Category Archives: Uncategorized

Amazon And Free Stuff

I’m reading Amir Efrati and Jessica Lessin’s article about Amazon toying with the idea of giving a free smartphone to people.

Of course there’s a real issue here with the cost of the device: “Offering a phone for free would be a daunting proposition. Amazon would have to find a way to make up for the cost of manufacturing — on average, $200 per smartphone.”

In 2010 I had a good source saying that Amazon was trying to figure out how to give a free Kindle to its Amazon Prime members – the best and most loyal Amazon customers who pay a yearly fee for free shipping and (now) premium digital content.

They had the same problem then – they’d do it, said my source, “Just as soon as they can work out how to do it without losing money.”

I’m not sure they’ll ever figure it out. Hardware costs and software development isn’t cheap. And if the product sucks because the hardware is dated or the software is iffy, then people won’t really want it. The kind of customer who’ll live with a sub par free product probably isn’t who they’re targeting.

Still, it’s a tantalizing idea, and one that clearly keeps coming up at Amazon HQ.

That’s One Fugly Logo, Yahoo

yahoologo

We forget that Google’s logo is really bad because we’ve been looking at it for so long that we don’t notice any more. But I’m pretty sure that even 10 years from now I’ll still look at Yahoo’s new logo think “That’s one godawful fugly logo right there.”

It’s a serious case of “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

It looks like a logo that somebody would have created with clipart fonts from those CDs back in the early nineties. It lacks any personality, it’s boring, it’s banal. It’s a great big bag of fail. It sucks, badly.

I never thought a logo could be so singularly uninspiring.

On the upside, it’s definitely got people talking.

Update: It actually doesn’t look nearly as bad on the Yahoo website, although at best I give it a “meh.”

yahoologo2

My TechCrunch Disrupt Interview Schedule

Next week is TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. The event is essentially sold out, and there’s good reason – this is probably the best lineup of speakers they’ve had to date.

I’m preparing for some fascinating conversations. The schedule is still fluid but as of today here’s who I’ll be talking to on stage. They’re in the order that I’m talking to them:

    San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee
    Ron Conway, David Lee and Brian Pokorny from SV Angel
    Doug Leone from Sequoia Capital and Sanjit Biswas from Meraki
    Reid Hoffman and David Sze from Greylock Partners
    Marc Benioff/Salesforce
    John Doerr/Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
    Vinod Khosla/Khosla Ventures
    Marissa Mayer/Yahoo
    Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook

I’ve interviewed almost all of these people before and I’m sure they’ll have fascinating things to say. I expect Benioff to be the most likely to say something outrageous.

Mayer will get at least a little razzing about the Vogue Magazine thing – Personally I think she should do the interview in the same pose as the picture. Probably won’t happen, though.

Wrapping the conference up with a talk with Zuckerberg will definitely be a win. Hopefully it’ll be as newsworthy and interesting as our talk a year ago.

Compliance vs. Complicity

It is further ordered that no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI or NSA has sought or obtained tangible things under this Order.

There’s an old saying that it’s far better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. I’ve seen the many, many statements by Google, Microsoft and everyone else about how they really want to tell everyone just how bad these government demands for information are, but they can’t because it would be illegal to do so.

Today we saw it again. Microsoft and Google continue their lawsuits and negotiations with the government, and ask for credit for fighting the good fight – for example, “The purpose of our litigation is to uphold this right so that we can disclose additional data.”

But at the same time they argue that they already have the legal right to disclose – “We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public.”

Ok. So do it. You believe you have the right. You know it’s the right thing to do. Forget the lawsuit. Just release the damn information.

Do it.

Bloggers Fail To Molest John Doerr At YC Demo Day

unmolestedJohnDoerr

I was at Y Combinator Demo Day today (it was a very good batch of companies). At one point during a break I went over to talk to the gaggle of TechCrunch reporters there to cover the event.

We were talking about the various companies and what not when John Doerr walks by. Apparently to have a phone call in a quiet corner of the room.

“That’s John Doerr right there,” I said.

They looked at me.

“He’s all alone, probably on a secret phone call,” I added.

Stares.

“Go get ‘em! Get your iPhones out and start the video and ask him hard questions!”

“That would be quite rude,” said Colleen Taylor (or something similar), pictured far left.

“Yeah but he’s practically begging to be attacked by you guys. HE’S HAVING A SECRET CONVERSATION RIGHT BEHIND ALL THE BLOGGERS. IT’S LIKE HE’S MOCKING YOU!”

Nada.

So I watched, yearning for my younger years when I would have made a nuisance of myself while performing an unwanted and impromptu video interview of one of the most important people in Silicon Valley.

I think it was better back then, when sources were at least a little afraid of the bloggers.

:-)

Digital Ocean v. AWS: 10x Performance For 1/3 Cost

DO

Cloud hosting startup Digital Ocean announced its first round of funding today – $3.2 million from IA Ventures, CrunchFund and TechStars. See TechCrunch, GigaOM and Pando Daily for coverage of the news (and see the comments on Hacker News).

The company is growing revenue and customers by 30% a month, and had 50x growth from December 2012 to May 2013. Thousands of customers have been grabbed from competitors like Amazon and Rackspace. When Netcraft called Digital Ocean’s growth “meteoric,” they weren’t kidding.

I first heard about Digital Ocean from Nik Cubrilovic. Nik urged me to take a look and try to invest in the company if we could. Digital Ocean has crushed the traditional price/feature tradeoff for hosting. From Nik:

I first heard about Digital Ocean almost a year ago and its name kept coming up every few weeks, which prompted me to finally take a look. It took me 30 seconds to signup, and I immediately realized what they had done – they broke the traditional price/features tradeoff and were somehow offering a great control panel, a great API and a great service with features usually reserved for high-end services at a low VPS price. They were outside of the traditional hosting tradeoff quadrant of price/features. I fired up one server to test them out and the benchmarks came back with numbers that were as good as what other IaaS providers were charging 3-5x the price for.

They have combined the low costs of low end commodity VPS providers with the features of high-end IaaS providers, it seems so obvious now but nobody has been able to pull it off until Digital Ocean.

I have cancelled two low-end VPS services and 30% of my AWS servers so far, with a view of also migrating PaaS hosted apps at Heroku and AppEngine (such as my own personal website) to Digital Ocean as well. The great recent news is that like AWS, Digital Ocean is now available as a provider in Vagrant:

http://www.vagrantup.com/

Digital Ocean provider plugin:

https://github.com/smdahlen/vagrant-digitalocean

If you are a developer who deploys apps to servers and aren’t using Vagrant I strongly recommend you check it out. It sets up virtual servers for development that can then be pushed to the cloud. After initially setting up Vagrant and provisioning with either shell scripts, Ansible, Chef (solo or server) or Puppet (apply or agent) it is a single command to push your development environment up to a new Digital Ocean instance. You will need to scale it automatically and provide your own load balancing using either DDNS or nginx, but you get very close to building your own Heroku or AppEngine type stack with your own customizations, no lockin and at a fraction of the price.

This combination has changed the way I work and has made it easier for me to drop in and out of other projects with developers without spending time on servers configuring. I can’t recommend Digital Ocean enough to other developers, my tip would be to start small with non-critical apps to get a feel for the platform and then work from there – especially by using Vagrant or any other tools (even in-house continuous integration or deployment scripts using their very simple to understand and use API) to automate. Digital Ocean allows you to assemble cloud stacks like lego bricks rather than the completed tool Heroku or AppEngine give you, and you get service as good as more expensive options, for what they do, at low end VPS prices.

Just how much better is Digital Ocean than its competitors? For the lowest end hosting, we’re talking about 10x the performance for 1/3 the cost:

The 512MB server at Digital Ocean, which is the smallest size they have, is $5 per month or $0.007 per hour. Its UnixBench score is 1060.5 on average, IO is 279MB/sec and bandwidth 21MB/sec. Here are the details:

http://serverbear.com/1988-512mb-ssd–1-cpu-digitalocean

To get the equivelant performance on AWS from a single server, you have to step up all the way to an extra-large instance, which is $374 per month (!), compare the scores and graph here:

http://serverbear.com/240-extra-large-amazon-web-services

The cheapest AWS server is the Micro, which is $15 per month, its performance scores are approximately 10% of the cheapest digital ocean server:

http://serverbear.com/166-micro-amazon-web-services

some might complain that AWS isn’t suited to benchmarks, especially the Micro instance which is throttled, but the difference is just too large to ignore.

Digital Ocean was founded by Ben Uretsky, Mitch Wainer, Jeff Carr and Moisey Uretsky. We are extremely happy to be investing in the company – saving developers a ton of money on hosting while also giving them a product they adore is a surefire recipe for success.

Feds Arrive In Force After Someone Googles Pressure Cookers

Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa.

We are so fucked.

via

Rover, The Dog Owner’s Dream Startup, Partners With Petco

roverGreat news from CrunchFund startup Rover earlier today – They’ve raised a new round of financing led by Petco, and the deal includes a really nice strategic partnership arrangement as well to promote Rover in Petco’s 1,400 physical locations and on their website.

More on the news (including lots of details I don’t mention here) at: TechCrunch, Next Web, Pando, Geekwire and TechMeme.

This is a company we were lucky enough to invest in early on and we continue to invest more money in each new round as well.

But that’s not the end of my relationship with Rover. Pet sitting has always been a hassle with my heavy travel schedule. We’re now Rover customers and it has solved the problem.

Often my parents pitch in, but with (now) three dogs that weigh a combined 350 pounds, it’s just not fair to throw the problem in their lap. Especially since I’m being literal here – Kennedy, the youngest and weighing in at 80 pounds, really likes laps.

He likes laps so much, and I’m not kidding, I’ve seriously considered finding some way to protect myself from these attacks.

Anyway, back to Rover. We used to put Kennedy in the local dog hotel (which is better than the vet’s cage).

He seems to like it at the dog hotel, although he gets lonely and doesn’t get to interact with other dogs at all or people very much. And it’s expensive – Minumum $25/night plus all kinds of taxes and fees for things like “extra walks” (how can you say no), etc.

Rover fixes all that. It’s a very Airbnb type experience. You look through listing of people who live nearby who take in dogs through the service. You read their reviews and chat with them and make a decision.

Your dog will now be staying with real people, and probably other dogs, in an environment that welcomes them.

From there things are a little different than Airbnb. With Airbnb you just show up at the place at the time, figure out keys and go from there. But you aren’t going to feel good about just showing up somewhere for the first time, meeting the people and then leaving your dog there. If they creep you out you’re in trouble, because presumably you’re leaving on a trip and don’t have time to start looking for a new Rover sitter.

Rover’s fixed that by strongly suggesting people meet with the dog(s) beforehand. Usually this is at a local dog park to keep the sitter’s address confidential for now. If that meet goes well then the stay is confirmed.

After you find a sitter you like you’ll tend to use them repeatedly. There’s a business problem there for Rover that is less prevalent at Airbnb – people could just work directly with the sitter from then on and bypass Rover. One sitter we used suggested this, actually. We declined.

Rover has some good ideas for adding value besides the initial hookup to keep people using them even if the keep using the same sitter repeatedly. Insurance, 24/7 vet care, pet geo tagging and, best of all, videos.

About those videos – the site suggests sitters take lot of pictures of the dog while the owners are away. They can be shared on the Rover site and app and are a real comfort when you’re worried about your pet. But they also automatically create a really cool video compilation of the pictures at the end of the trip as well. It’s a great way to end the transaction.

And that’s still not it…We’ve now become Rover sitters as well and care for local dogs when the owners are away. It’s always interesting to drop what I’m doing for CrunchFund and drive over to the local dog park (with our three dogs in tow) to meet a dog and its parents.

Rover makes it really easy to donate all or part of the money you receive as a sitter to various dog and pet organizations. I wish they would speed up their efforts to get more local organizations (like my local Humane Society), but there are still plenty to choose from.

So, yeah, I love Rover. I’m an investor, a sitter and a customer. I’m really glad to see Petco working with them, too. We’ve seen a great increase in the number of Rover sitters available in our area out in the sticks. A few months ago it was just 1-2. Now it’s 10. I imagine that soon there will be lots more.

Startups Hyperfocus on iOS 7, Send Android To Back Burner.

ios7Last week’s announcement of iOS 7 really shook things up in silicon valley. And it may not be what you think.

Yes, people are excited to get to work on it. But app developers aren’t just putting a fresh face on their existing products. They’re rethinking their apps from the ground up, say a bunch of startups I’ve spoken with. They’re looking at this as a whole new platform, as they should, and they know that first movers have all the advantages.

Most people I’m talking to agree with Marco Arment, who says “iOS 7 is different. It isn’t just a new skin: it introduces entirely new navigational and structural standards far beyond the extent of any previous UI changes.”

So how are startups responding to the news? They’re “tearing up their Q3 product roadmap” and “starting from scratch,” say a few of the startups I spoke to. “There are subtle but profound changes” says one.

Daniel Raffel, Snapguide CEO (a CrunchFund company), says Android likely took a big hit with the announcement of iOS 7. Leading up to WWDC there had never been a better time for developers to invest big in Android. Now that investment is on hold, he says, as teams repriortize resources to develop for the iOS 7 launch.

Another CEO I spoke to off the record today said that he’s leaving his Android client engineers on task (they’ve released both iOS and Android apps), but all UI/UX designers and engineers are focusing 100% on iOS 7.

And another startup founder: “Android is no longer on our 2013 product roadmap.”

And finally, the worst news of all from yet another mobile startup – they’re canceling all summer vacations.

Journalists Need To Start Asking About Storage, Not Access

It’s becoming pretty clear, particularly from today’s Snowden Q&A and the partial transcript from President Obama’s Charlie Rose interview, that we’re zeroing in on how the government accesses private individual data.

If you’re not a “U.S. person,” there are few restrictions on what the U.S. government can do to monitor you. If you are a U.S. person then there are at least some restrictions, and the involvement of at least the secret FISA court, before that data can be accessed.

What’s also clear are that these are just policy decisions, as Snowden puts it, and that things may have been different in the past and can be different in the future.

My guess is that most journalists will continue to dig into the FISA court stuff. This quote alone is a gold mine for arguing that there is no true judicial oversight on any of this stuff:

Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

In other words, “trust us.”

But here’s what journalists should be asking at this point: What data does the government store? How long have they been storing it? Do they ever delete it?

All of the government arguments around 4th Amendment protections center on policy decisions regarding what the NSA and FBI can look at. But as they make these arguments they imply that the data is already sitting on government servers. Snowden, of course, doesn’t imply this, he says it flat out.

This is what scares me the most. Not that today’s government is using this data improperly today (although the IRS scandal certainly shows that the government is quite willing to use data improperly). Rather, I’m much more concerned with what the government will do with this data down the road.

Knowing that the government will start surveillance on you if you do something wrong is one thing.

But knowing that you are constantly being watched, with everything you do being stored in a database somewhere, is something else. It doesn’t matter if anyone is looking at it today. Knowing that anything you do now, innocently, may be evidence of a crime in 5, 10 or 30 years, is the opposite of freedom. No matter how you look at it.

I don’t understand how the government can argue that storing, possibly forever, every phone call and every email and our location and everything else can somehow be consistent with the rights acknowledged under the 4th amendment. Until journalists start asking these questions, however, they won’t even be forced to make those arguments.

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