Cash Out to Charity

Credit card rewards programs can be tricky things. Sure, they look good on paper— earn cash back! Get more miles!— but how often do you really stay on top of them? If your answer was “not very often”, you’re not alone. A good deal of us aren’t. In fact, $16 billion in rewards went unused back in 2010. Those numbers may have changed in the half decade that has followed, but even if it were a minor improvement of 10-20%, that’s still a solid chunk of change that’s gone to waste.

One credit card company though, is looking to change that by allowing card holders to donate unused rewards to charity.

Rewards go unused for a number of reasons. If there’s a reward you can get by redeeming points, often times you need to have spent a lot in the process. After all, no one is thrilled by redeeming their paltry earnings for something like a keychain. For other users, especially those with a smaller credit line, the thought of redeeming points to shave a few dollars off of the bill also may not be at the front of the mind. The point is, a model like the one used by Charity Charge ensures that what would be otherwise gone and forgotten is donated to useful causes.

Charity Charge isn’t the first company to forward rewards to charities, but it is redefining how we give. Bank of America, for instance, offers a card that donates cash back rewards to breast cancer research, but the amount itself is tiny— .08% of each purchase. Another snag with donating to charity is the total of processing fees. Many donations go towards salary, utilities, and other overhead costs. But charity charge underwrites these fees, so the donations go straight to the cause itself.

Jarvus Bringing in Public School Grads from Philly

Doug MacFaddin Jarvus
Tech companies are working round the clock to hire qualified applicants to keep up with demand. They need qualified applicants who can learn things quickly and work in a fast paced environment. To do this, some companies are using unusual methods of hiring staff and bringing in fresh talent. The development firm Jarvus is getting their talent directly from the Philadelphia public school system by training and then hiring recent grads to become the next tech savvy generation.

This was a great opportunity for high school grad, Nafis Bey who is now an IT apprentice to a software engineer at the firm. Bey didn’t want to college and Jarvus offered him a unique opportunity to learn a very valuable set of skills that will pay a great competitive wage and would give him on the job training rather than four years in a classroom. In his apprenticeship, Bey learned how to fix computers and to code. As he was training he worked at the Science Leadership Academy as a tech specialist. After he finished his apprenticeship, Bey was offered a full time position as an engineer at a web development firm. The apprentice program is known as the Urban Technology Project and is integrated into the public schools through Jarvus Innovations, as part of the development shop. This partnership has allowed Jarvus to fill their need for employees by connecting with public schools, utilizing a local apprenticeship program to train students, and eventually hired some of the best performing students in the program, even though they were not college graduates.

Through this program the schools are also being improved. For example, Bey created the position of technology manager at his school because he saw the need and he had the skills. He thought it was important to give back to his school community. Those are the kinds of inspiring stories that come out of the Urban Technology Project and it also shows great promise for how tech companies can increase and strengthen their work force.

Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers: Where Do We Go From Here?

The Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling has confirmed what many thought about him for years. He is a racist. This confirmation came after remarks he made to his girlfriend, Ms. Stiviano, the audio of which was released by TMZ on Friday. Note that he has a known girlfriend, Stiviano, even though he has a supportive wife, Rochelle, who is always by his side at games. This just adds to the track record of Sterling’s seedy character. It was no secret that Sterling was a racist, but for many years he has kept his thoughts and feeling on a low profile. The last, very public, incident of his racism was in 2009 when he had to pay $2.725 million in settlement money for discriminating against African-American and Latino families in apartment buildings that he owned around the Los Angeles area. After that case he started to keep more of a low profile about his feelings towards minorities, until the release of this ugly audiotape.

The release of the audio has had an effect on the team who have had to answer to angry fans. They are as upset as the fans are and have stressed that they don’t play for the team’s owner, but for the team. The Clippers coach, Doc Rivers is livid and said he only returned to the team because he thought the situation with Sterling had changed. He is so upset about the audio that TMZ released that Rivers is considering breaking his three-year, $21 million contract with the Clippers. First, Rivers said he needs to speak with Sterling and clear things up before making a decision, ending with “I’m just going to leave it at that.” Rivers knew that the team was and continues to be really upset and arranged a meeting with them so that they could all vent and voice concerns before they went back to the court to practice. It is unclear who will stay and who might go, but Sterling has definitely had a negative effect on the Clippers.

Will Student Athletes Benefit Financially from Unions?

Doug MacFaddinUniversities have long exploited student athletes; they mine the kids for their talent and then push them through their degree while not giving them the opportunity to learn, in many cases. Additionally, most recruited student athletes come from poor homes, placing them in the center of a multibillion dollar industry in which they get no piece of the pie. This was very clearly demonstrated with the UConn point guard Shabaaz Napier after his team won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. He was in the center of the glitz and glamour, surrounded by media, fans and cameras. The irony is just a few weeks before he had told reports, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”

Napier made this remark when asked about the Northwestern Wildcats and the Chicago Football team’s attempt to unionize. The athletes at Northwestern filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in order to form and union and to gain legal status of University employees. They won the latter victory and the athletes will vote whether to unionize later this April. Their first goal with union power is to allow student athletes to keep athletic scholarship if they get injured. This way they can stay in school and they still have a future. It seems only fair since the sport, which they play for the school most likely, will have caused such and injury. Farther down the line the players are thinking about trying to get a cut of the money the school rakes in from advertising revenue for the game. The problem with student athletes being paid is that it directly violates the NCAA sanctions and if they do get money, Northwestern would lose eligibility.

There are other hurtles to overcome. Although the team was able to pass their employee status, Northwestern is appealing the NLRB’s decision. Next it will go to a panel in Washington D.C. for review. Many in the legal department think that unionization will pass but whether students are employees and that is why they should unionize is a controversial debate and will most likely make its way up to Federal Court. This debate is starting in Northwestern and may spread to a few other schools, but that alone will not take down the NCAA. However, it is putting the idea into student athlete’s heads all over the country that they are not being treated fairly. If that idea starts to spread, according to Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworkers union, “Their whole empire is starting to crumble.”

Microsoft is Not Thrilled About the Three New Android Phones

1200-nokia-x-unveil_nokia-press-conference-24th-february-2014-24Nokia has now officially announced three new Android phones under their Nokia X line. This will be a departure from their previously Microsoft heavy operating systems. The move is particularly stunning because Microsoft is in the middle of a $7.2 billion deal to buy Nokia’s phone and tablet business.

When Microsoft heard about Nokia’s Android phone, an insider with the company called the move “embarrassing.” On Nokia’s Android ambitions, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows stated, “They’ll do some things we’re excited about, and some things we’re less excited about.”

These new Nokia/Android phones are different than traditionally Android phones. They do not have any Google services (like maps, mail, etc.) and they run on extremely modified software. They use Microsoft services and will have a separate app store for Android apps. Nokia’s former CEO is hoping that these Nokia X phones will serve as a gateway for consumers to upgrade to Microsoft phones in the long run. They are currently targeting the emerging markets with these phone options. The problem with this logic is that Nokia already makes an affordable Microsoft phone for less than $100, the Nokia Lumina.

It stands to be seen if Microsoft will keep these Nokia X phones around once they are in possession of the company.

Charity Donation Startup Believe.in Expands beyond the U.K.

Charity donation platform Believe.in, whose investors include Greylock Partners and Index Ventures, has expanded its reach outside of the U.K. — and beyond its own fee-less charity donation social network — with the launch of a white label product aimed at charities seeking donation processing tools.Doug MacFaddin Charity Donation Startup Believe.in Expands beyond the U.K.

The tools are offered in five countries, all english speaking: Canada, U.S., U.K., Australia, and Ireland, and are targeting roughly 2.3 million charities across those regions.

The company believes Blackbaud, considered to be one of the leading global providers of software and services for nonprofit organizations, to be its main competitor, although, co-founder and CEO Matthias Metternich, says that each of Believe.in’s target markets are more nuanced – “where either there are no players, or there are players who are focused on being consumer facing giving platforms, rather than the nuts and bolts that power non-profits wherever they are”.

Believe.in’s white label product consists of funraising, events, donation, and appeal pages that can be customized to match a charity’s branding and integrated into their already existing website. The product is designed to work on different device platforms, from desktop to mobile, and to easily hook into social media sites to assist campaigns in expanding their reach.

The service include numerous features, including back-end analytics dashboards – assisting the nonprofit organizations in determining the success of a campaign quantitatively in terms of marketing outreach, ongoing donor research, and the performance of donation drives – and assists in completing back office functions. Pricing starts at free (plus flat card fees) so charities can kick its tyres; to £95pm for a Pro account; or more for bespoke enterprise price plans.

Believe.in’s own U.K.-specific donation social network — which recently had a Pinterest-style makeover — has now become a charity, it said today. The platform has differentiated itself from the online charity giving competition by not taking a cut of donations. Believe.in hands the entire donation amount to the charity, with only card charges deducted.

HopTo — IT!

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  — Arthur C. Clarke

 

Thursday, November 14th was a big day for a microcap company (market cap of approximately $40 million) headquartered in Campbell, California.  hopTo Inc. shares closed at .425 cents on the OTC after reaching a high of .44 cents and a low of .37 cents — a 21% intraday move.

Doug MacFaddin HopTo -- IT!What happened today to create all of this trading volatility?

hopTo, a company that has been around since 1996, maneuvering a recent technology pivot in 2012, announced its new app today that creates your “personal cloud” on the iPad.  This app is currently FREE and allows the user to enjoy a comprehensive mobile workspace on the iPad by linking all cloud-based apps, personal and professional computer into one user-friendly app.

Wow, I no longer have to do the tedious orchestration between all of my apps and files — I can now allow an application with a sleek user interface to aggregate, coordinate and facilitate?

Yes.  The user can now access their Excel, Word or PowerPoint docs and seamlessly work with DropBox or Box files and further enhance a presentation with the photo browsing capability or images resident on the desktop.  It allows for a centralized view (a dashboard) whereby the app user can create, revise and share docs with colleagues or friends.

I haven’t had the opportunity to play with the app on my iPad since the release was today, but analyzing  the press and hopTo’s description of the app, I do believe it’s going to unlock incredible productivity — assuming the app works as advertised.  Even if the first generation doesn’t quite live up to billing the foundation for the app is very strong.

As our world progressively moves toward mobile, this capability will greatly enhance workflow and the ability to produce a first-rate product.  At a $40 million valuation — versus other cloud-based companies — this company’s shares look very cheap and clearly a stock to watch and follow to see if they can realize the potential value of this application.

Crossroads Between Tech and Fitness

Doug MacFaddin Skulpt“What’s measured improves” — Peter F. Drucker

Skulpt Aim just made its debut on Indiegogo, the global crowdsourcing platform.  

Although the image on Indiegogo for Skulpt Aim is a bit odd, the thesis and end product makes a lot of sense.  As the consumer connects to more and more data concerning their physical health and exercise, Skulpt Aim looks to provide the user with a better understanding on the outputs versus generating data around the inputs (i.e., number of steps, heart rate, calories, etc.).

One of the big friction points for the consumer when they get back into exercising is the weird phenomenon of initially gaining weight as opposed to losing weight.  As we all know, muscle is denser and therefore heavier than fat and the transformation from fat to muscle results in a higher weight count.  Although you understand what’s happening, it’s still little comfort when you try and rationalize the higher weight and intellectually create the incentive to get back to the gym to continue on your path towards healthy weight loss.

This is where Skulpt Aim steps in.  It is a wireless device that fits in your hand similar in size to a smartphone.  The wireless device measures your muscle fitness both as to the percentage of fat in the muscle and the quality of the muscle.  Skulpt Aim is strong and water resistant so it can be held on a sweaty muscle to measure the quality.  Once the device is placed on the muscle a current flows through the individual muscle and the various measurements are recorded and a summary display provides the user various metrics to calculate their progress.

These results are displayed on the device or they can be shared with your community.  The results are wirelessly sent to a unique online dashboard and allows you to measure the results against goals and further track your progress.  At this point you should have the stats you are looking for to offset the fact that you have gained a little weight as a result of exercising.  The rationalization is complete — you see progress in the quality improvement of your muscle.

The team at Skulpt Aim is allowing early adopters to secure the device for $99 which is a 30+% savings to the retail price.  I think the tech is great and clearly there’s a problem they are solving.  From my
standpoint, this product would be that much better if they built an app that I could use with my current smartphone so that I don’t end up with an additional device.  I am sure there are considerable tech barriers that would need to be solved to insure quality for the current flows and possible sweaty applications.Doug MacFaddin Skulpt 2