Tocomail, a new iPhone and iPad application launching today, aims to be kids’ first email service. The app was designed not only with children in mind, but also in collaboration with kids who provided input as Tocomail’s early adopters. But more importantly, Tocomail offers parental controls that allow mom and/or dad to designate who the child is able to email using Tocomail, and who they can accept email from in return.
The company was founded last year by Dennis Bolgov and Pavel Istomin, long time friends and former classmates at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. Bolgov came to the U.S. back in 1998, and ended up working for a company called Lobby7, acquired by Nuanace Communications in 2003. He later went on to work on Nuance’s speech-enabled mobile interfaces – technology that has since made its way to other mobile applications and services, including Apple’s SIRI.
The two founders also previously built another company, Warelex, back in 2002, which was acquired in 2008 by German company Shape Services GmbH (makers of instant messaging app IM+.) They stayed on there for over 5 years until building TocoBox.
Says Bolgov, he came up with the idea for a kids’ email application when his son Michael, then 7 years old, asked for his own email account.
“I agreed that everyone today needs an email account, but I wanted a safe email service for Michael which also had a good mobile app and was intuitive and fun to use,” Bolgov tells us. “But after a lot of research, I realized that there was nothing out there that satisfied all of these requirements, so Pavel and I decided to create Tocomail.”
The app itself is easy to use. Parents sign up and create the account for their child or children, in a process that takes about five minutes to complete. At this time, they also configure a list of “safe contacts” who their kids are allowed to email with – people like grandma or grandpa, for example, plus other family members or close family friends.
Once set up, kids can both send and receive emails on Tocomail using iOS, Android (soon) or the web. Since the idea is to offer a service that’s not just safe for kids, but one that’s appealing as well, Tocomail includes fun tools like a drawing board, custom avatar creation, a picture timeline and more. The app is also colorful in its design, which makes it feel more like something meant for kids, rather than a boring, professional email client.
In addition to offering parental supervision over who a child can communicate with, Tocomail also offers features that allow parents to keep an eye on the content of the email messages, too. There’s a profanity filter, for example, and a quarantine box where questionable messages will be relocated.
Tocomail is currently free to use, but a more comprehensive set of parental controls are available for $2.99/month or $29.99/year. This includes a supervised general list of contacts, beyond the “Safe” list in the free version. Emails from these contacts go into Quarantine until a parent reviews them. Kids can also email out, but again, parents are able to review, then approve those messages. Quarantined emails can also be routed to a parent’s regular email account for ease-of-access, and they can approve or reject the message from the notification email itself, explains Bolgov.
In a future release, Tocomail will introduce technology that will watch for bullying patterns – something that could be helpful to parents who don’t as closely supervise each and every message or don’t know what exactly to watch for.
During Tocomail’s beta testing period, the company found that kids aged 6 to 9 mostly wrote very short emails, almost like messaging. Going forward, the founders are planning to further support this behavior with an optional messaging “bubbles” view, where kids can see their emails more like instant messages with their contacts.
Other social networking features like status updates and a timeline will also be introduced in later versions.
Google and VMware today announced that they are working together to make it easier for Chromebook users in the enterprise to access Windows apps and the Windows desktop on their machines. Using VMware’s Horizon desktop as a service (DaaS), which uses VMware‘s HTML5 Blast protocol, it will now be easier for Chromebook users to connect to a traditional Windows experience.
Remote access to a Windows machine on Chrome OS is nothing new. Google offers its own Remote Desktop app for this, and there are a number of third-party options that offer the same kind of service. For the most part, though, these solutions don’t offer the kind of security features that enterprises look for in a remote access tool. According to the companies, today’s launch will bring an enterprise-ready solution to the growing number of businesses that have deployed Chrome OS devices.
Using VMware’s Horizon Chromebook-optimized DaaS, Google says, enables “customers to centralize other desktop environments and manage these as a cloud service.” Right now, this service is only available as a fully managed, subscription-based offering by VMWare and its partners, both in the cloud and within hybrid deployments.
VMware says users will be able to use the service to access their Windows applications, data and desktops from a web-based application catalog on their Chromebooks. Soon, Chromebook users (or their IT admins) will also be able to install the service from the Chrome Web Store.
Given that Google is now also putting more emphasis on its Chromeboxes, the company is clearly positioning Chrome OS as an alternative to Windows. Indeed, in its announcement today, Google stressed that it believes that “as the countdown to Windows XP end of life continues, deploying Chromebooks and taking advantage of a DaaS environment ensures that security vulnerabilities, application compatibility and migration budgets will be a thing of the past.”
Besides the obvious marketing-speak here, there are security issues with still running Windows XP, though Google is clearly going after a bigger market, too. It sees Chrome OS as an alternative to any traditional desktop operating system.
A small team of 10 people called Etalab recently released a brand new version of Data.gouv.fr, France’s open data platform. Etalab essentially acted like a startup within the French government, utilizing its open data initiative to surreptitiously modernize the state itself.
As a reminder, open data is the idea that certain information should be freely available to everyone to reuse as they wish, without any copyright restriction. The term “open data” itself became widely used after a few successful government-owned platforms, such as Data.gov and Data.gov.uk.
“The open data movement shows the modernity of the state,” Etalab director Henri Verdier told me in an interview. Verdier became Etalab’s director in January 2013. Before that, he was co-founder of the Cap Digital business cluster. He also founded MFG Labs and is the co-author of a book about platform strategies with Nicolas Colin, L’âge de la multitude.
“It’s a good idea to nominate an entrepreneur to head this mission — it’s a small team with very practical goals,” he said. Only four people among the team of 10 worked on the new platform.
The first version of Data.gouv.fr was a giant repository storing as much data as possible. The main question was whether the search engine was good enough to find what users were looking for.
But it’s not the right angle if you want to create a long-term solution. For example, in the U.S., there is an ongoing debate about the link between open data and open government. Can you deal with one without the other? How can you use open data to really empower citizens?
“We wanted to create a sustainable and scalable open data movement — we thought like a startup,” Verdier said. As a French government entity, many expected Etalab to force other entities to share more data. But it’s not efficient in the long run.
“We are 10, and we only have the budget to do a website. We don’t have a budget to redo all the French information systems,” Verdier said. “So we asked open data activists if they could organize brainstorming sessions, hackathons and more to come up with what Data.gouv.fr should be.”
That’s how the team devised the key idea behind Data.gouv.fr — raw data is not enough if you don’t know how people are using it. For example, Slate.fr reused data from the ministry of sports and put it on a map to show where soccer or tennis is popular — you can now find the article directly on Data.gouv.fr. The main incentive for uploaders has become learning what people have been doing with the data they shared
“Similarly, to get traction, we chose not to pre-moderate. Anyone can open an account and post data in a few clicks,” Verdier said. Even though Etalab is keeping an eye on everything and is ready to delete inappropriate content, opening the website to everyone was no small feat. It took some engagement by the cabinet of the Prime Minister — it remains a government-owned website after all.
Despite a number of small challenges that complicated the development of Data.gouv.fr, the team kept pushing to change how data should be treated and it ultimately achieved what it wanted.
Etalab had three end results in mind: encouraging a better and more transparent democracy, creating positive economic externalities and modernizing the state. “The website does a bit of these three things,” Verdier said. “When we decided to accept data from the civil society, we hit a milestone. The idea was that we were about to make data accessible to serve the public interest.”
Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder of Flickr who eventually left its acquirer Yahoo and started TinySpeck (and an ill-fated multiplayer game called Glitch), last year decided to take a different turn, porting his expertise in consumer services to tackle the enterprise market. The result was Slack, a collaboration platform that lets users port in conversations and links to other work from dozens of other apps (including Dropbox, Google Docs, GitHub and Asana) so that they can track progress on different projects in one common platform; more generally converse about work in a less fragmented way, and crucially reduce email overload.
Or, in Butterfield’s words, help the working world emerge from “email bankruptcy.”
Today, after a successful, limited beta run that kicked off in August 2013, Slack is launching to the rest of the world — a step, Butterfield tells me, that it’s making as it prepares to introduce pricing tiers around additional services.
Since that August launch, Butterfield says that “things have been going crazy”, with the teams that have been trialling it seeing usage from “every single team member every day.” Those teams — he asked me to keep the names out of the article — range in numbers of between 250 people down to around 10 (which is closer to the typical number, he says), and interestingly they are starting to see some pick-up from non-tech corners of the world, including a U.S. church, a building materials company, and a group in the UK government.
Although Slack, in a way, owes a lot to how business people have been “taught” to use apps via mobile devices, these days mobile only forms a small part of the traffic on Slack. The service has native Android and iOS clients, with about 10 percent of messages sent and 20 percent of messages received coming from non-desktop devices.
So where will the pricing fit in? Right now one tier looks like it will be around how archival information can be accessed — specifically, usage will be free for the most recent 10,000 messages, but charged for anything past that. (So far, Slack is seeing a big enough volume of usage, and a big enough interest in accessing archival material, that it thinks this could prove to be a viable model.) The archive will be the most important, but another area will be adding more storage and adding in apps — the number of integrations you can have into Slack, essentially. Butterfield says that users will be able to turn on the archive whenever they choose — “We won’t delete any messages,” he says. “It’s a constraint on which we will make available.”
TinySpeck’s move into business services is, in a way, not as much of a trailblazer as Flickr was in its time (just think of how central photo sharing is to so many social services today).
In the case of Slack, it comes amidst a rush of other “consumerized” enterprise startups, the point being to make once-boring and difficult-to-use business services into apps that engage employees that have now become used to smartphones and recording their every thought and sight with their networks of friends. Others include older players like Yammer, Hipchat and Cotap.
In fact, one of the other hopefuls in this group, Tomfoolery — coincidentally co-founded by Butterfield’s former colleague both at Yahoo and TinySpeck, Kakul Srivastava — was just sold to Yahoo.
But that’s not a sign, Butterfield tells me, of where he plans to take Slack. “We’re happy for them,” he says of Tomfoolery’s exit, “but we’re not a Yahoo type of company.”
On the subject of the proliferation of enterprise “consumerised” apps, Butterfield agrees that there are a lot of them out there, but he’s also philosophical.
“There are a lot of products on a continuum. But I feel like a lot of software aimed at business the feature set is speculative. There are so many products, and they have a highly speculative design but they sound good enough to try,” he says. “With Slack, we’ve built this around what works for us. We find it genuinely useful when you get all your tweets flowing to one place, when a conversation is consolidated.”
Butterfield says he and his co-founders are not currently raising any money, with the company still with plenty of cash left after we the Glitch shut down. Based on the users Slack already has, it’s very likely it will be profitable shortly after launch, Butterfield predicts.
With $20M Raised Among Grads, Israeli-American Accelerator UpWest Unveils Its Latest Cohorts Of Top-Notch Transplants
Depending on whom you ask, Silicon Valley and Israel have either had a long and prodigious symbiotic relationship when it comes to technology and technology companies, or Silicon Valley wouldn’t be able to find Israel on a map. Either way, one thing is for sure: Gil Ben-Artzy and Shuly Galili launched UpWest Labs because they saw a need to help Israeli entrepreneurs level the playing field.
While Israel is world-renowned as a center for tech research and development, and it plays home to R&D centers for practically every major U.S. company, access to Silicon Valley knowledge and capital networks can seem just out of reach to Israeli startups. Over the last two years, UpWest Labs has been working to change that by offering a Silicon Valley-based accelerator that caters exclusively to Israeli entrepreneurs.
Beyond bringing its startups to Silicon Valley (where they live together in a house in Menlo Park) for the duration of its four-month program, offering access to local mentors, workspace and a chunk of seed funding, what makes UpWest unique is that it focuses on working with companies that already have a product and customers.
Rather than guide them through the initial development phase or product-market fit, UpWest concentrates on incubating businesses that have already been through the proof-of-concept rigmarole and, instead, are looking for better access to U.S. markets and to get educated on best practices for selling to those markets. That’s why, although “sexy” is a word used infrequently to describe its businesses, UpWest is generally able to produce stronger batches than your average accelerator.
To that point, the co-founders tell us that its 30-something graduates have cumulatively raised over $20 million to date, and two-thirds of its graduates have raised an average of over $1 million per company. The majority of those rounds fall between $800K and $2.5 million, Galili adds, with ninety percent of total funding coming from U.S. investors.
UpWest typically chooses five or six startups from the 600-plus applications that it receives each year, the co-founder tells us, with the majority of its startups returning home after the program to bring what they’ve learned back to Israel. And while returning home, they frequently do so having set up partnerships with U.S. tech companies, with UpWest grads boasting deals with companies like Yammer, AT&T, Adobe, Workday, Cisco, Sears and Thumbtack, among others.
In December, UpWest graduated its sixth batch of startups, which, as is usually the case, spanned the tech industry spectrum, tackling everything from security and social media management to business intelligence. Those interested can find more on the batch in GeekTime’s coverage here.
Today, having already chosen the next group of entrepreneurs to make the journey to Menlo Park, the Israeli-American accelerator is announcing its seventh class. The six companies again represent a broad range of domains, including video marketing, fashion and, of course, one of Israel’s high-tech specialties: Security infrastructure. As has become characteristic of UpWest founders, the seventh batch includes two female founders and CEOs, Israeli intelligence veterans, cyber and Air Force officers and former tech and marketing execs from companies like Proctor & Gamble and Checkpoint Software.
A brief description of UpWest’s six newest startups is included below, and stay tuned for more news from the seventh batch coming soon. And keep in mind that some of the following startups are still in stealth.
- Donde: Mobile app that leverages artificial intelligence to help users quickly and intuitively search for fashion products.
- Javelin: A next generation security platform based on Software Defined Networking (SDN), offering network security visibility to provide real-time reactions as a better security solution to advanced cyber threats.
- Leaderz: The first grass roots platform for social causes designed to provide organizations with a complete community management solution.
- ModusP: A legal knowledge platform providing attorneys with unprecedented research capabilities resulting in thousands of saved hours.
- vBrand: Uses proprietary video processing technology to automatically identify surfaces, semantics and cue points optimal for branding engagement for in-video marketing.
- Doomoro: A marketplace for “next day delivery” of online services, helping users find hi-quality freelancers that provide the services within 24 hours.
When you think ChromeOS, chances are the first thing that comes to mind are Chromebooks. Since 2012, though, Google and its hardware partners have also been quietly selling its Chromeboxes, the desktop equivalents of the ChromeOS laptops. Now that Chromebooks seem to have found their place, with very solid sales according to the latest data, the company is starting to put the Chromebox concept back into the spotlight and positioning it as a platform that goes beyond traditional desktop computing.
At the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas today, for example, Google is highlighting how Chromeboxes can power – you guessed it – digital signage. Making this work is pretty straightforward and goes a bit beyond the traditional kiosk mode Google has long enabled on ChromeOS. Developers can set ChromeOS up to run any Chrome App the moment the device starts.
This means a signage company could just hook a Chromebox up to a screen (or billboard on the side of the road – assuming billboards use standard graphics inputs) and run ads or power the menu screens in a fast-food store. Want to make these ads interactive? Just use a touchscreen. Many of these signage companies currently use proprietary systems and as the occasional blue screen of death clearly shows, some even still use old versions of Windows to run them.
This was possible before, but it’s only now that Google is actually focusing on these use cases.
All it takes to enable this mode is a few extra lines of code. The install, updates, new code and any changes to the app can then be managed remotely from the Chromebook management console. Some schools that have deployed Chromebooks already use this feature for switching between the regular ChromeOS mode and apps for testing their students.
Last week, Google also unveiled its Chromebox for Meetings, which basically uses this same system but to run a video-conferencing platform in the background.
Until now, the only Chromeboxes available were Samsung’s models starting at $329. The Chromebox for Meetings, however, is made by Dell, and both HP and ASUS are about to launch their own versions soon. At CES, LG also unveiled a ChromeOS-based desktop, but this one is an all-in-one with a 21-inch display.
The Chromebox hardware has now also moved beyond basic Celeron processors and offers Core i7 CPUs and relatively high-powered graphics, which enable developers to run complex apps right on the desktop. With the help of Native Client, developers can even run games and apps that need high-end graphics on these devices.
With Chromebox for Meetings on the market and a round of fresh ChromeOS hardware about to hit stores, it makes sense for Google to start homing in on new use cases for this hardware. At just $180 for a basic Asus Chromebox, after all, the hardware is pretty affordable. But what will sell the system is likely the fact that they are easy to manage remotely and very unlikely to crash, and that it’s pretty easy to find developers who can write the kind of web apps that will run on them.
Google is clearly starting to position the Chromebox as a platform. I wouldn’t be surprised if the company decided to launch more niche products based on this platform in the future. There is no reason, for example, a Chromebox with the right interface couldn’t make a good device for powering the big screen in your living room, for example.
As crowdfunding swings into the mainstream, the folks at betaworks are dreaming up new and creative ways to leverage the power of the masses. A new venture called Alphaworks takes the traditional crowd-funding model, as made famous by Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and offers equity to backers instead of a product.
Here’s how it works:
Alphaworks will start out with three “sponsors,” (betaworks, SV Angel, and Lerer Ventures) who will structure venture deals as they normally would. But instead of gobbling up all those shares on their own, a chunk of the round will be left open.
This is where it gets interesting.
Let’s use See.Me, the pilot venture deal for Alphaworks, as an example. See.Me has an active user base of designers, photographers, filmmakers and creators who can share their work and earn money from it on See.Me’s platform. For now, See.Me generates revenue by taking a 5 percent transaction fee on tips and donations made from user to user, but eventually the company will get into postcard creation and distribution. After that, See.Me’s printing efforts will extend into T-shirts. (Wearables, FTW!)
The company is raising a $1.25 million Series A from betaworks, Founder Collective, OATV, Box Group, and potentially accredited investors on the brand new Alphaworks platform.
Of the $1.25 million, $1.1M has already been committed by the above investors, while $150K worth of shares has been left open to Alphaworks backers purchasing equity. A small number of shares will be reserved for non-investor types who are active on the See.Me platform, and will be offered in the form of a grant.
See.Me is using the Alphaworks site, the betaworks site, and its own website to promote the initiative.
For community-based products, like marketplaces, games, and social networks, this is the first time crowdfunding has been a viable way to raise capital.
“What excites me most is the potential for Alphaworks to be used by non-tech companies,” said See.Me founder William Etundi Jr. “The local coffee shop or book store or band can stay alive and grow because they’re owned by their community and fans, and that’s something really special.”
Of course, there are obstacles.
“We’ll have the same challenge that a lot of platforms and services have in the earliest stage which is tracking your most passionate and best users, because they’re the basis of a community,” said SVAngel’s David Lee.
Though the JOBS act has opened up lanes for this type of financing, the law still requires that only accredited investors can purchase equity. To give you some perspective, Nick Chirls (who heads up investments at betaworks) has been closing deals for a few years now, but isn’t technically an accredited investor.
But betaworks expects legislation to change very soon, opening up the opportunity to purchase equity to even more people.
“It actually makes sense that only accredited investors would be allowed to by securities,” said Ken Lerer. “When it comes to investments, people should only move forward with both eyes wide open, and be able to afford the possibility that they might lose their money. As a person, and not as a professional investor, I would never want to have people invest in something when they can’t afford to lose the money.”
Alphaworks was built to simplify the legalese and complexities of trading securities officially, so that investors don’t need to worry about the fine print. They simply choose the number of shares they’re interested in, and pay through ACH.
betaworks, Lerer Ventures and SVAngel have invested $1.5 million in Alphaworks.
“Philosophically this is so consistent with what we do at betaworks,” said John Borthwick. “We are all users, and we love the businesses we build and invest in. With Alphaworks, we can open other users up to being owners.”
Mobile Messaging Startup UppTalk Evolves Into A Low Cost Cell Service With Launch Of UppWireless In U.S.
Mobile messaging app startup UppTalk (a rebrand from its prior name Yuilop) is evolving — and rather than following the social platform playbook of plenty of over-the-top (OTT) messaging players (such as Line, KakaoTalk and WeChat), it’s taking aim at carriers by offering a mobile phone service that undercuts current costly U.S. carrier pricing.
UppWireless, as the offering launching in the U.S. today is called, is an all-IP SIM-based mobile phone service. Being all-IP, means UppTalk can keep costs down — allowing it to tout this wireless package as the lowest price on the market, and to focus on what it says users care most about now: data.
“By unboundling mobile data from carrier voice and text we allow the user to get the best deal,” is how UppTalk founder and CEO Jochen Doppelhammer puts it.
How low? $15 per month for 1GB of data at 4G speeds, plus unlimited talk and texts (via its OTT service) within the U.S. and Canada. Or unlimited data starting from $35 per month.
UppWireless piggybacks on T-Mobile’s 4G network, making it a quasi-MVNO at least.
“In some way we’re an MVNO, but the key difference is that everything we’re doing is IP based, no cellular minutes or SMS,” Doppelhammer tells TechCrunch.
“We’re 100% cloud-based service platform. This allows a completely different service offering and of course pricing strategy, e.g. calls & texts to any US & Canada phone number are free, unlimited! The user basically just chooses the data plans that fits best his needs.
“This caters specifically to the target segments that primarily want to use their apps on their smartphones and only secondarily use their phone to talk & text, which probably by now is the majority of the smartphone users.”
Doppelhammer claims there is currently no other offering in the U.S. that provides “anything closely as attractive” to what UppWireless is offering. Which sounds about right, judging by how much my U.S. TC colleagues moans about the cost of their cell packages. Although rival wireless carrier startup FreedomPop has been in touch to disagree — touting its own carrier disrupting sub-$5 per month offering.
(UppTalk’s Doppelhammer counters those claims by dubbing FreedomPop’s pricing confusing and pointing out that their sub-$5 promo offer only includes 500MB of data, and requires users to pay for two years’ service up front to get that low price.)
Relative carrier coverage (e.g. T-Mobile’s 4G network coverage vs AT&T’s or Sprint’s) is another issue to consider. FreedomPop runs over Sprint and Clear networks.
“All MVNOs and MNOs offer you expensive bundles with lots of carrier minutes & texts and very little data… exactly the opposite of what people actually want,” Doppelhammer adds.
Yuilop (as it then was) launched back in 2011 as a free mobile messaging app with 1 million Euros in seed funding from Nauta Capital.
Its approach to mobile messaging was always a bit different to major rivals in the space — with an architecture built on open standards, allowing its service to interoperate with federated OTT services such as Google Talk, and also with mobile numbers, meaning the service could still be used to freely call and SMS other non-Yuilop users — i.e. rather than requiring everyone to join a walled garden to chat.
However Yuilop/UppTalk uses a slightly complex virtual currency model for when users are talking to non-Yuilop/UppTalk users, based around generating what it calls “energy” credits.
That added layer has probably held it back from the rampant growth seen by others in the mobile messaging category that have taken a more simplistic approach to FREE — by requiring that users badger their friends to download the app and stay within the app to be able to chat for nothing. (UppTalk’s virtual currency “energy credits” do come into play in UppWireless for certain international calls, although some destinations are free.)
This time last year Yuilop would only say it had “millions” of users in 40+ countries. Compare that to veteran of the space WhatsApp which, at last count, said it has some 430 million monthly active users. So clearly more than a rebrand of a tricky to pronounce name (Yuliop –> UppTalk) was required.
UppTalk is thus attempting to differentiate afresh in the messaging space by going after a target everyone loves to hate (carriers) — and one with stale pricing structures that are ripe for disruption — rather than continuing to just play second fiddle to mobile messaging platform behemoths.
“You could call it a pivot away from messaging per se,” says Doppelhammer. “But I think we’ve done that actually from day one by integrating ourselves with the telecom world and offering SMS and calls to landlines. I’d say it’s a consequent evolution of the path we’ve started with Upptalk to become a next-gen, cloud-based (app) communication and internet access service.”
“We’re not competing with WeChat and Line for the mobile platform in the Facebook way, which is what they do,” he adds. “I’d say we’re complementing WhatsApp, WeChat and Line. We love apps! And we want to provide just the best experience using the apps and services they prefer rather than forcing them to use carrier services.”
UppTalk still wants to be a platform in the sense of a technology platform for other apps, MVNOs and MNOs to build their services on top of. But it’s not trying to recreate Facebook via social messaging.
“We have already started to publish SDKs to the open source community so they can build apps/services upon our platform,” adds Doppelhammer.
UppTalk is intending to launch its quasi MVNO offering in Europe too — although it’s focusing initially on the U.S. market, owing to the carrier dynamics being more ripe for disruption. Here in Europe it still thinks there’s room to under-cut MVNOs by using its mobile messaging app as a cross-selling opportunity to on-ramp users to its mobile phone service.
“In Europe we’ll adapt the pricing as retail prices and cost are way lower than in the U.S., which is still a very operator dominated, expensive market,” he says. “But again, our technology and operational model of being 100% IP-based and operated fully in the cloud allows us to a) offer a next-gen cloud-based, multi-device, app-based service and b) operate on way lower cost and margins than existing.
“The mobile-app led acquisition model is another advantage over traditional MNOs/MVNOs.
Typically MVNOs innovated in the go-to-market model, e.g. first to sell SIM-only online. Today MNOs do that as well and cost of user acquisition is quite high.
“Based on our mobile app UppTalk we generate a rapidly growing user base that is exactly the target for our MVNO offering at almost zero cost. So this mobile app led go-to-market model is another differentiating advantage over the traditional MVNO/MNO model. We’re again changing the way the game is played. No customer acquisition cost that need to be re-financed.”
On-demand taxi startup Hailo is ready to ramp up scaling and expanding its service into new markets, both in the U.S. and internationally. To do that, it’s bolstering its senior management team by bringing on former Ubiquisys CFO Fraser Park and has promoted former Starbucks exec Tom Barr to co-CEO.
Hailo is one of the growing number of on-demand for-hire car services that is spreading around the world, providing some competition to companies like Uber and Lyft. But unlike those startups, who work with black car companies and independent contractors, Hailo provides a way for passengers to hire taxis via its mobile app.
Since being launched in November 2011, the company has expanded into a dozen major markets in five countries around the world. Service is available in London, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Barcelona, and Madrid in Europe; Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York City, Toronto, Montreal, and Washington, D.C. in North America; and Tokyo and Osaka in Asia.
But Hailo has big plans to expand into even more markets over the coming year. To help provide some finance and operational support, the company hired Park as its new CFO.
Park had last served as CFO of femtocell manufacturer Ubiquisys, which sold to Cisco for $310 million in March of last year. Prior to that, the company had raised a $19 million round of funding from investors that included 5CCG / Sallfort Privatbank and NTT DoCoMo venture arm Mobile Internet Capital. Prior to that, he had also held finance roles at Psion, Tandberg Television, ViaNetworks, and RiverSoft.
The hiring of Park isn’t the only big move Hailo has made to solidify its team ahead of expansion: It also promoted US President & COO Barr to Co-CEO, as he will be splitting the title with founder Jay Bregman.
Barr joined the company around the same time that it raised $30 million from Union Square Ventures, KDDI, and others. As the VP of Global Coffee at Starbucks, Barr oversaw more than $1 billion in revenue at the company. When he was hired, the idea was that he would take on more responsibility as time went on, eventually taking on more of the operational responsibilities as the company grew into new markets.
With the new title, Barr will be handling most of the day-to-day operations. Bregman, meanwhile, will Chairman and Co-CEO working on strategy and future vision for the company, as well as some skunkworks projects to help redefine the product, Barr told me.
The goal is to get Hailo in as many new markets as possible by the end of the year. That means targeting 50 markets in about a dozen countries around the world, according to Barr.
Of course, in many of those markets, Hailo will be launching behind one or more other for-hire services. Uber is live in about 70 cities worldwide, while Lyft is in another 20 markets in the U.S., with international plans ramping up this year. And, of course, there’s competition from others, like Gett and Rocket Internet’s Easy Taxi, in various places around the globe.
Moorjani, whose long history in mobile tech includes a stint as an SVP at Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp before launching the mobile technology incubator Hatch Labs, is joining the billionaires boy’s club of private equity investment as an executive in residence at Warburg Pincus.
[Note 1: Warburg Pincus called to say that Moorjani will still be involved in the startup community through his work with TechStars, the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, and as a member of the advisory board for LocalResponse and Locality.]
At Hatch Labs, Moorjani helped launch several mobile tech apps – most famously the updated hot-or-not “social networking” service, Tinder.
With his new role at Warburg Pincus, Moorjani is moving from launching new mobile technology companies to acquiring them thanks to the cash of an incredibly deep-pocketed backer.
“My intent is not to start a company from ground up,” Moorjani said of his new role at Warburg Pincus. “There were companies that I was looking at in mobile that would benefit from additional capital and the strategic guidance that Warburg can provide.”
The New York-based private equity firm has more than $35 billion in assets under management, and much of that capital has been committed to technology media and telecommunications companies over the years.
Now, Warburg has an experienced tech hand to help it navigate the sometime-choppy waters of the mobile technology market.
Already, Moorjani has identified roughly five areas where he hopes to help Warburg spend some of the billions the private equity firm has on hand after its most recent fund closed in 2013.
For the former Hatch Labs boss, interesting mobile trends include: mobile smart devices for the “Internet Of Things”; mobile security; mobile software services for enterprises and small businesses; mobile education; and local.
[Note 2: The same Warburg spokesman said that Moorjani thought it was misleading to say that "local" would extend to "localization of content, advertising and consumer services," as I'd written. The post has been changed to reflect that.]
If the laundry list looks familiar; that’s because it’s the investment wish-list for every investor looking at the mobile market.
Moorjani’s move to Warburg is the culmination of a years-long relationship with the firm, which began with Warburg Pincus using the Hatch Labs founder as a sounding board for due diligence on several companies in the mobile technology space, he said.
Even with the move to Warburg, Moorjani will remain in control of the Hatch Labs brand despite foregoing a second fundraise for the incubator. He cautioned people not to read too much into his move from early stage incubation to late stage investment.
For Moorjani the move was an opportunity to round off his skill-set and become a better investor.
At Hatch Labs Moorjani built over 10 startups since 2010, including Tinder. Before Hatch and his time at IAC, the tech veteran worked with Samsung Electronics in Asia and North America – including laboring on its satellite radio-MP3 business.
The wearables device market is still in its infancy but it’s growing fast — with more than 17 million wearable bands forecast to ship this year, according to a new forecast by Canalys.
It reckons 2014 will be the year that wearables become a “key consumer technology,” and is predicting the smart band segment alone will reach 8 million annual shipments, growing to more than 23 million units by 2015 and over 45 million by 2017.
The analyst said shipments of both basic band wearables (aka the Fitbit) and smart band wearables (aka fully fledged smart watches that can run apps) grew dramatically in the second half of last year — with Fitbit pushing into the lead spot in the wearable band market, thanks to the affordable Flex and Force bands.
Fitbit dominated the market for “basic bands,” according to Canalys’ market estimates, with more than 50 percent market share in the second half of the year. The Jawbone UP came second, cutting itself around a fifth of the pie, followed by Nike with its Fuelband.
Meanwhile, at the emerging “smart band” end of the market — where an Apple iWatch would live should Cupertino ever unbox one — Samsung is the earlier leader, with its Galaxy Gear smart watch accounting for the majority of smart band shipments. Sony (actually a relative veteran of the smartwatch space) came second, taking almost a fifth of the market, closely followed by Pebble.
Samsung gained its early lead thanks to a “major marketing push,” said Canalys analyst Chris Jones, but he added that the company is likely to have to keep throwing money at the category to improve sell-through. The Gear did not review terribly well.
“Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear with a major marketing push that gained significant consumer interest. Shipments of the device took Samsung to the top of the smart band category, though disappointing sell-through will necessitate more promotional activity in coming months,” he noted in a statement.
Although basic band wearables have shipped in greater numbers to date than smart bands, having had the launch jump on their fancier rivals, the latter category is already growing faster, according to Canalys.
The analyst said smart bands are also likely to consume the functionality of their more basic category predecessor — which will presumably eat into basic bands’ market share in future, as smart band launches proliferate and shipments continue to grow.
Category convergence is therefore expected, in much the same way that the smartphone gobbled up and extended the basic functionalities of the feature phone. ”Increasingly, smart bands will adopt basic band features as the two categories converge,” added Jones.
As for what wearable bands are for, that’s set to expand, too. Canalys said it sees a huge opportunity for expansion into the medical and wellness segment, moving out from the current focus on a “relatively small market” addressing fitness enthusiasts. That expectation meshes with the rumours around Apple’s health focus for a forthcoming iWatch and iOS 8.
“The wearable band market is really about the consumerization of health,” added Canalys Analyst Daniel Matte in a statement. “There will be exciting innovations that disrupt the medical industry this year, and with the increased awareness about personal wellbeing they will bring to users, having a computer on your wrist will become increasingly common.”
The analyst also expects Google to make changes to Android to improve its suitability for the smart band market. Google acquired smartwatch maker WIMM Labs back in 2012, so presumably has specific designs on the category — beyond letting its Android OEMs build their own wearable band offerings atop its platform.
“Android will be critical for developing the smart band app ecosystem, though significant changes will be required before it is suitable for wearable devices,” added Matte. “Canalys expects Android to enter the smart band market soon in a meaningful way. Battery life and quality of sensor data will be vital metrics of success for all smart bands.”
Open-source browser Firefox announced in a blog post that it is considering selling ads for its new tab page. Publishers will be able to purchase sponsored tiles that will appear alongside normal tiles, with a clear “promoted” label.
At first, Mozilla just wants to pre-populate the new tab page. When you are using Firefox for the first time, the current new tab page is mostly empty, with just a link to the Firefox website. Similarly to other speed dial features in other browsers, Firefox uses your browsing history to put your most visited websites on the new tab page. But if your history is empty, the new tab page is empty, as well.
That’s why the nonprofit foundation plans to put the most popular websites in your area by default. In addition to that, some spots will be used for promoted tiles.
It might just be a first try to see how users react before pushing promoted tiles to all users in their new tab pages.
For now, the foundation earns most of its revenue from ads in Google. Google and Firefox signed an agreement so that Google is the default search engine. The two entities also share advertising revenue on Google AdWords ads.
And that’s about it — 90 percent of Mozilla’s yearly revenue comes from Google. As Firefox’s market share is shrinking, the foundation needs to find a new revenue stream. While Mozilla used to be one of Google’s major partners, the company may renegotiate a much less favorable deal now that it has its own browser — Chrome is now much more popular than Firefox, as well.
For the last couple of years, Mozilla and the advertising industry have been at odds. The foundation created the do-not-track feature to prevent targeted advertising. When users opt in, the browser won’t accept third party cookies anymore, making it much harder to display targeted ads around the web. Last year, Mozilla even chose to automatically block third-party cookies from websites that you hadn’t visited.
Now, Mozilla wants to play ball with advertisers. It’s unclear when Mozilla is going to show promoted tiles to its new users. The foundation probably wants to talk with potential advertisers first.
Capillary Technologies, the social CRM startup based in Bangalore, has raised additional funding of around $4 million from American Express Ventures. The startup plans to expand into the U.S., Middle East, China and Australia with this fresh funding, which takes the total capital raised so far to around $20 million.
Norwest Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital and Qualcomm Ventures are among other existing investors in the startup.
The funding from American Express Ventures follows a marketing alliance with the bank signed by Capillary last month, which will offer the startup’s SaaS-based CRM to small and medium businesses in the U.S. Amex and Capillary did a similar pilot in Singapore over past one year.
Capillary is among a small, but promising breed of Indian software product firms that are beginning to make a mark globally. Capillary for instance, has around 100 million customers on its cloud CRM for over 150 brands, and across 10,000 stores globally. The startup still gets nearly half of its revenues from India market, which could change with growth in other markets as more customers from the U.S. and Europe adopt Capillary’s simpler solution.
The startup competes with bigger enterprise vendors such as Oracle, Salesforce and SAP on one hand, and smaller, niche startups including Mobiquest, Swiply and Punchd at the other end. Its product — InTouch — gathers real time customer data, applies predictive analysis, and helps retailers such as Nike, Puma, Marks & Spencer and Nokia contact potential customers with personalized offers on-the-go.
“We would want to be best Retail Customer Engagement solution targetting mid sized retailers ($500m in revenues) developed markets like US, UK, Europe and be leaders across retailer sizes in developing markets like Asia and Africa – in one line we want to the Salesforce.com for retail CRM’s,” Aneesh Reddy, one of the co-founders told me. Reddy, along with his IIT batch mates Krishna Mehra and Ajay Modani, launched Caoillary with a round $3,500 in seed funding from their college.
Since then, the startup has come a long way, now being seen as one of the truly India-made enterprise products.
“We are not yet profitable thanks to the investments being made in the newer markets. We should be cash positive and continue to grow at a 100%+ CAGR in the next 12 months,” Reddy added.
Capillary’s story is of an emerging market solution built for SMS environment and low-cost cloud networks, which is now beginning to make sense globally. In one such early customer example, Indian clothing retailer Raymond, used Capillary’s product to build a mobile-first loyalty program for 1.6 million of its customers. Now, it’s gaining adoption among several high-end, retailers selling products in some of the developed markets. This HBR Blog captures Capillary’s journey and why it’s among the startups to watch out for.
Meet (yet) another gizmo aiming to convert dumb old school technology into smarter connected tech that can be controlled via a smartphone. Jalousier, currently bidding for crowdfunding on Indiegogo, is a connected device that clips on to the venetian blinds in your home and automatically adjusts the position of the slats, depending on the temperature, light conditions/weather and time of day.
What’s the point of that? The idea is to save you a spot of time/hassle in having to manually wrangle with bits of string of course. But also to potentially accrue heating/cooling energy-savings based on Jalousier’s ability to automatically react to temperature and weather changes — so it can know to let sunlight and heat in when it’s cold, or move to block rays when the weather outside is hot.
To power those functions the device includes light and temperature sensors. It also includes Wi-Fi and ZigBee for wireless connectivity, allowing it to be integrated (in theory) into home automation systems, and to be controlled via the inevitable app.
As well as the companion app acting as a remote control for all the blinds you’ve connected up — including allowing you to create groups of blinds to manage together, or use particular gestures to open/close the slats — the app will include other features such as weather notifications, letting you know when it’s worth peeking outside to check out the full moon, for instance.
On the home automation front, Jalousier’s makers say they are considering integration with Almond+, SmartThings, WigWag and NinJa Sphere. Support for IFTTT is guaranteed — assuming, that is, Jalousier hits its funding target and actually makes it to market. As with all such crowdfunding campaigns, it’s still a prototype at this point.
Other recent examples of inventors ploughing an ‘upgrade your old tech by adding an Internet of Things gizmos’ type furrow include the likes of Cozy (a smart radiator cover), and bRight Switch (a touchscreen tablet light switch).
Expect plenty more such upgrades to follow. Perhaps a gizmo for automatically lowering the loo seat after it’s been left in the vertical position to automatically oil the wheels of domestic harmony? Or bedroom doors that swing suggestively open when they sense more than two footsteps approaching.
If the Internet of Things pushes its wireless tentacles into our homes to such a pervasive extent, then our increasingly auto-animated surroundings may end up resembling scenes from Fantasia – just hopefully without any such chaotic consequences.
Jalousier’s Bulgaria makers have just under a month to raise $140,000 to get their slice of the connect home puzzle to market. If successful, they are aiming to ship the product to backers by October. The device is currently up for grabs to early Indiegogo backers starting at $89 for one unit.
Founded 6 months ago but running in stealth mode until now, ad tech startup AppScotch is pulling back the curtain today. Based in California, with an R&D office in Russia, the company has developed technology to enable advertisers to offer a new kind of interactive ad unit that turns the humble banner ad into something that is actually playable.
In fact, a more accurate description might be that AppScotch turns games into ads. That’s because, similar to technology used by Steam, the ad is a fully virtualised, streamed sample of the game itself, delivered to the browser or natively via the startup’s SDK. Thus, AppScotch’s ad unit lets users try out a game before committing to an app store download.
The end result, says the company, is that those users who do go on to download the advertised game are much more likely to engage with it, having already played it (albeit for a minute or so), therefore increasing ROI for advertisers. Additionally, the new ad unit can be created by the advertiser simply by providing AppScotch’s tech with an app store link to the game.
While in stealth, it’s been serving customers for the last 2 months, including GameInsight and MiniClip. Competitors include Agawi, and Voxel, though, in comparison, AppScotch is talking up its instant ad network integration.
AppScotch’s also announcing that it’s raised seed funding from Almaz Capital, and imi.vc. The amount remains undisclosed, though my understanding is that it’s “less than a million” dollars.
More noteworthy, perhaps, is that two of AppScotch’s three co-founders are ex-VCs. Chairman Alex Marquez was previously director at Intel Capital, and CEO Andrey Kazakov is co-founder of Foresight Ventures.
While at Intel Capital, Marquez is said to have invested in over a dozen digital media-related companies, including video game technology company Gaikai (acquired by Sony), in-game commerce company Playspan (acquired by Visa), and game developer and publisher Kabam.
Meanwhile, at Foresight Ventures, Kazakov invested in mobile ad startup AppStack, and Jelastic along with seeing 3 exits, including hotel comparison site DealAngel being acquired by Russian travel startup OneTwoTrip. AppScotch’s other co-founder is Max Gannutin.
Language learning software has never been particularly “sexy,” nor have its makers managed to produce a bounty of memorable user experiences, for that matter. While it might not be quite ready for the former, Duolingo is fast-becoming the poster child of a new generation of language learning products that are actually enjoyable to use, and able to combine fun with function.
In December, Apple named Duolingo the “iPhone App of the Year” for 2013, which, along with its nearly 9 million active users, seem to indicate that its gamified, mobile language learning formula is working. And last night, the startup capped off its banner year by taking home the Crunchie award for “Best Education Startup” of 2013.
While CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA and Duolingo founder Luis Von Ahn wasn’t able to make it to the Crunchies this year, Duolingo’s new head of communications, Gina Gotthilf, was there to accept the award. We caught up with Gotthilf backstage to ask her a few questions about Duolingo’s success and where it’s headed next.
As to Duolingo’s origins, the language learning app owes its design and original concept to von Ahn and his student, Severin Hacker, who developed Duolingo as the basis for a translation service powered by students translating real-world sentences while learning a language. Today, this is has become a key point of differentiation for Duolingo in the increasingly-crowded world of language learning.
Rather than forcing its users to memorize phrases, sentences or words, the app turns to the Web, literally, to provide fodder for students to learn by translation. As users proceed through its lessons and programs, they translate the Web, reading and listening to the language as presented by real, native speakers. The app leverages video clips, images, sound bites and other interactive prompts to help students memorize and remember important words and concepts.
The other key to Duolingo’s success, especially among the millenial crowd, is its use of gamification, allowing students to earn points as they proceed through its lesson plans, docking students “lives” when they make mistakes. Get too many wrong and Duolingo makes you start over.
The app monitors your progress as you go, keeping tabs on which words and concepts you struggle with, serving its lessons accordingly. Today, Duolingo has added a total of six languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, and French, and more are on their way.
Just like von Ahn previously did with reCAPTCHA, the original idea behind Duolingo was always to use it as the basis for a translation service where Over time, Duolingo expects to turn this into a tool where businesses can order paid translations from Duolingo’s users. Currently, the service only uses its web app to show these real-world texts from blog posts, news articles and WikiPedia entries, but in the near future, the iOS app will also integrate these features.
It’s worth noting, though, that Duolingo will always remain 100% free for those who want to learn a language. As von Ahn stressed, this means there will be no ads, no freemium model and no “five-easy-payments” plan. The combination of the language learning and translation service, von Ahn says, is “a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties: students receive a high-quality, completely free, language education, and organizations are given human-quality translation services.”
Duolingo, however, appears or produced many memorable experiences for that matter. Duolingo, the fast-growing language learning service,
the increasingly popular online language learning service, announced one of its most ambitious projects to date
If one of your friends randomly sends you a photo of a smoothie on Snapchat, don’t go to the URL on the picture. It’s a hack that has affected several accounts, as a Twitter search shows.
Wired writer Joe Brown was one of the users who suffered a Snapchat fruiting. A Snapchat spokesperson told him that the startup did not see any evidence of “brute-force tactics,” and that someone had likely gotten a hold of his email and password and accessed his account on the first try. We’ve emailed Snapchat for more information.
The spam looks like this (once again, don’t go to the URL; it sells weight-loss supplements, if you really must know).
Thanks eveybody I’m definitely visiting snapfroot pic.twitter.com/vfio4vBJha
— dan jacovelli (@danjacovelli) February 12, 2014
This is the latest of several high-profile hacking incidencts Snapchat has suffered. Back in December, millions of users’ phone numbers were exposed by a group that wanted to call attention to Snapchat’s security flaws.
In response, Snapchat came up with “Snap-tchas,” but hackers found workarounds within a few hours. A few days ago, a security researcher found a vulnerability that could allow hackers to crash your phone through Snapchat.
While Snapchat’s security flaws have been getting a lot of attention recently, it’s worth noting that you should try not to use the same usernames and passwords for multiple sites and apps, and be very wary of third-party services that ask for your Snapchat information.
Bitcoin traders are having a roller coaster ride everywhere and India is no exception. After initial momentum that saw several Bitcoin exchanges emerge in India, the Reserve Bank of India issued a warning that sent many traders into a tizzy last year.
Now, Raghuram Rajan, the RBI’s new governor has reiterated the central bank’s concerns about the credibility of Bitcoin. Addressing a technology conference in Mumbai earlier today, Rajan said there are ambiguities about who controls the value of Bitcoin.
“As a currency, I do worry a little bit when the underlying (value) fluctuates tremendously. One of the values of a currency is stability and the extent (to which) a currency is target of speculation as opposed to primarily a means of exchange,” he said addressing a conference organized by technology industry body Nasscom.
I do think we have to understand the role of virtual currencies and how they will interact with the paper currency that you have…There are questions that need to be asked, one of them being, who will maintain value? Can we have confidence in unseen, unknown centres who maintain the value of the currency, or an algorithm that will maintain the value of the currency – we need more credibility there
But Bitcoin traders in India are not giving up yet. Last month, Highkart became the first (and the only) e-commerce site in India to start accepting payment in Bitcoin. Its co-founder Amit Kumar told me that one of the challenges facing growth of Bitcoin in India is that many early adopters are still hoarding the currency and not trading them. Highkart sold a pair of shoes from Provogue in exchange for Bitcoin as its first transaction. It has currently 150 products and the startup does not charge anything extra for shipping the products.
“There’s nothing illegal in accepting Bitcoin — the RBI will take more time to come up with clarity,” Kumar added. Highkart and other Bitcoin traders in India say they are following all banking regulations prescribed by the RBI, leaving no room for any illegal activities.
Benson Samuel, a Bitcoin developer and consultant said nothing much has changed for Bitcoin in India since the last time RBI issued the warning. Last month, an Indian lawyer even sent a legal notice to RBI asking for clarity on Bitcoin trading in India.
A major concern for policymakers and regulators about Bitcoin is that it could be used for money laundering and other illegal activities. The Bitcoin traders however say that such concerns apply to any currency.
For its part, the RBI is not ruling out a future for Bitcoin in India yet.
“I don’t want to say that there is no future for these virtual currencies, I think it’s a process of evolution, but for now all we’ve done is express the kinds of concerns we have about it, without determining in any which way what we intend to do,” Rajan said earlier today.
Even as countries such as India and Russia think of Bitcoin as “potentially suspicious”, the virtual currency is mainstream now. Bitcoin was named the best Technology Achievement of 2013 at the Crunchies yesterday.
Remember Watson? Yes, the artificially intelligent, question-answering computer system developed by IBM that trounced two former champions on Jeopardy like they were a couple of kindergartners. That Watson. (He blends right in.)
While IBM has since looked expectantly to Watson to become its next cash cow, it appears the brainy computer is still looking for regular work. So, in January, IBM created the Watson Group, a new business unit “dedicated to the development and commercialization of cloud-delivered cognitive innovations” — or the “Put Watson To Work Fund.” The company said at the time that it would invest $1 billion in the Watson Group, $100 million of which would be made available for venture investments.
With bring-Watson-to-market projects flush with capital, IBM’s big plans for its Jeopardy-winning computer have begun to take shape in the form of a new character: Dr. Watson. Today, further evidence of Watson’s future in healthcare arrived in the form of the Watson Group’s first venture investment, which saw it take the lead in the $22.1 million Series C financing of social health management startup, Welltok.
Since emerging in 2009, Denver-based WellTok has been on a mission to provide businesses with better ways to incentivize their employees to actually participate (and engage with) in company wellness plans. The startup offers a suite of Web and mobile social media-based solutions, as well as a social health management platform, to help health plans “consumerize” their services. In other words, by leveraging the ease-of-use, accessibility and cross-platform functionality now available in so many consumer-facing products, Welltok wants to help providers, and companies themselves, improve the user experience of their health plans and the health of their employees.
For Watson Group and IBM, the interest in Welltok is simple: Healthcare and healthcare applications are where they believe Watson can potentially have the biggest impact. In part, IBM is betting that the computer system’s technology could herald a new era of predictive analytics in healthcare. In other words, by instantaneously scanning millions of studies and academic records, for example, Watson’s technology could allow doctors to quickly find better treatment options for their patients.
The investment is also meant to support the Watson Group’s existing partnership with Welltok, through which the two companies are building a new Watson-enabled application called “CaféWell Concierge.” The application will expand on Welltok’s health optimization platform and flagship product, CafeWell, both allows company health manager to more easily organize the ecosystem of available health and wellness solutions and provide access to a consumer-facing social health platform. The consumer platform side of CafeWell, for example, enables health plans to offer premium reductions to employees that exercise and take actions that lower their “Body Mass Index.”
With its new capital, Welltok plans to finish the development of its new, Watson-powered “Concierge” product line, which will allow users to ask questions about their health conditions and activities and receive personalized answers, along with guidance in the form of “intelligent health itineraries.” Welltok will then leverage Watson’s technology to learn which itineraries and rewards prove most effective in helping users reach their health goals, enabling it to refine Concierge’s recommendations and answers as it goes.
The round, which included participation from the startup’s existing investors like Emergence Capital, InterWest Partners, Miramar Venture Partners and Okapi Venture Capital, brings the company’s total capital to just under $50 million. About $40 million of its total capital has come in the last nine months, with Welltok having secured $18.7 million from Emergence, InterWest and NEA in April.
Combined, the company said that the new investments will enable it to expand its addressable market to encompass a greater share of the whole healthcare ecosystem, from accountable care organizations and population managers to health plans and systems and insurance brokers and exchanges.
For IBM, the investment in Welltok represents another step forward in its efforts to push Watson’s technology deeper into healthcare — and the search for commercial applications. A handful of healthcare companies and organizations were among the short list of Watson’s early customers, including players like WellPoint, a health insurer which was using IBM’s tech to determine whether or not the treatments being requested by doctors met with patients’ insurance policies and company guidelines, for example.
Ultimately, through these kinds of applications, Watson’s increasing presence in the space could have big long-term implications for healthcare. So, while Welltok is the Watson Group’s first investment in digital health (and first investment overall), it very likely won’t be the last.
Tapiture, a site where users can share content and buy related products, is announcing that it has raised $2.25 million in seed funding.
That amount consists of $1.25 million in new capital, as well as a $1 million convertible note from last year. The funding was led by JUMP Investors, with participation from Barry Sternlicht, Herb Simon, Brad Keywell (Lightbank), Brian Lee, Sam Bakhshandehpour, Dave Leyrer (Boulevard Capital), Happy Walters, Hilary Swank (yes, that Hilary Swank), Dwight Howard, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Jump’s Randall Kaplan, who was also the co-founder of Akamai, is joining the board of directors.
When I first wrote about Tapiture in 2012, it was a “Pinterest for Men” site launched by Resignation Media, the company behind humor site theCHIVE. Since then, however, Tapiture has spun out as an independent company, and it’s not just aimed at men anymore (a point that was emphasized in an email from a company spokesperson).
The site now describes itself as a place to “access millions of your favorite things” and says it has 3 million unique monthly visitors, as well as 100 million monthly pageviews.
“Tapiture’s traffic and revenue growth proves that consumers are looking for a new avenue to discover and share unique content – whether related to personal style, art, design, travel, food, or entertainment,” said CEO John Ellis in the funding release. “This infusion of new capital will allow our team to aggressively pursue our market and merchant expansion efforts as we shape the future of social commerce.”