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Sept. 30 2015 1:58 PM

There’s a New App for Seeing What Your Friends Are Up To. It’s Called Sup.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Rich Pleeth is the former CMO of Gett, a no-surge pricing Uber competitor that's crushing it in Europe. In March he left Gett, but now, Pleeth is back with a new venture: Sup. Not to be confused with the video messaging app of the same name, Pleeth's Sup app has one goal: to help millennials find their friends around them.

Pleeth says when he was working at Gett, he was constantly traveling for business. He'd check in on Facebook when he was in a new city or at an airport, hoping to meet up with friends.

But the problem with these check ins is that even if his friends were around, they often wouldn't see his notification for hours or days later, and Pleeth wanted to find a way to "make serendipitous moments happen instantly." In March, Pleeth left Gett, and along with his cofounders Robin Gadsby and Al Fayolle, founded Sup.

Of course, social discovery isn't exactly a new concept. Services like Find My Friends and Google's Latitude serve similar purposes. But Sup works by showing users where their friends are on a radar rather than a map, and not by showing your exact location.

Users log into Sup using Facebook and their cell phone number, and their friends who have Sup get added to their radar automatically if they're within 2000 yards. 

Though the goal of the app is to show you people who are nearby, Pleeth says he understands privacy is a concern for his users. "By not having a map we’ve ensured that users cannot be tracked as you can’t see people’s precise location," he tells Business Insider.

"Users see a radar and can see if any friends are nearby, not an exact location, you can zoom in to 20 yards and out to 2,000 yards, you cannot tell which direction they are, your friends show up with their profile pictures on the radar."

Once you see a friend pop up on your radar, you can tap on their profile picture, send a Sup notification, text chat, or voice chat to meet up. If you don't want to show up on your friends' radar, Sup also has a "go dark" feature, which takes you off the grid.

On Wednesday, Sup launched in the App Store and announced it has raised 1.1 million in seed funding from JamJar, among other investors. Right now Sup has a CTO, a community manager, and three developers. The new funding will be used to launch the app and build up Sup's core team in London and New York.  

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Sept. 30 2015 12:21 PM

The Federal Reserve Is Worried That Small Online Lenders Might Be a Problem

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

The Federal Reserve, which regulates the biggest banks in the United States, is starting to turn its eye to some of the smallest and newest lenders on the scene.

Startups are partnering with banks both big and small to originate billions of dollars’ worth of consumer loans. That has caught the Fed's eye. 

"Right now, this type of business is not that large, but it has potential to be disruptive and could be very large going forward,” St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President and CEO James Bullard told Business Insider last week.

"We certainly want to learn as much as we can about it," he told Business Insider, so as to understand "to what extent are we inappropriately allowing competitive advantage to one group of lenders versus another."

Online lenders match would-be borrowers with banks, hedge funds, and even individuals—with some of these loans later repackaged as asset-backed securities. That, though, has the Fed concerned certain lenders partnering with startups may have an advantage over their rivals. 

Some of the leading players in the space will be at Bullard’s bank in St. Louis on Wednesday and Thursday to meet him to discuss community banks' changing role in lending this week at an annual conference. This will include an executive from Lending Club, and Gilles Gade, CEO of Cross River Bank, one of the key banks supporting online lending. 

Cross River is one of several Web-only or smaller community banks processing loans to consumers through online portals like Lending Club, Prosper, and PayPal’s small business lending arm. 

Other firms in the space include WebBank, Union Bank, Radius Bank, Wisconsin-based Bank of Lake Mills, and Trust Company of Lincoln, in Nebraska. BofI Federal Bank in California, another branchless bank, also works with startups processing loans.

Big banks have been eager to step in and buy loans in enormous gobs too. Citigroup agreed to a $150 million deal with Lending Club to finance its loans; Citizens Bank bought $200 million in loans from student loan refinancing service SoFi and plans to keep buying more. This has turned peer-to-peer lending into an industry increasingly dominated by big Wall Street firms.

“[Wall Street] Banks don’t have the time to underwrite small loans,” said Georgia Quinn, an industry attorney and founder of iDisclose, a startup providing legal services and advice to startups. “It’s credit they’re not willing to issue—serving people Bank of America doesn’t want to give the time of day to.” 

Then there is peer-to-peer based asset-backed securities, which are marketed to hedge funds and other institutions. For ABS offerings, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are among the ‘warehouse providers’ in the space. 

Business Insider/Goldman Sachs research

A court decision in May could potentially hurt startups like Lending Club, as well as the investors that own the loans they originated. They are now facing a long battle in a New York appeals court to overturn a decision that could scare hedge funds and other institutional investors away from their supposedly safe securities.

Gade feels concerns over the consumer loans originated by startups are overblown. "They're a drop in the bucket," he said. "Even if they fail, nothing is going to happen to the economy." 

Sept. 29 2015 3:43 PM

Oracle Is Closing for a Week—and Making Workers Use Paid Vacation Time for It

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Some Oracle employees are upset about a new edict coming from on high that affects their vacation time. The company has decided to close down during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year's.

Lots of tech companies do that. But in Oracle's case, it is mandating that all employees pay for this furlough with four days of their PTO/vacation time, according to several sources we spoke to. That's far less common.

"We all know that it's actually a trick to get rid of accrued PTO on their balance sheet before the next year," one employee told us. "Needless to say, people are clearly very unhappy about this announcement, especially since it just happened this week and holiday season is just around the corner."

The really harsh part is that Oracle isn't particularly generous when it comes to vacation time.

For the first five years, employees are entitled to two weeks off and after five years, three weeks off, employees tell us. However some managers are more generous with time off than others, according to reports on Glassdoor, and sick days are not counted as PTO, according to Oracle's website.

Employees also get eight federal holidays off, working through holidays like Martin Luther King Day.

But compared to say, HP, where long-term employees can earn four and even five weeks of vacation, Oracle's vacation policy isn't all that competitive.

Some employees are blaming Mark Hurd for the mandatory vacation days plan, since he was known for his extreme cost-cutting when he was CEO at HP. We're hearing that other cost-cutting efforts are also being rolled out, such as trimming back on car allowances for some people in the marketing sales teams that report to him.

It's not shocking that Oracle is keeping a tight eye on expenses. Top line revenue shrank a tad between 2014 and 2015, from $38.28 billion to $38.27 billion, according to Google Finance.

An Oracle spokesperson declined comment, but did point out that Oracle isn't going into a wholesale cost cutting phase. It's still hiring like crazy, with nearly 10,000 open jobs listed on its website, for instance, and it has ratcheted up R&D a bit, spending $8.7 billion in its last fiscal year (ended in August) compared to $8.6 billion in fiscal 2014.

Sept. 29 2015 1:24 PM

Amazon Prime Music, Aiming to Take on Apple and Spotify, Now Includes Universal Music Artists 

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced that its music streaming service, Prime Music, will now include albums from Universal Music artists. These artists include big names like Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, Lana Del Rey, Maroon 5, Of Monsters and Men, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Ellie Goulding, Drake, Lorde, and Eminem.

This is a big deal for Amazon, as one of the main gripes people had with Amazon Prime Music when it launched last summer was that its catalog was filled with old titles no one wanted to listen to. Prime Music advertised having "more than one million songs" available to stream, but that’s a far cry from Spotify’s 30 million. And it didn’t feel like Amazon was rolling out a competitor to the elite music streaming services, but rather just placing a cherry on top of its Prime subscription.

Prime members already enjoy two-day free shipping and special offers on products, paired with Prime’s rising video streaming service. The music part was an afterthought to many people, and was woefully short on popular genres like rap and EDM.

With the addition of Universal's catalog of artist, that might be starting to change. Universal is a powerhouse in the music industry and was one of the most obvious holes in Amazon’s music library. And while Prime Music is still nowhere near services like Spotify or Apple Music in terms of catalog, this new deal shows Amazon is putting a priority on getting top-shelf artists on its service.

The video portion of Amazon Prime has also made immense strides in quality in the last year. Last year, Netflix had up 31 Emmy nominations while Amazon had none. But this year Amazon took home five Emmys, besting Netflix's four. While the markets are not identical, this success is a blueprint for how fast Amazon's streaming content business can take off. 

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

Sept. 28 2015 2:58 PM

Jordan Spieth’s Caddie Probably Made More Than $2 Million This Season

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Jordan Spieth had one of the best seasons in PGA Tour history, and, as a direct result, so did his caddie, Michael Greller.

In 25 events, Spieth won five times (including two majors) and finished in the top 10 a whopping 15 times. That added up to more than $12 million in official PGA Tour earnings. However, once we include Spieth's win at the Hero World Challenge and his $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup, prize money that is not counted on the official money leaderboard, Spieth's 2015 earnings surpass $23 million

Caddies are traditionally paid 5 percent of the prize money for making a cut, 7 percent for finishing in the top 10, and 10 percent for winning a tournament, according to Golf Digest's "undercover pro." If Spieth is using the same structure, including 10 percent for the FedEx Cup bonus, Greller's cut this season would be $2.1 million.

That would be enough for Greller to rank 39th on this year's PGA Tour money least, ahead of 211 PGA Tour members, and just behind Phil Mickelson ($2.2 million).

For comparison, Tiger Woods made just $448,598 this season.

Assuming Greller is paid using the standard caddie rates, the only question would be the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus and whether he will indeed receive a $1 million (10 percent) cut. Last year, Billy Horschel gave his caddie a full 10 percent cut of the bonus. Presumably, Spieth, who is a big believer that golf is a team sport, will do the same.

Sept. 28 2015 11:19 AM

Is iOS 9 Sucking Up All Your Data? Turn Off This New iPhone Setting Right Now.

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Alongside split-screen apps, Apple News, better Maps, and improved battery life, iOS 9 has a new feature: WiFi Assist. When your wireless Internet connection is poor, your iPhone will compensate by switching back and forth between cellular and Wi-Fi, improving the experience of using the Internet.

In Settings, Apple describes WiFi Assist as letting users "automatically use mobile data when WiFi connectivity is poor." While this is fine in theory, some users are seeing dramatic increases in data use without changing their browsing habits. While many users have seen a small increase in use—around a gigabyte—others have seen a jump from 1GB to 7GB since updating to iOS 9. The issue was first spotted by Quartz.

Switching off WiFi Assist can fix these problems, thought it does come at the detriment of a reliable internet connection when using Wi-Fi. To switch it off, go to Settings > Mobile Data and scroll all the way to the bottom where "WiFi Assist" is located and toggle it off. If you're in the U.S., go to Settings > Cellular and follow the same steps.

Switching off WiFi Assist can help reduce mobile data usage.

Business Insider

Having WiFi Assist on by default is a deliberate choice by Apple, which seems to be aware of the problem.

Sept. 25 2015 11:54 AM

Mark Zuckerberg Met With Xi Jinping and Spoke Only in Chinese

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Chinese seems to be getting better by the day.

In fact, it's getting so good that he spoke entirely in Chinese during his meeting with President Xi Jinping of China on Wednesday.

"Today I met President Xi Jinping of China at the 8th annual US-China Internet Industry Forum in Seattle," Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook wall. "On a personal note, this was the first time I’ve ever spoken with a world leader entirely in a foreign language. I consider that a meaningful personal milestone. It was an honor to meet President Xi and other leaders."

This isn't the first time Zuckerberg showed off his Chinese fluency in public. Last year, he conducted his entire 30-minute Q-and-A at Tsinghua University in China in Mandarin. On the Chinese Lunar New Year, he also shared a video in which he speaks in Chinese.

There are a few reasons for Zuckerberg putting so much effort into learning Chinese. His wife's family speaks Chinese, and it also helps him understand Chinese culture, a market Facebook may eventually want to get into. Facebook is currently blocked in China, as are other popular websites such as Google and YouTube.

The meeting on Wednesday was put together as part of Xi's visit to the U.S. Some of the most powerful tech leaders, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella were all in attendance to meet the Chinese head of state.

Here's a group photo of the meeting:


Matt Day via Twitter

Sept. 24 2015 1:48 PM

New York’s Uber for Helicopters Now Has an Avoid-the-Pope Special

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Blade, an Uber-for-helicopters startup, has a solution to the anticipated traffic congestion in New York City this weekend when the Pope visits the city.

The startup, which raised $6 million at a $25 million valuation this summer from investors including Eric Schmidt, says that on Friday, Sept. 25, it will fly customers between the West Side and East Side of Manhattan during the morning and evening rush hour periods, the company announced in an email to customers Thursday.

This Friday, traffic in New York City is anticipated to be terrible—Pope Francis, President Obama, and 200 United Nations foreign leaders in attendance at the UN General Assembly are simultaneously converging upon New York City. If you're used to driving or taking a cab or an Uber around the city, you may want to reconsider for Friday.

Blade says a trans-Manhattan ride in one of its choppers will cost members $95 a seat and takes between five and eight minutes. You'll depart and arrive from the West Side Heliport on Manhattan's West Side and the East Side Heliport at East 34th Street and FDR Drive. You'll have access to the rides from 7:45 am and 10 a.m. and again between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

You can book a seat using the Blade app. The flights won't be routed across Manhattan; instead, flights get routed around Manhattan's southern tip.

The app has since been downloaded more than 40,000 times. Considering a typical ride costs $575 per seat one way to the Hamptons or Fire Island from New York City, a $95 ride across Manhattan is quite a steal, and it sure beats waiting in the apocalyptic traffic that's been forecasted for Friday.

Sept. 24 2015 10:03 AM

Steve Jobs Hated the Stylus. Why Is It Having a Comeback?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Not so long ago, a stylus was considered a sign of backward thinking. None other than Steve Jobs, after all, once declared, "If you see a stylus, they blew it." 

In a world of electronic tablets, smartphones, and other gadgets, the pen-like stylus feels like an anachronism. And yet, the stylus is having a moment. 

Microsoft packages its Surface Pen in with its popular Surface tablets. Samsung has its S-Pen for its giant-size Galaxy Note phones.

Even Apple bucked the legacy of Steve Jobs recently when it introduced the Apple Pencil for the new iPad Pro tablet line, a stylus in all but name. 

Startup FiftyThree was early to this particular party. In 2013, FiftyThree released Pencil (beating Apple by more than two years), a stylus for the iPad designed to be used in conjunction with Paper, its award-winning sketchpad app. 

To FiftyThree founder Georg Petschnigg, it's no surprise that Apple chose to follow its lead with its own Pencil stylus. After years of neglect as a last-generation kind of idea, the stylus is ready to take its rightful place as the new best way to get things done on the go. 

"Sure, it's like, a lot of this stuff already existed, but can you put the pieces together in the right way?" asks Petschnigg.


Business Insider/FiftyThree

Basically, Petschnigg says, we're on the third wave of smartphone input. The first, circa the late ’90s, was T9 predictive text input, which made texting a lot easier—and sparked a revolution. The second was the multitouch screen, popularized by the very first Apple iPhone in 2007.

Now, eight years later, we're due for another big change. And it's looking like that could be the stylus. 

The issue is that mobile apps have now grown to be both ubiquitous and complex. Eight years into the smartphone revolution, we expect to be able to accomplish more with our phones than ever before.

But we're largely stuck using the same basic touchscreen gestures as we were in 2007, and some simple tasks like highlighting text have only gotten slightly better.

"We've been stuck with this wonky highlighting system for 8 years," says Petschnigg.

Sept. 23 2015 4:01 PM

Morgan Stanley: U.S. Consumers Are Doing "Dumb Things" With Money

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

It's a boom.

And now US consumers are starting to do silly things with their money.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, Mike Wilson, chief investment officer of Morgan Stanley wealth management, said consumer behavior was starting to show signs of excess as the economic recovery reaches its later stages.

Wilson said the US economy was finally "self-sustaining," with the Federal Reserve gearing up to raise interest rates as early as this year after several years of emergency interventions.

And now, mid-expansion, Wilson says consumers are starting to really act like it.

Here's Wilson (emphasis added):

Consumers are feeling pretty good, and they are starting to spend money again, and they're starting to do dumb things. They're starting to borrow money, they're starting to maybe buy that house they shouldn't or that car they shouldn't.

Wilson cited three things as encouraging consumer confidence.

First, the unemployment rate is at a six-year low, at 5.1%. And even though wage growth has been relatively sideways, there are more jobs available. Second, household formation is rising, indicating that people are investing more in starting families and living on their own. Lastly, consumers are starting to believe that gas prices will be lower for longer, increasing spending and as a result.

This boom, however, is equally a warning sign that we are approaching the point at which everything starts heading downward.

Wilson again:

[Consumers are] going to spend that extra dollar because they're feeling better. And now, the clock is ticking. We're into the final part of this recovery. It could last three years, it could last five years, it could last two years, I don't know. But that excess sort of behavior is starting to happen.

And that's the worrying part.