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Skype co-founder has now invested over $130 million into start-ups

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LONDON — Jaan Tallinn, an Estonian computer programmer who helped to set up Skype, says he has now ploughed around £100 million ($132 million) of his personal wealth into start-ups around the world since he started investing in tech. 

Speaking to CNBC Wednesday, Tallinn said he’s backed somewhere between 100 and 200 companies, adding that around 100 of them are still “alive and kicking” today.

Through his various investment firms (the main one being Metaplanet Holdings), Tallinn’s currently investing in roughly one new company a month with anywhere from $500,000 to several million dollars.

The entrepreneur-turned-investor has focused on companies that have artificial intelligence at their core. He profited from an early bet on London AI start-up DeepMind, which Google acquired for $600 million in 2014. Elon Musk and Peter Thiel also backed DeepMind early on.

Tallinn has also given funding to a number of university research labs including Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and Cambridge’s Center for the Study of Existential Risk. 

One of Tallinn’s more controversial start-up bets is a cryptocurrency investment of around $1 million into Faculty.ai, a London firm that builds AI software for companies and governments worldwide.

Faculty gained notoriety after it emerged that it had helped the “Vote Leave” campaign to take Britain out of the European Union. “I didn’t know that that they were doing that,” said Tallinn. The Guardian newspaper reported in July that the company received £260,000 from Dominic Cummings, who was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief advisor until last week. Faculty was also awarded an $800,000 contract by the Home Office to develop an AI system that could spot terrorist propaganda on social networks.

Investing after the eBay acquisition

Tallinn started investing more money into tech start-ups after Skype was bought by eBay for $2.6 billion in 2005, two years after the online video-calling platform was launched.

At the time, it was not only the biggest exit in European tech, but also the largest tech exit globally since the dot-com crash.

In 2009, eBay sold 70% of Skype for $2.75 billion to an investor group called Silver Lake that included some of Skype’s cofounders. EBay and Silver Lake then sold it onto Microsoft for $8.5 billion in 2011.

Other Skype co-founders including Niklas Zennstrom and Ahti Heinla have gone on to make substantial investments in tech start-ups.


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Amazon and U.S. government agency partner to inspect counterfeits

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An Amazon fulfillment center in Frankenthal, Germany.

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Amazon is joining forces with a U.S. government watchdog group to conduct counterfeit inspections, the company announced Tuesday, in its latest effort to address a problem that’s plagued the e-commerce platform for years.

The company will work with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a task force that’s overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to “analyze data and conduct targeted inspections aimed at preventing counterfeit products from entering the U.S. supply chain,” Amazon said. Any evidence collected from their inspections will be used to expand ongoing investigations and go after bad actors.

The initiative, referred to as “Operation Fulfilled Action,” is led by Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit. The team was launched earlier this year and is made up of former federal prosecutors, investigators and data analysts who mine the site for information and work with federal prosecutors.

Amazon’s marketplace, launched in 2000, now accounts for more than half the company’s overall sales. While it’s been a key driver of Amazon’s overall business, it has also faced a number of issues related to counterfeits, as well as unsafe and expired goods. Knockoff goods have been especially harmful for Amazon’s relationships with some brands, such as Nike and Birkenstock, who quit Amazon following a surge in counterfeits.

The company has ramped up its efforts to stamp out counterfeits on the platform. It has pursued counterfeiters in court, rolled out various programs to seek and detect sales of counterfeit goods and continues to block millions of suspected bad actor accounts and listings.


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Bitcoin price reaches three-year high of more than $19,000 | Technology

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The price of bitcoin has broken through $19,000 for the first time in almost three years, taking the world’s biggest cryptocurrency close to its all-time high of just under $20,000.

Bitcoin has surged by almost 40% in November and is up about 160% this year. It reached a peak of just under $20,000 in December 2017, before crashing spectacularly, losing a quarter of its value in a single day.

Analysts and investors say the coronavirus pandemic has led to a reassessment of bitcoin’s value as an alternative currency, and even as an alternative to gold. As the US dollar and other currencies have weakened, more investors are turning to cryptocurrency as protection against inflation.

Rick Rieder, the chief investment officer of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, said last Friday that cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, were “here to stay”. He said millennials were happily embracing new technologies – although he himself has not bought much bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.

“But do I think it is a durable mechanism that could replace gold to a large extent? Yeah I do, because it’s so much more functional than passing a bar of gold around,” he told CNBC’s Squawk Box.

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PayPal has launched a crypto trading service on its platform, and has reportedly bought nearly 70% of all new bitcoin in circulation. Its chief executive, Dan Schulman, said the pandemic had accelerated the shift to digital forms of payments.

A number of hedge fund managers, including the US billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, who predicted and profited from the 1987 stock market crash, have revealed in recent months that they have invested in bitcoin. Jones, who runs Tudor Investment Corp, has been recommending the cryptocurrency to his clients as a hedge against inflation, with the US Federal Reserve expected to keep interest rates at zero. Congress has resumed its negotiations over a massive stimulus package for the US economy.

Cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile, and other digital currencies have also regained popularity in recent months, such as Ethereum, Litecoin and XRP, as investors reviewed their long-term prospects.


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Black Friday 2020: best early UK deals and bargains | Black Friday

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The Black Friday sale no longer lasts only a day – retailers have already started discounting in the run-up to 27 November.

Here’s a roundup of some of the offers:

• Tesco is offering a number of deals on toys and video games. Lego sets going for half-price include the Lighthouse Rescue Centre (£27.50 – down from £55) and the Lego City Fire Station (£30 – down from £60). Tesco’s deals are available to pick up instore or online between 24 November and 1 December. There will also be £50 off a Nintendo Switch.

• Aldi is running a Black Friday sale online and waiting until the day itself to launch its deals. It is also offering a Nintendo Switch for £229 – £50 off the going rate.

• Halfords is offering 20% off a range of children’s bikes and scooters. Deals include the X-Rated Shockwave kids’ BMX bike (age range 5-7) at £100, down from £130, and the Apollo Craze junior mountain bike at £180, reduced from £225 (age range 8-11).

• Selfridges doesn’t do Black Friday as such, but its “Christmas Comes Early” promotion always takes place at around the same time, and lets you get up to 20% off​ many items – from Marc Jacobs bags to a Vivienne Westwood bracelet – by simply entering the code SELFCCE at the checkout.

• Cath Kidston’s Black Friday offer (running until the end of the month) is at least 20% off everything, and up to 60% off selected items. There are some big reductions on bags – for example, the London Map backpack and Yellow Spot backpack are both reduced to £25 from £50.

• Vodafone is offering savings on a number of mobile phone pay monthly deals, including what it says is an effective saving of £406 on an iPhone 11 Pro: from £69 to £55 a month for two years, with the upfront cost cut from £99 to £29. Similarly, it says you can save £570 on a Google Pixel 4a (£43 a month down to £23, with the upfront cost reduced from £99 to £9). The pay monthly smartphone deals run until 10pm on Thursday 26 November.

• If you’ve been considering upgrading to pay-TV, Sky’s 50% off deal may save you a fair chunk of change over 18 months. Plans start from £25 a month, plus a £20 one-off setup charge, with Sky Sports and Sky Cinema available at half price.

• Very has a Samsung 55-inch TV reduced by £400 – £1,299 down to £899. The site currently says it is “awaiting stock” but it expects to deliver by 14 December – just in time for the Christmas specials. Also at Very, Apple’s AirPods Pro noise-cancelling headphones are reduced from £249 to £199.

• Nespresso is selling a VertuoPlus coffee maker and Aeroccino 3 milk frother, plus 100 capsules, as a package for £89 until 2 December. The coffee maker on its own has a recommended retail price of £199, although it is currently selling for £99 on the site.

Dyson V8 Absolute review - wand attached
Dyson V8 Absolute review – wand attached Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

• The Dyson V8 Absolute Pro cordless vacuum is £100 off at the Dyson website until 1 December. It usually costs £399. The similar V8 Absolute Extra is subject to the same offer at Currys and John Lewis.

• Lakeland has a range of deals on kitchen gadgets. A Lavazza Jolie coffee machine with milk frother is half price at £64.99, while a Joseph Joseph Elevate five-piece knife carousel has been reduced to £62.99 (it’s usually £89.99 there but £80 at Dunelm).

• Asda’s Black Friday sale has started, and at the time of writing it was offering a Lego City brick box for £20, which is £15 off the standard price, and a Shark Anti Hair Wrap cordless vacuum cleaner, which was down from £349.96 to £197.

• Argos has offers across a range of items, with deals that stand out including Beats by Dre Studio 3 wireless Headphones Decade Edition reduced from £189.95 to £149.95, and a third off an X Rocker Esport pro stereo audio gaming chair with subwoofer (£99.99 – down from £149.99).


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