- Instapaper Finally Makes Its Android Debut, And It’s Almost Amazing
- Square Doubles Its Retail Presence After Landing in 20,000 Outlets
- Berlin’s Startup Factory Takes Shape [TCTV]
- Webs.com Revamps Its DIY Site Creation Tools, Ditches Banner Ads For Free Users
- Apple Releases Guide To iOS Security
- Boxee launches Cloudee, its private online video-sharing service
- Men’s Subscription Service Bespoke Post Partners With Details Mag, Grabs 500 Startups As Investor
- Russian Internet Market Booms As Access Spreads
- Disney Teams Up With Imangi For Movie Tie-In ‘Temple Run: Brave’
- Samsung Galaxy S III To Land On Five U.S. Carriers In June, Sprint And T-Mobile Set For June 21 Launch
- BYOD Without Big Brother: Mobilisafe Debuts Real-Time Mobile Risk Management Solution
- Marketplace For Event Venues ‘Eventup’ Brings In $1.8M From Lightbank, NEA And More
- Yahoo May Settle With Facebook On Patents, But CEO Levinsohn Has Another Legal Wrangle On His Hands
- Salesforce Lines Up Against Oracle On Social Push; Buys Buddy Media For $689M
- Google’s ‘Project Glass’ Is Codenamed “Wingman”
- What Lies Beyond The Check-In: Foursquare To Launch Big New Redesign Next Week
- Woofound’s Social Events App Matches People To Places Based On Personality
- TwitchTV Gets Its First In-Game Streaming Integration, Introduces A Scholarship For Competitive Gamers
- Tiger, SV Angel-Backed Baby.com.br Finds Legs In An Exploding Brazilian eCommerce Market
- Meet The Wii U Gamepad, Nintendo’s Answer To Gaming On The iPad
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 08:53 AM PDT
Given Instapaper creator Marco Arment’s less-than-enthusiastic stance on Android, it didn’t seem like an Android version of his popular story-saving app would ever see the light of day. A handful of people have tried to bring the immensely useful service to Android with varying degrees of success, but Arment and mobile developer Mobelux have surprised us all by offering up their own official solution.
Yes, that’s right. Instapaper for Android has finally been released into the Google Play Store, where it can be yours for $2.99. Now the question changes from “when will it be released?” to “how well does this thing actually work?”
It’s worth noting right at the outset that the new Android version isn’t a one-to-one translation of the popular iOS app — notably missing is the ability to jump into a full screen view of a story, as well as the option to pore through featured stories culled from the day’s most frequently saved bits. Instapaper’s popular pagination options are absent as well, though to be honest, I’ve got no problem with just scrolling through a story.
While Instapaper fanatics may bristle at some of these omissions, the app works, and it works very well. In terms of design, Instapaper is simple to the point of being sparse, something that tends to be exacerbated by larger displays. Still, it’s clean and understated — in a sense, it’s perfectly suited to the core function of the app. Simply put, this version of Instapaper is meant to pull your saved stories to your device and display them for you with no additional cruft to get in the way. There’s also a tablet-specific view that I didn’t have much of a chance to muck around with, but it seemed remarkably similar to the iPad-optimized version of the app, down to the use of a two-column grid layout that stories live in.
Popping into a story proper reveals many of the same granular settings that its iOS counterpart is known for. It’s a snap to switch between each of the app’s three fonts, fiddle with line spacing, tweak screen brightness, adjust font size, and the like, making the reading experience very customizable.
All of those controls are nestled in a persistent option bar that runs along the bottom of the story screen, and I find it to be less of a distraction and more of a facilitator — the ability to like a story or pass it along to others via any of the networking apps on my Android phone is always just a touch away. Your mileage on this front may vary — in The Verge’s review of the app, Ellis Hamburger notes that using the app on a One X sticks users with a triple-whammy of navigation bars cluttering up the bottom of the screen, something my Galaxy Nexus thankfully managed to avoid.
As is the case with just about any 1.0 release though, there are a few hiccups. Occasionally when you enable dark mode — a feature that displays light text on a dark background — within a story and then exit it, the settings panel is similarly blacked out. You have to pop back into a story, turn dark mode off, and exit again if you actually want to see what options are at your disposal. It’s a minor glitch, and not one that seems to occur repeatedly, but it certainly made for a few puzzled moments.
In the end, even though it’s not a perfect release, most of the issues and omissions that pepper this first release don’t seem too complex to implement well (from my limited perspective, anyway). What really matters here is that the core functionality is present, and that bit works nearly as well as I had hoped — the rest will surely come down the line.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 08:32 AM PDT
Square has doubled its presence in retail stores since the beginning of the year by landing in about 20,000 outlets nationwide. At the beginning of the year, the company told us that it was in about 10,000 outlets. Now Square’s readers are at Walgreens, Staples Inc. and FedEx Office stores on top of being sold in Apple, Wal-mart, Best Buy, Radio Shack, and Target.
They sell for $9.99 in stores, but there’s a $10 credit that every buyer can redeem back to their bank account. Square has a store locator here where customers can find out where to buy Square units.
Overall, the business has three legs right now. They’ve got the readers, which work with the iPhone, Android devices and iPads. Then they’ve got an iPad app called Register. Lastly, there’s Pay With Square, which is an app that people can use at their favorite local shops to pay by merely saying their name to the cashier at the register.
The readers, along with Square’s other products, are now handling transactions at an annual rate of about $5 billion per year with more than 1 million registered customers. Given Square’s main transaction rate of 2.75 percent, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests the company is grossing nearly $140 million in revenue on an annualized basis. But remember that most of that fee goes back to credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard, so net revenue would be much lower.
We’ve also heard that Square is still in the process of raising $250 million at a $4 billion valuation and has pitched institutional investors like Legg Mason and Fidelity. That hasn’t been confirmed yet but stay tuned. Hopefully, the dismal performance of Facebook’s shares after the company’s IPO hasn’t scared institutional investors off of late-stage, growth rounds.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 08:05 AM PDT
We originally reported on the project to create a new kind of startup space in Berlin back in April, provisionally titled “The Factory”.
I recently visited the project which has been put together by JMES Investments (a Berlin based Angel and Seed Investor), s+p Real Estate, and other private investors.
They plan to develop the buildings into a hub for startups, where some will be investments and others added just to add to the cultural mix of the place. Close to Berlin's central Mitte district, the project his being led by Simon Schaefer with input from major Berlin startups like Soundcloud.
With a total of 5 stories and 8,500 square-meters of space, The Factory will consist of two multi-story buildings which are already over-subscribed for potential startup tenants who will be treated to bars, restaurants a pool and a basketball court.
Schaefer took me for a tour around the buildings that are slowly coming together.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 08:05 AM PDT
DIY website creation service Webs.com is launching an all-new version of its flagship product today with the introduction of the completely revamped SiteBuilder3. The new website designing tool now includes a number of new features allowing for improved drag-and-drop WYSIWYG (i.e., “what you see is what you get”) editing, plus more customization tools, themes, social media integrations…oh, and no more banner ads for the site’s free users.
Explains Webs CEO Haroon Mokhtarzada, the previous interface was also WSYIWYG, but it wasn’t totally drag-and-drop as it is today . With the update, you can now drop website images or modules onto your page, and it will then smartly place them to maintain a grid layout. One of the new draggable elements is a carousel module, which lets you build homepages that have a rotating banner at the top, offering text, images, buttons and more. It’s a feature you’ll often find on business websites – Webs.com’s top audience.
Also new are social media modules, like those that let you insert your Twitter feed, a Facebook “Like” button, or other social icons, for example. There are dozens of new themes being launched, too, as well as a new Theme Designer which lets users recolor sites without having to manually tweak each color involved to create a new scheme.
Header and footer editing is also now possible, the latter a premium feature. (The free version’s footer indicates the site was built using Webs.com).
However one of the biggest updates to the DIY website maker today is the removal of ads. “This is a pretty main thing – Webs used to be ad-supported. We used to put big banner ads on [our websites], but with the new builder we’re not putting ads on the sites,” Mokhtarzada says, “so people can create free websites with no ads.”
“We’re primarily a subscription-based service,” he adds as to why the change. “There was a time when we thought ads were important, but the more we focus on really professional websites, we think that ads flies in the face of the value proposition that we offer people.”
The company will continue to support the old version of the SiteBuilder for a time being, allowing current customers to play around with the new interface, preview their site, then publish.
The new version of the Webs.com SiteBuilder is going live today. Webs has over 50 million signups since its inception, and is now an over $10 million revenue business, says Mokhtarzada.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 07:14 AM PDT
Apple has introduced a guide to iOS security, which was posted to Apple.com sometime in late May, but is just now being noticed outside the Apple developer community. The publication is notable because it’s the first time Apple has published a comprehensive guide intended for an I.T. audience. (Apple’s developer-friendly documentation on security matters is easy to spot, however).
The new guide includes four sections dedicated to topics like system architecture, encryption and data protection, network security, and device access.
In reading the introduction, it’s clear that the guide’s intention is to better help corporate I.T. understand the security environment with iOS devices, including iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. It’s important that these details are documented in language I.T. understands as more and more businesses allow personal devices on their network and implement their own BYOD (bring your own device) programs.
To this point, the report begins:
While some may imagine the guide to be an example of Apple’s increasing openness (on matters not related to new products, that is…), much of the information contained in the guide is not new at this point in time. It has simply been repackaged for a different audience.
However, detailed in the guide are things like how the code-signing process works and ASLR (address space layout randomization) works in iOS, which had previously been outed by security researchers prior to Apple’s reveal.
Another I.T.-friendly tidbit includes a list of items which administrators can restrict using configuration profiles within their Mobile Device Management solution. For example, Siri (as IBM recently did), plus FaceTime, the camera, screen capture, app installs, in-app purchases, Game Center, YouTube, pop-ups, cookies and more. Users may have more freedom of choice in terms of devices they use for work than in years past, but corporate I.T. is now adapting so it can deliver the same level of protection it once did it the BES/BlackBerry era…or, as an end user might tell you – the same level of lockdown. (What, no YouTube at work? No fair.)
The full guide is available here. (PDF)
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 07:00 AM PDT
Boxee is best known for software that makes online video more accessible on user’s TV screens. Now it’s working on something totally different — helping users to take their own personal videos and making them available in the cloud. With the launch of Cloudee, the New York City-based startup is introducing a new service for users to store, access, and share their private videos with friends and family, all with an easy-to-use mobile app.
Of course, there's no shortage of mobile video-sharing applications or cloud storage applications. On the one hand, there are apps like Viddy and Socialcam, which aim to let users shoot or upload videos that they've already shot, apply filters and share them on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. And there are services like Dropbox, which have opened up cloud storage and allow users to create folders and share them with others.
Cloudee sits somewhere in the middle: It's designed with sharing in mind, but private sharing. And while other cloud storage services enable you to share any type of file, Cloudee is all about video storage and sharing. The closest comparable might be private video-sharing service Givit.
The service is launching with a private, invite-only mobile application for the iPhone. Users can upload videos from the app, put them in folders and then choose which family or friends get to view them. They can then be accessed from the mobile app, from a web browser, or even from a user's Boxee Box.
The introduction of a cloud offering – and a supporting mobile application – could be seen as a bit of a departure for Boxee, which has spent the last several years building software for PCs and connected devices like the eponymous Boxee Box. The cloud service is coming out, not long after the startup has backed away from building and supporting its PC software, showing that the future of the company might be in the cloud after all.
Also a bit of a departure is the focus on personal videos, as so much of its work in the past was focused on building software that made it easier to access the wealth of online and streaming video, first on PCs and later through the Boxee Box.
But Boxee clearly sees an opportunity for private video sharing in a market that isn't very well developed. The introduction of a cloud service for sharing of personal videos could also open the door for other cloud services from the startup. That includes enabling storage of other media files, for instance, or maybe even the ability to record videos and save videos in the cloud.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 06:36 AM PDT
Bespoke Post, a new e-commerce startup using the subscription-based “box of the month” model, is making a splashy public debut next week thanks to a new partnership with Details magazine, a Condé Nast property. Although the service has been open to the public since the beginning of April, the deal with Details is going to put the subscription club for men in front of a much wider audience.
The company is also currently in the processing of raising a seed round of $500,000 which is now half-closed, we’re told, with 500 Startups, Fabrice Grinda of OLX, Jose Marin of IG Expansion, and other angels on board.
A participant in NYC’s Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA), Bespoke Post made a hard, 11th hour pivot from its original idea, which was a mobile advertising play called Nabfly. According to Rishi Prabhu, who co-founded the company with Steve Szaronos, Nabfly had paying customers, but they just weren’t passionate about the business. With less than a week before ERA’s demo day, the team shifted gears and Bespoke Post was born.
Although playing in a crowded space, Prabhu believes that Bespoke’s (hilariously titled) “Box of Awesome” has a shot at becoming a standout in the subscription-based commerce business.
“There’s a big opportunity in the curated space for men,” he says, “and brands think so, too.”
So what makes Bespoke’s “Box of Awesome” so…well, awesome? For starters, it’s not samples, but full-sized products. The cost is reasonable – at $45/month, it’s basically equivalent to a gym membership. Boxes are themed (recent examples include a shave kit, a travel theme, and a high-end Japanese cocktail set). Also, unlike many subscription services, you can see what the box will contain ahead of time, then opt whether or not to skip it that month.
The retail value of the boxes is around $70, but Bespoke keeps the costs low by negotiating deals with brand partners who see a service like this as a marketing channel. However, Prabhu notes that getting a discount on something doesn’t automatically mean it’s going in a box, he says. “Our goal is turning [our customer] into the most interesting man in the world, one box at a time,” he says. It’s a process which involves curation, not only by the founders, but a panel of experts who weigh in on the items under consideration.
Prabhu says that Bespoke Post is approaching a $1 million annualized run rate. (The company asked us not to reveal subscriber numbers, but you can do the math). He also claims a low churn rate, too – under 5%, but again, he won’t reveal specifics. Of course, it’s too early to say a low churn will always be the case. No one even knows if subscription-based e-commerce will last, period, much less who the winners (if any) will be.
There are a wide variety of offerings like Bespoke Post out there already, which aim to offer serendipitous surprises every month, but many of the services targeted directly at men are focused on a single vertical like clothing, grooming, or other necessities.
With the new deal with Details, Bespoke Post will be launching several co-branded boxes which will also be featured on the pages of Details’ printed magazine. (See image on right). Other media properties and publishers are lined up in the coming months, the company says.
Interested users can sign up for Bespoke Post here.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 06:29 AM PDT
How many Internet users are there in Russia? How big are the Russian Internet advertising and e-commerce markets? If you lie awake at night wondering, you’re not alone. Trying to get a handle on this market is not easy, such as are the language and cultural barriers. There’s a lot of interest in IPO’d businesses like Yandex and Mail.ru but not a hell of a lot of info generally.
English and German language blog TheRunet.com has collated a lot of the figures available and come up with a handy run-down on the market, with help from the Russian Association for Electronic Communications and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The report covers a tonne of information about the “Runet” (the short-hand phrase for Russian internet market). You can download it free here.
What’s clear is that given the total Russian Federation population is around 143 million, there is plenty of growth left to be had when around 58 million people are online in a month. That means Russia is poised to overtake the German market any time soon, if it hasn’t already. That also does not include the Ukraine, which is Russian speaking, but is almost always additionally targeted by Russian Internet companies.
Meanwhile, here are a few quick factoids (figures are in Euros).
￼The Runet 2011
Monthly Users: 57.8 million
Daily Users: 44.3 million
Worth: €1.05 B in 2011
Dispaly ads: ￼€388.5 M display ads
Search ads: €639.1 M
￼Market growth 57%
Worth: €8 B in 2011
￼￼￼￼Market growth 30%
Airplane and train tickets alone: €2.16M
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 06:00 AM PDT
For the mobile game version of Pixar’s new movie Brave, Disney looked for help from the developers behind a big iOS hit — Imangi Studios, the creators of Temple Run.
Bart Decrem, the former Tapulous CEO who now runs Disney’s mobile division, says the company has already done its share of movie tie-in games on mobile, and they all followed a similar pattern — big downloads initially, followed by a rapid dropoff. His conclusion: “What we’ve done there hasn’t been big enough.”
Initially, Decrem says he wasn’t even planning to release a Brave game, because he didn’t want to do another mediocre movie tie-in, and there wasn’t enough time to do something better. Meanwhile, he’d become interested in Temple Run’s success, and it was the Imangi team that was excited about combining Temple Run and Brave.
The Disney mobile team brought a group tech journalists to Pixar headquarters last week to show off the game (as well as 30 minutes of Brave the movie, which looks fun, gorgeous, and more Disney-like than any of Pixar’s past films). If you’ve played Temple Run, the game mechanics will be pretty familiar — you run through the forest, jumping, sliding, and dodging around obstacles, while also grabbing coins. However, the setting has been changed from an ancient temple to the Scottish forest, and instead of playing an explorer being chased by evil monkeys, you take control of Brave’s protagonist Merida as she flees from the “demon bear” Mordu. There’s also a new archery feature, where you can fire your bow at targets for extra points as you run.
After Decrem’s talk about not thinking big enough, a reskinned version of an existing game may seem like a bit of a letdown — and indeed, that’s how I felt when I watched the Temple Run: Brave demo projected on the big Pixar screen. However, it’s a proven and quite addictive game mechanic. (Temple Run was the #1 free iOS app for a while, and it currently has 16 million daily active users) And when I tried the game out for myself, I became so absorbed in running and jumping that I actually dropped the iPad. (Yes, I’m a klutz.)
A couple of the filmmakers behind Brave also stopped by the presentation and said they’d worked to make sure the game’s look matched the movie — for example, co-director Steve Purcell teased production designer Steve Pilcher for his need to add mist to everything. (Purcell who has a history with games, having worked on several of LucasArts’ classic adventure titles, including Sam & Max Hit The Road, based on his own comics.)
Temple Run: Brave will cost 99 cents — that’s more than Temple Run, which is free, but Imangi co-founder Keith Shepherd says they view this as a “premium version” of the game, not a replacement.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 05:54 AM PDT
And here we go! Samsung announced late last night that the long-awaited Galaxy S III would hit five of the U.S.’s biggest carriers — Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and U.S. Cellular — this month.
Not long after Samsung’s initial announcement went out, many of the carriers in question jumped into the fray with their own announcements, so here’s a cheat sheet to stay on top of which carrier is doing what with the Galaxy S III.
Verizon: They’ll be taking pre-orders for the device starting on June 6, and were the first to reveal their pricing structure. The 16GB model will cost $199, while the 32GB model will set folks back $249, and it seems as though everyone else is following suit.
Sprint: The carrier will start selling the Galaxy S III on June 21, and pre-orders will begin on June 5 (i.e. tomorrow) for the truly ambitious. They’re sticking to the $199/$249 pricing structure as well, though there’s a bit of bad news if you’re looking to score a 32GB model — they’ll only be available online (for now, anyway).
T-Mobile: The magenta-hued carrier has announced that they will launch the Galaxy S III on June 21 like Sprint. No word on pre-orders or price, though I’d reckon the $199/$249 is pretty much a done deal across the board at this point.
AT&T: A teaser page for the Galaxy S III went up overnight for eager consumers to peruse, but they haven’t had much else to say on the topic just yet.
U.S. Cellular: Customers can pre-order their 16 or 32GB Galaxy S IIIs starting on June 12, but the country’s sixth largest carrier won’t actually be releasing the device until July.
Interestingly enough, it looks like T-Mobile’s version isn’t the only one to carry over the design seen on the international model — all of the press images that have trickled out today feature the tiny physical home button that has historically been axed from U.S. releases. Though the domestic and international models look very much alike (even down to the blue and white variants being released) the Galaxy S III had to have its internals swapped out before it makes its Stateside debut.
Like the HTC One X before it, the GSIII’s quad-core processor (in this case, the Exynos 4 Quad) has been replaced with a dual-core Snapdragon S4 chipset clocked at 1.5GHz. Samsung also notes that one of the devices packs support for HSPA+ 42, which means that T-Mobile’s variant will be left out of the LTE party as expected.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 05:00 AM PDT
Seattle-based Mobilisafe, a mobile security startup backed by $1.2 million in funding from Madrona Venture Group, Trilogy Equity Partnership and T-Venture, is exiting its private beta program and launching publicly today. The company’s cloud-based Mobile Risk Management (MRM) solution aims to help companies deal with the ever-increasing number of personal devices on corporate networks, but takes things a step beyond existing mobile device management solutions. In addition to its real-time assessment capabilities, it’s also aggregating and mining the data it collects to help its system become more predictive over time.
Co-founded by former T-Mobile software architects Giri Sreenivas and Dirk Sigurdson in 2010, Mobilisafe has paying customers from its beta period, but is not disclosing specific numbers right now. However, some customers who have provided testimonials for the startup’s website include Apptio, WildTangent, WinShuttle, and Cascadia Capital. Sreenivas tells us that there’s a wide range of businesses using the current beta, from SME’s all the way up to enterprises with tens of thousands of employees, including customers in high-tech, finance, legal and healthcare. (Originally, Mobilisafe was targeting SMB’s, so its notable that it already has expanded to support enterprise customers.)
Asked to explain why Mobilisafe is unique, given the plethora of mobile device management solutions on the market, Sreenivas said it’s the real-time mobile vulnerability assessments that this solution offers – something that’s addressing a “particularly acute customer problem,” he says.
“We make risk very specific by identifying exactly which vulnerabilities are applicable to specific devices employees are using,” he explains, “and we make this actionable with remediation and mitigation steps like enforcing access controls and requiring firmware updates.” The intelligence the company collects is done without on device agents, and involves a quick setup (10-15 minutes, the company claims).
Sreenivas stresses, too, that current MDM (mobile device management) solutions fail to address the vulnerability risk issue. In April, the company released the results of a 4-month study of its SMB customers’ aggregate data, and found that 71% of devices in the study had “high severity” operating system and application vulnerabilities, and a new one was being mapped to mobile devices every 1.6 days, on average. That’s 4x faster than in 2011, the company found. 38 different OS versions in the study contained high severity vulnerabilities, too.
With Mobilisafe’s product, businesses with BYOD programs can determine if firmware updates are available and then message employees with instructions on how to download them, if so. It can also help identify stale devices (those that have stopped syncing with the system for 30+ days), as it alerts about employees using new devices in real-time. Plus it includes the usual management tools, like blocking and wiping devices.
The company currently supports Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory integration, and will soon be announcing support for cloud-based Exchange as well as other enterprise applications.
Mobilisafe is priced by active mobile user (employees who use mobile devices to access corporate data) and offers two plans. A month-to-month plan is $5/user/month and the annual plan is $4/user/month. There are no other differences in terms of support, service levels or capabilities between the two plans. A free trial is here.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 04:44 AM PDT
Like an Airbnb but for events spaces, Eventup is announcing a $1.8 million seed round today, with financing led by Eric Lefkofsky’s Lightbank and followed on by NEA, Crosscut Ventures, New World Ventures and others including LA-based incubator Science.
While startups like Venuetastic have the bars part of the event venue equation down, EventUp has much wider eyes, eventually wanting to control the entire “events funnel.” The company monetizes by taking a 10% cut of each transaction.
“There is no one really doing what we do,” CEO Tony Adam tells me, “We’ve created a comprehensive marketplace of locations for people to book event space. From traditional locations like banquet halls to non traditional locations like art galleries and warehouses and unique locations like lofts, homes, or large estates. “
The startup now offers over 3,000 venues on its platform, covering LA, SF, NY, and most recently Chicago. Adam tells me that the company has plan to expand nationwide, and will use the funding in order to build a sales team that can tap into the $260+ billion dollar corporate market.
Venues are just the “tip of the spear” for Adam, and he hopes to add additional “Events” services such as DJs, Florists, and Photography to EventUp by the end of the year.
“We’ve taken a very broken and fragmented process that involves weeks of research by searching for locations for events across many different websites and slimmed it down into a discovery process that only takes a couple of minutes,” he says, “We’ve seen a major influx in inquiries both for social events, but it’s even more interesting that Corporate Events have led to larger booking volume than expected.”
You know, I’m really seeing dollar signs here (and I guess so did LightBank, etc). Interview with Adam below.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 04:10 AM PDT
Ross Levinsohn, the interim CEO of Yahoo, and members of his board have “stepped up” talks with Facebook to settle their patent dispute, according to AllThingsD, but that is not the end of legal wrangles for Levinsohn, it seems.
This week could see a decision on whether another case that names Levinsohn as a defendant will go to trial: an ongoing, messy suit filed by Kate Paley (daughter of CBS’s William Paley) accusing Radar Networks, makers of a social web app called Twine, Levinsohn and several other investors, and Evri, the company that bought Radar Networks, of fraud, breach of contract and 10 other things.
Paley had invested $5 million in Radar in 2007 and contends she didn’t get her just returns on that. Although the case has nothing to do with Yahoo, it’s an awkward situation to have Levinsohn named in an investor fraud case at a time when the Internet giant is looking for a fresh start and tackling much bigger issues it is facing as it loses online ad market share to Facebook and Google.
As background: Levinsohn was on the board and was an investor in Fuse Capital (formerly Velocity Interactive Group) which had invested in Radar Networks. Other investors included Steve Hall, MD of Vulcan Capital, and Nova Spivack. Paley believes these people have colluded to cheat her out of a return on her investment.
The defendants had a bit of a setback in February this year when they were denied a motion for summary adjudication. The defendants are now seeking a stay on the original suit by trying to claim bankruptcy for Radar Networks: that’s the case that is getting heard on June 8.
If that motion gets granted Paley’s case goes; if it is dimissed, Paley’s case goes to trial.
Paley’s lawyers say they have been trying to settle for a while now: “The parties have engaged in numerous settlement sessions, but no resolutions have been reached,” says Doug Colt, who represents Paley and her company, Word Diamonds, in the case (both are named as plaintiffs).
Since we first wrote about this case last year, Spivak himself published a response saying the case was without merit and spurious — this may have been at least part of the reason for being reluctant to settle.
There is a question of whether the fact that Levinsohn is now (interim) CEO of Yahoo will bring the defendants closer to settling the case before it gets any further.
However, a source a source familiar with the situation says the litigation strategy is “unlikely to change in this latest round.” In other words, the defendants don’t seem to see this case as any more than a nuisance at this point. (A kind of awkward one, all the same.)
We have reached out to both Spivack and Levinsohn for comment and will update as we learn more. For now, for your own perusal, here is the amended complaint and summary judgment order embedded below.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 03:35 AM PDT
Salesforce last week was reported to be close to buying Buddy Media, and today the company has confirmed it: it’s buying Buddy Media, the social media marketer, in a $689 million, cash-and-shares deal.
The news comes just weeks after enterprise services rival Oracle announced it would buy another social media marketing player, Virtue, for $300 million, and comes just days before Oracle is due to announce a new enterprise cloud computing strategy. That is due to happen on June 6, and to mark the occasion the company has pushed their outspoken and iconic CEO Larry Ellison on Twitter. (As yet, he’s been radio silent and will only officially start to tweet around the cloud announcement on June 6, Oracle’s twitter account says.)
Some have questioned whether Salesforce has made full use of its acquisition of Radian6 for $326 million, so people will be watching closely to see how Buddy Media is run: will it be given free reign to continue its business as usual or will there be some attempts to integrate the business into a wider offering?
Full release below.
Posted: 04 Jun 2012 02:59 AM PDT
Company culture is a huge competitive advantage: That’s why Zuckerberg obsesses over Facebook’s hackathons and why Yahooers “bleed purple.” Of course, anything that causes people to feel loyal to organizations that encompass thousands of people is a force to be reckoned with, right?
At Foursquare they name their conference rooms after Foursquare badges, like ‘Gossip Girl’ or (Yes!) ‘Wino.’ Twitter has so many projects named after birds that it’s built an internal Wiki in order to keep track of them all.
At TechCrunch we’ve gotten hung up on a “Sharks” metaphor lately; i.e. we’re a team of sharks that devours our prey (news, lol).
And Google, well, Google is kind of random — Aside from the “Smart Ass” ad relevancy system, Google tends to name its projects after animals, like Gmail was “Caribou” and Google Drive was “Duck.”
But not always. Google Plus was coined “Emerald Sea” after this Albert Bierstadt painting, with the metaphor being that if Google were to sit on its laurels and ignore Facebook’s rapidly encroaching advances, it would get swept up in an Emerald Sea much like the poor ship in the painting. Google Buzz was (inexplicably) called “Taco Town.”
Competitor companies at Google are code-named after locales, like Microsoft is Canada (because it once threatened it would move to Canada) and Aol is Hawaii (because founder Steve Case was born in Honolulu).
The coolest one I’ve heard? That Google’s Project Glass, its endeavor to build Minority Report-esque augmented reality glasses, is called ”Wingman,” because it’s meant to serve as your wingman as you navigate life. You know, like using its facial recognition technology to lookup any potential hookup partners on Facebook … I’M JUST KIDDING (But yeah, the future seriously has so much potential for sketchy).
Posted: 03 Jun 2012 09:20 PM PDT
If you’re following Foursquare on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that the check-in champions have been teasing the release of the “all new Foursquare” app for the last few days, dropping hints that it was coming soon to app stores near you.
Continuing to use the hashtag #allnew4sq, Foursquare last night dropped the news on Twitter that it will be releasing its big new redesign at some point next week. [Photos below.] Now, while that may seem like a ho-hum revelation for some, this is likely to be the culmination of a new direction for Foursquare.
That is to say, as Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley told Ingrid in March, though Foursquare has seen almost 2 billion check-ins and has added over 20 million users since launching in 2009, its users are turning away from the functionality which initially brought the startup so much attention: Check-ins.
Crowley said at the time:
Users are checking-in less, as the honeymoon has worn off. While Foursquare has added millions of users, many still don’t quite see the point of telling people where they are at all times. Foursquare leadership recognized this, and what we’re seeing now is a part of an ongoing transition for the company that’s really been brewing since the beginning of last year.
Foursquare looks to be de-emphasizing check-ins and going full-steam ahead, looking for new life as a recommendation engine. Not only that, but it’s been evolving as a more self-contained social network, passive location detection, adding bios to profile pages, a searchable timeline in a new history page, and restaurant recommendations.
Foursquare has been slowly (and sometimes in leaps and bounds) building its data set, learning the habits of its users, all as part of a quest to offer better recommendations, to help them find destinations that they’ll like — and just better explore their worlds. Oh, and check-in when they need to.
The word “Explore” is becoming a more important part of Foursquare’s lexicon, and as Anthony pointed out earlier this year, the company is increasingly encroaching on Yelp’s territory. (Just as Yelp added check-ins.) It seems to be moving to be a Yelp 2.0 with enhanced map functionality in its new version, allowing users to see what destinations are hot and leveraging its partnerships with sporting venues, concert halls, and movie theaters to make Google Maps more social.
Foursquare has been looking to move beyond the check-in for some time now, and it’s clearly betting that its new redesign will do just that. It remains to be seen if Yelp is losing ground to Foursquare and Google (with Google+ Local) — it’s still operating as at $960 million market cap. But, Foursquare is certainly becoming a more self-contained social network, and a lot of people are finding new reason to use the app now that it offers recommendations through “Explore.”
This could be a big moment for Foursquare, and an opportunity to set itself apart, especially if it has its eyes on an IPO down the road. As Business Insider points out, it may be in a position where it has to significantly improve on Yelp’s user experience if it hopes to outshine Yelp and raise big money along that onramp.
Improving recommendations so that they take your location into account, as well as your interest graph and time of day, along with a map and social experience that competes with Yelp, Foursquare 2.0 could be a whole lot more appealing.
We’ll find out this week.
Posted: 03 Jun 2012 09:01 PM PDT
Woofound, a Maryland-based startup aiming to match your personality to things you want to do, is today launching its iOS application nationwide. The app turns rating activities, places and restaurants into a simple, visual game in order to serve up highly personalized recommendations. You rate things by tapping or clicking “Me” or “Not Me” on the items suggested – it feels something like a “Hot or Not” for your interests, in fact.
In addition to today’s launch, the company is also announcing it has now raised over $1 million in funding, from private investors and angel sources.
The company declined to reveal details about its investors.
Woofound was created by co-founders Dan Sines (CEO) and Josh Spears in April 2011, after being sparked by an idea had when Josh was going on a blind date. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for friends to match up their interests based on common personality traits? (Well, without paying for an online dating service, that is.)
The company got its start in Baltimore, so a lot of its data about restaurants, nightlife, venues, activities, etc. is currently centered around the Baltimore and D.C. regions. However, the service is now going live in the top 70 major metros areas in the U.S. (For what it’s worth, in my hometown of Tampa, the app struggled to suggest any place or activity I wasn’t already familiar with. Your mileage may vary. And this should improve in time – plans to integrate Eventbrite and Eventful data are in the works.)
The game itself, though, is fun. You don’t feel like you’re training an AI (artificial intelligence) engine, even though that’s exactly what you’re doing. And the app’s design is simple and attractive.
The technology designed to match personality types was built in conjunction with psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Dr. Noreen Honeycutt, who has a private practice in Baltimore. The quiz itself may seem simple, but it can already identify over 300 different levels of personality and preferences. And while its initial use case is consumer-facing – finding things to do friends, see who’s attending events, share event details on social networks – the actual technology powering the app has other potential use cases beyond social.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), for example, will be releasing a second Woofound-powered app this fall which will help students identify their career paths, based on personality types. Woofound could also match roommates (like those sharing college dorms) or recommend products, at some point further down the road.
The startup is currently a team of fifteen based in Baltimore, and is planning to raise between $3 million and $5 million in its next round. (Soon-ish). The iOS app is available today, and the Android version will arrive this fall.
Posted: 03 Jun 2012 09:01 PM PDT
Launched just about a year ago, live streaming site TwitchTV has very quickly established itself as one of the top destinations for e-sports enthusiasts who want to broadcast their gaming sessions to the world. Pretty soon it’ll be even easier for TwitchTV users to broadcast their game sessions, as the company is announcing its first in-game integration. It’s also helping to groom some new competitive gamers, thanks to a scholarship that it is launching in partnership with Alienware and SteelSeries.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Paradox Interactive is announcing that upcoming game title The Showdown Effect will have TwitchTV built-in. That will let users instantly launch TwitchTV’s streaming dashboard from directly within the game, so they can start broadcasting their gameplay without jumping between applications. Paradox will be showing off the capability from TwitchTV’s booth at noon on Tuesday.
The Showdown Effect, which is slated for release in early 2013, is the first title to be announced with instant access to the TwitchTV platform, but if the e-sports streaming startup gets its way, it won’t be the last: TwitchTV is working with other games publishers on enabling even more direct integrations, which it hopes to announce later this year.
While it’s getting embedded in new games, TwitchTV is also hoping to grow the e-sports market by announcing a new scholarship to help competitive gamers improve their chops. It’s partnering with Dell’s Alienware and peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries on the scholarship, which will award $50,000 to five student gamers.
The 2012 TwitchTV and Alienware Scholarship committee will be made up of industry experts and will review applications based on students’ GPA, gaming prowess, and “passion for playing.” Applicants will need to submit their grade point average, show off their skills through in-game ranking, tournament history, or prizes that they’ve received, and submit an essay on what games mean to them, along with a video explaining why they should be considered for the scholarship.
TwitchTV will accept applications between June 5 and July 15, 2012, and will announce winners of the scholarship on August 15. For a list of requirements and to apply, interested gamers can go to www.twitch.tv/p/scholarship.
Finally, in addition to its own announcements, TwitchTV will have pretty comprehensive coverage of the annual gaming expo over the next several days, including live streams of announcements from video game publishers such as 2K Games, Ubisoft, Activision, SEGA, CAPCOM, and Electronic Arts.
Posted: 03 Jun 2012 07:07 PM PDT
Last October, Kimball Thomas and Davis Smith launched Baby.com.br with $4.4 million in backing from an impressive group of Silicon Valley and international investors, including Tiger Global Management, Monashees Capital, SV Angel, Felicis Ventures, Chamath Palihapitiya and Thrive Capital. For SV Angel and Felicis Ventures, this marked the first time that either firm had invested in a startup based in Brazil.
Why the interest from these top investors? Well, for starters, the co-founders had started PoolTables.com with $20K right out of college, were able to turn a profit in their first year, and, since they didn’t raise any outside funding, were able to sell it in early 2011 for what Smith says was “a nice little profit.” But, more importantly, it gave them experience with how to work with international investors (many of which were in China) and how to run an eCommerce site.
But, with Baby.com.br, they’re tackling what they think is a much bigger area of the eCommerce market in a country that’s just starting to see its Internet adoption and Internet-focused businesses take off: Brazil. Forrester, for example, forecasts that the eCommerce industry in Brazil will grow at 18 percent year-over-year, with total sales expected to reach $22 billion by 2016.
It also helps that Smith has been living in Latin America now, on and off, for 13 years. He and Thomas identified Brazil as an ideal setting to launch an eCommerce business based on skyrocketing Internet penetration, the dramatic increase in B2C eCommerces businesses popping up over the last year, and its sizable population (just under 200 million). While the co-founders knew that it was still early to be entering the nascent Brazilian eCommerce space, they still felt that the market was close enough to an inflection point that it was worth it. You have to remember, Davis says, nine years ago, only 8 percent of Brazilians used the Internet. Today, that number has jumped to about 50 percent. Now that’s hockey-stick growth.
After a trip last year to Rio de Janeiro last year, in which Thomas struggled to find diapers for his young son, spending hours in the car and visiting at least three stores before finding a place that sold the right size, the co-founders decided to focus on the online baby market. Smith tells us that they saw a Brazilian baby market that was fragmented and lacked a clear leader, while the demand was high among young parents and disposable income in the country, on the whole was (and is) on the rise.
But growing a business in Brazil is not without its hurdles, which is why, rather than add a whole new variable to the list, they decided to go with a business model they knew would work, and took to replicating the Diapers.com biz model for the Brazilian market. Thus, today Baby.com.br is a full-service eCommerce site that hawks all things babies — toys, strollers, diapers, furniture, etc.
While Thomas and Smith bootstrapped PoolTables.com, maxing out personal credit cards and taking out second mortgages, they knew the second time around that Baby.com.br would be a much more capital intensive business. After all, Diapers.com raised about $70 million in equity before it sold to Amazon last year for $545 million. So, the co-founders (and cousins) decided to focus on raising money from investors that could help them build a defensible business model in Brazil, no easy feat in spite of the growing national interest in eCommerce.
Through their investors, Smith and Thomas got in touch with Angelica, one of Brazil’s most popular celebrities — a former childhood TV star and singer, and the current host of a popular children’s show. Being a young mother herself, she joined the team as the Chief Mommy Officer, recommending products for moms and just generally being a brand evangelist. Her husband Luciano Huck, also a famous TV star in Brazil (who Smith describes as the Ashton Kutcher of Brazil), has also been active investing in startups, like Crunchies winner Peixe Urbano, for example.
Considering both are active on social media (Huck was the first Brazilian to pass 1 million followers on Twitter), Smith says that their mutual participation has been a boon for the startup, helping them increase conversion and jump to 750K followers on Facebook. Although the co-founders aren’t eager to share growth numbers for competitive reasons, they did say that, by their third month in operation, they were seeing one million visitors to the site per month, had shipped 1,000 orders in a single day, and have seen double digit growth every month since. As a result, they’ve grown from a small team to over 100 employees in about six months.
But, again, growing a business in Brazil even with celebrity endorsement isn’t easy. For years, the country dealt with crippling hyperinflation, which in turn destroyed a generation of entrepreneurs in Brazil, Smith says, and leaving not only entrepreneurs but workers and consumers extremely risk averse. As a result, it makes it challenging to compete for talent, and hire away from the big, established multinational companies in Brazil. Not to mention the fact that equity is, generally speaking a novel concept in Brazil, nor does being backed by names like “SV Angel” or Tiger Global — which would likely be recognized in the U.S.
The cost of skilled labor is high, and so are salaries. In the U.S., the payroll tax is about 15 percent, whereas in Brazil it’s closer to 70. Companies generally have to pay at least one meal a day for their employees, they have to pay for transportation, etc. So, while the worker protections built into national policy can make it a dream for the skilled laborer, it’s not exactly easy on the pockets of a startup, when they’re having to pay 100 to 120 percent on top of salary. “Plus, it’s nearly impossible to fire someone, and you can get sued for just about anything here,” Smith says.
So, startups attacking the Brazilian market have to inspire prospective employees with their belief and their mission, they have to be able to explain the value of equity, as well as be aggressive and creative in the ways the recruit talent. The latter, at least, should sound somewhat familiar to startups in the U.S.
Baby.com.br, for example, recently put together a website specifically for a recruit, in the hopes that it would capture his attention and begin a dialogue. You can see the site here. It worked. As can be seen in the ensuing conversation, Henrique was intrigued and a few days ago officially joined the startup.
While this strategy has proved successful for the startup, Smith admits that it’s become a lot easier to recruit talent now that they have some traction, celebrities, and VC backing. There’s still a lot of bureaucracy in the Brazilian system, and bootstrapping is almost impossible, but the opportunity make it worth it, he says, as Brazilians are ready to consume online.
In turn, Brazilians are adopting social media fast and furiously, and, again, while it’s still nascent, the team believes they can help create a new kind of eCommerce in the country, and are working on slowly introducing fCommerce and social commerce experiences into their own model and into the Brazilian lexicon.
It remains tough for young startups to find the traction they need to survive, but the ecosystem is growing and startup networks are beginning to take off, and so Smith and Thomas hope that plucky young entrepreneurs can learn from the Baby.com.br story and, in turn, capitalize on an emerging market.
For more on Baby.com, check ‘em out at home here.
Posted: 03 Jun 2012 03:33 PM PDT
Details are still just mainly technical, but Nintendo just took the wraps off the final version of the Wii U’s controller, now named Gamepad. This came during Nintendo’s somewhat surprising pre-E3 press conference. The controller itself looks somewhat similar to the prototype unit Nintendo unveiled at last year’s E3.
This pre-briefing speaks to the confidence of Nintendo. These sort of details are generally reserved for Nintendo’s big E3 event. It’s sort of brilliant, really. The last few years Microsoft has generally kicked off the festivities with the first major press conference of the show. But just a few days ago, Nintendo announced today’s online press conference, effectively stealing a bit of Microsoft’s E3 swagger with the announcement of the Wii U hardware prior to the start of the trade show.
Now that the Wii U hardware has been unveiled, Nintendo can spend even more time during its Tuesday morning press extravaganza showing off the games. Brilliant.
The Gamepad houses a pressure-sensitive touchscreen along with traditional buttons and directional pad. Nintendo also packed an NFC reader/writer and a gyroscope/accelerometer although the exact use cases have yet to be detailed for these goodies. The screen’s specs weren’t revealed but it seems to be the same 6.2-inch, 16:9 screen used in the original public concept. Price and availability were not announced.
Along with the Gamepad itself, Nintendo also took some time to detail a home theater remote app. This app provides users with a basic number pad and electronic programing guide, but also likely foreshadows a larger home theater announcement later this week.
Nintendo needs to have a good showing with the Wii U. The iPad, and the entire tablet movement for that matter, is eating away at Nintendo’s appeal while reconditioning gamers to think titles should only cost $1.99.
With the Wii U, Nintendo is attempting to merge the magic of the Wii’s motion gaming with the emergence of gaming on tablets. Even the Gamepad itself is some sort of unholy marriage of the old and new. Much like Apple, Nintendo has never been about the hardware. It’s all about the experience and those details will come.
Tune in Tuesday morning as we liveblog Nintendo’s E3 press conference. If today’s announcement is any indication, the event should be epic.
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