Sell your clothing and electronics with these apps

Sell your clothing and electronics with these apps

Are you looking to clean out your closet and make money while doing it? You no longer have to haul your used items to a consignment shop. A number of apps have made selling used things easier than ever, and we’re not talking about eBay. TechCrunch tested out and chose our favorite apps for spring cleaning.

Poshmark

Poshmark

Poshmark

Poshmark is basically an Instagram for selling your clothing. Take a photo of your stuff, list a suggested price and share it with your friends. You can also build up followers and search for things by category. From dresses to handbags to jewelry, Poshmark has a wide selection of women’s items. And now they are expanding to kids and male belongings. In addition to people, follow brands and boutiques to find clothes to fill the newfound space in your closet. It’s not just used items. Poshmark features brand new stuff, too. The app is free and available on iPhone and Android.

ThredUP

ThredUP

thredUP

With thredUP, making money off old clothes is as easy as putting them in a bag. At your request, the company will send you postmarked packaging and all you have to do is seal it with your stuff. Check the thredUP app to see which brands are accepted. Kate Spade is a yes, Chico’s is a no. But don’t expect to make more than a few dollars per item. The startup will pay you a percentage of what gets sold. And if it doesn’t sell, it gets recycled, or you can take everything back for $12.99. The app is free and on iOS and Android.

OfferUp

OfferUp

OfferUp

Forget clothing, if you are looking to rid yourself of brooms and baseball bats, OfferUp is for you. The Craigslist competitor has introduced auction-style listings to help you sell your knickknacks to the highest bidder. Just take a photo of the item and assign a category such as furniture or electronics. OfferUp makes it easy to sort inquiries by the highest bid and message prospective buyers. (I tried out OfferUp when I moved across the country and I had people bidding on my trash can)! But beware, many posts stop generating interest the next day, so be sure to take those offers while they’re hot. The app is free and available on iOS and Android.

Source: TechCrunch

Why image recognition is about to transform business

Why image recognition is about to transform business

At Facebook’s recent annual developer conference, Marc Zuckerberg outlined the social network’s artificial intelligence (AI) plans to “build systems that are better than people in perception.” He then demonstrated an impressive image recognition technology for the blind that can “see” what’s going on in a picture and explain it out loud.

From programs that help the visually impaired and safety features in cars that detect large animals to auto-organizing untagged photo collections and extracting business insights from socially shared pictures, the benefits of image recognition, or computer vision, are only just beginning to make their way into the world — but they’re doing so with increasing frequency and depth.

It’s busy enough that the upcoming LDV Vision Summit, an annual conference dedicated to all things visual tech, from VR and cameras to medical imaging and content analysis, is already in its third year. “The advancements in computer vision these days are creating tremendous new opportunities in analyzing images that are exponentially impacting every business vertical, from automotive to advertising to augmented reality,” says Evan Nisselson of LDV Capital, which organizes the summit.

As with other forms of AI — natural language procession, bioinformatics, gaming — the field of computer vision has benefited greatly from the expansion of open-source, deep learning technology, user-friendly programming tools and faster and more affordable computing.

Many a headline references deep learning and artificial intelligence as the next big thing, but how exactly do these different tools work, and in what ways are businesses using them to offer image tech to the world? Is Google’s TensorFlow the same thing as Facebook’s DeepFace or Microsoft’s Project Oxford? Not exactly. To help clarify things, here’s a quick breakdown of current image technology tools and how businesses are using them.

Training material: Open data

Thanks to deep learning techniques, a machine learning technique loosely modeled after the human brain, computers can be taught to accurately identify what’s in pictures faster than ever — but they need massive amounts of data to do it.

Enter ImageNet and Pascal VOC. Years in the making, these massive and free-to-anyone databases contain millions of images tagged with keywords about what’s inside the pictures — everything from cats and mountains to pizza and sports activities. These open datasets are the basis for machine learning around images (the only way computers can accurately identify cats in photos is because they have already learned what cats look like by analyzing millions of pictures tagged with the word “cat”).

Best known for its annual visual recognition challenge, ImageNet was launched by computer scientists at Stanford and Princeton in 2009 with 80,000 tagged images. It has since grown to include more than 14 million tagged images, any of which are up for grabs at any time for machine training purposes.

Powered by various universities in the U.K., Pascal VOC has fewer pictures, but each one has richer annotations. This improves the accuracy and breadth of the machine learning and, for some applications, speeds up the overall process, because it allows for the omission of cumbersome computer subtasks.

Not every company has the resources, or wants to invest in the resources, to build out a computer vision engineering team.

Now, everyone from Google and Facebook to startups and universities use these open source picture sets to feed their machine learning beasts, but the big technology companies have the advantage of access to millions of user-labeled images from apps such as Google Photos and Facebook. Have you ever wondered why Google and Facebook let you upload so many pictures for free? It’s because those pictures are used to train their deep learning networks to become more accurate.

Building blocks: Open-source software libraries and frameworks

Once you have the data, it’s time to build a machine that can learn from it. Enter open-source software libraries. Freely available, these frameworks serve as starting points for building machine learning systems to service different kinds of computer vision functions, from facial and emotion recognition to medical screening and large obstacle (read: deer) detection in cars. These machine learning systems are then fed pictures from ImageNet and its ilk, proprietary images (aka Google Photos) or other sources (like anonymized, indexed clinical records).

Google TensorFlow is one of the better-known libraries, if only because it was covered widely when selected parts were open sourced late last year. TensorFlow, some of which is still proprietary to Google, is used to develop many of the company’s AI initiatives, from autonomous cars and translation to Google Now and Google Photos.

But TensorFlow is hardly the first — or only — open-source framework. UC Berkeley’s Caffe has been around since 2009, and remains popular because of its ease of customizability and large community of innovators, not to mention heavy use by Pinterest and Yahoo!/Flickr. Even Google turns to Caffe for certain projects such as DeepDream.

Created in 2002, Torch is also popular, owing to its use by Facebook AI Research (FAIR), which open sourced some of its modules in early 2015. Some of these tools are optimized to run on more than one graphics processor or computer to amplify capacity and speed up the deep learning process. Similarly, NVIDIA’s cuDNN is an open-source software library that optimizes a computer’s graphics processing unit (GPU) performance, making machine learning even faster.

These tools, while flexible and robust, require teams of computer vision engineers and hardware, so only companies that want to make computer vision a major part of their product strategy, where they’d want to own the software, need apply.

Ready-to-wear: Hosted APIs

Not every company has the resources, or wants to invest in the resources, to build out a computer vision engineering team. Even if you’ve found the right team, it can be a lot of work to get it just right, which is where hosted API services come in. Carried out in the cloud, these solutions offer menus of out-of-the-box image recognition services that can be easily integrated with an existing app or used to build out a specific feature or an entire business.

Say the Travel Channel needs “landmark detection” to show relevant photos on landing pages for specific landmarks, or eHarmony wants to filter out “unsafe” profile images uploaded by their users. Neither of these companies needs or wants to get into the deep learning image recognition development business, but can still benefit from its capabilities.

Google Cloud Vision, for example, offers a series of image detection services from facial and optical character recognition (text) to landmark and explicit content detection, and charges on a per-photo basis. Microsoft Cognitive Services (née Project Oxford) offers a collection of visual image recognition APIs, including emotion, celebrity and face detection, and charges a specific rate per 1,000 transactions. Meanwhile, startups like Clarifai offer computer vision APIs that help companies organize their content, filter out unsafe user-generated images and videos and make purchasing recommendations based on viewed or taken photos.

Custom computer vision technology

Of course, it doesn’t have to be apples or oranges. Computer vision engineering teams don’t need to be Google-sized, and companies big and small that don’t want to build their own AI systems may still want robust, custom image recognition solutions. If a beauty or cosmetics company wants to find, say, pictures of people with high-volume hair to serve ads about body-minimizing shampoo, it’ll need someone to create a custom algorithm to search for high-volume hair, since that isn’t the first thing that the more commoditized solutions offer out of the box.

Same with logos or car make and model, which are still niche commercial applications that currently aren’t available in the open-source arena. And if a closed dataset isn’t readily available, no matter, because a good percentage of the images shared on social media these days are public, anyway, making for a rich source of images with which to feed the machine learning beast.

Some companies use combinations of open data and open-source frameworks, as long as they have a team of engineers, or they might just use hosted APIs if computer vision is not something on which they are staking their entire business.

And for companies with a wide range of very specific needs, there are custom solutions. No matter how it’s approached, though, it’s clear that image recognition rarely exists in isolation; it’s made stronger by access to more and more pictures, real-time big data, unique applications and speed. The businesses that make the most of these connections are the ones that will be best poised for success.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin
Source: TechCrunch

Review: Grenco Science’s G-Pen Elite is the best vape of its kind

Review: Grenco Science’s G-Pen Elite is the best vape of its kind

The fascination and rapid development of portable vaporizers for ground, plant-based material is hard to ignore, if you’re not living under a rock. Typically, an expensive gadget, Grenco Science has tasked itself with creating a vape for the people, with specs and science that punch above its sub-$200 weight class.

Price as Reviewed: $169 at Grenco Science

Basics

  • Ceramic oven
  • Temperature control from 200-428°F / 93-220°C
  • Conduction / convection heating
  • Heats up in under 10 seconds
  • Charges via micro USB

Experience

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Before I dive into the experience of using the G-Pen Elite, let’s talk about the science of heating elements. First: Convection heating, which is basically the heat transfer of energy through a medium such as hot air or water. In contrast, conduction heating is the “simpler” method, where heat energy is transferred through the collision of molecules — usually physical contact.

Grenco Science technically used both methods of heating elements. This way, you get the both of both worlds, but how?

The best vaporizers tend to use convection heating, but that solution not only means a higher cost (for both consumer and manufacturer) but is more difficult to pack into small, pocket vaporizers. Conduction is much easier, thankfully, since the material that will be vaporized just has to be thrown into an oven and heated at a desired temperature.

Grenco Science technically used both methods of heating elements. This way, you get the both of both worlds, but how?

The interior of the Elite’s oven is ceramic, so the heat transfer is more even and immediate (conduction), but there are also four small holes for air flow, which are used when you inhale (convection). Being in such a confined and hot space means that ground material isn’t only heated by physical contact (conduction), but also as if you were heating a brownie with a hair dryer (convection).

DSCF2321

It means that you can get a hybrid of both technologies, thus benefiting from the intensity that comes from heating up the contents of the oven, while also using hot air to make it more pleasurable to inhale.

Besides getting the science mostly right, the Elite is very straightforward when it comes to the controls. Pressing five times on the main button turns the vape on, followed by setting a temperature from the rocker on the side, and finally pressing the main button for one second completes the process. Grenco Science advertises the Elite as being able to reach desired temperatures under 10 seconds, and that’s been the case so far.

An important aspect of using a vape is the cleaning process. Thankfully, that isn’t overly complex: a brush included in the Elite’s box is good for clearing away burn material from the oven and the vent under the mouth piece. Once that is remedied there isn’t too much to worry about.

Battery life? That’s solid as well, but dependent on how the Elite is used.

Battery life? That’s solid as well, but dependent on how the vape is used. What’s most responsible is the quantity of ground material packed into the oven and what temperature setting is used.

So, speaking to battery life can be somewhat subjective, however, I’ve found that when I packed the oven full and set it to maximum temperature of 428° Fahrenheit (220° Celsius), I could use it between two and three times without charging.

That’s good performance, and since the Elite charges with micro-USB cables (which are practically everywhere), it’s easy to take out without worrying about forgetting a proprietary charging cradle or something similar.

Bottom Line

DSCF2390

This is one of the best vapes money can buy — under $200.

This is one of the best vapes money can buy — under $200. It not only comes with a charging cable, but with a grinder designed as a business card, a pen tool attached to a key ring for managing ground material, and finally that brush I talked about earlier, which is great for maintenance (a necessity).

All in all, Grenco Science has a fine vaporizer with the Elite. Of course, there’s room for improvement,, like an even sleeker design or the addition of different colors, even a different style of mouthpiece for those that are interested.

Overall, for the budget and performance, there’s really nothing that comes this close to being a reliable vape.

New initiatives emerge to help refugees

New initiatives emerge to help refugees

Prompted by the ongoing refugee crisis affecting much of the western world, new initiatives have emerged to provide solutions to the many challenges facing the beleaguered masses. As Rahm Emanuel once famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

In a sea of clueless government bureaucrats and fearful citizens, these new startups want to tap into the potential of the newcomers. Privately funded initiatives — relying on the spirit of innovation coupled with a sense of altruism — may one day become the norm in helping tackle challenges such as the current refugee crisis.

Refugees to entrepreneurs

Founded in the Autumn of 2015, Finland-based Startup Refugees identifies skilled workers and entrepreneurs from the thousands of refugees (who are mostly adult males). The founders, Riku Rantala and Tunna Milonoff, believe that the refugees have the potential to enrich and elevate the Finnish business scene.

“There are all kinds of refugees, but many have been entrepreneurs in their native countries. They might have thoughts, ideas, information and understanding of cultures that Finns might not have,” Milonoff said in an interview.

Startup Refugees functions as a combination between a startup incubator and a talent agency.

The purpose is to map out the refugees’ — currently living in refugee centers around the country — skills, professionalism and business experience. The top candidates will receive a funding allowance of 32.80 euros ($38) for the period of one month.

The idea is to have the refugees use the funds to elevate the accommodation and food conditions in the refugee centers.

To qualify as a recipient of the allowance, the candidate must have the right to work in Finland.

Rantala and Milonoff believe that Finland, one of the many European countries in the throes of economic malaise, can benefit from the refugees’ potential.

“Immigration is essentially the importing of brains. We want to harness the mental capital of refugees and combine it with the mad brilliance of Finnish entrepreneurship to lift Finland from economic misery,” Milonoff said.

Fintech for immigrants

Refugees who manage to obtain the right to work are faced with another problem: how to find a job and, more importantly, how to get paid. Because banks do not open accounts for refugees, finding an employer who’s willing to pay salaries in cash is nearly impossible.

MONI, a Helsinki-based company, launched a pilot partnership with the Finnish Immigration Service in December to provide refugees with prepaid MasterCards and customized mobile payment accounts so the refugees can receive salaries and government benefits.

“To remove obstacles we enabled a feature where the employer can pay the salary to a refugee’s MONI account. First salary payment tests were made in February this year and now there are several employers onboard,” said Antti Pennanen, founder of MONI.

According to Pennanen both the companies operating reception centers and the refugees are happy with the service.

“Today almost 4000 refugees, over 10% of all refugees in Finland, are receiving their benefits to MONI accounts.”

The next step for Pennanen is to turn refugees into entrepreneurs.

“Our big goal is to create a simple model for the refugees to employ themselves as micro-entrepreneurs, with their taxation automated using smart contracts. This would mean decreasing the administrative burden for the government — less cost in tax collection since it is automated, faster employment for the refugees and new taxpayers for Finland.”

Headhunting refugees

In the context of the refugee crisis, the term headhunter carries some unfortunate connotations.  Unlike the local vigilante in Bulgaria who is quite literally hunting migrants, new companies have emerged that focus on headhunting refugees in the more traditional sense.

Profit-seeking companies with tech-savvy entrepreneurs at their helm are the perfect executioners of solutions that enable the integration of refugees into their host societies.

A social enterprise that connects refugees with companies that look for specific skill sets, Zharity is another Helsinki-based company. Zharity’s stated goal is to help 1,000 immigrants, newcomers or asylum seekers find work within a year from its launch earlier in 2016.

Founded in November during the height of the crisis, Austria-based Refugees Work helps refugees find jobs by creating profiles on its platform. Founder Dominik Beron told TechCrunch the company has registered more than 130 employers so far, and has around 1,000 refugees signed up to create a jobs profile to seek work.

Navigating local complexities

In Canada, a new startup helps refugees navigate the country’s complicated healthcare system.

iamsick, a digital health platform, helps migrants with access to healthcare services; from information about walk-in-clinics that are open late to pharmacies and emergency rooms, the platform shows users their nearest healthcare option any time across the country.

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui joined the company after living in Turkey, where she witnessed the chaos first hand.

“We have identified many Arabic speaking healthcare professionals across Canada, plus Arabic is now one of five languages the platform itself has been translated into. We’ve also established a direct phone line for assistance in English, Arabic and French for two hours a week so refugees who don’t have access to the internet or aren’t tech savvy can still get the information they need,” Chelkhaoui told U of T News.

Foodie refugees

Deviating from the plethora of tech initiatives, some newcomers are harnessing their cooking skills to make a living.

Considering the demand for Middle Eastern cuisine, this might be a smart bet.

Manal Kahi, a Columbia University graduate, launched a food startup with her brother Wissam Kahi, a graduate of Columbia Business School, to provide locals with authentic hummus — made and delivered by local refugees. Eat Offbeat employs refugees from around the world to cook their own family recipes and deliver the meals to customers in New York City.

Seldom has the following been used as a marketing pitch, but authenticity sells.

“[We want you to] feel like you’re in downtown Baghdad, for instance, or that you’ve been invited to a chef’s own home,” said Manal Kahi.

Good government, great startups

New startups that have emerged as a result of the influx of refugees indicate a trend that is long overdue. Instead of reverting to the role of bystanders, the startup mentality, pervasive in cities across Europe and North America, is taking problem solving away from the public domain to the incentive-based domain of businesses.

Profit-seeking companies with tech-savvy entrepreneurs at their helm are the perfect executioners of solutions that enable the integration of refugees into their host societies.

Cities and governments would be wise to cooperate with entrepreneurs who are able and willing to help refugees without adding to the tax burden. However, because governments control the agenda on immigration, successful integration needs to be a tango for two.

“Without government participation and political will to solve problems in this scale, I think it is really difficult to achieve anything,” Pennanen said.

Featured Image: Mikael Damkier/Shutterstock
Source: TechCrunch

According to its cofounder and CEO Snapchat is mainly “a camera company”

According to its cofounder and CEO Snapchat is mainly “a camera company”

Despite all of its new bells and whistles… and the billions of videos, ads, and effects that have been added to the service, Snapchat chief executive Evan Spiegel still thinks of the new media juggernaut he’s created as “a camera company”.

Speaking at Columbia University’s #StartupColumbia event on Friday, Spiegel ran through a number of the defining features of the company that now accounts for more than 10 billion video views on various mobile devices.

The runaway success of Stories, Snapchat’s video and photo watching tool, even caught Spiegel by surprise. “Stories blew us away,” he said. “What was envisioned at the time as an ephemeral profile — this is who I am right now — has become a lot more… To watch the evolution of Stories into more of a broadcasting platform [and] away from just a profile-based concept where it started is very exciting.”

While Snapchat Stories may be the feature that brings the company the revenue model it needs to validate its $16 billion valuation, and while the ephemeral messaging feature may be what initially attracted the hordes of millennials sending digital ephemera to each other billions of times a day, Spiegel says that the camera itself remains Snapchat’s unifying feature.

Snapchat opens to the camera, Spiegel said. Chat is available to the left of the camera, and Stories is available to the right of the camera. That not only differentiates it from other social media products, but allows Snapchat to straddle the line between the defining features of several of them.

“The beautiful thing is it sort of sits in the middle, but more importantly it opens to the camera,” Spiegel said. “The thing that feeds a social network is content… Similarly with communication… So in our view, when you take a snap and you choose this path between talking to your friends or adding it to your Story we end up with this harmony where both of these businesses feed themselves. I don’t think it’s one or the other.”

In a way, even the company’s movement into filters, stickers, and lenses such as face swap are further extensions of the original thesis of Snapchat as a photographic communication tool. “Now you can put the way you feel… in the moment you’re experiencing. For us that’s just the beginning of some fun, creative tools,” he said.

Looking beyond the product, on which Spiegel said he spent 40% of his time, his other duties are recruiting (which occupies another 40% of his time) and then the other operational decisions that go into running a company.

Evan Spiegel Snapchat StartupColumbia April 29 2016

Columbia undergrads Mayank Mahajan and Karen Yuan interview Evan Spiegel

Over the course of his conversation with students and interviewers Columbia undergraduates Karen Yuan and Mayank Mahajan, Spiegel reminisced about the early days of growing the business and the time of the key decisions that influenced its growth.

From its earliest days, and in its earliest decisions, Snapchat and its college-aged executive focused on recruiting dedicated employees who would be committed to the company’s long-term success.

Spiegel said that everything from the decision to move to and stay in Los Angeles and the creation of a backloaded vesting schedule which increased from 10% the first year to 40% the fourth year was designed to self-select employees who believed in the company and its project. “If you think four years is long-term, then we’re not really interested in working with you.”

Spiegel said this aspect of company-building, the recruiting, is one of the critical attributes of a good entrepreneur. “Building a team is the most important thing you do, and if you don’t genuinely just love the people you work with and take care of them… and (care) about their families and their lives, then it’s a non-starter because you’re not going to be able to build a great team.”

Snapchat’s young founder also had advice for budding entrepreneurs about accepting capital and the nuances of working with venture capitalists. A number of the questions focused on Snapchat’s early days, including about the first financing round.

Spiegel advised to never accept if someone says terms are “standard,” and described a right of first refusal term in the Snapchat convertible note seed round of requiring access to 50% or effectively the majority of the Series A round that came the following year.

Spiegel said this kind of term can discourage possible investors who seek to own a larger stake and so may not bid at all. This and other terms were unwound over time, he said. “The big, simple takeaway is anytime you hear ‘standard terms,’ keep asking why, and why, and why, and why,” he said.

Asked about the difference between entrepreneurship in college compared to after college, Spiegel cited the need to balance but ultimately needing to make a choice to go for building a meaningful company.

“I think some point as early as sophomore year my classes started taking a hit because I was working on projects all the time, but if you’re ok with getting bad grades, then it doesn’t really matter,” Spiegel said.

Source: TechCrunch

Kindle Oasis is beautiful, pricey and still not like reading a book

Kindle Oasis is beautiful, pricey and still not like reading a book

I’ve spent the last week trying to pretend the new Kindle Oasis is the same as reading a real book. It’s not.

I love books. I love Kindle’s e-readers and was hoping this was the melding of the two.

That real book feel was part of the inspiration for the latest Kindle in the family and why it comes with a protruding one-sided grip handle able to flip from left to right to give it that “book spine feel.”

But there’s something about holding a real book in your hands, thumbing through and dog-earing the pages, underlining and making notes.

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Side view of Kindle Oasis. Super thin and comes with a handle for gripping like a book spine.

You know your book, you know you can easily flip to the page with that one passage. You can spend your afternoon rapt in good literature, cupping the old book’s spine, smelling the dried parchment and traveling to far off imaginary places without moving anywhere at all.

Kindle, unfortunately, isn’t there just yet. But it’s getting closer.

The new, radically different, squarish Oasis design is beautiful and arguably enticing as the newest shiny e-reader, but like older versions, the latest Kindle also has a lagging touch response – forget about easily thumbing through pages, writing in the margins or quickly pulling up another title. Too tedious.

The visuals aren’t much better than the earlier Voyage, either with the same 300 ppi resolution – though it does have 4 extra built-in LED lights.

And at a starting price of $290, compared to a $190 Kobo Aura H2O or iPad Mini 2 for $270, which does much more than an e-reader, it might be too much for most consumers.

Though the e-ink display is easier on your eyes than an iPad and the added side buttons for flipping pages also seem to help speed up the process a bit.

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Oasis without the dual-battery cover.

Here’s where Oasis wins me over – Travel.

E-readers are better for hauling around than heavy books in general, but the lighter, slimmer, yet surprisingly sturdy Oasis is easy to throw in a bag – the molded polymer housing is made to take a beating – and can give you access to more than 4.4 million books through Amazon’s ever-expanding list of titles (up from 90,000 in 2007); along with a modest 4 GB storage on the device.

The 60-day battery life (when hooked into the dual-battery cover system) also makes Oasis a great travel companion for long voyages.

But Oasis isn’t meant for everyone, just those most devoted to a luxury experience. It’s niche, but a devoted niche of avid Kindle fans.

It really comes down to whether or not you really care about the weight and sturdiness of your e-reader and believe it’s worth the price to pay for that luxury experience.

While I like the upgrades, the difference is slight enough I’m personally okay paying $90 less for the $200 Kindle Voyage.

Source: TechCrunch

Gillmor Gang: iPad Prose

Gillmor Gang: iPad Prose

The Gillmor Gang — John Taschek, Frank Radice, John Taschek, Keith Teare, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, April 29, 2016. Apple dips and Twitter flutters, but the Gang won’t bet against them as new media picks new winners. Plus, the latest G3 (below) with Halley Suitt Tucker, Elisa Camahort Page, Francine Hardaway, and Tina Chase Gillmor.

@stevegillmor, @kevinmarks, @jtaschek, @fradice, @kteare

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

Liner Notes

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

G3: Designer Genes

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G3 chat stream

G3 on Facebook

Source: TechCrunch

Digital and visible this is a new era for women online

Digital and visible this is a new era for women online

At the end of 2014, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were all given an ‘F’ grade for the way they dealt with – or rather, didn’t deal with – online violence against women. Sexism, abusive language and death threats were all included.

The social media platforms were found to be lacking in transparency and accused of only taking such issues seriously when media picked up on the situation. But a growing movement of women is challenging global technology companies and empowering themselves and each other to be safer online.

Take Back the Tech! (TBTT) is an expanding group of women active in 16 countries. They are set on reclaiming online space, making the net safer and more representative, as well as a place for women to thrive and change the world.

They’re making progress in a number of areas. Facebook and Twitter agreed to offer more protection for women’s freedom of speech, and freedom from violence, TBTT’s Pakistan partner Bytes for All has become a Twitter safety partner.

Small but significant wins for TBTT, founded by the Association of Progressive Communications.
Social media and the opportunities it offers for revenge pornography, cyberstalking and surveillance, are only one part of the problem, however.

Across the world there are 200 million fewer women online than men, meaning men have more chance to present their own perspective online and hold even more power over women, according to the group.

Part of TTBT’s work is to get more women online and trained in new technologies so they can have a louder voice. It also seeks recognition for women’s achievements in ICT and in all areas of life, and for these achievements to be fairly documented on Wikipedia history pages.

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Over 16 days of campaigning in 2015, TBTT’s Latin American campaign reached 1.5 million people on Twitter to raise awareness of tech-related violence against women.

At the same time, 70 women took digital rights and online security workshops in Colombia and 26 women took the first Women Rock IT five-day training on technology and violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly 5,000 students were trained in privacy and tech-related gender violence.

There is a huge amount of work to plough on with. In particular, it will next deepen its work in Latin America. The organisation will be seeking positive cultural change in societies where violence and disrespect for women are ingrained. El Salvador, for example, has the highest femicide rate of every country in the world according to a report in 2012.

TBTT will work with La Sandia Digital, which runs popular weekly feminist internet TV program Luchadoras, and supports women in Latin America to produce their own films documenting experiences around sexism. Films such as Living in Darkness which show how women are criminalised for not fulfilling oppressive roles around marriage and motherhood.

TBTT has urgent work to do to get women equipped and ready to create a more inclusive, fairer and peaceful future. The internet is shaped constantly by making and sharing content. Occupying this from a feminist perspective amplifies women’s narratives, according to La Sandia.

“Violence against women and girls online is increasing,” says Lulú V. Barrera, founder of Luchadoras. “We want to break down stereotypes of women.”

Sarah Baker, TBTT coordinator is buoyed to see social media platforms starting to listen, but they’re only just scratching the surface, she says. “Simply expressing an intention to make changes is often followed very, very slowly by actual policy or mechanism changes. And then some seem to move backwards. Google, for example has recently hired the founder of 4chan, a site that is notorious for online abuse.”

As technology changes by the second, there is a long and persistent journey ahead, but knowing that such organizations are relentless in their efforts to free girls and women from oppression can offer some comfort. It is essential that this peace-building work continues with full speed.

Source: TechCrunch

Startups need to do due diligence, too

Startups need to do due diligence, too

I hear a lot of horror stories about investors. Many are misunderstandings. Some are just outright false. Then there are those that are true. Sadly, there are a lot of those.

There’s the alleged angel in the Baltic region who committed (in an email) to leading a round and then refused to talk to the other investors and eventually seemed to bury his head in the sand and disappear. There are countless stories of mysterious Middle Eastern angels who put teams through painful pitch, due diligence and negotiation processes only to bail (post-term sheet) after months of promises and B.S. about the money being delayed/lost/stolen/on the way.

This kills companies. I’ve watched great entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas sink because they’ve been fucked around and because they made poor choices. Many of the so-called “investors” involved are odious individuals. I wanted to write something that will help people avoid having to deal with them, so here are some tips.

Financial institutions are bound by a regulation called KYC (know your customer). It’s time we created KYI for investors. You should want (and probably need) to know who’s investing, why they’re investing, who they are, how they made their money, what else they’re up to, what they’re like to work with, what’s their temperament and risk appetite and other such useful tidbits.

Do some digging on the people you’re going to target — creep on their AngelList, CrunchBase, LinkedIn and other profiles. Check to see if they blog, tweet, judge at Startup Weekends, mentor at accelerators, speak at conferences or do things that the vast majority of other investors do. Are they talking about their existing investments? Do they add value to industry conversations? Do they seem credible? Do they appear mostly sane?

Red flag No. 1. If they don’t have an online profile of any description, be a little wary. There are some super-wealthy people who obviously don’t want to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other such platforms as they’re too busy in their walk-in humidors. But in general terms, someone who has zero online profile makes my spidey senses tingle.

Red flag No. 2. If you’re constantly dealing through an intermediary, be wary. When you get into Series A/B/C, etc., it’s more natural for this to happen. This is what venture capital is, to a certain extent. In angel rounds, if you’re not regularly dealing directly with the angel, this is likely a pattern that will repeat. Also, you run the risk of Chinese whispers and subsequent misunderstandings.

If someone’s going to give you anything between $5,000 and $500,000 that they could otherwise spend on a holiday, a car or a buy-to-let flat in Walthamstow, they should probably want to look you in the eye and talk face to face. Likewise, if you’re giving someone a single- or double-digit percentage of your company, you’ll want to spend time with them. If you ask to meet an investor and that never happens for various spurious reasons, don’t take their money.

Ask to talk to companies that the investor has previously put money into. This leads us to red flag No.3. If they refuse this, or are sketchy about it, you should be very, very wary. Talking to companies that your investor has previously put money into is pretty normal due diligence for a startup. You should be asking what the investor is like to work with; are they pushy, obnoxious, needy, anxious, cool, useful or just good/bad/indifferent to work with.

Appear smarter than your lawyer. Also, get a lawyer.

The right investors should be happy to share this info with you. The bad ones won’t want you to find out that they are secretly tools. Incidentally, you don’t need an investor’s permission to do this — if they have investments listed on LinkedIn, AngelList and other places, just connect directly with the founder/CEO and ask.

Red flag No. 4. Watch out for loonie valuations. The less sophisticated the investor, the more of your company they’ll want. The classic instance is where the investor wants 51 percent of your business. In most funding rounds, you should be aiming to give away 10-25 percent of your company. The lower end implies you’re a hot deal or you’re doing something really well. The higher end implies it’s riskier or perhaps the traction isn’t that great. In early rounds, my personal feeling is that anything more than 25 percent is too high and can create a disincentive for founders, staff and current/future investors. Anyone who wants anything north of 25 percent is worth spending some more due diligence time on.

Red flag No. 5. Watch out for people who aren’t at least reasonably amenable to standardized term sheets. Seedsummit, YC and many others have produced great templates that are pretty standard. Watch out for things like participating liquidity preferences (1x liquidity preference is probably ok, others would argue it’s pretty standard). Watch out for warrants, vesting clauses that are overly punitive, full-ratchet anti-dilution clauses and stuff like that. If you don’t understand these terms, you need to. Do yourself a favor and buy Venture Deals and appear smarter than your lawyer. Also, get a lawyer.

Red flag No.6. Watch out for people who only bring cash to the table. Introductions, advice, connections and guidance are the most useful things that early-stage companies can get. The right type of angel — usually one who’s been there and done that — is worth 10x their investment in this regard. They’ll shill for you at conferences, introduce you to people, act as an additional BD/sales/HR person and generally add way more than just cash to the equation. Ask not what you can do for your investors (you should know the answer to this already — make them a fuck ton of money), ask what your investors can do for you.

If you’re feeling cheeky, send them this. But seriously — be upfront about asking what else they’re bringing outside of cash — can they introduce you to potential clients or useful contacts? Can they help with hiring or international growth? Do they know the reporter covering your area at the biggest trade publication or at the FT? Can they connect you with bigger investors when the time is right?

Red flag No. 7. Watch out for people who want overly complex financial projections (or other ludicrous requests) when you’re pre-revenue or pre-product. Anyone with a brain in their head will know that it is A) guesswork and B) producing this material is a time sink.

Do your homework. Do it early. Do it often.

Smart early-stage investors are backing the team, the market and the idea — probably in that order. If someone’s looking for five-year projections, you’d be as well off reading the tea leaves with them. Definitely have your product roadmap in your head, and some ideas about how you’re going to scale into new markets, etc. — and have an idea of what you’d like to make, but you shouldn’t have to waste your time on projections.

Red flag No. 8. Watch out for people who drop off the face of the planet after giving you a soft commitment. As a species, we’re not great at saying “no” to people, so a lot of investors will simply break off contact instead of saying no. If someone drops off the radar after saying they are in, it probably means they are out. If they’re going on holiday, having surgery or doing something else that prevents them from replying to an email/WhatsApp, etc.,they’ll probably tell you.

Red flag No. 9. If your gut feeling is bad about someone the first time you meet them, pay attention to that. You don’t have to be best mates with all of your investors — in fact, you shouldn’t be. But, you do have to at least tolerate them. If you’re lucky, you’ll be talking to and emailing them once a month for the next five to 10 years. Gut feeling is important.

I’m not saying discount an investment straight away, but if someone feels off, creepy or just not right, spend a bit more time figuring out why, and definitely do at least one more meeting to double-check that feeling. I have taken on investors in previous businesses who I really didn’t like when we first met, but they offered money. It ended like this.

These are just a small subset of the things you should be looking for when you’re talking to early-stage/angel investors. It’s equally as applicable to later-stage investments, but in the early stages of a business, this is serious stuff. The people you take on as investors at the start can be a huge predictor of the success of future funding rounds, or the company as a whole.

I’ve heard stories of people who had investors who were supposed to put in the second tranche of funding, but couldn’t because their assets had been seized by a country as a result of various nefarious deeds in the past. I’ve met companies who’ve taken investments and then did their due diligence on the investor — only to find out they were one of the leading fugitives from a European country. As you can probably imagine, having someone like that on your cap table is going to make it a lot less likely that a tier-one VC will invest in your next round.

Do your homework. Do it early. Do it often. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and more info about the person who’s investing. If they’re sufficiently motivated and interested in you, they should be happy to do it. If they’re sufficiently smart, they’ll respect you asking. If they’re sufficiently sketchy, you need to think about casting a wider net.

Featured Image: sergign/Shutterstock
Source: TechCrunch

Why the NRA hates smart guns

Why the NRA hates smart guns

With yet another push from President Obama to revive initiatives to develop “smart gun” technology, it’s time to once again revisit the issue.

The most common question I got in response to my previous piece on smart guns is, “why is the NRA so opposed to smart guns?”

The NRA’s official position is that they don’t care one way or the other about smart gun tech, and that the market should decide, but we all know that’s baloney. The NRA, along with the vast majority of rank-and-file pro-gun people, hate smart guns, and will do everything in their power to sabotage smart gun efforts.

So the question is, why?

The simple answer to this question is widely known, but also widely misunderstood.

Most who follow this issue know that the NRA hates smart guns because they’re afraid that once a seemingly viable smart gun technology exists, anti-gun legislators at the state and federal levels will attempt to mandate it in all future guns by comparing it to seat belts, air bags, and other product safety features.

If you read my previous piece on the problems with smart guns, then you hopefully understand the differences between a seat belt and smart gun tech, and why the prospect of having smart technology forcibly included in all new firearms drives gun nuts into apoplectic fits.

But maybe you’re thinking, “that’s fine, then. We just won’t mandate it. There will be no mandate. There, you happy now? Can we just get on with the smart gun innovation and let this play out in the market?”

Here’s the thing, though: the NRA is actually right, in this case. If smart guns get any traction, then non-smart-guns will come under legislative assault.

I realize some of you went into shock and stopped reading after you saw the phrase “NRA is actually right” appear on TechCrunch, but if you’re still with me then give me a moment to explain.

The Series of Tubes

Guns are a technology, and, like most members of the general public, gun control advocates are thoroughly confused about how guns operate outside of Hollywood — as in, “the Internet is a series of tubes“-level confused. It’s hard for me to overstate just how bad it is out there, even among much of the gun-owning public.

But maybe you grew up on a farm, you had a little hunting rifle, you went to the range a few times and shot a pistol, and so on. And you’ve seen lots and lots of movies with guns in them. Even so, unless you have a background in the military, law enforcement, or executive protection, or have undergone a decent amount of civilian training in real-world defensive use of firearms, then you know as much about guns as a teen with a brand new learner’s permit knows about steering an 18-wheeler through downtown Chicago in rush-hour traffic.

It’s bad that the general public — including the majority of casual gun owners — are so confused about guns that they don’t know how much they don’t know. But what’s worse, at least if you’re a gun person, is that lawmakers and activists who know less than nothing about guns often find themselves in a position to confidently enshrine their technological ignorance into law.

This, then, is what the NRA is terrified of: that lawmakers who don’t even know how to begin to evaluate the impact of the smallest, most random-seeming feature of a given firearm on that firearm’s effectiveness and functionality for different types of users with different training backgrounds under different circumstances will get into the business of gun design.

And they’re right to be afraid, because it has happened before.

The Vertical Foregrip: A Case Study in Well-Intentioned Insanity

To understand how gun control advocates’ high-handed indifference to basic gun knowlege feeds into to the visceral reaction that pro-gun folks have to smart gun tech, you have to go back to the original, Clinton-era Assault Weapon Ban. Whatever you think of the merits of the AWB, you have to admit that this ban put legislators in the business of gun design. And I don’t mean this metaphorically — legislators were literally doing gun design.

Before they could ban “assault weapons” as a category, lawmakers (or lobbyists and interns, more likely) had to compile a list of cosmetic, ergonomic, and functional features that, when they appear on a firearm either singly or in certain combinations, turn that gun from an ordinary rifle into a deadly assault weapon.

This process of looking at features and combinations of features and deciding what stays and what goes is pretty much what you’d do if you worked in product design at a Remington or a Smith & Wesson. But the people who put together the AWB’s feature lists not only were not professional gun designers, but they didn’t even appear to know anything at all about the guns they were designing for the public’s use.

This article isn’t the place to catalog the insanity of the Clinton-era AWB, or the recently proposed AWB that seeks to take its place, but I do want to offer to the uninitiated one concrete example of what I’m talking about, so you can get a feel for just how mad and maddening the results of this design-by-lawyer process are.

Consider the lowly vertical foregrip (VFG), a simple handle that hangs down from the front of a rifle and gives the weapon’s operator a place to put their off-hand.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 4.02.47 AM

Photo courtesy of Oleg Volk.

Some shooters love the VFG for the same reason that the AWB’s authors presumably hated it — because it’s popularly seen on military guns in movies and violent video games.

On the other hand, many competitive shooters dislike vertical foregrips, preferring instead to wrap their entire hand around the front of the gun.

Other shooters prefer a halfway option called the “angled foregrip”, which is a small ramp placed under the front of the gun that can anchor the hand.

Still other shooters put a vertical foregrip on their guns but don’t actually grip it when shooting — instead, the VFG gives such shooters a tactile marker that lets them quickly and easily place their off hand in the same spot every time without looking.

Finally, some people use a VFG solely as a small storage compartment for batteries or cleaning supplies.

Like all things ergonomic, the decision to VFG or not to VFG is ultimately a matter of shooter preference… that is, unless you were a shooter during the original 1994 AWB, in which case your preference didn’t matter because VFGs were totally illegal.

Yes, that is correct — a small plastic handle that some people like to attach to the front of their gun because they feel it gives them a more comfortable hold on the weapon was considered a feature so deadly it must be outlawed. The lawmakers who added the VFG to the list of banned features not only declined to produce any sort of rationale for how the VFG makes guns deadlier or less safe, but it’s likely that they didn’t even know what it was or how it was used.

This ignorance about all things gun-related is on painful display in the video below, in which a young Tucker Carlson goes down a list of banned “assault weapon” features with former congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, the original AWB’s primary backer, asking her what certain features do and why they had to be banned.

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