I’ll Let You Lead

For a long while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Kate and Allie, the barely-laugh-out-loud comedy that was too quiet to embed itself too deeply into the memories of those of us who grew up in the 1980s. You think of 1980s comedies, you think of the more gregarious fare like Family TiesGrowing PainsNight CourtThe Cosby Show… the NBC lineup that was filmed on large sets and ran on plenty of stunts (of the jumping-the-shark, sitcom kind).

Up until a few weeks ago, when I stumbled upon Kate and Allie on YouTube, I wouldn’t have recalled the show as part of my childhood. Except, as it turns out, it was, and significantly so. Everything about this show had stirred in me a kind of envy and, even years later, a perhaps unrealistic ideal of what life as an adult woman could be. I, too, wanted to be an ultra-urban kid who lived in New York (having a rich dad in Connecticut, to boot, was not a bad bonus). My favorite book at that time was Remember Me to Harold Square, a New York-set young adult paperback that was really my first introduction to travel guides (in this case disguised as a light novel).

In retrospect, those who remember Kate and Allie see it as a feminist statement, one of the few shows then or since to focus exclusively on the lives of women, both at work and at home (although in this case, home was the primary setting). And it was, of course, although some bits and pieces still make me cringe — specifically that one episode, which I remember so clearly from my youth, when Emma is bothered relentlessly by a boy at school, even after she tells him repeatedly she doesn’t want to date him. Her family is won over by his advances, and as a viewer, now (and maybe then), all I want them to do is say to him, “Dude, back off. She said no.”

What’s remarkable about Kate and Allie is not just the absence of men — it’s the fact that the women’s dating lives were not a priority for the show. Sure, the women had social lives, but their main focus was on the children, their home, their jobs, paying the rent, and looking after one another. They seemed to have more important things to do rather than date, and there was also a subtle “been there, done that” feeling to their romantic encounters, as if — as two divorced women — they looked at the possibility through the lens of experience than giddy, youthful idealism.

It’s why, “Landlady,” Season 2, Episode 2, is so effective. In the episode, Kate’s landlord insists she pay higher rent because, with Allie and her children living there, it’s no longer a single-family dwelling. The women eventually pretend to be a lesbian couple to avoid the rent increase. To their surprise, it turns out the landlord/lady is herself in a relationship with a woman. Quickly, the landlady and her partner want to become friends with Kate and Allie and to introduce them to the local queer community. The rent increase, of course, won’t apply since they are one family (as long as they can keep up the lie). The lie is a point of contention between Kate and Allie, the latter of whom says she “doesn’t want to play ‘Three’s Company.'”

I’d never seen “Landlady,” or even heard of it, until I went Googling for something to say about Kate and Allie a few nights ago. The show was there in my memory, all right, its intelligence, its reality — but I found it hard to describe what the hook was, why, upon reflection it seemed so important to me years later (even if I wouldn’t have listed it as an 80s sitcom of my childhood, like I would have, say, Family Ties.). I came across this article about the episode (I haven’t watched the video on this article yet, so if I repeat some of his observations, that’s accidental) and that was my introduction to “Landlady.”

Watching the episode in its entirety, I was struck by its sensitivity. It was progressive as hell to be that sensitive and aware in 1984. The show’s plot is driven by Allie’s guilt at lying to the landlady (Janet), and then, Janet’s feelings of hurt and betrayal when the ruse is exposed. There’s an expected throwaway line about “what makes a family,” but have no doubt — this was not an episode about single motherhood, or any other deviations from the nuclear family. This show was about gay equality, when it was still perfectly acceptable to socially and legally harass and exclude queer people.

At  17:45 in the episode, while Allie is telling Kate she feels bad about lying to Janet and doesn’t want to go to the gay dance to which they were invited, Kate responds by saying, “I’ll let you lead.” It reminded me immediately of that scene in Friends where Susan, Ross’ ex-wife’s new wife, says the same line. She says it to Ross after the women get married (at 3:50 in the clip below), while thanking him for stepping up to give Carol away after her parents decline to come to the wedding. It may have been mere coincidence, but it seems now like a deliberate reference, from one sitcom where a lesbian couple could form part of an ongoing plotline to an earlier sitcom where just one episode was probably groundbreaking.

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Bear Bowl is Super Cute; Those ‘Shark Tank’ Entrepreneurs, Even Cuter

Bear Bowl from 'Shark Tank'

It would be expected that the season premiere of Shark Tank would, in more ways than one, hark back to the show’s beginnings in the midst of the financial crisis. They don’t call it a “Decade of Dreams” for no good reason — back in 2008, things were bleak, people were losing their homes and banks were going under.

(Now, well, arguably things are bad in a different way, depending on your political perspective, but that’s an aside. The forces affecting the global economy are apparently quite different now than they were then — this Visual Capitalist chart is enlightening, and deeply interesting to me given my lifelong obsession with the true nature of money.)

Tonight Shark Tank had Jamie Siminoff, the lengendary (and, it turns out, quite likeable) founder of Ring join the panel as a guest shark, five years after he’d turned down a loan/royalty/equity offer from Kevin O’Leary and a few months after enjoying a billion dollar exit by virtue of a sale to Amazon. Spoiler alert: Siminoff takes a bet on one of the entrepreneurs. But it’s not the one that was the most obvious fit for his existing portfolio.

After Siminoff declined to make a deal with a company that produces a lock that secures a dropbox for home delivery packages (Boxlock) — even after Lori Greiner gave him a second opportunity to come back in on the deal — it felt like Siminoff (who strangely seemed to fit in well with the panel, as all the sharks were in a particularly good mood) would not be making any shark-y maneuvers on the episode. Maybe he was just there because he fit the furniture.

Then came the husband-and-wife team behind Bear Minimum, who created a (super cute, and apparently functional) camping product called Bear Bowl. Heidi and Cory Santiago had a funny and interesting presentation, a clever device that looks like a billfold but somehow withstands high heat and allows you to cook over open flame, out in the woods or any place you could safely play with the elements.

They had five kids between the two of them, and Heidi had five jobs. After Greiner gently prodded into the couple’s story, they eventually broke down to reveal that they’d originally launched Bear Bowl in 2008. But a series of mishaps meant they lost everything. Now, they were back. In the Shark Tank mythology, neatly fitting into the 10-year timeline, they were rising again from the ashes of financial devastation.

As a viewer, you root for them — because the product is just so darn cute, and makes you want to go on a long hike or camp near a calm lake before the bad winter weather sets in. Siminoff was rooting for them too, it seemed, or just knew, as he said, that camping people like to buy stuff.

(It’s true. The last time I went camping (which, admittedly, was a couple of years ago), I stocked up with basic supplies at Army and Navy. When I hiked the Camino de Santiago (15 years and 50 pounds ago), I prepared by making a list of seemingly practical (although, at the end of the day, not always necessary) items. If I ever did walk the Camino again, I’d no doubt pack a Bear Bowl with me — because it’s light, might come in handy, and is just so darn cute. Not to mention that Heidi and Cory’s last name is Santiago. 😉 The fact that actually making a fire on the side of the road in Spain might be against regulations or more work than it’s actually worth is besides the point.)

Jamie Siminoff investing in Bear Bowl was the last thing I expected from the Shark Tank premiere, and it was cool. The couple deserved the vote of investor confidence. Siminoff was owed the chance to show that he is more than just The Ring Guy That Didn’t Close A Shark Tank Deal. (Although He Was Offered A Deal And Turned It Down.). It was pleasant to watch, and as Season 10 proceeds, I hope there’s more to come.

Would Jamie Siminoff Be Your Ideal ‘Shark Tank’ Investor?

I don’t argue there is something remarkable about the story of Jamie Siminoff and Ring. As the gods at Shark Tank like to spin it, Siminoff pitched the sharks in 2013. He was asking $700,000 for 10 percent, which the panel deemed too expensive — save Kevin O’Leary, who offered to give him a loan, in exchange for (interest on the loan and) a royalty and some equity. Siminoff said no.

Five years later, Siminoff’s security product company Ring was sold to Amazon for $1 billion. Later that same year, Shark Tank started off Season 10 with the once-jilted entrepreneur as guest shark. It’s a fitting demonstration of coming full circle, even if it only tells part of the story. (And it feels a bit like a stunt, but then, all guest sharks are the result of stunt casting in one way or another).

Ring had a long road to get to Shark Tank and, it seemed, an even longer (and more complicated one) to get from its Doorbot days to the Amazon acquisition. At the time of the $1 billion sale, Siminoff had been diluted to a modest 10 percent ownership after multiple funding rounds (and another pending that was cancelled as the result of the Amazon deal). Not to mention, Ring was also facing competition from multitudes of similar products made by large, dominant brands, who claimed they could offer the same value to customers. Those five years were not without dramatic shifts and turns.

Indeed, the details about the investments in Ring post-Shark Tank are super messy. (My qualification here is to say, well, don’t quote me on these details because I’m going strictly off the articles I link to. I mean, I spend a lot of my time thinking about old televisions shows and whether or not reality television is an accurate reflection of real life.)

It seems in the spring of 2017, ADT sued Ring for theft of intellectual property. But it’s not as cloak-and-dagger, Watergate break-in, as it may sound: the lawsuit actually revolved around quite a bit of technical legalese. Apparently ADT was a secured lender to Zonoff. Zonoff was in financial trouble and defaulted on an interest payment to ADT. Shortly thereafter, Zonoff was acquired by Ring. ADT argued it had first rights to the Z1 platform developed by Zonoff as the result of Zonoff’s insolvency. So, ADT argued, the Z1 platform was actually theirs and did not transfer to Ring at the time of the acquisition.

With the lawsuit ongoing, Ring started another financing round in the summer. Valor, a private equity firm that had invested in SpaceX and Tesla, was set to lead that round. But in November, a judge issued an injunction as part of the ADT lawsuit that forced Ring to stop selling its Ring Protect system. Valor pulled out and the funding round collapsed.

Ring and ADT settled the lawsuit in January 2018 for $25 million. But then things got complicated — I’m looking for an appropriate word here, and all I can come up with is “complicated” — yet again. After Valor’s exit, Ring still needed financing. According to Recode, existing investors set up a new funding round for $200 million at a $1 billion valuation. About half of the $200 million was sent to Ring in advance of the first close, but the round was cancelled before the second close because Amazon got interested again. That meant that those who were early in the funding round got greater interest in the company than those who were late to the game — and therefore (presumably) benefitted from the sale to Amazon.

(If Kevin O’Leary had gotten an equity stake way back when, who knows the size it would have been at the time of the Amazon sale — or whether that royalty would not have dissipated into thin air.)

So, I am a young entrepreneur pitching Shark Tank on my successful line of hand-sewn, organic-catnip infused cat toys that I sell through a network of associates at local farmers’ markets throughout the northeast. Is Jamie Siminoff my ideal investor?

Maybe not. But if I’m looking to market a new app, maybe. If anything, the television appeal of seeing Siminoff on Shark Tank will be the transition from penniless-and-all-hustle entrepreneur asking for money to shark deciding whether or not to give it away. It’s an uneasy transition, because it’s hard to envision this entrepreneur on his own, and apart from his Ring grind.

Siminoff wrote a short piece in Entrepreneur this week (to presumably promote his Shark Tank appearance) and identified the factors that led to his — and Ring’s — success. They are, in order: Hard Work, (Product) Mission, and Luck.

“Finally, there’s luck. This key to success was, and is, the one that is out of our control. We had so many great breaks at Ring — like that appearance on Shark Tank — that it would be disingenuous not to mention luck.”

It’s an honest assessment. He’s still a young man, so maybe he’ll decide he likes this whole t.v. venture capital thing. There’s always a rotating panel of guest sharks, and maybe the gig will continue.

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You heard him! #SharkTank is back Sunday at 10|9c.

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Ah, Bitcoin, You Are the Stuff of Dreams

When I was in the ninth grade, we had to design a city of the future. Maybe it was eighth grade. Regardless, I had this idea to create a city that had no money. Because, I thought at the time, as far as I can recall, although I can’t recall much — except that my presentation invoked a lot of giggles from my classmates and praise from my teacher (Mr. Leach) for handling it with trademark aplomb — money isn’t real. Money is paper with value assigned to it; it has no inherent worth.

That’s not an original or unique thought, of course. But it would follow me throughout my life. In university, I studied the writings of John Locke, who said (as my amateur academic brain will summarize) that in the state of nature people are equal because anything that has value will spoil. As long as you keep only what you can use, there’s enough for everyone. The concept of private property ownership works because property is only one thing: inherently valuable stuff found in nature. (Think: food, water, plants). There’s plenty to go around.

Locke, writing in the 1600s, was not an environmentalist per se, indeed he was in favor of money and, again by my limited understanding and aging memory, saw money as a tool that solved the problem of spoilage. Money had its own issues, of course. Locke also argued that value in goods included the labor to work those goods. But money allowed people a way to accumulate wealth without necessarily having put the work in. They could also keep much more than they could ever possibly use.

This is much the state of modern currency. Money is often only distantly related to the value of goods, much less the value of the labor put in to work those goods. The wealthiest people make money not by selling goods, but by making bets on money. They make money on money; sure, there are commodities, but to earn income from them no one is out in the fields growing wheat to pile up in their own reserves — except the poor. In general, the rich do no actual labor.

Money is also deeply tied to governments. There is no global currency. There is a currency for each state, or for groups of states, that measure worth in relationship to one another. Wealth is subject to government oversight and manipulation. In a global financial crisis, like that which occured in 2008, big banks and the political powers exercise great control over the financial winners and losers. No one can realistically maintain wealth independent of political structures.

That’s where Bitcoin comes in. I love Bitcoin. I love the idea of Bitcoin. I love the idea that I could get around spoilage in the state of nature by saving up virtual bits of currency. That I could exchange those bits for stuff, around the world, to whomever I please, and that it would be no one else’s business. It’s a pipe dream, of course, because fiat currencies still exist, Bitcoin processing drains energy like nobody’s business when transaction volume is high — meaning (as it currently stands), the more people use Bitcoin, the more expensive it is both in network fees and on the environment — and because people still don’t “get” Bitcoin. In order to become the main global currency, people have to “get” it, and they still don’t.

It was like when I was in Mr. Leach’s class, and people couldn’t figure out how a world without money would actually work. And tasked with creating a visual aid, I’d drawn a map of my city with a legend showing different aspects and areas. “What are those purple things?” asked one of my fellow students, commenting on my artistic skills rather than my municipal planning ingenuity. He was just one of 30, but he was the representative of those who were missing the point. When it comes to Bitcoin, there may never be enough people who get the point the Satoshi Nakamoto wanted them to get.

Will Kirby Says There’s No Jury Voting Pact On ‘Big Brother 20.’ Here’s Why A Pact Wouldn’t Be A Bad Thing

My most vivid memory of Dr. Will is that speech from Big Brother 2. At that time, 9/11 had just happened. The houseguests had been told, but were still playing the game as normal (whatever “normal” meant back in Season 2). They were oblivious as to how the events of September 11, 2001 had really rattled people. It changed everything, except in Dr. Will’s world, it was still Big Brother and he felt compelled to give his fellow former houseguests a lesson in “reality” and “reality television.”

It seemed arrogant to those on the inside. To those on the outside, it was something along the lines of, “you have no idea what is going on in the real world.” And they didn’t. To this day, Will Kirby has a very different recollection of September 11. In that way, he’s not unlike those of the generation too young to remember.

But I digress (except to say I’ve grown to like Dr. Will over the years because, you know, except for those unfortunate comments about Big Brother Canada, he’s quite funny and charismatic).

What this post is about is Dr. Kirby’s comment to Global TV that he doesn’t believe the Big Brother 20 jury has a pact to vote as a block — against Tyler or Angela, and in favor of Kaycee, according to Scottie’s reports when he returned to the house. Here’s what Dr. Will said:

“Let me be clear. There has never been a pact in the past and I firmly believe that there won’t be a jury group-voting pact implemented this year either. When the jury discussion starts, the concept of a pact quickly dissolves and common sense prevails.”

But I ask you, why shouldn’t the Big Brother 20 jury agree to vote as a block? Wouldn’t that be consistent with the entire season, where sides were chosen early and no one really was playing the game independently — except for the members of FOUTTE who, one by one, ended up in the jury house?

Here’s how we got to where we are on Big Brother 20: Level 6 decided to pick off the other side, one by one. And they did. Really, the strategy was not all that complicated. It was the collective power of the alliance that got Tyler and Kaycee (and to some extent, JC) to the end. Why should not an alliance in the jury house decide as a group who gets to take home the final prize?

Trying to figure out how the jury thinks is always a challenge because you don’t know what they see once they get out of the house. You don’t know how much information they have about the events that unfolded. Really, this year the competitions didn’t mean much just because the alliances were so large and the house was evenly split. Winning HOH gave you a key to your bedroom, but it didn’t mean you controlled who went home (sorry Hayleigh). The one exception might be JC’s win, which shook up the Level 6 game plan really for the first time.

So Kaycee — whom is my bet, and my preference, to win tonight — got 5 vetos and a hacker comp. That happened in a season when, arguably, wins were less important. I don’t think on any of those weeks (my memory could be failing me), Kaycee was ever really vulnerable. If she had been on her own, and needed to win to survive, those wins would have been more impressive.

In the season of the alliance, there’s no reason why the jury shouldn’t have an alliance as well. At this point, they’ve earned it — because there is no sweeter justice in life than when those who have been getting railroaded over and over again, without knowing they’ve lost control, finally get wise and get revenge.

Why JC and Kaycee Would Be The Best ‘Big Brother 20’ Final Two

'Big Brother 20' Kaycee Clark

Let’s be clear, I think a Kaycee and JC final two is unlikely. But it’s what I’d like to see — and not just because Tyler (even though he’s probably a very nice guy) would be a forgettable Big Brother winner. A Kaycee and JC finale is largely unexpected, and you know what they say in Big Brother land…

I know, I know. JC has engaged in unacceptable behavior inside the house, that led the producers to intervene (if not to remove him from the house, which is what some fans were demanding). But the fact remains that JC is still in the game. I’m aware that saying you’re rooting for a JC and Kaycee final two is like saying you want JC guaranteed at least $50,000, but… bear with me here. These are my reasons.

They Are Both Late Bloomers

Either late bloomers, or smart players, because neither had any competition wins until the final weeks. Then, all of a sudden, Kaycee was on fire — and JC won exactly when he had to, when everyone was certain he was next to be sent out the door. That kind of late-in-the-game showing-up-to-play is very satisfying from a viewer’s perspective.

And I’m not entirely convinced it’s accidental. Certainly we can assume now that Kaycee saved her competition prowess for the end stretch. She didn’t need to win before, and as a professional athlete, she would have been sure to make herself a target if she demonstrated the extent of her athletic ability from the outset. She was able to just rely on Level 6 for most of the season, but knew in the back of her mind she would eventually need a resume of competition wins to display to the jurors. (Well played, Kaycee. You had us all fooled.)

As for JC, well, let’s talk about that HOH win. Granted, the questions were not very difficult — watching from home, I got (almost) all of them right, if that means anything — but the fact is JC demonstrated he’s been paying attention, and he has a long (and accurate) memory. You can make fun of JC for trying his skills of manipulation on members of the house — which did work on some people (Scottie has JC to thank for getting him evicted through his whispers in Faysal’s ear; Brett was certainly listening to JC’s arguments which at the time actually made sense.) The fact that Tyler is through with JC doesn’t really matter, because at least right now, Tyler’s not the one who’s safe from eviction, is he?

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"You're doing so good, sweetie." #BBJC #BB20

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They Both Had Unique Challenges

So, this is a bit harder to quantify, and really, I’d rather just focus on Kaycee here than JC. But let’s say that, at the beginning of every Big Brother season, you can look at the houseguests and make predictions about how they will make their mark in the game. There are the physical threats, the popular kids, the geniuses, the artsy folks, the spiritual healers (I’m looking at you, Kaitlyn). JC didn’t exactly have a box. He didn’t have a clear place to fit in with the group. It is, I imagine (but of course don’t know), much how JC experiences real life. No obvious place to fit, no clear allies, because it’s tough to see on the surface what he may or may not have to offer. I like the idea that JC’s talents are hidden, but ultimately rewarded, with a spot in the final 2.

As for Kaycee, she’s a lesbian. Hear me out on this one. No, I don’t think the Big Brother house is inherently homophobic. But I do think there’s a reason why it wasn’t until Big Brother 15 that the franchise saw its first openly gay winner (Andy Herren).

The environment inside the house is many things all at once. It’s your home, it’s your work (since conforming to the rules of the game and being forced to compete is inherent in the experience, it’s like you’re at work), it’s your social life. As a result the houseguests have to develop those short-term relationships within that small group of 16 people.

For a queer person, a showmance is probably not even a possibility. The sheer numbers just don’t work. In an interview before the season began, Kaycee said she thinks being in a showmance would make her a target anyway (at 9:19) — but Tyler probably thought the same thing before he started getting cozy with Angela.

Let’s remember that Tyler had an F2 with about a half dozen people. But he does not have one with Angela. What he has with her is an “unofficial” final two by virtue of the fact that they got romantically close (and are both part of Level 6). That kind of “unofficial” alliance is much harder to develop for a queer person just because the math isn’t in their favor. In the real world, there is only a small percentage of people who are actually gay. To get two both cast on a season of Big Brother — and to have them be interested in each other, to boot — would be like winning the lottery.

So even though Kaycee said she didn’t want a showmance, she was at a disadvantage because it was a tool removed from her arsenal before she ever set foot in the house. Other prospective houseguests say they are neutral on the idea of a showmance, or against the idea, but somehow end up in one anyway. Even on Big Brother 20, Bayleigh and Swaggy debated whether a showmance was wise for their games. But, unlike Kaycee, they had the option. It was easy for them to fall in (Big Brother style) love.

On this note, we can say that if it is a Kaycee and JC final two, that will be the first Big Brother season where both of the finalists are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

At the end, my money’s on — and my heart is rooting for — Kaycee. I think she deserves it. And someone has to put a wrench in Tyler’s walk to the end. Just so we can say that Rockstar’s wise words (spoken of Brett, not Tyler) were disproved, at least this one time.

‘Shark Tank’ Flashback: Why The Red Dress Boutique Made Such an Impact

The Red Dress Boutique

Here’s how I know The Red Dress Boutique was one of the most successful pitches on Shark Tank. No, it wasn’t the sales figures that came in later updates. It wasn’t the compelling discussion with Mark Cuban on Beyond the Tank about whether or not to revamp their website (which had additional drama because they’d already signed a contract to do so, and Cuban was firmly against it).

I knew The Red Dress Boutique made an impact because my articles got a huge spike in hits when the episode aired. And when it reaired. And again, in syndication. Again and again, every time a new audience was introduced to the online retailer, my “articles” (cheap content) got a “ding ding ding” on Google Analytics. Even years later, it seemed this pitch never lost traction.

In my previous gig as a writer for an aggregate news site, page views were important. So I monitored mine every day. Red Dress Boutique was not only one of my most favorite Shark Tank stories — it apparently made for compelling television, with viewers heading to Google (and my hashed out “articles”) to find out more.

In retrospect, here’s why I think that pitch worked: the clothing.

There are a lot of rules about what makes a good Shark Tank pitch. You have to know your numbers, be prepared to explain how you handled any past mishaps like a Good Entrepreneur. Don’t leave the Tank to discuss an offer amongst yourselves, or the shiny pile of (promised) cash might disappear by the time you come back in.

But those are the rules for what impresses the women and men on the panel. It is not what always impresses the viewers at home.

To be certain, Diana and Josh Harbour nailed it with the sharks. They showed up in the Tank not needing any help whatsoever. Even their pitch hit all the right notes in its first few seconds. They cleverly 1) identified their target customer; 2) described their unique selling point; 3) slid in the hefty ask ($600,000 for 5 percent).

They had profit, growth, and internet marketing savvy when that was still relatively unknown. They knew exactly what they were doing. The pitch never devolved into an “advice giving” session, where the sharks told the Harbours how they could, or should, change their business strategy. That in and of itself made them stand out in the Shark Tank universe.

(The story of Red Dress adversity came later, like in this 2017 article in Red and Black — the proprietors’ personal struggles, the challenges of keeping a retail business alive during the 2008 recession.)

But I Googled them, and followed them on Instagram, after the pitch not necessarily because I was impressed with their business acumen (which was substantial). It was because I really wanted to get all dressed up in the clothing. Their set display looked like a craft fair, eclectic and artsy, but somehow still conservative and dressy.

Their Shark Tank pitch made me want to buy, even though the reality of Red Dress — at least at that time — is that their target customer is probably quite specific (younger, smaller, and girlier than me).

But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve never bought from Red Dress Boutique, but love the legions of people who I assume do so, regularly — and seek out the internet for updates on how this couple is doing, a few years after they showed all us Shark Tank fans that you don’t necessarily need help to get an investment.