The Silicon Valley-driven tech craze has sparked yet another branch—disruption of the church. A new startup based in Denmark, called ChurchDesk, has created a software platform that helps clergy better administer their operations. Both churches and the startups realised that parish priests were wasting too much time on administration and were not spending enough on preaching and reaching new audiences. Both sides felt this was part of the reason that church attendance has dropped globally. Some other startups, like Kaleo, allow clergy to better and more efficiently accept collections, which in many parishes has boosted overall donations by 40%. So far, ChurchDesk has succeeded in signing up 25% of its home market—500 churches—for a flat monthly fee of €149. Interestingly, the founders of ChurchDesk are not Christian themselves, and argue that from their view this is essential, believing that one could only effectively overhaul church operations by truly looking from the outside in.
FINSUM: Religious institutions, in all their forms, were long major drivers of business, but have long since been forgotten as clients in many industries. It looks like the clever tech industry has yet again found a new market.
In a lengthy article yesterday, Google announced that like Amazon, it was planning to enter the drone delivery space. The company’s approach would be similar, but different to Amazon’s, and was developed over two years with an MIT professor. The service, codenamed ‘Project Wing”, would deliver packages using a miniature helicopter, and instead of landing, the drone would lower parcels via a kind of fishing line from 150ft above. The project comes as part of a broader push by Google to enter the robotics space, which already includes a serious venture into driverless cars. However, despite the recent frenzy over drone delivery, the US’ FAA has so far taken a dim view of the propositions, and has already turned down one application from a Minnesota company seeking to delivery beer to ice fishermen via drone.
FINSUM: It seems like Google and Amazon are very serious about these projects, and it feels likely that they will ultimately be able to come to some agreement with the FAA. What is worrying, however, is that you do not hear FedEx, UPS, and DHL doing the same thing—they are the ones who are really under threat.
Unbeknownst to outsiders, Hungary has always been at the vanguard of technology uptake—the country had phone-based mobile internet in 1991—and this story proves that trend is continuing. This week Budapest unveiled its first Bitcoin-based ATM, where customers can upload cash and digitally convert it into Bitcoin. The installation completes a network of 20 Bitcoin ATMs across Europe. Bitcoin ATM founder Barnabas Debreczen says that he understands that right now the product has limited interest, but he believes that one day the currency will be used by everybody, everywhere, from taxi drivers, to policeman, “to my mom”. The Hungarian Central Bank has warned on the risk of digital currencies, but Istvan Varga, a former central bank official, this week endorsed Bitcoin, believing it safe, and saying that it would “become a natural part of our everyday lives”.
FINSUM: Bitcoin is headed in so many directions right now that it is hard to get a handle on where and how it might actually be successful. Despite the recent regulatory rulings, which seemed to diminish it as a payment currency, the retail market has been surprisingly quick in adopting Bitcoin, with several global companies now accepting it.
This interesting article in Newsweek examines the history of the doomed Russian tech industry, and shows how president Putin has crushed it latest intervention with his aggressive policies. Soviet data scientists were often seen as extremely brilliant programmers. They were limited by weak technology, but as such, had to develop extremely clever programs and algorithms to work around their technological constraints. After the fall of communism, the 1990s held much promise for young tech companies, and some flourished, but many fell victim to the suffocating economic environment of the time. More recently, Russian tech firms had been doing well, with hundreds of companies receiving venture capital backing—2013 saw 245 Russian startups get such backing. The companies were already struggling to deal with the corruption and closed nature of the economy, but since March of this year, when Putin’s tactics in Ukraine led to western sanctions, the startups have become pariahs, with funding and partnerships drying up. All contact with the outside has essentially dried up, and now there are rumours a firewall is being developing to block all digital access into and out of Russia.
FINSUM: While this story holds little in the way of direct financial consequences for public markets, it is a good piece for understanding the prevailing economic climate of Russia over the last two decades.
Much attention has been paid to Google’s new push towards driverless cars, but a new development being tested in Michigan will likely prove a landmark change in automotive technology long before an automated car hits the road. The University of Michigan is currently road testing a car-to-car communication system which would be able to warn drivers of dangers unseen. For instance, if a car several spaces ahead of you on a highway has to slam on its brakes, but is obscured from your vision, the system would allow the panic-breaking car to instantaneously send a signal to all around it to slow. Additionally,, even traffic lights and roads will be connected, so the whole system will be integrative. The system would warn drivers through special dashboard warning lights. The NHTSA, the US’ automotive regulator, is a major proponent of the technology, and is expected to make the new system compulsory for every new car in the next few years. This means that within five years, every new car on the road would be communicating ten times a second and streaming data to one another.
FINSUM: Two thoughts occur on this story: firstly, this does seem like it could be a major safety breakthrough, as cars could warn each other of dangers before drivers would ever have known they were there; secondly, there will likely be major privacy issues here. The cars will be sending speed data to each other, so what is to stop the local authorities from ticketing cars for speeding or running stop signs based on data sent by one’s own car?
This article, run in the New York Times, reflects on the curious rebirth of the startup delivery sector. Prior to the dotcom crash of the early 2000s, Silicon Valley was replete with startups who were attempting to provide same day delivery in several different verticals—from movies rentals and ice cream (Kozmo.com), to general goods (Webvan). More recently, the valley has seen a resurgence of such businesses, but they are supposedly different this time, no longer having to deal with so much physical infrastructure, like warehouses and vans, but using high technology to facilitate smooth exchange. Instacart, a growing startup, says that is has no literally no physical infrastructure, and benefits form the network effect—the fact that nearly every home and delivery driver has a constant and instantaneous internet connection, making it much easier to run a fluid system. However, all new companies still struggle with the most difficult and expensive part of any delivery business—the last few miles. Getting goods from a city center or depot to far flung addresses is still hard and costly.
FINSUM: This is quite an interesting reflective story focused both on how investment history repeats itself, and whether this sector can survive. If the young companies can control costs, this sector could benefit everyone.