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Thomas Kurian on his first year as Google Cloud CEO

00:15 | 20 February

“Yes.”

That was Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s simple answer when I asked if he thought he’d achieved what he set out to do in his first year.

A year ago, he took the helm of Google’s cloud operations — which includes G Suite — and set about giving the organization a sharpened focus by expanding on a strategy his predecessor Diane Greene first set during her tenure.

It’s no secret that Kurian, with his background at Oracle, immediately put the entire Google Cloud operation on a course to focus on enterprise customers, with an emphasis on a number of key verticals.

So it’s no surprise, then, that the first highlight Kurian cited is that Google Cloud expanded its feature lineup with important capabilities that were previously missing. “When we look at what we’ve done this last year, first is maturing our products,” he said. “We’ve opened up many markets for our products because we’ve matured the core capabilities in the product. We’ve added things like compliance requirements. We’ve added support for many enterprise things like SAP and VMware and Oracle and a number of enterprise solutions.” Thanks to this, he stressed, analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester now rank Google Cloud “neck-and-neck with the other two players that everybody compares us to.”

If Google Cloud’s previous record made anything clear, though, it’s that technical know-how and great features aren’t enough. One of the first actions Kurian took was to expand the company’s sales team to resemble an organization that looked a bit more like that of a traditional enterprise company. “We were able to specialize our sales teams by industry — added talent into the sales organization and scaled up the sales force very, very significantly — and I think you’re starting to see those results. Not only did we increase the number of people, but our productivity improved as well as the sales organization, so all of that was good.”

He also cited Google’s partner business as a reason for its overall growth. Partner influence revenue increased by about 200% in 2019, and its partners brought in 13 times more new customers in 2019 when compared to the previous year.

 


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Utah tech magnates create new Silicon Slopes Venture Fund to boost startups in the state

17:29 | 3 February

Those looking outside of Silicon Valley as a potential hub for their startup might want to take a gander at Utah — at least that’s the kind of trend the new Silicon Slopes Venture Fund hopes to create.

The newly formed fund, put together by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith, Omniture and Domo founder Josh James and Stance co-founder turned Pelion Venture Partners’ Jeff Kearl, pledges to invest solely in Utah-based startups. The goal? To become every bit as notable as a16z or Sequoia Capital.

Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and Domo and Omniture founder Josh James onstage at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit.

“I grew up in the Bay Area,” Kearl told TechCrunch of the energy he feels in the state. “This feels like the 1990s in the Bay Area. You can find hundreds of open jobs up and down the Wasatch Front.”

Utah has a reputation as a mostly religious, conservative and sleepy mountain region for outdoors enthusiasts but tech has fast become the leading job sector in the state, with some salaries from companies like Adobe and Qualtrics rivaling those in Silicon Valley. The state recently pledged a push to include at least one computer science course in every high school in the state by 2022 and also just hosted a massive, 25,000 person startup festival called the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, where it held a Utah state governor’s debate and both Steve Case and Mark Zuckerberg spoke on stage.

It’s unclear how much the fund has set aside for its mission to help Utah become a full-fledged tech ecosystem rivaling Silicon Valley but one would imagine it would have a sizable sum to invest, if, as Smith tells TechCrunch, it is to help Utah’s up-and-coming startups go all the way from seed stage to IPO.

“I want to see companies get even bigger than Qualtrics…and do it in this state,” Smith said. Qualtrics sold to SAP in 2019 for $8 billion, notably the largest private enterprise software deal in tech history.

Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2020 Gubernatorial Debate

One of the many issues tech hubs around the world face is both the networking capabilities and the ability to invest after the seed stage or Series A. Most startups throughout the globe still find the need to travel and make connections in Silicon Valley to get them through the next step of growth. This has been true for every billion-dollar startup idea in Utah as well so far. Both Smith and James took in Silicon Valley venture for their companies, as did unicorn turned public ed tech startup Pluralsight and the recently rebranded sales platform Xant (formerly InsideSales), before making it big.

However, this new fund represents the kind of push needed to create a strong innovation ecosystem in the future, as Steve Case mentioned on stage at the summit event this last week. “Venture capitalists must look at ‘what’s happening in the Silicon Slopes’ and make sure it ‘is happening other places’,” Utah newspaper Deseret News paraphrased the AOL founder as saying.

Pelion Venture Partners, which operates in both Utah and Southern California, will act as a support to Silicon Slopes Venture Fund, providing organizational overhead. Each partner will still keep their day job and donate most fees to support the ongoing operation of the non-profit tech organization, Silicon Slopes, which runs the annual tech summit of the same moniker. However, the Silicon Slopes Venture Fund will be an independent fund from Pelion, with the sole purpose of investing in deal flow the three partners find through their respective networks within the state.

“I used to hate the term ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ because I want to be the only boat,” James told TechCrunch. “But I really think it applies here for what we are trying to do [in Utah].”

 


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Hipmunk’s co-founders tried to buy it back before the shutdown

02:59 | 15 January

 

In a little over a week, the travel metasearch engine Hipmunk will shut down. It’s an abrupt and disappointing end for a product acquired by SAP Concur around three and a half years ago.

It didn’t have to go this way, though. We’re now hearing that Hipmunk co-founders Adam Goldstein and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman (both of whom left Hipmunk in years prior) made an offer to buy the company back rather than have it shutdown, to no avail.

As first reported by Skift and confirmed with our own sources, Hipmunk employees at an all-hands meeting today asked about the buyback offer and were told it wasn’t going to happen.

Why SAP Concur would opt to shut down Hipmunk rather than spin it back out isn’t entirely clear, though these things are undoubtedly more complicated than the parent company saying “Oh, you want it back? Sure! Take it!”

A few years post acquisition, Hipmunk DNA has intertwined with Concur’s to some degree — including a product for small-to-medium businesses straight up called “Concur Hipmunk” — so there’s presumably interest on SAP Concur’s end in keeping engineers who know all the relevant codebases around. Hipmunk also had patents that switched hands in the acquisition (and more were approved post-acquisition), and it’s possible SAP doesn’t want to let those go. It’s also entirely feasible that the offer came too late, or just wasn’t significant enough, for a company as large as SAP to slam the brakes and start detangling things.

A rep for SAP Concur declined to comment.

 


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Four years after being acquired, Hipmunk is shutting down

23:24 | 14 January

If you’re still using Hipmunk for trip planning, it’s time to find another site. Sooner than later, really.

The Hipmunk team announced this afternoon that it’ll be shutting down in just one week’s time. Come January 23rd, says the blog post, both the Hipmunk website and app will be shuttered.

The team also tweeted:

This shutdown comes right around three and a half years after corporate travel/expensing platform Concur acquired Hipmunk back in September of 2016.

Founded by Adam J. Goldstein and Reddit co-founder Steve “spez” Huffman, Hipmunk was one of the first well-made “metasearch” travel sites. It scrounged up flights (and hotels/car rentals/etc.) from across myriad services like Expedia, Priceline, etc, presenting all the times/prices in one big skimmable interface.

The team had an upbeat tone in the original post announcing the acquisition, with Goldstein noting that “Hipmunk isn’t going anywhere.” Alas, things change in four years.

In an FAQ about the announcement, Hipmunk clarifies that all accounts will go dark come January 23rd — and while it says existing reservations won’t be impacted by this, they note that all booking matters should go through whichever final provider they pointed you to.

 


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Google brings IBM Power Systems to its cloud

21:55 | 13 January

As Google Cloud looks to convince more enterprises to move to its platform, it needs to be able to give businesses an onramp for their existing legacy infrastructure and workloads that they can’t easily replace or move to the cloud. A lot of those workloads run on IBM Power Systems with their Power processors and until now, IBM was essentially the only vendor that offered cloud-based Power systems. Now, however, Google is also getting into this game by partnering with IBM to launch IBM Power Systems on Google Cloud.

“Enterprises looking to the cloud to modernize their existing infrastructure and streamline their business processes have many options,” writes Kevin Ichhpurani, Google Cloud’s corporate VP for its global ecosystem in today’s announcement. “At one end of the spectrum, some organizations are re-platforming entire legacy systems to adopt the cloud. Many others, however, want to continue leveraging their existing infrastructure while still benefiting from the cloud’s flexible consumption model, scalability, and new advancements in areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics.”

Power Systems support obviously fits in well here, given that many companies use them for mission-critical workloads based on SAP and Oracle applications and databases. With this, they can take those workloads and slowly move them to the cloud, without having to re-engineer their applications and infrastructure. Power Systems on Google Cloud is obviously integrated with Google’s services and billing tools.

This is very much an enterprise offering, without a published pricing sheet. Chances are, given the cost of a Power-based server, you’re not looking at a bargain, per-minute price here.

Since IBM has its own cloud offering, it’s a bit odd to see it work with Google to bring its servers to a competing cloud — though it surely wants to sell more Power servers. The move makes perfect sense for Google Cloud, though, which is on a mission to bring more enterprise workloads to its platform. Any roadblock the company can remove works in its favor and as enterprises get comfortable with its platform, they’ll likely bring other workloads to it over time.

 


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VTEX, an e-commerce platform used by Walmart, raises $140M led by SoftBank’s LatAm fund

19:56 | 22 November

E-commerce now accounts for 14% of all retail sales, and its growth has led to a rise in the fortunes of startups that build tools to enable businesses to sell online. In the latest development, a company called VTEX — which originally got its start in Latin America helping companies like Walmart expand their business to new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service covering things like order and inventory management; front-end customer experience and customer service — has raised $140 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue taking its business deeper into more international markets.

The investment is being led by SoftBank, specifically via its Latin American fund, with participation also from Gávea Investimentos and Constellation Asset Management. Previous investors include Riverwood and Naspers, and Riverwood continues to be a backer, too, the company said.

Mariano Gomide, the CEO who co-founded VTEX with Geraldo Thomaz, said the valuation is not being disclosed, but he confirmed that the founders and founding team continue to hold more than 50% of the company. In addition to Walmart, VTEX customers include Levi’s, Sony, L’Oréal and Motorola . Annually, it processes some $2.4 billion in gross merchandise value across some 2,500 stores, growing 43% per year in the last five years.

VTEX is in that category of tech businesses that has been around for some time — it was founded in 1999 — but has largely been able to operate and grow off its own balance sheet. Before now, it had raised less than $13 million, according to PitchBook data.

This is one of the big rounds to come out of the relatively new SoftBank Innovation Fund, an effort dedicated to investing in tech companies focused on Latin America. The fund was announced earlier this year at $2 billion and has since expanded to $5 billion. Other Latin American companies that SoftBank has backed include online delivery business Rappi, lending platform Creditas, and proptech startup QuintoAndar.

The common theme among many SoftBank investments is a focus on e-commerce in its many forms (whether that’s transactions for loans or to get a pizza delivered) and VTEX is positioned as a platform player that enables a lot of that to happen in the wider marketplace, providing not just the tools to build a front end, but to manage the inventory, ordering and customer relations at the back end.

“VTEX has three attributes that we believe will fuel the company’s success: a strong team culture, a best-in-class product and entrepreneurs with profitability mindset,” said Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner at SoftBank’s Latin America fund, in a statement. “Brands and retailers want reliability and the ability to test their own innovations. VTEX offers both, filling a gap in the market. With VTEX, companies get access to a proven, cloud-native platform with the flexibility to test add-ons in the same data layer.”

Although VTEX has been expanding into markets like the US (where it acquired UniteU earlier this year), the company still makes some 80% of its revenues annually in Latin America, Gomide said in an interview.

There, it has been a key partner to retailers and brands interested in expanding into the region, providing integrations to localise storefronts, a platform to help brands manage customer and marketplace relations, and analytics, competing against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce (but not, he said in answer to my question, Commercetools, which builds Shopify -style API tools for mid- and large-sized enterprises and itself raised $145 million last month).

E-commerce, as we’ve pointed out before, is a business of economies of scale. Case in point, while VTEX processes some $2.5 billion in transactions annually, it makes a relative small return on that: $69 million, to be exact. This, plus the benefit of analytics on a wider set of big data (another economy of scale play), are two of the big reasons why VTEX is now doubling down on growth in newer markets like Europe and North America. The company now has 122 integrations with localised payment methods.

“At the end of the day, e-commerce software is a combination of knowledge. If you don’t have access to thousands of global cases you can’t imbue the software with knowledge,” Gomide said. “Companies that have been focused on one specific region and now realising that trade is a global thing. China has proven that, so a lot of companies are now coming to us because their existing providers of e-commerce tools can’t ‘do international.'” There are very few companies that can serve that global approach and that is why we are betting on being a global commerce platform, not just one focused on Latin America.”

 


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Veteran enterprise exec Bob Stutz is heading back to SAP

17:07 | 21 October

Bob Stutz has had a storied career with enterprise software companies including stints at Siebel Systems, SAP, Microsoft and Salesforce. He announced on Facebook last week that he’s leaving his job as head of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud and heading back to SAP as president of customer experience.

Bob Stutz Facebook announcement

Bob Stutz Facebook announcement

Constellation Research founder and principal analyst Ray Wang says that Stutz has a reputation for taking companies to the next level. He helped put Microsoft CRM on the map (although it still had just 2.7% marketshare in 2018, according to Gartner) and he helped move the needle at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Bob Stutz

Bob Stutz, SAP’s new president of customer experience. Photo: Salesforce

“Stutz was the reason Salesforce could grow in the Marketing Cloud and analytics areas. He fixed a lot of the fundamental architectural and development issues at Salesforce, and he did most of the big work in the first 12 months. He got the acquisitions going, as well,” Wang told TechCrunch. He added, “SAP has a big portfolio from CallidusCloud to Hybris to Qualtrics to put together. Bob is the guy you bring in to take a team to the next level.”

Brent Leary, who is a long-time CRM industry watcher, says the move makes a lot of sense for SAP. “Having Bob return to head up their Customer Experience business is a huge win for SAP. He’s been everywhere, and everywhere he’s been was better for it. And going back to SAP at this particular time may be his biggest challenge, but he’s the right person for this particular challenge,” Leary said.

Screenshot 2019 10 21 09.15.45

The move comes against the backdrop of lots of changes going on at the German software giant. Just last week, long-time CEO Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down, and that Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein would be replacing him as co-CEOs. Earlier this year, the company saw a line of other long-time executives and board members head out the door including including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day, Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member, CTO Björn Goerke and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board.

Having Stutz on board could help stabilize the situation somewhat, as he brings more than 25 years of solid software company experience to bear on the company.

 


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Why it might have been time for new leadership at SAP

00:35 | 12 October

SAP CEO Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down last night after a decade at the helm in an announcement that shocked many. It’s always tough to measure the performance of an enterprise leader when he or she leaves. Some people look at stock price over their tenure. Some at culture. Some at the acquisitions made. Whatever the measure, it will be up to the new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein to put their own mark on the company.

What form that will take remains to be seen. McDermott’s tenure ended without much warning, but it also happened against a wider backdrop that includes other top executives and board members leaving the company over the last year, an activist investor coming on board and some controversial licensing changes in recent years.

Why now?

The timing certainly felt sudden. McDermott, who was interviewed at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise last month sounded more like a man who was fully engaged in the job, not one ready to leave, but a month later he’s gone.

But as McDermott told our own Frederic Lardinois last night, after 10 years, it seemed like the right time to leave. “The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said in the interview.

There is no reason to doubt that, but you should at least look at context and get a sense of what has been going in the company. As the new co-CEOs take over for McDermott, several other executives including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day, Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member, CTO Björn Goerke and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board have all left this year.

 


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SAP’s Bill McDermott on stepping down as CEO

05:51 | 11 October

SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott today announced that he wouldn’t seek to renew his contract for the next year and step down immediately after nine years at the helm of the German enterprise giant.

Shortly after the announcement, I talked to McDermott, as well as SAP’s new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein. During the call, McDermott stressed that his decision to step down was very much a personal one, and that while he’s not ready to retire just yet, he simply believes that now is the right time for him to pass on the reins of the company.

To say that today’s news came as a surprise is a bit of an understatement, but it seems like it’s something McDermott has been thinking about for a while. But after talking to McDermott, Morgan and Klein, I can’t help but think that the actual decision came rather recently.

I last spoke to McDermott about a month ago, during a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event. At the time, I didn’t come away with the impression that this was a CEO on his way out (though McDermott reminded me that if he had already made up his decision a month ago, he probably wouldn’t have given it away anyway).

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course with Bill McDermott SAPDSC00240

“I’m not afraid to make decisions. That’s one of the things I’m known for,” he told me when I asked him about how the process unfolded. “This one, I did a lot of deep soul searching. I really did think about it very heavily — and I know that it’s the right time and that’s why I’m so happy. When you can make decisions from a position of strength, you’re always happy.”

He also noted that he has been with SAP for 17 years, with almost 10 years as CEO, and that he recently spent some time talking to fellow high-level CEOs.

“The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said.

In “the recent past,” McDermott met with SAP chairman and co-founder Hasso Plattner to explain to him that he wouldn’t renew his contract. According to McDermott, both of them agreed that the company is currently at “maximum strength” and that this would be the best time to put the succession plan into action.

SAP's new co-CEO Jennifer Morgan.

SAP co-CEO Jennifer Morgan.

“With the continuity of Jennifer and Christian obviously already serving on the board and doing an unbelievable job, we said let’s control our destiny. I’m not going to renew, and these are the two best people for the job without question. Then they’ll get a chance to go to Capital Markets Day [in November]. Set that next phase of our growth story. Kick off the New Year — and do so with a clean slate and a clean run to the finish line.

“Very rarely do CEOs get the joy of handing over a company at maximum strength. And today is a great day for SAP. It’s a great day for me personally and Hasso Plattner, the chairman and [co-]founder of SAP. And also — and most importantly — a great day for Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein.”

Don’t expect for McDermott to just fade into the background, though, now that he is leaving SAP. If you’ve ever met or seen McDermott speak, you know that he’s unlikely to simply retire. “I’m busy. I’m passionate and I’m just getting warmed up,” he said.

As for the new leadership, Morgan and Klein noted that they hadn’t had a lot of time to think about the strategy going forward. Both previously held executive positions in the company and served on SAP’s board together for the last few years. For now, it seems, they are planning on continuing on a similar path as McDermott.

“We’re excited about creating a renewed focus on the engineering DNA of SAP, combining the amazing strength and heritage of SAP — and many of the folks who have built the products that so many customers around the world run today — with a new DNA that’s come in from many of the cloud acquisitions that we’ve made,” Morgan said, noting that both she and Klein spent a lot of time over the last few months bringing their teams together in new ways. “So I think for us, that tapestry of talent and that real sense of urgency and support of our customers and innovation is top of mind for us.”

SAP co-CEO Christian Klein

SAP co-CEO Christian Klein

Klein also stressed that he believes SAP’s current strategy is the right one. “We had unbelievable deals again in Q3 where we actually combined our latest innovations — where we combined Qualtrics with SuccessFactors with S/4 [Hana] to drive unbelievable business value for our customers. This is the way to go. The business case is there. I see a huge shift now towards S/4, and the core and business case is there, supporting new business models, driving automation, steering the company in real time. All of these assets are now coming together with our great cloud assets, so for me, the strategy works.”

Having co-CEOs can be a recipe for conflict, but McDermott started out as co-CEO with Plattner, so the company does have some experience there. Morgan and Klein noted that they worked together on the SAP board before and know each other quite well.

What’s next for the new CEOs? “There has to be a huge focus on Q4,” Klein said. “And then, of course, we will continue like we did in the past. I’ve known Jen now for quite a while — there was a lot of trust there in the past and I’m really now excited to really move forward together with her and driving huge business outcomes for our customers. And let’s not forget our employees. Our employee morale is at an all-time high. And we know how important that is to our employees. We definitely want that to continue.”

It’s hard to imagine SAP with McDermott, but we’ve clearly not seen the last of him yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him pop up as the CEO of another company soon.

Below is my interview with McDermott from TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise.

 


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As Sinai Ventures returns first fund, partner Jordan Fudge talks new LA focus

23:08 | 4 October

At age 27, Jordan Fudge is quietly making a splash in the VC world.

Fudge is the managing partner of Sinai Ventures, a multi-stage VC fund that manages $100 million and has more than 80 portfolio companies including Ro, Drivetime, Kapwing, and Luminary. His 2017 investment in Pinterest — a secondary shares deal from his prior firm that was rolled into Sinai when he spun out — will have returned the value of Sinai’s Fund I by itself once the lockup on shares expires next week.

Fudge and co-founder Eric Reiner, a Northwestern University classmate, hired staff in New York and San Francisco when Sinai launched in early 2018. Today, they’re centralizing the team in Los Angeles for its next fund, a bet on the rising momentum of the local startup ecosystem and their vision to be the city’s leading Series A and B firm.

Fudge and Reiner have intentionally stayed off the radar thus far, wanting to prove themselves first through a track record of investments.

Kwaku EDITS V2

Jordan Fudge. Image via Sinai Ventures

A part-time film financier who also serves on the board of LGBT advocacy non-profit GLAAD, Fudge describes himself as an atypical VC firm founder, an edge he’s using to carve out his niche in a crowded VC landscape.

I spoke with Fudge to learn more about his strategy at Sinai and what led to him founding the firm. Here’s the transcript (edited for length and clarity):

Eric Peckham: Tell me the origin story here. How did Sinai Ventures get seeded?

Jordan Fudge: I was working for Eagle Advisors, a multi-billion dollar family office for one of the founders of SAP, focused on the tech sector across public markets, crypto, and eventually VC deals. Two years in, I pitched them on spinning out to focus on VC and they seeded Sinai with the private investments like Compass and Pinterest I had done already, plus a fresh fund to invest out of on my own. It was $100 million combined.


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