Friday, June 22, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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Chicago’s Impact Engine Accelerator Is Looking For Environmentally & Socially Minded Startups

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 09:21 AM PDT


Impact Engine is a newly launched venture accelerator in Chicago designed to attract both environmentally and socially-minded businesses that want to – well, you know — make an impact on today’s world. The belief is that you don’t have to be a non-profit business to make this happen, but that it’s possible to create self-sustaining businesses that are working to improve the human condition.

The program is being run by OpenTable founder Chuck Templeton, who will work with the participating startups out of Chicago’s 1871 entrepreneurial hub – that’s the same place where Chicago-based Excelerate Labs has its class of ’12 startups working, in fact.

Impact Engine’s founding was thanks to the efforts of professors Jamie Jones, assistant director of social enterprise at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Linda Darragh, director of entrepreneurship and clinical associate professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Templeton, meanwhile, said his interest in the space stretches back seven years to when his first child was born. “I started to wonder what the world would look like when she grew up,” he says, “and I got concerned about the trajectory of the planet.” He feels that the massive challenges we’re facing won’t be able to be solved by government or NGO’s alone.

Startups accepted into Impact Engine will participate in a 12-week program, and receive $20,000 in seed funding, as well as mentorship, training, customer introductions, legal advice, tax consulting, feedback on pro-forma models, marketing, sales strategies, and, as noted above, workspace at 1871. Templeton, who’s also a mentor at Excelerate, says that working right next to the other, three year-old incubator offers the potential for knowledge-sharing as Impact Engine gets off the ground.

In addition to Templeton, Arun Sivashankaran, co-founder of OhSoWe, and co-founder and director of Technology and Solutions for Entessa Inc., will also work with companies on a day-to-day basis.

Impact Engine’s mentorship network currently includes:

  • Dennis Barsema (Instructor, Social Entrepreneurship and Microfinance at Northern Illinois University)
  • Linda Darragh (Executive Director of the Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice and the Heizer Center for Private Equity and Venture Capital)
  • Jamie Jones (Assistant Director of the Social Enterprise at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management)
  • Tasha Seitz (Partner at JK&B Capital), Bruce Boyd (Principal and Managing Director at Arabella Advisors)
  • Patty Huber (Manager at Groupon Grassroots), Colleen Mitchell (President at VENTURE3PHILANTHROPY, Ltd.)
  • Thania Panopoulos (Principal of The Perissos Group)
  • Mark Roth (co-founder of Centerstage Media)
  • Sharon Schneider (CEO of Good Karma Clothing for Kids)

However, the program will also be bringing on what it’s calling “super mentors,” who will be with each company throughout the 12-week program. Details of who these will be are yet to be finalized because each company will have their own areas they’ll need to improve. This is a different philosophy from some accelerators, Templeton explains. Instead of having startups meet with dozens of potential advisors in their first month, the idea is to find two to three who will be willing to work with the founders throughout the program and beyond.

Impact Engine will conclude with a Demo Day on December 5th at Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago where they’re promising an audience of roughly 200 investors.

Currently, Impact Engine has raised approximately $500,000 from investors Templeton, Cary Chessick (former CEO of, Nick Rosa (co-founder/managing director of Sandbox Industries), J.B. Pritzker (co-founder and managing partner of The Pritzker Group), Matt McCall (partner at New World Ventures), Scott Kluth (founder of Coupon Cabin), among others.

In return for their investment in the new startups, the accelerator is taking a 7% stake in the companies they fund. As for the type of companies they’re interested in, Templeton says that the number one key component involved in whether or not a startup is selected is a belief that Impact Engine can help them. The second thing they’re looking for are companies where the societal or environmental benefit they’re addressing is intertwined with the business model. But as for the size and scope, that’s of less concern. Templeton says they’re reviewing apps from companies where it’s just one guy with an idea all the way up to a six-person team doing almost a million in revenue. Citing one example of the ideal type of business they would like to find, he mentions Sanergy, the makers of a new kind of sustainable sanitation system (yes, they reinvented the toilet). But the toilet not only allows people to produce energy, live healthier and grow food via the fertilizer it produces, it can also be sold through various business models, bringing the company to profitability.

Impact Engine is about to hit its application deadline, which closes on June 30th. Applications are here for those interested.

Battlefield Startup SnipSnap Sees Over 1M Coupons Clipped, Locks Up $900K In Funding

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 09:06 AM PDT


It's only been a few weeks since SnipSnap co-founder/CEO Ted Mann took to the Disrupt stage to talk about his super-simple coupon saving and sharing app, and now it seems the young company has already hit some major milestones.

Mann revealed that the coupon sharing platform has seen over 1 million coupons clipped since launch, and that out of 160,000 downloads, the service plays home to 50,000 daily active users.

That's not all the good news Mann had to share — the company has just recently put the final touches on a $900,000 angel round led by Philadelphia-based MentorTech Ventures and Kynetic CEO Michael Rubin. Over half of that sum ($555K, to be precise) was raised last month before Disrupt, with the remainder being closed last Friday.

Combined with some early seed funding from Philadelphia’s DreamIt Ventures, this most recent round puts SnipSnap at $1 million raised, and they’ve already started making plans for that money.

Now that SnipSnap has had a healthy infusion of funds, what's next for the Philadelphia-based startup? Well, for one, they're still working on a way to add support for manufacturer coupons to the app — think the coupons that come on the backs of receipts at the grocery store. Mann didn't offer up a firm timeline on when the feature would find its way into the app, though he was quick to assure us that it would be in place by the time autumn rolls around.

One of Mann's other short term priorities is expanding his team — Mann included, the team behind the app have been doing an admirable job as is, but SnipSnap is in the process of looking to flesh out their ranks with a marketing VP and a head of business development to help link the service up with more brands who want to push their promotions in front of SnipSnap users.

In fact, they’ve already made a bit of progress on that front, as Mann mentioned to me that the company is preparing to launch what he calls “coupon bundle” functionality for the service. When it goes live, users will be able to curate and share their own bundles of coupons with others (he think of it as “Pinterest for coupons). More importantly though, he’s pitching the feature as potential tool for content publishers looking to push their own premium coupon bundles. SnipSnap has already linked with newspaper publisher Gannett to push a coupon bundle promotion into the Sunday editions of some of their newspapers, which will call on users to download all of the print edition’s coupons in one shot with the app.

The last potential addition to the roster is a another developer to help work on the coming Android version of the app. Mann told me that work is already to have the Android version of their coupon sharing app ready to go by August, though we'll soon see how well they manage to stick to their schedule.

ShopSocially Launches Its Platform, Scores An Extra $550K In Funding

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 08:36 AM PDT


ShopSocially, a social commerce startup, is formally announcing the launch of its social shopping platform and is revealing some of its early insights from its customer lineup. The company has worked with several hundred customers to date, including big-name brands like Sears, The Children’s Place, Sport Chalet, CafePress, Ritz, Zales and others.

We’ve also learned that the company had quietly raised an angel round of $550,000 late last year through TiE Angels, which is in addition to the $1.1 million in funding from October 2010. Participating in the round were executives from Apple, Google, and Symantec, several VCs and TiE board members, however the individuals did not want their names disclosed at this time.

The startup, for those unfamiliar, offers a suite of social apps which retailers can embed into their website, within marketing campaigns or on their Facebook page. These apps support a wide range of functions, including everything from “share-a-purchase” (or “offer” or “promotion”) apps to a full-on social shopping community. The platform allows businesses to control when and how these apps are shown using rule-based targeting, and offers other features like SEO optimization, analytics and reporting, and more.

Rawat, who co-founded ShopSocially with Samir Palnitkar, recently shared with us some new numbers related to the impact ShopSocially was having on the e-commerce efforts of its clients. Using data aggregated from hundreds of retailers on the platform, the company found that it was able to produce up to a 3x increase in sales from email promotions, and average of 12% increase in site conversion by adding social sharing functionality, and was able to help brands convert 2%-5% of their site traffic into Facebook fans.

In addition, through the implementation of a social shopping community in the style of something like Pinterest or, for example, ShopSocially reported an average of 95% increase in onsite and fan page engagement. This is increasingly becoming a popular way to showcase items for sale – and you can see some examples of ShopSocially communities in action here on Burpee, on HBO’s shop, and on H2o+.

In one particular case, with client Ritz, the implementation of ShopSocially apps to its site had a huge impact on conversion – the company reports a 38.8% increase in conversion after implementation.

The company’s Series A Series A was led by Valhalla Partners, with additional participation from angel investor Raman KhannaAshish Gupta and Dharmesh Thakker. ShopSocially’s CEO Rawat says they’ve kept things lean and are now on track to profitability this year. Founder Kellee Khalil On Being A Newlywed… With Her Brand Partners

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 08:22 AM PDT

Screen shot 2012-06-22 at 11.43.05 AM

In a world where Pinterest is filled with wedding gear and the economic downturn has scratched “wedding planner” off of the affordable options list, it was only a matter of time before a wedding planning service sprouted up on the web. That service is called has recently partnered with various brands like Nordstrom, Kwiat, and Minted to let users buy exactly what they see online. This makes the site a place where tasks actually get executed, rather than simply planned out (or worse yet, dreamed about). Not to mention, is generating revenue by capitalizing on a huge trend right now.

Just look at all of the wedding-centric tech products that have hit the stage recently. Yapp’s Events app-creation platform has a huge wedding-focused user base, and Appy Couple takes it a step further to only create apps for couples tying the knot. Then of course there’s Brit Morin’s Weduary, which leverages Facebook to do a relatively similar thing on the web. is different from Pinterest in that, instead of pulling user-generated content, all of the images on are sourced from the top wedding bloggers on the web, and categorized by vendor, model name, and item (such as ring, dress, shoes, etc.). From there, the basic premise stays mostly the same. Users can “love” items, which saves them in a Loved folder in your profile, or “bundle” items, which is the equivalent of posting to a certain board.

The site features a Color Bar up top, letting brides immediately choose their color. And every woman who’s ever been through a wedding knows, wedding planning can’t even begin without a color.

I sat down with Kellee Khalil, founder and CEO, to discuss bringing new brand partners aboard, and the decision to use bloggers to generate the content, rather than users. She has big plans for the company, hoping to eventually follow a woman through all the big life stages, like wedding, pregnancy, moving into a new homes, and being a newlywed. It could be a huge online marketplace, considering the fact that women do some serious online shopping these days.

Click to view slideshow.

Verizon’s Droid RAZR Family Finally Gets A Taste Of Ice Cream Sandwich

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 07:12 AM PDT

Motorola Droid RAZR

Verizon's Droid RAZR and its fatter, longer-lasting brother the RAZR Maxx are fine devices, but let's face it — Gingerbread is a bit passe at this point.

The carrier has promised since launch that the device(s) would eventually get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich, and later pointed to a vague launch window some time in the first half of 2012.

Well, that day has finally come (and with only a few days to spare). Verizon has just announced that they will begin rolling out the long-awaited Ice Cream Sandwich update for their popular pair of Android handsets starting today.

Also included in the mix is support for global roaming, which should come in plenty handy as we enter the summer traveling season. Just make sure you've got your international calling and data plans set up before you go, or else in Reddit/South Park parlance, you're gonna have a bad time. Other minor enhancements include a revamped four-way lock screen that allows users to fire up the camera, jump into their messages, or dive into the phone dialer as soon as the phone is unlocked.

It's probably worth reiterating though this process takes a while to reach all users, so I wouldn't recommend sitting and staring blankly at your RAZR until something happens — it's a lesson that Verizon Galaxy Nexus owners have learned quite well as they waited for their 4.0.4 update to traverse the air to their devices.

Moredays Brings A Digital Journal, Scrapbook & Calendar To iPhone

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 07:09 AM PDT


Moredays, a very pretty digital calendar/scrapbooking app has just arrived on the iPhone. The app had previously launched in iPad-only format last fall (where it was spotted in TechCrunch Disrupt SF’s Startup Alley). At the time, we described it as “a journaling app combined with a diary app” that also had a “nice interface.” The same holds true for the new, mobile-friendly version.

While attractive, the app’s core focus is kind of hard to describe. It’s a cross between several different applications, including a calendar, diary, scrapbook, and journal. You can use Moredays to record private moments or memories, take notes, or jot down thoughts. But even though its use case is hard to pin down, you could say the same for your trusty Moleskine notebook. Consider this, then, the digital counterpart.

As the company explains: “sometimes we’re a little unsure where a new item fits….You don’t have to know whether you are creating an event, task, contact or note. Just record your thoughts freely and get back to the later when you have enough time and energy.” In other words, it’s a notepad replacement. But with a paper notebook, input is limited to pen or pencil (unless you tape things onto its pages). The Moredays app, however, allows you to import photos or decorate your entry with stamps (colorful icon badges), which give each post a little more flair.

Co-founder and CEO Filip Molcan says the company has not done any marketing until now (unless you count Disrupt, I guess), but they currently have 30,000 active users. That’s not downloads, to be clear – it’s people who are actually using the app. Given how “pretty” it is, it’s not surprising that more of the users are women. Molcan says that over 50% are women, often mothers with children.

The company is currently bootstrapped and is working towards reaching 100,000 users by year-end, at which point the plan is to introduce a freemium model and the ability to order your year’s diary as printed book of your photos and sketches. Molcan also says that now that the app is on web, iPad and iPhone, they’re starting work on an Android version.

The funny thing is that I’ve been looking for something exactly like this – and yes, I fit the demographic. I’ve been making occasional use of Path’s ability to make private posts to record little observations and moments I didn’t want to forget, but didn’t feel necessary to share. But Path doesn’t feel like the right tool for doing that – and there’s no easy way to flip back to those moments. Moredays is a better fit. And since the kid has taken off with my iPad, having an iPhone version means I can finally give this one a shot.

You can download the new Moredays apps from here.

‘And What Do You Bring To The Table?’ Watch Kids Grill Tech Leaders In Code Club Video

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 07:08 AM PDT

Code Club screenshot

We’ve all been there: appearing before someone important, having to sell yourself and your ideas, in the hopes of getting a job, funding, or just a break at doing something bigger. The video below, playing on the idea of a startup pitch parade, takes that nervewracking situation and turns it on its head, by giving the reigns to a panel of kids, and the job of pitching to some of the biggest successes in technology today.

Filmed during the tech leadership confab the Founders Forum, which just completed today in the UK, the video is made to raise the profile of Code Club, a new UK initiative to try to get more kids learning to code, by seeding after-school programs for 10-11 year-olds in schools across the country. The video features luminaries from the UK tech business world, with some international stars thrown in. I won’t spoil it by giving away the names but they’re good; watch for yourself below.

Code Club is being trialled in 25 schools right now (sadly my daughter’s primary is not one of them), with the aim to extend that to one quarter of all UK schools by 2014.

The idea behind the video — produced by the (very cool) digital agency Albion, along with Unruly and Hotspur&Argyle — is to remind people about how developing skills like coding could help save them from technology ignorance — either as future leaders themselves (doing the screening); or as would-be entrepreneurs (pitching for their lives).

Whether or not you think that might be too grand a hope, the video itself is awesome, and definitely worth a look.

Tech Meets Geo-Tech: Russia’s Search Giant Yandex Takes $1M, 25% Stake In Seismotech

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 05:39 AM PDT

oil rig

Yandex may be seen as the anti-Google by pursuing a strategy for growing its search-portal business in Russia and adjacent countries rather than aggressively expanding worldwide, but it is using another route to extend its reach: through investments. Today it confirmed that it has taken a strategic, 25 percent stake in Seimotech, a Russian geophysical exploration company, for $1 million.

This represents the first investment of its kind for Yandex, which has otherwise limited its funding activities to tech companies in areas like e-commerce and new technology. (It was one of the early backers of, the facial recognition company that this week officially got bought by Facebook.) At heart, it is a strategic, big-data play: as part of the deal, Yandex says it will be providing computing resources and proprietary technologies for Seimotech to use in its analysis mapping seismic data for purposes like oil and gas exploration.

“This is definitely an experiment in the sense that we are applying a technology behind our key product (search) on an entirely different field,” a Yandex spokesperson told me. “Search remains our core business.” He added that if it works out, there will be more investments of this kind: “We are potentially ready to discover other opportunities to apply our knowledge and experience in distributed computing, a technology we use in our core product.”

The technology that Yandex is providing is around the area of distributed computing technology, allowing Seismotech to process data across potentially thousands of servers, and underscores the trend of how big data plays are extending into other verticals.

"The IT industry has been the major consumer of computing power in recent years. It's no wonder that the latest, most efficient data processing technologies have been developed exactly in this sphere. At the same time, there are other computing-intensive domains – geophysics being a classical example. Parallel computing technologies we have been using in internet search can now power seismic exploration," says Arkady Volozh, CEO of Yandex, who broke the news earlier today on stage at St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

It is also a sign of how those who have traditionally focused investments on technology are extending further into other areas. Coincidentally, at a panel discussion earlier this week at LeWeb in London, three top tech investors, Kevin Rose, Chad Hurley and Niklas Zennstrom, all said that while non-tech areas (space exploration was the one raised on that day) were interesting, they were not focused on investing in them at the moment.

By virtue of this deal, Yandex says that Seismotech becomes one of the biggest seismic data processing businesses. It already has large oil companies like Norway’s Statoil and Russia’s Lukoil as clients, and the ambition is to go further internationally.

"Computing resources and technologies provided to us by Yandex will considerably increase our processing capacities and will give us an opportunity to take our services to another level. What used to take us a few months to calculate will now be done in a matter of hours. This is something that puts us in an excellent position for developing new services for geophysical exploration and offering them to our clients," says Dmitry Mosyakov, –°EO of Seismotech, in a statement.

This may be a first-time investment experiment for Yandex, but it’s not the first connection between the company and geo-science: both Volozh and his co-founder Ilya Segalovich (now the CTO) are sons of geologists, and Volozh himself has a mathematics degree from the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas.

[Image: SioW, Flickr]

Nintendo Debuts 3DS XL With 90% Larger Displays: Available August 19 For $199

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 05:16 AM PDT


Despite the fact that Nintendo’s 3DS is an excellent hand-held console, 3DS sales haven’t been on par with what the company was expecting.

But perhaps Nintendo’s brand new Nintendo 3DS XL will turn the tides. It’s very similar to a regular 3DS, but with 90 percent larger screens. According to Nintendo’s official release, it comes with a 4GB SD card, better battery life, and both Blue and Red color flavors. Access to the Nintendo eShop is obviously available, but users will also be able to pick up Super Mario Bros. 2 on launch day, August 19.

We’ve seen a huge trend lately with OEMs increasing screen size on smartphones, where gaming has grown to be more and more prevalent, slowing chipping away at Nintendo sales. It only makes sense that Nintendo would take a hint and offer more screen real estate on their portable gaming devices.

The Nintendo 3DS XL will be available August 19 for an MSRP of $199.99.

[image via Reddit]

Click to view slideshow.

Report: Payleven, A European Square From Rocket Internet, Gets Funding From NEA, Holzbrinck, Ru-Net

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 03:06 AM PDT


With Square yet to enter Europe, there is an increasing amount of activity from would-be competitors looking to fill the same niche using dongles on smartphones to enable card payments. The latest comes from Payleven, which has picked up “tens of millions” of euros in funding from New Enterprise Associates, Holtzbrinck Ventures and the Russian VC ru-net, according to an unconfirmed report in Deutsche Startups. Payleven is part of Rocket Internet, the incubator/investment vehicle from the Samwer brothers (known for developing clones of popular U.S. services like Groupon — and then selling them as part of inorganic growth plays).

Rocket Internet is famously secretive about who invests in its projects and how much, so it’s been hard to pin this one down. The responses we’ve received have been not flat-out denials, and with a wide berth might even read them as indirect confirmations. But they’re thin on detail: “Unfortunately we cannot provide any more colour on that [news],” Holzbrinck told TechCrunch. “I think you're very well aware of Rocket's policy on disclosing information to the press.” ”As usual Rocket is not very open minded about publishing information about the funding,” another person close to the deal said. Rocket Internet, meanwhile, has also declined to comment directly but has opened the kimono a little to outline Payleven’s strategy going forward.

The company is already active with its payments service in Germany and Brazil.  According to Fred Klinkert, Rocket’s manager for global venture development, the plan is to expand further to “key European and large emerging markets.”

In fact, this puts the company somewhat in contrast with another Square competitor, the Stockholm-based iZettle, which last week grabbed a $31.4-million round from Greylock, MasterCard and more. Its CEO Jacob de Geer told TechCrunch at the time of the announcement that the funds would be used to expand in Europe, not elsewhere. (Square, by comparison, has raised $141 million at a $4 billion valuation.)

Meanwhile, Rocket Internet has been busy with other activity in emerging markets, an increasing focus for the company. FoodPanda, an online food ordering service, is now open for business in India, following on from FoodPanda sites in Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam. Other e-commerce operations covering home furnishings (yes, Fab clones) and more are also part of the plan.

There is another area where Rocket’s Payleven stands out from Square and iZettle, and could make it one to watch ahead.

Like Square and iZettle, Payleven is largely aimed at merchants and others who have not had the facilities to process card payments at the point of sale. While Square and iZettle have spent a lot of resources encouraging merchants to sign on to their platform, Rocket Internet has a portfolio of other operations that could serve as a very immediate route to customers for Payleven’s dongles: take-out food companies (FoodPanda) and private accommodation (for its Airbnb clone Wimdu) among them.

Also, it should be pointed out that although the Samwers’ are often dismissed as clone makers, they have continued to attract not only customers, but investment and partnerships with established players. Across the markets where Payleven is already in business, it has deals with MasterCard, American Express and Eurocard (Germany) and AmEx, Diners’ Club, MasterCard and Visa (Brazil). Their Wimdu venture has had $110 million in backing so far, Deutsche Startups points out.

NEA has not yet responded for this story, but there is a past connection between the company and Rocket.

NEA was one of the earliest investors in Groupon, a company that also bought one of the Samwer brothers’ previous ventures, CityDeal, and subsequently put brothers Oliver and Marc Samwer in charge of the European operation — a position that has only changed in the last couple of months, with the brothers stepping down from their managerial roles and getting replaced by an ex-Dell executive Veit Dengler, who is now SVP in charge of Europe, based in Austria.

Free Stuff Friday: Win A Kisai Uzumaki Tokyoflash Watch

Posted: 22 Jun 2012 02:01 AM PDT


You know you want this thing: it’s a crazy watch from Tokyoflash called the Kisai Uzumaki and it’s designed to look like some sort of organic sea anemone blossoming on your wrist.

The watch has an electroluminescent backlight which lights up vinyl disks which spin to tell the time. It’s not as hard to read as some Tokyoflash watches and they want to give you one.

To enter, comment below explaining why you need a new watch. I’ll pick one winner at random on Monday and we’ll get your watch to you a few days after – just in time for your Fourth of July festivities!

Good luck and thanks to our friends at Tokyoflash.

Product Page

Flipboard Officially Launches On Android, Adds Google+, YouTube And More Localized Versions

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 09:01 PM PDT


It’s been a big week for Flipboard’s Google-related announcements. On Tuesday, the company revealed Google+ integration was coming to its social magazine, and today, the app is officially launching on all Android devices, including the Kindle Fire and the Nook. The Google+ integration, as well as newly added YouTube integration, is arriving today as well.

The app will be available in Google Play, the Amazon Appstore for Android, the Nook Store, and in Samsung Apps.

The Android public launch comes barely a month after Flipboard debuted its official Android beta and limited Android rollout as a preloaded app on the just-released Samsung Galaxy S III. However, it’s been just a little longer since Flipboard’s unofficial launch, thanks to the hacked version of the Android APK file from that same device.

Demand for the Android version of the app has been “astonishing,” says Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, who tells us that they saw over half a million downloads during its beta. “We’ve had really good coverage across a wide range of phones. We feel really good about how it’s coming together,” he says. “But people have been asking, why is this in beta? Why can’t you just release it now?”

The answer, of course, is because it’s an Android app, and that means there’s a bit more work involved. “With iOS, you can target a very specific screen size, a very specific processor and so on – it’s quite a bit easier,” McCue explains. “On Android, to really build a high-quality application that works across a range of devices, you have to spend a lot of time optimizing…that’s why we did the beta.” The new Android version works on all the major Android smartphones as well as the Nook and Kindle Fire, and supports from small screens up to a 7-inch display. It has also had some other performance and layout optimizations since the beta release.

YouTube Launch & More Localized Versions

Another new feature arriving on both iOS and Android today is YouTube integration. You can watch, favorite, bookmark and comment on videos within Flipboard, and those changes sync with the YouTube website itself. You can also follow users and the channels you subscribe to.

And Flipboard is also once again expanding to more countries. It was previously available in localized versions in China, Japan and France, but it’s now arriving in Korea, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Germany. “When we deploy to each country, we not only localize the app for each of these different languages, but more importantly, we focus our energy on the curation point-of-view in each country to pick the best content. We’ve now gotten more efficient at doing that,” says McCue. Next up on the list for localization are parts of Latin America, as well as other countries in Asia and Europe.

Checking In On Flipboard’s Business

While the company is still declining to reveal hard numbers related to total downloads or revenue, McCue says that the move to smartphones has seen users engaging with the app throughout the day, instead of just at morning and night (8-11 PM, primarily) as on iPad. The Cover Stories feature, which launched first on smartphones and is now available via Android widget, is now the number one feed on Flipboard. He also says that Flipboard sees “very, very, very strong return-to-app metrics.”

“A lot of people are choosing us every single day, multiple times per day. This is very encouraging for us especially since we don’t do a lot with sending emails out to users, and we don’t do lots of noisy notifications,” says McCue. However, integrating push notifications is something the team is thinking about for the future, but they want to do it right when the time comes.

He also reports good progress on the advertising side of the business, which now has half a dozen publishers running ads on the platform, out of a total of 2,000 publications which have been integrated to date. Some recent advertisements have been for Converse, Nieman Marcus (the same ads as in Vogue, says McCue), and the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman.” That last one did particularly well, with a 3.5% CTR. It directed users not to a website, but a rather to an in-app page featuring the “Snow White and the Huntsman” Twitter feed in Flipboard’s signature magazine style, which users could then subscribe to in the app. However, all Flipboard’s CTRs are “much higher than anything you’d see on the web,” says McCue.

As for what’s next, beyond its continued international expansion, one glaring omission for a magazine so focused on attractive, visual layout of content is Pinterest integration. Pinterest rival The Fancy’s integration was complete six months ago but has yet to ship, so the holdup is clearly on Pinterest’s side of things. But Flipboard is hardly the only third party in desperate need of a Pinterest API. (Where is that thing already?) No official word on what networks may be added next, but Pinterest will surely make a big splash when and if it ever arrives.

The new Android and iOS versions of Flipboard are available for download here.

GameFounders: An Accelerator For European Game Startups

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 07:06 PM PDT

GameFounders logo

There’s a new startup accelerator in town, and by town, I mean Estonia. The accelerator is called GameFounders, and it’s looking to accept up to 10 gaming startups in its inaugural class.

GameFounders says it’s the first European accelerator to focus on game developers. It’s offering an investment of 15,000 euros in exchange for 9 percent of the company, and you don’t need to have formed a company, as long as your team is willing to incorporate after it joins GameFounders. The accelerator is open to any kind of game, as long as it has already launched (even if it’s only in beta). At the same time, the website notes that “it is more likely at the moment for mobile games to get investments.”

Oh, and it’s not limited to Estonian companies either. Why would startups elsewhere want to move to Tallinn, the Estonian capital where GameFounders is based? Again, from the website:

For a start, Estonia is probably the easiest place to start a business. You count the time time you need to establish a limited company in minutes, the time you need to open a bank account in hours and the time you need to get all the other paperwork (VAT numbers and such) in days. And when you have spent those few days to get the business up and running, there is an abundance of funds, both local and EU, available for you to boost your business.

The accelerator was founded by Kadri Ugand, Lauri Antalainen, Sven Illing, and Paul Bragiel — Bragiel is probably the most recognizable name, at least to US readers, since founded Lefora and is currently a partner at San Francisco-based incubators i/o ventures. GameFounders also says that it has a network of more than 60 mentors, mostly from the US and Finland.

The application deadline for the three-month program is July 10. You can read more and apply at the GameFounders site.

Radio App TuneIn Adds 600 New Stations, Reports 267% YoY Listener Growth On Mobile

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 06:16 PM PDT


TuneIn, the popular guide to online radio stations, today announced that it has seen a 267% increase in the number of its mobile listeners over the last year. The company also announced that its listeners now use the service for significantly longer. Total listening hours on mobile, the company said, increased 348% over the last 12 months.

The service, which is available on over 150 platforms, including a number of connected televisions and cars, now sees itself as a “mobile first’ company. Indeed, iOS and Android, as the company’s CEO John Donham told me, are now the company’s two biggest platforms.

Earlier today, the company also announced a number of new partnerships with over 20 major broadcasting companies. These, as Billboard reported earlier today, include a number of top talk radio brands, including Fox News Radio, Bloomberg Radio, Public Radio Exchange and Monocle 24. This deal adds a total of 600 new stations to the company’s directory.

While the service often flies under the radar of the Silicon Valley press, the Palo Alto-based company now reports that has a total of over 30 million active monthly users from over 230 countries. Sadly, TuneIn doesn’t say how many of these users are actually on its mobile platforms, but Donham stressed that the majority of its listeners are now on mobile.

Overall, TuneIn indexes over 70,000 radio stations from over 200 countries, as well as about 2 million on-demand radio programs. One nice feature that sets it apart from some of its competition is its ability to let users search for specific songs or programs across all of these stations. It gets most of this data directly from the radio stations and the company also reports its own statistics and other information about listeners back to these stations.

The service, which was acquired by Dallas-based RadioTime in 2010, is actually almost 10 years old. It started out as a business-to-business service that sold a radio directory to companies like Sonos and Slim Devices/Squeezebox (which is now owned by Logitech). Since then, it pivoted over to becoming a consumer-focused company and, as the company’s CEO John Donham told me earlier today, that was definitely the right move to make for the company. Today, TuneIn makes the majority of its income from the display ads it features in its web player and mobile apps.

TuneIn has received VC funding from Sequoia Capital and, as our own Alexia Tsotsis reported earlier this year, there have been some persistent rumors that the company raised a large funding round in January that brought the total investments in the site to somewhere around $20 to $30 million. Asked about this, the TuneIn team, as expected, did not comment on these rumors.

Don’t Delete Your Stupidity. Fix it. Facebook Rolls Out Comment Editing and Edit History

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 05:35 PM PDT

Facebook Comment Editing

No more “Arggh! Copy, delete, paste, edit, post.” Facebook is now rolling out the ability to edit comments, but users will be able to see the full edit history of a thread. This is just one more feature that I really liked about Google+, since I could essentially live blog with it and fix my mistakes, but that Facebook has now too.

Facebook tells me comment editing is rolling out now and will become available to everyone in the next few days on the web. There’s no comment editing yet in Facebook’s embeddable comment widget for websites or from mobile yet where that damn auto-correct lurks. Also, you still can’t edit original posts, all of which would be much more helpful than this. But I guess if you have to say or spell something wrong, do it from your desktop on someone else’s news feed post.

Facebook made a step in the right direction a year ago when it let you edit comments within a few seconds of posting them so you could fix immediately recognized typos as seen below.

Now that time limit’s been lifted. So if you come back to a post later and see you spelled Philadelphia wrong, like I did in an article this morning (bollocks!), you can change it. And if you already had these new features, you were some of the lucky testers, and soon your friends will get comment editing too.

With the new Edit History, though, curious parties can investigate. So don’t go back and change your change your controversial point of view on to something more palatable or you could get called out. As soon as I get these features I’ll add screenshots.

We’re waiting to hear back from Facebook on whether comment editing will be available in its Comments Box social plugin, that many blogs including TechCrunch use to dissuade trolling.

This is all a step up from what’s currently available, which is copying your messed up comment, deleting it, starting a new comment, pasting, fixing, and posting. And when you comment something stupid or have an awful, your first inclination is to immediately delete it without copying, and then you have to pick your brain to reconstruct it.

While this update is less than groundbreaking, just like the emoticon menu it added to Chat yesterday, it makes Facebook more user friendly. Even shaving a few seconds off people’s commenting flows adds up at the scale of 900 million people.

The real question is whether Facebook will allow original post editing, which Google+ does. While useful, it could also let people retroactively change their opinions and  cause subsequent comments to make no sense. Combined with Timeline, you could essentially go back and edit your whole life, which could make people overly self-conscious and nit-picky about what they’d said in the past.

Stockr Has Emerged To Make Trading More Informative And More Social

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 05:05 PM PDT


Most hardcore stock traders ravenously consume as much information as possible about the companies that they invest in. That means tracking charts and trends, but also aggressively scanning finance news sites and message boards for more data to trade on. The problem is, if you’ve ever gone to the likes of Yahoo Finance or Google Finance, you know that the message boards there aren’t exactly full of the most informative places to hang out. And they aren’t in any way social.

Stockr aims to provide an alternative, with a site for finance nerds who want to get relevant information about the stocks they trade, or are thinking about trading. The site mainly seeks to cut through the usual noise by requiring users to login with Facebook to set up watch lists and comment on stocks, press releases, and news items.

Stockr provides a lot of the same functionality you’ve come to expect from a stock site: It lets users create a watchlist of their favorite stocks, get feeds of news about the companies that they’re interested in, and follow the comments of users that the’ve chosen to follow. But the big differentiator is its use of social commenting, which ties their contributions to their identity.

By doing so, Stockr co-founder and CEO Vinny Jindal says that the platform will discourage the type of rampant spamming that happens on competing Internet message boards. It also let users find out more about the people who are making comments, follow them, and keep tabs on their opinions — if those opinions are worth following.

“Investing is a team sport,” Jindal told me, and he should know — prior to founding Stockr, he had worked in both buy-side and sell-side research. But previously there weren’t very many tools for keeping track of different users. And by letting users follow each other, Jindal said that traders might gain interest in stocks that they might not have previously considered.

The site is in private beta now, but is gradually opening up to new users as time goes on and it fixes bugs. Jindal expects to open to the general public in late July, but the first 500 TechCrunch readers can get access by clicking through and logging in with the “Connect with Facebook” button. Stockr has raised a friends and family seed round, and has eight employees currently. But now that the product is ready, Jindal says he’s looking to raise a Series A to continue development.

Meet The Nuud: LifeProof’s New Waterproof Ultra-Rugged iPad Case

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 04:35 PM PDT


LifeProof has made a name for itself as a maker of super rugged iPhone cases that you can take in the ocean, to the beach, or even to the top of Mt. Everest. This thing can survive in some surprising environments. But today, the company has finally answered the call for a LifeProof iPad case, the Nuud. The case vacuums against the glass panel on the iPad so that there’s no front screen protector, allowing for the same tactile interaction we’ve all grown so fond of on Apple’ tablet.

But that’s not to say it loses any of its ruggedness — all the same specs migrate over from the iPhone case, including Military Grade shock and impact protection, waterproof up to 6.6 feet, and resistance against all the elements. Plus, you can plug in your headphones using the O-ring sealed headphone adapter, letting you take waterproof headphones into the pool or shower. (FYI, I would love to take care of the day’s obligatory phone calls in the shower.)

The iPad case comes with four small inserts on each corner to let you attach straps and carry it as a briefcase, alone with port covers that vacuum seal just as tight as the case itself. The camera cover is made of the same type of glass that you would find in a Nikon or Canon DSLR camera, anti-reflective on both sides.

The sheer durability of the iPhone case case along with its usability has let people do some crazy things with their iPhones — things that would make any iPhone addict cringe at the mere thought of them — but just take a look (if you dare).

It’ll be interesting to see how people use the Nuud, but my bet is that the iPad will start showing up in the bathtub, the pool and the kitchen much more.

There’s still no pricing out for the Nuud iPad case, but it should be available on store shelves and online in July.

CrowdFlower’s Photo Moderation Tool Gets A Little More Flexible

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 04:24 PM PDT

crowdflower rtfm

Crowdsourced labor startup CrowdFlower is launching version 2.0 of its Real Time Foto Moderator today, with updates that should make RTFM more useful for apps with adult and edgy content.

CrowdFlower first announced RTFM last month, pitching it as a self-serve tool that app developers can use to tap into the crowd and make sure the images shared by their users are appropriate. This was the company’s first big launch after co-founder Lukas Biewald (a former roommate of mine from college) rejoined as CEO, saying he wanted to create self-serve products that could be used beyond CrowdFlower’s enterprise customer base.

For version 2.0, RTFM Product Manager Vaughn Hester says the team has made two significant additions. First, customers can now choose between two different “rule sets”, which determine which photos are deemed appropriate and which are not. There’s the stricter rule set, which is what RTFM launched with, and then there’s a second, one that allows more “borderline scenarios” — the kind that might, for example, come up in an adult-oriented dating app. Things like photos of torsos without a face (hmm, it sounds kind of weird to put it that way …), indoor shirtless photos, and visible underwear would be allowed in the new ruleset, but not the stricter one, Hester says.

CrowdFlower has also added the option for a moderator to say why a photo was rejected. So when a user gets notified about the rejection, they can know what they did wrong and try again.

Hester adds that with RTFM, she’s also trying to encourage app developers to be proactive about content moderation. As one illustration of why this is important, she points to the alleged rapes that were reportedly facilitated by dating app Skout. To be clear, she isn’t saying that CrowdFlower’s photo moderation could have prevented Skout’s problems — after all, Skout is already an RTFM customer. However, Hester argues that the Skout case illustrates the enormity of the risks involved. She says she wants to do more with crowdsourced moderation to make apps safe, for example adding features to review entire social network profiles for inappropriate content or signs that they were written by someone who’s an inappropriate age for the app.

“For developers, this often just falls by the wayside,” she says. “We’d like to see a change of the norms, coming from the app store or from developers themselves.”

Jimmy Wales, On New Editing Platform: “This Is Epically Important”

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 04:04 PM PDT


“This is epically important,” tweeted Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, about a new simplified editing platform aimed at massively expanding the number of people who contribute to the online encyclopedia. A deceivingly tiny percentage of users actually contribute to Wikipedia, despite the foundation’s earnest attempts at making it an inclusive, democratic creation of mankind (estimates put the active contributor base at around 0.7%, who make up 50% of the entries).

Wikipedia blames the difficulty in learning its confusing text editor for the reason the active community of editors sits around a paltry 500 contributors. ”We identified the difficulty in learning wikitext as a key inhibitor to growing our editor community in the Wikimedia movement's strategic plan,” the company writes in the announcement of the new simplified editor. “We want the process of learning how to edit to be trivial, so our volunteers, both new and experienced, can devote themselves to what they edit. That's why we're building the visual editor, so that contributing to a wiki is as easy and natural as other modern editing systems, and new editors are not dissuaded from making their changes.”

From what we can see, the new simplified editor delivers on its promise: editing an entry feels very much like writing an email or Google document, with a few simple font buttons up top. You can check it out for yourself here. Have you ever wanted to contribute to Wikipedia, but were turned off by the text editor? Share your stories below about why you do, or do not, contribute.

Google Launches Coordinate: A New Service For Managing Mobile Workforces

Posted: 21 Jun 2012 04:00 PM PDT


Location-based apps and services like Foursquare have made significant inroads among consumers in the last few years, but most of the recent developments around location-based apps have bypassed the business market. While there are some systems out there that let businesses track their mobile workforce, they tend to be proprietary and expensive. Now, Google is trying to enter this market with Google Maps Coordinate, a service that mashes up Google’s mapping and geolocation services and APIs with a dispatch system for mobile workforces that’s available both on the Web and on Android phones and tablets. This, says Google, will allow organizations to assign jobs and deploy their staff more efficiently.

At its core, Coordinate allows businesses to dispatch and track their mobile employees, be they truck or taxi drivers, plumbers or pizza delivery guys. Google itself has been testing the service internally with its on-campus transportation services.

The idea behind the service, as Dan Chu, Google’s product manager for Coordinate told me from his office in Sydney last week, came from Google’s enterprise customers who already used the company’s mapping services but were looking for an easier and off-the-shelf way to organize their mobile teams. While developing the service, the team focused on making it as flexible as possible. Large companies will be able to hook Coordinate into their existing systems with the help of a full read/write API, but small businesses will also be able to use it without having to make any major investments.

Customers will also be able to enter large datasets as custom locations into the service. A utility company, for example, could use this to enter the location of all of its electricity poles.

As Chu noted when I talked to him last week, Google has invested quite a bit in its maps and geolocation services, but this is the first time it is really putting all of this to work for a business-focused application.

On the dispatch side, administrators will be able to see where their workers are and send them to their next locations. Employees who are out in the field will appear as blue dots on the map. Setting up new accounts and users just takes a few clicks. Creating new jobs is just as easy and administrators can also set up new locations with just a few clicks.

Employees in the field, on the other hand, will use their mobile phones to accept new jobs and also send reports back to the dispatchers. There is also a check-in option that allows users to affirm that they have arrived at their location, allowing employers to distinguish travel time from the actual time it took to do a job, for example). The system also allows admins to specify certain data that employees have to collect while they are out in the field (client contact data, for example). All of these features, said Chu, will allow administrators to set up complete workflows for their mobile employees.

Given the privacy implications of a service like this, Google build in an option for users to go “invisible,” as well as a time-based system that can automatically log users out at the end of their shifts. Users will also have to give very explicit consent to being tracked when they first use the mobile app.

Google is launching the service with an introductory price of $15/user/month until September 1, 2012. The price may go up after that, but Google hasn’t released any information about this yet. The service is now available worldwide and, in a departure from Google’s usual process, is not considered to be in beta.

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