SoHo Farmacology

Farmacology begins with determined “Farmers” trying to address (and monetize) something. Something might be an inefficiency the market has yet to address. Something might also reflect a given Farmer’s view on how to improve the human experience here on Earth. Here at the Farm in SoHo, “something” tends to be both.

SoHo Farmacology is a bunch of Farmers taking their life and work experiences, probably using all the capital resources they can muster, add in passion, sweat and for sure some tears.

The following is a brief snapshot of SoHo Farmacology, giving us a glimpse of the revolution set to occur. It’s almost all about harnessing and leveraging Big Data[1] and in one instance, a surprising pushback against it. This revolution most certainly will not be televised (in the conventional sense, anyway).  

We begin by considering what has happened with the music industry in the last few decades. For those of you too young to remember, we used to have these things called albums, cassettes and CDs that helped artists earn $$ in return for creating music – that unique gift that makes you dance, cry, laugh and be one with other like-minded/like-inspired individuals.

A single song holds the power to make you remember your first dance, kiss, sip of wine, success, failure, etc. Better still, that same song can make you remember how you felt at the time – warm, safe, happy, proud, humble, and so on. 

Songs that recreate these memories and sensations - both good and bad - collectively form the soundtracks by which we live our lives.

The advent of file sharing and streaming disrupted music’s monetization model and changed everything for musical artists. Artists struggled with this new reality, but it was Taylor Swift who raised the issue to market-watchers looking for signals about their investments in streaming platforms (Spotify, Amazon, etc.)

Swift slammed “the streamers” for effectively giving away artistic works for free without authorization from or compensation to the artist. Market watchers surmised that if Taylor Swift denied “the streamers” access to her work, share prices for streaming platforms would likely drop.

Investment psychology aside, art economics could not be more stark - when artists do not receive compensation for their work, they spend less time creating and more time filling financial voids to simply exist. Maybe this means they attach their name and voice to works they would otherwise never touch.

The shift to sharing and streaming arguably drove the profit-driven music industry to put money behind works they can sell easily and cheaply, rather than paying correct compensation for artistic works that truly inspire and/or uplift the human experience.  

“Music” produced solely for commercial purposes tends to lack genuine impulse from a human soul and often results in rote, hypnotic patterns that do little more than fill space, failing to uplift or inspire anyone. This leaves us, the end consumer (or what I like to call the thinking, feeling human seeking inspiration and meaning) without a soundtrack.

For certain you have noticed Nancy Lu (tall and slim with striking cheekbones) and Grace Sanford (tiny and china doll-pretty with a serious “edge”) – the duo otherwise known as Fancy PR.

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Fancy PR aims to help both emerging and established musicians navigate new mechanisms to monetize their work.

Leveraging an extensive network of industry insiders, Fancy PR helps new musical talent get noticed, while also working with established artists to perfect (and project) their image. Fancy PR focuses on Indie Pop/Rock artists and currently boasts a client list that includes the likes of Sofi Tukker.

Fancy PR helps grow the artist’s fanbase into a larger group of fans willing to pay $$($!) to see them perform in a variety of venues. 

Nancy and Grace might talk with you about the comparative virtues of Spotify vs. Amazon. The former is noted for its use as a tool for “discovery”, meaning Spotify uses Big Data to generate alerts when your favorite artists release new work. Spotify also identifies patterns in your choices, generating dynamic algorithms that bring new artists to your attention.

Spotify’s discovery aspect then helps listeners expand their horizons, providing daily mix lists in a variety of genres from which to choose. Amazon, Fancy PR, tells me, requires more direction – you have to tell it to play what you want to hear, which further assumes that Alexa can understand you after your third glass of wine or whatever “poison” in which you have overindulged. 

As such Fancy PR is not fighting the industrial shift – they accept it for its merits. But they are also watching and analyzing it, and they are absolutely playing a role in shaping its future.

The conversation caused this writer to wonder why Apple, arguably the most revolutionary technology firm of our era, has failed to reach its “Apple potential” in music streaming. Nancy and Grace could probably give Mr. Cook some great insights into how Apple Music might deliver its missing “wow” factor.

Some good news for the “Old School” crowd - Fancy PR tells me that vinyl is making a comeback – mostly for rock and techno fans - and likely only for people who do NOT live in studio apartments in NYC.

If you DO live in a studio apartment in NYC and are looking to upgrade, you might want to chat with another Farmer, Aaron Borenstein and his team from Home Evolutions Corp. These are the smiling “construction guys” you’ve seen running around doing construction-related things.

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You might recall the recent past in which people of all stripes struggled to withstand the financial crisis set forth by problem mortgages in the U.S. The crisis was deeply felt by people around the world because of something economists call the “multiplier effect”.

Someone purchasing a house tends to also go out and buy dishwashers, washer/dryer sets, drapes, furniture, electronic equipment, plates, cups, smart home capacities, etc.

The sheer size and scope of the U.S. economy (biggest in the world by market capitalization) means that virtually every sector of the global economy gets touched, multiplying the inherent growth effect from the initial impulse of one home purchase. The global financial crisis unfortunately demonstrated that this multiplier effect goes both ways.

The home purchase industry is then beyond significant for the U.S. economic engine that helps drive the global economy. Maintaining sector integrity is critical for families and people around the world. 

Aside from its role in driving global economics, homeownership constitutes one of the most important decisions an individual or a family can make in their lifetime. It should therefore be one of the most fulfilling experiences there are but it often is not.

The process as it currently stands is too often a source for considerable undue stress. It is, according to Aaron and his team, a broken industry and the break is largely a function of communication and corruption.

If all parties are not making decisions or sharing data regarding cost and time overruns, the breakdown in communication exerts downward pressure on budgets. This in turn leads to trade-offs and delayed delivery on the finished product, often leaving the homeowner without the dream house they originally envisioned.

Corruption hails from unclear and padded pricing, junk fees and the like. Contractors attaching hidden costs may do so to address cost-of-living needs, or to offset the extra cost of working with union workers. Corrupt practices might also simply be a function of pure greed. Whatever the driver, the relationship between contractor and homeowner is often irreparably damaged upon discovery.

Mindful of a very human impulse: the homeowner’s need to be intimately involved with managing their vast personal investment, and acutely aware of the industry’s deficiencies, Home Evolutions Corp says fixing the problem requires what Aaron calls “extreme transparency”.

Home Evolutions Corp has built a model that includes the homeowner among the “home” project’s numerous stakeholders – the contractors, architects, engineers, designers, materials suppliers, insurance companies, etc. Before Home Evolutions Corp, homeowners had surprisingly little insight into the overall construction process – allowing overcharging and corruption to flourish. 

Creating its own source for Big Data, clear information on every aspect of the home project is then available to all stakeholders. Pricing specs, materials costs, blueprints, finance and insurance particulars, updates and approvals etc. are all hosted on Home Evolution Corp’s secure online portal.

Stakeholders are forced to participate and be accountable for their own action (and inaction) that helps or hinders the project’s success. The interface is straightforward and easy to navigate but not time-consuming. Reduced uncertainty helps to build trust as all parties are on the same page. 

Home Evolutions Corp might consider expanding its service offering by heading to the back of our Farm in SoHo to chat with the duo sitting just outside the Mercer St. elevator. We’ve all seen them - a man and his (super quiet) little white dog. 

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Meet Geoff Grandberg and his partner, Maltese rescue puppy, Lola. This completely unassuming duo is hard at work pushing the boundaries of how banks use “Big Data”.

Geoff works remotely here at the Farm Soho but his company’s home office is in Australia and THAT company’s parent office is in Switzerland. Geoff and team promote technologies to financial services firms to help them streamline the processes by which consumers seek and obtain financing.

Rather than personally fumbling through a dossier of records to demonstrate your financial history, Geoff’s efforts will help banks partner with any number of Big Data repositories to leverage known and stored information to auto-populate your loan application.

This might be your driver’s license info from (any) DMV and/or a host of other data holding centers like the IRS – speeding up the loan process to mere minutes and removing lengthy and unnecessary bureaucratic processes.

Once the realm of “shadow banking” (think “Rocket Mortgage” and the like), the super-fast, super-efficient loan process will soon be a delivered product from established commercial entities like Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and other such institutions.

Down the bench from Geoff, we have a new Farmer who huddles over the heater – it’s kind of cold in the back of the Farm in SoHo, but the insider view of happenings on Mercer Street below is incomparable … Meet Ms. Stacy Livingston, Freelance Copyrighter and Brand Strategist.

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Stacy is a newbie – just began “Farming” in January of this year. Coming to us from the great states of Maine and New Hampshire, Stacy arrived in the Big City just as New York (and the nation) erupted with political fervor not really seen since the 1960s.

Stacy focuses on brand launches, copywriting and rebranding, and spends her free time pondering matters like what will be the fate of the NFL in the wake of concussion disclosures? Will it remain a family and community pastime or will it eventually only gain favor with select audiences like the WWE?

We discussed the Kardashians and the common mantra that they are famous for doing nothing. However, and in all reality, the Kardashian impact on all things fashion and glamour is rather awesome to consider.

Instinct is a form of art and the sisters’ ability to focus in on the things that people like or seek to emulate has created a form of “instinctual Big Data” upon which Kardashian Inc. built a multi-million $$$ brand. What this means for all of the young people seeking to emulate Kardashian magic remains a great unknown.

Stacy and I also talked about what may be the greatest “branding” question of our time thus far –Donald Trump and his presidency. Though to find out more about Brand Strategist Stacy’s views on this, you’ll need to talk with her directly.

Heading back onto the main floor, you’ll see SoHo Farmers with wide ranging tastes on what they consider to be “fuel”, otherwise known as “food”. Meena Pappiah is building an app to help hungry humans navigate a host of dietary needs and cultural preferences.

Meena is building Mia, capable of taking you on a culinary trip around the world, should you so dare.

Meena Pappiah is literally a one woman show – responsible for product concept, app development, algorithmic construction, sales and marketing and anything else needed to bring her vision to reality.

Ms. Pappiah is a former back-end Big Data developer for Amazon, responsible for generating and analyzing sales and related datapoints, and she has worked to build similar backend services for a variety of other companies.  

Mia aims to leverage “Big Data” in similar fashion, aggregating your food sensitivities, dining preferences and risk “appetite” to enhance the dining experience and expand culinary horizons.

Decisions that once seemed mundane like what’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner have become time-consuming activities, particularly for up and coming generations who understand better than their forebears the value proposition in fueling the body with good food, rather than what is cheaply made, heavily marketed and readily available.

Mia can help humans maintain strict adherence to their dietary restrictions, perhaps suggest modifications and/or expand culinary risk-taking into new worlds.

For example, you might indicate your affinity for a particular dish that is native to one country. Mia can suggest similar dishes from another country and help you find places to try them. Mia might also discover food items that use certain spices that agree with you and help you avoid other foods with less “friendly” spices.

Initial user onboarding will gather simple facts about your food preferences and sensitivities and then dynamically build upon the feedback you provide. Mia’s service to the end user will then either be minimal or robust, depending on the input provided.

Mia’s ability to help new restaurants gain attention and drive quality production/offerings is as yet unknown but the prospects seem promising. Mia aims to launch in the next month or so - if only there were a brand manager in the house …

Mia’s global culinary recommendations might spark your interest in taking a trip to taste that delightful dish in its native locale. So inspired, you might begin planning for your trip by looking for books about travel.

Hailing from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, a Georgetown alum named George Megre is another Farmer here in SoHo – George might consider using “Three G(eorges)” as his nom de plume, or maybe “Three G”.  George is currently working on his first book to tell everyone that they need to travel more.

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This is not another “when in Rome, be sure to see the Coliseum” guide, but rather an effort to focus the traveler’s mind on all that might be possible via the incomparable experience of travel.

George notes that individuals think about and approach travel in vastly different ways ranging from passive attendance such as going, eating, and maybe seeing “the sites”, to one of active immersion. The “immersers” take dance classes in the local tradition, they make wine with local vintners, learn how to cook and enjoy borscht, climb mountains with the Sherpas, practice language skills, etc. 

George holds the view that “immersion” activities are not only fun, but they also allow you to learn new skills, expand your network and achieve better overall “wellness” – whatever that means for you.

George frames travel as a “permission to fail” opportunity toward inspiring readers to give in to their intellectual and cultural curiosities and defer toward immersion. Travel allows the human to challenge the boundaries of what they consider safe and try out an entirely new persona. Travel allows you to be anyone you want to be and potentially the person you always dreamed you could be.

By transplanting oneself into a new culture, a freedom is unleashed – the traveler might now have the courage to talk to that pretty/handsome, fascinating human sipping espresso (or wine) just two tables over. She or he might be your soulmate – something brought you both to this same place doing the same thing at the same time.

George goes further to emphasize that regardless of one’s traveling approach – safe and passive or active risk taking – the activity itself will invariably improve one’s ability to operate in the world in which they exist. Horizons and perspectives expand no matter what, feeding an improvement chain that cultivates a distinctly unique ability to succeed in everything – business, academia, life. 

SoHo Farmacology then seems to be telling us a little something about what younger generations are thinking. For the old folks tuning in (this writer included), we have to step back and realize that anyone born after September 10, 2001 has been raised in a world where 9/11 has always been reality.  

Those of us who witnessed that day and its aftereffects might consider the distinct shift that occurred in our collective mindset between what was an acceptable tradeoff in free society versus what was “required” in order to make that society “secure” from all threats, foreign and domestic. Evermore intrusive breaches of our privacy have slowly expanded and we, the pre-9/11 generation accept these breaches in the interest of security.

As such, after-action items from 9/11 including TSA checks and the Department of Homeland Security have always existed for the post-9/11 kids. The U.S. has always been at war and loud pundits on 24/7 news channels have always been fighting about – everything.

Perhaps this explains the younger generation’s trend toward gender neutrality – they might just be tired of people putting themselves and each other into unnecessary identity-based boxes. Gender neutrality makes everyone equal …

Field research (a.k.a., “young people-sitting” in Long Island) helped me assess the information gathered in these SoHo Farmacology interviews.

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A clear theme is emerging in which this younger generation rejects the world they have inherited thus far. Our savvy SoHo Farmers seem to be tapping into this. 

The world as the next generation sees it seems to be missing the point of what it means to be alive and how “life” itself gets expressed and yes, monetized. They are therefore determined to enrich their life experiences - both on a human level and for revenue generation – in ways they think makes more sense.

Physical cash for this population is a bit of an anomaly as money in the traditional sense does not really exist (they all have debit cards and Apple Pay, etc.).

Money such that it does exist will never be deployed on overpriced cable or other legacy forms of media. Such avenues, they find, hold scant entertainment or information value (think talking heads screaming on cable TV, 24/7 …).

The “kids” are onto something and the 5-man team of Farmers known as Tryroll aims to capitalize on it and help shape what happens next. 

So you’re finally home, the family is snacking on optimal foods in their dream playroom (or mancave or girlcave or whatever). Since television and media in the conventional sense does not exist for this generation, someone is probably watching YouTube or checking Facebook, Instagram, etc.

For the “unwoke” (NextGen-speak referring to people who just don’t get it – whatever “it” is), YouTube is like a streaming TV channel, but all of the content is created by average people doing average things they think (and they think other people will think) are cool.

YouTube is then a “social media” platform. Other such platforms include Facebook, Instagram, etc., and cool content might include a history of the world told in a kitschy way that appeals to brains both young and not-so-young. Maybe there is a video that teaches you how to build a PC from the ground up. Etc.

Social media for the NextGen crowd, as such, is much more valuable than media force-fed to them by multinational corporations.

The as-yet unaddressed problem with YouTube and much of social media, similar to the music industry, is its monetization model. Content creators overwhelmingly rely on “followers” and “shares” – let’s call this their fan base. Content creators will get advertisers once their fan base reaches a certain benchmark. Advertisers mean money earned for created work. 

Herein lies the problem. To this point, social media platforms that bring new, exciting and non-corporate-driven content to the fore have relied on Old School forms of corporate advertising. The artist has little control over choosing sponsors, creating a mismatch that in the extreme might see a YouTube vegan diva with ads selling smoked venison sausage.

Tryroll empowers content creators to issue their own cryptocurrency, thereby relieving the artist from hosting annoying and meaningless ads over which they have little to no control.

Don’t let the term “cryptocurrency” scare you. Just think of it as virtual poker chips or any other type of chit representing value like money but not money. We might think about Tryroll’s cryptocurrency as “FanCoin”.

Tryroll will issue FanCoins to content creators who assign their cryptocurrency a unique identity and then distribute it to their fans in return for watching a given “episode” or clicking a certain link or some other behavior the creator wishes to incentivize. Followers will pool their FanCoins toward getting something of value from their YouTube (or Facebook or Twitter, etc.) guru and/or goddess.

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That thing of value might be a one-on-one experience with the content-creator of your choice, personalized instruction on how to make, build or get – something. The possibilities for exchange are endless.

Tryroll then revitalizes the promise of social media - facilitating genuine social interaction in a fun, hip, manner that generates revenue. The freedom unleashed could truly be a blessing and could arguably find a market in the music industry.

With freedom, however, comes commensurate potential for unchecked avarice. Tryroll creates its own check against avarice both public and private, while ensuring free expression remains protected.

Tryroll prides itself on being “platform agnostic” and securely private. This means that any would-be FanCoin-related “Big Data” does not exist and cannot be exploited by the hosting medium (Facebook, Instagram, etc). Nor can the data be exploited by the government.

Any and all information about who owns what FanCoin remains the private reserve of either the creator or the holder.

Perhaps this feature reflects tech industry concerns that our government has proven itself incapable of understanding the emerging media context. Tryroll does not espouse a political view on any of this.   

Tryroll’s ambitions for FanCoin at the moment remain fairly modest but consider what will happen when social media goes (really) mainstream. From a businessperson’s perspective, how much WBCoin might you be willing to collect and trade for a 15-minute private telephone conversation with Warren Buffet, should he decide to create content for social media?

The multiplier effects will be transformative in terms of how information is generated and distributed, what passes as value in society and the like. The existing job market will have to transform along with it and Claire McTaggart, CEO of hiring platform, Square Peg is here to help us navigate the transition.

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Square Peg streamlines the hiring process for non-tech positions, using soft-skill data and machine-learning algorithms to help automate candidate job-matching. Square Peg’s client base includes HR departments in both established enterprises and startups, and they often work directly with hiring managers.

Candidate onboarding begins with a 12-minute assessment to evaluate 19 personality traits such as detail-orientation, logical thinking, adaptability, reliability, innovation, curiosity, etc.

Square Peg includes “traits recommendations” in its service offering to HR types to help them hone in on ideal candidate characteristics in gradations from entry level to mid/upper management (e.g., Analyst to VP). Recruiters searching for sales professionals might heed Square Peg’s advice to focus on candidates with natural strengths in areas such as perseverance, motivation and people skills, for example.  

Square Peg’s personality-focus, soft skill/attributes approach to hiring seems to comport with a trend that has emerged throughout the body of this brief glimpse into SoHo Farmacology. Humans and humanity matter.

The younger generation seems to see culture as  dynamic and requiring definition from individuals who will perfect and protect the things they care about. In all reality, this is the intent and ideal of American capitalism, which should be good news for those worrying about a younger tilt toward “socialism”.

Good news also for the mobile device market as Ms. Pappiah notes websites in general are becoming somewhat passe´ Big Data will continue to gain traction as a seed for entrepreneurs, but everything it is used for will have to be viewable and capable of navigation using a mobile device.

This technology shift in turn reinforces NextGen concerns for privacy – mobile devices make their private lives subject to closer parental monitoring than ever before.

Young people seem innately hardwired to push back against limits to individuality, privacy and/or unsolicited controls whether  they understand why or not – regardless of Big Data’s penetrating gaze.

The next generation wants to actually do the things that prior generations only watched on TV - these kids will never be satisfied watching other people living in TV-Land.

In sum, the future is not on TV and it is not on your desktop – it is handheld and on the move because life is meant to be lived and experienced. That which makes life beautiful, meaningful, worthwhile must be protected (and monetized).

Whoever said that youth is wasted on the young was not paying attention - the “kids” are most definitely all right. Political leaders and investors thinking about their bottom lines – the proverbial adults in the room – should be listening to what these young people have to say.

[1]Big Data is a collection of “footprints” from your internet activity, government identity info, credit histories, etc.

[2] Special thank you to Lachlan, Shepard and Fiona Granger for sharing their photos and views on social media and life in general.