India’s OkCredit raises $67M to help small merchants digitize their bookkeeping – gpgmail


OKCredit, a Bangalore-based startup that enables small merchants to turn their bookkeeping digital, has raised $67 million to expand its business in the nation.

The Series B financing round for the two-year-old startup was led by Lightspeed and Tiger Global. The new round, which follows Series A financing round in June this year, climbs OkCredit’s total raise to $87 million.

OkCredit operates an eponymous mobile app that allows merchants to keep track of their day-to-day purchases and sales. Last month, startup founders told gpgmail that the app had amassed over 5 million active merchants across 2,000 cities in India.

More to follow…


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Another high-flying, heavily funded AR headset startup is shutting down – gpgmail


While Apple and Microsoft strain to sell augmented reality as the next major computing platform, many of the startups aiming to beat them to the punch are crashing and burning.

Daqri, which built enterprise-grade AR headsets, has shuttered its HQ, laid off many of its employees and is selling off assets ahead of a shutdown, former employees and sources close to the company tell gpgmail.

In an email obtained by gpgmail, the nearly 10-year-old company told its customers that it was pursuing an asset sale and was shutting down its cloud and smart-glasses hardware platforms by the end of September.

“I think the large majority of people who worked [at Daqri] are sad to see it closing down,” a former employee told gpgmail. “[I] wish the end result was different.”

The company’s 18,000+ square foot Los Angeles headquarters (above) is currently listed as “available” by real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank. The company’s Sunnyvale offices appear to have been shuttered sometime prior to 2019.

Daqri’s shutdown is only the latest among heavily funded augmented reality startups seeking to court enterprise customers.

Earlier this year, Osterhout Design Group unloaded its AR glasses patents after acquisition talks with Magic Leap, Facebook and others stalled. Meta, an AR headset startup that raised $73 million from VCs including Tencent, also sold its assets earlier this year after the company ran out of cash.

Daqri faced substantial challenges from competing headset makers, including Magic Leap and Microsoft, who were backed by more expansive war chests and institutional partnerships. While the headset company struggled to compete for enterprise customers, Daqri benefitted from investor excitement surrounding the broader space. That is, until the investment climate for AR startups cooled.

Daqri was, at one point, speaking with a large private-equity firm about financing ahead of a potential IPO, but as the technical realities facing other AR companies came to light, the firm backed out and the deal crumbled, we are told.

As of mid-2017, a Wall Street Journal report detailed that Daqri had raised $275 million in funding. You won’t find many details on the sources of that funding, other than references to Tarsadia Investments, a private-equity firm in Los Angeles that took part in the company’s sole disclosed funding round. We’re told Tarsadia had taken controlling ownership of the firm after subsequent investments.

In early 2016, Daqri acquired Two Trees Photonics, a small UK startup that was building holographic display technologies for automotive customers. The UK division soon comprised a substantial portion of the entire company’s revenues, sources tell us. By early 2018, the division was spun out from Daqri as a separate company called Envisics, leaving the Daqri team to focus wholly on bringing augmented reality to enterprise customers.

The remaining head-worn AR division failed to gain momentum after prolonged setbacks in adoption of its AR smart glasses, including difficulties in training workers to use the futuristic hardware, a source told gpgmail.

All the while, the company’s leadership put on a brave face as the startup sputtered. In an interview this year with Cornell Enterprise Magazine, Daqri CEO Roy Ashok told the publication that the startup was forecasting shipments of “tens of thousands” of pairs of its AR glasses in 2020.

Daqri, its founder and several executives did not respond to requests for comment.


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Scientists propose ‘Spaceline’ elevator to the Moon – gpgmail


Fans of sci-fi and fringe tech may already be familiar with the idea of the “space elevator,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — and totally impossible with today’s technology. But a pair of scientists think they’ve found an alternative: a Moon elevator. And it’s slightly less insane… technically.

The idea of the space elevator, first explored in detail by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel “The Fountains of Paradise,” is essentially a tower so tall it reaches space. Instead of launching ships and materials from the surface of the Earth to orbit, you just put them in the elevator of this tower and when they reach the top, somewhere about 26,000 miles up in geosynchronous orbit, they’re already beyond gravity’s pull, for all intents and purposes.

It’s a fun idea, but the simple fact is that this tower would need to be so strong to support its own weight, and that of the counterweight at the far end, that no known material or even reasonably hypothetical one will do it. Not by a long shot. So the space elevator has remained well on the “fiction” side of science fiction since its first proposal. Hasn’t stopped people from patenting it, though.

But what if I told you that we could make a space elevator even bigger, with materials available today? You’d say I am completely unqualified to engineer such a structure — and you’d be right. But two astronomers from Cambridge and Columbia Universities think they’ve got an alternative. They call it the Spaceline.

The secret is in abandoning the entire concept of anchoring the space elevator to the surface of the Earth. Instead they propose a tower or cable extending the other direction: From the surface of the Moon to geosynchronous orbit around the planet.

Unsurprisingly, this idea has been put out there before, as early as the ’70s. But as Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford put it in their paper:

We present the derivations herein as a full standalone mathematical and physical description of the concept, one that we and authors before us have been surprised to find is eminently plausible and may have been overlooked as a major step in the development of our capacity as a species to move within our solar system.

Math by Cambridge and Columbia. Diagram by MS Paint.

In other words, others have suggested it before, but they did the math. And it actually works out. And it might only cost a few billion dollars.

The Spaceline would be more like a skyhook than a tower. A thin, strong piece of material (think the width of a pencil lead) that extends about 225,000 miles from the surface of the Moon to a safe distance above the planet, where it won’t interfere with satellites or encounter our pesky atmosphere.

Anyone interested in going to the Moon would simply launch to the correct orbit height and sync up with the tip of the Spaceline, where there would no doubt be a station of some kind. From there they could use solar-powered propulsion to zip along the line, no fuel required. At the other end, they simply slow down and have a soft landing at lunar orbit or whatever surface facility we put on the regolith there.

Importantly, the Spaceline would pass through the Earth-Moon Lagrange point, where there is effectively zero gravity and no other physical interference, making construction and storage a snap.

Having only a small team of scientists and engineers at such a base camp would allow hand construction and maintenance of a new generation of space based experiments – one could imagine telescopes, particle accelerators, gravitational wave detectors, vivariums, power generation and launch points for missions to the rest of the solar system.

Sounds nicer than the tiny Lunar Gateway NASA has planned.

While the researchers say this is “not idle theorycrafting,” it most certainly is, with the caveat that the theory is more realistic than a famously unrealistic one no one takes seriously. Still, the possibility is tantalizing now that someone has crunched the numbers. Perhaps one of these space-bound billionaires will make a Moon elevator their next passion project.


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With the 2020 Cadillac CT4, GM begins to expand its hands-free Super Cruise driving system – gpgmail


GM’s high-end brand unveiled Thursday the 2020 Cadillac CT4, a sporty and small sedan that is designed and priced to attract younger buyers looking to enter the luxury car market.

The vehicle’s debut also marks an important expansion for GM’s hands-free driver assistance system, Super Cruise. The hands-free driving system has been lauded for its capabilities; it’s also been criticized because of its severe limitations. Today, Super Cruise is available in just one Cadillac model, the full-size CT6 sedan. And even in the CT6, the system is restricted to certain highways.

Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead.

GM is finally starting to expand where the system can be used and bringing it to more models. Earlier this year, the company said it will add another 70,000 miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada to the existing system via a software update. By the end of the year, Super Cruise will be available on more than 200,000 miles of highways.

The automaker plans to bring Super Cruise to other GM brands, such as Chevrolet, GMC and Buick, after 2020.

The expansion follows other improvements rolled out in 2018, including adding a dynamic lane offset so that a CT6 with Super Cruise activated can adjust slightly over in its lane for driver comfort when passing large vehicles. Gauge cluster messages were also added, to inform drivers why Super Cruise may not be available in certain instances.

Super Cruise isn’t the only feature of note in the 2020 Cadillac CT4 model. Cadillac is offering the CT4 in a few trim levels, all of which will have turbo engines. The standard version will have an eight-speed transmission and a 2.0 turbo-4 engine that generates 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The CT4-V, the premium luxury version of the CT4, will have a 2.7-liter turbo-4 engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

The CT4 will come with unique grilles and bright exterior accents to distinguish the CT4 luxury and premium luxury models. The Sport and V-Series models are differentiated by darker accents and “performance-inspired” details, including unique grilles, fascias, rocker extensions, rear spoiler and exclusive performance design wheels, Cadillac said.

Every version of the CT4 will have LED exterior lighting, including headlamps, tail lamps and signature vertical lights at all four corners.

Cadillac 2020 CT4 Sport 023

The interior of the 2020 Cadillac CT4.

Inside the car, drivers will find an eight-inch touchscreen that is mounted prominently in the center of the instrument panel. GM’s new digital platform, which can handle over-the-air software updates, is integrated into the CT4, as well.

“We developed CT4 to appeal to youthful buyers in the luxury market who may be new to the Cadillac brand,” said Andrew Smith, executive director of global Cadillac design. “The vehicle was intended to draw attention, using a combination of great proportions, taught surfacing and Cadillac family details that hint at the athletic driving experience this vehicle offers.”


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The youngest new partner at the venture firm Felicis Ventures, Niki Pezeshki, on how he wins deals – gpgmail


Felicis Ventures has, in its roughly 13 years of existence, established a reputation in venture circles as a smart early-stage investment firm that’s willing to make bets almost anywhere in the world. Founded by ex-Googler Aydin Senkut, the San Francisco-based firm has also demonstrated a knack for attracting talented investors into the fold, including another former Google executive, Wesley Chan; Sundeep Peechu, who held various product roles at Intel before joining the firm in 2010; and Renata Quintini, an investor who Felicis eventually lost to Lux Capital (which more recently lost her to her own firm, Renegade Partners, which is reportedly raising a $300 million debut fund).

We talked this morning with yet another member of Felicis, Niki Pezeshki, who, following several promotions, has just became the youngest partner in the firm’s history. For aspiring VCs out there, we wondered how Pezeshki landed the role — and how he’s managing to win deals. Following is part of that conversation, edited lightly for length.

TC: Everyone wants to work in VC. How did you land this gig?

NP: Out of undergrad [at the University of Southern California], I went to work for [private equity firm] Vista Equity Partners.They hire, like, four people out of undergrad every year at USC. I was in Austin [where the firm is based] for three years. It was amazing. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time — Vista has blossomed into this incredible fund — but it grounded me in the fundamentals of business and what is a good software investment. I think it made me more numbers-focused than a lot of other venture capitalists. I may get flamed for saying this, but I come to the world of venture with a much more numbers-driven and formulaic approach to understanding business that I think helps me pick good investments.

TC: How did you wind up in the Bay Area?

NP: My family is from LA so I came to California to work for Climate Corp. for a year; I worked in sales strategy and operations. I wanted a bit of operating experience. But I love investing so much; I wanted to go back to it. So I got a job with [PE firm] Summit Partners, where you’re doing hardcore outbound sourcing and learning how to reach out to people and get conversations started and figuring out [who you should be learning more about] out of hundreds of founders.

While there, Felicis randomly reached out to me through a friend of a friend, who said, ‘You should meet Sundeep,’ and they told Sundeep, ‘Sundeep, you should meet Niki,’ and though I hadn’t thought about venture, a lot of what they were doing really resonated with me. In many ways, I’m doing what I was doing at Summit, but with a much wider aperture.

TC: You were just promoted to partner from principal, up from senior associate, where you started in 2016. What does that mean on a practical level?

NP: A lot of the role won’t be much different than in the past year. I think from an external-facing perspective, it gives me more credibility with founders and investors. It’s one more thing that I can use to win great deals.

TC: What’s one competitive deal that you’ve won already?

NP: Modus in Seattle. It’s a [tech-driven] escrow startup that is to the title and brokerage industry what Compass is to real estate. I led the Series A deal for that company and I’m on the board and I got lot of credibility internally for that. I think they were thinking of promoting me next year or the year after, but they were like, ‘Dang, Niki just led a competitive Series A round. Let’s give him ammunition.’ [Laughs.]

TC: How did the deal come together, and what do you think won them over?

NP: I think three things: bonding with the founders, conviction about their company and speed. I’d heard that they were going to be in town for two weeks, fundraising, and I knew their goal was to leave the area with a term sheet. A lot of firms are fairly bureaucratic and it’s hard for them to spin up their team and do due diligence that quickly, but Felicis has a small team and I had conviction about the space already, so when they came through, I told them how excited I was to do something on their timeline.

We also bonded over [an up-and-coming] DJ. It’s also about creating that human connection with founders. I have a bunch of friends who are founders who say it often feels very transactional, their relationship with investors. You want to support these people.

TC: You don’t have tons of operating experience. You aren’t alone in this, but plenty of VCs will argue that to founders that it’s crucial. How do you counter this?

NP: Some founders do want more operational expertise, others don’t care that much unless the VC once ran a multibillion-dollar company. If you’re Martin Casado [of Andreessen Horowitz] and someone really loves Nicira, I’m probably not going to win against him.

But I’m relatively young compared with other partners, and I’m really passionate, and I think that comes across in the fundraising process. I think founders know that I will take a call any time, and help them build an amazing model for their business, and really help them prep for their next fundraising process, and help them with any VP recruits.

I’m still building my track record, so founders know that I care and that my incentives are aligned with theirs. If a founding team is successful, I’ll be successful versus someone who is already sitting on 15 boards and will show up once a quarter and try to own the room and who is less invested in whether or not the company does well because [that investor] has already been successful. I want every single portfolio company to do incredibly well. I want that to come across. And I think it does.


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The MIT Media Lab controversy and getting back to ‘radical courage’, with Media Lab student Arwa Mboya – gpgmail


People win prestigious prizes in tech all the time, but there is something different about The Bold Prize. Unless you’ve been living under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard something about the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also happened to be a billionaire philanthropist and managed to become a ubiquitous figure in certain elite science and tech circles.

And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you’ve been living under would have had to be fully insulated from the internet to avoid reading about Epstein’s connections with MIT’s Media Lab, a leading destination for the world’s most brilliant technological minds, also known as “the future factory.” 

This past week, conversations around the Media Lab were hotter than the fuel rods at Fukushima, as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps the most feared and famous investigative journalist in America today, blasted out what for some were new revelations that Bill Gates, among others, had given millions of dollars to the Media Lab at Jeffrey (no fucking relation, thank you very much!) Epstein’s behest. Hours after Farrow’s piece was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now embattled Media Lab director, resigned.

But well before before Farrow weighed in or Ito stepped away, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on full alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya by way of college at Yale, where she studied economics and filmmaking and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, 25, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his position.

Imagine: you’re heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself taking on a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as guest editor, was one of just a couple of people the then sitting President of the United States asked to personally interview. And imagine that man was the director of your graduate program, and the reason you decided to study in it in the first place.

Imagine the pressure involved, the courage required. And imagine, soon thereafter, being completely vindicated and celebrated for your actions. 

Arwa Mboya. Image via MIT Media Lab

That is precisely the journey that Arwa Mboya has been on these past few weeks, including when human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa decided to crowd-fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, which has now brought in over $10,000 to support her ongoing work (full disclosure: I am among the over 120 contributors to the prize).

Mboya’s advocacy was never about Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see she doesn’t wish him ill.

As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten before Ito’s resignation, “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was nicknamed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are supposed to reflect the future, not just of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I’m fighting for the future of women.”

From the moment I read it, I thought this was a beautiful and truly bold statement by a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of student that the Media Lab draws.

But in getting to know her a bit since reading it, I’ve learned that her message is also about even more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new direction in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses and other leaders’ complicity did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a better world.

Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke out at MIT because of her passion to use tech to inspire radical imagination among potentially millions of African youth. As she discusses both the Media Lab and her broader vision, I believe she’s already beginning to provide that inspiration. 

Greg Epstein: You have had a few of the most dramatic weeks of any student I’ve met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing right now?

Arwa Mboya: I’m actually pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I’m very tired, I’ll say that. I’ve been traveling a lot and dealing with this while still trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted as opposed to not doing well in and of itself.

Epstein: Looking at your writing — you’ve got a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you’ve been here — it struck me that in speaking your mind and heart about this Media Lab issue, you’ve done exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You set out to be brave, to live life, as the Helen Keller quote on your website says, as either a great adventure or nothing. 

Also, when you came to the Media Lab, you were the best-case scenario for anyone who works on publicizing this place. You spoke and wrote about the Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, or Australia, or at Yale, how did you come to see this as the best place in the world for you to express the creative and civic dreams that you had?

Mboya: That’s a good question — what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, which is Joi Ito’s book about the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really resonated with me. It was a place for misfits. It was a place for people who are curious and who just want to explore and experiment and mix different fields, which is exactly what I’ve been doing before.

From high school, I was very narrow in my focus; at Yale I did Econ and film, so that had a little more edge. After I graduated I insisted on not taking a more conventional path many students from Yale take, so [I] moved back to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, got into travel more.

Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you flipping over, skydiving, gymnastics — things that require both strength and courage. 

Mboya: I’d always been an athlete, loved the outdoors.

I remember being in Vietnam; I’d never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this.” But it’s really scary jumping backwards; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember telling myself, ” Okay, just jump over the fear. Just shut it off and do it. Your body will follow.” I did and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’ll jump.”

It really stuck with me. A lot of decisions I’ve [since] made, that I’m scared of, I think, “Okay, just jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that as well.

I really wanted to go there, I just didn’t think there was a place for me. It was like, I’m not techie enough, I’m not anything enough. Applying was, ’just jump,’ you never know what will happen.

image 4

Image from Arwa Mboya

Epstein: Back when you were applying, you wrote about experiencing what applicants to elite schools often call “imposter syndrome.” This is where I want to be, but will they want me?

Mboya: Exactly.




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Why Do Android Flashlight Apps Need Dozens of Permissions?


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No one should be downloading a flashlight app in the Year of Our Lord 2019 — that’s why both Google and Apple have integrated the ability into their devices as part of the base operating system. Avast security researcher Luis Corrons decided to evaluate the security of flashlight apps after the wave of concern around the Russian-owned Faceapp software. According to his work, there are still 937 flashlight applications on Google Play, despite the fact that Flashlight capabilities are baked into the Android OS. Many of these applications request far more permissions from end users than they ever need to function.

Instead of being limited to the functions you’d expect a flashlight to need (access the LED flash itself, download ads from the internet, and lock-screen access so the flashlight can be turned on or off without unlocking the device), many of these apps request far more. The average number of permissions requested by app is 25. 408 applications request 10 permissions or fewer, but 262 of them require 50 permissions or more. The table below shows the worst offenders:

Now, just because an application is requesting a lot of permissions doesn’t necessarily mean it is requesting them for nefarious purposes. But when Corrons dug deeper, the issues kept getting worse. A massive number of applications request permission to kill background processes, access your fine-grained location data, control Bluetooth connections, record audio, download data without notification, and write to your contacts list. A few even process incoming calls.

As Corrons discusses, the reason these apps have such ludicrous permissions isn’t because they’re actually trying to hook you up with Nigerian princes with large fortunes to dispose of. It’s undoubtedly so they can gather data and then sell it to other firms as part of their efforts to endlessly monetize all of human existence. He steps through how some of these apps are developed by studios with multiple multi-million downloads on the app store. All of the apps require the same invasive permissions, and they’re almost certainly funneling data to the same invisible group of partners.

Google, of course, could stop this kind of garbage in its tracks by forcing app developers to only request permissions that they can plausibly prove they need, and by tightening the approval process to make this kind of rampant data-collecting against its own terms of service. Google doesn’t, because that would alert people to how much of their own daily device usage is uploaded to third-party corporations in the first place. The companies that take advantages of loose user permission requirements aren’t exploiting a loophole; they’re using the system in the manner in which it’s intended to operate. Corrons notes that it’s extremely important for users to be aware of what kind of permissions their applications request. This is true, but it also puts the impetus of fixing the problem solely on the end-user.

Google has allowed its app store to be abused by people who are running massive data harvesting regimes — and it’s on Google to fix that problem, not end-users. Nobody should be downloading a flashlight app on a modern device. But Google shouldn’t be allowing applications to request permissions that they have no business requesting, either.

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How to stop vanity marketing from killing your startup – gpgmail


In 2014, I got in on the ground floor of what I thought was a rocket ship. Fling was the fastest-growing app in 2014, and I was pulled in as their chief growth officer, with a handsome compensation package — one that in retrospect should have given me pause. Within 24 hours of arriving in London, I was greeted at the door by a Fling-branded Humvee, which wouldn’t even turn out to be the worst use of the company’s money.

Fling’s marketing team consisted of 20 people, or about 30% of the company. Skeptical that any startup needed a marketing team remotely close to that size, I sat down with each one of them to learn about each individual’s expertise, role and what value they added. Each focused on a particular area — online user acquisition, brand, partnerships, metrics, to name a few. Surprisingly, I found myself impressed with their skill sets, at least on paper.

Nevertheless, my spidey sense was tingling. It’s not that they were lazy or shirked responsibilities; in fact, each seemed like they tried to create value in earnest. But everyone on the team lacked a sense of urgency — the one that drives truly great startups to be thoughtful and careful about understanding why and how things work.

And when resources are seemingly infinite, any expenditure — whether time, money or both — seems like a good idea, so long as the return is net positive. And in isolation, perhaps many (or all of them) yield a positive ROI. The result was a constant cash-burn, despite “doing everything right” — everything was working, but it wasn’t working in a sustainable, manageable way, and I’d ended up buying into the hype. I’d been concerned about marketing bloat, and I was right. The company would eventually go under after burning $21 million.

I knew I was part of it. I could have stopped the bleed. But everything I was doing had a positive outcome — not one I could necessarily quantify or describe, but I knew it was there. We had all the money and time in the world — right up until we didn’t.

Before Fling I’d been scrappy, constantly brushing arms with death running one of the most popular fitness apps in the world perpetually from the end of our runway. After Fling, I’d developed bad habits — by my own hand — and had to force myself through a series of less glamorous but more fulfilling jobs wherein all that really mattered was results.

For me — and I’d say for any marketer — to develop resourcefulness, I needed to have spent significant time in an environment of scarcity, not abundance. This environment is the difference between whether or not a marketer ends up cutting their teeth and growing in their abilities or forever sucking on the teat provided by your friendly neighborhood VC.

And the word  “resourcefulness” is a misnomer, containing a beautiful irony of sorts: it’s a trait that only develops when resources are running on empty.

It’s time for you to understand a new term — vanity marketing.

We had all the money and time in the world — right up until we didn’t.

Vanity marketing is a tempting investment for a company. It’s got some vague, ephemeral yet satisfying results — you’ve got a big party, you’ve got a wrapped Humvee, you’ve got something cool to point at, and perhaps you’ll achieve the mythical “virality” that gets a particular thing 10,000 shares or retweets.

You’re popular — a non-specific yet incredibly sexy thing that theoretically would mean that investors would talk to you, or reporters would speak to you, or that you’ve “made it.” It’s a result of the fact that many markets don’t have the level of scrutiny of, say, a sales team applied to them — marketing’s this big, powerful juggernaut where many people survive just by not getting fired.

If premature scaling is the leading killer of startups, marketing is the symptomless cancer that leads to its demise. Marketers with abundance ingrained into their mindset will spend until those resources are no longer there. It’s easy to succeed in marketing by burning capital to grow.

You know how there are some people who are entrepreneurs just so they can say they’re entrepreneurs? I’ve noticed a similar pattern in marketing. Everyone wants to call themselves a “growth hacker,” but no one wants to learn to write SQL or Python.

Why? Because it’s not sexy. Neither is obsessing over metrics like CPM, Average Order Value and cost per unique “add to cart.” What is sexy, though, is spending (other people’s) money to reach new audiences, and pointing at increasingly bigger numbers. The problem is that unless you get your hands dirty, you won’t actually be able to understand whether your marketing efforts command a return. I’ve seen marketers waste hundreds of thousands of dollars with no repercussions. Could you imagine if a salesperson expensed that same amount in sales trips without landing a single client?

Almost every single major startup flameout you’ve seen has had some form of major Vanity Marketing Spend, one totally divorced from, say, the cost of acquiring a single user. If you’re reading this and saying that you’re not one of these marketers, then I’m proud, yet suspicious, of you. It’s fine if you’ve dabbled — a happy hour here, a CES party there — and understood that those were brief attempts to get something that’s unquantifiable. And it’s even stupider if you’ve spent this money “just because everybody else is doing it.”

But the dark truth is that many, many marketing expenditures are totally unquantifiable — they have little to no grounding in reality beyond telling people you’ve spent money.

The boring, consistent marketing you can do — that you can analyze, that you can truly understand the effect of — is so much less interesting than the big, shiny objects. It might not look as impressive, but it’ll work. And it’ll teach you to succeed anywhere.


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How to meet attendees at Disrupt SF with CrunchMatch – gpgmail


Ready to squeeze every bit of opportunity out of Disrupt SF this October 2-4? With more than 10,000 attendees, networking might seem like quite the daunting task. Which is why we’ve got your back with gpgmail’s attendee networking platform, CrunchMatch, that helps you zero in on the people and connections that matter most to your business. Don’t have your pass to attend Disrupt SF yet? You can grab yours right now and still get some great savings.

All people who have Innovator, Investor and Founder pass types will be able to access CrunchMatch through the gpgmail Events app, which means you can use it to find and set up meetings with people that you are specifically looking to connect with at Disrupt SF. It’s where you’ll find founders looking for developers, investors in search of hot startups to add to their portfolio, technology service providers eager for new customers, founders looking for marketing help — the list is endless.

How does it work? You create a profile listing your specific criteria, goals and interests. CrunchMatch (powered by Brella) works a bit of algorithmic magic to find like-minded startuppers and will suggest matches and, subject to your approval, propose meeting times and send meeting requests.

How effective is CrunchMatch? In 2018, the program facilitated more than 3,000 meetings. And Yoolbox — makers of a portable wireless charger — says the connections it made through CrunchMatch helped Yoolbox increase its distribution.

You’ll be able to access CrunchMatch through the gpgmail Events App. After you sign up, you’ll identify your role (developer, service provider, founder, etc.) and the type of people you want to connect with at Disrupt. CrunchMatch will get to work and do the rest.

You’ll find 10,000 tech founders, investors, developers, engineers and startup fans at Disrupt SF this year. CrunchMatch will help you cut through the noise, network efficiently and save you a whole lotta time and shoe leather. Disrupt SF is right around the corner, so don’t forget to grab your pass to attend.


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Even Civilization VI Has a Battle Royale Mode Now


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You’d have to be living under a rock with no internet connection to be unaware of how popular battle royale-style games have become. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the first major success in this genre, but then there was Fortnite, which has gone on to be the most popular game in the world. Now, every game seems to have a Battle Royale mode, even games that don’t need them. Case in point: Civilization VI. The latest update to the game adds a new mode called Red Death, a 12-player battle royale. 

Civilization VI is the latest entry in the long-running strategy franchise, initially launched in 2016. Like past games in the series, Civilization VI puts you in the shoes of a great leader, guiding a civilization from ancient times into the modern era. Along the way, you have to battle barbarians, establish a culture, spread religion, and hold off the advances of hostile civilizations elsewhere on the map. This all takes place in the framework of a turn-based game, which makes the move to battle royale rather perplexing. 

In this game mode, you take control of a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. That may seem like an unusual setting, but many Civ games end with one or more players dropping nuclear weapons on the others. Oddly, it’s often Gandhi. 

You don’t have any leader characters or fancy city districts in Red Death. You start the game with one civilian, one infantry, and one machine gun, and the goal is to grow your faction and crush all the others. So, Red Death is almost all about combat (still turn-based), whereas the regular game mode could include almost no combat if that’s the way you want to play. 

The goal is to become the last remaining faction, at which time you can hitch a ride on a spaceship that’s taking survivors away from the burnt husk of Earth. As with other battle royale games, the playable area shrinks over time, driving everyone toward the center of the map. 

It’s not an entirely new game, but there’s a surprising amount of content with all the new factions and rules. The publisher probably could have sold this as an add-on for a few dollars, but it’s free. Red Death is available to anyone who has the core Civ VI game, so the two expansion packs and numerous leader add-ons are not required.

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