Leverage public data to improve content marketing outcomes

Recently I’ve seen people mention the difficulty of generating content that can garner massive attention and links. They suggest that maybe it’s better to focus on content without such potential that can earn just a few links but do it more consistently and at higher volumes.

In some cases, this can be good advice. But I’d like to argue that it is very possible to create content that can consistently generate high volumes of high-authority links. I’ve found in practice there is one truly scalable way to build high-authority links, and it’s predicated on two tactics coming together:

  1. Creating newsworthy content that’s of interest to major online publishers (newspapers, major blogs or large niche publishers).
  2. Pitching publishers in a way that breaks through the noise of their inbox so that they see your content.

How can you use new techniques to generate consistent and predictable content marketing wins?

The key is data.

Techniques for generating press with data-focused stories

It’s my strong opinion that there’s no shortcut to earning press mentions and that only truly new, newsworthy and interesting content can be successful. Hands down, the simplest way to predictably achieve this is through a data journalism approach.

One of the best ways you can create press-earning, data-focused content is by using existing data sets to tell a story.

There are tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of existing public datasets that anyone can leverage for telling new and impactful data-focused stories that can easily garner massive press and high levels of authoritative links.

The last five years or so have seen huge transparency initiatives from the government, NGOs and public companies making their data more available and accessible.

Additionally, FOIA requests are very commonplace, freeing even more data and making it publicly available for journalistic investigation and storytelling.

Because this data usually comes from the government or another authoritative source, pitching these stories to publishers is often easier because you don’t face the same hurdles regarding proving accuracy and authoritativeness.

Potential roadblocks

The accessibility of data provided by the government especially can vary. There are little to no data standards in place, and each federal and local government office has varying amounts of resources in making the data they do have easy to consume for outside parties.

The result is that each dataset often has its own issues and complexities. Some are very straightforward and available in clean and well-documented CSVs or other standard formats.

Unfortunately, others are often difficult to decode, clean, validate or even download, sometimes being trapped inside of difficult to parse PDFs, fragmented reports or within antiquated querying search tools that spit out awkward tables.

Deeper knowledge of web scraping and programmatic data cleaning and reformatting are often required to be able to accurately acquire and utilize many datasets.

Tools to use

After release of Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ beta, Elon Musk promises roughly $2,000 price hike

In a tweet posted early Thursday morning, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk said that prices for the Full Self-Driving (“FSD”) upgrade to Tesla vehicles would increase by roughly $2,000.

It’s potentially an indication that the company is realizing that it needs to find new ways to make up for the rapidly diverging cost of the company’s electric vehicle hardware and the suite of software and services that are the ingredients for much of the secret sauce that make Tesla’s vehicles so popular.

To be clear, Tesla’s definition for fully self-driving cars is different from a fully autonomous vehicle. As TechCrunch reported last year when the company unveiled the plans for the latest version of its autonomous driving package, Musk described multiple levels of Tesla’s assessment of self-driving tech, and specified that this meant cars are “able to be autonomous but requiring supervision and intervention at times.”

Musk announced in a tweet that Tesla would be rolling out a beta version of its self-driving mode late Tuesday night, several hours before the company reported its third quarter earnings.

The long-delayed deployment of more robust autonomous capabilities from Tesla comes nearly a year later than Musk had anticipated. It was on the company’s third quarter earnings call in 2019 that Musk first talked about the fully self-driving system. At the time, he’d said that the initial beta deployment could come as soon as the end of the year.

“While it’s going to be tight, it still does appear that will be at least … in [an] early-access release of a feature complete self-driving feature this year,” Musk said at the time.

The FSD system, an upgrade from Tesla’s early experiments in autonomy that went under its Autopilot package, will cost an additional $10,000 after the price hike. The features will include “Summon” as well as “Navigate on Autopilot,” a system that navigates a car from a highway on-ramp to off-ramp, including interchanges and making lane changes.

Tesla has been fine-tuning the Autopilot and broader FSD system through constant updates to the vehicle’s software via over-the-air transmissions and the company said that the nav system should soon respond to traffic lights, stop signs and other traffic inputs when driving on city streets.

Mixtape Podcast: Proposition 22 and the labor divide

California’s Proposition 22 is the most funded and perhaps one of the most contentious ballot measures in the state’s history.

To date, the Yes on 22 side has put north of $185 million into the initiative. The proposition, funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, would ensure workers remain independent contractors. A Prop 22 defeat would reconfigure fully how gig working companies classify their workers.

On the first episode of Season 3 of Mixtape, we talked to two gig workers, one on each side of the proposition.

Vanessa Bain is an Instacart shopper who is opposed to Proposition 22. Earlier this year, she co-founded Gig Workers Collective, a nonprofit to fight for fair pay and better treatment for gig workers.

She says the future of labor is at stake.

“I would argue the future of our democracy as well. The reality is that it establishes a dangerous precedent to allow companies to write their own labor laws,” Bain continues. “There’s an obvious conflict of interest there… This policy was created to unilaterally benefit companies at the detriment of workers.”

Surprising exactly no one, Doug Mead, an Uber Eats and Postmates driver who lives in Palm Springs and sits squarely in the Yes on 22 camp, feels differently.

“It’s really the government — their intent to remove a person’s control over how they want to be compensated. And that to me just makes no sense whatsoever,” Mead told us. “I should be in control of how I want to be compensated and by who.”

Uber, which was one of the three original companies (along with Lyft and DoorDash) to fund the proposition with $30 million, would see its business model change drastically if the proposition is defeated.

Earlier this month, Megan spoke with Shin-pei Tsay, Uber’s director of policy, cities and transportation, about a number of topics, including Proposition 22. She says she understands the dilemma that drivers grapple with on both sides but ultimately believes that the flexibility drivers currently have is worth protecting.

“But it isn’t perfect,” Tsay says. “We should be supporting workers more than the existing system enables currently, and so this is sort of a middle way of, you know, protecting that flexibility but also offering some benefits.”

The benefits Tsay is referring to is the 120% of minimum wage, 30 cents per engaged mile, and healthcare subsidies dependent upon the number of hours worked if Prop 22 passes.

And if it doesn’t pass? Or if the company is forced to devise some magical hybrid classification that benefits all drivers, whether they want to be full employees or independent contractors?

“I think it’d be really challenging in our analysis, essentially, we would have to start to ensure that there’s coverage, to ensure that there’s the necessary number of drivers to meet demand. There would be this forecasting that needs to happen — we would only be able to offer a certain number of jobs to meet that demand, because people will be working in set amounts of time.”

Tsay says that the matter at hand is to make the situation better rather than trying to “tinker around with two kinds of imperfect definitions.”

“This is something that a lot of companies have to look at. And what we’re trying, what we’re going up against is [that the] current system in place is very binary. And so I think it has to be, again, in partnership with cities, with states, with the federal government — we have to solve this together. This is not something that we just can come up with. And I don’t think the private sector should just come up with it on its own.”

Both Bain and Mead are also thinking about the potential impact the proposition will have on the future of labor outside of your Ubers and Lyfts. And they both invoked Starbucks of all places and for very different reasons.

“I understand the other side’s point of view in terms of, there are apparently some drivers out there who don’t feel like they’re making enough money,” Mead told us. “But they’re asking for things, to me, that are just ridiculous. They want to get paid for waiting for a ride? Really? Who gets paid to wait on a job?

“If I’m a barista at Starbucks, there are going to be times when there are no customers in the store. However, I’m also taking that time to present the product that’s being sold to the customers, to set up the displays in the stores, to help clean the store. So I’m still working, even if there’s no customers. Now all of that work has already been done, and there are still no customers. Guess what? The manager is going to send me home. They’re not going to allow me to stay there while there’s nothing to do. So I’m not going to get paid to wait. Why should I get paid to wait now as an independent contractor? That makes zero sense to me.”

Bain uses the same example but in a drastically different way. And one that takes the labor movement head on.

“I have no doubt that … if Prop 22 were to succeed, we would see similar types of maneuvers from companies like Starbucks or Walmart, where we’re gonna end up with piece rate work in all of the service industry. Where we’re going to be paid per transaction that we bring up if we’re a cashier. Or we’re going to be paid per latte that we craft, if we’re a barista.

“If all it takes is putting the hiring process and the bossing into an app on your phone to rewrite labor laws, every company on the planet is going to be doing that. There’s so much more, unfortunately, at stake here than just Uber and Lyft and ride share and grocery delivery and how you’re going to get your DoorDash orders. Literally the future of labor is at stake.”

Respect the hustle, not the stupidity

Yes, the media f’ing gorged on the Quibi story yesterday. We did, they did, everyone did. And really, truly, how could anyone not? Nearly $2 billion came in (with $350 million heading back), a star-studded lineup of executives and production teams, an absolutely massive advertising campaign, and a PR strategy that all but begged the sun to melt Icarus’ wings.

Our collective exhalation on the complete clusterfuck that was Quibi though leads to a legitimate and interesting question: are we obnoxiously attacking a good-faith failure? Wasn’t Quibi a bet just like every other startup, a bet that just happened to fail? A16Z’s general partner Andrew Chen put it vividly on Twitter, saying “It’s gross” and lauding the entrepreneurial challenge of building a startup:

I understand this view, deeply. In fact, all of us at TechCrunch understand this. One of the things that we pride ourselves on here is respecting the hustle. We know how hard it is to launch a startup. As a team, we collectively talk to thousands of founders every year, and we hear the heartbreaking stories and the downright trauma at times that comes with building a company. Occasionally (and yes, we focus most of our reporting here), we hear about the wins and successes too.

Let’s be honest: most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. And when success happens, we like to talk about it, report on, and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.

But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.

Chen makes an important point that many obvious ideas in tech started as dumb ideas. That’s true! In fact, the history of technology is littered with examples of ideas that investors and the press thought were either dumb or impossible to build (which is a more polite way to say “dumb”).

Why do supposedly dumb ideas turn out to be smart? Part of the reason is that what starts out as dumb slowly iterates into something that is very smart. Facebook was just a “facebook” for checking out your classmates on college campuses. If it had ended there and withered away like many other social networks before it, we might well have put it in the waste bin of history. But Zuckerberg and his crew iterated — adding features like photos, a feed, messaging and more with an extreme focus on growth that made the product so much more than when it started.

We’ve seen this pattern again and again throughout time. Founders get feedback from users, they iterate, they pivot, they try new things, and slowly but surely they start to migrate from what might have been a very raw concept to something much more ready to compete in the ferocious marketplace of business and consumer attention today.

This was never the story with Quibi. There was never an iteration of the product, or a long-range plan to assiduously cultivate users and talent as the company found traction while carefully husbanding its capital for the inevitable tough moments in the growth of any company.

Yes, we in the commentariat do make mistakes, but analysts weren’t dumb in pointing out all of Quibi’s glaring, red-alert flaws. Those analysts were smart. They were right. They might not be right next time, of course — no analyst should get too overconfident in their predictions. But at the same time, we shouldn’t just collectively throw up our hands and declare every idea that comes our way a brilliant gift from the heavens. Most ideas are dumb, and we and everyone else have every right to point that out.

So respect the hustle. Don’t kick a hardworking entrepreneur down who is just trying to get their project out there and show it the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t call out stupid when you see it. The best entrepreneurs know that — even at its most vituperative — critical feedback is the necessary ingredient to startup success. Lauding everyone lauds no one.

Spotify takes on radio with its own daily morning show

Spotify’s streaming music service is starting to resemble terrestrial radio with today’s launch of the company’s first daily morning show, “The Get Up.” Like other morning shows designed for commuters, the new program will be led by hosts and will combine news, pop culture, entertainment and music. But in Spotify’s case, the music is personalized to the listener,

The show is not a live program, however. Unlike radio morning shows where content is broadcast live and often also involves interactions with listeners — like call-ins or contests — Spotify’s show is pre-recorded and made available as a playlist.

That means you can listen at any time after its 7 AM ET release on weekday mornings.

You can also opt to skip portions of the programming — like the music or some of the chatter — if you prefer. (Spotify, to be clear, refers to the show as a podcast, but the format actually splits the hosts’ talk radio-like content from the individual music tracks. In other words, it’s more like a mixed-media playlist than a traditional podcast.)

Another key thing that makes Spotify’s programming different from a radio show is that the music is personalized to the listener. Of course, that’s not always ideal. If you prefer to listen to new music during your commute, but have had been busy streaming oldies on Spotify’s service, your morning show will reflect those trends. There’s currently no way to program the show more directly by genre, either.

The show itself is hosted by three people: journalist Speedy Morman, previously of Complex; YouTuber Kat Lazo, known for her series “The Kat Call;” and Spotify’s own Xavier ‘X’ Jernigan, Head of Cultural Partnerships and In-House Talent.

The new playlist will be made available on weekday mornings in the Made for You and Driving hubs on Spotify for both free and premium subscribers in the U.S. You can also access the show directly from http://www.spotify.com/thegetup.

Facebook’s controversial Oversight Board starts reviewing content moderation cases

Facebook’s external body of decision makers will start reviewing cases about what stays on the platform and what goes beginning today.

The new system will elevate some of the platform’s content moderation decisions to a new group called the Facebook Oversight Board, which will make decisions and influence precedents about what kind of content should and shouldn’t be allowed.

But as we’ve reported previously, the board’s decisions won’t just magically enact changes on the platform. Instead of setting policy independently, each recommended platform policy change from the oversight board will get kicked back to Facebook, which will “review that guidance” and decide what changes, if any, to make.

The oversight board’s specific case decisions will remain, but that doesn’t mean they’ll really be generalized out to the social network at large. Facebook says it is “committed to enforcing the Board’s decisions on individual pieces of content, and to carefully considering and transparently responding to any policy recommendations.”

The groups’ focus on content taken down rather than content already allowed on the social network will also skew its purview. While a vocal subset of its conservative critics in Congress might disagree, Facebook’s real problems are about what stays online — not what gets taken down.

Whether it’s violent militias connecting and organizing, political figures spreading misleading lies about voting or misinformation from military personnel that fuels an ethnic cleansing, content that spreads on Facebook has the power to reshape reality in extremely dangerous ways.

Noting the criticism, Facebook claims that decisions about content still up on Facebook are “very much in scope from Day 1” because the company can directly refer those cases to the Oversight Board. But with Facebook itself deciding which cases to elevate, that’s another major strike against the board’s independence from the outset.

Facebook says that the board will focus on reviewing content removals initially because of the way its existing systems are set up, but it aims “to bring all types of content outlined in the bylaws into scope as quickly as possible.”

According to Facebook, anyone who has appealed “eligible” Facebook and Instagram content moderation decisions and has already gone through the normal appeal process will get a special ID that they can take to the Oversight Board website to submit their case.

Facebook says the board will decide which cases to consider, pulling from a combination of user-appealed cases and cases that Facebook will send its way. The full slate of board members, announced in May, grew out of four co-chairs that Facebook itself named to the board. The international group of 20 includes former journalists, U.S. appeals court judges, digital rights activists, the ex-prime minister of Denmark and one member from the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank.

“We expect them to make some decisions that we, at Facebook, will not always agree with – but that’s the point: they are truly autonomous in their exercise of independent judgment,” the company wrote in May.

Critics disagree. Facebook skeptics from every corner have seized on the oversight effort, calling it a charade and pointing out that its decision aren’t really binding.

Facebook was not happy when a group of prominent critics calling itself the “Real Facebook Oversight Board” launched late last month. And earlier this year, a tech watchdog group called for the board’s five U.S.-based members to demand they be given more real power or resign.

Facebook also faced a backlash when it said the Oversight Board, which has been in the works for years, wouldn’t be up and running until “late fall.” But with just weeks to go before election day, Facebook has suddenly scrambled to get new policies and protections in place on issues that it’s dragged its feet on for years — the Oversight Board included, apparently.

Customer experience and digital transformation concepts are merging during the pandemic

Customer experience and digital transformation are two terms we’ve been hearing about for years, but have often remained nebulous in many organizations — something to aspire to perhaps, but not take completely seriously. Yet the pandemic has been a forcing event for both concepts, thrusting the ideas front and center.

Suddenly startups that help with either of these concepts are seeing rising demand, even in a year with an overall difficult economic climate. If you are fortunate enough to be helping companies digitize a process or improve how customers interact with companies, you may be seeing increased interest from customers and potential acquirers (and this was true even before this year). A case in point is Twilio acquiring Segment for $3.2 billion recently to help build data-fueled applications to interact with customers.

Even though building a positive customer experience has never been completely about digital, at a time where it’s difficult to interact with customers in person, the digital side of it has taken new urgency. As COVID-19 took hold this year, businesses, large and small, suddenly realized the only way to connect to their customers was digitally. At that point, digital transformation became customer experience’s buddy when other ways of contacting one another have been severely limited.

Pandemic brings changes

Just about every startup founder I talk to these days, along with bigger, more established companies, talk about how the pandemic has pushed companies to digitally transform much faster than they would have without COVID.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, says that the pandemic has certainly expedited the need to bring these two big ideas together and created opportunities as that happens. “The coronavirus, as terrible as it has been in so many ways to so many people, has created opportunities for companies to build direct-to-consumer (D2C) digital pipelines that can make them stronger companies despite the current hardships,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The cloud plays a big role in the digital transformation process, and for the last decade, we have seen companies make a slow but steady shift to the cloud. When you have a situation like we’ve had with the coronavirus, it speeds everything up. As it turns out, being in the cloud helps you move faster because you don’t have to worry about all of the overhead of running a business critical application as the SaaS vendors take care of all that for you.

Render raises $4.5M for its DevOps platform

Render, the winner of our Disrupt SF 2019 Startup Battlefield, today announced that it has added another $4.5 million onto its existing seed funding round, bringing total investment into the company to $6.75 million.

The round was led by General Catalyst, with participation from previous investors South Park Commons Fund and a group of angels that includes Lee Fixel, Elad Gil and GitHub CTO (and former VP of Engineering at Heroku) Jason Warner.

The company, which describes itself as a ‘Zero DevOps alternative to AWS, Azure and Google Cloud,’ originally raised a $2.25 million seed round in April 2019, but it got a lot of inbound interest after winning the Disrupt Battlefield. In the end, though, the team decided to simply raise more money from its existing investors.

Current Render users include Cypress.io, Mux, Bloomscape, Zelos, 99designs and Stripe.

“We spoke to a bunch of people after Disrupt, including Ashton Kutcher’s firm, because he was one of the judges,” Render co-founder and CEO Anurag Goel explained. “In the end, we decided that we would just raise more money from our existing investors because we like them and it helped us get a better deal from our existing investors. And they were all super interested in continuing to invest.”

What makes Render stand out is that it fulfills many of the promises of Heroku and maybe Google Cloud’s App Engine. You simply tell it what kind of service you are going to deploy and it handles the deployment and manages the infrastructure for you.

“Our customers are all people who are writing code. And they just want to deploy this code really easily without having to worry about servers, or maintenance, or depending on DevOps teams — or, in many cases, hiring DevOps teams,” Goel said. “DevOps engineers are extremely expensive to hire and extremely hard to find, especially good ones. Our goal is to eliminate all of that work that DevOps people do at every company, because it’s very similar at every company.”

Image Credits: Render

One new feature the company is launching today is preview environments. You can think of them as disposable staging or development environments that developers can spin up to test their code — and Render promises that the testing environment will look the same as your production environment (or you can specify changes, too). Developers can then test their updates collaboratively with QA or their product and sales teams in this environment.

Development teams on Render specify their infrastructure environments in a YAML file and turning on these new preview environments is as easy as setting a flag in that file.

Image Credits: Render

“Once they do that, then for every pull request – because we’re integrated with GitHub and GitLab — we automatically spin up a copy of that environment. That can include anything you have in production, or things like a Redis instance, or managed Postgres database, or Elasticsearch instance, or obviously API’s and web services and static sites,” Goel said. Every time you push a change to that branch or pull request, the environment is automatically updated, too. Once the pull request is closed or merged, Render destroys the environment automatically.

The company will use the new funding to grow its team and build out its service. The plan, Goel tells me, is to raise a larger Series A round next year.

How unicorns helped venture capital get later, and bigger

The venture capital industry’s comeback from fear in Q1 and parts of Q2 to Q3 greed is worth understanding. To get our hands around what happened to private capital in 2020, we’ve taken looks into both the United States’ VC scene and the global picture this week.

Catching you up, there was lots of private money available for startups in the third quarter, with the money tilting toward later-stage rounds.


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Late-stage rounds are bigger than early-stage rounds, so they take up more dollars individually. But Q3 2020 was a standout period for how high late-stage money stacked up compared to cash available to younger startups.

For example, according to CB Insights data, 54% of all venture capital money invested in the United States in the third quarter was part of rounds that were $100 million or more. That worked out to 88 rounds — a historical record — worth $19.8 billion.

The other 1,373 venture capital deals in the United States during Q3 had to split the remaining 46% of the money.

While the broader domestic and global venture capital scenes showed signs of life — dollars invested in Europe and Asia rose, American seed deal volume perked back up, that sort of thing — it’s the late-stage data that I can’t shake.

To my non-American friends, the data we have available is focused on the United States, so we’ll have to examine the late-stage dollar boom through a domestic lens. The general points should apply broadly, and we’ll always do our best to keep our perspective broad.

A late-stage takeover

For the Theremin’s 100th anniversary, Moog unveils the gorgeous Claravox Centennial

It’s been a full century since Leon Theremin created the electronic instrument bearing his name, and to celebrate Moog is releasing what must surely be the best-looking (and may be the best-sounding) Theremin of all time: the Claravox Centennial.

With a walnut cabinet, brass antennas, and a plethora of wonderful knobs and dials, the Claravox looks like it emerged from a prewar recording studio, as indeed is the intention.

It’s named after Clara Rockmore, the Soviet musician who played the Theremin in the 1930s to wide acclaim (and probably puzzlement) and contributed significantly to the fame of the instrument and to its design.

The one she played, however, was a mere toy compared to the ones devised by electronic music trailblazer Bob Moog, who built his own from plans published in a 1949 magazine. Later he would iterate on and improve the instrument to make it the versatile yet distinctive Theremin that would become a staple in many genres alongside Moog’s own synthesizers.

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The Claravox isn’t meant to be a display piece, though. It’s the ultimate Theremin, packed with modern and old-school tech. You can customize and switch between analog and digital oscillators; the wave shaping circuit is from the Etherwave Pro; there’s a built-in delay and preset storage; the inputs and outputs allow for use with lots of sources and controllers; there’s even a matching stand (sold separately).

It works the same as Theremins always have: the antennas detect the position of one’s hands (or other objects) in the range of their electric fields, and one controls pitch while the other controls volume. Playing the instrument is as much a performance as the music itself, as this excellent rendition of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” shows:

Interested (and deep-pocketed) Theremin aficionados can pre-order their Claravox Centennial today for $1,499. It should ship in December — just in time for the holidays, if you want to surprise that special, synth-loving someone.