Twitter and Comedy Central have kicked off a five-day experimental online comedy festival that will take place on Twitter and Vine, beginning first with a live-streamed event featuring Mel Brooks, the “2,000 Year Old Man,” as he signs up for a Twitter account with the help of Carl Reiner and Judd Apatow.
Brooks and Reiner made literal comedic history in the 1960s with their 2,000 Year Old Man sketches. Now they’re modernizing the gag by bringing Brooks onto Twitter. To watch the event, you can follow @MelBrooks’ tweets, hit up the live-stream, or watch from Comedy Central’s website.
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) April 29, 2013
Announced last week, the festival, which is named #ComedyFest, runs from April 29 to May 3. It features 68 comedians, with a range of events including live-tweeting episodes, Q&A panels, drinking games, a roast and a Vine party. Comedy Central has the full schedule for the week, or you can read Twitter’s invitation post for the event.
Fresh off a huge ad deal with Starcom MediaVest Group, Twitter is forging ahead as a legitimate media company. This week’s partnership with Comedy Central is already a huge affirmation of the power of Twitter’s platform, though the kind of reception it gets will determine its success.
In many ways, comedians are an ideal use case for Twitter, assuming they can fit their jokes into 140 characters. With Comedy Central putting the full arsenal of Twitter’s technology: hashtag, Vines, and in-tweet streaming, to work this week, there’s a good chance that some of the platform’s 200 million active users will get a kick out of it.
Image credit: Jupiterimages
Design-focused retail site Fab has announced its new pivot, along with an acquisition and much more.
As we reported last week, Fab now has 12 million users and is continuing to grow at a fast clip after its initial pivot. Last year, the company saw $150 million in revenue, and revealed in February that sales were up by nearly 300% in January 2013 over January 2012. International is also a huge potential growth area for the company.
Fab has 1 million members in the UK, which is generating nearly 40% of its sales in Europe and is its fastest growing market outside the U.S. The company has sold more than 7 million items, with one product sold every seven seconds. Mobile is also a huge growth area, with one-third of sales being placed via mobile.
According to the company, Fab will double revenue in 2013, and should reach $250 million in 2013 sales. Interestingly, Fab says that most of its revenue is not derived from flash sales, which was the initial model Fab adopted after its pivot in 2011. As we wrote in this profile of the company, Fab infamously pivoted from Fabulis, which was a social network for the gay community, into a flash sales site. Fab says that two-third of sales are currently not from the flash-sales on the site.
This second pivot is less dramatic but definitely meaningful. Fab is now branding itself as a design store, and now has a unified technology experience across its iPad, iPhone and web apps. The company is revealing a complete redesign which makes it more of an integrated e-commerce site. You can now access design pages by room, type of furniture, color, designer and more.
Another twist in the pivot: Fab is partnering with designers to manufacture and sell home furnishings exclusively through Fab. Fab is also producing and manufacturing its own line of products and home goods. Additionally, Fab has acquired German custom furniture store Massivkonzept, which the company says is profitable and has a $10 million revenue run rate. The idea behind Massivkonzept is that it allows you to essentially design your own furniture online. You configure shelving, table, and seating systems online and choose the dimensions, color, and materials on your designs. The company turns this into actual, well-designed furniture.
Lastly, Fab, like Warby Parker and other e-commerce sites; now has a brick and mortar presence with a new retail store in Hamburg, Germany. Fab will test physical retail environments and different types of retail formats in Hamburg and in other markets. Germany isn’t a huge surprise for the first in-store presence; 60% of European revenue comes from Germany and Austria.
Clearly this is a big part of co-founder Jason Goldberg’s vision for how Fab will compete in e-commerce in a post Amazon world Fab sells products that aren’t listed on Amazon, and with this pivot, the company continues to focus its retail efforts away from Amazon’s core business. In fact, 90% of Fab’s products sold cannot be found on any other major website.
So how is Fab funding this expansion? We’re hearing the company is raising more than $100 million in funding at a $1 billion valuation. The company previously raised $171 million from Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, SoftTech VC, Menlo Ventures, Baroda Ventures, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Oseary, Thrive Capital, Kevin Rose, SV Angel, The Washington Post and others.
What are the challenges that the New York tech scene needs to address? This topic kicked off the conversation this morning between TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and venture capitalist Bill Gurley at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013. Gurley’s VC firm, Benchmark, has invested in some of the most disruptive technology companies over the past 10 years, including Dropbox, Zillow, Uber, Twitter and Snapchat. He says that New York needs more iconic companies, and worries about the Wall Street influence on the New York tech community.
Gurley noted that what really put Seattle on the map were companies he described as “four pillars” of the Seattle market - companies that people identify as being associated with Seattle: specifically, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, and Costco. He says that all of these were originally venture-backed and have remained throughout the years.
New York has the entrepreneurs and the engineers, says Gurley. Now the city needs its own “iconic” companies to put it on the map, as well. There’s no precedent for that here just yet, he adds. But when pressed on whether or not New York didn’t have “big” companies, Gurley admitted that VC’s think of DoubleClick as one of the big exits here, and more recently, he says, there was the exit of Connecticut-based job site Indeed.
“[Indeed] had a great business model, a huge consumer brand…and they sold it,” scoffed Gurley. “I think in general, in the venture business we have this problem – this kind of anti-IPO attitude – that I think prohibits companies from hitting the long ball, but it seems like maybe that’s even more acute here.”
Venture capitalists are dependent on huge home runs – big wins. He said the system dynamic in New York prevent companies from reaching that point. The mentality in New York is one that’s still associated with that found on Wall Street, Gurley said. That is, Wall Street is not loyal to companies, but is more focused on the dollars and bottom line. This can prevent companies from growing large, turning into the kind of iconic firms that could one day become pillars of the New York tech community, the way that Microsoft et al. have become synonymous with Seattle.
Earlier this morning, Andreessen Horowitz’s Chris Dixon spoke of other, but somewhat similar, concerns, when comparing the general climate for startups in New York to those in San Francisco. “There are plenty of great investors here and attracts lot of entrepreneurs,” he had. But he saw challenges in the “whole mid-level layer” when companies have a hit product and now need to scale.
“I hope it will all change,” Gurley concluded on this front, addressing the audience, but he honestly didn’t sound all that hopeful.
Microsoft just scored a coup on the patent royalty front, with a new deal with Taiwanese phone maker, Hon Hai, which owns Foxconn.
Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft will get paid a flat fee per Android and Chrome-based device that Foxconn makes. And there are a lot of those. A whopping 40 percent of the world’s phones come from the firm’s China-based factories. Foxconn is an ODM, or “original design manufacturer”, and makes Android devices for clients like Acer and Amazon (it makes the Kindle Fire).
It’s famous for making iPhones and iPads as well.
The exact patents licensed were not revealed, but Microsoft has been famously litigious on the patent scene. With regard to the Android OS, legal documents filed in 2010 against Motorola and against Barnes & Noble in 2011 give some clues.
One of its patent claims is against a way that long and short file names are implemented, and is linked to the FAT16 file system used by older Microsoft OSes like MS-DOS and Windows.
Other patents include data management, across flash drives and another in contact databases. Microsoft’s user interface patents are also involved.
Microsoft said that over 50 percent of the world’s Android phones come from manufacturers that already have patent agreements in place with it. These include Samsung, LG and HTC, for example. Adding Foxconn to that list will give it a huge boost to these royalty payments, an already huge sum—in 2011, Microsoft was estimated to be making more from patent royalties from phone makers than its own smartphone business.
Other behind-the-scenes manufacturers similar to Foxconn such as Quanta and Pegatron also have licensing agreements with Microsoft.
Microsoft going after manufacturers has been referred to as “extortion” by Google. It made this statement in late-2011 after Samsung and Microsoft decided to cross-license their patents. Probably because Samsung was sick of all the lawsuits with Apple.
Hon Hai is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, and holds some 54,000 patents globally.
Last October, eBay debuted a completely new homepage experience and redesign, marking the company’s biggest homepage in the marketplace’s history. eBay’s feed experience has been in pilot phase for several months, only tested with less than 10 percent of users, and tomorrow eBay is unveiling to new experience to all customers in the U.S. You can access the new homepage here.
eBay’s new homepage is essentially all about you. The homepage now includes a highly visual, personalized feed of products based on your interests, and the brands and trends that match their passions and preferences. For the feed, you can add your favorite interests (i.e. golf), brands and even trends. Using this data, eBay will show you new items, recent searches, and more. eBay is pulling from more than 400 million listings.
Tom Pinckney, head of the eBay NYC office and one of the co-founders of personalization startup Hunch, explains that the new homepage is not just about search, but also discovery and serendipity. “We are introducing a different type of shopping and inventing a new way to shop with product discovery,” he explains. “We have a huge map of date around discovery and serendipity and are trying to find ways to take this data and tap into collective intelligence.”
Another component of the new technology is real-time updates on product listings and changes. eBay will serve customers new items in their feed every time they visit the home page – and update them continually during their eBay sessions.
Based on results from the few test users since October, customers are responding positively, says Pinckney. Another are where eBay sees huge potential in data mining and product is helping users share knowledge about products and listings.
In the future, we’ll see the feed come to eBay’s mobile experience, but Pinckney says the newest development to come will be international rollout in the near future.
As we mentioned back in october, the feed has a striking similarity to Pinterest. But it’s not surprising that eBay is diving deep on providing a sleeker, more streamlined and visual experience. And with the enormous amount of data eBay has accumulated over the years, the company is delving into personalization and curation in a big way. We know this is the future of ecommerce, so it’s a wise bet. But how this affects the company’s top line remains to be seen.