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Baidu’s streaming video service iQiyi falls 13.6% in Nasdaq debut

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 06:06 PM PDT

The streaming video service iQiyi, a business owned by China’s online search giant Baidu, dropped 13.6% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq — closing at $15.55, or down $2.45 from its opening price of $18.

The company still managed to pull off one of the largest public offerings by a Chinese tech company in the past two years raising $2.25 billion — the only Chinese technology company to make a larger splash in U.S. markets is Alibaba — the commercial technology juggernaut which raised $21.5 billion in its public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.

"It's a special day and an exciting day for iQiyi, and I will say it's also an exciting day for the Chinese internet,” said Baidu chief executive Robin Li of the iQiyi public offering.”Eight years ago, when we got started, we were not the first one, we were not the largest one, but we gradually worked our way up, and caught up and surpassed everyone. It has been not an easy journey, but finally we are public. We surpassed everyone. That's because we have a very strong team. I have a full confidence on Gong Yu and on the whole iQiyi Team."

Over its eight year history there’s no doubt that iQiyi has gone from laggardly to lustrous in the Chinese streaming video market. Baidu’s offering and Tencent’s video service have both managed to overtake the previous market leader Youku Tudou, which was acquired by Alibaba in 2016.

Tencent leveraged its 980 million monthly active users on the WeChat mobile messaging app, the 653 million monthly active users on its older QQ messaging platform and the company’s attendant social network (think Facebook) to juice growth of its video streaming offering, according to analysis from The Motley Fool.

For Baidu, the company’s pole position for online search became critical to the growth of iQiyi — along with a partnership to China’s ubiquitous hardware manufacturer and technology developer Xiaomi . The company also locked in early content licensing deals with big Hollywood studios like Lions Gate and Paramount — and a deal with Netflix to juice its subscriber base in China. By the end of 2017, Baidu was claiming more than 487 million monthly active users for the service.

The former leader in China’s video streaming market, Youku Tudou, seems to have wilted under the weight of its acquirer’s platform. Alibaba’s ecommerce was never a natural fit with online video streaming.

For all of their massive user bases each of China’s leading video streaming services face a profitability problem. For its part, iQiyi went to market with substantial losses of $574.4 million for the last fiscal year.



Roam debuts a robotic exoskeleton for skiers

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 05:25 PM PDT

Roam, a San Francisco-based robotics startup, has just debuted a lower-body robotic exoskeleton aimed firmly at skiers. The company's first product doesn't stray too far from nearby Ekso Bionics, where CEO and founder Tim Swift worked previously — though the simply titled Robotic Ski Exoskeleton trades warehouse work and mobility assistance for the admittedly more exhilarating world of downhill skiing.

The product is essentially a pair of braces that strap on the wearer’s thighs, connecting to ski boots on one side and a small backpack on the other. The braces absorb shock, provide support and generally make you look like some crazy cyborg sent back from the future to punish snow.

A combination of built-in sensors and software adjust the system's fabric and air actuators, providing additional support to the quadriceps. That all happens automatically, though users can also opt to control the thing manually, as well.

In spite of only announcing this week, the company says its "first releases are already spoken for," meaning interested parties will have to join a waiting list to get their hands on it. And that's honestly probably perfectly fine as they're only available in the U.S. for now, and spring is finally upon us.

When they are more widely available, they'll run somewhere in the ballpark of $2,000 to $2,500. Pricey, but no one ever said skiing — or being a robot — was going to be an affordable hobby.

Every time Trump has gone off on Amazon

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 05:23 PM PDT

Tax cuts might be the name of the game for the Trump administration, but the president has no intention of letting Amazon’s Jeff Bezos off easy. With a tweet early Thursday following an Axios report that the president is “obsessed” with the company, Trump’s anti-Amazon sentiment bubbled up once more.

Trump’s Amazon ire is nothing new, but seeing it surface through tweets means that going after the company might again be at the top of his mind. Still, historically, that doesn’t indicate a policy shift is in order.

As Politico reported, the White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah dismissed the assumption that Trump versus Bezos is a war of personalities or an issue entangled with the president’s distaste for the Bezos-owned Washington Post.

“You have a huge company that's done amazing things, in Amazon, spring up in a very short amount of time, and, really, tax policy and other policy has to catch up to that so that way, those who are competing with Amazon are on a level playing field,” Shah said.

“A lot of people have made this, with respect to Amazon, about personalities and the CEO at Amazon — we're talking about Jeff Bezos here. But this is really about policy.”

Trump’s tweets reveal a different story, one that conflates Amazon, Bezos and The Washington Post and frequently rails against all three.

Remarkably, if you go back far enough, Trump seemed to implicitly praise Bezos’s business acumen by quoting him.

The criticisms didn’t really ramp up until 2015, after which time he became preoccupied by Amazon’s deal with the USPS and the financial relationship between Bezos, Amazon and the paper.

While the USPS/Amazon deal has reportedly come up with Trump plenty of times, the president appears to be sticking with his impression of the situation. “It’s been explained to him in multiple meetings that his perception is inaccurate and that the post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon,” a source told Axios.

In reality, although Amazon could exit the deal and make arrangements with other delivery services, the deal is likely more essential for the USPS. The postal service loses money every year (and continues to do so), but parcel post deliveries (i.e. Amazon orders) are one revenue stream on its way up into 2017. In 2017, revenue from package deliveries went up 11.8 percent as first-class mail, historically the real money-maker, declined.

As a source told Axios, Trump could leverage antitrust or competition law to go after Amazon, but that policy has yet to materialize. Until then, his recent volley toward Amazon appears to be just another verbal rant against a perceived enemy; this one just happens to own the sometimes second most valuable company in the world.

Tesla voluntarily recalls 123,000 Model S vehicles

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 05:14 PM PDT

If you own a Model S built before April 2016, you’re probably going to want to swing by a dealer and get it checked out…

Tesla has just issued a voluntary recall for 123,000 Model S vehicles, having found that the power steering bolts in some were displaying “excessive corrosion.” Model X and Model 3 vehicles aren’t affected here, nor are Model S built after April 2016.

The company says that the corrosion is primarily occurring in cars driven in particularly cold climates, but isn’t limiting the recall to those cars (because, well, who knows where you’ll be driving it a few years from now).

In an email outlining the recall to affected owners, Tesla notes that swapping out the bolts will “take around an hour,” and that no accidents or injuries are believed to have been caused by this issue.

This isn’t the first time Tesla has issued a recall, but it’s their biggest recall to date. It recalled around 53,000 Model S and Model X vehicles in April of last year due to parking brakes that could potentially get stuck in the “on” position; a few months later, it recalled 11,000 Model X because of a faulty cable in the second-row seating.

University of Michigan opens up its M-Air UAV testing facility to students

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 04:54 PM PDT

Companies and students who want to test an autonomous vehicle at the University of Michigan have the excellent Mcity simulated urban environment. But if you wanted to test a drone, your options were extremely limited — think “at night in a deserted lecture hall.” Not anymore: the school has just opened its M-Air facility, essentially a giant netted playground for UAVs and their humans.

It may not look like much to the untrained eye, and certainly enclosing a space with a net is considerably less labor-intensive than building an entire fake town. But the benefits are undeniable.

Excited students at a school like U-M must frequently come up with ideas for drone control systems, autonomous delivery mechanisms, new stabilization algorithms and so on. Testing them isn’t nearly as simple, though: finding a safe, controlled space and time to do it, getting the necessary approvals and, of course, containing the fallout if anything goes wrong — tasks like these could easily overwhelm a few undergrads.

M-Air serves as a collective space that’s easy to access but built from the ground up (or rather, the air down) for safe and easy UAV testing. It’s 80 by 120 feet and five stories tall, with a covered area that can hold 25 people. There are lights and power, of course, and because it’s fully enclosed it technically counts as “indoor” testing, which is much easier to get approval for. For outdoor tests you need special authorization to ensure you won’t be messing with nearby flight paths.

We can test our system as much as we want without fear of it breaking, without fear of hurting other people,” said grad student Matthew Romano in a U-M video. “It really lets us push the boundaries and allows us to really move quickly on iterating and developing the system and testing our algorithms.”

And because it’s outside, students can even test in the lovely Michigan weather.

“With this facility, we can pursue aggressive educational and research flight projects that involve high risk of fly-away or loss-of-control — and in realistic wind, lighting and sensor conditions,” said U-M aerospace engineering professor Ella Atkins.

I feel for the neighbors, though. That buzzing is going to get annoying.

Uber has settled with the family of the homeless victim killed last week

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 03:53 PM PDT

Uber has reportedly come to a fast settlement with the family of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was fatally struck last week by one of the company’s self-driving vehicles as she crossed a darkened street, pushing a bicycle.

Terms of the settlement are not being disclosed; Uber declined to comment when we asked the company for further information.

The move helps Uber avoid what could have been an ugly civil case against it, even while it isn’t clear how big or sophisticated a support system Herzberg had.

Reuters reported last week that Herzberg was homeless and close to getting off the streets, with friends describing her as someone who took care of those around her. She was reportedly known in the homeless community as “Elle” and “Ms. Elle.”

She did have a daughter and was apparently married. Indeed, according to a separate Reuters report, the Glendale, Arizona attorney who represented Herzberg’s family — it’s worth noting that she typically focuses on bankruptcy and debt negotiation — told the outlet "the matter has been resolved" between Uber and Herzberg’s daughter and husband.

No further information about them was disclosed.

Presumably, the case was settled at a high cost to the company, but could have been higher had it dragged out. Personal injury lawsuits typically arrive at a settlement amount after both sides determine on their own what they think a case is worth; typically, that amount is reached by reviewing similar cases and seeing what juries have awarded past victims.

Given the unique circumstances of this case — Herzberg was the first person to be killed by a self-driving car — and given Uber’s unprecedentedly high private market value of $72 billion, determining the amount would be particularly tricky.

Uber is still facing fallout from all corners over last week’s incident, including, potentially, criminal charges. The Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating the details of last week’s incident.

Uber also announced it wouldn’t reapply to test its self-driving technology on public roads in California in the wake of the accident, meaning that as of next week, after its current permit expires, it won’t be able to operate its self-driving cars on that state’s public roads.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey separately suspended the company's right to operate autonomous cars on public roads in Arizona on Monday night, though emails have since surfaced that suggest Ducey himself enabled the program with limited oversight.

Pictured above: the type of vehicle that struck Herzberg.

FCC approves SpaceX plan for 4,425-satellite broadband network

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 03:22 PM PDT

SpaceX has a green light from the FCC to launch a network of thousands of satellites blanketing the globe with broadband. And you won’t have too long to wait — on a cosmic scale, anyway. Part of the agreement is that SpaceX launch half of its proposed satellites within six years.

The approval of SpaceX’s application was not seriously in doubt after last month’s memo from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was excited at the prospect of the first U.S.-based company being authorized to launch a constellation like this.

“I have asked my colleagues to join me in supporting this application and moving to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans,” he wrote at the time. He really is pushing that “digital divide” thing. Not that Elon Musk disagrees:

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell echoed the sentiment in a statement provided to TechCrunch:

We appreciate the FCC's thorough review and approval of SpaceX's constellation license. Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected.

The proposed service, which will be called Starlink, was opposed by several existing satellite operators like OneWeb and Spire. They’re rightly concerned that another operator in space — especially one that wants to launch thousands of satellites — will crowd both spectrum and orbit.

Illustration of SpaceX satellite coverage from the FCC application

OneWeb, for example, said that SpaceX satellites shouldn’t be allowed to be deployed within 125 kilometers of altitude of its own. You do want to avoid interference, but really, it’s too much to ask for a 150-mile buffer zone around your gear.

One objection that did carry water, however, was the request for an extensive orbital debris mitigation plan.

The unprecedented number of satellites proposed by SpaceX and the other [non-geostationary orbit fixed-satellite service] systems in this processing round will necessitate a further assessment of the appropriate reliability standards of these spacecraft, as well as the reliability of these systems' methods for deorbiting the spacecraft.

So SpaceX will have to provide more studies on this by the time it finalizes its designs and starts launching.

And that will have to be fairly soon. To move things along, the FCC requires SpaceX to get underway in a hurry or else, presumably, it will have to be reauthorized:

SpaceX must launch 50 percent of the maximum number of proposed space stations, place them in the assigned orbits, and operate them in accordance with the station authorization no later than March 29, 2024.

The company has already launched test versions of the satellites, but the full constellation will need to go out more than two at a time. SpaceX eventually plans to launch 12,000 of the things, but this authorization is for the high-altitude group of 4,425; a separate authorization is necessary for the remaining number, since they’ll be operating at a different altitude and radio frequency.

The Falcon 9 carrying SpaceX’s test Starlink satellites launches on February 22

Commissioner Rosenworcel, in a separate statement, also called for a general revisiting of regulations around commercial space.

“This rush to develop new space opportunities requires new rules,” she writes. “Despite the revolutionary activity in our atmosphere, the regulatory frameworks we rely on to shape these efforts are dated. Across the board, we need to prepare for the proliferation of satellites in our higher altitudes. In short, we have work to do.”

New York City is launching public cybersecurity tools to keep residents from getting hacked

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 02:26 PM PDT

In a week of harrowing city-level cyber attacks, New York is taking some precautions.

While the timing is coincidental, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio just announced that the city will introduce the first tools in its suite of cybersecurity offerings to protect residents against malicious online activity, particularly on mobile devices.

When it launches this summer, New York residents will be able to download a free app called NYC Secure. The app will alert smartphone users to potential threats on their devices and offer tips for how to stay secure, “such as disconnecting from a malicious Wi-Fi network, navigating away from a compromised website, or uninstalling a malicious app.”

Because the app will take no active steps on its own, it’ll be up to users to heed the advice presented to them. NYC Secure will not collect or transmit any personal identifying information or private data.

The city will also beef up security over its public Wi-Fi networks, a notorious target for malicious actors looking to snoop on private information as it passes by unencrypted. The city will implement DNS protection through a service called Quad9, a free public cybersecurity product out of the partnership between Global Cyber Alliance (GCA), IBM and Packet Clearing House.

“In order to stay a step ahead of cyber criminals that are continuously finding new ways to hack devices, we must invest in the safety of the digital lives of our residents," said Geoff Brown, Citywide Chief Information Security Officer. “While no individual is immune to cybersecurity threats, this program will add an extra layer of security to personal devices that often house a huge amount of sensitive data.”

New York’s NYC Cyber Command (NYC3), a city-level cyber defense organization established by mayoral executive order in July 2017, will introduce the new public security tools and oversee their implementation.

“Initiatives like this one in New York City will help grow awareness of the increasing cyberattack problem and may urge citizens to take more action to protect themselves,” McAfee CEO Christopher Young said of the city’s cyber plan.

Because New York faces so many unique cybersecurity threats as an international business hub and a dense cultural epicenter, the city could provide a compelling model for other metropolitan areas looking to take their cyber problems into their own hands.

Under Armour says MyFitnessPal data breach affected 150 million users

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 02:20 PM PDT

Under Armour, the fitness company that owns MyFitnessPal, disclosed today a data breach that affected about 150 million users. MyFitnessPal, a food and nutrition application, earlier this week became aware of the breach, which took place late last month.

The breached data did not include any Social Security numbers, driver license numbers or any other government-issued identifiers, according to Under Armour. The company also said payment card information was not collected.

“The company quickly took steps to determine the nature and scope of the issue and to alert the MyFitnessPal community of the incident,” Under Armour wrote in a press release.

Four days after Under Armour became aware of the issue, the company said it started to notify members of the MyFitnessPal community via email and in-app messaging. Under Armour recommends MyFitnessPal users change their passwords.

“Under Armour is working with leading data security firms to assist in its investigation, and also coordinating with law enforcement authorities,” the press release stated. “The investigation indicates that the affected information included usernames, email addresses, and hashed passwords – the majority with the hashing function called bcrypt used to secure passwords.”

Facebook tries to prove it cares with ‘Fighting Abuse @ Scale’ conference

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 02:15 PM PDT

Desperate to show it takes thwarting misinformation, fraud and spam seriously, Facebook just revealed that it’s hosting a private “Fighting Abuse @Scale” invite-only conference in San Francisco on April 25th. Speakers from Facebook, Airbnb, Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn will discuss how to stop fake news, prevent counterfeit account creation, use honeypots to disrupt adversarial infrastructure and how machine learning can be employed to boost platform safety.

[Update: Though never publicly announced, Facebook has already privately filled the event to capacity. The company’s PR says this isn’t a “last-minute” event as we originally described it, and initial invites went out February 6th. But the sudden move to invite journalists less than a month ahead seems timed to humanize Facebook’s efforts to combat its ongoing data abuse and election interference scandals.]

Fighting Abuse @Scale will be held at the Bespoke Event Center within the Westfield Mall in SF. We can expect more technical details about the new proactive artificial intelligence tools Facebook announced today during a conference call about its plans to protect election integrity. The first session is titled “Combating misinformation at Facebook” and will feature an engineering director and data scientists from the company.

Facebook previously held “Fighting Spam @Scale” conferences in May 2015 and November 2016 just after the presidential election. But since then, public frustration has built up to a breaking point for the social network. Russian election interference, hoaxes reaching voters, violence on Facebook Live, the ever-present issue of cyberbullying and now the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal have created a convergence of backlash. With its share price plummeting, former executives speaking out against its impact on society and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on a media apology tour, Facebook needs to show this isn’t just a PR problem. It needs users, potential government regulators, and its own existing and potential employees to see it’s willing to step up and take responsibility for fixing its platform.

How big money can drive diversity in venture capital

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 02:00 PM PDT

The world's largest asset manager just called for more corporate responsibility in governance. Twenty-one countries already legislate diversity on corporate boards or mandate practices that enhance diversity in the workplace. The United States has avoided proactive rules, often citing adverse results from implementing quotas. But in the USA, money talks. And the money behind venture capital funds is starting to take diversity seriously.

When Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock (with $5.7 trillion under management), says, "We also will continue to emphasize the importance of a diverse board," that is a lot of votes for diversity. Similarly, the largest private foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, just backed Aspect Ventures, a women-led venture fund, to help change the ratio in technology.

Someone working on behalf of a LARGE pool of capital recently asked me what actions would help it produce strong returns with diverse venture capital investors and diverse entrepreneurs. Their investments to date had all been with middle-aged white guys — literally — and they worried about both social justice and business relevance and returns.

Diversity is important for investment performance, both for better financial outcomes and for ameliorating risks. The trend toward requiring more diverse governance bodies, whether investment managers or corporate boards, spans from early-stage startups to public company boards. At the largest scale, governance advisers such as Glass Lewis will start to advise voting against boards that are not diverse (see page 23.) Women- and minority-owned venture capital (VC) firms are flourishing, partly driven by public employee pension funds. Strong performance in venture capital is tied to access to the best companies, many of which are now founded by a diverse range of entrepreneurs: young, racially diverse and not all male.

In the post-Binary Capital era, limited partners (LPs) are increasingly concerned with the downside risks present in non-diverse investment firms, where old-fashioned monocultures may foster illegal or undesirable behavior. Astute LPs are asking their general partners to document their diversity statistics — inside the firms and among their portfolios — and to document their policies that foster a diverse and inclusive workplace, such as policies on sexual harassment, fraternization, maternity leave, etc. The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) provides model HR documents for free to the community for use in firms and portfolio companies.

The large pool of capital (let's call them "LPOC") was aware of all these trends, but sought advice on how to influence their investment portfolio of firms and their broad ecosystem. I gave LPOC these simple recommendations:

  • LPOC to track and publish its diversity stats and those of its partner firms, including the results of Rooney Rule usage in searches

  • LPOC to adopt a diversity pledge, including implementing the Rooney Rule in hiring and in considering firms for investments

  • LPOC's partner firms to adopt a diversity pledge, including adopting the Rooney Rule in the pledge

  • LPOC to consider a broad range of managers for partnership mandates, including open solicitation of proposals for partnership

  • LPOC to encourage startups to develop diverse executive teams and to consider employing the Rooney Rule and/or other efforts to recruit diverse talent

  • LPOC to create an advisory committee to provide guidance on diversifying its investment strategy

These suggestions don't include a capital allocation to women-owned or minority-owned firms — in other words, no quotas. But they do require LPOC to measure where it invests its money and staffing, and requires its investment partners to do the same. I believe their returns from measuring their actions will move them to the top quartile in every metric they care about — financial and social.

Wondery wants to become Hollywood’s podcast dream factory

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 01:24 PM PDT

When Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of Fox International, started the podcast network Wondery roughly two years ago with a seed investment from his former bosses at Fox Networks Group, podcasting was still emerging as a media platform.

Now, with voice ascendant, and podcasting proving to be a breeding ground for new narratives that other storytelling mediums can latch onto — the move into the reinvention of radio for the 21st century seems prescient.

It’s not just Fox that is now backing the podcast business; new investors led by storied venture capital and private equity investor Alan Patricof’s Greycroft Partners are coming aboard with a $5 million commitment to expand the scope of Wondery’s wonder factory. Additional investors include Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Advancit Capital — the investment vehicle for Shari Redstone (daughter of billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone).

Previous investors BAM Ventures, Watertower Ventures, Fox Networks Group and BDMI also participated in the round.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wondery intends to add new shows to its stable, including American Innovations, Dr. Death and I, Survivor, and has optioned Sward and Scale and Tides of History as projects for movies and television.

While traditional media companies are being forced to join forces and combine assets to protect their market from new competitors like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix coming from the tech industry, new media platforms like podcasting are opening up opportunities for different kinds of studios to emerge. 

I believe there's a huge opportunity in audio,” Lopez says. “There isn't anywhere close to enough quality audio content being produced.”

On average, the modern consumer listens to four hours of audio per day, according to Lopez. Even though most of that is music, an increasing number of Americans are turning to podcasts as a new form of entertainment. And podcasts are beginning to attract more advertising dollars.

“In the podcast world the ads seem to work. They're native, they're integrated into the shows. The listeners are welcoming,” says Wondery’s chief executive. That in itself would be a welcome change for media companies hungry for new ways to maintain their ad-supported business models. 

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have trained a generation of consumers on subscription models that eschew advertising altogether — but podcasts still hold out promise, says Lopez.

Demographics are another key reason that advertisers are moving to podcasts, he says, and Comscore research (funded by Wondery) seems to back up his assertions.

According to Comscore, nearly one in five Americans aged 18-49 said they’d listened to podcasts at least once a month — a number that increases when it’s restricted to the highly coveted demographic of men between the ages of 18 and 34, while nearly one in three men 18-34 do so. Podcast listeners are also more likely to have a college degree, make more than $100,000 and be early adopters of electronics, consumer goods and entertainment.

Advertisers are beginning to take notice, with $119 million spent on podcast advertising in 2016 and an estimated $220 million spent on podcast ads last year (according to estimated figures in a survey underwritten by major podcast networks).

Some of Wondery’s podcasts have already racked up impressive numbers. Dirty John has been dowloaded more than 20 million times; American History Tellers has been downloaded more than 3 million times; and Business Wars more than 2 million times, says Lopez. 

Wondery is also bucking the media trend of serving up micro-content to audiences.

“We don't produce much micro-content — if any,” says Lopez. “The stories that we tend to gravitate towards tend to work better in long-form. We have to keep their attention for as long as possible.”

Lopez’s Wondery isn’t the only company to rake in money from institutional investors for building a podcasting empire.

On the other side of the country in the borough of Brooklyn stands Gimlet Media, the $20 million king of the podcast market these days. Gimlet raised from a slew of investors, including WPP, Betaworks, Stripes Group, Lowercase Capital, LionTree Parters, Emerson Collective, Cross Culture Ventures and music manager turned investor Troy Carter.

Success among podcasts is also translating into options in other formats. As The New York Times noted yesterday, podcasts are getting “the Hollywood treatment.”

Wondery’s own "Dirty John" is being turned into a series for two networks — true crime stories on Oxygen and as the basis for a scripted series on Bravo. Meanwhile, “Welcome to Night Vale,” “Alice Isn’t Dead,” “Up and Vanished” and “Crimetown” are all being turned into series by different production companies.

"In the last year or so, podcasts have been the thing," Matt Tarses, the creator of "Alex, Inc." (a new ABC show based off of Gimlet Media’s “Startup” podcast) told The New York Times.

AngelPad, the accelerator, is raising a $50 million fund

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 01:14 PM PDT

AngelPad, an accelerator program that has launched more than 140 companies across 11 different “classes,” has raised $35 million in capital commitments for a new, $50 million venture fund, shows a new SEC filing.

Its husband-and-wife cofounders, Thomas Korte and Carine Magescas, declined to comment on the filing.

The new fund appears to be its first fund of substantial size, following a trial fund the duo had begun investing at AngelPad’s outset in 2010 with their own capital, and a second fund that was roughly $7 million in size and included some outside investors.

Korte has told us in the past that AngelPad also relies heavily on special purpose vehicles (or SPVs) to double-down on its breakout companies. In recent years, for example, the outfit and its investors have made an outsize bet on the delivery company Postmates, say our sources. (Postmates was among the earliest companies to pass through AngelPad’s program.)

We wrote about AngelPad last week, noting that it recently decided to do away with its twice-yearly demo days in San Francisco, in favor or organizing a day of one-on-one investor meetings with its startups instead. (Y Combinator, known for its very full demo days, also helps set up one-on-one meetings with investors and startups that want to meet each other over the course of one day.)

What hasn’t changed at AngelPad: it continues work with roughly the same, low, double-digit number of founding teams as it always has.

You can check out its newest batch of startups — 10 in all — right here. Others of its portfolio companies include the insurance comparison site Coverhound; Vungle, which helps developers insert video ads into their apps; Kinnek, a marketplace that helps small businesses find suppliers; the growth marketing platform Iterable; drone mapping and analytics platform Drone Deplo ; and Zum, a company offering on-demand rides for kids.

All have gone on to raise substantial rounds of follow-on financing, though Vungle had a rocky 2017, after its cofounding CEO was arrested and charged with shocking abuses that police officials believe may have taken place while he was under the influence of LSD. (Vungle quickly replaced him with the company’s former COO, Rick Tallman.)

AngelPad has also had numerous exits over the years. Its biggest win may be Mopub, a startup that helped mobile publishers manage their ad inventory and was acquired Twitter in 2013 for $350 million.

Other trade sales include the acquisition of shopping optimization startup Adku by Groupon in 2011, the sale of to-do app Astrid & Blik to Yahoo in 2014, and the sale of the social search engine Spotsetter to Apple.

Terms of these last three deals were not disclosed publicly.

Korte joined us on stage in Berlin at TC’s Disrupt event last December to talk about his penchant in particular for European founders willing to come to the U.S.

He said at the time that he admired the "fiscal responsibility that Europeans have, because they're so used to building their companies with relatively little money or knowing they might not get another round.”

Tim Cook hits Facebook again over privacy concerns

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 12:35 PM PDT

Tim Cook took a break from criticizing Facebook on Tuesday to present the next step in Apple's big education plans. But the CEO is back at it. Sitting down with MSNBC and Recode at a town hall event, Cook was once again asked about consumer privacy in the wake of fallout over Facebook's Cambridge Analytica quagmire.

Cook interviews that while he believed self-regulation is best in the case of these tech giants, "I think we're beyond that." Asked what he would do, were he in Zuckerberg's position, he added, simply, "I wouldn't be in this situation."

The executive has never shied away from criticizing Facebook, of course. In 2015, he indirectly criticized the approach of internet companies like Google and Facebook, stating "They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that's wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be."

Just this weekend, he echoed that statement, with a more direct jab at Facebook, following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, telling the audience at a conference in China, "The ability of anyone to know what you've been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view it shouldn't exist."

Cook echoed those statements onstage this week, adding, "The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We've elected not to do that."

The company reflected that sentiment in an updated privacy policy posted back in January, explaining that,

Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right, so every Apple product is designed to:

  • Use on-device processing wherever possible
  • Limit the collection and use of data
  • Provide transparency and control over your information
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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop raises another $50 million

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 12:21 PM PDT

Actress-turned-entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow is getting more capital to accelerate her startup’s growth.

Goop, the lifestyle brand which she founded ten years ago, is announcing a $50 million Series C round from NEA, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Felix Capital. It brings the total outside investment to $82 million. A source close to the situation tells us that the latest round is being done at about a $250 million post-money valuation, although the company denies it. Pitchbook has separately reported Goop’s post-money valuation to be $250 million.

Paltrow is more than just a celebrity attached to the company. She also runs it as creative director and CEO and has become nearly as well-known for her unusual diet and beauty rituals as for her Oscar-winning acting.

Goop, meanwhile, is growing. Not only does its digital property feature content about fashion, travel, and beauty, but it increasingly sells relevant products, something the company calls “contextual commerce.” These include categories like apparel, skincare, vitamins and bath products.

Some of the more unusual items the company promotes are gem-infused water bottles that are said to promote positive energy. Such claims have landed Goop in hot water; a handful of the wellness products have been accused of false advertising.

Consumers may be less interested in the controversies, however. The startup says it has tripled its revenue each of the past two years. (Goop didn’t share specific sales numbers, however.)

We’re also told that a large portion of the company’s 2018 growth will come from continued international expansion. Goop’s commerce business recently launched in Canada, and it expects to ship to Europe by the end of the year.

Goop says that new product lines like home furnishings may also be on the horizon.


NASA’s beautiful snowflake simulations could help predict inclement weather

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:53 AM PDT

There’s a lot about snow we don’t know. Where does it come from? Where does it go? What does it taste like? Admittedly there are tentative answers to these questions. But there are yet more complex ones like how exactly, on a microscopic level, snow melts in mid-air. That’s the focus of one project at NASA, the results of which are both practical and beautiful.

Snow is a critical part of the weather system (did you know there’s a whole “cryosphere”), and the ways in which it forms and melts can help meteorologists predict, for example, the likelihood or severity of a storm. But it’s not enough to catch a flake in your hand and look closely. Like anything else, you need a mathematical model of a phenomenon in order to understand it properly.

Jussi Leinonen has been working on this problem for years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“I got interested in modeling melting snow because of the way it affects our observations with remote sensing instruments,” he said in a news release. As you can imagine, it’s rather important for a rocket science lab to be able to understand and predict weather patterns.

Leinonen’s contribution has been an exact model of how and why snowflakes melt — which types of flakes, at what temperatures, in what ways, and so on. The basic version is this: water collects in concave regions of snowflakes where it can stay liquid. Those little lakes expand, eventually covering the whole ice crystal and encasing the core, which also eventually melts.

Sounds straightforward, but Leinonen’s model shows how this happens at an extremely detailed level with arbitrarily shaped snowflakes and clumps thereof. The 3D visualization of this process is remarkably beautiful, and more importantly seems to be correct.

With an accurate model meteorologists can profile different snow and rain types, see how they perform in various conditions, and produce relevant details like how those differences would affect a radar image.

No word on when we can get a screensaver of snowflakes melting with high precision. Leinonen published his research in the journal Geophysical Research.

HBO’s new trailer for Westworld season 2 showcases robot-induced chaos

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:47 AM PDT

As HBO prepares itself for the end of Game of Thrones, it’s apparent that they’re putting weight on Westworld to take over as the network’s dominant fantasy epic. A new trailer dropped today for the show’s second season and it’s clear that the robot uprising is going to take the brutal, violent spirit of the season-one finale and pour it over the existential questions that are the backbone of the show.

Things are going to get even darker very quickly, it looks like.

The new trailer captures all of the actions and struggles of Dolores, Teddy, Bernard, Maeve and the Man in Black with an orchestral cover of Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" playing in the background. While the end of the last season suggested that a new Shogunworld destination would play a major role in season two, our peeks at the destination have been pretty limited in the first pair of trailers.

We’re still seeing the show’s central characters traverse through the desolation of the old West and the high-tech opulence of the world behind it.

Westworld’s second season begins April 22 on HBO.

The CW goes live on Hulu with Live TV

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:39 AM PDT

Hulu has added the live, linear version of the CW to its Hulu with Live TV platform.

Hulu has had a deal with the CW to offer streaming on-demand content from the network, but this is the first time that the CW will be available live on Hulu.

The company first launched Hulu with Live TV in the summer of 2017, offering more than 50 channels for $39.99/month, complete with access to Hulu’s on-demand content library and 50 hours of DVR storage.

The service launched with some competition from YouTube, which launched a similar offering called YouTube TV in April 2017.

According to a report from January, Hulu with Live TV has around 450,000 subscribers, while YouTube TV has 300,000 subscribers.

Live CW on Hulu is not available everywhere, but will be on Hulu with Live TV in the following markets: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tampa, Detroit, Seattle, Sacramento, Pittsburgh. The company says it’s rolling out live CW to more markets soon.

Tesla reportedly wants Model 3 factory workers to prove the ‘haters’ wrong

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:26 AM PDT

Tesla has reportedly asked its Model 3 factory workers to prove the “haters” wrong by stepping up car production.

In a memo obtained by Bloomberg, Tesla engineering chief Doug Field told staff it would be an “incredible victory” to exceed the production of 300 Model 3 vehicles a day. Field’s memo, reportedly sent on March 23, expressed feeling insulted by people doubting Tesla’s ability to hit its production targets.

“Let’s make them regret ever betting against us,” Field wrote. “You will prove a bunch of haters wrong.”

Tesla has also decided to shut down Model S and Model X production on Friday, but it is not related to Model 3 production targets, according to the memo. That’s because Tesla is ahead of its production targets on those models. For the workers affected by the production pause on Friday for the S and X, they have the option to work on the Model 3.

Over the last couple of days, a number of analysts have expressed concern and doubt over Tesla’s ability to hit its Model 3 production targets this quarter.

Tesla declined to comment on this story.

New federal rules blamed in disappearance of Kindle erotica titles

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:09 AM PDT

The upcoming Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, in addition to making Microsoft move to reduce obscenity on its platform, has hit erotica authors on Amazon. After many authors saw their rankings stripped on the Kindle store, essentially reducing their availability and visibility, while forcing others in the romance category to recategorize or get dinged as well.

The Digital Reader followed the changes this week, reporting that “I have seen numerous reports on Facebook, KBoards, and elsewhere that Amazon has adopted a new policy where some romance titles, most notably those titles that Amazon has identified as erotica, have been removed from the Kindle Store best-seller list.” Amazon’s changes began on March 22.

Delisting titles from the Amazon Kindle store essentially buries them completely, leading to massive revenue loss for indie authors. One author received a note from KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing – discussing the changes:

I’m following up concerning some of your books missing their best sellers ranking.

After hearing from our technical team we have confirmed that this is due to a recent update to the filter option for Erotica ebooks.

All adult themed titles will be filtered from the main category sales rank as part of this update. However, you will still continue to keep all of your category rankings. I know this wasn’t the answer you were looking for but appreciate your understanding on this policy.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

The FOSTA Bill is ostensibly about preventing online sex trafficking and has already caused Craigslist to shut down its online personals. However, it can also be construed as a bill that prevents sexual material of all kinds from receiving ready distribution online, a fact that is giving some big content providers pause. The Digital Reader notes that “the change in policy only affects the main Amazon site, and not other sites like Amazon UK.”

I have reached out to authors and Amazon for further comment.