Monday, January 23, 2012

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

Link to TechCrunch

1-Month Old BuzzDoes Scores $750K For Mobile App Marketing Platform

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 09:00 AM PST


BuzzDoes, a newly launched word-of-mouth marketing tool for mobile app developers, has secured $750,000 in seed funding from angel investors and Proxima Ventures. The tool, which operates as a drop-in SDK (software development kit), allows developers to add a viral recommendation feature to their application using a single line of code.

Once installed, app users are “incentivized” (meaning rewarded), for recommending the app in question to their friends.

Getting a mobile app noticed in the increasingly crowded mobile app market is more difficult than ever, with some 600,000 iOS applications filling up the iTunes App Store’s shelves, and around 400,000 apps on Android. Although many companies have been experimenting with different means to get their app noticed, word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted sources (e.g. friends, trusted sites, etc.) is one of the only consistently proven methods that can help boost an app’s ranking.

Essentially, BuzzDoes is trying to kickstart the typically organic viral recommendation process where users tell friends about great apps they should try. To do so, app developers using BuzzDoes can choose to reward users who share an app with friends. The rewards come in the form of BuzzDoes points that users can redeem for cash (via PayPal), or users can donate the points to a charity instead. The secret sauce for this startup, however, is not just the sharing feature – it’s that BuzzDoes is also able to detect when a new user downloads and app because of the recommendation.

At first glance, the idea for a “recommendations-for-rewards” type mechanism feels like it could get a little spammy, but the way it’s implemented sounds rather smart.  When a user enters the section of the app where they can make the recommendation, they’re also able to see which apps their friends are downloading, something that adds a social element to the app discovery process. If they’re interested in downloading one of the other apps here, they just tap the app in question and their friend gets the points. For developers, it’s a win because they get new users, but for the app customers involved, this sort of in-app discovery feature feels far less intrusive than mobile ads. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like an ad at all – it feels like a feature.

Developers are offered the BuzzDoes SDK for free, and don’t have to pay unless they actually gain new users through the word-of-mouth recommendation network. That’s a different take than what traditional “incentivized” install companies (e.g. TapJoy, W3i, etc.) provide. In most cases, developers pay upfront for a set amount of downloads which are acquired through “marketing actions,” like offers or through downloading other 3rd-party mobile apps. According to BuzzDoes CEO Assaf Kolirin, the cost to acquire is as low as $0.20 per user, versus today’s averages of $1.50-$3.00 per user.

BuzzDoes launched a month ago at the AppsWorld conference in London, and went live just two weeks ago. It now has over 100 developers on the platform – something that speaks to today’s enormous and still unsolved challenge of user acquisition and app discovery.

The $750,000 in seed funding was raised from a few leading angels in Israel and South America, including  Avraham Gilat, as well as Proxima Ventures.

Nimble Goes After Salesforce, Wants To Be The “Pandora Of Contacts”

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 08:11 AM PST


Jon Ferrara thinks Salesforce is doing it wrong when it comes to social. The founder of Goldmine, a CRM company he sold for $100 million nearly a decade ago, is attacking the market a different way with his latest startup, Nimble. “We are effectively Salesforce but social,” he says, taking a jab at what is now the 800-pound gorilla.

Salesforce would counter that it has Chatter and Radian6, but punching up is always a good way to get noticed (just ask Marc Benioff, who became a billionaire tussling with Microsoft and Oracle).

“We have spent time interviewing their dev team,” says Ferrara. “A lot of the stuff they are talking about, they don't have. Even if they were to build a product, their margins are razor-thin and they are getting hammered.”

Not only is Ferrara talking to Salesforce’s dev team, he just hired away the product director who made Chatter Mobile, Jason McDowall, who will now head up the team building Nimble’s mobile apps.

Nimble isn’t going up against Salesforce head-on. That would be stupid. Instead, it is trying to nail the social component of business communications. Nimble is an enterprise social platform built around contacts, calendars, and communications (both internal and external). It ties together email with social streams (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) and puts it all into one interconnected database.

“CRM tools are not about communications,” says Ferrara. “It is a management tool, a way for managers to keep a hand around the neck of managers. CRM doesn't tell you anything, you have to tell it everything.”

A better way to think of Nimble is as a social contact and communications database which ties into other enterprise and social services. Today, it pulls in messages from Gmail, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. With its next release, it will pull integrate with HubSpot (which turns website visitors into sales leads), Infochimps (datasets), and WuFoo (online forms).

The list of planned integrations includes Get Satisfaction, Yammer, Zendesk, Assistly, Quickbooks, and Freshbooks.

The more data Nimble can ingest about your customers, the more it can do with that data in the future. Ferrara’s goal is to make Nimble the “Pandora of contacts”—you put in two names, and it will spit put other contacts like those people. It will ingest your company’s social graph and tell you who you are close to, who is slipping away, and who you should be talking to that you are not.

For Ferrara, this goes way beyond CRM. “Hiring a social media person for the company won't work,” he says. “The conversation is so vast everyone needs to be a part of it.”

Ferrara built Nimble with $2 million of his own money and 20 developers over two years. He just recently raised a $1 million seed round from Mark Cuban, Google Ventures, and others.

Nimble is still in beta and about to roll out a major upgrade in February which it will start charging for (first 500 people to register here will get 90 days free).

Asus Transformer Prime Users Still Reporting Major GPS Issue After Official Fix

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 07:59 AM PST


Right on cue, Asus started rolling out Ice Cream Sandwich to Transformer Prime tablets last week. The update not only brought Android 4.0 to the tablet, but also a fix for the lackluster GPS performance. But apparently the GPS is borked for some. Users are still experiencing poor performance and worse yet, some are even stating that the GPS no longer works in ICS when it did prior to the update.

The update reportedly enabled the tablet to obtain satellite information via Wi-Fi, which, in theory, should allow the GPS radio to lock-on quicker. But remember, as Asus previously stated, the Transformer “is not a professional GPS device.” So, you know, that means users shouldn’t expect certain functions to work as advertised.

The common theory prior to the update stated that the Prime’s metal back plate was interfering with the GPS radio. That could still be the case but it seems less likely now that satellite information is provided by a data connection.

Issues often arise after a product launch. Asus is not unique in this situation. However, the company is seemingly sweeping problems under the rug rather than directly addressing them. The company already removed all mentions of a GPS radio from the Prime’s product page (Amazon hasn’t though). Simply issuing a statement that the Prime is not a “professional GPS device” does not cover it. It speaks to the company’s inexperienced in the consumer electronic realm.

As many users point out on XDA, the Prime is still a fine tablet minus the GPS ability. Some users state the GPS works fine. But it’s completely broken for others. Consumers have a responsibility to hold manufacturers and companies responsible for their errors and mistakes. Only ignorant fanboys grin and bear it. The rest try to get issues resolved.

Polar Mobile Raises $6 Million For HTML5-Based Publishing Platform, MediaEverywhere

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 07:54 AM PST


Polar Mobile, a digital media platform provider that builds apps for some of the biggest media companies, today announced it has secured an additional $6 million in funding. The new round, led by growth equity firm Georgian Partners, joins more than $3 million invested in the company previously from private investors, bringing its total funding to $9 million.

The company is also announcing its plans for a new product line called MediaEverywhere, an HTML5-based content distribution solution for smartphones, tablets and desktops.

Polar says that MediaEverywhere will help reduce its customers’ development time, so they can increase their monetization opportunities through its audience intelligence and personalization features. The HTML5-based apps created with MediaEverywhere will work on any device capable of running HTML5 code, not just phones and tablets, but on desktop computers too.

Adding in the desktop component is a slight shift for the company – its current product SMART is a white-label solution meant for creating apps across mobile platforms.  Specifically, SMART supports the iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry (including PlayBook), Windows Phone and Nokia.

Polar has also partnered with handset manufacturers and has existing commercial agreements with Microsoft, RIM, Nokia, Intel and Samsung.

Today, Polar counts several big media companies among its customers, including CBS Interactive, Conde Nast, Sports Illustrated, Shanghai Daily, Future Publishing, Rogers Media, Khaleej Times, TC.Media and The Wall Street Journal. In total, the company has worked with over 380 media brands in 12 countries, and its applications have seen over 1.6 billion pageviews served up to 11 million users to date.

Headquartered in Toronto, with a presence in San Francisco and Dubai, Polar expects to use the new funding to also double its team from 40 to 80 people this year and open new offices in New York and London.

The MediaEverywhere product will also roll out in 2012, first with existing customers before becoming more widely available.

Cloud Computing Software Company Joyent Raises $85 Million To Pursue Global Growth

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 07:20 AM PST


Cloud computing software and service provider Joyent has secured an $85 million round of new funding, the company is announcing today. The round was led by European group Weather Investment II. It also included Telefónica Digital, the growth arm of global telecom giant Telefónica, which participated as a strategic investor.

Weather II is a strategic shareholder in telecommunications companies. Most notably, it holds a 20% stake in Vimpelcom, the world’s sixth largest mobile telecommunications group by subscribers. Joyent states that Weather II was advised in the round by investment and management group Accelero Capital. Both Weather II and Accelero focus on telecommunication and related media and technology companies in telecom and enterprise markets.

"We are delighted to make this strategic investment in a company that is providing solutions to some of the toughest problems in cloud computing, such as cloud performance, resiliency and security,” said Khaled Bichara, co-CEO of Accelero Capital.

Meanwhile, Matthew Key, Chairman & CEO of Telefónica Digital praised how Joyent’s technology would fit perfectly with technologies it has developed in-house and its own cloud services model.

Joyent’s cloud software suite SmartDataCenter is used by developers and enterprises worldwide. With, the company provides public cloud services to a number of well-known companies, including LinkedIn, Gilt Groupe, Dell and Kabam. It’s also the steward of the open source server-side JavaScript project Node.js, a runtime for developing data-intensive, real-time apps, and a contributor to Joyent SmartOS, an open source project which powers the commercial software SmartDataCenter.

According to David Young, CEO and founder of Joyent, the new funding will enable Joyent to “build out a global compute offering to assist customers in expanding consistent software, support and services to their clients."

Throughout 2012, Joyent plans to roll out a collection of “seamlessly connected high performance clouds” serving global corporations on every continent, the company says.

The San Francisco-based company had previously raised $5 million in September, which brought it close to $30 million total. The company’s existing investors include El Dorado Ventures, Epic Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Intel Capital, and Liberty Global.

DLD 2012 – Drew Houston: “Yes, Steve Jobs Called Dropbox A Feature”

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:57 AM PST


In a conversation with WIRED UK’s David Rowan on stage at the DLD Conference in Germany, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston acknowledged that he did in fact have a “great meeting” with the late Steve Jobs in 2009.

Houston said about the get-together that Jobs had heard of them and asked to meet with him. Even though he was generally gracious, Houston said, Jobs expressed that he felt Dropbox was more of a feature than a product or business and gave him a “bit of a hard time” about that.

Jobs went on to float an eventual acquisition by Apple, but Houston said he did not name a price, at least not at the time. Forbes reported earlier that Dropbox ended up turning down a “nine-digit acquisition offer” from Apple.

Dropbox now has 50 million+ users saving billions of files daily, and is valued at $4 billion.

Not bad for a company that one of the world’s most brilliant minds ever once called a feature.

Also check out our Founder Stories series featuring Houston:

On Pitching Dropbox: "Tom Cruise In Minority Report Is Not Carrying Around A Thumb Drive"

Drew Houston: "Dropbox Users Save A Billion Files Every Three Days"

How Dropbox Got Its First 10 Million Users

Houston: "In 18 Months, You Are Going To See Little Dropbox Buttons Everywhere"

LG’s Quad-Core 2012 Flagship Leaks: The Poorly Code-Named X3

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:57 AM PST


Other than the LG Spectrum, LG didn’t have much to show off by way of phones at this year’s CES show. But that doesn’t mean that something special isn’t in the works.

In fact, Pocketnow reports that LG’s 2012 flagship will run a Tegra 3 quad-core chipset and go by the name X3, at least for now. The phone likely won’t show up on store shelves until spring or summer, but we should hear an announcement (including a retail name) come Mobile World Congress in February.

Other specs include Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which will be a must with most phones released this spring, 16GB of memory (with an SD card slot), and camera fun for everyone. By that I mean an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel shooter up front for video chat.

The X3 will only sport three physical capacitive buttons along the bottom, rather than the usual Android four, but the phone still holds onto a number of important “fours,” like a quad-core processor and Android 4.0. I’m inclined to agree with the Inquirer’s opinion that the codename for this phone should be X4 rather than X3.

Last, but certainly not least, the X3 will sport a massive 4.7-inch 1280×720 display, NFC and the latest Bluetooth standard, 4.0. Pocketnow also reports that this bad boy will maintain a waist line under 9mm, which is impressive to say the least, especially with that reported 2000mAh battery.

The phone touts 21Mbps HSPA radio support, meaning we’re likely looking at T-Mobile or AT&T. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if the X3 had LTE support for AT&T’s brand new super fast 4G network.

SoundCloud Hits 10 Million Users, Releases New Sounds+Slides Feature

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:44 AM PST


SoundCloud still isn’t conforming our story that they recently raised a $50 million round led by Kleiner Perkins – but today at the DLD conference in Munich they have announced a pretty significant milestone – hitting 10 million users. SoundCloud is gunning to be a kind of YouTube for sound, but with a wide variety of apps that can plug into its platform, and a business model which encourages upgrades to a premium paid experience. It competes with the like of Audioboo to some extent, but that is on a much lower 300,000 users and focuses on speech.

YouTube Reaches 4 Billion Views Per Day

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:41 AM PST


Google’s video-sharing property YouTube now sees 4 billion video views per day. That’s a 25% increase over the past eight months, the company told Reuters in a report released this morning. There’s now approximately 60 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute, compared with roughly 48 hours uploaded in May.

The last time YouTube released this data was in May 2011, when the company was celebrating its sixth birthday. At the time, YouTube was seeing 3 billion views per day, an increase of 50% over the past 12 months. That’s the equivalent of every U.S. resident watching at least nine videos per day, the company explained at the time to give the figure some impact.

Previously, YouTube hit the 2 billion views per day mark in May 2010, which the company noted was “nearly double the prime-time audience of all three major U.S. television networks combined.” And the site had passed 1 billion views a day in October 2009. However, as Jason Kincaid noted then, that number was likely a bit lower than the actual figure. It had previously been reported that the site had reached 1.2 billion views a day the previous June.

So it could be that YouTube reached this latest milestone of 4 billion views per day several weeks (or even months) earlier, but has just now chosen to share the information publicly.

Reuters notes that most of the 4 billion videos viewed on YouTube today don’t make money. Only 3 billion YouTube videos a week are being monetized, the company says. YouTube is also now focusing on content deals with media partners as of late. It just added Reuters TV (which is likely how they got to this data first) as one of what’s now 100 original programming deals.


DLD 2012 – Brian Chesky: “Average Airbnb Host In NYC Pockets $21,000 A Year”

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:31 AM PST

airbnb nyc

Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, took the stage this afternoon at the DLD Conference in Germany for a keynote covering his views about the ‘sharing economy’.

In terms of news, there isn’t much to report based on his talk, but Chesky talked about the fact that sharing used to be an integral part of human life and ‘hardwired’ into our DNA, that it disappeared after the second World War because of increased consumer spending and individualism, and that we’re now at the beginning of the return to sharing.

Access, Chesky purports, will eventually become more powerful than ownership again.

Later, he referred to Airbnb riding a ‘third wave of the Internet’. Chesky asserts that the first wave of the Internet was about bringing commerce online, the second wave was about connecting with others online, and that the new wave is enabling shared offline experiences through online platforms.

Chesky zoomed in on New York City, claiming that you can literally find an Airbnb in every single block in the entire city these days. In total, there are about 10,000 Airbnb homes available in NYC alone, Chesky said.

Hosts are making money from renting out space to travelers, too. According to Chesky, Airbnb hosts in NYC make $21,000 a year on average, and some even up to $100,000 a year, which I think everyone would agree is a decent chunk of cash for anyone.

Chesky also talked about how an interesting side-effect of Airbnb is that it tends to stimulate local economy in a lot of the cities in the 190 countries the company is now active.

He brought up New York City once more, pointing out that most of the hotels in the city are centered around Times Square, but that you’re most likely to discover the ‘real New York’ and, say, a great local coffee shop if you stay at an Airbnb place located in the Lower East Side area instead.

At one point in his DLD keynote speech, Chesky said that one of the goals for Airbnb is to get a point where, in 2 years time, people from every single country in the world will have stayed at an Airbnb-listed place in every other country on the planet.

Check out our other DLD coverage:

DLD 2012 – Andrew Mason: Groupon Now Boasts 10,000 Employees, 70% Outside Of The US

DLD 2012 – @Jack Dorsey: "Twitter Has A Business Model That Works"

New RIM CEO: “I Don’t Think There Is A Drastic Change Needed”

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:21 AM PST


RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins has only been at the reigns for an evening, but he did a very “BlackBerry” job of presenting himself to the media this morning on his introductory media call.

It felt a lot like the media calls of yore, with Balsillie and Lazaridis at the helm. Especially when Heins referred to Apple as “the other fruit company,” noting the two companies shared strategy of vertical integration. Unfortunately, vertical integration of software and hardware is about all that these two fruits have in common.

Remember folks, Heins is coming off of a four-year stint at RIM. At the relatively young company, Heins worked under founder Mike Lazaridis and his partner in crime Jim Balsillie. That said, you can basically hear Lazaridis-style hubris in Heins’ comments.

When asked if there was anything Heins wanted to do in the past, but was held back from by his position, Heins confirms that he (along with the freshly removed prior leadership) doesn’t see much wrong with RIM.

“At the time, the company was growing but still acting as a startup,” said Heins. “But startup processes don’t scale. Every company goes through that phase. I had the opportunity to learn about RIM here. I don’t think that there is a drastic change needed. We are evolving our tactics and processes. I don’t feel that I was held back in any way to do what I needed to do.”

So, let’s just parse this out, shall we? Heins, as COO, was never held back in executing operational decisions or strategies. That means that anything he has wanted to do to help grow (and likely save) the brand, he could’ve already done. In other words, don’t expect a brand new BlackBerry or a brand new RIM.

But the new CEO had plenty more to talk about, namely that he has no plans to split the software and hardware businesses. So you can kiss dreams of an Android-powered BlackBerry out the window for now.

No, it’s BB 10 all the way, courtesy of QNX. When asked whether QNX is really “the thing,” Heins responded by saying that “QNX is not developing an OS. It’s an existing OS. It’s used already. It’s a multi-threaded OS. What that allows us to do is true multitasking. You can have many apps open at the same time and really run them real-time in parallel.”

He finished his shpeel by noting that QNX is “an extremely competitive OS today.” Of course, we have no way of judging that until RIM fiddles around with it, makes it usable on a smartphone, and then finally releases it.

Heins also mentioned that he’d be open to licensing BB 10 to other manufacturers, “if it makes sense strategically and tactically.” But again, other manufacturers would likely need to see consumer reaction to the OS before anything like that went down, which brings us back to RIM’s most pressing and important near-term goal: get BB 10 to market quickly.

[via Engadget]

Intel Acquires Fabric Technology InfiniBand From Qlogic For $125M

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 06:21 AM PST

InfiniBand Switches

Intel is announcing an acquisition today—the company has acquired the InfiniBand business from networking and hosting company Qlogic. Intel says a significant number of the employees associated with this business are expected to accept offers to join the company. The acquisition amount was $125 million in cash.

InfiniBand is a fabric technology that provides the communications links for data flow between processors and I/O devices. The scalable technology is used to connect servers in high-performance computing (HPC) environments.

Intel saus the acquisition is designed to enhance Intel's networking portfolio and provide scalable high-performance computing (HPC) fabric technology as well as support the company's vision of innovating on fabric architectures to achieve ExaFLOP/s performance by 2018. An ExaFLOP/s is a quintillion computer operations per second, a hundred times more than today's fastest supercomputers.

Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center and Connected System Group said of the acquisition: "The technology and expertise from Qlogic provide important assets to provide the scalable system fabric needed to execute on this vision. Adding Qlogic's InfiniBand product line to our networking portfolio will bring increased options and exceptional value to our datacenter customers.”

Baseline, Accel Put $15M In Online Privacy Certification Company TRUSTe

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 05:59 AM PST


Online privacy certification company TRUSTe has raised $15 million in Series C funding led by Baseline Ventures with existing investors Accel Partners, DAG Ventures and Jafco Ventures participating. This brings TRUSTe’s total funding to $37 million.

TRUSTe certifies that companies are meeting online privacy standards for consumers. Websites which are certified by the company bear a “trustmark,” indicating that the site is secure. TRUSTe says more than 82 percent of consumers who recognize TRUSTe's privacy seal use it to decide how and when to disclose personal information. TRUSTe was actually a not-for-profit venture until 2008 when the company changed its business model.

As online privacy has increasingly become a concern for consumers, TRUSTe’s brand has benefitted. In the past 18 months, TRUSTe has nearly tripled in size – including sales, employees, and product offerings. TRUSTe now has over 5,000 customers including Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, Facebook, AOL, Adobe, AT&T, Comcast, Disney,, Apple, LinkedIn, Web MD, and Yelp.

TRUSTe’s CEO Chris Babel tells me in an interview that as more sites are trying to track data from consumers, TRUSTe sees an opportunity in helping companies address these data privacy challenges. He explains, “This increased use of data poses significant challenges, including the need to address complicated compliance requirements, establish consumer trust, and manage complex technology requirements.”

The company has also expanded its product into online advertising, including its TRUSTed Ads online advertising compliance solution and mobile app certification.

The new funding will be used towards the development of new technologies, expansion of TRUSTe’s international operations, and further hiring of sales and operations staff. Check out this recent comparison of online privacy policies around the web compiled by TRUSTE.

Fantasy Shopper Confirms Its Hottness With $3.3m First Money From Accel And NEA

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 05:45 AM PST

logo (1)

Fantasy Shopper is a social shopping game where players discover and share the latest fashion from real-world online and offline retailers. It’s gained a lot of traction since it’s launch last October, especially amongst women and we’ve heard on the grapevine that it was piquing the interest of investors for some months since emerging from the European Seed accelerator HackFWD.

Today that intense interest has been confirmed with a first round of funding led by top tier venture firms Accel Partners and NEA (one of the key investors in Groupon) to enable it to build out engineering and expand into new cities other than London. With NEA co-leading the investment, clearly there is a big opportunity to scale in US cities and elsewhere. The investment is based on a convertible note not equity, which is standard practise when investors want in fast and the round is hotly contested.

Mykonos Helps Companies Battle Hackers, Raises $4 Million

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 05:41 AM PST


Mykonos (the security software company, not the lovely Greek island) has secured $4 million in a Series A funding round led by previous backer Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex.

New investors include Ironport founder Scott Banister, Jeff Clarke (executive chairman of Travelport, chairman of Orbitz and board member of Red Hat) and Mike Jones (founder and CEO of Clover Capital).

Mykonos’s Web Security product uses deception to “detect, confuse, slow down and prevent attackers” in real-time in order to help companies protect their websites and Web apps from malicious hacker and proactively prevent fraud and theft.

Just recently, the company moved its headquarters to the heart of Silicon Valley – they also have offices in New York.

Clearstream Promises to Bring Transparency to Video Ads

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 05:00 AM PST


A new startup called Clearstream says it’s time to tame the “Wild West” of online video advertising.

According to co-founder Brian Mandelbaum, the idea came from his time at ad agencies, including Razorfish and Saatchi & Saatchi. The problem, he says, is that there’s no good way to distinguish between high- and low-quality ad placements. When you buy space in a video ad network, that ad could be running before a video on a premium site, but it could also be stuck in a banner on a random website.

“The advertiser is getting screwed,” Mandelbaum says.

To bring more transparency to the industry, Clearstream has created a rating system for any site wanting to run video ads. Either the publisher can pay Clearstream for a certification, or an agency can require that a publisher get certified. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative evaluation, Mandelbaum says Clearstream gives two ratings, one for general quality, and one for relevance in a given content category, such as sports.

Contrasting Clearstream with existing services, Mandelbaum says companies like Nielsen and comScore are interested in collecting data on who’s watching an ad. Clearstream, on the other hand, helps advertisers understand the “what, where, when, and how.” And while there are services for evaluating the brand-friendliness of a page, Mandelbaum says a web page can have little to do with the video that’s playing — which is why Clearstream applies ratings on a stream, publisher, and agency level. He also calls existing systems “almost extortion” where “the only person who wins is the verification company” — while with Clearstream, even the publisher benefits because they get data on how to make their video content more brand-friendly.

When discussing his vision, Mandelbaum likes to focus on his agency background, but there’s another eye-catching item on his resume — he was a contestant on the fourth season of The Apprentice, getting fired during the eight episode. When asked about that experience, Mandelbaum gamely tries to connect it with his new startup, saying The Apprentice helped him learn how “to listen and to be able to build against what the community wants.”

Report: Olympus In Final Stages Of Negotiations To Partner With Sony

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 03:51 AM PST

olympus logo

It would be a tie-up between two giants: Diamond Weekly, a major Japanese business journal, is reporting [JP] on its website today that scandal-hit Olympus is about to ink a capital and business alliance deal with Sony. Olympus has been under fire for months, after it was revealed the company has covered up large losses for the past 20 years.

At some point, Olympus was in danger of getting de-listed at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, but it’s now on a 3-year “probation” that requires the company to improve governance. According to Diamond, Olympus’ top management has been consulting with various electronics companies but chose Sony as the best partner to help get it out of one the biggest corporate scandals in Japanese history.

The magazine says that Olympus is planning to hold a news conference as early this week to formally announce the deal. As a next step, the alliance is to get a green light at an extraordinary shareholders meeting in April.

Sony currently owns a 0.03% stake in Olympus. Neither company has reacted to Diamond’s report yet.

DLD 2012 – Andrew Mason: Groupon Now Boasts 10,000 Employees, 70% Outside Of The US

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 03:35 AM PST


Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason was interviewed by Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick on stage at the annual DLD confab in Munich, Germany.

Below are my notes – Mason’s responses are slightly paraphrased.

Also read: DLD 2012 – @Jack Dorsey: "Twitter Has A Business Model That Works"

As you can tell from how filled the room is: there’s a lot of interest in Groupon. Can you start by telling us how you would describe the company today?

Groupon has evolved quite bit since we launched three years ago. We started off with a single ‘deal of the day’ in each city, and today we often offer dozens of deals in numerous cities, across many categories (travel, goods, etc.). We think of it more as a curated deal marketplace then a daily deal site now.

And as we go wider and expand into new categories, where are passion lies remains in local commerce. We think technology will fundamentally change the way local merchants do business, with the surge of mobile devices and whatnot.

We now have 150 million subscribers, and we’re good at getting customers in the door of the merchants we work with. Our aim is to change the way people shop locally, giving more buying power for consumers and enhancing transactions and inventory management for merchants.

Do you consider Groupon to be a technology company?

Groupon is a cyborg. It’s a tech company with an important human core. Figuratively speaking, if all Facebook or Google employees would take a few days off to go to the beach, the business would, in general, continue to run smoothly. If we would do it, it would be hell. We talk to thousands of merchants on a daily basis, so that’s a huge human component. If we’re not a tech company, then I guess you could call us an operations-sales-marketing company, which is exactly why our model is not as easy to replicate as some may think.

So the first phase of the business is being hybrid tech/human company, but in order to unlock the next phase, such as moving into more realtime local commerce (Groupon Now and Rewards for example) it makes us more of a tech company again. We’ve tried to set ourselves up from the beginning to be both.

There’s been a lot of skepticism about Groupon, from myself included I must admit. What’s your basic point of view on the way you’ve been perceived? Does it bother you?

When we filed our S1, I got the feeling that the press went from being overly ‘cheerleady’ and giving us uncritical praise to piling on. We’re not a perfect company, and we’ll always be iterating and learning. Obviously, I think the criticism was largely unfounded, particularly during the ‘quiet period’ which make things more difficult because it prevented us from setting up dialogs.

I see two problems with understanding Groupon. One is that your business appears to be easily replicable, making it hard to identify what your sustainable unique advantage is. The second, which reinforces this perception, is the fact that so many shareholders, yourself included, took unprecedented amounts of money off the table during fundraising rounds, plus some investors like Eric Lefkofsky having a bad reputation.

To address the first point you raised, about our model being so easily replicable: it frankly doesn’t matter that you don’t understand. I agree that the barriers for entry for competitors are low, you know, how hard could it be to build an email list? But what the data also shows is that the barriers to success are high.

The ratio of companies that have tried their hand at this and those who have succeeded, is lower than any business model. If you look at how quickly large tech companies like Facebook, Google, OpenTable and Yelp have pulled out, it amazes me how off people still are on this. We combine operational excellence with a human component, which is a big part of our business. We consider ourselves to be our biggest competitor. It won’t be a ninja move from one of our rivals that will kill us.

About taking money off the table: there’s a number of ways I can address this. I strongly defend the practice. If you have a startup, I’d say you should take money off the table early if you have the opportunity. The reason why is that it alleviates the pressure to be short-term focused. I took several millions of dollars off the table (some investors way more than that) and I hit my threshold, I felt comportable enough not to worry about money anymore.

Things will come along in the history of your business if you’re successful. Opportunities to sell, for example, which you’ll be more inclined to entertain if there’s financial pressure, forcing you not to think about the long-term but instead about your own financial well-being.

Unless we want a world where every startup sells to Google or Facebook or Amazon, we should stop considering taking money off the table before an ‘exit’ a bad business practice.

Also, I’ll point out that if we did not believe in the business, we had way more opportunities to take more cash off the table than by doing what we did. It’s a good practice of hedging along the way. Investors will tell you to diversify your portfolio no matter how much believe in one stock. Our investors did exactly that.

You also have to realize that we had enormous demand from investors before we went public, they were falling over themselves. Getting them on board was a strategic benefit. Bringing in great people, good long-term shareholders and familiarize them with the company. There were two ways we could achieve this: by diluting all the shareholders or by letting them sell stock to new, sophisticated shareholders. We’re not screwing them. I will add that none of our investors are complaining about the insider selling.

I give you a lot of credit as a manager, with the successful pivot that you did. How many employees do you have now?

We’re now 10,000 people, and we’re 3 years old.

That’s one of these stories that have never been seen before.

Yes, it’s amazing. If you would take a zero off everyone of our metrics, it would look very normal. We grew enormously fast. The biggest reason for that is the fact that local ecommerce is the largest market out there, and the model works. We’ve also managed to expand to other countries quickly.

Can you address the perceived ‘problem’ with two of the Samwer brothers having so much control over the way you expand internationally?

Marc Samwer is 100 percent Groupon. Can I embarrass you? The Samwer brothers have a reputation for cloning. And before I started a company myself, maybe I would have looked down on it too. You need to realize that execution is the hard part, the idea is easy.

The Samwers are the best operators I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re super lucky to have them. We couldn’t have done it without their help.

So you have 10,000 employees now. How many of them are outside of the United States?

About 7,000.

I have to give you lots of credit for being such a young, successful founder, and thanks for your candor during this interview.

Cyfe Lets SMBs Monitor Their Business Metrics From One “Command Center” (In Realtime)

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 03:34 AM PST

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I’m becoming increasingly convinced that, amidst the bevy of web startups and app developers rushing to build consumer-facing products and services, the business-to-business space holds increasing opportunities for startups and small businesses. Small businesses, and let’s define them as companies with less than 20 employees, make up the majority of businesses out there, and most of them are either offline — barely online — or are underserved in terms of tech support, web development, and everything in between.

We just covered Silver Lining, a company that aims to help SMBs increase their profitability by helping them analyze their operations, set reasonable and attainable financial goals, and, most importantly, help them take action to realize those goals. Or there’s Bizness Apps, which helps SMBs quickly create quality mobile and web apps, or On Deck, which helps SMBs find loans without all the hassle.

This psychology resonated with Deven Patel, a serial entrepreneur and web software engineer, who tells me that the key (even in spite of what I’ve just said) is creating products and services not solely based on the market, but based on what entrepreneurs have found to be areas of need (or structural deficiencies) in their experience — or that of their customers. In Patel’s case, he said that he’s found that small businesses spend up to 80 percent of their time collecting data and creating reports on their customers’ interaction with their services, among one hundred others. It’s a pain in the ass, time consuming, and he thinks he’s found a simple way to solve the problem.

This week, he launched the open alpha/beta of Cyfe, what I think of as a “TweetDeck for business analytics”, which allows business owners to easily monitor and share their vital business data and analytics from a single location, in realtime.

In other words, Cyfe isn’t a business intelligence solution, it’s a command center for SMBs, which can be set up in a matter of minutes and is initially free. At the outset, Cyfe integrates with over 25 popular services, like Salesforce, AdSense, MailChimp, Amazon, Facebook, WordPress, Zendesk and Twitter, so that business owners don’t have to log in to each of these services individually to find out what they’re customers are up to — and what they’re saying about your business.

In his experience, Patel says that existing products in this space were either too technical (in that they required IT support or programming), too focused on enterprise (not optimized for startups and SMBs), or too expensive ($2K to $100K per month). What’s more, small businesses were wasting way too much time piecing together their own internal dashboards, so the founder developed a cloud-based service that small businesses can use to monitor their Twitter accounts, or monitor website uptime with Pingdom.

Cyfe offers three different templates, or dashboards, for businesses, agencies, and management. Agencies, for example, spend an enormous amount of time manually gathering performance data every day/week/month for their clients, so with, Cyfe, they can set up individual dashboards for their clients, which can be shared privately. The read-only dashboards provide their clients with a realtime view of progress the agency is making by tracking traffic via Google Analytics, SEO efforts on SEOmoz, etc. The same is true for management, allowing them to keep track of customer relations and traffic without having to go to IT for the latest updates.

Cyfe’s business model, like so many other software and web startups, is freemium. The pricing starts at free and works up to $50 a month, depending on how many services users want to manage in their dashboards. The free plan allows users to connect to five different services, 20 services for $10 a month, and so on.

This is where Patel hopes Cyfe will have a leg up on companies like GoodData, which starts at $2K a month and can be tough to use, whereas Oracle is also expensive and more focused on enterprise-grade business intelligence and analytics. Solving the price and complexity problem can mean big opportunity.

Of course, with a widget-based system, which requires companies to connect their various services to Cyfe to open the gateway so that data can be viewed in one dashboard, security is essential. Small business owners without a ton of web or technical experience, may resist tools that require them to share their prized asset (their internal data), especially with a young startup with a beta web presence.

Patel was quick to point out that security is top priority for he and his team, and that the widgets that require login details use OAuth for authentication and thus don’t store any login details in their databases. For those that don’t have OAuth capabilities, Cyfe uses AES encryption, which was developed by the U.S. government (and is now used widely), to protect the data. Cyfe also has a few widgets that don’t require login details, like Twitter FeedBurner, and SEOMoz, which he says he thinks users may like because, in the example of Twitter, it allows SMBs to monitor the Twitter accounts of their competitors from their dashboards as well.

Patel did say that a Twitter widget which does show personal data from your Twitter account will be available in later versions of the widget, and the same goes for others, as they receive feedback and crowdsource the tools and versions that are most used (and called for) by their users.

I think that Cyfe may have to raise the amount of widgets they offer (five) for their free plan to entice users to start testing out the product for free, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think their pricing could even be steeper. Even the smallest, most capital-strapped end of the SMB spectrum is willing to fork out some cash on a monthly basis for a service that saves them a big chunk of time. Patel said that he is still working out the most optimal pricing scheme, but he’s determined to keep it affordable.

Of course, in either case, the product has to be killer, and Cyfe isn’t all the way there yet, but it’s very early in the game, and they’re off to a great start. They can’t and won’t stop and 25 products — the more widgets users can compile in one place, the better.

The other issue that comes to mind is management. Hootsuite, and other services like it, allow businesses to manage all of their social media accounts from a single dashboard. However, Hootsuite only does social media, and it only goes so broad with the networks one can integrate. Cyfe is going after a similar endgame, but it’s aiming to be more all-inclusive — as an analytics and performance data tool. As it goes forward, it may behoove Cyfe to add management capabilities, and Patel says this is very much on the roadmap. I could also see alerts having more than a few use cases within this framework so that business owners could get instant, realtime sentiment analysis. (Which is perhaps better than having to rely on Klout.)

Cyfe allows user to put together a dashboard that business owners and agencies can privately share with their clients to see a realtime view of progress, but there’s no multi-user access yet, though Patel says this, too, is coming soon. With a few of these upgrades, an even greater array of available widgets, Cyfe is going to be a great tool. Having to worry less about creating Excel spreadsheets and PDFs to collect and present all of your business’ performance data presents a big value proposition, and it could do for analytics and reporting what FreshBooks did for invoicing. And, hey, if they don’t have a widget, they let you create your own.

For more, check out Cyfe at home here. Let us know what you think. Did we miss something? Comment away.

Hitachi And Mitsubishi Stop Domestic Production Of TVs, Optical Discs

Posted: 23 Jan 2012 02:10 AM PST

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Two big Japanese electronics companies, namely Hitachi and Mitsubishi, are to stop producing parts of their product portfolio domestically: Hitachi announced [JP] it will end production of plasma and LCD TVs in Japan, marketed under the Wooo brand, by September this year.

The company owns a plant in Gifu prefecture in central Japan that churns out about 100,000 TVs per month (pictured: a Hitachi Wooo plasma from 2009). Citing price competition in the TV business as the main reason for the move, Hitachi said the plant will be used to produce projectors and chips instead.

The company will continue to offer Wooo TVs made by non-Japanese contractors.

On the same day as the Hitachi announcement, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun is reporting that Mitsubishi has decided to stop the domestic production of DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

According to the report, the main reasons for the decision are declining DVD sales and (still) weak Blu-ray sales. The company has been producing these discs in its own plants in Singapore and Okayama prefecture in Western Japan for years. Now Mitsubishi is planning to outsource optical disc production to partner companies in India and Taiwan in the future.

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