Online bank Simple makes things harder by removing bill pay

With a growing number of challenger banks taking on the U.S. market, one of the original startup banks, Simple — now owned by BBVA — has taken the unusual step of removing a core banking feature: bill pay. The company claimed the feature was under-utilized and usage was trending downwards, which is why it decided to sunset the option to pay bills through its app. That decision, not surprisingly, has angered a number of customers who are taking to social media and online forums like Reddit, threatening to switch banks as a result.

It’s likely true that fewer people today use bill pay than in the past.

The feature is something of a holdover from an earlier era before electronic payment options and auto pay became as ubiquitous as they are now. And many customers may still have bill pay set up even though another electronic option has since become available. Or they may not want to take the time to reconfigure things, when what they have works.

But despite bill pay’s waning usage, it’s odd to shut down such a commonplace banking feature. It’s rare to find a bank that doesn’t offer bill pay services, in fact, outside of a handful of smaller up-and-comers that aren’t full-service banks.

Even most of the newer U.S. fintech players like Chime, Qapital, SoFi Money, Varo, Aspiration and others offer bill pay services where they mail a check for you. And it’s common among more traditional online banks like Ally, as well.

Removing bill pay also greatly impacts those who pay their rent by way of a mailed check, as many landlords are not set up for electronic payments. This is a recurring complaint among the customers who are lambasting Simple for its decision.

Instead, these customers will now have to purchase Simple’s newly available paper checks (sold in packs of 25 for $5 — oh, what a timely launch!).

They’ll then need to buy stamps, address envelopes, fill out checks and actually mail them.

Postal mail, of course, is not preferred by today’s younger generation — many of whom never had to write letters, having grown up in the internet age. Millennials have even complained that the very act of having to mail things gives them anxiety, due to all the steps involved and their overall unfamiliarity with the process.

Considering that banks like Simple are targeting the millennial customer, forcing them back to checks they have to mail themselves is not the smartest move — at least from a public relations perspective.

On top of all this, Simple’s announcement about the discontinuation of bill pay was not well-communicated. As it touted the arrival of paper checks, an email footer also quietly noted that bill bay would also shut down after July 9, 2019. Customers dinged Simple for its lack of transparency.

The company claimed it was sending emails about bill pay to customers — but many didn’t receive any message before learning of the change on Twitter. And they were angry.

Since the decision was announced, Simple has been dutifully responding to customers’ complaints on Twitter, sometimes with smiley emojis and cheerful customer service-ese, like: “We hear ya. Mailing payments for bills can be nerve wracking.” 

The company even wished one customer well on their journey to find another bank.

In addition to declining usage, the company said its newer Expenses feature was not working well with Bill Pay, which was another factor in its decision.

Predictably, the volume of customer complaints has led to the creation of a Change.org petition.

Things are now going so badly that Simple just sent customers another email in response to all the backlash. In it, the company acknowledges how unhappy customers are about its decision and its handling of the news.

“To be completely transparent, a really small percentage of our customers use Bill Pay,” the email reads. “With this service’s usage declining, we made the decision to sunset it. This allows us to use those resources to build new features that benefit a broader number of customers. We know that some of you aren’t happy about this decision or how we broke the news, and for that, we’re sorry.”

The decision, however, still stands.

Simple was one of the original innovators in online banking. But after its acquisition, the pace of innovation has decreased and customer growth has stagnated. Over the years, the company has been maligned for not allowing non-U.S. citizens to sign up and for shutting down customers’ accounts with little notice, due to transition issues.

Now it’s angering customers again just as a number of new, millennial-focused online banks are hitting the market — and as challenger banks from Europe, like N26 and Revolut, are preparing to make the jump to the U.S. That may not be the best time to send a core group of users in search of alternatives.

The full email sent to customers is below:

You probably heard this already but if you haven’t: Simple’s “Pay a bill” and “Mail a check” features (also known as “Bill Pay”) are going away on or after July 9. If you have a payment scheduled on or after that date, it will not be paid or sent.

To be completely transparent, a really small percentage of our customers use Bill Pay. With this service’s usage declining, we made the decision to sunset it. This allows us to use those resources to build new features that benefit a broader number of customers.

We know that some of you aren’t happy about this decision or how we broke the news, and for that, we’re sorry.

We’ll continue to be in touch over the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any questions, we’re reachable via a support message or at (888) 248-0632.

Thanks,

— The Team at Simple

Simple has been offered the opportunity to comment.

Lime’s founding CEO steps down as his co-founder takes control

In an all-hands meeting this afternoon, the scooter and bike-sharing phenom Lime announced co-founder and chief executive officer Toby Sun would transition out of the C-suite to focus on company culture and R&D. Brad Bao, a Lime co-founder and long-time Tencent executive, will assume chief responsibilities, Lime confirmed to TechCrunch.

“Lime has experienced unprecedented growth in the global marketplace under the joint leadership of our co-founders Brad Bao and Toby Sun,” the company said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Fortunately, Lime’s structure allows for our executive leadership to be multipurpose and we are making a few changes to our team today to seize the opportunity ahead of us.”

Sun and Bao launched Lime together in late 2016. The San Mateo-based company had near-immediate success, attracting hundreds of millions in venture capital funding and reaching a valuation of more than $1 billion in only a year and a half’s time. Today, the company is valued at $2.4 billion and is expected to hit the fundraising circuit soon.

In addition to today’s CEO shake-up, Lime’s chief operating officer and former GV partner Joe Kraus has been promoted to the role of president. Kraus joined Lime full-time late last year after more than a decade at the venture capital arm of Alphabet.

Bao, given his Tencent tenure, seems like a natural choice to lead Lime into a more mature phase of business. Sun, a former investment director at Fosun Kinzon, has less operational experience than his counterpart, who was most recently the vice president of the Chinese conglomerate’s gaming decision.

News of Sun’s demotion comes hot off the heels of a fresh new marketing campaign, featured above, in which the Lime co-founders describe the scooter-sharing startup’s origin story and grand ambitions. The company, backed by Bain Capital Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity Ventures, GV, IVP and a slew of other top-notch investors, is active in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and 27 cities internationally. As of June, riders had taken more than 50 million trips on one of Lime’s vehicles.

Canopy’s upscale co-working business adds a new location in SF on the heels of strategic funding

Canopy, an upscale, profitable developer of co-working spaces, has expanded its footprint in San Francisco to a third location on the heels of a strategic financing round.

Co-founded by the product designer Yves Behar; the second-generation design-build developer Amir Mortazavi; and Steve Mohebi, a serial entrepreneur with experience spanning real estate and healthcare (and the former director of sales at BetaSphere); Canopy bills itself as a better-designed WeWork for high-powered adults (or aspiring high-powered adults).

Canopy co-founders Amir Mortazavi, Yves Behar and Steve Mohebi

The company opened its latest office space in the financial district of San Francisco and has plans to double its Jackson Square location with a new penthouse space.

Investors in the round were culled from Canopy members and a few institutional investment funds, including Structure Capital, Montage Ventures and Graph Ventures, and individuals like Erik Blachford, the former chief executive of Expedia, Mark Pincus, the former chief executive of Zynga and Spencer Rascoff, the co-founder of Zillow.

Canopy’s latest office will be at 353 Kearny Street and Pine. The ground floor will house a retail store in partnership with Monocle Magazine and the building will contain 32 offices suitable for everyone from one person shops to larger teams of 10.

Like all of its offices, Canopy’s new building will be kitted out with Herman Miller sit-to-stand desks and Sayl chairs, and sound masking for privacy.

“Designing our spaces along with my friend and co-founder, Yves Behar, to serve the unmet demands of the premium segment has been a true labor of passion,” said co-founder and CEO, Amir Mortazavi, in a statement. “We build everything around our members’ needs — a generosity of space, abundant natural light, easy flow between private and shared spaces — to ensure the overall Canopy experience is at once inspiring and calm.”

The company boasts 300 members already and its founders say the business is already profitable. Canopy’s workspaces are not for everyone. Prices start at $100 per month to take advantage of the company’s addresses for people who want a virtual office. For folks who want 10 days’ worth of access to the co-working space’s common areas and an actual seat at a table, the price tag is $365 per month ($275 gets you 60 days of access out of a year).

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to be able to sit at an actual, dedicated workstation that’s theirs and theirs alone in a Canopy space better be willing to shell out $925 per month. That’s… not cheap, but it is a piece of Canopy that a customer can call their own.

You can do it, robot! Watch the beefy, 4-legged HyQReal pull a plane

It’s not really clear just yet exactly what all these powerful, agile quadrupedal robots people are working on are going to do, exactly, but even so it never gets old watching them do their thing. The latest is an Italian model called HyQReal, which demonstrates its aspiration to winning strongman competitions, among other things, by pulling an airplane behind it.

The video is the debut for HyQReal, which is the successor to HyQ, a much smaller model created years ago by the Italian Institute of Technology, and its close relations. Clearly the market, such as it is, has advanced since then, and discerning customers now want the robot equivalent of a corn-fed linebacker.

That’s certainly how HyQReal seems to be positioned; in its video, the camera lingers lovingly on its bulky titanium haunches and thick camera cage. Its low slung body recalls a bulldog rather than a cheetah or sprightly prey animal. You may think twice before kicking this one.

The robot was presented today at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, where in a workshop (documented by IEEE Spectrum) the team described HyQReal’s many bulkinesses.

It’s about four feet long and three high, weighs 130 kilograms (around 287 pounds), of which the battery comprises 15 — enough for about two hours of duty. It’s resistant to dust and water exposure and should be able to get itself up should it fall or tip over. The robot was created in collaboration with Moog, which created special high-powered hydraulics for the purpose.

It sounds good on paper, and the robot clearly has the torque needed to pull a small passenger airplane, as you can see in the video. But that’s not really what robots like this are for — they need to generate versatility and robustness under a variety of circumstances, and the smarts to navigate a human-centric world and provide useful services.

Right now HyQReal is basically still a test bed — it needs to have all kinds of work done to make sure it will stand up under conditions that robots like Spot Mini have already aced. And engineering things like arm or cargo attachments is far from trivial. All the same it’s exciting to see competition in a space that, just a few years back, seemed totally new (and creepy).

Streem buys Selerio in effort to boost its AR teleconferencing tech

Streem, an AR startup that is meshing teleconferencing software with computer vision tech, has acquired a small U.K. startup called Selerio that’s also building out augmented reality technologies.

The startups were both members of betaworks’ VisionCamp accelerator program last year where they met and collaborated while tackling separate computer vision problems in the AR space.

Streem’s play is that they can create a kind of souped-up Skype call that enables home service providers to get more visual data in the course of chatting with home-owners. This can be something simple like character recognition that enables users to point their phone rather than reciting a 30-character serial number; the company can also take measurements or save localized notes.

The Portland startup has disclosed more than $10 million in funding, though they have also just closed a new bout of funding (they’re not sharing the amount yet).

Selerio’s focus is all about gaining a contextual understanding of a space. The startup was spun out of research from Cambridge University. The company has not disclosed its amount of seed funding, but betaworks, Greycroft Partners and GGV Capital are among its backers. All three of Selerio’s employees have joined Streem as part of the acquisition.