The King of Carpet TikTok

Today’s Highlights: The SBA is boosting EIDL loans to as much as $500,000. Employee benefit preferences are evolving. And in Europe, businesses are getting paid to borrow money.

SOCIAL MEDIA

The founder of Carpet Repair Guys, Josh Nolan, has 500,000 followers on TikTok: “The videos are remarkably soothing: the dulcet tones of a man narrating his day-to-day as a carpet repairman, all the while repairing a piece of rug besmirched by stains or torn up by a kitty bored with its scratching post. At first glance, this probably sounds a bit drab, watching some guy chronicle his work servicing homes and businesses across the Bay Area. Carpet Repair Guys, a Santa Clara-based carpet repair shop, has more than 540,000 followers on TikTok — and 13 million likes across all his videos. Many of owner Josh Nolan's videos are tagged #oddlysatisfying, the honorific given to videos of slime being plopped on a table or random folks scooping ice cream or paint from buckets.”

  • “He’ll visit homes across the bay, hopping from Mountain View to San Francisco to Milpitas, and sharing how he did the repairs, which often feature grabbing spare carpet from a closet for the perfect match.”

  • “Among his weirdest fixes: repairing charred carpet from an exploding iPhone, getting out bleach stains from multiple hallways and coming to the rescue after a child's DIY TikTok carpet cleaner ended up worse than the stain itself.”

  • “His most popular video doesn’t even have any jokes. In it, he speaks about the virtues of word-of-mouth referrals for his business; boosted by TikTok’s cryptic algorithm, it has 16 million views.” READ MORE

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

The SBA will more than triple EIDL loan amounts: “Beginning April 6, small businesses and nonprofits can apply for up to 24 months of relief, with a maximum loan amount of $500,000, the Small Business Administration announced Wednesday. The previous limit for such businesses was six months, with a maximum loan amount of $150,000.”

  • “The EIDL program offers businesses 30-year fixed-rate loans that provide capital for normal operating expenses, including health-care benefits, rent, utilities and fixed debt payments, for a certain period.”

  • “These loans are not forgivable, unlike EIDL Advance loans or money lent through the Paycheck Protection Program.”

  • “Some loans approved prior to the week of April 6 will be eligible for an increase based on the new maximum amounts announced Wednesday.” READ MORE

MANAGEMENT

Boston’s “travel tech” companies have made the most of the pandemic: “Tripadvisor rolled out a $99-a-year subscription plan, its own version of Amazon Prime. Lola.com shifted from tracking trips for businesses to expense management. And Hopper leaped like a rabbit from its core airfare app to transform itself into a financial tech firm, with travel as its focus. For Boston’s ‘travel tech’ sector, the COVID-19 pandemic was a humbling experience. The abrupt grounding of most airline trips a year ago posed an existential threat. These three firms — Tripadvisor, Lola, and Hopper — were among many travel companies that resorted to brutal layoffs last spring amid sudden downdrafts in revenue. But they also got creative with pandemic pivots that may propel them to new levels of growth, as people start packing their bags for the airport again.”

  • “The pandemic also prompted soul searching at Lola.com, which previously focused on helping companies manage employees’ travel expenses.”

  • “In October, Lola executives Paul English and Mike Volpe unveiled a new initiative, Lola Spend, which enables chief financial officers and HR departments to monitor nearly every form of corporate expense, not just travel.”

  • “A pre-COVID idea for a future business line suddenly became the focus of half of Lola’s engineering team. English and Volpe say Lola offers an easy-to-use, app-based alternative to cumbersome expense reports.” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

After the stress of the pandemic, employee benefit preferences have shifted: “They're not as sexy as onsite gyms and free lunches, and the term is a bit of a misnomer. It typically refers to insurance products (separate from health coverage) that workers can buy at lower group rates via payroll deduc­tions. But it can also apply to benefits that are funded all or in part by employers. Voluntary benefits cover familiar things, like long-term disability care, and novel ones, like legal services, identity theft protection, financial counseling, and veterinary bills.”

  • “Employees appreciate getting insurance cheaper and more conveniently than they could on their own, and these benefits can provide peace of mind by filling coverage gaps and reducing out-of-pocket costs.”

  • “One increasingly popular benefit is hospital indemnity insurance, which pays the employee a certain amount for each day of a hospital stay.”

  • “‘Don't add bene­fits just to say you're adding benefits,’ says Nyala Khan, head of talent at Eden Health, a New York City-based health care startup whose employee-paid plans include pet insurance and several kinds of supplemental health coverage.” READ MORE

Businesses can now cover health costs for laid off employees: “If your small business has more than 20 employees and you’ve had to lay off workers recently, those workers can still receive health-care coverage and you can get reimbursed for providing it. That’s the takeaway from a new provision of the American Rescue Plan Act — the stimulus bill signed by the president and enacted March 11 — and it’s a potentially huge benefit for workers who lost their jobs from the pandemic and their former employers. For those workers, it provides free health coverage through Sept. 30. For employers it provides a way to fund these benefits and keeps the door open for laid-off employees to return to work (one hopes) as the economy improves.”

  • “Employers would pay for the premiums starting April 1 through Sept. 30 and then get reimbursed by the government through a credit against their employer Medicare taxes paid each quarter on their federal payroll tax returns.”

  • “Although there may be an opportunity to take these tax credits in advance (the rules are still being worked out), the premiums still have to be paid upfront before any tax refund is received, and this could cause cash flow challenges, particularly for a small business.”

  • “This coverage is open to former employees who previously failed to elect COBRA, discontinued their coverage, or have yet to elect it, but unfortunately for some individuals, the new legislation doesn’t allow for the extension of this coverage if it has already expired.” READ MORE

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TECHNOLOGY

Yum Brands is buying an Israeli-based startup that helps customers order food to go via text: “Yum is set to use software made by Tictuk Technologies, a private tech firm founded in 2016, for fast-food ordering through text as well as social-media apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, the companies said. The technology turns around a customer’s order in as fast as 60 seconds, said Clay Johnson, Yum’s chief digital and technology officer. Sales at Yum, which is based in Louisville, Ky., have risen since testing Tictuk’s technology in roughly 900 KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants in 35 countries, the company said.”

  • “As America’s restaurant industry begins to reopen, fast-food companies are searching for ways to keep customers they gained while sit-down restaurants were shut.”

  • “Many chains are investing in online-order pickup systems to try to make them an appealing option as consumers eat out more.”

  • “Tictuk doesn’t currently offer voice ordering, but it is something Yum intends to explore with its new division, the fast-food company said.” READ MORE

FINANCE

In Europe, where interest rates are negative, people and businesses are paid to borrow: “Paula Cristina Santos has a dream mortgage: The bank pays her. Her interest rate fluctuates, but right now it is around minus 0.25 percent. So every month, Ms. Santos’s lender, Banco BPI SA, deposits in her account interest on the 320,000-euro mortgage, equivalent to roughly $380,000, she took out in 2008. In March, she received around $45. She is still paying principal on the loan. Ms. Santos’s upside-down relationship with her lender started years ago when the European Central Bank cut interest rates to below zero to reignite the continent’s frail economy in the midst of a sovereign-debt crisis. The negative rates helped everyone get cheap financing, from governments to small companies.”

  • “Nykredit, Denmark’s biggest mortgage lender, said more than 50 percent of its loans with an interest period of up to 10 years have a negative interest rate before the fee.”

  • “A flip side to borrowers receiving interest from their lenders is that banks in Denmark and elsewhere have started charging customers for their deposits, saying they can no longer absorb the negative rates their central bank charges them. ” READ MORE

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FOMO

Fidelity unveiled plans to launch an exchange-traded fund that tracks the price of bitcoin: “The ETF, called Wise Origin Bitcoin Trust, will aim to match an index that takes spot prices from various bitcoin markets, including popular exchanges, Fidelity said in a securities filing. Fidelity Digital Assets will serve as the fund’s custodian, storing Wise Origin’s holdings. The ETF, which requires the Securities and Exchange Commission’s approval, would mark a major step forward in the firm’s bitcoin ambitions.”

  • “The SEC has repeatedly rejected applications for bitcoin ETFs, blocking investors from buying into the market through a financial vehicle whose low fees and tax advantages have helped upend the way stock and bond funds are sold.”

  • “But the industry remains hopeful some funds will eventually break through.” READ MORE

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 54: Should Small Businesses Have Boards? This week, Stephanie Stuckey tells Paul Downs and Jay Goltz about seeking the guidance and perspective that a board of advisers could bring to Stuckey’s. But does a business have to be a certain size to warrant having a board? How do you recruit board members? How should they be compensated? And is a peer group, like Vistage, a better alternative? Plus: Uncovering a $140,000 cyber crime. Coping with the nightmare of shipping furniture. And Jay tells us why, if you listen to either just the artists or just the accountants in your business, you’re likely to go broke.