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Consumerism took a big blow at the hands of Senate

(BUSINESS NEWS) Big business is not evil, but when the government actively pursues legislation (blocking mandatory arbitration clauses) that hurts the “little guy,” we must speak up.

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As a rule, American Genius isn’t about political debate. We have writers from all across the political and professional spectrum, bringing unique expertise to topics that matter in entrepreneurship, tech and business culture. That’s our offer. We’re proud of it.

But there’s a line.

Not every issue has two equal and opposite sides. On rare occasions, some things are flat out right or wrong. When that’s the case, it’s the responsibility of journalists to say so. We do. Net neutrality, for instance, is flat out right.

Vice President Pence’s tiebreaker vote to reverse the ban on mandatory arbitration clauses was flat out wrong.

Here’s why.

Mandatory arbitration clauses aren’t universal, but they’re a common tool. Banks do it. Credit cards do it. Service providers in just about every field dealing with capital-F Finance work mandatory arbitration clauses into their agreements.

They’re also a screwjob. Invariably tucked away nice and subtle roundabout paragraph 93 of the Joycean screed titled “Terms and Conditions” on any agreement involving meaningful money, mandatory arbitration clauses do exactly what they say they do: require the signatory to submit to a particular course of arbitration in the case of a dispute.

Tl;dr – sign a form or click a box with a mandatory arbitration clause in it, and no matter how badly the owner of the box subsequently shafts you, you’re not allowed to sue. Instead, you go through an arbitration process chosen by the people who shafted you.

To state the obvious, that’s a strategy designed to benefit one party to an agreement at the expense of the other. In the abstract, that would be repugnant but nothing new. Business plays rough. Film at 11.

But this isn’t debate class. It’s 2017. It’s Equifax screwing the security of 145 million Americans despite being warned 6 months in advance. It’s Wells Fargo opening fraudulent accounts in customers’ names. Facebook. Yahoo. The list goes on.

The plain fact is that the modern business climate is defined, at least in part, by businesses either failing to keep up with the dangers of advancing tech, or fecklessly using same to mess with their customers. To some degree, that’s just the price of progress.

But if screwing up is the price of progress, it’s the screwup’s responsibility to pay it. Vice President Pence’s vote means the next Equifax or Wells Fargo have an excellent way to duck that responsibility and pass along the cost of failure to their consumers.

This isn’t political. It certainly isn’t partisan. Even the vote broke party lines: Vice President Pence’s tiebreaker vote was only necessary because Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Florida, both Republicans from deep red states, broke ranks and voted their conscience.

It’s not anti-business, either. Mandatory arbitration clauses are textbook market obstacles. Obstructing consequences for businesses that screw up makes it harder to penalize poor practice, and so fails to incentivize doing things right. That’s the opposite of how the free market needs to work.

The legalization of mandatory arbitration clauses is exactly what it sounds like: a win for badly-run businesses at the expense of consumers.

That’s unacceptable. It’s our responsibility to say so.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Business News

How eBay can survive the Amazon era

(BUSINESS NEWS) eBay has long been an ecommerce powerhouse, but Amazon is now most folks’ first stop – how can eBay survive?

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While some of us are still lamenting the eBay-PayPal Break Up from three years ago, focus has shifted to the stock battle between the two brands of late, while most are wondering – how long does eBay even have as Amazon sucks all of the oxygen out of the room?

The ecommerce giant faces some heavy competition from Amazon and other online retailers and needs to reinvent its image if it’s going to thrive. Barely a year ago, nearly 15 percent more sellers were listing products on both ecommerce sites, but the trend towards Amazon has accelerated rapidly. The competition is even more messy given that eBay is very likely about to sue Amazon for poaching sellers.

How eBay moves forward will have a lot to do with how it rebrands itself. They have a huge marketplace, and unlike Amazon, they don’t continually put sellers in a position of peril. eBay represents an opportunity for big brands to sell not only on their own websites, but through a trusted, well-established seller who has been around for a long time (as summarized by ChannelAdvisor).

The brand has a number of woes to overcome to work with retailers, especially as Amazon boasts an impressive search engine optimization and is many people’s first stop shop. And Amazon’s reputation is, well forgive the joke, in Prime health – whereas some sellers still pass up Amazon to sell the slightly-attractive-but-isn’t-our-aesthetic dishes received as an inheritance or gift (despite the fact nearly 81 percent of items sold on eBay are brand new).

And the start of fixing that image is better marketing, and emphasizing what their strengths are, most notably:

  • eBay has a stronger global presence, and is in over 25 countries.
  • The relationship with sellers is much more positive – eBay is essentially a platform and a partner, an online storefront.
  • It’s much cheaper for sellers to sell than on Amazon (although it offers much less in terms of services).
  • You have more control over your brand than with Amazon, as again, it’s not competing with you.
  • The conversation around eBay is ongoing, and how the company appeals to large retailers and develops this brand is something sellers will be monitoring, because colorful tv ad campaigns won’t be enough to keep them afloat.

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Price-predictable subscription to legal help for startups

(BUSINESS) Startups in growth mode need extra help, and legal services is not where successful companies cut corners. Check out this subscription option for your growing company.

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If you’re running your own business or are planning to start one, legal help is probably low on your list.

Most of us have access to free resources from your local Chamber of Commerce or state website, or may have a “friend” who can help you with the forms and other things.

For a lot of things, a DIY attitude won’t cost you much. You could float your own drywall for example. But when it comes to the law, you must trust an expert. Trying to cut corners on legal expenses can cost you a lot in terms of liability or lead to a few headaches, disputes, and litigations. And even if it didn’t cost money, it will cost you time.

Fortunately, you may not have to pay a lawyer directly, as there are several online solutions, including LegalZoom or LegalShield that can help you with forms, provide advice or help you get your business started. Legal advice could cost you hundreds per hour, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Although online legal services are available, one thing that may be challenging for startups is that it can be difficult to budget for: cost transparency isn’t always available and it may be contingent on demand, time and resources.

Atrium is legal firm specifically designed for startups. This firm was founded by Twitch founder Justin Kan, and Silicon Valley lawyer, Augie Rakow in response to what his needs were as a startup: fast, reliable, and transparent services.

To date, Atrium boasts 890 completed startup deals; $5B raised by companies, and 10 companies started by it’s members. Atrium breaks down its services into four areas:

Atrium Counsel – which provides standard day to day legal processes, including board meetings, NDS, contract/personnel review, etc. – this is available as a subscription service or if you have unique needs, there are special projects available.
Atrium Financing – to help work with venture capital transactions and help explain the deal and it’s process, including upfront price estimates for advice with pitches.
Atrium Contracts – to help with contract review and form generations.
Atrium Blockchain – to help provide legal advice on the many regulatory issues involving blockchain issues.

Atrium’s major competitive advantage is the end of the billable hour paradigm and the focus on subscription models. This is great for a startup in growth mode because you can get a lot of value for a fixed price.

That said, Vitality CEO, Jamie Davidson said, “Just had a call with these folks. You pay a minimum of $1K a month (based on your company size) to be able to ask them questions. You then pay above-market prices for actual legal needs, like privacy policy/TOS generation ($5K), GDPR ($10+K), etc. Our current lawyer does not charge me to ask him questions, but he does charge for actual legal work.”

Others have noted Atrium’s technological advantage and expertise, so mileage could vary.

If you find that community resources aren’t available or not meeting your needs, Atrium could be the service that helps take you to the next level. If you’re considering shopping for legal services, check out Atrium’s site, get to know their team, and see if it’s the right fit for you. The bottom line is that there are a lot of places to cut corners for your growing business, but legal services are not one of them.

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Business News

Courts to decide if ‘overqualified’ is being used as a code word for ‘too old’ to hire?

(BUSINESS) Many have long held that job seekers are told they are “overqualified” when some employers mean they’re just too old and they’ll carry higher cost and leave quickly. The court system is considering this contentious topic as we speak.

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According to AARP, “age discrimination in the workplace is alive and well.” But a case before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago questions whether older job applicants can sue for certain biased recruiting practices.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the case “raises a critical question about whether job applicants can pursue” a lawsuit raising the argument whether the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects external job applicants.

Therefore, the question is, does 'overqualified' truly mean an applicant doesn't have the right qualifications, or is it a code word for someone being too old to hire?Click To Tweet

The case is Kleber v. CareFusion Corp digs into this challenge. Dale Kleber applied for a position with CareFusion. The job description asked for “3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years) of relevant legal experience.” Kleber had decades of experience, after all he was 58. The company never even interviewed him.

They ultimately hired a 29-year-old to fill the position. CareFusion insists that Kleber’s age had nothing to do with him not being considered for the role. Kleber argues that “overqualified” is a code word for “too old.”

The case has been working its way through the courts. The first judge dismissed the claim, ruling that the statue doesn’t cover external applicants, but that decision was reversed on appeal by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit which stated it “could not imagine” that Congress intended to only protect internal applicants from age discrimination.

CareFusion was given a rehearing in front of the full court in September. Depending on their ruling, the case could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

What does this mean for you?

This case is just one of many that attorneys are filing with various courts. There is a case in Arizona in which two firefighters, the oldest in the district, were let go due to their age. Age discrimination could affect anyone, because everyone eventually becomes eligible. The courts are conflicted over the types of protection offered by the ADEA, but it’s also difficult to prove when age discrimination has occurred.

For small business owners, it’s imperative that you look at your hiring practices. Think about your recruiting practices. Do you simply look for talent at your local college? You miss valuable talent if you’re not looking at older applicants, and people are working well into their 70s these days, no longer retiring early. Think about the connections and experience an older team member could bring to the job.

If you (or your company) refuse to care about any of those things, fine. But consider this – based on the results of this and other lawsuits, you could be opening your business to being sued if you overlook age in the recruiting and hiring process.

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