Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

ThingLink Takes The Fight Back To Stipple With Rich Media Image Tagging

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 08:02 AM PDT

Stipple, which thinks it's a bit original in allowing people to tag images with Twitter names, has some new competition on the block. ThingLink, which also lets you tag any image, is now launching Rich Media Tags, allowing anyone to interact with an image tag which might be embedded music, video, words, pictures and tags for people. Publishers simply connect their site, blog or Flickr account with the ThingLink platform and get an embeddable code to make all or individual images taggable. These tags have now been created for Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Spotify, Vimeo, Wikipedia, SoundCloud and Twitter. The application is obvious: you can add promotional flyers to a branded product, or anything, thus enabling some kind of engagement of transaction to take place without someone needed to leave a page or site.


Richard Nash: Publishers Have Lost Their Way, Becoming Printers and Distributors Rather Than Matchmakers

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Thanks to the Amazon Kindle and the rise of ebooks, we now live in a world where publishers are an anachronism. Or so we’re told.

One person who doesn’t entirely buy that narrative is Richard Eoin Nash. Four years after selling the celebrated indy publishing house, Softskull Press to Counterpoint, Nash has launched Cursor, a startup which promises to “help power the next 50,000 independent publishers.”

In the video below (which is a must-watch for anyone involved in books and publishing) Nash reminds us that, as recently as 50 years ago, the publishing industry was at the forefront of innovation and disruption. Today, however, publishers have become mere printers and distributors and have, he argues, lost sight of their primary function: to help connect writers with readers. As he puts it, “Any major publisher that has launched a [disruptive, digital] subsidiary, has launched it under house arrest. They have not built anything to destroy their own business.”

Nash also shoots down a number of myths, including the idea that the world no longer needs publishers, that electronic self-publishing is somehow a new concept and that it’s possible – or advisable – for a publishing house to offer something for everyone.

Finally, as the company embarks on a “super angel level” funding round this week, Nash invites TechCrunch readers to share their thoughts on the Cursor product, and on the future of publishing generally.

(As ever, please forgive the shoddy camera work. I was testing out my new Sony Bloggie and — well — I clearly haven’t got the hang of landscape vs portrait yet.)






Google Ventures Backed-Copious Launches A Social Marketplace For The Facebook Era

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 07:59 AM PDT

Social commerce has taken on many forms; from purchasing items on Facebook to product recommendations from your social graph to daily deal sites. There are plenty of startups that offer the functionality listed above, but there’s one area of social commerce which no startup has yet to conquer and successfully take on Amazon and eBay—the marketplace. Today, Copious is launching an eBay-like marketplace that leverages your social graph on Facebook.

Copious, which has raised $2 million in funding from Foundation Capital, Google Ventures, BlackBerry Partners Fund, and a number of Facebook angels; is trying to disrupt the marketplace industry in a number ways. First, the site allows buyers and sellers to see if friends in common, which friends have bought or sold from a seller, bought from you, etc. As Copious co-founder Jonathan Ehrlich tells me, the site is centralized around using social data as a signal to help users understand and trust other parties.

Another component of the marketplace is that sellers can integrate a variety of content and social components to show communicate their expertise, whether that is a Twitter account with thousands of followers or an eBay account with positive reviews. And lastly, the site aims to give buyers a more personal, relevant experience with recommendations and more.

Here’s how the site works: The marketplace acts similarly to eBay, in that everyone creates a profile and can then search items to by and/or upload product to sell. All buyers and sellers on Copious are linked to their Facebook identities. For example, buyers can see whether anyone in their networks has purchased, shared, or commented on an item from a specific seller. They can also see more information about a seller, rather than just anonymous aliases or profiles.

Using a proprietary set of ‘signals,’ Copious allows sellers integrate information from profiles on Twitter; other marketplaces like eBay; relevant product forums; personal blogs; and more. Copious will also recommend product to buyers based on their “likes” on Facebook and what their friends have bought.

Copious will also allow sellers to integrate a social pricing mechanic that enables a seller to offer buyers discounts for sharing listings on Facebook and a following mechanic that enables sellers to offer buyers discounts for following them on Copious. For example, seller x could offer me a $25 credit to purchase a handbag if I follow the seller or share the listing in my stream on Facebook.

While Copious does not charge sellers a listing fee, sellers are charged a flat transaction fee of 10 percent (discounted to 3.5 percent for a limited time following launch). For basis of comparison, eBay charges a small listing fee and transaction fees range from 8 to 12 percent. To prevent any sort of theft on the marketplace, Copious serves as an intermediary on all transactions. The money paid to a seller is held in escrow until the buyer receives and verifies the shipment.

The Copious marketplace is launching with a select group of sellers, focused initially on the handbags category and featuring sellers like eBags, Malababa, Ritzy Ragz, and more. The site will eventually expand to other categories such as electronics and clothing.

Copious was founded in January 2011 by former Mobshop CEO Jim Rose, Critical Path VP of mobile strategy Rob Zuber, and former Facebook head of marketing Jonathan Ehrlich. All three worked at MobShop, which was a group-buying site that launched during the bubble, way ahead of its time.

While Facebook currently has its own marketplace (powered by Oodle), Ehrlich says that this model has flaws because it focused on selling between friends and locally, whereas Copious is focused on adding social relevance to selling (even if you don’t know who the seller is).

Of course, launching a full marketplace has its challenges, as eBay and Amazon knows. It’s not just about verifying seller quality, but it is also a challenge to make sure that the items sellers are selling are authentic. The startup says that it will bring on handbag experts to help authenticate whether handbags sold are fake or real.

To be perfectly honest, I never check Facebook’s marketplace (although I get plenty of emails alerting me to items on sell within my social graph), so I’m curious how much traction the network is seeing with its marketplace. It’s unclear yet if Copious has the answer to blending social with a marketplace, but they certainly have the potential to disrupt the social commerce space.



Tapad Brings Ad Retargeting To Mobile, And $1.8 Million From Powerhouse Investors

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 07:43 AM PDT

One of the best-performing technologies in online advertising right now is retargeting—everyone from Google to startups are making bank from it. That’s when you browse the Web and are shown an ad from a site you’ve visited in the past. The clickthroughs are much higher than a random display ad. Now, a New York City startup called Tapad is bringing retargeting to mobile devices.

Tapad was founded by Are Traasdahl, who previously was the founder and CEO of mobile entertainment company Thumbplay. He’s raised $1.8 million from Metamorphic Ventures, Firstmark Capital, Lerer Ventures, and a Who’s Who of ad tech angel investors, including former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt, Clickable CEO David Kidder, 24/7 Real Media co-founder Geoff Judge, AppNexus founder (and former Right Media CTO) Brian O’Kelly, Tacoda founder Dave Morgan, OpenX founder Scott Switzer, Hashable (and former Quigo) CEO Michael Yavonditte, and SecondMarket CEO Barry Silbert. Yeah, that’s a hell of a list of entrepreneurs who created some of the most valuable online advertising companies of the last decade.

Why the excitement? Mobile retargeting is really hard. The browsers on Apple products like the iPhone and iPad blocks third-part cookies by default, creating a huge blind spot for advertisers. Tapad works on Android right now, and will launch support for Apple iOS devices sometime next week.

Tapad has come up with a method to retarget ads in both mobile browsers and mobile apps, so that if you visit a mobile Website and then open up an app, you might see an ad from that site in the app. The company has been testing its system for about 6 months with half a dozen advertisers. “We cover 8 to 10 billion mobile impressions a month across the mobile web and apps,” says Traasdahl.

In order to make retargeting work on mobile phones and tablets, Tapad does more than just place cookies in your browser. For Apple devices, the cookies only work during a session, so it must use other signals such as the device signature as well as the network ID where it is getting online. If it sees an Android phone hit a Website and then an app from the same Wifi network in the space of a few minutes, the chances are that it is the same user are high. Tapad supplements this with data from websites and app publishers that have dual login systems for the mobile Web and apps, all of which is sold on an aggregate, anonymous basis. For the most part, Tapad tries to nail down users by the devices they use rather than personally identifiable information. All they really care about is being able to retarget someone who used an app or visited a mobile website when they show up somewhere else.

So far Traasdahl says Tapad advertisers are seeing early clickthrough improvements “similar to retargeting numbers online—from 50% to 150% lift. But we still have to run it on a huge scale.” Each impression is sold through a realtime bidding mechanism, similar to what Admeld does online (Google just bought Admeld for $400 million).

Tapad is just getting started. So are the ways that ads get targeted to mobile users. And you thought you could escape by go mobile.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Pandora Opens At $20 Per Share With A Market Cap Of $3.2 Billion

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 06:35 AM PDT


Yesterday, music streaming service Pandora priced its IPO at $16 per share (valuing the company at $2.6 billion). The company originally set the range of its IPO at $7 to $9 per share, at a market cap of $1.3 billion; but upped the range last week to $10 to $12 per share, giving the company a valuation of $1.9 billion. Today, Pandora debuted, under the symbol ‘P’ on the New York Stock Exchange, opening at $20 per share (up 25 percent), valuing the company at $3.2 billion. Within minutes of trading, shares reached as high as $25, giving the company a $4 billion valuation.

The company raised $235 million in the IPO, offering approximately 14.7 million shares of common stock. A total of 6 million shares are being offered by Pandora, with selling stockholders offering 8.7 million shares. In addition, Pandora has granted the underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to approximately an additional 2.2 million shares to cover over-allotments.

Pandora initially filed its S-1 in February, creating a ton of hype about the music company’s IPO. A few weeks ago, the company released its most recent revenue numbers, which reflected an increase in both sales and usage for the internet radio service. But the company, which now has 94 million users, has yet to make a profit.

How Pandora’s stock value will fare in the long term is unclear, given both the company’s financials and the mixed performance of tech company stock in the past few IPOs. LinkedIn shares popped 84 percent on the first trade of its offering to $83 per share, but dropped below this number of late (today’s LNKD shares opening at $76 per share).

Yandex shares opened at $35 per share, but have dropped slightly to $31.60 at market close yesterday. And Fusion-IO shares began trading at $25 per share (up 30 percent from pricing) but have leveled off at $23.00 per share.

As Pandora CEO Joseph Kennedy tells CNBC this morning, “the investors will determine the stock price.”

Photo Credit: @tconrad



Dolby Sues RIM Over Patent Infringement, Aims To Halt Sales Of BlackBerry Devices

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 06:27 AM PDT

Breaking - Dolby has just announced that it has filed patent infringement lawsuits in the United States and Germany against BlackBerry maker Research In Motion.

The lawsuits seek recovery of financial damages and injunctions to halt sales of “many RIM products” that Dolby claims infringes its patents.

Founded in 1965 by Ray Dolby, Dolby Laboratories specializes in audio noise reduction and audio encoding/compression technology.

According to Dolby, RIM infringes patents covering digital audio compression technologies which allow manufacturers and consumers to provide audio while using limited amounts of transmission and/or storage space for such audio.

Dolby says its technologies provide the core of HE AAC (short for ‘High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding’), an international standard that it says is used in a ton of consumer electronics devices such as smartphones, portable music players and tablets to play back music that has been compressed to less than 10 percent of its original digital file size.

In a press release, Dolby posits that the Canadian hardware and software maker employs its patented technologies in its Blackberry handsets and PlayBook tablet device, without having obtained licenses, adding that “all other major smartphone makers” have agreed to license the technologies that are the subject of this litigation.

Dolby recently shared financial results for its second quarter of fiscal 2011, reporting total revenue of $250 million. Licensing revenue was responsible for a staggering 86 percent, or roughly $215 million, of that revenue.

"Litigation was regrettably our last resort after RIM declined to pay for the use of Dolby's technology," said Andy Sherman, executive vice president and general counsel of Dolby. "We have a duty to protect our intellectual property."

The wording suggests Dolby has been engaged in negotiations with Research In Motion for a while now, talks which have apparently not materialized in any patent licensing agreements.

One lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The other, German lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Mannheim.

We’ve reached out to RIM but haven’t heard back yet. We’ll update as soon as we learn more.



Lookout Expands Mobile Security App To Browsing; Lands Marketing Deal With Sprint

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 05:58 AM PDT

Lookout, a company that offers security services for a number of smartphones, is launching a new feature today that will protect users from online threats while browsing on a mobile phone.

For background, Lookout's web-based, cloud-connected applications for Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry phones help users from losing their phones and identifies and block threats on a consumer's phone. Users simply download the software to a device, and it will act as a tracking application and a virus protector much like security software downloaded to a computer.

With Safe Browsing, Lookout will automatically check every website a user visits, from an app, email, or browser on a mobile phone, to prevent phishing sites from stealing personal data and malware from being installed on a device. It promises the same sort of security that many browsers offer on the desktop
(but enhanced for mobile devices).

The fact is that smartphone users are now at risk for phishing scams, drive-by downloads and malicious sites on mobile browsers. And because users are clicking website links from a variety of apps on a mobile device (i.e. via Yelp, Twitter, email client, Google search and more), users need to be protected against suspicious sites.

Lookout's Safe Browsing reviews every website in real time before the site loads to confirm it is safe. If a user unknowingly clicks on a link to a bad site, Safe Browsing will block access to the site automatically.

Safe Browsing, which is part of Lookout Premium. We have a special deal for TechCrunch readers who want to download the app; the startup has given readers $5.00 off the app if they use the code SURFSAFETC (the offer expires in a week).

Lookout is also announcing a deal with carrier Sprint to feature the app on their phones in the Android Market and more. This adds to previous deals with Verizon and T-Mobile.

There’s no doubt that Lookout is on a roll. In December, the company had 4 million users and has now more than doubled that number, with nine million users. And the company just raised $19.5 million in funding from Index Ventures, Accel Partners and Khosla Ventures. I think it’s safe to assume that 2011 will be a big year for the company.



TigerText Disposes Of ‘Sender’s Remorse’ With New Privacy And Control Features For SMS

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 05:00 AM PDT

TigerText, a company that adds a bevy of privacy settings and controls to SMS, is today launching a new app for iOS that aims to preserve the social nature of group messaging while giving the sender complete control over their messages both in group and one-to-one conversations. A prized feature of TigerText’s service has been the fact that it allows a sender to recall a message they’ve sent at any time. Bad for TextsFromLastNight. Now, with its new iOS app, users can create and manage group messaging easily, recall messages, and control the lifespan of a message.

Other features of its new app include allowing the user to determine who receives the message, augmented privacy by using a TigerText specific user name (not based on a phone number), as well as confirmation of message delivery.

TigerText’s core belief is that social sharing should be possible without sacrificing privacy, and that individual control should be key to the text messaging experience. Today’s group messaging apps might lead one to believe that sending a message to a smaller set of people gives one added privacy, or that increased security comes by way of fortifying the message, or channels, in particular. TigerText, on the other hand, claims to be the first app to fully secure messages both in transit and in state, allowing the sender to be in control of how long a message lives — end to end.

In February, TigerText launched an enterprise version of its product, called TigerTextPRO, that enables companies to deploy their own private and secure mobile network in hours. Organizations can deploy a private, secure mobile network to allow employees to privately communicate on their existing mobile devices within a company.

As Leena Rao reported last year, TigerText's mobile apps let users delete messages from both the sender and receiver’s phone by selecting a lifespan for the message, which ranges from 1 minute up to 30 days. What’s more, the messages are not stored on any internal TigerText servers, so they cannot be retrieved once they expire. Even James Bond likes the sound of that. Users can also select a "Delete on Read" option, meaning that the message will be deleted 60 seconds after the recipient opens the message. And users can message others on the platform no matter what device they use.

The new TigerText iOS app is compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G, iPad and iPod Touch and is available free on the app store and at TigerText.com. The new app will be arriving for Android devices in the coming weeks, and previous versions of TigerText are available for Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 devices.

The company, which is getting stiff competition from startups like Kik Messenger, raised $1.9 million in angel funding from Herb Madan and the co-founder of Akamai, Randall Kaplan back in September of last year.



Meltwater Debuts Social Media Monitoring Platform Buzz Engage

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 04:59 AM PDT


Social media monitoring company The Meltwater Group is debuting new product, called Buzz Engage today, which promises to be one of the more comprehensive social marketing tools for businesses.

Leveraging the software of social CRM platform JitterJam and social media monitoring client BuzzGain (Meltwater acquired both companies in the past year), Buzz Engage goes beyond just social media monitoring, tracking and analytics for businesses. The product also provides brands with deep intelligence on anyone communicating on a given brand or topic over Twitter or Facebook by aggregating all of that person’s social history and scoring them for sentiment, brand affinity clout etc.

Profiles include full public social biographies, social activity analysis, a social graph with alternate social identities, communication history and notes, brand engagement and sentiment analysis, Jitterater influencer score (sort of like Klout), the individual's top five personal contacts, fully customizable tagging and contact segmentation.

Buzz Engage also includes the ability to Retweet, @message, or DM contacts from the platform, as well as share to Facebook. You can schedule Twitter and Facebook posts and review a communications calendar to see outbound messages sent and scheduled.

Meltwater, which claims it is seeing $100 million in revenue per year, faces competition from Radian 6 (bought by Salesforce), and others.



Tintri Lands Another $18M For Storage Appliance For Virtual Machines

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 04:45 AM PDT

Tintri, which market storage solutions purpose-built for virtual machines (VMs), has raised $18 million in Series C funding. The extra capital comes from existing backers NEA and Lightspeed Venture Partners and comes roughly 3 months after Tintri raised $17 million in Series A + B funding. The company just launched its "VM-aware" storage appliance, VMstore, last quarter, and the proceeds of the new financing round is meant to help Tintri accelerate its R&D schedule and invest in regional sales initiatives for the product.


Shutl Aims To Disrupt Delivery – Is This Urban Fetch Done Right? (TCTV)

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 03:20 AM PDT

Shutl, an on-demand delivery platform that aggregates transportation carriers so they can deliver something in an hour, recently took £650,000 ($1m) investment round from Hummingbird Ventures and others. It’s been piloting its service with Argos, a leading high street retailer in the UK.

Shutl was formed by Tom Allason, previously founder of eCourier.co.uk. We went to interview him at his office near “Silicon Roundabout” – the cluster of tech companies in East London – in our series of videos we’re calling The Roundabout Tapes.



Windows Phone 7 Ad Impressions Up 92%; iOS And Android Neck In Neck For App Revenue

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 02:43 AM PDT


Mobile ad network Millennial Media has released its monthly monthly mobile report for May, giving us a view into how each OS and manufacturer is performing on the mobile ad network. For the sixth consecutive month, Android maintained its position as the leading Smartphone OS on the network with a 53 percent impression share.

iOS followed with 27 percent of impression share, followed by RIM with 17 percent of ad impressions on the network (up 6 percent from last month). Millennial says that RIM’s rise was due to an increase in BlackBerry Curve impressions on the network. Windows Phone 7 actually showed the highest growth in impressions on Millennial’s network, up 92 percent. But Windows Phone 7 still has a 1 percent share compared to their mobile operating systems.

Specific by device, impressions on the iPad grew 29 percent month-over-month. In fact, in the last year, connected devices as a category are up 190 percent in terms impressions. And 70 percent of impressions on connected devices were from MP3 players or mobile gaming devices. Tablets made up 27 percent of connected devices by impressions.

When breaking down all the revenue driven by apps on Millennial’s network, iOS apps and Android apps were very close, with 45 percent coming from iOS and 43 percent from Android. It looks like Android is closing in on iOS in terms of revenue. In April, iOS took 50 percent of app revenues, with Android trailing behind with 39 percent of app revenues.

Feature phones actually experienced a 6 percent month-over-month increase, and made up 17 percent of the device OS mix (as opposed to 67 percent for smartphones and 16 percent for connected devices).

For the 20th straight month, the iPhone maintained its position as the top individual phone on Millennial’s network by impression share. Apple was also the leading manufacturer on the network for May with a 30 percent share.

HTC moved to the number four position and represented almost 11 percent
of the Top 15 Manufacturers impression share in May, with six devices on the Top 20 Mobile Phones ranking.

Data aside, we’re all waiting to see what Millennial’s next step is as the largest remaining independent mobile ad company. Last year, the company raised $27.5 million in new funding, and is reportedly considering an IPO in the near future. The company recently acquired mobile data company Condaptive.



Cloud Technology Startup Cotendo Raises $17 Million From Citrix, Juniper, VCs

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 02:42 AM PDT

Cotendo, which specializes in cloud-based acceleration technologies, this morning announced that it has raised $17 million in funding from strategic partners Citrix and Juniper Networks (through its Junos Innovation Fund) and previous backers Sequoia, Benchmark and Tenaya Capital. The company says the proceeds will be used to support its growth (particularly in Asia-Pacific and Latin America) and ramp up delivery of dynamic content for mobile and web applications.


Crowd-Source Your Night In The City With The AreaNow iPhone App (TCTV)

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 02:35 AM PDT

The rise of location-based apps has been so rapid that there are a slew of products coming onto the app stores most of the time. But few have gone to the trouble of realising that by targeting a passionate user base in one area they may get some head-room over the competition. Hey, it works in the Valley, why not elsewhere?

That’s the been strategy of young London-based startup Area Now, which bills itself as a ‘short-notice event recommendation service’ for nearby events. Their iPhone app now in Beta (combined with the site), effectively crowd-sources events from people nearby who want to find out where the latest happening club or event is. You can download the app from iTunes here or start adding events direct on the site.



Exposed: Facebook’s Secret iPhone Photo Sharing App (Which Looks Amazing)

Posted: 15 Jun 2011 01:33 AM PDT

It’s far too often that the term “killer” gets thrown around in tech blogs. And yes, we’re just as bad as anybody. But what if I told you that a service that gets 6 billion photo uploads each month, and has nearly 100 billion photos total, is about to launch a new photo sharing app for the iPhone? And what if I told you that it looks awesome? Yeah, you’d call it a killer too.

Such an app appears to be exactly what Facebook is on the verge of releasing. How do we know? We have obtained roughly 50 MB of images and documents outlining the entire thing.

To be honest, we’re still sorting through all of them. But again, the app looks amazing. We’ve heard that internally it is being called either “Hovertown” or “WithPeople”. And while it looks like a stand-alone app right now, there are also signs that it could be eventually integrated into Facebook’s main iPhone app — as well as the main site.

Either way, based on the images in front of us, the best way to think about it appears to be Path meets Instagram meets Color meets (Path’s new side project) With — with a few cool twists.  And obviously, it’s built entirely on top of Facebook’s massive social graph.

For now, here’s a quick sneak peak at the app. We’re going to have to rework some of these images to be able to post them. Look for that tomorrow.

Coincidentally, it was almost exactly two years ago when a hacker infiltrated the accounts of a few Twitter employees, and sent us hundreds of confidential documents about the company. That gave us a bit of a moral quandary as to what we should post and what we shouldn’t. That was not the case here. It’s so much easier when a scrapbook outlining a massive company’s next killer product just curls up in your lap.

More to come. A lot more.



Could Efficiency 2.0 Eclipse Solar? CEO Tom Scarmellino Thinks So (TCTV)

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 09:20 PM PDT

The founder of Efficiency 2.0, Tom Scarmellino, sat down with TechCrunch TV this week to talk about how his company motivates consumers to curb their power-hogging behavior at home, and what kind of impact that makes from an environmental perspective.

A New York City cleantech company, Efficiency 2.0 runs loyalty rewards programs on behalf of its clients, big electric companies that are legally required to convince customers to use energy more efficiently.

The Efficiency 2.0 platform crunches massive amounts of data— like homeowners’ demographic information, weather forecasts and more— to tailor power-saving tips, and reward offers for consumers that will matter enough, hopefully, to persuade them to make energy-related changes around the house.

Unlike OPower (perhaps the best-known brand in this space today) Efficiency 2.0 delivers its power saving suggestions mostly online, and is more about setting a personal best, than it is about outpacing your neighbors on energy efficiency.

Doing anything from installing a smart meter, to simply switching off the coffee maker the second the brew is done, can help get customers points and save money on their electricity bills. The points are redeemable for rewards like a $10 discount at Staples, or a gift card for Omaha Steaks. Efficiency 2.0 sets up some of the merchant partnerships, but also works with another NYC cleantech company, Recyclebank, to make the incentives possible.

Scarmellino confessed in the TCTV green room that one his worst indulgences, environmentally speaking, was eating too many steaks. That’s a lot of saved kilowatts, though. The CEO believes that with a majority of 120 million homes in the U.S. not yet participating in an energy efficiency program, Efficiency 2.0 could make an impact that’s “bigger than the entire solar industry to date,” in terms of mitigating pollution and more.

Watch the video (above) for more on Efficiency 2.0′s technology, impact on the environment and partnership with Recyclebank.



On BizSpark And Bubbles: Q&A With Microsoft VP Dan’l Lewin (Video)

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 08:15 PM PDT

This morning, Microsoft held its European BizSpark Summit in Brussels, marking an excellent opportunity to catch up with Microsoft VP and globetrotter Dan’l Lewin.

The man’s official title is corporate vice president for Strategic and Emerging Business Development, which is quite a mouthful, but in a nutshell he manages Microsoft’s relationships with startup and investment communities all around the world in addition to business relationships with the likes of Adobe, IBM, Apple and Google (he actually went to college with the latter’s chairman, Eric Schmidt).

Did I mention he’s also the lead executive of Microsoft’s Silicon Valley offices (2,500 people today and growing) and a corporate board member of the National Venture Capital Association?

The interview focused primarily on BizSpark, Microsoft’s global startup accelerator program that provides fledgling companies with resources such as free or discounted software or cloud services, in addition to access to the software giant’s broad partner network and as much marketing visibility as they can give them.

Through BizSpark, Microsoft has helped over 40,000 companies from 100+ countries in about two and a half years. About a third of those (12,000) are located in Europe.

Microsoft doesn’t actually take stakes in the companies it backs through the BizSpark program.

Rather, they count on companies sticking with Microsoft products and services in the long run, which helps the software company generate revenues through maintenance fees and whatnot.

Hence, they need as many companies joining BizSpark as possible, and investing cash into businesses would only complicate things, Lewin explains.

That said, startups often raise financing from professional investors down the line – in fact, roughly between $600 and $700 million has gone to BizSpark startups over the past two years.

Some of the BizSpark startups you might have heard of: Evernote, Loopt, Cheezburger, Kobo, Curse.com, Yammer, Graphic.ly, Kobojo, Lokad and Seesmic.

Lewin and I also talked about Microsoft’s M&A activity (he says they’ve purchased “a lot more” companies than what has been disclosed by the company). And yes, as a board member of the NVCA, I just had to ask if he thinks there’s currently a bubble in tech. Enjoy:



Discovr Launches Awesome Tool To Find New Apps For iOS (Think Interactive Graphs)

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 06:33 PM PDT

At WWDC 2011, Apple announced that there are now more than 400K apps in its app store (and that more than 500K have been approved). The Android Marketplace has around 300K apps and is growing fast. The point is: There are a lot apps out there already, and more hit app stores every day. They’re going like hotcakes. But finding and discovering new apps that you actually care about? Eh, not so easy. Of course, it’s not for lack of trying. There are some awesome tools out there already trying to direct the fire hose and filter the noise.

Chomp, for example, is trying to become the Google search for apps. Zwapp, Frenzapp, and Appsfire are all bringing social to app discovery, while Heyzap is busy trying to kill game discovery. Today, Discovr adds a dy-no-mite app discovery tool to the crowd, going after the user experience problem in an awesome, though somewhat mathematical way: Interactive graphs.

Back in January, Discovr launched a cool new app for the iPad that displayed an interactive map of the music world that displays, among other things, connections between bands and artists. It also allows the user, with a few quick taps, to view musicians' videos on YouTube and more. In fact, the sounded appealing enough that it attracted 150K downloads in three days. Holy tamale. Today, Discovr is applying its music discovery and visualization model for iOS to apps, and it’s just as good, if not better. Granted, I’m a sucker for creative design and spatial data-aggregation tools. Nerdy as charged.

Discovr Apps is an interactive map of the 400K+ apps on the App Store. How does it work? Search for your favorite app, or choose one from Discovr’s featured apps, and bing-bang-boom, the app will show your app of choice in an interconnected network of apps that are linked based on their similarities. The similarities, like so many other recommendation services today, is a combo of machine algorithms and human curation.

The networks can be expanded on as you go, and if the page were large enough, you could probably create a massive, mind-melting map of all the apps on the app store. Obviously, in offering an interactive map as a method of app discovery, user experience is critical. If the interface sucks, the app is worthless. Discovr CEO Dave McKinney assures me that UX has been top priority for the startup since day 1. And from my quick demo, the interface is awesome: Smooth and seamless.

McKinney said that part of their secret to offering a good UX, especially if you’re going for a graphical presentation of data, is having a deep understanding of graphical interfaces and graph theory. Their solution? Bring in a guy with a PhD in graph theory. Tamas Nepusz is a doctor of graph theory that used to work at Last.fm as a research engineer, and he works exclusively on the graph code. It seems to be working.

So, when you find an app you like, you can read app descriptions, check out screenshots and ratings, or buy the app directly from the app store — or you can share your favorite apps and maps with your friends via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

In addition to Discovr’s human+machine approach, the startup wants people from all over the world to contribute to the data set and plans to add data-tuning from the crowd to make its recommendations even better. Oh, and an Android app is not on the way. It looks like Discovr Apps is purely iOS. Sorry, Google.

For more, check out the video at the below.



Troubled Startup Color Loses Cofounder Peter Pham

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 06:27 PM PDT

Peter Pham, the president and a cofounder of mobile social startup Color, is no longer with the company, we’ve heard from multiple sources. The company launched publicly less than three months ago.

Color has been controversial because it raised so much venture capital – some $41 million – and had such a lousy launch reception. The service creates proximity based social networks based on who’s around you, a promising idea. But one that Color has so far failed to execute on.

In late April I criticized Color for making misstep after misstep and asked “How many do-overs does a startup get before users give up on it for good?”

This is another black mark for Color. We’ve heard mixed messages as to why Pham is leaving, but it’s never a good sign when a cofounder and executive leaves a startup just a few months after it launches.

So far, the company won’t comment about this story. And Pham hasn’t answered my phone calls.



Zaarly Crosses $1M In Jobs Posted, In Just Under A Month

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 06:21 PM PDT

In less than a month after its nationwide launch on May 14th, peer to peer marketplace Zaarly has crossed $1 million in posted transactions, and commemorated them with a colorful infographic depicting the break down of the early days of Zaarly.

Zaarly, which has raised more than $1 million in seed funding, boasts an impressive list of investors including Aydin Senkut’s Felicis VenturesSV AngelLightbank, Gmail creator Paul Bucheit, movie star Ashton Kutcher and Angelist founder Naval Rivikant. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington also invested in the company recently.

In same collaborative consumption space as startups like Taskrabbit and Gigwalk, Zaarly is a peer to peer marketplace where people who need to get a task done in a given locale to post it via iPhone to Zaarly. People who are interested in completing a task can also browse for available tasks on Zaarly via mobile.

Zaarly is available across the US, with active communities in eight cities. According to the above infographic, which breaks down the first $500K of Zaarly postings, Seattle has the most active buyers whereas Chicago has the most active sellers and the most completed transactions of all the top ten locations on the service.

The variety of Zaarly transactions ranges from someone in Lancaster wanting a delivery of fertile goose eggs ($8) to a request in San Francisco for “Find a 100 [business] loyalty cards” ($160). Founder Bo Fishback assures me that none of the listings are scraped, “All 100% legit”

So far the most offers on a single Zaarly post have been 16 and the most Zaarly-ied product has been the iPad. It’s also pretty shocking that nearly 7% of all tasks on Zaarly involve an Apple product, like ”I’ll pay $350 for a first gen iPad in the next day” or ”I’ll pay $1000 for an iPad 2 in the next ____.”

Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of Apple fanboys.

Disclosure: TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington invested in Zaarly. See paragraph two above.



First Silicon Valley Consumer Internet Company Joins The Wall Street Single Letter Club

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 05:48 PM PDT

As we reported earlier, Pandora will start trading tomorrow on the New York Stock Exchange under the single letter symbol “P”. By doing so, it becomes the first Silicon Valley consumer Internet company to join the exclusive one-letter stock ticker symbol club.

That club was once reserved for the big blue-chip industrial companies: Chrysler (C), Ford (F), Sears (S), U.S. Steel (X), and Woolworth (Z). Of that list, only Ford and U.S. Steel remain. Chrysler was acquired by Daimler and lost the C to Citibank. Sears lost the S to Sprint Nextel. Woolworth went out of business.

Of course, there are already several tech companies in the single letter club. Agilent Technologies (A), NetSuite (N), Sprint Nextel (S), and AT&T (T). But none are pure consumer-based Internet companies.

Zillow, the real-estate website, applied for the NASDAQ ticker symbol Z in a filing last month. But, it hasn’t started trading yet. Pandora has beaten them in the race.

In the past, the NYSE has said it was holding M for Microsoft (MSFT) and I for Intel (INTC). M is Macy’s but I is open. There are no signs Microsoft or Intel are planning a change.

There was also talk at one time that Yahoo (YHOO) might take the Y spot, which is now at Alleghany. Go figure. Perhaps because it ends in Y.

What about possible stock symbols for Facebook, Twitter, or Groupon. F is already Ford, T is AT&T, and G is Genpact. In Groupon’s filing, they wrote they expect to apply for the symbol GRPN. Symbols don’t usually change unless there is an acquisition, or the company goes bust, so those companies would need to pick something else.

At one time, stock symbols were printed on the ticker tape and handwritten on transaction slips. So, shorter was faster. Today stock symbols have less importance, but the single letter companies can still say they are part of a very exclusive club.

My grandfather used to try to fool people with a joke saying of the thousands and thousands of companies traded on the stock market, how many have a single letter as a ticker symbol? He always enjoyed when someone not thinking clearly might say 50 or 100. He would proudly tell them there can only be 26. With Pandora getting added tomorrow, there will only be 20.



Investors Pump $90 Million Into Airbnb Clone Wimdu

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 03:43 PM PDT

Exclusive - TechCrunch has just learned that Wimdu, a recently launched Airbnb clone that has already managed to irk the latter, has raised a whopping $90 million round.

The capital injection comes from European investors Kinnevik and the infamous Samwer brothers’ Rocket Internet.

These investors are no strangers to the cloning of successful tech companies (they sold Groupon-inspired City Deal to Groupon, and started a Zappos clone called Zalando).

(Kinnevik also recently invested in a Russion Zappos clone dubbed Sapato.ru)

Notably, Airbnb is also raising a huge round of funding ($100 million or more) at a staggering $1 billion valuation, so you might say Wimdu isn’t just copying their idea and business model but also their financing strategy.

Seriously, though, if you’re somewhat familiar with Airbnb, you’ll have an easy job learning what Wimdu is: a community-driven marketplace for private spaces. The startup says it currently lists 10,000 apartments in over 150 cities around the world, in less than 100 days.

Already, its team has grown to 400 employees, working from 15 offices worldwide.

Wimdu is not the only Airbnb clone. There’s also 9flats, which recently raised capital from Silicon Valley investor Redpoint Ventures and was founded by German entrepreneur (and founder of Yelp clone Qype) Stephan Uhrenbacher.

Another German clone, Accoleo, was actually acquired by Airbnb just two weeks ago.

As we reported last week, Airbnb recently sent out an email to its 100,000+ hosts, warning them for ‘impostor websites’ like the above-mentioned clones, who they refer to as ‘scam artists’. From our previous article:

Why is Wimdu and its Chinese subsidiary such a threat? Well Wimdu and Airizu were created by the German Samwer brothers, prior Facebook investors whose modus operandi is creating European clones of popular American Internet services. The Samwers most profitably sold their eBay clone Alando.de to eBay in 1999 and their Groupon clone CityDeal to Groupon itself for around €100 million in 2010.

The Airbnb email does everything but call out the Samwer brothers by name for their questionable cut and paste innovation tactics, “these scam artists have a history of copying a website, aggressively poaching from their community, then attempting to sell the company back to the original” and “they claim that they are part of Ebay and/or Groupon.”



Pandora Prices IPO At $16 Per Share, Now Valued At $2.6 Billion

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 03:29 PM PDT

Music streaming service Pandora has priced its IPO at $16 per share, valuing the company at $2.6 billion. The company originally set the range of its IPO at $7 to $9 per share, at a market cap of $1.3 billion; but upped the range last week to $10 to $12 per share, giving the company a valuation of $1.9 billion.

Pandora’s stock will begin trading tomorrow morning on The New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "P." The company expects to raise as much as $235 million in the offerring and will offer 6,000,682 shares of its common stock with the selling stockholders offering 8,683,318 shares of common stock in the IPO.

Pandora initially filed its S-1 in February. A few weeks ago, the company released its most recent revenue numbers, which reflected an increase in both sales and usage for the internet radio service.

For example, Pandora is adding a new registered user every second and now has 94 million users. In Pandora’s fiscal year ended January 31, 2011, Pandora streamed 3.8 billion hours of radio listening. In the three months ending April 30, 2011 Pandora posted revenues of $51 million, up from $29.6 million during the same period in 2010.

Pandora follows in the footsteps of Fusion-io, LinkedIn and Yandex, which all increased their pricing significantly prior to going public. And the opening trading price for these companies’ stocks all rose as well. We’ll see where Pandora opens tomorrow.

Update: And here’s their official release on the pricing/offering set for tomorrow:

PANDORA PRICES INITIAL PUBLIC OFFERING

OAKLAND, Calif., June 14, 2011 – Pandora Media, Inc. (NYSE: P), the leader in internet radio in the United States, today announced the pricing of its initial public offering of approximately 14.7 million shares of common stock at a price to the public of $16.00 per share. A total of approximately 6.0 million shares are being offered by Pandora, and a total of approximately 8.7 million shares are being offered by selling stockholders. In addition, Pandora has granted the underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to approximately an additional 2.2 million shares to cover over-allotments, if any. Pandora will not receive any proceeds from the sale of shares by the selling stockholders.

The bookrunning managers of the offering are Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC and J.P. Morgan Securities LLC. Co-lead manager of the offering is Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. and co-managers are William Blair and Company, L.L.C., Stifel Nicolaus Weisel and Wells Fargo Securities, LLC. Pandora common stock will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "P."



Twitter ‘Follow Recommendations’ Let You Make A Personalized ‘Suggested User List’

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 03:19 PM PDT

Grace Chu Lee from Twitter’s Business Development team earlier tweeted out and then deleted a Twitter feature that has as of yet gone unheard of beyond a select few, “Follow Recommendations.” “Follow Recommendations,” which lets you create lists of people you think others should follow, has been around for months we’re hearing but hasn’t been publicized much outside of Twitter itself (Lee calls it a “hidden” feature in the tweet).

Ostensibly “Follow Recommendations” allow you to create a personal Suggested Users List for people who sign up for Twitter directly through your profile (for example if they encounter one of your hilarious tweets in the wild and are inspired to sign up for Twitter).

Users wishing to take advantage of Follow Recommendations can do so by creating a plain old Twitter list and including the hashtag #WelcomeToTwitter in the list’s description (more detailed instructions in the slideshow above).

Users who sign up for Twitter from your profile will see your recommendations like in the screenshot below. But why would this be useful to anyone you ask? Well from what I’m hearing it wasn’t really intended for hoi polloi, but was mainly marketed to celebrities and brands that have a critical mass of people joining Twitter through their profiles presumably. Which is probably why it hasn’t seen the light of day until now.

When asked if Twitter was sitting on similar hidden features, Twitter Communications Rep Carolyn Penner told me in a DM, “There might be other ‘secret features’ but I don’t know what others don’t know!”

Exciting! Keep an eye out Twitter sleuths.



Photogram For iOS Is Yet Another Image Sharing App, But One Worth Checking Out

Posted: 14 Jun 2011 03:10 PM PDT

Sometimes, it’s all about the experience.

Without its finely tuned user experience, Yelp would be just another reviews site. Tivo would be just another DVR. Twitter would just be a fancy status broadcaster. Their user experiences, though — that feeling that things “just work” — keep people coming back. A simple idea grows, the product evolves, and eventually they become the names we all recognize.

Photogram isn’t a complicated idea. You take 4 photos, slap a title on the whole lot, pick a cutesy little theme, and blast it out to e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter — and that’s it. But something about the experience has me hooked.



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