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Origin launches protocol for building cheaper decentralized Ubers & Airbnbs

The sharing economy ends up sharing a ton of labor’s earnings with middlemen like Uber and Airbnb, and $38 million-funded Origin wants the next great two-sided marketplace to be decentralized on the blockchain so drivers and riders or hosts and guests can connect directly and avoid paying steep fees that can range up to 20 percent or higher. So today Origin launches its decentralized marketplace protocol on the ethereum mainnet that replaces a central business that connects users and vendors with a smart contract. “Marketplaces don’t redistribute the profits they make to members. They accrue to founders and venture capitalists,” said Origin co-founder Matt Liu, who was the third product manager at YouTube. “Building these decentralized marketplaces, we want to make them peer-to-peer, not peer-to-corporate-monopoly-to-peer.” When people transact through Origin, it plans to issue them tokens that will let them participate in the governance of the protocol, and could incentivize them to get on these marketplaces early as well as convince others to use them. Origin’s in-house marketplace DApp Today’s mainnet beta sees Origin offering its own basic decentralized app that operates like a Craigslist on the blockchain. Users can create a profile, connect their ethereum wallet through services like MetaMask, browse product and service listings, message each other to arrange transactions through smart contracts with no extra fees, leave reviews and appeal disputes to Origin’s in-house arbitrators. Eventually, with the Origin protocol, developers will be able to quickly build their own sub-marketplaces for specific services like dog walking, house cleaning, ridesharing and more. These developers can opt to charge fees, though Origin hopes the cost-savings from its blockchain platform will let them undercut non-blockchain services. And vendors can offer a commission to any marketplace that gets their listing matched/sold. It might be years before the necessary infrastructure like login systems and simple wallets make it easy for developers and mainstream users to build and adopt DApps built on Origin. But it has plenty of runway thanks to $3 million in seed token sale funding from Pantera Capital, $6.6 million raised through a Coinlist token sale, plus $26.4 million in traditional…

Ne-Yo wants to make Silicon Valley more diverse, one investment at a time

Dressed in a Naruto t-shirt and a hat emblazoned with the phrase “lone wolf,” Ne-Yo slouches over in a chair inside a Holberton School classroom. The Grammy-winning recording artist is struggling to remember the name of “that actor,” the one who’s had a successful career in both the entertainment industry and tech investing. “I learned about all the things he was doing and I thought it was great for him,” Ne-Yo told TechCrunch. “But I didn’t really know what my place in tech would be.” It turns out “that actor” is Ashton Kutcher, widely known in Hollywood and beyond for his role in several blockbusters and the TV sitcom That ’70s Show, and respected in Silicon Valley for his investments via Sound Ventures and A-Grade in Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Bird and several others. Ne-Yo, for his part, is known for a string of R&B hits including So Sick, One in a Million and Because of You. His latest album, Good Man, came out in June. Ne-Yo, like Kutcher, is interested in pursuing a side gig in investing but he doesn’t want to waste time chasing down the next big thing. His goal, he explained, is to use his wealth to encourage people like him to view software engineering and other technical careers as viable options. “Little black kids growing up don’t say things like ‘I want to be a coder when I grow up,’ because it’s not real to them, they don’t see people that look like me doing it,” Ne-Yo said. “But tech is changing the world, like literally by the day, by the second, so I feel like it just makes the most sense to have it accessible to everyone.” Last year, Ne-Yo finally made the leap into venture capital investing: his first deal, an investment in Holberton School, a two-year coding academy founded by Julien Barbier and Sylvain Kalache that trains full-stack engineers. The singer returned to San Francisco earlier this month for the grand opening of Holberton’s remodeled headquarters on Mission Street in the city’s SoMa neighborhood. Holberton, a proposed alternative to a computer science degree, is free to students until they graduate and land a job,…

Y Combinator is changing up the way it invests

To keep up with the growing sizes of early-stage funding rounds, Y Combinator announced this morning that it will increase the size of its investments to $150,000 for 7 percent equity starting with its winter 2019 batch. Based in Mountain View, Calif., YC funds and mentors hundreds of startups per year through its 12-week program that culminates in a demo day, where founders pitch their companies to an audience of Silicon Valley’s top investors. Airbnb, Dropbox and Instacart are among its greatest successes. Since 2014, YC has invested $120,000 for 7 percent equity in its companies. It has increased the size of its investment before — in 2007, a YC “standard deal” was just $20,000 — but the amount of equity the accelerator takes in exchange for the capital has been consistent. “We thought a $30K increase was necessary to help companies stay focused on building their product without worrying about fundraising too soon,” Y Combinator chief executive officer Michael Seibel wrote in a blog post this morning. “Capital for startups has never been more abundant, and we’ll continue to focus on the things that remain hard to come by — community, simplicity, advice that’s systematic and personal, and above all, a great founder experience.” Seibel was named CEO in 2016. Partner Sam Altman serves as YC’s president. YC is also changing the way it crafts its investments. It will now invest in startups on a post-money safe basis rather than on a pre-money safe. YC invented the fundraising mechanism, safe, in 2013. A safe, or a simple agreement for future equity, means an investor makes an investment in a company and receives the company stock at a later date — an alternative to a convertible note. A safe is a quicker and simpler way to get early money into a company and the idea was, according to YC, that holders of those safes would be early investors in the startup’s Series A or later priced equity rounds. In recent years, YC noticed that startups were raising much larger seed rounds than before and those safes were “really better considered as wholly separate financings, rather…

It’s the end of crypto as we know it and I feel fine

Watching the current price madness is scary. Bitcoin is falling and rising in $500 increments with regularity and Ethereum and its attendant ICOs are in a seeming freefall with a few “dead cat bounces” to keep things lively. What this signals is not that crypto is dead, however. It signals that the early, elated period of trading whose milestones including the launch of Coinbase and the growth of a vibrant (if often shady) professional ecosystem is over. Crypto still runs on hype. Gemini announcing a stablecoin, the World Economic Forum saying something hopeful, someone else saying something less hopeful – all of these things and more are helping define the current market. However, something else is happening behind the scenes that is far more important. As I’ve written before, the socialization and general acceptance of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial pursuits is a very recent thing. In the old days – circa 2000 – building your own business was considered somehow sordid. Chancers who gave it a go were considered get-rich-quick schemers and worth of little more than derision. As the dot-com market exploded, however, building your own business wasn’t so wacky. But to do it required the imprimaturs and resources of major corporations – Microsoft, Sun, HP, Sybase, etc. – or a connection to academia – Google, Netscape, Yahoo, etc. You didn’t just quit school, buy a laptop, and start Snapchat. It took a full decade of steady change to make the revolutionary thought that school wasn’t so great and that money was available for all good ideas to take hold. And take hold it did. We owe the success of TechCrunch and Disrupt to that idea and I’ve always said that TC was career pornography for the cubicle dweller, a guilty pleasure for folks who knew there was something better out there and, with the right prodding, they knew they could achieve it. So in looking at the crypto markets currently we must look at the dot-com markets circa 1999. Massive infrastructure changes, some brought about by Y2K, had computerized nearly every industry. GenXers born in the late 70s and…

Airbnb for Work now accounts for 15 percent of bookings

Business travelers have become an increasingly important part of Airbnb’s business, according to a new blog post. The company says that Airbnb for Work, which launched in 2014, has seen bookings triple from 2015 to 2016, and triple again from 2016 to 2017. In fact, Airbnb says that almost 700,000 companies have signed up for and booked with Airbnb for Work. Interestingly, the breakdown of companies working with Airbnb for traveler lodging are pretty diverse — employees from large enterprise companies (5,000+ employees) and employees from startups and SMBs (one to 250 employees) take a 40-40 split, with the final 20 percent of Airbnb for Work bookings going to mid-sized companies. In July of 2017, Airbnb started making its listings available via SAP Concur, a tool used by a large number of business travelers. Airbnb says that this integration has been a huge help to growing Airbnb for Work, with Concur seeing a 42 percent increase in employees expensing Airbnb stays from 2016 to 2017. Moreover, 63 percent of Concur’s Fortune 500 clients have booked a business trip on Airbnb. One interesting trend that Airbnb has noticed is that nearly 60 percent of Airbnb for Work trips had more than one guest. “We can offer big open areas for collaborations, while still giving employees their own private space,” said David Holyoke, global head of business travel at Airbnb. “We think this offers a more meaningful business trip and it saves the company a lot of money.” Given the tremendous growth of the business segment, as well as the opportunity it represents, Airbnb is working on new features for business travelers. In fact, in the next week, Airbnb will be launching a new feature that lets employees search for Airbnb listings on a company-specific landing page. So, for example, a Google employee might search for their lodging on Google.Airbnb.com, and the site would be refined to cater to Google’s preferences, including locations close to the office, budget, and other factors. While the growth has picked up, Holyoke still sees Airbnb for Work as an opportunity to grow. He said that Airbnb for…

Airbnb tests earlier payouts for hosts

Airbnb is testing a new payments feature for hosts, letting them get partially paid out at the time of booking. This feature isn’t rolling out to everyone just yet, as Airbnb says that this is just a preliminary test to gauge interest. Invited hosts simply opt in to payout splitting to check out the feature. Here’s how it works: Normally, Airbnb hosts are paid 24 hours after their guest’s scheduled check-in time. With the new payouts test, hosts who have been invited and opt in will receive 50 percent of their cash three days after the guest has booked their stay, and the other half will be received 24 hours after check-in time. For their trouble, Airbnb is taking a 1 percent fee of the booking subtotal for early payouts. As per usual, hosts can opt out of early payouts at any time by making the change in their Payout Preferences. If a booking is cancelled after an early payout has been received, the amount will be deducted from the host’s next booking. This comes on the heels of Airbnb’s announcement in February to add new tiers and types of lodging to the platform, including boutique hotels and B&Bs. Airbnb classifies hosts with more than six listings on the platform as Professional Hosts, and early payouts are one way that Airbnb can help these hosts grow their business. However, in certain housing-constrained markets like NYC, professional hosts aren’t necessarily welcome. In May, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report saying that Airbnb’s presence in NYC is driving up the cost of rent for full-time residents. The company and the Comptroller’s office went back and forth over the veracity of the report, but NYC isn’t the only market worried about the folks who make Airbnb their full-time job. In 2017, the WSJ reported on a study surveying 100 of the largest metro areas in the U.S. that found that a 10 percent increase in Airbnb listings leads to a 0.39 percent increase in rent and a 0.64 percent increase in housing prices. That may sound small, but rental prices typically climbed by…

Transcript: The 10 Commandments of Startup Success with Reid Hoffman

When Reid Hoffman — who is rightly called “the Oracle of Silicon Valley” by many tech giants — returned to the podcast, I figured it would be popular, but it exploded. Many of you have asked for the transcript of our conversation, so you can find it below. More accurately, it’s a draft script, so all words from Reid and other CEOs are accurate, but mine were modified substantially in the audio version. I added a lot of stories on the spot (maybe 20 minutes) that are likewise omitted. The new 6-10 questions from me to Reid (e.g. “What book have you have reread the most?”) are not included below, but you can find them here. Enjoy the notes and links! Commandment 1 TIM FERRISS: Expect rejection. But learn from every “No.” As a founder you have to be resilient, you have to learn to weather rejection. It is a universal experience.  And this clip, from the Masters of Scale episode “Beauty of A Bad Idea” brings that to life. It also gives you a taste for the show’s sense of humor. KATHRYN MINSHEW: I had been turned down 148 times. REID HOFFMAN: That’s Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of The Muse, a career development website that she pitched to investors 148 times—not that she was counting. MINSHEW: There were literally days where I had a “no” over breakfast, and “no” over a 10:30 AM coffee, a “no” over lunch. Disinterest at 2:00 pm, somebody who left a meeting early at 4:00. And then I would go to drinks and feel like I was being laughed out of the room. And when we finally raised our seed round, I went back and counted. It was both painful and gratifying at the same time, looking at all those names, and thinking, “I remember that ‘no,’ I remember that ‘no,’ I remember that ‘no’”—and they sting; every one stings. HOFFMAN: Today, the Muse serves users in the millions. Kathryn raised $16 million last year—and her tale is the origin story of most great startups. So if you’re hearing a chorus of “no”s, you…

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