So the big fun story of last week was this streaming movie app called Popcorn Time. Essentially, it aggregated torrent links and packaged them with artwork and a nice interface that allows one-click streaming of movies.
Popcorn Time is incredibly illegal almost anywhere, but it’s also almost impossible to stop people from using it without ISP intervention. Even though the original version of the app has been killed off, the project has already been forked and replicated by a new group. Now that the concept is out there I doubt it will ever go away completely — whatever iteration may come.
The absolutely lovely irony here is that Popcorn Time is doing for distribution of pirated movies exactly what the movie industry needs to do for itself.
Torrents are confusing and a mess. My mom could not download a torrent app, find a torrent that was not a virus and download a movie on her own with no help. But she could definitely download Popcorn Time. As fast and available as torrents are, they’re still fragmented, dangerous and complicated. They require a modicum of technical familiarity and engender some risk every time you place your trust in an un-verified link.
Popcorn Time unifies them under one roof — in exactly the agnostic, friendly way that the movie industry in aggregate has been so unable to do for its own products.
In contrast, streaming movies with one click is a much more complicated and tortuous affair. Titles are split across a strata that include a variety of creators, distributors, technologies and pay gateways. There is no such thing as a one-price-plan that offers unfettered access to any movie you want to watch, and even if you want to rent an item you’re going to have to have at least 2-3 accounts on services from Apple, Netflix, Amazon or half a dozen others in order to guarantee the flick you want to see will be available when and if you want to see it.
The torrent landscape — the illegal download market — has its own crumbling architecture of groups and sites risen and fallen. But the pirates are out-innovating the studios — and apps like Popcorn Time prove that the movie industry is not being held back because of technology, it’s the lawyers.
Because the technology exists to make this happen easily. Services like Ultraviolet are proof of that. Many main-stream companies have even turned to torrents for use in delivering updates. If you’ve played World Of Warcraft in the past few years you’ve likely utilized torrents to get updates, whether you realize it or not.
The other major media business — music — was struck by a very similar bombshell with Napster. Never before had the main stream been able to one-click download a song or album as easily — even if they wanted to pay.
The point isn’t that Popcorn Time marks the first time that you can download movies illegally — but it is drop-dead simple. It democratizes movie piracy in the same way Napster did for music.
Also, as my colleague Ryan Lawler pointed out to me when we were chatting about this, broadband connections have gotten a lot faster since Napster made its debut. Downloading a movie can take as little as 15 minutes, about the time it took to download an album back then.
The music industry underwent a series of changes as a result of Napster. Albums broke into singles, digital surpassed disc and that has all culminated in the rise of the subscription over the pay-per-play model.
Then Apple came along and essentially formalized the Napster model — throwing the labels a lifeline in their distressed and desperate hour.
Content deals in the media business are made on 5-10-year cycles, and always have been. These included fractured elements like video on demand windows, theatrical release, streaming rights and broadcast rights — all of which are promised to separate entities with their own ‘middle man’ businesses. And each of those businesses have lawyers whose job it is to negotiate those deals in the most binding, most profitable way.
Look at how technology has changed life in the last 10 years. Thanks to smartphones and easily available high-speed wireless internet, it’s unrecognizable. So we’re still beholden to content deals made for — quite literally — a different culture.
I don’t even have anything with a disc drive in it besides game consoles — and I only buy discs when I know I might play them once or twice through and then sell them.
Last night I was watching Shark Tank — and two young co-founders presented them with a business that rented e-textbooks, called Packback Books. College students are able to rent textbooks by the day when they need to reference them, adding up to a couple hundred dollars in savings per semester. These guys had exactly the kind of product we talk about every day on TechCrunch. 4/5 of the sharks 100% did not get it, at all. Kevin O’Leary especially was insistent in talking about why the powerful incumbent textbook publishers would never let this happen — largely informed by his years of negotiation and frustration with those publishers.
Which only served to make it that much more evident that those same publishers are ripe for someone to undermine their way of doing business, in a way that could change the industry.
I haven’t done any due diligence on Packback and or Popcorn Time, and this is not an endorsement.
But it strikes me that this is exactly the kind of thing that will need to happen for the movie industry to come to its senses. There will be no major shakeup of the back-room deals (though powerful people like Apple’s Eddy Cue have been at it for years). Instead, someone will find a way to make those deals obsolete entirely.
I’m not a piracy advocate, and never will be. I have friends in the movie and media business who are technicians, craftsmen — not high rollers. Their salary, like it or not, is directly related to you paying for a movie. It’s not the paying — it’s the way you pay. It’s not the renting — it’s the way you rent. It’s not the profits — it’s the greed. Something has to give.
It may start somewhat innocuously, with a revenue share rental model — or perhaps Netflix’s backdoor content creator strategy will tip the scales.
Or maybe an app will make it so easy to pirate films that the aging carapace of a hundred years of the movie business will slough away for a new model.
But, sooner or later, it will happen.
See the rest here: The Sweet Irony Of Popcorn Time
Slowly, quietly, but increasingly more noisily, startups originally hailing from Europe but going global have been raising larger and larger funding rounds. The linch-pin in the ecosystem has been financing from London (handily, that’s where we’re holding our Disrupt conference there in October). You can be a startup from the most obscure village in Europe, your developers happily hacking away in some austerity-stricken part of town, but raising financing from VCs who like the combination of the UK’s legal jurisdiction, the English language, and the fact that US investors barely need to tick a box to invest when the startup’s founders come calling. The other city attracting VC attention is Berlin. According to Dow Jones VentureSource in the second quarter last year Germany received $375.8m in new VC for 67 deals, mainly in Berlin, while the UK won $290m for 77 deals.
But London is fighting back. A number of funding rounds have came in recently, attest to this trend, and it’s worth us taking time out for a moment to just register that ‘what just happened’ moment in three key stories which happened in the last couple of months.
WorldRemit, a London-based startup aimed at the consumer money wiring/remittance market got $40 million investment from Accel Partners (which has backed Supercell and Facebook. That was the startup’s first VC investment, and one of the largest-ever Series A rounds in Europe to date.
Vinted raised $27 million in its second institutional financing. This is a – ready for this? – Vilnius-based startup, a mobile and web-based marketplace to sell secondhand and consignment clothing. The money was from London’s Accel Partners and Insight Venture Partners (New York).
In February, London’s eCommera, which helps retailers use their customer purchasing data to improve the retail experience, secured $41 million in Series C funding led by Dawn Capital (London) together with other investors.
To date, the largest source of private company information in the UK, DueDil provides company and director data on private companies in over 22 countries. Launched in mid-2011, DueDil has raised a total of $22 million. It’s planning to launch in many more countries over the next year.
London-based travel startup Top10 raised $8 million in a Series B round led by top-tier London VC Balderton Capital. Top10 is a hotel search platform that aggregates review scores, location, popularity, price, and other features, thus creating a shortlist of 10 recommendations for each search. Founded in 2011 with, initially, a focus on music, the startup pivoted in early 2013 to focus on solely hotel search, a key market in Europe, and of course globally, with juicy revenue potentials. Top10 is planning to expanding its reach in Europe.
And the money in London is not just staying in Europe. San Francisco-based private communications startup Wickr (we’re talking self-destructing And encrypted messages here) raised a Series A round of $9 million led by Alsop Louie Partners with participation from angels including Thor Halvorssen, Gilman Louie, Richard A. Clarke, and Eileen Burbidge.
For those of you unaware, Burbidge is one third of the partners at Passion Capital in London and a key influence in the scene.
And let’s not forget last year’s $42 million, Series C round for DataSift, a social data platform that provides brands and enterprises with access to content from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and dozens of other social networks. And NewVoiceMedia’s $55m funding in 2013 across two big rounds, with a mix of US and European VCs.
As a VC said to me just the other day in relation to this news: “VC confidence is at all time high. Those who actually have money are very keen to deploy it. Why? The stock market and the raft of new IPOs are a major reason, plus the proliferation of growth capital.”
You heard it here first people. We’re looking at a new trend: The ‘Euro Megaround’ funding.
See original here: The Rise Of The Euro Mega-Round
MacBook Pro 15″ 17″ Apple 85w Magsafe Power Adapter A1343 (1 year warranty Bulk Packaging)
Date first available at Amazon.com: February 22, 2014
Buy new: $13.65
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(Visit the Hot New Releases in Computers & Accessories list for authoritative information on this product’s current rank.)
The cloud hosting service DigitalOcean is one of the big startup success stories of the last year. Earlier this month, the company announced that it had raised a $37 million funding round led by Andreesen Horowitz, just a few months after raising a $3.2 million seed round. Maybe even more importantly, it’s adding customers at a rapid clip and it has now spun up over 1.3 million cloud server instances since its launch a year ago.
Getting to this point wasn’t all that easy, though. Earlier this week, I sat down with DigitalOcean CEO and co-founder Ben Uretsky to talk a bit about the company’s journey. It is, in many ways, the quintessential startup story. Uretsky has a background in hosting, but in 2012, he decided that a new approach to cloud hosting was necessary. Existing providers offered pricing plans that were too complicated and platforms that weren’t always meeting the needs of their users.
With Amazon ahead of the pack, however, the team had a hard time convincing potential investors that it could make a dent in the hosting market. In the process of trying to secure funding, DigitalOcean’s founders met up with IA Ventures’ Brad Gillespie who suggested the company apply to TechStars New York. The only problem with that suggestion: the application deadline was just about 24 hours away. So the team hunkered down for a day and finished the application.
“That was the first time we really solidified our mission in writing,” Uretsky admitted. In addition, the founders had to record 30-second video clips for one part of the application. Given the deadline, the founders used their iPhones to record them.
From there, the team got invited to the TechStars intro day and, as Uretsky put it, “walked away with a sense of awe” afterward because it made them realize what kind of network an accelerator program like TechStars could offer them “We knew at that point it was worth getting in,” Uretsky told me (and he was especially impressed by meeting Brad Feld at the intro day).
After this first introduction to the world of accelerators, the team went through the TechStars selection process. Uretsky especially remembers a key meeting with David Tisch who was running the NYC program at the time. That meeting must have gone pretty well, because the company was invited into the finalist round of about 20 to 25 companies. Despite making what Uretsky believes was a very solid pitch, DigitalOcean was rejected in the end and didn’t make it into the program.
After almost two months of going through the selection process, that was quite a letdown, of course. “We pleaded our case,” Uretsky told me, but to no avail.
The company continued working on the product, though, and two weeks after the finalists were announced in March 2012, Uretsky got an email from Tisch, inviting them to apply to the Boulder program. Out of all the companies that were rejects, Tisch felt, DigitalOcean felt like it should’ve been part of the class. “The main reason [Tisch] didn’t want to work with us was that his own experience in the server and infrastructure space wouldn’t be helpful,” Uretsky told me, which makes sense, given that Tisch’s experience is really in the consumer space.
By mid-May 2012, the company had been accepted into the Boulder program and the five-person team moved into a three-bedroom house in Boulder for the week. With just three rooms, Uretsky and one of his co-founders — who shall remain unnamed — ended up sharing a bunk bed. His co-founder turned out to be a very loud snorer, which probably didn’t make the whole experience, which Uretsky describes as “gruelling,” any easier. Still, he describes the accelerator program as “a great formative period for DigitalOcean.”
With no distractions — besides the snoring — the team was able to focus completely on the product. That is, after it made it through the first phase of the TechStars process, which has the teams meet with lots and lots of mentors. All of them, of course, have different ideas about the company and there was always a push to think about pivoting to a different product. And that’s what the team did at first. For a while, they worked on other ideas, including a community content network, a provisioning service and other ideas. “At the end of all those conversations [with mentors], we were still able to stick to our original thesis,” Uretsky said. “We decided to stick with the original value proposition.” Still, some of those potential pivots turned out to be the seeds for some of the features of DigitalOcean today.
With that phase behind them, the team went into phase two, which is about building the product, finding some early customers and getting traction. By demo day, the company had spun up about 10,000 instances and signed up just under 400 customers.
Talking about demo day, Uretsky recalled how the pressure for companies is to come out of the program and be able to set up a round, but in trying to raise a seed round, the team faced the same challenges as getting into TechStars: cloud hosting is a hard sell.
In the end, though, the team manged to convince enough investors to fund its early days, but to accelerate its growth, the team decided on a risky move. Even though DigitalOcean is known as an SSD-only hosting platform, it still used regular hard drives in 2012. The idea was to offer a simplified user experience, but SSDs weren’t on the original roadmap.
Still, DigitalOcean decided that in order to differentiate itself, it would move to SSDs. Those are more expensive than regular hard drives, though, so it had to sign up twice as many customers as before to stay in business. My colleague Romain Dillet wrote the first story about this move and Uretsky was able to recall the date of that post — January 15, 2013 — because he says that’s the day when he realized that this idea was going to work. That story then hit Hacker News later in the day and the company increased customer acquisition 10x from then on.
Over the last year, that growth story has only continued. For Uretsky as the CEO, though, this rapid growth also meant stepping away from product development himself and focusing on financing instead.
“It’s a little disheartening because I love technology.” he told me. “But nowadays I do meetings and phone calls most of the day.” With a large funding round behind him, he now focuses on hiring, something that isn’t exactly easy, either, and that often shapes a startup’s future for years to come.
The rest is here: Digital Ocean’s Journey From TechStars Reject To Cloud-Hosting Darling
Initially proposed by Paul Graham (Y Combinator’s original honcho) as a way to bring 10,000 new entrepreneurs to U.S. shores, Sam Altman is proposing a more modest 100 visas to be granted to Y Combinator to select founders that would be eligible to launch startup companies in the States.
We’ll continue to take applications for funding from around the world, and work with whatever process you’d like—we just need to be able to get the founders visas quickly (None of the current paths works well enough for this, but a slight reworking of the O1 visa around criteria and timing could be sufficient.). If the test works with us, you could expand it to other investment firms. We’re happy to be the beta tester, and we’re confident we’ll prove that it’s a good idea.
Altman told me that this founders visa got tangled up with the broader number of immigration reform issues. “Where I would like to see us get is to broad-based immigration reform where anyone who wants to work in the U.S. can work in the U.S.,” he added.
But he said he would rather the government take a lesson from startups and get there one step at a time through incrementally easing the restrictions on immigration
For Altman, the road to a broader liberalization of immigration policies is through “leveraging the highest-value pieces,” and a government embrace of the international entrepreneurs who want to create jobs in the U.S.
Y Combinator already accepts a number of international startups to its accelerator program. The most recent batch of Y Combinator startups had over 20 companies from overseas in its crop.
But as Altman notes in his post, if the skills required to be a great entrepreneur are evenly distributed around the world, then the U.S. is home to less than 5 percent of he world’s best founders. Why not allow more to come in? And the 100 visas could yield several successful startups based in the U.S.
“50 new startups a year could be a huge deal. Many will fail, of course, but one could be the next Google, Facebook, Airbnb, or Dropbox,” Altman writes. “Though this is almost an immeasurably small number of visas, it could have a measurably large effect on the number of jobs created in the United States.”
Photo via Flickr user DaveBleasdale
Read the original post: Y Combinator Renews Calls For “Founders Visas”
Kiip continues to build its relationships with the ad world, announcing today that it has partnered with VivaKi, the digital innovation arm of Publicis Groupe.
The startup pitches its model, where brands can offer rewards at key moments in mobile games and other apps, as a new form of advertising. Kiip announced last year that Interpublic Groupe (which, like Publicis, is one of the four big ad holding companies) was a strategic investor.
Kiip says it has already worked with Publicis brands including Procter & Gamble, Mars, and Georgia Pacific. However, it sounds like the partnership creates more of a structure for VivaKi to bring Kiip rewards programs to Publicis brands and agencies. This will also provide Publicis with exclusives or early access to some Kiip features.
These kinds of partnerships aren’t new to VivaKi — it runs a ventures program that’s less focused on making cash investments and more on connecting startups to other parts of Publicis. Partnerships announced last year include SparkReel and Nativo.
See original here: Mobile Rewards Startup Kiip Partners With Digital Agency VivaKi
Even if you don’t know what Unity is, you’ve probably played a game made with it.
Unity is a game development engine that has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. Its main draw: you build a game once, and it works (natively!) on nearly every major platform (Xbox, PS3, Windows, iPhone, Android, and so on — the list at this point is nuts) without much extra work.
This morning at GDC, Unity announced the fifth major release of their engine. This comes about 16 months after the launch of Unity 4.0.
So, what does this mean for you, the gamer?
If you’re a gamer, just know that a fairly popular game creation tool just got a whole lot better — better lighting, better audio capabilities, greater efficiency, etc. It’s sort of like if your favorite artist suddenly gained access to a bunch of fancy new paints, or if your favorite band was brought into a bigger, better recording studio.
One of the features that might most directly affect most gamers, though, is Unity’s new found fondness for WebGL. While Unity has supported browser deployment for a while, users were required to download and install a plug-in. No one likes plug-ins. It’s really early days (the company calls it “Early Access”), so don’t expect it to be fully featured in every browser right off the bat — but as of 5.0, Unity developers should be able to start pushing Unity games directly to compatible browsers, no plug-in required.
So, what does this mean for you, the developer?
I’ve broken down a list of most of Unity 5′s flagship features below. To answer the most pressing questions first: they haven’t announced a release date (or even a release window), and they haven’t locked in prices yet. With that said, Unity CEO David Helgason tells me that he “doesn’t expect there to be any surprises” with the pricing.
(For reference, the base version of Unity is currently free, including the ability to publish to iOS and Android — but if you want some of the fancier features [like publishing without a Unity splash screen, support for third-party plug-ins, and the super snazzy audio/lighting effects], it’s $1,500 per developer for a “Pro” license.)
For all the current Unity developers out there: if you ordered Unity 4 after the company promised a massive overhaul of its GUI editor, don’t panic; Helgason promises me that Unity 4.x will see one more big update, and it’ll include the new GUI system.
Here’s a video showing off most of Unity 5.0′s shiny new abilities:
The new HTC One might be the most leaked phone in history. Pics, specs, camera details release date and new features have leaked over the last few months long ahead of its March 25th debut. Even HTC itself got into the action with a series of videos. HTC clearly understands that a big reveal will have little impact on the HTC One’s future.
Companies have long toyed with big press events for devices but they’re a delicate balancing act. Apple seems to have the right formula. They drag the press out to just a couple of big events each year, announce their new wares, and then reveal the pricing and release date. Apple has the right mixture of consumer mindshare and presentation tactics. Most companies do not.
Samsung is still figuring it out. Last year, for the reveal of the Galaxy S4, the company put on a Broadway show complete with singing, complicated stages and an orchestra to explain every new feature found on the phone. This year Samsung went decidedly low-key with the Galaxy S5 reveal, yet the price and release date were missing from the announcement.
HTC is in a tough spot. It needs the next HTC One to succeed. The company is nearly in the red. And the best way to keep using black ink is to maintain a responsible level of hype for its next flagship phone.
Nearly every leak around the next HTC One shows that the phone will be a worthy successor. There doesn’t seem to be anything magical about the phone. And that’s good. The leaks have revealed a similar design to the original with an upgraded camera. The UI is familiar, but updated. It seems nice.
But the leaks work in HTC’s favor. This is free marketing for HTC and free is good. Consumers generally do not rush out to buy an Android phone the day it’s released. The upgrade cycle is not as rigid as with the iPhone. Purchases are carefully weighed and measured against competitors’ devices.
Apple needs the big pop to convert current iPhone owners to buy the next iPhone. HTC’s customer likely has a device from a different maker who HTC hopes will buy the next One sometime in the coming months. HTC doesn’t need a star-studded dog and pony show to sell phones. It needs educated consumers who simply have heard about the next HTC One, and for that you spread the news through word of mouth and not spend not millions on an all-singing-all-dancing tech launch.
View original post here: HTC Is The Honey Badger That Don’t Care
Microsoft has just disclosed that Marc Whitten, Chief Product Officer for the Xbox division, will be leaving the company. His new gig? Chief Product Officer at Sonos.
Marc was a part of this division since the earliest days of the first generation Xbox. Before being bumped up to the Xbox Chief role back in January of 2007, he lead the Xbox Live team for around 2 1/2 years.
Microsoft notes that Marc’s team will now report to Terry Myerson, who, as the company’s VP of Operating Systems, already oversaw much of the Xbox team’s operations (along with those of Windows and Windows Phone)
Of course, this isn’t the Xbox team’s only notable exec departure as of late. In July, division head Don Mattrick headed for Zynga just weeks before the launch of the Xbox One, pinning him up as something of an effigy for the many pre-launch stumbles the One had early one. In January of this year, Blair Westlake, the exec responsible for securing much of the media for Xbox’s video/music services, took off as well.
Follow this link: Xbox Chief Product Officer Marc Whitten Leaves Microsoft For Sonos
Singapore’s Joyful Frog Digital Incubator has raised $2.1 million from investors led by Infocomm Investments to pursue the city state’s ambitions of becoming the startup hub for all of South East Asia.
Russia’s SpinUp Partners and the Silicon Valley-based Fenox are among other investors participating in the latest round. The idea behind getting more overseas investors is to gain from their expertise and collaborate.
“In Russia, we have talented startup teams and capital seeking access to world markets. Singapore is the gateway to Asia for us and we look forward to working closely with JFDI.Asia into the future,” Sergey Gorokhov, Director and Chairman of the Board at SpinUp Partners said in a statement.
The funding will be used to incubate more startup ideas in the region, and is part of the accelerator’s aim to raise around $4.7 million in total capital. The new funding will also be used to support the upcoming batch of startups later this month.
“Including two further runs of the program later in the year, 2014 should see JFDI add an additional 30-40 startups to its portfolio of alumni, with ambitions to expand that by a further 40-60 startups in 2015,” JFDI said.
Singapore has been pushing aggressively to become the Silicon Valley for South East Asia. In 2013, the country’s technology sector attracted venture capital worth $1.71 billion from around $27.9 million in 2011, according to Asia Venture Capital Journal Research.
Since 2012, more than 60% of the 27 teams completing the JFDI programme have succeeded in raising an average S$650k ($513,000) per team, the accelerator said in a statement.
Over past two years, Singapore has attracted many startup teams from neighboring India, New Zealand and Australia, who have relocated to build their products, raise seed capital in the country. Digital health startup Klinify and inventory management startup TradeGecko are among examples of entrepreneurs who have shifted to the city state.
While still waiting for bigger exits, Singapore’s startup ecosystem has made some progress in past year. The $200 million acquisition of Viki, a video streaming platform, by Rakuten in September 2013 was a sign that startups in Singapore were beginning to attract global acquirers.
“IIPL is helping to build a strong pipeline of Singapore-based, high growth and innovation driven tech startups that can bring about a disruptive change to our entrepreneurial ecosystem. The accelerator model is a key part of our strategy towards achieving this,” Infocomm Investments’ Alex Lin said in a statement. These investments are part of Singapore’s strategy to build 500 technology product startups in next five years.
Continue reading here: JFDI Accelerator Raises $2.1M To Help Singapore Become Southeast Asia’s Startup Hub