When busy people go on vacation, they're often looking to put their feet up, catch up on sleep, and just generally enjoy being somewhere else for a spell.
But in addition to the mental break, it seems more and more likely that what well-heeled travelers value is the chance to have a truly authentic experience, wherever they're headed on vacation.
When the rewards-focused travel portal American Express Travel surveyed 1,540 affluent American adults — defined as having an annual household income of at least $100,000 — it found that 81% valued having a personalized experience over anything else in their travel itineraries. 73% of those surveyed said they would be willing to exceed their budget to have a unique local experience when they travel, and more than half said they would splurge to enjoy the cuisine of a particular destination.
And when it comes to where affluent travelers want to stay when they vacation, it seems that cookie-cutter hotel rooms are out, and authentic flavors are in.
"We see lifestyle-inspired, design-focused hotels increasing on the consumer wish list and in fact, are seeing a more than 30% spike in bookings for these type of hotels in the US for 2017," said Claire Bennett, executive vice president of American Express Travel.
Travelers want to sample a destination's food, take in its art scene, and go out where the locals do. And with the rise of Airbnb — which launched its travel agent-like Trips feature in November — travelers in the know can do this with ease. Trips offers two services for now: Experiences, like going truffle hunting or driving classic cars, which are led by locals, and Places, which are recommendations from local residents. Airbnb plans to add Flights and Services in the near future.
Many traditional hotels see this as a challenge to how they conduct their business.
"Experiential vacations — this is the big trend, and that has a major impact on the industry. I think you can say that has been one of the things that contributed to the creation of things like Airbnb, because [travelers] want to experience how someone in Prague, in Paris, in Rome, or in New York lives in his own flat," Henri Giscard D'Estaing, global CEO of Club Med, recently told Business Insider.
Of course, what exactly constitutes an authentic experience is difficult to pin down, and people who come from the same place might disagree on what cuisine or landmark most authentically represents a destination. As Adam Dennett and Hanqun Song recently wrote for The Conversation, "One can argue that an 'authentic tourism experience' is a contradiction in terms. When places or experiences are discovered and populated by tourists, they ultimately change by the demands of tourists themselves and the economic opportunity this presents to providers."
The hospitality industry has responded to this shift in perspective in varied ways. Over the last decade, many hospitality companies have either launched or acquired boutique-style brands that are great at capturing local flavors (InterContinental Hotels Group acquired Kimpton Hotels in 2014, for example, and Marriott launched the Autograph Collection in 2010).
Other hotels are focusing on redefining themselves as lifestyle brands that prioritize culture and design, and as places where travelers can completely customize their own experience.
To do this, hotels might pay an Instagram "influencer" to visit and post filtered photos of a property so that their large audiences can see what kinds of experiences they can have there. They might hire food trucks to serve local fare certain days of the week, or incorporate craft beers into the beverage program.
In September, Standard International — the company behind the trendy Standard hotels in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York — launcheda new spontaneous-booking app called One Night, where users can book rooms at a curated selection of hotels. The goal is to target the next generation of travelers — people who are on the go, accustomed to the convenience of on-demand apps, and who still want the very best experience possible.
The Standard International team created a local guide for each of the hotels, providing hour-by-hour suggestions of the best things to do in that neighborhood throughout the day.
Club Med, the all-inclusive chain founded in 1950, continues to invest in resorts in emerging markets, like ski mountains in China and Japan, that are not yet popular with mainstream travelers. The brand has also introduced the ability to have a 360-degree virtual tour of each property so travelers can experience it before they book.
In April, Hilton's Conrad Hotels hired former Conde Nast Traveler Executive Editor Peter Jon Lindberg as the brand's director of inspiration. Lindberg works with concierges across Conrad's 28 properties to build out itineraries lasting one, three, or five hours.
The goal is to get Conrad guests to see the destination as the locals do. Lindberg says that food experiences — whether that's an outing to a local market or a beachside grill — are always extremely popular with guests.
"Travelers want to find things that exist only here, that remind them why they came, and that they'll remember for years later. We think of it as collecting stories, not just souvenirs," Lindberg told Business Insider. "What will they tell their friends back home about their trip? How can we give them something they can't find anywhere but here?"
"Give us a compelling reason to choose this path over that one, and lead with how it will feel. That's the primary task of the travel industry now: finding the emotion and inspiration behind every journey."
SEE ALSO: 20 ways to fly like a pro
Who has the best burgers? Who has the best fries? Fast food is always hotly debated. To put an end to the debate over the most popular fast food restaurants by state, Foursquare identified the restaurants with the most check-ins. This map will show you if your state is on Team McDonald's or Team Chick-Fil-A.
Produced by Sam Rega. Original reporting by Sophie-Claire Hoeller.
Follow BI Video:On Twitter
Leather and water don't mix.
Shoes are obviously made to be worn, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take a few precautions to safeguard your investment.
While leather-soled shoes won't exactly fall apart in the rain, you should still be careful when wet weather hits. Leather deteriorates faster when wet, and when that wet leather hits pavement, bad things happen.
Here's more on why leather and water are mortal enemies, as pointed out by style blog PutThisOn:
- Leather soaks up water like a sponge. Just like your skin, leather needs a certain amount of moisture to stay strong and supple. But this amount of water can damage the leather and make it break down prematurely.
- After your soles get wet, your socks will instantly get soaked. It goes without saying that wet socks are always unpleasant.
- When leather is wet, it's much more easily damaged. You wouldn't want a chunk or two taken out of your expensive leather shoes just because they got wet.
How can you avoid these footwear catastrophes? Simple: wear rubber.
Many guys don't realize that some of their fancier (and more expensive) dress shoes often come with leather soles. The best way to protect that investment is to put on a pair of rubber galoshes, or overshoes, when it rains. By keeping out moisture, they work spectacularly well to make sure your feet and shoes stay dry. Keep a pair at home and another in your desk drawer in case of a sudden downpour.
You can also negate the problem entirely by buying shoes with rubber soles. PutThisOn recommends Danite Rubber soles, which retain the sleek profile of leather but can take a beating even when wet. Any cobbler can also resole any recraftable dress shoe with a rubber sole.
If you do end up wearing your leather-soled dress shoes in the rain, stuff some newspaper or stick them in rice to soak up the moisture and allow them to dry before wearing them again.
In a game of "leather, rubber, water," water beats leather but rubber beats water.
San Francisco's future public transportation hub, The Transbay Transit Center, has been called the "most expensive bus terminal in the history of humankind" by a city supervisor.
Its astronomical costs match the developer's ambitions. Upon completion in 2017, the $2.3 billion Transbay Center will connect eight Bay Area counties through 11 transportation systems. It includes up to 100,000 square feet of retail space and a rooftop park.
It's unclear if the "most expensive" superlative is true. But it might be. For comparison, New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal — the largest and busiest bus terminal in the world — cost an estimated $24 million when it was constructed in the mid-20th century.
While construction on the Transbay Center is far from over, these stunning renderings provided by the developer's website give us a glimpse inside.
Built in 1939, the Transbay Terminal served 26 million passengers annually during its heyday at the end of World War II. When gas rationing ended in the '40s, traffic petered out.
Source: Transbay Transit Center
The bus terminal was rundown and underused by the end of the 21st century. It was in desperate need of a makeover, and regional transportation advocates rallied.
In 2001, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority formed as a collaboration between Bay Area government and transportation agencies. Demolition began nine years later.
Source: US Department of Transportation
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
The negroni was the second best-selling cocktail in the world in 2016, and with the holiday season approaching, there's no better time to learn how to mix and serve the classic cocktail.
The drink was named after an Italian libertine, Count Camillo Negroni, who in 1919 decided to swap the soda in his Americano — made with Campari, vermouth, and soda water — for gin.
To this day, the cocktail is made of equal parts vermouth, Campari, and gin, normally garnished with an orange.
Acclaimed mixologist and author Tony Conigliaro — owner of Islington bar 69 Colebrooke Row and Soho favourite Bar Termini, consultant for Marylebone's Zetter Townhouse and International Bartender of the Year in 2009 — is a big proponent of the Italian cocktail. He's even created a bottle aged version.
With prepartions underway for Coniglario and his team to open a new bar called "Untitled" in Hackney in January, Business Insider paid a visit 69 Colebrooke Row, otherwise known as The Bar With No Name, where bartender Raife Bashford showed us how to make the perfect negroni.
See how to make what he calls "a really simple, classic recipe" in a few simple steps below.
Start with the ice.
Measure out 25ml of vermouth and pour over the ice.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Adjusting to life post-college can be tough — paying rent and bills, financing a social life, and earning an often meager salary is hard enough.
Slap thousands of dollars in student loan debt on top of that, and it's easy to start feeling helpless.
But choosing the right state to live in could go a long way toward making the transition more manageable.
But according to new data from student-loan information site Student Loan Hero, repaying your student debt may be more affordable in some US states, thanks to low cost of living and strong earning potential.
Affordability for repayment is defined by the government as loan payments equal to 10% or less of an individual's monthly disposable income. Student Loan Hero found the disposable income of the average worker in every US state (except for North Dakota due to insufficient data) using cost of living data by Coli.org and state mean wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Disposable income for each state was then compared to typical payments on the average student debt balance of a 2014 graduate in each state, based on a 10-year repayment term, assuming a 4% interest rate.
Below, check out the five states where student loan repayment is most affordable. Note that all cost of living figures were adjusted by Coli.org to reflect a national average of 100.
Average student loan balance: $25,840
Average annual wage: $51,180
Ratio of student payments to disposable income: 13.86%
Cost of living index: 98.8
Average student loan balance: $24,600
Average annual wage: $54,010
Ratio of student payments to disposable income: 13.33%
Cost of living index: 103.7
Average student loan balance: $22,683
Average annual wage: $45,850
Ratio of student payments to disposable income: 13.31%
Cost of living index: 97.2
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
"Full House" creator Jeff Franklin made headlines recently when he revealed that he had purchased the actual Tanner family home, the front of which has been seen in both the original series and its Netflix spin-off.
"I went a little nuts one day and decided that would be a fun house for me to own," he told Business Insider.
The four-bedroom, four-bathroom, 2,500-square-foot San Francisco house went on sale in May for the first time in about a decade for $4.15 million. The time was right for Franklin, and he nabbed it for around $4 million.
"Coincidentally, ‘Fuller House’ is now on the air," he said. "There’s some benefit to the show to be able to go back there and shoot there and maybe we’ll have the cast come up, shoot some scenes outside of the house. I don’t know yet. We’re still waiting for a season-three pickup. It would be good for the show and it’s just fun for me to own that house."
Franklin hadn't been allowed to film the property since "Full House" premiered in 1987. Back then, the production paid about $500 to shoot various shots for use on the show. They weren't welcomed back years later when they wanted to shoot again, because the then-owner had become annoyed by the many "Full House" fans who visited it. Franklin estimates about 250 fans visit the location every day.
"Everyone had been watching the same shot of the outside of the house for 30 years now," Franklin said. "So it would be nice to get some new footage shot in 4K."
For now, Franklin has some work to do on the house. He needs to seismically retrofit it for safety in the earthquake-prone area.
"It’s going to be under construction for a while," he said. "We’re going to make sure it doesn’t fall down on anyone."
But the show creator sees several ways buying the house will pay off, including a potential tax write-off.
"I don’t think it’s going to be a big money-maker for me, for sure. So yeah, it will be some kind of a write-off I hope," Franklin responded when we asked if he could write off the purchase for his taxes. "But it’s more sentimental than anything. Both of these shows have just become a big part of my life. It just felt like the right thing to own it."
"Fuller House" returns for its second season December 9 on Netflix.
Over 8.5 million people live in New York City, which means public spaces that allow for walking, biking, and lounging are indispensable. And the city is always looking to improve them.
Every year, the NYC Public Design Commission recognizes outstanding public project designs, both planned and built. In late November, after reviewing hundreds of submissions, the commission announced the 2016 winners, which include parks, plazas, a police precinct, and waterfront docks.
The competition, established in 1983, follows the city's efforts to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Manhattan banned cars from parts of Times Square and Herald Square and designated them only for foot traffic. Within the last decade, NYC has also built 400 more miles of bike lanes.
The winners of the competition, called the Awards for Excellence in Design, encourage that vision of human-centric urban design.
Check out some of the designs below.
Completed in 2007, the Waterfront Nature Walk revived a long-inaccessible shoreline as a promenade and place to launch kayaks in Brooklyn.
Here's what the 1,320-foot-long walkway looks like today.
By 2020, police at the 40th precinct in the South Bronx will get a new station (pictured below).
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the Levante SUV for Maserati. The brand came back to the US over a decade and and half ago, but since the financial crisis and amid an SUV boom, it's been selling only stylish luxury sedans and sexy GT sports car.
That will all now change, and it couldn't happen at a more important time for the Italian automaker, part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles empire. It's down at the bottom of the luxury sales hierarchy in the US, with a puny 0.1% overall market share (Porsche sells five times as many vehicles annually).
The Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans have their fans (me, for example). But in the US and increasingly China, you really need a strong crossover offering. Porsche established the template for an automaker that had never built an SUV crossing that river in the early 2000s when it created the Cayenne, a hugely successful vehicle.
Now Maserati has taken the same plunge.
We first saw the Levante when it was revealed at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show and later in the flesh at the New York auto show. Now we've actually spent some time behind the wheel. It was a relatively brief, two-hour run from a working farm and restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, about an hour north of New York to Bear Mountain, under pleasant Northeastern skies.
This wasn't enough time to fully evaluate the vehicle — we'll get a crack at that later — but we formed some early impressions. And those impressions were good.
I arrive at the driving site. It's the rustic Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, home to the well-known and highly regarded Blue Hill restaurant.
The scenery is spectacular. This is a working farm. There are cows and sheep in the fields, a beekeeping area, and lots of farming plots and pastures.
Gorgeous. A fine day to drive an Italian luxury SUV.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Arianna Huffington is best known as the cofounder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post.
But these days, she's increasingly recognized for being a sleep evangelist.
In her book "The Sleep Revolution," Huffington discusses the importance of good sleep in the definition of a successful life.
Huffington's obsession with sleep — triggered by an incident in which she collapsed in her home office and "found herself in a pool of blood" — led her to develop a strict evening routine.
Huffington treats her nightly habit as a "sacrosanct ritual," according to an article she wrote for Motto.
She starts off by "escorting" her electronic devices out of her room, followed by a hot bath with Epsom salts. She then changes into clothes that are specifically designated for sleep.
Sometimes she drinks chamomile or lavender tea to help her sleep, and she writes down the things that she is grateful for that day, according to her book.
Huffington doesn't set an alarm and wakes up naturally after about eight hours of sleep. In the morning, she meditates for 30 minutes, gets on her exercise bike for another 30, and spends at least 10 minutes doing yoga. During the day, she tries to cut off her caffeine intake by 2 p.m., according to an interview on the lifestyle website The Early Hour.
After experimenting with Jack Dorsey's brutal morning routine, I was excited to try something that wouldn't leave me reaching for a third cup of coffee at 3 p.m.
I also often feel guilty when I prioritize sleep over work, my social life, or whatever else I feel I should be doing instead. If I could commit to sleeping eight hours in the name of work, I'm all in.
Wanting to get the most of the experiment, I decided to adopt Huffington's morning routine as well as her evening one. That included cutting out caffeine after 2 p.m.
I prepared by cleaning my tiny bathtub and purchasing two essentials — bath salts and herbal tea.
I decided to start my experiment on Sunday night. At 8:30 p.m., I posted the picture of my coconut-pomegranate bath salts on Instagram and put my phone on the dresser in front of my bed.
Huffington sleeps without electronics in her room, but in my tiny studio apartment, that would mean leaving them outside or in the bathroom. I settled for putting them out of reach from my bed.
I suddenly remembered that my phone was low on battery. When I went to plug it in, I saw that saw someone had commented on my photo and had to fight the urge to check it.
I made myself a cup of chai tea to drink in the bath, and after the first sip realized that I was drinking caffeine. Oops. But it was relaxing! And it tasted so good!
I felt like I was in the bath for 15 minutes, but it was probably more like five.
After the bath, I picked up my copy of Huffington's "The Sleep Revolution" and started reading. By 9:20 p.m., I started getting sleepy, so I started filling out my gratitude journal in a yellow notebook I'd purchased specifically for this experiment.
By 9:30 p.m., I was out.
Morning: To my surprise, I rose at 5:20 a.m. without an alarm, and I felt refreshed and ready to get up.
After following Dorsey's routine of meditating for 30 minutes each morning, my instinct was to reach for my phone to use my guided meditation app. I opted for a "Breath Connection" 20-minute meditation. It felt easy and familiar.
Given the lack of an exercise bike in my apartment, I opted to go for an early-morning jog — 6 a.m. runs can be difficult, but I never regret them, especially when I get a beautiful view of the East River.
Yoga was the next part of the routine. I started a 15-minute morning yoga sequence from Greatist and immediately made a mental note to incorporate more stretching into my workout. I had never felt so much pain during downward dog.
By 7:30 a.m., I had showered and was enjoying my coffee and breakfast while reading the news. This is one part of my personal routine that I don't like to give up. Mornings and evenings are when I make time to read longform pieces and op-ed analyses of what's happening in the world. It gets my brain going!
I left the house at 8:20 a.m. and was at work by 9 a.m.
Workday: I didn't take many notes about my productivity during the day, which I can only assume meant that I was super productive. Eight hours of sleep does wonders for the brain, after all.
I did note that I had coffee at 3 p.m., which broke Huffington's no-caffeine-after-2 p.m. rule. But it was more than six hours before my anticipated bedtime (9:30 or 10 p.m.), so I figured I was OK.
Evening: I went to the gym for an hour after work not because I wanted to torture myself again, but because I am training for the Tough Mudder race. Some of the moves require weight equipment that I don't have at home.
I came back exhausted, took a quick cold shower, then reheated and ate yesterday's dinner.
I was tempted to skip the bath because I had taken a shower, but my husband encouraged me to stick to the routine.
So I made myself a cup of tea and drew a hot bath with salts. After five minutes, I was very hot and sleepy.
I put on my sleeping tank-top and shorts, read more of "The Sleep Revolution," and jotted down what I was grateful for that day. I was asleep by 9:30 p.m.
Morning: I woke up, but something told me it wasn't quite 5 a.m. yet. I checked my phone, and it was 4:40 a.m. I went back to sleep.
My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I was about to hit the snooze button until my phone fell off the dresser and shut off, causing a brief panic before it came on again.
By then I was awake and definitely did not want to go back to bed. I went to check Facebook and found a storm of unread messages, mostly gossip from my grad school classmates. I reminded myself to meditate and told myself off for checking social media first thing in the morning.
My 30-minute workout consisted of sprints, squat jumps, and pull-ups. It took about 30 minutes to get to the closest outdoor gym, so my workout ended up lasting an hour and a half. When I got home, I dutifully did my 10 minutes of yoga before getting ready for work.
Workday: Work was productive. I definitely found it easier to concentrate than when I did Dorsey's morning routine. The only discomfort was the soreness from my workout. I guess that's why there is a "Tough" before "Mudder." I think that the next day might be a yoga day.
Evening: Doing my workout in the morning meant that I could go home and cook dinner straight away, but I was feeling lazy that night, so it ended up being a meal of refried beans and turkey bacon on tortillas with a side of greens.
My husband and I ate dinner and talked at our tiny table without our laptops, which I realized we hadn't done in a long time. That sounds bad, and the scary thing is that I didn't even notice we were doing it.
At 8:30 p.m., I escorted my electronics to the dining table, away from the bed. As the bath filled, I made myself some of the vanilla chamomile tea.
I got very sweaty in the bath, and drinking hot tea probably made it worse. I think I took a five-minute bath before I turned on the shower to cool down. I felt good.
In bed, I read more of "The Sleep Revolution." I started dozing at 9:20, and it was time for gratitude journaling. It's nice to end the day on a positive note, though I did struggle to be specific and different each day.
My favorite moments of the day tended to center on eating good food, feeling exercise endorphins, spending time with my husband, and working toward my childhood dream of becoming a journalist in New York City.
I realized that being grateful for the same things each day isn't bad — it makes you appreciate what you might otherwise take for granted.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday called for the US government to cancel a deal with Boeing for the development of a new Air Force One. Here's a look at Boeing's 747-8, the model Boeing is building to be the next Air Force One.
Follow BI Video: On Twitter
Winter is here, which means that bears all over the world are fattening up on food and getting ready to hibernate.
However, new research from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia suggests that bears sleeping patterns are changing, largely as a result of the food that humans are making available to them.
The new study, published in the Journal of Zoology, suggests that bears no longer spend the entirety of winter in their dens, but instead wake up and wander around throughout the cold months. Hibernation periods were shortened by 45% for female bears and 56% for males.
Less predictable bear hibernation patterns can have several implications. For one thing, it can increase the potential interactions between bears and other species — including humans. This can have troubling and potentially violent outcomes
"Human-bear conflicts occur basically wherever bears live," Dr. Miha Krofel, a mammal ecologist from the University of Ljubljana and lead author of the study, told Business Insider. "Unfortunately these conflicts sometimes include bear attacks on people.
Krofel and his team believe that all the extra food humans are leaving around is interfering with bears' sleeping patterns.
"By keeping bears awake, [human] food sources can increase the potential for encounters with people," Krofel said. "This is especially likely when bears find this food close to residential areas."
According to Krofel, the main reason bears hibernate is to conserve energy during a period with a lack of food. If there's suddenly more food available, the bears have less reason to stay in bed.
The researchers used GPS data to locate the dens of European brown bears and to estimate when bears entered and emerged from them. Then they analyzed how much bears were using feeding sites during winter, and compared their findings to published data on bear denning behavior from other brown bear populations.
Hibernation isn't always a continuous state
There are two types of hibernating animals: those that maintain their hibernation even when there is extra food (obligate hibernators), and other species that get up and walk around depending on the level of food available (faculative hibernators.)
Bears are faculative, and they have a lower reduction in body temperature than many other hibernating mammals, which means they aren't in such a deep slumber. This is why they are more likely than some other animals to get up in the middle of winter. Their hibernation is usually triggered by the availability of food in autumn and the amount of snowfall.
With global warming causing increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, and people encroaching more and more on nature, there could be a lot more human interaction with bears in all of their habitats to be wary of.
Turning 30 means you've survived the beginning of adulthood. You might even want a kitchen that matches your level of maturity.
To figure out what every adult kitchen needs (besides the basics, like silverware, cups, and plates), Business Insider consulted America's Test Kitchen, which is home to 50 food experts and the popular cooking show of the same name.
Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison, two culinary scientists at America's Test Kitchen and hosts of the TV show's 2017 season, told me the tools everyone needs in their kitchen by age 30.
"If I only knew then what I know now ... I would have bought more core kitchen equipment and fewer single-use gadgets," Lancaster says.
Check them out below.
A slow cooker.
A slow cooker is an easy way to make gourmet-tasting meals that are full of flavor, Lancaster says. Just throw all the ingredients in the pot, and let them roast.
Lancaster recommends: The KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker With Solid Glass Lid ($68.99)
An 8-inch chef's knife.
A quality knife that's easy to hold and keeps a sharp blade will make kitchen work fast and easy, Lancaster says.
Lancaster recommends:The Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef's knife ($44.99)
A manual or electric knife sharpener.
Whether you choose to invest in a manual or electric knife sharpener, you need one to keep your knives working properly, Lancaster says.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
In June, Microsoft became the first tech giant to take the leap into legal weed.
The 41-year-old company, based in the pot-friendly city of Seattle, managed to do so without stirring up trouble or controversy. It partnered with a marijuana-tracking software startup.
"We're not the sexy company, but we're the smart company," said David Dinenberg, founder and CEO of Kind Financial, who orchestrated the deal. "We're providing infrastructure."
Kind, founded in 2013, makes software for cannabis growers, sellers, and government agencies to help them monitor marijuana from "seed-to-sale." It collects and crunches data to ensure every leafy bud gets processed in compliance with state law and federal guidelines.
In practical terms, the company ensures marijuana grown legally can't disappear into the black market, and entrepreneurs in the space are held accountable for paying taxes on the product they move.
In its new partnership, Microsoft packages Kind's software in a suite of cloud-based tools that it distributes to clients in state, county, and municipal governments. The startup has yet to land a government contract, though there will soon be news on that front, Dinenberg said.
Wooing Microsoft was not easy, according to Dinenberg, who worked in real estate for 17 years before entering the marijuana space.
In 2015, a Kind board member used his connections at Microsoft to land Dinenberg a meeting. Dinenberg said he had "no visions of grandeur," but figured it was worth a shot.
"I remember the first 15 conversations I had with them, I ended every conversation with, 'Just to be clear, you know what industry I'm in?'" he says.
Kind appealed to Microsoft because it doesn't touch the plant, Dinenberg guesses. There's less legal risk for companies that provide ancillary services (even when the end-user deals in pot) than those that grow or sell the plant. Marijuana remains federally illegal.
"We support solution providers working with government customers to help them meet their missions," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement provided to Business Insider.
"At the end of the day, we are a technology company that provides services. We happen to cater to the marijuana industry, but we don't grow marijuana," Dinenberg said.
It helps that someone might visit Kind's website and do a double-take before realizing the company tracks marijuana. You won't find pot leaves or stoner iconography in its branding.
One in five Americans will soon live in states with legalized weed. But it's still difficult to start a company in the space. Dinenberg knows first-hand. Eleven law firms rejected him before he found his current representation.
Finding a bank that's willing to back your business is even harder. While the US Department of Justice largely stays out of the way of marijuana-focused companies that abide by state laws, few banks and credit unions open accounts for those entrepreneurs.
Most dispensaries keep ATMs on site because they can't accept credit cards, and state tax collectors end up processing bags of bills. There's no infrastructure for determining how much tax revenue a business should produce, which discourages some states from legalizing weed.
Kind's software aims to bring a level of accountability that could remove the financial hurdles for entrepreneurs, while also helping state governments keep tabs on sales and commerce.
"Every heavily regulated industry has track-and-trace. Cigarettes are tracked, alcohol is tracked, gaming — slot machines — are tracked," Dinenberg said. "The backbone of every one of those industries is compliance."
As tame as Microsoft's foray into the marijuana marketplace may seem, it marks a huge step for both the technology and marijuana industries.
"Someday when they teach the evolution of the cannabis industry, that Microsoft [and Kind] announcement is going to be on the flowchart. It's going to be there," Dinenberg said. "It fills me with such great pride as an entrepreneur to be able to claim that."
Dinenberg hopes the new deal with Microsoft becomes the first domino to fall as more tech giants look to get involved in the marijuana industry in a post-prohibition era.
Psychedelics and tech entrepreneurship have long gone hand in hand. Steve Jobs experimented with LSD. Bill Gates dropped acid on occasion.
Ayahuasca, a psychedelic drug that induces mind-boggling hallucinations, is Silicon Valley's latest infatuation. Tim Ferriss, a well-known angel investor, recently described it to The New Yorker as being as ubiquitous as "having a cup of coffee."
While you won't find people sipping on ayahuasca in Starbucks, an increasing number of entrepreneurs swear by the plant — which contains DMT, an ingredient designated Schedule I by the Drug Enforcement Administration — as a method of professional and personal development. Businesses have sprouted to facilitate demand.
One outgrowth of the trend is Entrepreneurs Awakening, a professional retreat program founded in 2012 and based in San Francisco.
Each year, a small group of entrepreneurs from around the world joins Entrepreneurs Awakening in Peru, where ayahuasca is legal, to partake in a traditional ayahuasca tea ceremony. About 50 people from hardware, software, and financial tech startups have passed through the program so far. A significant number come from the Bay Area.
Ayahuasca grows in the Amazon and has been used by indigenous tribes for spiritual healing for thousands of years. The hallucinations induced by the plant are said to be so life-altering that some users compare it to having a near-death experience. The body breaks it down in such a way that it leaves users high for hours, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Entrepreneurs Awakening uses the jungle vine to help clients come to terms with their weaknesses and find shortcuts to success in the ultracompetitive tech scene.
"This is a total hack. You can sit in therapy for six years, or you can come to Machu Picchu for a week," Michael Costuros, founder of Entrepreneurs Awakening, told Business Insider. "You choose: red pill, or the sugar pill?"
Over 10 days, participants see the sights in the Andes mountains, try local food, and get high on sacred plant-medicine. Costuros guides them through their spiritual journey, and provides executive coaching for a month before and a month after the excursion.
The cost of enlightenment: $11,000.
One of the earliest reports of Europeans stumbling upon ayahuasca comes from a group of Jesuits traveling through the Amazon in the 18th century. They called the tea a "diabolical potion" responsible for depriving a member of "one of his senses and, at times, of his life."
Research on the effects of the ayahuasca brew, which is made from mashing or boiling the pulp of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, has trickled outside scientific circles in recent years. It caught on among open-minded adventurers.
By the mid-2000s, social-media-savvy retreat centers in Peru spread word of the plant's magic. This gave birth to ayahuasca tourism, in which people such as those on the Entrepreneurs Awakening trips visit the Amazon to experience ayahuasca.
These days, Costuros — a tech entrepreneur-turned-mentor who joined an executive-coaching firm in 2015 — receives hundreds of applications annually to fill 20 spots over two trips. Most come from tech entrepreneurs. The clientele is part of the draw for many participants. Their fellow travelers face similar pressures and share the same passions.
The first few days of the journey are filled with hiking and exploring the nearby markets. Participants eat artisanal breads, alpaca, guinea pig roasted over a fire spit, fruit, and chocolate.
On day four, they prepare for a nighttime ayahuasca ceremony. They fast, exercise, and ponder their anxieties, fears, hopes, and aspirations in individual consultations, Costuros says.
The adobe temple that Entrepreneurs Awakening rents out for the retreat is in the Sacred Valley of Peru, located between Cusco and Machu Picchu. It overlooks the Andean highlands and includes two washrooms for the inevitable pukefest. (Ayahuasca causes intense vomiting — or as fans of the plant prefer to call it, "purging.")
Participants take their places on mats and wait for the shaman, whom Costuros has worked with for years, to give them their tea. They focus on their intentions while they wait up to an hour for the hallucinogen to kick in.
Under the influence of ayahuasca, the everyday world becomes extraordinary. Costuros compares the experience to entering a lucid dream. One attendee tells me she left her body and saw herself as a girl in her childhood bedroom. Another past participant describes wandering around inside his intestines, much like an episode of "The Magic School Bus."
Passersby would see nothing but a group of sleepy tourists curled into balls.
Four to five hours later, the group fizzles. Some gather in clusters outside the temple, where they excitedly swap stories. Others retreat to their beds in silence.
Then the cycle repeats. Talk. Hike. Eat. Relax. Question your humanity. Fast. Get high.
While the NIDA has no findings on the addictive quality of ayahuasca, few people are one-and-done users, according to Costuros.
"I'd say what's driving them to it is FOMO" — fear of missing out — "to be totally f---ing honest," Costuros said.
"But what they're getting out of it and maybe why they do it a second time — after they've already gotten the notch in their belt, why would they do it again? — is the results."
Sebastian, who asked we not include his full name for fear of repercussions for his business, came to Silicon Valley in 2009 because he wanted to run his own company.
In three years, his venture-backed startup grew from four employees to 120. He was inundated with feedback on how best to structure the company and consumed by the typical founder questions. Are we spending too fast? Do we need more structure? Am I a good leader?
Sebastian brought Costuros and one other executive coach on board to help him sort through these questions. In 2013, he signed up for a trip to Peru.
Costuros says these stories are not uncommon. Most entrepreneurs arrive in Peru slightly unhinged from the pressure they're under from investors, employees, peers, and customers.
There, among trained facilitators and fellow entrepreneurs, they're free to air their insecurities in a judgment-free zone.
Jordan Baker, the founder of a productivity app called Focuster and a past Entrepreneurs Awakening participant, hesitated for some time before enrolling. The $10,000 he paid in 2012 was a lot of money for someone in need of funding for his year-old startup. But he eventually saw the program as a business expense. Baker had shelled out for Tony Robbins' seminars before, and this was as much a networking opportunity as a spiritual retreat.
Every attendee Business Insider spoke with said the same thing: What makes the program worth it is the integration, which is Costuros' term for taking the insights gleaned from ayahuasca ceremonies and putting them into practice. It's harder than it sounds.
During a ceremony on his retreat, Sebastian says he remembers (virtually) sitting at the base of a tree in the Amazon. A voice called out, "This is the day of your initiation into manhood."
That's when a cluster of spiders arrived and a great white shark flung itself from the ocean.
For hours, Sebastian witnessed his greatest fears come to fruition. He saw himself as a boy in class, lying in a pool of his own urine while his classmates and teacher stood and laughed.
"I had that moment where I was like, 'What the f---, really? Every kid pees in his pants once in a while. It's not a f---ing catastrophe. Let it go,'" Sebastian said. "I re-became an adult."
In the months after the retreat, Sebastian talked through his vision with his fellow participants and Costuros in video chats. He returned to the office with a clearer sense of purpose, ready to "do what I'm meant to do in this life," he said.
Sebastian says he became more attuned to, or at least invested in, his employee's needs. He transferred employees to other departments — or other companies, when he saw fit — where they might reach their potential. His interviewing process changed. Applicants were asked what they wanted to achieve and were placed accordingly, rather than boxed into an open position.
Another past participant, who asked to remain anonymous, attended the retreat toward the end of her tenure as a manager at Amazon. She wanted to make a bigger impact on a smaller team, preferably one that connected her to more meaning in her professional life. But she couldn't find the courage to leave.
Ayahuasca fixed that.
"It's not fun," she said. "There's a part of it that's very satisfying, but you have to be up for where it takes you."
Upon her return, she quit her cushy gig and accepted a job at a startup in San Francisco.
Not every entrepreneur has the means to disappear into the rainforest for 10 days.
People without the time or money to travel for a traditional ayahuasca ceremony often settle for local gatherings. A Bay Area group of ayahuasca enthusiasts on Meetup.com, for example, has over 650 members. California leads all states in web searches for ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats, according to Google Trends, and interest has steadily risen.
But Costuros says that not all of these retreats put high-quality ayahuasca in their tea or use experienced shamans. There's a nickname for these sham productions: "yogahuascas."
A shaman in the Amazon often comes from a long line of spiritual healers. But as ayahuasca becomes more popular, the "yogahuasca" trend has worsened. The problem extends from the Bay Area to Peru, as newly minted shamans target foreigners for sham ceremonies.
" It used to be that it took about at least 20 years to apprentice as a shaman, and now there are people claiming they are shamans within two or three years. There's no quality control," Robert Tindall, a professor of literature and author of two books on shamanism, told Vice in 2014.
In 2012, Baker, the productivity app founder, found himself in a retreat center outside the Oakland hills. The ayahuasca ceremony fell on the same day he broke things off with his girlfriend of seven years.
"I ended up staying a second night because it was so amazing," Baker said. "By the end, I remember my heart was open. It wasn't just a metaphysical feeling. ... Things felt very fragile and beautiful."
The experience ended with a buzzkill. A friend dropped him off at the nearest subway station. He became paranoid that people were staring, and he fell right back into his pre-ayahuasca rut.
While there is no known lethal dose of ayahuasca (few research centers in the US track the exotic drug), ceremonies can be dangerous under certain conditions. Fatalities are generally a result of suicide, accidents, or erratic behavior. In 2012, an 18-year-old Californian was found buried outside a retreat center in Peru; he was said to have overdosed.
Antidepressants can also be deadly when mixed with ayahuasca, which is why Costuros conducts medical screenings before enrolling applicants in the program.
In spite of the risks, most Entrepreneurs Awakening participants who spoke with Business Insider say they first tried ayahuasca in the Bay Area. Their experiences were pleasant overall.
While Costuros says he's wary of scaling his business, for fear that it would strain his ability to provide quality experiences, he's still gearing up for expansion. Next year, he plans to hold two retreats in Peru and possibly another in Tulum, Mexico.
He says he's also in talks with the founder of a startup incubator, whom Costuros declined to name, to create an ayahuasca-friendly accelerator in Costa Rica. Entrepreneurs would build their companies and participate in weekly ayahuasca ceremonies for a dose of inspiration.
"The intention is to expand our capacity to help innovators, leaders wake up and evolve their psychological garbage," Costuros said, "so they can get on with being awesome."
Peter Barsoom made his way up and down Wall Street over the last 19 years in his job overseeing consumer banking. His résumé includes turns at Merrill Lynch, American Express, and Morgan Stanley.
More recently, Barsoom added cannabis connoisseur to the list.
In 2014, the former financier saw a business opportunity in the Denver area, where marijuana-infused foods were increasing in popularity — in spite of usability issues. His startup, 1906, brings together scientists, chocolatiers, and cannabis experts to create a premium line of low-dose chocolate edibles.
"What I found when we first came out here about two years ago was there was a big gap between what consumers' needs are and what was on the market today, particularly in the edibles market," Barsoom told Business Insider.
Less than 10 years ago, unlabeled pot brownies dominated shelves at dispensaries. Patients rarely knew how much of the drug they were eating until the high hit. Today, buyers can choose from hundreds of brands and find dosage on the packaging. However, the market continues to serve heavy users by stocking a disproportionate number of high-dose edibles.
"For the rest of who can't afford to lose our mind for the next six hours, and are looking for a product that's consistent and safe ... there's much to be desired," Barsoom said.
1906 — named for the year Congress passed a law that required food and drug products containing "addictive" or "dangerous" substances, from alcohol to cannabis, be labeled as such — tackles edibles' usability problem on three fronts: taste, effect, and delivery.
Barsoom assembled a team of botanists and a chemist, who had years of experience working in dietary supplements, to figure out which organic plant materials could be added to chocolate. They had to mask the taste of cannabis and also complement the drug's intended effect.
"We used all of our friends as guinea pigs," said Barsoom, who also helps make the edibles.
They came up with a suite of marijuana-infused chocolates that can supposedly produce different moods and energy levels.
In a formulation aimed at helping users fall asleep, dark chocolate is mixed with 10 milligrams of cannabis and Corydalis, a herb used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat insomnia. The bite-sized edible helps "turn off a long day and the stress with it," according to the website.
A chocolate purported to energize the body and mind contains 10 milligrams of cannabis, caffeine, and L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that some research suggests could cancel out the anxiety often associated with a caffeine buzz.
There are more chocolates in the works, according to the website.
Weed-laced treats offer a different experience than a joint or a bong hit. When eaten, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, undergoes a transformation in the liver that turns it into a substance that's twice as strong and lasts twice as long as when it's inhaled. A user's high might not peak until one to three hours after eating.
Because it takes so long to process, people often overdo it. While there are no recorded cases of people fatally overdosing on marijuana, it can make patients incredibly uncomfortable.
Barsoom thinks he's found a way around this.
1906 uses a technique called lipid encapsulation that takes the THC and other key chemical compounds from marijuana and coats the molecules in fat. It allows the drug's psychoactive ingredients to bypass the gut and enter the bloodstream more quickly.
A double-blind study conducted in-house asked 50 adults to test the onset time and effectiveness of the company's edible formulations. The results suggested that users start to feel the effects in as little as 15 minutes, Baroom said.
The lipid encapsulation technique may also amplify the chocolate's potency, which is why the team starts with a small dose of five milligrams of THC.
1906 products are sold in select dispensaries in Colorado, where Barsoom hopes to change people's minds about the usability of edibles.
"Everybody has a bad story about edibles. It doesn't need to be this way. People don't have a bad story about taking Tylenol," Barsoom said. "This can be done better."
Sweden's famous Icehotel — the one that started the ice hotel trend — has opened a new wing that will remain frozen all year round. Called Icehotel 365, the area includes 20 suites, an ice bar, and a gallery of ice sculptures and artwork.
This is the first year the hotel, which is ordinarily only open to guests during the winter, will keep a portion running after the cold season is over.
In a blog post, Icehotel owner Yngve Bergqvist announced that the first visitors had stayed in the new part of the hotel, which opened in November. The guests slept in one of the hand-carved "art suites," which each contain elaborate ice carvings and two or three beds. Twenty art suites and deluxe suites will welcome guests year-round, while the full hotel boasts 55 rooms during the winter.
Oddly enough, the new wing will get help from the sun to make it possible to stay open year-round. To keep the space cool during spring and summer months, the hotel will use solar panels that harness 75 kWh of electricity from April to August. During these months, the sun in Sweden is almost constant, making it easy for the hotel to gather enough energy to keep things running.
That electricity will power "chilling tubes" embedded in the ceiling that will keep the temperature at a constant 23 degrees Fahrenheit. The energy will also provide power for the restaurant, guest rooms, and offices.
The roof of the new wing is covered in Arctic mountain flowers and grass, aiding with insulation.
The hotel laid the groundwork for this year's version —including the new area — in June, and more than 40 artists, designers and architects from nine different countries created the art for the year-round wing.
A few finishing touches still remain before the full hotel is complete — construction is expected to finish on December 16th.
Clinton Nguyen contributed to a previous version of this story.
A 104-year-old church in San Francisco is getting an extreme makeover thanks to a group of Russian investors.
GVA Capital, a new venture capital firm and startup accelerator, dropped $7 million on the former Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, in the hopes of converting it into an event center for "international thought leaders," as first reported by SF Gate.
Let's take a look inside.
Built in 1912, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church doesn't look like your average event space. For nearly 80 years, it served as a place of worship for Spanish-speaking immigrants.
The church closed in 1991 after membership declined, and it became an English school for Chinese-speaking children. Community has always been at its core.
Pavel Cherkashin, cofounder of GVA Capital, hopes to carry on the building's tradition of bringing diverse groups of people together. After renovations, it will function as a meeting place where the firm will host speaker series', hackathons, and networking events.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider