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On-demand trucking startup Convoy parts ways with 3 business leaders, adds new execs

Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis, CEO, and Grant Goodale, CTO, inside the company’s Seattle headquarters. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Three business leaders have exited Seattle-based Convoy in recent weeks even as the heavily funded on-demand trucking startup has added new executives to position itself for further growth.

The departed leaders include Chief Business Officer Grant Ries, who left the company in September, as well as VP of Business Operations Fahad Hassan and Head of Sales Michael Hopkins, both of whom parted ways with the company in mid-October, GeekWire has learned.

Hassan responded to GeekWire’s inquiry with this emailed statement: “I’ve recently parted ways with Convoy. I’ve had a great experience the last several years and feel fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with such a talented, diverse, and world class team. I will miss my colleagues and I know Convoy will have nothing but success going forward.”

Convoy declined to comment on the departures. Reached by phone, Hopkins and Ries confirmed that they were no longer with Convoy, but they declined to comment further.

Ries is a veteran entrepreneur and executive who invested in Convoy before he took an executive role at the company. He previously co-founded cloud technology startup BlueKai and served as that company’s CTO until it was acquired by Oracle in 2014. He then served as the VP of Oracle Data Cloud. He served as Convoy’s Chief Business Officer for just over a year.

Hassan had been with Convoy for more than two years and was previously an entrepreneur in the education technology space, founding two startups that were acquired.

Hopkins had been with the company the shortest amount of time, just under a year. Before joining Convoy, he worked in sales leadership at senior living information service A Place For Mom.

Recent executive additions at Convoy include the company’s new general counsel, Diankha Linear, and the promotion of two existing leaders, Brooks McMahon and Adarsh Nair, to new executive roles. The company says it will be announcing other senior-level executive additions soon.

Diankha Linear has been named Convoy’s new general counsel. (Convoy Photo)

Linear joins Convoy from Nordstrom, where she served as the senior director of the retailer’s legal department for more than four years. Her prior work includes roles with Perkins Coie, the U.S. Army Reserve and the U.S. Department of Education.

“I was attracted by Convoy’s mission to transport the world with endless capacity and zero waste,” Linear said in a statement. “Convoy is a great example of a company harnessing technology to move a massive industry forward and I look forward to joining such a strong, dedicated and accomplished team.”

Convoy is also promoting two existing leaders to new executive roles. A former Microsoft and Marchex leader, Nair is now serving as VP of growth. Former Marchex and TINYPulse executive McMahon is now Convoy’s VP of business development and partnerships.

Convoy has rocketed to prominence since it was founded in 2015. It has raised a total of $80 million from the likes of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Code.org founders Hadi and Ali Partovi, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and many more. It was also voted Startup of the Year by GeekWire readers in the 2017 GeekWire Awards. The company has been described as the “Uber for trucking,” using technology to connect truckers with assignments, traditionally a slow and time-intensive process.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be at Convoy. In the past six months we’ve grown to over 160 employees and we’ve expanded our services into the Midwest and Northeast,” said Convoy co-founder and CEO Dan Lewis in a statement. “Our company is built on strong values that reflect our culture, and we always strive to make decisions that uphold and promote them. As we grow and scale, we are excited about the future and very confident in our team and the new leadership coming on board to help us grow and expand in 2018 and beyond.”

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Startup Spotlight: Can a machine learn to laugh? Botnik crosses a comedian with AI to find out

Jamie Brew and Elle O’Brien, the Seattle-based half of Botnik. Bob Mankoff and Joseph Parker are based in New York and Florida, respectively. (Botnik Photo)

If the game Cards Against Humanity and those refrigerator poetry magnets had a digital baby bestowed with machine learning, it would look something like Botnik. This Seattle-based startup is actually the comedic offspring of Jamie Brew, previously a head writer for ClickHole, a satirical website connected to The Onion, and Bob Mankoff, cartoon and humor editor of Esquire and former cartoon editor of The New Yorker.

“Bob and I started Botnik after a series of long phone calls converging on the idea that comedy writing isn’t a problem that an algorithm can solve,” Brew said. “We didn’t really care for fully automatic creativity (such as Google DeepMind’s attempt to win The New Yorker Caption Contest) and were far more interested in human-machine collaboration.”

Botnik builds a “predictive keyboard” of words taken from various sources — beauty ads, nature shows, famous poets, dialogue from “Seinfeld” episodes and even combinations of sources, including the unlikely triumvirate that is Beowulf/Maya Angelou/forklift manual. Botnik users can enter their own source to create a keyboard.

The program analyzes the sentences in the source to build a model of which words are likely to follow each other. Then a user calls up a keyboard and starts creating her or his own computer-assisted quips. As each word is selected, the Botnik app churns out 18 choices for the next word based on the highest probability of continuing the sequence.

The results are almost universally quirky, and they’re often funny and clever. Last month, Brew and friends used the app to write a parody episode of “Seinfeld” and the script went viral on Twitter.

Botnik users can test the tool and their comedic chops through writing jams. Past topics include Buzzfeed quizzes, which begat, “Can You Match These Disney Princess Outfits To The Mental Illnesses They Reveal?” and Halloween safety tips, one answer being: “The bible says that children love when we dress them like pumpkins and eat their regular clothes.”

A spoof on Wired reviews inspired some gems, including, “If you asked 1,000 people what innovation is, the seventh would say ‘jeans with bluetooth’” and “The iPhone 8’s 2½-gallon bucket is a wonderful addition. It holds a lot of caramel.”

“We want to show the world an emerging kind of machine-human creative collaboration that brings us great joy,” Brew said, “and that we believe can do the same for billions of others.”

Botnik, which launched last year, was one of nine early-stage startups that recently participated in the first-ever Alexa Accelerator. The budding companies spent three months building their B2C and B2B technologies that incorporate Alexa, Amazon’s popular artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered voice platform.

The team plans in the future to sell ads and offer modular in-app purchases and a “freemium” versioning of the app.

We caught up with Brew for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Botnik is a community where people use computational language tools to remix and transform existing content into new jokes, stories, screenplays and more.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Google DeepMind tried and failed to enter The New Yorker Caption Contest, and Bob saw that the computer comedy world was desolate and empty. Then, after reading an interview where Bob mentioned Botnik, Rodrigo Prudencio of Amazon reached out and invited us to apply for this summer’s Alexa Accelerator.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Angels. We keep seeing their faces in all our pieces of toast.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our community of coders, comedy writers and ordinary citizens working together to explore the wilds of human-machine collaboration.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Finding an amazing mentor in Jean Paoli, an ex-Microsoft leader and one of the inventors of XML.”

One of the quips created by Botnik’s users, shared by Brew at the Alexa Accelerator. (GeekWire File Photo)

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Poorly framing our product in our first round of user testing. We gave people the predictive keyboard loaded with stuff like Yelp reviews and expected them to figure out on their own that this tool would help them write an absurd parody of Yelp reviews. This did not work.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Gates, for a triumphant exit.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Jamie repeatedly losing to Bob at ping pong.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “A deep love for — and suspicion of — both machines and people.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Work with people you can talk with for hours. And invest in Botnik.”

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Amazon reports $1.3B in physical store sales, breaking out brick-and-mortar business for first time, still dwarfed by $26.4B online sales

Whole Foods
Amazon’s newly acquired Whole Foods Market in South Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

A new section of Amazon’s quarterly earnings report reflects the company’s growing ambitions for physical retail.

RELATED: Amazon crushes profit expectations, sales rise 34% to $43.7B, stock up 7%

The Seattle-based company, which saw shares rise 7 percent after crushing profit expectations for the third quarter, now includes a “physical stores” break-out under its net sales financial data.

For the third quarter, Amazon reported $1.27 billion for physical store sales — still a small fraction of the company’s $26.4 billion in quarterly online sales, but the fact that Amazon is breaking this out is significant.

On an earnings call with reporters, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said that number is primarily made up of sales from Whole Foods between Aug. 28 — when Amazon completed its $13.7 billion acquisition of the grocery company — and the end of the quarter. Sales from Amazon’s physical bookstores are also included as part of this new section.

“It’s sales where customers are physically selecting items in a store, versus perhaps ordering online and picking up somewhere,” Olsavsky said of the ‘physical stores’ section. “For us, that is principally going to be Whole Foods and Amazon Books. And then as we develop other formats over time, we could see other items in that category.”

The highlighted “physical stores” section in Amazon’s financial reporting appeared for the first time on Thursday.

Olsavsky’s comments indicate Amazon’s continued interest in growing its physical retail footprint that now includes 465 Whole Foods stores and a dozen bookstores.

Amazon clearly sees opportunity to combine its massive digital presence and tech prowess with brick-and-mortar retail. For example, the company has already installed Amazon Locker package pickup hubs at Whole Foods locations, and plans to integrate its Prime membership program for customers shopping at the grocer.

Prime members also get discounted prices at the bookstores, which sell Amazon devices like the Echo voice assistant and Fire TV.

Amazon opened its first bookstore in November 2015 at Seattle’s University Village shopping center and now has additional locations across the U.S. It plans to add three additional bookstores in Walnut Creek, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Washington D.C.

The new Amazon Books store in the Bellevue Square mall. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

The company is also testing other physical grocery concepts with two AmazonFresh Pickup sites and the experimental Amazon Go store in Seattle. It has also opened pop-up shops in malls around the country for the past several years and installed vending machines at airports.

In another example of the overlap between physical and digital, Amazon added hundreds of Whole Foods items to its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service after the acquisition. There’s now a Whole Foods online storefront on Amazon’s website.

A New York Times report from February noted that Amazon was exploring the possibility of new retail outlets in categories including furniture, home appliances and electronics.

Amazon’s growth in physical retail raises natural concerns among many of the same traditional retailers whose businesses have been undercut by the company’s online domination. In a special report on the company from this past March, The Economist cites the possibility of new regulatory scrutiny for the company in the future. “If Amazon does become a utility for commerce, the calls will grow for it to be regulated as one,” the magazine concludes. “Shareholders are right to believe in Amazon’s potential. But success will bring it into conflict with an even stronger beast: government.”

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson speaks at the 2017 GeekWire Summit in Seattle. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

Amazon isn’t the only retail company thinking about how to bring together digital and physical. Speaking at the 2017 GeekWire Summit, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson talked about how the coffee giant is both increasing its physical footprint while building out new digital technologies.

Johnson, a respected veteran tech executive who replaced Howard Schultz as CEO last year, said that there are now more brick-and-mortar retail stores in the U.S. that can be supported. He said this disruption highlights two things for retailers to consider.

“One, you must be focused on experiential retail that creates an experience in your store that becomes a destination for the customer,” Johnson explained. “And number two, you have to extend that experience from brick-and-mortar to a digital-mobile relationship. So our approach to this is investing in elevating the experience we create in our stores, and investing in the digital-mobile connection we have with our customers.”

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Alphabet stock on the rise as Google parent beats Wall Street expectations with $27.7B in revenue

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (Flickr Photo / Maurizio Pesce)

Shares in Google parent company Alphabet are up after the company exceeded Wall Street expectations in the third quarter.

Alphabet posted earnings of $9.57 per share on $27.7 billion in revenue in the third quarter. Analyst surveyed in advance by Yahoo Finance expected Alphabet to make $8.33 per share on revenue of $27.2 billion.

“We had a terrific quarter, with revenues up 24% year on year, reflecting strength across Google and Other Bets,” Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet said in a statement. “Our momentum is a result of investments over many years in fantastic people, products and partnerships.”

Alphabet shares are up 3 percent in after-hours trading, pushing the stock above $1,000.

The Google business (search, ads, maps, apps, cloud, Play, YouTube, Android, virtual reality, etc.) was responsible for operating profits of $8.7 billion, up from $6.7 billion last year, on $27.5 billion in revenue, up from $22.2 billion a year ago. Advertising continues to be a cash cow for Alphabet, with $24 billion in revenue, up from $19.8 billion at this time last year.

Google’s “Other Bets” division, which includes some of the company’s riskier projects, took a $812 million loss on $302 million in revenue. Those figures are an improvement on last year, when Other Bets took a loss of $861 million on $197 million in revenue.

It’s been a busy quarter for Google. In September, the company announced it signed a $1.1 billion “cooperation agreement” with HTC, the Taiwan-based consumer electronics company, as it looks to amp up its smartphone business. The deal sends “certain” HTC employees to work at Google and gives the search giant a non-exclusive license for HTC intellectual property. Google described the transaction as “continuing our big bet on hardware.”

The company also announced a new slate of smart speakers powered by the Google Assistant, as well as the next generation of its Pixel smartphone. Google this week released the $49 Google Home Mini, the company’s answer to the Amazon Echo Dot, and in December the $399 Google Home Max will hit the streets.

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Soviet Week: One Hundred Years of Insanity

The centennial we are observing this month—the solemn anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution—is the anniversary of a logical absurdity and its consequences. The Bolshevik takeover of Russia came about as a matter of chance; and was interpreted as a matter of destiny. The event was predicted by no one at all; and rested its prestige on a reputation for having fulfilled the well-known predictions of Karl Marx. The absurdity of those contradictions constituted the Bolshevik mystique. And, in the greatest absurdity of all, the appeal of that mystique turned out to be spectacularly vast.

The revolution that overthrew the czar earlier in the year, in February 1917, was entirely different. In Russia, everyone except the czar himself and his courtiers and the circles of black reaction knew that czarism, the social system, was shaky in the extreme, and was bound to collapse. Everyone recognized the strength and popularity of the main opposition parties, the Social Democrats (or Mensheviks) and the peasant Social Revolutionaries. Everyone, the czar and his circle excepted, therefore predicted the February Revolution. It duly occurred, and no one was astonished. The czar abdicated. The big opposition parties assumed power. The opposition parties began the process that, in the expectation of a great many participants and observers, was going to bring Russia in a Western European direction, secular, parliamentary, and vaguely liberal. And no one anticipated that a tiny dictatorial faction of the revolutionary left was going to overthrow the democratic parties and institute an exceptionally terrible despotism of a sort that had never existed in the past—something truly novel. Lenin himself did not expect such a development. Until the spring of 1917, Lenin never imagined that a Bolshevik seizure of power would be possible. Nor did he think it was advisable, nor did any of his comrades.

Continue reading “Soviet Week: One Hundred Years of Insanity” at…

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Today on Jewcy: Nazi-hunting video game protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz is officially an M.O.T.

Like a vaguely exotic Golden Age film star, rumors have been circulating for years if William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz is secretly Jewish. Of course, Blazkowicz isn’t an actor, or even a real person; he’s the Nazi-fighting star of the hit video game franchise Wolfenstein, first appearing on screen twenty five years ago. And now, we finally have our answer.

Click here to read the full post on Jewcy.

Continue reading “Today on Jewcy: Nazi-hunting video game protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz is officially an M.O.T.” at…

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An Israeli Won Gold in Judo in Abu Dhabi. They Refused to Play His National Anthem—So He Sang It Himself.

Today, Israeli Tal Flicker won Gold in Judo at the Grand Slam competition in Abu Dhabi. In contravention of the rules and explicit directives of the International Judo Federation, Flicker and all other Israeli athletes in the tournament were forbidden to compete under the Israeli flag. Thus, when Flicker ascended the winners podium, not only was his flag not displayed, but the organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem, substituting instead the anthem of the International Judo Federation.

And so Flicker quietly sang the Israeli anthem, HaTikvah, himself.

Continue reading “An Israeli Won Gold in Judo in Abu Dhabi. They Refused to Play His National Anthem—So He Sang It Himself.” at…

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In New Book, Rutgers Professor Accuses Israel of Maiming Palestinians for Profit

Next month, Duke University Press will publish The Right to Maim, a new book from Rutgers University professor Jasbir K. Puar. A passionate advocate of BDS who had previously accused Israel of harvesting the organs of Palestinians and who threatened to sue anyone who published her talk at Vassar earlier this year, Puar, to say the least, is a controversial figure. But books, even ones written by academics, deserve to be taken on their own merit. And, on its own merit, Puar’s book is an intellectual and moral hoax, a bit of sizzling sophistry designed to stir the faithful into a frenzy of outrage divorced of any and all observable reality.

The section of the book that deals with Israel makes the following claim: The Jewish state’s efforts to refrain from killing innocent Palestinians—everything from the IDF’s cautious open-fire protocols to the “roof knock” policy of warning civilians prior to bombing attacks—are actually a devious scheme to strengthen the stranglehold Israel’s colonialist regime has on its Palestinian subjects.

Continue reading “In New Book, Rutgers Professor Accuses Israel of Maiming Palestinians for Profit” at…

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H. Alan Scott Grew Up Gay and Mormon in the Midwest. Now He’s About to Become Bar Mitzvah, and He Needs Your Help.

As Jews, we’re obligated to love all other Jews. There’s no rule, however, about loving some Jews more than others. And as far as lovable Jews go, the Scroll pledges its undying affection to H. Alan Scott.

If you listen to our podcast, Unorthodox (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you’re already a fan of H. Alan’s. If not, you’ll soon be: Growing up Mormon and gay in the Midwest, he was the consummate outsider. He moved to Los Angeles, became a comedian and a writer and the host of the world’s greatest Golden Girls podcast, but something was amiss. A bout with cancer led him on a long spiritual journey. And that journey led him to the faith he always felt was his: Judaism.

Continue reading “H. Alan Scott Grew Up Gay and Mormon in the Midwest. Now He’s About to Become Bar Mitzvah, and He Needs Your Help.” at…

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Even while the world suffers, investing in science is non-negotiable (Synopsis)

“I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope.” –Albert Schweitzer

Every so often, the argument comes up that science is expendable. That we’re simply investing too much of our resources — too much public money — into an endeavor with no short-term benefits. Meanwhile, there’s suffering of all kinds, from poverty to disease to war to natural disasters, plaguing humanity all across the country and our world. Yet even while there is suffering in the world, investing in our long-term future is indispensable. This story is nothing new.

To invest in any one thing means to not invest in something else, but both science/space exploration and humanitarian relief are worthy of the investment of human resources. Image credit: NASA and WFP / Q. Sakamaki.

Back in 1970, shortly after the first Moon landing, a nun working to alleviate poverty in Africa, Sister Mary Jucunda, wrote to NASA, and begged them to stop this frivolous waste of resources, and instead to use their funding for the benefit of humanity. The letter made it all the way to Ernst Stuhlinger, then the Associate Director of Science at NASA. Stuhlinger’s response was all at once compassionate and convincing, and helped convince Jucunda — as well as skeptics everywhere — of the value that science has to offer.

The first view with human eyes of the Earth rising over the limb of the Moon. This was perhaps the greatest moment in education / public outreach for NASA until the first moon landing, and it was the picture that Stuhlinger sent to Sister Jucunda with the above letter. Image credit: NASA / Apollo 8.

Come see the full story, and read Stuhlinger’s complete, original letter, on the non-negotiable value of science to our world!

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