GiftCards.com, a Pittsburgh-based company that has been around for more than a decade and has sold 5 million gift cards, agreed to buy San Francisco startup Giftly to grow out a mobile platform.
The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Giftly had raised about $2.8 million from investors including Baseline Ventures, SoftTech VC, Floodgate, Thrive Capital, and Techstars’ David Tisch.
Giftly’s acquisition follows a number of other ones. Karma was picked up very early by Facebook although it may not produce meaningful revenue for some time for the social network, according to its earnings results earlier this year. Another gifting startup, Giftiki, which pooled together people’s money to get gifts, was acquired by Launchrock.
Giftly built a platform that avoided the hassle of individually dealing with merchants and point-of-sale systems. They came out with a native mobile app last fall that made it easier to send presents to friends and family.
The company’s platform didn’t put any limitations on what kinds of presents you could send because the company had a web of relationships with banks and credit card processors. When a recipient would go to redeem their gift, they would pay out of their own pocket, but Giftly would reimburse them that amount through their credit card.
GiftCards.com said Giftly will be rolled into their operations, but will maintain offices in San Francisco.
“We will continue to build out Giftly,” said Giftly’s CEO Timothy Bentley. “Our backend infrastructure will be used for their next generation products. We’ll continue to expand
the ways our technology and services are available to developers, through our API, and merchants, through our merchant services.”
The company is also looking to raise a first venture round, even though it’s been around for more than 10 years. That round will go toward completing the acquisition of Giftly. GiftCards.com has been around since 1999; they sell personalized, pre-designed and discount gift cards.Read More →
Headcast, A Mobile Broadcast Platform For Celebrities’ & Brands’ Avatars To Talk To Fans, Launches On iOS, Backed By Stephen Fry
There’s no shortage of channels for brands and celebrities to stay in touch with their customers, followers and fans in these socially connected times — whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, you name it. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something more. Today’s addition to the mix is the launch of a broadcasting and animation platform for smartphones called Headcast which lets brands and celebrities record and push out short voice messages to their audience — accompanied by an animated, virtual avatar which lipsyncs with the voice recording and can also mimic hand gestures and facial expressions.
The company behind the tech, HeadcastLab, describes these broadcasts as “visual tweets” since they are limited in duration to 60 seconds, so have the same bite-sized character as a tweet, but are also designed to be watched, thanks to the avatar component. There’s no getting away from the uncanny valley phenomenon here, but presumably in an effort to make that effect comic rather than sinister, the avatars have a cartoonish air, rather than going after exact photo-realism.
The cartoonish air can also be explained by HeadcastLab’s CEO’s background as a designer and builder of puppets and characters. Chris Chapman also ran the animatronics team at Spitting Image Projects and went on to join the creative team. HeadcastLab was founded in 2011, after Chapman had also co-founded smart interface business ElekSen.
British actor and tech lover Stephen Fry is the first to launch a Headcast-powered app, called Fry, on iOS. Fry is also a small investor in Headcast, holding a sub-one per cent stake in the company. Other investors are David Gilbert, former chief operating officer of Dixons, and Charles McGregor, founder of Fibernet, along with CEO Chris Chapman. Headcast’s total funding to date is £340,000, through two separate funding rounds.
Here’s how the technology works from the presenter side:
Headcast performers, such as Stephen Fry, simply speak into their tablet device in ‘self-animator’ mode to record the audio, their character auto-lipsyncs and the in-built technology then animates the character, faster than sending a Tweet. Extra animations, such as trademark gestures, shrugs and topical images within the background, add extra life to the Headcast and can be included at the touch of a button. The followers receive the Headcast within a minute and can interact through the use of polls to gauge fan opinion, tapping the character, and adding sequences into the Headcasts.
Following its iOS launch, with Fry as the first celebrity on board, Headcast’s platform is due to launch on Android in July.
Headcast CEO Chapman said Fry is “just the first of many” brands and celebrities that will be launching on the Headcast platform. “We are looking forward to shortly revealing many other global stars, in particular from the sport and music industries,” he said in a statement.Read More →
The Wall Street Journal is now reporting via Twitter that the rumored $1.1 billion cash acquisition deal for social blogging site Tumblr has been approved by Yahoo’s board of directors. The Tumblr acquisition was rumored last week, with a price tag reportedly north of $1 billion, which appears to be accurate if the WSJ’s sources are correct.
Recently, we’ve seen suggestions that there’s a vacuum developing at the top of Yahoo’s executive ladder, and there have been rumors recently of key people departing from the mobile team. It’s interesting that a lot of these departures are fairly recent, and could go some way to explaining why Tumblr’s may be willing to accept the $1.1 billion offer when sources have told TechCrunch that the amount was seen as “too low” by some within the company. Our sources also suggested that Tumblr may be looking at a fast-depleting cash pile, which again gives it good reason to sell.
Some users on Twitter are threatening to depart Tumblr if the Yahoo deal goes through, as Ingrid reported on Saturday. Overall, as she noted, visitor growth to the site appears to be flat or declining slightly in 2013, so combined those two facts might not bode well for Tumblr’s future user acquisition. But Instagram also faced an outcry of vocal users claiming they were going to shut down their accounts and depart the service for good when Facebook bought that company. In fact, users, engagement and reach for brands using Instagram have all gone up considerably since the acquisition.
Yahoo has been snapping up companies at a rapid pace this year, with what seems like new acquisitions every week over the past few months. One of the more high-profile purchases was the Summly buy, which brought the news summarization startup into the Yahoo fold for a reported price of around $30 million. The company’s 17-year old founder arguably made more headlines the the company itself, and many debated the merits of the acquisition.
More recently, the companies on Yahoo’s shopping list have been more under the radar, and in general the pattern looks like a strategic hiring spree, rather than a bunch of additions to Yahoo’s product portfolio. Tumblr would likely buck this trend, as it has a massive built-in audience, a full-featured, mature product and targets a relatively young demographic that so far isn’t all that well-represented at Yahoo.
The deal size is raising some eyebrows, since, as Fortune’s Dan Primack tweeted, Yahoo had only $1.2 billion cash on hand as of its most recent quarterly earnings, which makes an all-cash offer for Tumblr a lot more of a stretch than it would be for someone like Apple, or even Facebook, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in a mix of both cash and stock.
As of 3/31 Yahoo had just under $1.2b of actual cash on hand. And deal is $1.1b cash? Time to liquify that $1.8b of "short-term investments"—
(@danprimack) May 19, 2013
Developing…Read More →
Editor’s note: Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research and blogs at Techspressive. Each column looks at crowdfunded products that have either met or missed their funding goals. Follow him on Twitter @rossrubin.
An ancient and once-sacred bond between author and audience, reading and writing have become but two more tasks along with a multitude of other things that we do on a host of digital devices — watcing videos, listening to music, playing games, and really anything except using Facebook Home. Still, there are some for whom the intimate act of interface between pen and paper retains more magic than all the electrons powering all the devices in the world have not been able to recreate. For them, a trio of European crowdfunding projects have trotted out a range of products to improve both endpoints of analog document creation.
Whacked: LazyPete. Arrgh! Listen up, ye scurvy dogs, as I tell ye the legend of Lazy Pete, a pirate so wrapped up in his romance novels that he didn’t see a great white shark leap from the ocean to leave him with just one hand. ‘Tis in Lazy Pete’s honor that Philip Musche surely named his one-handed book reading contraption, which essentially puts one of those book stands that keep pages open on a beefy handle. Despite showing off the reading aid in nearly enough colors to cover the Seven Seas, Musche failed to capture enough crowdfunding booty, and the campaign ended with only £533 of the desired £30,000 treasure.
Backed: Idae. What the GoPro is to most digital cameras, Idae is to most pocket journals, even the durable Field Notes. The waterproof, tear-resistant notebook is just the thing for when you need to make that critical addition to your grocery shopping list in the middle of your next scuba dive, and a perfect match for your Fisher Space Pen. And if you needed any more proof of just how extreme it is, it has a hole for a carabiner.
That said, fire will consume it along with the haiku you were inspired to write on the slopes. And if you’re not planning to keep your notes around indefinitely, the notebook can be recycled. Developed in Milan and shipped to backers last month for between $20 and $30 depending on cover color, the 32-page thought preserver cleared its $7,200 funding goal with a couple of hundred dollars to spare, but you’d expect that kind of nail-biting excitement from such a tough guy.
Backed: Meteor Grip. The pencil has been thin enough to serve as a benchmark against which to compare high-tech electronics. While it’s comfortable for many, at least for short periods, it can be difficult to grasp for some. Receiving inspiration when his partner Zoë, a tattoo artist, began suffering hand pain in December 2011, Pontefract, UK-based Jai Dickerson Pierce developed the Meteor Grip. Few details are provided about what material is used to create the grip. Rather, the key to its uniqueness is being available in both right and left-handed versions. As the campaign page employs double negatives to claim, “No other manufacturer produces an ergonomic hand grip that is not ambidextrous.”
That said, the campaign is not above covering a spectrum of uses, claiming that the product is useful as a novelty gift while also proclaiming that it is “changing the writing experience forever.” Not yet changed for kiddies, though, as a potential meteorite grip is for now on the drawing board. With a bit over three weeks left to go, the Meteor Grip has collected about a quarter of its humble £875 goal. Seven pounds will marry your love of astronomy with hatred of thin writing tools, and ten pounds can get one for you as well as the cramping tattoo artist in your life as soon as this month.Read More →
Because of Google I/O, this was a momentous week for those of us who are watching the rapid transition that is taking place from desktop computing to mobile, and particularly for those focused on mobile-social as I am because of my job at just.me. Here is my take on what we just witnessed.
Standalone Hangouts. Google announced at its I/O event that Hangouts was to be launched as a separate app from Google Plus, taking personal conversations out from the G+ app and putting them into their own space.
Facebook Home problems. AT&T was reported to have decided to discontinue distribution of the HTC First – the Facebook Home Android phone – due to lack of sales. This comes on the back of publicity pointing to a large number of one-star reviews for the software on the Google Play store.
What is at stake?
There are many common themes and questions that underpin the launch and evolution of Hangouts as a separate app and previously led to the decision to launch the Facebook Home product. These products represent two very similar answers to a common question. The primary question is who will users look to to enable their social communications needs on mobile devices?
To set the context for an analysis let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room that is partially driving these decisions.
Mobile Messaging is rapidly becoming the primary way users engage socially on mobile. Figures released this week imply more than 41 billion messages a day are now being delivered via various “Over the Top” (OTT) messaging apps.
Phones were created as social tools. Smartphones are especially good at being social, integrating text, voice, video and images in an endless number of apps that can serve a user’s needs, and all without the need for a web-based social network.
Users are able to communicate with anybody in their address book anywhere in the world with almost any content mix at any time. This has been compelling to users and has driven the growth of apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, KakaoTalk and some other smaller competitors. Almost 750 million users out of a smartphone population of 1.2 billion are already using these apps.
If you are Google, Facebook or almost any other major provider of social communications platforms originally developed for the web, this move to mobile messaging represents a considerable challenge.
Similar challenges exist from media-sharing apps. As users flock to Vine, Snapchat and, previously, Instagram, the social platforms are challenged to continue to be the primary provider of these services to the growing army of smartphone users.
The other core feature of Facebook and Google+, publishing to an audience for all or many to see, are increasingly becoming activities only a few engage in on mobile — and certainly less often than was the case on the web.
What Is A Platform Provider To Do?
If we look out a few years there is really only one product approach available.
That is to build single apps that embrace and extend the current features of the messaging market leaders — hoping to win users over from WhatsApp, LINE, KakaoTalk and WeChat — while also integrating the features of media sharing, private memory collection and publishing into single unified experiences.
Google and Facebook both seem to be pursuing this approach.
Breaking out Hangouts and going after the messaging audience with enhanced features makes sense. But Google also showed Google Now and Voice Search as possible points of integration for all of its mobile-social features. It’s early days here, but Android clearly wants to find a point of integration for all the users’ needs.
Facebook, with Home, revealed its integrated approach, while under the hood it has Messenger, Camera, Pages and the full Facebook app. Poor as Home’s reception has been, Facebook will certainly continue to deepen and refine its integration efforts and its attempt to be the primary UI a user needs on a smartphone.
Vulnerabilities And Strengths Of Mobile-First Companies
WhatsApp and its clones can be thought of as mobile-first companies. Their apps sit on top of the smartphone, particularly the mobile address book, and just help a user chat to their friends, family or colleagues. Their success is their simplicity and the singular purpose they have addressed.
Insofar as they are vulnerable, it is due to being very narrowly focused on brief “in the moment” conversations in the form of a chat or instant messaging UI. They have added the ability to include media in those conversations, and some voice-calling abilities. But their goal is really momentary interactions with individuals or groups. Their requirement to have both sides of the conversation install the app is another liability.
Human beings have broader needs that are currently served by other single-use apps. Evernote for private memories, email for longer more enduring interactions, social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter for public statements of all kinds and Path or Instagram for photo sharing. This is a little like the era of Windows before Outlook when apps tended to do only one thing and users used many apps.
Can Web Companies Beat Mobile-First Companies?
These recent moves by Facebook and Google represent early moves by the web-era companies to react to the successes of the mobile-first messengers. They certainly do not represent end points in any way, impressive as they are. And there is plenty of time for the mobile messaging apps to respond by offering a broader range of social features.
There are already clues to the future – provided by users. The continuing use of email on mobile (trillions of messages in 2013) indicates that users are not entirely catered for by the chat-centric conversational UI. The growth of Vine and Snapchat (single-feature based as they are) indicate not all media-sharing needs are catered for by these apps. There is a lot still to play for.
If we look five years out, it is likely that the iOS and Android core will support a far more integrated set of messaging tools that cater for many of the needs we use single-use apps for today.
Message saving for private use, shared messaging to individuals or groups, media sharing, video and voice messaging (both synchronous and asynchronous), Timelines to look back and recall what we did in the past. These will all be features of the operating system.
As mobile moves from its Windows 3.1 — single-use apps — era to its more integrated future, apps that used to stand alone will have their features sucked into the operating system. Google and Apple have an advantage here of course as they own the operating system.
The Future Is Being Fought Over Now
In that sense the current product focus – decisions about what features to separate into single apps, and how to integrate those into a unified UI all represent the first moves in defining who wins.
Facebook has Messenger, Camera, Pages and its primary app with Home as an integration point.
Google has Talk, Contacts, Mail, Plus, Hangouts perhaps with Now as a point of integration.
Apple is a little behind but has iMessage, FaceTime, Photostream, Mail and Contacts. iOS itself may be the point of integration.
WhatsApp, LINE, KakaoTalk, WeChat and the others will need to move beyond the chat-centric user interface into a broader set of asynchronous messaging features, and a new set of social features, probably with Timeline support, in order to stay ahead of the curve.
The End Of Social Networks And The Start Of A New Era?
The ground has been set for a fascinating next few years as the web-based social platforms seek to own mobile-social messaging and the mobile messaging apps seek to extend into more fully integrated social features.
As of this moment the mobile-first apps have the lead measured by number of users and levels of engagement. To keep it they will need to continue to innovate.
The human race is already social, and the smartphone has everything needed to enable them to act on their social needs. As the growth of OTT messaging and media sharing shows, a user’s social needs are being met with no need for a social network.
In this mobile-social world the only question is, whose software will we all use to enable human social activities? That is what this week was all about.Read More →
Did Google’s conference succeed? It launched dozens of products and services in its 205 minute keynote, but did the world understand them? I saw some of the smartest journalists in technology struggling to handle the information density. But what’s the alternative? Break it up across multiple days, or even multiple conferences? Google’s breadth presents it with a challenge unique among the tech giants.
Apple? Its launches center around a discrete set of devices. That’s why WWDC works. There might be one radically new product, but then just a set of iterations on what we already know. The screen is bigger, the tablet is thinner, the software gets a new sheen. And since Apple is all about hardware you need to touch to believe, it has to do it all in-person. Journalists and pundits can easily digest the news and offer their insights to the world.
Facebook? It prefers the rolling thunder approach that works because it’s mostly a software company. Releasing things when they’re ready rather than waiting months for an event embodies its “move fast and break things” ideal. It reaches out to journalists almost daily about new updates. When it has something big, it throws a laser-focused, dedicated event like it did this year for content-specific news feeds, Graph Search, and Home. Even when it threw its last f8 developer conference 20 months ago, it kept it tight to just Timeline and Open Graph. The media could wrap its head around the social network’s plans.
Those conferences serve their purposes because they align with the identities of producers. Some see Microsoft’s events as a fragmented mess as they too embody their producer. Microsost has Build for Windows and developers, TechEd for enterprise, a partner conference, a management summit, and a whole event for SharePoint. By splitting them all up, it never feels like there’s one day where Microsoft rules the world.
But Google has its own identity and it’s causing I/O growing pains. The conference certainly captures the spotlight. The problem is that Google’s vast ambitions have left I/O bursting at the seams. This year’s mega-keynote tried to combine search, maps, Google+, YouTube, Google Now, Google Play, music, games, Chrome, Android, and a new phone. And that was just the consumer facing stuff! Then there were a huge set of developer announcements like a native client for C++, location APIs, game services APIs, cloud messaging for notifications, and a suite of mobile app building tools called Android Studio.
Did you watch the keynote? If so, did you remember all these things? Did you have time to read insightful analysis about them? Did journalists even have the bandwidth to write intelligently about it all? It could take a while to unpack everything from I/O. I know I have at least five stories I want to write. And inevitably things will fall through the cracks as a new week will bring new news from elsewhere.
And it’s only going to get more intense. Google employees I’ve talked to say Larry Page is really pushing his 10X innovation mantra and speedier product cycles. They explain that Google could have saved some stuff for another conference later this year, but by then it’ll already have whole slew of new things ready to show off. Plus, developers and futurists might not be willing to come from around the world for two events a year.
The single, 3+ hour keynote with no intermission did symbolized Google’s big theme of unification. Google wants to show it isn’t just a grab bag of different products. They all piggy-back on each other. Android ties mobile together. Google+ ties people together no matter what other Google products they’re using.
But I/O may be too dense and rich. Like a chunk of chocolate fudge, it overwhelms the senses and leaves you struggling to chew up Google’s vision. It was so mind-boggling it put Wired’s Mat Honan into a psychedelic trance.
The three days of developer sessions that followed the keynote were a success, in that they helped developers develop. But perhaps splitting the keynote into two bite-size sessions would make it all easier to swallow. One consumer keynote (Search, Maps, Google+, Hangouts, Music, phone) and one developer keynote (Android, Chrome, APIs, developer tools). They could be split across two days. Alternatively, it could be one keynote with announcements sorted into these two categories with an intermission in the middle. Either would go a long way to making I/O more comprehensible.
But for now, sticking with a single, epic conference may be the best route for Google to create momentum, convey unification, bring its community together, and impress the globe. Google is determined to innovate faster and deliver the future. The duty falls on us to keep up.Read More →
CrowdOptic, a startup with technology for identifying where people are pointing their smartphone cameras, has raised another $1 million in funding.
When I’ve spoken to the team in the past, they’ve emphasized the ways this could be used to create new types of social interactions — if people are attending a live event and pointing their cameras at the same thing, they can start chatting and sharing content. However, the company’s website highlights a number of use cases, including “focus-aware” advertising, analytics, news reporting, social TV (live attendees can provide content to people watching at home), and security.
CEO and co-founder Jon Fisher said that customers include Australia- and New Zealand-based ticketing company Ticketek (CrowdOptic built the company’s Friend Spotter app for finding your Facebook friends in a stadium, which you can see in the screenshot above) and Fora.tv (which used CrowdOptic to share authenticated, eyewitness content from the presidential debates).
The new funding comes from CrowdOptic’s existing investors, including Silicon Valley Bank, tech legend Ray Lane, and Fisher himself. Fisher also said that CrowdOptic recently celebrated its second quarter of profitability. The company has now raised a total of $3.5 million.
By the way, Fisher was previously CEO of Bharosa, NetClerk, and AutoReach, but he isn’t the only team member with an impressive résumé — COO Jim Kovach has worked at other startups, he has a medical degree and a law degree, and he was a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.Read More →
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo Resigns As Director Of Twitter U.K. After TweetDeck Dissolves As Standalone Business
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has quit his position as a U.K. director of the company, days after Twitter subsidiary TweetDeck was dissolved as a separate U.K. business by business registrar Companies House, according to Sky News. We’ve reached out to Twitter for confirmation and comment and will update this story with any response.
Costolo stepping back from the U.K. directorship role appears related to the dissolution of TweetDeck: a U.K. startup which Twitter acquired in May 2011 for a price-tag that we reported as $40 million. Late last year TweetDeck failed to file U.K. accounts with Companies House, and continued failure to file ultimately led to the dissolution of the company as a separate entity earlier this month, on May 7.
TweetDeck’s failure to file accounts was part of a process to wind up its status as a separate corporate entity to its parent company. Earlier this month a Twitter spokesperson told the Guardian: “TweetDeck the product continues to thrive as part of Twitter, but the old company has been dormant for some time, with no outstanding liabilities; hence our agreement with the move to dissolve it.”
Once TweetDeck became a part of Twitter, with product development and other business processes moving in-house, there was no longer a need for it to exist as a standalone business in the U.K. It’s likely, therefore, that that shift also explains Costolo stepping back from his U.K. director role. His resignation took place on May 9, according to Sky News.
The news organisation reports that Costolo’s position has been replaced by a Dublin-based chartered accountant, Laurence O’Brien. That looks like a clear sign that Twitter’s main order of business in the U.K. is now minimising its tax liability, with the development that was associated with TweetDeck now rolled into its main business. The other two Twitter U.K. directors, Alex Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel and head of trust and policy, and chief operating officer, Ali Rowghani, remain in post.
Despite TweetDeck’s corporate dissolution and Costolo stepping back from his U.K. directorship there’s little doubt that Twitter remains committed to the product. Although it has recently shut down AIR-based versions of the Twitter client and shuttered mobile apps, it is focusing on developing TweetDeck’s web-based apps. Back in March, Twitter noted that the TweetDeck team has doubled in size over the past six months.
Sky News notes that Twitter controls its U.K. firm through an Irish subsidiary known as Twitter International Company Ltd. And while Twitter has been expanding its staff headcount in its London and Dublin offices this headcount push is to build a multinational sales team for Europe, rather than being product development related.Read More →