Friday, June 3, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Rosetta Stone iPad App Hits App Store

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 08:25 AM PDT

Short version: Rosetta Stone launched its iPad app today, which is basically just a lighter version of its core “course” software. The app itself is nothing extraordinary, but the way it teaches languages is pretty awesome. Foreign language has never been my best subject, but I had a blast playing with this app because it feels way more like a puzzle than a language lesson. The worst part is the price: you have to be a Rosetta Stone customer to access the app.

Read more…



Microsoft Wants To “App Your Sites”

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 08:14 AM PDT

Earlier this week, Microsoft registered a bunch of domain names, including AppYourSites.com, AppYourSites.net, AppYourSites.info and more of the same with different extensions (including some country TLDs). If you open any of the URLs in your browser today, you’ll simply be forwarded on to the company’s search engine Bing, which makes you none the wiser. So why ‘app your sites’?

Frankly, I don’t know, but I can offer you a few theories.

One is that the domain names were registered to support an upcoming marketing campaign, either for the Windows Phone 7 series of smartphones and the associated Marketplace, or for HTML5 (of which Microsoft appears to be a big fan).

Another possibility is that the Redmond software giant is plotting a new service that lets you easily create Windows Phone 7 (or other smartphone platform) apps from existing websites, or something similar like Google’s App Inventor.

It’s worth noting Microsoft partner Nokia already offers a tool called Ovi app wizard that lets users create a mobile Ovi app from existing web content.

Update: or as Mary Jo Foley says, it could be about the ‘pinning’ feature included in Internet Explorer 9, which kinda sorta turns websites into mini apps.

All would make sense, although it could be just a couple of domain names registered on a whim without a masterplan. Perhaps you have some theories of your own?



Save The Date: TechCrunch Vienna And Much More, 6 October

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 08:11 AM PDT

It’s been a long time since TechCrunch made its last official event in a german speaking country. Almost exactly two years after TechCrunch Munich and our TCEU Editor Mike Butcher developing a crush on Berlin, we are bringing TechCrunch to Vienna. The event will take place in one of the most prestigious and old-fashioned industrial houses, embedded in an entire week of startups, investors and tech-lovers from all walks.



Zypr Releases API That Lets You Control Your Favorite Web Services With Your Voice

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 08:11 AM PDT

Pioneer Electronics today announced a nifty new service called Zypr, a platform that collects your favorite web services all in one place and allows you to control them using your voice — on any connected device. Today, our experience of the Web is fragmented across devices, as we use each device, be it a phone, tablet, etc, for their traditional uses, yet each of them is connected but few of them are cooperating. Zypr’s API is designed to simplify device connectivity to the many devices and applications we use on a daily basis, including in-vehicle entertainment, tablets, TVs, and smartphone apps, aggregating them in a single portal, under a single account. It’s a consistent way to access voice UI, maps and routing, local search, social networking, music, radio, etc. from your car, from home, from work, or on your smartphone at the grocery store.

In terms of inter-device cooperation, the Zypr API enables devices to access and share web info more easily and to create mashups of the info that is most important to them. On the other side, for device manufacturers, Zypr enables them to be the creators of those mashups from multiple sources and gives them customization and control of the user experience without requiring use of an app store. Through use of the cloud, device makers can more easily handle the fluctuating service landscape without changing the device or breaking service to the user.

Developers and device makers can access the Zypr cloud using a RESTful API, which is similar in concept to any other API, and after obtaining a free license, device makers and app developers can access the API through HTTP calls, using common languages and OSes.

What you’ll see in the YouTube video below is an example of what someone could build using Zypr.



Mobile Q&A App Opinionaided Has Generated 90M Responses To Over 1.2M User Questions

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 08:00 AM PDT

When we wrote about mobile Q&A app Opinionaided two months ago, the app had generated 40 million responses to about 500,000 questions. In only three months, Opinionaided more than doubled those numbers, generating 90 million responses to over 1.2 million user questions for an average of 73 responses per question asked. Opinionaided says users are spending an average of 2 hours and 33 minutes in the app per month.

Opinionaided’s free iOS app allows users to get advice and opinions on the fly. Within the app, users can input a question, determine a category (i.e. relationships, politics) and submit it for other Opinionaided users to answer. You can also publish your questions to Facebook and Twitter. After a question is posted, fellow Opinionaided users can comment on the question and the app will calculate the percentage of users that responded positively or negatively. From there, consumers can reply back to the comments or create a new question for peers to vote on.

So what’s driving this much growth in users and engagement? Opinionaided founder Dan Kurani says that the ability to get real-time feedback at the point of decision-making is helping drive usage growth. On average it takes less than 2 minutes to get your first 10 responses to any question, says the company. And the simplicity of the app makes it appealing as well.

Interestingly, the average age of the Opinionaded user is 24, so perhaps usage also skews to a younger audience that is more engaged on devices like the iPhone. And while Opinionaided offers a web platform, Kurani says the company is seeing 90 percent of engagement on mobile.

While many app developers don’t generally release average engagement times, a recent study from GSMA reports that an average of 15 mobile apps are responsible for 667 minutes of use per user each month, or about 45 minutes per user per month. Opinionaided’s engagement is well above this.

With the impressive engagement data, especially on mobile devices; it comes of no surprise that Opinionaided is launching apps on other platforms. An Android app should be launched in the next few months, says Kurani.



comScore: Apple Assumes #2 Spot Among Smartphone Platforms In The U.S.

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 07:39 AM PDT

comScore this morning released some interesting data from its MobiLens service, reporting key trends in the U.S. mobile phone industry during the three-month average period ending April 2011.

According to the measurement specialist, 74.6 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones during that period, up 13 percent from the three-month period ending in January 2011. Roughly 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices.

Google’s Android ranked as the top mobile platform, with 36.4 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers, up 5.2 percentage points. Apple also gained share, assuming the #2 position with 26 percent of the smartphone market. RIM ranked third with a 25.7 percent share, followed by Microsoft (6.7 percent) and Palm (2.6 percent).

The comScore study surveyed more than 30,000 U.S. mobile subscribers and found Samsung to be the top handset manufacturer overall with 24.5 percent market share, followed by LG with 20.9 percent share and Motorola with 15.6 percent share.

On that front, comScore says Apple jumped to the #4 position with 8.3 percent share of mobile subscribers, while RIM rounded out the top five with a 8.2 percent share.

ComScore further reports that 68.8 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers used text messaging on their mobile device in April 2011. Browsers were reportedly used by 39.1 percent of subscribers (up 2.1 percentage points), while downloaded applications were used by 37.8 percent (up 2.4 percentage points).

Accessing of social networking sites or blogs increased 2.7 percentage points, representing 28 percent of mobile subscribers. Playing games comprised 26.2 percent of the mobile audience (up 2.5 percentage points), while listening to music represented 18 percent.



Twirpy Patent Troll Threatens Twitter

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 06:55 AM PDT

A patent troll called Kootol Software has put Twitter on alert. The ‘company’, which sports a corporate logo (and name) that is suspiciously reminiscent of Google’s, this morning said it has sent a caution notice to Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey and co to express “concerns” about possible intellectual property violations.

The patent application in question (a patent number hasn’t been assigned yet) is titled "A Method and System for Communication, Advertising, Searching, Sharing and Dynamically Providing a Journal Feed."

The patent is said to cover “innovative technology providing dynamic and real-time communication”. According to a press release issued by Kootol, the “invention” allows people to publish and send messages using one-way or two-way messaging and by subscribing to posts of other users of a network, and to power real-time search for those users.

Kootol’s website menu includes mentions of ‘products’ and ‘solutions’, but it’s important to note Kootol does not actually provide any products or solutions at this point.

They appear to be looking for investors to develop a Twitter competitor of sorts. Only not really, because this isn’t the type of company that ever builds anything.

Patent applications for their so-called invention have also been filed in India, Canada and Europe, but it’s important to note there are no lawsuits by Kootol against Twitter based on any of them, at least not yet.

Yogesh Rathod, director of India-based Kootol, claims he is the inventor and owner of the patent application, and in a press statement says Kootol is currently in the process of “examining its position”. They state that sending Twitter a caution notice is simply to give the startup the opportunity to examine the patent application at the “very earliest stage”.

Basically, they’re trying to get Twitter to license their technology.

Yogesh Rathod says he owns some 60 patents in total.



Tesla Taps Public Markets Again; Raises Over $200M To Develop Model X Vehicle

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 06:04 AM PDT

Electric car company Tesla Motors has priced its follow-on offering of 5,300,000 shares of stock at $28.76 per share, the closing price for Tesla shares on June 2. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also plans to purchase 1,416,000 shares of stock directly from Tesla at the public offering price and Blackstar Investco, an affiliate of Daimler AG (a Tesla investor), plans to purchase up to 637,475 shares of stock directly from Tesla at the public offering price. Tesla has also granted the underwriter a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 795,000 shares of stock. Excluding the underwriter option, Tesla will raise around $211 million in this follow-on offering.

This money is primarily going towards the development of its Model X crossover vehicle, says Tesla The Model X will be Tesla’s first SUV, and will cost around $30,000. Musk has said that this car, which is expected to become available in 2013, will be appeal to mainstream car buyers because of its lower price point.

Currently Tesla offers a sports car, the Roadster, and in 2012 its sedan vehicle, the Model S, will go on sale to the public.

Tesla shares started trading on the NASDAQ last June at around $19 per share. Shares over the past year have performed moderately well of late—the high has been around $36.42 and currently Tesla is trading at $28.76.

While secondary offerings take place often with public companies, there are a few questions that are raised with this offering. First, will Tesla tap the public markets every time they want to develop a new vehicle? Second, Musk continues to bankroll Tesla. Through the private placement, he’s putting nearly $41 million towards the development of the Model X.



Walgreens Completes $409 Million Acquisition Of Drugstore.com

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 05:56 AM PDT

Roughly 10 weeks after drugstore giant Walgreens announced its intention to acquire online retailer Drugstore.com for approximately $409 million, the company this morning said that it has completed the purchase.

The transaction includes all websites directly owned and operated by Drugstore.com, as well as its corporate office and customer service and distribution center operations.

Walgreens President of E-commerce Sona Chawla will lead the combined e-commerce business.

Dawn Lepore, former drugstore.com CEO and chairman, is not sticking around although will continue through a transition period as a strategic advisor.

Drugstore.com will maintain separate branding of its websites.

Over the long term, Walgreens says it will fully integrate the two businesses and intends to enhance its multi-channel product assortment and the overall customer experience by “leveraging drugstore.com's current websites”.



Say Hello To EA’s New Online Direct-To-Consumer Gaming Platform ‘Origin’

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 05:10 AM PDT

Electronic Arts is today debuting Origin, a direct-to-consumer gaming platform, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

According to the placeholder website, expect Origin to go live around 9 AM Pacific time.

The platform will enable gamers to discover, buy and download more than 150 games from EA at its debut, with exclusive limited edition copies of EA games like Battlefield 3 and FIFA 12 to be added to the fray later on.

Other content from EA Partners such as Alice: Madness Returns and 38 Studios' Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, as well as digital downloads of Star Wars: The Old Republic will be available exclusively on Origin later this year.

In addition, EA is today launching the Origin beta application, a desktop app that works much like Steam or iTunes, enabling users digitally download and play PC games straight from EA but also to find and connect with friends and see what they are playing.

Origin will also be available to gamers on the go, with the service on mobile devices giving gamers access to an Origin mobile profile where they can connect and play with friends in EA's smartphone titles, including SCRABBLE and the upcoming mobile version of Battlefield 3.

In the future, EA says, mobile gamers will also be able to see what games their friends are playing, as well as compare high scores.

Update: in other news, EA this morning also revealed the games it will present at E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center June 7-9.

This year's E3 press briefing, GAMECHANGERS: EA 2011 Preview will feature news from big EA titles such as, Battlefield 3™, Need for Speed™ The Run, Madden NFL 12, FIFA Soccer 12, SSX™ and Mass Effect™ 3; and the highly anticipated new MMO, Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. The briefing will include news and announcements on new games and digital/online initiatives. The briefing can be viewed live exclusively on SPIKE TV Monday, June 6 at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT or at www.ea.com/e3.

EA Interactive will be hosting media demos throughout E3 for key EA mobile, Chillingo and Playfish titles at the JW Marriott located at 900 West Olympic Blvd. in Salon B.



WPP Buys Brazilian Digital Agency Grïngo

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 05:01 AM PDT

Possible Worldwide, a WPP Digital company, this morning announced its acquisition of a majority stake in Gringo, a Brazilian digital agency. The deal is meant to expand the global footprint of Possible Worldwide, which counts companies like Microsoft, Nokia, Dell, Google and BBC among its clients.

Grïngo, which has 65 employees, works for clients like Coca-Cola, Absolut Vodka and Microsoft and has racked up a large number of industry awards over the years.

Grïngo founders Andre Matarazzo and Fernanda Jesus will join Possible Worldwide as Chief Creative Officer, São Paulo, and President, São Paulo, respectively.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.



Adam Bosworth Unveils Keas, The Game That Keeps You Healthy

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 04:58 AM PDT

After two years in stealth, Adam Bosworth is finally ready to start talking about his health startup Keas. Keas is not a Mint for health, although it began that way. Bosworth, who previously launched Google Health at Google and before that was known as the father of XML at Microsoft, founded Keas two years ago with $10 million from Ignition Partners and Atlas Venture. He thought he would build a Mint for health, but discovered that people don’t want to measure their health. So instead, he turned it into a game.

Keas is a game that keeps you healthy. You pick three goals a week, which can range from exercise to eating more fruits and vegetables to reducing stress. You get points for accomplishing your goals and for taking health quizes. If your company signs up for it, you can get rewards as well, including cash (HR departments are willing to pay for programs that will keep employees healthy and productive).

Bosworth came by the TCTV studios in New York City earlier this week for an interview, which you can watch above. He already has 10 companies including Quest Diagnostics and Novartis with about 1,000 employees each testing out the system in a private beta. But it is now public, and you can play here.

One of the key differences between Keas and something like Virgin Health is that Keas is inherently social. You join a team of your co-workers and everyone has to achieve goals together in order to level up in the game, so that encourages players to support each other.

Keas also takes a completely different approach than Google Health, which Bosworth helped to start. I asked Bosworth why Google Health never really took off. His answer in the video clip below is that Google Health never asked, “What could they do that people would want?” Instead. “they basically offerd a placeto store data.” People don’t want to store data, they want to have fun.



Still Think The Mouse Isn’t Dead?

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 01:08 AM PDT

We’ve been over this. But many of you felt the need to argue — passionately — about the fate of an input device we all use today: the mouse. I say it’s dead. Well not dead, dead — yet. But the wheels are clearly in motion. Many disagree. And I thought it was worth bringing up again upon seeing the demo video that Microsoft put out there for Windows 8.

I mean, does anyone still think the mouse isn’t dead?

I can understand that after Apple put a gun to the head of the mouse with the release of the Magic Trackpad, people were skeptical. “Apple has basically no market share!,” was the basis of most of the basic arguments. The bigger point was that we’re moving into a world where touch is king, lead by the smartphones and tablets. These devices are going to start influencing our more traditional computers, not the other way around.

But still, many were quick to argue that the PC will never go mouse-less. Which is silly. In fact, it’s going to next year. And Microsoft — yes, Microsoft! — is leading that charge.

Sure, they point out in the video that the Windows 8 interface can still be used with a mouse. But that’s laughable. Watch what they’re doing in those videos. How are you going to do some of those gestures with a mouse? And even the ones you can do, it will be a thousand times harder than if you just use touch gestures. Microsoft admits that Windows 8 is designed for touch.

Others have argued about the ergonomics. No way touchscreen computers replace the more comfortable mouse-on-the-desktop paradigm, right? Those people aren’t thinking about this deeply enough. It’s not just about directly manipulating a screen via touch, it will be about using touch pads as well that reside on desktops. You know, like the Magic Trackpad.

We’re about the see the first real step in this post-mouse direction in a few weeks. When OS X Lion is released, it will quickly become apparent that it’s much better suited for users with trackpads rather than users with mice. I suspect Apple will start selling more Magic Trackpads as a result. (There’s a reason the in-store iMacs now have Magic Trackpads as the standard.)

And again, this goes deeper. OS X Lion has been billed by Apple as OS X meets iOS. A big part of this intersection is touch. This is the way that upcoming generations are going to grow up using computers. Hell, in just one year, the iPad has already broken my brain with regard to input controls. I keep trying to touch my MacBook screen to scroll — it’s driving me insane. OS X Lion will alleviate some of the pain.

While it will die as the primary input method for computing, the mouse will continue to reside for many years as a precision tool. It’s something that graphical designers and hardcore gamers will continue to pray at the alter of (or trackballs, I suppose). But the rest of us will be touching our data, our apps, the web, etc. And this early look at Windows 8 is nothing if not an admission of that.

The mouse had a good run. But it’s over.



SV Angel: “We Won’t Pass On Old Entrepreneurs”

Posted: 03 Jun 2011 01:01 AM PDT

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the “peak age” of entrepreneurs. “Old Guys Rule,” said Vivek Wadhwa in 1999, citing data that showed that men over 40 who were married and with children have the highest chance of success (no data was shared on female entrepreneurs).

But more recently there’s been a definite trend, particularly in the consumer Internet and mobile space, towards very young founders. The peak age is around 25, said one venture capitalist, drawing a comparison to professional athletes. And SV Angel shared data on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt last week showing that more than 2/3 of startups that have $500 million or higher exits are started by entrepreneurs under 30 (see image above).

To counter the counter-argument, Adeo Ressi argued earlier this week that older entrepreneurs are actually performing better on their Founder Institute aptitude tests, and they expect great things from them.

And now SV Angel partner David Lee wants to clarify the data they presented at TechCrunch Disrupt. In particular, he says, that data doesn’t affect how they make investment decisions going forward. It just shows how previous investments worked out.

His guest article is below:

More Thoughts on What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Great

I had the privilege of speaking at TechCrunch DISRUPT last Monday with Michael Arrington and Ron Conway. The subject of the talk was “What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Great.” Initially the scope of the talk was to have Ron share some of his stories to give a birds-eye view into his decision making process, which he has developed over a 15+ year career. Coincidentally during the few weeks before the talk, we at SV Angel also had been collecting data from 500+ founders funded by Ron or SV Angel during the past 10 years or so. We wanted to use the data to determine whether there were any patterns in measuring startup success – whether there is a Moneyball or 538 approach that could be gleaned from the reams of data accumulated over the years.

Even though we're in the early days of this effort, we thought it’d be interesting to share some of the data, and pepper some of Ron’s stories with the early results. Truthfully I was a little wary to present the data in this raw of a form but thought it would be interesting and thought-provoking nonetheless. Given the limited timeframe, we decided to touch on some of the biggest myths around tech startups: (1) young founders are “better” (e.g., the archetypal boy-wonder), (2) one founder is not enough, and (3) repeat founders are more successful. Here's the link to the talk.

The anecdotal feedback we received was generally positive (I think). But there were at least a couple of founders who were discouraged by it – or more likely, the way I presented it. The takeaway for them was that we would be disinclined to fund founders who didn’t fit within certain parameters as suggested by this data – for example, weren’t young enough, worked alone, or were first-time founders.

I just want to say as clearly as possible that we don’t use this data as any sort of guide when making any investment decision. Not only is it too early to do so, we are skeptical that any analysis of this type – no matter how comprehensive or rigorous – will ever be a good proxy for startup investing. Correlation is not causation, let alone prediction.

So, to follow this data blindly would be idiotic. We would never pass on an entrepreneur just because they are "too old," have never started a business or don't have a specific team composition. We don’t do this because we are good guys; we do this because it’s good business. We generally look for "founder-market fit" – founders who personify their product, business and ultimately their company. In the early days, this usually means building something for themselves or starting a company in a sector where they have deep domain expertise (or both). Obviously there is no archetype for this. And as we've seen the range of markets and opportunities expand recently, we've also seen the range and diversity of entrepreneurs expand as well. We're excited by this, and have every reason to think that this will only continue as more offline dollars flow online, and startups address new markets – both domestically and abroad. No data can predict who will be most capable of attacking these massive opportunities.



Spark, Lightbank And Yuri Milner Get In On OnSwipe’s $5M ‘Series Awesome’

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 09:47 PM PDT

Tablet publishing platform Onswipe is announcing a $5 million round of “Series Awesome” funding today after their one million in seed funding in January. The round will be led by Spark Capital and followed on by Lightbank, investment badass Yuri Milner, Lerer Ventures, SVAngelBetaworks, Morado, Eniac and Thrive Capital.

And they’re really calling it a Series Awesome;  Co-founder Jason Baptiste explained the need to raise even more cash, ”We realized what we are building is a larger opportunity than we ever thought while growing at a breakneck speed. In order to own the market we went out and raised a Series Awesome from the best group of investors possible that share our goal of world domination. And yes…the legal docs actually say Series Awesome.”

Onswipe most recently announced a partnership with WordPress.com to power the tablet experience of over 18.5 million blogs via the service. Threewords.me cofounder Mark Bao has also just joined the team as a CTO and Baptiste hopes to use the funding to scale his current team of 10 to 20-25 people in the next year, introducing a mix of engineering and business development positions.

Baptiste tells me that the service will launch fully on June 21st with “killer” (read: companies you’ve actually heard of) brand partnerships and “myonswipe,” a feature that allows Instapaper-like offline reading, all done in browser and in HTML5.

Actual term sheet cover page below. Stay tuned.



One More Thing, The Rap Song

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 09:13 PM PDT

Apple’s big developer conference, WWDC, is coming up next week, and what better way to prepare than with a rap song? Cory Smith, the man who brought us Developers, The Rap featuring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, now has one for Apple. It is called One More Thing, and I’ve embedded it below. Here is a sample (see what I did there?) of some of the lyrics:

Phil Schiller told us
we wouldn’t want to miss this
would have been gold
if there’d been more specifics
so I look to Gruber
discern his predictions
to see if the rumours
will turn into fiction
damn this consumer addiction
to all these gadgets
and the magic within them
all the designs
by jonny ive
so I guess I better check who’s blogging live
can’t wait to download the developer preview

Smith is not only a rapper, he is also a mobile developer at music-sharing platform Cardinal Media Technologies.



Juice In The City Reels In $6 Million To Help Moms Take On Groupon

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 09:03 PM PDT

Juice In The City, a site that pairs moms with local businesses and daily deals, announced tonight that it has raked in $6 million in seed funding from Tandem Entrepreneurs and HU Investments. The startup will use the infusion of funding to continue pushing into new markets and to create jobs for moms across the country.

Founded in 2010, Juice In The City aims to bring moms big deals on things they really want to do, so the startup features daily deals at locally owned businesses — just like that Groupon thing. Yet, unlike Groupon, Juice In The City’s core team consists of a growing community of mom bloggers, mom groups, local vendors and local sales moms. As you can tell, there are some moms involved. Take that, Groupon.

This group of local business consultant mothers identify and write about the deals that are then offered on the site, which means that moms recommend their own favorite local businesses and services, based on personal experience, so that other maternal-type figures (okay, moms) looking for good deals know that they are getting recommendations and deals from sources who have their interest at heart.

Juice in the City customers get some pretty good deals thanks to their mom workforce (because who doesn’t love moms?), who in turn earn a percentage of the deal's revenue. Everyone wins. Especially moms. And seeing as mothers are often the most loyal patrons of local businesses, and, in turn, local businesses know that moms are their quality customer and core consumer, Juice In The City has positioned itself to be of real value as a conduit through which to reach them.

It’s also for this very reason that the startup thinks it may have solved the Groupon customer retention problem, as 80 percent of local vendors have indicated they are interested in working with Juice In The City again.



New Records In Cleantech Offer Hope For More Affordable Solar Power, LED Lights

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 07:51 PM PDT

Cleantech companies— especially in solar— love to talk about how they’re breaking records. They issue press releases left and right about the most efficient this, that and the other. Such claims fizzle if they haven’t been verified by a third-party lab. They can also feel like greenwash, or Cola War style brand standoffs.

Broken records we love to hear about, though, are like these from cleantech ventures Lighting Science Group and Flisom (in Switzerland). Here’s what they’ve done and why it matters…

1. One Million LED Bulbs Made In One Quarter

On May 31, Lighting Science Group — makers of light emitting diode (LED) bulbs that are Energy Star rated — reported that during the first quarter of 2011, they produced and sold 1 million bulbs. In 2010, Lighting Science produced and sold 1 million bulbs in the second half of the year, according to company statements.

Bulk production and sales increases like this suggest that LED lights, which are more energy-efficient and durable than flourescent and incandescent bulbs, are becoming mainstream and more affordable.

2. Flexible Solar Technology Reaches 18.7 Percent Efficiency

Flexible, thin-film solar cells can now deliver more electricity per square inch than ever before.

Scientists from EMPA, Switzerland’s Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Innovation, along with a Swiss startup called Flisom broke the energy conversion efficiency record for flexible thin-film CIGS solar cells, last week. They hit 18.7 percent efficiency for their CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) flexible solar cells.

A previous record of 15.7 percent was announced by MiaSole in December 2010 (as TechCrunch reported then).

The new record means that electricity generated by thin-film solar will become more affordable, hopefully alleviating reliance on petroleum and coal for power somewhat.

The improved efficiency also means that the flexible, lighter-weight solar panels could catch up to rigid, silicon solar panels in terms of performance which would allow more consumer choice and competition in solar.

Image: Records, under creative commons via Peter Organisciak



Delays? Fragmentation? Advertising? Some Overcast Appears Ahead Of iTunes In iCloud

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 04:19 PM PDT

Once far off in the distance, iCloud is now quickly approaching. It will be a new service with many layers that Apple will first unveil on Monday during the keynote at WWDC. But the most interesting layer, at least from a consumer perspective initially, is the music one. And the details continue to emerge about what’s likely coming.

Today, two reports state that Apple has finalized deals with all four major music labels. CNet notes that Universal is now on board as are many publishers. The LA Times confirms this and suggests that the publisher deals could be completed tomorrow. That means the service will be set for a Monday debut.

Great, right? Potentially. But there are also some troubling details.

First of all, CNet’s report states that while it will first talked about on Monday, the iTunes aspect of iCloud will not launch right away. Instead, it’s expected “soon”. We had previously heard that Apple was aiming for a fall launch of the service, but that likely got pushed up once Amazon and Google unveiled their (decidedly limited) cloud music offerings.

Second, and more importantly, the report says that the initial version of the service will only offer access to songs that have been purchased through iTunes. In other words, any songs ripped from a CD, or obtained through other online stores, or obtained through less-than-legal means, will not be included. That’s not good news.

It makes sense that the music labels would want such a limitation to ensure that pirates aren’t rewarded. But most of the talk up until now has been that Apple was working hard to ensure that all user music would be available in the cloud. This seems vital given users’ desires to work with existing music collections. Now CNet is saying that Apple is aiming to offer this more complete option “sometime in the future”.

Again, not good.

The LA Times report is a bit more disturbing because it talks about uploading. One killer feature of iTunes in iCloud was supposed to be the ability to mirror songs. That is, for iTunes to scan your hard drive, identify your music, and give you access to those same songs in iCloud without any uploading necessary. Both Amazon’s and Google’s service involve uploading — which is a huge pain in the ass — but that’s only because neither of them have the label (or publisher) deals in place. Apple will have those. So let’s hope LA Times simply misspoke there.

And that’s certainly possible. Other aspects of their report don’t make a ton of sense. For example, while CNET says the label/publisher/Apple split for iTunes in iCloud will be 58/12/30, LA Times says that Apple will give a full 70 percent of revenue to the labels and another 12 percent to the publishers, leaving them with only 18 percent. The former split seems more likely given the current status quo, but LA Times went out of their way to update the post with this new split, so perhaps it is correct.

The oddest part of the LA Times post though is the talk about iCloud being advertising-supported. This would represent a big break in form for Apple — more along the lines of the Google model. It’s simply hard to imagine Apple doing something like that.

Of course, no other details are given, so who knows what that actually means.

LA Times also claims that while iTunes in iCloud would be free at first, there would be an annual fee of “about” $25 eventually. Apple is expected to charge for the service, but it may be bundled with other iCloud services, rather than broken out separately. Also, if they are charging the fee, the advertising talk seems even stranger.

Given that fairly loose-lipped music industry people (and Hollywood people as well) are involved, we can probably expect more to leak out before Monday. And let’s hope so, the talk right now is ranging from confusing to a bit disappointing.

[image: twitpic/@stop]



CodeGuard Raises $500K To Monitor And Protect Websites

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 04:15 PM PDT

CodeGuard, a startup that launched at TechCrunch Disrupt last week, has already raised a round of funding. The company has just announced a $500,000 round from Imlay Investments.

CodeGuard, which was the audience choice winner from Startup Alley, helps protect and monitor websites from attacks and data thefts. The startup provides a virtual version control system and stores site data in the cloud. Backups are stored hourly or daily, allowing users to see what files have changed. If there is a hack or suspicious change in data, webmasters can quickly revert to the last known "clean" version.

And hacking can be identified and site owners can be notified before they spread malware, have their links pirated, or act as a parasitic host for spammers. As we wrote in our initial review of CodeGuard, the service is similar to the Time Machine feature built into the Apple OS X software; except CodeGuard backsup data found on a server elsewhere. And the product is designed to allow owners with little technical experience to manage and monitor their websites.

You can watch CodeGuard’s demo from TechCrunch Disrupt below:

they really appreciated it, and we're happy just to be here and to be on the stage with all these very disruptive companies doing cool things. So, thanks.

So, I'll tell you about CodeGuard and I'll keep it super quick. We are a time machine for your website. So if you have a PC and you're not sure what time machine is then ask a person to your left or right whose using a Mac and they can tell you. And so I'll tell you how we interact with websites to do this.

So what we do is, we back up your site. Right now we use FTP or SFTP and we're working on cPanel and and Plus plug-ins to make it super easy. But right now you have to enter in your FTP credentials and we take up an initial backup or snap shot. Then we monitor your code for changes, either every hour or every day.

And if we find any changes we'll update your repository and take a new snapshot. And lastly, we offer the ability to undo any changes if you need to. So this is really the key to the value proposition in that, if anything happens to your site, whether it was wanted or unwanted, that you want to revert you could do with just one button So now I'm going to show you guys the way the site looks.

This is our web site, and it's super easy to get started. This is codeguard.com. Ok, it's up there. You just click get started, and you create your account and we're offering five-thousand spots for our public beta, so once those are gone, we 'll just have to cut it. The code you can use is capital TCD, and you can create an account, and once you create an account, then you can add your web site.

This is what it looks like after you've added your web site. So you can see each version, and the thing that's unique about our versions is that they contain information. We don't just take a daily snapshot, we only take a back up if something is changed on your site. You can look in, and I can see, well nothing's changed on my sight.

That's fine, and if I wanna look at the changes, I can click on changes.

And then I'll show you how monitoring is configured, and we'll conclude our presentation. For monitoring, I can choose here whether I want to have it monitor daily, hourly or whenever, and then I can tell what I want it to do ifif it notices anything is different. So the reason this is important is, if I'm going on vacation for two weeks and I have an AdWords campaign running and I'm not going to do anything to my website, I want to make sure if it notices anything is different, I want it to repair by pushing the last version.

And that means that if Google puts me on a blacklist, my site's not going to drop on the page rankings while I'm gone, because very quickly once it notices there's a change it's going to revert and then any malware on my site will be gone.

So with that, I'll go back to the conclusion of our presentation. We consider ourselves website protection for the rest of us. Our systems is built upon Git, developed by Linus Torvalds. It's an industry-leading source version control tool, but we provide it for the masses. It's as easy as getting started by adding your site, connecting to CodeGuard and then we do the rest.

That's it.

That's playing golf. Alright, questions or comments for CodeGuard, Shana?

It is an enterprise self serve model, that's the idea you want?

It is an enterprise self serve?

I mean you want people to sign up themselves, no enterprise sales people.

So, we're targeting right now small and medium businesses, because--I want to make sure I understand your question--the Fortune 500 and above, they have complicated web IT people that are as sophisticated as those in the audience, that are using Git and other tools to do this. So we're targeting the small to medium businesses and bloggers who now can't do it on their own at all.

So trying to take an industry-leading tool and bring it to the masses.

I guess I don't understand. This is for people who run their websites on which kinds of publishing platforms? Does it only work with certain CMS's or publishing platforms, or?

That's a great question. So we've developed our initial MVP to work with static sites because we wanted to get that down and really get down to monitoring the source code. And now we're working on rolling out with essentially all CMS platforms, but doing it on a one-by-one basis. So we are starting with WordPress.

Static sites means you're just crawling the page, you don't need to have anything connected to the server, or?

We FTP all the sites right now. And for the static sites our solution right now We don't have a database component but lets say we take Word Press. If you have Word Press database backup plugin installed, It will drop your database next to your source code and we back every thing up. So we started, we want to start with something where we could be very sure we had a solution that worked.

So, we started with the static sites and just the source code and now we're planning on moving towards the database portion. So in the next two weeks, we will have our own database plugin.

How many sizes is this working on currently?

Right now we soft launch and we transition some of our private beta users. We maybe have 60 sites in the system right now.

And what's the, how do you plan to charge with this?

I'm sorry?

How do you plan to charge?

Right now it's free if your site is 250MB or less and if you want to manage multiple sites or your site is up to a gigabyte, so above 250MB is $10 a month. And we have our agency plan if you are lager than a gigabyte.

And how do you intend to distribute?

Our distribution plan is sort of twofold, so right nowsparring customers on a one off basis, just to gain traction and get information about which features to develop and pour our time and energy to.

And then at same time I am working with hosting providers. There is a company called A Small Orange, and the CEO of that company sits on our board of advisers. And I've been specking out the Cpanel plugin with them. And I have several other hosting providers lined up. And our goal is to work with them on revenue share agreements.

Because they like us one, for revenue share, and also to reduce their technical support costs. Because customers can trouble shoot problems themselves rather than call them and require them to spend time and energy of the customers.

Jim?

What, so this sell some kind of insurance policy to people? Because typically once they're hacked they wish to have been using you but its too late. So how did you sort of market yourself?

That's a great question. I had someone in my office a week ago, he said down and would not let me leave until he backed up his site. Because his wife's law firm site had been hacked. And I tried to leave to go to lunch. He said, "No, you are staying here until our site loaded in your system."

So you may have a great point in that. Someone who has experience the problem feels the pain. say that someone who has and has not. And I think our challenge there is to work with hosting provider to market it in the right way and we think that if it comes from a hosting provider and it's marketed the right way and awareness growth in the community.

So if you look 10 years ago, who was using Carbonite and Mozy, they didn't exist, because no one was aware that laptop failure,computer failure was an issue.

It is great point. I think we'll have to leverage influentials,as well as really fine tune our marketing to really roll it out the right way.

Can you make money, I assume you then have to pay a commission that's resonably substantial to the hosting provider. How does your marginal structure support going to market mainly as a web share basis kind of thing? Absolutely! The question about how we are going to monetise, and specifically with our revenue share partnership.

It is all predicated upon storage cost going to nearly nothing. And that is the reason we can offer Code Guard today as opposed to five years ago. Because storage costs are so low we can offer a very healthy margin to the hosting providers and it still makes sense. Because our customer acquisition cost.while it's going through an aggregation channel is very very minimal.

I mean, that's the challenge, I think, in the small and medium business market. If I have to go out and acquire each customer and in a disaggregated fashion, it's going to cost me a ton, which is X is greater than Y and Y is the cost to go through the aggregator or maybe the rep share that I give to them.

And what is your current back end? What are you using for storage?

That's another good question. Right now, we just have a dedicated server and the goal was, rather than build a site that can handle a million users, that's a happy problem to have. We'll build a system that can handle five thousand users, should we be in the advantageous position that we get there.

Then we'll put some more money toward scaling the back end.

So we have a system that works very well for a 5000-site, that we'll close our data off at, and then should we get to the 5000 and our investors are happy and think that's the direction we want to go, we'll invest to allow us to scale from the back end perspective.

So you 'll manage your own architecture; you'll manage your own servers. You'll have your own rack. You're not going to sub this out.

Absolutely, absolutely. I think there are some benefits to the cloud and you have to really think. smart about it, but there's a number of influential and thought leaders that I think, would agree for a product like this while Cloud is a great options we can do that in ours .

Ok. We are going to wrap it up. That's the CodeGuard everyone.

Thanks guys.

That's our startup of our audience's choice so well then who voted for them .Ok, that's end of the todays session . Thank you all for staying.


Startup Canada: FounderFuel Launches Accelerator Program In Montreal

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 03:08 PM PDT

Today, another early-stage accelerator program hits Quebec’s largest city, joining Year One Labs and others in an effort to support and grow Canadian entrepreneurship. FounderFuel was created by the team behind Montreal Start Up, a venture investor that has backed Beyond The Rack and the recently-launched Real Ventures, a $50 million seed-stage venture fund. Today, Real Ventures announced that it will be contributing over $2 million to FounderFuel’s accelerator program.

Ian Jeffrey, who was formerly formerly VP of Tiny Pictures and subsequently Director of Marketing at Shutterfly will become FounderFuel’s General Manager. Jeffrey told TechCrunch that FounderFuel aims to be the “Y Hibernator” for Montreal-based startups. Though, considering Y Combinator accepted 60-plus startups for its summer program this year, FounderFuel has its work cut out.

The program will accept approximately 8 teams into its first batch and will dole out $10K to each team, plus an additional $5K for each founding member. The program is 12-weeks long, beginning August 15th, with a demo day planned for November 7th in Montreal. 85-plus mentors from around the world are joining the board and will lend their knowledge and experience to the selected teams. The program is now open for submissions, with a deadline of July 1st.

With relative proximity to both New York and Boston, FounderFuel will be tapping a number of U.S.-based mentors, like David Cancel of Performable and David Hauser of Chargify in an effort to provide quality mentorship to the founding teams.

“Having spent time in Montreal recently as part of the ‘Do More Faster’ tour, I think I’ve got a read of the place and a good sense of the vibe”, said Foundry Group Partner and TechStars Founder Brad Feld. “And I’ve got to tell you, in terms of the dynamics for Entrepreneurship, it’s a powerful place just to hang out in”.

It’s great to see another support system for Canadian entrepreneurs hitting the streets of Montreal. With any luck, FounderFuel will be the Red Bull for innovation in Montreal.



Note to Self: If the Halls Clear at Conferences, IPOs Are Near

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 02:38 PM PDT

In Silicon Valley the terms of venture capital deals, the prices of valuations and the real stories of ousters are routinely dished, whether they always show up in the press or not. Sure it’s all off the record or on background or whispered at a coffee shop, but people who live here love what they do and when companies and valuations grow this quickly, it’s hard to keep the juicy details under wraps.

So when they can’t dish, what do they do? Hide.

No one wants to mess with the Securities and Exchange Commission. So I should have realized sooner the reason why so many attendees that I usually talk to at conferences seemed to vanish into thin air during the All Things Digital Conference.

The Greylock partners– four of them were here– were all conspicuously absent the last few days. LinkedIn founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman was here….supposedly but I never laid eyes on him. Ditto James Slavet. And John Lilly was around opening night, but I didn’t see him again. I saw David Sze at check in, but he only resurfaced again an hour or so ago looking for a lost phone. It was the first time I’ve ever seen him refuse to stop and chat. Moments later, the Groupon S1 came out and Pandora priced. I don’t know if he ever found his phone, but fortunately he’ll soon be able to buy about zillion replacements.

Andrew Mason was supposed to sit down with us after his fireside chat, then suddenly had to leave immediately. And of course Mark Pincus pulled out of the conference at the last minute altogether, spurring Zynga IPO speculation. This after Hoffman, the Pandora founders and several others politely declined our invitations to speak at New York Disrupt, saying our San Francisco conference was far better timing. (I should note that Marc Andreessen was also nowhere to be seen except on stage last night, but that’s just Andreessen.)

It’s tough days to be a tech reporter trolling the halls for news, when the newsmakers vanish. Nearly all of Groupon’s investors, its press people and its CEO were all in the same hotel with the tech press elite and somehow the story didn’t leak. Score one for the SEC and a big fail for the tech press. I’d resign in shame, if every reporter here didn’t fail just as terribly.

So who was visible in the hallways this week? Two people of note: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. Indeed both were quite cordial and easy to find, roaming the halls for several days without handlers. In absence of other news coming out of this event, take that tidbit for whatever it’s worth.



Groupon’s IPO Filing Reveals Incredible Growth And $2.6 Billion Revenue Run-Rate (Charts)

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 02:00 PM PDT

Groupon finally filed for its IPO today and now we can see it’s finances laid bare (click for full financial table). Groupon has been growing at an astounding rate. Last year, it’s revenues grew more than 22,000 percent to $713 million. And in the first quarter of 2011 alone, it nearly matched all of its revenue from last year with $644 million in sales, up 13,575 percent from a year ago.

If you annualize Groupon’s first-quarter numbers, you get a revenue run rate of $2.6 billion for 2011, and that is not even factoring in any growth in subsequent quarters. So the $3 billion to $4 billion estimates that were thrown out a while ago for 2011 revenue look very achievable.

Groupon had 83.1 million subscribers as of March 31, 2011, up from 3.4 million the year before. In the first quarter of this year alone, it added 32.5 million subscribers and it sold 28 million Groupons across all 83.1 million subscribers.

But what about profits? Groupon lost $456 million last year, and another $147 million last quarter. And don’t expect those losses to go away anytime soon. CEO Andrew Mason warns future public shareholders, “We aggressively invest in growth.” Groupon spends a lot of money “acquiring new subscribers.” About 54 percent of its operating expenses goes towards marketing. The other 46 percent goes towards sales.

Half of its workforce of about 8,000 people are in sales, a number CEO Andrew MAson threw out yesterday during an interview at the D9 conference. As of March 31, 2011, however, according to the filing, there were 7,107 employees and 3,556 sales people. Of those sales people, the majority (2,895) are international. They represent 81 percent of the salesforce, but only 54 percent of Groupon’s total revenues in the first quarter. That is where Groupon is investing for growth—overseas. That is also where Groupon is losing most of its money. The U.S operations lost only $10.4 million last year, whereas the international operations lost $170.6 million.

Groupon and its bankers will be pointing to its gross profits instead, which are much healthier. Gross profits were up about 24,600 percent last year to $280 million, from $10.9 million the year before. And gross profits in the first quarter of 2011 came in at $270 million, which nearly matched all of last year’s gross profits. Those were up from $20 million the year before.

Investing for growth is fine, but ultimately a company (and its shares) are measured by how much of those profits the company actually keeps.



Pandora Prices IPO At $7 To $9 Per Share At Valuation Over $1B, Raising $141.6M

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 01:20 PM PDT

Music streaming service Pandora has just filed a new version of its S-1 that indicates the company will be pricing its stock at $7 to $9 per share. Pandora’s stock will be traded on The New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "P."

According to the filing, Pandora aims to raise as much as $141.6 million in the offerring, and will offer offering 5,000,682 shares of its common stock with the selling stockholders are offering 8,683,318 shares of common stock in the IPO. The pricing of the stock puts Pandora’s valuation at over $1 billion.

Pandora initially filed its S-1 in February and now has 94 million registered users. Last week, the company released its most recent revenue numbers, which reflected an increase in both sales and usage for the internet radio service.



The Groupon IPO: Who Owns What

Posted: 02 Jun 2011 01:17 PM PDT

Groupon has just filed its form S-1, paving the path for an IPO in the near future (the news isn’t a big surprise, as an impending IPO has been rumored for some time). As part of the process the company has to disclose many of its key stats — like the fact that it has Q1 2011 revenues of $644 million but is actually still losing money because of its rapid expansion. It also outlines the cap table, giving an overview of who owns how much of the company.

As you can see in the table below, Groupon has Class A and Class B common stock, which are identical save for the increased voting rights given to class B (how many more votes each Class B share gets is yet to be determined or disclosed as there’s actually a blank in the S-1 where it says how many votes per share Class B gets).

Here are the largest shareholders of Class A Shares, which make up the bulk of the outstanding shares:

Eric Lefkofsky, who was a cofounder of ThePoint (which became Groupon) and originally financed the company, has 21.6%.

New Enterprise Associates, which invested in ThePoint and then invested again once the company had become Groupon, holds 14.7% of the company.

CityDeal Management has 10.3% (Groupon acquired CityDeal in May 2010).

Groupon Cofounder and CEO Andrew Mason has 7.7%.

Bradley Keywell has 6.9%.

Accel has 5.6%.

Also important is the distribution of Class B shares, which, while making up a small percentage of the overall shares, likely have much higher voting rights:

Both Lefkofsky and Mason have 41.7% of Class B shares.

Bradley Keywell has 16.7% of the Class B Shares.



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