SoftBank considers IPO for Japan wireless unit, said to seek $18 billion

TOKYO (Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) said on Monday it was considering listing its Japanese wireless business, seeking to raise a reported $18 billion in a move that would accelerate the conglomerate’s transformation into one of the world’s biggest tech investors.

A spin-off – potentially the biggest IPO by a Japanese company in nearly two decades – would also give the unit more autonomy as well as help investors with valuing the business and its parent.

SoftBank Group, which saw its shares climb 4 percent on the news, has a vast range of holdings including stakes in British chip designer ARM Holdings ARM.L, struggling U.S. wireless service provider Sprint Corp (S.N) as well as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N).

It has with other investors also set up a $93 billion Vision Fund, that is investing in range of firms to capitalize on a tech future expected to be driven by artificial intelligence, robotics and interconnected devices.

SoftBank Group plans to sell some 30 percent of SoftBank Corp, raising around 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) that would go towards investments in growth, such as buying into foreign information-technology companies, the Nikkei newspaper said without citing sources.

It plans to seek approval from the Tokyo Stock Exchange as early as spring and aims to debut in Tokyo as well as overseas, possibly London, around autumn, the business daily said.

SoftBank Group said in a statement that a listing of the business was one option for its capital strategy but that no such decision had been made.

A 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) IPO would be one of the biggest listings by a Japanese company, rivaling the 2.2 trillion yen 1986 offering of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (9432.T) as well as a 2.1 trillion yen listing by NTT DoCoMo Inc (9437.T) a decade later.

“It makes sense to spin off the mobile-phone business using a public offering that would leave SoftBank in control and provide SoftBank with more cash to pursue its strategy of investing in companies with potentially high growth prospects,” Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

“It is a way of obtaining capital without adding debt or diluting SoftBank’s equity interests in the growth companies.”

The domestic telecoms unit, Japan’s No. 3 wireless carrier, posted a 4.5 percent rise in operating profit to 720 billion yen in the year ended March on sales of 3.2 trillion yen.

SoftBank Group’s complicated structure and constant stream of new investments have left many investors struggling to value the company with analysts often noting that its market value does not accurately reflect the value of its massive holdings.

SoftBank’s market value currently stands at around $92 billion. By contrast, its near 30 percent stake in Alibaba is worth around $140 billion.

Large companies seeking to list in Tokyo are required to float at least 35 percent of their shares although these rules can be eased when the company is also listing overseas.

Reporting by Yoshiyasu Shida and Sam Nussey; Additional reporting by Chris Gallagher and Minami Funakoshi; Writing by William Mallard; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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How To Overcome The Most Common App Pitfalls

Have you considered starting a mobile app? Or does your company already have one in progress? There are thousands of successful mobile apps on the market, but tens of thousands of failed starts to balance them out. Building a mobile app isn’t a get-rich-quick-scheme; instead, it’s a trial by fire that only a small percentage of candidates survive.

Survival and Failure

Of all paid apps, about 90 percent are downloaded less than 500 times per day, earning less than $1,250 per day. Considering the high upkeep costs of applications, that can hardly be considered a success.

In the words of Shmuel Aber, “with over a million apps on the market, consumers have lots of choices, and they won’t download or pay for your app unless you’re truly exceptional. There are a lot of moving parts to the average consumer’s decision, so you need an in-depth understanding of the market if you want to survive.”

So what are the main reasons most mobile apps fail?

Main Reasons

These are some of the most influential factors driving mobile app death:

1. Improper audience targeting. According to Andrew Daniels, “Apps will often fail because they’re not meeting the needs of the target audience or because they’ve not researched simple things like the most used devices of the target audience. If your customers are predominantly Android users and your app is only on iOS or vice versa, you have an immediate problem. We also sometimes have businesses come to us with an idea for an application concept, but no real data suggesting whether the market needs or wants it or whether anything like it is already available.” You need to define your target audience, and be sure they’re going to use and enjoy your app. Research is your greatest asset here.

2. Poor user interfaces. According to Britt Armour, “There are a lot of components involved in building an app that offers a great user experience, but at the basest level, your app needs to be intuitive. If a user struggles to perform basic functions on your app and can’t figure out core functionalities easily, the result is very poor usability.” Your app design should make the app so approachable, even a novice could figure it out.

3. High levels of competition. The app market is saturated, so even if you have an original idea, you’ll likely face significant competition from at least two or three other companies. If you’re caught unprepared by a dominant competitor, you might not be able to survive. You can gain an advantage by reducing your prices, offering better functionality, or avoiding competition entirely by focusing on a different niche.

4. A lack of a marketing strategy. In the words of Juned Ahmed, “These days, by building a great app you have just done half the work. Until you market the app and make it discoverable to the audience, the whole effort will not get its due. Many mobile apps do not make enough to sustain as a business principally because of a poor or half-hearted marketing strategy. Just writing a great App Store description is not enough.” Make sure you work with a professional and diversify your tactics.

5. No brand consistency. Without a consistent brand, you’ll struggle to increase your customer retention. You’ll need to start with solid brand guidelines outlining the character, image, and voice of your company, and make sure those standards are enforced on all platforms.

6. Lackluster support and follow-up. If a user has an issue with the app, who are they going to turn to? If you don’t offer solid customer service, or follow up with your customers to make sure they’re having a good experience, your app could fail. Fortunately, this is one problem that doesn’t take much investment to solve; just listen to your customers and give them what they’re asking for.

7. A poor monetization strategy. There are many ways to monetize an app, whether it’s through a paid download, paid extra content, or displayed ads. If you choose the wrong strategy, or implement it inefficiently, you might cut your revenue stream in half. Look to your competitors, and don’t be too greedy with your profits initially, or you could scare away potential customers.

8. No plan to scale. In the words of Artem Petrov, “Mobile app development failures aren’t something the top players on the market have no idea about. The successful developers gather data, make well-informed decisions and adapt their apps, while others just wait for downloads… and fail.” If you want to be successful long-term, you need some plan to improve your app over time, and grow your user base. If you stand still for too long, a competitor will easily be able to improve upon what you’ve built, and poach your users away from you. Keep your app updated, and aim to keep expanding.

It’s certainly possible to make a mobile app successful, even in a market as diverse and competitive as this one. But if you’re going to survive, you first need to learn from the failures of the untold thousands of apps that came before you. Do your research, plan everything you can, and tread carefully, especially in your first few months of operation.

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How the Government Hides Secret Surveillance Programs

In 2013, 18-year-old Tadrae McKenzie robbed a marijuana dealer for $130 worth of pot at a local Taco Bell in Tallahassee, Florida. He and two friends had used BB guns to carry out the crime, which under Florida law constituted robbery with a deadly weapon. McKenzie braced himself to serve the minimum four years in prison.

But in the end, a state judge offered McKenzie a startlingly lenient plea deal: He was ordered to serve only six months’ probation, after pleading guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor. The remarkable deal was related to evidence McKenzie’s defense team uncovered before the trial: Law enforcement had used a secret surveillance tool often called Stingray to investigate his case.

Stingrays are devices that behave like fake cellphone towers, tricking phones into believing they’re pinging genuine towers nearby. By using the device, cops can determine a suspect’s precise location, outgoing and incoming calls, and even listen-in on a call or see the content of a text message.

McKenzie’s lawyers suspected cops had used a Stingray because they knew exactly where his house was, and knew he left his home at 6 a.m. the day he was arrested. The cops had obtained a court order from a judge to authorize Verizon to hand over data about the location of Mckenzie’s phone. But cell tower data isn’t precise enough to place a device at a specific house.

The cops also said they used a database that lets law enforcement agencies locate individuals by linking them with their phone numbers. But the phone McKenzie was using was a burner, and not associated with his name. Law enforcement couldn’t adequately explain their extraordinary knowledge of his whereabouts.

The state judge in the case ordered police to show the Stingray and its data to McKenzie’s attorneys. They refused, because of a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. The state then offered McKenzie, as well as the two other defendants, plea deals designed to make the case go away.

The cops in McKenzie’s case had ultimately failed to successfully carry out a troubling technique called “parallel construction.”

First described in government documents obtained by Reuters in 2013, parallel construction is when law enforcement originally obtains evidence through a secret surveillance program, then tries to seek it out again, via normal procedure. In essence, law enforcement creates a parallel, alternative story for how it found information. That way, it can hide surveillance techniques from public scrutiny and would-be criminals.

A new report released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday, based in part on 95 relevant cases, indicates that law enforcement is using parallel construction regularly, though it’s impossible to calculate exactly how often. It’s extremely difficult for defendants to discern when evidence has been obtained via the practice, according to the report.

“When attorneys try to find out if there’s some kind of undisclosed method that’s been used, the prosecution will basically stonewall and try not to provide a definitive yes or no answer,” says Sarah St. Vincent, the author of the report and a national security and surveillance researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In investigation reports, law enforcement will describe evidence obtained via secret surveillance programs in inscrutable terms. “We’ve seen plenty of examples where the police officers in those reports write ‘we located the suspect based on information from a confidential source;’ they use intentionally vague language,” says Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology project. “It sounds like a human informant or something else, not like a sophisticated surveillance device.”

Sometimes, when a savvy defense attorney pushes, an unbelievable plea deal is offered, or the the case is dropped entirely. If a powerful, secret surveillance program is at stake, a single case is often deemed unimportant to the government.

“Parallel construction means you never know that a case could actually be the result of some constitutionally problematic practice,” says St. Vincent. For example, the constitutionality of using a Stingray device without a warrant is still up for debate, according to the Human Rights Watch report. Some courts have ruled that the devices do violate the Fourth Amendment.

Hemisphere, a massive telephone-call gathering operation revealed by The New York Times in 2013, is one of the most well-documented surveillance programs that government officials attempt to hide when they use parallel construction. The largely secret program provides police with access to a vast database containing call records going back to 1987. Billions of calls are added daily.

In order to create the program, the government forged a lucrative partnership with AT&T, which owns three-quarters of the US’s landline switches and much of its wireless infrastructure. Even if you change your number, Hemisphere’s sophisticated algorithms can connect you to your new line by examining calling patterns. The program also allows law enforcement to have temporary access to the location where you placed or received a call.

The Justice Department billed Hemisphere as a counter-narcotics tool, but the program has been used for everything from Medicaid fraud to murder investigations, according to documentation obtained in 2016 by The Daily Beast.

“What Hemisphere’s capabilities allow it to do is to identify relationships and associations, and to build people’s social webs,” says Aaron Mackey, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “It’s highly likely that innocent people who are doing completely innocent things are getting swept up into this database.”

The EFF filed Freedom of Information Act and Public Records Act requests in 2014 seeking info about Hemisphere, but the government only provided heavily redacted files. So the EFF filed a lawsuit in 2015. It’s currently waiting for a California judge to decide whether more information can be made public without impeding law enforcement’s work.

“[The government] is obscuring what we believe to be warrantless or otherwise unconstitutional surveillance techniques, and they’re also jeopardizing a defendant’s ability to obtain all the evidence that’s relevant,” says Mackey.

Parallel construction can also involve a simple event like a traffic stop. In these instances, local law enforcement follows a suspect and then pulls them over for a mundane reason, like failing to use a turn signal. While the stop is meant to look random, cops are often working on a tip they received from a federal agency like the DEA.

“Sometimes when tips come through, the federal authorities don’t even tell the local authorities what they’re looking for,” says St. Vincent. The tip could be as simple as to watch out for a car at a specific place and time.

These stops are referred to as “wall off” or “whisper” stops, according to the Human Rights Watch report. In these instances, local law enforcement has to find probable cause for pulling the suspect over to avoid disclosing the tip. The tip is then never mentioned in court, and instead the beginning of the investigation is said to be the “random” stop.

The Human Rights Watch report concludes that Congress should pass legislation forbidding the use of parallel construction because it impedes on the right to a fair trial. Some representatives, like Republican Senator Rand Paul, have also called for banning the practice.

Opponents of parallel construction believe it should be outlawed because it prevents judges from doing their jobs. “It really gives a lot of power to the executive branch,” says St. Vincent. “It cuts judges out of the role of deciding whether something was legally obtained.”

One of the most concerning aspects of the practice is it shields government surveillance technology from public scrutiny. Stingrays, the cellphone-tracking device used in the Florida robbery case, have existed for years, but they’ve only recently been disclosed to the public. Lawyers and legal scholars haven’t yet conclusively decided whether their use without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, in part because so little is known about them. That means many people may have been convicted using techniques that violated their rights.

In the future, if the government hides new surveillance technology like facial recognition, the public will be unable to discern if it’s biased or faulty. Unless judges and citizens understand how surveillance techniques are used, we also can’t evaluate their constitutionality.

The public needs to determine if hiding surveillance programs is something it’s comfortable with at all. On one hand, keeping certain techniques secret likely helps authorities apprehend criminals. But if we don’t know how at least the basic contours of how a program works, it’s hard to have any discussion at all.

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Exiting Your Startup: The Grand Finale

Your company has finally achieved success.

You’re finally looking to cash out on the effort you invested.

Deservingly so, but you’re not done yet. The most critical stage is near-;the exit.

Founders can’t simply hand over the reins in exchange for a handsome payday. It’s more complicated, as exiting is a strategic decision-;one that founders must be aware of early on.

We have invested in over one hundred successful startups, and founded our own açai-infused vodka company, VEEV. We learned lessons the hard way, and we want to make it easier for you.

Here’s a fact that most founders overlook. You need a reason for potential buyers to actually want to buy your company.

What about taking your company public via an initial public offering (IPO)? The reality is that IPOs comprise a small percentage of total exits, so we’ll focus on more common acquisitions.

Consider how your company will be positioned for an attractive acquisition. There are many areas of your business to focus on to ensure a successful exit. Mastering any three of the following areas will greatly work in your favor:

  1. Your distribution model

  2. Your access to a particular demographic

  3. Your brand’s strength

What about revenue?

Revenue is important, but potential acquirers rarely buy a company for the added revenue. Odds are that the incremental revenue barely moves the needle for your acquirer.

While revenue-;especially revenue growth rate-;is important, the three aforementioned areas carry more weight. Let’s discuss them in further detail.

Create a nimble distribution model that an acquirer couldn’t replicate.

PetSmart’s acquisition of Chewy for $3.5B in the spring of 2017 is a great example of a purchase based on a distribution model. PetSmart, the brick and mortar retailer of pet supplies, needed Chewy, an e-commerce provider of pet supplies, for its direct-to-consumer channel.

In the end, PetSmart gains critical online access while Chewy receives the expertise and resources necessary to refine and expand its business.

A win for both parties.

Additionally, corporations realize the need to gain access to new demographics-; especially Millennials.

Consider RXBAR, the maker of simple ingredient, protein bars. Founded in 2014, the company has experienced meteoric growth, due in no small part to its support from Millennials who are attracted to RXBAR for its simplicity in both labeling and ingredients. Food manufacturer Kellogg’s-;eager to enter the space-;announced in October 2017 its intention of acquiring RXBAR.

RXBAR plans to remain an independent company within Kellogg’s all the while expanding its product, and Kellogg’s can effectively leverage the access to RXBAR’s target demographics.

Again, a win for both parties.

Finally, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of your brand image. Corporations are seeking ways to capitalize on emotion-based purchasing.

We’ve previously mentioned the increasing role that emotion is having on consumer purchasing behavior and significance of brand image here. However, it is worth reiterating the point again.

Why?

Because corporations-;not just consumers-;are looking for products with a strong brand that evokes a particular emotion. Oftentimes, this is not their area of expertise. Corporate competitive advantages traditionally lie in the form of a cost advantage.

Now, they’re looking to acquire companies with an emotional advantage.

PepsiCo’s acquisition of the sparkling probiotic drink maker KeVita is a prime example. A slogan of KeVita’s, “Revitalize from the Inside,” represents the pathos that PepsiCo was looking to capture. In a time where consumers are turning away from traditional soft drinks, PepsiCo found a perfect opportunity in the health-conscious KeVita.

The acquisition places Kevita on a larger stage, giving it increased access to new distribution channels and resources. PepsiCo now has the means to leverage KeVita’s image to ideally position itself in a time of changing consumer behavior.

Yet again, a win for both parties.

Determine early on what makes your company a threat to potential acquirers. If they need you more than you need them, you’re in a good position.

You know what to focus on.

Now you need to balance the operations of your company with the intricacies of an exit.

Now let’s address the less concrete aspects of selling your business and how to best-position yourself. Two pieces of advice come to mind:

  1. Base your exit on operational milestones, not a timeline

  2. Keep potential acquirers in the loop

A fundamental misunderstanding that many founders have is basing exits off a timeline, and not an operational milestone.

This principle can be applied in a greater context, especially when it comes to fundraising. All too often, founders seek a certain amount of capital to grant them X months or years of runway. Rather, they should seek this capital to reach a particular milestone, such as achieving a particular customer acquisition cost or breaching a given revenue threshold.

The same issue occurs with exits.

Founders are too focused on exiting in Y years, and not based off a given milestone. A major reason we sold VEEV was because we realistically could not keep growing the business. We had reached an intermediate size, and realized that we didn’t have the distribution capacity or necessary connections to expand VEEV internationally and further grow.

This telltale milestone was far more helpful than any time-based method in determining the right time to sell. Additionally, milestone-based exits are also more flexible than their time-based counterparts. They account for unpredictable macroeconomic factors that can either expedite or slow your timeline.

With that said, build relationships with potential acquirers well-before you reach your desired exit milestones. You should keep them in the loop from an early date.

It’s known that you should contact investors well before your intent to raise the next round of fundraising. The same logic applies to exits.

There a few reasons for this.

The first is simply the importance of getting your foot in the door and establishing relationships with corporate partners early on. The second-;and equally as important-;reason is that they can help you reach or tailor your operational milestones.

Essentially, your potential acquirers can outline the kind of milestone that would spark their interest in a deal.

However, be straightforward if challenges arise that may hinder the completion of a milestone. Acquirers should be willing to work with you. They will not be willing if you paint a rosy picture, only to have them later discover issues in the due diligence process.

That should go without saying, but we have seen it adversely affect many deals.

A final note is to realize that this process takes time. We may have mentioned the importance of stressing milestones over time, but it’s important to realize that a corporation moves slower than a startup. You should be in discussion with companies at least a year before any intention to sell, and know that exit deals usually take at least six months.

In the end, it’s no secret. Exiting is difficult.

Applying this advice will differentiate yourself from the competition and increase the odds of gaining the attention of an acquirer.

The earlier you start the process, the better your odds of success.

From experience, we realize that the timing is never perfect and an ideal match is rare. With that said, it’s important to always keep the exit in the back of your mind, and explore the many ways that you can capture the value of the business you created.

Now, get to work!

And if you need help to guide you along the way, find resources from people who have been there and done that. 

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8 Big Predictions for Platforms in 2018

It’s that time of year again. Last year we made 7 predictions for 2017. By our count we went 7 for 7. So with 2018 primed to be a big year for platforms, here are our 8 predictions for platform businesses in 2018.

1.     No mainstream blockchain breakthrough, but several more cryptocurrencies explode in value

The Bitcoin and blockchain hype train rolls on. Much like AR and VR a year ago, Bitcoin is getting its moment in the media spotlight This year Bitcoin peaked just shy of $20,000 before cratering back to earth. But it still ended the year up 16x over its value on January 1, 2017, when it just topped $1,000. We aren’t predicting where it will end up this time next year – truthfully, nobody knows.

So far, most of Bitcoin’s, and the blockchain’s value is speculative. Despite a massive influx of investment and speculative cash this year, they still have no proven mainstream applications. Expect that to continue for 2018. While blockchain technology remains promising, there are still a host of challenges left to solve before it’s ready for prime time. It’s still at least a couple years away.

2.     Major tech unicorns start to go public

Last year produced a solid pipeline of tech IPOs, but 2018 should be even bigger. This year should see the first wave of the mega-unicorn platform startups going public.

While Uber is likely still more than a year away – not withstanding its cultural and legal problems, the company still has to figure out a path to profitability – Airbnb and Lyft look like contenders to go public. Other outside contenders include Slack and Pinterest. Airbnb, reportedly already profitable, is our pick for this year, but expect at least two major platform startups to hit public markets in the next twelve months.

3.     IoT gains traction with machine manufacturers

The Internet of Things hype cycle has come and gone over the last few years with little to show for it in terms of mainstream success. Yet in the background, investment and enthusiasm has been building for IoT in the industrial sector. Though GE has struggled and failed to achieve its goal of becoming a modern monopoly around the Internet of Things, many other companies have been experimenting successfully.

We expect 2018 to be the year where many of these smaller investments start to pay off. Early platform players will emerge this year in this area.

While it may take a few years for the winners to emerge, the Industrial Internet of Things will start to take practical shape in 2018.

4.     Large US platform companies take cues from China and start experimenting with more financial services

In China, Alibaba’s spinoff company, Ant Financial, has sparked a revolution in financial services. In a country that has lacked for consumer investment options, Ant and Alibaba rival Tencent have built large financial services platforms on top of their payment platforms.

Platforms in the U.S., both blessed with and challenged a much more robust financial services sector, have looked at their Chinese counterparts with envy. But slowly, this gap has started to narrow. Amazon, for example, has successfully been lending to merchants on its marketplace.

Over the next year, expect to see more of the major platforms experiment with offering financial products. The potential here is massive, and many banks aren’t exactly popular with consumers. While progress will be much slower than it was in China, for the major U.S. platforms it’s too big to ignore.

5.     Walmart continues its success due to Jet.com and its renewed platform approach

One of the biggest platform stories of the last year was Walmart’s newfound success. After years of failing in its efforts to combat Amazon, Walmart gained ground. Its acquisition of Jet.com has paid off handsomely as Walmart has begun to win back digital customers and merchants to its marketplace as well as to Jet’s.

This stark reversal will continue in 2018, as Walmart truly emerges as the second dominant player behind Amazon for ecommerce marketplaces. As we wrote at the time, Walmart’s acquisition of Jet was an expensive price to pay for second place, but it’s a move that will prove well worth the investment.

6.     Alexa continues to explode, but competition increases

This is the first of our predictions that continue from last year. After multiple failed attempts at building development platforms, we predicted that Alexa would be a big success. And in 2017, it was. Over the last year, Alexa has gone from a voice service on a handful of niche devices to a platform present on a growing number of hardware devices – many of them not made by Amazon – and supported by a large developer ecosystem.

Alexa’s success will continue in 2018, as it has become a centerpiece of Amazon’s future growth. However, given the promise of voice as a new interface, all the major platforms will continue to pour investment into their own voice development platforms. So far Google is the largest competitor, but expect to see more in 2018 from Facebook, Microsoft and others, such as Baidu in China. For now, Alexa remains the dominant number one in voice, but by the end of the year we expect a clear challenger to emerge.

7.     Modern monopolies face more political scrutiny

This was another of our predictions from last year – that platforms would become hot-button political topics. And boy did they ever. From fake news to Uber’s legal troubles, Google’s antitrust case in the EU, and the occasional presidential rant about Amazon, platforms were never far from the media and political spotlight.

And this issue isn’t going anywhere soon. Given platforms growing economic dominance, the unresolved challenge of how they should be handled politically will gather more attention this year. So far, these discussions have resulted in a lot of opinion pieces but little actual legislation. In 2018, that will likely start to change, as governments grapple with the economic and political implications of the growth of modern monopolies.

8.     More linear players engage in platform innovation by either building or buying

Last year we predicted that more linear enterprises would look at platform startups as big acquisition targets. And 2017 saw a host of major platform acquisitions, including IKEA buying Taskrabbit, Caterpillar acquiring Yard Club and Wyndham Hotels buying Love Home Swap. Verizon also finally bought Yahoo, which includes platforms like Tumblr. Other enterprises have taken a build approach, such as Klockner, a German metals company that announced at its recent Capital Markets Day its plans to launch a marketplace in 2018.

In 2018, we will see this trend continue in a big way, as more large enterprises come under pressure from platform businesses. Those who don’t launch platforms, like Grainger in 2017, will continue to struggle. While those that embrace platform innovation like Walmart will see much greater success.

All in all, 2018 will be a major year for platform businesses. Check this space for the latest major platform news!

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Nvidia partners with Uber, Volkswagen in self-driving technology

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Nvidia Corp will partner with Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) as the graphics chipmaker’s artificial intelligence platforms make further gains in the autonomous vehicle industry.

The company, which already has partnerships in the industry with companies such as carmaker Tesla and China’s Baidu, makes computer graphics chips and has also been expanding into technology for self-driving cars.

CEO Jensen Huang told an audience at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas that Uber’s self-driving car fleet was using Nvidia technology to help its autonomous cars perceive the world and make split-second decisions.

Uber has been using Nvidia’s GPU computing technology since its first test fleet of Volvo SC90 SUVS were deployed in 2016 in Pittsburgh and Phoenix.

Uber’s autonomous driving program has been shaken this year by a lawsuit filed in San Francisco by rival Waymo alleging trade secret theft.

Nevertheless, Nvidia said development of the Uber self-driving program had gained steam, with one million autonomous miles being driven in just the past 100 days.

With Volkswagen, Nvidia said it was infusing its artificial intelligence technology into the German automakers’ future lineup, using Nvidia’s new Drive IX platform. The technology will enable so-called “intelligent co-pilot” capabilities based on processing sensor data inside and outside the car.

So far, 320 companies involved in self-driving cars – whether software developers, automakers and their suppliers, sensor and mapping companies – are using Nvidia Drive, formerly branded as the Drive PX2, the company said.

Nvidia also said its first Xavier processors would be delivered to customers this quarter. The system on a chip delivers 30 trillion operations per second using 30 watts of power.

Bets that Nvidia will become a leader in chips for driverless cars, data centers and artificial intelligence have more than doubled its stock price in the past 12 months, making the Silicon Valley company the third-strongest perfomer in the S&P 500 during that time.

Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Susan Thomas

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GoPro Lays off Hundreds of Workers In Its Karma Drone Unit

GoPro’s new year has begun with a round of layoffs, primarily affecting the company’s Karma drone business unit.

Around 200 to 300 workers were laid off this week, according to a report Thursday by tech news site TechCrunch that cites unnamed sources. The report highlights an internal letter to laid off workers that said the cuts were intended to “to better align our resources with business requirements.”

The layoffs highlight GoPro’s ongoing struggle to turn itself around after a turbulent past few years in which its stock has plummeted 91% from a high of $93.70 in Aug 2014 to $7.52 on Friday.

The company has attempted to expand beyond its core video camera business by creating a media and entertainment unit and making drones. But those efforts have failed to catch on, and the company has implemented multiple rounds of layoffs and shuttered its media business.

Investors were particularly hopeful that GoPro’s Karma drone would help lift sales, but the push encountered trouble from the get-go. Shortly after debuting the drone in the fall of 2016, it recalled thousands of them because of a glitch that caused them to abruptly turn off and fall from the sky.

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Even after fixing the technical error, GoPro’s (gpro) drone never appeared to be a big seller. Although CEO Nick Woodman would say he was optimistic about the drone business, he avoided saying when he thought drone sales would eventually lift the company’s overall sales.

GoPro never released sales numbers for its drone, but the numbers are likely to be small compared to Chinese rival DJI, which analysts currently say dominates the drone market.

Fortune contacted GoPro for more information and will update this story if it responds.

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This 1 Simple Habit Is the Only Financial Resolution You'll Need to Save Money in 2018

Let’s face it. New Year’s resolutions generally don’t work. We are motivated for a couple weeks and then life gets in the way. We go back to our old habits.

I am a fan of establishing big, audacious goals. But when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, we are typically setting ourselves up for failure.

Money is stressful.

It’s no wonder that many New Year’s resolutions are financial related. Money is a major cause of stress for Americans and a big cause of divorce. Poor financial habits are a big cause for concern.

But when we speak of improving our finances, we speak in terms of things we need to do. Just consider the following typical New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Cut up our credit cards (and make a commitment to not using them again)
  2. Get a new higher paying job
  3. Save money and build an emergency fund
  4. Pay down consumer debt
  5. Buy a house
  6. Start a business

While these may be great accomplishments, they are all actions you must take. But I am not talking about actions. I am looking to change your mindset. That’s why your only financial goal for the new year should be to — live below your means.

You see as a nation we have a spending problem. In my decades as a CPA, I have advised people from all income levels. One thing is for sure, we tend to spend what we make. The client who makes $1 million a year tends to spend all of it, just like the client who makes $50,000 a year.

In fact, I have a client who makes over $1 million a year and always complains to me that she can’t put food on the table. I know that she is exaggerating a bit, but you get my point.

So how far is enough?

How far below your means should you live? I recommend starting with 10 percent, but I have clients that save in excess of 50 percent. Whatever your goal is, you must make that commitment. Make sure that after you pay your bills you have this minimum amount left over.

This one rule will address all the other financial resolutions. For example, this extra amount may allow you to pay off credit cards, start an emergency fund, buy a rental home, build your investments, start a business, etc.

Unfortunately, we often believe that if our income goes up our spending should go up as well. If we get a raise at work or our business is doing well then we should turn around and buy a new car or a larger house. I, for example, have been living in my house for almost 16 years even though my income has increased over that period of time. Should I have bought a larger home because I “deserved” it? I think not.

Focus on your net worth.

We focus too much on our income and expenses and too little on our assets and liabilities. Net worth is what really matters. Assets are all of the things that you own (your home, furniture, investments, retirement accounts, etc) and your liabilities are what you owe (student loans, mortgage, credit cards, etc.). Subtract your assets from your liabilities and hopefully this is a positive number. If it’s not, living below your means will help.

I admit it. Changing your financial mindset can be really tough. But in order to accomplish what you want financially it is critical. If you live below your means the rest will take care of itself. Make it your one and only financial resolution.

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Blockchain Takes a Shot at Redefining the Sports Betting Experience

In 2018, hundreds of sports betting sites and apps allow bettors to gamble discretely from just about anywhere through their smartphones. This convenience has attracted more users to participate in the action.

Traditional payment services like banks and digital wallets have been wary of supporting online gambling, leaving room for specialized payments gateways to facilitate bankroll funding and payouts. There’s also no shortage of handicapper sites and services that offer paid analyses to less savvy gamblers.

Unfortunately, the involvement of these parties brings enhanced risk of fraud and failure. Gambling payment gateways are constantly under threat from cyber-criminals. Handicappers also don’t quite produce the wins that they promise to bettors. As such, there are opportunities for blockchain – a technology that promotes shared trust – to address these issues.

Several blockchain efforts have set their sights on bettors’ needs. For example, emerging digital currency Electroneum envisions its token to be used by online gambling services. BlitzPredict provides bettors trustworthy insights through its aggregation service. Platforms like HEROcoin even aim to decentralize sports betting.

Success of these efforts could all help create better betting experiences. Here are three ways how these blockchain services can accomplish that goal.

1 – Easier Funding and Payouts

Payments using blockchain can be completed quicker compared to traditional means. Tokens do not have to be routed through different financial institutions and clearing houses. Winnings can either be readily credited to the user’s bankroll or to a token wallet. Since tokens are now fungible assets, bettors also have the option to transfer tokens to exchanges and trade them for other crypto or fiat currencies.

However, crypto tokens aren’t without their quirks. For instance, it can be hard to tell how much a bet made in Bitcoin is actually worth in fiat currency. For ordinary people, it’s easier to discern the value of “$50” compared to “0.003 BTC.” Interestingly, Electroneum addresses this by limiting its token to two decimal places just like fiat currencies. This way, users could have an easier time estimating or converting mentally making use of crypto tokens for gambling more bettor friendly.

2 – Trustworthy Insights

Blockchain startup BlitzPredict aims to provide insights by aggregating sportsbooks and prediction markets much like a stock market ticker. This helps bettors determine which sportsbook provides them with the best possible outcomes for a given bet. The platform also enables bettors to use blockchain smart contracts to automatically place bets when certain conditions are met.

Alternatively, bettors can subscribe to handicapper services that could supposedly point them to better odds. However, the credibility of many of these so-called sports “experts” have been called to question. Many offer tips and promise sure wins for a fee even if they don’t have the credentials to back their “expertise” or the data to support their picks.

In order to promote quality insights, BlitzPredict also allows analytics enthusiasts to share their prediction models to other users. High-performing models are rewarded with the platform’s own token which could then be used to place bets using the platform. Such a rewards mechanism encourages bettors to make data-driven decisions rather than settle for hunches or bad advice.

3 – Transparent Betting

Sportsbooks are often set up so that the house always wins. Even the reputable ones will have to make money by taking a cut from transactions. Without aggregation and advanced analytics, bettors are not only likely to lose in the long term, but they may also have to absorb the cost of these cuts and fees for all the transactions they conduct.

Platforms such as HEROcoin challenge this system by offering decentralized peer-to-peer betting. Through smart contracts, bettors are free to define the conditions of wagers. Blockchain’s transparency lets users trace the flow of money and the terms.

Fair Wagers

Sports betting is still a growing market and the expansion of betting to other segments such as esports is bringing in new participants. In esports alone, studies predict that more than $23 billion will be wagered by 2020. New services should strive to create easier and more positive experiences for the benefit of these new bettors joining the scene.

Fortunately, blockchain startups are already bringing transparency and trust into such activities. The use of crypto tokens could help address the lengthy and costly funding and payout processes. Better analytics and aggregation could also aid discerning bettors in making effective picks. Smart contracts can provide secure mechanisms for parties to enter and execute wagers.

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This 5-Star Hotel Just Ruined Its Online Reputation By Getting the Police to Help Kick Out a Guest (He's Famous)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

You’d think that five-star hotels would be used to catering to the famous.

You’d even think that they research their guests beforehand to make sure they can surprise them with personal touches.

But then there were the peculiarly personal touches offered by the Boca Raton Resort, a Waldorf Collection Hotel to one of its New Year guests.

Vitaly Zdorovetskiy is a very well-known YouTube star. He makes prank videos. People like them.

However, once the Boca Raton Resort discovered who he is, it decided it didn’t like him after all.

All we currently have is Zdorovetskiy’s explanation. 

Well, that and the video, in which hotel personnel arrive with two police officers to have him removed on New Year’s Eve. 

It seems, though, unclear what he’d done wrong, other than be who he is. 

He says he wasn’t going to film anything in the hotel. Indeed, he had his girlfriend with him, rather than his equipment.

Still, watch and listen to his story and see what you think. (Warning: His language isn’t pristine.)

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It seems that it all started with a phone call from the hotel to his room, which Zdorovetskiy didn’t want to take.

But can it be that the next step was for management knock on his door to check whether he intends to make prank videos in the hotel?

Now YouTube stars aren’t like you and me. Zdorovetskiy’s own admission is that he may have told the manager to go away in a rather rude-imentary manner because he wanted to sleep.

Within the hour, though, he says a manager broke into his room with a couple of police officers to have him removed.

He claims they ordered him and his girlfriend, who was naked at the time, to get dressed in front of them.

A man who appears to be a manager accuses him of posting a prank video the day before — but not one at the hotel.

The manager seems, indeed, to have no idea what the video was. 

Still, some might wonder whether the hotel thought through its strategy as thoroughly as it might have done. 

Naturally, being a YouTube star, Zdorovetskiy encouraged his 9 million followers to post poor reviews of the hotel. 

He encouraged them to go to Expedia, Hotels.com and Priceline. These weren’t affected.

He also encouraged them to go on Yelp.

At the time or writing, the Boca Raton Resort has sunk to a one-and-a-half star rating on Yelp.

Perhaps Yelp doesn’t matter — it certainly doesn’t to me — but a general flow of online ill-will toward a hotel is rarely a good thing.

And, in this case, surely it could have been avoided.

The senior manager explained to Zdorovetskiy that “due to the nature of your postings, we reserve the right as a private company to have you removed from the property and not do business with you.” 

Some might find this explanation odd, as the very same manager admitted he had no idea what Zdorovetskiy had posted.

Worse, he then told him that he’s being “trespassed” for one year. This means that if he returns in that time, he’ll be arrested. 

And all for, well, what?

I contacted the Waldorf Astoria to wonder what it thought of its staff’s behavior and will update, should a response be forthcoming.

Zdorovetskiy does have something of a reputation. 

He was arrested last year after climbing the HOLLYWOOD sign. 

He was also charged with criminal trespass after streaking during the World Series.

I can’t say I warm to his public charm at all.

But some famous people are very different in private.

It’s odd that the hotel didn’t seem to know who he was when it accepted his booking.

Moreover, if the manager had told him he’d done something — behaved rudely toward a member of staff, for example — it would have been entirely understandable that he’d be removed.

Yet to expressly look a guest in the face and say they’re being kicked out and banned for a year — just because of the videos they make — seems exactly like the haughty half-wittery many might expect from one or two snooty establishments.

But only one or two, surely. 

Some will say that the mere chance that the hotel might suffer damage of some sort justifies its stance.

To which I wonder: So how do rock stars ever get into a hotel?

Now, what are the chances that members of Zdorovetskiy’s team will pay a secret visit to the Boca Raton Resort and really have a good time?

High, I’d say.

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