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The latest news on Startups from Business Insider

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    When Blade blew onto the scene Memorial Day of 2014, well-to-do New Yorkers Instagrammed their inaugural helicopter rides from Manhattan to the Hamptons. They hopped to the beach on seats costing between $395 to $1250.

    Blade’s launch was met with excitement, jealousy, and derision in the press, but the company has big plans for growth in the US and abroad. That's what landed Blade on our Silicon Alley 100 list this year, at number 60.

    Founders Rob Wiesenthal and Steve Martocci started Blade as a side project. Wiesenthal--a former music industry executive--quickly signed on as full time CEO when the company got serious. It’s now valued at $25 million and counts high profile personal investments from Google’s Eric Schmidt and iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman, both helicopter pilots.

     

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    latitude society handoff

    For the last year or so, I've been a member of a secret society.

    I never took full advantage of my membership the way I should have. And now, I never will, because the Latitude Society officially closed its doors forever this month. 

    The Latitude Society was, when you really get down to it, a game — a game that was the main product of a startup called Nonchalance. It was Nonchalance's follow-up to The Jejune Institute, a similar kind of city-crossing, weird-adventure game that's become a part of local San Francisco legend.

    "The vision was to create an immersive narrative experience that rivaled a theme park ride in production value, but was embedded into the urban landscape of San Francisco," writes Nonchalance founder Jeff Hull in a postmortem blog post.

    But like so many startups, Nonchalance couldn't turn what was so special about it into a sustainable business. 

    A weird adventure

    I was invited to The Latitude Society by a friend and former coworker who ended up working for Nonchalance. He handed me what looked like a blank credit card in a sleeve with a weird symbol. On the back of the card was a web address and an invitation code. 

    Once I entered the code and selected a time for my "appointment," I was told to show up to an otherwise nondescript address in San Francisco's hip Mission neighborhood.

    latitude society cardI walked through the door and entered a really fantastically strange and surprising adventure that took me through a dark maze, into a unique, low-ceilinged library with a single book with blank pages — and all around the neighborhood.

    It was freaky, especially since you're unlikely to run into another human during the whole experience. I only consoled myself by remembering that if my friend had wanted to drug me and steal my organs, he already had ample opportunity.

    This was all with the point of inducting you into The Latitude Society, a secretive order dedicated to expanding human consciousness (or something), locked in conflict with the forces of darkness who are trying to prevent the Soeiety from growing.

    Membership has its perks

    Once I passed through this first, fascinating adventure, I was inducted as a full member, meaning I got access to the Society's "Nightbook," a social network/blogging platform where people could work together to decipher the group's mysteries.

    They also held regular "Praxis" and town hall events at spots around the San Francisco Bay Area, where employees of Nonchalance and active members of the community could mingle and talk about the future of the society. I never participated in any of this, but the friends I brought with me got very involved.

    latitude societyThe Society's motto was "Absolute Discretion," meaning that it was not recommended to talk about Latitude in front of a non-member. If nothing else, it was bad form to ruin a potential member's surprise.

    Everybody involved knew it was a game. But it was more fun if you took it seriously, and so many did.

    It certainly didn't hurt that Nonchalance was staffed by some amazing artists, actors, and technical wizards who made it easy to get immersed in the story.

    From a dimly lit arcade guarded by a digital ghost, to a website packed with secrets, that "theme park" production value was everywhere. Hull says it took three years to put it all together. 

    A secret society's business plan

    In case you were ever wondering what a secret society's pitch deck looks like, here's the Latitude's:

    "As whimsical and unlikely as it sounds; it was plainly presented to stakeholders as a growth oriented business model with an identifiable product and service," Hull writes.

    The Latitude Society actually had a pretty straightforward monetization strategy. 

    Once you finished that first adventure, called "Book One" of a planned ten "Books," you were informed that you could shell out approximately $30 for an invitation to bring someone else into the society. 

    I gladly did, handing out Latitude invitations as Christmas and birthday gifts. This stuff is more fun with friends, and the Latitude Society was such a cool idea that I didn't mind spending the money. And many of the people I invited ended up being way more active in the Society than I ever was, which is kind of funny.

    Eventually, the Latitude Society introduced a monthly subscription fee, promising more frequent events and first access to the next "Books" and other events. 

    What went wrong

    The problem, as identified by Hull, is that a lot of people weren't sure what to make of the society.

    "The Latitude may have served multiple purposes, but ultimately it could not be all things to all people," Hull writes. 

    Some people treated it as a game, some people as a social club and networking opportunity, and some as a religion — a Reddit thread from someone who thought they had accidentally joined a cult and wanted guidance made its way around Latitude circles as both a joke and as a threat, since it spoiled a whole bunch of the surprises. 

    den arcadia latitudeAnd so, like a lot of startups without a crystal-clear focus, Nonchalance simply ran out of money for the Latitude Society before it could finish the story it was telling. Hull pegs the costs of the Society at $3,000 a day, for a monthly burn rate that would make even Y Combinator's Sam Altman raise an eyebrow.

    Hull's post also hints at internal strife within Nonchalance, as is not uncommon at struggling companies.

    " A very ceremonious undertaking was ended very unceremoniously.  I am sorry for that," Hull writes.

    Still, plenty of members, still very much into the concept, plan on keeping it going by hosting Latitude events of their own going forward. 

    Nothing about this story is unusual for a startup, tech or otherwise, in the San Francisco Bay Area circa 2015. But it's a tremendous shame, because the Latitude society was really special.

    SEE ALSO: This Google-backed startup wants to scare you like Facebook never could

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Secrets of the American Museum of Natural History


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    Sam Altman Y Combinator

    Y Combinator has spawned some of the biggest startups in Silicon Valley, like Airbnb and Dropbox, only to push them out of the nest when they graduate the three-month accelerator.

    Y Combinator graduates get an even $120,000 investment in exchange for seven percent of equity. From there, the alumni network helps take care of their own, but there's no more financial support from the program. 

    The system has worked. The elite startup school that has funded more than 800 startups since 2005.

    But the system changed dramatically this week. 

    On Thursday, Y Combinator President Sam Altman announced that the accelerator had raised a $700 million "Continuity" venture fund to do just what its name implies. 

    Run by Twitter's former COO and YC partner Ali Rowghani, the Continuity Fund will invest only in Y Combinator alumni after they've graduated from the accelerator. 

    In other words, the startup school that used to groom and present companies to other VCs to help them grow is now going to compete with those very same VCs a few years down the road. 

    How the fund will work

    The first way the Continuity Fund will invest is by exercising Y Combinator's "pro rata rights," a venture capital term that means a fund can continue to participate in future rounds to maintain its same ownership share. The fund has promised to exercise those rights on any Y Combinator company's raise if it is below a $300 million valuation.

    Above that, the fund is reserving its rights to be more selective.

    "Its actually somewhat unusual for an investor like us to not continue to do pro rata," Altman told Business Insider. "So the founders were saying 'Can you continue to support us?' and we just didn't have the money to do it."

    Y Combinator first decided it would just do the pro rate piece, Altman said, but as it started raising money, it found many "hard tech companies"— like nuclear power or rockets — have trouble raising large rounds of capital in their later stages.

    "Somewhere between very hard and impossible actually. There just aren't that many investors who are willing to do that," Altman said. "So we're thinking to ourselves, if we're going to keep putting these companies through our program, it's important that we continue to support them and help them raise large amounts of capital later."

    At the later stage rounds, the Continuity Fund starts looking like more of a competitor in the funding landscape.

    The fund will invest in growth stage rounds — the ones typically a few years before an IPO where nontraditional investors like Goldman Sachs or T. Rowe Price participate. In a Q&A with Y Combinator, Rowghani, the fund's lead, said it will even lead rounds and join a board seat. 

    "Most VCs don't love the growth rounds. Most VCs love the A and the B rounds which we've said we're not doing," Altman said.

    Not picking favorites...at first

    Fellow venture capitalists, especially in the earlier stages, aren't really concerned about the change. One venture capitalist said it "makes sense" that the accelerator that that has built its reputation on supporting its investments in so many other ways would continue to do so in a financial way. This same investor also applauded Y Combinator for its transparency in how it will keep the field level for investors in the earlier stages to still come in and lead rounds.

    "We will still look to Y Combinator graduates as great potential investments at the early stages where we take active board roles and help the founders build their companies," Greylock partner Josh Elman told Business Insider in an e-mail. "At the later stages, it seems that growth investors will have to compete with the Continuity fund which may have inside knowledge on the companies."

    Jumping into the late-stage game will be fun to watch for many of the early stage investors who have come to know the accelerator as only the starting point of some of the highest-valued startups in tech.

    "I'm really excited to see how Sam's planning on adding value to late-stage companies," said Tim Young, a founding general partner at Eniac Ventures.

    This is a big bet on startups, and not all of Y Combinator's companies will make the later stage.

    Altman doesn't see this as picking his favorites from a batch, and will keep a careful eye to make sure there's no unintended consequences, he said.

    "There are a bunch of other firms that pick their favorite children at the end of the program, and that's just absolutely disastrous. We would never do that," Altman said.

    However, he acknowledges that startups may change their view of Y Combinator over the years. What was their launch pad and debut into the startup scene will become a cash source in the future. Altman hopes he's set it up so that companies will continue to come to Y Combinator for advice on both their highs and lows, but that may change down the road when the company looks more like a potential investor and board member.

    "Once a company is 3 or 4 years out, and raising a round at half a billion or a billion dollars, yeah at that point they're going to view us as potential investor and probably treat us differently," Altman said. "But during the program, as we designed this, we limited our own economic upside so it doesn't change for these founders."

    SEE ALSO: Flipagram, a photo-story app that raised $70 million from 2 of the best investors in Silicon Valley, has laid off 20% of its staff

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Why new companies have it way easier now than a decade ago


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    superfly office tour

    AngelList, the website where startups can meet angel investors, is also the place where tech workers can find jobs at hot startups.

    Coding school One Month has a tool called JobSignal that analyzes this job market to figure out which skills pay the best.

    Working at a startup comes with the promise of striking it rich one day from stock options. But until then, employees still need to be paid. It turns out, some of them are paid quite well.

    In September, the AngelList job market reached a new milestone: the average developer salary passed $100,000. But that doesn't hold true for other types of tech jobs, like sales, marketing, or business jobs.

    So here's a look at how much money you can make at startups as of September, based on analyzing 26,226 jobs and 6,750 skills from AngelList. The jobs are ranked from lowest to highest-paying and do not include stock options

    SEE ALSO: 30 tech skills that will get you a $110,000-plus salary

    SEE ALSO: Inside the secret world at Cisco headquarters — filled with heroes, 'mythical' nap pods, and goats

    The talent war for developers rages on. Over 1,900 job postings for developers comprised over 40% of the jobs on AngelList, although postings were down a bit from the previous month.



    Interestingly, there are more openings at startups for non-tech people (over 2,000) than developers. But they don't tend to pay as well.



    Designer jobs are also important to startups, but not as bountiful and pay is hit-or-miss for some job titles.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    IMG_2700.JPGExo is a Brooklyn-based startup that is trying to change the way we think about eating bugs. And the company is starting with cricket protein bars.

    Cofounders Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis started experimenting with cricket-based food when they were seniors at Brown University, after reading a United Nations report that said eating insects could help combat world hunger.

    That might seem like a tough sell to an American audience, but the pair raised a $1.2 million seed round in late 2014 from Collaborative Funds, Tim Ferriss (also an investor in Twitter and Uber), and others. And they are currently have the highest sales in the insect snack space — admittedly it's not that crowded. 

    The pitch is that with 65% protein content, "cricket flour"— basically ground-up crickets — is much better for the environment that other animal sources. Cows, for example, produce about 100 times the amount of greenhouse gas for the same amount of protein, according to Exo.

    But what do the bars taste like?

    That’s what we really wanted to know, so we decided to try them out ourselves. The bars are made from certified organic crickets, bred for human consumption, and there are approximately 40 crickets in each bar.

    Here’s what they were like.

    SEE ALSO: I tried the Soylent competitor that YouTube's cofounder just invested in

    We got an Exo sampler pack, which costs $13.



    It has 4 flavors of bars...



    ...Peanut Butter and Jelly, Blueberry Vanilla, Cocoa Nut, and Apple Cinnamon.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

    NOW WATCH: Cop pulls a clever move to save a man from suicide


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    unicorn horse dead

    There's a nifty new calculator that every tech startup should have, although they might not like the feedback it provides. 

    The tool can basically determine whether a startup will live or die. 

    Y Combinator founder and partner Trevor Blackwell created the so-called growth calculator and fellow cofounder Paul Graham says it provides scary, but important answers about whether a startup is on the right course or not — or as he puts it, "default dead" or "default alive."

    Will the startup run out of cash based on its revenue growth? Or will it make it to profitability? 

    "The reason I want to know first whether a startup is default alive or default dead is that the rest of the conversation depends on the answer. If the company is default alive, we can talk about ambitious new things they could do. If it's default dead, we probably need to talk about how to save it. We know the current trajectory ends badly. How can they get off that trajectory?"Graham wrote.

    The "fatal pinch"

    The calculator takes your monthly, weekly, or yearly expenses and assumes they stay constant. A startup founder can set revenue and by how much it is growing to determine how long it will take the startup to reach profitability — and how much money it will need in the interim.

    Startup calculator

    The calculator assumes expenses remain constant, although many startups grow their headcount and expenses along the way. That's why founders need to be constantly evaluating whether they are still on path to profit, or if they are by default dead and on track to being caught in what Graham describes as "the fatal pinch."

    The "fatal pinch" happens when a company is by default dead, can't raise money, and doesn't have enough time to reach the point of profitability. It can be saved by lowering expenses, which generally means firing people, or increasing revenue.

    Ring the alarm

    In the past few months, we've seen some startups implode after hiring too fast and not managing their burn rate. In August, Zirtual laid off its 400 employees in an e-mail over night. Other startups (and big companies) are also taking steps like layoffs to stay on the path to profitability. Flipagram cut 20 percent of its staff in October and Zomato laid off 300 employees. Bigger companies like Snapchat, Evernote, and Twitter all trimmed staff recently too.

    In early startups, the problem is most often that the product is only moderately appealing and not the hit that it needs to be. While some companies start hiring to "build out" their product, they're only really building up their expenses and possibly setting themselves on the trajectory to be default dead and caught in a fatal pinch.

    "Asking whether you're default alive or default dead may save you from this. Maybe the alarm bells it sets off will counteract the forces that push you to overhire,"Graham wrote.

    SEE ALSO: Warning sign: Tech companies of all sizes and ages are starting to have layoffs

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: How FanDuel, the billion-dollar New York City startup, launched the now-controversial daily fantasy sports craze


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    Shyp courier

    Imagine a mail service where you write a name on a letter, and it finds the person — wherever they are. 

    Year-old San Francisco startup Shyp is trying to do just that, making sending a package to someone as easy as typing in a username.

    "The new experience is that you're just sending to another person," said the San Francisco startup's CEO and founder Kevin Gibbon. 

    The main caveat: The recipients must sign up for a Shyp account and fill out their address before their username will be available for address-free delivery. If they're not in the system, the sender still has to manually enter the address. 

    When recipients create profiles — like if the USPS had a database of where everyone lived — they get control of where a package is being sent, rather than letting the sender dictate an address that might be wrong or out of date. (Think about all the mail that is forwarded or returned because of the wrong address.) They'll be notified that a package is heading their way, can change the address its shipping to, and track it from within the app.

    The idea is to give recipients a little bit more control over where packages are being sent. If you normally accept packages at work, but your parents ship you a set of golf clubs, you can change it to arrive at your house instead.

     

    Gibbon founded the startup in 2014 to make shipping easier than standing a post office line. Shyp's couriers pick up items, photograph them, then box them up and ship via the traditional methods, like FedEx and UPS. But eventually, Shyp wants to take complete control of the delivery process, providing the delivery person as well.

    "You can imagine a day when we rethink the delivery experience. It's super transparent, super flexible, with some preferred time windows," Gibbon said. "This is the first experience to get the receivers as users of our product."

    Shyp

     

     

    For Shyp, where packages are being sent is also a good indicator of where the company should expand to next and where it has density to deliver packages.

    Gibbons hinted of a day when Shyp only sends packages via FedEx between its warehouses, then uses a fleet of couriers on the ground to deliver the package. That's when building a username and profile becomes important because your package could be changed at the last-minute to be delivered at your work instead of your house, he said. 

    "We're kind of alluding to, in the future, we'd like to own the entire shipping experience," Gibbon said.

    SEE ALSO: This Dutch startup is designing a plan to beat Dropbox — and it's already profitable

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    NOW WATCH: Incredible time-lapse of a container ship cruising in the Baltic Sea


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    Hiroki chief executive of GoCardless

    London fintech startup GoCardless is currently in talks to raise a big round of funding, Business Insider has learned.

    GoCardless lets businesses easily process direct debit payments online. Companies can use GoCardless' technology to aggregate payments, which makes accepting direct debits much more affordable.

    Sources with knowledge of GoCardless' funding situation told Business Insider that the company is in talks with various VC funds. The amount that the company intends to raise is believed to be in the tens of millions.

    The last time GoCardless raised money was back in January 2014, when it brought in $7 million (£4.5 million) from Balderton Capital, Accel, and Passion Capital. The company declined to comment on this story.

    GoCardless also passed through Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup incubator, in 2011. Since then it has attracted over 11,000 business customers including TripAdvisor, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and Box. We reported in June that the company has now processed over £500 million worth of direct debits.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: If you think Apple is a cult, you haven't been to a Tesla event


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  • 10/22/15--09:46: Negative gross margins
  • Line of Unicorns

    There’s been a lot of talk coming out of silicon valley lately about fast growing companies with high valuations that are going to face problems in the coming year(s).

    Bill Gurley said this recently:

    “I do think you’ll see some dead unicorns this year.”

    Mike Moritz said this recently:

    “There are a considerable number of unicorns that will become extinct.”

    But how is this going to happen?

    The most likely scenario is the thing that has been driving growth (and valuations) for these companies ultimately comes home  to roost. And that is negative gross margins.

    We have seen a tremendous number of high-growth companies raising money this year with negative gross margins. Which means they sell something for less than it costs them to make it.

    It can be an “on-demand” service provider that subsidizes the cost of the workers on its platform so that the service seems like it costs less than it actually does. Why would an on-demand startup take this approach? To build demand for the service, of course. The idea is get users hooked on a home cleaning service, a ridesharing service, a food delivery service, or a gym roaming service by bringing it to market at a price point that is highly attractive and then, once the users are truly hooked, take the price up.

    It can be a service provided to startups, like the ability to ship via an API, or the ability to process payments via an API, or the ability to pay your employees or give them benefits. All of these examples have a real cost component to them. They are not pure software. And there are providers in the market who are not passing through the true cost, in effect subsidizing the cost of the service, to gain market share. This results in fast growth but negative gross margins. Again, the companies that are doing this are hoping that once they get to scale and users are “locked in,” they can raise prices.

    There are other examples out there of companies with negative gross margins, but these two categories are where we’ve seen a lot of this kind of behavior.

    The thing that is wrong with this strategy is that taking prices up, or using your volume to drive costs down, in order to get to positive gross margins is a lot harder than most people think. If there are other startups competing with you and offering a similar service, you aren’t going to be able to take prices up without losing customers to a similar competitor, unless your service truly has “lock in.” And most don’t. Using volume to drive costs down can work, but if there are similar services out there, the provider who is being asked to take a cut by you might just move their supply over to another competitor offering a higher price.

    The bottom line is the primary way this strategy works is if you obtain a monopoly position in your market and you are the only game in town for your customers and suppliers. But given the massive amount of startup capital that is out there and the endless number of entrepreneurs starting businesses similar to each other these days, I think it will be hard for most companies to achieve monopoly position (which is somewhat in conflict with what I wrote here the other day).

    Yes, there will be a few that succeed with this strategy. Getting a huge lead on your competitors, raising a ton of money to operate a scorched earth strategy and force your competitors out of the market, will work for some. But not nearly as many as the capital markets seem to think.

    And so most of the companies out there who are growing like weeds using a negative gross margin strategy are going to find that the capital markets will ultimately lose patience with this strategy and force them to get to positive gross margins, which will in turn cut into growth and what we will be left with is a ton of flatlined zero gross margin businesses carrying billion dollar plus valuations. And that is what Gurley and Moritz see when they look out into next year and the year beyond. They aren’t alone.

    SEE ALSO: Forget unicorns, it's time to start thinking about 'unicorpses'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Having blown it on Uber, investor Gary Vaynerchuk shares his lessons on how to spot the next "unicorn"


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    Clutter

    Space is at a premium, especially when it comes to city living, and startups are fighting over who gets to store your stuff.

    The premise is the same: Crowded customers can request a pick up to put their items in storage instead of renting a unit of their own. The items are photographed and put in an online catalog as they're whisked away to a storage facility.

    When a customer needs their winter clothes back, it's as easy as a few taps in an app to select it to be returned to you. 

    Where the startups differ, though, is in what they can accept.

    MakeSpace accepts items that can fit in bin that can hold hold up to 40 pounds. Any larger items, like your suitcase or golf clubs, is an additional item per month fee. It can accept furniture in two cities, but that requires an extra quote. Boxbee, a Google Ventures-backed startup, used to focus on only box-sized items. It's already pivoted in the last year to be a software company for other on-demand storage companies. 

    Clutter, an L.A.-based startup, started with the same box model, but quickly pivoted to take all sizes of objects using professionally trained movers — a decision the company made once the first customer asked if Clutter could also take her lamp, said cofounder and CMO Ari Mir.

    "Your life doesn't fit in a box. The hard thing to do is to move an eight-piece sectional couch or a marble table," Mir said. "We pride ourselves on not necessarily doing what's easiest for us, but with the goal of what's the most convenient service for the customer."

    While it's been nicknamed an 'Uber for storage' like the rest of its competitors, Mir disagrees with the term because it normally implies that any driver can join the company's workforce. While Clutter does have Uber-esque features, it requires a different level of expertise to work for the startup, which resembles more of a moving company than a pack-and-go.

    "If you see robots and autonomous vehicles being the future of Uber, I don't think you'll see robots moving an eight piece sectional couch," Mir said. "There's always going to be a subset of the labor force that is specialized and trained, and that's where our core competency is."

    The startup has raised a new $9 million Series A round from Sequoia Capital to put more money into expanding to new cities and hiring more workers to meet demand. Currently, the startup only operates in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but it has plans to expand into half a dozen more cities in 2016.

    SEE ALSO: Shyp is trying to let you send packages to people without knowing their addresses

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This Nike running installation transforms portraits into moving particles


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    nick halstead

    British entrepreneur Nick Halstead, founder and CEO of IPO candidateDataSift (which has raised $78 million in funding) has decided to step down from his position and leave the company to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions and kickstart a new business.

    Chief product officer Tim Barker will take over at the helm of the social data juggernaut.

    Halstead writes:

    "We have accomplished a lot over the past seven years since I embarked on the journey that has lead DataSift to where we are today. When I founded DataSift, based on our partnership with Twitter, the firehose was little more than a trickle. But we always had a vision to not only serve Twitter but unify, process and deliver insights from this new human-generated data at scale and in real-time. And I feel like we’re on a path to scale this idea into a world class business."

    Indeed, DataSift's focus these days seem to be on Facebook, after its relationship with Twitter became somewhat ... complicated a few months ago.

    Halstead says he's starting a new company called Cognitive Logic but stopped short of saying what it is and when he plans to launch a new product. We'll keep an eye out!

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The 2 best features coming to the new iPhone cameras


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    Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock at JobHack

    The UK government held an event on Monday where it asked civil servants and software developers to design apps and websites that can help solve the nation's youth unemployment problem.

    But many of the people who showed up for "JobHack" at London's £50 million Digital Catapult Centre didn’t really understand what they were there for or how they were meant to achieve anything in the six hours or so that they had. 

    Business Insider spoke to a number of participants at the event who were critical of the hackathon, as well as several others who weren't sure whether the government was making the most of its resources. 

    The Cabinet Office had hoped that the hackathon would result in new technologies that could help to get the 500,000 unemployed youths in the UK into work.

    KMPG management consulting manager and JobHack participant Margherita Bassanese told Business Insider half-way through the one-day hackathon that her team was unlikely to build an innovative app, or any piece of software for that matter.

    "It’s too short. My flatmate is a data scientist and she does these hackathons. They usually set a weekend challenge so you have more time," she said. "They’ve given us a lot of data that don’t actually make sense. Just to understand what 'inactive' means took us half the morning."

    On the day of the hackathon, participants were told to "hack away" at government data sets such as school performance tables, apprenticeship vacancies, educational options, and earning outcomes. They were encouraged to come up with new ways to "ensure young people can get access to the training and employment opportunities they need to succeed." 

    The majority of people at the hackathon appeared to be civil servants from various government departments, including the Cabinet Office; the Department for Education; the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills; and the Department for Work and Pensions.

    There were a few developers and designers around too, as well as employees from large corporates like KPMG.

    Several of the teams said they struggled to get to grips with the data sets and build anything of any real value. Some teams questioned why other teams were out conducting surveys on the street, wasting potentially valuable hackathon time in the process.

    JobHackBassanese's teammate Edward Munn, a desk officer at the Department for Work and Pensions, described the event as "totally government," adding that "it couldn't be more government."

    Dominic White, an MA student at the Hyper Island creative business school in Manchester, questioned whether the government would back anything he produced.

    "Everything we’re going to come up with is going to require capital investment and some money going into it and someone being responsible for it," he said.

    Aiming to solve the world's problems with a hackathon

    JobHack comes hot on the heels of Techfugees, Fishackathon and FloodHack, which, as you may be able to guess, aimed to tackle the complex issues of immigration, over-fishing and flooding. 

    Hackathons are great ideas in theory, and companies like Google and Facebook have built some notable features that have been rolled out to millions off the back of these events, including Facebook Chat (now Messenger) and an early version of the Facebook Timeline. 

    But now there are policy makers, startups and "influencers" trying to jump on the hackathon bandwagon. 

    Minister for the Cabinet Office, Matt Hancock, became the latest politician to get behind hackathons when he showed support for JobHack.

    "It's hugely exciting that the government is now embracing new ways of solving common problems," he said on the day. "There's a huge opportunity to use new technology to make sure that every young person gets the best start in life. We want to seize that opportunity to help everyone - no matter what the circumstances of their birth - achieve their full potential."JobHack

    Harry Fiarhead, policy analyst at the Taxpayers Alliance Network, questioned whether the Cabinet Office was trying to jump on the hackathon bandwagon just because it's cool. 

    "New approaches can be useful but the government should not get distracted by technology fashions," he said. "Instead, it should focus on providing taxpayers with better access to the data they pay for to allow innovation." 

    The Cabinet Office said it had not received any negative feedback over the event. It also stressed that participants were told to come up with ideas and concepts as opposed to finished solutions. 

    Techstars explains how hackathons should be done

    Tak Lo TechstarsTak Lo, director at startup accelerator Techstars, conceded: "The most successful Hackathons are ones that involve a broad community, people genuinely caring about trying new things and pushing new technologies/ideas, partners that are really open with their challenges and APIs, and mentors/judges that push teams to really push the envelope.

    "You're not going solve world peace in 24 hours, but you're going to generate ideas and some solutions. And then it's all about the follow up and how to take those ideas forward."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    stewart butterfield

    Working at startups is always a gamble.

    But if you get your foot in the door early enough at the right company, you could end up a millionaire.

    Inspired by a 2012 Quora thread, we decided to come up with our own list of companies you should join if you want to make some serious cash in four years, assuming you're able to negotiate a bunch of stock options when you join.

    We've included employee count for each company. For startups whose employee headcounts we didn't have access to from our own reporting, we consulted Pitchbook, a private equity and venture capital database that tracks information about companies. 

    The companies on this list are blowing up — some are early-stage, some are more mature, but they're all highly valued and fast-growing. You'll want to get hired before they take off further.

    SEE ALSO: SILICON ALLEY 100: Meet the most inspiring and influential people in New York tech right now

    Thumbtack

    Headquarters: San Francisco

    Investment raised to date: $273.2 million

    Employee count: 745

    Founded: 2008

    Thumbtack, one of the newest entrants to tech's still-booming "unicorn club," is a platform that matches professionals like personal trainers or electricians with potential customers.

    Earlier this year, Thumbtack raised $125 million at a $1.3 billion valuation. That's quite a spike from the company's $750 million valuation last year. Thumbtack handles job listings and marketing for people providing local services, and collects interested customers.



    Lyft

    Headquarters: San Francisco

    Investment raised to date: $1.01 billion

    Employee count: 2,169

    Founded: 2012

    Though it's often compared as a smaller rival to Uber, Lyft is a huge entity in the on-demand ride-hailing market. With a $2 billion valuation, Lyft operates in about 65 US cities, and recently announced a huge partnership with Didi Kuaidi, the highly valued Uber rival, to expand its footprint overseas.

    Lyft's investors include Rakuten, Alibaba, and even Carl Icahn. This year alone, Lyft raised two major rounds of funding— $530 million in March and another $150 million from Carl Icahn in May — rebranded with a more sophisticated look, and announced huge growth for the company.



    Zenefits

    Headquarters: San Francisco

    Investment raised to date: $583.6 million

    Employee count: 1,445

    Founded: 2013

    Zenefits, a startup aimed at making administrative tasks such as payroll and benefits easier, is shaping up to be one of the fastest-growing cloud companies ever, in terms of both revenue of number of users.

    In May, Zenefits raised $500 million in Series C funding, bringing the company’s valuation up to $4.5 billion.  Only two years old, Zenefits employs 1,000 people and has 10,000 customers.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Washio review

    In San Francisco, my apartment is full of "charm"— a word that loosely translates into great crown molding, but no modern appliances like a washer or dryer. Not even in the building. 

    Normally, I just carry my dirty clothes to the nearby laundromat and sit with it for two hours to make sure it doesn't get stolen. It's not fun, but it's my only option. 

    With my laundromat closed for renovations, I decided to send my clothes off to Washio and Rinse, two competing laundry startups that promised to deliver my clothes back washed and folded.

     

    Here's how that went...

    SEE ALSO: This Dutch startup is designing a plan to beat Dropbox — and it's already profitable

    My boyfriend and I hadn't done laundry in awhile, and the laundromat being closed didn't help. We pull together our dirty clothes on a Saturday afternoon (the typical laundry day for us), but soon realize we're out of luck when it comes to on-demand laundry.



    When I sign up for Rinse, I'm not given the option for a Saturday pick-up. The earliest it can do is on Sunday, and its pick-up window is from 8 to 10 p.m. By picking up on a Sunday night, my clothes won't come back to me until Wednesday. Three days feels like a long time when my laundry is normally done in a few hours and because I have to wait an extra day before I can send them off. Rinse does let me choose between scented or hypo-allergenic detergent, whether they should use fabric softener, and how much starch they should use for laundered and pressed items.



    Washio is a little bit more flexible both with pick-up times and preferences. They have time slots available all day Sunday, and it also promises to turn my clothes around a day earlier than Rinse. Each of the time windows is an assigned 30 minutes. I also get the same assortment of detergent options.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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  • 10/23/15--12:28: This is the top
  • On Thursday, we caught wind of a picture of a day-trading Uber driver, and now... 

     Even Uber drivers are asking venture capitalists for money to fund their startups, it seems. 

    SEE ALSO: This reaction to a venture capitalist's rejection proves that some startups have lost their minds

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    According to the latest valuation by the Wall Street Journal, Uber’s worth has now risen to $51 billion, securing its spot as the most valuable start-up in the world. Xiaomi follows in a close second with $46 billion, and Airbnb with $25 billion.

    Below you’ll find a chart of the 10 most valuable start-ups in the world.

    startup graph

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    Hiroki chief executive of GoCardless

    London fintech startup GoCardless is currently in talks to raise a big round of funding, Business Insider has learned.

    GoCardless lets businesses easily process direct debit payments online. Companies can use GoCardless' technology to aggregate payments, which makes accepting direct debits much more affordable.

    Sources with knowledge of GoCardless' funding situation told Business Insider that the company is in talks with various VC funds. The amount that the company intends to raise is believed to be in the tens of millions.

    The last time GoCardless raised money was back in January 2014, when it brought in $7 million (£4.5 million) from Balderton Capital, Accel, and Passion Capital. The company declined to comment on this story.

    GoCardless also passed through Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup incubator, in 2011. Since then it has attracted over 11,000 business customers including TripAdvisor, The Guardian, The Financial Times, and Box. We reported in June that the company has now processed over £500 million worth of direct debits.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    EverythingMe employee Roi Carthy with a Webby Award

    Surprising news out of the Startup Nation this morning: Everything.me, a promising Israeli startup, has abruptly shut down (sources: Geektime and The Marker, in Hebrew).

    Everything.me built a nifty launcher for Android devices that adds contextual capabilities to smartphones, and raised more than $35 million in financing from high-profile investors, including Telefónica, Mozilla, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), Horizons Ventures and SingTel Innov8.

    The founders of the company have confirmed the shutdown, stating that Everything.me was popular – 15 million app installs and counting – but that the team was unable to find a suitable business model.

    According to the aforementioned reports, Everything.me still has investor money in the bank but has decided to call it quits because of the above. The startup has let all of its 36 employees go.

    Everything.me was founded in 2010 – it remains to be seen whether another company will swoop in to acquire its assets, given that there’s still cash in its coffers, but for now it seems like this is the end of the line for the startup.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Gigi Levy

    Gigi Levy is an Israeli technology investor who has backed companies such as Playtika, Space Ape Games, and SimilarWeb.

    In a new interview with TechCrunch, Levy explained what he looks for in investments, and also talked about a slogan he learned during his time in the Israeli air force that could be useful for startups.

    "At the flight school in the Israeli Air Force," he said. "There is a sign on the wall saying: 'If you give us a very tough mission we will do it immediately. An impossible one may take us a bit longer.' This attitude is also the attitude of Israeli hi-tech."

    It looks like that slogan may have worked too, as Levy went on to talk about the many former pilots who have founded Israeli tech startups. "There are many pilot-entrepreneurs including Medinol's Kobi Richter, Saifun's Boaz Eitan and many others in recent years including some in my portfolio."

    Levy isn't only focused on investing in Israeli startups, though. He has also invested in companies in the UK, such as Space Ape Games, the company behind social games such as "Samurai Siege" and "Rival Kingdoms."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Thread CEO Kieran O'Neill

    I hate clothes shopping.

    Walking around shops, trying on clothes, glancing at price tags  — I don't enjoy any of that. The closest I have come to enjoying a shopping experience happened after I downed a few champagne cocktails beforehand. 

    But I've found a better solution that doesn't require alcohol. It's called Thread, a London startup that gives men an online stylist for free.

    Thread is not a monthly subscription service. Instead, it allows users to buy clothes from different retailers through the Thread site and then takes a cut of the profits. 

    Scroll down to see what happened when I decided to give it a go.

    I made an account on Thread and was given a stylist named Sophie to help me out. She's an actual person who works for Thread and gives suggestions over the site. The company has eight full-time stylists.



    There's a section on the site filled with outfit ideas. Select the ones you like and your stylist will be able to understand what you wear.



    I told my stylist how much I normally spend on clothes. That meant she was able to send me suggestions that I could afford.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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