- Congressman Issa Launches Direct Democracy Technology Lab, Seeks Developers
- Adelphic, The Mobile Ad Startup From Quattro, iAd Alums, Poaches 4Info’s Colwell As CRO
- Fetchnotes Readies Twitter-Like Sharing For Its Note-Taking App (& They’re Fundraising By Singing Karaoke)
- Up Close With The Updated Iomega ix2 NAS Drive
- Social Maps App CityMaps Arrives In Boston, Rolls Out Local Recommendations
- Big Data Analytics Startup Datameer Brings Hadoop To The Desktop
- Makerbot And The Met Team Up To Scan And Print Art
- Apple Store Goes Down Ahead Of WWDC, Silver Background Further Hints At UI Color Scheme Change-Up
- Gigya Grabs $15.3M From Benchmark, Adobe To “Socialize” Your Business
- Follow Today’s WWDC Action With This Interactive Bingo Board
- iPhone Mod Gives Your Phone A Bit Of Rainbow Flavor
- With $20 Billion In Consumer Debt Under Management, Credit Sesame Closes $12 Million Series B
- AMC And Bertelsmann Back Asian Video Startup DramaFever
- Silicon Valley Bank Launches In London To Bridge The Tech Funding Gap
- Twitter’s Hashtag Pages Could Be The New AOL Keywords — But Better
- How I Became A 19-Year-Old Associate VC
- Twitter, Yelp Board Member Peter Fenton On How Enterprise Is Learning From The Consumer Web
- Andy Rubin Denies Plans To Leave Google, Claims 900,000 Android Devices Activated Daily
- Sexism In Tech? The Times Is ON IT
- Video Review: Can The Dry Case Waterproof Backpack Withstand A Dip In A Pool?
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 08:34 AM PDT
“We can draft anything, but will we go to the masses?” said Congressman Darrell Issa, creator of Congress’s little-known online crowdsourcing legislative platform, Project Madison. Today, at the open-government forum, the Personal Democracy Conference, Issa launched a foundation to expand the ability of citizens to suggest changes to all legislation, and to fund more experiments in digital participation. Issa, commonly known as the firebrand conservative critic of President Obama, is also the former chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association, and has used his engineering background to experiment with other digital tools, such as a interactive polling game and livestreams of otherwise secretive committee hearings.
“We intend to focus on problems where technology can strengthen democratic participation, while lowering the real barriers that exist between the citizens and their government,” reads the press release for the OpenGov Foundation.
The initial step will be to expand Madison. Originally launched at a joint Congress-Facebook hackathon to advance his alternative to SOPA, Madison received over 188,000 views. Make no mistake, Project Madison is not hollow pandering (like a previous Republican platform, America Speaking Out): suggestions actually make it into law.
And, boy are the legal suggestions offered on Project Madison wonky. One participant noticed that the wording in Issa’s alternative SOPA law could leave website registrants legally responsible for actions of the website administrator, “The improvement acknowledges that a website owner may not necessarily be the registrant. Steve's suggestion ensures that notice could be served to either. Thank you, Steve,” states the website (for more suggestions that made it into the proposed law, click here).
The technology isn’t built yet, and Issa will be looking for savvy developers who know how to parse legislative text into a readable format, as well as build out user experience.
Perhaps most importantly, many of Issa’s experiments, including Madison, are aggressively transparent. The identity of every group or person who makes a suggestion is made public. This is, in part, to get around one of the original problems with SOPA, when congress convened a hearing with proponents outnumbering critics 5-1 (with one lonely Googler trying to save the Internet). “Ultimately, the people who don’t want to go on to our site and want to lobby behind the scenes, they will be diminished,” Issa said of Madison. “It increases the power of those who, in a transparent way, are willing to make input.”
Senator Ron Wyden, who joined Issa on stage, warned the audience of a “cyber industrial complex,” which can restrict the universe of knowledge around capitol hill and pass bills that are potentially harmful to a free Internet.
If developers or members of the public are interested in learning more and getting involved, visit opengovfoundation.org
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 08:12 AM PDT
Adelphic Mobile, a Boston-based mobile advertising startup from alums of Quattro, the company that Apple acquired and turned into iAd, has just poached a new chief revenue officer.
The company just picked up advertising exec Ray Colwell from SMS ad network 4Info. Before working at 4Info, Colwell was the vice president of national and direct sales at display ad network Collective, which was behind mobile ad campaigns for brands like Discovery, Bank of America, Procter & Gamble and Ford. Before that, he was previously vice president of mobile video ad network Transpera, which was recently acquired by Tremor Media. He was also senior vice president of Third Screen Media, which was bought by AOL.
Adelphic uses predictive modeling to determine how an audience is likely divided between several different demographics, and to target ads based on those predictions. Its targeting technology systematically tries to predict campaign performance in real-time so that ads are better targeted too.
Improving mobile ad targeting is a big deal because there is such a huge gap between ad rates on mobile devices and on the desktop web. In a slide from one of her famous data dumps two weeks ago, Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker said that the effective cost per one thousand impressions (or eCPM), was 75 cents on mobile compared to $3.50 on the desktop web. If this problem can’t be solved over the next few years, it could make a lot of advertising supported businesses basically unviable on mobile platforms. Even companies like Google and Facebook are vexed by this issue.
Adelphic was started two years ago and has raised $2 million in seed funding from investors including Matrix Partners.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 08:11 AM PDT
Fetchnotes, the lightweight note-taking app launched this April, is adding a new feature today that will allow users to share tasks with each other using a Twitter-like syntax. The best way to describe how this works is to give an example. Co-founder Alex Schiff offers this: if he enters something like “#read Do More Faster @chase,” the note is added to both his and Chase’s hashtagged #read sections and it automatically appears on Chase’s list. As Chase (that’s co-founder Chase Lee, by the way), updates the task on his end, the details are then reflected within Alex’s note, too. In other words, this update makes your to-do lists more social, collaborative like Google Docs, but as easy as messaging.
Like much of what Fetchnotes offers, the feature seems deceptively simple And yet, it’s definitely a different way to think about note-taking. And it makes sense, because how often is your to-do list composed of items that require someone else’s involvement? It’s easy to imagine this being used with small teams, for example, who don’t need the complexities of a more robust project management system. (Alex and Chase say they’ve cut down on 90% of their emails between each other using this option).
Soon, Fetchnotes will update the sharing feature so it works outside the Fetchnotes’ ecosystem, too, allowing users to share with contacts based on their email address or phone number instead. To use that variation, you’ll add a username as a contact, but Fetchnotes will request their permission in order to avoid issues with spamming. A groups feature for one-to-many sharing is also in the works.
In addition, the startup updated its web user interface with more usability features as well as its desktop widget, which now lets you edit notes within its interface.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment and give a shout-out to Fetchnotes’ recent fundraising attempts. Alex and Chase set up a Gumroad page where they’re promising to send you a video of them singing karaoke for any donation over $1.00. (Yes, they’re serious.) As of June 1st, they had raised enough to cover 4 months of server costs. Now they’re up to 8 months. Visitors can vote on song choice and, currently, it’s “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, but voting is open until the end of the week. They’ll perform the winning selection mid-June. Now that’s some bootstrapping, folks.
The new version of Fetchnotes will arrive later on today – you can pick your platform of choice from the homepage here.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 07:56 AM PDT
NAS drives are getting smarter and smarter, and the Iomega ix2 is no exception. Priced at $400 for 1TB, this compact drive is actually more of a mini-computer and features “apps” that allow it to become more than just a storage dump.
I installed the drive on my home network and found it obviously quite easy to install and run. The version I test, a disk-less case that costs about $185, had space for two SATA drives. I dumped them in and powered the thing up. It immediately appeared on my network and was accessible by visiting myiomega.com. Because it depends on port-forwarding, however, accessing the drive remotely was a bit more complex. A few tweaks and I was ready to go.
The drive has 256MB of RAM built-in and a Marvell Kirkwood processor running at 1.6 GHz, about as much as a mid-range cellphone. The interface is app centric and you have nearly complete control over the entire system through the icon-based UI. The drive supports RAID 0 and 1 and allows for USB printer sharing and storage expansion via USB. As for file access, this NAS supports Windows DFS, FTP/SFTP, WebDAV, Active Directory, and Time Machine support. It can stream audio and video and appears as a UPnP/DLNA server. You can also set the drive to back up your computers through the cloud.
I’m especially enamored with the settings pages. For example, I love this screen that lets you enable and disable various protocols.
It is, in a word, NASpr0n. The device also supports remote access over the Internet and is compatible with Iomega’s iOS app.
Another unique feature is the built-in surveillance camera support. The drive can connect to up to five wireless cameras including devices from Axis and Bosch. The drive includes a program called SecureMind and you can view and record live video to the drive. It’s this feature alone that makes it a quite compelling choice for small businesses and offices. Rather than depending on a wonky, proprietary solution, this all-in-one system allows for backups, recording, and playback all from a single device.
Arguably it’s a bit hard to love a NAS drive but this one is a fascinating example of what happens when you connect a computer to a massive chunk of storage. Although I still prefer Buffalo’s Pogoplug-compatible drives for everyday storage and sharing, this Iomega system is quite cool and quite compelling for a small office or shop environment.Click to view slideshow.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 07:05 AM PDT
CityMaps, the social mapping company fresh off its $2.5 million Series A, is rolling out a big update today which not only brings the service to a fourth city (Boston), but also introduces a recommendations feature it calls “Featured Maps.” This option allows users to quickly see recommended places to eat, drink, shop and play as a new layer on the map.
The update is live now in the iTunes App Store, and while I don’t have CityMaps available in my hometown just yet (it’s currently in New York, San Francisco and Austin, in addition to Boston), it’s easy enough to switch to another city to see the map for that area.
For a little background, CityMaps aggregates local business information it collects from third-party sources like Twitter, Foursquare and Groupon, which it then uses to create detailed maps of area businesses. Block-by-block, it shows all the restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, hotels, and even the parking lots and garages in between. It also smartly integrates features like real-time train updates, movie showtimes, OpenTable, parking rates, local deals and Twitter updates right into the maps themselves.
In a previous version of the iOS app, you could tap on buttons to see either “tweets” or “deals,” but these features have now been combined into one section called “Discover.” The Discover bar pops up a window from the bottom of the screen, showing you the geo-targeted updates and offers.
Also new in the update is directional navigation, which now provides users with step-by-step directions to any destination within CityMaps. This feature is still in beta, but it’s nice that you now don’t have to swap between your preferred default map app and this one after you figure out where it is you want to go.
However, the bigger piece to today’s update, is the above-mentioned “Featured Maps” section. Here, you’ll find local guides from that city’s trusted brands, for example, Time Out’s Best Brunch Spots, NYC & Co.’s Guide to Off Broadway, Boston Magazine’s Best Bars, etc. These are organized into the appropriate category within the Featured section (Eat, Drink, Shop, Play, etc.) and you can scroll through the guides with a flip. Tap on any specific guide you like and the details display on the map. (See photo on right).
CityMaps says this Featured Maps section is the first step towards letting users create their own custom maps of their cities.
You can grab the latest version of CityMaps here in iTunes.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Datameer was founded in 2009 to help businesses run analytics against large data sets with no programming required. With its latest release, Datameer is introducing two new versions of its data analytics software that can be run on the desktop or on an enterprise’s own server.
The Enterprise version of its product is based on Apache Hadoop, and would work with any Hadoop distributor, whether it be Cloudera, Hortonworks, EMC, or anyone else. With Version 2.0, users of the enterprise client will still have that capability. But in addition to that, Datameer is rolling out two new versions of its software: a personal edition, which can run on the desktop, as well as a workgroup edition, which can run on a single server.
Yes, Hadoop on a desktop. All you have to do is download the Datameer software and install it, and Hadoop will be running natively on your machine.
In addition to introducing multiple editions, Datameer has also added some improvements to its data visualization features. It’s added a Business Infographic Designer so that users can build vector-based graphics directly within the application. Doing so also means that graphics can be dynamically updated, so there’s no worry about rebuilding infographics in outside applications whenever new data is added.
The app has also gotten a major user interface upgrade, moving from Flash to HTML5. That means that the application is available on a wider range of devices, including the iPad and other mobile devices that didn’t have Flash support. The software can also be used across multiple PC operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. The software also increased the number of data sources it supports, including some social networks like Twitter and Facebook, as well as Netezza, COBOL, and Teradata export.
Pricing depends on which edition of the software folks are using. Datameer Personal, which is limited to a single user and computer, and can support up to 100GB of data, is available for $299. Datameer Workgroup supports up to 50 users and can work with up to 1TB of data, is priced at $2999 for a limited time. Pricing for Datameer Enterprise depends on setup and needs of the company using it.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 06:51 AM PDT
Works of art are timeless and now, thanks to Makerbot and the Met, they can be deathless, too. A June 1 hackathon brought a group of artists and hackers together at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art where they 3D scanned a number of well-known pieces of art. The work is now appearing on Thingiverse where you can download and print things like the head and shoulders of a sphinx and Bather by Jean-Antoine Houdon.
Makerbot CEO Bre Pettis wrote:
The project, which is now ongoing, led to the Capture Your Town initiative which encourages makers to wander the streets of their cities, 3D scanning cool stuff willy-nilly.
I find this whole system – a sort of guerrilla curation – fascinating and amazingly important. Art is meant to be shared and like MIT’s open classroom initiatives and public domain book projects, this initiative gives things that may moulder on shelves and in out-of-the-way museums new life. While the reproductions aren’t as beautiful as the originals (yet), 3D printing is only getting better and it’s only a matter of time before we can beautify our homes and lives with art, design, and architecture from around the world.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 06:36 AM PDT
What do you know? In proper Apple fashion, the Apple Store is officially down in preparation for the company’s WWDC Keynote announcements, where we expect to hear about refreshed notebooks, a new OS X Mountain Lion, and most importantly, the next-generation version of iOS.
But we noticed something a little different about the company’s “Be Back Soon” page. Once upon a time, the Apple store placeholder was a post-it note, with the text appearing in the same default font used in the Notes application. But more recently, Apple changed the page to something a bit more mature, with standard Apple font on a white place card. But alas, the same linen finish seen on the Siri application has taken over the entirety of the background of the page. Except… it isn’t dark grey, it’s silver.
If you remember correctly, one of the major rumors of this year’s iOS 6 announcement is the possibility that Apple is switching up the color scheme of its UI, from a muted blue to silver.
The WWDC 2012 app released by Apple sports a brand new chrome UI with black text, which has been taken by many as a hint of what to expect. I see this subtle shift in background to be another.
Now, the main question is whether or not the Siri UI will change. The linen-style finish seen here is used inside Siri, which has always been a very dark grey with white text. But a switch over to a very light silver or chrome color would make sense should rumors of a new Silver UI come to fruition. IF that’s the case, expect to see black text similar to the text shown in the WWDC app.
We’ll have to wait just a bit longer to find out if this means anything, but in the mean time, Apple’s pull-down of the online store is proof that everything’s running right on schedule.
See you guys, at 1pm ET/10am PT.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 06:28 AM PDT
On the Web, it’s all about engagement. Site owners, administrators, content producers, eCommerce companies — and everyone in between — are constantly trying to find better ways to keep their customers engaged and interacting with their content and products. With the share-pocalypse at hand, brands big and small have to find ways to better utilize and harness social media in their content, customer relation, and marketing strategies. Do this, or get left behind — it’s the directive of eBusiness in the era of Facebook and Twitter.
As businesses catch on to the fact that social is not a trend but a way of doing business, Gigya is looking to help them navigate this “socialization” and what it means for their business. To help it in its own quest, the startup is today announcing that it has raised $15.3 million in venture capital, bringing its total to just under $45 million.
New investor Advance Publication, which publishes more than 125 paper and digital publications through Conde Nast, and Adobe joined a field of previous investors as part of the new round, including Mayfield Fund, Benchmark Capital, and DAG Ventures.
Over the past year, Gigya has been growing fast. It now has over 500 customers, its technology is reaching more than one billion unique users per month, and the startups sales more than tripled YOY, with the average deal size doubling. Its revenues are growing in kind, and CEO Patrick Salyer says this raise wasn’t for extra cash flow. Right now, it’s all about scaling.
While social media management (think Buddy, Vitrue, Hootsuite, etc.) is a bit more mature, Salyer thinks social infrastructure is still emerging. So, for competitive reasons, he remained tight-lipped about revenues, but did say Gigya expects sales to triple again in 2012 and is seeing encouraging trends in cash and revenues.
That can sound like marketing drek, but Gigya is now working with 40 of the top 100 web properties in the U.S. and is expanding its presence into Europe, recently opening new headquarters in London and attracting customers like the London Evening Standard, The Independent, and Goal.com.
With its new funding, “We’re looking to turn on the heat,” Salyer tells us, expanding its 120-person staff by an additional 50 or 60 heads over the coming months.
“There’s not a company out there that doesn’t think they have to do implement a social strategy,” or boost what they’ve already got, the Gigya CEO said. There’s a reason Salesforce and Oracle have stepped up their acquisition strategies when it comes to social solutions, and Salyer sees this as validation for Gigya’s business.
“They’re not buying these companies for their revenues or for their teams — although that’s a part of it — they’re buying them to integrate their solutions into their existing products, to begin offering them to their clients immediately,” he says.
Just for a bit of background for those unfamiliar, Gigya offers an all-in-one-place SaaS solution, providing businesses with social infrastructure that lets them make their sites social. In other words, businesses can use Gigya’s suite of plug-ins to tie their own social profiles and their users’ social graphs into their websites. The startup offers plug-ins for comments, ratings, reviews, live chats, and news feeds, etc. that integrate with social log-ins, sharing, and gamification tools to let businesses consolidate and offer a more social experience in one fell swoop.
The startup counts brands like ABC, CBS, Pepsi, Verizon, Home Depot, White Castle, and PlayStation as current customers, and Salyer says that with the average enterprise company spending $300 or $400K on social initiatives (and growing), there’s still a big market (and a sizable share) left to capture.
The CEO says that, when it comes to these social initiatives, media sites and their product managers were the first to get on board, followed by consumer brands (the Pepsis and Cokes of the world). eCommerce companies were slower to adopt, but the CEO says that, on a percentage basis, they’ve seen eCommerce adoption really hockey stick over the last nine months.
Over the last six-odd months, the startup has been adding to its social infrastructure suite with functionality like Social Identity Management and Social Gamification to let businesses enable registration through social login, increase engagement through plug-ins and differentiate marketing approaches by leveraging permission-based social identity data.
And, going forward, Gigya is going to be accelerating its efforts to bring these technologies to eCommerce companies, which are accelerating their own social strategies.
Gamification is also becoming a bigger part of both SMB and enterprise social strategy, for eCommerce companies and beyond. Gartner Research estimates that more than 70 percent of "Global 2000″ organizations will have a gamified app by 2015. The players in the gamification space are finding plenty of funding to fuel their fires as the space heats up, as startups like Badgeville are going deep with cloud-based gamification suites.
Salyer said, that while Gigya will be competing with companies like Badgeville in the gamification department, he thinks they’ve got a leg up because they can attract them with gamified solutions yet give them the whole top-down social infrastructure on top.
It’s a smart play, and we’ll see if businesses continue to buy it.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 06:22 AM PDT
Games (and alcohol) make everything better. With that thought, What Makes It Fun creates interactive Bingo boards for major internet events. Today’s card is of course themed for WWDC with games spots such as iTV, 3D Maps, and iPad Mini. We used to produce printable Apple Bingo boards ourselves, but this interactive board will certainly save several trees. Plus, you can randomize the tiles!
Our liveblog coverage kicks off at 1pm EDT/10am PDT after Peter Ha makes his way through the crowds at the Moscone Center. As with the rest of the Internet, we expect quite the dog and pony show today, with Apple not only announcing new notebooks but also the latest mobile and desktop operating systems, iOS 6 and Mountain Lion. So now, with this bingo game board, you might as well write off most of your workday. You’re not going to get any work done today.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 06:04 AM PDT
Although Apple seems to want to forget all about that sad, dark time when their logo featured all the colors of the rainbow, this iPhone mod – really an aluminium back plate – will bring those memories rushing back. You can swap out the plate simply by unscrewing the two small screws at the bottom of your phone and a four bucks more gets you a glowing, translucent rainbow logo.
Sure it’s not as cool as the transparent mod I saw in China a few months ago, but if you want some real old school styling this may be a good choice.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 04:30 AM PDT
Personal finance service (and TechCrunch Disrupt alum) Credit Sesame has just secured $12 million in Series B funding. The round was led by Globespan Capital Partners, and included participation from Credit Sesame’s existing investors, Menlo Ventures and Inventus Capital.
The financing will help the company continue its product development and market reach, CEO Adrian Nazari tells us, and in the next three to six months, we’ll see a lot of new capabilities added to both the mobile and web version of the service. The features will offer consumers even more insights into their current debt situation and give them more ways to save money, he says.
Given the current economy, Credit Sesame is a startup focused on a very timely issue: it helps consumers get out of debt. While other services like Intuit-owned Mint.com look at a person’s bank accounts, investments, budget and goals, Credit Sesame is solely focused on the “liability” side of the balance sheet, meaning your credit and loans. Using advanced analytics developed by Stanford University scientists then vetted by top banks, Credit Sesame is able to analyze a person’s current debt situation and then make recommendations as to how they can make improvements.
It is not, however, in the lead generation business. “Most lead generation businesses are very wide and shallow,” says Nazari, “they’re sort of like a house of cards, ready for disruption.” He says that consumers don’t want to be lured into clicking on things that are essentially meaningless to them – what they really want is to be guided and given insight into their current financial situation.
Currently, the startup recommends various loan and credit options based on its analysis of a person’s debt. And with its recently launched iPhone application, users can see this information on the go, including their credit score (from Experian). Today, 15% of Credit Sesame users are now also mobile users. An Android version is expected to arrive by the end of Q3 2012.
While Nazari won’t disclose Credit Sesame’s user numbers, he says that it’s now managing $20 billion in consumer loans through its service, and is saving its users over $170 million per month through its recommendations. 48% of users are active, returning to the site two or more times per month. The company has been doubling its growth quarter over quarter, and has seen revenue increase by 4 times quarter over quarter, he tells us.
With all the growth, the company is hiring “in a very big way,” Nazari adds, with 18 open positions in marketing, development and design. “Our business model is working, it is producing. Adoption is great, engagement is great,” he says, “so we want to scale the business at this point.” The company is also looking into expanding from its current home in Sunnyvale, and has plans to set up shop somewhere a bit north, likely in the San Francisco Bay area.
Founded in April 2010, Credit Sesame had previously raised $7.35 million in funding.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 04:00 AM PDT
Back in March, video startup DramaFever announced that it had raised a $4.5 million Series B from MK Capital and YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, among others. Now the company has added some big media companies to the round, including AMC Networks and Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (part of German media giant Bertelsmann AG).
The extra money brings the Series B to $6 million and DramaFever’s total funding to $7.5 million. The other new investors are NALA Investments (which manages investments for the Diez Barroso Azcarraga family, founders of Televisa and Univision), Machinima CEO Allen DeBevoise, and LowerMyBills.com CEO Matt Coffin. Former Fox TV chairman Sandy Grushow is also joining as an advisor.
DramaFever co-founder Seung Bak said the additional funding is mostly strategic, tying the company to potential partners for its future growth. Those growth plans include expanding the types of content that it’s bringing to North American audiences — going beyond Asian TV shows to Latin American shows (telenovelas), Asian pop music videos, and Bollywood movies.
I asked Bak about the competitive landscape, specifically how DramaFever stacks up against ViKi, an international video site with funding from Andreessen Horowitz, BBC, and Greylock. He positioned DramaFever somewhere between a site like ViKi (which, for example, crowdsources its subtitles to the community) and more “mainstream” service like Netflix or Hulu.
“It’s an open market,” Bak said. “We just see tremendous opportunity here. ViKi’s doing interesting things; we’re sort of focusing on the premium end.”
And while Bak has described DramaFever as a replacement for the VHS tapes that can be purchased in Asian supermarkets (something I remember from my own childhood), the company also claims that 75 percent of its viewers are not of Asian descent. Traffic is supposedly up 400 percent since early 2011.
Posted: 11 Jun 2012 02:00 AM PDT
European startups get a shot in the arm this week with the launch of Silicon Valley Bank in London today. Known for its understanding of the tech space, SVB will target the technology and life science sectors.
It will make loans of between £300,000 and £30 million to tech companies looking to expand. Shazam and The Foundry are already UK clients.
In the U.S., where it has made $7 billion in loans, clients include Cisco Systems, Mozilla and Pinterest. It also acts as a bank for investors including NEA, Sequoia Capital and Silver Lake. In the UK the bank is working with Index Ventures and Balderton Capital among others.
The problem with existing retail banks is that they rarely serve smaller tech companies which are unlikely to have three years worth of accounts yet, or any sales when they start up. SVB aims to bridge that gap.
Phil Cox, Head of UK, Israel and India for Silicon Valley Bank, said: “We have seen a marked shift in recent years in our chosen niche industries’ activity within the UK.” He said the elements of an emerging and effective technology ecosystem were strongly emerging in the UK.
Commenting on the launch, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer today said: “The news that Silicon Valley Bank is launching a full banking service in London is yet more proof that the UK is fast becoming the technology centre of Europe.”
The new UK branch of SVB is at 41 Lothbury in the City of London. You can contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @SVB_UK, or by telephone: on +44 (0)20 7367 7800
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 10:46 PM PDT
Earlier today, Twitter made its most aggressive grab for TV marketing dollars, with the release of a TV ad during the Pocono 400 and the launch of the corresponding Twitter.com/#NASCAR hashtag page.
I said at the time that the campaign reminds me somewhat of those AOL keywords that used to get tagged about during commercials and at the end of television episodes. See, once upon a time AOL — loving parent of this wonderful tech blog — was the way that a good part of the American population got onto this thing called the Internet. And so, for a time it was the go-to place to find out more about all your favorite brands, products, TV shows, movies — you name it.
See Twitter, like AOL before it, wants to be the destination for users who wish to engage with a certain brand. It wants to own the URL that runs at the end of an ad. Actually, scratch that — it wants to own the hashtag that appears during the ad or TV show, to become synonymous with where the conversation happens.
Now, Twitter isn’t the on-ramp to the Internet that AOL was… But it’s got something even better: Twitter has a base of very vocal and very engaged users. And these users are essentially creating a ton of content, which smart brands are starting to leverage to promote their goods and services. In a way, it’s already the place where brand conversation happens.
That’s what’s so brilliant about #NASCAR and what we can only assume will be future hashtag landing pages: The brands themselves don’t have to actually create anything new. Without actually knowing what happens on the back end of a hashtag page, it seems clear that Twitter has built a pretty slick way to curate and repurpose content that is being tweeted out by its users.
Unlike AOL Keywords — and today’s rough equivalent, Facebook Pages — where the onus is on the brand to create, upload, and promote the most compelling content, Twitter’s managed to get its users to do the hard work for brands. Now all the brands have to do is surface those conversations, make them available in an easy-to-read way. #NASCAR shows how that can be done pretty successfully.
It’s the act of curation rather than creation which is why I think Twitter’s strategy has legs, and why it could beat out other methods of social marketing. Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than getting your biggest fans to promote your brand for you.
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 10:00 PM PDT
Editor's note: Alex Banayan is an associate at Alsop Louie Partners, an early stage technology venture capital firm based in San Francisco, CA. He is nineteen years old (and thus this post could really use a #humblebrag in the title). To stay connected with Alex, sign up for his newsletter here.
Okay, full disclosure: I've never had a startup go through an IPO, I don't have an MBA—heck—I'm not even old enough to take the finance course offered at my school, but I'm now an associate at Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm. My story is a bit crazy, so by all means stop reading now if you're looking for a fairytale. Being a VC at 19 was never part of the plan.
Fellow TechCrunch readers, I'm sure you can relate: in high school all of my friends would talk at lunch about last night's Lakers game while all I wanted to talk about was Steve Jobs’ MacWorld keynote. I was "that kid."
When I started college in 2010, I was a pre-med student thanks to the encouragement (aka pressure) from my Persian immigrant family. While studying in the library with my bio books, my mind kept wandering. I couldn't stop wondering how people jump-started their careers. How did Bill Gates, as a sophomore in college, make his first successful sales call out of his dorm room? I became obsessed with this topic and read every book I could get my hands on, from “Founders at Work” to “Outliers.” After months of searching for that ideal book that specifically focused on what little things the world's most successful people did to propel their careers, I was left empty handed. I found a gap in the market and decided to fill it. If no one else was going to write the book I wanted to read, I would write it myself.
I approached my book like a startup and I spent the next year running around getting my idea off the ground. I cultivated a network of advisors, I got to know my future audience, and I focused on building my product every day. I obsessed (and still am obsessing) over getting interviews with the world's most successful people and putting their advice together in a way that isn't just compelling but also practical as hell.
This past winter I came across an article featuring Ernestine Fu, a venture capitalist from Alsop Louie Partners. Now, I don't have many natural talents—I'm terrible at talking to girls and I can't throw a football—but I do have a knack for finding people's email addresses online. Although my goal wasn't to be a VC (frankly, I didn't even think it was possible at my age), the article really piqued my interest so I decided to reach out to her via email. Ernestine and I had lunch the next week.
At the end of that lunch I heard the single sentence that changed my life: So, would you consider working in venture capital?
To be perfectly honest, my first thought was a blunt no. Although I was very much immersed in the startup scene and I read TechCrunch on the daily, it was never part of my plan to be a VC. However, lightning doesn't strike the same place twice. I said yes and was interviewed by the firm's founding partner two weeks later.
After my interview with Stewart Alsop, the head of the firm and one of the godfathers of Silicon Valley, I was invited to San Francisco to meet the entire Alsop Louie team. I packed my bags thinking I was going to do some quick hellos and be a fly-on-the-wall while they did their thing. I definitely did not expect what came next.
In that single day, I met the partners, attended a meeting with the entire firm, sat in on a startup pitch, and even attended a board of directors meeting for a portfolio company. Naively, each time a new meeting began, I thought, "Let's just sit back and observe." Little did I know I was going to be quizzed on what my tech philosophy was, questioned about my opinion on the startups that pitched us, and asked about my thoughts on the current Silicon Valley scene.
Two weeks later, the email came in. The subject line simply read: Alex Banayan's Offer Letter. I couldn't believe it.
The most frequent question I'm asked is what happened at that initial lunch meeting with Ernestine Fu where she first suggested I work with Alsop Louie Partners.
No disrespect to the great Dale Carnegie, but I disagree with his clichéd mantra of "be interested, not interesting." At that first lunch, although I was passionately interested in hearing from the other VC, when the time came later in the conversation, I didn't hesitate to show my feathers. I was interested and then interesting.
I was open about sharing all the adventures I went on during the past year—from winning The Price is Right (and using my prize money as seed funding for the book) to flying in zero gravity. I spoke openly about my obsession with the tech world.
People tend to get the words humble and modest mixed up. Humbleness is an internal sense of gratitude whereas modesty is a facade of meekness. At that lunch meeting I was humble, but I sure as hell was not modest. Being humble is one of the most important virtues in life—it is a state of gratitude in which you acknowledge that all the opportunities available to you today are thanks to the tracks laid out by the people who came before you. Modesty, however, is an attempt to mask how awesome you are as a way to charm others. Never shy away from sharing with people your crazy stories and your prized accomplishments—modesty is fool's gold.
If you share your story with genuine passion and a sincere sense of humility, and you are sure to first be interested in the other person, you never know what opportunities might manifest.
As a venture capitalist who is still an undergrad in college, the second most frequent question I'm asked is what my thoughts are on the current college startup scene.
It isn't an exaggeration to say that 80% of the college startups I see on a regular basis are complete trash. I know most of you reading this will be taken aback by my brashness, but if you sit in on an Intro to Entrepreneurship class where students come up with a startup idea the night before their project is due and start saying they have the next Instagram, you'll see what I mean.
Most startups I see on the ground level are campus daily deals programs or textbook exchanges. There are of course exceptions, but I don't give these pitches as much consideration because, frankly, how can I advocate to the firm to invest a million dollars in a dorm room food delivery service? Where is the technology? Where is the growth potential?
However, the other 20% of startups really, really excite me. They are playing in frontiers with big opportunities, such as big data, cloud computing, and mobile security. I want to see entrepreneurs who are either disrupting or creating new markets, not just adding noise to already crowded spaces. That's where I believe the action is, and most importantly, that's where you can really make a dent in the universe.
Being nineteen and seeing my name on my company credit card sometimes freaks me out. I'd be lying to say there aren't moments of self-doubt. Am I sure I have the chops to stand by my opinions when I'm on conference calls with the other partners—who have all been involved in the computer industry for more than twenty-five years each?
On the flip side, my age presents me unprecedented opportunities: I'm tapped into what's happening in the trenches. Steve Jobs started Apple a month after his twenty-first birthday. Gates started Microsoft at twenty and Zuckerberg started Facebook at 19. At my age, I'm not just hearing pitches from entrepreneurs, I'm hanging out with them in their dorm rooms.
Although I was initially worried that I might be spreading myself too thin if I accepted the VC job in addition to being a full-time college student and working on the book, my position at Alsop Louie Partners is working out perfectly in my schedule (albeit, quite tightly). Attending venture capital mixers, sitting in on demo days, and meeting one-on-one with startups is the tech equivalent of working in a toy store for me.
Did I know that my obsession with the tech world would lead to a job in VC? Not at all. Regardless, this is the most exhilarating, and humbling, experience of my life.
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 08:49 PM PDT
Peter Fenton joined Benchmark Capital in 2006, after spending seven years as a partner at Accel. Not yet 40, Fenton already sits on the board of directors at companies like New Relic, Polyvore, Twitter, Yelp, and Zendesk. Starting at Accel in his late twenties, the young investor focused his attention on the enterprise — on backing smart software and infrastructure companies. In 2009, for example, the young VC helped lead SpringSource’s $400 million+ sale to VMWare.
Yet, Fenton saw promise in startups like Twitter, investing in the microblogging service back when it employed just 25 people — and got in early on Yelp, too. Becoming actively involved in consumer web companies, Fenton came to recognize a marked difference between how these startups approached their users (and their market) and how enterprise players were doing business. Today, he tells us, a sea change has come to enterprise, which is being driven not only by a fundamental transformation of company culture but by new generation of users — namely those pesky, plucky Millennials.
Fenton believes that today we sit at a significant inflection point for enterprise software companies. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz have made it clear that software has begun to eat the world, a belief that is reflected in their own investment thesis, which focuses almost exclusively on promising software startups.
But it’s not the old software model that is consuming the planet. When we talk about this not-to-be-underestimated change in software companies, we’re talking about the consumerization of enterprise. And we’re talking about the changing role of CIOs (and the distribution of their responsibilities), the rise of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) mentality, like the increasing adoption of tablets among IT decision makers, the integration of social tools, and even the introduction of gamification into enterprise.
While that last point may seem surprising, Gartner Research estimates that more than 70 percent of "Global 2000″ organizations will have a gamified app by 2015. On the whole, social initiatives are becoming integral to product strategies at the enterprise level, with more and more money being allocated internally to ensure that companies catch up to their consumer-facing brethren. And gamification is now a part of that shift in spending.
That’s why Fenton says that, boiled down, the consumerization of enterprise is about software companies re-focusing on ease of use and a top-down ability to be flexible and to quickly adopt those always-there consumer tools and technologies. Por que? Because younger generations have grown up using Facebook, social games, tweeting, “liking,” connecting on Myspace, texting, instant messaging, etc. These are fundamentally new (and different) user experiences, and more importantly they’re engaging. Even for something as boring (and yet essential) as BI.
Given the choice of viewing your core operations/business metrics in Excel or in a social, tablet optimized, interactive and rich multimedia app, no one opts for the former.
The companies that have seen success in recent memory have soaked up these experiences and are now intrinsically focused on creating fantastic (and addictive) user experiences. Instagram is just one of many that pop to mind. And it’s no mistake that the creators of these new, successful software companies are young. But they don’t have to be — at least not in the way you might think.
We often hear pundits, the media (and everyone else) drone on about how the entrepreneurs that are most successful are young. They just dropped out of Stanford, or better yet, they’re just learning to drive. The logic goes that they’ll be more successful because they’re less risk averse (cough, dumber) or that they have the energy to work those long startup hours, code all night, they don’t have kids to feed and will thus be less likely to ball up under their desk and weep because of what they stand to lose. That’s all true, more or less, but it’s really because they’ve been weaned on Facebook. (And they have no idea what a feature phone is.)
These entrepreneurs are creating new products to delight themselves and their friends — the core users of the Myspaces and Facebooks of the world. Not only that, but while they may find success based on a core team of badass engineers (and their cultures do reflect this), yes, really it’s the consumer that has become the rockstar developer. And companies that recognize this are much more likely to succeed, the Benchmark partner says.
So that’s what he sees as one of the biggest drivers of the tectonic shift at the enterprise level, and it’s creating a new, exciting generation of dynamic companies. (And, let’s be honest, “dynamic” is not typically a synonym for “software company.” Just ask Aaron Levie; he knows.) The truth is that we’re seeing a fundamental shift from sales-driven companies to product-driven companies. The companies that are leading the way there (Fenton cites Dropbox and, of course, portfolio companies Zendesk and New Relic) let this consumer and product focus permeate (read: define) the culture of their companies.
“It’s a fundamentally different value system,” he says. “These companies don’t try to sell to non-users.”
Younger generations demand a radically different user interface, one that breathes ease of use and really pops. Scoble (and a few million others) have said that enterprise software isn’t sexy (or dynamic). Understandably so. It isn’t. After all, for decades, it’s just been hard to offer a lightweight, flexible consumer-facing interface that’s supported by the depth of functionality enterprise is/can be known for: Robust security, reliability, deep backend integration, and tools for use in the multitude of business processes (and use cases) inside huge, death star-sized organizations.
But IT and consumer tech have begun to mate, and while the resulting offspring may not yet be sexy, at least things aren’t looking so much like Frankenstein’s monster or Conan’s “If They Mated” sketches.
When Box’s Aaron Levie addressed some of the major myths behind enterprise software, really he was addressing issues that have at one time or another been true for the market, but have recently begun to change. They are becoming myths. Among them is that enterprise software companies don’t scale well.
As Levie points out, software companies were traditionally seen as entities which addressed niche markets, then tried to lumber their way across the divide into larger markets — all the while, burning through mountains of cash like addled junkies thanks to high (unsustainable) sales cycles. Historically, for these companies, the cost of acquiring new customers has been high. But, with the emergence of the cloud, things have changed.
The cloud has lowered the barriers to scale, making enterprise solutions instantly horizontal and global, providing an increasing number of access points to much larger markets. Fenton says that he’s been keen on finding smart, product-focused entrepreneurs and either turning them on to enterprise opportunities or backing those already beginning to focus there. There’s a much greater opportunity for those companies to reach scale than it is for their sales-driven counterparts.
He thinks New Relic is a great example of this. (Again, keep in mind that New Relic is a Benchmark portfolio company.) New Relic, which offers a cloud-based app performance management and monitoring solution, has been moving away from the traditional sales model, which often takes way too much time to onboard and train new customers.
Companies like New Relic, Box, and Dropbox are creating products that are robust yet don’t require new users to go through lengthy training or workshops to learn how to use the product, and they have enough sex (or visual) appeal to warrant giving them a try without dealing with a migraine.
As Patrick Moran of New Relic said in a recent post, the key to reaching scale for software startups has also been the freemium model — the old model of software licensing provides too much friction for new customers. There are too many options out there in the market, and the attention span of the average consumer is short.
With the freemium, subscription model, the fact that consumers can touch the product before they ever take out their wallets is extremely important, Fenton says. These companies have to resist temptations to grow revenue more quickly (he cited Github here), which is a lot easier to do when executives are focused on the product — when there’s little separation between the creator and the end user.
When users get to touch the product themselves, it creates an experiential value. “That’s how we live in the world,” Fenton says, “and that’s how our products should work.” There’s no longer a CIO sitting in his high chair in a grey suit barking orders, making the product decisions for big companies with even larger user bases. Employees and customers are now driving product decisions.
As a result, there’s been a rise in the number of SaaS companies going public, as these companies recognize their business customers moving away from in-house solutions to more flexible, cloud-based platforms that boost productivity and help shrink costs. These companies aren’t focused on media hype but by “the investor appetite for attractive recurring revenue business models offered by SaaS platforms,” and investors are no longer worried as much by sub-$100 million revenues or a lack in GAAP earnings, “because there is a comfort driven by the 90-95% customer retention rates and an understanding that investing capital back in the business makes sense during the early phase of adoption,” said Doug Pepper, a General Partner at InterWest Partners.
Fenton is seeing a new model of production and a changing culture in young software companies and is investing accordingly. The ways we work — and the ways we interact with software — are changing, and will only continue to change. And the cost for missing the boat is getting higher: Software companies have to get on board, or be left behind.
What do you think?
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 07:36 PM PDT
Andy Rubin, head of Google’s Android unit, made one of his rare appearances on Twitter today, denying rumors that he’s leaving Google… And as usual, announced new Android activation numbers.
Rubin’s tweet came in response to a rumor floated by Robert Scoble earlier today, in which Rubin was reportedly leaving Google to head up a new startup called CloudCar. Based in Los Altos, Calif., CloudCar is made up of some former Core Mobility and WebTV Networks alums. (Rubin had at one time worked for WebTV/MSN TV before founding Danger Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft.)
Rubin poured cold water on the rumor, however, saying he had no plans to leave. Oh, and by the way — Android now has 900,000 activations per day.
The activation bit is kind of a joke, since Rubin apparently only appears online to quote Android numbers. Of his 11 tweets since joining Twitter in October 2010, more than half have cited the number of Android devices activated each day. The last number he quoted — 850,000 activated — was during Mobile World Congress in February.
The good news is that daily activations keep going up — although they appear to be slowing down a bit in the last few months, after jumping from 500,000 to 700,000 between June and December of last year, and from 700,000 to 850,000 in the following two months.
And, of course, there’s always the possibility — the probability, even — that Rubin is trolling Apple the day before its annual Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off. Apple execs frequently tout the number of its iOS devices are out in the wild and the number of daily activations during their keynotes. Expect them to do the same tomorrow, especially with a new version of iOS expected to be announced. And expect that number to be dissected and compared against Rubin’s tweet when that happens.
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 06:18 PM PDT
The New York Times is ON IT.
No, seriously, what the hell are they putting in the water over there? …
Aside from a misfired satiric lede declaring that men invented the internet, the first piece linked to above blamed Ellen Pao’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins on her “randiness” — whatever that means. The second hinted that women will get nowhere professionally in Silicon Valley unless they have intimate relations with a bachelor, like Larry Ellison.
All the news that’s fit to print, indeed.
Not only do these nationally syndicated articles painfully remind us just how far women have to go, they also manage to make us look ridiculous in the process. Take Exhibit A:
For women, "the ratio certainly can work in your favor," said Julia Allison, a former tech journalist who divides her time between New York and the Bay Area, and says she finds digital entrepreneurs more satisfying partners than Wall Street moguls: "Wouldn't you rather be with someone who was changing the world?"
Now we are well aware that quotes can be taken out of context, but quite honestly we'd rather BE someone who was changing the world than "be with" them. Nothing against Allison, but these types of snippets from otherwise successful people who just happen to be female perpetuate our perceived vapidness and allow us to be taken less seriously. At its core this piece is basically encouraging gold-digging.
How the perception that women need The NYTimes-sanctioned “dating profiles” of wealthy, eligible bachelors in the Silicon Valley still exists in 2012 is baffling, but quotes like the above give us a clue. By the way, at least three of the dudes profiled aren't even bachelors. Crackerjack "reporting" job there, Gray Lady!
This post is written by women who work in technology in various ways. We have experienced gender bias. Sexual harassment even. According to the Times it is part of the “lore” of Silicon Valley, as present as Foosball tables and hoodies. Yet we keep plugging along. We work hard and love technology, startups and the energy of the Valley. And we completely feel you, Sandy Kurtzig:
"I am shocked there aren't more women in high positions in Silicon Valley," Ms. Kurtzig said. "I always thought the world was going to be gender-blind."
Hopefully one day it will be. In the meantime, spare us these absurd stories New York Times. Unless you write one from our point of view. We'll even write the @NYTOnIt tweet for you: "GUYS, women in technology are pissed off at the New York Times, and the Times is ON IT."
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 06:13 PM PDT
First of all, let me say that the Dry Case Waterproof Backpack is designed for use in outdoor environments with the main goal of keeping things in the inner compartment dry. Clearly, all the marketing pictures at DryCase.com, show people using the bag in wet, outdoorsy places (on a canoe, on a boat, etc), and with that in mind the biggest question is “does it actually work?” I put it through the ringer. Here are the results:
In short, it performs quite well. It survived my rigorous, jackass-eque tests and it pretty much passed with flying colors because nothing inside got wet.
Some moisture (forgive me for calling it condensation in the video) did collect behind the shoulder strap shield but never permeated the actual inside of the bag. This makes me wonder if mildew could be a long-term possibility if not promptly and properly dried out. Other than that this bag is the real deal!
But can you use it for everyday office life and travel too? This is a pretty serious backpack and that’s just the thing…it may be a little too serious for office life. Whether or not you want to tote your daily gear in this bag around the city or through airports will depend on who you are, where you live and what your needs are.
When I am evaluating a backpack for office life/travel, I’m always torn between wanting things that can sometimes be mutually exclusive. I want total protection but I also want flexibility. I want style but I also want comfort.
For example, do I really want to head out for a sportcoat-clad commute wearing a bag that would look more at home being worn while wading through a stream at the base of Grand Teton? At the same time, when I’m traveling and standing in the rain trying to hail a cab and the water pouring off my floundering umbrella is landing directly on my bag, I want everything inside to stay dry. A first world problem to have indeed.
Protection versus flexibility. Style versus comfort. The Dry Case Waterproof Backpack is almost the great bridge between these bifurcate needs. Almost, but not quite. Ultimately though, it works well, so tradeoffs just have to be balanced against preference.
As noted, the bag seals up tightly to be waterproof. You roll the lengthy top down and snap it together with on-board latches. In doing so, additional air is captured inside and this can lead to a “puffy” pack (which could actually come in handy if you drop your pack off the side of a boat). However in a day-to-day scenario, excess air in the pack could look silly.
To alleviate this issue, the Dry Case Waterproof Backpack has a smart little air valve at the bottom that lets you squeegee out any captured air, once you have the pack all sealed up. In this way, you can really get the pack down to a slim profile…almost like a vacuum seal. An interesting concept.
Despite its definite outdoorsy stylings, I actually like how the bag looks. It’s fairly sporty and, as noted, can have a slim profile. The two-tone black and blue is pleasant enough. The shoulder straps are hearty and comfortable. There is also a belt strap which would be a bonus for walking distances.
Missing Compartments And Padding
Most notably, there is no laptop sleeve inside, nor are there additional inner compartments for cables etc — it’s just one big space inside (30 liters-worth according to the website). Probably more suited for filling with a bunch of clothes instead of cables and whatnot. Before I figured out the air valve trick, I noticed that my laptop was bouncing around inside a bit because of the lack of sleeve.
However, once I took all the air out I could essentially, vucuum-seal my laptop in place. Additionally, there is not any padding along the bottom. You’ll want to make sure you set it down gently if you are toting fragile items inside. Maybe just put a shirt of something soft across the bottom if you are prone to dropping your bag.
It’s Getting Hot In Here
Another thing to note is that this is a vinyl bag. While I didn’t experience it myself yet, I imagine it could get a little hot on your back if carried over a longer walk or bike ride. This is fine when camping or windsurfing, but might be uncomfortable showing up for a presentation with your back drenched in sweat.
The bag also doesn’t have a quick access sleeve for laptops. Indeed, this would negate the entire intention of the waterproofing scheme. The only reason I bring this up is because if you are traveling through airports, you would have to unravel the waterproof top to get your laptop out. It could take a bit longer than a backpack with quicker access compartments. Just something to consider.
The Bottom Line
Does the the bag smell like a new radial tire? Yes, a little. Will it keep the stuff inside dry? Totally. Is the bag great for camping? Absolutely. Can you use it for daily office life too? Yes, with a few concessions. I myself would use this for a daily pack because the waterproofing capability outweighs the other issues for me and I like how it looks. At $79.99, it’s on par with — or cheaper actually — than a lot of different bags out there.
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