Category: TC


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A new Kickstarter project wants to let a little light shine in on your mobile photos – much more than the built-in flash on devices like the iPhone 5 can provide alone. The iblazr is an external flash that uses four high-output CREE LED lights to provide a whole lot of illumination via a small piece of hardware that plugs into your gadget’s headphone jack, easily outgunning the iPhone’s flash, and giving the flash-less iPad something to shine on photographic subjects.

The iblazr is entirely synchronized with your device’s camera shutter, too, thanks to a proprietary free app for iOS and Android. It has a number of different features, including photo and video modes, a constant light mode, changeable brightness, and a built-in, USB rechargeable battery that lasts up to 1,000 flashes. The iblazr recharges via a flexible USB cable, and it even works without a smartphone or connected device at all, providing you a tiny pocket flashlight as well.

If you’re serious about your Instagrams, or about not carrying a dedicated camera around and still getting good shots, the iblazr looks to be a smart option, as it offers less chance to result in red-eye than the built-in flash, more than doubles the brightness possible and can even act as a fill flash for daylight outdoor shots to prevent exposure from becoming unbalanced between light and dark background and foreground.

The iblazr includes its own free app, but its creators also made it open source, and are offering SDK access before its general release to backers. Already a number of apps are signed up on both Android and iOS to take advantage of the accessory, so it’s possible your favourite mobile photography app will be able to take advantage, too.

iblazr is the product of a team based in Kiev, Ukraine, which includes a number of designers and engineers who have worked on hardware and software projects related to camera and photography gear before. Two of the team members were the first to solve flash synchronization issues with external devices on the iPhone, making the iblazr’s tricks possible.

The startup is looking for $58,000 in funding, and has raised nearly half so far. $39 is the price of admission for a pre-order pledge, which gets you one white or black iblazr with charger, with an expected ship date of December, 2013.

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The U.S. healthcare system is sick, but increasingly early stage investors are spending money on new technology companies they believe can help provide a cure.

Earlier this week, Greylock Partners, one of the investors behind Facebook and LinkedIn, and the Russian billionaire technology investor Yuri Milner put together a $1.2 million round alongside a group of co-investors to back First Opinion – a consumer facing service selling a way to text message doctors anytime of day or night.

Greylock and Milner join a growing roster of technology investors focused on healthcare in recent years. The number of companies raising money from investors for the first or second time has skyrocketed since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, according to data from CrunchBase.

In 2010, the year in which President Obama signed the ACA into law, there were only 17 seed- and Series A-stage healthcare-focused software and application development companies which had raised money from investors. By the end of last year, that number jumped to 89 companies tackling problems specifically related to the healthcare industry, according to CrunchBase metrics.

Across all categories, investors spent over $1.9 billion in 195 deals with commitments over $2 million, according to a report from early stage investment firm Rock Health. Funding was up 39% from 2012 and 119% from 2011, the Rock Health report said.

And there’s plenty of room for the market to grow, according to Google Ventures’ general partner Dr. Krishna Yeshwant. “We’re still at the very beginning of what this is going to look like,” said Dr. Yeshwant.

Google Ventures is addressing the nation’s healthcare dilemma with investments in companies like the physicians’ office and network One Medical Group, which raised a later stage $30 million last March. At the opposite end of the spectrum in December 2013 Google invested in the $3 million seed financing of Doctor on Demand, which sells a service enabling users to video chat with doctors.

Unsurprisingly, the explosion in healthcare investments tracks directly back to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, investors said. “The incentives brought forward by the ACA shift what makes sense,” in healthcare, Dr. Yeshwant said.

“At the highest level there’s now a forcing function to take advantage of the efficiency technology provides,” said Bill Ericson, a general partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures, who led the firm’s investment in HealthTap, a service for consumers to message doctors with healthcare questions.

Overwhelmingly, Silicon Valley is leading the charge in these innovations, according to CrunchBase.

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This flood of capital has pushed some investors like Founders Fund to re-think their strategy, and de-emphasize healthcare software in search of other, larger opportunities.

“”The reason we have somewhat shifted focus away from healthcare IT is because there is so much investment going into that space. So we think the problems there are being sufficiently addressed by the full market.” said Brian Singerman, a partner at Founders Fund.

The firm’s most recent investment was in Oscar, a new, New York-based insurance company. Yes… an insurance company.

“In healthcare there is a tech stack around genomics, digitization, biometrics, analytics, and actual cures; one of the things that ties that all together is insurance,” said Singerman.

“Launching a new insurance company is not something that happens very often. While you could launch a new insurance company without the Affordable Care Act, the catalyst it gives you by being on the same page as the big incumbents is unprecedented.”At Google Ventures, Dr. Yeshwant thinks there will be more opportunities for tech-enabled companies like Oscar and One Medical to compete in these broad industrial categories rather than offering point solutions. “Instead of being a piece of the system, it’s being the entire entity,” he said.”The thing to keep in mind… with the healthcare industry is that it is far bigger than tech. As an entity it is where we’re spending 17% to 18% of GDP, so any one segment is tens of billions of dollars,” Dr. Yeshwant said. “Increasingly you’re seeing IT investors who have a fine sense of disruptive opportunities enter the market.”Photo via Flickr user BrickDisplayCase

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The time has come. TechCrunch is coming to San Diego for a night of pitches, drinks and general tomfoolery. And we’re looking for the area’s best undiscovered startups to pitch their revolutionary ideas on our stage. Apply within.

On August 22, TechCrunch is taking over Block 16. Josh Constine, Jordan Crook, Greg Kumparak, and myself are stoked to see San Diego’s best up and coming startups. We’re only in town for a few days, so we’re looking to make this night huge.

General admission tickets are $5 and including drinks. 21 and over only, please.

But this is more than just a meet and drink affair. This is a pitch-off. And as the attendees of our Austin and Seattle’s pitch-offs will likely attest, this is an event you’re not going to want to miss.

We’re looking for the area’s best and brightest young startups to pitch their company or idea to a few TechCrunch editors and local VCs. It’s free to register, and the 30 companies selected will get free admission to the event, as well as some one-on-one time with TC editors earlier in the day.

Best yet, the winners of the pitch-off get a Disrupt SF Startup Alley package that puts them in front of the masses of Silicon Valley’s elite. The runners-up get two tickets to Disrupt SF.

Apply here or in the form below. We’re reviewing applications on a rolling basis so it’s best to apply early. Registration closes on August 16.

San Diego is our latest stop in TechCrunch’s nationwide Meetup + Pitch-Off tour. We were just in Seattle last week and found a bevy of amazing startups nestled in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. In May, we visited Austin, Texas, and before that, we held the first Pitch-Off of 2013 in front of 1,200 people in New York. We’ll be visiting Boston in November.

Our sponsors help make events happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact our sponsorship team at sponsors@techcrunch.com.

Dick_Costolo

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wears many hats. Not only is he helping lead Twitter into its possible future as a public company, Costolo is a master at improv from his days as a professional comedian, and is a serial entrepreneurs who has sold companies to Google (Feedburner) and others. Which is why we are thrilled to announce that Costolo will join us for a discussion at Disrupt SF.

As Twitter heads down a path towards an eventual IPO, Costolo has been steering the company towards profitability via new ad products, with Twitter potentially hitting $1 billion in ad revenue in the coming year. Beyond supercharging the financials, Costolo has a unique approach to managing his fleet of over one thousand employees, and creating a distinct culture at a company that has been growing by leaps and bounds.

We’re excited to have Costolo take the stage along with other notable CEOs like Marc Benioff, Marissa Mayer, and Jeff Weiner. Much has changed for both Costolo and Twitter since hespoke at TC50 in 2009.

Disrupt SF takes over The San Francisco Design Concourse from September 7 to 11. Tickets are currently on sale here. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, opportunities can be found here.


Dick Costolo
Twitter, CEO

Since October 2010, Dick has been the Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, where he is responsible for the growth and management of the overall business. Previously, as Twitter’s Chief Operating Officer, he oversaw monetization and day to day operations.

Before joining Twitter, Dick was co-founder and CEO of FeedBurner, a digital content syndication platform that was acquired by Google in 2007. While at Google, Dick was Group Product Manager on the Ads team responsible for social media ads.

Previously, Dick lived and worked in Chicago, where he founded and ran two digital media companies: SpyOnIt, a web page monitoring service, and Burning Door Networked Media, a web design and development consulting company. Dick was also an improv performer with the acclaimed Annoyance Theater.

He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Computer Science. He is @dickc on Twitter.

[image Scott Beale / Laughing Squid]

DisruptEurope

TechCrunch Disrupt Europe will be TechCrunch’s major international conference this October. Featuring global startups, influential speakers, VIP guests and breaking news, you will not want to miss out. But, if you are a new startup that wants to launch in front of TechCrunch’s writers on the Battlefield stage: We want to make sure you have filled out your Startup Battlefield application. Do it now. The deadline is approaching July 31, and the clock is ticking.

In addition to onstage panel sessions and fireside chats, Disrupt will feature Startup Battlefield and Startup Alley to the Arena Berlin venue.

Startup Battlefield competitors pitch their companies live and onstage to innovators, investors and influencers in the tech community. TechCrunch identifies emerging companies to demo and compete for a prize of 40,000 ($50,000) and the coveted Disrupt Cup, won previously by Mint.com, Yammer, Fitbit, and Dropbox. Companies can apply to enter Startup Battlefield now, and the deadline has been extended to July 31.

The Startup Battlefield will select 30 brand new startups to launch on stage in front of a panel of top VCs and other founders, coverage on TechCrunch and the winner gets the 40,000 prize. We review applications on a rolling basis, so it’s to your advantage to submit as soon as you can.

Due to strong demand, it’s unlikely that we will review applications more than once, so please don’t submit a draft application before you are ready.

All submissions are confidential unless otherwise permitted by applicants on the application form. PowerPoint slides and video demos are optional but highly encouraged. We reserve the right not to review applications without video demos based on application volume.

Startup Alley offers another way for early-stage companies to gain exposure with a setup that encourages both exhibiting and networking, and provides high visibility. Roughly 100 startups comprise Startup Alley with around 50 new companies demoing on Monday and 50 demoing on Tuesday. Startup Alley companies will have the opportunity to sign up for one on one conversations with the editorial staff of TechCrunch, also known as Office Hours.

Additional speakers and agenda details will be announced between now and the show – find all the latest information on the Disrupt Europe website.

Extra Early Bird tickets are available for a limited time. Click here to purchase before they sell out.

Our sponsors help make Disrupt happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact our sponsorship team here sponsors @ techcrunch.com

Media inquiries by can be directed to John Nolan on john.nolan @ teamaol.com

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AngelList is testing out a new service that lets angel investors syndicate deals with each other, a feature that could allow startups to raise venture-sized rounds of money with relative ease. Called Syndicates, the private-beta product lets any accredited investor on the AngelList fundraising platform essentially create, lead and collect carry for a fund of angel money for a specific startup.

The carry part could help motivate an angel who truly believes in the startup to put in the hard work of helping it raise all the money it thinks it needs. In a world where more startups than ever are trying to raise money, and more investors are competing to find the best ones, this model may quickly become popular.

Here’s a bit more about how it works, as gleaned from the newly-public FAQ from AngelList, the resulting conversation around the news on Twitter, and a conversation with AngelList cofounder Naval Ravikant. The news, we’ll note, was broken by anonymous startup personality Startup L. Jackson… who presumably has investor-level access to AngelList, whoever he or she is.

VCs and their limited partners (the entities who put money into VC funds) already use carry to align their interests. In addition to the VC partners collecting a set management fee for each fund, the carry provides them with a percentage of the profit for the fund.

In the AngelList implementation of the concept, the lead angel picks the percentage carry that they’ll get from a positive return in the company if it has a liquidity event. They can set this to zero, which would make the most sense if they’re relatively unknown and most concerned with building a reputation. Or they can set any amount above that – 40% could make sense, for example, if you’re a top angel and looking to monetize your reputation and deal flow.

The FAQ provides the following example of how a lead angel would use Syndicates:

Sara decides to invest in a startup and asks for a $250k allocation in the company. She personally takes $50K of the allocation and decides to syndicate the rest. She shares the deal with investors and specifies that she is charging a 20% carry on the remaining $200k of her allocation. Sara’s capital and her co-investor’s capital is pooled into a $250K fund which invests in the startup.

Sara’s co-investors pay carry for her access, governance and value-add. She sourced the deal and used her judgment to select the investment. She manages the fund and provides oversight for her co-investors’ capital. And she provides ongoing value-add to the startup.

AngelList takes 5% regardless, which makes Syndicates a potentially big revenue stream for the funding platform. It also sets each Syndicate up as an LLC specifically for the startup in question, with the lead angel signing off as an investment advisor. This legally obligates the angel to disclose any conflicts, such as other strategic or financial relationships with the startup.

As part of the service, AngelList also requires the lead to put up at least 10% of their own money into this vehicle, in contrast with the much lower percentages that LPs typically require of VC funds. In my discussion with Ravikant, he adds a few other points on how he sees Syndicates working.

“The backers are likely to be LPs, family offices [of the very wealthy], passive angels, and angels out of market who can’t get into a deal or don’t want to spend the time,” he explains. Meanwhile, the lead angel is expected to take this more seriously than some angels might be used to, in that they are expected to “provide access, oversight, and help the company.”

At the same time, he disputes the notion that Syndicates is competing against VCs here – an assumption one might make given that Syndicates could help a company raise a lot of money quickly. “This isn’t about ‘without VCs’ – in our test, anyone investing less than $100K per deal goes via Syndicates. Over that and you get a direct intro. If you’re putting in serious money, the company wants to meet you. The two will coexist.”

“In fact,” he adds, “some well known VCs have already approached us about syndicating deals – they wouldn’t take a carry, but would get advisory shares for being on the board and / or get to control syndicate allocations and voting. We are also talking to seed funds who want extra leverage.”

A less obvious benefit of the setup is that angels now have a new way to take advantage of pro rata terms. Typical deal terms already allow investors to continue putting money into a company in order to maintain their existing percentage, even as the company raises new funding at higher valuations. But, many angels do not want to raise or borrow the money to do this, so they forego the option. With Syndicates, the investor can fundraise to buy stock made available via pro rata terms, and collect carry on any resulting profit.

What about the murky world of finance law? Where does the Securities and Exchange Commission stand on this new method of raising money? AngelList has obtained a no-action letter from the federal agency, which means that it can launch the service without fear of its legal reprisal. You can view the PDF here.

But wait, how new is this concept? Finance writer Dan Primack notes that “fundless sponsors” already exist, and indeed they’ve become an increasingly common method for private equity investors to pool money in recent years.

There are very few instances of a carry-based LLC being used for angel investment, though. FundersClub, a relatively new investment-vehicle startup focused on raising funds around startups and startup categories, has also been pursuing it. Sequoia’s long-running “Scout” program is another, albeit at an intentionally smaller scale. To Ravikant, “[t]his is closer to Sequoia scouts than anything else. It allows anyone to be a scout, not just Sequoia’s CEOs, and anyone to be a backer, not just Sequoia. And it’s all carry-based (no fees).”

He adds that this is just a test for the next couple months. It may not work, or the implementation may change.

But any startup that needs funding and has an angel lined up is going to be looking at Syndicates hard as a new option. And the early-stage investment community is already busy trying to figure out the threats and opportunities.

Finally, the SEC, Congress and other government entities are currently changing the rules for private fundraising, which could make Syndicates explode in popularity. Private companies could soon be able to publicly advertise that they’re looking for money, which might help them benefit from the Syndicates concept immediately. And if non-accredited investors are allowed in, lots more money could start to flow through, too (and Startup L. Jackson will have a tougher time beating the tech press on AngelList scoops).

[Disclosure: AngelList has a partnership with our CrunchBase startup database product, a non-exclusive deal that is unrelated to this news as far as I know. I also have no financial relationship with AngelList, except through my nearly worthless employee stock option plan with Aol, the owner of TechCrunch and CrunchBase.]

Review: Google Chromecast

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

-Sir Arthur C. Clarke

It’s probably the most overused quote in tech writing… which sucks, because I’d really like to use it to describe how I feel about the Chromecast.

The Chromecast is deceptively simple: you plug it into your TV, then stream video and music to it from apps running on your iPhone, Android device, or laptop. The Chromecast itself has no remote; whatever device you’re streaming from is the remote. The Chromecast has next to no user interface of its own, either; it’s got a single screen that shows the time and whether or not it’s connected to your WiFi that appears when nothing is being streamed, but again, the device you’re streaming from largely acts as the interface. The Chromecast is a wireless portal to your TV, and doesn’t try to be anything more.

A Box Full Of Surprises

I’ve been thinking about it all night, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised by a device as I am by the Chromecast.

The price? Surprise! It’s $35. Are you kidding me? According to Google, they’re not selling them at a loss. Even after accounting for the Wi-Fi chip, the CPU, 2GB of flash memory, the RAM, licensing the right to use HDMI, assembly, packaging, and shipping them to the states, they’re somehow making money selling these things for thirty five dollars. Sure, their profit margin is probably like, four cents – but that they’re not selling these at a loss at that price point is kind of absurd.

The setup? Surprise! It’s ridiculously easy. Plug it into HDMI, give it some juice (through USB, which most new TVs have, or a standard wallwart), then run the Chromecast app on a laptop to tell it what Wi-Fi network to connect to. Done.

App compatibility? Surprise! It’s already there on day one in some of the most notable online video apps, including Netflix and YouTube. I didn’t even have to update the apps – I just launched ‘em on my phone and the Chromecast button was sitting there waiting for me. They’ve even already built an extension for Chrome that drastically expands the functionality of the device (though, in its beta state, it’s a bit buggy – more on that later).

Hell, even the very announcement of the Chromecast was a bit of a surprise. Google somehow managed to keep the Chromecast a secret until right before its intended debut, even with a bunch of outside parties involved. Netflix, Pandora, teams from all over Google, everyone involved in the manufacturing process – all of them were in the loop, yet nothing leaked until someone accidentally published a support page a few hours too early.

Now, none of that is to suggest that the Chromecast is perfect. It’s not! Not yet, at least. But its biggest issues are quite fixable, assuming that Google doesn’t look at the “overwhelming” sales of the Chromecast and say ‘Oh, well, screw this thing.’ And for just $35, the few blemishes it has are pretty easy to overlook.

Taking The Bad With The Good:

Video streaming quality is quite good (on par with what I get on my Xbox 360 or my Apple TV, at least) particularly when pulling from an app or website that’s been tailored for compatibility – so Netflix, Youtube, or Google Play, at the moment.

If you’re using the Chromecast extension for Chrome on your laptop to project an otherwise incompatible video site (like Hulu or HBOGO), however, video quality can dump quite a bit depending on your setup. It’s using your laptop as a middle man to encode the video signal and broadcast it to the Chromecast, whereas the aforementioned compatible sites just send video straight to the dongle, mostly removing your laptop from the mix. When casting video tabs on a 2012 MacBook Air running on an 802.11n network, the framerate was noticeably lower and there were occasional audio syncing issues.

While we’re on the topic, the Chrome extension packs a bit of an easter egg: the ability to stream local videos from your laptop to the Chromecast. Just drag a video into Chrome, and it’ll start playing in a new tab. Use the Chrome extension to cast that tab, and ta da! You’re streaming your (totally legitimate, not-at-all-pirated-am-i-right) videos without bringing any other software into the mix. I tried it with a bunch of video formats (mostly AVIs and MKVs. MOVs kinda-sorta work, though most won’t push audio from the laptop to the TV for some reason), and they all seemed to work quite well, albeit with the lowered framerate I mentioned earlier.

Even within the apps that have already been tweaked for Chromecast compatibility, there are some day one bugs. Sometimes videos don’t play the first time you ask them to, instead dropping you into a never-ending loading screen. Other times, the video’s audio will start playing on top of a black screen. These bugs aren’t painfully common, but they’re not rare, either.

Fortunately, it’s mostly all good – and it can only get better

Even with a bug or two rearing its head, the Chromecast is easily worth its $35 price tag.

Remember, this thing just launched, and it came mostly out of nowhere. Those bugs? They’ll get patched away. The sometimes-iffy framerate on projected tabs? It’ll almost certainly get better, as the Chromecast extension comes out of beta.

Pitted against the AppleTV – or, in a fairer comparison, against the AppleTV’s built-in AirPlay streaming feature – the Chromecast’s biggest strength is in its cross-platform compatibility. Whereas AirPlay is limited to iOS devices and Macs (with limited support for Windows through iTunes), Chromecast will play friendly with any iOS, Android, Mac, or Windows app that integrates Googles Cast SDK. Having just launched, the Cast protocol obviously isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as AirPlay, either in terms of Apps that support it or in terms of other devices (like wireless speakers) that utilize it – but assuming that developers embrace the format (and really, they should), both of those things could quickly change. If developers support the protocol, Google could quite feasibly open it up to third parties to be integrated directly into TVs, speakers, and other types of gadgets. If that happens, AirPlay could be in trouble.

On the topic of its cross-platform compatibility: the experience on Android is a slightly better than it is on iOS, as Google has considerably more freedom on the platform; for example, apps that use Chromecast can take priority over the lockscreen, allowing the user to play/pause/skip a video without having to fully unlock their Android device. That’s just icing on the cake, though; for the most part, all of the primary features work just as well on iOS as they do on Android.

Conclusion

It’s one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever made: If the Chromecast sounds like something you’d want, buy it. It’s easily worth $35 as it stands, and it’s bound to only get better as time goes on, the bugs get ironed out, and more apps come to support it.

[Disclosure: Google loaned me this Chomecast for me to tinker with, but it goes back as soon as my review is done. With that said, I liked it enough that I've already ordered one of my own.]

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