Zingy, an app offering on-demand personal dog walking services in the Los Angeles area, had a great first month of operation, with the developer reporting more than 300 walkers have joined the company since launch. These walkers are those who have successfully completed the “Zingy Academy,” which vets and trains potential walkers to ensure they meet the company and community’s standards.
The Zingy app is described as the “Uber for dog-walking,” as pet owners can signup for an account and hire a trained dog walker to take their dog for a walk at a time they choose. Each dog is given its own profile, allowing owners to mark the dog’s name, gender and other traits the walker may need to know (does the dog hate bicycles, for instance).
Owners can select the length of the walk, in addition to extras, like giving the dog treats, food or water. Zingy doesn’t allow pack or off-lead walking, and owners receive a notification after each walk has been completed.
Walkers are certified as reliable and trustworthy by Zingy itself. On average, only 25-30 percent of users who start the Zingy Academy training program are actually selected. This program includes a six-point background check (including criminal records, national terrorists watch list, sex offenders list, social security verification, driving and address history), in-person interviews and 15 on-boarding training modules with a 100 percent pass requirement. Finally, the entire Zingy service is covered by insurance, so users can have confidence in the safety of their pets.
Zingy’s marketing director, Schafer Stewart, tells us Zingy is looking for lively, active and happy people to match its brand. While the company is currently operating exclusively in the Los Angeles area, it has plans to expand nationwide once it has “perfected” the service in LA and can “ensure that our service meets the standards we set.”
Currently, around eight hundred new applicants are going through the application process, to help Zingy expand to more neighborhoods.
Article courtesy of SocialTimes Feed
A new report finds that U.S intelligence agencies are collecting more than data on telephone records and Internet behavior. According to the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the CIA “is building a vast database of international money transfers that includes millions of Americans’ financial and personal data, officials familiar with the program say.”
The financial data on money transfers, from businesses such as Western Union, does not include transactions that are domestic. A majority of the records are solely foreign, but includes those between the U.S. and other nations. “It does include data beyond basic financial records, such as U.S. Social Security numbers, which can be used to tie the financial activity to a specific person,” according to the Journal.
Just like the National Security Agency’s spy program, the bulk data collection is authorized under section 215 of the Patriot Act, is stored in a dedicated database and requires a court order to search the records.
Western Union will spend a whopping 4 percent of its revenue in 2014 to comply with Patriot Act rules.
The program was apparently inspired by the September 11 attacks, where “al Qaeda hijackers were able to move about $300,000 to U.S.-based bank accounts without arousing suspicion.”
This is the latest bulk data collection program to be revealed, but it likely won’t be the last.
[Image credit Flickr user geographyalltheway.com]
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Zenefits, the free, YC-backed “set-it-and-forget-it” service thats helps small businesses worry less about employee benefits, made a pair of announcements at Disrupt NY 2013 this morning: They’ll soon be able to handle payroll duties, as well, and they’re expanding the service to New York.
Zenefits takes pretty much all of the paperwork out of getting group health coverage. If you need a new plan, it’ll fetch a bunch of quotes for health/dental/vision services. If you hire a new employee, Zenefits handles getting them covered. If you terminate someone, you click one button and Zenefits pulls them from payroll, terminates their coverage, and helps the employee get rolling with COBRA coverage. Even if you’ve already got coverage, you can start using Zenefits — they’ll sync all of your employee coverage data, and take over as your insurance broker.
It’s all 100 percent online, no old-school faxin’ nonsense required.
Until today, Zenefits was a strictly Californian company. This is because Zenefits is, at its core, an insurance broker. When a company buys a new plan through Zenefits, they get paid a commission by the insurance company. This allows them to be completely free to the small business, but also requires Zenefits to get approval on a state-by-state basis. With today’s news, the company will be expanding to New York for the first time.
Simultaneously, the company has also announced plans to get into payroll services.
“Health insurance is a headache,” says Zenefits Co-Founder and CEO Parker Conrad, “but by solving that we’re really only solving half the problem. Many of the clients we’ve spoken with today want us to manage their payroll as well, instead of just syncing with it. Starting with TechCrunch Disrupt New York, we’ll actually take it over and manage it for them.”
With the new payroll services, an employer can just tell Zenefits of a new hire and provide them with the employee’s name, email address, salary, and — if applicable — the stock options they’ll receive. Zenefits will generate the offer letter and the standard intellectual property agreements, as well as reach out to the employee for the standard onboarding details — their Social Security number, their tax information, etc. The new employee will then be added to the payroll system, and the aforementioned benefits enrollment process will begin.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
In the first interview since her husband’s death, Laurene Powell Jobs dedicated her sizable platform to advancing immigration reform, while remaining notably tight-lipped about the private life of the late Steve Jobs. We’ve included highlights (with context) from her interview with Rock Center host, Brian Williams.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: It’s another way of saying we’re left with a world of really cool stuff. I always wanted to know what it was like to be a Kennedy and drive to Kennedy Airport; and what it’s like to be you at a light and watch ten people cross, and the only thing they have in common are white ear buds. What’s that like?
LAURENE POWELL JOBS: It’s pretty cool.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: (LAUGHS) It’s pretty cool. I mean, that changed our world.
LAURENE POWELL JOBS: Yeah. To do what you wanna do, to leave a mark– in a way that you think is important and lasting, that’s a life well lived.
Powell Jobs has been a vocal advocate of immigration reform, partnering with director Davis Guggenheim (Waiting For Superman, An Inconvenient Truth) on a documentary highlighting the struggles of talented, patriotic American youth who have been denied entrance into the military and college, because they are undocumented immigrants. To add public pressure for Congress to pass a bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for children of immigrants who came to America illegally, the film (trailer below) is accompanied by a grassroots campaign and website.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Climb into the minds of our viewers watching you guys on Friday night. So help us process this. How are we supposed to feel about their parents, who did do something bad? This is ill-gotten gains, because the first entry into this country was wrong. How are we supposed to feel about the bureaucracy we would now have to have just to hand Social Security numbers to our Marine, our civil engineer?
LAURENE JOBS POWELL: Yes. It’s understandable that people are conflicted about this. And, yes, the parents broke the law. And so I think that’s why Congress is trying to find a way to make amends. So have them pay a penalty, have them pay back taxes. Have them wait for two decades in order to have the chance to have citizenship. I mean, there are penalties that can be brought out. But then you have someone like Senator Marco Rubio who said, you know, “I understand why these parents came.” You know, if you are in desperate poverty, if you are struggling, if you would do anything in the world to get a better life for your kids, who are we to say — to judge you so harshly?
BRIAN WILLIAMS:…what about the argument that not everyone will succeed and prosper? Some people are trying to game the system; some will be a constant draw, a drain on the American economy. This won’t be all net net positive.
LAURENE POWELL JOBS: One of my favorite quotes is a lawmaker said, “I do not support any immigration policy that would have kept my grandparents out of the country.” And I think that’s a good rule. How about we agree upon what our common American values are, which is let’s make this a true land of opportunity. We’re also a land of rules and laws that should be enforced. Let’s fix this problem, and then let’s let people flourish.
Congress is slated to begin debate on a draft of comprehensive immigration reform, which will likely include provisions to allow undocumented youth a path to citizen, around mid-April.
Transcript excerpted from: “Rock Center With Brian Williams” on NBC News – Friday, April 12, 2013
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
Stripe, the YC-backed payments startup funded by Sequoia and PayPal’s original founders, is launching a new way for marketplaces and collaborative consumption startups to let their users directly accept payments.
It could be a huge win for early-stage peer-to-peer marketplaces, since many more mature companies in the space like Airbnb have had to go through the hassle of building in payments and fraud detection themselves.
“Airbnb had to practically build a version of Stripe in-house to let users accept payments,” said co-founder John Collison. “We thought about how we could make it very simple for websites to let their users sell, because it’s not about the visible damage of having to build this yourself. It’s the invisible economic damage of all the companies that don’t get started because it’s so hard to build a marketplace.”
Called Stripe Connect, the product lets users of any partner website directly receive payments. Before, an individual user would have to go through a time-consuming process of applying for a merchant account.
Some early users of the platform include Reddit, which is letting its users accept donations with Stripe Connect, and Skillshare, the community where anybody can teach others. Another wine-focused site is directly allowing its wineries to handle transactions with Stripe.
To handle fraud, Stripe has to collect details like bank account information, Social Security numbers and so on to get a sense of whether a website’s user is reliable.
“There are never any silver bullets, but with all of this information, we can get a high degree of confidence,” Collison said.
Collison adds that the system can easily integrate into all sorts of analytics and customer relationship management tools. Stripe’s API lets developers use their payments data and history to build new kinds of apps.
Overall, Stripe isn’t disclosing how many customers it has or how many transactions it is facilitating. The company publicly launched last year and it’s attracted the backing of some of Silicon Valley’s most storied investors, including Sequoia Capital and members of PayPal’s founding team like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Max Levchin. It was co-founded by two brothers Patrick and John Collison, who came to the U.S. from Ireland and became affiliated with Y Combinator very early on when their company Auctomatic was sold in 2008.
“What we’re doing with Stripe is building a very broad, economic infrastructure for the Internet,” Collison said. “When we started Stripe, we felt it was hard to build a business online. And specifically, what I mean is that payments online was very exclusionary, slow and difficult.”
Although Stripe faces a competitive field including the original PayPal and Accel-backed Braintree, Collison says the market opportunity is just so large that there is plenty of room for the company to grow.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
San Francisco has had an awesome few weeks of 75th anniversary celebrations. The Golden Gate bridge celebration was pretty obvious, as there was a lot of fanfare with fireworks etc., but another celebration went on rather quietly and TechCrunch was fortunate enough to be part of it.
The 75th anniversary of the Herman Street US San Francisco Mint.
One of the most mysterious buildings in San Francisco, The Mint is located behind a Safeway on Market Street, nestled between the Mission, Castro and Lower Haight communities. I pass by the ominous building all the time and I see the guards, but I’ve never seen anyone go in or out. I guess I just haven’t been there at the right time, because there are well over 300 employees that work there creating limited edition uncirculated collector sets, proof coins and will soon launch quarters you could (but shouldn’t, they are valuable) circulate with the famous S stamp.
Tours at the Mint are incredibly rare. They have family days where employees can bring their children and a few one off affairs, but they haven’t allowed press in for quite some time.
In order for TCTV producer Ashley Pagán and I to tour the Mint, we had to hand over a bunch of personal information, presumably for a quick background check to make sure we weren’t known bandits. We were sent some documents to read about what we were allowed to do and not do, and admittedly, I was so excited and just didn’t read them and broke two of pieces of advice. I wore open toe shoes and I brought coins. Ashley was smarter than I was and had safe footwear and zero coins, but she drove a vehicle, so we both got to experience what it was like to not sail smoothly into a government building. While digging the coins out of my mess of a purse, I watched Ashley driving into the lot and having her car checked completely by a man who inspected it with a mirror on a stick. He was very thorough.
We were told that the security going in wasn’t as bad as the security going out. It was like the TSA going in where they looked for large pieces of metal, but going out we’d have to go through a whole different set of machines that could pick up the tiniest pieces of metal, so they knew we weren’t trying to jack anything.
Once inside, the fun began. There was a really serious ceremony that actually made me well up a bit. Any time I see someone in uniform giving reverence to our flag ceremoniously, I turn to mush. There were plaques handed out and then our tours began. We were broken up into a few groups and we got paired with a news man who blew our minds. He was his own camera guy and everything. Like a genuine TV news guy. It was fascinating watching him and the benefit of him doing his own TV segments is that he slowed us all down and we got to get a lot of extra pictures and footage. Thanks TV dude!
We were allowed to pretty much record and take photographs of anything but the windows and security systems. I’m guessing they don’t want people learning how to get in or out of that place.
So, what does this have to do with tech? I admit, when I first found out about the Mint, I was dying to go and I would do anything to turn it into a tech story, but as it turns out, there’s a whole lot of tech in the Mint. Also, there’s an incredible employee culture that prides itself on being startup-like. I kid you not.
The San Francisco Mint is one of the few government institutions in the United States that is profitable. That’s right – profitable. That means they don’t take any of our tax dollars and they actually give back to all of us here in the US. Every single employee, when asked, attributes it to their incredible robotic efficiency. I asked employees how many technical people they had and the standard response was that they were all technical in one area or another and many have trained themselves on the job to operate, program and fix much of the robotic equipment there. They obviously have their hard core engineers and we got to interview one of them, but I was blown away by the numbers and wasn’t expecting what I saw.
The Mint had to be one of the most diverse working environments I’ve ever seen, with women, men, and people of different ethnic backgrounds and levels of ability working up and down the chain of command. I know it was game face day and they don’t normally have visitors, but you could tell, genuinely tell, that people absolutely loved working there. They all took such great pride in everything they did and made sure every coin was perfect for their customers. It was almost like walking into Zappos for the government. I felt happiness even after I left, a feeling I never get when going to the post office, Social Security office or DMV.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary, we got to see the pressing of a commemorative coin. Not only did we get to see it, but we personally, with our own hands pressed one of the first 20. I wish we got to keep one so we could give it away, but alas, we could not. If the Mint ever opens up its doors again to tours, we highly suggest you go, as there is major geek factor going on in there and despite what a lot of people think, there’s a lot happening in that mysterious building.
Here’s a short video of our tour with some gratuitous robot action and an interview with an incredibly awesome Mint employee:
SF Mint exterior photo by Seth Golub
Article courtesy of TechCrunch
More Facebook riches all around! The company granted about $796 million in restricted stock units to employees less than a week ago, according to an amended IPO filing.
These are ”employee refresher grants,” or new grants for employees. They don’t replace existing ones. These restricted stock units, or RSUs, could be worth anywhere from $707 million to $884 million based on Facebook’s expected $28 to 35 price range per share. Of course, if people hold on for longer and the stock pops by the time their lock-up period finishes, these shares could be worth a great deal more.
“On May 3, 2012, we granted an aggregate of 25,257,815 RSUs. We will determine the fair value of these grants during the second quarter. If the fair value of our Class A common stock was $31.50, the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, the aggregate grant date fair value would be approximately $796 million.”
Remember: RSUs or restricted stock units are not actual Facebook shares. They are contracts which promise actual shares upon a certain event (like an IPO!).
Facebook originally issued RSUs because the older SEC regulations said that companies with more than 500 shareholders had to report their financial performance like public companies do. Facebook was getting close to that critical limit, so the company started issuing RSUs instead. Under the recently passed JOBS Act, however, the landscape is totally different. This rule was changed to allow up to 2,000 shareholders excluding employees. So now companies can keep their numbers private for much, much longer.
RSUs have one other major benefit that sets them apart from options: employees don’t have to pay to exercise them. The downside is that they’re taxed as ordinary income (which could mean around a 45 percent tax rate with state taxes and Social Security contributions). Normal shares are taxed under the 15 percent capital gains rate.
On a separate note, on the same day that Facebook awarded these units last week, the company said that many early shareholders including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Accel Partners and more were selling up to $5.5 billion in stock during the IPO.
Article courtesy of TechCrunch