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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s artist-collaboration platform HitRecord raises $6.4M – TechCrunch

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In the early 2000s, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was frustrated with the roles he was being offered. Instead of starring in critically acclaimed indies, he was typecast as “the funny kid on TV” due to roles like Tommy from “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

So like anyone who matured alongside the internet, he created a website where he could ideate, produce and share his work. More than 10 years later, he wants to turn that pet project, called HitRecord, into a full-fledged technology company.

Onstage at Upfront Venture’s annual summit outside of Los Angeles, Gordon-Levitt announced a $6.4 million Series A funding to do just that. Javelin Venture Partners has led the round, with participation from Crosslink Capital, Advancit Capital, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and MasterClass co-founder David Rogier.

Gordon-Levitt, known for starring in “Inception,” “Snowden” and, my personal favorite, “10 Things I Hate About You,” tells TechCrunch that HitRecord has a team of 24 employees, with himself at the helm as chief executive officer, co-founder Jared Geller serving as president and co-founder Marke Johnson as creative director. The trio plan to use the investment to transform HitRecord from a traditional production company to a new collaborative media platform.

The company provides an online portal for artists to work together on projects, “building off of each other’s contributions, to create things [they] couldn’t have made on [their] own.” If projects created within the HitRecord community are sold, the creators are paid based on their original contributions. Since 2010, HitRecord has paid its community roughly $3 million.

HitRecord hasn’t accepted outside capital, until now. Initially, Gordon-Levitt used his own cash to push the company forward, and for the last five years, the startup has been cash-flow positive. I sat down with Gordon-Levitt to learn more about what he’s been working on and why he decided to pursue venture capital dollars. The following conversation has been lightly edited for length.

TC: How do you explain HitRecord in one sentence?

JGL: It’s a collaborative media platform where people make all kinds of creative things together. I guess that’s one sentence, but if I can keep going… As opposed to places where people post things that they’ve made on their own, this is a place where people collaborate, right? So they submit their ideas onto the platform and then they find people who want to collaborate with them and then they’re able to make money if the projects [find] a buyer.

We’ve done all kinds of monetized productions, but I certainly wouldn’t include money in the third or fifth or even 10th sentence of why people come to HitRecord.

TC: HitRecord launched a decade ago… what inspired you to create it?

JGL: I started HitRecord as this little hobby message board with my brother and it grew very slowly. It came out of a time in my life when I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to be in sort of like more serious Sundance movies and everyone was like, ‘oh, but you’re the funny kid on TV’ and you know, it was really painful for me. I said, okay, you know what, I can’t just wait around for someone to give me a part. I want to make my own things. And I started making my own. I started making videos and songs and stories and stuff. And my brother helped me set up a website that we called HitRecord. We didn’t spend any money; we had no intention of making any money. It was just a fun thing we were doing.

TC: And now you want to expand it into a full-fledged tech platform. But… you’re cash-flow positive and you’ve built a solid community of avid users, why take venture money?

JGL: You know, it started as just a hobby that I was doing for fun. We launched it as a production company as a way to do more ambitious, creative things and do it with everybody. But if you talk to our users, what people really enjoy is having that experience of being creative and being creative with other people because I think honestly, being creative is really hard alone. Venture money will not only allow us to do even cooler productions, but it’ll also allow this whole other world and more people to participate.

TC: Now that you’re venture-funded, how do you plan on making money for your investors?

JGL: So historically, the way we’ve made money was as a production company, and the collaborative efforts of our community and our staff made money because we turned something into a TV show, or we licensed it to a brand or we did any number of things that generated revenue. [HitRecord partnered with Ubisoft earlier this year to allow artists and musicians to contribute their own content to be used in its game, for example.] So moving forward, as we grow into a collaborative platform, the idea is that it’s not just our staff that’s leading these projects and letting people collaboratively finish them. The idea is anybody could come to start their own thing and there will be better tools to self-organize and find your collaborators.

TC: And how do you better monetize once you’ve expanded your user base?

JGL: I think, look, we were not ready to talk about exactly how we would make money that way. I think we have a number of ideas. There are ways that the internet gets monetized these days that I think incentivize the wrong things like attention for myself and I don’t want to enter into a business model that incentivizes that kind of behavior.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt attends the 2014 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on August 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage).

TC: What was the process of raising venture capital like? Did being Joseph Gordon-Levitt make it a little less terrible?

JGL: I think, honestly, it was a double-edged sword. I think there was justified skepticism and people would assume that oh, I’m an actor so I can’t start a company and I faced a certain amount of that skepticism. I don’t blame anybody for having that. The assumption is that there’s not any substance behind the company or the idea, that it’s all sizzle and no steak.

But we’re also not really a startup, per se. It’s not like I was going into these offices and saying, like, I have an idea. It’s like, here’s what we’ve done for the last 10 years and we’ve been cash flow positive five years. We know how to run a business. It’s just we’ve been running a production company business, now we want to run something that’s more like a technology business.

TC: What’s your long-term vision for HitRecord?

JGL: My ultimate goal is for my acting career and HitRecord to kind of become one in the same thing. I would love to be, you know, developing a movie not for a Hollywood studio, but like in this new collaborative way for HitRecord. I mean, we won an Emmy for our TV show. We’re about to release this special that we’re doing with Logic, the rapper, and he used the platform to lead a collaboration and make a song and a music video and we documented the process and that special is going to come out on YouTube. What I really want is to be able to put an app in Logic’s hand where he goes like, oh, I understand this and is able to use it instantly. We don’t have that app yet. This is why we raised capital.



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Upcoming phones geared to rattle the entry-level market

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Smartphones have become an integral part of our life – no doubt they sell like hotcakes and virtually every other week a new phone is released in the market. While smartphones can be crazy pricey on one end of the spectrum, the options for entry-level buyers are also quite broad. The segment is important for all major manufacturers and the prospects of gaining the trust of buyers who want the bare basics from their device are quite high.

While there have been quite a number of entry-level phones up till now, there are more incoming soon. If you are someone looking for a good package smartphone that’s not obsolete while having the promise of getting through all the usual tasks – consider these upcoming smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy A02s

Samsung has a strong foot in the mid-range and entry-level phone market – knowing what the users actually demand. The South Korean giant is going to bring the phone (along with Galaxy A12) at a price of around $180, which will be a lucrative deal for buyers. Galaxy A02s will sport a 6.5-inch HD+ TFT Infinity V screen with a notched 5MP (f/2.2) front-facing camera. It is going to be powered by the octa-core Snapdragon 450 processor, have 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage.

The camera setup is also going to be respectable on the rear. The Galaxy A02s will have a triple camera module. It will have a 13MP primary shooter with autofocus, 2MP macro lens, and a 2MP depth sensor – both having f/2.4 value. 3.5mm jack will be on the phone for old school users and the impressive 5,000mAh battery (with 15W charging) will keep the phone juiced for longer durations.

Overall the Samsung’s upcoming entry-level phone in black and white color options is a sweet deal given the price tag and feature combo. Coming from a reliable brand this should be on your list come early 2021, as Galaxy 02s is rumored for a February 2021 release.

OnePlus Clover

OnePlus has made a paradigm shift in its ideology for creating smartphones owing to the dynamic landscape. They evolved as a passionate OEM providing users with the best hardware and software experience; then to foray into the flagship segment and now diversifying into the entry-level market too. The upcoming OnePlus Clover is going to fill the void in the market for a good quality phone with smooth software experience.

The smartphone is slated for a 10 December 2020 release for a rumored price tag of $200, just in time for the buying spree. The device has a 6.52-inch IPS LCD display (1560×720 resolution with 264 ppi density) and will be powered by the 11nm manufacturing process based Snapdragon 460 octa-core chipset. To ensure all the basic processes run smoothly, Clover has 4GB RAM and 64GB internal memory.

On the rear, it will have a triple camera setup including a 13MP primary sensor (f/2.2), 2MP macro lens (f/2.4) and 2MP depth sensor (f/2.4). Clover will come with a massive 6,000mAh battery paired with an 18W charger brick. Overall an impressive entry-level Android 10 phone (upgradable to Android 11) given the superior OxygenOS UI.

Moto e7

After much ado, the Moto e7 was finally announced a couple of days ago and will come to the Latin American market in the next few weeks. US availability is also expected since the e6 was also released for the market, so you can keep an eye on this one. The budget-friendly phone is the best price of the lot with features good enough for a basic user. Android 10 powered Moto e7 carries a price tag of €112 ($135) and obviously you don’t expect top-notch hardware here, but enough to do the normal phone tasks.

The 6.5-inch HD+ (@269ppi) display phone is powered by the MediaTek Helio G25 chipset, has 2GB of RAM and 32GB/ 64GB storage option. 4,000mAh battery (paired to a 10W charger) is going to last a long time given the low-end hardware it has to feed. The dual-camera rear module of the phone comprises 48MP sensor (f/1.7) and a 2MP (f/2.4) macro sensor. On the front there is a 5MP (f/2.2) sensor for selfies, so you’ll have much liberty to click the occasional photographs.

Nokia 6.3

Another smartphone that’s slated for a December 2020 release, and good enough for the budget buyer’s radar is the Nokia 6.3. The phone has an impressive specifications list for a buyer who can go to the stretchable price tag of $250. The phone comes with a 6.2-inch IPS LCD, Full HD+ (403ppi) resolution PureDisplay screen with a notch for an impressive 16MP selfie camera. The rear camera setup (imaging system with ZEISS Optics) is also the best in the lot here – a 24MP primary lens along with the 12MP wide-angle shooter and two 2MP macro and depth sensors.

The Android 10 powered Nokia 6.3 will have a 3GB RAM and 32GB storage option, and most probably the Snapdragon 630 or the Snapdragon 670/675 processor. The battery life is good at 4,000mAh and the user gets the convenience of a power button mounted fingerprint sensor. The speculations regarding some of the specifications should be taken with a grain of salt, however, most of them will be more or less the same. The phone is expected to release next month or by the start of next year. Keep an eye on this entry-level Nokia device for subsistence at a nominal price.

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2021 iPad Pro is worth the wait: Here’s why

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Apple iPad turf is overly saturated. If you are in the market for an iPad this holiday season, there are a few options you can instantly close on. For a certain set of users, there is the A12Z Bionic chip-powered 2020 iPad Pro. Then is the recently introduced iPad Air that dishes out ruthless performance and is high on substance. For the budgeted buyer, the fifth-generation iPad Mini is a suggested option. To add to choices, Apple is already working on the next edition of the iPad Pro with improved display, power, and 5G connectivity, and it is slated for an early 2021 release.

Information of likely improvements is bound to put all those looking for an Apple tablet in a fix – should they upgrade now or wait on. Of course, there are many options already out there and holiday season is a good reason to shop, but if you want the new and fantastic – waiting for a few months sure will be painful but worth it.

The rumors

A new iPad Pro was initially tipped to launch toward the end of this year, reports now have it that the unveiling is pushed back to sometime in spring of next year. Reliable Apple analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo has also validated the delay suggesting, a brand new iPad Pro launch may have been pushed for the first quarter of 2021. Kio had initially predicted that multiple iPads could debut in fall 2020.
Easily referenced as the 2021 iPad Pro, the forthcoming flagship will reportedly share a lot of traits with its siblings, which means we should not be expecting major design changes. LiDAR scanners, dual-lens camera setups are here to stay since nothing is heard about any alterations in this department.

Maybe the storage tiers and RAM options are beefed up. But this is also just an assumption for now. What is more certain is that the new iPad Pro will be 5G enabled (just like the iPhone 12 line-up this year), will feature a powerful processor, and a brighter, energy-efficient mini-LED display. This will send Apple on a new display tech journey – it’ll be for the first time an iPad will roll out with a LED screen.

Several rumors suggest Apple will launch two iPad Pro variants next year. While the higher-end 12.9-inch model with mini-LED screen is very likely – rumors have hinted at a possibility of an 11-inch iPad Pro, with a similar display, but there is no substantial detail to back the early claims.

New display technology

Although Apple is not going to bring about a radical change to the next-generation iPad Pro in terms of design – a new display technology is on the cards. Multiple rumors suggest 12.9-inch 2021 iPad Pro may feature mini-LED display. This type of display basically is a replacement for the cheaper and unfashionable backlight screen (yet an affordable alternative to OLED – used in iPhone 12 series). It can greatly increase color, contrast, and brightness and give the iPad Pro improved local dimming – possibility to brighten or dim lights at specific areas of the display.

Reportedly, these screens in the upcoming iPad Pros will likely be produced and supplied by LG. It may eventually find itself as a replacement for LCDs on almost all products in Cupertino’s lineup – including the MacBook. Mini-LED may not be as bright as OLEDs, but they are by no means slacks – these super bright displays look beautiful and are energy-efficient, thus offering better battery life too.

The iPad is already a brilliant device – a brighter display is only going to do more good to its image as a designer’s/artist’s daily driver. LED display will make everyone awaiting a new iPad Pro anxious as it sets the supposed 2021 iPad Pro apart from the other major siblings in the Apple lineup, which are equally capable. Currently, there is no information on whether Apple will continue selling iPad Pros with LCD displays.

Newer processor

The 2020 iPad Pro comes with A12Z Bionic chip, which in its own right is powerful enough for most set of users. The newer iPad Air however comes with A14 Bionic chipset in the body, which certainly makes it a better option for the power-hungry consumer base.

If you’re still not satisfied, Apple is expected to launch the new iPad Pro in 2021 with an upgraded 5-nanometer-based processor – perhaps called the A14X Bionic chip. If this is true, then undoubtedly the iPad performance is going to shoot through the roof – leaving not only its siblings but the completion high and dry. The new processor will mean more power and better performance, of course, it will also enhance battery life and prove more beneficial for gaming and multitasking.

5G is biggest reason to wait

iPhone 12 lineup announced a few months back, is the first set of Apple devices launched with 5G support, and now this prowess is only going to grow. Apple will be extending 5G connectivity to other devices and 2021 iPad Pro will, most likely, be the first outside of iPhones to get it. Now, it’s one of the biggest reasons to hold back and wait for the new iPad Pro.

According to the latest report, Apple’s next-generation iPad Pro will be 5G enabled with mmWave support. mmWave or millimeter wave is 5G band that promises ultra-fast speeds in short distances – it is available in this year’s iPhone 12 models but supported exclusively in the US for now.

Even more existing are rumors suggesting, the 2021 iPad Pro will be first to test Apple’s own in-house mmWave Antenna in Package (AiP) module. The AiP modules were initially tipped to be included in the next year’s iPhones, but Apple’s self-sufficiency in developing its own 5G mmWave modules has increased likelihood of new high-end iPad Pro being the first to include the antenna in the package. AiP modules will provide the 2021 iPad Pro with support for the mmWave 5G.

Wrap-up

What we have detailed are only rumors and the final product could land with or without the abovementioned features. If you’re still interested in the new iPad Pro, you should wait around for more information to roll out as we inch closer to the supposed launch next year. If reports of the 2021 iPad Pro launching in first quarter next year are believed, we will hear a lot more about the forthcoming device along the way before the imminent official launch.

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This holiday, check your old phone for a fat battery

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I found something in a junk drawer this week that was at first exciting, then alarming. In the drawer was an old smartphone that I’d not powered on for several years, at least. Cool, I’ll just start it up and time travel back to the point at which I last turned it off, right? But wait a moment here… this phone is significantly thicker than it was when I last saw it. This is not good.

Why did this phone get thick?

The thickness came from a chemical failure of the device’s lithium ion battery. I’d never opened this device before – I never had a reason. The only reason a person might open up a device like this would be to fix a component inside, or replace a component inside.

We’ve seen this sort of thing happen in a bunch of phones over the past decade, from all sorts of manufacturers. Most of the time we see this sort of thing happen, it’s because new phone users are working with off-brand plugs and such.

With a phone that’s been left in a drawer for several years, there’s a chance the chemical-based setup within will… fail. If you see this sort of thing happen, you have a few options and at least one NON-OPTION.

What to avoid

One NON-OPTION is charging the device. Do not charge the device. Do not plug your phone in to any sort of wire, nor set your device on any sort of wireless charger. You absolutely do NOT want to agitate the battery package if at all possible.

Can I fix a swollen battery? No, you can not fix a swollen battery. The deed is done. The only thing left to do is isolate the battery and/or the phone with the battery inside before you contact a professional.

Do NOT put your phone in the fridge or make any attempt to “cool it down.” The expansion is not temperature-dependent. The expansion cannot simply be reversed.

Do not do ANYTHING that may result in you piercing the battery’s protective layer. If you do that, the battery may explode and start a fire. See our feature Where to put your old phone batteries to see some explosions, courtesy of batteries that’ve been disposed of incorrectly.

What needs doing

It is not easy to open most smartphones not meant to be opened – especially one like this, held together with glue AND clips, with no easily accessible screws. The manufacturer of this phone, Samsung, did not build this phone with the intent that it be easily opened or its hardware replaced (or even removed) by the average user.

As such, you’ll more than likely want to seek the assistance of a professional. Gadget repair specialists are used to seeing this sort of thing – it happens far more often than you’d think. They’ll know how to safely remove the battery and potentially replace the battery IF that is possible.

There’s a real possibility that your phone will need to be brought to your city’s official landfill. You may want to call ahead, as your city’s waste management specialists will want to take special care of the battery and the phone to avoid an explosion and/or fire.

What if today is a holiday?

If you find an expanded battery in a smartphone and it is a holiday, chances are your local battery-handling professional won’t be available to dispose of your fire hazard of a phone. The LEAST you can do is place the battery (or the phone with the battery inside) in a safe place. Isolate the phone and/or the battery – away from paper, away from anything flammable.

Get the device outside as quick as possible if you can. Put the device in a fireproof container, like a metal bucket with a layer of sand inside. Above all else – get this thing isolated so WHEN it starts on fire, it’ll cause minimal damage.

This advice was as good a decade ago as it is today. New smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables, etcetera, still use lithium ion batteries, and lithium ion batteries still fail.

Take caution, and don’t take a risk. This one’s full of fire.

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