The Next Stage: How to Grow a Successful Retail Company

There are countless stories (including a bunch I’ve written) about startup launches: When time and resources are in scant supply, and the fate of the company seems to hang on every single decision. There are plenty of stories about exits. (I’ve written some of those, too.)

But what you don’t see as often are stories about the middle stages of a company’s life, which in many ways can be more difficult than the startup phase: Expanding a team, maintaining growth, building a sustainable infrastructure, maintaining the right culture… for many entrepreneurs, that’s when the leadership and business skill rubber really hits the road. 

So let’s change that.

This is the first in my series, The Next Stage, where I check in with entrepreneurs and companies I’ve written about in the past. This time it’s Brian Berger, the CEO and co-founder of Mack Weldon, makers of my favorite polo shirts and, although it sounds odd to say out loud, my favorite underwear

The first time we talked I learned how Berger and co-founder Michael Isaacman started designing and selling their own socks and underwear brands. (Today they offer over hundreds of items of men’s clothing: Underwear, socks, t-shirts, polos, bathing suits, active wear, accessories… they’ve sold millions of units and enjoyed triple-digit sales gains every year since their launch.)

For many entrepreneurs, time passes in dog years: Every year seems like seven. Looking back, what has changed for you and the company?

(Laughs.) That’s true and yet the opposite is also true: When you’re busy it feels like you never have enough time. 

Overall the company is doing great. We’re growing really fast. Maybe most importantly we’ve proven a lot of things to ourselves over the past year that we quite honestly questioned as to whether they would define how we thought about product strategy, marketing, etc.

We’re a brand focused on offering as little as possible to our customers so we don’t create overwhelming choices and confusion. So whenever we consider expanding into a new category, we have to feel very sure that product are differentiated enough to warrant introducing a new choice to our customer.

That’s a tough balance to strike. Growth is important, but at the risk of being Captain Obvious, not at any cost.

A good example is last spring when we launched Airknit fabric in underwear. The customer adoption has been amazing.

We initially thought it would be something customers would only use during at the gym, when they’re active, and surveys showed that was true… but 80 percent were also wearing them as an everyday item.

The product category has grown enormously. If you take our underwear fabric, year over year it had grown about 80 percent, and last year it grew by several hundred percent and is a significant part of our total offerings. 

Our customer base has a huge appetite for innovation.

That’s more of an extension than a new category, though.

True. So we also we stepped into soft goods, polos, sweats… and  one of the things we were testing towards the end of last year was what that would look like in relevant hard goods: Backpacks, gym bags, wallets, etc.  

We didn’t make gigantic inventory commitments, but there was a real question in terms of whether our customers would purchase them — and would there be confusion or brand dilution, with customers thinking, “Why are you doing this?”

What we overwhelmingly found was that customers were excited by the product category. We sold through all of our buys well ahead of plan. We sold through the travel kit, the gym bag, and the wallet at 50 percent or higher sell-through rate within a quarter, our Ion bag is off to a successful start…

What’s great is that shows the fundamentals of how we think about product innovation, how we translate that into adjacent categories of not just soft goods but hard goods… it shows we’re on the right track.

That’s what every brand aspires to: Extensions that complement and don’t distract.

The key for us is having a clear product strategy — and making sure we never forget that strategy. When a customer considers our Pima t-shirt, they’re looking for what’s different about it.

If we deliver on that, the next thing we put in front of them better measure up, too.

What about marketing? You’re primarily an online retailer.

There were two big stories in 2017. The first was channel expansion. We started taking advantage of content marketing, placing links at the bottom of news articles, referring customers to pieces of content about the brand… that has been a really interesting way to tell a product story beyond what we can do in an ad.

It’s not sexy, but it works. That kind of content marketing was 20 percent of our ad spend in 2017.

We also built a home-grown customer loyalty program. Historically we rewarded customers on a transaction by transaction basis in terms of the value of the items in their shopping cart.  If you had $200 in your cart, you got 20 percent off. If you had $150, you got 15 percent off, $100, 10 percent.

That was our way to not run sales, something we don’t do.

That program worked well. Customers saw the value.

But then we wondered if customers were waiting to purchase in order to maximize the value of the benefit. So we flipped it on its head and made it customer-centric.

If you’re a customer and spend a certain amount within 12 months, you can qualify for two levels. First is free shipping. The second is if you spend $200 in 12 months, you get 20 percent off every purchase, and free shipping, and can get special gifts, try out products we’re testing…

What we’ve found is that customers reach the $200 threshold at a 17 percent higher rate than before, and our total number of orders has also increased.  

Makes sense: Some percentage of people who decide to wait will never return. Or they’ll come back and buy something they didn’t really want just to get the discount, or… there are plenty of reasons shopping carts get abandoned.

Time is not your friend in a business like this. (Laughs.)

But in one way time can be your friend. Over time, as the program matures, we feel certain it will help us build even better customer relationships.

That’s what we really value. The real juice in the business comes from creating loyal, long term customers.

Plus, at a fundamental level, we want to constantly reinforce our value proposition. Let’s say we put out a running tight and you want to try it but your order isn’t big enough to qualify for a per-transaction discount… now you’re much more likely to say, “Hey, I’ll try that.”

And that gives us additional touch points with our customers, which gives us additional ways to delight them and to build that long-term relationship.

You continue to grow at a rapid rate. What about people?

We continue to build our team. We added 10 people across all the important areas of our business. But at 30 people, we’re still a pretty lean team.

We made building our team a focus in Q2 and Q3. We also worked hard to create an employer brand so we could attract great people and give them a great experience. NYC is a great environment to work in — and that means it’s a qualified candidate’s market. They have choices. We want to make sure we’re a company great people would choose.

At some point a bigger team means changing roles and responsibilities to some degree; you can’t operate the way you did when there were, say, 10 of you.

We’re at that operational inflection point where we’re trying to create more focus and more definition of roles and departments. People — including me — have to get comfortable staying a little more in their lanes.

That’s a reality, but it’s always an interesting shift. When you’re scaling a business, no one can always be in the loop about everything. That’s a tough mental shift. 

I’m okay with letting go some. What’s critical for me is to make sure we bring in the next level of leadership so we can streamline those communications as well.

I’m pretty hands-off in parts of the company, having maybe one meeting a week… and in others I’m much more deeply involved day-to-day.

The goal is to get to a place where our structure allows everyone to operate at their best. When you’re growing a company that’s always a work in progress. (Laughs.)

You’ve recently started creating some retail partnerships.

Third-party retail partnerships have created really interesting opportunities to put physical product — in the right environment — in front of customers. For example, we have a partnership with Equinox; we launched Airknit with them, did joint creative, did a photo shoot with their gym trainers, we co-branded packaging…

We also have a small partnership with J. Crew with some of our core products in 9 of their top men’s shops, mostly in NYC and on the West Coast. That will evolve into something more substantial, with unique products only available in their shops. And we have a partnership with Todd Snyder, the acclaimed menswear designer. He has a lot of credibility in the menswear space.

Those partnerships aren’t huge needle-movers in terms of units… but they’re great in terms of branding, credibility, etc.  

All are situations where we’re making money, but our principle driver is really market awareness. 

Keep in mind we exist because shopping for underwear and socks is an awful retail experience. So, if we end up on a shelf with 20 other brands… that’s counter to why we started the business. If we can be featured in a unique way, if it puts our product in front of the right customers, we’re happy to explore that… but it has to fit our brand.

Where we do it matters, but how we do it matters most.

If you had to sum up the last year, what have you learned? And what’s next?

We’re working on expanding internationally. We’re in product categories that definitely translates globally.

We’re in Canada now, and we’re thinking about places where we can have a lot of success, like western Europe, Australia, etc. The logistics need to be addressed, but they aren’t overly complex… and certainly are issues that other businesses have worked through.

What have we learned? It’s definitely not a new lesson: You have to keep your head down and grind it out. There are no freebies in this business. There are no freebies in any business. 

You always have to stay true to the reason you started the business. For us the original thinking was to choose a product category that had been overlooked or had become a commodity and provide a specific upgrade. 

When you do that, when your customers realize you focus on product innovation, utility, comfort and fit… and you provide those things across a broad range of products… then you have a real chance. 

And then you have to keep your head down and keep doing exactly what you set out to do.

That, ultimately, is how you build a brand.

The 10 Cities With The Most Student Loan Debt

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How much student loan debt is in your hometown?

According to Make Lemonade, there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.

A new study from Lending Tree analyzed the places with the most student loan debt.

Let’s see if your town made the cut.

Here are the Top 10 cities with the most student loans debt — and what you can do to pay off your student loans faster.

10. Charleston, South Carolina

(Photo by Christopher Pillitz/ In Pictures via Getty Images)

Median Loan Balance: $20,469
Average # of Loans: 3.9
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 24.4%
% Who More Than $100,000: 7.0%

9. Columbia, South Carolina

Median Loan Balance: $20,560
Average # of Loans: 3.9
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 23.3%
% Who More Than $100,000: 7.9%

8. Jackson, Mississippi

Median Loan Balance: $20,469
Average # of Loans: 4.0
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 24.8%
% Who More Than $100,000: 8.7%

7. Birmingham, AL

(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Median Loan Balance: $20,679
Average # of Loans: 3.6
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 24.2%
% Who More Than $100,000: 7.7%

6. Little Rock, Arkansas

(Photo by Andrea Morales/Getty Images)

Median Loan Balance: $21,031
Average # of Loans: 3.8
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 25.9%
% Who More Than $100,000: 7.6%

5. Akron, Ohio

Median Loan Balance: $21,037
Average # of Loans: 3.5
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 23.0%
% Who More Than $100,000: 6.5%

4. Raleigh, North Carolina

Median Loan Balance: $21,357
Average # of Loans: 3.7
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 22.9%
% Who More Than $100,000: 8.7%

3. Richmond, Virginia

Median Loan Balance: $21,915
Average # of Loans: 3.8
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 23.9%
% Who More Than $100,000: 7.7%

2. Atlanta, Georgia

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Median Loan Balance: $22,232
Average # of Loans: 3.8
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 26.0%
% Who More Than $100,000: 9.1%

1. Washington, D.C.

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Median Loan Balance: $22,803
Average # of Loans: 3.4
% Who Owe More Than $50,000: 25.8%
% Who More Than $100,000: 9.8%

How To Pay Off Student Loans Faster

When it comes to paying off your student loans, the good news is that the ball is in your court.

Here are 5 ways to pay off student loans faster:

1. Make an extra payment

Be sure to specify that you want to apply any extra payment above the minimum payment to principal only (not to next month’s monthly payment) to limit the amount of interest that accrues.

Without this instruction, your lender will hold the excess payment and apply it to next month’s payment – which means you would pay more interest.

2. Pay an extra $100 each month

That may sound challenging if you’re barely able to pay your minimum monthly payment, but if you instruct your lender to apply the extra $100 to reducing principal, you could save thousands of dollars in interest.

If you can’t afford $100, any amount – $10, $25, $50 or more – will help save you interest.

3. Make a lump-sum student loan payment

Let’s assume that you have $100,000 in student loans at a 7% interest rate and a 10-year repayment term.

If you make a one-time, lump sum payment of $2,000, you would save $1,703 on your student loans and pay off your student loans 4 months early.

4. Apply for public service loan forgiveness

While student loan forgiveness may not continue as a federal program (in its current form or at all), Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness are still available to qualifying individuals.

5. Refinance your student loans

Student loan refinance is often the single best strategy to lower your student loan rate.

You can choose either fixed or variable rates and loan terms ranging from 5 to 20 years. To maximize your chances of being approved to refinance student loans, you should apply simultaneously to multiple lenders.

India seeks Facebook's response over reports of data sharing without consent

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has asked social media company Facebook Inc to respond by June 20 to media reports of sharing users data without their explicit consent, a government statement said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo and emoticons are seen on a coffee mug at the reception of its new office in Mumbai, India May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo

“Recently there are media reports claiming that Facebook has agreements which are allowing phone and other device manufacturers access to its users’ personal information, including that of their friends, without taking their explicit consent. The Government of India is deeply concerned about reports of such lapses/violations,” the statement said.

“The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has sought an explanation from Facebook seeking a detailed factual report on the issue. Facebook has been asked to respond by June 20.”

Facebook faced criticism in the United States on Wednesday from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who demanded that the social media company be more forthcoming about data it has shared with four Chinese firms.

Reporting by Malini Menon; Editing by Alex Richardson

Does It Matter If China Beats the US to Build a 5G Network?

Technical standards for the next generation of wireless services aren’t even finalized, yet the US and China are already locked in a crucial race to be the first country to deploy a so-called 5G network.

Or at least that’s what both the US government and the wireless industry say. “The United States will not get a second chance to win the global 5G race,” Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of the wireless industry group CTIA, warned in April, when the group released a report concluding that the US trails China and South Korea in preparing for 5G (fifth generation) networks. If that doesn’t change, the report warns, the US economy will suffer.

The report echoed a leaked National Security Council document that suggested the US government consider building a 5G network. If China dominates the telecommunications network industry, the document said, it “will win politically, economically, and militarily.”

Democrats are worried too. The Federal Communications Commission’s lone Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, penned an op-ed for TechCrunch earlier this year calling for a renewed 5G strategy to head off China.

The first specifications for the 5G standard were released last year, but the rest of the standard isn’t expected until later this month. Carriers don’t expect national availability in the US until 2020. The wireless industry promises that 5G will bring enormous boosts in speed and reliability to mobile devices, bridge the gap between wireline and wireless broadband speeds, and enable a new wave of technologies and applications that we can’t even imagine yet.

But why exactly is it so important for the US to build 5G networks before China? The benefits of 5G are obvious, but today the US doesn’t have the fastest home broadband speeds, nor the fastest or most widely available 4G networks, and often lags countries such as Finland, Japan, and South Korea in such metrics. Why would the US’s economic strength erode if it’s a bit late to the 5G party?

A widely cited 2016 report by consulting firm Accenture estimates that the construction and maintenance of 5G networks in the US could result in 3 million jobs and a $500 billion boost to GDP. But would all those jobs end up overseas if China is the first country with a nationwide 5G network?

Not necessarily says Sanjay Dhar, a managing director at Accenture who worked on the report. “Even if China wins the race to build various 5G technologies, it won’t be a zero-sum game,” he says.

Telecommunications industry analyst Jeff Kagan says the competition between the US and China keeps the US motivated to push 5G forward, but he doesn’t believe that it will make a big difference to the US economy in the long term if the US is second or third. “I don’t think it’s ever been more than a battle over the ego over which country is first,” he says.

For one thing, the two countries’ economies remain dependent on one another. Chinese telecommunications company ZTE nearly collapsed after the US barred American companies from selling components to it. Even if China “wins,” US companies will benefit by selling technology to China.

Roger Entner, a founder of Recon Analytics and coauthor of the CTIA report, concedes that it might not matter much if the US introduces 5G a few months later than China. Europe was quicker to roll out 2G, and Japan was the first with 3G, but that hardly deterred Apple and Google from dominating the smartphone market. But Entner argues that if China beats the US by a year or two, it could damage the US’s ability to compete in the global technology market.

3G, which began rolling out in the US in 2002, made possible the iPhone, which debuted in 2007, and the app market, which drove enormous investment in mobile computing, says mobile industry consultant Chetan Sharma. 4G, which made its commercial debut in the US in 2011, made smartphones and mobile apps even more appealing. Apps like Instagram, Uber, and Lyft were able to reach critical mass before competitors from other countries, giving the US an edge.

Ultimately, it’s the decisions of consumers and the private sector that determine the winners and losers in technology. The US “beat” Europe and Japan because Apple created a product that took smartphones mainstream, Google built a popular mobile operating system and gave it away for free, and Facebook built a platform that keeps people glued to their phones. The concern is that if China delivers widespread access to 5G first, its companies will get a head start on creating the next generation of high-tech products and services.

That’s less of a concern with smaller countries such as South Korea, Entner says, because Korean companies won’t have as large a market to test and refine ideas. But China’s 1.4 billion population provides the perfect place for a company to grow a business before exporting to other countries. Consider the WeChat instant messaging app, which offers mobile payments, online banking, car services, and more. Western companies have been trying to emulate its success and functionality for years. Huawei, now the world’s largest provider of telecommunications infrastructure equipment, initially grew by serving the domestic market.

Gaining a lead in 5G could have other benefits for Chinese tech as well. 5G enables not just increased speeds, but the increased capacity that could help support growth of the Internet of Things. All those connected cars and other gadgets will produce data. Lots of it. That could help put China ahead in cutting-edge developments, like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. “The massive amounts of data that 5G will enable will also be critical for training AI algorithms,” says Paul Triolo, who focuses on technology for the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group. “So being a leader in both developing equipment and applications will be a major economic advantage to the country or countries that seize the baton.”

Providing Wireless Spectrum

The odds of China beating the US by more than a year are real, Entner says, because the US hasn’t yet allocated enough wireless spectrum for the new networks. Thus far, most development of 5G technologies has focused on “millimeter wave spectrum,” a very high frequency range that enables extremely fast speeds, but only over a very short range. That would require carriers to deploy an enormous number of small cellular antennas to blanket the US with 5G.

Carriers are pushing the FCC to open more of what’s known as the midband of the spectrum for 5G, which would allow them to use large cell towers, much as they do now. That could make it faster to deploy 5G. The fear is that if enough of this midband spectrum isn’t made available to carriers, the 5G networks launched by the 2020 start date won’t actually cover the whole country. The FCC plans an auction to sell access to some of the midband spectrum to carriers in November, and last month it formally began the process to make another big chunk available.

But the longer this takes, the longer it will take US carriers to build real 5G networks. Entner says that in the US, it has historically taken years to launch the first networks after a new portion of spectrum has been identified for a particular use.

By contrast, the Chinese government has opened up more midband spectrum for use with 5G. That’s a big part of why the CTIA report suggests that China, along with South Korea, are “ahead” of the US.

National Security Concerns

Concerns about China’s lead in 5G spill into national security. Huawei’s products are now used by carriers around the world. But the US government has long worried that Huawei could help the Chinese government spy on US citizens, businesses, or political leaders. Huawei is effectively blocked from the US market. But if telecommunications equipment companies in the US and allied countries exit the market, US carriers might be left without any option.

Security experts say the government is right to be concerned. Although there would be serious political fallout if Huawei or another Chinese company were caught spying, equipment makers are in a position to deliberately build vulnerabilities into their products and hand the details of those problems to the Chinese government, says Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy of the security company Proofpoint. Alternately, the companies could hand over the details of newly discovered security flaws to the Chinese government before fixing them.

US buyers will almost certainly continue to shun Huawei products in favor of equipment from US companies such as Cisco and Juniper, or Europe’s Ericsson and Nokia. But that won’t do much to challenge Huawei’s role globally.

Much the same can be said of the whole race to 5G. Even if the US wins the 5G race, it won’t stop China.


More Great WIRED Stories

LG OLED Dolby Vision Bug Gets Fixed – By Sony

At long, long last, it seems that the Dolby Vision ‘raised black levels’ bug (detailed here) that’s been driving LG OLED owners mad for months now has been resolved. Though in an unexpected twist, the resolution hasn’t actually come from LG.

Since posting a story revealing that Sony’s X700 4K Blu-ray player has received a (in many ways rather borked) new firmware update enabling it to play Dolby Vision discs, a number of people have contacted me to report that when they play Dolby Vision discs from an updated X700 into their 2017 and even 2016 LG OLED TVs, the old raised black level problem has disappeared.

Photo: LG Electronics

Sort yourself out with a Sony X700 4K Blu-ray player with its latest Dolby Vision firmware, and you can finally enjoy Dolby Vision 4K Blu-rays on 2016 OLED TVs like the OLED65C6 without being distracted by sudden raised black levels.

This holds true, moreover, with both 4K Blu-rays and the X700’s built-in Dolby Vision-supporting apps.

These startling reports have been backed up in recent hours by a growing number of posts on various AV-based forums.

I’ve asked LG if it can confirm that the X700 update does indeed solve the Dolby Vision over HDMI bug on its OLED TVs, but have received no reply yet.

I noted in my article about the X700 update that after applying it, I couldn’t see any trace of the tell-tale greyness suddenly infusing the black bars around wide aspect ratio Dolby Vision content on a 2018 LG OLED77C8. But the growing body of evidence to show that the X700’s new Dolby Vision profile fixes the Dolby Vision black level bug on older LG sets too is much more remarkable.

Photo: Sony

Sony’s X700 4K Blu-ray player’s Dolby Vision update might be a bit of a mess in some ways, but it’s looking like it may still be the answer to many OLED TV owners’ prayers.

Let’s not forget, after all, that when Dolby admitted to me at the CES in January that the raised black level Dolby Vision bug over HDMI existed, it stated unequivocally that the only way to fix the issue was to apply a software update to displays.

Yet here we have a Dolby Vision SOURCE seemingly fixing the problem, while we’re still waiting impatiently for LG to provide its displays with a full fix (or any sort of fix when it comes to its 2016 models).

Even more bizarrely, the latest Dolby Vision profile the X700 4K Blu-ray player has received was ostensibly designed to benefit Sony, not other brands. The thing is, Sony TVs with X1 Extreme processors that have received their Dolby Vision update still can’t ‘see’ Dolby Vision from external devices unless those devices have received their own compatibility update.

Yet somehow, as well as finally closing the Sony Dolby Vision source-to-screen circle, the latest Dolby Vision source profile also seems to have solved a much wider problem.

Photo: Oppo

The Oppo UDP-203 is about to receive a Sony TV-friendly Dolby Vision update too. Will this also solve LG OLED raised black level problem?

The bizarreness of the situation doesn’t end there, either. The thing is, the first external device to receive a firmware update that let it deliver Dolby Vision to Sony TVs was the Apple TV 4K. Yet this update did not fix the raised black level issue with LG OLEDs.

So is the implementation Sony has applied to the X700 different to the profile applied to the Apple TV 4K? Or is Sony handling the same profile differently, somehow?

One last interesting twist in all this is the news I broke last night that Oppo is about to add the Sony TV-friendly Dolby Vision profile to its 4K Blu-ray players. Will this also fix the LG OLED raised black level bug? We should know soon enough.

The bad news in all this for LG OLED TV owners, of course, is that with LG still unable to deliver a display-based fix for the Dolby Vision over HDMI bug, at least to its 2016 OLED models, LG owners may be faced with the prospect of having to spend extra money on a new 4K Blu-ray player to solve the issue. So let’s hope LG doesn’t use this Sony X700 development as an excuse to stop working on its own display-based solution.

Nonetheless, with LG’s ability to deliver its own fix to the Dolby Vision OLED bug problem looking more and more uncertain with every passing day, the fact that any solution exists at all will probably come as a relief to many long-suffering LG OLED owners.

If you liked this story, you might also like these:

Sony’s UBP-X700 Now Plays Dolby Vision 4K Blu-ray Discs. But It’s All A Bit Of A Mess

Oppo 4K Blu-ray Players To Get Sony TV Dolby Vision Update This Week

Apple TV 4K’s Dolby Vision Problem: A Fix Is On Its Way

LG OLED65E8 OLED TV Review: What A Difference A Brain Makes

LG OLED TV Update: LG Responds To Ongoing Gaming, Dolby Vision And Contrast Performance Issues

SoftBank's ARM cedes control of China ops to consortium for $775 million

TOKYO/HONG KONG (Reuters) – British chipmaker Arm Holdings, a unit of SoftBank Group Corp, will cede control of its Chinese business to a group of local investors in a $775 million deal.

FILE PHOTO: Shop employees of SoftBank Corp work outside its branch in Tokyo, Japan, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino/File Photo

Arm will be selling the 51 percent of Arm Technology China to a consortium led by Hou An Innovation Fund, which is jointly managed by ARM and Chinese private equity firm Hopu Investments, a source close to the deal told Reuters.

The chipmaker will then form a joint venture (JV) with the consortium, the source added.

The deal will help boost opportunities for Arm in China, SoftBank said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Arm believes this joint venture, which will license Arm semiconductor technology to Chinese companies and locally develop Arm technology in China, will expand Arm’s opportunities in the Chinese market,” SoftBank said.

According to the source, the consortium led by Hou An will be a controlling shareholder in the JV.

Backers of Hou An include sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation, Silk Road Fund, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, Shenzhen’s Shum Yip Group and Hopu, according to China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Arm will, however, continue to get a significant proportion of all license, royalty, software and services revenue earned by Arm China’s licensing of its chips, SoftBank said.

Arm’s China semiconductor technology IP business accounted for about a fifth of its revenue in the year ended March 2018.

SoftBank acquired ARM, Britain’s most valuable technology company, for $32 billion in 2016 in an all-equity deal.

The Nikkei newspaper reported last month that Arm was planning to sign over control of its Chinese operations to a new JV involving itself and Chinese partners.

Reporting by Sam Nussey and Julie Zhu; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Himani Sarkar

Tesla's Musk laments Singapore electric vehicle stance

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Elon Musk, chief executive of U.S. electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla Inc, defended his view that Singapore was not supportive of EV ownership after a commentary in the city-state’s biggest newspaper criticized the billionaire’s social media post.

Elon Musk speaks at a Boring Company community meeting in Bel Air, Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“Singapore is a very prosperous city and yet has very few electric cars,” Musk tweeted on Saturday after The Straits Times published an open letter from its senior transport correspondent titled, “Please get off your high horse.”

The letter was in response to a Musk tweet a week earlier. In that tweet, Musk responded to a Tesla admirer in Singapore who said he had long dreamt of owning one of its vehicles, and who asked the executive to make them available in the city-state.

“We tried, but Singapore govt is not supportive of electric vehicles,” Musk tweeted on May 26.

In the letter, Christopher Tan pointed out Singapore grants EV owners up to S$20,000 ($15,000) in tax breaks, and that drivers would avoid over $10,000 in petrol duty over 10 years. He also called on Tesla to make its cars more affordable.

Singapore’s Land Transport Authority did not have immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

In his Saturday response, Musk also said Singapore had enough land area to generate most of its electricity through solar energy. “No more need to import fossil fuels for electricity, which is a strategic vulnerability,” he tweeted.

Singapore is a densely populated city-state and one of the world’s most expensive places to own a car. It controls vehicle population through a system of bidding for the right to own and use a vehicle for a limited number of years.

A mid-range car in Singapore can typically cost four times the price of an equivalent vehicle in the United States. EVs are available in the country, such as Hyundai Motor Co’s IONIQ.

The government has long sought to steer commuters away from the need to buy cars. One of its recent initiatives includes a large-scale EV-sharing program.

This is not the first time Musk has championed Singapore’s Tesla fans. In 2016, he contacted the prime minister regarding Tesla cars being subject to a carbon surcharge, local media reported.

The billionaire entrepreneur uses Twitter to comment about various issues. His Singapore tweets came after he proposed creating a website evaluating journalists’ credibility, spurred by frustration at media reports about Tesla.

Reporting by Aradhana AravindanEditing by Christopher Cushing

Apple's iOS Restrictions Aren't Helping Tech Addiction

When Apple kicks off its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, it’s largely expected that Apple CEO Tim Cook will introduce a few new “digital wellness” features for iOS, the iPhone’s operating system. It would follow in the footsteps of Google—which introduced its own suite of wellness tools for Android last month—and a growing sentiment in Silicon Valley that we need better tools to unglue ourselves from our phones.

On iPhones, though, building those tools hasn’t been easy. A group of 20 app developers and thought leaders in the “digital wellness” space—people like Chris Dancy, author of Don’t Unplug: Embracing Technology to Improve Your Life, and Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone—are now calling attention to the ways Apple’s platform has historically stood in the way of third-party digital wellness apps. In a petition to the company, they’re asking Apple to open up its software development kit and give developers the ability to customize the iPhone’s home screen, auto-trigger Do Not Disturb mode, or provide richer insight into app usage.

“We have millions of iPhone supporters waiting for us to make our innovative tools available to them,” the petition says, “but all we can do is offer unsatisfactory products, or encourage them to switch to Android.”

It’s a clear message to Apple: The digital wellness revolution is coming, and if developers can’t make tools for your platform, you’re going to get left behind.

Time Well Spent

“If 70 percent of people really care about this, like Google announced a few weeks ago, then Apple’s going to have to make some radical changes,” says Andrew Dunn, the creator of Siempo, an Android launcher that changes the homescreen to remove distractions and minimize app notifications. “There are all of these digital wellness developers that can do amazing things on Android. But we really have our hands tied on iOS.”

Long before Google announced its “digital wellness” initiative, Android developers were building tools to chip away at what seemed like a growing attention crisis on smartphones. Some built Android launchers like Siempo, which offers a distraction-free home screen; and Luna, which redesigns the interface with kids in mind. Others created apps like Instant and Quality Time, which track how long people spend looking at their screens and how often they unlock their phones. Others emerged to help people make better use of their time onscreen (like Buddhify, a digital meditation app) and help people make better use of their time offscreen (like Flipd, which locks people out of distracting apps during certain periods of the day).

The beauty of this ecosystem is the range of solutions. Anecdotally, most people agree that they spend too much time staring at their phones, but the remedies are not one-size-fits-all. Some people want a version of their phone they feel good about giving to their kids; others want to enjoy all the spoils of our connected world in their free time, but without the distractions at school or work. Others just want a way to break the habit of instinctively swiping their phone open and mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. On Android, it’s possible to piece together the phone experience that makes sense for you, with as many or few limitations as you see fit.

But those options haven’t always translated to iPhones. Take an app like SPACE, available for both Android and iOS. The app redirects people to a loading screen with a few seconds of delay (or a “moment of zen”) before opening a distracting app. When you try to open one of these apps—like, say, Instagram—SPACE gives you a few seconds to reconsider your choices.

The most used feature on the Android version of SPACE lets users exclude certain apps that they find purposeful. You might want to create some distance from Instagram, Facebook, and Gmail, while keeping immediate access to Google Maps and Evernote. “I had one use case of a girl excluding her Bible app,” says Georgie Powell, SPACE’s creator. The iOS version doesn’t include the option to “whitelist” those apps—or other features, like a notification blocker, a breakdown of app usage, and unlock stats—because of Apple’s restrictions on third-party apps.

The difference isn’t just that SPACE works better on Android phones than it does on iPhones. It’s that users are more likely to change their behavior when they have a whole suite of tools, says Powell. The Android version gets better reviews, better user retention, and has better overall impact on its users.

Other “digital wellness” tools don’t work at all on iOS. Siempo and other home-screen launchers only work on Android, because iOS doesn’t let developers make changes to the iPhone’s home screen. “We’re also not able to change anything about notifications or the icons,” says Dunn, Siempo’s CEO.

Even if Apple rolls out a set of native features similar to the ones Google announced—dashboards for tracking phone usage, app timers for setting limits on certain apps, and more intuitive gestures to flip on Do Not Disturb or night mode—most developers won’t be able to leverage them in their own apps. Last year, Apple added a new option to activate Do Not Disturb mode while driving. It prompts users to block incoming notifications as soon as they get into a moving vehicle. But the feature doesn’t work for scenarios besides driving, and iOS developers can’t incorporate it into their apps.

“Apple is holding this feature hostage,” says Alana Harvey, the CEO of Flipd. She’d like to see other apps, like the calendar, make use of the Do Not Disturb function to minimize distractions during times that are already marked as busy. Another feature she’d like to see made available to developers is an auto-response, which would trigger an SMS reply to calls or texts during a busy period—something that’s already available on Android devices, but not on iPhones. “I think it’s kind of silly that when we’re driving is the only scenario where we’re going to want some sort of auto response text message to go to someone to let them know we’re busy.”

It’s possible that Apple could introduce all of this on the next version of iOS, with built-in wellness capabilities. But these developers believe that Apple only stands to gain from collaboration with its ecosystem of app developers—especially the ones that have been working toward solutions for years. “They need all the tools on hand, rather than [just the ones] hidden in their settings,” says Powell. “Just as there is space for fitness apps in a world where Apple’s [Health Kit] exists, it is equally important that there is innovation and personalization in the digital health space to support the growing demand for tools like ours.”

More on Apple’s Big Show

A Blood-Based Cancer Test Gets Its First Results

The bets on liquid biopsy keep getting bigger. Last month, Silicon Valley unicorn Grail Inc. raised a third round of financing to develop its blood-based tests for early cancer detection. That brings its total up to $1.5 billion since 2016, putting it among the top three most heavily funded private biotech companies in the US.

While investors might be bullish on the risky venture, many oncologists have been more skeptical about how well Grail’s technique might work. A spinout of DNA sequencing giant Illumina, the company aims to detect cancers before symptoms appear by using “high-intensity” sequencing to pick out genetic material shed by lurking tumors into the bloodstream. It’s an idea that Grail will shell out to test; most of its investments will go toward the company’s two long-term, population-scale clinical trials. And this weekend, with data from one of those trials Grail give the doubters some reason to believe.

At one of the largest annual gathering of cancer researchers, the American Society of Clinical Oncologists conference in Chicago, Grail presented early results from its Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas study, which has so far enrolled about 12,000 participants from research centers like the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan Kettering. It’s the first look at how the company’s sequencing-based test prototypes are performing.

Grail tried out three methods on a substudy of about 1,600 people, about half who had been newly diagnosed with 10 different tumor types, and half cancer-free controls. The first test looked at changes in about 500 cancer-related genes. The second used whole genome sequencing to identify larger genome rearrangements that can lead to tumor development. And the third analyzed changes to the DNA’s that can turn on cancer-causing genes.

The company only shared results of that last method, which it says had the highest sensitivity of the three. The blood test correctly diagnosed people with ovarian and liver cancers 80 percent of the time. It found lymphoma and myeloma with slightly less accuracy. It was worst at detecting breast cancer, getting it right less than a quarter of the time.

Grail’s numbers are similar to what researchers behind other liquid biopsy startups have published previously, in places like Science. The difference here is that ASCO presentations aren’t peer-reviewed and the underlying data doesn’t have to be made available. So there are limitations on understanding the veracity of Grail’s results. The company says it doesn’t have any plans to publish in a peer-reviewed journal at this time.

“This is a discovery study so we really just wanted to understand how each test performed across different cancers,” says Anne-Renee Hartman, Grail’s VP of Clinical Development. “As we move forward we’ll be validating the test to see how well it picks up cancer in groups that don’t have diagnoses.” Proving liquid biopsy techniques can reliably detect cancer is just the first step though. To be truly useful they have to also provide some information about where the tumor is in the body, as well as minimize false alarms. Biotech companies will also have to make sure they can scale up to be cost-effective if there’s to be any future for pan-cancer screens becoming a regular part of routine health care. In that regard, Grail’s actually doing pretty well, at least on the Eastern Front.

When the company launched in 2016, its first CEO, Jay Flatley pronounced that it would have its first test on the market by 2019. Until recently, that seemed unlikely. Then, last year Grail combined forces with Hong Kong-based screening startup Cirina, which controls patents for a blood test that detects a cancer commonly found in southern China called nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Key to that detection is a virus associated with the disease—Epstein Barr. Tumor cells all carry bits of the viral DNA inside them, which can easily be picked up via sequencing.

Grail is launching that test later this year in Hong Kong—it will be the first liquid biopsy test marketed for early detection. It’s a modest start for a company with aspirations to create a single test for all the ways that cancer can riddle a human body. But hey, it’s a start.


More Great WIRED Stories

Statistician Nate Silver Offers Some Very Powerful Advice on Questioning Data and Authority (When Nate Speaks, Others Listen)

Some people find the truth in numbers, and others, like Nate Silver, have built entire careers on doing just that. As ABC News Special Correspondent and founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight (a site that focuses on opinion poll analysis in sports, economics, and politics), Silver is known for how he creates and analyzes statistical information.

He even successfully called the outcomes in 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 US Presidential election, and was later named as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People in 2009 by Time magazine.

As someone who deals in statistics, Nate Silver is admittedly, “wary of drawing conclusions of a sample size of one” — especially when this sample size of one includes just his own self. But Nate Silver, in speaking with Kenyon College graduates at their commencement this year, says he has now reached the official age at which he is allowed to pass off anecdotal evidence as “wisdom.”

With these graduates facing a major life transition, Silver notes that it may be difficult for them to, “find the right balance between experimenting with your personal and professional identify on the one hand, and staying true to yourself on the other hand.” In order to navigate these changes, this statistician’s advice?

Don’t let yourself get stuck. And don’t be afraid to question things.

“Don’t let yourself get stuck in a career that’s neither (a) something you really want to be doing right now,” he says, “or (b) something that positions you to do something you really want to do down the road.”

Silver understands that those in category (b) won’t get their dream job right out of college, and instead it will take a lot of hard work for them to reach their ideal position. “But if you don’t think you’re on the right path,” Silver underlines, “take advantage of the fact that you’re untethered and be willing to switch gears pretty quickly.” Keep it moving!

Silver reveals that at the time of his graduation, statistical analysis was not a popular career path. It hardly was a career path at all. 

“…People using statistics in fields like sports and politics and journalism were really on the outside looking in. There was a rebellious spirit. We questioned authority. We wanted to shake things up.” 

When these graduates start out their careers — or when any of us start something new — it will feel, “like you’re on the outside looking in,” like how this well-known statistician felt 18 years ago. But many will become very successful and very powerful despite feeling like an outsider, despite not always following “conventional wisdom.” But when that happens, Silver says, “don’t stop thinking critically. Don’t stop questioning the data, questioning authority — and questioning yourself.”

Check out Nate’s commencement address to Kenyon College below:

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