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Main article: Crowdfunding

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 243

Ever Loved’s funeral marketplace undercuts undertakers

18:05 | 12 February

Fifty percent of families are scared they can’t cover the cost of a funeral. They end up overpaying because no one wants to comparison shop amidst a tragedy. That’s why ex-Googler Alison Johnston’s startup Ever Loved built a free funeral crowdfunding tool. Now it’s addressing one of the most expensive parts of saying goodbye: burial. Today Ever Loved launches its online marketplace for caskets, urns, headstones and memorial jewelry.

By sidestepping the overhead of a physical funeral home, Ever Loved can offer better prices while still earning a 10% margin. Its caskets cost 50% less than the average sold at a mortuary, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

When I called a local San Francisco funeral home, the high markups came into focus. They quoted me $2,795 for a casket sold for $1,200 on Ever Loved.

“Most people don’t think to — or don’t want to — plan funerals in advance, which means that when someone passes away, the family is often scrambling,” Johnston tells me. “When this rush to make decisions is paired with extreme grief, many people don’t do anywhere close to the same amount of research as they would with another several-thousand-dollar purchase. When combined with the fact that most funeral homes don’t publish their prices online, it’s easy for families to spend much more than they need to.”

Johnston co-founded Ever Loved in late 2017 after a family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She discovered how few resources there were available for helping people plan and pay for funerals. She’d previously worked at Q&A app Aardvark through its acquisition by Google, then started online tutoring startup InstaEDU that eventually sold to Chegg. The consumer website building and e-commerce tools she’d grown used to weren’t available in the funeral industry, so she set out to build them. Ever Loved has raised seed funding from Social Capital and gone through Y Combinator.

Ever Loved co-founder and CEO Alison Johnston

“Tech too often merely makes life and work easier for those who already have it good,” she told me last year. “Tech that tempers tragedy is a welcome evolution for Silicon Valley.”

Ever Loved’s first focus was its funeral crowdfunding tool that let families ask the decedent’s loved ones to help contribute to offset the costs. Donors could leave a tip for Ever Loved, but otherwise it charged nothing beyond credit card processing fees. The tool was paired with a memorial website builder that families could use for distributing invites and collecting memories. Now Ever Loved is helping people plan thousands of funerals per month with revenue up nearly 20X year-over-year.

Now that it’s helping families raise money for remembrance services, Ever Loved wants to make sure they don’t get ripped off. The fact that there’s such low pricing transparency at funeral homes should clue you in that they try to pass off steep markups since customers might not have the energy to keep looking. “The average funeral home only helps with a funeral once every three days, meaning that many funeral homes need to charge high prices in order to cover their own fixed costs,” Johnston explains.

Remove the overhead costs and assist customers across geographies and there’s room for a strong business with more affordable prices. For example, a Stanford Blue Casket costs $990 on Ever Loved while one LA funeral home charges $1,600. The Last Supper Pieta Casket is $1,500 on Ever Loved but $6,580 from the funeral home. That funeral home had both of these listed under different names, further hindering the ability of customers to find a fair price.

Ever Loved can also more quickly adapt to the diversification of burial options. Between concerns about costs, land use, environmental impact and connection to family and nature, many are looking beyond caskets. Cremation became more popular than burial in the U.S. in 2017. Liquid cremation is now legal in 18 states, and Washington just began allowing body composting.

We’re seeing a lot of independent providers popping up to do everything from turning your loved one’s ashes into a diamond ring to shooting their ashes into space to planting them under a tree in the forest,” says Johnston. Any single funeral home is unlikely to offer the breadth customers are looking for. “Our goal is to make all of your options available to you in an easily digestible format.”

Ever Loved’s business is protected by the FTC’s Funeral Rule that bars mortuaries from refusing or charging extra to handle a casket or urn purchased elsewhere. That means Ever Loved customers can combine shopping online with in-person memorial services from a local funeral home. Still, it’s a tough business. Startups like HaloLife, Clarity and After I Go have all shut down. Most others merely offer memorial sites, or funeral home search engines.

That means Ever Loved’s biggest competitors, beyond the standard just accepting the local mortuary’s prices, are Google and Amazon. Often they surface the same prices as Ever Loved with comparable shipping, though Google could sometimes find a slight discount by buying straight from the manufacturer, while Amazon was missing some top brands. Costco and Walmart sell funeral products too. But Johnston says “many people don’t feel like generic, mass-market stores are the appropriate place to purchase funeral products.” I agree it might feel disrespectful buying an urn from the same place you get toilet paper.

We also put a huge focus on customer service, which you don’t get at Walmart, Costco or Amazon,” Johnston tells me. “When you’re grieving and spending thousands of dollars, we’ve found that this is very important.”

As the demographic planning funerals gets more tech-savvy over time and want personalized farewells rather than cookie-cutter conclusions, there’s a chance to change the status quo. Discussing death is becoming less taboo. Being smart about paying for it should too.

 


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Snopes rolls its own crowdfunding infrastructure to prepare for 2020’s disinformation warfare

21:36 | 20 December

2020 will likely be one of the most bitter and hard-fought elections in decades, not just on pulpits and stages, but on the true battleground of modern politics: the internet. And veteran fact-checker Snopes is girding itself for the fight with a crowdfunding effort it hopes will free it from a dependence on internet platforms for which the truth is a secondary consideration.

The last we heard from the company, it was emerging from a — disastrous is too strong a word, but perhaps we could say ineffectual, fact-checking partnership with Facebook. The obvious mismatch in priorities made Snopes think hard about its future and how to guarantee it could pursue its mission without begging for coins from companies that so obviously cared little for what they could provide.

The new plan is to see whether the site’s sizable readership will be willing to put a bit of cash on the table for a service they may have been using for years for free. Right now there’s a standard rewards-based backing scheme ($40 gets you a shirt and mug, etc) but subscriptions and other means of support are coming soon.

“Everything about the site since its inception has been a long slow evolutionary process, from what it looked like to the material we covered to how it was funded. This is just another part of that process,” said founder David Mikkelson. “We’re just going where the road leads us.”

And the last couple years have made it clear that the road leads nowhere near the sites that actually deliver news to users: Google, Facebook, Apple, and so on.

VP of operations Vinny Green, who spearheaded the new direction Snopes is headed, called what those companies are doing right now “credibility theater.”

“The fact that Facebook has more people on their PR staff than there are formal fact checkers in the world demonstrates the disproportionality of the situation,” he said. “Apple News and Google News don’t have the mission or the mandate to ensure we have a healthy discourse online. Someone has to step up who has an interest in making sure the content flowing through the pipes is credible and reliable — so we’re stepping up. But our only access to capital and reach is what we grow ourselves.”

To that end Green and the team at Snopes have put together their own crowdfunding infrastructure, eschewing the likes of Kickstarter and Patreon to make something that fits their purposes better. The resulting product will be familiar to anyone who has backed a project on those other sites, but is extensible on their side to serve as an all-purpose system for soliciting from and rewarding their community.

They’ve had a thousand backers already since the campaign launched a couple days ago, only half of which wanted anything in return. This first effort is intended to get the word out and shake the bugs out, while subscriptions and new project-specific funding options will appear early in 2020.

“There are fact-checking organizations, but there aren’t a lot of fact-checking businesses,” he said. Companies tend to give their information away or meekly agree to “partnerships” like Facebook’s where the fabulously rich and influential company paid a pittance of money and attention so it could claim to be taking a stand against disinformation.

“You really have to wonder, why is the multi-billion-dollar platform paying fact checkers, you know, like $30,000 a month to check 30 things?” said Mikkelson. “It’s clear that the primary objective of the Facebook fact checking partnership was not to curb the appearance or reach of false information on that platform. That was a secondary or tertiary objective. Presenting only credible information is contrary to their business model… while it’s exactly inline with ours.”

The traffic and feedback show that Snopes is valued by many people out there — why can’t it support itself directly?

“2020 is going to be bonkers in terms of debunking this information, but the business model isn’t going to get better,” said Green. “There will be increased traffic and it’ll be bigger in traditional metrics, but I think there will also be an appetite for a venue online where you can consume information without vitriol or spin.”

A browser extension is also planned.

To that end they hope that the crowdfunding infrastructure will allow for a few things. First, it could directly support investigative work like the

on a fraudulent network of Facebook pages and fake accounts seemingly linked to right wing outlet the Epoch Times. Facebook today announced it was taking the network down, saying “our investigation linked this activity to Epoch Media Group, a US-based media organization, and individuals in Vietnam working on its behalf.”

No mention of Snopes, though the company points out its email describing the network was opened “hundreds” of times. That should give you an idea of relations between the companies.

Having readers chip in $5 towards a follow-up or expenses related to an investigation like this could be a great way to create small but noticeable change. They could also submit relevant information and tips.

Second, it could justify and power a news aggregator curated by Snopes staff, who sort through an immense amount of information for their work. “It’s not going to be comprehensive but what we do put in there, we can back,” Green said. An early version will launch in the spring.

Other improvements are on the roadmap, such as a progressive web app version of the site and a better method for feedback and sourcing data from the community.

“We don’t have 2 billion users, we may not be some unicorn company, but damn, we can be something,” he said.

If ad revenue is drying up and the site finds itself in an adversarial relationship with potential funders, what are the other options? With less than a dozen people in its newsroom, Snopes is a pretty small operation. It may be that there’s room in the overtaxed hearts of users for one more subscription, if it’s for a service they’ve been using on and off already for two decades.

 


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Give InKind’s smarter giving platform brings in surprise $1.5 million in pre-seed funding

22:09 | 19 November

Helping out a friend in need online can be surprisingly difficult. While giving cash is easy enough, that’s often not what people need most — so Give InKind aims to be the platform where you can do a lot more than write a check. The idea is such a natural one that the company tripled its goal for a pre-seed round, raising $1.5 million from Seattle investors.

The company was selected for inclusion in the Female Founders Alliance’s Ready Set Raise accelerator, at the demo day for which I saw founder Laura Malcolm present.

The problem Malcolm is attempting to solve is simply that in times of hardship, not only do people not want to deal with setting up a fundraising site, but money isn’t even what they require to get through that period. Malcolm experienced this herself, when she experienced a personal tragedy and found that what was out there to let others help was simply inadequate.

“My friends and family were trying to support me from around the country, but the tools they had to do that were outdated and didn’t solve the problems for us,” she explained. “There just wasn’t one place to put all the help that’s needed, whether that’s meal drop-off, or rides to school for the kids, or a wishlist for Instacart, or Lyft credits. Every situation is unique, and no one has put it all together in one place where, when someone says ‘how can I help?’ you can just point there.”

The idea with Give InKind is to provide a variety of options for helping someone out. Of course you can donate cash, but you can also buy specific items from wishlists, coordinate deliveries, set up recurring gifts (like diapers or gift boxes), or organize in-person help on a built-in calendar.

These all go on a central profile page that Malcolm noted is rarely set up by the beneficiary themselves.

“90 percent of pages are set up by someone else. Not everyone has been impacted by one of these situations, but I think almost everyone has known someone who has, and has wondered how they were supposed to respond or help,” she explained. “So this isn’t about capturing people during a time of need, but about solving the problem for people who want to know how to help.”

That certainly resonated with me, as I have always felt the cash donation option when someone is going through a tough time to be pretty impersonal and general. It’s nice to be able to help out in person, but what about a friend in another city who’s been taken out of action and needs someone else to figure out the dog walking situation? Give InKind is meant to surface specific needs like that and provide the links (to, for instance, Rover) and relevant information all in one place.

“The majority of actions on the site are people doing things themselves — signing up for meals, or to help. The calendar view is for coordination, and it’s the most used part of the site. About 70 percent is that, the rest is those national services [i.e. Instacart, Uber, etc.],” Malcolm said.

Locally run services (cleaners that aren’t on a national directory, for instance) are on the roadmap, but as you can imagine that takes a lot of footwork to put together, so it will have to wait.

Right now the site works almost entirely on an affiliate model; Helpers make accounts to do things like add themselves to the schedule or help edit the profile, then get sent out to the merchant site to complete the transaction there. The company is experimenting with on-site purchases for some things, but the idea isn’t to become host transactions except where that can really add value.

The plan for expansion is to double down on the existing organic growth patterns of the site. Every page that gets set up attracts multiple new users and visits, and those users are far more likely to start more pages even years down the line. Between improving that and some actual marketing work, Malcolm feels sure that they can grow quickly and could soon join other major giving services like GoFundMe in scale.

Ready, set, raise… a lot more than expected

Give InKind came to my attention through the Female Founder Alliance here in Seattle, which hosted a demo night a little while ago to highlight the companies and, naturally, their founders as well. Although some of the companies focused on female-forward issues, for instance the difficulty of acquiring workwear tailored to women’s bodies, the idea is more to find valuable companies that just happen to have female founders.

“Ready Set Raise was built to find high potential, dramatically undervalued investment opportunities, and translate them into something the VC community can understand,” said FFA founder Leslie Feinzaig. “Our last member survey results were consistent with findings that women founders raise less capital but make it go further. Give InKind is a perfect example. They bootstrapped for 3 years, found product market fit, grew 20% every month, and still struggled to resonate with investors.”

Yet after presenting, Malcolm’s company was honored at the event with a $100K investment from Trilogy Ventures. And having originally kicked off fundraising with a view to a $500K round, she soon found she had to cap it at an unexpected but very welcome $1.5M. The final list of participants in the round includes Madrona Venture Group, SeaChange Fund, Keeler Investments, FAM Fund, Grubstakes, and X Factor Ventures.

I suggested that this must have been something of a validating experience.

“It’s super validating,” she agreed. “The founder journey is long and hard, and the odds are not in favor of female founders or impact companies, necessarily, and consumer is not huge in Seattle, either. We really sort of defied the odds across the board raising this round so quickly… Seattle really showed up.”

She described the accelerator as being “incredibly unique. It’s entirely about creating access for female founders to investors, mentors, and experts.”

“We spent so much time turning my model upside down and shaking everything out of it. Turns out it was much more defensible than I thought. We didn’t change the business, and we didn’t change the product — we lightly changed the positioning,” she said. “This combination of access with coaching and mentorship, getting the ability to present the business in a way that’s compelling, you realize how much of this is held back from people who don’t have these opportunities. I’ve been carrying around Give InKind for three years in a paper bag, and they put a bell on it.”

Feinbaig cited the competitiveness of the application process and quality of their coaches, which give lots of 1 on 1 time, for the high quality of the companies emerging from the accelerator. You can check out the rest of the companies in the second cohort here — and of course Give InKind is live should you or anyone you know need a helping hand.

 


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The FrankOne is a simple and portable coffee brewing gadget

00:07 | 17 October

The FrankOne coffee maker, fresh off a successful crowdfunding campaign, is now available for purchase, and I got a chance to test out one of the first run of these funky little gadgets. While it won’t replace my normal pourover or a larger coffee machine, it’s a clever, quick, and portable way to make a cup.

Designer Eduardo Umaña pitched me the device a little more than a year ago, and I was taken by the possibility of vacuum brewing — and the fact that, amazingly, until now no one from Colombia had made a coffee maker (it’s named after Frank de Paula Santander, who kicked off the coffee trade there). But would the thing actually work?

In a word, yes. I’ve tested the FrankOne a few times in my home and while I have a couple reservations, it’s a coffee making device that I can see myself actually using in a number of circumstances.

PA150003

The device works quite simply. Ground coffee goes in the top, and then you pour in the hot (not boiling!) water and stir it a bit. 30-50 seconds later, depending on how you like it, you hit the button and a pump draws the liquid down through a mesh filter and into the carafe below. It’s quick and almost impossible to mess up.

The resulting coffee is good — a little bit light, I’d say, but you can adjust the body with the size of the grounds and the steeping time. I tend to find a small amount of sediment at the bottom, but less than you’d get in a cup of French press.

Because it’s battery powered (it should last for ~200 cups and is easily recharged) and totally waterproof, cleaning it is a snap, especially if you have a garbage disposal. Just dump it and rinse it, give it a quick wipe and it’s good to go. It gets a bit more fussy if you don’t have a disposal, but what doesn’t?

PA150010

I can see this being a nice way to quickly and simply make coffee while camping — I usually do a French press, but sometimes drip, and both have their qualities and limitations. The FrankOne would be for making a single cup when I don’t want to have to stand by the pourover cone or deal with disassembling the French press for cleaning.

It’s also, I am told by Umaña, great for cold brew. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t really like cold brew, but I know many do, and Umaña promises the FrankOne works wonders in a very short time — four minutes rather than an hour. I haven’t tested that, since cold brew tastes like bitter chocolate milk to me, but I sincerely doubt he would mention it as many times as he did if it didn’t do what he said.

There are, I feel, three downsides. First, you’re pretty much stuck with using the included glass carafe, because the device has to create a seal around the edge with its silicone ring. It didn’t fit in my biggest mug, but you might find an alternative should the carafe (which I have no complaints about — it’s attractive and sturdy) crack or get lost.

PA150017

Second, it doesn’t produce a lot of coffee. The top line as indicated in the reservoir is probably about 10-12 ounces — about the size of a “tall” at a coffee shop. Usually that’s a perfect amount for me, but it definitely means this is a single-serving device, not for making a pot to share.

And third, for the amount of coffee it produces, I feel like it uses a lot of grounds. Not a crazy amount, but maybe 1.5-2x what goes into my little Kalita dripper — which is admittedly pretty economical. But it’s just something to be aware of. Maybe I’m using too much, though.

I reviewed the Geesaa a little while back, and while it’s a cool device, it was really complex and takes up a lot of space. If I wanted to give it to a friend I’d have to make them download the app, teach them about what I’d learned worked best, share my “recipes,” and so on. There was basically a whole social network attached to that thing.

This is much, much easier to use and compact to boot. It’s a good alternative to classic methods that doesn’t try to be more than a coffee maker. At $120 it’s a bit expensive, but hey, maybe you spend that on coffee in a month.

And by the way, you can use the discount code “TC” at checkout to get 10 percent off — this isn’t a paid post or anything, Umaña’s just a nice guy!

 


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Cute Little Fuckers gets Kickstarter’s seal of approval for sex toy project

20:00 | 24 September

Running a sex tech company is hard, so it’s worth calling out when companies overcome the many barriers to running one. Cute Little Fuckers, a gender-inclusive sex toy company, just launched a $13,500 campaign on Kickstarter.

“This is the first one that has been approved for a while,” Kickstarter Senior Outreach Lead of Design & Technology Beau Ambur told TechCrunch. “A large part of that was because of the type of project and the values it’s representing — specifically the inclusivity and sex-positive aspects are what we felt fit really well with our values.”

Sex toys are oftentimes geared toward cisgender and heteronormative people. Cute Little Fuckers aims to do away with that and instead focuses on sex toys that are gender-inclusive. That means these toys are for everyone, including folks who are transgender, queer, intersex, non-binary, genderqueer, cisgender, male, female and more.

“I am gender fluid and do a lot of sex-positive and queer activism,” CLF founder Step Tranovich told TechCrunch. “I felt like there weren’t a lot of toys that felt gender-inclusive. As someone who spends a lot of time helping people feel more sexually expressive, a lot of toys felt very stiff or foreboding.”

StepLaugh

Step Tranovich, founder and creator at Cute Little Fuckers

The idea is to serve people of all gender identities, including those who may be going through gender transitions, have gender dysphoria or simply have more complex relationships with certain parts of their body.

Cute Little Fuckers started with sketches of about 60 different monsters of varying shapes and forms, Tranovich said. From there, they took those sketches to about 100 different people to see what resonated most. Tranovich said they found four monsters kept coming up, which are the four characters they landed on.

[gallery ids="1885310,1885311,1885312"]

Each monster has its own name, pronouns and likes. They live out their lives in the Cute Little Fuckers webcomic series. The toys are silicone, vibrate at five different speeds and are USB rechargeable and waterproof.

Cute Little Fuckers has produced and shipped its first batch of toys, but is looking to raise additional funding on Kickstarter to bring its second character to life.

Kickstarter does not have an explicit ban on sex toys, but does review products that fall within that category on a case by case basis. Tranovich first approached Kickstarter in January, saying they were starting to work on the project and wanted to put it on Kickstarter.

“It was a process,” Tranovich said. “In general, it was positive and it wasn’t easy. It was positive and not easy because there was a lot of support from the individuals at Kickstarter and it was a bit of a feat to turn that individual support into the company actually taking a stance.”

In Tranovich’s opinion, what got the project through the door was the social impact focus of it.

“That was the thing that had Kickstarter considering this in the first place and be willing to deal with me through the whole process,” Tranovich said. “The specific gender-inclusive nature and the fact that we have a webcomic series focused on spreading gender-inclusive information. That’s why they were willing to have the conversation.”

The goal is to start shipping its second batch before Feb. 14, 2020. Already, there are manufacturers lined up, Tranovich said, so it’s mostly a matter of getting the fund to pay them.

“We’re excited to have the project on Kickstarter and very much looking forward to the launch,” Ambur said. “At the end of the day, we want to give our creators as much freedom as possible.”

Learn how to build a sex tech startup of your very own at Disrupt SF Oct 2-4. A panel of investors and founders will discuss the opportunities — and challenges — of building a successful sex tech startup, and how to capitalize on a market that’s projected to be worth more than $123 billion by 2026. Get your tickets now. 

 


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Light Phone’s founders discuss life beyond the smartphone

15:01 | 4 September

For a seemingly tough pitch, Light has had little trouble getting noticed. The company has run two successful crowdfunding campaigns for a pair of minimalist phones designed to augment or replace the smartphone. Today the startup announced that it will be shipping the second version of the handset, which introduces a handful of features back into the product, like texting.

Ahead of the launch, we spoke to Light’s founders, Kaiwei Tang and Joe Hollier, about funding, feature glut and the future of the handset.

How it all began

Brian Heater: The project essentially started as an in-house at Google, is that correct?

Kaiwei Tang: We met in 2014 in Google’s incubator called 30 Weeks. That’s where we met and started talking about Light Phone eventually.

Joe Hollier: 30 Weeks program was an experiment that came out of the Google creative lab, and their hypothesis was that if given the right resources, guidance, designers might be able to create new creative startups, and that designers should be on the founding table of companies.

So their hypothesis was that we as designers would be able to imagine a new going to startup in the software application space, and then through designing the end product, which is how the Google creative lab works, we’d be able to inspire the engineers and make the funding investors that we would need to make the product a reality.

Brian: What did you see in the market that wasn’t being fulfilled by countless different smartphone companies?

Joe: People were feeling overwhelmed by their smartphone and craving some escape, and we didn’t really see an escape.

 


0

Loog launches a trio of new educational guitars

04:37 | 4 September

Educational guitar maker Loog returned to Kickstarter this week, some eight years after it first hitting the crowdfunding site. This fourth campaign from the company features a trio of instruments aimed at helping accelerating the learning process.

There are three models, each aimed at a different age group: the Loog Mini (ages 3+), Loog Pro (ages 8+) and Loog Pro VI (ages 12+). The latter of which is the company’s first guitar to sport the standard six strings (versus the three it usually offers).

69d319febe1f9af1e00cf06386548baa original

All have a built-n speaker and amp, reducing the need for additional accessories for a kid’s first instrument. They’re also designed to work with the company’s app, which now utilizes augmented reality (guitAR, if you will), to overlay instructions when using the front facing camera on a mobile device. The are flash cards (for chords), videos and games on-board, as well.

The app also has a song book, featuring a wide variety of popular artists, ranging from The Beatles to Taylor Swift. Kids can slow down and mute tracks to play along karaoke-style, while recording themselves in the process.

[gallery ids="1876952,1876953,1876954,1876955,1876956,1876957,1876958,1876959,1876960,1876961"]

Kickstarter prices start at $99 for the Mini, versus $150 at retail. The company keeps going back to the crowdfunding well, but the model has worked pretty well so far. Loog’s started to gain some traction in the music education world and, as evidence by its Kickstarter video, landed in the hands of a couple of actual rockstars in the process.

 


0

This charming little camera prints instantly to receipt paper

22:33 | 8 August

I’m a big instant camera fan, but the film is expensive and the digital printers just aren’t very good. So I was delighted to see this alternative seeking funds on Kickstarter: the Alulu camera, which prints photos in black and white on receipt paper. Why did no one do this before?

The idea is so simple that you’ve already gotten it — no explanation necessary, but since explaining things is my job I am going to do so anyway.

The Alulu is an idea incubated by three friends as they left college, each heading their separate directions but looking to take a shot at making this cool gadget a reality before doing so. Right now it only exists in prototype form (they only thought it up in May), but it works more or less as intended, and it’s as silly and fun as I wanted it to be; I got to test one out, as it happened that one of the team members happened to live in my neighborhood.

The camera is a little box about the size of a fat point-and-shoot, with charming little dials on the top to select exposure mode or a 10-second timer if you want it, and a shutter button that’s hard to miss. On the side is the charge port and a button to advance the paper. And the back has a little frame that flips out and helps you set up your shot — very loosely, I hardly need add.

viewfinderbrtr

Inside the 3D-printed, acrylic-plated exterior, the guts of the camera are simple. An off-the-shelf camera stack that does all the hard work of actually taking a picture — but don’t worry about the megapixels, because they don’t matter here. The camera sends its signal to a custom board that prepares and optimizes the image for black-and-white printing.

To be clear, we’re talking black and white, not shades of grey. The printer inside the camera is a standard receipt printer, which uses heat-activated ink that’s either transparent or black and nothing in between. You feed paper in via a little chamber on the bottom.

alulu

Thankfully creating the appearance of shading in 1-bit imagery is old hat for computer graphics, and an algorithm dithers and tweaks the picture so that more or fewer dots in various patterns create the illusion of a wider palette.

The results are… well, photos printed on receipt paper. Let’s keep our expectations in line. But they’re instantly printed (with a little stutter like a dot matrix printer) and charming little artifacts indeed. You can even use receipts you’re given at stores or restaurants, if they fit, and you can always fold it over a bit if it’s too large.

receiptrow4receiptrow2

(By the way, if you’re worried about being poisoned by receipt paper, don’t be. The stuff with high BPA content was generally phased out a while back, and you can order non-poisonous rolls of paper easily and cheaply.)

I think this thing is great, though I’m afraid that the projected $99 retail price might be too high for what amounts to a novelty. The idea, I was told, was to drive the price down with mass manufacturing, but until they do so they want to be honest about the cost of the parts (the printer itself is the most expensive piece, but like everything else the price goes down when you order a thousand or more).

Whether it makes it to the factory or not, I think the Alulu is a great idea. We need more weird, one-off devices in this world of ours where every function seems to devolve to the smartphone — and I’m tired of my phone! Plus, it can’t print on receipt paper.

The Alulu is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter. Go give it a pledge.

 


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Patreon raises $60M Series D, targets international growth and more customization

16:04 | 16 July

Patreon, the San Francisco-based platform that helps over 100,000 online content creators manage paid membership communities for their most dedicated fans, has raised $60 million in Series D funding.

Glade Brook Capital, a late-stage fund based in Greenwich, Connecticut, led this round with participation from prior investors like Index Ventures, CRV, Thrive Capital, Initialized, and DFJ Growth. This totals $165 million in funding that Patreon has raised since its founding in 2013.

In February, I published a 5-part series analyzing Patreon’s founding story, product evolution, business, competition, and overarching vision. The company has prioritized established creators who can generate $1,000+ per month in membership revenue as its core customer and is focused on being the underlying platform they use to manage relationships with superfans through a CRM, payment processing, and gating of exclusive access to content and discussion groups.

It makes money by taking a cut of each creator’s monthly revenue earned from their fans’ Patreon memberships.

Co-Founder & CEO Jack Conte shared news of the Series D via a blog post and tells me the new funds will contribute toward these priorities:

  1. Benefits functionality: integrating with more tech platforms using the Patreon API to ensure only paying members receive access to creators’ exclusive discussion groups on Discord or Discourse, receive special badges that mark them as a patron on Reddit, etc.
  2. Premium features: adding more features to the new Pro and Premium pricing tiers it launched in March which provide extra services and functionality to creators in exchange for a higher cut of their membership revenue (8% and 12%–plus payment processing fees–respectively, compared to 5% for the original Lite tier).
  3. Page customization: enabling creators to customize their Patreon pages more by changing colors, layout, and font to fit their own brand.
  4. Merchandising: expanding Patreon’s fulfillment of merchandise for creators who offer merch as a reward to their fans who subscribe to a given membership tier by adding international shipping options and more merch products to select for custom branding.
  5. International expansion: ensuring Patreon is available in more languages and can easily handle international payments, plus staffing new offices in Dublin (Ireland), Porto (Portugal), and other locations yet to be finalized.

When I asked Conte whether he plans to use this new funding to make more acquisitions — Patreon acquired the white-label membership management platform Memberful last summer — he responded that there are no deals currently in the pipeline but M&A is certainly on the table if they identify the right opportunity:

“It’s been a few years that we have been seeing the ‘Patreon for X’ trend of startups focused on a specific niche like podcasting. We’re looking at those companies and always open to joining forces if the mission is aligned and product is great.”

As it announced in January, Patreon expects to surpass $500 million in payments processed during 2019, which would result in it having processed over $1 billion cumulatively since founding. Roughly 40% of those payments are international and the overall monthly spend of fans who use Patreon is $12 on average.

 

Glade Brook Capital’s managing partner Paul Hudson, who originally founded the firm as a hedge fund, shared a statement with TechCrunch on why he invested in Patreon:

“Too many talented creators struggle to monetize their efforts in the digital era. Patreon is growing so fast because creators recognize the value in building recurring fan-based revenue streams and improving engagement with their most passionate fans.”

Conte also revealed that a handful of artists, including musician Serj Tankian and comedian Hannibal Buress, invested in Patreon as part of this new round. He hopes that the Pro and Premium tiers will draw more creators who don’t already use Patreon and support existing customers who need more advanced toolset given the size of their fanbase.

 


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Bankrupt Maker Faire revives, reduced to Make Community

03:58 | 11 July

Maker Faire and Maker Media are getting a second chance after suddenly going bankrupt, but they’ll return in a weakened capacity. Sadly, their flagship crafting festivals remain in jeopardy, and it’s unclear how long the reformed company can survive.

Maker Media suddenly laid off all 22 employees and shut down last month, as first reported by TechCrunch. Now its founder and CEO Dale Dougherty tells me he’s bought back the brands, domains, and content from creditors and rehired 15 of 22 laid off staffers with his own money. Next week, he’ll announce the relaunch of the company with the new name “Make Community“.

Read our story about how Maker Faire fell apart

The company is already working on a new issue of Make Magazine that it will hope to publish quarterly (down from six times per year) and the online archives of its do-it-yourself project guides will remain available. I hopes to keep publishing books. And it will continue to license the Maker Faire name to event organizers who’ve thrown over 200 of the festivals full of science-art and workshops in 40 countries. But Dougherty doesn’t have the funding to commit to producing the company-owned flagship Bay Area and New York Maker Faires any more.

Maker Faire Layoffs

“We’ve succeeded in just getting the transition to happen and getting Community set up” Dougherty tells me. But sounding shaky, he asks “Can I devise a better model to do what we’ve been doing the past 15 years? I don’t know if I have the answer yet.” Print publishing proved tougher and tougher recently. Combined with declining corporate sponsorships of the main events, Maker Media was losing too much money to stay afloat last time.

On June 3rd, we basically stopped doing business. And, you know, the bank froze our accounts” Dougherty said at a meetup he held in Oakland to take feedback on his plan, according a recording made by attendee Brian Benchoff. Grasping for a way to make the numbers work, he told the small crowd gathered “I’d be happy if someone wanted to take this off my hands.”

Maker Faire

Maker Faire [Image via Maker Faire Instagram]

For now, Dougherty is financing the revival himself “with the goal that we can get back up to speed as a business, and start generating revenue and a magazine again. This is where the community support needs to come in because I can’t fund it for very long.”

Dale 1

Maker Faire founder and Make Community CEO Dale Dougherty

The immediate plan is to announce a new membership model next week at Make.co where hobbyists and craft-lovers can pay a monthly or annual fee to become patrons of Make Community. Dougherty was cagey about what they’ll get in return beyond a sense of keeping alive the organization that’s held the maker community together since 2005. He does hope to get the next Make Magazine issue out by the end of summer or early fall, and existing subscribers should get it in the mail.

The company is still determining whether to move forward as a non-profit or co-op instead of as a venture-backed for-profit as before. “The one thing i don’t like about non-profit is that you end up working for the source you got the money from. You dance to their tune to get their funding” he told the meetup.

Last time, he burned through $10 million in venture funding from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. That could make VCs weary of putting more cash into a questionable business model. But if enough of the 80,000 remaining Make Magazine subscribers, 1 million YouTube followers, and millions who’ve attended Maker Faire events step up, pehaps the company can find surer footing.

“I hope this is actually an opportunity not just to revive what we do but maybe take it to a new level” Dougherty tells me. After all, plenty of today’s budding inventors and engineers grew up reading Make Magazine and being awestruck by the massive animatronic creations featured at its festivals.

Audibly peturbed, the founder exclaimed at his community meetup “It frustrates the heck out of me thinking that I’m the one backing up Maker Faire when there’s all these billionaires in the valley.”

Maker Faire lives

 


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