All posts in “Startups”

Run to the rock


The past week has been a tough one for lovers of freedom. Slippery slopes have been slid down and a side of the human mind that once remained in shadow has reared its head. Charlottesville is just the first step down a dark road.

In real life, on the public square, our support of freedom of speech and public assembly – a freedom that has long helped hater and lover alike – is in question. Do we open our squares to men who will fight equality? Do we unlock our school grounds so that fear can reign? Do we simply close our windows on loudspeakers calling out for genocide or do we act? I don’t have an answer, but sunlight has always been the best antiseptic and seeing most of these groups on a bare parade ground lays bare their insignificance.

But what do you about the Internet where everything is shadow hiding inside corporate iron? The Internet is a utility, to a degree, but not one whose sanctity is guaranteed to us by some holy writ. We send bits over corporate networks onto servers housed in corporate basements. We shout into corporate megaphones and write screeds – like this one – into corporate editor windows.

On that skein of wires there is no sunlight. We, the creators of that world, must decide. Do we let hate live alongside love? What is conversation when everyone yells? What is fair when everyone has the loudest voice?

I was once a free-love kind of Internet zealot. I still agree that DRM is wrong, that media wants to be free and that good media will be paid for by someone. I still agree that sex is far less egregious than violence and that visions of both help define the lines of our personalities and ensure we do not wander too far into some puritan desert. I was angry, for example, when Pinterest pulled sexual content but know I know things have changed. Pinterest runs is own servers. It is responsible for the contents. It deserves final say.

And that’s where we are now. If you hate, says Wired in a recent profile of Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, you will be shut down.

“Insta­gram is supposed to be a place for self-expression and joy,” wrote Nicholas Thompson in the profile. “Who wants to express themselves, though, if they’re going to be mocked, harassed, and shamed in the comments below a post? Instagram is a bit like Disneyland—if every now and then the seven dwarfs hollered at Snow White for looking fat.”

Or who wants to star in a Ghostbusters reboot and be called racial slurs? And who wants to live in a world where /r/aww lives next to /r/poli?

We, the curators of the Internet, have to decide. Some of us already have. We see Cloudflare and GoDaddy pulling their services from white power site Daily Stormer. Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince agonized over the decision. He, like most Internet users, expects the web to be free as in freedom.

“Our team has been thorough and have had thoughtful discussions for years about what the right policy was on censoring. Like a lot of people, we’ve felt angry at these hateful people for a long time but we have followed the law and remained content neutral as a network. We could not remain neutral after these claims of secret support by Cloudflare,” he wrote. “You, like me, may believe that the Daily Stormer’s site is vile. You may believe it should be restricted. You may think the authors of the site should be prosecuted. Reasonable people can and do believe all those things. But having the mechanism of content control be vigilante hackers launching DDoS attacks subverts any rational concept of justice.”

In the end this is where we must go. It’s folks like Rabbi Abe Cooper as well as Valley CEOs who will help us find a way forward. Freedom of speech in the public square is one right we all have. But there is no free speech in the walled garden if the gardener doesn’t will it.

Listen to Nina Simone. She sang an old spiritual and sang it beautifully.

“Oh, sinnerman, where you gonna run to? Where you gonna run to? All on that day,” she said. “We got to run to the rock. Please hide me, I run to the rock. All on that day. But the rock cried out. I can’t hide you, the rock cried out. I ain’t gonna hide you there.”

Haters are hiding. They run to the rock. The rock is cries out. It won’t hide them. They must stand, then, and face those they wronged. This is the way it has always been and always will be. We can’t let the Internet change that.

Confirmed: Color Genomics is in the final stages of an $80 million Series C financing round


Genetic health screening startup Color Genomics is in the final stages of allocations for an $80 million Series C financing round, TechCrunch has confirmed with the company.

Axios first spotted Color had raised $52 million so far in a recent SEC filing. The company has since told TechCrunch it will soon be closing on $80 million in financing led by General Catalyst, which led Color’s previous Series B round.

Other investors in this latest round include Laurene Powell Job’s Emerson Collective and CRV.

Color is similar to other genetics startups, like 23andMe and Ancestry, in that it provides information to you based on the DNA given in a spit tube test. It’s main focus has been in providing a series of genetic cancer screenings in an at-home kit.

The company recently launched a test for hereditary high cholesterol as an indication for possible heart disease and says it plans to release more genetic health screening kits in the future. Color tells us this new round of funding will help get it there.

“This new funding will enable Color to continue developing new tests for hereditary conditions where the science is clear and the results are actionable — and new services that help our clients proactively manage their own health,” co-founder and CEO Othman Laraki told TechCrunch.

Color had raised a total of $98.5 million before this round, bringing the total to $179 million in venture capital raised thus far.

Pinterest users can now pinch-to-zoom on photos in the app


Pinterest is adding a new feature today that allows users to pinch a photo to zoom in and out on various Pins, matching a feature that’s available on a lot of other services, like Instagram.

Pinterest is trying to be a central hub of high-quality photos and videos centered around ideas and products, but this still more or less exemplifies that the ability to manipulate photos within the app has started to become table stakes for sites like Pinterest. It also has to refine its visual search product as more and more companies offer similar products, like Google (ironically also called Lens, the same name as Pinterest’s camera search product). As the company becomes increasingly focused on mobile and discovery centered around photos, users will start expecting the kinds of behaviors that exist on other services (like Instagram) to exist on Pinterest.

One of Pinterest’s core directives is to push people closer and closer toward a moment of inspiration where they act on some kind of idea they discover on Pinterest. That can include buying a product, downloading an app or even changing things in their closet based on something they see on Pinterest. If Pinterest is able to do that, it can go to advertisers and explain that it has a different kind of user behavior that they won’t find on Facebook or Snap — and get them to start spending a lot of money on Pinterest.

Zooming in on a photo to get a better look at something seems like a good feature for digging through cluttered photos in order to identify a product. Pinterest is giving users a way to take photos in order to search for products, but those kinds of amateur photos might not have the right products in focus. That might be especially true for rooms in homes and could hold true even for professional photos.

That might also help Pinterest fend off apps picking off certain use cases that the company has traditionally owned. Houzz, for example, is trying to become a go-to place for interior design and products you would buy for your home. That’s catapulted Houzz into a startup with a $4 billion valuation.

Pinterest is also making a small tweak to make the option to search visually on a Pin easier to find. All these kinds of tweaks may seem somewhat small. But the sum of these incremental changes may help Pinterest continue to show advertisers that it’s a company that deserves a big chunk of their ad budgets typically reserved for Google and Facebook. Pinterest recently raised capital at a $12.3 billion valuation, and if it’s going to justify that valuation it has to turn into a critical spend for marketers.

Ghost, the open source blogging system, is ready for prime time


Four long years ago John O’Nolan released a content management system for bloggers that was as elegant as it was spooky. Called Ghost, the original app was a promising Kickstarter product with little pizzazz. Now the app is ready to take on your toughest blogs.

O’Nolan just released version 1.0 of the software, a move that updates the tool with the best of modern blogging tools. You can download the self-hosted version here or use O’Nolan’s hosting service to try it out free.

“About four years ago we launched Ghost on Kickstarter as a tiny little prototype of an idea to create the web’s next great open source blogging platform,” said O’Nolan. After “2,600 commits” he released the 1.0 version complete with a new editor and improved features.

The platform uses a traditional Markdown editor and a new block-based editor called Koenig. The new editor lets you edit posts more cleanly within blocks, a feature that uses something called MobileDoc and Ember.js to render complex pages quickly and easily. The team also started a journalism program to support content providers.

While tools like WordPress still rule the day, it’s good to know that there are still strong alternatives out there for the content manager. Although this software has a name that portends dark sorcery and dread magic, I still think it has a “ghost” of a chance.

Andrew Ng is raising a $150M AI Fund


We knew that Andrew Ng had more than just a series of deep learning courses up his sleeve when he announced the first phase of his deeplearning.ai last week. It’s clear now that the turn of Ng’s three part act is a $150 million venture capital fund, first noted by PEHub, targeting AI investments.

Ng, who formerly founded Google’s Brain Team and served as chief scientist at Baidu has long evangelized the benefits AI could bring to the world. During an earlier conversation, Ng told me that his personal goal is to help bring about an AI-powered society. It would follow that education via his deep learning classes is one step of that and providing capital and other resources is another.

2017 has been a particularly active year for starting AI-focused venture capital funds. In the last few months we have seen Google roll out Gradient Ventures, Basis Set Ventures hall in $136 million, Element.AI raise $102 million, Microsoft Ventures start its own AI fund and Toyota corral $100 million for AI investment.

It’s unclear at this point how Ng’s AI Fund will differentiate from the pack. Many of these funds are putting time and resources into securing data sets, technical mentors and advanced simulation tools to support the unique needs of AI startups. Of course Ng’s name recognition and network should help ensure solid deal flow and enable Ng to poach and train talent for startups in need of scarce deep learning engineers.

I’ve sent a note to Andrew and we will update this post if and when we get more details.

Featured Image: Dawn Endico/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE