Tag Archive | "urban"

Sophia Amoruso To Speak At TechCrunch Disrupt NY

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Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso intently knows what it takes to build a brand online, turning her popular eBay vintage shop into a revenue opportunity worth over $100 million — and the envy of brick and mortar stores like Urban Outfitters — before she was thirty. Read More

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

UrbanSitter Raises $15M To Harness The Power Of Social Recommendations In Child Care

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UrbanSitter, an online service for parents and sitters to connect, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by DBL Investors with participation from Match Group, a division of IAC and newly launched VC firm Aspect Ventures, as well as existing investors Canaan Partners, First Round Capital, Menlo Ventures and Rustic Canyon Partners.

UrbanSitter harnesses the power of social recommendations in a space where a friend’s recommendation is critical—child care. UrbanSitter leverages Facebook Connect so parents can view sitters that their friends already know, trust and recommend. You sign up on the site, and connect your Facebook account, and can view sitters known through friends or affiliations—including schools, sports teams and parent groups.

Parents can view each sitter’s reviews, skills and certifications, experience, educational background, response time and the number of repeat families. Parents can also see profile pictures and video of sitters and availability, hourly rates and typical response times are also outlined. The bonus of using UrbanSitter is that it manages all the payments on both ends of the transaction.

Similar to how people use OpenTable for dinner reservations, parents can search for sitter availability by date and time and then book jobs (or interviews) in real-time. After the job is completed, parents can pay online and add reviews, ratings and Facebook Likes to sitter profiles. You can also search for sitters by various filters such as part-time, full-time, etc.

UrbanSitter is available in a dozen U.S. cities, and also offers mobile apps to allow parents to book sitters on the go.

To me, the power of UrbanSitter is taking the offline action of finding a babysitter through friends and recommendations, and bringing that online. Competitor Care.com, which has a broader goal of finding caregivers for kids, seniors and more, just went public at a valuation of well over $500 million so there is clearly a large opportunity here.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Apple And Others Fund $750 Million In Education Gadgets And Internet Broadband

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Major tech companies are giving away $750 million worth of products to help bridge the digital divide. During a speech earlier today, Obama gave details about the pledges from the tech companies, along with a commitment to connect more schools with broadband Internet.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Apple’s pledging $100 million in iPads, Macbooks, products and teacher training.
  • AT&T is giving $100 million in mobile broadband for 3 years to middle schools and for teacher development.
  • The Verizon Foundation is giving $100 million to educate teachers, with the Verizon Innovative Leading Schools program, among other initiatives.
  • Autodesk will offer free design software to every secondary school.

During the State of the Union, Obama announced that Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon would help connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students to speedy Internet.

“Now, this is an extraordinary commitment by these business leaders, but they’re business leaders, so they’re not just doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They want the country to do well, but they also understand that they want educated customers,” said Obama. “They want customers who are able to get good jobs, who are going to be using these tools in the future. They want that next young architect coming out of here to be familiar with using that iPad so that they’re designing buildings and using their products.”

Research on the effectiveness of broadband in schools is more scant, however. The Urban Institute found that broadband in the home slightly decreased math and reading proficiency [PDF], while an experimental study in Portugal found the same for broadband in schools [PDF]. The authors cite heightened distraction as a potential explanation.

Though, technology could allow schools to also radically change their curriculum, which would teach a different set of skills that may not be captured by test scores. So it seems like the government is funding a project that we don’t entirely understand the outcome of.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Need A Date Idea? Delightful Sells Tailored Dates For The Couple That Has Done Everything

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I know you.

You’re lucky enough to have found the love of your life — and somehow, you’ve convinced her (/him) to love you back. For years and years, even!

You want to take them on the finest adventures. Symphonies. Speed boats. Friggin’ magic-carpet, whole-new-world kind of stuff.

But you’re also busy. When you’re not with them, you’re working (or, occasionally, sleeping.) You’re a hopeless romantic with hopelessly little time.

I know you, for you are me.

Delightful is a service built for couples to make date night easier. Delightful stealthily debuted into Beta at the end of 2013, launching as one of the first products out of OkCupid Labs (which itself is a part of IAC, the same company that owns Vimeo, Ask, Dictionary.com, CollegeHumor, UrbanSpoon, Tinder, and a zillion other mega brands that most people have no idea are related.)

This morning, the company is leaving Beta and launching their iOS app. Delightful is only available in SF at the moment, though some of the dates branch out to the East/South Bay Area.

You pick a date idea from their library, and Delightful gets everything ready. They’ll make the reservations, they’ll make sure everyone involved knows its a special night, and they’ll try to custom tailor the evening any way they can. (In one couple’s night out at the symphony, for example, Delightful made sure that glasses of champagne were waiting just outside of the theater at intermission so the couple didn’t have to wait in the drink line.) When you’re out on the town, you’ve got e-mail/phone/text access to an on-call concierge in case you need something in a pinch.

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Alternatively, you can “Build A Date”. You punch in the details on when you’re free and what you’re up for (Dinner and Drinks? Something educational? Something artsy? All of the above?), any custom requests (Vegetarian-friendly restaurants only? Need a taxi pre-scheduled to arrive at your place?), and their “date concierge” will work out the details.

In some cases, Delightful is able to offer up discounts. Businesses see it as a way to get a regular stream of customers who will (at least theoretically) have a particularly good experience, so they might drop the price a bit. But discounts aren’t the focus, co-founder Brian Luerssen says. “This isn’t a Groupon,” he tells me. “We don’t want people to have to print out a voucher, or bring in a coupon. They’re on a date. We want to help them focus on that. We’ll make sure the place knows you’re coming.” When Delightful can’t get a discount, they can often get something thrown in — a couple glasses of wine, VIP entrance, or a behind-the-scenes tour — to sweeten the deal.

Some examples of the sort of dates currently on the site:

  • Three-hour glassblowing class for two, plus complimentary flowers, for $180 (When I checked the glassblowing studio’s site, a pair of tickets was around $190)
  • A reservation at San Francisco’s E&O, two movie tickets, and two glasses of champagne — currently free for members.
  • Three-hour two of a bunch of Oakland restaurants, complete with tour guide and food at each stop, for $150
  • A pre-packed picnic basket, blanket and all, delivered to an SF park of your choice for $45.
  • A tour for two of the Kink.com (heads up: that’s not a link because it’s waaaay NSFW) armory/porn studio, followed by a round of drinks, for $25 (Yelp says this tour for two usually costs $50, or $35 if you find a promo)

So how do they make money? At its core, Delightful is a subscription service. After the first 30 days, membership costs $12 a month — though around half of the dates seem to be available sans-membership, albeit at a slightly higher rate. They also make a bit of money from each date, though the margin varies from date to date. With the above pre-packed picnic, for example, the margins are pretty solid because they provide everything; with the restaurant dates, they take a smaller (or no) percentage.

“Dumb!”, someone shouts from the crowd. “Just plan your own dates, lazy!”

And they’re not wrong! At least, not in an ideal world.

But sometimes, people who spend 10 hours a day working want to have a nice date without sweating the details. Sometimes, couples who’ve been together for years and feel they’ve tapped out all of their fresh ideas (and all of Google’s results for “Fun things to do around San Francisco”) could use a hand coming up with something special. And sometimes, people are just plain uncreative. At $12 a month (about what you’d pay for the tip on a decent meal for two) with the added bonus of occasional discounts and “VIP” add-ons, the price isn’t crazy.

With that said, this certainly seems a bit tough to scale. They’ve got the OKCupid ties, so they’ve got a pretty massive audience to pitch these dates to. The more they succeed, though, the more “concierges” they’ll need, and the more businesses they’ll need to get on board — which, presumably, means a bigger sales team. And, of course, some will appreciate this concept more than others — perhaps more than the other person in a relationship. Does a special night become less special when you paid someone else to plan it?

SF residents can sign up for Delightful now, or you can find their new iOS app right over here.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

CommonFloor Raises $10.4M From Tiger Global, Accel To Expand Beyond Real Estate Listings

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CommonFloor, an Indian real estate search engine and listings site based in Bangalore, has raised $10.4 million from existing investors, Accel India and Tiger Global in Series D funding.

The new capital will be used to expand beyond property listings, and offer information on related products including home decor etc., the startup said in a statement. The latest funding brings total money raised by CommonFloor to around $17.9 million. In July last year, the startup had raised $7.5 million from the same investors.

There are over 150 million Internet users in India, most of whom are looking to buy, rent apartments, and even sell things online. Real estate listing startups such as CommonFloor and MagicBricks are targeting the country’s rising middle-class population planning to buy and rent houses across major Indian cities. Many of them are already depending on these sites to not just doing initial research, but also buying houses. Last year, during the Great Online Shopping Festival (India’s version of Black Friday/Cyber Monday) Tata Housing sold some 50 apartments online.

Internet users in the country making transactions online are expected to touch 38 million by 2015, according to this research by Ernst & Young.

“We have seen phenomenal growth in the past 2 years on every possible parameter – be it financials, visitors, advertisers or engagement. In fact, our topline has continued to grow by over 100% quarter on quarter since last year,” said Sumit Jain, co-founder of CommonFloor.

Launched in 2007 by Jain and Lalit Mangal, CommonFloor now has over 75,000 projects listed on its website, it said in the statement.

The real challenge for CommonFloor and several other real estate listing sites will be to offer more personalized solutions, instead of just being a search engine. This will require investments in data analytics and developing newer offerings.

A good example to illustrate this would be to look at what startups such as Zillow and Urban Compass are doing in the U.S. — not to blindly copy what others are doing (because these markets are quite different), but more in terms of enhancing the services.

New York-based Urban Compass for instance, combines its home rentals platform with a hyperlocal social network to help users not only find their next apartment but also discover everything else they want to turn their apartment into a home.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

How To Sell Your Business And Make And Lose Millions

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Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and several-times entrepreneur. His latest book, is “Choose Yourself!” (foreword by Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter) about how to make, lose, and make back millions. Follow him on Twitter @jaltucher.]

First I totally gave up. I thought there was no way to sell my web services business.

It started when I was in the offices of Loud Records, run by Steve Rifkind. My company, Reset, was doing websites for the Wu-Tang Clan and other Loud artists. It was 1997.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard would call me on the phone sometimes. Mobb Deep would stop by. Trent Reznor would hang out (we did Interscope’s artists as well).

Steve Rifkind’s dad, Jules Rifkind, was a music mogul from the 50s, signing acts like James Brown. He was infamously (supposedly) portrayed in The Sopranos as the character Hesh Rabkin.

And the rumor was that Jules Rifkind’s father used to handle all the details whenever Meyer Lansky threw a party.

When you walked into Loud Records these huge beefy older Jewish guys would pat you down to make sure you weren’t carrying a gun. They looked like they were about 70 years old but you had to have a suicide impulse to disagree with them.

Someone said to me, “Steve needs you in his office. He’s got some guy in there pitching BS.”

So I went in there.

This guy, Justin W., was saying, “Steve, let’s do a rollup of all urban businesses. We take Loud Records, combine with SRC, combine it with five-star basketball camps, maybe get The Source magazine in there. We take it public. You could have a billion-dollar company! This would be hot on Wall Street. Rollups like this are fucking sexy.”

Steve was sitting in the center of the room and everyone was sitting around with him. “A billion dollars. This is too much for me. I gotta go to the bathroom and jack off.” And he got up and left the room.

Justin introduced himself to me. He was a banker at [big investment bank].

A few weeks later Justin called me even though we hadn’t exchanged cards or anything.

True to my style, I didn’t pick up. I don’t like talking on the phone very much.

The next day he called. The next day he called. The next day he called. The next day he called.

Finally I picked up.

“Why do you never pick up?” he said.

“Sorry about that,” I said, and that was that.

“Listen,” he said, “you’ve got a hot company. I know people who want to buy it. Go to this address.”

So I went to the address he gave me. It was a huge empty room about 10,000 square feet with one desk in it. It was the soon-to-be offices of a company called Rare Medium. The CEO, Glenn Meyers, was there. “I like your company,” he said. “I want to buy it.”

But I didn’t understand anything then and his company wasn’t public yet. It would later merge with an air-conditioning company that was trading for one dollar, and then it went up to $300 at the height of the boom and then it went bankrupt. Someone recently told me that Glenn pulled $200 million off the table and relaxes now.

So I didn’t return Justin’s calls for a while more. Finally he got me on the phone. “Listen,” he said, “you have to pick up when I call. I’ve got other guys who want to buy your company.”

He sent me to two or three other places. Everyone made offers. They were all complicated, though. Like, $X up front and then $Y over five years.

I had to practice going to places and saying, “I want to be a part of a larger team” and other BS. But all I really wanted was money.

Independently, for the prior year I had been sending updates to the person who bought companies for Omnicom, the big ad agency, Felice Kincannon.

After a year of meeting her and sending her emails of our updates, we were finally big enough. She started introducing me to other agencies within the Omnicom family to see who would want to buy us. Everyone did. And I started sending ad business to Omnicom agencies.

But again, the deals were all too complicated for me. Deals should be simple. Because they always get complicated later. They should start simple.

Honeymoons are meant for love-making.

Finally, I got tired of it. We wouldn’t get acquired. I called Justin, “Just forget it. I appreciate your help and we’ll figure it out some other time.”

“No wait,” he said. “One more try. These guys will be at your place in 20 minutes.”

Twenty minutes later two guys show up. A tall, older, suited, German guy with a thick accent. And an Orthodox Jew.

They took the tour of the offices. I made sure everyone would be working hard, even if they had no work to do.

When we got into the “map room” (which was also the kitchen), Werner Haase pointed to the map and said “What is this?”

I said, “This is where we have clients,” and there were pins all over the world.

“I find New York City is big enough to have plenty of clients,” he said in his thick accent.

About an hour after they left, Justin called me. “They fucking loved you. They want to buy the company.”

“Ok,” I said, “but everything has to be up front.”

“Give me a number,” Justin said, and I said a number, and he said, “wait for a call from them.”

Ten minutes later they called and offered the exact number. Werner even said, “I look forward to playing chess with you.”


Handshakes don’t always mean a deal is closed.

The closing of the deal took too long. I was stressed every day. Lawyers stopped calling back. Everything was going slow. But Justin and Yitz, the Orthodox Jew, kept telling me to keep my cool.

But I wasn’t cool. I couldn’t focus. I was going to go out of business because I was so anxious.

One time Werner offered to lend the company money. “If you need it,” he said. I said no. I felt like it was a trap.

Meanwhile the Asian Financial Crisis happened. Werner was having second thoughts. The deal was already taking six months.

Finally, it closed.

I called my sister. “It’s closed!” I shouted into the phone.

A woman passing me by on the sidewalk yelled at me, “Who fucking cares!”

Justin wanted his fee. I drove up to his house as soon as I got the money so I could hand-deliver his fee.

Four years later the company that bought us filed for bankruptcy. The chairman of the company, Scott Mednick, produced the movie “Superman Returns” and is now in the movie business. Werner went back to being in the travel agent business. Yitz has a company that cures irritable bowel syndrome.

Justin still does deals. Steve Rifkind never did his urban rollup but kept putting out platinum albums. Every web agency that Omnicom bought went bankrupt or near bankrupt.

With the money I made I bought a 4,500 square foot apartment in Tribeca and I played poker every night at private clubs and in Atlantic City and in Las Vegas. Even the night my first child was born I played poker all night.

Four years later I was broke and had to sell the house, and I moved 80 miles away and didn’t leave my new house for three months because I was so depressed.

The story never ends. This is just a chapter.

Lessons learned:

Get all the money up front. As much cash as possible. This applies no matter what you are selling. A service, a product, a company, etc.

Some people are good deal-makers. Recognize who they are and pick up their calls.

Be honest about what you want. You don’t have to lie to get acquired if you have a good company. This works no matter what you are selling. People pay a premium for authenticity.

Send constant friendly updates to the people who are rejecting you. This works for all sales. Water ultimately dissolves rock.

Stay focused on your business, else you have nothing to sell.

Werner was right. You don’t need to be worldwide. NYC is pretty damn impressive.

As we all know, the stock market has fads. Eventually your company will be part of the fad because all industries have their day in the sun. But make sure you are profitable so you can survive it.

Corollary to the above rule: Sell all of your stock the second you can. Usually it’s restricted at first. Never be fooled by people smoking crack. Sell Sell Sell the second you can. The reason is: chances are your company got bought for an inflated price anyway.

Don’t change your lifestyle for at least two years. You have to let new money marinate your soul. I didn’t do that and my soul exploded and leaked over all the people I loved, hurting them all. The closer someone was to me, the more they were hurt. I felt really bad about that for many years and only recently made amends.

Always be loyal. I never said a bad word about Werner no matter what. If someone helps me feed my family, they are a friend for life. If someone takes money out of my pocket, they are out of my life. Never break this rule.

Always be loyal. I pay my fees the second they are due.

This was the first company I ever sold. First of too many.

Sixteen years later Justin W. and I still do deals together. It was together that the two of us screwed Yasser Arafat out of two million dollars.

But that’s another story.


Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Google Gives Business Owners A Single Place Online To See All Their Customers’ Reviews

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Google now makes it easier for business owners to see who is reviewing them across the web. Verified business owners who are already using the recently updated Places for Business user interface can now go to their profiles, where they’ll find a new “Reviews” section. There, they will find all of their customers’ online reviews and be able to respond to them. The service also offers some basic review analytics so businesses can track how their reputation changes over time.

The service doesn’t just pull in reviews from Google properties, by the way. It also aggregates data from around the web, too. This makes it a pretty comprehensive tool for business owners who want to manage their online reputations. Google will pull in data from most of the review sites that currently allow it to snippet their content, including TripAdvisor, Zagat, UrbanSpoon, Insider Pages and others.

Unsurprisingly, Google gives ratings on its own sites first billing and separates them out from other properties, but this tool still offers businesses an easy and free way to see what people are saying about their cupcakes or car repair services.

Google isn’t the first company to start tracking online reviews for small and medium business. Services like ReviewTrackers, Bazaarify and others offer similar services – though often with more additional features. Most companies don’t make use of these tools, though, but a free Google service for managing online reputations will likely attract quite a few users.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Lovely, The Apartment Rentals Site, Raises More Funding And Buys Rentmatic To Add Payments

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Lovely, the site that aggregates home rental listings, is today moving up from studio to duplex status. The startup is announcing its first acquisition, Rentmatic, so that those finding apartments on its site will soon be able to set up their monthly rent payments on Lovely after they move in. And it is gearing up for more growth: it has also closed a Series A round of funding.

Blake Pierson, CEO and founder at Lovely, tells me the company is not disclosing the value of the Rentmatic deal, nor the amount of funding that Lovely is getting. In addition to giving the company funds to continue its U.S. expansion, the Series A brings on some important investors. They include Mark Stevens, formerly of Sequoia and now running S Cubed Capital; Walter Kortschak of Summit Partners; John Foster of Broadreach Capital Partners and Kevin Taweel, the co-founder of Asurion.

Lovely first grew its audience as one of the many services that people could use as a better way of searching apartment listings on Craigslist, which has been slow to evolve its basic services even as it has become a go-to platform for many looking for new places to rent. As Craigslist has become a lot more proactively litigious, against so-called data scrapers, many of those third-party sites have shut down. But not Lovely. Seeing the traction it was getting for its services, Lovely moved off CL listings and began to incorporate and aggregate other data sources. Pierson – who comes from a real estate family – tells me that today those other data sources number at over 100. Lovely has also built out a platform for people to post on its site directly.

It has paid off. Lovely now processes over 1.5 million rental listings every month; 500,000 people find new homes on its site each month; its iOS mobile app has had nearly 250,000 downloads (with Android soon to come). Some 5,000 property owners, meanwhile, have signed on to Lovely Pro, a free selection of professional tools for owners, managers and leasing agents to organise their property listings.

As part of that, Lovely has also moved beyond simple listings to include credit vetting for those renting out apartments, via a partnership with Experian (its first with a rentals site) and the ability for people seeking places to apply directly through Lovely.

This is where the Rentmatic acquisition will fit, as another service to fill out the full lifecycle for landlords and renters. Rentmatic, which was founded in 2006 and bootstrapped, has customers in every market in the U.S. and will continue to serve them, as it also migrates its platform to Lovely to work with its listings directly. Justin Shreve, the founder who is joining Lovely, says that it is currently processing some $25 million annually in rent.

Filling out a basic listings site with more features is quickly becoming table stakes for those in this field. Very well capitalised Urban Compass, based out of New York, all provides an all-in-one service, and has even moved into services for residents after they’ve moved in (for example in areas like furniture sales). End-to-end is also what other players like Apartment List (which just raised a $15 million Series A) are also aiming to achieve.

Lovely thinks that there is room for a number of strong players in the rentals space. “I don’t view Urban Compass as a competitor because they are focused on broker dominated markets,” Pierson told me in an interview. “That works very well in some markets like New York City or Boston, but brokers don’t play a huge role outside of those markets. Those don’t scale nationwide.” Others whose business models are closer to Lovely’s, he says, are the likes of Cozy and Trulia, “but if I’m being honest we don’t look around too much. We tend to look forward to how this space should look and what it will take for us to get this industry there.”

Image: Flickr

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Isis, The Mobile Payments Initiative From AT&T, Verizon & T-Mobile, Launches Across The U.S.

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Mobile wallet platform Isis, backed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon here in the U.S., is kicking off its nationwide launch today, as previously planned. Alongside the launch, an updated version of the Isis mobile wallet application also hit the Google Play Store yesterday, with separate versions designed for each carrier’s supported smartphones. Isis says that today there are over 40 supported smartphones that work with the technology, and the carriers will give out free Isis-ready SIM cards to those whose phones are NFC-enabled and on the list.

The cross-carrier initiative has been in pilot testing in Salt Lake City and Austin for over a year, and has seen some changes during those trials. Initially, the service had planned to take a cut of transactions across its network, but now charges service fees to companies using the platform instead. Issuers including American Express, Chase, and Barclayscard had previously been supported Isis during tests, allowing consumers to load Visa, MasterCard, Amex and Discover cards into a virtual wallet app running on their NFC-enabled smartphones.

But today, Isis told us that American Express or Chase cards are supported. Amex Serve, American Express’ pre-paid card program with its own mobile application, is also supported, as are store loyalty cards and My Coke Rewards. When asked what happened to Barclayscard and Discover (which don’t get any website mention either), we’re told that “nothing has changed,” and Isis is continuing to work with both.

Isis has stumbled on its way to launch already - Capital One pulled out of pilot tests in September, which hints at challenges for the platform. The carriers have also generated negative sentiment among potential early adopters for the Isis platform by taking steps to block competing initiatives, like Google Wallet, from launching on NFC smartphones. There’s a narrow-mindedness there, since getting consumers onto Google Wallet would help to push the NFC agenda forward overall, and Isis could then compete on platform technology, user experience, and feature set, while getting more people familiar with NFC usage at point-of-sale.

The Isis app is currently poorly reviewed on Google Play (mainly from previous versions), with the AT&T version sporting one-and-a-half stars at the low-end and the T-Mobile version with two-and-a-half stars at the high-end. There are a number of complaints calling the app “useless,” “crap,” “garbage,” and Isis “greedy,” which does not bode well.

As of today, Isis will work at locations including Toys R Us, Jamba Juice, and some Coca-Cola vending machines, and there are promotions associated with those, including free drinks and 20% cash back on Amex Serve purchases through Jan. 31st up to $200.00. Other locations spotted on Isis’s locator service also include American Eagle Outfitters, Urban Outfitters, Duane Reade, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Office Depot, Radio Shack, BP, Hess, and Sunoco gas stations, to name a few.

Because it was unclear to what extent these are nationwide launches (we spotted these locations by zooming around on a map), we reached out for more clarification. An Isis spokesperson says that retailers also include “Aeropostale, Foot Locker, Maverick, and many more,” and that “twenty-five of the top 100 national retailers have deployed or are deploying contactless terminals that support Isis.”

Notably, instead of offering hard numbers or forecasts about how many locations are Isis-ready nationwide, the official announcement only cited research claiming that there will be “hundreds of thousands” of locations in the U.S. that will have NFC-enabled payment terminals by the end of the year. The spokesperson essentially repeated this claim, saying Isis is supported at “hundreds of thousands of retail locations.”

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Appboy Raises $7.6M Series A To Bring Marketing Automation Tools To Mobile Apps

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Appboy, a company that helps mobile app marketers better retain users and keep them engaged, is today announcing $7.6 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Icon Venture Partners, and saw participation from new investors IDG Ventures, and Mike Lazerow, founder of Buddy Media. Existing seed investors, including Blumberg Capital, Accelerator Ventures, Bullpen Capital and T5 Capital, also participated.

The company has raised a total of $7.6 million. However, in addition to the $5.1 million in Series A funding, Appboy previously raised $2.5 million via convertible note seed financings, which have now converted.

While a number of companies from the earlier days of the mobile app ecosystem have focused on helping app developers acquire new users, Appboy is about taking the next step. It helps companies keep their users by offering a suite of tools that enable companies to better understand their user demographics, so they can engage them in a timely fashion through in-app messages, push notifications and even email.

“It’s not an acquisition game anymore. I really believe 2014 will be about user engagement, retention – those kind of numbers – rather than how many downloads you had,” says Appboy co-founder and CEO Mark Ghermezian.

Once integrated into an app, Appboy’s platform immediately begins creating a rich profile on all the app’s users. Ghermezian explains that it’s not really an analytics platform, despite some similarities, but a mobile user management platform.

“If you want all the different, crazy charts, we’re not that,” he says. “But if you want to understand your users down to a per-user level, and manage all your communication with them…that’s what we are.”

The company has already found traction with some well-known app publishers on the App Store, including textPlus, Pic Stitch, GSN (Game Show Network), Urban Outfitters, and a variety of digital magazines through a channel partnership with Mag+.

After user profiles are created, Appboy offers multi-messaging marketing tools that let its customers choose how and when specific groups of users are contacted through push notifications, messages within the app, or via emails. The company also provides a “news feed”-like product that developers can place in their apps, too, which allows them to keep users updated on things like new friends or comments, new features, new activity, and other alerts. Though a relatively new product at Appboy, app makers are already seeing 25-30 percent clickthrough rates in the news feed, says Ghermezian.

The founder believes that Appboy is the next evolution in marketing automation tools. He references companies like Buddy Media (whose founder has now invested in Appboy), ExactTarget, Radian6 and Marketo as examples of companies (several acquired by Salesforce) that focus on various aspects of online marketing, but points out that none offer a mobile solution.

Appboy, meanwhile, is designed not for the developers or the data scientists who pore over the charts and graphs from analytics providers, but for the marketing crowd. The dashboard lets its customers create campaigns using simple tools that slice and dice a larger audience into specific groups based on several factors, including demographics, social profile data, in-app behaviors, in-app purchases and more. That way, app marketers can target groups like “recently lapsed” users or “high spenders” or “passionate fans” in personalized, unique ways.

The suite also offers tools that help keep an app’s bugs and glitches from tanking App Store rankings, by redirecting potentially negative app reviews to in-app feedback forms instead, and integrating with other systems like Zendesk, desk.com, and UserVoice.

Appboy will use the new funding to grow its sales and marketing teams, as well as get more aggressive with its own marketing, and it will begin to look into internationalization efforts, too. The now 30-person company has already doubled in size from the beginning of the year.

Along with the funding announcement, Appboy relaunched its website with a refreshed look and new brand, and adjusted pricing so it’s now 1 cent per user profile for companies with up to 100,000 app users, then custom pricing for larger publishers.

Also with the new investment, the plan is to continue to improve upon Appboy’s various tools. For example, the company added location to its segmentation product last week. Soon, it will be doing more with the news feed, too, by offering a variety of templated “cards” (calls to action) for things like feedback, surveys, increasing purchases and more. And longer-term, Appboy could take advice offered by its “Success Squad” staff, who help Appboy’s bigger clients, and turn that into actionable tips and advice and even automation within the core product itself.

“I want my Success Squad to be living inside the dashboard,” says Ghermezian. “Whoever automates this is going to win.”

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

April 2014
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