Some further consolidation in the Russian online travel sector. Following last month’s news that Russian travel startup OneTwoTrip had acquired the analytics-driven hotel price comparison site DealAngel, today Russia’s Oktogo.ru is announcing that it’s gobbled up local online travel portal Travel.ru.
The acquisition price is said to be “up to $2 million including stock incentives”, presumably including earn-out targets, while Oktogo says that the combined forces gives it an audience of 3 million unique monthly visitors, making it “by far the largest online travel destination serving independent travelers in Russia”.
To that end, 1998-founded Travel.ru caters more for the discovery end of the online travel user-journey, calling itself a good old-fashioned “portal” and focusing on expert travel content, both editorial and user-generated, for Russian travellers.
Meanwhile, Oktogo, which is backed by VTB Capital, Mangrove Capital Partners, Ventech and ABRT, is described as an online travel agency/aggregator. It offers offers over 5,000 hotels in Russia and over 250,000 hotels worldwide, claiming to have the biggest database of local hotels online.
In a statement, Marina Kolesnik, co-founder and CEO of Oktogo.ru, talks up the synergies between the now combined companies: “We will further enhance the Oktogo.ru hotel product with unique content from Travel.ru and leverage our hotel product to better serve the loyal audience of Travel.ru. As a result, we will be able to deliver a unique service to customers at different stages of decision making cycle – from those who gather information and search to those who shop and buy travel product.”
That has echoes of the reasoning behind OneTwoTrip’s purchase of DealAngel — it’s about capturing as much of the value in the customer journey with regards to all things travel. And with the Russian online travel market said to exceed $10 billion in 2013, according to market research firm PhoCusWright, it’s easy to see why that’s an attractive proposition, and likely leading to further consolidation.
With Nest, the smart thermostat startup founded by ex-Apple iPod chief Tony Fadell, seemingly getting closer to a UK launch, TechCrunch has learned that European competitor Tado has raised a further $2.6 million from previous backers Target Partners, and Shortcut Ventures.
The Munich, Germany-based startup plans to use the additional capital — building on the $2 million it’s thought to have previously raised — for further European expansion outside of its home market, and existing sales in Austria, and Switzerland. Our understanding is that this will include the UK where Tato already has around 100 beta testers, with sales also opening up to the rest of Europe, pegged for next month. It looks like the smart thermostat market is starting to heat up this side of the pond.
Tado differs from Nest in a number of ways. Firstly, unlike Nest it shuns any kind of built in screen, instead relying on accompanying iPhone and Android apps for almost all interaction. That isn’t just a UX-based design decision, it also reflects Tado’s other key differentiator.
Rather than taking a purely self-learning approach like Nest, or relying on preprogrammed timetables for when heating should come on or off, the system is geolocation-based so that it knows when each smartphone carrying resident is close to home and therefore the heating should be adjusted accordingly. Being Internet-connected, it takes into account local weather reports, too.
The Tado app also gets a neat update today, adding approximated heating costs so that users can keep an eye on what their eventual heating bill will look like. In addition, there’s a new visualisation feature to show when residents are close enough to the home for Tado to kick in the heating.
“Nest is called the learning thermostat and needs to be trained by the user over a period of at least one week. Tado in contrast starts to work immediately since it works on real time signals,” says the company. “Our control algorithms acutally start to make the whole space really smart. The focus is to use real time signals which come from the smartphone app or Internet weather data to adjust room temperatures.”
Of course, like Nest and others in the smart thermostat space, such as Latvia’s Istabai, the end goal is the same: to help a user save energy and therefore money through a much ‘smarter’ home heating system that also has the potential to bring greater comfort.
Now if that doesn’t leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy, I don’t know what will.
As the quantified self movement continues to pick up momentum, the range of consumer devices tracking physiological signals is set to expand. But harvesting bio-signals requires specialist kit — which can be either expensive to buy or tricky to put together yourself for prototyping purposes, unless that’s your particular area of expertise. Well, here’s a device that wants to change that. BITalino is a simplified system for makers, app developers and researchers who want to quickly start capturing bio-signals.
The low cost (€149/$197 + shipping and taxes) kit of modular blocks includes a swathe of physiological sensors that can be broken out to use individually or linked together and used in whatever combination you’re after. BITalino’s approach is plug and play, to keep things as simple as possible. The sensors in the kit can interface with computing platforms such as Arduino (and derivatives) and Raspberry Pi, says project lead Hugo Silva. BITalino also includes Bluetooth connectivity so can be used in desktop and mobile environments.
“Currently there are several APIs for platforms including Android OS, Java or Python; BITalino is also cloud / web compatible through a software framework based on WebSockets, HTML5 and CSS3,” he tells TechCrunch.
Sensors included in the BITalino kit are:
an EMG (electromyography) to track muscle activation
an EDA (electrodermal Activity) to measure skin activity/moisture levels
a LUX light sensor to monitor ambient light or (used in conjunction with a light source) to track blood volume pulse data
an ECG (electrocardiogram) to track heart rate, monitor stress etc
an accelerometer to track limb movements
The board also includes an LED block for visual feedback, a microcontroller unit and a power management block to power the other units.
The kit is the result of a collaboration between Portuguese bio-sensor maker, PLUX – Wireless Biosignals (co-founded by Silva in 2007), and a not-for-profit research centre in the country, called Instituto de Telecomunicações, where Silva is currently doing his PhD. He isn’t aiming to make money off the BITalino kit itself — hence its low cost and bootstrapped status.
“BITalino by itself won’t be a money maker; it is more thought out as a community driver/motivator,” he says. ”BITalino is sold with everything needed for people to start developing. The hardware prices start at €149 (+ shipping and taxes) and includes all the sensors and parts to jump start their work. The APIs and software framework is provided free of cost as well.
“Our goal with BITalino is to empower the community with basic tools for rapid prototyping of biosignal-based projects. We are looking forward to lower the prices even more as the production scales up.”
As well as its low relative cost – ”BITalino makes technologies that usually cost several thousands of dollars readily available for anyone at very low pricing”, according to Silva — he says the platform’s other disruptive factor is its goal of “democratising” bio-signal acquisition technologies. The grand aim behind that being to help bring down the cost of developing affordable medical devices for developing and low-income countries.
While BITalino overlaps somewhat, in competitive terms, with Arduino and (the also not-for profit) Raspberry Pi, Silva says it is carving out a niche by specialising in bio-signal capture and processing. ”The Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms can be seen as competitors, however, biosignals have specific requirements (e.g. tolerance to noise, sampling frequency) for which these platforms are not particularly tuned, and many projects end up heavily bounded by the high cost and limited access to suitable hardware materials,” he says.
“The closest platform that one can find in this segment is the Libellium e-Health sensor platform for Arduino and Raspberry Pi, however the price point for this platform is above $500 and it does not provide either the same sensors, or the same versatility in terms of hardware and software. BITalino provides a framework for very integrated (stamp-like) systems to be developed, and has a growing and wide range of APIs and software tools.”
BITalino went on sale in mid August 2013 and just over 100 of the modular kits have been pre-ordered or sold to-date. Research institutions are a strong initial customer base, as you’d expect — but BITalino is also being targeted more broadly at students, hobbyists and app developers, so there’s plenty of scope for that number to grow.
“We’ve sold to countries ranging from U.S., South Africa, Italy, Spain, UK. BITalinos are already being used by people from institutions such as the MIT, University of Florida, Zurich University, among many others,” Silva adds.
The Dextrus hand is the working prototype resulting from Joel Gibbard’s Open Hand Project, an open source hardware initiative that aims to lower the cost of robotic prosthetics dramatically. Dextrus is a fully-functional robotic hand, with features and capabilities similar to leading advanced prosthetics, but at a small fraction of the cost.
A working Dextrus is available through Gibbard’s just-launched Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for £700 for the full prosthetic version of the device, which is around $1,100 U.S. Compare that to $11,000 for the market-leading model back in 2010, for example. Gibbard is able to cut costs in a number of ways, from using less expensive materials in the construction to 3D printing component parts, as well as using existing artificial limb attachment hardware and mounts.
Gibbard, who’s based in Bristol, UK, says that after developing the original Dextrus while studying in school for a Bachelor’s of Engineering in Robotics from the University of Plymouth, and receiving numerous accolades for its design, he realized that making a material impact in the world would require more than just research. The Indiegogo campaign, which is seeking £39,000 in funding, is designed to finance work on the Open Hand Project for an entire year to help translate Gibbard’s academic research into reality.
To test and build the Dextrus, Gibbard has been working with amputee and Chef Liam Corbett, who says he’s already able to do much more with the prototype Dextrus than with the hook prosthesis he used previously.
“Liam’s the perfect candidate for the hand so I’ll be working with him throughout,” Gibbard says of the partnership between the two and their opportunistic meeting. “He’s been searching for a device like this for the last couple of years and got in touch with me through Facebook.” The Dextrus hasn’t yet been tested with other users, Gibbard says, but he’s had discussions with a prosthetist at Bristol’s Southmead hospital, who’s helping him find other good candidates.
To make the dream of an affordable, advanced prosthetic a widely-available reality, Gibbard says that he’d likely require a contract with Britain’s National Health service or similar, and that would probably entail raising at least another £10,000 or so in funding at least, which he says he’d look for from sources other than crowdfunding. The dream is both ambitious and worthy, so here’s hoping the Indiegogo campaign gives this entrepreneur a chance to get to that next stage.
Amobee, the mobile advertising company bought last year by SingTel for $321 million, has made an acquisition of its own to build out its platform with more ad-tech features. It has bought Gradient X, a young Los Angeles-based developer of a real-time bidding platform for mobile ads, which only just exited from beta earlier this summer.
The exact price is not being disclosed, but I’ve dug around and understand that it’s in the tens of millions of dollars. Not bad for a startup that had only raised $3.75 million, from backers who included Mark Suster’s Upfront Ventures, Founder Collective, Rincon Venture Partners and many more.
Trevor Healy, the CEO of Amobee, tells me that the acquisition is as much about picking up a product that fills a need at Amobee, as it is about picking up some key talent. That includes CEO Brain Baumgart (formerly chief strategy officer at Adconion Direct), CIO Julie Mattern (co-founder and formerly the chief technologist at the Rubicon Project), and CTO Michael Lum (former head of engineering at OpenX) — all of whom will be joining Amboee, both to work on Gradient X’s existing RTB product and also “to do more work for us in the future.”
“We are excited to join Amobee, which is globally recognized as the leader in mobile marketing,” said Brian Baumgart, CEO of Gradient X, in a statement announcing the deal. “Amobee and Gradient X share a common vision in how to use technology to finally make mobile the most effective marketing channel to reach the right customer, with the right offer, at the right time and place.”
The RTB platform, meanwhile, will mean that Amobee will be able to offer companies the ability to make media buys through multiple channels and formats like video and HTML5, with bidding and pricing marked in real time, and with analytics for improved targeting. The ideal is that this will give media buyers a better return on their spend.
Healy said that acquisition in a way is representative of bigger changes in the mobile ad industry, which follows closely the same evolutions we’ve seen across digital advertising as a whole. Amobee, he says, needs to “keep up with the pace” of how its business is growing. “We’re starting to see a level of sophistication come into the marketplace for mobile ads,” he says. “People in the past had been happy enough to generate smaller revenues while still convincing clients of the medium, but now we see a point where we have to deliver more end-to-end value. And that will grow as more ad dollars go into mobile. Their products will complement our existing publishing assets a lot to help provide a full suite of services to CMO.”
Healy says that although Gradient X is still a very new player — it was still testing its platform with big spenders like Ford — Amobee had been eyeing them up from earlier on, and had a first considered just a partnership. But as they learned more, the more they thought it would be better to take the plunge instead. Maybe because there is so much consolidation underway right now in the mobile ad space, and so it’s even more challenging to be a small startup just opening for business, Gradient X may have felt the same. Still, it doesn’t look like it was a guarantee that Amobee would get it. “It was a coup for Amobee to get this deal done,” says Healy.
Gradient X will remain in LA, and Amobee plans to capitalize on that by setting up a sales office in the city as well.
Ali Rehan and his university cohorts had just won Pakistan’s inaugural Startup Weekend hackathon when they decided to quit their PhD research project to build a photography app. Weeks later they were offered a $100,000 investment for 60 percent equity in Eyedeus, as their fledgling startup is called. The money on its own was a tantalising offer in Pakistan’s nascent ecosystem, but it would mean ceding control from a very early point.
So the almost-PhD-grads from Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering at Lahore University of Management Sciences (Rehan “barely” graduated from his masters course) rejected the offer from the unnamed investor and instead took up residence in Plan9, a government-backed incubator that allowed them to remain 100% shareholders. Six months later Eyedeus has completed a gruelling mentoring program, launched Groopic, an iOS app which superimposes photographers into their group photos, and the team is weighing up their next options for expansion.
“We came from one of the best schools in the country, with a great track record of top quality research in the area, and we were a strong team,” Rehan said. “We believed that we could do it ourselves [but] there was much more than [VC] money that we needed.”
“A lot of other entrepreneurs accept those kinds of deals, but this is what Plan9 is trying to change through their program, campaigns, and angel investments group.”
The group’s story represents a new chapter in Pakistani entrepreneurship, which is being underwritten by startup incubators and accelerators popping up across the country. They provide the financial support and business networks required to turn an idea into a minimal viable product, and ultimately a business. It’s the foundation of the country’s tech entrepreneur evolution.
Last year, the Punjab Government established Plan9, an incubator offering a six-month program providing business facilities, a small stipend ($200), and connections to mentors and investors. It recently accepted a second batch of startups into the program, which doesn’t take any equity.
There are other options for entrepreneurs. There’s the social enterprise-focused i2i investor/mentor network which has just selected a second batch for its own accelerator program, which covers new businesses in a number of areas like agriculture but still with a tech underpinning. The recently launched co-working space Dot Zero in Karachi also aims to provide resources for tech startups.
While this publicly-funded, no equity incubator model is being used to seed Pakistan’s startup ecosystem, similar spaces in the west have been used to align the interests of entrepreneurs and corporations. Microsoft’s BizSpark and accelerator program offers startups access to free office space as well as the company’s software, while the BBC recently established its Worldwide Labs for digital media startups that could potentially partner with the UK media giant down the track.
The activity in Pakistan has caught the attention of investors.
DYL Ventures founding partner Adam Dawood said these incubators are creating a pipeline of deals that previously was dry. As more investments are made, both parties will learn how to structure fairer investment terms for Pakistan’s corporate environment — avoiding the situation that befell Ali Rehan.
“Local investors are here to fund, but they want to fund in very specific areas,” Dawood said.
“Plan9 is useful because it gives investors a one stop shop where they can find entrepreneurs and startups. Although plan 9 also has a lot of learning to do in terms of how to add value to their startups I suspect this will happen very quickly add each new batch enters. They have a strong team who are very enthusiastic and motivated to make the program the best in the region.”
Khurram Zafar, board member of Plan9 said the country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem faces a catch-22 situation: there needs to be liquidity and dealflow for investors to hedge their risk, but for this you need some funding to bootstrap startups.
He said the government had to intervene.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. This is a way to bootstrap the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and very soon we’ll see private companies get involved.
Groopic allows the photographer to insert themselves in the photo.
He was reluctant to take credit for the success of Rehan’s Groopic and other graduates, saying the incubator program simply exposed them to investors, locally and overseas — for example, it sent Groopic to Google’s Blackbox event in Silicon Valley as well Startup Asia 2013 in Singapore. Plan9 also funded one of its graduates, Rocxial, to take part in the LaunchPad Denmark program, supported by the Danish Ministry of Business.
Groopic’s Rehan said that Plan9 helped in four key ways: mentorship, networking opportunities, office space, and stipend.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Plan9 conducts reviews every six weeks to ensure that startups are on track. After one and a half months they should have a business model developed based on real world feedback; at the three-month mark they should put their alpha product in front of early adopters; and at 4.5 months they should introduce iterations to refine their market strategy. If they can’t meet their goals, they’re out of the program.
Of the incubator’s inaugural round, only eight of the 13 startups graduated.
“The others were eased out. They weren’t serious or committed enough, or they just couldn’t pull it off.”
Rehan and his friends were just one of eight teams to have graduated from Plan9′s inaugural incubator class, but it appears there are more of their kind out there. More recently, Pakistan emerged as one of the world’s biggest locations for individual outsourcing via sites such as odesk, elance, and freelancer.com.
The social and political winds are also shifting.
Internet and cloud technologies have lowered the barriers to entry to compete in the global digital economy; and among Pakistan’s 183 million strong population there are almost 30 million internet subscribers. Meanwhile, voters recently appointed the second successive democratically elected government — the first time that’s happened in the 64-year troubled history of a country whose progress has been sabotaged by regular military coups.
Pakistan perhaps has not enjoyed the IT outsourcing success that other developing nations, such as India and the Philippines, have, but young citizens are now writing a new chapter in the country’s technology evolution. Zafar believes that IT services companies were deterred by the frequent reports of drone strikes and terrorist attacks but said consumers don’t care about where a product is developed.
“They don’t dig enough into the news to figure out what the incident was or where the place was, they just correlate ‘drone strike’ with Pakistan and have this image of a country that’s troubled, but that is happening in the north and in the tribal areas,” Zafar said. “The perception is disastrous for the services industry, but we’re not interested in IT services. What we’re doing at Plan9 and other incubators is we’re trying to encourage and incubate product companies, and leverage the limited tech talent we have. At the end of the day, people use products through phones, laptops, and desktops, and they don’t care about where it’s from, as long as it works well.”
Just what is Elite Daily?
The site portrays itself as “the voice of Gen Y” but it also comes across as a content farm, or even “an astounding troll-hole.” It claimed to have grown to 8.5 million pageviews a month on the back of articles like:
You Don’t Need To Be A Millionaire In Order To Feel Like One
Why You Should (Or Shouldn’t) F*ck Your Friend
Disney Princesses Didn’t F*ck Me Up
But other reports indicate that number is inflated, and more recently surfaced information indicates the company has a history of lying. It even seems like some of the writers on the site aren’t real people, with pictures of models used on fictional bio pages instead of reality.
The founder, David Arabov, is alleged to be the son of Jacob Arabo, or Jacob the Jeweler, the Harry Winston of hip-hop. In 2007 Arabo was accused of money laundering and pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents and filing false documents with the federal government. He’s currently out of prison and Jacob & Co is alive and well.
Thus it’s pretty damning that Jacob & Co-centric stories appear on 40 of the 4,792 stories on Elite Daily, with no disclosure that Jacob is the father of founder David Arabov.
The site has been around since 2011, but underwent a major redesign and relaunch in May of this year. I attended the launch party and wrote about it on TechCrunch. Since then, new details and questions have surfaced about the site, which prompted a deeper look.
Jacob & Co Promotion
Perhaps the most egregious thing about Elite Daily as a media site isn’t the sometimes misogynist tone of the articles, but the undisclosed promotion of Jacob & Co’s jewelry.
A large number of luxury brands are covered on the site’s Luxury, Timepiece, and Fashion sections, and Jacob & Co articles don’t appear more than any other brand overall. However, Jacob & Co.-centric articles appear quite a bit on the Entertainment section, where the site receives the most traffic.
Arabov calls this “a perk.”
“If you’re trying to tell me I started this site to boost my father’s marketing, that’s pretty crazy,” said Arabov. “It’s my father. I’m going to put articles up there when something good is going on there. Yeah, why not?”
From Arabov’s perspective, he has the right to push stories about his father’s company without mentioning his relationship to it. This isn’t necessarily above-board. But we, the media, creep ever closer to that grey line between promoted, paid-for content and unbiased journalism.
Cnet now has Review Replay, where they take payment to resurface an old, positive review of a gadget. BuzzFeed and Gawker have been toying around with native advertising and promoted stories for quite some time now, though doing so with a far more obvious (and existent) disclaimer.
To make matters even shadier, many of the stories about Jacob & Co (as well as many of the other posts on the site) are written under pseudonyms.
Writers such as Preston Waters, Paul Hudson, Ashton Tyler, William Kent, and Eddie Cuffin are very real (I spoke to each of them). But their names aren’t.
Preston Waters is actually David Arabov himself; Paul Hudson is Paul Jurczyk; Eddie Cuffin is Edin Veljovic, Ashton Tyler is Max Grunner, and William Kent is Robert Saintlot.
Some of their bios are entirely satirical — Ashton Tyler (Max Grunner) never did coke with Lindsey Lohan — and some of them are factual. Paul Jurczyk, for example, claims that every part of the Paul Hudson bio is an accurate description from his own experience.
Kaitlyn Cawley, editor-in-chief, explains that she doesn’t do much writing (opting instead for editing) but that she usually posts under the pseudonym Kgasm.
A number of these pen name writers believe there is no responsibility in telling the truth when it comes to their byline or bio, as long as the articles themselves are accurate.
“You don’t want people to look too deep into your writing if they know your background,” said Max Grunner (Ashton Tyler). “You should take the article for what it is, and not worry about the byline.”
Other writers simply use a pseudonym to protect themselves, as Elite Daily content usually stands on one extreme side of a discussion and relies heavily on opinion. For example, check out this post, From ‘No Homo’ To ‘Yeah, Bro’: How Gen-Y Became So Cool With Their Gay Friends. The article chronicles our growing comfort with gay people, somewhat brashly, and using almost only opinion.
This one, too (The Difference Between The Douchebag And The Asshole).
“A lot of what I write is opinion-based, to get a rise out of people,” said Eddie Cuffin (Edin Veljovic). “That’s what Gen Y is about: I have opinions and I want them to be heard, so people can notice that they exist.”
Other writers, like Kaitlyn Cawley, simply don’t want the excessive profanity from their 20-something Elite Daily years to haunt them in their later years. (Or disappoint their parents.) The writers and editors all maintain, however, that the articles posted under pseudonyms are not counterfeit in any way because of the pen names.
Tyler Gildin, the Humor Editor, is working to be a stand-up comedian and always posts under his real name. “I want to make a name for myself, so pen names don’t really make sense for me.”
According to Arabov, it’s the writer’s choice whether or not they use a pseudonym, an option he’s chosen for himself as Preston Waters.
The practice of pseudonyms in journalism is, again, like the jewelry conflict, not entirely above-board. Journalists are expected to tell the truth. If the reader can’t trust the byline or the author bio, how can they be expected to trust the article? At the same time, creating a sub-brand as an author at a media site is part of being a journalist. People gravitate to their favorite authors based on style, voice, and opinion. At Elite Daily, the same thing is true, except those authors are characters based off of real people who are writing about real opinions.
Arabov says that there are plans to make the pseudonym strategy more transparent to readers.
Elite Daily Traffic
In May, Elite Daily told me that they publish between 120 – 150 posts on the home page every day, and that the site sees around 8.5 million unique page views per month.
On July 25, The Awl reported that Elite Daily posted an average of 46 posts per day in July. The article also cited comScore saying: “Elite Daily received 1.024 million unique visitors from the United States in June, slightly down from their 1.1 million in March, but “up from 256,000 in July 2012 when we first started reporting on the site.”
Arabov said in his interview that the original figure he gave me for posts-per-day was a goal NOT actual output, and that the site currently aims for 80 to 100 posts each day. He also said this doesn’t include weekends, when the site publishes 8 to 10 posts per day.
Yesterday, as of 7pm ET, Elite Daily posted a total of 74 articles. Today, as of 3pm ET, 66 posts have gone up. This content is created by 17 salaried writers and over 200 global contributors.
The site has 25 employees in total.
Here’s a picture of them:
Still, why is there a 7 million hit disparity between Arabov’s claimed monthly uniques and comScore’s?
Arabov showed me Google Analytics and Alexa ratings, which credit Elite Daily with 8.1 million uniques in the month of June, as well as 8.1 million uniques in May, when I first ran my story and reported 8.5 million monthly uniques. The site is currently ranked at 1,783 in the United States by Alexa.
However, comScore confirmed to us that their tracking shows between 1 million and 3 million uniques monthly over the summer months.
Arabov claims that part of this discrepancy comes from the fact that Elite Daily only became a comScore subscriber recently. He provided me with the contract showing that Elite Daily subscribed to comScore in August, after The Awl story went up on July 25.
Non-subscribers are tracked with the same product, but don’t have the same access to the data or customer service as subscribers. For non-subscriber publishers, it’s their responsibility to add the proper tagging to all corners of the website, including mobile, and every other URL or page that should be tracked.
comScore chief research officer Josh Chasin said that the difference here “could be a question of how they implemented the tags.”
“We give them instructions and information on how to do this, but there’s a whole gamut of how difficult it can be for publishers to implement tags,” said Chasin. “Some developers say ‘I’ll have the tags up in half an hour’ because their site is built to throw in a line of code. And then we have developers tell us ‘do you have any idea what kind of engineering project this is for us?’ It really just depends on the site.”
Not shockingly, Arabov says that Elite Daily did, in fact, have trouble implementing the tags across the entire site.
“Mobile wasn’t being tracked and we get around 50 percent of our traffic from mobile.” He also says that the company is currenly working with comScore now to clean up the dictionary and have the site properly tagged after signing up for a subscription in August.
Chasin offered another possible cause as de-duplication. It works like this: if TechCrunch is seeing 1 million page views from desktop, and 1 million page views from mobile, which ComScore assumes equals around 1.5 million views, because there is some overlap.
Moreover, comScore only tracks U.S. figures as opposed to international, and filters out any suspect traffic that might be non-human. comScore also uses something called a “dictionary” to filter out any urls that are serving as back-end calls.
On the other hand, Google Analytics measures cookies and “comScore measures people,” as Chasin put it. “We may see 13 billion cookies globally, but that doesn’t mean there are 13 billion people on the internet,” said Chasin.
Google Analytics aims high, comScore aims low.
In May, at a party located on the rooftop of investor Oliver Ripley’s Black Ocean offices, David Arabo told me the company had no funding. I asked directly if Ripley, who told me himself we were on his property, had invested in the company. “No, we’re bootstrapped,” said Arabov.
In reality, Elite Daily received a total of $62,650 in seed money (along with another $20k in earlier operating expenses from Gerard Adams) in February of 2012, split between Black Ocean and Gerard Adams, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. Black Ocean partners include Oliver Ripley and Andrew Reis, which have since split up. Both of them still hold equity in the venture. Reis now runs a firm called Sam Stella, which is why Sam Stella is listed as a partner alongside Black Ocean on the Elite Daily masthead.
The $62,650 seed round has already been used up, according to Arabov, but the site is now generating enough revenue to be cash-flow positive. Enough to power the 25-employee startup.
Elite Daily functions out of the same building Black Ocean, and Arabov says he pays rent to Ripley for the space.
When I asked Arabov why he lied about funding, this was his response, via email:
To be honest, we technically never looked at it as a round of funding or ever went out there to get funding. It was more so just money we had the day we registered the company. It was money given to us to get us rolling in the beginning, which only lasted us the initial first 4 months as we had no revenue source back then.
When companies are getting millions of dollars of funding, this wasn’t seen to us as a way of raising a round or anything just to get us a little bit off the ground.
The Awl’s Brendan O’Connor, who spoke to an unnamed former writer and an investor who spoke off the record, reports that Elite Daily has received funding from “whale-sized investors” as well as implying (though never explicitly saying) that Arabov’s father, Jacob Arabo (confirmed to be Jacob the Jeweler) is also funding the venture.
According to Arabov, Black Ocean, and the cap table I was shown, the ~$60k investment is the only funding the company has received at all. Arabov stated that Arabo has no stake in the company, financial or otherwise.
Update (10:10am ET): Gerard Adams has just responded to my email requesting confirmation of the $30k figure, saying that he actually invested somewhere around $50k rather than $30k, as Arabov had said.
Here’s the email:
The reason I wasn’t able to get the exact numbers to you so quickly is because when me, David, and JSP came up with the idea of Elite Daily it was together in my conference room during the time David was interning for me and I didn’t look at it as one of my typical investments where I make one lump some investment as funding for an idea…. this time I was part of the Foundation of the idea along with my partners so I just started paying for operating expenses as we began building the company together. Not only did I truly believe in our concept of Elite Daily, but I believed in David who was a hardworking intern and had many characteristics of a leader and Jonathon who was just as hard-working, tech savvy and very determined. I know the initial amount we spent getting Elite off the ground was about the number David gave you with addition of paying for our videographers salary and a few other operating expenses so I would say an accurate number was $50,000. I apologize for not getting you the exact number quickly but the fact of the matter is this was a different investment then most of my other companies. We decided to bootstrap this thing together and raising money wasn’t even a thought because we were so confident and passionate about our idea, Elite Daily. We nailed it and it quickly was able to catch momentum and turn cash flow positive in just months time. This has been an amazing journey for all of us and we feel blessed to be making such a positive impact on so many lives in Gen Y. It’s awesome when people email us or come up to us from all over telling us that Elite is something they read everyday and has inspired them. We plan on being here awhile so the na sayers can try to knock us down but we will never let it deter us from accomplishing our goals.
O’Connor also implied that David’s brother Benjamin may be involved with Elite Daily, as Ben Arabo works at Elite SEM (a search engine marketing firm) in the building next door to Elite Daily and Black Ocean’s midtown office.
To set the record straight, Elite SEM has been around long before Elite Daily, and the name similarities are a mere coincidence, Arabov insists, as is the location. Plus, Ben is a lower level employee at Elite SEM, which focuses on ad-words to help build traffic to ecommerce sites, not media brands.
Redemption Or Relapse?
There’s no question of whether or not Elite Daily serves up low-brow, consumer-driven, misogynist content.
Arabov believes that for every misogynist article, there is a feminist counter article. That remains to be seen.
Some of the most popular posts on the site aren’t particularly misogynist. Here. Have a quick look.
For my part, I’m hoping for redemption. My original post on Elite Daily (which my editor pulled) missed some important points and was inaccurate with others. I apologize, readers, for not digging into the information I was given originally. Where content and media is concerned, page views, content volume and funding are all important when determining the value of a property. I consider it a lesson learned.
In the case of Arabov and Elite Daily, the question is still in the air.
Is it shady to promote Jacob & Co jewelry without mentioning it to readers? According to most journalists, myself included, yes.
Does Arabov have the right to push the line of native advertising on his own site, a self-proclaimed part of a new media generation? I guess so. It’s his site.
Are pseudonyms the best way to give a proud voice to Gen Y, the stated goal of the site? Is that the point? Elite Daily is by Gen Y and for Gen Y, so fuck the status quo?
Or does this character-based strategy degrade the credibility of the content on the site?
More importantly, will Elite Daily make any changes to be a more transparent media institution?
We’re not correcting the record because we particularly like Elite Daily or anyone at the organization. The perception that we were fooled is difficult to shake and I went back to set the record straight. Like all start-ups Elite Daily is a mix of hustle, fibbing (or outright lying), and mismanagement. We’ve seen each of the best startups exhibit these traits.
Still, Arabov seems earnest in his effort to create his own brand of a young media site, and admits to making mistakes along the road.
That Elite Daily was called out to such an extreme degree by The Awl smacks of someone’s sour grapes and little else. It is our mission to support the startup but not at the expense of the truth. My initial post glossed over Elite Daily at best.