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Gig workers need health & benefits — Catch is their safety net – TechCrunch

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One of the hottest Y Combinator startups just raised a big seed round to clean up the mess created by Uber, Postmates and the gig economy. Catch sells health insurance, retirement savings plans and tax withholding directly to freelancers, contractors, or anyone uncovered. By building and curating simplified benefits services, Catch can offer a safety net for the future of work.

“In order to stay competitive as a society, we need to address inequality and volatility. We think Catch is the first step to offering alternatives to the mandate that benefits can only come from an employer or the government,” writes Catch co-founder and COO Kristen Tyrrell. Her co-founder and CEO Andrew Ambrosino, a former Kleiner Perkins design fellow, stumbled onto the problem as he struggled to juggle all the paperwork and programs companies typically hire an HR manager to handle. “Setting up a benefits plan was a pain. You had to become an expert in the space, and even once you were, executing and getting the stuff you needed was pretty difficult.” Catch does all this annoying but essential work for you.

Now Catch is getting its first press after piloting its product with tens of thousands of users. TechCrunch caught wind of its highly competitive seed round closing, and Catch confirms it has raised $5.1 million at a $20.5 million post-money valuation co-led by Khosla Ventures, Kindred Ventures, and NYCA Partners. This follow-up to its $1 million pre-seed will fuel its expansion into full heath insurance enrollment, life insurance and more. Catch is part of a growing trend that sees the best Y Combinator startup fully funded before Demo Day even arrives.

“Benefits, as a system built and provided by employers, created the mid-century middle class. In the post-war economic boom, companies offering benefits in the form of health insurance and pensions enabled familial stability that led to expansive growth and prosperity,” recalls Tyrrell, who was formerly the director of product at student debt repayment benefits startup FutureFuel.io. “Emboldened by private-sector growth (and apparent self-sufficiency), the 1970s and 80s saw a massive shift in financial risk management from the government to employers. The public safety net contracted in favor of privatized solutions. As technological advances progressed, employers and employees continued to redefine what work looked like. The bureaucratic and inflexible benefits system was unable to keep up. The private safety net crumbled.”

That problem has ballooned in recent years with the advent of the on-demand economy, where millions become Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, DoorDash deliverers and TaskRabbits. Meanwhile, the destigmatization of remote work and digital nomadism has turned more people into permanent freelancers and contractors, or full-time employees without benefits. “A new class of worker emerged: one with volatile, complex income streams and limited access to second-order financial products like automated savings, individual retirement plans, and independent health insurance. We entered the new millennium with rot under the surface of new opportunity from the proliferation of the internet,” Tyrrell declares. “The last 15 years are borrowed time for the unconventional proletariat. It is time to come to terms and design a safety net that is personal, portable, modern and flexible. That’s why we built Catch.”

Catch co-founders Andrew Ambrosino and Kristen Tyrrell

Currently Catch offers the following services, each with their own way of earning the startup revenue:

  • Health Explorer lets users compare plans from insurers and calculate subsidies, while Catch serves as a broker collecting a fee from insurance providers
  • Retirement Savings gives users a Catch robo-advisor compatible with IRA and Roth IRA, while Catch earns the industry standard 1 basis point on saved assets
  • Tax Withholding provides an FDIC-insured Catch account that automatically saves what you’ll need to pay taxes later, while Catch earns interest on the funds
  • Time Off Savings similarly lets you automatically squirrel away money to finance “paid” time off, while Catch earns interest

These and the rest of Catch’s services are curated through its Guide. You answer a few questions about which benefits you have and need, connect your bank account, choose which programs you want and get push notifications whenever Catch needs your decisions or approvals. It’s designed to minimize busy work so if you have a child, you can add them to all your programs with a click instead of slogging through reconfiguring them all one at a time. That simplicity has ignited explosive growth for Catch, with the balances it holds for tax withholding, time off and retirement balances up 300 percent in each of the last three months.

In 2019 it plans to add Catch-branded student loan refinancing, vision and dental enrollment plus payments via existing providers, life insurance through a partner such as Ladder or Ethos and full health insurance enrollment plus subsidies and premium payments via existing insurance companies like Blue Shield and Oscar. And in 2020 it’s hoping to build out its own blended retirement savings solution and income-smoothing tools.

If any of this sounds boring, that’s kind of the point. Instead of sorting through this mind-numbing stuff unassisted, Catch holds your hand. Its benefits Guide is available on the web today and it’s beta testing iOS and Android apps that will launch soon. Catch is focused on direct-to-consumer sales because “We’ve seen too many startups waste time on channels/partnerships before they know people truly want their product and get lost along the way,” Tyrrell writes. Eventually it wants to set up integrations directly into where users get paid.

Catch’s biggest competition is people haphazardly managing benefits with Excel spreadsheets and a mishmash of healthcare.gov and solutions for specific programs. Twenty-one percent of Americans have saved $0 for retirement, which you could see as either a challenge to scaling Catch or a massive greenfield opportunity. Track.tax, one of its direct competitors, charges a subscription price that has driven users to Catch. And automated advisors like Betterment and Wealthfront accounts don’t work so well for gig workers with lots of income volatility.

So do the founders think the gig economy, with its suppression of benefits, helps or hinders our species? “We believe the story is complex, but overall, the existing state of the gig economy is hurting society. Without better systems to provide support for freelance/contract workers, we are making people more precarious and less likely to succeed financially.”

When I ask what keeps the founders up at night, Tyrrell admits “The safety net is not built for individuals. It’s built to be distributed through HR departments and employers. We are very worried that the products we offer aren’t on equal footing with group/company products.” For example, there’s a $6,000/year IRA limit for individuals while the corporate equivalent 401k limit is $19,000, and health insurance is much cheaper for groups than individuals.

To surmount those humps, Catch assembled a huge list of angel investors who’ve built a range of financial services, including NerdWallet founder Jake Gibson, Earnest founders Louis Beryl and Ben Hutchinson, ANDCO (acquired by Fiverr) founder Leif Abraham, Totem founder Neal Khosla, Commuter Club founder Petko Plachkov, Playable (acquired by Stripe) founder Tad Milbourn and Synapse founder Bruno Faviero. It also brought on a wide range of venture funds to open doors for it. Those include Urban Innovation Fund, Kleiner Perkins, Y Combinator, Tempo Ventures, Prehype, Loup Ventures, Indicator Ventures, Ground Up Ventures and Graduate Fund.

Hopefully the fact that there are three lead investors and so many more in the round won’t mean that none feel truly accountable to oversee the company. With 80 million Americans lacking employer-sponsored benefits and 27 million without health insurance and median job tenure down to 2.8 years for people ages 25 to 34 leading to more gaps between jobs, our workforce is vulnerable. Catch can’t operate like a traditional software startup with leniency for screw-ups. If it can move cautiously and fix things, it could earn labor’s trust and become a fundamental piece of the welfare stack.

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Google winds down feature that put playable podcasts directly in search results • TechCrunch

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Google confirmed it’s putting an end to a feature that allowed users to access playable podcasts directly from the Google Search results in favor of offering podcast recommendations. Officially launched in 2019, the feature surfaced podcasts when they matched a user’s query, including in those cases where a user specifically included the word “podcast” in their search terms. But a few weeks ago, some creators began noticing the podcast carousels had disappeared from Google Search results — and now the company is explaining why that’s the case.

The disappearance was first spotted by Podnews.net, which noted in January that searches for podcasts no longer returned any play buttons or links to Google Podcasts itself. When they tested the feature by searching for “history podcasts” they were only provided with a list of shows alongside links to podcast reviews, Apple Podcast pages, and other places to stream.

At the time, Google simply told the site the feature was working “as intended.”

But a new announcement in Google Podcasts Manager indicates the feature is officially being shut down as of February 13.

“Google Search will stop showing podcast carousels by February 13. As a result, clicks and impressions in How people find your show will drop to zero after that date,” the message states. Podcasters are also being instructed to download any historical data they want to keep in advance of this final closure.

Of course, as many podcasters already discovered, their metrics had already declined as the feature was being wound down.

To be fair, playable podcasts in search wasn’t a remarkably well-executed product as it didn’t offer a way to do much more than click to play an episode. On YouTube’s Podcasts vertical, by comparison, podcast creators can create an index to the various parts of an episode, allowing users to jump directly to the section they wanted to hear. Plus, users can watch a video of the podcast, if the creator chooses to film.

YouTube has also proven to be more popular than Google Podcasts and other competitors. In a 2022 market survey of podcast listeners, for example, YouTube came out ahead of Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts as users’ preferred podcast platform. Though many podcast market analysis reports don’t consider YouTube when comparing the popularity of various podcast apps, one recent report by Buzzsprout at least suggests that using web browser as a listening app had a very small market share of just 3.5%. And that share had barely increased over the years, despite Google’s indexing of shows.

Reached for comment, Google explained its decision to wind down playable podcasts in Search will allow it to focus on a new addition instead.

“Our existing podcast features will gradually be replaced with a new, single feature, What to Podcast,” a spokesperson told us. They noted the feature is currently live on mobile for English users in the U.S. “This feature provides detailed information about podcasts, links to listen to shows on different platforms, and links to podcasters’ own websites, where available,” the spokesperson added.

According to the help documentation, these recommendations will be personalized to the user if they’re signed into their Google account and will factor in things like the user’s past searches and browsing history, saved podcasts and other podcast preferences. The personalized results can be turned off, however, if the user wants more generic suggestions, Google says.

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Roku partners with DoorDash to give users 6 months of free DashPass and shoppable ads • TechCrunch

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Today, Roku and DoorDash announced a multi-year partnership in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to give Roku users six months of complimentary DashPass, as well as interactive shoppable ads for DoorDash businesses in the U.S.

Now, new and existing Roku members with linked streaming or smart home devices can get $0 delivery fees on DoorDash orders. DoorDash’s membership program also provides exclusive access to DashPass-only promotions and priority customer support on both DoorDash and the Caviar app, a delivery platform for higher-end restaurants that DoorDash acquired in 2019. After the free six-month trial ends for Roku customers, DashPass costs $9.99 per month.

Plus, for the first time, DoorDash merchants can buy interactive shoppable ads and place click-to-order offers within the ad, the companies claim. This is also the first time that restaurant advertisers can partner with both the streaming company and the food delivery platform to target, measure and attribute TV streaming ads on Roku, the companies added.

Once a user clicks on a TV ad offer, they are sent an SMS message or email directing them to the DoorDash app to redeem the promotion. For instance, if Roku customers see this Wendy’s ad (in the picture below), they get $5 off with any Wendy’s purchase of $15 or more. Wendy’s is the first restaurant brand to partner with DoorDash for this new Roku partnership. The offer ends on March 12.

Image Credits: Roku

“We are thrilled to partner with Roku on this unique partnership. While this offer unlocks DashPass benefits and perks for Roku users everywhere, it also provides our merchant partners with an opportunity to promote DoorDash offers through TV streaming. Consumers can conveniently and affordably get the best of their neighborhood delivered to their door, while brands can reach diners at the right time and drive instant conversion from the comfort of the living room,” Rob Edell, GM and head of Consumer Engagement at DoorDash, said in a statement.

The partnership was a smart move for both companies. According to Roku’s internal research, one in three Roku users orders take-out or food delivery weekly. Also, 36% of Roku users have an interest in shoppable components like scannable QR codes or text messages.

“Streaming and delivery just go together, which is why we’re making it easier than ever for Roku users to order their favorite food right from their TV,” Gidon Katz, president, Consumer Experience at Roku, said in a statement.

Roku and Walmart announced a similar partnership in June 2022, which allowed viewers to purchase Walmart items while streaming on Roku devices. The biggest difference is that Roku users can buy products directly on the screen instead of being redirected to Walmart.com.

Roku recently reached a new milestone, surpassing 70 million active accounts globally.

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TikTok is crushing YouTube in annual study of kids’ and teens’ app usage • TechCrunch

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For another year in a row, TikTok has found itself as the social app kids and teens are spending the most time using throughout the day, even outpacing YouTube. According to an ongoing annual review of kids’ and teens’ app usage and behavior globally, the younger demographic — minors ranging in ages from 4 through 18 —  began to watch more TikTok than YouTube on an average daily basis starting in June 2020 and TikTok’s numbers have continued to grow ever since.

In June 2020, TikTok overtook YouTube for the first time, with kids watching an average of 82 minutes per day on TikTok versus an average of 75 minutes per day on YouTube, according to new data from parental control software maker Qustodio.

This past year, the gulf between the two widened, it said, as kids in 2022 saw their average daily use of TikTok climb to a whopping 107 minutes, or 60% longer than the time they spent watching video content on YouTube (67 minutes).

TikTok not only topped the average daily usage of other video apps, like Netflix (48 mins.) and Disney+ (40 mins.), it also came out ahead of other social apps, including Snapchat (72 mins.), Instagram (45 mins.), Facebook (20 mins.), Pinterest (16 mins.) and Twitter (10 mins.) among the under-18 crowd.

Image Credits: Qustodio

Meanwhile, as the U.S. grapples with TikTok bans across college campuses and in the government, the app’s addictive video content was viewed, on average, 113 minutes per day in this market, compared with 77 minutes per day on YouTube, 52 minutes for Netflix, 90 minutes on Snapchat, and 20 minutes on Pinterest.

There is still some good news for YouTube, though. The study found that the average daily time spent on YouTube was up by 20% year-over-year, to reach 67 minutes — the highest number since Qustodio began reporting on annual trends in 2019. YouTube also gained sizable global market share and mindshare last year, as 63% of kids worldwide were using the service in 2022. The report additionally broke down a few top markets in more detail, noting that 60% of U.S. kids watch YouTube, compared with 67% in the U.K., 73% in Spain, and 58% in Australia. The second most popular video service was Netflix, with 39% popularity among kids worldwide.

Overall, kids under 18 managed to increase their video content viewing by 18% in 2022, watching 45 minutes daily, on average, across long-form video services like YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, Prime Videos, and others.

Other winners for the year included Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which saw 7% and 10% gains in popularity, respectively — meaning if they were used at some point by these under-18 years. But in terms of average daily minutes spent, Prime Video dropped 15% year-over-year to 34 minutes. Disney+ declined by the same percentage, dropping from a 47-minute average daily to 40 minutes in 2022. Twitch also suffered last year with only 11% of under-18-year-olds tuning in compared with 16% in 2021.

Image Credits: Qustodio

TikTok’s growth among the younger demographic has forced big tech giants to combat the threat with short-form video of their own. YouTube Shorts is YouTube’s solution to the problem. Google this month reported Shorts crossed 50 billion daily views. Instagram, of course, has been cramming Reels into its experience — and receiving some backlash over the changes. Instagram head Adam Mosseri even admitted earlier this year, the platform has been pushing “too many videos” on users.

It’s not clear this shoehorning of Reels into Instagram has paid off with the younger crowd. In Qustodio’s analysis, the app fell out of the top 5 most popular social media apps in the U.S., U.K., and Australia with users under 18. It still ranked No. 5 globally, however, behind TikTok, Facebook (38% of kids used it globally!), Snapchat, and Pinterest.

Though the software firm chose to analyze Roblox among other video games, it’s worth also noting the game is a social network of sorts — and an extremely popular destination among kids worldwide. The gaming platform was popular with 59% of kids globally, and average daily time spent grew 4% year-over-year to 180 minutes. That’s larger than any other games, including the No. 2 game Minecraft (up 37% to 48 mins.), Clash Royale, Brawl Stars, Clash of Clans and What Would You Choose?

Qustodio’s full report digs into other app trends as well, including Twitter’s 7% growth in popularity worldwide, which also led to it appearing in the list of most-blocked apps by parents in 2022 for the first time. It also delved into educational app usage where Google Classroom ruled on school devices, and Duolingo remained a top app on personal devices. And it looked at communication, where WhatsApp and Discord edged out Messages as the most popular way to chat with friends, though Zoom saw more minutes spent daily.

While the report’s data is limited to the app usage Quostido tracks on its own platform, it’s a sizable group that includes over 400,000 global families with children in the Gen Z and/or Gen Alpha demographic. It additionally sureveyed 1,617 parents directly to ask them about how they manage their children’s access to technology.

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