For years, the iPhone has carried a small etching on the back that says ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’
It’s fueled the stereotype that China is the world’s factory, but hasn’t had a flexible enough education system to produce R&D talent that can also design world-class products for a global audience.
But that’s a stereotype that isn’t exactly true anymore.
A small group of companies — both small, bootstrapped app startups and multi-billion dollar giants like Tencent — are showing that they can design apps or higher-end hardware with international appeal.
Tencent, one of the country’s gargantuan Internet powers with a market cap of $72 billion dollars, often likes to point out the international reach of its messaging app Weixin or WeChat. That app has blossomed to more than 190 million monthly active users over the past year and with about 40 million of registered users outside of China.
“I’m very glad to see the internationalization of Tencent,” said the company’s CEO Pony Ma this month at the GMIC conference in Beijing. He later added, “The manufacturing sector in China went globalized and the service industry can be internationalized as well…. It’s difficult, but if we can make it, it would be a revolution.”
Interestingly enough, WeChat’s growth abroad is being fueled by the Chinese diaspora — immigrants are taking WeChat with them to stay in touch with their families back home, according to app-tracking services like Onavo. They base this hypothesis on the correlation of WeChat active usage with that of other Chinese-language apps.
Younger Chinese startups are also building internationally as well. I met a Shanghai-based startup called Intsig two weeks ago that has a business card scanning app called Camcard with 50 million registered users and 10 million monthly actives, with half of them outside of China.
“A lot of people are surprised when they find out we’re a Chinese company,” said Louisa Cao, who heads marketing for the company. It helps that exchanging business cards is much more ritualized and formal in China and Japan than it is in the West, so that gives startups in Asia a competitive edge on understanding what consumers want in a product in this area. Similarly, messaging apps out of Asia like Line, Kakao and WeChat are leading the way, with Western startups like Path arguably borrowing some of their strategies like stickers.
Blux, another company out of Xian, the second-tier Chinese city that’s home to the famous army of Terra Cotta warriors, has built a higher-end photo app called Blux Camera that’s been featured by Apple more than 100 times on the iTunes homepage for global audiences. As the cost advantages that China has over Western markets narrows, the co-founder Jo Yin told me that it now can make economic sense to run global market-facing startups outside of the traditional hubs of Beijing and Shanghai (as they’ve become too expensive).
One of the reasons that all of these startups can built products for foreign audiences is because they’ve been trained either at Western universities or through working for multi-nationals. Some are run by “sea turtles” or Chinese who have returned home after years of working or studying abroad. Intsig’s CEO Michael Zhen spent years at Motorola where he picked up ideas on how to manage teams and think globally.
It’s also helped that the Chinese government has gone far in protecting and nurturing domestic technology companies and startups, a trend which continues with the government’s recent investment into a GPS alternative called Beidou and an Ubuntu-based OS that would help Chinese firms move off Western software platforms. Now that companies like Tencent have reached a certain prowess in domestic markets, they can look outwards.
To be fair, achieving global reach is something only a small fraction of local Chinese startups can do. It requires an international fluency; founders have to understand what kind of design and marketing attracts foreigners. Chinese web services can seem noisy and busy; they can be filled with more links and text as Mandarin characters are complicated to create on QWERTY keyboards.
There are even a few U.S. growth-stage companies that haven’t been dissuaded by Google’s very public about-face on the Chinese market and are hiring design and developer talent locally. Evernote recently launched a China-focused version of its enterprise service and they very intentionally took on local hires to develop product.
“It’s easy to sell your products everywhere. But when we say we want to be a global company, it’s because we want to make our products everywhere,” said Evernote CEO Phil Libin, when he launched Evernote for Business locally in China.
He went on to say that China’s copycat reputation is unfair.
“Chinese companies don’t have a good reputation for innovation in the West. The reputation that Chinese companies have is that they don’t really innovate. They just copy and I don’t think this reputation is right. It’s not a problem that Chinese companies copy. It’s that everyone copies. Chinese companies don’t just copy. They copy and improve. Copy and improve is what everyone does everywhere. That’s what Apple does. That’s what Microsoft does. That’s what Facebook does. Very few companies start with a first-of-a-kind idea.”
Indeed, probably the most interesting company to watch as it expands globally is Xiaomi, which did just that. They took Android and improved upon it.
They’re probably the best example of how China is moving up the value-chain from low-cost manufacturing into high-end design.
Just three years afters being founded, the company is on track to do $4.5 billion in handset and accessory sales. Some have made the metaphor that Xiaomi is the “Apple of Android” in that it’s an integrated hardware and software maker that has built its own special skin of Android and sells high-end hardware at or around the cost of materials. They compete head-to-head against Samsung in mainland China, and according to third-party mobile app analytic services like Umeng, they’re in second place.
Although Xiaomi will only publicly talk about its plans to sell handsets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, a source close to the company says it’s been on the lookout for a general manager that could bring their Android skin, the MIUI, to North American audiences.
They’ve been able to develop a rabid fan base locally in China because they allow people to participate in the designing of the phone by requesting features. Internally, they have small teams of engineers, product managers and designers that work alongside each other on a very fast cycle. They release a new version of the MIUI every week.
But they don’t know if the model will translate abroad yet. Chinese consumers are very comfortable with paying for the full-cost of the phones upfront and buying devices online instead of through brick-and-mortar stores.
“We don’t know how developed regions like Taiwan and Hong Kong will accept products like Xiaomi,” said co-founder Lin Bin in an interview. “Greater China is just one step beyond mainland China.”Read More →
Can We Say Crowdfunding Bubble? U.K. Charity Launches Directory To Help Navigate Nation’s 30+ Local Platforms
How many crowdfunding platforms is evidence of a crowdfunding bubble? Well, when an organisation feels the need to launch a directory to list and detail all of the crowdfunding options in a single market it’s perhaps a sign that exuberance for crowdsourced financing is running a little high. Nesta, a U.K. charity focused on promoting national innovation, has launched just such a directory, detailing the U.K.’s crowdfunding landscape — and all, by its count, 31 current crowdfunding platforms up and running and begging for money on your behalf.
The CrowdingIn directory certainly looks like a useful resource if you’re trying to figure out how best to get your next project funded, with the ability to filter by model and sector/area of interest. So, for example, if you’re looking for an equity investment model in the arts-creative sector then using the directory quickly narrows down those 31 platforms to just one. Or if you’re looking for a donation model in the same sector you’ll find there are four options to choose from. The rewards model is generally more populous, with two pages of results to sift through. But as a signposting service it’s still doing some useful legwork.
The directory also summarises what each crowdfunding platform offers, details their conditions of use and links through to each website. Add to that, Nesta has put together a crowdfunding how-to guide. So far, so handy. But at the same time, 31 crowdfunding platforms does feel like an awful lot of local players for a single market. Consolidation feels inevitably and probably necessary. Or, as my colleague Steve O’Hear jokily puts it, how many crowdfunding platforms does it take to get a lightbulb funded? Not 31 surely…
Of course there is variation in the crowdfunding platform offerings, with levels of specialism — including some very niche offerings, such as SolarSchools: a platform for U.K. schools to raise money to buy solar panels to fund clean energy. That’s not the place to go to fund your next great business idea, clearly. But there is also still plenty of crossover, especially for the rewards model in creative sectors — which is really where the whole crowdfunding phenomenon kicked off.
Also worth flagging that the UK Crowdfunding Association, a self-regulating trade body for the sector, counts about half the number listed on Nesta’s directory among its membership — so there may be some useful cross-referencing to be done there. The Association does also include some platforms that aren’t apparently on Nesta’s list. So, depending on how you count it, the U.K. appears to have (even) more than 31 crowdfunding platforms…Read More →
Sprint has decided to get deeper into the social and mobile space, announcing today that it has acquired Handmark and its subsidiary OneLouder. The acquisition is meant to beef up its Pinsight Media+ advertising group, specifically.
Through Handmark, OneLouder has built social apps like Twitter clients Tweetcaster and Slices, and Friendcaster, a Facebook client. The acquisition price hasn’t been made known, but it’s a huge win for the Kansas City tech space, a place that I visited just a few weeks ago.
Sprint hopes that this acquisition will bring a more “entrepreneurial spirit” to its mobile program, hoping to lure developers to use its own advertising platform. Mike Cooley, VP of New Ventures at Sprint shared: “The business, culture and technology they bring will be a huge asset to our business, and ultimately the customers of Pinsight Media+.”
Through building all of its apps, OneLouder found a niche in advertising, having its own team that has worked on the ad platform and used its own apps to test it out. This deal also brings Sprint some strategic partners like CBS, which has a sports app powered by OneLouder. Tying the work that OneLouder has done on its ad platform with Sprint’s customer base should juice its mobile advertising efforts immediately.
The great thing about the acquisition is that Handmark and OneLouder will stay in its current home of Kansas City, serving as an example of what a budding tech hub it really is. Sprint has been trying to get involved with the KC tech crowd, as all of the activity surrounding Google Fiber has inspired companies to be formed and money and time to be spent on building communities and refocusing on making the area attractive to both coasts as an alternative base.Read More →
Amid grumblings of a “general fatigue” when it comes to software-based startups, a potentially transformative technology called 3D printing is poised to reach critical mass and mainstream awareness. Today’s news headlines about the technology tend to focus on the extreme possibilities in being able to print objects on demand – from the terrors of things like a homemade 3D-printed gun to heartwarming tales of printed robotic hands for children born without fingers. But the innovation is also powering a revolution of a different kind. An emerging class of creatives are using 3D printing techniques, not to either save or destroy the world and the people in it, but simply to create a little beauty along the way.
These creatives, makers of the new “handmade” goods, are selling their art in online storefronts like Etsy and Shapeways, as well as within brick-and-mortar stores, and even museums.
They range from technically adept programmers who never dabbled in hands-on art involving paint or clay or other materials, to formally trained artists and even do-it-yourselfers who taught themselves 3D modeling by watching tutorials on YouTube.
Regardless of how they got there, the end result is an output of affordably priced, print-on-demand goods that reflect their own unique vision and inspirations, whether that’s a new kind of jewelry that couldn’t exist before the capabilities introduced by 3D printing, one-of-a-kind items used to decorate your home, or objects which buyers help craft themselves, using simple online tools.
Here are some of their stories.
This is part one of an ongoing series which will showcase some of the art that’s being fueled by the increasingly accessible 3D printing technology, and the artists behind the work.
Part One: The Formally Trained Artist
Summer Powell has always been an artist. She has both undergrad and graduate degrees in graphic design, and has worked on a number of products involving mixed media, vacuum forming, and lenticular technology, while exploring the intersection of art and technology in years past.
Along with a collaborator, she once produced a clock which used high-resolution animations to tell the time, for example.
Powell says she first heard about 3D printing around 10 years ago and had been watching the space ever since waiting for it to become viable for use in her art.
“I had industrial designer friends in New York, and I’d go see their prototyping 3D printing machines,” she says. “They were making prototypes of consumer electronics and some furniture.” But it wasn’t until a few years ago before Powell had the opportunity to begin playing around with 3D printing techniques herself.
She decided to pay a visit to Silicon Valley-based TechShop, one of the earlier “maker spaces,” as these tool-filled workspaces are called. TechShop, which has since expanded to several cities in California, New York, D.C., and elsewhere, offers a wide range of professional equipment which members can train on and use for just about any kind of project. It was where Square co-founder Jim McKelvey once built the first three protoypes for the Square card reader, and where a datacenter technology startup called Clustered Systems designed a prototype of a fanless liquid-cooling system which outperformed IBM in a “chill-off” contest.
But Powell didn’t want to build gadgets or technological components; she wanted to produce art.
“I created a prototype of this idea I had – which I still want to produce – of salt and pepper shakers,” she says. The object is designed to look like a wall socket, if laid flat on a table. The actual shakers then extrude upward from that. “It’s sort of a funny, visual pun,” says Powell.
Coming from a background in graphic design, Powell was used to doing a lot of what she describes as “virtual” work. But 3D printing was different.
“It was really wonderful to envision an object or a form, and be able to hold it in two weeks time, and actually have a tactile object,” she explains.
Today, she thinks of the art of 3D printing as falling somewhere in between the world of graphic design and metal working, another artistic medium she’s practiced in the past, noting the “hands on” nature of the latter tends to be a bit more satisfying of the two.
It was about two years ago when Powell begin working on 3D printed jewelry. Her items were first sold to consumers on Etsy, an online marketplace known best for handmade items from DIY crafters, who sell everything from homemade clothing and accessories to watercolor paintings and woven baskets.
It’s not, perhaps, the first place you would think to go for items outputted by machines.
But Powell’s jewelry fits right in.
Still, despite the nature of those early designs, her first clients were often men who were drawn to the jewelry because of its technical underpinnings and geometric patterns, buying them as gifts for girlfriends, wives, and other women they knew.
Today, that client base is now starting to shift – around half of the shop’s customers know what 3D printing is, and those who don’t are just interested in buying because of the jewelry’s modern look.
Powell declined to discuss her sales saying that her business is still in its “growth stages,” but notes that one of her more popular items is her “Andromeda Necklace” (pictured above). This item is especially interesting because it comes out of the 3D printer with its interlinking, moving parts already hinged together, no assembly required.
The necklace, like many of her pieces, is made of a nylon-based material – a material she prefers because of what it can allow for.
“There are possibilities beyond what you can achieve in metals sometimes – thinnesses or having one object inside another – there are just all these great possibilities with form with the resin,” she explains.
After sending her designs off to a 3D printer following a customer’s order, the turn around time is about two weeks before she gets the items back so she can finish them by adding coatings, clasps or chains. Meanwhile, when inspiration strikes, Powell sometimes still turns to pen and paper to sketch, and other times, she skips straight ahead to the 3D modeling software she uses: Rhino 3D, a CAD program she taught herself to use.
Most of the time, Powell designs out of a desk she’s had at a local co-working space, Sandbox Suites for several years, but is planning to expand to a larger space where she can be more physical with the work – not only in assembling the jewelry, but also sculpting objects and then scanning them with a 3D scanner.
One that recently caught her eye was the Matterform, which just wrapped up a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help build an initial batch of scanners. The company was seeking $81,000 but ended up raising nearly half a million in just 35 days. It was the largest non-U.S. fundraise the site had seen to date.
Today, Powell sells her designs on her own website, as well in San Francisco Bay area retail stores. Her rep is also bringing her work to showrooms in New York and L.A., as she prepares to expand her business nationwide.
“I’d almost become a metal sculptor, and chose graphic design instead because of my love of pattern and symbol,” Powell says, looking back on how she came to 3D printing . “Now I can realize my vision and unite those loves in a 3D medium.”Read More →
The idea of a VC having its own news aggregator was a bit outlandish in 2007. But Y Combinator was in an unusual position in those days anyway. Startup incubators had been a highly visible part of the dot-com crash, and Silicon Valley was still skeptical of the concept nearly a decade later. So YC set out to be something different — a community of hackers building companies on their own terms.
Hacker News was initially built by YC co-founder Paul Graham as a demonstration of Arc, a new programming language he’d been working on. He quickly realized that it could help bring together the companies he was supporting and the rest of the folks who wanted in. With 1.6 million page views and 200,000 unique visitors on a given weekday, it’s now a key part of the venture firm’s success.
But the site quickly took off, as former Redditors flocked to it to talk about tech and startups (the site was then known as Startup News).
Having a big audience isn’t really the goal. In comparison, Hacker News’ inspiration and the first big YC exit, Reddit has seen as much as 4.4 million page views in a given day.
A Community For Ex-Redditors
As Graham explains, as the site started seeing traction immediately, he realized this wasn’t just a way to test Arc. He wanted to make Hacker News a place to recreate the way Reddit felt in the good old days, when most of its community was made up of hackers. As Reddit drew more traffic, the hacker focus of the site evolved. The community’s user base became diluted as it grew, and Hacker News was a new home for some of the early Reddit hackers.
Graham writes in February of 2007:
Reddit used to have a good concentration of startup-related links, but that was because so many of Reddit’s initial users were connected in some way to Y Combinator. Now that Reddit is so much more popular, the top links tend to be images, or videos, or political news.
Another goal of Hacker News, says Graham, was to be a place where founders could share ideas and communicate. In the spirit of Y Combinator’s own incubator, Hacker News was focused on being a community for entrepreneurs and founders in the tech community: a place where they could freely post and where Y Combinator could also get to know potential founders and leaders in the tech world.
“From the beginning we had a real community, and some of the core group of refugees from Reddit are still prominent on Hacker News today,” Graham explains. Part of what attracted many to Hacker News was its simplicity and voting system. The product’s UI, design and color scheme have remained relatively constant over the past six years.
Thomas Ptacek, one of the site’s first users, explains that he was a Slashdot user and then a Reddit user, and flocked to Hacker News (at the time Startup News) because it was more relevant to the technology and startup community. He found Hacker News to be a refreshing change from past forums where the quality of commenting was declining.
Here’s how Hacker News works: Users submit links to stories, and stories are ranked according to a voting system, similar to Reddit. The difference between Hacker News and Reddit, however, is the voting system. While you can vote stories up, you cannot vote stories down (but you can flag stories). According to Graham, 100 upvotes will get a story to the top of the front page of the site. You can only downvote a comment if you have enough “karma” on the site, which is another compelling element of Hacker News. The Karma factor is determined by the number of upvotes on a user’s submission and comments minus the number of downvotes.
In terms of the design, Graham says he wanted Hacker News to look like your list of processes in a terminal window. The look and feel of the site was aimed at hackers themselves who are familiar with tabular data.
Graham will occasionally add new features, some of which are on the backend of the site. For example, as comments get more deeply nested and heated in terms of exchange, the reply link takes longer to appear. There is a purposeful drag implemented on this, says Graham, because deeply nested discussions are rarely interesting.
Another subtle feature addition: a flame-war detector. Graham has been consistently deploying and updating proprietary software that determines whether there is a flame war, where people argue heatedly. When these flame wars take place (which Graham says can often get ugly and personal), the story in which the commenting is taking place is moved further down the page.
Graham has also created sophisticated spam-detection software, which was just updated with new code six months ago. With the update, Graham says that it’s rare for spam to last on the site for more than 10 minutes. If a user does spam the site or engages in personally vicious behaviors, they run the risk of being banned. But in an interesting twist, called “hellbanning,” the user may not actually know they are banned.
On the backend, Hacker News runs on one core, and Graham calls this a “remarkable feat of scaling.”
In terms of human moderation, Graham himself had been spending three to four hours per day simply moderating the site. And that’s in addition to all of his duties running Y Combinator. While a number of other YC alums have moderating abilities, Graham has been the main human element of the site. “It was becoming my life,” he says. Around six months ago, Graham brought on someone else, who he chose not to name, to moderate the site. He says the individual is affiliated with Y Combinator and is a “prudent and thoughtful guy,” and has been doing a great job ever since.
Hacker News has a strong affiliation with Y Combinator, as well. Graham explains that founders usually all create a Hacker News account when they apply, and that user name is the founder’s identity at Y Combinator. Hacker News also features a jobs page that shows any jobs available at Y Combinator companies. He adds that this jobs portal is very useful for Y Combinator, as the majority of the site’s audience is made up of programmers and engineers.
If you are a YC founder, your username will show up in orange to other YC founders to enable these entrepreneurs to recognize and meet each other.
Graham says that Hacker News gets a lot of complaints that it has a bias toward featuring stories about Y Combinator startups, but he says there is no such bias. Instead, the culture at the incubator is to use Hacker News, and with more than 1,000 YC alumni who have graduated from the incubator, many of these founders are still active on the news site and post links to their fellow founders’ launches and news.
“It was a small intellectual village and now it is a giant city.”
Growth has its downside. What keeps Graham up at night is worrying about the dilution of quality of the Hacker News. He explains that the site was community of insiders in the hacker world, and it has gradually been getting diluted. “That is what I spend all my time thinking about,” he says.
He worries that Hacker News will become what he calls “an old crumbling building.”
“The community has been in a perpetual but slow decline because the site is growing,” he says.
Ptacek agrees that the value of Hacker News has changed a bit. “I don’t get a community feel as much, whereas in the beginning it was a small group of people who all know each other,” he says. “It’s less likely now to see the same people from thread to thread.”
One of Graham’s biggest pain points is the “schoolyard quarrels” he finds on the site on a daily basis, and wishes “users would stop misbehaving.” He cites the example of users organizing voting rings to purposefully vote up stories, which caused Graham to develop additional software to detect this. He adds that more users are trolling under newly created accounts, and are deliberately starting flame wars on the site.
“I wish I could get people to stop posting comments that are stupid or mean,” he says. “It takes only one or two negative comments and a discussion turns into a flame war.”
Graham adds that he gets a lot of vitriol from users personally with accusations of bias or censoring. He clarifies that he, and the other human editor, rarely take links down unless they are dupes. Even with tabloid or gossip stories that surface, Graham will not take them down. Users with high karma points tend to flag these stories, he adds, and they can then be taken down.
“Hacker News makes me sad a lot,” says Graham. “I wish the community would behave the way they did when it was a little village.”
Users are noticing Graham’s frustrations. Ptacek says that he observes that Graham is careful not to tell people what to say or think, but it’s clear that he wants people to treat each other better and he gets more sad over time.
Could This Be A Business?
While Graham is open about not wanting to be the next Reddit, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hacker News could be a business. Reddit is reportedly raising cash at a $400 million valuation. While Hacker News has a fraction of the traffic that Reddit does, the smaller site could actually have an impressive valuation as a business without any funding or employees.
Graham himself uses the site as his primary source of news. He’s even found Y Combinator companies through Hacker News. A user in the community posted a link to Watsi, a non-profit that allows people in dire need of medical care to raise money for procedures and health care. He noticed Watsi the second time it was posted on Hacker News and thought it was an amazing idea. He cold-called the founders and convinced them to be the first ever YC-backed nonprofit. And Graham recently took a first board seat at Watsi, his first board position ever.
But Graham is adamant that Hacker News is not a business and would not become a business. There are no ads on the site, and he has no interest in making money from ads. He admits that through the jobs page he indirectly makes money, as he is an investor in Y Combinator companies and will inevitably profit if the company’s hires help the business. Nor would he be interested in selling the site.
While it’s clear that Graham has his frustrations with the community, when he talks about the site’s defining moments, he sounds like he is speaking about his own child. One of his most distinct memories about the site is the day following Steve Jobs’ death, when every story on the front page was about the Apple founder.
“Users did it collectively as a tribute, and I found this a really remarkable way to show the power of a community. I thought this is really a living, breathing thing. It was like a bunch of birds flying through the sky forming themselves as an S.”
“There are really good reasons to engage with Hacker News,” says Ptacek. “There is no better place to stay engaged with the hacker community…At the end of day it is a message board. Having a place where you can reach and talk to groups of people is an important concept.”
As for the future of Hacker News, it’s clear that Graham is focused on maintaining quality and making sure that the community treats each other with respect and kindness. “I hope that most Hacker News readers know that I am doing this for their sake,” he says.Read More →
“We are pleased to welcome such an innovative firm as CrowdIt, with its unique offerings, to assist entrepreneurs and itself, an incubated client of The eFactory Business Incubator, as an NBIA member,” said Randy Morris , director of member services at NBIA. NBIA has an international reach of more than 1,900 members spanning 60 countries. The association provides professionals with information, education, advocacy and networking resources to bring excellence to the process of assisting early-stage companies.
SOURCE:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/crowdfunding-startup-crowdit-joins-national-business-incubation-association-as-a-virtual-incubator-207694711.htmlRead More →
To Test The Bitcoin Waters, Adam Draper’s Boost.vc Accelerator Adds Backing From Lightspeed, Beluga Founder & More
As a fourth generation venture investor, Adam Draper was pretty much predestined to work with startups. The son of Tim Draper, the founder of global VC firm Draper Fisher Jurveston, Adam has made it his mission to do everything in his power to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life — without relying on his family name to do so. After taking the plunge as an entrepreneur himself, co-founding a capital raising and trading platform and an equity crowdfunding portal, the 26-year-old again finds himself back in the Draper wheelhouse: Early-stage finance.
In the summer of 2012, Draper launched his third venture, Boost.vc, a San Mateo-based accelerator that offers housing (in an on-site hotel), office space, mentorship and seed funding as part of its 12-week incubation program. But by today’s standards, considering the glut of startup accelerators that have emerged over the last two years, what was once an attractive model now almost sounds run-of-the-mill. I’d argue, and Draper would agree, that accelerators can provide more value for startups over the long-run by focusing on a particular vertical.
Today, Boost.vc is taking its first (experimental) step in that direction by focusing on one of the hottest verticals in the tech industry: Bitcoin. About three months ago, the decentralized, ungoverned currency became “an obsession,” Draper says, and since then, it’s been the focus of his blog, meetings and now, in part, his accelerator. Boost.vc will be dedicating half of its second batch (seven startups total) to companies building products and technologies around the Bitcoin ecosystem.
When it comes to Bitcoin, Draper unabashedly wears rose-colored glasses, calling Bitcoin “one of the most exciting innovations happening in the world today.” While the kind of endorsement might give some pause, Draper isn’t alone. Last month, Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew penned a post for TechCrunch explaining why VCs “love the Bitcoin market.” Liew himself has been a champion of Bitcoin and its incarnations, having recently backed OpenCoin, the developer of open source payment protocol, Ripple, for example.
Now Liew and other VCs are ready to ante up and continue to put their money where their mouths are by helping to establish the “Boost Bitcoin Fund.” The Fund, Draper exaplins, is a follow-on or “start” fund for all Bitcoin companies that graduate from the accelerator program. Each of the fifteen companies in Boost’s cohorts receives $15K in seed capital (in exchange for a 5 percent equity stake), but with the new fund, Bitcoin startups will receive an additional $50K investment upon completing the program.
The fund is anchored by Lightspeed, Rothenberg Ventures, The Bitcoin Opportunity Fund and Beluga founder Ben Davenport, all of which have begun to invest more aggressively in Bitcoin startups. Draper says that the team began to toy with the idea of a follow-on fund when the founders decided to accept seven Bitcoin startups into its summer session.
In floating the idea for a Bitcoin Start Fund to the investment community, the team was surprised by the warm reception that followed. In fact, Draper says, the capital came together in a week. With the Bitcoin movement continuing to gain steam, both entrepreneurs and investors are eagerly jumping into the space and testing new ideas in hopes of finding business models that will stick.
True to form, Draper says that the Boost.vc team is fully “committed to pushing Bitcoin toward becoming the next digital frontier.” Even if, as part of that experiment, the eight startups not focused on Bitcoin have to look on with envy as the other half of their cohort pockets an additional $50K at the end of the program.
Not only that, but as part of moving to commit (half of) itself to the vertical, Boost.vc will be bringing in “a number of Bitcoin-focused mentors,” including Davenport, who has recently dedicated himself to the space, along with additional speakers, experts and investors.
As a testament to the growing interest in the Bitcoin market, the digital currency now has its own conference, Bitcoin 2013, which is scheduled to take place this weekend in San Jose. Naturally, the conference will also play host to a Bitcoin-focused hackathon, and Draper tells us that Boost.vc plans to pick one of the seven startups that will participate in its program from the field.
As to the program: Applications for Boost.vc’s second cohort are being accepted on a rolling basis, with a final deadline of June 1st. The program will kick off June 24th, concluding in a demo day in the middle of September (the date has yet to be set). Those interested in applying can do so here.Read More →
Editor’s note: Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research and blogs at Techspressive. Each column looks at crowdfunded products that have either met or missed their funding goals. Follow him on Twitter @rossrubin.
These days, it seems that anything that whiffs of the traditional PC has all the market appeal of a month-old banana. Microsoft and its hardware cohorts are trying to fight back against the image of the staid tower and notebook with touch-enabled, all-in-one computers, clickety-covered tablets and convertible notebooks that twist like a contortionist. With no stake in Windows to protect, though, device crowdfunders have taken a different tack, pushing Android and other mobile OSes into alien configurations. While a bit of old hat for tiny game consoles from OUYA and GameStick, the game is now on for more general computing tasks.
Backed: MiiPC ZeroDesktop is a more established business than your typical solo entrepreneur sailing off into crowdfunding waters. But its experience with cloud services, as well as remote access lend differentiation to MiiPC, an overgrown milk pint of an Android computer that features extensive controls for the pre-tween to tween in your household and a green under-light for no good reason except it looks kind of cool. MiiPC will feature a companion app that lets ever-watchful parents and guardians control access to apps like a boss regardless of the theme-song message of Malcolm in the Middle.
The MiiPC project wrapped up this week more than tripling its $50,000 goal for the mini-desktop that backers could scoop up for $99. As the device uses a similar chipset to the one in present-day Google TV boxes, the company is going to turn its interns onto it this summer to see what kind of alternative uses can be found for a small, albeit plug-tethered, Android device.
Whacked: Aurus Dual-Screen Tablet PC. What madness is this? A mobile device with not one but two displays? The unthinkable has been thought of with Windows PCs by Toshiba and Acer and an Android device by Sony. All failed in part because the underlying operating systems are not optimized for doing things like, say, putting a keyboard or game controls on one screen with the display of an email client or game on the other. The campaign page acknowledges the issue, asking, “Need some dual screen apps?,” assuring backers that they are developing some. Sony, for its part, said it was working with third-party developers. But, again, good luck with that without Google throwing its full weight behind multi-screen devices.
Backers could have nabbed the double-barrell Android tablet starting at €399, but it passed few consumers’ screenings. The project racked up little more than 1 percent of its lofty €200,000 goal.
Backed: CoolShip. It wasn’t quite the level of integration we see in today’s all-in-one computers like the iMac, but some of the earliest PCs had no separate tower enclosure, integrating the processor and memory into the same casing as the keyboard. Perhaps the slickest examples of these early designs were from Commodore, which used them in the rotund and popular Commodore 64 and VIC-20. Indeed, that brand and its tell-tale industrial design has been trotted out for pricey Windows-ready x86 PCs designed into cases appealing to the nostalgic.
The Android-touting CoolShip, on the other hand, is not only cheap at $99, but even upgradeable so you can swap in new, more powerful processors as they become available. The flexibility should also help address another issue with computers integrated into keyboards: death by spilled beverage. CoolShip sailed by its campaign goal of $10,000, nearly doubling that amount, and is expected to start shipping to backers this month.Read More →
Kickstarter has been criticized on and off in recent months for allowing celebrities to use the crowdfunding service to raise money — most recently Zach Braff, who raised more than $2 million on Kickstarter for a follow-up to his movie Garden State. Now, Kickstarter has decided to break its silence and address the issue.
In a blog post published late Thursday, Kickstarter’s founders noted that their goal is to let anyone find funding for their creative projects, regardless of whether they’re “big or small, established or Indie, serious or fun.”
“That’s our mission,” the founders wrote. “We’re a tool available to anyone (in the U.S. and UK, currently) to fund and build a community around their creative project.” Read more…Read More →
WePay Debuts Veda, An Intelligent Risk Engine That Leverages Social Media Data To Prevent Merchant Fraud
Online payments startup WePay is announcing the launch of Veda, an intelligent social risk engine that leverages social media data as well as traditional business data to catch merchant fraudsters.
As we’ve written in the past, Y Combinator-backed startup originally formed to make it easier for groups to collect money and make payments together. But recently WePay pivoted slightly to become ultra-simple platform for businesses to collect and manage payments online. The startup added support for event registration and ticketing, custom invoicing, donations, mobile payments and e-commerce.
Last year, the startup rolled out a white-label payments API and lowered its prices to court third-party developers and debuted an easy way to embed in-line payments.
Founder Bill Clerico explains to me that fraudsters attempt to steal billions of dollars online. Often, fraudsters will set up an account acting as a merchant, and will solicit payments from consumers. So payments companies like WePay have to conduct in-depth security assessments to determine whether a merchant isn’t attempting to commit fraud.
Veda is a more data-focused way to underwrite merchants and make sure they are actually verified sellers. Clerico says, “A traditional credit score only shows a sliver of who you are, but an online profile allows us to assign our users a more accurate ‘WePay credit score’ based on their personal history of verified, social data. Veda’s intelligent brain is the new, smarter way to assess risk.”
Veda uses data from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp coupled with proprietary algorithms to mine and analyze a merchant’s social signals to gain a more accurate picture of risk. Veda uses pattern recognition, integrated support data, and automatic cross-referencing to analyze risk.
Veda needs five pieces of information (versus the 21 some payment companies require) to get started: first name, last name, name of business, email address, and phone number. Merchants can be approved within minutes.
WePay says that this patent-pending technology is already analyzing over 250,000 transactions per month. And since October 2012, Veda has stopped more than $30 million in attempted fraud.
WePay isn’t the first payments company to start using social data for risk assessment–Max Levchin’s Affirm is also using social data on the consumer end. Signifyd is also using social data for risk assessment in payments.
WePay has raised a total of $20 million since being founded in 2009, including a $10 million round led by Ignition Partners that it announced last year. Other investors include Highland Capital Partners, August Capital, and angels such as Levchin, Ron Conway, Dave McClure, and Steve Chen.Read More →