This Guy Works From Home and Makes Big Money On iTunes, Spotify and Amazon. (Here's His Brilliant Trick)

As you might imagine, he’s discovered a pretty clever trick that enables him to do this. You might have heard some of his songs, which he records under 72 different stage names, such as:

  • The Very Nice Interesting Singer Man
  • The Guy Who Sings Songs About Cities & Towns
  • The Strange Man Who Sings About Dead Animals
  • The Guy Who Sings Your Name Over and Over

Here’s his story, his secret, and just how successful this strategy is for him. 

‘I Love Hugh Grant’

Farley is 40, a married father of two. He’s been working from home like this full-time for two years, but previously he spent 17 years working in a group home, and performing on the side with a band called Moes Haven. 

The band had very little professional success, but they wrote a funny song called ‘I Love Hugh Grant’ about the British actor, and it started making money on iTunes and Spotify. 

Well, comparatively speaking, anyway.

“We’d write these serious songs and sell nothing. And then, whoa, ‘I Love Hugh Grant’ made like 74 cents last month!” Farley told me in a phone interview.

Obviously, 74 cents a month is not exactly a fortune. But Farley said he had an ephinany: “Most people would quit, but I was like, if I can make 20,000 songs that are as successful as ‘I Love Hugh Grant,’ I’ll be doing pretty well!”

So, he set out to do just that, recording song after song after song–most of them inspired by terms that people might search for on digital music platforms. And then, it started to work. 

‘A Song for Waterbury, Connecticut’

Farley is incredibly prolific, working from the basement recording studio in his home. Many of his creations are not exactly great art, he’s the first to admit. For example, he’s written and performed 1,800 songs that are literally him just singing people’s names over and over. 

But people search for their own names. And if they come across one of his name songs, they’re likely to play others, too–just to marvel at the sheer number.

And he’s written more than 1,500 songs about different towns across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. He’s never visited almost any of them; he just looks them up on Wikipedia.

“They’re funny. They make you laugh, and there’s value to that,” he said. “Part of the joke is that you’re like, ‘Wait a second, he did one about that town, there’s only 6,000 people in that town. Half the joke is people saying, why would he do that?”

Soon he was seeing some success singing songs like, “A Song for Waterbury, Connecticut,” “I Made This Song About Wollongong. What Do You Think of It?” (Australia), and “Rock Out to This Song About Haverhill, Massachusetts, Ok?”

But nothing–nothing–prepared him for what would happen when he came upon perhaps the most-successful musical search term of all time.

‘Hundreds of songs about poop’

By far, Farley’s most successful and lucrative songs are about poop, pee, and all the other gross stuff that our bodies produce. And they’re all really a search engine optimization play.

He has hundreds of these songs on the three big digital music services. Why? Because it occurred to him a few years ago that most little kids seem to go through a phase when they’re obsessed with bodily functions. 

So now, if your 3-year-old says something like, “Alexa play a song about poop!” it’s Farley’s work that comes up first. (As the father of a 3-year-old, I can vouch for this.)

In fact, he records this genre under two distinct band or artist names, both of which rank really well for search terms that probably nobody else will confess to trying rank for.

The two aliases: “The Toilet Bowl Cleaners,” and “The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, and Pee.”

“It’s kind of like how a big company will have multiple brands,” he said. “I just want to intimidate any potential competitors.”

Just do the work

I think the part of that last quote about intimidating the competition is at least partially a joke. But the revenue he’s making from this each month isn’t. It’s not exactly retire-to-a-beach money, but he said he’s bringing in about $65,000 a year from this kind of SEO-oriented music alone. 

On top of that he said, his wife has a full-time job, so it’s more than enough to live on. Importantly, it also allows him to be at home to take care of his two kids.

Along the way, Farley said he’s figured out how to cut costs, churn out music, and push the envelope on what some of the digital systems will allow.

One example: He uses cdaby to post his music across all digital platforms, and since they charge by the album, he said he records massively long albums, usually with 80 songs or more on them. 

“Part of what I like about this, is there’s this whole ‘tortured artist creative person’ myth,” he told me. “My approach is it’s just going to work every day. If you force yourself to just do the work, you’re going to come across some really creative ideas.”

How a Tech Stock Shakeup on Monday Could Have a Big Impact on ETF Investors

For years, buying exchange-traded funds focused on, say, the technology sector has offered a simple buy-and-hold investment strategy for individual investors who wanted exposure to surging tech giants like Facebook and Alphabet.

Come Monday, that simple approach is about to get more complicated. And investors who have money in ETFs based on the S&P 500’s tech, telecom, and consumer sectors will need to take note.

S&P Global Ratings and MSCI oversee a kind of corporate taxonomy, known as the Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS), which groups individual companies into sectors. On Monday, GICS will move three of the four FANG stocks—Alphabet, Facebook, and Netflix—into a new sector. As technical as those moves sound, they will have a big impact on some of the ETFs and passive index funds that mirror those two sectors.

Normally, reshuffling sector stocks wouldn’t be a big deal. But the three FANG stocks being reclassified have market caps totaling $1.8 trillion. Another 14 stocks are being affected by the sector changes, including Twitter, Disney, Comcast, and News Corp..

Most will be lumped together into what S&P had termed the telecom sector, and which will now be named “communications services.” One tech company, eBay, will move to the consumer discretionary sector.

All told, stocks that make up 10% of the S&P 500’s capitalization will be affected by the changes, said Matthew Bartolini of State Street Global Advisors on a recent podcast by Zacks Investment Research. The changes are meant to reflect the way that technology has affected different industries, he said.

“Americans spend more than 12 hours a day on some form of media communications,” Bartolini said. “Dedicating a sector to telecom, which is really carriers and landline operators, no longer reflects the current communications environment. So it really was time for the GICS classification schema to be updated.”

After the changes, the S&P tech sector will go from 26% to 21% of the S&P 500 Index, according to Bloomberg data. The Consumer sector, until recently the home of Netflix and Disney, will go from 13% to 10%. And the revamped communications services sector will make up 10% of the S&P 500 market cap, up from the 2% the old telecom sector represented.

Only some ETF providers are responding to the sector reclassifications. Tech ETFs from State Street (XLK) and Vanguard (VGT) will reflect the changes, but Blackrock’s tech ETF (IYW) won’t. ETF investors may want to check their portfolios, and rebalance if necessary.

Everything Amazon Announced: Echo Plus, Alexa Microwave, Echo Sub

Amazon announced more than a dozen new hardware products today, along with several software updates, all aimed at bringing its voice assistant Alexa to more devices in your home—and even to your car.

Some of the products were updates to existing Echo devices; others were brand new, like a new Echo Sub speaker, or a Fire TV device that acts as a DVR for local TV broadcasts. And, as rumored, there was a new home appliance in the mix too: An Amazon Basics microwave that works with Alexa and will sell for the low price of $60.

There were few dramatic flourishes at the media event in Seattle, Washington as senior vice president of devices and services Dave Limp rattled off the new products. The event was held on the top floor of Amazon’s Spheres, a biodome located directly next to the company’s corporate offices. Limp began the event by saying 70 new products would be announced within just an hour’s time, software updates included. There were no glossy product videos, or detailed descriptions of the materials used in the new hardware. The whole event underscored Amazon’s strategy of selling high-volume, low-cost hardware in an effort to get customers to use more of its services. And, of course, it was a good reminder that Amazon wants to be absolutely everywhere.

More Echos Than You’ll Know What to Do With

Amazon updated its Echo Dot, Echo Plus, and Echo Show speakers today, keeping the same pricing as earlier models while adding small tweaks that make them sound better and look better.

The new Dot

Amazon

The new Plus

Amazon

The new Echo Dot is bigger than the previous Dot, and it’s now covered with fabric on the sides. It looks like a little pouf on your coffee table or nightstand. It now has a 1.6-inch driver, Limp said, updated from the old model’s 1.1-inch driver, and is 70 percent louder. It connects to other speakers either over Bluetooth or via an audio-out cable. It ships next month for $50, the same price as the old Dot.

The Echo Plus speaker, a squatter version of the tubular Echo, looks similar to last year’s Echo Plus. And it still doubles as a smart home hub. But it now has something called “Smart Home Local Voice Control,” which means it runs certain commands for smart-home devices locally. “So when the internet goes down, you can still say, ‘Alexa, turn on the lights,’ or ‘Alexa, turn on the plug,'” Limp explained. It ships next month for $150.

The Echo Show offers some practical utility that other Echos don’t: It’s an Echo speaker with a display. The new Echo Show ($230) has an updated exterior: a fabric back cover, and a 10-inch HD display that offers much more screen space than last year’s 7-inch display. Like the Echo Plus, it doubles as a smart home hub. Like the Dot, the sound is supposed to be improved with “real-time Dolby sound processing,” according to Limp.

And the Echo Show now has a web browser. That not only gives it a way to, say, display recipe instructions from your Amazon Meal Kit, but also a way for Amazon to show you YouTube videos without having a YouTube app running natively on the device. (Google pulled YouTube from Amazon devices late last year, and Amazon doesn’t sell Google hardware on its website.)

A Smarter Car

Amazon

There was another new Echo added to the mix as well: the Echo Auto, a tiny device that goes on the dashboard of your car and gives you Alexa capabilities while you’re driving. It talks to the Alexa web service through your phone, which it connects to using Bluetooth. Alexa, add avocados, almond milk, and millennial guilt to my shopping list. Alexa, give me directions to my local conflict-free coffee shop. Alexa, will this keep me from getting distracted in the car? And so on.

Echo Auto has a catch—it’s not technically ready, and it’s only available by invitation. It’s not the first time Amazon has done a limited launch of a hardware product—several Echo products have seen limited availability at first. Also, this may be one product that the company wants to test with a small user group before it has all of us shouting at Alexa from behind the wheel. It will cost $50 when it eventually ships, but if you’re lucky enough to get an invite before the end of this year, it will cost you $25.

Sound Companions

Five other products were released today under the moniker, “Echo Companions.” This is a class of products that connect to existing Echo speakers, or add Alexa functionality to other non-Amazon products in your home that you already own. Most intriguing are the audio products: Echo Link, Echo Link Amp, Echo Sub, and Echo Input.

Amazon

Echo Input

Amazon

The Echo Link is a $200 box with a big dial on it that you plug into a stereo, turning your legacy sound system into an Alexa-powered music station. The $300 Link Amp is the same thing, but with a 60-watt stereo amplifier inside—just hook up a pair of speakers, and you’re in business.

The Input is a simple, flat puck that connects to a speaker of your choice. It has microphones on it, but no speaker of its own. It essentially turns any regular speaker into a smart speaker. It’s actually quite a bit like Google’s Chromecast Audio device, with one difference: the Echo Input has mics and can accept voice commands on the device, whereas the Chromecast does not, and can only accept voice commands through a phone or a Google Home speaker. The Input will cost $35 when it becomes available in the near future.

How low can you go, Echo Sub?

Amazon

Rounding out the home audio “Companions” is the Echo Sub. It’s exactly what you think it is: a $130 subwoofer that pairs with one or two Echos in your home.

Probably the biggest audio news to emerge from today’s event has little to do with hardware. Amazon is adding support to Alexa for multiroom music playback. This update lets those with multiple speakers group them together to play the same tracks in unison in multiple locations around the home. The enhancement that brings Amazon’s smart speaker multiroom capabilities roughly up to par with Google’s and Apple’s.

The last Companion is a $30 Wall Clock which connects to an existing Echo speaker to give you visual indications for timers and reminders that you set with your voice. It’s not out yet, but coming soon.

Today I Learned You Can Microwave a Potato

Amazon

Amazon’s new Alexa-enabled microwave doesn’t have Alexa built directly into the appliance. Instead, it wirelessly connects to another Alexa device in your kitchen and takes commands that way. But the new Amazon Basics countertop microwave is the first appliance in the Amazon Basics line to technically work with Alexa.

Amazon seemed thrilled to show reporters today that you can ask Alexa to microwave a potato. And it also works with Amazon’s Dash Replenishment service, which means the microwave knows when you’re running low on popcorn and orders your more. Plus the $60 price tag undercuts most of the countertop microwaves selling on BestBuy.com right now. Amazon does as Amazon does.

One other smart-home device to talk about (oh, you’re not the only one who’s exhausted here) is the $25 Amazon Smart Plug. Insert it into an electrical conduit, plug in an appliance like a light, space heater, or coffee maker, and you can now turn that device on or off with your voice. Neat!

Fire TV Now Means Actual TV

Amazon

No new Amazon Fire TV box or stick was announced today—Amazon just released a new cube-shaped streamer in June—but there was a new piece of hardware that’s compatible with Fire TV. It’s called the Fire TV Recast, and it’s a DVR device that works with either a Fire TV box or stick or an Echo Show to cast and record live TV streams.

We’re talking about good ol’ over-the-air local TV, not streaming video or cable shows. You can also access all of these TV streams and DVR’ed content on iOS or Android.

“We realized that the average person in the US has access to several dozen channels coming into their home over the air,” Marc Whitten, vice president and general manager of Fire TV, said in an interview. “And it’s not a very convenient or integrated experience as it exists today. So we saw this as a way to go after that particular problem.” The Fire TV Recast will ship sometime before the holidays, Amazon says, and will cost $230 for a version with two tuners, and a 500GB DVR; and $280 for a Recast with four tuners and 1 terabyte of storage.

Sticky Fingered Intruders

Ring

In February, Amazon acquired the home security company Ring for a reported $1 billion. Today, two new Ring security cameras were unveiled, although they’re still selling under the Ring brand, rather than with Amazon or Echo badging.

Called the Stick Up Cam, as were previous versions of Ring cameras, these are indoor/outdoor cameras that sell for $180 and stream live video feeds in 1080p HD, include motion detection features, and offer two-way talk functionality. One version, the Ring Stick Up Cam Wired, is powered either by an Ethernet cable or a micro-USB power supply, while the battery-powered version lasts for six to 12 months, depending on usage. In the future, Limp said, Ring’s Stick Up Cams will also work with Alexa.

Things We Didn’t Hear About (Like Privacy)

Amazon made no mention of some of the other Echo-branded products it’s released in the past year, including the Echo Look, a camera that judges your outfits; or the Echo Spot, a touchscreen alarm clock. Amazon did tell WIRED, however, that it is still producing these products. There was also no mention of Kindle hardware, although that’s not entirely surprising, since Amazon just updated the Kindle Oasis this year, and Kindles don’t have built-in voice control like nearly everything else that was shown off today.

But another glaring omission on Amazon’s part was any kind of deep dive into how the company plans to keep your voice commands, your location, and your purchasing history private. Amazon has faced criticism over the past couple years for unclear privacy policies or outright missteps, including an incident back in May where a woman reported that Alexa had recorded and shared a private conversation she was having with her husband.

At the launch of the Echo Look, the aforementioned smart camera that gives you style advice, WIRED’s Brian Barrett reported that it had no separate privacy policy, citing a policy expert who noted that “Amazon doesn’t say anywhere in any kind of clear language what the risks are.”

Personally, I find last year’s Echo Show to be an incredibly useful product in my kitchen. And the updated Show might be, too. But I keep a piece tape over the camera on my Show, and I’ll stick a strip of tape over the camera on the new one too. Other “smart displays” that have been introduced, like Lenovo’s Google-powered screen, have a physical tab that acts as a shutter over the camera lens.

As Amazon makes more and more connected devices, and as Alexa gets that much smarter, Amazon’s press events might be well spent addressing that particular elephant in the room.


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John Deere Just Cost Farmers Their Right to Repair

The fight for our right to repair the stuff we own has suffered a huge setback.

As anyone who repairs electronics knows, keeping a device in working order often means fixing both its hardware and software. But a big California farmers’ lobbying group just blithely signed away farmers’ right to access or modify the source code of any farm equipment software. As an organization representing 2.5 million California agriculture jobs, the California Farm Bureau gave up the right to purchase repair parts without going through a dealer. Farmers can’t change engine settings, can’t retrofit old equipment with new features, and can’t modify their tractors to meet new environmental standards on their own. Worse, the lobbyists are calling it a victory.

WIRED OPINION

ABOUT

Kyle Wiens is the co-founder and CEO of iFixit, an online repair community and parts retailer internationally renowned for their open source repair manuals and product teardowns. Elizabeth Chamberlain is a writer for iFixit and a professor of technical writing and rhetoric at Arkansas State University.

The ability to maintain their own equipment is a big deal to farmers. When it’s harvest time and the combine goes kaput, they can’t wait several days for John Deere to send out a repair technician. Plus, farmers are a pretty handy bunch. They’ve been fixing their own equipment forever. Why spend thousands of dollars on an easy fix? But as agricultural equipment gets more and more sophisticated and electronic, the tools needed to repair equipment are increasingly out of reach of the people who rely on it most. That’s amplified by the fact that John Deere (and the other equipment companies represented by the Far West Equipment Dealers Association) have been exploiting copyright laws to lock farmers out of their own stuff.

Repair is a huge business. And repair monopolies are profitable. Just ask Apple, which has lobbied over and over against making repair parts and information available to third-party repair shops. That’s why Big Ag has been so reluctant to make any concessions to the growing right to repair movement.

At first blush, last week’s deal between the Farm Bureau and the equipment dealers might look like a win for farmers. The press release describes how equipment dealers have agreed to provide “access to service manuals, product guides, on-board diagnostics and other information that would help a farmer or rancher to identify or repair problems with the machinery.” Fair enough. These are all things fixers need.

But without access to parts and diagnostic software, it’s not enough to enable farmers to fix their own equipment. “I will gladly welcome more ways to fix the equipment on my farm. Let’s be clear, though, this is not right to repair,” explained San Luis Obispo rancher Jeff Buckingham. “At the end of the day, I bought this equipment, and I want everything I need to keep it running without relying on the manufacturer or dealer.”

There’s also nothing new in the agreement. John Deere and friends had already made every single “concession” earlier this year, and service manuals had already been available to purchase. They must have read the writing on the wall when California’s Electronics Right to Repair Act was introduced in March. Right to repair bills have proved overwhelmingly popular with voters—Massachusetts passed its automobile right to repair bill in 2012 with 86 percent voter support.

Just after the California bill was introduced, the farm equipment manufacturers started circulating a flyer titled, “Manufacturers and Dealers Support Commonsense Repair Solutions.” In that document, they promised to provide manuals, guides, and other information, by model year 2021. But the flyer insisted upon a distinction between a right to repair a vehicle and a right to modify software, a distinction that gets murky when software controls all of a tractor’s operations.

As Motherboard’s Jason Koebler reported, that flyer is strikingly similar—in some cases, identical word-for-word—to the agreement the Farm Bureau just brokered. The flyer and the agreement list the same four restrictions:

  • No resetting immobilizer systems.
  • No reprogramming electronic control units or engine control modules.
  • No changing equipment or engine settings that might negatively affect emissions or safety.
  • No downloading or accessing the source code of any proprietary embedded software.

These restrictions are enormous. If car mechanics couldn’t reprogram car computers, a good portion of modern repairs just wouldn’t be possible. When you hire a mechanic to fix the air conditioning in a Civic, they may have to reprogram the electronic control unit. When electronics control the basic functions of all major farm equipment, a single malfunctioning sensor can bring a machine to its knees. Modifying software is a routine part of modern repair.

Prohibiting modifications to systems that might affect emissions also means that farmers can’t upgrade tractors to meet new requirements. This could force farmers to buy new equipment when emissions standards change—an insidious move toward planned obsolescence.

That’s why a national group of farmers has been fighting for their right to modify software. Together, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Farmers Union are working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to petition the US Copyright Office to exempt farm equipment from the anti-modification provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has been bafflingly stretched to cover tractors and combines (equipment manufacturers claim they’re worried about piracy. The petition explains:

It is necessary to access the electronic control units to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning agricultural vehicle, as well as to lawfully modify the functions of a vehicle based on the owner’s specific needs in cultivating his or her land.

There are many farmers modifying their equipment to fit their land’s needs. Members of the farm equipment electronics community Farm Hack have designed custom 3-D-printed seed rollers, programmed Arduinos to consolidate greenhouse operations, and developed all kinds of sensors and warning lights. A group of university students at Cal Poly is working to reverse-engineer John Deere’s software protocol. And a third-party company called Farmobile makes a device that plugs into all different kinds of large farm equipment so farmers can access their data without going through John Deere.

Where California farmers go, the rest of America follows—and in this case, that’s dangerous. The state produces more food by far than any other in the nation, accounting for two-thirds of all US-grown fruit and nuts. By agreeing to the spurious distinction between “repair” and “modification,” the California Farm Bureau just made the EFF’s job a lot harder. Instead of presenting a unified right to repair front, this milquetoast agreement muddies the conversation. More worryingly, it could cement a cultural precedent for electronics manufacturers who want to block third-party repair technicians from accessing a device’s software.

As a nation of repair advocates, we need to reject toothless deals like this. We must define right to repair in a way that supports the needs of individuals and small growers, not the bottom line of enormous corporations.

This deal is no right to repair victory. Don’t let John Deere—or the California Farm Bureau—call it one. Real progress isn’t going to come until a state passes real Right to Repair legislation. And momentum is building. Twenty states including Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska considered bills this year. Although none have passed yet, John Deere is clearly feeling the heat.

WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.


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Venture Capital Is Finally Starting to Get More Diverse. That's Great News for Entrepreneurs

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the lack of diversity in venture capital. Historically, a very small amount of venture capital has gone to companies with black founders. According to a study by Harlem Capital, a VC fund that backs diverse founders, just 105 companies with black or Latino founders have raised rounds of $1 million recently.

This lack of diversity is particularly pronounced at venture capital firms. Women accounted for 11 percent of venture capital firms’ investment partners in 2016, according to data released by the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte. Latinos made up two percent of investment partners at the firms surveyed, while none of the firms employed black investment partners.

I’m pleased to say this may be finally changing. TechCrunch announced yesterday that Base10 Partners, a VC fund located in San Francisco, has closed its first fund. At $137 million, it’s the largest ever debut for a black-led VC fund. Base10 funds seed stage startups with between $500,000 and $5 million. 

I’m even more pleased to share other recent news that addresses this overlooked opportunity:

  • Arlan Hamilton, who (according to Fast Company) is the only black, queer woman to have ever built a venture capital firm from scratch, has a new $36 million fund dedicated exclusively to black women founders, called Backstage Capital.

  • Black Founders Matter, founded by Entrepreneurs Marceau Michel of Werkhorse and Kathryn Brown of ScoutSavvy, has a simple premise: sell T-shirts and merchandise, then use the proceeds to fund black- and female-led startups. Its goal is $10 million.
  • DarcMatter, co-founded by Natasha Bangsopaul and Sang Lee, is a matchmaking platform that connects fund managers actively raising capital with investors around the world. It uses a deep understanding of different cultures to network around the globe. DarcMatter hopes to facilitate connections between industry leaders and investors, especially when it comes to bridging East and West markets.

So why am I so bullish on investments into diversity and inclusion? Not simply because it is right and just, but also because I know the power of contrarian investing–and how it affects entrepreneurship.

In finance, a contrarian is one who attempts to profit by investing in a manner that differs from the conventional wisdom, when the consensus opinion appears to be wrong. A contrarian investor seeks opportunities to buy or sell specific investments when the majority of investors appear to be doing the opposite, to the point where that investment has become mis-priced. Warren Buffett is the greatest living contrarian investor.

In a white paper, Stephen Anness and Andy Hall (both fund managers for Invesco Perpetual) showcase these four cornerstones of contrarian thinking:

  1. A willingness to dispute conventional wisdom.
  2. A capacity to demonstrate creativity.
  3. A determination to reform the consensus.
  4. A high-conviction focus on long-term objectives.

So how can you apply this approach in your business? Try these strategies:

  • Hire talent other companies wouldn’t. Look to underrepresented potential human resources like veterans and inner-city youth.
  • Look for major trends–then do the opposite. If everyone is adopting low-touch customer service through AI, double down on the benefit of human customer service. Make that your competitive advantage. 
  • Prove people wrong. By definition, if you are a contrarian, people will call you crazy.  Babson College professor Daniel Isenberg said it best in his book Worthless, Impossible, Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value “To paraphrase Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Györgyi, entrepreneurship consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and doing what nobody has done.”

Inclusion isn’t just right for social justice reasons. It is right for financial reasons. The world is not simply male and white, and for too long investors have been overlooking great opportunities based on their own homophily. Perhaps that trend has begun to shift, leading to more underserved opportunity. Base10’s founders certainly think so.

Published on: Sep 18, 2018

DoJ requests documents related to Musk statement on taking Tesla private

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc said on Tuesday it received a request for documents from the U.S. Department of Justice over Chief Executive Elon Musk’s public statements in August about taking the electric carmaker private.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks during the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S., July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

“We have not received a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process,” a Tesla spokesman said in an emailed response to Reuters questions about an investigation.

“We respect the DOJ’s desire to get information about this and believe that the matter should be quickly resolved as they review the information they have received.”

The DoJ declined to comment.

Federal prosecutors have opened a fraud investigation, Bloomberg reported bloom.bg/2D9F8mI. The report, citing two people familiar with the matter, said the department launched an investigation over Musk’s tweets in early August that he had secured funding for a buyout deal valued at $72 billion. He subsequently backed off.

Musk has already been sued by short-sellers such as Citron Research and is facing a probe by the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission.

Musk’s known hatred toward short sellers should help the government show his wrong intent, said Professor Eric Gordon of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

“Musk said ‘funding secured,’ which is not a prediction, but a statement in past tense which seems like a fact, and this could be a strong case from the government side,” he added.

Unlike the Justice Department, the SEC has no power to bring criminal charges. It could instead subject Musk to civil sanctions such as fines, relinquishing improper profits and a ban on running public companies.

“A probe can go either way but finding Musk guilty may have serious negative repercussions to Tesla’s stock price, which will badly hurt investors,” Morningstar analyst David Whiston said.

“For now this just brings more overhang to the stock and a probe will probably take months,” he said.

The billionaire CEO’s behavior has raised concerns about his leadership, with several Wall Street analysts and some investors urging Tesla to appoint a strong second-in-command.

Musk has been under intense pressure to prove he can deliver consistent production numbers for the Model 3 sedan, which is crucial to Tesla’s plan to become a mass-market automaker.

He said on Monday the company is facing delivery bottlenecks as it ramps up production to meet its target of 6,000 cars per week.

Tesla’s stock, which has lost about 25 percent since its gains on Aug. 7 after Musk tweeted about going private, fell 4.8 percent to $280.79 on Tuesday.

Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Dan Grebler

The 1 Thing You Need to Make Your Content Go Viral

During this process, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for content to go viral. And if there’s one central takeaway, it’s this: virality isn’t an accident. There’s a method to going viral, and while it’s not exact, it can be learned, engineered, and applied. The secret?

You have to apply the science of growth hacking and analytics to the art of engaging, impactful writing.

Viral Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings

First thing’s first. There’s a harsh truth you have to accept if you want to reliably engineer viral content:

Success has nothing to do with how you feel about your writing.

I’ve written posts from the depths of my soul about some of the most difficult experiences in my life. I was sure they would resonate with my audience and achieve massive engagement. But after I hit the publish button, they bombed so hard I had to take them down. On the flip side, I’ve had posts I cranked out in five minutes without thinking turn into some of my biggest hits.

The point here is that you can’t always trust your intuition when crafting viral content. There are patterns that you can learn and apply to your writing, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think of the piece. The only thing that matters is the data.

This is why I test my content relentlessly. On my two main social profiles, LinkedIn and Instagram (@igbenlee), I’m constantly adjusting variables and looking for patterns. I’ve learned how to use the roughly 140 character-preview of a LinkedIn story to maximize views. I’ve learned the fine balance of too many vs. not enough emojis for engagement on Instagram.

It’s not an exact science. Sometimes a post will buck the trend, and you still need to write from the heart with real emotion. But there are reliable patterns for every platform and every audience. The only way to learn them is to test every possible variable and look to the data for guidance. Sometimes, that means throwing your intuition out the window.

Recycling: Good for the Planet, Good for Your Brand

Another cardinal rule I’ve learned is that while there are platform-specific formulas, generally if something works, it works. And if you have a piece of content go viral, that’s now a proven asset that you can use again and again.

Take a look at this status:

This post ended up getting 6 million views on LinkedIn and was one of my most viral pieces, bringing in serious revenue for my business. So why not leverage it elsewhere? I knew it had gained traction on LinkedIn, so I had a hunch it would do the same on Quora – the audiences are similar enough to resonate to the same style and format.

Here’s the same story, with slight modifications to fit the medium, on Quora:

Sure enough, it hit the Quora Digest and became one of my highest-performing answers.

The lesson? Be shameless in recycling your content.  

Too many creators fear that people will remember their content and call them out for reusing it.

“Oh, I mentioned that on Twitter, I can’t use it again.”

It’s bull****.

The Internet moves too fast now, and there’s simply too much content. Trust me when I say that no one remembers your stories, and if they do, they don’t care. In the content economy of 2018, you have to be smarter and more efficient. That means reusing the stuff that works.

Now, if my agency wants to do a campaign for an info product or a landing page, we lead with something that’s worked in the past. I keep a spreadsheet going with links to all of my high-performing content. If I need quick engaging copy, I can pull directly from that and make a few modifications instead of starting from scratch — and I know it’s good, because it’s worked in the past.

Find What Works and Use It

The content playing field on social networks is crowded, but there’s still plenty of opportunity. If you can define a niche that provides value to an audience, then test relentlessly to find out what works and what doesn’t, it’s possible to build a massive inbound funnel of traffic and leads — no matter what you’re trying to sell.

Just remember to test, find what works, and leverage it to the full extent possible.

What Alibaba's Success Reveals About the Value of Automating Strategy

With the speed of change and volume of market feedback today, as well as the advances in machine learning, Amazon, Alibaba, and others have proven the value of software driven strategy decisions.

For example, most e-commerce platforms today offer millions of products, with a changing mix daily and a changing market, such that it’s virtually impossible to manually predict a strategy for mapping customer demographics to products displayed online.

Only smart software can plow through the volume of live data, recognizing trends, customers, and match offerings to reality.

Alibaba, today the counterpart in China to Amazon, Ebay, and Google here, has demonstrated leadership in this area, and provides guidance for all of us to learn from in a new book, Smart Business, by Ming Zeng.

Zeng is the former chief of staff and strategy advisor to co-founder Jack Ma for over a decade, and outlines five key steps for automating decisions today as follows:

1. Log and use consumer behavior and product transaction data.

In my work with small businesses and startups, I routinely find owners who rely on guessing at key customer drivers, and let their passion drive product focus, rather than data. They think they are saving costs by not using the latest technology to capture data, and minimizing storage.

In China, even tiny bike sharing companies now have to digitally track every bike through GPS, and every mobile interaction between a bike and a rider to compete. No human or paper tracking systems are a competitive alternative.

The days of manual reservations and receipts are behind us, whether it be with rides, clothing, meals, or entertainment.

2. Configure every decision step into real-time software.

Businesses must capture every business decision activity, including customer relations, in digital software so that decisions affecting the activities can be automated and optimized through machine learning. This is a new class of software that can adapt in real time to market changes.

In the bike rental business, all operations and rental decisions are made completely by software, with no human intervention. The efficiency gain is tremendous.

The software directs humans and trucks to balance the tide of idle bicycles to other areas of a city where the demand is higher at the moment, rather than humans directing software.

3. Get data flowing, and machines talking to each other.

With today’s technology, data flow and coordination are readily achieved through common Internet protocols and application programming interfaces (APIs). These allow applications to communicate automatically and almost instantly, even over long distances, to mobile and IoT devices.

Way back in 2002, Jeff Bezos at Amazon issued an ultimatum to completely institute internal APIs within the company, and later to their millions of suppliers.

Through this focus, Amazon has become one of the first trillion dollar companies, and continues to expand its reach beyond books, e-commerce, and now into groceries with Whole Foods.

4. Record live data in full for all internal business elements.

The opposite of live data is static data that is sampled or profiled for analysis at a later date. Live data also requires metrics and infrastructure that can interpret and evaluate the data, and smart businesses must develop these in the algorithms they use in their data-intelligence engines.

5. Apply machine-learning for real-time software decisions.

Intelligent real-time software decisions are quickly replacing after-the-fact analytics. Only with full live data, built-in metrics, and artificial intelligence to iteratively improve the decision process, can your business keep up with the pace of change, and unique markets around the world.

Uber’s algorithms match car and driver, minimizing wait times and making mapping calculations in ways that no human dispatcher could match. Google search rankings are updated many times a second, based on new info and your profile changes. If your business is not powered by an algorithm, you don’t have a competitive business today.

These steps lead to what Zeng defines as a customer-to-business (C2B) model, where every direct interaction with customers sets into motion a striking reorientation of all business activities, and builds a feedback loop from customers. This allows businesses to automate all decisions productively, to scale and compete effectively, in tune with trends and new marketplaces.

President Trump's Tweets Top This Week's Internet News Roundup

In the past seven days New York decided it didn’t want Cynthia Nixon as its governor, Amazon’s owner elected to get into the education business, and a series of gas-line explosions hit north of Boston. But on the plus side, we also had Mark Wahlberg’s schedule to look at and a new Dolly Patron/Sia collaboration to listen to, so I guess it’s not entirely a hellscape out here? Maybe? While we ponder that idea together, let’s look at what else has been dominating the online conversation over the last week.

Is There Such a Thing as a Solemn Fist Pump?

What Happened: President Trump probably could’ve handled the anniversary of 9/11 better than he did.

What Really Happened: The anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2001 is a solemn occasion, and one in which the United States turns to its president to see empathetic, strong leadership that comforts everyone and embraces the country’s greatest strengths during a troubled time. President Trump’s behavior on 9/11 this year was, well, maybe not that.

He did, to be fair, address the topic people wanted him to.

Funny thing about the image in that last tweet…

There was also this:

Oh, and this:

What could be more presidential?

As the media dazedly recounted Trump’s behavior during the day, others found a memetic outlet for those appalled by what was happening.

There. Doesn’t that feel almost cathartic? There’s nothing that can’t become content, if we try hard enough.

The Takeaway: To be fair, it could have been worse. No, really.

Bad Tweets, Part 2

What Happened: Apparently, when you’re prone to paranoid thinking, it’s very easy to become a truther for all kinds of things.

What Really Happened: Actually, speaking of things that could’ve been worse, let’s take a brief moment to discuss what might be the worst thing President Trump has done on Twitter yet. First off, please remember that an independent study by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University found that the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria stands at 2,975 (and rising. Now, with that number in mind, consider that as recently as this past week President Trump was calling the government’s response to Maria “incredibly successful,” and complaining that the work was “an unappreciated good job.” OK, now that you know all of that, think about this:

Yes, that really was Trump outright denying the deaths of thousands of people, and claiming it was a lie motivated by politics. Just let that sink in for a second.

Of course, this was news because how could it not be? The president is outright being a hurricane impact denier, which is genuinely staggering.

Still, at least his Republican counterparts stood up against him. Right? Well, OK, Orrin Hatch and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed they hadn’t seen the tweets, Lindsey Graham also questioned the death toll, and Marco Rubio tried to straddle a non-existent line.

Studies in leadership, all. (FYI, a couple of Republicans did eventually push back.)

The Takeaway: If this was, as some believed, an attempt to distract attention away from other subjects, it certainly worked well. Maybe a little too well.

All Those Witches, Lined Up and Offering Confessions

What Happened: The ongoing so-called “witch hunt” against those surrounding President Trump claimed another victim last week, as Paul Manafort pled guilty in court on Friday.

What Really Happened: On Friday, the one thing that political watchers had simultaneously been expecting and convinced was unlikely to happen—let’s call it the Schrödinger’s cat of the current political moment—finally happened: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed to plead guilty to avoid a second trial.

The news resurrected a piece of Trump-related ephemera in at least one person’s mind.

Of course, people are already wondering how this impacts the big picture.

At the time of this writing, Trump’s Twitter feed is filled with Hurricane Florence-related retweets, but it’s genuinely only a matter of time before he responds to this news and revisits his previous statements about Manafort.

Still, at least the White House has its angle, as utterly unbelievable as it is.

Once again, Paul Manafort was the chair of the Trump campaign, and the man who chose the vice president. It’s more than a little disingenuous to claim that this has nothing to do with the campaign. But tell that to those around the president.

The Takeaway: There’s really only one way to end this, isn’t there?

Ringo Starr Would Be Appalled

What Happened: Just in case you thought that Thomas and Friends was a jolly series about happy trains and overweight controllers, the National Rifle Association has a shocking piece of information for you. Yes, the National Rifle Association.

What Really Happened: Everyone knows that, sometimes, there’s something in combining two flavors together to create a fun and exciting taste combination that will thrill the masses. Chocolate and peanut butter? It’s a game changer! The NRA and Thomas and Friends? Maybe a little less so, as it turns out.

Yes, you read that right. A show on the National Rifle Association’s streaming service dressed characters—you know, trains—from Thomas and Friends in KKK hoods. This is actually a thing that really happened, somehow.

It’s quite breathtaking that this was real—so real, in fact, that it became a story in its own right, because sure, why not? But at least Twitter was totally cool with it. Oh, no. Wait.

But how did Dana Loesch, who hosted the segment, feel about the whole kerfuffle?

The Takeaway: There really is just one way to wrap this one up. George Takei, do you have the pun-o-matic ready?

Emergency Services

What Happened: There’s one organization that even the federal government turns to in times of natural disaster, and with a hurricane headed towards the East Coast, last week seemed like the time to shine a spotlight on it.

What Really Happened: Late last week, Hurricane Florence made landfall on America’s East Coast, leading to a very difficult number of days for everyone whose homes, family, and loved ones in its path. But even before it hit, Florence was very much being considered a big deal.

With mandatory evacuations underway, people watched as the storm grew stronger, then seemingly weakened before getting stronger again. Was it going to slow down and linger in certain areas? It was hard to tell. Even NASA got involved. That mixture of surreal expectation and fear kept building throughout the week as the hurricane continued to approach.

But how serious were storm preparations on the ground? I mean, a state of emergency is one thing, but is there another way to measure these things? Turns out, the answer is yes, and in the most amazing way.

It’ll come as little comfort for those affected directly by Florence, but for everyone else, there’s some strange joy to be had in watching the Waffle House Index go mainstream. The world can still offer unexpected delights, it turns out.

The Takeaway: Stay safe, everyone.


More Great WIRED Stories

Evacuating for Florence, Tesla's Security Flaw, and More in This Week in Cars

Sure, we’re a little biased around here. But when storms bear down on this country’s coasts—scary ones, like Hurricane Florence (since downgraded to a tropical storm), threatening floods and high winds—our minds zero in on the transportation aspects. Some people need to leave their homes, but how? Some need to get to shelters, but when, and how quickly? And then, after the storm is over, someone needs to get in and assess it all. And then the residents need to come back. This week, WIRED Transpo spent some time thinking about these thorny questions, from the perspective of residents, government emergency planners, logistics-obsessed officials, even drone pilots.

Elsewhere in transportation world, we talked to people who had solved other intimidating issues: How to stop someone hacking your Tesla, how to get around flying cars’ battery problems, and how to help someone ride a bike at 168 mph. It’s been a week—let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

  • Tesla owners, remember to turn on your dashboard display PIN. WIRED security writer Andy Greenberg tells the tale of KU Leuven researchers who discovered that anyone with a bit of savvy and $600 in radio and computing equipment should be able to wirelessly read and decrypt Tesla key fobs, allowing them to swipe cars without a trace. Tesla rolled out its new antitheft PIN feature two weeks ago, and says no Model S units sold after June are vulnerable to the hack.
  • Don’t call it a concept car. Mercedes-Benz’s Vision Urbanetic is a “mobility concept,” a body-swappable hybrid that can haul people or packages, depending on its fancy. The concept is an excuse for the Germans to start thinking (and messaging) about new forms of moving stuff—without adding to cities’ already oppressive traffic issues.
  • Another pack of Germans, another mobility concept. Transportation editor Alex Davies meets BMW’s Vision iNEXT, an electric, autonomous, baby SUV that BMW hopes points to the future of driving. Or not driving, as it were.
  • Led by Los Angeles, 30 cities teamed up this week to create an online portal for collectively bargaining with electric car, street sweeper, garbage truck and bus manufacturers over the price of their products. Together, these cities will need to replace 115,000 vehicles valuing about $10 billion, senior writer Jack Stewart reports. And going electric is a lot easier when you can get a good deal.
  • As Hurricane Florence continues to batter the East Coast, it’s important to remember: When governors and mayors declare mandatory evacuations, they’re the products of years of planning and thought.
  • But some have more planning and thought than others. A disaster and urban planning expert tells me that some places just don’t have the resources for robust hurricane plans—and that the vulnerable, and especially those without cars, suffer for it.
  • As the rains continue to fall, Jack Stewart catches up with the professional drone pilots prepping to help out in the recovery effort—beef jerky, pretzels, and all.
  • Waze and tech company SpotHero install specialized beacons in Chicago’s labyrinthine tunnels, where no functioning GPS dare go. Just one problem: Locals love their shortcut tunnel secrets.
  • Lyft adds public transit data to its app in Santa Monica—meaning Californians might open it every time they travel, no matter the mode.
  • What’s better than a flying car? A flying car with all of its complex electric battery issues solved, because it’s in fact tethered to a power line for much of every trip. Eric Adams speaks to the (quixotic?) inventors behind the Karman Electric concept.
  • Meet Denise Mueller-Korenek, a bicyclist who hopes to beat the world motor-paced bicycle land speed record—a mere 167 mph—this weekend at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. “Accelerating past the takeoff speed of a Boeing 757 on a bike seems impossible,” writes contributor Joe Lindsey, but when you’ve got a drag racer blocking the wind for you, it just might be possible.

Elon Musk Street Art of the Week

It’s been 11 days since Tesla CEO Elon Musk sat down for a 2.5-hour, wide-ranging interview with comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan. And it’s been about eight days, if the internet is to be believed, since someone in Melbourne, Australia, immortalized the interview with a mural of the [CEO himself taking a quick hit of a blunt.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s past

A look back at 2016 finds the top reason startups fail: Running a hardware business is super hard.