After being acquired by Facebook, the mobile back-end service Parse has been extremely busy integrating itself into the company, as well as launching new services like web hosting for developers.
The service has built tools to help developers focus on the front-end of their product, while handling all of the messy back-end things like cross-platform compatibility and testing. Naturally, Facebook integration is easier than ever for mobile developers thanks to the acquisition. Its been six years since Facebook’s Platform launched, and during a whiteboard session at its Menlo Park headquarters, the company discussed just how far its come.
Doug Purdy, Director of Product Management and Mike Vernal of Facebook Platform led the discussion. Ilya Sukhar, recently joining Facebook with Parse, sat in on the discussion as well.
Purdy set up the conversation about next steps by saying: “We’ve been thinking about how we can provide tools to developers to enable a more cross-platform world. We’re trying to create a platform that developers can build something that spans over devices and makes people the center. Regardless of the device that you or your friends are on, everyone can have a rich experience.”
Ilya Sukhar, co-founder of Parse talked a bit about Parse’s beginnings and day four at Facebook:
If you think about applications broadly, there’s the front-end, and below the hood there’s a lot. The data side, how you sync it back to the server, the databases. None of these things bring value to the users or differentiate apps. Our SDKs make this dramatically easier for everyone.
I was originally building mobile apps myself. I was spending a lot of time building things over and over again, things that were quite hard and painful. It’s time that I could have spent on the actual user experience or the utility of my app. So I decided to build Parse. We’ve grown from one person to 24. Since day one, we’ve had 80K apps, 200M installed apps.
Generally, the community is very excited. All of our metrics are up and it’s been a really fun time.
It’s good news that things are going smoothly, and it’s clear that Facebook sees Parse as a huge part of its developer ecosystem push for the future. As far as new services, Sukhar says the team, which is still operating independently, speaks to developers about what should come next. One of the top features that gets requested is functionality around push notifications and offline mode.
The clear value for Facebook is that Parse’s platform could be the easiest way to urge developers to use Facebook ads. Once you get rid of complexity of building out a back-end for an app, you can pay attention to promoting your app more. Hopefully that promotion will come via Facebook, as Purdy mentioned Comscore’s findings that the site is the top way to discover new apps.
On whether less back-end worries will lead to more promotion, Sukhar said: “This is something we’ve heard: “Parse has done well for me to get things out to market, but now I need users.” We don’t have anything specific to announce today, but it’s clear that Facebook has the solution.”
Former Badoo COO and ex-Googler Ben Ling has joined Khosla Ventures, according to sources. Ling, who has held senior operations roles for a number of big companies in the mobile and Internet space, has been added to a growing team at Vinod Khosla’s venture firm. (Update: Khosla Ventures just confirmed Ling has joined, starting this week.)
Ling most recently served as COO of Badoo, where he was hired to oversee product, engineering, partnerships, and business operations at the company. Ling joined Badoo in May 2012, but he left after only about six months.
Prior to Badoo, Ling spent a number of years at Google, where his last role included overseeing images, videos, books, news, and finance as its senior director of search products and local business products. At YouTube, Ling was senior director of partnerships and platform, where he was responsible for music, movies, sports and news, as well as mobile, TV and API partnerships. In his first role at Google, he oversaw the company’s e-commerce products, including Google Checkout and Product Search.
At Facebook, he served as the director of Facebook Platform, working on developer relations at the fledgling social network. There he helped build Facebook Connect, which is the social network’s hook into a number of third-party websites.
In addition to his senior operations roles, Ling has also been an active angel investor and advisor to startups. Recent investments include Fab.com, Palantir, Square, PracticeFusion, and Quora. Ling has also held an advisory position at Pinterest and Pulse.
“In terms of thinking about my next steps, and thinking about what I could do next, I wanted to maximize the impact I could have by helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses,” Ling said. He said that the opportunity at Khosla Ventures enables him to do that, since there are a lot of “parallels and similarities” to what he was doing as an angel investor — evaluating teams and talent, helping companies scale and with their hiring strategies.
Ling said that we can probably expect to see him make investments in a lot of the same areas that he’s worked in previously — that includes companies focused on e-commerce or shopping, developer networks, search, finance, and local. He’s also had some experience with three-sided ecosystem businesses, such as the Facebook platform’s network of users, developers and advertisers.
Of course, Ling isn’t the only operations specialist to join Khosla Ventures. His hire comes just a few months after former Square COO Keith Rabois joined the firm.
Part of the reason Khosla Ventures has been interested in bringing on entrepreneurs with that type of experience is that they can provide guidance for startups who need operational experience. Rabois, who is now 10 weeks in at Khosla Ventures, said, “Our organizing philosophy is to provide assistance to entrepreneurs and help them to build the most interesting companies they can… It’s about understanding what entrepreneurs need is less capital and more formative advice. Every time we evaluate a company we ask whether we can help this entrepreneur build something special.”
Both Ling and Rabois say that they’ve been impressed with the quality of entrepreneurs and the quality of the Khosla Ventures team as it works with those startups. With that in mind, Rabois said he’s really excited about building several big businesses as part of the Khosla Ventures team.
Becoming an investor is easier than it’s ever been, and yet the vast majority of people today aren’t making individual investments. To help get more people investing, Loyal3 has built a platform enabling consumers to invest in companies without paying transaction or management fees. And to meet that goal, the company has raised more money in an effort to democratize stock ownership.
Loyal3 brought on another $18 million in Series C financing, which was led by DNS-L3, an entity controlled by the business interests of Michael Pucker and Gigi Pritzker Pucker. Additional investors include former Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly and Loyal3 Chairman and CEO Barry Schneider, both existing investors in the company. Altogether, it’s now raised $45 million to make investing easy and accessible for regular investors.
Despite falling transaction and management fees, as well as wider availability of online tools for investing in stocks, only about 18 percent of people in the U.S. have made individual investments, according to Schneider. Part of the reason for that is the costs involved with making stock purchases, but part of it is also connected to the ease of use — or lack thereof — on most online trading platforms.
Loyal3 seeks to change that, by enabling its users to easily invest in brands that they know and recognize. It allows investors to purchase as little as $10 in stock for the top 50 brands on Facebook, as well as some other brands that the company works with.
Rather than having its users sort through various tickers or search for public companies themselves, Loyal3 provides visitors to its platform with the logos of brands they can invest in. Once they choose a brand they have an affinity for, it takes about three clicks to actually put money into those companies.
Being the curious dude I am, I tested out the platform for myself, putting $10 into a company I have an affinity for — AB InBev.* Sure enough, the process was drop-dead simple, even for someone like me, who tends to think he’s too dumb and poor to make individual investments.
And that is the point: Loyal3 makes it easy enough and cheap enough for basically anyone to buy stock. With a ridiculously low minimum purchase price and a simple purchasing interface, the company makes stock ownership accessible to pretty much anyone. In addition to individual purchases, individuals can choose to schedule monthly transactions to be automatically deducted from their bank accounts. There’s a minimum of $10 per investment, but a maximum of $2,500 per stock per month.
How can it provide this fee-free service? Loyal3 does it by getting brands to pay whatever transaction fees are associated with the trades. For them, giving common investors ownership is another form of brand marketing, and it creates greater affinity between the purchaser and the company itself. According to Schneider, people spend more, refer their friends more, and shop more often with companies they have direct ownership in.
From a capital markets perspective, the program also brings incremental demand for participating companies’ stock. While it won’t necessarily move markets, in the long term this type of program could help stabilize the price of certain stocks. Loyal3 doesn’t allow stock shorting, and it doesn’t lend shares to speculative investors who wish to short certain stocks. Schneider says it also provides a lower cost way for companies to manage retail shareholders.
* I would have invested my $10 in a tech company like Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, or Google, but that would have been a HUGE CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
The biggest names in technology have normally been unflinching champions for the rights of same-sex couples. Yet, they were conspicuously silent this week as the Senate rejected the right for American same-sex couples to petition for visas for their foreign-born partners.
“I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy after pulling a provision for foreign-born gay partners after Republicans threatened to abandon support for the fragile comprehensive immigration reform bill.
High-skilled immigration reform has been priority No. 1 for leaders in the technology industry who have aggressively lobbied for more immigrant scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Despite near unanimous support for more high-skilled immigrants, disagreements over border security, undocumented workers, and (now) gay rights have threatened reform for any part of the immigration system.
“I’m a politician. That means I have chosen my life’s work in the constraints of the system to accomplish as much good as I can. I accept the tough choices, the painful but necessary imperfection of compromise, which is a part of our system of government,” admitted Senator Chuck Schumer, who voted for the compromised draft in the influential Judiciary Committee, which is charged with crafting the law.
But, the battle for immigration reform is far from over and the technology community still has time to prove it’s morally strong enough not to sacrifice the rights of one group for another.
In the past, they’ve been big supporters of same-sex rights. Apple, Facebook, and a laundry list of other companies sent an unequivocal affidavit to the Supreme Court on why gay rights are essential to competing in a global economy, where many of our national competitors are more supportive of their gay employees.
Google, almost every year, unleashes a full-fledged social media campaign to stoke grassroots support of state amendments legalizing same-sex marriage (watch one adorable video below).
Indeed, the temptation to compromise on civil rights progress is not new to the United States. In the 19th century, abolitionist and feminist leaders erupted in vicious internal struggles over whether black abolitionists should also support female equality at the risk of their own causes. Eventually, black rights hero Frederick Douglass was persuaded by icononic feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that we should not choose between the rights of groups for political expediency.
“I have never yet been able to find one consideration, one argument, or suggestion in favor of man’s right to participate in civil government which did not equally apply to the right of woman,” Douglass said, after years of debate.
The 21st century civil rights struggles face the same dilemma. If supporters claim to the be on the “right side of history”, then we should recognize that well-intentioned piecemeal civil rights for political expediency has historically been the most biting form of bigotry.
The tech community I know and love is not a culture of moral compromisers. This is your moment. Speak up.
[Image Credit: SlapUpsideTheHead]
Jawfish Games, a Seattle-based startup run by a former professional poker player and the engineering team that built the Fult Tilt Poker site, launched a gaming platform that can host more than 100,000 simultaneous players in real-time tournaments across iOS, Android and the web.
While asynchronous, turn-based games have done well on mobile platforms and Facebook over the last five years, pure, real-time multiplayer games haven’t caught on as quickly partially because data connections haven’t been fast enough and because a game developer would need a critical mass of players to match them synchronously.
But Jawfish, which has raised $3.65 million in funding from firms like Founders Fund’s angel fund, Right Side Capital and other angels, says it has built a platform to do just that. Their platform can support more than 100,000 simultaneous players and host 1 million tournaments for less than $10 in bandwidth.
They initially came out with a few games in partnership with Seattle’s Big Fish Games, but now they’re bringing out more of their own titles.
Because Jawfish’s CEO Phil Gordon is a championship professional poker career who has hosted The World Series of Poker and published five books on the game, the company is doing a poker game (of course). The poker game is designed to have the look and feel of a broadcasted game with Gordon’s running commentary throughout play.
They’ve also launched a basic word search game, called Jawfish Words, that lets players compete on the getting the highest scores, finding the longest words or the most diagonals. There more obscure goals too, like finding the most words with a single vowel. They launched that game last month through a partnership with Amazon. The company has pointed out some promising stats: the average player spends 21 minutes and plays 10.7 tournaments a day. Each tournament is about 60 to 90 seconds long.
They plan to building out a suite of classic games, from casual to casino titles that make use of the platform. “Basically what we’re looking to do is to take games that people know and love and reinvent them for multiplayer real-time tournaments,” Gordon said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do across a wide spectrum of games.”
While Jawfish hasn’t opened its platform up to third-party developers, there are other gaming networks that add multi-player mode to indie titles that are blowing up. Nextpeer, an Israeli startup, went from having just a few games in its network to well over 1,000 developers in the last several months.
“Barring a top 10-kind of franchise wanting to use our platform for multiplayer mode, it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to work with other studios,” Gordon said. “Certainly not for anything but the top tier. We know that our platform is the only one of its kind in the world and we think that it’s in our interest to keep the platform close to the vest and develop our own games.”