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This $650 million media startup is on 31 platforms, but its CMO says Snapchat is the most innovative (SNAP)

T.J. Marchetti awesomenesstvAwesomenessTV built its $650 million teen-centric video empire primarily on YouTube, but has since spread to have shows on 31 platforms — from Netflix to go90 to Kik.

And to T.J. Marchetti, AwesomenessTV’s CMO, the most innovative of the bunch right now is Snapchat.

“YouTube was a place for us to start, fish where the fish are,” Marchetti told Business Insider.

The idea was to gain a massive following among Gen Z, particularly teen women. YouTube was perfect for that, but it doesn’t make sense to be confined to one platform, and AwesomenessTV is getting onto as many as possible.

Enter Snapchat, which is the “most innovative media platform there is right now,” according to Marchetti. He credited that to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and his team on the product side. “They are in LA for a reason,” he said; they are challenging what a media company looks like and chasing TV dollars.

Snapchat had its IPO in March, and has bounced around since then. One concern for investors has been competition from Facebook and its owned properties, like Instagram, which have continued to roll out features aping Snapchat. 

That doesn’t bother Marchetti. “The feature convergence of Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and messengers doesn’t really matter much,” he said. Why? “Snapchat is aggressively thinking forward.”

There is, however, a caveat to that. “But as a marketer, it’s all about who can I target, in what context and how creative we can be to tell our story,” Marchetti said. “In that arena, the Facebook and Instagram platform is currently more mature.” But give Snapchat time.

As to what a show for Snapchat will look like in the future, Marchetti said AwesomenessTV is looking toward its audience as the guide. “We use Snapchat just like our demo does,” he said. But they are still experimenting. “I don’t pretend to have the answer.” 

The hybrid

Marchetti said AwesomenessTV will continue breaking down the wall between marketing and production. When working as a TV and film exec, Marchetti saw that there was, in both mediums, a chasm between production and marketing and sales.

“Part of impetus [for working for AwesomenessTV] was how do I challenge the way we structure things,” he said. “How we cast a show needs to be how we market the show.” That means baking social media “influencers” into the cast, so you have a built-in audience. The social media presence of those stars — blogging, vlogging, and so on — can draw the right demographic in.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Hannah Macpherson, the creator of the AwesomenessTV show “t@gged” that ran on Verizon’s go90, explained what that was like.

“I was a little resistant to auditioning YouTubers,” Macpherson said, but some of them ended up being great, and were cast in “t@gged.” AwesomenessTV has “almost an algorithm” for determining how many YouTube stars versus traditional actors to put in a project, she said. “It is literally a percentage.” 

But relying on social media stars can have downsides, as Disney and YouTube found out earlier this year, when they cut business ties with YouTube’s biggest star, PewDiePie, after a report from The Wall Street Journal about his anti-Semitic jokes. Stars that grew up on YouTube are used to a freedom that can sometimes become a liability.

“It’s a risk we take,” Marchetti said. But at the rate AwesomenessTV produces content, there’s not much of a gap. “We have a much shorter window by which things can evolve too much [in a bad way].” Still, “they can” evolve too much, Marchetti said, and “they have” on certain occasions.

“You have to go into it eyes wide open,” he said.

SEE ALSO: How to make a new kind of hit TV show for the YouTube generation — from someone who did it

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NOW WATCH: We visited Ralph Lauren’s soon-to-close flagship Polo store and saw why the brand is struggling

Microsoft Office 2010
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21 life-saving facts that everyone should know

wilderness survival thirst drinking water shutterstock

Just about everyone knows that you should never text and drive, and that you should stop, drop, and roll if you catch on fire.

But life can also throw situations at us that we don’t have a quick, handy response for.

Commenters in a recent Quora thread about life-saving facts offered their best tips, which are easy to remember and could have a huge effect if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation.

You might want to save these for later.

SEE ALSO: 6 animals that attacked critical human infrastructure

Your brain can’t handle walking and using your phone at the same time — so look up.

Murali Krishnan says walking and using your phone both demand large amounts of cognitive effort.

As a result, you can’t fully focus on both at the same time in the same way you can with walking and gum-chewing, for instance. You could suffer “inattention blindness,” where you may see an object but not process that it’s a car speeding toward you, Krishnan says.

Eliminate your car’s blind spots by adjusting your mirrors properly.

Blind spots aren’t inevitable in all vehicles, says Kristen Rush.

By adjusting your mirrors so that you barely see the edges of your own car, you can effectively eliminate the blind spots on the sides of the vehicle, she says. The rear-view mirror should be able to locate any car behind yours. It’s worth the few seconds it takes to adjust these when you get in the driver’s seat.

Heat transfers faster through liquid than gas, so keep warm by staying dry.


There’s a connection between being wet and getting cold, says engineer Ian Lavoie.

To ensure your body temperature doesn’t fall too quickly in cold environments, invest in clothes made of wool instead of cotton — they’ll absorb more moisture so that dampness doesn’t linger on your skin. And, of course, do your best to stay dry.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

Microsoft Office 2010
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Apple could make the iPad a true laptop replacement if it just had these 2 simple features (AAPL)

Apple made a lot of things clear this week: It will strive to do better at making computers geared towards professionals, but it will keep those pro desktops separate from its touchscreen devices like iPhones and iPads.

In other words, don’t expect Apple to release a touchscreen Mac anytime soon.

new retina imacs

Here’s Apple’s reasoning, according to a company spokesperson in an email to Business Insider (emphasis ours):

“Here’s how we think about this. Others have taken a traditional PC and tried to build touch into a single catch-all product, but the results are full of compromises. Those products provide neither a good laptop experience, nor a good tablet experience. Apple has pioneered the use of Multi-Touch technology across our product lines from iPhone and iPad to our trackpads. We’re focused on delivering a great customer experience and for some products, a touchscreen does that, but for others we think touch is implemented in better ways. That’s why we invented the Touch Bar for MacBook Pro.”

Aside from that last sentence — I personally don’t think the Touch Bar is all that useful for pros or anyone else — I am totally okay with Apple’s philosophy here, with regards to keeping its traditional desktop Mac line separate from touch interfaces.

Microsoft is doing its own thing — BI’s own Matt Weinberger loved the Surface Studio, an iMac-like desktop you can also draw on like a giant canvas — but Apple is very content with keeping these products separate and encouraging customers to buy multiple items.

microsoft surface studio

So while you can argue about which philosophy is better, there’s no doubt Apple’s strategy is business-savvy. If you want a computer, buy a Mac. If you want a touchscreen, buy an iPhone or iPad. Apple wants you to buy both separately, assuring you they will work better together than a single all-in-one product.

That’s where I disagree.

As someone who’s owned an iPad for many years now, I really believe the iPad could be that killer all-in-one product that blends the best of iOS with a solid desktop experience. And I really think it’s that close to being a laptop replacement. For a couple of years, I actually used my iPad as my main computer for trips or going out on assignment, as it was the best portable device for taking notes, thanks to a great Bluetooth keyboard from Logitech that also served as a screen protector. But all these years later, the iPad, particularly the higher-end Pro, is still not a pure laptop replacement, even though that’s how it’s been advertised the last two years.

Frankly, all iPads — mini, normal and Pro — would be much more useful devices, and actual laptop replacements, if they just had two simple things:

1) A proper file system, a la Finder

apple icloud driveIt boggles my mind that iOS still lacks any sort of meaningful management system for all your files and documents, in the way you can search for literally anything on your computer’s hard drive using the built-in Finder app.

Mind you, Apple introduced iCloud Drive in 2014 as a way to access your saved files across your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, but it’s nowhere near as robust or customizable. You can’t create new folders, rename folders, or organize documents in a way that makes sense to you from your iPhone or iPad — some folders can be renamed or organized to your liking, but all of that must be done on a PC or Mac computer. Also, Apple files everything in separate folders based on the app it uses, so you can’t create your own organizational methods.

Meanwhile, there’s Finder, the Mac’s one-stop shop for everything from search to file management. Finder is easily the most-used app on my Mac. It keeps me organized: I’m always able to find any documents I’ve created, and put documents of varying types in one folder so I can easily find everything later. I can easily create and delete files and folders, and rearrange them to my liking. To me, Finder is essential, and I still have no reason why there’s no comparable version on iOS — this kind of organization is probably less important on an iPhone, but it’s probably the biggest aspect keeping the iPad from being a true laptop replacement. You should be able to reorder and reorganize your files as you see fit on any device, especially an iPad.

2) Mouse and trackpad support

Apple loves its multi-touch technology, but if Apple really wants people to buy more iPads, it should allow people to use more input methods — particularly the mouse, one of the most-used and traditional methods in the history of desktop computers.

Granted, I spend most of my days on a laptop, but that has a separate trackpad below that mimics the actions of a mouse. Using the touchscreen is simply not the same. It is not nearly as precise, or as efficient. You’ll also get tired after constantly raising your arm just to touch different parts of the screen, which is particularly bad if you’re doing something time-intensive like photo or video editing. A touchscreen alone is just fine on a tiny five-inch iPhone screen, but not nearly as great on a 10-inch or 12-inch iPad screen.

Apple Magic Mouse 2Please, Apple, let me use a Bluetooth mouse, or a Bluetooth trackpad. Apple even makes these peripherals! But neither of them works with the iPad.

I would love the ability to rest my iPad on my lap or a coffee table, and be able to use it effortlessly from my couch with my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse/trackpad. Heck, I’d be okay if Apple only made it work with its own Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, as long as the iPad supports some solution.

It’s strange to me how Apple embraced accessories with the iPad Pro, but only to some degree. Apple says the $170 Smart Keyboard and the $100 Apple Pencil make the iPad Pro a more complete “pro” experience, but curiously didn’t support its own Bluetooth mouse or trackpad on that device. 

When I asked Apple about this on the phone, the company had a great answer for why the iPad supports keyboards: “People want a great typing experience, and it helps people get to where they want to go faster.” But by that same token, mice and trackpads help users get to where they want to go faster, too, and they’re much easier to use and more satisfying than spending hours lifting your arm to touch a part of the screen. Apple didn’t have a good response for that — they suggested one could use an Apple Pencil for touching parts of the screen, but the reason I own an iPad/iPhone/Mac is so I don’t have to constantly use a pencil and pad in the first place.

I really do hope that Apple will consider adding these features to the iPad, which is already a great device but not quite a true laptop replacement. I can’t reliably use my iPad for working, although it’s better with a keyboard. With mouse/trackpad support, and a proper file system, it would be that much better.

SEE ALSO: Apple plans to release a much more powerful iMac later this year

DON’T MISS: Here are 3 easy ways to find and buy AirPods, even when Apple says there are none available

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NOW WATCH: Your neighbor’s WiFi is ruining yours — here’s how to fix it

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A visually impaired programmer explains how he does it — and what he wishes more tech companies knew

chris nagel inmoji

By the time Chris Nagel enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst as an undergraduate, his vision had already started to fade.

“Going to college, I knew my sight wasn’t getting any better, any time soon,” Nagel says. 

So rather than going into law, or anthropology, or anything else that might require a lot of reading, Nagel chose to study computer science. As a lifelong fan of puzzles and riddles, he saw programming as a way to put his creative problem-solving skills to the test. For him, coding happens more in the mind than it does on the keyboard.

“To me, it’s much more of a detail-oriented process,” says Nagel.

After college, Nagel worked for tech firms like e-mail marketing company Constant Contact before landing in his present job as a Senior Software Engineer with Inmoji — a Boston-area startup that creates custom messaging app stickers for brands.

In addition to his day job, Nagel also volunteers with Blind New World, working with students and companies to help remove some of the stigma around hiring people with visual disabilities. Nagel calls it the “fear of the unknown,” and it’s something he’s working to fight.

Working

At work, Nagel’s setup is pretty much like everyone else’s: He uses the same Mac and the same software as the rest of his colleagues in Inmoji’s small engineering team. Nagel says the biggest immediate difference is that he keeps his monitor at an angle closer to his eyes and makes good use of Apple’s accessibility features.

Inmoji CTO Jarrod McLean praises Nagel’s ability to get “the large overall mental picture” of the systems underpinning the company’s software. And in customer meetings, McLean says, Nagel has the whole presentation memorized, to the point where nobody notices he’s not reading from notes or consulting his slides.

Nagel is, by all accounts, very good at his job, and McLean and the rest of Inmoji respect him for it. Which, is the key to the message he’s trying to get across: “It’s about the respect.” 

Respect

Nagel tells the story of a recent meeting of the Perkins Business Partnership, a nonprofit spun out of the Perkins School for the Blind, with a mission to help the blind and visually impaired find work.

At that meeting, he found that the agenda was printed in font so small that he couldn’t read it. He couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of an organization for the visually impaired that didn’t consider the needs of the visually impaired.

“Even the people who are focused on it can’t do it right,” Nagel says. 

inmoji

Nagel’s point: Don’t stress too much over doing things right or saying the wrong thing. When he’s at the office, it’s “more about respect,” he says — the recognition that he earned his spot at the company, the same as everybody else, thanks to his skills. Even jokes and teasing are okay with Nagel, he says, as long as nobody forgets that fundamental respect.

Hopefully the parallels to blind and visually impaired people in the workplace, to women and other minorities in tech are self-evident,” Nagel says.

Nagel knows what it’s like to feel a certain degree of paranoia that your coworkers only think you’re there to meet a diversity quota. 

The best way to keep your workplace from falling prey to that paranoia, says Nagel, is empathy. Because, Nagel says, if you show everybody their due respect, “you can help remove those feelings of unjustness.”

SEE ALSO: A former Microsoft intern got his Yale classmates to apply for jobs at his hilariously fake startup

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NOW WATCH: The intriguing way people who are color-blind see the world — and how it can be incredibly confusing

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Uber isn't sure if it can 'remain a viable business' without building self-driving cars

Travis Kalanick

If you’re to believe Uber’s lawyers, the fate of the $69 billion company is tied up in one bid from an opponent trying to stop its work on self-driving cars. 

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google-parent company Alphabet, sued Uber in February claiming it stole trade secrets. Weeks later, it filed a preliminary injunction to try to stop Uber’s work on self-driving cars until the case resolves. 

Uber obviously doesn’t want that to happen, but not because it may just slow down its research. A stop to the self-driving car work would apparently threaten to topple Uber’s entire business. 

In its response to court on Friday, Uber said stopping its work on self-driving cars would threaten its future as a “a viable business.”

“To hinder Uber’s continued progress in its independent development of an in-house lidar that is fundamentally different than Waymo’s, when Uber has not used any of Waymo’s trade secrets, would impede Uber’s efforts to remain a viable business, stifle the talent and ingenuity that are the primary drivers of this emerging industry, and risk delaying the implementation of technology that could prevent car accidents,” Uber said (emphasis ours).

Of course, many people question whether a company that’s believed to be losing billions of dollars a year is a “viable” business to begin with. The six-year-old company hasn’t yet figured out how to make humans in the drivers seat work as a profitable business, and it’s also tackling everything from food delivery to vertical take off planes.

Discussions about the current viability aside, Uber continues to repeat that self-driving cars are “existential” to its future even though internally the company crowned 2017 the year of the driver (the human kind).

Even when it comes to its bottomline, Uber hasn’t bet the house, based on its own internal calculations. In March, The Information revealed that removing the driver from the equation would “only increase Uber’s projected long-term net profit margin by as much as 5 percentage points,” according to the report.

So if a robocar fleet is the El Dorado of profitability, why does it consider self-driving cars the only way it can remain viable? It’s because its CEO Travis Kalanick has a great fear of his entire business being left behind and has already bet that autonomous cars are the future. 

Take this interview with Business Insider in August 2016 right after it purchased Otto, the company at the heart of the lawsuit (emphasis ours):

Biz Carson: You called the development of autonomous vehicles existential to the company, and you’ve also called buying Otto another existential move. So what is so existential about it and where is that threat really coming from?

Kalanick: I think it starts with understanding that the world is going to go self-driving and autonomous. Because, well, a million fewer people are going to die a year. Traffic in all cities will be gone. Significantly reduced pollution and trillions of hours will be given back to people — quality of life goes way up. Once you go, “All right, there’s a lot of upsides there” and you have folks like the folks in Mountain View, [California,] a few different companies working hard on this problem, this thing is going to happen. So if that’s happening, what would happen if we weren’t a part of that future? If we weren’t part of the autonomy thing? Then the future passes us by, basically, in a very expeditious and efficient way.

Carson: How soon will self-driving cars realistically be a significant portion of Uber’s fleet?

Kalanick: That is the trillion-dollar question, and I wish I had an answer for you on that one, but I don’t. What I know is that I can’t be wrong. Right? I have to make sure that I’m ready when it’s ready or that I’m making it ready. So, I have to be tied for first at the least.

Calling a single injunction a threat to Uber’s future may be a bit of hyperbole on the behalf of Uber’s lawyers, but it does match the paranoia of Uber’s CEO.

Kalanick strongly believes that Uber needs to be among the leaders of the self-driving car revolution, even if internally the company doesn’t think it’ll radically change the business. Uber’s already behind the mark in multiple ways, especially when compared with Waymo, which is trying to impede its development. Uber may sound hysterical that its future could really be up in smoke if a preliminary injunction goes through, but in the mind of its CEO, self-driving cars are one thing that it has to have before the future passes it by.

SEE ALSO: UBER RESPONDS: Google claims about stolen technology are a total ‘misfire’

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NOW WATCH: We took a ride in Uber’s new self-driving car on the streets of San Francisco — here’s what it was like

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Founders Factory has hired an ex-Imperial machine learning guru to support its startups

Jeffrey Ng

LONDON — Founders Factory, a company that aims to create and scale startups, has hired former Imperial College London researcher Jeffrey Ng as its chief scientist.

At Founders Factory, Ng — who has cofounded several of his own software companies, including visual search and image recognition recognition company Cortexica Vision Systems — will help to develop new artificial intelligence (AI companies, while also providing support to AI companies on the Founders Factory accelerator programme, such as Iris.AI and illumr.

In an email to Business Insider announcing the hire, Founders Factory touted Ng’s expertise in big data, natural language processing, computer vision and deep learning deployment of AI platforms.

“Building and accelerating new startups in six diverse sectors opens up exciting new ways to apply AI,” said Ng in a statement. “It’s the energy and vibrancy of the Factory that’s the main draw for me, coupled with the chance to open up the AI toolbox to bring new products to life.”

Founders Factory’s AI efforts are largely funded by CSC Group, a private investment firm in China with over $12 billion (£9.7 billion) under management. CSC signed a five-year multimillion pound deal with Founders Factory last October.

“CSC is the ideal partner to support our new AI startups,” said Ng. “There is so much AI innovation happening in China that this could be a two-way connection between the West and the East.”

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People are really annoyed about Airbnb's 'hidden' 3% conversion fee

Private island - Airbnb

If you’re an Airbnb user, chances are that you’ve probably booked a room in another country at some point.

If you’ve done that in the last six months or so, you probably paid more without even realising it.

Airbnb has started charging a 3% currency conversion fee — and won’t give you the option of paying your host in their local currency.

Even if your credit card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, Airbnb will do the conversion and charge it back to you anyway.

Airbnb users have spotted the fee and aren’t too happy about it.

A Reddit user commented this week: “I had to stay in an Airbnb in Asia for 3 months … and this policy absolutely fucked me over. All said and done, I probably paid $150 in fees that I absolutely did not need to pay. I could have used my credit card and gotten a 0% fee.”

They added: “It’s absolute bullshit and nothing more than an extra ‘hidden fee’ [that Airbnb] is pocketing.”

Over on Airbnb’s own forums, another user wrote: “This is dumb and inefficient – even worse, they pass this inefficiency off on me.  Give customers the option to pay in the currency of their choosing.” 

Airbnb didn’t respond to a request for comment, but its help pages briefly cover the conversion fee, and makes it pretty clear you don’t have much choice.

Airbnb states that the currency you pay in is determined by your payment method, and sometimes your country. “It’s not possible to manually choose what currency you’ll use to pay.”

According to the commentors, Airbnb did once allow you to pay in the local currency, but stopped some time in the last year.

Here’s an example of the problem:

Business Insider looked at a room listed in Airbnb Germany while logged out of the platform.

This is the rate we got for one night in the room:

Airbnb Germany rate

The total here is €86.

On its help page, Airbnb says it uses a service called OANDA to determine an exchange rate. According to OANDA’s rates, £1.00 is €1.16. That means €86 should be around £74. And that’s the price Airbnb will show you in sterling, if you’re logged out.

airbnb germany without conversion

But when you log in as a British user, Airbnb suddenly jacks up the price to £77, £3 more expensive than what you might expect from the exchange rate. Add this up across your Airbnb bookings over time, and you might have paid a lot of money without even knowing it.

It isn’t particularly clear how Airbnb’s maths works here but if its help page is anything to go by, it’s a combination of an out-of-date exchange rate, the 3% conversion fee, and the fact it converts its own €11 service fee to £11.

airbnb converted rate

There’s no indication that Airbnb is actually doing anything illegal either, it’s just a terrible experience for customers.

As several users pointed out, you might reasonably expect your payment provider to convert currency for you, and probably at a better rate, but not Airbnb.

According to the help page, Airbnb takes the 3% fee to account for its foreign exchange risks.

Translated, this means Airbnb shows you a fixed price for a room, but you don’t pay for it until you stay there. Currency rates may have changed in that time, and Airbnb is passing that risk to you by charging you a fee.

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NOW WATCH: A mathematician gave us the easiest explanation of pi and why it’s so important

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'We don’t only set up businesses, we make homes': What it's like to be an immigrant entrepreneur in Brexit Britain

Marta Krupinska, Azimo

LONDON — When Marta Krupinska moved to Britain five years ago, she thought she had found her final destination — a place to call home.

Now, however, she’s not so sure. 

“When I’m thinking about my future — where shall well live, what will we do, I am wondering — will London be the most welcoming place for us?” says Krupinska. “I very much hope that it will be.”

Originally from Poland, Krupinska is the cofounder and general manager of Azimo, a financial technology startup founded in London in 2012. The company makes an app that lets people easily send money overseas, usually to family or friends.

Azimo has offices in both London, where it employs 35 people, and Poland. Now, in the wake of Brexit, it is setting up a Dublin office to safeguard against any possible regulatory changes. Many other fintech and finance businesses are expected to take similar steps to cope with Brexit.

Krupinska’s personal story highlights that Brexit represents not just a potential operational challenge to UK businesses. Many fast-growing tech firms in Britain are founded or staffed by immigrants, many of them for the EU. Last year’s vote to leave is seen by some as a sign that they are not welcome.

“As we’re all telling the sad tales of Brexit, maybe this is something that’s sometimes forgotten,” Krupinska told Business Insider. “Ultimately very many of us migrants who come to the UK to set up businesses, we don’t only set up businesses, we make homes, we start families and we need to make the two work seamlessly together, business and personal.”

Krupinska met her finance, a British-Indian man, in London and is keen to start a life here. Thankfully, she has not had any bad experiences.

“I have always felt very welcome and I am very happy to say I have not experienced anything. I probably blend in relatively well, speaking good English and doing the thing that I do.”

But her fiance has noticed a difference. 

“He was born in London, lived here all his life,” she says. “He says that the London he lives in, in the past year, year and a half, is less welcoming and less friendly than the one in which he has lived his whole life.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear that controlling immigration is a key priority in Brexit negotiations and the government is willing to give up access to the EU single market to get control. 

But Krupinska believes this throttling EU immigration will harm Britain’s growing startup ecosystem. She says: “The nature of entrepreneurs is they come places and they don’t have a job, don’t have an income and they’re there to start businesses and give jobs to themselves and other people.”

Azimo, for example, has attracted over $40 million of investment. It raised $15 million last May from a Japanese fund — money that may not have been invested in the UK.

Krupinska adds: “Not having access to that talent pool would, I think, be very very bad for the startup community in London.”

Access to talent post-Brexit was one of the biggest concerns among entrepreneurs in the wake of the Brexit vote. The fear has not waned — it is still one of the biggest worries I hear when talking to people.

These are not just abstract concerns. Krupinska says: “I was talking to a friend of mine who is an entrepreneur in Poland who say: ‘Well it’s time for me to do international expansion. I thought I was going to do it out of London but that doesn’t make sense anymore so I’m looking at other options.’”

Would Krupinska start Azimo in London today if she had to do it all over again? 

“It’s a very difficult question. Let me put it this way — I think I would do much deeper due diligence today than I did back then when London was an obvious choice. I would consider other options if it was today.” 

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NOW WATCH: A penthouse owned by Trump’s trust is on the market for $35 million — here’s a look inside

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How religious movies are thriving more than ever before under Trump

Is Genesis History Compass Cinema

At one time, the strategy for getting the attention of faith-based movie audiences was pretty straightforward: Build a grassroots marketing campaign focused on certain congregations and churches, bus them to movie theaters, and let word of mouth build.

It was a model that led to numerous religious-themed movies having impressive opening weekends at the box office, most notably Mel Gibson’s epic depiction of the final hours of Jesus Christ, “The Passion of the Christ,” which is still the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

With the rise of streaming, there have been obvious tweaks to faith-based marketing, but those who work in this part of the film industry have also seen a change since President Donald Trump started running for and then won the White House.

‘There’s riches in the niches’

“What’s shaking out since Trump is that people don’t trust institutions. They don’t trust the top-down — they want stories that are real and honest,” marketer and producer Erik Lokkesmoe told Business Insider. “It’s a feeling of, ‘Don’t tell me it’s simple and easy.’ The audience we’re serving now knows issues are complex.”

trump supportersLokkesmoe says the days of just going directly to community leaders, librarians, teachers, and pastors to get the word out about a movie are over. He observes that within the Christian audience, there are now subgroups with varying beliefs and tastes. As he puts it, in today’s faith-based market, “There’s riches in the niches.”

How to find the ‘Trump audience’

One obvious niche that everyone is trying to cater to at the moment, of course, is Trump’s base. Though Lokkesmoe says it’s still too early to get an exact read on the president’s most ardent supporters, he has seen what kind of power they can give to a project.

The documentary “Is Genesis History?” explores how the world intersects with the history recorded in the Book of Genesis. It was released as a Fathom Events one-night special in late February and earned $1.8 million on just 704 screens. It was the top-earning theatrical release that day (a Thursday), beating out “The Lego Batman Movie” and “Fifty Shades Darker” (both of which played on more than double the number of screens as “Is Genesis History?” did).

“That is clearly a Trump audience,” Lokkesmoe said. “The feeling of, ‘We’re under siege, our beliefs are being attacked, let’s get together one night and confirm our beliefs.’ That’s very much a Trump mentality.”

But it’s not just the theatrical realm seeing a Trump bump. Those who keep any eye on the burgeoning streaming market for faith-based titles have noticed more passion online.

Michael Scott is the CEO and cofounder of Pure Flix, which is considered the Netflix of the faith-based market (also the top indie faith-based studio in the world and the worldwide leader in producing and distributing faith and family-friendly entertainment). He has observed liveliness from his customers since Trump got into office.

“I feel some of the audience feels beat down a little bit by some of the media and now it’s their chance to be more open and comment about the movies and talk about the movies,” Scott told Business Insider. “That’s the environment now. There’s more openness to talk about faith-based films.”

The Case For Christ Pure FlixPure Flix has more than 5,000 titles available to stream (ranging from features and TV to preaching and teaching content), and the company also produces its own titles (its latest, “The Case for Christ,” stars Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Forster, and it opens in theaters Friday). Though Scott says business has continued to thrive on the streaming side since his company started in 2015, that’s not necessarily because of current events. As he sees it, you still have to tell a specific kind of story for the faith-based audience.

“One of the key reasons why people come to faith-based films is because of the message,” he said. “You have to drive the message first and then wrap an organic story around the message. If you are leading with just a great story, then they could see a Hollywood release.”

That formula worked well for releases like 2015’s “War Room,” which focused on a troubled family finding strength through prayer and went on to earn over $11 million to win its opening weekend. And this year’s “The Shack,” starring Octavia Spencer as God, took in over $16 million to come in a respectable third place its opening weekend (and it’s earned close to $54 million worldwide).

Scott said that’s why you shouldn’t expect coming faith-based movies to revolve around political issues of the day like the Trump travel ban or other stories coming out of his administration.

“Maybe those would be dealt with in a subplot in a movie,” said Scott, who noted that Pure Flix’s 2014 film “God’s Not Dead” did feature a Muslim family.

Gods Not Dead Pure Flix

Making the faith-based movie bigger

It’s hard to see the “message-first” formula changing. But in the Trump era, a new group is being forged out of the faith-based market: what’s known as the “aspirational” audience.

These are people who want to engage in the content beyond the theatrical or TV experience. That could include buying the book that a movie or show is based on or starting community outreach.

“The aspirational audience is not the Trump voter,” Lokkesmoe said. “They are more artistic, younger, and less political.”

silence paramount finalBut Lokkesmoe said the aspirational audience had grown up in an era when it was inspired to make change. His company, Aspiration Studios, has recently built campaigns focused on this audience for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and the coming TV show “Genius.”

Scott noted that Pure Flix was looking to launch a separate division to focus on the aspirational market with movies budgeted at $10 million to $30 million that have A-list talent attached (its current films are made for $4 million to $7 million).

Lokkesmoe said that was the biggest takeaway so far from the Trump era: There’s more interest in feeding content to a particular audience than ever before.

“We’re seeing a lot more funders and people thinking beyond how to find an audience that is out there for whatever topic or issue,” he said. “There’s more interest in that than ‘Let’s make one movie that’s going to change the world.'”

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Right before their IPO, Okta's cofounders received a sign from the heavens

Okta founders IPO

On Friday morning, Okta crossed over from the startup world into the big-leagues and became a public company.

Its stock market debut went well, with shares pricing at $17 and opening up 40% at $23.56.

It’s been an exciting journey for Todd McKinnon and Freddy Kerrest, who launched their company in 2009 right after the economy melted down.

Okta offers companies a way to manage all their employees’ passwords to other cloud services. It makes it easy for IT departments to add or remove employee access to accounts like Office 365, Google Apps, Salesforce, and the like.

McKinnon and Kerrest were early employees at Salesforce, but when they left to do their startup they did not get Salesforce CEO’s Marc Benioff’s blessing, or any of his angel cash (even though he’s an avid angel investor and frequently backs his former employees’ startups).

That didn’t hurt Okta in the long run. It became the first cloud company that VC Andreessen Horowitz backed, and that was back when it was just a startup, too, not the powerhouse it is today.

Ben Horowitz wrote Okta a check before his office had furniture, Okta tells us.

But while Andreessen Horowitz chipped in half of Okta’s seed money, $500,000, the other half came from tech angels in the industry and lots of friends and family who wrote “$50,000 and $25,000 checks,” McKinnon told Business Insider.

Okta was one of the first companies really tackling the cloud password problem back then, and people really didn’t understand what it was trying to do.

“When it was just Freddy and me, you had to really believe. No offense to my cofounder and myself but [success], it was a long way out,” McKinnon says.

Among the believers and angel investors was Kerrest’s younger brother, “who was really supportive,” McKinnon says.

Interestingly, none of the wealthy execs at Salesforce — their former coworkers — were willing to pitch in save one: super angel Maynard Webb, a Salesforce board member.

As Okta proved itself over the years, it was able to raise gobs of money, over $230 million with a valuation of $1.1 billion. It also gained big competitors, including Salesforce and Microsoft.

Okta BellWebb and Kerrest’s brother kept their faith, as did all the early seed investors, who still have their stakes today, McKinnon says. Many of them, including Webb, came to New York to celebrate the IPO, too.

And they were rewarded. With the healthy IPO, Okta’s valuation hit over $2 billion.

“Believe me, the company is worth a lot more now than it was back then.” Todd says.

That’s true. In 2010, for instance, right before VCs made their first fund investment of $11 million, they valued Okta at $24 million, according to PitchBook.

And there was one particular moment when McKinnon and Kerrest knew their first day as a public company would be a good one, a great big thank you to these early investors, as well as to the new ones they were bringing on as a public company: they literally received a sign from the heavens.

They had just completed their two-week road show. (“It was a whirlwind. 60 1:1 meetings, five lunches, eight cities in eight days,” McKinnon describes.)

On Thursday, the day before the IPO, they and their bankers were on the 43rd floor of the Goldman Sachs building on Wall Street, sorting through the list of bids from institutional investors. They were debating their opening price, with some arguing to charge more, some lobbying to charge less. Okta had already raised the range from $13-$15 to $15-$17.

It had been rainy and cloudy all day so “you couldn’t see anything” out of the windows, McKinnon describes.

“And finally we settled on $17 because it was the best price for the long-term shareholder base we’re trying to build,” he said.

And at that exact moment, “The clouds lifted and the sun came out. Not lying. It was like ta-da! We took a picture.”

Less than 24 hour later, that omen proved true. 

At $23 a share, McKinnon’s 9% stake is worth over $198 million. Kerrest’s nearly 6% stake is worth $118 million. So it wasn’t a bad day for the founders either. 

Here’s the photo:

Okta founders

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