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Shai Agassi Launches Electric Car Startup, Raising $200M

October 29th, 2007 by Katie Fehrenbacher

agassi1.jpgShai Agassi, the entrepreneur who, at one time, was expected to take over the CEO role at SAP, said today that he has formed “Project Better Place,” a venture focusing on electric vehicles, and is raising an initial $200 million to fund the project. When Agassi announced his resignation from software company SAP (SAP) last March, he said he looked forward to working on alternative energy issues. Aren’t we all these days? This, however, is no small undertaking.

While this isn’t the first news of Agassi’s electric car ambitions, this is the most detailed information provided to date. The list of investors includes Israel Corp., Morgan Stanley (MS), VantagePoint Venture Partners, and private investors James Wolfensohn, Edgar Bronfman Sr. and Musea Ventures. The venture will focus on building out an infrastructure of battery-charging stations for electric vehicles; the comparative model offered is that of mobile phone companies building out the mobile infrastructure.

The company says it will work with car and battery makers so that subscribers to the network can get subsidized vehicles, but consumers will still own their cars. The WSJ says that the company will buy and own the batteries and that Agassi expects the subscription to be less than the economics for current gas-based cars.

The New York Times has the money quote for the mobile network comparison: “If you think of Tesla as the iPhone, we’re AT&T,” Agassi tells the NYT.

Update: We chatted with Tesla’s VP sales, marketing & service, Darryl Siry, about Agassi’s venture, and he said that anything that provides more places to charge Tesla cars, the better. We welcome the distribution of charging stations, he said.

While Siry said that the details of Agassi’s business model are still unclear, he also pointed out that the model of leasing batteries is unproven because there is no secondary market currently available to buy those older batteries. Siry also compared the idea of battery exchange charging stations to the propane business, and noted that this is a technically challenging model to pull off. “No one has figured out how to practically do that, but if they could it would be very compelling,” Siry said.

The company says that over the next two years, it will build out the infrastructure and put hundreds of thousands of vehicles into its network, and it hopes to have the system widespread within 10 years. In the release the company says its “new grid presents a practical solution to address barriers to electric vehicle adoption.”

As GigaOM readers well know, any venture focused on building out infrastructure and a network approach requires a massive amount of capital. And as the WSJ points out, Agassi has no background in the auto or energy industries. The plan will likely take billions of investment to build, and will depend heavily on developing those industry relationships.

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October 28th, 2007 by Duncan Riley

untitled-2.jpgBilled as “humanity’s last remaining hope against computers” is aiming to build a collaborative search and answers database of computer bugs.

The idea is simple enough and addresses a real problem. A user is presented with an error message, they search to see if anyone has solved it. If someone has a solution great, if no one found a solution then not so great; however is betting that when they can’t deliver a solution, the user will ultimately find one. Users get a reminder email in 48 hours requesting they post the solution (presuming they found one) so others can benefit from this knowledge, providing a fluid and regularly updated collaborative database of problems and solutions.

The service is free to use and ad-free. is looking to build revenue from corporate intranet sales of tools that will provide a centralized in-house database of bug fixes. An API for submitting and querying against the error database is currently being built.

It’s a simple idea that could work, although the results are really dependent on users being generous enough to share bug fixes. The has been seeded with 60,000 error messages and solution from Microsoft (that’s a scary number in itself) and is slowly adding new solutions daily.

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Senators Threatening Telcos With Probe Over Net Neutrality

October 26th, 2007 by Erick Schonfeld

Remember when the telcos and cable companies squashed talk of Net neutrality legislation by saying they would never try to block content on the Web? Then Comcast decided to discriminate against BitTorrent files and Verizon Wireless decided that it wouldn’t allow certain politically-charged text messages to go over its network (before quickly reversing itself). Well, some Senators remember. And now they are talking about a probe. In a letter calling for hearings, two Senators point out:

The phone and cable companies have previously stated that they would never use their market power to operate as content gatekeepers and have called efforts to put rules in place to protect consumers ‘a solution in search of a problem.

At least someone in Washington is paying attention. If the telcos are going to start asserting their right to decide what kind of information can or cannot go over the Internet, then they are asking for Net neutrality to once again become a big political issue. They should really stick to their “quality of service” arguments.

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Gigapan Project Brings Gigapixel Panoramas to the Web

October 24th, 2007 by Erick Schonfeld

gigapan-logo.pngThe Web is getting more visually immersive all the time. For a peak at what a gigapixel pannoramic image looks like on the Web check out Gigapan, a project at Carnegie Mellon University. Using a rotating stand that it sells for $279, anyone can use their digital camera to take panoramic pictures stitched together from multiple shots. You can zoom in and zoom out with amazing clarity, and really dive deep into the pictures.


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ProQuo Will Kill Junk Mail

October 22nd, 2007 by Michael Arrington

This may be the most useful website you ever read about on TechCrunch.

New La Jolla, California startup ProQuo launches this evening to help you battle all the evil that is being perpetually perpetrated against your personal information. Get countless credit card offers, catalogs and other junk in your mailbox everyday? ProQuo intends to do what the NoCall list did for telesales calls for all that stuff, too. Which means, kill it off.

ProQuo users not only save the hassle of dealing with junk mail (and the resulting identity theft risk), but also benefit the environment by cutting down on the amount of paper that’s shoved in their face.

After registration you are presented with a dozen or so types of mailing lists (coupons, credit cards, catalogs, etc.). You can stop most of them with a single click. Others require printing out a form or going to another website. But at the end of the process, you can kill off a ton of unwanted mail.

The company was founded in July 2006 and has raised $5 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson. In the future, they plan to expand to give users more control over other types of personal information, including financial and medical records.

Note that we’ve also recently written about CatalogChoice, which focuses on stopping unwanted catalogs. Services we’ve covered which focus on stopping identity theft include TrustedID and LifeLock.

As an aside, in my interview with CEO Steven Gal, he mentioned that the five year anniversary of the Do Not Call Registry is coming up this January. Anyone who registered at the site when it first went live is in for a nasty surprise - the opt out is valid for only five years. If you wait until January to do it again, you’ll have to put up with thirty days of telesales calls while the request goes active. And telesales companies are gearing up to make your life a living hell for those thirty days.

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Comcast: We’re Delaying, Not Blocking, BitTorrent Traffic (Brad Stone/Bits)

October 22nd, 2007 by (author unknown)

Comcast: We're Delaying, Not Blocking, BitTorrent Traffic  —  Last week, the folks at cable giant Comcast asked for more time to give a nuanced response to a report that the company was blocking some peer-to-peer traffic on its network.  The public relations staff at the Philadelphia company …

Source:   Bits
Author:   Brad Stone

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Songkick: Live Music Lovers Will Love This

October 22nd, 2007 by Nick Gonzalez

songkick_logo.pngMusic lovers may be show a reluctance to pay for their tunes, but they’re turning up in droves for live shows — at least according to the latest box office numbers posted by eMarketer. Concert ticket sales are expected to $9 billion worldwide this year, up nearly 10% over 2006.

Freshly launched Songkick is a startup looking to capitalize on that growing market by providing a simple way to discover live shows for artists you love along with the cheapest concert tickets. The impetus for the site grew out of the founder’s frustrations over no single concert site providing a comprehensive list of all the concerts they want to see. There would be some on Ticketmaster, others on LiveNation, and still more on resale at StubHub. So, they’ve created a comprehensive database that tracks concerts as they appear on the 14 different ticketing sites and across dozens of blogs. Currently they only cover the U.K. and U.S.

songkick_small.pngYou can search the database and track shows and blog posts about your favorite acts, or download SongKicker, which automatically tracks artists you listen to. SongKicker is a plug-in for that pulls artists you listen to from iTunes, Windows Media Player, and Winamp. The process takes about 3 minutes and adds the artists to the tours you’re tracking. But worry not, you can always delete the band behind that musical guilty pleasure that isn’t really your taste.

Their site can also recommend new artists to you. But their recommendation engine works a bit differently than others. It’s not generated from the user base, like, or through careful analysis like Pandora. Instead, Songkick crawls websites like Wikipedia and music blogs to pick up related artists based on positive or negative associations between the bands.

But the real payoff for the site is buying tickets. Kind of like a Sidestep for tickets, Songkick lets you find the cheapest tickets for these shows. Their search engine spans a variety of sources for both the primary and secondary ticketing market. Unfortunately, Songkick doesn’t actually expose the prices for each show directly in their search engine. You have to click through the site and do the comparison yourself. Songkick gets anywhere from $0.50 to $5 for each ticket sold.

Finally, they’ve packaged their ticketing search engine as a simple affiliate sales program for music bloggers. By installing a little plug-in, bloggers can automatically sell tickets related to the artists they write about through links at the bottom of posts. Their system finds the right artists by scanning the posts using the same positive and negative association technology as their recommendation engine. Positive posts about a band are coupled tickets, but a negative reference bashing Brittney Spears won’t start pushing her tickets on your fans.

Songkick is a Y Combinator financed startup currently bridging their operations between London and New York.

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How To Bypass Comcast’s BitTorrent Throttling (Ernesto/TorrentFreak)

October 21st, 2007 by (author unknown)

How To Bypass Comcast's BitTorrent Throttling  —  Comcast is using an application from the broadband management company Sandvine to throttle BitTorrent traffic.  It breaks every (seed) connection with new peers after a few seconds if it's not a Comcast user inside your community boundary.

Source:   TorrentFreak
Author:   Ernesto

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The Daily Show Gets Its Own Website: Colbert Still Better

October 18th, 2007 by Duncan Riley

dailyshow.jpgComedy Central will today launch a dedicated website for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” that is designed to offer fans free video clips from the show.

Although it would be easy to mock Comedy Central’s I can’t believe 2004 called launch of free Daily Show clips, the offering is slightly better than it first appears; the site includes 13,000 clips representing every minute of the show since it launched in 1999, according to the LA Times.

Comedy Central content has long been a favorite illegal upload on YouTube, and BitTorrent provides ample downloads of most of Stewart’s back catalog.

Previous Stewart understudy and South Carolina Presidential Candidate Stephen Colbert has long had his own website at, and offers a program that is preferred by some. Its later time slot never seems to prevent high peer and seed ratios on BitTorrent.

Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom sued Google for copyright infringement on YouTube in March.

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Even Free Can’t Compete With Music Piracy

October 17th, 2007 by Nick Gonzalez

radiohead_inrainbows.pngThere’s been a lot of speculation over the future of the music industry and the conversation has begun to shift from “Can they sell DRMed music” to “Can they sell music at all”. Last week Radiohead ran one of the biggest tests of legally distributed free music by letting users name their price for “In Rainbows”, their latest album.

However, free doesn’t seem cheap enough. Despite the potentially free download, over 240,000 users got the album from peer to peer BitTorrent networks on the first day of release, according to Forbes. Since then, the album was downloaded about 100,000 more times each day, totaling more than 500,000. By comparison, Radiohead pushed 1.2 million sales of the album through their site, including pre-orders. File sharing networks are expected to surpass legal downloads in the coming days.

While the numbers may seem drastic, it’s really more a tale of how late to the game the music industry has been. Piracy networks have been growing over the past couple of years, despite the industry’s declared “war” on illegal file sharing. The networks have grown into easy-to-use distribution methods for digital music — even easier than what Radiohead offered. Users could easily grab “In Rainbows” while downloading music from other artists. Radiohead couldn’t be as compelling by only offering their own music and requiring users to take the time to set up an account.

But Radiohead doesn’t have that much to be sad about. The band gets to keep all the proceeds of their digital experiment and has distributed about six times more albums than their last release, which sold 300,000. That seemed to be enough to get EMI thinking harder about changing. Forbes obtained a email form EMI’s chairman saying “The industry, rather than embracing digitalization and the opportunities it brings for promotion of product and distribution through multiple channels, has stuck its head in the sand. Radiohead’s actions are a wake-up call which we should all welcome and respond to with creativity and energy.” So it seems there’s still hope yet that those legal war chests will be put to use on some innovations.

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