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Reports say White House has drafted an order putting the FCC in charge of monitoring social media

By Jonathan Shieber

The White House is contemplating issuing an executive order that would widen its attack on the operations of social media companies.

The White House has prepared an executive order called “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship” that would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight of how Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies monitor and manage their social networks, according to a CNN report.

Under the order, which has not yet been announced and could be revised, the FCC would be tasked with developing new regulations that would determine when and how social media companies filter posts, videos or articles on their platforms.

The draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when investigating or filing lawsuits against technology companies, according to the CNN report.

Social media censorship has been a perennial talking point for President Donald Trump and his administration. In May, the White House set up a tip line for people to provide evidence of social media censorship and a systemic bias against conservative media.

In the executive order, the White House says it received more than 15,000 complaints about censorship by the technology platforms. The order also includes an offer to share the complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.

As part of the order, the Federal Trade Commission would be required to open a public complaint docket and coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission on investigations of how technology companies curate their platforms — and whether that curation is politically agnostic.

Under the proposed rule, any company whose monthly user base includes more than one-eighth of the U.S. population would be subject to oversight by the regulatory agencies. A roster of companies subject to the new scrutiny would include Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Snap and Pinterest .

At issue is how broadly or narrowly companies are protected under the Communications Decency Act, which was part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Social media companies use the Act to shield against liability for the posts, videos or articles that are uploaded from individual users or third parties.

The Trump administration aren’t the only politicians in Washington are focused on the laws that shield social media platforms from legal liability. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took technology companies to task earlier this year in an interview with Recode.

The criticisms may come from different sides of the political spectrum, but their focus on the ways in which tech companies could use Section 230 of the Act is the same.

The White House’s executive order would ask the FCC to disqualify social media companies from immunity if they remove or limit the dissemination of posts without first notifying the user or third party that posted the material, or if the decision from the companies is deemed anti-competitive or unfair.

The FTC and FCC had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

A.Capital Partners, founded by Ronny Conway, targets $140 million for its third fund

By Connie Loizos

Silicon Valley investor Ronny Conway is raising his third early-stage venture fund, shows a new SEC filing that states the fund’s target is $140 million and that the first sale has yet to occur.

The now six-year-old firm, A.Capital, focuses on both consumer and enterprise tech, and has offices in Menlo Park and San Francisco.

Among the many brand-name companies in its portfolio are Coinbase, Airbnb, Pinterest, and Reddit. (You can find its other investments here.)

Conway led the seed-stage program of Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) for roughly four years in its earliest days and left in 2013 to raise his debut fund, which closed with $51 million in capital commitments. He also raised two, smaller parallel funds at the time.

According to SEC filings, he sought out $140 million for his second fund, though he never announced its close.

A.Capital is today run by Conway, along with General Partner Ramu Arunachalam (also formerly of a16z) and Kartik Talwar, who worked previously with Conway’s brother, Topher, and his famed father, Ron, at their separate venture firm, SV Angel.

Conway maintains a far lower profile than his father in particular, who throughout his venture career has nurtured relationships not only with founders but with tech reporters and local politicians.

Though now ancient history in Silicon Valley years, Ronny Conway was credited with introducing Andreessen Horowitz to Instagram during its earliest days.

Conway, a former Googler, met Instagram cofounder Kevin System in the several years when he, too, worked for the search giant, beginning in 2006. It turned out to be a highly worthwhile introduction, though it could have been even lucrative for a16z.

Though the firm made a seed-stage bet on the what was then a far simpler mobile photo-sharing app, a16z never followed up with another check because of investment in another photo-sharing startup that would eventually flounder (PicPlz).

It was a sensitive issue at the time for a16z, with some noting its missed opportunity. In fact, Ben Horowitz later felt compelled to write in a blog post that Andreessen Horowitz made $78 million from its $250,000 seed investment in Instagram when Facebook acquired it $1 billion in 2012.

Google Images on desktop adds a side panel and feels more purpose-driven

By Darrell Etherington

If you’re browsing Google Image search results today, you might notice a new interface element: A sticky side panel that displays any images you click on, providing a closer look at the specific image you want to see, including related images, additional info like ratings, price and in-stock status, ingredients and cooking times, depending on whether you’re searching for products, recipes or something else.

The new sidebar replaces a full-width, in-column interface element, with the advantage that the new interface allows you to continue to browse the image result thumbnails returned on the left. Clicking on any other images will replace the one in the sidebar, but you can easily navigate back and forth with your browser’s built-in navigation features, or you can page through the results in sequence using the right and left arrow keys.

These work already for a lot of existing results and products, but developers who want to ensure their product image results likewise provide this info in a way that means Google’s search engine will pick them up can reference this developer documentation to find out how.

[gallery ids="1865212,1865213,1865214"]

Overall, even though this is not a massive change from what came before, it feels directionally like a big deal: Google has been iterating in a very Pinterest-like direction with image search in general, but this feels functionally like a mature product aimed squarely at comparison shopping, hobbyist cooks, decorators and designers. It’s a very different product from what Images used to be, and that probably affords Google a lot more opportunity in terms of how it monetizes image search in the future.

New Pinterest features encourage brands and creators to upload more videos

By Kate Clark

With each passing day, Pinterest and Instagram are looking more and more alike.

Shortly after going public, Pinterest has incorporated new features to make it easier for creators and brands to upload videos directly to the visual search engine. The company says they’ve observed a 31% increase in searches for “inspirational videos” since 2018 and that “Pinners are 54% more likely to say they’re inspired to action by videos on Pinterest compared to videos on other media platforms.”

As a result, Pinterest has introduced a new and improved video uploader, a video tab on business profiles that allows brands to feature all their videos in one place, an analytics tool to help businesses better understand and analyze their traffic and get insights into performance over time and, finally, Pinterest is allowing creators and businesses to schedule videos ahead of time with a new Pin Scheduler tool.

VideoTab

With these new features, the company is encouraging paying users to post actionable and inspirational how-to videos and tutorials tailored to Pinterest users. Because videos on Pinterest surface and resurface over time, the company explained, videos uploaded directly to Pinterest will have a longer shelf life and, in theory, more engagement than if posted to other platforms.

The brand is hopeful new tools intended to support brands and businesses will increase engagement and ad revenue on the platform.

Now a public company, Pinterest has its work cut out for it. Instagram, once just a photo-sharing application, is making it easier for its users to make purchases directly on its app. The Facebook-owned business introduced “Checkout with Instagram” earlier this year, allowing users who tap its product tags on shopping posts to buy items without leaving the app. Pinterest, for its part, introduced features to facilitate in-app shopping late last year.

In order to simplify the in-app shopping experience, Pinterest rebuilt the infrastructure behind its product pins to include up-to-date pricing and stock information, links that take pinners to the retailer’s website and a new “Products like this” category under each fashion and home decor pin.

According to TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, Instagram is also toying with the idea of launching a Pinterest-like public content curation feature called “Collections.”

The rise of the new crypto “mafias”

By Arman Tabatabai
Ash Egan Contributor
Ash Egan leads crypto investing at Accomplice. He formerly was a VC at ConsenSys Ventures and Converge.

In the early 2000s, journalists popularized the term “PayPal mafia” to describe the PayPal founders and employees who left to start their own wildly successful tech companies, including Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Elon Musk. Drawing from that idea, this article seeks to cover the formation and flow of talent within the crypto landscape today.

I'm fascinated by the concept of tech mafias, popularized by Paypal in the early 00s.

Early signs of crypto mafias:

Coinbase ➡@0xProject @dydxprotocol
Ethereum/ConsenSys ➡@Cardano @polkadotnetwork @metamask_io
MIT ➡@EnigmaMPC @Algorand Unit-e
IC3 ➡ Avalanche

Others?

— Ash Egan (@AshAEgan) April 3, 2019

The crypto world is in a constant state of flux, with new startups entrants joining the industry every single day. These new startups have the potential either to be superstars within a portfolio company or to start the next Coinbase. Additionally, there are already impressive spin-outs from some of the more established crypto companies.

For ease of framing, I’ve separated these early-forming mafias into four categories: CryptoTechWall Street, and Academia. Since 2009, there have been 186 spinout companies originating from those four categories (33% from Academia, 28% from Crypto, 24% from Tech, and 15% from Wall Street).

crypto mafias

Obvious but important disclaimer: this article does not intend to promote organized crime within crypto.

Criteria

Vertical market networks, effective startup names, Libra, Carbon, and Sidewalk Labs

By Danny Crichton

The next service marketplace wave: Vertical market networks

B2B service marketplaces (think translation as a service) are an extraordinarily lucrative startup category. But despite the incredible potential of these platforms to generate outsized returns, many fail. Why?

Ivan Smolnikov, the CEO and founder of translation service startup Smartcat, investigates why certain marketplaces seem to grow while others stall. His conclusion is that unlocking value for both sides of the marketplace is much more challenging than it appears, and the most successful, next-generation marketplaces are going to come from highly networked, efficient platforms for complex projects targeting specific verticals.

Smolnikov then gives a step-by-step guide to optimizing marketplace growth.

One reason is that several service providers must often work together to complete a single job for a buyer, requiring a complex workflow from end to end. As a result, it’s difficult for marketplaces to not only mediate service delivery but also make it significantly more efficient for buyers and suppliers. If both the buyer and suppliers don’t see a significant efficiency gain other than being initially matched, why would they continue using the marketplace?

What startup names are most effective?

Perhaps the first step in building a company is just figuring out what to call it. Adam Zelcer, who founded Adboy, explores some tactics on how to optimize a startup’s name.

‘This is Your Life in Silicon Valley’: Former Pinterest President, Moment CEO Tim Kendall on Smartphone Addiction

By Sunil Rajaraman

Welcome to this week’s transcribed edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. We’re running an experiment for Extra Crunch members that puts This is Your Life in Silicon Valley in words – so you can read from wherever you are.

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley was originally started by Sunil Rajaraman and Jascha Kaykas-Wolff in 2018. Rajaraman is a serial entrepreneur and writer (Co-Founded Scripted.com, and is currently an EIR at Foundation Capital), Kaykas-Wolff is the current CMO at Mozilla and ran marketing at BitTorrent. Rajaraman and Kaykas-Wolff started the podcast after a series of blog posts that Sunil wrote for The Bold Italic went viral.

The goal of the podcast is to cover issues at the intersection of technology and culture – sharing a different perspective of life in the Bay Area. Their guests include entrepreneurs like Sam Lessin, journalists like Kara Swisher and politicians like Mayor Libby Schaaf and local business owners like David White of Flour + Water.

This week’s edition of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley features Tim Kendall, the former President of Pinterest and current CEO of Moment. Tim ran monetization at Facebook, and has very strong opinions on smartphone addiction and what it is doing to all of us. Tim is an architect of much of the modern social media monetization machinery, so you definitely do not want to miss his perspective on this important subject.

For access to the full transcription, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Sunil Rajaraman: Welcome to season three of This is Your Life in Silicon Valley. A Podcast about the Bay Area, technology, and culture. I’m your host, Sunil Rajaraman and I’m joined by my cohost, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff: Are you recording?

Rajaraman: I’m recording.

Kaykas-Wolff: I’m almost done. My phone’s been buzzing all afternoon and I just have to finish this text message.

Rajaraman: So you’re one of those people who can’t go five seconds without checking their phone.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Bell Curve

By Yvonne Leow

Bell Curve founder Julian Shapiro describes his team as talented growth marketers who have a long tail expertise of various channels and who aren’t afraid to play part-time therapists. As an agency, they’re comfortable grounding founder expectations by explaining “No, virality isn’t a dependable growth strategy,” but “Hey, we can come up with a better strategy together.”

Bell Curve, the agency, also runs Demand Curve, a remote growth marketing training program that teaches students (and marketing professionals) the ins and outs of performance marketing.

For a glimpse of how Bell Curve thinks about growth marketing, check out Julian’s guest posts about how startups can actually get content marketing to work and how founders can hire a great growth marketer.

What makes Bell Curve different:

“Bell Curve runs a growth bootcamp which we took in February. It radically improved our growth rate, gave us access to enough data to experiment with, and as a result we built an engine for growth that we could continue to tune.” Gil Akos, SF, CEO & Co-founder, Astra
“We run a program where we train companies to run ads on every channel. So, what makes Bell Curve unique is that we, by necessity, have a deep understanding of many more channels than the average agency. We have an archive of tactics and approaches that we’ve accumulated for how to do them just as well as the big ad channels.

In effect, companies come to us when they need expertise beyond Facebook, Google and Instagram, which we still bring to the table, but when they also need to figure out how to make Quora ads profitable, how to get Reddit working, how to get YouTube videos working, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. These are channels people don’t specialize in enough and so we also bring that long tail of expertise.”

On common misconceptions about growth:

“A common mistake people make coming into growth is thinking that growth hacks are a meaningful thing. The ultimate growth hack is having the self-discipline to pursue growth fundamentals properly and completely. So, things like properly A/B testing, identifying your most enticing value propositions and articulating them clearly and concisely, bringing in deep channel expertise for Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, and a couple of other channels. These are the tenants of making digital growth work. Not one-off hacks.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Bell Curve Founder Julian Shapiro

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into this game of growth?

Julian Shapiro: I actually started by running growth for friends’ companies because they had a hard time finding experienced growth marketers. After a year and a half of doing this, I realized it’d be a more stable source of income if I formed an agency. It’d also allow me to pattern match so I could exchange learnings among clients and have a better net performance.

It all came together very quickly. Once Bell Curve hit about 10 clients, we had enough strategic and customer acquisition overlap that we were able to share tactics, double our volume of A/B testing, and get better results. It also gave us the ability to hire out a full-fledged team so we could start specializing, whereas, as a contractor, I was too much of a generalist. I wasn’t able to go deep on certain channels, like Snapchat or Pinterest ads.

The Crunchbase Unicorn Leaderboard is back, now with a record herd of 452 unicorns

By Gené Teare

We are very pleased to announce that the new and improved Crunchbase Unicorn Leaderboard re-launched today after nearly a year’s absence from TechCrunch.

Venture investors did a lot of handwringing in the past year over rising valuations, but that did not slow the unicorn juggernaut, as 2018 outstripped all previous years in terms of the number of unicorns created and venture dollars invested. Indeed, 151 new unicorns joined the list in 2018 (compared to 96 in 2017), and investors poured more than $135 billion into those companies, a 52% increase year over year and the biggest sum invested in unicorns in any one year since unicorns became a thing.

Back in 2013, Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee coined the term “unicorn” in a piece on TechCrunch with her report stating “39 companies belong to what we call the ‘Unicorn Club’ with four unicorns born per year in the past decade, … with Facebook being the breakout ‘super-unicorn’ (worth >$100 billion).” A lot has changed in six years.

From 19 new unicorns in 2013, roughly two each month, we now see a new unicorn coming into being every two working days. In 2019 so far, 42 new unicorns have joined the unicorn leaderboard, and by next week that number will have jumped again.

The Unicorn Leaderboard now lists 452 companies, which have collectively raised $345 billion and represent a cumulative valuation of $1.6 trillion. Go back to February 2018 and there were just 279 companies, with $206 billion raised and valued at $1 trillion. In just 15 months 170+ companies reached unicorn status, raised $140 billion more and added $600 billion in company valuations.

View by investor, sector and country

On the new leaderboard, it’s possible to filter by investor, lead investor, market sector and country. The unicorn leaders are the U.S. with 196 companies, China with 165, India with 19 and the U.K. with 12.

Leading investors

Three well-known venture firms, Sequoia Capital, Accel and Andreessen Horowitz, have invested in the most unicorn rounds. The investors that actually led the most rounds are corporate investor Tencent Holdings, venture firm Sequoia Capital and private equity firm Tiger Global Management. The rise of Tencent Holdings and Tiger Global Management reflect the prominence of China-based unicorns, as well as the increase in investment from corporate and alternative investors.

Emerging unicorns

The leaderboard also hosts a list of companies that have disclosed valuations between $500 million and > $1 billion and may well reach unicorn status with their next capital raise, unless, of course, they exit before then.

Unicorn exits

The majority of these 452 companies are in the U.S. or China, and most will plan to exit (go public or get acquired) within the next five to eight years.

2018 was also the best year ever for unicorn exits, as 39 unicorns went public while 14 were acquired. This year so far, six U.S.-based unicorns have gone public, namely, Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Zoom, PagerDuty and Beyond Meat, representing $131.5 billion in public valuations, with Uber at  $82.5 billion and Lyft at $24 billion. The first Africa-based unicorn to go public is Jumia Group, an e-commerce company that operates in 14 African countries. Four China-based unicorn companies went public so far this year: Maoyan, an online movie ticketing service; mobile stock investing service Tiger Brokers; Lakala, a fintech platform; and, most recently, Luckin Coffee, a retail coffee brand. Hong Kong-based Futu Holdings, an online stock platform, also went public this year.

More than a one-third of all unicorn exits took place in 2018. The exited unicorns section of the Crunchbase Leaderboard lists 144 companies; roughly two-thirds of these companies (98) went public and the balance (46) were acquired.

Is 2018 the peak?

2018 might well be the peak, but 2019 is still strong, with 42 new unicorns announced this year so far, and $33.6 billion invested in this cohort of private companies. With the record of 452 unicorns, $345 billion currently invested, $1.6 trillion in captured value and an average age of 8.2 years since being founded, 2019 will be the year we watch the IPO market closely.

Credit: Steven Rossi who manages the board, Santosh Ankola on the TechCrunch product team and Human Made Design for their work on recreating the board.

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