Human is a newcomer in the crowded fitness space, but its take is different. Instead of being a stat-heavy activity app like RunKeeper or a life tracker gadget like Withings, Fitbit or Jawbone, Human is a passive iOS app designed to help you stay healthy. The goal is to move for 30 minutes every day, and to keep up with this simple habit. The company calls it the ‘Daily 30′. As it is extremely simple, keeping up with Human is easier than with competitive fitness systems.
“The basic premise of the app is very simple. Human tracks all of your activity and we put the focus on how many minutes you moved today and how many minutes you need to move,” co-founder and CEO Renato Valdés Olmos told me in a phone interview. “Each day of the week that you reach your Daily 30, we send out a push notifications,” he continued.
The startup chose to develop a very simple app to appeal to a mass audience, with an emphasis on design. The UI looks great with an ever-changing background picture. Everything is animated, making you want to open the app every time you receive the Daily 30 notification. But the most interesting aspect of Human is the technology behind it.
Along with Moves, it is one of the first fitness app to use passive location tracking. You set it up once and forget about it. Then, it calculates your speed with your location and your activity with the accelerometer. But when you launch Human, it doesn’t show you a timeline of your activities.
The most interesting aspect of Human is the technology behind it
“Showing the user a chronological timeline of your daily activity is great for the first few days. But after a few days, the magic wears out,” Valdés Olmos said.
That’s why the app’s depth is hidden behind the big minute count. If you tap on it, you’re taken to the activity timeline. And if you tap on an activity, you will see a map, the duration, distance and average speed. You can share this on Twitter and Facebook as well. In other words, Human automatically tracks your activities like RunKeeper — but you don’t have to remember to launch the app.
Over time, the team plans to use all this personal data to improve your daily habits. For example, you can tell the app where your office, your home and your gym are. The service can then build up the basic pattern for user behaviors.
“The goal is to send a notification that says ‘get off the subway two stops early and you’ll be on time to work,’” Valdés Olmos said. When it comes to privacy, he was quick to reassure me. “We want to be a different type of company when it comes to data collection,” he said. Users can export and delete everything with a single tap.
The startup hasn’t closed its seed round yet, but multiple angels are already committed to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in total. The app is available to iOS, but an Android version is coming soon. “We want to get as many people as possible to do the Daily 30,” Valdés Olmos said.
On the news that Microsoft will purchase substantial assets from Nokia, including its handset business and intellectual property, company investors have discarded its stock, sending it down 6 percent in regular trading.
At current trade, that decline represents $16.6 billion in market capitalization, a stunning repudiation of the plan by investors. To put the decline in perspective, when current CEO Steve Ballmer announced that he will relinquish his role at Microsoft, the company picked up $18 billion in value.
Therefore, investors are, wittingly or not, stating that the exit of Ballmer is roughly as good as the purchase of Nokia is bad. Not Microsoft’s best day.
Why the Nokia purchase? Essentially, Nokia became the de facto Windows Phone OEM, building almost 90 percent of handsets that the line shipped. Given that level of dominance, and the fact that Microsoft had granted it special leniency to enact user interface changes, Nokia was too free to change the face of Microsoft’s mobile platform.
So $7.2 billion later, Microsoft has control of its mobile platform and it has control over its mobile destiny. Why then would investors mock the deal?
Keep in mind that the purchase is functionally free for Microsoft. It can deploy foreign cash that it could not otherwise use to snag the firm, implying a firm savings over using domestic monies. That said, Nokia loses money, and it is likely that the Nokia assets that Microsoft purchased will also bleed cash.
However, I don’t think that a mild financial hangover is the ticket here. Instead, I think that Microsoft investors are betting against Nokia’s now ex-CEO Stephen Elop becoming Microsoft’s CEO. Call it pre-repudiation.
“We’re not building a Marxist society,” jokes Burning Man Founder Larry Harvey in response to a series of recent stories detailing the annual festival’s multi-million-dollar balance sheet and its buddy-buddy relationship with Silicon Valley billionaires. More seriously, he says, “you can make a lot of money and do good with it. Elon Musk has made a lot of money.”
Musk and his elite brethren have become part of the changing face of the week-long rave fest in the Nevada desert, known for its principle of “radical inclusion” and the tens of thousands of Bohemians who load up broken campers to let their inner free-spirit out during a retreat from the button-down corporate world.
Mark Zuckerberg reportedly helicoptered in to hand out grilled cheese. Larry Page, who was spotted one year donning a skin-tight silver onesie, said he hired Chairman Eric Schmidt, in part, because he was a Burner alum. Musk reportedly first dreamed up the solar-powered project that would eventually become his idea for the super-fast transit system, Hyperloop, on a road trip to Burning Man in 2004.
An early Tesla prototype, reportedly captured in 2007.
In recent years, Burning Man ticket prices have soared and Silicon Valley-themed camps are awarded with sizable real-estate on the desert campus. So what does an art and music festival –- made famous for its drug-fueled, 24-hour mobile dance clubs and its elaborately dressed half-naked artists — want with millions of dollars and the tech elite?
I sat down with Harvey on the last day of Burning Man, surrounded by the hymn of de-toxing party monsters deconstructing their themed camps with fork lifts, to find out.
“The opportunities of all these folks coming out who have command of wealth is to help us in extending our culture throughout the world,” explains Harvey. “A typical pattern is that they might stay for a day or two, and then it dawns on them that there’s a manifold of profound things to be gained.” Harvey and Google execs are known to wax philosophical over dinner at his personal camp.
As sappy as Harvey’s perception sounds, the experience evidently inspires tech founders’ affinity for radical experimentation. “Maybe we can set aside part of the world,” Google CEO Larry Page recently mused. “I like going to Burning Man. As a technologist maybe we need some safe places where we can try things and not have to deploy to the entire world.”
To that end, Harvey’s friends in the tech community are heeding his call to expand Burning Man-like villages around the world. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is setting up a satellite burner installation within his project in Downtown Las Vegas, aimed at creating a model for city innovation.
Hsieh has spent a portion of his personal $350 million investment on a tight-knit community of startups that feed off of one another’s idealism and experimental creativity. The otherwise run-down outskirt for low-budget Las Vegas tourism is starting to resemble the Burning Man campus, with monster-size art sculptures and retail shops in shipping containers.
Burning Man has come under criticism for the fully catered luxury camps that greet wealthier participants. I was granted an inside look at one of these so-called “turnkey” camps this year; other than fancy dining, the experience seemed pretty typical: bike around the campus during the day, meditate on a personal struggle, then rage all night.
It is true, however, that few high-end participants have time to create the elaborate art structures that they themselves enjoy. “It’s okay if they don’t drive an art car,” says Harvey. Although, apparently, the experience does compel some to give generously. Harvey admitted that one of the Google executives donated hundreds of free bikes to the festival.
“I’d like them to have a soulful experience. I’d like them to feel connected to the great human experience in ways that will constructively influence the course of world affairs.”
Burning Consumerism, Not Money
Burning Man’s ban on selling anything (except for ice) has created the misperception that the festival is anti-capitalist. Burners persist on a gift economy, where food, services and labor are generously doled out. Unlike a barter economy, immediate reciprocation is actively discouraged.
Half-naked attendees who solicit attendees to stop by for a gratis drink and body paint don’t have to think twice about freely enjoying one of the elaborately constructed group showers/dance clubs (yes, you read that right).
But, Harvey insists that Burning Man was never anti-money. “Anything much more ambitious than a family picnic would require that you responsibly deal with money.” Instead, the millions in revenue that goes to infrastructure and payouts to the local authorities are meant to conceal the complexities of money from participants, so they can concentrate on uninhibited experimentation.
“We just create things and give people time to pursue their own projects, and we don’t ever think about monetization.”
His unorthodox business philosophy finds a home in the tech industry’s risky reliance on free services, largely built from the contributions of users. For instance, Google Engineer Michael Favor, who piloted an early version of Google Maps 3D walk-thru at Burning Man, explained, “The power of Google is that they don’t do all the work. People posting content do. The same is true here at Burning Man. Citizens create the vast majority of things.” [PDF]
To be sure, Harvey is no fan of laissez-faire capitalism. “[Burning Man has] always been a sustained critique of the commodification of society and culture, that it isolates people from one another in their role as consumers.” As a counter example, he argues that crowdfunded artwork through sites like Kickstarter is a way to build community and make money at the same time. “Even before an artwork gets here, hundreds of people have contributed to it and identified with it.”
Intentional or not, however, Burning Man’s lucrative potential has brought with it entrepreneurs looking for inspiration and generous venture capitalists, which Harvey insists represent at most “a distinct minority” of the festival’s temporary population of nearly 70,000.
I scanned the dust storms looking for opportunistic tech people but came up empty-handed. During my visit to the massive “Silicon Village” multi-camp site, all I found was techies heads-down in rather unusual projects. One veteran Bay Area engineer proudly showed off his automatic water mister and “Orgasm Yurt” (a female-only joystick-shaped personal massager, tucked away inside a foil Yurt, complete with shag bedding).
If semi-wealthy tech carpetbaggers had crowded out Burning Man’s usual fare, I couldn’t find them.
A Stereotypical Idealism
For those of us steeped in the unbridled utopianism of Silicon Valley, Harvey’s philosophy is no shocker. So long as capitalism is centered on innovation, the philosophy goes, money does not exclude social good. With this rather idealistic underpinning, billionaire friends and a cash-cow event series are necessary to spread a cultural vision.
Regardless, the festival’s impact has made friends in high tech places. And to the extent that Burning Man culture seeps into technology’s influence in our lives, expect our world to get a little more…exciting.
This week on TechCrunch TV’s Ask A VC show, we are fortunate to have two guests in the studio—Spark Capital’s Bijan Sabet and Trinity Ventures’ Patricia Nakache. You can submit questions for our guests either in the comments or here and we’ll ask them during the show.
Sabet was an early investor in Twitter (Spark Capital, which just raised a new fund earlier this year, backed Twitter in 2008) and served on the company’s board from 2008 to 2011. Sabet also led investments in Tumblr (acquired by Yahoo), Jelly, Stack Exchange, RunKeeper, Foursquare, Boxee (acquired by Samsung), OMGPOP (acquired by Zynga) and thePlatform (acquired by Comcast).
Prior to joining Spark, Sabet was Senior Vice President, Corporate Development at GameLogic (acquired by Scientific Games Corp) after serving as an EIR at Charles River Ventures.
Nakache, who focuses on investments in digital media and internet services, joined Trinity in 1999. She previously worked at McKinsey as a consultant helping companies in technology, financial services and retail to address their strategic and operational issues. Her current portfolio of companies include Beachmint, Care.com, Kixeye, InfoArmy and others.
Please send us your questions for Sabet and Nakache here or put them in the comments below!
“Average is over“, says economist Tyler Cowen in his new book of the same name. And success and failure in a world dominated by digital technology, he says, will be defined by our relationship to smart machines. If our skills “complement” smart machines, Cowen writes in Average Is Over, we are likely to be successful; if not, he warns Luddites, “you may want to address that mismatch”.
But Cowen isn’t a dystopian and he doesn’t believe that smart machines are taking jobs from human beings. ‘The smartest and most successful people in the future, he believes, will manage the smart machines. And as these smart machines become more central in how we manage our education and healthcare, he says, “human psychology” – the art and science of motivation – will become increasingly valuable. This is what he calls “the next big thing.” In the future, Cowen insists, power will lie with the humans who partner with rather than own the algorithm. And in this age of the smart human/machine partnership, traditional algorithm-centric companies like Google will be old businesses – “like GM”, he predicts.
“Marketing”, Cowen writes in Average Is Over, is the “seminal sector for our future economy.” But Cowen’s intriguing definition of marketing lies in figuring out how to motivate people and to get them to feel better about themselves. Everyone in the future economy – from doctors to educators to entrepreneurs – will be coaches. But who is going to own the operating platform in the age of the smart machine? That’s the trillion-dollar question which even Tyler Cowen isn’t smart enough to answer.
You’ll see some startups trying to solve big problems in networking, business software and security next week during our Battlefield competition at Disrupt SF – industries which at first glance may seem boring or overly complex but are extremely important to the world.
You’ll also see Battlefield companies working in more unusual areas, like government and agriculture, where there’s huge potential but many challenges to creating a business.
And you might find other startups simply fun and entertaining, because that’s what their products are designed to do.
From first-time founders to long-time veterans, from bootstrapped products to well-backed ones, the Battlefield this year is the most exciting and diverse yet. Or so we think, after our editorial staff spent the last few months picking them out from our hundreds of applicants.
Now we’ll see what our panel of finals judges say about these companies.
Marissa Mayer is taking a break from reinventing Yahoo and reprising her role at the event, along with David Lee, Chris Dixon, and Roelof Botha. As an accomplished Sequoia Capital partner, Botha is an invaluable board member for Square, Tumblr, Unity, Evernote and more. Dixon, the entrepreneur turned investor and tech pundit, is joining us once again to add a bit of homespun advice. We also have the privilege of SV Angel head David Lee’s early-stage wisdom.
And the man himself, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, will be on board dishing out startup advice in addition to conducting his iconic interviews.
We’re also excited to have a new finals judge at SF this year. Keith Rabois will be joining us to offer his experience gained from his long career in tech — most recently at payments company Square and now in his partner role at Khosla Ventures.
The final 6 companies out of the 30 will present to these judges on Wednesday afternoon, after the previous days’ judges and our editorial staff reviews the presentations on Monday and Tuesday. Then we’ll collectively figure out and announce the winners.
General admission tickets that grant access to the three-day event and nightly parties are still available. And for the first time, tickets to just the nightly parties are also available. As always, if you are interested in becoming a sponsor, opportunities can be found here. Students can also come and be a part of Disrupt SF, for $300 here.
These companies have been working non-stop to make the most of their short time on the Disrupt stage. Only one can come away with the Disrupt Cup and a $50,000 cash prize.
Here’s a bit more about who you’ll see on stage during the finals.
CrunchFund, General Partner
J. Michael Arrington (born March 13, 1970 in Huntington Beach, California) is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of TechCrunch, a blog covering startups and technology news.
Arrington attended Claremont McKenna College (BA Economics, 1992) and Stanford Law School (JD, 1995) and practiced as a corporate and securities lawyer at two law firms: O’Melveny & Myers and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. His clients included idealab, Netscape, Pixar, Apple and a number of startups, venture funds and investment banks. He also co-authored a book on initial public offerings.
In 1999, he left WSGR to join RealNames as VP of Business Development and General Counsel. In 2000, he cofounded Achex, an online payments company, that was later acquired by First Data Corp for $32 million. Achex is now the back end infrastructure to Western Union online.
Arrington worked in an operational role at a Carlyle backed startup in London, founded and ran two companies in Canada (Zip.ca and Pool.com), was COO to a Kleiner-backed company called Razorgator, and consulted to other companies, including Verisign.
In May 2008, Time Magazine named Michael Arrington as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Sequoia Capital, Partner
Roelof Botha is a partner at Sequoia Capital, and works with a broad range of companies. Some democratize technology access (Square, Eventbrite, Unity, Nimbula); some create global user communities (YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram); and others disrupt markets through innovative business models (Evernote, Weebly, Xoom). Roelof also sits on the boards of Aliph, Mahalo, and TokBox. Roelof is a champion of consumer Web plays and considers himself as “just another consumer.”
Roelof led the initial financing of YouTube on behalf of Sequoia Capital in 2005.
Roelof served as the Chief Financial Officer of PayPal, where he led the company through its IPO in 2002, and the acquisition by eBay before joining Sequoia Capital in 2003.
Roelof loves to hear a founder recount what inspired them to strike out on their own and to gain an understanding of how the founder is uniquely solving a customer pain point.
SV Angel, Founder & Managing Partner
David Lee is a Founder and Managing Partner of SV Angel, an angel fund with investments in companies such as Twitter, Foursquare, Flipboard, Dropbox and Airbnb.
Prior to SV Angel, David was at Baseline Ventures, a leading seed-stage venture firm. He was a founding member of Google’s New Business Development team and led business development at StumbleUpon prior to its sale to eBay. He also was a corporate attorney at leading technology law firms. David has an M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford, where he was a National Science Foundation graduate fellow; a J.D. from NYU; and a B.A. from Johns Hopkins.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.
Yahoo!, CEO & President
Marissa Mayer is CEO of Yahoo.
Previously as a VP at Google, Marissa Mayer led the product management and engineering efforts of Google’s local, mobile, and contextual discovery products including Google Maps, Google Maps for Mobile, Local Search, Google Earth, Street View, Latitude and more. At 36 years old, she was also the youngest member of Google’s executive operating committee. During her 12 years at Google, Marissa led product management and design efforts for Google web search, images, news, books, products, toolbar, and iGoogle. She started at Google in 1999 as Google’s 20th employee and first woman engineer.
Marissa’s contributions and leadership have been recognized by numerous publications including the New York Times, Newsweek and BusinessWeek. Fortune magazine has listed her for the past 3 years on their annual Most Powerful Women’s list, and she was the youngest ever to appear on the list. In 2010 Marissa was honored by the New York Women in Communications, Inc. with a Matrix Award. She also been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and Woman of the Year by Glamour Magazine. Marissa serves on the board of various non-profits, including the Smithsonian National Design Museum, the New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Prior to joining Google, Mayer worked at the UBS research lab (Ubilab) in Zurich, Switzerland, and at SRI International in Menlo Park, California.
Marissa received her B.S. in Symbolic Systems and her M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University. For both degrees, she specialized in artificial intelligence.
Khosla Ventures, Venture Partner
Keith Rabois is a member of the Khosla Ventures investing team, joining in March 2013.
Most recently, Rabois was Chief Operating Officer at Square where he oversaw the company’s business operations including marketing, communications, business development, distribution, human resources and risk management. Keith specializes in transforming early-stage startups into successful businesses and has deep expertise in the financial services industry and government affairs.
An accomplished executive, entrepreneur and angel investor, Keith has held leadership roles at PayPal, LinkedIn, Slide and began his career practicing law at Sullivan & Cromwell. Keith was an early investor in several high-profile Internet companies including YouTube and currently serves on the board of directors of Yelp and Xoom.
Keith holds a JD from Harvard Law School and an undergraduate degree in political science from Stanford University.
Andreessen Horowitz, General Partner
Chris Dixon is a Partner at and co-founder of Founder Collective. He is also a contributing writer for TechCrunch.
He previously was the CEO and Co-founder of SiteAdvisor, which was acquired by McAfee, and Hunch, which was acquired by eBay. In addition to his work with Founder’s Collective, Chris is a personal investor in early-stage technology companies, including Skype, TrialPay, DocVerse, Invite Media, Gerson Lehrman Group, ScanScout, OMGPOP, BillShrink, Oddcast, Panjiva, Knewton, and a handful of other startups that are still in stealth mode
The news that Microsoft has purchased substantial assets from Nokia came as a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. The underlying reason that Microsoft had little choice but to buy Nokia is plain: Nokia had too much control over the Windows Phone platform, and Microsoft could not afford to lose its primacy over its mobile efforts.
How did we end up in this situation? Simple: Microsoft granted Nokia special privileges to adapt Windows Phone to its own preference, and Nokia over time became the most popular Windows Phone manufacturer. Then it became essentially the only Windows Phone hardware company. This is where its rights to change Windows Phone came to bear as a problem for Microsoft: If Nokia were the only Windows Phone OEM that mattered, and it could change the operating system, Microsoft had little control over its own platform. Sure, it built the developer tools, but if it could not control the user experience, in a real way its mobile operating system was outside of its own control.
That was not acceptable. Microsoft claims that it wants to work with other hardware providers to build Windows Phone handsets. And HTC might stick around, but Microsoft has now cornered its own market, and that will limit external interest.
It cost Microsoft billions in cash, and likely a continued profit drip as Nokia, let’s be frank, loses money and it seems likely that the assets that were purchased won’t be cash-flow positive. But now, instead of losing control of its platform, Microsoft controls it in a way like never before. And like it never has with Windows, despite its efforts in that domain to tighten its grip with the Surface project.
Microsoft is a company that until eight minutes ago depended on external hardware providers to act as conduits for its software products. Surface was a first salvo against that past. Nokia as a purchase is its complete repudiation. Windows Phone could, if past trends persist, could ship 10 million units in the fourth quarter of 2013. Now, those will be Microsoft handsets (yes, the deal doesn’t close until 2014, but we’re speaking functionally, not pedantically).
The platform wars are now better defined: Apple, Google, and Microsoft control mobile software and hardware internally, which allows them to push their own services to mobile users. Mobile is the key future platform. Therefore, companies in tech can be cleaved into two camps: Those who have their own mobile platform, and those who have to schlep on the platforms of others.
Yahoo, for example, is a bet that the latter can work. Microsoft doesn’t seem to agree.