I was walking my dog in the Boston Common today, near the Embrace. A controversial sculpture is a great place to train an Australian Shepherd because people approach from all angles in the park with intention. Then people slow down and meander, directionless, trying to understand which way to look at the sculpture. Herding dogs do not respect this behavior.
So I work on teaching her to leave people alone when they are not behaving like a proper herd of cattle. I am a sloppy, inattentive dog trainer, so it’s good for me to train in an area where the stakes high if I don’t pay attention. I make my dog look me in the eye before every treat, I make her sit when someone walks close to her, I give her small treats even though my instinct is to give bigger treats because I would devote a bigger part of my brain to a task if someone were giving me bigger treats.
Two students came up to me with clipboards and said, “Do you have a moment to talk to us?” This is not unusual. If you live in expensive, liberal cities — Park Slope, Santa Monica, Boston — nonprofits hire students to ask people for money. And the kids always approach older women walking alone because the kids assume everyone else is too busy to stop. So I make a practice of telling the kids to fuck off in order to challenge their assumptions about age and gender.
But the students said, “We’re from Boston University’s business school,” so I couldn’t resist asking what they wanted to talk about. They said, “We’re doing market research for a new restaurant idea in Boston.”
I said, “I can talk with you if you can put up with me teaching my dog to not bark at you while we talk.” The dog barked at them.
They said, “The restaurant would serve only soups. Would you be interested in that type of restaurant?”
I said, “You should do a case study about Souplantation. It was a restaurant in California that catered to people with eating disorders and it went bankrupt.”
They said, “Okay. Goodbye.”
What the hell? I wasn’t done! First of all, Boston University’s business school should have an entrance exam where someone tells the prospective student that Souplantation went out of business because their client base was people with eating disorders. And if the prospective student does not ask, “Why is that?” then the student is rejected.
But I have so much more to say about a soup-only restaurant. People who make a meal out of soup are filling up on water: eating disorder (and autistic). And if they drag their friends there, the place has to have bread, and the bread has to be amazing and varied so friends come back, and then core customers gorge on bread and use soup to throw it up.
But I digress.
Let’s say there is someone who does not know about eating disorder culture and they are standing in front of a soup-only restaurant. There is soup on most menus because every culture has their own soup. There is matzah ball soup, turtle soup and gazpacho, and really, who wants to go to a single restaurant that is making all of those? It’s like going to Canal street to buy Luis Vuitton and Chanel and Supreme at the same $10 booth. Also, because there is soup on every menu, you can do a price-point study and discover that NO ONE MAKES MONEY ON SOUP.
When my kid was little, he once ordered a supersalad. The waitress said, “Huh?” It turned out that he had heard “soup or salad” so often that he thought it was one thing you got as a little extra. And that’s how everyone thinks of soup in a restaurant — as a little extra freebie. And restaurants offer a cup because most people don’t want a bowl because it’s slow to eat and Americans like to shovel in food and Boston is where you go for American food. That’s why the number-one thing served in a bowl in Boston is clam chowder: the most possible calories per spoonful.
The best way to do market research for a soup business is to make a pop-up UberEats business and see if you make money. There is no overhead, you can do different soups every day, and you can market test faster via an app where people are actually buying than walking around Boston Common where people are only guessing what they might buy. People don’t like to do quick accurate market research because they don’t want to find out their idea sucks.
Good market research happens all the time because its life observation. While I was talking with the students, I was having a really difficult time with my dog. And I decided to talk to them instead of pay attention to my dog. And I cut my training session short to go home and write this letter to them. If they had asked me, what I would have told them is Boston needs more dog training services. There are literally none. There are not even waitlists. Everyone got pandemic puppies. None of the dogs are trained by trainers. There’s a huge backlog and most of the trainers live outside of the city because why wouldn’t they?
My dream trainer would come to my apartment once a day, pick up the dog and maybe as a bonus the trainer would have a soup of the day.
During Hurricane Ian millions of gallons of pig feces whooshed across North Carolina. Pig poop gets my attention. I raised my kids on a hog farm and the water was too contaminated to drink due to decades of farming with gestation crates: a birthing invention of factory farms that is a stacked storage system to get the most pigs per acre.
In past years Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Matthew sent feces flying so we know which problems ensue: human sickness, contaminated drinking water, rivers, plants and fish. There’s a race issue as well. The farm owners are white and their pig shit lands on property Black people own.
We don’t see many politicians taking up this cause. The pork lobby owns North Carolina. The only other state with significant hog operations is Iowa, and you can’t win a presidential primary if you trash talk pigs.
But California sidestepped the fact that pork producers don’t live in their state and 68% of voters said California should not permit the sale of pork from gestation crate farms. Many attempts to control the pork producers have failed, so whiners dismissed this one as The Bacon Apocalypse, but attorneys shepherded the law through two appeals, and this week the Supreme Court will hear the case.
The state of California will argue that gestation crates are the worst example of animal confinement. The crates don’t allow any movement for pregnant pigs; they can stand or sit but cannot turn around for most of their life. I hope California also adds something about how pigs have an intense social-emotional life and a higher IQ than dogs.
But like all legal matters, conversation will probably stick to money. The pork industry will invoke interstate commerce laws to say replacing gestation crates with moderately larger pens is too big a burden on businesses outside of California. The Court will use the Pike Test to determine if the consumer’s moral cost of eating ill-begotten pork outweighs the producer’s financial cost of reconfiguring crates to be larger.
The cost argument only works because the meatpacking industry controls farmers, and only the few financially independent hog farmers could study the cost of switching from gestation crates. But also, universities capable of producing this research are funded by gestation crate manufacturers.
My son discovered this problem first-hand. Our farm switched from gestation crates to free-range farrowing while he was growing up. The farmer had a degree in hog genetics and we collected data for nine years using a (mostly) scientific method which at the time was annoying, but created a data set like no other in the US.
The switchover was financially successful. There were fewer sows per acre, but each sow had a larger number of healthy piglets and the herd no longer required an antibiotic regimen. There were also huge cost savings for labor, because gestation crates have to be cleaned constantly and it’s disgusting work.
More dramatically, unlike their dull, inert created counterparts, free-range piglets at two-months could run around the pen in little groups like puppies. They were fun and curious and could always make their way back to their mom when she called.
In high school my son wanted to work with a professor to see if he might like being a scientist. So he gathered qualitative and quantitative data from 100 sows and more than 1000 piglets and presented it to agriculture departments at universities. Even though there is no data set that comes close to this in quantity or quality, there were no takers.
One professor said that for a study on this topic he would need comparable data for hogs in a state-of-the art gestation crate system and hogs out of crates with equivalent conditions. The key: state-of-the-art. All hog research from academia must be funded by the manufacturers of gestation crate systems.
My son didn’t get to work with a professor, but he did have a good answer for the college essay prompt: Write about a time you failed. And today he’s studying psychology, because he realized the question of why gestation crates have not been outlawed is clear. But the question of how farmers cope with daily abuse when they’re so close to their animals is a much harder question to answer.
Z’s hearing is still deteriorating from the car crash. I think he might be ready to call it quits on cello.
We have mice. We have had mice for a really long time and I tell myself things like every apartment in every big city has mice, but I’m not really sure if that’s true.
And also I think maybe I’m too old to live with mice. I mean, I’m definitely too old to be writing about having mice and maybe I’m even too old to even be having a blog except that only old people have blogs now which ends up being sort of comforting. I mean, at least I’m not too old to have a blog.
The last straw with the mice was not that my older son said he wouldn’t come home from college for Thanksgiving because the mice were too gross. I didn’t really believe he would have come home even without the mice. He’s too sick of us.
The last straw with the mice was when I had an in-person meeting for my startup and I was so excited because I am way higher functioning when I have a startup because I don’t know how to have friends unless I am working with them. And a mouse ran over one of the women’s feet and she screamed and we just stood there. We are so used to the mice we couldn’t even pretend to be shocked. I said, “Oh, yeah. We have mice.” Both women looked horrified, and then my younger son looked horrified, and I wanted to look like a good mom so I said, “We are really upset about the mice so we’re moving out soon.”
My son looked so relieved that I started actually looking for apartments.
Then I had this idea that everyone works remote now so I’m never going to get people to work in person unless it’s really fun to be in person. I had this idea that the future of work is that the workplace is a destination. Well, first I found a townhouse that was so so beautiful and then I had this idea. Like people could pay to stay with us for workshops or host offsites. I came up with a million ideas to find one that would justify living there and having the company pay.
But mostly I just fell in love with the townhouse. It hadn’t been lived in for fifty years. The owner bought it when the area was the Combat Zone. Uninhabitable. He only refurbished it recently, after the area has gentrified. We would be the first to live there again. Most of it is original from the turn of the century. And it’s furnished. Here are pictures.
I told the agent my company was leasing. He said the landlord has turned down a lot of tenants. I ignored that. I pleaded. I actually raised another $50K so we could put it in escrow to hold the place. The agent told me he checked my credit and he said nothing came up. “Do you have another name?” he asked.
I told him, “Yeah, remember, I gave you my other name.”
“No, I mean another besides your other name?”
“Just Adrienne and Penelope. That’s it. But I don’t have any credit so I guess I don’t have a credit report.”
Everyone writes about how startup founders are different because they’re relentless. I told myself to just be relentless.
So then we tried the company as a cosigner. Then an investor as a cosigner. A cofounder as a cosigner. We did everything. We did so much paperwork that it took three weeks. At the end of three weeks they said it was all set, and the landlord said okay. The agent took their fee, and I started packing.
I packed quickly. It was just down the street so I figured we could move the fragile stuff ourselves. I didn’t want to pay for packing materials so I used all our clothes to wrap the dishes. My younger son asked me where all his shirts went. I bought him two new shirts at Target and had them delivered by Shipt and told him he doesn’t need anymore shirts right now because we’re moving.
That was four weeks ago. Our stuff has been packed for a month. I am so sick of looking at those two shirts.
Then we got the lease and it said there is no heating system. My brother told me about the Governor of Illinois buying a mansion and pulling out the toilets so it’s uninhabitable and then he doesn’t have to pay property taxes. “Maybe that’s what your townhouse guy is doing,” my brother said.
Maybe. But then why is it still for rent? And what about the agent? The agent must know that they are showing people an apartment with no heating system. Is that fraud? I don’t even know. I mean, obviously I know nothing about renting anywhere because here I am, back with the mice. The mice are suddenly looking great.
I breathed such a sigh of relief when I signed the papers to launch the new company. I like being tied to other people. I like that people have to help me if I am in business with them. I can’t seem to do it in my personal life so I need to do it in my work life. It feels so lonely otherwise.
The thing that makes me relentless is that I can live without clothes or plates or books or other things. That’s easy for me. But it’s hard for me to live without a startup.
Anyone who comes up with ideas for businesses has more than one they can use. So if you want to start a business and you don’t have an idea, just steal one. Here’s an idea I’m not doing anything with.
I have been blown away by the comments on my last post. I am so appreciative of the kindness and support and all the ideas so many of you have shared.
What I’ve learned from selling stuff on this blog is that I don’t like to do it. It’s hard to tell you I’m hating myself and then tell you, “Buy my course about happiness!”
So, I’ve decided to change my business model. Except that I don’t actually have a new business model yet. And while I’m looking for one I’m
making missing monthly payments on a new cello. Read more
Last week my older son took the SAT subject test for biology. He was supposed to take the AP test for biology but I didn’t realize that you have to start registering a homeschooler for AP tests around the time a NYC parent would start registering their child for preschool: in the womb. Read more
Yesterday Daily Beast released extremely disturbing recordings made by Neha Rastogi, a quality assurance manager, of her husband, Abhishek Gattani, who is CEO of the startup Cuberon. She made the recordings in the couple’s Santa Clara home. Gattani has been abusive throughout the ten-year marriage and finally Rastogi started recording it.