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Hacking Diversity In Tech By Emphasizing Retention

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Conversations around diversity in tech often focus on the “pipeline” and getting more people from underrepresented groups through the door. But that’s just a first step. The next, most critical step is retention. There’s no point in a company using its resources to hire a diverse people if they’re not going to offer them an environment that is both supporting and nurturing.

“It’s not to say that you shouldn’t focus on [hiring], but to focus on that and not focus on retention, it’s like you’re filling up a leaky bucket,” Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson tells me.

Paradigm is a consulting startup that focuses on diversity. It’s currently working with high-growth companies like Pinterest and Slack on fostering and retaining a diverse workplace. That’s because if companies can’t effectively retain diverse people it’s a huge waste of money and resources. In fact, the cost of recruiting and hiring a new employee is typically 20 percent of the annual salary for that person, according to the Center for American Progress.

“I think that [retention is] as important if not more important because you don’t want to churn out diversity,” Twitter Engineering Manager Leslie Miley, who is black, tells me. “Because if you churn out diversity, that says a lot about your culture. Companies that do churn out diversity will never be able to increase their diversity. It sounds very simple, but it’s really interesting to see that some companies haven’t figured that one out.”

Losing diverse employees could mean a couple of things, Miley says. It could mean either that it’s a culture that doesn’t recognize diversity matters, or it could be that there’s just a bad apple driving people out the door.

“I have actually seen that previously in my career where one person can create an environment that is just chilling for people of color,” Miley says. “There’s one example, but I won’t name the company, by the time they realized that there was a problem, it was too late.”

Even though Miley didn’t specifically call out Dropbox, my bet is that he was referring to the situation with former Dropbox employee Angelica Coleman, who says she left the company because of its unsupportive environment.

Women leave tech companies at twice the rate of men, according to a study by the Harvard Business Review. The most common reason is the working conditions (e.g. no advancement, number of hours, low salary).

One way to combat retention issues is by determining if your company is at risk of them, which can be accomplished through surveys, Emerson says. These surveys should ask employees things like how long they plan to be at the company, how they perceive diversity and inclusion in the company, and if they are aware of opportunities for advancement. And one way to signal to diverse employees that there are opportunities for advancement is to ensure there are people from underrepresented backgrounds in leadership roles.

Companies also need to recognize that a high retention rate of diverse employees doesn’t necessarily mean the company’s doing anything right, Emerson says. People might be forced to stay on at a company because of financial reasons, not because they actually enjoy working there. “If people aren’t leaving, companies sometimes make the assumption that everything is fine, and that’s not always the case,” Emerson says.

Productivity startup Asana, another high-growth company that Emerson works with, recognizes that retention of diverse employees is really important, but it tries not to create mechanisms just to keep people at the company.

“Instead we rely on our own values as the north star, and literally hold ourselves accountable, Asana Head of Recruiting Andy Stoe says. “We also try to remove the ‘golden handcuffs’ so people want to stay at Asana for the right reasons.”

The “golden handcuffs” Stoe is talking about are the benefits, like stock options and other deferred payments, that aim to discourage people from leaving the company. Asana has tried to loosen the handcuffs by changing the standard terms that apply to the company’s new stock options.

In the past, employees had just three months after leaving Asana to exercise their options before they were forfeited. Now, employees have 10 years to exercise those options from the date Asana grants them, even if they leave the company before that time.

Ultimately, tech companies need to be thoughtful about the kind of work environment they create, and how they enable diverse employees to seek and attain opportunities for advancement. Companies also need to be aware of what is incentivizing people to stay. Is it because of the company’s supportive, nourishing environment? Or, are employees staying because of the golden handcuffs around their wrists? If it’s the latter, something needs to change.

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Uncovering ECHELON: The Top-Secret NSA/GCHQ Program That Has Been Watching You Your Entire Life

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If history is written by the victors, government surveillance agencies will have an awfully long list of sources to cite.

Domestic digital surveillance has often seemed to be a threat endured mostly by the social media generation, but details have continued to emerge that remind us of decades of sophisticated, automated spying from the NSA and others.

Before the government was peering through our webcams, tracking our steps through GPS, feeling every keystroke we typed and listening and watching as we built up complex datasets of our entire personhood online, there was still rudimentary data to be collected. Over the last fifty years, Project ECHELON has given the UK and United States (as well as other members of the Five Eyes) the capacity to track enemies and allies alike within and outside their states. The scope has evolved in that time period from keyword lifts in intercepted faxes to its current all-encompassing data harvesting.

In a piece published today in The Intercept, life-long privacy advocate Duncan Campbell describes his past few decades tracking down the elusive Project ECHELON, “the first-ever automated global mass surveillance system.

Until Snowden placed the full capacities of the NSA and other government spying agencies in plain sight, ECHELON was largely just another codename in the conspiracy-theorist’s notebook.

Campbell made the first references to the program in his 1988 piece, titled Somebody’s Listening, where he detailed a program capable of tapping into “a billion calls a year in the UK alone.”

Campbell described his conversations with a source, preceding that piece’s publication.

The scale of the operation she described took my breath away (this was 1988, remember). The NSA and its partners had arranged for everything we communicated to be grabbed and potentially analyzed.

The program reportedly utilized massive ground-based radio antennas to intercept satellite transmissions containing the digital communications of millions. It then relied on its content-sensitive dictionaries of keywords and phrases to scour the communications for relevant information.

In February of 2000, 60 Minutes published a report detailing the existence and scope of ECHELON. Mike Frost, a former spy for Canada’s NSA-equivalent, CSE, told the host just how large the program’s reach really was, “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.”

Frost also recounted a tale of how exactly the program was being used.

While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a–a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w–was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.

Details of ECHELON outraged Europeans in the months following the reports from Campbell and 60 Minutes. In the summer of 2000, European Parliament appointed a special ad-hoc committee to spend a year investigating ECHELON, with some arguing that by spying on European communications, the U.S. was breaching the European Convention on Human Rights. Little materialized from the committee, other than a vote recognizing the program’s mere existence.

Following the 2005 discovery that the Bush Administration had been tapping Americans’ phones without warrants, some speculatively pointed to ECHELON as a tool that the government may have been using.

Since then, the program has largely been presented to the public only through posts on government surveillance/conspiracy forums with limited references in declassified documents to guide those questioning the program’s full potential.

It has largely faded from public consciousness, especially as details of its far more powerful offspring have been exposed, but it’s important to frame automated government surveillance as an issue of our lifetimes rather than short-sightedly confining its influence to the advent of the mainstream internet.

It is now abundantly clear, thanks to internal documents leaked by Snowden, that the program exists, but what is unclear is what that means. PRISM and XKeyscore certainly represent a more shocking invasion of the information we have digitally presented, but ECHELON shows us that the privacy of our communications have indeed always been under attack.

These instances of government surveillance have been justified by decades of disparate “threats” under multiple administrations that have repeatedly made promises to “prioritize privacy without compromising security,” while we all have been led by the current narratives.

As the broken record continues to play, further examining ECHELON suggests the importance of looking to the past to remember what sounds familiar.

Featured Image: Anna Jumped/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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Swipe To Patent: Design Patents In The Age Of User Interfaces

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Editor’s note: This is a QA between attorneys Beth Ferrill and Lauren Dreyer of Finnegan, and UX/UI designers Erik Dreyer of GoodShuffle and John Sanchez of Academy.

User experience and user-interface design is an emerging field in the technology industry, even more so in the legal world of patents. (Sometimes this field is known by the shorthand UX/UI.) It might surprise you to know that the fastest growing segment of design patent filings is in the UX/UI space.

In the past, companies that manufactured a physical object, like a sneaker, often protected their designs with design patents. For a company like Nike, design-patent protection is important to preventing competitors from copying their shoe designs. But, the same is true for companies invested in UX/UI.

The surge in UX/UI design has created iconic features that cause consumers to immediately associate a design with a particular brand. From cell phones to remote controls, gaming devices to virtual reality headsets, modern products are carefully designed with the user in mind.

Because a product’s success often depends upon these creative design choices, protecting the design is critically important to differentiating your product from a competitor’s product.

Some of the top filers of UX/UI design patents include Samsung, Microsoft and Apple. With more and more innovation happening in non-traditional digital spaces, like wearables, smart watches and even home appliances, user interfaces and experiences are becoming a key segment of a company’s overall brand and should be considered part of their overall IP portfolio. This is true for established companies and startups.

Nonetheless, there remains some skepticism and misconceptions about design protection in the UX/UI area. We all sat down to talk about why design patents matter for UX/UI.

Beth: Erik, let’s just get this out there; it isn’t any coincidence that you and Lauren both have the last name Dreyer, right?

Erik: No, it’s not. We are married, which is how I learned about this topic in the first place. But, this also seemed like a great format for me to grill my wife about her work and to get some of my questions answered.

Erik: So what is a UX/UI design patent anyways?

Beth: A design patent keeps others from using graphical user interfaces (GUIs), online icons or other UX/UI features that are substantially similar to the design in your patent. GUI design patents are either static (not moving) or animated (moving).

Design patents covering animated icons or interfaces are much less common than those covering static designs. An animated design patent is basically a series of images with elements that appear to “move” when viewed — much like a cartoon flip-book. For instance, Apple has a design patent for its page-turning animation:

It is important to understand that this design patent doesn’t cover “turning” any page, but rather the appearance of Apple’s design in turning a page. Here is another animated design patent from a start-up named Quixey, whose app promises to help users search for new apps in Google Play. This example shows the “flip book” idea:

John: Hmmm. Sounds interesting. What are the requirements to get a design patent?

Lauren: Like all patents, design patents are only granted for designs that are new and not obvious versions of existing designs. While the underlying article must have a function (meaning it isn’t a piece of artwork), the design patent protects the ornamental aspects of the design — meaning the design cannot be solely dictated by function.

But UX/UI is all about function, right? Not necessarily. A good indicator as to whether a design meets this test is when there are alternative designs that can provide the same function. For example, there are many different ornamental designs for the shape of a smartphone or a beer bottle. Likewise, a UX/UI design patent would cover the aesthetic, as opposed to the specific functionality, of the experience. Let’s use Nest Labs’ digital thermostat as an example.

Although the digital thermostat comes with loads of functionality, Nest obtained a design patent on the look-and-feel of the circular display with the rotating clock-like controls. And there are, of course, many alternative ways that Nest could have displayed and oriented its thermostat.

For example, traditional thermostats are usually rectangular with push buttons and another rectangular display face. Because alternative designs provide the same functionality (controlling the temperature), Nest’s design can qualify as subject matter for a design patent.

John: Are there limitations to what can be patented? For example, I saw this cool CSS3 animation that I want to put my own spin on. But, the original animation isn’t mine. Can I patent that?

Lauren: You can certainly add your own design features to something that already exists. Most designs do just that! As long as your design is new, contains a non-obvious change from the existing design and covers ornamental aspects, you may be able to get a design patent on it. During examination, the key issue will be if your new design features are different enough from the existing design (known as the “prior art”) to get over the non-obviousness hurdle.

Erik: Is there a minimum level of sophistication, complexity, innovativeness, level of research and development, etc. to get a design patent?

Beth: New and not obvious are the primary guidelines. Additional complexity in your design might ultimately make it easier to overcome prior art designs during the examination, but this is a double-edge sword. This additional complexity could also make later enforcement of the design more difficult, because the added complexity makes it is less likely that a competitor’s design will be deemed to infringe (meaning that the two designs have substantially the same overall visual impression).

Of course, another thing to remember is that you may wish to change your commercial product and you would probably still like your design patent to cover new versions, as well. So you should try to focus on patenting the underlying, fundamental elements of your UX/UI, and not focus on minor elements that you might change in the future.

The most important features of your design patent application are the drawings. The U.S. Patent Office will look at your drawings carefully — to make sure they are clear and consistent with each other — in deciding whether the design is new and not an obvious variant over existing designs.

And the U.S. Patent Office can be picky about UX/UI drawings — changing them after you file can be difficult, if not impossible. Your UX/UI design application may be a one-shot attempt, meaning it is critical to get the drawings right on the first go-round.

John: How do you patent a user experience if experiences are shaped by a number of variables, such as time of day, weather, user emotions, etc.?

Lauren: As noted above, this is another reason that it helps to focus on the underlying design concept. For example, the GUI might feature a yellow background during the day and a blue or purple background at night, but the underlying design is probably consistent throughout.

Focus on the way the user interacts with the design and how the user expects the design to respond. If the interface changes so dramatically that there isn’t much of a consistent design, it is possible to procure multiple design patents on the same product.

Because a design patent can claim an innovative sub-part of a design (in addition to the whole thing), designers often find it useful to get more than one design patent per product — covering different sub-aspects or iterations of a single product.

Luckily, design patents typically cost a fraction of the cost of utility patents. And, on average, it takes only 15-18 months from the time you file it to the time it gets approved by the U.S. Patent Office (compared to the 3-5 years it can take to get a utility patent approved). So it is often a viable option to have multiple design patents based on a single UX/UI.

Erik: How do I know if something I am about to design or develop is patented?

Lauren: All U.S. design patents are made public and searchable on the U.S. Patent Office’s website. Before investing the resources to obtain a design patent, consider searching for existing patents that claim similar designs. Some companies search for similar patented designs before even developing their user interfaces.

It might not be your common practice, but if you have created something innovative, or if your product solely relies on that innovation as its key selling point, then do your research and make sure you are not building something that has already been built.

John: How often are current design patents enforced? Are they only enforced by corporations against other corporation, or do they attack the small agencies, too?

Beth: Many disputes over design patents are simply settled without court involvement. Sometimes, just a letter telling a competitor about the patented design and offering a license, or suggesting the company adopt a different look, will cause the competitor to adopt a new design.

In fact, many design patent holders report that they rarely resort to filing a lawsuit to enforce their rights. When the would-be infringer is a small company, it may make more financial sense for the patent holder to send notice of their patent rights, which is often sufficient for the competitor to move in a different direction. Of course, sometimes companies sue each other, as we saw in the Apple v. Samsung case, but that is an outlier.

John: If patents aren’t enforced often, why bother applying for one?

Beth: They are enforced, just not always through a lawsuit, as some patent holders find it more effective to mark their products with their patent numbers or send notice letters to competitors. Some companies enjoy a layer of protection just by becoming “known” as a company that uses intellectual property to protect its products.

Patents can also add value to your products, because intellectual property rights may attract investors. Patents can also serve as defensive tools. If another patent holder accuses your company of infringement, you can more easily prove you are practicing your own patented invention, not theirs.

But, perhaps most importantly, UX/UI design patents can instill product branding, differentiating a company from competitors. The many UX/UI features that Microsoft, Samsung and Apple have patented are good examples of how design patents can bolster the look and feel of a user experience and lend product recognition to different UX/UI features.

Erik: But can’t design patents hinder the UX/UI advancement by pre-empting similar design concepts? 

Lauren: U.S. law allows the patent owner to keep others from using a substantially similar design to what is covered by the design patent. And this makes sense. Patent protection exists so that an inventor who has invested time and financial resources in developing an invention or design can recover those costs.

In addition, the public benefits when competitors must innovate new designs that venture in a different direction to avoid infringing on an inventor’s rights. Such innovation provides the public with a new (and hopefully better) choice of design and user experience.

But, just because Microsoft has a design patent on a recycle bin icon (see below), does not prevent UX/UI designers from ever creating another recycle bin icon.

It is just that the other recycle bin icons simply cannot adopt substantially the same overall ornamental design as Microsoft’s recycle bin. And just look at some of the many recycle bin designs that UX/UI designers have created:

John: If I think my design is worthy of one, what is the incentive for me to apply for a design patent? 

Beth: If your UX/UI is innovative and you think that it differentiates you from others, consider ways to patent it. Especially if you have invested money to develop your design and you would like to keep others from copying it. Think about the key features that help you associate a product with a company’s brand: Apple’s slide-to-unlock feature or Microsoft’s Windows 8 tiled home screen.

These designs are often a company’s lifeline. Considerable thought is put into the UX/UI so that the company can differentiate the product among competitors. Identify those designs that your company thinks are particularly innovative and iconic. Although intellectual property can sometimes be an expensive investment, design patents are usually considerably cheaper and provide some great protection.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/uWC0W42-RbQ/


#ILookLikeAnEngineer Aims To Spread Awareness About Gender Diversity In Tech

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When OneLogin Platform Engineer Isis Wenger agreed to participate in the company’s recruiting campaign, she felt pretty apathetic about it. She also didn’t anticipate the backlash that has come from it.

“As a genuine introvert I have never cared much about gaining public attention and I really wasn’t prepared for how much everything blew up,” Wenger told me in an email. “Honestly when I see ads, I don’t think much of them and I certainly don’t try to read deeply into them. It was surprising to me to see that other people did.”

The ad, pictured above, is part of OneLogin’s efforts to recruit more engineers. The recruiting campaign featured several of OneLogin’s engineers along with statements about why they like working at the company. For ultimate visibility, OneLogin put up the ads in both BART and MUNI stations at Embarcadero in San Francisco, OneLogin Director of Design and Brand Experience Chloë Bregman, who was in charge of the campaign, told me in an email. The company also decided to put up additional images of Isis throughout the city in order to positively highlight women in tech.

To both the company and Wenger’s surprise, what got people talking about the campaign wasn’t the image of its security engineer wearing a black hat and hackers shirt, Bregman says. Instead, it was the photo of Wenger. Here’s a taste of what people had to say about it:

This is some weird haphazard branding. I think they want to appeal to women, but are probably just appealing to dudes. Perhaps that’s the intention all along. But I’m curious people with brains find this quote remotely plausible if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like. Idk. Weird.

And here’s what another guy said:

If their intention is to attract more women then it would have been a better to choose a picture with a warm, friendly smile rather than a sexy smirk.

The negative opinions about the ad further illustrates that sexism is alive and well in the tech industry. Wenger explains it perfectly in her post on Medium, saying, “At the end of the day, this is just an ad campaign and it is targeted at engineers. This is not intended to be marketed towards any specific gender — segregated thoughts like that continue to perpetuate sexist thought-patterns in this industry.”

To change the way people think about engineers, Wenger started the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer.

“#iLookLikeAnEngineer is intentionally not gender-specific,” Wenger says. “External appearances and the number of X chromosomes a person has is hardly a measure of engineering ability. My goal is to help redefine “what an engineer should look like” because I think that is a step towards eliminating sub-conscious bias towards diversity in tech.”

Now, #ILookLikeAnEngineer is trending on Twitter in San Francisco. Here’s a look at how people, including Wenger, are contributing to the conversation.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/R6d510Hg8uI/


Frontback Is Back With A New Team

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It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for the Frontback community right now. On July 23, the company announced that it would shut down on August 15. But something unexpected happened. A new team is taking over at Frontback and the service will stay open after August 15.

“It’s still very fresh news; things are moving in real time,” Frontback co-founder Frédéric della Faille told me. “We’re super happy we found a solution for our community and truly blessed by the thousands of messages. The new team will introduce themselves at the right time. We wanted to respect our community and get the message out as soon as possible.”

Shortly after the shutdown announcement, an unnamed partner negotiated with the current Frontback team to take over the product.

“Our team will help them during the transition, after the transition both my co-founder and I are not going to be involved anymore,” della Faille said.

I tried to get more details about this new secret partner, but the terms of the deal are confidential and the new team will introduce itself in the coming weeks. So it’s just a matter of time before we know more about this partner.

As a reminder, Frontback raised nearly $4 million from a team of star investors and got a lot of attention shortly after its launch. Despite getting 3 million downloads and 2 million users in two years, it wasn’t enough to create a hockey stick startup.

Here’s the current message on Frontback’s website:

We recently announced a bad news to our community, and you won’t believe what happened next.

But first we want to thank you all for your messages, we’ve got more than thousands from all over the World, you made us cry and smile. You are all very special and we love reading your words.

But what happened? It’s simple, Frontback stays open!

We just signed an agreement with a partner who believes as much as we do that there’s something incredible with Frontback. This partner is fully committed to make Frontback an even better place to share your moments, we were impressed by how much they understand the platform and we will help the new team to make the transition as smooth as possible.

In our discussions they came up with fresh ideas for the products, and now that we are here we would love to ask you: How to make Frontback better?
Please share with us all your suggestions, the new team is listening to you!

#Dontstopthefrontback

Thank you for everything,
— Team Frontback

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Soylent Debuts Its Ready-To-Drink Meal Replacement Shake, Soylent 2.0

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Venture-backed food replacement drink maker Soylent – yes, named after the movie where people unknowingly were sustained by eating other people – is out today with its newest product. The company this morning introduced “Soylent 2.0″ (still not people), which is actually a vegan, soy-based nutritional drink that’s now shipping in a ready-to-drink package. Previously, Soylent sold its $3-per-meal shake in the form of a powder that shipped with a free mixer and scoop.

The outside investment helped bring the cost down to $2 for 400 kcal of Soylent (or $70/mo), which itself is a mix of carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins and dozens of other vitamins.

The startup built a lot of buzz, especially among the highly driven tech community and college student crowd, who would down Soylent instead of meals when they were too busy coding or cramming to take time out to eat.

But the company’s product was only well-known among a fairly niche crowd of early adopters, due not only to its newness, or the inconvenience of having to make your own shakes, but also because of the way the startup marketed Soylent – as something that’s meant to “disrupt food.” Founder Rob Rhinehart even lived exclusively off Soylent for a month, before adding back “recreational eating” (aka eating food) into his diet. To date, the company reached 50,000+ customers, it says, including both subscriptions and one-time orders.

But with the addition of a ready-made blend, which the company describes as being designed from the “ground-up” with a combination of the vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates and protein that the body needs, Soylent is targeting a slightly different demographic. As noted in a company blog post, Soylent 2.0 customers can use the new product to help them avoid convenience food like fast food, or to fill up mid-morning after inadequate breakfasts.

In other words, Soylent 2.0 is looking to gain traction among those who already buy meal replacement drinks. That’s a wider market where there are a number of competitors, like Ensure, Boost; diet shake makers such as Slimfast, Atkins, Special K, Nutrisystem, and others; as well as makers of protein drinks or other beverages aimed at athletes, those on special diets, and more.

Soylent 2.0 is described as a vegan drink with its fat energy coming from farm-free algae sources, and a low glycemic index thanks to 47 percent of its energy coming from healthy fats. Another 33 percent comes from slow digesting carbohydrates and 20 percent comes from protein. The idea, with this formula, is to provide an even and sustained release of energy, instead of offering spikes and crashes.

Each bottle of Soylent 2.0 also has 20 percent of daily values for all essential vitamins and minerals, the company says, and has an unrefrigerated shelf life of one year.

Until the product reaches customers’ hands, however, it’s unclear how the new, algae-reliant formula will affect the taste. The company has been iterating on taste since its debut, improving on the chalky silt-like nature of earlier drinks, while changing the formula a bit, too. Previous testers gave Soylent’s taste mixed reviews. Stephen Colbert once tried it and then immediately added chocolate syrup. The New Yorker, on the other hand, dubbed Soylent the “end of food.”

The new product is sold at $29 for a 12-pack (~$2.42 per bottle), with shipping starting October 15th. That makes it still pricier than competitors — for example, a 16-pack of Ensure is just $20 on Walmart.com. But the company would argue that it’s more nutritious than its often sugar-loaded competitors, which also don’t have its same mix of essentials.

The question now is if Soylent will be able to convince current meal replacement drink customers to switch to its product – or at least give it a try.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/aHvCMn7jLpc/


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