Parents and Families
Many in the tech world and Washington have railed against the encroaching and limiting effect of patents on innovation, but when the chips are down, IP and patents remain key cornerstones in how tech companies and their founders are making sure they will be able to build their businesses and stick around for the long haul. Tony Fadell, the legendary former hardware supremo at Apple and now CEO and co-founder of new smart home device startup Nest, today revealed that Nest already had 100 patents granted, with 200 more on file with the USPTO and another 200 ready to file.
“At Nest what we did was make sure that we are putting [effort in] a ton of patents,” he said on stage today at the LeWeb conference on Paris. “This is what you have to do to disrupt major revenue streams.”
Nest, which first hit the market last year with a smart, design-friendly thermostat that you can control remotely with an iPhone app, this year added to its range with a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detection and alarm system. But the company has also had its share of patent heat.
It has been embroiled in a thermostat-related patent infringement suit brought by appliance maker Honeywell initially in February 2012, and in November 2013 saw another patent suit get filed from BRK, makers of the First Alert smoke alarms, for infringements related to Nest’s second product.
Nest has also taken steps to buy insurance from elsewhere to shore up its patent position. In September it announced a deal with Intellectual Ventures — one of the most well-known of the patent hoarders — for access to some 40,000 patents via IV’s “IP for Defense” subscription-based product. Nest can draw on these patents as a defendant or in the event of a counterclaim — as it happens to be in the case of Honeywell.
Part of the IV deal also included the acquisition of an unspecified number of patents, “in areas of interest to Nest, including systems and methods for automatic registration of devices.” It is unclear whether Fadell’s patent citation today — totalling some 500 in all if you count granted patents, those waiting approval, and those yet to be filed — include the patents that Nest would have picked up from IV.
You might argue that part of Fadell’s bullishness about patents comes out of necessity because of these suits, but on the other hand you have to remember that he comes from Apple, one of the most aggressive technology companies when it comes to using patents to defend its products, and also filing a lot of them almost as a smokescreen to mask what it may be planning next.
Patents are not the only game in town, of course. In talking about what he saw as important elements of building a business, Fadell also touched on the challenges of hardware startups, and the pitfalls of Kickstarter. You can get a lot of public support (and even financial support) for an idea, but “if you do not plant the seeds early enough” for how you will manufacture and distribute that concept at scale, he said, you will not go anywhere. (Yes, he said this last year at LeWeb, too.)
The other area that Fadell believes we are seeing a shortfall is in how disruptive products are being marketed to consumers.
“You have to communicate what the problem is and what the benefit of the solution is,” as well as giving people an easy way to purchase it, he said. That is part of how you build trust for new, intelligent devices. “If people cannot trust our brand, our things will never sell,” said Fadell. “The ‘Internet of Things’ will never take off if people do not trust the products.”
The reign of “creative” LinkedIn profiles appears to be over.
The company is releasing its list of the most overused buzzwords in 2013, based on the words that appear most frequently on the professional networking site’s profiles. In 2011 and 2012, the most overused word was “creative”, but this year “creative” was beaten by “responsible.” On one hand, that’s less obviously self-defeating than describing yourself as creative. On the other hand, it’s more than little … uninspiring.
Personally, I find the whole idea of pumping up your LinkedIn profile with flattering adjectives to be kind of strange, but then, my profile says, “I write stuff,” so what do I know? However, in LinkedIn’s own press release, the company’s “career expert” Nicole Williams says that including buzzwords in your profile isn’t a great idea: “If you sound like everyone else, you won’t stand out from other professionals vying for opportunities.”
And if you’re staring at the buzzword list below with dawning horror because it’s basically the same as your entire LinkedIn profile, well, the company has some suggestions. Among other things, it says you should let other users vouch for you (given the random requests and recommendations I get, I’m not crazy about this feature either, but, uh, let’s move on …), include actual work or results that show you’re creative or (bleh) responsible, and be more specific in your wording so that it’s better tailored to the jobs, companies, and industries you’re interested in.
Anyway, here’s the top 10 list:
Palantir, the big data company that started off with clients like the FBI and CIA before building up a large private-sector roster of customers, just added more funding to its coffers.
Last week, the company filed that it was raising $57 million with the SEC. Now that round is coming in at $107.5 million, according to a new amended filing today.
Sources close to the company told us that the round valued the company at $9 billion. This is a boost to an earlier $196.5 million round in the fall that valued the company at $6 billion.
Strong investor appetite convinced the company to bring in more capital at a 50 percent bump to their overall valuation.
Palantir, which expects to see more than $1 billion in contracts next year, sells a big data platform to private-sector and government clients. It helps them make sense from disparate silos of data and point out trends that they would otherwise not see.
For example, rescue workers operating in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy used Palantir to manage requests for water, medical supplies, and home repairs. Financial clients tend to use it to look for cybersecurity or fraud threats.
While the company was originally founded back in 2004 to take anti-fraud technologies and ideas developed at PayPal and use them to fight terrorism with government agencies, the company is now working with lots of private sector clients.
Today, government contracts make up less than 40 percent of the company’s revenues, a source familiar with the company tells me.
The company was the brainchild of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, who recruited current CEO Alex Karp, Joe Lonsdale (who went on to found Asia and Silicon Valley-focused investment firm Formation 8), Stephen Cohen and chief technology officer Nathan Gettings to put together an initial product.
nWay, a San Francisco-based gaming startup from an experienced team of MMO-makers, just raised $5 million in funding led by TransLink Capital.
They also had participation from several of Silicon Valley’s better known micro-VCs and early-stage funds like Baseline Ventures’ Steven Anderson, Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee and Harrison Metal’s Michael Dearing. Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew, WI Harper Group, Zhen Fund, Bowana, and XG Ventures also joined the round.
Before starting nWay, CEO Taehoon Kim had racked up years of experience through building several gaming companies including one MMO maker called Nurien, that he eventually sold to CJ E&M. They were behind several social dance and fashion show titles.
He’s returning to the game-making world with a team that has worked on titles like Grand Theft Auto, Diablo II and Dead Space 2 & 3.
“We wanted to basically create what we thought were real games. Some games are very blurry with the line between social networking and gameplay,” he said.
The company’s main title ChronoBlade, is a title where a handful of hero characters battle to protect a Multi-verse, or a universe where multiple versions of Earth exist. The enemy army, the Chronarch Imperium, has advanced weaponry that it uses to destroy most worlds’ defenses. Players take on the role of one of four inter-dimensional heroes that have to keep the Chronarch Imperium at bay. Each of course has its own unique skill sets and specialties.
Right now, the game is just available on Facebook and on the new Android-based console Ouya. They’ll be launching a multi-player mode in three days. But nWay plans to have it work seamlessly across several platforms including consoles, PCs and mobile devices. Android and iOS should be coming in 2014.
But the reason the company has been able to attract investor interest in a tough climate for gaming startups is because of the team’s experience and because they’ve developed some back-end technology that should allow for 60-frame-per-second synchronous multiplayer game play.
“We think it will be breakthrough technology for twitch-based games that require low latency,” Kim said.
So far, Kim says that tests show players are spending at least 30 minutes on average. They haven’t turned on any monetization features at the moment, as the company is focused on retention rather than revenue at the moment.
The two-year-old company has raised about $11 million in total and has 34 employees. Jay Eum, a managing director at TransLink Capital will join Baseline’s Steve Anderson on the company’s board.
The Kubo is a uniquely designed vehicle that brings together the best of both worlds from scooters and cars: It has a small two-wheeled form factor, but a nice amount of storage space. Lit describes it as “combining the beautiful design of Apple and Vespa with the basic utility of a pickup truck.” I’d liken it to a modern two-wheeled version of the El Camino, only much more beautifully designed (and eco-friendly!) Either way, it’s a very nifty piece of work. Once you see it, you wonder why something like it hasn’t been made already.
Lit Motors is hoping to crowdfund the initial production of the Kubo through a Kickstarter campaign launched last month. So far, the company has a ways to go — a little over $45,000 has been pledged out of the $300,000 goal, so with nine days left in the campaign the clock is certainly ticking. As sleek as the Kubo is, it might have been a bit ambitious to expect dozens of people to each put down $5,000 to reserve a yet-to-be-built scooter from a small startup.
But whatever happens with this particular Kickstarter campaign, Lit’s chief marketing officer Ryan James tells me that the company will figure out a way to get the Kubo into production for all the people who want it. There are lots of people rooting for Lit, and it will be exciting to see how its designs are made into a reality (and eventually come to our roads.)
We swung by Lit Motors HQ to get a first-person look at the Kubo and watch Lit’s CMO Ryan James take it for a spin. Check it out in the video embedded above.
Video credits: Shooting: John Murillo and Yashad Kulkarni, Editing: Yashad Kulkarni, Production: Felicia Williams
“Referral marketing” startup Extole is announcing that it has raised $5 million in new funding.
Founded in 2009, Extole announced the appointment of new CEO Matt Roche back in April. Since then, the company has also brought on Mark Cyster as CTO and Chris Duskin as vice president of marketing — like Roche, they were formerly executives at Offermatica (which was acquired by Adobe).
Roche said that when he joined, Extole offered a broad suite of “advocacy” products, i.e. tools to encourage fans to promote a company or product. Under his lead, however, the company has “doubled down” on a specific part of its business, namely referral marketing, while dropping everything else.
In other words, Roche wants Extole to be the platform that companies use to launch “recommend us to your friend and get a reward!” campaigns on their websites and on mobile. For example, if you go to the website of clothing startup American Giant, Extole is providing the underlying technology for the “refer and get $15 off” offers on the home page and on the listings for individual products. Roche said the campaigns are completely customizable and that Extole also offers analytics so that companies can monitor and optimize them.
Roche plans to make the platform available to everyone early next year, but it started bringing on beta customers over the summer, and there are now 35 companies using it. In the case of American Giant, Extole says it’s driving 10 percent of the company’s e-commerce transactions.
“This is an actual enterprise channel,” Roche said. “We are no longer in research mode, we are in exploitation mode.”
The new funding comes from Norwest Venture Partners, Shasta Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, and Trident Capital. When I asked if Roche had always planned to raise more money at this time, Roche laughed and said, “Sometimes, plans force themselves upon you.”
Few things in life are more frustrating than trying to find a new place to live (especially if you’re itching to move to the housing market hellholes that are New York City and San Francisco). It’s no wonder then that so many startups — Trulia, Zillow, Redfin, Apartment List, Rental Engine, Zumper, Nestio, the list goes on — are trying to make it all just a little bit easier.
Of these myriad startups, apartment-centric Lovely has been especially busy these past few months: it closed a (sadly undisclosed) Series A and snapped up automated rent payment startup Rentmatic to help prove its worth to property owners too. So what was next on their agenda? Getting a new Android app out the door, which the company finally did earlier today.
Lovely is hardly new to the mobile realm — it launched an iOS version of the app a little over a year ago, and anyone who’s mucked around with that should feel comfortable taking the Android version for a spin. That’s far from a bad thing when more than a few competing mobile real estate apps are happy to throw everything plus the kitchen sink into the mix. It’s not hard to see why: as stated, finding an apartment is hard and bombarding a user with fiddly options and controls makes them feel like they’re actually getting something done. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but the illusion of control persists.
The Lovely approach is to strip out the cruft. When you fire up the app for the first time, color-coded listings appear in location-based groups that expand when tapped. From there it takes a but a few taps to directly contact the property owner, share the listing, or report obvious frauds. If you go on to create an account, even more doors open (I slay me) so you can set alerts when properties free up within specific areas and preload some personal and financial information to put potential renters at ease.
There’s little here that differentiates the Android app from its iOS cousin, but that’s hardly an issue — CEO Blake Pierson said he considers Lovely a mobile-first company that uses what it’s learned from fast iteration on the web to inform the mobile experience. All things considered, this new Android version of the app is a handsome one and I actually found a few interesting leads while I was writing this story (what can I say, I’ve grown a little weary of southern New Jersey).
“Some think of us as purely a search tool,” Pierson noted on the phone. “But our long term vision is to be the platform and THE marketplace for rentals.” What he means is that the Lovely vision ultimately encompasses the renting process from both ends: tools for renters and apartment hunters alike. The team has already starting moving down that path with its Rentmatic acquisition, but we’ll see if they can really balance both sides of that equation.
As 2013 wraps to an end, Microsoft released its final set of Patch Tuesday fixes, updating its Surface line of tablets at the same time.
According to Microsoft, the fixes include 11 bulletins, five of which are marked critical, solving 24 vulnerabilities. That’s quite the raft. Among the patched products are Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, and Exchange. So, more so than in some months, you want to get yourself up to date.
Security firm Qualys points out that two zero-day flaws amongst the mix only cause havoc if a company is still using Windows XP, which it estimates that about 15% of enterprises still are. Keep in mind that the end of Windows XP support is rapidly approaching. Qualys correctly wrote today that a company’s “security situation will then become very quickly unmaintainable” if it stays on XP after Microsoft removes support. Microsoft itself would like it very much if folks would stop using Windows XP.
The real meat out today is a set of Surface updates, however, which should bring quality of life improvements to owners of Microsoft’s line of tablets. As collated by Mary Jo Foley, here they are:
- Surface Home Button Driver update to optimize available system memory
- Surface Type Cover audio device driver update to enhance trackpad sounds for Type Cover 2
- Fix for screen dimming during CPU intensive operations resolved
- Decreased charge time for batteries resolved
- Two-finger trackpad use optimized
- Update to support additional external displays
- Skype video quality improved
- Resolved delay during restart when Bluetooth devices are connected
- No updates this month (according to Microsoft’s Surface Pro History site)
- Wi-Fi driver (v14.69.24047.156) update for improved wireless display experience
- Update for improved system stability, including when minimizing full screen games
- Updated Wi-Fi driver for improved wireless display and connectivity with wireless access points
- Improved Surface Cover interaction including power-saving sleep functionality
- Color fidelity improvements for all applications
- Optimized two-finger trackpad use
- Enhanced audio experience when connected to a Display Port 1.2 device
That’s no small list of updates. If you lean on Microsoft’s software, you have some patching to do.
After closing its Series A in early November, gifting startup Loop Commerce has added an investment from PayPal to the round. While Loop Commerce co-founder and CEO Roy Erez would not disclose the exact amount of PayPal’s investment, the Series A was previously $7 million and now stands a little north of $12 million. So you do the math.
Loop Commerce’s list of investors already includes eBay CTO Mark Carges, Don Katz of Audible and Amazon, Magento CEO Roy Rubin, former Toys “R” Us SVP Michael Scharff, Oren Zeev, Chegg CTO Chuck Geiger, and Novel TMT. With this latest investment, PayPal VP of Global Strategic Development Don Kingsborough will serve as PayPal’s observer on Loop Commerce’s board.
As a B2B2C service, Loop Commerce’s aim is to find a place in the broader ecommerce landscape by integrating with retailers as an alternate checkout flow. When a shopper wants to gift an item to a friend, they go through Loop’s checkout process, sending a notification to the recipient asking for shipping, sizing, and color preferences.
For consumers, it means giving and receiving gifts, especially clothing, that will actually see some use. For retailers, it could cut down on the cost associated with returns while delivering extra user behavior data.
Loop Commerce has been in private beta since its launch in November, and it’s taking its time getting to market. Erez said the team hasn’t set a date to open up the service to retailers, although they have added merchants to their test roster over the last month (they’re not disclosing those names, either).
“It’s not a consumer app where you get some feedback and make it happen. We built it from the ground up to go to the largest retailers out there,” Erez said.
While Erez said it is too soon to comment on the nature of the startup’s relationship with PayPal, we’ll be watching to see how that informs Loop’s product.
In the past, PayPal has invested in the Japanese personal finance app Moneytree; restaurant ordering platform OLO; BillFloat, the service bill payment startup that was incubated by PayPal and Venrock; and mFoundry, which sold to FIS early this year for $120 million.
[Image: Flickr / Hades2k]
SugarSync, a gladiator in the long, hard battle that is hosted cloud storage, has decided to go mercenary. The company announced today that they will offer a “paid-only” service model, doing away with their free storage tiers. Current customers can still access their files and will be offered considerable discounts on the service – up to 75% in some cases.
“We have decided to no longer offer free storage forever,” said CEO Mike Grossman. “SugarSync is unlike other companies in the space because we do a lot more than just offer basic file storage. Instead, we offer a premium service that provides prosumers and small businesses with unprecedented control and flexibility over their data through our unique multisync capabilities.”
That basically means they want more business clients. Competitors like Box and Dropbox – not to mention Google Drive – are clearly taking the oxygen out of the casual cloud market, which is why SugarSync is, in a way, pivoting.
Free accounts will close on February 8, 2014 while users can still sign up for a 90-day 5GB trial or a 30-day trial with up to 60GB of storage. However, instead of letting you keep your free storage, SugarSync will attempt to monetize customers as soon as possible.
“There are many companies in this space that are giving away free storage, however, most of these companies will not be viable. We are already in a solid financial position and this shift will further strengthen our business,” said Grossman. In a world where dozens of gigabytes for free is now the norm, this is definitely an interesting maneuver by a major player.
Technology and nature seem in constant conflict, but they can be better together. And being a tech enthusiast isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive with loving the outdoors, which is why we’ve put together a whole gift guide featuring stuff that scratches that techie itch but also should help you conquer (or live in peaceful harmony with, if that’s what you’re into) nature.AR Drone 2.0 ($299)
Soon, drones will be everywhere, and we’ll need to retreat to the forests just to escape their interminable whirring. But until then, nature is the perfect harbor for them. The AR Drone 2.0 by Parrot is a smartphone-controlled quadcopter that you’ve probably seen on TV, the web or at a trade show, and it’s a great device for winging around the forest for some easy outdoor aerial photography. Bonus points if you can buzz a deer.Nike+ Fuelband SE ($149.95)
The woods doesn’t count if you can’t quantify what you did there, and that’s where Nike’s new Fuelband device comes into play. Upgrading with much-improved activity tracking that can distinguish between biking, running, and even tennis and more. The Fuelband SE can also track sleep for you while you’re toughing it out on the cold, hard ground, but it’s only an on/off state, so if you’re more concerned about that, look to something like the Jawbone UP24.Oru Kayak ($1,095)
An entire kayak that folds up into a convenient suitcase sized carrying package. That’s the only pitch you should need to hear with the Oru Kayak. Made of durable corrugated plastic, it comes with a number of options, including a two-pack for the outdoor-loving couple. It’s well-reviewed by many kayakers, packs up smaller and is in many ways easier to assemble than most other so-called folding kayaks. Plus, as far as kayaks go, it’s not even actually all that expensive.Olympus TG-2 iHS ($379.99)
If you want a camera ready for the wilderness, the Olympus TG-2 iHS is the best one that will still fit in your pocket. Dust, shock, water and freeze proof, it also offers a very wide maximum aperture and good image quality all around. This is the prevailing leader when it comes to the pocket toughcam market, and you can usually pick it up at a discounted price if you look around a little.Boombot Rex ($119.99)
You go to nature to enjoy the silence, not rock out to sick beats, but sometimes it’s okay to combine those two. And the Boombot Rex can hold up to adverse weather conditions, including mud and dust, and it doubles as a very capable Bluetooth speakerphone with a long-lasting battery.
Today, Twitter has announced an update to its apps for iOS and Android as well as TweetDeck for Web, Chrome and PC (and Mac soon) that bring a renewed focus on direct messaging. The app now features a direct link to Direct Messages in the tab bar and allows you to send photos inside DMs for the first time.
This major redesign has been in the works for a while, and today marks the first time we’ve seen most of these elements all in one place. Twitter has been testing a variety of these features over the past few weeks, but now they’re all packaged together. You may have seen the DM icon in the tab bar or heard of some users getting a swipeable timeline design as a part of Twitter’s ongoing experiments which see just a small percentage of users getting each permutation of the design. Those experiments are then used to determine which features hit the app itself.
We had heard this release was coming and now we know which features made the cut. There is a bunch of new stuff in this update, but the addition of photo support to DMs and the enhanced placement of the icon right in the tab bar indicated a renewed interest in the private messaging portion of Twitter — which has been long neglected.
By putting an emphasis on direct messaging, Twitter is performing its own sort of subtweet towards other messaging apps like Line, WhatsApp, Snapchat and, soon, Instagram. The DM function of Twitter is heavily used by a lot of users, but my guess is that some of the changes here will spur mainstream adoption of DMs as a ‘private comms channel’.
The addition of Messages to the tab bar also bumps Discover from the main view. That’s now tucked under Timelines as a whole. You now swipe between those timelines in the main view. Timeline, Activity and Discover are all under the single tab now. On one hand, this is a great space saver and feels like a welcome move. As we noted previously, this also makes way for even more timelines:
The idea behind a swipeable interface is fairly easy to divine, as it could make the app friendly to multiple timelines. If these feeds could be treated as discreet items, Twitter could move beyond its ‘Home,’ ‘Connect’ and ‘Discover’ feeds to offer more specific feeds focused on things like TV. And, judging from how #Music went, that seems to be the way that it’s headed.
On the other hand, it does raise some worries about discoverability for the…discover…tab. There’s a handy lead-in animation and instructable that tells people about the new timelines, so that’s good. But there might be a tendency to forget that those sections are hidden under the single tab. Does this change consist of Twitter acknowledging that people get more out of DMs or notifications than they do Discover? Maybe? It’s likely to be the subject of even more experimentation going forward.
There is now a filtration option under the Notifications tab that lets you show stuff from just people you follow, all people or (if you’re verified) just verified people.
There are also some new notifications to be seen. The one above is interesting as it ties in with Twitter’s interest in getting people to engage in ‘conversations’ on the service. The ‘blue lines’ update was obviously all about that and other changes made to the apps recently reinforce that they’re trying to get people to see it as a place where you can talk to anyone and anyone can talk back at any time. They’re fighting, somewhat, the perception that Twitter is a spectator sport for most users. This way, if someone takes the plunge and sends a tweet, they get notified of feedback and are encouraged to continue.
But, despite all of the other changes, this is quite clearly Twitter’s way of saying that they’re interested in being your private messaging client as much as they are your ‘public discussion forum’. As we mentioned above, there are dozens of competitors around the world looking to capture the majority of users, and services like WhatsApp, Kik and Line have enormous head starts. Twitter currently has somewhere around 232 million monthly active users, and WhatsApp recently reported it had 350 million. Even though Twitter has had a several-year head start on the newer messaging apps, it has a lot of ground to gain and more finessing to do if it wants to make itself a go-to solution for that market.
But the benefits will be well worth the effort. When people using messaging apps, they use them a lot. If Twitter can position itself as an Internet ‘pillar’ that provides communication tools both public and private, it gains more than just users — it gains engaged eyeballs that it can use to get more and better business from advertisers.
TweetDeck for Web, Chrome and PC are all getting the DMs with photo support as well, and the Mac version is coming once it’s approved in the Mac App Store.
Image Credit: Christopher Schmidt
Rainforest, a Y Combinator company, has developed an on-demand service that runs functional tests against a crowd of people through Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s crowdsourcing platform. The service is similar to how a customer can use Amazon Web Services to spin up and down instances. But in this case a customer makes an API request for people instead of machines.
The company is also working toward developing ways to seek out workers through private groups to suit companies that have NDAs and bound by regulatory issues.
With Rainforest, the customer can scale the QA work up or down, depending on what they want tested. Customers write tests in plain English, the requirements they have, and then the service takes people through a series of steps to run the tests that the customer wants performed. For example, a customer can ask a simple question about the layout of a site and get it tested in real-time.
Testing the sign up for a service on a website is another example of a task that can be done on the Rainforest service. Stevens-Smith said the task is non-trivial with traditional testing as it requires the developer to write and update test scripts using tools such as Selenium or Capybara. With Rainforest, a user creates a sign up test and then configures it. The sign up is only deployed if it passes in Rainforest.Zapier, the app connector service, uses Rainforest to test its core flows such as sign ups to its website, said Co-Founder Fred Stevens-Smith in an email interview. “ It’s unacceptable for them not to work so they test programatically on every deployment,” he said.
Rainforest plays on the increasingly important requirement for companies to keep their sites continually optimized, Stevens-Smith said. A few years ago it did not matter that QA took 48 hours. In today’s SaaS and app world, updates can be as often as five times per day. To uncover hard to discover bugs, companies often hire human QA testers to manually check. Or, companies do it in an ad-hoc way, which he said slows down development speed and frustrates highly paid team members. Alternatively, developers write automated tests, which is time-consuming and frustrating for highly skilled developers. Here’s how he sums it up:Why did we build Rainforest? QA sucks. But we all have to do it. Like payments pre-Stripe, QA is a process that every developer hates. Yet for some reason nobody is solving this problem. Every part of our development workflow has been totally reimagined in the past few years. Startups that have taken a design-driven approach and introduced a 10x faster / simpler / cheaper product have dominated. There’s tons of innovation. Except in testing The data collected could over time add some new dimensions to the service. The structured information from the code changes could help define the cause of certain problems and from what parts of the app are surfacing issues. Tracking the code changes could help predict bugs. “This means we could start to integrate with your IDE to tell you lines of code we think might cause bugs and a list of bugs we’ve seen related to this code, or as a post-commit hook on Github that would ping you when we think that you’ve committed a breaking change,” Stevens-Smith said. uTest is a potential competitor to Rainforest. It has developed a strong reputation in the market and recently turned its attention to a deeper focus on mobile apps.
(Feature image via James Cridland on Flickr via Creative Commons)
Deutsche Telekom’s Hub:raum Accelerator Opens Offices In Krakow As It Welcomes Its First Batch Of Startups
Originally based in Berlin, Deutsche Telekom’s startup accelerator Hub:raum has opened offices in Krakow, Poland. What’s more, fifteen teams from ten different European countries gathered in Poland’s second largest city last weekend to attend workshops in hopes of joining Europe’s newest accelerator.
During the intensive workshops, called Hub:raum Warp, teams received much-needed mentoring and got the opportunity to work alongside fifty prominent international experts with backgrounds in financing, customer acquisition, product management and more.
“The mentoring turned out to be a great success since we got the chance to work with some of the Europe’s freshest startups coming from Central and Eastern Europe. During the past week, startups have received a great deal of knowledge which we hope they will spread onto their local communities and further fire up CEE’s entrepreneurial spirit,” said Jakub Probola, Head of Hub:raum Krakow.
At the end of the week startups pitched their ideas at Demo Day hoping to get accepted into hub:arum’s first batch of startups. From fifteen teams which attended WARP, four finalists were selected with Montenegrian TourVia.Me winning the competition and securing the best pitch award. Alongside Omnipaste from Romania, Collar Pocket from Poland and Excalibur from Slovakia, TourVia.Me was invited to join DT’s Krakow-based accelerator.
Only Excalibur – a startup developing authentication for web services – publicly accepted the offer with others hoping to join in the following weeks.
Hub:raum’s offices in Krakow are lead by a team of experienced serial entrepreneurs who’s goal is to further engage and help CEE startups develop and scale their ideas. “Our doors are always open. We can support different teams in developing their ideas and launching various products on the market,” said Probola.
Hub:raum is offering seed funding, co-working space, mentors, and DT’s assets which include access to a massive 170 million user base (both in Europe and US) as well an access to T-Venture, a 720 million euro fund run by the company.
Entrepreneurs who have had successful exits find it easier to raise capital for their next ventures. They come with the sort of record the money people want: A past littered with big, profitable liquidity events.
So, sell your company or take it public, count to 10 and start again. I doubt you’ll have much trouble raising the cash for another go.
That sort of resonance, or pattern seeking, is built into venture capital and startup culture more broadly. But what if you are a celebrity of whatever flavor, and you get behind a tech company?
I now pretty much just expect the company involved with the celebrity to die. Having celebrity cash, or having a celebrity executive can bring a certain glow to a company, and certainly greater press attention, but the impacts appear to be fleeting.
Today ValleyWag covered an application called Just Sing It. As it turns out, Lindsay Lohan’s brother is working with the company, so she’s tweeted about it. She’s also now hosting a party to promote it. Come party with Lohan, and then use this app? Something like that.
And the application could use the help, given its low ranking. According to AppAnnie, Just Sing It is in the top 100 music apps on iOS in one country. So, it’s seeing about as many downloads as you had cups of coffee today.
Back in August, Soleil Moon Frye — or Punky Brewster – launched an app called Moonfrye, which is “designed to inspire children’s creativity.” TechCrunch covered it. Punky Brewster! I’ve heard that name! The app? It’s dead. Moonfrye is in the top 500 ranks of the iOS app store in a grand total of 10 countries. Its best ranking country? Chad, where it tips the charts at 151st.
Justin Bieber recently dropped dollars and pictures of his face into an application called Shots Of Me. Despite Bieber’s obvious popularity and the application’s direct aim at his fans’ demographics, it’s been a complete flop.
So that didn’t go so well.
Remember Airtime? Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning count as celebrities, right? Well, despite raising more than $30 million, it seems that Airtime is roughly as viral and beloved as a dead skunk on your doorstep.
Oh right, remember when Ashton Kutcher built and launched a Twitter client? Yeah, I had forgotten, too. He also worked for Ooma, and launched Blah Girls (last tweet: 2011). Guess that deal with Myspace for distribution didn’t work out. Ashton (this guy, seriously) also put money into Path, which has seen its download rates collapse since a summer high.
MC Hammer launched Wiredoo. Its website doesn’t even load any more.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the $1 million that Ryan Seacrest invested into an iPhone keyboard company bears fruit.
However, I will say that having a celebrity on board doesn’t always mean the startup will die. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Honest Company, whose president and co-founder is Jessica Alba.
The list goes on and on. Having a celebrity on board means that picking up initial coverage from the media is easier. But that is at most what it means.
Are companies with celebrity backing less focused on their fundamentals, or perhaps more focused on how they appear?
I could be wrong on this, but I feel a negative correlation between celebrity interaction, and a startup’s future health. Maybe it’s just the economy.
Top Image Credit: Flickr
Whisper, the secret sharing startup backed by Sequoia and others, has just pushed a new version of its app into the app store that’s designed to help users search and browse through various topics. The update also adds a new “create flow” that will simplify the process of making and sharing Whispers anonymously with other members of the social network.
Whisper was built around the idea of helping people to combine images and text of their secrets, and then share them with others. Sort of like a mobile version of long-running site PostSecret, Whisper allows users to express themselves freely, without having to worry about being judged or what others might think about them.
Since being launched earlier this year, Whisper has grown pretty rapidly. It now has more than 3 billion page views per month, up from 1.5 billion in May. And users typically spend upwards of 30 minutes a day getting sucked into reading other people’s secrets.
But the latest version is designed to make it not only easier to create Whispers, but also to find those on topics that interest you. The new Whisper create flow simplifies the process, allowing you to type in whatever you want to share, and then it’ll suggest a relevant photo for you that it has found. If you don’t like it, you can search for others or add one from your own image library.
All of that should encourage users to create more Whispers of their own. But like most apps, the vast majority of Whisper users are consuming content rather than creating it. For them, the whisper’s appeal lies in the ability to read other people’s secrets.
Before, they were stuck with just three options: The most recent Whispers, the most popular Whispers, and those posted nearby. But now users will be able to access a lot more.
“Before, [Whisper] was a big river of content coming through, but it was a lot of noise,” Whisper CEO Michael Heyward told me in a phone conversation. “It was challenging to give different types of people different types of content.”
The updated app now has the ability to search and browse Whispers based on topics, allowing users to dig deep into the things they most care about. To do that, Whisper had to do a bunch of work on the back end to break Whispers down into the relevant topics that they talk about.
There are more than 1 million different topics to choose from, and those topics are displayed at the bottom of each Whisper that you view. So if you searched for or stumbled on a Whisper about death, then you could follow that topic and see other related Whispers.
“We’re adding this whole other dimension to the product,” Heyward said. He asked us to imagine, for instance, what YouTube would be like if it were just a stream of the newest or most trending videos. Now Whisper will no longer be operating under similar constraints.
The addition of topics, and the fact that now every Whisper will have them, could also make those secrets available to outside developers as well. Heyward said that the introduction of new features could have major implications for a potential API, if Whisper wanted to make one available.
Whisper, which is based in L.A., now has 30 employees. The company has raised a total of $24 million from investors that include Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Trinity Ventures, Shoedazzle founder Brian Lee, and Flixster’s Joe Greenstein.
There have been a few Bitcoin wallets available for Chrome and other browsers but how about one that searches for Bitcoin addresses on the pages you visit and allows for one-click payment from your BTC stash? KryptoKit, launched today at the Inside Bitcoin conference in Las Vegas, lets you do just that.
First, KryptoKit allows you to create a Bitcoin wallet that you can use to store your BTC using your browser. It is ostensibly secure – you can set a password that you must enter before the wallet can send out any Bitcoins. It also lets you backup your wallet to a file.
Founded by Anthony Di Iorio and Steven Dakh, the Toronto-based company is trying to make it fast and easy to use BTC with almost any web page. Di Iorio is a member of the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada where he spreads the BTC good news hither and yon.
“There are many Bitcoin wallet services and many vendors who now accept Bitcoin, but very few services marry those two,” said Di Iorio. “KryptoKit is a one-click solution to transferring BTC from your wallet to a vendor. To our knowledge, no one has to this date brought the simplicity of Amazon’s one-click system to shopping online with Bitcoin, and certainly not in the form of a browser extension (and the desktop browser is still a popular destination for people to do their shopping, especially for the holidays).”
Interestingly, the plugin also supports PGP and lets you create a key pair for sending and receiving encrypted messages. Finally, the system can scan a webpage (any of these would show up in the app and presumably this would too [NSFW]). It’s not quite as easy as PayPal but it’s a start.
“This could be the ‘Amazon.com’ moment for Bitcoin,” said Di Iorio. With a little more uptake and a little less volatility, he could be right.
Google has just released a white version of the Nexus 7 tablet, in white and packing 32GB of storage, available now for $269 on the Google Play Devices store, so long as you’re in the U.S., U.K. or Japan. There’s no LTE version and no 16GB model, unlike with the black Nexus 7, but if you’re looking for a color match tablet for your white Nexus 5 you’re now in luck.
The bezel retains the same black paint scheme, and there’s no change beyond the back panel color job in terms of performance or specs. The Nexus 7 is a fairly capable Android tablet, however, and most likely the best deal available at that particular price point depending on your needs. If you’re looking to grab one, it’s probably a good idea to pull the trigger on that order, quickly, since these are probably going to be in fairly limited supply at launch.
You do have a little more choice, however, as LG has just announced a Google Play edition of the G Pad Android tablet, which has an 8.3-inch screen and costs a bit more at $349.
Twitch today announced that its integration into PlayStation 4 has seen more than 100,000 new video game streamers join its service. In the month of November, Twitch grew from 600,000 total broadcasters to over 700,000.
TechCrunch confirmed with the company that the delta from 600,000 to 700,000 contained 100,000 broadcasters unique to the PlayStation 4. Given that the console launched on November 15, the tally is impressive.
According to Twitch, PlayStation 4 users now broadcast around 10 percent of all content on its platform. Given that PlayStation 4 broadcasters now account for around 16 percent of Twitch’s aggregate streamer user base, that’s not surprising.
Twitch will also find integration into the Xbox One console in early 2014. Microsoft announced that partnership earlier this year but failed to prepare the software in time for its launch. Sony has sold more than 2.1 million units of the new console, implying that Twitch is seeing an under 5 percent sign-up rate thus far. Presumably, that figure will rise in time.
Something that I did notice last week was that PlayStation 4 channels on Twitch often sport modest viewerships. While big PC titles on the platform, such as Starcraft II and League of Legends, can see their viewership spike into the six-figure range, and individual channels can easily shoot to five figures, no PlayStation 4-based channel has more than 1,000 viewers at the moment. In fact, only three have more than 100.
Naturally, with streaming being new on consoles, we might have expected this. There is a framework around PC gaming, with mature tournament and leagues and teams and the like. Will the same structure be built around PlayStation 4 gaming?
For now, Twitch has demonstrated that there is an appetite among gamers to stream from their new consoles. Whether there is long-term viewer demand will determine if they keep at it.
Top Image Credit: Twitch
A number of companies are building robust mobile platform as a service offerings. But few are building both a platform and a mobile backend as a service like that from KidoZen, an enterprise mobile PaaS that recently raised $5 million from Third Point Ventures.
The service allows a company to develop mobile applications that connect to backend systems like SAP, SharePoint or Citrix ShareFile systems, as well as services like Salesforce or Google Apps. The service also provides access to many mobile-first enterprise infrastructure capabilities, including identity federation, logging and monitoring. Additionally KidoZen offers an enterprise app store that allows IT professionals to manage the backend infrastructure of their enterprise mobile applications.
At KidoZen’s core is a mobile middleware technology that integrates the backend with identity federation, logging and configuration management tools. Available as a purely cloud-delivery model, a hybrid cloud model and fully on-premise, the middleware tech allows IT professionals to leverage the management, security and compliance tools provided by KidoZen that manage the mobile app lifecycle.
KidoZen’s enterprise mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) is part of its overall platform, which includes other technologies such as the enterprise app center, HTML5 hosting infrastructure and mobile data management, etc. The company has also added app-monitoring capabilities along with system and data access monitoring.
KidoZen’s strength is its ability to bridge system-of-record technologies such as SAP with front-end frameworks, making it pretty accessible to any level developer. But this is a fierce market with players like Cloud Foundry, OpenShift and a host of back-end service providers such as Kinvey. It also now faces companies like Salesforce, which has launchedSalesforce1, its new mobile platform. But few have the capability to connect legacy systems with front-end developer tools like KidoZen can do.
Rodriguez said that the company has 60 Global 1,000 customers who are using the platform to deliver business and consumer apps. For example, cruise-line customers have built suites of apps to automate different aspects of the business from managing the passenger manifest to monitoring the flow of passengers into casinos or restaurants.