Friday, May 4, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch


The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

Posted: 04 May 2012 09:10 AM PDT
OfficeHoursClipArt_0
Office Hours in New York was a huge success last week. We met the guys from Krossover, along with quite a few other really badass startups which we’ll post about when the time comes. That said, I want more. More, more, more. (I’m greedy like that.)
So we’re officially posting our second round of Office Hours. This time, instead of a coffee shop, we’re hitting startup turf: DUMBO Incubator in Brooklyn.
Whether you’re adding new features to a year-old app, still in the idea phase, or working on your first round of funding, we want to know what’s up. This isn’t just for us to pick up stories (though that’s a huge plus), it’s for you guys to get feedback on what you’re working on.
I’ll be heading up Office Hours by my lonesome this time, as John needs to run off to Omaha or something for some … thing. Either way, that’s good news for you since I’m the sweet to his sour.
The deets: Office Hours will be held from 2:30pm to 5:30pm on May 9 on 20 Jay St. at the DUMBO Incubator. If you want to sign up, check out my Ohours profile and reserve a slot.
Note: If you are the first to nab a slot, then we’re good to go. Even if it says pending. First-come, first-served.




Posted: 04 May 2012 08:08 AM PDT
tide2
TidePool, a startup that is trying to determine consumer personality from photos, has raised $1.5 million in a seed round led by Mike Hirshland of Resolute.VC and Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal Capital. Participating investors include Jarl Mohn, Tim Draper, Peggy and Jim Davis, and Jeff Lipp.
The startup’s central goal is simple—Tidepool uses a proprietary technology to uncover personality and other psychological characteristics from photos. To begin your assessment on Tidepool, you are presented a number of photos. You are asked to rank photos by which ones you like best. You are also asked to pick between two images that you like, choose different interests (based on pictures) and more.
The startup’s founders, Kabir Sagoo and Dr. Galen Buckwalter (founding Chief Science Officer at eHarmony) tell me that they have developed 60 types of personalities including “maverick,” “producer,” “super sleuth,” “The different drummer,” and others bases on these image choices. You can then sign up with Facebook or LinkedIn and share with your friends.
While the startup simply offers a test and assessment at the moment, the startup wants to be use the technology to make suggestions of who you will get along with based on the personality assignment. Buckwalter and Sagoo admits that there isn’t a lot of conclusive data that validates if this technology is the best way to match personalities, but the startup is in the process of conducting a study to prove its anecdotal findings.
Sagoo explains, "Questionnaires are boring and easily gamed. TidePool brings imagination and creativity to testing…eventually your photos will become a lot more valuable to you when you use TidePool.”
The company is part of Los Angeles-based startup accelerator, Amplify.





Posted: 04 May 2012 08:08 AM PDT
Screen shot 2012-05-04 at 10.27.43 AM
The HTC Titan II has already gone through the Fly or Die ringer, but the real determining factor for these phones is the level of competition surrounding them. In the case of the Titan II, the HTC/Microsoft partnership is most threatened by more HTC and Windows-powered phones, namely the Lumia 900 and the HTC One X.
So what do these phones have that the Titan lacks? How does the Titan wipe up the floor with them?
Well, that’s why I’m here, and why we’ve made this lovely graphic for you.
Truth be told, specs really don’t matter anymore, especially specs like processor clock speed and (I’m sorry to say it) megapixel count on cameras. What really matters is your preferred operating system, display size/resolution, and comfort with design.
When weighing these three phones against each other, the similarities are abundant, as are the subtle differences. For example, the Lumia 900 will net you $100 less than either of the other two phones. At the same time, it’s a touch smaller than the Titan and the One X, and if you prefer HTC hardware to Nokia’s then that doesn’t really matter.
I happen to be a pretty huge fan of the Lumia 900 simply because Windows Phone can pull off its stupid 480×800 resolution requirement on a 4.3-inch screen much better than it can on the Titan’s 4.7-inch display. Past that, the phones are quite similar. The Lumia feels a bit more premium in the hand, yet HTC does an excellent job of making even their plastic phones feel high-end.
If Windows Phone is your flavor, this is definitely a tough call. Good luck.
If it’s HTC that tickles your fancy, it all comes down to the OS. Do you prefer Sense 4 on top of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, or would you prefer to play with Microsoft. The One X specs slap down the Titan II like Daniel LaRusso at the beginning of The Karate Kid, but as I mentioned earlier, specs matter less and less these days. Where you’ll really win with the One X is the 4.7-inch 720p display. If you can tote it around comfortably, it really doesn’t get much better than that.
The ball is in your court, my dear readers. Choose wisely.





Posted: 04 May 2012 08:04 AM PDT
startups
Daily deal community for website owners Startups.com is shutting down. In an email sent out to its mailing list subscribers, founder Gonzo Arzuaga admits that the company just “couldn’t make a go of it.”
“We didn’t achieve the ambitious goals we set for ourselves when we launched only 1 year ago. So, with regret, this news of our departure from the realm of Daily Deals,” writes Arzuaga. “This may be a shocker to some of you and we want you to know that we’re really sorry we failed to achieve your expectations.”
In October 2008, KillerStartups purchased the domain name Startups.com for some $500,000 in cash. A year later, the domain was relaunched as a Q&A site for business questions. Then, in April 2011, Startups.com shifted its focus to the business model it operates today: daily deals.

The Q&A section was moved to answers.startups.com (now disabled), but the homepage began featuring discounts on things website owners, online businesses, and startup entrepreneurs would appreciate, like discounted software, gadgets, e-books, services, and other types of resources they may need to grow their company. Those same type of deals are still live on the site now, as the company hasn’t quite pulled the plug just yet.
According to Arzuaga’s email, Startups.com is not the only property that’s being terminated. BlinkList, a service that lets you save local copies of websites (which no longer seems that relevant, we admit), is also shutting down.
We reached out to Arzuaga for more info on the situation, and, as expected, he’s not too happy about how things worked out.
“Actually, I never expected to be in the spot of going on the record about shutting down a venture. I guess this is the other side of the coin in any entrepreneurial venture,” he says. “I’m really happily surprised by the 100 emails I've received with words of support and encouragement from our subscribers (we sent them yesterday an email notifying them of our termination). I am truly amazed, and thankful,” he adds.
But those feelings are tempered with a touch of grief, too. “I begin to feel very frustrated, when it comes to looking back and thinking about Startups.com,” Arzuaga says. “Today is a really blue day.”
He also tells us that he put $250,000 into the service and believes the domain name Startups.com is “an awesome asset” to have.  But bad news, folks: the domain name, for now, is not up for grabs…well, not exactly. Arzuage says he doesn’t want to sell the domain, even though he has already had offers in the high six figures should he change his mind.
“We’re looking for an amazing partner to take it to the next level and make it shine,” says Arzuaga of how he wants to now move forward. But given how recent a change this is, he admits he hasn’t had time to really think about things in depth.
As to why he couldn’t make a go of the business, it could have something to do with the “daily deal” model simply not appealing enough to those who would feature their software or services on the site. One company tells us that after the huge discount offered and Startups.com’s 50% commission, their listing, while generating a decent number of orders, was essentially a loss leader for them.
Below, the full text of the goodbye email:
Startups.com Is Closing Up Shop…
Yeah, unfortunately we couldn’t make a go of it. We didn’t achieve the ambitious goals we set for ourselves when we launched only 1 year ago. So, with regret, this news of our departure from the realm of Daily Deals. This may be a shocker to some of you and we want you to know that we’re really sorry we failed to achieve your expectations.
It’s Spring and it feels like the right time for us to do some Spring cleaning. We’re evaluating all of the projects we’re working on, (and we've got tons, believe me), and unfortunately we had to make the painful decision of shutting down Startups.com as a Daily Deal service.
We’re selling Blinklist.com, and shutting down other sites as well. There’s no point in going on with something just because you’ve been doing it for a certain amount of time. In a startup, as you well know, everything takes up your precious resources. And people’s time and effort is something we can’t afford to waste. We believe this is the right time to pull the plug.
New and fresh ideas need room to grow and for us that means clearing out some of the old ideas which never took off. We wanna thank you, one of our 20,000 loyal subscribers for sticking with us for all this time.
We’re really sorry we couldn’t make it work for you. But hey, life goes on. Best of luck in your endeavors, we shut our doors knowing that we did all we could to help you grow your online business, which was our main goal for launching Startups.com as a Daily Deal site.
To Your Continued Success!
P.S. Reach out to me at gonzo@startups.com with comments, concerns, just to say “Sorry, it was good while it lasted,” or to share your stories about the awesome Deals you got on Startups.com.
Gonzo




Posted: 04 May 2012 07:32 AM PDT
white-nokia-lumia-900
Nokia may be busy suing the likes of RIM, HTC, and Viewsonic over the infringement of a long list of wireless patents, but the Finnish company should watch their backs — now they’re the target of a class-action lawsuit from a shareholder because their plan to embrace to Windows Phone hasn’t yielded the right results.
But are they concerned about it? Not if their official statement on the situation is any indication — Nokia has just reached out to say that they are “reviewing the allegations contained in the complaint and believes that they are without merit. Nokia will defend itself against the complaint.”
If you hadn’t yet heard the details, plaintiff Robert Chmielinski filed the suit yesterday [PDF] in U.S. District Court in New York, in which he alleges that Nokia knowingly misrepresented how well the transition to Windows Phone was playing out to their investors. More specifically, it says that “defendants told investors that Nokia's conversion to a Windows platform would halt its deteriorating position in the smartphone market. It did not.”
The complaint goes on to point out that despite all of the positive spin Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and CFO Timo Ihamuotila put on the company’s various Lumia launches, those claims fell apart when the company announced on April 11 that their Q1 2012 financials would be much weaker than expected. That announcement was followed by pronounced dip in Nokia’s stock price, which affected “thousands” of Nokia’s shareholders.
Oh, but there’s more:
"[Nokia] also disclosed a glitch in its newest Windows offering – the Lumia 900. Nokia had to immediately offer customers an automatic $100, making the phone essentially free.”
For what it’s worth, Nokia also handled those Lumia 900 connectivity issues much better than I’d expected. They owned up to the problem, laid out a plan to fix it, delivered that fix ahead of schedule, and sweetened the deal for anyone who could have possibly been affected. Whether or not Nokia knew about the glitch prior to launch is a question that we may never get a clear answer on (though I’m inclined to say no, considering how much was at stake for that launch), but as far as that complaint goes that’s the least of Nokia’s issues.
Were Elop and Ihamuotila just being corporate cheerleaders, or were they engaged in a plan to willfully deceive and defraud their shareholders? Though Nokia definitely feels the execs fall into the former, I’ll be keeping my eyes on this for the long haul. Only time will tell how much steam the suit will pick up though — investors interested in taking up the role of the lead plaintiff have until July 2 to file the appropriate motion.




Posted: 04 May 2012 07:22 AM PDT
kindertown-devices
KinderTown, the startup behind the educational iOS app store for parents (and honestly, a personal fav) is expanding its focus today. According to feedback from its users, the number one complaint was that KinderTown wasn’t available for older children. Now that changes, as the service will bump up its supported age range from 3-6 to include children ages 7 and 8 as well. To kick off the launch, 125 new apps aimed at older children have been added to service, and more will be added every week.
The company is also starting to see some growth, doubling the total number of users in April. In fact, KinderTown reports that it added more users in April than it did in the five previous months combined.
Returning users also increased by 300% during this time, KinderTown CEO (and DreamIt Ventures co-founder) Steve Welch says.
While the startup doesn’t offer raw download numbers or active user counts, it does attribute the bump in usage to its newly launched social sharing integration. A recent update allowed parents to share a list of their favorite apps for kids within the KinderTown app and then post that list via a link to social networks like Facebook and Twitter. When other parents click the link, they’re directed to the user’s “My Apps” page where they can then download the recommendations.
For those not following the ‘kid app” space, a refresher. Launched back in November, KinderTown is one of the first companies to build an app store within an app that’s sold in the app store. (Ha!) That is, the company filters through the 600,000+ iOS apps (iPhone/iPad) to surface just the educational apps that are designed for children. It then further curates the selection by vetting the apps for quality of content. The staff includes former educators, who review the apps prior to having parents test them. Only when both groups agree the app is worthy, does it get accepted into the KinderTown store.

The result is an easy-to-use alternative to searching through iTunes for age-appropriate (not brain-rotting!), apps and games for the kids. The company says that users pay an average of $2.65 for an app when they buy through KinderTown, which redirects them to iTunes. To date, the company has driven 100,000 downloads in the iTunes App Store.
As someone who cared not one bit for kids until I had one, KinderTown has been a lifesaver in helping me fill up the kid’s iPad with better content. I had no idea what was out there, what was good, or what other parents would recommend. I was always googling for app reviews and ideas, and jotting down the occasional personal suggestion from parents I bumped into while out and about.
Apparently, this is par for the course for new parents. As Welch explains, “one of the first things parents do when they buy a new iPad is ask their friends what apps to download. With KinderTown, parents can now just send a link,” he says. Welch also notes that the company is starting to see teachers using the app as a resource to inform their students’ parents about what apps to download at home.
The updated app is expected to roll out to iTunes today. You can get the current version here in the meantime.
Thanks to KinderTown, one day – I swear – I’ll have enough new apps that the kid won’t notice when I delete Talking Tom and Talking Ben. One day! 




Posted: 04 May 2012 07:20 AM PDT

Have you ever wanted to feel like a real Sith and/or blind your friends? Well buy yourself a massive WickedLaser’s laser and the $99 “laser saber” attachment and get ready to buy a guide dog!
This saber screws into any WickedLasers $300 S3 laser (which are, arguably badass) and a special gravity powered plug makes it look like the laser is slowly powering up just like in the movies that WickedLasers is not associating itself with in any way.
Generally, this isn’t quite what we’ve all been dreaming of – namely a finite-point plasma sword with the power to cut through steel bulkhead doors – but if you and your friends don’t mind spending a few hundred on lasers and attachments and you have a pair of welder’s goggles handy, these might make for a great afternoon of fun/potential blindness.
Product Page




Posted: 04 May 2012 07:06 AM PDT
Pioneers-Pusher-Man
A post on CNN Money found that during a quick assessment of 10 Verizon stores and reps in New York – arguably a small sample size – the representatives would pitch Verizon’s Android’s 4G phones over the “old fashioned” 3G iPhone. Said one rep: “The iPhone is a great phone, but it’s on 3G. I’m not going to recommend a phone that’s outdated.”
Now I don’t doubt David Goldman’s story that Verizon reps are pushing Android inventory in New York if only to clear out the back room. However, I had to test it myself. I chatted briefly with a Verizon rep online and found that she (I assume it was a she as her name was Chiquita) just wanted to close the sale rather than steer me towards anything else:
Please hold for a Verizon Wireless sales representative to assist you with your order. Thank you for your patience.
You are now chatting with ‘Chiquita’
Chiquita: Hello. Thank you for visiting our chat service. May I help you with your order today?
You: i need a smartphone for my brother. I’m thinking iPhone. Anything I should know?
Chiquita: When ordering a smartphone device would need to add data.
Chiquita: Will that work for you?
kitten: I mean is there anything new that would be better?
kitten: I think he’ll pay for the service. I just want something fast and cool and iPhone seemed like the best one, right?
Chiquita: What is your brother looking for in a device?
kitten: Music, apps, maybe like a good camera. He’s pretty not-geeky
Chiquita: Yes, because I have the Iphoen4S./
kitten: You like it?
kitten: Everyone has it I know but I still have a dumbphone or whatever
Chiquita: With the information you are providing with the Iphone4 would be a great device for your brother. With the fully touchscreen for easy navigation using the web, applications, and music. Our customers really love the Iphone4. With the 8.0 mega pixel camera for taking wonderful photos.
Chiquita: Are you a new or existing customer?
kitten: I think he’s existing but he hasn’t upgraded in a long time.
You’ll also note that Verizon is currently incentivizing 4G with double data plans for LTE phones. We also spoke to one sales rep under the condition of anonymity who said they had heard nothing about any specific promotion to with Android phones. And, as you see in my own exchange, the rep was more than happy to steer me towards an iPhone. Panic averted.
The biggest problems with Kremlinology like this is that some sales incentives may not percolate out to every sales rep and that the impetus to push Android phones may be regional and plays into a number of biases in terms of perceived wealth, gender, and surrounding culture. Although a blind, Turing-style interaction with a sales rep online is fairly blind, whether you’re pushed an iPhone or a RAZR at a store on Broadway has a lot to do with a lot of things. Until we see a document (and we’re looking) that says Verizon reps get extra ponies if they pitch Android over iOS, I’m not buying it.




Posted: 04 May 2012 07:03 AM PDT
Twilio Europe
Twilio, the upstart software maker of voice and other telephony APIs used by developers in web and mobile apps, is marking another chapter in its European expansion today: the company’s voice API — which lets users make and receive calls through those apps — is now available in Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, bringing the total number of countries supported on this side of the pond up to 10, in addition to the U.S. and Canada.
The news comes in the same week that Twilio announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft that will see the Windows giant offering Twilio voice and text APIs to developers on its Azure cloud platform, and one week after the company announced a significant hire for its European team, James Parton, as a new European VP.
Twilio may soon be adding three more countries to that European list: it says that developers in Italy, Spain and Portugal can also access the API and corresponding local numbers by signing up to its EU Voice Beta program.
The other countries in Europe where Twilio offers services, in addition to the four announced today, are the UKAustria, Denmark, France, Ireland and Poland.
Twilio’s service is potentially very disruptive for carriers because it is effectively offering developers the very tools that carriers themselves are looking to develop and sell, although carriers have faced two crucial hurdles: their own inability to develop and productize quickly; and preconceptions from developers about working with carriers.
"One of telcos' biggest challenges is the perception issue, and trying to convince developers and startups to work with them,” James Parton told me last week when we spoke after his hire. “They have a history of over-promising and under-delivering. We overcame some of that with BlueVia but Twilio has been faster."
Expanding into these countries not only opens the door for Twilio to work with developers in these territories, but also then lets Twilio offer other developers a more complete portfolio of countries in which the use of their Twilio APIs can be supported.
But with now 12 countries supported by Twilio, that points also to how much more growth Twilio will need to become truly ubiquitous — along the lines of what an average tier-one carrier, or even Skype, provides.




Posted: 04 May 2012 06:02 AM PDT
gavel2.jpg
Google has always been pretty cagey about the financials behind its Android mobile OS — and data that has emerged over the last week could give us an indication why: it’s been losing money from Day One.
In the lawsuit between Oracle and Google — in which Oracle claims Google, in its Android platform, infringes on copyrights and patents related to Java — a judge and jury are trying to work out what kind of damages might be awarded to Oracle. That case took a turn for the specific yesterday, when Judge William Alsup (as reported by Reuters) read out excerpts of Google documents that determined that the platform produced a net loss for every quarter of 2010 — and “a big loss for the whole year”.
He also noted that Android generated around $97.7 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2010.
The jury began their deliberations on Monday, and if they cannot come to a unanimous decision, then the trial will proceed to its second phase, concerning patents, with the first phase on copyright subsequently facing a retrial.
How much money Google has or hasn’t made is an important part of the case because it can be used to decide how much Oracle can potentially receive in damages if it wins the case — although Oracle contends that even if Android is making a loss, this should not have any bearing on the case.
Ironically, if Google can show it’s not making much money out of Android, then that may mean it has less liability. On the other hand, that difficult performance might also become a lever by which critics might begin to ask why Google is pursuing a business that is going nowhere financially.
Figures from Google documents from 2010 revealed earlier in the trial showed that Google expected a loss of $113 million in 2010 from Android and that it expected to have profits of $64 million in 2011; $248 million in 2012; and $548 in 2013. The vast majority of that revenue will be coming from advertising, with small but growing percentages also coming from app sales.




Posted: 04 May 2012 03:44 AM PDT
Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 11.30.12
With 'social discovery' all the rage with apps like Highlight, Banjo and Glancee attracting attention during this year’s SXSW it’s easy to forget there are players out there which have been doing this a tad longer. Badoo de-cloaked as a social network in London a few years ago with ‘discovery’ very much at its core, but with a twist – it encouraged people to promote themselves, sometimes with payment. Where Facebook concentrated on linking up with existing friends and friends of friends, Badoo was literally oriented towards you meeting new people all the time, and for others to push themselves out there. That gave it an obvious flirtatious feel, making it a quasi-dating site which happens to use a different method for getting people to pay. But it’s appealed to a lot of people. And I mean a lot. Currently on 149.8 million users, some time today that will tick over to hit 150 million, given it clocks around 150,000 a day.
That makes it one of the top five social networking sites globally according to comScore, and its growth is being significantly powered by mobile (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and WAP worldwide). In the U.S. market it’s seeing more new registrations on mobile than on Web, with 68% of new users coming to the site via mobile over the past six months. A health check to these figures is that while mobile is starting to surpass web in the U.S., the global averages would be much lower of course.
Mobile usage has grown by 100% since November 2011, and Badoo says is it more than doubling mobile revenues. The fact that it is monetizing mobile may be of interest to Facebook, which seems to have a terrible time on this front – a third of Facebook’s traffic is mobile but it’s not monetised. Then again, it is over five times bigger.
Badoo’s iPhone app which comes with in-app payments designed to boost your popularity with packs of credits. You literally pay to become more popular and get more visibility in the network. In-app payments are a gift to Badoo, which in the early days used premium SMS as a way for users to supercharge their visibility on the network.
U.S. growth is also being powered by mobile and according to app tracker Distimo Badoo’s Android app is now one of the top 10 most popular apps (No. 7) for social networking, up from 35 in November 2011, while its iPhone app is now a top 25 social networking app, up from No. 60 late last year. AppAnnie says Badoo is regularly a top 5 grossing iPhone app.
Badoo says it is growing in New York (where Badoo just launched its first advertising campaign), Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and other cities.
This is helped by a marketing campaign that they are running in the U.S. right now – the first time they’ve ever done anything proactive like that.
The company has released some further numbers to us exclusively, verified by comScore.
These indicate that Badoo has seen over 60% growth year on year with 35 million active users per month worldwide, adding 150,000 new users a day. While Southern Europe and Latin America continue to show strong growth, the U.S., UK, Germany and Russia are growing fast. Badoo was usually strong in Russia and Latin America, but the addition of these developed markets shows Facebook isn’t satisfying everyone’s needs by any stretch.
Badoo is still in profit and has an annual run rate of $150 million. It’s also winning big hitters such as former Google executive Benjamin Ling who was recently appointed Chief Operating Officer.
Andrey Andreev, founder of Badoo, has a different view on social networking to Zuckerberg, who obsesses over sharing. Badoo, says Andreev, is about making it “as easy as possible to bring people together, so they can chat, make friends, date and have fun. And there is a massive opportunity to do this on a global scale.”
And he has big supporters out there.
Shervin Pishevar, Menlo Ventures comments: “Badoo is proof there is a huge global opportunity, and appetite, for using social and mobile tools to connect with new people. And for those tools to work at scale. Importantly, they make the experience fun, easy and fast, so it’s incredibly compelling to a mainstream audience.”
Loïc Le Meur, CEO of LeWeb, says “Badoo’s viral spread from Europe to Latin America, and now to the US, shows the amazing potential of Europe’s tech scene.”
Badabing Badoo, huh.




Posted: 04 May 2012 02:23 AM PDT
engrade-logo-med
As a high school student in 2003, Bri Holt found himself increasingly frustrated by the fact that there was no easy way for he and his classmates to view their grades online. So, being familiar with the wizardry of web development, Holt decided to build his own, laying the foundations for what would become Engrade. While Holt went on to other projects, over the next seven-odd years, his simple, free online gradebook slowly found increasing, organic adoption among teachers. In 2010, Holt returned to Engrade, brought in some help, and over the next 18 months, focused on turning the education tool into a more robust, enterprise education platform.
To help it scale, the startup is now ready to take on venture funding, announcing yesterday that it has closed a $3 million round of seed funding, led by Rethink Education, along with participation from the non-profit, education-focused venture fund, NewSchools, which counts John Doerr as a board member, and individual investors including co-founder of Wireless Generation (one of edtech’s largest exits — to News Corp. for about $360M) Greg Gunn, Zac Zeitlin, and Richard Chino.
Since 2003, Engrade has grown its user base to 4.5 million teachers, admins, parents, and students in all 50 states, and 150 countries, with institutional customers that include the New York City Department of Education and KIPP Charter Schools. Based on Engrade’s adoption, it’s clear that there’s a high demand for simple web-based gradebooks — as well as evidence of the little-known fact that teachers can be active early adopters.
Of course, for a free web app, teacher adoption doesn’t necessarily translate into a sustainable business. If your company is driven by a mission that purports to make those very teachers’ lives easier, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. Plus, teachers often don’t have discretionary spending from schools, so they end up paying for new technology out of their own pockets. In other words, this isn’t the best business model.
Instead, Holt tells us, Engrade has turned to schools and districts to generate revenue, which generally speaking, have much more sizable budgets for purchasing ed software. Engrade uses, like so many other software startups, a freemium model. Users start off with the free product, but for schools with 100+ students looking to use the platform, the startup offers EngradePlus, starting at $600, and scaling up from there based on the number of students.
To attract institutions and districts to its enterprise-grade features, the startup has added an array of features, which includes attendance, discipline, and parent-teacher conference tracking, score messaging, standardized test score analysis, report card printing, parent email and SMS alerts, an API for integrating with existing software, and admin-level reporting, among others.
With its new funding, Holt says, the team is now looking to tackle one of the biggest problems to plague schools: They are producing a huge amount of data, but that data is spread across a fragmented group of learning management, grading, and tracking services. Teachers may use one service for grade tracking, and another for test scores. To combat this, Engrade is moving to integrate each segment of data into one centralized platform and make it accessible for teachers, students, parents, and third-parties via its API.
Today, Engrade is tracking over 1 billion student data points, from grades to attendance and test scores. The goal is to be enable all those who make educational decisions, in each part of the chain, to have better access to the information through which they can identify problems earlier, which students are absent, at risk, etc.
As it gears up for further expansion and sales efforts, the startup is also announcing two new additions to its leadership. Dr. Steven Paine, the former superintendent of schools in West Virginia, is joining Engrade as Chief Academic Officer, and Julie Huston joins as SVP of Sales. Huston is formerly the EVP of Global Sales for Archipelago Learning.
While Engrade has been around longer than most and has the benefit of a sizable user base, there’s plenty of competition afoot. There’s JupiterGrades, ThinkWave, and venture-backed free gradebook and lesson planner, LearnBoost. Read Leena’s initial coverage here. [Disclosure: My significant other works for LearnBoost.] There are also a slew of Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems that offer gradebooks as part of their services, like Spiral Universe, for example.
But with a workable, easy-to-use free option to bring teachers in, and a robust enterprise-grade platform to lock in paying schools and districts, Engrade thinks it’s onto a winning model.
For more, check out Engrade at home here, and let us know what you think.





Posted: 03 May 2012 09:33 PM PDT
shutterstock_75858775
What’s the penalty for lying on a resume? It’s an important question for new Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, after his PR department offered up the laughable excuse that he made “an inadvertent error” on Yahoo’s website and in an SEC filing claiming he had a Computer Science degree. TechCrunch editor Eric Eldon just wrote this should cost him his new job. At Yahoo, the penalty could include “immediate discharge”.
I got a job at Yahoo in 1999. Before I started, I was required to fill out an Employment Application. The form included educational and employment history information and notes “A resume may be attached.” At the bottom of the form, there is a boxed section, with the bold headline “Authorization: Please read carefully, initial each paragraph and sign below.”
Here’s the first paragraph in that section:

“I certify that the facts on this Employment Application (and any supplements attached) are true and complete. I further understand that any omissions or misrepresentations made by me on this application will be sufficient grounds for denying my application, withdrawing any offer of employment or immediate discharge.”
So, if I had made ANY misrepresentations (in Yahoo PR speak: “inadvertent errors”) as a Yahoo employee, I would have been at risk of losing my job immediately. We’ll find out if the same rules apply to the CEO.
Some caveats here of course. This application is more than 10 years old and Yahoo might have changed this part. Unlikely. Also, Thompson’s employment application (if he even wrote one) and his contract are not part of the public record, so we don’t know exactly what’s in there.
We do know what’s in documents Yahoo filed with the SEC where the false degree was also mentioned. As activist shareholder Daniel Loeb noted in his letter to the Board, Yahoo’s Code of Ethics may have been violated. It states “Disclosure in reports and documents filed with or submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and in other public communications made by Yahoo! must be full, fair, accurate, timely and understandable.”
Update: Michael Arrington, who is now CEO of Yahoo according to his LinkedIn profile, just reported Yahoo even has a 24-hour IntegrityLine to report Code of Ethics violations. Mike says he called the number “and damn if they don’t pick that phone up on the first ring.” I tried calling the number and all I get is some peaceful on hold music and a message “Thank you for holding.” Seems that line might be pretty busy right now.
Perhaps, Thompson should have read this article, found ironically on Yahoo Voices titled “3 Reasons You Should Never Lie on Your Resume.” It ends with the following suggestion on why its not a good idea. “In the end, you’ll be happier for not having to look over your shoulder for the rest of your career, just wondering if, right now, someone is calling that bogus school you mentioned last year when you finally got your dream job.”
[Image: alexskopje/Shutterstock]




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:50 PM PDT
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“You guys might want to cover this before he resigns tomorrow,” one hardcore reader emailed in this evening. And yes indeed, newish Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson’s “inadvertent error” about which degree he got in college is looking like it could cost him his new job. It should.
After a day of TechCrunch covering companies who are busy pushing the world forward — like Facebook and its big IPO plans — here’s our obligatory late-night story about the guy who is, uh, suing the massive social network over some old patents that are supposedly infringing on the aging web portal.
For more than half a decade, at least, Thompson has told the world that he’d gotten a computer science degree from Stonehill College, located outside of Boston. Today, that falsehood got exposed by activist Yahoo investor Daniel Loeb, whose firm discovered that he had in fact gotten an accounting degree.
A hardcore techie degree isn’t a job requirement in a world where anyone can learn to code, where college dropouts are shaking up the technology world (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being one relevant example).
But it was probably more important earlier in Thompson’s career, when he working his way up the chain of command at his past jobs. Before he joined Yahoo in January, he served as the chief information officer at Barclays Global Investors, “where he implemented a new strategic technology platform and global infrastructure,” and as the CTO then President of PayPal.
One still assumes (or wants to assume) that he demonstrated the appropriate technical skills in these past jobs, even if Yahoo’s board failed to completely vet his background.
The real issue is that he lied about it. And the corporate explanation of an “inadvertent error” is just making the falsehood look like it runs that much deeper at the company. Not only did the company not uncover Thompson’s real degree before hiring him, it failed to do a few Google (er, Yahoo) searches today and see that even his alma mater is still describing him as an accounting major. 
And, I’m done writing this post. The whole affair, like Yahoo’s patent lawsuit against Facebook, and the company’s various bumblings over the past decade, is just embarrassing. Time to get back to covering innovation, and let the activist shareholders like Loeb have their field day trying to come up with a better plan for the company.
[Image via Yodel Anecdotal/Yahoo! Inc.]




Posted: 03 May 2012 08:24 PM PDT
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Sometimes people ask me why we’re still here even though we’re owned by poopy pants Aol, and I’m all like, “Huh what? Oh I’m sorry I’m drunk, who are you again?”
Lolz.
Okay so the real reason that I and the rest of the TC team are here, despite the fact that we’re all so incredibly and obviously employable, is that we get to work with a bunch of geniuses all day every day. Seriously, it is awesome just getting to set a record/be a part of this crazy time while also inadvertently creating jobs and keeping our own.
But the biggest reason we’re all still here is that we all super believe in all the amazing stars on our team. And there is no one who we believe in more than Leena Rao, who is about to have a kid and still just wants to work.
Like she sent this maternity leave email to us earlier and it we’re all like, “Wow Leena, you are so hardcore, we have to publish this …” So here you go Rao (I’d say you should hire her, but if you try to poach her from us I will kill you):
Hey Eric and Alexia-
I had a doctor’s appointment today and right now I am scheduled to have a c-section delivery on the morning (8:00 am CT) of Friday, May 11. I’d like to make my last day Wednesday, May 9 if that is ok with both of you. I think I’ll be so nervous on Thursday that I can’t imagine I’ll get much work done anyway:)
That being said, I could go into labor any time before then…if that happens, I’ll email you immediately and turn on my email responder. The likely scenario in this situation is that I’ll have a few hours to get wrap things up before I have to head into the hospital.
Starting this week, I’ve been mostly passing embargoed news and requests to the other writers. I figured that next week, I’ll focus on spot news and a few feature items that I’m working on. I am doing a One Kings Lane-like long-form company profile piece on Box, and also have another thought piece I’m going to write before next Wed.
I’ll get you an excel spreadsheet of the companies I cover and contacts in the next day or so.
Let me know if there is anything else I can provide. At the moment, I am scheduled to take 12 weeks of maternity leave but I don’t know if I can last that long…I may miss it too much:)
Leena
Goddamn she makes me want to be a harder worker/mom. Too legit, too legit to quit: Leena Rao.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:47 PM PDT
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BoomStartup, an incubator based in Salt Lake City, Utah, just announced the startups participating in its third annual session.
The program runs from May to August. Participating companies get $20,000 in seed capital and $80,000 worth of infrastructure, office space, and services from companies like Microsoft, PayPal, and Rackspace. Co-managing partner Robb Kunz places a big emphasis on mentorship — each startup is assigned a lead mentor as their main point of contact, and other mentors include SimpleGeo co-founder Matt Galligan and Omniture co-founder John Pestana.
And if you’re thinking, “Utah? What? Did someone say incubator bubble?” well, at least a few important tech products have come out of Utah, including WordPerfect and Omniture. More recently, there was Space Monkey, the Dropbox competitor that won best new startup at this year’s Launch conference. And BoomStratup was actually on the Kauffman Foundation’s list of top 15 incubators last year. (Yes, that’s a real list that someone made.)
Anyway, here’s a (lightly edited) list of the companies, provided by BoomStartup:
  • Akomplish - Akomplish is online productivity software that allows users to manage contacts, tasks and calendars for their personal lives as well as for one or more groups or companies.
  • AutoBid - AutoBid provides simple, elegant technology solutions for the collision repair industry that reduce administrative costs, save employee time and increase overall profit.
  • BlueRoof360 - BlueRoof 360 is designed to provide real estate brokers with easy-to-use online tools to help their agents make effective use of the Internet to grow their businesses. The tools they provide include a professionally designed, custom personal website with interactive MLS map search, client management, email marketing, blog, mobile site and market analysis tools.
  • CityGro - CityGro gives businesses real-time access to customers by releasing special offers. Through the CityGro platform, businesses can build a network of customers who receive live mobile updates for each promotion they run.
  • CitySpark - CitySpark is a local event discovery portal that enables users to discover the hundreds of interesting and relevant events going on all around them.  The service provides ideas for dates, afternoon activities with the kids, professional conferences and outdoor adventures.
  • Match Mate Inc - MatchMate.Me is wants to reduce the awkwardness and complexity of matchmaking.  The service – distributed through web, mobile and social platforms – turns users into matchmakers, helping match up the people we know with the people they don’t.
  • Referral.IM - Referral.IM simplifies the practice of referral passing for the medical industry.
  • TextMeTix - TextMeTix is a free consumer service that has unique relationships with various ticket vendors allowing them to create and send last-minute deals.
  • XoomPark - XoomPark.com offers online guaranteed parking, including reservations for large, downtown events within walking distance of multiple venues such as sports arenas, theaters, restaurants, etc.




Posted: 03 May 2012 06:24 PM PDT
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The Obama Administration’s plan to spread the country’s wealth around has made its way to struggling technology entrepreneurs. This past Tuesday, the Small Business Administration (SBA) began accepting applications for the $200 Million “Early Stage Innovation Fund.” The new fund will allow venture funds to augment privately raised capitol with a grant up to a 1-to-1 match, to be used for early stage investments (around the $1-to-$4 million range).
The program is an extension of the Administration’s StartUp America campaign to catalyze job growth through the engine of small business entrepreneurs. Most importantly, according to Sean Greene, a Special Advisor for Innovation at the SBA, the new fund will inject much-needed capitol in to what the Administration feels are underfunded areas outside of the typical startup zones (i.e. California and Massachusetts).
According to Greene, the important details of the project are that a fund must raise at least $20 million in capitol to receive up to another $20 million in matching funds. “This is too small for Sequoia. The more realistic scenario is a small fund in Austin, or Minneapolis,” Greene tells me at the annual Milken Global conference in Beverly Hills, California this week. Venture funds must have “an established track record with good returns” in early stage investments and be able to demonstrate a solid business strategy to the SBA. To be competitive, Greene says that a venture fund should be within the top “quartile” or “half” of their venture peers.
Contrary to the myth of a perfect market, venture funding isn’t a cold, calculated process of pouring over the best ideas from around the country. The dumb luck of meeting at VC at a party or having mutual a friend can often be just as important as having a good idea. Since the entire population of tech entrepreneurs can’t squeeze into San Francisco’s already-crowded housing market, the SBA is hoping to give some attention to smart technologists outside of Silicon Valley.
The open question is, can the SBA overcome earlier failures to achieve an important economic goal?
Greene seems aware of previous criticism of the SBA’s earlier investment programs and it’s current incarnation. A previous equity-based program in the early 2000s was inundated with complexity, and collapsed along with the Tech bubble. “We’ve restructured the instrument”, he says, to make it simpler, with a match-granting program to companies that have a proven track record of success. This is the so-called “fund of funds” model: instead of the government selecting companies, it simply allows already successful private funds to continue what they do outside of the normal cities.
In addition to the problem of location-sensitive investing, Greene says that there’s a trend, especially among institutional investors (banks, pension funds), to manage fewer projects and therefore to make larger investments. Additionally, for reasons he would not speculate, viable businesses outside of California and Massachusetts could be worthwhile investments, were there capitol flowing to those regions. As a result, the SBA hopes to close the gap and spur innovation in some of the hardest hit economic areas of the United States.
To learn more about the fund and application process, visit SBA.gov




Posted: 03 May 2012 05:42 PM PDT
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Do thoughts of Hadoop send you into a tizzy? Do petabytes of data make you wild?
If so, then we have just the thing for you. Accel Partners, the firm that will be scoring a touchdown this month with Facebook’s IPO, is holding a big data conference next week.
It’s a one day event at Stanford University on May 9 from 9 to 5 p.m. There will be discussions and fireside chats with entrepreneurs like Sun Microsystems and Arista Networks co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, Hadoop founder Doug Cutting, Cloudera co-founder Jeff Hammerbacher and former Yahoo chief technology officer Raymie Stata.
Also speaking there are Aditya Agarwal, the crucial early Facebook director of engineering and the current vice president of engineering at Dropbox, Factual founder Gil Elbaz and Metamarkets chief executive officer Mike Driscoll. On top of that, there’s Amazon Web Services director Peter Cohen, Nimble Storage chief executive Suresh Vasudevan and Lookout co-founder Kevin Mahaffey.
There are more than 500 attendees so far.
If you’d like a ticket, please comment below and post the story to Facebook. Accel will pick 10 winners this way and they’re looking for entrepreneurs! Otherwise, reach out at accelbdc.com to attend.




Posted: 03 May 2012 05:05 PM PDT
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Even though Facebook’s IPO roadshow video was a mostly touchy-feely affair with videos of friends have coffee and babies blowing out candles, there were some new stats tucked away in it.
For the first time, the company gave a look at how it monetizes on a per user basis in different parts the world. There was one chart of most interest.
It shows that Facebook made about $9.51 in advertising revenue per user in the U.S. and Canada. Europe was about half that much with $4.86 in ad revenue per user. Asia and the rest of the world follow that at $1.79 and $1.42 per user. What this shows is the revenue trajectory that other more economically developed markets like Western Europe and Japan could get to if Facebook successfully grows there or convinces more regional brand advertisers to come on board.
But these revenues are also affected by seasonal and macroeconomic trends. The average price per ad in Europe actually declined in the first quarter from the holiday season because the weak economy there, according to Facebook’s most recent IPO filing.
Plus, Asia and the rest of the world will be a challenge for awhile. These economies can’t support the kind of spending per user that the U.S. or Europe can. Also keep in mind that Facebook is still blocked off from China, where competitors like Sina, Tencent and Renren are thriving.

There are six main factors that affect how much Facebook’s advertising revenues can grow over the next several years. They’re listed below and they have to do with raw growth (or how many users Facebook has) to engagement (or how sticky and addictive the product is) to targeting (how well Facebook can route the right ads to the right users).
Facebook is at 901 million monthly active users, so it’s running out of room to grow given the sheer limit of world Internet usage. More importantly, it’s gotten a lot of the low-hanging fruit, or users in developed countries. It’s also continuously changing the product, which can affect short-term revenues. Facebook has bumped up the numbers of ads per page to seven units from four over the past year.

In terms of Facebook’s overall ad pitch, the company’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said that the company’s long-term goal is to be the place where 70 million businesses worldwide go to offer personalized, relevant advertising.

She said, “Every day on Facebook is like the season finale of American Idol times two,” in a reference to the home page.

She also added that advertising budgets are not moving online fast enough to match user behavior. Of the roughly $600 billion spent on advertising every year, only 11 percent of it is devoted toward online ads. Another $1.5 billion in advertising is spent on mobile devices.

Overall, as we’ve reported before. Facebook’s revenues have two components: advertising and payments. Both are up on a year-over-year basis, but advertising revenue actually declined going into the first quarter, which Facebook says happened because of seasonal spending habits. Plus payments revenue is virtually flat from the fourth quarter into the first one.

If we look closer at payments revenue, it’s up by quite a bit year-over-year. Facebook earns a 30 percent revenue share from apps and games on its platform. But this isn’t a fair comparison since Facebook only made the revenue share mandatory in July. Payments revenue is pretty much flat on a sequential quarter-over-quarter basis, at $186 million from $188 million in the fourth quarter.
The concerning thing is that if you look at games on the platform, Zynga’s quarter-over-quarter bookings for the Facebook canvas aren’t really growing anymore. Most of their bookings growth is coming from mobile. So unless Facebook turns on other kinds of payments revenue soon, this figure is going to stagnate.
Facebook’s chief financial officer David Ebersman stressed that the company may cut its 30 percent revenue share if it expands payments beyond gaming, which we reported on a few weeks ago.



He also pointed out that Facebook’s operating margins are declining. A measure of how profitably the company can run, operating margins fell to 36 percent  in the first quarter from 53 percent in the same time a year earlier. Ebersman said this has a lot to do with share-based compensation expenses.
He also added that the company is still in growth mode and will make decisions that will hurt its short-term profitability from time to time. For example, even though Facebook has only started to bring in revenue from its mobile apps, it will still continue to spend aggressively on them.
“We believe mobile usage of Facebook is critical to our future,” he said. “Expect us to invest in it even if mobile monetization is uncertain.”




Posted: 03 May 2012 04:30 PM PDT
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Video chat is still something many people don’t feel comfortable with. For U.S. teens, however, it is quickly becoming a pretty routine way of communicating with each other. According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 37% of teens now regularly use Skype, Apple’s iChat and startups like Tinychat to video chat with each other.
There are significant differences between how many boys and girls use video chat, though. Only a third of boys use video chat while 42% of girls said they have video chatted. Maybe unsurprisingly, those teens who use the Internet more frequently also use video chats more often than their peers who only go online a few times per week. The same is true for teens who text and use social media more often than their peers.
The Pew study also looked at how often kids upload video to the web. A quarter of the U.S. teens who were interviewed for this study also said that they record and upload video to the web. This represents a 100% increase since 2006. Just 14% of adults, by the way, upload video to YouTube and similar services.
Despite the gender gap in video chatting, though, boys and girls are equally likely to upload video these days. That’s quite a change from 2006, when Pew last asked this question. At that time, boys were twice as likely to say that they regularly uploaded video they had taken.
Streaming video over the web, however, still remains a bit of a niche activity among teens. Only 13% of respondents said they stream video live online. Interestingly, 3% of teens with dial-up connections manage to stream video to the web – one postage stamp-sized picture at a time.
The Pew study also noted that 95% of the 799 teens it interviewed said that they use the Internet. This number has not changed over the last few years. It’s worth noting – and somewhat odd – that this data is based on interviews that were conducted between April 19 and July 14, 2011. Given how quickly these trends change, chances are these numbers are actually a bit higher today.




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