Larry Yu, the public relations executive who has headed up Facebook’s corporate communications operation for five years and helped steer the company through the publicity blitz surrounding its IPO, is leaving the social networking company. He announced his departure this morning in a post on Facebook, writing:
“Nearly five years ago, I joined some friends at a privately-held company called Facebook to help a small team scale and expand upon the company’s story. That journey was, in a word, crazy. And fun. Terrifying. And gratifying. So I’m off to do it again. I’m joining my friends Brandee, Brian and Sean to help build The Pramana Collective, a project-focused communications consultancy that works with cool companies.”
Yu is not the only tech PR big wig on the roster at the Pramana Collective, which first emerged earlier this spring. The Brandee he refers to above is of course Brandee Barker, who headed up Facebook PR from 2006 to 2010; Brian is Brian O’Shaughnessy, who previously led communications at Skype after four years at Google; and Sean is Sean Garrett, who previously headed up PR at Twitter.
Sean Garrett wrote in a post on his personal blog that Yu will be joining Pramana as a partner next month, and added a few details on the specialties he’ll be bringing to the firm:
“Brian, Brandee and I have all worked with Larry in the past, and we know that his close-to-20 years of experience is a perfect fit for The Pramana Collective and our clients. Beyond being a thoughtful guy who is universally liked and respected, Larry knows how to navigate companies through chaotic growth stages with confidence and calm. And we all admire how he makes financials, process and operations look easy, maybe even fun (well, almost).”
It’s a loss for Facebook, to be sure, but a big gain for the startup world. We’ll certainly be watching to see how Pramana shapes the conversation as it takes on clients.
Microsoft has just sent out a round of invites to the press to attend a special event at its Redmond, Washington campus on May 21 at 10 AM PT. The event is associated with the hashtag #XboxReveal, and promises to show off a “new generation” of Xbox, so it’s safe to say we’ll get our first glimpse of Microsoft’s next-generation home gaming console at the event.
This follows earlier reports that indicated we’d see Microsoft launch the Xbox at an event in late May, ahead of a full preview at E3 in June. The event will be live streamed via Xbox.com and Xbox LIVE, and also on TV via Spike TV for viewers in the U.S. and Canada, according to a blog post from Microsoft’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb. The event will be a first glimpse at Xbox’s next-gen console, and will be followed up by a more extensive look at software at E3 19 days after the initial reveal.
A late-May Xbox event was originally pegged by Windows expert Paul Thurrot (who specified May 21, in fact) and later confirmed by The Verge’s Tom Warren. It’s unclear what exactly will be on the agenda, but Microsoft’s Hyrb previously ribbed Sony for not showing any hardware at its own PlayStation 4 reveal earlier this year, so we’ll probably get eyes on the console itself.
We may also get our first official word on speculation that Microsoft’s next Xbox will require an always-on connection to the Internet to function, and a more detailed explanation of how exactly it will interact with other living room entertainment devices like cable set-top boxes.
Baidu, Hillhouse Capital, and GGV Capital have invested a total of $57 million in Chinese travel site Qunar, according to a report by First Financial Daily (link via Google Translate). The news comes as Qunar weathers a boycott by third-party service providers triggered by a change in its operational and pricing policies. South China Morning Post writer Doug Young speculates that Qunar might have hiked its prices in a bid to increase revenue and profits before making its first public filing for an offering.
A spokesman for Baidu said that the company is not currently commenting on the First Financial Daily report.
The $57 million round was reportedly closed in March, but the current valuation of Qunar is not clear yet. Both Baidu and GGV Capital are already investors in Qunar. Back in November 2009, GGV Capital led an investment round of $15 million that included Mayfield Ventures, GSR Ventures and Tenaya Capital. In July 2011, Baidu became a majority shareholder in Qunar when it invested $306 million. The round valued Qunar at about $483 million, according to First Financial Daily.
For Baidu, investing in Qunar allows it to expand its offerings beyond its core search business and better compete with rivals Alibaba Group and Tencent (which made an investment in online travel company eLong before the Baidu-Qunar tie-up). After its July 2011 investment, Baidu also integrated Qunar’s search results into Baidu’s travel vertical. The deal was seen as important not just for the two companies, but because it also marked a turning point for Chinese startups, which had previously focused more on IPOs instead of acquisitions. At that time, Qunar CEO Zhuang Chenchao said that the cash would be spent developing new services like a hotel search and mobile apps.
The newest reported investment–and current boycott–means that investors will probably have to wait for Qunar’s initial public offering. First Financial Daily reports that rumors had previously placed the timing of the IPO at the end of next year, but other factors contributing to a delay could include a tougher market for Chinese IPOs and an increase in scrutiny by Chinese regulators for companies seeking to list on the country’s two stock exchanges.
This morning, payments startup Ribbon announced support for “in-stream” payments on Twitter.com, allowing users to click a button directly within a tweet in order to make a purchase without having to leave the Twitter.com website. However, it appears that Twitter has already shut this feature down – within hours of its public debut.
Ribbon Co-founder Hany Rashwan has confirmed that Twitter has indeed shut them down, and the company is now in the process of trying to contact Twitter to discuss. We’ve also reached out to Twitter with questions, and will update if and when we hear back.
It’s possible that the way Ribbon implemented the in-stream payments using Twitter Cards (via the Player Card model) was a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service. What’s interesting is how quickly Twitter reacted to the situation, which makes one wonder who might have brought the violation, or issue, to Twitter’s attention.
For background, Ribbon, which is something of a “bit.ly for payments,” previously allowed Twitter users to click and link and be redirected to a separate page offering a simple, one-page checkout experience. But today, it introduced a new, more integrated option for payments, which took advantage of Twitter Card functionality to allow for payment processing directly on Twitter.com.
On an expanded tweet, users could just click a “Buy Now” button, enter their email and credit-card info, then click “Pay.” The entire checkout experience took place on Twitter.com itself – the idea being that by not redirecting you off-site like PayPal does, merchants can increase their conversion rates.
However, now those same tweets no longer offer in-stream checkout, but instead point users to click a “view on web” link taking them to the Ribbon.co checkout page. You can see the new and current (degraded) experiences in the screenshots below.
In a talk at SXSW today, the head of Google’s X Lab ‘moonshot’ division, Astro Teller, revealed a previously undisclosed project the clandestine group had worked on. He also hinted at a new project to be announced in a few weeks. Don’t go expecting a Space Elevator though, that’s a myth.
In addition to the previously known self-driving cars, Project Glass and neural network project, Teller said that making the blue dot in Google Maps accurate for users’ locations inside buildings as well as outside began as a project inside X Lab.
Teller said that the team working on the project thought that they would need to put new satellites into orbit or install beacons all over the world in order to do this. Instead, they found a way that didn’t require dedicated hardware. The project was then ‘graduated’ from X Lab to the Geo division, where the team involved is now working on getting location accuracy down to 25 centimeters.
X Labs projects are graduated out of X Lab because the division’s “Peter Pans with PHDs” need to keep focusing on moonshots, rather than commercial projects.
While Teller wouldn’t detail exactly what the next X Labs project to be announced will be, he said it related to control systems. He added that when Larry Page approved the project, he told Teller to make sure that he broke at least five prototype devices. Teller said that this was a reminder he needed that if you’re not going so fast that you break prototypes, you’re not going to go “radically fast.” Expect more details on this project “in about a month.”
In a Q&A with the audience after his talk, Teller had the opportunity to dispel a popular myth – that the company is working on an elevator into space. However, he said that the concept had become a ‘mascot’ for X Labs after the New York Times said that it was being worked on there, and Fast Company repeated it. “It’s funny that people won’t just let us alone,” he added.
For those desperate to find out what else is going on at X Lab (the division begins two or three projects per year), Teller said that they don’t reveal projects at an early stage because failure is an important part of the process and if they have people awaiting specific moonshot projects it “ends creativity” within the team.
Image credit: Getty Images