A digital revolution is reshaping Democratic campaigns

Two weeks before the 2016 election, Bloomberg’s Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg published a story about Trump’s brash, self-aggrandizing digital team. Democrats treated the story as evidence of the Trump campaign’s utter cluelessness, until he won.

For months after, coverage of the Trump’s tech and digital strategy dominated headlines. Those stories had consequences: Facebook locked down its user data; Cambridge Analytica folded; and a wave of startups, including my own, emerged to help progressives mobilize online.

A change is coming to the Democratic Party, and for some campaigns, it’s already here. I’ve seen it firsthand. As part of my job I’ve personally visited dozens of the most competitive and best-staffed races in the country, giving me a unique perspective on the state of the party. With a few notable exceptions, like Obama’s campaigns, Democratic campaigns have treated digital media exclusively as a way to acquire new emails for fundraising lists and to advertise in the same way they do on TV. Digital media has been detached from the practice of ‘organizing’ (i.e., direct voter contact). A handful of innovative House, Senate, and governor’s campaigns are changing this.

These campaigns treat digital not just as a place to spam eyeballs, but as a space for organizing. The rest of the party would benefit from following their lead. In your own life, is it more meaningful to get a fundraising email and see an ad on Facebook, or to have a real conversation with someone you know?

These campaigns have made that switch by taking responsibility for engaging voters and volunteers online away from an isolated “digital” department and putting it at the core of their Field team’s strategy.

The Field team on a campaign is responsible for recruiting volunteers to knock doors and call you during dinner. Field organizers are the underpaid, overworked foot soldiers of Democratic organizing. By giving them license to engage online, and the tools to do so effectively, successful Democratic campaigns are meeting their constituents where they are today: on their smartphones via text and social media.

(Photo by Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of the most remarkable examples of this model is the Casten for Congress operation, in Illinois’s 6th District. When I stopped by the office, I saw the campaign stream a Sean Casten speech through Facebook Live to his supporters. The campaign’s field team had brought together hundreds of supporters to mingle at thirty different “house parties” around the district, and everyone tuned into the live video. Their digital team worked hand-in-hand with field organizers to develop a livestream designed to motivate volunteers to sign up for more canvassing shifts.

It worked unambiguously. I watched supporters go from diffident to bold, excited to feel part of something bigger than themselves. This single event, a hybrid of the digital and physical, brought volunteers together from across the district, and motivated them to sign up for thousands of additional canvassing shifts.

Digital isn’t just a powerful way to supercharge traditional organizing by driving more canvassing or phone banking shifts. It also helps campaigns harness the power of relational organizing. ‘Relational organizing,’ or the practice of asking volunteers to speak specifically to voters they know, is the most effective type of voter contact we know of for reaching critical Democratic constituencies, like young people, communities of color, and working class people.

In California’s 49th District, the Field team supporting Mike Levin for Congress in CA-49 is running a fast-growing and successful relational organizing program through digital channels. They’re using a new tool designed to scale up relational contact, prompting their volunteers  to contact friends almost exclusively through Facebook Messenger and text messages. They’re being asked to recruit their friends to volunteer, and to verify their friends have a plan to vote.

Digital is also powerful for expanding volunteer communities and reducing attrition, when combined with a focus on “community organizing” strategies. These include sharing stories (“I’m here because I care about X, why are you here?”), explaining why certain tasks are important to the campaign (“Cold calls suck, but they’re important because…”), and deliberately introducing volunteers to one another based on mutual interests.

Several sophisticated statewide and House campaigns are running very effective Facebook Groups or Slack channels based on these principles. Each platform provides unique opportunities, as well as challenges for Field staff.

Slack is extremely useful for coordinating already-committed volunteers. Slack’s higher barrier to entry – volunteers must download Slack and get an invitation to join from an administrator – means fewer intergroup problems and less moderation. However, unlike with Facebook Groups, individual volunteers are not empowered to recruit their friends to the campaigns. Because Facebook Groups are a now-highly privileged piece of the Facebook Feed, activity inside of a campaign’s Facebook Group is effectively mainlined into volunteer brains. This stimulates growth of the group. For many new volunteers, being added to a Facebook Group by a motivated friend is their first step into a campaign’s Field operation.

Not all campaigns have shifted their thinking from “digital equals ads and fundraising spam” approach. But the campaigns that encourage their field organizers to adopt digital media as a way to harness political energy, engage volunteers, and contact voters are thriving. Their work this cycle will lay the foundation for the 2020 presidential primaries, for which these innovative staffers will be coveted.

Source: Tech Crunch

Hidden files hint at a possible PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2

At launch, the long-awaited (and much hyped) western adventure that is Red Dead Redemption 2 is only available on the PS4 and Xbox One.

That might not be the case forever, though. Code hidden within the game’s mobile companion app suggest that a PC version could be in the works.

Last week, we wrote about Red Dead Redemption 2’s companion app, which lets you rip the in-game map off the TV and put it on a nearby tablet, instead. No more pausing just to figure out if you and your horse are still headed in the right direction.

Some tinkerers over at GTAForums (as spotted by RockstarIntel) have been poking around that very app, and have unearthed a few interesting parameters left behind.

Two unused parameters tucked into the app (“PARAM_companionAutoConnectIpPC” and “CommandIsPcVersion”) mention the PC platform by name, but there are also dozens of different parameters referencing advanced graphic settings that generally don’t exist on consoles.

While the original Red Dead Redemption never made it beyond the console, this wouldn’t be Rockstar’s first foray into the PC world. Many of their most popular games landed on PC… eventually. GTAV, for example, launched on consoles in September of 2013 and made its way to Windows in April of 2015. L.A. Noire shipped for consoles in May of 2011, and hit PCs near the end of the same year.

Adding fuel to the fire: a few months back, a mention of a PC build reportedly popped up in a Rockstar designer’s LinkedIn profile.

With all that said: as with all things relating to video game releases, don’t get your hopes up too high until you hear it straight from the developer’s mouth. While the signs point to a PC build having existed in some form at some point, there’s always the possibility that these parameters are left over from the company’s own internal testing, or that plans will change.

Source: Tech Crunch

Unu raises $12 million to build new electric scooter

German startup Unu raised a $12 million funding round led by Ponooc with existing investors Capnamic Ventures, Iris Capital, Michael Baum and NRW.BANK also participating. The company has been building electric scooters (the motorcycle kind) and is working on new products and services.

For the past five years, Unu has sold 10,000 scooters. The market for electric scooter is quite different depending on your country. In parts of Asia, they are massively popular and are slowly overtaking gas-powered scooters. You can see more and more electric scooters in Europe, but it’s still uncharted territories for the most part.

Unu is one of the successful European manufacturers with Govecs, BMW and others. Compared to electric cars, electric scooters present a massive advantage — weight. It’s much more energy-efficient to power a scooter compared to a full-fledged car.

That’s why batteries remain relatively small. You can open the battery compartment, pull the battery and plug it at home. It’s quite heavy as Unu’s battery weighs around 9 kg (nearly 20 pounds). But it’s fine if you just need to carry your battery to your home and plug it overnight every now and then.

Up next, the company plans to release a second generation of its product. The company doesn’t have much to say just yet. But it sounds like Unu is working on connected vehicles so that Unu could work with scooter-sharing services.

There’s a huge market opportunity as scooter-sharing companies are booming in Europe. In Paris alone, Cityscoot and Coup have flooded the streets with scooters from Govecs and Gogoro. There are many other companies working on similar services across Europe.

If Unu could convince a company to buy some of their scooters for their fleet, that could lead to thousands of sales in no time. The company is working on multiple partnerships. Now let’s see if Unu plans to create its own service in the future and work on other types of vehicles.

Source: Tech Crunch

Google Discover begins to replace the iconic search box on mobile

It’s not broke, but Google is fixing it. As it announced last month, Google is rebranding Google Feed, its news landing page on Android and in the Google app, to be called Google Discover. Throwing minimalism out the window, Google Discover will replace the iconically spartan Google.com homepage on mobile.

Discover is rolling out now on Google.com across both iOS and Android devices. For Android users, Discover is already baked into the interface, accessible by swiping right from the home screen. Anyone using the Google app on iOS or Android will also be met with the Discover homepage, which should be familiar at this point. We’ve reached out to Google for more details on who will see Discover when.

For a company that at times struggles with filtering disinformation out of its search results, making Discover so prominent might not be a well-timed choice. The Discover results generally resurface stuff that a user has already expressed interest in, but those results are culled from a broad enough pool of sources that they don’t always feel relevant. Hopefully Google has enough sentient humans on its teams to avert future algorithmic catastrophe, though we’re not holding our breath for Google or any social platform on that count.

If you’re using Discover through the Google app, you can customize your feed further, adding topics to subscribe to, weather, commute info and more. If you’re a sports fan, the “teams” feature is genuinely useful. If Google’s vast collective knowledge of your predilections creeps you out (and it should) but you still like the Google app, you can disable “Web & App Activity” for a bit more peace of mind by following these instructions — just do them backward.

Source: Tech Crunch

Assessing IBM’s $34 billion Red Hat acquisition

As you look at the $34 billion IBM-Red Hat deal announced yesterday, if you follow the enterprise closely, it seems like a good move, at least on its face. It could be years before we understand the true value of it for IBM (or lack thereof, depending on how it ultimately goes). The questions stands then, is this a savvy move, a desperate one or perhaps a bit of both. It turns out, it depends on whom you ask.

For starters, there is the sheer amount of money involved, a 63 percent premium on Friday’s closing price of just under $117 a share. IBM spent $190 a share, but as Ray Wang, founder and chief analyst at Constellation Research said, Red Hat didn’t necessarily want to be sold, so IBM had to overpay to get their company.

Wang sees cloud, Linux and security as the big drivers on IBM’s part. “IBM is doubling down on the cloud, but they also are going for a grab in Linux for their largest and most important open source communities and some of the newer tech on Red Hat security,” he told TechCrunch. He acknowledges that it’s a huge premium for the stock, but he believes IBM needs the M&A action to drive down customer acquisition costs and drive up cross sell.

Photo: Ron Miller

IBM is placing a big bet here says Dharmesh Thakker, general partner at Battery Ventures, believing it to be worth 30x its current earnings in the next 12 months. “Needless to say, the hybrid cloud opportunity that we have been working on the last few years, is real and IBM/Cisco/HP/Dell all want a piece of this action going forward as the $300B in datacenter spend gets dislocated by public and hybrid cloud vendors,” Thakker explained in a statement.

He believes this deal could actually trigger a new set of mega mergers between the traditional tech vendors and cloud native, container and DevOps companies over the next few months.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty was positively giddy at the prospects of a combined IBM-Red Hat in a call with analysts and press this morning, pointing out that only 20 percent of enterprise workloads have been moved to the cloud. She sees a big opportunity, one she projects to be worth $1 trillion by 2020. Keeping in mind you should take market projections with a grain of salt, this is undoubtedly a big market and one that Oracle and Microsoft have also targeted.

She said that Red Hat was a rare company indeed. “Red Hat on its own has been a high value company and has done a great job with strong growth, is highly profitable and generates cash. There are not many companies out there that look like that in this area,” Rometty said.

Slide: IBM

Dan Scholnick, general partner at Trinity Ventures, whose investments have included New Relic and Docker, was not terribly impressed with the deal, believing it smacked of desperation on IBM’s part.

“IBM is a declining business that somehow needs to become relevant in the cloud era. Red Hat is not the answer. Red Hat’s business centers around an operating system, which is a layer of the technology stack that has been completely commoditized by cloud. (If you use AWS, you can get Amazon’s OS for free, so why would you pay Red Hat?) Red Hat has NO story for cloud,” he claimed in a statement.

That might not be an entirely fair assessment. While Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a big part of the company’s revenue, it’s not the only piece. Over the last couple of years it has moved into Kubernetes and containerization and has grown the cloud native side of the business alongside RHEL.

In fact, Forrester analyst Dave Bartoletti sees the cloud native piece as being key here. “The combined company has a leading Kubernetes and container-based cloud-native development platform, and a much broader open source middleware and developer tools portfolio than either company separately. While any acquisition of this size will take time to play out, the combined company will be sure to reshape the open source and cloud platforms market for years to come,” he said.

Photo: IBM

Wang believes the deal could hinge on how long Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, who had led the company for over a decade, stays with the unit. According to IBM, they will maintain the Red Hat brand and operate it as an independent entity inside Big Blue. “If Whitehurst doesn’t stick around for awhile, the deal could go south,” he said. But the company could dangle the CEO job when Rometty decides to leave as incentive to stay.

Regardless, Wall Street was not entirely happy with IBM’s move with their stock down all day. Needless to say the 63 percent premium IBM paid for the stock has driven Red Hat higher today.

The deal must pass shareholder muster, but given the premium IBM has offered, it’s hard to believe they would turn it down. In addition, since these companies operate across the world, they are subject to the global regulatory approval process. They won’t officially come together until at least the second half of next year at the soonest. That’s when we might begin to learn whether this was a brilliant or desperate move by IBM.

Source: Tech Crunch

Original Content podcast: There’s spooky fun in Netflix’s ‘Haunting of Hill House’

The new Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House” is based on the classic Shirley Jackson novel of the same name, but fans will probably have a better time if they put the book out of their mind.

Yes, the show opens with the same famous passage that begins the novel, and show and book characters have some similarities. But what writer-director Mike Flanagan has really done is use Jackson’s sinister house as the setting for a new story, focused the Crain family — driven from the house by mysterious events back in 1992, and drawn back there due to present-day tragedy.

On this episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined (just in time for Halloween) by Devin Coldewey just in time to offer our initial impressions of the show. While we had some reservations (get ready for the most extensive discussion of fill lights that you’ll ever hear on this podcast), it’s clear that “The Haunting of Hill House” managed to scare the heck out of all of us, and we were also impressed by the fact that each of the five Crain children becomes a distinct, memorable character in their own right.

If that’s not enough to convince you, it’s also worth watching the show for all the hidden ghosts, and for the formal ambition of episode six, with its long, single-take scenes that span the past and the present.

In addition to our review, we discuss the release of “Red Dead Redemption 2” and the announcement that WarnerMedia will be shutting down its FilmStruck service for classic films.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You also can send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Source: Tech Crunch

IBM to buy Red Hat for $34B in cash and debt, taking a bigger leap into hybrid cloud

After rumours flew around this weekend, IBM today confirmed that it would acquire open source, cloud software business Red Hat for $190 per share in cash, working out to a total value of $34 billion. IBM said the deal has already been approved by the boards of directors of both IBM and Red Hat but is still subject to Red Hat shareholder and regulatory approvals. If all goes as planned, the acquisition is expected to close in the latter half of 2019.

The deal is all about IBM — which has long continued to rely on its legacy server business — taking a bigger bet on the cloud, and very specifically cloud services that blend on-premises and cloud-based architectures — something that the two companies have already been working on together since May of this year (which now might be looked at as a test drive). Red Hat will be a distinct unit within IBM’s Hybrid Cloud team — which is already a $19 billion business for IBM, the company said — and it will continue to focus on open-source software. 

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The combined businesses will be able to offer software in services spanning Linux, containers, Kubernetes, multi-cloud management, and cloud management and automation, IBM said. IBM also added that together the companies will continue to build partnerships with multiple cloud providers, including AWS, Microsoft’s Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba and others, alongside the IBM Cloud.

While companies like Amazon have gone all-in on cloud, in many cases, a lot of enterprises are making the move gradually — IBM cites stats that estimate that some 80 percent of business workloads “have yet to move to the cloud, held back by the proprietary nature of today’s cloud market.” Buying Red Hat will help IBM better tap into an opportunity to address that.

“Most companies today are only 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting compute power to cut costs,” she continued. “The next 80 percent is about unlocking real business value and driving growth. This is the next chapter of the cloud. It requires shifting business applications to hybrid cloud, extracting more data and optimizing every part of the business, from supply chains to sales.”

On top of that, it will give IBM a much stronger footing in open source software, the core of what Red Hat builds and deploys today.

“Open source is the default choice for modern IT solutions, and I’m incredibly proud of the role Red Hat has played in making that a reality in the enterprise,” said Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO, Red Hat, in a statement. “Joining forces with IBM will provide us with a greater level of scale, resources and capabilities to accelerate the impact of open source as the basis for digital transformation and bring Red Hat to an even wider audience –  all while preserving our unique culture and unwavering commitment to open source innovation.”

While IBM competes against the likes of Amazon, the companies will see to remain partners with them with this acquisition. “IBM is committed to being an authentic multi-cloud provider, and we will prioritize the use of Red Hat technology across multiple clouds” said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President, IBM Hybrid Cloud, in a statement. “In doing so, IBM will support open source technology wherever it runs, allowing it to scale significantly within commercial settings around the world.”

IBM said that Red Hat will add to its revenue growth, gross margin and free cash flow within 12 months of closing.

Source: Tech Crunch

Translating startup-speak for the corporate buyer

Startups salivate at the prospect of entering the enterprise – and for good reason. The enterprise is rife with legacy systems and circuitous processes that frustrate employees and hinder results — and the startup has just the perfect product to fix the problem.

Too often though, the pitch to the enterprise falls flat or a promising pilot gets sidelined. Sometimes there’s a clear obstacle, like a mismatch between product and problem to be solved, an inability to scale, or the loss of an internal sponsor. But more often than one would expect, the startup’s value is simply getting lost in translation.

Even the most forward-looking enterprise leaders are operating in an environment what I like to call “GAAP-based digital strategy.” The budgeting process supports only certain kinds of purchases, like renewable software licensing fees and support contracts with fixed costs. New models, like variable costs for open source development, require workarounds and explanation in the budget process and cause even the most eager internal champion to lose time and energy.

So what’s a startup to do? The more you can help your internal sponsor translate the cost model to adhere to the established norm, the more traction they are likely to get from the hydra of procurement and finance. Once the project has momentum, your champion can work to change the budgeting process – but that’s a tall order before your pilot is launched and showing results.

The concept of GAAP-based digital strategy extends well beyond accounting practices. Consider internal reporting: large organizations spend an inordinate amount of time reporting up, across, and down in an effort to improve transparency and inspire shared ownership of outcomes. What are the KPIs for the department you are serving? How easily will your results translate into their storytelling? Spend some time up front with your client to ensure your results align with (and show up in!) the existing framework for reporting.

Corporations are aware of how hard it is to navigate these control systems, and so they are increasingly creating “innovation departments” with dedicated funding for one-off experiments using new technology. This is often the start of the relationship between a startup and a new client.

For startups, this can be a beneficial approach, since it offers the opportunity to deliver value before wrangling with cumbersome procurement or IT requirements. But too often these divisions lurch from pilot to pilot, and struggle to find line-of-business champions willing to absorb startup technology into their operations. The biggest challenge here is that there’s often no enterprise template for the handoff from the innovation setting – where experiments can operate in a “clean room” apart from procedures and regulations – to ongoing operations.

Here’s how one startup providing augmented reality headsets and software to a complex pharma manufacturing environment crossed over. Their pilot showed clear results: testing with four-five headsets, their AR software measurably helped workers on the floor by augmenting the workflow with voice recording and hands-free capabilities.

The startup team then came on-site, and they partnered with the workers testing the solution to document the improvements and discuss how to ensure the process complied with regulations. This direct interaction fed into their results reporting to make the case for the 30-40 headsets needed on the shop floor. Rather than wait for middle management, the startup developed a grassroots-fortified case for moving into operations.

Similarly, a startup piloting an analytics product in a CPG enterprise was immediately pigeonholed into the IT department’s analytics budget. Surrounded by a range of solutions from business intelligence dashboards to marketing technology tools, their pilot was getting lost.

By closely analyzing results, the startup saw promising early findings in the trade promotions area. They worked through their contacts to reach the executive in charge of trade promotions who took the pilot under her wing – and into her budget. They avoided being locked into a GAAP-based bucket (analytics), and were connected with an executive to unlock a whole different conversation.

In addition to finding your internal champion and changing the GAAP conversation, spend time understanding the larger enterprise backdrop: the initiatives and themes that are driving this quarter’s shareholder value. Help your client position the solution not only in the context of the specific problem to solve, but the overall enterprise goals.

The annual report is your friend here. The focus may be digital transformation or global collaboration or risk management, and aligning to this priority may enable your client to get buy-in internally. Make sure you are fluent in the visible, budgeted, CEO-led, cross departmental initiatives — and how your solution plays a role here.

Take heart: this translation won’t always be a one-way street. The deeper your engagement, the more your enterprise clients will benefit from your startup’s perspective, and change technology, process, and language to reflect that understanding. Ideally, GAAP-based digital strategy recedes as long-established protocols reduce structural lag with how business is conducted today. In the meantime, consider the art of translation as important as pitching the outcome.

Source: Tech Crunch

The tools, they are a-changing

Building web services and smartphone apps, which is most of what I’ve been doing professionally at HappyFunCorp1 for the last decade or so, used to be pretty straightforward. Not easy, but straightforward, especially when the client was a consumer startup, which so many of them were.

The more we did the better we got at it. Design and write two native apps, usually iOS first and Android second. Don’t skimp on the design. Connect them to a JSON API, usually written in Ruby on Rails, which also powered the web site. There’s always a web site; consumers might only see the side which is a minimal billboard for the app, but there’s essentially always also an admin site, to control features and aspects of the app.

Design isn’t as important for the admin site, so you can build that in something crude but effective like ActiveAdmin; why roll your own? Similarly, authentication is tricky and easy to get wrong, so use something like Devise, which comes with built-in hooks to Facebook and Twitter login. Design your database carefully. Use jQuery for dynamic in-browser manipulation since raw Javascript is such a nightmare. Argue about whether to use Rspec or Minitest for your server tests.

All there? OK, roll it out to your Heroku scaling environment, so you can simply “git push” to push to staging and production, with various levels of Postgres support, autoscaling, pipelines, Redis caching, Resque worker jobs, and so forth. If it’s a startup, keep them on Heroku to see if they catch on, if they find the fabled product-market fit, not least because it helps you iterate faster. If so, at some point you have to graduate them to AWS, because Heroku only scales so far and it does so very expensively. If not, well, “fail fast,” right?

Those were the days, my friends, those halcyon, long-gone days of (checks notes) five years ago. The days of a lot of grief, sure, but very little decision complexity. The smartphone boom was on, and the web boom was settling down, and everyone was still surfing those two tidal waves.

Today? Well, today we still are, neither of those waves have broken, per se, software is still eating the world, but things are … different. More of the world is being eaten, but it’s also happening more slowly, like growing 50% a year from a $1 billion base rather than 500% from $1 million. There are fewer starry-eyed founders with an app idea that they’re sure will change the world and funding enough to give it a shot. Those are still out there, sure, and more power to them, but the landscape is more complex, now.

Instead we see more big businesses, media and industrial and retail alike, realizing they must adapt and be devoured, experimenting with new tech projects with a combination of excitement and trepidation. Or requisitioning custom apps for very specific — but very useful — purposes, and requiring them to interface with their awkward pre-existing custom middleware just so. Or tech companies, even big household-name ones, outsourcing ancillary tools and projects in order to focus their in-house teams purely on their core competencies and business models. Our mix of clients has definitely shifted more towards enterprise in the last few years.

Which is not to say that startups don’t still come through our doors with bright ideas and inspiring PowerPoints on a fairly regular basis. As do super starry-eyed blockchain founders (granted, I’m sometimes a bit starry-eyed about blockchains myself) replacing the consumer-app founders of yore. I doubt we’re alone in having had a spate of blockchain startup projects late last year and early this, which has diminished to only a couple active at the moment. (Not least because the tooling is still so crude it reminds me of 90s command-line hacking.) But I strongly doubt that sphere is going away.

We haven’t dealt with as many AI projects as I would have expected by now, probably partly because AI talent is still so scarce and highly valued, and partly because it turns out a lot of seeming “AI” work can be done with simple linear regressions rather than by building and training and tuning deep-learning neural networks… although if you do those linear regressions with TensorFlow, it’s still “AI” buzzword-compliant, right? Right?

Most of all, though, the tools we use have changed. Nowadays when you want to build an app, you have to ask yourself: really native? (Java or Kotlin? Objective-C or Swift?) Or React Native? Or Xamarin? Or Google’s new Flutter thing? When you want to build a web site, you have to think: traditional? Or single-page, with React or Angular or Vue? As for the server — Go is a lot faster than Rails, you know, and oh, that elegant concurrency handling, but, oh, where is my map/filter/reduce? Javascript is still a clumsy language, but there are certain advantages to having one language across the stack, and Node is powerful and package-rich these days. And of course you’ll want it all containerized, because while Docker definitely adds another layer or two of configuration complexity, it’s usually worth it.

Unless you want to go fully “serverless,” at least for aspects, with Amazon Lambda or Google Firebase? Even if you don’t use Firebase for a datastore, how about for authentication, huh? And if you’re all containerized, and Kubernetized if/as appropriate, though maybe let’s not go the many-microservices route until you’re sure your product-market fit justifies it, then where do you want to roll it out, AWS or Azure or Google Cloud or Digital Ocean? Or do you want to use one of their PaaS services, like App Engine or Beanstalk, which, like Heroku, sorta kinda live between “serverless” and “bare metal virtual machines”?

I oversimplify, but you get my point. We’ve never had more options, as developers, more tools available to us … and we’ve never had to struggle more with analysis paralysis, because it’s awfully hard to determine which of the possible toolsets is the best one for any particular situation. Sometimes — often — we have to be happy with just selecting a good one. And that selection problem doesn’t look like it’s going to get easier anytime soon, I’m afraid. It’s a strange time to be a coder. We live and work all tangled up in an embarrassment of riches.

1Yes, that’s really our name. No, this TC column isn’t a full-time gig. (Which is something people frequently assume, because it’s so much more visible and to some people writing a column every week sounds like a lot of work, but no, I’m really a CTO.)

Source: Tech Crunch

Facial recognition startup Kairos founder continues to fight attempted takeover

There’s some turmoil brewing over at Miami-based facial recognition startup Kairos . Late last month, New World Angels President and Kairos board chairperson Steve O’Hara sent a letter to Kairos founder Brian Brackeen notifying him of his termination from the role of chief executive officer. The termination letter cited willful misconduct as the cause for Brackeen’s termination. Specifically, O’Hara said Brackeen misled shareholders and potential investors, misappropriated corporate funds, did not report to the board of directors and created a divisive atmosphere.

Kairos is trying to tackle the society-wide problem of discrimination in artificial intelligence. While that’s not the company’s explicit mission — it’s to provide authentication tools to businesses — algorithmic bias has long been a topic the company, especially Brackeen, has addressed.

Brackeen’s purported termination was followed by a lawsuit, on behalf of Kairos, against Brackeen, alleging theft, a breach of fiduciary duties — among other things. Brackeen, in an open letter sent a couple of days ago to shareholders — and one he shared with TechCrunch — about the “poorly constructed coup,” denies the allegations and details his side of the story. He hopes that the lawsuit will be dismissed and that he will officially be reinstated as CEO, he told TechCrunch. As it stands today, Melissa Doval who became CFO of Kairos in July, is acting as interim CEO.

“The Kairos team is amazing and resilient and has blown me away with their commitment to the brand,” Doval told TechCrunch. “I’m humbled by how everybody has just kind of stuck around in light of everything that has transpired.”

The lawsuit, filed on October 10 in Miami-Dade and spearheaded by Kairos COO Mary Wolff, alleges Brackeen “used his position as CEO and founder to further his own agenda of gaining personal notoriety, press, and a reputation in the global technology community” to the detriment of Kairos. The lawsuit describes how Brackeen spent less than 30 percent of his time in the company’s headquarters, “even though the Company was struggling financially.”

Other allegations detail how Brackeen used the company credit card to pay for personal expenses and had the company pay for a car he bought for his then-girlfriend. Kairos alleges Brackeen owes the company at least $60,000.

In his open letter, Brackeen says, “Steve, Melissa and Mary, as cause for my termination and their lawsuit against me, have accused me of stealing 60k from Kairos, comprised of non-work related travel, non-work related expenses, a laptop, and a beach club membership,” Brackeen wrote in a letter to shareholders. “Let’s talk about this. While I immediately found these accusations absurd, I had to consider that, to people on the outside of  ‘startup founder’ life— their claims could appear to be salacious, if not illegal.”

Brackeen goes on to say that none of the listed expenses — ranging from trips, meals, rides to iTunes purchases — were not “directly correlated to the business of selling Kairos to customers and investors, and growing Kairos to exit,” he wrote in the open letter. Though, he does note that there may be between $3,500 to $4,500 worth of charges that falls into a “grey area.”

“Conversely, I’ve personally invested, donated, or simply didn’t pay myself in order to make payroll for the rest of the team, to the tune of over $325,000 dollars,” he wrote. “That’s real money from my accounts.”

Regarding forcing Kairos to pay for his then-girlfriend’s car payments, Brackeen explains:

On my making Kairos ‘liable to make my girlfriend’s car payment’— in order to offset the cost of Uber rides to and from work, to meetings, the airport, etc, I determined it would be more cost effective to lease a car. Unfortunately, after having completely extended my personal credit to start and keep Kairos operating, it was necessary that the bank note on the car be obtained through her credit. The board approved the $700 per month per diem arrangement, which ended when I stopped driving the vehicle. Like their entire case— its not very sensational, when truthfully explained.

The company also claims Brackeen has interfered with the company and its affairs since his termination. Throughout his open letter, Brackeen refers to this as an “attempted termination” because, as advised by his lawyers, he has not been legally terminated. He also explains how, in the days leading up to his ouster, Brackeen was seeking to raise additional funding because in August, “we found ourselves in the position of running low on capital.” While he was presenting to potential investors in Singapore, Brackeen said that’s “when access to my email and documents was cut.”

He added, “I traveled to the other side of the world to work with my team on IP development and meet with the people who would commit to millions in investment— and was fired via voicemail the day after I returned.”

Despite the “termination” and lawsuit, O’Hara told TechCrunch via email that “in the interest of peaceful coexistence, we are open to reaching an agreement to allow Brian to remain part of the family as Founder, but not as CEO and with very limited responsibilities and no line authority.”

O’Hara also noted the company’s financials showed there was $44,000 in cash remaining at the end of September. He added, “Then reconcile it with the fact that Brian raised $6MM in 2018 and ask yourself, how does a company go through that kind of money in under 9 months.”

Within the next twelve days, there will be a shareholder vote to remove the board, as well as a vote to reinstate Brackeen as CEO, he told me. After that, Brackeen said he intends to countersue Doval, O’Hara and Wolff.

In addition to New World Angels, Kairos counts Kapor Capital, Backstage Capital and others as investors. At least one investor, Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, has publicly come out in support of Brackeen.

As previously mentioned, Brackeen has been pretty outspoken about the ethical concerns of facial recognition technologies. In the case of law enforcement, no matter how accurate and unbiased these algorithms are, facial recognition software has no business in law enforcement, Brackeen said at TechCrunch Disrupt in early September. That’s because of the potential for unlawful, excessive surveillance of citizens.

Given the government already has our passport photos and identification photos, “they could put a camera on Main Street and know every single person driving by,” Brackeen said.

And that’s a real possibility. In the last couple of months, Brackeen said Kairos turned down a government request from Homeland Security, seeking facial recognition software for people behind moving cars.

“For us, that’s completely unacceptable,” Brackeen said.

Whether that’s entirely unacceptable for Doval, the interim CEO of Kairos, is not clear. In an interview with TechCrunch, Doval said, “we’re committed to being a responsible and ethical vendor” and that “we’re going to continue to champion the elimination of algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence.” While that’s not a horrific thing to say, it’s much vaguer than saying, “No, we will not ever sell to law enforcement.”

Selling to law enforcement could be lucrative, but that comes with ethical risks and concerns. But if the company is struggling financially, maybe the pros could outweigh the cons.

Source: Tech Crunch