Self-Driving in Pittsburgh

- - Adam Kidan

Self-Driving in Pittsburgh by Adam KidanSince Google started work on self-driving cars, other companies have slowly but surely been sticking their toes into the field.  The concept of “self-driving cars” feels like science fiction, like something you’d see on an episode of the Jetsons, but its day could be upon us.  This past Wednesday, Uber confirmed that it’s been testing a fleet of self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh.  Previously, they had said little about developing autonomous vehicles since opening the Advanced Technology Center 15 months earlier in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  Uber cars have been seen on the roads of Pittsburgh for about a year now, mapping the city.  A few weeks ago, self-driving car tests runs started, and there have so far not been any crashes involving the cars.  Uber’s “Fusions” are outfitted with cameras, lasers and sensors that help them navigate the notoriously tricky streets of Pittsburgh.

John Bares, the head of Uber’s Pittsburgh office, came to Pittsburgh 35 years ago to study engineering at Carnegie Mellon.  He’s been building robots since 1982, headed CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years and was asked by Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick to help develop self-driving cars in Pittsburgh about a year and a half ago.  Bares has said that the narrow and hilly streets, haphazard parking, hazardous weather conditions and aging infrastructure make Pittsburgh the perfect place to test Uber’s self-driving cars; if these can handle Pittsburgh, they can handle anywhere!  The car will accelerate, brake, steer and perform other basic functions on its own.  If its sensors detect a car swerving into its lane or encounters something it doesn’t recognize/can’t negotiate, the car will switch out of self-driving mode with a loud “beep” and allow the driver to take control of the car.  The car’s sensors have detected potholes, parked cars sticking out into traffic, jaywalkers, bicyclists and geese.

Back in April, Uber, Ford, Google, Lyft and Volvo formed the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets to push for self-driving cars.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that it could have self-driving car guidelines ready by July, and California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida and DC have all enacted autonomous vehicle legislation.  In Pennsylvania, lawmakers and Department of Transportation officials are working on similar laws.

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!

Business Secrets From Ashley Alexiss

- - Adam Kidan

PBusiness secrets from ashley alexiss by Adam Kidanlus-sized model Ashley Alexiss understood that trying on new swimwear before the summer is a tough time for plenty of women, which inspired her to create a new line of swimwear, Alexiss Swimwear, designed to “embrace curves” and help women find confidence.  Since the company’s launch last year, the CEO has found success.  I recently found a piece online where she discusses what she’s learned starting this line of swimsuits, what keeps her inspired and how she’s learned to use social media in the information age.  Here’s what she has do say:

Have a mission: Alexiss started this line of swimwear to make women feel better about themselves, a sentiment echoed in the company’s slogan of “Beauty is not a size”.  Swimwear often caters to either smaller or larger women, but not as often both, and the ones that cater to larger women isn’t always flattering or stylish.  That’s why Alexiss got into this business.

Recognize great ideas: As a plus-size model, Alexiss does a lot of swim and lingerie shoots.  On social media she often had people asking her where to get what she’s wearing, which inspired her to make swimwear for everybody who has the same problem.

Partner up: Alexiss’ first partner wasn’t a good fit, as the two of them had vastly different ideas as to which direction the company should go.  Her current partner owns his own business separate from Alexiss Swimwear, allowing her to see how he operates and manages things.

Have goals: Alexiss wants to be a known and recognized brand within five years, with women getting excited about trying on new swimwear whenever they see an Alexiss swimwear store front.

Be social: Alexiss has a fairly large following on social media; her secret is to put everything, good and bad, out there, and people will often relate to it and share it, leading to a domino effect where their friends see it and share it.  Yet at the same time, be careful about how much you post.  If you’re posting too frequently, you’re going to start annoying people; Alexiss suggests two to three times a day as a maximum.

Timing is everything: When you’re using social media, timing is essential.  Peak social media times in the US are around noon and a little after work.  If you want to be international, you need to remember that a lot of your audience is awake and looking to see what you’re up to, even when you’re asleep.

Know your limits: Since she’s a public figure on Facebook, Alexiss can get around 4,000 comments for a single photo.  That means you can only respond to a handful of comments.  Alexiss checks the comments and messages every hour, since it’s important to respond to comments as a business.

Keep learning: Alexiss has had a lot of success with her business, but she still has plenty to learn.  That’s why she’s currently going to graduate school, but there are some aspects of business that you can’t learn in a classroom.

Success is up to you: It’s only natural to think that you’ve bit off more than you can chew sometimes.  But when you go through with it, you learn and become more realistic about your goals.  The only way to make things happen is to do it, do it right and learn through the process.

Stricter Regulations?

- - Adam Kidan, Business

Stricter Regulations? By Adam KidanYesterday morning, regulators released long-awaited rules that are focused on restricting how financial institutions can pay their top executives.  The new limits on banker bonuses would make the highest-paid employees at the biggest banks wait for at least four years to receive parts of their annual pay.  If these proposals are completed in the upcoming months, then banks would also have to reclaim bonuses from bankers who take risks that in turn lead to major financial losses.

This is in response to an uproar of criticism over Wall Street’s pay practices after the biggest American banks had to take government bailout money back in 2008.  This public anger has been rekindled during the 2016 presidential campaign, pressuring regulators to put tighter restrictions on Wall Street.  New rules on executive pay grew out of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, although it has since taken years to put this in practice.  Although Obama has pushed regulators to complete them, in the waning hours of his administration time has been running out fast.

The structure of executive pay packages before the financial crisis was blamed for encouraging bankers to take unnecessary risks.  Pay in some cases was set up in ways to motivate bankers to seek short-term gains even if their actions led to long-term losses.  The new rules, however, will force many banks to withhold pay for longer than in the past in an effort to ensure that top employees can be held accountable for the longer-term consequences of their risk-taking.  The proposals leave many financial firms, including large asset managers and hedge funds, shielded from the new restrictions because of how regulators defined who are subject to them.  Young Wall Street workers have already been decamping for less regulated corners of finance and corporate America.

For those people and institutions subject to rules, these new restrictions are broadly in line with changes that many banks have already been making since the 2008 recession.  For example, it’s already an industry standard to wait for three years to release stock-based bonuses, although new rules aim to push that to four years.

The regulators were supposed to propose the new rules within 90 days of Dodd-Frank’s passage.  Rather, the regulatory agencies delivered a first draft of the rules in 2011, although that was widely criticized for being too weak.  According to the previous draft, the largest banks had to hold back at least half of all incentive-based pay for three years; under the new proposals, the same banks will have to withhold 60 percent of that pay for four years.  It also applies the limits to a broader set of “material risk-takers” at big banks as opposed to just top executives.

Across the pond in Britain, banks are now forced to hold back some pay for at least seven years.  European countries have generally imposed stronger restrictions on executive compensation since the financial crisis, including some card caps on salary and bonuses.  These new American rules would only apply to incentive-based compensation that varies according to the performance of the bank and the individual executive.  Even without these rules, banks have faced pressure from regulators since the financial crisis to change how they pay their employees and make it more focused on long-term than short-term success.

Banks and other financial institutions have generally been cutting pay in recent years because of their lagging performance, and other parts of the Dodd-Frank legislation have limited their ability to take big risks and earn big profits that were common before the financial crisis.  If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!

Stocks For Entrepreneurs

- - Adam Kidan, Business

Stocks For Entrepreneurs by Adam KidanSince the concept of trading stocks first took off in the Netherlands in the 17th century, it’s been viewed by many as a way to make quick money.  While trading stocks is nothing new, you do need to learn how to adapt if you want to make it work for you.  I recently came across an article that shared some tips for entrepreneurs who want to make money with stocks, listed below:

Don’t settle for a profession or corporate career: Plenty of people think that law, medicine or becoming an executive is the way to becoming a millionaire.  While you can definitely make a lot of money in these fields, they often have a limit to how much you can earn from your salary; if you really want unlimited income potential, then you need to think of non-traditional options, which is where stocks often come into play.

Be grateful for small profits: The author of the article spoke about how by taking a few thousand dollars in profits for every stock trade, he was able to gradually turn a small amount of money into millions.

Stock trading is equal opportunity: No matter your background, you can make a living trading so long as you take the time, put in the work and know what you’re doing.  Don’t worry if you’re too young or old to make money; such obstacles will only get in your way to ultimate success.

Try out various things: There isn’t a “set way” to become a millionaire through trading.  You need to test out different strategies and hypothesis before you find one you like, and then stick with that to see if it works.  When something doesn’t work, you need to be willing to abandon that, and when something does work, you need to be willing to bet bigger.

Utilize new technologies: Technology plays a huge part in the modern world of online trading.  Just 15 years ago, for instance, the Internet was new for financial research, but now is the center of the entire business.  Nowadays there are even more tools, apps and programs that can help you gain insight and make trading even easier.

Adapting to the environment: The stock market can be pretty volatile, and while that does seem scary, the key is to adapt to the market environment.

Ways You Can Sharpen Your Mind

- - Adam Kidan

Newt GingrichSuccessful entrepreneurs need to be able to think quickly and stay on their toes.  It’s easy to get caught up in the habitual drone of everyday life, which leads to stagnation.  I recently came across an article that shares some steps for keeping your mind sharp, listed below:

Break free from routine: A habitual mind is restricted.  According to a study by the Association for Psychological Science, those who engage in experiences that are new, challenging and exciting will more likely retain high cognitive functioning.  Passive involvement won’t do it, though.  Try once each week to do something outside of your comfort zone, and you might find out there’s something you love.

Keep moving: Exercise has its obvious physical benefits, but a healthy body is also closely connected with a healthy mind.  Physical activity has positive effects on mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, which often prevent people from getting things done.

Get enough sleep: Entrepreneurs often have to sacrifice sleep for hard work.  But if you aren’t sleeping enough, it could be why your personal or business development has slowed down.  A Brown University study has confirmed that sufficient sleep “locks in” knowledge gained from learning new tasks.  Most people don’t know that even if they can choose which time to go to sleep, drowsiness can involuntarily “switch off” the brain, making much of the learning or working you do from that point relatively useless.

Keep circadian rhythms on-track: A circadian rhythm is the nearly-24 hour cycle that regulates organisms’ physiological and psychological processes.  Though this mostly operates on its own, it can be slightly manipulated by light and temperature.  In order to regulate your circadian rhythm, expose yourself to natural light in the mornings and afternoons by keeping windows open.

Eat brain-enhancing foods: Foods that are rich in iron, such as meat, eggs and dark-colored vegetables, may be responsible for improved concentration and a higher IQ.  Whole-grain cereals and breads, which contain the vitamin B1, are thought to improve the speed of your mental processes.  Antioxidants may slow the detrimental effects that free radicals have on the brain, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may fight off depression and improve cognition over time.

Laugh: Laughter and other forms of positive affect may improve your ability to think creatively and look at problems from a new perspective.  It’s recommended that you laugh regularly to release endorphins, reduce stress hormone cortisol and help eliminate epinephrine.  it can even affect the number of intestinal flora in the human body.

Goldman Downsizing?

- - Adam Kidan, Business
Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs

With chaos in the market, lowering oil prices and concerns about Deutsche Bank AG, shares for Goldman Sachs have begun to fall.  In response, the group’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein has signaled that the bank could end up cutting costs in the near future.  While speaking at the Credit Suisse financial services forum in Miami, Blankfein said that Goldman Sachs could possibly do a lot more “on the cost side” if it was necessary to deliver a return.  Saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”, he spoke about the need to take a concerted look at continued cost cuts.

Like its peers on Wall Street, Goldman has been struggling with low interest rates and strict regulations in the aftermath of 2008, which have lowered profits in areas like fixed income trading, which had previously been a wildly profitable venture.  Blankfein has said that the bank has already taken measures to cut headcount, which it has reduced 10 percent in its fixed income businesses since 2012.  During that time, Goldman has increased 11 percent overall in an effort to meet regulatory and compliance needs.

Currently, about 25 percent of Goldman’s employees are in lower-cost places, such as Bengaluru in India and Salt Lake City and Dallas out west.  In addition, Goldman has been looking to develop more open source software to reduce payments to outside vendors.  So far this year, shares of Goldman have declined 17 percent, which has raised a red flag to some.  Nonetheless, Blankfein is optimistic, believing that the global markets will improve, but hasn’t spoken about how that’s going to happen.

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!

Signs You Shouldn’t Take a Job

- - Adam Kidan, Business

Scary job interviewLooking for a job is a lot like modern-day dating: most of it is done online, reaching out to find the right one is always awkward and if you’re not careful you could end up with a bad one.  Being unemployed isn’t fun, but neither is spending eight hours of day at a miserable place you hate.  But don’t let that happen to you!  When you’re at an interview, you should keep your eye out for any “red flags”.  Scope out the office for any telltale signs of a bad boss and burnt-out employees.  In case you’re bad at figuring out the truth, I recently found an infographic that shares ten different red flags that could spell trouble.  Some of the points made are listed below:

High turn rate: Imagine you’re at a company that’s been around for a long time, but everybody who works there seems to be new.  A high turnover rate for employees is always troublesome.

A trash-talking boss: If an interviewer complains about their current staff during the interview, you should watch out.  Already bad-mouthing prospective co-workers to a potential employee is a sign of a domineering boss; if they talk like that about their current employees so freely, who knows what they’ll say about their future employees?

Vague words: Random buzzwords and vague phrases are hardly a good thing.  They suggest a company without any clear idea about how to utilize you, and might imagine you filling several roles simultaneously.  If you like the startup life, this could be what you’re looking for, but it could also be a sign of a dangerously disorganized company.

Overselling: Overselling a job means that it’s usually too good to be true, especially when the job description is vague and they haven’t asked you if you have relevant experience.

Nobody’s touching it: If you keep seeing that the same job is being advertised over and over again, that most likely means something bad.

No clear career path: Nothing is worse than a dead-end job.  You don’t want to be stuck somewhere where there’s no mention of a path for career progression.

Honesty: Ask any prospective co-workers what the best and worst thing about their jobs are.  If the boss isn’t around, they can be really honest.

They want your money: No company that wants money from you to being working there is going to be anywhere good.  A good job only wants your time and service, not any of your money.

Employees react badly to their boss: Take a look at how employees act when their boss is speaking.  If they’re looking at the floor and act like they don’t want to be there, this boss could either be domineering or embarrassing as a leader.

Bad body language: Look at the people you pass in the office and see what their expressions and body language look like.  If it looks like they don’t want to be there, then there’s a good chance you won’t want to be either.

5 Habits That Guarantee Failure

- - Adam Kidan

In the words of Winston Churchill, “success is not final, failure is not fatal — it is the courage to continue that counts”.  If you’ve failed in the past yet didn’t give up, you’re stronger than you think.  Everybody is afraid of failure, and experiencing it is ultimately inevitable.  Yet your response to this failure is what makes all the difference.  Here are a few habits that could guarantee failure, based off an article I found on entrepreneur.com:

Failing to plan: You have a better chance at success if you have a gFailureeneral plan.  This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you’ll ultimately get more out of getting something done than getting it done perfectly.  Think through whatever you want to achieve and make plans on what to do next.  You should have specific, measurable and time-bound plans.  If your plan isn’t measurable, you’ll be prone to procrastinate, so work with timelines to achieve ideal results.

Fear of trying: As Wayne Gretzky once said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.  Start to confront your fears and take the most basic steps towards what you have to do.

Giving up too soon: One of the best secrets of success is learning to conquer your doubts.  Most of us give up on our passions too soon, yet don’t give up.  Take a look at the story of this man: he failed in business at 21 and 24, lost a legislative race at 22, lost a congressional race at 34, a senatorial race at 3 and failed at becoming Vice President at 47.  Yet then at the age of 52 he became President of the United States.  Who is that, you might ask?  Abraham Lincoln.

Disbelief: If you don’t believe in what you do, then you’ll give up, and all the effort you’re putting into it will have been in vain.  Your mind’s unconscious beliefs play a huge role in the amount of effort you ultimately put into your life’s work.  Your progress depends on your decision to try knowing that you’ll overcome your failures and rise above them.

Making excuses: There will always be a reason to why it “can’t be done”.  People are always trying to explain why they couldn’t, shouldn’t or didn’t do something, but making excuses like that just means that you’re not in control.  People make excuses because they’re afraid of the unknown, or afraid of change, rejection and embarrassment.  If you learn how to eliminate all traces of fear from your life, then you can stop making excuses.

Kale Pops?

- - Adam Kidan
Green juice

You’ve heard of kale juice, but what about kale popsicles? Sophie Milrom is trying to change that.

The majority of popsicles flavors are pretty simple: cherry, raspberry, orange.  Maybe the occasional fudge or mango.  Yet how about kale flavor?  Or lemon, cayenne and agave?  Young entrepreneur Sophie Milrom has been looking to popularize these flavors with her new company, EatPops, dedicated to providing more options for healthy, sugar-free snacks.

Starting out her company, Milrom spent some $10,000 making samples.  Every morning before going to work at a bankruptcy law firm, she would put her samples in an insulated freezer-purse and go from grocery store to grocery store, pitching her idea to potential vendors.  Three months after becoming certified to practice law, Milrom started working at EatPops full-time, launching her company six months later.

Two years later, EatPops can be found in 10 states and are available in more than 300 stores.  As an entrepreneur, Milrom has been capitalizing on the clean food revolution; she points out that her popsicles satisfy both the paleo and vegan diets, two of the fastest-growing food trends.  EatPops, with flavors such as banana, peanut butter, vanilla, agave, carrot, mango and pineapple, markets itself as a healthy alternative to ice cream.  Yet it also fits the qualifications of a meal replacement, as well as a variation on the juice cleanse, even if the company has yet to develop a formal cleanse plan.  Yet unlike the highly perishable fresh juices necessary for a proper cleanse, these popsicles have a two year shelf life, and Milrom claims that they’re ultimately cheaper than the traditional cleanse.

While the thought of a kale and spinach popsicle might not appeal to everybody, Milrom says that EatPops have a high appeal to those who are more health-conscious, both millennials and mothers who want to get their kids to eat vegetables.  Milrom has partnered with like-minded health-conscious companies to put on fitness events where her pops are served.  For the new year, her resolution is to collaborate on more events with fitness studios in New York and LA.

Oil Raining on Christmas

- - Adam Kidan

As oil values have plummeted, stocks have fallen sharply.  The Dow fell 300 points today, a 1.7% decline.  The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq have now all fallen about 3% so far this December.  Crude fell more than 3% to a new seven-year low, dipping below $36.  Investors have little interest in big-energy stocks, with Chevron falling 3% and natural gas companies Southwestern Energy and Chesapeake falling more than 7%.  To add flames to the fire, retail sales for November have proven weaker than expected.

Investors have also been worried by the fact that the Third Avenue Focused Credit Fund announced plans to liquidate late yesterday, and won’t be allowing shareholders to withdraw money from the fund.  This is a further oil plummetingsign of turmoil in the bond market, in particular for high-risk corporate bonds.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed index fell into “Fear” mode today.

While the picture looks bleak, some believe that the Federal Reserve could hold the solution.  If the Fed raises rates in mid-December, which is widely expected, it could cause stocks to pop.  Investors could interpret this move as a sign that it is still confident about the economy and job market, even with concerns over commodity prices and the slowed growth in China.

Investors could be pushing the expected start of the “Santa Claus Rally” earlier and earlier each year, much how retailers put out their Christmas merchandise the day after Halloween.  However, the market tends to surge at the very end of December after traders leave for the holidays, and such liquidity could drive stocks higher, much like what happened last year.  Rapidly plummeting oil prices have led to big losses in the stock market during the first half of the month.  Yet in the final two weeks of 2014 and 2013, stocks took off.

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!