All posts in “economy”

Let’s meet in New York to talk token sales

I’ve been holding a few micro meet ups over the past few years and thought I’d start it up again in honor of token/ICO mania. I’d love to hear what you all are working on in the New York area so we’ll all meet at Union Hall in Brooklyn next Wednesday at 7pm.

The event is very informal and we’ll plan the next few months of micro-meetups during the event. My goal is to do a few pitching workshops in February and March and then do a real pitch-off in the Spring in preparation for VC season. If you’re interested in talking tokens or honing your startup craft come on out. You can RSVP here.

Featured Image: Klaus Vartzbed EyeEm/Getty Images

Wizeline expands its outsourced IT services business into southeast Asia

Wizeline, a provider of outsourced programming services, is expanding its global footprint with agreements to partner with a slew of development shops across Southeast Asia.

Founded in 2014, the company has a similar vision as Andela — providing programming jobs for developers in emerging markets to unlock the local talent pool and expose a new generation and geographies to the startup world.

While Andela has focused on opportunities to employ developers in Africa, Bismarck Lepe, Wizeline’s founder and chief executive, initially focused on Latin America. The company currently employs 300 people in Guadalajara, Mexico and opened its second office a year ago in Ho Chi Minh City.

Now, the company is expanding its footprint by leveraging third-party developer shops to add additional programmers to its roster. “From our perspective, that has allowed us to scale dramatically,” said Lepe. “Our company is 400 people. We have 250 to 275 developers… With the network we’ve been able to increase it to 1,000 engineers that have been vetted.”

Lepe started looking at opportunities in Guadalajara with his first company, Ooyala. When that company was acquired by Telstra for $270 million in 2014, Lepe immediately started working on Wizeline — and returned to Guadalajara to do it.

“My parents left Mexico because it was corrupt and dangerous and there weren’t opportunities,” Lepe told me. “[Now] Mexico graduates 80,000 software engineers per year. When we started Wizeline, we started day one with our engineers in Guadalajara.”

The company builds developer toolkits to solve specific problems for its corporate clients. They range from conversational artificial intelligence, data analytics and language processing.

“They start to work with our individual consultants, then over time our footprint within an organization expands,” Lepe told me.

Wizeline is already working with customers like News Corp., Nike and Lands’ End and is on track to hit a $30 million run rate.

In addition to its product development services, the company is already beginning to work on its own products, including a chatbot SDK and other developer tools.

In August, the company raised a $10 million round led by Leap Global alongside existing investors, Sierra Ventures, A Capital, SV Angel and Lowercase Capital.

The company’s success and new funding rounds for companies across Latin America, like Creditas, point to the growing strength of the technology market across the region.

“In 2010, when we started operations in Mexico there were four funds. Now there are nearly 100 venture funds in Mexico,” Lepe said. “Mexico is becoming a lot more open and they recognize that they need to have an appreciation and understanding for what technology can do for their business.”

Beyond increasing the talent pool that’s been exposed to working for startups in other markets, Wizeline is also doing its part to launch new companies. To that end, Lepe has carved out a $5 million seed fund to invest in projects launched by Wizeline employees. The fund will invest between $25,000 and $250,000 in new businesses.

“I started a $5 million fund to invest in Wizeline employees. We have four that we’re accelerating… the Wizefund will invest from $25,000 to $250,000,” Lepe said.

“Through the Wizefund, if we can build 100 Ooyalas and 100 Wizelines that’s when you see a pretty big impact to society,” says Lepe.

Security robots are being used to ward off San Francisco’s homeless population

Is it worse if a robot instead of a human is used to deter the homeless from setting up camp outside places of business?

One such bot cop recently took over the outside of the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption clinic in the city’s Mission district, to deter homeless people from hanging out there — causing some people to get very upset.

Silicon Valley game developer and Congressional candidate Brianna Wu tweeted yesterday her dismay at the move, saying, “I’m sorry for being so frank but this absolutely disgusts me as someone that experienced homelessness.”

The homelessness issue in S.F. is thorny and complicated. One could get whiplash at seeing the excess of wealth and privilege juxtaposed with the dire circumstances just steps outside Twitter headquarters on Market Street.

However, the city’s homeless are also associated with higher rates of crime, violence and sometimes episodes of psychosis, leading to safety issues that many feel San Francisco has not had an adequate handle on.

The S.F. SPCA rolled out the use of a robot unit dubbed K9 from security startup Knightscope a month ago, citing these same safety concerns.

“Over the summer our shelter was broken into twice. The inside was vandalized and property and cash donations were stolen,” S.F. SPCA spokesperson Krista Maloney told TechCrunch. “Furthermore, many staff members and volunteers have filed complaints about damage to cars and harassment they experienced in our parking lot when leaving work after dark. We currently employ security guards, but we have a large campus and they can only be in one area at a time.

The K9 units are also cheaper than humans. One robot costs $6 an hour to use vs. paying a security guard the average $16 an hour.

“Unfortunately, in the last year we’ve been forced to spend a significant amount of money to ensure the security and safety of the people on our campus as well as the animals in our care,” Maloney said.

And, according to both the S.F. SPCA and Knightscope, crime dropped after deploying the bot.

However, the K9 unit was patrolling several areas around the shop, including the sidewalk where humans walk, drawing the ire of pedestrians and advocacy group Walk SF, which previously introduced a bill to ban food delivery robots throughout the city.

“We’re seeing more types of robots on sidewalks and want to see the city getting ahead of this,” said Cathy DeLuca, Walk SF policy and program director, who also mentioned S.F. district 7 supervisor Norman Yee would be introducing legislation around sidewalk use permits for robots in the beginning of 2018.

Last week the city ordered the S.F. SPCA to stop using these security robots altogether or face a fine of $1,000 per day for operating in a public right of way without a permit.

The S.F. SPCA says it has since removed the robot and is working through a permitting process. It has already seen “two acts of vandalism” since the robot’s removal.

But putting permits and public use of sidewalks aside, it seems the robot could do more than just discourage homeless camps. It could keep an eye on the surrounding area and report crimes, yes, but it could also possibly be used to alert police and social workers to areas where homelessness seems to have increased or look for anyone who may be facing violence or a psychotic episode and in need of intervention.

The Knightscope bots are equipped with four cameras able to read more than 300 license plates per minute. They can move about and keep tabs on an area, noting anyone on a list of those who shouldn’t be there.

Already the S.F. SPCA said it has experienced a drop in crime when using the bot cop. The same might be said if it had increased the use of human security guards but humans, as mentioned above, cost more. They also can’t monitor 24/7 or immediately upload what they see to the cloud.

Further, robots aren’t going away. While it isn’t clear what solution San Francisco’s city council will come up with to handle the increase of these types of bots on our sidewalks in the future, it’s inevitable we’re going to see more of them.

It’s an age-old human vs. machine argument. But machines usually win.

Indiegogo now lets you fund via token sale

Crowdfunding service and Kickstarter-competitor Indiegogo is now offering an ICO service alongside its partner, MicroVentures. The company will allow users to participate in SEC-complaint ICOs and, like its slow-burning equity crowdfunding service, will pick and choose startups that match certain exacting criteria.

These tokens sales will be SEC complaint and the sales are performed within current SEC regulations. Their first client, a fan-controlled football league, is in pre-sales now.

“Our ICO service is designed to allow the maximum number of investors to participate in ICO token pre-sales and sales,” said Slava Rubin, Indiegogo Founder and Chief Business Officer. “We believe cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies constitute an important step towards democratizing finance and introducing new levels of utility and liquidity to fundraising instruments. We want to make ICOs accessible to everyone, not just accredited investors.”

Companies can apply to sell their token on a new website and will receive guidance from MicroVentures to keep them on the right side of SEC guidance.

Rubin said that Indiegogo was well-placed to run ICOs thanks to their global reach and compliance skills.

“We have 10 million monthly users and reach people in 232 countries and territories. We can amplify token sales to a broad community of accredited and non accredited investors,” he said. “When we launched equity crowdfunding in 2016, we partnered with a FINRA registered broker dealer called Microventures. This partnership allows us to navigate the various securities and other relevant laws and maintain a strict level of compliance for token sales. Token sellers value this because the laws governing token sales are still evolving and we’re able to conduct sales and pre-sales in compliance with the relevant laws.”

Don’t expect to hop on, press a button, and immediately fund your potato salad token, however.

“Due to curation, they can be sure their token sales will be in good company,” he said.

The company behind Dots is changing CEOs

Playdots, the company that lets gamers play with Dots, will soon have a new CEO as co-founder and current COO Patrick Moberg takes over for co-founder Paul Murphy. Murphy lead the company as CEO since the founding in 2013 and will stay with Playdots as a board member.

Murphy and Moberg co-founded Playdots in 2013 and in 2015 led the company to spin out of betaworks on the back of $10 million in funding from Greycroft Partners, Tencent and others.

Murphy is seemingly leaving the company in a good state of affairs, explaining in a post on Medium that the company is profitable, scaling and committed to releasing new games. He told TechCrunch that his plan to step down has been in the works for several months and the company has already been operating under the new leadership to ensure a smooth transition.

Challenges lie ahead for Playdots and its new CEO in Patrick Moberg but he’s been with the company since the start. Murphy tells TechCrunch that the two have always worked side-by-side, making decisions together. Initially Moberg focused on the game while Murphy handled the business but as the company grew, Moberg spent more time with the company strategy.

Moberg points to balancing the company’s creativity with its business as the biggest challenge ahead.

“Creativity produces risk and business aims to reduce risk,” Moberg said. ” To succeed in the short term, that dichotomy needs to be understood and calibrated against by the ‘decision makers’, but the long term goal is to lay the groundwork for a methodology where that process is a shared responsibility of every person at Dots. Communicating and maintaining such an organization is a really difficult challenge.”

As for outgoing CEO Paul Murphy, he plans on staying close to the gaming industry while spending more time investing in Europe. And staying close to the gaming industry is probably for the best. He seems to be walking away with deep insights saying the main thing he learned while at Playdots was “highly differentiated products are exponentially easier and less expensive to market” which is something most mobile game makers would be wise to remember — and there’s now an ex-CEO who believes that and is potentially on the market.