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“Anonymous” fintech Millions gives away millions, but will it build community?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Do you have to spend money to make money, or can you make money by giving it away? Millions intends to find out.

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Two people sitting on a couch, pointing to phones to share millions on social media.

The saying has always been that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, usually doled out as either good advice or a cynical reminder that everything costs something. And even less likely to see ‘free millions’ entering the rounds. This sounds odd in the midst of the tech industry, as seemingly huge firms offer their services for free. There are way too many stories about tech corporations selling your data to fund this in conjunction with ads, and there’s definitely something to the idea that you are the product, and all of that is interesting (read: alarming).

Let’s take a small step back though, as all of that (gestures to the entire world) has been covered in a billion discussions endlessly, and it may stop being an issue one way or another anyway. But it’s good to keep those thoughts in the back of your head as we continue – that an audience is a collective commodity, and that there’s most likely some data mining going on in the background.

Consider Millions, which is garnering attention as an “anonymously” led startup with a $3 million seed round, and who is giving all that venture capital away via its Twitter account. This sounds a bit odd at first, but their explanation from a co-founder actually makes a good bit of sense:

“If you think about customer acquisition costs — and this is a little bit controversial — people just give money to Facebook or Instagram, or Apple or Google. The money goes straight to a social network and not the people. They’re trying to get the people, but they’re not giving the people the money. The Millions way is really giving the people the money.”

This has proven successful at generating a base, securing 25,000 followers since their inception so far, with more joining each day. To build these kinds of numbers, Millions runs a series of events (contests? Lotteries? stunts?) that give away money with no strings attached. Brand awareness goes up, more people join, and thus, customer numbers grow.

The biggest so far is their version of Pick-6, where participants are asked to follow the Twitter account and pick six numbers to try and win a million dollars. There are also a number of much smaller giveaways that range from $30 to $100 dollars, with announcements in their feed gleefully handing out money to random accounts on a daily basis. Next month, it is going to ask users to input their phone numbers for a chance to win $10,000 by searching for “number neighbors” that are just one digit off from each other.

As an experimental way to gain a readership, Millions is working – there’s not a huge amount of risk to run this kind of promotion, and the lure of free money is unquestionably strong. Note that Millions does not explicitly say it will give away a million dollars, but simply offers the chance to win it. In fact, odds are calculated at a 1 in over 1.1 billion. Even if all of this sounds a little strange, the list of investors includes some serious names and is nothing to scoff at, with huge firms like Warby Parker, Twitter, Allbirds, Casper, and many others. And while Millions itself has remained tightlipped on who is behind it directly, there’s reference to “MyCard,” a business that lists Rory and Kieran O’Reilly as executives, suggesting that this is another venture following their successful launch of Gifs.com.

The ultimate goal here – from what can be gleaned so far – is that Millions is hoping to capture a significant following and then utilize that to sell future products by leveraging a loyal fanbase. It’s thought that – given the references to “MyCard” – this will be a credit card that gives rewards for daily use, which would be an extension of the site’s current model from purely giving money away to creating a monetized product.

“This company is creating delight from what would otherwise be the mundane, everyday necessity of swiping a credit card. We invested in Millions because they will spark joy in people’s lives, and think the traditional points model of accumulating hard-to-use airline and hotel points is tired, and ripe for reinvention,” said Allbirds co-founder and CEO Joey Zwillinger.

It’s worth noting that Millions doesn’t run ads. “We’re giving the money directly to the people, and hopefully, they follow our ecosystem, subscribe for updates and they’ll see the future launch.” This is a departure from most corporations, which might be paving the way toward better accessibility by dropping something viewed as annoying or invasive.

There are some questions about the longevity of its appeal – the pandemic has affected scores around the world, and they may be flocking to Millions out of pure necessity and hope. However, maybe that is when the shift will occur to selling products, and thus generating revenue.

Going back to where we started – this is another example where even free things still cost something. Millions sometimes asks for personal data to be freely handed over on the chance of winning some cash, so there’s definitely no question where the product – and who the product – is. Still, it’s admirable to see that new methods exist for building a customer base, and it’s still too early to tell how this experiment will go.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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Business Marketing

Amazon attracts advertisers from Facebook after Apple privacy alterations

(MARKETING) After Apple’s privacy features unveil, Amazon adapts by taking a unique approach to targeting, disrupting revenue for the ad giant Facebook.

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Two African American women work at their desks, one viewing Amazon's advertising landing page.

As a de facto search engine of its own persuasion, Amazon has been poaching ad revenue from Google for some time. However, disrupting the revenue stream from their most recent victim – Facebook – is going to turn some heads.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s recent privacy additions to products such as iPhones are largely responsible for the shift in ad spending. While platforms like Facebook and Instagram were originally goldmines for advertisers, these privacy features prevent tracking for targeting – a crucial aspect in any marketing campaign.

Internet privacy has been featured heavily in tech conversations for the last several years, and with Chrome phasing out third-party cookies, along with Safari and Firefox introducing roughly analogous policies, social media advertising is bound to become less useful as tracking strategies struggle to keep up with the aforementioned changes.

However, Amazon’s wide user base and separate categorization from social media companies makes it a clear alternative to the Facebook family, which is perhaps why Facebook advertisers are starting to jump ship in an effort to preserve their profits.

This is the premise behind the decision to reduce the Facebook ad spending of Vanity Planet by 22%, a home spa vendor, while facilitating a transition to Amazon. “We have inventory…and the biggest place we are growing is Amazon,” says Alex Dastmalchi, the entrepreneur who runs Vanity Planet.

That gap will only widen with Apple’s new privacy features. Bloomberg reports that when asked in June if they would consent to having their internet activity tracked, only one in four iPhone users did so; this makes it substantially harder for the ad campaigns unique to Facebook to target prospective buyers.

It also means that Amazon, having demonstrated a profound effectiveness in targeting individuals both pre- and post-purchase, stands to gain more than its fair share of sellers flocking to promote their products.

Jens Nicolaysen, co-founder of Shinesty (an eccentric underwear company), affirms the value that Amazon holds for sellers while acknowledging that it isn’t a perfect substitute for social media. While Nicolaysen laments the loss of the somewhat random introduction charm inherent on Instagram, he also believes in the power of brand loyalty, especially on a platform as high-profile as Amazon. “The bigger you are, the more you lose by not having any presence on Amazon,” he explains.

As privacy restrictions continue to ramp up in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how social media advertising evolves to keep up with this trend; it seems naive to assume that Amazon will replace Facebook’s ads entirely, tracking or no tracking.

Apple's privacy landing page showing iPhone users ability to shut off location services and a desktop image of a user's ability to control how their data is managed.

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Business Marketing

How many hours of the work week are actually efficient?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Working more for that paycheck, more hours each week, on the weekends, on holidays can actually hurt productivity. So don’t do that, stay efficient.

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Clock pointed to 5:50 on a plain white wall, well tracked during the week.

Social media is always flooded with promises to get in shape, eat healthier and… hustle?

In hustle culture, it seems as though there’s no such thing as too much work. Nights, weekends and holidays are really just more time to be pushing towards your dreams and hobbies are just side hustles waiting to be monetized. Plus, with freelancing on the rise, there really is nothing stopping someone from making the most out of their 24 hours.

Hustle culture will have you believe that a full-time job isn’t enough. Is that true?

Although it’s a bit outdated, Gallup’s 2014 report on full-time US workers gives us an alarming glimpse into the effects of the hustle. For starters, 50% of full-time workers reported working over 40 hours a week – in fact, the average weekly hours for salaried employees was up to 49 hours.

So, what’s the deal with 40 hours anyway? The 40 hour work-week actually started with labor rights activists in the 1800s pushing for an 8 hour workday. In 1817, Robert Owen, a Welsh activist, reasoned this workday provided: “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”

If you do the math, that’s a whopping 66% of the day devoted to personal needs, rather than labor!

Of course, it’s only natural to be skeptical of logic from two centuries ago coloring the way we do business in the 21st century. For starters, there’s plenty of labor to be done outside of the labor you’re paid to do. Meal prep, house cleaning, child care… that’s all work that needs to be done. It’s also all work that some of your favorite influencers are paying to get done while they pursue the “hustle.” For the average human, that would all be additional work to fall in the ‘recreation’ category.

But I digress. Is 40 hours a week really enough in the modern age? After all, average hours in the United States have increased.

Well… probably not. In fact, when hours are reduced (France, for instance, limited maximum hours to 35 hours a week, instead of 40), workers are not only more likely to be healthier and happier, but more efficient and less likely to miss work!

So, instead of following through with the goal to work more this year, maybe consider slowing the hustle. It might actually be more effective in the long run!

This story was first published in January 2020.

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Business Marketing

Jack of all trades vs. specialized expert – which are you?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It may feel tough to decide if you want to be a jack of all trades or have an area of expertise at work. There are reasons to decide either route.

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jack of all trades learning

When mulling over your career trajectory, you might ask yourself if you should be a jack of all trades or a specific expert. Well, it’s important to think about where you started. When you were eight years old, what did you want to be when you grew up? Teacher? Doctor? Lawyer? Video Game Developer? Those are common answers when you are eight years old as they are based on professionals that you probably interact with regularly (ok, maybe not lawyers but you may have watched LA Law, Law & Order or Suits and maybe played some video games – nod to Atari, Nintendo and Sega).

We eventually chose what areas of work to gain skills in and/or what major to pursue in college. To shed some light on what has changed in the last couple of decades:

Business, Engineering, Healthcare and Technology job titles have grown immensely in the last 20 years. For example, here are 9 job titles that didn’t exist 20 years ago in Business:

  1. Online Community Manager
  2. Virtual Assistant
  3. Digital Marketing Expert
  4. SEO Specialist
  5. App Developer
  6. Web Analyst
  7. Blogger
  8. Social Media Manager
  9. UX Designer

We know that job opportunities have grown to include new technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, consumer-generated content, instant gratification, gig economy and freelance, as well as many super-secret products and services that may be focused on the B2B market, government and/or military that we average consumers may not know about.

According to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics after doing a survey of baby boomers, the average number of jobs in a lifetime is 12. That number is likely on the rise with generations after the Baby Boomers. Many people are moving away from hometowns and cousins they have grown up with.

The Balance Careers suggests that our careers and number of jobs we hold also vary throughout our lifetimes and our race is even a factor. “A worker’s age impacted the number of jobs that they held in any period. Workers held an average of 5.7 jobs during the six-year period when they were 18 to 24 years old. However, the number of jobs held declined with age. Workers had an average of 4.5 jobs when they were 25 to 34 years old, and 2.9 jobs when they were 35 to 44 years old. During the most established phase of many workers’ careers, ages 45 to 52, they held only an average of 1.9 jobs.”

In order to decide what you want to be, may we suggest asking yourself these questions:

  • Should you work to be an expert or a jack of all trades?
  • Where are you are at in your career and how have your skills progressed?
  • Are you happy focusing in on one area or do you find yourself bored easily?
  • What are your largest priorities today (Work? Family? Health? Caring for an aging parent or young children?)

If you take the Gallup CliftonStrengths test and are able to read the details about your top five strengths, Gallup suggests that it’s better to double down and grown your strengths versus trying to overcompensate on your weaknesses.

The thing is, usually if you work at a startup, small business or new division, you are often wearing many hats and it can force you to be a jack of all trades. If you are at a larger organization which equals more resources, there may be clearer lines of your job roles and responsibilities versus “the other departments”. This is where it seems there are skills that none of us can avoid. According to LinkedIn Learning, the top five soft skills in demand from 2020 are:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional Intelligence

The top 10 hard skills are:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Cloud Computing
  3. Analytical Reasoning
  4. Artificial Intelligence
  5. UX Design
  6. Business Analysis
  7. Affiliate Marketing
  8. Sales
  9. Scientific Computing
  10. Video Production

There will be some folks that dive deep into certain areas that are super fascinating to them and they want to know everything about – as well as the excitement of becoming an “expert”. There are some folks that like to constantly evolve and try new things but not dig too deep and have a brief awareness of more areas. It looks safe to say that we all need to be flexible and adaptable.

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