Waiting for the right professional network

Waiting for the right professional network
I recently asked an investor for some SEO advice (because he had run B2C companies). He came on a call to give his opinions on what we had done till then with SEO. I thanked him on LinkedIn. A few hours later, another SEO consultant offered his input. Curiously, he had a recommendation on his profile, from this investor.
Eventually he got our business. He did not sell anything to us. It was more of an expertise giver-getter conversation. We were at par. This investor earned my goodwill and the consultant’s. I actively contribute to his deal flow in a small way. He isn’t asking me to, but I am prospecting for him.
Do you see what happened? The SEO consultant did not engineer his way into a conversation with me. Instead, he used the fact that we have this investor as a common connection and gathered from the status that I’m in the market for SEO services. He took advantage of the insight and reached out at the right time.
Today there is enough data available to bring people of similar or adjacent profiles closer, and inform them about signals and contexts where they could either help, pay it forward or seek help. Over a period of time, a community (a micro-market network) will form that will prospect for each other — be it for a job or a deal or funding.
Ergo, we can replace awkward sales overtures with touch points precisely planned by a deep understanding of one’s extended network.
We need sophisticated tools that don’t just help us fake our way to conversations using data points, but truly connect us with our customers and hiring managers through people, ideas and causes that we have in common.
Sounds like LinkedIn, right? Wrong.

Why didn’t professional networks replace cold with warm?

They are about resumes, not motivations
Today’s professional networks have a “resume graph” or (to be flattering) a “prospect graph,” not a “[people’s economic] motivation graph” (the graph that plots their give/get instincts over time and in different contexts).
In the absence of awareness of motivations and interests, people simply connect to ask for favors or sell in your face. That’s why you don’t accept connection invites anymore!
They are about connections, not relationships
In a network where there is no friction to connect, the connections themselves become superficial. We are connected because we can, not because we share common principles, background or traits.
Un-nurtured connections turn cold, or at least become useless as connectors between you and your ultimate prospect. The result is that you’d resort to smarmy sales tactics for an intro through a common connection.
They treat you as the product even though you’re ready to open your wallet
Highly networked professionals (entrepreneurs) still don’t have a way to keep track of their personal network, and the signals that come from it, in a manner that they can act on or catalog for future use. There is abundant data in social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, email and offline conversations, but no packaged insights that prod us to reach out to people who are important for us.
A well-designed professional network will have to be a true market-network of professionals.
Example: LinkedIn and Facebook both know I am connected to a certain CEO of a SaaS company. He is organizing a SaaS conference in 2017, but neither network thinks it’s important to notify me about it and ask me to ping this CEO/conference organizer to ask if he needs any help. A real opportunity to help and thereby strengthen the relationship is lost.
The circle that Google+ created or the groups that LinkedIn or Facebook designed did/continue to do an underwhelming job of surfacing contexts for professional networking with my first two degrees of professional acquaintances. Without context, there is no reason to be in touch. Lost in touch, we resort to cold methods of reaching out at the time of need. The network is vast, but its utility is minimal, because it isn’t designed to take advantage of context.
They are not engineering serendipitous conversations
Professionals react to “help requests” or ask for “tips, information or help” in an ad hoc manner across networks. Often, they don’t ask or give, just out of inertia. For the asker, this creates friction, and they don’t ask in the network the next time around. The networks don’t do a good job of parsing the person’s connections to suggest which subset should they target their broadcast to for a given context.
The nudge to ask and the nudge to give has to be explicitly designed till the habit forms.

Connections and commerce — the force multiplier

The absence of a truly valuable professional network — one where the participants (users like you and I) gain more than the customers (recruiters and sales reps) points to the fact that a simple professional network isn’t a pragmatic design when we think about reinventing outreach.
A professional network is only as valuable as the ease of access I have, as a user, to the real identities and network profiles of my connections. I need to know who I am connected with, what they care for, their needs and wants, whether they are a giver or a taker, etc. Professional networks also should acknowledge the fact that “giving and taking” is essentially commerce paid through social currency. Some pre-pay (karma or pay it forward), others post-pay (“I owe you one” as we practice in the world of selling).

Come to think of it, a well-designed professional network will have to be a true market-network of professionals, where they engage with each other meaningfully through a clear understanding of each other’s profile and transact primarily to give or take help in professional contexts.Networks that ignore the “intent” of connections and subvert the natural urge of commerce become materially less important networks (to quote the words of Wall Street about LinkedIn) for the purpose of outreach and relationship building.
Unlike a general professional network, a professional market-network will organize itself around interests and backgrounds (micro-networks, if you would) of the users, and enable them to transact with each other more than merely being used as sources of data — a gross under-utilization of the value of the network for all the participants.
With such a network, outreach becomes focused and curated — making it a better experience for everyone involved.

Pokémon Go is doing a lot of good, here are 3 surprising ways

Pokémon Go is doing a lot of good, here are 3 surprising ways
“What are they doing?”
That was the question an older woman, probably around 70 or so, asked me yesterday. She was pointing to a group of 18-ish boys and girls near a YMCA, the biggest (and, so far, only) Pokestop in the city where I live. Without exception, the teens were all staring at their smartphones.
“They’re playing Pokémon Go,” I replied. The lady didn’t comment, but her facial expression was a mix of disconcert and skepticism.
Let’s face it: For people who didn’t grow up playing Pokémon, the whole Pokémon Go mania might seem like an overreaction. I understand their feelings. I can testify that some of the people who showed up at the Pokémon Go meetup in Chicago acted like, well, fanatics.
About 5.000 people showed up at a Pokémon Go meeting near Cloud Gate in Chicago last Sunday. (Photo: Lucia Maffei/TechCrunch)
About 5.000 people showed up at a Pokémon Go meeting near Cloud Gate in Chicago last Sunday. (Photo: Lucia Maffei/TechCrunch)
But even detractors of the game should admit that playing it gets people moving. This is a big deal at least in the U.S., where more than one-third of adults are obese. And the game has other, more unexpected positive consequences.
1. Getting kids out of their hospital beds
Photo credit: the University of Michigan Health System
Photo credit: the University of Michigan Health System
A Michigan children’s hospital is using the game to encourage young patients to do physical activity and socialize with each other. 
“Physical activity is not something patients necessarily want to do,” said J.J. Bouchard, digital media manager at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. “But kids got excited about the game, so they don’t mind. Playing Pokémon Go encourages them not only to move, but also to go out of their rooms and talk to one another or to the hospital staff.”
Under the section “Children & Family life,” the hospital provides a list of Pokémon landmarks in and around the hospital buildings to facilitate meetings among players, as well as a set of guidelines about how to play without invading other patients’ privacy.
2. Encouraging people to explore their cities
“While catching Pidgeys and Squirtles has been a nostalgic blast, I didn’t expect to simultaneously discover the many cool, quirky sculptures and monuments throughout New York City,” Daniel Jameson, assistant digital editor for Condé Nast, wrote in an article for Condé Nast Traveler. “Now that they’re utilized in the augmented reality game as integral Pokéstops, places like Alexander Hamilton’s grave, Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube, and the sundial in Sir Winston Churchill Square have collectively created an original travelers guide to the metropolis—one sweetened with the rewards of adventure.”
Tourism agencies and independent guides did not miss the chance to potentially attract more customers using the game, either. A “Pokemon Go City Tour” is launching this weekend in Austin, Texas (participants pay $25 or $35, depends on the day) and in downtown Chicago (for $10).
3. Getting shelter dogs walked, and possibly adopted
Muncie1The Muncie Animal Shelter in Muncie, Indiana offered Pokémon Go players the opportunity to walk an adoptable dog for free while hunting for Pokémon and hatch eggs.
According to a shelter representative, the response of the community was astonishing.
“We have lost count of the number of people who came here to walk one of our dogs,” said Melissa Blair, assistant superintendent at the Muncie shelter since January. “Since a week ago, volunteers were probably over 250.”
Blair also said that four dogs were adopted following a “Pokémon Go walking” with a potential owner. A local family, for example, showed up at the shelter twice and then decided to adopt a black labrador. “Children bonded with the dog, and the whole process was really natural,” Blair commented.
Since its release in the U.S., the game has been blamed for some negative events, too. In Missouri,a gang of four people used the app to target potential victims and rob them. Many car accidents all over the world have apparently resulted from people playing while driving. Also, The Washington Post reported that a representative of the Holocaust Museum had to remind visitors that “playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism.”
So yes, critics have reason to shake their heads. But the examples above prove that there’s a lot of good, both for individuals and the community, that can come from the Pokémon Go phenomenon. The fact is that a video game inspiring the kinds of acts described above is a very rare thing, and you could argue that Pokémon Go is unique in the kind of scale it brings to its positive effects, and that’s worth paying attention to.

Judge finds Gravity4 CEO Gurbaksh Chahal violated probation in domestic violence case

Judge finds Gravity4 CEO Gurbaksh Chahal violated probation in domestic violence case
A San Francisco judge ruled today that adtech CEO Gurbaksh Chahal violated his probation in a domestic violence case. Judge Tracie Brown ordered Chahal to surrender his passports to the court on Monday and will determine his sentence on August 12.
Chahal’s legal woes began when he was accused of attacking a woman inside his penthouse apartment in August 2013. Prosecutors said security footage from the apartment showed him hitting and kicking the woman 117 times, but a judge later ruled the video could not be played in court. Chahal struck a deal in April 2014 that allowed him to plead guilty to misdemeanor battery charges without facing any jail time. Instead, Chahal agreed to three years on probation, a year-long domestic violence rehabilitation course and 25 hours of community service.
After his guilty plea, Chahal was forced out of his position as CEO of RadiumOne. He went on to found another company, Gravity4. Scandal followed Chahal to his new company; a Gravity4 employee sued him for gender discrimination and surveillance.
Chahal’s play-nice probation stint lasted only five months. According to prosecutors, Chahal attacked another woman in his bedroom in the early morning hours of September 17, 2014. The woman told police Chahal repeatedly kicked her, then threatened to report her to immigration authorities when she talked about getting a restraining order against him. The woman, who Chahal’s lawyer has accused of being in a sham marriage with another man in order to receive a green card, fled back to South Korea and has not appeared in court during the probation revocation hearings.

The absence of the woman, who TechCrunch is not naming because she is an alleged victim of domestic violence, has created problems for the prosecution and defense alike. Assistant district attorney O’Bryan Kenney struggled to convince the judge to consider the woman’s statements to police and medical professionals as evidence. Chahal’s attorney, James Lassart, argued that the documents amounted to hearsay because the woman was not present. Lassart claimed that her absence harmed the defense as well because he could not require her to authenticate emails and text messages.
Kenney has claimed that the woman is not present because she was intimidated by Chahal and his bodyguard,Moepulou “Kapp” Alaisa. After the September 2014 incident, Chahal and Alaisa exchanged text messages about reporting the woman to immigration authorities (during the revocation hearings, Alaisa claimed he did not remember sending or receiving these messages).
But Alaisa did admit that he visited the woman at her home just hours after the alleged attack to discuss her immigration status. “I wanted to remind her what she told me [about her marriage],” Alaisa testified, adding that he was trying to protect Chahal and himself. “I did it for him and for me,” he said.
Kenney argued that Chahal should not benefit from the woman’s absence, saying that testimony from investigators and medical professionals who examined her injuries should be considered. “The defendant should not benefit from his wrongdoing, his concerted effort to prevent the witness from ever coming to a courtroom,” Kenney said.
It appears that, as the domestic violence investigation wore on, Gravity4 suffered — just as RadiumOne did during Chahal’s first case. Text messages between Chahal and his Gravity4 co-founder, Dan Grigorovici, were also used against the millionaire executive in court. Grigorovici left the company just months before the hearings began in April, according to his LinkedIn.
The hearings have dragged on over the course of the summer, with Judge Brown ultimately deciding that there was enough evidence of domestic violence in the case to revoke Chahal’s probation. Judge Brown also ruled that the surveillance video of the 2013 assault is admissible in the probation revocation hearings — so it’s possible that the footage may finally become public.
Chahal’s attorney, James Lassart, did not return a request for comment. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated. 

Banks should not underestimate Facebook Messenger

Banks should not underestimate Facebook Messenger
Before you say that Facebook is no longer perceived as cool with today’s youth, do you know what’s even less cool? Banks.
When you break down the numbers, coolness becomes less relevant. Because when it comes to user engagement, Facebook’s reigns supreme above all others.
WhatsApp has exceeded 1 billion users, and Facebook Messenger reports 900 million users, handling 60 billion messages a day combined — three times the number of traditional text messages.
The combination of chat and payments have already proven to be a great success, as exemplified by the launch of Facebook PaySnapcash by Snapchat, WeChat’s integrated payment solution and Kakao Pay in Kakao Talk in South Korea.
However, the potential for chat apps in financial services is by no means limited to social payments. Facebook has already confirmed that they are pursuing Wechat’s success, venturing into eCommerce. This is only the beginning.
The introduction of chatbots on the Facebook messenger platform could revolutionize the way we look at relationship banking. Digibank in India is based entirely on a chat interface, and allows its customers to do all their everyday banking needs through a chat interface.
Even opening their initial bank account. By applying machine learning and natural language processing, the chat interface is able to handle a wide variety of everyday banking use-cases that was previously solved by navigating through user-unfriendly mobile banking apps or contacting customer service representatives.
Facebook messenger’s  chatbots will have a significant impact on banking, as a majority of banking services could be automated through simple chat request like “what is my daily spending limit until my next paycheck” or “approve and pay my outstanding bills”. The impact of chatbots is not limited to simple daily banking requests. AJ Bell is aiming to utilize Facebook chatbots to offer trading services for investors, as well as Personetics that delivers personalized financial guidance to customers everywhere through their AI-powered chatbot.
The bots for messenger platform represent a unprecedented opportunity for incumbents to increase customer engagement. Banks are in possession of vast amount of user data that is invaluable for unsupervised machine learning as well as intangible know-how through years of experience for supervised machine learning.
Chat apps and virtual assistants is predicted to be the future of user interaction, and may even replace traditional web browsers and traditional online search as we know it. Banks should not underestimate the disruptive power of chat apps. Remember, it was a banker who once said: The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.

Asia Pacific cross-border payment startup Airwallex lands $3M

Asia Pacific cross-border payment startup Airwallex lands $3M
Fintech companies are continuing to draw interest from investors in Asia. The latest company to pull in financing is Airwallex, a China-Australia startup that specializes in cross-border transactions.
The Melbourne-headquartered company this week announced a $3 million seed round led by Chinese investment Gobi Partners, with participation from angel investors Huashan Capital One and Billy Tam, CEO of China’s Easylink Payments.
The startup aims to ease the headache and cost of cross-border purchases by enabling consumers to buy items from outside of their country using their local currency. In essence it uses the same principles as London-based Transferwise in that it reduces the costs that both merchants and consumers eat up when is the two parties are using different currencies.
Airwallex CEO and co-founder Jack Zhang came upon the idea after growing tired of the additional cost of importing goods from overseas for a coffee shop business that he invested in while working for banks in Australia. Zhang, formerly with ANZ and NAB, decided that tech could provide a better solution and he founded Airwallex alongside four other co-founders, including CTO Jacob Dai and COO Lucy Yueting Liu, who spent time working foreign exchange for Barclays Bank.
Screenshot 2016-07-08 16.18.52
Zhang told TechCrunch in an interview that this pre-Series A round was wrapped up particularly quickly, taking just two weeks to close.
“There’s a big opportunity here in Asia especially as the e-commerce is really taking off worldwide,” he said. “E-commerce players aren’t satisfied in their own country, and want to go global.”
The company uses inter-bank exchanges to trade forex at a mid-market rate, something which Zhang said can save its clients as much as 90 percent on their foreign exchange rates.
The service is in a closed beta right now and is expected to launch within a month, it is currently waiting on regulatory approval in Australia. The concept is similar to Braintree or Stripe, a system that sits behind the merchant — invisible to end-customers — through which payment is made. Airwallex itself will make money via a transaction fee based on the volume of payments it handles.
The company has around 20 people in Melbourne, its main office, with a dozen staff in China and a handful based in Hong Kong. Zhang said the new funds will be used mainly on marketing, hiring and product development, Airwallex is also developing a wallet solution that will enable customers and merchants to hold multiple currencies at the same time.
China, Hong Kong and Australia are the young company’s initial focus markets, but it has plans to expand to Singapore, Japan and Korea. The company is aiming to raise a Series A round before the end of the year to help finance that expansion.

Oops! Wearables can leak your PINs and passwords

Oops! Wearables can leak your PINs and passwords
The security nightmare posed by the Internet of Things isn’t just related to the lack of expertise in the types of companies adding connectivity to gizmos and gadgets.
It’s the sensitivity of the connected sensors, strewn hither and thither, opening up potential attack vectors for determined hackers. Hence the need for really robust security thinking to lock down the risks.
To wit: wearables.
Collaborative research conducted by a team from the department of electrical and computing engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology and Binghamton University in New York State, has demonstrated how a wearable device such as a smartwatch could end up compromising a user’s PIN thanks to the motion sensing data it generates.
The team combined wearable sensor data harvested from more than 5,000 key entry traces made by 20 adults with an algorithm they created to infer key entry sequences based on analyzing hand movements, applying the technique to different types of keypads (including ATM style and Qwerty keypad variants) and using three different wearables (two smartwatches and a nine-axis motion-tracking device).
The result? They were able to crack PINs with 80 per cent accuracy on the first attempt, and more than 90 per cent accuracy after three ties… Ouch. Albeit, I guess you can say wearables are useful for something then.
Here’s a description of the work from their research paper:
In this work, we show that a wearable device can be exploited to discriminate mm-level distances and directions of the user’s fine-grained hand movements, which enable attackers to reproduce the trajectories of the user’s hand and further to recover the secret key entries. In particular, our system confirms the possibility of using embedded sensors in wearable devices, i.e., accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, to derive the moving distance of the user’s hand between consecutive key entries regardless of the pose of the hand. Our Backward PIN-Sequence Inference algorithm exploits the inherent physical constraints between key entries to infer the complete user key entry sequence.
The research was reported earlier by IEEE Spectrum. One of the researchers, professor Yan Wang, told IEEE it’s the volume of sensors in wearables that enables the technique to work by providing “sufficient information” of hand movements. So clearly more can in fact mean less (secure).
To eliminate errors when trying to calculate distance moved based on acceleration he said the team worked backwards from the final movement in an input sequence, which was likely to be pressing enter on the keypad. Allowing them to translate the rest of the key presses.
The attack method would not require a hacker to be nearby when a person inputs their PIN, rather the necessary data packets could be stolen by a wireless sniffer placed close to a keypad to capture Bluetooth packets being sent from the wearable to a smartphone. Or via malware installed on the wearable or smartphone to intercept the data and send it on to the attacker.
And while most PINs are just a handful of digits, the team believes the technique could actually be used to power a full keylogger.
“This can be extended to snoop keystrokes and interpret people’s passwords or what has been typed,” professor Yingying Chen, another of the researchers involved in the project, told TechCrunch. “We have another research project about this.”
“Both smart watches and fitness bands pose a risk,” she added of the overall vulnerability.
One way to avoid the risk of your smartwatch or fitness bangle leaking your PIN to a determined hacker is to input the digits with your other, non-wearable-wearing hand. Chen confirmed this would prevent the technique from working.
An alternative strategy for those who do wear a wearable on the hand they enter PINs and passwords is to add some ‘noise’ to the operation — by randomly jerking their hand between key presses, said Wang. Which won’t look at all weird.
Fixing the vulnerability at source would require wearable manufacturers to better secure sensing data being generated by the devices, according to Wang.
He added they could also obscure the signal being leaked by the sensors by injecting noise into the data so it could not be so easily reverse engineered.
On the signal obfuscation front, at its WWDC developer conference this summer wearable maker Apple announced it would be using a technique called differential privacy on the forthcoming version of its mobile OS, iOS 10, to help obscure individuals’ personal data but still allow for large-scale trend patterns to be inferred by analyzing the data in bulk.
Safe to say, in a security sense, having more noise with your signal can actually be a boon.

Coinbase eyes Japan expansion after landing investment from Bank of Tokyo

Coinbase eyes Japan expansion after landing investment from Bank of Tokyo
Coinbase, one of the world’s largest bitcoin companies, has set its sights on Japan after landing funding from a range of Japanese investors, including Bank of Tokyo and a firm that helped Twitter enter the country.
The U.S. company announced that it has partnered with Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) to “support [its] long-term international expansion efforts” — in other words, expand its services to Japan. Coinbase also disclosed that it secured investment from BTMU, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital (MUCAP), and Sozo Ventures, a U.S.-Japanese fund that counts Twitter and LinkedIn among its investments.
Coinbase offers a consumer wallet service for buying bitcoin and spending it across various merchant partners, while it also operates a platform for institutional investors. The company has raised more than $100 million from investors, including its most recent $75 million round led by DFJ in January 2015. Reuters reported that the investment from Japan is $10.5 million.
The San Francisco-based company expanded to Singapore, its first port of call in Asia, last year, but it doesn’t currently have a target for when it will open an exchange in Japan — a move that will require the nod from regulators.
“While we do not yet offer digital currency exchange services in Japan, we are committed to continued international expansion and look forward to working with BTMU to support this focus in key markets in Asia and globally,” Coinbase said in a statement.
Japan is most notable in the bitcoin world for being the home of Mt. Gox, the controversial company that self-combusted two years ago following rumors of theft and fraud. These days, Japan is home to a number of exchanges — including BitflyerKrakenQuoine andCoincheckThe country passed new laws governing bitcoin earlier this year in response to the Mt. Gox meltdown.

Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes banned from operating blood testing labs

Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes banned from operating blood testing labs
Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of blood analysis startup Theranos has been banned from operating a blood testing lab for the next two years. Where this leaves the founder of the testing company and how it can continue to operate with her banned from operating a blood testing facility remains to be seen.
Holmes’ censure, first noted in the Wall Street Journal, is based on a regulatory review of Theranos’ Newark, California lab and includes a monetary penalty of an unspecified amount.
A company statement over the matter reads:
We accept full responsibility for the issues at our laboratory in Newark, California, and have already worked to undertake comprehensive remedial actions. Those actions include shutting down and subsequently rebuilding the Newark lab from the ground up, rebuilding quality systems, adding highly experienced leadership, personnel and experts, and implementing enhanced quality and training procedures.
While we are disappointed by CMS’ decision, we take these matters very seriously and are committed to fully resolving all outstanding issues with CMS and to demonstrating our dedication to the highest standards of quality and compliance.
The company has also had regulatory approval removed for its California lab.
Theranos, a once Silicon Valley darling purportedly worth $9 billion took a dramatic nose dive after coming under intense scrutiny over the last eight months from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Several Journal articles began to raise questions about the accuracy of the startup’s technology used on patients and CMS declared the company was putting patients in “immediate danger.”
Theranos voided thousands of its test results taken over the last two years it said were not up to its own standards and was forced to shut down operations at its Newark facility while it tried to get in compliance. Walgreens, the company’s biggest partner, recently severed ties with Theranos as well.
CMS suggested months earlier Holmes might be banned from the industry for a time and now it seems that time has come.
The ban won’t take effect for 60 days but no lab tests will be conducted out of its California facility in the meantime. Instead, the company will continue to serve customers from its Arizona lab.
Article updated to note that Holmes has been banned, specifically, from operating a blood-testing laboratory, rather than Theranos as a company.

News discovery app SmartNews nabs another $38M, now valued at $500M-$600M

News discovery app SmartNews nabs another $38M, now valued at $500M-$600M
As large platforms like Facebook and Apple position themselves as the new go-to places to read news, an independent app that started in Japan has landed a new round of funding to raise its own game. SmartNews — a news aggregation app that works with some 1,500 publications and selects stories for you based on your reading activity in the app — has raised another $38 million in a Series D round of funding.
The startup is now approaching 20 million downloads and will be using the funding to continue growing that user base, as well as its overall revenues, especially outside of its home market. It will also use the investment for hiring and expanding its machine learning-based news-combing technology.
The investment — led by the Development Bank of Japan, with SMBC Venture Capital and Japan Co-Invest L.P. participating — brings the total raised by SmartNews to about $90 million. The company isn’t disclosing its valuation but I understand from reliable sources that it is between $500 million and $600 million, post money. That’s a considerable bump on last year, when it raised funding at a $320 million valuation. 
Interestingly, when SmartNews raised that previous Series C, co-founder Kaisei Hamamoto told me that it was in part to expand into the U.S., where it would likely be raising money next. As it turned out, Japan has remained SmartNews’ single biggest market with 10 million users, and so that’s where investors seemed most interested.
“Just as important as the funding is the continuing expansion of the Japanese business and the ramping up of our U.S. business,” said Rich Jaroslavsky, the startup’s VP of content and ‘chief journalist.’ “We’re feeling very good about things.”
He added that while the U.S. and other international markets are still advertising-free, the Japanese operation is big enough that it makes sense to monetize.
“Business has been doing so well in Japan that it has diminished any pressure to start monetizing in the U.S., and that’s wonderful,” he said. 
It has thrown itself into that model with inline advertising, video ads, and deals with publishers to sell ads against “SmartViews”, which is SmartNews’s zippy-loading equivalent of Google’s AMP or Facebook’s Instant Articles. (“We had AMP before AMP,” is how Jaroslavsky describes it flatly.)
While the printed newspaper industry has undeniably been in decline, today we’re ironically in something of a news renaissance that is being carried out in the digital world. We get news instantly; and there is a lot of it to read, sometimes too much.
Some of the biggest newspaper brands have recreated audiences online, but the bigger development has been about how we discover that news today, and that has been about shifting the consumption platform away from those direct news sources and towards aggregators bringing in several sources at once.
But just as there are a ton of primary news sources, there are also a hefty number of aggregators, all taking slightly different approaches. SmartNews competes against biggies like Facebook tapping into its vast social network user base (and shifting priorities as a platform, it seems); Apple News, which found an instant audience by virtue of being preinstalled on its iPhone and iPad devices; and Flipboard, a first-mover with a loyal and large number of readers.
That’s before you consider a number of interesting smaller and newer services like Nuzzel, Quibb and Owler that also aggregate, recommend and surface things people are writing and talking about.
SmartNews is somewhat distinctive in that sea of competition, in that the company has built all of its algorithms for sorting news from the bottom up. As such it lets those algorithms do all the legwork to surface, suggest, and curate. This is not the case, for example, at Facebook or Apple News, where humans are very much involved in the selection process, sometimes to controversial ends.
“My title is chief journalist, and we chose that rather than editor in chief for a specific reason,” Jaroslavsky told me. “If I were to call myself EIC it would imply editing. But while I am a journalist and employing journalistic skills, it’s not to select stories but to work with engineers to recognise the algorithm and make it smarter and recognize how to find good stories.”
In fact, it’s done the same with its ad products, and that is another unique selling point for SmartNews in Japan. “Most publishers to do not have an easy plug and play for ads, and so we’ve really become one of the more prominent ad networks for news space in Japan.”
All this adds up to a good business for SmartNews at home. As it continues to build that business there, we’ll continue to watch to see if it will be enough to break through in more oversaturated markets like the U.S.

VCs are betting on the great Chinese fitness boom

VCs are betting on the great Chinese fitness boom
As the Chinese economy has boomed in the last decade, millions of people have entered the middle class. And the Chinese aren’t just getting wealthier, they’re getting fitter. China, it seems, is in the midst of a workout craze — and that represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for venture investors to back emerging health and wellness technology companies.

Health-obsessed youth culture

In particular, China’s vast millennial population of young people aged 18-35 — more than 385 million strong — is hitting the gym, running marathons, participating in exercise classes and playing and watching sports in record numbers. This generation, the first to grow up in the “new” capitalistic China, wants far more from life than their parents did.
In keeping with the Maslow hierarchy of needs, they aren’t content with simply a roof over their head and food on the table, as were previous generations who lived in times of communist control and scarcity. China’s highly educated, internet-savvy, global-traveling young people want it all — and that includes being fit. Young women, in particular, are eager to stay trim and cultivate a toned look, sharing photos of their slim physiques on social media.
Chinese young people have caught the fitness bug so much that gym and health-club revenue in China has nearly doubled during the past five years, and is expected to total more than $5 billion this year, according to research firm IBIS World. Though that falls short of the nearly $25 billion figure in the U.S., China’s health and fitness industry is far younger and growing far faster.
“Only a couple of years ago, it would have been difficult to find Chinese women breaking a sweat while lifting weights or huffing and puffing through strenuous workouts,” read a recent Wall Street Journal article about the Chinese fitness craze. Now, companies like Nike, Under Armour, Adidas and The North Face are opening stores and growing sales in China at a breakneck clip.

Wide-ranging investment opportunities

When China adopts a craze, the number of people joining is staggering, just by sheer population size. That’s why the VC industry is so bullish on investing in sports and fitness startups, in particular in three categories.
Fitness and health apps. This broad category encompasses wellness apps, fitness trackers, content and communities and any other mobile-driven consumer wellness platform. These apps are particularly popular among the 280 million people aged 15-25 in China, who have grown up on their smartphones. Chinese youth are fashion-focused, want to look good and feel healthy and are eager to try global health crazes like yoga, pilates and marathons.
Chinese millennials continue to look for new ways to become healthier and happier.
They use apps to watch fitness videos, take part in group workouts, track their progress and monitor their eating. Appsthat make fitness game-like, goal-oriented and fun are hugely popular with Chinese millennials. Companies in this category include social workout app Keep (a GGV investment), Daily Yoga, run-tracker Codoon and Yuepaoquan, which helps users find and schedule running groups. Increasingly, Chinese young people are becoming sports spectators, too, and enjoy using apps to follow and comment on their favorite teams.
Smart fitness and connected sports devices. From wearables that track steps taken or calories burned to devices that help improve your golf swing or soccer kicks, Chinese consumers love to collect data on themselves in their quest toward fitness. As investors, backing these types of device companies is also a “data play.”
Once device companies figure out ways to use this data to help people become healthier, save money, lose weight or reach other goals, they’ll become far more than “gadget” companies and more like consumer market research firms. Companies leading the pack in this respect in China include both U.S. and Chinese firms, such as FitbitMi BandMisfit and Nike+.
Freedom and the great outdoors. Chinese young people today believe in an ethos of freedom. They don’t want to be tied down to owning a house or car, and they want to be free to choose their own friends, hobbies and careers. This ethos extends to how Chinese young people play sports and engage in outdoor recreation.
Tech startups that facilitate people “getting outside” will be a huge market — everything from apps that help consumers find local soccer and basketball leagues to participate in, to those bringing people together for outdoor bootcamp training sessions.
Just three decades ago, young people in China were more worried about getting enough food ration coupons.
What’s more, this category extends to frontier-tech companies such as GGV investment Niu, maker of an electric scooter popular among urban Chinese millennials who use them not just to navigate the clogged streets of Beijing, but also to get away from the smog and stress. It’s common to see people piloting Niu scooters to the mountains and beaches on the weekends, because hiking, rock climbing and surfing are all outdoor sports young Chinese consumers are eager to experience. Taiwanese company Gogorohas likewise launched a smart scooter, as well as a battery charging infrastructure to go with it.
When you see the gyms and pilates studios dotting Beijing streets or legions of young people hiking mountain trails in their North Face jackets, it’s easy to forget that just three decades ago, young people in China were more worried about getting enough food ration coupons than they were about getting toned enough to wear a new Lululemon outfit.
But China has changed at an astonishing rate, and its young people today are just like their counterparts in other developed countries — hungry for self fulfillment and personal success. As Chinese millennials continue to look for new ways to become healthier and happier, investors are clearly banking on the China fitness boom to not only continue, but to accelerate.