PopTip, the Techstars-backed startup that offers real-time language tracking across social platforms, has today launched its Zipline analytics tool on Instagram.
Unlike PopTip questions, the product that launched the brand, Zipline doesn’t require brands to poll or ask a question to their audiences. Instead, brands can simply choose which words, phrases, etc. they want tracked and then watch the conversations play out right in front of them.
“We saw some really interesting patterns regarding the relationship between browsing on Instagram and purchasing power, so we wanted to get on Instagram to track the conversation,” said co-founder Kelsey Falter. “We have analysis going on Twitter and Instagram for Nike right now, and it turns out that there is 4x the volume of Nike mentions on Instagram than on Twitter, and that’s powerful information for Nike to have.”
When PopTip first launched back in summer of 2012, the company offered a polling product, letting brands ask things like: “do you wear #boxers or #briefs?”
PopTip would then offer a dashboard showing real time conversations around the questions and answers, even if respondents didn’t use a hashtag or spell the word correctly. At its core, after all, PopTip technology is all about natural language processing and tracking in real-time.
At launch, the analytics tool was only available on Twitter.
But in March of 2013, the company expanded their tracking tools to Facebook, letting brands get a true window into their following across multiple platforms.
Shortly after, PopTip launched Zipline, which takes the “polling” out of the equation and simply lets brands watch things play out as they normally would across social networks. With the launch of Zipline for Instagram, brands on PopTip can monitor the conversation across all three of the major network.
If you want to check out how Zipline on Instagram works, check out the demo here.
Zipline customers pay a flat rate of $6,500/month, which lets them track anywhere between 30 million and 50 million messages across all platforms.
PopTip has grown from 3 to 10 full-time employees, with 30 customers, including brands such as L’Oreal, NBA, ESPN, NFL, Spotify, Budweiser and Yoplait.
The New York-based company has raised a total of $2.5 million to date in angel funding from Lerer Ventures, SoftBank Capital, RSE Ventures, David Tisch, Scott Belsky, Soraya Darabi, Amer Rehman, Steve Martocci, Jared Hecht, Ori Allon, Tricia Black and Lee Ann Daly.
Glove, a new Android application launching today, is attempting to address a real-world pain point that affects an important decision that nearly every individual or family in the U.S. has to make at some point: which wireless carrier is the best one for you?
To do so, the app is installed on your device where it will run in the background for three days, keeping tabs on where you use your phone, and the network quality.
Typically, when someone is thinking of switching carriers, they ask around, checking with neighbors and friends in their area to find out if the coverage is any good, among other things, including perhaps whether the data plan is too pricey, what phones are available, or how the company’s customer support has treated their friend in the past. Sometimes, you also might pull up reception maps on the various carriers’ websites to try to determine if you’ll run into any dead spots or areas where you won’t be on 4G.
Glove doesn’t try to tackle all the decisions you have when choosing carriers, as its sole focus for right now is on finding you the best network, based on signal quality.
That, however, will change in time, we’re told. In the future, the app will also be used for other things like determining the best customer service or pricing, or determining the best handset per carrier by geography, for example.
Today, though, the Glove app turns to crowdsourcing to make its network quality determinations. That is, the company analyzes subscriber usage patterns and combines those patterns with hundreds of millions of crowd-sourced data points to determine which carriers are best for each user based on where and how the phone is used. This helps Glove determine the best network for you: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint.
Currently, Glove only works in two major U.S. markets: New York and San Francisco, but will roll out to other cities over time.
After you run the app on your phone for the initial few days, Glove will alert you via email when your results are in. Then you can decide if you want to make a switch.
With Glove, their plan is to make money by allowing consumers to switch carriers via the app, for which it would generate a commission of sorts.
To date, the company claims that in early testing Glove data found that approximately 75 percent of the time, people can be on a better carrier for them, from a network quality comparison that is. The app was pilot tested in Israel, however, so I’d imagine these percentages may change as U.S. adoption kicks in.
The idea itself is rather clever, though the business model may leave cynics questioning the accuracy of the results. After all, if the company makes money by recommending a switch, why would it tell users to stay put? At the end of the day, that answer will come down to a matter of trust. As early adopters get their hands on the app, and run their own extensive tests and comparisons with other third-party apps and speed tests, Glove will either be proven worthy or not.
An iOS version of Glove is due out in 2014. In the meantime, the beta Android app is here.
An MIT project that aimed to bring light field refocusing powers to existing cameras for less than a dollar is being spun out as its own commercial venture: Tesseract wants to provide the same capabilities to mobile devices, and the startup has the demos to prove it, using actual Android smartphone hardware using its technology.
Some of the flagship features of Tesseract include light field-style refocusing a la Lytro, albeit accomplished for much less money. At these rates, incorporating it into existing hardware becomes a lot more palatable for smartphone OEMs, which are constantly concerned about component costs when speccing out new devices.
In addition to refocusing after capture, it also offers up the ability to selectively separate foreground and background components, as well as apply special filter effects to different elements of the photo, and edit on different, automatically defined layers. It’s part RAW, part PSD but straight from your mobile device’s camera.
The plan for Tesseract is to sell its tech directly to OEMs for use in their devices, but there are many other potential uses, too. One client that founder Kshitij Marwah never expected is a bank with annual revenue in the billions that wants to use it to make their account opening process easier, he told me via email. The startup is also in ongoing discussions with smartphone manufacturers, other OEMs and banks to see how it might be adopted in their respective devices and processes.
Already, companies like HTC are reported to be introducing some of these features on their next-gen mobile devices. But HTC’s implementation seems to require multiple lenses and no doubt considerable expense on the component front. Qualcomm recently demoed mobile processors that offer selective refocusing thanks to improvements on the system-on-a-chip, but that too might be fairly costly to implement. With so many different approaches to this kind of camera innovation, one thing’s nearly certain: Within the next few years, no one should have to live with the focal composition they originally chose when they take a photo with their top-tier smartphone.
Loop, the mobile payments startup backed by $10 million in Series A funding, and the makers of a series of hardware devices that allows smartphones to function like magstripe credit cards at point-of-sale, is today publicly launching its LoopWallet application in the U.S. Apple App Store. An Android version will be available in April.
The company, for background, is headed up by payments industry vets, including co-founder and CEO Will Graylin, who previously founded WAY Systems (sold to VeriFone) and ROAM Data (sold to Ingenico), and co-founder and chief technologist, George Wallner, who previously founded Hypercom, also sold to VeriFone.
Their idea? To work around the U.S.’ so far slow uptake on competing mobile payment technologies including PayPal, Google Wallet, Square, Isis and others, with a solution that utilizes either a smartphone fob or card case to “trick” point-of-sale terminals into thinking a credit card has been swiped, without you having to actually carry the card or remove it from your wallet. Loop does this via an engineered technology that induces a strong enough magnetic signal to emulate the card swipe, which the company calls “Magnetic Secure Transmission,” or MST for short.
Currently, only the Loop Fob is available for purchase ($39), but other devices including a smartphone case and smartphone charge case are in the works. These and other so-called “AppCessories,” will let users load and store all their payment cards, including credit, debit, gift cards and reward cards, within the iPhone application.
To facilitate the process of adding your payment cards and managing them on your phone, the new LoopWallet application walks you through a setup process where you can organize your cards in a simple interface.
Though I’ve had early access to the app for some time, I’ve personally encountered a few difficulties with the hardware (thanks to being shipped a wrongly programmed device in error) and issues with my account. Technical difficulties like these are common with early stage startups, so it’s too soon to write off Loop as being buggy. However, further (successful) testing is required before forming an opinion which I’d share publicly here.
One thing that did strike me, though, is that the process of loading cards, even had it gone smoothly, is something that takes a bit of initial setup time on the part of the end user. And the convenience of paying by holding your phone near the terminal, instead of swiping a card, is somewhat questionable - especially if you use an iPhone wallet, or a case that lets you slide your ID and credit card right on the back.
To encourage users to adopt mobile payment technologies, there needs to be a minimum amount of work for a maximum reward. The work Loop, and many others in its same space, require is still an obstacle for the companies to overcome. And if consumers are going to take action in terms of either manually entering in their credit card details, whether with software-based solutions like PayPal or loading cards as with Loop, it would be ideal if there was something delivered in exchange for those efforts: like digital receipts, instant coupons, rewards or points, giveaways, or other benefits. Google Wallet so far has this part of the equation right, but doesn’t have the real-world adoption needed, as its solution at point-of-sale is based on NFC technology, which isn’t ubiquitous.
Loop, meanwhile, works at virtually any magstripe-enabled terminal in the U.S., but any sort of merchant program involving offers or rewards is still a ways off. It’s the proverbial chicken-and-egg scenario: Loop needs adoption to attract the merchants, but needs merchants and offers to attract a wider group of users.
That being said, the company easily surpassed its Kickstarter campaign’s goal, indicating that there is at least a core early adopter audience willing to test, and possibly evangelize, the technology if all goes well.
The new LoopWallet iOS application is available for download here.
Israeli startup Umoove is reaching out to developers in the Android camp, with the launch today of a beta SDK for Android devs wanting to use its face and eye tracking technology.
The SDK is not public, nor is it open to all — with Umoove picking and choosing only the app ideas it thinks will best fit with its tech. Interested developers are being asked to contact the startup via its website or by emailing SDK@umoove.me.
It says it’s released an Android SDK earlier than planned, owing to “increased” developer interest and “positive initial feedback” from Android OEMs.
It also says it’s currently in talks about raising a Series A. To date, Umoove has raised around $3 million in total funding (a $1.5 million seed round, and a recently closed <$1.5 million Angel round from undisclosed investors).
Umoove already has an SDK for iOS devs, and last month launched its first app to showcase what the head-tracking interface can do — a 3D flying game called Umoove Experience.
Gaming is one area it sees plenty of potential applications, such as in first person shooters — allowing the gamer to aim by turning their face to the place where they want to shoot, for example.
Umoove’s technology is designed to work with any smartphone which has a front-facing camera and can therefore see where the user’s head/eyes are pointing. The head-tracking interface is not intended to replace touchscreen interactions, but rather be a supplement — offering a way to augment touch-based interactions with additional, potentially more immersive functionality.
However there’s definitely a learning curve involved for users — and it remains to be seen whether the ability to control certain mobile interfaces with gentle head movements will catch on or not. That will depend, in large part, on the quality of the apps and devs Umoove can attract.
The startup’s CEO Yitzi Kempinski told TechCrunch it’s had “hundreds” of enquiries about its iOS SDK in the past few weeks, of which it sees around 100-150 being “relevant” ideas that can mesh well with its technology — and of those some 40 have actually started the process of building something that will incorporate Umoove’s head-tracking interface.Kempinski says app ideas being actively worked on include “maps, children’s games, children’s books, virtual tours, racing games, 3D models, hands free interaction for apps used in situations where hands are busy, science education, medical diagnose and more”.
Amazon Coins, the virtual currency introduced by the e-commerce giant last spring, are now available on Android devices, including both smartphones and tablets, in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. This is the first time the Coins have been offered outside Kindle Fire tablets, which is where they first launched.
The goal of Coins to date has been multi-fold: to encourage developers to build for the Amazon Kindle platform; to reduce the “sticker shock” of paying for things in dollars (something that Android users seem especially sensitive to in comparison with their iOS counterparts); and to increase the revenue-generating opportunities for both developers and Amazon.
The idea is to get consumers to think of paying for purchases not as “99 cent” downloads, but rather as a number of Coins they deduct from a bigger stockpile. It’s an idea that’s a holdover from console and PC gaming platforms, but one that is not offered today on either Apple or Google’s official app stores.
Customers can earn Coins by shopping for their apps from Amazon’s Appstore, earning achievements in select titles (currently over 3,800 apps are listed), and they can buy them directly at a 10 percent discount. The more Coins you buy, the larger the discount, which encourages users to purchase the currency in bigger quantities. (100 Coins are worth $1.)
The Coins can be used to buy games and apps, purchase extra features within apps, like extra lives in “Candy Crush,” unlock new levels, and more.
Developers continue to receive a 70 percent revenue share whether the customer spends Coins or dollars, Amazon notes.
In order for Android users to take advantage of Coins, they’ll need to install or update their version of the Amazon Appstore client on their device, which can be done from here: www.amazon.com/getappstore.
Online gadget retailer Grand St wants to be the go-to spot for interesting new hardware to be sold online. But after curating a daily selection of goods, the company is opening up its e-commerce shop for any hardware to list goods to be sold, as well as to test them out in beta and even make available for pre-order.
Grand St has spent the last year searching for all the best hardware products to list on its site and to make available through daily flash sales. Goods sold on the platform typically are listed for a week, although the best of the best have been added to the site’s “collection” of goods that are always for sale.
With the launch of its new marketplace, the company is extending its e-commerce platform to others who wish to leverage it as a new sales channel. Not only will hardware manufacturers be able to sell finished goods through the marketplace, but they’ll also be able to make them available for testing to beta users, as well as take pre-orders for their products.
Even better, Grand St will be taking no commission on goods that are put up for pre-order or beta testing. In doing so, the platform will compete against existing sales channels like Celery and Shoplocket — recently acquired by PCH International — for pre-order sales.
The company has already attracted hundreds of thousands of customers who have an affinity toward the types of interesting gadgets and hardware devices that are available on its site. As a result, it believes that it can provide hardware manufacturers with new potential buyers for their products.
Not everything will make the cut, however. According to Grand St co-founder Amanda Peyton, interested hardware manufacturers will need to apply to take part in the marketplace. To do so, they need only go to grandst.com/onboarding and fill out information about their hardware products.
Like Apple and its App Store, Grand St will evaluate whether or not those goods should be listed alongside its other hardware products. They’ll be judged based on creativity, reliability, user experience, design, and delight factor. And for certain products, there’s the possibility of being featured as part of Grand St’s daily sales and in its email newsletter.
According to Peyton, the marketplace will launch with more than 150 total items, in pre-order, beta, or available for sale. Of the items that have been accepted, 15 percent of the new products listed are in beta, 35 percent are available for pre-order, and the final 50 percent are available for purchase on the shop.
Grand St has raised $1.3 million in funding from First Round Capital, David Tisch, Gary Vaynerchuk, betaworks, Collaborative Fund, MESA+, Quotidian Ventures, and Undercurrent.
Video game store Humble Bundle announced that the Humble Store has switched to more traditional Steam-like prices, with different prices depending on your region. European customers will have to pay more for some games if the publisher chooses to set higher prices in Europe.
Humble Bundle is mostly known for its Humble Indie Bundles and smaller weekly bundles. So far, Humble Bundle has mostly been about indie games. Even though the company released a couple of bundles with major publishers like EA, small developers and publishers are still on center stage. Similarly, the company has started experimenting with ebook and audio book bundles.
The Humble Store has had compelling arguments to seduce gamers. Most games are cross-platform, DRM-free and come with a Steam key to activate the game on Steam. Moreover, charities, such as the American Red Cross, Child’s Play Charity, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, World Land Trust and Charity Water, receive 10 percent of the proceedings — Humble Bundle keeps 15 percent.
But one of the key differentiating element was also pricing. Everything was in USD, so you knew that you wouldn’t have to pay 20 or 30 percent more because of price differences between regions like on competing platforms. If your bank account wasn’t in USD, PayPal is pretty good at providing a good conversion rate.
Now, there are two scenarios. If Humble Bundle handles the conversion, it will sell the game at the same price in USD, EUR or GBP, without adding any VAT. But if the publisher wants to set different prices, the company will let the publisher do so. Like on Steam, there is apparently no way to choose your currency, so European customers will sometimes be forced to pay more for the same game. Many publishers could now choose to set the same prices in USD, EUR and GBP on the Humble Store and Steam.
For now, the Humble Store only added Euro and British Pound. If you don’t live in a country that accepts these currencies, you will still pay in U.S. dollars. The big bundles and the weekly bundles will still work the same way — everything will be in USD.
HTC is set to unveil its next-generation flagship phone, and all indications are that it will continue what it has accomplished with last year’s HTC One, but with some tweaks and enhancements to push things forward. A new leaked image from @evleaks today reveals that the new One could be very similar indeed to the old One on the outside, albeit with improvements to the camera system.
The press shot depicts an HTC One that looks like the aluminum device HTC released last year, but with a gold tint (it’s said to be launching in gold, silver and gray). Also noteworthy are the twin camera lenses on the back of the device, which include the larger primary one found on current models and the smaller one at the top of the case. There’s also a dual LED flash next to the main lens, which you might recognize from the similar setup on Apple’s own iPhone 5s, and more rounded corners, plus what looks like a wraparound metallic bezel, as compared to the plastic edging on the existing HTC One.
Rumors suggest that the new One will have dual camera sensors, to offer focus that can be changed after the fact and selective deletion of objects from photos, which explains the twin lenses. Based on what’s been making the rounds so far, HTC will be focusing on camera quality this time around, in a bid to give it something that clearly differentiates it from other Android OEMs.
Another feature of this leak is the prominence of HTC’s Sense UI on the home screen, where it seems to take over entirely. The interface resembles Windows Phone 8′s UI to some extent, with information pulled from feeds displayed on live tiles, which extend behind the Android home icon dock.
Personally, I’m excited to see what HTC comes up with to follow the extremely solid HTC One. It’s still among my favorite Android phones, right up there with the Nexus 5. My only concern is that HTC takes its positive critical reception as an excuse to coast this time around – that’s bound to fail in the highly competitive Android smartphone market, regardless of how good the original was.
The ATM, placed prominently in the Austin tavern, will be much like any other ATM you’ve used. You walk up, put in some money, and pull out bitcoin. Bitcoin owners will be able to sell through the machine and you will receive a receipt and an amount of BTC will be credited to your virtual wallet. The company already has ATMs in Vancouver and has shipped them to Asia, where they were briefly outlawed.
The company will turn on their ATM on Thursday, February 20, at 2pm. This ATM is just the beginning.
“Robocoin will be EVERYWHERE! We’ve just arrived in Texas and have already shipped to Seattle, Washington and Alberta, Canada,” said founder Jordan Kelley.
“Austin’s Robocoin is going to a really cool location downtown at the HandleBar. We have a bunch more shipping to amazing locations in Canada. We’re also still moving forward with Hong Kong, but we underestimated how long the international hardware certification process would take.”
The enrollment system lets you sell bitcoin using a government ID as well as biometric data which “gives Robocoin Operators full customer visibility, trackability and reporting tools to support global compliance,” said Kelley. Obviously this may dissuade some of the more paranoid BTC sellers, but that might be the point.
“Now we’re building a global infrastructure of passionate and dedicated Robocoin operators who are all fully aligned with the mission of making bitcoin safe and accessible to the masses. Robocoin is completely removing bitcoin’s barriers to entry and helping bring bitcoin into the real world,” he said.
The machines are built using “bank-grade” hardware and network security. The computer is inside a safe along with the associated cash and the servers aren’t publicly accessible from the Internet.
Getting a Robocoin installed in your business takes a little doing, though. Kelley said that owners need an official Money Transmitter License (MTL) or to register as a Money Service Business (MSB). But Kelley sees the Robocoin’s audience, 18-40 year-old early adopters, as an ideal customer for a forward-thinking coffeehouse or bodega.
Kelly is looking forward to growth and isn’t worried too much about the government.
“We’re optimistic that the government will see us as allies. Look, bitcoin is here to stay, just like the internet. We think governments will look to regulate this emerging economy and will identify and support the businesses that are prepared to play ball,” said Kelley.
[Image via TheRealADM]
Peer-to-peer ride-sharing startup SideCar is releasing a brand new version of its app for both passengers and drivers, which will provide more flexibility for drivers and more choice for passengers. The new version is being announced along with an investment by Union Square Ventures and the appointment of Fred Wilson to its board of directors.
For SideCar, the new version of its app is meant to separate it from the Ubers and Lyfts of the world. Both of those competitors have focused on trying to create a predictable price structure for their passengers, with Lyft moving from the idea of “donations” to a flat fare structure.
Ultimately, those companies have worked to simplify the process of hiring a car with concrete expectations around an estimated time of arrival, fare structure, and overall cost of a ride. Put in your location, tap your phone’s screen, and a car will be on its way to pick you up.More Driver Flexibility, More Passenger Choice
With the latest update to its app, SideCar is taking the opposite approach, creating more flexibility in pricing for its drivers, which it believes will ultimately provide more choice for its passengers. Where Uber and Lyft have zigged, SideCar has zagged, in an effort to differentiate from the other on-demand ride apps out there.
Drivers will now be able to set more restrictions around the fares that they charge and how far they’re willing to go out of their way to pick up or drop off passengers. Those who have large vehicles with more seats, for instance, can charge a bit more than those who just have a five-seat sedan.
But creating more driver flexibility also means enabling some to designate where they’d like to pick up and drop off. This could theoretically create a commuter or carpool use case, where a driver who’s going from somewhere near his home to his place of work might be able to discount the cost to a passenger who’s taking roughly the same trip.
On the passenger side of things, users now get to choose which drivers or cars they wish to ride in. After entering their end destination (SideCar automatically detects your start location via GPS), they’re provided a list of available drivers, which includes a photo of the car, a “bumper sticker” for the driver to provide more info about themselves, and the cost of the ride. Users can also “favorite” drivers that they’ve enjoyed riding with, and those drivers will appear at the top of their list when they’re looking for a ride.
“We worked really hard to make this easy, without too much extra thinking and with no extra button clicks,” CEO Sunil Paul told me. “I think we sliced it in a way that you get the best of both worlds.”
While some might argue that too much user choice is a bad thing, and that most passengers don’t really care who’s picking them up or taking them from place to place, Paul says that the shift in direction actually provides more certainty around how much they’re paying, along with who’s picking them up and when.
He noted that in competing apps users are often told that the nearest driver is only a few minutes away — only to have another driver actually take the ride. And he said that with surge pricing, “you’re totally guessing” what the final fare will be.New Investment From Fred Wilson
Along with the new app, SideCar is announcing that it’s raised a Series B round of financing from Union Square Ventures, which we’ve heard was around $10 million. The company actually got the funding last summer, but Paul told me that SideCar wanted to hold back on announcing the raise until the app update and shift in business plan was ready.
“A big reason for the funding was to execute on this significant shift in direction,” Paul said. “We were funded to execute and deliver on this pivot, and we didn’t think there was much to talk about until we did.”
There are a few other interesting things to point out about the funding. For one, SideCar is adding Fred Wilson to its board, which could help provide a little operational help as it seeks to expand into additional markets.
But the funding from Union Square Ventures came after it put $30 million into on-demand taxi app Hailo. Since the investments could be seen as competitive, I asked Paul why the investment firm felt comfortable investing in two companies that were both seeking to connect passengers with rides via mobile app.
“We don’t see the conflict, and neither do the folks at USV or Hailo,” Paul told me. “Where we are focused is this community-oriented marketplace, while Hailo has built its core business around the taxi market.”
(It’s probably also worth noting that SideCar’s Series B was dwarfed by Uber’s $258 million funding, which was closed around the same time. That might be another reason the company didn’t disclose it until now.)
While SideCar was the first pure ride-sharing startup to launch in the U.S., and the most aggressive to expand early on, it’s fallen behind both Uber and Lyft in the number of markets it serves. With a new app and guidance from Fred Wilson, we’ll see if it can turn things around.
Cloud-Based Payroll App ZenPayroll Raises $20M From General Catalyst And Kleiner At A $100M-Plus Valuation
ZenPayroll, the startup that offers an easy to use, cloud-based payroll application; is announcing a new round of Series A funding totaling $20 million. The round was led by General Catalyst Partners with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also participating. The startup previously raised $6.1 million in funding from a list of all-star investors, including Salesforce, Box CEO and founder Aaron Levie, Data Collective, Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston, Google Ventures and many others.
We hear that the valuation in the round was just above $100 million, post-money.
ZenPayroll is disrupting a space that incumbents like ADP and Paychex have dominated for some time. The startup offers a much simpler, cloud-based SaaS to automate all payroll tax calculations and payments, as well as provide direct deposit to employees. And the application allows for filing of all payroll-related government documents paperlessly. In fact, it takes around 10 minutes to sign up on ZenPayroll and gain access to the dashboard.
Specifically, ZenPayroll focuses on providing a simpler payroll experience for small businesses who do not have a corporate office and manually do their own payroll. Reeves explains in the video above that millions of small businesses do their own payroll, with half managing it on paper and spreadsheets.
“We are entirely re-thinking a product category, and our goal is how do we make payroll more about the people,” Reeves explains. “Compensation was previously a very impersonal, transactional event.”
Part of that is adding features like the ability for employees to give a portion of their paycheck each month or a fixed amount to charity of their choice. Other features include “autopilot” payroll and spot bonuses, as well as other employee-facing enhancements like self-onboarding, and visually informative pay stubs. Last year the company debuted an API, to allow third-party applications to send data, including hours worked, tips, bonuses, commissions, reimbursements, directly to the payroll app automatically without having to manually import the information.
Design and usability is also an important part of ZenPayroll’s allure, as you can see in this Design Sprint with investor Google Ventures.
As of last Summer ZenPayroll was processing $150 million in annual payroll, a number that has increased to $400 million. The company’s clientele includes small businesses such as bakeries, law firms, flower shops, hotels, dentist offices, restaurants, and more. Word of mouth has been a primary driver of growth; with most of the businesses with 100 employees or less.
Reeves explains that ZenPayroll still has $4 million left of its seed funding, but wanted to help accelerate growth and expansion of the product. Part of that plan involves adding more engineers and product developers, he adds. And he felt that the time was right to add an institutional investors to the team. As part of the Series A financing, Taneja from General Catalyst will be joining the ZenPayroll Board of Directors, and Komisar will also take an active role in advising the company.
“There’s a major shift taking place with small businesses embracing software to help them compete effectively in the 21st century,” said Taneja in a release. “ZenPayroll’s growth is a rocket ship and it’s extremely rare to find a company as mission-driven as they are.”
“Small businesses in particular have struggled with doing payroll manually or using overly complex, expensive software,” said Komisar. “ZenPayroll is transforming compensation from the unloved, bureaucratic process it is today, to an opportunity to improve the employer and employee relationship.”
Reeves says that the company currently has 20 employees and he expects to double that in the coming year.
Part of Reeve’s ambitions focus on empowering small businesses withe easy to use technology that was previously only available for the enterprise. But it’s clear that even beyond the small business market, payroll is a major pain and a market that’s ripe for disruption. While small businesses may be beneficiary of ZenPayroll’s mission, there is a large opportunity to make an easy, and secure payroll app that large enterprises and small business can use. Clearly Dropbox and Box have done this for file sharing, and Zendesk has captured this for customer service. Next up: payroll.
Condition One has spent the last few years trying to find ways to make video more like real life. With the Oculus Rift, it might have found just the device to bring its vision of immersive experiences to life. Using the virtual reality glasses, the company is hoping to unleash a whole new way of engaging with video experiences.
The last time we checked in with Condition One, the company had built a video rendering engine for the iPad and other mobile devices that would allow filmmakers to capture and display video in 180 degrees of vision. That experience connected with the sensors in the tablet and used them to shift the video that viewers were tuning into. By doing so, users were granted a new way of watching video on the device.
But the company decided it could do more. And so, it began working on a pure, 360-degree immersive video experience. Thanks to the power of the Oculus Rift, it will be able to bring that vision to life. With that in mind, Condition One is releasing the trailer to “Zero Point,” the first in what it hopes will be a series of films that leverage the virtual reality technology.
To give viewers some idea of what’s in store, Condition One has released an interactive trailer. But the truth is, that’s a poor substitute for seeing what the company can do using the Oculus glasses. I got a demo last week to check out the experience, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen.
If you’re a believer that the Oculus virtual reality glasses will be perfect not just for gaming, but also for media, then Condition One’s content could be pretty appealing. The company has created a video engine, paired up with a video capture array and editing suite, that allows it to create and play back 360-degree videos.
Condition One plans to make the full-length version of Zero Point available on the Oculus SDK later this year, to be viewed on PCs connected to the VR goggles. But it hopes that the film is just the first piece of content it releases for the device.
According to Condition One founder Danfung Dennis, the company plans to continue making movies that are meant for viewing through Oculus glasses. While pricing and release date are still up in the air, Dennis said he expects that the films will cost a premium to most video content today.
Of course, it’ll take some time to see how the content world develops for VR glasses. But Condition One plans to be right at the forefront of that movement.
Apple is putting on a show on SXSW this year, the company just announced via press release. It’ll take place over five days between March 11 and March 15, at the Moody Theater where PBS’ Austin City Limits is shot, and will have a lineup that includes Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, Pitbull, Keith Urban, ZEDD and others yet to be announced.
Like the annual, month-long iTunes Festival in London, this event and its performances will be made available free on both an app for iOS devices and the Apple TV, as well as via an on-demand live stream. Apple has held the iTunes Festival in London every September since 2007, where over 400 artists have performed to over 430,000 fans in person, as well as to many tens of million via the various streaming options.
The Festival is a chance for Apple to promote its role as the primary source of digital music, and to highlight key artists and essentially demonstrate how much of a force it is in the entertainment industry. U.S. dates for the first time mark a key expansion of this strategy, and the event should mesh well with the megashow vibe that SXSW has managed to accrue over the years.
Cracking the riddle of whole home audio has been a sort of quixotic quest for most manufacturers. The only company to really pull it off, Sonos, is still well ensconced in the niche of audio obsessives and Samsung, Apple, Sony et al haven’t offered much in the way of anything. Now, hopefully, can git ‘er done.
Beep is a very simple platform for controlling music anywhere on your network. The original system, a $99 ($149 after pre-order period) box with a big dial on the front, is designed to be a dumb terminal for all of your streaming needs. It grabs music from your own collection or services like Pandora and you can also stream music from your phone. The dial controls volume and can pause the proceedings and each beep has a line out. There is no built-in amplifier for this kit, but the plan is to put Beep technology into other manufacturer’s speakers.
The team, led by ex-Googlers Daniel Conrad and Shawn Lewis, grabbed talent from Squeezebox and Pandora to make the box they always wanted. While it’s a bit underpowered right now, the pair plans on adding more features as they approach launch this spring.
As a long-time Sonos lover, I’d be really happy to see a cheaper, fully featured whole home solution. Is Beep the one? Perhaps. It comes with a great pedigree and looks amazing. The brass and silver models they showed me were very well-made and easy to use. The guys are dedicated to their cause and they have some great experience. I think it’s enough, thankfully, to help them solve the age-old riddle of how to get music to play in every room of your manse.
Samsung is taking a completely different approach to its next-generation Galaxy Gear smartwatch, according to a new report from USA Today – that means eschewing Android altogether on the on-device OS. The Galaxy Gear launched last year ran Android, Google’s mobile OS, but that piece of wearable tech didn’t light any fires under consumers or critics, so why not go back to the drawing board?
To replace Android as the OS for its new smartwatch, Samsung is said to be using Tizen, its in-house mobile OS that appears to be nearing release on its first Samsung smartphone device. USA Today reports that ian HTML5 version of Tizen will ship with the new Galaxy Gear, and that both will be unveiled at Mobile World Congress this month in Barcelona.
Samsung is hosting an event at MWC called ‘Unpacked5′ February 24, where it seems likely to unveil its next Galaxy S flagship device. There’s also a chance we’ll see the Gear at the show, as has been reported previously by other outlets.
Tizen on the smartwatch would be a significant shift for Samsung, but moving to an HTML5-based platform on the device might make it easier for developers to craft simple partner apps for software resident on the phones themselves, and it could also help with things like improving battery life. Qualcomm’s Toq smartwatch, for instance, runs a “lightweight” OS that contributes to its five days of battery life, vs. around two days at best for the Galaxy Gear.
Another reason Samsung is eschewing Android for this generation of smartwatch, according to USA Today, is to keep more control over the device and platform in its own hands. The company’s Tizen efforts seemed stalled for a long time, but Samsung recently signed up a score of new high-profile partners. Investing in Tizen on the Gear probably can’t hurt that device’s chances – with wearables, there’s little reason yet for any consumer to choose one platform over another, and the initial version of the Galaxy Gear didn’t sell enough to create anything like lock-in for existing users.
Hopefully this next Gear isn’t just the same device with Tizen subbing in for Android, and the new watch offers many more improvements besides. In any case, if rumors are true, we should find out either way next week.
Online and mobile advertising company OpenX is announcing the appointment of Tom Fuelling as its new chief financial officer.
Fuelling (pictured) previously served as CFO at Hulu for six years, starting in 2007. The streaming video site announced last fall that Fuelling was departing and would be replaced by Disney’s Elaine Paul, following the appointment of new CEO Mike Hopkins.
Fuelling has also served as CFO for Ascent Media Network Services, ARTISTdirect, and Village Roadshow Pictures, among others. He told me that OpenX was a good fit in several ways, including “the entrepreneurial nature of its team” and the fact that it’s bringing “positive, disruptive” change to the ad industry.
The hiring of a new CFO, particularly for a venture-backed company that’s doing well, can be a sign of plans for an IPO. (After all, Fuelling helped ARTISTdirect go public.) When I asked OpenX CEO Tim Cadogan about whether that was a possibility, he gave the (fairly common) answer that he’s focused on “building a company” and doesn’t want to “put the cart in front of the horse” by treating any kind of financing as the end goal.
“Look, companies like ours access the capital markets — that happens in a variety of ways, and it usually leads to public markets at some state,” Cadogan said. “Part of the reason Tom is here is to make sure that we are structured from a financial part of view so that all our options are in front.”
Fuelling added that he sees some “low hanging fruit” when it comes to improving and growing the company’s financial side: “Sometimes the business success gets ahead of some of the processes that underlie it.”
OpenX’s technology supports real-time bidding and ad serving, and the company says that 65 percent of comScore 100 publishers participate in its ad exchange. It continues to expand its offerings, for example with the acquisition of JumpTime and the subsequent launch of its revenue intelligence product.
Cadogan suggested that we’re at “an inflection point” at the end of the first cycle in programmatic ad-buying. with a wider array of possible formats and business models coming up next. He compared it to products like cars and sunglasses, saying that they started out with a few standard models, but now, “You can make your own sunglasses, and you can pretty much configure your own cars.”
Fuelling is replacing Rick J. Gombos as OpenX’s CFO.
Skyhigh Networks today debuted CloudRisk, a new tool to help corporations track and manage their potential risk due to use of cloud services.
CloudRisk is a dashboard that tracks a firm’s current surface area with cloud services, providing the company with a number — on a scale of one through 10 — regarding their current exposure and a comparable figure for their industry.
If Skyhigh invented this ranking scale of risk, why grant it weight? The company’s other products vet cloud services, providing a Stamp of Approval — what it calls Skyhigh Enterprise-ready — to the apps deemed sufficiently safe, and it vends tools to help companies manage cloud use inside their businesses. So, if you were looking for a firm with a good pulse on cloud risk, and its mitigation, Skyhigh is a decent bet.
CloudRisk will also provide suggestions for companies that could use, ahem, a better score.
I spoke with CloudRisk CEO Rajiv Gupta about the new product and the larger cloud industry. In short we agree that growth potential remains essentially boundless for the sector as we stand today. Skyhigh is Gupta’s bet that that growth becomes realized, security products and tools will be required for the expansion. So the play makes sense.
Skyhigh raised a $20 million Series B round led by Sequoia Capital in 2013, a funding event that included participation from prior investor Greylock Partners.
To date, LinkedIn has allowed a small, editorially selected group of “Influencers” like Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Barack Obama to publish their thoughts and advice to its network as long-form blog posts. Now, that changes, as LinkedIn prepares to open up access to its publishing platform to all 277 million users on its network.
The company says the rollout is staged, with initial access arriving for some 25,000 English language users of LinkedIn, with a worldwide reach planned for a couple of months from today, give or take.
“One of our big, strategic bets for the company is for LinkedIn to become the definitive, professional publishing platform,” says Ryan Roslansky, Head of Content Products at LinkedIn. “We do this because we want LinkedIn to be the place where members can become productive, successful professionals – not just when you’re trying to find a job, or search for another person.”
In other words, LinkedIn needs a hook that would make it more of a daily or at least a weekly destination for end users, rather than a place you go to update your resume when looking for work.
The company first launched its “Influencer” network last fall with 150 “thought leaders,” and has since grown that to around 500 in the time since. That number will remain unchanged, though Roslansky tells us that the new open access to publishing on LinkedIn could potentially allow others to break into these more exclusive ranks by writing posts that find a wider audience engaging with and sharing their content.
Today, Influencer posts are well-trafficked on the site, he says, and see over 20,000 unique views, over 250 likes and 80 comments, on average. (Would-be-influencers, these are the metrics you’d have to hit to qualify for consideration, we’d wager.) The company is also adding a few new Influencers in conjunction with the wider publishing rollout, including Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, Financial Expert and CNBC host Suze Orman, and Summly founder and Yahoo! Product Manager Nick D’Aloisio.
Currently, LinkedIn’s publishing system lets the Influencers share text accompanied by images, with no limitations on word count. These posts are pushed out to the LinkedIn homepage, where featured items rotate between four top-level positions. The posts also appear in an email digest, in the flagship LinkedIn application and in the Pulse app (the news reader app that LinkedIn acquired last year).
For members who choose to participate, the posts will appear on their profiles where they will “live forever” as a part of your professional identity, explains Roslansky. To reach those who can benefit from that knowledge, LinkedIn will tap into its understanding of users’ industry and interests to better target the right posts to the right people.
“One of the great things about LinkedIn is when you create a profile on LinkedIn, we know a lot about who you are, your industry, your function in your company, etc. – we have great insight into the interests you care about,” he says. So for example, if LinkedIn sees you’re a graphic designer and it sees a piece of content algorithmically trending on the subject of graphic design, it will make the match.
Of course, just because a network builds a publishing platform doesn’t mean everyone immediately becomes a great blogger. Case in point: Medium, which proves that just like tech news sites, newspaper websites or personal blogs, there will be gems and there will be some serious crap. Roslansky isn’t worried about the “crap” problem, though, saying that LinkedIn pieces will be published by those looking to share their professional thoughts and opinions – insight that hasn’t been written yet because it exists only in people’s heads right now.
(That being said, you’d be surprised at what sort of content people can spit out and proudly attach their byline to.)
LinkedIn may be looking to deliver more personalized insights and increase user engagement, but the actual end result – given broad enough adoption of the pro blogging feature – will likely be better hiring decisions as companies get to know the person behind the resume.
Apple has gained an entire percentage point of market share and cracked the top five smartphone manufacturers, according to the latest figures from research firm IDC. Apple’s share rose from 6 to 7 percent during the fourth quarter of last year, according to a new report (via WSJ) and though that isn’t a huge bump, it makes Apple the fifth-largest smartphone maker in China.
There’s also reason to believe that Apple could climb higher still: These numbers don’t include any sales made through Apple’s partnership with China Mobile, which only began selling the iPhone on January 17, and is in the process of building out its new network to support the device across a wider swath of the population.
Apple’s rise late last year might have something to do with the fact that the company opted to launch its latest iPhone models in the Greater China market simultaneously with its North American and major European market launches – this marks the first time it has done that, and likely helped boost overall iPhone sales by a considerable margin in the company’s fiscal holiday quarter. Apple also won a bigger chunk of a Chinese smartphone market that isn’t growing with nearly the speed it has in the past, so the China Mobile deal is even more significant, as it represents a way for Apple to grow its share in the key market without having to seek out new smartphone buyers.
For Apple, the China Mobile deal represents a huge potential new buyer pool, and signs are good if the iPhone 5s and 5c are already helping drive up their share. But China’s own Xiaomi is nipping at its heels, coming in sixth overall among smartphone makers in the country per IDC, so that could make for a tight race between the two as the Android-based startup OEM continues to chart impressive growth at home.