On leaks and family matters

Family-Matters

My friend and former TechCrunch-accomplice Roi Carthy (now a managing partner at VC firm Initial) has published an interesting blog post to lament a recent report in the Israeli business press about Apple’s supposed acquisition of PrimeSense.

The problem is that, apparently, the deal was/is not yet signed and done, leading Roi to suggest whoever leaked the news was being irresponsible and possibly impacting “hundreds of people’s livelihoods”:

“People’s livelihood in jeopardy because of a leak, is a state of being I have a problem accepting.”

I think it’s a bit ridiculous to state that this sort of leaks can people’s livelihood in ‘jeopardy’ – it’s not like it’s literally putting folks in a life-or-death situation. Too strong a word any way you slice it.

But as a journalist that has also dabbled in entrepreneurial ventures, I understand his position. Leaks can spike business deals and ‘rob’ people (not just founders, but their employees and investors) of financial reward, job security, and more. That sucks, and I totally get why that makes people ticked off at the leaker(s), whoever they may be or regardless of their agenda(s).

It may not to be the wisest thing to say as a journalist, but I do agree that leakers should sometimes be more thoughtful and careful when passing on crucial business information to the press or peers.

What I vehemently disagree with, however, is Roi’s stance on how the Israeli business press should have handled the leak.

Roi pleas for them to make a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between them and “do the right thing”, which is apparently to stop publishing reports based on leaks. That is not how an independent media is supposed to work, of course, and the reality is that it would only take one rotten apple to ruin the whole thing. And if everyone miraculously sticks to the gentleman’s agreement, a new apple will fall from the tree and start publishing reports based on leaks anyway. It wouldn’t, and I argue shouldn’t, ever work.

Referring to the Israeli ecosystem’s journalists and startups as a “family”, as Roi does in his post, is dangerous and detracts from his stronger point, which is that the leaker is acting irresponsibly.

Coincidentally, I’ve had this conversation before, also with a well-known member of the Israeli startup community, who argued that leaks about the Facebook-Google bidding war for Waze would kill the deal and (there we go again) deprive a lot of Israelis of substantial financial reward for their hard work over the past few years. Except, of course, the rumours didn’t kill the deal at all.

If I were running a business like PrimeSense and a leak happened before the dotted line gets signed, I’d be pissed too. But I’d be angry at the leaker(s), not the press whose duty it is to report on business happenings, whether they’re ongoing or finalized.

Leaks have occurred for ages, across industries and the world (try reporting politics instead of tech for a real taste of behind-the-scenes ‘information sharing’). They’re not going away. Deal with it, basically.

Attempting to dictate when a journalist can report something is a very slippery slope, and pulling the ‘family’ card has a averse effect in my mind. An independent media should decide for themselves what and when to publish, and the public will choose to pay attention or ignore it on the basis of its authenticity, accuracy and accountability.

They shouldn’t be put in a position where they would have to defend their way of working because they are ‘part of the ecosystem’. They don’t have to go on the defensive and argue what they have to gain from publishing reports based on leaks – it’s not just about being first or beating the competition, it’s about doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Blaming them for botched business deals is wrong.

The media’s role is to stay as neutral as possible, and journalists should stay on the sidelines to the extent where they can report on business deals without having to consider “people’s livelihoods”.

That’s on the leaker(s).

They are typically part of the ‘family’ Roi refers to – not the journalists, in my opinion.

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Behold, a Buzzword Filter for Chrome – No need to thank me, fellow journalists.

I often do presentations / workshops for startups to try and explain how best to approach and deal with media, and why they should pay attention to the ‘packaging’ of their message when pitching journalists.

One of the things that really get me going is the insane amount of hyperbole – which, by the way, I just recently learned to pronounce correctly – that is often found throughout press releases or blog posts.

Thus, I tend to urge people to avoid meaningless buzzwords that somehow find their way in most every news announcement, such as ‘leading’, ‘next-generation’, ‘cutting-edge’, ‘ground-breaking’, ‘award-winning’, ‘breakthrough’, ‘innovative’, ‘game-changing’ and all that other gibberish.

When you have to read a lot of announcements on a daily basis, it gets very tedious to weed those out mentally, as almost every journalist quickly learns how to do. But now there’s a better solution.

The friendly developers over at Woorank (a great, bootstrapped Belgian startup co-founded by my buddy Jean Derely) have been nice enough to develop a Google Chrome extension especially for me.

Dubbed Buzzword Filter, it does exactly what you’d expect: install the browser plugin, and you’ll be able to create a list of words you don’t like to read.

Click the icon whenever you’re on a Web page with too many of those words, and bam, they’re gone (you can easily toggle it on and off). Simple and useful. Just the way I like my software.

Before

Demand Media Announces Key Executives and Name for Proposed Domain Services Company   EON  Enhanced Online News

After

Demand Media Announces Key Executives and Name for Proposed Domain Services Company   EON  Enhanced Online News (1)

Seedcamp Week London 2013: Some reflections

k

Last week, I spent a few days in London (after a glorious couple of weeks doing as little work-related stuff as humanly possible) to attend Seedcamp Week, seed investor Seedcamp‘s annual showcase of which early-stage European startups it has identified as promising.

As usual, Seedcamp Week was a great blend of catching up with friends from the industry and getting a feel for what tech startups from all across Europe are up to through on-stage pitches, intensive mentorship sessions and more casual conversations at dinners and parties afterwards.

Seedcamp fans and detractors alike have to admit that the investment company brings the cream of the crop to London each year to mentor startups, and this is what differentiates it from a lot of startup accelerators, which have mushroomed all over Europe in recent years – for better or worse.

And yet, they always seem to have their own opinion on which startups have a chance of ‘making it big’, and why – which makes it all the more interesting, of course.

This year, Seedcamp picked an unusually high number of participants to become part of its program and get funded / kick-started: 11 ‘winners’ were announced, bringing the total of startups Seedcamp has invested in to date to an admirable 104. The quality of the pitches was very high, overall, but some startups were definitely much better suited and prepared for Seedcamp Week than others.

Based on what I’ve seen (and I’ve admittedly not had the time to meet every participating – let alone as long as I would’ve liked), these are the 8 startups that stood out for me personally (in alphabetical order):

BorrowMyDoggy

Testimonials   BorrowMyDoggy - leaving pawprints of happiness!

Like it says on the tin, it lets dog lovers ‘borrow’ other people’s pooches to take of them when the owners are busy. Sounds pretty banal on the surface, but lo and behold, the thing has users who often pay for the service – also called a business model – and it’s growing. Woof woof.

FishBrain

FishBrain for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad on the iTunes App Store

A mobile app and community for anglers from around the world who like to brag about their catches – and from my experience, they pretty much all like to do that.

Don’t laugh – I learned that the global sports fishing market is apparently bigger than tennis and golf, combined, with an estimated 200 million active fishers worldwide.

InsightSplash

insightsplash

A software+hardware play that allows hotel owners and managers get feedback about rooms straight from their guests through easy, tablet-based surveys.

Could potentially be big in my mind, and a successful test with a Crowne Plaza hotel reinforces my belief on that front.

Revision App

Revision App - SAT, ACT   Math - Android Apps on Google Play

A family of mobile apps that lets students learn and revise on the go instead of wasting time playing mindless games or whatnot on the tube, train, in the car etc.

Strong team comprised of both developers and educators, a solid mobile education idea that’s been well executed so far, and an existing user base of 700,000 people already that is growing at a decent clip to boot. All sorts of win.

Saberr

chartsandgraphs

London startup that claims it has come up with a way to accurately predict the success or failure of over 100 founders teams Needless to say, if their algorithm works its magic, this can be an incredibly useful (read: cost and time saving) tool for angel investors, VCs but also at hackathons, startup weekends and accelerators.

Sizem

Home   SizemApp - The App that loves your boobs!

The “app that loves your boobs” but also comes with a business model: Sizem lets women enter their exact measurements in order to get great recommendations for bras, swimwear and whatnot.

I didn’t know this, but Sizem co-founder Ana Kolarevic claims 90 percent of women wear the wrong bra size. Even if that’s overstating the problem by a margin, that’s still a ton of women who could use Sizem.

Teddy The Guardian

Teddy the Guardian

A plushed teddy bear that comes embedded with a load of medical sensors that measure a child’s vital signs during play, including heart rate, body temperature and oxygen saturation.

The recorded data can be consulted, visualized and analyzed by parents and doctors. Brilliant, especially if they can figure out a way to integrate the technology into any kid’s favourite plush toy.

Winnow Solutions

Wheat

A London startup that provides systems for tracking (and ultimately, reducing) food waste in restaurants and other food service establishments.

There’s more to it than that, but think of it as an intelligent scale that can be placed in kitchen. In tests, it has led to a whopping 40% decrease in food waste, primarily by changing staff behaviour and providing helpful metrics.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to this year’s batch from Seedcamp Week London in the coming years – I, for one, will be watching closely.

Other Seedcamp startups that were on mentors and investors’ lips were (also in alphabetical order) Countly, CTRLiO, I-SPRD / Spreddit, Legal Tender, Stamplay

(Disclosure: the above is based on my own observations only, but I should note Seedcamp compensated this unemployed blogger’s travel and accommodation so I could take part in Seedcamp Week this year.)

Ready to be blown away? Check out this 600,000 pixels wide panorama shot of Tokyo, Japan

Ten months ago, my buddy Jeffrey Martin from 360Cities went to Tokyo to shoot some (well, 8,000) photos from a rooftop on the Tokyo Tower, in only a few hours time.

It took him a lot of time and effort to turn all of those into this jaw-dropping 600,000 pixels wide panorama shot (in a single image file, no less), and I think it needs to be shared and admired by many.

I invite you to take a look and zoom in like a madman, to see just how stunningly high-res the 360-degree panorama shot really is, but to give you an idea:

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Some of the details you can spot are 25 kilometres (that’s more than 15 miles) away, Martin says.

Amazing, isn’t it? Check out the accompanying video for more goodness:

You can explore the shot in all its glory here, but don’t forget to share.

Maria Molland quits leading Fab Europe to move back to San Francisco and start her own business

maria

At the recent Le Web conference in London, I had a great lunch with Maria Molland, the wicked smart business executive who was tapped by e-commerce startup Fab to run its European operations in April last year. I came away impressed by the way she was running the Berlin office for Fab, which at last count employed more than 250 people, and the plans for further growth she outlined for me.

In a somewhat surprising move, Molland just announced on Facebook that she’s moving back to San Francisco – she’s previously worked for companies like Disney, Yahoo and Dow Jones – and that she is effectively departing Fab to start her own business.

Molland stopped short of saying what her plans for the new company are, only that these are ‘exciting times’. Molland lived and worked in Europe for seven years.

Fab co-founder and CEO Jason Goldberg quickly jumped in to publish a comment on her Facebook post, saying Molland can “count on him as an investor” and:

“Tons of love and appreciation and thanks. Fab is where it is today because of you. Thank you. Love you.”

This suggests that there isn’t any animosity involved with her departure, but the move appears to be somewhat abrupt, and follows some rumblings about the working conditions at fast-growing Fab (which were openly discussed by Goldberg in a subsequent blog post).

Fab has raised more than $300 million in funding and was valued at over $1 billion in its last round.

The company recently announced that it is slated to open up its own Fab-operated warehouse in The Netherlands before the end of this year to serve its 3.5 million European customers. Fab sells products in 27 countries and roughly 40 percent of its sales today occur outside the United States.

It will be interesting to see what Molland is up to next, and how Fab will fill up the vacuum that’s left in Europe because of her decision to quit the company.