Archive Monthly Archives: September 2017

Uber shares growing financials to distract from negative publicity

Uber, the popular ride-hailing startup, shared a grip of new financial metrics with Bloomberg today. The numbers indicate that the company is still growing at an impressive pace, and that despite staggering losses may be getting a handle on its cash burn.

The companys numbers have leaked in various quantities before, but todays disclosure is a welcome dose of sunlight. That Uber is releasing financial figures at this juncture is perhaps not surprising. The first quarter has concluded, and Uber has come under intense fire in the public realm for a broken culture, petulant leadership and an executive exodus. Also, its chief U.S. rival, Lyft, recently raised $600 million at a newly expanded valuation.

Uber, presumably, hopes that by releasing its revenue growth figures it can change the narrative concerning its business. The company, for some time, was known best as a disruptive startup busy setting records for growth. Its leadership would likely welcome a return to the prior storyline.

Today were going to walk through the numbers together. First, well lay out the facts. Following, well figure out what it all means.

Facts, figures, adjusted losses

Uber had gross bookings of $20 billion, according to information shared with Bloomberg. Of that $20 billion, Uber counted $6.5 billion as net (GAAP) revenue. That works out to a cut of just under a third of all money flowing through Ubers platform.

Uber lost 5 percent more in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to the third. The firm lost $991 million in the final period of last year, according to Bloomberg, implying a loss of around $943 million in the third quarter.

The company lost an adjusted $2.8 billion in 2016. That figure rises to a $3.8 billion tally when losses related to Ubers Chinese operation are included, according to a Bloomberg estimate. (Those results compare to loss of at least $2 billion in 2015, according to a previous Bloomberg report). Both figures do not account for employee stock compensation, certain real-estate investments, automobile purchases and other expenses, according to Bloomberg.

So, on an adjusted basis, Uber lost around $3.8 billion in 2016. The real figure, using a full-GAAP reckoning, is likely higher. Merely employing the $3.8 billion figure, Uber had a -58.5 percent profit margin in 2016.

Those stiff losses are countered in part by rapid revenue growth.

Bloomberg notes that Ubers gross bookings rose by 28 percent from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2016, resulting in net revenue of $2.9 billion for the final three months of the year. However, revenue in the fourth quarter was up a far stronger 74 percent in the fourth quarter when compared to the third.

Why? According to Bloomberg, it boils down to what counts as net revenue:

Revenue includes only the portion Uber takes from fares, except in the case of its carpooling service; the company counts the entire amount of an UberPool fare as revenue. The more Ubers business shifts to the multi-passenger service, the faster revenue grows.

That lessens how impressive Ubers topline result for 2016 is, perhaps. And it certainly shifts how we might consider the companys fourth-quarter growth. The delta between bookings and revenue growth is worth consideration.

Finally, the company has $7 billion in cash and access to billions more in credit according to the same report. Uber is no immediate risk of running short of funds.

Do thelosses matter?

It is not a surprise that Uber loses money. The company is large enough that drips of its financial performance have been slipping through the cracks for some time.

However, that Uber is losing just under $1 billion on an adjusted basis per quarter is notable. Thats a staggering pace of burn, especially when you mentally adjust it to fully account for Ubers cost profile.

Uber has previously had little to no issue raising capital to fuel its continuing operations and growth; however, given the taint of scandal currently swirling around the firm, and its continued losses despite its age, valuation and time-in-market, private investors could be less interested.

It isnt hard to understand questions that new or potentially recurring investors might ask: Given that UberPOOL revenue is counted differently than traditional Uberx revenue, should we trust your non-GAAP revenue over the GAAP result? That would put Uber in the tough position of arguing that investors should only pay attention to its GAAP revenue, and its non-GAAP losses, while investors might have an inclination to the opposite, focusing instead on the companys more modest non-GAAP revenues and its larger GAAP losses.

All that sums to a murky ask: What is Ubers path to profitability?

The profitability hunt

Corrections and caveats aside, Ubers adjusted operating margin dramatically improved in the fourth quarter compared to the third. Its GAAP revenue grew 74 percent while its adjusted losses grew a mild 5 percent. That means its ratio of top to (negative) bottom lines got better.

That is the sort of improvement that quickly growing, but yet-unprofitable companies like to show investors as they discuss their future. No company expects to lose money forever. Uber most certainly does not. Short-term losses for long-term profits are always the goal for well-funded, growth-oriented companies.

That clarifies our question about Ubers path to profits as more a timing question: How quickly can Uber get to profitability?

It will depend on a host of factors, including the companys ride-expense outflow. Uber currently provides some drivers with incentives to drive a certain amount in a set timeframe, for example.

Why is Uber sharing this?

This time Uber gave the financials to Bloomberg, a contrast from the many unauthorized leaks. It seems that they are trying to generate some favorable publicity at a time when the conversations around the company have been anything but.

Like many private companies, Uber generally likes to keep its business closely guarded. But CEO Travis Kalanick takes it a step further, repeatedly downplaying his interest in a future IPO, saying last year it would be as late as humanly possible.

Yet, as evident by the latest financials, Uber is losing a lot of money. That means it is very reliant on investors to keep giving it more.

Thus far, Uber has had success in attracting a long list of investors to add to its coffers, valuing the company at a massive $68 billion, making it by far the largest venture-backed company.

But the price is getting pretty steep and investors may be increasingly skeptical at Ubers growth prospects. Venture investors are often aiming for 3x results within a decade, and with growing competition and a company culture rocked by scandals, its hard to make the case that the company will triple.

So going public would be one way that the company could continue to raise money. Its also a way to keep employees happy, by providing them with some liquidity.

Perhaps this Bloomberg exclusive is a way to test the waters and see how the public reacts, but its likely just an attempt to thwart its growing cadre of naysayers.

What we still dont know

While there have been financial leaks from different periods in time, we are lacking a clear picture of Ubers revenue growth quarter-by-quarter and year-over-year.

And the way they account for UberPOOLrevenue is murky. It would be helpful more detail about what percentage of this is paid to drivers.

Weve posted contribution margins, which shows the revenue-cost breakdown of their primary ridesharing business, but we have yet to get the full account of Ubers other endeavors.

UberEATS, its food-delivery business, has expanded to dozens of cities throughout the world. Based on a report from The Information last year, UberEATS was forecast to contribute $100 million in net revenue, but also contribute to more than $100 million in additional losses for 2017, due to the costs of incentivizing drivers to participate in this newer service.

Uber is growing, but so are losses, albeit at a slower pace than the revenue gains. The company is clearly hoping to get away with the Amazon model of reinvesting in growth, but eventually Uber is going to have to demonstrate to investors, public or private, that it knows how to make money.

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How This Woman Went From The Halls Of Congress To Living In A Van And Doubling Her Income – Forbes


How This Woman Went From The Halls Of Congress To Living In A Van And Doubling Her Income
She runs a successful business where she employs three other women, is earning more money than she ever imagined and has been invited to speak at places like REI's Force of Nature Event about making the outdoors more inclusive for women, no matter

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Is the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line still elite? – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Is the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line still elite?
Blogging The Boys (blog)
Let's check the numbers to see how the Cowboys offensive line has been playing so far in 2017. by Michael Strawn@LifeInCharts Sep 29, 2017, 6:00pm CDT. tweet · share · pin · Rec. The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2017 season with legitimate Super Bowl …

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What Atlanta mayoral candidates said at Thursday's forum – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)

Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)

What Atlanta mayoral candidates said at Thursday's forum
Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)
If the citizens of a government don't' trust it to spend money, there's nothing else we can do. Aman said he had procurements investigated when he saw red flags. Aman said contracts need to be linked to payments and people who own businesses need to be …

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A Cowboys win in Arizona, by the numbers – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

A Cowboys win in Arizona, by the numbers
Blogging The Boys (blog)
Blogging The Boys Blogging The Boys, a Dallas Cowboys fan community. Log In or Sign Up · Log In · Sign Up · Fanposts · Fanshots · Sections; Library; Cowboys · Odds · Shop · About · Masthead · Community Guidelines · StubHub; More. All 319 blogs on.
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The future of chat isn’t AI

At Kik, weve been thinking about the coming bot revolution for a long time. We first launched a basic bot platform a year and a half ago, and millions of users have been chatting with Kik bots ever since. Other messengers, such as Telegram and Slack, have been doing their own work with bots. Now, Facebook is rumored to be announcing its own bot platform for Messenger at f8 on April 12.

Its no longer a question of if bots are coming, but how.

Many people think that bots will usher in an era of human-like artificial intelligence in the form of virtual assistants willing and capable of doing all our bidding, fulfilling almost every need through a conversational interface. Familiar examples are Magic, Operator, and Facebooks M, all of which try to offer comprehensive get things done services through a combination of artificial intelligence and human agents. However, while we find this idea interesting, we arent so sure its the best way forward.

Its no longer a question of if bots are coming, but how.

When you look at the great platforms of the past, you see that theyve always enabled a type of behavior that wasnt possible before they came along. Personal computers, for example, allowed you to take computing home for the first time ever. For the first time ever, the Web let you access information from anywhere in the world. For the first time ever, mobile made connected computing constantly available.

So what will bots let you do that the PC, the web, and mobile never let you do before?

It isnt talking to an assistant. That has been possible via instant messaging, email, and texting for years. In fact, both Magic and Operator offer their services over text today. And while AI might allow those services to get cheaper and faster over time, the experience will never really change. Youll just be talking to a person.

So if not AI, then what? What will bots let you do that was never possible before?

We think the answer is actually quite simple: For the first time ever, bots will let you instantly interact with the world around you. This is best illustrated through something that I experienced recently.

This is an instant interaction, and it is something that only becomes possible with bots. Theres no new app to download, no new account to create, and, perhaps most importantly, no new user interface to learn. You just scan and chat.

During last years baseball playoffs, I went to a Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre. I was running late, so I went straight to my seat to catch as much of the game as I could. But when I got there, I realized I was the only one of my friends without a beer. So, with no beer guy in sight, I turned back to go get a beer. After 10 minutes of waiting in line, I finally got back to my seat. I had missed two home runs.

But good news! In the future, this will never have to happen again. The stadium is developing an app that will let you order from your seat. So next time, I wont have to miss a beatIll just order through the app. It will be great. Or will it?

Imagine I had sat down and found that there was a sticker on the back of the chair in front of me that said, Want a beer? Download our app! Sounds great! Id unlock my phone, go to the App Store, search for the app, put in my password, wait for it to download, create an account, enter my credit card details, figure out where in the app I actually order from, figure out how to input how many beers I want and of what type, enter my seat number, and then finally my beer would be on its way.

Actually, I would have been better off just waiting in line.

And yet there are so many of these types of apps: Apps to order train tickets at stations; apps to order food at restaurants; and apps to order movie tickets at theatres. Everyone wants you to just download our app! And yet, after spending millions of dollars developing them, how many people actually use them? My guess: Not a lot.

But imagine the stadium one more time, except now instead of spending millions to develop an app, the stadium had spent thousands to develop a simple, text-based bot. Id sit down and see a similar sticker: Want a beer? Chat with us! with a chat code beside it. Id unlock my phone, open my chat app, and scan the code. Instantly, Id be chatting with the stadium bot, and itd ask me how many beers I wanted: 1, 2, 3, or 4. Itd ask me what type: Bud, Coors, or Corona. And then itd ask me how I wanted to pay: Credit card already on file (**** 0345), or a new card.

Chat app > Scan > 2 > Bud > **** 0345. Done.

This is an instant interaction, and it is something that only becomes possible with bots. Theres no new app to download, no new account to create, and, perhaps most importantly, no new user interface to learn. You just scan and chat.

To be clear, this is just the beginning of the bots era, and there are many developments to come.

I hear you asking: Isnt this just like QR codes? Not really. People in the West arent in the habit of scanning QR codes because, in almost every case, the experience sucks. Scan a QR code and youll get sent to a slow-loading website with a visual interface that youll likely have to learn from scratch. Scan a chat code, and you get taken instantly to a familiar conversational interface. Scanning the code is the same, but everything else is different.

This all might seem too simple. But to us, thats the beauty of bots. They can reduce friction to as close to zero as computing allows. A Forbes reporter recently described using Kik to scan a code on the wall at a restaurant in Waterloo, Kiks hometown. The scan brought up a bot, which asked her what she wanted to order. She asked for a Diet Coke, and minutes later it was brought to her table. Describing the experience, she said:

It felt a bit like the first time I tapped a button and an Uber car appeared three minutes laterthe magic of what many in the tech industry call online-to-offline, the ability to order physical products or services from an app. Except now you dont even need a new appyou can just chat your way to a richer life.

Among other integrations, we also recently tested these scan bots with a major fast food restaurant chain (which we cant name at this point). The goal was to quickly get a feel for what ordering from the table might be like, so to keep integration simple we asked people to scan and chat to fill out a survey and get cookies delivered. Although it was just a typical day at this restaurant, more than 250 people completed the survey through Kik that day. In normal circumstances, the restaurant would struggle to get even a single response.

How many people would have completed that survey if they had used an app instead of a bot in a chat app they already had? My guess is none. And then no one would get any cookies.

To be clear, this is just the beginning of the bots era, and there are many developments to come. The leaders in this spaceKik, WeChat, Line, Facebook, Slack, and Telegramall have their own ideas about how this is all going to play out. But one thing I think we can all agree on is that chat is going to be the worlds next great operating system: a Bot OS (or, as we like to call it, BOS).

These developments open up new and giant opportunities for consumers, developers, and businesses. Chat apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites. This is the beginning of a new Internet.

Ted Livingston is the founder and CEO of Kik. Follow him on Twitter@ted_livingston.

A version of this story originally appeared on and has been reprinted with permission.

Photo via randychiu/Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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5 Ugly Secrets Behind The Kiosks At Your Local Mall

You know that endless string of mall kiosk guys who hassle you at the intersection between the Orange Julius and Hot Topic? They mostly sell shitty novelty products, electronics, and the idea that you should never make eye contact with a stranger. Those dudes can’t be legit, right? We spoke to one of them, a guy we’ll call David, and the answer can be summed up as “fuck” and “no.” In fact, it’s so much shadier than you could even imagine. For example …

#5. It’s A Fly-By-Night Business That Involves Shipping In Undocumented Immigrants

If you’ve ever been approached by these guys, did you notice that most of them have sexy accents? There’s a reason for that. The company that David worked for recruited mostly from Israel, where such openings are as common as burger-flipping in the U.S. “There are recruitment offices in Israel and job placement websites specifically for that. A lot of them.”

David got involved when he was 22 and just getting out of the army, he says. “I saw an ad on Gmail inviting [me] to come work in America and make a lot of money in a short amount of time. I had nothing to do and thought I could make use of my US. .passport. … Most people that come and do that, though, are completely undocumented and are getting in the country on a tourist visa.”

“Is this visit for business or pleasure?”
“What do sketchy, get-rich-quick email schemes count as?”

“I found myself selling video games in New Jersey and Maryland,” he says. “The company I worked for had 40 or 50 locations in that area with different products in the malls, and they would come for three or four months for the Christmas season, open a bunch of locations, bring a bunch of undocumented Israelis (some of them don’t even know English), house them and everything, make a bunch of money, and disappear.”

We know what you’re thinking: “Holy shit, that sounds like a modern-day slave trade.” But actually …

#4. It Can Be An Obscenely Sweet Gig

Were you picturing a dank basement room full of terrified immigrants crammed in like a slave ship? That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s true that employees lived in company housing, but it was more The Real World than Roots, with one or two roommates and even access to company cars. They were also paid very, very well:

“The job is commission only,” David says. “You typically would get 25 percent to 30 percent of whatever you sell. If you’re good, you can make $5,000 to $6,000 a month. In cash. Tax-free. Some people would make as low as $2,000 a month, but I personally know some people who make $10,000 to $20,000 a month just from yelling to people at the mall and selling them this crap.”

So do we need to be foreign nationals, or is there an application process?

And that’s not even taking into account all the young women who a) hang out at malls and b) really dig accents.

“Many times, you make a sale and someone likes you and you hook up with them later,” David says. “In Vegas, there were a lot of stories of someone meeting a girl and just leaving and coming back.”

For a young person with plenty of free time and a loose definition of morality, it’s the best gig around, and so it tends to attract exactly the kind of people you’d think it would.

“These guys are not deadbeats,” David insists. “A lot of them are the lawyers, engineers, and doctors of the future who just come here temporarily to make fast cash. … Most of them are doing it just to make money to go travel the world afterwards.”

With the insider knowledge to not buy anything from a shitty airport shop.

If you didn’t hate these guys before, you have everyone’s permission to hate them now.

So what’s the point of risking legal trouble by shipping in undocumented immigrants if you’re actually going to treat them well? Mostly so that they can’t set up their own shop once they realize what a sweet racket they’re running. For example …

#3. The Products Are Mostly Worthless

There’s an easy way to tell if something being sold from a kiosk is a scam: The answer is always “probably,” but if it just popped up overnight, it’s “even more probably.” As David explains, “Mostly, year-round products are less crappy, though it depends on the brand. Some are actually really good. Seasonal products are usually total crap.”

Upholding the greatest of all childhood Christmas traditions: getting a stocking full
of poorly made bullshit that will be broken by New Year’s Eve.

Most of David’s time was spent selling a particular gaming system. “That was 2005, so it was way before Wii and these kind of technologies,” David says. “I was selling ‘Virtual Games,’ which were these little consoles you would connect to your TV and each one was a different game. So you could play Virtual Boxing, for example. You connect the console, put on the special gloves and feet sensors and you can stand in front of the TV, and when you punch the avatar on the screen would punch, and when you kick — you get the idea. There was also Virtual Tennis and Virtual Ping Pong that you would play with special rackets. I would play the games in the mall as people are passing by while yelling at them, ‘Check this out!’ and showing them how cool it is. … After they bought it, I would try to upsell with an AC adapter for only $10 so you don’t have to use batteries, etc.”

Pictured: the deluxe model.

Well, hey, whoever made that system was a goddamn visionary, right? They should be getting royalties from Nintendo! Except Nintendo figured out the hard part — how to make it actually work.

“It didn’t really matter what cool boxing and kicking motions you did, it would respond just the same if you just gently move the gloves back and forth (the avatar would still go crazy on the screen),” David says. “Oh, and the AC adapter? That’s the only way to make it work. If you open the battery compartment, there’s nothing there. It’s just plastic shaped like a battery compartment that isn’t connected to anything.”

Pictured: the deluxe fuck you model.

Once you get home and figure that out, tough shit, buddy. On the off-chance that you get lucky and they haven’t already disappeared, they’ll just laugh in your face while rubbing your money on their nipples.

“The thing about demonstration kiosks is that they make you go ‘WOW’ the moment you see it, but it’s a crappy product and there’s no refund. Ever. Under no circumstances would you ever get your money back,” David says. Well, there is one way to get a refund, he admits: “If you mention the word ‘immigration.'”

By the time people find out the truth about a product, they’ll have already moved on to the next thing.

“Video games? No ma’am; we sell totally legit herbal supplements now.”

“Those things don’t exist anymore; that trend has passed,” David says. “Right now it’s all about cosmetics. Dead Sea products from Israel (or Texas, depending on the brand), hairstylers, mineral makeup. They are all over. Probably one of each in every mall close to your home.”

And, yes, they really do convince people to buy those things. You don’t make the kind of money they make without learning to be a really good salesman, i.e. coming up with an astonishing array of tricks to separate non-fools from their money. Such as …

#2. Everything’s Made Up, And The Prices Don’t Matter

Given that the products they’re pushing are already fraudulent, salesmen are encouraged to go all the way with it, up to and including straight-up lying and performing actual magic tricks to get the sale.

“Leprosy? Only if purchased from the ‘Platinum’ line.”

For the ladies in the crowd, has one of these guys ever grabbed you by the arm and started rubbing goo on you (because, yes, even mild assault is not off the table)? That’s where the magic tricks come into play.

Though whether your arm wasn’t already cleaner than anything
coming out of the Dead Sea is debatable.

Sounds like a perfectly legitimate demonstration, right? No, it’s actually a simple chemistry trick:

Once this medicine-man show has got you interested, that’s when they throw out the largest number they think you’ll agree to. If you wanna find out how badly you’re being ripped off, just look over the salesman’s shoulder when you hand over your debit card.

How much above the minimum could we be talking about? How about $13,000.

The only way to win is to not play, but that’s harder than you would think. A lot of the tactics that people think protect them are completely wrong. That’s why …

#1. Your Discomfort Is Their Biggest Strength

Apparently, “I don’t need or want this product” isn’t good enough.

It turns out that the secret to making a lot of money peddling worthless crap is not just to be impressively rude but to prey on decent people’s desire not to be.

At that point, they switch tactics, bullying you into thinking that any polite excuse you give not to buy something isn’t good enough until you either give in or break down and punch them in the taint.

The secrets to a good negotiator are confidence, eye contact,
and uppercutting through the scrotum, not into it.

David says: “As a customer, you don’t wanna be a dick, and we take advantage of the fact that you don’t want to be a dick. … When it’s time to buy, you would convince yourself why it’s a good purchase because you’ll feel uncomfortable walking away. … We make a lot of money off of that.”

But there is hope: “There is a sentence that, if you say, there is no rebuttal for,” David says. “When I first heard it, I just stood there completely dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. My colleague said that if everyone knew to say it, we would all be out of business.” Those magic words are: “‘I love it; I’m already sold; my husband is coming to buy it for me next week.”

“And he totally intends to buy the AC adapter, too!”

David says: “That means that I can’t convince you because you’re already convinced. I can’t get any money from you right now because you’ve already scheduled your purchase and it’s not today.”

There you have it — everyone head down to your local mall and start messing with the immigrants.

For more insider perspectives, check out 4 Horrifying Behind-The-Scenes Realities Of Your Local Mall and 5 Horrible Things Nobody Tells You About Legally Growing Pot.

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A blogger's social media idea sparks a retail revolution, and $1 billion in sales – CNBC


A blogger's social media idea sparks a retail revolution, and $1 billion in sales
For every fashion blogger who's ever wondered, "Can I make money from this?" Amber Venz Box says yes. This one-time personal shopper and millennial is a disruptor in every sense of the word with her Dallas-based company, RewardStyle. That's because …

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Could Jourdan Lewis already be the Cowboys' best cornerback? – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

Could Jourdan Lewis already be the Cowboys' best cornerback?
Blogging The Boys (blog)
Lewis grew by leaps and bounds from game one to game two, with Pro Football Focus ranking him tops among Cowboys cornerbacks. Is it possible he's already arrived? by VAfan@vafanbtb Sep 27, 2017, 6:30pm CDT. tweet · share · pin · Rec.
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Joe Swanberg: ‘be prolific and people will lose the will to fight against you’

During his SXSW keynote address in Austin, the Drinking Buddies director talked about his prolific approach to film-making and staying financially buoyant

Film-maker Joe Swanberg used his SXSW film festival keynote address to deliver a stirring case for indie directors to take chances, be committed to work they love and above all not be scared to be prolific.

Swanberg began by swiftly explaining why he made it a point to be so prolific from the outset of his career. The myth of the brilliant first feature that just takes off and starts off your career is one way to go about it, he said. But the other way to go about it is to be tenacious and make so much shit, that people will lose the will to fight against you.

He added that discussing the business side of film-making and finance was a crucial step. Money is still somehow a taboo subject, he said. It makes it harder to be a film-maker, because nobody is really talking about it. Im a good example of it cause Im standing here proving that any idiot can be here.

To many hes best known for 2013s low-budget romantic comedy Drinking Buddies, starring Olivia Wilde, and that films equally low-fi follow-up Happy Christmas, featuring Anna Kendrick and Lena Dunham. Both films made waves at the Sundance film festivals upon premiering, and went on to open in select theaters and do healthy business on video on demand platforms. But prior to making those two pictures, Swanberg had already completed 13 features (not counting a number of short films and four seasons of the episodic web series Young American Bodies) in just a span of eight years.

Over the course of making these films (standouts include Kissing on the Mouth and Hannah Takes the Stairs, which put Greta Gerwig on the map), Swanberg became associated with the mumblecore movement: a micro-budget style of feature film-making in which dialogue is improvised and often performed by non-professionals. The early work of Lena Dunham, Lynn Shelton (Your Sisters Sister) and Mark and Jay Duplass (Cyrus) fall within that bracket.

On Monday, the same day that Netflix announced that Swanberg had scored an eight-episode, straight-to-series order for the half-hour comedy Easy, described as an anthology that centers on a diverse set of Chicago characters, the mumblecore auteur spoke in Austin. His aim was clear: to demystify the process of actually making a living as an indie film-maker.

During the making of his first two movies Kissing on the Mouth and LOL, both of which premiered at SXSW Swanberg said he held down day jobs to get by. When time got around to shooting his third feature, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Swanberg said he knew it was imperative to give his film-making career all of his attention if he were to truly succeed. I had to fully engage with the process and just choose to be broke of worse, he said. Following Hannah, I had no other job.

Swanberg said his solution to making money fast as an indie film-maker was to sell his films as quickly as possible. Before screening his work at festivals, Swanberg said he would show it to distributors to garner interest. IFC Films, the New York-based indie film distribution company, bought the bulk of his early work.

Every time hed sell one, he said it would buy him a couple of months to make another film. During his most prolific period, Swanberg completed a whopping seven features over the course of a single year. I got just so high making these movies so fast, said Swanberg.

Living off these movies I was forced to pay attention to the business aspects of them, said Swanberg. One thing I noticed is when you premiere a film at SXSW, it generated a lot of attention, but by the time it goes out no one cared. Attention spans were shrinking.

To address that concern, Swanberg agreed to have IFC Films release 2009s Alexander the Last on VOD the same night it premiered at SXSW. Piggybacking off of this technology aided in legitimizing VOD as a certifiable platform for film-makers, said Swanberg. Nobody now looks at the VOD release and thinks anything but: thats a smart way to put movies out.

Swanberg also stressed that releasing the film within such a short time-frame allowed him to make money off it within its first three months of release. Most indie film-makers have to wait months in some cases, years for a film to debut and hopefully turn around a profit following a festival debut.

Swanberg affirmed he had no intention of one day working with A-list stars, as he does now. He explained that once IFC Films told him it could no longer distribute his smaller work following what he dubbed as a restructuring of its brand (the company is now best known for releasing Boyhood), he was advised by his agent to work with high-name talent in order to make a proper living as a film-maker. Thats how Drinking Buddies came to be.

Swanberg followed by urging film-makers to own their own work. The only way youll make money is by investing in your own movies, he stressed. Film school teaches you differently that you can lose money that way. But its also the only way you can make money.

The people who put up the money own half the movie, and then all the artists who make the movie own the other half, he continued. On Drinking Buddies, I owned 7.5% percent I knew I wasnt going to make any money. I needed to own more to take advantage of the success.

To do that, Swanberg said he took his earnings from that him and funneled them all into Happy Christmas, which he shot in his own house on a minuscule budget. When I sold Happy Christmas, it was the first time a sale was really meaningful. What Ive done since then is any money Im making is rolled into the next production.

Is it a form of gambling? Definitely, he added. But Im a gambler and its the only way to make movie. Even if a movie doesnt make a lot of money right away, a movie has a really long shelf life. The bigger ownership stock you have, the more you can make income off that in the long run.

In concluding, Swanberg encouraged film-makers to only make films they believe in, saying that happiness is money too.

Its often just not worth the money to take a shitty job on something you hate, said Swanberg. Nobody likes a bad movie. I dont know any scenario where a filmmaker hates the film theyre making and have that movie turn out any good. You may think that youre taking a paycheck or making some money, but in fact youre making the next person who wants to invest in your work, less likely to do it.

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