Philo’s low-cost TV service expands its lineup with Cheddar, Tastemade, and PeopleTV

Following the new trend among streaming TV services to combine digital-first channels with traditional TV content, Philo today announced it’s expanding its live TV service with the addition of Cheddar Big News, People TV, and Tastemade. The Tastemade channel goes live today, with the other two shortly after.

Philo is a relative newcomer to the streaming TV market, having launched its service in November following its early endeavors as an on-campus TV provider. Its $16-per-month option is designed for cord cutters who care more about entertainment than they do sports.

By ditching sports programming, Philo undercut its competitors to become one of the cheapest ways to watch traditional cable TV channels, like A&E, AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, Investigation Discovery (ID), Lifetime, MTV, TLC, Travel Channel, VH1, Viceland and others.

It also later added an expansion pack for $4 more per month that adds nine more channels, while still providing a 30-day cloud DVR and the ability to stream in HD on up to 3 devices at once.

Despite its affordable pricing, Philo is still something of an unknown in a market where even big brands like YouTube TV and Hulu are having to spend large marketing budgets just to create awareness around their live TV offerings. YouTube TV, for example, became a sponsor for the NBA Finals and the World Series to spread the word.

A new angle these services are trying now is to add on digital channels to bring in the internet audience. In April, YouTube TV added its first digital-only networks with the launch of two channels from Cheddar, followed in May by the additions of Tastemade and The Young Turks. Hulu, too, recently added Cheddar. Meanwhile, Sling TV already offers Cheddar, as does Pluto.

These additions also serve as a cheap way to offer viewers more programming, without having to increase prices. The same hold true for Philo, which is keeping the same rates as before, following the expansion.

“We built Philo for everyone who feels like TV was no longer serving them, and this is one more way we can stand apart,” said Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, in a statement.

As for gaining exposure, that’s a harder nut to crack. Philo’s newest attempt here is a just launched referral program, offering a $5 credit for each referral, and $5 for the person referred.

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AWS releases graph database service Amazon Neptune

Amazon Web Services has announced Amazon Neptune is now generally available. Amazon Neptune is a fully managed graph database service designed to store and navigate connected data. The company first announced the database at its AWS re:Invent conference last year.

“Delivered as a fully managed database, Amazon Neptune frees customers to focus on their applications rather than tedious undifferentiated operations like maintenance, patching, backups, and restores. The service supports fast-failover, point-in-time recovery, and Multi-AZ deployments for high availability,” Randall Hunt, senior technical evangelist at AWS, wrote at the time.

According to Hunt, Neptune enables developers to create complex, interactive graph applications “that can query billions of relationships with millisecond latency.”

The service is built to automatically replicate six copies of data across three availability zones and continuously backs up data to Amazon Simple Storage Service,. It features the ability to provide greater than 99.99 percent availability; automatically detects and recovers from most database failures in under 30 seconds; and provide advanced security capabilities, such as network security through Amazon Virtual Private Cloud and encryption at rest using AWS Key Management Service (KMS). In addition, it supports Property Graph and RDF

“The days of modern technology companies using relational databases for all of their workloads have come and gone,” said Raju Gulabani, vice president of databases, analytics, and machine learning at AWS. “As the world has become more connected, applications that navigate large, connected datasets are increasingly more critical for customers. We are delighted to give customers a high-performance graph database service that enables developers to query billions of relationships in milliseconds using standard APIs, making it easy to build and run applications that work with highly connected datasets.”

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Scout.fm turns podcasts into personalized talk radio

Scout.fm wants to change the way people listen to podcasts. Instead of scouring through the over 500,000 available shows available in your current podcast app, this startup’s new curated podcast service will just ask you a few questions to find out what you like, then create a podcast station customized to you. The experience is primarily designed for use on smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices, but is also available as iOS and Android applications.

The company was founded just over a year ago by Cara Meverden (CEO), previously of Google, Twitter, Indiegogo, and Medium; along with Saul Carlin (President and COO), previously Head of Publisher Development at Medium, and before that, Politico; and Daniel McCartney, (CTO) previously an engineer at GrubHub, Klout and Medium.

At Medium, Meverden explains, they saw an explosion of people creating great written content; but now those publishers had begun to create great audio content, as well.

But unlike on Medium, which helps to guide readers to topics they like, people today have to seek out new podcasts for themselves. Scout.fm wants to offer a better system, and hopefully bring more listeners to podcasts as a result.

“We want to take podcast listening mainstream,” she says. “We think the key to that is making podcasts as easy to listen to as the radio – and we think that’s even more critically important, as we enter the smart speaker era.” 

The Scout.fm service began as a series of experiments on Alexa.

The company launched over 30 Alexa skills, including a “Game of Thones”-themed podcast radio that was popular while the show was airing on HBO. The goal was to test what worked, what topics and formats drew listeners, and gain feedback through calls-to-action to participate in user surveys.

The result is Scout.fm, a curated podcast service that’s personalized to your listening preferences – and one that improves over time.

Here’s how it works on the Alexa platform. You first launch the app by saying “Alexa, open Scout.fm.” The app will respond (using a human voice actor’s voice, not Alexa’s) by explaining briefly what Scout.fm does then asks you to choose one of three types of talk radio stations: “Daily news, brain food, or true stories.”

The first is a news station, similar to Alexa’s “Flash Briefing;” the second, “brain food,” focuses on other interesting and informative content, that’s not day-to-day news; and the last is a true crime podcast station.

The voice app will then ask you a few more questions as part of this setup process to find out what other subjects appeal to you by having you respond, on a scale of one to ten, how much of a history buff you are, or how much you’re interested in culture, like art, film and literature, for example.

On subsequent launches, the app will simply ask if you want to return to your “Brain Food” (or other selected) station. If you say no, you can try one of the other options.

However, once the setup process is over, the experience becomes very much like listening to talk radio.

A podcast will begin playing – Scout.fm favors those without ads at the very beginning – allowing you to listen as long as you’d like, or say “next” to move to the next one. Each new podcast episodes has a brief, spoken introduction that Scout.fm handwrites, so you know what’s coming up. Your listening can go on for hours, offering you a hands-free means of switching podcasts and discovering new favorites.

The app will also adjust to your preferences over time, removing those you tend to skip – much like how the thumbs down works on Pandora.

Scout.fm doesn’t include every podcast that’s out there. Instead, it’s a curated selection of a few hundred with high production values, narrative storytelling and tight editing.

“So if we listen to something and the two co-hosts kind of go on for half an hour at the beginning, that’s not a great podcast for this format,” Meverden says. “We want shows where they’re going to get right into it. That right away limits things, but there’s still an abundance of content.”

For example, some of the podcasts Scout.fm includes come from The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, ESPN, and podcast networks like Gimlet, Wondery, Parcast and others.

The same curated selection of podcasts is also available in Scout.fm’s mobile apps for iOS and Android, which work with the voice assistant on the phone. (For example, you can tap your AirPods to wake Siri then say “Next” to move between podcasts.)

“If you’re jogging, our apps are an excellent companion because you don’t have to go back to your phone and try to find a new thing to listen to,” notes Meverden.

Since Scout.fm’s launch, it has accrued 1.5 million minutes listened across its network of experimental apps ahead of today’s public debut. The Alexa user base listened for twice as long as mobile users.

Currently, the service is not generating revenue, but, in the future, the team envisions call-to-action ads that could work with the Alexa app to share more information about the products, as well as ways it could utilize the newer in-app purchase mechanisms for Alexa skills.

The company is backed by $1.4M in seed funding from Bloomberg Beta, Precursor Ventures, Advancit and #Angels.

“The Scout team’s unique insight is that podcasts, no matter how good, won’t go mainstream until it is much simpler for consumers to find and listen to the content that’s right for them,” said Charles Hudson, managing partner at Precursor Ventures, in a statement about the investment. “The fast adoption of smart speakers changes this. We can open up podcasts to an entirely new audience,” he said.

Scout.fm is available on Alexa, iOS and Android.

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iOS App Store has seen over 170B downloads, over $130B in revenue since July 2010

The App Store has seen over 170 billion downloads over the past decade, totaling over $130 billion in consumer spend. This data was shared this morning by app intelligence firm App Annie, which is marking the App Store’s 10th Anniversary with a look back on the store’s growth and the larger trends it’s seen. These figures aren’t the full picture, however – the App Store launched on July 10, 2008 with just 500 applications, but App Annie arrived in 2010. The historical data for this report, therefore, goes from July 2010 through December 2017.

That means the true numbers are even higher that what App Annie can confirm.

The report paints a picture of the continued growth of the App Store over the years, noting that iOS App Store revenue growth outpaces downloads, and that nearly doubled between 2015 to 2017.

iOS devices owners apparently love to spend on apps, too.

The iOS App Store only has a 30 percent share of worldwide downloads, but accounts for 66 percent of consumer spend, the report says.

But this isn’t a complete picture of the iOS vs. Android battle, as Google Play isn’t available in China. App Annie’s data is incomplete on this front as it’s not accounting for the third-party Android app stores in China.

China today plays an outsized role, as App Annie has repeatedly reported, in terms of App Store revenue, even without Google Play. In fact, the APAC region accounts for nearly 60 percent of consumer spend – a trend that began in earnest with the October 2014 release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in China.

But when you look back at the App Store trends to date (or, as of July 2010 – which is as far back as App Annie’s data goes), it’s the U.S. that leads by a slim margin. China has quickly caught up but the U.S. is still the top country for all-time downloads, with 40.1 billion to China’s 39.9 billion; and it has generated $36 billion in consumer spend to China’s $27.7 billion.

iPhone users are heavy app users, too, the report notes.

In several markets, users have 100 or more apps installed, including Australia, India, China, Germany, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and France. The U.S., U.K., and Mexico come close, with 96, 90, and 89 average monthly apps installed in 2017, respectively.

Of course the numbers of apps used monthly are much smaller, but still range in the high 30’s to low 40’s, App Annie claims.

The report additionally examines the impact of games, which accounted for only 31 percent of downloads in 2017, but generated 75 percent of the revenue. The APAC regions plays a large role here as well, with 3.4 billion game downloads last year, and $19.3 billion in consumer spend.

Subscriptions, meanwhile, are a newer trend, but one that’s already boosting App Store revenues considerably, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend in 2017. This is driven mainly by media streaming apps like Netflix, Pandora, and Tencent Video, for example, but Tinder makes a notable showing as one of the top five worldwide apps by revenue.

Thanks to subscriptions and other trends, App Annie predicts the worldwide iOS App Store revenue will grow 80 percent from 2017 to $75.7 billion by 2022.

And while the App Store today has over 2 million apps, it has seen over 4.5 million apps released on its store to date. Many of these have been removed by Apple or the developers in the months and years, which is why the number of live apps is so much lower.

The full report with the charts included is here.

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Canon has sold its last film camera

Mark this date on your calendar. It’s the end of yet another tech era. Though, granted, this one’s been been death rattling for nearly a decade now. Canon this week announced with no fanfare that it’s sold its last film camera. The news was spotted by PetaPixel on the camera giant’s Japanese support forum.

The model in question is the EOS-1V, which, incidentally, the company actually stopped making a full eight years ago. Since it has simply been selling out the rest of its stock, which, it seems, has finally depleted. It’s less of a bang than a prolonged whimper, but it’s the end of an era, nonetheless, marking the first time Canon hasn’t offered a film camera since the 30s, when its parent company started offering a device called the “Kwanon.”

Those who are feeling suddenly nostalgic, you can likely pick one up used fairly easily (though this news might bump up their premium a bit), and I’m sure the inevitable Kickstarter project to revive the technology can’t be too far off, because that’s how these things go now.

And, of course, some other brands are still supporting film in one form or other, including, notably, Nikon. As for Canon, the company has promised to continue to offer repair on the EOS-1V until October 31st 2025, though that could end as early as 2020 for some, if parts and inventory run out sooner.

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Mapbox brings vision and augmented reality to location-based apps

Mapbox has announced new solutions for developers looking to take their location-based solutions to the next level. The company announced native AR capabilities and a Vision SDK at its Locate conference in San Francisco this week.

The new Native AR capabilities comes in the form of two SDKs: Apple SceneKit SDK and React Native AR SDK. React Native AR SDK gives the ability for developers to build loca-based AR into their cross-platform applications. SceneKit SDK enables iOS developers to build AR experiences leveraging Apple’s native toolkit.

The new Vision SDK is designed to give developers the ability to provide more driving experiences. The SDK works with the company’s live traffic and navigation solutions to provide heads-up displays into apps.

“Equipped with better navigation, paired with augmented reality, and powered by high-performance computer vision, the SDK turns the mobile camera into a powerful sensor — developers have the key to the car,” Eric Gundersen, CEO of Mapbox, wrote in a post.

The Vision SDK features neural networks for real-time segmentation of the environment, the ability to provide live context on the edge, and the ability to detect things like other vehicles, pedestrians, speed limits, construction signs, crosswalks, and vegetation, the company explained.

Mapbox also unveiled a new partnership with Microsoft Azure. As part of the partnership, the Vision SDK will integration with the Microsoft Azure IoT. “The intelligent cloud and intelligent edge bring a wide range of possibilities for the future of smart cities, transportation, public safety and more. By integrating Mapbox’s Vision SDK with Azure IoT Hub, developers will have the power of Microsoft’s global-scale cloud platform and advanced AI services to ingest data in real-time,” Tara Prakriya, group product manager for Microsoft Azure, said in an announcement.

The company is also partnering with Arm to deliver the Vision SDK to Arm’s components and hardware such as CPUs, GPUs, and machine learning and object detection processors. “The Vision SDK puts developers in control of the driving experience. Our partnership with Arm will extend the Vision SDK’s reach to their hundreds of millions of devices. As new data is detected, the SDK classifies road boundaries, lane markings, curbs, crosswalks, traffic signs, and more. This data is then all used to update the map live to ensure the most up-to-date information,” Gundersen wrote.

Other announcements from the conference included a new technology partnership with Sumo Logic to provide new location-based visualization capabilities.  

“Improving the customer experience is at the core of all business and technology decisions today, and has become a major competitive advantage,” said Michael Marfise, senior director of product management of Sumo Logic. “With the ability to integrate Mapbox technology into the Sumo Logic platform, our users can easily visualize all of their data on interactive maps to identify anomalous behavior, solve problems faster and improve their overall business operations.”

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New York VC Steve Schlafman has a new gig with Primary Venture Partners

Steve Schlafman has been an East Coast investor for roughly a decade — scouring deals for the Kraft Group ahead of joining Lerer Hippeau as an early employee, then spending more than four years as a principal with RRE Ventures before announcing on Twitter, to the surprise of some, that he was leaving the New York firm.

Many guessed that Schalfman, like a growing number of people right now, was setting off to create his own venture outfit. Today, Schlafman say it was a consideration and that he did a bit of research toward this end, but that as an identical twin, he’s not really programmed to work entirely on his own. Enter Primary Venture Partners, a seed-stage firm in New York that was previously known as High Peaks Venture Partners and has backed numerous high-profile startups —  Jet.com and Coupang, among them — even while flying low itself.

Schlafman had been friends for years with cofounders Ben Sun and Brad Svrluga, coinvesting with them in the civic app startup PublicStuff (acquired in 2015 by a better-funded peer), and turning to them for advice as he was figuring out his next moves. When they suggested that he join them as a venture partner, he thought the move made perfect sense. “It feels like buy a stock that’s on the rise in some ways,” he tells us.

More from our conversation yesterday, edited for length:

TC: Why did you leave RRE when you did?

SS: It was an incredibly hard decision, but after soul searching about what I wanted to do long term, I just felt that seed investing is where my heart is. RRE tends to be Series A investor, and while I enjoy Series A, my super power is really spotting founders early and helping them along that journey.

TC: Were you thinking about launching your own fund?

SS:  I was under the assumption at the time that I’d go start a fund as a solo GP, but after doing work [on the idea] for four or five months, I decided I didn’t want to work alone. I’m a collaborative person by nature and the idea of working on my own for the next 18 to 36 months as a solo GP just wan’t attractive. I was in touch with Brad and Ben and they said, ‘What would think of joining forces with us?’ They’d been helping me think through different models, and it evolved that I could bring a lot to Primary.

TC: You’ve led deals in some companies that seemed out there at the time. I still remember chatting with you years ago about Breather, the on-demand network of meeting rooms, and thinking it was pretty far out there.

SS: I tend to like the weird things. I think part of the reason Primary works so well is that Ben has worked with transactional marketplaces, and Brad [knows] business-to business applications and I’ve traversed both worlds. I’ve also done things like [crime reporting app] Citizen, [indoor farming startup] Bowery Farming, and Groups [an opiate treatment center and community]. That’s just my style, so I think they’re excited to get my brain to the table and bring a new perspective.

TC: Venture partner means different things at different firms. Is this a part-time role?

SS: We did spend a lot of time talking about this, and there are a few roles that I’m gong to play for them. Certainly, I”ll be being active on the investment team. I’ll also be helping with the broader firm strategy given the perspective I’ve gained by working in three investment firms previously.

But over the last six months, I’ve also been going through training to become an executive performance coach, which is something I really believe in. Not only only have I personally gotten the benefit of coaching, but founders who’ve worked with coaches will tell you the experience transforms the way they lead. I plan to bring that to Primary, too.

TC: That’s interesting. Whose coaching program is it, and how involved is it?

It’s 250 hour of classroom [learning] and coaching at Leadership that Works, an accredited coach training program that [renowned VC-turned-coach] Jerry Colonna and other coaches at Reboot [a coaching firm Colonna cofounded nearly four years ago]. I chose the one that they went to.

For me, I’m married to a founder, and she’s been a big inspiration for me as in investor and taught me a lot about the daily grind of running a company. [I’ve learned much more about] not telling a founder how to run their company, but asking questions that ultimately help them make the tough decisions themselves. At the end of the day, I’m showing up for them and meeting them where they are in their process and hopefully helping them get to answers themselves versus being a traditional investor and trying to have all the answers.

TC: Are you on any boards right now?

SS: I’m not. I’ll rolled off all my RRE boards when I left the firm.

TC: A year from now, will you be a general partner with Primary? I’m hearing the firm is raising another fund after closing its last fund with $60 million in 2016.

SS: Part of the appeal of working with Brad and Ben, and much of why I believe in Primary’s current trajectory — is that it’s building out the only true fund that’s focused on New York as a seed platform. Right now, I plan to spend half my time with them, and there will be a certain portion of my time spent evaluating alternative paths, in terms of maybe starting a company, or coaching could certainly be one of those paths I decide to take.

I’ll be working from Primary’s office every day like a team member, but I will have a bit of flexibility to explore a variety of avenues. It’s a fluid role, though I imagine I’ll get entrenched pretty quickly.

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SD Times news digest: Progress Application Server for OpenEdge, Panaya Release Dynamix 2.0, and 2nd Watch’s new cloud automation services

Progress has announced new features for the Progress Application Server (PAS) for OpenEdge.  PAS for OpenEdge is designed to help developers create mission critical applications while reducing security vulnerability and simplifying installation, configuration, and management, according to the company.

The solution is built on the Apache Tomcat web server framework, and is installed and configured as a web server that supports HTML-based frontends. It includes that Spring Security Framework and was designed using the latest security standards.

The PAS for OpenEdge server unifies all Progress OpenEdge solutions into a single applications, providing developers with a familiar programming model, increased communications, and simple and consistent installations.

It is also designed to utilize fewer system resources than the OpenEdge AppServer, which results in enhanced scalability and performance of business applications.

Panaya Release Dynamix 2.0 is now available

Panaya Release Dynamix 2.0 (RDx) has been released. The cloud-based platform allows customers to quickly and safely deliver application changes from ideas to reality. The solution removes the guesswork and risk associated with business-critical application changes, the company explained.

Key improvements in the new version include greater transparency, increased developer efficiency and code stability, streamlined testing, and easier management of development space.

2nd Watch announces two new services for cloud automation

2nd Watch has announced the availability of 2nd Watch Modern CI/CD Pipeline and the 2nd Watch Machine Image Factory. These two new services automate some of the core functions of the DevOps pipeline and cloud infrastructure management.

2nd Watch Modern CI/CD Pipeline helps accelerate code development by providing a standard pipeline framework that can be reused for each project.

2nd Watch Machine Image Factory reduces deployment time for deploying machine images by 75 to 95 percent, the company claims. It uses a proven framework to automate the image creation process, which streamlines the process of creating new resources in the cloud.

Applause launches a testing solution for Amazon Alexa Skills

Applause has launched a new testing solution for Amazon Alexa. Applause for Amazon Alexa is powered by over 300,000 vetted testers, enabling developers and teams to increase quality of Alexa Skills and Alexa Voice Service (AVS) devices.

It is able to provide testing benefits that other testing approaches cannot, such as “in the wild” testing, real voices, unlimited device coverage, testing diversity, a SaaS platform, and proven results with IoT, according to the company. 

 

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Alcatel’s $100 Android Go phone hits the U.S. next week

At MWC, ZTE promised that its Tempo Go would be the first device to bring Android Oreo (Go Edition) to the States. But, well, stuff happened, and the company’s had a lot bigger things to deal with the intervening months. Alcatel, however, is on the case with the 1X. 

TCL announced this morning that the budget device will be hitting Amazon some time next, priced at an extremely affordable $100, unlocked. It will also be arriving at Best Buy and Walmart soon after, no doubt taking advantage of the fact that it’s the only Android Go handset available in the U.S. for the time being.

The specs are unsurprisingly uninspiring. There’s a 960 x 480 5.3-inch screen, a MediaTek chip and 1GB or RAM. The good news, however, is that the new, lightweight version of Google’s mobile operating system is built for exactly those hardware restraints, which means you ought to get a much smoother Android experience than you would on a similarly-speced handset running the full OS.

While the operating system is well positioned to get a foothold in developing countries, Google was quick to point out that it wasn’t limiting Android Go’s availability to those parts of the world. But while a number of manufacturers have signed on, none appeared too eager to launch the handsets in the States — well, aside from ZTE, but we all know how that went.

Another Android Go devices is on the way as well, with HMD bringing the Nokia 2.1 to the States in July.

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Neighborhood Goods raises $5.75M to reinvent the department store

Neighborhood Goods, a startup rethinking the traditional department store experience, is announcing that it has raised $5.75 million in seed funding.

Co-founder and CEO Matt Alexander told me via email that while the largely static layout and offerings of a department store provide a degree “consistency and reliability,” they’re also “dull and unchanging,” as well as “fairly transactional with little more to provide.”

So instead, Neighborhood Goods will allow around 15 brands to create their own “activations,” each highlighting the aesthetic and products that the brands choose. (Bulletin is another startup looking to bring a pop up approach to traditional retail.) The store will also have a restaurant and bar, and communal spaces that could be used for things like speaking events or art installations.

“At Neighborhood Goods, we’re creating something more social and communal around an ever-changing landscape of products,” Alexander said, later adding, “Neighborhood Goods ostensibly takes the polish and approachability of the typical department store, but combines it with the dynamism and community of a pop-up store or pop-up marketplace.”

He also said technology will play a big role in the experience — particularly with an iOS app that will allow customers to learn more about the brands, text the staff, have products brought to them and make purchases.

The funding was led by Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Maveron, CAA Ventures, Global Founders Capital, NextGen Venture Partners, Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin and Retail Connection co-founder Alan P. Shor (who’s also joining the board of directors).

“Community and emotional connection are a big part of what drives consumer spending — something Matt and [co-founder Mark Masinter] understand wholeheartedly,” said Forerunner’s Kirsten Green in the funding announcement. “The delicate balance of both experience and discovery is reshaping the retail industry as shoppers crave brands that are unique and worth getting excited over.”

Neighborhood Goods plans to open its first location — a 13,000-square-foot store in Plano, Texas — this fall. Asked why he chose Plano, Alexander said:

Specifically, we’re able to tap into an aggressive consumer market, whilst bringing brands closer to exceptional customers. And we’re able to do so without the brands having to invest exorbitant amounts, hiring extensive retail teams, or developing marketing initiatives from the ground-up in new markets … That’s not to say we won’t look at markets like LA, NY, and SF in future, but, as a launchpad for a new concept, Plano is uniquely good for us today.

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