Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

The BookBook Case: Because You Always Wanted Your iPhone To Look Like A Little Bible

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 09:10 AM PDT

Tired of feeling like people are judging you for gawking at your iPhone all day? Feel like you’re always 10 seconds from some big dude punching you in the face and making your iPhone his iPhone?

Enter the BookBook. It’s a case that makes your iPhone look like.. a book. More specifically, it makes your iPhone look like a little itty-bitty Bible. Which is great, because (almost) no one can judge you for reading the Bible. And who would steal someone’s Bible? There’s just no need; you can get a free Bible just by walking into a church and saying “Sup guys, can I have a Bible?”

The BookBook is the first iPhone accessory out of the guys over at TwelveSouth. If you recall, these are the same guys who made the Apple Keyboard/Magic Trackpad-melding MagicWand.

Beyond shrouding your iPhone in a lookalike handbook, the BookBook has another trick up its sleeve: it’s a wallet. It’s got a slot for your ID, two credit cards, and some of that weird papery green stuff I’m told the people of the 90′s called “cash”.

One odd bit: as the video below makes clear, there’s no hole cut in the back for your camera to peek through, so you’ll have to pull your iPhone out a bit to snap a shot.

You can find the case, available today for $60 a pop, right over here. Or you can wait and see if the Gideons start hiding them in hotel drawers.

Does a Cop Have a Right to Your Smartphone?

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:45 AM PDT

Let’s say I’m driving along and texting even though I know I shouldn’t be. That’s me everyday right there. Now, let’s say I get pulled over, and for some reason the cop asks to see the phone to see what was so important.

Do I have to hand it over? If my phone has a password, am I obligated to type it in? If he starts getting pushy with me should I just start videoing the whole encounter as YouTube-revenge-backup-protection?

As smartphones have allowed us to have our computers, emails, social media feeds, and a full surveillance systems in our pockets at all time, stories of the law enforcements unease with that have been popping up in the press. And of course, the ones that become viral videos aren’t exactly flattering for law enforcement.

I returned as a panelist on last week’s episode of NBC’s Press:Here where we get into what your legal rights are with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Hanni Fakouri. For the whole episode, including background and examples of cases proving smart phone precedents right now, go here. Below is a clip where we asked Fakouri, EFF’s views on what is legal aside, what you should do if you’re caught in one of these dicey situations.

Sequoia, Accel, And Union Square Top SecondMarket’s New VC Scoreboard

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:30 AM PDT

Demand for private company shares declined in the second quarter versus the first quarter but was up sharply year-over-year, according to a new report released today by SecondMarket. The market for private company stock saw $112 million in transactions last quarter, versus $156 million in the first quarter, or down 39 percent sequentially. On an annual basis, however, it was up 120 percent over the second quarter of 2010, which saw $51 million in transactions. And the $268 million worth of transactions in the first half of 2011, was up 75 percent from the first half of 2010 .

Some of the tempering of demand over the past couple quarters can be attributed to the fact that two of the previous most popular stocks on the market, LinkedIn And Pandora, went public so investor demand simply shifted to the public markets. Demand for shares from new startups filled much of the gap, but was not enough to keep transaction volumes growing compared to the previous two quarters.

Nearly 88 percent of completed transactions were for consumer Web companies, and hedge funds accounted for 22 percent of the dollar value, but only 5 percent of the number of transactions. Individual accredited investors were the largest buying group, accounting for nearly 48 percent of total dollar value and 62 percent of number of transactions. Former employees were the biggest sellers (accounting for 94 percent of transactions).

For the first time, SecondMarket ranked the top VC firms based on which ones have the most portfolio companies on its 100 most-watched list. Sequoia tops the VC scoreboard with 11 companies. Accel and Union Square both have 8. Greylock, Kleiner, and Benchmark each have 7. General Catalyst has 6. And Charles River, Khosla Ventures, and First Round each have 5. (See top chart)

The top 10 most watched stocks (members can add any stock to their “watch list”) remained pretty stable, with Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, and Zynga in the top four slots. Foursquare moved up to No. 5, followed by Skype, Yelp, Dropbox (new), Gilte Groupe, and LivingSocial (new). LinkedIn and Pandora fell off the list as a result of their successful IPOs.

The Rising Stars gaining the most watchers were Kickstarter, PopCap, SharesPost (SecondMarket’s biggest competitor!), LegalZoom, and Lending Club. PopCap was just bought for $1.3 billion by EA, and LegalZoom raised $66 million from Kleiner and IVP.

SecondMarket also tracks a group called “Newbies” which are showing early traction in terms of attracting investor attention. The Newbies in the second quarter were SurveyMonkey, Coupons, Hipmunk, Justin.tv, and Yousendit.

Finally, the report also pulls out the most watched international companies. These include Skype and Spotify (of course), Rovio, Soundcloud, and the Alibaba Group.

Toshiba Thrive Tablet (Almost) Completely Rooted

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:12 AM PDT

Great news for anyone who fell for the Toshiba Thrive's chunky, full-featured charms! A team from TabletRoms.com (who created the hack) and ThriveForums.org (who tested it) has managed to gain root access on the Thrive's stock ROM, which is the jumping-off point for countless ambitious development projects to come.

Well, more or less anyway. Understandably Toshiba didn't want to make things too easy for them.

Apparently, while they have superuser permissions on the device, they still aren't able to read or write to the system directory. More interestingly, they haven't been able to get the Clockwork Recovery image to stick very long because the Thrive reflashes its own stock image every time it reboots. Very clever, Toshiba.

Still, given that Toshiba's chubby portable has only been available for a hair over two weeks now, this is quite the accomplishment. What makes the whole thing more impressive is the fact that one of the project's main devs, a chap who goes by the handle DJ_Steve, is based in the UK where the Thrive hasn't even been released yet.

Feeling adventurous? Full instructions are available on ThriveForums, as well as the specific bits to make it work, but do so at your own risk. Bricking a shiny new toy isn't pleasant, and you don't need to take my word for it.

EDIT: Updated to accurately reflect TabletRoms.com’s role in the project.

Microsoft Releases New Bluetooth Headset And Media Remote For Xbox 360

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:10 AM PDT

The old, white Xbox media remote was often a godsend. Instead of pressing odd buttons on the controller, the media remote let you control Netflix and DVD videos with ease and it was big and unique enough not to get lost. This new media remote, however, looks less like a bar of Dove soap and more like a traditional remote control.

Announced on MajorNelson’s blog, the remote will cost $19.99 and will be available in November.

Also announced was a little Bluetooth headset for gaming. It costs 59 bizucks and, the best thing, Senor Nelson shows it off below.

Design Sales Site Fab.com Hits 350,000 Members, Raises $8M To Celebrate

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:07 AM PDT

Fab.com, which started out as Fabulis, a social networking site for gay men, has not only recently changed its name but also started from scratch with an entirely new business centered around online flash sales of design items.

The startup recently completed a $1 million early-stage round of funding from investor/actor Ashton Kutcher, SV Angel, SoftTech VC and previous backers First Round Capital, Baroda Ventures and The Washington Post.

The company has now raised another $8 million in Series A funding, we’ve learned.

Menlo Ventures led the round, and several existing investors participated, including First Round, Baroda Ventures, The Washington Post, Fab.com founder and CEO Jason Goldberg, SoftTech VC, SV Angel, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Oseary and A-Grade Investments, and Zelkova Ventures.

A number of angel investors also took part, including Kevin Rose, Jon Anderson, Don Baer, Josh Kushner, Dave Morgan, Ben Ling, and David Tisch. Quite an impressive list of backers, I daresay.

Fab.com features daily design inspirations and flash sales at up to 70% off retail. Fab.com membership is free but numbers are restricted in order to maintain low prices. Since launching on June 9, 2011, Fab.com claims more than 350,000 people have signed up for the service, with members placing more than 1,000 orders per day.

Earlier this month, Fab.com CEO Jason Goldberg told me the startup was already profitable on $1.3 million in revenue after only 30 days after its debut, with a workforce of around 45 employees.

The company says it will use the proceeds of the fresh round of financing to grow its base of designers, expand sales categories and develop more community features.

The round brings its total capital raised to about $11.6 million.


Fab.com features daily design inspirations and sales at up to 70% off retail. Fab.com was started by Jason Goldberg, who founded SocialMedian and Jobster, with design industry veteran Bradford Shellhammer,...

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Jumio Turns Webcams Into Credit Card Readers – And Why Merchants Will Welcome ‘Netswipers’

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 08:00 AM PDT

If it were up to Jumio, we’re all going to be ‘netswiping’ to purchase books, clothes, travel, FarmVille crops and whatnot online in a couple of years. The startup has been extensively testing its digital payments service in private beta mode since last year, when Jajah founder Daniel Mattes started teasing whatever they were building.

The startup has since assembled an impressive advisory board, including former Google exec Zain Khan, former Amazon exec Mark Britto and Maarten Linthorst, CEO of CSI Communication Systems. And we recently learned that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and other investors pumped $6.5 million into the startup.

Today, Jumio is finally unveiling Netswipe, a technology solution that enables e-commerce site owners and Internet retailers to process online and mobile payments by having customers ‘swipe’ their credit cards using virtually any webcam. Think of it as Square for the Web, without the need to purchase and install additional hardware. Watch the video below to see how it works, in a nutshell.

Jumio is introducing three products for online merchants: Netswipe Start, Netswipe Scanning and Netswipe Processing. Additional products, including a mobile solution, will be released later this year.

The idea of processing digital payments by scanning credit card information isn’t entirely new, we should note. Last month, for example, saw the launch of Card.io, a startup that is developing mobile applications also capable of scanning credit cards using smartphone cameras, and some other applications like AisleBuyer include similar features.

Netswipe will, howevever, allow merchants to securely process payments both on the Web and mobile – and like Card.io, Jumio intends to enable third-party developers to integrate the technology into their own apps and services. It’s also worth noting that Jumio claims its technology is patented.

Jumio says credit cards that are used to pay for goods and services via Netswipe are not ‘photographed’ – rather, the scans are made using videostreaming technology, which enables the company to recognize and verify the card details without storing any data on the client side.

The main benefits for merchants to implement such a solution are: reducing the time between a customer’s decision to purchase something online and effectively making a transaction, minimize the friction (entering credit card information by typing can be tedious and distracting) and reducing fraud.

Jumio CEO Daniel Mattes says that, during the pilot phase, a survey with a focus group showed a decrease in churn rate from 52% to 21%. This may well have been more of an exception than the rule, but for most businesses even a 5 percent decrease would have a big impact on the bottom line.

Mattes posits that online retailers and e-commerce site owners can quickly and easily implement Netswipe on their websites, and that the solution doesn’t rival but instead complements existing payment solutions that have usually already been deployed (PayPal etc.).

If all this is true, the Netswipe technology solution is one hell of a unique selling proposition for everyone involved – little or no downside and a lot of upsides for sellers and an additional, convenient method of payment for buyers.

The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating, as they say, so I’d be very interested to learn from online merchants and e-commerce business owners what their thoughts on the new service are.

Launch Date:

Jumio is Daniel Mattes’ latest startup and is currently preparing the closed beta launch of the site. Jumio simplifies payment. Everyday transactions in a quick, one-click solution for individuals...

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There’s a Lady Who Knows That There’s A Griffin Guitar StompBox For Your iPad

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 07:51 AM PDT

This $99, for switch stomp box by Griffin turns your iPad into a shredding machine. It connects to Frontier Design’s iShred LIVE app and allows you to add multiple sounds to your git-fiddle or keyboard.

The kit includes a special cable for simultaneous guitar, PA, or amp connectivity along with a cable that jacks right into your iPad. We would not recommend slamming your guitar straight trough the iPad’s glass, but we’re assured it has been tried already and looks totally badass.

Also, for some reason, it also works with teleprompters:

StompBox is not just for musicians. Its programmable controls also work with Qscript, Griffin’s teleprompter app for iPad. Using StompBox with Qscript you can control text scrolling and other presentation functions with one foot.

Product Page via Engadget

Irreantum Magellan Is An Acceptably Priced Classic Diver’s Watch

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 07:38 AM PDT

If you know me, you know I love me some watches. This watch, the Irreantum Magellan, caught my eye because it mixes some of the best of 70s diver style with a modern sensibility and an acceptably strong case and movement. The Magellan, priced at $545, comes in multiple colors and has an ETA 2824-2 movement. It is 45mm wide and comes with a grains of rice band.

It’s 500 meters water resistant and for less than $600 it’s priced quite fairly for the features. They’re available now online in black, carbon fiber, blue, and orange.

What’s with the wonky name, you ask? Well, apparently it’s named after the Arabian Sea aka, in the olden days, the Erythraean Sea.

Product Page

Ustream Lands On The iPad, Gives Couch Potatoes The Perfect Soapbox

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 07:27 AM PDT

Ustream has landed on the iPad.

Today, the streaming video service has launched its first iPad-optimized app, allowing users to view live and recorded content streaming through the service — and to stream their own footage direct from their iPad 2. You can grab the app right here.

iPads are obviously well-suited for lounging — and Ustream is expecting that plenty of people will take advantage of the app to stream their thoughts direct from their couches (in other words, don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of new talking head streams pop up as people react to what they just watched on the news or after a sporting event).

The iPad version also includes all-important AirPlay support, which lets you stream whatever you’re watching on Usteam to your television.

The company launched its Android application on Honeycomb two weeks ago (it’s quite slick, and definitely better than most of the other Honeycomb apps out there), which also supports streaming direct from the tablet.

Launch Date:

Ustream is an interactive platform that enables anyone with a camera and an Internet connection to quickly and easily broadcast to an online global audience. Anyone can become a...

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Radio Shack Boots T-Mobile, Welcomes Verizon With Open Arms

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 07:25 AM PDT

The T-Mobile/Radio Shack affair isn't exactly new news at this point — Radio Shack alleged that T-Mobile "materially breached" the terms of their agreement way back in February. No one short of legal counsel knows exactly what grievances Radio Shack has with their magenta-hued carrier partner beyond lackluster sales performance, but it looks as though things are finally coming to a head anyway.

As of September 14, Radio Shack will discontinue their T-Mobile offerings in over 4,300 US locations and on their website. Then, on the very next day, they intend to roll out the red carpet for Verizon.

Jim Gooch, president and CEO of Radio Shack, seems mighty pleased stating that "the addition of Verizon Wireless, in combination with our existing carrier partners, positions us to now offer the best assortment of carriers, rate plans, devices and accessories for every consumer need." The implication that T-Mobile hasn't been a terribly good partner is clear, but Gooch is no stranger to talking smack about T-Mobile. During his tenure as Radio Shack CFO, Gooch said rather candidly that T-Mobile's product offerings were "not competitive with other carriers" Harsh words, but it’s the last thing Gooch needs to concern himself with if the transition pans out the way he hopes.

[Full Press Release]

HTC Warms Up To Settlement Talks With Apple

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 07:20 AM PDT

Perhaps it's a product of Schmidt's carefree attitude or maybe it's a little tinge of fear after their latest lost, but HTC now appears to be ready to negotiate with Apple. With a win on each side, settlement talks may be the only detour before this patent battle turns into a full-fledged war.

In early July, the ITC found Apple in violation of two S3 Graphics patents, which were then taken over by HTC when it acquired the graphics company for $300 million. On July 15, Apple got an ITC win against HTC over two of its own patents.

"We have to sit down and figure it out," said HTC CFO Winston Yung in an interview with Bloomberg. "We're open to having discussions." Yung clarified that no formal discussions have occurred since the ITC rulings this month, but merely that HTC was considering settlement negotiations. "We are open to all sorts of solutions, as long as the solution and the terms are fair and reasonable," said Yung. "On and off we've had discussions with Apple, even before the initial determination came out."

Both of the initial rulings (Apple in violation of S3 Graphics patents and HTC in violation of Apple patents) are subject to review by the full six-member commission.

[via CNET]

PowerReviews Spreads Consumer Reviews Between E-Commerce Sites

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 06:43 AM PDT

It’s a simple law of e-commerce: the more consumer reviews there are on a product, the more sales will result.  ”As review numbers go up, conversions go up, and SEO traffic goes up,” says  Cathy Halligan, SVP of sales and marketing for PowerReviews (and former CMO of Walmart.com).  PowerReviews powers 23 million reviews across 5,500 sites including Staples.com, Gap.com, ToysRUs.com, and eFaucets, and is adding about 1 million reviews a month.  But all of these reviews are siloed on each individual site.  Today, PowerReviews is making it possible for brand sites to syndicate their reviews to e-commerce sites for the same products through a new product called BrandShare.

Consumers often go to brand sites to do research and leave reviews there, but most brand sites don’t actually sell their own products.  PowerReviews already has a product catalog across its network of 35 million products. It will now take any reviews, whether they were written on its software, a competitor’s, or a home-grown review system and allow brands to syndicate them to existing PowerReviews customers.

For products that don’t have any reviews on a retailer’s site, this is a way to fill up those pages with reviews.  Halligan says that going from zero reviews to one review with 4.2 stars or better improves conversion rates (sales) by 20 percent.  And while it only takes 7 to 10 reviews to get a stable star rating, keeping reviews fresh helps with search engine optimization.  Getting people directly to a product page through search thanks to an indexed review has an outsized impact on sales conversions as well.

Social sharing also helps.  People can share their PowerReviews on Facebook.  And each share is worth $15.72 in incremental sales.

Verizon Mistakenly Leaks Video Of The Touchscreen-Sporting BlackBerry Bold 9930

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 06:03 AM PDT

Mistakes happen. Sometimes they spur a round of seriously unwanted consequences, but every once in a while, a mistake pays off. Maybe not for the person who screwed up, which in this case would be someone in charge of Verizon's website, but definitely for us. If you have yet to pick up what I'm putting down, this morning brought with it another leak — the BlackBerry Bold 9930.

Verizon accidentally posted a video demo of the Bold 9930 in place of what should be a video demo of the BlackBerry Bold 9650. So if you find yourself on the Verizon site browsing through the smartphones, go ahead and click through to the Bold 9650. If you click into the video, a Verizon rep named Blake will appear in a demo and tell you how great the BlackBerry Bold 9930 is.

According to Blake, the 9930 is the thinnest BlackBerry ever and will run the latest version of BlackBerry 7 OS. The phone touts a 1.2 GHz processor and a 5-megapixel rear camera with auto-focus and flash that is capable of video capture in 720p. Blake also promises that the new 9930 has a larger QWERTY keyboard than older BlackBerry models along with 8GB of internal memory expandable with a 32GB microSD card.

Here's the best part: You can dump that pesky optical track pad altogether if you want. If you like it, then by all means, flick on. But for those of us who prefer cold capacitive glass under our fingertips, the new BlackBerry Bold 9930 will sport a 2.8-inch touchscreen display featuring pinch-to-zoom functionality.

I just spent some time with the Motorola XPRT, which has a pretty similar form-factor, and I can easily say I prefer a full physical QWERTY paired with a touchscreen much more than a track pad-only option. Check the video after the break.

[via CrackBerry]

Watch Out, Netflix. Walmart Now Streaming Vudu Video On Demand On Walmart.com

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 06:02 AM PDT

Netflix just got some more competition. Walmart launched its video streaming service today and don’t just write it off as a “me too” service. This is a serious offering.

Walmart bought Vudu 18 months ago and has slowly evolved the business. Vudu, like Netflix, is available on a number of set-top boxes, gaming systems, and media streamers. Users have access to 20,000 titles, including titles the same day they hit DVD, when used on one of these devices. The just-launched service puts Vudu streaming directly on Walmart.com for instant viewing. The Walmart.com service doesn’t seem to have access to the entire library, but there’s still a good chunk available and that might be good enough to make Netflix slow its roll.

This isn’t a subscription service. It’s on-demand with rentals available from $1 to $5.99 and purchases starting at $4.99. That’s the same way Vudu has always worked. Except this time it’s available directly on the website of America’s largest retailer.

This release comes just two weeks after Netflix hiked a popular plan by 60%. Vudu, even with a smaller library, has always been considered the main alternative to Netflix, and now it seems as if Walmart is ready to give it the proper support and placement to make it a true competitor.

Canon’s X Mark I Mouse Lite Is A Jack Of All Trades

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

All-in-one. That's my golden word. If you want to sell me something, make sure it can do ten completely random never-would-have-expected-it-to tasks, and I'm in. Three-in-one is only slightly less enticing, but still worth a good inspection. Canon today introduced its X Mark I Mouse Lite — a three-in-one calculator, keypad and laser mouse designed by the Canon camera team.

This would be a nice addition to any office, and it doesn't look half bad either. With three mouse buttons, including a scroll wheel, the Canon mouse has support for Bluetooth 2.01. The Canon X Mark I Mouse Lite comes in both black and white, and is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X. The mouse also sports a little low battery indicator to make sure you stay charged.

Canon is selling this alongside its X Mark I Keypad that doubles as a 10-digit semi-calculator. Both will go for an MSRP of $59.99. However, the X Mark I Mouse Lite will be available in August, whereas the keypad won't show up until September.

Twilio Client Lets Developers Integrate VoIP Calling Into Any Application

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Twilio, the company that's on a mission to help developers bake telephony into their applications, is launching a new feature this morning that could well give rise to a slew of startups (or, at the very least, a bunch of new features in existing web and mobile applications).

In short, it’s letting developers integrate the flexible and cost-efficient power of VoIP — the sort of technology used by services like Skype and Google Voice — into their own applications. And it saves developers the hassles involved with building out the infrastructure typically required to handle a VoIP service. Meet Twilio Client.

At a high level, Twilio Client is probably best described as a platform that facilitates embedded VoIP communications, but that's confusing and doesn't really demonstrate what exactly it does. So let's try a few examples.

Say you had a social network (I'll pick LinkedIn) that wanted to let users initiate voice calls with other users — but without requiring either party to actually hand out their phone numbers or IM handles. With Twilio Client, LinkedIn could bake that functionally in: you'd click a button next to a friend’s screen name, the other party would see a popup asking if they wanted to talk to you, and the call would be routed over Twilio's VoIP pipes. Skype could probably offer the same thing, but it would take a special partnership — with Twilio, any app can implement this.

Another example: in addition to the web version (which is open to everyone starting today), Twilio is also launching mobile versions of Twilio Client for Android and iPhone. This means that mobile developers will be able to include voice calling functionality into their applications without requiring users to exchange phone numbers. This is obviously great for services where some anonymity is preferred (say, a dating app), but plenty of other apps could benefit from voice calls as well: marketplaces, social networks, even games.

Obviously this is going to give Skype some competition. No, Twilio itself isn't going to be launching a direct Skype competitor any time soon, but it's handing developers the tools to reproduce much of Skype's voice-related technology. Back in 2008 Lawson told me Twilio could recreate GrandCentral (now Google Voice) in 15 lines of code. For this launch, he says you could reproduce Skype in the three lines below. Obviously that’s got a hefty dose of hyperbole, but the point still stands: it's now possible for developers to mirror the basic functionality of Skype Voice, which means they’ll be able to focus on innovating above and beyond those core features.

Of course, most of this is not free. Twilio is charging 1/4 cent per minute for pure VoIP calls, and calls that are routed from a VoIP client to a normal phone line are two cents per minute (in other words, developers have a strong incentive to push users toward making VoIP-based calls).

We should note that the service offered by Twilio Client isn’t entirely unique — Jajah, for one, has done VoIP integrations on both websites and mobile apps. But Lawson says these are generally one-off deals with larger companies, as opposed to an API anyone can access. Likewise, Skype’s SkypeKit lets developers bake Skype functionality into their products, but it’s aimed primarily at consumer electronic devices.

Twilio Client could be a big deal. Twilio’s SMS API gave rise to a wave of group-texting startups, and I won’t be surprised if we see a lot of innovation on this API over the next six months (they’ll help kickstart that next wave at a Twilio conference that’s being held September 21 and 22).


Twilio offers developers a powerful API for phone services to make and receive phone calls, and send and receive text messages. Their product allows programmers to more easily integrate...

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LearnVest Debuts Its Female-Focused Mint.com To Help Women Manage Their Financial Accounts

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 05:58 AM PDT

On the heels of raising $19 million in new funding, personal finance site for women LearnVest is debuting a more feature-rich platform.

LearnVest, which launched at TechCrunch50 in 2009, has a simple goal: to help women organize their finances and learn how to become financially savvy. It's kind of like an online version of financial planner Suze Orman blended with personal finance site Mint.com. Founded by entrepreneur Alexa Von Tobel, the startup aims to fill a big hole in terms of providing an online destination that is catered towards educating women about finance.

The company, which has one million users, is launching My Money Center, which like Mint.com, allows women to aggregate all of their financial accounts, such as bills, credit cards, checking accounts, savings, 401K and more, to give users a comprehensive view into the health of their finances. Members can link all of their accounts into a Financial Inbox, which allows them to track their spending.

The platform aims to replicate the old-school style of organizing your bills into file folders and mimics a foldering system. The platform looks like an email inbox and allow members to personalize their budget items and track monthly spending goals. For example, when a charge is made to a member's credit card, it will register in the LearnVest My Money Center and will be automatically filed into the appropriate budget folder.

The startup is also offering personalized financial advice via the LearnVest Advice Center, in which members can submit questions focused on their own financial situations and will receive a tailored response within a matter of hours. This is included in LearnVest’s premium membership, which costs $4.99 per day, $39.99 for three months and $129.99 for a year. The Advice Center also offers access to LearnVest Courses, which help women create a financial plan.

Of course, LearnVest will continue to offer its free bootcamps, which educate women on various financial subjects, including a Financial Basics Bootcamp, Cut Your Costs Bootcamp, and Investing Bootcamp.

As Von Tobel explains to be in the TechCrunch TV interview embedded in the post, women need more tailored financial products in the same way that women join female-focused gyms. It’s about building sound financial habits, she explains, and a more personalized, tailored approach helps this.

You can check out a demo of the new features below. We also have a promo code for readers who want a free day pass for LearnVest’s premium service. Just enter the code ‘tc2011′ in the next week when signing up.

Launch Date:

LearnVest is a fun, interactive, personal finance tool that fills the gap between complicated books and expensive financial advisors. LearnVest walks users through personal financial issues step-by-step via dynamic...

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ThinkNear Turns Mobile Banner Ads Into Local Offers (Raises $1.6 Million From IA And Google Ventures)

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 05:00 AM PDT

Last April, one of the strongest startups from TechStars’s Demo Day in New York City was ThinkNear, which turns mobile ads into hyper-targeted daily deal offers for local merchants. The startup is officially launching later today to restaurants, spas, and hair salons in New York City.

It also raised $1.63 million in a series A, which was previously reported by Ben Popper at Betabeat. The round was led by Roger Ehrenberg’s IA Ventures, but also includes many previously undisclosed investors such as Google Ventures (now I know why Rich Miner was lurking in the TechStars NY offices), Qualcomm Ventures, Metamorphic Ventures, and ff Venture Capital. David Tisch and David Cohen from TechStars invested personally, as did Matt Turck from Bloomberg Ventures.

ThinkNear tries to solve the all-or-nothing problem that most daily deals present to local merchants. They produce a stampede of foot traffic, but not necessarily when the merchants need it. Instead, ThinkNear lets merchants tell the system when they normally experience slow times (and it also looks at other data like weather) to spit out offers to people nearby. Consumers don’t have to sign up for anything either, they just see the offers as normal mobile banner ads on their phones.

It also tries to do everything automatically for local business owners, most of whom don’t have time to constantly monitor mobile ad campaigns. “We algorithmically determine how busy or slow merchants are based on self reported data and macro data like weather,” says CEO Eli Portnoy. “And we use that to answer three questions for merchants automatically: When they should discount, how much they should discount, and where they should place that discount.”

ThinkNear’s targeting gets smarter over time as it tracks which discounts get clicked on and which ones actually get claimed. ThinkNear tackles the redemption loop challenge with specific voucher codes that consumers show store employees (which is more clunky than integrating directly into the payment system, but should work well enough with minimal training).

Ultimately, local business owners already have enough on their plate running their business and do not want to offer discounts during times when they are already busy. ThinkNear takes over the pain of managing mobile marketing and discount campaigns by handling the entire process and creating the right discounts based on the real-time capacity of businesses at any given time during the day.

As I wrote in my original post:

The company was founded by two ex-Amazon employees with some serious technical chops. They are building a fairly straightforward way for local merchants to deliver mobile ads to consumers based on their proximity to their stores.

Using existing ad networks and the ability to geo-target the ads, ThinkNear will give local merchants a dashboard that lets them set up offers based on when they need the most foot traffic. "We start by capturing busy and slow times for merchants," says CEO and founder Eli Portnoy, "and also track redemption data to see what discounts work." ThinkNear uses all of that data "to figure out what discounts to put in front of consumers." And does not require the local merchants to continuously monitor the campaign after it is set up.

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ThinkNear is an easy and automated solution that allows local businesses to generate additional revenue and increase profitability. The ThinkNear system predicts when a business has unused capacity and...

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IA Venture invests in early-stage companies developing breakthrough tools and technologies for managing and extracting value from Big Data. IA Ventures was founded on the belief that managing and extracting...

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Google Ventures was founded in March 2009. Google Ventures is broadly interested in startups in industries including consumer Internet, software, hardware, clean-tech, bio-tech, health care and others. They invest amounts...

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Metamorphic Ventures is a venture capital fund that invests in start-up and early-stage businesses exclusively in the digital media and transaction technology sectors. These technology companies tend to be cutting...

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Android’s Dirty Secret: Shipping Numbers Are Strong But Returns Are 30-40%

Posted: 26 Jul 2011 03:16 AM PDT

It’s generally accepted that, on the aggregate, Android device sales will far outpace iOS sales year after year. However, there’s a dirty little secret about Android devices that most manufacturers are facing: the return rate on some Android devices is between 30 and 40 percent, in comparison to the iPhone 4′s 1.7% return rate as of Antennagate in 2010.

As we learned yesterday, Samsung is selling 18 to 21 million phones this quarter. Although all of those won’t be Android phones – Samsung manufactures Bada phones as well for the low-end. We do know for sure that the Galaxy S II sold 3 million in 55 days, a strong showing.

However, on the ground, many return rates are approaching 40% said a person familiar with handset sales for multiple manufacturers. Why? Well, as Matt noted, consumer understanding of the platform and handset availability is massively bifurcated.

For us nerds, Android makes a lot of sense. It’s ostensibly open platform (but not really) that offers far more flexibility to the programmer, carrier, and, ideally, the user.

For the “average” phone user, however, Android is a maze. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of multiple examples of folks who bought an Android phone in order to “Think Different” and came away disappointed when faced with the glaring differences between Android and a friend’s iPhone or Blackberry.

Sure, the Android hardware ecosystem is more variegated and expansive and sure, Android is free for carriers to implement (in general) but clearly it’s the little differences that are driving sales and, more important, returns.

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