- Zeebox Is Coming To Shake Up Social TV In The US: Here’s What It Looks Like
- Grindr’s Joel Simkhai Announces 4M Users, 1M Daily Uniques, And Weighs In On The Skout Disaster
- The Rebirth Of Radio
- Does Auto Layout In iOS 6 Mean A Larger iPhone Screen Is Coming?
- $200 Headphone Review Battle! Bowers & Wilkins P3 Vs Beats By Dr. Dre Solo
- Denmark’s Iconfinder Snaps Up $1.5M To Take On Google And Shutterstock, Uses SV’s AngelList To Find A Danish Backer
- Search and Social: How The Two Will Soon Become One
- Purported Xbox 720 To Cost $299 With Blu-ray Support, Kinect 2 And Virtual Reality In Time For Holiday 2013
- A Deeper Look Inside Apple’s Secrecy And Its Sustainability
- From TC40 To $10.1M In Funding And A $120M Acquisition, TripIt Tells All
- Doo.net Lands Series A Funding To Organise Documents, Automatically For The People
- Social Commerce, Pinterest And The Future Of Fashion Retail
- A.R.O. Reveals Saga, An “Ambient Companion” That Watches What You Do To Make Personal Recommendations
- Twitter Finally Ditches “50+”, New and Old Tweets Now Show Exact Counts Of Retweets and Favorites
- Target Practice
- Five Secrets Of Companies That Build Great Teams
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 11:00 AM PDT
Second-screen social TV app Zeebox is coming to the U.S. later this summer, after a successful run in the U.K. The app is the brainchild of Anthony Rose, former CTO of the BBC iPlayer and a big driving force behind the development of public broadcaster’s streaming service. As such, he knows a thing or two about changing viewer habits, and Zeebox is uniquely positioned to take off where other similar apps have failed to get traction.
I got the chance to talk with Rose for TechCrunch TV and to get a demo of the app. First of all, how is the viewing experience changing and why do we need apps to take advantage of that shift in behavior? According to Rose, broadcasters are looking to take advantage of second screen capabilities and make live TV more social.
“Consumers don’t watch TV alone anymore… 80 percent of users are watching with a smartphone or tablet,” Rose told me. “The industry is taking advantage of this to create a set of applications that sync with TV.”
That’s led to an influx of networks, shows, and various startups racing to create apps that take advantage of those capabilities. I’ve seen a lot of social TV offerings, but few are put together as well as Zeebox, which combines multiple social elements in a single, elegant app.
There’s the discovery aspect, which lets you browse program listings based on popularity, as well as the number of your friends who are connected. There’s the information aspect, which gives viewers more background on the shows that they’re watching while they’re watching them. And then there’s the social aspect, which allows viewers to see what people are tweeting about a given show, as well as giving them the ability to share their own comments with friends and followers.
Zeebox has a partnership with Sky, the largest pay TV provider in the U.K., and the satellite company has taken a 10 percent stake in the startup. That’s helped it get traction in its home country.
But pretty soon it will also be launching in the U.S. Rose told me that Zeebox expects to come across the pond by the end of summer. When it does, it will recognize more than 150 channels based on audio fingerprinting, and be able to tell exactly what you’re watching.
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 10:00 AM PDT
I love Grindr, and not just because it’s all about the gays. (Full disclosure: I’m super gay.) The reason I love Grindr is because it’s one of the few location-based social networks to show sustained growth and user loyalty, and with that, Grindr is making a difference in the political realm through Grindr for Equality.
Founder Joel Simkhai dropped into our studio to give us a bit of a status update on not only Grindr but Blendr, the open-to-everyone location-based social network. He proudly announced that in the past three months, Grindr has surpassed 4 million users (with 500,000 new users in the last quarter alone), and 1 million active daily uniques.
Blendr, the gender-open counterpart to Grindr, has also picked up steam. The platform was criticized for being a bit of a sausage party, with very few women on the platform. But according to recent survey results from the company, around 60 percent of women and 40 percent of men on the platform have found someone through Blendr.
Joel and I also talked about his gay rights campaign, Grindr for Equality, which we reported on back in February. The project basically uses Grindr as a megaphone for gay rights issues in certain geographic areas, making action super easy by placing a “call your senator” or “call your congressman” button right in the app itself. Joe reports that Grindr for Equality is still going strong.
I also couldn’t help but ask Joel what he thinks of the recent Skout disaster. If you don’t know, three minors were the targets of sexual attacks after using the Skout location-based flirting app. Founder Christian Wiklund then had to shut down the app to minors.
Grindr, on the other hand, is only available to adults 18 and up, but with location-based dating being the focus of the app, it seemed that Simkhai’s opinion would be valuable.
He said that with Grindr, he’s struggled with the fact that teenagers aren’t allowed on the platform. “As I was coming out as a gay man, I wish I had something like Grindr when I was 15 or 16. It would have been great to have it. It’s not a decision we took lightly because of that. But I want to protect minors, and that’s more important.”
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 09:01 AM PDT
Editor’s note: Mike Agovino is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Office of Triton Digital, a leading provider of applications, services and content to the media industry, specifically radio, with more than 7,000 station affiliations. Agovino has more than 25 years of executive experience, having served as President of Katz Radio and Katz Interactive, COO of Clear Channel Radio Sales, and co-COO of Interep National Radio. He has been a recognized innovator in the industry operating at the intersection of broadcast and new media.
Since Pandora's IPO a year ago, the online audio story has been something of a broken record. Pure play audience numbers keep growing (Pandora’s audience more than doubled from April 2011-April 2012) but the revenue growth trajectory, while steep, has yet to produce profitability. This is because – unlike the traditional radio world – audience is expense for online radio with a hefty performance royalty that mounts each time a consumer listens to a song. Dramatic increases in mobile and in-car listening will only continue to skyrocket the tally as we move forward.
This catch 22 has slowed the shift to digital for traditional radio stations. For nearly a century now broadcast radio has operated without a performance royalty. However, these same brands face oppressive performance royalty fees from their online listenership. To date, it has been impossible for online music plays, whether they be from a pure play or a broadcaster, to turn a profit. So what motivation does a local station have for streaming its content?
The "Threat" of Digital
A year ago, I wrote an article titled "Radio and Records: Can't We All Just Get Along?" In it I discussed how traditional radio stations see digital radio as the competition rather than an asset they can put to use. This sentiment largely stems from digital-only music providers such as Pandora, MOG, Spotify and the countless other digital services out there that, in fact, should be considered competition. Digital-only music providers are rightfully perceived as a threat to traditional radio because they are providing a service that listeners desire – the ability to listen to the music they love with more choice and control and less advertising across a variety of devices that have become indispensable utilities.
The key to turning digital from a threat to an opportunity for traditional radio providers is taking the things that stations do best – such as music curation, artist access, events, promotions, and building a sense of community around localized services – and delivering them into the digital channel, wrapped in a great user interface. The challenge has always been how to get a return on any such investment in the face of the royalty structure.
But it seems that may be changing.
Embracing the Digital Future
Clear Channel, the largest radio company in the U.S. with around 850 stations has just shifted the royalty dynamic and led the way for traditional radio providers looking to go digital. The company this week announced a partnership with Big Machine Label Group that, for the first time, has its traditional radio stations paying over the air as well as online performance royalties in a revenue sharing arrangement. The exact details of this agreement were not disclosed but my assumption would be that it must include a participation level above and beyond anything presented historically by any of the broadcasters or industry trade organizations to have gained traction with a label.
In most industries you wouldn’t expect the largest player to make this bold a move. However, Clear Channel has been playing the innovator for longer than most will give it credit for, especially in the days since Bob Pittman came in. Clear Channel has nearly doubled its online audience in the past year and has promoted its iHeartRadio application (iPhone) on-air with great frequency.
With many of the highest rated and largest billing music stations in its portfolio, you could say Clear Channel has more to gain and more to lose than anybody else, but either way they have made a move. Whether it's a "test" that rolls slowly or the first of many trees to fall remains to be seen. Will others chase? I, for one, hope so.
Staying relevant is an innovate-or-die battle. Traditional radio is not dead, but its future is inextricably tied to digital. And the key to making it online is working with the music industry to make that digital future a reality – sooner rather than later.
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 08:01 AM PDT
The WWDC keynote came and went with nary a mention of a new iPhone, but that didn’t stop people from ruminating about Apple’s newest mobile juggernaut. Apple’s brass spent much of their time on-stage pulling back the curtains on the latest version of iOS, and now some are claiming that a fairly innocuous (albeit useful) new feature for developers means that an iPhone with a larger screen is barreling down the pipeline.
That feature — Auto Layout — appeared briefly in a iOS SDK slide during the keynote, but most of us got too caught up with Siri updates and the swanky new Maps app to pay it much attention. Is it the sort of dead giveaway that iPhone fanatics have been breathlessly waiting for?
First though, a bit of background. Auto Layout allows developers to create a set of constraints that define how UI elements are displayed on-screen. Instead of using the standard "springs and struts" positioning method, Auto Layout allows those elements to shift and move depending on a prioritized list of rules — think “the left side of one button should always be 30 away from the right side of another button.”
It’s also worth noting that Auto Layout isn’t exactly new to the Apple development workflow — it was introduced into OS X with the release of Lion, and became the default positioning method for new Cocoa projects in Xcode earlier this year.
That’s great and all, but what does it mean for the new iPhone?
Developers will be able to streamline their UI design process, but Auto Layout’s uses may extend far beyond that. One developer I spoke with went on to say that in order for Apple to release mobile devices with multiple resolutions, Auto Layout is “certainly something [they] need to have in place before that’s feasible.”
Nelson Gauthier, lead iOS developer for LocalMind, seems to be of a similar mind — he told GigaOm in the weeks leading up to WWDC that the Auto Layout system as seen in OS X could work for iOS developers to more easily “transition between form factors.”
If they’re to be believed, Auto Layout could be a tremendous tool for helping developers prepare their apps for the coming of an iPhone with a different screen resolution. It would seem that with the right constraints in place, updating an app that used Auto Layout to display properly on a larger screen wouldn’t take too much additional time and effort. What’s more, the inclusion of the feature also means that developers who have taken shortcuts and made certain assumptions about the device's screen size when crafting their apps’ UIs will more easily be able to get their products up to par ahead of an impending iPhone launch.
Still, we’re left without a smoking gun. The benefits of using Auto Layout are plentiful, especially for developers looking to localize their apps for other markets. Apple pointed to China as a prime target during the WWDC keynote, and I’m told that many of the sessions at WWDC the company positioned Auto Layout as a way to simplify app localization. With Auto Layout for instance, developers can more easily tweak the UI for alternate-language versions of their apps by tying those elements to constraints that allow for larger characters and smaller navigation icons as needed.
That’s not all — Auto Layout can also help developers with handling how their apps transition from portrait to landscape mode, or how even they handle having a call indicator bar sitting at the top of the screen. Though it aims to simplify certain parts of UI design, using Auto Layout is also far from an automagic process; to quote one of the developers I spoke to, "I wouldn’t expect to take an iPhone app, add auto layout to its xib file and get it to look fantastically custom on iPad."
The jury, it seems, is still out on whether or not Auto Layout is a clear indicator of an iPhone with a larger display being prepared for launch. That said, its inclusion into the mix definitely doesn’t hurt — as one last developer put it, Auto Layout "is neither a sufficient or necessary condition for a different device… but if Apple is bringing out a 4-inch iPhone they would be crazy not to provide [it].”
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Two gadgets enter, one leaves. It's that simple. Welcome to the TC Gadget Review Battle where two competing products are pitted against each other. No wishy-washy conclusion based on an arbitrary numbering system, just a reliable buying recommendation.
Bowers & Wilkins is making a smart play for consumer electronics. The 50-year-old British audio company just released the $200 P3 headphones, joining the $550 over-the-ear P5 and the $179 C5 in-ear headphones. The new set promises much of what the P5 offers for more than half the price. It is, in a sense, a headphone for the MP3 crowd. This new set hits a crowded market dominated by several big brands. This includes Beats By Dr. Dre, which also has a very similar $200 set of headphones, the Beats by Dr. Dre Solo HD.
So which one is better? Which one is worth your money? That’s the goal of the TC Gadget Review Battle. Only one can get our recommendation. Can the new comer best the market leader?
Bowers & Wilkins jumped on the retro bandwagon with the P5s last year. The brand new P3s are more of the same. They employ a 30mm driver (the P5 uses a 40mm drive) in a retro-style surround constructed out of soft touch plastic and fabric. B&W lists the P3s with a sensitivity of 111dB/V at 1kHz. They are comfortable on the head but do not provide much of any noise cancellation. Despite their almost dainty looks, they seem rather durable in realty. The construction is solid, properly conveying B&W’s trademark tradition to high-end audio.
The Beats by Dre. Dre Solo should be rather familiar. The design is a staple within the headphone world now. It’s made of mostly shiny plastic and can withstand a fair amount of abuse with the notable exception of the ear surrounds, which have known to separate at the seams. The unibody design grips the ears very tight, cutting out a lot more ambient noise than the P3s. The plastic ear surrounds hold drivers of unlisted size and technical specs.
Both headphones ship with a travel case and feature folding designs. They both also have in-line audio controls but the Beats Solo HD feature a microphone that’s only compatible with iPods and iPhones.
These headphones are arguably not geared toward audiophiles. Neither Beats or Bowers & Wilkins designed their respective headphones for serious listeners, but rather people looking for higher quality audio on the go. These are high-end headphones designed with portability as their main selling point.
That said, testing these headphones through streaming media like Rdio or Pandora is not especially fair. The low-bit rate music will not properly demonstrate the headphone’s range. I always turn to the same selection of music for testing headphones: CD’s of Outkast’s 1998 Aquemini album and Muse, The Resistance. Then, for good measure, I also throw Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon on the turntable.
I always turn to Outkast’s Aquemini album for a number of reasons. In the very beginning of track 5, Rosa Parks, has a very faint hidden melody that only the top headphones can reproduce. It’s not audible on either of these headphones. This track, and most of the album, also features very heavy LFE tracks. True to their name, the Beats Solo reproduces the bass better than the B&W P3 headphones. However, this is done at the sacrifice of the overall sound quality. The Beats are very bass heavy to the point that there’s almost a constant strong hum that drowns out the mid tones. While the P3 fails to pound, it provides a better overall sound with enough bass to satisfy most but while producing acceptable high and mid tones.
Muse’s Exogenesis is particularly great for headphone testing. It’s a three-part track with a huge range, which often separates good headphones from the best. Again, the Beats Solos produce a very pleasing tone when reproducing the piano’s lower octave but the mids are muffled to the point of suffocation. On track 11, Symphony Part 3 (Redemption), there is a strong overlying low tone during the piano into. The distinctive highs hit with force at the 1:35 mark but the headphones seemingly cannot handle the vocals that come in ten seconds later; the headphones mush everything together once Matthew Bellamy begins his vocals. Unfortunately the B&W P3s do not fare much better.
Like the Beats Solo I found the Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones to not be able to reproduce the huge range of these three tracks. However, the larger range of the P3s afford a more pleasing tone. While unable to produce a truly clear tone during the most stressful parts, the highs and lows are very clear. There is not a subtle hum assisting the LFE tracks in the B&W like in the Beats Solo HD. That said, I wouldn’t deem the P3′s victory absolute but rather a minor win.
Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky plays beautifully on the P3s. The melody silks along with fine attention to detail. The headphone’s clarity assists with the stereo imaging on Money. The vocals are clearly set in the middle of the sound stage with instruments flanking on either side. The Beats Solo fail to live up to the clarity of The Great Gig In The Sky or the imaging on Money.
There’s a good chance that both of the headphones could be used for gaming due to their portable design. Owners could whip them out for a bit of gaming on their smartphone, 3DS or PS Vita and for me it’s Wipeout on the Vita. I’m currently addicted to this classic PlayStation racing title and with gaming, the headphones with the best imaging win — at least generally.
After the P3 wiped the floor with the Beats Solo in nearly every music test, I was sure the same would happen when tested with games. After all the P3 had a larger soundstage, which in theory, would provide a better effect for gaming. And while that turned out to be true — the P3 has a bit more detailed sound placement — the Beats Solos were a lot more enjoyable while gaming.
It’s strange. When the experiment is dissected, the Beats Solo fails on almost every individual test. The Beats Solo produces a more muffled tone, the imaging isn’t as good, and they’re not as comfortable on the head. Yet I ended up preferring the Beats Solo for use in gaming after a dozen A/B tests. The Beats’ superior lower end capabilities won me over. With deeper bass, the gaming experience is more immersive. You can turn up the volume and dive into the game. The P3s are completely acceptable for gaming, but the Beats Solo provide a better experience.
After living with both sets for several weeks I used the Bowers & Wilkins P3 more than the Beats Solo. The clarity was the deciding factor. The Beats Solo HD produces a strong tone, but that’s it’s only claim to fame. The Beats Solo HD’s imaging is not as good and the over tone is far inferior than that of the B&W P3. Since both cost the same at $200 it’s easy to give the nod to B&W’s headphones. They’re fantastic headphones for the money. Buy the Bowers & Wilkins P3.Click to view slideshow.
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 05:47 AM PDT
AngelList has established itself as a go-to place for early-stage startups to connect with potential investors, and a recent deal underscores how its effect is not only limited to its home base of Silicon Valley. Iconfinder, a Copenhagen-based online marketplace that has been riding the mobile wave with a portal for icons to use iOS and Android apps (among other places), has recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding through the network — ironically using it to connect with VF Venture, a Danish investor in its own backyard.
The funding will be used to continue developing the company’s main marketplace in competition against Google, stock photo sites like iStockphoto and Shutterstock and those working directly in the graphical icon space like itself, such as IconArchive.com and Iconspedia.com — and towards its first steps to commercialize its already-substantial traffic: the site has seen 20 million searches since 2010, with a threefold increase in traffic over that time. It has 1.1 million registered users, who on average download 6 million icons monthly for commercial and non-commercial use.
Martin LeBlanc Eigtved, co-founder and CEO of Iconfinder, says that even though his company has taken local funding, using AngelList let the startup cast its net wide. It was the “natural thing to do” to look locally for both Iconfinder and VF Venture, but also “an American investor might be coming on board in a couple of weeks,” he says. Using AngelList was not just about straight networking but as an information portal: “The Danish VC’s could see how our pitch improved [as] we kept pushing to close the round.”
What’s interesting is that international outlook is also being reflected in the company’s own business development: Eigtved notes that only about 10.5 percent of its users currently come from the U.S., with another 10.5 percent from India. Overall its top-10 markets only make up about half of its traffic, with the other 50 percent coming from the rest of the world. A natural step, he says, will be to localize the site in Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and other languages.
“The market for icons is very fragmented with many talented designers creating their own small shops to sell their icons,” he says. “We want to be a middle man and make discovery easy for the users and let the talented designers sell more icons.”
Iconfinder’s current traffic — and the potential for monetizing it — is what attracted the investment. "VF Venture has chosen to invest in Iconfinder because we are impressed that the company in short time has become one of the world's most visited websites. We believe that there are great perspectives in commercialising the traffic," Søren Steen Rasmussen from VF Venture said in a statement.
Among those new commercial services, Iconfinder projects that in the next couple of years it will continue to roll out more products, including premium icons, customized icons, premium services and a logo builder as it works its way to $18 million in revenue and 6 million monthly visits, from a current base of 2.2 million visits and less than $1 million in revenues.
Eigtved says that although Google’s main search portal is an important traffic driver for its site, Google Images is not comprehensive enough for those looking for icons to repurpose elsewhere:
“The images are often separated from license information. So if you’re an app developer you can easily get in trouble if you use icons found through Google Image search,” he says. “The Iconfinder service displays all license information next to the icons and lets you filter those out you can’t use for your project.” He says that most of the icons on Iconfinder can be used commercially.
He notes that the rise of hardware with touchscreens, from those on smartphones to tablets and ereaders, are resulting in a boost in the need for icons both for apps for app stores, as well as within programs as a way to improve navigation. “Modern browsers also support the SVG format which allows icons to be presented in a scalable vector format – something that is very useful when the retina displays are coming to more devices,” he notes.
Posted: 17 Jun 2012 05:46 AM PDT
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ben Elowitz (@elowitz). Elowitz is the co-founder and CEO of next-generation media company Wetpaint, and the author of the Digital Quarters blog about the future of digital media. Prior to Wetpaint, Elowitz co-founded Blue Nile (NILE).
Bing and Google each recently unveiled its own new search interface, designed to better intuit your intent and help you get to the one best answer more efficiently. And they've meet it ever more clear that search is heading straight for a merger with social.
The changes are smart. Google's knowledge graph is useful – when I search for certain things, I just want a cheat sheet. What is Faraday's Law, again? What exactly is a geoduck?
But Bing's new feature – "people who might know" – is even smarter. This is the first major attempt at a merger of search and social – unless you count Search Plus Your World, which I don't – and this is undeniably the way we're headed. There's a lot of information on the internet, but getting the right info from the right person is still a huge, and mostly unsolved, undertaking. Nobody knows the answers better than, well, somebody who knows the answers. And so much the better if it's someone I trust. (Thank you, Jeff, for the Singapore recommendations!) The fundamental insight is that when I ask a question, there are lots of ways to help me find the best answer. If you don't have it, point me in the direction of someone who does. Don't make me ask the same question in a million permutations and sift through a list of 20 possible right answers every time.
What's more interesting is that this is the biggest step forward we've seen since search results started looking 12 years ago the way they still do today (just with more images and toolbars now – exactly what Google got rid of back then!).
Stagnation followed by the springtime of innovation is probably the surest sign that a major disruption is imminent. (And if that weren't enough, just think of how much Facebook's stock price would rise if they captured even a small share in search.)
What's the endgame? In 10 years, I'll still need recipes for dinner. And recommendations for hotels in a new vacation spot. And to find something to do on the weekend. I know how I would make these decisions today, but how will I make them in 2022?
The true merger of social and search will look nothing like the search we know today. I don't even think we'll call it "search."
The social search of tomorrow will be more like a combination of a whip-smart personal assistant and an intuitive, considerate significant other. But one who's exponentially more efficient and who doesn't mind being woken up at 3am. (I'm lucky, but not THAT lucky!)
Let's put on our future-goggles and imagine how a fully social, personal-data-powered search would change our day-to-day:
Proactive: It's Tuesday night and I'm hungry. Luckily, my mobile knows that I just got a CSA box containing sweet potatoes (Full Circle Farm's Facebook integration), and that I tend to eat at home on Tuesdays (according to my historical pattern of check-ins). It also knows that it's cold and raining outside. Before I've gotten around to opening a cookbook or the Epicurious app, my mobile pushes me a sweet potato soup recipe that my certified-foodie friend raved about on Facebook last week.
Personal: Arrive at the Sao Paulo airport and search on my mobile for the city's public transit map. My device knows that I've never been there (even though I bought a phrase book on Amazon last week), and it also knows (from scanning TripAdvisor comments about Sao Paulo buses) that the public transit is impossible to navigate for newcomers. While the map is loading, a message appears gently encouraging me to consider a rental car instead – there happens to be a great deal on an Audi (my favorite(!) as noted on Facebook) at the rental counter 10 feet away. Talk about targeting!
Social: Florence and the Machine is touring in New York, and I'm dying to go see them. I called the usual suspects, and they're out of town during the concert. The only thing worse than not going is going alone. But who else do I know who loves them like I do? That's a lay-up for a socially powered search if ever there was one. Two words: "Jason Hirschhorn". Is that so hard?
There are a hundred other decisions that would be made immeasurably easier with the help of a really good personal assistant – one who knows your schedule and your preferences (and the schedule and preferences of your friends and family); one who has excellent research skills and can track down the appropriate expert on any issue. (But no, I'm sure it still won't replace Larisa.)
Most of us don't have personal assistants. But we have left a heck of a trail of our interests, associates, habits, and dislikes. It will take some algorithm to turn that trail of behavioral and social data – combined with the wisdom of topical experts and the vast repository of information that is the internet – into a set of smart, personalized answers for you and me. But that's why Google and Facebook and Apple hire engineers with such big brains.
And, surprise!, the better they understand our brains (read: intent, context, and relationships) the better the match they can serve up to an advertiser. And that means an outrageously good search not only retains audience better, but would improve ad rates.
We're on the verge of shifting from a search model in which the user is still doing all of the heavy lifting to one where powerful algorithms enable our devices to anticipate our needs and do most of the sifting and evaluating for us. In the meantime, though, we're stuck in a "hairball of complexity" (to borrow Adam Richardson's TV industry analogy) while the industry struggles to find the way from A to B.
Apple's Siri is certainly the closest, at least in spirit, to the eventual reincarnation of search as personal assistant, even as its true capability has far to go. The voice-activated question-and-answer experience is light years ahead of the long list of links on a page that still defines search on Google and Bing. But the trick that remains is to gather, combine and analyze data from myriad sources – social interactions, behavioral data, expert opinions – and deliver it back to the user in a way that makes decision-making more efficient than most of us can imagine.
With all of that time I used to spend inefficiently making decisions suddenly freed up, what will I do? I've been meaning to plan a trip to Sao Paulo….
[Top image via Digital Times.]
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 11:00 PM PDT
The current gen Xbox may be a year past its halfway point but a purported “leaked” document dating back to August 2010 from a Microsoft presentation details the next gen Xbox 720 in great detail.
Features for the next Xbox, according to the document, will include native Blu-ray playback, full support for HD and 3-D, and beefed up hardware (graphics and processor) under the hood. Other bits and pieces from the doc include PVR functionality, a low power mode setting during media playback and what amounts to an always-on mode. Gates did say years ago that the Xbox would eventually become the nerve center for any living room. And based on recent events, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Microsoft is making a play to turn the Xbox into a stand-alone set-top box for all things video. After all, they do offer Hulu, Netflix and ESPN. Also, future Microsoft devices will have universal access to content whether you’re on the Xbox, your smartphone or tablet. Duh, right?
The most interesting part of the leaked 56-page document – which has since been taken down – is something called Fortaleza, Portuguese for “Fortress”. Given the environment of traditional cable providers, the next logical step for the Xbox and others is to create and dictate what content they provide for their respective platforms. At this point, that could be anything but the document details Fortaleza as a way of consuming content through VR. A set of wireless glasses that supposedly won’t arrive until 2014 will connect to the Xbox 720 over Wi-Fi and give the player/user access to all manner of content in a virtual world. Future versions will apparently connect over a cellular connection for persistent connectivity – most likely 4G.
Whether Microsoft announces the 720 at next year’s E3 is anyone’s guess.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 07:00 PM PDT
Editor’s note: Derek Andersen is the founder of Startup Grind, a 12-city event series helping educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. He's also ex-Electronic Arts, the founder Commonred, as well as product incubator Vaporware Labs.
WWDC this past week confirmed that Apple is as strong as ever. The company's steady stream of new products and announcements are a good indication that it's business as usual. But when will Apple face its first real post-Steve Jobs test? It's hard to say but not anytime soon.
Last week at Startup Grind in Palo Alto I sat down with Adam Lashinsky, the author of Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired and Secretive Company Really Works. The book is the most compelling inside look I’ve seen of the culture and attitude that Steve Jobs instilled after his return in 1997 and what it will take to maintain that lead without him.
The first positive or negative indicators will come from within Apple’s walls and work it's way out. That will start and end with the secrecy that the company maintains. The mystique and intrigue they have kept over the years through their secrecy have helped drive internal product development as well as consumer demand.
While Steve Jobs sought after and coveted publicity like magazine covers and selective interviews in the early days, secrecy was always part of the culture. In a recent Startup Grind Marin interview with MACWEEK founder Michael Tchong, he describes dumpster diving in Cupertino with his staff in the late 1980′s to get product details and tips left in the trash. And you wonder why Steve Jobs was so paranoid. In 1988 Apple launched the Macintosh IIcx and printed a full color spread for all Apple employees as part of the launch. The printed brochure read in part: “Today we launched the Macintosh IIcx worldwide. Too bad it wasn’t the first time it was seen” with a front cover shot of MacWEEK’s exclusive on the release.
In a recent Quora thread on the subject, a former NEXT employee Ken Rosen talked about how early on everything was open. Ken says, “There was even a binder in the CFO’s office with everyone’s salary. We were told we could go check it out any time. Few cared to. Steve told us, “Inside NeXT, everything is open. Outside NeXT, we say nothing.” He added, “This will continue until the first leak. As soon as we prove we can’t keep a secret, we go back to being like every other company.” No one wanted to be the one to kill the open goose.”
Adam describes the secrecy at Apple as cult-like, similar to what you experience in a devoted religion or terrorist cell. There is complete confidentiality that extends to family as well as co-workers. My personal experience speaking with Apple employees over the years has at times been frustrating. It's fascinating to talk to someone that's experienced the inside, but getting the classic CIA-like line of "I'm not allowed to talk about that" quickly kills a good conversation. Apple blood oath of silence is positioned as something almost worse than betraying family or country.
But how does Apple manage to enforce this part of the culture? Adam says, "It works because they are believers. If they saw this as a job it would be a lot harder." In another Quora post, a former employee's wife describes her husband's role in Apple's switch to Intel chips. When Bertrand Serlet saw what the engineer had created while working from home, he told him that his wife is to forget everything she knows, and he will not be allowed to speak to her about it again until it is publicly announced.
So will Apple manage to maintain the secrecy? They will try. Tim Cook recently told the D10 conference that, ”We’re going to double down on secrecy on products. I’m serious.” While some product details like the new iPhone and new iPad have leaked out, there’s been nothing major. Generally speaking it feels like Apple employees I know have collectively exhaled just a bit. While they maintain the status quo, secrecy in general seems to be less extreme.
Lashinsky’s recent Fortune cover story talked about the ”Top 100″ meeting that was held in mid-April this year (watch video below), the first since Jobs’ death. With no major product details from the ultra secret and exclusive meeting leaked, pundits must look at this as another good indicator. Because until that starts happening, Job’s cultural staple of secrecy remains intact.
As Lashinsky recently told me, “He (Tim Cook) could be a caretaker, but it could be a long caretaker period. He might be what they need right now.” With hundreds of millions in options vesting over 10-years, it may be a long period. But like any home where the master is gone and the caretaker is in charge, the tight grip of rules are loosened, and defense usually becomes offense. While that “caretaker” approach might be great for Apple over the next 2-3 years while it iterates on previous homeruns, its not likely to fuel innovation over the next 10-12.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 04:04 PM PDT
It feels like only days have passed since TechCrunch Disrupt NYC went down, but as every season turns (turns, turns…) another Disrupt is on the horizon. Our San Francisco event will commence on September 8, and every time preparation begins for the massive conference I can’t help but take a look back at the incredible success stories to come out of Disrupt.
In fact, a whole mess of them can be found right here. But those aren’t even the half of it, which is why we’ve decided to revive our “Where They Are Now” series, starting with TripIt. Since launching on the TC40 stage back in 2007, TripIt has survived the rise of the smartphone, raised a total of $10.1 million in funding, and completed a super successful exit in the form of a $120 million acquisition by Concur.
I sat down with Andy Denmark, a founder and VP of Engineering, to hear the tale of TripIt’s journey from our stage almost 6 years ago to today.
Here’s the interview in its entirety:
TechCrunch: What was it like launching on the TC40 stage?
Andy: Well, actually, we were back with the servers, watching the live stream. We wanted to make sure we didn’t go down. In the first few days we had over 10,000 new users. I mean, we had gone from only having our friends and spouses using the product to over 10,000.
Even though we didn’t win, we were one of the finalists. And it wasn’t about winning. The outcome was all about accelerating our growth from the day we launched the product and never looking back.
TechCrunch: Tell us about the following months after Disrupt.
Andy: Being a part of TC40 made a lot of the first few months easier for us. We had that big day but it didn’t end there. We were tracking referrals and we found that traffic wasn’t coming only from the TC site but from all over the place. A lot of follow-up inquiries came after the conference, and we spent a lot of time talking to other outlets, too.
TechCrunch: I’ve heard a lot of investors say that they like watching on-stage launches at Demo days and conferences like Disrupt because it gives them a real feel for the founders, and we all know how important investor/founder chemistry is. Do you think having an on-stage launch at TC40 made a difference with investors?
Andy: I think it did. I still remember the sweater Gregg was wearing. Some purple thing. I only bring that up because it did give investors a product, but it also gave them a kind of insight into our personalities and what we were trying to do. With these conferences, a lot of people who attend are traveling in and the launch at TC40 gave us a great opportunity to talk about a very recent experience that they had. Plus, they could use the product on the way home.
It also helped that the folks who attend Disrupt and TC40 are generally early adopters. They get it pretty quickly. When you try to create a new category of app, like we did, it helps when you can collect an incredible concentration of people who just get it. They can be your ambassadors, and they ended up being huge fans. As they left and went back into the world the kept talking about it and using it.
TechCrunch: How has TripIt changed between then and now?
Andy: I’d say the biggest change that happened… Well, we launched in late 2007. You gotta remember that there was a world that existed that didn’t have iPhones and Androids. SMS was hot and feature phones with WAP browsers were the shizzle. That was the world where we launched TripIt.
So, one of the biggest changes to the product is our support of mobile platforms and native applications. Because we’re a travel site, it’s obvious why that was so important. Another thing we obviously changed was we went social. Social didn’t really exist back then either. There was Facebook but you had to be 18-22 to use it.
I remember sitting in the TripIt office in that summer when they opened it up to the world. Back then it wasn’t even a question to use the Facebook platform but that was another huge change we’ve embraced and adapted to.
TechCrunch: Do you think your success at Disrupt played a part in the Concur deal? At the very least, did it help out your credibility? I know Michael Arrington loves you.
Andy: It’s interesting because Concur is in a completely different space. Their core space is enterprise travel and highly managed travel programs with large Fortune 500 companies. TripIt comes from the complete opposite. TripIt is for consumer travelers.
But the guys at Concur really saw the future when they were talking to us. They have and continue to provide a great distribution platform for the TripIt application. The marriage of the two really provides a great opportunity for what the future of the travel industry could look like. That’s why I think the acquisition made a lot of sense. It will continue to be disruptive.
TechCrunch: What advice would you give to future Disrupt companies?
Andy: I think Disrupt is an awesome experience. If you can get in, go for it. Be ready for a huge avalanche of traffic and interest. That’s the core advice. In addition, you have to keep yourself grounded and remember why you’re there. For us, it was what problems are you solving for the traveler. If you put those things together you’ll have a message that resonates and captures imaginations.
Disrupt NY is great, but Disrupt SF is where the magic happens, right around the corner from our nation’s technological pride, Silicon Valley. There will be plenty of brilliant speakers, Hackathon magic, and the usual barrage of amazing startups battling it out for the Disrupt cup.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 01:53 PM PDT
Paper continues to be a problem inside organisations. we just can’t seem to get rid it despite all these computers. And organising it is annoying. Doo.net hopes to solve the problem by organising documents with a cloud-based service.
It’s now launched its public beta on OS X and announced a Series A round which takes the companies total funding to $10m. Plus, an app for the Windows 8 Store is close to final approval and mobile apps for iOS and Android. A Google Docs integration, will come in the next few weeks.
doo.net automatically collects documents from your hard drive as well as from online services such as your email account via IMAP integration to allow importing of documents from attachments. Documents are via Optical Character Recognition, keywords, date extraction, and organised into such as people, company, place and document type. Files are backed up with OAuth 2.0 authentication and version control
We caught up with founder Frank Thelan at the Founders conference in New York.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 01:00 PM PDT
Editor’s note: Leo Chen is a former product manager at Amazon and is currently the co-founder of Monogram, an iPad fashion discovery and shopping app funded by 500 Startups. You can find Leo on Twitter @leoalmighty.
Death of brick-and-mortar retail
Andrew Chen recently recommended a video to me, which inspired this post. It’s a keynote by Ron Johnson, the CEO of JC Penney and the man behind Apple's retail revolution. In the video, Johnson spoke about the history of the department store and why JC Penney has fallen behind.
It wasn't very long ago that stores like JC Penney, Nordstrom, and Gap were the pinnacles of fashion retail. These retailers provided better products at unbeatable prices. Retail buyers acted as personal curators for customers and the in-store experience was exceptional.
Then came e-commerce. Predictable products like books, CDs, and electronics drove the first wave of e-commerce for e-tailers like Amazon. But fashion lagged behind. Consumers want a tactile, in-person experience when it comes to garments. They need to touch and try it on. Even as e-tailers offered lower prices, consumers preferred to shop in stores.
That all began to change when Zappos came along with free shipping and returns; customers are encouraged to order multiple sizes and colors, try on the items in the comfort of our homes and return what we don't want. For free. Coupled with better product visualizations (large images, multi-angle views – see Warby Parker and MyHabit), consumers are increasingly turning to the web for their fashion needs.
‘Apparel and accessories’ is projected to be the leading category in e-commerce in the US over the next 5 years.
But soon, online retailers will also become less relevant
The bar for e-commerce is rising every day: great visuals and free shipping are fast becoming commoditized. If product, price and service are the same, consumers will grow indifferent towards the seller.
Retailers still drive marketing, supply chain and distribution for designers and brands, but how long before brands figure this out themselves? Social curation and discovery tools like Pinterest and Fancy are leveling the playing field for retail marketing; Amazon is disrupting supply chain and fulfillment (more on this next).
So why are we still shopping at a handful of our so-called "favorite stores"? Because the internet has a noise and discovery problem. I believe that's where the next wave of fashion tech innovation will take us.
Pinterest has found an optimal balance between aspirational browsing and shopping. Social shopping is more about discovery, conversations and relationship building, something that’s apparent in the way Pinterest users interact.
As Pinterest evolves, they will focus more on monetization and driving direct commerce. They have already experimented with affiliate links and the Rakuten investment is a strong hint at direct commerce. Here’s what I predict Pinterest might do next (purely speculative, of course):
Challenges Pinterest will face
As Pinterest scales, the biggest challenge will be surfacing signal buried in noise. It’s the Facebook Newsfeed problem, but much more difficult because of its focus on fashion and other tastemaker products.
What’s next in fashion tech?
To date, most fashion tech companies are more commerce than tech. If you look at Gilt and Fab, they’re primarily commerce companies built on fairly standard e-commerce backends with some slight twists. It's hard to drive disruptive innovation when your KPI is revenue.
In order to fundamentally change the way people shop, we will need teams with fashion experts, product visionaries, deep technical horsepower and growth hackers. It’s a hard combination to find, especially when most hackers in the valley shlep around in jeans and t-shirts — they’re not their own target user.
What will online fashion shopping be like in the future? I believe today’s multi-browser-tab search and filter behavior will feel as ancient as printed maps and yellow pages are today.
When I have a specific purchase in mind:
When I’m in the mood to browse:
Welcome to the future.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 11:30 AM PDT
We’ve just been given a first look at Saga, a new mobile companion emerging from Seattle startup A.R.O. You can think of Saga as Siri’s little sister, perhaps. Instead of asking it questions or giving the app simple tasks (what’s the weather, add meeting calendar, e.g.), Saga is there, quietly tracking your behavior, your location and learning about your preferences, in order to make smarter recommendations about what you should do next. It’s the next evolution of those “ambient location” apps which were all the rage at this year’s SXSW, perhaps.
A.R.O is run by CEO Andy Hickl, formerly of Swingly, the NLP-based answer engine launched back in 2010. Saga is not the company’s only product – A.R.O. currently offers Bubbleator, too, which is a live wallpaper for Android. You may also remember hearing of A.R.O. back in 2010, when it first launched a suite of “semantic” core apps for Android phones backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Those Android apps have since become part of Xiant Software, a Paul Allen company and a brand that Chris Purcell runs. They do email and productivity apps for the Kindle fire right now, with more to come. Saga is A.R.O.’s new direction, run by an all-new team.
Saga: The App For Your Past, Present & Future
Saga is a somewhat complex product to describe. At its core, it’s aiming to deliver value in return for the abandonment of our privacy through location-sharing. That’s something which the new-ish “ambient location” apps have been struggling to do. For Highlight, Sonar, Banjo, INTRO, and the like, location-sharing has served one purpose: networking, both business-related and/or personal. That’s not enough of a return on the investment (namely, battery drains), for some uses, however.
If anything, Saga is more of a competitor to Foursquare, the local discovery app that recently shifted focus away from the check-in to focus instead on its recommendations engine. Foursquare was able to do this because it had finally amassed a large enough place graph tied to our social connections and history of our visits to make sense of that data on a personalized level. Saga will attempt to do much of the same, but in a different way.
There are three components to Saga’s app: location-tracking, recommendations, and gamification. It’s hard to not see the Foursquare comparison, given those elements. However, unlike Foursquare, which still relies on the manual check-in to record your location, Saga will automatically locate you – and you don’t have to open the app for this to happen. But if you do open the app while at a venue, Saga will tell you things like how long you’ve been there, how many times you’ve visited and it will even guess at what you’re doing, which you can correct when wrong. And it will make recommendations as to what to do next. (You’re at Home Depot? Maybe you should grab a bite at that Indian place up the road, after all, it’s lunchtime, you’re hungry and you love Indian food.)
With all the data it collects like this, Saga can later provide you with a history of your activity for the day, week, month, etc. It can show you where you’ve been, how far you traveled, your top places and more. Basically, all that “quantified self” data that some people get a real kick out of.
Recommendations Are Key
But Saga’s bigger draw will be it’s ability to get to know you and make recommendations. At least, that’s the claim. And these won’t necessarily be places to eat, drink or shop, as in Foursquare, but other things, too. For example, Saga could learn your commute and warn you about traffic. It could remind you that it’s been three weeks since you took your dog to the dog park. It could recommend a whole day’s activity based on a theme (foodie, health nut, etc.). It could tie your bookmarked venues to those of your friends and recommend you get together soon and where.
Not all these features are live, however – they’re Saga’s potential. Of course, how well it works will be based on a number of factors, including the accuracy of its recommendation algorithms, its location accuracy, the overall users experience, and more. But the location accuracy seems promising, because it’s not based on GPS only. Instead, Saga uses a combination of factors (past history, similar users, accelerometer reads, set preferences, routines, etc.) to determine where you are. (The platform appears to use Alohar Mobile, more on that here, but the technology was built in-house, we’re told.)
The app is scheduled to launch in late June or early July on iOS, with Android to follow. More details are here.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 10:05 AM PDT
Tweets past, present, and future now show their exact number of retweets and favorites instead of showing “50+” if they pass that count — a move that could promote vanity and competition on Twitter. Since the change is applied retroactively, you can see a tweet about stopping polio from Bill Gates last year got 1,178 retweets and 119 favorites, and yes, all Justin Bieber had to do was tweet “New York City. #BELIEVE” this week to score 22,276 retweets.
The change could remove the need for some wildly popular accounts to use third-party measurement tools, but mostly it will just let the average person see when they or someone else has a true moment of brilliance. Some might find this fun. However, the exact counts could make people feel like they have no influence when they see they’ve received two retweets while someone else got twenty thousand.
Until now if you played Twitter as a sport, you were competing on follower count. But really that’s mostly a sign of celebrity and time on the service. Now if you have an amazing tweet, everyone will be able to see just how prolific you are. All they need to do is click on your tweet from the web or mobile interface to see it expand to reveal its exact retweet and favorite counts. However, there have been reports of the Twitter API and GUI showing different counts.
At TechCrunch we appreciate the 2.2 million savvy readers who follow us, and it’ll be nice to instantly get a better sense of what content resonates with you all. But now it’s more important than ever to remember it’s the quality and thoughtfulness of what you tweet, not the RTs and FAVs that really matter.
After all, many great artists aren’t adored until long after they’re dead. So give it 100 years, Bieber, then we’ll see if which of us got more retweets.
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 10:00 AM PDT
Apple’s WWDC keynote had a different rhythm befitting the post Jobs post Facebook IPO world we’re in. Days after Larry Ellison’s wooden capitulation to the Cloud, the tech press could be forgiven for the pedestrian way they consumed the news. Ellison has clearly absorbed Marc Benioff’s script for the last 3 or 13 years, but made no attempt at challenging his protege’s style and passion. Tim Cook and his team relied on the power of their strategy rather than the stagecraft of the event.
Integrate Facebook. Check. Open Facetime to cellular. Check. Take Google Maps off the table as a disruptor. Check. Siri-fy push notifications, apps, driving, Twitter, Likes, @mentions. Check check check check check check. Set up iPhone 5 as the beneficiary of the new OS, the OS that kills Windows. Check.
How dumb was it for Google to withhold its turn-by-turn directions from iOS? They destroyed TomTom in the process and now it pops back up as the heart of Apple Maps. Now Google has to worry about Microsoft coming up behind them and knocking off a weakened search giant instead of failing to challenge the iPad as the core platform. Somebody forgot to remind Google that they achieved orbital velocity by teaming up with Apple on the iPhone. Microsoft hasn’t forgotten it.
I don’t want to overstate this Google is on the ropes thing, first because it is only partially true and mostly because nobody will lose here as much as others will win. But who are you gonna call when you’re betting on a platform: Apple, Microsoft, or Google? Microsoft has deep pockets, a global marketplace to lose (slowly), and a predatory scoop to mop up after Nokia, RIM, and other fading incumbents of a previous era. Google can’t pivot with Facebook or Twitter for that matter, and Apple just did.
Meanwhile, I sit here typing on a Bluetooth keyboard nestled neatly in a case propping up the new iPad, the closest thing to the new Retina Display MacBook announced on Monday. Not so slowly but surely, Apple is providing soup-to-nuts gestures and hardware around the push notification platform, wrapping the social moment in a warm embrace while Google contaminates its magic in a funk of not invented here stupidity.
John Gruber says Apple is giving a big -1 to Google. Sure, but what’s worse is that Google is doing it to themselves even harder. It’s one thing to innovate on their own mobile platform, but then isolate themselves from the dominant viral form factor of the Age? Why choke their own aura of inevitability off by turning their enormous lead in the Cloud into a horse race? Google’s magic has always been about the realtime harnessing of interactive data, the coursing lifeblood of instant sentiment, crowd-sourced knowledge.
Not an easy technical challenge, but one that could become a barrier to entry for all but the most powerful competitors, the ones with existing business models that could be undercut by the approach. So it is that Microsoft competes with its own margins, or Oracle with its maintenance revenue. They keep themselves off balance. Meanwhile Google piled on the magic: Gmail with its Golden Goose never-empty storage, never a threat to Office but rather to Windows itself, Chrome the viral browser, and even now Gdrive as it subsumes the rest of Google’s Apps.
Clear sailing ahead, as long as they made their services available to all comers. Search worked precisely because it was the same everywhere. The iPhone succeeded in large part because Google was there. The iPhone survived because of the Web development hole in the architecture. Google was as much a part of the iPad’s success as any other element, by preserving the balance of power long enough to keep Microsoft at bay.
Then the media companies were dragged into the disruption, as readers and viewers migrated from a scheduled land-locked consumption model to one based on realtime social signals. The decision point became an evaluation of the value of the content based on its position in a priority queue. Should we stay on our portable device and keep up with breaking news, and if so, then plan our big-screen watching according to the quality of the series. Enter Mad Men, Downton Abbey, The Killing, even network shows like Revenge, House, and Grey’s Anatomy.
The long-form movie nature of these series created a class of users not unlike the record buying public of the Golden Age of Beatles, etc. where media began to be consumed in album bursts after the scattershot approach of Top Forty. The hard drive capacity of HD DVRs shifted archiving of shows to On Demand services, iTunes, and especially Netflix. Once we realized it was better to capture and wait than be tethered to scheduled cliffhangers, the die was cast. It doesn’t matter how fast cable-cutting matures; the transformation to a user-controlled broadcast schedule is a done deal.
What Apple is signaling with its WWDC announcements is an adoption of this Netflix/iTunes streaming model to the technology business. Built on push notification and the intersection of Siri, Maps, and AirPlay, the next season (iOS 6) begins in the fall, crescendoes with iPhone 5, and then accelerates with software (apps) that harvest the efficiencies and user comfort with the new media consumption model. Cars add buttons for directions, gas, food, group swarming around location-based deals for products, and authority-based recommendations on store-and-view media strategies.
Thanks, Google. Apple couldn’t have done it without you. Now the question is, will you jump back in and make it impossible to say no to your brand of services. It will take a certain humility that perhaps can only come from one of your founders (Brin). And you’ll need to reconnect with your troops, and by that I mean your customers, who surely are questioning the kinds of history rewriting around paid inclusion that make a mockery of earlier definitions of not doing evil. But you need to hurry up, as Apple takes every one of your selling points and tees them up with “there’s an app for that.”
Posted: 16 Jun 2012 09:20 AM PDT
As the name of a recent conference in San Francisco suggests, there's a war for talent going on right now. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Over the last couple of years I've been fortunate enough to talk to many successful entrepreneurs and executives from some of the fastest-growing companies in the world. While the specifics of those conversations remain confidential, I've noticed some general trends that seem to separate the winners in the talent war from those who aren't doing as well.
Here are five I've picked up on:
The talent war winners aggressively seek out passive candidates. It's the heat-seeking missile approach to recruiting and they do it because they know that they have to go find top talent, not the other way around. They do whatever they can to determine where the people they are looking to hire are likely to be. Often this is knowing what company an ideal candidate might have worked for previously, what school they attended, what Meetup they are going to next month or even what online communities they are hanging out on.
To hear them talk about their process is akin to sitting in the "war room" on Draft Day for a professional sports franchise. Who's looking to move soon? Whose boss just took a new job? Whose just posted a cool new project to Github? They get very good at figuring out how talent is moving and figure out ways to position themselves in the midst of that flow.
The talent war winners obsess about the "top of the funnel." They know that recruiting is a numbers game and the most important number just might be the number of qualified people at the start of their pipeline. They get obsessive about this, looking for ways to make their process more efficient.
Another part of this is getting very good at qualifying people. They'll spend the additional time upfront on a candidate knowing that when a candidate does enter the pipeline, things get progressively more expensive.
The talent war winners give candidates a strong reason to engage with the company. Want examples of this? Check out Dropbox's quirky jobs page and how it appeals to the very engineers who they are trying to recruit. Or how Asana offers an incredible $10K to people to pimp out their work set-up. Or how companies like Google and others do Tech Talks to allow their employees access to some of the brightest minds in the world.
Regardless of what it is, they do their best to blow candidates' minds and they think about every interaction. The company's Jobs page is an obvious one but these companies also pay attention to the overall candidate experience (as an aside, candidate experience is such a big deal that there are now startups like Mystery Applicant that will help you to optimize in this area). They obsess around the experience candidates have with their brand like Apple obsesses around the experience that users have with its products.
The talent war winners are obsessed with metrics. They track everything. Sure, a lot of companies track their source of hires in their Applicant Tracking System. But that's just the starting point for these companies. What's their response rate for sending LinkedIn InMails vs. sending emails to potential candidates and what subject lines perform the best when reaching out? What percentage of candidates make it to a second round interview across their various sourcing channels?
The best recruiting organizations have answers to these questions and many more and use them to continually improve their processes and better allocate resources.
The talent war winners make recruiting their top priority. Their CEOs spend significant amounts of time recruiting (Vinod Khosla recommends more than 50% of time for new CEOs). They invest in the right tools and make sure their teams are fully staffed for the challenge in front of them. Recruiting high-quality candidates is not a "nice to have" for them. It's an absolute must have.
This only scratches the surface of what the world's best recruiting organizations do to pull in top talent but hopefully it's been helpful in gaining a better understanding and provided some new ideas for ways to build great teams.
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