Tech dreams live or die on startup battlefields

Tech startups vie for investors, fans and media attention at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. (AFP)
Updated 21 September 2017
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Tech dreams live or die on startup battlefields

SAN FRANCISCO: Fearing failure but driven by a chance at Silicon Valley stardom, young entrepreneurs pitch their dreams in mere minutes at startup competitions like TechCrunch Disrupt that ended here Wednesday.
Brian Chae came from Seoul to try his luck at the annual startup scrum, which lets competitors fight for their futures on-stage before venture capitalist judges in a “Startup Battlefield.”
The audience is rife with entrepreneurs, journalists and investors. Countless more people watch the stage action streamed online.
Nearby in a cavernous warehouse on a pier on the San Francisco Bay, founders of fledgling companies vie for attention at tables packed side-by-side in areas with names such as “Startup Alley.”
Chae, like other competitors, has six minutes to convince judges that his technology is revolutionary — and can make money.
His startup, Looxid Labs, has developed software that can figure out a person’s emotions from eye movements and brain waves.
Put to work in mixed-reality headgear, the technology could give real estate agents or hotel operators insight into how settings make people feel, Chae contends.
Precious moments are spent demonstrating the invention, then judges get their turn to pelt him with questions.
They want to know how much he plans to charge for headgear, and what his business model is.
Since the infamous Dot Com Bubble in the late 1990s, investors have been keen to make sure technology ideas are coupled with feasible plans for profit.
Chae told AFP that he had practiced his tight pitch “at least a hundred times. But the atmosphere on the stage itself was enough to be overwhelmed.”
About 20 startups vied in the TechCrunch Disrupt battle of the startups, a highlight of the three-day event.
The prize was $50,000 and a spotlight that could mean publicity and investor cash.
Young startups often finance themselves or turn to friends or family for funding, but even great ideas need bigger capital infusions on the quest to “scale” up ranks of users.
The ritual of quickly courting potential backers is often a kind of speed-dating exercise referred to as the “elevator pitch.”
The idea is to pack an idea powerfully into the amount of time an entrepreneur might have if they were in an elevator with a venture capitalist.
“There’s a reason why they call it an elevator speech,” said Brian Broome, head of the economic council in the Sacramento region, where the California state capitol is located.
“I should be able to present the case for my company in less than two minutes.”
The council works with startups on effective pitches.
According to TechCrunch, 648 companies have competed in the annual startup battle during the past decade, and collectively raised nearly $7 billion.
Since winning at Disrupt five years ago, cloud data storage startup DropBox has grown to 500 million users and nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.
“(Battlefield) is really a big deal for us,” said Claire Tomkins, co-founder of Future Family, a startup devoted to an affordable approach to helping infertile couples have children.
“I was very nervous before going on stage,” said Pi co-founder John MacDonald, whose startup touted the world’s first wireless, contactless charger for smartphones or other mobile gadgets.
Late Wednesday, TechCrunch proclaimed Pi winner of the Battlefield competition this year.
“It really helps with funding,” MacDonald said.
“We’ll use the event as momentum.”
Pi is based in the Silicon Valley. The co-founders told AFP that they had already raised $3.5 million in a seed funding round led by SoftTech VC managing partner Jean-Francois Clavier.
MacDonald promised that Pi devices would begin shipping next year and be priced “well below $200.”
But, of the thousands of startups vying for glory, few keep their dreams going for more than a few years, or perhaps even months.
“It’s an all-or-nothing environment,” Rik Reppe of PwC told AFP.
“You need to love play and discovery like a child” but also have “a grown up persistence and courage,” he added.


Instagram unveils new video service in challenge to YouTube

Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram said he hopes IGTV will emerge as a hub of creativity for relative unknowns. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Instagram unveils new video service in challenge to YouTube

  • Video will be available through Instagram or a new app called IGTV
  • Before, Facebook and Instagram have copied Snapchat — another magnet for teens and young adults

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook’s Instagram service is loosening its restraints on video in an attempt to lure younger viewers away from YouTube when they’re looking for something to watch on their smartphones.
The expansion announced Wednesday, dubbed IGTV, will increase Instagram’s video time limit from one minute to 10 minutes for most users. Accounts with large audiences will be able to go as long as an hour.
Video will be available through Instagram or a new app called IGTV. The video will eventually give Facebook more opportunities to sell advertising.
It’s the latest instance in which Instagram has ripped a page from a rival’s playbook in an effort to preserve its status as a cool place for young people to share and view content. In this case, Instagram is mimicking Google’s YouTube. Before, Facebook and Instagram have copied Snapchat — another magnet for teens and young adults.
Instagram, now nearly 8 years old, is moving further from its roots as a photo-sharing service as it dives headlong into longer-form video.
The initiative comes as parent company Facebook struggles to attract teens, while also dealing with a scandal that exposed its leaky controls for protecting users’ personal information.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told The Associated Press that he hopes IGTV will emerge as a hub of creativity for relative unknowns who turn into Internet sensations with fervent followings among teens and young adults.
That is what’s already happening on YouTube, which has become the world’s most popular video outlet since Google bought it for $1.76 billion nearly 12 years ago. YouTube now boasts 1.8 billion users.
Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion six years ago, now has 1 billion users, up from 800 million nine months ago.
More importantly, 72 percent of US kids ranging from 13 to 17 years old use Instagram, second to YouTube at 85 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 51 percent of people in that group now use Facebook, down from 71 percent from a similar Pew survey in 2014-15.
That trend appears to be one of the reasons that Facebook is “hedging its bets” by opening Instagram to the longer-form videos typically found on YouTube, said analyst Paul Verna of the research firm eMarketer.
Besides giving Instagram another potential drawing card, longer clips are more conducive for video ads lasting from 30 seconds to one minute. Instagram doesn’t currently allow video ads, but Systrom said it eventually will. When the ads come, Instagram intends to share revenue with the videos’ creators — just as YouTube already does.
“We want to make sure they make a living because that is the only way it works in the long run,” Systrom said.
The ads also will help Facebook sustain its revenue growth. Total spending on online video ads in the US is expected to rise from nearly $18 billion this year to $27 billion in 2021, according to eMarketer.
Lele Pons, a YouTube sensation who also has amassed 25 million followers on Instagram, plans to launch a new cooking show on IGTV in hopes of increasing her audience and eventually generating more revenue. “It’s like Coca-Cola and Pepsi,” she said. “You will never know what you like better unless you try both.”
IGTV’s programming format will consist exclusively of vertical video designed to fill the entire screen of smartphones — the devices that are emerging as the main way younger people watch video. By contrast, most YouTube videos fill only a portion of the screen unless the phone is tilted horizontally.
Snapchat began featuring vertical video before Instagram, another example of its penchant for copying rivals.
But Systrom sees it differently. “This is acknowledging vertical video is the future and we want the future to come more quickly, so we built IGTV.”