The App That’s Uber for Gasoline

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Lots of entrepreneurs see laziness as a business opportunity: There’s grocery delivery, dry cleaning delivery, fast food. Now you can add gasoline delivery to that list.

It’s like Uber for gasoline – except it’s perfectly legal. Serial entrepreneur Wisam Nahhas and his business partner wanted to start an app with a service component. He thought of the one thing he dreads every week.

“We sort of figured, ‘how about gas?’” Nahhas says. “We hate going to the gas station. Why can’t gas be delivered to you?”

So this month Nahhas launched FuelMe: it’s a fleet of three trucks with trailers full of gasoline. Drivers buy gas from a distributor every morning and go car-to-car filling up tanks.

“One of our goals is to be the world’s largest gas station,” Nahhas says .

It works like this: customers use the app to signal that they want gas, and leave their fuel cap open when they park. Nahhas or his employees get the alert and drive to the car. The FuelMe folks set up some safety cones and a mat to catch spills, then they unroll the hose and fill up the tank.

Nahhas says he knows exactly what you’re thinking.

“It doesn’t sound legal… That’s the first thought we said and then we quickly started researching, looking into it,” he says, “We were like, it doesn’t seem like it’s illegal – seems like if you can get the right permits for your tanks and the right licenses for your drivers it seems like it’s a doable thing. Sure enough it was.”

Nahas says getting gas delivered is no more dangerous than getting a fill up at a regular station. But can it be a good business?

Bernard Weinstein, an economist at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University thinks maybe not.

“I think it’s unrealistic. I would expect the demand for the services of FuelMe to be fairly limited, so I don’t know it’s an interesting concept, but only time will tell if it’ll work,” Weinstein says.

Right now FuelMe charges customers a $5 delivery fee, plus the price of gas. Nahhas says he’s averaging 100 customers per week. The best customers? Women.

“Both men and women value their time but we have seen that women generally are probably less price-sensitive to this because…they hate the gas station,” Nahhas says.

Right now FuelMe is only available on the University of Houston campus. That’s the type of place the margins for this type of business make sense right now: places where thousands of cars are parked in the same area, like universities, airports and big tech campuses.

“When we structured the whole thing we envisioned it as an employee perk because at the end of the day it’s an employee perk that nobody else can offer,” Nahhas says. “We’re the only ones that offer this type of service, so if they’re interested in doing it we have a model to where they cover the five dollar delivery fee for employees and the employee just pays the gas price.”

Gas is what economists call a utility goo; there’s a limit to how much gas a city needs. That means if Nahhas succeeds in his dream of becoming the Citizen Kane of gas in Texas, some gas stations might go out of business. Historian Dwayne Johnson thinks that would be a real shame.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia about gas stations, about the gas companies,” Johnson says. “There’s still folks that have great loyalties to certain gas companies … and there’s a lot of interest in them. It’s probably going continue to stay that way,m because they are disappearing so rapidly.”

Jones says Texas is one of the few states where you can find a lot of really old gas stations, and they’re cultural landmarks. But at his mobile pumping station, Wisam Nahhas says he keeps filling up a lot of the same tanks week after week. Which leads him to think his customers – at least – aren’t all that nostalgic for the good old days.

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Lessons For Sale: A New Marketplace for Teachers

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Think of it as Etsy for educators. That’s how CEO Adam Freed says some people describe it.

“You can buy so much on Teachers Pay Teachers,” Freed says. “You can find worksheets and activities that are supplementary curriculum…. You can find supplies you’d use in your classroom like cool posters or new ways to tag books for different levels of readers in your classroom,” he says.

Teaching has always been more of a challenge than most non-teachers realize. San Antonio first grade teacher Reagan Tunstall says with state and district requirements changing almost every year, teachers feel endless pressure to keep their material fresh.

“All of the extra things that we need to do – planning for the next week – all happen in the evenings and it takes away that precious family time,” Tunstall says. “So, I think when the state changes things – which they often do…it’s more of a time stealer. We’re planning what we’re doing next and when things are unfamiliar it just takes longer to make sure that we’re hitting all of those objectives and expectations for every student. So, it can be very difficult especially when the year is in full swing and we’re already filling that time crunch.”

Tunstall says she thought ‘I should be compensated for this work.’ She says it was frustrating that all the work that went into planning was used just once.

“In the end, I upload everything. The basic idea is that it’s based on about 10 cents a page but really it kind of depends on the content and the time spent. As a teacher I know budgets are tight so I try to price it very affordably,” Tunstall explains. “Just knowing that other teachers are using it is a huge, just amazing fulfilling feeling, so that’s really what I get out of it.”

If a student buys an essay online, it’s considered cheating. But fourth grade teacher Nina Gufstason says buying lesson plans online isn’t cutting corners.

“It’s definitely different, because you are paying for someone’s ideas,” she says. “I think you’re working smarter not harder. And I think that is where teachers need to move – is to work with each other and not just depend on having to do everything themselves.”

Gufstason says the days are long, she gets to school at 7:15 a.m. and leaves around 7:15 p.m. And the lesson plans are not the only thing on her plate.

“The number one thing is my students and making sure that they’re, you know, taken care of and they’re learning and they’re having fun,” she says. “And so if I can use other people’s great ideas and make that happen, that’s what I should do.”

Gustafson says being a fourth grade teacher comes with a lot of challenges, long hours, rowdy kids, and big messes. But the best part, she says, is knowing that other teachers have your back.

The Way We Board Planes Is Inefficient – But It’s Not Changing

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If you’re traveling soon, you know the drill.  You arrive at the airport, kick your shoes off, pass the security checkpoint, sit at the terminal, wait for the flight attendant to finally call your boarding zone…wait, what’s your boarding zone again?

And when the attendant finally scans your ticket, you’re stuck in a line at the boarding bridge with dozens of other frustrated people, waiting to finally sit down. Mathematician Jason Steffan was in that familiar situation, but unlike the rest of us, he thought he could actually fix it.

“I work primarily in exoplanets studying planets that are orbiting distant stars,” Steffan says.

He used the same model he uses to measure the chaos of the universe to find a system of boarding a plane that would be less chaotic.

“So what you want to do is you want to spread the passengers out all throughout the interior of the airplane so that everyone can put their luggage away at the same time and sit down at the same time,” he explains. “The best way to do that is to have passengers that are next to each other in line be separated by two rows in the airplane itself.”

Steffan says the way we get on a plane now is actually not any quicker than seating people at random.

Bernie Leighton writes for Airline Reporter. He says while boarding groups may not be the quickest way to get hundreds of people into a flying tin can, it is the best way for airlines to get them to pay extra for a premium seat.

“People have hidden preferences and overt preferences when they’re making their choice, so they might say ‘I would like to board the fastest’ but if that ticket is $20 or $30 dollars more they’ll say ‘You know, I can suck it up and then complain later,’” Leighton says. “It’s one of the quirks of the airline business that I think most of us, as both passengers and industry insiders, have just come to groan about.”

Leighton says short of the airplanes becoming shaped like triangles, you’re going to have to arrive at the gate 30 minutes before departure time.

But next time you take off to a far-off destination and you overhear the person in front of you asking why boarding a plane is the absolute worst, you’ll have something to talk about.

Online Personal Stylist Company Comes To Image-Conscious Dallas

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Being able to shop in your pajamas from the comfort of your living room was supposed to fix all the problems with brick and mortar shopping. Shoppers Avery Heldenfels, Catherine Albrecht and Kelsey Butt talk about their hangups:

“You, I guess you have to get out and go, and find parking, sometimes that’s hard depending on where you go, they can be busy and they don’t always have your size,” Heldenfels says.

“If it’s crowded and also if the salespeople are constantly hounding you then it takes away from the whole aspect of it.” Albrecht says.

“You waste just a whole day sometimes if you’re looking for something specific, so that drives me nuts,” Butt says.

But, these shoppers tell me that online shopping creates its own headaches.

“Online is always difficult because sometimes things look like they’re better quality online or they’re going to fit a certain way and then you get them and they don’t,” Butt says.

“Online, definitely paying for shipping, not being able try on the clothes, not seeing what they look like in person,” Heldenfels says.

While it’s not a life or death problem, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Katrina Lake thought it was one she could solve. And if she could combine the best parts of online shopping with your local mall, she could make a lot of money.

“Part of the ‘a-ha’ moment was when you go into a store you can say like I want something I look awesome on a first date or something like that and it’s so hard to do that in e-commerce,” Lake says. “So you can search for the cheapest black dress or the black dress that’s going to ship to you the fastest, but it’s so hard to be able to say which one am I going to look best in or which black dress is best for me.”

She created a company called Stitch Fix, it’s a personal stylist service that sends you five items of clothing a month chosen just for you. You buy what you keep, and each item costs $50. The service is designed for women who like clothes but are too busy to shop.

That sounds just like everyone Alli Finney knows – she’s a fashion editor at D Magazine in Dallas.

“I definitely think we have a huge executive industry here and we have a lot of women that want to look good,” Finney says. “And I definitely think it’s because the city has a pulse on what’s happening and has a pulse on what’s new and trending and I think we definitely take advantage of that in every way that we can.”

That might be why the company picked Dallas for its third national distribution center.

“Texas is important to us for a couple of reasons,” Lake says. “First and foremost we have many many clients in Texas, and so our Dallas distribution center will serve the vast majority of our clients in Texas, and it’s great to be able to have stylists who are local and who understand Texas culture and what people are looking for.”

The company will hire up to 500 people for the Texas jobs, and, depending on interest, might expand into other image-conscious Texas cities.

It’s not clear whether Stitch Fix is turning a profit, but in its last round of seed funding, investors valued it at over $300 million.

Is Southwest Airlines Coasting On Its Friendly Reputation?

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Greg Puriski has worked as a ramp worker for Southwest Airlines for 19 years, and he’s always felt like he was an asset to the company.

“The last few years – I want to say the last five years or so – the culture has changed, from where we’re more like a regular legacy carrier or regular corporation, to where we’re not really appreciated anymore, and it just feels like there’s procedure changes all the time,” Pruinski says. “We’re just basically like another airline right at the moment with our working conditions.”

That doesn’t sound like the Southwest that gained a reputation through the 90’s as an affordable carrier with a great attitude and a talent for quirkiness. Remember the rapping Southwest flight attendant that went viral in 2009?

The airline has aged since then. Some people say it’s lost its fun. It still has the lowest add-on fees in the industry, which puts the airline ahead of many of its competitors in terms of customer satisfaction, though by less and less every year. Seth Kaplan is the editor of Airline Weekly.

“In some markets, like Austin where people are very familiar with Southwest, they still enjoy the open seating and some of the things that they’ve been used to all these years,” Kaplan says. “But as it goes into new markets, you have people that might be willing to pay even for a seat assignment if they could get one but they can’t.”

Since it acquired Air Tran, in 2014, Southwest has steadily been raising its fares. It’s not a cheap airline anymore, and it’s not the underdog – it brought in a billion dollars in profit last year.

“Things have changed over the last few years, it is quite sad, you know when I started 19 years ago,” says Purinksi. “I was Greg Purinski Southwest Airlines ramp agent, and now I’m nothing more than 36425, which is my employee number.”

Kaplan says disgruntled employees can be bad for business.

“Definitely one of the things that customers have liked about Southwest over the years are those very friendly employees who sing to them during the safety demonstration and all those things,” he says. “So if the workforce really became far less happy overall than it once was, then yeah, that could affect customer perceptions of airlines.”

Houston Gets Ready To Take Texans To Cuba

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It may be a while before any commercial flights leave for Havana, but the Houston Airport says it’s already discussing how to get customers to Cuba with at least three carriers. Joe Martin writes for the Houston Business Journal.

“United, which has its largest hub here in the United States, they said I think back in January that they were interested in having a Cuba flight, so you would assume, but that’s pure speculation,” Martin says.

These talks between airlines and airports are just the beginning of a long process. Houston will have to work with the Cuban government to make sure that country’s airports are prepared for U.S. flight carriers.

But Martin says customers won’t have to wait much longer.

“They expect to make a trip sometime this year to Cuba just to discuss logistics and to make sure the Cuban airport, you think Havana when I say that, are ready to accept American passengers, and have the ability to do so from a security standpoint, from a logistic standpoint, just to make sure all is kosher on both sides,” Martin says.

And once that happens, travel agents like Michelle Weller, are set to make a lot of money.

“Having a nonstop flight going straight into a Caribbean destination is going to be so excellent, not only for people from Houston, but also kind of from all over Texas,” Weller says. “If you can drive into Houston and then jump on a plane and go nonstop to Cuba I think you’d see A LOT of traffic.”

AirBnB found that nearly a third of Americans would be interested in visiting Cuba. Among Latino Americans, it’s closer to half, and that leaves a lot of monetary incentives for airlines to get on board.

Why Can’t My Iphone Speak Spanglish?

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A lot of Texans switch back and forth between English and Spanish effortlessly, without even thinking about it. But if you’re typing on an iPhone, switching between the language keyboards mid-sentence is a big hassle. With more and more multilingual users, why isn’t one of the top smartphones up to the task?

Jennifer Kutz says she has some software that can help– it’s prediction keyboard called SwiftKey, that’s already on more than 250 million devices.

“The difference with SwiftKey is you can literally just start typing in one language or another assuming they have the same layout on your keyboard and the keyboard will understand and detect what language you’re typing in and adjust what word is coming next,” Kutz says.

Kutz says it takes some time for the keyboard to really adapt to the way the user speaks. But trying to get Siri – iPhone’s voice-to-text messenger– to work, is a whole other story. We spoke with Andrew Dillon, who teaches at the University of Texas School of Information, about why Siri isn’t better at this.

“With speech, there is this assumption that only intelligent creatures and intelligent beings can talk, and very quickly when you speak to most computerized applications you find out pretty quickly that they’re not that intelligent,” Dillon says.

What happens if you ask Siri why she doesn’t speak Spanglish?

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Siri responds.

John Roescher, a technology consultant in Austin, says Spanglish might not be too far off for our dear Siri.

“I think it’s fair to say that would be easy, relatively easy to incorporate, the intelligence that you build into it it’s obviously easy to do it one language, or another language only one at a time, but it’s not impossible to do it for both,” Roescher says.

So what’s stopping Siri? Roescher says that the failure in the tech industry is really a diversity issue, not at the programmer level, but with the higher-ups.

“A company could benefit from having more diverse decisions, or more diverse champions, for these ideas in their organization to even have the inspiration to make a case like this,” Roescher says.

If decision makers realized the market in the U.S. alone, for a bilingual operating system, the company could stand to make a lot of money. Almost 40 percent of Texans speak multiple languages, and a lot of us like to do it at the same time.

Keeping Up With The Demand For Specialty Eggs

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Two egg giants, Cal-Maine Foods and Rose Acre Farms, have announced they’re teaming up to build a massive shell-egg facility in Red River County, Texas. The facility will house more than two million egg-laying hens. The companies are expanding to meet the growing demand for cage-free eggs, which can fetch a serious premium – sometimes doubling their price at the register.

At the local grocery store, there’s a definite choreography in front of the egg cooler. Customers pace back and between the four refrigerators and browse the selection.

Sangay Sabu is deliberating which type to put in his basket.

“Large eggs, grade A, grade double A, extra large eggs, large organic, extra large organic, pasteurized, extra large grade A, locally produced,” Sabu reads. “And there’s like a whole other aisle of eggs…that’s a lot of eggs.”

Once he picks, he’ll do the same thing everybody else does, without fail.

“I always open them up to make sure they’re not cracked,” shopper Mary Jane Secret says.

But when you’re looking at 15 or more different types of eggs, how do you pick what to put in your cart?

“Because they’re extra large, so I wanted extra large,” Secret says. But everybody has their own preference.

“They’re the cheapest,” says Crystal Mitchell.

“I usually get the organic, cage-free, mainly because I’m a vegetarian so that’s important to me,” Jaime Phelps says.

“I usually buy something that’s cage free vegetarian fed and I like that the label said it’s enhanced with vitamins and other goodies,” says Mark Burns.

“I usually buy the store brand because it’s cheaper and I feel like all eggs are the same,” says Andrew Litwin.

Shoppers all have different tastes, and there’s a type of egg for each of them. Craig Coufal teaches poultry science at Texas A&M.

“Demand for specialty eggs continues to increase every year and now it’s representing probably a good one-fifth of the market for eggs in the United States,” Coufal says.

As long as the market keeps growing, egg suppliers like Cal-Maine Foods will continue supplying specialty eggs. Tim Dawson is a spokesperson for Cal-Maine.

“It’s certainly our job to meet the demand that the consumer has,” Dawson says. “It used to be not to long ago that there wasn’t a very large selection of eggs, but if you go into the egg case today you’ll find a very large selection of eggs.”

Coufal says now is a good time for specialty egg producers.

“Right now egg markets are very good – egg prices are very high, feed costs are reasonable – so egg producers are doing well,” he says.

Dawson says that’s largely because eggs have lost their bad rap. Now, people think of them as healthy food, and the USDA and FDA have adjusted their cholesterol restrictions accordingly.

“There’s more of a recognition that the cholesterol and the diet is not necessarily the issue that creates problems for cholesterol in the blood,” Dawson says.

The federal government will release new dietary guidelines this fall. If the preliminary meetings are an indicator, the nation’s dietitians will recommend people eat one egg per day.

The Maker Movement Takes Off In Texas

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After a long career in technology, Denny Hamill was ready to retire and take it easy. Then his grandson came to him with a problem. A problem named Prancer.

“Grant was 16 and he was trying to do homework,” Hamill says. “And everybody plays with Prancer, throws the ball and Prancer would constantly would bring it back and drop it at Grant’s feet and bark!”

Hamill set to work making something to satisfy Prancer’s insatiable need to fetch.

“We actually took a little hot wheels set, you know the cars, so they have this little accelerator so the car comes around it grabs the car and shoots it,” Hamill says. “So we took it apart and made a little ball thrower.”

A couple prototypes later, they had the iFetch.

Hamill’s dogs won’t fetch, but Prancer loved it. Hamill figured other dogs would too.

The challenge is that a lot of gadgets don’t really sell well on store shelves. Andrew Gershoff teaches marketing at the McCombs School of Business.

“There are some products right away you can look at and you can know what that product is,” Gershoff says. “Then there’s these other types of products that we might consider more experience products that are harder to experience until after you experience them.”

Without the demonstration, you might mistake the iFetch for a humidifier. It kind of looks like a big sphere with a hole. Hamill can’t afford to pay people to do in-store demonstrations. That might have stopped him from getting off the ground.

“Now with the internet it’s much easier to interact with a large number of people and to broadcast that information at a very low cost,” Gershoff says.

But there is over-crowding in the market. With so many gadgets out there, how do you know what’s a legitimate lifehack and what’s just… junk?

 Joanne Domeniconi says she can help. She started a company called The Grommet – two million people subscribe to its daily newsletter.

“Every day we create a video story about a product discovery that might interest you,” Domeniconi says. “And you’re able to learn the story behind the product who made it and why it might be relevant for you.”

 Like this video for the iFetch.

The Grommet’s $200 million in sales last year are due to its niche business strategy as part online retailer and part marketing firm.

“We work on a retail margin we buy the merchandise at a wholesale cost and we sell it at a retail cost,” Domeniconi says. “And similarly, we are paid for performance and we’re paid a commission for the customers that we acquire for the maker, that would be new retailers.”

Because these gadgets come from small family-owned companies, they can’t compete on super low prices. Online marketplaces say storytelling and authenticity are driving the maker movement.