Архив метки: CEO

Snapchat shares hit all-time low as search acquisition Vurb’s CEO bails

Snapchat’s sagging share price is making it tough to retain talent. Bobby Lo, founder and CEO of mobile search app Vurb that Snap Inc acquired for $114.5 million two years ago is leaving day-to-day operations at the company. That means Lo cut out early on his four-year retention package vesting schedule, which was likely influenced by Snapchat falling to new share price lows. Snap is trading around $9.15 today, compared to its $17 IPO price and $24 first-day close.
That’s down over 7 percent from yesterday following BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield gave Snap a sell rating with a target price of $5 saying “We are tired of Snapchat’s excuses for missing numbers and are no longer willing to give management ‘time’ to figure out monetization.” Greenfield is known as one of the top social network analysts, so people take him seriously when he says “We have been disappointed in SNAP’s product evolution (as have users) and see no reason to believe this will change.”

Vurb is a good example of this. The app let users make plans with friends to visit local places, allowing them to bundle restaurants, movie theaters, and more into shareable decks of search cards. It took over a year after the October 2016 acquisition for the tech to be integrated into Snapchat in the form of context cards in search. But Snap never seemed to figure out how to make its content-craving teen audience care about Vurb’s utility. Snap could have built powerful offline meetup tools out of the cards but never did, and lackluster Snap Map adoption furthered clouded the company’s path forward around local businesses.

Now Lo tells TechCrunch of his departure, “Building experiences at Snap has been a wonderful culmination of my seven-year startup journey with Vurb. My transition to an advisor at Snap lets me continue supporting the amazing people there while directing my time back into startups, starting with investing and advising in founders.”
Lo was early to embrace the monolithic app style pioneered by WeChat in China that’s become increasingly influential in the states. Snap confirmed the departure while trying to downplay it. A spokesperson tells me, “Bobby transitioned to an advisory role this summer, and we appreciate his continued contributions to Snap.”
Given Snap is known to back-weight its stock vesting schedules, Lo could be leaving over half of his retention shares on the table. That decision should worry investors. As a solo founder, Lo already made off with a big chunk of the acquisition price that including $21 million in cash and $83 million in stock, so with the company’s share price so low, he might have had little incentive to stay.
 
Snapchat Context Cards built from Vurb’s acquired technology
Since last July, Snap has lost a ton of talent including SVP of Engineering Tim Sehn, early employee Chloe Drimal, VP of HR and Legal Robyn Thomas and VP of Securities and Facilities Martin Lev, CFO Drew Vollero, VP of product Tom Conrad, TimeHop co-founder Jonathan Wegener, Spectacles team lead Mark Randall, ad tech manager Sriram Krishnan, head of sales Jeff Lucas, and just last week, its COO Imran Khan.
With its user count shrinking, constant competition from Facebook and Instagram, and talent fleeing, it’s hard to see a bright future for Snap. Unless CEO Evan Spiegel, without the help of his departed lieutenants, can come up with a groundbreaking new product that’s not easy to copy, we could be looking at downward spiral for the ephemeral app. At what point must Snap consider selling itself to Google, Apple, Tencent, Disney, or whoever will take on the distressed social network?

Snapchat shares hit all-time low as search acquisition Vurb’s CEO bails

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Coinbase wants to be Facebook Connect for crypto. The blockchain giant plans to develop “Login with Coinbase” or a similar identity platform for decentralized app developers to make it much easier for users to sign up and connect their crypto wallets. To fuel that platform, today Coinbase announced it has acquired Distributed Systems, a startup founded in 2015 that was building an identity standard for dApps called the Clear Protocol.
The five-person Distributed Systems team and its technology will join Coinbase. Three of the team members will work with Coinbase’s Toshi decentralized mobile browser team, while CEO Nikhil Srinivasan and his co-founder Alex Kern are forming the new decentralized identity team that will work on the Login with Coinbase product. They’ll be building it atop the “know your customer” anti-money laundering data Coinbase has on its 20 million customers. Srinivasan tells me the goal is to figure out “How can we allow that really rich identity data to enable a new class of applications?”

Distributed Systems had raised a $1.7 million seed round last year led by Floodgate and was considering raising a $4 million to $8 million round this summer. But Srinivasan says, “No one really understood what we’re building,” and it wanted a partner with KYC data. It began talking to Coinbase Ventures about an investment, but after they saw Distributed Systems’ progress and vision, “they quickly tried to move to find a way to acquire us.”
Distributed Systems began to hold acquisition talks with multiple major players in the blockchain space, and the CEO tells me it was deciding between going to “Facebook, or Robinhood, or Binance, or Coinbase,” having been in formal talks with at least one of the first three. Of Coinbase the CEO said, they “were able to convince us they were making big bets, weaving identity across their products.” The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Coinbase’s plan to roll out the Login with Coinbase-style platform is an SDK that others apps could integrate, though that won’t necessarily be the feature’s name. That mimics the way Facebook colonized the web with its SDK and login buttons that splashed its brand in front of tons of new and existing users. This turned Facebook into a fundamental identity utility beyond its social network.
Developers eager to improve conversions on their signup flow could turn to Coinbase instead of requiring users to set up whole new accounts and deal with crypto-specific headaches of complicated keys and procedures for connecting their wallet to make payments. One prominent dApp developer told me yesterday that forcing users to set up the MetaMask browser extension for identity was the part of their signup flow where they’re losing the most people.
This morning Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong confirmed these plans to work on an identity SDK. When Coinbase investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital wrote that “The main issue preventing dApp adoption is lack of native SDK so you can just download a mobile app and a clean fiat to crypto in one clean UX. Still have to download a browser plugin and transfer Eth to Metamask for now Too much friction,” Armstrong replied “On it :)”

On it 🙂
— Brian Armstrong (@brian_armstrong) August 15, 2018

In effect, Coinbase and Distributed Systems could build a safer version of identity than we get offline. As soon as you give your Social Security number to someone or it gets stolen, it can be used anywhere without your consent, and that leads to identity theft. Coinbase wants to build a vision of identity where you can connect to decentralized apps while retaining control. “Decentralized identity will let you prove that you own an identity, or that you have a relationship with the Social Security Administration, without making a copy of that identity,” writes Coinbase’s PM for identity B. Byrne, who’ll oversee Srinivasan’s new decentralized identity team. “If you stretch your imagination a little further, you can imagine this applying to your photos, social media posts, and maybe one day your passport too.”
Considering Distributed Systems and Coinbase are following the Facebook playbook, they may soon have competition from the social network. It’s spun up its own blockchain team and an identity and single sign-on platform for dApps is one of the products I think Facebook is most likely to build. But given Coinbase’s strong reputation in the blockchain industry and its massive head start in terms of registered crypto users, today’s acquisition well position it to be how we connect our offline identity with the rising decentralized economy.

What the Facebook Crypto team could build

Coinbase acquires Distributed Systems to build ‘Login with Coinbase’

Former Viki CEO Tammy Nam joins PicsArt as its first COO

PicsArt, the company behind the photo-editing app of the same name, has hired Tammy Nam as its first chief operating officer.
Nam was most recently the CEO of Viki, the Rakuten-acquired video streaming service, and before that served as a marketing executive at Viki, Scribd and Slide.
PicsArt said Nam will report to founder and CEO Hovhannes Avoyan, and that she will oversee all aspects of the business except for product and engineering.
“PicsArt has grown organically so far, but our next big opportunity is in directing this growth through the right market development, community engagement and revenue channels,” Avoyan said in the announcement. “In addition to her proven operational experience in both consumer advertising and subscription-based businesses, Tammy adds deep bench strength in market, brand and community development — areas that will be critical for us moving forward.”
The company announced last year that it’s reaching 100 million monthly active users. Nam told me she was particularly impressed that it achieved that growth without significant marketing spend.
“I understand what it takes to grow quickly, but also thoughtfully,” she said. “Because of my background, the CEO and the board felt like I would be a great match to [help PicsArt] reach the next 200 million, the next 500 million users.”

Asked what thoughtful growth looks like for PicsArt, Nam said it means not just growing at any cost, but also considering things like revenue and the different communities using the app. She said she’s trying to examine the company’s structure to ensure it can “maximize efficiencies towards these big goals.”
“It will continue to grow organically, but the branding, the user development will definitely evolve,” she added. “There’s a sea of companies that play in our space … How do you stand out? And how do you stay relevant?”
Nam also said that she’ll be looking at PicsArt’s opportunities for international growth. Not that the company has been neglecting the world beyond the United States — China is its fastest-growing market and already one of its top countries for revenue. (The company says it recently became profitable following the launch of its PicsArt Gold subscription.)
Nam suggested that PicsArt can move into new markets without competing with the dominant social media platforms, because it’s “agnostic” in terms of where users publish their edited photos.
“It’s completely lowered the barrier,” she said. “It used to be you had to know Photoshop. Now it’s so easy to create professional-looking photos, images and soon animations, videos, etc. Everyone is a creator.”

Former Viki CEO Tammy Nam joins PicsArt as its first COO

Dating app Hinge is ditching the Facebook login requirement

Hinge, the dating app that promised a better set of prospects by suggesting matches who share Facebook friends, is about to radically change its course: it’s ditching its requirement that users log in with Facebook. The change will go into effect on Monday, June 5th on Android, followed by a June 12th release on iOS.
While the option to use Facebook won’t be fully removed, users will instead be able to choose to authenticate using their phone number, the company says.
The decision was prompted by ongoing requests from users who have asked for a non-Facebook login option, Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod says. This is especially important to the company as people “move away from Facebook and onto other platforms,” he notes.
This may refer to younger users’ preference for different social platforms, as reflected by a Pew Internet survey released this week, which found that teens are dumping Facebook proper for YouTube, Snapchat and (Facebook-owed) Instagram. 
But Hinge isn’t the first dating app to go this route. Bumble also recently said it was removing the Facebook requirement, in response to user feedback.

In Hinge’s case, however, the decision changes the dating app’s fundamental value proposition, which was focused on matching singles with people they were already connected to by way of Facebook friends, up to three degrees away. The premise was that this would make online dating feel less creepy. And, because you shared mutual friends, you’d be less concerned that the person was a total nut.
This also helped Hinge stand out in a space that’s dominated by Tinder, which could often seem random and filled with those not in search of “real relationships,” let’s say.
Over the years, Hinge doubled down on this brand position with call-outs like “meet friends of friends, not randos” in its marketing materials.
Its user profiles, meanwhile, focus less on users’ looks — unlike the Hot or Not-ish Tinder. Instead, users answer getting-to-know-you questions and share fun, personality-revealing facts on their profile, along with photos and videos. But the goal is to present not just the person’s face or body, but their goals, interests and way they view the world.
Hinge had also experimented with features that make online dating less frustrating, ranging from anti-ghosting reduction features to an app that allows your friends to take over for you. (This has since shut down.)
It’s unclear how well these moves have paid off for Hinge in the long run, as the company won’t share user numbers. It will only say the active member base has doubled since the beginning of the year. However, Sensor Tower estimates Hinge has more than 3 million worldwide downloads across both iOS and Android, 94 percent of which are in the U.S.
The removal of the Facebook requirement, not at all coincidentally, comes at an interesting time for dating app businesses in general, which have just learned Facebook now aims to compete with them directly.
In May, Facebook announced a new dating feature that would allow people to meet non-friends. Hinge took notice, as did others.
“Facebook Dating Looks a Whole Lot Like Hinge,” wrote Wired, for example.

Our team watching the #f8 conference: pic.twitter.com/vCwP3qpgzE
— Hinge (@HingeApp) May 1, 2018

“It’s interesting to see a company facing so many privacy concerns enter one of the most intimate spaces in tech today,” McLeod says of Facebook’s dating plans. “We’re flattered they chose to copy our designs, but ultimately we’re not worried about them as a competitor – our members are increasingly moving away from Facebook as a platform.”
Burn. 
The updated Hinge app will offer users three ways to use Hinge: 1) they can continue to log in with Facebook as usual, 2) they can log in with their phone number, or 3) they can log in with a phone number, but use an option in the app to import select bio information from Facebook, for convenience.
After filling in the profile, users can disconnect from Facebook without losing the imported information, Hinge notes.
Hinge doesn’t believe the move away from Facebook as the underlying network will have an ill effect. Because of its robust profiles, which allow for the liking of individual pieces of content, it thinks its machine learning algorithms have advanced to the point where they can surpass “friends of friends” as a predictor of compatibility, the CEO says.
“Friends of friends is a symbol for what Hinge truly stands for: humanizing modern dating and fighting against the culture of shallow swiping,” says McLeod. “As the Hinge community continues to grow and evolve, we’re not relying on a single feature to best match our members; instead we’ll remain at the forefront of product development and double down on giving our members’ the best offline experience,” he adds.
It’s not hard to get on board with Hinge’s overall vision, but its app is still dwarfed by Tinder, which is now estimated to have more than 50 million users. Rival Bumble is growing as well, with some 22 million+ users. And because dating is ultimately a numbers game, Hinge needs the no-Facebook-needed policy to really boost its own.

Dating app Hinge is ditching the Facebook login requirement

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits Facebook due to privacy intrusions

“It is time for me to move on . . . I’m taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate frisbee,” WhatsApp co-founder, CEO and Facebook board member Jan Koum wrote today. The announcement followed shortly after The Washington Post reported that Koum would leave due to disagreements with Facebook management about WhatsApp user data privacy and weakened encryption. Koum obscured that motive in his note that says, “I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on – just from the outside.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly commented on Koum’s Facebook post about his departure, writing “Jan: I will miss working so closely with you. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done to help connect the world, and for everything you’ve taught me, including about encryption and its ability to take power from centralized systems and put it back in people’s hands. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp.” That comment further tries to downplay the idea that Facebook pushed Koum away by trying to erode encryption.
The move comes 3.5 years after WhatsApp’s acquisition, meaning Koum may have vested much of his stock and have fewer financial incentives to stay. It’s currently unclear what will happen to Koum’s Facebook board seat that WashPo says he’ll vacate, or who will replace him as WhatsApp’s CEO.
One possible candidate for the CEO role would be WhatsApp business executive Neeraj Arora, a former Google corporate development manager who’s been with WhatsApp since 2011 — well before the Facebook acquisition. A source described him as the #4 at WhatsApp.
Values misaligned
Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for a jaw-dropping $19 billion. But since then it’s more than tripled its user count to 1.5 billion, making the price to turn messaging into a one-horse race seem like a steal. But at the time, Koum and co-founder Brian Acton were assured that WhatsApp wouldn’t have to run ads or merge its data with Facebook’s. So were regulators in Europe, where WhatsApp is most popular.
A year and a half later, though, Facebook pressured WhatsApp to change its terms of service and give users’ phone numbers to its parent company. That let Facebook target those users with more precise advertising, such as by letting businesses upload lists of phone numbers to hit those people with promotions. Facebook was eventually fined $122 million by the European Union in 2017 — a paltry sum for a company earning more than $4 billion in profit per quarter.
But the perceived invasion of WhatsApp user privacy drove a wedge between Koum and the parent company well before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. A source confirms that Koum had been considering leaving for a year. Acton left Facebook in November, and has publicly supported the #DeleteFacebook movement since.

WashPo writes that Koum was also angered by Facebook executives pushing for a weakening of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption in order to facilitate its new WhatsApp For Business program. It’s possible that letting multiple team members from a business all interact with its WhatsApp account could be incompatible with strong encryption. Facebook plans to finally make money off WhatsApp by offering bonus services to big companies like airlines, e-commerce sites and banks that want to conduct commerce over the chat app.
Jan Koum (Photo: TOBIAS HASE/AFP/Getty Images)
Koum was heavily critical of advertising in apps, once telling Forbes that “Dealing with ads is depressing . . . You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better.” He vowed to keep them out of WhatsApp. But over the past year, Facebook has rolled out display ads in the Messenger inbox. Without Koum around, Facebook might push to expand those obtrusive ads to WhatsApp as well.
The high-profile departure comes at a vulnerable time for Facebook, with its big F8 developer conference starting tomorrow despite Facebook simultaneously shutting down parts of its dev platform as penance for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Meanwhile, Google is trying to fix its fragmented messaging strategy, ditching apps like Allo to focus on a mobile carrier-backed alternative to SMS it’s building into Android Messages.
While the News Feed made Facebook rich, it also made it the villain. Messaging has become its strongest suit thanks to the dual dominance of Messenger and WhatsApp. Considering many users surely don’t even realize WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, Koum’s departure over policy concerns isn’t likely to change that. But it’s one more point in what’s becoming a thick line connecting Facebook’s business ambitions to its cavalier approach to privacy.
You can read Koum’s full post below.

It’s been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an amazing journey with some of the best…
Posted by Jan Koum on Monday, April 30, 2018

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits Facebook due to privacy intrusions