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Main article: Reddit

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Bill Gates played Secret Santa to a Michigander, sending 81 pounds of goodies tailored just for her

20:50 | 26 December

Since roughly 2012, billionaire Bill Gates has been participating in Reddit’s annual Secret Santa gift exchange, which matches Reddit users with Internet strangers, who give them presents.

He seems to relish the role, too. In 2017, he was matched with a cat lover, sending off a giant load of feline-themed gifts, including a large stuffed Pusheen, a giant gray cartoon cat, and $750 in donations to her favorite animal charities. Last year, his gift recipient was a self-described lover of yarn and natural fibers, card-making, and also a miniature horse owner, who Gates sent a bounty of yarn, decorating tape, pencils, postcards, sketchbooks, a custom-made blanket for his horse and a signed copy of a “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green, the man’s favorite author.

This year, the lucky Redditor who found herself on the receiving end of 81 pounds of gifts was a 33-year-old, Detroit-area marketer who told MarketWatch yesterday, “I always thought it would be super cool to be matched with him some day, but I never really would have expected this to happen to me.”

The woman — whose Reddit profile features a picture of her hugging Chewbacca and refers to Harry Potter and other books and video games — was also reportedly sent a Harry Potter Santa hat; Lego building sets that include a giant Hogwarts castle; a handmade quilt depicting scenes from Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” game series; and “Twin Peaks” memorabilia, including an embroidered L.L. Bean jacket worn by one of the crew members.

Gates, a renowned book lover who sharing his book recommendations,  also sent her a bound manuscript F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, lines of which the woman had incorporated into her wedding earlier this year. More, it came with scans of Fitzgerald’s handwritten notes as he was working on the book.

Gates has been a pioneering on the charitable front for many years. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Gates and wife Melinda Gates donated an estimated $4.78 billion dollars in 2018, bringing the total they’ve given through their foundation and other family foundations to $45.5 billion.

Gates also famously created The Giving Pledge with billionaire Warren Buffett. The pledge invites billionaires to commit to giving away most of their fortunes to charity.

Even while only one Redditor benefits from Gate’s munificence each holiday season, plenty of others of the platform’s users benefit from being part of its Secret Santa community. Google sent one user a Pixel 4 phone, for example; another received a 3-D printer from their “fantastic” Secret Santa. A third person received a handmade Captain America shield — along with a smaller handmade shield for his dog.

 


0

Reddit links UK-US trade talk leak to Russian influence campaign

13:59 | 7 December

Reddit has linked account activity involving the leak and amplification of sensitive UK-US trade talks on its platform during the ongoing UK election campaign to a suspected Russian political influence operation.

Or, to put it more plainly, the social network suspects that Russian operatives are behind the leak of sensitive trade data — likely with the intention of impacting the UK’s General Election campaign.

The country goes to the polls next week, on December 12.

The UK has been politically deadlocked since mid 2016 over how to implement the result of the referendum to leave the European Union . The minority Conservative government has struggled to negotiate a brexit deal that parliament backs. Another hung parliament or minority government would likely result in continued uncertainty.

In a post discussing the “Suspected campaign from Russia on Reddit”, the company writes:

We were recently made aware of a post on Reddit that included leaked documents from the UK. We investigated this account and the accounts connected to it, and today we believe this was part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia.

Earlier this year Facebook discovered a Russian campaign on its platform, which was further analyzed by the Atlantic Council and dubbed “Secondary Infektion.” Suspect accounts on Reddit were recently reported to us, along with indicators from law enforcement, and we were able to confirm that they did indeed show a pattern of coordination. We were then able to use these accounts to identify additional suspect accounts that were part of the campaign on Reddit. This group provides us with important attribution for the recent posting of the leaked UK documents, as well as insights into how adversaries are adapting their tactics.

Reddit says that an account, called gregoratior, originally posted the leaked trade talks document. Later a second account, ostermaxnn, reposted it. The platform also found a “pocket of accounts” that worked together to manipulate votes on the original post in an attempt to amplify it. Though fairly fruitlessly, as it turned out; the leak gained little attention on Reddit, per the company.

As a result of the investigation Reddit says it has banned 1 subreddit and 61 accounts — under policies against vote manipulation and misuse of its platform.

The story doesn’t end there, though, because whoever was behind the trade talk leak appears to have resorted to additional tactics to draw attention to it — including emailing campaign groups and political activists directly.

This activity did bear fruit this month when the opposition Labour party got hold of the leak and made it into a major campaign issue, claiming the 451-page document shows the Conservative party, led by Boris Johnson, is plotting to sell off the country’s free-at-the-point-of-use National Health Service (NHS) to US private health insurance firms and drug companies.

Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, showed a heavily redacted version of the document during a TV leaders debate earlier this month, later calling a press conference to reveal a fully un-redacted version of the data — arguing the document proves the NHS is in grave danger if the Conservatives are re-elected.

Johnson has denied Labour’s accusation that the NHS will be carved up as the price of a Trump trade deal. But the leaked document itself is genuine. It details preliminary meetings between UK and US trade negotiators, which took place between July 2017 and July 2019, in which discussion of the NHS takes place, in addition to other issues such as food standards. Although the document does not confirm what position the UK might seek to adopt in any future trade talks with the US.

The source of the heavily redacted version of the document appears to be a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by campaigning organisation, Global Justice Now — which told Vice it made an FOI request to the UK’s Department for International Trade around 18 months ago.

The group said it was subsequently emailed a fully unredacted version of the document by an unknown source which also appears to have sent the data directly to the Labour party. So while the influence operation looks to have originated on Reddit, the agents behind it seem to have resorted to more direct means of data dissemination in order for the leak to gain the required attention to become an election-influencing issue.

Experts in online influence operations had already suggested similarities between the trade talks leak and an earlier Russian operation, dubbed Secondary Infektion, which involved the leak of fake documents on multiple online platforms. Facebook identified and took down that operation in May.

In a report analysing the most recent leak, social network mapping and analysis firm Graphika says the key question is how the trade document came to be disseminated online a few weeks before the election.

“The mysterious [Reddit] user seemingly originated the leak of a diplomatic document by posting it around online, just six weeks before the UK elections. This raises the question of how the user got hold of the document in the first place,” it writes. “This is the single most pressing question that arises from this report.”

Graphika’s analysis concludes that the manner of leaking and amplifying the trade talks data “closely resembles” the known Russian information operation, Secondary Infektion.

“The similarities to Secondary Infektion are not enough to provide conclusive attribution but are too close to be simply a coincidence. They could indicate a return of the actors behind Secondary Infektion or a sophisticated attempt by unknown actors to mimic it,” it adds.

Internet-enabled Russian influence operations that feature hacking and strategically timed data dumps of confidential/sensitive information, as well as the seeding and amplification of political disinformation which is intended to polarize, confuse and/or disengage voters, have become a regular feature of Western elections in recent years.

The most high profile example of Russian election interference remains the 2016 hack of documents and emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic National Committee — which went on to be confirmed by US investigators as an operation by the country’s GRU intelligence agency.

In 2017 emails were also leaked from French president Emmanuel Macron’s campaign shortly before the election — although with apparently minimal impact in that case. (Attribution is also less clear-cut.)

Russian activity targeting UK elections and referendums remains a matter of intense interest and investigation — and had been raised publicly as a concern by former prime minister, Theresa May, in 2017.

Although her government failed to act on recommendations to strengthen UK election and data laws to respond to the risks posed by Internet-enabled interference. She also did nothing to investigate questions over the extent of foreign interference in the 2016 brexit referendum.

May was finally unseated by the ongoing political turmoil around brexit this summer, when Johnson took over as prime minister. But he has also turned a wilfully blind eye to the risks around foreign election interference — while fully availing himself of data-fuelled digital campaign methods whose ethics have been questioned by multiple UK oversight bodies.

A report into Russian interference in UK politics which was compiled by the UK’s intelligence and security parliamentary committee — and had been due to be published ahead of the general election — was also personally blocked from publication by the prime minister.

Voters won’t now get to see that information until after the election. Or, well, barring another strategic leak…

 


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Gloria brings international soccer scouting into the 21st century

18:29 | 25 November

Lionel Messi, who’s still arguably the greatest soccer player in the world, signed his first contract with FC Barcelona when he was thirteen years old. Although he grew up in a small town in central Argentina, he had captured the attention of some of the world’s most famous soccer teams when he was only eleven years old.

While Messi’s rags to riches story is the stuff that sports dreams are made of, it’s impossible for the world’s best teams to get a window into all of the world’s best players, thanks to the game’s incredibly low barrier to entry. Anyone can play soccer. All a kid needs is something to serve as a ball and enough space to run. And, in all, the sport boasts some 4 billion players and fans around the world.

Now there’s an app called Gloria which is trying to ensure that anyone who plays — and has access to a smartphone — can get noticed.

Victoire Cogevina and Matias Castello co-founded the company a year ago in San Francisco and have just raised an undisclosed pre-seed round from investors including Initialized Capital, the Los Angeles-based firm Muse Capital, and angel investors including my boss’ boss Guru Gowrappan, the chief executive of Verizon Media Group (hi ultimate boss).

As a result of the investment Initialized’s Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, is taking a seat on the company’s board of directors.

Gloria co-founders, Matias Castello and Victoire Cogevina, and Initialized co-founder Alexis Ohanian

Cogevina and Castello met and bonded over their shared Argentine history (both co-founders were born there) and love of the world’s most popular sport. Castello’s father actually played for Racing, the team that Cogevina supported back home.

A former sports agent in Argentina, Cogevina had relocated to San Francisco to start up the company and, after several months, convinced Castello to leave his position at Facebook and join her at the company full time.

“What we’re bringing is an alternative to those few things that already exist for kids,” says Castello. “If they’re very talented they integrate into an academy [but] you need quite a bit of money. It costs money to join those things. That adds to the problem that it’s hard to get discovered.”

There’s also a bandwidth issue for the club teams themselves. The best funded teams, like Boca Juniors and River Plate have extensive scouting networks. A country like Argentina has between 3 million and 3.5 million players, says Castello, and scouts see maybe 50,000 players per year.

Currently, athletes looking for their big break are either discovered on YouTube or pay their way to attend some of the academies that exist where they can get noticed, says Cogevina. Gloria, meanwhile is purpose built for soccer clubs, thanks to assistance from people like the scouting director for U.S. club team, the Seattle Sounders.

We know how much academies to get discovered cost,” says Castello. “They can cost $20,000 to $50,000 that’s very high to paying $2.99 a month for a pro feature in an app.”

Currently in beta, app is free to use, and athletes can set up profiles just as they would for a social network. Future versions of the app will have professional tools like additional coaching features, the two co-founders said.

Gloria is starting off in Argentina, where the company has already signed up a few of the nation’s biggest soccer clubs as customers.

 

 


0

Here’s where top gaming VCs are looking for startup opportunities

20:37 | 25 October

With cross-platform experiences like Fortnite and PUBG, in-game socializing environments, and subscription-based cloud gaming services from Playstation, Google, Amazon, and others, the gaming industry is entering a new era beyond mobile.

These days, the industry is at the center of social media and entertainment trends; gaming is expected to earn $152 billion in global revenue this year, up 9.6% year over year. 

Given my recent writing on Unity, the most-used game engine, and ongoing research into interactive media trends, I wanted to find out how top gaming-focused VCs are assessing the market right now. I asked ten of them to share which trends they are most excited about when it comes to finding investment opportunities:

  • David Gardner, Partner at London Venture Partners
  • Henric Suuronen, Partner at Play Ventures
  • Samuli Syvähuoko, Partner at Sisu Game Ventures
  • Jay Chi, Partner at Makers Fund
  • Peter Levin, Managing Director at Griffin Gaming Partners
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss, Partner at NFX
  • Ethan Kurzweil, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Jonathan Lai, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz
  • Blake Robbins, Partner at Ludlow Ventures
  • Jon Goldman, General Partner at GC Tracker & Board Partner at Greycroft Partners

Amid the mix of predictions, there were several common threads, such as optimism about the rise of games as broader social platforms, opportunities to invest directly in new studios, and skepticism about near-term investments in augmented or virtual reality and blockchain.

Here are their responses.

David Gardner, Partner at London Venture Partners

“PC Games are back. Great place to start new IP to then migrate a success to multiple platforms. There is more innovation in business models and more open distribution on PC to facilitate audience growth without the punishment of mobile CPIs.

VR & AR remain out. We stood away from VR in the beginning and extend that to AR while the user experience for games remains a disappointment. Let’s hope those new Apple glasses do the trick!

Crypto remain a theological war zone, but honestly everything on offer has been available in the cloud world, but the real consumer benefit isn’t showing up.

We love games that are expanding audience demographics and are sensitive to less hardcore audiences.  For example, women players are estimated to account for 1 billion gamers.”

Henric Suuronen, Partner at Play Ventures

“At Play Ventures, we believe we have just entered the golden era of mobile gaming. Who would have believed 10 years ago that Nintendo and games like Fortnite and Call of Duty would all be on mobile. Mobile is not just a games platform anymore, it is THE games platform of choice for casual and core players alike. Consequently, in the next 2-3 years we will invest in 30-40 mobile games studios across the globe.”

Samuli Syvähuoko, Partner at Sisu Game Ventures

“We at Sisu Game Ventures have been investing in many sectors since 2015 including free-to-play mobile games (especially big here in Finland), VR, AR, PC, console, instant messenger, hypercasual, audio and most recently cloud-native games as well. In addition to game studios, around a third of our investments are into games related tech/infrastructure. 

We’ve so far not dipped our toes into blockchain or eSports and our appetite for doing more investments in VR and AR is nil. To me, the most interesting mega trends lie with the promise of cloud gaming when utilized to its full potential. Another term that encapsulates my excitement is games-as-a-social-hobby. Put this and the extreme accessibility of the cloud together and you’ll have a game with revolutionary potential.”

Jay Chi, Partner at Makers Fund

“We are looking closely at ‘Gaming as Media’ related content and platforms — the emergence of new interactive experience centered on ‘viewers as participants.’ Gaming as social media falls under this thesis. We are also looking for MMO and Metaverse enablers given increased demand for specialized, scalable and affordable technologies that empower lean startup teams to create and operate large-scale worlds and novel gameplays. 

We also see potential for new start-ups to emerge in hypercasual games with midcore/social meta — no one has truly cracked this genre yet.”

 


0

Reddit now lets iOS users share to Snapchat

17:23 | 14 October

Reddit users can now share their favorite content from the site to Snapchat, thanks to a new integration that allows sharing of text, link, and image-based posts on iOS from Reddit’s “Safe for Work” communities. The move makes Snapchat the first platform partner that Reddit is testing content sharing integration with, the company says, and it hopes the result will be an influx of younger users to the site.

Unlike many social media platforms, Reddit has tended to skew a little older when it comes to its user demographics. According to Pew Research Center, just 22% of U.S. adults aged 18 to 29 used the site, compared with 34% of those 30 to 49 and 25% of those 50 to 64. And 19% were aged 65 and up, Pew found. While that particular study was performed a few years ago, a 2019 study continues to show Reddit as one of the lesser-used online platforms among all U.S. adults, Pew found.

And with a growing advertising business that’s set to cross $100 million in revenues this year, Reddit needs to even out its user demographics and increase its overall usage to be competitive.

image3

To use the new sharing feature, Reddit users who have Snapchat installed on their iOS device will be able to tap the “Share” icon on a posts in the Reddit iOS app, then select the Snapchat option.

You can then choose to send the post to a few friends or post it to your story so all your friends can see it. The content will appear in Snaps and Snap Stories as a new sticker designed specifically for this integration that includes the Reddit logo and source information.

If the viewer also has the Reddit app installed, they can swipe up on the Snap to visit the post. If they don’t have the app installed, they’ll be directed to the App Store to download it.

image2 1

“Reddit empowers discovery and discussion that many Snapchatters love. With this integration, Snapchatters will be able to share interesting posts they find, adding new context and conversation-starters to their Snaps,” said Ben Schwerin, VP of Partnerships at Snap Inc., in a statement about the launch. “As shared Snaps drive engagement back to Reddit — this helps advance the power of community and connection across both platforms,” he added.

Because Reddit tends to host a wide range of content — some of which may violate Snapchat’s terms of use —  the new integration is only being enabled on Reddit’s “Safe for Work” subreddit communities, which are those that don’t host adult content. The communities must also be in good standing, Reddit says.

image1 1

“Snapchat is the first platform partner with whom we’re testing a content sharing integration, and we’re excited to see how the feature will shape the sharing habits and experiences among our users,” said Vaibhav Sahgal, Reddit’s Head of Growth Product, in a statement. “We hope the integration empowers redditors to share Reddit content more frequently, while simultaneously exposing new users to the unique content only found on Reddit.”

The launch follows Reddit’s $300 million funding round led by China’s Tencent earlier this year, that valued the site at $3 billion. This puts Reddit in competition with Facebook and Google for internet ad dollars — a challenge considering its userbase has historically skewed older and male, and users are often anonymous.

The company says the sharing feature will roll out to Android users soon. 

 

 


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Through crowdsourcing, Cerberus Interactive wants to take location based gaming to the masses

21:03 | 27 August

Sami Khan began his work in the startup world by marketing mobile-based investment services like Acorns.

Now the marketer who helped grow that business to a nearly $1 billion valuation is turning his attention to location based gaming in the hopes that he can take on leading contender, Niantic, with a faster, more flexible, and fan driven approach to game development with his new startup, Cerberus Interactive.

Khan’s pitch is that he’s taking the skills he’d honed building up services like Acorns or the browser extension for bargain hunters, Honey, to game development to make games more viral from their inception.

The biggest thing is how do you de-risk what is perceived as a hit driven industry?” Khan asks. “Games are closer to digital apps than back in the days of the console and companies should ship it like an ecommerce concept… If adoption of the game is going to be the decision factor of whether a game fails or succeeds…why isn’t the adoption fo the game tested before the title is built or while the game is being conceived?”

So for his first foray into gaming, Khan is combining a crowd-sourced approach to the development of the game and applying it to what many people think is gaming’s next big frontier —  the location based game phenomenon that hit its stride with Niantic’s Pokemon GO.

Right now in location based games you have the behemoth which is Niantic,” says Khan. “Right now the gaming industry looks at location based games as its own sub genre. But when we look at location based games, we believe that location based games have an aspect that it is a game mechanic within other games.” 

The first game that Cerberus is developing is a base building simulator akin to a title like “Age of Empires” but based on real-world locations. “Simulation games or casual games with location built in will have a bonus or an advantage over the stationary games that we play today,” says Khan.

The “Atlas Empires” title that Cerberus is currently developing is being made in concert with the gamers who might want to play it. So far, an undisclosed number of customers are already paying to have a say in certain aspects of the game’s development — kind of like a premiere tier within a crowdfunding campaign.

Khan, a New Orleans native who splits his time between Los Angeles and Austin, has enlisted some marquee investors in his bid to challenge both the traditional ways in which games have been developed and the current industry leader.

Strategic investor MobilityWare has signed on to back the company along with individual investors like Steve Huffman, the co-founder and chief executive of Reddit, and Blake Chandler, the chief business officer of the runaway social network hit, TikTok.

Khan traces his love of games to his time visiting his cousins in Bangladesh and playing “Prince of Persia” on an early Toshiba laptop. “I remember sitting around the computer, watching my oldest cousin play because my dad didn’t want any of the kids touching the laptop,” Khan says.

So far the beta version of “Atlas Empires” has had 50,000 downloads and has about 1,000 daily players, Khan says. The commercial version of the game is expected to go live in the first quarter of 2020, says Khan.

 

 


0

A.Capital Partners, founded by Ronny Conway, targets $140 million for its third fund

05:04 | 9 August

Silicon Valley investor Ronny Conway is raising his third early-stage venture fund, shows a new SEC filing that states the fund’s target is $140 million and that the first sale has yet to occur.

The now six-year-old firm, A.Capital, focuses on both consumer and enterprise tech, and has offices in Menlo Park and San Francisco.

Among the many brand-name companies in its portfolio are Coinbase, Airbnb, Pinterest, and Reddit. (You can find its other investments here.)

Conway led the seed-stage program of Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) for roughly four years in its earliest days and left in 2013 to raise his debut fund, which closed with $51 million in capital commitments. He also raised two, smaller parallel funds at the time.

According to SEC filings, he sought out $140 million for his second fund, though he never announced its close.

A.Capital is today run by Conway, along with General Partner Ramu Arunachalam (also formerly of a16z) and Kartik Talwar, who worked previously with Conway’s brother, Topher, and his famed father, Ron, at their separate venture firm, SV Angel.

Conway maintains a far lower profile than his father in particular, who throughout his venture career has nurtured relationships not only with founders but with tech reporters and local politicians.

Though now ancient history in Silicon Valley years, Ronny Conway was credited with introducing Andreessen Horowitz to Instagram during its earliest days.

Conway, a former Googler, met Instagram cofounder Kevin System in the several years when he, too, worked for the search giant, beginning in 2006. It turned out to be a highly worthwhile introduction, though it could have been even lucrative for a16z.

Though the firm made a seed-stage bet on the what was then a far simpler mobile photo-sharing app, a16z never followed up with another check because of investment in another photo-sharing startup that would eventually flounder (PicPlz).

It was a sensitive issue at the time for a16z, with some noting its missed opportunity. In fact, Ben Horowitz later felt compelled to write in a blog post that Andreessen Horowitz made $78 million from its $250,000 seed investment in Instagram when Facebook acquired it $1 billion in 2012.

 


0

Reddit quarantines its biggest headache

22:22 | 26 June

Reddit’s r/The_Donald subreddit has been a lingering issue for the site’s leadership.

The community, which was organized in the lead-in to Trump’s presidential run, has come to represent much of the site’s failures in uniformly enforcing content policies. Add in Russian election interference and a dollop of racism, sexism and xenophobia and you have the recipe for a long-simmering scandal that has finally coming to a head after the community hosted “threats against the police and public figures.”

Today, Reddit quietly quarantined the Donald Trump-focused subreddit, meaning that the content on the subreddit will stay self-contained at its URL for non-subscribers and will require an opt-in screen for visiting users.  Perhaps more notable, the quarantine removes the community from Reddit’s ad network, ensuring that the company isn’t making ad revenue from content on r/The_Donald.

Screen Shot 2019 06 26 at 11.59.53 AM

In a lengthy, carefully-worded statement to TechCrunch regarding the action, a Reddit spokesperson said, “We are clear in our site-wide policies that posting content that encourages or threatens violence is not allowed on Reddit. As we have shared, we are sensitive to what could be considered political speech, however, recent behaviors including threats against the police and public figures is content that is prohibited by our violence policy. As a result, we have actioned individual users and quarantined the subreddit.”

The step is far from the ban that users have long requested from the company’s CEO Steve Huffman in his regular site-wide Q&As. Just last month, Huffman addressed some of the issues r/The_Donald had been causing:

“…Yes, we do see individual posts and comments that cross the line, but the offending content also gets removed as we ask and expect, and we also take action against those individual users and accounts with suspensions or full bans from the site as appropriate. I wish there was a solution that was as simple as banning the community—certainly it would make some things easier—but the reality is that banning a large political community that isn’t in violation of our policies would be hugely problematic, not just for Reddit, but for our democracy generally…”

Reddit has had a history of being conservative in its efforts to phase out controversial subreddits. The venture-backed only recently banned a subreddit called r/WatchPeopleDie in the wake of the New Zealand mosque shooting.

Just last month, the Trump administration shared a public survey asking Americans to respond if they had been censored by social media companies.

 


0

Indiegogo hires Reddit’s Andy Yang as new CEO

17:05 | 23 May

Indiegogo has a new chief. Andy Yang will take over for outgoing CEO David Mandelbrot who is stepping down. According to sources close to the company, several other Indiegogo employees are also leaving. Indiegogo has yet to confirm this claim or state the number or reason for their departure.

Mandelbrot announced the move on LinkedIn, citing “personal reasons” as the reason he’s leaving. He was at Indiegogo for six years starting as SVP of Operations in August of 2013.

Andy Yang comes to Indiegogo from Reddit where he was most recently leading its product team. He was previously the CEO of 500px.

Yang comes to Indiegogo at a critical time for the company. Consumers are increasingly becoming jaded by crowdfunding projects that leave backers without their promised product. Under Mandelbrot’s leadership, he helped Indiegogo net several key partners including General Electric and Lego. The company also enlisted the help of several manufacturing and marketing professionals to help backers make projects into products.

TechCrunch requested an interview with Yang, but has yet to be granted that request.

 


0

Part fund, part accelerator, Contrary Capital invests in student entrepreneurs

23:48 | 16 May

First Round Capital has both the Dorm Room Fund and the Graduate Fund. General Catalyst has Rough Draft Ventures. And Prototype Capital and a few other micro-funds focus on investing in student founders, but overall, there’s a shortage of capital set aside for entrepreneurs still making their way through school.

Contrary Capital, a soon-to-be San Francisco-based operation led by Eric Tarczynski, is raising $35 million to invest between $50,000 and $200,000 in students and recent college dropouts. The firm, which operates a summer accelerator program for its portfolio companies, closed on $2.2 million for its debut, proof-of-concept fund in 2018.

“We really care about the founders building a great company who don’t have the proverbial rich uncle,” Tarczynski, a former founder and startup employee, told TechCrunch. “We thought, ‘What if there was a fund that could democratize access to both world-class capital and mentorship, and really increase the probability of success for bright university-based founders wherever they are?’ “

Contrary launched in 2016 with backing from Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, SoFi co-founder Dan Macklin, Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear, founding Facebook engineer Jeff Rothschild and MuleSoft founder Ross Mason. The firm has more than 100 “venture partners,” or entrepreneurial students at dozens of college campuses that help fill Contrary’s pipeline of deals.

Contrary Capital celebrating its Demo Day event last year

Last year, Contrary kicked off its summer accelerator, tapping 10 university-started companies to complete a Y Combinator -style program that culminates with a small, GP-only demo day. Admittedly, the roughly $100,000 investment Contrary deploys to its companies wouldn’t get your average Silicon Valley startup very far, but for students based in college towns across the U.S., it’s a game-changing deal.

“It gives you a tremendous amount of time to figure things out,” Tarczynski said, noting his own experience building a company while still in school. “We are trying to push them. This is the first time in many cases that these people are working on their companies full-time. This is the first time they are going all in.”

Contrary invests a good amount of its capital in Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and MIT students, but has made a concerted effort to provide capital to students at underrepresented universities, too. To date, the team has completed three investments in teams out of Stanford, two out of MIT, two out of University of California San Diego and one each at Berekely, BYU, University of Texas-Austin, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and University of California Santa Cruz.

“We wanted to have more come from the 40 to 50 schools across the U.S. that have comparable if not better tech curriculums but are underserviced,” Tarczynski explained. “The only difference between Stanford and these others universities is just the volume. The caliber is just as high.”

Contrary’s portfolio includes Memora Health, the provider of productivity software for clinics; Arc, which is building metal 3D-printing technologies to deliver rocket engines; and Deal Engine, a platform for facilitating corporate travel.

“We are one giant talent scout with all these different nodes across the country,” Tarczynski added. “I’ve spent every waking moment of my life the last eight years living and breathing university entrepreneurship … it’s pretty clear to me who is an exceptional university-based founder and who is just caught up in the hype.”

 


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