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How a new business generated $1 million in sales in one year and attracted fans like Gwyneth Paltrow

Kaylin Marcotte’s quest to wind down after busy workdays led her to start a puzzle business that now has more than $1 million dollars in sales in just over one year.

Marcotte used puzzles as her nightly meditation when she was head of marketing and community at news platform theSkimm in 2014. She was completing one per week but found many designs to be outdated and uninspiring.

She was also noticing that female artists were underrepresented and wanted to find a way to showcase their work. “I began dreaming up a new kind of puzzle,” she says. “An elevated, modern take on the classic jigsaw and supporting emerging artists at the same time.” 

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Since launching JIGGY Puzzles in November 2019, the Brooklyn, New York, entrepreneur has brought in more than $1 million. The puzzles have caught the eye of celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow, who posted on her site Goop that she got one for her son Moses, and “Riverdale” star Lili Reinhart. Actress Sophia Bush and singer Demi Lovato have designed for the company’s special collections.

Here’s what Marcotte did as a first-time entrepreneur that worked.

She took a familiar product and added a unique twist

Usually, the pleasure you get from doing a puzzle is fleeting. “You spend anywhere from five, 10, 12 hours with this image studying every piece, seeing every detail, really living inside of it,” she says. “And there’s something so deeply unsatisfying about just immediately taking it apart and putting it back in the box.” 

Marcotte had seen a community on Reddit where people made videos of themselves gluing their puzzles, and it gave her an idea. Inspired, Marcotte worked backwards to figure out what would look good when it was completed and be a good experience for a buyer as both a puzzle and a piece of art. 

She decided to give JIGGY customers the option to hang their puzzles in their homes as artwork. “Each box comes with puzzle glue and a straight edge [to help spread it],” she says. “So it can look good on the wall after it’s complete.”

She committed to a cause she believes in

Marcotte went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, when she started working on JIGGY and saw a sign on the wall that read, “Can you name five women in the arts?” This proved more challenging than expected: “Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo … OK, this is much harder than we thought or than it should be.”

The issue isn’t simply one of representation. Making money from your work is difficult too, she says. That’s why her company works with female artists worldwide and share profits from sales of their work. 

JIGGY puzzle in progress.

Courtesy JIGGY

Among JIGGY’s bestsellers are “Bathing With Flowers,” a woman with her hair down sitting in a bath and surrounded by plants and flowers, and its “Boobs” puzzle, which features 48 sketches of breasts in shapes, sizes, and colors, some of which include mastectomy scars.

“It’s really just a celebration and all inclusive,” says Marcotte. “It was picked up by Goop, and Gwyneth Paltrow personally said she has done it with her son.” 

She capitalized on interest in at-home projects

The company was doing well during its first four months of business. In the spring it saw a 400% increase in sales, Marcotte says. “Things really took off when the pandemic led to people spending more time at home,” she says. “Starting mid-March, the increase in demand, traffic, and sales was pretty immediate. We quickly sold out of our remaining inventory in three weeks and rushed back into production.”

People stuck at home liked the idea of doing puzzles. “Everything started picking up, just kind of the zeitgeist,” she says. “Influencers, celebrities, people sharing what they were up to in quarantine.” People started telling her they hadn’t done puzzles in 20 years but were now open to it.

To keep up with demand, JIGGY launched postcard-size puzzles with 24 pieces. “It was definitely a whirlwind,” she says. “There’s something about a puzzle for Type A people where it’s relaxing but you’re still going toward a goal and you see your progress with every piece you put in. We had people where they ordered the same puzzle in quarantine and got on Zoom and had a puzzle party doing the same puzzle.”

There’s something about a puzzle for Type A people where it’s relaxing but you’re still going toward a goal and you see your progress with every piece you put in.

Kaylin Marcotte

Founder and CEO, JIGGY Puzzles

Puzzles were being celebrated in the culture in a new way, says Marcotte. “Lifestyle publications that might not have talked about puzzles before now were like, ‘Here’s what’s keeping us sane.'” 

JIGGY increased its offerings to 20 designs in its core collection plus special editions. Prices run from $40-$49 and each kit comes with 450-800 pieces. While Marcotte is the only full-time employee alongside three part-timers, building out her team for 2021 is now a goal. 

She worked through the growing pains

Everything inside the kit is either reusable or recyclable, she says, which presented its own challenges. “My experience was content and services,” she says. “This was my first physical product.”

She learned that handling the logistics involved much more than just finding factories with materials. “I quickly realized how much of a partnership it is, and especially being a small new pre-launch company, really having to convince them to invest in you and believe in you and even take your business.” 

Lifestyle publications who might not have talked about puzzles before now were like, ‘Here’s what’s keeping us sane.’ 

Kaylin Marcotte

Founder and CEO, JIGGY Puzzles

Even something like finding the right tube for the glue presented a challenge. “I felt very strongly about recyclable materials and not using single-use plastics,” she says. “And I see how it happens: The easiest, cheapest choice every step of the way is just plastic. That took more time and energy and cost to really think through that.”

In the end, her efforts were worth it, she says. “I think now it shows in the product and people see that there was a lot of thoughtfulness that went into the packaging design.”

She fostered dialogue between artist, buyer, and community

Marcotte encourages communication between artists and customers. “It’s really fun to see the relationship between artists and the puzzler, because for the artists you see somebody basically recreating their work piece by piece and then hanging it in their home,” she says. “And for the puzzler, I’ve heard so many times they have so much more appreciation, having seen every detail, when you pick up a piece, and you’re like, ‘OK, where does this go?’ You’re studying, seeing every detail, and zooming out and zooming in.” 

The artist’s name and contact info are on the puzzle box, and Marcotte says puzzlers will often tag the artist on Instagram when they get to certain points in the puzzle. “The cheapest customer is always your existing one,” she says, adding that she makes sure the company engages with buyers on email and social media. “We’re really building that kind of habitual recurring relationship with them.”

With extra difficult puzzles, she says, a buyer might tag the artist and write, “This section!” for the part that’s really challenging them.

Her advice for starting your own business

While creating a business is a lot of work, Marcotte recommends you just dive in if you’re interested. “I heard someone say that starting a family or getting pregnant, there’s never going to be a perfect time to do it,” she says. She suggests starting where you are with what you have, and getting your domain name and your Instagram handle.

“Start growing some content and see if there’s an appetite there,” she says. “Lead authentically and organically with what your mission is and what your story is. Dive in, get some traction, and get things out into the world.”

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More travel hotspots are opening to people who work from home

People working from home have more options for making their living abroad than ever before.

In addition to the countries that initially opened to remote workers last year, new destinations have launched programs to tempt workers to ditch their home offices for tropical shores and year-round sun.  

What’s necessary? Employment outside of the intended destination (a must), proof of sufficient funds to support a long-term stay (usually required), medical insurance (a good idea even if it isn’t compulsory) and negative Covid tests, of course. Add in application fees and a few other perfunctory requirements — travelers can secure beachside workplaces through the winter of 2022.  

Here are seven new options.

Montserrat

Tourists can’t get into Montserrat right now, but remote workers can.

Announced on Jan. 29, the Montserrat Remote Workers Stamp lets travelers live and work on the tiny Caribbean island for up to 12 months.

“The response to this initiative has been extremely positive,” Warren Solomon, Montserrat’s director of tourism told CNBC Global Traveler. “The geographic spread of the applicants matches our main international source markets, namely the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Europe.”

Known as the Emerald Isle, Montserrat is home to Soufrière Hills volcano, which erupted in 1995.

Westend61 | Westend61 | Getty Images

Remote workers (including freelancers and consultants) must have medical insurance and an annual income of at least $70,000. Fees are $500 for individuals — or $750 or higher for families — to apply.

Applicants know within a week if they are approved.  

One of 14 British Overseas Territories, Montserrat is home to around 5,000 people which means that “everyone knows everyone,” according to the island’s tourism website.

Remote workers must test negative for Covid-19 and quarantine for 14 days at an accommodation of their choice. Only 20 Covid cases have been confirmed on the island to date.

“Stamps” cannot be renewed, although workers can reapply to stay another year.

The Bahamas

People who think they may tire of staying on one island can apply for the Bahamas Extended Access Travel Stay program.

The new 12-month residency permit, called BEATS for short, lets remote workers and students live and move between 16 different islands in the Bahamas, including Andros, the Exumas, Eleuthera and Paradise Island.

The Bahamas has more than 700 islands and cays; remote workers and students can live on 16 of them, including Eleuthera (shown here).

Sylvain Sonnet | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Applications are processed within five days and cost $25 per person. Workers must provide proof of employment, while students need to show evidence of school enrollment and funds to cover living and travel expenses. For additional fees, students can access the University of The Bahamas for tech support and other educational services.

If approved, the main applicant must pay $1,000 and $500 for every accompanying dependent. Renewals are possible, for a maximum stay of up to three years.

Travelers need a negative Covid-19 test result (taken no more than five days prior to arriving) to apply for a Bahamas Travel Health Visa, which is an additional requirement. Starting Nov. 1 this year, visitors no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.  

Dubai

All nationalities can apply for Dubai’s new remote working program, provided they make $5,000 per month.

Travelers who are unsure about committing to the program can enter Dubai on a tourist visa, then apply for the work program during their stay.  

At $287 to apply, fees are lower than most other programs. Applicants must have health insurance that is valid in the United Arab Emirates and show proof of income in the form of payslips and bank statements.

Like other programs, workers can leave and reenter at will, but stays may be revoked if travelers leave for six continuous months.

Dubai is known for its modern architecture, including the Burj Khalifa, which at 2,700 feet tall is nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building.

Fraser Hall | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Workers can hire nannies and drivers, rent cars and enroll their children into Dubai’s school system.

To enter Dubai, travelers must arrive with a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departing. Additional tests may be required upon landing, and residents of South Africa or Nigeria are currently restricted from entering.

The emirate enacted strict new measures earlier this month to curb record-breaking infection rates that followed a highly-criticized December travel season. The rise in infections coincides with a robust vaccination campaign, whereby the UAE is second only to Israel in the percentage of its population that has been vaccinated.  

Mauritius

Remote workers seeking a “Covid-safe” place to ride out the pandemic can consider Mauritius, according to local tourism officials on the island nation located to the southeast of Africa.

The country of nearly 1.3 million people has recorded 610 Covid cases to date, few of which have occurred in 2021.  

Digital nomads and retirees willing to follow its “rigorous” health measures can apply for a “Premium Visa” to stay for one year, according to the country’s official tourism website. To enter, travelers must quarantine for two weeks and pass four Covid-19 tests.

Concierge services are being planned to help digital nomads and retirees locate homes, cars, banks and telephone companies, according to Mauritius’ official tourism website.

Andrea Comi | Moment | Getty Images

There is no fee to apply, though applicants need long-term accommodation plans, travel and health insurance and proof of sufficient funds to stay in Mauritius, which is defined as at least $1,500 in monthly income. Savings of $18,000 is sufficient, said Muhammad Muhsin Mowlabaccus from Economic Development Board Mauritius.

The new visas, which launched in November 2020, are open to residents of more than 100 nations, although travelers who have been in the U.K., South Africa, Japan and Brazil in the past 15 days cannot enter until Feb. 28.

Croatia

As expected, Croatia started welcoming digital nomads in January.

Applying to live in this popular Mediterranean coastal country isn’t as simple as other destinations. However, this may be changing soon, said Jan de Jong, president of Digital Nomad Association Croatia.

“At this moment, it is only possible to apply at the local police station in Croatia,” de Jong told CNBC. “We expect that by March … we can start accepting online applications.”

Remote workers who require a separate visa to enter Croatia can apply for the program at the nearest Croatian embassy or consulate — there are 10 in the U.S — but de Jong said they can email documents to police stations in Croatia, too.

“Croatia has a chance to become among the top destinations for digital nomads,” said Jan de Jong, who said workers will be attracted to its islands and coastlines as well as its inland mountains, forests and national parks.

Jorg Greuel | Stone | Getty Images

Workers must also show they have enough money to support their stay, but this can be proven through monthly income or savings, said de Jong.

“The minimum amount you need to have per month is 16,142.50 kuna ($2,590),” he said. “For those digital nomads who don’t have a steady income every month, it would also be enough to show you have enough savings for those 12 months, meaning some $31,000.”

Remote workers should also plan to stay for no more than a year. Temporary stays for digital nomads are “granted for up to a year (possibly even less) and … cannot be extended,” according to a government website. Workers can reapply six months after a previous stay has expired. 

Madeira

Madeira isn’t just welcoming digital nomads — it hopes to form an entire community for them.

The archipelago, which is an autonomous region of Portugal located 320 miles from Morocco, is home to an initiative called Digital Nomads Madeira. The pilot program is providing free working space in the village of Ponta do Sol from Feb. 1 to June 30.

“The working space is capable of welcoming 30 to 40 people daily,” said Micaela Vieira, a project manager with Startup Madeira, an organization working with the local government to develop the program. “So far, we’ve received over 4,800 registrations from [more than] 90 countries.”

Vieira said that more than 250 digital nomads are currently working on the island, either in the free workspaces or in cafes and restaurants with free Wi-Fi.

Most are from European Union or Schengen Area countries, due to EU travel restrictions.

Still, it’s possible for others to join through “a popular visa used by digital nomads, the D7,” said Vieira, referencing the visa that allows non-EU citizens to get Portuguese residency provided they make at least €7,620 Euros ($9,250) in annual passive (not salary derived) income.

Puerto Rico

Although no official program exists, Puerto Rico is open to American remote workers who don’t want to be bothered by application forms or fees.   

As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico allows U.S. citizens to enter freely. They don’t need a passport to visit and can even bring along their pets, according to Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s official destination marketing organization.

Americans can work and live in Puerto Rico without a remote worker visa.

Megan Vazquez / EyeEm | EyeEm | Getty Images

American travelers must show proof of a negative PCR test result to enter, but Covid tests aren’t needed to return to the U.S.

The territory has several coworking spaces and hotels with packages catered to remote workers. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed Puerto Rico a Level 4 travel destination and recommends against traveling there. To date, the territory of 3 million people has confirmed more than 133,000 Covid cases.

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Kevin O’Leary: I make ‘a lot’ of money each month from my Cameo side hustle

For “Shark Tank” investor Kevin O’Leary, making videos on Cameo is a lucrative side hustle.

“People ask me all the time about Cameo. It’s my side hustle,” O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares ETFs, tells CNBC Make It.

On Cameo, customers can pay for personalized video shout-outs from thousands of celebrities, from Carole Baskin from Netflix’s “Tiger King,” who charges $299 per video, to rapper and actor Ice T, who charges $450 per video. The cost of Cameo videos can range from a few dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the Cameo user’s rate.

O’Leary charges $1,200 per video on Cameo, and “I make a lot [of money] each month. I do a ton.”

“Let’s say you’re getting married and you want Mr. Wonderful to sing at your wedding. Well, I can do that for you on Cameo,” O’Leary says.

For example, “I just did one [for] a couple getting married next month. The wife says they watch ‘Shark Tank’ every night and they wanted me to sing at their wedding. So, I sang on a Cameo for her and she’s keeping it until their wedding.”

In addition to singing videos, O’Leary does “all kinds.”

Most of his Cameo videos, “99% of them are for entrepreneurs that are starting businesses that are trying to use social media to acquire customers,” he says. “[T]hey take my Cameo and they post it and hopefully, it helps them get customers. I’ll help any entrepreneur. I’m willing to do that.”

Every once in a while, O’Leary gets a Cameo request for birthday, but mostly, he works with businesses, he says.

“My Cameos cost $1,200 and that really makes them more for businesses than people at birthdays.”

Indeed, at his rate of $1,200 per video, O’Leary was among the celebrities charging the most on Cameo in 2020.

“Hey, it’s 12 hundred bucks, but it’s Mr. Wonderful. [It’s] worth it,” he says. “In fact, it’s a discount. It’s a great deal.”

Cameo has profited too. In 2020, Cameo brought in $100 million in revenue, with 75% of it paid to talent, Variety reported. In the past year, there was a surge in the use of Cameo by celebrities to bring in money as they may have struggled to work, or were without work entirely, due to the pandemic, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis told Variety.

“[W]hat’s cool about Cameo [is] it’s for everybody. It’s democratization,” O’Leary says.

But there is a limit to what he would do, O’Leary admits. “Cameo has rules. They’re not going to do really bad content, and I wouldn’t do that either.”

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank.”

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Elizabeth Holmes denies destroying evidence in Theranos case

The mystery of what happened to critical evidence proving Theranos’ blood-testing technology didn’t work deepened when Elizabeth Holmes blamed the government for what she calls an “investigative failure.”

In a filing late Tuesday, attorneys for Holmes shot back at prosecutors on a motion to exclude evidence of so-called test results, saying they are at fault for losing a database called the Laboratory Information System (LIS),  which contained three years worth of accuracy and failure rates of Theranos tests.

“Rather than accept responsibility for that investigative failure, and the resulting evidentiary holes in its case, the government has chosen a different path,” Holmes’ attorneys write, adding “the government has insinuated that the loss of the LIS data reflects on Ms. Holmes’ supposed guilt even though she had nothing to do with it.”

“The reason the government lacks this evidence is because the prosecutors sat on their hands for years before attempting to acquire it, and then sat on their hands again after acquiring it. They are entirely to blame,” attorneys for Holmes write.

“The reason that the government has built its case on this teetering card house of irrelevant evidence is that it lost—or, worse, did not want to analyze preindictment—the actual evidence of testing results in this case,” Holmes’ attorneys argued.

However, prosecutors allege that Theranos executives destroyed the LIS system that proved her blood-testing product was inaccurate.

In a filing last month, the government said that three months after a federal grand jury issued a subpoena for a copy of the database in August 2018, “the LIS was destroyed.” They wrote that “the government has never been provided with the complete records contained in the LIS, nor been given the tools, which were available within the database, to search for such critical evidence as all Theranos blood tests with validation errors. The data disappeared”

Prosecutors say that the failure rate in one of those tests was 51.3%, adding Theranos test results “were so inaccurate, it was essentially a coin toss whether the patient was getting the right result. The data was devastating.” They want to call on 11 patients and 11 doctors to testify about the accuracy and reliability problems.

Holmes says there’s a certain amount of expected error in all laboratory tests, “just as the fact of a heart attack does not prove what caused the heart attack, the fact of an incorrect blood test does not prove what caused the error.”

Prosecutors point to internal emails which they say proves that Theranos and its counsel attempted to cover-up the test results in the database from the grand jury. Theranos provided backup copies of the database for investigators to piece together. However, prosecutors allege the backup required a password that Theranos executives couldn’t remember.

Theranos was once a Silicon Valley darling, attracting the who’s who of venture capitalists and a private valuation of $9 billion before shutting down in 2018.

Holmes and her co-defendant Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani each face a dozen criminal wire fraud charges in connection with deceiving investors, patients and doctors about Theranos’ technology.

Holmes will go head to head with prosecutors next month over evidence she argues shouldn’t be introduced to a jury that will decide her fate.

The judge’s rulings will set the stage for her much awaited trial, scheduled to begin in July.

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Mark Cuban: If I were to start a business right now, this is what I would do

Mark Cuban became a billionaire just before the dot-com bubble burst.

In 1995, Cuban and a friend, Todd Wagner, started an internet radio platform called Broadcast.com. Four years later, Broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock, making Cuban a very wealthy man. Since then, the “Shark Tank” investor and Dallas Mavericks owner has invested in hundreds of successful companies to date.

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If Cuban were to start a company today, he would also utilize new technology — he would center the business around blockchain technology, smart contracts and NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which reminds him of the early days of the internet.

“If this was 1995 again, coming up with these types of applications, I’d be going nuts,” Cuban told Justin Kan on a recent episode of “The Quest” podcast. “That’s exactly what I’d be doing right now – anything I could make digital.”

NFTs are unique cryptocurrency tokens used to represent assets (like works of digital art, music or movies). NFTs can be bought and sold, like physical assets, but since they run on blockchain, a decentralized digital ledger that documents transactions, ownership and validity of the asset they represent can be tracked.

For example, if a creator puts an NFT-based piece of artwork up for sale, a buyer could purchase a unique token that represents the asset and can then prove authenticity and ownership of the digital art through blockchain.

“This is like the early internet days all over again,” Cuban told Kan. “I think [NFTs and blockchain tech is] going to be huge.”

Cuban has already cashed in on NFTs by auctioning digital goods online, including a Mavs Suns Game Day Experience video. He also owns NFT-based digital assets, including a “Maxi Kleber dunk Moment” card that he considers a collectible and just as valuable as a physical sport card. Although Cuban said he wouldn’t sell his, other digital Maxi Kleber dunk sets have sold for anywhere from $35 to as much as $800 on the NBA Top Shot website, which Cuban describes as a massive innovation.

In addition to collectibles, Cuban predicts that NFTs will disrupt the music and movie industries.

“I think the collectible side of it is going to completely turn the [art], music and movie industry upside down,” Cuban said.

“I’d be going to every musician I know right now. I’d introduce myself, like I did back in the day with Broadcast.com, [to make] anything digital. Same with movies.”

According to Cuban, this industry will grow because, in his opinion, “Gen Z value digital goods more than anything, other than maybe a house, maybe a car [and] their phone. After that, it’s digital. They’re going to respect something that’s digital before they buy something that’s physical.”

Recently, the use of NFTs got a bit more mainstream, as Christie’s announced that it will become the first major auction house to sell a fully digital, NFT-based artwork later this month.

“[I]t may bring traditional art collectors to the digital space,” Cuban told CNBC Make It of the auction.

Growing up, Cuban frequently sold baseball cards and stamps, and the process of doing so has helped him understand why blockchain will become increasingly important, he said.

“Because much of the industry is person to person, there are a variety of other risks and costs introduced… All of these are expensive, time consuming, risk increasing and annoying,” Cuban wrote in a January blog post. But with digital goods and digital marketplaces, “you have all the fun, none of those risks and the value is still set by the same laws of supply and demand,” Cuban wrote.

Though of course, there are risks associated with digital goods, as fintech experts point out, the process of buying and selling will be more efficient through blockchain, Cuban told Kan. “This is the holy grail.”

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Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank.”

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Roku CEO has sold $270 million of stock so far this year as the stock soars

Anthony Wood

David Orrell | CNBC

Roku CEO Anthony Wood has sold more than $270 million worth of shares in the company so far this year — that’s more in the first seven weeks of the year than he sold in all of 2020, according to securities filings. All sales were conducted under a pre-determined trading plan.

Roku has been on fire this past year, with the stock up nearly 270% in the last 12 months and about 40% from the start of the year, and the company reported quarterly earnings results on Thursday that beat Wall Street estimates. The company earned 49 cents per share, compared to a Refinitiv forecast for a loss of 6 cents per share. Roku’s revenue came in at $650 million, coming in over an estimate of $615 million. Shares were up 3% in mid-day trading on Friday.

The company, which has benefited as viewers and advertisers move from traditional linear TV to streaming, has a market cap of $57.5 billion, up from $15.2 billion in February 2020 and $5.8 billion in February 2019.

Wood has sold $272,632,403 worth of shares so far in 2021 in four separate transactions, according to securities filings compiled by OpenInsider. In 2020, Wood sold $218,675,340 worth, according to the filings. 

Roku’s executives, including Wood, receive compensation that’s made up of salary and equity awards. According to a 2020 proxy statement from Roku, Wood elected prior to the end of 2018 that for calendar 2019 he would reduce his annual base salary by $500,000 in exchange for monthly grants of vested stock options. 

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Financial expert: 4 time-tested tips for explaining money to children

What is financial literacy?

Diane Morais, president of consumer and commercial banking products at Ally Bank, described financial literacy as the ability to understand and effectively use financial skills such as personal financial management, budgeting and investing.

“Financial literacy for kids is about ensuring that your child is educated on the best way to manage finances,” Morais told TODAY Parents. “It’s the basic building block for financial wellness — the skills and knowledge you need to make informed and effective decisions with your finances. The key is combining financial literacy with behaviors and a plan to achieve financial security.”

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Morais equated teaching financial literacy to kids like other basic skills.

“Teaching our children good money habits is really no different than teaching healthy eating habits or good manners,” she said. “It’s important to have children learn about basic money concepts, such as saving for a goal and spending only what you can afford. It will ultimately help them lead happier, financially stable lives.”

Are my kids too young to talk about money?

Morais says no.

“It’s almost never too early to start teaching our kids about responsible spending, saving and investing,” she said. “Conversations about money should evolve to include technology; money is no longer coins and paper money.”

For parents looking to start the conversation with their kids about financial literacy, Morais offered the following tips:

1. Start small and make it tangible

Kids can set goals and learn how to help others, all while practicing their math skills.

“An allowance, for example, is one of the simplest ways to teach your kids how to save,” Morais explained. “When children see their earnings separated into ‘save,’ ‘spend’ and even ‘give’ … it brings those lessons to life.”

2. Get help from financial literacy books

Kids of all ages can benefit from books as a resourceful tool.

“A few years ago we published ‘Planet Zeee and the Money Tree,'” Morais said. “It’s fun, futuristic and ideal for teaching elementary-age children basic financial literacy concepts.”

3. Think creatively

Morais said that for older children, a creative approach helps make the lessons stick.

“Research shows the golden oldie methods of teaching financial literacy can be too dry,” she explained. “Here’s where games not only come in handy, but also yield lasting benefits like self-confidence and retention. Embedding financial interactions in the game makes learning about money easy, fun and effective. It feels less like learning and more like play.”

4. Set a good example

Remember: Kids always learn more from what you do than what you say.

“Talking decisions through may oftentimes be the best example and in-the-moment teachable event,” Morais said, encouraging parents to explain things to their children. “Tell them when you make a mistake (and) be open when you hold off buying something you really want because it’s the right financial decision. These basic conversations will go a long way towards reinforcing long-term habits for you as a parent and for your kids.”

The article “Financial Literacy for Kids: What Parents Need to Know” originally published on TODAY.

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Crowdfunding drives are raising millions for charity. Here’s how to give without getting scammed

Americans have opened their wallets in response to crises like Covid-19 and racial injustice, according to the most recent data from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

The organization reports a 7.6% increase in the amount donated through the first nine months of 2020. Leading the surge: smaller contributions of $250 or less.

At the same time, nontraditional fundraising drives, through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, had unprecedented success last year. According to the site’s 2020 Giving Report, the year included the largest single fundraiser in the site’s history — $44 million to fight hunger in a drive led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Laurene Powell Jobs.

GoFundMe also said it attracted $625 million in various fundraisers for Covid relief between March and June, and 500,000 donors contributed to the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund, the most individual donors ever attracted to a GoFundMe drive.

Add to that thousands of small drives for everything from people’s medical expenses to their college tuition, and charity experts agree that crowdfunding is a formidable alternative to traditional charity fundraising, and it is likely here to stay.

Boston-based marketing consultant Julia Campbell, who works with nonprofits, attributes the shift to what she believes is an unwarranted mistrust of charitable institutions, particularly among younger donors.

“They don’t want to give money that they feel like is going to be run through some kind of institution,” Campbell told CNBC’s “American Greed.” “I think that’s been affecting the nonprofit sector even more so as trust goes down.”

But donating to an online fundraiser — whether through GoFundMe, Facebook or other sites — can carry its own risks despite extensive safeguards the platforms have put in place.

Crowd scamming

In one of the most notorious cases of fundraisers attempting to crowdsource a fraud, a New Jersey couple, Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure, raised more than $400,000 to help Johnny Bobbitt — a homeless man McClure claimed she encountered after running out of gas in Philadelphia in 2017.

As the three told the story, Bobbitt was a veteran, down on his luck. He saw McClure stranded on the side of a road and came to her aid. He walked to a service station, spent his last $20 to buy her gas, and helped her on her way.

A picture of Katelyn McClure, right, Mark D’Amico, center, and Johnny Bobbitt Jr. is displayed during a news conference in Mt. Holly, N.J., Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.

Seth Wenig | AP

McClure and D’Amico launched a GoFundMe campaign that went viral. But the story began to unravel when Bobbitt later claimed he had received none of the crowdsourced funds, even filing a lawsuit against the couple.

Prosecutors alleged that D’Amico and McClure spent and gambled away most of the money. And it turned out that Bobbitt was in on the scam as well, in exchange for a cut of the money. The story about McClure running out of gas and Bobbitt coming to her aid was fiction.

Adrienne Gonzalez, founder of the watchdog website GoFraudMe.com, said the three came perilously close to getting away with their scam, until Bobbitt suspected that his partners in crime were cheating him.

“Had they split it three ways and had they given the homeless man his cut, would we have ever heard about it? No, I don’t think we would have,” she said.

Bobbitt and McClure pleaded guilty to state and federal charges in connection with the scam. Bobbitt was sentenced to one year’s probation on the state charge of conspiracy to commit theft by deception. He faces sentencing in October on a single federal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

McClure has yet to be sentenced on a single state count of second-degree theft by deception and a single federal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. She has agreed to testify against D’Amico, her former boyfriend.

D’Amico has pleaded guilty to a single state charge of misapplication of entrusted property and has been sentenced to five years in prison. But he has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count federal indictment for fraud and conspiracy. His trial is on hold because of the pandemic.

GoFundMe said it honored its guarantee and refunded all of the money raised in the fraudulent campaign, making the 14,000 people who donated whole.

CEO Rob Solomon told NBC News in 2019 that the site beefed up its antifraud measures in the wake of the attempted scam. The site relies heavily on its community of users to report suspicious activity. He said the 2017 fraud could not happen today.

“Misuse on the platform is very rare. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all campaigns result in misuse,” he said.

Sniff test

If an online fundraising campaign strikes a chord with you, and if you are convinced that an established charity cannot meet the need, Campbell suggests stepping back and doing some extra due diligence before you donate.

“There’s a sniff test,” she said. “What’s the purpose? How will the funds be used? Does that sound in any way suspicious?”

Look for details about the intended recipient of the funds. Seek out their social media profiles.

“See if they just started their account, like they just joined Facebook this month,” Campbell said. “Do they have less than 40 friends? And take a look at the photos and the images that they’re using. If they only have one photo, then more likely than not it’s a scam account and you should steer clear.”

Also, look closely at the photos used on the fundraiser’s site to make certain they are genuine. You can perform a Google reverse image search by dragging the photo into the site’s search window. That can tell you if the fundraiser is using a stock photo or an image appropriated from someone else.

Be especially careful when it comes to someone who is raising money for a third party, like D’Amico and McClure fundraising for Bobbitt. What is the connection? Is it real?

“Look for specific details to the victim, to the family, and then look up your own connections,” Campbell said. “Have your friends and family donated? Are they connected in any way to this person?”

Charity begins at home

GoFundMe says it has attracted 65 million donations in its 10 years of existence, including many that went to charities. The organization says 110,000 charities have benefitted from its fundraising campaigns.

Campbell believes the platform has resonated with people who want to take a more hands-on approach to giving, rather than donating money to a big, impersonal, national charity.

“They want to go and actually give coats to homeless people. They want to make sandwiches and give them out,” she said. However, she added, a more effective approach may be to contribute to local organizations.

“I believe in national charities, but giving locally and just giving to causes that are close to your heart, giving to nonprofits and helping build up the capacity of your local library, your local food bank, your local shelter, that’s the best way to help the community,” she said.

Experts agree that notwithstanding last year’s fundraising records, many charities have been forced to lay off employees or cut back on services because of the challenges of operating in the pandemic.

That makes it important to keep on giving, no matter the platform, and no matter the amount.

“I think the perception is that $10 is going to go into some deep, dark hole,” Campbell said. “Trust me when I say $10, especially if you do it monthly, can make such a huge difference to these organizations.”

Just do some homework before you give.

See how crowdfunding fraudsters are attempting to corrupt the system and steal from the truly needy. Watch an ALL NEW episode of “American Greed,” Monday, Feb. 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.

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Categories
Wealth

Even the well-traveled rarely know these beautiful remote islands in Asia

A cluster of islands in the northernmost region of the Philippines is so remote that they are actually closer to Taiwan than to most parts of the Philippines.

The islands sit 100 miles north of Luzon, the country’s largest and most populous island and home to the capital city of Manila. Yet, they couldn’t be further from the stereotypical tropical scene of swaying palms and white sand beaches associated with the Philippine archipelago.

Imagine windswept emerald hills dotted with cattle, quaint stone towns with flower-lined paths, craggy cliffs that plummet into a deep sea of crashing, white-tipped waves and lighthouses that stand steadfast and strong, much like the locals themselves.

This is Batanes — a captivating and magical place that feels more like the set of the historical drama “Outlander” than the “The Beach.”

Pastoral landscapes, peaceful people

Composed of three main islands — Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat — that sit between the North Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, Batanes is often pummeled by unforgiving typhoons that form on both bodies of water.

It is also on the Circum-Pacific Belt, better known as the Ring of Fire, and prone to frequent earthquakes, one which damaged the island of Itbayat in July 2019.

The pastoral landscape of Naidi Hills near the Basco Lighthouse.

Scott A. Woodward

Here, the land is forged by the elements and, in many ways, so are the people.

There is an air of mystery that shrouds the indigenous population of Batanes, the Ivatans. Due to its isolation, challenging climate and difficult landscape, the locals have built a society that values trust and real connection.

Unlike the boisterous and charmingly chaotic countrysides of the Philippines, which can feel more karaoke pub than idyllic paradise, Batanes and its people are quiet, pensive, orderly and peaceful. Warm and sincere, the Ivatans seek honest interaction with visitors who wish to learn more about their culture.

A fisherman in the village of Diura.

Scott A. Woodward

The Ivatans live in symbiosis with nature, and they care for their natural heritage with an almost spiritual fervor. They acknowledge the land as the source of their welfare and wellbeing and are adamant about sustainability.

The best example would be the absence of markets in the province; agricultural practices are designed to produce just enough food for the population, with very little surplus.

Here, Christian faith and spirituality permeate everyday life. The word “Dius” or God is used in many expressions: “Dius mamajes!” — or God will repay you is their way of saying thank you; “Dius machivan!” — may God go with you is their goodbye; or simply “Dius?” to ask if anybody is home. Once there, visitors will commonly hear “Dius mavidin!” or may God be with you, which is how they welcome guests.

Where to stay

Unlike most parts of the Philippines, Batanes is sparsely populated.

The 2015 census counted only 17,246 people, which equates to roughly 205 people per square mile.

Stringent measures are in place to prevent overtourism, such as limiting the number of flights to the islands. The area is also subject to the Batanes Responsible Tourism Act, whereby the Philippine government declared the province a “responsible, community-based cultural heritage and ecotourism zone” in 2016.

As a result, travelers can expect to find homestays and small inns rather than branded hotels.

The bed and breakfast, Fundacion Pacita.

Scott A. Woodward

One establishment truly stands out.

The former residence of the late artist Pacita Abad, Fundacion Pacita is a charming bed and breakfast that sits atop a lush grassy slope overlooking the sea.

Built in the traditional stone fashion, coupled with white-washed adobe walls, it is quirkily decorated in colorful tiles, repurposed furniture and Abad’s vibrant artwork.

Food from Cafe du Tukon; Patsy, the niece of late artist Pacita Abad.

Scott A. Woodward

Her niece, Patsy, who can often be found walking the premises with a cheery smile and a glass of wine, now runs the inn. She recently opened the fabulous Café du Tukon, which serves delicious contemporary interpretations of local delicacies, such as a carbonara pasta topped with salted dolphin fish, called arayu, rather than bacon or guanciale.

What to do

Batan is the main island of Batanes. Due to choppy waters and unpredictable weather, crossing between the islands of Batanes can be difficult. Fortunately, Batan has much to offer and is easily accessible via commercial flights.

It is imperative to work with an accredited touring agency, such as IBS Tours and Travels, before organizing a trip. The agency can coordinate a car and guide to navigate the breathtaking coastal highway that loops around the island.

The Tayid Lighthouse on the island of Batan.

Scott A. Woodward

Agencies can also arrange stops at notable sites such as the iconic Basco Lighthouse and Tayid Lighthouse, the sloping hills of Rakuh a Payaman and the colorful waters of Homoron Blue Lagoon.

It’s also worth stopping at small, peaceful towns like Mahatao and Ivana, known for their churches and Spanish bridges, as well as Diura, home of the Mataw caste of mystic fishermen.

A woman in Chavayan wears a vakul made from hand-sewn palm fronds.

Scott A. Woodward

Weather permitting, the island of Sabtang can be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride. The breathtaking views from the cliffs of Chamantad Tiñan are worth it, as is the stone village of Chavayan where they make vakul, which are traditional headdresses made of stripped palm fronds that protect women field laborers from the elements.

Getting to Batanes

The only real way to get there is to fly. Flights can range from 80 to 100 minutes, and could be booked on Skyjet, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines prior to the pandemic.

Homoron Blue Lagoon.

Scott A. Woodward

A trip to Batanes must be planned in advance and booked through accredited tour operators. The local government is very focused on sustainable tourism and preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the province. There are a number of rules and guidelines — such as no bikinis on the beach — that tourists must understand and adhere to during the trip.

When to go

While the Philippines is currently closed to international tourism, officials last month indicated interest in establishing “international travel bubbles,” or travel corridors with strict health protocols, with neighboring countries.

The Basco Lighthouse.

Scott A. Woodward

Batanes, which registered its third Covid-19 case in December 2020, is currently closed even to domestic tourists. Local authorities are exploring ways to safely reopen with 14-day quarantines and put in place other health requirements.

Batanes’ “good season” runs from November to May. June to October is typhoon season and should be avoided. Travelers are advised to bring a lightweight rain jacket for spontaneous downpours and a light sweater for cool nights that can be found atop the chilly mountain peaks.

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Categories
Wealth

How once-quirky homeware store RH became a skyrocketing luxury stock

Many retail stocks are struggling, but RH is thriving.

Shares of the upscale home goods store have more than doubled over the past year.

CEO Gary Friedman has said the company is benefitting from the droves of homebound shoppers who are looking around their dwellings all day long and finding plenty of opportunities for sprucing up.

The pandemic is a global catastrophe, but it has brought some blessings to companies like RH. The company began life in 1980 as a quirky and highly specialized store that sold retro-looking furniture, fittings and other housewares. But it is now a luxury brand that serves wealthy customers who have been far less hurt by the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

RH is also a multichannel retail brand. Its large, dramatic stores are a big part of its brand identity. They are often situated in historic buildings and topped with upscale restaurants.

Direct sales are about 40% of its business, and include e-commerce and phone orders. The company’s “Source Books” — massive catalogs that have caused a bit of criticism in the internet age — are another part of its direct sales strategy.

The sales boost and share price jumps come at a good time for RH, which has several new initiatives on its plate. Among them: planning its first international store in London, moving into the hotel business, and working on turnkey homes.

Friedman wants RH to be more of a comprehensive lifestyle ecosystem of mutually supportive products and services. He is considered a visionary leader and is credited with transforming RH into the luxe brand it is today.

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