TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. For some returning from war, a ‘G.I. bill for farming’ eases the transition home.

By Abby Wendle at Harvest Public Media

2. In Egypt, a class project to fight sexual harassment has grown into a campus-wide movement encouraging women to “Speak Up.”

By Ahmed Fouad in Al-Monitor

3. Your kid’s school is missing the tech revolution, and it’s all your fault.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

4. Community courts focus on rehabilitation and compassion for non-violent offenders.

By Henry Gass in the Christian Science Monitor

5. A new ‘Uber for packages’ service is partnering with Waffle House to build a network of delivery points around the south.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Startups

3 Reasons to Take Your Startup in a New Direction

150213_CAR_PivotStartup
Robert A. Di Ieso

Many successful companies changed up their business plans early on. Here's when you should too.

Podcast platform Odeo turned into Twitter. Check-in app Burbn switched its focus to photo sharing and became Instagram. Does your startup need a change in direction to succeed? Here are three signs it’s time to revamp:

1. Customers Are Telling You

Is your target buyer consistently asking for something you don’t offer? “Customers exist because you make them better off,” says Gary Gebhardt, an associate professor of marketing at Canadian business school HEC Montréal. Listen to them.

2. Your Idea Isn’t Sticking

Do you have a hard time holding on to business? Go beyond focus groups and surveys. People often misrepresent their behavior. Instead, says Gebhardt, observe your customers going about their day. “When you see how people do things, you see how you can create a solution,” he says.

3. The Competition is Winning

Look at why people are favoring your rival’s product. But don’t panic pivot, says Steve Blank, co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual. “A pivot requires substantial evidence that your original hypotheses for your business were incorrect.”

MONEY job hunt

Is Working at a Startup a Good Idea?

Money's Donna Rosato talks about the advantages and disadvantages of working for a startup, and how to make a good impression in any job interview.

TIME Social Networking

Here’s How How Pinterest Is Trying to Attract More Men

Pinterest
Josh Edelson—AFP/Getty Images Decorative pillows set the scene at a Pinterest media event at the company's corporate headquarters office in San Francisco, California on April 24, 2014.

More gender-neutral search results, and also more tacos

With its penchant for promoting pulchritudinous pinups, plush petals and piquant plates, Pinterest has a reputation for appealing in particular to women — more than 70% of its 72.5 million U.S. users are female.

Now, Pinterest is trying to appeal to the male demographic by subtly making its search results more gender-neutral.

That means including more tacos and pizzas alongside popular baked goods and family meals in search results for recipe ideas, reports the Wall Street Journal, or a wider range of Halloween costumes. Executives are also targeting male appetites by introducing personalized search results where gender is factored into the results and promoting pins based on gender.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

TIME Startups

Lyft Is Ditching the Classic Furry Pink Mustache

A woman is driving a car for the rideshare company Lyft with a fake jumbo pink moustache that attaches to the grille of the car, in June 2014. Lyft is said to be 30% cheaper than cabs. Photo by: Frank Duenzl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Frank Duenzl/picture-alliance/dp

It's the end of an era

In a snub to the mustachioed, the ride-sharing service Lyft is shedding the signature pink lip warmers from the grills of its vehicles in favor of more conservative insignia.

Lyft’s trademark mustaches are being replaced by miniature interior ones, small “glowstaches” mounted on the inside of Lyft vehicles, Wired reports. Lyft competes with Uber and has raised $300 million in funding. The whimsical pink mustaches became a common sight on cars on the streets of San Francisco beginning in 2012, when the company was founded, and have been a trademark of Lyft’s brand since.

The new glowstache is meant to reflect a more mature Lyft. “It was this big giant fuzzy thing,” Lyft President John Zimmer said of the old mustache. “If you were going to an important business meeting, it might not be the best way to roll up.”

[Wired]

 

TIME Companies

How Uber Could Help End Traffic Jams

Uber says the data will help cities figure out how to improve transportation

Uber said Tuesday that it will share its transportation data with Boston officials in hopes of helping the city ease traffic congestion and improve city planning.

The City of Boston will receive a quarterly report with Uber trip logs showing the date and time each ride began and ended, as well as the distance traveled and where people were picked up and dropped off, the Wall Street Journal reports. It’s the first time Uber has opened up its transportation database in this manner.

The policy could help city officials plan where to build new roads and adjust other transportation options based on daily commute patterns, as well as prioritize maintenance, said Justin Kintz, Uber’s head of policy for North America.

Uber plans to give similar data to New York City as well. New York has long been tracking its own yellow-cab transportation; it’s unclear how much Uber would add to that extensive database. New York suspended parts of Uber’s operation this month because the company didn’t provide some data to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission.

TIME Startups

How LearnVest’s CEO Raised Her First $1 Million in 6 Months

"There was no pitching. People just got it."

The day the LearnVest website went live is a day burned into Alexa von Tobel’s memory. It was New Year’s in 2010, and von Tobel was on a ski vacation with her family. She had spent the last few weeks building a website brimming with financial advice. There was just one problem.

“The site crashed because we had just so many people sign up really quickly,” von Tobel says. “I was actually literally at the top of a mountain trying to get down it on skis, and I am lucky I don’t have a concussion because that’s how quickly I was going to try to get down and get a computer to see if I could fix it.”

Von Tobel has only picked up speed since then. As the 31-year-old CEO of LearnVest, she has built one of the fastest growing financial planning companies in the country. The website now includes a suite of tools to visualize a budget — what comes in and what goes out. But those charts are just a conversation starter. Von Tobel’s grander ambition is to pair each of those users with one of nearly 45 certified financial planners she has waiting by the phones. The tools are free. Access to a financial planner, however, comes at a starting price of $19 per month after a $299 setup fee.

While LearnVest keeps the number of paying subscribers a closely guarded trade secret, one thing is publicly known — it has money to burn. Von Tobel raised $75 million for the company in just four years. By her own admission, she had no trouble persuading investors to part with their money. “There was no pitching,” she says. “People just got it.”

At this point any entrepreneur who’s spent years fighting for a financial lifeline might be wondering how LearnVest appeared to spring from von Tobel’s head fully formed. The truth is, she had been wrestling with the subject of financial literacy since adolescence. She credits her success, so far, to this slow-building fixation. “It’s why I get out of bed every single day,” she says, “because this is such an enormous epidemic that we can solve, because it’s math.”

Von Tobel’s first encounter with money matters came as a dramatic shock. Her father died suddenly when she was 14, leaving her mother to manage the family’s finances. Her mother’s scramble to get up to speed left a deep impression on von Tobel, who was even more surprised when she graduated from Harvard with a first-rate education while still feeling incapable of answering the most basic questions about her finances. As she widened the conversation from family to friends and coworkers, she found that most everyone around her, regardless of their education, seemed to be largely clueless when it came to managing their own money.

“It would literally be almost recipe-like the way people were managing their finances, ‘My mom taught me this trick and so this is what I always do,'” she says.

She also was struck by the dearth of financial advisors willing to enlighten her family. Personal advisors have a stubborn tendency to chase after the wealthiest 1%. Merrill Lynch, for instance, raised the minimum account balance for its advisory service from $100,000 to $250,000 in 2012. Smaller fish need not apply. To von Tobel, the market was moving in exactly the wrong direction.

“It would be the equivalent of if doctors overnight said, ‘We’re only going to see healthy people,'” she says.

So she began taking notes, committing to paper everything she could learn about personal finance. “It was in gibberish,” she says. Still, it was passionate gibberish, sprawling across 75 pages by the time she was in Harvard Business School in 2008.

“I thought about answers to all the tough questions,” she says. “What’s the business model going to be? How does it get out there? Who are the competitors? How do you actually make money?” In short, she had asked the very same questions skeptical investors might lob her way.

The more questions she answered for herself, the more eagerly she awaited graduation day. Her studies began to feel like a diversion. So von Tobel made what she calls a “terrifying” decision — she counted up her savings and dropped out of school the same year she began to spend roughly nine months on LearnVest, “in the heart of a recession,” she notes, “with no salary, no income and trying to go build a dream.”

But the gamble paid off. Within six months, von Tobel had secured $1 million in seed money. She had convinced investors that she could not only tap a hugely underserved market, but that she could dispense advice at a cost lower than any existing advisory service.

“You go to a mom and pop certified financial planning firm,” she says, “you’re paying for that overhead, for that parking lot, for that mahogany desk, for that receptionist at the front,” she says. LearnVest, on the other hand, is just a website. It shifts the data entry onto users and the number crunching onto automated software. As a result, her staff can focus on dispensing advice in unprecedented volumes. Von Tobel says LearnVest is aiming to have a single financial advisor serve upwards of 1,000 customers, a ten-fold increase over the typical small firm.

It’s an ambitious play for efficiency, and LearnVest will have to grow rapidly to fulfill its promise to investors. But von Tobel says investors are willing to take a risk on the right person, even a mid-20’s dropout whose only credential is 75 pages of gibberish.

“I always tell other entrepreneurs, don’t worry about, ‘How old am I? Have I done this before?” she says, before shifting to the questions that really matter: “Do you know the most about this space? Have you thought tirelessly?”

TIME Investing

This New App Makes It Way Cheaper to Trade Stocks

Robinhood
Robinhood Robinhood

Robinhood wants to convince Millennials to dip a toe into the stock market

Next up for disruption by the Silicon Valley set: Wall Street.

A new startup is aiming to convince Millennials to dip a toe into the stock market by making it cheaper and easier to buy securities. Robinhood, a new mobile-first brokerage that launched its iOS app today, lets users buy U.S.-listed stocks without paying a commission, a cost that typically runs individual investors $7 to $10 per trade.

The app’s slick interface lets users buy securities, track stock performance and keep tabs on their overall portfolio. Users don’t even have to maintain a minimum account balance, a common requirement of similar stock-swapping services.

“People in our age group were not being exposed to what we consider a pretty useful tool for building your wealth,” says Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev. He and co-founder Baiju Bhatt launched Robinhood in beta for a few thousand users earlier this year. Already half a million people have signed up to request the app, indicating a heavy appetite for cheaper trades. These users will begin being on-boarded to the app today, and newcomers can download the app to join the waitlist and view different stocks.

The company, which has netted $16 million in venture funding from backers like Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures, plans to make money by letting investors trade on margin (basically issuing loans to let customers buy additional stock).

Whether or not young investors really need a service that lets them buy stocks “as quickly as you can call an Uber,” as Bhatt puts it, is an open question. Most active stock pickers fail to outperform the overall stock market. During the first 9 months of 2014, only 9.3% of actively managed mutual funds outperformed the S&P 500, according to the Wall Street Journal — and those funds are managed by people whose job is to be good at picking stocks.

Tenev argues that stock-picking is a good way for young people to learn about investing. “It makes a lot of sense for a first-time investor who is an early adopter of technology and discovers companies through using their products and services,” he says.

That advice flies in the face of a lot of collective wisdom about investing, including from famed businessman Warren Buffet. But for those that are still confident they can beat the market and would like to attempt it more affordably, Robinhood will also be available on Android and on desktop soon.

TIME Startups

This Startup Wants to Make Your Next Move Less of a Nightmare

Moving
Alistair Berg—Getty Images Man moving boxes

Updater helps you manage all those address changes and utility switches

Moving to a new home can fill homebuyers with excitement—and dread.

The laundry list of companies that a person needs to inform about a move can feel daunting. Forgetting just a couple can mean your magazine subscriptions are lost in the mail, your bank statements wind up in a stranger’s mailbox or your lights won’t turn on the day you arrive in the new house. A new startup is aiming to help avoid these headaches by streamlining the entire process.

Updater, based in New York, allows people to quickly inform magazines, charities, alumni associations and other types of businesses of their change of address all at once from a single Web interface. Users can quickly see what utility companies offer services in their new neighborhood. The website can also help people find moving companies to make the physical move easier. Overall, the company claims it can save users five hours worth of paperwork during the moving process.

Company founder David Greenberg got the idea for Updater, unsurprisingly, when he was moving within Manhattan. “The process was just incredibly inefficient,” says Greenberg, who was a merger-and-acquisition lawyer before becoming a CEO. “I was literally making a list of the 20 businesses I need to reach out to.”

Founded in 2011, the company initially marketed its services to individual movers, but failed to gain much traction. But Greenberg had a breakthrough in 2013 when he instead decided to sell the service to real estate brokerages, which could in turn get their agents to offer it to all of their customers whenever they moved.

Updater partnered with the National Association of Realtors, which placed the startup in its tech incubator and eventually participated in an $8 million funding round as well. Courting realtors has proven to be a winning strategy: Updater is now being used at 150 real estate brokerages across the country by more than 15,000 real estate agents. In total, about 50,000 moves are now being aided with Updater each month, which the company says comprises about 5% of the total moves in the United States.

The company is still unprofitable, but Greenberg says he expects to close another funding round in the first half of 2015 and double the company’s market share by the end of the year.

Updater is one of a growing number of tech startups aimed at bringing more efficiency to the world of real estate, which can seem oddly archaic to young homebuyers used to used to making all kinds of purchases via the Internet.

“The new homebuyers who are young are really expecting a great client experience and they’re expecting great technology to help them through the transaction,” Greenberg says.

For now, the range of businesses that can be used through Updater is limited. You can’t transfer your power bill with Con Edison, for instance, or change the address on your American Express card. The startup also doesn’t handle especially sensitive info, like bank account numbers or social security numbers, which means some updates still have to be made the old-fashioned way. But the company has 10,000 businesses on board so far and expects to lure in more big fish as its user base grows. It’s also beginning to work with property managers so apartment renters can start having more seamless moves as well.

Agents say the tool is useful for keeping homebuyers happy even after signing on the dotted line, which can help boost referrals.

“Buying a home is so exciting, but once the reality sets in that you have to move all your stuff, it completely kills the joy,” says Anne Marie Gianutsos, the digital director for the real estate brokerage Houlihan Lawrence, which uses Updater to help movers in the suburbs north of New York City. “It’s stressful. Anything that’s going to make life easier for our clients, we are thrilled to offer to them.”

TIME Startups

5 Places Where Uber Is Fighting for Its Life Right Now

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014.
Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters

New Delhi's ban against Uber is just one fight the ride-sharing service is engaged in

Ride-sharing service Uber is one of the most well-funded startups ever with a value of $41.2 billion. It’s war chest will come in handy as it does battle with local governments around the world.

New Delhi’s Transport Department has banned Uber after one of its drivers was accused of raping a passenger, challenging Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s ambitions to expand in developing countries. The driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav is suspected of driving a woman in her late 20s from Delhi to a seculed spot Friday night and assaulting her. A subsequent physical examination showed signs of a “fierce sexual assault and rape,” the New York Times reports.

Uber did not carry out background checks on Yadav, register his residential address, nor register his vehicle as a cab or install a GPS in the vehicle, which is required for commercial taxis, New Delhi police said. “We will do everything, I repeat, everything to help bring this perpetrator to justice and support the victim and her family in her recovery,” Kalanick said in a statement.

It’s not the first time that Uber drivers have been accused of sexual assault, and in San Francisco and Los Angeles, district attorneys have accused the ride-sharing service of misleading customers into believing they ban drivers who have ever committed criminal offenses.

And it’s also not the first time government authorities have banned Uber. The ride-sharing service has faced bans at one point or another in cities across the world, and many disputes with authorities remain unsettled. Here are five of the many places where Uber is facing government pushback—right now.

In Portland, Ore. Uber began operating illegally on Friday night and could face penalties, according to the city’s transportation bureau, including $1,500 for being caught the first time, $2,500 for a second offense and $5,000 thereafter. Portland isn’t happy: the city’s transportation commissioner Steve Novick said, “They think they can just come in here and flagrantly violate the law? This is really amazing. Apparently, they believe they’re gods.”

A court challenge against Uber in the Netherlands resulted this week in an injunction against the ride-sharing service, with a court saying the company can’t work with drivers who don’t have a license. Licensed taxi drivers, and drivers who don’t seek payment, can still drive for the service.

Uber has always faced a tough market in Germany, where the standard taxi cab is a Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan and Uber fancy cabs don’t stand out. And in September, courts in Berlin and Hamburg ruled the company did not comply with German laws and officially banned the service from using unlicensed taxi drivers.

Toronto authorities argued last month that Uber is “jeopardizing public safety” and is getting ready to fight the ride-sharing service in court.

Nevada issued a statewide ban against Uber last week, with a court arguing the company operates like a taxi business. Uber halted operations in the state.

Read next: Uber CEO Promises to Make Company ‘More Humble’ As it Raises $1.2B

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser