4 Tech Giants You Didn’t Know Were Charitable

4 Tech Giants You Didn’t Know Were Charitable

In the current era of startups, the culture of the company can be just as important as the culture the company supports. Within the last 5 years, many tech startups have started to assume a much more active approach when it comes to social responsibility.

Numerous fast growth startups channel their funds towards self-driven missions but there is also a handful that use their growth to impact communities in need, outside of their direct industry. Still, the monetary side isn’t the extent of their giving; services and internal opportunities also have a grave impact on the common good. Here are four tech companies leading the way in dynamic charitable efforts.

Amazon

The ecommerce powerhouse Amazon operates an in-house program that gives back to charity with quite a convenience for their customers. Amazon Smile allows you to support your favorite charities without even noticing the difference on the website. Simply by shopping at the custom url, smile.amazon.com, Amazon donates a portion of proceeds to charity with ever Amazon Smile purchase.

The percentage of the donation isn’t disclosed by Amazon Smile offers a list of about 1 million different eligible 501(c)(3) public charitable organizations.

Toptal

Toptal, one of the biggest freelance-software developer networks, is a great example of a smaller group taking on a big charitable mission. Toptal is a company that uses its software development expertise to help the progress of aspiring engineers deriving from low income backgrounds.

In partnership with General Assembly, the Total Global Mentors Program provides the equivalent of $1 million put towards tutoring and mentorship for remote GA students. Toptal even tops themselves with an additional contribution of $100,000 to establish Toptal Fellowships to the GA Opportunity Fund with a similar mission as their mentors program.

SurveyMonkey

SurveyMonkey makes this list because they’ve been able to reward their massive user base for just take a survey and donate to charities at the same time.

SurveyMonkey Contribute sends users surveys based on their personality and interests and in return they can win cool prizes as well as an automatic $0.50 donation to a charity of choice. The program has managed to raise over $5 million in donations for charities like Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross and more.

Microsoft

Microsoft has participated in all kinds of charity but they are most generous with their products. In 2014, Microsoft donated tech equipment to over 86,000 organizations at a globally (more than 125 different countries). They’ve also made charity an initiative that all employees can be a part of individually. They offer a volunteer match program where Microsoft employees can donate $25 of company dollars to charity for every four hours of volunteer work.

As focused as these companies are on innovation and growth, they’re always finding new ways to give back. The duty to be socially responsible is becoming a standard and tech companies have found creative ways to do so through internal programs and other donations. How would you give back to the community if you had the company resources to do so?

Lyft and Uber: The Current State of Ridesharing Startups

navigation-1048294_640Over the past year, the ride-hailing startup industry has grown exponentially, only led by a couple of industry giants.

Lyft, Uber’s top competitor, just recently raised $1 billion in a Series F round of funding. Surprisingly enough, $500 million of the investment came from a household name, General Motors. Lyft is now valued at $5.5 billion just after 3 years of operations. Their previous valuation of $2.5 billion saw a leap in Series F.

Lyft’s recent success comes as no surprise to those who have been keeping an eye on the battle of service between Uber and Lyft.

GM will also become the newest addition to Lyft’s board and together they plan to create an Autonomous On-Demand Network that will allow riders to book a self-driving car. Their vehicle development matched with Lyft’s ride hailing technology can potentially amount to something great for society.

Though Uber’s success has been paramount as well, not to mention the list of viable competitors looking to knock down the door.

Sidecar, the ride-sharing and B2B delivery service, shut down shop last month after 4 years of operation. Used widely across the country, Sidecar was eventually pushed out but their technology was ground breaking according to their founders. Co-founders, Sunil Paul and Jahan Khanna said in a Medium post, that the two take pride in being “the innovation leader” in ridesharing. They attribute their cease of operations to their significant capital disadvantage.

Most would think that without Uber and Lyft’s insurgence, Sidecar wouldn’t have had to shut down but instead they would’ve prospered. Uber’s valuation currently stands at $51 billion, making it one of the few unicorns in startup land. Aside from Uber’s services, their model has created a whole new community of jobs. Uber drivers are offered adequate pay but they also have the luxury of using their own vehicle which makes it that much more enticing. Uber is undoubtedly changing transportation for the drivers and the riders.

If there’s one thing that could define this startup transportation industry, it would be innovation. Still there are other options that haven’t been mentioned, i.e. Zipcar, but as Uber and Lyft lead the pack they’ve changed how people get around, across the world. How much further will these two continue to raise their valuations and societal impact in 2016?

3 Subtle Fees Ruining Your Investment Returns

3 Subtle Fees Ruining Your Investment Returns

As you look to build your investment portfolio, it’s imperative that you pay attention to the small things at all times because every penny counts. Investing fees should amount to no more than 1% of your overall portfolio value. Nowadays there are so many low cost investing options but the management of money can get lost in these cycles.

Though there are many “chefs in the kitchen” per say in the realm of real estate investing. Everyone wants to get their cut — brokerages, real estate funding businesses, advisors, planners and government regulations. But it’s important that investors have a close eye on the vulnerable areas of their portfolio so that unexpected fees don’t run amuck.

Assess how your investments are contributing to your wealth by paying attention to these three costs.

CC: Forbes

 

 

Workplace Retirement Plan Costs:

Employer-sponsored retirement plans (401(k)s, 403(b)s) have an array of perks, including tax-saving features, investing automation, and other additional amenities. Although, providing ongoing administrative support comes with a fee. And the fund companies within the plan want their cut, too.

On average, 401(k) fees range from 1% to 2% and, in most cases, those costs are passed along to you and other participants in the plan. A subtle 1% doesn’t seem too hefty but when taken off the top of your account, it could impact your finances much more drastically than anticipated.

Trading Commissions:

One of the more surface fees when it comes to your investment portfolio are trading commissions.

I encourage you to check the cost of buying or selling when you invest in individual stocks or buy mutual funds through a brokerage.

Often, brokerages charge a flat fee to place an order to buy a mutual fund. But fees for things like options trading, broker-assisted trades, and other types of investments can be much more taxing. On top of that, there are other costs that will arise — account closing fees, transfer fees, and others.

And don’t forget about other costs you may have to cover — transfer fees, account closing fees, and extra costs if you want to have a human being make your trade.

Bid-Ask Spread:

Investors also pay what’s called a “spread” when they buy or sell stocks or mutual funds and this is a cost that tends to be overlooked. When you research the price of a fund or stock and you see it’s cost per share, that’s the “bid”. But the price you have to pay if you want to buy the share will always be a little higher, that’s the ask. The difference, the bid-ask spread, must be paid by every buyer — including the big mutual funds.

Paying attention to these typical fees as well as others can help you build an investment portfolio that will serve you well for years to come.

5 Marketing and eCommerce Trends To Watch For in 2016

5 Marketing and eCommerce Trends To Watch For in 2016

5 Marketing and eCommerce Trends To Watch For in 2016.

Whether you’re in the real estate business or an entrepreneur of a different kind chances are you are constantly searching for new ways to market yourself or your business. In real estate a big challenge is attracting new buyers- which I mentioned briefly in my last blog post. It’s not that millennials don’t WANT to buy it’s simply that they’re not sure HOW to buy. Attracting this younger generation can be tricky but definitely not impossible. The trick is to learn their language, understand how marketing has evolved in the digital world we are now living in, and arm yourself with the right tools.  

So here are 5 marketing and ecommerce trends to look out for in the coming year and how you can implement them in your own business.

    1. Snapchat. Snapchat is incredibly underrated as a marketing tool. Sure, the photo or video may only last 16 seconds but that doesn’t make it’s impact any less great. It’s a quick, fun way to get someone’s attention. In real estate it could be a creative way to announce that you’re having an open house or show a sneak peek of a new listing. In retail it could be a cool way to announce that you’ll give 20% off to anyone who mentions the snap. The possibilities are endless and many companies haven’t taken advantage of this marketing opportunity just yet. So get ahead of the curve and be one of the first to leverage this platform!
    2. Get on board with the “buy” button. Sites like pinterest and facebook have recently implemented call to action buttons such as “buy” or “book appointment”, etc. This allows consumers to purchase items that they see on social media without having to do any research on where to find it or book an appointment with a real estate agent or doctor without ever having to pick up a phone. Not utilizing these tools would be a mistake in my opinion.
    3. Venmo. While this doesn’t really apply to the real estate world I figured I’d throw this in here for other industries and startups. Venmo is an app that allows users to quickly and easily share money. It would be great for street vendors such as food trucks, retail stores, even restaurants. The younger generation loves it for reasons such as not having to split tabs or Ubers- one person can pay for it and then everyone can Venmo that person their share of the bill without having to make an extra stop at an ATM or ever carry cash. It is the new, more effective PayPal.
    4. High Quality Content. The need for content is not slowing down, in fact people expect higher quality content these days. In real estate this means having high quality photos on your website, instagram, pinterest, etc, having 3D virtual tours that are clear or creative YouTube videos that showcase the homes you are trying to sell. Photo content is increasingly important in just about any industry as is video and written content.
    5. Targeted Gifting/Sponsored Posts. Influencer marketing has become a HUGE marketing tool. Brands who understand it and utilize it properly can become global phenomenons within a couple of months. Some examples are BirchBox and Triangl Swimwear. BirchBox partnered with multiple influential beauty bloggers and within a year they became the biggest subscription box company on the market. Triangl Swimwear sent just about every fashion and travel blogger a complimentary swimsuit and became one of the top swimwear lines almost overnight. By giving someone with 50k + followers (or even paying someone to promote your product) a complimentary product or meal you are reaching thousands, sometimes even millions of people that hadn’t heard of you before, and if you reach out to a couple influencers in the same area at the same time it is likely that everyone in town will now know your company’s name. The industries that benefit most from this would likely be fashion, beauty, hotels and restaurants.

The digital age is so exciting and it’s interesting to see how marketing has evolved within the last 5 years! For more advice on implementing marketing tools follow me on twitter @Richard_Maize

 

How Richeeze is Changing The Food Truck Industry

Once considered a secondary option, food trucks often filled the void when stationary stores were closed. The food truck industry has since evolved into stable businesses traveling on four wheels. Although to create an organic following in this field, you have to deliver with quality and that’s exactly how Richeeze has made city goers smile day in and day out.

Richeeze has managed to redefine a common household meal with their grilled cheese and it’s garnered large crowds here in the Santa Monica community.

RICHEEZE trucks

The initial idea came about when founder Richard Maize noticed that the ultimate comfort food didn’t really have any variations and Maize wanted to bring this commodity to the forefront. But Richeeze does more than just offer options to the famous grilled cheese sandwich we all loved as kids; Richeeze centers their business around quality in every aspect. From their service to the food itself, they give customers what’s best.

The core of Richeeze is their customizable menu packed with 9 different All-American Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich options and sides that touch base on all the delicious variations Richeeze specializes in. With some of the top chefs in LA, Richeeze wanted to redesign the traditional grilled cheese. They took combinations of breads and cheeses we all know and love to create gourmet melts for all pallets. From the Richeeze award winning Bacon Mac to the flavor-filled Ally’s Special, they cover a wide variety of meat and vegetarian options. We recommend that you try one of their signature melts and you too will smile and say…RICHEEZE!

Richeeze brings an array of original options to the grilled cheese sandwich that can’t be found elsewhere. Their quality is unmatched as everything is baked from scratch including the bread that’s picked up daily from a local bakery.

But the quality of the food isn’t the only thing exceeding expectations. The environment Richeeze offers in addition to their menu has everyone in the southern California area repeating the slogan, “Smile and Say Richeeze.”

In route to revolutionizing the food truck industry, Richeeze provides music and touch screen menus accompanied by a fun, interactive staff that help you order your food without having to repeatedly yell through the truck window. Wait, but don’t forget the outdoor seating as well!

The goal was to bring the restaurant with them and that’s just what they’ve done. Not only have consumers taken notice to the new food trucks taking the industry by storm, but so have the experts. In 2014 Richeeze won the award for the best food at the weekend Bacon Festival. But they’ve been receiving requests left and right to attend national food festivals.

Richeeze has done a spectacular job in establishing themselves in the Santa Monica culture and their demand is so high that three more trucks are expected to be in route in the near future. Maize plans for the trucks to become more commonly known soon as they plan to provide to more and more larger universities around the country.

How your Startup Can Reach a Successful Exit

Exit plans are an integral part of the initial VC investment process so it’s always built into the roadmap for up and coming startups.

As a startup founder, you’re aware that investors want to know when you plan to “cash out”. Investors what to know when they can expect a return on investment and entrepreneurs seek an exit as well to gauge their future involvement in other startups.

Here are four successful exit strategies to consider when creating your business strategy:

Richard Maize Startup Exit

Merger and acquisition is common for emerging startups looking to exit but these acquisitions happen often but aren’t publicized as much as other options. Merging with a giant company within your market is relatively typical as it gives the larger companies the unique product and team that your business has already built and in return you gain a library of resources on the largest scale.

IPO is what everyone thinks of when speaking of a startup exit. Growing your startup to the stage of an initial public offering is what the industry means when they use the phrase ‘going public’. Although this exit knowingly puts your business in the shareholder’s hands because they hold equity through shares that can be traded on a daily basis.

Monetizing on your own is a road less traveled but it’s undeniable a profitable plateau that many startups have trouble reaching. If you have a secure business with a stable foundation in your industry, create monetization streams through your product that will allow you and all invested parties a consistent revenue flow. This exit allows you to keep ownership of your startup and ultimately creative control as well.

Sell. Usually happening more quietly, selling your company in your entirety is a great way to fulfill all debts and pay your salary as you gear up for your next entrepreneurial adventure. A straightforward sale of a startup tends to happen between two parties in the same personal network. But ideally, you want the candidate to have experience in the market and the intellect and ambition to grow the business to new levels.

Why the Hotel Sector is a Booming Market

Hotels and Bed & Breakfast chains have reached stability since the recession in the commercial/residential property market years ago. Financially, the hotel sector has improved immensely for a few specific reasons since the sector’s relatively recent drop in profits and sales.

“People weren’t traveling then, but since the recession ended, these companies have grown sales and consequently had a bump in net profit margin, meaning the companies are making more from every dollar of revenue,” says Sageworks analyst Libby Bierman.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 11.08.09 AM
Although even though Hotels are considered commercial real estate, this model can generate profit through a few different lanes which is why the hotel sector is booming for business.
Hotels attract tourists, a rotating audience that is much more active since the recession. But one of the main reasons behind the growth of this market is the collaboration between hotels and casinos.

Many states are jumping onto the legalization of casinos in their region, a luxury that Las Vegas once had the monopoly on. Now casinos are allowed within hotels in 38 states, creating 31,200 additional jobs during 2012 which accumulated in $2.3 billion in salaries and wages.

With other attractions persuading travelers to book hotels for their stay, the food and beverage revenue is often overlooked. Food and Beverages account for about ⅓ of gaming revenue (inc. casinos), a substantial portion.
The rise in profitability from this sector is a big encouragement for commercial realty investors and with the right research, there’s a stable opportunity in the business out there for both eager and experienced real estate entrepreneurs.

Advantages and Challenges of Multi-Family Residences

When looking to invest into real estate then you’ve likely come across the impactful decision of planning to buy a multi-family residence or a single-family property. Weighing the perks and drawbacks of a multi-family building is an important part of the process. Either choice can result in a sound investment but there are a multitude of factors to consider – loans, cash flow, resident convenience to name a few.

Explore the pros and cons of a multi-family residence and see if there any points raised that you have yet to consider.

 Multi Family Building

 

Maintenance Costs

The cost of building maintenance is a major component of real estate investment and it tends to lean in the favor of multi-family properties in comparison to single family housing.

Often, buildings with multi-units are managed by one maintenance company that can account for numerous residents at a certain property. Single-family properties require contracts with multiple management groups that will attend to the various locations that you own.

With one management group, the contract documentation is also simplified. Investors see this as an opportunity to lessen overhead costs because residential upkeep can be a reoccuring issue and a task that building owners are expected to be active upon.

But as a multi-family property owner, consider that if amenities are offered then the management company must attend to those as well, not just the actual residence. If tenants have access to in-building gyms, backyards, common rooms, and other areas, then those spaces must be attended to as well. 

 

Cash Flow

Property investors can achieve more of a benefit from multi-family residences because of the Land-to-Building Ratio. Occupying multiple units on the same land typically makes for an increased cash flow.

Single-family property investors have more of a focus on land appreciation, so they’ll see a return on investment when the house reaches its selling date. But with multiple unit buildings, the payments come more periodically.

Also, at the investing stage, multi-family buildings usually allow for more units to be purchased at a lower price per unit.

 

Limiting Losses

With the luxury of multiple units within one building, vacancies aren’t as much of a pain point as they would be in a single-family situation. If a multi-family residence has one vacancy, there’s a few other paying tenants that will contribute to the cash flow despite the absence of one. In a single-family place, that wouldn’t be the case and filling the vacancy would be much more of an urgent focus for investors.

Multi-family residences have their perks from an investing perspective but there are a few challenges that may arise as well. There’s a bigger selection pool of potential buyers for single family homes as opposed to multiple unit buyers. These buyers also tend to have more of an appreciation for their property in focus just because of the approach and process they take before purchasing. Single family buyers put more of a weight on a property’s location and surrounding lifestyle so when they choose a location, they’re more so considering the longevity factor.

It’s important to understand both sides when coming into this tough real estate decision. Knowing the pros and cons of both routes can help you make an investment that best suits your situation.

3 Home Automation Products that Are Worthwhile

Next thermostat

Nest thermostat

Tech products are moving towards a much more connected stage and the growth of this industry has manifested most in the home setting. Home automation software is a movement helping homeowners create a safer environment and a more affordable life.

It’s not often that we find tech products nowadays that aren’t internet or bluetooth accessible. The ability to connect to devices wirelessly creates a new form of communication and allowing homeowners to communicate with their appliances is a staple that’s sure to be consistent among households soon.

I’ve made a list of three innovative products to help you automate your home and make your life that much easier.

Nest

Nest is a smart thermostat that learns preferences of the owner to make your home climate management eventually operate to your liking on its own. Founded by former Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, Nest helps you save money as it learns your routine by managing your heating and cool air based on your presence and patterns in settings.

Nest looks like the new age version of a conventional thermostat with a user-friendly digital interface. The product now connects with third-party applications, making it even more interconnected and a pioneer device in the home automation industry.

Nest Labs was recently acquired by Google for $3.2 billion. Nest Labs also has a protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector. I doubt their innovation is anywhere close to its peak.


Belkin WeMo Switch and Motion Sensor

Belkin’s WeMo products have become a collection that is a frontrunner in the home automation market and one of their most universal devices is the WeMo Switch and Motion Sensor.

The WeMo Switch and Motion Sensor is a device that plugs straight into an electrical outlet and allows a motion-censored control of your home appliances and electronics.

This product takes away the manual effort that some other automated devices may require. The Belkin WeMo Switch allows homeowners to choose which devices click on and off as movement is detected in the home. The WeMo sensor detects motion up to 10 feet away and when there’s movement, the switch is alerted to turn on your choice of appliances. WeMo also can trigger an array of switches at once, turn on a light and fan or turn on a set of lights depending on your preference.

The product works through the free WeMo app available on both the Android and iOS system. Another aspect of home automation products is the notification aspect when users are remort. The WeMo Switch and Motion Sensor notifies you via text or email when motion is detected in the home.

Smart Washer/Dryer Keeps Energy Usage Low

Automating key appliances like the washer, dryer, dishwasher and even refrigerator seems unordinary because the technology is relatively new but Whirpool takes an approach that is not only convenient but majorly cost effect. Whirlpool sells a smart washer and dryer that will help you automatically run your appliances at the best time based on insight from 6th Sense Live.

6th Sense Live features technology utilized by Whirlpool that’s linked to an online database of energy prices and when power is cheapest in your area, your smart appliances will run. From the app you’re able to see when the wash or dryer load is done, when your washer’s supplies is low, as well as all of the other normal functions needed.

 

Sources:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2410890,00.asp

http://safesoundfamily.com/blog/best-home-automation-software-products/

http://safesoundfamily.com/blog/best-home-automation-software-products/

 

 

The Question Mark on Commercial Real Estate Crowdfunding

Real Estate Crowdfunding?

Real Estate Crowdfunding?

What do commercial real estate, non-profits, and startups have in common? They have all been the fairly fortunate targets of recent successful crowdfunding ventures.  In this industry, real estate crowdfunding allows investors with smaller capabilities to use online marketplaces to purchase shares in commercial properties. This could be a game-changer for a small-time investor, who benefits both from rental income and property appreciation over time, and a hugely profitable experience for these enterprises overall.

Take, for example, what may one day be described as the grandfather of commercial real estate crowdfunding: Fundrise. This commercial real estate venture, founded by brothers Ben and Dan Miller, claims to “revolutionize the way people invest” by providing “access to investment opportunities from the best real estate companies in the country, all through one simple, transparent platform.”

Maketto, a diverse-use commercial space on H Street in Washington D.C. was Fundrise’s first crowd-funded property and their probable golden child. As CNBC’s Diana Olick describes it “very nearly a visual manifestation of the philosophy behind its fundraising; put simply, a social structure grown out of social financing.”

While this meta perspective may tell a great story, the question remains: Is commercial real estate fundraising a good idea? Many who purchase property—or more accurately, a piece of that property—through crowdfunding have little experience in real estate investment or management. The SEC does not regulate these crowdfunding sites in the same way as traditional REITs, which creates the potential for a can of worms that the “average investor” might not want to open. While it provides the opportunity for the average investor to become much more than that, what risk is involved and is really worth the reward?

Further, there are very real limitations to real estate crowdfunding. It’s relatively new in the real estate market, so even those who’ve used crowd funding in other capacities might not be aware of its place in real estate. Only about 3 percent of Americans participate in crowdfunding as it is, and with the possibility for even greater regulations by the SEC the pool of participants may narrow even further, potentially limiting its relevancy to a greater extent.

As it currently stands, the only way that an investor can experience a liquidity event is if the project comes to completion. And there is no guarantee that this will be the case, especially when so many of the participants contribute in very small amounts. The minimums put in place by companies like Fundrise do something to alleviate this problem, but there’s still no guarantee. Only time will tell what the future of crowdfunding holds for commercial real estate.