that she'll release a reaction video soon. Her YouTube channel, Kimbyrleigha, has more than 230,000 subscribers. She says she has more than 11 million views on just her PopSockets content.

A PopSockets spokesperson denied getting the idea from her, pointing to a 2015 Instagram post in which the company attached a PopSocket to a mug as evidence that Kimbyr's idea was not original. "We love that our fans are enthusiastic about our products, but we are reluctant to call Kimberleigha's post innovative," a spokesperson said. They also said the new PopSocket product is "much more than our original PopGrip attached to a cup," calling it "innovative" and "patent-pending."

Whether PopSockets watched Kimbyr's video or not, the entire situation highlights the complicated relationship influencers have with the products they get involved with as well as the codependence companies and influencers have on each other. In Kimbyr's case, she loved PopSockets when she discovered the product organically, and so she started making videos about them. As the company gained popularity and people searched for information about them, she became the de facto YouTube expert, and she says her channel grew from 4,000 subscribers to 40,000 subscribers, all from PopSockets content. "People thought I owned PopSockets," she says.

She created videos that essentially served as customer support, like how to remove and reapply one, and she claims that PopSockets' team even told her that they showed their own employees her videos to teach them about the product. She says she reached out to PopSockets after realizing that she tapped into an audience that needed attention and answers. Her first PopSockets video has over 500,000 views, while her video about removing and reapplying PopSockets has over 1 million. In general, her PopSockets content performs much better than her other videos, so while PopSockets benefitted from her content in the form of sales and information, Kimbyr and her channel benefitted, too.

Kimbyr says she has spent "thousands" of dollars on PopSockets because the company rarely gave her free stuff, and now, after years of making content about PopSockets, she's at a loss over how they could come up with an idea so similar to hers without any credit.

Tight relationships between brands and influencers can be mutually beneficial, but both parties should agree ahead of time on what they're getting out of the relationship, say leaders at the influencer marketing platform Tagger. "This protects both the brand and the influencer; the brand has a more active role in what is being said about them, and the influencer can ensure they'll receive agreed-upon compensation," says Kelsey Formost, Tagger's director of content.

Influencers sometimes feel like they're part of a brand's design process because they know the products so well. In Kimbyr's case, she loved the product, helped sell it, and benefitted from making content about it, but she always wanted a tighter relationship with PopSockets. She says she reached out multiple times in an effort to collaborate with the brand, but she was almost always shot down. The company did increase her affiliate link commission to 25 percent for new customers and 15 percent for repeats to convince her to remove a video in which she compared PopSockets to its competitor Spin Pops. She says she received around $2,600 in affiliate revenue over the three years or so that she was part of the program. Now, Kimbyr views the whole relationship as a catch-22.

"If you don't do the videos you don't get the recognition [from the brand]," she says. "And if you do the videos then you're caught up in this how much do I want to show? Do I want to start using their product in this crazy, innovative way?"

Formost says this is another reason brands and influencers should get their relationship in writing, saying it "gives everyone clarification for future collaborations." That way both parties know how far their relationship goes. "Making it official means everybody's protected — it's a win-win," she says.

Brands can be a ticket to YouTube success. A popular product will likely have more search traffic, which means people are more likely to find a YouTuber's content. It's Search Engine Optimization 101. But when someone puts an idea on the internet — especially one based on a product they don't own — it's fair game for everyone else to take and innovate on. PopSockets has the resources to make the PopThirst a real product; Kimbyr doesn't.

Kimbyr says after this incident and after gaining more experience in the brand space, she doesn't share her ideas freely. If she comes up with something that might be worth money, she'll reach out to a lawyer and look into patenting it, or she'll collaborate with a brand to make it a reality. She currently works with a PopSockets competitor, Nuckees, which she says pays her a contractor fee to come up with ideas. It's planning to release a phone grip with lip gloss built-in and another one that incorporates aromatherapy. She hasn't forgotten about PopSockets, though.

"I'm sad — that's my ultimate feeling inside," she says. "It's like losing a boyfriend. It feels like I lost a relationship."