Archive for March, 2016


By BEN WIDDICOMBE (New York Times)

Joel Pavelski, 27, isn’t the first person who has lied to his boss to scam some time off work.

But inventing a friend’s funeral, when in fact he was building a treehouse — then blogging and tweeting about it to be sure everyone at the office noticed? That feels new.

Such was a recent management challenge at Mic, a five-year-old website in New York that is vying to become a leading news source created by and for millennials. Recent headlines include “Don’t Ban Muslims, Ban Hoverboards” and “When Men Draw Vaginas.”

“There’s 80 million millennials; we focus on the 40 that went to college,” said Chris Altchek, Mic’s 28-year-old chief executive.

But he is still working out how to manage many of the traits associated with his fellow millennials: a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination.

Mic’s staff of 106 looks a lot like its target demographic: trim 20-somethings, with beards on the men and cute outfits on the women, who end every sentence with an exclamation point and use the word “literally” a lot.

Their crowded newsroom on Hudson Street has an aggressively playful vibe, like a middle-school fraternity house. Some ride hoverboards into the kitchen for the free snacks. Others wield Nerf dart guns or use a megaphone for ad hoc announcements. Dino, a white Maltese terrier owned by the lead designer, snuffles between desks.

Mr. Altchek is proud of the freewheeling office culture. “It helps us to have everyone speak out and best ideas rise to the top,” he said. “What that can feel like or sound like is rudeness. But I’d rather have a lot of people speaking their minds than a very controlled environment.”

But running an office made up exclusively of millennials, it turns out, is not without its snags. His philosophy was tested when Mr. Pavelski, Mic’s director of programming, requested a week off, ostensibly to attend a wake back home in Wisconsin. “I went to talk to Joel and said, ‘So sorry about your loss, take as much time as you need,’” Mr. Altchek said.

Then, several days later, he noticed Mr. Pavelski tweet a link to Medium, a popular blog for cathartic, personal essays. In a post titled, “How to Lose Your Mind and Build a Treehouse,” Mr. Pavelski wrote about feeling burned out at work and wanting to rebuild a childhood treehouse as therapy. The first line read, “I said that I was leaving town for a funeral, but I lied.”

“I was sort of taken aback,” Mr. Altchek said. “It’s not acceptable to be lied to.”

In a disciplinary meeting the next day, Mr. Pavelski’s supervisor acknowledged that he had been working grueling hours, so he was given another chance. Still, Mr. Altchek wanted to send a message. “Our feedback to him was, ‘This is not a three-strike policy, it’s a two-strike policy,’” he said.

Mr. Pavelski is still on his first strike. But even in an office that is tolerant of youthful boundary pushing, some millennial behavior can cross the line.

Mr. Altchek recalled a companywide meeting last September that coincided with the religious holidays Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha. An Anglo-Pakistani employee asked why management had announced a flexible time off policy for the Jewish holiday, but not for its Muslim counterpart.

“So I told her, ‘Great point, being inclusive and respectful of all religious affiliations is incredibly important to Mic,’” Mr. Altchek said.

Afterward, in front of a smaller group, he was approached by a younger, entry-level employee who said that there were two words missing from his reply. “I was a bit confused and said, ‘O.K., what were those?’” he recalled. “And she said: ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t hear an apology.’”

Mr. Altchek did not think such a comment belonged in a workplace, especially his.

“I was a little taken aback by the tone, but I told her I would address it and make sure the person who asked the question wasn’t offended by the answer,” he said. “You have to control your temper. It was in front of a bunch of people, which was probably better, because I was forced to be calm.”

That employee is no longer with the company. (Mr. Altchek said she was let go for “performance-related issues.”)

A sense of entitlement is not the only stereotype attached to millennials in the workplace.

“Entitled, lazy, narcissistic and addicted to social media,” according to CNBC. “They Don’t Need Trophies but They Want Reinforcement,” Forbes wrote. “Many millennials want to make the world a better place, and the future of work lies in inspiring them,” Fast Company proclaimed.

The crowded newsroom has an aggressively playful vibe, like a middle-school fraternity house. Credit Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
Older managers confused by why millennials like to Snapchat with co-workers, or don’t want to pay their dues with grunt work, had better get used to it. Last year, millennials edged out Generation X (35 to 50 years old in 2015) as the largest share of the labor force, according to the Pew Research Center. What’s more, millennials have also surpassed baby boomers.

Joan Kuhl, 36, who founded Why Millennials Matter, a consulting firm that advises employers like Goldman Sachs on hiring and retaining recent college graduates, said that what is needed is more familiarity.

“We tend to publicize these outrageous acts of defiance, versus emphasizing the majority that I run into and work with, who are very mission focused and value based,” she said.

Ms. Kuhl educates her clients on the quirks of millennials, and why a 21-year-old sees nothing wrong with oversharing. Millennials are pushed to create a “strong personal brand” to land a job, Ms. Kuhl said, so asking them to tone it down once they are employed sends “a lot of mixed messages.”

Still, even Ms. Kuhl has been taken aback by some of the millennials in her office. She remembered an intern who ate a tuna fish sandwich during a 10 a.m. meeting with very senior colleagues. When mildly rebuked afterward, the intern replied, “Well, you said to be myself, and I was hungry.”

So imagine a workplace where all are in their 20s.

Mr. Altchek founded Mic in 2011 (then operating as PolicyMic) with Jake Horowitz, now 28, his former classmate from the Horace Mann School in New York.

Today, Mr. Horowitz reports from the field (such as the Syrian migrant crisis from the beaches of Greece, and interviewing President Obama in the White House), while Mr. Altchek runs the business out of a 15,000-square-foot converted warehouse in the Hudson Square neighborhood.

Millennial news has significant competition for eyeballs. According to the data provider comScore, Mic had about 19 million unique visitors in January, compared with 79.7 million for BuzzFeed, with five other competitors falling in between. (A Mic spokeswoman pointed out that rivals like Vice Media operate multiple branded sites that roll into their comScore number, whereas Mic relies on just one site.)

At Mic, part of the growth strategy is not just airing, but blaring, its business on social media.

Hence there are office conversations held on Twitter, and the blurring of personal and professional boundaries, such as when Mr. Altchek broadcast his dental examination on Periscope, a live streaming video app.

Indeed, several Mic staffers cited the “say anything” office culture as one of the things they loved most about working there.

“People are here from morning to night, and we don’t want to leave,” said Elizabeth Plank, 28, a high-energy reporter who lives in the East Village and hosted a video series called “Flip the Script,” which seeks to challenge assumptions like, “What Happens When a Lady ‘Manspreads.’”

Ms. Plank contrasted her freedoms at Mic to her previous job at a feminist nonprofit organization, which she regarded as exemplifying the outdated work practices of older people.

“We called people on phones and we — I don’t know — we faxed people,” Ms. Plank said, sounding exasperated. “And we had to mail things. And no one really took my opinion into consideration.”

At Mic, she was able to dabble in different jobs and negotiate grandiose titles like “executive social editor.” Often, she prefers the theater of tweeting back and forth with the editor she sits next to rather than speaking face to face.

“If you can be young at heart, I think it makes your personal, and not only your work life, better,” added Ms. Plank, who left for Vox last month after two and a half years at Mic.

Mic apparently isn’t a good fit for everyone. Madhulika Sikka, who left NPR last year to join Mic as executive editor, announced earlier this week that she was leaving the website, saying on Twitter that she was “ready to take on something new.”

Perhaps because of this very culture of workplace-as-reality-show, Mr. Pavelski, the prevaricating treehouse builder, remains notably unchastened.

“Maybe this is because I’m young, but, like, I don’t think that there is a lot about my personal life that I wouldn’t want to incorporate into what I’m doing professionally,” he said. “The reason I wrote that essay in the first place was about catharsis, and I wanted to walk through my thought process and figure out what was going on with me.”

The logic of that may be more apparent to his age group.

“The one thing I don’t want people to mistake is that we’re serious about this,” he added. “And that we’re taking over. That is all.”

Correction: March 19, 2016
An earlier version of this article omitted the news of the departure of Madhulika Sikka, which was announced after the article was edited but before it was published. An earlier version of this correction misspelled Ms. Sikka’s given name.


Riley McDermid                                                                                 Digital Producer                                                                                             San Francisco Business Times

The Bay Area is the most profitable place to buy a house, renovate it and then resell it quickly, making it the best region in the U.S. to “flip” a house, real estate tracking firm RealtyTrac said this week.

RealtyTrac analyzed sales deed data and automated valuation data and included any single-family home or condo flip from the second quarter, where a previous sale on the same property had occurred within the last 12 months.

It found that the markets most likely to make the highest profits were in the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco/East Bay.

You can see the full ranking with locales and average gross flipping profits below, and the report here.

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara — $145,000
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward — $145,000
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) — $120,000
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim — $115,000
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura — $110,000
  • San Diego-Carlsbad — $102,500
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (Washington) — $99,000
  • Urban Honolulu (Hawaii) — $96,346
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, (District Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia) — $96,000
  • Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (Maryland) — $91,542


Diana Olick CNBCNews

Rising home prices are bringing more house flippers out of the woodwork, and that may be a sign of an overheating housing market. The number of active home flippers last year was the highest in nearly a decade, and it is only growing.

Nearly 180,000 family homes and condos were flipped in 2015, according to RealtyTrac. A flip is defined as a home that is bought and sold again within the same 12 months. Flips made up 5.5 percent of all sales last year, and that is the first increase in the flip share after four years of shrinking. Flipping increased in 75 percent of U.S. markets, and the profits are growing as well.

“As confidence in the housing recovery spreads, more real estate investors and would-be real estate investors are hopping on the home flipping bandwagon,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at RealtyTrac. “Not only is the share of home flips on the rise again, but we also see the flipping trend trickling down to smaller investors who are completing fewer flips per year.”

Jim Pinson works with investors to flip houses on the south side of Chicago and does two or three flips of his own each year in the Oak Lawn area. Home prices in Chicago have not soared as much as in other parts of the nation, but there are still a lot of distressed homes available for sale, and plenty of investor demand.

“Oh my God, there are multiple offers on almost every decent margin profit house that pops on the market,” said Pinson.

The concern now is that prices are rising too fast, not because buyers can afford to pay more but because of extremely short supply of homes for sale, especially on the lower end of the market. Home prices in January were 6.9 percent higher than the January 2015, according to CoreLogic, a higher annual gain than in December. Home flipping can push prices artificially higher, especially in markets with the tightest inventory.

“When home flipping numbers go up, it is usually an indication that the housing market is in trouble,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate in Seattle, who was quoted in the RealtyTrac report.

That was the case during the housing boom in the mid-2000s, but at that time flippers were putting next to no money into their investments, instead using cheap credit. That credit no longer exists. They have to put significant money into their flips, even when using investor loans.

“More inexperienced home flippers with a smaller financial cushion could be a sign of an over-speculative market, but the data indicate that flippers in 2015 continued to operate within relatively conservative margins,” said Blomquist. “Homes flipped in 2015 were on average purchased at a 26 percent discount below estimated market value and resold by the flipper at a 5 percent premium above estimated market value.”

Still, affordability for that end-user, the owner occupant looking to buy perhaps a first home, is weakening. First-time home buyers are still a much lower share of home buyers today than they are historically. The risk of another home price bubble could push them even further away.

As home prices rise, even in Chicago, investors have to put more money down and put money into renovating the homes, which are often in severe disrepair. Investors have to be careful to make sure they’re buying the right house in the right place, otherwise they won’t find buyers ready to move in.

“Demand is block by block, and you’ll have people running out and making offers, but it depends on what block you’re in,” added Pinson.

Just after the housing crash, large institutional investors moved in and bought thousands of distressed properties and turned the vast majority of them into rental homes. They are now buying fewer homes, leaving the field open for smaller investors who would rather flip than hold the homes. The total number of investors who completed at least one flip in 2015 was at the highest level since 2007, and the number of flips per investor was at the lowest level since 2008, according to RealtyTrac.

Flippers are watching home prices rise, and in turn seeing returns rise. Homes flipped in 2015 yielded an average gross profit of $55,000 nationwide, the highest for flips nationally since 2005, according to RealtyTrac. The return on investment was close to 46 percent, up from 44 percent in 2014 and up from 35 percent in 2005. 2005 was when flipping was rampant, thanks to super easy credit. Back then, over 8 percent of all sales were flips.

Today flippers are seeing the best returns in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and New Haven, Connecticut. The biggest dollar returns are in California and New York, but investors there must put bigger dollars down for those flips.