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U.S. states and Justice Department pile in on Epic’s side in Apple lawsuit

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A total of 35 U.S. states joined in an antitrust lawsuit to back up Epic Games’ lawsuit against Apple over alleged monopolistic practices.

Those states met the deadline for filing amicus briefs in Epic’s appeal to a federal court ruling that largely favored Apple, which banned Fortnite from the App Store in 2020 after Epic added a link to cheaper off-store item purchases to its iOS game.

The states said Apple’s conduct has harmed mobile app developers as well as users as it monopolized mobile app distribution and in-app payment solutions for iPhones. On Thursday, Apple said it had more than 1.8 billion active mobile devices in the market. Epic argued that this lucrative market is captive to Apple and constitutes a monopoly.

The case is an important conflict between a platform owner and a powerful game company that could set the rules of engagement and competition in an era that will be filled with giant tech and game companies. A lot of money is at stake here.

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But federal judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled in September that the market share in question was bigger, amounting to mobile game in-app purchases on both iOS and Android. Apple had a larger share of revenues, but not an overwhelming share in this market.

When Apple set up the App Store in 2008, it instituted a 30% commission on every in-app purchase transaction. While Apple may have earned that commission with the investments it made in the App Store and the iPhone, Epic argued that it effectively became a tax that sucked billions of dollars out of the game industry and should have been reduced. Apple said it could not calculate the actual profits. The court did not find that to be credible.

Epic Games satirized Apple's own 1984 ad in Fortnite.
Epic Games satirized Apple’s own 1984 ad in Fortnite.

Epic’s expert, Ned Barnes, calculated that Apple’s operating margins on the App Store are above 75%. Epic argued that Apple’s commission would be like a car dealer taking a fee on the sale of a car and then taking more fees every time someone put gas in the car.

Apple won its case on nine counts. There were a couple of points where the judge ruled in Epic’s favor. Apple had put in place “anti-steering” policies that directed developers to use its payment system — which generates the 30% commission — in part because it reduced security and privacy risks for players. The judge pointed out this enables Apple to monetize its intellectual property, and she noted evidence supports the argument that consumers value these attributes of privacy and security and trustworthiness.

Apple had argued that Nordstrom does not advertise prices inside Macy’s stores for its goods. But the judge said Apple created a “black box” where it enforced silence around competitive pricing elsewhere. Developers could not use their app to advertise lower prices on their websites. That was harmful to consumers, she found.

Under the injunction, Apple is permanently stopped from prohibiting developers from including external links or other calls to action that direct players to alternative payments. Apple is appealing that part of the ruling, and it won a delay in the enforcement of that order.

The U.S. Justice Department also said that the original ruling in the trial was “flawed” as provisions from the Sherman Act were incorrectly applied by the judge and that could imperil antitrust enforcement in the digital economy. Apple told Reuters that it was optimistic it would prevail. The Justice Department said the cour never addressed pricing evidence when ruling that Apple lacked monopoly power but was “near the precipice.”

The states also said they had a problem with Apple’s unilateral contracts that every developer has to accept, but the lower court found this was not proof of market power, which the states found to be a “paralyzing paradox.” Academics who filed briefs also said that the court overlooked less-restrictive alternatives to Apple’s rules that would be easy to implement. It also noted that Apple’s tying of products together could also hurt competition and consumers.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said that Apple’s approach to security is itself anticompetitive. Even after accepting Apple’s security rationale as a procompetitive justification, the district court should have finished the rule-of-reason analysis by weighing the procompetitive and anticompetitive effects of Apple’s policies, the foundation said. And it said Apple’s policies deny users choice on security, privacy, and content.

I think the court should have ordered Apple to make its own calculations about the profits related solely to the App Store, even if this would have required the company to change its accounting practices.

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Get a Discount on Training Courses to Help You Finally Master Excel

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Just about everybody in the business world claims to know Microsoft Excel. A fraction of them actually know just how much Excel can do. Therefore, if you’re looking for a practical gift for yourself or someone else this year that is actually useful, look no further than The 2022 Complete Microsoft Excel Expert Bundle.



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The bundle includes 12 courses from StreamSkill (4.4/5-star instructor rating), part of the Simon Sez IT family that has taught more than one million students over the past 15 years.

Here, you’ll start out with the basics of Excel 2021, learning what’s new and how to navigate the Excel 2021 interface. You’ll start learning useful keyboard shortcuts, understand how to format cells and use conditional formatting, analyze data using charts, and more. As you progress through the courses, you’ll explore advanced formulas in Excel, touch on macros, and much more.

There are several courses on some of Excel’s more unique tools, too. You’ll learn how to use the VBA editor, VBA syntax, keywords, and more. You’ll discover how to define and manage variables, set up subroutines, and create functions to automate your most repetitive and frustrating tasks. Additionally, you’ll get started with Power Query, learning how to connect Excel to multiple workbooks to crunch numbers across sheets. You’ll learn how to set up and manage data relationships in a data model, create PivotTables to display your data, and use functions like CALCULATE, DIVIDE, and DATESYTD in DAX. Before you know it, you’ll have a business analyst education that will help you in all of your business ventures.

It’s about time you finally learned Excel. Right now, you can get this Microsoft Excel Expert Bundle on sale for just $24.99 (reg. $4,788).

Prices subject to change.

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Ocho wants to rethink (and rebrand) personal finance for business owners • TechCrunch

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When Ankur Nagpal sold Teachable for a quarter of a billion dollars, he felt lucky. Then, he quickly felt lost when trying to navigate the financial systems of a country he wasn’t born in and learn the institutional language often only spoken fluently by the historically wealthy.

It would be a few years of self-employment, and building a venture firm later, before Nagpal returned to the moment as one of the early catalysts for his newest startup, Ocho. The company, launching publicly today, wants to make it easier for business owners to set up and manage their own 401(k) retirement accounts.

Personal finance is hard – and that’s a tale as old, and difficult to disrupt, as time. And while Nagpal agrees that there’s no “north star” company that has shown how to tackle finance literacy at scale, he’s hoping that Ocho’s 10-person team may just have a not-so-boring wedge that changes that.

Ocho is joining the several fintech companies out there that aim to modernize, and really rebrand, the retirement account away from traditional providers like Charles Schwab or Fidelity, or expensive solutions like lawyers and consultants.

“I’ve started exploring the space, and we realize everyone – like Robinhood to Coinbase – is just spending unsustainable amounts of money to acquire customers, but are making no money themselves and continually sort of need these large funding rounds just to exist,” Nagpal said. “I’m actually expecting there to be a very rough 6, 12 or 18 months for fintech companies specifically.”

Ocho’s twist from competition, he thinks, is in its market focus. “There’s so many companies targeting startup founders and their wealth – there’s literally a new one launching every month or two all backed by big name VCs, but no one is focused on the business owner that is otherwise doing well but is not a startup founder or a startup employee,” he said.

Instead, Ocho is leaning into Nagpal’s background of working with creators when he was building Teachable. Teachable helped creators build revenue streams, Ocho wants to help those same creators take their earnings and invest, harvest and scale them in a smart way.

“At Teachable, we helped these people make money online and now there’s lots of places for creators, freelancers and entrepreneurs to make money online – but how do we help them think about building wealth?” Nagpal said. The long-term vision for Ocho is to offer products, beyond solo 401(k)s, that help business owners build wealth.

Human Interest is one of Ocho’s closest competitors; raising $200 million at a $1 billion valuation last year. Nagpal says that Ocho differentiates itself because its focused more on individuals, freelancers and creators, instead of Human Interest’s target of small and medium-sized businesses.

For now, Ocho is charging a flat $199 annual fee to help individuals start their retirement account. It takes about 10 minutes to set up, and 48 hours to get final confirmation.

The big challenge for the startup is getting the right solopreneurs to care about their retirement accounts. Its look for people who have income-generating businesses, but don’t have any full-time employees. If you have a side gig alongside your full-time job, you can create a 401(k) just for the side hustle, but can’t put full-time income into the retirement account.

ocho-interface-fintech

Image Credits: Ocho

Nagpal thinks he can nail early adoption through smart education material and outreach, referring to personal finance trends on TikTok as an example of consumer demand for more information. He says that 40% of the Ocho staff is working on marketing or education, and that the balance will be retained even as the company scales.

If education is so important to getting Ocho to work, one may wonder why it’s launching with a fintech product. The answer is simple: deadlines. Users need to make a retirement account by December 31, 2022, if they want one for 2023 – which puts the fintech in a relevant, but time pressed, position.

Nagpal isn’t worried about the seasonality of the 401(k) product because of the upcoming product roadmap, which includes the education product, investment flows into the retirement product like being able to invest in startups and ETFs, and even HSAs, often described as a 401(k) for healthcare.

To power that ambitious product spree, Ocho has raised $2.5 million from Nagpal’s own venture firm, Vibe Capital. The entrepreneur says that he raised the $60 million debut fund for Vibe Capital with the idea that he would incubate a startup or two out of the firm, which materialized today now that it owns 20% of Ocho.

Nagpal admitted that the idea of a founder using his own venture firm to seed his own startup may appear to be the “mother of all conflicts of interest” but reasoned that it was everything but. He emailed all LPs in his fund about the investment, got a unanimous yes, and ended up raising at a much lower price for the startup than if they had gone out into the fair market. It’s still uncommon to see founders sell a company, start a venture firm and then use that same venture firm to seed their next company.

Perhaps the unique connection between Nagpal’s first company, to his firm, to his newest startup, could hint at what his approach to personal finance may be: diversify across multiple vehicles, redefine what a supercharged investment could look like, and keep on learning.

Ocho-team

Ocho’s starting team.



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A Simple Brain Trick To Guarantee Success

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As entrepreneurs, most of us are goal-driven, and we’ve learned how to set clear, juicy goals and then break them down into game plans of smaller projects and tasks. The challenge comes when it’s time for you and your team actually to follow those game plans.

After the thrill of setting that awesome goal comes the day-to-day work that is often not so exciting. So how do you keep yourself and your team moving forward? How can you stay on track and consistently hit your daily, weekly and quarterly goals? One of the answers is in the simple brain hack that psychologists call “implementation intention.”

Related: Brain Hacks to Boost Motivation and Beat the Work From Home Blues

What the research shows

A psychology professor at NY University, Peter Gollwitzer, first coined the term in the 1990s. He realized that many people set goals, but not many achieved them because they didn’t take the action they needed to take. Dr. Gollwitzer showed that the difference was not just motivation, as some people were highly motivated and still didn’t do what they needed to do. But people were much more likely to reach their goals by figuring out “pre-determined goal-directed behaviors” and turning them into habits.

Rather than just coming up with a strategy to achieve a goal and then breaking it down into tasks, Dr. Gollwitzer found that people were more likely to succeed if they trained their brains to choose to do the things that they needed to do by using “if-then” statements (you can also use “when-then” statements).

He and his colleagues ran over 400 studies using every type of goal — quitting smoking, voting, healthy eating, exercising and even using condoms! All the studies showed that implementation intentions made a massive difference in the results people got.

Related: Setting Measurable Goals Is Critical to Your Strategic Plan (and Your Success). Here’s Why.

Get to your goal using “when-then”

How does it work? For example, let’s say that you want to grow your business and that getting lots of 5-star testimonials will help. So, you decide to get 100 testimonials this quarter (about eight per week), and you’ll get them by calling 20 past clients per week, just four every day.

Sounds simple, right? But this kind of project easily gets lost in the shuffle. You mean to do it; you know it’s important, but other things that seem more urgent pop up. Eventually, you might even forget about
getting those testimonials completely.

With implementation intention, you start with the statement, “When _________, then I will ______.” You not only say what you will do but also give it a specific time and place. In this case, you might say, “When I get to the office, and before I even look at my emails, I’ll call four past clients for testimonials.” This tells your brain exactly when to be ready to make the calls. It sets up your energy and focus. By doing it over and over, your brain is automatically triggered to sit down and make calls as soon as you walk into your office.

James Clear talks about this in his book Atomic Habits. He points out that setting up implementation intention keeps you from deciding whether to do something every single time. You don’t need to be super motivated that day, and you don’t need to use your willpower to get yourself to do it. You just do it because, after a while, it would feel weird not to do it, just like not brushing your teeth before bed would feel strange.

Related: Your Problem Isn’t Laziness

Overcome obstacles using “if-then”

Implementation intention also helps you pre-plan for obstacles you might encounter and helps get you through them. Say you know that your morning calls will often get interrupted by team members who need your input. You know something like this is bound to happen, so before it does, you figure out, “If ___________, then I will ___________.”

“If I get interrupted, I will ask the person (unless they are bleeding to death) to give me 15-20 minutes.” Or maybe you decide, “If I get interrupted in the morning, I will close the door and eat lunch at my desk to make my calls.” The strategy you use to handle the obstacle is up to you. The point is that you already have it figured out and know exactly how to stay on track despite anything that tries to get in the way.

Athletes have used this for years. Marathon runners know they’ll run into “the wall” at about 18 to 20 miles. Rather than getting blindsided, they figure out ways to handle it before the race. They’ll slow their pace and take some sports gel. They’ll pay attention to the cheering crowd or focus on a certain mantra. They don’t try to figure out how to deal with the wall when it’s happening. They have a plan, so it doesn’t throw them off their goal.

Related: 5 Things About Overcoming Adversity That Athletes Can Teach Entrepreneurs

When I started coaching, I realized that many of my students hit a wall about three months in. They were learning and implementing different marketing strategies. But these strategies take some time, so they didn’t see any results yet. We learned to warn them ahead of time. “Hey, you might not see results for 4-5 months. That doesn’t mean you aren’t on track. If you’re doing the work, results will come soon.”

Then we help them with “if-then” strategies. “If you feel stuck or discouraged, then call in
during office hours.” An implementation intention is a brain-hack tool that helps you take the steps you need to take whether you’re feeling motivated or not. You set up the implementation intention by saying what you’ll do and precisely when you’ll do it, and you pre-plan how you’ll deal with obstacles to stay on track.

James Clear wrote: “Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference.”

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