1. Openbeta v2

    Betaworks is announcing today for the first time that we’ll be syndicating seed investments as part of our larger Openbeta initiative. While this announcement comes on an important day for crowdfunding, with the lifting of the ban on general solicitation, it’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. We think that in the next few months, as the crowdfunding regulations are clarified, this new funding environment will be hugely positive for startups and how they approach raising capital. Unfortunately, because implementation of the laws is still underway, we can’t yet discuss the specific company we’re syndicating, but we’re excited to partner with AngelList to do it.

    We’re beginning to syndicate seed investments for reasons both philosophical and structural — we believe it’s consistent with our open architecture at betaworks and it gives us an additional advantage as seed-stage angel investors. This is a new form of startup financing, it’s innovative and disruptive. And like most things we do at betaworks, this is a beta.

    How did this come about? It started with a list of questions:

    - How can we offer great companies the most efficient access to capital?
    - Does the existing seed-stage financing system work the way it could? And what will the seed-stage angel / fund look like 6 months, 2 years, 10 years from now?
    - Could users be more helpful to early-stage companies than venture investors are?
    - Should early-stage Internet investment opportunities be limited to LPs and wealthy individuals?
    - What would happen if we gradually opened up our investment doors to the world?

    This is just a small sample of the questions we ask ourselves every day.

    Earlier this year we started a project called Openbeta as the first step towards creating a more open ecosystem around betaworks and our community of users. We believe we’re better at what we do — building and operating companies — because we work with and have the support of a larger community of users and technologists. In a very short period of time, Openbeta has become a place where thousands of people can participate in the betaworks ecosystem — help us test the early products we build and invest in, join us for events at the betaworks studio, and today, for the first time, invest alongside us in the companies we fall in love with.

    This new part of Openbeta is more than just a philosophical exercise. We believe crowdfunding strategies such as syndicates will help our startups. It will allow them to raise additional capital efficiently and shield them from the complexity of having lots of angel investors on their cap table (betaworks manages this for them as part of the AngelList Syndicate feature). We do not believe this type of capital replaces the seed fund partners and angel investors we already love working with (and who are very helpful to their startups), but we believe betaworks-led syndicates will add to and complement these folks nicely.

    To invest in our syndicates, you must:

    - Be a member of Openbeta, click here to sign up
    - Be an accredited AngelList investor. (We hope that as crowdfunding regulations progress, we will be able to include a broader group, both accredited and non-accredited investors, but right now you must be accredited to participate.)

    If you have any additional questions, you can reach out to me directly at nick@betaworks.com.

    These new regulations combined with our announcement today marks a significant change for the technology industry, particularly for startups and venture capital. As usual, we’re happy to be smack in the middle of it and we hope you’ll join us in this journey.

    - Nick

     


  2. Re-introducing Instapaper

    This past April, we acquired Instapaper, a simple tool for saving and reading web pages on any smartphone or tablet.

    As longtime users and fans, it was immediately clear that Instapaper would be a great addition to the betaworks studio. Many of Instapaper’s challenges were familiar; over the years we’ve built social reading products, scaled backends to handle the real-time social web, and acquired strong brands with devoted users. We’ve also been able to lend Instapaper the tech skills we know best: design and user experience, mobile application architecture, Python nerdery, and data science.

    The challenge of modernizing Instapaper’s no-nonsense functionality and minimalist design aesthetic has been a fun one. We focused initially on upgrading performance, improving reliability, and updating design.  Today we are unleashing our first major release: a top-to-bottom redesign of Instapaper’s web interface.

    There’ll be much more to come over the next few weeks — new, improved Instapaper iOS and Android apps;  browser extensions with lots of new and excellent features;  better file management and support;  tools and options for sorting and filtering your unread queue;  and data-powered personal recommendations. This is just the beginning.  If you’re interested in staying up to date with Instapaper Betas, please sign up for its early access list here.

    Here’s to reading anywhere. We hope you enjoy the changes.


    - Andrew

     


  3. Dots Update: New Game Mode + Android!

    First, a quick thanks to all of you; in the three and half months since we launched, we’ve had 5M downloads and 1B games played. Its an understatement to say that Dots grew faster than we expected.  Today, we’re pleased to announce Dots for Android and a new “Moves” mode of Dots.

    Dots for Android is available to download now on Google Play and Amazon Appstore for Android.  We worked hard to ensure the game we built for Android felt just as fun (and addictive!) as the original game on iPhone.  One of the design goals for our Android app was to ensure it had full feature parity with our iPhone game.  To accomplish this, we worked with our friends at Apportable to build a system that allows any new feature we build for the iPhone, to be immediately available on Android.  It took us a little longer than planned to get this right, but we’re pleased with the results and hope our Android fans out there are as happy with it as we are.

    As for new features, the next time you play Dots on iPhone or Android, you’ll notice there’s a new game mode called “Moves” mode.  Instead of being restricted by time, you’re given 30 moves — take as much time as you like, and make the best move possible.  We think it’s a nice compliment to the classic mode, and look forward to hearing what you think.

    Lastly, in this update we’ve worked to localize most of the app in ten languages in addition to English: German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Arabic.  More to come in the next few weeks, but until then… please enjoy the update!

    Team Dots

     


  4. Seed Investment Update - 1H 2013

    Betaworks builds, invests in, and acquires companies. Each of these activities is a different tool we use to work with the most talented entrepreneurs and most interesting companies, all the time building out a network of people and products — some loosely connected, some more tightly.   

    While our focus is building products, we have been active seed investors since our inception in 2007. In that time, we’ve invested in 81 companies, all of which we consider an important part of our network. From the seed capital we have invested (on average $150,000 per company), we have seen 6× appreciation, realized and unrealized. This estimate is based on conservative valuation estimates of our seed investment portfolio and includes all of our recent investments (which are valued at cost). Although it’s more difficult to quantify the second-order effects of our seed investing activity, we think there are significant non-economic advantages; we believe as fellow builders and makers, we’ve been extremely helpful to the entrepreneurs we’ve worked with over the years.

    Thus far in 2013, we’ve made seven new seed investments. This is a slower pace than we saw in 2012, when we invested in 21 new companies over course of the full year.  At the outset of the year, John, Josh and I agreed that we’d make a smaller number of investments this year but deploy the same amount of capital, and dig in deeper with each company. In short, we want to focus on what we know, mainly network-oriented, social, data-driven products, and we only want to invest when the company and founders become an obsession, when we can’t sleep at night thinking about the product and its possibilities. We believe we’re executing well on this strategy and we believe it will provide outsized economic returns and value for our network of companies.

    This year, four of our seed investment companies have exited, including Tumblr, Summly, Clipboard, and gdgt. Tumblr, in particular, was special for us as it was our very first seed investment at betaworks. David and his team built something very special and we’ve been lucky to be part of it. We believe Yahoo! will be a good home for the company and that Tumblr offers an incredible opportunity for Marissa Mayer to transform Yahoo!’s business. 

    Two of our seed investment companies failed. Failure is a natural part of starting and building companies, and it’s a part of investing in companies that think big and take large risks to get there. Both founders of these companies are now building new things in the betaworks network. In fact, they’re working together on this new thing, and we couldn’t be more excited to work with them again.   

    Eight of our companies raised additional rounds of financing. By no means do we believe raising more money is the best indication of ultimate success, but in an environment in which many are talking about a Series A “crunch,” many of our companies are prospering. We believe that’s a good early indication of how they might fare longer-term.

    In regards to valuation, we have seen seed-stage valuations decrease through the first half of 2013, but only slightly. However, it’s worth mentioning, although possibly anecdotal, that 5 of our 7 investments have been structured as preferred stock rather than convertible notes, a significantly higher percentage than in past years. This may be a sign that the environment is becoming just slightly more investor friendly, depending on your view of convertible notes v. preferred stock.

    Overall, we’re thrilled — in fact obsessed — with the seed companies in which we’ve invested during the first half of this year. We have a few we’re working on closely that we can’t wait to tell you about. You can follow along with us by signing up for Openbeta.

    - Nick

     


  5. Tapestry 2.0 - Beautiful Storytelling

    When we started building Tapestry last fall, our goal was to create a quiet place to read and be swept away by beautiful, great short stories—no interruptions; simply an enjoyable, immersive reading experience.

    Touch devices and Tapestry stories evoke emotions in a way other media cannot. It’s a medium that celebrates some of the most important aspects of storytelling: succinctness, pacing, and creativity.

    That’s why we love Tapestry. Our ever-growing collection of stories allows you to experience storytelling with greater intimacy and more impact than a blog post or a tweet. Like listening to a story around a campfire, you’ll find yourself hanging on every pause and inflection in anticipation of the next reveal.

    With all this in mind, we developed and are excited to announce Tapestry 2.0.

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    Since our initial launch last November, thousands of stories have been added to the Tapestry library. With this major update, we’ve made it easier to discover and read more of these amazing stories. The best Tapestry stories are accessible in the app, either by search, categories, or tags.   

    The stories you have written—public, published or still in process—are available within the app for you to view. Your reading history, both on the web and in the app, is also available. These new features, plus search, make it easier to find your stories and stories you’ve heard about, like that Italics story by Robin Sloan.   

    And lastly we have refreshed the branding and design. We kept it clean and simple to stay out of the way of the stories, while also connecting a bit more with our sister companies here at betaworks.

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    In addition to the updates to the app, today we’re introducing new stories from new artists, authors, and publishers. Quirk Books introduces William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Tapestry, and Jean-Christophe Castelli, Associate Producer of Life of Pi, goes behind the scenes of the film in Fearful Symmetry. We’ve also collaborated with a few great brands to experiment with our new storytelling medium too.

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    The outcome? We couldn’t be more excited to share Tapestry 2.0 with you.

    -Jana

    "The way you change and help music, is by trying to invent new ways to play" -Miles Davis

     


  6. Want to build? Join us.

    Over the past few months, we’ve built and acquired six new products that we’re incredibly excited about:  Giphy, Instapaper, Dots, Telecast, Blend, and Poncho.

    The next step of building is to transform these products into companies - a step that requires uniquely talented designers and engineers.  This phase is one of the best times to join a startup — there’s already a clear product-market fit with initial funding and you’ll be one of the first on the team so you can have a major impact on the company.

    Joining an early stage company at betaworks has a few unique advantages:

    1. All betaworks companies have funding clarity.  For anyone that’s been part of a small team trying to fundraise in the past, you’ll know how distracting it can be for everyone involved.  Obviously startups are most productive when they’re building, not endlessly pitching partners, so we have created a platform that ensures our startups and teams can focus on building.

    2. Our studio is filled with creative entrepreneurs, not employees.  With 50-60 people in our studio at any one time, you’ll notice something that I’ve never seen before - you could tap anyone on the shoulder and get an interesting story.  The interests and hobbies of the folks at betaworks are as impressive as their engineering skills - they’re illustrators, musicians, comedians, art collectors, world travellers, or whiskey connoisseurs.  They are also perfectionists.  People who love what they do, people who craft their work and take pride in what they are building and what others around them create.

    3. Nothing lasts forever, and we get that.  We’re fully aware that the challenges a company reaches at different inflection points are more interesting to some than others, and we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  You might be more interested in creating a product for the first million users than the next ten million, or the other way around.  Either way, we get it and the designers and engineers that join our studio companies have unparalleled options when it comes to joining a new company, or starting their own.

    4. New York.  There’s something special happening here with tech startups in NYC and it’s unlike anywhere else in the world.  If you don’t currently live in the city, joining a betaworks company is a great excuse to move out here and be part of a fast-emerging startup scene.

    Whether you’re actively or passively looking for the next big thing, consider joining our talent network, signing up for Openbeta or reaching out to us directly to ask about a betaworks company.

    - paul

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  7. Dots - now on iPad

    Check out the announcement and download the update.

    With great organic growth since it launched nearly a month ago, Dots now has over 3 million downloads and about 250 million games played.  We’ve released an update to Dots today that adds native support for iPad and a fun new multiplayer mode.

    - paul

     


  8. Giphy - Search Animated Gifs on the Web

    A few months ago, we “announcedGiphy - a search engine for animated GIFs.  I’m using quotes because, to be honest, we weren’t really ready to announce it.  The product started taking off and we felt it was best to give the couple hundred thousand folks and countless publishers that started using it a place to direct their feedback, bugs, and feature requests.  Needless to say, there was a lot of duct tape holding the search engine together — until today.  The Giphy team, started by hackers in residence Jace Cooke & Alex Chung, have been hard at work building a robust search engine, responsive site, realtime crawler, and most importantly (for us) a way to handle attribution.

    While a lot of what we’re launching with this “version 1.0” is behind the scenes, some of the new features you’ll notice are a sexy homepage, a browse mode, much faster searching, and about a dozen featured GIF artists with their own pages to host original content.  This is the first step we’re taking to help organize a historically fragmented community, and give GIF artists around the world a legitimate platform to start the next big Internet meme.

    - paul

     


  9. Telecast - TV quality entertainment on your phone

    The promise of video entertainment on mobile devices is a theme that quickly emerged in our hacker in residence group.  Matt Hackett was particularly frustrated that despite the simplicity of an iPhone and iPad, it’s incredibly time consuming to find video entertainment worth watching.  Traditional mobile video apps did one of two things - they either pulled uninteresting video from social streams, or they relied on extensive keyword searching only to find a semi-entertaining 30 second clip.

    At the same time, traditional television, for all it’s flaws, still does one thing well - when you turn on a TV and switch to a channel you like, you’ll get professionally programmed video designed to (hopefully) entertain you.  Why can’t we do the same thing on an iPad or iPhone?  

    Matt and a small team of builders, including Jason Morrow (product design), Juan Alvarez (iOS), Mike Byhoff (editorial), Grant Custer (front-end extraordinaire) spent the next 3 months working to fix this problem: Enter Telecast.

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    We believe in what makes TV special, professionally sourced and programmed shows.  At the same time, we feel the most interesting video content now exists on the Internet.  Telecast brings you three 5-minute bursts of seriously good, personally tailored video every day.

    One thing’s for sure - you’ll love the shows.  Download Telecast now and give it a shot.

    - paul

    Telecast is currently only available in North America, additional markets coming soon!

     


  10. Dots - 25 million games later

    We recently launched Dots to an amazing response.  In just one week, Dots has been downloaded 1 million times, has become the #1 app in 8 countries, and is a top 5 app in 15 other countries.  Our Twitter and Facebook streams were quickly filled with friends, colleagues, celebrities, and complete strangers talking about the game and challenging others to beat their Dots score. Needless to say, we’re thrilled with the response.

    There’s a lot to do, and we’re working hard to release an update shortly with a few bug fixes, new features, and iPad support.  Check out the blog on Dots to see what we have planned (plus a few tips and tricks).

    - patrickpaul