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My earliest experience making my own rules came when I entered high school. In the first weeks of my freshman year, I tried to do everything right. I did exactly what I was told to do—and this included my homework. After lacrosse practice and my after-​school job as a box boy at a local supermarket, I got home around 8:00 p.m. At this point, I was expected to eat dinner, do homework, and go to sleep so I could wake up and do it all over again.

I quickly discovered that trying to complete all the homework assigned to me meant staying up almost all night long every night. I couldn’t quit lacrosse—I’d created the team! And I needed my job in order to contribute to the family income. My mother’s jobs, when she could get them, were not enough to pay the bills. By high school, the house we lived in had an actual dirt floor downstairs and walls without plaster. Now I could honestly say that we were “dirt poor.” My mom and I did our best to improve the house on the weekends, but we always needed more money.

This whole homework thing clearly wasn’t going to work. I decided to take matters into my own hands and implement a “No‑Homework Policy.” My plan was simple. I would work as hard as possible to pay attention and be completely focused in each class, but I would not bring my books home, and I would not do any of the homework assigned to me. If the homework was intended to reinforce what was taught in class, I would be fine—because I would make sure to absorb it all during the school day.

The next day, one by one, I walked each of my teachers through my plan. The conversation went pretty much the same with all of them: First, I said hello and reintroduced myself. Then I explained that I’d been attempting to do all my homework for the past two weeks. (I may also have hinted that perhaps the teachers might communicate with one another more about how much work they were assigning to students.) I told them that doing the work took me until approximately 4:00 a.m. Regrettably, I was unable to sustain this. Then I introduced my No‑Homework Policy.

Some of the teachers laughed, but ultimately all of them told me in their own ways that if I really wanted to go ahead with this, I could, but it would affect my overall grade. I was willing to live with that.

From that point on, I didn’t do homework. I paid attention in class and strived to absorb the material. Ultimately, perhaps because I had been so up front and clear in my communication of the policy, my teachers did not end up penalizing me. In other words, my No‑Homework Policy didn’t have an impact on my overall grades. It was, for all intents and purposes, a rousing success.

The point of this story isn’t “cocky kid blows off homework and gets away with it,” though on the surface that’s exactly what happened. Homework is generally regarded as useful, and far be it from me to mount a one-​man campaign against it. (Not right now, anyway. Talk to me when my kid is twelve.) But I had an idea for a different way to do things, one that worked better for me. There was no harm in proposing this to the school administration. The point of school, after all, isn’t to do homework. The point of school is to learn. As high school progressed, I focused on learning what inspired me, so I might get an A+ in genetics and a C in something easy. It was a mistake to assume that teachers—or anyone else, for that matter—automatically knew what was best for me.

If anything, opportunities like this are easier to recognize and implement in the workplace. Do you work best in a dimly lit room? Would you like to work on a side project that is more interesting to you? Rules are there to help us—to create a culture, to streamline productivity, and to promote success. But we’re not computers that need to be programmed. If you approach your bosses or colleagues with respect, and your goals are in alignment, there’s often room for a little customization and flexibility. And on the other side, those in positions of power shouldn’t force people to adhere to a plan for the sake of protocol. The solution, always, is to listen carefully—to your own needs and to those of the people around you.

Biz Stone is one of Twitter’s co-founders. He also was instrumental in the launches of Xanga, Blogger, Odeo, and Medium. His current startup is Jelly, a Q&A platform using images.

VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Biz Stone

SAN FRANCISCO — Keith Rabois, the fast-talking Khosla Ventures investor and former Square executive, has been carrying around a big idea for 11 years. Now he’s finally ready to act on it.

Under the codename HomeRun, Rabois has assembled a four-person team, including himself and an unnamed data scientist, to upend the residential real estate business with a super-fast way to sell a house.

“My belief is that if you added a frictionless, convenient, simple process, more people would sell their homes,” Rabois said in an interview with VentureBeat at the DEMO Enterprise conference.

The startup sounds like the fresh attempt to rock a substantial slice of the economy with the help of — you guessed it! — big data. Companies like Airbnb, Coursera, and Uber have done this. Now HomeRun could be the next big thing.

The idea for HomeRun cropped up in 2003.

“My friend Peter Thiel suggested that I come up with an idea to innovate in residential real estate,” Rabois said, referring to the PayPal and Palantir co-founder.

“It’s the largest part of the economy unaffected by the Internet. And that was definitely true then, and even with things like Trulia and Zillow, it’s fundamentally true today. But the process of (selling a home) hasn’t been transformed by technology.”

HomeRun’s approach, Rabois said, is simple.

“We have to value the home, sight unseen,” he said. “You can put in your address and we tell you what it’s worth instantly. And we’ll want to buy it from you for that price.”

Underneath the covers, HomeRun will analyze lots of data — some being proprietary, some not — to make an split-second calculation, with minimal human interaction. It’s “pretty complicated stuff,” Rabois said.

To do such work at scale would be vastly more complicated. So, at least initially, HomeRun will focus exclusively on the U.S..

“This can be a $ 10 billion to $ 100 billion [business] if we just do the U.S. correctly,” Rabois said. “I don’t want to get distracted. Focus is the most important thing for startups.”

A few things have prevented Rabois from launching HomeRun before this.

“Over the last decade, I considered doing this a few times [but] always got distracted by amazing entrepreneurs talking me into their vision,” said Rabois, who held executive roles at PayPal and LinkedIn before getting involved with Square and Khosla.

Besides being too busy all these years, there’s much more data floating around today than there was in the past –and fleets of servers to crunch it all, thanks to public clouds like Amazon Web Services. And more of the real estate business is online today, which also helps.

“In 2003, I believe, in Texas, transactions in Texas weren’t even available online at all,” he said.

But that has changed, and now Rabois finally has the bandwidth to work on HomeRun, which will be based in San Francisco.

“We’ll be ready to launch something in the summer, maybe earlier,” he said.

VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Jordan Novet

Viber Launches Viber Out Calling On Windows Phone 8

Viber, newly acquired by Rakuten earlier this year, has today released an update to the Windows Phone 8 version of the app to allow for the use of Viber Out. Viber Out is a relatively recent feature from the messaging and calling VoIP app, which allows users to call any number, whether it's a mobile or landline, without the recipient needing a Viber account. The service price varies based on… Read More
TechCrunch » Social
Jordan Crook

Ooyala Co-Founder Launches Product Prioritization Platform Wizeline

Wizeline, which was founded by Ooyala co-founder Bismarck Lepe, wants to solve the product prioritization conundrum. To do so, it's built a platform designed to enable companies to better understand which products or features they should build, based on feedback from multiple members and departments in an organization. Read More

Ryan Lawler

Facebook Launches Its 15-Second, Auto-Playing Video Ads

Facebook just announced that it's starting to run the video ads that it started testing last fall.

In a company blog post, Facebook says it's working with "a select group of advertisers," and that users can expect to start seeing the ads "over the next few months." The 15-second videos will start auto-playing without sound as they enter your screen, and if you tap, they'll expand and un-mute. Read More

Anthony Ha

Roi Koi Launches Leaderboards For Professionals

Roi Koi is a very simple concept. At its core, it is a leaderboard that anonymously rates people you know based on one single criterion — “Would I hire this person at a job and work with them.” Read More
TechCrunch » Social
Jay Donovan

Omlet Launches Privacy Focused Chat App At SXSW 2014

The bright minds at Stanford who created Omlet have a different idea about how communicating — and more importantly, the data that goes along with communication — should be handled these days. Read More
TechCrunch » Social
Jay Donovan

Trusper, an app that collects lifestyle tips from users, has gained five million users in eight months. The initial numbers look promising: Users view over 10 million tips per day, outpacing similar lifestyle apps.

And this all happened in beta, through word-of-mouth marketing.

Trusper’s tips primarily focus on health and beauty, but the service plans to expand into other categories, such as home and garden and relationships. Frequent submitters earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards and discounts at many popular stores.

Now, backed by $ 6.17 million in funding led by DCM, Charles Schwab, and other investors, Trusper’s gone gold. The app officially launched today and is available on the App Store and Google Play.

The app’s users are mainly women aged 18 – 45. While Trusper said in its press release that “monetization is not currently [its] primary focus,” it also said it is currently in talks with unspecified companies to allow sponsored tips and offers. By comparison, it took Twitter four years to add sponsored tweets and Facebook seven years to add advertising to users’ news feeds.

It’ll be interesting to see how Trusper implements these sponsored tips without risking the app’s main draw: tips submitted by users for users. But for now, it looks like the company could create a tip on how to drive product adoption with little marketing.

VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Michael Leibel

If you want your crowdfunding campaign to accept Bitcoin, Crowdtilt has you covered.

The crowdfunding company today launched CrowdtiltOpen, an open source crowdfunding solution that enables anyone to crowdfund anything on their own sites. It’s the polished version of Crowdhoster, which the Y Combinator startup unveiled and beta tested last year.

The CrowdtiltOpen feature list is huge: It supports Bitcoin payments, recurring billing, analytics integration, and all sorts of customization options. Registered non-profits can use it to produce tax-deductible receipts for crowdfunded donations. Entrepreneurs can easily turn a campaign that’s hit its funding target into an e-commerce landing page, like the Beep campaign, which reached its goal after an hour or two.

If there’s a feature you want that isn’t available, you can always build it, because CrowdtiltOpen is open source. There’s room for premium services, too: BackerKit, for example, is building a customer relationship management system on top of CrowdtiltOpen. That’ll cost a bit extra, but Beshara promises the core version of CrowdtiltOpen will always be free.

Crowdtilt exists because of the open source tools that we’ve been able to make use of, so this is our way to give back to the open source community,” Crowdtilt CEO James Beshara told VentureBeat. “It will produce wildly more interesting results by giving it away for free than if we tried to monetize this thing.”

CrowdtiltOpen’s support for Bitcoin has the potential to simplify international crowdfunding. If you’re in Mexico or Indonesia and can’t find a credit card processor to help with your project, you can choose to accept Bitcoin as your sole crowdfunding payment option. Or if you want to accept payments from any country in the world, you can add Bitcoin support alongside other payment options.

Crowdtilt loves Bitcoin — and that’s not just plastic bullshit corporate sponsorship of something that has become trendy,” said Beshara. “As developers, we’ve been big fans of Bitcoin for a long time.”

Hundreds of folks ran crowdfunding campaigns using Crowdhoster, but now that Crowdtilt is no longer vetting the campaigns, Beshara expects a flood of activity. He’s particularly excited about CrowdtiltOpen’s implications for commercial, civic, and political crowdfunding, which are currently overshadowed by crowdfunding for creative projects.

“Nike wouldn’t use Kickstarter or Crowdtilt or Indiegogo, but it definitely would host a crowdfunding campaign on its own domain,” he said. “A couple big brands have turned to crowdfunding but haven’t truly embraced it … this new tool allows them to control the thing … they want to control the most: their brand.”

There’s a queue of 4,000 organizations ready to use CrowdtiltOpen, said Beshara, including some major brands (he declined to disclose which ones).

“I think crowdfunding is going to be 15 percent of commerce on the web in five years — it’s going to be so massive,” Beshara told VentureBeat. “But the only way to really rip the lid off this thing it to provide accessible tools.”

Crowdtilt is based in San Francisco, Calif., and currently has 34 employees. It raised $ 23 million in December, bringing its total capital raised to $ 37 million.


VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Eric Blattberg