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Article from AboveTheCrowd.

This morning, Intuit announcedits agreement to acquire one of Benchmark’s portfolio companies, Demandforce, for $424mm. As with Instagram, Benchmark Capital is the largest institutional investor in Demandforce. Unlike Instagram, which is a consumer application and is extremely well known, Demandforce focuses on local professional businesses and has chosen to keep an intentionally low profile – a strategy that has served them well.

Great entrepreneurs often blaze their own trails, and the founder and CEO of Demandforce, Rick Berry, is no different. In a day and age of social media, where many companies project a persona much larger than reality, Demandforce chose instead to focus on its customers and its products. We never even announced Benchmark’s funding of the company, which I believe is unprecedented. The Demandforce team always felt that the attention should be focused on the customer rather than the company.

Demandforce’s customer mission has always been the same – to help small businesses thrive in an evolving and increasingly complex connected world. Today, they are the leading provider of interactive “front office” SAAS services to thousands and thousands of professional small business owners. The Demandforce product is a powerful web-based application that seamlessly integrates with existing workflow systems, works automatically, and delivers guaranteed results. Through this, Demandforce provides local businesses – like salons, auto shops, chiropractors, dentists, and veterinarians – with affordable and easy access to the tools and platforms that large enterprises use to communicate with customers, build a strong online reputation and leverage network marketing. It you have ever received an automated communication from your dentist, it was likely sent through Demandforce.

Demandforce’s success puts it at the forefront of the burgeoning “Local Internet” wave. The combination of Internet pervasiveness and smartphone penetration has led to a complete reconfiguration with regard to how local businesses interact with their customers. These local businesses have traditionally spent over $125B/year on traditional media, and this is only in the U.S. But the channels they have historically used, such as the newspaper and the yellow pages, are increasingly compromised. These business owners know they need new solutions, and these dollars will be reallocated to these exciting new platforms. Benchmark believes this “Local Internet” wave is many times larger than the “social” and “mobile” themes with which it is often contrasted. In addition to DemandForce, Benchmark is fortunate to have backed such “Local Internet” market leaders as OpenTable (OPEN), Zillow (Z), Yelp (YELP), Peixe Urbano, GrubHub, Uber, and Nextdoor.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Rick Berry, Patrick Barry, Hoang Vuong, Mark Hale, Sam Osman and Annie Tsai at Demandforce. This is truly one of the best teams ever assembled. It was also a pleasure to work with Steve Kostyshen as well as Mike Maples of Floodgate and Peter Ziebelman of Palo Alto Venture Partners, all of whom preceded us in their investment, and all of whom are passionate fans of the company.

It is certainly thrilling to see a team of entrepreneurs reach a significant milestone such as this.  That said, it is equally bittersweet as it means we will no longer be working directly with them on this incredibly compelling mission. Our loss is unquestionably Brad Smith and Intuit’s gain. Combining the leading “front office” small business SAAS vendor with the iconic Silicon Valley small business company is an incredibly compelling combination.

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Article from GigaOm.

By Max Levchin, Serial entrepreneur (As told to Janko Roettgers)

Max Levchin was the co-founder and CTO of Paypal, and founded Slide in 2004. He served as Slide’s CEO until the company was sold to Google in 2010, and left Google in the fall of 2011. He is also an investor in various startups, and is currently working on a new stealth-mode startup in the big data space. We wanted to hear what his plans for next year look like, and what kind of big trends he sees emerge.

My mission for myself is to help the world make sense of data. We have gone from not knowing what’s going on around us to being able to record and track just about anything.

The emergence of inexpensive sensors is the singularly most exciting thing about the world in many ways. A big part of our life is to make sense of it all before it’s too late. Why are things happening? What is going on with us? What is going on with other people? Sensors answer that in a big way. There is a famous scene in The Graduate, where the main character is being advised: “You know what you should spend your time on — plastics.” I think if someone rewrote that movie today, the answer would be “sensors.”

Fifteen years ago, you had to go to a hospital to get your vital signs checked. I imagine that in five years from now, T-Shirts will have a sensor built in that will measure your blood pressure, and then transmit that information to your phone, and your phone will text you when your blood pressure is too high — no doctors or nurses involved, just a cloud service for health monitoring.

The ubiquity of mobile devices, networks, bandwidth, cheap sensors and transmission, and cloud-based services, along with the liberation of information that was once thought of as very valuable and private and allowing it to live on a server as opposed to your personal desktop or phone — those are the pieces that will lead to exciting developments in a lot of industries, from health to transportation to energy.

Sensors are generating lots of data to process, and the big data industry will benefit tremendously from all the new sources. I think the world will be enhanced and shaped by our understanding of data for the next 100 years, and I want to participate in bringing that about. My current startup will have a lot to do with the whole emerging big data movement.

When I was analyzing what I wanted to do next, I realized I have always been really excited about data. At Paypal, I spent the majority of my time data mining — trying to understand the behavior of consumers and merchants, so that we could predict and appropriately price fraud. Being able to correctly price risk, transitions you from being a a regular payment startup to a profitable payment startup.

At Slide, we built entertainment products. But again, I was excited about the behavioral data that we generated. And I have been investing in companies that deal with big data, such as Mixpanel, which is a data analytics company, and Kaggle, which is a data science talent marketplace.

I left in Google around the beginning of October, because my ability to make an impact in a way that was both satisfying to me and useful to Google was waning. So this is the right time for me to reinvent myself again. I want to focus on taking bigger risks, to think bigger, aim higher, and build more long-term things.

One of the disturbing trends in Silicon Valley that I have seen is that a lot of people are very short-term focused, and innovation is stagnating. I think we are approaching the point where the “hard problems” of the Internet have been identified and many have been solved, so you see a lot of consumptive-type creation. There’s an attitude of, “Hey, let’s build this, it will be great, we will hammer it out and sell it to the highest bidder.”

But I think there are plenty of things that can be explored and invested in. You just have to break out of the existing mind set.

I think mobile is flipping from being a small, constrained window onto the Web to this cool new thing that’s finally living up to all those promises. Your phone or tablet is becoming a primary view on what’s going on, which is very powerful. Maybe by the end of next year, we will think of the Web as an unnecessarily large window into mobile. It will be thought of as a strictly desktop experience, what you do when you can’t stand up and move around.

I think collaborative consumption is really great, too. Companies like AirBnB and Uber and all the different variants of that model are a sane, free market way of redistributing resources to those who need them the most and are willing to pay fair-market price for them. It basically brings access to people that haven’t had it before. At some point, somewhere, somebody is dying to get rid of an apple, and somebody is starving. Creating a cheap way of connecting those two people makes the world a better place. That’s a very exciting trend and there are a million little startups trying to build solutions for different verticals — for saving time, saving resources, saving gas, saving everything that can possibly be saved. I’m thrilled about that.

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Article from NYTimes.

“We’re here on the ground in Austin South by Southwest Interactive, the annual gathering of tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, investors and leaders in the industry.

The weeklong event is crammed with panels, parties, talks, the introduction of new apps and services, demos of said services, networking and the occasional breakfast taco.

Tech companies will be looking for support among tech-savvy festival attendees in the hopes of bubbling up above the noise of the hundreds of companies vying for attention. For a young business, the stakes can be high. South by Southwest, which attracts early technology adopters, has earned a reputation for helping propel companies like Foursquare and Twitter out of relative obscurity. And this year, the numbers of attendees is expected to swell to nearly 20,000. Last year, around 14,000 people attended.

Among the companies looking to create some buzz are Uber, which makes a mobile application that lets people avoid taxi shortages by requesting a car service to give them a ride.; it has seeded this city’s downtown with special pedicabs to lug tired pedestrians around. GroupMe, one of the mobile messaging applications I wrote about on Friday, says it will be handing out grilled cheese sandwiches with the company’s logo toasted into the bread. Breakfast, a digital agency in New York, has rigged several photo booths that will print physical photos snapped with the popular iPhone app Instagram. Eightbit.me, a service that creates cute cartoon avatars for members, has hidden several hard drives shaped like vintage Nintendo game cartridges, around downtown. To win one, users must check into various locations in the city to find and unlock the prize.

Even Apple, which rarely appears at any major technology conferences, is rumored to have a pop-up shop somewhere on the conference grounds, most likely to coincide with the release of the iPad 2, which went on sale Friday.”

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