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Sharetribe Lets You Create Your Own Peer-To-Peer Marketplace

In a sense, the concept of a peer-to-peer online marketplace is nothing new. Perhaps eBay offers the best early example by enabling people to sell goods directly to one another. But, more recently, companies such as Airbnb and Etsy have popularised the peer-to-peer marketplace idea further, with the former extending it to services and helping give rise to the often vacuous ‘sharing economy’ concept. So it seems apt that a startup would crop up to provide a service that lets anybody create their own peer-to-peer marketplace.

Aiming to provide the ‘picks and shovels’ behind the online marketplace gold rush, Sharetribe — which appears to have pivoted at least once — makes it easy for anyone to create and manage their own peer-to-peer marketplace and take a cut of any transactions along the way. Essentially, it handles the under-the-hood heavy-lifting required, by providing a Software-as-a-Service to enable marketplace members to buy, sell or rent any type of product or service.

Today the Helsinki-based company is announcing it’s closed $1 million in seed funding led by Finland’s Lifeline Ventures (perhaps best-know for being an early investor in Supercell). Previous backers Reaktor Polte, and the Finnish tax payer-funded Tekes also participated.

“After the breakout successes of Airbnb, Etsy and Uber, there is a huge number of people out there who have an idea for a peer-to-peer marketplace. However, most of them don’t know how to build one, and they can’t afford paying a developer,” Sharetribe co-founder and CEO Juho Makkonen, tells me. “With our platform, they can get started with their idea today without any technical experience and with a fraction of the cost of hiring someone. We want to make it accessible and affordable for anyone around the world to start their own marketplace business.”

During a private beta that has been running since August 2013, Makkonen says marketplaces have been created in 15 countries, and that there are “thousands of people” on the waiting list for today’s public launch. He declines to say how many marketplaces have been created in total or how this translates into transactions — though it’s obviously early days.

Interestingly, however, Sharetribe’s revenue model isn’t based on creaming off the top of each transaction — it leaves that to each marketplace operator — but instead charges a subscription for the overall service, with different tiers to reflect the number of members each Sharetribe community has, and additional perks, such as custom domains.

“Our fees depend on the number of users our clients have on their sites,” explains Makkonen. “Our clients make money by charging a % fee from each payment transaction happening in their marketplaces, Airbnb-style, using our built-in payment system. We don’t charge any fees from transactions.”

Also noteworthy is that — should a marketplace outgrow the platform — Makkonen says users aren’t locked in to Sharetribe, since the code is open source. “Our company is simply providing services on top of this platform to make it easy for anyone to get started,” he adds.

Featured Image: Sharetribe (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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Obillex Secures £3M, Led by Dawn Capital, To Disrupt Small Biz Financing

There are two big problems waiting to be solved in small business finance. Small businesses find it hard to access working capital at good rates. And lots of investors have capital lying around doing nothing, looking for somewhere to be deployed. Obillex is a new startup that, quite simply, matches the two up.

Thus, ‘early payments finance’ startup Obillex has secured £3m funding, led by Dawn Capital and supported by MMC Ventures, to accelerate this model.

Essentially Obillex allows access to capital to settle invoices early for small business. The investors get a good return on what is a low risk exposure and the buyer who sits in the middle gets a small rebate and discount on their invoices. Technically this is a ‘win win win’ for all three parties.

Founded by Damian Crowe and developed over the past three years, Obillex works for businesses of all sizes across both public and private sectors.

Supply chain finance is a market waiting for more disruption and there are a variety of old and new competitors in the area, such as Market Invoice, C2FO, Capital Eight and of course the banks.

Josh Bell, Partner at Dawn Capital joins the board of directors.

Continued here: Obillex Secures £3M, Led by Dawn Capital, To Disrupt Small Biz Financing

Tom Magliozzi, Co-Host Of NPR’s Car Talk, Dead At 77

Before laptops, before cellphones, and before computers, hackers hacked machines. For most of the last century, the machine of choice was the car. Car repair, like chess, took a day to learn and a lifetime to master and the tricks we use today – 3D printing, tag-team programming, agile design – were born in the garages of the 1950s and 1960s. John Muir’s book, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, was the car hackers bible and the first hackerspaces were DIY garages. Car repair was about people helping people, just as early UNIX machines were about sharing and the Internet was about cross-border cooperation. Tom Magliozzi, who died today at age 77, was one of those early hackers. His show, Car Talk, was the definitive record of those early hardware hacking attitudes.

Tom (above, right) and Ray should be familiar to anyone who grew up in a household with a counter-cultural bent. Heard around the world – the callers rang in from Alaska, England, and Afghanistan – the show featured car advice and much more. The brothers joked constantly, Tom’s infectious laugh ramping up the car speakers or hi-fi until that’s all you heard. They focused on older cars as newer vehicles were harder to diagnose without computers and sensors. Instead you could hear about timing belts and the best old Volvos and how to make sure your Honda Accord didn’t make that thwap thwap thwap sound when you drove it faster than 40 miles per hour.

Graduates of MIT, Tom and Ray were roundly educated but sounded like a pair of screwballs. Tom started one of the first DIY repair shops, the Hackers Heaven, and the delightfully-named Good News Garage. Although he never let on, you could tell he and his brother were true techies although they were in love with cast steel and oil rather than bits and bytes. The show’s value wasn’t in the car advice — the Internet gives us that with far more accuracy than the brothers could — but in the personalities.

The brothers, and Tom in particular, reminded us that building and fixing isn’t scary and that repair, in fact, was the way forward. We aren’t supposed to be scared of getting our hands dirty because that’s how progress is made and that’s how you have fun. Tom taught a generation of hackers that there is nothing frightening about taking things apart.

The show has been in re-runs for the past two years while Tom battled the Alzheimer’s that eventually killed him. His was a generous and beautiful mind and we could all learn a thing or two from him when we explain this brave new world to people new to its wonders.

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Built In Brooklyn: Maker’s Row Bets On US Manufacturing

For the first episode of our new show Built In Brooklyn, we took the “built” part of the title pretty seriously. I mean, we here at TechCrunch think it’s pretty meaningful to build a great website or mobile app — but there’s some extra cool about visiting the manufacturers who are actually building or assembling physical goods.

I got to see some of that manufacturing in action courtesy of Matthew Burnett and Tanya Menendez, the co-founders of Maker’s Row, a startup based in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood. Maker’s Row isn’t a manufacturer itself, but it works with them — the team has created an online marketplace where businesses with manufacturing needs can connect with American factories. And since a few of the 3,000-plus factories that Maker’s Row works with are located in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, it seemed like it’d be more fun to interview Burnett and Menendez there.

The pair talked about their backgrounds (particularly Burnett’s origins in Detroit), about the early days of the company, and about why they chose to start Maker’s Row in Brooklyn, which Burnett described as both “the heart of the Maker movement” and “the creative center of the Eastern Seaboard.”

BiB_Makers_Row_Feature_IMG_05

You might be thinking that it’s a little idealistic or even downright quixotic for a startup to focus on American factories, but there’s been some hope for a domestic manufacturing comeback.

“People think of factories as old-school, but I walk into these facilities, they’re using iPads, they’re using Lean Startup methodologies, all of these crazy things,” Menendez said. “I’m really confident that with labor costs becoming more competitive globally … the turnaround times and the ability for the designers to be close to the manufacturers and the innovation that that creates — American manufacturing is going to come back.”

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Fundraising Acceleration Is The New VC Investment Thesis

There was a quite a jolt on Friday from the news that Slack, a company whose eponymous enterprise communications platform was first publicly launched this year, raised $120 million in new venture funding from KPCB and Google Ventures.

Even more eye-popping was the valuation: $1.12 billion. Although Slack pivoted from an earlier incarnation as a games company called Tiny Speck, such a growth in valuation in just the first 8 months of a new product’s existence is almost completely unheard of in the annals of venture capital. This is even more true in the lethargic enterprise space, where there is significantly more friction in adoption and sales than in the consumer market.

What might look like a frothy bubble though, is in fact a much more fundamental change in the way venture capitalists perceive investments. These fundraising accelerations are here to stay, and represent a far more nuanced view of startup performance than we have ever seen before from VCs.

VCs have always known that the big returns are made from the largest exits. What the industry has slowly accepted over the past decade is that the biggest winners win by staggering amounts compared to their competitors. What used to be perceived as a 5x or 10x gap in valuation between the winner and a runner-up is now more widely seen as between 100x or even possibly 1000x. For every 100 startups that exit above $100 million, only one of them will reach into the billions of dollars of capital. Facebook’s chief competition during its rise was from companies like MySpace, which are almost non-existent today.

The person who most popularized this notion of investing was Marc Andreessen (who ironically also happens to be one of the earlier investors in Slack), as well as Peter Thiel, whose experience with Facebook’s growth encouraged his investment thesis for Founders Fund. The essential point is that if there are only a handful of startups a year where the vast majority of the returns go, then the only sensible investment strategy is to get into those startups and ignore the middling winners.

This philosophy leads to the current investment strategy that I call fundraising acceleration. If price sensitivity on these top winners makes little sense, then we should be willing to project ahead of a company’s growth and buy early. We might value the equity of a company 12 months early, meaning that we would invest as if they had already secured the growth of the coming year. Maybe we are even willing to accelerate our price by 24 or 36 months.

This absolute laser focus on the winners has led to the current data revolution in venture investing, where firms hire teams to scour the web for signs of startups breaking out, all in the hope of catching the next winner before any other firm realizes what is happening.

We can see this new approach right in Slack’s own numbers. The company told TechCrunch that it is currently generating sales above $1 million per month, or (and I know VC math is complicated) about $12 million per year in run rate. Since the company is valued at $1.12B, that means that its revenue multiple is about 93x. In general, SAAS companies have run rates around 8–12x on the public markets, and possibly a bit higher multiple in private rounds.

To put it another way, if Slack had the same annual revenues as LinkedIn at $1.5 billion in 2013, it would be valued at almost $140 billion and become one of the most valuable technology companies in the world.

Compare this to Yammer, which was founded in mid–2008 and sold to Microsoft just a little under four years later. It raised $142 million in venture capital according to Crunchbase, and sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion. That means that in less than a year, Slack has raised more money and has a higher valuation than its immediate market predecessor.

Some might call this a bubble, but Slack is literally the embodiment of the fundraising acceleration thesis. The company’s sales growth is incredible – achieving a $12 million run rate in the first year of the company’s product launch is among the fastest growth rates seen for a SAAS startup.

Given the investors in the syndicate, it is clear that many have started to take this fundraising acceleration to heart. However, as the competition for these identified early winners becomes more keen, the valuations of these companies skyrocket. All of these investors are sophisticated and can see the same data, and when growth metrics are this good, everyone wants to get a piece.

This is great news for some founders. Founders with high growth companies can now command a growth premium that gives them more resources earlier in the company’s life than before, without losing as much equity. That means startups that can find growth extremely early are able to build even more advantages over their competitors.

The flip side of course is that founders who struggle to find growth early on may find raising funds even harder than before. Can you get 100 million users in the consumer world within three years? For enterprise startups, can you get $10 million in yearly revenue within the first 24 months of launching a company? As VCs seek the top 10 winners and recalibrate their expectations to the growth of companies like Slack or Snapchat in the consumer market, the bar is rising quite quickly. A few percentage points difference in growth can radically change the outcome of a fundraise process.

And even for those startups that do hit that peak level of growth, there are still the very challenging scaling issues of building a business. Slack may be led by Stewart Butterfield, a highly-experienced entrepreneur, but he still has to recruit in an incredibly competitive labor market. With the company’s valuation so high already, he no longer has the promise of massive equity paydays to easily entice prospective new employees. How quickly can hiring scale with user growth?

Those challenges for founders are nothing compared to the real challenge for VCs, who must show a return on these accelerated deals. As valuations grow, the multiples on investment that VCs can earn on the biggest winners is rapidly declining. If that happens consistently and VCs can also identify the winners with enough accuracy, much of the returns in the industry could be flushed out through competition.

And we are still early for judging the accuracies of these large bets. While data has certainly improved the quality of VC decision-making over the last few years, we still have a few years to go before we can really see the results of this new investment thesis.

Fundraising acceleration is the new modus operandi for top VC firms in Silicon Valley. So far, it has been carefully executed, generally targeting startups with strong growth potential. It’s not a bubble, and it is certainly not crazy. For founders who can take advantage of that early focus on success, the sky is the limit.

Featured Image: Nathan E Photography/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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The problem with problems: Google[X] chief on finding the right real-world issues to fix

Head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world‘ isn’t the simplest job title you’ll ever see, but that’s exactly what Obi Felten at Google[X] gets to call herself.

In more comprehensible terms, Felten is a director of product management for early stage Google projects, working alongside engineers, scientists and everyone else to help turn “science fiction-like technology into real world products and businesses.”

Such projects include smart contact lens, airborne delivery systems and the much talked-about driverless car, in case you were wondering.

Felten was at Wired’s annual conference in London last week, where she was on-stage to discuss everything from drones and defibrillators , to the importance of startups finding worthwhile problems to fix.

Photo 16 10 2014 17 21 15 730x500 The problem with problems: Google[X] chief on finding the right real world issues to fix

So, how does Google[X] decide what projects to work on – why contact lens and drone delivery systems? They seem like a random collection of ‘things’, so what connects them?

“There’s nothing really that connects these projects,” saysFelten. “The only thing that connects them is that they’re all about solving very large problems.”Yes, Google[X] is all about fixing big, real-world problems. ‘Moonshots’, as Google refers to them, using radical technology solutions.The 2-seater self-driving car Google revealed earlier this year is perhaps the most obvious example of how the internet giant is looking to disrupt all facets of the technological realm, not just your online world.

“There are many problems with road transportation, one of them is traffic,” says Felten. “But the biggest problem is safety – 1.3 million people each year die on the road. Almost all of those accidents are caused by driver error. The self-driving car is never distracted – it’s never texting, it’s never doing its makeup, it’s never getting into arguments and it’s never drunk. We will have a fully autonomous car before my children have to pass their driving tests.”

There’s little question that road safety is a worthwhile cause, but surely there are more immediate concerns that are arguably more worthy of our time, such as droughts and famine?

“Eleven percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean water, and one in nine people still go hungry,” says Felten. “And that’s particularly disgraceful because everyone agrees there is enough food in the world, but we feed it to animals, we make bio-fuels, it’s wasted or it’s ‘just in the wrong place’. Ninety percent of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels, so we clearly have a long way to go on climate change. And 15 million people each year have a stroke, 6 million of whom die.”

Many of these stats make for familiar reading, and you could probably throw a ton more onto this list that would, subjectively speaking, be more worthy of our immediate attention. So why is Google working on energy kites rather than looking at ways to get more food and water to people?

“Some of these problems we work on at Google, like wind energy or internet access, and some we don’t, like water or food,” says Felten. “And that’s not because we don’t think they’re important, it’s because we haven’t found a breakthrough technology that we think we can apply to the problem.”

So if Google isn’t working on these problems – and nobody is necessarily suggesting it should be – then who is? Felten reckons startups are a good bet for fixing some of the bigger issues at hand here, but their focus is oftentimes a little too narrow.

The problem with problems

“I’m a startup mentor and an angel investor, and too many times when I talk to founders in the early stages, they’re picking a problem they think they can solve, rather than a problem that’s worth solving,” says Felten. “That must be the reason we have so many messaging and photo apps – [though] I’m not saying they aren’t useful, we all use them every day.”

In reference to her father who recently suffered a stroke, she says that although technology such as Hangouts is great for communicating with loved ones remotely, what she really, really wants is a device she can put on his wrist that will tell him before he has another stroke. “Will that take longer to build than the next mobile app, yes it will, but it will be worth it,” she says.

So how can we get more people to work on problems that matter? Felten reckons there are a few hindering obstacles.

“Large problems are daunting, they’re scary, they’re hard, it’s risky and expensive,” she says. “Another issue is less obvious – we just don’t spend enough time with a problem up front, and we reward people for problem solving, rather than problem stating. The truth is most people don’t like problems. We need to spend more time understanding the problem correctly.”

Google’s Project Loon is perhaps one good example of how problem-stating (i.e. finding the right problem to solve) is imperative.

Last year, Google launched a most ambitious project when it unveiled Project Loon, designed to bring balloon-powered internet to hitherto unconnected parts of the world. Tests kicked off earlier this year near the equator.

“If you want to take the internet to a village in Africa, you need three things,” says Felten.

“You need devices that are cheap enough, while you also need electricity to power these devices,” she continues. “And then you need the connectivity. So when the Loon team looked at the problem space, thinking about which part of the problem they should solve, they picked connectivity. Because they thought it was one of the hardest problems that nobody was having a go at. Other people have brought down the costs of smartphones, and they’ve brought down he cost of solar panels. But connectivity is still disgracefully expensive.”

This all ties in with what Felten was saying about startups not paying enough attention to the initial planning stages, in terms of establishing what the exact problem is they should and could be fixing.

“They [startups] often don’t spend enough time in that early stage,” she says. “They don’t spend enough time with the people who have the problem, to understand whether they can solve it.”

Pivoting projects

Google[X], with its bags of cash and resources, has pivoted a number of projects, including its Project Wing drone delivery service which was initially intended as a means for delivering defibrillators to heart attack victims. So you call the local emergency services, and the drone turns up with a defibrillator within 90 seconds.

“We were really excited about this, because it’s saving lives and it’s also a very hard technology problem to get something to you that quickly,” says Felten. “But it turned out that it wasn’t the right problem – because when our research team started talking to doctors and so on, even if there is a bystander [to help], it takes the person several minutes to figure out how to work the damn thing. If you imagine an elderly women dropping down on the floor, she’s not going to be reading the instruction manual. So we realized it wasn’t the right problem, and gave up on the idea.”

While Project Wing remains an early-stage ‘product’, Google is hoping that the technology can be used to deliver packages and disaster relief to remote areas in the future.

“This problem-stating process can be very painful,” continues Felten. “I want you to think of it as a problem ladder. Climbing the ladder is painful and hard, but once you’ve gotten to the top you’re rewarded with this amazing view, you understand the space of your problem a lot better and then kick the ladder away.”

Indeed, as American philosopher John Dewey once said, a problem well-put, is a problem half-solved. Of course, the size of problem really does make it harder to know which facet of it to focus on, as there are often many issues interwoven across it.

“Tackling large problems require a really weird mixture of audacity, believing in the impossible, and humility – acknowledge that it’s not going to be done any time soon, and not by yourself,” says Felten.

Though the Google[X] team undoubtedly has a ton of incredibly smart folk on board, it relies heavily on partners – academic labs for research, manufacturing partners and so on.

On Project Loon, for example, they worked with people who know how to make balloons. With the smart contact lens, Google brought in healthcare leader Novartis, because it not only knows how to make contact lenses, but it knows how to bring medical devices to market.

For startups, getting the right partners on board may not be so easy – Google is Google, after all. But the underlying point is a sound one – finding the right problems to fix may not be as easy or obvious as first seems.

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Why your startup isn’t making any profit

Callum Laing is the CEO of Entrevo Asia and the founder of Fitness-Buffet, an employee fitness business in 11 countries.


When you first start pitching your business idea to the world, there is no worse feeling than someone telling you they don’t think it will work.

Since that is your deepest fear, when someone articulates it, as someone invariably will, it will rip to your very core.

It happened a lot when I was starting out. To feel better, I would tell myself that they were idiots who just didn’t understand my industry as well as I did. Any success they had in business was probably down to luck.

In short, I would come up with any number of increasingly creative justifications that would allow me to restore my fragile ego.

More than a decade later and on the other side of half a dozen businesses – some successful, some not so much – I find myself biting my tongue when I get pitched new businesses. It turns out that some of those ‘idiots’ I met early on may have been able to see the red flags in my model, regardless of the industry they were in or the luck they had been on the receiving end of.

Here are some of those red flags in the five areas of a business that may keep you from ever profiting.

The pitch

pinquestions 730x236 Why your startup isnt making any profit

You may know your own pitch, but your business will get nowhere if other people do not understand what you are talking about. Never throw in jargon that people won’t get, especially if your product is one of the first of its kind.

A common mistake: Talking a lot about what will happen to your business in the future, but nothing about the results your actual clients are getting right now.

Remedy: The average person is more clever than you think. Just because you keep the language simple, doesn’t mean you need to present it in a boring or condescending way.

Content marketing

Everyone these days is talking about content marketing, about positioning themselves as thought leaders and helping to educate their market.

A common mistake: Thinking that you are above content marketing, and that one day journalists will be tripping over themselves to write about you and you’ll have all the credibility you need, so there’s no reason to invest in doing their work for them now.

Remedy: Early in your business, it’s best to share your ideas. Nine times out of ten, your product needs help speaking for itself; providing content that complement your business goals and services can help shape your company’s stance in the industry. Who knows, you might even win over some new customers who discover you through your blogs.

Product ecosystem

globe 730x276 Why your startup isnt making any profit

Starting out, you may face the dilemma of whether to expand your offerings, or stick to one product and one product only.

A common mistake: You have one product or service. Refuse to deviate from that. Once it becomes a household name, you might start to add new products to the mix, but for now just keep focused. If the market isn’t buying enough of it then it’s clearly because the market are idiots.

Remedy: There’s a reason 99 percent of successful businesses have multiple product lines. Before completely ruling out this option, think about whether this will improve your company growth and offer your customers options. You want to retain customers by giving them what they didn’t know they needed.

Profile

So many businesses fail to realize how much can come from personal appearances and marketing outreach.

A common mistake: You see your competitors out there shamelessly talking about their business on stage or pandering to the media to get their opinions on the latest topic. Sure, it might drive products sales and revenue for them, but you signed up to be an entrepreneur, not some talking head.

Remedy: Don’t wait for people to come to you or hope that they’ll just magically find you by the good grace of Google. Follow up, put in work, contact your sources and know when to be persistent about making your name heard.

Partnerships

Oftentimes, new companies can use a helping hand from established businesses by partnering up.

A common mistake: Shoot for the stars – and stars only. Thinking that if you could just partner with Google, David Beckham and Mastercard, this thing would be through the roof! Maybe they are not returning calls right now, but that day will come.

Remedy: Just as you need partners, there are other people who want to partner with you. Don’t underestimate the power of teaming up with small companies and growing together – this includes your co-founders and early employees!

I feel obliged to say at this point I have ticked all of these five boxes of mistakes on many occasions, it is easy to do. I also may have been guilty of acting slightly petulant when people tried to point out these small errors in my approach.

However, should you be looking to keep your business small and unprofitable, then by all means, continue to make your mistakes. Fudge your pitch, keep your knowledge to yourself, only have one product, stay out of sight in your industry and finally do everything in isolation. These are the best ways to stay unprofitable.

But if you are like anyone else trying to make a buck off this whole entrepreneurship thing, it’s time to lower your ego, reflect on your strategy and determine your next best course of actions.

Read next: The ‘magic’ of business: Uncovering the trick to making your startup fail less

Continue reading here: Why your startup isn’t making any profit

Oculus unveils Crescent Bay prototype virtual reality headset

At the first ever Oculus developer conference, the company has unveiled a new prototype headset that features integrated audio, a new display technology, improved positional audio tracking and is much lighter than ever before.

Oculus, which is owned by Facebook, has dubbed the new prototype ‘Crescent Bay’ and says that the device is as “big of a step up from the DK2 as the DK2 was from the DK1.” A new camera on the back of the device allows gamers to spin around 360 degrees, giving much more freedom.

oculus crescent bay prototype2 220x124 Oculus unveils Crescent Bay prototype virtual reality headsetThe new prototype also has built in headphones and improved audio positioning to help make the audio itself just as immersive as using the Oculus VR itself. The addition of headphones is part of Oculus pushing into media content such as films as well as games, as the company seeks to build immersive media experiences.

Oculus was careful to point out that Crescent Bay is still “incredibly early hardware” and doesn’t mention when it’ll be available to developers, though it is on show at the conference today.

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