Surprise! It’s Valentine’s Day, the stealthiest of all the holidays. Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?
If you’re trying to get a gift today, you… might be a bit short on options. Will you go with the gas station teddy bear? The twice-crushed box of chocolates? A bouquet of acceptable-looking roses for $200?
If your nearly-forgotten flame would be content with the promise of a pretty cool gift in a few weeks, though, you might be set. Instapainting, a YC-backed company launching this morning, turns any photo into a hand-painted piece on canvas for under $100 bucks.
If you’ve ever tried to have something like this done before, you probably know: this exists. A few companies have been doing the whole photo-into-art thing for years. Where Instapainting thinks they have them beat, however, is in pricing and speed.
Instapainting’s smallest option (a 12″x12″ canvas) starts the pricing at $53 (including shipping), with the largest option (29.33″x22″) going for $130 . A quick search turns up a number of others in this space — OilPaintingExpress, OilPaintings.com, and myDavinci to name a few. The next wallet-friendliest option I could find was OilPaintingExpress, where a 12″x12″ work starts at $119. Most of them start the pricing at $200-$300 dollars.
Instapainting’s website is also a bit more… modern, for lack of a better word. Setting up your order takes all of a few seconds; upload your photo, crop it to the region you like, pick a canvas size, and you’re set. Built on top of tools like FilePicker and Stripe, the whole ordering flow is slick and simple.
So how do they keep the prices down? A few ways:
- Your original photo is printed onto canvas first, and this printed piece is used as the base/foundation of the hand painted piece. In other words: they’re painting on top of the photo. The artist still has to know how to properly mix colors and how to recreate lights/shadows/etc. in oil, but it’s a whole lot quicker than starting on blank canvas. Many a professional artist might balk at the idea — but unless your friends start scratching at the paint to see what’s underneath, they probably won’t be able to tell.
- As you might’ve guessed, much of the work is done overseas. Instapainting’s founders source their painters (primarily in China) one-by-one, mostly through their myriad online profiles. After quietly starting to roll the service out around a month ago, Instapainting says they have just shy of 100 painters producing pieces.
- They ship your art rolled in a tube, leaving it to the customer to frame it or stretch it onto canvas. The company tells me they’re working on a quick-assembling canvas frame that they can pack into the shipping tubes, but that’s still a few months out.
But what about shoddy work? Cheaper rarely means better, after all. To keep quality up, Instapainting puts two layers of protection into the mix: first, each painting is checked by a second set of eyes before it heads out to the customer. Second, they guarantee their work; if you don’t dig the oil-painted version they send you, they’ll remake it or give you a full refund.
Meanwhile, the company is also dabbling with the idea of being a marketplace for artists looking to have their work recreated by hand. Artists upload the digital version of their painting or photograph, and Instapainting recreates their work and shares the revenue. It’s not quite the same as buying an original piece by the original artist, of course — but when your main concern is how it looks hanging above your couch, it’s a nice alternative to buying a standard print.
We’re planning on putting the just-launched service through the proper paces, so be on the lookout for a full review in the coming weeks.
The Nokia-Microsoft deal that will see the former’s handset business find a new home at the latter is still a go, and should wrap in the first quarter of this year. That gives the deal around 1.5 months to get itself over the finish line.
Nokia today released a statement to that effect, emphasizing that a tax squabble in India would not impact the closing of the deal. In full, here are Nokia’s remarks:
Nokia would like to stress that recent developments in India related to ongoing tax proceedings are not expected to affect the timing of the closing nor the material deal terms of the anticipated transaction between Nokia and Microsoft, announced on September 3, 2013.
The transaction is still expected to close in the first quarter of 2014, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions, irrespective of the proceedings in the Indian tax case.
I’ve heard nothing around the edges indicating that the deal shouldn’t close in the above-noted time period.
The crowdfunding rules in France will become startup-friendlier in the coming months. The government announced today that companies will be able to raise up to $1.4 million (€1 million) per Kickstarter-like crowdfunding campaign. The same limit will apply to equity crowdfunding (also known as AngelList-style syndicates) — startups will be able to raise up to $1.4 million per year without having to notify the financial markets authority.
Previously, equity crowdfunding was limited to $140,000 (€100,000) and your company couldn’t be an SAS (the French equivalent of an LLC). And if you raised more than $140,000, you had to work with a lawyer to produce hundreds of pages of legal documents. With the new law, as long as you raise less than $1.4 million in an equity crowdfunding round, you only have to file a short document of 3 or 4 pages.
Investors have been anticipating the new law for months. Back in September, the government presented a half-baked law with a very low limit of $410,000 (€300,000) — the government had to go back to the drawing board.
There are a couple of restrictions. When it comes to Kickstarter-style crowdfunding, individuals won’t be able to invest more than $1,400 in a campaign (€1,000). This will prevent, or at least limit, potential disappointment from over-promising campaigns. This only applies to French crowdfunding platforms, such as Ulule, KissKissBankBank and My Major Company.
Until now, many French companies chose to create an LLC to launch a Kickstarter campaign in dollars. It might change with the new rules, especially for French companies that don’t plan to sell 3D printers or other expensive items.
Banks, regulators and consumer associations all took part in the making of these rules. But today’s announcement is just the beginning. First, the law will be passed around June. Every six months after that, all the key players of the crowdfunding space will meet again to see if they should raise or lower the $1.4 million limit. The government will also nominate a new crowdfunding official to take care of these questions. Overall, it’s great news for French startups.
Little Bird, the startup led by former tech writer Marshall Kirkpatrick, is announcing that it has raised $1.7 million in new funding.
Kirkpatrick, formerly an editor at ReadWriteWeb (now ReadWrite) and before that a writer at TechCrunch, launched the company in October 2012. He told me then that his goal was to help companies find people who are influential on any topic, based on an analysis of who follows them on Twitter.
Since then, Little Bird has changed in couple of key ways, he said. First, the service isn’t just limited to Twitter. It now includes Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google+. Second, it has been adding tools that don’t just help companies find influencers but “make influencer identification valuable” — not just identify influencers but interact with them too.
Kirkpatrick contrasted Little Bird with Klout — the main way Klout connects brands and social media influencers is through the discounts and deals of its Perks program, which Kirkpatrick suggested is “a crass, shallow way to engage people.” Little Bird, on the other hand, is supposed to give companies more substantive ways to talk to influencers, particularly when it comes to business (rather than consumer) products and services.
The broader trend, he added, is that “the line between sales and marketing is increasingly being blurred.” In other words, salespeople are no longer “the guardians of information about a company,” so they need to find other ways to stand out: “You need smart things to talk about.”
The new funding was led by the Oregon Angel Fund and brings Little Bird’s total funding to $2.7 million. Oregon Angel Fund’s Drew Bernard is joining the Little Bird board.
Kirkpatrick said he’d only intended to raise a $500,000 bridge round, but ended up raising more money based on the interest that the product has received from sales organizations, content marketers, and large enterprises. Nonetheless, he called the new funding a “Series Seed” intended to help the company grow and eventually raise a larger Series A.
The company is also announcing that it’s starting to fill out its executive team with the hire of CTO Michael Jones (formerly of the Dachis Group) and COO Ben Kaufman (previously of Monsoon Commerce).
Happy Valentine’s Day, lovebirds. We’ve got quite the treat for you.
This week, rumors spread that Nokia and Microsoft are working on an Android phone, to be released later this month. Meanwhile, LG has been making waves with the new curved-screen LG G Flex. And finally, we all returned from a super fun, 7th annual Crunchies award show, where Kickstarter won best overall startup.
Intro Music by Rick Barr.
Mt.Gox, a long-running but controversial exchange was first to halt Bitcoin withdrawals. With the currency inside Mt.Gox effectively trapped, the price on the exchange began to fall as people hit the surrender button.
Bitcoin traded in the $900 range for most of January on Mt.Gox, and slipped to $300 today before sharply rebounding to north of $450. Mt.Gox has yet to relax its restrictions, but confidence has been expressed in its solvency, which could have factored in its upswing.
Also trending positive for the price of Bitcoin, and those users yet balkanized on the various locked exchanges, is that exchange Bitstamp has begun processing withdrawals yet again. BTC-E, the third exchange of the trio, has not.
Reports that Bitstamp is yet again processing withdrawals have lit up the Bitcoin subreddit. The market, encouraged by the news, has sent the average price of Bitcoin up from $580 early this morning to $670 at the time of writing. Bitstamp had previously written that it had developed a software solution for the issues — an attack and transaction malleability — that caused the halt in the first place.
BTC-E and Mt.Gox could follow suit in short order.
As Bitcoin has become more known it has seen the target on its back grow; where there is value stored, there will be those who want to unlock it unfairly and raid it as they please. Provided that the three exchanges are still solvent, the crisis of the past week will not prove fatal to themselves, or Bitcoin itself. Heavy losses could endanger the individual firms and hamper Bitcoin’s march towards mainstream usage.
Disclosure: I own about $50 in Bitcoin but can’t remember my Coinbase password so it’s pretty much moot.
Good news, everybody! Everything is really looking up in New Orleans and we’re on track to at least beat a few of the smaller cities we’ve visited in terms of tickets sold. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy your pass to the big show early, however, and we still want you there. Please, buy your tickets today so we can get an accurate headcount for next week.
These events are part social gathering and part pitch-off competition where startups or makers have 60 seconds to pitch their company or product to local VCs and TechCrunch editors. These products must currently be in stealth or private beta.
Remember, we’ll also have a pitch-off and we’ve already picked 15 great startups. We will have 3-5 judges, including TechCrunch writers and local VCs, who will decide on the winners of the Pitch-off. First place will receive a table in Startup Alley at the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt NY; second place will receive two tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt NY; and third place will receive one ticket to TechCrunch Disrupt NY.
General admission tickets are available for $5 and grant the holder a couple of beers and entrance into what will surely be a fantastic night. Buy them below.
As always, if you want to sponsor contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.Sell Tickets through Eventbrite
Most of the reviews of the LG G Flex have already gone up, but since the phone is slowly percolating out in the U.S., I thought I’d give it a full week of use to see just what the fuss was about. If you watched our Fly or Die, below, you’ll know that I’m excited by the phone but consider it a novelty, and it may be too pricey for most users. However, as a peek at things to come, it was quite fascinating. This week reinforced that opinion.
The phone, if you’ll recall, is a 6-inch phablet with a curved, 1,280 x 720 pixel OLED screen. It runs a 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 with Android 4.2.2 on board. It has an HD rear camera and no external storage.
This is not about how the phone performs. It works quite capably in most situations and offered amazing battery life – I saw three days of moderate use until I ran down the battery. While your results may vary – I didn’t use this as my primary email device, for example – the Flex’s huge 3,500mAh and low-power processor worked well together. While video watching will put a bit of a dent in the phone, I would still recommend this device on battery performance alone.
The real gimmick, however, is the curved screen. First, at six inches, this phone is comically large. While I understand the impetus to use devices like the Galaxy Note, I’ve never actually wanted to use one as an every day carry. Add in the curved screen and you’ve got a big problem.
First, understand that this screen is still very experimental and it is far from ideal. In short, the screen is noisy. The noise visible in this picture is no fluke.
This noise is consistent throughout and gives white UI elements the look of gray paper. If you have any need at all for a clear, readable screen, give this phone a pass. The plastic OLED is, of course, bendable but at what price?
The phone also has a self-healing plastic back which is supposed to smooth itself of scratches over time. The polymer essentially melts very slowly, reducing the visibility of scratches. While it won’t bounce back from a serious scratching – I took a bottle opener to one – all but the deepest scratches on the rear surface will eventually sort of “melt” out of view. This feature is obviously aimed at users who may not – or cannot – put this device in a case, and is reminiscent of a science fair project rather than a shipping product feature.
If you remove the slight curve of the phone you have just another LG flagship. However, I’m pleased to note that the processor and battery more than make up for the silliness (or, some would say, uniqueness) of the design. Given the right circumstances I could definitely see myself wanting a phone like the Flex if only for the potential for media consumption. This phone must be treated like a small tablet rather than a large phone. It’s hard to hold this pie plate-sized device up to your head and I’d definitely recommend a Bluetooth headset if you plan to make calls.
I was also pleased with the lack of bloatware on this phone and all of the apps I needed ran smoothly and without issues. Performance was good enough – it is a bit slower than the Galaxy Note 3 – but I would wager users won’t notice much difference between this device and the Note.
Should you pay a premium for this phone? T-Mobile has this phone for $28 a month for 24 months – $672 total – and about $300 on AT&T. Given that the retail price is over $600 we’re talking about a very expensive proposition for not much performance.
I’m excited to see what’s next for this technology, for LG, and for plastic OLED in general. It’s a fascinating technology. It’s also quite eye-catching. However, this is one of the first devices to feature a true, visible curve and, as exciting as that sounds, I’m just not sure this is what the average user is looking for in terms of performance or size.
That said, I’m glad LG tried this. It’s been a unique treat to carry something so odd and interesting, and form factor in this case adds troves of value to what would otherwise be a boring phablet from a second-tier handset maker.
Does it matter that the love of your life doesn’t like your friends? If you hit the one-year anniversary mark, are you more likely to get married? Smitten worry warts are often obsessed with comparing their partners’ behavior to other couples to see if a dreaded breakup is headed their way. Now, with the magic of big data, we can know just how predictive some behaviors are of lasting love or heart-break city.
Facebook isn’t the first to try this; researches have previously analyzed data from dating sites to find headline-worthy patterns, such as how likely similar races are to date each other. OKTrends, for instance, was a popular blog to help data-hungry singles optimize the number of messages they received–until Match.com bought OkCupid’s parent company and it stopped posting.
Unlike Dating sites, Facebook has millions of couples, enough to get a much more representative sample than folks who only meet their love online. Their data science team has some interesting findings.
Being Interested In All Aspects Of Your Partner
In a paper being presented this weekend at a conference on social computing, Lars Backstrom of Facebook and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University found that the best predictors of love were how much interest couples had in each other, not necessarily whether they had a lot friends in common [PDF].
- Having lots of friends in common predict 24.7 percent of couples (For reference, randomly guessing whether two people are in a loving partnership only predicts 2 percent of couples).
- It was far more normal (50 percent of couples) to have friends in lots of social circles (co-workers, drinking buddies, sports clubs, etc).
- Couples who appeared in lots of pictures together and who check out each others online activity significantly boosted the overall algorithm to 70%. This makes sense, and for those of us who have been tempted to Facebook-stalk a love interest, it’s a telling strategy. If we want to know if a breakup is about to occur, a good sign is that the couples stop appearing in pictures together or commenting on their updates.
Now, to be clear these findings are not causal and are difficult to predict for any one couple. So, if you’re worried your boyfriend will break up with you, taking more photos of him will not (likely) slow the pace of impending doom — nor will making him befriend your co-workers.
In another set of fun analyses of the heart, Facebook’s data-science team has been looking at the patterns among socially networked love bugs. Interestingly, heterosexual couples are generally around the same age, even as they get older, but same sex couples display the stereotypical age gap as they grow older, leveling off at about 4.5 years difference after age 38.
Western countries are far more likely to marry folks their own age:
Is there a special anniversary that indicates lasting love? Not really. As we can see from the chart below, the longer a couple has been together, the more likely they are to stay together. ”About half of all Facebook relationships that have survived three months are likely to survive to four years or longer,” writes the team on a Facebook blog post.
But what we see is a nice smooth curve, meaning that there don’t appear to be any dates that are particularly significant.
Notable that the team finds seasonal variation in break time, with the summer months (perhaps because they have a lot of young members) being the most popular time to rip out someone’s heart. The most important finding of this graph though? There’s a “small dip” in breakups around February. So, at the very least, you’re beleaguered relationship will likely have a nice Valentine’s Day.
One of America’s favorite liberal phrases has been sent through the political spin machine and polished into a Frankenstein of sorts, thus rendering it inaccurate and far from its original intention. You might have heard that American founding father Benjamin Franklin said something like “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither.”
The quote has been the siren song of anti-war protesters and, most recently, the banner for mass online protests against the NSA’s surveillance program. For instance, here was Reddit’s front page two days ago, when it officially joined the fight against Internet and phone spying.
As the Brookings Institute’s Benjamin Wittes observes, “Very few people who quote these words, however, have any idea where they come from or what Franklin was really saying when he wrote them.”
Despite its many (many) variations, this is the actual quote:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
According to Wittes, the words appear in a letter widely presumed to be written by Franklin in 1775 on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor. “The letter was a salvo in a power struggle between the governor and the assembly over funding for security on the frontier, one in which the assembly wished to tax the lands of the Penn family,” he explains.
The letter wasn’t about liberty but about taxes and the ability to “raise money for defense against French and Indian attacks. The governor kept vetoing the assembly’s efforts at the behest of the family, which had appointed him.”
Indeed, if you look at the text surrounding the famous quote, it’s pretty clearly about money: “Our assemblies have of late had so many supply bill, and of such different kinds, rejected, on various pretences,” wrote Franklin.
There’s not much on liberty, as we understand the concept, in the entire letter.
How Did It Get Butchered? To Google Ngram!
Thanks to the magic of Google’s nGram viewer, we can get a historical peek at how it got molded for PR purposes. Google’s nGram scans historical texts and lets users see how words change over time.
As we can see from the two chart above, Franklin’s quote didn’t mean much for 150 years after it was uttered, then had a solid and steady uptick around the later half of the 20th century, when fear of big brother began to mount (the top chart represents the frequency of the quote in books from 1750-present, the bottom from 1950-present).
In the few 19th-century books the quote does appear in, it doesn’t appear to be taken out of context, such as in the 1865 epic retelling of “The Life Of Joseph Warren,” where it is quoted in full with delicious servings of context.
But 19th-century authors weren’t always so committed to fidelity of the quote itself. In 1851, in a History of All Nations, the author wrote it in more of the modern form, “they who can give up liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
It wasn’t until the turn of the century did the butchering for ideological purposes begin. For instance, it was taken out of context in a book that is one of the closest things libertarians have to a bible, Frederick Hyak’s Road To Serfdom (1944), where Franklin’s quote concludes a chapter on the magnificence of the free market.
Misquoting folks isn’t new. It arises from the need to push an idea rather than investigate truth; it’s no shocker, then, that campaigns and ideological works have been the culprits of butchering Franklin’s words.
There’s even an academic term for the strategy, explains Matthew McGlone of the University of Texas at Austin – ”contextomy.”
“‘Contextomy’ refers to the selective excerpting of words from their original linguistic context in a way that distorts the source’s intended meaning, a practice commonly referred to as ‘quoting out of context’. Contextomy is employed in contemporary mass media to promote products, defame public figures and misappropriate rhetoric. A contextomized quotation not only prompts audiences to form a false impression of the source’s intentions, but can contaminate subsequent interpretation of the quote when it is restored to its original context. …”
That’s about right.
Tomorrow the first traunch of insider stock at Twitter will unlock, allowing non-executive employees to sell a portion of their shares. Nearly 9.9 million shares will be set free on Saturday, worth around $565 million.
The February unlock pales in comparison to the much larger one coming in May, making tomorrow’s sale point an early test for Twitter: A large decline in its share price following the smaller unlock could portend a sharper decline when far more shares become salable.
There is some sentiment in the market that the unlocked shares will cause Twitter to wobble. No insiders sold at the time of the company’s IPO, which ended up working in their favor: The company’s share price has more than doubled since its flotation; employees that might have wished to sell a portion of their shares at IPO as a hedge didn’t get the chance to do so, and thus enjoyed the upside by default.
After a painful correction in share price after its maiden quarterly earnings report indicated that its user growth rate was slowing, Twitter would appreciate share price stability as it passes this first hurdle.
What will employees use the funds for? The Wall Street Journal reports that the unlocked shares and their incurred revenue for employees will be used as a “way to settle income tax expenses from vesting shares.” Seeking Alpha wrote that the sums could also be used to buy Ferraris.
Whatever the case, Twitter employees are about to enjoy the start of their day in the green light.
Attorney marketplace UpCounsel has spent the last several months helping startups and other small businesses get affordable legal help. But for the most part, that help has mainly been focused on short-term projects that don’t require a ton of assistance over a longer period of time.
The startup hopes to change that with a new service that will connect technology companies in San Francisco with an outside general counsel to replace the legal help they’d usually get from a traditional law firm. Those firms can charge up to $800 per hour to work with a partner, but UpCounsel believes that by setting companies up with attorneys on its platform, it can drastically reduce that cost over time.
The Outside General Counsels it connects startups with are former senior associates and partners from large firms who have previously served in the general counsel role of technology companies. The only difference is now they’re working virtually through the UpCounsel platform.
To make sure that the general counsels are a good fit, UpCounsel does interviews with interested companies to determine what their needs are, and then tries to pair them with attorneys who understand their business and have the correct skill sets to support them. Attorneys get a company profile and dossier to review only if they are selected by the company to possibly represent them.
More than just making the connection between startups and the outside general counsel, UpCounsel also handles all admin and support for them. That includes billing, but also means helping them to find paralegals as well.
As part of the program, UpCounsel is also opening up not just to attorneys, but to professionals who have served as paralegals to support them. Again, since it doesn’t have all the overhead of the big firms, paralegals can be billed at about a third of what the big firms charge for their hourly work.
In addition to the lower cost, UpCounsel believes that its outside general counsels will be more responsive to legal requests than the folks who work at more traditional firms that are loaded up on casework. CEO Matt Faustman tells me that in its early trial, some startups have used the program to complement their existing firms for when they need more immediate help.
But the platform is also seeing some startups move completely to adopt its outside general counsels, with about 10 totally jumping ship from some big firms you’ve probably heard of.
Now that it’s launched, we’ll see how well the program actually works. In the meantime, UpCounsel has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from folks that include Homebrew, Bobby Yazdani, SV Angel, Collaborative Fund, Haroon Mokhtarzada, and other angels.
Didn’t get a ticket to the Crunchies before they sold out? Miss the live stream?
Don’t sweat it — we brought the whole thing back to you in glorious HD. From the Broadway-style opener by the incredibly talented Spencer Rose to the spot-on roasting of Silicon Valley by host John Oliver, it’s all here.
(Heads up: there’s an audio hiccup at the 8 minute mark, when the show moved over to the podium; it gets fixed at the 12 minute mark.)
Congratulations, again, to all of our winners.
Did men like this used to sit atop the technology industry? Atop our country?
Tom Perkins, once an icon in the venture industry and now a spectacle, gave yet another talk last night at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. A few weeks ago, he thrust himself into the nation’s inequality debate through a letter to the editor at the Wall Street Journal that compared criticism of the wealthy to a “Kristallnacht.” (Yes, really.) He says this will be his last two cents on the issue.
There was the classism: “If you’ve paid 75 percent of your lifetime earnings to the government, you’ve been persecuted.”
The vague sexism: “When [Hilary Clinton] walks into a room, the temperature drops 20 degrees.”
The vague racism: “[Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty] unknowingly created the destruction of lower-class families in America. Back in the early 1960s and 70s, the divorce rates between white and black marriages were about equal. But the War on Poverty made it possible for single mothers to live without a working man in the household and divorce rates have skyrocketed.”
Then the absurd: “If Germany had America’s gun laws, we would have never had Hitler.”
And maybe even more absurdly, his ex-wife and novelist Danielle Steel sat supportively in the audience. “I think he’s wonderful and he did a great job,” she said to me before she briskly left.
But then there was also self-awareness.
“I intended to be outrageous and I was,” he said, after suggesting that people should only be given the right to vote if they’ve paid taxes.
And some painful truth about the United States:
“We’re on a knife’s edge with this incredible debt, which can’t be paid back. It’s supported by faith in the dollar.”
And San Francisco:
“San Francisco doesn’t like the experience of becoming a suburb of Silicon Valley.” He added, “I don’t think there’s much you can do about that. It’s inevitable. As Silicon Valley thrives, more and more people will want to live in San Francisco.” And then went on, “San Francisco has been a very complex, busy, and interesting city since Day 1. I love it. But rents will go up if more people want to live here, and while housing is being built, it’s not being built fast enough.”
And this generation of technology entrepreneurs:
“They’re not starting companies. They’re writing software applications, which are products. There’s a huge difference between a product and a company. Their only room for liquidity is to sell to Google or Apple. Most of them fail.”
He veers from one reality to the next, from a distant past that got us here, into the present.
It’s the kind of political theater that’s sadly become necessary for San Francisco’s denizens to wake up from their smartphones and have a conversation. But maybe that’s why Perkins is such a captivating figure.
The conflict between taxi drivers and urban transportation startups in France is not over — the French government has put a stop to new limo driver licenses for the next two months. This decision comes after a strike organized by taxi drivers on Monday. An arbitrer was appointed on Wednesday to find a solution for the longstanding opposition between taxi drivers and so-called black car services.
In other words, startups will have to fight for the same drivers for now — the pool of drivers won’t be increasing. For example, Chauffeur-Privé will have to lure Uber drivers so that they switch to Chauffeur-Privé.
As a reminder, the cab industry is very regulated in France. There is a fixed amount of licenses available. If you want to become a cab driver, you have to purchase a taxi license from an existing driver. These licenses can cost up to $270,000 (€200,000).
Cab drivers consider LeCab, Chauffeur-privé, SnapCar, Allocab, Uber and countless of others as direct competitors — it’s much cheaper to get a limo driver license. Taxi Drivers say it’s unfair, and that taxi licenses will lose a lot of value due to urban transportation startups.
In December, the government created the 15-minute law for Uber, Chauffeur-Privé and others. Drivers had to wait 15 minutes between the time a customer hails them and they let them in the car. Most startups didn’t even try to comply with the rule, and it was recently suspended by the Conseil d’État.
Taxi driver unions said that they would regularly go on strike to protest that decision. The government had to do something so that startups and taxi drivers could talk again. That’s why Thomas Thévenoud was appointed. He is in charge of finding a “fair and durable solution that will benefit everyone while taking into account the different needs in terms of urban transportation.”
It’s no small feat. The situation in Paris will be the main issue as there is a dearth of taxi drivers in Paris. He plans to present a solution in exactly two months. But for now, a limo license freeze doesn’t seem like a “fair and durable solution.”
(Photo credit: Maxime Bonzi)
We’re rolling into your fine cities next week. The Atlanta Meetup is on Tuesday, Feb. 18 and New Orleans is Thursday, Feb. 20. Along with the meet-and-greet networking found at these meetups, there will be a 60 second pitch-off battle. The full list of companies can be found below.
For the pitch-off, we will have 3-5 judges, including TechCrunch writers and local VCs, who will decide on the winners. First place will receive a table in Startup Alley at the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt NY; second place will receive two tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt NY; and third place will receive one ticket.
Are you a funded startup? Local employer? A company looking for a few good code ninjas? Consider emailing Sponsors@techcrunch.com to help support the event. If you’d like to exhibit, please pop over to Eventbrite and help out below. The goal is to make this a great event for everyone and we can’t do that without your help. Bootstrapping and can’t afford a table? Let John or myself know. Matt@techcrunch.com or email@example.com.
General admission tickets are only $5 thanks to our amazing sponsors. Age 21 and older only, please. See you there!Atlanta
- My Cluck Cluck
- Production Operations Desk
- The Icon
- niko niko
- Education Everytime
- Tutti Dynamics
- Air Pee and Pee
FounderDating, a selective network where entrepreneurs can find co-founders, is adding a new way to pick up advisors. Advisors, who are usually paid with a small cut of equity, can bring lessons learned from years of in-the-field experience.
But Jessica Alter, FounderDating’s CEO, said that finding the right advisors is often difficult. How do you know where to find people with ultra-specific domain expertise?
“How do we connect with entrepreneurs with the most relevant people and the most relevant information in their heads?” she asked.
So she’s adding the ability to search for advisors by skill set and interest through the FounderDating network. The platform, which she started working on full-time about a year and a half ago, costs about $50 to join.
But it’s a highly curated network and Alter turns away about 60 percent of the people who want to join. She didn’t say how many members the network had.
“The people part remains exceedingly hard, even though it’s cheaper and easier to start something than it was five to eight years ago,” she said. “We’re the people network for entrepreneurs.”
Initially, she focused on connecting potential co-founders. The teams FounderDating has produced include Refresh.io, which just raised $10 million, Velo Labs, which is building some kind of Internet-of-Things device for bicycles, AvidTap, and ReferBright.
The next step is naturally advising, and some of the advisors in the network include Aaron Batalion, who co-founded LivingSocial, Josh Handy, a vice president of products at Method and Katherine Woo, who is chief product officer at Kiva.
To make it even easier, Alter also added streamlined paperwork with the help of law firms like Gunderson Dettmer and Orrick. So there’s an advisor agreement where most of the terms are pretty standard, but where the entrepreneur and advisor still have leeway to decide on equity.
Overall, FounderDating has raised a seed round from investors including SoftTech, 500 Startups, Greylock’s Discovery Fund, Steve Blank and Kapor Capital.
Alter said FounderDating sits in a slightly different place than other professionally focused networks like AngelList and LinkedIn do.
She said LinkedIn looks backwards into the past at a person’s resume, while FounderDating looks into the future.
“Many founders don’t want to do work in the last field they were in,” she said. “Maybe they were in music, but their last company got sold and now their real passion is in education.”
FounderDating is also not for recruiting, unlike AngelList, which moved into hiring and direct fundraising after starting off as a curated list of possible early-stage startup investments.
A Modest Proposal (for preventing anonymity startups from being a burthen to us, and for making them beneficial to us)
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” And all seem to be doing it about the new class of apps that rest on the premise of anonymity and/or ephemerality.
The most recent in this breed, two-week old Secret, is already ensconced in the home screen of what seems to be every iPhone in Silicon Valley’s social circles, thereby provoking the knee-jerk reaction from naysayers arguing that it harbors that all-too-familiar addictive quality we also find in trashy magazines, reality TV shows and fast food. Their bottom line is that this app, which allows users to anonymously post secrets, is a flash-in-the-pan that can make us feel bad about ourselves and therefore will likely die a quick death like many addictive apps before it. And maybe it will. But that’s not the point.Anonymity’s Growing Pains
Yes, at their current state, apps like Secret and Snapchat are flawed. By virtue of its anonymity, all’s fair in Secret. Users in the app can post anything spanning from philosophical musings about life to darker, targeted and potentially revealing sentiments about specific people and companies. It’s already being pegged as Silicon Valley’s new blind item and has, by extension of that, the potential to become a kind of high-school style slam book or lulu for everyone.
What’s more is that, to some extent, these types of apps can condone a certain amount of (let’s call it) irresponsible user behavior. They can enable false rumors to spread and encourage everything from cyber bullying to slander. And even when what’s shared is honest and reliable, there are always cases of information too sensitive for certain eyes to see, as in the case of, say, insider-trading violations. Also, the jury is still out on whether or not they are ultimately anonymous services. These are serious issues.Why You Can’t Throw Out The Baby With The Bathwater
But judging a fledgling product or group of products is like judging a baby’s potential to be a runner with her very first steps. It can distract us from understanding the problem it’s scratching away at, the nerve it hit.
If we dismissed Twitter, for instance, with every inaccurate rumor it surfaced, we’d never see it evolve into the breakthrough broadcast communication system it is today. If a company’s strategy is a cup of water, and we’re rooting for the company to turn this cup upside down and dump it, how will we know the fledgling problem-solving strategy we may have lost? To top off our proverbial cups and quote a line from the film ‘For Your Consideration,’ “you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby.”The Nerve Of Anonymity Apps
At their best, apps like Secret and Snapchat allow us to share something with others without rendering us too vulnerable. And perhaps more interestingly, they also likely scratch our itch to get honest, emotionally intelligent information from actual people. And the timing for this itch makes sense.
When we first started using the Internet, we wanted to be able to efficiently find information that was on it. Enter Google and other search products. Then we wanted to connect with real people on it. Enter Facebook and other social products. It’s only natural that we now want to combine the type of information we can get from people – emotive-based data like social proof — with the efficiency of obtaining information via Google.
One may argue that products like Quora or Jelly satiate that itch. To some extent, that’s true. But some information — the type you’d want to, say, privately share with someone to help them avoid a mistake you’ve made without you yourself suffering any additional personal repercussions (e.g. a bad hire, boss, nanny or even friend) — still remains, for the most part, in the analog world. This means that if you don’t personally know the person who has the information you might want — or, even if you do, don’t feel comfortable enough to ask about it — you’re out of luck. This is the background problem that anonymity apps are essentially chipping away at.
So outside of the more obvious cathartic use case of expressing a secret with the potential to connect with others around it (which deserves its own merit), there’s this other key problem that these types of products hint at addressing: There’s useful information we want to know that people consciously hide for an array of self-preservation reasons. How do we allow the free release of this private information and one’s self preservation to evolve beyond their current mutually exclusive state?
Let’s take a quick dip in that proverbial bath, in the spirit of Archimedes. Let’s say Secret (or a similar product) were to release a search feature that would allow you to anonymously search for anything posted in the app. And let’s say you are about to hire someone and just want to do a quick sanity search on their name. A Google search will likely produce a mirror, more or less, of their resume. But Secret may reveal aspects of their work ethic or personality from people who have actually worked with this person.
Naturally, we’ll have to solve the aforementioned problems we have around the accuracy and sensitivity of the information before we get there — and that’s no small feat. It will likely require a sophisticated and efficient method of background vetting via up-to-the-minute intelligence around everything spanning from the source of the information to the relative context of the information within the greater pool of inflowing tips.
But the potential inherent usefulness of this type of information — which can range in subject from personal finance to health to relationships, the things that tend to matter most to us — is what drives us to itch for this type of product.At This Fledgling Stage, We’ll Get Toys
The products and services that are, in one way or another, chipping away at answering this question will likely first come across as toys, because toys have the potential to engage us more than staring a big problem blankly in the face.
But focusing on the toy aspect of a fast-growing app’s flaws is much like the smaller ‘discussing people’ mindset. Let’s move up from discussing products like people. Let’s put them in context and start considering them, at least to some extent, as ideas. That’s likely when we’ll break through the current issues we have with anonymity and understand where it will take us next.
Editor’s note: Maya Baratz is the Head of New Products at ABC News. She previously ran new product development at The Wall Street Journal, and before that was a product lead at startups including Flickr. Follow her on Twitter @mbaratz.
Image by Shutterstock
Smart home lighting is a growing field, with entrants including Philips and LIFX, but one other new contender has a different approach that might appeal more to some. The Brightup system consists of plug socket hardware and in-wall dimmers, connected to and controlled by a central hub via Z-Wave RF tech, to provide remote dimming and intelligent behavior/programming to any and all lighting systems in your house.
The Brightup offers remote control of your lights, but that’s just the beginning. It also has geofencing so that lights can be set to turn on or off when you enter or leave the house; there’s an ambient light detector that can tell when you turn on the TV to automatically dim your lights for improved viewing conditions; the same ambient light sensor detects fading natural light and can tell when the sun comes up in the morning to control light levels. Random scheduling will simulate being home even when you’re away, and you can use lights to let you know a timer has gone off, which is handy for cooking, for instance.
The system’s components are nicely designed, and the project creators say you shouldn’t need outside help for installation. Brightup also measures and records energy usage, and provides remote access that you can share with family members and friends. The in-wall modules look a little more complex in terms of installation, but they should work in your existing receptacles behind the light switches you already have according to Brightup, which means no new holes required.
The Hamburg-based company is looking to raise €130,000 ($178,000 U.S.) on Indiegogo over the next 46 days to build Brightup, with starter packs including a central unit and three in-wall or socket connectors for €199 ($272 U.S.). The cost is considerable; A Philips Hue starter set runs $199 and includes three bulbs plus the central control hub, but Brightup works with lighting other than what comes in the package, and Hue is really an entirely different kind of product.
As the connected home and home automation space gets more crowded, it’s interesting to see the different approaches companies are taking to solve essentially the same problems. Brightup’s system has plenty of merit, but it’s competing with some heavy hitters already in the mainstream market including Belkin’s WeMo line. With Z-Wave and an open API, it does seem one of the more extensible and future-proof options out there, however, so that may play a role in getting customers on board.
UrbanSitter, an online service for parents and sitters to connect, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by DBL Investors with participation from Match Group, a division of IAC and newly launched VC firm Aspect Ventures, as well as existing investors Canaan Partners, First Round Capital, Menlo Ventures and Rustic Canyon Partners.
UrbanSitter harnesses the power of social recommendations in a space where a friend’s recommendation is critical—child care. UrbanSitter leverages Facebook Connect so parents can view sitters that their friends already know, trust and recommend. You sign up on the site, and connect your Facebook account, and can view sitters known through friends or affiliations—including schools, sports teams and parent groups.
Parents can view each sitter’s reviews, skills and certifications, experience, educational background, response time and the number of repeat families. Parents can also see profile pictures and video of sitters and availability, hourly rates and typical response times are also outlined. The bonus of using UrbanSitter is that it manages all the payments on both ends of the transaction.
Similar to how people use OpenTable for dinner reservations, parents can search for sitter availability by date and time and then book jobs (or interviews) in real-time. After the job is completed, parents can pay online and add reviews, ratings and Facebook Likes to sitter profiles. You can also search for sitters by various filters such as part-time, full-time, etc.
UrbanSitter is available in a dozen U.S. cities, and also offers mobile apps to allow parents to book sitters on the go.
To me, the power of UrbanSitter is taking the offline action of finding a babysitter through friends and recommendations, and bringing that online. Competitor Care.com, which has a broader goal of finding caregivers for kids, seniors and more, just went public at a valuation of well over $500 million so there is clearly a large opportunity here.