UK Government Pushes IP-Matching In Latest Digital Counter-Terror Measure

ISPs and mobile operators will be forced to retain information linking IP addresses to individuals for 12 months under U.K. government counter-terrorism plans expected to be detailed next week.

The IP-matching measure will be included in the government’s forthcoming Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill. This follows another failed attempt by the government last year to push through a so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ — aka the Communications Data Bill.

That legislation would have forced companies to retain data about people’s online conversations, social media activity, calls and texts for 12 months but the coalition’s junior partner, the Liberal Democrats, baulked at supporting what they dubbed an “illiberal” bill.

However they are evidently comfortable with IP-matching – describing the measure today as “good news”. The Lib Dems also supported emergency data retention legislation – requiring Internet and phone companies to keep records of customer metadata – which was pushed through Parliament by the U.K. government this July, after the European Court of Justice struck down European data retention powers on the grounds that they were too broad.

That Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (aka DRIP) was criticized for being overly broad, vague and Draconian. It was also rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny, despite the ECJ ruling being handed down months earlier, in April — leading to accusations of a ‘surveillance stitch-up’.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr politics TV show today U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May described the new IP-matching measures coming down the pipe in the Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill as “a step” to helping the security services identify suspects.

But added that, in her view, this requirement does not go far enough — arguing that police need the ability to retain communications data that was set out in the Communications Data bill. So again the U.K. government continues to drive a state digital surveillance agenda that’s among the most Draconian in Europe.

“It will still be the case, even with these IP addresses being within the legislation that the National Crime Agency… will still not be able to identify everybody who is accessing illegal content on the internet,” May told the BBC.

The Home Office claims IP-matching will help police and security services identify terror suspects and organized criminals who are using the Internet to communicate. It is also talking this up as a way to help identify other types of Internet users — including hackers, cyber bullies and even vulnerable individuals using social media to discuss taking their own life. That latter scenario is a rather odd inclusion, given the Conservative Party’s usual allergic reaction to anything that can be perceived as ‘nanny state-ish’.

Beyond that sort of function creep, there is a huge can of worms being unboxed here, given the logical fallacy of equating an IP address with an individual. Politicians failing to grasp the intricacies of technology is, however, nothing new.

 

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SF Has An S&M Problem

It’s a Friday night, and I am on the prowl. I’m with my friend Edgar, and we are looking for evidence of the increasing SM problem among the denizens of America’s startup capital. We all know the story the past few months: it’s really bad right now, but don’t worry, everything will get better in time. But it is not getting better, and it’s time to call out our collective dirty little secret.

Our Sales and Marketing costs are killing us.

For years, subscription-based pricing popularized by Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startups has been pitched to us as a way of reducing SM costs. Traditionally, software was sold as a license along with a maintenance contract that ensured deep upfront revenues and a continuous stream of income.

Unlike the complexity of that on-premise implemented and managed software, SaaS was supposed to be simpler for customers to use and pay for. That simplicity not only saves on maintenance costs for overburdened IT departments, but also theoretically lowers the sales touch required for a sale, generating revenue efficiency for the provider. By pricing software as a subscription, startups forego upfront revenue from a license fee in exchange for higher and more reliable renewable revenue.

It hasn’t worked out that well.

The evidence is strikingly poor for the subscription model when it comes to actual dollars and cents. My friend and wingman Edgar, the SEC filings database, has all the proof. Just take a look at some of the recent technology IPO filings from the past few months to get a hint of the problem. Hortonworks, the Hadoop provider, filed its S–1 with the SEC last week, and the losses are mounting. The company made $33.4 million in total revenue in the first three quarters of 2014, but its SM costs were $44.6 million in the same period.

New Relic, the SaaS application monitoring startup, announced its IPO earlier this month as well, and its earnings record is similar. The company had revenues of $63 million in the year before March 31, with $58 million in sales and marketing costs.

These high ratios between revenues and sales and marketing expenses are certainly not new for companies heading to the public markets. When I criticized Box and Square back in May, one component of that analysis was the companies’ high costs to sell a product to their customers. Box in particular had $124 million in revenue in the year ending January 31, but $171 million in SM costs.

Now, I know the standard excuse here is that these subscription companies are “growing rapidly” and this is all just “an investment in the future.” With subscription pricing, the entire model follows from renewals, with the logic being that once you have acquired a customer, the profit margin will rapidly increase as active sales costs come down.

The challenge is that low-touch sales never seem to be low cost. If a customer is shelling out a serious amount of money from its IT budget to pay for a service, there is going to have to be constant attention paid to that customer to ensure that they are happy with the service while ensuring that they don’t defect to a competitor. This goes far beyond a support subscription, which handles the day-to-day maintenance of ensuring performance of the service for the customer. The CIO needs to know the provider is listening to their concerns, and that means a sales infrastructure.

Furthermore, gross margins for SaaS startups in particular are lower than for companies selling traditional software licenses, since these startups don’t just sell code, but also have to manage data centers and other infrastructure to maintain the software service. With less margin, startups should be more efficient with SM spending.

But we don’t see companies lowering their SM costs post-IPO. More than a year after its public debut, FireEye, a security platform for enterprises, had SM costs that almost equaled revenue in its most recent quarter.

Even a company as massive as SalesForce has arguably not found its marketing scale yet. In its most recent quarter, SalesForce’s SM costs represented more than 51% of total revenue, and more than 67% of gross profit. While the company is still expanding at a fast clip with year-over-year revenue growth of 28.5%, it seems hard to see the moment when its SM costs will simply melt away with renewals continuing.

This is particularly noticeable when we move away from the SaaS IPOs to other technology startups. OnDeck, the small business lending startup, announced its IPO a few weeks ago, and its operations appear much more reasonable. The company had about $107 million in gross revenue and $48 million in net revenue in the first nine months of this year, with “just” $21.8 million in sales and marketing expenses.

Does SaaS still offer a compelling model for some startups? Sure, just take a look at Slack. Given its innate virality as a social tool in the workforce, it is entirely credible to believe that the company can have an off-the-shelf product with a subscription pricing model and avoid the SM problems that plague others in the enterprise space. But it has an advantage with organic growth that few other B2B startups share.

Frankly, one of the reasons for the popularity of subscription is that founders believe they can simply avoid sales by putting a price matrix online and waiting for customers to come to them.

It might be time to admit that sales and marketing are crucial to startups from the day they are launched, and find better ways of building up efficient revenues earlier. That message needs to be heard particularly by technical founders, who should grapple and become comfortable hiring sales teams much earlier in their startup’s growth. SaaS is not an excuse to ignore higher-touch sales.

For in this competitive world, where startups targeting enterprise are competing not just with entrenched players but also other startups, sales matters more than it ever has. The winner of these markets is going to be the company that figures out how to get revenue growth without breaking the SM budget. While we may have an addiction to SM spending as an industry, we also have the tools and know-how to fix it, and it starts by placing product development and sales on an equal level.

Featured Image: Ed Bierman/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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Uber Über Alles

Oh, Uber. Such a great service…run by such short-sighted, thin-skinned executives. Clue: when people criticize you and/or your company, suck it up, take the criticism on board and apologize/adjust if warranted, then shut up and move on. Do not muse aloud, even at a quasi-off-the-record party, about forming million-dollar funds to attack and silence your critics.

Quite aside from the ethics of it all, how did the notion of repairing Uber’s tarnished public image by declaring war on journalists ever seem remotely like a good idea to anyone? That’s like pouring napalm onto a firestorm, or the Streisand Effect squared. And then to casually mention this bright idea to a Buzzfeed editor at a party? The mind boggles.

And so a classic Valley soap-opera scandal erupted. Won’t someone think of the children journalists? Pass the popcorn, please! Ashton Kutcher waded in, and was schooled. Pando’s Sarah Lacy and Paul Carr, who seem to live for this kind of slugfest1, did their thing. Dave Winer, of long-ago RSS fame, unleashed a strange rant in which he attacked the tech press for “name-calling,” and…complained at length about Chrome. Claims and counterclaims flew about what actually happened at the infamous dinner. And Uber CEO Travis Kalanick apologized, but–

But let’s not dwell overmuch on Uber and journalists. They can take care of themselves, and besides, there’s so much else to talk about: Uber’s shady competitive practices, disregard for customers’ expectations of privacy, alleged exploitation of its drivers, sponsorship of police militarization (!), and its creepy and/or sexist corporate culture, to name a few. (They recently deleted their infamous “Rides of Glory” blog post, but fear not, the Wayback Machine still has it.)

Today, though, let’s talk a little about Uber and wheelchairs. Because this really seems to epitomize Uber’s whole corporate culture:

Beyond that link you’ll find: “Uber is lobbying to change proposed legislation designed to increase the paltry number of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in Washington … Uber wants to avoid any requirement to report the numbers of wheelchair-accessible trips requested and provided to passengers.”

I mean, wow. We’re not talking about wasteful bureaucratic pork here; we are literally just talking about providing data to help disabled people. That’s something you’d think a company that will soon have raised billions of dollars would be willing, if not eager, to provide.

But not Uber. Uber is a deeply libertarian company that guards its precious data jealously…even to the point of refusing to provide the government with information that could help the disabled. They really seem to be trying hard to prove Peter Thiel correct–something which I grudgingly admit happens with irritating frequency–when he called it “the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley” onstage at Disrupt this year.

I hate the taxi cartels too. But the choice between them and Uber-at-its-worst is very much a false dichotomy. Don’t get me wrong, Uber is not always at its worst; but when it is, it really seems like all the worst aspects of today’s tech industry, amplified beyond the point of parody–

Valley culture probably needs to take some of the blame here. On one hand, we stress “growth at all costs,” and then we’re shocked, shocked! when founders actually take that to heart, even when those costs include things like “values” and “ethics.” And their astonishing hypergrowth is apparently blinding Uber to the fact that they are developing a fantastically unpleasant corporate reputation — in an industry where trust actually matters quite a lot.

On the other, we’ve become such a cheerleading echo chamber that successful tech people now expect not just respect but actual adulation, no matter the source of their success, and any hint of criticism seems completely unacceptable. Winer actually seems to be suggesting that because the tech industry is So Very Important its titans should be immune to any kind of critical scrutiny. In fact that’s exactly why such scrutiny is so necessary.

I don’t really care what Emil Michael may have carelessly said at a dinner party, except inasmuch as it reinforces the spreading notion that Uber is a company run by narcissistic sociopaths. But I don’t believe it actually is, and I don’t believe in Internet pile-ons, and I do believe in second chances, so I’m not uninstalling them–yet.

But I do hope Uber realize that they don’t just have an image problem. They seem to have a fundamental problem with their corporate culture, one that will require real and significant changes, not just empty PR fig leaves. I hope those are in the pipeline. In the interim, I reckon I’ll be riding with Lyft.


1Non-disclaimer: while their tenure writing for TechCrunch overlapped mine by a year or so, I’ve never met or corresponded with either.

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Crowdsourced War

Editor’s note: Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

At least 4,000 people have died in Eastern Ukraine, according to United Nations estimates, spilling roughly 5,000 gallons of blood on the nation’s soil.

As with much of the needless waste of war, this bloodbath was avoidable and this death toll could have been much lower.

In 90% of potentially survivable battlefield mortalities, uncontrollable bleeding was the top cause of death, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research found in 2012.

These statistics caught the attention of Ilya Tymtchenko, a young Ukrainian man who recently moved back to Kiev after studying in the United States.

Using the crowd-funding website Indiegogo, he raised more than $2,000 in 10 days to provide bandages and QuikClot, a blood coagulant, for Ukrainian soldiers. Using Facebook, he found an American friend headed to Kiev who could make the medical purchases in the United States and bring them abroad in a suitcase, avoiding the pricey and unreliable Ukrainian mail system. Also through social media, he found contacts in Kiev who would soon be headed east, who could transport the trauma kits to the front line.

“I would say that I am a very minor example in the greater picture, because there are people who are much more involved with raising funds,” Tymtchenko tells me by Skype. “For myself and my friends, we look at what can be the most effective way of saving a life.”

As Ukraine’s fight against Russian invaders and pro-Russian separatists continues, the country has embarked on an unintentional innovation: crowd-sourced war.

Though patriotic civilians have long supported war efforts — think Rosie the Riveter, volunteer nurses and the dutiful stocking-knitters of yore — Ukraine’s crowd-sourced war effort is different.

For starters, it’s born of stark necessity; around the time Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine had only 150,000 troops, down from 700,000 in 1991. Ukraine’s defense spending in 2013 was only U.S. $1.9 billion—35 times smaller than Russia’s military budget. And even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin puppet who fled to Russia in the wake of the Maidan protests last February, spent his time in office weakening the military, diverting funding from foreign-focused troops to his own internal police, who helped suppress the Ukrainian people.

Second, Ukraine’s crowd-sourced war effort is decidedly techy. A primarily grassroots effort, volunteers and fund-raisers publicize and coordinate their efforts on social media. To collect money, fund-raising campaigns rely on everything from Western crowd-funding websites to text-message campaigns to electronic terminals created by Ukrainian banks.

Tymtchenko tells me most contributions to his campaign ranged between U.S. $20 and $50. A $100 donation is considered big, he adds. That’s not surprising, given that Ukraine remains a relatively poor country, with the per capita gross domestic product still only $3,867.

But small donations make a big difference, as one fund-raising campaign launched by the Ukrainian military demonstrated earlier this year. By texting 565, Ukrainians could send in a 49-cent donation to help with “logistics and military support.” It brought in an overwhelming U.S. $2.3 million in the first five days alone.

The majority of the crowd-sourced war effort, though, has come from private volunteer organizations, many of which sprung up during the Maidan protests, then shifted focus to support the fight in eastern Ukraine. Reporting for National Review in April, I spoke to a Halyna Tanay, 23, who had volunteered to create secret hospitals during the protests, and who already saw those skills as transferrable to the war effort.

“Things the government couldn’t do in years, we did in weeks,” Tanay told me at the time. “It just shows that if you want to do something, you can do it. … Now we have a real war in East Ukraine, and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. There, it’s still dangerous. That’s why we can’t relax. We are waiting for [the Russians] every day, and if [our troops] need help, we can help. … Of course, war is worse than revolution, but we understand what to do, and we are ready.”

The range of these projects is impressive. Ukrainian civilians can’t buy military weapons like guns or tanks, so many projects focus on raising funds to provide soldiers with food, helmets, body armor, and warm clothing; some projects buy armed cars, and rumors even circulate about volunteers who have managed to restore an old cargo plane, proudly presenting it to the military.

Eugene Levchenko, a man in his early 20s who is part of Ukraine’s reserve forces, tells me by email that his favorite volunteer is a little boy who cleaned out his piggy-bank, using his $13 to buy warm boots for a soldier.

Fund-raising for drones is also an increasingly popular project, albeit an ambitious one. Good ones cost between U.S. $1,000 and $7,000 when equipped with a camera, says Vitalii Moroz, who volunteers with several initiatives, working especially with Patriot Defence.

“Drones are needed for understanding what is happening with an enemy, and it helps to investigative the enemy territories,” he tells me. “The cheaper the drones, the more accidents: The drones may fly away, they don’t follow the [control] of the operator.”

The logistics of raising money and making purchases can be complicated, though, volunteers say.

Crowd-sourcing websites have their pros and cons. It’s convenient, but some companies, like Kickstarter, require a project’s approval. Most are foreign, causing potential currency-transfer problems, though a few Ukrainian ones exist. Worse, almost all of them charge a service fee that gobbles a precious percentage of the funds raised.

“In Ukraine, the technological solutions for fundraising are not so developed as in the States,” Moroz says. “We don’t have some particular platforms to collect money for Ukrainian soldiers, but [instead, we’re] sending money through [bank] terminals to card accounts. There are hundreds of volunteers, leaders of the volunteer groups, who post on Facebook the numbers of these accounts, and they encourage people to send money.”

PrivatBank’s LiqPay system is especially popular, offering both online payment and in-person money-transfer terminals. The fee is also significantly lower than crowd-sourced websites.

Volunteers also take big risks to get their supplies to the front lines, Levchenko, the reserve trooper, tells me. “They bring aid to the front, sometimes moving under enemy fire,” he says. “Sometimes they’ve been captured as hostages by terrorists and [the] Russian regular army.”

For Ukrainians, the volunteer ethic of Maidan was inspiring and empowering—there’s a reason many refer to it as a “revolution of dignity.” The effort to support their defenders is a logical continuation of this fight, which volunteers say they hope restores a flourishing civil society and creates a free, Western-style nation that protects the rights of its citizenry.

“Since the war with Russia is the worst-case scenario, many people do not care about their positions and their work,” Moroz says, noting that war volunteerism unites members of the “creative class” with businessmen and intelligentsia. “The just do all they can to fight for the independence.”

But there’s also a darker side to crowd-sourced war.

The basic need for it illustrates a fundamental shortcoming: Ukraine can’t sufficiently protect its citizens from foreign threats, one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government.

And in a world where non-state actors, like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, have access to the same autonomous techniques to finance terrorism, that’s a disturbing development.

Featured Image: Mediagram/Shutterstock

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Fitmob Gets More Funding As It Partners With Gyms And Looks To New Markets

Fitness marketplace Fitmob is growing fast and looking to grow even faster, and to do so it’s raised new strategic funding from Recruit Strategic Partners. The funding will be used as Fitmob adds more options to its fitness marketplace through partnerships with gyms, and as it seeks to expand into new markets.

Fitmob has refined its business model quite a bit recently, moving from a pure peer-to-peer model to one in which the company partners with existing players in the industry. The company also launched $99 monthly subscriptions several weeks ago and has seen demand explode since then.

It turns out people really like paying one fixed fee for access to a whole bunch of different activities rather than pay a la carte for each class they take.

Over the past several months, the company started partnering with different yoga and other fitness studios to offer up a wider variety of classes to its users. And now, in a bit of a twist, the San Francisco-based company has begin working with gyms.

That marks a shift from Fitmob’s original plan to build a peer-to-peer marketplace of activities that sought to connect users with trainers and classes that didn’t have to be — and often weren’t — connected with a gym or training studio. By doing so, the company had sought to lower the cost of overhead associated with the current fitness model, while also giving trainers more freedom to make money from classes that they taught.

Fitmob is still looking to build the largest marketplace of fitness activities, but now it will also include gyms and their classes in its app, according to founder and CEO Raj Kapoor.

“Our initial positioning was that we were an alternative to the gym,” Kapoor told me by phone. But since, he says the company has evolved its business model. “We decided we were better off partnering with the industry than trying to go around it… It makes more sense to leverage [gyms'] excess capacity than to create all new capacity in the system.”

Gyms that will become available in San Francisco, Marin, and Seattle include Studiomix, World Gym, LiveFit, Kentfield Fitness, Fitness SF, Body Kinetics in Marin, and The Seattle Gym. Altogether, there are 17 participating at launch, but the company expects to add more each week.

By including gyms in its list of activities, Fitmob users can either sign up for their classes or just drop in and use their equipment. Like its existing partners, Fitmob will pay also gyms on a per-use or per-visit basis, but it will be doing so at a heavy discount over their usual a la carte prices.

The goal is to fill up unused capacity at those gyms, according to Kapoor. And the model works because about 70 percent of spots in any given class are usually open, which means that any Fitmob user who signs up is taking a spot that probably would have remained empty.

In addition to adding gyms to its list of fitness options, Fitmob has also just launched an Android app, which should grow its addressable user base. That’s important, especially as it looks to become available in places besides San Francisco, Seattle, and Marin.

Today it has about 80 different trainers, studios and gyms on the platform in San Francisco and about 40 in Seattle, with more being added over time. But expansion into even more cities is coming soon, with Fitmob looking to launch in the top 50 cities in the U.S. over the next year.

Now that the company has locked down how it works in its home market and nearby, it plans to enter new cities over the coming months. To do so, it hires brand ambassadors in each new market to help it find the best trainers, studios, and gyms and then works to sign them up. And of course, the funding will help with that.

Fitmob isn’t disclosing the size of the investment by Recruit Strategic Partners, but Kapoor notes Recruit is the home of some of the largest marketplace in Japan. Leveraging its expertise, Fitmob hopes to continue growing its own marketplace right here in the U.S.

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eBooks Could Finally Inch Past Print In 2018

PricewaterhouseCoopers analysts are predicting (again) that ebooks could soon edge out print as publishers’ most lucrative products. What does this mean? Essentially that a ebook popularity and pricing stabilizes, users will spend more on bits than they will on pulp. The resulting switch could be the final nail in the print coffin.

The NYT created this chart of rising revenue from books, leading to slightly over 50% US penetration in 2018:

Will this happen? I’m not betting on the 2018 number. First, The Digital Reader points out that PwC has been making this same prediction over and over again, year after year. Why? Because at some point they will be correct.

I honestly expected ebooks to overtake print in the US far sooner. The numbers still point to print surpassing ebooks with alarming regularity and print is still wildly popular in Europe. But this will change as cheaper ereaders become available but there is also a generational issue. Kids and older adults – audiences that bookend the book market – are still reading print books as the plethora of 50 Shades, Twilight, and Harry Potter titles at second-hand bookshops can attest. But as parents become more comfortable with leaving a tablet with the kids as they doze off I feel even the first of these hold-fasts can soon crumble. As for older adults this number is chipped away as grandparents and parents become familiar with their kids’ Kindles.

Print books are still commonplace. In order for ebooks to “win” print books have to become cult objects. I, a book lover who understands the amazing tools afforded writers by epublishing, recently purchased a copy of Cory Doctorow’s new book Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free in hardcover. I can’t remember why I bought it in paper form – perhaps I wasn’t paying attention on Amazon – but there is something about holding a nicely printed book in my hand, dust cover slipping slightly off the cardboard cover, and the minutes ticking away into hours as I flipped crisp pages. But, as an indie author, sooner I can romanticize the experience of ebooks the better. We are caught in two worlds and the new one isn’t quite ready yet.

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Requiem for a Unicorn

Editor’s Note: Micah Rosenbloom is a Venture Partner at Founder Collective, a seed-stage venture capital fund.

Marc Andreessen has said that there are 15 companies per year that generate 90% of the returns for VCs. Startups jockey for position in the “Billion Dollar Club.” In the world of startups we don’t have the SP 500, we have the “Unicorn 50.”

Fab was once a member of this unicorn club. Founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer appeared on magazine covers. The company was a fixture on “most innovative” lists. Fab raised $336 million dollars in total funding, including a recent $150 million dollar round which valued the company $1.5 billion dollars. Now, in what can only be called the largest flash sale in history, Fab is reportedly being sold to PCH International for $15 million dollars, or just 1% of its former value.

Stories of outsized success are inspiring, but the disproportionate attention paid to these mythical beasts is detrimental to the broader startup ecosystem. This obsession with founding and funding unicorns has driven VC funds to become billion dollar behemoths, and as a result, ignore smaller, though still very promising, companies.

I call this kind of startup a “thoroughbred.” They’re impressive organizations that have the potential to change the lives of their customers and employees, but differ from unicorns in that they are “only” likely to exit for $100-500 million dollars. Some VCs see these companies as too small to concern themselves with, but there is something fundamentally broken in the startup ecosystem when funding a company that sells for a quarter billion dollars is an unattractive prospect.

Thoroughbreds can be lucrative

Personally, founding and selling a thoroughbred company proved to be life-changing. In 2003, Eric Paley and I raised $8.5 million dollars for our company, Brontes Technologies. Our goal was to digitize a part of dentistry that hadn’t changed since Egyptian times. We developed a hand-held scanner that allowed dentists to create 3-D models of their patient’s mouths and 3-D print crowns and fillings. We didn’t get our faces on the cover of Forbes, instead we spent most of our time on the (un)glamorous dental trade show circuit. In 2006 we sold the company to 3M for $95M, generating an excellent return for our investors, and for us.

The proceeds of the sale and our entrepreneurial learnings served as a springboard to start Founder Collective.

Bigger isn’t Always Better for Entrepreneurs

In the five years since we started the fund we’ve seen a dramatic growth in the number of venture capital funds and the amount of funds they have under management. This surplus of dollars means that any attractive category of companies—think of subscription ecommerce in the wake of BirchBox or daily deals after Groupon—will quickly have 3-5 venture-funded startups competing for investor dollars, customer attention, and resumes for key hires. Each company will raise more money than the previous one and an arms race for everything from Adwords to office space will ensue.

Not Every Market is Winner Take All

The problem with trying to attain mythical status is that there can only be one. Raising huge amounts of funding locks you into a binary outcome—you’re either worth billions or you go bankrupt.

First wave web companies were built on the strength of network effects that rewarded companies like Amazon and Ebay with near monopolies. This has led many to believe that there’s bound to be a single winner in any tech category, but not every market has a winner takes all dynamic.

Apple and Android co-exist. In adtech, dozens of very successful companies deliver solutions to brands and publishers. Even in the slow moving dental industry we had a venture-funded competitor that also enjoyed a sizable (~$200M), but non-unicorn exit shortly after ours.

Forget the Fairy Tales, Focus on Being a Thoroughbred

Not everyone has to be running a unicorn to build a great company, recruit a great team, or to raise capital. It’s hard to ignore the pundits, but just like in politics or sports, sometimes it’s the best thing one can do for their sanity. Focus on your customers, co-workers, and your venture capital strategy and there’s a good chance you can build a life-altering business that’s rewarding personally and financially.

Fred Wilson’s post about Capital and Success says it well – one shouldn’t correlate fundraising to likelihood of success. Nor should you focus on whether or not you’re a founder/investor/entrepreneur at a “Unicorn.” Remember even unicorns can be a mirage as Webvan, and now Fab demonstrate.

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Dislike That Computer Engineer Barbie Book? This Tool Lets You Rewrite It

Unless you unplugged your Internet and shut off your phone this week, you’ve probably heard the tale of Computer Engineer Barbie. I won’t spend too much time recapping it, but we cover it in more depth here.

The short version: Mattel publishes a “I Can Be A Computer Engineer” Barbie book. Seemingly intended to encourage young girls to pursue a career in computer sciences, the book instead frames Barbie as something of a damsel-in-digital-distress who turns to her male friends every time something breaks.

A few years later, blogger Pamela Ribon reads the book, and rightly slams it for being lame, full of cringe, and not the book that it should be. Anger spreads, Mattel apologizes, and the book gets pulled.

But the idea of the book itself isn’t a bad one — it’s the execution that was botched. An “I Can Be A Computer Engineer” Barbie book absolutely should exist — just… not this one.

While I’d wager that Mattel is already cracking away at a re-write, it might take a while — you can be damned sure that any replacement book will be vetted a bit more thoroughly than the first one was.

Want something sooner? Want to re-write the book yourself, perhaps?

You could bust open Photoshop and start paint-bucketing the words away…

Better yet, you could use this tool custom built for the job. Built by coder Kathleen Tuite, the web app lets you remix individual pages from the book to your heart’s content.

We’ve shared some of our favorite (if totally 100% inappropriate for an actual book) remixes below:

[Topmost remix via David Allsop on Twitter]

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The rise of the robotic servant

Chores are the bane of domesticity. Dull and repetitive tasks have already been farmed out to robots in industrial workplaces, so why not our homes, too? On a small scale, they’ve already arrived, just not quite in the way film and TV promised. For this week’s Rewind, we take a look at some of the highlights in the history of robotic servants.

The rise of the robotic servant

http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/23/the-rise-of-the-robotic-servant/?ncid=rss_truncated

4K, gaming and a tale of two monitors

Unlike most gadgets and peripherals, our computer monitors tend to stay with us for a good chunk of time. My current 23-incher has been with me since the days of my Palm Centro. So when it comes to shopping for a new display, it certainly pays to know what you want out of it. Are you heavily into gaming and need a monitor with crazy-high refresh rates? Would you rather have as big a screen as possible for all those windows you have open every day? I recently spent a month with two of AOC’s latest models: a 24-incher with NVIDIA G-Sync support for serious gaming, and a 4K 28-inch display that puts a premium on pixels. Could either one convince me to let go of my trusty Viewsonic?

G2460PG

It’s hard to get worked up about monitor design, but AOC puts some solid effort into making the 24-inch G2460PG stand out. The bright green line running along the bottom bezel, and the matching cord organizer around the monitor’s neck, should tell you this is meant for rec rooms and man caves more so than conference rooms and office cubicles.

Of course, the signature feature of this 24-inch, 1080p monitor is its support for NVIDIA’s G-Sync tech. In short, G-Sync’s meant to smooth out performance in games by offering V-sync’s signature benefit (protection against screen tearing) while minimizing its main side effect (stuttering frame rates). It basically does this by getting the video card and monitor to better coordinate between when the GPU is done drawing a frame and when the display is ready to show it.

So, does it work? Provided you have a GPU that supports G-Sync, the answer is: Yeah, pretty much. You might not notice it working in every game, but there were certainly moments where having it enabled provided a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

In Tomb Raider, frame rates with my low-end GeForce GTX 750 Ti can fluctuate between buttery smooth and a jittery mess depending on what’s on the screen at the time. Enabling G-Sync made a fairly dramatic difference, especially when making sudden turns in large caverns. Simply spinning in a circle (which certainly took Lara Croft’s enemies by surprise) was enough to show a difference: With G-Sync off, the dips in frame rate were more noticeable, like a carousel with a sputtering engine. When flipped on, though, the spin became more fluid and even. It can’t work miracles though. Crysis 3 still taxes my lowly card on the higher settings, and G-Sync can’t increase your maximum FPS; it merely evens out what your card can currently do.

As for the monitor itself, you’ve got onboard USB 2.0/3.0 ports and a DisplayPort (required if you’re using G-Sync). We’re looking at a TN (Twisted Nematic) panel with a 1ms response time and a refresh rate that goes up to 144Hz. While those speedy specs make for a compelling gaming display, the G2460PG is less adept at other tasks, where color accuracy and viewing angles are more important. I couldn’t use this as the main screen on my photography workstation, nor would I take my Saturn Aura drag racing — that’s not what either product is designed for.

At around $450, the G2460PG is priced similarly to the handful of other G-Sync monitors currently on the market. When it comes to everyday work, it doesn’t have the color accuracy I need from a daily driver. But if I had the room –- and the budget –- for a dedicated gaming machine alongside my main desktop, I could see adding this to my office.

U2868PQU

If you’re more interested in screen real estate than frame rates, AOC also offers the 28-inch 4K U2868PQU (about $550). While it clearly shares the same basic design roots as its gaming-focused sibling, its evident this is intended for “serious” work. No bright green racing stripe here; just tons of ports, some bottom-facing speakers and a lot of pixels. At 3,840 x 2,160, simply firing the monitor up made one thing abundantly clear: I needed to change my desktop wallpaper. What once was clear and sharp at 1080p was suddenly blurred and muddy, like a YouTube video that’s not quite done buffering.

Indeed, the U2868PQU is incredibly sharp and its far more understated design lets the pixels do the talking. Around back, you can connect via VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort — and, thankfully, you get those cables in the box as well. The speakers are nice to have, but they’re not going to power your next get-together. And like its stablemate, the 28-incher rotates into portrait mode, though you’ll need to tilt the screen back slightly to make room when you turn it, lest you bang the corner of the display into your desk. Of note: You haven’t used HipChat until you’ve run it full-screen on a 28-inch, 4K display in portrait mode.

In daily use, I acclimated to the new resolution quickly. The screen’s size and resolution made my day-to-day work feel more efficient. It was easy to bounce among open windows (Chrome, Word, File Explorer, Lightroom, etc.). And I certainly missed that luxury once I sent back the loaner unit and returned to my “lowly” 23-inch 1080p display.

Finding video content fit for a 4K display was a bit tricky, though YouTube’s 2160p option certainly came in handy. Some of the 4K video on GoPro’s channel elicited are fair share of “oohs” and “ahhs” from houseguests.

Wrap-up

Of the two, the 4K U2868PQU came closer to what I would need out of an everyday monitor, though it’s certainly not perfect. On the downside, AOC managed to hit such a low price point for a 28-inch 4K monitor in part by going with a cheaper TN panel, rather than IPS. As such, viewing angles and color accuracy took a hit, and editing photos got a bit frustrating. Such drawbacks are easier to forgive on a gaming-centric display like the G2460PG, but less so on a more “professional” monitor. What should have been subtle color gradations in fabric came out as splotchy, watercolor-like smears. In short, if you want a large monitor with 4K resolution and color accuracy suitable for photo editing, you’re going to have to spend a bit more. Dell, for instance, has a slightly smaller, IPS-based 27-incher with 4K resolution at $700.

In the end, while neither monitor could quite convince me to part ways with my 23-inch Viewsonic, they both fulfill their stated missions admirably. Gamers should be pleased with the G2460PG’s fast performance, especially if they have the other hardware G-Sync requires. Those wanting for lots of space and pixels at a reasonable price should give the U2868PQU a look. As with any display, though, you’d be well-served to see one in person first — after all, you’re going to be staring at it for years to come.

http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/23/irl-4k-gaming-and-a-tale-of-two-monitors/?ncid=rss_truncated