- TechCrunch Teardown: Top Facebook Brand Page Growth and Key Trends
- Competing In The Cloud—Let’s Be Frenemies
- One Day Will People Be Living In Shroom Houses?
- Lockitron Lets You Unlock Your Door With Your Phone
- Weekend Giveaway: Something Called An iPad Two (??)
- Uber Goes Breakers To Bay This Weekend With Unlimited Gatorade And Jack Daniels
- Cake Health Wants To Be The ‘Mint For Health Insurance’ (Beta Invites)
- Yes, There Are Tech Startups in Nigeria. Here Are My Favorites.
- Keen On: Can The New Intimacy Economy Save The Music Industry? (TCTV)
- Former Yahoo And Myspace Execs Raise $3M For Small Demons
- Disrupt NYC: The Full Agenda
- Hipster Ventures? Lame Name For A Good Idea To Launch Euro Startups In The Valley
- OpenFeint Expands Free-To-Play Mobile Gaming Platform OFX To Android
- Google News Goes Local On Mobile: Introduces ‘News Near You’
- Mailgun Raises $1.1 Million For Its ‘Twilio For Email’
- Native Apps Or Web Apps? Particle Code Wants You To Do Both
- TechCrunch Giveaway: Last Free Ticket To Disrupt NYC, Plus Free iPod Touch #TechCrunch
- Gary Vaynerchuk: “99.5 Percent Of Social Media Experts Are Clowns” (TCTV)
Posted: 14 May 2011 09:00 AM PDT
Editor’s note: Steven Carpenter is an entrepreneur that writes the TechCrunch Teardown series that looks at the business models of consumer Internet companies. He has previously written in-depth analyses of Zynga, Groupon, Etsy, Chegg, and the 13 Consumer Internet Business Models. Carpenter is currently an Entrepreneur In Residence at Accel Partners.
My last TechCrunch Teardown outlined the multi-billion dollar online brand advertising opportunity. As part of that research, I looked at the top Facebook brand pages to see how some brands were successfully using social media to connect with their consumers. With soaring Facebook revenues, a significant share of which comes from brand advertising, I went back again to look at how the top 165 brand pages performed in Q1 2011 to get a sense for which firms continue to get the most out of Facebook. And to see if some brands are showing signs of slowing growth.
For instance, here is how the 10 largest brands on Facebook are doing:
Top 10 Facebook Brand Pages “Like” Growth (Q1 2011)
As you can see in the longer table below, which ranks the top 165 Facebook brand pages by growth, many of the top brands on Facebook continue to experience strong fan growth, even with bases of multi-million fans. For this research, I specifically looked at those brand pages that had an installed "fan base" of 500,000 users and above in December in order to get the best measurement of the health of the platform.
Facebook itself grew it's users by 13.7% (from 585 million to 665 million, in terms of raw number of accounts) so I would expect to see the top brands seeing a multiple of this considering the nascent stage and untapped potential of commerce on Facebook. Conversely, if a brand page's growth lags that of Facebook’s in general, it may be an early indicator of a stalled social media strategy.
Top 10 Takeaways
Bugatti teardown photo credit: Flickr/David Villarreal Fernández
Posted: 14 May 2011 08:08 AM PDT
Competition between software companies used to mean safeguarding your code and suing anyone that came close to it. Today, many larger technology companies are adopting a different strategy of actually bringing new users to companies they would have tried to squash a decade ago. The cloud is changing the old-school software mentality that a customer's data needs to be locked down—giving rise to a new ecosystem where everything interoperates. So companies that in the past would have been bitter enemies are now working together as pseudo-friends—"frenemies," if you will.
Software is absolutely nothing like it was even just a few years ago. App marketplaces have made it possible for buyers to select just the features they need, where in the past they were forced into "bloatware" that had a ton of features they didn't even touch. Packaged software is becoming more and more scarce as small businesses and consumers have this "a la carte menu" of options to choose from—with all of these options playing nicely together in the cloud.
Years ago, Marc Benihoff got out his shovel and started burying packaged (and hard-to-install enterprise) software. People thought it was a crazy PR tactic but he turned out to be right. Proprietary, closed systems are being replaced with interconnected services that let the user's data flow. Earlier this year, the Washington Post pointed to a new era of collaboration amongst software giants like Google and Microsoft, and cited the revolving door of talent in the Valley as a key driver in this cooperation.
Open Platforms and Picky Customers
I think the Post's thesis is partially true, but that's not the whole story. The emergence of "platform companies," plus the fact that everyone has open APIs, has created a cooperate-or-die environment for large and small companies alike. Rather than create every feature themselves, platform companies are staying open to innovation and development from outside companies (sometimes within their own walled gardens, but that's a whole other story). These big players benefit by creating a marketplace-type ecosystem for their users' needs, keeping them happy and productive. Smaller players get distribution—and those who don't want to play ball risk withering away while some competitor benefits from a large platform player's distribution.
Customers are the other main driver in the frenemy movement. Users are looking for a solution to their particular problem. They don't care who's competing with whom—they want it to be easy, and they demand that data flows from one service to the other. The days of having to re-enter data into different systems is over—customers shouldn’t even have to export a CSV file, manipulate it and import it into a different program. Customers also no longer accept that they have to stay stuck with a poorly designed feature in their expensive installed bloatware. Rather, they are looking for fully integrated services that work with their platform of choice: for example, Apple, Google, Evernote, or Zendesk. Not integrated? No interest.
So how can you win in an environment where you have to cooperate with your competitors—and they're just a few clicks away? There may be several other apps like the one you offer, but the keys are to 1) do something better than anyone else 2) make it easy for others to add on services to your own and 3) make it work with the platforms that your ideal customers are already using—even if what they're using seems quasi-competitive to your own product. You don't want to feed into the post-traumatic stress users are experiencing from the age of packaged software. Take part in the open exchange of data between services in the cloud because soon enough, that will be the norm. Consumers and businesses alike don't like to be stuck—that goes for their data, too.
This doesn't mean that you have to be developing some kind of cloud software to get in on the action. Hardware companies have their place in this chain, too. In my world, Fujitsu's ScanSnap Marketplace does a good job of getting scanners connected to the cloud. I'm also very interested to see how the whole interactive, app-ready TV market will play out. Cable companies are much like the packaged software companies of the past. They will also see that attempts to resist the open marketplace movement are futile.
So maybe the technology industry has finally cracked the code—a distribution model that works for both collaboration and free-market competitiveness. It seems to work for consumers who value their newfound freedom of choice. What do you think? Is this almost bizarre non-competitiveness good for business? Or are startups making deals with the devil in the name of distribution?
Posted: 14 May 2011 05:55 AM PDT
Their latest project, Mycoform, places mushroom roots known as mycelium spores into a mold and feeds them with agricultural byproducts like buckwheat husks. In just over a week at 80 degrees, the spores grow to fill the form, resulting in a light yet solid structure. The brick is heated to 100 degrees when complete to kill the spores, preventing further growth.
Maria Aiolova, a Planet ONE team member, said they have been working on the idea of growing building materials for more than a year to develop materials for a variety of uses. In addition to construction materials, Mycoform can be used to make acoustic tiles, insulation, shelters for disaster-stricken areas, and temporary structures such as street fair booths. Another company, Ecovative, uses a simliar process for creating shipping materials.
In their experiments, the Mycofoam team found the edible Reishi mushroom provides consistent results. The finished structure is entirely biodegradable.
Although Mycofoam by itself is sun, mold and water resistant, biodegradability makes it a poor solution for longer-term structures. To address this, the team makes brick molds out of recycled aluminum sheets. When grown inside this aluminum casing, the bricks are expected to last between 25 and 30 years. Each brick can withstand about 2000psi, equivalent to the strength of a regular brick.
As much as half the cost of manufacturing traditional bricks can go to energy for kiln firing and drying. Traditional brick production also produces up to 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide per unit. Mycoform bricks require very little energy, produce no carbon, and cost as little as a quarter of a penny per unit. The startup cost of Mycoform brick manufacturing include a $150 hydraulic press and $50 steel mold for shaping the aluminum, and a greenhouse structure, which can be made from plastic and wood, for growing the spores.
The team has applied for grants to expand their production capacity and, in the future, hopes to send Mycoform kits to developing countries.
Posted: 13 May 2011 05:31 PM PDT
Ever wish you could just call your keys? Well the Ycombinator-backed Lockitron aims to replace physical keys entirely by letting you control your door lock with your phone. The Lockitron web app and hardware package are as of today available for general users, for a one time fee of between $295 to $500.
Instead of using relatively unreliable wifi, the service works by utilizing a plug server and ethernet cable tied to an electronic lock. Your smartphone talks to the server controlling the lock via the web which means that you can control the lock from wherever you are. Lockitron also has an NFC option if you’ve got a Nexus S or are planning on buying a iPhone 5 if/when NFC happens. The system works with both deadbolt and handle locks.
While the Lockitron locks do accept traditional keys, the main advantage of using the same technology as found in car key fobs to open your front door is that everything is in the cloud (your data is encrypted). With Lockitron you can create multiple “keys” and pass them around to friends via email. You also no longer have to worry if you’ve locked your apartment in the morning, as you can just control the lock from your phone.
Says co-founder Paul Gerhardt, “I wanted to be able to email a key or text a key to somebody else, the technology was there, it just needed a good experience on top of it.”
The app is particularly useful for people who need to have multiple efficient ways to enter a shared building. For example, the initial beta was sixty Lockitrons installed, supporting 400 users.
Schlage, a giant in the lock space, also has a smart phone unlocking product that is available at a $9 a month fee and a $300 hardware price point. That product is more hardware focused and not nearly as accessible to end users, according to founders Gerhardt and Cameron Robertson. Text is the only Lockitron subscription feature at $5 a month.
Apigy, the company behind Lockitron, wants to be seen as appifying hardware and has a Lockitron iPhone and Android app in the works for its next project. But the founders have set their sights beyond locks, “At the end of the day we just want to make sure that there’s one less thing in your pocket,” Gerhardt said.
Posted: 13 May 2011 02:51 PM PDT
A company called PunchTab wants to test their new contest entry system, appropriately-named the PunchTab widget. To that end, they’ve offered us the ability to give away a black 16GB Apple iPad Two (was there ever an iPad One?), some sort of new tablet computer for people who like that sort of thing. All the kids seem to want one, like the Teddy Ruxpin.
So here’s where it gets a little weird.
Posted: 13 May 2011 02:18 PM PDT
As everyone in the Bay Area will know, this Sunday is the annual Bay to Breakers run/boozefest. The 12k run normally goes from the bay (in the city) to the breakers (at the ocean), hence the name. But Uber is going to do the opposite.
As they’ve just announced to customers via email, starting at 10AM and going through 4PM, they’ll be going breakers to bay, picking up weary runners/pukers in their cars. If you happen to be in the Golden Gate Park area in that timeframe, there will be limos there waiting for those who use the app. And those limos will be “stocked with Gatorade, Granola Bars and 50ml bottles of Jack Daniels and Skyy Vodka so you can refuel/party.”
Granola bars and Jack. The perfect afternoon delight.
Uber also notes that they’ll be handing out branded headbands on the corner of Hayes and Laguna during the race.
Considering the forecast is calling for rain, this may prove to be a very profitable day for the company aiming to disrupt car services. I just hope they don’t mind cleaning up excessive vomit.
Posted: 13 May 2011 02:14 PM PDT
If you’re like me, terms like “out of network” and “deductible” are cringe-inducing. Not just because they generally involve me forking over money for healthcare, but also because navigating the waters of health insurance — and figuring out exactly what I should be paying for — is a complete pain. Cake Health is a startup that’s looking to help by becoming the ‘Mint for health insurance’, offering an attractive and easy-to-use interface for managing common tasks like choosing an insurance plan, monitoring your claims, and figuring out which health services you should be taking advantage of.
Cake Health is still in private beta, but they’ve extended 500 invitations to TechCrunch readers. The first 500 people to click this link will be able to sign up.
The company was founded by Rebecca Woodcock and former TechCrunch developer Andy Brett, who walked me through an early version of the service. During the initial signup process you’ll be asked to connect with your healthcare provider’s website. Assuming your provider is supported (it has around seven in California so far) Cake will pull in your recent claims for each family member, how much you’ve paid out of pocket, and your progress toward meeting your deductible. The service will also look at what your benefits are and make suggestions accordingly — if you’re eligible for two dentist visits per year and haven’t gone yet, it’ll let you know.
Woodcock says that the service can save users money in a few ways. First, it will help suggest plans that best suit your needs (sort of like a BillShrink for health). The service will also check to see that the claims being filed make sense — if you’re getting billed for procedures that don’t seem logical (like, say, a colonoscopy and a root canal during the same visit), it’ll let you know. Woodcock explains that medical billing is typically a very manual process, and that many errors can get introduced as data is entered into the computer.
Cake Health is still early on in development so I’ll wait on a full review, but it’s already clear that it has its work cut out for it. The health insurance industry is extremely fragmented — each state has different insurers, and many insurers don’t distribute their coverage information in a structured format. Brett says that Cake is building a system that will help automate data entry (Cake needs to input data on the doctors and procedures covered by each plan), but it still sounds like a daunting task. Mint had the luxury of relying on Yodlee to handle much of its backend financial processing, whereas Cake Health is going to have to build out that infrastructure itself.
There’s also the fact that the service is dealing with medical information, which is obviously sensitive. The company has hired lawyers who focus on healthcare to make sure everything is in line with the relevant laws, but there’s still the matter of getting users to hand over their health information. And it’s unclear how the insurers themselves will respond.
Cake Health isn’t the only company looking to help make healthcare less painful. Castlight Health helps make the costs behind health procedures more transparent, and unlaunched startups Massive Health and Simply will also be in this space (the latter sounds like more of a direct competitor to Cake).
Disclosure: As was mentioned above, Andy Brett was previously a developer for TechCrunch.
Posted: 13 May 2011 01:16 PM PDT
Last week I wrote about Computer Village, where many of the gadget-hounds in Lagos go to get their gadgety fix. But what about new technology being developed in the country? The city’s tech entrepreneur scene is small, but several people are working on changing that.
Oo Nwoye– or @oothenigerian as he’s known on Twitter– is one of the more enthusiastic champions of this nascent scene. (That’s him on the left.) I met him two years ago in London, where he cornered me at an event and made a case for me going to Nigeria, so he was one of the first people I contacted when I finally did.
Since then, he’d moved back home. He’s working on a to-be-determined startup and spending the meantime trying to galvanize a startup community. He organized a fantastic demo day to give me a taste of what people are working on.
In the days leading up to the pitches, I spoke with half a dozen tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria who had a lot of complaints about the ecosystem. There was the ever-present emerging market complaint of not enough venture capital, but the entrepreneurs also complained about the extremely high costs of doing business in Nigeria given how small the online market is so far, the spotty infrastructure, and the lack of enough developers who want to work for startups instead of the big oil companies.
Victor Asemota (pictured at Demo Day with me to the left) moved to back to Nigeria after starting his mobile technology services company in Ghana, lured by the juicy 150 million person population. He pays the same amount for his office space in Nigeria that he used to pay for a house and a comparable office space in Ghana. More galling: Because the infrastructure is so poor in Nigeria, he also has to provided his own power and water backups. “I have to build my own city just to live here,” he said, exasperated.
Asemota also talked about a bigger challenge to building a tech company in Nigeria: The stigma of illicit 419 scams. He’d negotiated a deal with a customer in Florida one time and was wrapping up the meeting by handing the man his business card. Simply seeing that he was from Nigeria killed the deal instantly, Asemota says. The man wouldn’t even keep his business card. I noticed at the end of our dinner, when Asemota handed me his card it listed his company as located in Ghana. And, he says, ground down by the frustrations of doing business in Nigeria, he’ll probably move back there.
So I entered Demo Day halfway through my trip, desperately looking for some hope. I found the first glimpse of it, appropriately, in a guy wearing an Obama Hope T-Shirt. His name was Gbenga Sesan, and he runs a organization called Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria. It takes small delegations of Lagos’s techies into less developed and frequently more violent parts of Nigeria to convince 13-year-olds to get interested in computers. “If you don’t start at 13, they can’t be millionaires by the time they are thirty,” he says.
Another group called Co-Creation Hub immediately caught my attention. It is building an incubator to help entrepreneurs with business advice, funding and mentoring. Their focus is using technology to solve real problems Nigeria faces, not just copying what people read on TechCrunch. It welcomes more than just coders, but teachers, doctors, or anyone from any background that has a dramatic idea of how to make life in Nigeria better. A new co-working space to be opened later this year will operate like an open living lab for social change.
I love that strategy. I always advise entrepreneurs if they want to build a Western-facing consumer Internet company to move for the Valley; it will just be easier. But if they want to be pioneers in their own markets, focus on the problems and endemic strengths there. (And probably read sites like TechCrunch a little less too.)
So right away between Nwoye’s evangelism, Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria’s efforts to build a young generation of coders and Co-Creation Hub’s cushy nest for social change, there was a pretty impressive mix of people actively working to foster an ecosystem. Things were looking up for Nigerian entrepreneurs. The demos started, and I was impressed by many of the companies too. They ran a tight ship doing pitches of no more than five minutes, and there were only a few copy-cat Western Web ideas in the bunch. My favorites are below. I should mention there was also a Garage48 hacker event over the weekend in Lagos that I wasn’t able to attend. The demos from that day are here.
TT Sağlık Gyst: This was one of two truly long-term, big-idea, swing-for-the-fences startups I saw in the country. (I’ll write about the other one on Saturday.) Sim Shagaya (pictured to the left) has a Harvard MBA, but don’t hold that against him. After studying in the US and bouncing around the tech and banking world, he returned home to build a traditional old media billboard business.
He’s now leveraging the cash-flow of that to build two exciting new media companies. One is a daily deal site called DealDey. The other is super exciting. It’s called Gyst, and it’s a very local business directory search engine. He hires a bunch of kids throughout the country and gives them each a smart phone with a camera. They go door-to-door, manually getting information and GPS coordinates on every small businesses in the city, gathering the information in a database. Amazingly, nothing like this exists in Nigeria– no Yellow Pages, no local search engines, no 411 service. Like most emerging markets, many cities in West Africa don’t even have a formal system of streets and addresses or a working postal system.
This is an insanely expensive and ambitious project, and it’s 100% bootstrapped by the parent company. The opportunity is huge. It’s Google on a local level combined with Yelp, JustDial, SMSOne, Gigwalk, and a bunch of other exciting companies who rethink cost effective ways to amass huge amounts of local data in one easy-to-access place. “It will take a long time to show the true value of this business, but we’re willing to wait,” Shagaya says. Right now the company has 20,000 business listings, and its ultimate ambition is to index every city in West Africa with more than one million people. And the company will make all that information completely free for users. Whoa.
There are obviously huge synergies between these three businesses. A daily deal site that is tied to billboards and the region’s only comprehensive small business directory is a lot more powerful and exciting than a run-of-the-mill Groupon clone. It’s a textbook example of how industries develop in parallel, not serial, in emerging markets, utterly transforming how they develop. Imagine if Clear Channel, Google and Groupon were all the same company. And I love the ambition: Shagaya said he is focused on building nothing less than the Naspers of Nigeria.
Naspers– the South African media conglomerate– is not only one of the most dominant new media companies in Africa, it’s investing in the most important new media companies in the emerging world. One of their companies, DealFish, was even a sponsor of this Demo Day. It’s about time a continent as big as Africa has more than one new media powerhouse. This company is one to watch.
Skoola: This company has taken several years of Nigeria and Western Africa’s standardized tests and converted them into a basic test prep app that can run on any mobile phone, smart or dumb. I asked how big the market is and the whole room laughed. This is the test everyone takes if they have any ambition of higher education.
The business– which is so clear that the entrepreneur pitched in under three minutes– is a no brainer on a lot of levels. More people have phones in the developing world than toilets so it’s the ideal medium, and it’s a way to kill time sitting in traffic and further your education at the same time. It’s a perfect example of how to build a mass market product in a country like Nigeria: It’s distributed on the broadest possible platform, solving a problem a huge percentage of the population has, and priced for volume at less than $.30 per test. The company is working on French translations so neighboring West African countries can use the product too. I’m amazed I haven’t seen something like this in India. I’m sure it already exists. If it doesn’t, it should.
Traffic Nigeria: Speaking of the need to kill time in traffic, this company uses crowd-sourcing to monitor the traffic in Lagos, delivering results over the Web or SMS. Nigerian traffic is not the worst I’ve seen in the emerging world, but it’s pretty awful. As the entrepreneur put it dramatically, “You’re dying gradually sitting in this traffic, and we want to increase Nigeria’s life expectancy.”
I like the idea of attacking a local problem like this, but I’m not convinced crowd-sourcing is the right way. One entrepreneur I talked to later suggested that Traffic Nigeria should charge people for the updates (many people would gladly pay if the information was solid) and then pay motorcycle cabs or delivery guys to report once an hour or so on traffic conditions on their already traveled routes. That could be an instant local hit, and again, something that should exist in the rest of the developing world too.
But the entrepreneur behind Traffic Nigeria seemed sharp, and I have no doubt if the crowd-sourcing approach doesn’t pan out, he’ll iterate his way to a better method. The company is wisely tapping into something people feel passionate about: Everyone in Lagos talks about how brutal the traffic is and routes, meetings, days and plans are all orchestrated to avoid it at all costs.
Several other companies I met were working on important building blocks for any local Web ecosystem. My favorites in that category were Pagatech, a pretty sophisticated company that turns mobile phones into electronic wallets, and Bloovue, a Nigerian-localized ad network that hand-holds small businesses as they start to advertise on the Web and mobile devices. One cool thing about Bloovue is you can build an ad easily on a mobile phone; a small business never has to touch a computer to advertise online. The company cited the example of a woman named Judy the Cheesecake Lady. After one ad ran on Bloovue’s network she got six calls for cheesecakes within twenty minutes, and sixty calls over the next few days. She’d never considered advertising online before, and was stunned by the rapid results.
So that’s the raw, hopeful side of the Nigerian tech scene. This weekend I’ll post two stories about my brushes with the country’s no less entrepreneurial tech underworld.
Posted: 13 May 2011 12:52 PM PDT
Should music artists be like the authoritarian Steve Jobs? Is it their responsibility to know what their fans want better than they do? Evan Lowenstein, the successful singer-songwriter and the current CEO of StageIT, certainly seems to think so. In a recent article tantalizingly entitled "The Artist to Fan Relationship: Dating, Love, Texting and Marriage", Lowenstein argues that "as an artist, it is our responsibility to know what our fans want better than they do." But, as I found out when I interviewed Lowenstein this week at the excellent SFMusicTech event this week, Lowenstein isn't quite as dismissive of his fans as he initially appears.
What everyone at SFMusicTech did seem to agree about, however, is the emergence of a new "intimacy economy" in which the artist and audience are wrapped in an increasingly democratic and co-dependant relationship. Grammy award music producer and the former chairman of Virgin Records, Matt Serletic, for example, acknowledged that all the rules of the old economy have changed. While even Jaunique Sealey, who directs much of Lady Gaga's online marketing effort, acknowledges that this intimacy economy is replacing the more hierarchical industrial model in which artists didn't need to genuinely communicate with their fans.
This is the second in a series of interviews I recorded at SFMusicTech. The first was with Incubus band members Brandon Boyd and Mike Einziger. Stay tuned for more interviews, including with David Hyman, the founder and CEO of the streaming music service MOG.
We'd like to thank Jeff LaPenna and Zachary Ryan at BAMM.tv for providing the cameras, lighting and production assistance
Posted: 13 May 2011 12:44 PM PDT
Small Demons, a stealth LA- based startup founded by former Yahoo Product VPs Valla Vakili and Tony Amidei has just raised $3 million in Series A funding, according to an SEC form filed today. While Vaklili and Amidei and the only people listed on the form, the company is rounded out by former Myspace Data Architect Christa Stelzmuller and former Myspace VP of Data Hala Al-Adwan.
While the Small Demons homepage says its launched in alpha, there are no other accompanying details that would reveal what the startup actually does.
At one point the company’s slogan was “Unlocking the world’s stories” and its Twitter profile slogan read, "When you love something so much you want to experience everything attached to it.” Its terms of service also talks about incorporating user generated content, so I’m guessing this is a some kind of content/news aggregating play. I won’t know for sure until one of the multiple people I’ve contacted get back to me.
According to Trendslate, both Vakili and Amidei worked together on another aggregator http://news-to.me/ while both at Yahoo, lending credence to the aggregation theory. The startup had $750k in angel funding previously.
Posted: 13 May 2011 12:14 PM PDT
In about a week, Disrupt NYC will begin. First, will be the Hackathon over the weekend, which is a mini-event unto itself. We expect more than 500 hackers to show up and create new products in 24 hours.
Then the main event begins on Monday, May 23. For the next three days, we will launch over two dozen new startups in our Startup Battlefield and bring together the smartest people in tech to discuss how the Internet is disrupting industry after industry—from media (print, TV, music, gaming) and social commerce to payments and transportation. We’ve already announced many of the speakers, but the full agenda is below.
We’ve steered away from unwieldy panels, and instead tried to pair up interesting speakers to foster deeper conversations. Fred Wilson, Dennis Crowley, Arianna Huffington, and Ron Conway will kick things off in a series of talks on Monday morning. Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan and Kleiner Perkins VC Aileen Lee will delve into the shifting world of social commerce. Charlie Rose will interview Paul Graham on Tuesday. Betaworks CEO John Borthwick (who recently launched News.me) will debate tablet publishing with Greg Clayman, publisher of The Daily.
We’ll also be diving deep into the bowels of disruption with founders shaking things up at Tumblr, Instagram, AirBnB, Quora, Uber, and Path. We’ve added a session on social music with the founders of SoundCloud and SoundTracking. David Karp of Tumblr and kevin Systrom will share notes on how to deal with hockey-stick growth.
As if all of these great speakers each morning weren’t enough, then we’ll have the main event in the afternoons: the Startup Battlefield. Heather and I have been going through rehearsals with the finalists, and this may be the most impressive bunch yet. That’s all I can say for now.
Monday, May 23rd
Fireside Chat with Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures
Fireside Chat with Dennis Crowley, Foursquare
Fireside Chat with Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post Media Group
Power Play: Dave Morin, Path
Tuesday, May 24th
Special Product Announcement: Lark
Wednesday, May 25th
Success by the Numbers: Chris Farmer, General Catalyst Partners
Office Hours with Paul Graham, Y Combinator
Fireside Chat with Christopher Poole, Canvas Networks
NYC 2011 Disrupt Hackathon Winner Highlights
Fireside Chat with Marissa Mayer, Google
Multiple Sponsor Awards
Audience Choice Award
The Passing of the Disrupt Cup and $50,000 Grand Prize from TechCrunch
Posted: 13 May 2011 12:08 PM PDT
There are rumours of a new European seed fund being built out of London right now, billing itself as a sort of “500 Startups of Europe”. Admittedly Hipster Ventures is a Seppuku-inducing name, but stay with us…
The idea is to whisk the best of European consumer web and mobile companies off to San Francisco to launch them on the West coast. The guy behind it is high profile freelance journalist and Telegraph columnist Milo Yiannopoulos, who appears to be dialling down on the journalism and dialling up a desire to become a VC of sorts.
Posted: 13 May 2011 12:00 PM PDT
Last year, OpenFeint launched the private beta of OpenFeint X (OFX), which offers indie developers the ability to create Zynga-like free-to-play games including microtransactions and virtual goods. Until now, the platform has only been available for iOS devices, but today, the company is expanding to Android phones with the private beta launch of OFX for Android.
OFX allows developers can create social games with a chat wall where players can interact with each other, a newsfeed showing recent in-game activity, and game nudges. OFX also offers the ability to build and run a full virtual goods store, stocking and selling virtual currency and goods, access detailed analytics, and include a game-specific currency wallet.
For games selected to participate in the private beta, OFX will use Google's IAP to process payments. Future updates will include support for alternative payment providers, like direct-to-carrier billers.
For OpenFeint, development for Android is a major strategy. The company just announced a partnership with The9 to bring games to the Android platform through the $100 million Fund9. And OpenFeint was just acquired by Japanese gaming giant GREE for $104 million.
Posted: 13 May 2011 11:23 AM PDT
The first thing many of us do in the morning is check for earth-shattering news, and Google has just made the quest to find relevant news a little easier by introducing a geolocation-enabled “News Near You” feature in its U.S. edition on mobile phones.
While there are plenty of niche local news aggregators like Topix or Fwix available for local news junkies, Google News is the dominant player in the news aggregation landscape with 14.4 million unique visitors in April according to Comscore.
Google has allowed users to view location based news by entering their zip codes on the web since 2008, but today’s leap into mobile local-based news is significant; The battle to capture smartphone eyeballs has only just begun.
Users who want to take advantage of the new feature can visit news.google.com on their smartphone and enable location sharing to see the “News near you” section at the bottom.
You can bring the feature to the top of the Google News page by toggling the arrows in your personalization settings, and pin the web app to your homescreen using the “Add to homescreen” button if you’re on an iPhone or by this (are you kidding me?!) if you’re on an Android.
Posted: 13 May 2011 11:18 AM PDT
Last October I wrote about a small startup called Mailgun that was setting out on a bold mission: to provide developers a way to programmatically create and manage mailboxes and email messages using a straightforward API. Put another way, they want to abstract the complexities of email in the same way that Twilio has created an easy-to-use developer interface for telephony services.
Today, the company is announcing that it’s raised $1.1 million from some very well-known investors including SV Angel, Yuri Milner (individually, in addition to his previous investment as part of Start Fund), Maynard Webb, Paul Buchheit (who, among other things, created Gmail), and Geoff Ralston (who created Yahoo Mail back in 1997). Given the credentials of the investors, it looks like Mailgun may be onto something big.
Mailgun landed a spot in the Winter 2010 Y Combinator class, and many of its early clients were actually fellow YC teams (YC cofounder Paul Graham says this is generally a good indicator for which services will gain traction). The product has also come a long way. Founder Ev Kontsevoy says that when we last wrote about them, Mailgun’s feature-set was comparable to SendGrid, allowing businesses to send large volumes of email reliably. Since then it’s evolved into a more robust email service provider, allowing developers to send, receive, parse, store, and run search queries on email programmatically.
Mailgun obviously isn’t the only email service provider out there, but Kontsevoy says that traditional ESPs charge by the number of mailboxes, which is too expensive for many developers. Instead of that model, Mailgun charges based on how many messages each account sends and receives and how much storage is used, similar to the way AWS works.
Mailgun’s value proposition is probably best explained using an example. Kontsevoy says that when fellow YC alum Posterous first got started, it spent a lot of time building its own email system in-house (Posterous allows you to quickly generate a blog post on the web by simply sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org). Had Mailgun been around, Kontsevoy says they could have skipped most of the work involving the sending, receiving, and storage of messages, and focused on building out the blogging side of things.
Mailgun is now powering the email boxes of 600 clients — 400 free, almost 200 paid. The service’s free plan allows for 200 messages/day, with the first paid plan running $1 per 1,000 messages and $1 GB/mo of storage. You can find more pricing details here.
Kontsevoy adds that Mailgun isn’t just setting out to create email APIs — they want to actually change how developers integrate email into their apps. “In our view”, he says, “everything is a mailbox: site comments, private mailboxes on sites like Facebook and Quora, blogs and so on – they are all good candidates to use the “new email” we’re working on.”
Posted: 13 May 2011 09:30 AM PDT
When it comes to app development for mobile devices, cross-platform implementation is the new hot thing. Developers have long struggled with fragmentation across operating systems, when they want to just be able to create one app and blast it out on every platform imaginable. Businesses like Heroku and Appcelerator, and gaming versions like Game Closure (and many others) collectively make creating, hosting, and deploying games a more manageable endeavor. But today, a startup is launching that hopes to make development of mobile apps even easier.
Palo Alto-based Particle Code is building a platform that enables mobile developers to write mobile apps and games once, deploy both HTML5 and native apps across platforms and devices — all from within a single codebase. Particle Code is built on the Eclipse IDE, an environment and suite of tools for Java developers, and supports development in a wide array of languages including Java, C# and ActionScript3. This means millions of additional programmers can now enter mobile app development in a way that is scalable to reach a whole bunch of devices. And, as a potentially interesting aside, here’s TIOBE’s ranking of the most popular programming languages this month.
Particle Code CEO Galia Benartzi tells me that Particle’s platform originated as part of Mytopia, a cross-platform publisher for networked casual games, that was acquired by 888 Holdings in June 2010. The Particle Code founding team (which includes CTO Yotam Shacham and Chief Architect Yudi Levi) retained rights to the cross-platform tech behind Mytopia after its acquisition, and used it to deliver the Particle SDK.
Benartzi said that Mytopia debuted at TC50 in 2008, at which point Ev Williams and Tim O’Reilly, who were both on the judging panel, told the founders they should focus either on games or a more general app development platform. At the time, the team decided to focus on games, but since Mytopia’s acquisition in 2010, they’re going one step further.
In the last year, HTML5 has taken some significant strides forward thanks to assistance from Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, and more, and is gaining momentum as an alternative to native apps. But it’s still not there yet. While it contains the promise of unification, it’s still a work in progress that still hasn’t gained full browser support.
So, the Particle Code team has created a flexible environment that gives developers the chance to do both, create native and web applications, and harness the best of both worlds.
The key to Particle’s platform, she said, is that it allows coders to translate their code on the source code level, bringing app performance closer to what it would be with native code. If you were to include wrappers, you might see memory drain on your device, slower animations, poorer latency, etc., so Particle removes this obstacle by allowing developers to create native apps alongside web apps. The choice, grasshopper, is yours.
The startup originally funded its operations through cash received from its Mytopia exit, but it also raised $3 million in June of last year from Benhamou Global Ventures. It is looking to raise more cash in the near future, and expand upon its current team of 14.
Posted: 13 May 2011 09:17 AM PDT
This is your last chance to win a free ticket to this year’s Disrupt in New York City! The conference is from May 23rd to May 25th, a little over a week away, and has an incredible lineup of guest speakers and judges. You can read all about our speakers here, and you can take a peek at our three day agenda, as of now, here.
We still have a couple other little surprises that we will be announcing. Some very special guests have confirmed and we will be revealing them shortly. Since this is your last chance to win a free ticket, we wanted to throw in something extra to make it special. A couple of weeks ago, Alexia wrote about a company named Talkatone. They were generous enough to give us a free iPod Touch with Talkatone already installed, so we thought it would be nice to give it away to one of our readers. So, the winner of this giveaway will win a free ticket to Disrupt, a ticket valued at around $3,000, and an iPod Touch, courtesy of Talkatone.
If you want a chance at winning, all you have to do is follow the steps below.
1) Like our TechCrunch Facebook Page:
2) Then do one of the following:
- Retweet this post (including the #TechCrunch hashtag)
The contest starts now and ends tomorrow, May 14th at 7:30pm PST.
Please only tweet the message once or you will be disqualified. We will make sure you follow the steps above, choose at random, and contact the winner this weekend with more details. Anyone in the world is eligible.
Please note this giveaway is for 1 ticket and 1 iPod Touch only. It does not include airfare or hotel.
Good luck everyone!
Posted: 13 May 2011 08:55 AM PDT
Wine enthusiast, author, founder, blogger, investor and serial entrepreneur (did I leave anything out?) Gary Vaynerchuk dropped by our TechCrunch TV studio in New York City with a bottle of red to discuss his new book, The Thank You Economy with TechCrunch Co-editor, Erick Schonfeld. "Context is the new battleground for business" says Vaynerchuk when asked to give the Twitter version summary of book.
In essence, businesses need to better understand how to use social media and how to apply an authentic human touch while doing so. Vaynerchuk thinks current efforts are abysmal. "”99.5 percent of the people that walk around and say they are a social media expert or guru are clowns,” he says, continuing with "we are going to live through a devastating social media bubble.”
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