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 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

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. Rebuilt From The Ground-Up For The iPhone

When betaworks and a team from the New York Times put out the iPad app last year, it was a forward-thinking experiment on using your Twitter network to filter the news. It was a little bit too forward thinking, as it turns out, with its multiple views of what people in your social network were reading. But the team learned from it and redesigned the entire experience from the ground up for the iPhone app, which just went live today in the iTunes store.

While the iPad app never really took off, its daily news email became a quiet hit. It is a once-a-day summary of the top news your friends are reading on Twitter. The engagement rates on the email product were through the roof, so the team took that as its new starting point. “After seeing the reaction to that,” says general manager Jake Levine, “it became clear to us there is this overwhelming need for a social discovery experience built for news.”

Unlike the iPad app, which never rolled up all of your social news into one feed, the iPhone app does exactly that. (Instead, you had to click on each of the people you follow on Twitter one at a time to see their social news view). The iPhone app presents you with a single, unified stream of the top news stories across your social networks. You can log in with Twitter and now with Facebook too, and then it shows you not only what the people you follow are sharing, but what they are seeing and reading in their feeds.

“There is an opportunity to build a new network for news on top of Twitter and Facebook,”says Levine. “There is too much crap on Twitter and Facebook, and people need help wading through it.”

The iPhone app shows you both the article headline and the conversations around it. But the articles come first instead of the Tweets and status updates. It shows you conversations at the article level, with comments below. This combination of headline and picture, with social comments below is a compelling re-ordering of the way we normally “read” news on social networks. It draws you into the story.

The entire app is designed to be used with one hand.When you click on a headline, you can often read the full story in the app (otherwise it opens up a browser within the app), save it to your reading list for later, and share it via Twitter, Facebook, or email. You can also comment on the article within the app, or just leave a quick reaction (Ha!, Wow, Awesome, Sad, Really?).

I’ve been using the iPhone app for a couple of weeks, and I find myself wanting to tweak the algorithm, or exclude certain sources . But for the most part, it provides a steady stream of top news across my social networks, pre-filtered and ready to read.

Levine is right that there is too much noise out there and is tackling the very hard problem of how to filter the news shared across your social networks. Its first pass is simply to pull out the headlines from the links and show that first, but then it looks for other signals such as how many times a story is shared or retweeted.

Filtering the news in a way that seems natural to different readers is extremely complex. does this filtering job better than most apps using a combination of social signals and algorithms (remember, betaworks also owns, so it knows what links people are sharing across the Web). But the key is that it boils this down into a simple interface.

With, the news is only as good as your network. Just one more reason to follow people who share the news you care about.

Facebook Is Selling “Stories,” Not “Ads”

I am sitting here at Facebook’s marketing conference in New York City’s Natural History Museum (TechCrunch has a liveblog here), and the big message Facebook is trying to communicate to the brand advertisers assembled here is that they shouldn’t think about Facebook as a place to show people ads, but rather to tell them stories. Facebook is a “storytelling platform,” says VP of product Chris Cox. Facebook marketing director Mike Hoefflinger put it more bluntly: “We are evolving from ads to stories.”

Just as Facebook users now all have their new, more visual Timeline, brand pages will also soon adopt the Timeline design. Brands will love this because it will give them a much richer canvas to market to Facebook users, including features such as pinned posts and new ad types such as offers.

With pinned posts, Facebook is following in the footsteps of Twitter, which introduced a similar concept on its brand pages in December. But Facebook goes way beyond what Twitter is doing. For one thing, it will now be selling ads in your news feed itself, not just along the side. Twitter for the most part has resisted cluttering the main user streams with ads, (although Promoted Tweets can appear there under some circumstances). Facebook ads will continue to appear in the top right of your Facebook page, but they will also appear in your feed itself, on mobile, and as well as in the logout screen (37 million people a day log out of Facebook, so that is valuable real estate)

But remember, these are not “ads.” They are “stories.” And brands are encouraged to use these stories to create one-on-one relationships with consumers. Usually these stories take the form of things people would like to share like videos of sponsored athletes (something which Red Bull does). A successful ad on Facebook is one that people want to talk about, and thus share on Facebook with their friends.

So how will Facebook make increase the chances that those brand stories will be shared? Probably the most important announcement today for brand marketers is a new Facebook ad targeting product it announced today called Reach Generator. The most likely people who will share a brand’s message are consumers who are already Facebook fans of that brand. Reach Generator is simply a way to target Facebook ads, or “stories” to those fans in different places on Facebook (in their news feed, on their homepage, on their mobile devices, at logout). Ben & Jerry’s, a beta advertisers, found that marketing to fans doubled their engagement rates, and Facebook says other advertisers are finding similar results.

Targeted advertising up until now involved guessing which consumers across the Web would be most likely to be interested in a marketing message. Facebook’s twist on targeted advertising is to show ads to people who have voluntarily stated their affinity to a brand. And those fans then spread those ads to their friends, but only if they don’t seem like ads. So brands need to tell stories.

It’s a return to Advertising 101. The best commercials on TV are mini-narratives. The best magazine ads look like art photos. The best ads online spark a conversation.


Monday was my last day at TechCrunch, after more than four years and 4,000 posts. This blog is my new home on the Web. I’m keeping it simple. Just a WordPress blog where I will write about startups, technology, and media.

This is a personal blog. It is not a professional news site. I don’t plan to hire any other writers. I don’t even expect it to be my main project (but it is the first one I can share publicly). It will be personal in that I will be writing more for myself than to please readers, but if I please some of you along the way, all the better. I will use it to work through some ideas about media and technology, and as a sounding board, which I hope will inform other projects.

In a way, I am returning to blogging’s personal roots. But on the internet, the personal is very public, which is what originally made blogging interesting. Some of that got lost along the way as blogs became news sites. (Yes, I am partly to blame for that). News sites operate by their own logic which is hard to escape.

I won’t be chasing news here, although I might break some now and then. I am going to write about things I care about. Maybe some of you will care about them as well. What makes a good startup? Where is the nexus of mobile and social? What happens to media in a post-PC, post-TV world?

This will be my TechStream (the sub-title of this blog) because for me media and technology flow together. Over the past few years, media has become dominated by realtime streams—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on. Media is increasingly consumed as streams of information. Also, more generally, here is where I will publish my stream of thoughts on tech.

No pressure, no deadlines, no noise. All signal.

Photo credit: Audrey