Satellite imaging startup Planet Labs just successfully launched two satellites into orbit, but its biggest milestone is yet to come. The company, which builds inexpensive, low-flying satellites called “doves,” is preparing to launch the largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites ever.
Planet Labs produces satellites that are ultra-efficient to make and operate, lowering the cost of satellite imagery while getting better images more often. Its “doves” are much smaller and fly much lower than traditional satellites, at an orbit of around 400 to 500 kilometers compared to 800 to 1,200 kilometers above earth. That said, Planet Labs doves don’t live as long, with a typical life-span of about one to three years.
One of the other nice things about making short-lived commercial satellites is that Planet Labs can frequently upgrade its equipment, with each new version of its Doves having the most advanced technology available for use. Compare that to traditional satellite shops, which require multiple years of development to ensure that they won’t crap out early in their expected lifecycle. Doves, on the other hand, are more or less made to be disposable – and that’s a good thing.
Since the satellites are much closer to earth, they’re able to catch high-resolution images, which can be used for a number of different applications, such as monitoring deforestation, improving agricultural yields, and tracking natural disasters. Planet Labs co-founder and CEO Will Marshall says the company has engaged with a number of partners that could be interested in the company’s data, although none have been announced yet.
Planet Labs already had two satellites sending back imagery, with Dove 1 and Dove 2. It recently added two more, sending Dove 3 and Dove 4 into space on a Russian Dnepr rocket. But the main event will come with the launch of its Flock 1 constellation, which is slated for December.
The company’s first constellation of satellites will be made up of 28 doves that will be launched on board an Antares rocket taking off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. That constellation will create images of the entire world over a very short time span, providing an unprecedented amount of data for enterprises that need use of it.
Planet Labs was founded by former NASA physicists Will Marshall, Robbie Schingler, and Chris Boshuizen. The company has raised $13 million from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Capricorn Investment Group, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, Founders Fund Angel, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Data Collective, and First Round Capital.Read More →
Coming up with the capital to open a brewery isn’t easy. Just ask any one of the nearly 200 breweries in Colorado. Newcomer brewery – Zephyr Brewing Company is planning to open in the near future in Colorado and is looking for some extra funding to finish off what plans they’ve already put into place. Public funding isn’t always successful, but for the clever and business savvy entrepreneurs, fundraising can be a great way to show what you’re made of before you open the door.
SOURCE: http://www.fermentedlychallenged.com/2013/11/zephyr-brewing-company-uses-crowdbrewed.htmlRead More →
Some developments for 7digital, the UK-based music platform that powers download and streaming services for the likes of Samsung, HTC, T-Mobile and Pure: it has entered into acquisition talks and a “reverse merger” with UBC Media, a radio program producer, developer of interactive audio technology, and software investor (it’s the largest shareholder in Audioboo, a platform where you can make and share audio recordings). As part of the deal, UBC is providing 7digital with a £1 million ($1.6 million) loan that can be converted into shares in UBC – which is publicly traded in London on the AIM exchange.
On top of that, 7digital is announcing a couple of expansions of its service – confirmation that it is powering a new streaming service from HMV in the UK and Ireland; and a deal with Apple/Intel-backed Imagination Technologies‘ Pure to power a streaming service in the U.S. to complement its Jongo wireless speakers.
Imagination Technologies, in fact, is both a strategic investor in UBC as well as 7digital. It came on as a backer to 7digital as one of the two undisclosed companies in its last $10 million venture round in 2012 (Dolby is the other), with $7 million coming from Imaginational. Ben Drury, CEO at 7digital, claims that having Imagination Technologies as a common investor was more coincidental and convenient than it was a part of the original interest between the two companies.
The news comes amidst a lot of other shifts in the digital music marketplace: among them, Spotify securing a $250 million investment; Rdio laying off employees; Deezer apparently making a stronger move to tackle the U.S.; AOL shutting down more of its own music services; and Turntable pivoting into live events. Taken together, these are all signs of consolidation in the market, with the big fish vying to become stronger, and the smaller among them falling by the wayside.
In that context, 7digital has been something of a minnow. Although it has its own consumer-facing service, it has perhaps more importantly played a role in how other, bigger-name companies have been able to build out digital music plays to compete against the likes of iTunes from Apple. By way of an API, 7digital takes on all the infrastructure management, licensing and reporting for these third parties, which include Samsung’s MusicHub, BlackBerry’s music store, and the Pure Music service. Former partners include Spotify (which used it to power a download service, which it then took in-house and then axed altogether). In total, 7digital says that these wholesale-style services and its own consumer-facing product are growing, with traffic up 225% in the last six months to pass 1 billion requests per month.
Still, given that part of this deal involved a £1 million loan, it’s unclear whether that existing business was providing lucrative enough returns, or at least enough to help the company fuel its next stage of growth. UBC notes that in 2012 7digital’s revenues were £11 million ($18 million), compared to £3 million ($4.9 million) in 2009, making it about four times the size of UBC, with a combined valuation of about £50 million ($80 million). Before today, 7digital in total raised some $18.5 million in venture funding, with other backers including Balderton Capital (formerly Benchmark in Europe) and Sutton Place Managers.
In fact, Drury, who is also a co-founder at 7digital, notes a few reasons for tapping UBC instead of going it alone. First, there is funding: with 7digital founded in 2004, it’s not really playing in startup territory anymore. “We may call ourselves that, or others may call us a startup, but we’ve been around for almost 10 years,” he told me in an interview.
Second, there is speed of execution: “Going on to AIM by way of a reverse takeover of UBC is a way to accelerate our development,” he told me. “This is a faster path.”
Third – and perhaps most interesting for those watching how the digital music space is evolving – is what UBC would bring to 7digital in terms of product. The company owns several patents, it has an extensive catalog of audio archives, and it has infrastructure in place to create original content – “a skillset that could be adapted for the kinds of customers that we work for,” Drury noted.
What could that mean? Right now, he says, the buzzword in digital music is “curation” and how to whittle down and shape the huge mass of music that customers have at the tips of their fingers but without much shape about what to listen to next. (Yes, the old water, water everywhere conundrum.) It sounds like what 7digital might be looking to do is help produce original content, or at least services that help point users to more tailored listening experiences that cut through the 7digital catalog.
His example: UBC currently produces a show for BBC Radio, called “Pick of the Pops,” which picks a year and then runs through music from it. “Imagine that strong editorial role being adapted for the on-demand age,” he told me. Along with that will come an evolution of the streaming music business model to offer more targeted “microsubscriptions” around particular genres or even playlists – not unlike the vision that Deezer is also eyeing up, creating deals that cut up the typical $10/month, all-you-can-eat offerings.
“Our platform and partnership roster has been growing steadily over time and we see continued interest in music globally, across online radio, subscription streaming, and downloads. We will continue to develop and scale the platform, and to innovate with new products and features,” Ben Drury, CEO of 7digital, noted in a statement. “Radio, in particular, is an area where we see a lot of future opportunities, and we are thrilled that our new strategic investor and partner, UBC, shares this vision.”
UBC says that the deal will play into a wider strategy that it has to develop more digital services around audio content, with the interactive media market offering “the best opportunity for growth as so-called ‘connected’ devices became more important for the consumption of content.”
UBC and 7digital’s non-legally binding Letter Of Intent says that the two will outline terms of a potential acquisition of 7digital by UBC by no later than December 16, 2013, “with a view to entering into a definitive sale and purchase agreement by 30 April 2014.”
UBC says the new publicly-listed company would combine its existing UBC assets, its investment in Audioboo, and 7digital, with 7digital’s Drury would become the CEO and UBC’s CEO Simon Cole taking on the role of chairman. Customers would include the BBC and Yahoo (two of UBC’s current clients) and Samsung and HTC (two of 7digital’s), with business operations in 42 countries and covering 5 million registered users and services pre-loaded on 60 million mobile devices. “In content terms, the new company will have an archive of thousands of hours of entertainment programming, producing 1,200 hours of new material a year and have a licensed catalogue of 25 million music tracks and audiobooks,” UBC notes.
Updated throughout with comments from 7digital CEO Ben Drury.Read More →
Google Wallet Creators Raise $7M From Eric Schmidt, Khosla To Bring Personalization And Analytics To In-Store Commerce
While Amazon has been at the forefront of providing a personalized experience in online commerce, in-store retailers are still behind in using data in compelling ways to make the purchasing and shopping experience better in physical retail. Index, the new personalization and analytics company from the original members of the Google Wallet team, is hoping to change this. Today, the startup is announcing new funding and more details on the company’s product. Index has raised $7 million in a Series A round led by Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Khosla Ventures, AIMCo and 819 Capital.
At its core, Index wants to brick-and-mortar retailers leverage their physical stores as a competitive differentiator. Founded by former Google Wallet executives Marc Freed-Finnegan and Jonathan Wall, Index offers top-tier, brick and mortar retailers (as the Macy’s or the Best Buy’s of the world) a software integration that plugs into their point-of-sale terminals. This helps these retailers actually recognize their customers across channels beyond just credit card history, and parse through the data from their purchase history both online and offline.
The end goal is for Index to then help retailers use this data create a more personalized experience. The software is downloaded on a retailer’s point of sale, and can then link in-store, online, mobile and social engagement with the retailers. For customers who opt-in, retailers can deliver personalized service, similar to the level of personalization you get on Amazon.
As Wall explained to TechCrunch, “Offline needs same tools as online, and they have the same data and interactions when it comes to in-store engagement and purchases. These retailers just don’t have the technology to capture this technology, and use this data to help create a better relationship with their customers.
The software includes the ability to provide a linked identity and enable retailers to develop unified customer profiles and deliver truly personalized service. Data mining is another big part of the technology–with the hope of going beyond just targeting by checkout basket. Lastly, Index integrated with point of sale registers to apply coupons and rewards before a transaction is complete.
For example, Index’s software could help a retailer be able to pull up purchase history when a customer swipes their credit card at a store. So a cashier will have knowledge of past purchases, and the point of sale could even make a personalized recommendation for a product on a receipt that reflects past purchases. Index could also help retailers start mining in-store data and connect with customers online. So if the customers registers an email to have a receipt sent for an in-store purchase (which is common these days), the retailer could send an email with past purchase industry, and recommendations of future purchase. Retailers could also offer deals and coupons for in-store purchases that are targeted specifically to potential items a customer would buy.
Another example of Index’s technology is in working with retailer’s mobile app. So a retailers could integrate Index’s technology into their app, and if a customer has downloaded the app, they would be automatically checked into the store once they are in the vicinity. The customer will receive a personalized feed in the app, save items, access exclusive coupons and more. Index is also tackling the point of sale–if the customer is on the app, on a phone that is verified, when they go to pay, they simply have to enter a pin into the point of sale (as the second factor of authentication, in addition to the phone), and the transaction will go through. Any coupons in the user’s account can be automatically used as well. On the retail end, a store could equip their sales associates with iPads that can show who has entered the store, what they have bought in the past and more.
As for the business model, Index isn’t giving away too many details but says they get paid if the retailer is able to sell items through their technology.
While Index doesn’t have any big-name retailers on board yet, the technology is being used by a small chain of cupcake stores in San Francisco.
Investors are betting that Index may be what big-box retailers are looking for. Investor Vinod Khosla said in a statement, “Index gives brick-and-mortar retailers an Amazon-like toolbox for managing customer data and relationships. It’s the exact solution sophisticated retailers need to stay competitive and this is the perfect team to deliver it.”
“The Index team is uniquely positioned to help retailers measure and improve their marketing impact,” says Eric Schmidt, Founding Partner at Innovation Endeavors. “Google Wallet was an early beneficiary of the founders’ technical know-how and critical execution skills. Now other retailers can benefit, too.”
Advisors includes Whole Foods’ former senior vices president of purchasing, marketing and distribution Michael Bensacon; former Jamba Juice CEO and Burger King CMO Paul Clayton, and Michael Dadario, who worked for more than 25 years for home furnishing and fashion retailers like West Elm, Williams-Sonoma Inc., J.Crew and Banana Republic and Gap. With this network, you can safely assume that the startup is probably in pitching its technology to quite a few well-known brick and mortar retailers.
Index isn’t the first (or will be the last) to try to bring analytics, mobile payments and personalization to the in-store retail experience. PayPal has been aggressively trying to help integrate into point of sale for retailers like Home Depot and Jamba Juice. Square has its deal with Starbucks, thought hasn’t announced any other partnerships to date. The Index team acknowledges the competition but truly believes that their technology is the most well-rounded to actually driving in-store visits, and incorporate data beyond the payments system.
The San Francisco-based company says it will apply its Series A funding to supporting the company’s continued rollout with retailers and the growth of its team.Read More →
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Facebook’s share price tanked upon IPO, scaring plenty of private companies away from the public markets. But with its eventual recovery and now the stellar performance of Twitter’s IPO out the gates, the Wall Street bell suddenly has a much nicer ring to it.
Just in the last few days we’ve heard of Square, Box, and Seamless moving forward with IPO plans.
Now, a soaring share price isn’t always a good thing, and a sinking one isn’t all bad depending on a company’s intentions. But up and to the right boosts confidence of the market as a whole, and the shot in the arm from Twitter comes in sharp contrast to a rough 2011 and 2012 for technology offerings.
Facebook priced its May 2012 IPO high, and thereby raked in a ton of money for use on expansion, R&D, and acquisitions. What it sacrificed was perceived momentum. Though it was able to unload its shares at $38, the price would soon plummet to $18. That made Facebook look like a loser to the outside world, potential recruits and employees.
Soon we saw a grand exodus of veteran talent from the social network. Employees left citing they felt they had “done their duty” to make the world more open and connected. What they didn’t say was that they may have preferred to leave the pimping of Facebook as a business entity to someone else while they went on a new startup adventure.
Now Facebook’s share price is at $47.50. It’s regained some of its luster (though not with teens). Those prized employees are still gone but it has plenty of money to buy new ones. Overall, it was a tough transition from private to public that spooked a lot of people. What CEO wants to go public if they risk half their market value evaporating overnight?
Twitter waited until some of that fear subsided. It then its IPO low. The original price range of $17-$20 it looked now seems undeniably cheap (oh the joys of hindsight). But even at the time, most considered Twitter worth well over $11 billion. It’s become a backbone of digital communication whose raw, unfiltered nature gives it unique value in the social landscape. Even after pricing TWTR much higher at $26, many still though it was undervalued.
When Twitter IPO’d yesterday, its share price popped a remarkable 73 percent. Though it’s down a bit today, it still closed around $41, high above its $26 starting point.
Twitter did leave more than $1 billion on the table. Achieving the more traditionally sought-after 15 percent to 20 percent pop could have given it a much bigger war chest to buy complementary companies and invest in growth. But what it gained was the public sentiment that Twitter’s a winner, that it’s here to stay. And that it’s a beautiful time to go public.
Other companies apparently saw the sign. Payment service Square is in talks with banks, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley for an IPO in 2014, someone conveniently leaked to the Wall Street Journal. Square’s sales are said to be around $550 million this year, with $110 million to $165 million in net revenue after payouts to credit card companies.
Cloud storage app Box has chosen Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase as underwriters for an early 2014 IPO that could raise $500 million, says Reuters.
And food delivery service Seamless is eying a late-2014 / early-2015 IPO says The Deal Pipeline. It had $85 million in 2012 revenue, bought its biggest competitor GrubHub six months ago, and is on track for $200 million+ in 2013 revenue, Deal Pipeline reports.
Other companies that might IPO in 2014 include Dropbox, Zendesk, New Relic, and Atlassian.
The idea seems to be “get money while the getting’s good.” Big private companies seem intent on getting their day in the Wall Street sun before the weather changes.
And the trend extends down to smaller startups private stories too, though their situation is very different. Pinterest may have raised $225 million because it wants to have plenty of money for expansion without fear the fundraising climate could get bleak if consumer investment dries up, as Fortune writes. Snapchat is said to be raising its own round of roughly $200 million.
Neither of these companies are earning any meaningful revenue right now. But rather than wait until they are so they could raise at better terms and even higher valuations, they’re squirreling away the cash now.
One problem this presents is that these big IPOs and raises could inflate valuations for smaller startups, as Jack Altman of Hydrazine Capital writes. If they can’t reach an exit before the market skies turn stormy, they may be left struggling to raise money, and end up with gloomy down rounds.
But for big private companies with solid revenue and a strong mobile presence, fast-tracking their way to getting their own stock symbol may be a smart bet. You never know what next year will look like.
Additional reporting by Alex Wilhelm
[Image Credit: Shutterstock, Institutional Investor]Read More →
Building Robotics, a startup that makes intelligent software systems for office buildings, has raised $1.14 million in a seed round led by Claremont Creek Ventures (CCV), Google Ventures, Formation 8, Navitas Capital, Red Swan Ventures and other angel investors. The Oakland, Calif.-based company says it will use the funds to add expertise in building management, development, back-end operators and user experience design.
The first product by Building Robotics is Comfy, a software system that is meant to “meaningfully reconnect people to the heating and cooling in the work environment” by making offices more comfortable while also saving energy. Office workers can control the software, which is designed to be compatible with most existing HVAC and management systems, with mobile and Web apps. Comfy provides instant warm or cool air to people while its machine-learning algorithm analyzes their usage patterns and feedback to reduce energy use.
Software like Comfy can not only reduce electricity bills and the average of 100 million tons of carbon dioxide that are emitted by U.S. power plants every year, but it may also potentially diffuse air conditioner wars–one of the most brutal elements of office politics–by pinpointing individual users and allowing them to control the temperature of their workspace.
Comfy is based on an open-source platform developed by Building Robotics co-founders Andrew Krioukov and Stephen Dawson-Haggerty while they were Ph.D. researchers in computer science at U.C. Berkeley’s LoCal Group.
Building Robotics join other startups that have received investor attention by using tech to make buildings more energy-efficient and comfortable. Perhaps the most high-profile example is home hardware maker Nest Labs, which has raised a total of $80 million in funding so far. Another example is Bidgely, which has raised a total of $8 million from Khosla Ventures to make software that allows consumers to monitor and manage their household energy use.
But even though most of us spend a significant part of our lives at work, intelligent software systems are difficult to scale up for commercial buildings. Building Robotics is seeking to gain traction through pilot deployments at several large tech companies in the Bay Area, as well as a federal building through the General Services Administration’s Green Proving Ground (GPG) program. The GPG seeks to evaluate innovative sustainable building technologies by installing them in some of the 300 million square feet of real estate managed by the GSA for the U.S. government.
“Building Robotics’ business strategy fits perfectly within Claremont Creek Ventures’ investment thesis. CCV invests in companies that are merging intelligent, comprehensive product design with innovative technology to give the user an empowering, productive experience. Comfy does exactly that,” said Nat Goldhaber, managing director of CCV, in a statement.Read More →
Cloud computing providers Zendesk and Tokyo-based Cybozu have announced a strategic partnership to integrate and market each other’s products in the U.S. and Japan. The deal underscores the rapidly growing adoption of cloud computing in Japan, and is also a potential harbinger of further product integrations between software-as-a-service companies based in different countries.
The agreement means that Cybozu will market Zendesk’s customer service software to businesses in Japan, while Zendesk will promote Cybozu’s cloud platform for business collaboration to its U.S. customers. The two companies will also develop integrations with each other’s platforms. Zendesk and Cybozu will officially launch their joint marketing efforts at the cybozu.com conference on cloud computing in Tokyo this Friday and their joint product integration is expected to begin later this year.
Founded in 2007 and headquartered in San Francisco, Zendesk has received funding from Charles River Ventures, Benchmark Capital, Goldman Sachs, GGV Capital, Index Ventures, Matrix Partners and Redpoint Ventures. Cybozu was founded in 2011 and is listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The partnership will help the two companies accelerate their global expansion. Cybozu, the top collaboration software in Japan in terms of market share, recently entered the U.S. Meanwhile, Zendesk opened its first office in Tokyo earlier this year. Zendesk now has 30,000 customers in 140 countries, who use its software to provide customer service to more than 200 million people. Cybozu has more than 60,000 customers, most based in Japan. The company released kintone, a cloud-based collaboration software application, in the U.S. in July 2013, and its business cloud platform, called cybozu.com, has had more than 5,000 business installations since its release in 2011.
Mikkel Svane, founder and CEO of Zendesk, says his company’s partnership with Cybozu will allow it to take advantage of rapid growth in Japan’s cloud computing industry, which has benefited from government support.
“We’ve seen the government actively trying to legislate and make it more attractive for companies to move to the cloud, so you’re seeing the beginning of a kind of movement in Japan, which will definitely accelerate the adoption of cloud software,” says Svane.
According to a study by U.S. software developer Parallels, cloud service market for SMBs in Japan grew 25% over the past year to $2 billion in summer 2013, and will reach an estimated $3.1 billion by 2016. The fastest growing category is cloud-based business applications, which are expected to increase 21% year-over-year in Japan, reaching $1.5 billion by 2016.
Though Japan was a relatively slow adopter of cloud computing, Ken Aoyama, chief global business officer at Cybozu, says enterprises have become more receptive to the technology over the past two years. Factors spurring interest in cloud computing among Japanese users include strong data privacy laws; the popularity of cloud-based social media platforms like Facebook, Mixi and Twitter; the migration of Japan’s postal service to the cloud after implementing Salesforce.com software; and the rebuilding of IT infrastructure 2011 earthquake.
Cybozu recently closed deals with social gaming company DeNA and a telco company that has 10,000 employees. “A few years ago, customers were concerned about cloud security, but they don’t ask me about that anymore. Now they ask about feature differentiation,” Aoyama says. “There are more customers in Japan migrating to the cloud, not just SMBs, but also big enterprise customers.”
Svane adds that the deal between Zendesk and Cybozu continues “a relatively young tradition among cloud companies in the U.S. of working tightly together.”
“We work very closely with companies like MailChimp, SurveyMonkey and HootSuite,” says Svane. “We do that because we share similar philosophies, similar platforms, similar Internet-driven open architecture and the same market approach. We’ve seen over the last two to three years a new generation of cloud-based Internet software companies working together on that premise.”
Photo by Toshihiro Oimatsu