- Price Tracking Service Shopobot Raises Funding From Google Ventures, AOL And Others
- String Launches With ‘Fast, Powerful’ Augmented Reality Platform For iOS
- The Devil Made Me Do It. AOL’s Regrouped Advertising.com Is A $500 Million Business
- Groupon And Attribution: Is Closing The Loop Worth $25 billion?
- O2 Dumps BlackBerry PlayBook Due To “Customer Experience Issues”
- Aylus Networks Secures $16m series D Lead By London’s m8 Capital
- The Panasonic Toughbook Android Tablet Can Handle Job Sites, War Zones, And Daycares
- Pandora Pop Is Gone Day After IPO
- India’s Amazon.com Flipkart Raises $20 Million From Tiger Global
- Social Fundraising Platform Piryx Is Reborn As Rally.org With Top Investors In Tow
- Real Estate Mobile App Developer Smarter Agent Raises $6 Million
- Nuance Acquires Speech Recognition Software Company SVOX
- HomeAway Prices IPO Between $24 And $27 Per Share, Now Valued At $2 Billion
- Lumosity Raises $32.5 Million For Brain Fitness Games
- WAYN’s Pivot Pays Off As Traffic Triples – Can Euro Networks Thrive Against Facebook?
- FunChat Combines Text, Chat, Pranks, Virtual Goods, And Social Gaming All In One Free App
- Day One Capital Launches As Hungary’s ‘First Institutional Business Angel Fund’
- Hell Yes, Mayor Bloomberg. I’m With You.
- Yahoo Tries Its Hand At Mobile App Search
- Attn Sports Fans, Journalists, And Parents Of Young Athletes: GameChanger Is On Line Two
- YuMe Acquires UK Mobile Video Ad Company Appealing Media
- Uber Out-Maths Google on NYC ETAs
- Project Spartan: Facebook’s Hush-Hush Plan To Take On Apple On Their Own Turf: iOS
- Pinger’s TextFree Surges On Android: User Growth Now Matches iPhone
- Investors Flock To Boston To See TechStars’ 12 Cool New Startups (Here’s A Peek)
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 09:39 AM PDT
tracking service Shopobot has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Google Ventures, AOL Ventures, Lucas Nealan, Jump Ventures and several other strategic investors.
Shopobot, which was part of the second class of AngelPad startups, aims to give shoppers more transparency for price fluctuations on products online. It is not uncommon for retailers to change their prices several times in the course of a week, or put items on sale and unless you are checking the product every day, you don’t know when these changes are taking place.
Shopobot analyses price data to make recommendations on where to buy specific products and users can follow products they're interested in, and get alerts when Shopobot finds a great deal or steep price fluctuation. The site will also send you refund alerts if the price drops after a purchase and gives users access to interactive price graphs that show how prices have been changing at top stores (i.e. Amazon).
For example, if you are looking for a digital camera that currently sells for $399 on Amazon, Shopobot will show you that the price changed seven times over the past two weeks. For now, Shopobot can track cameras, consumer electronics, laptops, video games and books but will soon add functionality for sports equipment and appliances.
Shopobot is similar to airfare price tracker Yapta, but for retail products. Considering the fluctuations that take place on sites like Amazon or other retailers, Shopobot could provide a very desirable service it expands to a number of verticals beyond just electronics.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 09:24 AM PDT
A new augmented reality startup launches today. String Augmented Reality claims to be a fast and powerful augmented reality technology for iOS. String claims to be capable of live two-way broadcast AR capabilities using Kinect, something they developed with Norwegian company Labrat. An application for this might be watching a live concert projected into your living room, in full 3D augmented reality. CEO and founder Alan Maxwell says the company is releasing an SDK for developers today (a developer licence is £79).
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 09:03 AM PDT
AOL’s advertising platforms, which are grouped under the Advertising.com business, is now a $500 million business, the company revealed today at its Investor Day in New York City. The Advertising.com Group is a new business unit inside AOL, which includes six separate products: The Advertising.com ad-serving network (which AOl acquired in 2004) and AdTech, along with more recent acquisitions 5Min (now AOL Video), Pictela, GoViral, and the internally built Seed product. (AOL also owns TechCrunch, but we are part of the Huffington Post Media Group).
All of that, all together is a $500 million business, which is about a quarter of AOL’s total revenue. And it’s clear that AOL thinks it can become a $1 billion business. Today was the first time AOL broke out these numbers.
AOL is trying to position itself as the best place for brands to advertise next to premium content. It is trying to do this first on its own sites, primarily with its Project Devil ads. But the bigger play is to become the ad network for premium brands across the Web by extending Project Devil ads and other new ad formats to the 26,000 publishers on AOL’s ad network.
And in fact, through Pictela, AOL is going to expand its highly engaging Project Devil Ads out across what it is calling the Devil Network. Devil Ads are larger-format ads that can include video or photo galleries, maps, or other interactive elements. AOL is seeing very high engagement rates with these ads, sometimes as high as 10 percent. Devil ads are just one format. Expect AOl to move into mobile ads and other formats as well.
AOL’s entire focus is to create branded experiences for big brand marketers. That includes putting those ads next to great content, but it also means rethinking the boring, old banner ad. Ned Brody, who runs the Advertising.com group, sees the opportunity this way: “There is $50 billion sitting in a locked vault, television and print. It is hard to convince advertisers to take that to a market where they get 0.2% clickthrough rates.”
In order for this plan to work, however, other sites will have to change their designs to be able to accept the bigger Devil ads. If they in fact do perform better, they might do that. But adoption will be a challenge.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 08:57 AM PDT
Despite articles to the contrary, many think that Groupon is valuable and still has big potential. I agree, but wonder if my reasons are different. I think that their deep discount model is unsustainable as Groupon’s longevity is reliant on repeat business. Much of what Groupon does is not new; deals, time-limits, coupons. What Groupon has done is more impressive than it may seem; Attribution. The biggest advance that Groupon has made is that it makes an online recommendation of an offline venue (a place). This again in itself is not new; tracking the success of that recommendation is.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 08:20 AM PDT
Here in the States, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook hasn't exactly been greeted with open arms. In fact, even Sprint, the only carrier to release the tablet thus far, is only carrying a Wi-Fi 16GB version, with 32GB and 64GB models left in the dust. Plus, Verizon teetered back and forth over the PlayBook for a while, only recently deciding to move forward with the slate.
Unfortunately for RIM, things aren't looking any better overseas, as O2 UK today announced that the carrier won't be offering the PlayBook to customers. The notification came straight to consumers who had chosen to receive updates from the carrier about the PlayBook. Officially, O2 said, "unfortunately there are some issues with the end to end customer experience."
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 08:11 AM PDT
Aylus Networks, the US-based company which enables video services over mobile, has secured a $16 million series D (wow, those are rare) investment round. The financing is being lead by m8 Capital, the mobile-focused venture fund running out of London, to the tune of $10million. Joseph Kim, General Partner of m8 Capital, will join the Aylus board. Joining the round are existing investors Matrix Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.
Aylus plans to take advantage of the front-facing cameras in smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops and the fact that video calling is going to be big over the next few years. Especially crucial is device interdependence.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 07:30 AM PDT
Tablets tend to be delicate devices, most comfortable being used on a cushy couch or over the safety of a study table. But not the just-announced Panasonic Toughbook Android tablet. It’s a Toughbook product and brings along years of design innovations that allows it to live in the real world. It is, perhaps, the world’s first blue-collar Android tablet.
Nothing is missing. The Toughbook tablet has everything you’d expect in a modern tablet: GPS, “full-shift” battery life, 3G/4G options, but also a bright, daylight viewable 10.1-inch XGA matte screen compatible with an included active stylus. Since it’s a Toughbook product, not having a protective, glossy shield over the screen probably won’t be an issue. This isn’t Panasonic’s first go at a rugged tablet.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 07:17 AM PDT
For basis of comparison, LinkedIn’s IPO popped by 100 percent on its first day of trading, and has also settled below its opening trade of $83. LinkedIn is currently trading at $72 per share.
Some have said that Pandora’s IPO was priced correctly, as opposed to LinkedIn, which was underpriced and thus witnessed a significant pop in trading.
For background on Pandora’s road to the IPO, read ‘Pandora Puts The "P" In IPO — Our Talk With Them On The Big Day.’
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 06:31 AM PDT
Flipkart, an Amazon-like e-commerce site in India, has raised $20 million from Tiger Global. This brings the company’s total funding to $31 million. Previous investors include Accel India.
Flipkart launched in 2007 as an online bookstore, but recently expanded to Electronics, Mobile Phones and CDs/DVDs of music, movies, games and software. The site is still the largest online book retailer in the country (the site has 10 million titles available), but aims to become an e-commerce destination for electronics, music and more.
Currently, Flipkart has sold 2 million items across all categories and is seing around 4 million unique vistors per month. Repeat purchase rates are around 70 percent. Sales of CDs and books are about half of the company’s revenue, says CEO and co-founder Sachin Bansal. Sales are growing by 25 percent every month, and Flipkart is on track for a $50 million run rate.
Bansal tells us that Amazon has not yet entered the country, but is rumored to be looking at ways to tackle the Indian market. He says for now, Flipkart’s biggest competitor is offline shopping in brick and mortar stores. The challenge in India, Bansal explains, is helping consumers understand the deals they can find online.
Of course, as internet connectivity grows in the country, so will e-commerce engagement and transactions. Bansal says that currently there are 80 to 100 million internet users in India and that is estimated to grow 30 percent year over year. His goal is to create a value proposition that makes consumers realize that online shopping is beneficial. So what are these offers? Bansal says that he aims to create an Amazon Prime like shipping and delivery experience.
Another feature Flipkart offers is a Cash-on-Delivery option, which allows buyers to pay cash to the courier that delivers the item.
Of course, when Amazon eventually does enter India, Bansal doesn’t seem to worried about the e-commerce giant. “Our supply chains and warehouses have built over te past three years, and we have facilities in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta,” he explains. “It’s not easy to build the infrastructure in India that we’ve established over the past few years.”
Flipkart will use the new funding to improve the site’s backend, increase warehouse facilities, expand the supply chain logistics, and sales and marketing initiatives.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 06:00 AM PDT
There’s a new name in the online fundraising scene, but it’s already got plenty of users — and a very impressive seed funding round. Meet Rally.org.
Rally got its start some 18 months ago, when the company was called Piryx (we covered their growing popularity as a political donation platform about a year ago). The company has built out what’s effectively a ‘Paypal for fundraising’, giving charities and other organizations a fundraising platform with an integrated payment system. And today it’s announcing that it’s rebranding itself to Rally.org, in addition to a seed funding round with investors who include Flood Gate (Mike Maples), Greylock Discovery Fund (Reid Hoffman) and Ron Conway. The size of the round isn’t being disclosed, but they say it’s a “substantial seed round”.
So what exactly is Rally for?
Rally cofounder and CEO Tom Serres says that one of the issues with fundraising platforms is that many of them only work with non-profits. Rally, in contrast, can support both large-scale charitable causes in addition to less ‘official’ groups — like an initiative to renovate a local park. Serres says that the site is looking to help broaden the definition of what a ’cause’ is, and to use social sites like Facebook and Twitter to help each cause turn their supporters into activists.
The company is describing the old Piryx as something of a proof of concept, and the new Rally.org will incorporate existing features as well as new ones. In addition to handling the payment processing, Rally is also looking to help causes build strong online presences, with well-designed websites (both for desktop and mobile). The result, as you can see below, looks a lot like Tumblr (note the ‘Donate Now’ and ‘Fundraise’ buttons though). Fans of each cause will be able to create their own blogs associated with the cause. Another key change: the homepage for each cause will now be hosted at Rally.org/CauseName, which means that Rally is looking to build itself into a brand that’s synonymous with fundraising and cause communities.
The site is currently in private beta — you can request an invite from the homepage. Rally currently has 15 employees, and says it intends to close out the year with at least 40. The company is also moving its headquarters to San Francisco.
Rally.org competes in some ways with Causes.com, which has long been helping companies and charities leverage Facebook and other social networking sites to raise funds.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 05:59 AM PDT
Smarter Agent, a company that creates a software to help real estate agents go mobile, has raised $6 million in new funding, bringing the company’s total funding $18 million.
Smarter Agent offers a mobile Platform as a Service (PaaS) that allows real estate agents to create mobile apps for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm, and Windows 7 platforms. Smarter Agent builds an arsenal of mobile applications and tools for real estate agents to have their own custom branded mobile apps.
Apps include MLS listings, points of interest, social feeds, news aggregation and more. For example, consumer facing apps feature up to date MLS data which lets users search by Homes for Sale, Recently Sold Homes and Apartments for Rent. These search options use Smarter Agent's property search technology that pinpoints the user's location to find available apartments and property listings in their immediate area or via address, community name, city or zip code. Currently the platform has more than 2.5 million downloads and is growing 20 percent month over month.
The new funding will be used to develop Smarter agent’s mobile search platform and for new hiring.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 05:50 AM PDT
Nuance is picking up another company today, acquiring SVOX, a company that developers voice recognition software for in-car systems and consumer electronics. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Nuance, which also develops imaging and voice recognition technologies, is using the acquisition to enter the automotive industry. As the company says in the release, consumers are using speech recognition to access mobile Web content, find local businesses, get directions, and create and listen to messages.
The combination of Nuance’s and SVOX’s technology will help automakers integrate this functionality in cars.
Nuance also announced that it closed its $157 million acquisition of print management and cost recovery software developer Equitrac.
The fact that Nuance is making a few serious acquisitions isn’t surprising. The company has a market cap os $6 billion and also may have some key partners as well. Apple appears to be licensing Nuance’s technology in OS X Lion. And we heard that Nuance was in negotiations with Apple for a partnership to license and use the company’s voice recognition technology, though Nuance was missing from the lineup of products revealed last week’s WWDC conference. And we’ve learned that Apple may already be using Nuance technology in their new massive data center in North Carolina.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 04:54 AM PDT
This is no doubt that this is the year of technology IPOs. Vacation home rental service HomeAway has set the price range of its offering, pricing the range between $24 and $27 per share, valuing the company at a whopping $2 billion. HomeAway aims to raise as much as $248 million in the offering and will list its stock on the NASDAQ under the symbol "AWAY."
HomeAway, which filed for an IPO in March, currently offers home rentals through 31 websites in 11 languages and provided listings for vacation rentals located in over 145 countries. In 2010, its sites averaged over 9.5 million unique monthly visitors.
HomeAway is bringing in revenue and profit. HomeAway saw $167.9 million in 2010 revenue, which is up 39.6% from 2009. In 2010, 37.9% of the company’s revenue came from outside the United States, including 36.6% from Europe and 1.3% from Latin America. In 2010, rental listings contributed 91.1% of HomeAway’s revenue.
Net Income for 2010 came in at $16.9 million, up from $7.6 million in 2009. And the company says there is plenty of room for growth—the vacation rental market is valued at $85 billion in 2010 in the United States and Europe.
HomeAway has raised close to a half a billion dollars in venture funding, and in its most recent investment round was valued at $1.4 billion. So $2 billion isn’t too far off from this estimate nine months ago.
We’ll see how the markets respond to HomeAway in the next few weeks but all signs point to the share price popping on the first day of trading.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 04:35 AM PDT
Lumosity, a company that creates online fitness games, has raised $32.5 million in Series C financing led by Menlo Ventures, with participation by existing investors FirstMark Capital, Harrison Metal and Norwest Venture Partners. This brings the company’s total funding to nearly $40 million.
Created by neuroscientists from Stanford University, Lumosity develops games and exercises that aim to improve core cognitive abilities and enable users to remember more, think faster and perform better at work and school.
On average, Lumosity users experienced a greater than 10% improvement in working memory and greater than 20% improvement in divided attention after 10 hours of playing the brain games.
In the last four years over 14 million people have joined Lumosity, with 8 million joining in the last year alone. The company has paying subscribers from over 180 countries, has expanded to mobile with an iPhone app, and revenues have grown 25% quarter-over-quarter since its launch in 2007.
Not too shabby for a gaming company. The company’s founder Kunal Sarkar tells us the new funding will be used towards mobile app development, new games, international expansion and sales and marketing.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 04:34 AM PDT
Is the recession over? Are people really really hitting the globe-trotting trails again? Looks like it if news out of WAYN, the travel and lifestyle portal-turned-social-network which has pivoted several times since its launch in 2003 (making it one of the worlds oldest networks).
Back in 2009 they hit 15 million members and introduced a new feature allowing member sot share their future plans – "intention broadcasting" as it's known in the trade. It’s likely this was the best pivot of all to date.
In those two years they’ve now grown towards a total of 17 million members. But more significantly they’ve been iterating the site to the point where now, they say, the site is generating a new traffic high of over 12.5 million monthly visits, putting it above TripIt and Tripwolf, and neck and neck with Lonely Planet (according to Alexa figures). That’s a tripling of growth since their 3.7 million figure in December 2010.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 04:00 AM PDT
FunMobility, the makers of FunMail, a picture-messaging app that organically pairs your texts with appropriate (and fun) images, FunTones, a large collection of funny ringtones, and FunMe, a suite of tools for consumers to create, share, and post their own user-generated content, is clearly striving for a particular brand message. I think it has something to do with “fun”.
Today, FunMobility introduces a new app to its menagerie of fun, called FunChat, which blends chat, multiplayer HTML5 games, virtual currency, rewards and achievements into a realtime user experience for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android.
While these are all great features, FunChat’s coup de grace (for me, anyway) is the fact that it contains the first mobile pranking engine. That’s right, FunChat users can push audio pranks to smartphones, like wolf whistles, Bronx cheers, and angry pigs, for example, even if the phone is in standby mode or you’re not running FunChat. Man, how did Ashton Kutcher not get to this first? I thought he was a tech evangelist.
FunChat offers customizable chat through 'Chattitude™', a feature that enables users to personalize the chat experience with neo-anime avatars, chat bubbles, and a host of virtual goods for every personality, mood, or occasion you can think of. Users can take advantage of these customizations in a “public party” or with friends in private.
The app’s multiplayer HTML5 game rooms include casual games like concentration, carnival duck shooting, match-3, racing, and more, optimized for HTML5 on iPhone and Android devices. Within the FunChat app, users can compete for FunGold, the app’s virtual currency, which is earned playing games and messing around on the app and can then be redeemed in-app to get goods and prizes like avatars, chat bubbles, and pranks.
The key here is that these game rooms are also part chat rooms, so users can boast about their in-game accomplishments, heckle opposing players, challenge their friends to gaming duels, or shower them with praise for shooting a whole raft of ducks — all in realtime. With a game-ified chat UI, pranking, and in-app virtual rewards, FunChat is attempting to build an addictive social gaming experience that encourages a ton of activity and interaction that appeals to young people.
Obviously with the growing ubiquity of smartphones and the escalating use of text messaging and games (mobile consumers in the U.S. send 187 billion texts a month), FunMobility is smart to combine text messaging, chat, and gaming all in one app. Texting and chat within a mobile app is an inherently social and game-ified experience, and a lot of messaging apps (as I wrote about GOGII recently) are thinking about how best to blend these complementary features. So TextChat is smart to get into the game relatively early.
In the end, it seems that what will distinguish these social and game-ified messaging platforms is how users react to the different UIs and designs — each create a distinct user experience — and it’s all about what makes sense to you. For me, FunChat looks great. And certainly sprinkling “Fun” everywhere is never a bad idea when it comes to brand messaging. Of course, it also helps that FunChat is free on iOS and Android, as is in-app chatting and messaging.
Oh, and developers are welcome, too: “A key ingredient to the 'secret sauce' behind FunChat lies in our HTML5 multiplayer game engine that enables high-quality games to be played concurrently between native iOS and Android clients and browsers," said Adam Lavine, CEO of FunMobility. "This proprietary game engine is part of our extensible FunChat Mobile Engagement Platform which allows developers to easily make open-standard HTML5 games that run on both the iOS and Android platforms, offering consumers new ways to share, discover, and play together in real-time”.
Check out FunChat on the App Store here.
Posted: 16 Jun 2011 03:12 AM PDT
Day One Capital has launched what it claims to be the first institutional angel fund in Hungary. The new fund aims to tackle an oh-so-familiar problem faced by much of Europe: the lack of "seed money and management mentoring for innovative early-stage tech startups", says Day One Capital investment manager Aurel Pasztor. The fund hopes to raise €2-4m and is targeting companies in the IT, telecommunications, energy, biotech and finance sectors with investments between €200-400k.
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 11:28 PM PDT
New York City Mayor Bloomberg calls for major immigration reform:
In the last presidential election I interviewed most of the candidates on a variety of tech issues, including immigration. Most of the candidates punted because the issue is so politically charged. Everyone knows immigrants fuel Silicon Valley, but most politicians won’t fight for it.
It’s exceptionally frustrating to see our government doing so many things that hurt growth in Silicon Valley. So frustrating that I ranted in 2010 that the best thing the government can do is just leave Silicon Valley alone.
In that post I said “I would have said let in any highly educated person in the world that wants to live here, but I know that isn't going to happen. We will continue to shun the next generation of brilliant foreign entrepreneurs because of some absurd fear that they're going to take away our jobs. In a few years those entrepreneurs will no longer want to live here anyway.”
The fact is that those immigrants create companies, create jobs, create wealth. The issue of illegal immigration over our Southern border must be separated from the issue of immigration of people who want to come here to build companies. I am so happy to see a politician take this stand.
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 10:45 PM PDT
If apps replace the mobile web, and along with it, traditional search, then the search engines need to figure out how to adapt. Yahoo is taking a tiny step towards embracing mobile apps with a few new products for searching apps. It is launching both iPhone and Android apps for app discovery, as well as desktop app search experience.
The iPhone app is called Yahoo! AppSpot, and I’ve been trying it out a little. AppSpot is about app discovery, much like Chomp, Appsfire, or Disrupt startup Do@. It scans your apps so that it won;t show you apps you already have in results, and also takes into account what you own to show related apps. AppSpot gives you daily recommendations in various categories (music, games, news, social networking, travel, utilities) with the now-familiar slot-machine rolling UI. It also lets you search for apps by keyword, and returns results based on title, description, popularity, and other factors.
The results aren’t horrible, but they aren’t spectacular either, from what I can tell. A search for “music” brings up Pandora Radio as the top pick (duh), followed by Shazam, Last.fm, Yahoo Music, and NPR Music. Well, at least it got the first one right.
A search for “photo” apps beings up Shuuterfly for iPhone as the top result for me, followed by PhotoFunia, PhotoSync, and Photo Frames LITE. Wrong. To be fair, I have most of the usual suspect photo apps already on my iPhone (Instagram, PicPlz, Path, Color), but still there are so many like Hipstagram or With that I don’t have and didn’t even show up. Quite frankly, I’d be better off using Alexia’s flow chart. (Although, PhotoSync does sound worthwhile, until iCloud turns its wireless syncing into a feature of iPhoto).
At least AppSpot is an improvement over the native app search in iTunes. It’s faster, and there are more ways to search. It doesn’t just give you the top 100 apps in each category when you are looking for recommendations. Given that the App Store now has more than 425,000 apps, that’s a good thing.
I haven’tested out the Android app, but I suspect it works pretty much the same, except for Android apps. There are 200,000 of those. The Website delivers results along with a QR code that can be scanned by the apps so that you can basically transfer a search result over. Although if you have to open up your app to scan the 2-D barcode from your screen, you might as well just search on your phone.
Yahoo is making a play here for the app discovery market, but the app discovery startups out there need not shake in their boots just yet.
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 09:54 PM PDT
For starters, baseball is one of the oldest, and most beloved games in the U.S. After all, it’s our national sport. (Though I still haven’t figured out exactly what that means, do we have to salute it?) And for almost as long as the game itself has been around, there have been scorekeepers — the people that remind us who won and who lost. You may have seen one of these fans in the crowd at a game. In fact, it just so happens that youth baseball rules state that each team has to have a parent or other team authority keep score. For both teams. High school baseball doesn’t require each team to keep the score, as far as I know, that usually falls on the umpires or league officials.
But, considering there are over 400K little league and high school baseball teams in the U.S., there’s a significant amount of scorekeeping goin’ on — to say the least. Yet, it’s a practice that, like the game itself, hasn’t changed much over the years: Traditionally, it’s all been paper and pencil. And, as a parent, player, or fan, it’s never been easy to keep track of local, amateur games. Professional games and teams? Yes. But not much else. Local media is getting better at keeping tabs on games and individual players, but there’s generally a lag, and the information is often spotty at best.
GameChanger Media, a startup founded in January 2009, is helping usher amateur sports into the digital age by offering a scorekeeping and stat-tracking app for mobile phones and tablets. Coaches or parents can keep score of baseball and softball games (GameChanger will soon be adding basketball and more) and track up to 150 different stats.
The apps are intuitive to use, powerful, and with one swipe you move players around the field, showing hits, outs, steals, etc. The data lives on Gamechanger’s servers, so the apps don’t slow down your devices. This also enables GameChanger to serve live scoring and statistical information. Fans and interested parents who might not be able to get to the game can choose premium services, which will allow access to SMS, email, Facebook, and Twitter alerts, customizable for particular teams and players, so that you can keep tabs on your son or daughter as they play. Local media sites can also embed GameChanger widgets into their sites to give local readers realtime info on their high school’s team, for example. (For those getting impatient, fast-forward to the 10th paragraph.)
And GameChanger is growing like gangbusters. The startup added 10K teams in 2010 and has gained another 14K active teams so far in 2011. What’s more, in the last 30 days alone, the service sent over 1 million live game alert emails.
While GameChanger has been focused on building a robust service for baseball and softball, rather than quickly expanding to other sports, GameChanger Co-founder and CEO Ted Sullivan tells me that the team has spent a significant amount of energy on building a sport-agnostic stat engine, so that when they’re ready, adding new sports won’t require them to start from scratch.
As to the technical explanation for what that means, Co-Founder and CTO Kiril Savino said that the startup has built “a mobile app framework based on an ‘event’ engine that creates and operates on streams of sequential events, be they basketball rebounds or baseball pitches, and use a schema-less database to hold that data. Our proprietary “stat engine” operates on such streams of events according to a configurable ruleset to generate arbitrarily complex statistics”.
Back in March, GameChanger inked a big partnership with CBS Interactive’s MaxPreps.com (CBS’ resource for all things high school sports), in which high school baseball and softball teams using GameChanger will be able to have their games and stats published immediately to MaxPreps.
But, here’s what’s really interesting: A more recent partnership with under-the-radar, Battery Ventures-backed Narrative Science — a startup that transforms raw data into high-quality editorial content — is a deal that has real implications for an entire industry. (Journalists may soon be taking another body blow.)
As Narrative Science takes raw, quantitative data and turns it into news articles, this means that, at the end of every baseball game scored on GameChanger, the coach can simply hit a button to instantly generate an AP-style article about the game that just wrapped. Check out an example here. The article is by no means perfect, there are some grammatical inconsistencies and some repetition, but it’s by no means awful. GameChanger has already posted over 72K of these auto-generated game recap stories, written by Narrative Science, to its users.
The partnership is still in beta, and there are some technical bugs the two startups still have to work out, but this is an early look at a real content mill. As Narrative Science’s technology continues to be refined, we could be looking at a scenario in the not-too-distant future where sportswriters (and beyond), especially those working at local media outlets, begin wrestling with obsolescence. It’s a valuable and intriguing service (the applications could be surprisingly broad) but there’s no doubt that the startup will certainly have to take a delicate approach to publicity. (I say with a touch of irony.)
It’s also interesting to see the little ways in which GameChanger is bringing “modern” technology into niche markets and to a young audience. For example, Sullivan (who’s a former minor league player) said that high school booster clubs are using their club budgets to buy iPads for their school’s baseball and softball teams. And parents, too, are taking the bait.
That being said, GameChanger does have some competition, especially from one company that already has a lion’s share of the sports market. ESPN has its own scorekeeping app with iScore, so GameChanger hopes to parlay the media giant by offering a more robust suite of realtime statistics, by really attacking the amateur sports audience, especially between the ages of 10 to 18, and by forging partnerships with businesses with complementary audiences or services, like Narrative Science.
GameChanger also recently partnered with Rawlings, one of the largest manufacturers of sports equipment, to create a customized and branded page for Rawlings to educate GameChanger users on a nationwide, sport-wide change to aluminum baseball stats. In the coming year, practically every high school baseball player in the country will be buying a new bat, and Rawlings wants a piece of the rapidly growing GameChanger audience.
And that’s how the startup plans to make money: Through premium features and strategic partnerships with big brands. With 10 people on staff and over $2 million in funding raised from various angel investors, GameChanger is on its way, but it will need to continue its hockey-stick-type user acquisition if it hopes to fend off Goliaths like ESPN.
So, for those parents of young athletes out there, check out GameChanger. It will make your life a lot easier. Journalists, get your torches and pitchforks.
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 09:00 PM PDT
Video ad network YuMe has acquired fellow video advertising company and competitor, Appealing Media. YuMe, which declined to reveal financial terms of the deal, will open up its first office in Europe (in London) with the acquisition.
Appealing Media offers one of the largest mobile video advertising platforms in Europe. Appealing Media helps advertisers and publishers implement video ad campaigns across native apps, touch web and mobile web properties. The company’s customers include ESPN, IPC Media, Bauer Media, and Universal McCann.
YuMe’s technology places video ads dynamically in publisher videos across a variety of platforms. The company also develops monetization technologies for video publishers that allow them to build apps to support mobile video ads.
YuMe has its own mobile ad offerings, but Appealing Media will help the company expand to European markets. YuMe recently launched new mobile products, releasing SDKs for iOS devices and two new mobile video ad units to help advertisers, web publishers, and app developers extend their reach to iOS devices.
This is actually YuMe’s first acquisition since its launch in 2007. The company, which has raised $55 million and is profitable, has also hired a new CFO, Tim Laehy to help lead YuMe’s financial efforts. Laehy was previously EVP of Finance and Chief Financial Officer of Covad Communications, where helped take the company public.
So is YuMe ready for an IPO? CEO Michael Mathieu says that an IPO could be in the horizon but they haven’t ruled out any options, including raising more money or an acquisition.
In the end, Mathieu says that YuMe is focusing on providing advertisers and publishers with the platform to manage advertising campaigns across all screens – PC, mobile, connected TV. YuMe faces competition from Tremor Media.
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 06:53 PM PDT
Most of the big social media and app companies are pretty light on hard-core technology. Happy to stand on the shoulders of the tech giants that came before, many focus instead on features, design and UI. This enrages the kind of hardcore math nerds that used to rule the Valley.
Well, they have a new geeky mascot: Uber. Uber only scales and survives with hardcore mathematicians on staff. Among its braniac hires are a rocket scientist, a computational neuroscientist and a nuclear physicist. (That’s an actual staff photo to the left.)
I have no idea what those disciplines have to do with predicting cabs arrivals and sorting cab inventory. But apparently, something.
A new chest-thumpy blog post shows that using Google’s ETAs for Manhattan cabs was leading to horrendous wait times for riders, about 3.6x off the estimates. That’s pretty much the worst possible user experience for a first time Uber user, particularly in a city where cabs are plentiful and users may never give it another try.
Uber dropped the Google API like a hot potato and developed its own algorithm. It wasn’t particularly comfortable about this, because it didn’t have much historical data to go on. But as some graphs in the post show, it immediately did better. How much better? Their quants crunched some numbers for me and found that Uber is on average 186.3 seconds more accurate than Google. On average, Uber’s ETAs were 42.50% more accurate than Google’s. And with every ride, Uber gathers more data and the estimates get better.
Do a few minutes make that much of a difference when you’re waiting on a cab? Well remember, this is the average. In some cases the differences between Google’s ETAs and Uber’s ETAs was 15 minutes or more. And if you’re standing in the rain waiting on a cab, hell yeah 186 seconds matter. Given that Seattle is one of the cities next on Uber’s launch list, this is a valuable algorithm to get right.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and I talked backstage at Disrupt about how his company lives and dies on its “Math Department,” as they call the team in house. The video is below. (We talk math at the four minute mark.)
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 05:53 PM PDT
Given the news that has already come out about Facebook, you’re probably thinking there is no way that anything else leaks out today. They’re probably on lockdown (real lockdown, not the crazed coding “lockdown”), right? Wrong.
We’ve learned about the existence of yet another secret project within Facebook. And while it’s not quite as sexy as the new Photos app, the ramifications of it are much larger. Say hello to Project Spartan.
As we understand it, Project Spartan is the codename for a new platform Facebook is on verge of launching. It’s entirely HTML5-based and the aim is to reach some 100 million users in a key place: mobile. More specifically, the initial target is both surprising and awesome: mobile Safari.
Yes, Facebook is about to launch a mobile platform aimed squarely at working on the iPhone (and iPad). But it won’t be distributed through the App Store as a native application, it will be entirely HTML5-based and work in Safari. Why? Because it’s the one area of the device that Facebook will be able to control (or mostly control).
Facebook will never admit this, but those familiar with the project believe the intention is very clear: to use Apple’s own devices against them to break the stranglehold they have on mobile app distribution. With nearly 700 million users, Facebook is certainly in the position to challenge the almighty App Store distribution mechanism. But they need to be able to do so on Apple’s devices which make up a key chunk of the market.
As of right now, there are believed to be 80 or so outside developers working with Facebook on Project Spartan. These teams are working on apps for the platform that range from games to news-reading apps. Some of the names should be familiar: Zynga and Huffington Post (owned by our parent AOL), for example. The goal is to have these apps ready to roll in the next few weeks for a formal unveiling shortly thereafter.
Work has been going on for at least a couple of months, with Facebook putting in a lot of work before that. So some of the apps may not be fully polished at launch. It may be more of a “look what we can do” type thing.
Reached for comment on the matter, Facebook said they had “nothing to share”. But we don’t need their confirmation. Why? Because I’ve seen Project Spartan with my own eyes.
Imagine loading up the mobile web version of Facebook and finding a drop-down for a new type of app. Clicking on one of the apps loads it (from whatever server it’s on depending on the app-maker), and immediately a Facebook wrapper is brought in to surround the app. This wrapper will give the app some basic Facebook functionality, as well as the ability to use key Facebook elements — like Credits.
One thing the App Store has nailed is an easy payment system. Facebook has been attempting to build the same thing with Credits, but so far hasn’t done much in the mobile space. With Project Spartan, they intend to have Credits built-in to alloy developers to sell apps and offer in-app purchases. This will be vital for a partner like Zynga, for example.
Speaking of Zynga, it has been known for some time that Facebook was placing a huge emphasis on making it easier for game developers to build with HTML5 as opposed to Flash (like Zynga and others currently do). The culmination of this will be Project Spartan.
And while the target may ultimately be Apple, in this regard, they’re somewhat helping Apple by killing off yet another huge piece of Flash reliance on the web: gaming.
But again, the real goal is to get people using Facebook as the distribution model for games and other apps, not the App Store (or any other distribution hub).
Much has been made recently about Apple’s partnership with Twitter over iOS 5. It’s widely believe that Facebook was once the preferred partner, but was snubbed — or did the snubbing, for one reason or another. Regardless, the implications are clear: Twitter will be the big single sign-on partner for iOS, not Facebook, even though that’s a key area of focus for them. So they’re taking the fight to the browser.
Android will also clearly be a part of this new platform. But we’re told that the initial target is definitely mobile Safari on iOS devices.
Things are about to get a lot more interesting in the mobile space. More to come.
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 05:08 PM PDT
Pinger’s TextFree, the app that lets users send and receive free text messages and phone calls using real phone numbers, has a new best friend: the big green Android robot.
We’ve been tracking TextFree’s staggering growth for some time now — CEO Greg Woock says that TextFree users now exchange 1.5 billion messages and 45 million voice minutes each month, making it one of the top 10 carriers in the US. And that usage has led to some big opportunities for advertising: he says they’re closing in on 2 billion monthly ad impressions.
TextFree rose to prominence on the iPhone, but the Pinger team released a version for Android as well in February. And now, just a few months later, Android users are signing up for TextFree at the same rate as iPhone users (this ignores iPod Touch users, who make up a big chunk of the user base, but it’s still very rapid growth).
Android users are currently sending 5.5 million messages a day (and they also send 2 million messages via Facebook chat, which is integrated into the app). Growth is doubling month over month across key metrics like the number of users and messages sent. And the Android version only supports free texting — it doesn’t have the free voice calls that launched on the iPhone in December, which makes the feat all the more impressive.
Woock also discussed how Pinger’s mobile phone number strategy has worked out for them. When you sign up for TextFree you’re given a unique, real cell phone number, which means you can send and receive text messages with anyone (i.e. they don’t need to have the app). And now that the app has been out for a while, there’s a trend emerging: teenagers who used TextFree on their iPod Touch as what is essentially a VoIP phone are now starting to transition over to ‘real’ Android phones, and they’re taking their TextFree number with them.
Finally, Woock says that the company will have more news on the way very soon, including new support for international users (he didn’t get into how that will work — but he says it’s “totally unique and dead simple”).
Posted: 15 Jun 2011 05:03 PM PDT
Today, seed fund and accelerator, TechStars, put on its “Demo Day” in Boston to debut 12 new companies to the world. Investors came in from far and wide to vet these young startups and to potentially take out their checkbooks. TechStars estimates that more than 350 VC and angel investors were on hand for what General Partner at Spark Capital Bijan Sabet called the best class of Boston startups yet.
In just five years, TechStars has grown significantly in both size and reputation, and though every startup accelerator will tell you that it offers valuable assistance to the startups it takes under its wing, TechStars now has some interesting data to back that up. According to the accelerator’s results, seven of the first twenty companies to go through its program have been acquired by larger companies, and about 70 percent of its companies have raised follow-on funding or have since become profitable.
So, without further ado, here is a sneak peek at the 12 startups from TechStars’ latest batch debuting today at Demo Day. Check ‘em out!
Ginger.io uses your mobile phone to understand and predict your health. Based on cutting edge algorithms and models that the founders developed at MIT, Ginger.io can detect whether you are stressed out, have a cold or the flu, and are working on conditions such as Crohns and IBD. Collaborating with major institutions such as Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Pfizer, the company plans to help individuals get the medical attention they need more efficiently than ever before.
GrabCAD is the biggest web-based community of CAD (computer aided design) engineers and the 5th biggest mechanical engineering team in the world. Through its web platform, GrabCAD connects its worldwide network of 8500 highly skilled engineers to manufacturing companies in need of CAD solutions. The company has already raised $1.1 million in venture funding from Atlas Venture, Matrix Patners, and NextView Ventures.
HelpScout allows small and medium sized businesses to provide customer service with the personalized touch of email and the organizational structure of a helpdesk. The founding team has already signed up over 200 companies for the service, including Wine Library, the online wine store run by the well-known customer service advocate Gary Vaynerchuck.
Kinvey makes it easy for mobile app developers and designers to build and manage cloud backends. Developers model their backend needs and Kinvey auto-generates their backend for them with libraries that they can just drop into their app. Kinvey's cloud platform scales as needed and will be have volume-based elastic pricing.
Memrise is a social learning platform that helps people learn factual data 10x more quickly and continuing learning 10x longer than the average. Built by and based on the methodologies of the memory grand champion who trained bestselling author Josh Foer, Memrise is tackling language vocabulary as its initial product but will expand to all factual data from medical terminology to legal facts.
Placester changes the online real-estate advertising game by making it incredibly simple for brokers to get the most bang for their advertising buck. Brokers currently have to go through the hassle of posting the same information onto hundreds of sites without knowing which deliver the most ROI. Placester automates the placement of ads, creates landing pages, and tracks clicks and phone calls with a proprietary optimization engine that converts CPC and CPM advertising into pay-per-performance advertising that delivers real value to brokers.
Promoboxx bridges the gap between web-based promotions run by brands and promotions run by their independent retailers. With a suite of tools that leverage the power of social media, Promoboxx lets brands offer exciting promotions to their retailer's customers. Across 407 promotions running already, data shows that Promoboxx is 5x more effective than previous approaches. This boost in effectiveness is bringing big brands like Wolverine, Linus, Uvex, and others on board.
Senexx provides enterprise professionals answers to difficult questions. By merely sending an email with the question to the Senexx engine, the engine routes the email to the people within the enterprise who have the expertise to be able to answer the question. Individuals no longer have to email everyone they know before finding that one person with the right knowledge. Given how much time and energy this saves, it comes as no surprise that Novartis and Xerox have already signed up for beta deployments.
Spill creates virtual communities for anonymous peer-to-peer support among college students. One in four college freshmen do not return to school for sophomore year due to psychological pressures that they have trouble sharing openly with others. The Spill platform helps these students get the support they need in a welcoming and secure environment so that they can overcomes their struggles and stay in school. Currently active in 10 colleges, Spill has already helped to avert seven potential suicides.
Strohl Medical Technologies has developed a portable stroke detection device that greatly improves triage and treatment times in the ER. Because it currently takes several hours for ER doctors to detect whether a patient has a stroke, only 5% of all stroke victims can receive tPA, the treatment proven to reduce the effects of a stroke. Using a patented technology built at Tufts Medical School, the Strohl device quickly scans brain waves to detect strokes, effectively serving as an EKG for potential stroke victims.
TheTapLab is a social gaming studio developing multi-player mobile games based on real-world locations. Their first game, TapCity puts players in their home cities and allows them to buy and develop their favorite locations such as Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. But other players can attack these locations to steal them away, so maintaining an empire requires constant vigilance. With over 5000 players averaging 25 minutes per day in the game, TapCity is set to take over the world.
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