Oculus Rift: Facebook’s $2 Billion Attempt to Seize Its Destiny From Apple and Google

Can’t say I saw this one coming.

Facebook, on the heels of its $19 billion blockbuster acquisition of WhatsApp, has dropped another $2 billion (plus a potential $300 million in earn-outs) for Oculus VR, the company that makes Rift.

If you haven’t tried the Rift, it’s extraordinary. The first time I played with it, I was awestruck by the immersive experience. It brings not just gaming, but any type of virtual interaction to a whole new dimension that no other product has ever even come close to accomplishing.

And now it all belongs to Facebook. Why?

Here’s what Zuckerberg said in the press release:

“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

Translated: Facebook sees Oculus as one of the next great platforms for the future. Right now, it doesn’t control a platform. Its content has to go through Google (Android, Chromebook), Apple (iOS, Mac) and Microsoft (PC). It’s friendly with the latter and not-so-friendly with the former.

If Facebook can turn Oculus’s technology into a true platform — not just for gaming, but for everyday interaction — then it’ll be the best $2 billion it has ever spent.

Facebook doesn’t want to be held down by Google or Apple. Acquiring the platforms of the future is the best way for Facebook to control its own destiny.

Minecraft the Movie: Suggestions for Casting

So Warner Brothers, thrilled with the performance of The Lego Movie, is turning another blocky adventure into a movie — Minecraft! Yes, the popular indie building game is coming to the big screen with the help of Vertigo Entertainment and Lego Movie producer Roy Lee.

I’m not sure what kind of script you can make out of Minecraft, but I immediately knew who I wanted to play some of my favorite characters from the game. These are simply suggestions, nothing more. But if I were casting for this movie….


Human (main character): Denzel Washington
Villager: Ken Watanabe
Creeper: Dennis Rodman
Lava: Bradley Cooper
Water: Jennifer Lawrence
Bedrock: Sandra Bullock
Wrecking ball: Miley Cyrus
Stone block: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Wool: Chewbacca
Ice block: Ice T
Diamond block: Kanye West
Sponge: Spongebob Squarepants
Iron Golem: Vin Diesel
Obsidian: Zoe Saldana


I’m also okay with Dennis Rodman being Enderman, but only if there’s a cameo from Kim Jong Un.

In all seriousness, The Lego Movie was a great success and a great movie, so if Vertigo brings the same approach to Minecraft, it could work. Weirder things have become movies, after all.

Image courtesy of FunnyJunk

The Floodgates Have Opened

temp..yaidgitb The floodgates have just burst open, not just in the world of technology, but in the entire free market. In the very way we view capitalism.

I am, of course, talking about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp for $16 billion ($19 billion when you count the restricted stock units). It is the largest acquisition of a private, venture-backed company in history. This deal is worth more than the GDP of nearly half of the countries on earth. Let that sink in for a moment. We haven’t had an event this high on the Richter scale since AOL-Time Warner and the 2000 bubble.

Of course, the market then isn’t the market now. As my old colleague Chris Taylor intelligently points out, the Facebooks, Googles, Apples and Amazons of the world have grown up. They have billions in cash. They are profitable. They aren’t going anywhere, even if it means acquiring their future threats for $19 billion. Or acquiring one of the world’s most advanced robotics companies. Anything it takes.

Zuckerberg is a rare breed. He’s willing to do anything to make sure Facebook is at the forefront of its mission of connecting people, even if it means giving up 9.5% of his company to do it. He doesn’t care — he thinks about the next 30 years, not the next three. And he has the complete control to make deals like this one. But so does Larry Page. And the same will be true of more and more founders who reach the IPO pinnacle. As Zuckerberg has shown, control is good.

Two years ago, everybody stood shell-shocked when Instagram sold to Facebook for $1 billion. Now we don’t even bat an eye to that number. And with the WhatsApp acquisition, that number is going to continue to look smaller and smaller.

Facebook has opened the floodgates. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. Don’t believe anybody that tells you otherwise.

~ Ben

Announcing “Captivology”, My Book on the Science of Attention (HarperCollins/2015)

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and supporters,

I’m thrilled to announce my first non-fiction book, working title “Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention“, due in early 2015 from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

I hope you will sign up for updates on Captivology through my book’s website. You can follow @Captivology on Twitter or like Captivology on Facebook. You can also follow @BenParr for regular updates. And finally, here’s a link for sharing this announcement.

Or you can just click this lovely button for updates:

Captivology is about the science and psychology of attention; why we pay attention to certain people, products, companies and ideas; and how to capture, maintain and grow attention. My book pairs the research of the world’s greatest scientists and psychologists in attention theory with the stories from the world’s Masters of Attention.

The book dives into topics such as:

  • The role scarcity and working memory play on our attention.
  • How Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto created one of the world’s most iconic characters.
  • The power that framing and salience have in directing our attention.
  • The secret sauce of disruptive campaigns and viral products.
  • Sheryl Sandberg on the power of motivation when it comes to capturing attention.

During the course of my research, I have had the opportunity to interview more than 50 scientists, researchers, experts and Masters of Attention. I’m grateful to thought leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Dr. Alan Baddeley (leading researcher in working memory), Steven Soderbergh (famed director), Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit), Dr. Michael Posner (leading cognitive psychologist), Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn), Adrian Grenier (actor, producer and director), Dr. Eli Finkel (expert on attraction), Grant Imahara (Discovery’s Mythbusters), Susan Cain (NYT bestselling author, Quiet), Jon Armstrong (Magician, Chairman of the Academy of Magical Arts), Dr. John Sweller (leading expert on cognitive load), Alexia Tsostis (Co-Editor, TechCrunch), Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo), Josh Elman (Partner, Greylock), Dr. Dietram Scheufele (Expert on Communications, Framing), Michael Stevens (creator, Vsauce), and many more who have taken time our of their days to chat with me for this book.


Above: A screenshot from my interview with Adrian Grenier and Dr. Thomas De Zengotita. A special thanks to NASDAQ for letting me use their studios for the interview.

If you have suggestions for my book, please email me at ben@captivology.com with your ideas! I’m especially looking for interesting people to interview and unique stories about how you or somebody you know captured the attention of an individual, an audience or the entire world. A major reason we’re announcing the book now is to gather great stories for the book that I might have otherwise missed.

I hope to complete this research-heavy book in the next few months, so please forgive me if I’m much slower than usual responding to your emails, texts and tweets until then.

A Few Other Announcements

I’m working on Captivology on top of my day job as Co-founder and Managing Partner of DominateFund, the early-stage venture capital firm I started last year with Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni. We’ve expanded the fund from its original focus on connecting Hollywood with tech, though that is still a component of what we do. Our focus now is on helping startups capture attention for their products and accelerate their growth through our expertise in five key areas: Strategic Celebrity Partnerships, Press, Marketing, Customer and User Acquisition, and Building Viral Products. The fund is the reason I decided to write this book.

We will be making more announcements about DominateFund in the near future, including several new additions to our team and updates on our amazing portfolio companies.

Because I had all of this on my plate, CNET and I decided to retire The Social Analyst, my column at CNET, last year. I want to thank CNET, and especially Jim Lanzone, Mark Larkin and Jim Kerstetter, for being so supportive of me and my column, for being amazing bosses, and for putting up with me and my hectic schedule.

I won’t be bringing The Social Analyst back. At least, not in its current form. The column, which I started at Mashable in 2009, has been my place to opine on the most pertinent issues in tech. CNET was kind enough to let me continue my column.

I will eventually be back writing columns and thought pieces on a regular basis, but ones that are about more than just technology. There is a mountain of research from my book I want to discuss and advice I want to dispense for every entrepreneur who struggles to get the attention of users or artist who wants to be heard. I also have a lot of other insights in media, entrepreneurship, investing and science I hope to eventually share.

One final announcement — I’m proud to announce that I have signed with the Worldwide Speakers Group, which now represents me for all my speaking engagements. You can check out my speaking topics or book me by sending a message to Keith Lambert at KLambert@wwsg.com or calling WWSG at 703-373-9806. I primarily speak about attention, attention for brands, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

I want to thank a few people right now for all of their help the last few months. Thank you to everybody I’ve interviewed for the book so far. A special thanks to the best agent in all of publishing, David Vigliano, for always having my back. The same is true of Will LoTurco, who works with Vig. Thank you Marcy Simon and Melinda Mullin, for going above and beyond the call of duty for me. Thank you to my editor, Genoveva Llosa, for being just sensational. Thank you to my partners Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni for being my unofficial brothers (Nat, you too). A thank you to Hallie, my badass EA. Thank you to my family (love you mom & dad!), and finally a special thank you to my girlfriend Julie, for being my rock.

Onward and upward!

Thank you for kindness,
~ Ben

Please follow me and Captivology on social media!

(p.s. — Happy birthday, sis!)

Tom Perkins on Bloomberg West [VIDEO]



Good job Emily Chang for a difficult interview. As for Tom Perkins… well, just remember that you can say crazy things on air too when your watch is worth a six pack of Rolexes.

CNN Turns a Terrible Tragedy Into an Upworthy Headline

We’re all doomed.

(Seriously, CNN — you’re better than this.)

Apple Will Regret Not Acquiring Nest

I’ve had some time to digest the big news in tech this week — Google’s monster acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion — and no matter how many times I think about it, I come to the same conclusion: Missing out on Nest will become Apple’s biggest regret of the decade.

I’ve been a big fan of Nest since I first got to play with its innovative thermostat, several months before its official release. Sarah Kessler, the reporter at Mashable who eventually wrote the launch story, and I were both incredibly impressed by the detail Tony Fadell and his team put into the design and intuitive UI of the device.

Fadell is an alum of Apple, and the original designer of the iPod, so the first question everyone seemed to ask was, “Why didn’t Apple acquire Nest?” From what I’ve heard, Apple never made any serious bid for Nest, even when it was clear Google was closing in on the deal.

I get why Google acquired Nest and Apple didn’t. Google specializes in moonshots. It isn’t afraid to expand into wearable computers, robotics, and life extension. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t acquire new products — it acquires the technology it needs to improve its existing pipeline. That’s why you see Apple acquire semiconductor companies and Google acquire Boston Dynamics.

But in this case, I think Apple made a mistake, for two simple reasons:

1) Google is far more dangerous with Nest: Google isn’t particularly adept yet at building consumer hardware, despite its acquisition of Motorola. The new Moto X phones are great, but they still don’t beat the iPhone. Nest, however, is incredibly adept at designing consumer products. I suspect Nest’s existing products — the thermostat and smoke detector — are about to get a big boost, but I also believe that you will see Nest’s influence in everything from Google Glass to future products for the home.

A Google fridge? A Google watch? A Google security system? These are no longer out of the realm of possibility.

Sometimes offense means playing the best defense. Apple handed Google multiple avenues for growth and a dangerously talented team of hardware designers. Apple will regret letting Google steal away that talent.

2) Nest could have presented Apple with new avenues for growth: Apple is under pressure for not launching new product lines and driving up growth. Nest, by every measure, is and has been growing. With Apple’s distribution, it could have boosted Nest’s product lines considerably while lowering manufacturing costs. And unlike 99% of the products on the market, Nest products actually look and feel like Apple products.

If there was a company they could have integrated well into Apple, it was Nest.

Apple will be fine, of course. It’ll launch a new product line this year (a watch or a TV) and it’ll be a hit. But Google grows as a threat every single year. Right now, Larry Page looks like the visionary who is leaving Tim Cook in the dust.

Google now has a dangerous weapon it can use against Apple. Apple will regret not doing more to disarm Google.

Congratulations, You Just Won the Lottery! How Not to Be An Asshole With Your New Wealth

lottery

Congratulations are in order!

After some completely appropriate late afternoon drinking at the bar with the love of your life who has friendzone’d you to hell, you stumbled into a convenience store to buy a pity cigarette, but instead bought a lottery ticket that is now worth $650 million!

Now that you’re wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, I can understand the impulse to give half of it away and spend the other half on your dream yacht, the “S.S. More Powerful Than Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk Put Together.” I mean, you can afford it now, right?

WRONG!

I, your friendly neighborhood financial advisor*, have some important advice you need to heed if you don’t want to become these people. Or these people.

My point is that it’s easy to flush that money down the toilet. So if you want to keep your money, make sure your children go to college AND buy your dream yacht, THEN LISTEN UP!

1. Call your accountant! Before you claim your prize, call your accountant and make sure you go over the financial costs and benefits of taking your millions in wealth all at once or in annual installments over 30+years. Ideally you want to take the lump sum, because you can invest it, but if you have the self-control of a mouse in a house made of cheese, then you might want to take the installments because YOU HAVE NO SELF CONTROL.

If you don’t have an accountant, GO GET ONE YOU IDIOT.

2. Coincidentally, I suggest going to some self control classes ASAP! You’ll thank me later.

3. Find the Batman, Superman and Spider-man… of finance. You’re going to need attorneys, financial planners and a great accountant to tell you that you’re a moron.

4. Prepare for the press! Those bastards are going to call you, hound you and ask you day and night what you’re going to do with your money. You don’t have a choice in this — almost every state makes its lottery winners public. Nobody likes a bragger, so I suggest not doing a lot of press unless you’re trying to audition for Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Then go nuts!

5. Pay off your bills, then don’t touch your money for six months! Remember, you have the self-control of a monkey living on a moon made out of bananas. So pay off your bills, take a tiny bit extra for a couple nice meals, and PUT THAT SHIT AWAY! Spending the money will lessen in priority if you can stay away from it for a few months. DON’T TOUCH YOUR CHEESE/BANANA!

6. How to handle people asking you for money. Everyone is going to ask you for money. Your mom, your long-lost cousin, the love of your life who had previously friendzone’d you but now can’t stop talking about your cute dimples, your best friend who claims he doesn’t care about money, your dog, etc. But they’re not entitled to your money! In fact, you sort of aren’t either, but whatever, you bought the ticket.

Set a specific amount PER YEAR aside for giving. This includes family, friends and charity. Give your financial advisor the power to say “FUCK NO” when you try to give $1.5M to your new supermodel boyfriend/girlfriend for his/her new Bugatti Veyron. And tell your friends that your financial advisor controls your money, so you have an excuse for not giving them Bugatti Veyrons as well!

Oh, and for the first six months, DON’T GIVE ANYBODY ANYTHING. You have about as much self-control as a puppy in a forest made of bacon.

One more thing: you can increase your charitable giving after five years, when you’ve learned some self-control with your money.

7. Seriously, why haven’t you gone to self-control class yet? You need it!

8. Budget, budget, budget! Listen to your financial advisor, assuming he doesn’t have an evil mustache and cackles every other sentence. Budget that money, save lots of it for your future family and their educations, put more away for emergencies in a place you’ll forget for 50 years, and live modestly! Nobody likes a show-off, especially one that didn’t earn his money.

8. Remember, you didn’t earn this money. You ain’t Elon Musk. You didn’t build PayPal, Tesla or an awesome space company! You got very, very, very, very** lucky.

So you have some karma to give back to the universe. A lot of karma. This is your responsibility now. It’s your responsibility to make sure your money lasts so you can keep giving to charity and helping others. You have a responsibility not to spoil your kids, but instead teach them upstanding moral values and make them good stewards of your millions. You have a responsibility to be active in your community.

You have a responsibility NOT to buy that goddamn yacht! why do you keep obsessing over that thing, anyway? You’re never gonna use the damn thing anyway.

9. How not to be an asshole with your money. Oh yes, the most important part! How not to be a dickhead with your money. It’s simple, really: remember that your actions are your legacy.

Use the money to build a homeless shelter and a children’s hospital? Karma points, especially if you don’t try to be a dick about it and plaster your name everywhere. Use the money to buy your kids experimental hovercrafts and monocles? Asshole alert!

But in all seriousness, your actions are your legacy, whether or not you have millions. So don’t let luck or success get to your head. And for god sakes, go to your self-control classes already.

~ Ben

*I am not your financial advisor. I’m not legally responsible if your money disappears in Las Vegas via a high-stakes poker match between you and Phil Ivy.

**very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very

Image courtesy of USA Today/Getty.

Snapchat and the Logic of Turning Down $3 Billion

In July 2006, a two-year-old company received the offer of a lifetime: a $1 billion acquisition offer from Yahoo. While its board was ready to accept the offer, its founder and CEO instantly dismissed the offer. “I don’t know what I could do with the money,” the CEO said. “I’d just start another social networking site. I kind of like the one I already have.”

That company, of course, is Facebook, and the CEO is Mark Zuckerberg. Today, that decision seems wise, considering the company’s current $118 billion market cap. Zuckerberg has cemented his place among the greatest entrepreneurs of all time as a result.

But nobody would have blamed Zuckerberg if he had sold to Yahoo in 2006, just as nobody can blame Kevin Systrom for selling Instagram for $1B. While Instagram has thrived since its acquisition, it’s easy to see how it could have become a Groupon, whose decision to spurn Google’s $6B acquisition offer seems flawed in hindsight.

Today, the rumors are flying around Snapchat, the hot new mobile social networking startup with millions of users and hundreds of millions of “snaps” and growing. It reportedly spurned a $3B all-cash acquisition offer from Facebook recently.

My Twitter stream is filled with commentary on the rumor that boils down to either “I’d take $3B” or “the founders of Snapchat have balls”. But let’s put the mindset of the founders into context, because while turning down a $3B acquisition offer is unfathomable to most of us, it makes logical sense for Snapchat.

1) Snapchat is still growing rapidly: If Snapchat’s growth were slowing down, the decision to sell would be significantly harder. But when you’re sitting on a fast-growing entity that should only increase in value, taking a $3B offer can look small in just a few months.

2) The founders will cash out regardless: From the last line of the WSJ report: “If Snapchat pursues an investment early next year, Spiegel has told investors he would like to sell a block of his own stock, according to people familiar with those conversations.”

Spiegel and his team are going to make millions either way — more than enough to live a happy and comfortable life. It frees the team to “go the distance” because even if Snapchat totally collapses, they will never have to worry about money again.

3) The chance to become one of the greats: Q: How do you become the next Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs? A: You take your company all the way to IPO.

Changing the world is certainly on the minds of the founders of Snapchat. So is legacy. While you can certainly change the world as part of a larger company, it’s easier to fulfill your vision when you’re CEO. These thoughts must certainly slide through the thoughts of the founders. They’re only human.

Turning down billions of dollars seems insane on the surface, but can have a payout far greater than money if you succeed. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg.

Regardless of your opinion of Snapchat, it’s tough to blame the founders for wanting to hit the Grand Slam. They have a rare opportunity to build a legacy and change the way people communicate. I wish them the best of luck.

My Thoughts on BlackBerry’s Dismal Future on CNBC [VIDEO]

It’s no secret that I am a bear on BlackBerry. Maybe that’s why we let the fireworks fly while on CNBC today.

On CNBC’s Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo, I fought with John Spallanzani of GFI Group on whether Fairfax would be able to raise the billions needed to take the company private and the future of BlackBerry in general.

I’ll just say this: only one of us was right in this debate.

Check out the 5 minute mark for my favorite part of the segment, and let me know whether you think BlackBerry will survive in the comments.