MediaFile

Why are cheap startups so expensive?

Starting up a Web company is never easy, but at least it’s not as expensive as it used to be. Instead of buying and maintaining an IT infrastructure, as they had to do in the dotcom boom, startups now turn to cloud server services like Amazon’s. Instead of costly proprietary software, OpenOffice and Google offer cheaper (or free) options. Instead of paying office rent, employees can work from home. And the viral power of social media can bring new customers with little marketing. Open-source projects and the durability of Moore’s Law promise to lower costs even further.

But if it’s cheaper than ever to fund a startup’s growth, why are some Web companies receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in financing? And why are valuations rising quarter after quarter, to the point where some venture capitalists are complaining that certain startups have simply gotten too expensive to invest in? How is it that Web companies are becoming both cheaper and more expensive? Are VCs valuing companies on fundamentals, or following the market’s momentum?

Such questions might seem academic, except that the gap between startup costs and valuations keeps widening. The last six months alone have seen a surprising number of nine-digit venture rounds. In July, Airbnb, a home-sharing startup that had 130 employees, raised $112 million in a round that valued the company at $1.3 billion. A week later, Twitter, which had 600 employees, raised $800 million (half going to cash out early investors), valuing it at $8.4 billion. In October, online-storage company Dropbox, another small company of 70 employees, said it raised $250 million in a round valuing the company at $4 billion. And just last month, group-buying company LivingSocial closed a $176 million round, vowing to raise an even larger amount in the coming months.

There are two key reasons for such outsize venture investments – one strategic and one emotional. The strategic is that startups that have built a loyal customer base and strong word of mouth often solicit big investments to scale up in a nascent or highly competitive market. So, for example, Airbnb is building on its early success to expand internationally and bring in more users. And LivingSocial is looking for a bigger share of a group-buying market that once belonged to Groupon.

“There’s not a lot of value in second place,” Ryan Moore, a partner at Atlas Venture in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told Reuters. “If you have an interesting model, you spend aggressively and build aggressively to win in your category. There are a lot of situations out there where people are betting big.” In accepting a large investment round, a small startup may be banking on ambitious growth, or even preparing against the risk that the capital markets may slow down.

Tech wrap: Era of .yournamehere domains arrives

ICANN, the body that oversees the Internet’s naming system, gave the green light for organizations to begin applying to name and run their own domains instead of entrusting them to the operators of .com, .org, .gov and others. Up to 2,000 applications were expected for the so-called “top-level” international domains. At $185,000 per application, estimated start-up costs of $500,000 and annual running costs of about $100,000, a .yournamehere domain will be out of reach of the smallest companies and organizations. But applications were expected from cities or regions with strong identities, such as .london and .mumbai, from companies aiming to build a business based on new domains, and from community identifiers like .eco or .gay.

Samsung is open to forging an alliance with troubled Olympus, potentially joining other electronics firms in circling one of the world’s biggest names in medical equipment, sources said. Samsung has ruled out any interest in Olympus’s loss-making camera business, but a company source said that it might consider an alliance with Olympus in other areas. Earlier, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that Olympus was scouting for a friendly investor to take a minority stake in the company, and that Olympus had drawn up a short-list of five potential partners, including Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Japanese medical-equipment firm Terumo, and Fujifilm Holdings.

LG is in talks with various parties on possible partnerships, the head of LG’s mobile business said, as the world’s No.3 handset maker seeks to turn around its struggling handset operation. The  firm, however, remains committed to its mobile business and does not have any plan to ditch the loss-making operation, Park Jong-seok, chief executive of LG’s mobile communications business, told Reuters.

IBM scientists create smallest magnetic memory bit with 12 atoms

In IBM’s Almaden Research Center  in San Jose, California Andreas Heinrich gets to explore. His quest: Demonstrate that very few atoms are needed to store information. Why would anyone care? Because size matters.

Today, to store a single bit — the most basic piece of information a computer understands –  a disk drive needs one million atoms. Heinrich and his team have successfully shown that data can be stored in as few as 12 magnetic atoms.  That’s 12 versus 1 million and it means a hundred times more information can be stored in the same space.

The way it works it? By using a different magnetic structure called antiferromagnetism, Heinrich explains. Instead of atoms pointing (or spinning) in the same direction, Heinrich and his team arranged atoms so they alternately point  in different directions.

16 year-old makes $6200 in Dec from her e-books on Amazon

Amazon.com said on Thursday that its new Kindle Owners’ Lending Library was off to a strong start, but the largest Internet retailer may have buried the lead.

Lower down in the company’s statement, it mentions that Rachel Yu, a 16 year-old high school student, earned $6,200 in December from e-books she wrote and published via a related Amazon initiative called KDP Select. You can check out Yu’s biography here: http://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Yu/e/B0047O6H34/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1326389676&sr=1-2-ent

Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, launched late last year, lets Amazon Prime customers borrow one of  more than 75,000 e-books a month for free.

Shadowing a fund manager at CES

More than 140,000 people descended (or will descend) on Las Vegas this week to kick the tires on a new wave of consumer electronics gadgets. Of those, a relatively small contingent (estimared? 3,500) are portfolio managers and other financial professionals earnestly seeking to place informed bets on the Next Big Thing.

We tagged along as Hampton Adams, head of research and a portfolio manager at Pasadena, California-based Gamble Jones Investment Counsel, hiked around a CES showfloor spanning 30 football fields in a pair of comfortable loafers, taking a first-hand peek at the technology industry’s latest offerings.

Inevitably, Apple always features high on Adams’ agenda even though the consumer electronics trendsetter isn’t even officially there. He wants to see what might be gleaned about Apple from its competitors.

Tech wrap: Microsoft presses pause on Web TV

Microsoft has put its talks with media companies about an online subscription service for TV shows and movies on hold, according to people familiar with the discussions. The company had been in intense talks with potential programming partners for over a year and was hoping to roll out the service in the next few months. But it pulled back after deciding that the licensing costs were too high for the business model Microsoft envisaged, the sources said.  Microsoft is still working to distribute TV shows over the Web, focusing on delivering programming via its Xbox gaming system to existing cable subscribers.

Dell intends to launch its first consumer tablet computer in late 2012, marking its entry into a hotly contested arena that has already claimed arch-foe HP. The Texas company had dipped its toe in the waters with an enterprise-focused, “Streak” tablet. Chief commercial officer Steve Felice was coy about which operating system Dell might adopt — Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 or Google’s Android — saying both were viable options. But Felice did say he liked the feel of Microsoft’s touch-enabled OS, which would be well-timed when it emerges later this year.

According to an Ipsos/Reuters poll, more than 10 percent of parents around the world say their child has been cyberbullied and nearly one-fourth know a youngster who has been a victim. The online poll of more than 18,000 adults in 24 countries, 6,500 of whom were parents, showed the most widely reported vehicle for cyberbullying was social networking sites likes Facebook, which were cited by 60 percent. Mobile devices and online chat rooms were a distant second and third.

Familiar script: Home entertainment spending slips

Spending on home viewing of movies and television, on a downward spiral in recent years, fell again in 2011 as sales of DVDs and rentals at video stores dropped.

Total U.S. consumer dollars spent on home entertainment — including DVDs, video on demand and online streaming — declined 2.1 percent to $18 billion for the year, according to industry group DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Consumers continued to shift to lower-priced rentals from companies such as Netflix and Coinstar’s Redbox kiosks, eschewing outright ownership.

The DEG pointed to bright spots, including a 20 percent jump in sales of high-definition Blu-ray discs that topped $2 billion for the first time. “The industry’s performance clearly stabilized in 2011,” it said in a statement. (The top choices for the year? “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1,” followed by “Part 2″ at No. 2)

Nokia’s Weber devises U.S. plan of attack

If Nokia’s big challenge this year is getting back in with US consumers and operators, it should be a busy 2012 for Chris Weber.

Weber –  who heads the Finnish company’s business here – took a moment with us at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to lay out some of his plans a day after AT&T announced it would sell Nokia’s Lumia 900, and a day before the Lumia 710 goes on sale at T-Mobile USA.

Weber told Reuters that he has to first find a way to convince enough consumers to at least try out Nokia’s Windows Phone-based devices, to at least give them a chance.

Tech wrap: Nokia throne in Samsung’s sights

Samsung CEO Choi Gee-sung told reporters in Las Vegas the company overtook Nokia in handset revenue terms in its latest reported quarter and was confident of topping the Finnish group in shipments this year. Samsung’s bullish forecast is in line with some analysts, including Royal Bank of Scotland, but on average analysts have expected Nokia to keep its lead on the market. According to the latest polls by Reuters, Nokia was expected to sell 418 million phones in 2011, versus Samsung’s 320 million, the gap narrowing this year to 388 million versus 359 million.

Google made changes to its search engine, combining content posted by users of Google’s social network Google+ and pic sharing site Picassa with regular search results. Links shared by a Google+ user’s connections are given more weight and will show up in Web search results with a person icon beside them, VentureBeat’s Jolie ‘Odell writes. The changes increase Google+’s prominence online, which is lagging behind Facebook in total number of users.

Sony’s videogaming business, led by its just-launched handheld “Vita”, will prove pivotal in returning the company to profitability, Kazuo Hirai, the executive pegged to succeed Howard Stringer as president, said.

Google customizes search results with a smattering of your own content

Google rolled out a big change to its search engine on Tuesday that will allow people to find private items, such as online family photos, in their search results.

The new search feature, dubbed “Google Search, plus Your World,” essentially creates customized search results for different users, displaying publicly available Web content alongside any relevant personal online content.

Right now that means search results can feature private photos stored within Google’s Picasa service, as well as photos and posts from Google+, the company’s social network.