Posts tagged with "Fast Company"

This $50 device is trying to disrupt the walkie-talkie market

December 4, 2019

A few months ago, the website for the Philadelphia-based startup, Relay Network, was adorned with smiling children and glowing testimonials from parents, illustrating how the $50 push-to-talk device would enable parents to chat with their kids and track their whereabouts as an alternative to the cellphone.

But, Fast Company reports, despite the family-friendly façade, companies in the hotel, amusement, and concessions businesses saw huge potential in Relay: Instead of using the small, squarish, screenless devices to help parents communicate with kids, what if they could be used to replace bulky and expensive walkie-talkies?

Some of these businesses—among them, Comcast, AAA, Citizens Bank, and DentaQuest—started placing orders, and Relay took note.

“Demand sort of showed up at our doorstep,” Chris Chuang, Relay’s co-founder and CEO told the business news outlet.

Now, Relay is rolling out a proper enterprise version of the product, with staid black and white color options and features specifically for business use— particularly for companies that have large numbers of employees who are out and about; not sitting behind desks.

Relay’s push-to-talk button serves as a quick way for workers to get in touch, and it even doubles as a panic button, letting construction crews or housekeepers rapidly send an emergency message. Relay also now offers a web app for businesses, so managers can communicate with their team’s Relay devices through a laptop.

Instead of just targeting an audience of worried parents, Relay hopes to take a piece of the nearly $3 billion walkie-talkie market, Fast Company says.

Although it doesn’t look like a smartphone from the outside, the Relay is similar on the inside, with 4G LTE radios, Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS for location tracking, a Qualcomm chipset, a headphone jack, and a battery that lasts roughly two days on a charge. The main difference, of course, is that it trades a touchscreen for a big button, which users can press and hold to talk with fellow Relay users over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Parents could then talk to their children through their own Relay devices or through Relay’s mobile app, which would also let them monitor their children’s location. The idea was to provide the connectivity of a smartphone without the addiction of yet another screen.

Chuang says Relay has “tens of thousands of customers” for the family version, but it turns out that the same properties that made Relay work for kids—durability, simplicity, cost-effectiveness—also appealed to businesses. While walkie-talkie apps do exist for smartphones, the touchscreen requires “active workers”—that is, those in fields like construction and hospitality—to stop looking at what they’re doing..

This helps explain why walkie-talkies have stuck around in the smartphone era, but they have their own problems. Most of them are large and heavy, so they’re impractical for workers that don’t have an easy way to tote them around, and the costs are as steep as those for a smartphone, ranging from several hundred dollars to over $1,000 per unit.

“These devices, they haven’t changed much from the Nextel days,” Chuang told the magazine.

And at $50 per device, the Relay is a lot cheaper than a traditional walkie-talkie, even when you factor in $10 per month for cellular service.

“The price point enables people to now arm more of their workforce,” Chuang says. “Our vision is really to connect every active worker, whereas today where you have to ration out the walkie-talkies.”

And although the walkie-talkie business is unglamorous, it’s arguably ready for some disruption. According to Maia Research Analysis, the market has grown in revenue by over 8% every year for the past three years, and the group expects that trend to continue through at least 2024, at which point revenues could exceed $4.8 billion. Despite being more than 75 years old, the walkie-talkie isn’t slowing down.

Relay’s Chris Chuang argues that major vendors such as Motorola—which alone has 50% of the market—don’t have the expertise in smartphone-like hardware, software, and networking to make a product like Relay. But perhaps more importantly, walkie-talkie makers currently enjoy gross profit margins of over 40% on devices that can cost hundreds of dollars; they may not want to cannibalize that business with hardware that sells for a tenth of the cost. He notes that while Motorola has started offering cellular connectivity in some of its radios, the feature is only available on high-end models as a profit booster.

“A disruptively priced product like Relay would threaten their existing revenues greatly,” he says.

Still, Relay may not need to completely upend the walkie-talkie business to succeed. By virtue of being lighter and cheaper, it may appeal to workers who otherwise might not use a walkie-talkie at all. Schools, for instance, might want to equip their teachers with something lightweight for emergencies, and housekeepers could use them as protection against abuse, especially with a wave of state laws mandating panic buttons for hotel staff.

Chuang doesn’t like to say it publicly, but internally Relay thinks of itself as a Slack for active workers, the implication being that it’s a platform whose usefulness will extend as more businesses get on-board.

“As we get with customers, they brainstorm almost as much as we do,” he says.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Snap, crackle, pop: Adobe’s new app puts Photoshop inside your phone camera, with high-impact effects

November 5, 2019

In a demo of Adobe’s new AI-powered camera app conducted recently by the company’s CTO Anjau Parasnis, daytime photos were made to look like they were shot at night; portraits were transformed into Andy Warhol-style pop art, or were altered by different lighting and shadows; and faces were smeared with virtual paint to show team pride at sporting events.

Indeed, according to a report by Fast Company, the Adobe Photoshop Camera app, which launched via an invite-based preview program on November 4, is the culmination of Adobe’s efforts to bring its Sensei AI services to a consumer product, and it’s part of a broader attempt to expand the company’s software beyond the realm of creative professionals.

Fast Company tech reviewer Jared Newman describes the app as, “… a pretty neat-looking tool for both serious photo editing and silly visual gimmickry.”

Parasnis agrees, commenting, “For the engineer in me, this is super, super cool, Consumers can now express themselves in ways that were just impossible before.”

And while other smartphone makers recently have been leaning more into computer vision to improve photos, Newman says, “Adobe’s tools … seem more extreme than what standard camera apps offer.”

He notes, “While looking through the viewfinder, Photoshop Camera will recognize what’s happening in the scene and highlight appropriate effects in a menu below the shutter button. A landscape shot, for instance, may highlight tools that turn a bland sky into a sunny blue one, or that make the whole image look like an oil painting.

The critical difference: Adobe’s AI can recognize what’s going on in the photo—and itt can apply separate lighting and color effects to different parts of the frame. Parasnis showed Fast Company’s Newman how he could brighten an interior shot of a church in one step without blowing out the outdoor scenery in a distant window; and how changing a city skyline photo from day to night would also affect the lighting on buildings in the forefront.

The goal, Parasnis says, is to automate the kind of effects that used to require pixel-by-pixel editing in Photoshop.

“It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but it was very labor intensive, and required super high-end hardware with super high-end skills,” he says.

It’s worth noting that all of this image processing occurs offline. The company isn’t uploading any images to its servers or collecting data on what users are capturing.

“The core genesis was: Can we unleash creativity for everyone, not just professionals?” Parasnis told Newman. “If we’re going to do it, the camera is the perfect app, because capture is the new create

Still, the business model for this endeavor is murky. Adobe Photoshop Camera will be free.

Parasnis says the main goal with Photoshop Camera is to strengthen the company’s overall ecosystem. With the app, users can export images in Photoshop’s .PSD format for further editing, so there’s a chance some users may graduate to paid Photoshop subscribers.

“These free apps do make the core ecosystem that much more valuable and sticky, and drive more users to it,” Parasnis says.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Talent or brain fart? Most creativity can be attributed to mental errors, researchers say

November 4, 2019

Is what we choose to label as “creativity” merely a random mistake in decision-making or reasoning? Similarly, when we choose to veer away from what we have done in the past—rejecting well-known, “safe” options—is it because we are risk-takers or visionaries, or can it be assessed as a failure in cognition?

A study published in the October edition of the journal, Nature Neuroscience,  found that, if our brains excelled at evaluating all options, we would stick to those that have succeeded for us in the past.

Indeed, according to a report by Fast Company, researchers at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, designed a study in which they took brain MRIs of 100 people playing a slot-machine game that presented two options—one of which had won them money in previous tests.

They found that the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that regulates decision-making, lit up when participants made errors in reasoning and that many of the subjects’ “curious” choices were a result of the brain’s failure to reason.

This is kind of a big deal. Curiosity has been long hypothesized by psychologists to be an exploration of choices with uncertain outcomes, a sort of rational process of weighing out the options.

Interestingly enough, principal investigator Valentin Wyart told Fast Company, “Uh-uh.”

This finding is important, because it implies that many choices in favor of the unknown are made unbeknownst to us, without our being aware of it: Our participants have the impression of choosing the best symbol and not the most uncertain, but they do it on the basis of wrong information resulting from errors of reasoning,” Wyart said.

Wyart points out that errors are not inherently bad: they fuel many of humanity’s great discoveries, such as Christopher Columbus’ accidental navigation to America, and evolution, which often derives from random genetic variation.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Sweetgreen is putting $1 million into better school lunches

September 17, 2019

They are living their “salad days,” so why shouldn’t they be enjoying fresh-grown greens (and reds and yellows) for lunch? With that in mind, the trending salad franchise, Sweetgreen, based in Culver City, California, has just committed $1 million to the nonprofit FoodCorps to transform school lunches.

Portland, Oregon-based FoodCorps launched in 2009 with a mission to connect kids with healthier ways of eating by teaching cooking, gardening, and tasting, since children love to eat things they have prepared themselves.

In this case, Fast Company reports, Sweetgreen is backing three specific initiatives that the nonprofit uses to improve school cafeterias:

  • Tasty challenge allows kids to regularly try fruits and vegetable prepared in different ways and vote for their favorites (trying raw versus roasted carrots, for instance).
  • Flavor bar allows students to choose from a variety of sauces and spices in order to explore new flavors and ways of seasoning their food (from adobo to hot sauce, ketchup, or garlic granules).
  • School Cafeteria 2.0 empowers kids to decide for themselves how their dining experience might be improved, and then use that consensus to make changes alongside school administrators. In some schools, the priority might be more natural light and plants, while in others, it could be more communal seating—rethinking how the food itself is arranged and served so kids actually have time to eat it.

Sweetgreen Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Nathaniel Ru told Fast Company in an interview that one of the most appealing aspects of all these concepts is the “hands-on learning” opportunities for kids. In some ways, it represents what’s happening in his shops as regulars try or combine new things.

“[This] is really focused on seeking to understand students’ kind of choice and voice and things that really change behavior in terms of healthy eating in schools,” he says. (Plus, starting kids on salads early is a good step toward growing the pool of future Sweetgreen customers.)

After visiting schools and studying student behavior, FoodCorps began implementing these changes at five prototype schools last fall. With Sweetgreen’s backing, they’ll expand the effort to 15 cafeterias around the country during the 2019 school year, reaching an estimated 6,500 students in 10 states including Oregon, Arkansas, Michigan, New York, and Virginia. FoodCorps works with 350 schools in 18 states. The initial goal is to add this kind of programming to 50 schools and be helping 20,000 kids by the end of 2020.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Natalist offers monthly subscription boxes curated to help couples conceive

August 28, 2019

Getting pregnant is life’s lottery: Some couples hit the jackpot the first time they try; others start to feel as if it’s never going to happen. But for most, it’s an emotional journey, with ups and downs, insecurities and hopes.

That’s the thinking behind a new “get pregnant bundle” delivered each month by a startup company called Natalist to the homes of those who are trying to conceive.

After all, says Dr. Nazaneen Homaifar, the chief medical advisor of Natalist—and a Duke Univesity-trained OBGYN—“Trying to get pregnant can be confusing, frustrating, and not as romantic as we imagined it to be. At Natalist, we understand. And we want to help support you through this journey.”

In addition to “Dr. Naz,” the company’s founders include CEO Halle Tecco and Chief Scientific Officer Elizabeth Kane. Together, they have the business and medical knowledge that a couple trying to would appreciate.

“We’re moms, doctors, and scientists building Natlist to give you what you need—from concept to conception,” they say on their new website.

 Starting this week, according to a report by Fast Company, Natalist will discreetly deliver its first boxes (and individually purchased products) to customers’ doors.

As founder and CEO, Halle Tecco envisions arming consumers with everything they need before starting a family, including plenty of TLC. Consider it the self-care of conceiving.

The monthly “Get Pregnant Bundle” subscription box ($90 for a one-time purchase; $81 monthly) changes as one progresses through the fertility journey and continues on until birth. (Customers can cancel at any time.) The first month, for example, includes an illustrated Conception 101 guidebook complete with the basics of human reproduction and practical tips on getting pregnant.

In addition, buyers can expect a range of items ranging from ovulation tests to prenatal vitamins, the majority of which physicians recommend during a preconception visit. The cost is on par with drugstore prices, if not less, Fast Company notes.

In many ways, the business news outlet says, Natalist resembles other startups streamlining transformative stages of a woman’s life: Fridababy sells postpartum recovery products for new moms; Blume is the first cohesive line of self-care products for girls navigating puberty; while Genneve is a complete telehealth and product line for women going through menopause.

While Natalist isn’t bringing new conception products to the market, it did redesign them with a modern feminine look. The pregnancy test is sleek, compact, eco-friendly, and in a warm color palette. Such improvements stem, in part, from a Natalist survey of 1,200 women with planned pregnancies.

“If you look at the pregnancy and ovulation tests that are on the market today, they don’t feel like they belong on your bed stand or in your bathroom next to beauty products,” says Tecco.

The collection features more personal—and less clinical—language along with elegant illustrated instructions. There’s none of the medical jargon typically found on a traditional pregnancy test box.

The website features materials on conception and pregnancy—from both a medical and lifestyle perspective. On-staff doctors quash junk information from actual science-backed studies, with articles ranging from miscarriage grief to debunking sex-position myths. The team also shares their own personal pregnancy journeys on social media and a private Facebook group. The goal is to be approachable while projecting authority.

Over the long-term, Natalist envisions physicians and clinics suggesting its boxes to patients. Currently, the company is in talks with multiple employers interested in subsidizing subscriptions: They’re looking to help their employees get pregnant naturally, thereby bringing down the cost of fertility treatments.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Enjoy the ‘salad days’ with your dog

August 27, 2019

Sweetgreen—a nationwide fast-casual dining chain that serves salads—began offering a new menu item this week: dog food. The restaurateurs have partnered with the direct-to-consumer pet startup, Wild One, to create munchies for mutts out of some of the same ingredients—sliced apple and sweet potato—found among its salad greens.

The new product is called Plants for Pups. “We set out to create a treat mix akin to a Sweetgreen salad,” Minali Chatani, Wild One’s co-founder and head of brand, told Fast Company during a recent interview, adding, ““They’re designed to be tasty, healthy, and made with transparently sourced ingredients.”

The collaboration began when Nic Jammet, Sweetgreen’s co-founder and chief concept officer, stopped by the Wild One holiday pop-up and began to think about the sourcing process for dog food, which is notoriously opaque.

Together, the brands decided to collaborate on Plants for Pups as a way to showcase their mutual mission to bring transparency to food. As Fast Company has reported in the past, Wild One is known for its single-ingredient treats that are free of chemicals and fillers. The ingredients in the Plants for Pups treats are sourced from farms in the United States.

“We bring expertise on the treat industry and dog nutrition, and they bring their knowledge of ingredient suppliers and sourcing,” Chatani told the business news outlet.

The 4-ounce Plants for Pups bags will be sold for $16 on both the Wild One and Sweetgreen online stores, as well as at Sweetgreen’s Tavern store in Washington, D.C., and during the opening events at Sweetgreen’s Houston location in Montrose.

While dogs aren’t allowed in most Sweetgreen stores unless they are service animals (because of health and safety regulations), many locations have outdoor seating that is open to pets. The Montrose location will have a pet-friendly outdoor park attached to the location, Fast Company reports..

Research contact: @FastCompany

Equinox to go up against Peleton and Mirror for streaming fitness supremacy

August 16, 2019

Earlier this month, Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of the popular fitness brands, Equinox, SoulCycle, Precision Run, and Blink Fitness, sparked outrage and calls for a boycott of his businesses when he hosted a fundraiser for President Donald Trump in the fashionable Hamptons area of Long Island, New York.

But that hasn’t slowed down his push into the fitness category. In fact, Ross now has announced his intentions to take on Peloton, the New York City-based exercise equipment and media company that has revolutionized the home biking experience—connecting users to live and on-demand streaming on-screen classes across a variety of devices for $39 per month.

According to a report by Fast Company, Ross’s new digital venture will include two separate pieces of hardware and personalized content representing Ross’s portfolio of brands.

Slated for launch this fall, the platform will pair with a new stationary bike identical to the one found in SoulCycle studios—with the addition of an attached screen. Equinox also will sell its proprietary Woodway treadmill, which can already be found at its Precision Run studios.

The new digital venture (which has not yet been named, Fast Company says) will include all the brands’ signature workouts—led by top instructors—in one network. It is not meant to replace the live studio experience, rather to serve as an addition for dedicated members who want an at-home offering.

The new digital venture puts Equinox in direct competition with Peloton, which also boasts both treadmill and stationary bikes along with a broad range of fitness content. Last year, Peloton opened a new production studio dedicated to yoga and meditation in New York City. The streaming giant is now valued at more than $4 billion.

Peloton stands out in the $14 billion home fitness equipment market, but it’s becoming an increasingly crowded space: Fast Company notes the long list of competitive startups—among them,  Mirror (personal training, yoga), Crew (rowing), and Tonal (weight lifting) ; all of which are attempting to do what Peloton did for the indoor bike.

While approximately 16% of the U.S. population holds a gym membership card, a recent survey found that 54% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system.

Over the last few years, Equinox members increasingly have demanded more ways to interact with the brand on their own schedule. Around 86% of them would like to spend more time with the brand than they get to, according to a recent survey of SoulCycle riders.

The new platform will integrate live and recorded original video and audio content–and will start with an invitation-only launch in the fall, with the at-home equipment available for purchase by the winter. A more public rollout is set for early 2020.

Research contact: @Equinox_Service

Into the unknown: 400,000 UFO enthusiasts who met on Facebook intend to invade Area 51

July 15, 2019

On Friday, September 20, from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. (PDT), a huge group of alien enthusiasts—close to half a million—who found each other on a Facebook fan site has agreed to “meet up at the [U.S. government’s off-limits, fiercely guarded] Area 51 … and coordinate our entry.

“If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens,” one of the members of the Facebook site resolves.

Located 80 miles outside north of Las Vegas, Area 51 is one of the most famous military installations in the world—known more for its cloak of absolute secrecy than for the flight testing that the government insists happens at the base.

Conspiracy theorists and UFO spotters believe that the government hid an alien spacecraft, as well as the alien pilot who did not survive the flight, at the high-security superstructure over 50 years ago—and has gone to great lengths to protect its plunder.

For the uninitiated, “Naruto running” refers to the unique running style of the Naruto Uzmaki, the lead character in the Japanese anime series of the same name. He often is depicted sprinting with his head forward and his arms stretched behind him.

The Facebook-spawned event—called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us—may not end well for those who signed the petition and actually show up, according to writer Michael Grothaus of Fast Company magazine.

It may be more dangerous than they participants think, he says. Indeed, some believe the United States uses the site to develop such technology as sci-fi energy weapons, weather control options, and even time travel..

“Since 2013 the U.S. government has acknowledged that Area 51 is a military site, but has never revealed what types of operations go on there,” Grothaus comments. “Still, even if you have 400,000 people who are supposedly willing to overrun a U.S. military installation, it’s probably not a good idea to pre-announce your attack. And man, if they really do have those secret sci-fi energy weapons there, you guys are screwed.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

‘Pretty, pretty good’: Natura Cosmeticos acquires Avon Products

May 24, 2019

The news is “pretty, pretty good,” as comedian Larry David would say: Avon Products—the iconic British company that eliminated the department store beauty counter and sent its vast network of  sales representatives out to market cosmetics and beauty potions person-to-person (and door-to-door)—has been acquired by Natura Cosmeticos, a Brazilian beauty conglomerate, for about US$3.7 billion in stock.

The purchase will create the fourth-largest pure-play beauty group in the world. The combined businesses will have more than 6 million direct sellers, 3,200 stores, and operations in 100 countries, according to the companies.

In 2017, Natura bought The Body Shop, another British beauty company, from L’Oreal.

Avon, which was founded in 1886, had been struggling financially and losing salespeople, according to a report by Fast Company. However, it is still the fifth largest beauty company in the world, with a salesforce of 6.4 million reps worldwide, and generated $5.5 billion globally in 2018.

Part of Avon’s woes had to do with the fact that the company had not kept up with changing consumer behavior, Fast Company notes. At the same time, there have been many beauty startups vying for Avon’s customers.

Among them is Glossier—which launched in 2014 and began targeting Millennials with a strong social media presence. It creates product based on the vast amounts of customer data it gathers and is currently worth about $1 billion, Fast Company says

Another is Beautycounter, launched in 2013, which offers “clean beauty” products—free of 1,300 known toxins or questionable ingredients. It is currently valued at around $400 million.

In the hands of Natura, Avon products could be sold throughout Latin America, Europe, and Asia using the company’s vast distribution channels. In a release, Natura says it expects to generate annual gross revenues of more than $10 billion.

Research contact: @Naturacosmetica

Amazon’s Ring to distribute local true-crime news

May 1, 2019

if you work outside the home, until recently you had very few ways to keep track of the workmen, friends, and family who beat a path to your front door—no less, those with criminal intent.

However, Amazon’s March 2018 acquisition of the Ring security system—which comprises outdoor motion-based cameras and a video doorbell that connects to your smartphone—has changed all that. Now, users can view whoever and whatever turns up at their doorway (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in real time.

And now, Fast Company reports, the company is hiring—and not for a tech job or a member of the logistics team, as would be expected. The position (Job ID: 836421) posted on the Amazon website is described as Managing Editor, News.

According to the posting, the Managing Editor, News, “will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking [true] crime news alerts to our neighbors.

Obviously, your closest neighbors would want to know if there are folks with criminal intent in the neighborhood—and Amazon is snatching that lucrative beat away from local news provider Patch.

Based on the job description, Fast Company notes, the right candidate will have “deep and nuanced knowledge of American crime trends,” “strong news judgment that allows for quick decisions in a breaking news environment,” and at least three years in management. Hopefully, they aren’t looking for a candidate with three years of management in Internet doorbell news management, because we’re going to guess that person does not exist.

Ring’s Neighbors App would be the perfect distribution network for such news. According to the Ring website, it already provides “real-time crime and safety alerts from your neighbors, law enforcement, and the Ring team.”

As Nieman Lab notes, Americans perceive that crime is rising even when it’s not. A 2016 Pew survey found that only 15% of Americans believed (correctly) that crime was lower in 2016 than it had been in 2008; versus 57% who thought it had gotten worse. True crime stories and apps that turn every person on the street into a potential threat undoubtedly add to the problem.

That said, the more petrified the world is, the more likely you are to buy a crime-fighting doorbell, right?

Research contact: @ring