NEW YORK (AP) — Last year, Randy Murphy went to DietBet.com and bet $25 that he could drop 4 percent of his weight in four weeks. After shedding about 20 pounds, he won back $50.
Now he’s making an even bigger bet: Murphy invested $1,000 in the company that owns DietBet, New York-based WayBetter Inc.
Making the purchase — which was the first time he’s bought a company’s stock — was easy. Murphy clicked a link in an email from WayBetter that invited DietBet users to invest. After a few clicks, he had ordered up 1,000 shares for $1 each.
“I’m not a wealthy guy, but I felt like the risks were worth it,” says Murphy, a program manager and a volunteer medical first responder in Toronto. “It has the potential to pay off.”
Usually only rich people and venture capitalists invest in startups. But now more regular folks are getting the chance.
That’s because of two major changes to a federal law that have made it easier for small businesses to sell shares and raise cash from the public. Last June, rules known as Regulation A were updated in an effort to get more companies to raise money from the public. And on Monday, brand new crowdfunding rules went into effect allowing even smaller companies to raise up to $1 million a year from average Joes and Janes.
Many are hitting up their customers. Shoppers who go to BeautyKind.us to buy moisturizer or perfume will see a banner on the top of the site: “BeautyKind is going public! Click here to learn how you can be a BeautyKind shareholder!” Fans of Virtuix , a developer of virtual reality gear for video games, will see a link on the top of its website: “Interested in investing in Virtuix?” N1ce, which sells frozen mojitos, daiquiris and other cocktails in easy-to-carry tubes, told its 13,000 Instagram followers that it was crowdfunding: “Take your chance to own a part of N1ce and claim a front row seat to our journey as we go global.”
Investing in startups is risky. Most fail. And many don’t have a proven business model. Some desperately need the money to hire employees, make a product or open a store. Experts say there are a few ways investors can make money from their investment, such as if the company is bought or if it goes public. None of that is guaranteed to happen, and if it does, it could take years, experts say.
“The bottom line is that Main Street investors should not invest beyond what they are comfortable losing,” says Mike Pieciak, who is the deputy commissioner for Vermont’s securities regulator and serves on a committee that advises the Securities and Exchange Commission about small companies.
To protect inexperienced investors, the SEC limits how much they can invest, depending on which rules the companies use to raise money. For example, if your annual income or net worth is below $100,000, you can invest $2,000 or 5 percent of your income or net worth, depending on which is less. In addition, financial details and other information about the companies are available for investors to read on the SEC website.
While the crowdfunding rules are brand new, Regulation A has been around for years. But small companies rarely used Regulation A because the maximum $5 million they could raise in a year didn’t justify the costs of winning regulatory approval, says Gary Emmanuel, a securities attorney at McDermott Will & Emery in New York. In 2011, for example, only one company received approval to sell shares under Regulation A, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The 2012 law known as the Jobs Act increased the amount companies could raise to as much as $50 million in a 12-month period. Since the law took effect last June, more than 80 companies have applied to the SEC to sell shares and more than 30 of them have been approved. And since the new crowdfunding rules went into effect Monday, more than 25 have signed up.
Murphy read about the risks before he invested in WayBetter. His $1,000 investment is small enough that it won’t hurt him much financially, he says. Murphy believes in the company and already knows that DietBet helps people lose weight. He also liked that WayBetter is expanding its betting model to other products, such as StepBet, which motivates people to walk more. WayBetter, which declined to comment for this story, wants to raise as much as $20 million through Regulation A.
“I love the idea of getting in on the ground floor,” says Murphy.
So does Sean Haffner, who invested in Elio Motors, a company developing a three-wheeled car that is expected to cost $6,800 and up.
Haffner had never heard of Elio Motors until two years ago, when he saw an orange prototype of the company’s three-wheeled car on display at a Stamford, Connecticut, mall. Haffner sat in the backseat and quickly became a fan.
“I was kind of skeptical of it, but it was really comfortable,” says Haffner, a manager at pet-sitting and care company 203 Pet Service.
He went home, revved up his computer and immediately signed up for email updates from Elio Motors. A year later he received an email, saying he could buy stock in the company. He did, paying $600 for 50 shares at $12 each. The stock was later listed on the OTC Market and is currently trading above $20.
Elio Motors has never delivered a car and has never made any revenue since it was founded about eight years ago. But the Phoenix company was able to raise nearly $17 million from investors through Regulation A. After delays, its first vehicles which will be ready for customers next year, says Elio Motors CEO Paul Elio.
Haffner hopes his $600 will help build the next American automaker.
“It’s an investment that I feel good making,” he says.
Follow Joseph Pisani at http://twitter.com/josephpisani . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/joseph-pisani .
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — A new virtual-reality system from Google and a way to use Android apps without downloading Android apps are among the highlights at the company’s annual developer showcase in Mountain View, California.
Here’s a look at some of these announcements Wednesday:
It’s a virtual-reality system designed for what Google calls “high quality” VR experiences on Android smartphones. Manufacturers including Samsung, HTC and Huawei will have smartphones capable of handling it this fall, according to Google. The platform, included in its upcoming Android N operating system, is meant to improve upon the Cardboard headset it launched two years ago by making VR experiences that are more comfortable and immersive.
ANDROID INSTANT APPS
Designed to fix the pain from downloading an app you will use only once, Instant Apps run on Google’s servers instead of your phone. Only the parts you need get sent to your phone. If it works as Google envisions, without lags and other annoyances, users won’t have to spend a few minutes downloading and installing that app and having it take up valuable space on the phone.
Following in Amazon’s footsteps, Google is unveiling a smart-home assistant that lets people listen to music and podcasts, as well as manage tasks such as setting alarms and compiling shopping lists, throughout their home. The Internet-connected device lets users control it with their voice.
Allo is a new, “smart” messaging app that lets you text without typing and message without actually having any friends. It features the Google Assistant, which lets you find information and get things done by chatting with Google’s computers. You can search, book reservations or play a game. For example, text “is my flight delayed?” to get information about your flight status.
Allo also features what Google calls “smart reply,” which learns how you text and shows suggestions “in your style.” So you can tap “haha” or “go away” without typing anything. It also gives users an array of emojis and stickers and the option to increase or decrease the size of text to add emphasis.
A video-calling companion called Duo features “Knock Knock.” You see who is knocking at your digital door, in the form of a live video stream of a caller who wants to start a video call with you. You can decide whether to pick up based on their expression and environment.
A versatile, ambient experience that extends across various devices in your life is how Google thinks of the assistant. On Allo, you can chat with it to book restaurant reservations. On Google Home, the assistant will help you find the music you want to listen to or the temperature you want your home to be. It’s the equivalent of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana.
Besides VR support, the Android N update for phones and tablets will get under-the-hood performance boosts for things like graphics. It will also let you run two apps side by side, something you can do with Apple’s iPads but not iPhones.
Google’s smartwatches will get the smart replies featured in Allo. The new software will also let apps exchange data. For instance, an app that tracks meals consumed could sync with an exercise app to see if you’re burning enough calories. You can also customize watch faces with live updates on stocks and other information.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) —
The Latest from Google’s software conference (all times local):
Google is catching up to competitors Facebook, Apple and Amazon in messaging, video calling and home speaker-embedded digital assistants. But it’s taking the lead in virtual reality and may have changed mobile phones forever with a new twist on mobile apps that allows them to play without being installed.
That’s the conclusion of Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research, who was at the Google I/O annual developers conference Wednesday in Mountain View, California.
Dawson said Google’s new Allo app focuses on the search giant’s strengths in search and natural language recognition, but may have come too late behind bigger rivals to gain much use.
In a research note he praised Google’s new Daydream virtual reality platform, but noted it’ll take time to become popular because the high bar for specifications means no devices can support it yet.
He also said the introduction of Android Instant Apps has “the potential to significantly change” the way apps work. Apps updated to the system can be made available to older Android operating systems covering 95 percent of active users today.
It can be a pain to install phone apps you know you’ll use just once or twice.
Google’s answer to that: Android Instant Apps.
The app runs on Google’s servers instead of your phone. Only the parts you need get sent to your phone on an as-needed basis.
If it works as Google envisions, without lags and other annoyances, users won’t have to spend a few minutes downloading and installing that app and having it take up valuable space on the phone.
The app maker needs to enable this feature, though.
Google unveiled the feature at its annual conference for software developers in Mountain View, California.
Google’s stepping further into the virtual world.
It announced a new platform for virtual reality called Daydream, and said manufacturers including Samsung, HTC and Huawei would have smartphones capable of handling it this fall.
The platform, included in its upcoming Android N operating system, is meant to improve upon the experience of Cardboard, which Google launched two years ago, by making virtual-reality experiences that are more comfortable, higher quality and more immersive.
Google said it had created a reference design for a headset that a partner manufacturer would have ready for the fall, and designs for a new controller that has a few buttons, a touchpad, and sensors that track its orientation and where it’s pointing.
In a demonstration for some 7,000 attendees at its Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California, the Internet search giant showed how the controller could be used to flip digital pancakes, throw things, cast a virtual fishing line and fly a digital dragon.
Google is adding a few more features to the next version of its Android operating system in an attempt to outshine Apple’s iPhone.
The company is promising better graphic and battery performance. It’s also adopting a security approach that lets you encrypt specific files rather than the whole phone.
Google released Android N to developers two months ago, but still hasn’t specified when it will be ready for consumers. The company previously revealed that Android N will offer a split-screen feature so users can toggle between apps more easily. It also will enable users to reply directly to notifications, something iPhones already allow.
Apple’s split-screen feature works only with iPad tablets, not iPhones.
Research firm Gartner says nearly 1.3 billion smartphones running on Android are expected to be sold this year compared with a projected 231,000 iPhones.
The updates were touted Wednesday at Google’s annual conference for software developers in Mountain View, California.
A messaging app that incorporates Google’s new voice assistant? Say “hello” to Allo.
The company unveiled the new app at its annual conference for software developers in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday. The app, available this summer on both Android and rival Apple phones, allows chatting partners to look up restaurant options and even book a table right in the app.
It also gives users an array of emojis and stickers and the option to increase or decrease the size of text to add emphasis.
Allo also gives a range of automated responses to questions and even photos, recognizing things like food and dog breeds.
In a smack at Snapchat, Allo also features an “incognito” mode that adds end-to-end encryption and allows a person to set a timer on when their chat messages disappear.
Following in Amazon’s footsteps, Google is unveiling a smart home assistant that lets people listen to music and podcasts, as well as manage tasks such as setting alarms and compiling shopping lists, throughout their home.
Called Google Home, the Internet-connected device lets users control it with their voice to listen to music and control lights and thermostats in the home, for example.
Mario Queiroz, a vice president at Google, says the sleek, flower pot-like device also lets you ask Google about “anything you want.”
Google says that unlike other home assistants, Home will work with other speakers in the house too.
In the future, Google says the device could let users control things outside of their home too.
The company has not yet named a price, but says it will be available later this year. Sounds familiar? Home echoes Amazon’s Echo, a voice-controlled smart speaker.
Google’s bare-bones entry into the still-nascent field of virtual reality came two years ago when it unveiled a cheap headset made out of cardboard.
The company may now be poised to get more serious, given far more sophisticated options available for sale, including the Oculus Rift from rival Facebook.
Analysts are touting virtual reality, a technology that casts its users into artificial, three-dimensional worlds, as one of the industry’s most promising areas for growth.
Google is keeping plans for Wednesday’s software conference under wraps, but the agenda offers several hints: Virtual reality and artificial intelligence, or “machine learning,” will be among the focal points.
The three-day conference is taking place in Mountain View, California.
While virtual reality and artificial intelligence are expected to be big, the core of Google’s annual conference is its software — namely the Android system powering 80 percent of the world’s smartphones.
Google’s three-day conference, called Google I/O, starts Wednesday in Mountain View, California.
Google gives Android away for free to device makers. Google designs it to highlight its search engine, maps and other features, giving the company more opportunities to sell the digital ads that generate most of its revenue.
The bias toward Google’s own services is now the subject of antitrust investigation by European regulators trying to determine whether the company is stifling competition in the increasingly important mobile market.
Besides updates for the phone, Google is likely to unveil new features coming to other gadgets such as Android Wear smartwatches and possibly Android TV streaming devices.
Google’s mobile payment service, Android Pay, is coming to the U.K., marking its first expansion outside the U.S.
On Wednesday, Google joins Apple Pay, which launched in the U.K. nearly a year ago.
With both services, users merely tap a phone next to a store’s payment reader to charge a credit or debit card. But it works only with stores that have newer wireless readers called NFC.
Another challenge has been persuading consumers that it’s easier than pulling out a plastic card for payment.
Apple Pay is also in China, Canada, Australia and Singapore, with Hong Kong and Spain to come. Google says Android Pay will expand to Singapore and Australia this year.
Android Pay’s expansion comes as Google holds its annual conference for software developers in Mountain View, California.
9 p.m. Thursday
Google is expected to dive deeper into virtual reality and artificial intelligence during an annual conference that serves as a launching pad for its latest products and innovations.
The three-day Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California, starts Wednesday.
Google is keeping its plans under wraps, but the conference agenda makes it clear that virtual reality and artificial intelligence, or “machine learning,” will be among the focal points.
That has spurred speculation that Google will release a virtual-reality device to compete with Facebook’s new Oculus Rift headset, as well as Samsung’s Gear VR. Analysts also believe Google may release an artificial-intelligent gadget to compete with Amazon’s Echo, which is a cylinder-like device that includes a virtual assistant named Alexa.
NEW YORK (AP) — Time Warner Cable is going away, and that means you might have a new cable company to hate. But you might find one you like better instead.
Time Warner, the largest cable provider in New York and Los Angeles, among other markets, was just bought by Charter Communications Inc., which has mostly operated in the Midwest. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company also bought Bright House Networks Wednesday. That makes Charter the second-largest home Internet provider and third-largest video provider in the U.S. Over the next year and a half, Charter will phase out the Time Warner Cable and Bright House names in favor of its own brand, Spectrum.
“As consumers, we hate cable companies,” said Jorge Aguilar, executive director of strategy at the branding firm Landor. “If you look at the average satisfaction scores of the industry … they tend to be at the bottom.”
New Spectrum subscribers will probably like some things. Charter will continue trying to boost Internet speeds and won’t have usage-based billing or caps on how much data customers can use. Its prices are generally lower than Time Warner Cable’s, and Charter says it will use its size to negotiate better deals with channel owners.
Aguilar said Time Warner Cable in particular is seen as a static, distant company that doesn’t care about its customers. But Charter has an opportunity to change that now. Comcast renamed its cable business Xfinity in 2010, and Aguilar said consumers like Xfinity as a brand.
“If they marry the name with significant improvements in the customer experience, they could have something very interesting,” he said.
But that might be tough. Over time, cable bills are likely to keep rising. The merger means Spectrum will have even less competition to keep prices down. Many of Time Warner’s cheaper deals, which offer slower Internet speeds, will go away. Costs for cable companies are still rising because they pay high prices for the rights to carry channels on cable lineups, and those increases get passed on to consumers.
Those kinds of annoyances make complaining about cable companies a fact of life for a lot of people. From rising bills to unexplained outages to long hold times on the phone and lengthy and long waits for service, there’s always something to keep customers unhappy with their provider. Time Warner, which tried to merge with also-hated Comcast in 2015, had been acknowledging that lately. Its ads last year nodded toward typical cable company shortcomings, and in recent weeks the company has run an ad campaign that says it’s “Changing for Good.” The ads say its service has improved and 99 percent of its technicians arrive within the one-hour appointment window consumers are given.
Tom Sepanski, Landor’s regional director for North America naming and verbal identity, said Charter could reap big benefits if the name change comes with an improvement in customer service and other areas where Time Warner was perceived as falling short. But Sepanski, a former New York resident who called Time Warner Cable “terrible,” said that without those kinds of changes, a different name won’t matter much.
“A name change is going to be met with a lot of skepticism,” he said. “It’s not enough. They’re going to have to back it up.”
AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/marley-jay
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister on Wednesday invited a hard-line rival to join his government, an official said, taking a bold but risky move that could shore up his shaky parliamentary coalition but deepen his international isolation.
An Israeli official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, had agreed to appoint negotiating teams to hammer out the details of their alliance. Israeli media said that Netanyahu had offered Lieberman the post of defense minister, currently held by Moshe Yaalon.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, could not confirm the reports about the Defense Ministry. A spokesman for Lieberman declined comment.
Lieberman, who has been both an ally and rival of Netanyahu’s, has held a number of Cabinet posts in the past, including stints as foreign minister.
Lieberman, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, is one of the most polarizing figures in Israeli politics. With a tough-talking message that has questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority, criticized the Palestinians and confronted Israel’s foreign critics, he has at times alienated Israel’s allies while becoming an influential voice at home.
With Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in a deep freeze, Lieberman’s addition to the government would push any hopes of reviving talks even further in the distance. Netanyahu is already facing criticism from his closest allies, the U.S. and key European countries, for not doing more to revive talks.
But with peace talks unlikely in any case, Netanyahu, whose coalition has just a one-seat majority in the 120-member parliament, appears to be more interested in expanding the government.
The Israeli official said that if there is a deal, both men would “remain committed to two states for two peoples.” He noted that a right-wing government reached peace with Egypt and described Lieberman as “pragmatic.”
The move came after days of speculation that the opposition Labor party would join the coalition.
Opposition head Isaac Herzog said he will work to topple the “crazy right-wing government.”
While Yariv Levin, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Lieberman will bring the government “stability.”
If Netanyahu brings in Lieberman, it is unclear what will happen to Yaalon, a former military chief of staff who is generally respected for his knowledge of military affairs.
Netanyahu and Yaalon have clashed in recent days over the role of the military in public discourse. A top general infuriated Netanyahu earlier this month when he compared the atmosphere in Israel to Nazi-era Germany, while Yaalon backed the general’s right to express his views.
In March, military leaders criticized a soldier who was caught on video fatally shooting an already-wounded Palestinian attacker in the head — and he is now on trial for manslaughter. While Yaalon has backed the military, hard-liners, including Lieberman, have backed the soldier. Netanyahu, for his part, called the soldier’s family to express sympathy.
Lieberman, 57, rose to prominence as the engineer of Netanyahu’s successful run for prime minister in 1996, and he later became Netanyahu’s chief of staff. He is a powerful behind-the-scenes mover who lives in a West Bank settlement.
In the past, Lieberman has pushed for legislative proposals that critics said were discriminatory against Israel’s Arab minority, including a failed attempt to require that Israelis sign a loyalty oath or have their citizenship revoked. He has expressed skepticism over pursuing peace with the Palestinians, and is now pushing a proposal to impose the death penalty against Arabs convicted of acts of terrorism.
Lieberman’s tough stances have long stoked controversy. As a Cabinet minister last decade, he called for the bombing of Palestinian gas stations, banks and commercial centers. He said former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could “go to hell” and once even threatened to bomb the Aswan dam.
He also led a recent parliamentary drive to exclude Arab parties from running for election — a move that was overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court.
Despite his rhetoric, Lieberman has shown signs of pragmatism. He served as a Cabinet minister in two centrist Israeli governments, though he was fired for opposing the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and resigned to protest peace talks begun at the 2007 conference in Annapolis, Md. His plan for redrawing Israel’s borders would also mean dismantling some Jewish settlements, possibly his own.
WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The man charged with leading police on a 50-mile car chase from Massachusetts to New Hampshire that ended with officers punching him has been ordered held without bail.
Richard Simone Jr. was arraigned Wednesday on charges including larceny, failure to stop and assault.
A judge ordered the 50-year-old Simone held without bail on a parole violation and $50,000 cash bail on the new charges.
Authorities say he was wanted on multiple warrants, refused to stop May 11 for police in Holden, Massachusetts. He’s charged with leading a chase that reached speeds of up to 100 mph.
Helicopter video of his arrest in Nashua, New Hampshire, shows Simone appearing to surrender and officers then punching him. One state trooper from Massachusetts and another from New Hampshire were suspended.
Simone’s attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.