Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: NoGood

NoGood CEO Mostafa Elbermawy describes how they evaluate a client’s growth challenges by quoting Zen teacher Hunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are only a few.” Rather than deferring to in-house playbooks, NoGood adopts an open mind combined with a methodical, data-driven approach to find untapped growth opportunities for its clients. Learn more about how NoGood came to be and why they’re willing to say no to potential clients.

On NoGood’s approach to growth:

“Our work is methodical. It’s intentional. We have to talk about it. We are very transparent about what we do and it’s completely process oriented. Hacking is a misnomer. Growth is not about clever shortcuts. It has to be sustainable and repeatable, and if it’s not, we won’t do it.”

On NoGood’s proudest accomplishment:

“They helped us launch our business. They are our CMO and our CTO. Would recommend to anyone.” Erica Tsypin, Washington D.C., Co-Founder & COO, Steer

“Our success in jumpstarting Steer’s business is one of our proudest accomplishments this year. Steer is an electric car subscription startup that asked us to increase their activations. Basically, our job was to generate new active members, which not only meant encouraging more users to download the app, upload a license, and get approved, but it also meant delivering a car to a member’s door, having them drive that car and leaving a review. We were able to demonstrate signup traction for Steer and help them launch in under three months.”

 

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with NoGood CEO and Growth Lead Mostafa Elbermawy

Yvonne Leow: To kick things off, how did you get into growth?

Mostafa Elbermawy: Well, I went to school for archaeology, but hieroglyphics weren’t paying the bills, so I taught myself how to code and started a web design studio after college. I started building websites for clients, and they started asking me how to drive more users to their sites to help grow their business.

I started tinkering with growth out of curiosity, and eventually joined the digital experience team at American Express. That job helped me gain some marketing and growth experience, and I ended up falling in love with that part of the job.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/18/verified-expert-growth-marketing-agency-nogood/

Amazon’s Twitch acquired social networking platform Bebo for up to $25M to bolster its esports efforts

While Facebook makes a bold move into cryptocurrency to capitalise on its multi-billion user base, a social network that was once a credible competitor to it has quietly been snapped up by a subsidiary of Amazon. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Bebo, one of the earlier platforms to let people share thoughts and media with their friends, has been acquired by Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon. Together the two will be working on building out Twitch’s esports business, and specifically Twitch Rivals.

A spokesperson for Twitch confirmed the acquisition, which includes both people (around 10 employees) and IP, but declined to provide further comment.

From what we understand from our sources, Twitch paid up to $25 million for the company earlier this month, after beating out at least two other bidders, Discord (which itself has been building out its own esports business), and… wait for it… Facebook. (Our source says the latter offered $20 million.) Indeed, LinkedIn profiles for ex-Bebo employees — see here, here, and here — now at Twitch note June as the changeover date. (Note: original sources say $25 million, others close to the deal say it was materially less than this. As you know, these things can be described differently depending on who is doing the describing.)

It has been a long and winding road for Bebo over the years. Starting out way back in 2005 by Michael and Xochi Birch as an early social networking site, Bebo quickly became the market leader in a couple of English-speaking countries, specifically UK and Ireland.

Bebo’s growth trajectory and the bigger opportunity in social were enough to get it acquired for about $850 million by AOL back in 2008, apparently beating out a number of other interested large tech and media companies interested in getting their own social media platform and the audience that would come with it (disclaimer: AOL eventually also acquired TechCrunch, too).

But the deal was a certifiable dud, with Bebo never managing to build on its early traction, and AOL not being in a position to know how to fix that. Less than two years later, it was sold on to Criterion Capital for $25 million.

Yet as the social wheels continued to turn, and even once-global market leader MySpace also fell back as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile-friendly platforms pulled out ahead, even that $25 million price turned out to be too high. After Bebo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the original founders, the Birches, bought it back in 2013 for $1 million with a pledge to reinvent it.

And so they did, putting in place a small team led by Shaan Puri, who worked on a number of ideas to see which of them could fly. (And I don’t know if this was a tongue in cheek joke about how challenging they knew the task would be, but it seems that the holding company set up to house some of the IP and legal aspects of the endeavor was called “Pigs in Flight.”)

The new app studio effort, which went by the name Monkey Inferno (another great one), came out of the gates with “Blab”, a “walkie-talkie” ephemeral video messaging service, which picked up millions of users quickly but found it hard to retain them. It shut down a year later, and it looks like Monkey Inferno dabbled in a few other things before coming to esports.

From social networking to socialising esports

In that last pivot, Bebo first tried out streaming services for esports players, but that proved to be tough competition against dominant platforms like OBS and Xsplit. Then, in an interesting nod to its earlier history in social networking and organising groups of friends, it shifted once more, into organising and running tournaments for streamers, with leagues and more: the streams ran on Twitch and Bebo organised viewers, leagues and other things around that.

That site, Bebo.com, is now offline, and all its tweets seem to have been deleted, but the idea was to build out leagues and tournaments for any and all kinds of groups and players, for example complete beginners, or high school students.

It was the last of these that turned out to line up with a growing market segment.

According to a report in eMarketer, esports attracted some 400 million users in 2018 and pulled in revenues of $869 million from sponsorships, player fees and advertising, and it is projected to be worth between $1.58 billion and $2.96 billion by 2022. And Bebo was helping organise and build those communities.

And that is now linking up neatly with Twitch, which had been developing its own casual esports operation in the form of Twitch Rivals. This launched in beta in 2018 and is now widely available wherever Twitch is.

The Bebo tech and its team are now both being put to use on Twitch Rivals, to help continue expanding it with more features and more users. To be clear, though, it seems there is no intention — from what I understand — to parlay Bebo’s past efforts in social networking into a wider social networking play at Twitch: the focus is on esports.

Still, the acquisition comes at a key moment. Since January, there have been reports that Amazon is working on a new game streaming service (just like Apple, Google and others), which likely won’t be out until next year. While there is no news on that today, you can see how expanding the variety and breadth of content on Twitch by way of esports leagues and tournaments fits in with a wider effort to bring more regular, engaged users into the Amazon fold, using this as one of the big draws.

(Updated with more detail on the price.)


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/18/amazon-twitch-bebo-esports/

Amazon’s Twitch acquired social networking platform Bebo for under $25M to bolster its esports efforts

While Facebook makes a bold move into cryptocurrency to capitalise on its multi-billion user base, a social network that was once a credible competitor to it has quietly been snapped up by a subsidiary of Amazon. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Bebo, one of the earlier platforms to let people share thoughts and media with their friends, has been acquired by Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon. Together the two will be working on building out Twitch’s esports business, and specifically Twitch Rivals.

A spokesperson for Twitch confirmed the acquisition, which includes both people (around 10 employees) and IP, but declined to provide further comment.

From what we understand from our sources, Twitch paid less than $25 million for the company earlier this month, after beating out at least one other bidder, Discord (which itself has been building out its own esports business). Indeed, LinkedIn profiles for ex-Bebo employees — see here, here, and here — now at Twitch note June as the changeover date. (Note: original sources say $25 million, others close to the deal say it was materially less than this.)

It has been a long and winding road for Bebo over the years. Starting out way back in 2005 by Michael and Xochi Birch as an early social networking site, Bebo quickly became the market leader in a couple of English-speaking countries, specifically UK and Ireland.

Bebo’s growth trajectory and the bigger opportunity in social were enough to get it acquired for about $850 million by AOL back in 2008, apparently beating out a number of other interested large tech and media companies interested in getting their own social media platform and the audience that would come with it (disclaimer: AOL eventually also acquired TechCrunch, too).

But the deal was a certifiable dud, with Bebo never managing to build on its early traction, and AOL not being in a position to know how to fix that. Less than two years later, it was sold on to Criterion Capital for $25 million.

Yet as the social wheels continued to turn, and even once-global market leader MySpace also fell back as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile-friendly platforms pulled out ahead, even that $25 million price turned out to be too high. After Bebo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the original founders, the Birches, bought it back in 2013 for $1 million with a pledge to reinvent it.

And so they did, putting in place a small team led by Shaan Puri, who worked on a number of ideas to see which of them could fly. (And I don’t know if this was a tongue in cheek joke about how challenging they knew the task would be, but it seems that the holding company set up to house some of the IP and legal aspects of the endeavor was called “Pigs in Flight.”)

The new app studio effort, which went by the name Monkey Inferno (another great one), came out of the gates with “Blab”, a “walkie-talkie” ephemeral video messaging service, which picked up millions of users quickly but found it hard to retain them. It shut down a year later, and it looks like Monkey Inferno dabbled in a few other things before coming to esports.

From social networking to socialising esports

In that last pivot, Bebo first tried out streaming services for esports players, but that proved to be tough competition against dominant platforms like OBS and Xsplit. Then, in an interesting nod to its earlier history in social networking and organising groups of friends, it shifted once more, into organising and running tournaments for streamers, with leagues and more: the streams ran on Twitch and Bebo organised viewers, leagues and other things around that.

That site, Bebo.com, is now offline, and all its tweets seem to have been deleted, but the idea was to build out leagues and tournaments for any and all kinds of groups and players, for example complete beginners, or high school students.

It was the last of these that turned out to line up with a growing market segment.

According to a report in eMarketer, esports attracted some 400 million users in 2018 and pulled in revenues of $869 million from sponsorships, player fees and advertising, and it is projected to be worth between $1.58 billion and $2.96 billion by 2022. And Bebo was helping organise and build those communities.

And that is now linking up neatly with Twitch, which had been developing its own casual esports operation in the form of Twitch Rivals. This launched in beta in 2018 and is now widely available wherever Twitch is.

The Bebo tech and its team are now both being put to use on Twitch Rivals, to help continue expanding it with more features and more users. To be clear, though, it seems there is no intention — from what I understand — to parlay Bebo’s past efforts in social networking into a wider social networking play at Twitch: the focus is on esports.

Still, the acquisition comes at a key moment. Since January, there have been reports that Amazon is working on a new game streaming service (just like Apple, Google and others), which likely won’t be out until next year. While there is no news on that today, you can see how expanding the variety and breadth of content on Twitch by way of esports leagues and tournaments fits in with a wider effort to bring more regular, engaged users into the Amazon fold, using this as one of the big draws.

(Updated with more detail on the price.)


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/18/amazon-twitch-bebo-esports/

Amazon’s Twitch acquired social networking platform Bebo for $25M to bolster its esports efforts

While Facebook makes a bold move into cryptocurrency to capitalise on its multi-billion user base, a social network that was once a credible competitor to it has quietly been snapped up by a subsidiary of Amazon. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Bebo, one of the earlier platforms to let people share thoughts and media with their friends, has been acquired by Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon. Together the two will be working on building out Twitch’s esports business, and specifically Twitch Rivals.

A spokesperson for Twitch confirmed the acquisition, which includes both people (around 10 employees) and IP, but declined to provide further comment.

From what we understand from our sources, Twitch paid $25 million for the company earlier this month, after beating out at least one other bidder, Discord (which itself has been building out its own esports business). Indeed, LinkedIn profiles for ex-Bebo employees — see here, here, and here — now at Twitch note June as the changeover date.

It has been a long and winding road for Bebo over the years. Starting out way back in 2005 by Michael and Xochi Birch as an early social networking site, Bebo quickly became the market leader in a couple of English-speaking countries, specifically UK and Ireland.

Bebo’s growth trajectory and the bigger opportunity in social were enough to get it acquired for about $850 million by AOL back in 2008, apparently beating out a number of other interested large tech and media companies interested in getting their own social media platform and the audience that would come with it (disclaimer: AOL eventually also acquired TechCrunch, too).

But the deal was a certifiable dud, with Bebo never managing to build on its early traction, and AOL not being in a position to know how to fix that. Less than two years later, it was sold on to Criterion Capital for $25 million.

Yet as the social wheels continued to turn, and even once-global market leader MySpace also fell back as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile-friendly platforms pulled out ahead, even that $25 million price turned out to be too high. After Bebo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the original founders, the Birches, bought it back in 2013 for $1 million with a pledge to reinvent it.

And so they did, putting in place a small team led by Shaan Puri, who worked on a number of ideas to see which of them could fly. (And I don’t know if this was a tongue in cheek joke about how challenging they knew the task would be, but it seems that the holding company set up to house some of the IP and legal aspects of the endeavor was called “Pigs in Flight.”)

The new app studio effort, which went by the name Monkey Inferno (another great one), came out of the gates with “Blab”, a “walkie-talkie” ephemeral video messaging service, which picked up millions of users quickly but found it hard to retain them. It shut down a year later, and it looks like Monkey Inferno dabbled in a few other things before coming to esports.

From social networking to socialising esports

In that last pivot, Bebo first tried out streaming services for esports players, but that proved to be tough competition against dominant platforms like OBS and Xsplit. Then, in an interesting nod to its earlier history in social networking and organising groups of friends, it shifted once more, into organising and running tournaments for streamers, with leagues and more: the streams ran on Twitch and Bebo organised viewers, leagues and other things around that.

That site, Bebo.com, is now offline, and all its tweets seem to have been deleted, but the idea was to build out leagues and tournaments for any and all kinds of groups and players, for example complete beginners, or high school students.

It was the last of these that turned out to line up with a growing market segment.

According to a report in eMarketer, esports attracted some 400 million users in 2018 and pulled in revenues of $869 million from sponsorships, player fees and advertising, and it is projected to be worth between $1.58 billion and $2.96 billion by 2022. And Bebo was helping organise and build those communities.

And that is now linking up neatly with Twitch, which had been developing its own casual esports operation in the form of Twitch Rivals. This launched in beta in 2018 and is now widely available wherever Twitch is.

The Bebo tech and its team are now both being put to use on Twitch Rivals, to help continue expanding it with more features and more users. To be clear, though, it seems there is no intention — from what I understand — to parlay Bebo’s past efforts in social networking into a wider social networking play at Twitch: the focus is on esports.

Still, the acquisition comes at a key moment. Since January, there have been reports that Amazon is working on a new game streaming service (just like Apple, Google and others), which likely won’t be out until next year. While there is no news on that today, you can see how expanding the variety and breadth of content on Twitch by way of esports leagues and tournaments fits in with a wider effort to bring more regular, engaged users into the Amazon fold, using this as one of the big draws.

We’ll update this as and if we learn more.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/18/amazon-twitch-bebo-esports/

What Type of Links Does Google Really Prefer?

We all know that links help rankings. And the more links you build the higher you’ll rank.

But does it really work that way?

Well, the short answer is links do help with rankings and I have the data to prove it.

But, you already know that.

The real question is what kind of links do you need to boost your rankings?

Is it rich anchor text links? Is it sitewide links? Or what happens when the same site links to you multiple times? Or when a site links to you and then decides to remove the link?

Well, I decided to test all of this out and then some.

Over the last 10 months, I decided to run an experiment with your help. The experiment took a bit longer than we wanted, but we all know link building isn’t easy, so the experiment took 6 months longer than was planned.

Roughly 10 months ago, I emailed a portion of my list and asked if they wanted to participate in a link building experiment.

The response was overwhelming… 3,919 people responded, but of course, it would be a bit too hard to build links to 3,919 sites.

And when I say build, I’m talking about manual outreach, leveraging relationships… in essence, doing hard work that wouldn’t break Google’s guidelines.

Now out of the 3,919 people who responded, we created a set of requirements to help us narrow down the number of sites to something more manageable:

  1. Low domain score – we wanted to run an experiment on sites with low domain scores. If a site had a domain score of greater than 20, we removed it. When a site has too much authority, they naturally rank for terms and it is harder to see the impact that a few links can have. (If you want to know your domain score you can put in your website URL here.)
  2. Low backlink count – similar to the one above, we wanted to see what happens with sites with little to no backlinks. So, if a site had more than 20 backlinks, it was also removed from the experiment.
  3. No subdomains – we wanted sites that weren’t a Tumblr.com or a WordPress.com site or subdomain. To be in this experiment, you had to have your own domain.
  4. English only sites – Google in English is more competitive than Google in Spanish, or Portuguese or many other languages. For that reason, we only selected sites that had their main market as the United States and the site had to be in English. This way, if something worked in the United States, we knew it would work in other countries as they tend to be less competitive.

We decided to cap the experiment to 200 sites. But eventually, many of the sites dropped off due to their busy schedule or they didn’t want to put in the work required. And as people dropped off, we replaced them with other sites who wanted to participate.

How the experiment worked

Similar to the on-page SEO experiment that we ran, we had people write content between 1,800 and 2,000 words.

Other than that we didn’t set any requirements. We just wanted there to be a minimum length as that way people naturally include keywords within their content. We did, however, include a maximum length as we didn’t want people to write 10,000-word blog posts as that would skew the data.

Websites had 2 weeks to publish their content. And after 30 days of it being live, we looked up the URLs within Ubersuggest to see how many keywords the article ranked for in the top 100, top 50 and top 10 spots.

Keep in mind that Ubersuggest has 1,459,103,429 keywords in its database from all around the world and in different languages. Most of the keywords have low search volume, such as 10 a month.

We then spent 3 months building links and then waited 2 months after the links were built to see what happened to the rankings.

The URLs were then entered back into the Ubersuggest database to see how many keywords they ranked for.

In addition to that, we performed this experiment in batches, we just didn’t have the manpower and time to do this for 200 sites all at once, hence it took roughly 10 months for this to complete.

We broke the sites down into 10 different groups. That’s 20 sites per group. Each group only leveraged 1 link tactic as we wanted to see how it impacted rankings.

Here’s each group:

  1. Control – with this group we did nothing but write content. We needed a baseline to compare everything to.
  2. Anchor text – the links built to the articles in this group contained rich anchor text but were from irrelevant pages. In other words, the link text contained a keyword, but the linking site wasn’t too relevant to the article. We built 3 anchor text links to each article.
  3. Sitewide links – they say search engines don’t care for sitewide links, especially ones in a footer… I wanted to test this out for myself. We built one sitewide link to each article.
  4. Content-based links – most links tend to happen within the content and that’s what we built here. We built 3 content-based links to each article.
  5. Multiple links from the same site – these weren’t sitewide links but imagine one site linking to you multiple times within their content. Does it really help compared to having just 1 link from a site? We built 3 links from the same site to each article.
  6. One link – in this scenario we built one link from a relevant site.
  7. Sidebar links – we built 3 links from the sidebar of 3 different sites.
  8. Nofollow links – does Google really ignore nofollow links? You are about to find out because we built 3 nofollow links to each article.
  9. High authority link – we built 1 link with a domain score of 70 or higher.
  10. Built and removed links – we built 3 links to articles in this group and then removed them 30 days after the links were picked up by Google.

Now before I share what we learned, keep in mind that we didn’t build the links to the domain’s homepage. We built the links to the article that was published. That way we could track to see if the links helped.

Control group

Do you really need links to rank your content? Especially if your site has a low domain score?

control

Based on the chart, the older your content gets, the higher you will rank. And based on the data even if you don’t do much, over a period of 6 months you can roughly rank for 5 times more keywords even without link building.

As they say, SEO is a long game and the data shows it… especially if you don’t build any links.

Anchor text

They say anchor text links really help boost rankings. That makes sense because the link text has a keyword.

But what if the anchor rich link comes from an irrelevant site. Does that help boost rankings?

anchor text

It looks like anchor text plays a huge part in Google’s rankings, even if the linking site isn’t too relevant to your article.

Now, I am not saying you should build spammy links and shove keywords in the link text, more so it’s worth keeping in mind anchor text matters.

So if you already haven’t, go put in your domain here to see who links to you. And look for all of the non-rich anchor text links and email each of those site owners.

Ask them if they will adjust the link and switch it to something that contains a keyword.

This strategy is much more effective when you ask people to switch backlinks that contain your brand name as the anchor text to something that is more keyword rich.

Sitewide Links

They say sitewide links are spammy… especially if they are shoved in the footer of a site.

We built one sitewide footer link to each article to test this out.

sitewide links

Although sites that leverage sitewide links showed more of an increase than the control group, the results weren’t amazing, especially for page 1 rankings.

Content-based links

Do relevance and the placement of the links impact rankings? We built 3 in-content links that were relevant to each article.

Now the links were not rich in anchor text.

content based links

Compared to the baseline, rankings moved up to a similar rate as the sites who built rich anchor text links from irrelevant sites.

Multiple site links

I always hear SEOs telling me that if you build multiple links from the same site, it doesn’t do anything. They say that Google only counts one link.

For that reason, I thought we would put this to the test.

We built 3 links to each article, but we did something a bit different compared to the other groups. Each link came from the same site, although we did leverage 3 different web pages.

For example, if 3 different editors from Forbes link to your article from different web pages on Forbes, in theory, you have picked up 3 links from the same site.

samesite links

Even if the same site links to you multiple times, it can help boost your rankings.

One link 

Is more really better? How does one relevant link compare to 3 irrelevant links?

one link

It’s not as effective as building multiple links. Sure, it is better than building no links but the articles that built 3 relevant backlinks instead of 1 had roughly 75% more keyword placements in the top 100 positions of Google.

So if you have a choice when it comes to link building, more is better.

Sidebar links

Similar to how we tested footer links, I was curious to see how much placement of a link impacts rankings.

We looked at in-content links, footer links, and now sidebar links.

sidebar links

Shockingly, they have a significant impact in rankings. Now in order of effectiveness, in-content links help the most, then sidebar links, and then sitewide footer when it comes to placement.

I wish I tested creating 3 sitewide footer links to each article instead of 1 as that would have given me a more accurate conclusion for what placements Google prefers.

Maybe I will be able to run that next time.
Source: https://neilpatel.com/blog/links-building-google/

Facebook announces Libra cryptocurrency: All you need to know

Facebook has finally revealed the details of its cryptocurrency Libra, which will let you buy things or send money to people with nearly zero fees. You’ll pseudonymously buy or cash out your Libra online or at local exchange points like grocery stores, and spend it using interoperable third-party wallet apps or Facebook’s own Calibra wallet that will be built into WhatsApp, Messenger, and its own app. Today Facebook released its white paper explaining Libra and its testnet for working out the kinks of its blockchain system before a public launch in the first half of 2020.

Facebook won’t fully control Libra, but instead get just a single vote in its governance like other founding members of the Libra Association including Visa, Uber, and Andreessen Horowitz who’ve invested at least $10 million each into the project’s operations. The association will promote the open-sourced Libra blockchain and developer platform with its own Move programming language plus sign up businesses to accept Libra for payment and even give customers discounts or rewards.

Facebook is launching a subsidiary company also called Calibra that handles its crypto dealings and protects users’ privacy by never mingling your Libra payments with your Facebook data so it can’t be used for ad targeting. Your real identity won’t be tied to your publicly visible transactions. But Facebook/Calibra and other founding members of the Libra Association will earn interest on the money users cash in that is held in reserve to keep the value of Libra stable.

Facebook’s audacious bid to create a global digital currency that promotes financial inclusion for the unbanked actually has more privacy and decentralization built in than many expected. Instead of trying to dominate Libra’s future or squeeze tons of cash out of it immediately, Facebook is instead playing the long-game by pulling payments into its online domain. Facebook’s VP of blockchain David Marcus explains the company’s motive and the tie-in with its core revenue source, telling me “if more commerce happens, then more small business will sell more on and off platform, and they’lll want to buy more ads on the platform so it will be good for our ads business.”

The Risk And Reward Of Building The New PayPal

In cryptocurrencies, Facebook saw both a threat and an opportunity. They held the promise of disrupting how things are bought and sold by eliminating transaction fees common with credit cards. That comes dangerously close to Facebook’s ad business that influences what is bought and sold. If a competitor like Google or an upstart built a popular coin and could monitor the transactions, they’d learn what people buy and could muscle in on the billions spent on Facebook marketing. Meanwhile, the 1.7 billion people who lack a bank account might choose whoever offers them a financial services alternative as their online identity provider too. That’s another thing Facebook wants to be.

Yet existing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum weren’t properly engineered to scale to be a medium of exchange. Their unanchored price was susceptible to huge and unpredictable swings, making it tough for merchants to accept as payment. And cryptocurrencies miss out on much of their potential beyond speculation unless there are enough places that will take them instead of dollars, and the experience of buying and spending them is easy enough for a mainstream audience. But with Facebook’s relationship with 7 million advertisers and 90 million small businesses plus its user experience prowess, it was well poised to tackle this juggernaut of a problem.

Now Facebook wants to make Libra the evolution of PayPal. It’s hoping Libra will become simpler to set up, more ubiquitous as a payment method, more efficient with fewer fees, more accessible to the unbanked, more flexible thanks to developers, and more long-lasting through decentralization.

“Success will mean that a person working abroad has a fast and simple way to send money to family back home, and a college student can pay their rent as easily as they can buy a coffee” Facebook writes in its Libra documentation. That would be a big improvement on today, when you’re stuck paying rent in insecure checks while exploitative remittance services like charge an average of 7% to send money abroad, taking $50 billion from users annually. Libra could also power tiny microtransactions worth just a few cents that are infeasible with credit card fees attached, or replace your pre-paid transit pass.

…Or it could globally ignored by consumers who see it as too much hassle for too little reward, or too unfamiliar and limited in use to pull them into the modern financial landscape. Facebook has built a reputation for over-engineered, underused products. It will need all the help it can get if wants to replace what’s already in our pockets.

How Does Libra Work?

By now you know the basics of Libra. Cash in a local currency, get Libra, spend them like dollars without big transaction fees or your real name attached, cash them out whenver you want. Feel free to stop reading and share this article if that’s all you care about. But the underlying technology, the association that governs it, the wallets you’ll use, and the way payments work all have a huge amount of fascinating detail to them. Facebook has released over 100 pages of documentation on Libra and Calibra, and we’ve pulled out the most important facts. Let’s dive in.

The Libra Association – Crypto’s New Oligarchy

Facebook knew people wouldn’t trust it to wholly control the cryptocurrency they use, and it also wanted help to spur adoption. So Facebook recruited the founding members of the Libra Association, which oversees the development of the token, the reserve of real-world assets that gives it value, and the governance rules of the blockchain. Each founding member paid a minimum of $10 million to join and optionally become a validatory node operator (more on that later), gain one vote in the Libra Association council, and be entitled to a share (proportionate to their investment) of the dividends from interest earned on the Libra reserve users pay fiat currency into to receive Libra.

The 28 soon-to-be founding members of the association and their industries, previously reported by The Block’s Frank Chaparro, include:

  • Payments: Mastercard, PayPal, PayU (Naspers’ fintech arm), Stripe, Visa
  • Technology and marketplaces: Booking Holdings, eBay, Facebook/Calibra, Farfetch, Lyft, Mercado Pago, Spotify AB, Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Telecommunications: Iliad, Vodafone Group
  • Blockchain: Anchorage, Bison Trails, Coinbase, Inc., Xapo Holdings Limited
  • Venture Capital: Andreessen Horowitz, Breakthrough Initiatives, Ribbit Capital, Thrive Capital, Union Square Ventures
  • Nonprofit and multilateral organizations, and academic institutions: Creative Destruction Lab, Kiva, Mercy Corps, Women’s World Banking

Facebook says it hopes to reach 100 founding members before the official Libra launch and it’s open to anyone that meets the requirements including direct competitors to like Google or Twitter.

To join, members must have a half rack of server space, a 100mbps or above dedicated internet connection, a full-time site reliability engineer, and enterprise-grade security. Businesses must hit two of three thresholds of a $1 billion USD market value or $500 million in customer balances, reach 20 million people a year, and/or be recognized as a top 100 industry leader by a group like Interbrand Global or the S&P.

Crypto-focused investors must have over $1 billion in assets under management, while Blockchain businesses must have been in business for a year, have enterprise grade security and privacy, and custody or staking greater than $100 million in assets. And only up to one-third of founding members can by crypto-related businesses or invidually invited exceptions. Facebook also accepts research organizations like universities, and non-profits fulfilling three of four qualties including working on financial inclusion for over five years, multi-national reach to lots of users, a top 100 designation by Charity Navigator or something like it, and/or $50 million in budget.

The Libra Association will be responsible for picking recruiting more founding members to act as validator nodes for the blockchain, fundraising to jumpstart the ecosystem, designing incentive programs to reward early adopters, and doling out social impact grants. A council with a representative from each member will help choose the association’s managing director who will appoint an executive team, elect a board of 5 to 19 top representatives.

Each member including Facebook/Calibra will only get up to one vote or 1% of the total vote (whichever is larger) in the Libra Association council. This provides a level of decentralization that protects against Facebook or any other player hijacking Libra for its own gain.

The Libra Currency – A Stablecoin

A Libra is a unit of the Libra cryptocurrency that’s represented by a three wavy horizontal line unicode character ≋ like the dollar is represented by $. The value of a Libra is meant to stay largely stable so it’s a good medium of exchange since merchants can be confident they won’t be paid a Libra today that’s then worth less tomorrow. The Libra’s value is tied to a basket of bank deposits and short-term government securities for a slew of historically stable international currencies including the dollar, pound, europ, swiss franc, and yen. The Libra Association maintains this basket of assets and can change the balance of its composition if necessary to offset major price fluctuations in any one foreign currency so that the value of a Libra stays consistent.

The Libra Association is still hammering out the exact start value for the Libra, but it’s meant to somewhere close to the value of a dollar, euro, or pound so it’s easy to conceptualize. That way, a gallon of milk in the US might cost 3 to 4 Libra, similar but not exactly the same as with dollars.

The idea is that you’ll cash in some money and keep a balance of Libra that you can spend at accepting merchants and online services. You’ll be able to trade in your local currency for Libra and vice versa through certain wallet apps including Facebook’s Calibra, third-party wallet apps, and local resellers like convenience or grocery stores where people already go to top-up their mobile data plan.

The Libra Reserve – One For One

Each time someone cashes in a dollar or their respective local currency, that money goes into the Libra Reserve and an equivalent value of Libra is minted and doled out to that person. If someone cashes out from the Libra Association, the Libra they give back are destroyed/burned and they receive the equivalent value in their local currency back. That means there’s always 100% of the value of the Libra in circulation collateralized with real world assets in the Libra Reserve. It never runs fractional. And unliked “pegged” stable coins that are tied to a single currency like the USD, Libra maintains its own value — though that should cash out to roughly the same amount of a given currency over time.

When Libra Association members join and pay their $10 million minimum, they receive Libra Investment Tokens. Their share of the total tokens translates into the proportion of the dividend they earn off of interest on assets in the reserve. Those dividends are only paid out after Libra Association uses interest to pay for operating expenses, investments in the ecosystem, engineering research, and grants to non-profits and other organizations. This interest is part of what attracted the Libra Association’s members. If Libra becomes popular and many people carry a large balance of the currency, the reserve will grow huge and earn significant interest.

The Libra Blockchain – Built For Speed

Every Libra payment is permanently written into the Libra blockchain — a cryptographically authenticated database that acts as a public online ledger designed to handle 1000 transactions per second. The blockchain is operated and constantly verified by founding members of the Libra Association who each invested $10 million or more for a say in the cryptocurrency’s governance and the ability operate a validator node.

When a transaction is submitted, each of the nodes runs a calculation based on the existing ledger of all transactions. Thanks to a Byzantine Fault Tolerance system, just two-thirds of the nodes must come to consensus that the transaction is legitimate for it to be executed and written to the blockchain. A structure of Merkle Trees in the code makes it simple to recognize changes made to the Libra blockchain.

Transactions on Libra cannot be reversed. If an attack compromises over one-third of the validator nodes causing a fork in the blockchain, the Libra Association says it will temporarily halt transactions, figure out the extent of the damaage, and recommend software updates to resolve the fork.

Transactions aren’t entirely free. They incur a tiny fraction of a cent fee to pay for “gas” that covers the cost of processing the transfer of funds similar to with Ethereum. This fee will be negligible to most consumers, but when they add up the gas charges will deter bad actors from creating millions of transactions to power spam and denial-of-service attacks.

Currently, the Libra blockchain is what’s known as “permissioned”, where only entities that fulfill certain requirements and are admitted to a special in-group that defines consensus and controls governance of the blockchain. The problem is this structure is more vulnerable to attacks and censorship because it’s not truly decentralized. But during Facebook’s research, it couldn’t find a reliable permissionless structure that could securely scale to the number of transactions Libra will need to handle. Adding more nodes slows things down, and no one has proven a way to avoid that without compromising s
Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/18/facebook-libra/

Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down

Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FindItOnAmazon.

Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.

Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.

The URL amazon.com/spark, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.

Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.

The Interesting Finds site had a modern, clean look-and-feel that made it a more pleasurable way to browse Amazon’s products. Products photos appeared on white backgrounds while the clutter of a traditional product detail page was removed.

We understand from people familiar with the products that Interesting Finds is not shutting down as Spark has. But the new #FoundItOnAmazon site will take inspiration from what worked with Interesting Finds and Spark to turn it into a new shopping discovery tool.

Interesting Finds covers a wide range of categories, but #FoundItOnAmazon will focus more directly on fashion and home décor. Similar to Interesting Finds, you can heart to favorites items and revisit them later.

The #FoundItOnAmazon site is very new and isn’t currently appearing for all Amazon customers at this time. If you have it, the amazon.com/spark URL will take you there.

Though Amazon won’t talk about why its Instagram experiment is ending, it’s not too hard to make some guesses. Beyond its lack of originality and transactional nature, Instagram itself has grown into a far more formidable competitor since Spark first launched.

Last fall, Instagram fully embraced its shoppable nature with the introduction of shopping features across its app that let people more easily discover products from Instagram photos. It also added a new shopping channel and in March, Instagram launched its own in-app checkout option to turn product inspiration into actual conversions.

It was certainly a big move into Amazon territory. And while that led to headlines about Instagram as the future of shopping, it’s not going to upset Amazon’s overall dominance any time soon.

That said, Instagram’s changes may have prompted Amazon to give up trying to build its own Instagram clone, so it could instead focus on building out better and more differentiated tools for product discovery, like the new site.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/14/amazon-spark-the-retailers-two-year-old-instagram-competitor-has-shut-down/

Calendar influencers? Event social network IRL raises $8M

Why is there no app where you can follow party animals, concert snobs, or conference butterflies for their curated suggestions of events? That’s the next phase of social calendar app IRL that’s launching today on iOS to help you make and discuss plans with friends or discover nearby happenings to fill out your schedule.

The calendar, a historically dorky utility, seems like a strange way to start the next big social network. Many people, especially teens, either don’t use apps like Google Calendar, keep them professional, or merely input plans made elsewhere. But by baking in an Explore tab of event recommendations and the option to follow curators, headliners, and venues, IRL could make calendars communal like Instagram did to cameras.

“There’s Twitter for ‘follow my updates’, there’s Soundcloud for ‘follow my music’, but there’s no ‘follow my events’” IRL CEO Abe Shafi tells me of his plan to turbocharge his calendar app. “They’re arguably the best product that’s been built for organizing what you’re doing but no one has Superhuman’d or Slack’d the calendar. Let’s build a super f*cking dope calendar!” he says with unbridled excitement. He’ll need that passion to persevere as IRL tries to steal a major use case from SMS, messaging apps, and Facebook .

Finding a new opportunity for a social network has attracted a new $8 million Series A funding round for IRL led by Goodwater Capital and joined by Founders Fund and Kleiner Perkins. That builds on its $3 million seed from Founders Fund and Floodgate, whose partner Mike Maples is joining IRL’s board. The startup has also pulled in some entertainment and event CEOs as strategic investors including Warner Bros president Greg Silverman, Lionsgate films president Joe Drake, and Classpass CEO Fritz Lanman to help it recruit calendar influencers users can follow.

Filling Your Social Calendar

In Shafi, investors found a consumate extrovert who can empathize with event-goers. He dropped out of Berkeley to build out his recruitment software startup getTalent before selling it to HR platform Dice where he became VP of product. He started to become disillusioned by tech’s impact on society and almost left the industry before some time at Burning Man rekinkled his fever for events.

IRL CEO Abe Shafi

Shafi teamed up with PayPal’s first board member Scott Banister and early social network founder Greg Tseng. Shafi’s first attempted Gather pissed off a ton of people with spammy invites in 2017. By 2018, he’d restarted as IRL with a focus on building a minimalist calendar where it was easy to create events and invite friends. Evite and Facebook Events were too heavy for making less formal get-togethers with close friends. He wisely chose to geofence his app and launch state by state to maximize density so people would have more pals to plan with.

IRL is now in 14 states with a modest 1.3 million monthly active users and 175,000 dailies, plus 3 million people on the waitlist. “50% of all teens in Texas have downloaded IRL. I wanted to focus on the central states, not Silicon Valley” Shafi explains. Users log in with a phone number or Google, two-way sync their Google Calendar if they have one, and can then manage their existing schedule and create mini-events. The stickiest feature is the ability to group chat with everyone invited so you can hammer out plans. Even users without the app can chime in via text or email. And unlike Facebook where your mom or boss are liable to see your RSVPs, your calendar and what you’re doing on IRL is always private unless you explicitly share it.

The problem is that most of this could be handled with SMS and a more popular calendar. That’s why IRL is doubling-down on event discovery through influencers, which you can’t do anywhere else at scale. With the new version of the app launching today, you’ll be recommended performers, locations, and curators to follow. You’ll see their suggestions in the Explore tab that also includes sub-tabs of Nearby and Trending happenings. There’s also a college-specific feed for users that auth in with their school email address. Curators and event companies like TechCrunch can get their own IRL.com/… URL people can follow more easily than some janky list of events of gallery of flyers on their website. Since pretty much every promoter wants more attendees, IRL’s had little resistance to it indexing all the events from Meetup.com and whatever it can find.

IRL is concentrating on growth for now, but Shafi believes all the intent data about what people want to do could be valuable for directing people to certain restaurants, bars, theaters, or festivals, though he vows that “we’re never going to sell your data to advertisers.” For now IRL is earning money from affiliate fees when people buy tickets or make reservations. Event affiliate margins are infamously slim, but Shafi says IRL can bargain for higher fees as it gains sway over more people’s calendars.

Unfortunately without reams of personal data and leading artificial intelligence that Facebook owns, IRL’s in-house suggestions via the Explore tab can feel pretty haphazard. I saw lots of mediocre happy hours, crafting nights, and community talks that weren’t quite the hip nightlife recommendations I was hoping for, and for now there’s no sorting by category. That’s where Shafi hopes influencers will fill in. And he’s confident that Facebook’s business model discourages it moving deeper into events. “Facebook’s revenue driver is time spent on the app. While meaningful to society, events as a feature is not a primary revenue driver so they don’t get the resources that other features on Facebook get.”

Yet the biggest challenge will be rearranging how people organize their lives. A lot of us are too scatterbrained, lazy, or instinctive to make all our plans days or weeks ahead of time and put them on a calendar. The beauty of mobile is that we can communicate on the fly to meet up. “Solving for spontaneity isn’t our focus so far” Shafi admits. But that’s how so much of our social lives come together.

My biggest problem isn’t finding events to fill my calendar, but knowing which friends are free now to hang out and attend one with me. There are plenty of calendar, event discovery, and offline hangout apps. IRL will have to prove they deserve to be united. At least Shafi says it’s problem worth trying to solve. “I know for a fact that the product of a calendar will outlive me.” He just wants to make it more social first.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/13/irl-calendar/

Facebook backs social commerce startup Meesho in first India investment

As Facebook explores ways to generate revenue from WhatsApp, the company is now turning to a startup that already has a lead. The social juggernaut said today it has invested in social-commerce startup Meesho in what is the first time the firm takes equity in an Indian startup.

Neither Facebook nor Meesho, which prior to this announcement had raised about $65 million, shared financial terms of the deal. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch the size of the capital was “very significant.”

Meesho, a Y Combinator alumnus, is an online social commerce that connects sellers with customers on social media platforms such as WhatsApp. The four-year-old startup claims to have a network of more than 5 million resellers who largely deal with apparels and electronics items.

These resellers are mostly homemakers, most of whom have purchased a smartphone for the first time in recent years. Meesho has most of its customers in smaller cities and towns, popularly dubbed as India 2 where the next phase of internet users are joining from. These are two things that attracted Facebook to Meesho, Ajit Mohan, VP and Managing Director of Facebook India, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A platform that is aimed at India 2 and has such a large user base of women — when most people online in India are predominantly men — is a remarkable achievement,” he said. According to several estimates, males account for more than 80% of India’s internet user base.

Meesho claims that it is helping thousands of resellers earn more than Rs 25,000 ($360) each month. In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Meesho co-founder and CEO Vidit Aatrey said the startup, which operates in India currently, planned to enter international markets.

Even as WhatsApp is a crucial play for Meesho, the startup will continue to work with other social media platforms, Facebook’s Mohan said. Last year, Facebook launched its Marketplace, which operates in the same space as Meesho. Mohan said the company does not see Meesho as a vehicle to expand its own family of services.

On the contrary, Facebook is now open to exploring investment in other startups that are building unique solutions for the Indian market. “Wherever we believe there is opportunity beyond the work we do today, we are open to exploring further investment deals,” he said. There is no particular category that Facebook is necessarily focused on, he added.

Even as Facebook has not made any push to make WhatsApp expand beyond a communications service, users in India, the service’s largest market, are increasingly finding ways to incorporate Facebook’s app into their businesses.


Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/13/facebook-meesho-first-indian-startup-investment/