Number of crypto hedge funds doubles in four months: Autonomous NEXT data

LONDON (Reuters) – Hedge funds focused on trading cryptocurrencies more than doubled in the four months to Feb. 15, hitting a record high of 226, showed new data from fintech research house Autonomous NEXT on Thursday.

The firm had recorded just 110 global hedge funds with a similar strategy as of Oct. 18, up from 55 funds at Aug. 29 and just 37 at the start of 2017.

Assets under management hit between $3.5 and $5 billion, according to the firm.

Reporting by Maiya Keidan and Jemima Kelly

2 Big Misconceptions About Work-Life Balance That Will Get In Your Way Of Achieving It

I run a small business. I’m also a writer who is married raising four kids of various ages ranging from baby and toddler to teenager and young adult. In it’s most cartoon-like moments, I feel like I’m part of a three-ring circus with everything I’m trying to manage in work and life. Even in the less crazy times, it is still a daily work-life balance challenge.

For the last year, I’ve been trying to get a handle on all of this work-life balance stuff, which has put me on a search for the “holy grail” of sorts of work-life balance.

In that journey, I’ve done a lot of things that have helped a lot. I’ve learned how to create a realistic vision of what I really want my work-life balance to look like. I’ve learned how to define boundaries better, in particular as it pertains to my cell phone. I’ve even learned to prioritize better in both work and life and build in time for a daily regenerative activity.

I’ve also come to realize that some of the problems many of us have with trying to get work-life balance might be coming from a misconceived notion of what it is. That was certainly the case for me.

Here are the two biggest misconceptions I had about work-life balance that stood in my way until I changed my thinking about them.

1. Better work-life balance = more fun

I have to admit that I went into my search for work-life balance with a belief that it was just about trying to put more fun back into my life. Maybe I was just a hopelessly busy entrepreneur and dad who was looking for more vacations, more relaxing at the beach, more sleeping in, and more of all of that kind of stuff.

As I got more into trying to really figure out my work-life balance problem, I realized that whereas most of us that are entrepreneurs and parents certainly would like more of all of those fun and relaxing things, getting work-life balance wasn’t just about that. I started to call this the “Carnival Cruise” version of work-life balance, and I found that many people I talked with about work-life balance had a similar version of it.

As I started to really get into the nuts and bolts of putting together my work-life plan – and allocating real hours and real time to real things on both sides of the work-life equation – I realized that getting true work-life balance might not mean doing all of the fun things but instead was about having the right amount of time to put into the most important things both at work and at home. 

Sometimes these things were not fun at all but were incredibly meaningful and important.

Once I got my work-life balance right, I thought about the fact that I now had the time to spend with our teenager during some crisis times. I now had the time to spend with our two-year old son as he worked through a speech challenge.

Neither of these things would fall into the category of beach relaxation or the world’s best vacations, but I had created work-life balance to allow me to do those things. And that’s what work-life balance might really be about.

2. Work-life balance does not always mean a 50:50 split between work and life activities

Maybe I was being a bit literal, but seemingly every visual depiction of work-life balance (including the one for this article) showed a scale with equal amounts of things on each side of the work-life see-saw.

This kind of made me feel like it had to be a 50:50 split in terms of how much went to each side. What I started to realize on my own journey was that very rarely is it ever 50:50. Maybe more importantly, it is perfectly fine if it isn’t.

For me at this point in my life, my work-life balance scale is skewed to about 65:35 on the “life” side of the equation. If I looked at a scale, that could appear like imbalance and make me feel like I hadn’t succeeded in getting balance. But in reality, it is perfectly balanced for my current wants and needs.

Until I came to terms with this, I kept feeling like I had to eliminate certain elements of the life side of my equation to get it to a perfect 50:50 balance.

If you are on the quest for your own holy grail of work-life balance, try thinking about these two misconceptions and applying different thinking about them to your own situation. I know that I got stuck halfway down the road until I figured them out myself.

The No. 1 Reason Entrepreneurs Fail to Achieve Their Goals

We are officially mid-way through first quarter, 2018. How are you doing on the goals you set at the first of the year?

I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that the average small business owner won’t complete their goals list, not even by fourth quarter. Why? Because they’re not addressing this goal-crushing problem: an environment that doesn’t support their growth.

You can’t possibly expect more of yourself if you don’t change the environment that consistently prevents you from acting on your growth plans. Things like interruptions, client demands, employee issues, and spending time in the small details may come to mind. Sure, these problems will only continue to block your growth if you don’t address them, but the real problem isn’t around you, it’s inside of you.

While the above examples may exist in your external environment, and they are a problem, it’s also very important to consider your internal environment. What about self-doubt, fear of failure, and belief systems like there’s never enough money. The truth is, money and time blocks are usually more significant in the mind than in reality. There is almost always a work-around for lack of funds and a tight schedule, but entrepreneurs fail to see it. As you address these bigger issues, solutions to the common problems will surface.

Ask this question first. 

As my clients form new goals I ask them this question: “Can you list ten things that may get in the way of achieving this goal?” Usually there aren’t ten things, but it forces them to dig deep. Typically, it’s not until number seven or eight that they reach the golden nugget: the real problem is within them, not outside of them.

Can you list ten things? Name a goal and ask yourself why you haven’t moved the needle on it. Be honest with yourself. Look at the problems on the outside, as well as the inside. If you examine your deeper thoughts, you’ll most likely become aware of the limiting beliefs that contribute to all of the other issues. Beliefs like, no one else can do these things for me, or, I have to be available to my customers and employees round the clock. Neither of which are true.

We unconsciously create excuses such as these because something deeper and more significant is in the way and we don’t know it–or don’t want to admit it. The bigger issue is usually rooted in fear. From fearing failure to lack of self-worth and not believing in one’s self.  What are the odds of getting what you want if you continue to buy into your excuses, or worse–if deep down inside, you don’t believe in yourself?  

This is not an easy exercise to do on your own, so you may wish to work with a coach or design a support system of peers with whom you have a foundation of trust.  As you unearth your blocks, don’t get down on yourself. It’s an exciting time because now you can address them, at last. Eliminating what I call the root cause of your problem will change everything.

But how?

Sometimes, the mere recognition of the problem will push an entrepreneur into action. However, most often it takes a fair amount of work to change and there’s no shame in that. Consider how long the beliefs or fears you’ve listed have been in existence. Five years? A lifetime? How can you expect to change things overnight?

The first thing to abolish is any belief that you can do it alone. Asking for help does not make you weak, it makes you human–and very smart. The most brilliant entrepreneurs surround themselves with advisors, mentors, and coaches.

Name one big step toward changing your belief system that you can take today. A commitment to journaling every day, hiring a coach, or simply taking small steps in spite of your inner beliefs and fears. Base your most immediate goals on changing how you think, rather than business-focused results. Once you do this, there will be no stopping you from building your ideal business.

UK initiative seeks Israeli digital health tech to assist NHS

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – The British embassy in Israel said on Tuesday it has launched a program designed to help incorporate Israeli digital health technology into the UK and its National Health Service (NHS).

The UK Israel Dangoor Health initiative was put together by the UK Israel Tech Hub, a team based at the British Embassy that works to incorporate Israeli technology in British industry, with IBM’s Alpha Zone accelerator program and DigitalHealth.London, which matches technology with NHS needs.

“With all this new computer power and greater understanding and the breakthrough in genetics, we are absolutely at the threshold of a healthcare revolution,” said British businessman David Dangoor, sponsor of the initiative.

Financial details were not disclosed.

The two-year program takes place within IBM’s accelerator, where each semester two to three digital health companies will be chosen by IBM and DigitalHealth.London to participate. In addition to tech support from IBM, they will receive mentorship and guidance on NHS operations and market penetration.

Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Steven Scheer

Exclusive: Amazon paid $90 million for camera maker's chip technology – sources

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) paid about $90 million to acquire the maker of Blink home security cameras late last year, in a secret bet on the startup’s energy-efficient chips, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The deal’s rationale and price tag, previously unreported, underscore how Amazon aims to do more than sell another popular camera, as analysts had thought. The online retailer is exploring chips exclusive to Blink that could lower production costs and lengthen the battery life of other gadgets, starting with Amazon’s Cloud Cam and potentially extending to its family of Echo speakers, one of the people said.

Amazon views its in-house devices as key to deepening its relationship with shoppers. The Cloud Cam and Echo currently need a plug-in power source to operate. Blink, which says its cameras can last two years on a single pair of AA lithium batteries, could change that.

Amazon declined to comment on the acquisition’s terms or strategy.

The deal so far has drawn little attention. The camera maker announced its takeover by Amazon with scant details in a Dec. 21 blog post. Analysts have viewed Blink as part of the retailer’s strategy for Amazon Key, a new program where shoppers can set up a smart lock and surveillance camera so delivery personnel can slip packages inside their homes when they are away. Amazon also sees opportunity in the security camera market as smart-home technology expands.

But Blink was not merely a camera business. Its little-known owner, Immedia Semiconductor, was started in Massachusetts by old hands from the chip industry. Chief Executive Peter Besen and two of his co-founders came from Sand Video, which had designed chips in the early 2000s that decoded a new and improved video standard.

In 2004 they sold Sand Video to Broadcom Ltd (AVGO.O) and remained there as executives, according to an Immedia website. The group left in 2008 to create Immedia, aiming to design chips for video conferencing, and later targeting laptop makers as potential customers.

Dan Grunberg, a co-founder who left Immedia in 2016, said that plan fell through. Laptop makers were unwilling to pay $1 per chip when cheaper options were on the market. So Immedia pivoted.

“If we make our own camera, we don’t have to sell a hundred million” chips, he said. Grunberg declined to discuss Immedia’s sale to Amazon.

The Blink security camera, which hit the market in 2016, did not require a power cable like many rival products, making it easier to place around users’ properties. It was cheaper, too, starting at $99. Amazon’s wired Cloud Cam launched at $119.99, while Netgear Inc’s (NTGR.O) wire-free Arlo cost more still. Netgear said last week it plans to spin off its Arlo business.

“Battery life is a big issue in connected devices,” said Scott Jacobson, a former Amazon devices manager and now managing director of Madrona Venture Group. “Always-on cameras that last for months and don’t require a wired connection or an electrician to install could be game-changing.”

As Blink’s sales rose on Amazon’s website, the retailer took notice, sources said, leading to talks with the camera maker about a deal.

Flybridge Capital Partners, Comcast Ventures, Baker Capital, Dot Capital and some suppliers were investors in the company.

Amazon’s regulatory filings show it spent $78 million on acquisition activity in the quarter ended Dec. 31. Sources said the bid was competitive, and that compensation and incentives offered by Amazon pushed the deal’s value to about $90 million.

Madrona’s Jacobson, who had no knowledge of the acquisition’s details, speculated that Amazon might apply the Blink team’s expertise to cameras in drones or in its new checkout-free stores.

The chips could give Amazon other advantages, too.

The proprietary chip design will make it harder for rival retailers to copy Amazon’s devices, said Matt Crowley, chief executive of Vesper, a sensor and semiconductor company that makes microphones.

And now that Amazon owns its own chips, it can go straight to the manufacturers, cutting out middlemen chip designers such as Ambarella Inc (AMBA.O), which has powered GoPro Inc (GPRO.O) products. Amazon has a division called Annapurna Labs that makes an unrelated kind of chip, and it was not clear which supplier it uses for chips that primarily process video.

“Vertical integration reduces cost,” Crowley said. Digital video chips “are one of the more expensive components” in a camera.

Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis and Liana Baker; Editing by Marla Dickerson

McDonald's Just Did Something So Stunningly Strange That It'll Make You Wonder What's Coming Next

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

If there’s one thing McDonald’s wants you to think right now, it’s that it isn’t, you know, McDonald’s.

Not the old McDonald’s, that is.

Not the old, slightly worn, very predictable McDonald’s where the ice-cream machines rarely seemed to work.

The burger chain is trying all sorts of peculiar things to change its image.

It’s using, gasp, fresh beef. Or even no beef at all in its McVegan Burger.

But its latest foray into the unknown has a rather charming air about it.

McDonald’s, you see, is venturing into the area of, well, pretentiousness. 

You might think it unlikely or even a touch potty when I tell you that this is an ad campaign promoting the Big Mac x Bacon Limited Edition Collaboration in Canada.

But take a look and see if you find it refreshingly winning.

Here’s the Big Mac holding up a mirror to society, which, some might say, it’s been doing for a long time. 

And here it is celebrating its sheer greatness.

And then there’s the sense of exalted meaning that courses through every bite of a pickle-filled Big Mac. 

What about the sense of existential harmony that pervades your Big Mac-eating experience?

Perhaps these ads feel faintly silly.

For me, however, they show a certain courage and a willingness to shake previous negativity and rise to something slightly better. Or, at least, different.

There’s actually nothing special about this alleged collaboration at all. Anyone can ask for bacon to be added to their Big Mac.

But the attempts at wit offer a little confidence.

What’s most important for McDonald’s now — if it wants customers to reassess what they feel about a brand that’s being constantly challenged by fresher, younger competitors — is to revamp its products to create a true sense of surprise.

The problem, of course, is that McDonald’s is a huge company. 

Making the winds of change blow across the whole McDonald’s world will take a lot of doing. 

And a serious injection of, um, greatness. 

Dunkin' Donuts Has a Stunningly Simple New Trick So You'll Get Your Coffee Faster

In New England, people love their Dunkin’ Donuts.

Heck, I was in a Dunkin’ Donuts in Massachusetts once, and a guy showed me how you could actually see two other Dunkin’ Donuts from the parking lot of the first Dunkin’ Donuts.

But for all of Dunkin’ Donuts regional ties, the company has its sights set on world domination. And as corporate leaders explained this week, they’re using some surprising tricks–some of them so simple you’ll wonder why nobody else is doing them–in order to get there.

A lot of this comes down to how fast Dunkin’ Donuts can get a cup of coffee into your hands, so it can turn around put another cup of coffee in somebody else’s hands. (Maybe an egg sandwich, too.)

The more quickly they move you through, the more customers they can serve, and the more money they make. Basic math. 

So, they’ve got a couple of short, simple words for you: “drive-thru,” and “mobile app.” 

It’s all on display now at the company’s new “next generation concept store” in Massachusetts. Pull up to the drive-thru there, and you’ve got a choice of two lanes.

There’s the regular drive through, where cars line up, order, wait their turn, and pick up their coffee and food–pretty much like every other drive-thru lane in the world.

But, there’s also an “exclusive On-the-Go drive-thru lane,” as Dunkin’ Donuts calls it in a press release, that lets you skip ahead of all the other customers, and go right to the front of the line. Think of it as first class for coffee.

What do you have to do in order to fly first class at Dunks? Join their “DD Perks” rewards program, and place your order via your phone on the Dunkin’s Mobile App.

It’s a pretty simple concept, and if you’re from New England like me, it might even strike you as “wicked smart.”

Dunkin’ Donuts certainly isn’t the first restaurant to try to push people to order via an app–but they claim to be the first national restaurant to combine it with the drive-thru.

In retrospect, it’s almost obvious, given that industry wide, between 30 and 70 percent of customers reportedly use drive-thrus. (The wide range has a lot to do with individual restaurants’ focuses, and the times of the day that customers visit.)

Now, it will probably tick some people off in the short term, at least the first few times they show up and realize that they have to wait longer than other customers because they’re paying in cash or with a credit card.

A lot of them will convert, though, because if you grab a coffee on the way to work each day, and if using the “On-the-Go” lane saves you 90 seconds each time because you’re not stuck behind somebody else putting in their order–that could add up to six hours a year.

There are some other smaller changes being tested in the new “next generation store,” (which happens to be about a mile from the original Dunkin’ Donuts location from 1950). Among them: a tap system for cold beverages, electronic order kiosks, and greater energy efficiency.

They also want to convince you that Dunks is a place to visit in the afternoon, and open hundreds more stores outside of the northeast. And they’re getting rid of their foam cups.

But I’m going to put my money on the “mobile-preferred” drive-thru ordering experiment as the smartest, simplest innovation. 

There’s some history, too: This is the company whose lineage includes the entire concept of franchising restaurants in the United States–years before McDonald’s started doing it–and leveraged it to build Dunkin’ Donuts into a national name.

Oh, right. The name. I almost forgot. They’re dropping the “Donuts” part of it soon. They should just go with Dunks, since that’s what everyone calls them in New England anyway, but apparently they want to change to just “Dunkin’.”

Alibaba kicks off sponsor deal in Pyeongchang

PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) is launching a project that will create a “smarter” and more connected athletes’ village and stadia and make all Olympics stakeholders “more money”, its executives said on Saturday.

Many of Alibaba’s plans are still concepts since it has not had enough time to implement its technology after signing a deal last year worth hundreds of millions of dollars as a cloud and e-commerce partner with the International Olympic Committee.

But IOC president Thomas Bach said some of Alibaba’s plans “can become operational pretty soon” while Alibaba founder Jack Ma said they expected to be realized at the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

“We want to make the Olympic Games so everyone can make more money,” Ma said, adding that “everyone” meant groups such as host cities’ organizing committees, athletes and sponsors.

Alibaba is one of the few top Olympics sponsors signed with the IOC until 2028.

It has said it wants to upgrade the technology that keeps the Games running.

It also unveiled its “sports brain,” on Saturday, a suite of software products designed to improve the back office of how sports events are run.

Ma, who appeared onstage with Bach, said he was moved by North Korea and South Korea marching together in the opening ceremony on Friday since it reflected “peace and prosperity”.

Former NBA player Yao Ming was in the audience at the media conference, which featured an interpretive dancer and a magician pulling a bird out of a hat.

Alibaba has about 200 to 300 employees on the ground in Pyeongchang to study how the games run and help find ways to save future host countries money.

Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao shopping platforms dominate online retail in China. But it is not well known in many parts of the world, including in the United States where Amazon.com Inc is the e-commerce leader.

It is using an international branding campaign focused on the Olympics to help introduce it to markets such as the United States and Great Britain.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury

China's Shanda Games says Tencent to invest $474 million

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd will invest 3 billion yuan ($474 million) in smaller peer Shanda Games, the target firm said in a statement to Reuters on Friday, a move that will boost Tencent’s lead in the local video game market.

The Chinese market is the world’s largest, registering an estimated $32.5 billion in sales last year, according to data from gaming consultancy Newzoo. In second place is NASDAQ-listed NetEase Inc.

Shanda owns popular titles “Dragon Nest” and “The World of Legend”, and had been the main force in Chinese gaming before slipping behind local rivals including Tencent over the past decade.

The investment comes as Tencent gears up to formally launch global hit game “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” in China, after saying last year it would give the game a socialist make-over to meet Chinese rules governing digital content.

Tencent also owns significant stakes in U.S. game developers Riot Games Inc, Epic Games Inc and Activision Blizzard Inc. In 2016, Tencent bought the majority of Finland-based “Clash of Clans” mobile game maker Supercell for $8.6 billion.

Shanda said Tencent’s investment would help “bolster” Shanda’s core business. It also said the two firms would collaborate on current businesses, including several of Shanda’s popular games.

Tencent is valued at over $510 billion and has seen its share price boom on the back of strong demand for its mobile games. The firm declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Exclusive: China's Ant plans equity fundraising at potential $100 billion valuation – sources

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s Ant Financial Services Group is planning to raise up to $5 billion in fresh equity that could value the online payments giant at more than $100 billion, people familiar with the move told Reuters.

A fundraising would bring Ant, in which e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is taking a one-third stake, a step closer to a hotly anticipated initial public offering by establishing a more current valuation.

Ant’s last fundraising in 2016 valued the owner of Alipay, China’s top online payment platform, at about $60 billion. The new round should start with a valuation of between $80 billion to $100 billion, the people said.

Ant is currently in talks to appoint advisers for the fundraising which is expected to be launched in the next couple of months, they added.

Ant declined to comment on its fundraising plans. All the people spoke to Reuters on the condition they not be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

While no timetable for an IPO has been set, nor any location yet chosen, Ant’s plans are being viewed as a pre-IPO fundraising, the people said. A pre-IPO round is an increasingly common move by sought-after Chinese companies to establish valuations and widen their investor base ahead of going public.

It was not immediately clear how the company plans to use the fresh cash.

The exact timing and size of the fundraising still depends on investor feedback but any deal will add to an already hectic pace of domestic and offshore fundraising by Chinese tech firms that are looking to expand both at home and abroad.

Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com is raising funds for its logistics unit with a target of attracting at least $2 billion, while live-video streaming start-up Kuaishou is nearing the close of a $1 billion funding round, sources have said.

Ant’s own existing investments include stakes in Paytm, the Indian mobile payment and e-commerce website, and Thai financial technology firm Ascend Money.

Last month, however, Ant suffered a setback when a U.S. government panel rejected its $1.2 billion offer for money transfer company MoneyGram International over security concerns.

At home, in addition to its core online payments business, which Ant says has 520 million yearly users, the company also offers wealth management, credit scoring, micro lending and insurance services.

Last week, Alibaba announced it would take a 33 percent stake in Ant – replacing the current system where Alibaba receives 37.5 percent of Ant’s pre-tax profit – in what was viewed as an important step ahead of any IPO.

Alibaba set up Alipay in 2004, modeling the business on PayPal, to help Chinese buyers shop online, and later controversially spun it off ahead of its own listing in 2014. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, controls Ant, according to Alibaba filings with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ant is considered by some analysts as one of the most valuable Alibaba assets due to its unique position in Chinese e-commerce.

Current shareholders in Ant include large state-owned institutions such as China Life Insurance, China Post Group – parent of Postal Savings Bank of China – and a unit of China Development Bank.

Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee and Julie Zhu; Additional reporting by Kane Wu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Edwina Gibbs