Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Flattery Alone Will Only Get You So Far – SoundCloud Users Can Now Get Paid Via Flattr

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 09:09 AM PDT

Flattr, the social micropayment startup founded by ex-Pirate Bay associates, has added Soundcloud integration to make it easy to add the Flattr button (and start receiving payments) to any SoundCloud player, including those embedded anywhere across the web. Interestingly, SoundCloud already has an existing arrangement with Flattr competitor BuySimple.


Shopkick Hires eCommerce Vet Doug Galen as Chief Revenue Officer; More Nationwide Deals Coming

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 09:02 AM PDT

We’re at that point in the startup cycle where everyone wants to be a founder and it’s easier than ever to make that desire a reality. At least it’s easier than every to raise enough money to try it out; building a real business is another matter. And paradoxically one of the threats to building a real business is the intense startup talent war we’ve written about a few times.

Between would-be CTOs and COOs taking themselves out of the hiring market to start their own company and companies like Google, Facebook, Zynga and Groupon throw mad amounts of cash to lure everyone else, finding the people essential to build more than just a clever app is the hardest its been in a decade or more.

That doesn’t just go for coders. That goes for the blue-shirt-and-khaki business guys too. And while location-based shopping app shopkick may not get the same ink as other location based services or have nearly as many users as Foursquare, it just landed a whale of an executive. That speaks to what shopkick’s strength has always been in the heady location based service industry: A clear business model from that actually helps offline retailers.

The company has hired Doug Galen as chief revenue officer. Galen has been building relationships between the online and offline worlds for some twenty years. Most recently he was senior vice president of business and corporate development at Shutterfly, where he helped take the company public and grew the business from 100 people to 1,000 and grew the revenues from $50 million to nearly $500 million. Previously he was vice president and general managers of new ventures for eBay where he helped create eight new business units for the company like Tickets & Experiences and Real Estate. During the Web 1.0 rollercoaster days he was the third employee at E-Loan taking it through its tumultuous growth and IPO.

Like a lot of people Galen sees an inflection point in the intersection of real world, in-store commerce and ecommerce. “Collectively we’ve all spent the last 15 years building online companies to $200 billion in sales, but I find myself getting more and more frustrated with the in store experience,” he says. “It’s time to turn the tables and bring some of the learnings from the online world to the real world.”

shopkick doesn’t want to ignore small, local shops, but its focus is on the big national retailers. That puts it nicely out of the increasingly messy local scrum, and plays to the strengths of someone like Galen who lives and breathes by negotiating big, company-impacting deals. “I love checking in with my friends as much as the next guy, but I’m a guy who loves to build real revenue and real commerce.”

shopkick has had early success signing up pilots with huge national brands like Kraft and  hard-to-get retail partners like Target, and recently some of its early partnerships like BestBuy have started to go national. The comparative warm hug from the offline retail industry is because shopkick is one of the only social commerce companies that’s entire reason to exist is driving people into stores and making their experience better. The question is whether big chains will be savvy enough to recognize that.



Card.io’s SDK Makes Entering Credit Card Information As Easy As Taking A Snapshot

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 09:01 AM PDT

When it comes to mobile applications that involve commerce, one of the biggest obstacles is getting users to actually pay for an item. Indeed, the user might be perfectly willing to hand over some money, but the process of actually entering their name and credit card number on a small screen is tedious.

Card.io is a new startup making its public debut today that’s looking to make lives easier for developers and users alike — by making inputting your credit card information as easy as holding your card in front of your phone’s camera for a few seconds. You can see the feature in action in the video below — the app recognizes the card, uses server-side OCR to scan it, then gives back the results in a couple of sconds. Better yet, it’s releasing the technology as an SDK to mobile developers, so that they can bake it into their own application.

The technology is not unique — some other applications like AisleBuyer include a similar feature. But cofounder Mike Mettler says that Card.io is the only service that’s offering the functionality to outside developers as an SDK (he notes that this model worked very well for RedLaser, the barcode scanning app that has been integrated into many other mobile applications).

For now the company is still in private beta, and you can request an invite from their site. It’s iOS only for now, with Android support on the way. At this point Card.io isn’t handling any of the actual payment processing (they say all of their existing customers already have merchant accounts) but in the future they will handle this end of the transaction as well. Card.io hasn’t announced pricing, but will be charging on a per-scan basis initially, with plans to take a small percentage of each transaction once it handles payment processing.

One important thing to note for iOS apps: while Apple mandates that all transactions for virtual goods be done through in-app payments using credit cards users already have on file, real-world goods can still use alternative payment flows that can include Card.io.

Card.io raised $1 million in January from investors including Michael Dearing, Jeff Clavier and Charles Hudson (SoftTech VC), Manu Kumar (K9 Ventures), Alok Bhanot (former VP of Risk Technology at PayPal), and Omar Hamoui (CEO/founder of AdMob).



MindJolt’s SGN Studio Launches Social iOS Game Mini Cafe

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 09:00 AM PDT

Only two months after buying Social Gaming Network (SGN), MindJolt, the game distribution company led by MySpace founder and former CEO Chris DeWolfe, is churning out its first mobile social game today with the launch of SGN’s Mini Café. As its name indicates, the free iOS app allows gamers to design, decorate, and manage a restaurant.

As chef and manager on Mini Cafe, you cook dishes, choose your cafe’s decoration, and try to build a following of loyal customers. The social element of the game comes in when you invite your Facebook friends to visit your cafe, and they can then decide whether they like your restaurant. From the app itself, you can share a picture of your café on Facebook, or choose to post your achievements to your wall.

SGN says that as you gain a better reputation, you are able to unlock more virtual items for the cafe. The game is similar in a lot of ways to SGN’s Mini Tycoon Casino, which allows you to build and run a 5-star casino.

As we’ve written in the past, MindJolt bought SGN to create a cross-platform game distribution empire, and SGN brought a solid set of mobile titles and technology and a number of talented engineers. SGN’s founder Shervin Pishevar recently announced that he is joining Menlo Ventures as a partner and MindJolt appointed seasoned mobile vet Ulf Waschbusch as the new head of SGN’s social mobile game development studio.

Mini Cafe is just the first of 5 to 6 mobile titles that SGN will release in the next six months, says MindJolt COO Colin Digiaro. While Mini Cafe is available only for iOS, the company expects to develop companion Android app for all of its mobile games in the future.

So why iOS first? Digiaro explains that the majority of SGN’s userbase and installs are on iOS devices so it made sense to target these users initially.

As for how SGN’s games will leverage MindJolt’s distribution platform, Digiaro says that across all the games that MindJolt operates, the company will recommend mobile games to players who have similar interests on Hallpass games (another MindJolt buy) and vice versa. Right now the company has 25 million unique monthly visitors across all its games and it plans to leverage this traffic as a distribution platform, he explains.

The mobile and social gaming space is heating up with Zynga, EA, and a number of international players all vying for traffic. For now, the company, which is profitable, is not planning to raise any more capital but does plan to make more acquisitions in the coming year to expand reach, add game titles and technology talent.



The Knives Are Out For Google As FTC Prepares Antitrust Investigation

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 08:52 AM PDT

The knives are out in Washington, D.C. for Google. Google has long been under the threat of an antitrust investigation in the U.S., but this time it looks like it is about to happen. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FTC is preparing a major antitrust investigation into Google’s “core search advertising business.” No wonder Larry Page and Eric Schmidt don’t want to appear before a Senate hearing also looking into its market power.

According the the WSJ:

The new FTC investigation . . . will examine fundamental issues relating to Google’s core search advertising business, which still accounts for the overwhelming majority of its revenues. Those will include whether Google—which accounts for around two-thirds of internet searches in the U.S. and more abroad—unfairly channels users to its own growing network of services at the expense of rivals’.

The issue appears to be that Google is using its market power in search to push consumers to its own services. Perhaps the most egregious example of this has been with Google Places, which comes up at the top of search results for pretty much every local search, whether or not it is the best result. The FTC, no doubt, will be asking Yelp about this, which is constantly having run-ins with Google Places.

Are there other examples, and do they rise to the level of antitrust? Most video searches go to YouTube, for example. But is that because Google pushes them there or those are the best results?

It’s going to be hard to prove one way or the other. I’d argue that if a full-blown antitrust investigation does get launched, it may be a signal that Google’s market power has peaked. Remember when Microsoft went through its antitrust ordeal? It’s been downhill for them ever since. And now, just as social (and Facebook) is starting to take over from search as the fundamental way information is shared, discovered, and organized on the Web, the government is focusing on the last decade’s war.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Google’s marjet power. Technology has a way of overthrowing the powers that be more quickly and naturally than the government ever will.

Photo credit: Simon Law



Every City Is A Shadow City As iPhone ARG Hits 13 Euro Countries After US

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 08:38 AM PDT

Grey Area, a Finnish smartphone games developer, has now launched its alternative reality game Shadow Cities across thirteen additional European countries, after its North American launch last month. The game can be downloaded for free in the local Apple iTunes App stores in Italy, France, Germany, UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark and Norway (iTunes link).

The startup recently raised $2.5 million in Series A funding from Index Ventures, London Venture Partners and Initial Capital.



Apple Is Now Pimping Square’s iPad App In A How-To Video

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 08:08 AM PDT


It looks like Apple and Square are even more cozy after the Cupertino based company started featuring the mobile payments startup’s devices in Apple’s retail stores and site a few months ago. Now, Apple is promoting Square in its “how-to’ podcasts for iPad users.

The Apple-produced free Podcast video recommends features and applications to help users perform business functions on their iPad. For Square specifically, Apple recommends the payments product to help users process cash or credit card transactions right on iPad.

The video itself features Square’s new iPad app, Square Register, a high-powered point of sale replacement for cash registers and point of sale terminals.

The fact that Square is being sold by Apple is a win for the company, but it’s important to note that Apple also sells other mobile payments technology such as VeriFone’s card reader. What’s interesting is that Apple is choosing to recommend Square as a sales transaction product over other mobile payments products. That’s a big deal.

To say that Square is on a roll is probably an understatement. Square, which is processing $3 million in payments per day, is reportedly raising $50 million-plus in new funding at a whopping $2 billion valuation. And the company just added Vinod Khosla and Larry Summers to its board.



Congresswoman Proposes Bill To Cut Down FauxG Claims: An In-Depth Look

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 07:22 AM PDT

Whose 4G is fastest? If someone asked me, I'd probably say Verizon, but then again, is Verizon's 4G LTE network really 4G? According to the International Telecommunications Union, it's not.

While both Verizon's 4G LTE network and Sprint's WiMax networks are considered forerunners to true 4G technologies, neither network meets the ITU's required download speeds of 100Mbps delivered across true 4G technology. Meanwhile, AT&T and T-Mobile are calling their HSPA+ network 4G, confusing a lot of consumers who just want faster data, and to understand what it is they're paying for.

The good news is U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo of California is here to help, introducing a bill called the "Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act," which will force carriers to tell customers (before purchasing anything) the minimum data speeds of the supposed 4G network, network reliability, and coverage of their marketed 4G service.

Read More



Allegiance Raises $12 Million For Customer Feedback Platform

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 07:00 AM PDT

Allegiance, a company that develops customer feedback and survey technology and services, has raised $12 Million in series B funding, led by El Dorado Ventures with participation from Rembrandt Venture Partners and Allegis Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $18 million.

Have you ever received an email from an airline, bank, car rental company or retail site asking how your customer service experience was following an inquiry, or order? Chances are Allegiance powered that email to you. Allegiance helps companies analyze and apply what they call ‘Voice of Customer’ data to make decisions that improve their business.

For example, customers like EMC and JetBlue Airways use Allegiance to collect and analyze customer data. Specifically, JetBlue uses Allegiance to gather email survey responses, results of text analysis, social media data, and Web mentions every month, and then analyzes those findings to uncover customer pain points.

Allegiance says it will will use the investment for product development and sales and marketing efforts.



The Echo Nest Hatches Echoprint, A Free Open Source Music Fingerprinting Service

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 06:20 AM PDT

The Echo Nest, a music intelligence startup whose technology that powers many music apps from media companies or independent developers, this morning announced the release of an open-source music identification service dubbed Echoprint.

The Echo Nest teamed up with 7digital, a London-based digital media delivery company, and MusizBrainz, to launch with a catalog of 13 million songs, an amount it expects to grow fast.

Echoprint will basically allow third-party developers to help music fans identify the music that’s playing around them, free of charge, from within their own applications and services.

This should perk the ears of everyone over at music discovery company Shazam, which provides a similar but closed service and just raised a $32 million round.

As The Echo Nest puts it, music identification now “belongs to the community at large”:

Music identification apps regularly rank among the most popular paid offerings in the iTunes, Android, and other app stores. Every music fan wants to identify the songs they hear, read up on the artists who made them, and tag them for future listening or purchase. They also want everything their personal music collections to be properly labeled.

Thanks to the open-source Echoprint, music fans will get both of these things within a much wider variety of apps.

The Echo Nest says the music fingerprinting technology isn’t new and has been in use by its partners for 18 months already, but Echoprint will be completely open source.

The company posits that not only music identification or related apps will benefit from Echoprint, but also social networking and location-based service providers.

Coincidentally, I’m visiting The Echo Nest’s offices near Boston next week, so I hope to learn more about the technology and how the company is doing in general then.



Ringleadr Raises $500K, Launches Service To Let Users Create Their Own Deals

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Hot on the heels of Loopt’s announcement that it is moving into the daily deals space with U-Deals, a young startup called Ringleadr is chiming in with its own user-generated deals service. Rather than fall back on deals that are already being offered through the hundreds of deals sites across the Web, Ringleadr wants to let its users make the deals.

Ringleadr was born out of the frustration over irrelevant deals. As the startup’s Founder and CEO Mike Davis said, our inboxes are often littered with eye-rolling, non-targeted deals like “60 percent off laser hair removal” or “50 percent of family portraits”. And while these deals are no doubt useful to some, for many others they couldn’t be less useful.

So, why not let users create deals they want from local vendors they love? Thus, Ringleadr is launching a service to let users easily create and share local deals. Once a deal is created, shared, and pre-ordered, Davis said, the local business has the opportunity to approve, deny, or modify the deal according to their standards. Like Loopt’s U-Deals, once users create a deal, they are encouraged to share the deal over social media channels; then, if and when the deal inspires enough adopters and reaches the tipping point, Ringleadr sends the deal to the business of choice for approval. The local vendor then has 15-days to approve or modify the deal.

To add to the service’s functionality, Ringleadr will soon be adding features like leader boards as well as mobile apps and business tools that will “allow local businesses to continue to market to users after deals are approved and redeemed”, according to Ringleadr’s release.

Ringleadr is currently available nationwide, in big cities and small towns alike, and credit card information is only required once a deal is approved.

This idea has been tried before, and as I mentioned in a post about Loopt, Ringleadr has an uphill slog ahead. Loopt’s U-Deals have gained some early traction through a deal on Virgin America tickets, but it remains to be seen whether the lack of instant gratification that is inherent to this process will be too much for deal fans. 15 days can be a long time to wait for a deal’s approval, and while there might be that element of forgetting about the deal and then being surprised and gratified when it’s approved, I’m not sure I’m buying.

For the local vendors in question, it’s all about Ringleadr and Loopt being able to prove that their users can become advocates for their favorite businesses and attract users that may not have been customers in the first place — and keep them coming back. If these users can essentially become salespeople for these businesses, it may be an end-around having to build a big salesforce, but that, too, is a big “if”.

To help it gain traction, Ringleadr raised $500K in seed funding from several local angels. It will use the funding to forge partnerships and to build its forthcoming mobile apps.

For more on Ringleadr, check out the video below:



Fly Or Die: Can RIM Survive?

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 05:59 AM PDT

Hot on the heels of my scathing diatribe against the once-mighty Blackberry empire, Erick and I explore the current financial and developer situation that has befallen our neighbors to the North. Plus, we have an extra special guest who, as Erick notes, will “build an app for any platform, even Windows Phone 7″ but bailed on BBOS.

As I wrote in my post, I wish it didn’t have to be this way. RIM has long been a powerhouse in the mobile world and their failure to adapt mirrors Nokia’s: it’s the sense that internally, the successes of the past defined the actions of the present, resulting in out-dated thinking.

RIM is, in short, in the death spiral. Even as numbers seem to point up, the reduction of available handsets, the inevitable move to competitor’s products, and myopic leadership are all conspiring to bring it down to earth. Stuck in Waterloo, the company can’t see the writing the on the wall and so claims that it is popular with teens, celebrities, and club kids. It’s only popular with those people because they can’t get out of their contracts yet.

Enjoy the video and sound off in comments.



Music Discovery Platform exfm Goes Mobile With A Killer App For iOS

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 05:45 AM PDT

The artist formerly known as Extension Entertainment, now known simply as exfm, has officially gone mobile today, releasing its first mobile app for iOS. I’ve been enjoying exfm for a few months now through the startup’s Chrome extension, so I’m very excited to be able to finally bring that experience with me on-the-go.

For those not familiar, exfm is a social music discovery platform that basically turns the Web into your music library. As you go about your daily web wanderings, exfm’s extension dutifully gathers each and every MP3 file that crosses your path, collecting these tracks into a music library that users can play, organize, make into playlists, and share with friends.

For anyone who’s ever said something along the lines of, “now what was that awesome track I heard earlier today on that music website? I can’t remember, I guess I’ll have wade to go through my browser history to … ah, nevermind”, exfm is for you. With the entire Web as exfm’s canvass, this means that music lovers have access to some 20 million songs — at least half of which weren’t created Lady Gaga. That’s a fairly robust library, to say the least.

Back in December, exfm added Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr integration to its suite of features, and because exfm remembers where it found the songs, it can stream from the host site at any point, even if you don’t revisit the page — and see what others are listening to on your favorite blog and social media sites.

Of course, exfm doesn't just autoplay every song on a site while you're there, it simply indicates how many songs its found, allowing you to "play all", or hear individual songs and add them to your queue. What’s more, the extension's equivalent of the "like" or "favorite" button is "note", which allows you to tag (or note) those songs on your exfm profile so that your friends can see what you're listening to.

exfm’s iOS apps take all the functionality of its extension, like access to your noted tracks, a feed of songs from people you follow, and adds a few cool new features like a “Tastemakers” section, which automatically pulls in songs from music blogs like Spinner, MTV Hive, I Guess I’m Floating, and more.

Another two noteworthy features are the app’s Last.fm integration, which lets users scrobble their music to Last.fm, and access and play all local music files stored on your iPod — with the built-in iPod controls in tow. And, hey, complementing local play is the ability to easily purchase songs from iTunes, just in case you’re itching to buy that song and play it across your devices.

Since it's inception in March 2010, the platform has gained nearly 50K users, and there’s no doubt this number will explode with this nifty little Pandora and Last.fm companion hitting iOS. exfm raised $750K in seed funding in April of this year from Spark Capital, Betaworks, Founder Collective, and Dave Morgan, adding to the $500K it raised back in May 2010.

All in all, exfm’s iOS app pretty much the bases, and for version 1.0, it works pretty well. Not too many kinks to speak of. Check it out on iTunes here.



GE, Kleiner Perkins And Others To Put $63 Million In 10 Home Energy Tech Companies

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 05:43 AM PDT

GE, Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, RockPort Capital and Carbon Trust Venture Capital Partners will invest in $63 Million in 10 home energy technology companies, as part of the company’s $200 million "GE ecomagination Challenge." As we wrote last year, the initiative is meant to help spur advances in green technologies.

The second phase of the challenge sought green tech ideas to power the home, specifically addressing household energy efficiency including management software, appliances and air conditioning; and renewable power, from solar, wind, hydro and biomass.

The 10 new concepts that received funding from the challenge include Ember, GMZ Energy, Hara, Nuventix, On-Ramp Wireless, Project Frog, SunRun, Viridity Energy, VPhase, and WiTricity.

GE says it will commit an additional $20 million in funding for scaling and commercializing ideas from the Challenge through a new ecomagination Innovation Council. And both GE and its VC partners plan to launch a region-specific ecomagination Challenge in China later this year, as well as establishing a $5 million seed fund in Europe with Carbon Trust for eco-friendly tech ideas.

GE and Best Buy will be partnering to fast-track the commercial availability of two Challenge winner technologies— the VPhase home energy control device and the Suntulit air conditioning control system, so they can be ready for retail testing through select Best Buy retail channels.

Since launching in July 2010, GE has reviewed 5,000 business plans and ideas, acquired one of the companies, made 22 investments and commercial partnerships, and provided additional seed funding to 10 start-ups.



SolarWinds Buys Network Security Company TriGeo For $35 Million In Cash

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 04:18 AM PDT

NYSE-listed SolarWinds, a provider of IT management software solutions, has agreed to acquire TriGeo, a privately-held vendor of log and event management software, for $35 million in cash. TriGeo, founded in 2001, offers solutions to IT organizations for the collection of of data from virtually any device on their network and the ability to correlate that data in real-time.


Online Education Firm Encore Raises $15 Million; Steve Poizner To Serve As CEO

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 04:04 AM PDT

Encore Career Institute, a new online educational company, this morning announced that it has raised $15 million in Series A funding in a round co-led by VC firms InterWest Partners and Granite Ventures. Encore also said that its co-founder Steve Poizner, a well-known American entrepreneur and politician, will serve as CEO.

Other co-founding entities of the Encore Career Institute are The Sherry Lansing Foundation and Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies.

Encore will offer professional certificates and career counseling services to baby boomers transitioning to new careers or seeking to remain viable in today's job market. Encore has teamed up with UCLA Extension, the University of California, Los Angeles’ division for continuing and professional education, which will serve as the licensed provider of program content for the company.

Development of programs and technology has commenced, with classes and services expected to begin in fall 2012. The programs, which will average about a year, will cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Encore says it will offer courses and certificate programs in a variety of careers, including finance, healthcare, and environmental sustainability, and use social and mobile technology to create new models of online learning specifically designed for baby boomers.

Steve Poizner has more than 20 years experience as a technology entrepreneur, starting and running companies in Silicon Valley. Prior to serving in elected office, Poizner founded and served as CEO of Strategic Mapping, a software company that developed a program to display geographic data on digital maps.

He also founded SnapTrack, which was acquired by Qualcomm for $1 billion.



Data Hog! Twitter’s Own iPhone App Uses Twice The Data Of Tweetdeck

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 03:42 AM PDT



Not So Fast Google – Rambler And Yandex Sign Ad Network Deal To Freeze Out Russian Competitors

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 03:02 AM PDT

Google’s search market share in Russia remains well below 50% and it’s about to get even more heat. Russian search giant Yandex is now partnering with Russian online media giant Rambler over search and advertising services. Starting today, Rambler's search services will be powered by Yandex's search engine and Rambler will join Yandex's Ad Network, Yandex.Direct.

Right now the Yandex Ad Network counts Odnoklassniki, Mail.ru and even Bing.com among its portfolio of client sites in Russia. Sites using Yandex's search technology include Livejournal.ru, Nigma.ru and Qip.ru.



ST-Ericsson Looks To Save $120 Million Per Year, May Scrap 500 Jobs

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 03:00 AM PDT

ST-Ericsson, a joint venture of STMicroelectronics and Ericsson, this morning announced it will launch a cost savings plan to achieve about $120 million of annualized savings by the end of 2012. The company, which develops a range of mobile platforms and wireless semiconductor solutions, said the plan includes a workforce review that may affect up to 500 employees. ST-Ericsson, which says more than 4 billion phones have been built using its products and technologies to date, is launching the cost-cutting plan due to "recent changes in the business environment and reduced demand for legacy products at certain customers".


Off And Running: Loopt’s First U-Deal Sells Out In Less Than An Hour

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 02:42 AM PDT

Loopt has gone through quite a few incarnations, and this morning that tradition continued as the mobile social network announced it was entering the daily deals space with a service called U-Deals. In essence, U-Deals lets users request their own deals. After submitting an idea for a deal, users can then drum up interest by way of social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, etc. If the deal receives enough support, Loopt will contact the business and request that they help turn the deal dream into a deal reality.

Of course, as my colleague Erick Schonfeld pointed out, for this to work, Loopt needs to get enough deals requested and turned on for this to become a viable model for Loopt. Not to mention there’s some friction when considering that not many people have heard about Loopt, let alone think of it as a daily deals provider. And then there’s the issue of building a sizable salesforce.

There was some skepticism in the comment section at the end of Erick’s post over Loopt’s new direction, and some made the good point that user-generated deals have been tried before, without a lot of success — not to mention that it remains to be seen whether or not users will be willing to wait for deals to be approved. We do love our instant gratification. There’s certainly something to be said for the growing interest in the combination of location-based-services and daily deals, even if the LBS space is brimming.

Today, mere hours after announcing U-Deals, Loopt took the first step towards silencing its critics (though admittedly it still has a long way to go before that silence is permanent), as its first U-Deal sold out in under an hour. 48 minutes, to be precise. The first U-Deal, made in partnership with Virgin America, offered $35 for a Virgin America ticket voucher valued at $100. 500 deals were offered, and 500 deals sold in 48 minutes. Not too shabby.

Discounts on airfare are definitely in demand with the high price of tickets today, so this was no doubt a great place to start. Especially with Virgin America. But it will be interesting to see if U-Deals can sustain relevant deals of this kind when the names aren’t quite as big. If so, there could be great things ahead for Loopt’s new service. We’ll have to wait and see.

But for now, it’s probably fair for Loopt to say, “How do you like ‘dem apples?”

For now.



Social Games Developer Social Point Raises €2.4 Million

Posted: 23 Jun 2011 02:27 AM PDT

As evidenced by the impending $1 billion acquisition of PopCap, the social gaming market is heating up, also in Europe (just look at EA's Playfish, Wooga, Kobojo and many other fast-growing game developers). We've just learned Nauta Capital is doing its bit to keep the heat up by investing €2.4 million (roughly $3.4 million) in Spanish social games studio Social Point.


Despite Expanded AmEx Deal, Foursquare Is Still A Revenue-Free Zone

Posted: 22 Jun 2011 11:11 PM PDT

Foursquare is expanding its relationship with American Express to provide local deals to people who sync their cards to their Foursquare accounts. AmEx did a trial at SXSW, and that went well enough that it is rolling out the deals more broadly.

The discounts, such as $20 off a $50 purchase at Sports Authority, are automatically applied to your AmEx account when you check in via Foursquare to a participating merchant before a purchase. Everyone in local commerce is trying to figure out how to close the loop between deals and payments. Google thinks NFC chips in Android phones will be the answer in the form of a Google Wallet. Whereas Groupon is trying out instant mobile deals with Groupon Now. By tying its specials to a credit card, Foursquare is closing the payment loop with something everyone already carries around in their wallets.

Once companies can tie mobile ads or deals to payments, they will be able to measure directly the sales generated by these mobile promotions. And one day that could potentially be a huge new business. But for now, it’s making absolutely zilch for Foursquare, which remains a revenue-free zone. As the New York Times reports:

Foursquare will not be receiving any revenue from the American Express deal

Foursquare wants to make sure it gets the product experience right for both merchants and users before turning on revenue, but it can’t wait too long, especially if it wants to justify that billion-dollar valuation in its next round of funding. The race is on to create as many great local deals as possible to present to mobile consumers. And its biggest competitor is Groupon Now.

While Groupon is already the largest daily deal company in the world, it wants to move from deals people sign up for in advance through massive email marketing campaigns to instant deals they find on their mobile phones. The company is testing its own mobile app called Groupon Now in a few cities like Chicago and New York. Groupon Now deals are different than regular Groupon deals in that consumers don’t have to wait a day to redeem them. They are available instantly and you can find them on your mobile phone when you are nearby a merchant offering one of these deals.

A Groupon Now deal is directly equivalent to a Foursquare special powered by AmEx in that it is instantly redeemable and the payment can be linked to the offer. Closing this loop is the Holy Grail of digital local commerce. But closing that loop is not enough.

The winner of this race will be the one who can bring enough high-quality deals to mobile consumers, and vice versa. You need both incredible deal density and a huge number of users looking for those deals and redeeming them, all pretty much in realtime. Even Groupon doesn’t have enough deals in place yet or people using its app to make Groupon Now compelling. Neither does Foursquare, which up until now has allowed merchants to put up whatever specials they want.

Foursquare simply doesn’t have the salesforce to craft the same kind of deals that Groupon can. Groupon’s deals tend to be more alluring with deeper discounts. AmEx is helping Foursquare here by sourcing many of these deals itself through its own salesforce and existing relationships with local and national merchants, but it also gets to keep all the revenue. At least for now.

Foursquare is bringing the users (and some of the deals), and is betting that eventually that will be worth something. It’s all about who can create a market of users and deals faster. Foursquare’s approach is to build up its users first—now it’s got 10 million—and then hope the deals trickle up organically or through partnerships. Groupon is almost taking the opposite approach, trying to build up an inventory of great mobile deals first and then hoping that the consumers will come. The thing is that it takes both sides to make a market.

Photo credit: Dan Moyle



Sources: PopCap In Late Stage Acquisition Discussions With EA For $1 Billion+

Posted: 22 Jun 2011 10:43 PM PDT

Following up on our story earlier this evening that PopCap Games is in late stage acquisition discussions for a sum of over $1 billion — we’ve now heard from two sources that the buyer is Electronic Arts.

The high price of the deal ($1+ billion) means that this would be a huge bet for EA — we’re talking over 13% of the company’s market cap. But we’re hearing that this is a Hail Mary pass from EA to break into mobile and social gaming — areas where the company hasn’t done nearly as well as it has in the console arena.

Possible logic behind the deal: Electronic Arts has some successful franchises that cater to casual users (including The Sims), but many of its successful properties appeal to the hardcore crowd. This is problematic on mobile, where iOS’s top grossing apps are dominated by Angry Birds, Zynga, Pocket Gems, and other casual games. PopCap could help with that — their arsenal of games includes Bejeweled and Plants vs Zombies, each of which is a powerhouse in mobile and casual gaming.

We’ll continue to provide updates to the story as we hear more.



Peruse Nearby Groupons In Your Pulse Reader

Posted: 22 Jun 2011 08:32 PM PDT

Pulse is not just for news feeds and Facebook links. Now you can also get nearby daily deals. With the latest update to both the iPhone and Android apps, when you enable location sharing, Pulse will pull nearby Groupon deals.

Pulse lets you subscribe to different deals by city. You can see them as a stream in your Pulse reader, along with deals from nearby cities. If you click through to purchase one, Pulse will get an affiliate fee. It’s certainly a better way to peruse the deals than the daily email. You can also save a deal for later purchase.

These are regular Groupon deals, not the instant Groupon Now deals that pop up in Loopt, but as Groupon Now expands to more cities, Pulse may add those in the future.



GameAnalytics.com: The Name Says It All

Posted: 22 Jun 2011 07:12 PM PDT

It’s no secret that game companies like Zynga have many of their mechanics — be it the initial walkthrough or payment process — down to a science. But for the so-called “long tail” of developers, finding or building the requisite tools is far from trivial.

Game Analytics is a startup that’s looking to level the playing field, by giving all developers game-specific analytics tools similar to those being used by the big dogs. The startup is currently in private beta, with plans to launch publicly in the next five months or so. For the time being you can request an invite from their homepage.

Game Analytics won’t be alone in this space — we’ve extensively covered Mixpanel, a real-time analytics company that can track any sort of data in realtime, and is already being used by some large game developers, including Slide. Kontagent is another service with powerful stat-tracking features.

So what makes Game Analytics different? CEO and cofounder Morten Wulff says that because the company is focused exclusively on games, it will be able to offer some features that more general solutions don’t, like preset settings depending on the game engine (like Unity 3D) or genre a developer is working on.

The service will also offer QA testing features, like automated crash reports that identify when and where a game is failing. Other features already available or in the works: the ability to A/B test different layouts and real-time updates on key metrics.

We’ll follow up once the company is ready for its public launch.



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