2017: Year of the podcast

The year 2017 will likely be remembered for many things across the technology spectrum, from major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and milestone moments in autonomous vehicles to Amazon conceding that a major offline presence in groceries was needed to compete in retail.

But buried within the big headline-grabbing stories of the year were microtrends that sprang up almost by surprise. And one of those relates to the humble podcast. Continue reading “2017: Year of the podcast”

Germany: Facebook abuses dominance in the way it harvests and monetizes user data

(Reuters) — Germany’s cartel office has found that Facebook abused its dominant market position, in a ruling that questioned the U.S. social network’s model of monetizing the personal data of its 2 billion users through targeted advertising. Presenting preliminary findings of its 20-month-old probe, the Federal Cartel Office said Facebook held a dominant position among social networks – a characterization that Facebook repudiated as “inaccurate”. Continue reading “Germany: Facebook abuses dominance in the way it harvests and monetizes user data”

Accenture predicts the top tech stories of CES 2018


Each year, tech consulting giant Accenture makes predictions about the kind of technology we’ll see at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. I interviewed Greg Roberts, managing director for Accenture’s North American high-tech industry practice, about the predictions for CES 2018, the big tech trade show that will take place in Las Vegas in the second week of January. Continue reading “Accenture predicts the top tech stories of CES 2018”

FCC gutting net neutrality would reverse over a decade of work trying to protect internet users

In a new proposal issued last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set out a plan to eliminate net neutrality protections, ignoring the voices of millions of Internet users who weighed in to support those protections. The new rule would reclassify high-speed broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service” (remember, the FCC is forbidden from imposing neutrality obligations on information services). It would then eliminate the bright-line rules against blocking, throttling, and pay-to-play (as well as the more nebulous general conduct standard) in favor of a simplistic transparency requirement. In other words, your ISP would be free to set itself up as an Internet gatekeeper, as long as it is honest about it.

This is a bad idea for many, many reasons. Here are a few. Continue reading “FCC gutting net neutrality would reverse over a decade of work trying to protect internet users”

Matrix PowerWatch: The smartwatch powered by your body heat

I have a habit of losing my charger or forgetting to charge my devices. That’s why I like the idea behind the PowerWatch. Built by startup Matrix Industries, the PowerWatch is charged by your own body heat. As long as it is touching your skin, it needs no charge.

After almost six years of research, and a year after a successful Indiegogo campaign, Menlo Park, California-based Matrix Industries is shipping its PowerWatch. The technology behind the watch could pave the way for a new era of wearables that never run out of power, said Akram Boukai, CEO and cofounder of Matrix Industries, in an interview with VentureBeat. The PowerWatch sells for $170 on PowerWatch.com. It doesn’t look like much, as it is designed to conserve power.

“We went after people who don’t want fancy bells and whistles,” Boukai said. “As long as you are active and take maybe 10,000 steps a day, you don’t have to charge it.”

This smartwatch harvests energy from body heat, using a chip with a thermoelectric energy converter. Matrix engineered its advanced thermoelectric generators to operate with extreme efficiency. It created more efficient conversion circuitry to power the electronics and charge the internal battery. And its thermal design is built to harvest the small amount of heat available to the wearable device.

Above: PowerWatch uses a temperature difference to convert energy into electricity.

Image Credit: PowerWatch

Boukai said the outside of the wrist is a bad place to harvest energy because it doesn’t produce nearly as much heat as the head, the bottom of the feet, or even the inside of the wrist. The whole secret is maintaining a temperature difference between the part of the watch that touches your skin and the part on the other side. The process takes heat from your wrist and expels it from the other side of the watch.

The company found a semiconductor material that can conduct electricity but does not transfer heat easily. The team created the material by introducing defects into the material at a nano scale, or a billionth of a meter. This material produces a voltage when there is a temperature difference between the two sides of the chip.

When you take the watch off, the data is stored in memory, and the device goes to sleep. When you put it back on, the watch returns to where you left it. It can store data for two years in idle mode. It also has an always-on power meter that tells you how much electricity your body heat is producing. This means it can accurately calculate how many calories you are burning.

The device has aircraft-grade aluminum, and it syncs wirelessly with your smartphone. It automatically adjusts to the current time zone, tracks your steps, counts your calories, and measures your sleep. It is water-resistant up to 50 meters.

It essentially offers the same capabilities as battery-powered fitness wearables, without the hassle of chargers. The watch has no touchscreen, so you maneuver through the functions using two buttons.

Above: PowerWatch has no touchscreen.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Boukai said that the No. 1 reason consumers stop using wearables is that they take them off to charge them, and then they forget about them. You never need to take the PowerWatch off.

Boukai and his Caltech friend Douglas Tham cofounded Matrix Industries as a materials science startup in 2011. They saw that wearables had a problem with poor battery life and so they pivoted to making a smart watch and focused on shrinking down the size of the bulky electronics. The work they did to solve this problem has earned them 10 patents.

“Just a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Boukai said.

Matrix Industries won first place at the Last Gadget Standing, a gadget competition at the Consumer Electronics Show. It raised $1.64 million in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in January and raised $3.5 million more in additional funding. All told, it took in more than $24 million in venture capital from backers such as Khosla Ventures. The company has 11 employees, and it currently creates the chips in-house in Menlo Park, though operations will move to China in future.

The PowerWatch is now shipping to the more than 12,000 people who preordered the device.

A premium version, the PowerWatch X with a color display from Sharp, is expected to ship before the end of the year.  Boukai expects to launch it on Amazon and at retailers next year. The full retail price will be $200.

“It’s a great feeling to have revenue for the first time,” Boukai said.

He said that Matrix is also researching self-charging ear buds and various kinds of devices, as other parts of the body can produce considerably more energy than the wrist.

LiveStories raises $10 million to help you access public health and census data

LiveStories


LiveStories, which provides software that simplifies access to civic data on poverty, health, economics, and more, today announced that it has raised $10 million in funding. Ignition Partners led the round, with participation from returning investors True Ventures and Founders Co-Op.

The Seattle-based startup sources data from federal, state, and local governments, including The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census, and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

“The civic data workflow is fragmented across multiple tools and vendors,” wrote LiveStories founder and CEO Adnan Mahmud, in an email to VentureBeat. “For example, you might use Google to find the data, Excel to clean it up, Tableau to explore it, and Word to create a static report.”

According to Mahmud, LiveStories’ software allows customers to find and communicate civic data in a more interactive way — across charts, videos, and images. “Our platform automatically visualizes the data, down to city and county localities,” wrote Mahmud. The data can then be shared on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

LiveStories claims to have more than 120 customers, which include LA County, CDPH, San Diego County, UCLA, and the Gates Foundation.

Today’s funding will be used to further develop the product and increase sales and marketing. Founded in 2015, LiveStories has raised a total of $14 million and currently has 20 employees.

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Why good people leave large tech companies


I was visiting with an ex-student who’s now the CFO of a large public tech company. The company is still one of the hottest places to work in tech. They make hardware with a large part of their innovation in embedded software and services.

The CFO asked me to stay as one of the engineering directors came in for a meeting.

I wish I hadn’t.

The director was there to protest the forced relocation of his entire 70-person team from Palo Alto to the East Bay. “Today most of my team walks to work or takes the train there. The move will have them commuting for another 45 minutes. We’re going to lose a lot of them.”

The director had complained to his boss, the VP of Engineering, who admitted his hands were tied, as this was a “facilities matter,” and the VP of facilities reported to the CFO. So, this was a meeting of last resort, as the engineering director was making one last appeal to the CFO to keep his team in town.

While a significant part of the headcount of this tech company was in manufacturing, the director’s group was made up of experienced software engineers. Given they could get new jobs by just showing up at the local coffee shop, I was stunned by the CFO’s reply: “Too bad, but we need the space. They’re lucky they work here. If they leave at least they’ll have ‘name of our company’ on their resume.”

WTF? I wasn’t sure who was more shocked, the director or me.

After the director left, I must have looked pretty surprised as the CFO explained, “We have tens of thousands of employees, and at the rate we’re growing it’s almost impossible to keep up with our space needs in the Bay Area. You know for our CEO, ‘love us or leave us’ has been his policy from day one.” (By coincidence, the CEO was an intern at one of my startups more than two decades ago.) I asked, “Now that the company is public and has grown so large, has the policy changed?” The CFO replied, “No, our CEO believes we are on a mission to change the world, and you really have to want to work here or you ought to leave. And because we’re inundated with resumes from people who want to work for us, he sees no reason to change.”

I don’t know what was more sobering, thinking that the policy which might have made sense as a scrappy startup, was now being applied to a company with 10,000+ employees or that the phrase, “…we are on a mission to change the world, and you really have to want to work here or you ought to leave…” was the exact same line I used when the now-CEO was my intern.

Adult supervision

Before the rapid rise of Unicorns (startups with a valuation over a billion dollars), when boards were still in control, they “encouraged” the hiring of “adult supervision” of the founders after they found product/market fit. The belief then was that most founders couldn’t acquire the HR, finance, sales, and board governance skills rapidly enough to steer the company to a liquidity event, so they hired professional managers. These new CEOs would also act as a brake to temper the founder’s excesses.

In the last decade, technology investors realized that these professional CEOs were effective at maximizing, but not finding, product cycles. Yet technology cycles have become a treadmill, and startups need to be on a continuous innovation cycle to survive. This requires retaining a startup culture for years – and who is best at doing that? The founders. Founders are comfortable in the chaos and disorder. In contrast, professional managers attempt to bring order to chaos and often kill the startup culture in the process. Venture firms realized that teaching a founding CEO how to grow a company is easier than teaching a professional CEO how to find the new innovation for the next product cycle. And they were right. It was true in the company I was visiting — and in the last five years over 200 other Unicorns have emerged, and most still have their founders at the helm.

And so, this startup found itself with a “founder friendly” board that believed the company could grow at a greater rate if the founding CEO continued to run the company. This founder’s reality distortion field attracted a large number of employees who shared his vision. It was so compelling, everyone worked extremely long hours for little pay and some stock. They were lucky, they got the timing right, and after a painful couple of years they figured out product/market fit and went public. And those early employees got rewarded as their stock turned into cash.

The problem was that, at some point past employee 1,000, the big payoffs from pre-public stock ended. But the CEO never noticed that the payoff had ended for 95 percent of his company. Flying to his remote company locations in his private jet, surrounded by his early employees who were now worth tens of millions of dollars, he didn’t realize the mantra of “You really have to want to work here or you ought to leave” rang hollow for the latest employees.

The company was now attracting interns who did want the name of this hot company on their resume. But since compensation was way below average, they stayed just long enough to pump up their resumes and then left for much better paying jobs – often at a startup.

And because fewer senior engineers considered it a great place to work, the company’s initial technology advantage has started to erode.

Wakeup call

The downside of founders running large companies is that there are no written best practices, no classes, no standard model. And given that, in the past, founders as a group were rarely in charge as startups became large companies, it’s no surprise. Reprogramming founders who grew their business by being agile, relentless, tenacious, and often aggressive and irrational and at times into CEOs that can drive organizational growth is tough.

This means quickly learning a new set of skills, sublimating large egos, working through direct reports, when their span of control can no longer encompass the entire company, and building repeatable processes that enable scale. At times this comes only after a crisis that provides a wakeup call.

As a startup scales into a company, founders and the board need to realize that the most important transitions are not about systems, buildings, or hardware. They’re about the company’s most valuable asset – its employees.

Founders of great companies figure out how the keep their passion but put people before process.

Postscript

I can tell this story now since the director has left the company and founded his own startup in a different market segment. Over the six months after his department relocated to the East Bay, 55 of the 70 employees in his group who were asked to relocate left. 25 of them joined his new startup. And from the other 30 who left, six new startups were formed.

Lessons learned

  • Be careful of unintended consequences when you grow
  • Recognize the transition boundaries in company size
  • Recognize that what drove an Innovation Culture when you were small may no longer apply when you’re large

Steve Blank is a retired serial entrepreneur-turned-educator who created the Customer Development methodology that launched the lean startup movement, which he wrote about in his book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Blank teaches Lean LaunchPad classes at Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley, Columbia University, and NYU.

VentureBeat is hiring a Heartland Tech editor


We’re looking for an experienced editor to serve our readers with news and analysis around one of the most important issues of our time: the role of tech in creating — and destroying — jobs in America’s heartland

The 2016 presidential election laid bare a chasm between technology companies and the rest of the country, namely the so-called flyover states and the region often derided as the Rust Belt. Yet new ecosystems of venture capital, innovation, and entrepreneurship are forming across the country. What can be done to bridge the divide between Silicon Valley and the heartland?

As VentureBeat’s Heartland Tech editor, you’ll help define our daily coverage of this urgent issue. You’ll solicit guest posts from stakeholders and experts, find articles from other outlets to syndicate, and develop a small stable of regional freelancers to tell this story with a local perspective. Finally, you, too, will write regularly on the topic, weighing in with smart analysis and original reporting. Linked to this editorial mission, we’ll be kicking off an event series called BLUEPRINT, to be held in Reno in September.

We’re looking for someone who is passionate about innovation, understands major technology trends, and is intrigued by how technology impacts jobs and is affected by politics. Our ideal candidate will have five or more years journalistic experience. Location is unimportant; this is a contract position. Lastly, it would be great if you love to read VentureBeat. Seriously, though, you should already read VentureBeat!

If you’re as excited as we are, please send a resume, desired compensation, and cover letter containing three links to your best clips to jobs@venturebeat.com.

89% of CIOs are investing more heavily in innovation due to uncertainty


Nine out of 10 chief information officers are investing more heavily in innovation, according to an annual survey by recruitment firm Harvey Nash Group and accounting firm KPMG.

Two-thirds (64 percent) of organizations are adapting their technology strategies in the midst of unprecedented global political and economic uncertainty, the survey found.

More than half of the respondents (52 percent) said they are investing in more nimble technology platforms. It is clear digital strategies have infiltrated businesses across the globe at an entirely new level. The proportion of organizations surveyed that now have enterprise-wide digital strategies increased 52 percent in just two years, and organizations with a chief digital officer have increased 39 percent over last year.

“From an organizational and cultural perspective, the CIO is now faced with a full transformation to digital, enterprise-wide,” said Harvey Nash president and CEO Bob Miano in a statement. “Digital is without question the CIO’s priority, but especially for legacy organizations, leading this change to a complete, unified digital strategy is top of mind. CIOs are responding by tackling this head-on with innovation and agility.”

To deal with that change, companies are increasing their demand for enterprise architects — the fastest growing technology skill this year, up 26 percent compared to 2016.

Cybersecurity vulnerability — as demonstrated by the latest ransomware case — is at an all-time high, with a third of IT leaders (32 percent) reporting their organization had been subject to a major cyberattack in the past 24 months — a 45 percent increase from 2013. Only one in five (21 percent) say they are “very well” prepared to respond to these attacks, down from 29 percent in 2014.

Despite recent headline-grabbing cyberattacks, the biggest jump in threats comes from insider attacks, increasing from 40 percent to 47 percent over last year.

“In order to stay ahead of the unprecedented levels of disruption and change facing today’s CIOs, they have needed to become more strategic and functionally integrated,” said Denis Berry, KPMG principal and U.S. CIO advisory leader, in a statement. “Today’s technology executives need to understand how business models impact their organization’s infrastructure — not only from a technology standpoint but from an economic, social, political, and regulatory one as well, especially in order to stay nimble, adapt to an uncertain climate, and truly discover where the opportunities are.”

The survey is in its 19th year, and the company says it is the largest IT leadership survey in the world. The survey was conducted from December 19, 2016, to April 3, 2017, across 86 countries; 4,498 CIOs and tech leaders responded.

Other findings: Digital leadership has changed. Almost one in five CIOs (18 percent) report their organizations have “very effective” digital strategies.

CIOs at these digitally enabled organizations are almost twice as likely to be leading innovation across the business (41 percent versus 23 percent), and are investing at four times the rate of non-leaders in cognitive automation (25 percent versus 7 percent).

Overall, the survey found almost two-thirds (61 percent) of CIOs from larger organizations are already investing or planning to invest in digital labor.

CIOs love their jobs, and are more likely to be involved at the board level. The number of CIOs who are “very fulfilled” in their role is at a three-year high — rising from 33 percent in 2015 to 39 percent this year. For the first time in a decade, more than seven in 10 CIOs (71 percent) believe the CIO role is becoming more strategic.

Ninety-two percent of CIOs joined a board meeting in the past 12 months. However, the average CIO lifespan is just five years or less (59 percent), although many want to stay longer.

Everything Microsoft announced at Build 2017


So Microsoft’s annual Build developer conference came and went, and the computing giant unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at the software engineers and web developers of the world.

From Windows 10 to Cortana and bots, here’s a quick recap of everything announced at Build 2017.

Embracing the competition

A core theme to emerge from Build 2017 was Microsoft’s tacit acknowledgement that it needs to embrace competing platforms if it’s to thrive as a software and services company.

Though iTunes has been available on Windows for more than a decade, Microsoft revealed that Apple’s media-focused software would be landing in the Windows Store later this year, a key launch given the impending arrival of Windows 10 S which can only use apps available in the Windows Store.

Elsewhere, Microsoft also announced that its cloud storage service, OneDrive, would soon work with Apple’s iMessage, letting users share documents and photos with friends without leaving their iMessage chat. As part of the same announcement, Microsoft revealed that it was opening offline access to folders within OneDrive on Android, with support for iOS users coming later this year.

Microsoft also unveiled Xamarin Live Player in preview, which is effectively a “live coding environment” for developers to debug Android and iOS apps without SDKs or emulators.

Additionally, Microsoft’s integrated development environment (IDE), Visual Studio, was also launched out of preview for Mac. And as another swift reminder that Microsoft has been increasingly prioritizing the “big 2” mobile operating systems over its own, the company finally revealed that Visual Studio Mobile Center was finally getting Windows support — seven months after debuting with support only for Android and iOS.

In a show of support for developers and fans of Linux, Microsoft also revealed that Ubuntu, Suse Linux, and Fedora are all coming to the Windows Store, making it easier to run Linux apps on Windows 10 devices.

Bots, Cortana, & AI

A little more than a year after launching its Bot Framework, Microsoft revealed that it’s now used by over 130,000 developers. With that in mind, the company used Build 2017 to announce that Bing search results now include Skype bots, in addition to myriad chat apps including Slack, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. Bots will also soon be able to join video conversations in Skype, with developers able to use the BotBuilder RealTimeMediaCalling extension on Github, which just entered preview.

Microsoft also revealed that Cognitive Services, a conduit for third-parties to access its AI algorithms for “vision, speech, language, and knowledge,” was arriving on a bot-to-bot communication platform Interbot, a product from Gupshup. Related to this, Microsoft announced it was releasing four new customizable artificial intelligence services via Cognitive Services, allowing developers to build even more AI into their own products.

A number of announcements were also made relating to Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-enabled digital assistant. The company announced a public preview of its Cortana Skills Kit that enables developers to create voice apps for Cortana, and more than 20 such apps made their debut at Build. The software giant also revealed that it was working with both Intel and HP to bring more Cortana-powered devices to market.

Microsoft’s bread and butter

Microsoft announced some interesting tidbits about its core bread and butter services, in addition to making a few surprise announcements.

The company gave a glimpse into how it wants to tie its various apps, products, and platforms together with the Microsoft Fluent Design System, which is effectively guidelines to enable Microsoft to evolve its Metro/Modern UI design language, replete with rules for developers creating software to run on Windows 10.

Microsoft also demonstrated Windows 10 running on devices with ARM processors, with full support for existing Win32 apps. And it also revealed that Windows 10 is now installed on more than 500 million devices, a feat that took around 21 months to achieve.

Looking to the future, Microsoft announced a new Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, which is coming later this year, with the company teasing a new creative app called Windows Story Remix that uses the Microsoft Graph to transform and combine your photos and videos.

As part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft also outlined plans to launch OneDrive files on-demand, a feature that lets users access their files online without having to download them and consume valuable storage space on their devices.

Elsewhere, Microsoft had a little news to share around its cloud computer service Azure. With Azure Cosmos DB, Microsoft is offering a globally distributed database with five consistency choices, rather than forcing developers to choose between strong and eventual consistency.

Other notable announcements to emerge from Build include: developers can now publish Microsoft Teams apps to the Office Store, while Microsoft unveiled its first Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers, alongside a mixed reality developer kit.

Finally, one of the more interesting early-stage products to emerge at Build was the Emma Watch, a wearable that counters Parkinson’s tremors through using vibrations.

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