If you’re a small business owner, freelancer, solopreneur, or entrepreneur who has built a company that isn’t publicly traded, there is a chance you applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) relief, a $349 billion program designed to benefit businesses that can’t obtain credit elsewhere or who are underbanked.
And you’re meekly asking around to see if you’re the only one who got the dreaded “we ran out of money” email from your local bank after you jumped through several hoops to apply into a black hole with no responses or returned phone calls.
The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act unanimously passed in the Senate on March 25, and signed by President Trump on March 27. The Act includes the PPP which gave Americans hope in the form of 2-year loans of up to $10 million for companies with under 500 employees, forgivable if applied to payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and/or utilities.
Meanwhile, over 40,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. It’s hard to be outraged under these conditions, but people are angry. Sure, some are violating stay-at-home orders to protest, but I don’t believe it’s simply because the economy is frozen, but because we were all given a false sense of hope. The PPP was thrown into choppy waters as a life preserver, but it was never intended for actual small businesses. The growing anger is from entrepreneurs and freelancers embarrassed to ask others if they’re the only ones to get rejected.
The truth is that most were rejected. And now carry that pit of fear in their stomachs, which is blossoming into anger. Sure, President Trump said that companies will have to “return” funds if they were “inappropriate,” given how many major institutions got funds, but that doesn’t help anyone today.
Politicians are nearing a deal on the second round of PPP, but small businesses are confiding in each other that they don’t believe they’ll receive help this time, either. With roughly 700K pending applications, and an estimated $310 billion which could become available in the second round of PPP, that rounds out to $442K per applicant, but will the cap remain in the millions, edging out smaller companies? Again?
There is a growing sense of dread and jadedness in this community that is becoming contagious as we compare notes (all of which look suspiciously similar).
If your local politician doesn’t understand how the entrepreneur community views them right now, show them this quick (but poor quality) clip from The Campaign:
You may think the growing outrage is because there are so many open mouths right now expecting the government to swoop in and feed them, but that’s not it. The rage is because once again, the little guy got screwed.
Under the PPP, Harvard University received $9 million, and responded to the public outrage by promising to apply funds to financial assistance to students. That’s neat, but what does that have to do with paycheck protection!? It’s literally in the name of the damn program. They have the largest endowment in the nation, sitting at a sweet $49.5 billion, so you can see how a copywriter in Dallas whose landlord is waiting to be able to file eviction is frustrated.
Under the PPP, according to recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, 71 publicly traded companies received emergency funding. SEVENTY. ONE. You can see how a 10-person graphic design firm in Nashville is frustrated.
Under the PPP, Ruth Chris Steak House (who has a $250 million valuation and 150 locations) received $20 million. They said in a statement that they applied so they can be “well positioned to emerge from this situation a strong and viable entity.” Are you effing kidding!? Please tell that to the day care operator in Kansas City who already laid everyone off and was told by politicians that the PPP was their lifeline. Strong and viable? Small businesses just want to stay open.
Under the PPP, Potbelly sandwich shops received $10 million despite having over 400 locations and an $89 million valuation. SEC filings also indicate that Kura Sushi USA received $6 million, Fiesta Restaurant Group (operating Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical) snagged $10 million, and J. Alexander’s Holdings received $15 million for their 47 restaurants in 16 states.
Notice a trend here?
Shake Shack made a public splash by giving back the $10 million they received under the PPP, noting they had access to other funding, given that they have a $16 billion valuation, 7,600+ employees, 200 of whom were already laid off, and roughly 800 furloughed. The company explained that they applied because the CARES Act allowed any restaurant with under 500 employees per location to qualify.
Did you catch that? ALL RESTAURANTS WITH UNDER 500 EMPLOYEES PER LOCATION QUALIFIED. How many single restaurant locations do you know of that employs over 500 people?
Shake Shack accidentally explained why the first round of PPP failed. It was never designed for small businesses, and especially not for freelancers or gig workers as politicians had so optimistically promised.
Meanwhile, you have JPMorgan Chase bragging that they gave out more PPP funding than any other bank. Credit unions and small banks aren’t processing the same volume, and it is unclear as to whether the SBA is favoring large banks, large accounts at large banks, or if the little guys just took too long to figure out how to get help for their customers. But what is clear is that banks have gotten paid, as $6 billion was given to banks processing PPP funding. Did the SBA favor large companies, or did banks?
Either way, banks got paid billions. Smaller account holders did not.
Also frustrating, the Small Business Administration (SBA) refusing to be transparent about who the PPP recipients are, whereas SBA loans are typically public information (company names, executives, addresses, etc.) and they say only nominal amounts have funneled down to hospitality, in clear conflict with reality. Further, few have received aide under the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (and grew frustrated at conflicting information ranging from large amounts available, to $10K grants, to maybe only $1K per employee).
It remains unclear who is screwing the little guy here – politicians, the SBA, banks, or all three simultaneously.
Small business owners Duncan and Rita MacDonald-Korth started a petition calling on the second round of PPP funding to be limited to companies with under 250 employees, and that half of all funding be reserved for those with under 50 employees. They call the first PPP round “flawed from top to bottom,” having done “very little to help genuine small businesses and instead has benefited large companies who have used subsidiary entities to benefit disproportionately and unfairly.”
Companies are banding together to sue Wells Fargo, Chase, and U.S. Bank claiming the banks “front-loaded applications for larger loans and focused on loans for $150,000 and under at the tail end of the program before it lapsed.”
Sure, you have companies like software company 75F in Minnnesota who have gained attention for publicly rejecting the help they applied for, but given the $18 million they raised in venture capital funding last year, solopreneurs are quietly reading that headline from home, wondering if they’ll ever be in line for help if companies like that qualified for PPP.
On Twitter, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the committee overseeing small businesses, has softened over time, now saying that the PPP wasn’t designed to reach multiple subsidiaries of a national brand, and that “should be corrected.”
Should be corrected? You’re damn right.
There is growing fear which breeds anger, and actual small businesses are getting screwed, thinking they’re alone in their failure.
With the PPP’s lack of transparency and misallocation of funds to massive businesses, it is no wonder people are enraged. People are realizing they’re not the only one feeling betrayed by this false sense of hope, and we’re seeing entrepreneurs begin to compare notes. Trouble is brewing.
Coca Cola drops 200 brands, most you’ve never heard of
(BUSINESS NEWS) Coca Cola hopes to revitalize their drink arsenal by rolling back some “underperforming” brands (that you might not have known they were still making.)
2020 has forced a lot of businesses to return to their proverbial drawing boards, and the Coca Cola Company is no exception. Last week, Coca Cola announced in a corporate blog post that they are halting the production of 200 of their beverage brands.
In the words of Cath Coetzer, the head of global marketing for Coca Cola, the restructuring will “accelerate [Coke’s] transformation into a total beverage company”.
“We’re prioritizing bets that have scale potential across beverage categories, consumer need states and drinking occasions,” Coetzer added. “Because scale is the algorithm that truly drives growth.”
That’s… a surprising amount of technical beverage jargon, Cath.
Coca Cola is already the leading manufacturer of non-alcoholic drinks on the planet. It’s hard to imagine their scope becoming any more “total.” But this strategy shift comes as the consumer thirst for soda is drying up.
Soda consumption has steadily fallen over the last ten consecutive years, thanks to a swath of modern studies that link excess sugar intake with negative health outcomes like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
In light of this research, regional sales taxes on drinks with added sugar have been debated across the country, despite aggressive corporate lobbying against it. All this has meant that beverage companies have had no choice but to pivot hard.
Take Odwalla, a Coca Cola brand that touted its vitamin content and servings of produce, which was discontinued earlier this year. Despite being marketed as a health brand, Odwalla flavors contained whopping amounts of added sugar: Their popular “superfood” flavor quietly boasted 47 grams per bottle.
The brands affected by Coke’s recent soda cull also include TAB diet soda, ZICO coconut water, and Coca Cola Life, plus internationally marketed drink brands like Vegibeta of Japan and Kuat of Brazil.
Condensing their portfolio allows Coca Cola to prioritize their most profitable products and invest in more new beverage trendsetters that better fit the times, like sparkling water, coffee, or even cannabis-infused products.
Uber and Lyft face the music as employee ruling is upheld
(BUSINESS NEWS) The battle for Uber and Lyft drivers’ status continues, and despite company protests, the official ruling has been upheld.
A gig economy has its pros and cons. For anyone who has ever been an independent contractor, done freelance work, or worked for companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, the pros are clear – you get to work when you want, where you want and how much you want. Flexibility and gigs go hand in hand.
And the cons? Well, those are a little more complex. Without a W2 linking you directly to the company, you as an independent contractor don’t receive the same rights and perks that your 9-5 employee friends might. For example, your employer is not required to provide a healthcare option for you. You are also not entitled to earned time off or minimum wage.
So which is better?
The gig economy conundrum has made its way all the way to an appellate court in California last week. The ruling was that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees.
Back in May, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and city attorneys from L.A., San Diego and San Francisco brought forth a lawsuit that argues Uber and Lyft gain an unfair, unlawful competitive advantage by not classifying their workers as W2s.
Uber and Lyft responded to the suit, stating that if they were to reclassify their drivers as employees, their companies would be irreparably harmed – though the judge in last week’s ruling negated that claim, stating that neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and also that the financial burden of converting workers to employees “do[es] not rise to the level of irreparable harm.” Essentially, the judge called their BS.
Additionally, according to the judge, there is nothing that would prevent Uber and Lyft from offering flexibility and independence to their drivers – and they have had plenty of time to transition their drivers from independent contractors to employees (the gig worker bill that spurred this lawsuit was decided in 2018). Seems fair to me!
However, there is an oppositional proposition on the ballot that muddies the waters. Proposition 22, if passed, is a measure that would keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors, meaning that those workers from Uber and Lyft would be exempt from the new state law that classifies them as W-2 employees. And you might be surprised to know how many of the app-based rideshare workers are in favor of Prop 22!
In a class-action lawsuit, Uber has been accused of encouraging drivers and delivery workers to support Prop 22 via the company’s driver-scheduling app. It appears, unfortunately, that Uber is manipulating its workforce by wrongly hanging their jobs over their heads.
On this matter, Gig Workers Rising stated: “If Uber and Lyft are successful in passing Prop. 22 and undo the will of the people, they will inspire countless other corporations to adapt their business models and misclassify workers in order to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of their workforce.”
Ultimately, the fate of California Uber and Lyft driver’s in still in question. It’s unclear if the question we should be asking is, will Lyft drivers have proper healthcare through their jobs or will they have jobs at all. All of this is occurring at a time where millions are jobless and 158,000 individuals sought unemployment support this week due to COVID-19 layoffs.
Personally, I have little sympathy for tech-giants that rake in billions off the backs of the exploited working-class. If the CEO of Uber is an ostentatious billionaire, then his employees should have health insurance. Clear and simple.
The scariest part of the gig economy is that workers have become increasingly happy to work for a company that gives them little to no benefits. More companies are dissolving or combining positions so that they can further bypass their responsibilities to their employees. Let us not be fooled: The dispute over whether or not to make Uber and Lyft workers W2 employees does not affect the health of the companies themselves. What it will affect is how fat the bonuses will be the big guys at the top, and that’s exactly why the companies are so adverse to the ruling. They’d rather their workers suffer than lose a single dime.
Bay Area co-living startup strands hundreds of renters at dire time
(BUSINESS NEWS) They’re blaming COVID for failing as a co-living space, but it looks like trouble was well established even before now.
Over the last few years, “co-living” startups have become increasingly common in tech-rich cities like San Francisco. These companies lease large houses, then rent individual bedrooms for as much as $2,000 per month in hopes of attracting the young professionals who make up the tech industry. Many offer food, cleaning services, group activities, and hotel-quality accommodations to do so.
But the true value in co-living companies lies in their role as a third party: Smoothing over relations, providing hassle free income to homeowners and improved accountability to tenants… in theory, anyway. The reality has proved the opposite can just as easily be true.
In a September company email, Bay Area co-living startup HubHaus released a statement that claimed they were “unable to pay October rent” on their leased properties. Hubhaus also claimed to have “no funds available to pay any amounts that may be owed landlords, tenants, trade creditors, or contractors.”
This left hundreds of SF Bay Area renters scrambling to arrange shelter with little notice, with the start of a second major COVID-19 outbreak on the horizon.
HubHaus exhibited plenty of red flags leading up to this revelation. Employees complained of insufficient or late payment. The company stopped paying utilities during the spring, and they quietly discontinued cleaning services while tenants continued to pay for them.
Businesses like HubHaus charge prices that could rent a private home in most of the rest of the country, in exchange for a room in a house of 10 or more people. PodShare is a similar example: Another Bay Area-based co-living startup, whose offerings include “$1,200 bunk beds” in a shared, hostel-like environment.
As a former Bay Area resident, it’s hard not to be angry about these stories. But they have been the unfortunate reality since long before the pandemic. Many urbanites across the country cannot afford to opt out of a shared living situation, and these business models only exacerbate the race to the bottom of city living standards.
HubHaus capitalized on this situation and took advantage of their tenants, who were simply looking for an affordable place to live in a market where that’s increasingly hard to find.
They’ve tried to place the blame for their failure on COVID-19 — but all signs seem to indicate that they had it coming.
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