TIME Uber

Uber is One Step Closer to Picking You Up in a Self-driving Car

Uber on mobile phone
Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ride hailing service is testing a self-driving car as part of push to eliminate the cost of drivers

Uber users are a step closer being chauffeured around town in driverless cars.

The ride hailing service has started testing a self-driving car as part of plan to automate rides and eliminate the cost of drivers, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

The test car was recently spotted on the road in Pittsburgh, where Uber has opened a research lab. The car, with “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” emblazoned on the side, had what appeared to be equipment for autonomous navigation affixed to its roof.

A spokeswoman for Uber told the newspaper that “This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety and autonomy systems” without providing further detail.

Uber executives have voiced interest in self-driving cars in the past. In recent months, they have poached a group of robotics specialists from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to staff the effort.

Brian Johnson, an analyst for Barclays, said in a report earlier this week that the cost savings of self-driving cars for Uber or any other taxi-like service could be big. Removing the driver would reduce the cost of a ride at 34 cents a mile, nearly 58% cheaper than traditional new cars.

 

TIME Shopify

This Tech Company had a Blockbuster First Day of Trading Following IPO

First Day Of Trading for 2015 On The Floor Of The NYSE As U.S. Stock-Index Futures Rise After S&P 500's December Decline
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

E-commerce software company Shopify had a big day after its shares started trading

E-commerce software maker Shopify had a blockbuster Wall Street debut Thursday following an initial public offering with its shares gaining just over 50% in their first day of trading.

The company’s shares gained 51% to close at $25.86, a sharp increase from their IPO pricing of $17.

Investors piled into Shopify early in the day, sending its shares briefly above $28. By the afternoon, the stock fell from its intraday peak but still managed a big gain at the close.

Shopify, which sells software to online merchants to create websites and to process payments, ended the day valued at $1.92 billion. The company raised $131 million in the IPO.

By going public, Shopify joins a small list of other e-commerce-related companies including Etsy and Alibaba that have made their stock market premieres in the past year. Both of those companies, however, have hit turbulence since. Shares in Etsy, the marketplace for handcrafted goods, are now only slightly above their initial pricing after a big initial jump. Shares in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba have widely fluctuated since their premiere and are now around the same price as where they ended up on the first day of trading in September.

 

TIME Retail

Meet the Adorable 5-Year-Old J.Crew Just Hired as Its New Designer

J.Crew / Bryan Derballa

The blog she runs with her mom has been a huge hit

Five-year-old Mayhem (yes, it’s a nickname) is in Kindergarten and also happens to be J.Crew’s newest and youngest fashion designer, according to PSFK. The line, called Little Mayhem, was spawned from the blog she runs with the help of her mother, Angie Keiser. Mayhem’s work—a series of colored, paper dresses—been so popular that it has over 480,000 Instagram followers and viral posts that’d make any major media outlet jealous. (She makes them with her mother’s help.)

The creations are now available in J. Crew stores, according to the article. Prices range from about $50 to $80 for dresses, rompers and tops. In a blog post, Keiser wrote about her daughter’s process for the creations:

Mayhem and her new crew all sat down on the floor and played. And made stuff. Out of paper and tape and beads and glue and crayons. And they laughed and hugged and had more fun than I would have imagined. And then they sprinkled their magic J. Crew fairydust on it and turned paper into fabric. And when it was time to go, Mayhem cried. Because she didn’t want to leave.

In December, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons asked to collaborate with Mayhem and Keiser. Next up: Fashion week for her sixth birthday?

TIME Depression

These are the Most Depressed Workers

businessman-working-late-office
Getty Images

One in five young workers have been depressed, according to the survey.

One in five millennials said they have been depressed on the job, the most of any age group, a new survey found.

That’s compared with 16% of Baby Boomers and 16% of Gen Xers, according to Mashable.

Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a firm that provides employee drug testing and assistance for problems like gambling, published the survey, Depression and Work: The Impact of Depression on Different Generations of Employees, to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month. The study said that depressed employees are more likely to function poorly at work.

There was no word on why millennials, born from 1978 to 1999, are more depressed than other groups. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 while Gen Xers were from 1965 to 1977.

The article continued:

Other impacts of depression in the workplace include absenteeism (missing work), tense work relationships or conflicts, and receiving verbal or written disciplinary action as a result of depression.

“While major depression affects 10% of [American employees], an overwhelming 75% of people with depression don’t receive formal treatment,” Marie Apke, chief operating officer for Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, said in a statement. “Depression costs the economy more than $23 billion annually due to absenteeism. While recent public health initiatives continue to enhance and expand our understanding of the social and economic costs of depression, it’s clear more work is needed to combat depression in the workplace.”

TIME Google

Google Wants to Patent its Creepiest Idea Ever

"The anthropomorphic device may aim its gaze at the source of the social cue"

Google is working towards a patent for a sweet-looking toy with eyes that can track your movement and ears that can perk up when you speak, according to a new patent filing spotted by SmartUp Thursday.

The submission to the United States Patent and Trademark Office shows diagrams of an ordinary toy rabbit or teddy bear equipped with cameras behind its eyes and microphones in its ears.

“Upon reception or a detection of a social cue,”the form reads, “such as movement and/or a spoken word or phrase, the anthropomorphic device may aim its gaze at the source of the social cue.”

The theoretical toy could take verbal commands and send them to “media devices” like TVs. Of course, just because Google is seeking a patent doesn’t mean the product will come to light.

TIME Fast Food

Why Ronald McDonald Will Never, Ever Get Fired

Latin GRAMMY Street Parties In Phoenix With Conjunto Primavera
Mike Moore—WireImage for LARAS

McDonald's clown mascot has a job for eternity

Ronald McDonald has the kind of job security that most Americans can only dream of.

Responding to criticism over the fast-food giant’s use of the 52-year-old clown to market its food to children, CEO Steve Easterbrook made it clear that Ronald isn’t going anywhere. “With regards to Ronald, Ronald’s here to stay,” Easterbrook said at the fast-food giant’s annual shareholders meeting on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Consumer advocacy organizations have criticized McDonald’s for its use of marketing tactics that appeal directly to children, particularly in the wake of increased concern over childhood obesity in the U.S.

The restaurant chain, which has endured sluggish sales at home and abroad and has closed hundreds of locations this year, is in the process of attempting a turnaround. Its plan includes a shift in the company’s marketing. Earlier this month, McDonald’s somewhat more nefarious mascot, the Hamburglar, was reinstated with a fresh look, to decidedly mixed reviews.

The company’s annual shareholder meeting was a primarily civil affair, despite the fact that thousands of protesters showed up at McDonald’s headquarters, calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage for the restaurant’s workers. In April, McDonald’s announced that it would increase the minimum wage for workers at its corporate-owned restaurants to $10 an hour by 2016.

On Thursday, McDonald’s shareholders approved a proposal to give the company’s investors an increased say on who is nominated to serve on the fast-food giant’s board of directors.

TIME Candy

These Candy Companies have a Surprising New Strategy

Mars

The candy companies are making a push into healthier snack bars

Candy companies are jumping on the health food bandwagon. Yes, really.

Mars Chocolate North America and Hershey both plan to introduce snack bars for health-conscious consumers, according to Ad Age.

The two companies unveiled their new bars at the Sweets and Snacks Expo this week in Chicago. Mars and Hershey are the biggest players in the US confectionary market with 25% market share each, Ad Age said. The new snack bars will feature fruit, nuts, dark chocolate and, allegedly, lower calories.

With the new bars, the two companies will compete against each another as well as against Kind, a successful snack bar start-up.

Mars will reportedly debut its Goodnessknows bars in stores in August. Hershey’s Brookside bars are just now starting to reach store shelves.

The push into snack bars comes amid a broader shift by the food industry to make their products healthier, or at least appear healthier. Fast-food chains are increasingly selling lower calorie menu items and meat produced without hormones.

For more on how large food companies have been singing a healthier tune recently, check out Beth Kowitt’s Fortune feature “The war on big food.”

TIME Startups

This Budding Startup Is Changing How You Buy Flowers

BloomNation
BloomNation co-founders David Daneshgar, left, head of business development and sales, Gregg Weisstein, center, chief operating officer and Farbod Shoraka, right, chief executive officer

BloomNation empowers local florists to better show off their diverse offerings

As a world champion poker player, David Daneshgar could recall a hand from two years ago as if it were dealt to him yesterday. So it wasn’t exactly dumb luck when he made it to the final round of a 2011 poker tournament at Los Angeles’ Commerce Casino. Still, he took a risky gamble, going all in on a $30,000 pot. At the flip, his opponent misread the cards and threw a premature celebration. Daneshgar knew better.

“The guy doesn’t know he lost,” he said to his friends. “Don’t worry, it’s flower time.”

It was “flower time” because Daneshgar and his friends planned to use their winnings to launch an online flower market, even if they had only a passing familiarity with the industry. Farbod Shoraka was a 28-year-old investment banker who had worked on a single financing deal for a floral company. His co-founders, Gregg Weisstein and David Daneshgar, had no relevant experience to speak of.

“If you think about it,” Shoraka says, “three things are required to be successful: knowing the floral industry really well, knowing the e-commerce industry really well and knowing technology very well. We had none of the three.”

What they did have was $30,000 in poker chips, and that was enough to get BloomNation’s web portal up and running. They launched in 2012 and invited local florists to post pictures and prices of their floral arrangements to the website. “Like Etsy for flowers,” says Shoraka, BloomNation’s CEO.

The response was overwhelming. Roughly 600 florists signed up before the website had even launched. Today, more than 3,000 florists are on board, paying a 10% commission on every order. The company’s revenues have climbed by 15 to 30% each month, and its founders expect sales to hit $45 million within one year.

The team credits BloomNation’s rapid growth in part to their slow-moving competition. BloomNation has taken aim at three giants of the floral industry: 1-800-Flowers, FTD and Teleflora. Collectively these companies capture roughly two-thirds of online flower sales, a $2.3 billion market, according to research firm IBISWorld. Those sites are essentially middlemen, taking orders on one end and dispatching them to neighborhood florists on the other end. Florists, in turn, pay a 20 to 50% commission. It’s a time-honored business partnership dating back to the early days of the telegram, when FTD began wiring orders to florists across the country. To this day, florists refer to these companies as a “wire service” in a nod to their distant past. But in Shoraka’s opinion, they were stuck in that era.

“In a way they’re still using the Internet the same way they use a telegraph wire,” Shoraka says. Shoppers select a floral arrangement based on stock photos. Florists then match the photo, flower for flower. If they have an exceptional deal, a unique vase or a fresh shipment of flowers, they have no way of relaying that information back to the customer. “It’s fundamentally broken to take a picture of an arrangement and think that you can replicate this across the country when different florists have access to different flowers, a different talent pool of creative designers and different price point,” Shoraka says.

BloomNation breaks this model by essentially crowdsourcing its catalogue out to the florists themselves. The florists upload pictures and prices of their arrangements through the back end of the site. On the front end, customers browse photos of the very same flower arrangements that they might find in the window displays of 3,000 flower shops and studios across the country. As a result, BloomNation’s online catalogue is always up to date, constantly changing and hyperlocal. And that flow of local information from florists back to online shoppers was a key reason Kim Williams, owner of The Enchanted Florist in Burbank, California, started listing on the BloomNation website. She says she chafed at the wire services’ paint-by-numbers instructions. “Even if you want to put something prettier in, you can’t do it,” Williams says.

J Schwanke, a fourth generation florist and floral industry expert, offers more cautious praise for BloomNation. He believes its 10% commission was a welcome improvement over its competitors. “Their concept of making sure that more of that money goes to the florist is commendable,” he says. Still, he’d prefer to see shoppers circumvent middlemen entirely: “The best bet for a consumer is to find a true local florist and call them directly.”

But BloomNation’s founders argue that by getting the nation’s florists on a single cloud-based platform, they can spare them the trouble of establishing an online presence. They can also mine florists’ sales for intel that’s normally the privilege of multinational corporations. “I can tell a florist in San Francisco what’s trending in New York,” Shoraka says. “I can tell a florist where are the price points that are selling best in their catalogue. We get to see what’s happening on a national scale but also on a hyperlocal level.”

In a sense, BloomNation isn’t replacing the original idea of the wire services, which was to connect florists into a nationwide ordering system. They’ve only updated the idea for the modern era. “Ultimately if you strip away flowers and all that,” Shoraka says, “what we have really built is a way for a local business to be empowered and an individual to be empowered, and have the same tools as big e-commerce players.”

TIME Horse Racing

American Pharoah’s Owner Hit With Gambling Debt Lawsuit

Kentucky Derby Horse Racing
Garry Jones—AP American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert, left, and owner Ahmed Zayat hold the trophy after and after Victor Espinoza rode American Pharoah to victory in the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 2, 2015, in Louisville, Ky.

The businessman who owns the prized colt is facing a legal hurdle

The owner of American Pharoah, the thoroughbred racehorse that’s a contender for the Triple Crown, is facing a new hurdle—a legal one.

Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian businessman who owns the horse, is facing a breach of contract lawsuit filed in March 2014 in federal court in New Jersey by a man named Howard Rubinsky, who in 2008 pleaded guilty for playing a role in an illegal bookmaking operation.

Rubinsky claims he opened a $3 million line of credit for Zayat at a sports betting website in Costa Rica called Tradewinds, but Zayat never paid up, and Rubinsky, who was being paid based on bets of the bettors he brought to the site, lost out on $1.65 million plus interest.

Zayat has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and has called it a scam and “total fiction.” The dispute between Zayat and Rubinsky stretches back 11 years. Zayat wants the breach of contract lawsuit thrown out, in part, because it was filed after the expiration of the six-year statue of limitations.

Meanwhile, American Pharoah is on track to win horse racing’s biggest prize. If he’s victorious at the Belmont Stakes on June 6 he’ll be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978.

TIME Retail

This Is What a 130-Year-Old Pair of Jeans Looks Like

Levi Strauss

Not in bad shape considering

How old is your oldest pair of jeans? (And, while we’re on the topic, when was the last time you washed them?) No matter your answer, Levi Strauss & Co. almost certainly has one on you.

To mark the 142-year anniversary of Levi’s 501 jeans, the apparel maker announced on Wednesday that its archives department had acquired a pair that dates back to the 1880s. And, despite the fact that they are one of the oldest pairs of jeans in existence, they look pretty good. “Except for wear marks and a few minor holes and tears, the pants, which date to around the 1880s, are pristine,” according to a Levi’s blog post on the acquisition.

Levi’s has named the duds the “New Nevada Jeans,” as they were discovered in the Silver State. They sport a few minor differences from the ubiquitous 501 model. “The yoke is narrower, and the leather patch is in the middle of the waistband, rather than on the right side,” according to the company.

Originally called “overalls,” blue jeans date back to the American Gold Rush era of the late 19th century. In 1873, the U.S. government granted a patent to Levi Strauss for what would become the company’s 501 jeans, based on its rivet-reinforced fastenings. Jeans were practical, tough work pants, the kind that could take a beating when you were out in the field. By the early 20th century, though, they had become a fashion statement, fit for the kind of people who had never even set foot on a working ranch.

A Fortune story late last year chronicled the company’s ups-and-downs:

With $7.1 billion in 1996 sales, the company used to be bigger than Nike. By 2003, Levi’s revenues had bell-bottomed out to $4.2 billion. Over the next decade, sales rose only barely as the company failed to translate affection for the brand into actual purchases. Levi’s design team was late to key trends, like colored denim for women and more tailored jeans for men. Once in the top quintile of the Fortune 500, Levi dropped off the list in 2012.

Things have begun to turnaround since then. By the end of 2014, the company had hit its financial goals for the second year in a row. Full-year revenues increased 2% to $4.8 billion. Net income was down year, but adjusted EBIT—the company’s preferred measure to track profitability—was $504 million last year compared to $467 million in 2013. The company also grew revenue in both Europe and Asia for the first time in three years.

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