April 20, 2012 in News

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647,000 Comments Have Been Sent To The FCC About Net Neutrality. Keep Them Coming.

July 12, 2014 in News, TechCrunch

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.14.31 PM In just a few months, the FCC is expected to enact new rules that would allow (or, perhaps more accurately, fail to disallow) ISPs to provide “fast lanes” for companies who could afford to cough up the dough. When ISPs are able to decide which site’s data moves the fastest, competition becomes a matter of who is willing/able to spend the most. Big companies like Netflix,… Read More

What Should YC’s Sam Altman Do With These Bizarre Conway, Paul Graham Oil Paintings?

July 12, 2014 in News, TechCrunch

graham-conway The Conway painting was apparently a gift from Steve Jobs’ wife Laurene Powell Jobs and a YC applicant sent in the one of Paul Graham, according to Altman. I would say auction them off for charity. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington once coveted the Conway painting, calling it “an epic painting of the man.” Read More

Tim Draper’s event on marketing bitcoin offered few answers, and no Tim Draper

July 12, 2014 in News, Pando Daily

Believe in Bitcoin

Tim Draper is a mainstay of the Silicon Valley upper crust, a third generation VC in a culture that tends to revere successful tech investors as its proper intellectuals and propehts. Last week, Draper was revealed as the winning bidder in an auction of Bitcoin seized by Tommy Lee Jones and the boys over at the US Marshal’s Service from the Dread Pirate Roberts. The hoard obtained is valued at roughly $19 million, though the amount of Draper’s winning bid remains unknown.

Pando was on hand when Draper held a press event to announce his bid winning, and it was so much fun we decided to come back this week for the latest installment of the monthly Bitcoin panel hosted at Draper’s Hero City, an accelerator/co-working campus in downtown San Mateo, directly across the street from Draper University of Heroes, the entrepreneurship school (or, “school”) that Draper established in 2012.

The seminar series is titled “the State of Crypto”, and given Draper’s recent big buy and his longstanding plans to divide California into six separate states, I had high hopes going in that I was about to bear witness to some bold declarations about the future, untethered to droll common-consensus reality.

It being my first visit to the site, I was only encouraged in these hopes by the ostentation and  small-town majesty of Draper University of Heroes’ tower, festooned with colorful banners and the words “Draper University” wrapping around the facade a hundred feet above the pavement in man-sized, illuminated, capital letters. In the reception area at Hero City there sits an eviscerated half of a Tesla, complete with two wheels and functioning headlamps, that has been converted into a desk/workspace. There are (non-functional) phone booths scattered throughout the premises, and some innovative chairs in the glass-walled conference rooms overlooking the main floor.

In addition to my quest for insight into the future of Bitcoin, I added a second line of investigation, namely whether the man behind this showy brick-and-mortar display of self-esteem is:

A) an eccentric billionaire (as he was referred to by a University employee I chatted with)

B) a “free-spirited venture capitalist, aka “The Riskmaster” (as appears in the University press materials), or

C) a first-rate pretentious asshat (as common sense seems to suggest)?

I came armed with this quote by Thomas Piketty (being a bit of a pretentious asshat myself):

“Growth can create new forms of inequality: for example fortunes can be amassed very quickly in new sectors of economic activity. At the same time, however, growth makes inequalities of wealth inherited from the past less apparent, so that inherited wealth becomes less decisive.”

My intuition told me that Draper was a man at the crux of these two sentences, and I wanted to get a better sense of what that position looks like in 2014 Silicon Valley. Tim Draper’s father and his father’s father were both successful venture capitalists during earlier iterations of SV entrepreneurial eruption, and now his son Adam has taken up the family business as well, founding Boost VC, an accelerator headquartered at Hero City whose mission statement reads: “Conviction is profitable. Idols are mentors. Teams become family. Ideas change the world.” Boost plans to accelerate 100 Bitcoin companies by 2017. Adam Draper has been credited for convincing his dad that bitcoin is “a really big deal.” He also dreams of owning an Iron Man suit.

Unfortunately, neither Draper was in attendance on Wednesday night. The crowd of roughly thirty people was split pretty equally along familiar, generational lines – 20-something crypto-entrepreneurs and paternalistic investors who would nurture them.

The panel discussion itself was focused on bitcoin branding and marketing. It consisted of two marketing types who admitted during the Q & A portion that they really didn’t understand bitcoin and had almost no experience with it. Still, they had plenty of advice.

To overcome bitcoin’s “image problem” and encourage widespread adoption, would-be bitcoin heros should look into offering risk-free trials, avail themselves of the broadcast media rule of thumb of explaining things to mainstream audiences “in a way they can truly understand”, or roughly an 8th grade level. For inspiration, they should watch Steve Jobs’ keynote speeches. And, of course, they should use social media to get the word out. For example: “What if everyone here posted about their bitcoin activity to their Facebook and Twitter friends and followers? Imagine that. Any movement has to start somewhere.”

The Q&A and obligatory mingle session that followed the panel discussion was a bit headier.

Among my favorite slices of conversation were the provocatively styled comments of one perspective bitcoin investor who heralded the long-awaited dawn of an “American Renaissance”, and predicted that he would create a billion-dollar bitcoin company in the next 1000 days, and insisted that he “had a use case that will blow your mind, but I’m not going to say what it is.”

But all told, the event was short on the sorts of mind-blowing visions for the future that I’d hoped for. There was some reheated talk about global finance and dissatisfaction with the underlying principles of fiat currency, but little of it rose to meet the level of conversation current in the bitcoin sub-Reddit.

In spite of this, or because of it, the event did a fair job of representing the “State of Crypto.” A room filled with people who are building and funding companies around this emergent techno-currency, drawn from their code-holes and conference rooms to hear real-world marketing advice delivered by people who fundamentally lack an understanding of the space. Cryptocurrencies in general, and especially bitcoin, are novel, arcane technologies and many are catching up trying to wrap their heads around it. But more importantly, anyone with a truly powerful idea for making a business of it is playing extremely close to the chest, unwilling to risk sharing their vision in a crowd of hungry competitors.

It’s early days for bitcoin, but I’m not sure I agree that bitcoin has an “image problem.” Sure, the Silk Road publicity has tied early awareness and coverage to nefarious drugs and weapons marketplaces, but the situation is not all that different than the way porn and online sex attended the mass adoption of the internet twenty years ago. Bitcoin has a great brand, with its “founding-father” enigma, brash libertarian cred and voracious early adopter community.

That brand might not lend itself to well-worn marketing know-how, because its utility is not well demonstrated by the opportunity to earn rewards and get a cup of coffee or tickets to a sporting event. But that doesn’t mean bitcoin doesn’t inspire passion, as the froth anointing the corners of mouths in Wednesday’s crowd proved.

[Image via sofamax]

Moshi CEO insists he wasn’t forced to step down, admits “the web to mobile shift has been challenging.”

July 12, 2014 in News, Pando Daily

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 5.14.35 PM

Earlier today, Mind Candy founder, Michael “Mr Moshi” Acton Smith, posted a YouTube video announcing he was standing down as CEO of the company he founded back in 2003. At the same time, he rejected “bizarre rumors” that he was leaving the company altogether.

Instead he’ll be taking more of a creative role. “Mind Candy over the last few years has got a lot more complex,” he said. “We’ve gone from a one product company to multiple products to multiple studios [with] staff all around the world and the challenges have become a lot more complex…. I am self-aware enough to know I’m much better on the creative side of the business than the operations side — that probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has worked with me.”

I should make clear: I’m far from a dispassionate observer of the company. I’ve been friends with Acton Smith since… well… since he was just plain old Michael Smith. He was a major “character” in two of my books, including one memorable adventure where the two of us posed as hair stylists in order to get ourselves invited to  lecture at a San Diego hair school. Slightly less unprofessionally, I was the first reporter to profile Mind Candy’s first product, Perplex City, an elaborate alternate reality game for grown-ups, back in early 2005.

That strategy of focusing on adults almost tanked the young company, with investors rumored to have come within days of pulling the plug after Perplex City failed to gain traction. But then Acton Smith proposed retargetting the company’s puzzles to children, creating the equally elaborate Moshi universe.  The empire quickly grew to include trading cards, action figures, music albums and a movie. At one point it was rumored that one in three European children had a Moshi account.

In recent months, however, rumors have mounted that the company has again lost its way. In particular its browser-first strategy had caused the company’s growth to slow as more and more kids moved to mobile gaming.

Last week, the company finally made its first serious move into mobile, launching PopJam, a kid-friendly version of Instagram. Still, I’d heard from sources close to the company’s investors that there were serious doubts at board level about Acton Smith’s ability to steer such a large, international organization while what the company needed more than anything was his creative ideas on how to expand Mind Candy’s user base beyond Moshi Monsters.

For those reasons, today’s move — with Acton Smith stepping down from a day to day operations role and instead spending more time with his notebooks, plotting the creative future of Mind Candy — makes a lot of sense. The question is did he jump or was he pushed?

He insists it was the former.

“I can see how this might look a little unusual,” he admitted by email. “But it was my decision after some deep thinking and consultation with the management team.  As the business has grown and become more complex I’ve moved further and further away from the creative side that I love.  I want to spin up new characters, stories and brands.”

He confirms he’ll become “Chief Creative Officer” and remain on the board and senior management team. He will also remain the face of the company.

“I’ve loved being CEO but there are definitely CEOs out there with more suitable skills for the current phase of the journey we’re on,” he added.

Saul Klein from Index Ventures, a Moshi investor and board member, told me that “the board is totally behind [Acton Smith] and [president] Divinia [Knowles] wanting to get support to take company to next level.” He added that he thinks “it’s actually an amazing move and symptomatic of his ambition, emotional intelligence and desire to create an enormous business…. [The] kind of thinking only seen normally in the Valley.”

Which, of course, is exactly what he would say. Still, I haven’t been able to find anyone who said, on or off the record, that this wasn’t ultimately Acton Smith’s decision, albeit one with enthusiastic board support.

For Acton Smith, this is certainly an opportunity he relishes. His enthusiasm at getting back into the creative space is impossible to hide. As is his determination to crack the company’s mobile problem:

Moshi was a phenomenon in the web era but kids have rapidly switched to mobile and we’ve yet to crack it.  We’ve launched multiple Moshi apps and while they get great reviews and good downloads, they don’t make enough money to justify their development costs.

Creating commercially successful mobile games for kids is extremely tough and I can’t think of any company that has cracked it.  It’s an industry wide problem.

These challenges in mobile gaming are one of the factors that has driven our strategy to become a family entertainment company rather than just kids entertainment.  Warriors is our first new brand that we’re hoping will appeal to a much wider audience (it’s Game of Thrones meets Pokemon)

The web to mobile shift has definitely been challenging for Mind Candy but we’ve been developing a lot of new products and are very optimistic about the future.

Here’s Acton Smith’s video announcing he is stepping down:

Paul Carr

Paul Carr is editorial director of Pando. Previously he was founder and editor in chief of NSFWCORP.

Lyft Will Not Launch In New York Today, Company Says It Will Work With Taxi Commission

July 12, 2014 in News, TechCrunch

lyft New Yorkers hoping to catch a ride with Lyft today are out of luck. The company said via email and on its blog that it’s putting off its NYC launch. Lyft had announced launch plans for Brooklyn and Queens earlier this week, and it said yesterday that it would move forward with those plans despite the fact that the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission said the service did not… Read More

“For nerds, by nerds”: Fresh off $4.9M Series A, Spark CEO reflects on the IoT’s growing pains

July 12, 2014 in News, Pando Daily


I had to miss my call with Spark Labs CEO and founder Zach Supalla earlier in the week, regrettably so. By this time, the news of the “wifi for everything” company $4.9 million Series A is already out.

But I was no less curious to chat with Supalla post-news, as that the Internet of Things space remains is a frustrating one, with a lot of promise, a lot of unjustified hype, a lot of doomed gadgets, and a lot of thoughtless innovation. A single funding round is only a small piece of changing that. Having first connected with Supalla at this year’s Maker Faire, I knew that he’s an interesting thinker on these subjects.  Maybe he could talk some hope into me.

Spark’s latest funding round included Lion Wells Capital, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, SOSventures and Collaborative Fund, alongside the launch of a new operating system to pair with its chips and expand out its reach. This after the company announced its arrival into the Internet of Things sector with a $567,968 Kickstarter haul one month ago.

“If you look at our first pitch deck, there is a page from 2012 that describes exactly this,” Supalla says. “I went back and looked at it and thought, ‘nice.’ I’ve stayed true to the plan.”

For a company that bills itself as “wifi for everything” it seems to me that at a consumer level at least, the opposite is fated; companies are locked into a doomed quest to throw chips into products and devices for seemingly little reason, left to work out through trial and error what consumers will actually want.

“I think that a lot of things are going to end up connected,” Supalla says. “But most of the action is going to happen in a non-consumer context. It’ll happen in a way that we don’t actually feel. You don’t notice when your power plants puts in place telematics for more efficient power generation, but that has a real impact on the world. Ten years from now, everything is going to have a sensor in it outside of your home, that you’re not going to be aware of.”

It’s for these reasons, that Supalla says Spark is an enterprise product for new hardware entrepreneurs. Eventually, he wants the company to be able to take care of “98 percent” of the technical challenges of making connected products, leaving its customers to just slap their company logo on the results.

Supalla doesn’t rule out more consumer-facing options. It’s just that the consumer side of all of this is still so nascent, so early and unformed.

“We’re still in the Commodore 64 days of the IoT,” he says, referencing the earliest of PCs. “I think people are pushing so many things out, but it’s a rare exception when things are actually awesome. People are building more things that are stupid than they are useful. I still like this part though.”

It’s going to take a few years, but companies will probably get past the obsession with putting wifi to pointless products just because others are. It’s a future that Supalla hopes will look a little more like the 2014 hit movie “Her” and little bit less like 2002′ dystopian “Minority Report.”

“Less flashy, gizmo crazy, and sci-fi techy, and more like they connect it and get out of your way,” he says. “Lights will be connected not because they can put a button on your phone, they turn on because they know when the sun goes down and.”

Her is an interesting example, I counter. Everyone in the movie is isolated from the world by their technology. Wouldn’t the idealized version of the Internet of Things be a world where, with everything connected and able to do things for us, we’re freed up to spend less time online?

“I’d like to think so, that if all of this stuff was happening automatically we’d have fewer compelling reasons to put an iPhone up in front of our face,” Supalla concedes. “It’s about responsiveness. When we started working on this, our team talked a lot about how the world should respond to you. It’s not about just connectivity.”

The missing piece of the puzzle in trying to move past the early adopter syndrome plaguing Internet of Things products is making the use of these new products frictionless, integrating these experiences into our lives seamlessly rather than adding in more work just for the payoff of a bit of “wow” factor. Supalla says that a lot of what he sees now is things that are created by engineers, “for men by men and for nerds, by nerds.,” adding, “It’s tech forward, not market back.”

Supalla thinks it’s the Steve Jobs-type touch effect that’s still missing. IoT innovators must look past the practical aspects and the technological wizardry of a product into creating products that fit into people’s lives in real and powerful ways. Not that he’s comparing himself to Jobs. He sees that the need for a company like Spark, is akin to the draw of an Amazon Web Services, an impartial infrastructure provider, helping to make IoT dreams come to life without taking sides.

Of course, it’s early for Spark, as it’s early for the IoT sector in general. The company is going to have to learn to compete against bigger and bigger fish as everyone from Nest and SmartThings starts in on a similar platform play. But having shifted the company’s base from Minnesota to San Francisco before this week’s funding news, and in the process of expanding out the Spark team by 25, Supalla shows no sign of conceding ground.

James Robinson

James Robinson is a staff writer for PandoDaily covering hardware, advertising technology and the Internet of Things... among many other general goings on. Follow him on Twitter: @jalrobinson

LastPass Finds Security Holes In Its Online Password Manager, Doesn’t Think Anyone Exploited Them

July 11, 2014 in News, TechCrunch

pass When you’re in charge of keeping many hundreds of thousands of passwords under lock and key, trust is everything. Maintaining that trust means fessing up when things go wrong — even if it’s something you don’t think affected your users. Read More

Landscape Mobile Launches Sight, Raises Seed Round To Visually Archive Articles

July 11, 2014 in News, TechCrunch

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.27.42 PM The good folks at the new Beijing and San Francisco-based startup Landscape Mobile have launched Sight today, an app that makes it easier to organize articles on mobile devices. Copying and pasting on mobile devices is a huge pain in the caboose, and Sight solves that problem by allowing users to take a screen shot of whatever they’re reading through the Sight app (available on iOS… Read More

Skip ESPN and Yahoo for Fantasy Football This Year: Go Dumpster Fire

July 11, 2014 in News, TechCocktail

Summer is almost halfway over, but don’t let that darker your spirits my friends. We still have plenty of sunshine, beaches, and great movies to come. And if you’re like me, the end of summer isn’t really disappointing because the fall has an abundant well of pleasures in and of itself.

In fact, I don’t think fall lasts long enough. That’s because the NFL season seems to start and end with the blink of an eye, and with it goes one of the most fun aspects of the year: fantasy football. We’ll see the Atlanta Falcons on Hard Knocks (although it should have been the Rams) and news coverage about how Peyton will redeem himself from last year’s super bowl, but most importantly we’ll draft a season winning fantasy team (after all, how many years can you lose in a row?).

Of course, everybody will run towards ESPN and Yahoo to start their league, but this year make sure to look before you leap. ESPN and Yahoo aren’t the only people in the fantasy football market anymore; Ryan Cormier has started the Dumpster Fire fantasy football platform because he wanted something different.

“We sport a simple design and interface with a modern, clean, and pleasing look,” says Cormier. “Clean design and lots of content don’t go hand in hand.”

It’s blatantly obvious to Cormier that he can’t compete with the likes of ESPN and Yahoo on the content side of things, so he’s focusing purely on gameplay. The UI is elegant, intuitive, and most importantly, functional.

“We didn’t take design inspiration from ESPN or Yahoo, but what we did do was take some functionality inspiration,” explains Cormier. “We really wanted to not re-invent the wheel here. Rather, we just looked at websites in general we thought were sexy, like social media sites.”

The question, though, is how you compete with these media giants. For starters, you could give new users the opportunity to win money every week. Any given week a Dumpster Fire user in a paid league with the highest score across the site is cut a $100 check.

The Dumpster Fire team has seen users in the $25 dollar league who got paid $300 in scores alone. Step two is letting the commissioners play completely for free regardless of if they’re playing for money or not.

“This helps eliminate people who tend to get down on themselves,” says Cormier. “Even if you’re 2 and 14, you still have a motivation to set a lineup because you can win that $100 – it keeps it way more competitive in the paid leagues”

When it comes to users switching platforms, Cormier is certain roll out the red carpet for his new Dumpster Fire users. You see, regardless of how big ESPN and Yahoo are, they’re not super great at making users feel like they’re really cared about.

Dumpster Fire goes the extra mile to make sure all their users are taken care of and enjoying the platform. Their initial development team, based out of India, were actually converted from NFL-haters to NFL-lovers because of Cormier, his team, and the personal touch on the platform.

How did they accomplish that? It’s simple – they inspired fun via a personal, human touch.

“We cleave to one philosophy: let’s just have a fun time playing fantasy football,” says Cormier.

Personally, I’ll be in multiple fantasy football leagues this fall, but guaranteed one of them will be on Dumpster Fire.







Instagram Direct Isn’t Dead, The Messaging Feature Has 45 Million Users

July 11, 2014 in News, TechCrunch

Instagram Direct Inbox Seven months after launching Instagram Direct, 45 million of Instagram’s 200 million users are actively sending or opening Direct messages, the company tells me. This 23% monthly usage rate indicates Direct is far from stillborn. While I haven’t seen or heard of many friends using the ephemeral private sharing channel, it may be quietly gaining steam with those who use Instagram… Read More