Monthly Archives: February 2013

Is the 2.5 Billion Pinterest valuation crazy?

This week there was some shocking news from digital scrapbook site Pinterest- a 2.5 billion valuation and a 200 million funding round. Are these just crazy numbers for a site that has no ads, no dues, and no announced projected revenue source?


Pinterest is now worth more than publicly traded Internet companies Zynga Inc. (ZNGA), Yelp Inc. and Pandora Media Inc., even though it has yet to generate revenue.

Just my humble opinion as one marketer who’s been through the boom and bust here in SF: not crazy at all. Want to know why? Continue reading

On San Francisco’s Pier 9, Autodesk jumpstarts 3D printing of human skin.

Bay Area 3D design software giant Autodesk is expanding its San Francisco office space.

We told you that 3D printing is about to blow your mind, and Autodesk is very much in the game with their savvy acquisition of Instructables (which will be headed up from this location) and their December announcement of partnership with bioprinter Organovo.

Remember the good old days of Webvan? Instacart does.

Back in 1999, you could order groceries delivered to your door from Webvan.

But most people just ordered a six-pack of soda and didn’t tip the free-delivery guy. We had friends who worked there; it was great. Then they lost a billion dollars. In 2000, my email tagline was “I can’t hear you over the sound of Nero fiddling”. We gave a Halloween party in the cannon-testing range at the Alameda Naval base in 2001, with tombstones for all the dotcoms that had failed.

San Francisco’s giant frat rager was over.

“and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Hunter S. Thompson

But living in the Bay Area these days feels a bit like those days, if you have friends at the high-flying companies and your partner works at a startup that might be a contender. And there are already casualties littering the field.

If a company that raised a 5M initial round and was founded by three ex-eBay execs couldn’t back the right horse (social local commerce and F-commerce are very young) then why is SF-based Instacart trying a business model that already drastically failed?

Especially in SF, where consumers have numerous online grocery delivery options? Safeway delivers groceries (using some of Webvan’s old trucks!) SPUD will bring you organic local etc. veggies, or you can Mechanical Turk it with Taskrabbit.

I learned about Instacart during a New Year’s Day conversation with a bright young thing from Dropbox, who told me the instant delivery (one-hour to same-day) arms race means the restless ghost of 90’s ecommerce delivery sites is roaming the streets of SF again. If you’re a young person who doesn’t work for Google (we know a Google employee who has turned his Mission kitchen into the litterbox room for his cats) but still makes tech money, your time is worth way more per hour than any delivery fees.

On-demand courier and personal assistant services like Postmates and Exec are a practical solution for young urban singles who don’t want to deal with things like picking up drycleaning (or may not get home from work before the drycleaner closes) and don’t have a homemaker spouse.

Is hiring out waiting in line at Tartine or Ike’s a douche move, a gratuitous flourish of privilege, or is it trickle-down economics at work?

And why does Instacart think they can deliver groceries to anybody besides the neo-digerati?

Well, they’re Y Combinator-incubated, for one thing. And they have an elevator pitch that doesn’t sound insane.

Founded in early June, Instacart is the brainchild of Apoorva Mehta, an ex-Amazon Supply Chain engineer, who is leveraging his experience building Amazon’s own complex backend logistical system in the hopes of creating a more efficient back and front-end grocery delivery experience at Instacart.


To begin with, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said, the company is avoiding mistakes made by high-profile dot-com boom era failures like Webvan and Kozmo. Instead of offering unlimited free delivery with no minimum order, like Kozmo did, or building a billion dollars’ worth of grocery fulfillment infrastructure, Instacart simply takes customers’ $10 or larger orders, sends a staff shopper to a local merchant to load up on fruits, vegetables, meats, and the like, and then delivers them.


In this article by Rafe Needleman, he interviews Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta and learns that Instacart isn’t a marketplace for food, it’s a marketplace for labor.

In other words, Instacart is selling a grocery-ordering interface paired with micro-contracting services in the vetted Taskrabbit model.

Needleman makes the point that Webvan was too early for this kind of service; Instacart is entirely mobile-dependent and the workforce of contractors with their own smartphones (“managed crowdsourcing“) who use Instacart’s proprietary store maps and shopping app are as important a piece as the customers.

Will it work? As a part-time homemaker-partner, I was immediately ready to outsource the grocery shopping to Instacart for the absurdly reasonable price of $9.99 for one-hour or $3.99 for three-hour delivery. I was crushed to learn that our Uptown Oakland neighborhood isn’t on their service yet- sensibly, they’re starting out with SF, Palo Alto and Mountainview.


And a little more investigation reveals something interesting – a markup on the groceries themselves that’s not mentioned anywhere on the Instacart site.

There’s a detailed price analysis on this blog, which is written by the co-founder of a competing business model, so grain of salt.

It’s generally described as between “5%“, “gouging” and “a touch” elsewhere.


Additionally, in a discussion on Y Combinator’s Hacker News, CEO Mehta proves himself to be a bit of a jerk.

Why these startup guys gotta be such jerks? It’s enough to make you cynical about the Internet.

Personalization is the wave of the future. You wouldn’t believe what you can get your kitty’s face printed on.

Our post about custom clothing company Construct led the T324 office to a discussion of personalized printing and on-demand custom product companies.

Store manager Brian remembered “back when I was a junior in high school” ordering “tons of stuff” from CafePress; your bloggess recalled Zazzle entering the field, with more refined products than CafePress, and their arms race for the sought-after black custom-printed t-shirt.

So we trotted over to Zazzle to see what else you can get custom-printed now, and it’s not just t-shirts and mugs!T324-Zazzle-laptop-sleeve-test

How about laptop bags and sleeves? I knew you could get a laptop skin, but the possibilities of sleeves are delightful!

The bags are spendy at $169.95, but made by SF hipster institution Rickshaw Bagworks and local, sustainable, blah, blah, blah. Continue reading

Constrvct makes clothes custom-fitted to a 3D model of your body, in your own custom fabric.

One of the top tech trends we talked about for 2013 is personalization– the ability to make things completely customized, on-demand.

A fascinating group of business models is emerging in response to new print and visualization technologies, and one of them is Constrvct, a custom clothing company created by two programmers on the East Coast.T324-Logo-on-Constrvct-dress

The Constrvct concept is that you upload images to create a fabric design and enter your measurements into an interactive 3D model of the garment you choose.

The garment is previewed live in your measurements with the design on it. You can spin the model around to see how your design appears from all angles!

If you like it, you order it, and Constrvct custom digitally prints the fabric, then cuts the pattern- with a laser or plotter- and sews the garment to your measurements. Continue reading

Does a Dick Tracy watch mean the future is finally here? 68,000 Pebble backers think so.

I don’t know if I want to talk to my watch. I don’t even like to talk to my phone. But if you’re going to…

If you think about it, a watch makes more sense for Siri-type technology than a smartphone does. With a smartphone, it’s still very easy to type commands. Many people avoid talking to their phones when they’re not on a call so they don’t look like asshats who are talking to their phones.

Chip in head, please.

I’ve been waiting for years to go to a grey-market Seoul clinic and get the chip put in my head. Nothing anyone says about people hacking it, boot-up problems, need for regular upgrades, etc., has ever reduced my desire to be an early adopter of this controversial technology. images

It’s not that I want to be a cyborg, although growing up hearing the exultant words “Better…stronger…faster” gave me a sense of wonder and hope about biomechanical developments.

I’m just ready for an upgrade. I forget where I left my car practically every day, and while technology for finding it with external devices is advancing daily, I don’t want to have to bother with that business. I need an onboard memory prosthesis, a zoom camera eyeball, an annotated life, and a GPS HUD (for indoors too, great for navigating museums- Google already offers it for external devices). Continue reading

What does Facebook’s new “Google Killer” Graph Search mean for businesses?

Nowadays we tend to talk as if Google sees everything we do, as if the Google search engines spider the entire net while we sleep, mining our data for their ad sales. But actually there’s a cutout in the Googlesphere, an enormous blind spot where what we do, like and share is hidden from Google- and that’s Facebook. In the Facehole-sphere, our billion users’ worth of monetizable actions and choices are indexable only by Facebook, and the Zuck has been working on another way to sell that indexing (aka rescue the Like).

East Bay Express talks Oakland’s Civic Hackers

Great article about a very layered situation.

Civic hacking holds promise for resource-strapped cities like Oakland, yet triggers hot buttons around technology democracy and access in a diverse community. How can a city that is struggling to manage day-to-day operations negotiate with a volunteer group of technology specialists, some of whom may have issues with government and authority?

One way is by hiring someone with roots in both the Maker/techie scene and the Oakland DIY arts community. Did you know Oakland has an Online Engagement Director? We didn’t, and we are fascinated to learn about Nicole Neditch’s appointment to the position. Neditch is a programmer, was one of the co-owners of the much-loved and now lost Oakland institution Mama Buzz Cafe, co-founded The Bay Area Visual Arts Network, and helped launch Art Murmur. You can read more about her work here. Continue reading