Will a boom follow Covid-19?

Many people must be wondering what the rest of this decade might look like after such a disastrous start to the 2020s. Can we look back at history and see a trend? For example, the 1920s that followed World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic was a Golden Age when economic growth surged, society relaxed a lot of its restrictions, women cut their hair for the first time, all of it captured and portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. Now there’s a book that has never gone out of fashion.

This week I read an article by Rich Karlgard in Forbes that is written from the optimist’s viewpoint. He believes there are four possible reasons that the 2020s might be another 1920s, although he does so with caution.

Digital tech will accelerate

There is no doubt that the pandemic made all things digital vastly more important. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen so much change in such a short time. Karlgard first points to the fact that back in 2017, Diane Greene, then the Google Cloud CEO, told a Forbes audience that the rate of digital technology progress was accelerating rapidly. But that does not necessarily bring productivity along with it, because the business model needs to change for that to happen. Then along came Covid-19, which forced a rapid business change. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said that five years of digital transformation had taken place in six months, all because businesses needed to work smarter, faster and be more nimble.

Artificial Intelligence is now scalable

A number of digital technologies reached maturity at the same time: cheaper cloud computing, universal digital computing and faster telecoms with the arrival of 5G. And then there is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Karlgard says this will be the decade of enterprise AI, and that’s spot on. Prior to 2020 using AI was hard, labour-intensive, expensive work, but now it is very much easier to use and it is going to transform many areas of industry, from logistics to customer service.

We’re awash with capital

Although it may not always be obvious the world is swimming in capital right now, which makes it easier for start-ups to get the funding they need. Investors have their eyes on digital technology and AI products, because as Karlgard says, “thy know they are game changers.” He adds, “These will disrupt business models and markets, and power enormous fortunes.”

Revolutions in the physical world

We are not talking about physical revolutions here; but revolutions in the way aspects of the physical world are being changed by technology. For example, autonomous trucks don’t need to take rest breaks, drone cameras can improve agricultural crop yields, and gene sequencing combined with AI can create personalised medical treatments.

However, whilst all these may lead to a boom after what feels like a bust, if we look back at the 1920s, we must note that while cities grew and grew, rural areas were not invited to the party, creating a divide that lingers to this day. The 1920s also experienced a stock crash in 1921 that almost buried the decade, followed by the more famous Wall St crash of 1929. So, even the Golden Age had its downsides. Still, after our experience of 2020-21, one that has been globally shared, let’s focus on optimism and the way in which the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital technology for our benefit and forced us to be more agile.

Chicken Soup and Covid-19: A Success Story

No, the story is not about how eating chicken soup can cure or prevent Covid-19: it’s a pandemic success story based on streaming media, with a telecoms entrepreneur at its heart.

The almost universal lockdowns spawned a huge need for entertainment, and while Netflix benefited enormously, counting 200 million new subscribers and a 49% rise in share price, it hasn’t been the only game in town, alongside big name competitors Amazon and Disney. Quietly and without much fanfare, a small company called Chicken Soup For The Soul Entertainment has been “gobbling up lesser known streamers, film distribution and production companies,” to quote Matt Schifrin at Forbes. In the last 12 months, Chicken Soup’s o-t-c traded shares soared by 289%— nearly six times as much as Netflix.

Perhaps you have come across some of its products, such as Going From Broke, produced by Ashton Kutcher, which offers reality TV-style budgeting advice to debt-laden Millennials? And there is a film called Willy’s Wonderland, which stars Nicolas Cage. Both of these actors are big names. So how does it operate, and why haven’t we heard much about it?

Chicken Soup isn’t in business to win awards, yet it still has millions of viewers for its programming, thanks to “savvy marketing and an opportunistic collection of streaming networks, distribution and production companies.” It is now a leader in the so-called AVOD or advertising-video-on-demand sector of the streaming entertainment business.

The plan to disrupt subscription services

What is that, you ask? It is advertising-supported channels streamed over the internet to laptops and smart TVs. According to Statista, this mode of streaming accounted for $27 billion in revenues in 2020 and is expected to grow to $56 billion by 2024. YouTube is an example of this that you are most likely familiar with. But Roku TV, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV and Amazon’s IMDb Freedive are also involved.

The plan, you might say, is that subscribers will get fed up with the cost of subscription services, and will turn instead to free channels supported by advertising, such as Chicken Soup’s Crackle.

In 2020, Chicken Soup made $68 million, which some might say is chicken feed. However, it has just announced that it would be acquiring the assets of Hollywood’s Sonar Entertainment for what sources close to the deal estimate to be valued at $100 million. This will give it access to a catalogue of TV and films containing the top names in the business. Schifrin says: “In all, the deal includes a library of 372 television series and 700 films plus ongoing development deals with the A-listers like Ridley Scott, Jon Favreau, David E. Kelley and Jordan Peele.”

The entrepreneur behind Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup For The Soul Entertainment is the brainchild of William Rouhana Jr, and Schifrin remarks, “Having learned dealmaking during telecom’s Wild West, the structure of the Sonar deal is vintage Rouhana” When Rouhana first acquired Chicken Soup for the Soul in 2008, it was mainly in the business of publishing inspirational paperback books. Now he has leveraged its brand—and cash flow—to get into internet-based entertainment. Rouhani said, “I felt like video on the internet was clearly a very important part of the future. I have believed that since 1993 when I first created WinStar. The whole point of it was to deliver video over our broadband network to people.”

He added, “My plan is to keep building this for a couple more years. As we move into 2022, we will have one new TV series or movie coming to our networks each week. That kind of pace has never been seen before in advertising video on demand nor has an AVOD ever owned the amount of content that we will now own.”

A good entrepreneur story is hard to beat, and this is going to be an interesting one to keep following.

Is the Covid vaccine really necessary?

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, every government has said that a vaccine would be the answer. As a result, the majority of people everywhere hoped for a scientific breakthrough, because they believed there was no alternative to this solution. Then Pfizer announced its vaccine, followed by others in the West, and Russia and China developed their own.

But there is a problem now that vaccination programs have started. Many wonder why they are getting sick even though they have received this so-called “vaccine”. The way this new type of vaccine functions is not being properly explained to the public, so obviously people are unaware of what they might be taking.  In this article, I would like to explain in a simple and comprehensive way how the “vaccine” behaves in your body, then you can decide whether you want to risk it, or not.

It’s not a vaccine as we know it

First of all, these ‘vaccines’ are not really a vaccine. The definition of vaccine means an injection into the body of a weakened form of pathogen (virus), so that it does not cause any harm in the body, but the immune system will be triggered to start making antibodies against any protein of the pathogen. This way, antibodies will be ready and prepared for in case the real harmful pathogen arrives. The COVID vaccines don’t work like this.

All of them are based on a synthetically constructed piece of genetic information called mRNA, which contains the genetic code to make a protein of the COVID virus.

What is an mRNA?

To understand this, here is a very brief and simplified explanation about molecular biology: mRNA´s are biological molecules, present in every single cell of our body, that contain the instructions to make a protein. As humans we have mRNA´s for every single protein that our body needs. Here are a few examples: we have mRNA´s that contain instructions to make the components of muscle fibre, hair, nails, blood vessels, digestive enzymes, neurotransmitters, etc. Within our cells, these mRNA´s carry the information, like a recipe for making banana bread. So, when we say the mRNA is being “translated” it means that the cell “reads the recipe” and produces the protein that corresponds to the information.

How our immune system reacts to non-human proteins

Our immune system is a finely tuned operation. It knows not to react to the proteins in our body that are there from birth unless you have an auto-immune disease. The immune system detects when there is a protein present that is not normally present in our body, and any “abnormal” protein activates a number of defence systems: our body will do all it can to search for the “intruder”, attack it, and destroy infected cells. Symptoms of this defence system are fever, inflammation and excessive production of bodily fluids. These typical flu-like symptoms are the result of our own immune system trying to get rid of the pathogen.

The Covid “vaccine” contains a piece of mRNA carrying the recipe for a protein of the virus. When this mRNA is injected, it will find its way into our cells, where it will be translated into a protein. However, this is a protein that our own cells don’t make: it isn’t a human protein, it is a piece of the virus. On its own, this protein is just a small piece of the real virus, but because our immune system sees it is an “abnormal” protein, it triggers it into reacting.

A synthetic piece of genetic information

These kinds of “vaccines” are synthetically constructed pieces of genetic information that have not been used in the past. It is a completely new technique, and we cannot yet know how fiercely it will trigger the immune defence system, how long it will keep on doing that, and what the consequences on the body will be on longer term. Once the mRNA has been injected into your body, you cannot stop it: your cells will start making this abnormal viral protein. And once your cells are producing this ‘stranger’, there is a possibility that your immune system will have a dramatic reaction to it, causing severe symptoms, or even worse, it can lead to a fatal allergic reaction.  

The healthy body has its own protection

A healthy body that is well nourished and in good shape naturally has a strong immune system. It is perfectly capable of coping with a range of infections in a natural and balanced way. Now that greater numbers of people have already been given their first injections, we are seeing a number of adverse reactions to this vaccine., and the symptoms are often far worse than the people might have experienced if they had caught Covid-19. It is up to you whether you want to take this ‘vaccine’, but please consider your options carefully, as its long-term effects are not yet known to us, and the pharmaceutical companies have been given immunity against future class actions, which is another aspect of it to think about with care.

Covid has created more fintech billionaires

Fintechs have done extremely well out of the Covid crisis. The lockdowns have forced more people to turn to online for financial products, as well as day trading as a way of creating an income at a time when jobs are disappearing.

Afterpay is one example. It is an online service that allows shoppers from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to pay for small items, such as clothing in instalments over a six-week period. It’s an online version of the catalogue shopping that was so popular in the 1970s and 80s that allowed mostly women to clothe their families by paying for the items over a period of time. Now it’s in a digital format and not connected solely to a small selection of businesses.

Afterpay is only five years old, but the pandemic has made its founders billionaires, even though at the start of the crisis its shares tanked. Now its shares have increased in value tenfold thanks to a surge in online retail sales. For example, in the second quarter of 2020 it handled transactions worth $3.8 billion, an increase of 127% over the same quarter in 2019.

Who else has benefited? Chime, a digital bank, Robinhood, the stock trading app and Swedish fintech Klarna. And then there are those platforms such as Zoom and Slack which have enjoyed a boom due to the increase in working from home.

Others have not been so fortunate. The Lending Club, which offers personal loans to high-risk customers has laid off 30% of its staff, and On Deck, a lender specialising in small business loans has been sold off in a fire sale.

Victoria Treyger, a general partner who leads fintech investing at Felicis Ventures, commented to Forbes: “Consumer fintech adoption was already strong pre-pandemic, especially among the 20s to early-40s age group,” adding, “The pandemic has become a growth rocket, fuelling the rapid acceleration of adoption across all age groups, including 40- to 60-year-olds.”

Fintech payment providers are amongst those benefiting most thanks to the rise in online spending and home delivery services. Marqueta is one of those. It is a specialised payments processor providing a service to Instacart and others. It is discussing an IPO valued at $8 billion, which is four times its valuation in March 2019.

Credit card spending is down, as large-ticket items such as holidays were effectively cancelled for 2020. Instead, debit card payments are up. This is good for fintechs, as they primarily offer debit cards. For example, Chime, based in San Francisco, used the US government stimulus package to its advantage. In advance of he $1,200 government-stimulus checks started hitting Americans’ accounts, it loaned customers that money to the tune of $1.5 billion. Its CEO said, “Following the stimulus advance, we had the largest day for new enrolments in the history of the company.” It also has a new valuation of $14.5 billion, and “venture capitalists are valuing the company at 24 times its revenue.”

While this year has proved to be a great one for fintechs and other online platforms, there is one thing to consider: will consumers keep up the habit their online shopping habits in 2021, because a lot is riding on that for the fortunate fintechs.