Cent, the platform that Jack Dorsey used to sell his first tweet as an NFT, raises $3M

Cent was founded in 2017 as an ad-free creator network that allows users to offer each other crypto rewards for good posts and comments — it’s like gifting awards on Reddit, but with Ethereum. But in late 2020, Cent’s small, San Fransisco-based team created Valuables, an NFT market for tweets, and by March, the small blockchain startup was thrown a serendipitous curveball.

“We just wrapped up for the day, and I was about to go eat dinner, and all these people started texting me,” remembers CEO Cameron Hejazi. Then, he realized that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had minted Twitter’s first ever Tweet through Cent’s Valuables application. “I was basically like, mildly shivering for the rest of the night. The whole team, we were like, ‘Okay, battle stations, prepare to get hacked!’”

Dorsey ended up selling his NFT for $2.9 million, and he donated the proceeds to Give Directly’s Africa Response fund for COVID-19 relief. But for Cent, it was as if the small company had just been handed a free marketing campaign. Now, about five months later, Cent is announcing a $3 million round of seed funding with investors like Galaxy Interactive, former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Will.I.Am, and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

On Valuables, anyone on the internet can place an offer on any tweet, which then makes it possible for someone else to make a counter-offer. If the author of the tweet accepts an offer (logging into Valuables requires you to validate your Twitter account), then Cent will mint the tweet on the blockchain and create a 1-of-1 NFT.

The NFT itself contains the text of the tweet, the username of the creator, the time it was minted, and the creator’s digital signature. The NFT also includes a link to the tweet, though the linked content lives outside the blockchain.

There’s nothing proprietary about minting tweets as NFTs — another company could do the same thing that Cent is doing. Even Twitter itself has recently dabbled in giving away free NFT art, though it hasn’t tried to sell actual tweets as NFTs like Cent. Still, Hejazi sees Dorsey’s use of Cent like an endorsement — he thinks it would be difficult for Twitter to shut them down, since Dorsey made $2.9 million on the platform himself. After all, Dorsey chose Cent instead of taking a screenshot of his first tweet, minting the .JPG as an NFT, and posting it on a larger NFT platform, like OpenSea.

“We’ve spoken with people at Twitter. I’m positive that we have a healthy relationship going,” Hejazi said (Twitter declined to comment on or confirm whether that’s true). “We thought about applying this approach to other social platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but we hypothesized that this is particularly suited for Twitter, because it’s a conversation platform, and it’s where all of the crypto people are actually living.”

With Cent’s seed funding Hejazi hopes to continue building the platform. The company’s goal is to enable anyone creative to make an income through the use of NFTs — that means developing tools to make it simpler for its users to mint NFTs, but also, building out its existing creator-focused social network. The content people post on Cent is usually creative work, like art and writing, rather than short posts — it’s closer to DeviantArt than it is to Reddit. These are lofty goals for a $3 million seed funding round, but there are aspects of Cent’s Beta platform that make it promising.

“There’s already value in what we post on social media. It’s just being proxied through ad dollars, and it doesn’t have to be the case that there’s so much wealth concentration in a single entity. We can work toward a system that decentralizes that wealth,” said Hejazi. “These networks as they exist have monopolies on distribution — you can’t take your Twitter audience, download it as a .CSV, and send them all an email.”

A screenshot of Cent’s social platform.

In addition to independent distribution lists, Hejazi wants to move away from the ad-supported internet. He references Substack as an example of a company where the creator has control of their list, and at the same time, the platform can remain ad-free, since the money that propels it comes from the users who pay to subscribe to newsletters (and also, venture capital helps).

But Cent does something different by allowing users to essentially invest in creators who they think have the potential to take off on their platform.

Users can “seed” a post, which is how you subscribe to a creator participating on the creatives side of Cent’s platform. As the seeder, you pay a set fee of at least one dollar per month. There’s an incentive to support up-and-coming creators on the platform, because seeders get a portion of the creators’ future profit — it’s like making a bet on them that they will continue to make great content in the future. Five percent of profits go toward Cent, but the remaining 95% is split 50/50 between the creator and all of their past seeders. Participating on this platform would allow creators to network and show support for one another, but doesn’t prevent them from more directly monetizing their work on other creator platforms, like Patreon.

In addition to seeding posts, users can also “spot” other people’s posts — Cent’s version of a “like” button. Each “spot” is the equivalent of one cent from the user’s crypto wallet. Cent’s argument is that getting 1,000 likes on a post on other platforms yields nothing but a vague sensation of social clout. But on Cent, if a user gets 1,000 “spots,” that’s $10. Still, a project like this can only work if enough people use the platform.

“When we started Cent, we chose cryptocurrencies because we loved the idea of someone being able to earn money with nothing more than their creativity and a crypto address,” Hejazi said. “Over time, we’ve found it to be limiting as a payment type — very few people actually own it and have it ready to spend. We’re working on ways to make payments to creators using Cent easier, and are exploring both crypto-native and non-crypto options.”

This mindset echoes other NFT startups like Yat, which allows payments via credit card as part of its “progressive decentralization” model. So much of these companies’ success depends on public buy-in toward an eventual decentralized, blockchain-based internet. But until then, companies like Cent will continue to experiment in reimagining how creatives can get paid online.

#apps, #author, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #deviantart, #disney, #ethereum, #funding, #jack-dorsey, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #mark-pincus, #operating-systems, #penny, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #twitter, #venture-capital, #zynga

Hyper is a new fund that offers $300k checks and promise of a media slingshot for founders 

Hyper is a $60M early-stage fund co-founded by Josh Buckley, Product Hunt’s CEO along with writer, founder and designer Dustin Curtis. Two ex-Sequoia operators are part of the team at launch as well. Malika Cantor as Partner and GM and Ashton Brown as Head of Program. The fund launches today and is self-described as ‘inspired by the Product Hunt community’. 

The team will be writing $300k checks for 5% of very early companies in any arena that seems promising to the partnership in a fixed deal structure that mirrors Y-Combinator. 

The fund will exist as a ‘sister company’ to Product Hunt (though it’s going to technically own it). Product Hunt, however, is the first of what the team says will be many companies it will own, create and operate in order to provide ‘direct value’ to its portfolio companies. 

I had a chat with Buckley, Curtis and Cantor about the new fund and company and the way that they hoped to differentiate Hyper in a world of aggressively service-oriented venture firms. 

The short version is: distribution. It’s hard to argue with the overall assumption that the Hyper team is working under — capital is majorly commoditized. Frankly, sometimes that’s all you want from an investor whose value add is more of a thorn in your side than anything. But, especially at the early stage there are a few funds and firms that offer a strong value outside of writing checks in the form of, say, hiring, sales introductions or board members that have relevant operational experience. 

Where Hyper differs, says Buckley, is that they see distribution as the biggest value add for a nascent startup at the stages where the firm hopes to invest. Product Hunt is one opportunity that he points to as an example. It’s an established launch pad to an audience of extreme early adopters that can provide a seed of a real user base — Hyper itself is launching via a post on the platform. 

I’ll let the Hyper team’s words spell out what they say is its thesis:

Hyper believes that every company (B2B or B2C) needs access to distribution channels to find customers, users, and talented employees to join their teams. Hyper works with early-stage companies at three key junctures in a startup’s journey:

  • Initial customer acquisition and validation (often at the pre-Seed stage)
  • First product/company launch and hiring (often at the Seed stage)
  • Scaling customer acquisition and fundraising (before the Series A)

Founders who go through the program will remain a part of the tight-knit Hyper founder community long past their Series A.

Over the past few months, Buckley says that Product Hunt has grown headcount by around 50% in part to boost its ability to act as an enhanced distribution channel. 

A short list of some of the people involved as advisors, mentors or investors themselves includes Alexis & Serena Williams, Alfred Lin of Sequoia, Garry Tan of Initialized, Harry Stebbings, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Naval Ravikant, Owen van Natta, Ryan Hoover, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Sriram Krishnan of a16z. 

It’s a pretty eclectic group, but if you squint you can see the shape of the ambitions that Hyper has reflected in the parties involved. A mix of media, venture and product figures is probably the right way to go if you want to back yourself into a media empire funded by venture capital returns. 

They’ll be building additional media products as well, especially ones that focus on areas of hyper growth and high interest in order to both generate deal flow and to feature companies in the portfolio. Interestingly, unlike many marketing-operations-disguised-as-journalistic-enterprises, Curtis says that they want these to be real, functioning media companies and that startups funded by Hyper will be presented on those sites and platforms in clearly defined sections that make it clear that they are part of the program. 

As an example, the team is careful to state that Product Hunt will remain a ‘neutral platform’ for launching products and that Hyper companies will get clearly marked slots on the site. 

Surrounding those placements will be content that is produced by editorial media arms independent of the fund (though, in the end, funded by the profits of the fund). They’re not quite up to giving specifics about how they’re going to power these media properties initially but the funds management fees as well as most of its profits from carry will go towards cultivating the distro side. The other part of the ‘most’ will, one assumes, go to the individual investors. Curtis says that there could be other ways to obtain capital to speed up this process that is allowed by the unique structure of Hyper like debt or equity financing. 

Hyper itself is trying to establish two lines of business. A portfolio of wholly owned companies like Product Hunt (which still counts AngelList as a majority investor and Ravikant on its board) and other new media brands. And the other component which includes the portfolio of Hyper funds (plural theirs) and a founder program that includes mentorship, twice-a-year-events, and other future efforts — eventually. 

The mentorship component that Hyper hopes to add for founders in the fund is an 8-week founder program that includes individuals from “partners” like Andreeessen Horowitz, AngelList, Sequoia Capital, the Twenty Minute VC Podcast and Product Hunt helping founders to solve ‘key challenges’. Some of the participants are investors in Hyper, though none of the funds participated themselves The group includes some close to home figures as well, in Product Hunt GM Ashley Higgins and founder Ryan Hoover.

The program will also offer office hours with experts, an exclusive Product Hunt launch event and a Public Hyper Demo Day and Investor Demo Day to participate in within a year of being in the program.

The Hyper concept sounds fresh in combination, if not in components. An enormous amount of ink has been spilled, for instance, on the spinning up of the VC media apparatus as a bullhorn for a tech-optimism POV. But most of that content is understood to be talking the firm’s book and not intended to be seen as journalism. Though the media publications that Hyper is planning on forming have yet to be realized, there is enough of a differentiating spark here that could make it a unique play that attempts to straddle the worlds of editorial and venture. 

I have thoughts about the way that venture and media interact, as you might imagine given what I do and waves hands at the masthead where we are having this little chat. Combining a media and investing apparatus is not a new concept — as TechCrunch readers will know. But it’s not without its complexities. Enthusiast media that works does so for a couple of major reasons, in my opinion:

  • Genuine obsession with the subject matter. The writers, editors and even business people involved must have a crazy thirst to understand and contextualize the subjects that they write about. There can be no in-between here, as they are speaking every day to an audience that is just as obsessed with it as they are and can detect any level of commitment to it that is less than 100%. 
  • A patina of either trust or candor built over time. You can go into it with some bona-fides that you buy with a big name hire or series of them, and the reputations that they’ve built elsewhere. But if you’re full of shit, you’re going to lose — no matter how well positioned and funded you are. You may ‘win’ long term by turning what you’re doing into something else, a broad interest publication in niche clothing, for instance. But you won’t win at the enthusiast level.
  • An intense, punishing commitment to momentum. The further you delve into any niche, the more knowledgeable your audience will be. This means that you must produce uniquely insightful, crisp, well-researched content every day and you must do it with a level of granularity that surpasses anyone else in your niche. Your audience lives and breathes this stuff so if you’re telling them things they’ve already read on 3 message boards, in private texts or in their work slack then you’ve lost. You’ve got to get subcutaneous and not just superficially so. 

And when you add in a layer of complexity that is proudly announcing your vested interests in the success of particular companies, it just ups the level of difficulty massively. I don’t think that it’s at all impossible to run a fund that feeds a media arm, but it’s definitely a ‘doing a really hard thing while also on fire’ kind of operation.

Which doesn’t mean that Hyper can’t pull it off. Product Hunt is the model for what they’re trying to do, creating close-to-the-ground media that attracts as many operators and investors as it does early adopters. Duplicating that in a variety of publications and events, however, is not easy at all. 

I will say that a bet on distribution as value add is still one of the better stabs that I’ve seen lately. The capital is, as Buckley told me, readily and generically available. And having your calling card be “we can help the first 10, 20 or 30 thousand people know that you even exist” isn’t a bad situation at all. It works.

This is, after all, what we do at TechCrunch, we just don’t take a cut. 

The announcement today is the Hyper the fund, and the fact that they’re opening applications to a small cohort of 25 companies. The applications are planned to open for roughly 4 weeks every quarter and the deadline for this tranche is August 10th, 2021 at midnight PT. The second cohort will open in November 2021. 

The fund is taking applicants worldwide though notes that some countries present legal complexities for investment. 

#advisors, #alfred-lin, #angellist, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #dustin-curtis, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #garry-tan, #harry-stebbings, #head, #horowitz, #hyper, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #josh-buckley, #media, #money, #naval-ravikant, #owen-van-natta, #product-hunt, #ryan-hoover, #sequoia-capital, #sriram-krishnan, #tc, #venture-capital

Quibi’s content is coming to Roku as ‘Roku Originals,’ will kick off Roku’s investment in original content

Earlier this year, Roku acquired the program catalog from Quibi, the short-form video app backed by Jeffrey Katzenberg that had failed to gain traction amid the pandemic, despite nearly $2 billion in financing. Quibi had been designed for on-the-go viewing, but launched when users were staying at home — watching TV on bigger screens and for longer periods of time. But now Quibil’s shows will return. Roku announced today that Quibi’s catalog will be rebranded as “Roku Originals,” and will arrive on The Roku Channel in the near future.

Roku says it will offer more details about its launch plans in May.

The company’s Roku Originals will become available to stream for free within The Roku Channel, the media platform’s ad-supported streaming hub for TV, movies, news, live TV, sports, and more. The originals arriving will include a range of content, including scripted and unscripted series, as well as documentaries. At launch, these will be available to users in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. only.

Quibi’s service had made headlines for its shows that featured several big names from Hollywood, including Anna Kendrick, Chrissy Teigen, Lena Waithe, Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, and Liam Hemsworth, among others. But none of the Quibi content had been compelling enough to push consumers to subscribe to Quibi’s service — that is, Quibi didn’t have a flagship show like “Game of Thrones” or a new “Star Trek” series to draw people in. It didn’t have any classics, either, like “The Office” or “Friends.” Instead, Quibi was relying on the combination of star power and its “quick bites” mobile viewing format to attract users. But the latter no longer made sense when life on-the-go had been shut down. And for escapist, short-form entertainment, users already had TikTok.

Today, Roku notes that while the Quibi shows will serve as the initial backbone for its Roku Originals catalog, it plans to launch more original programming in the future under this brand.

In 2021, the company will roll out over 75 Roku Originals, which will include Quibi’s catalog and other unreleased series that never got the chance to air on Quibi before its shutdown. This will complement The Roku Channel’s existing lineup of over 40,000 free movies and programs, and its over 165 free live, linear TV channels.

Roku’s streaming business got a big boost during the pandemic, which brought in a record $649.9 million in revenue in the fourth quarter and pushed Roku to a $65.2 million profit when Wall St. was expecting a loss. Active users were also up 39% year-over-year to 51.2 million, and The Roku Channel’s free hub grew faster, doubling to 63 million people. With originals, Roku has a chance to further retain that audience, even as the pandemic bump starts to fade and users go back to their regular lives as vaccination rates increase and workplaces re-open.

The Wall St. Journal had earlier reported Roku paid less than $100 million for Quibi’s catalog.

#internet, #internet-television, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #media-platform, #quibi, #roku, #streaming, #united-states

Remote hiring startup Deel raises $156M at a $1.25B valuation after 20x growth in 2020

Many of the world’s organizations shifted to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as more people are vaccinated and offices are planning re-openings, it’s clear that for some organizations, remote work is here to stay. 

Deel, a startup which provides payroll, compliance tools and other services to help businesses hire remotely, has seen increased demand in the wake of this shift.

And today, the San Francisco company has announced that it has raised $156 million in Series C funding led by the YC Continuity Fund and existing backers Andreessen Horowitz and Spark Capital. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, former Stripe payments guru Lachy Groom, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jeff Wilke, and Anthony Schiller also participated in the round, among others. 

The raise is notable for a few reasons. For one, it comes just over seven months after Deel raised a $30 million Series B financing. So it is essentially more than 5x the size of that round. It’s also a big deal because it propels Deel, a 3 year-old company, to unicorn status with a $1.25 billion valuation. The raise also comes after a massive year of growth for Deel, which says it saw a “20x” increase in revenue in 2020 with over 1,800 business clients. That’s up from 500 at the time of its September raise.

Co-founded by MIT alumni Alex Bouaziz and Shuo Wan, Deel aims to allow businesses “to hire anyone, anywhere, in a compliant manner.” It claims that by using its services, businesses can hire and onboard international employees or contractors in under 5 minutes, with no local entity required and that “paying them in 120+ currencies takes just a click.”

Deel plans to use its new capital to continue an international expansion and set up 80 new Deel-owned entities across the world in 2021. Deel also plans to do some hiring itself, and grow its product offerings. The company’s own team is entirely remote, and has grown from 7 employees to over 120 across 26 countries since January 2020. CB Insights projects the industry for virtual HR software will grow to $43 billion by 2026 as technology platforms like Deel help businesses make the transition to remote-first work.

YC Continuity’s Ali Rowghani, who has joined Deel’s board as part of the funding, believes Deel was already at the forefront of remote work pre-pandemic and that “it will be long after.”

“The way people work is fundamentally changing… the [Deel] team is uniquely equipped to remove the obstacles of remote work so companies hire the best talent in the world, instead of only those nearest to them,” he said in a written statement.

As TechCrunch previously reported, Deel today already provides various tools to employees and the organizations that they work for, such as payroll services, tax compliance information, assistance on building contracts, invoicing services and a range of insurance options covering health and other areas related to working life.

Now the plan is to continue building out that stack with more services aimed at both the workers and their employers. That includes loans based on salary for workers, more insurance and benefits options and other offerings.

#alex-bouaziz, #ali-rowghani, #andreessen-horowitz, #anthony-schiller, #ceo, #dara-khosrowshahi, #deel, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hiring, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #lachy-groom, #mit, #recent-funding, #remote-work, #san-francisco, #spark-capital, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

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

Roku acquires Quibi’s content

Quibi is dead, but its shows will live on.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Roku was in talks to acquire the short-form video service’s content. And this morning, Roku announced that it has indeed reached a deal for the exclusive distribution rights to all of Quibi’s programs.

Roku said it will make this content available for free with ads on The Roku Channel. That doesn’t just include the shows that were previously available on Quibi, but also “more than a dozen” programs making “their exclusive debut on The Roku Channel” — in other words, they were created for the service but unreleased due to the app’s shutdown.

“Today’s announcement marks a rare opportunity to acquire compelling original content that features some of the biggest names in entertainment,” said Roku’s vice president of programming Rob Holmes in a statement. “We’re excited to make this content available to our users in The Roku Channel through an ad-supported model. We are also thrilled to welcome the incredible studios and talented individuals who brought these stories to life and showcase them to our tens of millions of users.”

While Roku is best known for its streaming TV devices and software, advertising is a growing part of its business. And it says The Roku Channel (which offers both free content and subscription channels) reached 61.8 million U.S. viewers in the fourth quarter of last year.

Quibi, meanwhile, announced its shutdown in October, just six months after its splashy launch. The service was focused on creating video episodes that lasted 10 minutes or less and were designed for viewing on-the-go — a poor fit for a period of pandemic and lockdowns.

In their farewell note, executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman suggested that the service failed due to a combination of bad timing and the fact that “the idea itself wasn’t strong enough to justify a standalone streaming service.”

“The most creative and imaginative minds in Hollywood created groundbreaking content for Quibi that exceeded our expectations,” Katzenberg said in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled that these stories, from the surreal to the sublime, have found a new home on The Roku Channel.”

It’s also worth noting that the service was initially focused entirely on mobile viewing, with no way to watch the shows on smart TVs. That eventually changed, starting with the addition AirPlay support. Now, with the Roku acquisition, it seems that shows designed to be watched on your smartphone will instead be viewed primarily on your TV.

#entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #mobile, #quibi, #roku, #startups, #streaming-television

Week in Review: Snapchat strikes back

Hello hello, and welcome back to Week in Review. Last week, I wrote about the possibility of a pending social media detente, this week I’m talking about a rising threat to Facebook’s biz.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here. And while I have you, my colleague Megan Rose Dickey officially launched her new TechCrunch newsletter, Human Capital! It covers labor and diversity and inclusion in tech, go subscribe!


Image: TechCrunch

The Big Story

First off, let me tell you how hard it was to resist writing about Quibi this week, but those takes came in very hot the second that news dropped, and I wrote a little bit about it here already. All I will say, is that while Quibi had its own unique mobile problems, unless Apple changes course or dumps a ton of money buying up content to fill its back library, I think TV+ is next on the chopping block.

This week, I’m digging into another once-maligned startup, though this one has activated quite the turnaround in the last two years. Snap, maker of Snapchat, delivered a killer earnings report this week and as a result, investors deemed to send the stock price soaring. Its market cap has nearly doubled since the start of September and it’s clear that Wall Street actually believes that Snap could meaningfully increase its footprint and challenge Facebook.

The company ended the week with a market cap just short of $65 billion, still a far cry from Facebook $811 billion, but looking quite a bit better than it was in early 2019 when it was worth about one-tenth of what it is today. All of a sudden, Snap has a new challenge, living up to high expectations.

The company shared that in Q3, it delivered $679 million in reported revenue, representing 52% year-over-year growth. The company currently has 249 million daily active users, up 4% over last quarter.

Facebook will report its Q3 earnings next week, but they’re still in a different ballpark for the time being, even if their market cap is just around 12 times Snap’s, their quarterly revenue from Q2 was about 28 times higher than what Snap just reported. Meanwhile, Facebook has 1.79 billion daily actives, just about 7 times Snapchat’s numbers.

Snap has spent an awful lot of time proving the worth of features they’ve been pushing for years, but the company’s next challenge might be diversifying their future. The company has been flirting with augmented reality for years, waiting patiently for the right moment to expand its scope, but Snap hasn’t had the luxury of diverting resources away from efforts that don’t send users back to its core product. Some of its biggest launches of 2020 have been embeddable mini apps for things like ordering movie tickets or bite-sized social games that bring even more social opportunities into chat.

Snap’s laser focus here has obviously been a big part of its recovery, but as expectations grow, so will demands that the company moves more boldly into extending its empire. I don’t think Snapchat needs to buy Trader Joe’s or its own ISP quite yet, but working towards finding its next platform will prevent the service from settling for Twitter-sized ambitions and give them a chance at finding a more expansive future.


Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Trends of the Week

These next few weeks are guaranteed to be dominated by U.S. election news, so enjoy the diversity of news happenings out there while it lasts…

Quibi is dead
Few companies that have raised so much money have appeared quite dead-on-arrival as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile video startup Quibi. This week, the company made the decision to shut down operations and call it quits. More here.

Pakistan unbans TikTok
It appears that the cascading threat of country-by-country TikTok bans has stopped for now. This week, TikTok was unblocked in Pakistan with the government warning the company that it needed to actively monitor content or it would face a permanent ban. Read more here.

Facebook Dating arrives in Europe
Facebook Dating hasn’t done much to unseat Tinder stateside, but the service didn’t even get the chance to test its luck in Europe due to some regulatory issues relating to its privacy practices. Now, it seems Facebook has landed in the tentative good graces of regulatory bodies and has gotten the go ahead to launch the service in a number of European countries. Read more here.

 

 

Until next week,

Lucas M.

#apple, #computing, #europe, #facebook, #instant-messaging, #isp, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #megan-rose-dickey, #mobile-applications, #mobile-software, #pakistan, #quibi, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #software, #tc, #tiktok, #trader, #united-states, #vertical-video, #week-in-review

The short, strange life of Quibi

“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.”

With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service.

Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time.

A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

“We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.”

Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million.

From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators.

For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start.

Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics.

Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away.

Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.”

It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper.

Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

#apps, #entertainment, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #streaming-media

4 quick bites and obituaries on Quibi (RIP 2020-2020)

In memory of the death of Quibi, here’s a quick sendoff from four of our writers who came together to discuss what we can learn from Quibi’s amazing, instantaneous, billions-of-dollars failure.

Lucas Matney looks at what the potential was for Quibi and how it missed the mark in media. Danny Crichton discusses why billions of dollars in VC funding isn’t enough in competitive markets like video. Anthony Ha discusses the crazy context of Quibi and our interview with the company earlier this year. And Brian Heater looks at why constraints are not benefits in new products.

Lucas Matney: A deadpool company before it was even launched

#jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #meg-whitman, #quibi, #startups, #wndrco

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blames coronavirus for the streaming app’s challenges

Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is admitting that the short-form video service’s launch hasn’t gone the way he’d hoped — and he knows what to blame for its issues.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg said in an interview with The New York Times. “Everything. But we own it.”

Back in April, I actually asked Quibi executives about how they thought the worldwide pandemic and widespread social distancing measures might affect their launch. After all, an app designed to deliver videos under 10 minutes when you’re on-the-go seems less appealing when no one can leave their house (where you can just sit on your couch and watch Netflix).

“I’m looking to take small breaks more than ever before to stand up, walk around, go outside,” CTO Rob Post said at the time. “Our use cases are these in-between moments. Now more than ever, that use case is still present.”

Similarly, Katzenberg told The Times he’d hoped “there would still be many in-between moments while sheltering in place.” Instead, he argued that those moments are still happening, “but it’s not the same. It’s out of sync.”

How badly has the launch gone? Quibi says it has been downloaded around 3.5 million times, and that it currently has 1.3 million active users. That’s a significant audience, especially for a service that was only released a little over a month ago.

Still, Katzenberg admitted it’s “not close to what we wanted.” And the company is apparently adjusting its projections, which had called for the service to reach 7 million users and $250 million in subscriber in its first year.

At least it sounds like Quibi is trying to learn and adapt. For one thing, the marketing has started to shift to promoting specific shows like “Reno 911” reboot, rather than advertising the idea of Quibi itself. For another, the company said it will be adding support TV viewing support for iOS users this week.

#jeffrey-katzenberg, #media, #mobile, #quibi, #tc