Call it a silver lining of the pandemic: Entrepreneurship is booming in the U.S, with applications for new businesses rising at the fastest rate since 2007.

The pandemic itself is the likely accelerating factor, given that unemployment rates are still near 8%. Many of these folks are forgoing the job search in favor of striking out on their own and pursuing their passions, with 27% of “pandemic founders” indicating that they were previously laid off from their full-time jobs, according to a recent survey by JustBusiness

More than half of this new crop are first-time founders, with 1 in 5 (20%) saying that they did not have plans to start a business at the beginning of the year. In that sense, you could say that the pandemic has been a direct catalyst for their current ambitions – a spark plug that has motivated folks to seize the moment. 

Even among the experienced founders, 70% said the pandemic altered their business plans or forced them to make changes that may impact their success. Whether that means shutting down just months (or weeks) after opening or postponing a launch altogether, it hasn’t been easy. There’s no denying that we’ve all been through a trauma – something the small business ecosystem will likely feel in various ways for years to come. 

As a result, today’s founders are stepping into entrepreneurship with fresh eyes and heightened expectations of all vendors, mirroring how today’s young consumers have higher expectations in terms of mobility, user experience and general internet savvy from the brands that serve them. 2020’s founders’ preferences will reflect the on-demand nature of our current culture, favoring instant gratification, flexibility, scalability and ease of use from any company that hopes to be included in their tech stack. 

This shift is creating a massive opportunity for the tech companies that serve and support the small business ecosystem. As business owners, our preferences and tendencies will directly influence which tech companies emerge as winners, securing a spot in our startup toolboxes, while pushing out legacy partners who have failed to adapt. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes, the economic recovery situation and corresponding land-grab for small business attention is not. We need only look back at history for some semblance of what we can expect over the next few months. 

The new barometer for risk 

In 2008, I was 28 years old, living and working in London on my first startup, eCourier. It was a simple idea: a courier network, empowered by mobile, that could field orders programmatically. We raised money and had a thriving business that was all about growth. Needless to say, when the recession hit, it all came crashing down. Today, I’m on my third startup, and I still think about how that chaotic period carved out many of my entrepreneurial tendencies that I maintain today. 

Today’s founders will undoubtedly have a similar experience, with various effects of the pandemic lingering for years to come. These are folks who just saw their friends and neighbors go out of business, who perhaps recently lost their own jobs, or who put their plans and dreams on indefinite hold because of COVID-19 before admirably deciding to power through. 

As a result, their barometer for risk has been completely reset. Over the past few months, I’ve talked to many business owners who are trying to save more money, creating a bigger cushion for themselves in the event of a second wave and additional shutdowns. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it does require sacrifice and perhaps less focus on growth – but this could be what keeps you afloat in the coming months. 

Accordingly, these owners are a bit more hesitant to hire aggressively right now. Growth is always a crab walk, especially when margins are slim. While entrepreneurship is booming right now, I expect the hiring curve might take a bit longer to catch up. In the meantime, there should be plentiful opportunities for freelancers, contract workers and the gig economy in lieu of full-time jobs. 

Along those same lines, folks will take a harder line on physical office space, only investing in one if it’s absolutely necessary for their business type. This tells me two things: Firstly, flexible leases are the future. Why commit to a year when you’re not sure you’ll be open in a few months? Secondly, on-demand meeting space could be in line for major growth, thanks to shifting business demands and how meetings might take place in 2021. 

I’ve also learned that small businesses are less likely to spend money to “test and learn” with technology right now. The impact here could be more “freemium” models from tech providers, encouraging small business owners to get set up with a product and understand its value before opening up their checkbooks. From there, it will be more about flexible subscriptions than annual contracts, putting the power back into business owners’ hands. 

The modern startup toolbox

A similar evolution happened for us founders back in 2008. We had to reset and reassess. Along the way, clear winners emerged. Square is a fantastic example: born of the Great Recession, designed to help nascent businesses get over the unnecessarily complicated hurdle of accepting credit cards. As with office rent, why would you lock yourself into a long-term contract with a point-of-sale system provider when you’re not sure if you’ll be in business in six months? Why not work with something much simpler, easier to use and more flexible in its contract? 

Going back a bit further to the dot-com burst, Mailchimp was founded in 2001 and emerged as a clear winner with small businesses. Like Square, Mailchimp was an excellent alternative to expensive, complex competitors that ruled email marketing at the time, with a laser focus on simplifying processes and empowering small businesses.  

The same thing will happen in the wake of the pandemic. Beloved brands will emerge because they help businesses clear ridiculous hurdles. The hurdles themselves aren’t new, but the consequences of not clearing them are much more profound. This is 2020, and there isn’t a safety net. More than ever, business owners are looking for solutions that simplify their hectic lives, offer flexible payment structures and don’t create too much additional overhead. 

On the flip side, we’re going to see a mass migration away from outdated legacy products. If it’s slow and clunky, it’s on the way out. For example, in the world of insurance, small businesses are battling their insurers in court over unpaid claims relating to pandemic interruption. In the commercial real estate sector, major brands are destroying their reputations with their inflexibility. These brands are losing any goodwill they may have had with small business owners, creating space for innovators to come in and win market share. 

As business owners, we have the power to define what that modern startup toolkit looks like. We are the judges and decision-makers on the beloved tech platforms of 2021 and beyond. The B2B winners will combine flexibility, scalability and subscription models that reflect B2C preferences, helping businesses to clear useless hurdles while simplifying processes along the way. [Looking for more tips on weathering the pandemic? Check out our resources and insights on running a business during COVID-19.]

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The Strand Bookstore in New York City
Bass Wyden inherited 828 Broadway, where the Strand is located, from her father.

Like many independent businesses across the country, the beloved NYC book store the Strand is in trouble.
In late October, the Strand posted a cry for help on Twitter, signed by owner Nancy Bass Wyden, encouraging people to “save the Strand.” The tweet led to 25,000 weekend orders and crashed the company’s website.
However, the rush also exacerbated the “chaos” that some employees say had been experiencing throughout the pandemic, due to Bass Wyden’s alleged micromanagement of the store.
Employees Insider spoke with question where the $1 million to $2 million in government emergency relief went since more than 100 of their coworkers remain jobless, and why Bass Wyden was playing “the Oliver Twist routine” when she owns the building and millions more in personal wealth, including at least $150,000 in Amazon stocks.
Business Insider spoke with eight current and former employees who detailed the poor morale unfolding in one of NYC’s institutions — and a beacon for independent bookstores.
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On a Wednesday morning this October, Uzodinma Okehi gathered with his coworkers on the first floor of the Strand Book Store, the beloved institution in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, where he’s worked for nearly 20 years. 

The Strand’s owner, Nancy Bass Wyden, had called the staff together for a grave talk.

She gave it to them straight. Revenue was down 70% since this time last year, the business’ cash reserves had depleted, and the $1 million to $2 million loan the Strand received in government emergency relief in April was running dry.

For the first time since her grandfather founded the store 93 years ago, Bass Wyden said, the time had come to ask customers for help. Start the holidays early, she said. Shop the Strand to save the Strand.

“She definitely seemed pretty emotional,” Okehi told Business Insider. “She wanted to really try to keep the business alive.”

Bass Wyden started working at the Strand in the mid-’70s, when she was 16, and inherited full ownership of the business, including the building at 828 Broadway, from her father, Fred Bass, after his death in 2017.

The bookstore has withstood the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the 9/11 terror attacks, but, Bass Wyden said, a pandemic could be its downfall.

“It’s tough for small-business owners,” she said. “We survived e-books — even Amazon was fine. But COVID is really what has stopped us in our socks.”

Strand workers Insider spoke with said some of the business’ challenges are self-inflicted. We spoke with eight current and former employees, some of whom asked to speak on the condition of anonymity.

They described staff-wide discontent with Bass Wyden’s management, fear for their jobs and those of their coworkers, and feelings of being overwhelmed as business surged unexpectedly.

Their comments also reveal a tension at the heart of the Strand in the time of COVID. 

America’s economy has ground to a halt over the past six months. Over 60 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance — more than the entirety of the 18-month-long Great Recession — and nearly 100,000 small businesses have closed for good.

In July, an American Booksellers Association survey suggested that 20% of independent bookstores were at risk of closing. Allison Hill, the CEO of the association, said that number could now be higher, with more than one store closing every week, on average, since the pandemic began. 

Survival then has been a challenge for any bookstore or small business. But the Strand isn’t any regular bookstore. And Bass Wyden isn’t a regular small-business owner.

Many employees work there out of a devotion to the written word and love for fellow bookworms, they said. Now, however, that idealism is hitting up against the reality of the tough decisions that many businesses like the Strand are having to make during the pandemic.

Subscribe to Business Insider to read what employees told us about the chaos unfolding amid the stacks of NYC’s beloved Strand Book Store.Read the original article on Business Insider

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GettyImages 1217491711
Artificial intelligence needs to be regulated to protect humans from manipulation.

AI could influence our decisions in a major way — and lead to dangerous outcomes, says technology researcher TaeWoo Kim.
According to his research with Adam Duhachek, AI messages were more persuasive when it showed people how to perform tasks.
People were also more likely to accept unfair offers from AI and disclose personal information, a sign that people are more vulnerable to manipulation than we think.
Kim believes governments need to take these behaviors into account and push for protective measures when regulating AI. 
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Have you ever used Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, or Amazon Alexa to make decisions for you? Perhaps you asked it what new movies have good reviews, or to recommend a cool restaurant in your neighbourhood.

Artificial intelligence and virtual assistants are constantly being refined, and may soon be making appointments for you, offering medical advice, or trying to sell you a bottle of wine.

Although AI technology has miles to go to develop social skills on par with ours, some AI has shown impressive language understanding and can complete relatively complex interactive tasks.

In several 2018 demonstrations, Google’s AI made haircut and restaurant reservations without receptionists realising they were talking with a non-human.

Would you let Google Duplex make phone bookings for you?

It’s likely the AI capabilities developed by tech giants such as Amazon and Google will only grow more capable of influencing us in the future.

But what do we actually find persuasive?

My colleague Adam Duhachek and I found AI messages are more persuasive when they highlight “how” an action should be performed, rather than “why”. For example, people were more willing to put on sunscreen when an AI explained how to apply sunscreen before going out, rather than why they should use sunscreen.

We found people generally don’t believe a machine can understand human goals and desires. Take Google’s AlphaGo, an algorithm designed to play the board game Go. Few people would say the algorithm can understand why playing Go is fun, or why it’s meaningful to become a Go champion. Rather, it just follows a pre-programmed algorithm telling it how to move on the game board.

Our research suggests people find AI’s recommendations more persuasive in situations where AI shows easy steps on how to build personalized health insurance, how to avoid a lemon car, or how to choose the right tennis racket for you, rather than why any of these are important to do in a human sense.

Does AI have free will?

Most of us believe humans have free will. We compliment someone who helps others because we think they do it freely, and we penalize those who harm others. What’s more, we are willing to lessen the criminal penalty if the person was deprived of free will, for instance if they were in the grip of a schizophrenic delusion.

But do people think AI has free will? We did an experiment to find out.

Someone is given $100 and offers to split it with you. They’ll get $80 and you’ll get $20. If you reject this offer, both you and the proposer end up with nothing. Gaining $20 is better than nothing, but previous research suggests the $20 offer is likely to be rejected because we perceive it as unfair. Surely we should get $50, right?

But what if the proposer is an AI? In a research project yet to be published, my colleagues and I found the rejection ratio drops significantly. In other words, people are much more likely to accept this “unfair” offer if proposed by an AI.

This is because we don’t think an AI developed to serve humans has a malicious intent to exploit us — it’s just an algorithm, it doesn’t have free will, so we might as well just accept the $20.

The fact people could accept unfair offers from AI concerns me, because it might mean this phenomenon could be used maliciously. For example, a mortgage loan company might try to charge unfairly high interest rates by framing the decision as being calculated by an algorithm. Or a manufacturing company might manipulate workers into accepting unfair wages by saying it was a decision made by a computer.

To protect consumers, we need to understand when people are vulnerable to manipulation by AI. Governments should take this into account when considering regulation of AI.

We’re surprisingly willing to divulge to AI

In other work yet to be published, my colleagues and I found people tend to disclose their personal information and embarrassing experiences more willingly to an AI than a human.

We told participants to imagine they’re at the doctor for a urinary tract infection. We split the participants, so half spoke to a human doctor, and half to an AI doctor. We told them the doctor is going to ask a few questions to find the best treatment and it’s up to you how much personal information you provide.

Participants disclosed more personal information to the AI doctor than the human one, regarding potentially embarrassing questions about use of sex toys, condoms, or other sexual activities. We found this was because people don’t think AI judges our behavior, whereas humans do. Indeed, we asked participants how concerned they were for being negatively judged, and found the concern of being judged was the underlying mechanism determining how much they divulged.

It seems we feel less embarrassed when talking to AI. This is interesting because many people have grave concerns about AI and privacy, and yet we may be more willing to share our personal details with AI.

But what if AI does have free will?

We also studied the flipside: What happens when people start to believe AI does have free will? We found giving AI human-like features or a human name could mean people are more likely to believe an AI has free will.

This has several implications:

AI can then better persuade people on questions of “why”, because people think the human-like AI may be able to understand human goals and motivationsAI’s unfair offer is less likely to be accepted because the human-looking AI may be seen as having its own intentions, which could be exploitativePeople start feeling judged by the human-like AI and feel embarrassed, and disclose less personal informationPeople start feeling guilty when harming a human-looking AI, and so act more benignly to the AI.

We are likely to see more and different types of AI and robots in future. They might cook, serve, sell us cars, tend to us at the hospital, and even sit on a dining table as a dating partner. It’s important to understand how AI influences our decisions, so we can regulate AI to protect ourselves from possible harms.

TaeWoo Kim, lecturer, UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ciara McLaren on a day trip to Biarritz, a seaside town on the southwest coast of France.
Ciara McLaren on a day trip to Biarritz, a seaside town on the southwest coast of France.

After graduating with her master’s degree, Ciara McLaren moved from Florida to a small town in western France to work part-time as an assistant English instructor at a public school.She was paid roughly half the French minimum wage and lived in a dormitory for young workers.McLaren says the beginning of her stay in France had many challenges, from overcoming the language barrier and experiencing culture shock to learning how to work well with teenagers.Still, after two years in the program, McLaren says she would do it again “in a heartbeat,” and encourages others interested in teaching English abroad to go for it with “eyes and mind wide open.”Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For the past two years, I’ve taught English for 12 hours a week in small, idyllic French cities. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. 

Before you start playing the world’s tiniest violin, hear me out: I was an assistante de langue, a classroom aide for English teachers at French public schools. As nice as it may seem to work part-time in the land of baguettes, champagne, and bimonthly vacations, teaching is tough. It’s even tougher in a culture that is not your own. 

The Teaching Assistant Program in France recruits Americans ages 20-35 to work part-time providing English instruction in French public schools for €785 per month, plus health insurance. I was fresh out of a rigorous graduate program and having conversations in English  for 12 hours a week seemed like a vacation in comparison — I applied, got in, and made plans to move to France. 

Lesson learned: Moving to a foreign country is not a vacation. 

By the time I applied to TAPIF, it had been three years since I’d spoken a word of my intermediate college French. I tried my best to prepare by watching every French movie on Netflix, but with the school year rapidly approaching, I could still barely string a sentence together.

Immediately upon arrival in Paris, it became clear that this would be a problem. It’s one thing to be an English-speaking tourist, and quite another to be an English-speaking resident. I did my best to express myself using an expansive English vocabulary, my best French accent, and elaborate hand gestures. The result of these attempts was usually tears: tears at the bank, tears at the train station, tears at the phone shop, etc. 

Once I had cried my way to a French phone number and rail card, I traveled south to the city where I was assigned: Niort. The small city has two main claims to fame: One, it contains the headquarters of several insurance companies, and two, the great writer Michel Houellebecq called it one of the “one of the ugliest cities” ever. (For what it’s worth, I actually thought Niort was quite charming.)

The view from the Donjon de Niort, a medieval castle in the downtown area of Niort. Ciara McLaren
The view from the Donjon de Niort, a medieval castle in the downtown area of Niort.

To make ends meet on my minimal salary (half the French minimum wage), I lived in a foyer des jeunes travailleurs, a dormitory for young workers. With CAF, a government housing supplement, I paid just over 50 euros a month in rent for a small room next to a shared toilet. Not exactly Versailles, mais bon. 

My first day on the job, the culture shock hit me before I walked through the door. 

Outside of the school gate, dozens upon dozens of teachers and students alike were chain-smoking cigarettes. 

The school where I would be working was a lycee professionnel, a vocational school, with students ages 15-18 (with some older and younger outliers).  It specializes in automobile repair and bodywork (which I knew nothing about), and the student body was made up of about 95% boys. 

This turned out not to be much of an issue. Most of my students, regardless of age, gender, or career path, asked me the same questions during class time. “Do you have a gun?” “Do you like Trump?” “Have you met XXXTentacion?” No, no, and no. 

I turned their questions back on them. Do you have a gun? Do you like France? Have you met Macron? Also no, no, and no. But it provoked a conversation, in English, which was really my only job. And I liked my job, most of the time.

ciara mclaren Good bread, jambon cru, and courgette salad from the local market of Pau, France.
Good bread, jambon cru, and courgette salad from the local market in Pau, France.

Speaking English with students was simple, but not easy. 

Teenagers are teenagers wherever you go, and discipline was a constant issue. I sent students to the principal’s office for everything from sexual harassment to physical fights. Despite my part-time hours, I always looked forward to school vacations. 

On a hike in the Pyrenees (don’t look too closely as the sheep). Ciara McLaren
On a hike in the Pyrenees (don't look too closely at the sheep).

Many weeks, I didn’t even work my full 12 hours. Shortly after I arrived, the gilets jaunes protests erupted across the country, and more manifestations against austerity and school reform followed throughout the year. Daily life was so disrupted that some days I couldn’t get to school, or would arrive to find the gate locked and nobody there. 

In those moments, I turned to my profs référents, the teachers assigned to look after me. They answered my questions, invited me to their homes, and included me in conversation in the break room. Sometimes, they’d forget to tell me there was a strike going on, but they were always very apologetic afterward. 

Fresh pastries from Le Pain Pascale in Pau, France. Ciara McLaren
Fresh pastries from Le Pain Pascale in Pau, France.

Looking back on my two years spent teaching English in France, I feel both privileged and exploited. 

On the one hand, I worked 12 hours or fewer a week, with frequent vacations, in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. On the other hand, the job combined two very difficult things: being a foreigner and working with teenagers. 

In testimonials on the TAPIF website, former assistants describe freedom, friendship, and growth. They don’t mention the long hours spent fighting with French bureaucracy to accomplish basically anything, from getting an apartment to validating your visa. They don’t mention how hard it is to control your temper when your students won’t stop asking you whether you prefer “French fry or French kiss.” In Facebook groups and local assistant meet-ups, we would commiserate over our difficulties and celebrate our triumphs. 

In quarantine in Pau, France, in March 2020. Ciara McLaren
In quarantine in Pau, France, March 2020.

Despite some challenging moments, I would do it over again in a heartbeat. Two years working part-time hours in France gave me the time and space I needed to become a freelance writer. My contract ended earlier this year, and after months of quarantine in France, I returned to the US in early July. (Despite everything, it’s home.)

On a balcony overlooking the Pyrenees, January 2020. Ciara McLaren
On a balcony overlooking the Pyrenees, in January 2020.

Still, I would tell anyone considering teaching English abroad to go for it — with eyes and mind wide open. 

Being an assistant de langue may seem like a dream job, but it’s really just like any job, with one big difference. Some days it’s great, other days it’s awful, but either way, you’re in France.

Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer with bylines in HuffPost, Gastronomica, and elsewhere. You can read more of her work on Substack. 

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Oregon Wildfire
An orange smoke-filled sky is seen above Estacada, Oregon, on September 9, 2020, as fires burn nearby.

The onslaught of wildfires in California serves as a wake up call for many Americans when it comes to climate change, with some people deciding to permanently leave the state.
More people could relocate in the coming years due to climate change, an investigation by ProPublica reveals.
Most climate-related moves and displacement happens within a country, but moving abroad is also a possibility.
Which country are expats happiest in, when it comes to the overall environment, as well as environmental policy? InterNations, a resource website for expats, interviewed some 15,000 people who left their country of birth to find out.
The top countries are Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The massive wildfires tearing through the Pacific Northwest — and the resulting air pollution that is so thick it’s spread across the entire US — is a climate change wakeup call for millions of Americans. 

For some Californians, the wildfires are enough for them to exit the state. It’s a glimpse of what economists, scientists, and insurance professionals alike say could be in our future: climate change migration, according to an investigation by ProPublica

While the United Nations says most climate-related displacement is within a country’s borders, some, especially the affluent, may consider moving to another country for bluer skies and cleaner air. 

InterNations, a resource website for expats, surveyed some 15,000 people who chose to leave their country of birth. Analysts asked them to rate their new home country on a variety of environmental factors, including their perception of the air quality, how strongly they think the government is tackling climate change, and rating local recycling and waste management efforts. Each factor was weighted and then countries were given an overall ranking. 

The US ranked 30th out of the 60 countries where people were surveyed, coming just behind Bahrain and before Panama. The low ranking was mainly because expats think the federal government does not care enough about climate change. 

These are the top 10 most eco-conscious countries, according to expats.

10. Luxembourg

An American living in Luxembourg said the "access to nature for hiking and bicycling" was a big benefit of living there.

View the overall natural environment positively: 92%

Are happy with the air quality: 78% 

9. Canada

takakkaw falls
A Russian expat mentioned the "clean water and air" as some of her favorite things about Canada.

View the overall natural environment positively: 96% 

Think the Canadian population is interested in environmental issues: 71% 

8. Germany

Germany lockdown
Some 90% of expats rated the water and sanitation in the country positively.

View the overall natural environment positively: 90%

Are happy with the availability of environmentally friendly goods and services: 86%

7. New Zealand

new zealand
Some 79% of expats agree the population is very interested in environmental issues, vs. 48% globally.

View the overall natural environment positively: 96%

Agree the government takes climate change seriously: 85%

6. Denmark

Odense, Denmark - Drone Aerial - April 2020
A South African expat said that "the Danish are environmentally conscious. Organic food and products are easily available, and they are good with recycling."

View the overall natural environment positively: 87%

Are happy with the quality of country’s water and sanitation services: 93% 

5. Switzerland

switzerland lockdown quarantine yoga
Respondents mentioned the beautiful parks that pepper major cities as a huge plus.

View the country’s natural environment positively: 83%

Are happy with the air quality: 91% 

4. Austria

austria coronavirus
A Philippine expat said that the country is "the most organized, the most environmentally friendly, and the most beautiful country" he has lived in so far.

View the country’s natural environment positively: 97%

Are happy with the country’s waste management and recycling efforts: 91% 

3. Norway

norway best country to be a kid
A Ukrainian expat said that "the beautiful nature, the clean air and tap water, and the focus on the environment" are what she enjoys most about life in Norway.

View the overall natural environment positively: 93%

Agree the government takes climate change seriously: 89% 

2. Sweden

Sweden reopening
Some 93% of expats rate the availability of clean energy and the ability to save energy positively.

View the overall natural environment positively: 95%

Are happy with the availability of environmentally friendly goods and services: 88%

1. Finland

Finland came in 1st place for a variety of factors, including its air quality, waste management, and the government's perceived commitment to the environment.

View the overall natural environment positively: 98%

Are happy with the air quality: 95%

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