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Zortrax, The Polish 3D Printing Company, Looking To Go Public As It Raises $3.5 Million In Public Bonds
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Kickstarter funding will often lead to the more traditional kind, and in the case of Boombotix, that’s exactly what happened. The California startup raised $17,000 for its music syncing app, which allows people to synchronize playback of music across multiple devices using mobile networks, and nearly $130,000 for its Boombot Rex mobile Bluetooth action-ready portable speaker. Now, it has also raised $4 million in venture funding from Social+ Capital, Baseline, Red Hills and many others.
May of its partners in this round are strategic in nature, and Boombotix co-founder Lief Storer says they were chosen for their ability to help build the brand.
“The investors’ interest is vested in amplifying our brand through product development and strategic marketing,” he explained in an interview. “There isn’t a single expense [in terms of using these funds] that stands out, but having key human capital in place to continue building the talent in the organization will be essential to the long-term strategy.”
Boombotix isn’t saying how many speakers it managed to see since its launch back in 2010, but it has seen its sales grow by triple figures since the debut of its Kickstarter campaigns, which also led to deals secured with retailers including Amazon, T-Mobile, Microsoft and Apple.com. The selling point of the Boombot REX is that it can stand up to mud, dust and some water exposure, as well as take spills, while providing quality sound, portability and also speaker phone functions, including the ability to use Siri on the iPhone from the gadget.
Its audio sync tech was designed to be an answer to user requests to broadcast to multiple speakers at once, which isn’t supported with standard Bluetooth. It isn’t perfect, but the app gets around this by allowing multiple devices (i.e. smartphones or tablets) to sync playback of music perfectly over a mobile network, which means that each can output music to their own attached Bluetooth speaker for what is effectively multi-speaker sound. Of course, you need more than one device to make it happen, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Boombot has begun to position its speakers as a wearable play, in part to capitalize on the growing interest in that device category. It’s true that they’re small and clip-mounted, and can be easily attached to clothing, but the key to growth will be holding appeal beyond the current action sports group of core buyers. With fresh funding, perhaps that kind of expansion is exactly what’s in store.
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A company that was conceived less than a year ago today announced its Series B round of funding late last night, with a massive raise of $75 million to add to its existing $16 million Series A and $2.4 million in Kickstarter crowdfunding dollars. That company is Oculus Rift: A virtual reality headset dreamt up by Gaikai veteran Brendan Iribe and a team of other startup vets. With nearly $100 million invested, expectations are huge, but the company is ready to meet those expectations, Iribe tells TechCrunch, and exceed them with a vision of the future that blurs the line between the virtual and the real.
Why So Much Money, So Fast
The Rift has already managed to sell over 42,000 units prior to its consumer launch, via development kits that are admittedly rough around the edges, according to Iribe. That’s impressive enough, but it’s not what’s selling investors like Marc Andreessen and game industry legends like John Carmack on the Rift – that’s the experience provided by the next-generation prototype, which is functionally the same as what we’ll see from the first consumer device, Iribe says, but which has been used by only a few hundred people at most as of right now.
Once the new prototype was perfected, Iribe got in touch with Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, to say that they’d achieved what they’d set out to do and asked how soon they could come in to see it. The combination of the prototype demonstration, and former id founder and Doom creator John Carmack explaining his vision of where he sees the entire Oculus project headed “pretty much convinced them on the spot,” Iribe tells me. Dixon and Andreessen join the fairly limited group of outside VCs with ownership stake in Oculus VR, and Iribe says that the partners and funding were chosen specifically with the intent that they should help them get to through the initial V1 consumer launch without having to go find more money elsewhere.
“The point of the first raise was to build out the technology,” Iribe says, explaining what the money has been spent on so far. “We actually thought it would take us a bit longer to get to the point of where we’re at now.”
But it didn’t take that long. The new Oculus Rift prototype should be virtually identical in terms of experience to the version that ships to consumers.
Achievement Unlocked: Consumer-Caliber Experience
“We got to the point where the latest prototype of this technology really is beyond even what we expected for V1,” Iribe told me. “We kind of put the hammer down and said ‘Okay, this is it, this is definitely enough to totally blow away the world and deliver our consumer, V1 product.’ We’re looking back even now on the dev kit and going ‘oh gosh, this new one is so much better.’ It is literally an entirely different experience.’”
“Of the 300 people who have seen the current prototype, not a single person has come away not saying ‘That’s gonna change the world,’ and that’s really [what we needed to accomplish] in terms of delivering on the promise of the vision we’ve all had for so many years,” Iribe says.
There’s a general feeling that it’s a true ‘Holy Grail’ experience in terms of immersive reality tech among those who’ve tried the latest prototype, Iribe says. I asked if I’d be able to see for myself at CES coming up in January, but he says they’re not ready to announce yet what they’re bringing to the show, and we’ll find out closer to the date. Not to read too much into it, but that does sound pretty promising for those hoping to get a sense of this new design in action. The latest hardware still isn’t close to final in terms of product design, however, Iribe adds:
“It’s what we want to bring as an experience,” he said. “It’s a prototype, so it still has its circuit boards and exposed wires and all that, but the experience, meaning once you put the device on, it is what we want to deliver in a consumer product. People go in, spend long periods of time in the experience and come out and say ‘I want to do more of that.’ There’s no kind of discomfort, no dizziness, no nausea. So many of the technical hurdles have been pretty much nailed.”
Vision In The Near-Term: Both Literal And Figurative
As for things they’re still working on the engineering side, Iribe says that there’s an increasing interest in building more advanced eye movement detection to the Rift’s functionality.
“[We recently hired] a lot of vision guys, that’s a big effort for us now,” he says. “We’re really focusing on the vision side, in terms of tracking and using optical tracking and camera tracking. That’s going to be a big focus for us going forward. Over time, we want to get more of the body in the game, but right now we’re trying to get your eyes in the game, combining your vision with your head tracking.”
Aside from engineering work, there’s a lot that needs to be nailed down in the immediate future. There’s figuring out how to consumerize the actual product design itself, and then ramping up the initial production run. That’s why Iribe isn’t putting a firm date on the Rift’s availability date just yet: internally, they have a pretty good idea of when to expect it to reach retailers and customers, but they’re purposely keeping tight-lipped about those projections to make sure everything’s ready when the time comes. To that end, they’re also hiring smart people aggressively in virtually every capacity, as there’s not just a hardware and software component to the Rift, but services, an ecosystem, a consumer education initiative and much, much more that all need to come together at launch.
Carmack Codes And Codes And Codes To Avoid A Deflating Launch
Hardware startups, especially those dealing with novel input paradigms or wearable computing, have been multiplying sharply in the past couple of years, and recently we’ve seen a number that were initially crowdfunded via pre-orders deliver their shipping consumer devices. The results aren’t pretty: while some like the Pebble have been fairly well-received (though not universally loved), others like the Leap Motion and the Ouya have sounded a sour note. Iribe admits that potential fate is a little daunting, but believes that Oculus is doing everything right to avoid the same kind of crash at the gate.
“John Carmack is writing code as fast as he can, travelling as little as he can,” he said. “I think he’s back to the early days of kind of a Doom and Quake era of him being held up in a room just programming as fast as he can to make this work really well, and he tells me having more fun than he’s had in a really long time.”
That likely explains why his dual roles at both Oculus and id didn’t last long, as he stepped down from the original home of Doom and Quake late last month to focus on being Oculus VR’s CTO full-time. Carmack is doing what he loves most at Oculus, according to Iribe, which is tackling a difficult problem that’s “right on the edge of reality.” Carmack pioneered both 2D and 3D gaming, and he’s doing the same thing all over again with the Oculus Rift, and it “really works,” Iribe says.
Acquisition Potential, Valuation And Launch Sales Estimates
Along with launch date and Carmack project specifics, Oculus is also keeping mum on valuation. Essentially, Iribe very loosely suggested a 20 to 40 percent equity sale at this stage for a startup like Oculus VR, which would put the valuation somewhere between $200 and $400 million or so, with the heavy caveat that this is mostly educated guessing on my part and not data sourced direct from the company.
“The valuation wasn’t so high that [our investors] were getting a tiny sliver, we had a pretty good valuation at each round [...] that was fair for everybody,” was the only thing Iribe would say for sure on the matter. “It’s good, but not too crazy.”
That valuation is high enough that any prospects of Oculus Rift getting scooped up by Microsoft, Sony or any other major incumbent gaming company is slim to none, Iribe says, at least until after they deliver their initial run of consumer devices. He also says that personally, the idea of having built what they have and not releasing it themselves just seems impossible.
“We feel like we have a pretty good idea of what we can sell through pre-orders, and through consumer launch, for the first six, eight or even twelve months,” Iribe explains regarding their budgeting and the amount raised, and why they don’t anticipate having to find more capital pre-launch. Extrapolating from comments he made to me, I’d suggest they’re looking somewhere in the neighborhood of one million devices for a production run funded by what’s in their existing coffers, though Iribe declined to get into specifics. He did say that they see that expanding to hundreds of millions of devices and active users sometime in the next decade or so, thanks to the long-term Oculus vision of VR beyond the confines of gaming.
Immersed In The Big Picture
What we’re looking at is the evolution of virtual reality, starting with this headset. It’s going to be a little bigger than we’d all want it to be of course, and it will have its form factor challenges, but the experience inside is good enough that people are going to really enjoy it, and love going in, playing games and watching movies. And then it’ll quickly evolve, and its form factor will keep getting better; closer and closer to sunglasses, lighter and easier to wear. Very quickly, over the next decade or two, what we’re looking at really becomes about communications.
Just like the smartphone now represents the primary means with which we communicate digitally, Iribe sees a future where VR supplants a lot of the same usage, so that you have a pair of sunglass-style Rift goggles that you simply slip on when you want to talk face-to-face, as if in person, with your friend halfway around the world. Our kids will laugh at stories of typing away on virtual keyboards and smiling back at grainy video into the unblinking eye of a monitor-mounted webcam, and remote business won’t be so remote anymore. In short, Oculus is taking the first step towards a world where the “virtual” in virtual reality is just a technical distinction, not a description of experience.
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Jakub Krzych, founder of Estimote, has announced a $3.1 million seed round raise from Innovation Endeavors, Betaworks, Bessemer Venture Partners, Birchmere Ventures, Valiant Capital Partners and others. The company is already shipping its small Bluetooth products, called Beacons, to retailers and they expect a huge rush in orders as they line up large clients next year.
“In the future apps will not be designed just for smartphones. They will also be developed and installed on top of retail stores and other real world locations – like airports, museums or hospitals,” said Krzych. “We are shipping thousands of beacons per week and more than 10,000 developers around the world are already experimenting with Estimote beacons in contextual computing applications.”
Macy’s is already experimenting with the technology while Apple plans to add iBeacon to 254 of their retail stores. Estimote is poised to grab hundreds of those locations with its low-cost devices. They are also building a digital platform for handling iBeacon interaction with cellphones as well as improved wireless payment solutions. Estimote won Best Hardware Startup at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco.
“Estimote is bringing on Steve Cheney as SVP of Business Operations, who will open a New York office and build out Estimote’s business and operations teams,” said Krzych. The company already has headquarters in Krakow, Poland and San Francisco. The company hopes to announce further partners over the coming months.
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