Friday, May 4, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch


The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Posted: 03 May 2012 09:02 AM PDT
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42floors, the startup that launched in March out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2012 class, is still only providing its commercial real estate search product in the San Francisco Bay Area. 42Floors says more regions are on the way, but in the meantime, the company has found another way to go national: The debut today of “Showroom,” a marketplace that provides all the stuff businesses need to move into a new office after they sign the lease on the space.
With Showroom, 42Floors has assembled a curated collection of things such as office furniture, decor items, kitchen accessories, and services such as interior designers and wellness program providers. For now, Showroom links to places where those things can be bought and collects an affiliate fee — but 42Floors CEO Jason Freedman tells me that eventually it will actually be a full e-commerce marketplace.
“With hiring in tech absolutely crazy right now, it’s nearly impossible to find people. So as a startup your offices have to be cool,” Freedman said. “Big companies hire full-time product managers to do stuff like this, but our core user is a startup CEO and his or her office manager. They have full-time jobs already, and moving can be a full-time job. We want to help with every aspect of that.”
To assemble Showroom, Freedman says 42Floors visited dozens of the “coolest startup offices around” and catalogued the products and services they were using. The site also has an inspiration tab, which showcases offices with especially interesting decor, Apartment Therapy style.
In addition to the instant nationwide expansion angle, Showroom is is a smart move because it means that 42Floors can now be a relevant place for businesses to go year-round — not just the one or two times that they make a big move.
Meanwhile, 42Floors is in the process of closing what I’m hearing is a very buzzed-about round of funding from some of the startup scene’s biggest name investors (which seems to show a pattern emerging with Y Combinator’s latest batch of companies.) Freedman was mum on that process for now, but he did say that his six-person team has been working overtime since officially launching at Y Combinator demo day in late March — which is partially why they’re making their aggressive hiring process so entertainingly public. The Showroom launch is just the latest example of how 42Floors is emerging rapidly as a key Silicon Valley startup to watch.




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:39 AM PDT
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A new mobile shopping service called NetPlenish is announcing today that it has closed a round of $1.9 million in seed funding from Dave McClure's 500 Startups, Gold Hill Capital, BHV Capital, TEEC Angel Fund, Ludlow Ventures and several angel investors, including its founders. The news was timed alongside the official launch of the company’s mobile application, available on both iPhone and Android. With the app, consumers are able to shop for everyday household items online which are sourced from trusted name merchants like Walmart, Target, Sears, K-Mart, Walgreens, Drugstore.com, Pets.com and Sephora.
The interesting thing about the mobile experience in NetPlenish is that’s it’s aggregating the content from multiple merchants into one single application. The benefit to this method is that NetPlenish can then use its fancy algorithms to figure out which merchant currently has the best price on the item in question, allowing you to save both time (no need to shop around) and, obviously, money. The algorithms thankfully take into account tax and shipping costs, too.
This is somewhat different from how a price comparison app may work – for example, ShopSavvy  - which tells you what different things cost at different stores, both online and off. While those apps are generally used for big ticket items like HDTV’s or household appliances, NetPlenish is after the diapers and dog food market. When you tap an item to add it to the cart, the app serves up the best price, and even lets its merchants compete to offer you the best deal as you proceed to checkout.
You can build up your list using the integrated barcode scanning feature, so your everyday items are saved for regular use. Plus, the service offers its own take on the Amazon 1-Click checkout process with something it calls the “No Checkout Checkout.” Instead of filling out a screen each time with your info, the checkout process is a one-button process…after the initial setup, that is. Facebook sign-up is supported, too (although in my test version, it failed to work).
The app itself is well-designed, but lacks a few key features, including a search option, category browsing, support for multiple household lists (e.g. would be great to have one-click replenish for all baby items – diapers, pull-ups, wipes, diaper genie refills, etc. – all at once). The app could also take advantage of those new credit card scanning technologies from Jumio or Card.io, which would speed up the setup process.
This wouldn’t be the first time a tech company has attempted to serve the everyday household goods market, however. Amazon.com has notably competed in this space beginning years ago with its Amazon Fresh service, which still exists but has never really been able to expand to a nationwide rollout. It also acquired Quidsi to tackle the diapers, drugstore items, pet supplies and toys verticals. And Quidsi's Soap.com added groceries to the list last fall. Given the Amazon relationship, it wouldn’t be surprising to see further integration of these properties with Amazon’s core products in the future. Other startups, like Alice.com, also serve this market.
So the unique part to what NetPlenish is doing is not just this idea of serving everyday shoppers’ needs through a household goods-targeted service, but the price comparison features, mobile-first focus, and simplified checkout process. Sounds promising, at least.
NetPlenish’s new apps are available for download here. The Ventura-based company is led by CEO Dave Compton, who is the former CEO of Opportunities in Options and the former EVP of TradingMarkets.com. CMO Scott de Rozic, meanwhile, was the founder and CEO of XMarkstheSpot, the first customer acquisition network for the web, which was acquired by Aptimus.




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:26 AM PDT
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Betterment, the better investment app, launched at Disrupt in 2010 and went on to manage approximately $50 million in two years.
The site is essentially an investment engine. Seamless automatic deposits ensure that you drag cash over to your investment account every month and the UI is clean, readable, and eminently simple – a gauge tells you how much you’re investing in various buckets of stocks and bonds, and a built-in advisor tells you where to keep your money in order to reach a certain goal.
Betterment is slowly rolling out improvements to the interface and site and we talked to CEO Jon Stein about the Disrupt bump, how his employees had to take service calls in the audience, and the stratospheric growth of the company. He said that it took them a year to reach $10 million and less than a year to quadruple the money under their management.




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:26 AM PDT
How Visa Plans To Dominate Mobile Payments, Create The Digital Wallet And More | TechCrunch
Mobile devices, by some estimates, will become a replacement for your wallet in the future, with NFC, dongles and sophisticated apps helping you buy things and manage the rest of your financial life, and with companies like Visa getting in on the action and eBay/PayPal expecting $8 billion in mobile transactions this year. But in reality, when it comes to using a mobile to buy something, most of us are not.
A poll from Harris Interactive, commissioned by the location-based shopping alert provider Placecast, found that only one in five people — 20 percent — of adult mobile owners have used their devices in the last year to purchase goods and services, whether that is at a point of sale or via a mobile app or site.
As for how many consumers actually wanted purchasing functionality in their devices, 62 percent said it was “not at all important.”
Harris’ numbers, which are based on a poll of nearly 2,000 users, take into account both smartphone and regular phone owners, and are doubtless skewed by the fact that low-end device owners are being considered here as well.
Research from Nielsen on mobile commerce found much higher numbers when considering owners of smartphones and tablets. In Q1 2012, 79 percent of smartphone and tablet owners used their devices for “shopping-related” activities. But even in Nielsen’s case, only 29 percent of smartphone owners had actually used their devices to purchase something.
As you would expect, Harris found that mobile-commerce activities are more popular among smartphone owners than among those with feature phones. It found that 34 percent of smartphone owners had purchased items with their mobile devices, compared to just 11 percent of feature phone owners.
That was apparent in other aspects of mobile commerce as well — for example, 50 percent of smartphone users said they’d used GPS or a mapping app (the most popular “m-commerce”-related activity, according to the poll) to find the location of a business; that number dropped to only 11 percent on more basic devices.
Part of this might be due to the lack of features in feature phones, but it also indicates that progress will only come when more people are using smartphones.
For feature phone users, the most popular activity was browsing the websites of retailers on their mobile devices. This, however, was only done by 13 percent of responding consumers.




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:19 AM PDT
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SecondMarket, which has served as a hub for transactions of pre-IPO Facebook stock for a few years, will have to find some new venture-backed companies to pique investor interest this year. While Facebook is a big loss, there are plenty of other startups that have become hot prospects.
The New York-based company, which arranges secondary sales of stock in venture-backed or privately-held companies, said Pinterest, Warby Parker and Stripe are the companies that have attracted the most new interest in the last quarter, according to this report. If we haven’t written enough about Pinterest already, comScore reported that it’s the fastest growing standalone site ever for the U.S., reaching 10 million unique visitors per month more quickly than any other site. Warby Parker and Stripe both have working revenue models(!) in selling glasses and facilitating payments. Informally, Stripe has been tipped the next Y Combinator company that might be valued at more than $1 billion, following Dropbox and Airbnb.
Once Facebook leaves SecondMarket, it will be Twitter leading the pack. Then Dropbox and Foursquare follow after that in total investor interest. No surprise there, but it’s worth noting that Dropbox and Foursquare have actually switched places. Local commerce is, indeed, difficult to monetize, as evidenced by Groupon and Yelp’s continuing quarterly losses. Square jumped three places, the most SecondMarket has ever seen any company move on the Top 10 list. Yelp’s IPO also made room for Kayak to join the list.
If you want to keep track of the Sand Hill venture firms that are leading in terms of backing the most companies on the 100 most-watched list, Kleiner Perkins is at the top. For a few years, the word was that they had missed the boat on consumer Internet after focusing too intensely on cleantech. But some aggressive late-stage deal-making to get into companies like Twitter has helped. They’re also in Square and Spotify.
Behind them are Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital. No surprises there! After those four is Union Square Ventures, the New York-based firm that has called it early on companies like Twitter and Tumblr, and DFJ, which has growth capital in Tumblr, Gilt Groupe and Box.
Andreessen Horowitz, the “startup” venture capital firm, comes in at eighth. (The firm is only a few years old, so it will be more interesting to see where its ranking is two years from now.) It’s followed by early-stage firm SV Angel and then New Enterprise Associates.
In terms of totally new companies that joined SecondMarket, GoPro, Nest and Factual lead the list. GoPro is an activity image capture company that produces gear-mountable cameras and accessories and Nest is the highly-buzzed about smart thermostat company from Apple alums.
If we look at the actual dynamics of the market itself, employees and former employees of companies continue to be the leading sellers of stock. Former employees make up the biggest chunk of sellers, as they’re responsible for 80.7 percent of transactions. That’s not surprising as many venture-backed companies like Facebook have forbidden current employees from selling their stock. Employees have to leave the company in order to liquidate their holdings.
In terms of buyer types, issuers (or the startups themselves), make up the lion’s share of transactions. But those transactions are apparently tiny, as they only make up 1.7 percent of dollar value. In terms of overall transaction size, the biggest buyers happen to be asset managers, individuals and mutual funds.
In terms of buyer interest, most buyers wanted “consumer web and social media” companies. Keep in mind that this data might look very different from the rest of the year, as Facebook stopped trading on SecondMarket in April. Investors put in “Indications of Interest,” or said they were willing to buy $7.2 billion in shares of “consumer web and social media” companies. Retailing and commerce, software and gaming followed.
Sellside demand also mostly mirrored buyside demand, with “consumer web and social media” stock sales representing 28.9 percent of sellside interest. That was followed by software, business products and services, and then retailing and commerce.
SecondMarket also showed completed transactions. “Software” transactions, or ones for enterprise-focused SaaS companies, beat out “consumer web and social media” for the first time. Judging by the performance of enterprise-focused IPOs compared to ones from consumer-facing companies like Groupon and Zynga, maybe investors are waking up to the idea that pre-IPO SaaS companies are undervalued. Jive and Splunk have been the top-performing IPOs over the last six months, in terms of overall return.
Overall, SecondMarket saw $165 million in completed trades, up 32 percent from the previous quarter and up 42 percent from the same time a year ago.




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:11 AM PDT
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You’ve heard of GroundLink before. They offer ground transportation with up-front before-you-ride pricing throughout the U.S., and like Uber, you can book everything from your phone.
The service basically puts all the control in the hands of the customer. You can book a reservation way in advance, or on-demand if you’re in NYC. Plus, you can choose what type of car you want, including hybrid/green vehicles, and watch the driver on a map as your ride approaches.
But today, GroundLink is tackling its greatest obstacle yet: Los Angeles traffic. The company is now offering on-demand ground transportation in the most traffic-ridden city in the country.
When I asked CEO Charles Fraas why the company wanted to delve into LA his answer was bold, and two-fold:
First of all, it’s the second largest ground transportation market in the U.S. Second to that, it’s one of the biggest challenges for us. It’s a market with the most challenging ground transportation, the nastiest traffic, and most difficult place to get from point A to point B. We can solve this problem, and we’re ready to show it off.
It’s a confident response, to say the least, but GroundLink is a confident company overall. They guarantee on-time service, and if they’re more than five minutes late picking you up, your next ride is free.
They can make such promises thanks to the recent acquisition of a company called Limo Anywhere. Limo Anywhere tech allows GroundLink to track all vehicle availability in real-time in the area, within a network of 45,000 transportation providers. This is the largest network of ground transportation in the world, and 4,000 of those cars are chilling in LA.
The long-term plan is to offer the same on-demand car services coming to LA (and already in NY) nationwide over the coming months.
Click to view slideshow.



Posted: 03 May 2012 08:02 AM PDT
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I often hear people say they moved to San Francisco and Silicon Valley to be in the thick of things — to open themselves up to running into a new mentor at the local coffee shop, or pitch a top venture capitalist during a chance elevator encounter. Advice websites and how-to books are great, Q&A sites such as Quora are helpful, but there’s still nothing like one-on-one conversation from someone who has been there before when you’re trying to build a new company.
A new company called Clarity wants to help provide that service to startup founders no matter where they are. Launching to the public today, Clarity provides a marketplace that hooks up phone calls between entrepreneurs and mentors such as successful businesspeople and venture capitalists. The advice givers can either talk for free or set a price for their time, and Clarity lets them either keep that money or donate it to a charity of their choice. If the money is not given to charity, Clarity takes a 15 percent commission.

How It Works

Martell has assembled a star-studded collection of 1000 advisors who are on board for Clarity’s launch, including noted investor and 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, Greylock Partners principal and Twitter and Facebook alum Josh Elman, Startup Weekend CEO Marc Nager, Color and Science labs co-founder Peter Pham, Rypple co-founder Daniel Debow, and lean startup guru Eric Ries.
The key thing about Clarity is that it arranges a double-blind phone calling process — neither party knows the other’s actual phone number. The site also requires that users connect through Facebook, so there is a layer of identity verification in place there already. Founders can browse the Clarity directory through curated topic pages that show each adviser’s expertise, or plug a few sample questions into Clarity to get suggestions on who they should speak to. Clarity works for phone numbers throughout the world — in its five month beta testing phase, it has brokered 4000+ calls from people in more than 60 countries.

Why It Matters

Clarity was founded by Dan Martell, a young tech industry veteran of sorts who has built and sold two successful companies — and been on both the giving and receiving end of good advice. “For the first years of my working career, I was still living in my native Canada and I was desperate for advice. I emailed the minister of my province there, he respected that I was a young entrepreneur, and he introduced me to three guys that had built hundred million dollar companies. That was the reason that I moved to San Francisco in the first place,” Martell said. “I know that getting the right advice at the right time can dramatically change an entrepreneur’s life.”
Martell says it’s a positive experience for both founders and mentors. “I’ve done about 400 calls myself during the beta, and what people don’t realize is that it’s hard to give someone advice without taking something away from it yourself. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m driving on the 101 Highway for 45 minutes, call me if you want to talk about product or marketing.’ You queue the calls, and you get in this rhythm, and it’s actually really energizing. I’ve talked to some entrepreneurs I’d absolutely invest in.”

Phone Calls: Back To The Future?

Clarity, which has been self-funded by Martell, is based in San Francisco and has four full-time employees. By the end of 2012 the company expects to triple in staff size to about 12. Right now, the service is focused on technology and business, but Martell said in the future it could expand to any number of topics, from the restaurant business, to athletics, to general life coaching.
A lot of people are kind of proud of not using the voice communication function on their smartphones anymore, and call me old-fashioned — but I still think it’s an important skill to actually talk to other people (or as an old boss of mine used to say, “Give good phone.”) In fact, most of the really successful people I’ve met still prefer to talk on the phone over email or texting. It’ll be cool to see how Clarity takes off in the future.
Here are a few more screenshots of Clarity in action:







Posted: 03 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT
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Fresh off a $35 million round of funding, mobile payments company Boku is announcing a direct carrier agreement with Sprint that will allow Sprint customers to charge online purchases to their Sprint wireless bill through a two-step authorization process. The agreement was made possible via a partnership with mobile payments operator BillToMobile.
As you may remember, Boku offers an online payments platform that allowed users to pay for online goods by charging the transaction to their mobile phone bill. When a user wants to purchase a virtual item, he can enter his cell phone number on a site, the site sends a text message to the phone, the user confirms the transaction with a short reply, and all the charges show up on his phone bill.
Direct carrier relationships are important because historically, mobile payments companies face the challenge of lofty carrier rates. Wireless carriers have charged roughly 30% to 40% to process transactions made via mobile phone accounts, making it very difficult for mobile payment companies like Boku to scale beyond virtual goods. These transaction costs are passed down to developers using Boku, which are then passed to the consumer. To avoid these costs, Boku has been negotiating direct relationships with carriers as a way of possibly avoiding these costs.
Boku President Ron Hirson tells us the rates with Sprint are in the “teens.”
With the Sprint deal, Boku now has direct billing partnerships with all of the major carriers in the U.S., including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
Sprint customers will be able to make purchases online from Boku's merchant network of Web-based gaming companies, social networks and service providers. Boku's mobile payments system on Sprint includes partners such as Electronic Arts, Riot Games, Jagex, Stardoll, Kingisle and Gaia.
Boku is also announcing a number of key hires today. Jon Prideaux, EVP for Visa, and Stuart Neal, Managing Director of International Development for Barclaycard, are joining the company’s executive team as Chief Business Officer and Senior Vice President of Business Development, respectively. As we reported a few months ago, Boku recently launched a new NFC payments system with MasterCard.
Currently, Boku, which processes "hundreds of millions of dollars in mobile payments," works in 66 countries and with 40 currencies, and has deals with more than 250 carriers covering some 3.2 billion consumers.




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:00 AM PDT
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Fresh on the heels of its hot $2 million seed round from Kapor Capital, Menlo Ventures, 500 Startups, Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage fund, Eric Ries, Paul Buchheit, Jawed Karim, and others, YC-backed messaging startup SendHub is debuting its much-anticipated iPhone application today. The new app brings the services SendHub previously offered on the web to the mobile platform, including the ability to send  group messages, manage auto-responders, and add contacts, among other things.
Built on top of Twilio, SendHub offers a service that lets businesses communicate with their customers via text messages, which customers opt in to receiving by texting a keyword the business chooses. Available as a freemium product, SendHub has been offering tiered plans which let the business scale up as they need to add more contacts or send out more messages per month.
Up until today, businesses would have to initially configure their account online, and could then manage it and send out their messages from either the web or via SMS. With the new iPhone application, however, businesses can now sign up on their phone itself and handle all aspects of their account from there. Plus, as a smartphone app, SendHub can tap into iPhone features, like push notifications for alerting to new messages sent in from customers, for example, and it can access the iPhone address book to import contacts.
Initially designed with schools and teachers in mind, SendHub blossomed into a businesses by addressing the pain points of other free and low-cost telephony options like Skype and Google Voice – namely the limitations on the number of contacts which can be messaged to via group texts.
“If you’re a small business, and you have an iPhone, but don’t want to put a phone line in your business,” explains SendHub co-founder Ash Rust of the iPhone app’s promise, “you can get a professional number for that business, sign up in 30 seconds, and manage that whole thing from your phone…at no cost to you at all.”
And by everything, SendHub means communicating with customers via text, replying to their inquiries via text and even accepting voice calls. (Voice calls are routed to a personal cell number, as with Google Voice.) Later this quarter, SendHub will enable businesses to place outbound calls as well.
SendHub has big vision for the company than what it offers today. It doesn’t want to only take on Google Voice by offering a more robust, easier to use, and business-friendly alternative – it wants to take on all the entire managed services market. Instead of installing multi-line phone systems, SendHub wants to enable businesses to set up new employees with a SendHub number when they come on board. Numbers could even be moved from one phone to another as employees come on duty or end their shifts, for instance.
Of course, with today’s launch of the iOS application, the burning question for now is “what about Android?” Unfortunately, there’s no ETA on that just yet. “Right now, we’re all about Apple,” says Johnson. “But Android is on the roadmap for sure,” he adds.
The SendHub iPhone application is available for download now in iTunes from here.




Posted: 03 May 2012 07:46 AM PDT
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Not even a month after news of Fab.de’s growth in Germany and Austria (revenue reaching 1.5M Euro per month), the company is today announcing its expansion across Europe. Starting now, Fab is available across 13 more European countries as an English or German-language website. In addition to the U.S., and the two markets served by Fab.de, that brings Fab to 16 countries worldwide.
The additional countries coming on board today are Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the U.K. These countries will be directed to the Fab.de domain, not the U.S.-based Fab.com website. However, Fab CEO Jason Goldberg tells us that the plan is to consolidate the domains under the Fab.com URL in the next few months. Plus, following today’s expansion across the EU, Fab will also add three more countries to the list next week: Sweden, Poland, and Cyprus.
Why the focus on Europe now? “We think Europe especially has a great appreciation for design,” says Goldberg. “That’s why we launched first in Germany in February. We saw really fast growth across our German website – we had 100,000 members in February, we’re at 600,000 now in Germany. We’re doing nearly 15,000 orders per month…and we’re doing 50,000 Euro per day in sales in Germany today.”
In April alone, Fab.de customers made 17,400 design purchases, up from 7,000 in February. And this is in addition to the 100,000 orders per month Fab.com sees in the U.S.
Of the expansion, Goldberg also noted that there was already demand in the market, with some 30,000 users signing up for Fab in the U.S. and Germany from the other countries across the EU. To address the demand, Fab and Fab.de are sourcing products from the company’s design partners in both markets, as well as elsewhere in the world including countries like Morocco, India, Indonesia, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
In addition, Fab plans on making further strategic investments in the coming weeks to spread across Europe, meaning hiring and acquisitions of another companies. As you may remember, Fab.de grew out of the acquisition of Casacanda, a top flash sales site serving Germany and Austria.
“We’re actively looking for potential acquisitions and we’re actively looking for good people to hire in key markets,” says Goldberg. “The expansion today allows us to start selling and marketing all across Europe immediately, see where the demand is, and then strategically build local teams where we see demand,” he adds.
Goldberg also notes that Fab is actively in acquisition talks with a few different countries, but nothing is in the deal stage yet.
For a site that didn’t even exist a year ago, Fab is seeing incredible growth, in part thanks to social and mobile. Now at 4 million members globally, 50% of members come from social sharing, Goldberg says, and 40% access Fab on iOS and Android devices. He says Fab is still on pace to do more than $100 million in sales this year in the U.S., with sales days of over $300,000. In Germany, Fab.de is doing 50,000 Euro/day, as noted above.
In the near term, Goldberg says Fab is focused on user growth, however, not revenue. In a few weeks, the company will be rolling out several new products to help achieve that goal, with a particular focus on social commerce initiatives.
Below, Fab.de orders by month:





Posted: 03 May 2012 07:27 AM PDT
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Vibrant Media is probably best-known for its in-text advertising, but it has been expanding its lineup of ad units. The latest edition is something it’s calling Vibrant Lightbox Video.
Vibrant already offered video ads, but a spokesperson tells me there are a number of new pieces here. For one thing, it’s using Vibrant’s Lightbox Image technology, which identifies “brand-safe” images, then overlays advertising on top of them — in this case, a message asking users to hover over the image or click on it to watch a video. The ad can also be activated through in-text ads. Either way, there’s a 3-2-1 countdown before the video starts, and the advertiser only pays if the viewer actually chooses to watch the video.
The company argues that this approach, one that isn’t limited to just running pre-roll (or mid-roll or post-roll) ads with online videos, expands the supply of video inventory.
I suspect that a lot of Vibrant’s conversations with journalists follow a similar pattern: “Those ads are really annoying.” “You only think they’re annoying, consumers actually like them.” “Really?” (At least, that’s how my first meeting with CEO Cella Irvine went, and I got the sense she’d had that conversation several times before.) Whether or not you’re sold on the idea of in-text ads, the Lightbox Video approach does seem sensitive to the needs of both advertisers and consumers — you may accidentally hover your mouse over an ad, but it won’t start playing the video unless you choose to keep hovering.
Other features include YouTube integration, social media sharing features, social feeds, and companion units. You can read more about Lightbox here.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:57 AM PDT
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Walmart’s attempt at crowdsourcing product selection has come to a close. The company has announced the winners of its Get on the Shelf contest, which was launched out of @WalmartLabs, the digital technology division of the retailer, earlier this year. You may know of @WalmartLabs as the startup-like group within Walmart which is now home to a number of acquired startups itself, including KosmixOneRiotGrabble, and Small Society.
After 4,000 submissions and 1 million+ votes, the winners of the contest include charitable bottled water company HumanKind Water, San Francisco-based kitchen product PlateTopper, and the SnapIt Eyeglass Repair Kit.
Contest voters were goodhearted enough to award Philadelphia-based HumanKind Water with the top spot in the contest. The company, which donates 100% of its net profits towards clean drinking water in underdeveloped communities worldwide, will be available online at Walmart.com in the near future and will be placed on shelf in select Walmart stores. It’s an interesting choice for grand prize, given Walmart’s reputation in years past for contributing to sweatshop conditions for workers in these same underdeveloped communities. Walmart shoppers do have a heart after all, not just questionable wardrobe choices, it appears.
Runners up in the contest include San Francisco-based PlateTopper, the brainchild of Michael Tseng, which transforms ordinary dinner plates into airtight storage containers. Tseng started developing the product since 2005, while at Princeton. The product is live now on Walmart.com for $19.77.
Third place winner SnapIt Eyeglass Repair Kit is perhaps a bit less sexy than storage containers (um, maybe?), but still quite practical. The invention allows eyeglass wearers to repair their frames in 30 seconds. The design uses a feeder tab to guide the tiny screws into place, which is then snapped off when the repair is complete. It, too, will be available on Walmart.com soon.
An interesting side note about how HumanKind ended up with the Grand Prize: the company turned its website (still live as of today) into a “war room” of sorts dedicated to getting contest votes by including social sharing buttons, videos, an email sign-up and embedded mini-Facebook page. (Very interesting use of Facebook in a frame, actually). The strategy worked, as all homepage visitors were encouraged to give the product a vote. Today, new visitors are now being encouraged to donate directly to the cause.

@WalmartLabs says that within the first day of contest voting, which began March 7, almost 95% of the participants received a vote via Facebook or text. The top five products were those for home improvement, personalized products, health/wellness/fitness, fashion apparel/home and outdoor home. Walmart tells us that its focus is now on getting the winners on the shelf, and that it will then evaluate options for another similar program in the future. But as of now, no decisions on that front have been made.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:55 AM PDT
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The Swivl motion-tracking smartphone dock has always seemed like a nifty piece of kit, but its $179 price tag didn’t exactly bring the device into “I can do something cool with this” impulse buy territory.
Fear not though, you penny-pinching video buffs — the team at Satarii have just revealed that a more basic version called Swivl-it is now available, and it costs $50 less than its more feature-packed brother.
Here’s how the Swivl works, in case you need a quick refresher — once you pop your smartphone into place, you grab hold of a small marker device (which also has a built-in microphone for iDevice owners) and get to business recording yourself or video chatting. As you move around, the dock rotates and pans vertically to follow that marker, all with some pretty impressive results.
Of course, Satarii had to excise a few features to make that smaller price tag work. The new, more basic Swivl-it forces users to tilt the dock up and down by hand, and the marker that you hold on to no longer has a microphone so you’ll have to sit within range of your smartphone’s built-in mic.
If you’re really desperate for the extra bit of audio freedom that the external mic provides, you’ll soon be able to purchase a microphone-packing marker, but really — at that point you should’ve just bought the original Swivl and called it a day. The Swivl-it is available now from Satarii’s online store, and feel free to check out our Fly or Die for a few extra opinions on the unit that started it all.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:49 AM PDT
Fiverr
Fiverr, a global marketplace offering tasks and services for as little as $5, has raised $15 million in funding from Accel Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners. This brings the company’s total funding to $20 million.
Merchants, entrepreneurs, contractors and more workers in more than 200 countries use Fiverr to monetize their skills, talents and resources. They can offer "Gigs", ranging from web design, logo creation and market research, to personal greetings and video animation, in Fiverr. Customers can then access these jobs for services they need rendered. Fiverr helps service-providers collect payments, promote their services, manage orders, exchange files and communicate with buyers.
In January 2012, Fiverr launched Levels, a reputation-based promotion system to help entrepreneurs build their business and earn more revenue. After sellers successfully complete at least 10 transactions, they unlock advanced up-selling tools to offer Gig extras and charge more for their services. Now more than 30 percent of Fiverr transactions are greater than the site's starting price of $5.
Currently tasks range from $5 to $150, and there are over 650,000 tasks and services listed on Fiverr. Co-founder Micha Kaufman explains that the entire ordering process for a task takes seconds and there have been millions of tasks completed to date.
The company, founded by Shai Wininger and Kaufman, has grown 600% in transaction volume since the beginning of 2011 and currently employs more than 40 people in Israel, the U.S. and Europe.
“Our vision is to turn Fiverr into the eBay for the service economy,” says Kaufman.
The new funding will be used for global expansion, product development and hiring. Fiverr plans to double its team by the end of 2012.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:45 AM PDT
bb10cameraeng
At RIM’s keynote earlier this week, CEO Thorsten Heins unveiled a brand new camera app that will ship along with BlackBerry 10. It was quite impressive. It basically lets you snap a pic, select a subject’s face, and sift through frames captured before the moment you pressed the shutter button to make sure everyone looks their best. Perhaps the person on the left had a huge, wonderful smile while the person on the right was blinking. With the BB10 camera app, you will be able to fix that.
But the tech seemed awfully familiar. So familiar, in fact, that we had to do a little digging to satisfy our curiosity. Come to find that a company called Scalado, known for their super badass imaging tech like Remove and Rewind, actually invented this tech a while back. At the time we were unsure what the relationship between RIM and Scalado was, but RIM has since responded and clarified that this is, in fact, a licensing deal.
Here’s the official word from Patti McKague, Sr. Manager, Public Relations at Research In Motion:
RIM has been working with Scalado on camera technology and has licensed some of the Scalado technology for the BlackBerry 10 platform. As shown during the BlackBerry World Keynote, RIM is planning a unique implementation of the technology on BlackBerry 10 to provide an incredible user experience, allowing for more customization by the user and enabling them to easily capture and share their perfect moments.
We’re glad to see that RIM is collaborating with strong partners to make the BB10 platform as excellent as possible. Though, it would have been nice if the company threw a hat tip to Scalado during the demo. It did, after all, get the most ooh’s and aah’s of the entire show.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:00 AM PDT
ebay2
eBay was one of the first e-commerce giants to launch an iPad app following the device’s debut in 2010. As we’ve heard many times, mobile commerce is a huge growth area for eBay and the company is placing some pretty big bets on the mobile shopping experience. Today, the company, which says that its mobile apps have reached 80 million downloads, is debuting version 2.0 of its flagship iPad app, Buy and Sell with eBay, which has ramped up personalization, customization, image quality and more.
One of the major improvements in the app is a visual redesign of the home screen. Now you can completely customize your home screen with your most recent product searches or sales, which can be added, deleted or moved around based on user preferences. Additionally, first time users of the app will login and find their "My eBay Items" already populated to the home screen.
With the redesign, eBay wanted to eliminate the need for users to click to different pages to search, bid, buy, or pay for items. For buyers, users can access daily deals, eBay's popular items, recent searches and their favorite categories from the homepage.
Users can choose to browse through results from multiple views, flip through multiple images and purchase from the homepage itself. Search has also been improved, allowing users to access advanced search to target results to listings based on budget, category, condition, size, color, or style
Sellers can research sale trends, list items, and make sale, as well as scan an item using the
barcode scanner to pre-populate a listing from the homepage Sellers can also now revise their listings directly from the iPad app.
eBay mobile VP Steve Yankovich tells us that the redesign focuses on ramping up customization and discovery, especially in the homescreen experience. “It’s about picking best way to browse and discover products,” he explains. “This is a dashboard that creates jumping points for everything the buyer or seller cares about.”





Posted: 03 May 2012 05:59 AM PDT
freeagent-central
UK-based cloud accounting software company FreeAgent has acquired finance-tracking startup 60mo. The U.S. startup’s team will be incorporated into FreeAgent's new American division. FreeAgent has also received an additional, undisclosed investment from Lightbank, which also was an investor in 60mo. This is Lightbank’s first international investment, says the firm’s partner Paul Lee.
60mo, which we’ve covered here, is an online service that helps businesses manage their finances by importing data from QuickBooks, FreshBooks, and a variety of financial institutions like Bank of America, Chase, and American Express. Once the data is in the system, you can use 60mo to create financial projections, manage your business’s budget and share the data with your accountant or investors — it’s sort of like a Mint for businesses.
FreeAgent will be leveraging 60mo's expertise in the U.S. accounting software market to adapt its own cloud-based online accounting system specifically for American users. FreeAgent is an accounting SaaS that is designed specifically for freelancers, independent workers, and small businesses.
The company says a dedicated U.S. version of the FreeAgent system will be launched in the coming months. The firm also plans to adapt the UK system's tax forecasting and tax return-filing capabilities and incorporate these into the U.S. version of FreeAgent in the near future.
Since its launch in 2007, FreeAgent has steadily been accumulating a loyal customer base. The company started 2011 with 4,000 paying subscribers, and finished with 16,000 paying customers.




Posted: 03 May 2012 05:16 AM PDT
Deezer Open API graphic
Music streaming provider Deezer is one of the bigger (and older — it’s been around since 2006) services of its kind, with some 20 million registered users in 48 territories, and 15 million tracks in its catalog — but it has failed to capture mindshare in quite the same way as rival Spotify; and some might argue that this will make it harder in the long run for Deezer to keep up and grow.
Today sees the launch of the company’s latest attempt to turn that situation around: “Open Deezer,” a new set of APIs for iOS, Android and Java-based web apps, which it hopes will help it bring on a new raft of developers to create music services around its platform.
The move underscores Deezer’s need to ramp up its offering to make it more dynamic, specifically in the face of competition from Spotify, which has been offering APIs since last year and now has a few dozen apps available on its platform.
“We know we don’t have a monopoly on great ideas,” Daniel Marhely, the founder and CTO of Deezer, said in a statement. “There is still so much we can create to enhance people’s music experience.”
The APIs give developers not only access to the Deezer catalog of 15 million tracks and related metadata, but also Deezer’s HTML5-based music streaming technology, which can be used without downloading a desktop client (unlike Spotify).
Developers also get “user data” access but it’s unclear whether that’s simply a case of user profiles or a wider look at analytics around what that user has consumed.
While today’s announcement opens the APIs up to independents, Deezer says that “early partners” have already been working on apps with Open Deezer. These partners include social networks Facebook, Twitter and last.fm; carriers Orange, Belgacom and T-Mobile; hi-fi makers Sonos and Logitech; and car companies Nissan and Parrot.
And — just as later entrants to the mobile “platform wars” have used financial incentives to attract app developers to their operating systems — so, too, will Deezer. They will get £9.99 ($16) — or one month of a premium subscription — for every new user that they bring to Deezer through their app. It seems like that reward comes regardless of whether the subscriber is taking Deezer’s free or premium service.
Deezer’s also running two Hackathons in Berlin and Paris to drum up some buzz.
Will this be enough to lure in the magic app makers?
“I think it’s exiting that there are more tools in place for developers to drive innovation, but we have not decided yet whether we’ll develop for Deezer,” says Inge Age Sandvik, one of the founders of Soundrop, one of the more popular apps for Spotify, in which a Turntable-style app lets users enter “rooms” where they can listen to the same music together and create/add to others’ playlists off the Spotify catalog.
“For now our small team very busy making the best possible way to discover music in Spotify,” he says. “I would like to be very opportunistic about taking Soundrop to more platforms, but we have a very good relationship with Spotify that we invested a lot in.”
He also points out that for developers that are targeting web apps the new Deezer development platform “looks very interesting” and at least may have an advantage over another player, if not Spotify itself:
“I would assume Deezer will get a lot of interest. Both Deezer and Rdio seem to be well positioned now for web apps, but Deezer’s strength is that they have a head start on the global reach.”




Posted: 03 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT
Evernote Logo
It’s official. To transition from a startup into a late-stage company that aims to be around for 100 years, Evernote today confirms it’s raised a $70 million Series D round of funding at a $1 billion valuation.  Meritech Capital and CBC Capital were chosen to lead the round because they’re the firms that can help Evernote prepare for an eventual IPO.
Evernote doesn’t need the money. It still has much of the $96 million that it’s raised to date in the bank plus over one million paying customers out of its 25 million+ users. But now Evernote will have the cash to isolate itself from short-term market conditions. The Series D will also fund international expansion, including a push in China, strategic acquisitions, the development of business accounts and other features, and hiring of developers, designers, Q&A, and support.
But just because it’s maturing, Evernote has no plans of slowing down. I interviewed CEO Phil Libin about what the future holds for Evernote. He assured me “This funding keeps is us in the sweet spot to take risks. This is the most creative stage for the company.”
As information overload becomes more prevalent, Evernote’s mission to let you remember everything becomes increasingly relevant. The company offers a suite of Evernote web and mobile apps for saving files, images, web clips, and notes, and syncing them across devices. For a few dollars a month, user can upgrade to more storage space. It also owns image annotator Skitch.
Evernote competes with Dropbox, Box, iCloud, and Google Drive in cloud storage, Instapaper and Spool in web clipping, and Photoshop and Gimp in image editing. The wealth of established competitors indicate a challenge for Evernote, but also a clear need for its products. It’s real value comes in combining them into an app that lets you intelligently access saved content, not just store it. Libin tells me he doesn’t see competitors as Evernote’s biggest threat, though. “The most likely way we’ll fail is if we stop making good products. If we get defensive, we’ll lose focus on quality.”
Joining Meritech Capital and CBC Capital in the round and the company’s 100 year vision are funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price AssociatesHarbor Pacific Capital, Allen & Company, and several other investors. Libin tells me “We’re thinking about an IPO within a few years, and are selecting investors and partners to help with that. They’re the types of investors that are buying into public companies, and we want to have as many relationships with them as possible.”
Regarding the impressive valuation as a private company, Libin excitedly admits that it’s not about Evernote being worth $1 billion today, but ”I agree with our very wise investors. I think that Evernote as a publicly traded company could be worth $10 billion, $100 billion or more.”
It certainly has momentum. In the nine months since it raised $50 million in July, it’s made four acquisitions, opened offices around the world, won a Crunchie, and grew to over 25 million users. Both registered and active user counts have tripled since July.
Update: Libin tells me “Conversion to premium goes up with the length of time someone’s been using Evernote. In the first month only a very small percentage, less than 0.5% of people pay for premium, but it goes up every month after that. Our “oldest” users, those that have been with us for about four years, are almost 25% paid premium. Overall, we have more than a million premium users.”
Bringing on CBC Capital, aka China Broadband Capital, as an investor will surely assist with the imminent launch in China. When that happens, expect Evernote’s user count to soar.
Now, Libin looks to make going public smooth and seamless. “We want as few things as possible to change at the IPO. I don’t what it to be disruptive or a goal, but just a step along the way. We’re focusing 100% of our energy into making the product better. The most important thing is that you trust us, and use Evernote for the rest of your life. Because if you do, we can ge the revenue out you. We don’t have to squeeze it out. That’s why the unit economics work so well and the business model is so profitable and attractive”
His voice filled with true passion for the company he’s built, Libin concludes, “Evernote is really about making you smarter. You use it, fall in love, and end up spending money.”
[Image Credit: Exame]




Posted: 03 May 2012 05:00 AM PDT
vm
Visage Mobile, an enterprise mobility management company, has raised $8 million Series C funding led by Motorola Solutions with Worldview Technology Partners, Palisades Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures participating in the round. The startup has raised a total of $16.1 million to date.
Visage Mobile’s SaaS application, MobilityCentral, basically lets businesses have control and visibility over all of the wireless devices and spend within their companies. The service will organize how many wireless devices are being used in your company, which employee is using a device, your company’s monthly wireless spend and how your wireless spending breaks down. Additionally, Visage Mobile helps businesses set policies to govern employee usage of smartphone and mobile broadband.
Visage’s CEO, Bzur Haun, tells us that the company’s goal is to help enterprises “organize disparate data sources to make better decisions around managing mobility.” As he explains, it’s about taking carrier data, device management, usage data, and then analyzing how companies can better spend resources on mobile.
MobilityCentral is now deployed with more than 200 enterprise customers, including several Fortune 500 companies.




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