- Update: It’s Done. Time Warner Buys Bleacher Report, Price Reportedly Around $200M
- Inside Funny Or Die’s Viral Video Machine
- Email Ad Network LaunchBit Raises $960K, Plans Move To Las Vegas
- Just One Month In, Crowdfunding Platform Seedrs Sees Three Startups Funded; More Juicy Numbers Shared
- Hearst Interactive Invests $5M In Mobile Ad Startup Nexage
- With $1M In New Funding, Video Platform MediaCore Refocuses On Education, Hires Former Apple Education Exec Alan Greenberg
- No More Boring Resumes: Seelio Lets College Students Showcase Their Work & Helps Employers Find Them
- Nielsen On U.S. Mobile Shopping: eBay’s App Attracts The Most Users, Shopkick Keeps Them Around Longer
- Amazon Now Selling More EBooks Than Real Books In The UK
- Curiosity Lands On Mars, Twitter Explodes, NASA Parties Like It’s 2001?
- ShoeDazzle Steps Up Fashion E-Commerce Competition, Adds 1M Users In July And Now Has 13M
- New OpenGL Standards Promise To Bring Better, Faster Graphics To Mobile And Desktop
- Testing The iCache Geode Mobile Wallet, A Card That Clones Your Credit Cards
- Kantar On Smartphones: Samsung 45% Of Euro Sales; Apple Gained Only In UK, US; RIM Holds On In France
- Online Radio Service TuneIn Raises $16M From Sequoia, General Catalyst And More, Hits 40M Monthly Active Listeners
- 9flats Acquires iStopOver To Put The Heat On Airbnb, Doubles Its Rentals Capacity
- Could Birmingham Become ‘Britain’s Berlin’ For Tech?
- UK Politician Louise Mensch Resigns To Put More Effort Into Family Life (And Startup Life?) [Updated]
- ‘Curiosity’ Killed The Apathy? #fundNASA Crowdfunding Plea Goes Viral
- The One In Which I Talk Even More About TechCrunch
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 09:02 AM PDT
Update: TBS has now confirmed that it has bought Bleacher Report. The division will become a part of the Turner Sports division. That group currently manages digital properties on behalf of the NBA, NCAA and PGA, and it oversees ad sales for NASCAR.COM as well as a strategic sales relationship with Yahoo! Sports. It has 86 million unique visitors. The price of the deal was not disclosed but is thought to be in the region of $200 million.
"Bleacher Report is a strategic acquisition thatfurther enhances Turner's portfolio of sports offerings, as well as reflects our continuing commitment to bring fans greater content across all screens throughout the entire year," said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports of Turner Broadcasting, in a statement. "As brand builders and content providers, we were attracted to Bleacher Report’s fast growth to a leading marketplace position and a valued consumer destination. The site will continue to innovate and provide users and sports fans with branded news and information."
Original story with more background on the deal follows below.
The Federal Trade Commission has approved a deal between Bleacher Report and Time Warner — and according to reports from Bloomberg and AllThingsD, this is the signal that Time Warner division Turner Broadcasting System is finalizing an acquisition of the sports site network.
The prices being reported are in a range around the $200 million mark: Bloomberg says the deal is under $200 million. SAI notes a price of $175 million. And AllThingsD notes that Bleacher Report investors were looking for an exit above $200 million. Bleacher Report has raised $40.5 million from investors including Crosslink Capital, Oak Investment Partners, and Hillsven Capital. The deal, at the very least, is worth a minimum of $68.2 million, which is the threshold that triggers an FTC investigation.
The FTC investigates not only mergers and acquisitions, but investments. On the same docket from Friday where Bleacher Report and Time Warner appeared, so did General Atlantic Partners and Box. The cloud company announced a $125 million round led by the VC firm at the end of July.
Time Warner’s interest in Bleacher Report comes out of the fact that the broadcaster has passed control of Sports Illustrated’s website
Bleacher Report, which was founded in 2006, gets around 10 million users per month writes Bloomberg, and it has an astounding 6,000 contributors, most of whom write for free. It was started by four friends, David Finocchio (now VP Content & Product), Dave Nemetz (VP Business Development), Bryan Goldberg (VP Revenue) and Zander Freund, who calls himself the original ‘face’ of Bleacher Report membership as the Community GM. He has left the company and now works as an advisor to other startups, while remaining a shareholder in Bleacher Report. Brian Grey is currently the CEO.
We’ve reached out to TBS and Bleacher Report for comment and will update as we learn more. Meanwhile, it appears to be business as usual at the sports site, with the latest post on its blog about a writer meetup in New York.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 09:00 AM PDT
In a digital world of one-hit wonders, Funny or Die is the Beatles of the Internet, churning out viral hit after viral hit. As a result, the celebrity-laden sketch comedy site has become an oasis of financial success in an online video industry that is still dominated by garage directors struggling to make premium content. What’s the secret sauce behind their viral machine? First, give your talent some creative flexibility: act more like an editor than a director. Second, viral sharing thrives on topical subjects and the just-barely-believable. Finally, funny is funny: never sacrifice quality for quantity.
Be an Editor, Not a Director
“Funny or Die is successful because we’re pretty good at finding young, funny people,” says creative director and former Saturday Night Live head writer, Andrew Steele, arguing his job is “exactly like what an editor does.” Instead of relying on the ideas of their A-lister comedy co-founder, Will Ferrell, they arm themselves like a newspaper: a small staff of dedicated writers and a wider circle of celebrity freelancers.
Celebrities, Funny or Die’s primary resource for viral videos, often come up with the ideas for the shorts themselves. For instance, one of the site’s top videos was a gut-busting parody of Pizza-mogul-turned-Republican-Presidential-front-runner, Hermann Cain. Mike Tyson, who did the surprisingly spot-on impression, came to Funny or Die with the idea himself. “We’re unbelievably talent-friendly,” says CEO Dick Glover; producers would rather create a risky video and build a relationship, than have talent walk away feeling like they didn’t have a stake in the video.
Indeed, some of Tyson’s earlier work with Funny or Die received relatively moderate fanfare. But, Funny or Die had built up a relation with the former boxer, and, when Cain hit the spotlight, Tyson felt comfortable pitching the idea. “Well, we have no idea how that’s going to turn out,” President of Production, Mike Farah, remembers thinking, “but we might as well try and shoot it and see what happens.”
“There's no risk, because if it doesn't work out,” Glover argues, “nobody cares–it was a little ol' Internet video. However, if it's a terrific video, then all of a sudden everyone is talking about it.”
Quick and Unexpected
“What is a viral video?” asked Farah. “It’s something that people can’t believe is really happening and they’re so taken by it that they want to share it with other people.”
A few years ago, when Paris Hilton-inspired sex tapes were all the rage, and the Internet was swirling with rumors of fake videos of other sexual icons, Funny or Die decided to make light of the cultural craze. Latina bombshell, Eva Mendez, was an (unfortunate) target of public demand, and dared to shoot a scantily clad night-vision spoof with Funny or Die (video below).
Comparing his time at SNL to Funny or Die, Steele says that “this is a never-ending monster that continues to just eat content.” Internet phenoms come and go rapidly, so feeding the constant demand requires quick production of timely videos.
And, hot-button political issues have been constant food for the comedy beast. For instance, when the recent Republican opposition to birth control procedures became a top political issue, Funny or Die threw together a quick, liberal-friendly parody, “Republicans: Get in My Vagina.” The video has already had more than a million views, and Farah points to the +4,000 comments on The Huffington Post comedy site about the video as an indication of where all the rabid fans of the video are coming from.
“If you make a funny video for a divisive issue,” explains Farah, the viewer will “want everyone to know how they feel about that topic.”
Funny is Funny, Even Commercials
“Our point of view is that everything should be entertaining,” says Chris Bruss, Vice President of Branded Entertainment, Funny or Die’s new department for sketch comedy commercials. The cash-cow has the makings of a viable alternative to advertising-based revenue, since brands are willing to shell out hefty payments for a viral video that consumers want to watch in their free time. For a new product, such as a new soda flavor, awareness can be more important than persuasion.
“You’re not hitting the viewer over the head with the brand message,” explains Bruss. This stands in stark contrast to more traditional methods, such as the iconic Pepsi taste test commercials of the 80′s.
“Content drives the deal, not visa-versa,” concludes Glover. “There might be a great deal out there, but it might not be smart for us to do it because there isn’t a great piece of content that’s driving that deal.”
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 09:00 AM PDT
LaunchBit, a startup aiming to bring a smarter approach to email advertising, has raised a $960,000 seed round of funding.
Co-founder Elizabeth Yin is a former Googler, and she has compared LaunchBit to Google AdWords — it’s a self-serve model that allows advertisers to identify their target demographic and bid on ad impressions in email newsletters.
I last wrote about LaunchBit when it left private beta in February. Since then, Yin says the company has created a self-serve product for publishers, too, called NewsletterDirectory. Publishers can paste some HTML into their email templates to start running LaunchBit ads, then track their results on the NewsletterDirectory website. They can also bring up a list of the ads that will potentially show up in their newsletter and remove the ones they don’t like.
“This wouldn’t work on the web, because there’s a continuous flow of traffic going to a given website and so, ads are changing all the time,” Yin says. “But email gets sent at distinct times.”
As for the funding, it comes from 500 Startups (where LaunchBit was incubated), Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s VegasTech Fund, TriplePoint Capital, Bruno Bowden (ex-Google), Andrew Chen, David Hauser (Grasshopper Group), Siamak Taghaddos (Grasshopper Group), Yee Lee (One Jackson, Katango), Srini Panguluri (Tagstand, Project Wedding), and Omar Seyal (Tagstand).
And, as you might guess from the presence of the VegasTechFund on that list, LaunchBit is planning to move from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in the fall. Yin says that she and her co-founder Jennifer Chin both grew up in the Valley, but adds, “We’ve bought into the vision of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project and are excited about where Vegas is headed.”
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 08:51 AM PDT
If you weren’t convinced that there was pent up demand for a crowdfunding platform in the UK where anybody can play the role of Dave McClure (I jest, a little), then think again. Seedrs, which makes it easy to invest in startups and has much coveted regulatory approval, has announced that just one month after launch, three companies have already secured their target funding.
PR-driven bragging aside, however, Seedrs is also sharing some interesting numbers exclusive to TechCrunch today. Numbers that shed a little more light on how equity-based crowdfunding might play out in the UK and perhaps further afield. But first, let’s dig into the three startups that have been funded by the platform.
London-based Digital Spin, which aims to make CAPTCHAs that are “engaging, simple and secure” — yes, CAPTCHAs! — has raised £60,000 (at a post-money valuation of £400k) for a 15% equity share of the company. Breaking that down further, Seedrs tells us that this amounts to 70 investors, with the average investment per investor being £857.14 or a median investment of £200. Investments ranged from £10 – £8,000.
PlayBrighter, a Wales-based startup that makes games "to help teachers teach, and to help pupils learn" has raised £30,000 for 8% equity (a post-money valuation of £375k). 22 investors participated, with an average investment amount per investor of £1,363.63, and a median investment amount per investor of £100.00. The investments ranged from £10 – £26,480. However, of note, Seedrs tell us that a single angel investor took up ~90% of this round (see below).
Lastly, Satago, based in Oxford, with its crowd-sourced data offering that aims to show how late or early business customers pay their bills, has raised £30,000 for a 14% equity share of the company (a post-money valuation of £214,286). The number of investors were 61, with average investment amount per investor £491.80, and median investment amount per investor at £130.00. Investments ranged from £10 – £5,000.
Zooming out a bit further, Seedrs says it’s amassed roughly 3,000 members, of which only 1,372 are authorised to invest. That’s because members also consist of entrepreneurs (who are presumably looking at Seedrs as a source of funding), while others have not yet taken the investment authorisation questionnaire.
Interestingly, the average number of investments per investor is 3.3, so they aren’t necessarily signing up just to take a punt on one particular startup.
In total to date, funds invested/deposited are £222,000. “This means that beyond the £120,000 invested in the three deals above, a further £102,000 has been invested in other deals that haven't yet closed or has been deposited but not yet allocated”, explains Seedrs.
Beyond the three deals that have closed, 26 are currently on the platform seeking capital, while there are a further 63 waiting for review.
I asked Jeff Lynn, co-founder and CEO of Seedrs, what they’ve learned so far. He says that there has been “far more appetite” from high-net-worth investors than they expected.
“Many people are investing well in excess of £1,000 per transaction, and we've seen several investments in excess of £5,000 from traditional angels. We have always referred to ourselves as a platform for investing in startups rather than merely a crowdfunding platform, and I think this behaviour reflects that distinction: the crowd element is important, and there have been lots of investments of £100 or less, but we're also finding that the simplicity and straightforwardness of the platform means larger investors are attracted as well”
That’s a pretty important takeaway and potentially makes Seedrs less about the crowd and more a place for deal flow discovery, maybe, with the platform just removing more of the friction involved even for seasoned angels. It’s early days, of course, but that’s one angle worth watching out for.
Related to this, Lynn says that investors have been making a lot of use of the Q&A feature tied to each listing.
“Several larger investors have reached out directly to the entrepreneurs and met or had calls with them before making an investment.”
Less surprising is that deals tend to reach a tipping point before funding really takes off. “Once a deal gets ‘hot’, it tends to move pretty quickly”, says Lynn. “The three deals that closed represented very different types of startups, but in each case they drew some early attention and then snowballed toward closing from there.”
Furthermore, Lynn says that “investors clearly prefer deals with reasonable valuations”. Of the thee deals that have closed, all had post-money valuations of £400,000 or less and “were among the lowest valuations available on the platform”.
In other words, the early signs on Seedrs point to not overvaluing your startup at what is, by its very nature, likely at the idea-stage only.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 08:41 AM PDT
Nexage CEO Ernie Cormier says this is a last-minute addition to the the $10 million Series B that the company announced in June, bringing the round’s total size to $15 million. The funding should help Nexage build its connections in the digital media world, with Hearst Interactive Vice President Darcy Frisch joining the company’s board of directors.
Other investors in the round include SingTel Innov8 (the venture arm of Asian telecom company SingTel), as well as past investors Relay Ventures and GrandBanks Capital. As you might expect given SingTel’s involvement, Cormier has said that Nexage is looking to grow in Asia. He has also said that Nexage will be expanding its technology to “other pieces of the ad stack.”
“Our mission remains the same with this additional Series B funding: to extend our RTB leadership, champion and support the needs of our premium customers, and accelerate the maturity of the mobile advertising market,” Cormier said in the press release.
When I met with Cormier last month, he also emphasized the need to bring more standardization to the mobile ad industry, which he said is at a similar stage of development as the online ad industry in the late ’90s. That’s not something that Nexage can do on its own, but it’s something that Cormier said he will be pushing for.
Nexage has now raised a total of $19.5 million.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 08:33 AM PDT
MediaCore, a company which launched a year ago with the mission of allowing any business to roll out its own private YouTube, is refocusing its efforts on the education market, and has raised an additional $1 million in funding to achieve those goals. The funding, which comes from private angel investors in the U.S. and U.K. including Alex Khein and Pierre Andurand, brings the startup’s total raise to $1.5 million, but it’s not the only news MediaCore has today.
The company has also acquired a video encoding platform called Pandastream, has partnered with SchoolTube, and has hired Alan Greenberg, Apple’s former Head of Higher Education in Europe and Asia, as its Director of Education.
MediaCore initially wanted to help businesses provide a platform for video in the enterprise, and started with a focus on the SMB market. It saw some adoption by businesses who signed up to help train their staff using the product, but it also saw growing adoption in universities and K-12 schools. Reacting to the way customers were using its product, the company decided to shift its focus to target the very specific needs of those involved in educational efforts – whether in businesses or in schools.
“One of the things we realized in the six months of playing in that SMB space,” says CEO Stuart Bowness, “is that there are a lot of companies playing in that space. And a lot of big companies, too….so what we started really challenging ourselves on, is ‘how do we differentiate?’” Reacting to some pressure from customers, including the University of London, the team realized that it was the education market, in specific, that could use more innovation.
“Out of all the things we’re working on now, the most important thing we could possibly be working on, is solving how video works in education,” says Bowness. With MediaCore, the company wants to simply the entire process of doing so, including capturing the video, managing the video, storing the video, and then delivering the video to students in a protected environment.
Bowness notes that one of the issues with video in education is that many schools block YouTube, which is where a lot of today’s educational content is found. “YouTube is blocked in about 80% of U.S. K-12 institutions, and it’s blocked in a lot of corporations too…it isn’t perceived as a safe place to send kids to learn,” he says. “or employees as they can get distracted.” So on MediaCore, teachers can privately share video with students, other teachers, or parents, as need be. In addition to commenting, they also have access to view real-time analytics around those videos.
Now the company has signed up video-sharing site SchoolTube as a customer, which takes the MediaCore user base to 5.5 million students per month, and has notably attracted some key talent with hiring of Alan Greenberg. Part of his role will be to set up the new Educator-in-Residence program, which will help teachers and professors better understand how they can use video as a teaching tool in the classroom.
As for the acquisition of encoding platform Pandastream, MediaCore is not talking about the terms of the deal, only noting that it was profitable at the time, and the team of four has joined the company. Pandastream is still up-and-running as a separate product for now.
The company tells us that its burn rate is low, so it will focus on building more educational features into its product throughout this year, but will likely start raising again somewhere around November or January.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 07:09 AM PDT
Looking to rethink the resume, a startup called Seelio is opening its doors today to anyone with a .edu email address. The company, which spun out of an existing service called TruApp, wants to offer college students a better way to showcase their work via online portfolios which employers and recruiters alike can browse through and search by keyword. Upon finding a potential candidate, employers can then use Seelio to communicate directly with the student in question.
TruApp got its start at the University of Michigan, and currently has around 1,600 students and 170 companies on the platform as it relaunches and expands under its new name “Seelio.”
Founded by University of Michigan grads Moses Lee, David Jsa, and Jerry Wang, TruApp launched its MVP (minimum viable product) back in January 2012. “We thought that there was a real opportunity to disrupt the resume, particularly for college students,” explains Lee. “We decided to see what would happen around a platform that could really empower college students to showcase their true personalities, their skill sets, and their accomplishments to employers.”
“Portfolio platforms have traditionally been for designers,” he adds. “We’re building a portfolio platform for the everyday college student. Anyone can use it because, more than ever before, every type of student is creating digital material that they can use to enhance their job prospects.”
On students’ profile pages, they can showcase the work they’ve done throughout college, and even list other students as project collaborators.
But unlike some other online portfolios sites, what makes Seelio different is that it also includes a network that connects employers with the students directly – like a job search site for emerging talent. Given the hiring crunch in the tech industry specifically, Seelio could help employers find young grads to fill open positions – something that’s hard to do on traditional job search sites which emphasize real-world work experience.
Lee says that Teach For America, Compuware, Intuit (Quicken Loans) and Airtime have already used the platform to search for and evaluate talent. Like students, whose “high def” resumes (as Lee calls them) can include both text and multimedia content, companies who sign up to create a profile on the platform can also create more dynamic experiences to attract talent. “Companies can use media to create culture,” Lee says. “What we’re finding is that college students, when they’re thinking about employment, they’re not just engaged about what you do, they want to know who they’re going to work with. Companies can post pictures, videos, anything that they can to really market to this generation in a whole new way, not just a boring job description.”
With the relaunch, Seelio now allows companies to create profiles that provide support for multiple recruiters, where before, as TruApp, it only allowed one account per organization. Both the students’ and company profiles are free, but there’s a charge for companies who want to post jobs or message students. Companies pay $50/month for the messaging capabilities, and $150 to post a job. Featured jobs, which sit up high among the search results, will go for $300-$1,200, depending on season. (Employers that signup in the next seven days will receive a free job post once the jobs board is available. Use the code “techcrunch” at checkout).
Seelio has raised a small amount of seed funding from Michigan-area angels, and now wants to raise again to help it expand across the U.S.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 07:00 AM PDT
As mobile payments continue to become more commonplace among retailers, smartphone consumers are already showing a pretty strong appetite for mobile shopping on their devices. According to a June 2012 survey among 5,000 Android and iPhone users in the U.S., Nielsen found that 47% of them have used a native shopping app on their phones. The analysts say that in total some 45 million U.S. consumers have used shopping apps, on average, 17 times in the month.
In terms of what apps are “selling” the best, the strongest players on mobile are those that are strongest online, with eBay, Amazon and Groupon the top three mobile shopping sites at 13.2 million, 12.1 million and 12 million unique users respectively. But, when it comes to time spent on those apps, it’s the less-popular Shopkick that is keeping users engaged the longest.
Shopkick, which bridges the physical and mobile experience by offering users deals while in-store, attracted 6.5 million uniques in the month to rank fourth, but its app proved to be a very strong magnet for usage. It was on average used for over three hours in the month, three times more than the most popular app in terms of unique users, eBay Mobile (which ranked second in terms of time spent).
Nielsen, unfortunately, doesn’t detail which apps brought in the most revenue.
It would potentially be a misleading comparison, however, given that the top ten not only includes auction site eBay and online marketplace Amazon, but daily deal sites like Groupon (2nd) and Living Social (ranked 5th, 4.3 million uniques); mobile apps for physical stores (Target: ranked seventh, 2.2 million uniques); promotions like Shopkick’s; and organizing apps like Out of Milk (ranked ninth; 1.7 million uniques). Some of these apps don’t give users the ability to make in-app purchases, although this appears to be the direction that everything is converging: even if it’s not a functionality that an app will offer on its own steam, it will integrate so that people can do that seamlessly no matter what they are doing on their phones.
It looks like this will continue to grow over time: “Retailers are finding that consumers are willing to use smartphone apps to enhance their shopping experience, and this data shows usage of shopping apps is growing," Don Kellogg, director of telecom insights at Nielsen, noted in a statement.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 06:51 AM PDT
According to an Amazon UK release, the company is now selling more ebooks than hardback or paperback books in Britain, a tipping point that we reached in the U.S. over a year ago. It took four years for U.S. ebook sales to overtake print sales.
The company is selling 114 ebooks for every 100 printed books. Amazon introduced the kindle in the UK two years ago.
This follows Amazon’s announcement that the Kindle Fire, a media consumption tablet, would support international app sales. The move towards international sales of ebooks, however, is of massive importance to all ebook producers, ensuring a steady stream of customers and, more important, a cohort of readers who are used to spending money on digital copies of their favorite titles.
The bookpocalypse continues unabated.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 06:25 AM PDT
At 10:32 p.m. PST on Sunday night, NASA’s robotic space rover, “Curiosity,” touched down on the surface of the Red Planet — in the “Gale Crater” for those keeping track. The landing was a landmark event — the culmination of eight months of space travel (Curiosity launched on November 26, 2011) and some $2.5 billion. While the mere feat of surviving a trip through space (35 million+ miles) and a seven-minute atmospheric entry (which was totally automated, by the way, and required the craft to decelerate from 13,000 MPH) is impressive enough, the show is just getting started.
The Mini Cooper-sized rover, which is the largest envoy of its kind to be sent to Mars, will spend nearly two years roaming the surface of Mars, collecting data and photographs — all in service of better understanding the origins of the planet, determining its habitability, and perhaps setting the stage for future, manned missions to our red neighbor.
Chris wrote a great post last night making the case for why we should care about Curiosity, which had to compete for attention last night with the Olympics, among other things, not to mention NASA’s spotty track record when it comes to Mars. As Reuters pointed out, 26 out of 40 Mars missions have met with setbacks and/or failure.
While those of us who’ve been weaned on Star Wars, Star Trek, and all things J.J. Abrams may relish the opportunity to follow these voyages into the unknown, NASA itself has struggled to maintain its fanbase. The organization has been running out of money, and it’s in dire need of funding to ensure that these types of voyages continue to happen.
Last night brought some hope in that regard. Considering the fact that it’s willing to look for life in corners of red deserts, NASA might want to consider turning to crowdfunding for future missions, as the surprising popularity of the hashtag “#fundNASA” on Twitter last night showed that many appear willing to shell out a few dollars should NASA end with a Kickstarter page. After all, as Ingrid (and others on Twitter) pointed out, it apparently cost London over five times as much money to put on these Olympics as it did to get Curiosity on to Mars.
Be that as it may, it seems that NASA and its scientists have already learned quite a bit about how to handle the dissemination of information in the Twitter & Facebook era. NASA livestreamed the entire event from Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, and the rover itself has been live-tweeting from landing to its first transmissions on its own Twitter feed. Within 15 minutes of landing, Curiosity (really, whichever NASA geeks are behind its feed) were already capitalizing on the “Pics or it didn’t happen” meme to share its very first pic from the surface of Mars. (Pic to the right.)
What’s more, Bobak Ferdowsi, Curiosity’s Flight Director, became the star of the landing last night. The flight director began the night with less than 200 followers on Twitter and now has over 14,000. His mohawk, in fact, has already spawned a meme. Ferdowsi’s rise to brief stardom last night was just one example of Twitter’s explosion last night with Curiosity-related chatter.
One of the highlights of the evening, though, was getting to see Mission Control celebrate the successful landing of Curiosity — not since Apple’s last keynote have so many nerds expressed so much joy.
And speaking of Apple, some were quick to point out last night on Twitter that many of the NASA scientists gathered in Mission Control were working on MacBook Pros. Invaluable product placement, to be sure.
Of course, one tipster, Eran Savir, also noticed that NASA may be working with some more outdated technology, capturing images from NASA’s livestream that seem to indicate an ongoing (and perhaps outdated) love affair with … Windows XP?!
Of course, just to show that NASA is still in touch with the modern communication tools that are currently en vogue — if live tweeting didn’t cement that already — here’s another still from NASA’s Ustream that appears to show Mission Controllers taking a break from, you know, landing and manoeuvering a multi-billion-dollar craft to catch up on some Facebook status updates. What else?
After all the partying and Facebook updating finally quiets down this morning, the reality sinks in that it’s still going to be at least a week before Curiosity will have all of its high-tech tools and cameras in working order. Then its two-year mission to unlock the secrets of the Red Planet begins.
For good measure, here’s a look at the first high-res image Curiosity relayed back to Earth on Monday morning:
More on Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory Project here.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 06:07 AM PDT
ShoeDazzzle, the fashion e-commerce outfit that counts reality star/deep thinker Kim Kardashian among its founders, says that it has broken a new barrier: the site picked up 1 million new users in the month of July, bringing the total number of members up to 13 million. ShoeDazzle claims that’s more than double its nearest competitor in the online accessories market, which include Beachmint and JustFab. In comparison, JustFab, which raised a $76 million round in July, told TechCrunch at the time that it was adding 500,000 users every month.
Bill Strauss, the CEO, tells TechCrunch that the growth is a sign that the company’s business model expanding beyond subscriptions and shows is “resonating” with female consumers. The company today also announced that it is achieving a record number of item sales per order — these are up by 17% compared to Q1. However, it is not giving a concrete number either on average sale amounts or how many items are getting sold.
However, the increase in numbers shows the site is picking up some momentum: the 13 million milestone comes four months after the company announced 10 million users amid an effort to widen its catalog beyond shoes and accessories to also offer clothing. ShoeDazzle says that member growth is up by 25% over the last four months.
ShoeDazzle has been gradually expanding what it is offering to its mainly-female users base. Not only is it now offering apparel and other accessories in addition to shoes, but in March it dropped the mandatory subscription model that put users on a once-per-month buying schedule. Now people can visit the site and buy as often (or as little) as they like. That puts it in line with competitors like JustFab, which has also been expanding its own model beyond subscriptions into an a-la-carte offering.
“The growth shows our changes are really resonating with clients,” Strauss told TechCrunch. He says that one main focus of the company in the last month or so has been to “get the message out that we’re not just based on a subscription model.”
Although companies like JustFab are focused on using funding to expand into international markets to further differentiate themselves from competitors like ShoeDazzle, Strauss believes that there is a better opportunity in enhancing out the footprint (pun intended) that his company has already established in the U.S.
“For now we are focusing here,” he says. “we're Wooking to increase closet spend with clients here rather than going out geographically, we’re focusing on how we serve our clients head to toe — although international is clearly down the road at some point.”
Despite the expansion into new product areas, shoes remain the most popular item on the site — no surprise, given its name. These are charged at $40 per pair, a competitive rate with JustFab.
Since launching in March 2009 — one of the earlier movers in the space — ShoeDazzle has raised some $60 million from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 06:00 AM PDT
At SIGGRAPH 2012 today, the Khronos Group, the non-profit organization behind the OpenGL standard, announced the release of OpenGL 4.3, OpenGL ES 3.0 for mobile devices. OpenGL, in its various versions for mobile and desktop, is the one of the main standards for developing graphics-intensive 3D apps and games for the iPhone, Android and many consoles and desktop operating systems. Among the companies involved in the OpenGL working groups are heavy weights like AMD, Intel, ARM, NVIDIA, Broadcom, Apple, Google, Nokia and game developers like Epic, EA and Unity.
OpenGL ES 3.0, which remains backward compatible with ES 2.0, is meant to make life easier for programmers as it spells out tighter requirements for supported hardware features. The new spec also brings a number of OpenGL 3.3 and 4.x features to from the desktop to mobile. One of the most important new features in the new spec is support for new texture functionality that brings better texture compression (including the ETC2 and EAC standards) and a number of new hardware-accelerated features like instance rendering, occlusion queries and transform feedback to mobile.
OpenGL ES 3.0: Better Looking Mobile Games And Longer Battery Life
It’s worth noting that many developers currently pack different sets of textures for different devices into one APK. Now, however, they will be able to use the same assets on mobile and the desktop, where the same features are also now part of the spec. Thanks to the improved compression features, those packages should be significantly smaller, which in turn should make downloads faster and reduce the memory footprint of these apps.
For users, the Khronos Group’s president Neil Trevett (who is also the VP of mobile content at NVIDIA) told me last week, this basically means they can look forward to more attractive games and apps with higher frame rates on their favorite mobile devices in the near future (except on Windows Phone, of course, which uses Microsoft’s own Direct X). The gap between what can be done on the desktop and on mobile is slowly closing, though as Trevett also noted, the new mobile specs aren’t just about more powerful graphics but also about improving battery life.
Unlike on the desktop, where NVIDIA is shipping compatible drivers today, it generally takes a bit longer to implement these new features on mobile devices. The Khronos group will ship performance tests before the end of the year and compatible devices should follow soon after that.
The group also announced its new Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression (ASTCTM) LDR extension specification for OpenGL ES and OpenGL today, which brings even more advanced texture compression features to OpenGL. For the time being, this new compression scheme is only available as an extension and is shipping today.
On the desktop, the Khronos Group today launched OpenGL 4.3. The focus here is on improving performance, but also on bringing a number of effects that weren’t previously possible with OpenGL to the desktop (including different types of blur, for example). In addition, developers will now be able to use their OpenGL skills to use compute shaders to offload more tasks to the GPU without having to use (or knowing how to use) the OpenCL. For users, this means, developers will be able to program better physics and AI simulations into their game without having to use more CPU power.
OpenVL: A New Standard For Vision And Sensor Processing
In addition to OpenGL, the Khronos group is also launching new specs for its increasingly popular COLLADA 3D assets standard and, maybe even more interestingly, a new API for vision and sensor processing. The idea here is basically that having the ability use input from the various sensors on our mobile devices is quickly becoming just as important as being able to render high-end graphics. The new standard wants to give developers an easy and consistent way to use this data in, for example, augmented reality apps. OpenVL’s primary goal, the organization says, is to enable real-time vision apps on mobile and embedded systems that will allow developers to go beyond the relatively limited AR apps we see today.
Khronos is also working with a number of companies to develop a new standard (StreamInput) for accessing sensor data on mobile devices.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 05:56 AM PDT
First of all, how are the card networks ever going to let someone temporarily "clone" their cards onto another dynamic card? Secondly, how fast could the process work? There could be a lot of challenges.
I was able to get my hands on a newly shipped unit and put it to the test. I captured the results in the video below. Does it work? Yes, it actually completes payments at places that accept it. There is definitely a learning curve to use it successfully, but after I figured out the total procedure and practiced it a few times, the Geode and it’s little GeoCard actually let me buy some things.
It’s pretty well documented at this point, but if you don't know what the iCache Geode is, it is an attempt to convert the iPhone into an all-in-one digital wallet for your credit cards and loyalty cards.
Essentially, it is an iPhone sleeve outfitted with a fingerprint reader (for authentication), an E Ink display on the back for loyalty card barcodes and a single, dynamic credit card that can be temporarily and securely encoded with any of the credit cards you upload into the app. (It also comes with a detachable magstripe reader that you use to swipe and upload your cards into the secure element in the sleeve — a nice touch).
In this way, you can carry a single plastic credit card that can act as any of your credit cards, whenever you need them. This sleeve/case works seamlessly with an iOS app that manages all your payment and loyalty cards.
A Few Caveats
Another thing is that you have to remember to "flick" the card with your fingers to activate it after you have loaded it with your card info but before swiping it. It’s kind of a hassle, but it’s not for arbitrary reasons and rather is how the battery life in the card is conserved — it's not activated until flicked. According to iCache, a new version of the GeoCard will be coming soon that is rechargeable.
As for how the big card networks allow this dynamic card to be used on their networks…I’m not completely sure. But apparently iCache is being treated like any other issuer and as long as the card meets size, security and operational rules (which it must be doing), it sounds like it is good to go.
I inquired with iCache about this and they told me that GeoCard transactions look like any other payment card transactions during processing and that the card meets CAST standards (Compliance Assessment and Security Testing).
The Bottom Line
I realize that this defeats the purpose of having a mobile wallet — it has to work as well and often as your regular wallet or you are just inefficiently carrying around two wallets — but what can I say…as a payments nerd, I just think the Geode is cool.
The other challenge the Geode will face is one of perception. Any problem with a purchase at all — even a delay of a few seconds or holding up a line while you are fooling around with a newfangled card — can cause a sort of stigma for the purchaser. I felt it myself as I attempted to use the card at one of the locations but had to reboot the app to get the fingerprint scanner to log me in.
Any weirdness or problem with any credit card draws attention to the user that could be interpreted by others as “uh, oh…this guy doesn’t have enough money in his account”. It could be embarassing and lead people to question attempting use the next time.
Also, the case is kind of large.
I am pretty forgiving when it comes to products that are sincerely trying to innovate and this thing is clever. Assuming the company maintains the product, the GeoCard will be accepted at more and more places. And despite some launch limitations I want to emphasize that I still think the Geode is a great idea and a real business opportunity for iCache.
Particularly on the loyalty card front, the Geode E Ink display solves some real problems caused by the current limitations of existing mobile hardware (namely the ability for digitized loyalty cards to be scanned by legacy, laser scanners).
I think one also has to remember that the Geode is attempting to change some features of an entrenched payment system and that is no small feat. In the USA, the credit card industry has remained mostly unchanged for 20 years and building a multi-use dynamic card definitely colors outside the lines.
These attempted changes — the same things that could cause some short term bumps in user experience — are what uniquely identify this product. It’s possible that they could reach enough scale to offer the hardware for free or reduced prices — remember that the $160 price tag on this version was tied to Kickstarter project for development.
But the biggest thing to think about, from a business standpoint, is that the Geode is really solving two problems. With it, iCache are attempting to offer a solution that works for the current payments paradigm (based on physical cards), but at the same time they have a powerful mobile wallet app that poises them to remain a player when the existing payments infrastructure evolves enough to allow ubiquitous digital/mobile payments. There will be a lot of competition in that swiftly approaching mobile wallet space (another issue altogether), but getting into it now could help them remain viable in the future…or become an acquisition target.
My prediction is that, as secure elements begin to be offered in more and more mobile devices, iCache will shed their own hardware and their wallet app will be able to work directly with phone hardware, instead of with external cases. Or perhaps they’ll shed the secure element scenrio altogether and offer a purely cloud-based solution. In any event, their business model seems to have its eye on current and future states of the payments space and that’s a smart approach.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 04:29 AM PDT
We have seen reports from Strategy Analytics, IDC and Canalys detailing how many smartphones that handset makers shipped in the last quarter (the takeaway: Android is still on top, with Samsung the chief benefactor); today, Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, WPP’s market analytics business, has released its rolling monthly update on how that translates into on-the-ground sales in some of the biggest markets in the world. The results give more weight to Samsung’s current domination; and underscore how important it is for Apple to “wow” the market next month with the launch of a new handset.
Kantar, which bases its conclusions on millions of interviews with consumers every month (1 million in Europe alone, it notes), found that Samsung is currently the top-selling brand in Europe at the moment, thanks in part to a successful launch of the S3 in May, but also aggressive pricing in a region hit by economic pressures. Samsung accounted for 45% of all smartphone sales across the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain in the last 12 weeks that ended July 8. Arch-rival Apple, in contrast, accounted for just 16% of all sales in the region, Kantar analyst Dominic Sunnebo tells me. In fact, Apple has declined in every market Kantar surveyed, except for the UK and U.S.
Android’s share of sales across the big-five European countries is now at 66%, a big jump from 43% a year ago, Kantar notes. In Australia, Android took 60.5% of all sales in the period, and in the U.S. it accounted for just over 51% of all sales.
Apple’s lackluster performance in Europe is something that Apple itself highlighted during its last earnings report, blaming the economy and people holding off on purchases until the next iPhone release. Kantar showed that as a result of these factors, Apple took between 4.3% and 11.4% fewer sales in the last 12 weeks than it did a year ago across the markets of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Australia — with Australia accounting for the biggest of those declines.
Interestingly, despite Android doing so well globally, it actually declined in one key market: the U.S. its 51.5% share of the market is actually 5.3 percentage points down on a year ago. Was this because the Galaxy S3 launched later there, I asked Sunnebo? No, he says, it’s about consumer preference and price:
“An important point here is that there is very little difference in price between an Apple iPhone or an Android phone in the U.S., so the choice is made purely on what the consumer wants, not what they can afford,” he tells me, “whereas in Europe, Apple continues to command a price premium over Android. With recessionary pressures as they are in Europe this is likely to have an impact.”
Indeed, he notes that the S3 is more of a brand pusher than a direct sales generator: “While the majority of noise is focused on big-name products such as the S3 or S2, it's easy to forget that Samsung is selling smartphones across all tiers,” he notes in the report. Kantar says that in the UK, for example, Samsung accounts for five of the top 10 best-selling smartphones in the UK, “with even the smartphone/tablet hybrid Samsung Galaxy Note making it into the top ten.”
In the U.S. Apple’s share of sales went up by 9.5 percentage points to account for 38.2% of all sales in the period. The UK was not as strong but also increased: up by 2 percentage points to 22.9% of sales.
Kantar notes that a lot of this appears to be about people holding off from purchases until the next iPhone comes along. “Kantar Worldpanel ComTech data clearly shows that the proportion of Apple consumers who have owned their device for at least 18 months and not upgraded has increased markedly over the last quarter, indicating current owners are holding off upgrading until the release of the iPhone 5,” Sunnebo writes.
Indeed, the Apple brand continues to command “high loyalty”: in the UK 80% of consumers who own an iPhone have bought another; and 92% say they plan to stick with Apple when they next upgrade. “With this in mind, any dip in Apple share is likely to be short-lived with the release of an updated iPhone in quarter three bringing momentum back to the Cupertino giant,” he concludes.
Other brands. The story is not great. While Apple’s declines may be short-lived, RIM’s seem more indicative of a longer-term issue. The only country where it has managed to stave off market share declines is in France, where it only accounted for 9.2% of sales. In the U.S., which used to be RIM’s proud, top market, it only accounted for 3.7% of sales. Ouch. The UK is the only market where RIM managed to go into double digits for sales, with 10.9% of sales in that country, although that is half of what it was last year.
The story for Windows Phone is similar to that of iPhone and iOS, notes Kantar — that is, people appear to be holding off for Windows Phone 8 releases. That’s happening on a much smaller and more depressing scale, though. Windows Phone did not break through even 5% of sales in any market Kantar researched, as you can see in the full tables below. And just as RIM has a (sort of) break out market in the form of the UK, Symbian is still seeing a bit of life in Italy, where it accounted for 12.8% of sales, although that is a decline of more than 22 percentage points on last year.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 03:00 AM PDT
TuneIn, the popular online radio service, just announced that it has raised a $16 million funding round led by General Catalyst Partners. Other participants in this round include Jafco Ventures, Google Ventures and Sequoia Capital. Sequoia also participated in TuneIn’s $6 million funding round in 2010. TuneIn tells us that it plans to use this new funding “to scale the company's technical and business operations worldwide.”
The company also today announced that it is growing rapidly and now has 40 million monthly active listeners. Just last month, TuneIn announced that it had grown 267% year-over-year, but at that time, it didn’t release exact listener numbers.
TuneIn currently offers its users free access to 70,000 stations and 2 million on-demand programs.
Earlier this year, our own Alexia Tsotsis reported that TuneIn was close to raising a new funding round led by General Catalyst Partners with participation from Sequoia. At that time, though, the expectation was that TuneIn would raise at least $20 million. The round the company announced today is a bit smaller, but $16 million should still give the company a long runway for its expansion plans.
"Our mission is to deliver the best listening experience possible, and it is so meaningful to us that 40 million people have chosen to listen to the world – every month – through TuneIn," says TuneIn’s CEO John Donham in a canned statement today. "This investment will help us fulfill our mission while increasing our headcount and growing our product development and marketing initiatives."
As Donham also told me last week, the company believes that there is still a tremendous amount of audio that currently doesn’t get carried on terrestrial radio because the individual local markets are too small (think tennis play-by-play coverage) but that could attract a large audience online.
In his view, we’re still in the middle of the first transition of radio moving online. Donham also believes that TuneIn’s open platform, which provides radio stations with better analytics and revenue share opportunities, is what will attract even more stations to its platform in the future. In our interview, he also stressed the large number of platforms the service is available on, including a number of in-car entertainment systems.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 02:57 AM PDT
As Airbnb continues to ramp up its international expansion, 9flats, which claims to be the leader in Europe, is expanding the other way: Today, the private short-term rentals provider (or Airbnb-clone) has announced the acquisition of North American iStopOver. A move that will see the Berlin-headquartered company get a hub in Toronto and benefit from iStopOver’s customer-base and inventory, bringing 9flats offering to over 100,000 beds globally. Based on that metric, this puts 9flats much closer to its US rival.
While not as heavily funded as Airbnb or Wimdu, the other European player in the room, in May last year 9flats raised a ”major investment round” led by Silicon Valley VC firm Redpoint Ventures, with participation also from European investment firm eVenture Capital Partners. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, although the startup said at the time that it brought its total funding to $10m, talking up its aim to become a “global player” in the online travel industry. Today that comes into further focus.
In particular, the purchase of iStopOver gives 9flats a shot in the arm in North America, South Africa and Australia, where iStopOver is already active.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 02:53 AM PDT
Rolling into Birmingham on a train from London you’ll see what looks like a couple of derelict car parks and the odd flash of graffiti on the side of some disused building. Indeed, for this observer at least, Birmingham was almost reminiscent of Berlin, with its many concrete buildings and 60s architecture. On looks alone, it’s not hard to see how it gave birth to the bands Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
But though the impression of a city that’s a little rough around the edges can work from some angles, the place has plenty to suggest it’s not quite ‘poor but sexy’ as Berlin has been described, especially when you realise the derelict building is earmarked with signage for development, and the car park has the word “Temporary” on it. Perhaps like Berlin did in the last few years, it’s getting it’s mojo back with new architectural developments like the Bullring, pictured:
Indeed, although Birmingham is sometimes forgotten because of the media dominance of Manchester in the world’s of football and music, Birmingham has the second-largest city economy in the UK after London, is a big employer in banking and finance and its university is regarded as part of the English “Ivy League”. From that basis and being only just over an hour from London, Birmingham looks like it might well have the making of a new hub for technology startups in Europe.
Birmingham is already drawing on a rich heritage. The most populous British city outside London, the city was prominent as part of the Industrial Revolution, which saw the city at the forefront of worldwide developments in science, technology and the kinds of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society.
And the modern foundation stones for its future are today being re-laid. The UK government has marked the city out as an Enterprise Zone with simplified planning rules, super-fast broadband and over £150 million in tax breaks for new businesses over the next 4 years. A planned high-speed train link to London will cut the journey time from 1 hr 14 minutes to 49 minutes (although that won’t arrive until 2026).
But crucially, it’s the people that are starting out today to make Birmingham into a new UK tech hub.
For starters, there’s clearly tech talent emerging. BufferApp which enables users to easily schedule Tweets and Facebook posts to be posted at a later time, raised $400,000 seed funding from a host of UK and US angels just last year.
In addition, last year a new accelerator emerged out of the city. Oxygen Accelerator uncharacteristically set out to welcome startups from anywhere in the world, with a £200,000 fund to cover 9-10 teams a year, on simple equity terms. This was backed, unusually, by local entrepreneur Mark Hales, a man who had made his money in the private healthcare industry, but who was passionate about bringing startups to Central England.
The difference, he says, is that Oxygen is open to anyone worldwide
Last year it had had nine startups in the programme, this year’s crop has produced eight. And now it plans to open its own co-working space: Tech Tropicana, set beside one of the many canals that played a key part in the city’s industrial past.
“Last year many teams just turned up with a sheet of paper. This year most already have MVPs and some traction,” he tells me.
He says the startups are bringing great technology to the programme but “it’s often the case that the sort of support these startups need most isn’t just technical advise, it’s business advice. Sales and marketing is also a major area they benefit from. We learnt the hard way last year that many young entrepreneurs can’t really sell their product, whether it’s B2B or B2C. Being able to pitch is one thing, but being able to work out how to open doors is a big hurdle,” he says.
The startups coming out this year are many and varied. Let’s take a quick look at them.
• Hobzy.com is for hobbyists and crafters. Aiming at the market with a Pinterest interface, it’s closer to a Tumblr in that users can edit their own themes.
• Soshi Games is a social game maker in the Zynga hold, but is an online music festivals Facebook game. But it’s more than FarmVille for music festivals. It allows music rights holders to earn money and reach new customers. Users can preview tracks and purchase them. It has potential for selling the virtual goods in the game like a band’s branded virtual goods. Bands signed so far include Bullet For My Valentine and Bring Me The Horizon. Bands get a rev share off branded virtual goods, incentivising them, and it even produces its own music chart.
• WHISK we’ve covered before, but this is considered a hot ticket in the UK right now, allowing users to buy whole recipes from supermarkets in a one-click basket purchase. Everyone does recipe to shopping list but none does shopping list to supermarket, which is why this is pretty clever.
• CrowdControl allows brands with a lot of social profiles to check on how they are working. It could be linked to Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, but in the main is appeals to Public sector bodies such as Leeds’ City Council, which has 98 social media accounts to manage all at once.
• Bertie and Bean is a clever ‘club’ model for parents of young children to swap clothes via a pre-paid post bag. The tech aspect is the platform for the back-end for the peer-to-peer postage service. Not quite a ‘Birchbox for baby clothes’ but it is a £1.5B market.
• Poikos cleverly measures your body’s dimensions and potential fit for clothes via laptop’s webcam. Similar but potentially more advanced that competitor Upcload out of Berlin.
• Mynaweb.com is designed to be a superior, realtime, alternative to AB testing for web sites based on highly sophisticated algorithms. It’s open beta has been featured on Hacker News a couple of times.
• Lastly, a stealth-mode smartphone plans to allow retail customers to send money to merchants anywhere for free, disrupting banking charges.
This is just a flavour of companies that are emerging from Oxygen, and as Hales says Oxygen has become a lot more than something he intended to dabble in.
“It’s taken over my life,” he says, “but I’ve learnt an enormous amount.”
On this evidence, the city could be well-positioned. However, a big question hangs over whether it can produce startups which can attract capital and grow into viable businesses. On that reading, London startups in theory have greater access to the VCs of Mayfair and the global talent pool of London megapolis.
Then again, in its favour Birmingham has potentially costs and a better standard of living for its talent, outside the cost vortex that is London.
So far at least, Birmingham’s tech scene is not about to wait for high speed trains to arrive. It’s getting on with the job of building its own tech startup scene amid the clashing architecture of its industrial past, the 60s and the new century to come.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 02:36 AM PDT
Louise Mensch, the outspoken conservative member of UK parliament who launched topic-focused Twitter rival Menshn in June, this morning announced that she was stepping down from government so that she can relocate to New York to focus more on family life, and put more effort into her new startup in the lead-up to the U.S. presidential elections.
Update: Mensh co-founder Luke Bozier confirms to us that, in fact, the move will help the site build its profile in the U.S. as it gears up for a version 2 launch next week, including a mobile web site optimized for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. “Menshn will continue in force!” he wrote in an email exchange. “We hope to build stronger partnerships in America, which was always our primary goal in launching the platform. Luckily with digital companies, geography is less important, and so Louise’s move to New York isn’t going to hinder development at all.” [original story continues below]
Mensch last year married Peter Mensch, the manager of the band Metallica. She has three children from a previous marriage. The news was first broken by her local constituency newspaper, the Northamptonshire Telegraph, which cast the decision as being made primarily for family reasons, and only secondarily for entrepreneurial ones.
“I am completely devastated. It's been unbelievably difficult to manage family life,” Mensch told the newspaper.
But the mother-of-three, recently-married, startup-founder politico (oh yes, and author, too) is only turning her life down by one notch by taking out her MP role. Going to New York full-time will mean that she can also focus more on Menshn, the social networking site she founded along with ex-Labour digital strategist Luke Bozier. Since launching in June, initially only in the U.S., Menshn has picked up “just under 6,000 users” according to Bozier. Mensch is ”now expected to concentrate on building the popularity of the site,” the newspaper said.
Mensch had been expected to stay on in her role as MP until the next scheduled election in 2015.
Before launching Menshn, Louise Mensch had developed a loyal (and often fractious) following on Twitter, where she was outspoken, often taking a conservative view, on lots of hot-button political topics like the London riots last year. Last year, she played a central role in the high profile questioning of figures from News Corp that were getting questioned over the company’s role in hacking mobile phones to get stories — and again used Twitter to her advantage to fan the flames of that story.
She’s still very active on Twitter (over 100k followers; nearly 23k tweets) but, as she told TechCrunch in June, she also finds it frustrating for all the extra noise.
Hence the concept of Menshn, a topic-based social network in which all “menshn’s” are posted into topic categories. Similar to Twitter, updates have a character limit (180 in Menshn’s case). Instead of eggs for photo-less avatars, users get portraits or busts of famous political figures — a throwback to the original concept of the site to focus around political discussion, although these days that seems to have become somewhat nosier, with the topics list widened out to all sorts of other areas like Facebook, Mars, and celebs.
Posted: 06 Aug 2012 12:25 AM PDT
Many of us right now are wide-eyed with the latest images from NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars — so much so that, as Europe wakes up from its live-TV Olympics 100-meter sprint slumber, it looks like that site is occasionally crashing from traffic. Now, another, important idea is just starting to take shape: NASA needs money, big time, to keep doing cool stuff like this.
#fundNASA is picking up steam on Twitter with people (at least in theory) saying they would step up to crowdfund NASA for the future.
It turns out that at the moment, it’s cost about $7 per U.S. taxpayer to fund the project, less than 1% of the U.S.’s current military budget. Some are starting to suggest that they would pay a lot more, using a more immediate vehicle like Kickstarter to do it.
Wonderful coincidence, especially in light of all the Olympic fails, is that it apparently cost over five times as much money to put that show on as it did to get Curiosity on to Mars.
These are all just ideas at this point — not actual projects. But if you think about it, NASA is a perfect candidate for a Kickstarter.
Perhaps one of the most ambitious hardware/software projects to date, but it’s really lost the confidence of its original backers over the last few years as they have moved on to newer technologies and alleged problems to solve (a much argued point).
It’s a great idea, one that we should not see fall by the wayside. Ironically, a search for “NASA” on the site yielded one: a documentary from Jordan Lanham about the future of the space program that picked up $8,590 so that it could be made.
Come on, people, lets give Lanham a reason to delay filming. Someone in the U.S., start #fundNASA, now.
(And why don’t we make it a cross-border project? After all, Kickstarter’s going international soon.)
Posted: 05 Aug 2012 11:39 PM PDT
Everyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty obsessed with this website and the unique set of circumstances that brought it to where it is today, because I talk about it constantly.
In fact, if I ever write a book it will most likely be about TechCrunch, and the jumble of psychologies that went into its founding, rise to power, acquisition as well as its prevailing renaissance that I am very fortunate to be a part of — A renaissance that owes so much to the perseverance of my co-editor Eric Eldon and our young, badass team.
So when my neighbor and Revision3 co-founder David Prager, who just survived a pretty famous acquisition himself, asked me to come on his new show ‘Toasted Donut’ a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk even more about TechCrunch. So I went. And now that I’ve posted said interview onto TechCrunch, the circle is complete.
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