- Eruptive Games Takes $1M For Zombie Killing, Action-Adventure Social Games
- Betable Brings Legal Gambling Mechanics To Social Game Developers
- Microsoft VP: Windows 8 To Be Officially Released In “Late October”
- Playfire Acquired By European Games Retailer Green Man Gaming
- Pokki Releases Instagrille 2.0, An Updated Instagram Desktop App For Windows
- AT&T To Offer Exclusive Pink Lumia 900 Starting On July 15
- ThriveHive Raises $1.5 Million For Small Biz Marketing Subscription Service
- Ukrainian Students Develop Gloves That Translate Sign Language Into Speech
- NBCUniversal Ramps Up Film Exposure In China With Youku Premium Deal For 100 Films
- The Writer By Jaquet Droz: Getting to Know an Over 200 Year Old Android
- Reminder: #TCATL Is Kicking Off At 6pm Tonight
- Tripl, The Social Network For Travelers, Makes A Mini-Pivot With A Focus On Design
- Kayak’s IPO Moves Forward, Prices Shares At $22-$25
- Facebook’s App Center Goes International: Open To English-Speaking Countries; Translation Tool Added
- PE Firm Madison Dearborn Pays $100M For A Majority Stake In Cloud Video Company QuickPlay Media
- CampusLive Rebrands as Dailybreak, With $5 Million In New Funding And A New CEO
- AlienVault Grabs $22M From Kleiner, Sigma To Bring Open Source Security To Government, Higher Ed & More
- IT Outsourcing Consolidation: Freelancer.com Buys Scriptlance, Now Numbers 4M Users
- Report: Project Oscar, UK’s Multi-Carrier Mobile Payment JV, Could Get Regulator Nod This Summer
- Mind Candy Acquires Origami Blue Games Studio To Become Its Labs Arm
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 09:00 AM PDT
Eruptive Games, a Vancouver-based developer that’s shortly set to launch a zombie-killing game called Citizen Grim, just picked up $1 million in funding. Investors include Kevin Colleran, who was one of Facebook’s first 10 employees, Guitar Hero creator Kai Huang and Nadeem Kassam of Zynik. A Russian social game developer called Plarium is also putting funding in and will act as an adviser. Mayfield Fund’s Tim Chang is also an adviser.
Like Kixeye and Kabam, Eruptive isn’t targeting casual gamers, but rather more hard-core players. These types of games may not attract the sheer number of users that Zynga games might, but they can monetize far better because they attract a more selective audience that is more willing to pay for items in games.
Their forthcoming title Citizen Grim is an RPG arcade game. The plot is about a medical experiment that went wrong in 1945 in the Nevada desert. In the game, the U.S. government had been working on a solution to help fix military personnel who had come back from World War II. They ended up creating a facility to host all of their experiments called GRIM.
The town around the facility grew to the point where it ended up being 20,000 people. In the story, something with GRIM’s experiments goes terribly wrong and all 20,000 citizens turn into something like zombies. They’re called “reapers” in the game.
“You’re one of the last survivors and you have to fight yourself out of the town,” said chief executive Julian Ing. “That’s what makes it super fun.”
The company’s working with an unnamed publisher to bring it out soon. Then is should come out on mobile devices in September or October. Eruptive’s previous title Mercenaries of War hit a peak of 1 million players and monthly actives of about 500,000.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 09:00 AM PDT
Over the last several months, we’ve seen a slew of casino game launches from indie developers to the behemoth in the room, Zynga. The issue is that while it’s easy to create a casino-style game, it can be difficult to monetize one because of very fragmented and complicated regulations around online gambling globally.
Enter Betable, a social betting company that’s being reborn as a platform for social game developers to add real, working gambling mechanics to their games. It’s backed by an enviable slew of investors including Greylock, CrunchFund, Yuri Milner’s Start Fund, Founders Fund, True Ventures, Path co-founder Dave Morin, former Wikia CEO Gil Penchina, Delicious’ Josh Schachter, StockTwits’ Howard Lindzon and LOLApps former CEO Arjun Sethi. The company’s not disclosing the amount of funding for competitive reasons.
While Betable’s technology can’t work in the U.S., where online gambling is restricted, it can work in other countries like the U.K. Betable has gone through the trouble of obtaining the necessary licenses in big markets in Western Europe and parts of Asia. All told, the company’s chief executive Chris Griffin says those international markets make for a $32 billion online gambling market, compared to the current $3 billion social gaming market.
Betable’s platform identifies which players they can legally show gambling-like features to based on their location or jurisdiction. So a developer that integrates Betable shouldn’t be concerned with exposing gambling mechanics to U.S.-based players, for example.
He believes there’s a big opportunity because traditional gambling companies haven’t caught up with the last five years of development in the free-to-play and social gaming world. Some companies have stepped up, like Caesars, which acquired Slotomania-maker Playtika last year.
“They offer the same games people were playing 300 years ago,” Griffin said. “Game developers can bring creative new user interactions. It doesn’t have to be a slot machine, or blackjack. It can be anything that has an element of chance. It could be player-versus-player. It could be betting on real world events.”
The company’s in private alpha with 30 developers at the moment and they’re not disclosing the revenue share just yet.
One other benefit of gambling-style games is that they tend to monetize far better on a per user basis, bringing in $1,800 in customer lifetime value versus $2 for social games, Griffin said. Online gambling businesses may also face lower tax rates in the 15 percent range, compared to normal business taxes as international territories compete on having the loosest regulations to attract companies.
The issue for most developers is that it’s very painful to go through and get gambling licenses in all of these territories. The wait can be 18 months long, no matter how big a company you are or how much money you throw at lawyers and the problem.
Betable acquired all of its licenses during the original incarnation of the company, which Griffin called “a stock exchange for betting where the odds were user-generated.”
“We had the best lawyers, and even with all of these guys, it still took us two years to get our licenses,” he said. “Even if you execute perfectly, it’s probably still going to take you 18 months.”
In the process of getting those licenses, Griffin said he discovered this opportunity to be a platform for social games that integrate gambling. He pivoted, bought the old investors out and recapped the company.
How did Griffin buy his old investors out? “With a lot of skill,” he said, declining to reveal more. It’s worth noting that the company’s original lead Atomico Ventures, did not participate in this round. The company has offices in London and San Francisco.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 08:53 AM PDT
Microsoft kicked off its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto with a bit of a bang earlier today — during the event’s keynote address, Microsoft VP and Windows CFO Tami Reller revealed when manufacturers and consumers would be able to get their hands on Windows 8.
The long-awaited operating system is on track to be released to manufacturers in the first week of August, with a consumer launch slated for "late October."
Though it's nice to finally have an actual timeline for the Windows 8 release process, the particular launch window Microsoft announced isn't much of a surprise — rumors of an October launch have been swirling for a little while now.
That said, it isn’t without its shortcomings. With "general availability" set for October, Microsoft and its hardware partners will largely miss out on the lucrative back-to-school computer shopping season that kicks off late in the summer and generally runs through September.
It's not a complete loss though, as Microsoft has been busy covering its bases. The company revealed its Windows Upgrade Offer back in June, under which customers who purchase Windows 7 PCs between June 2, 2012 and January 31, 2013 will be able to upgrade to the new operating system for a scant $15. What's more, Microsoft last week has said that users on XP, Vista, or 7 will be able to purchase the Windows 8 upgrade for $40 once October rolls around in an attempt to simplify the transition.
Sure, it's not the same as actually having Windows 8 PCs on store shelves and displays waiting to be played with (especially when Macs seem to be popular among the back-to-school crowd), but it's far better than nothing.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 08:39 AM PDT
Longtime UK gaming community startup Playfire has been acquired by Green Man Gaming, an independent games retailer in Europe. Terms were undisclosed, however sources tell us that it “was a good deal for shareholders” and provides for more upside in the future, based on performance.
Founded in 2007, Playfire now has amassed more than 1m gamers which allows members to track their gameplay, see what their friends are playing, and follow new games. When gamers sign up, the service automatically captures real-time data from their gaming accounts across PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms and sends it into the service. In many ways it pre-dated the kinds of activity we see across Twitter and Facebook apps. Playfire says it now has almost 100 million individual pieces of data and insights into the buying and playing habits of core gamers worldwide.
A social network designed entirely for console and desktop video gamers, Playfire launched in 2008 and had raised $3.1 million from Atomico and angels including Michael Birch and William Reeve.
Founder Kieran O'Neill will only be staying on in a consultancy role, but retains a “significant stake” in the company. GMG will be integrating its existing retail customers and Payfire users close together to reach around 1.5m gamers.
Kieran O'Neill, Founder, Playfire, said: “The deal will give us the chance to expand and improve Playfire, while being able to capitalize on the large community we have built. There are so many things we want to do in 2012 and this deal will allow us to execute faster.”
Paul Sulyok, Managing Director, Green Man Gaming, added: "We've grown Green Man Gaming organically since selling our first PC download in 2010, and the merger with Playfire is a sound fit that deepens our relationship with gamers and prepares the business for its next stage of growth. Playfire's powerful community strengthens our current position in the PC games space, and also offers us an ideal entry point into the console market.”
The move strengthens Green Man Gaming’s existing PC games retail business which services 155 countries and gives it access to the lucrative console space for the first time.
Playfire was originally founded by O'Neill, Seb Hayes and Ben Phillips.
However, this acquisition is not quite the home-run one might have expected from Playfire. It’s main competitor, Raptr, raised raised $27 million in funding, and is the only other company with a similar product to Playfire. Despite raising ten times more cash, Playfire was bigger than Raptr, according to Compete. Plus, Raptr didn’t have full PS3 tracking. So it’s something of a mystery why Playfire couldn’t raise more cash or go further. Perhaps founders and backers wanted to move on?
Certainly O'Neill is known to be one of the Uk’s best tech entrepreneurs, so perhaps he and his cohorts have a new plan up their sleeves? Let’s hope so.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 08:00 AM PDT
Sweetlabs, a four year-old, Google Ventures-backed startup, is releasing Instagrille 2.0, a "completely revamped" version of its current application, today on its Pokki app platform. The new app gives users features not seen on Instagram's iOS or Android apps, such as the ability to browse photos "Nearby" and download their favorite pictures.
While he wouldn't disclose exact numbers, Chester Ng, co-founder of Sweetlabs, tells us Instagrille is in the top 10 in the "millions of downloads of Pokki apps."
"People love this app," he tells us. "And that's the original version. We think people are really going to love this new one"
The original Instagrille app was created by Denys Denysiuk, a 22-year old recent graduate from Vinnytsia National Technical University in Ukraine. Denysiuk's Instagrille placed third in a Sweetlabs contest; the company then acquired Instagrille to take it to develop it further.
The redesign is much more aesthetically pleasing and cleaner, with bigger photos, cleaner menus, integrated social sharing, liking and commenting. The major shortcoming of the app is still the inability to upload photos, which Ng says is due to Instagram's API; he says they will be "first in line" if Instagram lifts this restriction.
Ng says Sweetlabs isn't worried about Instagram building a desktop app, citing the "Twitter ecosystem" of popular, third-party apps like Tweetdeck and Tweetie.
The app is currently only available for Windows, although Ng said he has seen a "sweet" Mac version in the labs that will be released in the coming months. Instagrille's main competitor, Carousel, is a $1.99 app for Mac.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 07:38 AM PDT
If you thought the standard black, white, and cyan Lumia 900s just weren’t eye-catching enough, you may want to keep your schedule clear this Sunday.
Nokia confirmed earlier this year that they would spice up their flagship Lumia 900 line with a splash of magenta, but at the time they were awfully coy about when the device would actually ship. That’s thankfully no longer the case — according to a new post on the Nokia Conversations blog, AT&T will begin taking orders for the rosy Lumia 900 starting on July 15.
It’s a nice enough gesture I suppose, and there’s no such thing as too many choices, but let’s not forget what’s going to be released this fall. Windows Phone 8 is right around the corner and locking into a contract for a pretty new Lumia 900 means missing out on nearly all of the fun.
It seems like Nokia is trying to push as much Lumia 900 hardware out the door as they can at this point, though I’m curious how consumers will feel after Nokia and Microsoft start shifting their attention to their slew of next generation Windows Phones in just a few months. Oh, and in case you were curious, there’s no word yet on if the AT&T-exclusive color variant will see an international release.
Speaking on AT&T, they’re on quite an exclusive color kick this summer. In addition to the pink Lumia, the carrier will also be offering a red Galaxy S III at some point before the days grow short again, though they've yet to announce when rabid Samsung fans will be able to snag one.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 07:32 AM PDT
ThriveHive, a new marketing platform for small businesses, is today announcing it has closed $1.5 million in seed funding in a round which included MIT Professor Ed Roberts, Mitch Roberts and Jean Hammond, as well as seed stage venture capital group Founder Collective, The Birchaven Group, and IBCC, among others. The company, founded by two former small business owners who know the pains of SMB marketing firsthand, offers companies a customized marketing plan which includes a combination of best practices and data aggregated from its online platform, allowing businesses to compare themselves with their peers and then act accordingly on that information.
The Cambridge-based startup was founded by Max Faingezicht (CEO) and Adam Blake (COO), both of whom were formerly students together at MIT before receiving their MBAs and heading off to start their own businesses. Faingezicht also worked at Amazon in product marketing and strategy. ThriveHive’s third co-founder, Maria Battaglia, is also a former marketing exec whose experience includes time at Monster.com, NBC, IBM, and OnForce.
“We think we have a disruptive approach to local business marketing which, in our perspective, is completely broken,” says Faingezicht. “If you’re a local business owner, you’re passionate about what you do whether it’s being a yoga instructor, martial arts instructor or chiropractor…but getting customers is very hard and painful,” he says. “There’s email providers, there’s social media providers – there’s every type of point solution out there trying to sell to these guys.”
The problem with these providers, explains Faingezicht, is that they’re a “one size fits all” type of solution. He doesn’t think that works for small businesses. “Every local business is unique and their marketing should be unique,” he says. So at ThriveHive, they’re answering small biz owners’ top two questions: what should I do for my marketing and how do I execute on it?
To answer those questions, ThriveHive walks the business owners through a short assessment, which asks questions like “how many customers do you have?”, “how many employees?,” “where’s your location?,” etc. It then combines those responses with its in-house marketing expertise as well as the aggregate data collected from all the customers ThriveHive serves. The data helps ThriveHive put together a very specific plan for the small business. Each month, the customer is asked to complete just a few steps before moving on, which would be things like “get the website optimized for SEO,” or “set up AdWords” for example.
Faingezicht points out that ThriveHive isn’t motivated by pushing one service over another here, because it’s only generating revenue from the SMB’s monthly subscription fee ($99/month and up). This is different from a service like Yodle, which he says is biased. “The more you spend, the more money they make,” he says of Yodle. “There’s not a clear pricing model…if we think what’s best for your company is to do AdWords, we’ll tell you to do AdWords. If it’s postcards, we’ll tell you to do postcards. If it’s Groupon or social media, that’s what we’re going to suggest.”
At its core, ThriveHive is an integration play. Under its roof, it combines services like ConstantContact, Twilio’s tracked phone lines, Click2Mail, Facebook and Twitter, as well as in-house developments like web analytics and a contact manager, and asks its business customers to set up each one step-by-step. For $199/month, customers can also receive a 1-hour monthly consultation for additional support on this or for $699/month, they can receive full AdWords management.
ThriveHive just exited from its beta at the beginning of the year, and while it won’t disclose the number of customers, they did mention a couple of case studies of interest. In one, a local martial arts studio on the brink of going out of business signed up and, in a few months time, increased its revenue by over 80% and is now generating a profit. Another restaurant on the service began doing well enough that it’s now considering franchising.
With the seed financing, ThriveHive is going to focus on customer acquisition and will be hiring for positions in sales, customer service, web development and account management.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 07:30 AM PDT
There is no dearth of impressive student projects here at the finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in Sydney, but one of the six finalists that caught my attention was a project called EnableTalk by the Ukrainian team QuadSquad. There are currently about 40 million deaf, mute and deaf-mute people and many of them use sign language to communicate, but there are very few people who actually understand sign language. Using gloves fitted with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers (as well as some solar cells to increase battery life) the EnableTalk team has built a system that can translate sign language into text and then into spoken words using a text-to-speech engine. The whole system then connects to a smartphone over Bluetooth.
The team has built a number of prototypes and tested them with sign language-users in the Ukraine. The idea for the project, said team member Osika Maxim, came from interacting with hearing-impaired athletes at the groups’ school.
The few existing projects that come close to what EnableTalk is proposing generally cost around $1,200 and usually have fewer sensors, use wired connections and don’t come with an integrated software solution. EnableTalk, on the other hand, says that the hardware for its prototypes costs somewhere around $75 per device.
Besides the cost, though, another feature that makes this project so interesting is that users can teach the system new gestures and modify those that the team plans to ship in a library of standard gestures. Given the high degree of variation among sign languages, which also has regional dialects just like spoken language, this will be a welcome feature for users.
This being a Microsoft competition, the system obviously mostly uses Microsoft technology, but as the EnableTalk team pointed out, Windows Phone 7 doesn’t allow developers access to the Bluetooth stack, the current version actually runs on Windows Mobile, the predecessor to Windows Phone that even most people at Microsoft would rather not think about anymore.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 07:25 AM PDT
NBCUniversal continues to ramp up international streaming deals as a way of getting its content in a non-pirated (read: revenue-generating) format out to the masses. Today, the media company is making a key move into China in a multi-year licensing deal with Youku, the country’s biggest online video player with 300 million monthly viewers, to provide a rolling selection of 100 feature films as part of Youku’s premium paid content service.
The deal is also a sign of how Youku is expanding its catalog with more non-Chinese content: it will see blockbusters like Schindler’s List, Apollo 13, as well as the Jurassic Park and The Mummy series offered as video-on-demand films become offerings on Youku Premium; along with more edgy films like Being John Malkovich, Trainspotting and The Big Lebowski; as well as future releases. Youku, when merged with its rival Tudou, will control some 49 percent of the online video market in China, with the next-nearest rival, Xunlei, at only 11 percent.
In the case of new releases, it looks like the deal will not be jumping on any cinematic windows: upcoming films like Battleship and Snow White & The Huntsman will only appear “after their China theatrical releases,” the company says.
The move is an expansion of Youku’s own premium content offerings, to complement the lower-budget user-generated content and other material that forms the mainstay of its site. Other licensing deals that have been signed for Youku Premium include partnerships with Disney, Paramount, Dreamworks, Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox.
“Youku has been steadily broadening and deepening our partnerships with Chinese and international studios,” said Huilong Zhu, Youku’s vice president of movie operations and corporate development, said in a statement. “Our new agreement with NBCUniversal is one more step forward towards our goal of offering the highest quality content.”
While this may not be a major cash spinner for NBC in the early days, it’s an important move for the broadcaster to continue to provide ways to consume its content that are not illegal: some believe that one of the key causes of content piracy has been the inability to get the content through legal means.
The Motion Picture Association of America recently told Variety that currently in China, box office sales account for 90 percent of all film revenues in the country compared to just 30 percent in the U.S. The MPAA takes this as a sign of how little of that film content is legitimately monetized when it is distributed beyond the silver screen.
For now, it looks like this deal will only cover feature-length films, although NBCUniversal’s International Television Distribution division, which brokered the deal, also controls some 75,000 TV episodes in addition to 4,000 films — so depending on how the films get consumed, we may see more content coming to the Youku platform in the future.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 07:19 AM PDT
Europe in the mid to late 18th century was not as backwards as some people may believe. In fact, much of the developed world was at a point of incredible intellectual advancement. In Switzerland, for example, a man named Jaquet Droz and his team were building real, honest-to-HAL robots. They didn’t call them that back then, but these automaton androids were incredibly advanced even by today’s standards.
Most of them were built to dazzle the incredibly rich who would then fork over money and commission their creators to build more such splendid automated objects. Though highly advanced androids such as Jaquet Droz’s “The Writer” were not for sale – as they only existed to tease kings and high lords, many made their way into private collections and one has been reanimated for the first time in Switzerland by the Swatch Group.
The Writer, shown above, is a fully mechanical little boy who sits at a desk and writes out complete phrases using a quill and ink. It was the inspiration for the machine in the movie Hugo. The head and eyes even move with the writing hand and, although in operation the machine sounds a bit like a typewriter, it’s an amazing feat of mechanical design. Two other existing Jaquet Droz automatons are called The Draftsman and The Pianist. They are on display in Switzerland and even at over 200 years old they still impress.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 07:09 AM PDT
We’re live in Hotlanta tonight from 6pm to 10pm at Sweetwater Brewery. We have over a thousand RSVPs and we want you guys to beat NYC in terms of turn-out and energy, so head over here to RSVP and bring your best elevator pitch.
What can you expect? A scrum of entrepreneurs and three beleaguered TC writers, so be brief, be forceful, and be bold. We’re here to hang out and talk startups, so have a 30-second pitch at the ready and find us early, before we’re full of excellent BBQ. Tweet pictures and comments with the hashtag #TCATL.
Special thanks to CodeGuard and all of the great sponsors who made this event happen.
We want to hear from everyone but if we miss you please email us at email@example.com with the subject like ATLANTA ROCKS.
Here’s the rest of the program:
Special thanks to Packard Place for hosting the event.
Greenville is happening on July 12th at 411 University Ridge. RSVP here.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 06:54 AM PDT
Tripl, a new social startup that launched back in December of 2011, has just undergone a mini-pivot (if you will). The service once tried to link friends (and friends of friends) who might be traveling (or living) in the same area, but after a stay at the DreamIt accelerator in New York, the company has refocused a bit. Instead of trying to connect people, Tripl now builds a beautiful infographic of you and your friends’ travel history, complete with fun facts, imagery, and maps.
By combining information from your social networks, including Facebook and foursquare, Tripl builds out a comprehensive beautiful picture of where you’re going, where you’ve been, who you travel with, and throws in a few images to boot. But on top of that, you still have the option of keeping up with your friends’ whereabouts, too.
A section of the site offers up a travel log for your friends, with mini blurbs about where they’re headed coupled with pictures and/or maps. From there, you can “love” their travel plans, or make a comment, possibly trying to connect.
Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that the last thing we need is another social network, but there really isn’t a go-to way to keep up with friends’ travel. Sure, you might notice it on Facebook or foursquare, but the idea behind Tripl is that you now have a direct line to this type of information, rather than haphazardly stumbling upon it.
As part of the pivot, Tripl is working hard to scale features in the right way. That said, the ability to post upcoming trips has been suspended, but will return shortly and it’ll look better than ever. The team is also working on pulling from other networks, like Instagram, and has plans to launch an iOS app in the coming weeks.Click to view slideshow.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 06:21 AM PDT
Kayak’s perpetually-delayed IPO finally moved forward today, as the company has officially announced it has priced its shares between $22 and $25, and will begin trading on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “KYAK.”
In the most recent SEC filing, the company said it’s going to offer 3.5 million shares, in a deal led by Morgan Stanley – Stanley’s first since the Facebook IPO. Other banks participating include Deutsche Bank, Piper Jaffray, Stifel Nicolaus and Pacific Crest.
The IPO will be for Class A shares, and all shares issued prior to the IPO will be converted to Class B. In the March quarter, Kayak had revenue of $73.3 million, up 39% from $52.7 million in the same quarter last year. Net income was $4.1 million, or 11 cents per share.
The Kayak IPO has been a long time coming. IPO docs were first filed in November 2010. But as reported in September 2011, the company shelved its plans for the IPO until market conditions improved. Depending on whom you ask, that may have meant either waiting until the IPO market stabilized or until the company’s erratic earnings did. (Or likely, both). In March, the company reported 2011 revenue was up 32% to $225 million and net income was up 21%, again fueling chatter about when the IPO would materialize.
Kayak says it has now processed over 310 million user queries for travel info, growth of over 45% over the three months ending in March 31. Meanwhile, Kayak’s mobile apps have been downloaded over 15 million times since their debut in March 2009. During the past quarter, those apps were downloaded 3 million times, or 43% growth over the same time last year. Kayak now has 185 employees, and websites in the U.S. and 15 other countries.
Since the time of its original filing, Kayak has been focused on product advancements, and launched a redesigned iPad app, updated its website’s UI, creating a more universal consumer experience across web, mobile and apps, and it launched direct booking for flights. It also hit a few stumbles, such as when its first-ever CFO Willard (Bill) Smith, who joined in May of 2011 to help Kayak move towards an IPO, left the company for a competitor.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 06:17 AM PDT
Last week we got a little clue that Facebook was gearing up to take its App Center to markets outside the U.S., when it began to appear in the UK. As of today, it’s official: Facebook has now extended the App Center to Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, with Brazil, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey coming in following weeks. And in a nod to making the platform more accessible to developers from around the world, it’s also introducing a translation tool.
The App Center was first launched in June in the U.S. as a way to help discover new apps, with personalized recommendations, and for people to get apps specifically for mobile devices. Quickly ramping up the service to cover Facebook’s users outside of the U.S. is a crucial step. Users outside of the U.S. and Canada make up more than 80 percent of Facebook’s user base; it will help it increase time spent on the site by all users; and it will also make the App Center a more attractive marketplace for those developers hungry for a wider audience for their apps.
The development will mean that Facebook users in these markets will now get an App Center bookmark on the left side of their home page on Facebook.com and in the Facebook apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Facebook also used the announcement for some updated details on how well the App Center has performed since launching: “millions” of people have used it to find new apps. Games developer Kixeye says that average revenues per user on War Commander and Battle Pirates are higher for those downloading through the App Center; Disney reports that users of Marvel: Avengers Alliance are also more “engaged” when they download via the App Center.
The move to make the storefront more international is not just a reflection of Facebook’s user base, but also of the developers feeding into it: Diamond Dash comes from Wooga in Germany and Bubble Witch Saga from King.com in the UK. Halfbrick, Rovio, Soundcloud, Spotify and Deezer are also popular app publishers from outside the U.S.
Now Facebook is trying to bring all of this together in a more cohesive way: not only will the translations function to offer international developers a chance to port their apps to English speakers, but also to give English-language apps a crack at the new international markets where the App Center is rolling out in the coming weeks.
In a blog post, Facebook App Center exec Drew Hoskins notes that along with the ability to translate apps, there will also be more localization tools incorporated into the platform. Developers will be able to select a primary language or their app, but also secondary languages; when the app is accessed through the App Center in another country whose language has been flagged as “secondary” by the developer, the app will appear in that language. Hoskins notes that translated content will be reviewed before an app is listed in an App Center category to ensure that it meets the guidelines.
Hoskins says that apps that want first priority consideration for those new App Center stores must be submitted by Friday the 13th of July.
To date, Facebook says that 230 million people are playing games on Facebook every month; more than 130 games have more than 1 million monthly active users. There is also increasing traffic from iOS and Android apps into Facebook’s platform: 7 of the top 10 grossing iOS games, and 6 of the top 10 Android games, have integrated into Facebook, the company says.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Cloud video services company QuickPlay Media is announcing today that Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners will be paying about $100 million to take a majority stake in the company. With the deal, Madison Dearborn has essentially bought out QuickPlay Media’s previous investors, which include General Catalyst, Ventures West, J.L Albright, and Up Capital.
With the close of the deal, Madison Dearborn and QuickPlay employees will own pretty much the entire company, with a small number of minority shareholders retaining a stake, including Toronto-based Difference Capital. Prior to the sale, QuickPlay Media had raised a total of $43 million, CEO Wayne Purboo told me.
The deal goes beyond just creating liquidity for investors in the eight-year old company. Madison Dearborn has also committed to continue investing in QuickPlay Media’s growth, particularly as it looks to expand internationally. The Toronto-based company has built a cloud platform for distribution of video content online, as well as to mobile devices and connected TVs, that’s already being used by some major distributors in North America.
“We’re still growing at an accelerating clip, and we needed additional working capital to fuel that growth,” Purboo said.
It claims more than 300 different devices that its customers can publish to from the platform, and manages more than 1.5 million media assets from 3,000 different content providers. Clients include AT&T U-verse and Verizon in the U.S., as well as Bell and Rogers Communications in Canada. RIM and Samsung also count as customers.
Last Summer, QuickPlay acquired the network operations center assets of Qualcomm’s now-defunct FLO TV mobile video service, to help deploy live multiscreen TV services in the U.S. But while many operators here already have TV Everywhere services well underway, QuickPlay Media sees more of a greenfield opportunity for multiplatform video services overseas.
The company now has a total of 200 employees, with offices in Toronto and San Diego. But it’s got aggressive international expansion plans ahead, according to Purboo. That likely means a European headquarters and sales offices throughout the region. It’s already got one customer in Hong Kong and is also looking at Singapore as a potential headquarters for Asia/Pac.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT
CampusLive was founded in 2008, primarily to provide brands with a way to engage with notoriously fickle college students. To do so, it offers up a platform to create and distribute challenges, which users compete to rack up points and win prizes. Those challenges can take place on any brand website, Facebook page, or its own site, and have proven pretty popular with the college crowd, with its users completing 20 challenges a month on average.
But the company found that it wasn’t just the college audience which was taking a part in those games — it was also getting interest from adults and students outside of college, and seeing return visits from users after they graduated. With that in mind, it is going live with a new website and brand at Dailybreak.com, hoping to expand its challenges to a broader set of demographics. In addition to the college audience it already serves, Dailybreak will also go after moms, young professionals, and even high-school students. It’s also expanded its addressable audience with a whole new set of publishing partners, which give it access to more than 10 million unique users a month.
Dailybreak has also raised a new round of funding to support its expansion. Dailybreak has raised $5 million in a round led by GSV Capital, which also included participation from existing investors Highland Capital and Charles River Ventures. Altogether, it’s raised a total of $8.1 million, including a round raised last spring. The new funding will allow Boston-based Dailybreak to expand its sales team to grow with the new set of audiences its targeting.
To lead its expansion, Dailybreak has appointed John Federman as its new CEO. Federman’s helped build and sell a number of companies in his 25 years in media and marketing. Most recently he served as CEO of Searchandise Commerce, which was acquired by RichRelevance late last year. Before that he was the CEO of eStara, which was acquired by Art Technology Group (ATG) in 2006. He was also co-founder and CEO of addressable ad firm Dotomi. CampusLive founder Boris Revsin will remain at the company, and will serve as EVP of Business Development and Strategy.
After tackling the college demographic, which Federman said is usually the most cynical audience out there, the company decided, why not target other users? That’s especially true, given he believes that the company will be able to expand to other demographics in part because it’s serving up challenges to users not in college already.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 05:47 AM PDT
Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of high profile hacks and cyber attacks and, as a result, both government and enterprise finally began making security a priority and addressing it from the top down. As a result, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the security market. AlienVault, a California and Madrid-based startup that provides unified management of critical security systems across networks, like threat detection, vulnerability assessment, and security intelligence, has been among those to benefit from the market growth. Its flagship product, the open-source OSSIM, is one of the most widely-deployed SIEM solutions on the market.
In January, the startup’s growth enabled it to steal seven senior security executives away from HP and secure $8 million in series B financing from Trident Capital and others. Today, the cyber security startup is adding another big chunk of change to its coffers, announcing that it has closed a $22.4 million series C round, led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and Sigma Partners.
As a result of its series C raise, KPCB managing partner Ted Schlein will be joining the startup’s board. Schlein is a veteran investor in the security space, having backed Fortify Software and ArcSight (both bought by HP), ISS, Mandiant, Shape, and others. The KPCB Managing Director joins a board that includes former Fortify CEO John Jack as well as the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.
With high-ranking generals (literally) on board and a new HP executive team, AlienVault clearly isn’t messing around and will be using its new capital to expand sales, marketing and R&D to position itself as one of the chief players in the global market. Which, by the way, is growing fast as demand increases for cost-effective unified security management solutions. Investment banking and asset management firm William Blair & Co. estimates that the SIEM market is growing at 21.9 percent CAGR and is on track to surpass $2.3 billion by 2014.
Since we caught up with the AlienVault team in January, the startup has added 60 new customers and is now working with over 300 companies and governments, including Telefonica, Metro Madrid, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, and the city of Los Angeles.
AlienVault CEO Barmak Meftah tells us that the startup doubled revenue in the first half of 2012, thanks to a 50 percent-plus upsell rate for its existing customers. The startup has also attracted attention after creating what it believes to be the largest community-sourced threat intelligence feed and database, the AlienVault Open Threat Exchange, which automatically aggregates and publishes threat data streaming in from a range of security devices, like firewalls, proxy servers, web servers, anti-virus systems, etc.
Find AlienVault at home here.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 05:44 AM PDT
A bit of consolidation in the world of online IT outsourcing: Freelancer.com has bought one of its competitors, Canada’s Scriptlance, in an all-cash deal to spearhead its move into the country and expand its global footprint in other new markets. Prior to the acquisition, Scriptlance had been the fifth largest freelance marketplace in the world; adding its 360,000 users to Freelance.com now brings the total number of enterprise and professional users on the main site to 4 million.
Freelancer.com says that to date it has seen 2.3 million projects posted on its site covering areas like website design, graphic design, copywriting and SEO. But as the market for outsourcing has grown, and the economy has continued to remain tight, other skillsets have also entered the mix. These include astrophysics, aerospace engineering, biotechnology, manufacturing and industrial design.
Other financial details of the transaction were not disclosed, but in the deal Freelancer is getting not just a rival IT outsourcing company with global reach — some 600,000 projects across 244 countries, with $43 million paid out to freelancers in that time — but also some IP and customers in the area of crowdfunding.
Scriptlance’s founder and chief exec, René Trescases, developed Scriptlance’s crowdfunding platform himself — one of the world’s first, the company claims — and one recent project saw users putting money into buying equipment for a computer learning centre in India; the project, Scriptlance says, tripled its target in goal within 24 hours. Matt Barrie, the CEO of Freelancer.com tells me that this will be incorporated into Freelancer’s existing crowdfunding business — a small but healthy part of its overall revenue mix.
He also adds that Trescases is not staying on post-acquisition and is “moving on to other things.” The rest of the team – including half a dozen people in India — will join Freelancer.com.
“We are tremendously excited to acquire Scriptlance, which is truly one of the great trailblazers and most widely recognised brands in the online outsourcing industry,” said Barrie in a separate statement. “Today we launch in Canada, and we couldn't think of a better way to announce this than by buying one of Canada's top technology websites.”
The acquisition follows several others that Freelancer.com has made since being founded in 2009 to expand into new territories.
The web properties now owned by Freelancer.com include GetAFreelancer (Sweden); LimeExchange (United States); Freelancer.co.uk (United Kingdom); Freelancer.de Booking Center (Germany); Freelancer.com.au (Australia) and Freelancer Hong Kong (China), as well as the Freemarket.com virtual content marketplace (United States) and the Webmaster Talk (United States) forums.
Freelancer.com claims that these user numbers make it almost double the size of its closest competitor. Today people can hire out their services in some 11 currencies, with particular popularity in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, home to highly skilled IT workers in countries short in on-the-ground jobs.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 03:30 AM PDT
Orange, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica’s O2 are all pushing ahead on their own mobile payment services, but in a bid to outpace companies like Apple and Google that may disintermediate them completely, these carriers are also working together. Now, a carrier JV in the UK, code-named Project Oscar, which would create a common mobile payments platform for all of them, is apparently nearing the final stages of regulatory approval.
The FT, citing two separate sources, notes that the okay could come this summer from antitrust regulators, with “few or no remedies” required for the approval. This is a turn of events, considering that the project has already been delayed by regulators a couple of times, scuppering plans to have the service ready by the Olympics in London this summer. Subsequently, carriers are beginning to prepare for a launch of the platform that would enable retailers, banks and others to link into the service to give it the kind of scale that many believe mobile payments will need if they are to succeed as a consumer service.
We have contacted the carriers for a comment on the story and the joint response has been a universal no comment: “Everything Everywhere [itself a JV for T-Mobile and Orange in the UK], Telefonica UK and Vodafone UK cannot comment on rumour or speculation regarding discussions with the EC concerning their proposed m-commerce joint venture,” a spokesperson told me.
Up to now, the party standing most in the way of Project Oscar, first announced over a year ago, has been Hutchison Whampoa-owned Three, the smallest of the mobile carriers in the UK. Three says that it has been shut out of the process of creating the platform, and all further developments since it has been announced. On the side of the bigger carriers, they have never ruled out offering the platform to other mobile service providers — but haven’t spelled out how that would work, either.
The significance of Project Oscar is that it does not appear to preclude the development of any operator-specific mobile payment services. Those individual developments have covered not just point of sale services, but also those for payments within apps. Among them, Vodafone is working with Visa, Deutsche Telekom has signed an agreement with MasterCard; France Telecom is driving hard on NFC on SIMs; and Telefonica, which has a strategic investment in Boku, just last week announced it would be enabling carrier billing for content from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and RIM’s app store.
The idea with Oscar, however, is that by creating a platform where individual services can interoperate, the prospect for merchants and payment providers of investing in making their products mobile-purchase-friendly will become significantly more attractive — and subsequently consumers will be more likely to use them, too. Or so the thinking goes.
Since announcing the JV in June 2011, the project has been in limbo while getting investigated by the European Commission’s antitrust authority. The report in the FT seems to be based on initial positive feedback.
Posted: 09 Jul 2012 03:10 AM PDT
Mind Candy, the company behind the successful Moshi Monsters online kids game and character franchise, has acquired a games studio, Origami Blue, to power a new initiative being dubbed 'Candy Labs'. The move marks another twist to the Mind Candy playbook which has seen it develop into comic books, music and toys. The team joins as full-time Mind Candy employees.
‘Candy Labs’ will be an R&D studio to spin up new ideas around entertainment for children, as is Mind Candy’s focus, though they are keen to stress than some will be digital and some non-digital concepts. “Some of the new concepts will be acquired from third parties, but most ideas will originate in-house,” said a spokesperson.
Origami Blue has until now been known as a small studio originally set up by ex-Disney Blackrock studios creatives Edd Smith, Mark Knowles-Lee and James Ovnik. They set out to create character animations, but most notably they developed augmented reality gaming applications for large corporates. They’ve also been working with a team of educational psychologists to develop a state-of-the-art touch-typing system for children.
In a statement Michael Acton Smith, CEO and Founder of Mind Candy commented: "We clicked creatively with the Origami Blue guys from the outset and are hugely excited to bring them onboard. Developing new IP has always been part of the plan to expand Mind Candy. We have lots of ideas bubbling away and can't wait to see the new visions come to life."
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