60+ Investors Band Together To Form BitAngels, The First Multi-City Angel Network & Incubator For Bitcoin Startups

Nobody’s quite sure when (and if) Bitcoin will go mainstream, but plenty of investors and entrepreneurs have begun to place their bets. The snowball is off and rolling.
If this post doesn’t make it clear why venture capitalists are loving this emerging market, just in the last two months, we’ve learned that Winklevosses love Bitcoin, Liberty City Ventures launched its own “Digital Currency Fund,” San Mateo-based accelerator Boost.vc is dedicating half of its next batch to Bitcoin startups, Chris Dixon is in and Fred Wilson finally made his first investment.
Today, we can check another growth milestone off the list. Entrepreneurs eyeing the Bitcoin market will be pleased to learn that BitAngels is launching (what it believes to be) the first multi-city angel network and incubator created to invest exclusively in cryptocurrency startups. Fittingly, in the spirit of Bitcoin, it’s a distributed network of angels and entrepreneurs and one that was hacked together in a few days after the Bitcoin 2013 Conference.
Yes, Bitcoin has its own conference now. Better fund a mining buddy, pronto.
Led by Engine.co founder David A. Johnston, SocialRadius and Marketwire founder Michael Terpin and angel investor Sam Onat Yilmaz, BitAngels brings together a posse of angel investors who are looking to help entrepreneurs turn their Bitcoin side projects into full-time jobs. To do that, the angel network pooled together about $6.7 million in Bitcoin, which it will invest in approximately $20K chunks.
BitAngels is not a formal fund, so the Bitcoins are soft-circled, not in escrow, but all 60 angels that have joined thus far (the number of angels has almost doubled in the past week) are all accredited investors with extensive experience investing and, naturally, have a lot of Bitcoin. Some mined them, I’m told, but the majority were simply fortunate to get in early when the price was low. And, for those “Bah, it’s already too late” naysayers, they’re still bullish on the market.
The network is also today officially expanding to three on-site locations: Austin, San Francisco and New York, with a network of investors that includes people like Gyft CEO Vinney Lingham, Memory Dealers CEO and “Bitcoin Jesus” Roger Ver, Tradehill CEO Jered Kenna, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, the Winklevii, BitInstant’s Charlie Shrem and Libery City Ventures’ Andrew Chang.
But what exactly is the substance of the incubator that BitAngels plans to offer, you ask? Is it TechStars for Bitcoin, or more Founder Institute for Bitcoin? It’s not as formal as either of those, Johnston tells us, instead angels will hold office hours in each of the network’s three locations and will provide as much as support and mentoring from its angels as it can, though much of that will likely be remote.
Fleshing out the mission for Bitcoin incubator, the co-founder says that, while the network will remain far less formal than traditional accelerators, he would like to see BitAngels become a “distributed version of Y Combinator.” In other words, to leverage a combination of “some early stage capital, heavy on social capital from the members, weekly virtual classes from the best people in the world for funded entrepreneurs, help with formation, help with recruiting co-founders and a commitment for funding at the end of a 3-month ramp-up provess.”
So there you have it. BitAngels isn’t quite there yet, but it’s only been nine days since it was founded, people, so give it some time. Sure, a distributed network makes it a little more difficult to organize, but Johnston says that the idea for BitAngels’ new on-site locations is to get startups around a bunch of other early-stage companies working on ideas in the same space “to leverage off of each other during the week outside of virtual classes.”
Aside from the “virtual classes piece,” it’s the same idea that’s motivated Adam Draper and Boost.vc to test the Bitcoin waters.
Both entrepreneurs and investors have begun to get serious about Bitcoin, and networks like BitAngels will ideally make it a lot easier to access the capital needed to finish that BitWallet you’ve been working on — and an experienced group of mentors help you steer the right course. It was only a matter of time.

Monday, May 27, 2013

With New Study And Marketing Campaign, Microsoft Puts Renewed Emphasis On Its Social Tools For The Enterprise

Microsoft’s SharePoint always featured a core set of social tools, but with the acquisition of Yammer, as well as the ongoing integration of Lync and Skype, the folks over in Redmond are clearly ready to push social the next major cornerstone of their enterprise offerings. Today, Microsoft is launching a new campaign to help companies understand how social can help them become more productive. In connection to this, the company also commissioned a new study that tried to quantify the state of social in the enterprise.
This study was obviously commissioned by Microsoft, so as our own Anthony Ha rightly noted yesterday, it’s probably no surprise that the result show that “Microsoft is totally in the right business.” Still, the survey, which was conducted by Ipsos, looked at the responses from almost 10,000 knowledge workers in 21 countries and its results seem pretty straightforward, even if we assume that there is a bit of bias here.
Half of the employees questioned here, for example, said that social tools at work help them to increase their productivity, but there is still a considerable reluctance to adopt these tools in many companies. As Yammer’s director of enterprise strategy Brian Murray told me last week, most of this reluctance stems from IT departments that are worried about productivity loss and aren’t used to implementing technology that isn’t fully under their control.
Thanks to freemium products, free trials and software that runs in the cloud, however, employees are trying new tools in small groups before the IT department even knows about them. Employees, Murray noted, have high expectations of their social tools at work. They expect the same kind of user interfaces they’ve become accustomed to from their consumer products and they expect them to be available at their desk and on the go.
Given Microsoft’s investments in this are, it’s no surprise the company believes enterprise social will be a major driver of productivity growth for many companies. "Just as email accelerated the pace of business in the '90s, enterprise social will be the driver of greater agility and transformation in the 21st century workplace," said Kur DelBene, the president of Microsoft’s Office Division in a prepared statement today. "As we look ahead at how collaboration and communications continue to evolve, we believe the tools people use today — email, instant messaging, voice, videoconferencing, social — will come together and be deeply integrated into apps in ways that will speed collaboration and truly transform the way people work."
As Murray also told me, he believes that some of the value of these tools is pretty obvious. Employees, for example, tend to be for more engaged with their work when a company starts using social tools. A 2011 Gallup poll noted that a whopping 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, so even a small change here could lead to large productivity gains. Social tools like Yammer, Murray also noted, make it easier to tap into a company’s experts and the expertise that’s available in a large company but often remains untapped.
To emphasize this message, Microsoft is also launching The Worldwide Water Cooler, a “hub for people everywhere to discuss workplace collaboration and social tools via Twitter.”
If you’re interested in the rest of the report and a full set of results from all 30 countries, you can download it here (PDF).

What Would Square's Jack Dorsey Do?

New Relic CEO Lew Cirne asked himself a question upon embarking on developing a new startup inside the company he co-founded. He wondered: "How would Jack Dorsey do it?” Dorsey started Twitter and then Square. He is now Twitter's chairman and runs Square, too. He innovates arguably more than any CEO in the startup world. And he had a system Cirne could use.
Today, Dorsey’s system serves as a foundation for Cirne to take one-week blocks in secluded retreats just to code. His goal for New Relic: go beyond just being a one-trick company. Build a company that lasts well beyond the lifetime of its core service: application lifecycle management.

How Cirne Follows Dorsey's Ways

"He is good at managing his time while building big companies," Cirne said about Dorsey in an interview at the Glue conference last week. The interview followed a keynote on how he has found new ways to be a developer while also serving as CEO. "He is good at managing his time while building big companies. He has built big partnerships. He puts a theme to each day of the week. Thursdays and Fridays are for innovation.”
Monday is for strategic review, Cirne said. On Tuesday, the whole day is for tactical product review. On Wednesday, he does press interviews, folllows up with calls and generally catches up. On Thursday and Friday he codes. "I have been doing that for a year," Cirne said. "Chris joined a year and a half ago."
The "Chris" Cirne refers to is Chris Cook, president and chief operating officer of the company who joined New Relic in 2011.
In 2009, Cirne ran a 40-person company. The company was growing fast but Cirne had no time to code. He realized he had to build out the team earlier than he thought.
"There there was no way I could jump into coding and succeed on an operating level," Cirne said.
He filled out the team, with Cook being the most important hire, joining New Relic in 2011. Cook had worked for Cirne at Wily before the ALM company that Cirne co-founded sold to CA in 2006. At CA, Cook ran a 1,000-person organization within the company.
Now with the space and time left open by operations out of his hands, Cirne can code during the week and take week-long breaks to get away to do development. He spent his first week-long coding marathon starting January 1 in Lake Tahoe at his family's cabin. He did another week in March at the cabin. A few weeks ago, he invited a few other developers to spend a week in a cabin on Mount Hood. He'll go to Santa Barbara in the next few weeks for his next retreat. But why is he so motivated? New Relic has had fantastic growth with 50,000 customers, 350 employees and $115 million in financing. An IPO is expected.
The truth is, Cirne is haunted by his past. New Relic represents a second chance to build a great company, re-invent it and build it again, That's something he did not do at Wily. Sure, Wily had a successful exit, but it did not become something beyond what it had started as in its earliest days.
For Cirne, Dorsey's methods have provided a model for him to develop a new foundation for the company. What that is, Cirne won't say, but it's fair to guess that any company that manages 115 billion metrics has something to build on.
Cirne is taking a risk. Eventually, the new service will need operations support, which will take attention from New Relic. And what Cirne builds may be a total flop. And those are the tradeoffs even Jack Dorsey has to deal with every day.

Public Lab's Crowdfunded Infragram Cameras Let People See Plants In A Different Light

There’s no shortage of novel Kickstarter projects that aim to change how we think about the environment, but here’s one that could literally change how we look at it. Infragram, created by the civic science-minded folks at Public Lab, puts low-cost infrared cameras into people’s hands so they can better understand the health of the plants around them.
The goal here is simple enough — by hacking these cameras to peer into the infrared (well, near-infrared) portion of the spectrum, Public Lab hopes to let users see how well plants are converting light into oxygen. The end result is a pair of images that, when processed properly, yield a single false-color image that shows off which plants (or parts of plants) are reflecting the most near-infrared light and are therefore absorbing the most red and blue light.
In a bid to get as many people seeing plants in a different light as possible, the most reward tier will see backers at the $10 level receive a “superblue” filter that attaches onto existing digital cameras (here’s a list of cameras that seem to work well with the filter).
A contribution of $35 nets you the most basic hardware component of the bunch — a cheap webcam that works just as well when lashed to a Raspberry Pi as it does when hooked up to your laptop. $95 on the other hand nets you something really interesting: a bespoke point-and-shoot 2-megapixel camera that already has one of those “superblue” sensors nestled inside it. Once backers start snapping photos of the local greenery, they’ll be able to upload them to a work-in-progress web service to get the those false color images. The team is also working on a spate of analytical tools to cull more information from those images, so the curious nature nut can gain even more insight on the flora around them.
The Public Lab team is no stranger to these sorts of crowdfunded science projects — last year they successfully raised $110,000 for a homebrew spectometry kit that rather smartly relied on a shard of a DVD-R disc. This new project has only been live for five days, but a slew of enthusiastic backers has already brought the team within spitting distance of its $30,000 funding goal. With a month and a half left to go Public Labs is on track to have yet another crowdfunded scientific success on its hands — here’s hoping that some of those backers will put those Infragram camera in youngsters’ hands. After all, we could probably do with a new generation of young people that are sensitive to the plight of those poor plants.

Video Discovery Service Matcha Disappears, Co-Founder Promises ‘Something Better' In The Future

You might remember Matcha.tv. The company provided a personal recommendations site and mobile apps focused on helping users to find interesting movies and TV shows online, based on their own preferences, and those of their friends on various social networks.
Well, over the last few days, the website has gone dark, and those who have downloaded the mobile app report that it’s no longer working. At the Matcha.tv website, the owners have left the following notice:
Service Unavailable
Dear users of Matcha, we thank you for using Matcha and hope we were able to improve your TV and movie viewing experience. Unfortunately, from today going forward, this service is no longer available. All personal information collected by Matcha has been deleted. I you have any further questions about your account, please email us at: contact@matcha.tv.
We reached out to Matcha co-founder and CEO Guy Piekarz, who didn’t want to comment on the service becoming unavailable, except to say that the company was not “shutting down.” Instead, the startup is apparently working on a “new direction” for its video discovery service — a direction that was apparently causing things to break. He wrote:
The hardest thing, by far, in the new direction we’re going was taking down the service, which we’ve been building for the last couple of years. We apologize for dissappointing our users and plan to provide something better in the future.
Matcha.tv isn’t the first video app to disappear while its team updated the service. Last summer, video discovery startup Shelby.tv closed to the public, as the startup began to rebuild its backend from the ground up. While some worried that was the end of Shelby.tv, the company soon after announced that it had raised $2.2 million more in funding and has reemerged, both with a “Genius” app for video discovery, as well as a platform for sharing videos that is currently in beta testing.
Matcha was part of Turner’s Media Camp startup incubator for media companies. Its last message to Twitter followers, about a month ago, said its next version would be “awesome” and includes “lots of enhancements.”

Open Source Blogging Platform WordPress Turns Ten, And Its Community Gets To Blow The Candles Out

Ten years ago today, WordPress, the open source blogging software, was born. It’s amazing to think that it’s been that long, but considering it had all of the elements that other startups and projects have tried to emulate over the past 10 years, then it makes sense.
When speaking with WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, you’d think that he was only a small part of the movement that attempted to empower anyone and everyone to self-publish. While that might be partially true, Mullenweg has taken all of his learnings over the years and poured them into the for-profit arm, Automattic.
The project started as a form of the blogging platform b2/cafelog, and the name itself, WordPress, wasn’t even Mullenweg’s idea. It came from a friend of his. It was essential for WordPress to be open source, as Mullenweg explained to me last month: “When I first got into technology I didn’t really understand what open source was. Once I started writing software I realized how important this would be.”
By allowing an infinite number of developers to collaborate on a platform, WordPress had the best chance of its peers to reach critical mass. Only developers knew what the hurdles were to setting up their own publishing platform. The competitors had their own idea of what those hurdles were, therefore putting themselves at an immediate disadvantage. It was a numbers game, community vs. corporate. WordPress has won, with more than 18 million downloads of its latest version, 3.5. The WordPress formula, when it comes to community, has been copied, but never replicated.
Mullenweg told me that early meetups were the key to finding the passionate individuals that would push WordPress to where it is today: “Technology is best when it brings people together.”

Writing is one of the hardest things to do.

Most people don’t consider themselves to be writers because they simply don’t know what to say. Mullenweg felt that for people like that, giving them a platform that was easy to set up and use would allow them to spend more time on the important parts of writing. If writing is one of the hardest things to do, as Mullenweg says, then figuring out how to publish your thoughts shouldn’t be.
The power of community, especially for developers, is best thought of as a group of like-minded people working towards a similar goal. The people that work on WordPress are problem solvers, they’re people who like to make things easier for themselves and for others. Those types of people are special, and WordPress was able to capture the best of the best. Some have even moved on to paying jobs at Automattic.
Mullenweg tells me that one of his main early contributors, Ryan Boren, used to say: “Just code. It’s just code. Anything that we want to do is just code. There’s nothing you can imagine that can’t be done.”
That type of mindset is paramount to the success of WordPress and every open source project since. Even when Mullenweg decided to turn WordPress into a business with Automattic in 2005, which has since raised $80.6 million, the community was not to be forgotten: “We figured out a business model that was complementary to the growth of the community.”
By leveraging all of the hard work of thousands of contributors, Mullenweg found a way to keep giving back. By keeping WordPress open source, which was key from day one, the business side of things hasn’t alienated those who continue to work on the code that’s available to all. In fact, much of the work that’s done by the community continues to make its way into the paid WordPress.com offerings.
Some of the WordPress community has found ways to create a career built off of the work that they’ve done. Whether they’re consulting, designing or implementing, the software itself has changed a lot of lives. Mullenweg tells me that while this is great, many of the open source contributors would still work on the platform even if they didn’t find a way to get paid. “They approach code like a craft, and not a job.” he says.
The passion from the WordPress community has not only brought people together, but their collective work now powers 17 percent of the top 1 million websites on the web. That couldn’t have been done by Mullenweg alone, and he knows that. That’s an obvious statement now, but the key is that he’s always known that.
The founder shared his thoughts about the anniversary in a blog post today, as if the software itself was his child:
You're so beautiful… I'm continually amazed and delighted by how you've grown. Your awkward years are behind you. Best of all, through it all, you've stuck with the principles that got you started in the first place. You're always changing but that never changes. You're unafraid to try new things that may seem wacky or unpopular at first.

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