About Erick Schonfeld

Gentleman blogger

Lessons From The DEMO Tour: Hardware Is The New Software

DEMO Tour deviceJust before the holidays, we wrapped up the first leg of our DEMO Tour. In partnership with some amazing VC firms—Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins in Silicon Valley and First Round Capital in New York City—the DEMO team met with about 30 mobile startups and developers vetted from more than 100 applicants for the Tour alone.

These were private sessions, and were every effective in surfacing early, high-quality candidates for DEMO Mobile in April. (The deadline for scholarships is January 15, so applynow). Partners at each VC firm, including Frank Chen and Ronny Conway at a16z, Chi-Hua Chien and EIR Stephanie Tilenius at Kleiner, and Chris Fralic and Howard Morgan at First Round (pictured below), sat in with us to provide feedback to the presenting companies.

We saw some terrific products targeting areas you would expect to be hotbeds of activity such as mobile media, commerce, communications, enterprise, and health. What surprised me the most, however, was the variety of hardware products. Now, I can’t go into too much details just yet on exactly what these products were (you will have to wait for them to launch or come to DEMO Mobile in April to find out). But they weren’t phones. They were creative applications wrapped in hardware.

Some of these were the types of products you might see on an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign. A few were really out there—in a good way. (Try to guess what the product being demoed in the photo above is supposed to do). The engineers and entrepreneurs with hardware products were the kind of people who don’t have the patience to wait for a bigger company to build the hardware they need. So they just did it themselves, and with not much more money than a typical software project would require.

Hardware is the new software. In an era when anyone can be a maker, manufacturing is like server capacity—it is available to every entrepreneur on the planet. If you can imagine it, you can build it. The new devices we saw took advantage of cheap sensors and standard computing parts to collect data from the real world in new ways or to create immersive experiences that blend the physical world with the digital. It was eye-opening, and I can’t wait to see more hardware products that solve real-world problems in astonishing ways.

If you are working on a new mobile device, or custom-built hardware that solves thorny problems, please apply to launch at DEMO Mobile. I am especially excited to find new consumer health devices and mobile enterprise hardware built for specific industries. Of course, software and mobile apps are always welcome as well.
DEMO Tour Fralic Morgan

Pitch DEMO at Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Or First Round

Are you building a killer mobile product that is going to change the world? Do you want feedback on your pitch from some top VCs and me? In order to find the very best startups and products for DEMO Mobile in April (apply here), I am embarking on a short DEMO Tour next month in partnership with Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and First Round Capital.

The concept is simple: we will take over a conference room at each VC firm and hear pitches from ten mobile startups. Each startup will then receive feedback on how to make their pitch better from both DEMO and a partner from the hosting VC firm. This is a terrific opportunity to meet some of the smartest investors in tech and strut your stuff in front of them. All meetings will be private and confidential. In addition to the feedback session, select participants will be invited to launch at DEMO Mobile in April.

In order to qualify for the DEMO Tour, you need to be working on a mobile product ready to launch next April. Mobile is defined rather broadly to include not just mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, but also devices, services that take advantage of mobile data, robotics, and new vehicles. Apply below for slots at each stop on the tour.

Introducing DEMO Mobile

If there is one fundamental shift sweeping over the technology industry, it is the current transition to mobile computing. The opportunity is immense. Apple embraced the transition early and was rewarded handsomely for it. Google also sees it. Facebook sees it. Paypal sees it. Even Yahoo sees it. But will the revolution be led from above or come from below?

My bet is on a startup. Chances are the next major technology company to join the ranks of Apple, Google, and Facebook will be a mobile-first company. And chances are that it is just now being born, which is why for my first DEMO event I am focusing on mobile. If you are a founder or product leader with a world-changing mobile product ready to launch next April 17, I encourage you to apply to DEMO Mobile. The application deadline is February 15, 2013. Scholarships are available for startups with $500,000 or less in funding. Those who want to be considered for a scholarship must apply by January 17.

Mobile marks a new era in how products and companies are built. If you are a mobile product person—a founder, designer, or product manager—this conference is for you. If you are an investor looking for the next great mobile startups, they will be onstage at DEMO Mobile. And if you are a product leader at an established company working on a stunning new mobile product, DEMO Mobile is the place to launch.

DEMO Mobile will be my first event as executive producer of DEMO. It will be a little different than most recent DEMOs. This will be a one-day conference on a single topic: mobile. The bar to get in will be higher. Only 25-30 companies will be invited to present onstage, about a third less than at a normal DEMO. And it will take place in a new location, at San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center.

Some things I won’t change. The essence of DEMO will remain: there will be a laser-focus on great products and the people who create them. DEMO is a big show-and-tell. To get into DEMO Mobile you really need to be able to show us something new, and open people’s eyes to the possibilities of the post-PC world. Surprise us or delight us. It’s that simple.

We are looking for big ideas and beautiful design in the selection process: mobile apps for smartphones and tablets that break new ground and address new industries, novel mobile devices, wearable computers, robotics, and even vehicles will be considered. We are defining mobile rather broadly. It includes both hardware and software, and can target both the consumer or the enterprise.

One reason mobile is so exciting is that it brings the transformative power of software into the real world away from our desktops. While I love all the games, social networking, communications, media, and information apps built specifically for mobile, I suspect the biggest impact will be in areas just now coming into their own such as mobile commerce, health, education, transportation, workforce management, productivity, or mobile data. But surprise us. The best products get in.

The great thing about DEMO, besides all the attention your startup will receive from investors and the media, is that it a hard deadline by which you need to have a working product. For many startups and product teams, the deadline is a powerful forcing function of that gets them into the market quicker than they would otherwise. For that reason alone, if you are working on a killer mobile product, you should apply.

Show Me Your Best DEMO

Ever since I left TechCrunch six months ago, people have been asking me, “What’s next?” I’ve been purposefully silent about most of my activities, but today I can share some news. Beginning next month, I will become the new executive producer of DEMO, the original product launch conference.

Yes, I know. I used to compete with DEMO. But it is all good. Competition makes everyone stronger. It is good for events, and it is even better for products. I’ve always enjoyed discovering new technology products and startups, and bringing them to a wider audience. Now I will do everything I can to make DEMO the place where the best product ideas compete for attention.

Today we are witnessing a Cambrian explosion of startups. It’s never been easier or cheaper to launch a technology product. But it’s also never been a noisier or more crowded environment. There is more value than ever in selecting, culling, and showcasing the most promising products and startups. It is very much an editor’s job, which is how I will approach my role at DEMO.

But I will also be approaching it from a product perspective. Over the past few months, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what it takes to turn a set of wireframes into living code by rolling up my sleeves at bMuse, a New York City product incubator where I am also now a partner. I will continue to work there on a variety of projects, including my own—more details on that in a future post. DEMO and bMuse are not affiliated. My only point is that building products is very different from writing about them. Both are important (I will also continue to write here and contribute articles at Techonomy), but some things you can only learn by doing yourself.

Under my watch, DEMO will be laser-focused on launching the best products, period. It won’t be about celebrities. It won’t be about tech news. The products are the celebrities as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if they come from startups or established companies. If you are working on a killer product that will launch next year, I want to see it. Show me your best DEMO and I’ll put you on stage. (I can be reached via email at producer@demo.com or erickschonfeld [at] gmail).

The first event I produce will be next spring, but I will attend DEMO this October to observe. DEMO producer and VentureBeat editor-in-chief Matt Marshall (who first told me about the opening and introduced me to DEMO general manager Neal Silverman a few months ago) has done a great job at introducing some much-needed changes over the past three years. For instance, it is a lot more startup-friendly. There are now 20 slots for early-stage startups who get in for free if they are accepted, as well as other scholarship programs.

But the startup world is changing quickly, and DEMO needs to keep pace. It used to be that the best startups all flowed through the venture capital system. Now other avenues are opening up. There are so many incubators and accelerators (Y Combinator, TechStars, 500 Startups), alternative funding from networks like AngelList, and crowdfunding is also unleashing a whole new wave of products.

I will consider any change that can make DEMO better. Nothing is sacred: format, on-stage sessions, even how applicants are vetted. Great ideas can come from anywhere. I will personally travel around the world to find the best products and startups. If you have ideas for how I can make DEMO the best product launch platform, please send me an email or tell me in comments.

“3 And 30”

In the venture capital world, most partners are paid based on two numbers: 2 and 20. The norm in the industry is to charge limited partners (the institutions and wealthy individuals who invest in VC funds) a 2 percent management fee and 20 percent of any profits after the initial capital is returned in any given fund. Andreessen Horowitz doesn’t work that way. It charges investors up to “3 and 30” (the numbers can be less too, but that is the maximum on a sliding scale). And those investors are happy to pay it.

If you want to understand how dominant Andreessen Horowitz is as a VC firm after only three years in existence, you need to understand those two numbers: “3 and 30.” Only a handful of the top VC firms are able to command similar fees, and most of them have been around for decades. Andreessen Horowitz is now one of the top dogs, but it plays by its own rules. I detail how it got there and how it is shaking up the VC world in “The Andreessen Horowitz Effect,” an article I wrote for Techonomy (where I will be a regular contributor).

Here is an excerpt:

In the three short years since Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz set up shop as venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road, they’ve already established Andreessen Horowitz as one of the top VC firms in Silicon Valley, right up there with Accel, Benchmark, Greylock, Kleiner, and Sequoia. Some would argue that it is the top firm. They’ve raised $2.7 billion across three funds and they somehow seem to get into every deal that matters. The Andreessen Horowitz portfolio includes such familiar names as Skype, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Airbnb, Fab, Groupon, and Zynga.

To say Andreessen Horowitz is shaking up the VC world is putting it mildly. “They are maniacs. They bully their way into every deal,” says a well-connected Google executive. A competing VC characterizes their arrival in the VC industry this way: “They are going around putting bombs in all the mailboxes on Sand Hill Road saying, ‘Fuck you, we are here.’”

Read more

Infographics Are Broken. We Can Do Better.

Infographics on the web are so bad and so broken. They are everywhere, yet few actually do a decent job of conveying information (click on the one at left to see what I mean). Some even argue that they are ruining the Internet. They tend to be formulaic and overreaching, often cobbling together too much information instead of focusing on the one or two nuggets that are truly useful. (How much better would most infographics be if they pulled out the most salient chart or set of stats and discarded the rest?)

There are many reasons why they suck. Primary among those is that they take too long to make, and the underlying data is difficult to assemble. Today, they are driven more by marketing budgets than editorial discretion. Most of them are created by companies and distributed for “free” to blogs and media outlets as a form of PR and viral marketing. The publishers eat them up because it is free content that would otherwise be expensive to produce. Design shops sometimes charge a few thousand dollars to create a single infographic.

I know we can do better, which is why I’ve applied for a grant from the Knight News Challenge on Data to build a data visualization platform to address some of these shortcomings (please like it or reblog it on Tumblr). You can also learn more in this Q&A about the project I did with Jeff Davis.

As I note in my Knight News application:

Infographics are very popular on the web, but most of them aren’t very good. The information inside them is trapped. They tend to be flat files, unsearchable, and most are not interactive.

And yet people love them because humans are visual creatures. We can absorb more data more quickly by glancing at a chart than scanning the same numbers in a table, or reading through a few paragraphs. Publishers love infographics because readers can’t stop themselves from clicking on them. (A whole sub-meme exists for infographics about infographics, including the one below by Think Brilliant, which is actually a rare example of an effective infographic).

What publishers need is a better way to create and present visual data. We need a tool to produce well-designed infographics on our own—quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. And not just one-size-fits-all infographics—all kinds of data visualizations, from simple bar charts to interactive maps and timelines.

But wait. Aren’t there a growing number of startups already tackling this infographic-creation problem? Yes, companies like Visual.lyInfogr.amVizualize.me, Tableau Software, and iCharts are creating tools in this general area.  And that’s great. If they can do a better job creating these visualizations, I’d love to work with them. However, all of them currently embrace a bring-your-own-data approach.

Producing a great interactive chart is only half the battle. A platform that taps into existing data and makes it instantly chartable is what is missing.  Finding the right sources of data in a chartable form is the hard part. There is lots of compelling data all over the Internet: social data (Facebook and Twitter), company data (CrunchBase), financial data (SEC, Yahoo Finance), geo data (Foursquare, Factual), government data (data.gov), product data (Amazon). It all exists in various silos, and most of it cannot be browsed visually.

The big idea here is to create a data visualization platform where data providers can plug into one end and data visualizers can plug into the other. It will be open in that anyone will be able to import or create their own infographic and charting templates. Some of the data and charts will be free, and some will be for sale. But the more open, the better.

Initially, the platform will be geared towards bloggers and news organizations, but could expand to other industries and types of data. Again, from my Knight News Challenge proposal:

We are solving this problem for publishers. First, we will create a library of interactive chart templates, which can be expanded and contributed to by others. By creating templates, we will make it possible to produce high-quality data visualizations in an efficient, repetitive fashion which can be embedded anywhere.

We will also connect existing databases and work with data providers to offer a growing menu of chartable data sets geared towards journalists. Journalists will be able to bring their own data, but over time they will be able to find more of what they need baked into the platform.

The best data visualizations out there today are bespoke and almost hand-crafted. That doesn’t scale for web publishing in terms of either economics or speed. Most blogs and web news organizations don’t have an art department. A platform for creating decent looking interactive infographics is certainly something I would use, and I suspect other bloggers and news publishers would embrace it as well.

If you think it’s a good candidate for the Knight News Data Challenge, please support it by “hearting” the application or reblogging it. If you are a data provider or a company creating data visualizations, let me know what is the best way to work with you. And if you are a programmer or information designer and would like to get involved, please contact me (erickschonfeld at gmail).

We are awash in data, but we can’t even see it. The data visualization platform I envision would be a step towards fixing infographics so that they actually tell us something new.

Is The NYT Paywall Working?

Almost one year ago in mid-March 2011, the New York Times put up a paywall on its site and started charging frequent visitors. So how is it doing? Traffic to the NYT predictably took an initial hit and is still slightly below its pre-paywall levels. But the number of paid digital subscribers is growing steadily.

In its most recent quarter, the New York Times announced today that there are now 454,000 paid online subscribers to the NYT and the International Herald Tribune, up 16 percent from the previous quarter. (If you add in the Boston Globe’s 18,000 digital subs, the total rises to 472,000, but I’ll stick with just the NYT numbers for this analysis and the chart above).

The number of paid subscribers to the NYT is up 62 percent since the second quarter of 2011, when it had 281,000. Digital subscribers pay between $15 and $35 a month (although you can get a 4-week trial right now for 99 cents, and print subscribers get the online versions for no additional charge). Total circulation revenues at the New York Times Media Group is up 12.8 percent to $190 million, while total advertising revenues are down 4.5 percent to $173 million. Circulation revenues are now more than advertising revenues.

And it’s not just weakness in print advertising that is bringing down those numbers. Digital advertising revenues in the news group alone are down 2.3 percent (and down an even greater 10 percent if you count the struggling About.com unit). Without the paywall, digital ad revenues would be higher.

But the tradeoff seems to be working somewhat. Circulation revenues are growing faster (up 12.8 percent) than advertising revenues are declining (down 4.5 percent). All of these numbers are just for the New York Times Media Group, but the same trends are showing up across the entire company, which includes numbers from the Boston Globe and About.com (Total advertising revenues are down 8.1 percent, while total circulation revenues are up 9.7 percent).

The NYT is now at about half a million paid digital subscribers. That number is partly inflated by special discounted trial offers, but if it can keep those trial members paying at full price or convince print subscribers to stick around, the paywall will be doing its job. It really needs to get to one million paid digital subscribers to prove enduring. By that point, digital advertising revenues might also rebound because paid subscribers are considered more loyal, and thus more valuable to advertisers. That’s how it works in print media. Magazines and newspapers routinely spend marketing dollars to increase paid circulation so that they can charge more for the ads. The ad rates are typically based on the number of “paying” subscribers (even if they are not all paying full price).

Online it’s a little bit different because the same ads are shown to paying subscribers and casual visitors ( who can read 10 stories a month for free). Paying subscribers, though, will make up an increasing percentage of the total pageviews since they are not limited in how many pages they can view. The NYT salesforce should be trying to charge more for its paying audience, which overtime should result in a higher blended CPM (cost per thousand impressions) for its online ads—or at least keep upward pressure on those rates.

It doesn’t take that many more paying subscribers to impact pageviews significantly, which is what the advertising revenues are based on (impressions). If you are paying for the NYT, chances are you go there every day and click to your heart’s content. I’d love to know the number of clicks per paid subscriber. But I’d be willing to bet that at about one million paid subs, the pageviews more than make up for what they lost to the paywall.

Taking A Different Path

With Path raising north of $30 million yesterday at a reported $250 million valuation, it’s natural that everyone is comparing it to Instagram, which sold just last week for $1 billion to Facebook.

After all, on the surface the two mobile apps start from a similar place: both are primarily used to share photos with friends and followers, both use filters to make crappy phone pics look better, both are mobile-first apps, and both are highly social apps.

It’s easy to compare. In fact, when the Instagram deal was announced, I wondered out loud what it would mean for Path’s valuation:

But as Om Malik detailed in a post yesterday titled “Why Path is no Instagram,” the two services are far from interchangeable. “I find the comparisons with Instagram unfounded and premature,” he writes.

The truth is that Path is not trying to be like Instagram. It is taking its own path, one which may end up being more difficult. But if it makes it through to the other side, it could end up becoming even more valuable than Instagram. Path’s ambition is not to become a killer mobile app. Its ambition is to become a killer mobile social network. It’s a much broader ambition than Instagram’s and much harder to pull off.

Right now, Path only has about one tenth the number of registered users that Instagram does (3 million versus 30 million), and an even smaller fraction of active users. AppData, for instance, estimates Path’s monthly active users at 500,000, compared to 12.6 million for Instagram. (Remember, these are outside estimates, and thus, are surely wrong, but hopefully they are wrong by the same degree for both services and thus give us a sense of the relative popularity of each one. Also, note how all the publicity in the past few days has boosted Path’s numbers).

Not only does Path have much fewer users than Instagram, but its semi-private nature (you are limited to 150 friends) is holding back its reach. I am not as convinced as Om, however, that this is such a bad thing.

When you take a deeper look at Path, it is very different from Instagram. Yes, it uses mobile photo-sharing as its starting point, but there is so much more you can share with your friends, including your thoughts, your location, who else you are with, the songs you are listening to, video clips, and even when you are going to sleep (never used that one). Instagram does one thing incredibly well: mobile-photo sharing. Path is broader and yet more intimate at the same time. It is about sharing your life, but only with those people who are closest to you.

Today, Path is a drop-dead gorgeous mobile app, especially in its current incarnation (Path 2.0). Just like with any social app, it is only as good as the people in your network who are also using the app. And while Path is making progress, the way it is designed actually works against rapid, viral growth.

As I’ve argued in the past, the quasi-private nature of Path is its Achilles Heel. I personally still struggle with the empty-room problem whenever I open the app. The only people I see in there are VCs and bloggers, not my actual close friends.

Om has a similar issue:

. . . the app at present lacks the draw or the engagement I normally experience on Instagram and other apps. I have found that it does so much that I sometimes forget to open the app, even though I intend to. Path still needs to define a singular addictive behavior and that is its challenge (and opportunity.)

I am not so sure about that second part. Yes, Path needs to do one thing well. But one thing does not always mean one feature (sharing photos or location or ideas). The one thing Path needs to do well is to become the means to share your life no matter what you are doing and no matter where you are.

If it wasn’t for the empty-room problem, I would be addicted to Path. But it’s too early in Path’s trajectory to determine where it will land. At least anecdotally, I am noticing the room is filling up, or at least more people are wandering in.

Path used to be completely private, but one of the smartest changes it made was to allow you to selectively share posts with your broader social networks across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare. That draws other people into Path and reminds inactive users to go back and check it out (“Hey, something is happening there!”).

However, keeping the network somewhat closed is still the key to making Path distinct from other social networks. The semi-private nature of the network is intended to make people comfortable sharing things they would never share on Twitter or Facebook. If Path is designed properly, people will share things there that they won’t anywhere else. (I haven’t seen too much evidence of this myself, but most of the people I know on Path are over-sharers anyway).

Path’s growth is slower than Instagram’s because it is more restricted by design. Path demands more of its users. You can’t follow someone unless they follow you back. It’s less for lurkers than it is for active sharers. You can’t just be a lurker because there aren’t enough people in your network to make lurking addictive.

You have to actively post and share to your network. It only becomes addictive when you get positive reinforcement, when your friends comment on or like whatever you are sharing—and perhaps share something back in response. Those are the magical moments Path needs to capture.

Until there is a critical mass of your friends posting in the app, there isn’t much reason to open it up. But once it reaches that critical mass, it might become very addictive indeed. And as long as Path keeps growing at a decent pace (albeit its own pace), it will keep moving closer to that tipping point. Can it get there? That is the $250 million bet investors just placed on Path.

Personal Capital’s iPad App Keeps Track Of Your Total Financial Picture (Demo)

Former Intuit and PayPal CEO Bill Harris launched his latest company, Personal Finance, last September. Today, he is launching the Personal Capital iPad app. In the video above, he gives a demo of the app.

Personal Capital is like Mint for your finances. It shows you a picture of all your financial accounts, from banks to brokerages, and helps you get a handle on your total financial portfolio. It takes all of your financial details and boils them up into simple charts displaying your asset allocation across all your accounts. The iPad app is filled with interactive charts that you can swipe and drill down into. It even includes ways to visualize how much your stock options are worth.

“It is more and more clear that most American households financially are out of control,” says Harris. Simply seeing where all your money is across various accounts is the first step to gaining back control. Customers get the data analytics for free, but Harris is betting that a significant portion of them will opt into letting Personal Capital manage some of their money. The company is a registered investment adviser and employs financial advisers who are available by phone or Web. Now, with the iPad app, you can even do Facetime sessions with your adviser.

Since launch, a total of 10,000 people have linked their accounts to Personal Capital, which is now tracking more than $2 billion worth of assets. A small portion of those people have signed up for the paid investment advisory service. Harris is going after affluent Americans who have assets to invest but are below the threshold of most financial advisers or who simply want better data and a digital dashboard for their finances.

The Coolest App At SXSW—Arqball Spin

I just spent five days in Austin at the SXSW Interactive Festival. There were no breakout social apps that took over the conference as in years past (like Twitter, Foursquare, or GroupMe), but there was one app that got almost zero buzz that blew me away. It has nothing to do with proximity-based social networks, photo-sharing, or finding a pedicab to the next SXSW marketing party. No, this is an app that can take real-world objects and turn them into photo-realistic 3D models.

The app is called Arqball Spin (iTunes link), and you can see it in action in the video above. Co-founder Jason Lawrence took my watch, placed it on a platter, then captured the rotating image on his iPhone using the app. In the time it took him to explain the technology—about a minute—he had a full 3D model of my watch that you can pinch, zoom, and rotate. (Check out the 3D model of my watch here, and this one of a spinning egglpant).

Arqball uses “computational photography” to create a 3D model of the rotating object placed on the platter, and then stitches images from different angles on top of it. The result is a digital object that looks real and even catches the light the same way my watch did on that platter. Game developers and animation studios create 3D objects like this all the time, but they don’t do it using their iPhones. That is why this is truly disruptive. It brings 3D modeling to the masses. You don’t need bulky 3D scanners or expensive desktop software, all the rendering happens in the cloud after the data is compressed to a 1MB file, and what you end up with is a 3D artifact called a “spin.”

The first application for Arqball Spin isn’t even for gaming or animation. It’s for commerce. Imagine every Etsy and eBay seller showing off their goods in 3D. The virtual item can be embedded on any site via an Arqball player. And it’s all HTML5—no Flash (so it works in iPad and iPhone browsers). This could be especially useful for luxury and highly-crafted items where the design is a key selling point. The drawback to online shopping is not being able to see or touch the product you are buying. Immersive technologies such as Arqball’s could help bridge that gap by giving people the opportunity to digitally manipulate and play with products before they buy.

I can see this becoming very appealing to high-end online retailers like Gilt who already spend a lot of time and money on lovingly photographing every luxury product on sale. Arqball’s platter, which it expects to sell for around $100, can only accommodate small objects not much larger than an Apple right now. But a professional photographer or retailer could build a bigger platter for larger objects. The technology works the same no matter the size of the object, as long as it rotates at a certain RPM.

Targeting online commerce is an obvious market entry strategy, but the app can be used by anybody. Lawrence sees it as a way to unleash “user-generated 3D content.” It seems like an obvious addition to any Maker’s tool belt. Over time, Arqball’s database of 3D objects could become increasingly valuable.

Lawrence and his co-founder Abhi Shelat are computer science professors from the University of Virginia. The company is completely bootstrapped and is based on technology they developed themselves. The app is free, and you get 5 “spins” that you can share. In the next few days, Arqball will introduced tiered pricing plans for users who want to share more spins.