NEWS . ENTERTAINMENT . FUN

Month: December 2017

What were your best nine Instagram photos from 2017?

What were your best nine Instagram photos from 2017?

You might have noticed a new end-of-year trend on Instagram the past few days. If so, you can thank 2017bestnine.com, a website that lets you automatically collect and collage your most-liked photos of 2017. Best Nine has been around for a while, so many of […]

Voice interfaces beginning to find their way into business

Voice interfaces beginning to find their way into business

Imagine attending a business meeting with an Amazon Echo (or any voice-driven device) sitting on the conference table. A question arises about the month’s sales numbers in the Southeast region. Instead of opening a laptop, opening a program like Excel and finding the numbers, you […]

Twitter ended the year on a fascinating run

Twitter ended the year on a fascinating run



It’s been pretty easy to point at Twitter and, with each quarterly moment when it discloses its financial guts, let out a long exasperated sigh.

Twitter since going public at a now in retrospect astounding valuation has for much of its public life been quite the disappointment to Wall Street. But then something interesting happened in the back half of 2017: it went on a rather spectacular run, and though ending on a bit of a slump, it looks like it could finish the year up more than 25 percent — which, by Twitter terms, is pretty good.

Much of that is thanks to a (finally) good report in October this year and a blessing from a Wall Street firm, but we could potentially chalk up getting to those events to some actual things Twitter has done. The product updates haven’t been absolutely transformative (like the earth-shattering bump to a 280-character limit per tweet), but since the introduction of the algorithmic timeline last year, it would seem that Twitter is getting slightly less allergic to changes to its core product — even if it alienates part of its very loud user base.

Twitter has also seemingly begun taking more action when it comes to enforcing new rules around harassment and abuse, a problem that has been hounding the company for years and is even more visible this year. Earlier this month it said it would begin enforcing new rules around how it handles hateful conduct and abusive behavior. Twitter’s strategy here has been often opaque, and while it’ll take a while to reach some kind of middle ground, it’s actually doing stuff.

And doing stuff, it seems, is currently enough for Twitter to figure out how to get a nice up-and-to-the-right-ish chart like this one:

While these stocks — especially volatile ones — will swing often, sometimes the general idea is to try to gauge the future potential of the company. For Twitter, that means it’s going to have to figure out a way to re-ignite growth and get users coming back and using the platform. It has some very deep core issues, and sometimes seems to flip-flop on its own actions and have troubles communicating. But if Twitter is somehow able to right this ship, it may have an opportunity to get that growth engine moving again.

Most executives will probably give the boilerplate “we are committed to delivering long-term value for shareholders” argument for stock swings in the near term, but those swings are really significant for the company. It’s the closest thing to a near-term public barometer for the company’s success, which means it does a lot for employee morale. And it also can be significant for attracting talent, as the company may need to offer more generous compensation packages to rip people away from companies that are high-growth or well-established.

Twitter, going forward, it appears, needs to keep doing stuff. It’s made a lot of moves in the video space in addition to building business tools — like a video-centric ad format. And it certainly has done that to some extent, trying to extend its pitch as a real-time communications platform to video. It needs to continue cracking down on harassment and abuse if it’s going to attract new, more casual users. It needs to keep making tweaks to its products even under the risk of alienating some of its users to make it more user-friendly. In short, there’s a lot of stuff to be done.

What’s arguably the richest part of this whole story, however, is that Twitter now has roughly the same market cap as Snap following its back-of-the-year run. Hovering at around $18 billion, it’s the tale of two runs here: Twitter found some way to turn its story around, and Snap is still having some pretty dramatic issues telling its story to Wall Street. Both have the specter of user growth over them, but somehow Twitter has been able to at least throw a rock in the opposite direction to get the attention of investors temporarily.

Will Twitter get its wish of finally escaping the MAU? Probably not. But for now, it looks like Dorsey and the rest of them have figured out at least some small way to sell the promise of Twitter to Wall Street and get them on board for the time being.

Featured Image: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg/Getty Images



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It’s the Jons 2017! | TechCrunch

It’s the Jons 2017! | TechCrunch

Happy New Year! It’s been a transformational year in tech. The golden era of startups ended. Sorry about that. The tech industry finally rolled over a big rock it had ignored and/or leaned on for years, and exposed the squirming morass of sexual harassment beneath. […]

These apps will help you keep your New Year’s resolutions

These apps will help you keep your New Year’s resolutions

Almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Far fewer stick to them. “Losing weight” and “exercising more” are among the most popular goals. A sizeable percentage of Americans also aim to “be a better person.” TechCrunch reviewed apps that are designed to help people stay […]

The food revolution may have just needed a cup of Blue Bottle

The food revolution may have just needed a cup of Blue Bottle



Each massive exit in the tech ecosystem usually follows the same cycle: an upstart becomes a huge business, it goes public or sells for a huge sum of money, many of the best people that built it take off and then they use their newfound wealth to start companies.

But in addition to tech, the venture community has its own pet project: coffee. With investors pouring money into companies like Blue Bottle Coffee, La Colombe and Philz, you’d probably think it’s still a pet project. Then, earlier this year, Nestlé acquired a majority stake in Blue Bottle at a valuation north of $700 million. And with that kind of an exit for a coffee startup, we’ll now test the ecosystem to see if we’ll see whether a diaspora of a class of coffee graduates will jump into the startup ecosystem themselves.

“If you view the startup ecosystem as a garden, this is a really good, healthy thing,” Collaborative Fund founder Craig Shapiro said. “Now there’s gonna be a bunch of new seeds put into the soil. There’s liquidity for all those employees and the founders who are each gonna be active in starting something new and trying something new. Maybe five years from now you and I could be talking about the Blue Bottle Mafia.”

There’s already been an array of startups that are looking to do things like make plant burgers like Impossible Foods, which raised $75 million earlier this year led by Temasek. There are also synthetic meat startups like Memphis Meats, which raised $17 million in financing from people like Bill Gates (whose name seems to come up a lot here) and Richard Branson, as well as DFJ. So the food ecosystem is not necessarily a new one. But despite a lot of venture funding flowing into this area, there doesn’t seem to have been a splashy exit in Silicon Valley’s pet project.

While it was a pet project, coffee may have made the most sense for a lot of funds like those putting money into coffee to test the waters. The operating margins aren’t bad, it’s a bit of a trendy pick and coffee may be a bit of a habit in addition to a consumer experience. Whether it’s selling and delivering roasted beans or having a shop on the way to work, coffee is a recurring experience, and there’s probably some internal metric somewhere of weekly active re-roasters or something like that. Silicon Valley loves that kind of recurring revenue model, should it actually take off.

Here’s a look at Starbucks’ operating margins for the past fiscal year, for example:

So, not really bad. But if you look at the company’s stock price, it’s had a bit of a middling year. Despite that, Starbucks still has a market cap of more than $80 billion:

I’ve made the not-so-much-of-a-joke suggestion that Amazon should buy a coffee startup. The company spent more than $13.7 billion acquiring Whole Foods, and there’s an opportunity for a brand match with Amazon and a true trendy coffee brand like Philz. And the market opportunity, as we’ve seen with the case of Starbucks, is actually quite big. Were a startup (or Amazon) to open a coffee shop across from even a fraction of each Starbucks store and try to sell a better coffee experience than that get-in-get-out-with-your-latte consumer behavior, and then sell at a slight premium, that already offers a pretty significant opportunity. And if you’ve ever been to a Blue Bottle, you’ll see that attempt at whatever an Apple Store experience looks like in coffee form is seemingly the goal.

Consumer packaged goods companies, or CPG for short, are already looking for different avenues to pick up brands that have some strong consumer affinity. Coca-Cola, for example, bought the Topo Chico — a superb sparkling water startup that’s very popular in Texas — earlier this year (thanks for spoiling that, NYT). These kinds of product-focused companies with strong consumer brands are clearly wildly valuable to larger food and beverage companies, and all this M&A activity will surely catch the eye of investors.

Shapiro argues there will be a lot of interest in clean-ingredient movements beyond just the noise happening around plant-based foods. Bigger food and beverage companies have challenges changing their procurement strategies, Shapiro said, so it could indeed make sense to pick up a startup or smaller company that is already a self-contained operating unit. He pointed to RXBar, which Kellogg acquired for $600 million earlier this year.

“I think between new funds focused on this as well as existing funds that are now paying attention to it, I think we’re gonna see significant investment and orders of magnitude more than what most people anticipate,” he said.

A splashy exit like this will probably catch the attention of investors and potential entrepreneurs with experience in the CPG space. CircleUp, for example, raised a $125 million fund to invest in consumer products earlier this year. What we’ll have to see is if an exit like Blue Bottle actually provided the liquidity investors and founders or early employees needed to get started on their own companies — but at the very least, it looks like the spark may soon evolve into a flame.

Featured Image: Richard Levine/Corbis/Getty Images



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Hyperscale data centers reached over 390 worldwide in 2017

Hyperscale data centers reached over 390 worldwide in 2017

Hyperscale operators are defined as enormous companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google that need to provide computing on a massive scale. You would think that there would be a limited number of this type of highly specialized data center, but recent research from Synergy […]

Watch the second half of Bubbleproof’s first season

Watch the second half of Bubbleproof’s first season

 We’re excited to be premiering a new mockumentary series about the startup world called Bubbleproof. You can watch the second half of the first season right here. On Google AMP? Click here for a better view. If you missed the first four episodes, you can […]

How a simple tech upgrade at the IRS could transform the economy

How a simple tech upgrade at the IRS could transform the economy



Our credit system runs on the power of data. A simple IT upgrade at the IRS would put more of this power in your hands.

When you apply for credit, such as a loan, credit card or mortgage, you essentially ask a lender to evaluate your financial picture to make an informed decision about your approval, rate and terms. Right now, the information that lenders use primarily comes from two sources: you (the applicant) and private credit bureaus that keep track of things like your payment record to your current and past creditors.

This system is imperfect for a variety of reasons. It frequently leaves lenders with gaps and distortions in assessing your creditworthiness. Critical information that could make the picture clearer can’t be accessed at the speed our modern economy moves. Notably, this includes detailed, verified, multi-year financial data from your tax return, which can prove facts such as the applicant’s steady income. It’s held back by outdated technology at the Internal Revenue Service.

New legislation would change this. The IRS Data Verification Modernization Act of 2017, recently introduced in Congress by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), would set up an application programming interface (API) at the IRS.

This API would turn a cumbersome, manual process into an automated one. An API would allow the agency to provide your transcripts the instant you give your authorization. Credit providers would then have more information to make better decisions about your approval and rate. This could cut financial fraud and improve credit prices, speed and access for everyone.

Here’s how it would work

Right now, you can file what’s called a 4506-T form with the IRS. This form gives the IRS permission to send summarized transcripts of your tax returns to a third party, like a lender. It might take weeks to provide the information. It can happen quicker, but often only if you can afford to pay a private expeditor to speed things up. Lenders use these transcripts to confirm the details of your application, but it’s usually too late to factor them into your approval or rate in the first place.

Current technology makes this unnecessary. An API is essentially a specification that allows one program to request data from another one, securely and in real time. If you’re reading this article, or if you’ve ever used Facebook or gotten directions on your phone, you can thank an API. They’re commonplace — already enjoying widespread adoption and usage across the internet and our financial system.

Like the U.K. and the EU, the United States is seeing a digital transformation across its financial services industry.

 

Setting up the API that the legislation calls for would have huge results. For example, you could get a better rate on a mortgage because your lender could have instant access to more information to price your loan more accurately. If you were teetering on the edge of a bad credit score, it could mean getting a loan when you otherwise wouldn’t.

Leveling the playing field would be especially helpful for small businesses. It’s common for entrepreneurs to run a large balance on personal credit cards to get their business going, leading to a lower credit score. If they seek a business loan to consolidate this debt or grow their companies, they have trouble getting anything but the worst terms. A 4506-T API would mean the credit provider could consider more comprehensive financial data. They could see, for instance, that an applicant has been growing steadily and maintaining a stable profit margin.

Similar models across the Atlantic

The API proposed by Rep. McHenry and Sen. Booker is just the start. Other places around the world are beginning to adopt more comprehensive initiatives that expand access to financial data through innovation.

For example, by early next year, the United Kingdom will implement its Open Banking measures, which will enable people and small businesses to share their transactional-level current account data securely between banks and third parties through an API. This will transform the borrowing process by making credit assessment faster and more efficient, and reduce the likelihood of fraud, among other benefits.

This is in addition to the business data already available through Companies House, which serves as a central national repository that anyone can access for business information, including financial statements. Today, credit providers rely on this information, along with other data, to assess applications. In fact, the U.K. has had a public register of companies since 1844, but we have nothing comparable in the United States on a national level.

The European Union is instituting its own data access framework with the revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which requires banks to open up APIs by 2018 to give third-party providers access to their customers’ accounts. The directive aims to drive increased innovation, transparency and competition in payments and other financial services.

Like the U.K. and the EU, the United States is seeing a digital transformation across its financial services industry. People and businesses are seeking new options, enabled by technology, for making payments, getting loans, managing their budgets and more. But unlike our neighbors, we have no plan for getting our financial data, which these new services depend on, out of its current chokehold.

Setting up a 4506-T API at the IRS does not require legislation. But the IRS has been unable or unwilling to make it a priority to date, and, in fact, a similar measure in the previous Congress failed to garner enough support to pass.

It’s encouraging to see the bipartisan support this current bill has received so far in both houses of Congress. As our economy speeds ahead, we must ensure that this important tech update does not get left by the wayside.

Featured Image: ronfromyork/Shutterstock



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Automating your life on this week’s episode of CTRL+T

Automating your life on this week’s episode of CTRL+T

People are lazy. Well, let me speak for myself. I am lazy. So it’s no wonder why on this week’s episode of CTRL+T, I was drawn to some news items that touched on home assistants and personal assistants for when you’re out in the wild. […]