Pension funds, insurance companies could fuel venture capital

The resources of Azerbaijan's pension funds and the insurance companies could become sources of venture capital for start-up projects in the country, Osman Gunduz believes. The member of the Supervisory Board of the State Fund for Development of Information Technologies of Azerbaijan told Trend that certain changes in legislation would allow pension funds or insurance companies to place some of their assets in riskier instruments.

Blue Jeans Network Raises $76.5M To Bring Video Conferencing Beyond The Office

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.45.58 PM Blue Jeans Network, a company that provides cloud-based video conferencing services, has raised $76.5 million in its fifth round of financing. NEA led the Series E round, joined by Accel Partners, Battery Ventures, Glynn Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, and Quadrille Capital. Jeter Ventures, a new fund launched by MLB all-star Derek Jeter, also participated. When Blue Jeans launched in… Read More

Video conferencing company Blue Jeans raises $76.5M

You can record Blue Jeans video conference meetings.

Blue Jeans Network, a company with web and native mobile applications for video conferencing, is announcing today a $75.5 million round of funding.

Companies have plenty of options if they want to hold a video conference for employees or partners. There’s LogMeIn’s, Citrix’s GoToMeeting, Cisco’s WebEx, Logitech’s Lifesize, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Skype/Lync, and Zoom, to name a few. Blue Jeans emphasizes its interoperability with Lync, Hangouts, and other services, as well as even hardware systems from Cisco and Polycom. That way, everyone on a call doesn’t have to be logged in to the same system.

Acquisitions in this market happen frequently. In April, for instance, Atlassian acquired Blue Jimp.

Blue Jeans customers include Facebook, GoPro, Pandora, and Stanford University.

In December Blue Jeans launched the Primetime service to broadcast video streams to large audiences.

New Enterprise Associates led the new round in Blue Jeans, which started in 2009 and is based in Mountain View, Calif. Accel Partners, Battery Ventures, Glynn Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Quadrille Capital, and former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter also participated.

To date Blue Jeans has has taken on $175 million.

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John Doerr of Kleiner says he’s sorry for offensive joke about new partners’ names

John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Oh, you white men of Silicon Valley.

It appears the growing outcry over the lack of women and minorities in Silicon Valley, particularly in the ultra-clubby world of venture capital, still has a long way to go.

Exhibit A: Yesterday, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, fresh off a bruising and embarrassing lawsuit over his firm’s treatment of a former female partner, decided to make light of his new partners’ names.

Their names: Muzzammil Zaveri and Swati Mylavarapu.

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So, a venture capitalist walks onto a Techcrunch Disrupt stage and says:

Get it?

Guess those sensitivity training sessions didn’t get the hoped-for ROI.

Probably getting some flak from his flak, Doerr apologized on Twitter:

Pro user tip: Next time put a period before the @ so more people will see the tweet: [email protected] We understand. Twitter is damn complicated.

In any case, KPCB has clearly hired two worthy new partners. Zaveri was doing investments in the U.S. for China-based Internet giant Tencent. Mylavarapu was at Square and had previously been with and focused on mobile in sub-Saharan Africa and India through.

A couple of strong additions for a firm with global investment ambitions. Just going to be a bit awkward at the next KPCB golf tournament.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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Web Summit to move from Dublin to Lisbon in 2016, a massive loss for Irish tech economy

22,000 attended the 2014 Web Summit in Dublin.

The organizers of the Web Summit, one of the fastest-growing technology conferences in the world, announced today that the event would move from its home in Dublin to Lisbon, Portugal in 2016.

In a blog post, founder Paddy Cosgrave said the event had outgrown its hometown and needed to find a new city where it could continue to expand.

“It has not been an easy decision to move Web Summit from its Irish home,” he wrote. “We are going because we want to take the next step on our journey to international growth.”

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Though the exact dates were not announced, the event will be held at the MEO Arena and FIL Feira Internacional de Lisboa.

Web Summit is one of the largest tech gatherings in Europe, along with Slush in Finland and the massive Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Local officials in Dublin estimated that the event had an economic impact in 2014 of $110 million.

While no doubt a shock to Irish economic leaders, the decision is not entirely surprising. Earlier this month, Cosgrave said he was in negotiations with other cities.

I attended last year, when the conference had grown to 22,000 attendees and 10 stages from 10,000 attendees in 2013.This year, the event will have 30,000 attendees and even more stages.

It was clear then that the Web Summit had overwhelmed its hometown.

The stages were spread across two sections of the Royal Dublin Society’s fairgrounds that require a 15 minute walk between the various stages. And on top of that, there were dozens of social events being held across the city every night, often until the early morning hours.

The RDS has repeatedly refused Cosgrave’s request to let him install a new tech infrastructure for the Web Summit. That meant that throughout the event, wi-fi rarely worked and making phone calls could be difficult, leaving attendees frustrated.

And while Dublin is a great city, finding accommodations anywhere near the event was nearly impossible. Getting to and from the event, or finding taxis after hours, was a logistical nightmare. And the weather in Dublin during the first week of November is somewhat less than tropical.

In growing the Web Summit from 400 to 22,000 people since 2010, Cosgrave made plain that his ambitions were massive. He has created teams of data scientists to improve the ability of conference goers to connect. And his company has launched other events in places such as Las Vegas, Hong Kong and India.

The blog post notes that the new venues could accommodate up to 80,000 people (gulp!) and that the city has better transportation options and hotel options.

“We know now what it takes to put on a global technology gathering and we know that if Web Summit is to grow further, we need to find it a new home,” Cosgrave wrote. “Our attendees expect the best.”


Hands-on with Halo 5: Guardians: Campaign takes us in search of Master Chief

Master Chief is back in Halo 5: Guardians.

It’s still Halo.

343 Industries hasn’t messed up the single-player campaign for Halo 5: Guardians. In fact, you could say the developer has been an excellent guardian of the Halo franchise since inheriting it from Bungie some years back. That much is evident from my hands-on preview of Halo 5: Guardians, which debuts on October 27 as the next big Microsoft exclusive in a series that has sold more than 60 million copies to date.

Our preview provided some clarity into the story that Halo fans have been eagerly awaiting since Halo 4 came out in 2012 on the Xbox 360. Master Chief is back, but he’s sharing the stage with Jameson Locke, the hero of the video series Halo: Nightfall. Since that story, Locke (formerly an agent in the Office of Naval Intelligence) has become a Spartan IV supersoldier with augmentations. In Halo 5: Guardians, Master Chief has gone AWOL, and Spartan Locke leads the mission to find him and discover why. I played through the second level as Master Chief, and then played another mission midway through the game as Spartan Locke. During those missions, I came across some very interesting plot twists. Those twists are interesting, but I won’t spoil them now.

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Halo 5 is the biggest game that Microsoft has coming this fall, and it’s going to be the main reason why gamers will choose the Xbox One over the Sony PlayStation 4. So there’s a lot at stake. The title is also a big chance for Microsoft’s 343 Industries (the studio formed to handle the Halo franchise after original creator Bungie spun out to make another first-person shooter, Destiny) to show what it can do with huge investment of time and money. It’s been three years since we last saw Master Chief. He saved the universe the last time around, and we’re hoping that he does nothing less than that in Halo 5: Guardians.

“The story takes place after the events of Halo 4,” said Josh Holmes, the executive producer of Halo 5: Guardians, in an interview with GamesBeat. “At this point, we have a series of cataclysmic events threatening colonies across the galaxy — mysterious events. The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is trying to figure out what’s going on. Early in the story, Master Chief goes AWOL for uncertain reasons. This leads the UNSC to deploy a new squad of Spartans to find out why Chief and Blue Team have left the ranks and what connection – if any – that has to these events.”

Holmes added, “That’s the setup. It’s told like a mystery, deliberately. The player, as Locke, is following in Chief’s footsteps and trying to unravel why he’s doing what he’s doing and where everything will lead.”

Master Chief returns

Master Chief returns in Halo 5: Guardians

Above: Master Chief returns in Halo 5: Guardians

Image Credit: Microsoft

Let’s just say that hardcore Halo fans are going to be happy with both the single-player campaign and the multiplayer combat.

I started out on the second level of the game, the first mission with Master Chief. He is the leader of Blue Team, a squad of four Spartan II warriors who stick together throughout the mission. Their task is to board a derelict USNC vessel dubbed the Argent Moon. The ship was an Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) research and development vehicle that was missing. Blue Team was dispatched by the UNSC Infinity warship to secure the vessel and its intel.

Blue Team starts out by leaping into space and navigating through an asteroid field. They land on the ship and engage with the Covenant and Forerunner forces aboard. You play as the familiar Master Chief, carrying an assault rifle and grenades that haven’t changed since the very first Halo game, way back in 2001. The graphics of the ship and the fellow Spartans are impressive, as Halo 5 really takes advantage of the additional horsepower of the Xbox One.

Blue Team’s members consist of Kelly-087, Fred-104, and Linda-058. You can tell them apart from Master Chief, or John-117, because they all have very distinct armor. These team members have known each other since childhood, and they trust each other, Holmes said.

Blue Team in Halo 5: Guardians

Above: Blue Team in Halo 5: Guardians

Image Credit: Microsoft

As Master Chief, I made short work of the first Covenant enemies that I ran into. But I quickly remembered how fast you run out of ammo with the assault rifle. I had to scrounge for supplies while I took on Covenant Elite, which shimmered nicely thanks to the enhanced graphics. Phosphorescent blue blood was everywhere. With the A.I.-controlled Blue Team to help me, it was quite easy to take out the enemies. Every time I got wounded, I started bleeding out. I could call for help, and one of my teammates would come to revive me.

I had multiple routes to get around tough spots. The levels were vast compared to past games, and they were three-dimensional. Blue Team had to clear out the enemies one room at a time, but now we had more ways to solve problems. We stayed in touch with the UNSC Infinity, which dispatched new instructions for how to proceed with the attack on the Covenant and the defense of the Argent Moon.

Much of the ship was dark. I went down a level as if I were descending a level in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, within the giant ship. I came upon a vast 3D space where aerial vehicles, dubbed Banshees, could fly. In one firefight, I had to take out a bunch of Covenant by raking them with Banshee fire. Then we had to fend off some attackers and take out a bunch of infrastructure. After that, I had to figure out a way to make a giant leap and get to the next level. It took some serious fighting to survive.

The Hunters appear again in Halo 5: Guardians.

Above: The Hunters appear again in Halo 5: Guardians.

Image Credit: Microsoft

I also came upon some giant Hunters, or tank-like creatures that can only be taken out from behind. In a typical single-player battle, the Hunters are very difficult to kill. But with cooperative play or Blue Team single-player fights, it’s much easier to gang up on the Hunters and take them out. The Hunters have been modified so they can turn around quickly and smash you, so they’re more challenging to defeat.

There’s a fair amount of chatter during the fighting, but I realized that I missed the banter between Master Chief and Cortana, the A.I. character who we last saw at the close of Halo 4.

“In Halo 4, we were very focused on those two characters and this intimate relationship they had against a backdrop of action and high-stakes drama,” Holmes said. “In this game, we still have Chief at the center of it all, but he’s now surrounded by a team of Spartans. We have a second team of four that are tracking him. Finding the time to explore all those characters and give each of them a chance to establish themselves was an interesting creative challenge.”

Hanging out with Locke

Locke's Team Osiris in the Enemy Lines battle in Halo 5: Guardians.

Above: Locke’s Fireteam Osiris in the Enemy Lines battle in Halo 5: Guardians.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Once I completed the Master Chief mission, I played a mission much later in the game as Spartan Locke. Locke’s Team Osiris consists of Buck, Vale, and Tanaka. They land on a desert planet with a lot of canyons, and they have to move through the rock formations and take out some very fortified Covenant positions. They also have to deal with drop ships that are bringing more and more enemies into the battle.

Locke, of course, is a very different character than Master Chief.

“That’s intentional. Designing Locke and writing the new character, we wanted him to feel distinct from Chief,” said Holmes. “We wanted him to be a person who would ask Chief the kind of questions we want him to ask over the course of this mission.”

We proceeded to redo the mission as a co-op team. That made the fighting much easier. We had to group together to take down a giant Kraken, a Covenant ship that was very menacing but had its proverbial weak spot as well.

“As a new Spartan in Halo 5, Locke’s been put at the helm of Fireteam Osiris,” Holmes said. “They’re a brand new squad, which is very different from Chief and Blue Team, who have known each other since childhood. They’ve fought together and trust each other. They know what each other member of the team is going to do without even thinking about it. They operate on instinct. Locke and Osiris are still finding their groove together, learning about one another and figuring out their places. Locke is still learning what it means to be a leader. That’s all fertile ground for the story.”

I’m looking forward to the full game, as I still don’t truly understand the story and how anyone could doubt Master Chief’s allegiance.

As for Holmes, who has been working on the title for almost four years, he said about the fans, “I hope they’ll be surprised. I hope they enjoy the journey we take them on. It’s a different approach to storytelling in Halo, but we’re excited about it. We think it’s fitting for Halo as we move to Xbox One, to make this big leap in the way we tell stories and let people experience the universe. I hope they come away pleasantly surprised.”

Locke's Team Osiris engages with Wraith in Halo 5: Guardians.

Above: Locke’s Fireteam Osiris engages with Wraith in Halo 5: Guardians.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Mobile user acquisition: Ad networks teaming up in “Collective” to share data on mobile gamers

Candy Crush Soda Saga

Mobile ad attribution company Kochava is teaming up with ad agencies, networks, and advertisers to pool data on mobile gamers, share ways to target them, and improve mobile publishers’ ability to find, advertise to, and acquire new users.

All without compromising mobile users’ security, Kochava CEO Charles Manning says.

mobile-game-developmentIn the mobile advertising game, data is everything. Top independent players such as Vungle, Chartboost, AdColony, and Applovin push over two billion ad impressions monthly through their networks, touching hundreds of millions of mobile users. Google and Facebook’s ad networks touch even more, and that scale provides big data, and big data enables better targeting. Better targeting equals a better shot of locating and delivering better mobile users for advertisers such as Clash of Clans or 8 Ball Pool, so the hundreds of smaller ad networks, demand-side platforms, and other industry players are at a disadvantage.

“The challenge of the splintering ecosystem of multiple different ad networks is that it is difficult for large advertisers to scale,” Manning told me via email. “The Collective unifies the inventory across any participating media source and enables an even playing field.”

In addition, while mobile advertisers often have significant amounts of first-party data they could use for additional audience targeting, perhaps in look-alike campaigns, they don’t necessarily want to just hand it over to an ad network.

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It is, after all a competitive advantage.

“Asking an advertiser to hand over their unique user data is akin to asking a professional sports team to hand over their playbook, along with notes on what’s working and what’s not, to their competitors,” Manning said in a statement. “The Collective believes that the advertiser’s data is their data and we adhere to how the advertiser wants their data to be treated. At the same time, publishers want to make their audience data available to advertisers to enable better targeting, filtering and ad buying — at scale.”

mobile-games-3Hence, a data-sharing collective.

But one that shares data about the data, not specific player profiles or personally identifiable information or device identifiers. It’s sort of like putting the data in escrow with a third party, letting it do its work, and then retrieving it when it’s done. What The Collective essentially provides is an API layer that ad networks, advertisers, and ad measurement companies can call to pool data that will help target mobile users, while doing it safely. As an advertiser you won’t share your data, your users’ privacy will be maintained, and yet, magically, you will get the right targeting parameters and networks that you need in order to power your user acquisition campaign.

It’s a match-making service, sort of a user acquisition Tinder where you can programmatically swipe right to find large numbers of good potential dates, and then kick off campaigns against that list on the ad networks you now know have their phone numbers. You only get the phone number if the potential dates like your profile (errr, ad) too.

While the name sounds vaguely Soviet, and the concept will certainly have privacy advocates perking up their ears, the base idea is a good one.

The question is: Who will join? And … what will it cost them, if anything?

The four founding partners are not exactly household names. They include names like AdXcel, Altrooz, Appia, and Liquid (no, not LiquidM). In spite of writing multiple reports on the mobile ad space, mobile user acquisition, and mobile monetization, I only recognized two of the names at first reading.

But that is the point. The Collective will allow boutique ad networks to target and acquire mobile users at scale and with precision they’ve only dreamed of in the past.

iPhone6s-4Color-RedFish-PR-PRINTThere is the question, of course, of cost.

Since they’re not surrending data, simply temporarily making use of it, networks should be OK on that score. The bigger question in my mind is the targets of this sort of union: Facebook, Google, and maybe even the other big boys of mobile advertising. It’s clear from recent history that Facebook views attempts to loose its grip on the mobile user acquisition market with a very jaundiced eye, and isn’t above punishing those attempts.

That said, the small guys don’t have a lot to lose, anyways. And, The Collective is backed by an massive network of ad networks and publishers — 1,400 of them — that Kochava has already integrated into its platform.

Which means there should be both plenty of supply, and a lot of demand.

And, it’s yet another attempt to make the mobile ad ecosystem — already almost insanely complex with DSPs and SSPs, ad networks and exchanges, private exchanges and public exchanges, measurement partners and attribution partners — work better for the large bulk of the players in it … not just the massive platforms that are trying to own it.