Saturday, September 10, 2011

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The Job Of A CEO At A 200 Person Company

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT

seth-sternberg

This guest post was written by Seth Sternberg, the CEO and Co-founder of Meebo. His last guest post was about the job of a pre-launch startup CEO.  In this one, he discusses how that job changes when your company grows to 200 people.

The job of CEO at a 200 person company is pretty different from the life I had 6 years ago—just before Meebo launched. It's a lot less about what I do and a lot more about how I enable others. In today’s world, if you zoom out to a very macro-level view, there are three things I do. 1. Strategy. 2. People. 3. Resource allocation.

Strategy

You always hear that part of a CEO’s job is to come up with the “strategy”. But what does that really mean? In my world it’s listen, synthesize and communicate.

Listening means listening to everyone. Blogs, your employees, the press, other entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, customers and users—anyone who might have an interesting or informative point of view on what your company does. Bandied together, those constituencies form your market.

Synthesizing means taking all those things you’ve been listening to, deciphering signal (10% of it) from noise (90% of it), and adjusting course based on new points of view or new information. It’s rare that you’ll gather the exact strategy you should follow from the signal, but put it together and apply your own secret sauce and you have your winner.

And finally you communicate the newly formed strategy (to the extent you’ve decided to adjust course) to the market – the same people you’ve been listening to. At the end of day, you are your company’s chief sales person. To investors, the press, recruits, customers and users. You need to convince all of these people you’ve been listening to that you heard them, you internalized it all, and you came up with the winning strategy.

Together, I call these three pieces The Strategy Funnel. You listen, you synthesize and communicate and then you start all over again, listening to the feedback after you've communicated.

People

So many things are happening on a daily basis that it becomes very hard to stay on top of it all. In fact, you really can’t. Rather, you rely on your team to truly own the pieces of the overall puzzle that they are responsible for. This requires lots of things, top among them is trust.

First, you need to make sure you have the right folks in the right positions. Beyond ensuring that their skills (both hard and soft) are right for the role, you need to make sure that they continue to scale into that role as it inevitably becomes more complex with the growth of the company. Someone who was great at 100 people may hit a wall at 160 people.

Second, you need to make sure that these people are empowered to run their parts of the show. A lot of this empowerment comes through information, which of course needs to be communicated in some way. Counterintuitive as it may seem, ensuring that communication lines are very high bandwidth within the company is one of the top things you can do to empower people. Well…that, and not be a micromanager.

Third, you need to make sure you’ve clearly communicated the mission to your folks. If your leadership team doesn’t understand the mission or strategy, then neither will their respective teams. Watch how quickly progress will grind to a halt without a clearly articulated strategy in place—it won’t be pretty.

Fourth, you are your company’s chief recruiter. If one of our teams needs me to sell a candidate, I’ll get on the phone day or night, weekday or weekend. Heck, I’ve even flown out to see a candidate or two if they’re someone super special. Your company lives or dies by its team, regardless of whether you're 2 people or 200. Attract the absolute best and brightest to work with your team and you're already winning.

Resource Allocation

As your company grows and leaders at your company come to run specific functions, each function will vie for the company’s resources to best achieve its goals. Let’s unpack that for a minute. Since you can’t know everything that’s happening within the company, and therefore rely on your leadership team to run their respective functions, how do you make sure everyone's on the right track? You provide clear goals for them to achieve. You measure these goals through a set of mutually agreed upon metrics that they are working to attain. Often, they will have a bonus tied to the achievement of these goals. So not only is there a sense of professional pride with meeting goals, but a bonus is often on the line too. And since you’re already hiring fantastic people who are intrinsically motivated, these people will work very hard to achieve their own team goals and thusly, the company's goals.

One of the ways folks work to achieve their goals is to draw resources from the company. Some services are often shared at the corporate level—recruiting, HR, facilities and financial analysis would be an example. Other services are often shared between teams. For example, the ads team is as dependent on our engineering team to provide them with enough engineers to build new ad products as is our consumer products team to build the (very cool) checkins service we’re working on at Meebo. The leaders of these teams, at some level, compete for these shared resources—the more they get—the more likely they are to meet their goals.

You, as the CEO, are the ultimate “disinterested third party” between each of these teams. You, more than anyone, are tasked to make certain that the overall company meets its goals—not just its revenue goals or product goals, but all of them! As such, you make the call on how resources are allocated between competing priorities within the company.

That's the end of the formal programming. Strategy, People and Resource Allocation are the three things I really spend my time on. But before we part, just one more thing. You are human. You make mistakes. You get stressed. But at all times, be real! Your people and your market want to hear from you—they want to know you and know what you stand for. They can sniff bullshit a mile away. Don't disengage with reality behind the CEO's magic curtain—it's all too easy. Keep it real.


Person: Seth Sternberg
Website:
Companies: Meebo, IBM, SpeakerText

Seth Sternberg co-founded Meebo. Seth, a Connecticut native, worked in IBM's mergers and acquisitions department, while also working on corporate strategy and venture capital initiatives prior to starting Meebo.

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Company: Meebo
Website: meebo.com
Launch Date: January 2, 2005
Funding: $70M

Meebo is a social platform connecting users with their friends across the web. It began in 2005 as a browser based instant messaging program which supported multiple IM services, including Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AIM, ICQ, MySpaceIM, Facebook Chat, Google Talk and others. Meebo expanded its offering with the introduction of Meebo Rooms, and most significantly, the Meebo Bar. The Meebo bar allows users to connect with their friends and share content on hundreds of content sites across the...

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Daily Crunch: Beans & Chips

Posted: 10 Sep 2011 01:00 AM PDT

Inside Austin’s Capital Factory 2011 Demo Day

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 11:50 PM PDT

Capital-Factory

Editor’s Note: Jacob is a Venture Associate with Shasta Ventures. Prior to joining Shasta, Jacob worked at Microsoft's BizSpark program and was the "business guy" at VentureBeat. Follow @jacob on Twitter here.

It was an absolutely perfect day in Austin this past Wednesday, a temperate and breezy 89 degrees. The kind of day that seemed ripe with possibilities. Austin's startup community gathered en masse at the University of Texas to hear the pitches from the five companies debuting out of Capital Factory, Austin's summer startup accelerator. The vibe there was optimistic, and full of energy.

The startup community in Austin is doing very well, if the event was any indication (in the afternoon session we also saw demos from 15 of the best and brightest in Austin overall). While comparatively small next to Silicon Valley or New York, the "Silicon Hills" have one of the most tightly-knit and collaborative of any I've experienced.

Here is a quick look at each of the five 2011 Capital Factory companies. We saw very polished presentations and with a common theme of companies working on a really big opportunity, but focusing on initial verticals where they could show traction and make early progress. I think this is a (good) artifact of Austin's pragmatism, and its strength in marketing, sales, and business development.

StoryMix Media was founded by husband and wife team Ariane and Mike Fisher, StoryMix Media finally makes all those short videos you shoot with your iPhone and Flip cameras useful. It's kind of like Animoto for video.

With a proprietary backend auto-edit-and-splicing technology, StoryMix enables you to easily create, publish, and share short videos with family, friends, and Facebook. Taking a Color-esque approach with their upcoming iPhone app, they make it simple for people at the same event, like a wedding, to take videos and upload them to a cloud-based dashboard which can be collaboratively organized into one cohesive video and published to Facebook to tag all your friends in their embarrassing table-dancing moments.

The example videos we saw looked great. The company is focusing first on the weddings market, which is an obvious choice. The company told us that less than 1/3 of all weddings have videography, despite the untold billions that are otherwise spent on the occasion.

Critique: While they're focusing on targeting a single vertical, reaching profitability, and raising angel money to fuel customer acquisition marketing overall, this is a pure consumer play where you want the absolute absence of friction and you want to encourage off-label use cases and creativity. Their starting product is priced at $99. They should consider a freemium model to gain as many users as possible and later monetize for premium service (see: Animoto).

Helpjuice automatically updates your company's help page. Founder Emil Hajiric is an 18 year old wunderkind who recently moved from Bosnia to Austin.

Most startups are in the business of creating a solid company with stellar customer experience, and as such are tooled to respond quickly to product or technical support issues. However, the support team gets deluged 24/7 by common questions that could be easily answered on your company FAQ page.

The solution: CC: the support email to Helpjuice and their "Juicers" will aggregate the questions, write the response for your FAQ page, send it to you for approval, and post it. This saves you precious time and money while keeping your users happy. Your FAQ is always updated, you build an evergreen asset, and you automate repetitive issues. Their search functionality against common FAQ questions seems particularly good, too.

Critique: While Emil pitches Helpjuice as a software, the "Juicers" are humans who build out answers, so this sounds more like a tech-enabled service, bringing up concerns of cost, and scalability, as well as moat.

Also, he'll want to focus on strong competitive differentiation to stand out from customer support incumbents like Assist.ly, UserVoice and Get Satisfaction—right now Helpjuice risks being just a great feature best used in tandem with a bigger and more holistic platform.

SpeakerMix was founded by two veterans out of the nation's largest speaker-sourcing agency, SpeakerMix is bringing the painful speaker sourcing process online.

As an event planner for a national conference or a small company meeting, SpeakerMix makes it equally simple to connect with famous personalities or discover a niche speaker that will fit your tone, style, topic and budget. From the demo, SpeakerMix is like the Amazon-meets-Yelp-meets-OpenTable for speakers, focused around a Speaker profile page where planners can read reviews, comparable pricing, availability, and actually book the speakers, too.

They have over 6,500 speakers currently listed, from @GaryVee to Bill Clinton and have handled over $1M in speaker bookings since launch earlier this year. But importantly, the system surfaces the long tail of the market and the speakers you don't know that you don't know, making matches that the company says every planner loves.

Critique: The caveat here is that while it sounds like they're making great speaker connections that might not otherwise be made, they will certainly get some pushback in being yet another intermediary in the process, which already includes the booking agent, talent manager, event planner, and potentially more.

Yes, those people will welcome new business and search traffic, but if successful, SpeakerMix will start to have a lot of leverage and things might get political (see: Kayak). Is there enough food at the table to keep everyone fed?

From the former Chief Technologist of Frog Design, Mason Hale, comes SwimTopia, which is a cloud-based swim team management system, spawning from his own need to manage his children's 200+ swim team.

What was previously done on a single shared laptop in legacy Microsoft Access, is now done in an elegant web app Hale built that handles everything from registration, legal liability waivers, volunteer scheduling, equipment purchasing, payments and more.

Coaches can easily identify which children aren't yet registered for events and they can send friendly reminders to parents about the upcoming meets. While SwimTopia is for now focused on the $500M US youth swimming market, they have higher ambitions to expand the tool to all youth sports organizations in the US and grab hold of that bigger $5 billion market. With this beautifully designed solution, they're off to a strong start.

Critique: It's a very large market, but getting traction in the long tail of local organizations is quite a challenge historically, and it can get very expensive, too. The targets are multifold—they have to sell the organizational leader(s) on the solution itself, but they also have to convince the hundreds of other constituents—parents, coaches, volunteers and more—to join in and actively use the product.

User experience will be key, as will word of mouth. This will succeed only if it has bottom-up momentum, not just a top-down sales and business development mandate.

GroupCharger is a simple, yet powerful, way of increasing member engagement and contributions to organizations.

Their first product, AlumniCharger, is already increasing alumni engagement and giving at University of Oklahoma, University of Texas Austin, and Texas A&M, with many more university alumni associations signed up and waiting to be let into the private beta.

Alumni association engagement and contributions tend to be lower where less value is realized between individual alums. AlumniCharger democratizes the efficient CRM and community software solutions effectively used to build value and connect alums at schools like Harvard, Yale and MIT. It uses existing alumni databases to identify alums on social networks, makes introductions between them, and provides other recommendations for the alumni association to increase member engagement.

GroupCharger is starting with the goal of bringing the 55,000 nationwide alumni associations online who spend an annual average of $125,000 on direct mail campaigns, but from there they see any membership-focused organization as greenfield opportunity.

Critique: Although the value proposition is clear, universities and foundations are slow-moving organizations who don't like to spend money.

GroupCharger will want to focus on drawing a very clear ROI correlation demonstrating the direct increase of dollars and engagement thanks to their service—without such a clear cause and effect, it's going to be hard to get past those lighthouse customers that were won mostly through existing relationships.

The more forward-thinking groups might be more willing than most, but once the company works its way through the low-hanging fruit, this is a tough market to crack without data that wows.

They may want to focus on being the direct connection between talent and buyer, and thus may end up in competition with their own suppliers anyway. They made brief mention of having an agency edition on the roadmap—that could be a nice middle ground, further embedding them in the ecosystem and enabling existing players, instead of threatening them.


Financial-organization: Capital Factory
Launch Date: January 1, 2009

Capital Factory is a seed stage mentoring program for startups that provides a small amount of seed capital and weekly mentoring sessions by entrepreneurs who have founded successful companies. Startup companies apply to participate in a 10 week summer program intended to get a startup pointed in the right direction with a clear path to profitability and growth.

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Car Rental Marketplace Getaround Gets Around $3.4 Million

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 05:33 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-09 at 5.25.03 PM

Car rental community Getaround is announcing a $3.4 million seed round today, with participation from Netflix founder Marc Randolph, Powerset founder Barney Pell, WordPress’ Matt Mullenweg, Redpoint Ventures, General Catalyst, Michael Arrington‘s Crunchfund and others.

Co-founder Sam Zaid tells me that investor momentum for Getaround, which is in the same peer to peer carsharing space as Relay Rides, picked up “like gangbusters” after its debut and eventual win at TechCrunch Disrupt New York. The seed round ended up being massively exaggerated, raising almost 3x over initial intent.

Zaid tells me that since its launch in May, the service has brought on “tens of thousands” of users and that car owner signups have exceeded 5,000 nationwide. According to Zaid, top Getaround car owners are now grossing between $6,000 to $10,000 a year, and some are even covering their car payments through renting out their cars. The average revenue per car in the Bay Area is $340 a month.

The company also recently streamlined their iPhone app, which notably allows renters to both reserve and access their Getaround cars.

Getaround is currently available in the South Bay, East Bay and San Francisco, and Zaid tells me he is eyeing Seattle and Portland as contenders for possible expansion. The free service monetizes by taking a 40% transaction fee, which includes roadside assistance, insurance and support.

Zaid says that the primary advantage of launching Getaround at TechCrunch Disrupt New York was that the conference validated both the startup and the market, “It's really brought a lot of credibility to both Getaround and the peer to peer car sharing market as a whole. Because it's a very new market, that’s of tremendous value.”

Note: As noted above, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is investing in Getaround via Crunchfund. You can read more about his investment policy here.


Company: Getaround
Website: getaround.com
Launch Date: October 9, 2009
Funding: $3.4M

Getaround provides a peer-to-peer carsharing marketplace that enables car owners to rent their cars - from Priuses to Teslas - to a community of trusted drivers by hour, day, or week using just their smartphones. Car owners invest huge amounts of time and money into an asset they barely use. The average car is idle 92% of the time, while potential drivers walk past block after block of underutilized cars. We are here to connect the dots… to help people...

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After Ice Cream Sandwich Comes… Jelly Bean

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 05:24 PM PDT

jellysmall2

In case you’ve lain awake nights wondering what tasty treat will follow Ice Cream Sandwich in Google’s sweet parade of Android versions, allow me to set your mind at ease. According to a “trusted source” speaking to This is my next, it’s going to be Jelly Bean.

More importantly, this source says that some of the “game-changing stuff” that was going to hit with ICS is being pushed out to Jelly Bean. That isn’t exactly welcome news — not that we actually knew exactly what was coming. On the other hand, they have to ship sometime, and Schmidt has just confirmed that October-November is the window they’re aiming for.

Excising a few of the peskier features is probably how they managed to nail the date down so semi-exactly, but I’m guessing the major functionality discussed (merging the tablet and mobile branches of the Android family tree) will be mostly intact.

Depending on what they’re shipping with, this push to release could be either good timing or extremely poor timing. If it’s a compelling release, they might see a nice bump in sales for the holidays. On the other hand, everyone seems pretty sure that the iPad 3 is on its way come January or February. If the cool features from ICS are delayed past that, the opportunity will have come and gone.

We’ll know more when Google releases more information about ICS next month. Perhaps they’ll even answer questions straight out about what wasn’t included. If we get a chance, we’ll ask.



Rumored Specs For Nikon’s Mirrorless Cameras

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 04:25 PM PDT

nikon-evil-mount-patent

All the cool kids are going mirrorless these days. Micro 4/3 cameras like the E-PL3 and luxury compacts like the X100 are starting to capture market share as the format matures and people see the benefits. But Canon and Nikon, the great warring giants of photography, have yet to announce any plans. After all, their mirror-rich DSLR lines sell a ton. They don’t want to make their move too early. But Nikon may be getting ready to go first.

Nikon Rumors has gotten its hands on what it thinks are fairly legit specs for Nikon’s upcoming mirrorless line. According to their tips, the first two cameras will be called the V1 and J1. The V1 will be the higher-end model, with a high-resolution EVF and a multi-accessory port. The J1 will have a built-in flash instead of the port. Both will be 10.1 megapixels with 3-inch LCD screens, and will be compatible with a new line of lenses, the CX system.

We saw a leaked picture of the sensor, and the 2.7x crop factor mentioned seems to work with that, though indeed that shot may be where they got that information. There have also been some interesting patents over the last year or so. Early on there was a mirrorless system specced and illustrated in cross section, then we saw a patent on a new type of motorized zoom. Supposedly the V1 and J1 will have a feature or two not shared by their competitors, and that zoom may be one of them.

Will people buy into a first-generation Nikon system when M4/3 systems are entering their third generation, and systems like the Sony’s NEX are becoming more and more compelling? The cameras will have to speak for themselves. No word on date just yet.



Tempting f8

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 04:15 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-09 at 4.02.09 PM

We’re now less than two weeks away from Facebook’s f8 conference. While it’s later than usual this year, Facebook uses the event to lay out their vision for the upcoming year and beyond. Typically, the event is big for developers, but this year may feature a few user-facing surprises as well. Here’s what we’ve heard so far.

As has been widely reported, Facebook’s music service is expected to be unveiled. Facebook is partnering with several prominent players in the streaming music space. Spotify, MOG, Rdio, etc — but again, don’t be surprised if Turntable.fm and maybe even Amazon are involved as well. The idea for the initial version of the product is all based around listening, but the roadmap is said to be larger.

One other key thing that could be a part of this is Music for Credits. Inside Facebook talked about this a few months ago when detailing what they knew at the time about the Music Dashboard. It’s not believe that anything Facebook does in music will be an “iTunes killer”, but this is the closest possibility.

The latest talk is that the elusive iPad app should make its debut at the event as well. It has been ready for some time (as indicated by its inclusion in the iPhone/iPod touch builds of the app) but Facebook has been sitting on it. The talk here is that this may be for political reasons with Apple more than anything else.

In the latest build (3.5) of Facebook’s iOS app, they removed the iPad version. And there were a few other irregularities, such as the continued inclusion of Places, despite Facebook stating they were getting rid of Places. I suspect that f8 could see a 4.0 release of the app that includes both the iPhone and iPad versions largely re-worked.

There are also some whispers out there that Facebook could launch their stand-alone Photos app at f8. We haven’t been able to confirm this, but we know the app is real because well, we’ve seen it (though that was an early build). Work continues on this app, including increased emphasis on filters, following Instagram’s rise to fame.

Speaking of photos, we’ve heard that Blue, the Color pivot, will also be a part of f8. The new app, which will be available for both iOS and Android, ties in deeply with Facebook’s own Photos service. When you like a photo in Blue, you like it in Facebook. When you comment on a photo on Facebook, it transfers over to that photo in Blue. The app has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well, we’ve heard.

Deep integration with mobile apps will be a big theme of the conference itself, we’re hearing. Many developers have been briefed, but under NDA. Still, the little we’ve heard says that Facebook is trying to work with third party mobile apps to make them less like second-class citizens in the ecosystem and more like integral parts.

Facebook’s thought process here is believed to be that since they don’t control a mobile OS themselves (their attempts to fork Android to make their own version haven’t gone as well as it has for Amazon, for example) they need better hooks to get outside mobile app data into Facebook on both iOS and Android. Part of this is believed to be a mobile version of the Like Button for each platform.

But the bigger picture remains Project Spartan. No, it’s not going to be called that when it’s launched at f8, but it is ready to go. And the latest we’ve heard is that the scope has expanded a bit. While at first, developers were asked to focus on mobile Safari, they’re now focused on desktop, iOS (including iPad), and Android.

Facebook continues their moves to go all-in on HTML5 (well, aside from the mobile apps which they likely view as a necessary evil for now — and still use a lot of HTML5). And obviously, games remain a big part of this. One other thing we’ve heard is that developers were asked to make sure their Spartan apps work in UIWebView — likely because Facebook wants them to work within the Facebook iPad app itself as well. That may also be related to why the app has been delayed.

Mobile Credits should be a part of Spartan as well (at least they were in the version we saw). We’ll see how Apple reacts to this if it’s a part of the apps — again, perhaps this is related to the iPad app delay. Maybe Facebook will keep it in the browser version only.

Meanwhile, we’ve heard that while the secretive BoltJS project is important to Facebook in mobile, it is unrelated to Project Spartan right now. One reason is that six weeks ago, Spartan expanded beyond mobile Safari, but BoltJS is still tied to it. Facebook may or may not talk about BoltJS at f8.


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The End Of Books: Ikea Is Changing Shelves To Reflect Changing Demand

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 02:41 PM PDT

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If you needed any more proof that the age of dead-tree books is over take a look at these alarming style changes at Ikea: the furniture manufacturer’s iconic BILLY bookcase – the bookcase that everyone put together when they got their first apartment and, inevitably, pounded the nails wrong into – is becoming deeper and more of a curio cabinet. Why? Because Ikea is noticing that customers no longer buy them for books.

This isn’t quite the canary in the coal mine – think of it as a slight tickle in the mine foreman’s throat – but all signs are pointing to the end of the physical book. There are plenty of analogs to this situation. When’s the last time you saw a casette tape rack sold outside of Odd Lots? What about the formal “stereo cabinet” with plenty of room for records? What about Virgin Megastores?

As much as it pains me to say this and as horrible as it sounds, the book is leaving us.

The Economist writes:

Next month IKEA will introduce a new, deeper version of its ubiquitous "BILLY" bookcase. The flat-pack furniture giant is already promoting glass doors for its bookshelves. The firm reckons customers will increasingly use them for ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read.

Will bookstores disappear? I think so. With the rise of popular fiction appearing on ereaders, I think the paperback will be the first to go and all that will be left is the “curio” hardback. Then I look forward to a half decade of the publishing industry scrambling to stem piracy and flail wildly at consumers, then hardware manufacturers, then finally settle into the long-fall doldrums the music industry is now facing.

I’m a writer. I love books. I love/hate the publishing industry. But when Ikea is against your product, it might be time to curtail the long agent lunches before it’s too late.

via SplatF

[Image: Sergej Razvodovskij/Shutterstock]



Rumor: Sprint Blacks Out Vacation Days In October To Prep For iPhone 5

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 02:19 PM PDT

iPhone 5 memo leak

Oh, what’s this? Sprint is reportedly blacking out vacation days between September 30th and October 15th? For a “major phone launch”?

Major phone launch. Early October (right when the iPhone 5 is likely to be launched.)

Yeah, the rumor mill just caught on fire.

Word of the blackout comes from Sprint Feed, who received the memo above from a source they’re confident enough in to refer to as a “beloved Super Spy”.

Last time Sprint did this, it was for the launch of the Pre. That launch obviously wasn’t as big as they’d hoped, but it goes to show that it’s not something they do all that often.

Of course, a memo like the one above isn’t exactly hard to fake — but for what it’s worth, the fonts, icons, and layout all look strikingly similar to the stuff I’ve seen on Sprint retail machines. If it is fake, it’s at least faked by someone who has spent some time working at a Sprint store.

As for the possibility of it being a different major phone launch in early October: maybe if Sprint doesn’t want that phone to, you know, sell. Otherwise, the pieces of the puzzle just fit together way, way too well.


Company: Apple
Website: apple.com
Launch Date: January 4, 1976
IPO: September 10, 1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer, Inc. to Apple, Inc. in January 2007. Among the key offerings from Apple’s product line are: Pro line laptops (MacBook Pro) and desktops (Mac Pro), consumer line laptops (MacBook) and desktops (iMac), servers (Xserve), Apple TV, the Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server operating systems, the iPod (offered with...

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Company: Sprint Nextel
Website:
Launch Date: September 10, 1999
IPO: NYSE:S

Sprint Nextel offers a comprehensive range of wireless and wireline communications services bringing the freedom of mobility to consumers, businesses and government users. Sprint Nextel is widely recognized for developing, engineering and deploying innovative technologies, including two wireless networks serving almost 49 million customers at the end of the second quarter of 2009; industry-leading mobile data services; instant national and international push-to-talk capabilities; and a global Tier 1 Internet backbone.

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Chrome Web Store Passes 30 Million Users, But How Bright Is The Future?

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 02:19 PM PDT

google-chrome-web-store

On September 1st, Google’s popular browser, Chrome, celebrated its third birthday. In a relatively short span of time, Chrome has gobbled up 22 percent market share among browsers, compared to Firefox at 28 percent and IE at 42 percent. The browser continues to iterate, now working in rapid-fire six-week release cycles, and its ecosystem at large has taken some big strides forward over the last year. For me, personally, I use multiple browsers daily, but Chrome has really become my go-to.

In December, Google debuted Chrome OS and the Chrome Web Store, followed by Chromebooks in June. But, as Jason pointed out in last week’s post, as well as our early coverage in January, the Chrome Web Store had seemingly gotten off to a slow start, perhaps not attracting as much traffic (and, more importantly, sales) as expected prior to launch. Some bolder members of the blogosphere even said, following CWS’ launch, “hey wait a second, isn’t this just a lame series of bookmarks?”

However, Chris Sorensen, Founder of ChromeOSApps.org, an independent website that monitors CWS app performance data, shared some stats with us today that give us a look at the Web Store’s growth since it launched, and the numbers are not quite at a “trickle”, as they were early on. For a bit of context, on January 13 (after about a month of being open for business), the Chrome Web Store had debuted 2,195 apps, and had attracted 4.5 million aggregate users, according to Sorensen’s numbers.

By September 1st, CWS had grown to over 6,000 apps with nearly 28 million aggregate users. On September 9th, CWS has passed 30 million, according to the numbers we’ve seen. As for downloads: The Chrome Web Store only started keeping track of downloads on May 15th, but the latest data from Sorensen indicates that CWS is attracting over 2.5 million weekly downloads.

As seen in the graph below, Google’s Web Store experienced a significant uptick in the number of apps and (more significantly) the number of aggregate users beginning in about June. The likelihood is that the increase the store is seeing to date is a result of early presale of Google’s Chromebooks, which don’t allow users to download native applications.

But what about sales? In January of this year, 2.8 percent of the app store’s total users were using paid apps. By September 1st, 2.1 percent of the 30 million users are using apps with a pricing “other than free”, Sorensen said. As per total apps, in June, 9.1 percent of CWS’ apps had pricing other than free, while on September 1st, that number was down to 5.7 percent. This shows that paid app usage on CWS have been, overall, decreasing since its launch — as has the number of paid apps (at least since June) — while usage and number of free apps has increased more significantly. Especially those bookmark apps and free extensions, which have gone like hotcakes.

While CWS’ numbers are looking more auspicious than they did 6 months ago, the problem for the web store is that it is still hampered by the fact that developer activity just isn’t growing at the same rate as it is on the Android Marketplace or Apple’s app store. Google has some great incentive for developers to offer paid apps, offering 70 percent revenue share to developers for paid app pricing, and 95 percent revenue share for in-app purchases. That’s plenty of incentive for developers to create paid apps, but users just don’t seem to be buying.

Compared to Apple, which will be generating $2.86 billion in app revenue and Android stores which will be pulling in $1.5 billion by 2016, according to Ovum’s research (though total revenue generated by the web store is not known), it seems pretty clear that CWS has a ways to go.

Not to mention, there’s the threat of Facebook’s Project Spartan, the social network’s secret coup to break up the Google/Apple lovefest reigning supreme over the native mobile apps world. For those unfamiliar, Project Spartan is the HTML5-driven mobile application platform Facebook is supposedly building with a group of third-party app developers — and its initial target is Safari, not Chrome.

If Chromebook sales really take off (and as the hardware stands right now, that’s far from a given), the web app store’s progress may well benefit as a result, as Sorensen tells me he predicts a serious rise in the demand for deep, full-featured enterprise desktop apps — but that remains to be seen. Google may also have plans to merge Android and Chrome, but there are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of how the company envisions the future of its web and mobile platforms. For now, Google will have to take solace in its uptick of free users, regardless of the correlation, but danger certainly looms.


Company: Google
Website: google.com
Launch Date: July 9, 1998
IPO: NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of online tools and platforms including: Gmail, Maps and YouTube. Most of its Web-based products are free, funded by Google’s highly integrated online advertising platforms AdWords and AdSense. Google promotes the idea that advertising should be highly targeted and relevant to users thus providing them with a rich source of information....

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Product: Google Chrome
Website: google.com
Company Google

Google Chrome is an based on the open source web browser Chromium which is based on Webkit. It was accidentally announced prematurely on September 1, 2008 and slated for release the following day. It premiered originally on Windows only, with Mac OS and Linux versions released in early 2010. Features include: Tabbed browsing where each tab gets its own process, leading to faster and more stable browsing. If one tab crashes, the whole browser doesn’t go down with it A...

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British Rapper Buys First Pair Of Nike Air Mags For $37.5K

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 02:08 PM PDT

tiniekicks

Just… wow. It was sort of a given that Nike’s limited edition, McFly-inspired Air Mag sneakers would be fetching pretty pennies on eBay, but TMZ reports British rap act Tinie Tempah spent more than he thought he would on the first pair up for grabs. The cost of his impulse decision: a cool $37,500.

Mr. Tempah, a reputed Back To The Future nut and sneaker geek, received the sneakers and a nifty “plutonium” carrying case for his trouble.

Meanwhile, prices for the long-awaited sneakers on eBay run quite the gamut: the cheapest pair to be found at time of writing is size 7, and is sitting pretty at $4,000. At the top end of things is an especially popular pair of size 12s, with an $8,100 price tag. All auctions will be open for another 6 or so hours, so these prices will probably climb ever higher, but you need not worry if your size disappears. Nike is listing 150 pairs a day for 9 more days, so you still have a few chances to buy the kicks of your dreams.

All proceeds will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation, so rest assured that any purchases made will serve a dual purpose: not only will they (temporarily) assuage the shoe-lust felt by sneaker aficionados with too much money, they’ll also be helping a good cause.



TokBox Rolls Out Video Recording API, Primes Its Monetization Pump

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 01:26 PM PDT

Screen shot 2011-09-09 at 1.04.05 PM

TokBox, a Sequoia-backed startup that offers tools for quickly integrating video functionality into apps and websites, is launching a new feature today for its OpenTok suite of video APIs: video recording and archiving.

You may remember TokBox as the service that let users quickly jump into live video chats with each other, sort of like a web-based Skype video. But that changed this past February, when TokBox shuttered its struggling consumer-facing products and decided to focus exclusively on a set of video-focused APIs, storage, and streaming features collectively called the OpenTok platform.

Obviously giving users the ability to record, save, and share video clips isn’t a new idea — people do it every day on sites like YouTube and Facebook — but the new video archiving API makes it relatively easy for other sites to integrate their own custom solutions. You can see a live implementation on Causes here, where the site is using the OpenTok platform to let users add video introductions to their Wishes (screenshot above).

TokBox is also launching TokBooth, which is a plug-and-play version of this video record/archive functionality, for sites that don’t need the same level of customization afforded by the API.

This is the second major set of features to launch on the OpenTok platform; the first is a live video chat API, which lets sites integrate their own video conferencing services. Video archiving will also be TokBox’s first paid feature — it’s free for now (and likely through the end of the year), but will later cost $20/month and up, depending on your bandwidth and storage usage.


Company: TokBox
Website: tokbox.com
Funding: $26M

TokBox is a leading multi-way Web video communications provider. The company has two products: OpenTok API, and OpenTok Widgets The OpenTok API is a game-changing new platform that enables anyone with a Web presence to weave live, group video conversations into their online experience. OpenTok Widgets are off-the-shelf solutions that allow you to quickly embed video chat your Web site, blog, or favorite social network.

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Gillmor Gang – Live recording

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 01:12 PM PDT

Gillmore Gang test pattern

The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, Danny Sullivan, Kevin Marks, John Taschek, and Steve Gillmor — are recording live as we wait for editorial guidance from above. Or sideways.
Update: The show ended at 2pm PT.


Steve Gillmor is a technology commentator, editor, and producer in the enterprise technology space. He is Head of Technical Media Strategy at salesforce.com and a TechCrunch contributing editor. Gillmor previously worked with leading musical artists including Paul Butterfield, David Sanborn, and members of The Band after an early career as a record producer and filmmaker with Columbia Records’ Firesign Theatre. As personal computers emerged in video and music production tools, Gillmor started contributing to various publications, most notably Byte Magazine,...

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Nvidia: We’re No Longer In The Processor Business Because Intel “Preferred That We Weren’t”

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 01:03 PM PDT

jen-hsun-huang-nvidia-ion-prix

If the meek capitulation in the headline sounds uncharacteristic of Nvidia’s infamously outspoken CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, it’s probably because he’s bitter. Though the GPU-focused company announced way back in 2008 that it was going to “open a can of whoop-ass” on Intel, very little has happened, at least on the consumer side. Intel and Nvidia have had some major differences, and remain fierce competitors, but it’s been made clear that Intel won’t tolerate anyone making a grab at its x86 treasure hoard.

But Nvidia isn’t going quietly. Or rather, they’re going quietly just so they can sneak around the back. While Intel is cracking its whip at anyone who wants a piece of x86, Nvidia and ARM, among others, are performing a flanking maneuver in the mobile sector.

Intel itself has expressed contrition regarding its mobile and tablet efforts. When you’re shipping a couple hundred million processors every year, things like the iPad get lost in the shuffle, apparently. But the power level of tablets and mobiles is growing, and Intel has not provided that growth. They promised an x86 handset in 2012, but at this point they’re playing catch-up. Only an tiny fraction of tablets and phones sold use Intel hardware — mainly the Windows-running ones. Meanwhile Nvidia is getting lean and focusing on blowing up their graphics and mobile divisions.

The next couple years might see some interesting partnerships, however. The ARM-Nvidia alliance might go up against something like an Intel-Microsoft-Nokia conglomerate, while team Apple watches from the sidelines. It’ll be a hell of a battle, but the winner will really be the consumer, whom every company will be going out of their way to please. Faster, smaller, and cheaper chips and phones. Sounds like a good deal to me.



Lowe’s Invests In 42,000 iPhones To Improve Your Shopping Experience

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 12:49 PM PDT

lowesphone

Take it from a former retail drone: trying to give customers a good shopping experience can be tough when you have to jostle with other employees for open computers. In-store networks are slow, and more often than not, the computers are even slower. It’s enough of a process that a once free-flowing conversation can dry up into an awkward silence while the computer struggles to find the widget in question.

Thankfully, hardware retailer Lowe’s has decided to do something about that lackluster experience: they have (among other things) purchased 42,000 iPhones to make their employees walking, talking sources of home improvement information.

The purchase is partially in response to a similar move made by their orange rival Home Depot. Last year, Home Depot spent $60 million on a fleet of Motorola mobile devices that were meant to keep employees with customers and out of the computer line. Lowe’s has similar hopes for their iPhones: they will allow employees to perform on-the-go product lookups, check stock, and pull up instructional videos for customers. Each Lowe’s location is slated to receive 25 iPhones, but the rollout schedule has yet to be announced.

Lowe’s wants to expand the capabilities of their in-store iPhones, assuming this first rollout goes well. The iPhones presumably lock out certain features to reduce the amount of employee shirking that’s possible, so mundane features on the short list include mobile calling and email. Lowe’s also hopes to add the ability to ring up purchases directly from the phone a la Square.

According to Lowe’s CIO Mike Brown, the plan is to “[play] catch-up with the customer psyche,” which shines a bit of light on the company’s choice of mobile device.

The iPhone is, for better or worse, a status device — the “cool” alternative to Home Depot’s own Motorola handhelds. The company’s recent move to replace CRT displays with flat panels and installing WiFi in stores also point to a new strategy for them. It looks like Lowe’s is trying to fight a war of positioning: they want to assume the role of the modern, forward-thinking hardware store. Whether or not it’ll pan out has yet to be seen, but they at least deserve some credit for trying to keep the retail run-down to a minimum.



AOL And Yahoo Merger? Two Dogs Don’t Make A Right

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 12:16 PM PDT

Car dogs! | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Reports are coming out that AOL is talking to Yahoo’s bankers about merging the two companies in the wake of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz getting canned. We have an independent source who confirms discussions are happening, but it is not clear how serious they are. If a deal does go through, the likeliest scenario would be Yahoo acquiring AOL, with Tim Armstrong becoming the new CEO. (Disclosure: AOL owns TechCrunch).

While a combination of AOL and Yahoo is always an option, with the main advantage being that it solves Yahoo’s leadership search problem if Armstrong becomes the CEO, it is not a particularly good option. Two dogs don’t make a right (at least in the eyes of Wall Street).

It is also not a new option. Every couple of years, bankers raise the AOL-Yahoo trial balloon. The main argument for a merger is that it would give the combined company even more scale in terms of online advertising inventory. But as I wrote last time this trial balloon was raised:

Buying scale makes sense to some extent. And Yahoo buying AOL, rather than the other way around, would make even more sense and be a lot cleaner. . . . But there are downsides as well. While Yahoo and AOL are distracted with firing people and integrating business units and backend technologies for at least two years, the Internet will continue to move ahead without them. Big mergers rarely work out well.

While it might look convincing enough on paper, what . . . two aging portal players proposing to prop each other up . . . really have to ask themselves is this: Do they want to merge with the past, or invent the future? Merging doesn't help them with social. It doesn't help them with search. It doesn't help them with mobile, and it barely helps them with local. It only helps them with one thing: scale. And that may no longer be enough.

In other words, the risks of a messy integration are too high. And it is not clear how such a merger positions either company for a brighter future.

Photo credit: Melanie Burger


Company: AOL
Website: aol.com
IPO: NYSE:AOL

AOL is a global advertising-supported Web company, with display advertising network in the U.S., a substantial worldwide audience, and a suite of popular Web brands and products. The company's strategy focuses on increasing the scale and sophistication of its advertising platform and growing the size and engagement of its global online audience through leading products and programming. On March 13, 2008, AOL Internet division announced their plans to buy social network Bebo for $850 million in cash. History of Aol: AOL was...

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Company: Yahoo!
Website: yahoo.com
Launch Date: January 1, 1994
IPO: December 4, 1996, Nasdaq:YHOO

Yahoo was founded in 1994 by Stanford Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang. It has since evolved into a major internet brand with search, content verticals, and other web services. Yahoo! Inc. (Yahoo!), incorporated in 1995, is a global Internet brand. To users, the Company provides owned and operated online properties and services (Yahoo! Properties, Offerings, or Owned and Operated sites). Yahoo! also extends its marketing platform and access to Internet users beyond Yahoo! Properties through its distribution network...

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In One Year, Tumblr Goes From 1 Billion Posts To 10 Billion

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 11:51 AM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-09-09 at 11.47.02 AM

This morning, I logged into Tumblr (where I run my personal blog) and saw confetti flying everywhere on the screen. Was Tumblr hacked? Were they converting the platform to be Geocities-powered complete with animated GIFs? No, they were celebrating. They just hit 10 billion posts across the network.

The numbers are staggering. It was only a year ago that they hit 1 billion posts. Since then, they’ve 10x’d that number.

The traffic numbers are just as impressive. In July of last year, Tumblr was seeing 1.5 billion pageviews a month — that number now stands at 13 billion. Yes, they almost managed to 10x that number as well. And unlike numbers from Compete or Alexa which tend to be utter crap, Tumblr uses Quantcast data which is fairly solid (though still not perfect) because it’s directly measured.

The service also now says it has just under 28.5 million blogs. And those blogs are doing around 36 million posts a day (that’s up from 4.5 million last July).

Amid this insane growth, Tumblr has run headfirst into some major scaling issues. That remains a priority for the team right now. Well, that and the massive round of funding they’re about to close that should value them near $1 billion.


Company: Tumblr
Website: tumblr.com
Funding: $40.3M

Tumblr is a re-envisioning of tumblelogging, a subset of blogging that uses quick, mixed-media posts. The service hopes to do for the tumblelog what services like LiveJournal and Blogger did for the blog. The difference is that its extreme simplicity will make luring users a far easier task than acquiring users for traditional weblogging. Anytime a user sees something interesting online, they can click a quick “Share on Tumblr” bookmarklet that then tumbles the snippet directly. The result is...

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After Selling Seek To F-Secure, French Entrepreneurs Land $3M For Ezakus Labs

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 11:49 AM PDT

erakus

French entrepreneurs Christophe Camborde and Yannick Lacastaigneratte, who founded cloud storage storage Steek and sold it to F-Secure for close to $40 million in 2009, are apparently at it again.

A year after founding a company called Ezakus Labs, which has yet to launch a product, they’ve raised $3 million in funding from Idinvest (formerly AGF Private Equity) – for those who understand French, check our coverage of the news on TechCrunch France.

Not much is known about the company at this point, but here’s the buzzword-laden pitch from the press release:

The company features a groundbreaking audience targeting service allowing publishers and advertisers to easily set up social profiling offers with a cutting edge precision compared to the current standards.

Groundbreaking and cutting edge? Clearly, it’s a revolutionary, next-generation service.

For what it’s worth, Idinvest is an investor in several successful French companies, including Meetic, Criteo, Viadeo, Deezer and Dailymotion.



Follow Products And Reviewers In Your Facebook Feed With PowerReviews

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 11:05 AM PDT

Screen shot 2011-09-09 at 10.26.45 AM

When it comes to selling products on the Web, the more consumer reviews a product attracts, the more conversions and sales it sees as a result. This is why PowerReviews has built a social commerce network of more than 23 million reviews across 5,500 sites, including Staples.com, Gap.com, and ToysRUs.com. Today, PowerReviews is announcing the launch of two Facebook products that allow brands and retailers to leverage the social network as a platform for driving sales by making the process of online shopping and product discovery more social.

PowerReviews’ first new product, “Facebook Discovery”, enables consumers to engage in conversations around particular products, categories, and reviews and have them pushed directly into their newsfeed, hopefully creating the opportunity for viral marketing — and not wall spam. Users of Facebook Discovery can also follow particular reviewers of interest, so that all of their future reviews are published to their wall, or they can opt in to receive news of trending products in a daily product review, or ask friends friends what products they should choose via a question or poll.

The startup’s second product launching today, “Facebook Community”, gives brands and retailers the opportunity to foster community among their customers — both on the product as well as their Facebook fan pages. In terms of brand marketing, Facebook Community allows brands to reward their ambassadors, while at the same time sharing feedback and advice among the community. The product also gives brands the ability to view the top 100 reviewers in order to identify their most active ambassadors and supporters.

What’s more, consumers can connect their Facebook profiles to their reviews to create a suped up, uber profile designed to give identity — and added credibility — to their reviews for their friends and other shoppers. their Facebook profile to their reviews creating a rich onsite profile. This increases the credibility of their reviews for other shoppers. As Erick wrote in out last coverage of PowerReviews, social sharing is a big assist for businesses, as each share is worth $15.72 in incremental sales.

PowerReviews has raised just over $37 million in outside investment to date, from a variety of VCs and angels, including Menlo Ventures, Lehman Brothers, and Draper Richards.


Company: PowerReviews
Website: powerreviews.com
Funding: $37.3M

PowerReviews is the leading provider of social commerce solutions, including customer reviews, to retailers and brands. The company’s innovative tag-based approach to collecting, organizing, structuring and analyzing user-generated content significantly boosts product sales and customer engagement. Recognized as the customer reviews Solution Leader in the Internet Retailer Top 500 survey, PowerReviews works with over 1,000 retailers and brands on over 3,500 websites, including Staples, Drugstore.com, Gardener's Supply, Diapers.com, Callaway and Jockey. In addition to its Enterprise solution,...

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Google Explains Its Google Docs Outage

Posted: 09 Sep 2011 10:46 AM PDT

docslogo

Google Docs suffered an extended outage this week, which raised concerns, yet again, about the reliability involved with storing mission-critical documents in the cloud. Personally, I’d rather trust Google’s redundant server infrastructure than my own hard drive. However, for enterprise users, the problem with cloud outages is that local I.T. staff can’t do anything about the problem, unless they use a third-party backup service, for example.

Today, Google is sharing details on what happened to its Docs service, and what it’s doing to correct the problem in the future.

According to a post on the Google Enterprise Blog, the outage was caused by a change designed to improve real time collaboration within the document list, says Google. This change exposed a memory management bug which was only evident under heavy usage.

Writes Alan Warren, Engineering Director:

Every time a Google Doc is modified, a machine looks up the servers that need to be updated. Due to the memory management bug, the lookup machines didn't recycle their memory properly after each lookup, causing them to eventually run out of memory and restart. While they restarted, their load was picked up by the remaining lookup machines – making them run out of memory even faster. This meant that eventually the servers couldn't properly process a large fraction of the requests to access document lists, documents, drawings, and scripts which led to the outage you saw on Wednesday. 

The entire outage lasted around 30 minutes, with 24 minutes dedicated to rolling back the changes, and 5 more minutes for the normal functioning of the service to fully resume.

According to Warren, analysis of the issue has enabled Google to reduce the chances of future events, decrease resolution times if such an event was to occur again, and limit the scope which any single problem can affect.

Again, for most casual users of Google Docs, the outage probably went by unnoticed. It’s the affected Google Apps business users who are most concerned by cloud outages such as this. Transitioning to the cloud is not without its faults, but let’s remember: no system is perfect, not even the one your I.T. guy used to run for you.



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