Innovation Can’t Fix Partisanship, So Silicon Valley Doesn’t Fight The Shutdown


Silicon Valley’s deep-pocketed lobbyists and outspoken netizens are conspicuously absent from the debate over a government shutdown that could cripple the U.S. economy. Activists from the tech industry fight for immigrants, startups, gay rights, voter turnout, scientific funding, education, presidential hopefuls and national disaster victims. So, why not get involved in the shutdown fight? Because, the U.S. Congress is a train wreck and there are no innovative solutions to partisanship.

The very nature of Congress is a two-player, zero-sum game. There’s little incentive for both parties to work collaboratively on novel ideas, since it could potentially help the other side win more seats. Moreover, members of the House of Representatives have methodically carved out hyper-partisan districts that re-elect incumbents more than 80 percent of the time.

There are radical system-wide changes that could make Congress as collaborative as some western European governments (“consensus democracies“). But, barring a complete overhaul, the government will continue to descend into increased partisanship and poor productivity.

Activists from the Silicon Valley area tend to get all politically hot and bothered under two conditions: policy impacts innovation and there’s a novel technical solution.

For instance, Silicon Valley lobbyists were largely absent from the surveillance-happy cyber security bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). CISPA threatened the Fourth Amendment, but not innovation, so there was little uproar.

In areas where clever hackers can come up with an innovative idea, Silicon Valley folks rush to center stage. Google’s Eric Schmidt helped Obama think about his digital strategy, rallied tech people for gay marriage with online petitions. Wikipedia blacked out its site over piracy legislation and Google created maps to help natural-disaster victims. All of these ideas worked splendidly.

But, there are no innovative solutions to partisanship, because it’s the system itself that’s the problem. And, as Lydia Depillis from the Washington Post found, since angel investors aren’t impacted by short-term economic shocks, shuttering the government for a few weeks doesn’t raise any hairs.

Moreover, even the most powerful Silicon Valley players aren’t terribly good at lobbying without the force of a novel technical solution, especially against House Republicans. Mark Zuckerberg has personally made the rounds in D.C. to advance his pet political project of comprehensive immigration reform, but the issue hasn’t progressed an inch. Silicon Valley has a poor track record (recently) of influencing nationally salient legislation through brute-force lobbying alone.

Techies like to use their brains. But the shutdown is a shouting match; Silicon Valley has nothing to add.


Reverse Engineering Snapchat’s Size Is Impossible…but Here Goes

Snapchat Math

Acquirers and investors fear (missing out on) what they don’t understand. That’s one reason Snapchat might not be revealing its user count. But everyone wants to know. The problem is that ephemeral messaging isn’t like posting to Facebook or texting. It’s a new medium with a unique behavior pattern, so you can’t estimate Snapchat’s size by comparing it to anything else.

But you don’t have to. With some science and anecdotal reports of how many snaps people send a day, you can get a range that illuminates how many daily users Snapchat might have.

[Update: Earlier today BuzzFeed's John Herrman wrote a smart piece questioning how little we know about Snapchat's metrics. However, it used stats about WhatsApp and text usage to estimate Snapchat's user count. We don't see as accurate since Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is so different and takes much longer than texting or instant messaging, so we wrote this breakdown using no comparisons to other communication mediums.]

We start with two ‘facts’ directly from Snapchat team:

  • All of Snapchat’s users receive (not send) 400 million photo or video snaps a day.
  • 88% of snaps are sent to one person.

To calculate user count, we have to make a few assumptions that we can’t verify as accurate, which we’ll mark with a *. We’ll then note that all our final user counts are based on these assumptions by marking them **. Seriously, these are clever but speculated projections that aren’t necessarily right.

Let’s make our first assumption that the average snap that is sent to more than one person is sent to four people*, based on our anecdotal usage. If 12% of snaps are sent to more than one person, and each is sent to an average of four people, 35.3% of received snaps each day are multi-user-received snaps. [Correction: we originally had 48% instead of 35.3% here, so we've corrected it and all the subsequent numbers.]

We can use that to derive the total number of sent snaps. 64.7% of received snaps are sent to only one person.  So, 141.2 million received snaps each day are multi-user-received snaps, and 258.8 million are sent to one user directly.

We can get the number of snaps sent to multiple users simply by dividing the total received count for that type of snap (141 million) by the average number of recipients (4), yielding 35.25 million sent multi-user-received snaps.

Summing the two numbers grants us the total sent snap count per day: 294 million. Alright!

Using that figure, we can derive estimated daily active user (DAU) counts for Snapchat by laying out different ranges of user activity. In short, on a day that a user is logged in, how many snaps do they send? Using the above daily sent snap count, we can derive the following ranges.

  • 1 snap per day per user*: Snapchat has 294 million DAUs**
  • 2 snaps per day per user*: Snapchat has 147 million DAUs**
  • 5 snaps per day per user*: Snapchat has 58.8 million DAUs**
  • 10 snaps per day per user*: Snapchat has 29.4 million DAUs**
  • 20 snaps per day per user*: Snapchat has 14.7 million DAUs**
  • 30 snaps per day per user*: Snapchat has 9.8 million DAUs**
  • 50 snaps per day per user* : Snapchat has 5.9 million DAUs**

Snapchat’s user base is surely distributed across this range (with some crazy snap-happy outliers), but using these averages gives us a range of estimated user counts.

[Update: Business Insider's Henry Blodget reports a Snapchat insider says the average user receives 20 to 50 snaps per day. While our numbers are for snaps sent not received, we've added estimates for if the average user sent 30 or 50 snaps per day. At 30 snaps sent per day Snapchat would have 9.8 million daily users, and for 50 snaps per day Snapchat would have 5.9 million daily users.]

A caveat. It is very unlikely that the average Snapchat DAU sends one snap per day, or 20 snaps per day. Those numbers are included for reference, and are not endorsed by TechCrunch as probable.

Why The Hell Does This Matter?

Snapchat won’t share its user count. Why not? Reasons. Many of them.

It could want to maintain an air of mystery as it courts acquisition offers in the billions of dollars. It could hope to avoid direct comparisons to longer-standing social networks like Instagram or more traditional messaging apps like WeChat that may have higher user counts. Internally, it may focus on engagement – getting people deeply addicted/in love with Snapchat rather than courting a larger, less passionate user base.

Or it might think press and people are dumb enough to directly compare its 400 million snaps privately sent per day to Facebook’s 350 million photos uploaded and usually shared widely/publicly. “Wow, Snapchat is bigger than Facebook!” No, though I’m sure Snapchat has successfully  confused some people.

But why does knowing Snapchat’s user count matter? Because it explains whether ephemeral messaging is a niche activity frequently done by a small audience – or – a widespread phenomenon a large audience is dabbling in.

If a few million people love it, the question will be whether Snapchat is appealing beyond hyper-chatty mobile-first young people, and can gain exposure to more people. It would mean with the right distribution, it could grow very large, as each additional user brings a ton of engagement. This might mean Snapchat would benefit a lot from being acquired by a massive service like Google or Facebook that could promote it.

If many millions kind of enjoy it, the question is whether the world is still getting used to disappearing communication. If it’s a medium humans naturally take to, Snapchat might not require much help, but would just need to bide its time and let people grow into self-destruct sharing. This could support an argument for Snapchat to stay independent.

But whether 147 million** people send 2 snaps per day or 9.8 million** people send 30 snaps per day, we know Snapchat is pretty damn popular. And as much as some want to write it off as a fad, ephemeral messaging translates a core aspect of offline human interaction into the online world. The silly jokes, funny faces, and intimate encounters you share with the people you love disappear when the moment ends. It’d make sense that we’d want the same freedom from the permanent record when communicating digitally.


**Estimate based on assumption

Words by Josh Constine, numbers by Alex Wilhelm



Tyra Banks Invests In Locket, The App That Brings Ads And Other Content To Android Lockscreens

Locket screen 2

Locket, the Android application that puts ads and other content on your lockscreen, letting users earn small amounts of money every time they unlock their smartphone, has received an additional investment from Fierce Capital, LLC, the investment arm of The Tyra Banks Company. Smize, you guys, Tyra’s into Ad Tech now!

The size of the investment is not being disclosed, but the company is in the process of raising a round of funding in the millions, due to close next year. When that takes place, Banks won’t be the lead in that forthcoming round, for what it’s worth.

For those unfamiliar, Locket is a mobile application for Android smartphones launched this summer that places ads on the lockscreen, which users can choose to engage with by swiping. If you swipe one way, you can interact with the ad – for example, visiting a website, a Facebook page, getting a coupon, watching a movie trailer, and more – whatever the advertiser has in mind. If you’re not interested, just swipe the other way to unlock your phone as usual.

The company has already worked with dozens of well-known brands, including Hershey’s, HotelTonight, Sunny D, Sears, ZipCar, eBay, Spotify, and others, and advertisers report CTR’s on their campaigns ranging from 3 to 5 percent.

Users earn only pennies per hour for their swipes, so don’t expect to make a lot of money here. However, to encourage further user adoption, the company has been recently adding other content to the Locket experience, too, including things like weather, quotes, news, photos from 500px, and more. They’ve also just scored a content deal with another top app maker, which is also undisclosed for now.

According to Locket co-founder and CEO Yunha Kim, she was introduced to Tyra after StartupAgency co-founder Kevin Gould, whose firm helps startups with strategic investments, spotted Kim running across Times Square holding a laptop with the Locket sticker on its front. He introduced himself, said he was interested in Locket, and soon made the introduction that found Kim pitching directly to Banks herself.

“[Banks] loved the story around how we’re a Ramen noodle startup, and how I’m the only female on the team,” says Kim. “She liked that she was able to back a female entrepreneur.” She adds that Banks was well-prepared for the meeting, with several pages of questions that were in line with what other investors had her asked, too. (Oh, and after investing, Banks sent Kim a t-shirt reading “I’m a entrepreneur, b*tch”, pictured at right.) 

This, of course, is not Banks’ first startup investment – she has also gone in on others like shopping site The Hunt, and photography app Flixel, which Banks has promoted heavily on her “Top Models” TV show.

With Locket, there may be room for more cross-promotion too – Banks has a cosmetics line which could become a Locket advertiser in the future, Kim says.

Update, 9:30 PM ET: Spokespersons for Banks reached out after publication to clarify that there is no confirmed cosmetic line or deal with Locket in place. However, they did say that Banks has several upcoming business ventures that could become Locket advertisers in the future.  


Causes Relaunches As A Social Network For Social Good Action, Not Shallow Clicktivism

Causes Relaunch

Click a link, click a petition, feel better without making a difference. That was the old Causes. Today, the new Causes launches to reactivate its 186 million registered million users. It’s an independent civic social network pushing education, donations, and pledged behavior changes, rather than a patchwork of campaigns tethered to Facebook. And it’s got a serious native advertising strategy.

“We believe there will be special purpose but deep social networks around specific parts of your identity” Causes CEO Matt Mahan tells me. ”We think your purpose or civic identity is a core part that’s currently underserved.”

The plan continues to be serving up Causes as a for-profit business. It wants to make the world a better place, but by raising $16.4 million on the promise it will make money, it could hire better talent and more quickly scale its contribution to the world.

A Lot Of Bark, Not Enough Bite

The mission to connect people in support of common causes started back in 2007 when the startup was one of the launch partners for the Facebook platform. Founded by two former employees, Joe Green (now President of and Sean Parker (investor and serial entrepreneur) with a Series A from Founders Fund. Causes’ head start and the lucrative viral channels Facebook offered at the time let it quickly sign up droves of users.

The problem was they weren’t as getting much done as they could. In six years, the 186 million users did raise $48 million for non-profits and add 34 million signatures to petitions for grassroots campaigns, but much of their potential went unrealized.

Most people (me included) were delivered to Causes campaigns through Facebook Requests or wall posts their friends spammed them with, signed or gave a little money, and never came back. Few took the time to really understand what they were supporting. Save the whales? Sure. Click. Stop human trafficking? Here’s $10. Maybe I’ll see ya again in 17 months, Causes.

By this year, Causes had  60 employees and revenue in the millions thanks to display ads and sponsored campaigns, but had failed to become cash-flow positive and was still relying on its venture funding. It’s founders were no longer involved day to day. And its engagement had dwindled to just 6 million users per month – a measly 3% of its registered users.

Causes needed fresh blood, and found it by acquiring Votizen, another Sean Parker-backed company. Votizen converted people’s political vigor into influence, letting them encourage their like-minded friends to vote in elections. Its co-founder Jason Putorti was renowned for his classy, engaging designs. The deal was closed in January by Causes’ newly promoted CEO Matt Mahan. Him and Putorti set out to redefine Causes.

Turning Passion Into Action

Today their vision goes into production. The old Causes Facebook app will stick around for now, so veteran users don’t have to worry about their campaigns disappearing, but its the new where things are really happening.

Already aboard are organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, as well as brands like Toyota and Kashi. Causes has also tapped celebrities with long track records of social good support including Forrest Gump’s Lt. Dan aka Gary Sinise who backs veterans campaigns, and wounded U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who fights for gun safety.

To start on, you don’t have to login with Facebook anymore. It’s an “independent” social network that lets create a unique social graph around good, and sign up with just an email address. Then you pick a few digital “bumper stickers” that will represent your ideals on your Causes profile. Really, though, this is a lightweight way to get you to tell Causes what you’re into so it can suggest organizations and people for you to follow. It’s a savvy on-boarding flow that makes sure your feed is full of relevant projects.

That brings us to the homepage feed where you’ll see intelligent suggestions of campaigns to take part in based on what you follow. That includes making a donation, taking a pledge to do something like join an offline boycott, or watch the video for a brand-sponsored campaign which triggers a $1 donation from that brand.

While Causes would love its feed to be part of your daily routine, Mahan admits to me that “The way most people will get into a campaign is by seeing a piece of content syndicated through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and email” or from a brand they’re connected to elsewhere. The goal is for Causes to proliferate horizontally instead of just top-down from organizers themselves.

That’s why Causes campaign pages are focused just as much on content contributed by supporters as by the admins. The top shows an official image, description, and call to action that explains how you can help, but the bottom is a feed of user generated content aiming to inspire and educate people about the project. In hopes of showing people their impact and encouraging contribution, each post displays the number of views and actions it’s driven.

To become a formal supporter who can invite friends and post to a campaigns feed, people actually have to take action on behalf of a cause. Mahan tells me ”We want the notion of supporting to be heavier and more meaningful than Liking or following on Facebook and Twitter. It’s standing with people whose beliefs you back and you want to take action with. It should be the beginning of a relationship of collective action.”

The big new feature in the revamped Causes is the ability to create your own personal sub-page for any campaign. Here you can pledge to rally a certain number of actions, say $1000 in donations or 50 people confirming they’ll boycott a bad business. You can tell your own story about why an initiative is important to you, and invite friends. These personal pages turn anyone into a grassroots organizer.

Overall, the new Causes looks nice and could get a lot more done on behalf of social good movements than the old version. However, navigation feels a bit clunky and counter-intuitive, and it can be a bit confusing knowing if you should be adding content to a campaign or friend’s personal page. The core challenge for Causes will be making its new site either viral enough to stay top of mind via constant shares to other social networks, or changing people’s behavior so they stop by Causes naturally.

‘Good’ Advertising

If Causes can reactivate its tuned-out users and convince them to spend significant time on the site, it’s got a serious plan to earn money. Mahan explains “People are skeptical of advertising” but Causes can offer businesses a different way to connect. ”We’re giving them a new, deep, rich way of building relationships with millions” say Mahan.

Instead of ads where click-throughs lead to a product page, Causes is building out native ad units in the form of sponsored campaigns. Rather than try to aggressively sell its beer, Budweiser can show people that it funds clean water projects. When people pledge support by watching a video informing them about why clean water is important, Budweiser gives a dollar on their behalf. It might have already planned to give that dollar, but by tying the donation to someone’s action, they feel like the beer company helped them make a difference, and their affinity for the brand grows.

Causes will be recommending these sponsored campaigns in the home feed, on topic pages, and in search. In some cases they’ll look like Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, where the ads highlight a friend connected to the brand’s campaign. For now on its desktop site Causes will also show more traditional display ads for social good organizations and campaigns, but Mahan tells me that native advertising is its focus going forward. That’s because these native units will fit well as users shift to mobile where there’s no room for old-school banners.

This business model also sets it apart from competing social good sites who make money in less scrupulous ways. “If you survey the space – Petitionsite,, Rally – they’re either taking a cut of donations or selling contacts, or doing both. We’ve decided to go with native ad units” says Mahan. That means when you sign a petition, your email address will never be sold to donation solicitors, and Causes uses Network For Good to process credit card payments at cost so as much money as possible goes to what you support. Still, it’s a crowded space with sites like Jumo, HopeMob, Google’s OneToday, and topic-specific sites vying for people’s pledges and donations.

In the end, Causes‘ idealism is its greatest strength, but also its greatest threat. Setting a barrier of action to joining a Cause ensures people really care about what they say they do, but it also creates a hurdle to sharing and growth. If it can consistently deliver relevant campaigns for us to care about, and refine its design to be more intuitive, the impetus will fall on us to make social good a part of our every day lives.


Como Habilitar La Verificación En Dos Pasos En Twitter, Facebook Y Gmail

Sabemos que es utópico pensar en un mecanismo con un cien por ciento de efectividad que nos garantice la seguridad de nuestras cuentas en Internet. Al fin y al cabo, un hacker no necesariamente es un retraído adolescente en un sótano con un computador y habilidades sobrenaturales para teclear, sino alguien que sabe realizar las preguntas correspondientes en el lugar indicado (ingeniería social).

En el marco del masivo hackeo a diversos periodistas en Santiago, Chile, durante este fin de semana, es necesario recordar cómo habilitar la verificación en dos pasos en las redes sociales más utilizadas, pues si bien no es la solución ideal (aún hay varias fallas, sobre todo en Twitter), es un hecho que dificulta el camino a quien desee ingresar a tu cuenta.

Cabe recordar que independiente del servicio utilizado, la mejor recomendación es jamás responder correos electrónicos que aseguran que “debes reingresar tu contraseña” o que “debes ingresar a esta página para resetear tu contraseña“, etcétera, por tratarse de técnicas de phising por lo que es mejor eliminarlos.

Otra medida de seguridad bastante recomendable es crearte una cuenta de correo secreta, la que no utilices para comunicarte con nadie ni que tenga relación con tu nombre, y que sirva exclusivamente como la cuenta de correo para recuperar la contraseña en todos tus otros servicios.



Para habilitar la verificación en dos pasos en Gmail lo más sencillo es instalar la aplicación de Google para smartphones, llamada ‘Google Authenticator’, la que te entrega una secuencia de números que van cambiando frecuentemente (como los dispositivos de seguridad bancaria), y que debes ingresar cada vez que intentas loguearte desde un computador no registrado.

La aplicación está disponible para BlackberryiOS y Android, y es bastante sencilla de configurar. La excepción está si quieres ingresar a tu cuenta de Gmail a través de Outlook, Apple Mail o Thunderbird, así como Gmail o Google Calendar en smartphones más antiguos, donde deberás crear contraseñas específicas para cada una de estas aplicaciones.



En el caso de Facebook no es necesario descargar otra aplicación además de la oficial de la red social. Para habilitarlo, basta con ir al engranaje que despliega el menú de opciones, ingresar a ‘Configuración de la cuenta’, luego a ‘Seguridad’, y habilitar la opción de ‘Generador de códigos’.

Al activar esta opción, cada vez que ingreses a Facebook desde un computador que no tengas registrado en tu cuenta, deberás abrir la aplicación de Facebook en tu smartphone, ingresar al menú y descender hasta ‘Generador de códigos’ (el que está casi al final de todas las opciones disponibles).



Para habilitar la verificación en dos pasos en Twitter (la que también utiliza solo las aplicaciones oficiales para iOS y Android) debes ingresar a la configuración de tu cuenta ya sea desde la app o desde la web, para luego entrar a ‘Seguridad’, y activar la opción ‘Verificación de inicio de sesión‘.

Al seleccionar la opción de enviar peticiones de verificación de inicio de sesión a la aplicación de Twitter para smartphones deberás aprobar con tu celular cada vez que intentes ingresar a tu cuenta desde cualquier computador no registrado.


Este artículo, fue publicado originalmente aquí: ‘growing Like A Weed’ After Switch To Privacy Controls And $1.2m Funding

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.14.22

Recently we’ve seen the rise of a new wave of startups that give far more control back to users. They have avoided the public nature of Twitter and the – sometimes toxic – vagueness of Facebook which has happily moved from a private network to one where, frankly, you’re never quite sure what is public or not. Huh, Randi.

Instead, new networks like Snapchat, are attempting to give back control to the users. In the same way, UK-based has emerged to ride that wave of user choice. The startup is now announcing it’s raised $1.2 million from a network of private investors. Terms were not disclosed.

While founder Keld Van Shreven tells us: “We want to to build a major consumer company out of the UK with an eye on the Valley and the US. We’re aiming to continue to grow the product, expand in the US, and hire.”

We’ve written about in the past and described it as a scrapbook for the Twitter generation. Since then the company has pivoted under Van Shreven and decided to ride the wave of ‘user control’. The bet appears to have paid off. He says the site is now “growing like a weed.” now says its users are coming from UK, U.S., Asia and Brazil. It’s highly used by young women, one of the hardest demographics to reach. Van Shreven now says the site has 2 Million active users and it’s now pulling in advertisers wanting to push fashion, makeup and music to a young female audience.

Pivoting away from microblogging, is now about text, pictures and, crucially, the ability to share both publicly and privately to a select group.

Indeed, the site now plans a Snapchat-like feature allowing the ability to share post which automatically get deleted after a short period.

This is kind of feature is increasingly important for teens and especially young women, but also something that addresses the problem of cyber-bullying, which has seen so many tragic ends recently, especially as depicted in the British press., for instance, was recently cited as a contributing factor in the bullying of a teen who later committed suicide. allows its audience to sound off to a private network of friends, without being ridiculed in public.

With its familiar, Pinterest-like interface, user controls, simple URL and mobile products in the pipeline, looks like it might be a break-out hit after-all, and after a good while trying.


Smart Tips And Tricks To Help With Your Ipad

When you understand the iPad, you can finally truly use it. Once you learn all of its ins and outs, you can easily accomplish so much. The article below has many tips for mastering the iPad.

Does your iPad continually ask you to join different networks? You are able to get rid of this if you go into settings. Choose your Wi-Fi tab and the last option can switch off if you’re sick of prompts.

Should your iPad freeze, you can reboot it by performing a soft reset. This is done by holding your power button and your home button down at the same time for a few seconds. This will cause your device to restart. If you simply want to make an app close, depress the home button by itself for several seconds.

Have you accidentally bumped an app that makes noise by accident? You can quickly mute the volume by pressing the volume-down button. If you mute a lot, you may configure your lock button into a mute button.

You don’t need to click the camera icon on your screen to view your photos. Just do a one-finger swipe to see your photo or video. To see the other photos, keep swiping left.

Are you annoyed by the battery charge display? It may be useful to know that they are easy to turn off. Start by going to the Settings. Select General and next locate Usage. In this menu, you’re able to turn off the display of battery percentage.

Does it seem like a pain to tap on the bookmarks icon every time you want to access your favorite websites? Enable your bookmarks bar for permanent status, and you will never again have this issue. Just click on Settings, then Safari, then turn on Always Show the Bookmarks Bar.

Do you find it annoying when you’re surfing with your iPad and have no clue where hyper-linked words lead? There is a simple thing you can do. Since you cannot hover over the word like you can on your computer, you can just simply touch and hold the word. That will show you the underlying URL.

If you want your battery to last longer, reduce your screen’s brightness level. This makes great sense of you are traveling and are waiting on a critical message. In order to reduce the screen brightness, tap your Home icon twice and search for a sun icon.

Many people are annoyed by the on-screen indicator listing how much charge their battery holds. The removal process is actually incredibly easy! Just select Settings, tap General, then tap Usage. This option will give you the ability to erase this percentage indicator. When you want it back, do the steps in reverse.

When you’re thinking of stepping up your knowledge about the iPad, take the advice here and apply it. You will find doors which you have never imagined possible will be suddenly opened. Owning an iPad is more than owning the latest gadget, thanks to advice in this article, it can be truly utilitarian if you use it.

Grabcad’s Workbench Aims To Ride The Hardware Renaissance


We’ve previously described GrabCAD as a ‘GitHub for mechanical engineers‘. It offers an online community and marketplace for CAD engineers, along with collaborative tools to share designs and 3D models as ‘work in progress’ with engineers, clients, customers and other stakeholders in the design process.

Today, the Boston-headquartered startup (which also has a development office in Estonia and an R&D outpost in Cambridge, UK) is pushing out a significant update to its Workbench product, adding a raft of new features that it says now makes it a complete platform for what it calls Collaborative Product Development (CPD) and the ideal tool to help hardware startups and other small to medium-sized hardware companies. In other words, GrabCAD is keenly positioning itself to ride the hardware renaissance.

We see the new type of hardware companies coming out and building products two-to-three times faster.

“Hardware is definitely changing and the Internet is the key driver for this,” says CEO and co-founder Hardi Meybaum. “For most hardware companies it still takes at least 5 years from the idea to actual product on the store shelf. At the same time you can build a software company in months and start making money. But we see the new type of hardware companies coming out and building products two-to-three times faster.”

It’s these new types of faster-to-market hardware companies that the newly updated Workbench appears to be targeting. Features being introduced or enhanced include a desktop client with Dropbox-esque file-sharing capabilities but tailored for CAD files, a redesigned Version control specially built for CAD (powered by Git on the backend), and a web-based 3D Viewer that supports all native CAD formats with the ability to see changes in the 3D file, interrogate them, and comment on those changes.

In addition, “partner spaces” let engineers invite manufacturers or customers to their projects and share updates, all in one place.

Specifically, Meybaum cites two typical examples of the types of customer that have been using Workbench since its original launch. First, he says, are small teams who are distributed, whereby the engineering teams or the manufacturing teams are based in different locations.

“I just met a company who have a product design office in SF, mechanical and electrical engineering in Boston, and they manufacture everything in China. Designers create sketches or pretty pictures, engineers turn them into CAD files that can be manufactured, factories will create tooling to manufacture this type of product. All these people need to be up to date every hour and you just can’t make it work with the desktop tools where you need months of setup time and training”.

We listened and now we believe we have a tool that is aimed at small hardware teams.

The second (and, perhaps, more interesting) group are Internet of Things (IoT) startups. “The products these guys are building have software plus hardware components and they are already using modern software for some parts of their business,” says Meybaum.

“For example they are using Git for software engineering and were looking for the same type of tool for their CAD data management. But there were nothing like that out there (most tools in the CAD industry have been built 20 years ago) and the first release of GrabCAD Workbench wasn’t really aimed for this type of work. We listened and now we believe we have a tool that is aimed at small hardware teams who want to build their products faster.”

Zooming out further, Meybaum sees two major factors that mean it’s becoming increasingly faster to build and bring to market hardware products.

The first revolves around the ability to validate an MVP, secure funding and the changing retail model enabled by crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or hardware incubator-type companies like Dragon Innovation, and Quirky.

“You can make a Virtual Prototype with CAD software or 3D print a prototype and start selling before you spend time and money in large scale manufacturing,” he says.

The actual design and manufacturing process is becoming shorter, too. “This is where we play. There will be more and more young hardware companies who need to manage their data and the design and manufacturing process will be more and more distributed. And that’s why we built GrabCAD Workbench.”

Late last year the company raised an $8.15 million series B round led by Charles River Ventures, with participation from new investor David Sacks (co-founder of Yammer and former chief operating officer of PayPal), and existing investors Atlas Venture, NextView Ventures, and Matrix Partners. This brought total funding to around $14 million, having previously disclosed a $1.1m seed round, followed by a $4m Series A.

It should be noted, however, that GrabCAD isn’t the only company putting tools for CAD in the cloud. Competitors include U.S.-based Sunglass, and Finland’s MyCadbox.


Soil Iq Makes A Smart Probe For Your Garden


Soil IQ is a company that’s bringing the “Internet of things” trend to urban and rural farming.

They’re building a probe that streams soil fertility and weather data back to a paired app. Founded by a Princeton grad and soil scientist who has worked with hundreds of Kenyan farmers to increase crop yields, Soil IQ’s mission is to help people to grow food more sustainably.

“The reality in this country is that most of our food is produced on factory farms,” said CEO Jason Aramburu. “They’re great for producing corn, soybeans and grains, but not so good for producing healthy food.”

In response, Soil IQ has built a wireless soil sensor for small gardens and farms to help regular people grow a healthier supply of fruits and vegetables. Their probe is powered by a solar panel so it can run indefinitely. They’re planning on retailing it for about $49 to both consumers and larger partners.

Then, not only are they targeting U.S. consumers, the company has a dual mission. They’re also working with one of their investors, Orange Telecom, to help deploy these probes to farmers in East Africa.

Aramburu previously started an organization called re:char where he worked with more than 1,300 Kenyan farmers to increase their yields.

But now he says he’s trying to focus on food production for the 100 million households in the U.S. So he shifted into building Soil IQ. The probe can track and stream soil nutrient content, pH, temperature, moisture and light data. They’ve built an analytics platform that makes recommendations to home gardeners about how to optimize seed selection, fertilization and watering.

It can work with either soil-based or hydroponics gardens and either food or medicinal crops. They’ve even rigged it to send SMS or Twitter alerts when plants need attention.

They also have a big ace in the pocket through a partnership with Yves Behar, the famed industrial designer behind FuseProject and chief creative officer behind Jawbone. He’ll help with fashioning Soil IQ’s app and product.

The business model has a number of different angles. Not only is there the hardware revenue, Soil IQ could also license out their dataset, assuming enough people use it to produce interesting data on which crops grow well in different environments. If they also build up enough of a consumer base, they could also earn affiliate revenue from promoting other products like organic fertilizer or seeds.

The company has raised about $200,000 from Orange and other angel investors.


Facebook Picks Sportstream To Beef Up Its Real-time Sports Data For News Outlets

sports balls

You post “Goal!!!!11!!” but who scored? Facebook’s on a drive to host more sports talk and get its trends shown on the news, so today it’s partnering with SportStream to structure, enhance, and make sense of its messy real-time data.

SportStream will offer broadcasters and sports teams a search interface for Facebook’s Keyword Insights and Public Feed APIs that leverages its “SportsBase” of metadata on teams, players, leagues, and games to surface who’s saying what about the biggest moments in athletics.

Facebook knows chatter about real-time, global events like sports is a huge opportunity for engagement, but many people are bringing this talk to Twitter. By getting TV, print, and web news outlets plus the sports teams themselves sharing Facebook sports chatter trends, Facebook hopes users will make it their water cooler for the big game.

The problem is jumbled data. When you write “RG3 touchdown” you mean Robert Griffin the third scored a touchdown for the Washington Redskins NFL football team. Facebook can’t parse that, but SportStream can.

Launched last June, SportStream monitors every major game, organization, and player plus all their social media accounts to understand what’s going on in games. It would break this content down into feeds about specific games or rivalries that news outlets could reference or sports teams could embed on their sites. At first the company was making consumer apps, but has shifted its focus towards being a data provider.

Until now SportStream was predominantly looking at public Facebook Pages, Instagrams, and Twitter accounts, but its new partnership with Facebook gives it access to the Keyword Insights API that anonymously aggregates trends of what Facebook users are privately posting about, and the Public Feed API that’s a firehouse of what users are specifically sharing in public posts.

It’s now releasing a search interface for these APIs that makes it easy to construct queries like “What part of the country talks about football the most?”, “Do young people chat more about Kobe Bryant or LeBron James”, and “Which home city is talking more about the big Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees game?” SportStream then visualizes that data with graphs and maps as clips for TV news or embeds for news websites.

The ability to license access to its platform filled with this Facebook data could be a huge boon to SportStream, which has raised $3.5 million, has 10 employees, and serves about 50 teams and media outlets already.

By making its sports data easier to understand, Facebook might get more outlets and teams to use it. Facebook hopes the perception that it’s a home for real-time event chatter will trickle down to users.

But it’s not built for this kind of talk. The News Feed is algorithmically sorted for relevance, rather than reverse chronologically sorted for up-to-the-minute information. Facebook has been testing a solution to this problem that would show updates in the proper time sequence if it recognizes that you’re posting about a real-time event, but this formatting modification isn’t ready yet.

As much as Facebook wants to be a place for public talk about world events, it was built for sharing updates about your own life with friends. Facebook lets you be your offline self online, but now the service is encountering growing pains as it seeks to define its own identity.