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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

iPhone XS: 17 most-wanted features – CNET

Once again it’s time to look forward and ruminate on what we’d like to see in the next iPhone.
Source: CNET

Microsoft will extend Windows 7 support in exchange for a monthly fee

The support period for Windows 7 was slated to end in January of 2020. However, Microsoft has announced that it will be pushing that date back for three years provided you’re willing to pay a monthly fee.

The post Microsoft will extend Windows 7 support in exchange for a monthly fee appeared first on Digital Trends.

Source: Digital trends


I spent TechCrunch’s latest Disrupt extravaganza asking questions of various notables onstage, and what struck me most was how fantastically optimistic they were. To pick two examples: Kai-Fu Lee talked about preparing for a world of mass plenitude and abundance 30-50 years from now; Dario Gil waxed enthusiastic about quantum computers simulating life-changing new materials and pharmaceuticals, transforming everyone’s lives for the better.

And then I turned around and returned to the world of hair-trigger outrage, condemnation, consternation, pessimism, gloom and impending apocalypse; which is to say, America and social media, where it sometimes seems an encouraging word is rarely heard without being promptly drowned out by a dozen angry doomsayers prophesying rains of fire and blood. Surely the truth is somewhere in between; surely any rational assessment of the future must include a mixture of both optimism and pessimism. So why do those seem like two entirely separate modes of thought, of late?

Certainly there’s much to be pessimistic about. Our slowly boiling planet; the resurgence of racist nationalism around the global; the worldwide rise of authoritarian demagogues who don’t represent their people. Certainly tech industry folk, and especially investors, are deeply incentivized to be optimistic. If they’re right, they win big, and if they’re wrong, well, there’s no real downside except maybe having their embarrassing pro-Theranos / pro-Juicero tweets paraded out a few years later. Panglossianism is not the path of wisdom.

But neither is apocalypticism. Whisper it, but there is much to be optimistic about. For all of capitalism’s flaws, and there are many, it has reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty by more than a billion since 1990, even while the world’s population has grown by two billion. Fast, far-reaching progressive social change has been proved possible; witness e.g. the attitude change towards gay marriage in America from 2005 to 2015. We’ve connected the planet, put supercomputers in the pockets of a third of the world, made solar/wind power and electric cars both increasingly widespread and increasingly cost-effective, and we’re working hard at replacing most rote human drudgery with robot labor.

Sure, we live with fat-tail risks of various catastrophes of mindnumbing scale; but why do we never speak of the fat-tail chances of benevolent breakthroughs? Why does optimism about the future — not even net optimism, but any optimism — seem so rare these days?

Partly this is  social media’s fault. Facebook and Twitter “optimize,” so to speak, for engagement, which is to say they implicitly amplify that which causes outrage, fury, terror, and insecurity, rather than that which prompts a quiet hope for / confidence in things slowly getting better. From this we get the sense that everyone else is appalled by everything that’s going on, and so we naturally grow more appalled ourselves.

Partly it’s that the fruits of the advances which provoke this optimism remain so unequally distributed. It’s nice to talk about a world full of plenitude, but if 80% of the benefits go to 20% of the population, while the 40% at the bottom see their lives actually get worse as a side effect of the disruptive changes, are our collective lives really getting better? And even if your life is objectively improving a little every year, if you seem to be falling further behind the median, you’ll still feel it’s actually getting worse.

But there’s more to it than that. Optimism is dangerously provocative. It implicitly calls on us to do something, to contribute, to join the spreading wave, whereas pessimism is easier. It only calls on us to endure.

It’s true that the tech industry often seems to handwave that because in the long run, our new technologies will make everything better, we don’t need to bother worrying about its short- and medium-term effects. This is wrong and dangerous and (ironically) spectacularly shortsighted; we need to do better. But at the same time, the pessimists need to do better too, by realizing that there is plenty of room for hope and optimism in any reasonable imagination of the future.

Source: TechCrunch

New 2018 iPhone XS, iPhone XC, iPhone X Plus, iPhone 9, iPhone XS Max: All of the rumors on price, specs, release date – CNET

Apple is expected to announce three new iPhones at its event on Wednesday, Sept. 12.
Source: CNET

Interview with Priscilla Chan: Her super-donor origin story

Priscilla Chan is so much more than Mark Zuckerberg’s wife. A teacher, doctor, and now one of the world’s top philanthropists, she’s a dexterous empath determined to help. We’ve all heard Facebook’s dorm-room origin story, but Chan’s epiphany of impact came on a playground.

In this touching interview this week at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Chan reveals how a child too embarrassed to go to class because of their broken front teeth inspired her to tackle healthcare. “How could I have prevented it? Who hurt her? And has she gotten healthcare, has she gotten the right dental care to prevent infection and treat pain? That moment compelled me, like, ‘I need more skills to fight these problems.’”

That’s led to a $3 billion pledge towards curing all disease from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s $45 billion-plus charitable foundation. Constantly expressing gratitude for being lifted out of the struggle of her refugee parents, she says “I knew there were so many more deserving children and I got lucky”.

Here, Chan shares her vision for cause-based philanthropy designed to bring equity of opportunity to the underserved, especially in Facebook’s backyard in The Bay. She defends CZI’s apolitical approach, making allies across the aisle despite the looming spectre of the Oval Office. And she reveals how she handles digital well-being and distinguishes between good and bad screen time for her young daughters Max and August. Rather than fielding questions about Mark, this was Priscilla’s time to open up about her own motivations.

Most importantly, Chan calls on us all to contribute in whatever way feels authentic. Not everyone can sign the Giving Pledge or dedicate their full-time work to worthy causes. But it’s time for tech’s rank-and-file rich to dig a little deeper. Sometimes that means applying their engineering and product skills to develop sustainable answers to big problems. Sometimes that means challenging the power structures that led to the concentration of wealth in their own hands. She concludes, “You can only try to break the rules so many times before you realize the whole system’s broken.”

Source: TechCrunch

New 2018 iPhone XS: 17 most-wanted features – CNET

Once again it’s time to look forward and ruminate on what we’d like to see in the next iPhone.
Source: CNET

Tokens can better incentivize startup employees than equity

Token structuring and tokeneconomics are among of the most important considerations when designing a blockchain. When thinking about how best to distribute these tokens, founders often think about how the tokens will impact external stakeholders such as their investors, the community, and stakers (people that can mine or validate block transactions according to how many coins he or she holds). But token economies are also bringing disruption to organizations internally, especially when it comes to HR and compensation.

If the tokens are structured properly for a blockchain, external stakeholders will be directly aligned with the goal of the project. Those incentives can encourage participation on the blockchain platform and/or drive token demand with community-building and marketing. Similarly, if internal stakeholder incentives are structured correctly, the project could accrue long-term value by motivating employees to work towards the same goal, while reducing adversarial behavior and also bad actors.

For any blockchain company to succeed long-term and scale, it’s inevitable that they need to structure their tokens to retain and reward the best employees sustainably. This is as important it not more important than incentivizing external token holders.

How does an employee look at tokens vs equity? 

Currently, equity in the form of stock options is widely distributed as part of compensation packages amongst startups. When employees join a company, they are usually offered a combination of cash and stock options. The options become a way for the employees to meaningfully participate in a company’s upside should they succeed. Often, employees can negotiate between taking a higher cash comp or higher options amount, depending on their risk appetite.

There are many ways tokens and equity are similar. For one, both assets motivate individuals to align their goals with that of a company’s. If the company becomes more successful, the value of its tokens and equity should theoretically go up. Nonetheless, one of the downsides of stock options is that they usually require a liquidity event for an employee to convert them to paper money. Historically, that was when a company went public and the employee could convert their options into stocks and then sell them in the public markets.

However, in the last decade, with the increasing amount of private capital and subsequent larger private fundraising rounds, companies are taking way longer to IPO. Companies such as Dropbox took eleven years from founding to IPO, while Airbnb has been around ten years and still hasn’t gone public. As a result, private companies started doing option buybacks to provide liquidity for their employees. Simultaneously, this phenomenon has caused the secondary market to thrive in Silicon Valley.

Token liquidity changes the game

One of the largest differences between tokens and equity is that tokens are immediately liquid, assuming that they have already been listed on an exchange. To put simply, equity options only prove their value at the end, whereas tokens have certainty values from the beginning.

Now in cryptocurrency and blockchain companies, employees could get paid in tokens in lieu of equity or cash, primarily outside of the U.S. Many tokens have a liquidity advantage over equity. For example, it can be immediately sold upon reception, assuming that the token has been listed on an exchange and there is enough trading volume.

This is also one of the reasons why exchanges are so important for the cryptocurrency space because 1) it’s one of the easier ways to gauge the value of a company given that the industry has yet to figure out a proper valuation methodology, and 2) it provides immediate liquidity for employees who have been burned by the hopes a billion dollar company not coming to fruition and all the options going to zero.

For an employee looking for a job in a technology-based company, consider two companies that are exactly the same, with the same team quality and same targeted industry, but one company has a token incentive structure instead of an equity incentive structure, and the token is already traded on an exchange. Why would the employee ever want equity? With tokens, you’d still share the upside in the company’s success, but also have immediate liquidity.

Additionally, outside the U.S., often employees can also get paid in tokens or stable coins in lieu of cash to take advantage of tax benefits given the lack of regulatory sophistication. That may change very soon, however. Token structure, therefore, is a disruption to a company’s internal structure and we will share some examples below of how that’s already affecting a number of Chinese crypto companies.

Token incentives will disrupt traditional ways of compensating employees

These changes to employee compensation have already become popular in places like China, where a number of Chinese blockchain companies have started on the foundation of distributing tokens as compensation. Companies like Ontology, NEO, Huobi, and Binance pay their employees in their own tokens. Many of these teams operate worldwide but they are able to manage hundreds of people, often with just a handful of HR staff, through a shared incentive structure.

In the case of Neo, the original founding team, in fact, didn’t have anyone with a computer science background. When they were looking for developers, they would pay tokens to people to do development work for them. For Ontology, it was even more extreme. The founding team initially set up the Ontology Foundation. They didn’t want to hire people, so instead, they listed out a list of things that needed to be developed and paid tokens to all the developers who contributed.

Binance, similarly, paid their employees in tokens. They would then use their quarterly profits to burn tokens, which subsequently boosted the value of the remaining tokens. It is possible that partially due to these effective token incentives, Ontology has been the best performing token this year while Binance continues to hold the lead in the exchange space.

China has taken a lead here compared to the U.S. partially because of regulatory uncertainties, but there are examples in America as well of these changing compensation norms. In the early days of cryptocurrency when it was (even more) wild west, Consensys got started by compensating their employees in tokens until their first legal hire came along. That story is similar to Coinbase, where initially a number of first employees were given the choice of being paid in coins and/or cash.

Token compensation also seems to be particularly powerful incentives for Chinese blockchain companies, more so than their U.S. counterparts. Maomao Hu, Partner at Eigen Capital and CTO of Calculus Network, talks about the psyche of the young generation of Chinese developers: “Being Chinese, Chinese engineers, especially the young ones, have a hunger that you only see in some parts of Silicon Valley, and that’s like everyone. They are just doing 80 hours 100 hour weeks because they hate being poor and they hate not having an opportunity and they don’t have other ways to get an opportunity, and that’s like everyone.”

It may also be that because there have been fewer technology cycles in China, and the rise of the largest technology companies happened only in the last decade, equity compensation remains a relatively new concept to local citizens. With token compensation introduced, this is the first time for many Chinese people to be able to participate in a company’s upside so directly.

Despite their growing popularity, these incentive schemes are still early and experimental, and there are unforeseen risks associated with token issuance as compensation. In particular, the appeal of short-term, quick gains from tokens is ever more attractive. If wrongly incentivized, people could end up spending time hyping up their tokens instead of building product, allowing employees to cash out quickly without producing.

As a result, serious founders of new token-based companies should be aware of such short-sightedness when designing employee token incentives. They can potentially introduce long-term token vesting schedules, and also hire people who care about driving long-term value. For CEOs, this is going to be an increasingly important role they will have to take in the token economy. I’m certain though that the next set of large unicorns will be coming from tech companies with great token incentives structures, in or outside of the U.S.

Source: TechCrunch

LendingTree is the secret success story of fintech

For all of the excitement centered around fintech over the past half-decade, most venture-backed fintech companies struggle to acclimate to public markets. LendingClub and OnDeck have plummeted since their late 2014 IPOs after several years of darling status in the private markets. GreenSky, which went public in May of this year, has been unable to return to its IPO price. Square is the exception to the rule.

Sometimes we overlook the companies that hail from the era that precedes the current wave of fintech fascination, a vertical which has accumulated over $100 billion in global investment capital since 2010.

One of these companies is LendingTree, which got its start height of the Internet bubble, going public in mid-February of 2000, less than a month before the Dot-com bubble peaked.  LendingTree began in 1996 in a founding story that epitomizes the early Internet era. Doug Lebda, an accountant searching for homes in Pittsburgh, had to manually compare mortgage offers from each bank. So he created a marketplace for loans in the same way OpenTable helps you find your restaurant of choice or Zillow simplifies the home buying process. In the words of Rich Barton, iconic founder of Expedia, Zillow, and Glassdoor, this business is a classic “power to the people play.”

The marketplace business model has been the darling that has driven returns for many of the leading VCs like Benchmark, a16z, and Greylock. Network effects are a non-negotiable part of the explanation as to why. Classic success stories that have transitioned nicely into public markets include Zillow, OpenTable (acq.), Etsy, Booking.com, and Grubhub. LendingTree is often left off of this list, yet, the business sits in a compelling space as consumers and lenders continue to manage their financial lives online. 

Insight in a Sea of Ambiguity

The lending process has been defined by significant information asymmetry between borrowers and lenders. Lenders have a disproportionate amount of leverage in the relationship. And that’s not to say it should be different – it’s perfectly logical to require a borrower to prove their creditworthiness. However, aggregation, synthesis, and recommendations modernize a dated dynamic. 

Ironically, in an age where consumers are inundated with information, less than 50% of interested borrower’s shop for loans. Most consumers take the first offer they receive. The benefit of a marketplace, however, is price competition and transparency. The ability to shop the market and access the same information that lenders have is a luxury that didn’t exist twenty years ago. The borrowers who do shop through LendingTree reap significant benefits; on average, roughly $14,000 on mortgages and 570 basis points on personal loans. There’s certainly something to be said for comfortability and hand-holding, but at some point the metrics speak for themselves. 

LendingTree isn’t a marketplace in the purest sense because of the process that takes place after a borrower clicks “apply.” While a diner can reserve a table at any listed restaurant with OpenTable for dinner tomorrow tonight, she can’t simply take the loan she wants. LendingTree lacks the direct feedback loop between consumers and lenders that characterizes most marketplaces. Instead, the platform aggregates information from a network of over 500 lenders to provide options according consumer’s needs. LendingTree is effectively the onramp for interested borrowers, which necessitates the entry of lenders to fill the borrower’s needs.

As this “onramp” continues to serve a larger audience as more consumers conduct their finances online, banks and lenders intend to seize the opportunity. Digital ad spend in the financial services industry is going to continue to grow rapidly at an estimated 20% CAGR between 2014 and 2020, effectively tripling the size of LendingTree’s core market. 

Diversifying away from Mortgages

LendingTree’s revenue mix has change over the years.

For all intents and purposes, LendingTree has been in the mortgage business since its inception. The company experimented with a myriad of business models, including a foray into loan origination through their LendingTree Loans product line, which they ultimately sold off to Discover in 2011. Even in 2013, only 11% of their revenue originated from non-mortgage products.

LendingTree has expanded their platform in a few short years to build their non-mortgage products including credit cards, HELOCs, personal, auto, and small business loans. They have also pursued credit repair services and deposit accounts, with insurance in the pipeline. Whereas mortgage revenue made up roughly 60% of total sales in Q2 2016, it dropped to 36% as of this quarter. They wanted to diversify their product mix, but they realized they were also leaving money on the table. 

Through strategic M&A activity, LendingTree has acquired a number of leading media and comparison properties to expand into new products. Acquiring CompareCards, a leading online source for credit card comparisons, has allowed them to catch up to Credit Karma and Bankrate, who own a large part of the existing market. Additional acquisitions in tertiary products like student loans, deposit accounts, and credit services have enabled the company to expand their market share in markets that are both ripe for growth and sparse of competition. The inorganic growth strategy emulates that of two of LendingTree’s major shareholders: Barry Diller, who’s company IAC previously owned LendingTree before spinning them off in 2008, and John Malone, who owned 27% of shares as of November, 2017.

LendingTree has made significant acquisitions to expand and grow

Enhancing Customer Engagement

The potential scale and success of LendingTree’s business model is predicated on discovering prospective borrowers. If they’re repeat customers, that’s a big win because their promotional costs drop significantly once a customer is familiar with the platform.

My LendingTree, the company’s personal financial management (PFM) app launched in 2014, has 8.8 million customers and generates roughly 20% of the company’s leads. It offers free credit scores, credit monitoring, and goals-based guidance through a proprietary credit and debt analyzer. At the surface, it’s not especially different from any of the other leading consumer PFM apps. That’s been the issue with these apps: the service is valuable, but it’s very difficult to differentiate beyond UI/UX, which is far from a defensible moat.

However, the ability for LendingTree to lock in customers and accumulate customer data to personalize product recommendations is a breakthrough for both consumers and lenders. Consumers outsource the loan diligence process to their phone, which explores the universe of lending options in order to find the most suitable options. 

LendingTree’s new personal finance management app. (Photo by LendingTree)

The leader in this space is Credit Karma, and by a wide margin. They’re estimated to have around 80 million customers. Those numbers appear starkly different at first glance, but it’s important to keep in mind LendingTree is relatively new, launching in 2014. Credit Karma developed a more captive relationship with customers from their inception in 2007, beginning as a free credit score platform. They’re effectively in an arms race, trying to emulate each other’s primary value propositions in order to win over a larger share of customer attention. 

By all accounts, the My LendingTree product is still in its infancy. Personal loans make up nearly two-thirds of revenue generated through My LendingTree. Credit cards were integrated through CompareCards earlier this year; deposits will be integrated in the fourth quarter through DepositAccounts. As the platform more formally integrates mortgage refinancing and HELOCs, there are more channels to drive user engagement.

For the consumer, this app reinforces the aggregation and connection between interested borrowers and willing lenders. Arguably more significant, however, is the personalization of individual customer experience that will drive further engagement and improve the recommendation engine. With the continued migration to online and mobile for financial services, this product benefits from natural demographic tailwinds.

If LendingTree can successfully reengage with customers on a more recurring basis via My LendingTree, the app should be accretive to overall variable marketing margin because they’ll have to spend far less on promotional activities due to organic customer. The combination of a market-leading aggregator with a comprehensive PFM tool creates a flywheel effect where success begets success, particularly with a major head start in the lending aggregation business. 

Removing the Informational Asymmetry 

In LendingTree’s business model, customer demand drives the flow of ad dollars and ultimately origination volume. Lenders follow customer demand. LendingTree helps expedite that process. Lenders can expand their conversions by boosting the number of high-quality leads and reducing obstacles to the loan application process. LendingTree improves both catalysts. 

On the lender side, My LendingTree fundamentally changes LendingTree’s value proposition. They used to be responsible for connecting lenders with warm leads to drive conversions. With an existing customer base, the lead generation suddenly gets easier. It also significantly reduces the customer acquisition cost for lenders, notoriously a major component of their expense profile.

Nearly 50% of all consumer interactions with banks and financial services companies occur online. It’s not controversial to say that figure is likely heading in only one direction. Currently, credit cards and personal loans are the most automated online application processes because the decisioning occurs relatively quickly. Of the expansive network of mortgage lenders on LendingTree’s platform, only 40 currently enable borrowers to continue their application online. As mortgages and small business loans become more automated through partnerships with third-parties like Blend and Roostify, LendingTree will benefit from more seamless integrations and likely, higher conversions. 

The real value proposition for the lender, however, is in the headcount consolidation. Just as the number of stock brokers and equity traders has diminished significant, the role of the loan officer will follow a similar trajectory. LendingTree initially supplemented loan officers in their borrower sourcing from a marketing perspective, which drove loan officer commissions down significantly.

Doug Lebda’s next conquest is to supplant the entire sales function. In response to a question about LendingTree’s impact on lender headcount, Lebda responded: “what will happen is [lenders will] be able to reduce commission. So the real competitor, if you will, to LendingTree…is the fully commissioned loan officer…In the future, you’re going to have LendingTree convincing the borrower through technology and then you’re going to have an individual lender just basically processing and getting it through.” 

The relationship between a loan officer and a prospective borrower is marred by informational asymmetry. Incentives aren’t aligned.  Soon enough, the pre-approval process launched through their new digital mortgage experience, “Rulo” will help to solve a problem that has plagued LendingTree since its inception: an exhaustive pursuit from loan officers.

With Rulo, LendingTree sorts and filters the list of offers and provides a recommendation based on the best option. Then, the app allows you to contact the lender directly, offering the consumer the freedom they historically haven’t had. Commenting on the early success of the new experience, Lebda said “[the conversion rate is] literally about triple what it is on the LendingTree experience.” LendingTree is streamlining a low value, yet operationally costly element of the lending business that has remained more or less stagnant for half a century. 

Seeing the Forrest through the Trees

The fawning over fintech companies has driven exorbitant amounts of global investment from venture capitalists and private equity firms who are ultimately looking for exit opportunities. Two things are happening: first, most of the major fintech companies aren’t going public, although that is beginning to change. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the ones that do go public don’t fare particularly well. 

The tried and true strategy of most emerging financial technology startups is to focus on user growth and monetize later. LendingTree did the opposite; they created a cash-flow generating platform that served a critical purpose, simplifying a historically complex landscape for consumers, while simultaneously driving directly attributable revenue for lenders. They have proved their original value proposition, connecting borrowers with lenders, and now they’re playing catch up to provide supplementary tools to add more value for customers. It’s a rare pathway, but a productive one that more fintech startups should consider.

Source: TechCrunch

This Week in the Future of Cars: What Happened at Tesla, Uber, and Chevy this week

Elon Musk is smoking something, doppler lidar helps cars see better, and the Diplomatic Security Service braves Ebola
Source: Wired

White House Secrets Top This Week's Internet News Roundup

Last week the internet was preoccupied with sleuthing who was telling White House secrets.
Source: Wired