All posts in “Startups”

Online ads and games would benefit from more rewards, according to UCLA survey

A new study from Versus Systems and the MEMES (Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports) Center at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management examines at how gaming and advertising are evolving, and how one influences the other.

As Versus Systems CEO Matthew Pierce put it, the goal was to study, “What is the impact on advertising as interactive media grows, and as more people consume interactive media?”

The individual findings — People like rewards! Not everyone who plays games calls themselves a gamer! — may not be that shocking to TechCrunch readers. And since Versus Systems has built a white-label platform for publishers to offer in-game rewards, the study might also seem a bit self-serving.

But again, this conducted was with UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, and both Pierce (who’s a lecturer at the school) and UCLA MEMES Head Jay Tucker pointed to size of the study, with 88,000 (U.S.-based) participants across a broad range of demographic groups.

Of those respondents, 50 percent said that they’ve played a video game (on any platform) in the past week, while 41 percent said they’ve played a game in the past 24 hours. However, only 13 percent of respondents described themselves as gamers. That “identification gap” is even larger among women, where 56 percent played a game in the past week but only 11 percent identified themselves as gamers.

Why does that matter? Well, the MEMES Center and Versus Systems argue in the study press release that “advertisers that are recognizing the value in advertising in-game may be underestimating how large and how diverse the gaming audience really is today.”

The study also suggests that traditional advertising may be facing more resistance from consumers, with 46 percent of respondents saying that they frequently or always avoid ads by “clicking the X” to close windows or changing channels or closing apps. Only 3.6 percent of respondents said they always watch ads all the way through.

When asked what would make them play games more, the most popular answer was “winning real things that I want when I achieve things in-game” — it was the number one result for 30 percent of respondents, and among millennials, it did even better. (In comparison, 18 percent put “if the games were less expensive” as their top answer and 11 percent said “my friends playing the same game(s).”) This attitude even extended to TV, where 77 percent of respondents listed rewards as one of the things (not necessarily the top reason) that would make them watch more television.

Meanwhile, 24 percent of respondents said listed “if more games/more shows were made for people like me” as the number one thing that would convince them to play or watch more.

Tucker suggested that these seemingly scattershot answers are actually connected. On the advertising side, “We’ve got folks who are used to being part of a community all day, every day, whether that’s social media or massively multiplayer games. We see users are increasingly connected and are not really interested in getting pulled out of an experience. Rewards, if done properly, can reinforce being part of a community … you can amplify that sense of connection.”

“The introduction of choice seems to make a big difference,” Pierce added. “We need new models where we can foster choice, foster community, foster more aspirational relationships between viewers and brands that ultimately allows content developers to have a relationship with the brands that isn’t so adversarial.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to content and storytelling, Tucker said we’re entering an “age of personalization.” Among other things, that means more diversity, in what he described as “a generational shift away from stories that assume everybody’s looking at life from the same perspective.”

Pierce and Tucker suggested that they’ll be taking an even closer look at the data in the coming months (“needs further study” was repeated several times during the interview), particularly by examining responses within smaller demographic groups.

The annual PornHub year in review tells us what we’re really looking at online

PornHub, a popular site feature people in various stages of undress, saw 33.5 billion visits in 2018. There are currently 7.53 billion people on Earth.

Y’all have been busy.

The company, which owns most of the major porn sites online, produces a yearly report that aggregates user behavior on the site. Of particular interest, aside from the fact that all of us are horndogs, is that the US, Germany, and India are in the top spots for porn browsing and that the company transferred 4,000 petabytes of data or about 500 MB per person on the planet.

We ignore this data at our peril. While it doesn’t seem important at first glance, the fact that these porn sites are doing more traffic than most major news organizations is deeply telling. Further, like the meme worlds of Twitter and Facebook, Stormy Daniels and Fortnite made the top searches which points to the spread of politics and culture into the heart of our desires. TV manufacturers should note that 4K searchers are rising in popularity, which suggests that consumer electronics manufacturers should start getting read for a shift (although it should be noted that there is sadly little free 4K content on these sites, a discovery I just made while researching this brief.)

Need more frightening/enlightening data? Here you go.

Just as ‘1080p’ searches had been a defining term in 2017, now “4k” ultra-hd has seen a significant increase in popularity through-out 2018. The popularity of ‘Romantic’ videos more than doubled, and remained twice as popular with female visitors when compared to men.

Searches referring to the dating app ‘Tinder’ grew by 161% among women, 113% among men and 131% by visitors aged 35 to 44. It was also a top trending term in many countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. The number of Tinder themed fantasy date videos on the site is now more than 3500.

Life imitates art, and eventually porn imitates everything, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see that ‘Bowsette’ also made our list of searches that defined 2018. After the original Nintendo fan-art went viral, searches for Bowsette exceeded 3 million in just one week and resulted in the release of a live-action Bowsette themed porn parody (NSFW) with more than 720,000 views.

Bowsette. Good. Moving on.

The Bible Belt representing well in the showings with Mississippi, South Carolina, and Arkansas spending the most time looking at porn. Kansas spent the least. Phones got the most use as porn distribution devices and iOS and Android nearly tied in terms of platform popularity.

Windows traffic fell considerably this year while Chrome OS became decidedly more popular in 2018. Chrome was popular when it came to browsers used while the Playstation was the biggest deliverer of flicks to the console user.

Porn is a the canary in the tech coal mine and where it goes the rest of tech follows. All of these data points, taken together, paint a fascinating picture of a world on the cusp of a fairly unique shift from desktop to mobile and from HD to 4K video. Further, given that these sites are delivering so much data on a daily basis, it’s clear that all of us are sneaking a peek now and again… even if we refuse to admit it.

They scaled YouTube. Now they’ll shard everyone with PlanetScale

When the former CTOs of YouTube, Facebook, and Dropbox seed fund a database startup, you know there’s something special going on under the hood. Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane saved YouTube from a scalability nightmare by inventing and open sourcing Vitess, a brilliant relational data storage system. But in the decade since working there, the pair have been inundated with requests from tech companies desperate for help building the operational scaffolding needed to actually integrate Vitess.

So today the pair are revealing their new startup PlanetScale that makes it easy to build multi-cloud databases that handle enormous amounts of information without locking customers into Amazon, Google, or Microsoft’s infrastructure. Battletested at YouTube, the technology could allow startups to fret less about their backend and focus more on their unique value proposition. “Now they don’t have to reinvent the wheel” Vaidya tells me. “A lot of companies facing this scaling problem end up solving it badly in-house and now there’s a way to solve that problem by using us to help.”

PlanetScale has quietly raised a $3 million seed round in April led by SignalFire and joined by a who’s who of engineering luminaries. They include YouTube co-founder and CTO Steve Chen, Quora CEO and former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo, former Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal, PayPal and Affirm co-founder Max Levchin, MuleSoft co-founder and CTO Ross Mason, Google director of engineering Parisa Tabriz, and Facebook’s first female engineer and South Park Commons Founder Ruchi Sanghvi. If anyone could foresee the need for Vitess implementation services, it’s these leaders who’ve dealt with scaling headaches at tech’s top companies.

But how can a scrappy startup challenge the tech juggernauts for cloud supremacy? First, by actually working with them. The PlanetScale beta that’s now launching lets companies spin up Vitess clusters on its database-as-a-service, their own through a licensing deal, or on AWS with Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure coming shortly. Once these integrations with the tech giants are established, PlanetScale clients can use it as an interface for a multi-cloud setup where they could keep their data master copies on AWS US-West with replicas on Google Cloud in Ireland and elsewhere. That protects companies from becoming dependent on one provider and then getting stuck with price hikes or service problems.

PlanetScale also promises to uphold the principles that undergirded Vitess. “It’s our value that we will keep everything in the query pack completely open source so none of our customers ever have to worry about lock-in” Vaidya says.

PlanetScale co-founders (from left): Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane

Battletested, YouTube Approved

He and Sougoumarane met 25 years ago while at Indian Institute Of Technology Bombay. Back in 1993 they worked at pioneering database company Informix together before it flamed out. Sougoumarane was eventually hired by Elon Musk as an early engineer for X.com before it got acquired by PayPal, and then left for YouTube. Vaidya was working at Google and the pair were reunited when it bought YouTube and Sougoumarane pulled him on to the team.

“YouTube was growing really quickly and the relationship database they were using with MySQL was sort of falling apart at the seams” Vaidya recalls. Adding more CPU and memory to the database infra wasn’t cutting it, so the team created Vitess. The horizontal scaling sharding middleware for MySQL let users segment their database to reduce memory usage while still being able to rapidly run operations. YouTube has smoothly ridden that infrastructure to 1.8 billion users ever since.

“Sugu and Mike Solomon invented and made Vitess open source right from the beginning since 2010 because they knew the scaling problem wasn’t just for YouTube, and they’ll be at other companies 5 or 10 years later trying to solve the same problem” Vaidya explains. That proved true, and now top apps like Square and HubSpot run entirely on Vitess, with Slack now 30 percent onboard.

Vaidya left YouTube in 2012 and became the lead engineer at Endorse, which got acquired by Dropbox where he worked for four years. But in the meantime, the engineering community strayed towards MongoDB-style key-value store databases, which Vaidya considers inferior. He sees indexing issues and says that if the system hiccups during an operation, data can become inconsistent — a big problem for banking and commerce apps. “We think horizontally-scaled relationship databases are more elegant and are something enterprises really need.

Database Legends Reunite

Fed up with the engineering heresy, a year ago Vaidya committed to creating PlanetScale. It’s composed of four core offerings: professional training in Vitess, on-demand support for open source Vitess users, Vitess database-as-a-service on Planetscale’s servers, and software licensing for clients that want to run Vitess on premises or through other cloud providers. It lets companies re-shard their databases on the fly to relocate user data to comply with regulations like GDPR, safely migrate from other systems without major codebase changes, make on-demand changes, and run on Kubernetes.

The PlanetScale team

PlanetScale’s customers now include Indonesian ecommerce giant Bukalapak, and it’s helping Booking.com, GitHub, and New Relic migrate to open source Vitess. Growth is suddenly ramping up due to inbound inquiries. Last month around when Square Cash became the number one app, its engineering team published a blog post extolling the virtues of Vitess. Now everyone’s seeking help with Vitess sharding, and PlanetScale is waiting with open arms. “Jiten and Sugu are legends and know firsthand what companies require to be successful in this booming data landscape” says Ilya Kirnos, founding partner and CTO of SignalFire.

The big cloud providers are trying to adapt to the relational database trend, with Google’s Cloud Spanner and Cloud SQL, and Amazon’s AWS SQL and AWS Aurora. Their huge networks and marketing war chests could pose a threat. But Vaidya insists that while it might be easy to get data into these systems, it can be a pain to get it out. PlanetScale is designed to give them freedom of optionality through its multi-cloud functionality so their eggs aren’t all in one basket.

Finding product market fit is tough enough. Trying to suddenly scale a popular app while also dealing with all the other challenges of growing a company can drive founders crazy. But if it’s good enough for YouTube, startups can trust PlanetScale to make databases one less thing they have to worry about.

Tempow’s new Bluetooth profile lets you create AirPods clones more easily

French startup Tempow has been working on software solutions to improve the Bluetooth protocol. The company just unveiled the Tempow True Wireless Bluetooth profile so that anybody can create AirPods clones.

Many companies have tried creating a pair of earbuds with absolutely no wire. But none of them are as good as Apple’s AirPods. Manufacturers can’t quite recreate the same experience because Apple has developed its own chip and software solution.

Putting aside the magical Bluetooth pairing process, AirPods leverage normal Bluetooth audio (A2DP) to communicate with your device. That’s why they work with iPhones, Android phones, old Windows laptops, etc.

But A2DP normally only lets you connect one device with one headphone. And that’s also what’s happening with AirPods. Your phone establishes a link with one of the earbuds. The second earbud then sniffs the first link.

Other manufacturers have tried to create wireless earbuds by establishing a second connection between the second earbud and the main earbud. They often use Near Field Magnetic Induction. This uses a lot of battery and creates latency issues.

Tempow has been rewriting the Bluetooth stack so that manufacturers can use normal Bluetooth chipsets and pair a single device with multiple speakers. Using this solution for wireless earbuds seems like a natural fit.

Here’s what you missed at Startup Battlefield Lagos

Yesterday TechCrunch held its first-ever event in Nigeria — our second in Sub-Saharan Africa. The day was packed with Battlefield presentations from 15 different startups from across the region, along with panels featuring some of Africa’s best known tech entrepreneurs and executives.

It was an incredible day and offered a fascinating peak into an absolutely vibrant tech community. For those unable to make the trek through the standstill Lagos traffic, have no fear. We’ve included footage from the day’s event below. And for those who were lucky enough to join, you can relive the highlights right here.

Expats, Repats and Africans

Kwame Acheampong (Mall for Africa), Eleni Gabre-Madhin (blueMoon) and Lexi Novitske (Singularity Investments) discuss the ups and downs of the influence repatriates and outside investors exert on the African startup community

Fireside Chat with Funke Opeke

Main Street Technologies founder and Main One Cable Company CEO Funke Opeke has led the charge to bring broadband internet to West Africa. She discusses the role of entrepreneurship in helping to scale business.

Investing in African Startups

Kola Aina and other area investors discuss the lessons that can be learned from Silicon Valley VC and which aspects of the model don’t apply to the African tech ecosystem.

Blockchain’s Potential in Africa

Olugbenga Agboola (Flutterwave), Omolara Awoyemi (SureGroup) and Nichole Yembra (Greenhouse Capital) and Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi (SureRemit) discuss the impact crypto has had on the African tech community and the different ways blockchain technology can help build a broad cross section of different categories.

The Winner of Startup Battlefield

The winner of the event was M-SCAN from Uganda, which develops portable mobile ultrasound devices (Ultrasonic probes) that are laptop, tablet and mobile phone compatible. The judges were impressed with its scalability potential to make many other medical access devices affordable for Africa, where mother and infant mortality is unforgivably high.