Tag: Online

Online Tux Rentals Are The Elephant In The Room For Men’s Wearhouse

Men’s Wearhouse blamed a recent decline in tux rentals on falling marriage rates and fewer “traditional weddings.” But with online competitors thriving, that explanation only goes so far.

The Black Tux / Via theblacktux.com

Last month, Men's Wearhouse blamed a decline in its $ 443 million tuxedo rental business on two factors: fewer marriages and a move toward more casual and destination weddings versus “traditional” festivities.

But the company, which forecast comparable rental revenues to fall in the “low-single digits” for the year, made no mention of increased competition from new online tux and suit rental startups. In the eyes of these startups, which claim to be growing rapidly despite the trends Men's Wearhouse cited, it was a revealing omission — and one that's typical of large public companies that see newcomers encroaching on their turf.

The Black Tux, a tux and suit rental website that has raised more than $ 10 million in venture capital, told BuzzFeed News that it's on pace to make at least $ 12 million in revenue this year. A smaller rival, Menguin, told BuzzFeed News that it will “handily” bring in more than $ 1 million in sales. And outside of rentals, the startup Combat Gent is offering yet another new option by making tuxes available for purchase starting as low $ 160 a pop. (Combat Gent, which also sells denim, chinos, and button-downs, reportedly brought in $ 10.1 million in sales last year.)

To put the startup revenue figures in perspective, a 3% chunk of all the revenue pulled in by Men's Wearhouse's highly profitable tuxedo rental business last year would come to just over $ 13 million.

Menguin / Via menguin.com

Men's Wearhouse attributes weakness in its rental business, at least in part, to changing trends in what people wear to weddings.

“We see a clear trend, the overall wedding industry is changing its cultural opinions towards traditional wedding attire, resulting in suits becoming a popular alternative to renting tuxedos,” the company told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “As a result we have seen an increase in bridal party suit purchases. Sales are up 10% in the first quarter in our suiting category.”

But even if that shift away from tuxedos is happening, the rental business is clearly still healthy enough for startups to steal away business from incumbents, even if the company doesn't want to mention the emergence of new competitors when speaking with investors.

Justin Delaney, the CEO of Menguin, compared Men's Wearhouse's lack of acknowledgment on its earnings call last month to Procter & Gamble-owned Gillette's refusal to discuss the rapid growth of Dollar Shave Club and Harry's in recent years.

While Dollar Shave Club was growing to 2 million members and a recent valuation of $ 615 million, P&G blamed declines in shaving-related sales on men growing their beards out during “Movember.” It started a new subscription service for blades called Gillette Shave Club just a few months later. Harry's, for its part, just raised a fresh round of financing at a $ 675 million valuation.

“Gillette was almost in denial about it, and I think we're seeing the same kind of thing here,” Delaney said. “Bigger companies are reticent to admit they're losing share to a smaller startup. It's another version of the same song and dance.”

“As guys' shaving and purchasing habits have changed, we have changed with them,” a spokesperson for Gillette said in an email. “Gillette was one of the first brands to offer a subscription program through Amazon in 2007. Since then, we have made our razors and blades available through our retail partners, both online and in store, through a subscription service, and now through our own Gillette Shave Club.”

It's not just in shaving where incumbents avoid discussing online threats. As BuzzFeed News pointed out earlier this year, only one of America's four biggest hotel operators had ever mentioned the word “Airbnb” on earnings calls as of early May. None of them have mentioned Airbnb as a competitor in New York when discussing their struggles in the city, even though it has become Airbnb's largest market.

As for online tux rentals, The Black Tux and Menguin contest the claim that there's a marked decline in traditional-style weddings, given the growth of their businesses.

“We don't see a decline obviously because there are big increases in people renting from us,” said The Black Tux co-founder Andrew Blackmon.

The data on that point is mixed. Men's Wearhouse, on its earnings call, referenced numbers from research shop Demographic Intelligence showing weddings have been on a slow decline since 2008 and will continue to contract through 2016. The firm predicted in May that the marriage rate in the U.S. will fall to 6.7 marriages per 1,000 residents in 2016 from 7.09 per 1,000 in 2008.

Government data from the CDC shows that the marriage rate has been pretty stable. In 2009, there were about 6.8 marriages per 1,000 people — a number that was unchanged through 2012, the latest year for which data is available.

Beyond that, Men's Wearhouse's overall revenue from tuxedo rental services has climbed every year since 2008, from about $ 330 million in the year ended Jan. 31, 2009, to $ 443 million in its latest annual filing.

Business could also get a boost in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent ruling that states can no longer ban same-sex marriages.


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BuzzFeed – Business

Hinge Has A Mission: Turn Tinder Into The Myspace Of Online Dating

Hinge, the fast-growing mobile dating app that looks to connect friends of friends (and their friends), just raised a fresh $ 12 million to expand.

Hinge

Hinge

Hinge wants Tinder to be remembered as the MySpace of online dating, with it being the Facebook. And venture capitalists are betting millions on the possibility that might happen.

The New York startup just raised a fresh $ 12 million, adding to the more than $ 8 million it's already rounded up, to hire more developers, push beyond its 28 current markets and improve its app. The Series A funding round was led by Shasta Ventures, an early investor in Nest Labs and Mint.com, which also has stakes in TaskRabbit and Whisper. Other backers include Chris Sacca's Lowercase Capital, Great Oaks, Eniac and CAA Ventures.

The dating app, which launched last year, uses the familiar swipe-yes, swipe-no system made mainstream by Tinder, with a stronger emphasis on personal connections. It uses your Facebook network to connect you with friends of friends, or more typically, one degree further, with friends of your friends' friends. Unlike Tinder, you receive a finite number of matches a day — forcing some mindfulness into each “yes” or “no” — and your full name, school and workplace are on display to your romantic prospect.

Meeting on Tinder, with its infinite randomness, is a lot like meeting at a crowded bar on a Saturday night; Hinge, which lacks that anonymity, is better compared to connecting at a friend's house party.

“With Tinder, there's entertainment and a game to play with, where you might meet someone there but the use case is scattered all over the place, and it has more of a hookup orientation than a relationship orientation,” Justin McLeod, Hinge's 30-year-old CEO and founder, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “The opposite of true of Hinge. People think of us as a tool to meet people…it's much more relationship and dates oriented.”

Hinge says that on average, if a user matches with someone else, there's a 40% chance they'll be in a conversation by the end of the day. Its typical user is between 23- and 36-years-old, 99% have a college education, and it's evenly split between men and women (a rare phenomenon credited to women's trust in the app, the company says.) Occasionally, the app serves up fourth-degree connections, but says that level of rando is “rare.”

Hinge's investors are seeing the potential for a sort of MySpace-Facebook divide between the two apps, despite the fact that Hinge, with fewer than 20 employees, is far smaller than Tinder at this point. (Hinge says it now has five times more active users than in January, but won't disclose how many — it's most popular in New York, followed by San Francisco, where it's growing the fastest, then D.C.) Tinder doesn't technically disclose active daily users, though that figure's long been rumored to be at least 10 million, or, more astronomically, approaching 50 million, as per The New York Times.

“There's an environment of accountability and transparency and trust — you're seeing people's first and last names and where they work and went to school,” McLeod added. “You saw that playing out in the MySpace-Facebook narrative, where you had a really big early leader, but the purpose for the users was scattered, it was an anonymous network, and while it was big…eventually, people saw it as entertainment and a niche product.”

Hinge still doesn't have a revenue plan (“this coming year will be about growth, and then the following year will be about monetization,” McLeod says), but like many other players in mobile, it points to the possibilities as the world transitions to smartphone-centric lives. People are owning smartphones at higher rates than ever before, where apps like Tinder and Hinge exclusively live, and online dating is forecast to continue growing quickly.

Barry Diller's IAC, which owns OkCupid, Match.com and Tinder, is the leader in U.S. online dating — those properties typically generate revenue through subscriptions and ads, with Tinder just recently announcing a new premium version. McLeod says Hinge is in the “pre-figuring out stage” of how the company might approach sales, though reiterated that will be a 2016 focus.

“We're building out the engineering team, scaling up the app, continuing to focus on the product,” he said, noting that Hinge is prioritizing its occasionally finicky messaging feature. “It's an app that's virally growing.”


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BuzzFeed – Business

Behind The Alarming Rise Of The Online Vigilante Detective

How the mid-2000s dream of the “citizen journalist” mutated into a dangerous trend of digital citizen policing.

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Citizen journalism was one of the great dreams of the mid-2000s internet. Just as blogs had given anyone with an internet connection and a keyboard a platform, media companies like AOL and CNN hoped that cell phones and high-speed internet would transform an army of private citizens and online hobbyists into freelance, oftentimes pro bono writers, videographers, and reporters.

Eight years and countless failed ventures (CNN's iReport, AOL's Patch) later, that dream is almost unrecognizable — more powerful, and at times darker, than the seers and corporate executives imagined. Today's citizen journalism is not owned by any one major media conglomerate; instead, it takes place across the social web and in anonymous message board communities across the internet. It has a vast new subject matter in the personal, corporate, and government information that has migrated to the social web. But in many instances, citizen journalism is something like the more troubling idea of citizen policing — that is, vigilantism: taking the powerful, and even dangerous tools of journalism to the communities with the least responsible actors. At its very best, it gives voice to the disenfranchised. At its worst, it ruins lives.

The first time I really, truly noticed it was around 4 a.m. on July 20, 2012. I'd come home from a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises to news of a tragic movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. I watched my Twitter feed, which was moving feverishly, considering the hour, spitting out information at a rapid clip. As is usually the case in the immediate moments following a tragedy, local news outlets were doing most of the groundwork before the national correspondents and cable networks descended. That night, however, my feed was dominated by links to Reddit, where an 18-year-old student from Denver named Morgan Jones spent the night chained to his dual monitors, exhaustively collecting and dutifully updating a Reddit thread with posts from local media, police scanners, and on-the-ground social media posts. Working fast, but carefully, Jones found a Reddit post from a user who'd been shot that night and had posted a photo of his wounds, beating local and national media to the story hour after hour.

In the hours and days after Aurora, media reporters — myself included — spoke to Jones and Reddit about this seemingly new style of citizen journalism, fueled by social media and aided by an intimate familiarity with news cycles and the internet. Reddit was cautiously excited about this development; then-general manager Erik Martin told me that “what is on the news isn't always the story that people want to talk about and be involved with. On this site, you can get into and explore what you're truly interested in.”


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BuzzFeed – Tech

When The Best Online Dating Starts Offline

Once a way to widen our romantic circles, online dating is turning to more familiar faces.

Jenny Chang/BuzzFeed

Two months ago, I matched on Tinder with a lovely woman, R, who did not seem particularly happy to be there. She had downloaded the app while bored in the nail salon one day, she told me, and had found a single week of swiping and chatting totally exhausting. R had only been on one date, and it was a disaster: The guy kept suggesting they move from a coffee shop to locations closer to his north Brooklyn apartment, and moments after she finally refused to go home with him (in the middle of the day!) and hopped a cab, he messaged her: “Thanks a lot for sitting on my face,” perhaps missing the meaning of the phrase.

Like many successful, smart, attractive young people, R felt, despite herself, that the impersonality of online dating was beneath her, an “ocean of average,” as she put it to me. Still, we managed to begin talking over the app. She asked me to tell her five facts about myself, so she could decide whether she was interested. Fact four: I'm from Washington, D.C.

“I lived there when I was a kid,” R wrote. “Though more like Bethesda, Maryland.”

“Me too!” I wrote.

“Wood Acres Elementary School,” she wrote.

“Me too!” I wrote. “I had the biggest crush on Christine P.”

Of course, Christine P. had been R's best friend. After R left D.C., they wrote each other letters for years. A decade passed. They fell out of touch. R excitedly texted me a picture of her and Christine, age 7, dancing in a suburban living room; naturally, she wanted to meet. A date was no longer, well, beneath her. I had been vetted. I had context.

At the time, I shared this story with a few friends who also date online, and their reactions felt to me somehow lacking, insufficiently gobsmacked. It turned out that while my story was unlikely, it was hardly unique. Nearly everyone I talked to had similar ones — about themselves or friends — finding, amid the endless scroll of deep-sea fishing prize shots and tiger preserve selfies, quasi-familiar faces: a charming publicist previously met at a party, or a dark and handsome art dealer glimpsed but not talked to at a big group dinner, or a pretty friend of a friend from college.

My story may have been a particularly serendipitous example of a trend, but it was a trend nonetheless: People using online dating as a filter on their offline lives.

We tend to think about online dating as blind dates plus photos, a kind of You've Got Mail–inflected fantasy of two lonely people disconnected in every way but a list of interests and the desire for love or companionship or sex. It's a stereotype left over from the days of video dating that lags behind the way we date today, through a series of complex interactions between offline lives — work, school, social — and online ones. As in every aspect of our culture, the walls between our online interactions and our physical lives are coming down. And the websites and applications that once helped to widen our romantic worlds, are now helping to vet, narrow, and familiarize them.

The most typical kind of the new offline-online dating happened to my friend Andy, who works in the arts in Seattle. Andy dated a young woman for three years in college, and he couldn't help noticing a very cute member of his girlfriend's sorority. They never spoke, and Andy and his girlfriend split up after college. Years later, Andy noticed his ex's sorority friend while Tindering. They matched, went out, and have now been dating for nearly a year. Andy doesn't talk to his ex anymore, but I wondered if she knew about his new girlfriend. “We don't hide it,” he told me. “It's the internet.”

Andy's story — a missed connection resuscitated at a later date thanks to a dating app — is becoming increasingly common: Offline life as a discovery mechanism for online dating. But the negotiations between online and offline can be much more elaborate.

Take the case of my friend, who I'll call Tim. Tim met a woman at a party, and they hit it off. She gave him her number, but they never made plans. Some time later, they matched on Tinder. The girl texted Tim, they saw each other at another party, they made plans, they started dating. In Tim's case, and in so many others, the dating app isn't a silo — it's one of the many potential instruments in the suite that comprises a modern single life.

Hinge

No one knows that fact better than the people who make the dating sites themselves. “A common misperception about online dating — and the internet in general — is how much people have integrated it into the daily flow of their lives,” Christian Rudder, the data scientist and cofounder of OkCupid, told me. That is to say, very, very thoroughly. Rudder pointed to the proliferation of dating apps that let people inconspicuously flick through matches during even the most marginal downtime (as I have been known to do, shamefully, on the toilet). When anyone can pass through dozens of matches whenever they want, the likelihood of matching with someone somehow related to one's life is simply much higher.

Justin McLeod, the founder and CEO of Hinge, a dating app that shows users friends of Facebook friends, is living proof. Over the summer, McLeod started chatting with a woman in a Flatiron coffee shop. They didn't exchange information, and he couldn't find her online. Then, a few days later, he got a message from her on Hinge. It turned out they had matched two days before meeting in real life.

Hinge, which has more than quadrupled its active user base since the start of 2014, represents the collapse of the offline-online dating distinction better than any other dating app, because it shows users the very people they would be likely to meet through a friend.

“We don't really like to call it online dating or a dating app,” McLeod told me, “because it's just like a house party or a dinner going on all the time. That's why we're so transparent about your name, who you are, where you work, and where you went to school.”

And it turns out — perhaps unsurprisingly — that people want to meet the same type of people online who they would be likely to meet offline. The closer the connection of the suggestion, the more likely Hinge users are to swipe right to match. According to Hinge data, users pick 44% of the second-degree connections (friend of a friend) they're shown, 41% of third-degree connections (friend of a friend of a friend), and only 28% of unconnected suggestions. According to McLeod, those figures hold true even when Hinge doesn't display the degree of connection.

What Hinge users emphatically do not want is to be shown people they already know. Hinge used to occasionally suggest first-degree connections — actual Facebook friends — but stopped after receiving negative user feedback. This suggests that online daters genuinely do want to meet new people, but new people who come implicitly recommended, validated, contextualized. In other words, no strangers, and no Ross and Rachels. There's something about people who know us too well encroaching on our dating lives that is undeniably uncomfortable.

As Rudder told me, “We all love hanging out with our best friend, but the last person I'd want sitting near me while I was on a first date is my best friend.”

It's easy to imagine a transformative app in the near future — some combination of Hinge and Happn, the app that prompts a swipe when you are physically near another user — that normalizes the deferral of all flirtation to future digital approval. Of course, that's a little sad. It would do away with an entire universe of uncertain and exciting feelings. But it might just be suited to our cultural moment, which has asked straight men to examine deeply the way we approach women. Men who may have felt comfortable asking out a friend of a friend or a co-worker in the past can proceed on a dating app with confidence thanks to what McLeod calls “the double opt-in thing.” It's a comfort to know that the idea of an advance, if not the advance itself, is kosher.

And it's not like catching the eye of someone at a party with the hope of matching on Tinder spares you the usual hazards of dating at the periphery of your friend group — future awkwardness, or worse. There's no setting on Tinder or Hinge, yet, to weed out the friends of your friends who are creeps, or liars, or weirdos.

Case in point: The “thanks for sitting on my face” guy? It turned out he was a friend of R's friend.


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BuzzFeed – Tech

As Online Storage Prices Race To Zero, Dropbox Turns To Business

Today, Dropbox said it was rolling out some new tweaks for its business service. But it has a long way to go.

Stephen Lam / Reuters

Piece by piece, Dropbox is trying to find its way into a potentially massive new business: large companies paying Dropbox to power their file-sharing.

The company says it has 300 million users — 70% of which are international — and has been best known as a consumer-facing online storage startup. But after raising money at a $ 10 billion valuation, Dropbox has come under intense pressure from competitors including Apple and Google, as well as other startups like Box, which is pushing the cost of online storage toward zero. Dropbox, much like Box, has had to bet its future on providing a valuable layer of services that sit on top of storage — including for businesses.

Part of that business-focus arrives today in a new tool that makes it easier to bring new employees into Dropbox and assign them to specific groups, where they can immediately start working with coworkers on projects and view files within the group. Dropbox for Business, which began as an initiative about a year and a half ago, has quickly become one of the company's highest priorities as it slashes prices for its consumer-facing online storage.

In total, Dropbox has 80,000 companies as paying customers, though its regular users can be found within 4 million businesses, including 97% of companies in the Fortune 500, head of product Ilya Fushman told BuzzFeed News. The challenge for Dropbox is to convert those extra users of its traditional file sharing tools into business users. Dropbox also says it has more than 300,000 applications using its platform today, and has business clients like Spotify, Foursquare, Hearst and News Corp.

The process required a completely new version of Dropbox, which the company had to rebuild from the ground up, Fushman said. Many businesses require a whole suite of tools to meet regulations and ensure a business runs smoothly — hence the need to virtually start from scratch. Some examples among them: a list of everyone who has accessed a file, tools to determine who can see a file, and who can modify things like Microsoft Word documents.

“The main focus for us is to help people get work done better,” Fushman said. “Obviously we are a business and we have to think about monetization and revenue, but the first, foremost focus is helping people get work done and building the best tools. We're going to be making huge investments in mobile to get people more functionality, more efficiency.”

Dropbox's original value proposition — dead-simple file-sharing across multiple devices — isn't necessarily dead. In fact, ensuring files synchronize across devices as fast as possible is an interesting technical problem that has attracted a wealth of engineering talent to the company. But the business of selling just online storage has basically evaporated, leading to price cuts for Dropbox's storage or, in the case of Box, doing away with charging for storage altogether.

Dropbox has certainly made progress, securing major partnerships with smartphone manufacturers like Sony and Samsung to build its software deeply into the operating systems of those phones. And the company has created business tools over the course of the past two years that represent a whole new line of revenue that didn't exist.

Dropbox

Finding its way into businesses is not the only part of Dropbox's search for a future beyond charging for storage. The company is also rapidly expanding its efforts to build out a portfolio of mobile applications and embed its storage into new devices — most recently Sony's smartphones, as previously reported by BuzzFeed News.

But those applications, such as its photo-storing service Carousel and its email client Mailbox, haven't gathered mainstream adoption in the same way that other popular consumer applications like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and Instagram did. Dropbox has found its way into partnerships with device manufacturers like Sony and Samsung, but it has not quite found a winning formula when it comes to mobile devices. In many ways, the problem mirrors pre-IPO Facebook — as the vast majority of Internet usage shifts to mobile devices, so too does a company's existential priorities.

Enterprises, however, are a tried and true way to generate revenue. But Dropbox's challenge will be to convince companies that it is not only better than services like Microsoft's Sharepoint, which has traditionally been widely adopted by larger companies, but also rising companies like Box, which is seen as an attractive tool for businesses when it comes to file-sharing and collaboration given its years of experience and Dropbox's relatively new enterprise services. Box says it has been able to attract 27 million users across 99% of the Fortune 500, and has converted 39,000 companies into paying customers. The company has secured deals with universities and large corporations like General Electric, which can potentially have tens of thousands of seats.

Dropbox is seeking much of the same enterprise-level integrations that Box offers. Box, for example, works with Salesforce, a widely used application for keeping track of sales and marketing. Dropbox recently inked deals with Microsoft to power some collaboration tools around Office and is working with Salesforce. But for some companies, Box — having focused on powering businesses from its beginning — is seen as one of the leading secure file-sharing and collaboration tools.

“OneDrive will always be a feature, same with Dropbox for Business,” Six Flags director of interactive services Sean Andersen told BuzzFeed News. “It does synchronization great, but I'd still give up that compatibility for a platform that has long-term usage as a corporate product. I can look at [Box] as a workflow product, not an end-user experience.”

Still, Dropbox is betting that the easier end-user experience is what will eventually capture a large enough business to justify its $ 10 billion valuation. It's a method that has grown increasingly popular as enterprise companies like Yammer and Salesforce, which took design cues from the consumer-focused internet industry: build software and applications that appeal directly to end users, who then essentially force their IT departments to do business with the company.

“We're being very thoughtful about where we build and where we partner,” Fushman said. “We're actually more concerned around feature creep on our end, we want to keep the product very simple and very secure. On that end, we're working with some great partners. And we're being thoughtful about the [tools that enable developers to build on top of Dropbox] that we build.”


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BuzzFeed – Business