It’s that time of the year again for us nerds to infiltrate Sand Hill Road, let loose, and enjoy some good food and libations. We’ve been hosting the TechCrunch summer party with VC firm August Capital since 2006. This year, as in years past, we’ll be partying on August Capital’s beautiful, sunny Sand Hill balcony on Friday, July 26. The party starts at 5:30 p.m. and goes til 9:00 p.m.
TechCrunch parties have a history of being the place you want to meet your future investor, acquirer or co-founder. Case in point, back when TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington used to hold these ragers in his Atherton back yard; Box founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith met one of their first investors, DFJ. In 2010, we spotted 500 Startups’ Dave McClure writing a check to then stealthy startup Tello (which was recently bought by Urban Airship in December) at the August Capital party.
Hope to see you all there this year!!
About the 8th Annual Summer Party at August Capital
July 26, 5:30 – 9:00 pm
2480 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park CA 94025
Get Tickets here, $ 80 based on availability. Tickets will be released in batches. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for releases as they sell out quickly.
It’s common wisdom that missing a workout session makes it harder to get back to it the next day, but the New York Times points out that it’s not as cut-and-dry as simple motivation. A number of other factors show how important consistency is when sticking to a workout. More »
What better way for an anti-social app to get noticed than by insulting its target audience? London-based app design studio ustwo has just put up a pair of billboards in the hipster heartland of Shoreditch, East London, a stone’s throw from where its own studio is based, which brazenly proclaim: You have no friends and No one likes you.
The billboards, which will be teasing Shoreditch’s hipsters for two weeks, are an experimental ad campaign for one of ustwo’s recent apps: random photo-sharing app Rando, which launched back in March on iOS. Rando has now also been rolled out on to Android and Windows Phone. Last month ustwo said the app had racked up a full five million of its entirely social-less random photo shares after around two months in the wild.
So what’s with the anti-social insults? Rando’s schtick is that it eschews all the usual social paraphernalia developers typically embed in their apps. There’s no Facebook sign-in, zero social sharing options at all, no comments, no likes, no favourites, no followers/followees. There’s also no way to tell who gets the photos you share/receive, beyond a general location. It’s deliberately — liberatingly — stripped of context.
Turning to a fixed-location, paper-based advertising medium may seem pretty old school but Silicon Valley has long had a bit of a thing with billboards. ustwo’s Matt Miller tells TechCrunch that’s certainly one reason he was keen to experiment with papering giant fliers atop one of Shoreditch’s busier junctions. “I’ve always been interested in billboards since flying out to San Fran in 2012. I remember during a taxi journey over there, being really impressed with the billboards and thinking to myself how I’d love to see our work pushed that way back home,” he says.
The cost of the Rando billboard campaign is “around the same amount it would cost us to develop a small app”, according to Mills. But it’s the only paid marketing ustwo intends to do for Rando — relying instead on “the virality of the concept” to keep it travelling, which, ironically enough, has led to plenty of organic chatter on social sites like Twitter and Instagram.
TechCrunch » Social
Ebay is generally credited with being the first company to bring auctions — a system that, for nearly 2,500 years, had exclusively taken place live in noisy, public (and offline) forums — into the Digital Era. But, today, in spite of the fact that eCommerce has become a thriving global industry, with online marketplaces collectively topping $ 1 trillion in sales last year, one market in particular has managed to resist the disruptive influence of technology and online commerce: The grand old world of fine art.
Not to be deterred, a handful of startups have emerged in recent years behind a shared goal of leveraging eBay’s online auction model to bring some automation and democratization to the staunchly brick-and-mortar industry. The efforts of three young companies in particular, the New York-based Paddle8, Berlin’s Auctionata and India’s Saffronart have begun to find some support, both from insiders and investors.
To wit: Last week, a number of well-known names in the fashion and art worlds put their through their support behind Paddle8, an online auction house founded in the summer of 2011 that aims to connect buyers and sellers of art through both monthly themed auctions and benefit auctions, which allow non-profits and foundations to hold events online.
Damien Hirst, the controversial, English pop artist, Alexander von Furstenberg, the son of prominent fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, along with members of the Mellon family were among those to contribute to the startup’s latest investment. The $ 6 million round follows on the heels of a $ 4 million Series A last year, both of which were led by Founder Collective and Mousse Partners.
Part of the interest in Paddle8 is its mission to become the online destination for beginners and wily veterans alike. It wants to walk the line between stuffy and accessible, allowing the public to access and buy legit, curated works and find insider opinions from the influential figures who participate as guest curators for its auctions.
There’s also the fact that, as Semil Shah wrote when he interviewed co-founder Aditya Julka earlier this year, it’s not easy to build a viable online marketplace in a complex and opaque industry like the one that has grown up around fine art over the decades. Artists, gallery owners and collectors are very particular about the process by which pieces of art move between each party involved in the transaction (understandably, given the amount of money that may be exchanging hands) and what kind of re-sale options are involved.
As Semil points out, a virtual auction house, if done right, can solve problems which have traditionally deterred some art holders from working with offline auction houses. For example, if an owner ends up selling art back to the gallery after buying it at an auction, they’re likely going to take a significant hit in doing so. Not to mention the fact that many auction houses (online and off) typically price out a big chunk of the market, limiting auctions to items over $ 100K.
Paddle8 aims to deal with these industry-specific issues by catering to the “lower, higher end” of the market, offering auctions on items up to $ 100K and setting durations at a fairly lengthy two weeks. In saying “lower, higher end,” we mean that it’s not quite the affordable, accessible-to-everyone end of the market startups like Zazzle and Art.com cater to; however, it still opens it up to a larger audience than those upstream, while maintaining an air of “legitimacy” for serious buyers and sellers.
For galleries and gallery owners, the startup offers a set of services which allow them to run their back-ends via its platform, including a dashboard for inventory and transactional management and the ability to ship, install and insure artworks without placing limits on time and geography, as we wrote last year.
The key to building a successful marketplace and business in a niche industry like this (and really any other, for that matter) is that you have to know, and respect, your audience. Even if they’re a little bit eccentric — or snobby. Paddle8 also gives galleries, art fairs and museums a POS transaction platform and, going forward, it wants to offer them private, virtual rooms to display artworks to potential buyers — rather than having to attach a .JPEG to an email, which is the way things usually work — along with the ability to auction works outside of their exhibition. The company also attempts to appeal to art sellers by taking a 6 percent commission from sellers, while charging buyers 12 percent.
The startup also keeps all records and prices involved in auctions private, meaning that it doesn’t disclose details of whether or not a piece of art sold, didn’t sell, or sold for less than the asking price. For artists or owners, this can be a fairly attractive policy in an industry that’s all about your reputation and show — taking a hit or failing to sell might have insiders turning up their nose at you the next time around.
Of course, Paddle8 isn’t the only one that sees opportunity in a digital marketplace for fine art. Founded last year, Auctionata shares a somewhat similar vision in that it wants to peel back some of the frumpy layers of the art world by making the international art market more accessible to the general public. In a slightly different approach than Paddle8, however, the Berlin-based startup is going directly after the big names in the old world of auctions, like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
It’s doing this by attempting to re-define the familiar, live format by hosting auctions every Friday from its own TV studio. Basically, it’s going for the 100-percent-online, streaming media version of Sotheby’s. Auctionata also offers evaluation, appraisal, authentication and marketing services — along with some of the logistical tools in Paddle8′s arsenal. However, unlike Paddle8, where the average artwork sells for about $ 10K, Auctionata is going after the high-end. In April, it auctioned off a painting that a had a starting price of $ 1.5 million, for example.
Having grown to 110 employees over the last 12 months and looking to expand further to go full bore after this market, Auctionata recently raised some of its own outside capital. In April, the startup landed $ 20 million from Earlybird Venture Capital, Bright Capital and Kite Ventures, among others, bringing its total investment to $ 23 million.
With its new capital, Auctionata wants to continue hiring and build a bigger, 5,000-foot studio in New York, and expects to hit $ 20 million in revenue this year, according to Crain’s.
Meanwhile, with Paddle8 busy attacking the fine art market in the U.S. and Auctionata moving across Europe, a company called Saffronart has been busy applying the eBay-for-fine-art model to its home market in India. In fact, the company, which has been around in various incarnations for over a decade and has raised over $ 12 million from Sequoia and others, now claims to be the “largest fine-art auction house in India, online or otherwise, and one of the largest online fine art auction platforms in the world.”
For most of that time, Saffronart was almost exclusively focused on the Indian market (and Indian art) and while it’s sticking with what’s working, it, too, has been looking to expand its scope and started selling Western art for the first time last year.
Whether or not this world seems too niche to get overly excited about, these startups are finding an eager audience, especially toward the lower-end of the market. The musty air of the fine art market is in sore need of some fresh tools that can make its goods and services more accessible, and whether or not we find it all a little high-falutin’, for these three companies (among others), the approach seems to be (quietly) paying off.
TechCrunch » Social
With an aim to arrest Indian rupee slide by boosting forex inflows, RBI on Tuesday raised the limit for online repatriation of export proceeds by over three-fold to $ 10,000 and made it mandatory for units in Special Economic Zones to repatriate full value of exports within 12 months.
Telemarketing spammers bothering you? Clingy exes calling in the middle of the night? iOS 7 will let you block calls from specific numbers to save your sanity. Rather than allow third-party developers to modify the native Phone app like on Android, Apple has chosen to offer this feature itself.
Apple mentioned the new privacy option in its WWDC keynote rundown of what’s new in iOS 7, and detailed in a press release that this fall the update to its mobile operating system includes, “Phone, FaceTime and Messages blocking to prevent specific people from being able to contact you.”
Yesterday I wondered if Apple might finally open up some more flexibility to iOS developers and allow them to provide this kind of functionality. Android lets apps like Mr Number and many others let you block specific numbers or entire area codes, instantly hang up on them, or automatically send them to voicemail. Call and text blocking builds on the iOS Do Not Disturb feature you can schedule to block calls and messages from all numbers except certain favorites or groups.
As a gauge of just how popular this capability could be in iOS, Mr Number had racked up over seven million downloads before being acquired by WhitePages a week ago. Perhaps it suspected that call blocking would go native in iOS, denying its potential there, and feared the same would happen on Android.
It’s hard to assess how valuable call and text blocking is unless you’ve ever had a stalker or bully. To those who have, the feature can make or break their mobile experience.
Getting woken up or interrupted by unwanted communication can feel like a deep invasion of privacy, and make people scared or angry every time their phone buzzes. It lets people fight back against drunk dials from old boyfriends or girlfriends, creepy strangers, and disrespectful marketers breaking their workflow.
With any luck, Apple will evolve the feature with more granularity over time. Putting communication devices in our pockets that anyone can reach with the right string of digits forced us to surrender control of our attention. Call and text blocking for iOS will put that control back in the hands of millions of people.
Here’s a look at several businesses forced to cut back after a period of hyper-growth.
Recently, author Daniel DiPiazza wrote “An Open Letter to Frustrated 20 Somethings” on Under30CEO.com. It blew up. Daniel’s premise: If it were up to him, why would he make a “job” or “work” the center of his life? When someone asks him “what he does”, why should he have to respond and narrowly define himself by the skills he uses to make money?
I’d spend my life traveling, learning languages, practicing martial arts, reading, programming, eating good food and (eventually) raising smart, open-eyed children.
Touché Daniel, and I agree: there is a better way. Now let me break it down for those on a quest to “do what you love” from someone who’s been through all the ups and downs already.
How We Did It
I graduated from Bryant University having built what the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization named the best chapter in the world, four out of five years. I was leading a team of 150 smart, young, innovative, passionate people. No way I was getting a “real” job after that.
So upon graduation, I pass up job offers galore to “start my empire” from my mom’s basement outside of Poughkeepsie. Pitching VCs, writing business plans, sending money to India for web development — and still without a clue about how to actually make money from my lawnchair. I call Jared O’Toole to drink some beers on the front porch and we realize there have to be lots of other young people trying to start businesses just like us. We co-found Under30CEO.com.
With no revenue in sight, it’s now the dead of winter, and Poughkeepsie is getting depressing. Then the global financial crisis hits, and we’re really screwed. My mom comes to me shortly after Christmas to tell me that we will be losing our house. The home I grew up in.
Lesson 1: At least be able to tell your mom how your business plans to make money.
Suddenly, I question those $ 65k+ salaries I turned down. But it’s time to hustle. I accept the first job I can find on Craigslist, a position for a driver, and show up at 6 a.m. Wheeling and dealing can’t be so bad, I think to myself. It’ll be my mobile office…
Wrong. I show up and am given the keys to a dump truck. With an 18-foot trailer. I guess it’s time to learn to drive a dump truck.
I get us to the job site, where I’m quickly informed that the crew of laborers I’m driving around aren’t going to appreciate it if I sit in the truck. Time to dig ditches 12 hours a day for the next six months.
Lesson 2: When you put your back against the wall, you make things happen.
Sure, I could have let go my entrepreneurial dreams and gotten a cushy desk job. But instead, I put myself in the most uncomfortable situation possible. Digging ditches with guys who could work me under the table, and then going home to moonlight Under30CEO until 2 a.m., was absolutely miserable. I was making $ 15/hour, living in a tiny apartment with my mom. I love you, Mom, but that’s not exactly what I thought my “empire” would entail.
But these early days are what make or break most entrepreneurs. If you can get through this part and still believe in what you’re doing, you can survive.
Lesson 3: Test everything.
We try everything we can think of on Under30CEO.com. We don’t talk about it much today, but Under30CEO was once a Ustream show, then a Ning Network, a Meetup, and a membership site; we’ve offered daily deals, affiliate offers, consulted startups, hosted workshops on social media, done dealflow for VCs — you name it, we’ve tested it.
It’s the smartest thing we’ve ever done. Make little tests, and if they make money, run with them. If not, see ya later!
Lesson 4: You don’t test stuff very long when you’re broke.
While throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks is great, when you’re bootstrapping on a ditch-digger’s wage, you don’t have the money or the patience to test things for very long. You’re trying to get cash-flow positive as fast as possible. Any of the business models listed above are solid ideas and could be turned into million-dollar businesses. Looking back at it, it was probably our biggest curse too. We were looking to get hit the jackpot, and we were quick to give up. Young and impatient? Yes… But also smart. Here’s why:
Lesson 5: Never do anything you are going to hate.
Call me a pretentious, formerly-frustrated 20-something, but we always stuck to our core value of doing something we loved. We loved being in the business of inspiring young entrepreneurs. Many of those other business models were not that, and we knew we would eventually grow to hate them. We listened to our gut, and as corny as it sounds, we followed our dream.
But don’t think for a moment that it was easy.
Guts, grit, determination, yeah, all of that, and then some. Following your dream is much harder than anyone will ever tell you. But is it worth it? Absolutely.
Now we’re officially spinning off a new company, based on something we’re even more insanely passionate and excited about: A travel company for ambitious young professionals. The best part? I got to spend seven months around the world, working from this very laptop, plotting world domination.
No wait, ACTUALLY, the best part is that this travel company is designed to be the launching pad for young people who want to see the world, and go out and do big things. This isn’t a course and there is no curriculum. We simply curate experiences in places like Costa Rica and Nicaragua with other amazing people and inspire the creative environment to let you guys figure out your next big moves.
To return to the “open letter” that inspired this post, yes Daniel, you’re spot on. It is possible to make money doing what you love. It’s just not easy. But when it helps other people figure out their dreams? Then it’s game on.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s website.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
Young Entrepreneur Council
Getting picture frames to stay straight usually requires a level or a good eye. Reformed villain blog Evil Mad Scientist suggests placing rubber feet on the back of your frames to keep them in place. More »
Facebook confirms that Facebook Messages experienced a limited outage today. It prevented some users from sending or receiving messages on both the web and mobile for 90 minutes, but chat is back at full-strength as of 7:30pm PST. The outage comes at an inconvenient time as Facebook is seeing increasing competition in the messaging space from Google and mobile-first startups.
Facebook says a small percentage of users were affected. We saw complaints of the outage from California, Texas and New York, and I experienced it myself.
When some mobile users experiencing the problems tried to press the Messages icon at the top of their Facebook app, the overlaid list of message conversations that’s supposed to pop up appeared blank. On the web, others and I received the message “Down For Maintenance: Sorry, messages are temporarily unavailable. Please try again later” when trying to send a message.
Instability is a big issue for Facebook as it tries to fend off new competition from Google’s unified Hangouts chat system, which launched last month at I/O. Meanwhile, novel image-based messaging apps like Snapchat and Line threaten to pull away younger users. Reliability is critical to making users feel confident that they’ll always be able to communicate with Facebook friends at a moment’s notice. At least Facebook has come a long way from 2009, when outages were much more frequent.
It’s been a day marred by social network outages, as Twitter suffered some breakdowns earlier today, June 3rd.
TechCrunch » Social