Facebook today announced that it will acquire WhatsApp for a combined $16 billion in cash and stock. WhatsApp’s employees pick up an additional $3 billion in restricted stock units as part of the deal.
Wall Street investors are seemingly not pleased and have sent Facebook’s shares down 5 percent in after hours trading. They could be worried about potential dilution stemming from the deal.
Instead, it’s likely that investors are displeased that Facebook bought growth, perhaps because it had to. User growth, that is. If Facebook has to spend so heavily to acquire user growth, its own core strengths of ubiquity, and high engagement are implicitly under stress.
[Update 5pm PST: During a call to investors, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum managed to calm fears and pull the share price up a bit so it's now only down 2.64 percent in after hours trading. They discussed how WhatsApp would focus on growth rather than monetization. Zuckerberg said ads were not the right way to monetize messaging services, and Facebook CFO David Ebersman noted that WhatsApp will not prioritize further roll out of the $1 a year subscription fee it currently charges in some but not all countries.]
Here’s Facebook itself explaining why WhatsApp is worth the tectonic sums it is deploying to purchase it:
WhatsApp has built a leading and rapidly growing real-time mobile messaging service, with:
- Over 450 million people using the service each month;
- 70% of those people active on a given day;
- Messaging volume approaching the entire global telecom SMS volume; and
- Continued strong growth, currently adding more than 1 million new registered users per day.
Large number of monthly actives? Check. Huge daily engagement? Check. Big growth? Check.
Facebook continues to grow at acceptable levels. Over time, the company’s key metrics have become increasingly financial. Twitter has yet to make a similar transition, naturally. Facebook, though, is a maturing product that investors continue to expect much from in terms of both user and financial growth. There is a tension there.
When you are valued at growth multiples, any wobble in your user expansion rates implies that your future cash flows may be dramatically overvalued at current multiples. And that’s when investors hit the no button and step out. Twitter learned this the hard way in its last quarter when a surprise profit and revenue beat didn’t stop investors from dumping its shares due to weaker than expected 3.9 percent sequential quarter user growth.
So Facebook likely wanted more growth, especially in mobile and non-U.S. markets, and spent $19 billion to get some.
Facebook’s splintering into various apps makes its usage levels harder to gauge. Instagram, WhatsApp, and stand-alone Facebook apps — there are more of those on the way — make what being a ‘Facebook Monthly Active User’ somewhat doughy. But, it will be hard for anyone to complain about Facebook’s user growth with the twin engines of Instagram and WhatsApp on board; you simply have to dilute what your mind thinks of as a ‘Facebook experience’ to get there.
Call it reinvention by spare parts.
Final kicker. Yes, the deal is incredibly expensive. But, unlike with Instagram, WhatsApp has revenue (for shame!). Its subscription fee of $0.99 per user per year after their first year means the company has non-trivial top line. It isn’t hard to see the company with a nine-figure revenue, and at 1 million new users per day, that figure could tip up nicely. Expensive, but not ludicrous.
Reports are out today in The San Francisco Chronicle, and just about every other tech publication, that Apple could be in preliminary talks to buy electric automobile manufacturer Tesla. With the mobile phone and tablet markets becoming increasingly competitive, Apple is interested in expanding to other markets to increase growth.
But would Apple want to buy a company valued at $25 billion at closing? With nearly $160 billion in cash, money probably wouldn’t be the primary hurdle Apple won’t clear. In fact, Apple could be the only company capable of thinking about it. An acquisition like this makes sense for Apple as it would satisfy their need to enter new markets with tremendous growth potential.
Tesla has been on a tear recently, with strong stock growth and car sales YoY. Tesla has released two cars so far — the Roadster and the Model S — and its crossover model, called the Model X, will begin deliveries later this year with new-reservation deliveries due next year, according to its website. Its stock is up nearly 500 percent from a year ago and investors couldn’t be happier. Tesla has also scored well with Consumer Reports, tying the highest score ever given to a car and pioneered new financing opportunities to make the Tesla affordable.
The speculation comes from a meeting that happened last spring between Elon Musk and Apple M&A executive Adrian Perica. However, most analysts have said it’s unlikely a merger is in the works, and instead point to a potential partnership around the new battery plant that Musk has alluded to in the past. As much as we’d like to believe the Apple experience could be coming to the automobile industry, it doesn’t make sense for Tesla at this point.
Do you want to see Jony Ive designing cars in the near future?
What happens when you combine anonymous messaging with college campuses? You get 100,000 users in three months.
Yik Yak knows all about it.
The startup was launched by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, aiming to connect people through anonymous, location-based posts. Within a five-mile radius, the poster can choose to share with the closest 100, 250, or 500 Yik Yak users. For $.99, users can share with 1,000 people, 2,500 for $1.99, and 10,000 for $5.
We caught up with the founders at last night’s ATL Pitch-Off, and they confirmed the app is mostly used to gripe about things, people, places, classes, and/or anything else gripe-worthy. You can choose to show your general location, and from what I can see, there’s no moderation for someone who uses actual names in posts.
In other words, I could post on Yik Yak that my boss John Biggs picks his nose and no one would stop me from sending that out to a maximum of 10,000 nearby Yik Yak users.
Obviously, bullying issues abound. The company has already faced issues among various colleges, who feel the app violates anti-bullying rules.
As it stands now, posts are deleted when two or more users mark the content as inappropriate, or if someone screenshots offensive content and emails it to Yik Yak.
“We’re working on trying to find technical solutions to prevent app abuse by high schoolers, the blocks that we currently have in place aren’t working as well as we’d like them to,” said Buffington. “One thing that we have seen on the college front is that the longer a community is around the more mature and constructive it becomes. So we think that lends to some promise for the anonymous or semi-anonymous app realm.”
But despite these issues, the app has seriously picked up steam. In three months, with launches on five major southern campuses, the app already has 100,000 monthly active users. More than 15,000 messages go up each day.
Obviously, Secret and Whisper aren’t the only ones cashing in on our love of anonymity.
Currently, the app is being used at University of Georgia, Ole Miss, Clemson, University of Virginia and Wake Forest, and the team has plans to head up the east coast to schools like Penn State, Boston University, NYU, etc.
“We’ll let our competition battle it out in the Valley while we continue to gobble up schools on the East Coast,” said Buffington.
For now, the app already offers in-app purchases to expand reach, but Yik Yak sees an opportunity to run local deals, discounts and ads. But for now, the focus is growing the user base.
Yik Yak has seen investment from Atlanta Capital in the form of a $20,000 convertible note.
Facebook is purchasing messaging giant WhatsApp for $16 billion in cash and stock, according to a regulatory filing. The deal is being cut for $12 billion in Facebook shares, $4 billion in cash and an additional $3 billion in RSUs for employee retention.
A termination fee is attached to the deal that would cost Facebook $1 billion in cash and $1 billion in shares if the deal fails to pass regulatory muster.
Facebook has posted on its blog, detailing the reasoning behind the acquisition, as well. The post notes that WhatsApp will continue to operate independently and retain its brand. In addition, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum will join Facebook’s board.
Facebook notes that WhatsApp has over 450 million MAUs, with 70 percent of those active each day. In a staggering comparison, Facebook also notes that the messaging volume of WhatsApp approaches the SMS volume of the entire global telecom industry — and that it’s adding 1 million users a day.
“WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people. The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO in a statement.
“WhatsApp had every option in the world,” Zuckerberg continued in a post to his Facebook page, “so I’m thrilled that they chose to work with us. I’m looking forward to what Facebook and WhatsApp can do together, and to developing great new mobile services that give people even more options for connecting. I’ve also known Jan for a long time, and I know that we both share the vision of making the world more open and connected. I’m particularly happy that Jan has agreed to join the Facebook board and partner with me to shape Facebook’s future as well as WhatsApp’s.”
WhatsApp message volume growth is still accelerating. Has probably now overtaken SMS. pic.twitter.com/KsR85Mplrt
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) January 20, 2014
Jan Koum, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO, said, “WhatsApp’s extremely high user engagement and rapid growth are driven by the simple, powerful and instantaneous messaging capabilities we provide.”
Facebook specifically calls out its deal with Instagram as a template for how it will deal with WhatsApp:
Facebook fosters an environment where independent-minded entrepreneurs can build companies, set their own direction and focus on growth while also benefiting from Facebook’s expertise, resources and scale. This approach is working well with Instagram, and WhatsApp will operate in this manner. WhatsApp’s brand will be maintained; its headquarters will remain in Mountain View, CA; Jan Koum will join Facebook’s Board of Directors; and WhatsApp’s core messaging product and Facebook’s existing Messenger app will continue to operate as standalone applications.
In a post on the WhatsApp blog, Koum elaborates on that:
Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.
WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. You can continue to enjoy the service for a nominal fee. You can continue to use WhatsApp no matter where in the world you are, or what smartphone you’re using. And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.
The note about no advertising is interesting, as that’s obviously Facebook’s primary method of monetization on its main platform — and now Instagram. WhatsApp will also keep its subscription fees, which amount to $1 per user after the first year of use.
WhatsApp investor Sequoia has also posted some information about the acquisition, specifically its very large valuation. The company notes that it only has 32 engineers — making the ratio 1 engineer to every 14 million users. It processes 50 billion messages a day across seven platforms.
The image above is a note that Koum keeps on his desk, outlining the focus of the company on building a ‘focused messaging experience’. Sequioa’s Jim Goetz says that founder Koum’s time growing up in a communist country shaped how he developed WhatsApp.
“Jan’s childhood made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped. When he arrived in the U.S. as a 16-year-old immigrant living on food stamps, he had the extra incentive of wanting to stay in touch with his family in Russia and the Ukraine,” says Goetz. “All of this was top of mind for Jan when, after years of working together with his mentor Brian at Yahoo, he began to build WhatsApp.”
Goetz also calls out the 450M user number and the fact that it has spent exactly $0 on marketing and doesn’t even employ a PR person or marketer; its growth all coming from users.
WhatsApp only employs around 50 people total. At 32 engineers, that’s $500 million per engineer.
Facebook currently boasts 556 million mobile daily active users, and WhatsApp alone already has over half of that at 350 million. One particular reason Facebook could be purchasing WhatsApp is to bolster its International footprint — as exemplified by one very telling chart. TechCrunch had previously heard about some abortive acquisition talks between Facebook and WhatsApp in late 2012.
Facebook is currently down in after hours trading.
The dates for this year’s Google I/O developer conference are June 25 and 26, Google’s Android and Chrome boss Sundar Pichai just announced on Google+ (via 9to5Google). The annual event offers up sessions on a number of topics of interest to developers, including how to maximize revenue from mobile apps, how best to use specific apps, and more.
The registration for in-person attendance this year is being done differently – it’s not first come, first serve (or first come when the servers come back online, first serve) as it has been in years past. Instead, you submit your interest to attend ahead of time, and then applications are entered into a lottery and chosen at random. Lucky winners will get a golden ticket (not literally golden) to attend in person at Moscone West in San Francisco. Registration details will be shared next month, according to Pichai.
This year, the I/O conference is only two days, compared to three full days in 2012 and 2013. The changed schedule isn’t addressed by Pichai in today’s announcement, but last year the event shifted focus back to developers and away from big consumer product news, so that could explain why it’s returning to the two day schedule last seen in 2011.
Fear not if you’re left out, however: Google will live stream the entire event to those who don’t get in, and there will be companion “I/O Extended community” events taking place at locations around the world. And of course, we’ll be in attendance, bringing you all the latest from Google, which normally takes the opportunity to show off a host of new APIs at I/O, as well as still some new products and services updates, too.
How One Scammer Manipulated Apple’s Top Charts To Earn Tens Of Thousands Daily Using A $10 GameSalad Template
Something fishy has been going on with Apple’s App Store top charts. No, I’m not talking about “Flappy Bird” (well, maybe that too), but rather how on earth two different developers used a $10 GameSalad template to send their respective apps — one free, and one paid — into the App Store’s top charts. And more importantly, how did that paid app keep climbing the charts, earning a developer who’s clearly a well-known scammer, a lot of money?
New app store insanity. 2 different developers get the same game template. 1 is free, 1 paid. same title. go figure! pic.twitter.com/akNBEVMjAv
— Ouriel Ohayon (@OurielOhayon) February 15, 2014
The GameSalad template in question is called “Red Bouncing Ball Spikes.” It’s a simple game that would appeal to those looking to ride the “Flappy Bird” wave by exploring other iOS titles that don’t require a lot of cognitive overload, but are rather designed to let you just start playing.
Also, it’s kind of a terrible game.
As of February 14, the free version of the game, created by “Talo Games,” had reached the No. 73 spot in the App Store’s free charts. This is the same developer behind a number of titles, including most recently, the hilarious “Flappy Bird” parody, “Flying Cyrus,” involving Miley Cyrus’s head and several wrecking balls. Talo Games’ developer, who was recently interviewed by Israeli blog Geektime, released his free version of the Red Ball game on Feb. 10, 2014, well after the paid version launched in December 2012. Obviously he’s just having some fun by taking advantage of the App Store buzz, not scamming.
Meanwhile, the paid version of the game comes from a more controversial developer known as Mateen Pekan (which may not be his real name). His app reached No. 8 on the App Store’s paid charts as of last week.
At one point, the template-based title became the #2 paid iPhone app on Apple’s App Store.
#2 paid iPhone app right now “Red Bouncing Ball Spikes” is a GameSalad template http://t.co/ac8jy4HIaK
— Steven Frank (@stevenf) February 6, 2014
Now here’s where things get strange. OK, stranger.
The paid app, as noted above, was released in December 2012 and only shot up to the top of the App Store after an “update” released on Jan. 30, 2014.
If this makes you think of the trajectory of another recent App Store viral hit (aka “Flappy Bird” which the developer pulled down with little explanation) you’re not alone. “Flappy Bird” was actually released in May 2013, but only blew up this January. (For what it’s worth, a GameSalad forum member theorizes its viral effects were helped out by a video posted by popular YouTuber PewDiePie, which is one plausible explanation, though others abound.)“Red Bouncing Ball Spikes”: A 99 Cent App From A Well-Known Scammer
As for the paid version of the “Red Bouncing Ball Spikes” game, GameSalad forum members recalled that the developer in question, “Mateen Pekan,” has been dubbed a scammer in the past. He has ripped off developers repeatedly, stolen games and source code, and been banned from forums like GameSalad itself. He is reportedly based out of Canada, young, and goes by several names, including also “Firoozeh Morady,” “Louis Leidenfrost” and maybe more.
Some basic Internet research traces Mateen to this Google Play listing as well, which is for Mooney’s Bay Computer, a computer store in Canada. Some guess this is where Mateen works, but it’s more likely he just did a little freelancing for them. He has also pushed his Red Ball game to Google Play, where it remains among other titles.
Other game developer forums, including TouchArcade, have also spotted that Red Ball is the work of Mateen, and have been calling the game’s ascension in the App Store a scam.
The going theory is that Mateen (or whatever his real name is) utilized a particular App Store scam that requires you to manipulate gross sales figures by, say, using your own money. As one member on the GameSalad forum points out, the Rank History on App Annie shows that when you compare the Red Ball paid app to others in the top 10, it had high gross sales but lower downloads. Generally, apps in the top 10 have both high gross sales and high downloads.
To perform this scam, a developer would have to use a network of iTunes accounts to download enough copies of the game to push the game’s gross sales to $20,000. The payday comes as the app sits in the top of the App Store for multiple days on end, earning that money back and then some.
What’s perhaps more concerning than the fact that a scammer has figured out how to manipulate the App Store algorithms for ill-gotten gains (it’s bound to happen), is the delayed response from Apple. This title has been climbing the charts all month, but it’s only recently been bumped out of the top 100. And how? Through direct intervention on Apple’s part? Did Apple’s algorithm just now catch this? We may never know.
Update: Or maybe we will! We’re now hearing that Apple didn’t take any action to remove the app from the top charts directly, but rather the app fell out of the ranks on its own – maybe as people wised up as to who was behind it?Developer Tries To Sell App For $250K After Hitting Top Charts
Also of interest is that Mateen apparently tried to increase his gains from the scam by attempting to sell the app on Apptopia, a marketplace for apps and templates. According to the listing, the game was described like so:
This app is in the top 5 in overall paid apps on the app store making $10,000 a day! On Febuary [sic] 5th and 6th it was the #2 app in overall paid section with very little promotions. 50,000 downloads in less than a week.
We are willing to negotiate.
Maybe Mateen listed the app because he needed to recoup his investment quickly before he was totally unmasked as a scammer? He slashed the price to $250,000 earlier this month and he tried to sell the Android version, too.
Apptopia founder Jonathan Kay tells us that they had him listed as both “Mateen Pekan” and “Firoozeh Moraday.” His company decided to remove his app from their website due to the bad press and discussions regarding his history, as well as from feedback they received on Twitter. Kay adds that they’ve only pulled listings two or three times in Apptopia’s 2.5 years, which indicates how seriously they took the problem. (Unfortunately, they can’t confirm the original listing price, but at the time of takedown, it was $250K).
But even though the game developer community and other third parties seem to be well aware of Mateen’s general M.O., and there are plenty of references to him being a known con artist, both Apple and Google have so far allowed him to maintain listings in their respective app stores. This could be because the app hasn’t raised any flags that normally would have an app caught as being a scam, and/or because no other developers have complained using the official channels.
Today, Mateen’s app is no longer in the top charts on iTunes, but Appsfire CEO Ouriel Ohayon, who was among the first to spot the templated-game’s rise, reminds us that a top paid app in the U.S. market can make you “tens of thousands” per day in paid downloads.
And it had many days to do so:
If you were suckered into actually buying this thing, get your money back from Apple. Here’s how.
Kruse spent nearly 10 years at Coca-Cola, where she led the interactive marketing team as global vice president of Digital. She then went to ESPN and served as a senior vice president and then CMO. Currently, Kruse holds the position of CMO at Tough Mudder.
Singh, meanwhile, works as SVP of global brand and marketing transformation for Visa and was formerly the global head of digital for PepsiCo. If you’ve ever heard of the social platforms Pepsi Sound Off or Pepsi Pulse, those were Singh’s idea. Before his stint at Pepsi, Singh led the global social media team at RazorFish for 11 years.
With CrowdTwist’s focus on brands and brand engagement, these board members will surely add some extra edge to the company’s growth in 2014.
Here’s what CEO and co-founder Irvin Fain had to say about it in a prepared statement:
As the first company to extend loyalty programs beyond the traditional “spend and get” models, we’re helping marketers account for customer value in a truly multi-channel world including mobile, social media, online and offline spend and more—we’re not just capturing more data, we’re making data more meaningful for marketers. Carol and Shiv have both been at the forefront of innovative marketing technologies and forging stronger relationships with consumers. Their expertise in addition to Eric’s years of relevant experience will be instrumental in supporting our continued growth in 2014.
CrowdTwist has raised a total of $6.75 million since launching out of TechStars in 2011.
Today after the bell, Tesla reported its fourth quarter financial performance, including non-GAAP revenue of $761 million and non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.33. In the period, the company delivered 6,900 cars, a figure that it pre-announced in January.
The company’s revenue grew 26% from the preceding, sequential quarter.
The street in aggregate expected the company to earn $0.21 (non-GAAP) on GAAP revenue of $677 million. The company’s GAAP revenue for the period came in at $615 million. Investors appear unconcerned about Tesla’s non-GAAP/GAAP revenue split, or are perhaps simply more excited about the raw growth that the company has delivered, and continues to promise.
In regular trading, Tesla was broadly down, sliding around 5%. Yesterday, Tesla hit an all time high north of $200 per share. In after hours trading, following its general beat, Tesla is up more than 11%.
In GAAP terms, Tesla lost $0.13 per share on net income of -$16 million. Tesla ended the quarter with cash and equivalents of $846 million.
Expectations for this quarter ran hot. As SeekingAlpha mapped out, analyst estimates for the company’s report ratcheted up as time passed, from as little as $560 million in revenue for the quarter in November to today’s figure more than $100 million more. Releasing the cars-delivered figure early was a factor in the shifting of opinion.
Tesla expects to deliver 35,000 of its Model S cars in 2014, up 55% from 2013. By year’s end, Tesla expects to be able to manufacture around 1,000 cars weekly. For calendar 2013, Tesla had revenues just north of $2 billion, up around 5 times from the preceding year.
Investors like what they see.
Fear not, owners of Belkin WeMo devices: you no longer have to lose sleep over the possibility that your smart plug will be hacked. Belkin has rolled out an update that patches the five vulnerabilities listed by FEMA’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team. This security hole affects up to 500,000 WeMo devices, and as CERT states, the vulnerability could result in anything from a fire to the waste of electricity.
These holes were recently discovered and announced by IOActive, Inc. As the press release states, the security company made several attempts to contact Belkin about the issues, but Belkin was unresponsive. So IOActive turned to CERT who also issued a statement. However, per a statement Belkin sent to TechCrunch (embedded below), Belkin was in fact in contact with the security research firm prior to their public statement.
Specifically, Mike Davis, IOActive’s principal research scientist, identified that through several different means, hackers could remotely access Internet-connected WeMo products, upload custom firmware, remotely monitor devices and access local networks.
The update Belkin recently issued patches these holes.
This speaks to a larger issue. As the Internet of things takes off, hackers and malicious coders have an increasing number of targets. It’s not inconsivable that in the near future, KitchenAid will have to issue a security patch for a toaster or blender.Belkin’s Statement
Belkin has corrected the list of five potential vulnerabilities affecting the WeMo line of home automation solutions that was published in a CERT advisory on February 18. Belkin was in contact with the security researchers prior to the publication of the advisory, and, as of February 18, had already issued fixes for each of the noted potential vulnerabilities via in-app notifications and updates. Users with the most recent firmware release (version 3949) are not at risk for malicious firmware attacks or remote control or monitoring of WeMo devices from unauthorized devices. Belkin urges such users to download the latest app from the App Store (version 1.4.1) or Google Play Store (version 1.2.1) and then upgrade the firmware version through the app.
Specific fixes Belkin has issued include:
1) An update to the WeMo API server on November 5, 2013 that prevents an XML injection attack from gaining access to other WeMo devices.
2) An update to the WeMo firmware, published on January 24, 2014, that adds SSL encryption and validation to the WeMo firmware distribution feed, eliminates storage of the signing key on the device, and password protects the serial port interface to prevent a malicious firmware attack
3) An update to the WeMo app for both iOS (published on January 24, 2014) and Android (published on February 10, 2014) that contains the most recent firmware update
Last October, Microsoft announced that it would roll out an LTE-enabled Surface 2 for AT&T’s network. Sometime. The announced time frame was early 2014, and, sure enough, the device has just been found in the public FCC database, which means it’s nearing release. This will be the first Surface tablet that ships with built-in cellular connectivity.
When a device hits the FCC database, it often means that it has passed the commission’s battery of testing to make sure it’s safe for consumers. Among other things, the FCC tests devices that transmit wirelessly. Some of these documents are released while others, often the docs that contain specific information, are held under confidentiality agreements for several weeks until the device is officially released or announced.
Around the announcement of the LTE Surface 2, there was talk of a so-called Surface Mini with a 7- to 8-inch screen hitting the market in early 2014, as well. Info on this model is still MIA. Chances are, with a device of that significance, Microsoft isn’t going to let it hit the FCC database and ruin the surprise.
Venmo, the mobile payment app, has had a wild few years. They shook up their industry so hard that they were acquired twice within 4 years of launch; once by Braintree for $26.2M, and again when Paypal acquired Braintree for $800M.
Their trick? Make paying your friends easy and (mostly) free. Today, they’re making it even easier: you don’t even have to be friends with the person you’re paying, anymore. Just stand near them.
As it stood before, you could only pay other Venmo users if they were your “friend” on the service — a process which, though pretty quick, still required a bit of manual setup. You had to know their name, email, or phone number, for example.
As of today, you don’t need to know a damned thing about the person to pay them (that is, as long as they’re on Venmo, too.)
With the introduction of a new (aptly-named) Venmo Nearby feature, you just open the app, swipe to the left, and find your new friend amongst the list of Venmo users within a few dozen feet. Venmo says it’s finding other users over both Bluetooth and WiFi, calling on the same tech that powers Apple’s nascent iBeacon system (alas, that means the feature is iOS 7-only, for now. Sorry, Android users.)
Need to pay back your friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who was cool enough to put down his card for the bar tab, but can’t remember his name? Just swipe open the Nearby drawer, tap his face, and send a few bucks his way.
And if you don’t want random nearby weirdos to be able to throw cash your way? You can, of course, disable the proximity features.
It’s 1992. I am ten. I want to be an advertising executive when I grow up. I am watching a TV news segment about Barbie, “Teen Talk Barbie” specifically. Teen Talk Barbie says “Math class is tough” among other things like “Will we ever have enough clothes?” and “I love shopping!”.
In that TV news segment I learn that math class is supposed to be tough, and that I should care about fashion. Mattel eventually pulls that specific phrase from the 270 that Teen Talk Barbie can say.
“In hindsight, the phrase ‘math class is tough,’ while correct for many students both male and female, should not have been included,” Mattel president Jill E. Barad says in a statement at the time. “We didn’t fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase.”
We’ve come a long way.
Barbie no longer hates math; in fact she too has a smartphone, and a tablet, which she keeps in her laptop case. Barbie is mobile first, because Barbie is an entrepreneur, Mattel’s “Career of the Year.” Entrepreneurship, whatever that means, is everyone’s career of the year.
My tech blogging team makes jokes about entrepreneurship (startup?) Barbie. Like, alternate names considered: ‘E-commerce fashion aggregator app’ Barbie, ‘Searching for a technical co-founder’ Barbie and ‘Isn’t sure if this is a VC pitch meeting or a date’ Barbie.
The jokes are very funny. They involve “day and night phones.” I’m glad people are talking about this in a humorous way. Things are funny because they are true.
In an article in The Economist, female entrepreneur Tory Burch emphasizes the economic necessity for closing the entrepreneurship gender gap, saying it would increase global income per person 20 percent by 2030. She brings up the fact that there are 126 million women starting new businesses and another 98 million who lead established ones to date.
Despite these gains, the entrepreneurship myth is still largely male. We have no female Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs. Our closest female candidates, Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, are torn apart by the media on issues a man would never have to deal with. So cool, at least the next little girl who aspires to be a boss has Barbie to look up to.
We still have a long way to go.
Image via WhoTrades
The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on how to keep the Internet open and accessible to all. The agency’s outreach is in response to a recent U.S. circuit court decision that threatened a law (“net neutrality”) that prohibits Internet Service Providers, such as Verizon, from charging Internet companies for faster websites.
The law is of paramount concern to the web industry, especially Netflix, which fears that forcing websites to pay more money for faster service will both raise costs on multimedia websites and prevent savvy startups from competing with their well-funded established competitors.
Today, the FCC announced it will not appeal the court’s ruling, nor will it immediately exert its controversial authority to reclassify the Internet as a type of “common carrier,” which would have allowed it to maintain net neutrality. An aggressive move to reclassify the Internet as a kind of household utility would exacerbate an ongoing war with Republicans who think the federal agency is overstepping its authority.
Instead, it’s seeking open comment and researching a new way forward.
Civil liberties organization Free Press is concerned that the agency isn’t taking a more urgent approach to preserving net neutrality. “Pretending the FCC has authority won’t actually help Internet users when websites are being blocked or services are being slowed down,” said president and CEO Craig Aaron in a statement.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s detractors give a good indication of the partisan tug-of-war he’s caught in. Commissioner Ajit Pai wrote: ”FCC Chairman floats a plan for rules regulating Internet service providers’ network management practices instead of seeking guidance from Congress.”
Commissioner Michael O’Reilly likewise had harsh words: “It appears that the FCC is tilting at windmills here. Instead of fostering investment and innovation through deregulation, the FCC will be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice.”
Today’s news is little more than a glorified request for comment. The chairman isn’t ruling out reclassifying Internet services and is openly seeking input from concerned citizens. If you think that anything other than aggressive action is the path forward, you might want to be concerned at the diplomatic approach. Otherwise, it’s still an open question about the future of net neutrality and whether it will survive.
San Francisco-based InstantCab has raised some new funding, which it plans to use to expand into new markets. But first, the company has rebranded its service as Summon, and is announcing a new app and lower-cost pricing scheme for rides from “personal drivers.”
Summon is one of the newer on-demand transportation startups that have emerged over recent years, competing with companies like Uber, Lyft, and SideCar. Launched in the San Francisco Bay Area, its differentiating factor was a sort of hybrid approach that combined the ability to hail either a taxi or a peer-to-peer ride share driver.
The company has closed a new round of financing that was led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from BMW i Ventures. While it isn’t disclosing the amount raised, existing investors like Initialized Capital, Beenos Partners, and Greg Kidd also participated in the round.
Summon is currently available in San Francisco, the East Bay, and parts of the South Bay. But with the funding it’s looking to expand, with plans to launch in cities like Los Angeles, Boston, and New York over the coming months.
When it looks to launch in those cities, it’ll be offering a bit of an alternative to existing services that operate there. Summon users can e-hail either a taxi or a so-called “personal driver” depending on how long they’d like to wait, how much they’d like to pay, and what sort of experience they’d like to have.
For taxi rides, Summon charges a $1 fee over the amount that a ride usually costs. But personal drivers cost up to 30 percent less, based on per-mile and per-minute rates. That price comes after the company issued a pretty significant fare reduction for personal rides a month ago.
One other way that Summon hopes to differentiate is a lack of surge pricing on its rides. While Uber recently lowered rates, regular users have noticed that there are significant increases in the cost of fares during rush hour and other peak times. Even Lyft has implemented its own version os surge pricing, which it calls Prime Time Tips, to have more driver supply on the road during peak times.
With all that in mind, the company has recently tripled the number of drivers available and hopes to continue to add more to meet passenger demand.
So this is a fun little bit of news: we’re now officially accepting Bitcoin for TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, which will be held May 5-7, 2014 at the Manhattan Center. We are working with Coinbase to accept the coins and we’ll be accepting the real time exchange value so when you buy, your purchase price is locked in.
If you started mining years ago, this may be your chance to rock out at Disrupt for free. And if you’re one of those paranoid types, this is a great way to hide your tracks until you arrive at the event, at which time you’ll be wearing a name badge anyway, so all bets are off. That said, we hope this helps more people attend Disrupt and we’ll be accepting bitcoin for events for the foreseeable future.
You can buy tickets with Bitcoin right here. See you at Disrupt!
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A couple of years ago, I had Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School on the show talking about his famous theory of the innovator’s dilemma. But just as Christensen’s theory suggests that companies become prisoners of their own innovation, so this theory itself has just been blown up by Accenture’s Larry Downes and Paul Nunes in their controversial new book Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in an Age of Devastating Innovation.
According to Downes, the innovator’s dilemma has now been replaced by what he calls the “innovator’s nightmare”. Today’s new technology products are so much better and cheaper than legacy products that they can literally wipe out old industries overnight. Startups, Downes says, can become mature companies very quickly and entrepreneurs need to not only to prepare themselves for overnight success but also to sell out quickly before they are inevitably overtaken by a revolutionary new product (Snapchat might take note).
Given the revolutionary speed of today’s tech market, Downes says, established companies need to focus on acquisition rather than in-house development of new products. Presumably then, Downes would approve of Google’s recent buying spree of artificial intelligence companies like Boston Dynamics, Nest and DeepMind. And he’d probably also encourage Apple to seriously consider acquiring Tesla so that it can continue to maintain its role as the biggest bang disruptor of them all.
This morning TruePosition and Skyhook Wireless announced that the former has acquired the latter. Skyhook is best known for providing location services to top mobile firms, including Apple and Samsung. TechCrunch has covered the company extensively throughout its life.
Skyhook is embroiled in legal action with Google over alleged anticompetitive behavior. The legal struggle, started in 2010, is expected to go to trial this year. Parallel lawsuits in two states were combined last year, at Google’s request.
The gist of the suit is that Skyhook feels that Google pushed smartphone manufacturers to abandon Skyhook’s technology in favor of its own. Given Google’s considerable influence in the mobile market as creator and manager of the Android operating system, it has clout. Patents and business practices are involved.
The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.
As part of TruePosition, it isn’t out of the question that Skyhook would have greater resources to combat Google. As for the lawsuit, it appears that things will continue as before. In a comment provided to Recode, Skyhook said that, “As for the litigation, we don’t expect any impact.”
Large technology firms attract lawsuits of all sorts, so why does the Skyhook suit matter? It has seen all sorts of Android secrets spill forth. Hundreds of pages of documents have been released, and Google’s consternation involving certain third-party mobile decisions laid bare. Given the already existing tension in the market concerning Android and its openness, the suit has provided Google with more than a headache.
It’s taken years to get where the legal tussling is today. Expect no quick conclusion.
Since Google announced the new version of Maps at its I/O developer conference last year, users were able to switch between the two versions. Still, the majority of users, the company tells me, remained on the old version. Starting today, Google will slowly switch everybody over to the new Google Maps. This roll-out will take a few weeks and users who dislike the new version will be able to switch back to the old one for the time being, though at some point, Google will likely turn off the old Maps.
The new version Google announced last year was relatively basic, so until now, Google kept it as an option and didn’t move all users over to the new experience. It was still missing a number of important features, but Google also wanted to get it out at I/O 2013 to see where it still needed to tweak the service and how users would react to it.
Now, Google considers the new Google Maps on par with the original version in terms of features and is starting to push it out to all users worldwide.
Google Maps’ lead designer Jonah Jones told me that over the last few months, the team focused on speed improvements, reducing clutter and bringing back features like the pegman and routing to multiple destinations, as well as Google’s new 3D Earth tours, and the integration of traffic accident data from the recently acquired Waze.
New users will immediately notice the difference between the two versions. The new Google Maps does away with the old sidebar and puts the map front and center with a small white input box in the top left corner.
With regard to features, the biggest difference between the old and the new version of Maps, though, is that this new version is completely personalized for every user. It will mark places you’ve rated and draw subtle outlines from your current position to a place you select on the map, for example. It will also automatically highlight related places on the map when you select a restaurant, for example.
According to Jones, the main idea behind the redesign was to make the experience as immersive as possible and to remove clutter by only giving users the information they need.
Over the course of Google Maps’ history, this has meant deemphasizing roads, for example, as the company added more landmarks and other information to the maps. In early versions, all the text was bold, too. Now, the company uses more complex typography to indicate the information that most likely matters to the user. This also meant muting some of the colors and tweaking some of the iconography used in the maps.
Most of the early feedback for the new Google Maps was very positive, Jones told me. What did surprise him, though, was that users missed the pegman so much, even though Google had built other ways of accessing Street View imagery into the new version. He also noted how users love to zoom out all the way back into space (which then shows the earth with a real-time cloud layer on top).
One thing new users quickly picked up was the image carousel at the bottom of the screen that appears when you switch to the 3D Google Earth mode. Because Google wants to make the experience as full-screen as possible and still remove clutter, it moved images and panorama photos into the carousel. It also now uses this space to highlight Street View imagery.
Jones also told me that he was never a huge fan of how Maps used satellite imagery. “We always had this implicit idea that we had to show the same information in satellite maps as in our other maps,” he told me. “That may have been a mistake.” Now, with the personalized maps, the team was able to also change how it displays information in the satellite view and tweak it accordingly.
Much of this personalization, but also the 3D mode and other features, are now possible because Google moved away from the tile-based system of the early Google Maps. Those early versions basically downloaded a PNG for every time, which didn’t allow a lot of flexibility. The new version is vector-based, which allows for real-time changes and reduces the amount of bandwidth needed. New web technologies like WebGL now also make the Google Earth-like 3D mode possible and ensure that even an app as complex as Google Maps works as smoothly as it does. On the backend, the team also put quite a bit of effort into making the personalization as seamless as possible.
For a closer look at all of the new features in the new Google Maps, take a look at our deep dive from last year.
Google today announced that it is planning to expand Google Fiber to 34 new cities in nine metro areas, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, and San Jose. The company says it has invited these cities to work with Google to “explore what it would take to bring them Google Fiber.”
Don’t get too excited yet, though. Google will provide updates by the end of the year about which cities will actually be getting Fiber. The company says it will work closely with city leaders on a joint planning process to map out the Fiber network in details and to “assess what unique local challenges” it might face. ”While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone,” Google writes in the announcement.
So far, Fiber, which offers both a fast Internet connection and an IP-based cable TV service, is only available in Kansas City and Provo, Utah. Google had also previously announced its plans to bring Austin, Texas, online in the near future and already started construction there.
In its current form, Google Fiber offers users a choice between a cable and Internet bundle ($120/month), unbundled gigabit internet service ($70/month) and a free Internet service at basic speed. In the first few cities Google brought online, users who signed up for the paid plans did not have to pay any construction fees, while those who signed up for the free plans had to pay the $300 (in monthly installments) to get their Internet access. Users in Kansas City also received a Nexus 7 with their cable boxes, as well as a terabyte of storage on Google Drive.
So far, Google has stuck with this model, but it’s not clear if it will switch this up as it expands into different markets.
Ever since Fiber launched in Kansas City, users have been wondering if Google planned to just keep this as an experiment, or if it was planning to roll this service out to a wider audience. Given its investments into Provo and Austin, a wider roll-out always seemed inevitable, though, and today’s announcement makes it clear that Google has big plans for Fiber.
Technology has a way of making things that have historically been accessible to the wealthy and connected a bit more within reach to the rest of us. Uber’s done it with limos, Fancy Hands with personal assistant services, Everlane with luxury-caliber t-shirts.
Trumaker is another startup in this realm, with the aim of bringing made-to-measure men’s clothing to the mainstream. And the company just closed on $6.5 million to scale out its service nationwide.
The raise, which was led by Javelin Venture Partners with participation from RRE Ventures and others, serves as Trumaker’s Series A. This brings the total investment in the San Francisco-based Trumaker to $8.4 million.
As I wrote back in June 2013 when the company closed its seed round, Trumaker is focusing on made-to-measure in the casual space, starting with the kinds of button-down shirts men wear with jeans. The company has no brick and mortar stores: Instead, it employs contractors called “Outfitters” who come to clients wherever they are and take their measurements to ensure a proper fit. The Outfitter then programs those measurements into Trumaker’s mobile app, along with the customer’s custom order. His measurements are stored in his personal profile so he can order more shirts online by himself.
Right now, Trumaker has Outfitters in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County, Boulder, and Milwaukee. In an interview this week, Trumaker CEO Mark Lovas said that the new funding will be used to expand into other metropolitan markets nationwide. The funding will also be used to build out Trumaker’s full-time staff, which is currently at around 15 employees, and further hone its technology platform.
Eventually, Lovas says the company plans to add more products such as sweaters and belts, but for the near-term Trumaker’s focus is staying on shirting.
Trumaker is not the only company looking to lead the next generation of made-to-measure men’s apparel. J. Hilburn, which was founded in 2007 and has raised some $26 million from backers including Battery Ventures, is one of the most prominent existing players in the space. Lovas says that Trumaker is set apart from J. Hilburn and others in that it has had an e-commerce focus from the start. He also says that the style of the Trumaker brand is unique, in that it’s more casual than other made-to-measure offerings.
Overall, though, Lovas says that there is more than enough space for many brands to succeed. In the same way that brick-and-mortar has had room for J. Crew and Banana Republic and Land’s End and Club Monaco and so many others, the e-commerce apparel landscape should be able to accommodate a variety of brands. It may sound like an almost naive kumbaya kind of sentiment to hear from a CEO, but it also makes a lot of sense.
Lovas swung by TechCrunch headquarters to talk about the fund raise and Trumaker’s plans for the future. Watch our conversation in the video embedded below: