One of the more troubling technology stories to come out of the past week is the assault on Sarah Slocum, a San Francisco-based tech enthusiast and writer, who was apparently targeted because she was wearing Google Glass in a bar.
Like many incidents of this nature, the exact account of what happened is a little fuzzy. Slocum said she was merely showing friends how the connected headset works when other bar patrons began hurling insults her way. One witness told local media she was "running around very excited," which annoyed some of the people around her. But it's revealing that Slocum has publicly come forward with her account, while the people who confronted her have not. Read more...
Launch is your typical startup conference: Entrepreneurs pitch their startups to a group of judges, primarily investors and tech press.
But this year, something special happened.
Midway through the conference, which took place earlier this week, San Francisco web designer Rose Broome came on stage to introduce HandUp. Launch founder Jason Calacanis set the tone for her presentation by mentioning that he had already invested in HandUp, which is a bit out of the ordinary, as he usually waits until the startups have launched. “I think you’ll understand why,” he said.
Within minutes, members of the audience were in tears.
HandUp is a relatively new service that lets you donate directly to homeless individuals in your neighborhood. VentureBeatfirst covered the startup back in August. 100 percent of the donations go to the essentials, like food, clothing, and medical care. What stands out about HandUp is the human touch: Individuals can share their stories and ask for specific items, like dentures or a new phone.
Once they’ve signed up, HandUp members are provided with a profile card with basic biographical information, which they can hand out to potential donors.The card contains information for people to donate via a secure SMS system, and the transaction can be carried out on an iPhone.
On stage, Broome announced a cool new feature, called HandUp Communities, which will let donors and homelessmembers opt-in to send messages to each other. She also disclosed the company’s fundraising goals. HandUp has secured $ 350,000 in funds from some of San Francisco’s wealthiest and most high-profile tech people, including Calacanis, Ron Conway, Ariel Poler, Michael Birch, and Eric Ries.
What touched the audience most wasn’t Broome’s pitch, although it’s inspiring to see entrepreneurs taking a stance on societal issues. It was Adam Reichart, a homeless HandUp member, who shared his story on stage.
Reichart described his struggles finding a job and receiving medical care. About five years ago, he broke his jaw but couldn’t afford a procedure. After he signed up with HandUp, he said, “a miracle happened.” A dentist offered to perform surgery pro bono. After that, he said, “someone made a $ 1,000 donation on Jan. 6 through HandUp for my dentures and pay my phone bill and keep a storage unit.” Reichart is now looking for affordable housing.
“I have a verifiable way to tell people the truth about my needs,” he explained.
Conferences like Launch promote exciting new technology we’ve never seen before. But HandUp is deceptively simple and took just a few months to develop, as it integrates with platforms like Twilio and Stripe.
HandUp ultimately won the “Social Impact” award, as it uses existing technology for good. It isn’t the only startup attempting to solve entrenched societal problems. Y Combinator is now accepting a few nonprofits and startups like HandUp (although this is a fairly recent development), and venture firms like Omidyar and Kapor Capital are actively looking to fund social enterprises.
Still, it’s early days for the social impact trend, otherwise known as social entrepreneurship. Broome has received her fair share of criticism from potential investors and the media. Salon points out that HandUp “isn’t going to wash away a blight that has resisted decades of hard work to eradicate.”
But HandUp already appears to be making a difference in its first months. The team has signed up about 100 homeless people in San Francisco.
At Launch, Broome also shared the story of one HandUp member called Cameron. Cameron moved to San Francisco from Vermont to take care of her mother, who was dying of cancer. Cameron was evicted after her mother passed away and has been living on the streets and in shelters ever since.
Stories like these are all too commonplace in San Francisco, a city where an estimated 7,000 people are living without adequate shelter (there are only 1,100 available shelter beds). The upwardly mobile tech community has been accused of failing to support these people in need. In December, technology executive Greg Gopman inflamed already tense relations by referring to the homeless as “degenerates” in a Facebook post. He later apologized for these comments.
But Broome, who also runs the Homeless Innovation meetup group, holds a more optimistic view. She said in an recent interview with VentureBeat that she started HandUp, as her friends in the tech sector wanted to give to the local homeless. But they feared that their money would be used to feed an alcohol or drug addiction.
HandUp is designed to alleviate that fear. Homeless members can redeem the donation at North Beach Citizens or Project Homeless Connect, a San Francisco-based organization that provides housing support, medical care, food, pharmacy gift cards, and more. In the future, Broome will develop partnerships with Walgreens, Safeway, and others, so homelessmembers can purchase items from these franchises.
“My long-term goal is for people to use the card to fund housing or a shelter bed,” said Broome.
In the video below, skip ahead to 8:00:00 to watch Broome, cofounder Zac Witte, and HandUp member Adam Reichart present at Launch.
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Bing launched three news WindowsPhone 8 apps Tuesday: BingFood and Drink, BingHealth and Fitness, and Bing Travel.
In addition to the new apps, Microsoft's search engine updated its existing WindowsPhone 8 apps, and announced that all Bingapps will now sync acrossWindows 8 devices.
"Set up your favorite cities for weather, pick your favorite sports teams, chose the news topics you want to follow, and those things will be with you at your PC at work, on your Windows 8 tablet in the living room or on your WindowsPhone when you are on the go," Bing said in a blog post announcing the changes. Read more...
This is a guest post by managing editor at Burn Media Michelle Atagana
Technology is becoming commonplace and Africa is frequently touted as the next big hub. The continent is heading into an interesting space of tech-savvy consumers and creators.
Africa currently has about 45 innovation hubs and co-creation labs, which are spread out across the continent. With more than 600 million connected mobile devices and a growing working class, entrepreneurship is perceived as a viable profession.
Foreign investors are also beginning to cotton on with big tech corporations making their presence on the continent known, Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM can attest to the opportunities Africa represents.
These fourteen companies represents just some of the amazing things being developed in Africa and entrepreneurs disrupting industries.
Money management systems are everywhere, if you have ever used Mint then 22Seven will make sense to you. The recently acqui-hired company is helping people manage their finances better. It tracks all your transactions and income and helps you visualize your spend. Compatible with most major banking institutions South Africa, 22Seven’s rocky start seems to be behind as it proves to be a geek favorite.
At its core, Hotels.ng is an online hotel reservation service for the Nigerian market and visitors to the country, with the hopes of expanding to the rest of West Africa. The platform catalogues and verifies all the hotels listed. Users can book their hotels through the site but only pay on arrival and Hotels.ng take a commission from the hotels.
Dubbed the taxi app on steroids, Tranzit is not just about finding a cab and getting from one location to another. The service also offers parcel delivery and also doubles as a discovery network. Users can search for places to go to in their neighborhood and things to do. The startup is hoping to revolutionize transportation and delivery pickup service in Africa and beyond.
Still on transportation, Mellowcabs is pretty cool. Its vehicles are electrically assisted pedal-powered cabs and they are free to use. The service makes its money through advertising. The idea is to bring online advertising offline, by displaying them in in-cab tablets. The tablets have geolocation software that automatically displays ads when a cab is near the advertisers business.
Imagine you could take your internet everywhere with you? Even areas with no connectivity? Yes, that is what BRCK is solving Africa’s connectivity issues. The creators of BRCK describe the product as “the easiest, most reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the world, even when you don’t have electricity.” Think it as a rugged router that can hop from network to network seeking out whatever signal it can find to connect to the net.
This education startup is quite interesting, think Facebook for schools. The platform allows for communication and collaboration within, and between schools. The service says that its platform is safe environment for kids to interact with each other and the adults in their lives. Education is a key industry in Africa that needs disrupting and Obami is working toward impacting how students learn and how information is organized across the continent.
This online accommodation marketplace claims to be number one in Kenya. What’s really cool about them though is not just about booking a place to stay but the way they play on social media. SleepOut also lists accommodations in rural areas and boasts a travel blog that users can share their stories on.
Fresh out the MEST program in Ghana, this startup is turning African folklore into mobile entertainment. Leti Games builds cross-platform experiences on mobile devices and digital comics to engage the content hungry African audiences with an internet connection. The idea according to Leti Games is to build African superheroes that can compete on the world stage.
Healthcare is a big area that also requires innovation in Africa. This startup is working at getting medical information online and getting doctors connected. The way the company describes is “an integrated new generation healthcare information management and medical billing software”.
Mobile money is Africa’s niche, everyone one is trying to get this right. Zoona seems to have the rights tuff. Its solution is to take the issues out of cash heavy business environments in Zambia and Southern Africa. The company’s “proprietary technology” gives consumers the ability to make use of electronic payments via many Zoona agents. The services include money transfers, enterprise payment solutions and eVouchers payments.
It’s hard to navigate the job market when you are small contractor or someone who deals in quick labour. This is the problem that Naija Workman hope to solve. The platform wants to shake up Nigerian’s underdeveloped local services market by providing a market place for people to find contractors and said contractors can find work.
In Africa access is a luxury. Project Isizwe doesn’t think it should be, so it is giving it away from free with the help of the government. The idea, which as been rollout in one region, is to provide free Wi-Fi hotspots to low-income communities. This way the startup believe it can use the power of an internet connection to promote education and economic growth throughout Africa.
E-commerce is the new social network. Africa’s ecommerce scene is on steroids and this particular fashion and electronic site, currently embroiled in a dispute with Rocket Internet over domain hogging, is hoping to conquer the continent. Konga offers free deliveries and cash on delivery services especially for Africa’s unbanked population.
This startup is tackling a number of problems. Tackle Africa’s poverty and health issues while protecting forests. To do this it is making clean energy technologies available to more people in the developing world through carbon-financed distribution channels.
A fiery tweeter and digital native, Michelle Atagana has been hanging around the internet since she was eleven, back in the days of Netscape. Later on, her interest lead to her graduating with a Masters Degree in New Media and Journalism, and her position as Managing Editor at Burn Media.
She was named one of Mail & Guardian’s top young South Africans in 2012, writes a column about technology in Africa for CNN, judges occasional startup competitions and spends her free time working on the final draft of her PhD. But Mich says she’s just a girl, standing in front of a startup, asking them what their business plan is. Mich is also passionate about women’s rights and the African feminist movement.
Its first product, a smart ring that will make its public debut tomorrow at New York Fashion Week, focuses on what’s most important to teens—their social lives—by sending them alerts from selected contacts on different social media channels. Photos won’t be available until the ring is unveiled, but head of marketing Jeanniey Mullen gave me a sneak peek. It looks like a signet ring and has an O-shaped diffused light on top that flashes different colors.
The startup boasts a team with an interesting pedigree. Co-founder Rich Schmelzer launched Jibbitz, a line of decorative charms for Crocs footwear, with his wife Sheri from their Colorado basement in 2005.
If you don’t like Crocs and were mystified by their phenomenal success in the early 2000s, you are probably wondering why anybody would want to start a business dedicated to making the foam clogs look even more outrageous. But Jibbitz proved to be extremely popular and was acquired by Crocs for $ 100 million in 2006. Since then, the Schmelzers have also launched GeoPalz, which makes activity trackers for kids.
Mullen says Schmelzer’s background in kids’ accessories and wearable tech has been key to RingBlingz’s development. The founding team’s collective experience also includes Mullen’s stint as CMO of Zinio, one of the first newsstand apps; Alexandra O’Leary’s position as COO of GeoPalz; and Bill Phelps’ time as a product manager at EB Brands, which develops and licenses wearable tech to companies like Reebok.
RingBlingz has a good chance of grabbing the attention of teenagers for several reasons. First, a ring is more affordable (RingBlingz will retail for about $ 40 to $ 60) and less obtrusive than a wristband. Its alerts lets users stay on top of social media, texts, and calls without having to constantly check their phone. RingBlingz is also customizable, which Mullen says was a key point in focus groups because teens want to coordinate all their accessories with their outfits instead of wearing the same black band every day. The first ring is targeted at girls, but Mullen says there are styles planned especially for boys.
How it works
RingBlingz, which uses Bluetooth LE and connects to an iOS or Android app (a Windows Phone version is in the works), has to be within 100 feet of its paired smartphone to work and alerts teens when they move too far away. This will probably be a major selling point for parents who fret about kids losing expensive devices (maybe RingBlingz will also figure out a way to pair retainers).
Since teenssend a median of 60 texts each day, the RingBlingzteam knew they had to make sure its app offers plenty of room for customization, with different light colors and patterns for each contact and social channel. Alerts can also be set for group conversations and the ring can be put into vibrate mode for class.
The ring’s non-rechargeable battery lasts three to six months and free replacements will be provided by the company. Mullen says the startup is looking at other sources of power, such as inductive charging, that will work with the device’s small size.
RingBlingz can serve as an introduction to wearable tech for kids–a novelty that is useful for them, but doesn’t have so many functions or such a high price tag that it puts off parents. The startup, which is currently looking for seed investment, plans to develop new devices for RingBlingz’s users as they enter their early twenties, as well as different consumer demographics.
“RingBlingz is meant to be a full line of products that will expand over time. We have considered a number of factors, like the engagement level of kids who have the ring, as they move into adulthood, and adding features like two-way communication,” says Mullen. “The potential is endless.”
Nothing in my childhood would have suggested that I’d grow up to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. In fact, the opposite was more likely.
I was raised in newly independent India by leftist parents who inculcated in me a strong desire to serve my country either through politics or social activism. But when I became a teenager, I became fascinated with technology, and I was admitted into the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur. There I learned computer programming on one of India’s early mainframe computers, and from then on I fell in love with all things digital. I also became aware of a world outside of India that I wanted to explore. So like a lot of other Indian engineering students of that era, I came to the USA to pursue an advanced degree (in my case an MBA), and decided to stay and make a life here.
My first job was with IBM in sales, and that gave me a great grounding in business. But I really became enamored of starting my own company when I read a fascinating article in 1976 about the invention of the microprocessor, and the potential for what it might mean for the then largely mainframe dominated computer industry.
I got my main chance to join this exciting new world when in 1981, I ran into a little company then called Relational Software, Inc., which had developed a database software package called Oracle for early DEC minicomputers. The entrepreneur running that company offered me a job as one of his early sales and marketing employees.
Well, one thing led to another, and I was soon hired as employee #17 at Oracle, working for Larry Ellison, and writing Oracle’s first formal business plan. Shortly thereafter, I became a vice president in charge of Oracle’s first forays into the microcomputer and PC business. I learned a lot about starting and building a business from Larry, and I will forever be grateful for that. My entrepreneurial career over the next 30 years would not have been possible without the three years I spent at Oracle learning my craft from one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.
Three years after I joined Oracle, I spotted an opportunity to start my own company, and I took it. The PC had been introduced in 1980, but notwithstanding its designation as a “personal computer” it was largely being used as an office productivity tool to replace typewriters, calculators, and filing cabinets. What made the early PC so successful was software companies of that era who made word-processing, spreadsheet and database packages. Local area networks (LANs) had just been invented, but very little software existed to truly take advantage of these PCs all hooked together in a corporate setting.
So in 1984, I left Oracle to co-found a company called Gupta Technologies that built a SQL database server for PC LANs. Our Gupta SQL System software also included an application development tool for Microsoft Windows and SQL connectivity software. We called that type of network configuration “client-server software,” and by the late eighties I found myself helping to usher in what came to be known as the client-server computing revolution.
Building and running Gupta Technologies was an absolute blast for me. For the first eight years after our founding, we doubled each year with very little venture capital funding. We were soon considered one of the hottest companies in the software industry and took our company public in January 1993. For a while we thought we would be the next Oracle. But that was not meant to be. Very quickly, the entire client-server tools business became a crowded market with many new entrants, Oracle modified its successful mainframe and minicomputer database software to run on PCs, and Microsoft got into the business with its own Windows based SQL Server product.
And then the Internet came along, which represented an even bigger blow for our business. By 1996, the ideal corporate application had changed from being “client server” to “Internet based.” The technology revolution I had helped to start was over, and I didn’t have the heart to carry on any more. I decided to sell all my shares in Gupta Technologies and to leave the company. Before leaving, I even changed our corporate name so I could separate myself from the company I had founded.
It was the hardest thing I ever did. For the first time in my life I felt like a failure and I didn’t know what I was going to do next.
During the next year, I went through a deeply introspective period and I became I obsessed with figuring out what I’d done wrong. I vowed to myself that the next time, if there was going to be a next time, I would build a “business to last.” My experience at Gupta Technologies taught me the first and most important valuable lesson of my Silicon Valley career: that technology is a ticket to the game but not the game itself.
Silicon Valley is full of many visionaries who build a hot new business based on a revolutionary technology, but their companies do not survive when technology or market trends change. To build a business to last, an entrepreneur, especially a “techie” type, has to realize that innovation comes not just from inventing new products, but can also just as easily come from introducing new business models and new ways to market those products.
I quickly caught up with the latest technology trends on the Internet that I had missed out on during my tunnel-vision days at Gupta Technologies. I also started to make angel investments in many startups of that era, and in 1997 one of those investments was in a little company called Keynote Systems located in San Mateo, not too far away from my home.
The company had built some interesting technology to measure the performance of Internet websites and to determine problems that might have been caused due to Internet backbone delays. But Keynote’s business model was still uncertain at that time, and I quickly realized that while the company’s software was not all that differentiated from many other systems management tools, we could apply an “on demand” service model to the business and make it truly valuable to up-and-coming e-commerce websites.
In effect, we would measure the real-time response time and reliability of any website on the Internet from multiple cities across the world, including of multiple competitors within the same industry or of multiple players in a product supply chain, and make this data available on a monthly subscription basis to enterprises who needed to assure themselves of their e-commerce website’s technical performance and quality.
Before we knew it, Keynote was a hot Internet startup that became known as the “JD Powers of the Internet.” We had more than 2,000 corporate customers across the world subscribing to our performance metrics. Though we did not know it at that time, we would also have the distinction of becoming one of the world’s first “software as a service” (SaaS) businesses before the term would become popularized.
But in in the fast moving technology world, the ability of your organization to react speedily to change is just as crucial as your personal ability to anticipate the future. This was the dot-com era, and we were running a hot Internet start-up during the mother of all technology bubbles. In Silicon Valley there is a saying that goes: “if the wind blows hard enough, even turkeys can fly.” While Keynote clearly had real revenues, real customers and a viable business model, I didn’t fool myself into thinking I knew how our technology or business would unfold in the future. Instead I just made sure we were prepared to seize chances when they came to us.
When the chance presented itself for us to go public in August 1999, we took it way before we were showing any profits. A few months later in February 2000, when the stock market was still hot, we did a secondary offering and obtained a valuation of more than a 100x revenues. Even though the stock market bubble burst a few months later, we found ourselves in the fortunate position of having $ 350 million in cash on the Keynote balance sheet, and a lot of happy VCs and early investors. No question about it — I was clearly applying the lessons I learned from my Gupta Technologies days to make sure Keynote did not get left behind many of those turkeys!
The aftermath of the Internet crash of 2000 was a searing one for Silicon Valley and Keynote was no exception. Many of our customers went out of business, our revenues started to plummet precipitously, and our losses grew larger each month. While we did not have any danger of running out of cash, we did face an existential question at that time: Do we sell Keynote? Or, failing that, simply shut down the business and return the substantial amount of cash on our balance sheet to our public shareholders? Or do we try and rebuild the business, thereby risking more cash in what might be a doomed effort anyway?
There were no buyers for Keynote at that time, since at that time no one knew how far and how deep the downturn would go, and how much our revenues would decline. I was also haunted by the memory of how, during Gupta Technologies’ decline, Larry Ellison had made me an offer to buy the company at what turned out later to be a pretty good price, but I did not want to sell my baby, and I had said no. After all, I had risked the future of my company many times during its first eight years as a private company and I had always managed to make it bigger and more valuable. So why would I sell to Oracle then? With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I should have sold the company when we still had the chance.
This time around I did not want to make the same mistake again with Keynote. I had learned an important lesson by then: “Know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.”
As it turned out, we did not shut down Keynote but decided to rebuild it. Over the next 12 years, we steadily regrew the company. We introduced new products for our corporate Internet customers and also expanded into the mobile monitoring and testing space through a couple of well timed acquisitions. By 2013, Keynote had grown to more than 4,000 customers, and revenues had tripled to more than $ 125 million with very respectable profit margins of around 20 percent.
A few months ago, we sold Keynote to Thoma Bravo, a private equity company, for around 3x revenues and a 50 percent premium above its public share price. That’s a far cry from the 100x revenue valuation of our bubble days, but a pretty decent outcome for our shareholders — and yet also a good purchase for its new owners, who are looking to grow and build even more value into it.
Which brings me to the last important lesson I have learned and applied consistently at Keynote: Your company’s destiny is not your destiny.
I ran Gupta Technologies like it was a mission, not a company. And even when it went public, I always thought of it as my baby. After all, it had my name on it.
With Keynote, I made sure from the beginning to recognize that my job, like any parent, was to give the company its roots and wings, and like any parent when the job was done, I would have to separate my own life from the company’s life. Today, Keynote is a solid, stable company that is a leader in its space, but still has a long way to go before it will have fulfilled its potential.
During our early days of Keynote I was fond of saying, “In a trillion dollar e-economy, surely there ought to be a billion dollar company devoted to testing and measuring the online experience.” I still believe that.
My own fondest wish would be, a decade or two from now, to look at a far bigger Keynote than today and say, with some nostalgia, “I had a hand in building that!”
Umang Gupta is a well-known Silicon valley technology visionary, entrepreneur, company founder, and public company CEO. After having spent more than 40 years helping to build the enterprise software industry, among other things being credited with writing the first business plan for Oracle in 1981, Umang is now devoting his time exclusively to the fledgling online education industry as an investor, board member and advisor.