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IBM sees energy, money in motion of the ocean

31 Oct

IBM is developing the technology and expertise to analyze the impact wave energy converters …
10/31/11
By John Roach

The computer giant IBM sees a profitable future in high-tech analytical tools that could expedite and enhance the rollout of machines to turn the motion of the ocean into electricity.

Such machines, called wave energy converters, are under development around the world as a means to tap what appears to be a clean, green source of renewable energy — wave power.

But there’s no standard design for the machines or a consistent and reliable way to measure their environmental impact, according to Harry Kolar, a chief information technology architect with IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative.

“In order for this industry to move forward, they have to do these environmental impact assessments, which include a lot of baseline studies in the case of noise,” he told me.

Noisy technology
Scientists are concerned the noise generated by the machines could, for example, disturb marine mammals such as dolphins and whales that communicate with each other via sound waves and navigate via echo-location.

“Basically, a lot of noise degrades the habitat of marine mammals, makes it harder for them to live their lives and they may go somewhere else if it becomes bad enough,” Jim Thomson, an assistant professor in the department of environmental fluid dynamics at the University of Washington, explained to me.

Thomson is helping characterize the noise environment in Admiralty Inlet in Washington’s northern Puget Sound for a pilot project with a local utility that will install underwater turbines to capture energy from the tides. The inlet has tidal currents that move as fast as 9 miles per hour.

As elsewhere around the world, researchers are concerned about the impact the turbines will have on marine life there, including orca whales. One of the largest concerns is noise, Thomson noted, which travels five times faster underwater than it does in the air and can go farther.

His team has done some data collection on the noise levels in Admiralty Inlet, where two turbines will be deployed in 2013, but he noted that the short duration of the projects and limited funds mean they lack a complete picture of the noise environment.

Real time analytics
The project with IBM and Sustainable Energy Ireland is unique in the sense that it will collect and analyze massive amounts of data on ocean noise in real-time.

The system consists of an off-shore buoy that is loaded up with sensors such as underwater microphones that collect data on the ocean environment and the computing power to process that data and stream it to shore-based engineers in real time.

“We will be able to understand what’s going on in a very dynamic environment,” Kolar said. He and his team call this ability “real-time streaming analytics.”

Thomson, who is not involved with the project, likened this ability to a person sitting at a concert and analyzing the noise coming from the violins and base and other instruments all at the same time.

While this ability exists in separate pieces for ocean energy projects, the IBM collaboration is the first to bring all the technology together in the same place, at the same time, and with the ability to monitor continuously.

Ultimately, these data should allow for a comprehensive picture of the underwater noise environment that should ease along the environmental permitting process and also help companies refine their wave energy machines.

“To allow the industry to move forward, to deploy these machines, the faster they get in the water, the faster you get this clean energy piece,” Kolar said.

Ocean energy services
IBM is hoping to employ its technology and expertise in characterizing the noise environment gained in Ireland to other countries and companies around the world looking to develop their own ocean energy industries.

According to Thomson, this is a smart business strategy, assuming governments continue to support renewable energy technologies.

“There’s going to be a whole industry that crops up around it that’s in support of it, that doesn’t actually do the generation of the kilowatts, but that does all of the marine services, the environmental permitting and monitoring and all these things that surround the energy production,” he said.

IBM, it appears, is making a bet that ocean energy is an untapped space where it can be a major player.

More on ocean energy technology:

* Oregon coast could be wave energy hub
* $28 billion in wave energy projects proposed
* Air Force fully harnesses wave power
* Scientists tap motion in the ocean for energy
* Water currents tapped as renewable energy

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website.

Ditching Debt

27 Oct

These days it seems as if everybody has debt: consumers, corporations, and especially the government. But (there are) business owners determined to become debt-free. They are ditching credit cards and giving their bank loans the old heave-ho.

Banks don’t have a clue.

Co-founders and brothers Courtney and Carter Reum said that banks would not lend them enough.

Company: VeeV Acai Spirit
Owner: Carter and Courtney Reum
Headquarters: Los Angeles

We had it in our heads that we wanted to create something different, really different. VeeV is a liquor brand based on the acai, a super fruit known for its antioxidant properties.

We funded the business through about five or six angel investors. Roughly a year ago, we decided to expand. We were growing really quickly, doubling our sales every six to 12 months.

We wanted to launch a seven-figure marketing campaign and decided to apply for a bank loan to fund it. That didn’t go terribly well.

Within four or five months, we reached out to a lot of banks. We were only approved for small loans. We didn’t want to cobble all of them together and deal with four or five banks.
So we decided to borrow the money from our initial investors and pay them back with interest. Luckily they agreed. We have had a great summer of sales. By the end of the year, it should be paid back.

I am not saying we will never take out a loan. But it looks like we will be debt-free for the next 12 to 18 months. We prefer it that way. The economy is still rocky. We also want to show all our investors that we are a well-managed operation and capable of paying off debt quickly. It also looks good to any company that is interested in buying us.

Loans terrify me.

Mauro started her own candle company. She launched it with $3,000 and without using credit.
Company: Objects With Purpose
Owner: Ianthe Mauro
Headquarters: Topanga Canyon, Calif.

In 2009, I went through a divorce. I also got diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. I kept lighting candles every day and setting an intention. I was getting obsessed with finding the best scents, the prettiest.

But most candles are made from petroleum-based waxes and release toxins when they burn. Other problems include wicks made with lead and synthetic perfumes.
The cleanest burning thing that I found was coconut meat. My candles are made with as many organic and natural ingredients as possible, including cotton, apricot oils and white beeswax.

I have not taken out any business loans. I have always been opposed to it and it terrifies me. I started this business with $3,000. I chose to start with only what I could afford to start with. I got some seed money in my divorce and I chose to roll out really slowly.
I looked into getting a loan thinking if I did that maybe I could start with a bigger splash, cast a bigger net. But, I am not going to have a business unless I can do a business independent of all loans.

I have always been really good about debt. I have one credit card that I pay off every month. I want to live a life interest-free. The true American dream is that we can sustain ourselves, not something we are chasing, can’t afford and are putting on credit.
I won’t ever take out a loan in the future. As soon as I imagine growing really fast, it makes me scared and I can’t sleep at night. I want everyone to have these candles and love them, but I am willing to have it take time.

No more credit cards!

Susan Tellem with sons and co-owners John and Dan, daughter Tori and husband Marshall.

Company: Tellem Grody Public Relations
Owner: Susan M. Tellem
Headquarters: Los Angeles

When I sold my first public relations business, I made some stupid mistakes, like buying a house that was too expensive. So I didn’t have a lot of extra left to start my second business.

In 1992, I went to work with the largest PR agency in the world for six months as one of their top executives in Los Angeles to make some money. I am an entrepreneur at heart, so that did not work. I left after a year and started my second business.

I had my business contacts and already had the infrastructure — a computer and a phone.
A few years later, when I started to build my company and do fairly well, I applied for a line of credit for $25,000 at the bank. I hated having that over my head. I asked them to close it when I still owed $12,000. I also maxed out our company credit card to the tune of about $12,000.

Today, I am happy to say that I’ve paid off most of that loan and credit card debt. I owe about $2,100. I don’t use credit cards. That is it. Once you start accumulating credit like that, there is no going back.

We have made a vow to live within our means. I am tired of paying the ridiculously high interest rates. I figure if I don’t have any debt, we’re ahead of the game.
I have never missed a payroll in my entire life, and I never intend too. But if something happens, I have an equity line on my home. I absolutely do not want to dip into it. But, I always have that as a backup.

Still, reliance on credit or loans can ruin a small business. You’re not living within your means.

October 2011 – http://money.cnn.com

Young, jobless and dangerous

6 Sep
Sept. 6, 2011, 12:00 a.m. EDT

Why the young jobless will ruin your portfolio

Commentary: Wealth is frozen between idle generations

 By David Weidner, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) – Happy Idle Labor Day.

For most Americans yesterday was a day to exhale. Not only do they have jobs, they had reason to celebrate: a paid day off.

But for more than 14 million Americans, Monday was just another day in the soul-crushing reality of unemployment. If you add in the truly despondent, the people who have simply quit looking for work, the number is roughly 23 million.

Jobs data spells bad news

Market Beat’s Mark Gongloff explains the disappointing jobs report numbers and how this will affect our economy, in the Markets Hub.

This is a national tragedy. Hardest hit are the Americans who can least afford to be out of work. The recession has hit minorities hard. The unemployment rate is 16.7% among blacks and 11.3% among hispanics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the work force is actually growing and yet more able-bodied and able-minded workers have nothing to do.

But there’s a bigger trend we should be worried about. What jobs exist are held by older Americans. The unemployment rate for teenagers is 25.4%. For younger workers aged 20 to 24, it’s 14.8%. Compare that to the 55-or-older category which is at 6.6% and hasn’t topped 7.5% since the recession began.

At this rate, the post-Baby Boom generations won’t need Social Security. After all, you need a job in order to contribute to payroll taxes and earn a return for retirement.

In other words, today’s younger Americans are bearing the brunt of the recession. But not only that, the economic slump is stealing important work experience from generations X, Y and the millennials.

In addition, now comes a troubling poll by Inc./WomanTrend that shows the financial and psychological toll this recession has taken on young Americans.

• More than a quarter, 27%, are delaying going back to school or getting more training.

• 28% are delaying saving for retirement.

• More than one out of five, 23%, are delaying starting a family and 18% are putting off getting married.

• And don’t expect younger Americans to bail out their parent’s housing mess. Nearly half, 44%, say they’re going to delay buying a home.

The upshot of the study, which included a margin of error of plus or minus 4%, is that the younger end of the work force is stalled — in numbers that suggest that even those who have jobs aren’t optimistic.

This should be raising alarm bells in Washington and on Wall Street too. It’s not only a matter of national policy, it’s an economic one. The leading edge of the Baby Boom is retiring this year. That means the primary holders of stocks and bonds and other securities will need to sell those securities for income.

Without a flourishing younger America, those securities aren’t going to have willing buyers. It’s a death spiral of market economics.

That means we’re all going to get poorer: young people with no money, older Americans with a bunch of securities they can’t sell. It’s going to get worse over time.

That is, of course, if recent trends hold up. As mentioned, more older Americans — those 55 or older — are working relative to other generations. Fearful of not being able to make ends meet in their golden years, they’re not letting go of their jobs.

By holding on, of course, they’re not passing the baton to younger Americans. So you can see the cycle: Older people keep working. More younger Americans are unemployed. The wealth is hoarded by the old folks. The wealth diminishes in value without anyone (younger Americans) to whom they can sell it.

That’s why we need a broad systemic fix to the system that focuses on getting younger Americans back or into the work force. Tax incentives for hiring younger workers is one obvious way. Government-sponsored work programs to build infrastructure is another.

Government and big business aren’t going to solve all of our problems. We need to ask younger and older Americans to accept less, be more entrepreneurial, be more resourceful. Both generations seem to be in a funk. Both are so worried about the future, they’re paralyzed.

And this is the real tragedy, one we don’t talk about. We’re all afraid. The problem is we’re not doing anything about it. Young people aren’t taking risks. Older people aren’t passing on the wealth.

When you’re stuck in idle, you’re not going to get anywhere.

David Weidner covers Wall Street for MarketWatch.

How to rescue the housing market: Foreclosures!

1 Sep

By Tami Luhby August 31, 2011: 5:27 AM ET

Delaying foreclosures is hurting the housing market, experts said.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — If the Obama administration really wants to save the housing market, it should speed up the foreclosure process — not prolong the inevitable, experts say.

Four years into the housing crisis, the real estate market is still teetering on the edge. The Obama administration has tried one program after another to stem the tide of foreclosures with limited success. And it is continuing to look for ways “to ease the burden on struggling homeowners,” though no new initiative is imminent, the White House said this week.

But some housing experts argue that the administration should go in a different direction than it has in the past. Instead, they say it’s time to focus on pushing many of those delinquent borrowers through the foreclosure process and putting foreclosed properties back into use.

While some of the 2.2 million loans in foreclosure can still be saved, many are too far gone, they say. Some 37% have not made a payment in more than two years, while another 34% have not made a payment in 12 to 23 months, according to Lender Processing Services.

“Loans enter into foreclosure, but never come out,” said Thomas Lawler, founder of Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting. “If this keeps going on, you have a continual overhang that never goes away.”

Delaying foreclosure increases the percentage of homeowners who’ll likely never catch up, Lawler said. In 2009, only 6% of delinquent borrowers were more than two years behind. And it means vacant properties still in limbo could fall even further into disrepair, hurting the value of the surrounding housing market.

Lawler is not the first to warn about the consequences of slowing the foreclosure process. Since the housing crisis began, several experts cautioned that foreclosure prevention efforts may only prolong the pain.

Accelerating foreclosures is tricky, however, especially since it is largely the purview of the states. But the administration could work with state officials to speed the process, especially on vacant homes, he said.

The push would come at a time when many mortgage servicers have slowed foreclosure efforts as they resolve shoddy paperwork practices. Foreclosure filings in July dropped to their lowest level since November 2007, due to processing delays and foreclosure prevention measures, according to RealtyTrac.

Getting rid of the glut

Another key to helping the housing market is facilitating the resale of homes that have already been foreclosed upon, experts said. This glut of vacant properties will continue to weigh on home values until they are sold.

“They can’t be a glacier hanging over the market with everyone waiting for it to fall,” said Jim Gaines, research economist at The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. “Those properties have to clear the market.”

A first step could be to sell off the foreclosed properties owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration. Collectively, they own 248,000 homes, about 31% of the foreclosure inventory.

The administration and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are already looking for ways to unload these foreclosed homes. Earlier this month, they put out a request for ideas, including possible bulk sales of inventory. Also, they are interested in turning many of these properties into affordable rentals, which are sorely lacking in many communities. Experts interviewed agree this would be a good move for the market.

To entice investors to purchase these homes, as well as other foreclosed properties owned by banks, the administration could advocate for changes to the tax code, Gaines said. For instance, more favorable capital gains or depreciation rules could attract buyers.
The case against foreclosure

Of course, not everyone agrees that pushing people through the foreclosure process is the best solution to the housing crisis.

David Min, associate director for financial markets policy at the Center for American Progress, argues that there are many homeowners who can be saved if their payments can be adjusted to affordable levels or if some of their principal is forgiven. This particularly applies to those who are only a few months behind.

Foreclosure is very costly for servicers, homeowners and neighborhoods, he said.

“There are a lot of other options that make more sense” than foreclosure, Min said. “It’s just so destructive to value. We should be pulling every lever we can.”

Mediation, for instance, could help some homeowners avoid foreclosure, he said. Some 23 states and the District of Columbia currently have programs that require mortgage servicers to sit down with borrowers and discuss the homeowners’ options, though many began only in the last year. More than 70% of mediations end in a settlement, often restructuring the mortgage to a sustainable level, according to the center.

Helping those still current with their payments can also give the housing market — and the economy — a lift, albeit a somewhat marginal one, experts said.

For instance, the administration could revamp its refinancing program aimed at allowing underwater homeowners to take advantage of today’s lower interest rates. Improvements could include reducing some of the upfront costs and underwriting requirements.

Lowering borrowers’ monthly payments would give people more money to spend. And, for those on the edge, it could make it more likely that they will stay in their homes.

“It would be helpful to some borrowers with high rates,” Lawler said.

High Performance … How Companies Can Stay Ahead of the S-Curve

24 Aug

Successful firms don’t just go from good to great, they do it again and again by managing in tandem today’s business and tomorrow’s

by Catherine Bolgar

What beats the taste of success? Tasting it over and over.

A company finds a winner with a product. It takes off, then gains momentum. Sometimes companies make the ride up last longer by introducing spin-offs or entering new markets.

Unfortunately, at some point, sales level off: markets become saturated, competitors launch even better products and tastes move on. The overall sales trajectory, therefore, resembles an S.

High-performance businesses—the ones that consistently lead their industries over many business cycles—jump from one S-curve to another again and again. How they do that is the subject of a new book, “Jumping the S-Curve: How to Beat the Growth Cycle, Get on Top, and Stay There,” by Paul Nunes and Tim Breene, leaders of the High Performance Business Research program at Accenture, the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. The program was born in 2003 to determine exactly how some companies become high performers, through good times and bad, while others lag behind or fail.

Mr. Nunes and Mr. Breene directed the analysis of the performance of more than 800 companies around the world in dozens of sectors, most over a 10-year span. They identified key differences in the companies that successfully make the jump, versus those that peak, then stall and decline. According to Accenture’s research, high performers:

resolve the conflicting needs of today and tomorrow—trading some of today’s performance for tomorrow’s gain
build a hothouse of talent to nurture employees, which then attracts more people with skills and vision, ultimately creating a talent surplus
change top management while business is still thriving
pursue “big-enough” market insights—ones based on changes in the marketplace that are certain to occur—and sure to shake up the competitive landscape
refuse to scale up for scale’s sake and actively manage the downsides of scale at every turn

The challenge is difficult. The research showed that companies that failed “were not illogical,” says Mr. Breene, the former chief strategy and corporate development officer of Accenture. “They acted reasonably. You can look at why the things they did each year seemed to be the strategically correct response at the time.”
Today and Tomorrow

High-performance businesses juggle the contradictory needs of the present and the future. “While the core part of the business might be working to eliminate failure and error, you have to have parts of the business where intelligent failure is accepted. Failure allows you to get insights and innovations and breakthroughs,” Mr. Breene says.

High performers fix what doesn’t seem to be broken yet. The ride up the S-curve can be exhilarating, but high performers don’t just revel in the success. They use it to prepare for their next act, and they actively manage the cresting of their S-curves.

Companies can try to predict when they will reach the revenue peak on their current S-curve by gauging and forecasting market saturation. But there’s always the danger that disruption will strike—a competitor unveils a new product, or technology makes a leap forward—and the curve’s life will be shortened.

Incremental innovations are useful for extending an S-curve and bringing in revenue to fund the next S, but high performers are “remarkably committed to breakthrough innovation,” Mr. Breene says. “They have market-changing ambition. They look farther out. They are happy working on seven-to-10-year time frames.”

High-performance businesses take a long-term view for talent, too. They understand that it’s not enough to “optimize” the workforce. That’s why they turn themselves into hothouses of talent, where they can give people room to grow. They glean insights from employees at all levels and they give them stretch assignments to learn new skills.

“High performers have much deeper planning and talent-management systems,” says Mr. Nunes, the executive director of research at the Accenture Institute for High Performance.

UPS has long been a “hothouse.” For example, it has a tradition of promoting people from within, says Kurt Kuehn, chief financial officer at the Atlanta-based logistics company who himself started as a holiday-season driver more than 30 years ago. “Because we do focus so much on employees as lifetime assets, we have this incredible residual base of talented people”—what Mr. Nunes and Mr. Breene refer to as a “talent surplus.”

A talent surplus makes a company blossom with innovation and creativity. Employees are not just responding to the challenges of the moment but are thinking about how the company can do something better or new.

“As we create a new S-curve, we need an infusion of new talent,” says Mr. Kuehn. “We mix maybe two parts old skills and one part new skills.”

High-performance businesses like UPS become magnets for “serious talent.”
New Strategy—New Leadership

High performers also constantly groom and challenge the upper ranks to prepare new teams to take over when new strategies require. That means not just the CEO but the entire C-suite.

“In order for the company to evolve ahead of the curve, the top team has to evolve first,” Mr. Nunes says.

UPS has transformed itself through many S-curves. Founded in 1907 as a messenger service in Seattle, it began serving more kinds of businesses, then spread geographically, then added air services, international deliveries and logistics.

UPS’s chief executives have had tenures in the four-to-seven-year range—close to the typical S-curve cycle. There’s no bell that rings when a CEO’s time is up, but since the company’s CEO comes from within, he already has been implementing his vision and strategy even before taking the helm, according to Mr. Kuehn.
Early but Not Too

While high-performance businesses think big, they aren’t always first with an idea. Zenith successfully moved from one S-curve—in radio—to another—in TV—but stumbled as it focused on high-definition TV in the 1980s, well ahead of the market.

By contrast, Porsche of Germany was far from first to market a sport-utility vehicle. Porsche tailored its Cayenne to its customer base, offering a unique SUV, rather than a me-too vehicle. It gained traction gradually—the 911 sports car line remained the best-seller during the Cayenne’s first year. Eventually the Cayenne became the company’s top seller—Porsche took its time to get everything right before scaling up.

The secret at the core of high-performance businesses’ successful market moves, however, is something the authors call a “big-enough market insight,” or BEMI. High performers put wind in the sails of their strategies by moving in alignment with a major market shift. Zenith’s insight was perhaps too big and too soon. Porsche’s insight was recognizing that demographic shifts meant growing demand for SUVs was more than a fad, and that a portion of that fast-growing market would favor a company that could deliver in an SUV everything a sports car lover would want.

High-performance businesses go to extraordinary lengths to understand their customers. Procter & Gamble even sends researchers to live with customers to observe how they use products and to reveal unmet needs.

While tending to core businesses, high performers also prepare for their next S-curve with an “edge-centric” strategy. That is, they pick up insights from looking at the periphery of market evolution and customer demand, often by keeping better tabs on what is happening on the periphery of their own organization.

“While it can look like you’re taking your eye off the ball, moving off into uncharted territory, actually you’re keeping your eye on the ball by searching where the best ideas are most likely to be found,” says Mr. Nunes.

Accenture’s Mr. Nunes and Mr. Breene also point out that size doesn’t correlate with success. In picking out companies that maintained high performance over the long term, they noticed that the winners were often midsize contenders in their fields.

“As you scale, it gets more difficult to sustain the characteristics of high performance,” Mr. Breene explains. “You get more complexity and that leads to a tendency toward process, policy and rules. The emphasis shifts toward incremental innovation. The vitality that made the business great in the first place begins to die as it becomes more like a machine and less like a living organism.”

Adds Mr. Nunes: “Everybody wants growth, but scaling, size and complexity tend to drive out headroom. You need headroom to jump the S-curve.”

For more information:
Accenture
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Computers Rule Wall Street

15 Aug

By Ken Sweet, contributing writer August 12, 2011: 7:08 PM ET

U.S. stock marketTraders said they’ve seen high-frequency trading volumes jump sharply since the beginning of the month, which may have ampilfied the recent volatility. Click the chart for more market data.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The computers have taken over Wall Street, and they’re taking investors on a wild ride.

This week, the Dow swung back and forth more than 400 points on four straight days. Trading volume is at or near record levels.

It’s not fast-talking traders on the New York Stock Exchange behind the action. The majority of trading is done on large server farms based in New Jersey and elsewhere.

“These types of moves are certainly greater than anything we’ve seen in the last 10 years, and it’s absolutely because now the majority of the orders are being done by these high-frequency trading robots,” said Sal Arnuk, co-founder of Themis Trading, an independent brokerage firm.

High-frequency trading, also known as algorithmic or programmed trading, relies on software to determine when to buy and sell shares, usually based on a particular pattern or technical level in the market. These trades can happen several times a minute.

High-frequency trading makes up 53% of all trading in U.S. stock markets, up from 21% in 2005, said Larry Tabb, president and CEO of market research firm Tabb Group. Other estimates put it even higher, at around 65%.

Gary Wedbush, executive vice president and head of capital markets at Wedbush Securities, told Bloomberg News on Friday that more than 80% of the firm’s orders since Aug. 1 have come from high-frequency trading clients, at five times the typical volume.

Nearly everyone on Wall Street is involved in algorithmic trading in some form, Tabb said, including large banks, hedge funds and mutual funds.

“These firms often piggyback on large orders, so it can amplify a stock’s movement,” Arnuk said.

Experts don’t blame high-frequency trading entirely for the market’s nauseating moves, but they say it certainly exacerbates them.

The Securities and Exchange Commission in a report blamed high-frequency trading in part for the May 6, 2010 “flash crash,” when the Dow fell nearly 1,000 points in minutes. To top of page

First Published: August 12, 2011: 7:05 PM ET

Gigwalk: Make money on your morning commute

2 Aug

By Jennifer Alsever @CNNMoneyTech June 22, 2011: 6:06 AM ET

Gigwalk founders (from left) Matt Crampton, Ariel Seidman and David Watanabe.Gigwalk founders (from left) Matt Crampton, Ariel Seidman and David Watanabe.

(CNNMoney) — Most people make a living while they’re at work. But what if you could earn a few bucks just walking to the office?

Gigwalk, a startup founded last summer in Mountain View, Calif., takes the phrase “mobile workforce” literally. The company harnesses America’s vast army of iPhone users, enlisting them to complete various “gigs” when they’re out and about.

Rates for these micro-tasks have included $5 to snap a picture of a restaurant’s chalkboard menu for an online restaurant guide, $7 to visit a wireless store and check on product placement for a cell phone manufacturer and $30 to test out a new iPhone app. Users are encouraged to work gigs into their regular routines, picking up pocket cash while they make trips to the gym or run errands.

“It’s whatever is convenient,” says Ariel Seidman, the co-founder and CEO of Gigwalk. Inspiration for the service came last spring when Seidman, 34, was the director of mobile search for Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500). He watched mapping companies spend exorbitant amounts of time and money dispatching contractors to gather information from far-flung locales. What if they could rely instead on iPhone users who were already there?

Seidman left his job last June. He enlisted two former Yahoo colleagues, Matt Crampton and David Watanabe, to help build the software platform that would bring his idea to life. In December, Gigwalk landed $1.7 million in startup capital from sources including the Greylock Discovery Fund, managed by LinkedIn (LNKD) co-founder Reed Hoffman, and Harrison Metal, founded by Michael Dearing, a former senior vice president of eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) and an early funder of AdMob, which Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) bought for $750 million.

“I thought it was an amazing concept,” says Jeff Clavier, a managing partner at SoftTech VC, which also invested in Gigwalk. “After five minutes I thought, ‘This is like mobile crowdsourcing.'”

Gigwalk’s corporate clients include TomTom, the Dutch maker of portable GPS systems, and MenuPages.com, the New York online restaurant guide. Gigwalk executives would not say how many clients, in total, have signed on so far. They also declined to release their revenues and the number of active “gigwalkers,” saying only that thousands of people have completed tasks in seven cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

To sign up for the service, iPhone users download an app, then register with Gigwalk and pass a background check. The company plans to launch an app for Android owners later this year.

Gigwalk uses iPhone owners’ GPS locations and home addresses to filter and distribute appropriate gigs for them. Once a user accepts a gig, there’s a limited time to finish it, usually a couple of days. After a completed task is approved, the user gets paid through PayPal.

To commission Gigwalk for a job, companies specify what tasks they’d like to outsource to smartphone users and pay Gigwalk a lump sum upfront. A percentage of that sum goes directly Gigwalk — the company would not disclose how much — and the rest goes to paying “gigwalkers” as they complete their tasks.

Reliable workers — those who do a good job and don’t submit fuzzy menu photos — are rewarded with the first pick of better-paying gigs.

Gigwalk has become a big time-saver for MenuPages, which maintains 32,000 online listings for restaurants across the country, according to Tom Bohan, the company’s director of content operations. One of MenuPages’ biggest challenges is keeping track of current information: new food items, hours of operation, whether there’s outdoor seating and wheelchair access. In the past, they’ve mostly used Craigslist to hire hourly contractors who can visit those businesses in person to collect data.

Bohan discovered Gigwalk late last year. Though they cost about the same as his regular contractors, gigwalkers turn assignments around for him much faster, he says — typically in about two weeks instead of eight.

Gigwalk’s biggest challenge? Getting people to take time out of their day for small payouts of just $2 to $15 apiece. Seidman says he doesn’t expect anyone to drive 15 minutes to do a $2 or $5 gig. But he hopes they’ll be willing to work multiple gigs into their morning commutes, or squeeze in a task that’s just two doors down from wherever they happen to be at the moment.

That’s worked out well for Andrew Schut, 47, a medical device consultant in New York City who’s the top-grossing gigwalker so far, earning $2,173 since March. Schut maps out clusters of gigs whenever he goes for a walk and tries to knock out a couple on the way to his clients’ offices.

“It’s given me the motivation to see parts of the city I didn’t know about,” says Schut, who created an online community called gigwalkingtips.com. “The beauty of it is you do it when you have time, and if you have time.” To top of page

Men and Women on Money: Dual Surveys Reveal Surprising Differences

26 Jul

By Eamon Murphy

So it seems two out of five of men wouldn’t mind sitting down with Warren Buffett and listening as the avuncular Oracle of Omaha dispenses bon mots like, “Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”

That’s according to AskMen, a division of News Corp’s (NWS) IGN Entertainment that advertises itself as “the leading men’s lifestyle website.” On Tuesday, AskMen unveiled the results of its Fourth Annual Great Male Survey. To complement this study, AskMen partnered with women’s mag Cosmopolitan to create a Great Female Survey, a kind of online poll-Bride of Frankenstein. Together, these surveys comprise “the ultimate guide on how men and women think in 2011,” culled from more than 80,000 respondents, according to a press release. The combined poll has been approved by Ipsos-Reid, Canada’s largest market research and public opinion polling firm; read on for some of its more striking results.

    • “If men could ask for financial advice from one person,” the survey reports, “40% said it would be Warren Buffett. Next highest: 25% of men said they would look to their fathers for advice, 19% said Donald Trump, and 10% said Jim Cramer. Only 6% percent said that they would turn to Suze Orman for help.” A mix, then, of mild sexism, moving nostalgia, and extreme starstruck-ness. (Trump, of course, has seen his share of business bankruptcy, but maybe men figure that’s just capitalism — creative destruction and so on. Cramer, too, has made some questionable calls.)
    • Fully 77% of men think women put too much value on a man’s financial worth. What’s somewhat strange is that 82% of women agree.
    • Good news for sex equality — although, weirdly, women are slightly lagging men: “85% of men said that they would be okay with having a partner who makes more money than they do, and 73% of women say that they would be okay with having a partner who makes less than them.” Perhaps that’s a sign of our hard economic times.
    • Somewhat puzzling news, given that women tend to live longer: “45% of men have a plan for retirement and either are currently saving or will start saving for retirement soon.” But only 21% of women have any plan, and 45% of women surveyed said they “have not even thought about retirement.”
    • Maybe that discrepancy relates to a sex-correlated difference in retirement expectations: 34% of women think they’ll only need savings of $500,000 to retire comfortably. By contrast, 46% of men think they’ll need between $1 million and $2 million.
  • Finally, the survey’s most counter-intuitive result: “43% of women think that a beautiful house is the ultimate status symbol, while only 26% chose having a successful partner. On the other hand, men ranked ‘family’ as their number one choice (39%).”
Reprinted from An AOL Money & Finance Site

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/07/26/men-and-women-on-money-dual-surveys-reveal-surprising-differenc/

 

Children of Gen Xers Are Key Brand Influencers

21 Jul
Children of Gen Xers Are Key Brand Influencers
JULY 18, 2011
Family affects Gen X shopping habits

Gen X shoppers are significantly influenced by their families when choosing brands and making purchase decisions both online and in-store. Children especially have a major role when Gen X consumers decide what to buy.

In March 2011, Experian Simmons asked US adult internet users about the primary factors that affect their shopping behaviors and attitudes. Those ages 35 to 44 overindexed in a number of influences, several involving their children.

For instance, when asked whether their children had a major effect on the brands they choose, Gen X shoppers were 32 percentage points more likely than the average consumer to say yes. Shoppers in this age group also tend to be affected by their children’s requests for certain items. But kids could also be a burden for purchase decisions, if they asked for too many nonessential items.

A study on American consumers conducted by GfK MRI and published in June yielded similar results. Indexing at 25 points above average consumers, Gen X shoppers tended to be more influenced by their children in brand selection than adults overall.

Both studies found that coupons and family are influential factors for Gen X shoppers. Consumers ages 35 to 44 are more inclined to try new brands and stores if they have a coupon. Gen Xers enjoy shopping with their significant others and family, as they play an important role in shaping their brand opinions.

According to the US Census Bureau’s “Current Populations Survey,” more than 60% of the Gen X population is married and a comparable percentage has children under the age of 18. Given the importance family and children play in Gen Xers’ purchase decisions, marketers should make sure their branding appeals to the entire family. Promotional offers and coupons would also appeal to Gen Xers, who are frequently seeking opportunities to save additional money.


©2011 eMarketer Inc. All rights reserved. http://www.emarketer.com

5 cities where home prices will rise this year – New York Made the List

11 Jul

July 8, 2011, 12:27 p.m. EDT
5 cities where home prices will rise this year
In a surprising twist, a Florida housing market makes the list

By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Despite recent price improvements nationally, only five markets in the country are expected to see home-price gains for the remainder of 2011: Washington, New York, Orlando, Dallas and San Francisco.

That’s right, Orlando, Fla., where prices have fallen 63% from their peak.

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This is according to Clear Capital’s home data index forecast, released Friday. The company provides real-estate valuation and risk assessment information for financial institutions.

Granted, prices are expected to be up only 0.7% through the remainder of the year in Orlando, said Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics for Clear Capital.

“This is really a drop in the bucket compared with where this market has fallen,” he said. Yet it’s an encouraging sign of stability for a housing market that suffered the majority of its losses in 2008 and 2009, Villacorta added.

On a national basis, home prices are expected to fall another 2.4% for the second half of the year, according to the report.
A return to normalcy?

Still, recently there have been some hopeful signs that housing is at or very near the absolute bottom, he said.

Home prices rose 0.9% in the second quarter, compared with the first quarter, following nine months of price drops, according to Clear Capital.

In the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index of 20 cities, prices were up 0.7% in April, compared with March. Read more: U.S. home prices up for first time in eight months.

Some may argue that the increases are seasonal and prices are up because more home buyers are in the market when the winter months end, Villacorta said. But even a seasonal blip is a good sign for a housing market that has been depressed for years now.

“We haven’t seen any seasonal blip in some time, so even if it is, it is a sign that markets are returning to normalcy once again,” Villacorta said.
Struggling markets

That said, not all markets have had a strong first half of the year.

Parts of the Midwest, for example, saw significant price drops in the first half of 2011. In Detroit, prices fell nearly 20% during the six months, with prices falling an average $12,000 on a typical $62,500 home there, according to the Clear Capital report.

On a national basis, prices fell 3.2% in the first half of the year.

A separate survey from Fannie Mae, released on Thursday, showed that a growing percentage of Americans aren’t optimistic about home prices in the year ahead.

Twenty-five percent of Americans expect prices to fall during the next 12 months, up from 19% who said the same in May, according to the Fannie Mae survey of 1,000 adults. Read more: Home price outlook worsens in June.

“We see a continued lack of confidence among consumers on home prices, the ability to sell their homes, and the state of their personal finances — all of which point to housing as a continued downside risk to economic growth going forward,” said Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae, in a news release.

Here’s a look at the lucky five home markets:
1. Washington
Washington, D.C. is one of only five regions in the U.S where home-price trends are expected to improve during the rest of 2011.
2. New York
Home price trends in the northeast are expected to decline 0.8% overall, but in New York, above, real-estate prices should rise.
3. Orlando
The second half of 2011 could be good for hard-hit Orlando, Fla., where prices for homes and condominiums like this could rise by as much as 2%.
4. Dallas
A balance between prices and inventory could help support prices for homes like this one, for sale in Dallas.
5. San Francisco
San Francisco’s one of only five cities nationwide where home price trends will likely improve during the remainder of the year.

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