He might not be bulletproof, but simultaneously running Twitter and Square qualifies Jack Dorsey as a superhero. This week a new unauthorized comic book about him was released, called “Jack Dorsey: Co-Founder of Twitter #1″. Check out these page scans posted by Comic Book Resources that preview his quest to recover stolen quantum networking technology.
In the first issue from BlueWater Productions now available on Kindle, Dorsey hunts for the kidnapped inventor of the futuristic computer chip that could power “the Internet’s next evolution.” Along the way are plenty of cheesy, dumbed-down references to how Twitter and Square are changing the world.
There are also some subtle references to Jack’s quirky personality, like his preference for taking the bus, plus a goofy scene where he mind-melds with a bison. Oh, and he battles a robot spider.
Dorsey isn’t the only tech superstar immortalized in a graphic novel. BlueWater has also made comic books about Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Google co-founders Larry and Sergey. It all might seem ridiculous, but who would you rather have kids looking up to? Fictional caped crusaders? Or real inventors and entrepreneurs?
Images via Comic Book Resources.Read More →
Things are moving fast in the world of Babbel, the language learning startup out of Germany which has been scaling its international presence since we first started covering them back in 2009. Today Babbel is announcing a $10 million Series B funding round led by Reed Elsevier Ventures. Other investors include Nokia Growth Partners as well as existing investors, IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft via its VC Fonds Technologie Berlin, and Kizoo Technology Capital.
The funds will be used to accelerate international expansion and develop all platforms, especially mobile on the back of 200% growth per year since 2011, they say, reaching 15 million users. Owned by Lesson Nine GmbH, Babbel previously raised a total of $2.2m in equity and debt.
Last week it bought PlaySay, a TC Disrupt finalist that focused on creating mobile apps that turned the process of learning languages into a game – think “Draw Something” for languages. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Berlin-based Babbel is now used in over 190 countries, but its strongest base remains Germany, so it needs to expand in Europe, the U.S. and emerging markets. To help, it has number of relationships with different hardware manufacturers, platform providers and media.
Speaking to TechCrunch, founder Markus Witte said he hopes to push into France, UK, Italy, Spain and Brazil. “We definitely need to acquire talent. In the U.S. I guess we would need a team on the ground. The money will go into building the team and ramping up marketing. We’re in the consumer market, so getting channels like TV right is a challenge.”
He said Babbel was not “joining” Reed as this was not a “strategic investment, it’s a financial investment.” He confirmed that the founder team of himself, plus Lorenz Heine and Thomas Holl, are not ‘taking money off the table’.
Babbel offers over 6,500 learning hours for thirteen languages across web, iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows 8. Total app downloads have been over 8 million.
Tony Askew, General Partner at Reed Elsevier Ventures joins the board and says: “The startup has grown rapidly… and has built a large subscriber base which generates positive cash flow. It’s… well-positioned for explosive growth in the rapidly growing category of mobile and online language learning.”Read More →
Rev.com, a freelancer marketplace founded by early oDesk employees, is today announcing $4.5 million in Series A funding led by Venky Ganesan of Globespan Capital Partners. Also participating in the round were Craig Sherman (former COO of Ancestry.com) and Austin Ligon (founder of CarMax). All three are now members of Rev.com’s board of directors, following the round which closed back in August 2012.
The company had actually been quietly operating under different branding for the past couple of years, but today it’s now publicly launching as “Rev.com.” It’s a name that co-founder and CEO Jason Chicola explains is meant to reflect the company’s focus on using technology to increase the turnaround speed on customers’ projects.
Chicola says that the idea for Rev.com was inspired by his time at oDesk, a well-known freelancer marketplace. He started the site with co-founder Josh Breinlinger, also of oDesk, but who is no longer involved at Rev.com day-to-day. (He’s currently a venture partner at Sigma West, but still sits on Rev.com’s board.)
“We saw work-from-home as a huge trend – and we think it’s barely in its first inning – but we also saw ways to do it better,” says Chicola of the original inspiration. “What we observed is that the thing that makes work-from-home tough for businesses is that it’s really hard to manage workers who are far away.”
Businesses have a tough time interacting with people who are overseas and in different time zones, he explains. There is also the hassle involved with having to select the best workers from a large pool of possible freelancers, leaving business customers unsure of what the final results will be.
To solve the former challenge, Rev.com steps in to act as middleman, managing the freelancer workers itself. And as for the latter, it focuses on screening workers in advance, and proofreading their projects upon completion. The company doesn’t let in everyone like many freelancer sites do, but instead only accepts around 10 percent of those who apply. Applicants have to pass a formal screening process involving tests indicative of the types of jobs Rev.com offers. A second pool of pre-qualified freelancers works then makes sure that the quality of these workers’ efforts remain high by proofing and grading projects upon completion.
Today, the company is focused on two areas: audio transcriptions and translations. But it’s planning to grow its services lineup to include other popular work-from-home job types in the near future. Pricing for these services is displayed on Rev.com’s homepage. (It’s $1 per min. transcription; 12 cents per word business translation; $33 per page certified translation). Rev.com takes its cut of each project, paying workers a little over half of what it charges businesses for the work performed.
Chicola explains that what makes Rev.com different from other freelancer marketplaces isn’t just the way its business is structured – it’s the focus on developing an online technology platform that helps freelancers speed up and streamline their processes. For example, the transcription product that Rev.com offers freelance workers will have special features designed for their needs, like ways to rewind the audio by a set number of seconds, tools to quickly denote each speaker’s name while transcribing, ways to create shortcuts for words that appear often or are complex terms that could be easily misspelled, and more.
Plus, he adds, “by having this transcription environment in our browser, the worker doesn’t have to download the file separately and upload it somewhere else…they can just play and go.” Chicola says its platform is about “half done,” but continuing to build out the product is one of the key things the new funding will be put towards.
In order to attract talent, Rev.com focuses on giving workers more jobs and helping them complete those jobs more quickly, though Chicola admits that Rev.com doesn’t pay the most on a per-job basis.
“On most sites that are out there, workers spend half their time or more looking for work – that’s time they’re not getting paid,” he says. “We designed our whole system to keep them busy. If we can keep them higher utilized, they can make more money per week than somewhere else.” He also notes that at Rev.com, the goal is also to offer freelancers a “nice” place to work, where they can make friends, have a good social environment, where they think it’s fair, and where they can get recognized for their work.
Today, Rev.com translators make on average around $1,000 per month part-time, while some of the busier workers make up to $4,000 per month. Transcriptionists tend to make around a quarter of that.
As noted above, Rev.com had quietly launched its services in 2010, beginning with translations, followed by transcriptions in late 2011. These were under different branding (FoxTranscribe and FoxTranslate). During this open beta of sorts, the company grew its user base to include a combined total of around 1,000 regular business customers, including Pfizer, VisaNow (global immigration), U.S. Bank, NYU, Land O’ Lakes and Princeton University, as well as several government agencies, such as the National Park Service and U.S. Small Business Administration. On the transcription side in particular, 20 percent of its user base is the media, which uses it for transcribing interviews.
The company will continue its product development and hire additional engineers. Interested users can sign up here for Rev.com services.Read More →
Go4Funding.com is an online platform that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, and business experts from around the world. In the “Funding Needed” section of our website, new entrepreneurs and existing business owners can post their capital requirements. In the “Looking To Invest” section, investors, who are looking to invest, can post their profiles so that entrepreneurs can find them easily.Read More →
Mobile Ticketing Solution Masabi Raises $2.8M To Help Transit Agencies Move To The Cloud, Opens New York Office
Masabi, which develops and deploys mobile ticketing technology for the transport sector, has raised a further $2.8 million in a new round of funding from Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners, along with London-based MMC Ventures and existing investor m8 Capital.
The new capital will be used by the UK company to “accelerate” transit agency deployments in the U.S. — in late 2012 it deployed its “JustRide” system for Boston’s MBTA — as well as opening a New York office. Related to its U.S. expansion, Masabi has hired transit industry “innovator” Josh Robin as VP of Strategy and Business Development for North American operations.
Described as a leader in transit mobile ticketing and what it calls “agile fare collection”, Masabi’s mobile tech is all about making it easier to book transport tickets (trains, metro etc.) by utilising mobile phones instead of traditional paper tickets or smartcards. Its flagship product, JustRide, which it sells to transit agencies, is a cloud-based, end-to-end mobile ticketing and fare collection system that includes mobile apps for ticket purchase, use, and ticket agent validation. In the future, it plans to support NFC, too.
For the consumer, once deployed, it enables them to book and display tickets on their mobile without having to stand in line, while for transit agencies, Masabi is talking up the speed of deployment and low cost for the system compared to traditional offerings — the usual cloud promise — thus its use of the word “agile”.
Along with the Boston roll out, Masabi’s tech is in use by more than 13 UK transit agencies and retail brands, including: Virgin Trains, First Group, CrossCountry Trains and thetrainline.com.Read More →
Entrepreneur Alex Sheshunoff did some research and looked into which verticals made the most sense for a new crowdfunding site, settled on the food and beverage sector and launched FoodStart, which is now in beta.
Sheshunoff’s research told him that people were literally hungry to crowdfund projects that they could have a real-world connection with, bridging their digital and physical lives. Taking a page from the popularity of things like Groupon that do just that, FoodStart seeks to help food trucks, fine dining establishments and everything in between to connect with their customers and secure capital at the same time.
But FoodStart offers more services than most crowdfunding platforms. I spoke with Sheshunoff about FoodStart and what it has to offer food fans of all sorts in the latest installment of the From the Crowd podcast. Listen or download the mp3 below:
Disclosure: FoodStart is a client of crowdsourcing.org / massolution.Read More →
For last week’s symposium on the JOBS Act, Berkeley Law put together a great list of recent law journal and other articles about the JOBS Act and crowdfunding. Titles with authors and links pasted below; see the original PDF for article summaries.
How the Internet Changes Everything About How to Raise CapitalThomas E. VassThe Private Capital Market http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2133325
Crowdfunding: The New Frontier for Financing Entrepreneurship?Giancarlo Giudici, Ricardo Nava, Cristina Rossi Lamastra, and Chiara Verecondohttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2157429
How Crowd Funding Solves One of The Biggest Capital Market Gaps In America:Unleashing A Torrent of Growth Capital For Small Private Established Technology FirmsThomas E. VassThe Private Capital Market http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2031051
Fret No More: Inapplicability Of Crowdfunding Concerns In The Internet Age And The Jobs Act’s SafeguardsKarina SigarAdministrative Law Reviewhttp://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/78121706/fret-no-more-inapplicability-crowdfunding-concerns-internet-age-jobs-acts-safeguards
The New Federal Crowdfunding Exemption: Promise UnfulfilledC. Steven BradfordSecurities Regulation Law Journalhttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2066088
Crowdfunding: Fleecing the American MassesZachary GriffinCase Western Reserve Journal of Law, Technology & the Internethttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2030001
The JOBS Act: Easing Exempt Offering RestrictionsElizabeth M. Dunshee and David M. LynnBusiness Law Todayhttp://dialogueonfreedom.org/buslaw/blt/content/2012/05/article-02-dunshee.pdf
The Geography of CrowdfundingAjay K. Agrawal, Christian Catalini, and Avi Goldfarb, National Bureau of Economic Researchhttp://www.nber.org/papers/w16820.pdf
A Very Quiet Revolution: A Primer on Securities Crowdfunding and Title III of the Jobs ActThaya Brook Knight, Huiwen Leo, and Adrian OhmerMichigan Journal of Private Equity & Venture Capital Law http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2199014
The New Crowdfunding Registration Exemption: Good Idea, Bad ExecutionStuart R. CohnFlorida Law Reviewhttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2066016
Jobs Act Targets Smaller Business Capital Raising: CrowdfundingLouis A. Bevilacqua, Joseph R. Tiano, Jr., David S. Baxter, Ali Panjwani and K. Brian Joe, Pillsbury Lawhttp://www.pillsburylaw.com/siteFiles/Publications/CSAlertJumpstartOurBusinessesAct040512_final.pdf
Crowdfunding Deals on The Horizon with US Jobs ActMax RaskinBloomberg Newshttp://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-18/crowdfunding-property-deals-on-horizon-with-u-s-jobs-act.html
The Dynamics of Crowdfunding: Determinants of Success and FailureEthan R. Mollick, University of Pennsylvania – Wharton Schoolhttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2088298
The Role of Crowdfunding in Entrepreneurial FinanceDevashis MitraDelhi Business Reviewhttp://www.delhibusinessreview.org/v_13n2/v13n2g.pdf
The JOBS Act of 2012: Balancing Fundamental Securities Law Principals With the Demands of the CrowdThomas A. Martin, Willamette University College of Lawhttp://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/capital-markets/files/JOBS%20Act%20Fundamental.pdfRead More →
On Friday, Dropbox’s acquisition of Mailbox marked the first time the tech community lit up in amazement and awe of a consumer transaction since Facebook acquired Instagram back in April 2012. The attention is well-deserved. For a variety of reasons beyond the high ticket price of the deal, the acquisition of Mailbox contains many interesting sub-stories that captured the tech community’s interest:
One, Mailbox only raised money once in the summer of 2011. When the funding was announced in November 2011, the company was known as “Orchestra.” At the time, raising $5m pre-product and right off the bat for an A round would seem high, and perhaps the quality of the team afforded the company the chance to raise enough money to have more than one shot on goal, which goes against some conventional wisdom that startups should stay lean and not raise too much dough upfront. I don’t know the specifics, but probably safe to assume their $5m cost them about 20% of their company.
Two, Mailbox was an incredibly well-executed pivot. The Orchestra team calculated that its product wasn’t going to breakout and be a mainstream hit. This is a really hard call to make because its often easy and logical to think in terms of sunk costs. In transforming from one product to an entirely different one, the Orchestra team quickly readjusted and started from scratch to build Mailbox, taking their initial learnings but essentially starting a new company from within their core.
Three, Mailbox was iOS-first. Even though Orchestra worked on iOS and web — and worth noting that Orchestra’s design and cross-platform sync technology was also quite remarkable itself — Mailbox was released on Apple’s platform and ginned up significant buzz to get acquired without expanding to other platforms first. Instagram waited a while before building for Android, which was released a little while before they were acquired and drove a huge increase in their overall install base. While Android is picking up steam (or in some eyes, surpassed iOS), value at the application layer still resides with iOS.
Four, Mailbox added extra buzz to their recent reinvention and re-launch by creating a brilliant marketing hack to get around the ornery distribution hurdles posed by the iOS App Store. Mailbox’s infamous “Reservation System” allowed consumers to download the app from the store but wait in line until their number was called up. This gimmick also became the subject of chatter around many pre-launch mobile startups (see: Tempo) trying to concoct their own special velvet-rope tricks.
Five, Dropbox’s move in this transaction also shines a light on the acquirer’s potential strategy. After raising $250M cash in the fall of 2011 at a very high valuation, Dropbox is on a tricky journey to transform from a commodity service into something more. Skeptics, for instance, wonder if Dropbox can make this turn, as the size of their valuation may have taken some exits off the table. I’d recommend two bloggers here: One, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden penned a smart piece on the direction Dropbox is headed in, and a few months ago, analyzed its earlier purchase of SnapJoy; and two, Spark Capital’s Andrew Parker wrote an insightful post looking back on the history of file systems and where Dropbox could be headed.
Six, while Mailbox received accolades for its user interaction elements of “swiping away” and “snoozing” email, much of the inspiration for those gestures might have been sparked by Clear, the colorful iOS to-do list app. While many may credit Mailbox with inventing these gestures, the phrase “good artists borrow, great artists steal” may be fitting in this case, and the team should get credit for recognizing a great gesture and bringing it to a product category (mobile email) that desperately needed a new client.
And, finally, seven…this all went down so quickly. Just as it seemed Instagram launched, exploded, grew fast, and then sold two days after closing a $50m Series B, the story of Mailbox can be told in months, not years. Orchestra’s founder penned an op-ed in August 2012 analyzing why email is still a problem. In what seemed like a very long Beta test, influential tech users had access to the product and were publicly raving about it, indirectly generating buzz and demand for the app as 2012 ended. It was a great v1 product despite the fact it didn’t allow for search or always have consistent sync or push notifications. In early February 2013, Mailbox launched officially, but consumers had to wait in line, a tactic which became its own story. And, as we all know, on March 15, Mailbox was acquired by Dropbox for what many people believe is quite a healthy sum of cash and stock.
For these seven reasons, this story is captivating. We all may say that the product wasn’t that great, or that startups don’t seem to want to remain independent anymore and go big, or that startups are just meant to be flipped, but what Orchestra and Mailbox accomplished is nothing short of remarkable. Deciding to pivot is a really hard decision. Getting the team to buy into that is really hard. Throwing away all the previous bits of work can be demoralizing. I have seen a small handful startups with real funding and product used by millions try to pivot like this, and each one has failed so far. Actually creating a new brand and product that matters is close to impossible. Devising a product-marketing plan into the launch with a long beta and a reservation system was pure marketing genius. And, while many dreamed of what Mailbox could do for email on different platforms, the team decided to take a generous offer from Dropbox, one that would make all shareholders happy and, considering all the circumstances above, would turn coal into a diamond. That is why the story of Orchestra to Mailbox to Dropbox captures our attention. Building big, durable companies and going public is one pinnacle we see on magazine covers, but for many others, finding that one sweet exit — their own “Inbox Zero” — is a dream come true.
Photo Credit: Digital Game Museum / Flickr Creative CommonsRead More →
It’s no coincidence that the last 12 months have seen an explosion in human-computer interfaces (HCI). Google Glass, Oculus Rift, Myo, Leap Motion, and several others are still in stealth mode and are quickly forming the new class of companies aiming to transform our computing environments. And unlike previous generations, this new group is generating the strong public and developer support, in some cases combined with millions in pre-orders, that are necessary to have a chance at breaking through.
We’ve been talking about augmented reality, virtual reality, and wearable computing for quite some time now. When I moved to Boston some 12 years ago, it was largely because of the MIT Media Lab, a hub of innovation that was focused on that crazy mixture of art and technology that they rightly believed would lead to the next stage of computing.
While it was a fruitful era for ideas, and wonderfully geeky photo opportunities, it was a failure for a new generation of global companies. There were advances thanks to eInk, Harmonix, Color Kinetics, Ambient Devices, iRobot, and others, but there have been no truly iconic companies – the Apples and IBMs – that the first generation of computing created. More importantly, our experiences with computers stayed largely the same.
So what has changed that may make things different this time? Two small things, and one big thing.
1. Technology. Core components, from accelerometers to displays, that used to be expensive and custom, are becoming commodities thanks to cell phones. Leap Motion, for example, hugely benefits from the hundreds of millions of cameras embedded in cell phones every year that have drastically reduced their price points.
2. Pitch and design. With any startup, getting people to believe is the hardest thing, and it is doubly hard when you are pitching a new category of experiences. Thanks to many factors, from 3D printing to the video demo culture pioneered by Kickstarter, companies are learning how to make a broad market message of beautiful design and ease of use at their earliest stages.
3. Culture. Sometimes the timing is just right culturally. While much of the technology involved here is difficult, it is not unique to this time and place. I believe the current wave has as much to do with the last generation of gaming consoles and cellphones than about cheaper components or a slick video.
That may sound strange, but I believe it was Nolan Bushnell who said that every great technological advancement starts out seeming like a toy.
The first commercial peripheral to use your body was the Nintendo Power Glove back in 1989. It was a commercial failure, selling 100,000 units, grossing under $100 million, and driving the parent company into bankruptcy. It was geeky fun kids stuff, but the product wasn’t awesome.
Fast forward and the picture of the advances in HCI is much more like this.
The last five years have seen the sale of 120 million Wii’s, the widest-selling game platform in history. It has seen unique interfaces such as Guitar Hero and DDR used to create powerful, even transformative, experiences. It has seen the Xbox Kinect sell 8 million units in its first 60 days, making it the fastest-selling consumer electronics product in history. And of course it has seen the Apple iOS devices introduce the world to flicking angered birds on touch interfaces.
In that context, the last five years starts to feel like it was softening the ground for a mainstream populace to accept new inputs. All of these advancements haven’t just taught people to stand in front of their televisions or tap away at their screens. It is teaching people to expect more out of interacting with their computers.
And that’s enough to make one very optimistic about the next five years of computing and the hardware startups that will be building it.Read More →