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PeoplesVC partners with MIT Enterprise Forum to bring early stage high technology deals to all Americans

By   /  February 16, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

Through a sponsorship with the MIT Enterprise Forum, PeoplesVC seeks to identify promising emerging high technology startups and help these startups raise capital from the general public.

“I am excited about the prospect of opening up investment opportunities in promising high technology companies to all Americans,” commented Akhil Garland, CEO of PeoplesVC, Inc, “a new wave of capital formation is coming, and it is thrilling to help create new, meaningful jobs in our country,” Garland added.

SOURCE:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/peoplesvc-partners-with-mit-enterprise-forum-to-bring-early-stage-high-technology-deals-to-all-americans-245185701.html

Tags: crowd-funding, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, mit-enterprise-forum, peoplesvc, technology

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Marc Andreessen: Tech Is Still Recovering From A Depression

By   /  February 13, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale and Goldman Sachs COO Gary Cohn sat down today at the Goldman Sachs conference in San Francisco, to talk about the thing investors always talk about: Tech.

The Netscape founder, taking the same stance he’s had for years, was ever the ebullient optimist. (Because what else are VCs paid to do?)

He argued that advances in mobile and chip-making technology signaled exponential expansion of the market. He said tech isn’t overhyped and could have “decades” of growth ahead of it. Echoing economist Carlota Perez’s research, he said world-changing technologies like the web usually settle into a more mature deployment phase after an initial period of hype and investor frenzy.

Andreessen was hopeful about how the Internet of Things could transform the way people live, and credited Moore’s law with the potential to put a chip in everything: “What if we chipped every kid? What if we chipped every dog?”

Both Andreessen and Lonsdale said this Cambrian explosion of software and hardware companies like Anki and Oculus VR (both A16z investments) is a boon for big data and security startups.

Andreessen was basically repeating his famous argument that “software is eating the world.” So Cohn took a moment to remind him that the financial-services industry was the only thing that Andreessen said software couldn’t eat.

Cohn asked if Andreessen has reevaluated his stance, because the investor’s new pet technology is Bitcoin. Cohn said the crypto-currency was like “a pure attempt for software to eat the financial-services industry.”

Andreessen is famously bullish on Bitcoin.

“I would not encourage your grandmother to put her life savings in it,” he said. “[But] every single smart computer science person I’ve had look into it has reached the same conclusion — it’s a fundamental breakthrough in technology.”

He gushed: “For the first 20 years of the Internet, you couldn’t do this … Bitcoin is the first Internet-native approach of dealing with money. He said that corrupt governments and flimsy central banking systems would be Bitcoin’s true test.

“The prospect of a new technology is a big deal once you get out of the West,” he said.

Lonsdale used Bitcoin as an example of “how industries work” and “how they should work” and views healthcare and education as some of the biggest targets for reform.

“It’s very clear that all these systems were built back in the 70s and 80s. You’re seeing these giant gaps that are being filled in.” He was also weary of social media investments in 2014, because he wants entrepreneurs to make bigger bets.

“Is this something that’s pushing the world towards the way it should be?” he asked.

Andreessen said our current moment in time fits right into Perez’s model of technological and societal change. (She wrote a pretty influential book in the investor community called “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital.”)

Andreessen said we’re in the “deployment” phase. He brought up Perez’s cycle of new fundamental technologies: At first they’re not taken seriously, then way too seriously, then there’s a financial crash and then the same amount of seriousness.

“Tech is recovering from the depression,” Andreessen said, referring to the 2008 financial crash, and insinuating that we are now in a sweet spot. “The ratio of public tech PEs [price-to-earnings ratios] versus public industrial PEs, tech is undervalued. Relatively, tech PE ratios are really low. I know a tech company with a PE of six. We’re so far away from bubble territory that it’s unfair to compare this to the late 90s.”

Andreessen touched briefly upon recent strife between the tech industry and longtime San Francisco residents. He called recent protests “misguided,” but he seemed sympathetic.

“They are attacking the demand for housing [whereas the discussion should be] around the supply of housing,” Andreessen said. “Market forces want the Valley to expand; if our politicians show leadership, we have decades of growth ahead of us.”

When asked by Cohn the loaded question: “When does a venture fund know when it’s gotten too big?” Andreessen again referred to the broad potential of venture investing.

“For top tiers, the investable universe is only 100-200 companies,” he said, emphasizing that only about 15 of those are hits. “Perhaps that’s the rate in which the economy can support new ideas. Right now we’ve got 15 good ones, but that number could double and VC would need to increase to support it. I can’t wait to see what the answer is,” he said. 

Neither can we, Marc. Neither can we.

Image by Flickr user JD Lasica under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license by permission

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Sequoia-Backed Guardant Health Wants To Improve Cancer Treatment And Diagnosis Via A New Blood Test

By   /  February 11, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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When testing for the possibility of certain types of cancer, doctors often do surgery to retrieve biopsies for genetic analysis. But when a patient has already had cancer, and is testing for a possibility of recurrence, Helmy Eltoukhy, the co-founder of medical tech startup Guardant Health, believes that a blood test could replace a biopsy and avoid surgery.

Launching to the public today, Guardant Health has created the first pan-cancer blood test that helps oncologists prescribe the right treatments at the right time based on the changing genetics of a patient’s cancer. As Eltoukhy explains, biopsies don’t necessarily capture genetic changes that may emerge over time. Cancer cells are constantly mutating, he says, and these changes actually impact which type of cancer drug and treatment a patient should receive. But via the biopsy result, you can’t detect these changes in mutations very easily. “Oncologists are often driving blind with this information gap,” he says.

In contrast, the startup’s non-invasive blood test, called Guardant360, makes it much easier for physicians to more frequently obtain genetic information and match this to a potential cancer treatment without surgery. In addition to the core sequencing technology, this analysis and matching component for treatment is potentially life-saving. The company says currently 75 percent of cancer patients are taking ineffective drugs, because these drugs are not personalized to the exact type of mutation of the cancer.

The blood test reconstructs the relevant portions of a patient’s cancer genome using trace fragments of tumor DNA that are shed into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, we’re told that these fragments of tumor DNA are typically found at exceedingly low concentrations and current technologies cannot identify them. Guardant’s “Digital Sequencing” technology can detect this tumor DNA and sequence the genome to determine the type of treatment that matches the type of cancer.

According to the startup, recent clinical studies in cancer centers in the U.S. used Guardant to test and treat for the top five cancers (breast, lung, colorectal, skin and prostate) have gone well. In the test, 250 who had varieties of the cancers mentioned above, used Guardant360 and nearly 90 percent of all patients’ tumors mutations could be detected in blood, and treated accordingly.

The company is also announcing today that it has received $10 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and other undisclosed investors. ”We believe this is game changing to cancer treatment,” Sequoia partner Warren Hogarth says.

Beyond just the technology, the talent behind the startup is incredible, he explains. Eltoukhy received his PhD, MS and BS degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford, and subsequently joined the Stanford Genome Technology Center in 2006 to work on low-cost DNA sequencing technologies. At SGTC, he developed the first semiconductor sequencing platform and first base-calling algorithm for next-gen sequencing. Fellow co-founder and PhD AmirAli Talasaz also worked at the SFTC, and has been a serial entrepreneur in the sample preparation and clinical research fields.

Hogarth also cites the power of Natera, another Sequoia-backed company, and sees parallels with Guardant. Foundation Medicine, which just made its debut on the public markets, is taking a similar approach to cancer treatment.

Guardant declined to name which cancer centers are using its test, but we hear it’s a who’s who of the best treatment centers in the U.S. The company also has state and federal approvals for the test.

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Watch The 7th Annual Crunchies Award Show Right Here

By   /  February 11, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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The Super Bowl. The Winter Olympics. The Grammys and the Academy Awards.

‘Tis the season for live spectacles, and as such, I’m pleased to welcome you to the 7th Annual Crunchies Awards where TechCrunch, Gigaom and VentureBeat join together and award the best technology of 2013.

Tonight’s gonna be a good night.

To start, we have John Oliver hosting, who is sure to delight and surprise as always. Plus, we have some star-studded presenters handing out the 20 awards, including those for Best Technology Achievement, Fastest Rising Startup, and CEO of the Year.

Who will walk away victorious?

Obviously, you have to stay tuned to find out. Enjoy!

Nominees

Best Technology Achievement
Apple A7 Processor (Related Posts)
Bitcoin (Related Posts)
node.js (Related Posts)
Planet Labs low-cost satellites (Related Posts)
Project Loon (Related Posts)

Best Collaborative Consumption Service
Airbnb (Related Posts)
Crowdtilt (Related Posts)
DogVacay (Related Posts)
Homejoy (Related Posts)
Lyft (Related Posts)

Best E-Commerce Application
BarkBox (Related Posts)
Good Eggs (Related Posts)
Polyvore (Related Posts)
Warby Parker (Related Posts)
Wanelo (Related Posts)

Best Mobile Application
Mailbox (Related Posts)
Snapchat (Related Posts)
Tinder (Related Posts)
VSCO Cam
WhatsApp (Related Posts)

Fastest Rising Startup
Lulu (Related Posts)
QuizUp (Related Posts)
Tinder (Related Posts)
Upworthy (Related Posts)
Whisper (Related Posts)

Best Health Startup
Fitbit (Related Posts)
MyFitnessPal (Related Posts)
One Medical Group (Related Posts)
Oscar (Related Posts)
Practice Fusion (Related Posts)

Best Design
Exposure by Elepath
Nest Protect (Related Posts)
Pencil by FiftyThree (Related Posts)
Hi (Related Posts)
Yahoo Weather (Related Posts)

Best Bootstrapped Startup
Grammarly
Imgur (Related Posts)
NerdWallet (Related Posts)
SmugMug (Related Posts)
TaskUs

Sexiest Enterprise Startup
Box (Related Posts)
ClearSlide (Related Posts)
New Relic (Related Posts)
Optimizely (Related Posts)
Zendesk (Related Posts)

Best International Startup
BlaBlaCar (Related Posts)
Huddle (Related Posts)
Supercell (Related Posts)
Waze (Related Posts)
Xiaomi (Related Posts)

Best Education Startup
Code.org (Related Posts)
CreativeLIVE (Related Posts)
Duolingo (Related Posts)
Khan Academy (Related Posts)
Treehouse (Related Posts)

Best Hardware Startup
3D Robotics (Related Posts)
Oculus VR (Related Posts)
SmartThings (Related Posts)
Sonos (Related Posts)
Square (Related Posts)

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
Candy Crush Saga (Related Posts)
Netflix (Related Posts)
Tinder (Related Posts)
Vibease (Related Posts)
Vine (Related Posts)

Biggest Social Impact
Code.org (Related Posts)
Crowdtilt (Related Posts)
Edward Snowden’s NSA Revelations (Related Posts)
StopWatching.Us (Related Posts)
Watsi (Related Posts)

Angel of the Year
Steve Anderson (Related Posts)
Michael Dearing (Related Posts)
Keith Rabois (Related Posts)
Babak Nivi & Naval Ravikant (Related Posts)
Chris Sacca (Related Posts)

VC of the Year
Peter Fenton (Benchmark) (Related Posts)
Jim Goetz (Sequoia Capital) (Related Posts)
Reid Hoffman (Greylock Partners) (Related Posts)
Bill Maris (Google Ventures) (Related Posts)
Bijan Sabet (Spark Capital) (Related Posts)

Founder of the Year
Arash Ferdowsi  & Drew Houston (Dropbox) (Related Posts)
David Karp (Tumblr) (Related Posts)
Aaron Levie (Box) (Related Posts)
Lee Holloway , Matthew Prince & Michelle Zatlyn (CloudFlare) (Related Posts)
Deena Varshavskaya (Wanelo) (Related Posts)

CEO of the Year
Jeff Bezos (Amazon) (Related Posts)
Dick Costolo (Twitter) (Related Posts)
Travis Kalanick (Uber) (Related Posts)
Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) (Related Posts)
Elon Musk (Tesla Motors & SpaceX) (Related Posts)

Best New Startup of 2013
Anki (Related Posts)
Coinbase (Related Posts)
Glow (Related Posts)
Tinder (Related Posts)
Whisper (Related Posts)

Best Overall Startup of 2013
CloudFlare (Related Posts)
Kickstarter (Related Posts)
Snapchat (Related Posts)
Twitter (Related Posts)
Uber (Related Posts)

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OpenTable Buys Ness For $17.3M To Beef Up Mobile And Restaurant Recommendations

By   /  February 6, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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Restaurant reservation platform OpenTable today reported quarterly earnings of $52.3 million and used the day to put out some other news: the company has acquired Ness Computing, makers of the personalized restaurant recommendations app Ness. It’s an all-cash transaction that OpenTable says is worth $17.3 million, although it comes with cash in Ness’s coffers that brings the net value to $11.3 million.

OpenTable says that the Ness team will work in its San Francisco headquarters. The Ness app and site, meanwhile, will be discontinued with the technology getting integrated into OpenTable’s product “and other development efforts.”

Ness had already been integrating with OpenTable but this will give it potentially a much bigger audience using its recommendation platform. OpenTable says it seats more than 14 million diners each month and covers some 31,000 restaurants and clocking up some 575 million diners seated since being founded in 1998. It might also mean Ness finally coming to the UK (yay).

But it’s not a great return for Ness’s investors: in its lifetime the startup had raised $20 million with investors including Khosla Ventures, Alsop Louie Partners, Bullpen Capital, TomorrowVentures, SingTel Innov8 and American Express. Before today, we’d been hearing other names as possible buyers of the company.

Ness started out its life in 2011 as personalised search engine technology for mobile that quickly adapted to a specific vertical — restaurant recommendations — but always had its sights set on eventually developing to cover other areas. That ambition fuelled its 2012, $15 million Series B investment.

It’s not clear if that wider idea ever found traction, or whether Ness simply decided that it was a stronger company by focusing its algorithms and platform on one subject in particular. Or whether Ness found it too much of a challenge to compete in the wider world against the likes of Google. It looks like Ness’s technology, and talent, will be tasked most immediately with enhancing OpenTable’s mainstay of restaurant recommendations.

“The Ness team and I are incredibly excited to take the technology and insights we’ve developed over the last four years and incorporate them into the OpenTable product offering. As the world’s leading provider of real-time restaurant reservations, OpenTable will provide us the opportunity to introduce people to new and memorable dining experiences on a much broader scale,” said Corey Reese, CEO and co-founder of Ness Computing.

OpenTable, which started out as a platform for the web, has been making a lot of moves to add more mobile cogs to its machine — a logical strategy, given that going to restaurants, by definition, implies being out and on the move. Just earlier today, the company announced a pilot of a mobile payments service in San Francisco. Diners in that city can now not only book a table, but pay for their meal through the app, too.

Adding Ness to that is a way for OpenTable to extend a user’s time with OpenTable even more. “In the future, we believe that mobile will represent the vast majority of our reservations,” said Matt Roberts, OpenTable CEO. “Mobile is the cornerstone of powering great dining experiences.”

And, given that Ness does have the technology to search and personalise recommendations for much more besides where to eat, you might see OpenTable tap into that, too.

In all, the Ness technology should help OpenTable add more features to attract more restaurants to its platform and potentially take home more returns on the commission it charges them. In guidance for the next quarter, OpenTable says it expects sales of between $53.3 million and $54.9 million with non-GAAP EPS in the range of $0.39 to $0.43. OpenTable says that the Ness acquisition will be recorded in those Q1 2014 earnings.

Ness is the latest in a string of acquisitions that have included Quickcue in December 2013 for $11.5 million; JustChalo in June 2013 for $11 million; Foodspotting in January 2013 for $10 million; Treatful in August 2012 for an undisclosed amount; toptable in 2010 for $55 million and GuestBridge in 2009 for $3 million.

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My Favorite Companies From The Seventh 500 Startups Accelerator Class

By   /  February 5, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

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It’s demo day again for the 500 Startups crew, as the seed stage investment firm and accelerator is showing off the latest batch of companies that have survived its three-month accelerator program. Those companies are presenting their products and services to investors and press for the first time in Mountain View, Calif.

There are 28 companies presenting today, but I’ll be honest: I don’t think I’ll be able to take notes and keep track of everyone that gets on stage. After all, demo days are exhausting and I’m just one dude.

If you were an investor at this demo day, you wouldn’t be writing checks to every single one of those companies (unless, of course, you were 500 Startups). You’d be picking those which you personally thought had the most potential. So I’m going to pretend for a day that I get to pick and choose who I would invest in, and just tell you about my favorites.

Anyway, here they are, in no particular order:

Realtyshares

As a sort of “LendingClub for Real Estate,” RelatyShares has provided a crowdfunding platform for investing in commercial real-estate, allowing investors to avoid all the hassles that come with it. Users can pre-buy shares in rental properties that are being purchased or built, without having to come up with all the capital necessary to do so. Already, the platform has signed up more than 1,100 accredited investors and 70 percent are repeat investors.

On the property management and development side, RealtyShares has signed up 150 companies who are signed up to raise capital through the platform. That allows them to focus on what they do best — which is to own and manage real estate. For that, they pay between 3% and 5% commission for access to investors.

RealtyShares has funded $1.1 million in deals since being launched in beta, and is now sourcing $1.5 million per week in real estate transactions per week.

PlateJoy

We’ve already covered PlateJoy in the past, but I still think it’s a good idea, so here goes. The company provides a platform that enables users to shop for groceries by meal, rather than shopping for individual food items.

PlateJoy gives users a choice of different meals, and then provides them the ingredients and recipes to make those meals. By doing so, it enables users to eat better and reduce waste.

PlateJoy partners with large grocery chains to source and deliver food to customers, so there’s no inventory or overhead from that perspective. And it’s seen a fair bit of success from customers, with more than half coming back to order a second time.

Partender

Partender gives the folks who work in bars an easy tool to manage inventory and ordering of all the liquors that they have sold or need to order. Using a simple mobile app, as well as Partnder’s backend platform, bar workers can easily keep track of how much is sold or how much is need.

With the app, workers only need to point to where on a bottle the liquor is filled up to to estimate how much has been used, and it records the result. That allows bars to track how much is being sold day-to-day, and also to estimate how much inventory they need going forward.

Depending on what features they need, Partender charges $99 to $899 a month, and has more than 550 bars and restaurants signed up to use the platform.

EquityZen

EquityZen provides a platform that enables employees to sell equity in hot startups to investors who would like to purchase them on secondary markets. It hopes to provide an alternative to offerings like SecondMarket, by giving the companies those employees work for or have shares in to have more control over secondary transactions.

“Secondary markets today are broken. The sellers get cash, buyers get access, and all the company gets is a headache,” said founder Atish Davda. EquityZen, by contrast, is designed with company in mind, giving it control over who gets to sell equity, how much, and when.

The platform already has 800 accredited investors signed up, and has seen $29 million in equity transferred over it. And it’s growing 60 percent month-over-month.

Builk

This company is building a big data platform for the construction industry. By providing a Mint.com-like interface for managing budgets and purchase orders, Build enables construction companies to better understand the costs of their projects. They can also save time and money in doing so.

But how does Builk make money? It gets that data for free, and then can sell it back to suppliers, giving them real-time information that can be used for understanding their customers to help increase sales. Builk is all over Southeast Asia already, and has grown 40 percent over the past three months.

OLSET

OLSET uses the power of big data to personalize travel booking. It’s developed patented technology to enable any travel booking site to offer hotel recommendations that appeal to individual users. The whole goal is to update travel booking, which is way too complicated and more confusing than it needs to be.

OLSET isn’t looking to offer these direct to consumers, but through partners. An example is Any.Do, where users can get personalized hotel results right in the app, showing users which hotels are right for them.

Honorable mentions:

BTCJam – Aiming to provide global loans at reasonable rates around the world. And hey, it’s based on Bitcoin.
Launchtrack – Runs a next-gen ticketing platform that offers up customer information generally not available through other ticketing platforms.
Ubiome – You send them poop in a box, they send you information about your relative health.

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UXPin Picks Up $1.6M Round Led By Freestyle Capital To Democratize Design

By   /  February 5, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

This morning UXPin announced the completion of a $1.6 million funding round led by Freestyle Capital, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and IDG Ventures. UXPin is an online design tool designed to build a middle ground between professional-level tools that are too complex for the average person, and the simplistic opposite end of the market.

Its goal is to let people design anything from wearable technology to software with its technology, in its browser-based tool.

I’m no designer, though I did play with the product and found it simple enough to dig into. The company saw its revenue spike 950 percent year-over-year between 2012 and 2013, so it appears to be doing something right. (UXPin has “thousands” of customers, but did not provide a more specific number. With 3,000 customers paying $15 per month, UXPin has yearly revenue north of $500,000.)

A few things make UXPin unique: It offers no long-term free tier and is on a quick ramp to profitability. According to CEO Marcin Treder, UXPin should be profitable by the summer. A U.S.-venture-backed, Polish, in-browser design tool firm hiring in the U.S. that is about to rock into the black? Name another firm that is that unconventional.

In fact, according to Treder, only three Polish firms have ever received venture capital from the United States, and all three picked up the dollars in 2013.

The company’s $1.6 million in capital is not its first set of cash. According to Treder, UXPin picked up around a quarter million dollars from Polish investors previously. Then, the company raised $700,000 that closed last October. However, interest convinced them to extend the funding period, and so Freestyle came in with more capital. Freestyle’s own Joyce Kim will join its board.

As you expected, the company intends to invest its new cash into hiring in the United States and in developing its service.

All told UXPin is a neat service that has convinced a decent swath of designers to open their wallets. And that revenue was likely key to convincing some of the smarter money in Silicon Valley to take note and toss a few more dollars its way. Anyone want to gamble on how long until Adobe calls the firm?

Top Image Credit: Bruno Cordioli (Image Cropped)

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Hey, Big Spender! Venture Investment Soars In January

By   /  February 4, 2014  /  Tech  /  No Comments

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Holy shit did venture capitalists spend a lot of money in January.

Investments in new companies shot to $5.8 billion by the end of the month up from $3.5 billion over the same period last year, according to data from CrunchBase.

It’s only one month, not a full quarter, but it seems like venture investors are setting the stage for a very, very active year.

Software investments led all categories with just over $1 billion committed to deals, up from $597.3 billion last year. But hardware companies, e-commerce startups, mobile technologies, financial services offerings, and health-related technologies all attracted significantly more cash, CrunchBase data showed.

It’s also worth mentioning that while the total amounts that investors committed went up in most categories, the number of investments made by venture capitalists actually declined in six of the top 10 investment sectors by capital committed compared to last year’s figures. This lends credence to the notion that prices for companies continue to climb.

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The pace of investors’ commitments has caused some industry watchers to wonder whether the market is heading for some sort of reckoning.

“As soon as people start pouring money into a sector, that’s when we say we better slow down,” said one investor at a multi-billion-dollar venture capital fund. Meanwhile, limited partners are especially concerned about later-stage valuations, which seem… frothy.

“The later stage stuff is getting scary on the multiples,” said one investor at a large fund of funds. The last time venture investors put this kind of money to work in deals was in 2010, when VC-backed companies raised over $5.9 billion in deals.

Investments from VCs keep rising even as the amount of money venture investors raise from limited partners continues to slide. Data from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association pegs the amount of capital that venture firms have raised at $16.7 billion in 2013, down from $19.6 billion in 2012.

Meanwhile, investments into startups climbed in 2013 to $29.4 billion, up from $27.3 billion in 2012 and nearly level with the $29.7 billion committed in 2011, according to the NVCA.

Still investors are loath to define the market as a “bubble” despite the return of hedge funds and rising valuations.

A lot of this can be attributed to a movement from earlier stage to later stage deals. As the chart below shows, a lot of the money from the biggest spenders in January went to companies that had raised at least two or three rounds of financing.

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Some of these later-stage fundings — like the $101 million round raised by virtualization technology developer Nutanix, the $250 million Dropbox raised, or the $112 million for One Kings Lane – are all later-stage deals. The $30 million second tranche of a Series A for healthcare startup Oscar, or the $122.5 million for shaving company Harry’s, seem a little less… typical.

As other industry professionals have noted, there’s a bifurcation in Series A financing that’s happening, as well. Even the amount of money that early-stage investors are spending for angel, seed, and Series A round deals is increasing, according to data from CrunchBase.

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These numbers may just be an anomaly, but if investors keep up the pace, 2014 could signal a new beginning for an industry that had been trying to find its footing – or it could be another sign that VCs are walking closer to the edge.

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Future Ad Labs Turns CAPTCHAs Into Mini-Games (And Ad Revenue)

By   /  February 4, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

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We all hate CAPTCHAs, right? Those pesky additions to web forms that try to determine if you are a human and not a computer bot with nefarious intentions. A necessary evil to fight spam and other attacks, perhaps, but conversely also bad for business, dramatically increasing bounce rates and e-commerce shopping basket abandonment.

Future Ad Labs is on a mission to change this by replacing the CAPTCHA with something more engaging and game-like, which users might actually enjoy, while at the same time creating a new kind of ad unit that brands can enjoy, too.

Today, the UK-based startup is announcing it’s raised $1 million in funding (which I understand actually closed, in various stages, last year). The impressive list of backers includes Passion Capital, who led the round, as well as Balderton Capital, Ballpark Ventures, and accelerator Ignite100.

In addition, a portion of the investment was raised via the equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs. Angel investors Scott Button (founder/CEO of Unruly Media), Richard Fearne, Damon Reeves (former CEO of Unanimis) and Paul Whitehead (commercial director at WeR Interactive) are also in the list of backers.

Calling itself an ad tech company, Future Ad Labs’ “PlayCaptcha” ad unit (because on one level that’s what it is) lets users verify they are human, to the same end as a traditional CAPTCHA. But instead of asking users to enter a sequence of letters and numbers from a blurry image, they complete a game-like mini challenge (though, intentionally, they aren’t challenging at all), such as moving an on-screen slider in a straight-ish line to unwrap a virtual chocolate bar.

However, these challenges are fully branded, meaning that users are engaging with well-known brands at the same time. That chocolate bar, for example, could be a KitKat. It’s utterly brilliant (and utterly depressing if you have brand overload). Of course it’s also how Future Ad Labs and the sites it works with generate revenue. Not only is it solving an end-user problem, but it’s worked out a way to make money without being detrimental to the experience.

Noteworthy is that “PlayCaptchas” have been measured to have a 92% success rate (23% higher than standard CAPTCHAs) and 90% brand recall, according to the company.

It’s also one of those ‘why didn’t anybody think of this before?’ ideas. Unsurprisingly, however, other companies are operating in the same space. Future Ad Labs’ competitors include NYC-based Solve Media, and Are You A Human.

That said, the market opportunity is huge. Globally 300 million CAPTCHAs are completed per day. Meanwhile, I’m told that Future Ad Labs is on track to hit “7-digit revenues” in 2014. I’ve also heard from a source that the company recently hired away a VP of sales from a well-known legacy online gaming company, presumably to help boost ad revenue.

Future Ad Labs has already launched with the National TV Awards and the BBC (it was part of BBC Labs). On the brand side it’s secured campaigns and revenue from Heinz, Reckitt Benckiser and Nestle, among others.

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Happy Capital

By   /  February 2, 2014  /  Business  /  No Comments

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Happy Capital is the first French non-discriminatory platform participatory financing capital input (crowdinvesting). It brings together entrepreneurs seeking funding on the one hand, and individual investors who wish to invest their savings in the real economy on the other.

Tags: crowdfunding, crowdinvesting, crowdsourcing, french

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