Tuesday, September 3, 2019

So You Want to Bring Your Business to the Fair? An Insider’s Perspective on Vendor Life at The Great Minnesota Get-Together®

It’s the day after Labor Day, and we’ve just wrapped up our second year of business at the Minnesota State Fair in what seems likely to be a record-breaking year for attendance. Our St. Croix Saddlery booth had a successful run with a decent increase in sales over last year, attributable to the combination of more educated buying, an improved setup, a strong sales team, and fantastic weather. We learned a lot in our first year that made this year easier, but the Fair is still a big deal with its own challenges. I know many other entrepreneurs dream of joining the Fair as a vendor, and I thought I would share just a handful of truths that I’ve learned in my experience.

  • It’s not a bonanza. We’ve all heard tales of the business owners who work two weeks at the Fair and get to retire the other 50 weeks of the year. Perhaps this is true for some of the most popular food vendors, but it’s certainly not the case for me or most other vendors. Our sales over 15 days at the Fair are roughly equivalent to one average month’s sales in our store, but there are a lot of expenses that go with that (see the next paragraph).
  • It’s expensive. In addition to paying a relatively high booth fee (it varies depending on your vendor category, location, and sometimes your total front footage), you also pay a significant assessment for utilities that is split among all vendors. On top of that, you have your own booth costs (for us, tents, lighting, and fixtures), huge inventory costs, admission for all of your employees (the Fair requires this, and the vendor ticket discount is the same as the early-bird discount at Cub Foods), parking if necessary, and of course wages for all the extra staff you bring aboard.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Great Minnesota Get-Together: A Brief History

If you’re like me, at this time of the year, you have one thing on your mind: the Great Minnesota Get-Together (also known as the Minnesota State Fair).

The fair, located on a massive 322 acres, is a highly popular event, attracting more than 2 million people annually. It employs over 80 full-time year-round individuals, adding 450 seasonal staff members in the summer. It also hires over 2,300 fair-time staff members. In 2018, the fair brought in $57.3 million in revenues. The fair is further estimated to have generated a whopping $268 million in economic impact for the Twin Cities as a whole.

Have you ever wondered how this great event came to be? Its roots trace all the way back to 1854, where it first began as a territorial fair. The fair as it’s known today was first held in 1859, a year after Minnesota was granted statehood. At that time, the fair’s location changed annually, moving between Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Red Wing, Winona, and Owatonna. It wasn’t until 1885, when the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners donated 210 acres to the State Agricultural Society, that the fair found a permanent home at its present location in St. Paul. Because the fair’s original purpose was to encourage farming in the state of Minnesota, the fair in its early days was comprised of mostly agricultural-related exhibits and competitions.

Over the years, the fair has expanded its activities. 1899 saw the introduction of grandstand shows and fireworks. Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the fair in 1901 and delivered his famous line, "speak softly and carry a big stick." In 1947, the Pronto Pups (and other tasty foods on a stick) were first introduced. The Princess Kay of the Milky Way competition started in 1954. The beloved Sweet Martha’s cookies hit the fair in 1979.

Despite the fair’s expansion in activities and in size, agriculture has consistently remained the primary focus and heart of the fair. There are still several exhibits and competitions dedicated to just that — agriculture. This year, consider stopping by these exhibits or take a moment to watch a competition to pay homage to the fair’s roots and to appreciate how far the fair has come since then.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Alastair Mactaggart Joins My Privacy Hall Of Fame

“I just think the data use by these companies is out of control”

--Alastair Mactaggart, California Real Estate Developer

Who is Alastair Mactaggart? He has done more than any other person to expand the privacy rights of individuals in the United States. In 2016, Mactaggart, who earned a fortune in Bay Area real estate, was talking with a Google employee about the amount of personal information collected by companies. This casual conversation led him to fund a citizens initiative that was set to appear on the November 2018 ballot in California. It would have given California residents extensive new rights to control how their data is collected and used by businesses. Following intensive lobbying by tech groups the ballot initiative was withdrawn by Mactaggart and in its place the California legislature (in less than a week) passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Effective January 1, 2020 the CCPA becomes the most extensive consumer privacy legislation ever passed in the United States. It gives Californians sweeping new data privacy rights, including a first-of-its-kind private right of action that will encourage lawsuits against businesses who fail to comply with the data breach portion of the CCPA. What a difference one person (with a lot of money) can make.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Wage and Hour Risks for Small Businesses

While I am not an employment lawyer, it doesn’t stop my entrepreneurial clients from calling with questions in that domain. It also doesn’t stop friends and family members, who assume having the title “Juris Doctor” means you are an expert on all things legal, from calling asking for me to guide them on employment issues — but that’s a topic for another post.

When clients call, I often provide some high-level thoughts on the issues (stuff that I have learned from some awesome colleagues, who actually are experts in HR-related matters) and, if they need more than that, I hand them off to these same colleagues on the 4th floor for more guidance.

Given that I frequently see early-stage entrepreneurs with limited cash resources struggling with employment-related legal issues, I wasn’t surprised that this recent article, titled “This New Kind of Expensive Lawsuit Could Easily Bankrupt Your Small Business,” was about the risks relating to the failure to comply with applicable wage and hour laws.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Matt McCarthy, The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year (Crown, 2015)

Summer associate season has come and gone at law firms across the country. Eager young people dressed to impress are returning to jeans and flip-flops as they contemplate a return to law school in a few weeks. Those of us closer to the end than the beginning of our careers cast their minds back to a time when we could recite the names and holdings of significant court cases but were stymied by the simplest forms.

Ah yes, the distinction between book learning and practical skill. Turns out, the fancy schooling is a necessary but not sufficient precondition to a successful career. This is not news to old-timers. Whatever the field, somehow we must all bridge the gulf between knowledge and implementation.

And, indeed, the process is remarkably similar no matter what your field may be. Take, for instance, Dr. Matt McCarthy. A former minor league baseball player and graduate of Harvard Medical School, he finds himself thrown in the deep end as he begins his internship at a Manhattan hospital. He’s told that Ivy graduates have a reputation for being heavy on theory but light in practical skill. He discovers, to his chagrin, that he fits the stereotype.

The medical internship process may be more immersive than in other professions and lines of business (and the stakes may be higher), but the story arc determined by a steep learning curve is something entrepreneurs will recognize, whatever their background. There is simply no substitute for learning by doing, with the help and guidance of experienced mentors. In time, raging self-doubt will yield to competence and growing confidence. This memoir is a fascinating, and for some no doubt reassuring, reminder of this. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Make Time for Lemonade

It was steamy hot this weekend in Minneapolis. The blow-up pool was out on the back lawn 24/7, Saturday required a morning and evening shower, and I thought maybe if I buzzed my head things would be better.

In the midst of this rainforest weather, my young daughters (3 and 5) ran a lemonade stand in the front yard. As I watched over their business operations, it occurred to me: a lemonade stand provides a perfect introduction to entrepreneurship.

Now our kids had it easy as my wife and I did not demand repayment for the costs of their inventory or require a lien on their toys, but they still sold product, served customers, and practiced counting their precious coins (and bills in some cases from generous customers). More importantly, they gained self-esteem and inspiration to plan more for next time.

Meanwhile, the older (9) girl next door stepped it up a notch with a friend. They bought their own supplies (lemons, cups, napkins, sparkling water, watermelon, and cookies) and established a posh stand down on a busy street and, as they say, made bank. Lemonade was 75 cents, but you could make it sparkling for 25 cents more. Want a cookie or slice of watermelon to go with it? That’s another 50 or 75 cents, respectively.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Protecting Artificially Intelligent Technologies

By Shantal Pai and Amanda McAllister

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly integrated into modern life. From self-driving cars to smart toothbrushes, AI can and will change the way we interact with the world around us.

The proliferation of AI has some inventors and designers considering how they can protect AI-related technologies through intellectual property rights. There also has been much discussion around how to build, design, and protect AI-related technologies without reinforcing biases and while still ensuring due process rights. 

As AI technology evolves, it has been less and less clear how intellectual property protections will apply to these technologies. For instance, most AI-related technologies are ineligible for patents. Courts refuse patents for “abstract ideas,” including software, and consequently, critical components of AI technologies, including data compilations and source code, may be ineligible for patent protection. 

Consequently, many have been looking to trade secrets as a potentially viable way of protecting rights in AI-related technologies. Trade secrets law protects economically valuable secrets when reasonable measures have been taken to protect their secrecy. In order to protect an AI-related technology as a trade secret, an AI developer must be able to do two things: (1) articulate what the trade secret is, and (2) take steps to protect the secrecy of the technology.