Birdly Wants To Help Call Your Customer Data By Talking To A Slack Bot

Birdly Wants To Help Call Your Customer Data By Talking To A Slack Bot
The bots are coming, and Quang Hoang knows it — so much so that he’s willing to bet his entire company on it. So what once started out as an app like Expensify is now Birdly, a Slack bot that makes it easier to call up customer data directly within Slack from sources like Salesforce and Zendesk.
“It was really difficult for companies to adopt [the app] because you had to relegate to another mobile app, another password to remember, another process,” Hoang said. “The second problem we had was for the manager and CFO, it was another tool to deploy, and just doing it on top of Slack is much easier because you just need two minutes and everyone can use it.”
Slack administrators log in to their accounts that they want to link to Birdly, like Stripe, Zendesk or Salesforce, and then anyone can use the bot to call up information from that account. They request info from the bot, which then returns it in-line in Slack, with an option to jump to those various services for more information.
There can be a lot of advantages to this. Instead of having to work through various applications to collaborate on accounts, they can simply be done in a Slack channel. And Slack’s obviously become a popular platform for collaboration, with the company last saying it has 2 million daily active users and 570,000 paid seats.
It’s not all that surprising a company like Birdly has emerged. There’s been a huge amount of interest in chat bots, whether on Slack or even Facebook Messenger. It’s part of a larger trend toward more conversational user interfaces, where users are requesting data in the form of natural language instead of the keyword searches that Google has effectively trained us to do.

Already, Hoang says he’s seen potential competition popping up in the space he’s working in — synchronizing data and putting it together within Slack — like a new service called Flow XO. Birdly’s play is that it’s going to be focused on natural language instead of a command-line interface, which will, in theory, make it easier to use despite the existence of other Slack bots that can bring together the same kind of data into a Slack channel.
Birdly is inevitably going to face a lot of competition. Slack has launched an app directory and is investing in services that make Slack a core part of their process. A first-mover advantage will help, but it’s easy to see a lot of other services integrating Slack into their core processes themselves, or other copycat bots emerging on the Slack platform. And, of course, it’s reliant on Slack — but that’s the risk of taking a bet on any platform.
“What we want to build is a bot you invite, you talk to it in natural language, you don’t need to build complex tools,” he said. “You don’t need to do rigid workflows, we want it to be a new assistant. That’s the main difference.”
For now, Birdly is free while it figures out what it wants to be exactly and collects information from potential customers. Birdly is part of Y Combinator’s winter 2016 class.

Spark, The Mailbox Alternative, Lands On The iPad

Spark, The Mailbox Alternative, Lands On The iPad


Spark, the email program that is set to replace the ever-popular but defunct Mailbox, has landed on the iPad and iPad Pro, a move that should please email power users.
The app sports a number of popular features, including read later and mailbox organization. However, the system also creates read receipts and allows you to send emoticon replies to messages.
The app has been updated to support nine languages and Watch OS. They have also updated the UX. The team timed the launch to coincide with the imminent death of Mailbox, the popular “snoozing” email app.
A Mac version is forthcoming. You can download the new app here.

Zenefits Is Laying Off Roughly 250 Employees

Zenefits Is Laying Off Roughly 250 Employees
Zenefits is laying off around 17 percent of its employees, or 250 people, with the layoffs largely concentrated in the company’s sales division, according to an email sent to the company by CEO David Sacks.
“When I became CEO of Zenefits, I promised on Day 1 to reset our culture, refocus our strategy on serving small businesses, and create a new beginning for success in the future,” Sacks wrote. “Today I have to make a very difficult set of decisions about how we do that. In fact, this is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my career, but it is necessary for Zenefits to move forward successfully.”
This follows regulatory concerns pertaining to the company — specifically pertaining to an internal program dubbed “the Macro” that allowed employees to pad the hours they said they committed for pre-certification in California, which led to an investigation by the state.
Zenefits as a company has run into regulatory issues across multiple markets as a result of all this. The company allowed unlicensed brokers to sell health insurance, according to a BuzzFeed report. BuzzFeed most-recently reported that 80 percent of the company’s deals in the state of Washington were done by unlicensed brokers.
Compliance issues also led to the company’s CEO, Parker Conrad, leaving both the company and the board of directors. That led Sacks, the former CEO of Yammer — which sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion — to take over the company and promptly begin clearing house. Zenefits quickly grew to a $4.5 billion valuation over the course of just a few years.
“During my years in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen a number of attempted tech turn-arounds. Frankly, they don’t have a very good track record,” Sacks wrote in the email. “But that’s because those companies had become obsolete technologies; they had lost their product-market fit. That is not Zenefits. Zenefits has made mistakes but it never lost its product-market fit.”
Zenefits gives small- and medium-sized businesses human resource management tools that are supposed to work in a simpler fashion than existing tools. They also began offering payroll services recently, breaching into territory to which other startups like Gusto have been trying to bring a similar model. The company offers its software for free and makes money by receiving commissions.
Sacks explained in the memo that part of the reasoning behind the layoffs was Zenefits’ growth, which was “too fast, stretching both our culture and our controls.” That’s not too surprising for fast-growing startups, though at times it did seem out of control —like having to tell its employees not to have sex in stairwells, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
“This reduction enables us to refocus our strategy, rebuild in line with our new company values, and grow in a controlled way that will be strategic for our business and beneficial for our customers,” Sacks wrote.

Google.org Awards $3 Million To Racial Justice Organizations In SF Bay Area

Google.org Awards $3 Million To Racial Justice Organizations In SF Bay Area
Pictured left to right: David Drummond, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, Alphabet, with Google.org grantees: Bryan Stevenson, Founder and CEO, Equal Justice Initiative, Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Founder, Roses in Concrete Community School, Oakland, Landon Dickey, Special Assistant for African American Achievement & Leadership, San Francisco Unified School District, Alexandra Bernadotte, Founder and CEO, Beyond 12, Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District, and Justin Steele, Principal, Google.orgGoogle.org has awarded a total of $3 million in grants to San Francisco Unified School District’s My Brother and Sister’s Keeper program (MBSK), Oakland’s Roses in Concrete Community School, Beyond 12 and Equal Justice Initiative, all of which are local organizations working to eliminate racial bias either in the education system or in local communities.
Back in November, Google.org announced $2.35 million in grants to Oakland’s Ella Baker Center, the Oakland Unified School District’s African American Male Achievement program and Silicon Valley De-Bug. Those grants, as well as the ones announced today, are part of Google.org’s effort to fight for racial justice.
Citing the murders of young African-Americans like Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis, “Google and our own industry need to do more to promote equality and opportunities for all,” Google.org Principal Justin Steele wrote in a blog post. “Social innovators can help us move closer to our ideals of equality and justice. That’s why last year, Google.org launched a new, dedicated effort to support leaders who are doing critical work to end mass incarceration and combat endemic educational inequality for black and brown students.”
Here’s how the $3 million is divvied up:
  • SFUSD’s MBSK, which aims to empower African-American high school seniors with the information and tools to enroll in college, received a $1 million grant.
  • The Equal Justice Initiative, which “aims to counter the presumption of guilt and dangerousness in communities of color today, through education programs that help Americans reframe our relationship to our history of racial oppression,” also received a $1 million grant. Some of that money will go toward initiatives like marking thousands of lynching sites and building the country’s first lynching memorial.
  • $750,000 went to Roses in Concrete, a new kind of school in Oakland focused on community responsive teaching, which takes into account the hardships students and their families may face on an everyday basis.
  • $250,000 went to Beyond 12, an organization trying to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented students who graduate from college through digital coaching.
Disclosure: Landon Dickey, Special Assistant for African American Achievement & Leadership, San Francisco Unified School District, is my older brother. 

Dragon Front Is Like VR Magic: The Gathering

Tower above your army of monsters, lean across the battlefield and make your opponent’s face explode. That’s Dragon Front, a virtual reality card game coming to Oculus Rift. While many VR games see you flailing your arms or head about, or swinging swords and shooting bows and arrows, Dragon Front is decidedly more chill.
That’s not to say it’s boring. In fact, it’s what could make Dragon Front so addictive. It’s easy to lose track of time as you summon warriors and attack your enemy’s fortress. Because Dragon Front won’t physically or mentally exhaust you with twitchy gameplay, you can sustain much longer sessions inside the headset.
DragonFrontScreenshot_2-sm
Developed by High Voltage, a 23-year-old game studio, Dragon Front will be available for Oculus Rift in Q2 2016, though not right at launch. The company previously worked on some of the Mortal Kombat games and will also release a first-person shooter called Damaged Core for Oculus.
In Dragon Front, you get cards with creatures and spells that you can play each turn as you try to destroy your enemy’s forces and their castle. You can play online against real humans from around the world.
To make Dragon Front feel like you’re interacting with a real, physical card game, High Voltage actually built one. It started with drawings on note cards, then they made cards, then prototypes of miniatures, before finally developing the VR game.

High Voltage’s Chief Creative Officer Eric Nofsinger tells me “We wanted to encapsulate the feeling of playing across the table from someone else…being able to lean forward and look at the table top with a sense of immediacy you don’t get out of a traditional 2D card game.”
Dragon_Front_logoThat’s a slight dig at games like World of Warcraft’s Hearthstone for mobile, which has become insanely popular but locks all the action into a tiny screen. Dragon Front makes it happen all around you. Your fortress is splayed out beneath you. You can see a mask representing your opponent mimicking their real gestures as they peer at their cards and characters. You can trash talk them on VoIP. And certain spells even impact your ability to see the battlefield.
I played for 40 minutes, a relatively long VR session, and time flew by. Perhaps the only drawback of pushing collectible card games into VR is that you can’t multi-task while you wait during your opponent’s turn. I found myself trying and mostly failing to peek out of the bottom of my headset to check my phone.
DragonFrontScreenshot_1-sm
I’ll say it again, virtual reality is going to be wildly addictive. There’s always this sense of guilt when you play a physical card game, on mobile or your computer, or even a console first-person shooter, that you’re being geeky ditching the real world. You’re sitting in a darkened room staring at a table or screen.
But in VR, the game becomes the world around you. There’s nothing to remind you there’s another reality out there. Why would you want to return to the land of chores and jobs and actual responsibilities when you can be a powerful wizard fighting epic battles to control the realm?

Social Media Marketing Company Clickable Acquires Talkwheel

Social Media Marketing Company Clickable Acquires Talkwheel
Talkwheel, a company that offers a unique way to visualize customer conversations, has been acquired by Clickable.
I last wrote about Talkwheel in 2014. The company aggregates the online conversation around a given company or topic in a circular format — it’s supposed to help you follow these often complicated and dispersed conversations. The format can then be embedded on a brand’s website, offering one place where users can catch up on and participate in the broader conversation.
Founder and CEO Jeff Harris said that Talkwheel has seen its revenue grow by about 400 percent annually over the past two years. At the same time, there’s been “a lot of consolidation going in the social media marketing space,” and Talkwheel began acquisition discussions with another company (not Clickable) in late 2015. Ultimately, Harris said Clickable was the better fit — he praised its listening and social media monitoring tools and said Talkwheel adds “that consumer-facing piece” to the Clickable platform.
The financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. Harris said it involved a mix of cash and equity, with Talkwheel continuing to function as an independent organization and product under the Clickable umbrella, while also looking for potential integrations. The entire nine-person Talkwheel team will be joining, at least for the transition process, with Harris himself staying on “for the foreseeable future.”
Jeff Harris, Mike Onghai

Talkwheel had raised $1.5 million in funding from various angel investors.
“We are extremely excited to be acquiring Talkwheel,” said Clickable CEO Mike Onghai in an emailed statement (he’s pictured with Harris above). “I have known Jeff and [Vice President of Product Joe Geraghty] for a couple of years now and have always thought Talkwheel had the most innovative fan engagement solution in market. Combining Talkwheel’s consumer facing offering with Clickable’s leading social media monitoring and reputation platform, we now have one of the most well rounded solutions in the social marketing space.”

Augmented Reality Computer Vision Startup Wrnch Gets $1.8M Series A Led By Mark Cuban

Augmented Reality Computer Vision Startup Wrnch Gets $1.8M Series A Led By Mark Cuban


Talk to anyone in the AR space right now and the phrase “democratizing x” is bound to arise two or three dozen times.
Wrnch CEO Paul Kruszewski says that concept is especially true for the computer vision space, with war chest-toting companies like Magic Leap powering their own technologies while dramatically smaller teams are left to piecemeal their own solutions.
Today, his company, Wrnch, announced a Series A raise of $1.8 million led by Mark Cuban’s Radical Ventures. Aligo Innovation, gr0k and TandemLaunch Ventures also participated in the round.
“As a diversified technology investor, I have a ring side seat to watch how AR/VR is set to change the world,” said Cuban in a statement.  “I am excited to help the wrnch become the go-to tool for computer vision development.”
This funding will allow Wrnch to weather the commercialization phase and prove the business model surrounding their core engine, Kruszewski says.
Kruszewski told me that it’s early enough in the space that not everyone is fully aware of what computer vision is, but he wants to approach their computer vision engine in a manner similar to how Epic Games approached their video game engine, by helping build actual content to draw attention to their computer vision engine.
“We’re working with the various crackerjack computer vision team units on actual production stuff right now,” Kruszewski said. People running Wrnch’s engine will eventually be able to use it to “make mass market Magic Leap kinds of experiences” across devices.

Luxe Could Be Getting $50M From Hertz At $110M Pre-Money Valuation

Luxe Could Be Getting $50M From Hertz At $110M Pre-Money Valuation
Luxe is in talks with a strategic investor that will infuse the company with “tens of millions” in new financing from Hertz, our sources tell us.
One source tells us that the round could be around $50 million at a pre-money valuation above $110 million. This source also suggested that existing investors may participate in this round. Our understanding is that the round is still getting finalized, and details could change.
The Information also reported that the funding round is coming from Hertz, and said the round is coming in at a more than $100 million pre-money valuation. This round, according to our sources, has been in the works for a while — as far back as last quarter, when it seemed that it would not be able to close a new round of financing. Our sources stressed that the deal hasn’t closed yet.
It would make sense that the deal would come from Hertz, which could lean on Luxe’s model in multiple markets in order to offer consumers a way to park rental cars on demand.
Luxe offers customers on-demand parking on both a subscription and one-off model for a fee. It’s available in markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. The play here is that these cities are so congested that parking is a pain for drivers — to the point that they’ll be willing to pay for someone else to park their car. From what we understand, the subscription model is quickly becoming one of its largest growth-drivers, and the company may be putting more emphasis on that.

A representative from Luxe said the company can’t comment on rumors or speculation.
Luxe’s on-demand parking model has come under a lot of scrutiny, given the end of ZIRX’s consumer-facing parking service. However, we do hear from a source that the company is even profitable in San Francisco,  which might be why the company was able to secure a new round of financing — even from a strategic investor like Hertz. Luxe has raised $25.5 million in financing prior to this round of funding.

Tribeca Venture Partners Closes Its Second NY-Focused Fund

Tribeca Venture Partners Closes Its Second NY-Focused Fund
Tribeca Venture Partners, a New York-based early-stage venture firm founded in 2011, is today announcing that it has closed its second fund with $107 million — significantly more than its $65 million debut fund.
That’s good news for New York startups. In a conversation earlier this week with Brian Hirsch and Chip Meakem — Tribeca’s co-founders and its sole investors (still) — they talked at length of their near-exclusive focus on the startups in their own backyard.
That somewhat unique positioning apparently resonated with LPs. (Of the 25 companies backed with their first fund, 21 are based in New York.)
As Hirsch and Meakem readily concede, it also helps that Tribeca secured most of its LP commitments before the third quarter of last year, well in advance of the market turmoil that has followed.
Investors are plainly backing Tribeca’s potential, too. With the oldest company in its portfolio just reaching the ripe old age of four, it has seen just two minor exits, including one acqui-hire with the sale of the web TV startup NimbleTV to the publicly traded company Synacor last year.
Meanwhile, others of its bets have been marked up considerably, including the adtech company AppNexus; the iPad point-of-sale system ShopKeep; and the online lending company CommonBond.
According to CrunchBase, AppNexus has raised $288 million to date (Tribeca joined its $75 million Series D round; the company has raised three subsequent rounds). ShopKeep has raised $97.5 million from investors (Tribeca led its $8.7 million Series A round). And CommonBond, whose $2.2 million Series A was also led by Tribeca, has raised nearly $44 million to date, along with $275 million in debt.
Of course, mark-ups aren’t the same as exits, and a lot of companies are beginning to look crippled from too much funding. AppNexus, for example, has long been a potential IPO target, yet hasn’t managed to cross into the public market, in part because of thepoor performance of adtech companies that trade publicly. Meanwhile, its list of preferred shareholders has grown longer.
Asked if Tribeca is worried that AppNexus may have missed its window to go public, Meakem — who was one of the first employees at early adtech company Active Imaginations (founded in 1995) — says he is not.
“Ad tech has been in and out of favor since the ad server was created,” said Meakem.
“Specific to AppNexus, the plan is to continue to grow a really good company. At some point, I think it will make sense to access public capital do to that, but we don’t need to go public [right now]. AppNexus’s business model and unit economics don’t look like most of the other ad tech companies out there.”

What Does A Downturn Mean For Tech Regulation?

What Does A Downturn Mean For Tech Regulation?
All it takes is a quick look at the market to see that we are in for a bumpy ride — and a longer-term downturn may be imminent. Tech is not immune to that, which means we’ll see a hit to valuations, VC funding and fundraising.
Lots of experts have talked about what that might mean for activity in the tech sector broadly. But what does it mean for the intersection of regulation and technology? Will it change the way regulators view startups? Will it change the way entrenched interests will behave in political and regulatory fights? Will it change the positions elected officials take? The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes.
Politics is fueled by perception of strength, power, popularity and influence. Decisions (shocking as this may sound) are almost never made solely on merit, which is why the entire world of lobbying, advocacy and public relations exists.
If regulators or elected officials fear that a startup can generate strong public opinion against their decision or vote or policy, that has a major impact on what they’ll do. That’s in large part why Uber was able to defeat Mayor de Blasio’s efforts in New York last summer to cap their growth — the combination of the campaign Uber ran and the fear of the damage Uber could do was enough to bring the City Council on their side and cause City Hall to stand down.
It’s also why FanDuel and DraftKings are likely to win the vast majority of legislative fights they’ll face this coming session — not only do they have 5 million passionate customers being mobilized to weigh in, but it’s very hard for regulators and elected officials to assess to what lengths the companies will go.
But if the perception of the sector changes and regulators and electeds are suddenly a lot less concerned about the potential impact a fight with a well-funded, highly regarded startup will have, they’re far more likely to do the bidding of the people and companies they’ve always known.
Partnerships matter in business, but they matter even more in politics.
So if the press is dominated by stories about shrinking valuations, dried-up funding, lower revenues, lower growth, missed targets and dimmer futures, regulators and electeds will react accordingly — they’ll be less receptive to arguments and policy interpretations from startups and far more susceptible to the entreaties of incumbents to maintain the status quo. That’s a problem.
It’s unlikely anyone reading this post has the power to change what the market will do. But a smart startup can take steps now to avoid losing political power, avoid facing tougher regulations and avoid being vulnerable to the companies and industries they’re upending.

Define the enemy

If the entrenched interests are more empowered by the perception of a weaker tech sector, it’s even more important to be able to define who they are and why their practices, habits and policies are bad for the public (less competition, higher prices, bad customer service, safety issues, ethical issues, etc.).
That means figuring out who they are, what they’re doing wrong, where they’re vulnerable (looking at everything from annual reports to arrest records to lawsuits to tweets and press releases), how you talk about it to different audiences (regulators, electeds, reporters) and how to protect yourself. But if you first start doing all of this when they attack, your chances of survival go way down.

Define yourself

Getting a feature on TechCrunch or Wired or Quartz is great (we’re always thrilled when that happens to us), and it’s certainly important for recruiting and fundraising. But you’re mainly talking to the one group of people who already believe in you. When it comes to political and regulatory fights, the more familiar you are to the people making decisions, the less likely they are to destroy your business without a second thought.
Any startup genuinely attacking a major problem is going to engender enemies and allies.
That means focusing heavily on consumer public relations, local media, community media and business media in the markets that pose real regulatory threats. The more you’re known and the more people understand who you are and the value you’re creating (to consumers, to the economy, to tax revenues), the better your chances of both avoiding a problem and winning the fight if it does get that far.
If a threat is truly imminent, it may make sense to consider some local advertising (mass transit, outdoor, digital) to help boost name recognition.

Define your customers

Stories about a weakened tech sector may embolden your opponents and make electeds less concerned about how you can hurt them. But that can all change if you can mobilize your customers to reach out directly to their elected officials (legislators and executive branch members who appoint the regulators) and speak their minds.
While members of Congress receive endless amounts of inbound email, tweets and even letters, it’s much less frequent in state and local government, where most regulation actually occurs. Generating 300 emails from constituents to a local assemblyman or state senator or councilwoman can completely change their position on an issue.
But just like being prepared for the fight or generating name ID and awareness, you can’t first start the process in the heat of the battle. You must know which of your customers to try to mobilize, how you’re going to frame the issue and what you’re asking them to do — and make it easy for them to actually do it (if they have to do more than push a button to be able to email or tweet at a politician, you don’t deserve their help).
That all takes time and effort. Like anything, when you scramble to do it at the last minute, it costs a lot more and results in a lot less.

Define your coalition


However, when the curtain drops and you’re scrambling to shape the narrative in the press and flex your muscle with those who wish to harm you, having the coalition in place and spokespeople willing to take a stand on your behalf will play a decisive role in the outcome of whatever battle you are in.
Partnerships matter in business, but they matter even more in politics. You cannot be the only entity willing to stand up for the thing for which you’re fighting. Any startup genuinely attacking a major problem is going to engender enemies and allies. Your enemies will find you, but you will need to find those who have a vested personal, political, moral or financial interest in your success. It is difficult work and requires all the things that most CEOs rightly hate — long meetings, compromise and spending money.
Maybe the markets will recover quickly, funding will flow, valuations will keep soaring and the perception of the strength of your startup will be better than ever. And maybe the industry you’re sending into extinction won’t even notice what’s happening until it’s too late. But just in case that doesn’t happen, taking the steps outlined above will make the downturn a lot less painful.

Venmo Halts New Developer Access To Its API

Venmo Halts New Developer Access To Its API
This is not how you run a platform. Developers remember. Pull the rug out from under them once, and they’ll be reluctant to stand with you in the future. So despite having a record-setting January with $1 billion transferred in its peer-to-peer payments app, Venmo just shot itself in the foot.
Venmo API Shut Down
After six years of providing an API for developers to build experiences atop its money transfer system, this month Venmo suddenly changed its dev site to read “The Venmo API is no longer available. We’re sorry for the inconvenience, please reach out to our Support team if you have questions.”
It didn’t have to be this way.
[Update: Venmo seems to be confused. According to statement below from Venmo and the message on the developer site, the API is no longer available. But now Venmo tells me the API is still available to existing developers, but not to new ones, which can be a sign of an impending shut down. We’ll update with more info soon once Venmo figures itself out. Parts of this article have been changed for accuracy.
Update 2: I just spoke with Venmo and they’ve issued this new statement apologizing for being unclear. “The Venmo API is still available to existing users, however we are not offering access to new users. We apologize for the confusion created by the ambiguity in our prior statement.”
After speaking with the company, it sounds like the plan is not completely shut down the existing API, but that it may remove some features. It’s going to push developers onto its new Pay With Venmo system for paying businesses.]

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Venmo began promoting the API back in 2010, hosting and participating in hackathonsto get more built on its platform. College kids made mobile sites to divide road-trip gas costs. Papa Johns let you split a pizza’s price with Venmo. The API’s login, friend finding, and payment options supported Siri workarounds, smartwatch apps, and ways to tip street musicians.
For serious businesses, Venmo’s Payouts API allowed money transfers to contractors like “drivers, dog walkers, handymen” and more according to this promo video. It was billed as an easy way to avoid having to collect people’s bank account info to pay them.
Papa Johns Venmo
But when it came time to communicate that the existing API was going to change and developers would be pushed to the new API, Venmo stayed silent except for posting a confusing message on its dev site. The company seems to have been caught up in its new feature that let people pay for Munchery food or Gametime tickets. There was no formal statement, or warnings about future potential changes.  Just the flippant message on the dev site.
One source tells me there may have been security concerns with the API, but that’s not confirmed. Even if so, there would have been a more tactful way to handle it.
Venmo didn’t even have a statement prepared when I first asked, but eventually responded with this, which turned out to be highly inaccurate:
“We have made the very tough decision to no longer offer access to the VenmoDeveloper API. We’ve been working hard to build a strong peer-to-peer platform, as well as a new feature that allows users to potentially pay merchant apps with Venmo – unfortunately, with the work that’s required to continue delivering upon these goals, we sadly can’t give the use of our API the attention it truly deserves.
We take this very seriously as we’ve contributed to the developer community for so long, but it’s important to us that we create a DevAPI experience that meets both the needs of our users, and the level of care they’ve come to expect with Venmo. We’ll be reevaluating down the road, but in the meantime, we are working on what that transition will look like and will communicate that soon.”
And again, here’s Venmo’s apology about that being unclear. “The Venmo API is still available to existing users, however we are not offering access to new users. We apologize for the confusion created by the ambiguity in our prior statement.”
Venmo Payouts
While the words sound sincere, the actions were careless. Venmo seemed intent on sweeping the whole situation under the rug rather than being up front with developers. This is the community that stuck with Venmo from fledgling startup, to being acquired by Braintree, through Braintree getting acquired by payments empire PayPal.
The company says it will re-evaluate the API down the road, but developers may have a hard time trust it after this lack of communication. If Venmo doesn’t honorably support the ecosystem of apps around it, Venmo could become more susceptible to competition from Apple Pay, Facebook, and everyone else.

This BB-8 Is Made Entirely Of LEGO Parts And Actually Rolls Like BB-8 Should

This BB-8 Is Made Entirely Of LEGO Parts And Actually Rolls Like BB-8 Should
Ready for your semi-regular reminder that some people are just way, way too clever?
These folks managed to make a BB-8 model…. completely out of LEGO parts. And it actually rolls. And its head actually stays in place on top, as BB-8’s head should.
One key bit here is that its creators only claim that it’s made of 100% genuine LEGOparts, not 100% LEGO blocks. Since a fistful of rectangular Lego blocks generally won’t roll too well, the builders repurposed an already-round Tatooine model from a long-retired Star Wars podracing set. Add some a bunch of parts, magnets, and wheels all stripped from other kits, and this surprisingly functional BB-8 comes together.
They even built a little basestation for BB-8 to sit on, allowing it to roll in place when you crank a wheel.
Jealous? Want one of your own? Good news! The creators have a project page up for it on Lego IDEAS, where LEGO commits to looking into any projects that hits 10,000 supporters. Less than a week after the project went live, it’s already blown past 1,000 fans, and it has well over a year to get the rest. I’m guessing it won’t take that long.
Timed right (that is, around Christmas or the release of Episode VIII), you just know this thing would sell like mad.
[LEGO Ideas via Giz]

Digg CEO Gary Liu on The Rebirth Of Digg and The Evolution Of Content and Content Monetisation

Digg CEO Gary Liu on The Rebirth Of Digg and The Evolution Of Content and Content Monetisation


Recently I had the opportunity to check in with newly appointed Digg CEO, Gary Liu, the man at the helm who’s leading the rebirth of the platform that was once the darling of the internet.
We discussed why Digg has struggled in recent years to live up to market predictions for the product; how Digg is evolving and differentiating itself in the highly crowded content market and how content creators can evolve in a world of the ever disappearing ad dollar.
Liu also reminisced about his time at Google and Spotify and the lessons he learned there. how Digg engage their audience with commenting whilst preventing trolling and what people should look for when contemplating what early stage startup to join.

11 TechCrunch Stories You Don’t Want To Miss This Week

11 TechCrunch Stories You Don’t Want To Miss This Week
This week the Apple versus FBI battle raged on, we went to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, Facebook changed up the Like button and more. Here are the top stories of the week.
1. Apple continued its battle with the FBI amid an order to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino shooting. In a company email, Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked employees for their support. The email paints the issue of Apple’s refusal to cooperate as one of civil liberties. Apple then filed a motion to dismiss the court order forcing it to unlock the phone, citing constitutional free speech rights. Apple hinges its argument on the fact that the FBI Is attempting to expand the use of the All Writs Act. A pro-Apple rally took place in downtown San Francisco, and we talked to a few anti-FBI protestors to see what they had to say about the issue.
2. Some of our staff went to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2016. We covered apanel about mobile ad blockingMark Zuckerberg talked about Free Basics and encryption, Samsung announced the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, we went hands on with the modular LG G5 and, oh, by the way, tablets are dead. You can find our full coverage of MWC 2016 here.
Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 11.01.57 AM
3. Facebook launched its “Reactions” extension to the Like button, allowing users to express Love, Wow, Haha, Angry and Sad emotions in addition to the original Like.
Facebook Reactions How To
4. While Uber launched a motorbike taxi on-demand service in Thailand, things weren’t great for the company this week. Uber confirmed that one of its drivers, Jason Dalton, is the suspect in a shooting rampage that took place in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dalton allegedly picked up riders and pocketed fares in between the shootings. He had passed Uber’s background check and had no prior criminal record. Uber then clarified that Dalton had a 4.73 rating and had given more than 100 rides.
5. IBM unveiled a rush of deals that underscore another major aspect of the growth of mobile: the rise of cloud services. The company unveiled deeper partnerships with Apple, VMware, GitHub, Bitly and Siemens. 
6. We learned that Didi Kuaidi, the company that has left Uber eating its dust in China, is currently in the midst of securing $1 billion in additional fundraising. We’ve heard that round is not yet closed, is apparently over-subscribed and will value the company at more than $20 billion.
7. Snapchat introduced another revenue stream in the form of on-demand geofilters. Now, anyone can pay to design their own geofilter, and it’s pretty easy to do. Here’s how it works. 
8. CrunchNetwork contributor Tom Giovanetti wrote about how to solve the H-1B visa problem. “Of all the controversial elements of proposed immigration reform plans, the H-1B visa impasse should be the easiest to solve,” he writes.
9. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron formally announced the date for a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. On June 23, British voters will be asked “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The outcome will have a huge impact on the country’s tech ecosystem and the U.K.’s position as a leading tech hub in Europe and beyond, explains Steve O’Hear.
10. Life is just one big game of laser tag with Father.io. We got a chance to play with an early prototype of the company’s Inceptor smartphone dongle and its augmented reality massive multiplayer first-person shooter app. The company launched an Indiegogo campaign this week.

11. In little over a month, shares in LinkedIn lost over half their value — because of poor growth forecasts, fears over future income and even investor concerns over a tech bubble. The issues facing LinkedIn, however, go beyond the company itself, explains contributor Damian Kimmelman.