Business Insider
Analyzing the top news stories across the web

May 1 2015 6:20 PM

Snapchat Is Pushing Out More Than 30 Small Businesses to Move Into its Latest Office

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Snapchat has signed a 10-year lease at a 47,000-square foot office complex in Venice. The lease includes the option to extend by an additional five years. 

"Today is Snapchat's first official day leasing the space," Jim Abbott of Realty Advisor Group, who brokered the deal for the complex's owner, told Business Insider. 

Snapchat had been rumored to be negotiating a takeover of a 55-unit office complex at the corner of Abbot Kinney and Venice Boulevards, one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood.

Snapchat will be renovating the office buildings at the complex, called the Venice Connection and Studio Village. "They're paying for some significant improvements that will raise the value of the property," Abbott said.

The property owners have leased the space as a multitenant complex since 1973. According to Abbott, Snapchat had been negotiating the lease with the owners for nearly 10 months. Several other tech companies, including Uber, had also shown interest in the office space.

"There was some concern, since the property owners weren't familiar with Snapchat," he said. "But we really worked through the lease with them. Snapchat has been growing so much over the last 10 months that it helped to solidify them as a tenant, as a company that is keeping business in Venice."

More than 30 smaller businesses already make their home there—including mobile advertising startup Briabe Mobile, drone and robotics company Ctrl.Me, design agency Clever Creative, and several law and insurance offices. Most tenants were on a month-to-month lease, all of which will likely be terminated by the end of the summer, Abbott said.

"We’re looking on the west side of L.A., maybe Marina del Rey. It’s going to be a struggle,"  Briabe Mobile CEO James Briggs, whose company leases about 2,600 square feet in the complex, told Business Insider earlier this month. "There are not a lot of business complexes like this in Venice, and we’re completely priced out of what’s left. Venice is out of the question now." 

Snapchat declined to comment on its real estate negotiations. A spokesperson told Business Insider, "We love being in Venice and we strive to be great neighbors within the community where we live and work."

Snapchat also leases several buildings on Market Street and at the Thornton Lofts on Ocean Front Walk. It's unclear if the new office space will become Snapchat's main headquarters, or if the company views the collection of Venice offices as a broader headquarters. 

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April 29 2015 5:01 PM

The Apple Watch Is Having Trouble Getting Along With Wrist Tattoos

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Now that the Apple Watch has arrived, some buyers are reporting that the high-end smartwatch doesn't work properly if they have wrist tattoos.

Normally, the Apple Watch can automatically detect whether it is on your wrist. This means users do not have to enter a password every time they put it on. But the ink in tattoos appears to interfere with Apple Watch's infrared sensors that enable wrist detection. These sensors also give users access to heartbeat-tracking capabilities and Apple Pay, so wrist tattoos may obstruct those features as well.

Disgruntled customers with wrist tattoos have complained about the problem on Reddit and YouTube. On Reddit, guinne55fan said he thought his device was faulty until he "decided to try holding it against my [un-tattooed] hand and it worked ... Once I put it back on the area that is tattooed with black ink the watch would automatically lock again." Another Reddit commenter, 711minus7, says his friend had "exactly the same issue."

Here's a video from YouTuber Michael Lovell showing the problem. When worn on his untattooed left side, the watch worked fine. But after being transferred to his right wrist with a sleeve tattoo, the device stopped working and asked for his passcode. The tech blog iMore tested the device on numerous tattoos and concluded that the sensor readings "varied wildly depending on colors and shading."

Big, block dark colors are most problematic, while the Apple Watch can deal with lighter shades just fine. People with darker skin tones will not have issues, though, because "natural skin pigmentation doesn't block light the same way artificial ink pigment or even scar tissue does," iMore writes.

There is a workaround. Apple Watch users can turn off wrist detection so they don't need to enter a passcode at all. But doing so makes their device less secure.

Apple has had issues during new product launches before—notably with "Bendgate." After the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, some users reported that their new devices were accidentally bending while in their pockets.

April 28 2015 4:24 PM

Dear Skype, This Just Isn't Working. Love, Facebook.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Social media can make a relationship a lot more complicated. Take, for example, Facebook and Microsoft's Skype. Back in 2011, they were the happiest of couples, telling everybody how they were working together to make video calling in Facebook Messenger a reality. Mark Zuckerberg said at the time that he and then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer were "really aligned on this."

But now, with the launch of video calling in Facebook Messenger for iPhone and Android, there's no longer any doubt: Facebook and Skype have broken up, and Skype seems to be the one who was dumped. While no announcements have been made, we started to suspect Facebook and Skype were no longer quite so close in 2013, after Facebook introduced a voice calling option that used Facebook's technology.

But the real rupture appears to have happened a few months back. That's when Facebook quietly stopped using Skype for video calls made from the desktop, replacing Skype with technology that Facebook developed in-house, Facebook confirmed to Business Insider.

This change was made because Skype-powered video calls required users to install a browser plug-in, while the technology Facebook whipped up works without one—not important for call performance, video quality, and letting Facebook more quickly make changes and upgrades to video chat, according to a person familiar with the matter.

For users, the change was basically invisible. But for the Facebook and Skype partnership, announced with so much fanfare in 2011, it seems it was the beginning of the end. The demise of the Skype partnership represents the second major example of Facebook cutting ties with Microsoft recently. In December, Facebook unceremoniously stopped using Microsoft Bing to provide web search results on its social network.

Microsoft and Facebook have a long history together—Microsoft in 2007 invested $240 million in what was then a promising young social-networking company. Now that Facebook is a tech behemoth in its own right, it no longer needs to rely on others for technology such as search and voice calling. And keeping things in-house gives Facebook more control.

Microsoft declined to comment on the end of its Skype deal with Facebook.

Two weeks ago, in mid-April, Skype community manager Claudius Henrichs made a post to the official Skype forums, saying: "Facebook is making a number of changes to the way they connect their products with partners like Skype.” He gave a laundry list of Facebook integrations that will no longer work in Skype as of the end of April, including the ability to message Facebook friends from within the Skype desktop app.

"We never like it when features have to go away like this," Henrichs wrote. Skype users will be able to use their Facebook account to find friends who have a Skype account, but it's not the same. Skype's partnership with Facebook may have been a casualty in the social network's mission to never, ever, ever let its user base leave the site for even a single second.

April 27 2015 2:49 PM

How Alibaba Is Spreading E-Commerce to Chinese Villages Without Internet

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

With an estimated net worth of $23 billion, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is one of the richest people on earth. His e-commerce company is now worth more than $200 billion.

But Ma’s success didn’t just fall from the sky. He grew up poor and was rejected from dozens of jobs before fighting his way to founding one of the largest internet companies in the world. Now Ma wants to help others replicate his success. In order to do so, Ma’s deploying a pretty unique strategy.

According to Jim Kim, World Bank’s president, Ma looks for rural Chinese villages with no internet connection. Then he builds the infrastructure needed for them to start and expand their own companies. Kim explained it in more detail in an interview with Quartz:

“The latest thing [Ma] told me was, ‘We’re identifying the villages where there is no access to internet. Then we go out there, as long as there is a road and there is cell phone service—and there is cell phone service just about everywhere—and I’—Jack told me this—‘I go and find two or three young women who are very savvy and have learned computers. I give them a computer, and they start taking orders for the whole village.’”

This helps that village in a number of different ways. First, it gives everyone in the village a chance to order things like washing machines online at a much affordable price. It also lets those “two or three young women” to carve out a nice little business by taking orders for others. But most importantly, it gives other businesses in the small village a way to reach a bigger market because now they have access to delivery trucks going in and out of that town.

“Now that the trucks are going out there delivering the washing machines, they are going back [to the cities] with products from that village, right? He is really changing, in a pretty fundamental way, the model of development,” Kim said.

One of the beneficiaries of this model is Huang Jianqiao, a farmer-turned-online bag store owner who’s banking $4.8 million a year in sales. Because of Alibaba's online platform, Huang has been able to build a business that sells and delivers to “cities and villages across China,” according to AFP.

"Now we can stay with our family when doing Internet business, and we earn more than working in other cities," Huang told AFP.

April 24 2015 4:40 PM

Study: How Much Paper Would It Take to Print the Entire Internet?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

A quick and dirty calculation reveals that you could print the entire internet on 136 billion pieces of standard 8-by-11 sheets of paper.

Stack that many sheets of paper one on top of the other and you would get a column about 8,300 miles high! (Assuming that the average thickness of each sheet is .0039 inches.)

George Harwood and Evangeline Walker, students at the University of Leicester in the UK, determined this by first estimating how many pages it would take to print every Wikipedia webpage, which came out to a staggering 70,859,865 pieces of paper.

They then extrapolated that value to the number of total webpages on the internet, roughly 4.5 billion, tweaked their final guess to account for the variable size of different websites, and discovered it takes quite a lot of paper to print the internet, but not an immeasurable amount. (They don't specify the size, type, or spacing of the print you would use, which could change their final result.)

But they didn't stop there. They went one step farther to then gauge how many trees it would take to manufacture 136 billion sheets of paper. "It is possible to obtain approximately 17 reams of paper per usable tree," they write in their report

There are about 500 sheets of paper per ream. After that, it just takes a quick calculation to figure out that it would take 16 million trees to print 136 billion sheets of standard 8-by-11 sheets of paper. That's more than three times the number of trees growing in New York City at this moment.

Harwood and Walker report the results of their intriguing thought experiment in a peer-reviewed student journal run by their university's Center for Interdisciplinary Science. The journal gives students the chance to write, edit, publish, and review scientific papers.

Correction, April 27, 2015: This article originally stated that Birch and Oak were softwood trees. They are hardwood. The information has been removed.

April 23 2015 12:58 PM

Airbnb Now Says It Has a Solution to San Francisco's Affordability Problem

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Room-rental service startup Airbnb is going on the offensive.

In New York, state legislators have failed to pass a bill that would make partial-apartment rentals under 30 days legal. Meanwhile, Airbnb's home city of San Francisco struggles with regulating Airbnb, despite what the startup characterizes as good-faith efforts to work closely with city authorities. 

And this week, California state legislators as well as city legislators in San Francisco are discussing a bill that Airbnb says would let local authorities sift through personal information about its customers in order to make sure that they're paying all of their related taxes properly, in what could be a gross invasion of privacy. 

Airbnb seems to have had enough of playing nice. Now, it's going straight for politicians right where it hurts: their constituents. On a new website, launched today, the startup is highlighting one citizen of each of San Francisco's 11 districts who say they couldn't afford to live in the hyper-expensive city without the revenue they earn by renting out rooms on Airbnb.

In fact, Airbnb says the average host in San Francisco makes $13,000 a year, on an average of 6.5 nights stayed in a rented room. "In neighborhoods across this city, home sharing is making this city more affordable for thousands of San Franciscans," Airbnb says in a statement. "Instead of Trojan Horse proposals designed to effectively ban home sharing, lawmakers should focus on making it easier for San Franciscans to share their homes and follow the rules."

It's a transparent marketing ploy designed to confront San Francisco councilpeople with the impact any anti-Airbnb legislation might have in their districts, but it tells some emotional stories. Here's one from Kevin & Esther Krejci, who live in San Francisco's District 4, the residential Sunset area: 

My husband and I have been sharing a room in our Sunset home. Since Kevin was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, it has been the money we make hosting on Airbnb that makes it possible to pay his medical and physical therapy bills. The visitors we've welcomed from across the world have taught us so much, especially our children, who learned to welcome people of different cultures, and understanding their own stories that they have. San Francisco is expensive, very expensive, and for our family hosting on Airbnb has made it affordable.

Here's another from PK Paksaichol, who lives in District 11, the working-class Excelsior neighborhood:

For years my wife wanted to go back to school to earn an MBA and obtain her real estate license. But doing so was expensive and felt out of reach. Without sharing a room in our Excelsior home, there was no way we could have afforded tuition. It just wasn't possible. For our family, home sharing has made San Francisco affordable—and for my wife, it has allowed her to pursue her dreams.

Obviously, these stories are supposed to tug on the heartstrings. But it is true that Airbnb is an alternative revenue stream for those who need one. At the same time, though, it's hard to ignore rampant abuses, like people renting out their rent-controlled apartments at a profit. Airbnb rentals may also reduce long-term rental supply in the already crowded San Francisco.

But at the same time, these are real people who rely on Airbnb to subsidize a big part of their livelihood. It'll be up to local regulators to decide which way they want to go. 

April 20 2015 3:44 PM

Small Businesses, Brace Yourselves: Google's Mobilegeddon Is Upon Us

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

On Tuesday, April 21, Google is making a major update to its mobile search algorithm that will change the order in which websites are ranked when users search for something from their phone.

The algorithm will start favoring mobile-friendly websites (ones with large text, easy-to-click links, and that resize to fit whatever screen they're viewed on) and ranking them higher in search. Websites that aren't mobile-friendly will get demoted. About 60 percent of online traffic now comes from mobile and Google wants users to have a good experience whenever they click on a mobile link.  

The company announced its impending changes back in February, giving webmasters nearly two months and plenty of information to make the changes necessary to keep their sites from disappearing from mobile search results. But the update is still expected to cause a major ranking shake-up. It has even been nicknamed "Mobile-geddon" because of how "apocalyptic" it could be for millions of websites, Itai Sadan, CEO of website building company Duda, told Business Insider.  

"I think the people who are at risk are those who don’t know about it," Sadan says. To him, that mostly means small businesses. "Come April 21, a lot of small businesses are going to be really surprised that the number of visitors to their websites has dropped significantly. This is going to affect millions of sites on the web," he says.

Businesses that depend on people finding them through localized search—like, if someone typed "coffee shops in Sunnyside, Queens," into Google on their phone—could see a decrease in foot traffic as a result of this update, Sadan says.

"Google has always been about relevancy, and content is king," he says. "But that's changing. Yes, they're saying content is still extremely important, but user experience is just as important. It's not sufficient to have all the right content—if people come to your site and the content is there but it's not readable, that's not good."

It's not only small businesses that are going to be affected by mobile-geddon, though. Marketing company Somo released a study last week that found that a bunch of big brands, like American Apparel, The Daily Mail, and Ryanair, will all get punished when the change takes place, unless they update their sites before Tuesday.  

April 17 2015 5:47 PM

Discount Retailer T.J. Maxx Doesn't Work the Way You Think

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

T.J. Maxx is the leader of discount retail, offering designer labels for a fraction of department store prices. One of the biggest myths about T.J. Maxx is that the retailer stocks defective or unattractive merchandise that Macy's and Nordstrom couldn't sell.

The reality is vastly different: Suppliers purposefully create excess merchandise for the retailer, Fortune reports. These products are identical to what you would buy at department stores. T.J. Maxx produces merchandise, too. About 10 percent of its merchandise comes from in-house labels. 

Behind T.J. Maxx's amazing selections are some of the best buyers in the industry, writes Beth Kowitt at Fortune. The company aggressively invests in training for its 900 merchants, making sure that each develops expertise in a certain category (like handbags, shoes, or menswear). 

"It’s pretty hardcore because it has to be," a former buyer told Fortune. "You're negotiating millions of dollars." The company has 3,385 locations after adding hundreds of new stores in the past year and is expected to surpass Macy's in sales. 

April 15 2015 2:02 PM

This Is How McDonald’s Franchisees Really Feel About the Golden Arches’ Future

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

McDonald's franchisees say the company's turnaround plan is going to fail and eventually force operators out of business, according to a new survey. "The system is broken," one franchisee wrote in response to the survey, by Janney Capital Markets. "There is no leadership, no plan, no respect for operators or their investment or bottom line."

Another wrote: "The future looks very bleak. I'm selling my McDonald's stock. The morale of franchisees is at its lowest level ever." Added a third: "We will continue to fall and fail." The franchisees' six-month outlook for the company's U.S. business was the worst in more than 11 years of the survey.

Franchisees operate about 90 percent of the roughly 14,000 McDonald's locations in the U.S. They were surveyed after a summit in which executives from the company's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, unveiled their plans for the company's future. Those plans include adding upscale, customizable burgers to the menu and improving food quality.

More than a half-dozen operators said the summit was a complete waste of their time. "Instead of acknowledging and solving the real problems facing us today, they chose to pretend that everything is normal and to look at what the restaurant of the future will be," one franchisee wrote. "They did nothing to address what the REAL problems are in our system: significant financial problems for owner/operators and menu complexity. ... It's as if they have NO CLUE of what our world looks like."

Another said the costs of the upgrades would force some franchisees out of business. "Why go out to a cheerleading camp when you don't have a direction in mind and the team is in shambles," the franchisee wrote. "This is going to take some time. Only the franchisees with minimal or no debt can ride it out. There will be a lot of fallout and many franchisees will be forced to leave the system with little or nothing."

Most franchisees cited costs as a major hurdle to the turnaround plan. They said that aggressive promotions by McDonald's, along with lagging sales, have bankrupted them and that they can't afford any new investments in their stores. 

Equipment for the new customizable burgers, called Create Your Taste, will reportedly cost between $120,000 and $160,000. "Leadership is out of touch with the financial realities that owner/operators are facing. This is not the time to ask us to take on significantly more debt," one franchisee wrote. "The restaurant of the future will cost a lot of money and will be even more labor-intensive than the stores already are. This is a step backwards."

Many franchisees also complained that the menu keeps expanding despite promises from corporate that it would be slimmed down to help speed up customer service. "They say they are going to simplify the menu and then add the Sirloin Burger and new ingredients," one franchisee wrote. "They are continually forcing new products on the owners to try and drive sales, but the new products continue to slow service and frustrate managers and crew in the restaurants."

Others complained that executives seemed confused about what kind of restaurant they wanted McDonald's to be. The chain is trying too hard to be "all things to all people," one franchisee wrote. Another said: "I came away from the summit completely confused. McDonald's management does not know what we want to be. Expensive (and slow) custom burgers in the same restaurant where we sell the Dollar Menu?"

April 14 2015 2:55 PM

This Computer Science Major Couldn’t Get a Best Buy Job. Now He Refuses to Pay Back His For-Profit College Loans

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

At 28, Michael Adorno got fed up with his low-wage job at a pizzeria in Richmond Hill, Georgia, and decided to go to college. Adorno attended the for-profit Everest College, part of Corinthian Colleges Inc., in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 2010 to 2012, and he received an associate degree in network administration. 

Three years later Adorno is unemployed and was even rejected from a job at Best Buy. Adorno belongs to a group called the Corinthian 100, alumni of Corinthian Colleges who refuse to pay back their student loans and claim they were defrauded by Corinthian. Like other members of the group, he claims he got a subpar education and was left with massive debt and no suitable job.

Before 2014, Corinthian Colleges Inc. was a network of more than 100 schools and one of the largest for-profit college companies in the U.S. But numerous investigations and lawsuits alleging wrongdoing against the company rapidly decreased its size. In July, an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education forced Corinthian to sell 85 of its schools and close another 12.

As the first person in his family to attend college, Adorno was excited, but he admittedly didn't know a lot about higher education and financial decisions. "I felt especially proud to take this first step forward, because I thought maybe it would be a big role-model experience for myself, and to set that example for my friends and my brother," Adorno told Business Insider.

He said that he relied on the college to give him accurate information about financial aid, something he said did not happen. "It was such a rushed experience," Adorno said. "My student adviser, she was a great salesman. I don't understand why she wasn't selling cars or something else."

Michael Adorno

Courtesy of Michael Adorno/Business Insider

He said his adviser promised that he would not be on the hook for student loan payments until after he graduated. But he said that he started getting requests for payment on his loans while still at Everest. Still, amid a rushed process and some confusion, Adorno pushed ahead. "I was just ready—I was just ready, ready, ready, to pull the trigger on something that was going to lead me to a more prosperous future with a better career, like I said, instead of delivering pizzas," he said.

When Adorno got to Everest, he said, he was immediately disappointed. He said Everest sold him on the promise that he'd get hands-on experiences with emerging technologies that would prepare him for high-caliber IT positions. But Adorno ended up taking a lot of unnecessary gen-ed classes such as literature and oral communications, he said.

And when Adorno, who said he has had a lifelong interest in computer systems, finally got into the core classes of the degree program, he said he was shocked by the outdated technologies offered at Everest. "I mean, I was learning how to work with operating systems that were 10, 15 years old. ... Why, why on earth was I being taught on systems that were already obsolete, outdated?" he said.

Adorno told Business Insider that one of the most compelling reasons he attended Everest was its pledge to provide lifetime career placement services. But he quickly realized he couldn't find work in an IT department, he said. The only job that Adorno said Everest could get him was working in a call center administered by Xerox. The role was a customer-service position that didn't require a college degree.

He did not accept that job.

He looked into attending Colorado Technical University to pursue a bachelor's degree, but when he went there he discovered some of his classes didn't transfer. He'd have to incur even more debt, which he said would "again lead me to keep plunging down the hole." Adorno eventually moved back to Georgia, where he took a job as an assistant manager at a Little Caesars. He said he was demoralized after attending Everest and didn't think he had any other options.

"I had to kind of pull myself back together and stop chasing that dream," Adorno said, "because there was no call-backs when I started looking into local technical recruiters. I wasn't getting any calls back with the info on my résumé having gone to Everest. I almost felt that, because I had that on my résumé, that's why they might not be calling me, because they might have intimate knowledge of their practices."

Now, at 33, Adorno has moved in with his mom, in Alexandria, Virginia, and is unemployed, but he said he is using the time to find an entry-level position in IT in or around Washington, D.C. He voiced frustration at getting rejected from a job with the Geek Squad at Best Buy. He is trying to remain upbeat, though he has no serious job leads. "Again, I feel a lot of it boils down to the fact that they are looking at the whole Everest thing," he said. 

He spoke about the $37,000 of student-loan debt that he's been deferring for the past three years. He and the other members of the Corinthian 100 are trying to get the Department of Education to discharge that debt. "What I expect to see is a full discharge of these loans so that I can reclaim a better chance at higher education," he said. "I still want to be able to go back to school."

We reached out to a representative for Corinthian for comment on Adorno's experience, and we will update this post if we hear back. Previously, the company told us in a statement that "career colleges like Corinthian play an important role in the U.S. education system and serve a need that would otherwise be unmet."

Correction: The headline originally said that Adorno is suing Corinthian Colleges. He is refusing to pay his loans back.