- Give Away Old Stuff, Get New Stuff: Listia Opens A Rewards Store
- Grab Your TechCrunch Discount To Dublin Web Summit In October
- Twitter Tweaks Tweetdeck: New Version Gets Better Column Management & Navigation
- Social Intelligence Startup Sunnytrail Helps E-Commerce Companies With Customer Support Online
- Zaarly Expands Web Presence, Launches API To Help Publishers Monetize Content
- Microsoft Forgets To Offer Browser Choice Screen To 28M Users, EU Opens Investigation
- DigitalSmiths Improves The Hunt For Great Video Content (Behind The Scenes)
- Mobento Debuts Search Service That Finds The Spoken Words In Videos
- New iOS 6 Beta Hints That AT&T May Charge For FaceTime Over 3G
- Watch The World’s Thinnest Smartphone Pound A Nail Into A Board
- Squarespace Theme Editor And Blog Engine Goes HTML5, Aims At Code-Capable Designers
- B&N Launches Nook For Web, Doesn’t Work On iPhone Or iPad
- Flash Deals Site Totsy Lands $18.5M To Take On Zulily In The Battle For Shopping Moms
- Strings Attached: Marissa Mayer And The Mobile Challenge At Yahoo
- Coursemodo Debuts A Student Engagement Platform For Higher Ed Backed By Scott Banister & Others
- Y Combinator-Backed Virool Provides An Easy Way For Video Producers To Boost Their Views Online
- Coursera Aims To Make America’s Higher Ed System Interactive And Public, Secures $22 Million
- Sonos Retina-ifys Their iPad App
- Report: The Next-Gen iPhone Will Have A Thinner, Higher Quality Display
- Peter Thiel To Eric Schmidt: Admit It, Google Is No Longer A Technology Company
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 09:28 AM PDT
On the Listia site, people can give away things that they don’t want or need anymore. When you give something away, you earn points on the site, which you can then redeem for the goods that offered by other users. Until now, however, what those points actually got you depended on what other users were posting, and all the goods were used (unless, for some reason, you decided to give away something brand new).
With the Rewards Store, users can redeem their points for new goods in categories like DVDs and movies, electronics, and home and garden. Listia says it’s adding a premium rewards category today, with items like roundtrip airfare to anywhere in the US, gas money for a year, a luxury trip to Hawaii, and a Fiat 500. The rewards are supposed to run the gamut from $20 to $16,000 in value.
The company says that “by creating a Rewards Store, we hope to incentivize more people to unlock all the idle value sitting in their closets and homes.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the current model isn’t working — there have supposedly been 5 million items traded to date, and the gross merchandise value of items on the site has grown 400 percent in the last six months. But it doesn’t hurt to give users an even clearer reason to give things away.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 09:17 AM PDT
With our own Eric Eldon and Alexia Tsotsis speaking at Dublin Web Summit in October, it would be remiss of us not to mention the event, which also runs just before the so-called ‘Davos for Geeks’ event known as F.ounders. TechCrunch Readers can use the special voucher code DWS12TC here to purchase 2 tickets for the price of 1.
This year DWS has (refreshingly for tech events) paid particular attention to women entrepreneur speakers, with an all-women list published just yesterday which includes the controversial TED speaker Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, Soraya Dorabi, co-founder of Foospotting and Science speaker / technologist Debbie Berebichez.
The move ignited some controversy over the issue of whether it is right to engage in this kind of ‘affirmative action’, but judging from the line-up announced today there will be plenty of men amongst the 200 or so speakers in Dublin, October 16-17, including Ben Milne of Dwolla, Joe Fernandez of Klout and Jan Rezab of Social Bakers. So guys – and I mean guys – chill out maybe.
Hot on the heels of the spectacularly staged Le Web London in June, DWS will have to work hard to pull out the stops in October, but then again they are aiming for 3,000 attendees from across Europe. They’ll also be a running a developer conference alongside, called Node Dublin, a Node.js conference with its own two day schedule of speakers and parties.
This year once again DWS features the invite-only, parallel, VIP event F.ounders, which consists of 150 hand-picked early stage founders who are already in high-growth mode. But there is a new twist, with a side-event called START, which will be for 50-60 founders who’ve raised Seed investment and are just starting out.
Given that DWS has worked with the Mayor of Dublin to block off entire streets for the evening events, featuring bands and various corporate parties, one wonders if this won’t turn into more of a SXSW-style event in the future. Then again it’s Dublin in October, so Austin’s weather will be hard to match…
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 09:11 AM PDT
The Twitter-owned Tweetdeck application is being refreshed today, following a series of changes to the Twitter platform over the past couple of weeks, which have touched on everything from search and discovery, to a revamped mobile presence, and even included the introduction of a new icon. The Tweetdeck update, fortunately for Twitter’s power users, hasn’t been so much revamped as it has been tweaked, however. Twitter is promising a “swifter” experience with the new version, available today on Windows, Mac and Chrome.
The features first debuted on the web version of Tweetdeck (web.tweetdeck.com), so they’re not entirely new. Columns have now been arranged in a continuous row, so you can scroll through them with the scrollbar, and you can scroll several columns over at a time by clicking arrows on the “Columns” button on the top of the toolbar. You can also click that button to reveal the full list of available columns and switch over immediately.
That last feature will be really handy for those of us list creators (raises hand) who have infrequently-accessed lists that disappeared off the far edges of the screen before; now you can just click to make them appear as need be. The same interface offers a drag-and-drop element for arranging columns, too.
Also new is a menu icon that lets you quickly get to other Tweet actions beyond the reply, favorite and retweet, and do other things like follow, DM, remove from lists, get the link to the tweet, email the tweet or delete.
Overall, not radical changes (whew), just little tweaks that make the Tweetdeck a more usable desktop or web app client for those who prefer a bit more complexity.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 09:00 AM PDT
Small and medium-sized e-commerce companies need all the help they can get to connect with their customers, provide support, and create positive word-of-mouth. That’s why Sunnytrail has built a social intelligence platform for identifying and interacting with customers online.
To find out who their customer are, companies need only connect their digital storefronts with Sunnytrail, and it will scour social networks to find them online. It then provides information about customers in an easy-to-use dashboard and provides tools for communicating with them.
The platform works by using publicly available information on various social networks, which helps it determines how influential various users are, and provides guidance about which customers a company should proactively engage with. Sunnytrail also monitors new customers as they make purchases, which can helps e-commerce companies identify when they get new high-profile users.
Why’s that important? Because word-of-mouth is still a valuable marketing channels, especially when some customers reach potentially thousands of connections on various social networks. Sunnytrail claims that about 60 percent of users share with friends when they have a positive customer experience, which for e-commerce companies can translate into new potential customers with little to no marketing, if they play their cards right.
Sunnytrail charges clients for use of its product based on the number of customers they have and manage through the platform. It has a free tier for clients who have less than 500 customers. Its second tier, for companies with up to 5,000 customers, costs $49 a month. Above that, and clients pay $99 a month for up to 20,000 customers. Currently, Sunnytrail works with Shopify or Goodsie e-commerce sites, but it’s looking to add more platforms as time goes on.
Sunnytrail was founded by Octav Druta, Vlad Berteanu, and Andrei Soare, and is based in Vancouver. The startup is part of the GrowLab startup incubator there. In addition to GrowLab, it’s raised seed funding from Boris Wertz's new fund Version One Ventures, Mike Edwards of Initio Group, and BDC Venture Capital.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 08:59 AM PDT
For many, the appeal of realtime, local commerce platforms like Zaarly is evident almost immediately. For those unfamiliar, the mobile-centric reverse craigslist allows users to post requests to Zaarly’s app — for anything from data entry to a fancy Starbucks mocha frappuccino and how much you would be willing to pay for it. Then users can kick back and wait for their coffee to arrive — or so the idea goes. It’s a great idea, and it works. For a good example, look no further than Greg’s experience.
The initial concept immediately caught the attention of Ashton Kutcher, Felicis Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Bill Lee and Naval Ravikant — to name a few — who put $1 million into Zaarly less than a month after it appeared at LA Startup Weekend.
As appealing as the idea is, however, I must admit that, personally, I was skeptical at first. What about trust? Wouldn’t people just prefer using TaskRabbit and craigslist? How would it scale? The team launched Zaarly 2.0 in March, which began to address the trust issue in particular, removing the anonymity component, allowing users to create profiles along with the opportunity to recommend and review both buyers and sellers.
Of course, Zaarly’s initial model leaves it up to users to discover the app themselves, or by word of mouth, which means that, development-wise, the Zaarly experience is somewhat limited. But, today, the startup took a big step forward in its evolution, launching its “Zaarly Anywhere” API, which boasts seven top content publishers as launch partners, including Everyday Health, The Fancy, LA Times, Cookstr and IKEA Hackers.
As Paul Graham has noted, APIs have become increasingly popular among startups as a tool that enables “self-serve” — or instant — “business development.” Thousands have caught onto this, as have some of the alternative craigslist marketplaces. TaskRabbit, for example, launched an API in February that allowed third-party apps to integrate with the startup’s API to allow their users to outsource their to-do workflows.
Astrid and Producteev were among two early startups to sign on, enabling their users to outsource tasks directly from their apps or portals to the TaskRabbit community with one click. Facebook has grown to a behemoth for myriad reasons, but one of the bigger contributing factors was Facebook Connect and its “Like” button, which worked Facebook into third-party apps and into the fabric of the Web, allowing businesses and sites to port their social graphs and login to various sites using their Facebook info.
Zaarly Anywhere is a natural next-step for the service, borrowing from these previous examples to help expose the service to new users and extend its functionality beyond its native app. Now, through Zaarly integration, visitors can, say, post a request in the Zaarly marketplace and have their requests responded to with a click of a button without having to leave the site they were browsing.
Zaarly co-founder and CEO Bo Fishback also sees the startup’s new API as creating a new revenue stream for its publishing partners by offering them another way to connect their online content with offline commerce.
While its launch partners include impressive names (and user bases), the scope is still somewhat small. But eventually, at least so their thinking goes, you could be browsing any type of online content — like, for example, a review of a new video game. You might check Amazon or other sites to find that it’s not available, but integration with Zaarly’s marketplace allows you to put up a figure to be able to buy or rent the game immediately.
Fishback believes that, in this way, Zaarly can help build a new type of commerce, or at least a new way to buy local. Read about a delicious dinner on a Cookstr, and immediately be able to connect with the Zaarly marketplace to ask a local chef to make it happen. It’s a potentially appealing option for publishers who, with shrinking ad revenues and bottom lines, are nearly all looking for better, non-intrusive yet effective ways to monetize content and increase engagement.
It’s a great way to begin building the Zaarly experience into other websites and through partner channels, leveraging the open web to create dedicated services that encourage people to spend money in their local communities (while creating additional revenue streams). For publishers, Everyday Health’s David Siegel, for example, calls this a great way to pair “inspiration with action.”
But how does it work? While on partner sites, users create Zaarly requests by clicking a button that will be integrated into content, like articles, social media buttons, and photos. The Zaarly API then populates the request with the title, description and location details from the partner’s site, enabling people to receive offers from users in their own community, who can choose the best response and pay through Zaarly’s platform.
Fishback says that the startup’s initial partners fall in line with the most active requests they’ve seen to date in the Zaarly marketplace, namely food, health, wellness, design and home improvement. Going forward, the startup will be looking to incorporate additional partners fast and furiously, while it continues to maintain its open marketplace, which has seen more than $30 million in requests posted since launching in May of last year.
It also represents a positive step forward towards future monetization for Zaarly, which is currently resting on laurels that include a $14.1 million series A raise from Kleiner Perkins, Sands Capital Ventures in October (on top of its initial $1 million), as well as the addition of HP CEO (and former eBay CEO) Meg Whitman to its board of directors.
Zaarly Anywhere opens the startup to a customized experience within dedicated platforms without pushing purchasing or sales in a way that would make most consumers balk. It just gives readers and surfers an opportunity to make the content they enjoy come to life while supporting the kind of skilled, local labor that can help make that happen. Could be a win-win.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 08:52 AM PDT
As part of an agreement with the European Commission in 2009, Microsoft was supposed to present Windows users with a choice of browsers when they booted their computers for the first time. It turns out, however, that Microsoft quietly stopped showing this screen with the release of Windows 7 SP1 in February 2011. According to European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, this means 28 million users in the EU did not get to see this screen and were simply presented with Internet Explorer as the default browser. Microsoft has acknowledged that it did indeed make an “error” and has now fixed this issue and resumed showing the browser choice screen on all new PCs with Windows 7 SP1.
Microsoft: “Technical Error”
Microsoft says that it acted quickly once it was made aware of the error and has now “retained experienced outside counsel to conduct a formal investigation of precisely how the technical error occurred.” All of the 28 million PCs that were supposed to show the selection screen will now also show it retroactively within the next week and Microsoft has offered to extend the time during which it will show the browser choice screen by 15 months. How nobody in the company noticed this mistake for almost 18 months remains a mystery, however.
EU: “This Could Have Severe Consequences”
Despite its swift reaction now, however, Microsoft didn’t follow up on its legally binding promise to the European Commission between February 2011 and July 2012, something Almunia isn’t going to take lightly, given his statement from earlier today. Almunia promises that if this breach is confirmed, “this could have severe consequences.” If the infringement is confirmed, he said, “there will be sanctions.”
The fact that Microsoft sent the Commission a compliance report in December 2011 and told the Commission that it was distributing the browser choice screen is also something that Almunia is likely to hold against the company. What’s interesting here, too, is that neither the Commission nor Microsoft apparently checked whether these statements were true.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 08:45 AM PDT
As more and more folks cut the cable, install DVR services, and go mobile with their viewing, on demand video becomes more prevalent. With that, the way we surf and search for content must change. The model switches from browsing to purposeful search, but as newer disruptive companies like Netflix and Hulu prove, personalized recommendation-based content gets much better results.
But that technology — or rather, that model — must eventually migrate into online video and basic cable. DigitalSmiths, a company we spoke to in Durham, NC, wants to be the ones that pioneer it. The startup created a platform that makes any video provider’s content searchable and powered by a recommendation engine.
According to the founders, DigitalSmiths is already working behind the scenes on plenty of the video we watch today, and we should see more and more of it as further deals are signed. The service makes recommendations based on individual users’ personalities, but it also filters the best recommendation if mom, dad, and little kid sit down, without automatically skewing toward Barney.
DigitalSmiths is in a relatively good position, considering the way that media consumption behavior is changing so rapidly. Whether it’s cutting the cable or going mobile, users are changing, and so follows the industry. Luckily for DigitalSmiths, the technology offered is more of a platform and works across multiple formats, allowing the company to sell to telcos, Internet video providers, cable and satellite companies, and TV and movie studios. So no matter what happens, they have a foot in the door.
DigitalSmiths has raised $30 million to date in a total of three funding rounds.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 08:35 AM PDT
Flashback to 2006, but we’re trying to solve the challenge of searching and indexing the audio in videos again. Case in point: TechCrunch Disrupt finalist Koemei, for example. Another new one hitting the startup scene today: Mobento, a company which not only finds videos where words you search for are spoken, but which also shows you a timeline indicating where in the video those words can be found.
The company was founded by Sumner Murphy, who has startup and engineering experience, but nothing that seems to be specific to solving the challenge of indexing audio in particular. Based in both N.Y. and London, Murphy previously ran a consulting firm in N.Y. specializing in web development, where he did work for the educational sector. Mobento, too, has a focus on the educational sector, describing its vision as related to the intersection of tech and education (“technology can and should serve education better than it does” reads the FAQ). Founded in December 2011, Murphy recruited a small team of three developers and a designer to build the site. It houses 250 videos now from Stanford lectures, Khan Academy, and TED.
From an end user’s perspective, it works as advertised. For example, a search for “water” led here, and yes, clicking those blue lines in the timeline take you to spots in the video where the word is spoken.
Murphy is traveling at present, but told us via email that Mobento has an undisclosed amount of seed funding from private investors, which closed in January 2012. They weren’t on AngelList, so who knows.
Unlike Koemei, this isn’t a transcription service. Nor is it some kind of integration play to connect human transcribers with videos. Instead, all the translation is completely automated and all the indexing on the Mobento website is machine-generated. If the auto quality is high, the company says that it can extract over 90% of the significant keywords. Over time, the expectation is that this will improve.
What’s concerning is that Mobento seems to think this is never before seen technology. While maybe nothing is “exactly” like it (nothing is exactly like anything), there are other providers for video search and indexing (and sometimes transcriptions, too) that have ranged from the enterprise-facing to research projects to speech-to-text efforts from Google, captioning search from Hulu, larger video platforms, failed startups and more. But when asked about the competition, Murphy’s response was just that “no one else currently offers this kind of search, although meta-data-based video search technology does exist for the likes of YouTube and Google.” Maybe it’s a pet peeve, but unless you’ve just invented teleportation or something, you’re better off acknowledging other efforts, rather than pretending they don’t exist. That being said, this is one of the arguably more user-friendly interfaces we’ve seen as of late.
We should also point out that Mobento Search doesn’t index the entire web, it’s designed to work on an indexed library of videos. The company hopes to establish partnerships with video providers to make their videos searchable. Explains Sumner, “there are sites that offer access to high-quality educational videos such as TED and Khan Academy who we would like to develop relationships with,” he says. “We will generate revenue by licensing the our system to other video content owners. We believe that we can help organize video libraries and make search much more efficient.”
The service soft-launched on Friday, and Sumner says they’re now “in discussions” with some unnamed educational bodies with video content. Stay tuned.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 08:16 AM PDT
When Apple announced at WWDC that FaceTime would (officially) work over cellular data networks, the company deftly avoided offering up much in the way of details. Now that iOS 6 beta 3 has been released into the wild though, a clearer picture of how Apple and their carrier partners will handle the situation is beginning to emerge.
The folks at 9to5mac discovered last night that attempting to enable FaceTime over 3G on an AT&T iPhone running on the most recent iOS 6 beta would bring up an interesting little message: To enable FaceTime over cellular on this account, contact AT&T at 611 or visit http://www.att.com/wireless.
It looks an awful lot like AT&T is planning to charge customers for using FaceTime over 3G, though the revelation isn't particularly out of character. Allowing customers to FaceTime call their friends and family over-the-air for free would be a generous gesture, but considering the additional strain that functionality could put on AT&T's network (which can be flaky enough in certain locales), there's little chance that AT&T would let customers video chat all willy-nilly without trying to get something out of them first.
Interestingly enough, 9to5mac tried the same process on a Verizon iPad and weren't greeted by the tell-tale "talk to customer service" notification. That's not much of surprise either though — once a prepaid data plan has been set up, the LTE-capable Verizon iPad allows you to use the tablet as a mobile hotspot without any interaction with the carrier itself, so it’s little surprise that enabling FaceTime over 3G is a similarly straightforward process.
Of course, it’s possible that this may all just be a big misunderstanding. AT&T offers a different set of data plans for iPhones than it does for other smartphones despite the fact that they’re functionally identical, so it’s possible that the carrier will require a data plan that has just been classed differently in their backend for some reason.
If AT&T does end up charging separately for FaceTime though, one has to wonder how exactly they’re going to do it. It's worth noting that this isn't AT&T's first go-around with video calling — they launched their Video Share service back in 2007, usage of which they sold in buckets of video calling minutes. It’s certainly possible that AT&T could resurrect that bucket concept, and the carrier could also reconfigure its data plans with new caps to account for FaceTime use. Unsurprisingly, AT&T has declined to delve into specifics at this point, so we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of this story unfolds.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 08:11 AM PDT
The Oppo Finder currently holds the silly title of being the thinnest smartphone in the world. Measuring in at a svelte 6.65mm, the Finder is 1.95mm and 2.75 thinner than the Galaxy S III and iPhone 4S, respectively. But the thin size doesn’t mean the phone is fragile. In fact the company recently demonstrated the phone’s toughness by using it to hammer several nails into a wooden board.
The Oppo Finder is available sans a contract for ¥2,498 ($393). The slim phone packs an impressive array of specs, too. Behind the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen rests a dual-core 1.5GHz chip and 1GB of RAM, which powers an Android 4.0 install. Plus, as shown above, the phone can take beating.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 07:11 AM PDT
Squarespace makes it easy for design- (but not tech-) savvy users to build beautiful websites. The service has been around since 2003 but recently received a full overhaul called Squarespace 6. The resulting experience – a WYSIWYG system so complete that it may give pause to some code lovers out there – is quite amazing.
I sat down with CEO Anthony Casalena to talk about the new editor, the new platform, and what it means to create a fully-featured HTML editor in the browser.
You can check out the new experience here and you’ll find it to be smooth, feature-rich, and each individual theme can be saved as its own instance, allowing those who want to edit CSS and HTML to tweak and improve upon their sites.
The service costs $8 a month after a 14-day free trial and compared to what the company was calling Squarespace 5, it’s a definite improvement and an interesting new direction for the company.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 06:57 AM PDT
Barnes & Noble is bringing its Nook reading platform to the web today, where it will compete with Kindle’s Cloud Reader, iBooks, and Kobo’s Instant Reader head-on. The move is an important one in the sense that one needs a web presence in order to “feel” complete – that is, to exist on every platform that a reader may want to use. However, Kindle Cloud Reader didn’t come to the web back when it launched last year just for a sense of completeness – it did so because Apple’s terms stated that book-reading apps couldn’t link to their own stores from within their iOS apps. In other words, moving the web isn’t just a nicety, it had become a must for these companies.
That same holds true for Nook’s iOS application today – it syncs with your Nook account and lets you search through and read what’s in your library. But buying books still has to be done from the web. You can tell from the app reviews that not everyone understands that the decision to launch a pared down app isn’t B&N’s – users complain that you still have to go online to buy books, and what a bummer that is!
So you would think that web-based version of the Nook app would mean that users can now forgo the iOS (iPhone/iPad) native experience for a more functional HTML app instead. But weirdly, when attempting to access the site from the mobile browser on an iPhone or iPad, it simply tells you that a desktop browser is needed.
According to the company, Nook for Web works in any web browser, including IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari (apparently desktop versions, all), and works on both Mac and PC.
To entice readers to try it out, B&N is offering six titles for free, including Map of Bones by James Rollins, Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, The Vow by Kim Carpenter, The Boxcar Children Summer Special by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Brave by Tennant Redbank and Perfect Island Getaways by Patricia Schultz. Users can instantly read the sample (even without signing in), and can then download the whole book for free, now through July 26.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 06:27 AM PDT
It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Totsy, which, for those unfamiliar, was one of the first flash sales sites to focus exclusively on mothers. The startup launched in 2009, capitalizing early on what would become the Flash Sales Gold Rush, following in the footsteps of successful predecessors like Rue La La and Gilt Groupe. From the outset, Totsy sought to differentiate itself from the crowd by focusing not on fashion, but on offering deals on products that busy young mothers need — everything from prenatal products and baby gear to toys and clothing.
In two-and-a-half years, Totsy has been quick to scale, growing to a team of over 110 employees that now serves more than 3 million moms. This came, in part, from the $5 million in Series A funding it raised in the winter of 2010 from DFJ Gotham and Rho Ventures. In spite of a crowded and now consolidating space, Totsy’s laser focus on providing big deals for new parents, strong early growth, and an Eco-friendly bent, has convinced its investors that big things remain ahead for the site.
Today, both DFJ Gotham and Rho Ventures have renewed their commitment to Totsy in a big way, sinking $18.5 million into the New York City-based startup. The Series B round comes on top of Totsy’s strong year-over-year revenue growth, 125 percent, and will allow the company to focus on expanding its strategic industry relationships and continue growing its user base, said Totsy CEO and co-founder, Guillaume Gauthereau. As a result of the round, Rho Ventures Managing Partner Habib Kairouz will be joining the startup’s board of directors.
Again, if you’ve had any experience with the tried-and-true model of flash sites, Totsy’s spin will sound familiar: The startup holds designer-specific “shopping events,” which are held over a 72-hour period. However, Totsy is invite-only (although membership is free) and offers members brand-specific sales on products for new moms, parents, and children at discounted prices, which can be as high as 90 percent off retail price.
The 72-hour flash sales events focus on one particular designer, offering, say, clothing, bedding and toys from Ed Hardy Kids during the event. Yet, Totsy works purely on consignment, rather than having to fill out inventory, like so many brands, in which the pressure is on quick-buys. Totsy works with over 4K brands, an average of 500 to 600 brands every month, with brands shipping products to Totsy’s warehouse, which the startup then delivers to its customers.
Because so many luxury-focused flash sales sites have to work within the excess inventory offered by their luxury suppliers, many of them end up offering the same items for sale over and over, as if on repeat. Many of these startups, Groupon included, struggle to offer great deals consistently, so to combat this, Gauthereau says that Totsy has built a big stable of brands and focuses on everyday products for parents, while adding advice and tips from expert mom bloggers to make the site a destination — not just a shopping resource for coupon-clipping moms.
Totsy’s new, sizable infusion of capital will also help it get more competitive with Zulily, a similarly-targeted deals site offers an assortment of baby-centric deals. The Seattle-based company and raised $43 million last August and has grown to a team of 300+ with some 5 million users.
At this point, Zulily remains bigger in most respects, but the Totsy co-founders are quick to point out that they have been able to gain a larger following on Facebook, something they hope to leverage as they strive to meet their goal of becoming profitable by 2013. The founders also want to be more than just a point-of-sale site, they want to give specialty products, those produced by mom-and-pop stores (the ones most likely to be wiped out by the growth of eCommerce and flash sales portals) a place to live online.
They also hope to gain a leg-up on competitors like Zulily by maintaining an Eco-friendly mission, both in the products it offers and the way it approaches its customers. Totsy wants to encourage trust among moms and, in building a community of like-minded, kid-focused consumers, the founders think it can manufacture some staying power.
For more on this, readers can also check out our coverage of Baby.com.br, a parent-focused shopping site that’s trying to bring some new life to eCommerce in Brazil — or on NoMoreRack, the Fab.com for the mass market.
Check out Totsy at home here.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 06:20 AM PDT
Yahoo’s surprise scoop of Marissa Mayer as its newest CEO has unleashed a lot of positive comments about how this represents a new day, and a refreshing risk, for the beleaguered Internet brand. It will improve morale inside the company, and will give it more credibility outside. And it looks like it will also mean a new direction for Yahoo, with a much stronger focus on product — a word mentioned 19 times, by Mayer and others, in the official release confirming her appointment — away from, I suppose, media and content. That, of course, could mean a million different things — which, actually, is part of the problem at Yahoo. But one of them could be — it really should be — mobile.
This an area where Yahoo was once very aggressive but has really dropped the ball (or phone as the case may be….).
A little history
Before Google had released their first Android devices, and before Apple had released the iPhone, Yahoo was in the thick of it. Early on, it “got” the idea that mobile would be a key way for consumers to go online, and so if they wanted to them to stay with Yahoo — namely so that those users could continue to be advertising targets, but also potential customers of paid Yahoo services — it had to be there, too.
So with its Connected Life division, in 2007, Yahoo launched a mobile web portal it called Yahoo! Go, along with a number of other products like mobile-web optimized local search, email and other mobile web services aimed at ways of optimizing content for small screens. Yahoo was signing deals with handset makers like LG (a world leader at the time) to preload these onto tens of millions of devices. It was launching new mobile display ad units, and deals with big brands to use them. And it had lucrative partnerships with mobile operators, just starting to get into the data game, to provide search functions on their own portals.
It seems crazy to look at Yahoo now and think of what it once could have and tried to do. It turned out that a lot of that may have been too far ahead of its time, maybe an example of when you might be too early as an early mover. The devices were not good enough, nor were the networks. (And maybe the services as well.)
Not too long after that, and spurred by the iPhone, Google invested in and came out with products much more compelling that took over the mobile experience altogether, with Android, its full operating platform for the new generation of smartphones that were hitting the market. Microsoft did as well, with Windows Mobile and the Windows Phone, although those endeavors have proved a lot less successful. Times got more challenging, and Yahoo didn’t stick with it.
Then, later, when it became clear that apps were the key to smartphone users’ hearts, Yahoo tried to make a push there, too. Yes, there are some apps that have worked — Yahoo Sports, Mail, Messenger and Flickr are still around — but there have been a lot thrown by the wayside. Most recently, at the end of May, the company killed Livestand, a six-month-old Flipboard-like magazine aggregation tablet app, as it continues to “scrutinize what’s working and what isn’t.”
It’s the exact canned phrase Yahoo used earlier in the year, when it canned 10 other apps: Yahoo! Meme (iPad and iPhone); Yahoo! Mim (iPad); Yahoo! Answers (Android); Yahoo! AppSpot (Android and iPhone); Yahoo! Deals (iPhone); Yahoo! Finance (BlackBerry); Yahoo! Movies (Android); Yahoo! News (Android); Yahoo! Shopping (iPhone) and Yahoo! Sketch-a-Search (iPad and iPhone).
Ironically at that time it said it would continue to support Livestand, as well as a GetGlue-type check-in app called IntoNow. I wonder if the clock is now ticking on IntoNow, too.
Mobile, as we said above, is an area where Yahoo’s competitors Google and Microsoft have been pushing very hard. And where sort-of competitor Apple has been making a killing with its iPhone and iPad devices, and taking eyeballs for advertising and other services along with it.
Mayer’s biggest achievements at Google may have not have been on the Android team. Her last, most visible role, was overseeing local and maps, putting her squarely in the mobile product sphere.
That could give her a taste for trying to tackle mobile again at Yahoo. But if she does it will be a major task. She will need to figure out where Yahoo can best fit, and how to best use the medium to grow Yahoo’s overall core business of advertising (unless she’s really zooming out and thinking of whole new lines of business). But also she will need to effectively rehire a lot of people to help with that, because along the way the company’s lost a lot of mobile talent as well.
But there are some super encouraging signs that it’s not too late for Yahoo to do something in mobile. For one, countries like the U.S. are still only at 50 percent smartphone penetration. That means many millions of consumers to play for and capture with your products. Going outside of mature markets, the opportunity is even bigger.
Look at what’s happening in countries like China, where Baidu and many others have decided to become mobile players to tap into that hugely expanding market. You can see that development doesn’t have to take years and years in the current climate, where you can, for example, create forked operating systems on existing platforms. And there are even others out there — hi, Jolla — who are ready and willing to try their hand at being a platform for a new big player.
It’s a little funny to mention Nokia here. Something else that’s been on my mind has been the comparison of Nokia hiring Stephen Elop, ex-Microsoft, as CEO there. Many have called him a Trojan horse, who has been put in place simply to ease the transition of the Finnish handset giant to Microsoft. I’m not totally sure I’d believe that until I see it happening. But it’s an interesting idea to ponder whether getting Mayer in to Yahoo might usher in a closer collaboration with Google, specifically on the mobile front.
There will surely be a lot of speculation in the weeks ahead for what may come, and go, with Mayer’s arrival. Post yesterday’s news, I noticed a number of people tweeting into the wilderness about the need to revive photo sharing service Flickr, for instance.
And here’s another example from left field: we’ve had an anonymous tip, completely unconfirmed at this point, that one of the product divisions that will be getting the chop will be the Small Business division, which offers a wide range of services from domain registration and hosting to business email, e-commerce back-end services and a marketing dashboard. This is a division, by the way, that Yahoo had hoped to sell back in 2009 for $500 million, but that never came to pass. Also, it would make sense, given that it’s also parted companies with another enterprise product, Zimbra, which it sold to VMWare in 2010. (Do let us know if you have intel on that one btw.)
[Image: Dano, Flickr...of course]
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 06:13 AM PDT
Not to be confused with Coursera, Coursemodo is a new interactive learning management system emerging from stealth mode today which focuses on student engagement in the classroom. The company is currently in the process of closing a seed round of around $500,000 to $1 million with backers including Scott Banister, Jonathan Levi, and a Canadian syndicate of angel investors: Joseph Zenha, Ron Poirier, Malcolm Stevens and Ernie Weaver
Brought to you by the same folks who brought you NoteWagon, a startup that allows students to buy and sell their course notes in an online marketplace, the new company has several people with educational backgrounds involved, including former professors and engineers who have spent time with building classroom technologies.
While NoteWagon will still exist, Coursemodo co-founder Saif Altimimi tells me that it will operate separately from the new platform going forward.
Currently, that platform includes four key components: a web-enabled application which can be used from any Internet-connected device, including phones, tablets or computers; a polling feature for getting instant feedback from students; a quizzes feature which supports instant grading an export to a teacher’s preferred LMS, and an announcements feature for teacher-student communication which extends outside of course hours through SMS messaging.
The team has been working on Coursemodo over the past six months, and offered an early trial in five classrooms. During these tests, they saw classroom engagement go up by 35% and grades increase by 4%-7%, Altimimi says. The reason for this is attributed to Coursemodo’s ability to provide a real-time feedback loop for teachers, who can immediately see how students are engaging and where they need more help and better explanations. While the polling feature in the product competes with the likes of Poll Everywhere, for example, Altimimi says the difference with Coursemodo is its focus on higher education.
“Something that differentiates us is our core focus on the analytics side,” he says, “allowing the professors to actually get a data stream of how the classroom is performing. This is something we feel is very important, because a lot of these universities function on metrics, and function on accreditation, and making sure our students are really understanding what we’re teaching,” he explains.
Plus, he adds, “the cool thing about it is that it’s not a gradebook. It’s a tool that actually syncs with your LMS’s gradebook,” he says. That means it works with things like Blackboard, for example, transferring grades from one platform to the next.
The product is now being used in 15 colleges including Harvard, Stanford, Florida State, University of Maryland, University of Florida, University of Waterloo and others, and reaches around 5,000 students. Based on discussions and other agreements, that number is expected to reach 15,000 students by this September, which is around the same time the team expects to ship its iOS and Android applications.
Eventually, the goal is to build more apps that sit on top of the Coursemodo platform, and open it up to third-party developers to build on top of, as well. “A teacher should not need to use any other tool besides Coursemodo, that’s what we’re trying to build here,” says Altimimi, who co-founded the company with Gabriel Chan, also of NoteWagon.
Coursemodo, like textbooks or classroom clickers, is being sold to students, not faculty or administration. It’s free for teachers while students pay either $20/semester or $38 for four years.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Virool, which is part of the current Y Combinator Summer 2012 class, has launched a self-serve platform that will let any YouTube user increase their video views through placement in Facebook and mobile apps.
Its platform works like this: On the publisher side, Virool provides an API that developers can use to hook into the platform and deliver relevant videos to their users. Video producers who want to use the system can link to their YouTube videos in Virool, providing keywords they’d like to target and relevant geographical markets they’d like to see videos appear in. They can pay as little as $10 to promote their content, which is then pushed out to Virool’s network, to appear in any number of mobile or Facebook applications.
The startup is positioning itself as a sort of “AdWords” for videos, providing a way for advertisers to make their videos go viral. But it’s not for 15- or 30-second video ads. Instead, Virool is targeting publishers who have created videos longer than a minute and want promotion on various new platforms. And unlike other video ad services, Virool ensures that viewers actually watch a sizable portion of the video. Its advertisers on the platform only pay when a viewer has watched at least 45 seconds of a minute-long video.
Even though Virool has only been around for a few months, the startup is seeing huge growth, both in terms of the number of videos it serves and the amount of revenue it’s generating. It already has more than 5,000 advertisers using the platform, and is adding about 200 new advertisers every day. It’s also serving more than half a million video views a day, according to founder Alexander Debelov.
Part of its growth just comes from the fact that advertisers keep coming back. Debelov says that more than half of users who sign up and test out the platform come back, and many times those repeat advertisers are running three or four campaigns after their initial trial. Part of that growth also comes from attracting brand interest early on. While anyone can use the platform to promote their content, Virool has already been used for campaigns by major brands like Sephora, Skittles, GM, and Clorox.
Either way, Virool is seeing its revenues double every month, and the startup is already profitable despite marketing mainly by word of mouth. To keep growing, Virool has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Y Combinator, 500 Startups, NetPrice, Global Venture Aliance, Plug and Play Ventures, and Ryan Tu.
Virool has also provided us with promo codes for users to test out the service. The first 100 TechCrunch readers to register and use the code “viroolisawesome” on the payment screen will get a $100 credit toward their account. Are you a video producer looking for promotion? Check it out.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 06:00 AM PDT
The dream of two Stanford professors of making America’s higher education system interactive and universally accessible just got one step closer, with an extra $3.7 million in funding ($22mm total) and 13 new university partners, including Caltech and Duke. “I think the reason for the huge enrollments is that these are real courses,” says Co-founder Andrew Ng, who met up with TechCrunch at the Annual Aspen Ideas Festival*. With an expanded university roster, a swelling piggy bank, and 1.5 million users, Coursera has become a major player the recent surge of universities and for-profit education organizations looking to dominate the web.
Like MIT and Harvard’s joint online education initiative, Coursera aims to bring actual top university courses online with a measure of interactivity and peer support. In addition to the same video lectures and reading materials enjoyed by enrolled students, Coursera provides interactive quizzes, tailored learning, and homework help from a student’s digital peers.
To incentivize peer support, Ng says that students are rewarded for helping to grade other students, after they can prove that their assessments match the same grade that the instructor gives on a set of student homework. This way, Coursera peer support approaches the same quality that enrolled students get with professors. Still, Ng says that Coursera cannot replace universities, since it’s impossible for online students to get the same one-on-one mentoring with a professor.
We’ve been critical of online education in the past, arguing that video lectures, even enhanced with some interactivity, still propagate the antiquated memorization-obsessed education standards of the 20th century. While Coursera isn’t looking to revamp education, students can have confidence that online learning is a quality experience, as a review of research by the Department of Education found that students learning online performed as well as those in physical classrooms.
Coursera has no immediate plans for monetization, but is mulling ideas like selling certifications. Their newest equity funding round comes from “two universities, as well as additional investment from current investors New Enterprise Associates and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers Education,” according to a press release. Education is a big (big) market, and as college costs outpace many Americans’ ability to pay tuition, the market will be ripe for a leader.
*Disclosure: I help the Aspen Institute with a separate government innovation-related conference
Image Credit: Flickr User 401(K) 2012
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 05:52 AM PDT
One pet peeve I had with the Sonos system was the quality of the UI on high-res screens. While it is, after all, just a remote control, the app was Sonos’ outward-facing experience and needed to be flawless. Now it is.
The company just updated its iPad app to support Retina screens (no similar update for Retina MacBooks, sadly) and you can also change the Sonos’ volume by clicking the volume buttons on the iPad. Both are minor changes, but they are important in creating a smooth and consistent experience.
The new version is available right now. Here’s hoping the desktop app gets the same treatment shortly.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 05:37 AM PDT
Yesterday, we got a glimpse at a leaked front-casing for what we believe to be the iPhone 5, showing a centered FaceTime camera hole. Today, however, we have but the WSJ’s word for it that Apple is working with supply line manufacturers to implement a thinner, more beautiful display into the next-gen handset.
According to the report, LCD makers such as Sharp and Japan Display (which comprises Toshiba, Hitachi, and Sony as well as LG Display) are mass producing panels that use something called “in-cell technology”, which should make the display itself thinner.
Currently, the iPhone’s display (and most other LCD capacitive displays) require a first layer to display imagery and a second, very thin layer to house the touch sensors. Resistive screens leave a little extra room between the display panel and the touch panel because touch is measured by the pressure applied from the first panel to the second. Capacitive screens require less space between panels since touch is measured through the electric current sent from your body to the display upon touch.
Even still, removing one of the panels (which are around half a millimeter thick) will still offer a little extra room in the body of the phone.
If true, this means that the iPhone itself will be thinner than usual, or that Apple is jamming a few extra goodies in there. I, for one, would love to see a slightly larger battery in Apple’s handset. Considering the fact that Siri just got smarter and Maps flew into the third dimension with iOS 6, it’s highly likely that we’ll need it.
Posted: 17 Jul 2012 05:31 AM PDT
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel offered wildly differing views on the state of the technology industry last night at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference. During their after-dinner panel, the tone remained amiable, but Thiel, in particular, managed to get some memorable jabs in.
For example, when talking about Google, Thiel said the “intellectually honest thing to do” would be to admit that “Google is no longer a technology company.” After all, he notes that Google has $50 billion in cash. Why isn’t it investing all of that money in new technology? Thiel’s conclusion: The company is out of new ideas and is coasting on search.
Schmidt’s response: First, that there are “limits that are not cash” such as recruiting, real estate, and government regulation. He also pointed out a few examples outside of search where Google innovations seem to be paying off — Chrome, Android, and the company’s enterprise tools.
The argument over Google was indicative of a larger divide. Schmidt offered a positive view of what technology has accomplished in the last few decades, and what it will accomplish in the near future, arguing that it will allow people in the developed world to lead “extraordinarily long lives that are very productive” while improving the lives of those in developing nations too.
Thiel, on the other hand, said that Schmidt was doing “a fantastic job as Google’s minister of propaganda” and that recent technological progress has been limited to a few narrow areas. Yes, there has been “incremental but relentless progress on the computer side,” but on the other hand, there’s been a “catastrophic failure of energy innovation.” As an outspoken libertarian, Thiel puts much of the blame at the government’s feet, saying that the government has “outlawed everything to do with the world of stuff,” so that “the only things you’re allowed to do are in the world of bits.”
(To be clear, Thiel isn’t targeting Google specifically. In fact, he said that with investments in projects like self-driving cars and asteroid mining, Google is doing a better job than most other companies.)
From that fundamental disagreement, Thiel and Schmidt covered an impressive number of other topics, including the Arab Spring and other political matters (Thiel suggested that the fact that they kept returning to politics was itself a sign that “technology is no longer the driver”) before ending on education. Thiel, who offers a fellowship program encouraging people under the age of 20 to drop out of college and start companies, portrayed an “education bubble” where the expense of a higher education is increasing far more quickly than its benefits, and college students are being turned into “indentured servants.”
Schmidt countered that education is one of the main ways that the U.S. can maintain its competitiveness against other countries. It sounded like Thiel would be more open to this idea if it was limited to engineering degrees.
“I believe there’s some role for the liberal arts, however small,” Schmidt said. Then he added: “That was a joke.”
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