Business Insider
Analyzing the top news stories across the web

July 31 2017 3:51 PM

Pandora Is Fleeing Two of the Three Countries Where It Operates

Pandora announced that its internet radio service will be discontinued in Australia and New Zealand on Monday, leaving only its United States service in operation.

Pandora subscribers and free users who tried to log on to the service in Australia and New Zealand over the weekend were reportedly warned of the shut down with the following message:

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"Dear Pandora listener, We will be shutting down the Pandora service in Australia and New Zealand on July 31st, 2017. After this date, you will no longer be able to access the Pandora app of website. We're honored to have connected so many listeners with the music they love these past few years. Thank you for your loyalty and the opportunity to serve you. Sincerely The Pandora Team."

Pandora launched its regional services in Australia and New Zealand in 2012. It has recently struggled financially, lost its founder CEO, and been unable to turn around its momentum despite launching its own on-demand streaming service, Pandora Premium, in March.

In June, Pandora also landed a $480 million investment from Sirius XM, after it rejected an offer from Sirius to buy the company outright.

Pandora will now be available in the US only. Global radio operation laws have prevented Pandora from launching its radio service in any countries other than Australia, New Zealand, and the US in the past.

Pandora's stock dropped over 5 percent in trading early on Monday, following news of its Australia and New Zealand closures.

July 28 2017 1:26 PM

California Might Be Producing Too Much Legal Weed

California's marijuana producers are growing eight times the amount needed for consumption, according to a report by Patrick McGreevy at the Los Angeles Times.

Scaling back would be painful for growers, said Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the California Growers Association, during a panel discussion at the Sacramento Press Club. The Times reported that a consultant in the audience estimated the pot glut at 12 times what's being consumed.

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In 1996, California became the first U.S. state to permit medicinal marijuana. Its residents voted in November to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. But it now faces a glut ahead of new regulations that ban exports starting January 1.

A consequence of the glut, Allen added, is that some growers on the black market would most likely export their product to other states in violation of federal law.

Seven states including neighboring Nevada, Arkansas, and Massachusetts legalized marijuana in various forms on Election Day last year. In all, 29 U.S. states have legalized marijuana in some form, according to Governing.com.

 

July 27 2017 11:45 AM

Lyft Drivers Are Upset They May Be Asked to Take Riders to Taco Bell

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

When Taco Bell announced a service that allows Lyft users to push a button to have their driver take them to a Taco Bell drive-through, most taco lovers' reaction was to celebrate. However, many Lyft drivers—who found out about the new service at the same time as the rest of the world—had a different response.

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Drivers immediately called out Lyft on Twitter, questioning why drivers would want to take the time of going through a Taco Bell drive-thru without additional compensation. Typically, Lyft drivers are paid by the mile—meaning that they aren't earning any cash when cars are stopped at the drive-thru under the current system. And, that's not even getting into the potential messes that a car full of Doritos Locos tacos could create.

"That Lyft might go ahead and do this—encourage riders to do something most drivers dislike doing—without offering drivers an incentive or otherwise communicating to us what the plan is is pretty bold," one Lyft driver told Business Insider.

"This is Uber type behavior, and I don't think even Uber does stuff like this anymore," he continued. "I wonder if it occurs to Taco Bell that drivers don't like going through the drive-through."

The same driver also emailed Business Insider a snarky, satiric corporate statement from "Lyft," reading: "A representative for the Los Angeles-based Southern California Rideshare Drivers Association said, 'Although drivers make very little money sitting in the drive through line, and many feel that Lyft and Taco Bell are encouraging riders to take advantage of the awkward situation this puts drivers in, the upside is this provides a great new revenue stream source for the drivers in the form of cleaning fees.'"

Lyft clarified on Twitter that drivers' participation in "Taco Mode," which is launching as a test in Orange County, California on Thursday, is completely optional. The company, which did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment, also said it plans to "gather and evaluate feedback from both drivers and passengers and use this to inform Taco Mode moving forward."

Taco Bell will test Taco Mode in Orange County, California, from July 27 to 29 and August 3 to 5, with plans to expand the service across the US in 2018. In addition to providing passengers the ability to order drive-through Taco Bell, Taco Mode also includes a custom in-car menu, free Doritos Locos tacos, and what the company calls a "taco-themed car."

"We realized that for every person who has asked their Lyft driver to make a pit stop at Taco Bell—and we've seen many—there are likely those who weren't sure if this was possible," Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg said in a statement. "With the advent of this fantastic partnership with Lyft, we will erase any lingering uncertainty and celebrate the ability to 'ride-thru' in Taco Mode."

July 24 2017 12:05 PM

Uber Now Has a Bigger Problem in Southeast Asia

This post was originally published in Business Insider.

Grab, a taxi-hailing service operating in South East Asia, announced on Monday that it has raised $2 billion from Japanese tech investor Softbank and its Chinese equivalent, Didi Chuxing.

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It expects to raise a further $500 million from other investors before the funding round is closed, bringing the total investment for the round to $2.5 billion. Grab claims the investment would be the largest ever to be made into a technology startup in Southeast Asia.

The Uber rival—which currently offers services in 65 cities across Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar—said it will use the funding to fuel its growth in South East Asia (home to over 600 million people) and invest in GrabPay, its mobile payments platform.

Grab was founded in 2012 by Malaysian Harvard Business School graduates Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling. Today, the company claims that its app has been downloaded onto over 50 million smartphones and used by 1.1 million drivers.

Tan said in a statement:

We are delighted to deepen our strategic partnership with DiDi and SoftBank. We're encouraged that these two visionary companies share our optimism for the future of Southeast Asia and its on-demand transportation and payments markets, and recognize that Grab is ideally positioned to capitalize on the massive market opportunities. With their support, Grab will achieve an unassailable market lead in ridesharing, and build on this to make GrabPay the payment solution of choice for Southeast Asia. We look forward to continuing to work with our valued partners in the future.

SoftBank's investment in Grab comes after a flurry of other large investments in recent months including London simulated worlds startup Improbable ($500 million) in May and Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle technology company Nauto ($159 million). The company is making some of the investments through a huge new $93 billion fund which is the largest in the world of its kind.

Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank, said: "Grab is using technology to address transportation and payments, some of the biggest challenges present in Southeast Asia, and we believe Grab is a tremendously exciting company in a dynamic and promising region. SoftBank is excited to deepen this partnership and we look forward to continuing to support Grab's journey."

July 20 2017 12:33 PM

Arby’s Confronted the Nihilist Arby’s Twitter Account by Bringing Its Creator Sandwiches and a Puppy

On January 14, 2015, a Twitter account named Nihilist Arby's was born, and it didn't take long for Arby's corporate office to notice.

With a double beef and cheese as its avatar, the angst-ridden account confronted followers with a negation of everything they held dear in life and offered they fill that void with a sandwich and curly fries.

By mid-February, Nihilist Arby's had 13,000 followers and, as Adweek noted, a significantly better engagement rate than the real Arby's account, which had nearly 400,000 followers.

At the same time, Arby's was receiving praise in the press and on Twitter for acknowledging years of being the butt of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart's jokes with a clever joke of its own on the day Stewart announced he would retire from the show that year. A year earlier, an Arby's tweet reacting to the musician Pharrell Williams' Arby's-logo-esque hat worn in a Grammys performance went viral.

Arby's was now a "cool" brand on Twitter. If it overreacted to Nihilist Arby's, no matter how dark or raunchy the tweets got, it would risk becoming just another lame corporate account. The Arby's team let it be. Then, in August, Adweek revealed that the man behind the account was Brendan Kelly, an adman from Chicago and longtime punk-band frontman.

 

July 19 2017 3:14 PM

SoundCloud Was Hiring Almost Up to the Point That It Laid Off 40 Percent of Its Workforce

"Two weeks ago I moved from Scotland to Germany to start a new job as an iOS engineer at SoundCloud," wrote Matthew Healy on the Hackernoon websiteon July 10. "On Monday of last week I started that job. By Thursday evening I, along with 172 of my new colleagues, was officially being laid off."

"Why was a business that was about to cut 40% of its workforce still hiring so aggressively?" he asked.

It's a question that Healey and many other SoundCloud employees are still struggling to understand.

Reports started to appear online on July 5 that said SoundCloud was about to cut its 420-strong workforce by 40 percent. Bloomberg had read a draft blog post in which SoundCloud CEO Alex Ljung explained that the company was letting go of 173 staff, and shutting down its offices in London and San Francisco (leaving only offices in New York City and Berlin) as part of an effort to reduce costs at the company, whose losses have been spiraling out of control.

"Nobody saw it coming," a SoundCloud employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Business Insider. "It was a sudden announcement."

July 11 2017 1:14 PM

How Tom Holland Went Undercover at a Bronx High School to Prepare for Spider-Man: Homecoming

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Halfway through his senior year at the Bronx High School of Science, Arun Bishop received an unexpected request. He was sitting in the principal's office chatting casually with an adviser when the vice principal approached him with an offer from Marvel Studios.

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Marvel wanted to send the newest Spider-Man—the London-born actor Tom Holland—to high school so he could better understand his role as the teen Peter Parker. But because Parker is a brilliant tech whiz at the fictional Midtown School of Science and Technology, there was only one place Holland could go.

You see, the Bronx High School of Science is not your run-of-the-mill high school. It is consistently ranked as one of the top high schools in the country, and students must score highly on a competitive New York City-wide exam to gain entry.

The public school's list of notable alumni is so extensive that it has its own Wikipedia page and includes eight Nobel Prize winners, the celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the "Iron Man" and "Elf" director Jon Favreau. (Full disclosure: I also attended Bronx Science, but I have yet to make it onto the Wikipedia page.)

Marvel wanted Holland to shadow a student who was pursuing a STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—curriculum similar to what Parker would be studying, and Bishop quickly emerged as a prime candidate. As a senior, Bishop was the captain of the school's robotics team and was taking high-level science classes.

Bishop—a big Marvel fan who lists Iron Man as his favorite Avenger because of his love of robotics—quickly agreed to let Holland shadow him for a couple of days.

"I've never been huge on celebrities. I never followed that sort of stuff," Bishop told Business Insider. "But I thought it'd be a really cool experience."

At the beginning of February 2016, Holland arrived at Bronx Science and met Bishop in the courtyard before school started. The pair got to know each other a bit and reviewed Holland's backstory.

Because Marvel wanted Holland to get as close to an authentic experience as possible, he had to go undercover. In addition to Bishop, the only other people who would know Holland's true identity were his teachers and a few members of the administration.

Holland would use an American accent and introduce himself to other students as Bishop's cousin Ben. Any questions about how he got into Bronx Science without taking the entrance exam would be explained away by saying his father was in the military and recently was stationed in New York.

The plan was almost foiled from the start. The school had provided Holland with an ID card so he could swipe in at the beginning of the day. However, instead of creating one with a unique card number, it instead made a copy of Bishop's, with a different photo and name. When the pair entered the school, the system registered it as someone trying to swipe in twice and sounded the alarm. Security came over, but they explained the situation and carried on without attracting too much attention. From there, it was time to go to class.

"What Marvel wanted was just to get the experience of a typical STEM high schooler's life," Bishop said. "They didn't want me to do anything special—just walk through the day as I would any other day."

With a backpack in tow, Holland accompanied Bishop through his STEM-intensive schedule. The actor sat in on Advanced Placement physics; linear algebra and differential equations; experimental engineering; AP calculus AB; AP English literature; and AP microeconomics.

"I felt a little bad for him, having to go through my entire schedule," Bishop said. "If you don't know what's going on, those 40-minute classes must be boring."

But even though most of the course material was going over his head, Holland was enjoying himself. In England, he had been to only all-boys schools, and he told Bishop it was "a little funny" to be in a coed classroom.

After their first day together, Bishop said it was easy to forget that Holland would soon be one of the most recognizable people in the world. He said the actor was very easy to talk to and that it got to the point where he just felt like he was talking to another friend.

"I kept reminding myself: 'This is Tom Holland. He's gonna be Spider-Man for Marvel,'" Bishop said. "It's weird now when I see him in a commercial or something. There's a disassociation where my brain knows I've talked to this guy and shown him around school, but seeing him on the screen is different."

By the second day, the thrill of being undercover was wearing off, and Holland was starting to experience a feeling most high schoolers have daily: boredom. To pass the time, he tried to convince some people that he was Spider-Man. It wasn't that easy, though.

"Most of them wouldn't believe him at all. Because that just doesn't make sense, right?" Bishop told Business Insider. "Why, at Bronx Science, would there be an actor who's been shadowing me for a day and a half?"

Bishop and Holland went out into the courtyard during their lunch period to have some fun. Holland would ask students if they would mind answering a few questions about Marvel, and Bishop would film the interaction on Holland's phone.

"He'd ask them: 'Do you watch Marvel Movies? Who's your favorite superhero? What do you think of the new Spider-Man actor?'" Bishop said. "It was crazy; nobody recognized him."

Bishop and Holland did manage to convince one group of girls that Holland was Spider-Man by showing them his ID and having them look him up on their phones. When the girls realized a celebrity was in their midst, they "went a little crazy," Bishop said.

At the end of Holland's two days undercover, the pair parted ways. Holland left to begin filming the first of six films in which he'll play the famous wall-crawler.

Bishop is now a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science. Though he was selected to help Holland better understand the life of Parker, his career goals line up more closely with those of Tony Stark: Bishop hopes to one day obtain his master's and work in the field of robotics.

And now that Spider-Man: Homecoming is taking the box office by storm?

"I have obviously bragged a little," Bishop said. "Because why not?"

July 7 2017 11:57 AM

Fitbit Competitor Jawbone Is Calling It Quits

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Jawbone, the company that made fitness trackers and Bluetooth speakers, is liquidating its assets, according to a source familiar with its plans, marking the latest casualty in the once-promising wearable device market.

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Jawbone founder and CEO Hosain Rahman has started a new company called Jawbone Health Hub, which will work on medical software and hardware. The company has raised money for the new venture, but it's unclear how much, the source said.

Despite shuttering the business, Jawbone believes it is still worth a significant amount of money due to its pending litigation with rival Fitbit, according to the source.

Jawbone, which was once valued as high as $3 billion by private market investors, is the latest pioneer of wearable electronics to throw in the towel. Last year, Pebble the first maker of a smartwatch sold its assets to Fitbit in a fire sale. As for Fitbit, its stock is trading at 52-week lows.

The Information was the first to report the news of Jawbone's liquidation. A Jawbone spokesperson declined to comment.

Jawbone stopped producing its fitness trackers last year, according to sources familiar with the company. It no longer sold them as of September 2016. Jawbone sold its remaining inventory to a third-party reseller at a reduced price in order to generate much-needed revenue, sources said. The company also had trouble paying some vendors for their services and was forced to cut ties with its external customer service agency, sources said.

Jawbone was in the process of making a shift to making "clinical-grade" wearable devices that could measure vitals like blood pressure, but the company was having trouble getting the device to work properly, sources told Business Insider. It's unclear if Jawbone Health Hub will continue work on the device. Jawbone Health Hub will service current Jawbone fitness trackers. Jawbone was last valued at $1.5 billion when it raised $165 million in a down round in January 2016, according to Recode's Kara Swisher. Its previous valuation was about $3 billion, and it raised a total of about $1 billion over the years.

July 5 2017 1:40 PM

These Massive Package-Pickup Towers Show How Serious Walmart's E-Commerce Plans Have Become

This post originally appeared on Business Insider. 

Walmart is building giant self-service kiosks in its stores that retrieve customers' online orders.

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The first kiosk appeared in a Walmart store in Bentonville, Arkansas, last year. The company is now rolling them out to more than a dozen stores in cities including Gilbert, Arizona; Glenpool, Oklahoma; Enterprise and Auburn, Alabama; Gwinnett, Georgia; and Midlothian, Virginia.

The kiosks, which Walmart calls Pickup Towers, are massive—standing at least 16 feet tall and about 8 feet wide—and they are typically located near store entrances. To use the tower, customers scan a barcode located on their purchase receipt, and within 45 seconds, a door on the machine opens and the items appear on a conveyer belt.

A customer of the Gilbert, Arizona, Walmart store told Business Insider that the service is a vast improvement from the retailer's regular in-store pickup process.

"Compared to the normal pickup of going to the back of the store, waiting for an employee to see you, then waiting for them to go in the back, this really sped things up," the customer said. "Obviously being in the front of the store next to an entrance really makes it convenient. I also don't need to show security my receipt because they see me getting the item."

The machine's giant size is due to the fact that it holds tons of packages inside. While it requires a lot of space, it's more versatile than pickup lockers—which Walmart has also tested—because it has the ability to adjust the size of the compartments where packages are kept. Walmart recently started testing a similar concept for online grocery orders.

The company also rolled out a new discount this year for shoppers who purchase items online and pick them up in stores. The discount allows shoppers to save as much as $50 on the purchase of large items like flat-screen televisions.

June 30 2017 3:41 PM

Amazon Isn’t the Only Threat to Blue Apron’s Earnings

Blue Apron finally went public Thursday, but the IPO didn't go quite as planned.

The meal-kit delivery company priced its IPO at $10 a share, 40 percent below the maximum it sought. In its trading debut, the shares did absolutely nothing—closing at $10 after rising slightly earlier in the day.

Many are blaming Amazon, which shook the grocery industry with its $13.7 billion offer to buy Whole Foods earlier this month, for raining on Blue Apron's big day.

But investors should be wringing their hands over a much bigger issue: Blue Apron has a customer-retention problem.

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