I like to write. A lot. I write a lot for TC, and then when I’m done here, I like to write non-fiction, and most recently, fiction. I just finished a novel – and “finished” is a very loaded term when it comes to writing, but let’s say I’ve completed the story – and now I’m crowdfunding it. I’m going to write about my experience here on TC because I’ve been an avid supporter of both crowdfunding and new publishing paradigms for years but I’ve never put my money where my mouth is.
So here goes.
I just launched my Indiegogo campaign, and with the help of a few friends it got off to a good start. I’ve hit $1,600, mostly in paperback sales, but I got one whale who paid $500 to appear in the next book in the trilogy. I almost worried that I priced the campaign too high. I’m looking for $8,000 to publish the book mostly because I’d like to get some economies of scale if I’m able to sell a few hundred print copies (and maybe a few more electronic copies.) In retrospect I should have shot for lower, but I’ve seen that $8,000 is about the advance you get for a first-time fiction book these days and I wanted to see if a relatively lucky dude could make that on his own. In order to recreate the full publishing experience, I wanted to aim for something close to that to see if I could actually “earn out,” as they say in the business. It’s a bold experiment that could backfire.
I’ve also discovered that social media is awful for sales conversions. My posts have been retweeted and tweeted to millions of people (I got a shout out from Jim Gaffigan, which was amazing) but I don’t think I’ve gotten a single bite from someone I don’t know personally. Like the grumpy dad who funds his daughter’s crowd funding project on Portlandia, this is mostly a friends and family round.
I’ve also chosen to price my ebooks at or around Amazon prices simply because selling them for $4 or even 99 cents doesn’t seem like a solid decision, especially this early in crowdfunding. The paperback book price should allow me to break even on the printing but I am afraid of the hardback version pricing, although everyone has assured me that printing is not as drastic an expense as I thought. What I’m really excited about, oddly enough, is producing a special edition of the book for backers that will be more a work of art than a hardback. Although I don’t believe in the future of print, it sure is fun to hold a nicely done book, and I hope to offer that to my backers.
I did a very straightforward video with a DSLR and a nicely lit room. I also had our own Bryce Durbin help with a few illustrations for the book, which has really added a great deal in terms of personalizing the product. The kind folks at Indiegogo gave me a few pointers, including the suggestion that readers want to know, personally, who they’re pledging to. To that end I added a bit about my inspiration and some personal history.
This is actually quite frightening. Throughout my tenure at TC I’ve become increasingly supportive of the little guy. I don’t like the Sonys and Random Houses of the world, I like the mad tinkerers who create smartwatches, cameras, and guitars out of whole cloth without huge budgets or even much experience. This is the era of the informed amateur making it big, at least in hardware, software, and media. Instead of waiting to turn pro in some cubicle farm somewhere or slaving away namelessly on a trunk novel, amazing people are doing amazing things in their basements and garages.
I’m realistic about this. It’s a novel aimed at young adults but I hope it will appeal to older folks as well. I’ve seen only a few sales in the few days the campaign has been live and I honestly have no idea how this will end. I know I’m very lucky. I get to talk about my project to a huge audience and I’ve also been lucky to have a fairly large social presence online. But I know this will be hard. I’ll be posting intermittent updates over the next forty-five days and then, if I’m funded, post what I learned while getting a book published from the comfort of my keyboard. If you have any specific questions drop me a line at email@example.com or tweet me. Until then, here’s hoping the world doesn’t hate what I made.
You can read more about my project, as I post updates, here.Read More →
It’s not every day you get to see a machine designed to mint money. KnCMiner is a Stockholm-based hardware company that has single-handedly changed the face of Bitcoin mining. Their products sell out almost instantly – the $5,000 Jupiter is already gone – and, amazingly, the company actually ships. In a world of charlatans, broken promises, and outright lies, it’s refreshing to find a company like this one.
I spoke with Alexander Lawn, the public face of KnCMiner, on his way through New York. He brought one of his rigs for my perusal and I can report that it looks great, works, and is a real, shipping product. Alex joined the company after critiquing it online in Bitcoin forums, an interesting way to get noticed. He has worked with the team, including Andreas Kennemar and Marcus Erlandsson.
The hardware itself is highly specialized. Because each ASIC board needs a massive heatsink and fan, most of the metal case is open to allow the free flow of air. A small control board runs to IO and the rest of the cables are power – one power supply per board. It’s like looking at some sort of strange lifeform dedicated to breaking down a very specific amino acid. This rig can mine at 550 gigahashes per second. For comparison, the average graphics card miner tops out at about 100 MH/s.
When these machines boot up, the market notices. This is the second edition of the Jupiter miner and the hardware already moved markets… and is already discontinued. Owners will be able to easily upgrade their hardware over time and update the ASICs as necessary. Where is KnCMiner heading next? Neptune. Their latest miner is the fastest in the world to date and sold $8 million in orders in a single day. Pre-order pricing is $12,995 and the company plans on selling a mere 2,400 units.
The Jupiter is truly bespoke hardware. The chips are designed in Stockholm and the entire system was built in Sweden. They are as rare as Fabergé eggs at this point and the demand is only increasing. Lawn described one encounter with a Russian customer who called up asking if he could bring a bag full of cash to buy a miner. Alex calmly explained that there was a waiting list and that they were sold out. The Russian grunted and said: “I’ll bring more cash.”Read More →
ASSOB is an “offerings board” that matches investors and entrepreneurs and promotes capital raising campaigns. VentureCrowd lets start-ups pitch and secure funding online from a crowd of investors in exchange for equity in the business. Sydney-based Artesian, an early stage VC firm, developed VentureCrowd, and plans to launch it this coming February.
“VentureCrowd will democratise the early stage finance sector in Australia in a way that has never been done before,” Artesian managing partner Jeremy Colless says, but it would certainly be more democratic if everyone were allowed to vote.
SOURCE LINK to full article:http://www.techinasia.com/venturecrowd-aims-open-equity-crowdfunding-early-stage-australian-startups/Read More →
From advancing disease research to feeding homeless families in NYC to building a school library in Peru, to creating a new Science Fiction museum in Washington D.C. or a revolving investment fund for solar projects in Oakland, the participating #GivingTuesday partner campaigns were created in 28 countries, by individuals, companies, and nonprofits spanning all categories–entrepreneurial, creative and cause-related. To match the enthusiasm from its customers on #GivingTuesday, crowdfunding site – Indiegogo donated $1 for every $20 raised from participating #GivingTuesday campaigns, equaling more than $24,000.
SOURCE:http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20131211005902/en/Indiegogo-GivingTuesday-Initiative-Raises-1.3-Million-43Read More →
Our ultimate goal is to develop a diagnostic test for autism. The first step is identification of protein biomarkers for autism. We already have identified some preliminary markers, but due to limited funding, we have only been able to analyze blood and sera of a few people. In addition to providing information about diagnosis, biomarkers could lead to additional research that may provide clues about what causes autism. There’s currently no biological diagnostic test for autism. We are interested in identifying biomarkers for autism that could be potentially used for a variety of purposes, including creating an autism diagnostic test.Read More →
Kickstarter, as the platform’s founders wrote on the company blog, is not a store. That means when campaign rewards go unfulfilled, it takes no blame. This is a sound policy for the platform, which hosts projects, cultivates a community, and helps backers finance campaigns they believe in. It is fairly agnostic in selecting its projects, and it lets the backers themselves do much of the due diligence and make the decision on whether to back a campaign or not.
So when the team behind Kickstarter deems it necessary to pull down one of its campaigns, as it did over the weekend, it’s a safe bet that something went fully awry.
The campaign in question is for The Rock smartwatch, which was backed to a tune of $40,000 before Kickstarter decided to pull the plug. No money exchanged hands as the campaign had not met its $50,000 goal yet, though it was on clear track to do so.
The campaign first caught our eye when it was submitted to Reddit and Hacker News. Tech-savvy backers claimed the project creator, Vak Sambath, to be aloof, if not outright deceitful, in his interactions with the supporters. Some charged that the smartwatch was actually a rebranded version of a Z3 smartwatch.
The fact that so many backers became suspicious of Sambath possessing ulterior motives was apparently enough for Kickstarter to suspend the project indefinitely.
So, what went wrong with this promising campaign?
Sambath is a self-described startup junkie, product guy, technologist, and serial solutions seeker with a background in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) software. After advising a number of tech startups, Sambath decided to create his own incubator in Irvine.
One of the projects that came to him was the Rock smartwatch, which Sambath thought could be sold for much less than other smartwatches on the market.
“All the technology is readily available now, but why is it $300?” Sambath asked rhetorically in an interview with Crowdsourcing.org. Given that the person that came to him had a relationship with a smartwatch manufacturer in China, Sambath decided to focus more on the apps and software. That eventually led to the app portal idea, which is mentioned throughout the project description.
When he felt ready, he decided to help finance the project through Kickstarter. After a successful start, backers began to ask questions, which Sambath could not or would not answer to their satisfaction.
That’s when the campaign began to unravel.
“Man, they are vicious,” Sambath said of the commenters. “It’s kind of disturbing.”
Answers Demanded, Few Given
Sambath attributes the misunderstandings to a poorly written project description.
“I think it could have been the way we wrote our copy,” Sambath admitted. “It could have been unclear.”
The more outraged commenters would likely argue that the description was intentionally misleading. Others were more confused by the lack of answers that Sambath was providing.
“The Kickstarter community wanted us to reveal a lot of information that’s proprietary,” Sambath said. “We could only say certain things, even if we tried to be transparent. There was a fine line we had to walk, and I understand that it led to vagueness, but we had to protect the developers that chose not to be public. We had to respect their right of privacy, as well.”
Perhaps the biggest source of confusion was around the Rock’s hardware. Some backers believed that the Rock was actually a Z3 smartwatch. The Rock team posted an update saying how the watches were different. But that didn’t calm the concerned backers, especially, when one individual posted an email from the seller of the Z3, who said the Rock looked like a pre-production model of the Z3.
Sambath did tell Crowdsourcing.org that the manufacturer Appscomm, which creates the Z3, also manufactured the Rock. Is it the same watch?
“We have an official partnership with Appscomm to use a similar mold but the hardware is different,” he said. “That’s where the confusion is.”
“Our leverage is based on past successes with other smartwatches on Kickstarter campaign, in addition to our software development team. They will provide the hardware customization, while we provide the software to provide a completely customized smartwatch. As a startup, we wanted to balance with our expertise with our partners while minimize our go to market costs.”
Adding to the fire were a number of missteps on Sambath’s part. At one point, for instance, Sambath began to re-post comments answering people’s questions over and over, in an apparent attempt to push the backers’ questions down the comment stream. This only brought out more vitriol out of the suspicious backers.
Sambath also claimed that his account had been hacked, which the commenters didn’t seem to believe. The campaign owner claimed he was away from his computer all day and assumed that someone broke into his account out of spite. Reflecting on that day now, Sambath said it was likely one of his coworkers who logged in to do damage control.
Backers received the email pictured to the right, alerting them of the cancellation.
As Drop Kicker points out, it’s unclear why Kickstarter, which screens each campaign, would allow the project to go up if it had incomplete information about the Rock.
This is especially confusing since Sambath says his team has been having conversations with platform representatives since the summer.
“We’ve been working with Kickstarter ever since July,” he said about the platform. “It took us that long to get online.”
Kickstarter declined to comment on the campaign’s cancellation.
Sambath didn’t try to hide his identity (which would have been a major red flag for potential backers) and, in a nasty fit, a number of disappointed backers went through his past experience, ripping apart anything they considered a failure.
“I had risk my whole name because I believe in the project and the people behind it,” he said. “I wasn’t innocent until proven guilty, I was guilty until proven innocent.”
Even so, Sambath doesn’t blame Kickstarter or any of the backers for causing the campaign to fail.
“We should have written better copy and been more clear,” Sambath said.
There are a number of lessons to be taken away from the Rock campaign. The most important, of course, is the importance of full transparency and clear communication. If Sambath had explained the similarity to the Z3 from the get-go, much of the criticism may have gone away.
Will Sambath fight the suspension and try to get back on the platform? He says he’s not yet sure himself.
“I want to have a better strategy, [and decide] whether it’s worth a fight,” he explained. “If we get unsuspended, are we going to have to face the same bullies in the comments section? Because we’d be spending time not working on the product, but moderating the comment section.”
Though the campaign failed, Sambath took some positives away — not least, the fact that the campaign got off to such a good start, proving market demand. Anyway, he said, defeat is something every entrepreneur should be familiar with.
“As an entrepreneur, you know that you have a 98 percent chance of failure. But you do it anyway.”Read More →
WeGiveWeGrow is dual crowdfunding platform that allows those who join the site to be a ‘giver’, described as one who specifically donates to an entrepreneurial-based project, or to be a ‘grower’, a person or entity who has a project to be funded.Read More →
To start, the crowdsourcing campaign will investigate the validity of U.S. patent 8,180,858, which involves an “apparatus and method that employs selectable and modifiable animation to collect data related to the choices made by the users of an information network.” The patent is owned by Treehouse Avatar Technologies. Beginning in July 2013, Treehouse has sued a number of companies over this patent, including making a large number of patent assertions against small companies in the summer of 2013.
SOURCE:http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/article-one-partners-helps-start-ups-defend-against-patent-trolls-1860829.htmRead More →
Aereo, a TV streaming service backed by media mogul Barry Diller, is in the middle of a fierce legal battle. The company uses remote, miniature antennas to pull free over-the-air signals from broadcast networks like Fox, ABC, NBC and 27 others, delivering the stations to customers’ connected devices for $8 per month.
Not surprisingly, broadcasters and media executives are not pleased with these methods and have tied the company up in legal battles. In New York, major broadcasters like ABC, NBC, Fox and others have taken their case to the Supreme Court, and have asked the court to appeal decisions made by the lower circuits, which ruled in Aereo’s favor.
Today, however, Aereo has filed a response with the court, agreeing with the opposition’s petition for the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The company released this statement today:
We have decided to not oppose the broadcasters’ petition for certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. While the law is clear and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and two different federal courts have ruled in favor of Aereo, broadcasters appear determined to keep litigating the same issues against Aereo in every jurisdiction that we enter. We want this resolved on the merits rather than through a wasteful war of attrition.
“The long-standing landmark Second Circuit decision in Cablevision has served as a crucial underpinning to the cloud computing and cloud storage industry. The broadcasters’ filing makes clear that they are using Aereo as a proxy to attack Cablevision itself.
“Aereo provides to consumers antenna and DVR technology. With Aereo, a consumer tunes an individual, remotely located antenna and makes personal recordings on a cloud DVR. The Aereo technology is functionally equivalent to a home antenna and DVR, but it is an innovation that provides convenience and ease to the consumer. The plaintiffs are trying to deny consumers the ability to use a more modern antenna and DVR by trying to prevent a consumer’s access to these technologies via the cloud.
“Consumers have the right to use an antenna to access the over-the-air television. It is a right that should be protected and preserved and in fact, has been protected for generations by Congress. Eliminating a consumer’s right to take advantage of innovation with respect to antenna technology would disenfranchise millions of Americans in cities and rural towns across the country.
“We are unwavering in our belief that Aereo’s technology falls squarely within the law and we look forward to continuing to delight our customers.”
As it turns out, the anti-Aereo crowd is having a tough time winning in court. First, Aereo was hit with two separate lawsuits from major broadcasters like PBS, Univision, Fox, NBC, and ABC in the Southern District Court of New York. The judge denied their motion for a preliminary injunction against Aereo. When the same networks brought that decision to an appeals court, they refused to reconsider the decision.
Then, Hearst (which happens to be an ABC affiliate) filed a similar lawsuit in Boston after the company rolled out service in that market. The court did not grant Hearst a preliminary injunction, nor did it grant Aereo’s request to move the lawsuit to the New York courts, where Aereo had already received a favorable ruling. And in what is becoming an obvious pattern, Fox Broadcasting Co. filed a lawsuit against Aereo in Utah just after the service landed there.
Aereo was built with a specific ruling in mind, a precedent set by Cablevision. In a case a few years ago, a similar question was brought up by broadcasters who weren’t fond of Cablevision’s remote DVR service, which stored recorded and on-demand content in the cloud rather than on the customers’ box set.
The court eventually sided with Cablevision, which has been a determining factor in Aereo’s current legal battle.
With this latest filing in the Supreme Court, the broadcasters are trying to have the Cablevision precedent overturned. So again, why would Aereo agree to have this case heard on a federal level?
Well, it partially comes down to one billionaire. Heir to the Coca-Cola Hellenic shipping and bottling company, Alki David is a media entertainment mogul who owns companies such as Channel 3 Dish Networks in California and Nevada, Channel 8 Los Angeles, and KILM Channel 64 Los Angeles. He also happens to be the founder of a company called FilmOn, previously named AereoKiller.
FilmOn claims to offer Aereo-like technology, though that has yet to be confirmed or clarified by anyone. Still, the broadcast networks are equally displeased with the streaming TV company’s existence and have filed lawsuits against FilmOn in California and Washington D.C.
In the California case, the networks didn’t investigate into FilmOn technology beyond what David had claimed, which was that his technology was “Aereo-like.” A decision is currently pending on that case in the Ninth Circuit.
In the conspiracy theory version of this story, Alki David is secretly working with the networks to purposefully lose lawsuits and be deemed illegal by markets who have historically been strict on copyright issues. That way, Aereo (which is on the record as being similar to FilmOn) would be banned in those markets.
In the non-paranoid version, Alki David is simply a competitor who is throwing stones in the road before Aereo.
Either way, David’s FilmOn has left Aereo no choice but to go federal.
If FilmOn didn’t exist, Aereo might be able to enter into California or D.C. or other markets with a few W’s on the record, making individual lawsuits easier to win. But if FilmOn continues to lose on a case by case basis, things get much more difficult for Aereo.
With a win in the Supreme Court, lawsuits against FilmOn or any other “Aereo-like” technology will be irrelevant as Aereo will be deemed nationally legal.
Aereo had plans to expand to 22 new markets by the end of 2013, and has only made it into nine of them. But with all the legal fuss, the delay makes sense. Perhaps with a win in the Supreme Court, 2014 will be a smoother year for the disruptive TV startup.Read More →
Highlight Raises $4 Million From DFJ, Releases Version 2.0 Of Its Location-Based Social Networking App
Location-based social startup Highlight has just released a new version of its app, aimed at being smarter about the connections it shows, while also giving users more context about what those connections have been up to. The company also has raised $4 million in new funding led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Highlight was founded around the time of the social-local-mobile (SoLoMo) boom of early 2012. Along with startups like Sonar and Glancee, the company promised to “highlight” interesting people nearby, thanks to a combination of GPS location data, and persistent identity through Facebook connect, and the ability to know a whole lot about your interests and relationships you share on social networks.
That boom went bust, and Highlight is more or less the last player standing in what used to be a pretty crowded market. Not only is it still around, but the company is growing thanks to a new $4 million Series A Round led by DFJ, with participation from existing investors Benchmark and Crunchfund, along with new investors such as Greycroft, Semil Shah, and Dave Morin.
As part of the funding, new DFJ managing director Bubba Murarka will join Highlight’s board. It’s notable in part because this is the first investment for Murarka, who was head of Facebook’s Android team and led the development of Facebook Home. So he knows a thing or two about mobile.
Anyway, along with the funding, Highlight is also releasing version 2.0 of its app. The really big news is that Highlight has a new icon, one that’s not as likely to blind you if you happen to glance at it the wrong way. Beyond that, though, it’s also done a lot of work to make the app more visually appealing, and a lot more powerful under the hood.
What’s most notable when you open up Highlight is that it has a new, two-column layout with staggered images to showcase the people who happen to be nearby. That’s a big departure from the text-heavy Highlight from days of yore.
The app also has been re-architected to be smarter about the connections that it shows or notifies you about. CEO Paul Davison admits that the early app needed to reduce the number of connections it highlighted, in part because mutual connections wandering by happens far more often than most people expect.
Now, based on the location information that it has about users, it can pinpoint interesting connections that you’re unlikely to know about. For instance, when traveling, it’ll let you know when a friend happens to be in the same city. Or, it can alert users when a couple of friends are hanging out together nearby on a Saturday.
Understanding that some connections are stronger than others, and that different times of day and different places matter, is just part of how Highlight is doing a better job of filtering out weak signals that people don’t really care about.
The app has also gotten smarter about knowing what you’re doing and where you are. It knows, for instance, if users are walking, biking, or traveling in a car, based on how fast they’re moving. One of the cool — if a little bit creepy — features that it added this time around is a map which plots connections nearby and allows you to even see your connections moving, and which direction they’re going.
Another creepy but cool thing it can show you is what music your connections are listening to on their headphones, either through iTunes or Facebook-connected services like Spotify or Rdio.
With the latest update to the app, Highlight has also enabled users to see updates from those that they haven’t connected with in a while. Those updates are brought in from moments shared in Highlight, as well as those that users have posted on other networks, like Twitter and Instagram.
That will allow you to catch up on what people have been up to, before you catch up with them in person. According to Davison, this could give users something to talk about or catch up on. Updates appear over a users profile image, and can be clicked directly into from the home screen.
The other big area of focus was battery life, something which Highlight has been slammed on in the past. To deal with this, the company has worked hard to optimize the amount of drain the app causes when it’s not actively being used.
According to the company, the new app is five times more energy efficient than the earlier version. On average, it uses less than 1 percent of battery life per hour when a phone is in standby mode.
The Future Is Now?
Will that ultimately lead to more adoption?
If nothing else, Davison has been steadfast in his belief that all of the location and personal information that our phones know about us will one day lead to some sort of egalitarian utopia where they’ll let us know when there’s someone to have an interesting conversation with nearby.
From the moment I met him almost two years ago until now, he’s maintained faith that the future is coming and that Highlight is just the earliest implementation of what that future will be like.
In fact, given the wide array of new sensors and gadgets that have popped up since then — including a growing number of quantified self devices and smarter technology like Apple’s M7 chip in existing devices — Davison imagines a world where apps like Highlight will have even more data to draw on.
In other words, the future is here. It might just take us some time to catch up to it.Read More →
Enterprise Social Network Convo Adds At-Rest Encryption To Its Servers To Better Protect Client Data
Convo, an enterprise social network that competes with the now Microsoft-owned Yammer, today announced that it has added at-rest encryption (ARE) to its servers in order to better protect its client information.
Recent revelations relating to the National Security Administration (NSA) have taught the technology community and world at large that data isn’t safe from surveillance, and other forms of snooping. One NSA program, MUSCULAR, became infamous for tapping communication links between American companies’ data centers abroad.
The Washington Post reported that the NSA has “secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers” abroad, and that by “tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans.”
In response, Google and others are working to encrypt the data that flows between their vast server installations. Microsoft, for example, went as far as calling the NSA and others of its ilk “advanced persistent threat[s].”
Convo’s move today echoes those efforts, by expanding the amount of its data that is encrypted. At-rest encryption is just that: encrypting the data sitting on servers. This information is distinct from data that is in transit, which could be comprised in other ways. It’s important to encrypt information on the go, as MUSCULAR taught us, but also encrypting data that is just sitting about internally could become the next frontier in protecting customer and user information.
This hits home, as a number of publications that I have worked at use Convo. I would frankly not like the NSA to learn the things that I’ve said about it. I only publish the polite versions, such as they are.
According to Convo, it is the first product of its kind to add ARE to its technology stack. I spoke to the company today and it indicated to TechCrunch that it expects this form of protection to become as common as SSL in the coming years, though it could take longer for larger firms to follow in its footsteps. The more data that you have, the larger the challenge.
Though there are extant reports that the NSA is working to end encryption as we know it, it remains clear that we need more, and not less data protection. At-rest encryption is another brick in the wall separating our right to privacy from government intrusion. As an industry, we need to get to work on building that wall as high as we can.
Top Image Credit: FlickrRead More →
Lemon, a digital wallet platform which allows users to store their ID, payment, loyalty cards and more on their smartphone, has been acquired by identity theft protection service LifeLock for approximately $42.6 million, the companies are announcing today. LifeLock is also now launching a new application called “LifeLock Wallet,” which is based on Lemon Wallet Plus technology.
Lemon first launched in 2011, and had previously raised $8 million in Series A funding the following year from Maveron, Lightspeed Venture Partners, CampVentures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social+Capital Partnership and other angel investors.
For LifeLock, this deal allows the company to expand more deeply into the mobile space. Until today, it only had an iOS app aimed at users of its subscription services, which helped them manage alerts – but nothing modern and mobile-first like Lemon.
“We saw an opportunity to combine an innovative mobile platform – a digital wallet – with access to leading identity theft protection features. The innovation and expertise from a mobile-first company like Lemon gives us powerful new ways to engage with current and future members,” says LifeLock president Hilary Schneider. ”The acquisition allows us to accelerate our product roadmap, add additional functionality and data to our platform, expand our market opportunity, better serve our members, and develop a more meaningful relationship with a broad set of consumers,” she adds.
The combination of LifeLock and Lemon also makes sense from Lemon’s perspective, when you consider the “ID” side of the mobile wallet. Identity and fraud protection fit in with what Lemon was already building within its premium tier.
Lemon’s team has known about the deal for weeks, we understand, and all are joining LifeLock following this acquisition. Lemon CEO Wences Casares will join LifeLock as the General Manager of Mobile, and he and his team will operate within LifeLock to head its mobile group. The Lemon Palo Alto team will join LifeLock’s Bay Area office, while the Buenos Aires team will remain there.
Lemon Wallet Becomes LifeLock Wallet
Lemon Wallet (Plus) is now forming the basis for the new LifeLock Wallet product, which will take the place of the prior Lemon version. Current users will be notified via the app that they need to upgrade to LifeLock’s Wallet instead.
The Lemon Wallet Plus service, for those unfamiliar, was the premium version of Lemon’s mobile wallet application, offering account monitoring, balance updates, a lost wallet service, and enhanced security and card expiration alerts. Previously, these services cost $4.99/month or $39.99/year. Now they will be included for free.
Starting today, LifeLock Wallet will instead direct users to LifeLock’s paid identity protection services, if they want to upgrade from the wallet app. The additional subscription will then add identity fraud alerts, and let consumers use LifeLock’s “Not Me” technology to respond to fraudulent activity.
The upgraded wallet will also include LifeLock’s Total Service Guarantee which provides up to $1 million in professional recovery assistance in the event of identity theft, 24/7 access LifeLock support team, and will allow users to access their monthly credit score.
Lemon Network May Be No More
Casares had been interested in the transformative nature of mobile for some time. Before Lemon, he founded Bling Nation, an innovative, but maybe too early, company originally focused on contactless mobile payments. With Lemon, however, an idea that began as mobile receipt organizer, later blossomed into a more full-fledged mobile wallet.
Though users couldn’t actually pay at point-of-sale with Lemon, they could keep copies of all their cards – payment and otherwise – within the app. And they could manage their expenses, receipts, track balances, cancel cards (if your real wallet became lost or stolen), and more. More recently, the company had rolled out the Lemon Network, an attempt to establish a network of merchants who would accept payments through Lemon within their mobile apps, similar to Venmo Touch.
Although the Lemon app is becoming essentially rebranded as the LifeLock app, the Lemon Network may not be as lucky. LifeLock says it will evaluate that technology going forward…which is probably a euphemism for getting the axe.
Lemon, like Bling Nation before it, may have still been a little too early to hit it big, especially here in the U.S. where users are only beginning to grasp the idea of moving their wallet to their phone thanks to things like Apple’s Passbook app and PayPal, which are now inching consumers in that direction.
But Lemon’s product reached millions of consumers, the company had said in the past. It never discussed specifics around traction or revenue, however, which is telling. From what we hear, the deal came about because it was right time to find Lemon an exit, and this acquisition offered Lemon employees favorable terms, which was important to Casares. LifeLock, founded in 2005, is a good-sized company of 700 people, headquartered in Tempe Arizona, with hubs in Irvine and Sunnyvale, California.
The new LifeLock app is here.Read More →
Spire Technologies, a big data startup based in Bangalore that helps customers manage current and future talent requirements using a contextual search engine, has raised $8 million in Series A funding from an unnamed institutional investor.
Saurabh Jain, the founder of Spire, said that this investor has requested two-months embargo before his name can be made public. The financing will be used to hire more data scientists, engineers and also bolster sales, marketing efforts.
Started in 2008, Spire has raised $1 million to date in seed funding from several angel investors. This series A funding, valued Spire at $23 million based on an annual revenue of about $400,000.
Jain said that one of the key differentiators for Spire is that its solution can be used to not just recruit fresh talent, but also in detecting and preventing employee frauds, CRM and market intelligence. Spire’s list of customers include IT services companies Atos, Cognizant Technology Solutions, and JDA Software. To date, Spire has processed nearly 700,000 candidates for these customers.
SAP’s SuccessFactors and Oracle’s Taleo seem to be decent rivals for Spire, when it comes to the recruitment and talent management market.
With nearly three million engineers in the Indian IT industry, employers such as Cognizant and JDA are always looking for ways to reduce time taken in hiring candidates because they are under pressure to deliver software projects faster. Spire helps these companies identify talent with required skills, and matches them with the projects they can execute, all in real time.
“Our contextual engine is also able to map potential candidates, both from outside and within a company, against projects in the pipeline. This helps them reduce the number of staff sitting on the bench and improve profitability,” said Jain.
With fresh money, Spire plans to tap into U.S. and other Asian markets. However, unlike the Indian market, where its customers need help in sifting through thousands of candidate profiles and matching them with relevant projects, companies in U.S. are not always looking to hire in thousands.
But Spire is betting on its big data, contextual search engine to offer solutions beyond just smart recruitment for customers in U.S. and elsewhere. Employee fraud detection and prevention, is one of them. Spire wants to become ‘Palantir‘ for its customers, and use the big data engine in tackling challenges beyond recruitment and talent management. But that would require testing Spire’s current engine in situations it has not dealt with before.Read More →
A Merger In Gaming Services: Playhaven, Kontagent Combine In An All-Stock Deal Worth “Hundreds of Millions”
Playhaven and Kontagent, two of the bigger gaming services companies that help developers run analytics and retain their players, have decided to merge into a combined company worth “hundreds of millions” of dollars in an all-stock deal. Neither company could give more specifics on how the deal was structured.
“The valuation in the hundreds of millions, but I won’t tell you where,” said Andy Yang, who was Playhaven’s CEO and will lead the combined company. They have yet to choose a new name. Playtagent? Konplaygent, anyone?
Playhaven is a company that the biggest game developers use to retain their players with personalized promotions. They help studios segment out players, by whether they tend to play for free or are bigger spenders (known as “whales”). With the top gaming studios reaching tens of millions of players, retention has evolved into a big data problem.
Kontagent, on the other hand, is an analytics company that started off by catering to social game developers on the Facebook platform. They are used by everyone from EA to Zynga to China’s Tencent.
It’s a natural marriage of sorts. One company provides very deep analytics on game play, while the other offers a monetization solution.
“With this combination, we’ll be the 800 pound gorilla and the clear market leader,” Yang said. “Our clients were asking us about how they could take all the valuable data they’ve collected in Kontagent and act on it. We ended up having a shared vision.”
Yang said negotiations took somewhere between two and three months, and the boards of both companies were supportive. The two companies will end up reaching 22,000 apps and 400 million monthly active users together. The new company will employ 160 people and Yang and Kontagent’s CEO Josh Williams said there were no layoffs or redundancies with the deal. Williams will become the chief technology officer of the new company, while Yang will take the helm as CEO.
They expect to merge their two products by the end of 2014.
“At the moment, we’ll have to take one step at a time and have a simple integration at first,” Yang said. “It’s day one of our marriage, and we just moved in together.”
The merger comes at a time where we could be seeing more consolidation. As mobile and social gaming have matured, literally dozens of service providers offering competing analytics and monetization solutions have cropped up. Not all of them will survive.
“The market is very fragmented right now and you’ll see consolidation in the space,” Yang said.
As for why they decided to call it a merger and not an acquisition?
“This is a merger of equals. We are two leaders in our respective categories and there’s no money changing hands. This is not a traditional acquisition,” Yang said.
The two companies have raised at least $26 million from investors including ALTOS Ventures, Battery Ventures, e.ventures, GGV Capital, Maverick Capital, Morgan Creek and Tandem.Read More →
New mobile payments startup Loop has closed on $10 million in Series A funding in what’s being described as an “oversubscribed” angel round involving undisclosed investors. The company, which is working to build both smartphone fobs and cases that allow you to pay at point-of-sale by emulating a magstripe credit card swipe, had previously said they were raising the A round from the same group of angels who had invested in the founders’ previous companies.
Loop co-founder and CEO Will Graylin previously founded WAY Systems (sold to VeriFone) and ROAM Data (sold to Ingenico), while Loop’s other co-founder and chief technologist, George Wallner, previously founded Hypercom, also sold to VeriFone. The founders still decline to provide Loop’s investors’ names, but Graylin says the list includes “many high-powered CEOs, including people from the payment industry.”
The company also says the funding will set the stage for Loop’s Series B in early 2014, which will include participation from both strategic and institutional investors.
Loop is targeting the U.S. market with its hardware devices, which include fobs and a more practical charge case product line which will both allow for mobile payments, as well as provide extra battery power.
The company, for those unfamiliar, came up with a somewhat ingenious technological solution which would serve as an alternative to NFC – a technology that’s yet to gain widespread adoption here in the States, due to lack of merchant support and, so far, lack of adoption by Apple, which has decided to not include NFC technology in the iPhone.
But similar to NFC, Loop’s fob or case allows users to pay at point-of-sale by placing their phone near the magstripe reader on the terminal.
Critics of Loop’s plan point out that magstripe technology is on its way out – the U.S.’s transition to EMV (chip cards, like what’s used in Europe) is only years away. The U.S. is supposed to switch by 2015. In addition, it’s unclear how Loop will be received by the industry if it catches on – for now, it mimics a “card present” transaction, even though no credit card is being swiped. “Card not present” transactions, meanwhile, carry higher rates for merchants because of the increased potential for fraud. At some point, this could become an issue for Loop.
But for now, Loop is focused on putting its hardware into the hands of early adopters for continued testing. It’s beginning to ship out its first product, the Loop Fob, to its Kickstarter backers this month. The company obviously didn’t need to raise funding on Kickstarter, but as Graylin has explained before, it wasn’t about the money (they were raising $100,000 there), it was about the community. Kickstarter provided them with access to the “ “world’s largest focus group,” he said.
The company is still planning on shipping its ChargeCase, too, in matte back and glass white. A ChargeCase ($99, 1200 mAh battery) has been expected to ship in Q1 2014, and a premium ChargeCase shipping in Q2 (1500 mAh battery and much thinner) will follow. The premium case is still being worked on with design changes, says Graylin. There’s another form factor in development, too, he adds.
Graylin had told us before that they were working on a Bluetooth LE-enabled plastic card, which could be handed to cashiers for swiping at point-of-sales that are behind the counter, or anywhere else where someone has to do the swiping for you. That development sounds a lot like Coin, the payments startup building a “universal” card that can mimic any payment card in your wallet on the fly.
Loop takes a subtle jab at Coin today, stating that “unlike solutions proposing programmable cards with limited security, memory, battery capacity, and plagued with reliability issues,” Loop’s technology is PCI compliant, holds a variety of cards (payment, gift, loyalty, reward, ID, etc.) and fits in any form factor. The company also hinted that smartwatches are in consideration, referencing those as one of the form factors Loop could support.
In addition to selling direct to consumers, the company is also talking with handset makers about including Loop in 2015 phones, but no deals are yet confirmed.
It also recently signed a deal with Campus Nation Network to create a Campus Loop product line, which will be a digital wallet product aimed at college students, and that includes support for campus IDs, cafeteria plans, loyalty and rewards plans, and other payment cards.
“Thanks to one of our partners, who is also an investor, we expect to promote Loop at over 1,500 Campuses in the next 18 months,” says Damien Balsan, Loop COO. “Students are just one of the segments that we are targeting,” he adds. In a video being posted later today to YouTube, the company also features moms and others with overstuffed wallets as big as George’s once was.Read More →
Online Marketplace For Luxury Clothes And Goods Shop-Hers Raises $3.5M From Floodgate, Bono And Others
Like many women who wanted to make a little extra cash from their selling older luxury goods, Jaclyn Shanfeld had been using online consignment sites and marketplaces to sell her designer clothes and handbags she no longer wore, and quickly became frustrated with the experience. In one situation, she sent a box of designer clothing worth $4,000 to an online consignment store, only to receive $20 in return. Online consignment, she decided, needed to be disrupted. Her answer is Shop-Hers, an online marketplace for luxury goods she has co-founded with two others.
The startup, which launched last Fall, is announcing $3.5 million in funding today from a group of all-star investors. The round was led by Floodgate, with Elevation Investors, an investment entity which includes Bono and Patty Wexler; David Tisch of The Box Group, Aldo Manzini, Shana Fisher of High Line Venture Partners, Sarah Fiszel (an early VIP seller and site adopter), and Mike Hirshland of Resolute VC participating. The startup had previously raised a seed round from Fisher, Hirshland, Brian Lee, SV Angel, Jeremy Zimmer, Paige Craig and Ryan Steelberg.
At a basic level, Shop-Hers gives women the ability to buy and sell pre-owned designer merchandise within a social selling. But with Shanfeld’s ambitions of taking away the pain points of the online and in-person consignment industry (a market worth tens of billions in spending), her and her co-founders (which include the former CTO of Shoedazzle and the former creative director for Nordstrom)set out to actually use technology and community to make consignment transactions frictionless and sell these goods to a broader audience.
Here’s how it works. Sellers of designer goods can either upload their own pictures of items to the site or sign up for the VIP experience. Via the self-upload experience, sellers upload a photo of the item, and tell Shop-Hers what designer made the item. The startup actually has a list of designers to pick from, as to limit the merchandise to luxury items only. Sellers can select an asking price and designate white type of item it is (i.e. dress, tote bag, high heels). The startup will suggest pricing based upon comparable prices on other sites. But Shanfeld says that generally most merchandise is priced 50 to 60 percent less than retail price, but it’s really up to the seller to designate a price she is comfortable with.
Once the item is sold, the seller has to send the item (using a prepaid shipping label) to Shop-Hers, where the startup authenticates each item before the buyer is actually charged. This is how the startup is preventing knock-offs and fake, misrepresented items from being sold on the sites. Shop-Hers takes 18 percent of any sales from user-generated sales.
VIP sellers basically outsource all photography, shipping and can be featured more prominently on the site. These sellers, which are selling mostly high-end items, simply ship their items to Shop-Hers and designate prices. The startup will create closets for these sellers on the site, and designate pricing (but the seller has final say). For these power sellers, Shop-Hers takes 35 percent.
Shanfeld maintains these cuts and pricing is the best and most fair in the business, with the majority of the sale going back to the owner. Around 30-40 percent of seller are using the VIP service, she adds.
As mentioned above, from the buyer standpoint, all merchandise sold on the site is authenticated by the startup’s experts. And Shanfeld says that each item is carefully wrapped and presented in a clean, luxurious way so that the buyer has a luxury experience even when she opens the package. This isn’t the case with other sites like eBay, where resold clothing and accessories are packaged by the seller.
Upon signing up for Shop-Hers, buyers can also create a profile, designating their style, preferred designers, sizes and more. Shop-Hers will then create a special feed, called Style Soul Mates, which will match closets and sellers to buyers based on this data and purchase history. Other notable features include the ability to scroll over any item on the site and see an icon if the item matches your size.
Shanfeld tells us that in the future the company will be adding a mechanism by which buyers and sellers can better negotiate pricing, and a way for sellers to know whether an item has been added to a buyers cart. And the startup plans to release native mobile apps.
Within a year, Shop-Hers has quietly accumulated just under half a million users, with little to no marketing. She says sales have grown steadily month over month, and the startup recently even doubled numbers with introduction of international shipping a few months ago. Users seem to really love the experience, Shanfeld explains, because it is so personalized. In fact, as a testament to this, many users asked Shanfeld if they could invest, and she decided to take a small amount of investment from a few of her power-users. “It’s eBay meets Netaporter,” she explains.
I’m a frequent user of many of resale sites that fall into this category, including eBay and Poshmark. Other competitors out there who directly compete with Shop-Hers include The RealReal, Thredflip, and Vaunte. I actually made a purchase a few weeks ago on Shop-Hers and found the entire experience as frictionless as Shanfeld claims. The item I purchased arrived within a few days and was in the same condition as it was advertised.
You have to wonder whether eBay will eventually buy one of these sites. More than anything, the success of these marketplaces will depend on the ability to create a lasting community amongst buyers and sellers. That sense of community and human connection is what is missing in eBay. But eBay has what many of them have not yet been able to accomplish—massive scale.Read More →
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