Coronavirus Updates: Mattel Using Fabric from Barbie to Make Face Masks, Virgin Orbit Designs Ventilator
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.
- Disney's Iger won't take a salary, other executives take pay cuts
- Virgin Orbit Designs Mass-Producible Ventilator for COVID-19 Patients
- Coronavirus claims 342 new cases in Los Angeles County
- Mattel using fabric made for Barbie to create face masks
Mattel orders factories to use fabric designed for Barbie to make face masks
Mattel Chairman and CEO Ynon Kreiz said the toymaker's plants in El Segundo and East Aurora, NY are "producing face masks from Barbie and Fisher-Price fabric" to help battle the shortage inundating the nation's hospitals. He said the company also plans to create face shields from materials at both factories. "We are ensuring social distancing and safe working environments for our dedicated production teams who are taking on the challenge," Kreiz said in a statement. "These masks will be distributed to hospitals and first responders later this week." He added that the company is "comitted to using our resources to contribute as much as we can to fight COVID-19."
New coronavirus cases climb past 2,400 in LA county, 44 deaths
Seven more people died of novel coronavirus in Los Angeles County and there are 342 new cases, public health officials said Monday. There have now been 2,474 cases in the county and 44 deaths as of noon. About 20% of those tested positive for COVID-19 have been hospitalized at some point during their illness.
"The greatest service the general public can provide is to stay home, to self-isolate when sick and to self-quarantine if exposed," said county health director Barbara Ferrer. "These measures will make the biggest impact in our efforts to mitigate the infection rate in the county."
Meanwhile, officials are increasingly worried that the fast-moving virus will spread inside the county's crowded jail system after an inmate and four people who work in the Los Angeles County jails came down with the illness, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Virgin Orbit designs mass-producible ventilator for COVID-19 patients
Rocket-maker Virgin Orbit has developed a bridge ventilator with university researchers that it will produce in Long Beach and deliver to overburdened hospitals battling COVID-19 within the next week.
Richard Branson's company must still get approval from the Food and Drug Administration before it can begin production at its manufacturing facility where it normally builds rockets to launch satellites into space. The company started the process after reaching out to California Gov. Gavin Newsom's office last week and being put in touch with a team at the University of California, Irvine and the University of Texas Austin working on bridge ventilators.
"We are all heartbroken each night as we turn on the news and see the predicament facing doctors and nurses as they heroically work to save lives," said Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart in a statement. "We are hopeful that this device can help as we all prepare for the challenges ahead."
The company said it would continue to scale up production and could activate other manufactures as "soon as thee device is reproducible and production ready."
Virgin Orbit's device compresses medical ambu bags, which helps patients with COVID-19 to breathe by delivering air to the lungs.
Disney's Iger won't take a salary, other executives take pay cuts amid COVID-19
The Walt Disney Co. said Monday that executive chairman Robert Iger will not take a salary and recently named CEO Bob Chapek will take a 50% pay cut amid the coronavirus crisis. The company will also reduce salaries of vice presidents, senior vice presidents and executive vice presidents. The furloughs come as Disney's theme parks around the world have been closed down, and filming for the company's movie studio and ABC television programming have seized up.
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I wasn't a believer until I saw him in action. At a Tom Ferry event at the Seattle Convention Center, I observed thousands of people worshipping Tom Ferry, then and now, a legendary real estate coach, as he doled out words of wisdom during his presentations.
In many ways, Tom learned from the best. His dad is Mike Ferry, also a legendary real estate coach. Tom started working in sales at his dad's company, the Mike Ferry Organization, at 19. He eventually earned the position of president.
But Tom's entrepreneurial spirit led him to branch out on his own, and he expanded his personal brand and offerings — exponentially. Along the way, Tom's company partnered with Zillow, and that's how we became friends.
On this episode of Office Hours, Tom shares his career trajectory from sales at his dad's company to coaching phenom, the single biggest pitfall for work performance and his take on California's business climate.
Tom Ferry is the founder and CEO of Ferry International, the real estate industry's leading coaching and training company. He impacts professionals in a wide variety of ways – including rigorous accountability coaching, the popular #TomFerryShow delivering free, fresh and relevant real estate tips weekly, highly engaging training events, two best-selling books and his keynote speeches. (Bio from lllum).
dot.LA Sr. Podcast Producer & Editor Laurel Moglen contributed to this post.
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Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 75 companies and is incubating several more.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a novel form of ownership that could rejigger the financial landscape for creators. Even if the market for some of them proves frothy, this blockchain-based technology presents a unique way for artists to make money and engage their fans. With experimentation already underway, the gates are open for them to do what they do best: get creative.
Several startup founders and musicians are looking to this incipient market not just as a means of selling digital collectibles, but as a unique way to offer fans exclusive, paid experiences.
"Any new avenue of potential profit is exciting in the music industry, considering the lack thereof from streaming and [the need to rely on] touring," said Brian Spencer, one half of the L.A.-based musical duo FINKEL.
There's nothing new about creators offering fans exclusive perks. What is new is that they can now be linked to an NFT that also functions as a "key" or "passport." Many artists are hoping this linkage can stoke demand for perks, thanks to the innate human attraction to ownership.
"There's a lot of psychological evidence that owning things matters a lot to people," said Valentin Haddad, a professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management who studies how and why people make financial decisions.
He pointed to the so-called "endowment effect," which, research has suggested, makes people value things more when they own them, simply because they own them. Since NFTs are a certificate of ownership, linking them to an experience – like a backstage pass, or a producer credit – should boost the value fans see in those experiences, Haddad said.
"I think the idea of tying some experiences, tying something more special, to the object [underlying the NFT] is going to increase," he said. "We're going to see lots of creativity."
Illmind is auctioning 10 NFTs linked to audio files he created that owners can use royalty free.
Rikin Mantri's recently launched NFT-minting and -trading platform, Curio, has sold about $130,000 worth of tokens tied to graphic novel characters the company licensed, and it plans to expand soon into other IP, including music. Mantri sees the eye-popping prices capturing headlines as indicative of a bubble, but thinks NFTs have enduring potential.
"We think NFTs have a strong use case in building digital collectible collections and offering experiences around those collectibles," he said. "It's a completely new incremental revenue stream."
Kings of Leon, the Grammy-winning band, released their new album last month alongside a series of NFTs, six of which were high-end "golden ticket" versions that granted token owners lifetime front-row concert tickets. In February, 3LAU, a DJ, auctioned off a topshelf NFT that entitled one fan to creatively direct a new composition.
Rapper Post Malone is planning to sell an NFT linked to a private game of beer pong. Illmind, a Grammy-winning DJ, is auctioning 10 NFTs linked to audio files he created that owners can use royalty free. Electronic musician Aphex Twin recently turned an NFT into a digital scavenger hunt. And Logan Paul, a YouTuber, linked an NFT to the opportunity to watch him unbox rare Pokémon cards.
Other creators are taking a less experiential and more charitable approach to offering NFT products. Street-artist Shepard Fairey, best known for designing the Obama "Hope" poster, is working with East Hollywood-based Verisart to auction off a digital artwork as an NFT, and donating the proceeds to Amnesty International. Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk rock group led by activist Nadya Tolokonnikova, recently minted four NFTs tied to a video produced by young AR pioneer Asad Malik of La Cañada-based Jadu, some of the proceeds of which went to a shelter for domestic abuse survivors.
Meanwhile as the metaverse inches closer, the range of perks and experiences that can be tied to NFTs is growing. One sign of things to come is Decentraland, a virtual world with its own blockchain-enabled currency that has hosted digital parties that require NFT-ownership for entry.
The same technology that enables these unlockable perks, whether digital or in-person, also allows artists to retain a financial stake in all future sales of the NFTs they issue. Stipulations like sending 10% of the price paid for an NFT to a specified bank account can be executed automatically: thus the term "smart contract."
Smart contracts are one element that distinguishes the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFTs run, from the blockchain that underpins Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies.
They're also what could make NFTs helpful to smaller artists in particular. Since smart contracts can theoretically automate tasks like preventing fraud and scalping, they open up new opportunities.
"It's giving artists lots of access to ways to share experiences and share things that big artists could always do [but] small artists couldn't," Haddad said. "The benefits are likely to accrue to the top, but I think it will benefit everybody by creating a better way to exchange with your fans."
Artists' NFT Concerns
One downside to NFTs is the high volume of electricity they use, which can harm the environment. That's turning some artists away from them for now.
FINKEL is unlikely to pursue NFTs until the environmental concerns can be addressed, Spencer said.
One way of doing so could be a shift in how the blockchain works. Validating who owns what on a blockchain has largely relied so far on a method called "proof-of-work," which requires intensive computation that uses an immense amount of electricity. Some observers say an alternative method, called "proof-of-stake", would require less and could be less environmentally harmful. Although proof-of-stake has not been widely adopted, Ethereum has publicly stated it wants to transition to it, in part because of its environmental benefits.
Beyond environmental concerns, some artists bridle at NFT perks because of their inherent exclusivity and transactional nature.
Rebecca Arango, aka Oddnesse, thinks the tactic could perpetuate what she views as a deeper problem underlying the tenuous financial situation that many musicians find themselves in: fans have lost the human connection they once had with the artists behind the music they love.
"It's like the music just comes and goes and it'll always be there, and if one artist goes broke and gives up, there's always another one where that came from," she said.
But she concedes she may be fighting an uphill battle.
"I'm still going to advocate for the [intrinsic] value of the songwriting and the records," said Arango. "[But] if people are really into owning these digital tokens, I'll have to get with the program."
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake