The late physicist overcame huge obstacles to become the world’s most beloved scientist.
I love IKEA. There, I said it. So much for objectivity, but it’s important to disclose.
I love the affordability, the designs, and the funky names. Frankly, I love the nostalgia–because I’ve advanced a bit in life to where I actually don’t think I have any actual IKEA furniture in my house anymore. But when I was a little younger and starting out, and I needed the Swedish furniture giant, they were there for me.
There’s one thing I’ve never loved, however, and that I think very few people do: the fact that buying furniture from IKEA usually means anywhere between 15 minutes and a few hours worth of frustrating assembly.
Now, however, IKEA is announcing a solution that could fix this annoying issue.
On Tuesday, IKEA said it’s launching a service to let customers set up an appointment with a Task Rabbit assembly “tasker” while they’re still at IKEA.
IKEA acquired TaskRabbit last year. Rather than pay by the hour, the new program lets customers pay a flat assembly fee that varies based on the items they want assembled, starting at $36.
The service has rolled out already in New York City, San Francisco, and apparently some locations in the United Kingdom. IKEA says its customers in those locations have reacted positively.
However, one tasker interviewed by CNBC said “she was not a fan of the new pricing model … [and that she] had assembled IKEA furniture before but was paid significantly less for the same job [now] under the IKEA name.”
Increased volume should make up for the lower hourly rate, according to IKEA. I guess it all depends on how much time taskers want to devote to the job.
Two years ago I wrote an article about how to quickly put together what I call a “lifeboat career.” This is a quick strategy to earn at least $40,000 a year when somebody’s starting from zero.
No, forty grand isn’t much, but it’s a bit over the average head of household income in the U.S. And if you’re laid off from work, or just graduating without a job, it’s maybe enough to stay afloat.
I mention all this because what was the gig I kept coming back to, that could keep someone afloat? Signing up on TaskRabbit, or one of its competitors like Postmates or Zaarly, and specifically assembling IKEA furniture.
Reportedly, it’s the number-one most popular service offered on the website.
Last September, Christian Haigh learned he was one of the 143 million people in the U.S. whose information was hacked in the Equifax breach.
As you might recall, Equifax issued an apology that was almost laughable. Lawyers started class action lawsuits. But Haigh, who is a co-founder and CTO of litigation finance startup Legalist, had a different approach.
He filed suit against the credit reporting giant in small claims court in San Francisco.
This was a brilliant idea. I can imagine it’s unlikely Equifax thought it might potentially be dealing with individual plaintiffs, suing for fairly small dollar amounts, in very informal courtrooms across the country.
(I have to “imagine” this, to be clear, because I haven’t heard back after emailing the three top U.S. media contacts listed on Equifax’s website asking for any comment on this story.)
Ultimately, Haigh won an $8,000 judgment against the credit reporting giant–later reduced to $5,500 on appeal. In the process, his company started funding other people’s small claims suits against Equifax, too. (Legalist pays lawyers in plaintiff’s suits on an hourly basis, and takes a contingency fee if the case is successful.)
I interviewed Haigh and his co-founder, CEO Eva Shang, 22, after reading two blog posts in which Haigh described his experience (here and here). The two co-founders, both in their early 20s, were friends at Harvard who left before graduating for Y Combinator, and who raised a $10 million investment round last summer.
“I think the theme our company really believes in is that the justice system should be reoriented to help the underdog,” Shang said our call. “A lot of people … believe it’s so stacked in favor of people who have money and power.”
As I learned more about Haigh’s case and the company, I kept seeing certain principles emerge–principles that I think can help David beat Goliath in almost any situation. Here’s the story.
1. Fortune favors the bold.
Here’s the timeline: The breach happened in July; Equifax disclosed it on September 7. Haigh filed suit on September 19. That’s rocket-speed in litigation.
In fact, many lawyers seem to wait until the last day before the statute of limitations expires on a claim before filing. Not Haigh, and none of this would have worked out for him if he hadn’t raced to the courthouse.
“Since we heard about [the Equifax breach] and realized I’d been impacted, I wanted to do something about it,” Haigh told me. “And if I didn’t do something then, I would have never done it. I would have waited until the class actions and forgotten. I wanted to do something.”
2. Choose your battlefield.
If your data was breached, you may choose not to fight, but that only means that you’ve conceded easily. If you are going to fight, it’s best if you can be the one to choose where the fight takes place.
Here, that meant small claims court. Doing battle with Equifax there resulted in a “much more relaxed situation,” Haigh said. As we’ll see, it worked to his advantage. Contrast that to the many who simply logged into Equifax’s website for a year of free credit monitoring–or else, did nothing at all.
3. Turn weaknesses into strengths.
This is when things start to get graceful; when you can find a way to turn something that should be working against you into an advantage. Haigh isn’t a lawyer, and this was his first time in court. But as Shang pointed out:
“When you’re showing up in small claims court, it’s not a literal battle between you and the other side. It might feel like it, but you’re really trying to impress the judge. It’s an arena for regular people to settle grievances. So Christian’s weakness–no law degree–became his strength.”
4. Turn strengths into weaknesses.
Haigh won, but Equifax appealed the judgment, and it sent a high-powered lawyer from the law firm of King & Spalding to oppose him–along with an in-house lawyer and a company vice-president. It would have been natural to be intimidated–but Haigh said he realized this could actually be a good thing for him.
“Equifax, being a large national corporation, part of their litigation strategy is to hire the best people, so they hire King & Spalding. But they’re not really thinking through the fact that King & Spalding probably doesn’t go to small claims court very often,” je told me.
Sure enough, Haigh writes in his blog post, this benefited him when the company’s lead lawyer didn’t know know (or pretended not to know) that in Small Claims Court, hearsay evidence is admissible. Thus, he wasted time and effort arguing that Haigh shouldn’t be allowed to use a report about the Equifax breach from Senator Elizabeth Warren as evidence.
5. Show up.
As the great philosopher Wayne Gretzky once put it, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. And I guess you lose 100 percent of the small claims court cases you never get around to filing.
“This is a no-brainer,” Haigh wrote in his blog post, “but I looked up the woman who came after me as well as the man who preceded me. They both got similar awards in the $8000 range. Just showing up to court could mean a significant judgment.”
6. Keep showing up.
As long as I’m punctuating these principles with quotes, how about one supposedly from Winston Churchill: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
The obvious example of this principle here is the extra effort that Haigh put into winning the appeal–along with his increased “confidence that no matter how stacked the odds are against you, the better case will prevail.”
7. Eat your own dog food.
I honestly don’t know if Haigh and Shang filed this suit expecting to fund other people’s small claims cases against Equifax, or if they came up with the idea only afterward. But Shang told me that not long after the data breach story broke, “we actually started getting applications” for funding these kinds of cases.
“It’s not our main business–our main business is funding business claims, usually,” she said. But she added that with Equifax, “we realized if they pursued their cases in small claims court, it might be a good opportunity. So we put out an announcement that we would fund Equifax cases, and they really started coming in.”
It’s the kind of case we talked about back in law school, and I was intrigued enough to dig up the court complaint down in Missouri. I’ve included it at the bottom of this story.
But I think the most important line in the entire filing is one most people have missed:
“Plaintiff is requesting damages in the amount of $74,999.99 and nothing more.”
It’s an odd number, right? It turns out there’s a smart strategic reason behind the decision to use it–heck, I’d call it brilliant. Below, we’ll go through this strange case, why the plaintiff is suing for exactly one penny under $75 grand, and what all of this means for you as a business leader.
(I’ve asked both the plaintiff’s lawyer and Southwest Airlines for comment. Neither responded.)
The wrong airport
Quick, important fact: There are two airports servicing tiny Branson, Missouri: Branson Airport, which at the time had regular Southwest Airlines service, and the smaller Taney County airport, with a runway barely half the length of Branson’s.
Somehow, the captain and first officer of Southwest Flight 4013 from Chicago mixed up the airports–which are only seven miles apart–and landed at the wrong one.
Nobody was physically injured–but at least one career was ended and things could have been much worse. Passengers allegedly had to wait for two hours after landing before being allowed off, while the plane was filled with smoke.
“We landed very abruptly with the pilot applying the brakes very hard. We smelled burnt rubber from the stop,” another passenger (not the plaintiff in this lawsuit, as far as I know) told Forbes at the time, adding: “[T]he mood is somber now that we realized we were 40 feet from the edge of a cliff.”
The passenger who sued Southwest, Troy Haines, lived in the area and had flown into Branson Airport many times, and says he realized well before the plane landed–even if the pilots didn’t–that they were at the wrong airport, “with a much smaller runway.”
He was “immediately struck with fear and anxiety over potentially crashing,” according to his lawsuit, and he later “suffered severe mental anguish, fear and anxiety, including a panic attack which caused him to be removed from another airline prior to take-off.”
That in turn led him to stop flying, which meant taking a job that didn’t require travel–“at a substantially diminished salary.”
Whether you think the lawsuit sounds reasonable or not, the big question is simply: Why not just round things up a penny and ask for $75,000.
The reason stems from the fact that there are two U.S. court systems: the federal system and the state systems. And, even if a plaintiff files a suit in state court, the defendant can sometimes move (“remove it” in the legal language) it to federal court.
Most often, the defendant does this by showing that the plaintiff and defendants are from different states–but also that the amount at stake is more than $75,000. Suing for exactly one penny less than that blocks Southwest from removing the case to federal court.
“It’s clear [the plaintiff in this case] wants to be in state court and is therefore staying under the monetary threshold for removal to federal court,” said Paul Geller, an experienced civil litigator and a partner at New York-based Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, who is not involved in this case.
“While I don’t necessarily ascribe to it, there is a general overlay in litigation that plaintiffs want to be in state court, and defendants try to find any way to get to federal court (through removal, where permissible),” Geller continued.
“Flight Options Plummet at Branson Airport”
It’s not that suing for one penny under the cutoff is a rare strategy. And, Geller went on to call the idea that state courts are always more plaintiff-friendly “an urban myth.”
I think he might be right, in many cases. But here, several things make filing (and staying) in state court utterly brilliant, in my opinion. If you’re a business owner, or you can ever imagine being a party to a civil lawsuit, you’ll want to pay attention.
First, there’s the fact that five months after this incident–June 4, 2014–Southwest stopped flying into Branson.
You can imagine why this might make sense, business-wise: Taney County, where Brnson is located, only has about 51,000 year-round residents, although it is a tourist destination. Still, when Southwest left (along with Frontier soon after, the only other big airline that had served the area), the airport was hit hard.
In fact, the last time news broke that Branson might be attracting a major carrier, it was all part of an elaborate April Fool’s joke on the part of Sir Richard Branson (same last name as the city), the CEO and founder of now-defunct Virgin America.
I don’t know the exact economic impact of the airport’s demise. But I’m sure it caused damage, as outlined in one newspaper article: Flight options plummet at Missouri’s new Branson Airport. And I’m also confident that seeing your hometown dismissed as too insignificant for commercial flights has to sting.
All of which might make the plaintiff want more Branson-area jurors, while Southwest might want to everything it could to try this case as far away as possible.
50 miles–and a world away
The closest federal court to Branson is 50 miles north, in Springfield.
That means that if Southwest Airlines could remove this case to federal court, they’d be able take it right out of the immediate county where this all happened–a community that Southwest decided a few years ago isn’t significant enough for its business.
And this isn’t just about the location of the courtroom; to my mind it’s about the makeup of the jury pool. Find jurors closer to Springfield, Missouri, and they might not feel one way or another about Southwest.
But pull together a jury in Branson, and a reasonable lawyer might imagine you’d wind up with someone who maybe knew someone who lost a job after Southwest and Frontier pulled out, or who is now inconvenienced by the lack of air service or who don’t like that the big airlines think their hometown is just a punchline.
In other words, maybe you assume that a Branson jury would be predisposed to find for a plaintiff who lived in your town, and who isn’t asking for all the money in the world–and would find against the giant corporation with the out-of-state headquarters that allegedly did him wrong.
So you’d want to keep things in state court, in Branson. And because the plaintiff asked for one penny less than is required for a removal to federal court, Southwest seems stuck.
Brilliant, to my mind.
Or else maybe this is all just about making it harder for Southwest’s lawyers and witnesses to travel to the trial in Branson.
Because as we’ve seen, Southwest doesn’t fly there anymore.
His cockiness was gone. Minutes before he was sentenced to prison, the man known as the “Pharma Bro” and the “most-hated CEO in America” broke down in tears, to the point that the judge asked a clerk to hand him a box of tissues.
Barring an appellate miracle, Martin Shkreli, just a few days shy of his 35th birthday, will be in his 40s before he walks the street a free man again. Judge Kiyo Matsumoto sentenced him Friday to seven years for his stock fraud conspiracy convictions.
It wasn’t quite as harsh a sentence as prosecutors wanted; they’d asked for 15 years, but it was much more severe than the 18 months Shkreli’s lawyers asked for. It’s certainly much more than the “time served” at “Club Fed” Shkreli had predicted he’d get, and where he thought he’d be playing tennis and XBox.
There’s little sympathy for Shkreli on the outside–except for a small but passionate group of supporters, many of whom followed him on social media, and think he got royally screwed over.
Even during his trial, Shkreli seemed to try to show he wasn’t taking seriously: dropping in on reporters (he called the prosecutors “junior varsity”), using social media during the evenings, refusing to wear a tie, and simply reading a book during closing arguments.
Still, it’s not the stock fraud and conspiracy that he’s known for; it’s the notoriety he received as a drug company CEO, when he hiked the cost of an antiviral drug by 5,455 percent (from $13.50 to $750 a tablet)–and seemed to revel in the bad publicity.
What will life be like now for Shkreli, in prison? It’s impossible to predict, but the Internet is awash with accounts of what life is like behind bars for white collar federal prisoners like Shkreli.
In a word, it would seem, Shkreli’s time will likely be “difficult,” for three main reasons:
- Because the cushy Club Fed-style prisons he seemed to anticipate doesn’t really exist anymore (if they ever really did).
- Because Shkreli is already well-known, and likely still fairly wealthy, even after he’ll have to forfeit more than $7 million and pay a $75,000 fine.
- Because if there’s one thing Shkreli has proven, it’s that he has a really difficult time controlling his ego and his mouth. That causes people to feel passionately about him on the outside, and it’s hard to imagine him changing quickly behind bars.
There’s one consolation for Shkreli: The judge sentenced him to less than 10 years, so he’s far more likely to do his time in a minimum security federal prison camp, than a tougher, higher security facility.
Depending on where he winds up, the prison camp he’s at might not have razor wire or even many locked doors. The threat of more time in a tougher facility is enough to keep most people from walking away.
But it’s not fun, and as several well-known people who spent time in federal custody have explained, the deck is stacked against people with a public profile.
“The more ‘high profile’ you are–unlike in the non-prison world–the fewer perks you may receive,” according to a Business Insider article a few years ago profiling former NYC police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who spent four years in federal prison for tax fraud, among other charges.
“Once you arrive at prison–I was shocked by the psychological punishment,” said Kerick who was in the kind of federal prison camp where Shkreli is likely to wind up. You are constantly berated, degraded, demoralized,” he says. “You’re herded like cattle.”
Another former federal white collar prisoner, Mike Kimelman, who was convicted of insider trading and spent 15 months in prison, had a harsh description for it as well.
“I learned what an abject disgrace our prison system is (really the entire criminal-justice system),” he told Turney Duff at CNBC. “While I get that it’s supposed to be punitive, I find it hard to believe that the American public would allow it to exist in its present state if they knew what it was like.”
And, Matthew Kluger, an attorney who got 12 years for insider trading, and gave an interview while still in prison.
“The couple things that are the worst about being here, have nothing to do with the facilities or things that you can show visually on TV. … Here, you look around, and it looks pretty nice,” he said. “[I]f this were filled with 1100 people that you want to hang out with, this would be a fine place to be. Unfortunately it’s not.”
The biggest challenge, he added, “is other people. It’s being with this diverse crowd of people who are generally angry, somewhat antisocial, not the kinds of people that you want to spend your time with in the outside world. So that makes it hard.”
(Kluger’s interview by the way, is really long and wide-ranging on life in a federal prison; if you’re really interested in this it’s worth checking out. He’s still inside, too, until 2022.)
There is certainly life after 40, and Shkreli’s last act has yet to be written. But leave no doubt: this is a harsh sentence and he faces years of difficult challenges as a result.
Of all the things you have to trust when flying, I think the pilot is at the top of the list.
The plane itself–well, no matter what model of aircraft you’re on, it’s likely been through thousands and thousands of flight hours. The airline? Well, it is what it is. But the pilot–the individual person (really two individual people) handling the controls at the front of the plane?
That’s what we call the human factor. You have to believe they’re level headed, diligent, and know what they’re doing.
There are some amazing pilots out there–like for example the ones who landed a United Airlines Bombardier CRJ-200 in a storm in Washington last week, while “pretty much everyone on the plane threw up,” and the “[p]ilots were on the verge of throwing up.”
And there are the ones like the pilot of an American Airlines flight this week who allegedly got into a physical fight with his own airline’s ground crew, was arrested, and now can’t leave the country until his case is settled.
The flight was AA 930 from Sao Paulo to Miami, and the alleged actions of the 59-year-old captain, an American who had reportedly been with the airline for 32 years, wound up keeping a Boeing 777-full of passengers on the ground for 27 extra hours–yes, as in, more than a full extra day.
The dispute arose after the plane’s co-pilot had tried to adjust the “finger,” which is apparently what they call the jetway leading from the terminal to the airplane in Brazil.
The pilot/captain went to help his copilot, and a woman who works for American as an operations agent apparently tried to tell him she thought the jetway was already in the correct location.
Reportedly, she “inadvertently” stepped on the pilot’s foot, and got into a short verbal altercation with him. Then, as the Daily Mail explained, things escalated quickly:
Witnesses claimed the pilot then pushed the victim and grabbed her by the neck. An airport maintenance worker who was on the scene at the time saw the altercation and intervened.
In his defense, the captain claimed the airport attendant tried to punch him. However, the co-pilot has not confirmed this version of events.
In a statement to police, the victim said the ‘pilot had pushed her and grabbed her around the neck’.
Now, he might be stranded in Brazil a lot longer. He’s facing a possible prison sentence of between three months and a year for assault–as the Brazilian law terms it, “offending the bodily integrity or health of another.”
An American Airlines statement in the Mail that confirms that “two crew members were engaged in a discussion in the tunnel that connects a platform to the plane, and then jumps to the part where “the authorities are now in charge of the case and providing support to staff members.”
Passengers were given hotel accommodations and meal vouchers, and flew out on other flights, the airline said. “We apologize to our customers for the problem.”
As Gary Neff at view From the Wing points out, this isn’t actually the first time in recent memory that an airline made news because of a fight of some kind between airline crew members.
Back in 2015, a United Express flight scheduled to go from Lubbock, Texas to Houston was delayed for five hours, after a flight attendant reportedly told passengers that the “pilot and copilot [were] in dispute and she [didn’t] feel safe flying,” and asked if the passengers agreed.
It’s not clear whether there was an alleged physical altercation or just verbal in this 2015 case, but afterward the pilot and copilot were said to have been upset at the passengers, “demanding to know who said they were fighting.”
In the end, the police showed up, the passengers were removed from the plane, and everyone had to wait around for another plane to show up, with new pilots.
New pilots, apparently, with better tempers–and a little more deserving of their passengers’ faith.
Hundreds of Canadian doctors say they’re being paid too much, and they’ve signed a petition asking the government to lower their salaries.
This sounds like the most Canadian thing ever, eh? It’s tempting to dismiss it as just a quirky story.
But once we get past the sheer and literal foreignness of the whole thing, it’s actually an incredible act of leadership.
Here’s the context. Canada, unlike the United States, has a government-run health care system, and the doctors themselves say they’re already pretty well paid.
They also just got a 1.4 percent pay increase in January, but the Quebec health care system, where all this is happening, faces some big challenges. Nurses, for example, say they’re understaffed and trying to care for far too many patients at a time.
A viral Facebook post by one Quebec nurse spelled the situation out in late January, describing her total exhaustion after covering more than 70 patients alone on an overnight shift.
(The post is embedded at the end of this article. The original is in French, but the automatic translation is pretty good.)
So, the doctors announced they want to forgo their pay raise, and put the money back into the health system itself.
“We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the petition reads. (It’s in French, too.) It adds: “The only thing that seems to be immune to cuts is our salary.”
Obviously health care is a big political issue in the U.S., but let’s set that aside. Here are 5 key things to learn about great leadership from all of this:
1. Great leaders put the mission first.
This is the crux of the whole thing here: The doctors say they’re paid well enough, and that they want to put their raises toward the health system as a whole.
2. Great leaders understand the power of symbols.
The Quebec government now says there’s nothing stopping the doctors from simply returning their raises individually, perhaps as donations. But the doctors understand the power that doing this together as a petition sends a powerful symbolic message to the other people they work with.
3. Great leaders think of people as people, not organizational charts.
I recently spent a night in a hospital, fortunately for something that turned out to be just a scare. But with 18 hours and not a lot to do, I watched who really runs a hospital: the nurses, at least from a patient’s eye view. With this Canadian gesture, the doctors showed they understand this, too.
4. Great leaders demonstrate sacrifices.
Giving up a pay raise is a sacrifice. It’s maybe not a huge one in this case: the raise wasn’t gigantic, and the doctors make an average of about $403,537 a year, according to the CBC. But it still sends a message.
5. Great leaders offer thanks.
The words “thank you” (or more precisely, “merci,”) don’t appear anywhere in the petition, but the entire thing is an expression of appreciation to the other people they work with.
Here’s the Quebec nurse’s Facebook post that went viral: