Pancake aims to make customers flip for its virtual home design platform

Pancake brought in a $350,000 seed round to develop its home design platform that leverages furniture you already have in your home with a designer’s fresh eye on your space.

Maria Jose Castro and Roberto Meza, both from Costa Rica, started the company in 2020, based on their own experience of transitioning to work-from-home and needing to outfit a space. However, design services can be expensive, and therefore not accessible to everyone.

Pancake is reinventing the way you can work with an interior designer and get a rendering of your space to work from. Customers can go on the website and book a session with a designer, providing them with measurements and photos of the room.

The designer then prepares a rendering of the space and a deck to explain the design and how the customer will do it — and if paint or furniture is needed that isn’t already available, Pancake will show the customer where to find it. Future features of the site will include connecting with furniture providers, Jose Castro told TechCrunch.

Meza called the company “furniture-as-a-service,” with the main focus to reuse what already exists in a space to create healthy, sustainable spaces that someone can work in, live in and enjoy all at the same time. While that may seem like a tall order, he said that with everyone suddenly together during the global pandemic, relationships are better when people are in a space they like.

“Wellness in construction is what I do, and we wanted to create that with Pancake,” he added. “Sometimes it is the little things that create a space and makes you feel good, or not feel good.”

Pancake plans to use its funding to further develop its platform and add new features like an ecological footprint calculator so customers can see how sustainable their designs are. The company also prides itself on transparent pricing. An average two-hour session with a designer is $199, and the designer will add to the budget if items like paint and new furniture are needed.

Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid, is the lead investor in the seed round. He said that he doesn’t typically invest at the seed stage, but was impressed with the progress Pancake has made in a short period of time. This includes marketing tests on social media platforms that yielded a respectable return on investment, he added.

Meanwhile, Pancake has facilitated over 100 designer sessions and has begun to see referrals and repeat customers who want to design additional rooms in their house. That has translated into 200% month over month revenue growth, on average, despite having to stop for four months during the pandemic, Meza said. Up next, the company will continue to build out its brand and revenue model as it advances to a Series A round next year.

 

#brand, #christian-rudder, #designer, #ecommerce, #funding, #interior-design, #maria-jose-castro, #okcupid, #paint, #pancake, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #roberto-meza, #social-media-platforms, #startups, #tc

Contact, a platform for creatives backed by Maisie Williams, raises $1.9M Seed led by Founders Fund

With the pandemic digitizing every aspect of our lives, the Creator Economy has taken off like never before, with some estimates saying it’s now a $100Bn+ market. And yet, managing your professional life as a model, actor, writer or designer remains a mish-mash of emails, manual booking processes, and dreaded PDFs. Creatives face late payments, often opaque industry practices, even as top talent agencies have collectively achieved a valuation of $20Bn in value. But while modeling talent can be charged as much as a 20-40% commission fee, social media has been gradually displacing traditional agencies by reducing the barriers to entry and making talent more accessible. However, as everyone knows, social media is nowhere near a place anyone can manage their career.

Late last year the Contact platform launched, initially offering models a way to take bookings and manage some aspects of their work. It’s now looking to address the wider problems referred to above, with a new round of funding involving some key players in the creative industries.

It’s backed and supported by Maisie Williams, best known for her work on Game of Thrones, who has become Creative Strategist and Advisor to the startup after becoming a passionate advocate for better conditions for creatives in the industry.

Contact has now raised a $1.9 million (£1.4 million) Seed round of funding led by Founders Fund. Also participating is LAUNCH (the fund led by investors Jason Calacanis), Sweet Capital (via Pippa Lamb), Rogue VC (via Alice Lloyd George) and Angel investors Simon Beckerman (co-founder of Depop), Eric Wahlforss (co-founder of SoundCloud and now Dance), Abe Burns and Joe White.

Although Contact’s initial incarnation is addressing the modeling world, its vision is far bigger. Contact co-founder and CEO Reuben Selby — a fashion designer who was formerly of William’s founding team, when she started her career — has worked with Nike, Thom Browne, and JW Anderson. He says the platform aims to become a scalable back-end solution across the $104.2 Billion Creator Economy, “democratizing” access to the world’s best creative talent.

Reuben Selby

Reuben Selby

Selby, who recently spoke about being a founder with autism is also the founder and creative director of his own label Reuben Selby, and co-founder of Cortex a creative agency and community. Selby is joined by CTO Josh McMillan previously of Deliveroo, Daisie, the Government Digital Service, and among others.

While its competitors might, broadly speaking, include Patreon, Creatively, and The Dots, it’s fair to say that Contact’s vision to bring many aspects of these platforms under one roof could be described as ambitious, it is also tantalising.

In a radical move for what is an industry dominated by agencies, individuals and businesses can discover and book creators and creative services directly, without going through an agency.

Contact initially launched its platform in October 2020 with the ability to discover and book fashion models, but post-fundraising plans to roll out other creative verticals such as photographers, stylists, videographers, and more.

Selby says the idea for Contact has been informed by his own personal experiences trying to break into the creative industry as a model, photographer, and creative director. After finding scant methods for secure and safe ways to get paid – while booking companies lacked basic technological tools – he realized that ‘middle-men’ and agencies were there main ones that benefitted, taking cuts on both sides and often still delivering a sub-par-product.

So how does Contact work?

When a Creator joins, they are able to showcase their portfolio across different creative services and take direct bookings.

A business can then browse and discover talent using filters, shortlist creative talent, providing details about the job, and book creators directly. Creatives can accept or reject jobs via the web platform or, soon, via a smartphone app. Once the job has been completed, the talent gets paid out via Contact.

Since soft-launching within the modeling vertical, Contact says it has onboarded almost 600 creatives and over 1,400 clients including Depop, Farfetch, Nike, Vivienne Westwood, and Vogue. Users of the platform have increased 100% YoY, says the startup.

Selby says Contact intends to remain in the background and allow the talent to brand itself independently across different verticals. Crucially, Contact does not take money from creators, only booking companies, from which it will levy a 20% fee on transactions.

Commenting, Trae Stephens, Partner at Founders Fund, said: “We are always excited when we find founders who seem to have been born to build a specific company. Reuben definitely seems like one of those founders. We are really excited to watch the company scale and expand into new creative verticals.”

Pippa Lamb, Partner at Sweet Capital, added: “The team at Contact have been pushing frontiers in the creator economy long before ‘the creator economy’ became a buzzword. Contact possesses a rare combination of world-class technical talent with the raw innovation of today’s most creative minds. We are excited about this next chapter.”

Williams, best known for playing Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, is no stranger to working on startups. She previously contributed to the Daisie platform, which continues to connect creators with one another to work on each others’ projects, helping creators find collaborators for their art.

But clearly her desire to disrupt the creative world largely controlled by ‘middle men’ was not sated by the experience.

Speaking to me in an exclusive interview, Williams and Selby outlined their vision:

Selby said the existing marketplace for models is just the start: “The vision has always been about creatives, and getting creatives paid for their work. We basically started out in one vertical, the modeling industry… and we’re in the process of rolling out new verticals so bringing on photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc. But that’s a very very small part of the overall vision.”

He said the focus now is “on the distribution of work, how that relationship works with that audience, how they can monetize it. So it’s basically giving them a toolkit to monetize their creativity rather than just the physical constraints. That’s what we’re exploring right now. We have this marketplace but we see that as being a very small part, but the larger piece.”

He said the marketplace model can connect brands directly to creators or creatives, but, he said, brands continue to have a great deal of power: “The creators are just sitting there waiting for somebody to give them something. So we’re now working out how they can just distribute by their own work and monetize it in their own ways, with the back end of how all of the logistics work, and the operational side handled by the product that we’ve built, handling the payments and the licensing and insurance.”

Despite being a major Hollywood star, Williams told me the creative and entertainment industry she’s familiar with and works in remains stuck in an old world of emails and links, rather than the kinds of platforms the tech industry is used to building and using: “Being someone who has been represented by talent agencies for my career, that whole interaction online is emails. At no point are any of the assets digitised. There’s no ‘vault’ where all of my scripts go. There’s no place where I can upload all of my audition tapes. It’s always just a link in an email. There’s not really an industry standard. From an agency perspective, none of the work that they is very streamlined or directional.”

She says that need to change: “There’s a casting process and at the moment, and it’s a hugely dated way of doing things between the casting directors and the actors, the writers etc. We want to build a very streamlined process.”

Speaking about the investors he’s assembled to back Contact, Selby said the team chose Founders Fund to be their lead investor because of their approach: “The way that they work with founders… I found that personally very empowering. [They] give you a lot of freedom and space to think creatively. So there was a clear alignment.”

Talking about the other Angel investors in the round he said: “People like Eric and Simon are majorly connected in fashion and music culture in general.”

Speaking about how the entertainment industry might react to Contact, Williams said: “Actors have many other things that they do. Being able to have a platform that they can monetize all those other things is really important, especially because, as an actor you spend a lot of time unemployed.” But said the system is constructed in such as a way that “you’re only valuable as the auditions your agent puts you up for. It’s not very inspiring or rewarding. So a lot of actors make their own shows on streaming platforms or create their own documentaries or sell their work in other ways.”

She said Contact wants to be able to facilitate that through the platform, and for creatives to have more independence: “The film industry and the music industry is full of incredibly talented people who are multi-talented across many different industries. But they are still, kind of held by representatives and agencies and record labels or managers who have a lot of power in, sort of, keeping them ‘small’. Being able to introduce something which can offer so many other tools, I think, is really important.”

It’s clear that the vision Selby, his co-founders, and Williams have, is very big. The question is, will they be able to pull it off?

It has to be said, however, that the combination of a passionate Gen-Z-influential team (with added star power), a full-blown technology platform, heavyweight US investors, and Angels pulled from creative industries certainly points to the potential for success.

#abe-burns, #co-founder, #cortex, #cto, #deliveroo, #depop, #designer, #digital-media, #eric-wahlforss, #europe, #farfetch, #fashion-designer, #finance, #founders-fund, #jason-calacanis, #joe-white, #maisie-williams, #nike, #partner, #smartphone, #social-media, #soundcloud, #tc, #technology, #thom-browne, #united-states

Gwyneth Paltrow invests in The Expert, a video marketplace for high-end interior designers

The pandemic-induced lockdowns halted many a home decoration project, but the irony was that our homes became even more important. But where to get ideas to decorate? Home decor experts could no longer visit. Now an LA-based startup is addressing this digitization of the interior design market, but kicking off with a typically LA-oriented, high-end clientele.

The LA-based The Expert – a platform for video consultations with interior designers – has raised a $3 million seed funding round led by Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Sweet Capital, Promus Ventures, Golden Ventures, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo, AD 100 designer Brigette Romanek, and movie star Gwyneth Paltrow.

The Expert offers 1:1 video consultations with leading interior designers, it says.

The founders consist of Jake Arnold, a celebrity interior designer (who has worked with John Legend, Rashida Jones, and Cameron Diaz among, others) and YC-alumni, Leo Seigal, who previously founded and sold Represent.com to CustomInk for $100m in 2015.

After being “inundated” with DMs during lockdown asking for his advice, Arnold says he realized he didn’t have the business model to help non-retainer clients. So he joined Seigal to create The Expert.

The Expert features 85 designers, so far. CLients click on their profiles to see rates and availability and then click to book. Clients can upload any relevant floor plans, images of the home, inspiration ideas etc for the designer to review ahead of time. They then join a zoom link (the platform uses the Zoom API) to meet with an interior designer and can leave a review afterward.

The company claims it has 700 designers on its waitlist and will hit $1m of bookings after its first quarter, after launching in early February this year.

The startup has some competition in the form of Modsy and Havenly, but The Expert says it is going for a more high-end experience, where clients are willing to pay $300-$2,500 for an hour of a designers’ time. The startup takes a 20% cut of the transaction.

Co-founder Leo Seigal said: “We were able to attract a crazy roster of designers partly thanks to co-founder Jake who is so highly regarded in the industry, and partly due to a timeliness of offering which is far above anything that has been tried in the home space.”

In a statement, Gwyneth Paltrow said: “I’ve always felt that access to great design – and those who create it – is too rare of a commodity. It’s a game-changer for someone without the budget for a full-time designer to have this roster of talent on speed dial.”

Nicole Johnson, Partner at Forerunner said: “We’ve been thinking through new models for the interior design sector for years at Forerunner, observing room for improvement for the trade and consumers alike. Interior design is arguably the ultimate, best-suited source of home inspiration and commerce enablement for consumers, but the trade is a famously walled garden. The Expert solves for this, connecting anyone, anywhere with the world’s leading interior designers via video consultation—allowing Experts to broaden their reach and monetization in a predictable, rewarding, and low-friction way.”

#actors, #api, #co-founder, #designer, #dms, #forerunner-ventures, #golden-ventures, #gwyneth-paltrow, #interior-design, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #john-legend, #louisiana, #partner, #promus-ventures, #tc

3D model provider CGTrader raises $9.5M Series B led by Evli Growth Partners

3D model provider CGTrader, has raised $9.5M in a Series B funding led by Finnish VC fund Evli Growth Partners, alongside previous investors Karma Ventures and LVV Group. Ex-Rovio CEO Mikael Hed also invested and joins as Board Chairman. We first covered the Vilnius-based company when it raised 200,000 euro from Practica Capital.

Founded in 2011 by 3D designer Marius Kalytis (now COO), CGTrader has become a signifiant 3D content provider – it even claims to be the world’s largest. In its marketplace are 1.1M 3D models and 3.5M 3D designers, service 370,000 businesses including Nike, Microsoft, Made.com, Crate & Barrel, and Staples.

Unlike photos, 3D models can also be used to create both static images as well as AR experiences, so that users can see how a product might fit in their home. The company is also looking to invest in automating 3D modeling, QA, and asset management processes with AI. 

Dalia Lasaite, CEO and co-founder of CGTrader said in a statement: “3D models are not only widely used in professional 3D industries, but have become a more convenient and cost-effective way of generating amazing product visuals for e-commerce as well. With our ARsenal enterprise platform, it is up to ten times cheaper to produce photorealistic 3D visuals that are indistinguishable from photographs.”

CGTrader now plans to consolidate its position and further develop its platform.

The company competes with TurboSquid (which was recently acquired for $75 million by Shutterstock) and Threekit.

#3d, #3d-modeling, #arsenal, #artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #cgtrader, #computer-graphics, #coo, #crate-barrel, #designer, #e-commerce, #europe, #graphics, #image-processing, #karma-ventures, #made-com, #microsoft, #nike, #practica-capital, #rovio, #shutterstock, #staples, #tc, #visual-effects

Okta launches its new open-source design system with a focus on accessibility

Identity and access management service Okta today launched its new design system, both for its own corporate and brand use, but also as an open-source project under the Apache 2.0 license. The Odyssey Design System, as the company calls it, is similar to the likes of Google’s Material Design or Microsoft’s Fluent Design. It may not have quite the same number of features, but what makes it stand out is a focus on accessibility, with every element of the design system being compliant with the W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Brian Hansen, Okta’s SVP of Design, told me that until now, the company didn’t really have a unified design system. Instead, it had what he called a “glorified pattern library.” And while the engineers loved it, because it allowed them to build new UIs quickly, it was hard for the team to add new patterns. “And so it was limited in what it could do,” Hansen said. “And what you ended up having to do sometimes is compromise — particularly as a designer — and kind of shove the square peg into the round hole.”

Image Credits: Okta

Now that Okta has moved beyond its early startup roots, though, the team decided that it was time to go back to the drawing board and build a more fully-featured design system for the company — and you may soon see it yourself in Okta’s sign-in widget, which is where most users are likely to encounter it. But it’s worth remembering that Okta, the platform, also offers a plethora of backend tools for admins that most users never see. Those admins typically want a very information-dense user experience and a design that makes it easy for them to get things done and move on. Okta’s third group of users, Hansen stressed, is developers and what matters a lot to them — in addition to all the technical details — is documentation, which has to be easily readable (from a design perspective).

As Hansen noted, though, internally, it wasn’t a realistic project to simply switch every surface area to Odyssee at once. “As a designer, you want everything to be perfect all at once. But you also have to be pragmatic and live with some things that aren’t perfect,” he acknowledged. So while the Okta brand is now getting this refresh and some of the user-facing services, it’ll take a while before every Okta service can make this move.

For the admin console, for example, Hansen’s team decided that it would take years to switch out the UI. So instead, the team opted for a bridge strategy where it created the style sheets to essentially mimic the Odyssee design. “Then we can cut over to Odyssee-native components and they’ll blend in. We can’t have a Franken app — we can’t have two different generations of UI coexisting. That to me just ruins trust. No one would be happy with that,” Hansen said.

Developers who want to give Odyssee a try for their own projects can do so and explore the different components it has to offer. And designers can try it out in Figma, too.

#cloud-applications, #designer, #developer, #identity-management, #okta, #svp

Heights raises $2M for its subscription supplements aimed new ‘braincare’ category

New wellness startup Heights is formally launching this week, focusing on a category it describes as ‘braincare’. The startup will market “ultra high quality, sustainable plant-based supplements that feed your brain” based on what it says is scientific data.

It has raised a $2 million Seed funding round (£1.7M) via the Seedrs crowdfunding platform, with the round also including the institutional investor Forward Partners. Angel investors include Tom Singh (founder of New Look), Damian Bradfield (WeTransfer), Dhiraj Mukherjee (Shazam), Renee Elliot (Planet Organic), and celebrity investor Chris Smalling (an England and Manchester United professional footballer).

The funds will be used for customer growth and new product development, including soon-to-launch a ‘psychobiotic‘ probiotic aimed at cognition and mental health.

Customers first take a ‘brain health’ survey, then sign up for a monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription.

Customers need only take two capsules a day, thus hugely decreasing the complexity of juggling regular vitamin taking.

The product fits through a letterbox and the unusual bottle was designed by the well-known product design agency Pentagram. A content and coaching program included in the subscription helps customers, and another brain health survey happens after a month. Heights claims that “93%” improve their brain health score within one month.

Heights is not alone in this new market for what some describe as ‘designer vitamins’ and the arena is already populated by the likes of Hims / Hers, MotionVitabiotics and Bulletproof.

These companies broadly fall into the “Nootropics” category — vitamins and minerals designed to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. But the market is not small. The ‘self care’, ‘healthcare’, and ‘personal development’ market is worth over $1Trillion but supplements alone is worth at least $100BN+.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr Tara Swart.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr. Tara Swart.

However, co-founder Dan Murray-Serter says Heights is aiming to do something different to the aforementioned players.

In a text-based interview, he said: “Nootropics as a category really focus on quick fixes, which is why we’re working on the category creation of ‘braincare’ because there are no ‘quick fixes’ in life, and that terminology and category have essentially set people up with the same false hopes as ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes do. We’re set up differently — aka, starting with scientifically researched articles and journal references.”

He said Heights will be positioned more like a skincare or haircare brand, “because people understand that the daily habit/practice is what creates the longevity and impact, not just a one-day miracle.”

Murray-Serter says there are 20 key nutrients science says our brains need to thrive, and these are mostly found in a combination of buying multivitamins, omega 3s, and ‘nootropics’. He says Heights has sourced the “highest quality” ingredients in the most ‘bioavailable form’ in a patented capsule which makes it easier to digest for the body.

“One of the most common reasons the habit of taking vitamins doesn’t stick for people is that the bottle goes into a cupboard and gets ignored. So we started with design alongside quality,” he says. The Heights vitamins come in a distinctive, recyclable bottle which Heights will also aven recycle if you send it back to them.

Murray-Serter, who previously founded the mobile startup Grabble, says he came up with the idea for the startup after a bout of chronic anxiety and a 6 month-long period of insomnia. The problem was solved by high-quality, high-density vitamins and supplements, as opposed to normal supplements which usually only have the lowest recommended daily levels of vitamins inside them.

After starting a newsletter on the subject of optimizing cognitive performance with cofounder Joel Freeman, the pair amassed a following of 60,000 readers www.yourheights.com/sundays

and then came up with the idea of launching the actual product.

The company now has a ‘Braincare‘ podcast that has reached 100,000 downloads, and the founders have also been joined by key team member Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart (pictured).

Two things may help Heights. Firstly, in the era of Covid-19, public health authorities and governments around the world have recommended taking Vitamin D to boost the body’s immune system should someone fall prey to the disease. It’s not insignificant that two Heights capsules contain 400% of the ‘Nutrient Reference Value’ (formerly known as Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamin D3, as well as many other supplements. Theoretically, one could take four normal tablets of this, but the customer experience and other added vitamins in Heights will appeal to many. Secondly, the growing awareness of mental health and interest in maintaining good mental health is now a regular subject of public discourse. So Heights appears to be well-positioned to ride both those waves.

#bulletproof, #co-founder, #cofounder, #designer, #disease, #europe, #food-and-drink, #forward-partners, #founder, #health, #healthcare, #heights, #insomnia, #manchester-united, #new-look, #nutrition, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vitamins

Google refreshes its mobile search experience

Google today announced a subtle but welcome refresh of its mobile search experience. The idea here is to provide easier to read search results and a more modern look with a simpler, edge-to-edge design.

From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a radically different look, but the rounded and slightly shaded boxes around individual search results have been replaced with straight lines, for example, while in other places, Google has specifically added more roundness. You’ll find changes to the circles around the search bar and some tweaks to the Google logo. “We believe it feels more approachable, friendly, and human,” a Google spokesperson told me. There’s a bit more whitespace in places, too, as well as new splashes of color that are meant to help separate and emphasize certain parts of the page.

Image Credits: Google

“Rethinking the visual design for something like Search is really complex,” Google designer Aileen Cheng said in today’s announcement. “That’s especially true given how much Google Search has evolved. We’re not just organizing the web’s information, but all the world’s information. We started with organizing web pages, but now there’s so much diversity in the types of content and information we have to help make sense of.”

Image Credits: Google

Google is also extending its use of the Google Sans font, which you are probably already quite familiar with thanks to its use in Gmail and Android. “Bringing consistency to when and how we use fonts in Search was important, too, which also helps people parse information more efficiently,” Aileen writes.

In many ways, today’s refresh is a continuation of the work Google did with its mobile search refresh in 2019. At that time, the emphasis, too, was on making it easier for users to scan down the page by adding site icons and other new visual elements to the page. The work of making search results pages more readable is clearly never done.

For the most part, though, comparing the new and old design, the changes are small. This isn’t some major redesign but we’re talking about minor tweaks that the designers surely obsessed over but that the users may not even really notice. Now if Google had made it significantly easier to distinguish ads from the content you are actually looking for, that would’ve been something.

Image Credits: Google

#android, #computing, #designer, #gmail, #google, #google-search, #google-workspace, #google-drive, #mobile, #mobile-search, #operating-systems, #search-results, #spokesperson, #technology

Wireless charging tech developer Powermat pivots to industrial applications with Jetsons Robotics partnerhsip

When the two year-old Indian company Jetsons Robotics began searching for a partner to help design charging stations for their autonomous rooftop solar installation cleaning robots, the Israeli company Powermat was an obvious choice.

While the company had made its name as the designer for wireless charging technologies for consumer electronics, over the past two years the company was shifting its focus to more industrial applications. So it made sense to work with the Indian company on new form factors and applications for its charging technologies.

Indeed, the consumer market that Powermat had hoped to capture had been, by that point, broadly commoditized, so the tech developer needed a new direction.

Cleaning rooftop solar installations can be a costly endeavor, running companies anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 per year, according to Jetsons Robotics chief executive, Jatin Sharma. The use of robots to replace human labor can save money, but the autonomous solution that the company wanted to build necessitated some kind of wireless charging dock, he said.

Contact-based charging meant too many variables in the outdoor environment, but an inductive charger would be too costly. Until the company worked with Powermat on a solution, Sharma said.

Backed by 100x.vc, Sharma’s robots are already cleaning roughly 1.7 megawatts of solar installations on a daily basis.

For Powermat, the solar cleaning robots are a good test of the company’s new industrial focus, according to chief technology officer Itay Sherman.

“You can look at it like maturation of the market,” Sherman said. “Powermat had been a pioneer in driving wireless technology. This market is maturing and we are moving on to markets where the technology and innovation is important. We have decided to shift our efforts to these emerging markets. Robotics is one, medical devices, IOT, and the automotive market are others.”

 

#charging-station, #chief-technology-officer, #consumer-electronics, #designer, #electrical-engineering, #engineering, #inductive-charging, #powermat, #ran-poliakine, #robot, #tc, #wireless, #wireless-technology

Amazon sues online influencers engaged in a counterfeit scheme

Amazon on Thursday announced a lawsuit against over a dozen bad actors, including online influencers and other businesses, who attempted to evade Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting measures by promoting luxury counterfeit products on social media sites, like TikTok and Instagram, as well as on personal websites, then using Amazon seller accounts to fulfill those orders.

The suit alleges that defendants, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci, conspired with sellers to run a scheme that involved posting side-by-side photos of a generic, non-branded product which could be found on Amazon, and a luxury counterfeit product. The text on the posting would read “Order this/Get this.”

The “Order this” pointed to a generic product being falsely advertised on Amazon. “Get this,” meanwhile, was referencing the luxury counterfeit products the consumer would receive instead.

Image Credits: Amazon court filing

By only posting generic product photos on Amazon.com directly, the defendants and the sellers they worked with, were aiming to bypass Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting measures while making claims about the counterfeit goods elsewhere across social media and the web. They also promoted the high quality of their luxury counterfeit goods using videos on Instagram, TikTok, and personal websites, and sent users to Amazon and other e-commerce websites, like DHgate, to transact.

Of note in this case is the fact that Fitzpatrick had been a member of Amazon’s Influencer Program while the counterfeiting scheme was underway. From Nov. 23, 2019 through March 6, 2020, she participated in the program under the username Kellyfitz02-20. When Amazon detected her activities, she was banned from the program and it closed her Associates account.

She then attempted to open new Associate accounts and continued to advertise the counterfeit items on social media, where she directed her followers to her own website for purchases, as well as to other e-commerce sites.

Instagram had shut down Fitzpatrick’s prior accounts, but she would create new ones when that occurred.

Though Fitzpatrick made her current Instagram account private, her website is still online where it shows her promoting the so-called “hidden links” on Amazon where consumers could buy the counterfeits.

Image Credits: styleeandgrace.com

Similarly, Kelly-Krejci used her website to direct users to “hidden links” on Amazon where they could buy counterfeit products, saying in one video, she “know[s] some people feel weird ordering from hidden links but in this case you will get something fabulous.”

Image Credits: budgetstylefiles.com

The lawsuit alleges the defendants ran their schemes from around November 2019 through the filing of the complaint.

Investigators working on Amazon’s behalf were able to confirm the scheme by placing orders through the links and receiving the advertised counterfeit goods. The court filing shows several examples of these items, which included wallets, purses, belts, and sunglasses, which were designer dupes of brands like Gucci and Dior.

Among the other defendants in the case are businesses and sellers in China who helped source the dupes. In some cases, the sellers took steps to hide their identities and whereabouts from Amazon by using fake names and contact information and unregistered businesses, Amazon says..

Amazon has been working over the past several years to take a harder stance on counterfeiting, having acknowledging the practice harms consumer trust in its online store. In 2017, it launched the Amazon Brand Registry, which gives a rights owner tools to proactively locate and report infringing items. The following year, it launch a product serialization service, Transparency, that helps to eliminate counterfeits for enrolled products.

And last year, Amazon launched Project Zero, a self-service counterfeit removal tool for brands to remove counterfeit product listings on Amazon in minutes. Over 10,000 brands are now enrolled.

The retailer has increasingly engaged in lawsuits against counterfeiters as well, to dissuade others from participating in counterfeiting schemes.

The current lawsuit asks the court to ensure the defendants are barred from ever advertising, promoting and selling on Amazon, opening Amazon Vendor, Selling, and Associate accounts, aiding or abetting counterfeiters, and pay damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.

#amazon, #amazon-com, #china, #counterfeit, #designer, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #instagram, #social-media

Now may be the best time to become a full-stack developer

In the world of software development, one term you’re sure to hear a lot of is full-stack development. Job recruiters are constantly posting open positions for full-stack developers and the industry is abuzz with this in-demand title.

But what does full-stack actually mean?

Simply put, it’s the development on the client-side (front end) and the server-side (back end) of software. Full-stack developers are jacks of all trades as they work with the design aspect of software the client interacts with as well as the coding and structuring of the server end.

In a time when technological requirements are rapidly evolving and companies may not be able to afford a full team of developers, software developers that know both the front end and back end are essential.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the ability to do full-stack development can make engineers extremely marketable as companies across all industries migrate their businesses to a virtual world. Those who can quickly develop and deliver software projects thanks to full-stack methods have the best shot to be at the top of a company’s or client’s wish list.

Becoming a full-stack developer

So how can you become a full-stack engineer and what are the expectations? In most working environments, you won’t be expected to have absolute expertise on every single platform or language. However, it will be presumed that you know enough to understand and can solve problems on both ends of software development.

Most commonly, full-stack developers are familiar with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and back-end languages like Ruby, PHP, or Python. This matches up with the expectations of new hires as well, as you’ll notice a lot of openings for full-stack developer jobs require specialization in more than one back-end program.

Full-stack is becoming the default way to develop, so much so that some in the software engineering community argue whether or not the term is redundant. As the lines between the front end and back end blur with evolving tech, developers are now being expected to work more frequently on all aspects of the software. However, developers will likely have one specialty where they excel while being good in other areas and a novice at some things….and that’s OK.

Getting into full-stack though means you should concentrate on finding your niche within the particular front-end and back-end programs you want to work with. One practical and common approach is to learn JavaScript since it covers both front and back end capabilities. You’ll also want to get comfortable with databases, version control, and security. In addition, it’s smart to prioritize design since you’ll be working on the client-facing side of things.

Since full-stack developers can communicate with each side of a development team, they’re invaluable to saving time and avoiding confusion on a project.

One common argument against full stack is that, in theory, developers who can do everything may not do one thing at an expert level. But there’s no hard or fast rule saying you can’t be a master at coding and also learn front-end techniques or vice versa.

Choosing between full-stack and DevOps

One hold up you may have before diving into full-stack is you’re also mulling over the option to become a DevOps engineer. There are certainly similarities among both professions, including good salaries and the ultimate goal of producing software as quickly as possible without errors.  As with full-stack developers, DevOps engineers are also becoming more in demand because of the flexibility they offer a company.

#agile-software-development, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #designer, #developer, #devops, #labor, #security, #software-development, #software-engineering, #startups, #talent, #tc, #venture-capital

Crypto-driven marketplace Zora raises $2M to build a sustainable creator economy

Dee Goens and Jacob Horne have both the exact and precisely opposite background that you’d expect to see from two people building a way for creators to build a sustainable economy for their followers to participate in. Coinbase, crypto hack projects at university, KPMG, Merill Lynch. But where’s the art?

“Believe it or not, I used to have dreams of being a rapper,” laughs Goens. “There’s a Soundcloud out there somewhere. With that passion you explore the inner workings of the music industry. I would excitedly ask industry friends about the advance and 360 deal models only to realize they were completely broken.”

And, while many may be well intentioned, these deal structures of exploit artistry. In many cases taking the majority of an artist’s ownership. I grew curious why artists were unable to resource themselves from their community in an impactful way — but instead, were forced to seek out potentially predatory relationships. To me, this was bullshit.”

Horne says that he’d always wanted to create a fashion brand. 

“I always thought a fashion brand would be something I’d do after crypto,” he tells me. “I love crypto but it felt overly focused on just finance and felt like it was missing something. When I started to play with the idea of combining these two passions and starting Saint Fame.”

While at Coinbase, Horne hacked on Saint Fame, a side project that leveraged some of the ideas on display in Zora. It was a marketplace that allowed people to sell and trade items with cryptocurrency, buying intermediate variable-value tokens redeemable for future goods. 

“I realized that culture itself was shaped and built upon an old financial system that is systemically skewed against artists and communities,” says Horne. “The operating system of ownership was built in the 1600s with the Dutch East India Trading Company and early Nation States. Like what the fuck is up with that?” 

We have the internet now, we can literally create and share information to billions of people all at once, and the ownership system is the same as when people had to get on a boat for 6 months to send a letter. It’s time for an upgrade. Any community on the internet should be able to come together, with capital, and work towards any shared vision. That starts with empowering creators and artists to create and own the culture they’re creating. In the long term this moves to internet communities taking on societal endeavours.”

The answer that they’re working on is called Zora. It’s a marketplace with two main components but one philosophy: sustainable economics for creators. 

All too often creators are involved in reaping the rewards for their work only once, but the secondary economy continues to generate value out of their reach. Think of an artist, as an example, that creates a piece and sells it for market value. That’s great, but thereafter, every ounce of work that the artist puts into future work, into building a name and a brand and a community for themselves puts additional value into that piece. The artist never sees a dime from that, relying instead on the value of future releases to pay dividends on the work. 

That’s basically the way it has always worked. I have a little background in this as I used to exhibit and was involved in running a gallery and my father is a fine artist. If he sells a painting today for $300, gets a lot better, more popular and more valued over time, the owner of that painting may re-sell it for hundreds or thousands more. He will never see a dime of that. And god forbid that an artist like him gets too locked into the gallery system which slices off enormous chunks of the value of a piece for a square of wall space and the marketing cachet of a curator or storefront. 

The same story can be told across the recording industry, fashion, sports and even social media. Lots of middle-people and lots of vigs to pay. And, unsurprisingly, the same creators of color that drive so much of The Culture are the biggest losers hands down. 

The primary Zora product is a market that allows creators or artists to launch products and then continue to participate in their second market value. 

Here’s how the Zora team explains it:

On Zora, creators have the ability to set two prices: start price and max price. As community members buy and sell a token, it moves the price up or down. This makes the price dynamic as it opens price discovery on the items by the market. When people buy the token it moves the price closer to its maximum. When they sell, it moves closer to its minimum. 

For an excited community like Jeff [Staple’s], this new dynamic price can cause a quick increase in the value of his sneakers. As a creator, they capture the value from selling on a price curve as well as getting a take on trading fees from the market which they now own. What used to trade on StockX is now about to trade on a creator owned market.

There have been some early successes. Designer and marketer Jeff Staple launched a run of 30 Coca-Cola x Staple SB Dunk customs by Reverseland and their value is trending up around 234% since release. A Benji Taylor x Kevin Doan vinyl figure is up 210%

I have seen some other stabs at this. When he was still at StockX, founder Josh Luber launched their Intial Product Offerings, a Blind Dutch Auction system that allowed the market to set a price for an item, with some of the cut of pricing above market going back to the manufacturer or brand making the offering. The focus there was brands vs. individual creators (though they did launch with a Ben Baller slide). Allowing brands to tap into second market value for limited goods is a lot less of a revolution play, but the thesis is similar. I thought that was a good idea then, and I like it even better when it’s being used to democratize rather than maximize returns. 

Side note: I love that this team is messing around with interesting ideas like dogfooding their own marketplace with the value of being in their own TestFlight group. I’m sort of like, is that allowed, but at the same time it’s dope and I’ve never seen anything like it. 

Zora was founded in May of 2020 (right in the middle of this current panny-palooza). The team is Goens (Creators and Community), Horne (Product), Slava Kim (Design), Dai Hovey (Engineering), Ethan Daya (Engineering) and Tyson Batistella (Engineering). 

Zora has raised a $2M seed round led by Kindred Ventures with participation from Trevor McFedries of Brud, Alice Lloyd George, Jeff Staple, Coinbase Ventures and others.

Tokenized community

But this idea that physical goods or even digitally packaged works have to exist as finite containers of value is not a given either. Goens and Horne are pushing to challenge that too with the first big new product for Zora: community tokens. Built on Ethereum, the $RAC token is the first of its kind from Zora. André Allen Anjos, stage name RAC, is a Portuguese- American musician and producer who makes remixes that stream on the web, original music and has had commercial work featured in major brand ads. 

Though he is popular and has a following in the tens of thousands, RAC is not a social media superpower. The token distribution and subsequent activity in trades and sales is purely driven by the buy-in that his fans feel. This is a key learning for a lot of players in this new economy: raw numbers are the social media equivalent of a billboard that people drive by. It may get you eyeballs, but it doesn’t guarantee action. The modern creator is living in a house with their fans, offering them access and interacting via Discord and Snap and comments. 

But those houses are all other people’s houses, which leads into the reason that Zora is launching a token.

The token drop serves multiple purposes. 

  • It unites fans across multiple silos. Whether they’re on Intsa, Tiktok, Spotify or Snapchat, they can all earn tokens. That token serves as a unifying community unit of value that they all understand and pivot around. It’s a way to own a finite binary “atom” of an artist’s digital being.
  • It creates a pool of value that an artist can own and distribute themselves. Currently you cannot buy $RAC directly. You can only earn it. Some of that is retroactive for loyal supporters. If, for instance, you followed RAC on Bandcamp dating back to 2009, you’ll get some of a pool of 25,000 RAC. Bought a bit of RAC merch? You get some credit in tokens too. Future RAC distributions will be given to Patron supporters, merch purchasers etc.
  • The value stays in the artists universe, rather than being spun out into currency. It serves as a way for the artist to incentivize, reward and energize their followers. RAC fans who buy his mixtape get tokens, and they can redeem them for purchases of further merch. 
  • It allows more flexibility for creators whose work doesn’t fall so neatly into package-able categories. Performance art, activism, bite-sized entertainment. These are not easy to ‘drop’ for money. But if you have a circulating token that grows in value as you grow your audience, there is definitely something there. 

The future of Zora most immediately involves spinning up a self-service version of the marketplace, allowing creators and entrepreneurs to launch their products without a direct partnership and onboarding. There are many, many uncertainties here and the team has a lot of challenges ahead on the traction and messaging front. But as mentioned, some early releases have shown promise, and the philosophy is sound and much needed. As the creator universe/passion economy/what you call it depends on how old you are/fandom merchant wave rises there is definitely an opportunity to rethink how the value of their contributions are assigned and whether there is a way to turn the long-term labor of building a community into long-term value. 

The last traded price of RAC’s tape, BOY, by the way? $3,713, up 18,465%. 

#articles, #artist, #brand, #coca-cola, #coinbase, #coinbase-ventures, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #curator, #designer, #economy, #finance, #financial-technology, #kindred-ventures, #kpmg, #operating-system, #snapchat, #social-media, #spotify, #tc

Mycons makes it easy to create and buy custom icons for your iOS homescreen

A new app called Mycons, launched today, is tapping into the iOS 14 homescreen customization trend by making it easier for anyone, including non-designers, to quickly create their own custom icons, as well as shop premade icon-and-wallpaper packs from designers.

With the release of iOS 14 in mid-September, millions of users began to take advantage of new functionality like iOS widgets to customize their iPhone homescreens. As a part of this trend, users also rediscovered how to use Apple’s Shortcuts app to create custom icons for their favorite apps in order to match their new homescreen aesthetic.

As a result, homescreen customization apps shot to the top of the App Store in the days and weeks following the iOS 14 launch.

The trend doesn’t seem to be a flash-in-the-pan, either. Today, top custom widget provider Widgetsmith continues to rank at No. 8 on the App Store’s (non-game) top free apps chart, as of the time of writing.

But while most of the new customization apps focus on creating your own iOS 14 widgets, those that help users design their own icon sets are more difficult to find. Some existing apps have retooled to address user demand for icons, like Launcher, while others have debuted paid icon marketplaces, like Brass.

Mycons, meanwhile, offers both an icon customization toolset and the option purchase premade icon packs.

Image Credits: Mycons, via the App Store

If you want to build your own icons, you can use the “Icon Studio” section in Mycons to get started. Some introductory functionality is offered for free, and a one-time upgrade of $9.99 unlocks the full functionality.

“I wanted to release the app with a handful of basic design features available for free, so users can get a feel for how things work and still be able to make their homescreens look beautiful, without coughing up their hard earned cash,” explains Mycons developer Daniel McCarthy.

Image Credits: Mycons app

Once the Icon Studio’s full customization capabilities are unlocked, you’ll find them to be fairly extensive.

You can pick solids, gradients or even a photo as your icon background, or opt to use a premium background you’ve purchased.

And if you’re setting your own color as the background, Mycons lets you choose between using a color grid, color spectrum, adjusting sliders or entering a specific Hex Color number to get exactly the right shade.

The app also includes a searchable database with thousands of symbols and logos to choose from — including symbols for your most-used apps as well as harder-to-find generic symbols, like the RSS symbol, for instance. For some of the more popular apps — like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Snapchat, for example — you’ll even find a few different options to choose from.

You can then choose to place the symbol in the center, the top or bottom left, or the top or bottom right. You can also adjust the symbol’s color, size and transparency.

Image Credits: Mycons app

Mycons makes it easy to create a whole set of custom icons at once, too.

After you design your icon template style, you can toggle an option, “Enable Batch Export,” to select multiple symbols then apply the same background to all. You then tap the “Export” button to send all the icons to your Camera Roll at once.

If you’re not up for building your own icons, Mycons also offers packs you can buy.

In a separate tab from the Icon Studio, Mycons lets you shop icon packs from designers via one-time in-app purchases. These range in price from $7.99 to $9.99 and include a set of backgrounds (wallpapers) to match the custom icons. In some cases, these are available in multiple colors and styles, too.

 

 

Once purchased, you can use the style with your own custom icon designs. That’s an advantage over buying an icon pack off Etsy, for instance, where you only get a set number of icons — but no tools to build your own to match, in the case you’re missing a few.

At launch, the designs offered come from just three creators, Mycons developer Daniel McCarthy, artist Alanna Ranellone, and painter and photographer Jenna McCarthy.

Image Credits: Mycons

Now that the app is live, Mycons is opening up to other designers who can apply to join the marketplace through a link in the Settings tab of the app.

Not all designs will be accepted, however, McCarthy says. Instead, the marketplace will be curated to ensure all the designs are unique and high-quality.

McCarthy, who previously worked as designer himself, says he plans to offer Mycons’ designer partners how they want to be paid: either as contract work at a competitive market rate or as a percentage of sales.

A performance bonus will also be offered in the case that an icon pack becomes a hit, but the designer had opted for the contract rate option.

“I always try to do what’s fair and right,” McCarthy explains. “If a design partner opts for contract work and their designs end up being wildly successful, I’m not going to let them get screwed,” he says.

Designers will also be credited in the app and allowed to link out to their own websites or social media accounts, if they choose. In this way, their Mycons marketplace listing could serve as lead gen for their own design business.

Mycons is a free download with in-app purchases on the App Store.

#aesthetic, #apple, #apps, #custom-icons, #design, #designer, #icon, #icon-builder, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-homescreen, #ios-apps, #ios-homescreen, #ios-icons, #ios14homescreen

Arm launches new chip designs for autonomous systems

Chip designer Arm today announced the launch of a new set of solutions for autonomous systems for both automotive and industrial use cases. These include the Arm Cortex-A78AE high-performance CPU,
the Mali-G78AE GPU and Arm Mali-C71AE image signal processor.

What makes all three of these chips stand out is that they have built-in safety features. ‘Safety,’ in this context, means that the chips feature additional capabilities that ensure that every calculation is essentially double-checked.

Traditionally, Arm has offered two modes for its CPU. In ‘split mode,’ all cores work independently and only go offline every now and then for quick sanity checks. This works well for applications with low or no safety requirements since the cores can run at close to their maximum performance.

Image Credits: Arm

In ‘locked mode,’ cores run in pairs and their operations are cross-checked against each other. This helps these chips satisfy various automotive safety requirements, but comes with an obvious performance penalty as you can only use half the cores.

Today, the company introduced its new hybrid mode for its CPUs, which combines the best of both worlds for high-performance use cases where only medium failure detection is needed. It allows the cores to still run in split mode, but the shared cluster logic, which integrates the cores, now runs in lock mode. That provides the safety mechanisms of lock mode — just at a different layer — with the performance of split mode.

For the new AE-version of the Mali GPU, Arm is introducing what it calls ‘flexible partitioning,’ which makes it easier to split the various GPU cores between workloads as needed. That means features like maps can run in one partition, separate from safety features like driver monitoring or running the instrument cluster.

Traditionally, Arm targeted these AE-branded designs at the automotive industry. ‘AE’ actually used to stand for ‘automative enhanced.’ Now, however, it is targeting the broader market for autonomous systems.

“We introduced this AE [intellectual property]. It was referring to ‘automotive enhanced,’ originally, and so it has specific features, performance, safety, for the automotive market,” Arm’s VP of its automotive business, Chet Babla, told me. “But fast forward to today and what we’ve realized that in talking to industrial OEMs and the compute requirements, the safety requirements they have, they’ve said, ‘actually, what you’re doing in the automotive space is very applicable to the compute and safety challenges that we face.’”

While Arm is remaining relatively quiet about its $40 billion acquisition by Nvidia, which is still going the regulatory process, it’s worth noting that both companies have set their eyes on this market for autonomous systems, with Nvidia offering its own platform for autonomous robots, using its Jetson AGX, for example, which use ARM CPUs in addition to Nvidia’s own GPUs. It looks like that won’t change anytime soon.

“Powerful new processing capabilities are needed to enable future autonomous vehicles and machines. As a lead partner for the new Arm Cortex-A78AE, NVIDIA delivers the advanced performance and safety
these edge AI systems require with our next-generation NVIDIA Orin SoC,” said Gary Hicok, senior vice president of hardware development at NVIDIA.

#arm-holdings, #automotive, #autonomous-systems, #computing, #designer, #driver, #gpu, #system-on-a-chip, #tc, #tegra

As fashion has its metaverse moment, one app looks to bridge real and virtual worlds for sneakerheads

Fashion is having its moment in the metaverse.

A riot of luxury labels, music, and games are vying for attention in the virtual world. And as physical events and the entertainment industry that depends on them shuts down, virtual things have come to epitomize the popular culture of the pandemic.

It’s creating an environment where imagination and technical ability, not wealth, are the only barriers to accumulating the status symbols that only money and fame could buy.

Whether it’s famous designers like Marc Jacobs, Sandy Liang, or Valentino dropping styles in Nintendo’s breakout hit, Animal Crossing: New Horizons; HypeBae’s plans to host a fashion show later this month in the game; or various crossovers between Epic Games’ Fortnite and brands like Supreme (which pre-date the pandemic), fashion is tapping into gaming culture to maintain its relevance.

One entrepreneur who’s spent time on both sides of the business as a startup founder and an employee for one of the biggest brands in athletic wear has launched a new app to try build a bridge between the physical and virtual fashion worlds.

Its goal is to give hypebeasts a chance to collect virtual versions of their physical objects of desire and win points to maybe buy the gear they crave, while also providing a showcase where brands can discover new design talent to make the next generation of cult collaborations and launch careers.

Aglet’s Phase 1

The app, called Aglet, was created by Ryan Mullins, the former head of digital innovation strategy for Adidas, and it’s offering a way to collect virtual versions of limited edition sneakers and, eventually, design tools so all the would-be Virgil Ablohs and Kanye Wests of the world can make their own shoes for the metaverse.

When TechCrunch spoke with Mullins last month, he was still stuck in Germany. His plans for the company’s launch, along with his own planned relocation to Los Angeles, had changed dramatically since travel was put on hold and nations entered lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Initially, the app was intended to be a Pokemon Go for sneakerheads. Limited edition “drops” of virtual sneakers would happen at locations around a city and players could go to those spots and add the virtual sneakers to their collection. Players earned points for traveling to various spots, and those points could be redeemed for in-app purchases or discounts at stores.

We’re converting your physical activity into a virtual currency that you can spend in stores to buy new brands,” Mulins said. “Brands can have challenges and you have to complete two or three challenges in your city as you compete on that challenge the winner will get prizes.”

Aglet determines how many points a player earns based on the virtual shoes they choose to wear on their expeditions. The app offers a range of virtual sneakers from Air Force 1s to Yeezys and the more expensive or rare the shoe, the more points a player earns for “stepping out” in it. Over time, shoes will wear out and need to replaced — ideally driving more stickiness for the app.

Currency for in-app purchases can be bought for anywhere from $1 (for 5 “Aglets”) to $80 (for 1,000 “Aglets”). As players collect shoes they can display them on their in-app virtual shelves and potentially trade them with other players.

When the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders came through, Mullins and his designers quickly shifted to create the “pandemic mode” for the game, where users can go anywhere on a map and simulate the game.

“Our plan was to have an LA specific release and do a competition, but that was obviously thrown off,” Mullins said.

The app has antecedents like Nike’s SNKRS, which offered limited edition drops to users and geo-located places where folks could find shoes from its various collaborations, as Input noted when it covered Aglet’s April launch.

While Mullins’ vision for Aglet’s current incarnation is an interesting attempt to weave the threads of gaming and sneaker culture into a new kind of augmented reality-enabled shopping experience, there’s a step beyond the game universes that Mullins wants to create.

Image Credits: Adidas (opens in a new window)

The future of fashion discovery could be in the metaverse

“My proudest initiative [at Adidas] was one called MakerLab,” said Mullins.

MakerLab linked Adidas up with young, up-and-coming designers and let them create limited edition designs for the shoe company based on one of its classic shoe silhouettes. Mullins thinks that those types of collaborations point the way to a potential future for the industry that could be incredibly compelling.

“The real vision for me is that I believe that the next Nike is an inverted Nike,” Mullins said. “I think what’s going to happen is that you’re going to have young kids on Roblox designing stuff in the virtual environments and it’ll pop there and you’ll have Nike or Adidas manufacture it.”

From that perspective, the Aglet app is more of a Trojan Horse for the big idea that Mullins wants to pursue. That’s to create a design studio to showcase the best virtual designs and bring them to the real world.

Mullins calls it the “Smart Aglet Sneaker Studio”. “[It’s] where you can design your own sneakers in the standard design style and we’ll put those in the game. We’ll let you design your own hoodies and then [Aglet] does become a YouTube for fashion design.”

The YouTube example comes from the starmaking power the platform has enabled for everyone from makeup artists to musicians like Justin Bieber, who was discovered on the social media streaming service.

“I want to build a virtual design platform where kids can build their own brands for virtual fashion brands and put them into this game environment that I’m building in the first phase,” said Mullins. “Once Bieber was discovered, YouTube meant he was being able to access an entire infrastructure to become a star. What Nike and Adidas are doing is something similar where they’re finding this talent out there and giving that designer access to their infrastructure and maybe could jumpstart a young kid’s career.”

#adidas, #air-force, #clothing, #culture, #designer, #entrepreneur, #epic-games, #fashion, #footwear, #germany, #justin-bieber, #kanye-west, #los-angeles, #new-horizons, #nike, #nintendo, #player, #roblox, #shoe, #sneakers, #tc, #techcrunch

How will coronavirus change the world? — Parlia launches to help you find out

Is Greta Thunberg a hypocrite?” Google that phrase and you will get thousands of results. It just goes to show that, to a large extent, the “Q&A” model is broken on the internet. Where once Yahoo Answers and Quora were considered the bright young things of Web 2.0’s “Read/Write Web”, today there is only the chaos of myriad search results. Let’s face it, many have tried to really crack Q&A (remember “Mahalo”?) but few ever got very far and most became zombie sites.

But look again and you will notice something. A site called Parlia sits at Number 3 on that search result for ‘Is Greta Thunberg a hypocrite’. But Parlia only launched (in stealth mode) in October last year.

So how can this be?

Well, this upstart in the Q&A space has now closed a Pre-seed round of funding from Bloomberg Beta, Tiny VC and others (amount undisclosed).

And as founder, and former journalist, Turi Monthe tells me, the idea here is Parlia will become an “encyclopedia of opinion.”

“We’re a wiki: mapping out all the perspectives on both the breaking stories and controversies of the day, as well as the big evergreen questions: does God exist? Is Messi really better than Ronaldo? The way we’re building is to also help fix today’s polarisation, outrage and information silo-ing,” he tells me.

While most Q&A sites are geared around X vs Y, and focused on rational debate, Parlia is trying to map ALL the opinions out there: flat earthers’ included. It’s aiming to be descriptive not prescriptive and is closer to a wiki, unlike Quora where the authors are often selling ‘something’ as well as themselves as experts.

The site is already on a tear. And also highly appropriate for this era.

Right now top subjects include “How to stay healthy during quarantine at home?” or “What are the effects of spending long periods in coronavirus isolation?” or “Will the coronavirus crisis bring society together?” The list goes on. Users see the arguments calmly, dispassionately laid out, alongside counter-arguments and all the other arguments and positions.

Says Munthe: “In 2016, I realized the age of political consensus was over. I watched as Britain spilt maybe a trillion words of argument in the build-up to the Brexit Referendum and thought: there are no more than a half-dozen reasons why people will vote either way.”

He realized that if there’s a finite number of arguments around something as huge and divisive as Brexit, then this would be true for everything. Thus, you could theoretically map the arguments around Gun Control, Abortion, responses to the Coronavirus, the threat of AI, and pretty much everything.

So why would anyone want to do that? It’s, of course, a good thing in itself and would help people understand what they think as well as help them understand how the rest of the world thinks.

Luckily, there is also a business model. It will potentially carry ads, sponsorships, membership, user donations. Another is data. If they get it right, they will have surfaced foundational information about the very ways we think.

Munthe thinks all the users will come through Search. “The media opportunity, we think, is 100M+ pageviews/month,” he says.

Munthe’s cofounder is J. Paul Neeley, former Professor of the Royal College of Art, and a Service Designer who’s worked with Unilever and the UK’s Cabinet Office. Munthe himself has been exploring the systemic issues of the media ecosystem for some time. From founding a small magazine in Lebanon, reporting in Iraq in 2003, then starting and exiting Demotix, to launching North Base Media (a media-focused VC).

The temptation, of course, is to allow bias to creep in return for commercial deals. But, says Menthe: “We will never work with political parties, and we will set up our own ethics advisory board. But that understanding should be of value to market researchers and institutions everywhere.”

So now you can find out how coronavirus will change the world?

#biology, #cofounder, #coronavirus, #demotix, #designer, #europe, #google, #iraq, #journalist, #lebanon, #linguistics, #messi, #quora, #tc, #unilever, #united-kingdom, #yahoo