One of the hard parts about being an early adopter is dealing with the early pros and cons. But when you’re talking about moving your money to a “bank” that’s also a startup, it’s potentially a whole different ballgame. While I’ve been a big supporter of the mission of Simple since its inception, the company ran into a sticky situation today and took the opportunity to act in a way that should serve as a lesson to startups everywhere.
Let’s go back to the beginning – Simple is an online-only bank. Everything you do is handled via direct deposit, its super-sexy mobile app or the Simple website. This is great for probably 99% of what you do, but there are still those times when you need to write a check for the paper-loving stalwarts of the world. In my case, it’s my landlord.
Fortunately, Simple has a feature for sending money whereby a check is printed and sent to the address of your choice. Since I have to deposit my rent directly to my landlord’s account, I opted to have the check sent to my house. Friday rolls around, when the check is due to arrive, and it’s not here. Saturday, nothing, so I place a Support request on the Simple website. Today, still no check so it’s time to call and see what can be done.
The first answer is what anyone would do – stop payment. Fortunately there was no fee for this, because that’s one of the ways in which Simple differentiates itself. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell me when I’d see my money again. This was a very big problem. I was promised a phone call later in the day to update me, but my landlord doesn’t care what’s going on, she only cares where her money is. Understandable.
So I did what any good geek would do, and I put a quick message out on Twitter. No more than 2 minutes later, I had a response from ^RG of Simple (who’s Rachel, by the way):
@bradmccarty Let me look! ^RG
— Simple (@Simplify) August 6, 2012
Another 2 minutes and my phone rings. It’s Rachel, calling me from Simple to try to find out what’s going on. I relayed the story, explained my frustration and 3 minutes later I hear words of magic:
“We’re going to issue a conditional credit for the amount of the check.”
5 minutes later, my screen refreshes on the Simple site and there’s a credit:
Did they have to do that? Nope. I’m sure that there’s something somewhere which would protect the bank for X amount of days until the money became available again. But the fact is that they did. Simple lived up to its promise of being “better than a bank”. What’s more is that the company went above and beyond, making certain that I was informed every single step of the way.
Startups, this is how you get and keep customers.
Go here to read the rest: Here’s how Simple took a crappy situation and turned me into a life-long customer
As I write this, NASA’s Curiosity rover is hurtling through space as it has been for the past eight months, but that all changes tonight. With any luck (scratch that — with a staggering amount of luck), that Mini Cooper-sized envoy will survive its tricky seven minute atmospheric entry, after which it will roam the Martian surface conducting a slew of science experiments for nearly two years.
It’s all arguably important stuff — what Curiosity finds could be instrumental to understanding the origins of the planet, not to mention that it could help pave the way for a manned mission — but I have to wonder how many people living in this age of distraction actually give a damn.
who cares if there was life on Mars? just a waste of more money—
Harry Quick (@HarryQuickk) August 04, 2012
I think NASA is a waste of money. Who cares about Mars…—
DYL∆N THE VILL∆IN (@Dylan_James99) August 02, 2012
NASA, to its credit, has been doing what it can to drum up interest in the mission. There’s (curiously enough) a Twitter account for the rover, which can be seen chatting it up with Neil deGrasse Tyson and providing status updates in the first person. Oh, and the organization will be streaming the night’s events, offering up a glimpse inside the human drama of mission control.
On some level though, I can’t blame those who don’t care. NASA’s recent history with Mars has been a spotty one — after a string of successful fly-bys and probe landings in the early-to-mid 70s, NASA returned to the red planet with the Pathfinder mission in 1997 (I was in third grade at the time, and utterly, utterly enthralled by the whole thing), but such incidents seem to be the exceptions. According to Reuters, 26 out of 40 Mars missions have either gone awry or gone up in (perhaps not always metaphorical) smoke — not terribly heartening odds, especially since Curiosity’s landing is going to be one of the trickiest yet.
Failure, sad to say, is most definitely an option.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that there’s just so much stuff going on right now. The Olympics. The mess in Syria. Tropical storms. Even decidedly niche events like the Apple v. Samsung weigh heavily on some people’s minds. And, you know, some people are only concerned with what’s going to be on television tonight. There’s nothing wrong with that either.
There’s also a slight sexiness problem. Now, putting a man on the moon — that was something that really brought people together. If you’ll forgive me for sentimentalizing a moment I (nor many of you) weren’t a part of, that day in July 1969 pushed us all forward, if only just a little bit. Perhaps naturally, landing a car-sized robot on the surface of another planet just doesn’t seem as weighty or substantial, despite the sheer complexity of what’s involved and what it could lead to. We didn’t put our footprints on Mars. We haven’t put lives on the line. Not yet, anyway.
So, yes, there are plenty of reasons why people can’t be bothered to care about rover wheeling its way around a planet that’s roughly 35 million miles away. But if you find yourself feeling a twinge of curiosity about that relatively tiny machine born of lofty ambitions, here’s why you should care about what happens tonight.
First off, humanity is reaching out to plop (fine, another) something of its own creation onto another world. Just think about that for a minute. Louis C.K. has a great bit (that many of you have probably already seen, so indulge me) about how a guy he sat next to on a plane was moaning about flaky in-flight WiFi while he was encased in a streamlined metal tube powering its way through the friggin’ sky at 600 miles per hour. The point is, there’s a tendency for people to get wrapped up in the earth-bound, and it’s always nice for a change of pace.
What’s more, with Curiosity, NASA’s not just reaching toward the heavens — it’s planning to learn as much as it can from them. You have to admit, there’s something more than a little wonderful about that. There’s untold value in what we can learn from Curiosity, though the information the rover is able to glean may not be immediately useful. What’s the point in learning about Mars’ past? To expand upon the corpus of human knowledge! To understand our crazy, hectic, beautiful universe even a fraction of a percent better.
Even so, those findings could have a practical impact on future Mars missions, both those envisioned by NASA and those in the growing commercial space movement. Will this ridiculous landing scheme work? If it does, you can bet someone will try it again some day. Of course, not every company in that field needs the coaxing. SpaceX founder Elon Musk seems to look at Mars much in the same way — it’s a goal to be met because it’s there, waiting for us to set foot on it.
“That’s always been a goal of SpaceX,” Musk recently told the L.A. Times. “We’re hoping to develop the technology to do that in probably 12 to 15 years.”
And that’s just one facet of his ambitions for mankind’s space-faring future. Musk said back in March that one of his company’s ambitions was to establish a long-term colony on the red planet. His declaration smacks of hubris — all SpaceX can do now is dock with the International Space Station — but it’s exactly that sort of thinking that helps push through the myriad roadblocks that such a project would almost definitely encounter.
In the end, Curiosity could be the harbinger of big, big things to come. On the other hand, it could crash and burn on the Martian surface, signaling the abject loss of $2.5 billion. Either way, tell me that’s not something worth caring about.
Travel search startup Hipmunk is launching its first paid product today — Hipmunk Business Class, which offers extra features designed for assistants, office managers, and other folks who have to book trips for multiple businesses travelers.
CEO Adam Goldstein tells me he originally designed the site as a response to his own personal travel experiences, with the expectation that it would be used mostly for leisure travel, but feedback and data is showing that there are users who find Hipmunk “way more useful in a business context.” After all, one of Hipmunk’s key insights is the fact that some people aren’t just looking for the cheapest way to book a flight, and instead may care more about reducing their “agony” by avoiding things like red-eye flights and multiple layovers. That probably resonates if you’re an assistant booking a flight for a business executive, where you care more about agony (or at least convenience) than price.
The biggest addition in Hipmunk Business Class is a new process for approving travel. Previously, if you wanted to make reservations for someone else on Hipmunk, you probably ran a search, made a list of likely flights, and then copied the details into an email. Then, once they’d chosen a flight, you’d redo the search, select the flight again, and purchase the tickets.
Now, Hipmunk has streamlined that process — you can automatically create an email listing any of the flights that you want to include, and the recipient can hit an “approve” button from directly within that email to make their selection. Once they do, their assistant (or whoever) gets a notification that takes them directly to the right flight on the Hipmunk site.
Other features include integration with Outlook calendars (Hipmunk already integrated with Google), so you can see someone’s schedules and remove any flights that conflict with existing meetings. When you’re booking a hotel, Hipmunk Business Class can also bring up a map showing where a hotel is in relation to someone’s scheduled meetings, allowing you to ensure that you don’t accidentally book them in an inconvenient location. And you can save different travel preferences, like their favorites airlines and hotels, for different users.
Goldstein says there are no plans to develop paid products for other customer groups. It made sense in this case, he says, because assistants made up a significant part of the Hipmunk customer base (the company estimates that about one-third of its traffic comes from business travelers), they had needs for specific features that probably wouldn’t get used by everyone else, and at small and medium businesses, many assistants are probably paying $25 or $35 per phone call to book travel with various agencies. So developing a paid product seemed like a good way to justify the investment in new features.
This is probably one of the big product announcements that was promised when Hipmunk raised a $15 million Series B last month.
Hipmunk Business Class will cost $10 per month, after a 60-day trial period. You can read more here.
There’s a clear modus operandi to the Samwer Brothers, the (in)famous but highly effective cloners out of Germany. Create a company similar to a large one outside the large 90-million-strong, wealthy German speaking market, scale up and then sell out for shares in the larger acquirer, usually a US company trying to get into Germany. They’ve done it time and again, notably with Alando to eBay and CityDeals to Groupon. The latest is selling Betreut to U.S. carer-finding site Care.com and thus gaining shares in it. Terms were undisclosed, but to state the obvious: When will you guys learn?
Care.com allows users to find pre-vetted carers for children, the elderly, pets and others. It started in 2006 and not long after, Betreut launched in Germany the following year.
The Samwers were majority shareholders in Betreut alongside Mutschler Ventures and Holtzbrinck Ventures. As is usual with these deals, the other shareholders exit and the Samwers become shareholders in the new entity.
In a statement Care.com founder Sheila Lirio Marcelo said : “We have always believed that care is a global issue. By bringing together Betreut and its extensive international operations with Care.com, our leadership position in the U.S., and our new operations in the U.K. and Canada, we are creating a dynamic portal for families around the world that provides best-in-class services to help families find the local care they need.”
The question is, to enter the German market, did she have a choice?
Meantime, in the English speaking UK, care.com has had no problem launching a UK ops a couple of moths ago.
Betreut has operations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia. Betreut has two million families and providers. Care.com has five total. Management doesn’t change.
With the closures of iGoogle and a bunch of other Google products in today’s ‘summer cleaning‘, you may have been wondering how to keep track of all of the things that Google is shutting down these days. Well, you’re in luck, because the always outspoken lead of corporate communications for Microsoft, Frank X. Shaw, has a solution for you.
It’s a collection of 31 now defunct Google products on a Pinterest board called the Google Graveyard.
See any that Shaw missed? Hit him up on Twitter, perhaps he’ll add your favorite product to the board. Wouldn’t want to leave any out. Today’s list, by the way, was Google Mini, Talk Chatback, Google Video, Symbian Search and a product that I used quite a bit, iGoogle.
Of course, one could also make the case that Microsoft has its own history of dead and gone products, like any company its size. There are over 50 on this list since 2008 alone. Of course, they’re not arranged so nicely in the Pinterest format. Anyone care to help?
Image Credit: The Commons