Google shows how Project Loon could ride wind currents to keep balloons evenly spaced

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

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Anyone looking to poke a hole in Project Loon — Google’s ambitious project to use balloons to bring internet access to remote regions of the world — would likely point out that you can’t keep a balloon in one spot. Google has an answer for that, of course. The Project Loon team says it could use wind currents at different levels of the stratosphere to control where balloons move and ensure that the “flock” remains evenly spaced out. That, in turn, would make sure that people down below don’t have to wait for one of the airborne antennas to pass overhead before loading the internet.

Dan Piponi of Project Loon explains the technique by showing off some (very cool) simulations in a video released this week to explain the issue. By…

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LG announces G Pad 8.3, just in time for a new iPad mini

This post is by Chris Ziegler from The Verge - All Posts

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Apple is widely expected to announce the second generation of its iPad mini in the coming months — possibly as soon as September 10th — but LG’s competitor in the 8-inch class is getting the spotlight first. The rumored G Pad 8.3 has been announced by the Korean electronics giant this evening, featuring what LG claims to be the first full HD display (1920 x 1200, to be exact) in a tablet of this size — though it conveniently ignores the new Nexus 7, presumably because it falls into the 7-inch class, not 8.

The G Pad 8.3 will have 16GB of internal storage, 2GB of RAM, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz. It runs Android 4.2.2 — not Android 4.3 — no doubt thanks to LG’s software customizations…

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Stealth Startup Fantex Wants To Make It Possible For Celebrities To IPO

This post is by Billy Gallagher from TechCrunch

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photo (9)

If corporations can be people, why can’t people be corporations? A stealth startup called Fantex aims to allow celebrities and professional athletes to file for initial public offerings (IPOs).

The quoted text and screenshots in this article are from the Fantex app the company had launched in the iTunes app store on August 27, in what was an apparent beta test. Fantex removed the app yesterday after the company declined to comment for this story.

Fantex describes itself as “the world’s first marketplace that lets consumers invest real money in stocks linked to the value and performance of the brands of the world’s top athletes.”

And here’s the kicker: Fantex says “all tracking stocks are offered pursuant to a registration statement that has been filed with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).” A SEC filing from July shows the company was delivered a notice of effectiveness,  which is typically done when the company has filed to register for sales to the public (as Fantex is doing), but the documents that the SEC deemed effective for sale are not publicly available.

Fantex offers a disclaimer on the app that hints a bit at how the business on their end works:

“Each Fantex Inc. tracking stock is intended to track and reflect the separate economic performance of a specific brand contract that Fantex has signed with an athlete. However, holders of shares of a Fantex Inc. tracking stock will have no direct investment in that brand contract, associated brand or athlete. Rather, an investment in a tracking stock will represent an ownership interest in Fantex, Inc., as a whole. These tracking stocks are offered only through Fantex Brokerage Services (FBS). FBS cannot assure you as to the development or liquidity of any trading market for these stocks.”

This means there are two separate markets within Fantex. Fantex strikes deals with professional athletes who give up a certain percentage of their income (presumably over an allotted period of time, like the length of their active career) in exchange for the proceeds of the IPO.

Some screenshots of the app. Take numbers in these images, and the ones below, with a grain of salt, as some of them appeared to be placeholders (e.g. another player’s gross IPO Proceeds were penciled in for over $18 billion).

People can then buy shares of that player’s brand, like a stock, in the Fantex-consumer market. Presumably, if San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has a monster year and looks like he’s going to get a bigger endorsement deal or a larger contract in a few years, his stock would rise and a fan could sell their Davis stock and cash out with a real, monetary profit. People would own tracking or targeted stocks in Fantex that would depend on the specific brand that they choose; these stocks would then rise and fall based on their own performance, not on the overall performance of Fantex.

At the time of publication there were nine athletes, all NFL players, available for Fantex IPOs in the now-removed app, including high profile stars Arian Foster and Vernon Davis.

Dave Butz, the agent for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore, said he wasn’t sure if his client was working with Fantex. Representatives for the other eight players did not respond to multiple requests for comment before publication, so we’re not positive if these athletes have signed on with Fantex or if they are merely placeholders in the app. However, they would be incredibly random choices for placeholder players, as some are superstars, some are solid but unnoticeable players, and others are fighting for NFL roster spots (one is a free agent longsnapper). If they were merely placeholders, I’d assume the company would fill the app with more high profile, noticeable players.

While the app only features professional athletes right now,  we’re told the company has aspirations to expand from athletes to celebrities.

Player profiles show the performance of the brand’s stock on Fantex, as well as real world information about the player’s performance on the field, financial details, and news about them.

David Bierne, Buck French, and David Mullin founded the company. Bierne was a general partner at Benchmark Capital. French founded and served as CEO of OnLink, which sold to Siebel systems in 2000 for $609M. Mullin has been the CFO for a number of startups

The rest of the team has similarly impressive resumes, including a former CTO/COO of E*Trade, a former head of product management at Yahoo Finance, and a number of ex-Wall Street guys.

Put simply, this isn’t the pipe dream of a couple of 20-somethings who were watching the VMAs and thought, “man, wouldn’t it be cool if Miley Cyrus was a stock?”

Fantex’s board and advisors includes Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, former NBA sharpshooter (and Villanova MBA) Kerry Kittles, and Benchmark general partner Bruce Dunlevie, among others.

The startup has raised $13 million in equity funding, according to an SEC filing from February of this year. Unsurprisingly, sources say Benchmark was in on the round.

It looks like the app was put in the iTunes store as part of a semi-public beta the company is (was?) doing. While the company’s main website domain ( still points to a vague site that hints at a big project on the horizon and shows off the Fantex team, links in the app directed to

Besides being a fun place to short Amanda Bynes’ stock, Fantex will undoubtedly arouse a wide range of reactions to and questions about its implications for society.

For most athletes, joining Fantex probably isn’t a great idea. These are individuals who are already notoriously bad with their money, and they have very unique wealth management situations in which they earn massive sums of money over a very short career. Part of the reason many athletes have money problems is that they become accustomed to a lifestyle while they are earning millions per year that is unsustainable over their lifetimes. Giving up a percentage of their future earnings to get more cash even earlier is the opposite of what they should be doing.

For the buyers and sellers of the market, it may feel uncomfortable directly evaluating other humans as financial stocks. To be fair, this betting on people isn’t particularly new. Everything from the stock market to venture capital investing to sports betting relies heavily on individuals (whether they’re CEOs, founders, or quarterbacks) who have a disproportionate impact on organizations. We’ve even covered a startup, Upstart, that lets people raise capital in exchange for a share of their future income–very similar to Fantex. But the celebrities in Fantex’ app are fairly high profile – they’re stars who we already over-fetishize.

Soon, we won’t just be stalking athletes and celebrities out of our personal interests. We’ll be keeping a close eye on our business investments.

Because Walking Saves Lives, Mobilizer Inc. Is A Startup That’s Aiming To Get Hospital Patients Moving

This post is by Eliza Brooke from TechCrunch

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2b - The Solution - Mobilizer Freedom

For sedentary medical patients, one of the easiest ways to reduce the time of hospital stays and decrease the risk of complications like blood clots and pressure ulcers is simply to get up and walk around. But with medical equipment like oxygen tanks or IV drips in tow, it can take nurses up to 20 minutes to prepare a patient for ambulation, adding up to hundreds of hours of wasted time each week. This means that when patients are finally up and moving, some are only walked as far as their door before being sat back down.

Mobilizer Inc., a graduate of the ZeroTo510 medical device startup accelerator, created a six-wheeled holster for all of that medical equipment in order to make medical ambulation easier and faster. The carrier sits next to the patient’s bed so that only one attendant — rather than up to five — is needed to unplug it from the wall, release the brake, and get them moving.

Mobilizer, which launched in May, has raised $300,000 in funding from Innova Memphis and MB Venture Partners and plans to close another $400,000 in the coming year. CEO and co-founder James Bell said that so far Mass General Hospital and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center have purchased units, which cost a little under $5,000 apiece.

According to Bell’s projections, Mobilizer will be net cash flow positive by year’s end. The company has sold almost 100 units to date.

The proliferation of medical startups like Mobilizer offers an invaluable payoff: the possibility of finding ways to reduce the economic and personnel burdens on the hospital system. Medical tricorders like the Scanadu SCOUT and Teddy the Guardian, for instance, show potential to do so by putting diagnostic tools in consumers’ hands and therefore reducing the number of unnecessary visits to the doctor.

In the case of Mobilizer, getting patients’ blood flowing means turning over beds faster by speeding recovery rates, avoiding the cost of complications, and boosting staff efficiency.

Although medical tech companies often struggle to get FDA approval before they go to market, Mobilizer is a class 1 exempt service, meaning the clearance process requires proving a certain level of quality and paying a fee to register with the FDA.

Bell said that the plan is to create platforms for different hospital departments, tailoring the Mobilizers to their varying equipment needs. Outside of the hospital, it will be easy to scale into home care as well. And Mobilizer is looking to form partnerships with other medical tech companies.

“We are establishing relationships with other companies, for example with a portable ventilator company that mounts right on the Mobilizers really easily,” Bell said.

Mobilizer does have some competition in this space, but Bell pointed out that efficient solutions are not widespread in hospitals yet. He said he had heard of some centers using red Radio Flyer wagons to carry equipment, or taping oxygen tanks to walkers, which, yes, is just as risky as you might imagine.

You know what? That alone is a pretty good argument for a better equipment carrier.

NSA may have surveilled Al Jazeera’s internal communications in 2006

This post is by Meghan Kelly from VentureBeat

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NSA may have surveilled Al Jazeera’s internal communications in 2006

Al Jazeera broadcast center in Doha, Qatar

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) used its surveillance tactics to monitor Al Jazeera, a Middle East-based broadcaster that recently purchased Al Gore’s Current TV to open an official branch in the U.S.

German publication Der Spiegel claims it has seen documents from former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden regarding the spying efforts on Al Jazeera. It seems the document was dated March 23, 2006 and detailed a surveillance mission that included accessing Al Jazeera’s communications to obtain information about “interesting targets.” Who these targets were — sources, journalists, or other — is not specified. It does mention that the mission to access “Al Jazeera broadcasting internal communications” was a “notable success.”

If information was encrypted, it was delivered to the NSA to be cracked and digested.

We have reached out to Al Jazeera and the NSA for comment and will update this post upon hearing back.

Information leaked by Snowden has been hitting newspapers pretty steadily since June when he released groundbreaking information about a U.S. government surveillance program called PRISM. The most recent information to emerge concerned a “black budget” for the United States’ intelligence agencies.

He has taken political asylum in Russia. Today’s Snowden document itself has not been released.

Al Jazeera was hacked in 2012, but by the recently popularized Syrian Electronic Army. This is a group of pro-regime hackers that often defaces or otherwise disturbs publications whose reporting on the conflict in Syria it does not like. Al Jazzera, at the time, was running a liveblog of the conflict, which the SEA defaced.

Filed under: Security


If analytics is the answer then you’re asking the wrong question

This post is by Hugh Reynolds from VentureBeat

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Hugh Reynolds is the chief executive of Swrve.

Ask the chief executive of every Fortune 500 business in the country what the single most important thing to a successful business is and the answer likely wouldn’t involve the word “analytics.”

Many would reply with thoughts about being responsive to user needs, focusing on product design, or operating bulletproof delivery. Other CEOs might say the key for business is smart and targeted marketing or innovative sales initiatives.

All of those answers have some things in common. They involve action, meaning they are about implementing something to deliver a better user experience or changing consumer behavior. But another aspect all of these answers share is, in fact, analytics. Analytics is always in the background and is a core component of any sound business practice.

Despite its prominence, what app and game executives need to be wary of is thinking that analytics on its own will drive success. Large amounts of analyzed data will simply gather dust unless you have a crack team of analysts who can extract key insights that will spur engineering, marketing, or sales to take action. This is why stand-alone analytics packages should be greeted with healthy skepticism. Many of these solutions are good at compiling large and varied amounts of data, but they don’t always lead to actionable decisions unless you have the right team in place.

So what’s the alternative? Think about instances where analytics really makes a difference. For example, when it’s embedded as a support tool for products or services that drive change. It should be a part of something that drives the core key performance indicators (KPI) of the business. Consider Google AdWords, which is fundamentally an “analytics” tool, which is never called one by name. It’s a well-designed product that has a specific job to do that is matched with a specific need. Analytics is simply the engine.

Why are we having an analytics discussion when our world is mobile apps and games? For one, management in this industry has invested a lot of time and resources into analytics which helps to track user behavior or other similar actions. Unfortunately, it’s easy to point out what is wrong with data analysis in this context, namely that it doesn’t impact the main things developers care about, such as retention, conversion, and revenue. This doesn’t mean app and game developers don’t need visibility into their business. We need to measure performance and have some sense of the broader industry, but the trouble comes when the focus is on “actionable insights” or “turning analytics into action.” The proper way to look at it should be “what insights do I need to properly support activities that will drive retention and conversion”, not “what should I do with all this data.”

This is much more than semantics. You can of course turn analytics into action, but it’s simply hard to make that happen in a meaningful way. It’s even harder to know for sure if the analytics-driven changes to an app or game made a tangible difference in the bottom line metrics. The key is to start with what you want to achieve. Focus on the goal that will help you to convert prospects, retain and engage users, and build a sustainable revenue stream. Your goal isn’t going to be to “possess a lot of interesting data”, it should be results-focused. This showcases the limits of analytics, and underscores its role as a component in reaching goals, not the solution in itself.

Driving the primary KPIs for apps and games comes through optimizing and testing the user experience, targeted marketing campaigns within the app or game, and anything else that helps convert non-paying users into actual customers. Analytics provides context into these activities and provides the data to benchmark success, but developers first need a platform in place to generate those successes and not rely on analytics alone.

German publication Der Spiegel claims it has seen documents from former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden regarding the spying efforts on Al Jazeera.

Filed under: Big Data, Business


CrunchWeek: iPhone Trade-Ins, The New New Foursquare, And Twitter’s Blue Lines Problem

This post is by Colleen Taylor from TechCrunch

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post


This weekend, summer is sadly coming to a close (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least.) But all is not lost! At least we still have CrunchWeek, the show that brings a few of us TechCrunch writers together to chat about the most interesting tech news stories from the past seven days.

This time around, Leena Rao, Anthony Ha and I discussed the ins and outs of Apple’s new iPhone trade-in program, the latest big update to the Foursquare app (and the rumors of a possible Microsoft investment), and Twitter’s latest redesign with lots of controversial blue lines.

NSA spied on Al Jazeera’s ‘internal communication system,’ according to new leak

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

According to new leak from Edward Snowden’s trove of documents, the NSA spied on at least one media outlet. Der Spiegel reports that documents show the spy agency accessed “internal communication” from Al Jazeera. The extent of the spying isn’t clear, but it’s said that the agency was able to successfully access communication from “interesting targets.” Those targets were likely sources who provided information to Al Jazeera — the Qatar-owned network has broadcast messages from Al-Qaeda for over a decade.

One of the documents obtained by Der Spiegel from Snowden, dated March 23rd, 2006, says that the spying efforts were a “notable success,” but the leak doesn’t detail whether the NSA was able to obtain information on Al Jazeera’s…

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The Verge Playlist: Better to burn out

This post is by Dieter Bohn from The Verge - All Posts

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You had it. You knew them before they got big. You saw them live, before they got soft. You were scene. You had a song for every occasion. You kept up. You would never be that person who only listened to music that was 20 years old. You missed a show. You missed every show. You got a cat. You had a kid. You traded newness for nostalgia. You accepted it. You turned up the car stereo, alone, remembering.

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The API-economy is coming and fast

This post is by Byron Deeter from VentureBeat

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The API-economy is coming and fast

API concept drawing

CloudBeat 2013

Sept. 9 – 10, 2013
San Francisco, CA

Tickets On Sale Now

Byron Deeter is a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. Disclosure: Deeter is an investor in Box, DocuSign, Twilio and SendGrid.

In little more than a decade, application programming interfaces (APIs) have transitioned from relative obscurity to become the “digital glue” that empowers developers to create new software applications, partnerships and even new businesses. This business-to-developer (B2D) market is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing opportunities within cloud computing, and one we’re particularly excited about at Bessemer Venture Partners.

An API is a specification (think of it like a contract) for how two pieces of software talk to each other and exchange data. Web 2.0 companies were the first to recognize APIs, historically used by developers to help teams work without stepping on each other’s toes, as products to be shared with — and sold to — customers and partners. In just a few short years, APIs have become a crucial channel, attracting customers with the ability to extend products, helping partners deliver the value they promised, and growing the ecosystem as a whole.

In today’s world, having a strong API strategy isn’t just good software practice; it’s a powerful business practice. Amazon has built a multibillion dollar revenue business in Amazon Web Services (AWS), leveraging powerful API-based elements such as EC2. Google Maps would be a much smaller business if the only access was through its website directly. Twitter has opened up an entire class of businesses and analytical modules by sharing its data API and platform. Even, with over 800,000 developers and more than 2.5 million applications on the platform, proudly states that API calls drive more than 60 percent of total traffic to the site.

Editor’s note: Our upcoming CloudBeat conference, Sept. 9-Sept. 10 in San Francisco, will be tackling revolutionary cases of enterprise cloud usage. Register today!

Empowering developers to build against your platform doesn’t just create value for partners; the API provider wins as well by expanding the ecosystem, increasing retention, and driving up the value of the platform. Even more importantly, end customers win when all their products work seamlessly together. Take Box — its API-based integrations with popular applications like, Yammer, Jive, Netsuite, or even custom internal applications make it easy for end users to work with their files wherever they need them. Similarly, DocuSign’s API lets customers design e-signatures right into their workflows. For example, when a rep closes an opportunity in Salesforce, DocuSign can grab all the right data and automatically send out a contract for signature.

To take it one step further, can a business be API-first, or even API-only? Here at Bessemer, we’re excited about this emerging business model, where developers are the customer, and API design is given the same care and attention that Samsung and Apple might pay their latest phones. Some examples are companies like Stripe and Braintree, which make it easy to add payments to your application, or SendGrid, which does the same for email delivery.

Another example is Twilio, where over 200,000 developers have built applications on top of their API-based communications service offering. Opening up for the first time what used to be a completely cloistered world of telecom boxes and copper wires, Twilio gives developers an easy way to use all the communication services we have on our phones (SMS, voice, Shortcodes, etc.) in web and mobile applications. This enables a slew of new use cases, from the SMS alerts you get from Uber when your car is arriving to highly customized call centers for Home Depot and others.

The common thread here is to take something that’s difficult (or just plain annoying) to do and make it easy for the developer to use, at a reasonable price — much like software as a service (SaaS) companies do for the B2B world, and consumer electronics do for you and me.

Companies likethese have shown the value of executing a strong API strategy, and we likewise encourage our SaaS and PaaS (platform as a service) companies to do the same. We’re also seeing more companies finding success with an API-first approach to the B2D market. Layer in the fact that developers are rapidly building a new marketplace of API-driven mobile apps, projected to be worth $25 billion in 2015, and we’re at a key moment in time for the API economy.

On September 9, at VentureBeat’s CloudBeat conference, I’ll be leading a panel with Sam Schillace, SVP of Engineering at Box, Jeff Lawson, Cofounder and CEO of Twilio, and Jim Frankilin, CEO of SendGrid, and we can continue the discussion there.

Filed under: Cloud, Dev

VentureBeat is creating an index of the top ‘arms merchants’ of the cloud. Take a look at our initial suggestions and complete the survey to help us build a definitive index. We’ll publish the official index later this month, and for those who fill out surveys, we’ll send you an expanded report free of charge.


Pope Francis shows up in a selfie

This post is by Dante D'Orazio from The Verge - All Posts

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

The selfie has made it all the way to the top. On Wednesday worlds collided when Pope Francis posed with a group of Italian teenagers and got caught in a self-portrait taken with one of the teens’ cellphones. Unfortunately the Pope — known for his outgoing nature and his departures from papal conventions — didn’t capture the selfie himself, and he hasn’t published it on his Twitter feed.

It seems the teenagers, who were part of a group visiting from an Italian diocese, decided a grainy shot from a front-facing cellphone camera would be the best way to photograph their encounter with the pope himself at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thankfully a journalist has published the photo online for us all to be a part of this moment, and a…

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What ShoeDazzle taught us about subscription commerce

This post is by Denise Lee Yohn from GigaOM

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

ShoeDazzle may no longer be dazzling, but it’s delivering useful lessons in subscription commerce.

I still remember the thrill of receiving my first ShoeDazzle delivery. The beautifully wrapped package, the perfect pair of shoes for me inside, the fun welcome letter, and the confidence I had that I could ship it back at no cost if I didn’t like it – all for $40! It seemed too good to be true, and perhaps it was.

Four years later, ShoeDazzle has been acquired by its primary competitor, JustFab, after dropping to about a tenth of its $200 million valuation and failing to achieve profitability despite a valiant attempt by boomerang CEO Brian Lee to revive the business. It’s a sad outcome for a brand that once held so much promise — great products, cool business model, solid financial backing, celebrity appeal.

In trying to move past the disappointment, I’ve found some important lessons that apply to future subscription businesses, including the newly combined JustFab. Most of the lessons stem from how different the subscription commerce business model is from other kinds of retail, even e-commerce.

First, there’s the need for different metrics. The number of customer acquisitions is much less important than the quality of acquisitions. When Bill Strauss took the reins of ShoeDazzle, he deemed its 10 million members insufficient and set about trying to bring in millions more by jettisoning membership and opening the site to anyone. What he didn’t understand was that those initial existing members loved the brand — they were not only acting as brand ambassadors to spread awareness of the site, but were also likely to continue buying over time. Compared to cultivated members, customers are less loyal, more fickle, and harder to please.

Further, the typical retail metric of cost of customer acquisition is less relevant than customer lifetime value. It may cost more to acquire a quality customer, but she will produce a greater return with higher value/more frequent purchases, longer retention, and brand advocacy. A subscription business model requires a longer-term view on metrics.

The value proposition looks different with subscription commerce too. It’s not enough to have cool products — they should be exclusive whenever possible. That was part of ShoeDazzle’s initial appeal. Because its styles were designed specifically for the site, they generated so much demand. Exclusivity remains JustFab’s strongest path forward, and it can be leveraged even further through exclusive prices (special prices depending on membership level), exclusive access (new products available in advance), exclusive services (concierge services and enhanced customer style profiling), and exclusive experiences (interactions with celebrity designers, virtual fashion shows, etc.)

With a subscription, the customer value equation is no longer simply the product divided by the price. It involves status and benefits, which are more intangible but more valuable.

The ShoeDazzle story also teaches us that subscription commerce requires a different kind of brand and brand strategy. In order to capitalize on subscriber value, the best growth comes from expansion into new categories — that is, selling other products and services to the same people (vs. selling the same stuff to other people). A subscription brand, therefore, must be developed with elasticity. A name like ShoeDazzle is limiting, whereas JustFab is more flexible. Beyond the name, the brand personality, visual identity, and cultural associations should also allow for more stretch.

Also a brand position based on relevance makes more sense than one based on accessibility. Offering fewer products that are “just right” for customers and communicating messages that express brand identification increases customers’ feelings of brand affinity, whereas having a huge selection of more random products and a brand that is marketed as “something for everyone” dilutes perceptions of brand value. A subscription brand essence stems less from being a retailer and more from carefully curating the membership experience.

Ultimately, subscription commerce requires a different mindset. Subscription-based companies are building relationships, not selling products. Of course, those relationships must be monetized — it’s a business, not a charity. But the focus needs to be on engagement and shared value. Models to emulate include Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters and American Express, not ProFlowers and Woot.

I may no longer be a customer of ShoeDazzle, but from the company I’ve gotten some valuable insights into subscription businesses — that, and some great shoes.

Denise Lee Yohn has been inspiring and teaching companies how to operationalize their brands to grow their businesses for 25 years. World-class brands including Sony, Frito-Lay, Burger King, and Nautica have called on Denise, a brand-building expert, speaker, and writer. She is the author of What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles that Separate the Best from the Rest (Jossey-Bass, January, 2014.) Read more by Denise at

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India’s Visa Maze Ensnares Foreign Entrepreneurs

This post is by Mahesh Sharma from TechCrunch

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post


Carrying all the right documentation for his five-year business visa, Alex (not his real name) embarked on what he thought would be his fourth and final visit to the Indian immigration authority. He believed his wild goose chase was almost at an end. However, his awkwardly smiling assassin, the elusive office supervisor, had other ideas.

“Sorry, you can’t get your visa now, please come back in some time,” the supervisor said, fatally.

Alex’s plight shows the difficulties entrepreneurs face in trying to access the booming market of India today. This is his story.

The economics graduate moved to India about a year ago to co-found a social business with his peers. The government made them wait the best part of a year before approving their application to be incorporated as a local not-for-profit — a vital credential to navigate the country’s Catch-22 regulatory system. With incorporation certificate in hand, Alex was confident the last piece of his visa puzzle, namely attaining a five-year authorisation to work to improve the quality of life for Indians, was about to fall into place.

How wrong he was.

Stepping into the office was like entering Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on Groundhog Day, endlessly waiting for a weasley little oracle to emerge from his hovel in order to deliver bad news. Alex was forced to return to the office three times because he “didn’t have the right documentation.”

On the fourth visit, the bureaucrat, ensconced in his glass bubble, again said he didn’t have the right documents and would have to come back again. At the end of his wits, Alex didn’t buy it. After failing to plead his case with the front-line worker, he asked to speak with the manager lurking in the background. The bureaucrat turned meekly, skulked over, and relayed the request to his superior who took one look at the fiery redhead on the wrong side of the counter and scurried away to his glass-walled office, deep in the bubble. The clerk returned and, as if the whole spectacle had not been witnessed, told Alex the manager was unavailable.

“The manager is right there,” he said, pointing to the anonymous office. “I just need to speak with him for two minutes. I’ve already met him before. He knows my case.”

“Sorry sir, he is not available,” the bureaucrat said, reciting a well-used line. “You’ll have to send him an email to organise an appointment.”

Email? Alex was all too familiar with India’s digital black hole, where bits may have even travelled backwards and forwards in time, even to alternate universes, because they never seemed to reach their intended destination.

He whipped out his laptop and emailed the appointment request to the teller who was sitting down before him, but also included a stern warning: “I’m not leaving until I can speak with him.”

The bureaucrat retreated to discuss the latest turn of events.

Alex briefly took a minute to survey his surroundings. The same situation was playing out at three or four adjacent counters.

“This is the fourth time you’ve asked me to come back for a five-year business visa. I have all the right documentation, I have had it all along. Why won’t you accept my application?” railed another aggrieved applicant.

Alex snapped back to attention when the manager emerged from his den. He was face-to-face with his tormentor.

“What’s the problem, sir?” the manager asked.

“You know what my problem is! We’ve already spoken about it, you told me to come back with more information and I did. I’ve come back four times with the correct documentation and you’re still telling me I won’t be approved?!” he said.

“I’m sorry sir but we can’t process this visa application now, please come back in some time,” he said, wearing a weak smile.

“Why not?”

“I’m sorry sir but we can’t do this now, please apply in some time,” he repeated, like a broken record.

No matter how he always received the same answer and result but despite the frustrating experience he plans to come back and try again. He’s chasing that sweet feeling of victory that can only be earned by simultaneously exerting extreme amounts of effort and patience to achieve ordinarily routine tasks.

The Red Tape At The Finish Line

For an entrepreneur, there’s a lot to like about India. The subcontinent’s diversity, population, and economic disparity offers near endless problems to solve, as well as the scale to make a meaningful impact and return. But if you get too far ahead of yourself, the red-tape woven noose dangling around your neck will rein you back in. The rope becomes dangerously short as you enter the government maze, where searching for the right approvals demands long wait times, repeated visits, and constant apprehension as to whether the application will even be received. It’s an exercise in humility.

Saju James, partner at Fragomen Global Immigration Services, said the visa process was straight forward — if you know the procedures. This means that you must give the consulates the right information, right down to using the correct vernacular in the application.

“If you don’t stick to the template, exactly what the consulate is looking for, the chances of getting denials are much higher,” said James, whose firm has processed close to 1,000 work permits, less than two percent of which have been rejected.

This is a legacy of the way that visa offices were run before 2009, James said, when the Indian government didn’t have direct oversight of the approval process. Previously, each visa office and consulate operated as its own fiefdom; and a single supervisor served as judge, jury, and executioner.

“It was very arbitrary and the consulate officers had the power to decide, simply based on the interview,” he said. “They would say, ‘no, I’m not convinced this candidate should go on a work permit, he needs to apply for a business visa,’ and the reverse would happen as well.”

That changed as the government took direct control of the process and released specific guidelines and processes to be followed. Most importantly, it started measuring workers on how many visa applications they actually processed, as opposed to simply documenting the number of hours they worked.

It was a vast improvement.

“The only difference is that they have not published the formats for when you apply for a visa application, so some offices still give a difficult time to applicants.”

James said it was difficult to track the efficiency because the agencies themselves did not record the rejection rates. However, he estimated that the number of unsuccessful applications previously ranged into the double-digit percentages.

This is all little comfort to Alex, who still goes to bed every night in fear of being woken up by that same Sonny and Cher song and seeing his visa application, as complete as it always was, lying unapproved on his cheap desk.

[Image via Flickr]

Google to hit U.S. gov’t harder with transparency reporting demands

This post is by Meghan Kelly from VentureBeat

Click here to view on the original site: Original Post

The Department of Justice has granted Google a “stay” on its decision about whether the company can release information about FISA data requests. Google will now hit harder on the issue of transparency reporting with amended demands, according to a source familiar with the matter.

In June, Google formally asked the courts to allow it to publish the total number of requests for user information made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as well as the number of people and accounts affected by these requests. Google releases a transparency report that details all of the requests for information it receives from government around the world and has thus far been barred from including this information.

The Department of Justice has pushed off the decision six times, but will pause the process in order to let Google file its latest movement, according to a source speaking with VentureBeat.

“It’s another chance for the DoJ [Department of Justice] to consider the petitions from a different perspective. It’ll be rewritten,” said the source, who could not speak publicly on the matter, and wishes to remain anonymous.

The amendment comes after the government announced yesterday that it will release its own form of a transparency report — something Google, along with the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and other tech companies demanded from the U.S. in July.

“While the government’s decision to publish aggregate information about certain national security requests is a step in the right direction, we believe there is still too much secrecy around these requests and that more openness is needed. That’s why we, along with many others, have called on the U.S. government to allow us to publish specific numbers about both FISA and NSL requests,” said a Google spokesperson in an e-mail to VentureBeat.

The government’s transparency report, as introduced by Director of Intelligence James R. Clapper, will detail total numbers of national security letters, FISA business records, FISA pen register/trap and trace requests, and “FISA orders based on probable cause.” It will also include the number of people affected by each of these requests.

In Google’s original June filing, the company said it has the right under the First Amendment to:

  1. Publish the total number of FISA requests it receives, if any
  2. Publish the total number of users or accounts encompassed within such requests

It further said these requests would be published as a range in increments of 1,000 instead of actual totals, and would not state what areas of FISA the request came from.

However, the company likely will model the new demands after those it sought in the CDT petition from July. These included:

  1. The right to publish government requests for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Section 702 of FISA, National Security Letters, and “others”
  2. The right to publish the number of individuals, accounts, and devices affected under each specific request-type
  3. The right to publish how many requests related to “communications content” and “basic subscriber information” under each request-type

This kind of information would give the U.S. a better indication of what kind of information is being released to the government, and which act is being used most often.

Google and the CDT further noted in that same petition that, “basic information about how the government uses its various law enforcement-related investigative authorities has been published for years without any apparent disruption to criminal investigations.”

The government will likely announce the stay after the Labor Day weekend with more information about when Google must submit its new petition.

Filed under: Business, Security