SaaS startup Swoop raises $3.2M to modernize mom-and-pop transportation companies

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Chauffeured group transportation — the vehicles used for corporate outings, special events and even weddings — is a fragmented industry, with hundreds of small operators that rely on analog systems to book customers. Now in this era of COVID-19, these operators are being squeezed as travel and tourism have dwindled and companies have opted to have employees work from home.

One Los Angeles-based transportation booking startup called Swoop aims to bring these small, local operators into the digital age with a new software-as-a-service platform that it says is helping them adapt in this COVID-19 era. The startup, loaded with an injection of capital, is ramping up its SaaS product in hopes of tapping into a marketplace where customers spend $40 billion annually.

Swoop has raised $3.2 million in a seed funding round led by Signia Venture Partners, South Park Commons and several angel investors, including former Uber CPO Manik Gupta; Kevin Weil, co-creator of Libra at Facebook; Kim Fennel, a former Uber executive; and Elizabeth Weil, former partner at Andreessen Horowitz and 137 Ventures.

“I’m fascinated about how operators are still running most of their business with pen and paper,” Swoop CEO and co-founder Amir Ghorbani said in a statement. Ghorbani has witnessed firsthand the constraints of these small operators. During high school and college, Ghorbani helped with his parents’ limousine business. The experience prompted him to seek a solution. 

“I saw a huge opportunity to help these small mom and pop shops, in an under-digitized industry, where no operator has more than 1% market share,” Ghorbani added.

Ghorbani began by building a group transportation booking platform used by companies like Airbnb, Google and Nike. Through those bookings the companies saw an opportunity to build business management software for vehicle operators.

Swoop’s SaaS platform lets companies book and dispatch rides, track vehicles and communicate with customers. It also acts as a central hub for payments and other bookkeeping. The tool is designed to smooth out the booking process as well as increase vehicle utilization, which is currently at 4.9%, according to the company. Swoop also passes on to the operators using its SaaS tool leads from companies that use the booking platform.

For now, the focus is on local transportation companies, not public transit, which is a sector that Uber is chasing.

COVID-19, which has suspended most group outings, has upended these local transportation operators. Swoop says it has adjusted its platform to help these operators survive. The company told TechCrunch that it is helping operators repurpose their vehicles to ship goods rather than people. For instance, large vans once used for corporate outings can now be marketed to food wholesalers or companies that need local package delivery. The platform is also being used to connect operators with companies like Amazon that provide transportation to shuttle essential factory workers.

Swoop said COVID-19 might end up accelerating its business ramp as operators are being forced to evaluate their businesses and seek new ways to generate revenue and reduce costs.



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Extra Crunch Live: Join Playground Global co-founder Peter Barrett for a live Q&A on July 28

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Peter Barrett might be best known today as co-founder and CTO of Playground Global. But his experience in the technology world stretches back to when he was a teenager.

Barrett’s first security program got the attention of the NSA when he was just 19 years old. His career has been an adventure ever since, starting with his first company, Rocket Science Games. Barrett went on to build an IPTV platform at Microsoft, cloud intelligence for automotive at CloudCar and now quantum and optical computing, robotics and artificial intelligence at Playground. Barrett also holds more than 100 patents.

Despite all the technological progress the industry has made in the past three decades, Barrett believes the computing revolution has yet to begin — hence his interest in startups, particularly around robotics, automation and AI. Playground, which has $825 million under management and 39 active portfolio companies, has made more than 20 investments in robotics and automation. The five-year-old firm has chalked up at least 10 exits, including Canvas Technology to Amazon, DeepScale to Tesla, zippy to Cruise, Lighthouse to Apple and Nervana, which was acquired by Intel.

Barrett also is on the boards of PsiQuantumFathomLacuna, Anjuna, Artificial, Next Silicon and NVision, and is a board observer of Virta. Despite all of this investor activity, Barrett says he still finds time to code everyday. Perhaps it’s because Barrett believes code is the new concrete, essentially becoming the basis of tomorrow’s infrastructure. Plus, he says coding is fun.

These are just a few of the reasons we’re thrilled to have Barrett join us at 11 a.m. PT/ 2 p.m. ET July 28 as part of our Extra Crunch Live series, which connects some of the best and brightest minds in tech with our Extra Crunch audience. We’ve had a stacked agenda of speakers, a group that has included Mark Cuban, Aileen Lee and Ted Wang, Aaron Levie of Box, Julia Hartz of Eventbrite and Hans Tung and Jeff Richards at GGV Capital.

Barrett will sit down with us virtually to discuss a multitude of topics, from future of computing, life sciences and automation and why robotics is misunderstood to the potential for automation beyond humanoid robots and whether quantum computing is ready for the spotlight. 

We’ll also talk about today, namely COVID-19 and the affect it’s had on his portfolio companies, the challenges of investing in entrepreneurs remotely and how venture capitalists are chasing the wrong kinds of companies and not prioritizing real progress.

In short, we plan to cover a lot, and you don’t want to miss it.

Scheduling details



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Space Force debuts official logo and motto, both reminding you that it’s ‘always above’

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Earlier this year, the oft-mocked but actually pretty important new branch of the military, the Space Force, revealed an image that was suspiciously reminiscent of Star Trek. Now the Space Force has revealed a new, sharper graphic that is the force’s actual logo — and a motto to go with it: “Semper Supra,” or “always above.”

To be clear, the image revealed in January, which everyone thought looked quite a bit like Starfleet’s, is the seal for the Space Force branch of the military. The new, simpler one is the logo for the organization as a whole, which is the one we’ll see communications and recruiting branded with. You can tell them apart because the new one looks like the Pontiac logo.

In a series of tweets, the Space Force explained the various elements of the logo. It’s not exactly esoteric stuff, but it’s nice to know the chrome is there for a reason and not just because it looks cool.

Image Credits: U.S. Space Force

The silver border of the skyward-pointing delta shape, they said, “signifies defense and protection from all adversaries and threats emanating from the space domain.”

The middle part is black because it “embodies the vast darkness of deep space. Some feel fear and dread but we prefer to be inspired and stand up to the challenge.”

And in the very center is a star. It’s Polaris, the north star, which “guides. That’s why it is in the center of our logo.”

The “beveled elements,” being quadpartite, symbolize the four armed forces supporting the branch: Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. They’re spiky because it makes them look a bit like rockets shooting into space.

As for the motto: “Semper Supra,” meaning “always above,” could be construed as either reassuring or menacing, depending on which end of the Space Force you’ve got pointing at you. It represents “establishing, maintaining, and preserving” the U.S. presence in space, and of course to a soldier on the ground, it’s nice to think that they have operational support from the always-above Space Force. For others, it brings to mind spy satellites or orbital lasers.

Expect to see this logo a lot over the next few years as this new branch matures and recruits.

More importantly, the Space Force has horses:

Congratulations to the Space Force on their new logo, and to Ghost for being beautiful and strong.



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Building your startup’s customer advisory board

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A customer advisory board (CAB) can be an invaluable resource for startups, but many founders struggle with putting together the right group of advisors and how to incentivize them. At our TechCrunch Early Stage event, Saam Motamedi, a general partner at Greylock Partners, talked about how he thinks about putting together the right CAB.

“We encourage all of our early-stage companies to put this in place,” Motamedi said. The goal here is to speed up the process to get to product/market fit since your CAB will provide you with regular feedback.

“The idea here is [that] you have this feedback loop from customers back to your product where you build, you go get feedback, you iterate — and the tighter this feedback loop is, the faster you’ll get to product-market fit. And you want to do things structurally to make this feedback loop tighter, starting with a CAB.”

Motamedi said a CAB should consist of about three to six customers. These should be “luminaries or forward thinkers” in the market you are serving. “You add them to the CAB — you might give them small advisory grants — and they become stakeholders and give you feedback as you work through the early stages of product development.”

Image Credits: Greylock Partners

As for the people who you put on the CAB, Motamedi suggests first setting the right expectations for the board.

“There are three components. Number one, the most valuable thing you can get from these customer advisors is their time. So the first piece is you want them to commit to a monthly cadence, that could be 60 minutes, it could be 90 minutes, where you’re going to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to come to the meeting, I’m going to bring two of my teammates, we’re going to show you the latest product demo, and you’re going to drill us with feedback. We’re going to do that once a month.’  […] And then piece two is this notion of customer days, you could do quarterly, you could also do twice a year.

“The idea is you want to bring the customers together. Because if you and I are both CIOs at Fortune 500 companies and we independently react to a product, that’s one thing, but if we sit in a room together, we all look at the product together, there’s going to be interesting data amongst us as customers and the founder is going to learn a lot from that.[…] And I think the third piece is just an expectation that as the company progresses and product maturity increases, that folks on the CAB are going to be advocates and evangelists for the company with their customer networks.”

Motamedi recommends outlining those expectations in a short document.



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Tech at Work: Black gig workers speak out, Uber’s commitment to being anti-racist and Facebook’s diversity report

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Welcome back to Tech at Work, a bi-weekly roundup and analysis of labor, and diversity and inclusion in tech. 

This week, we’re looking at Uber’s anti-racism commitment, Shipt shoppers walking off the job, Facebook’s diversity report and Black gig workers organizing against tech companies. Also, hear from CODE2040 CEO Karla Monterroso on tech’s response to the recent racial justice uprising in the U.S.

“There are a lot of really well-intentioned people, but they’re like, ‘Hey, put me in touch with all your Black and Latinx people,” Monterroso told me. “We have definitely gotten requests for free access to our talent pool. What we are talking through with people is even if you had access to that, your ability to make something of that is incredibly limited because the competencies needed to get people into the workforce, promote and retain them are not had by tech companies at this moment.”


Stay woke


Uber commits to being an anti-racist company

Uber’s track record with diversity and inclusion was especially rocky in the days of former CEO Travis Kalanick. The company’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi seems to recognize that, saying “you’re probably thinking that Uber is not exactly the company you’d expect to be speaking up on this front.” Still, Uber has made a number of commitments on its journey to being an anti-racist company.

But first, let’s define anti-racist. From Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be An Antiracist:

To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right — inferior or superior — with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do.

Here are some of the most notable of Uber’s commitments:

  • Double Black representation in leadership (director roles and higher) by 2025. Currently, Black people make up just 3.3% of Uber’s leadership team, while white people make up 59.9% of it.
  • Expand diversity report to include data on intersectionality and self-identification. Race, gender, class, sexual orientation and disability status are highly connected for folks. Intersectionality is the concept that people face multi-faceted layers of discrimination as a result of these intersecting identities.
  • Create more opportunities for drivers, delivery people and support staff to advance their careers. Uber has been talking about this at least since 2018.

Related: This past year marked the most interest in anti-racism in the last five years, according to Google Search Trends. 

Image Credits: Google Trends/MRD



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The TechCrunch Exchange: What’s an IPO to a SPAC?

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This Week in Apps: Apple argues for commissions, ‘Find My’ NDA, Alexa to open apps

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series* that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

* This Week in Apps was previously available only to Extra Crunch subscribers. We’re now making these reports available to all TechCrunch readers.  

Let’s dive in.

Headlines

Top Story: Apple doubles down on its right to take a 30% cut

app store icon 2

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Ahead of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s testimony before Congress, Apple on Thursday again took to the press to fight back against claims of anti-competitive practices on its App Store.

Last month, the company detailed the results of a commissioned study that showed how Apple wasn’t receiving a cut of revenue on the majority of App Store transactions — $519 billion in commerce. This time, Apple is touting the results of another study by the same analyst group that is meant to demonstrate how Apple’s App Store commission rate is similar to those of other app stores and digital content marketplaces.

The study exhaustingly compares the App Store’s 30% commission to all other forms of storefronts, online and off. This includes other app stores, game stores, e-commerce marketplaces, digital platforms and even brick-and-mortar retail. Apple’s conclusion is that it’s not doing anything different from the others, so what’s the big deal?

Of course, this misses the point. The antitrust issues surrounding Apple’s App Store are not about whether Apple is charging more than other digital marketplaces. It’s about whether that commission structure is hindering competition, given Apple’s size, wealth and power.

As indie developer Brent Simmons (of NetNewsWire) put it this week, the cut limits developers’ ability to hire and retain talent.

To an app on the App Store it might mean being able to lower prices — or hire a designer or a couple junior developers. It might be the difference between abandoning an app and getting into a virtuous circle where the app thrives.

Quality costs money, and profitability is just simple arithmetic: anything that affects income — such as Apple’s cut — goes into that equation.

To put it in concrete terms: the difference between 30% and something reasonable like 10% would probably have meant some of my friends would still have their jobs at Omni, and Omni would have more resources to devote to making, testing, and supporting their apps.

Apple’s opening of ‘Find My’ to third-parties isn’t as nice as it seems

5 find my

Image Credits: Apple

Apple announced at WWDC 2020 that third-party developers, like Tile, would be able to tap into Apple’s “Find My” technology platform to locate lost items and gadgets that aren’t made by Apple. The move was meant to counteract Tile’s ongoing complaints and testimony to U.S. antitrust investigators that Apple favored its first-party services at the expense of competitors’ businesses.

Tile was particularly concerned over Apple’s plans to announce a direct competitor, AirTags, which would be allowed to leverage the “Find My” technology at a deeper level. The move could potentially have wiped out Tile’s business with a better product — at least from a consumer standpoint.

The Washington Post reported this week that Apple’s opening of “Find My” is not the olive branch it seems, however. The publication acquired the 50-page confidentially agreement that all developers would have to sign, which indicates there are a lot of restrictions on how this integration works. For instance, Apple customers using “Find My” to locate a device will be barred from using competing services simultaneously, the document said. This is an unusual restriction — and one that makers of Bluetooth devices and smart home products don’t have to agree to for their own products.

Amazon turns Alexa into a mobile app launcher

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

How often do you think Amazon kicks itself over its smartphone failures? Given that the company hasn’t been able to compete directly on mobile, it’s finding another angle by way of Alexa. Amazon this week announced a bevy of new developer tools for its Alexa virtual assistant, including one that will allow the digital helper to launch iOS and Android apps using voice commands.

For example, you’d be able to say things like, “Alexa, start recording a TikTok,” or “Alexa, ask Twitter to search for #BLM.”

It’s unclear how many developers would adopt just a feature, outside of those that already offer one of the more popular Alexa skills. After all, Siri and Google Assistant can already launch and control your apps.

While Amazon is likely hoping that tying Alexa to the world of mobile apps could give it some momentum in terms of building an app ecosystem of its own, consumers so far have seemed to largely prefer using Alexa for first-party activities, like playing music, listening to news, controlling the smart home, asking random questions, making lists, setting reminders and more.

The move, however, may hint that Amazon is thinking about building out a mobile app ecosystem for its Alexa devices with a screen, like forthcoming versions of its Echo Show, for example.

Apple releases beta 3 builds of iOS 14, iPadOS 14

Testers this week received their third set of iOS 14 developer betas, as the software moves closer to its fall launch date. Beyond the usual bug fixes and performance improvements, only small changes were spotted this time around. This includes a new Music app icon, widget and the ability to share music to Snapchat; a new widget from the Clock app; a new pop-up when organizing the home screen that explains how to hide pages; a new pop-up when you use widgets for the first time; an updated design for Memoji masks; and more.

Facebook takes on Zoom with its latest Messenger Rooms update

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook this week announced a new feature that it hopes will give it a better shot at challenging Zoom’s dominance on web conferencing that came about due to the pandemic. The company upgraded its Messenger Rooms group calls platform to support the ability to live broadcast calls to platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitch — a move that effectively combined Facebook’s live-streaming capabilities with group video chat. Facebook turned around the feature in a relatively short time, given it has only been a matter of months since Zoom has really taken off. That indicates Facebook understands the threat of online chat and socializing exiting its platform.

The goal with the new addition is to make it simpler to broadcast to social platforms, to encourage users to return. Even if they arrive in order to broadcast to competitors’ sites, like YouTube, the company understands that adding Facebook to the list of destinations will increase the output of live broadcasts on its own platform.

In addition, Facebook also this week announced that Messenger now lets you secure your chats with Touch ID or Face ID on iOS. Why don’t more apps offer this feature?

TikTok unveils a $200M fund to back U.S. creators, as it scrambles for a “Plan B”

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 01: A general view of the atmosphere during the TikTok US launch celebration at NeueHouse Hollywood on August 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

As the U.S. government weighs a ban on the Chinese-headquartered app over privacy concerns, the company announced plans to hire 10,000 employees across the U.S. over the next three years and launched a $200 million fund to invest in new creators. The new fund is aimed at helping top creators in the U.S. supplement their earnings, and potentially find the next big TikTok star in the process. The platform will begin accepting applications from U.S.-based creators starting next month and will then distribute the capital over the coming year.

Meanwhile, TikTok parent company ByteDance continues to discuss a range of other options to keep its popular and profitable app alive in the U.S. The latest, according to The Information, is one that would have a small group of the company’s U.S. investors joining forces to buy a majority stake in TikTok.

The U.S government — and particularly the Trump administration — continues to be skeptical about TikTok’s China ties. This week, the U.S. House voted to ban federal employees from using the app on government-issued devices. The vote passed 336-71, as part of a package of bipartisan amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Robinhood ends plan for a U.K. launch

Image Credits: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mobile investing app Robinhood said this week it would not be launching in the U.K., as planned. The company said it was now going to hold off on its global expansion plans to instead focus its efforts in its home market, the U.S. The company had already received over 250,000 sign-ups on its U.K. waitlist, which it says will now be deleted in line with local privacy laws. The company said it will transfer 10 U.K. employees to the U.S., but others will be let go.

The app has been more recently facing criticism in the U.S. for how it lures in young, inexperienced traders who then buy and sell some of the riskiest financial products on the market — at rates higher than other retail brokerage firms. With its hip and youthful design and social app-like features, such as confetti and emoji, Robinhood can make investing feel more like a game, The NYT reported in a recent feature. But the reality is that these inexperienced users are taking more speculative risks, sometimes with devastating results. One Robinhood user killed himself after seeing his balance drop to negative $730,000 — a figure that was higher, in part, due to some of his incomplete trades.

Google has its own ‘Onavo’

Image Credits: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Google today already allows Android app developers to collect usage data from devices where their app is installed, so it comes as no surprise that Google was doing this itself, too. The Information revealed Google’s program that allows it to access usage data on any device that has its Google apps pre-installed. Similar to Facebook’s Onavo, the data wasn’t just used to make improvements to Android, but was also used as a competitive advantage.

According to the report, Google had used the data to show how Google’s own services compared to rivals. This is what Facebook had used Onavo for, too — even leveraging those learnings to inform its acquisition strategy. APIs aren’t the only way large tech companies collect data on smartphone user habits. App intelligence firms like App Annie and Sensor Tower provide similar data to customers, obtained through a number of apps that downplay their true purpose, but really serve as data collection machines.

Data collection like this has been underway for years, but with the antitrust investigations now underway, the time may have come for regulators to actually do something about it.

Funding and M&A

  • Fintech startup Meemo came out of stealth and launched its social finance app with $10 million in seed funding. Investors including Saama Capital, Greycroft, Monashees and Sierra Ventures led the round with additional participation from Amit Singhal, Hans Tung and several former colleagues from Google and Snap.
  • Swiss keyboard startup Typewise raises $1 million seed round to build its “privacy-safe” next word prediction engine that works entirely offline. The round consists of $700,000 from more than a dozen local business angels; and $340,000 via the Swiss government through a mechanism akin to a research grant.
  • China’s Missfresh raises $495 million for its e-grocery app with deep WeChat integrations. The round was led by state-backed China International Capital Corporation. Other investors included ICBC International Securities, Tencent, Abu Dhabi Capital Group, Tiger Global and a fund managed by the government of Changshu county, home to Missfresh’s east China headquarters
  • Levitate raises $6 million for its “keep-in-touch” email marketing solution for small business that works across web and mobile. Investors include Tippet Venture Partners, Durham, North Carolina-based Bull City Venture Partners and angel investor Peter Gassner, the co-founder and CEO of Veeva Systems and investor in Zoom

Downloads

Dilims

Image Credits: Dilims

This beautifully designed indie iOS app called Dilims lets you display different time zones on one screen, and even name them with aliases or view them as a widget. The simple single-purpose utility is useful for anyone who has to work with teams or clients across time zones, and wants an easier way to see what time it is and where. For $2, that’s kind of a steal, too.

Dark Noise 2

Image Credits: Dark Noise

If you like to play ambient noise to help you focus, sleep or just relax, you’ll want to check out Dark Noise 2. This ambient noise app for iOS just got a big update, which adds new sounds, new icons and introduces iCloud syncing. Plus, it now allows you to create your own custom mix of ambient sounds so you can chill to the sounds of rain at the beach, for example, or whatever else you want to blend. The app is $5.99 on the App Store. 

Further Reading (and Listening)

  • Apple Kills IDFA: How Will the Fallout Really Affect Marketers?: Dig into the implications of the IDFA changes in the latest episode of the Mobile Presence podcast, in a discussion with Shamanth Rao, veteran growth marketer and CEO of RocketShip HQ, a full-service mobile user acquisition agency.
  • What Ever Happened to Digital Contact Tracing?: Lawfare takes a look at how the contact-tracing app landscape is shaping up, given the disappearance of contact tracing apps from the headlines. Though Apple and Google’s API was meant to encourage each country to build their own apps, the U.S. has instead taken a patchwork approach due to its fractured response to COVID-19. Today, there are a handful states with their own apps, and only some that plan to use Apple and Google’s technology. Many states have no plans for an app at all, turning instead to human-led contract tracing efforts.
  • Designed for iPad: What makes a good iPad app today? These things, says LookUp Design in a thoughtful post.

Tweets of the Week



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Is CrunchBase is a Scam Company?

if this is you Question ? then answer is yes it is.

Before you avail of free trail, please take a few simple steps to protect yourself.

My friends had a company profile listed on Crunchbase. he close down the company and sent email to Crunchbase to remove the company profile. he was shocked to see the reply from crunchbase.

”Thanks for reaching out. For a few reasons, we prefer not to remove company profiles. Profiles on Crunchbase are interlinked, so removing
one profile can remove important data from other profiles.
Additionally, Crunchbase is Profitable organization, so we value the
all our data of the community and do our best to avoid removing for free. if you like us to remove the detail from our site, we required a little payment upfront to remove the detail.”

All i can say , Please stay away from this scam company.

Start Amazon Reselling ?

Anyone can sell goods on Amazon, provided you have products to sell (or buy low, then resell). If you’re the type to hit all the local garage sales each weekend, there’s all sorts of valuable things that can be resold online as a side business idea. If you want to step your Amazon selling game up, check out this detailed guide to Amazon and eBay retail arbitrage on Entrepreneur featuring an interview with Julie Becker and several dropshippers who’ve grown this home based business idea from side business idea into a lucrative money maker.

Start Online Coaching ?

If you have something you’re skilled at and very passionate about, you can turn that winning combination into offering your services with one-on-one online coaching as a solid side business idea. Just be sure to implement your own opportunity management system so you don’t get caught up working with clients that you can’t measurably help. plan for putting your skills and experience to work by developing an online coaching business—even as a side business idea in the time around your full-time job and jump start on this side business idea.

On top of just the skill and experience components to being a successful online coach, this side business idea is all about building a community around the help you’re offering and fostering trust with members. Plus, your community members will learn from each other along the way. Creating the space for that community can be as simple as setting up a private Facebook group or choosing a community-building platform that has even more capabilities like using your own custom URL, having internal forums, customized designs, and more.