For years, the iPhone has carried a small etching on the back that says ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’
It’s fueled the stereotype that China is the world’s factory, but hasn’t had a flexible enough education system to produce R&D talent that can also design world-class products for a global audience.
But that’s a stereotype that isn’t exactly true anymore.
A small group of companies — both small, bootstrapped app startups and multi-billion dollar giants like Tencent — are showing that they can design apps or higher-end hardware with international appeal.
Tencent, one of the country’s gargantuan Internet powers with a market cap of $72 billion dollars, often likes to point out the international reach of its messaging app Weixin or WeChat. That app has blossomed to more than 190 million monthly active users over the past year and with about 40 million of registered users outside of China.
“I’m very glad to see the internationalization of Tencent,” said the company’s CEO Pony Ma this month at the GMIC conference in Beijing. He later added, “The manufacturing sector in China went globalized and the service industry can be internationalized as well…. It’s difficult, but if we can make it, it would be a revolution.”
Interestingly enough, WeChat’s growth abroad is being fueled by the Chinese diaspora — immigrants are taking WeChat with them to stay in touch with their families back home, according to app-tracking services like Onavo. They base this hypothesis on the correlation of WeChat active usage with that of other Chinese-language apps.
Younger Chinese startups are also building internationally as well. I met a Shanghai-based startup called Intsig two weeks ago that has a business card scanning app called Camcard with 50 million registered users and 10 million monthly actives, with half of them outside of China.
“A lot of people are surprised when they find out we’re a Chinese company,” said Louisa Cao, who heads marketing for the company. It helps that exchanging business cards is much more ritualized and formal in China and Japan than it is in the West, so that gives startups in Asia a competitive edge on understanding what consumers want in a product in this area. Similarly, messaging apps out of Asia like Line, Kakao and WeChat are leading the way, with Western startups like Path arguably borrowing some of their strategies like stickers.
Blux, another company out of Xian, the second-tier Chinese city that’s home to the famous army of Terra Cotta warriors, has built a higher-end photo app called Blux Camera that’s been featured by Apple more than 100 times on the iTunes homepage for global audiences. As the cost advantages that China has over Western markets narrows, the co-founder Jo Yin told me that it now can make economic sense to run global market-facing startups outside of the traditional hubs of Beijing and Shanghai (as they’ve become too expensive).
One of the reasons that all of these startups can built products for foreign audiences is because they’ve been trained either at Western universities or through working for multi-nationals. Some are run by “sea turtles” or Chinese who have returned home after years of working or studying abroad. Intsig’s CEO Michael Zhen spent years at Motorola where he picked up ideas on how to manage teams and think globally.
It’s also helped that the Chinese government has gone far in protecting and nurturing domestic technology companies and startups, a trend which continues with the government’s recent investment into a GPS alternative called Beidou and an Ubuntu-based OS that would help Chinese firms move off Western software platforms. Now that companies like Tencent have reached a certain prowess in domestic markets, they can look outwards.
To be fair, achieving global reach is something only a small fraction of local Chinese startups can do. It requires an international fluency; founders have to understand what kind of design and marketing attracts foreigners. Chinese web services can seem noisy and busy; they can be filled with more links and text as Mandarin characters are complicated to create on QWERTY keyboards.
There are even a few U.S. growth-stage companies that haven’t been dissuaded by Google’s very public about-face on the Chinese market and are hiring design and developer talent locally. Evernote recently launched a China-focused version of its enterprise service and they very intentionally took on local hires to develop product.
“It’s easy to sell your products everywhere. But when we say we want to be a global company, it’s because we want to make our products everywhere,” said Evernote CEO Phil Libin, when he launched Evernote for Business locally in China.
He went on to say that China’s copycat reputation is unfair.
“Chinese companies don’t have a good reputation for innovation in the West. The reputation that Chinese companies have is that they don’t really innovate. They just copy and I don’t think this reputation is right. It’s not a problem that Chinese companies copy. It’s that everyone copies. Chinese companies don’t just copy. They copy and improve. Copy and improve is what everyone does everywhere. That’s what Apple does. That’s what Microsoft does. That’s what Facebook does. Very few companies start with a first-of-a-kind idea.”
Indeed, probably the most interesting company to watch as it expands globally is Xiaomi, which did just that. They took Android and improved upon it.
They’re probably the best example of how China is moving up the value-chain from low-cost manufacturing into high-end design.
Just three years afters being founded, the company is on track to do $4.5 billion in handset and accessory sales. Some have made the metaphor that Xiaomi is the “Apple of Android” in that it’s an integrated hardware and software maker that has built its own special skin of Android and sells high-end hardware at or around the cost of materials. They compete head-to-head against Samsung in mainland China, and according to third-party mobile app analytic services like Umeng, they’re in second place.
Although Xiaomi will only publicly talk about its plans to sell handsets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, a source close to the company says it’s been on the lookout for a general manager that could bring their Android skin, the MIUI, to North American audiences.
They’ve been able to develop a rabid fan base locally in China because they allow people to participate in the designing of the phone by requesting features. Internally, they have small teams of engineers, product managers and designers that work alongside each other on a very fast cycle. They release a new version of the MIUI every week.
But they don’t know if the model will translate abroad yet. Chinese consumers are very comfortable with paying for the full-cost of the phones upfront and buying devices online instead of through brick-and-mortar stores.
“We don’t know how developed regions like Taiwan and Hong Kong will accept products like Xiaomi,” said co-founder Lin Bin in an interview. “Greater China is just one step beyond mainland China.”Read More →
Another photo sharing app bites the dust? Or is something with promise getting another chance? Either way you look at it, betaworks is adding more technology and team members to its arsenal, as photo sharing app Piictu has announced that the team will “join forces” with a betaworks company that has yet to launch.
Piictu had raised $1.73 million in seed funding, yet never really took off. The app allowed you to share photos with captions, but Piictu wanted to focus on letting photos start conversations, rather than sit in a stream waiting for likes. The app’s approach was to get you to share photos in context of what you were doing.
Here’s what the Piictu team shared today, including instructions on how to get your photos out of the service. You’ll have until June 7th to do so:
Piictu is joining Kandu (a Betaworks company)!
We’re excited to announce that Piictu is joining forces with Kandu – “a Betaworks company” that shares our vision and ideals of how technology is a catalyst for a better and richer world. Together we will continue to build and bring users great products and experiences for a brighter future.
Obviously, this news doesn’t come without hardship. Unfortunately, the Piictu app will no longer be available. The important thing: You will not lose any of your photos and we trust you will reconnect with all your piictu-friends on other networks like tumblr, kik, twitter and instagram – some of our fave.
Over the past two years we’ve had the opportunity of supporting and sharing unique moments of our lives in pictures. Piictu was built on the idea that “the change in use of photography” is opening new opportunities to communicate and interact as humans. We’ve seen this stand true and flourish not only on piictu, but on other networks as well.
On Friday May 31st, the piictu app will no longer be available. You’ll be able to download your photos until Friday June 7th by following the instructions here
From the entire team we want to thank you for the great energy, trust and support you have brought to the community and we look forward to bringing you more fun, exciting and heartfelt products in the future.
No terms were made available, but we’ve reached out to betaworks for comment. However, this does feel like a stay of execution for an app that never took off.
Again, it’s not known what Kandu is exactly, but we assume that it will have something to do with photography. Another betaworks product, Giphy, has been moving along quickly to provide a home for all of those awesome animated GIFs that we like to share.
During TechCrunch Disrupt, betaworks CEO John Borthwick discussed his vision for the company, calling it a “puzzle.” What Borthwick and team are doing is bringing together the most useful parts of services, be it Digg or an eventual Google Reader replacement, and creating a suite with them. How it will all look once it fits together is unknown, but betaworks is on a bit of a roll after launching its game Dots recently.Read More →
You remember Snow Fall, don’t you? It was that awesome interactive reporting piece by The New York Times that everyone talked about for a week.
It was called “the future of online journalism.” It was praised as a way for The New York Times to courageously battle back against online upstarts like Buzzfeed and their non-serious cat spreads. Or to not change the company’s fortunes at all.
The New York Times spent months and had an entire team working on the creation of Snow Fall, and it shows. But what if I told you that you could recreate the same interactive experience in just about an hour? You’d like that, wouldn’t you?
Well, The New York Times wouldn’t.
He recreated the Snow Fall piece using Scroll Kit to show that you didn’t need an army of developers or designers to create the same type of interactive storytelling. In fact, the tools exist today to build other compelling narratives that take advantage of the combination of text, and video, and images.
To show how easy it was, Brown recorded a video of the process, showing how a user could create the same type of experience in under an hour. And he uploaded it to YouTube, and posted it to the Scroll Kit website. There, he introduced it this way:
“The NYT spent hundreads of hours hand-coding ‘Snow Fall.’ We made a replica in an hour.”
The video lived there for about a month, Brown tells me, before receiving a letter from The New York Times legal team, demanding that the video be taken down. After consulting with Scroll Kit’s legal counsel, the team complied with the takedown request, kind of. They actually set the video to private on YouTube so that no one could see it.
But they kept the line about making a replica of Snow Fall on the website. Because, well, it was true.
It wasn’t long before another C&D nastygram from The New York Times arrived, demanding that they not only delete the video from YouTube — which they eventually did — but that they remove any reference to The New York Times from their website.
From Scroll Kit’s perspective, the video was only meant as a way to instruct others about how easy it can be to build a compelling interactive experience, not as a way to aid and abet terrorism copyright infringement.
Brown said the Scroll Kit team was “super excited” to see Snow Fall released and the amazing reception to it. They had been been working on their tools for longer than the NY Times had been working on Snow Fall, and saw it as a validation of their startup. But at the same time, it also represented the inequality between publications that can afford to create interactive stories and those that can’t.
“It’s become a symbol of the potential of journalism, but also the barrier to how something like that could be made,” Brown told me.
If the knock against Snow Fall was that only someplace like The New York Times can afford to create something like that, Brown believes Scroll Kit is the tool that would get costs down enough for smaller organizations and independents to enable a whole new set of unique web experiences.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the legal resources to fight The New York Times — Brown admits that much. But for now, the tiny startup is holding fast and keeping The New York Times reference on its website, and have told the Grey Lady as much.
Unfortunately, she is not amused. She is offended! Peep her legal team’s most recent response, from Senior Counsel Richard Samson:
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Dear Mr. Brown:
We are offended by the fact that you are promoting your tool, as a way to quickly replicate copyright-protected content owned by The New York Times Company. It also seems strange to me that you would defend your right to boast about how quickly you were able to commit copyright infringement:
The NYT spent hundreds of hours hand-coding “Snow Fall” We made a replica in an hour.
If you wouldn’t mind using another publication to advertise your infringement tool, we’d appreciate it.
Editor’s note: Kakul Srivastava is CEO and co-founder of Tomfoolery, Inc. She was General Manager for Flickr from 2004 – 2009 and helped the product grow from 37,000 users to over 60 million. Simon Batistoni is VP of Platform and co-founder of Tomfoolery, Inc. He joined Flickr in 2006 as the engineering lead for internationalization.
People can’t help but look at the Tumblr acquisition through a lens colored by the many examples of large, public (and often screwed-up) tech acquisitions by Yahoo and others — Marissa even refers to it in her blog post announcing the deal.
As leaders who helped to guide the Flickr team in its early history at Yahoo!, we had front-row seats as Flickr was (sometimes painfully) integrated with the larger Yahoo! organization. Despite this pain, we believe that Flickr has come a long way as part of Yahoo!, and yesterday’s announcement of a major redesign and refocus is a testament to the continued excellence of the core Flickr team.
Kakul, a product/business professional, joined Flickr just as the ink dried on the acquisition deal. She represented Flickr’s needs through painful acquisition-integration check-ins and figured out how (and if) any of Flickr’s roadmap needed to change based on Yahoo!’s larger corporate needs. Simon, a hacker/engineer, was responsible for creating the translation technology and internationalization infrastructure that allowed Flickr to begin serving customers in Yahoo!’s overseas markets.
Yahoo! is on an upswing — at least in hype — and hope is rampant.
The advertising powerhouse has acquired fast-growing sites featuring rich-media content and extremely passionate communities.
There are ardent reassurances that independent growth will be nurtured.
Both products are missing “e”s in their names.
So as former Flickr employees, here is some practical advice from us to our friends at Tumblr, humbly shared:
Don’t pretend it’s not happening or that it doesn’t matter.
Regardless of who’s involved, acquisitions always make communities nervous, if only because they represent significant change. For some people, an acquisition can feel almost like a betrayal, and some Tumblr community members will be looking for any reason to justify their distrust of the situation.
The more honest you can be about the direction you’re taking and the reasons behind it, the better. Give your members a means to easily communicate back to you — the Flickr Forum, while sometimes contentious, has always been a great bellwether of how the community feels, as well as an opportunity for the team to explain and (hopefully) reassure.
Open discussions can be exhausting to manage, but they’re often more rewarding (and instill more confidence in your community) than pronouncements with no outlet for feedback. Avoid reassuring platitudes that gloss over the issues – if putting ads on the Dashboard will allow you to reach a goal of tripling annual revenue, it’s better to say so plainly. Honesty is appreciated by most communities, even if the truth is unpleasant.
Don’t forget you’re awesome.
Merging your company culture with another is a bit like combining a Trifle and a Tiramisu into a single dessert, layer by layer — hard work, probably messy, and it might taste a bit weird for a while. Losing focus on how you all work together can make the difficult moments seem worse than they really are.
Don’t forget that your culture isn’t just important to you — it’s important to Yahoo! too. Over the years, Flickr had many opportunities to influence the wider culture at Yahoo! including:
Innovative approaches to database sharding, website localization and geographic data handling which were adopted by other teams, and informed company-wide initiatives.
A highly productive team culture focussed around continuous deployment, which influenced a general trend towards faster development of many Yahoo! products.
Faceball, one of many ongoing experiments in office clowning, which became something of an official Yahoo! “sport,” and was even played live onstage by senior company management.
Tumblr can set new precedents on how to join and influence Yahoo!’s culture and management. Equally importantly, a truly strong product is usually the result of the strong, connected team behind it. When acquisitions wither on the vine, it’s often a symptom of that team having dispersed over time, taking too much knowledge and culture with them.
However, the magic that really binds a team is larger than any one individual and can persist through multiple “generations” of people, provided everybody feels ownership of it. Ensure that new team members understand the value of the culture you’ve built, and the history that led you from being an experimental blog engine to a 400-million-user powerhouse.
At Flickr, we had several traditions to aid in ensuring that history and culture were passed along. When veteran members left the team, they were asked to provide a “last lecture,” summarizing the most important things they knew, and the lessons they’d learned at Flickr. Equally, new employees spent time with managers from each department during their first week on the job, learning more about how the team operated, the product philosophy, and the engineering infrastructure that made it all work. Every new Flickr team member was also encouraged to spend a day answering member help questions, which allowed everyone to understand how to communicate with the community, and the common problems they had with using the product.
Finally, the importance of goofing around was also underscored by regular bouts of spontaneous dancing, foam-dart wars and liberal posting of lolcats on the walls.
Plan for the Bear Hug.
Yahoo is a friendly place — and everyone will want to greet the new neighbors. Everyone will want to figure how they can work better with you. Everyone will have ideas about what Tumblr can do to support their property. By and large, these meetings come from a genuine desire to be a better partner, but they can take time and focus away from your core mission and slow the whole team down. Sometimes too much of this “love” can be overwhelming, and at times it definitely led the Flickr team to handle the overtures less than gracefully. In some cases, this led to relationship management headaches for years.
Allocate a “first point of contact” to triage the ideas and opportunities that come your way. Filtering in this way will allow you to seize the best opportunities and execute well on them, without draining your resources trying to handle too much. And remember that, while the occasional approach will be from someone furthering an agenda of their own, most folks are trying to help both Yahoo! and Tumblr get better. Even if their approach is clumsy, they mean well.
Tumblr has promised to continue executing on its own roadmap, and right now that’s essential. But Yahoo! wants 1+1 to equal 5 (or even 15), not just 2. Back when Flickr was acquired, it seemed everyone was thinking about what the “Flickrization of Yahoo” might mean — except for the team at Flickr. We just wanted to keep Flickr as “Flickrized” as we could. In our case, we missed out on some promising avenues for product improvement and growth.
Don’t forget to leverage what Yahoo! can really add to your business. Whether it’s 24-hour datacenter support, the world’s largest Hadoop cluster, international legal expertise or better Tumblr schwag, you now have access to the resources of a large company that wants you to succeed. Relying on these resources whenever you can will free you up to focus on the things — your core team and your product — that you’re truly the experts on.
Know how deep the rabbit hole goes.
For both parties to really benefit from the acquisition, Tumblr will need to embrace certain Yahoo! technologies and infrastructure, but sometimes a successful integration can be much more complex than it initially seems. Will it require that you host Tumblr in Yahoo! datacenters? Perhaps you’ll also need to start using Yahoo! IDs or introduce new features to comply with foreign laws? When large, complex “sub-problems” crop up halfway through a project, the knock-on effects can cost months of time to address.
Make sure you’re always asking questions and scoping out the entire landscape – a large company like Yahoo! has some intrinsic challenges and approaches that will be unfamiliar, and you need to be ready to embrace and work through them. Being a part of Yahoo! will subtly change a few things about how you do business.
You’re a bigger target for hackers hoping to get access to Yahoo! data, or to “punish” Yahoo! for a mistake that might have nothing to do with you.
You’re a bigger target for opportunists like patent trolls looking for a quick payout from an “Internet giant”
Yahoo! is a multinational company with offices in many countries — the legal landscape in which you operate will likely change as a result.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for a “gut check” even if you feel like you’re asking a silly question. It’s better to spend 20 minutes before you start ensuring that your security measures are adequate, or you’re legally compliant, versus having to significantly rework a project after you thought it was finished.
We are still passionate advocates of Flickr, we use Yahoo! Mail, and run our company blog on Tumblr. We are thrilled about these marriages and can’t wait for you all to show us how well it can be done.Read More →
Ditto, a startup that helps users virtually try on different pairs of eyeglasses, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fight a big threat — the company says it’s being sued by 1-800-CONTACTS and another company called Lennon Imaging Technology.
Ditto’s technology allows users to create webcam recordings of their faces, which they then use to see how different designer glasses will look with their facial shape and size. Both Lennon Imaging and 1-800-CONTACTS are claiming that this technology infringes their own patents. But Ditto’s campaign describes them as “patent troll” lawsuits — Lennon is a non-practicing company, meaning that it doesn’t have a product or service of its own, and Ditto co-founder and CEO Kate Endress said 1-800-CONTACTS (which is owned by WellPoint) didn’t purchase the patent in question until after the company’s CEO visited the Ditto website.
1-800-CONTACTS did not respond when I emailed for comment. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published its own blog post in support of Ditto saying that 1-800-CONTACTS has “a long record of using the courts to bully its competitors.” That prompted a complaint from the company’s lawyer saying that 1-800-CONTACTS is not a patent troll. The EFF writes:
Sure, the company is not a classic patent troll — a shell company that does nothing but buy patents and sue—but it’s little better. Patent trolls generally want to use the club of litigation to extort licensing fees. But all indications are that 1-800-CONTACTS isn’t interested in a license from Ditto. Rather, it wants to destroy the competition.
Indeed, Endress said she’s in a tough spot, where “we cannot afford to win” — in other words, the company doesn’t have enough money to defend itself in court, and even though Ditto has raised venture funding, the threat of litigation scares off any additional investment. The company has already had to lay off three engineers, Endress said.
That’s why the company has turned to Indiegogo to fund its legal efforts. (Endress said the money will only go towards legal costs.) So far, it has raised about $5,700 of its $30,000 goal. However, the campaign page states that Ditto is looking at $30,000 to $100,000 in legal fees over the next three to six months (and potentially much more afterwards), so I’m guessing Ditto could use a lot more help if possible.
Update: A 1-800-CONTACTS spokesperson just sent me the following statement:
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1-800 CONTACTS has a history putting the consumer first by promoting competition. In fact, 1-800 CONTACTS spent years working in concert with consumer advocacy groups to support the passage of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act. This legislation was passed by Congress and gives all Americans the right to their contact lens prescription so they can choose where to purchase contact lenses. 1-800 CONTACTS also compelled the largest contact lens manufacturers to sell to Internet retailers. Both efforts were successful and led to a more open and competitive market that has benefitted numerous online competitors and ultimately, millions of consumers.
As a leading vision retailer, 1-800 CONTACTS recognized the need to improve the online purchasing options for eyeglasses and began developing an enhanced virtual try on system that would vastly improve the consumer experience. As part of our due diligence when developing our virtual try on technology, we investigated the existing rights in this space, as is standard practice. The granted patent that 1-800 CONTACTS purchased in 2012 entitled “Interactive try-on platform for eyeglasses” was filed in 2001 and granted in 2006. Like most other companies operating a business that depends on technology, 1-800 CONTACTS purchased this patent for a reason – the patent covered what the business was doing so the patent either needed to be licensed or purchased. Ditto could have licensed or purchased the same patent, but chose to ignore it and launched their website with an infringing virtual try on feature anyway.
1-800 CONTACTS began working on our virtual try on system for Glasses.com long before Ditto was formed as a company. Glasses.com had a working demonstration of its more robust 3D virtual try on system running in 2011 – before Ditto launched its website in April 2012. Members of the 1-800 CONTACTS team visited Ditto’s website to try the virtual try on technology when it launched. Viewing competing products that are on the market is not unusual, and is in fact a responsible business practice.
1-800 CONTACTS has offered to discuss an amicable resolution to the lawsuit through licensing or other options, but instead of responding to our offer, Ditto has spent time and energy engaging in online discussions and issuing an inaccurate and misleading press release.
Ditto has found its strongest supporter in the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who has been quoted multiple times in blog articles and in Ditto’s press release. What Ditto and the EFF failed to disclose is that three members of the advisory board at the Electronic Frontier Foundation all work for Durie Tangri – the same law firm representing Ditto in this case. It is disappointing that the EFF concealed this inherent bias from the public, instead holding itself out as an impartial observer.
1-800 CONTACTS will launch our virtual try on technology next month, providing an enhanced consumer shopping experience. Our approach has taken longer to bring to market, as we developed a revolutionary virtual try on system customized for the iPad. We were honored to present our ground-breaking technology at TED in February, where we also demonstrated the app 1,650 times on 100 iPads.
Hoping To Ride The Crowdfunding Wave, Celery Lets Sellers Accept Pre-Orders, Charge When Products Ready To Ship
Airbrite, a Y Combinator-backed e-commerce startup, is debuting its first product today called Celery (its name a play on the world “sell”). Celery is designed to be a “pre-commerce” store builder – or, in other words, it allows anyone to start selling ahead of having a product to ship. That means sellers can start taking credit cards now, then charge when their product is ready to launch. And in case you couldn’t figure it out by that description, Airbrite is hoping the product will be a hit with those raising funds using crowdfunding.
In fact, says Airbrite co-founder Chris Tsai, the company has already seen some traction with crowdfunders during its private beta, which rolled out to hundreds of users this March. But, he clarifies, Celery isn’t just designed for those merchants – it’s for anyone in any business who needs to enable pre-commerce on any platform.
Tsai says the product itself was inspired by the shift the team saw happening in commerce – that sellers want to establish more personal connections with buyers, and vice versa. But to do so, they need tools that give them more flexibility. ”E-commerce is kind of like blogging was five years ago. It was really challenging to get a good CMS up without a serious backend developer, then came things like Tumblr and Blogger which made it really easy for anybody to get a blog up and running,” Tsai explains.
“It’s really hard today to get an e-commerce storefront that flexible and available anywhere,” he continues. “We want to make it easy to embed an e-commerce touchpoint wherever you are – whether it’s your website, your mobile app, on Facebook, or even on Google Glass.”
In addition to Tsai, who previously led mobile commerce initiatives for Groupon overseas, Celery’s founding team includes Brian Nguyen, whose background is in social commerce, and Peter Shih, a key developer on LinkedIn’s iPhone development team, who also worked at Foursquare. Their diversity of experience with social, commerce, and multiple platforms helps to inform their decisions as to how to proceed with Celery.
During their time in Y Combinator, the company was building its API and e-commerce platform, though originally with more emphasis on their support for mobile.
Celery is actually built on top of Stripe, which makes it similar to newly launched MoonClerk, another e-commerce startup whose focus is on one-time and recurring payments. But it also competes in the broader e-commerce space with giants like PayPal and Google, as well as startups aiming to simplify the experience including Ribbon, Chirpify, Soldsie, Sellfy, Gumroad, and more.
Stripe enables Celery’s flexible payment processing, but Celery’s platform also allows for pre-order management, pre-order customer service, tracking via analytics, plus support for coupons, emails to customers, and more – the whole checkout layer on top of payments.
The company charges a 2 percent commission on transactions, in addition to Stripe’s 2.9 percent + $0.30 payment processing fees.
In the future, Airbrite will introduce support for volume and bulk pricing for larger sellers, for pre-orders via Celery, and for general e-commerce, the company offers an open API.
Based in San Francisco, Celery’s team of five has seed funding from YC and SV Angel, but declined to disclose additional investments, only stating that it’s in a “healthy” place right now, and is not looking to raise.
Interested users can sign up for Celery here.Read More →
TeamSnap, a company that provides tools for managing sports teams, has today announced that it is acquiring Weplay, a social networking site for athletes, parents and coaches to help facilitate coordination for events, games, practices, etc.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Trinity Ventures-backed startup, Teamsnap, is an online tool aimed at making practice scheduling, conditioning sessions, team rosters, payment plans, etc for all amateur sports. It tracks everything from parents’ payments for big tournaments all the way to who’s bringing the sliced oranges.
So far, the company has raised a total of $4.3 million, including its latest round in February for $2.75 million.
According to the release, Weplay had raised even more, a total of $15 million since its launch in 2008. The service acts as a social network with similar functionality to Teamsnap, wherein parents, coaches, and kids can coordinate practices, games, etc. for sports teams.
Teamsnap claims that it will take over Weplay’s “customer base and technology” in the acquisition, though it’s unclear if the Weplay team will migrate over to Teamsnap or if this is the end of their Weplay chapter. It’s also unclear if Weplay will be rolled into Teamsnap or stand alone as its own product.
We’ve reached out for clarification, but haven’t heard back yet.
The release states that Weplay has over 2.25 million customers which will migrate over to the Teamsnap platform. The acquisition should bring Teamsnap’s total userbase to 5 million users in 195 countries.
The deal makes sense considering just how similar the two platforms are. There are a growing number of services like this out there, and not one has risen to the top as a dominating force. Perhaps some consolidation will help Teamsnap reach that peak.Read More →
Can We Say Crowdfunding Bubble? U.K. Charity Launches Directory To Help Navigate Nation’s 30+ Local Platforms
How many crowdfunding platforms is evidence of a crowdfunding bubble? Well, when an organisation feels the need to launch a directory to list and detail all of the crowdfunding options in a single market it’s perhaps a sign that exuberance for crowdsourced financing is running a little high. Nesta, a U.K. charity focused on promoting national innovation, has launched just such a directory, detailing the U.K.’s crowdfunding landscape — and all, by its count, 31 current crowdfunding platforms up and running and begging for money on your behalf.
The CrowdingIn directory certainly looks like a useful resource if you’re trying to figure out how best to get your next project funded, with the ability to filter by model and sector/area of interest. So, for example, if you’re looking for an equity investment model in the arts-creative sector then using the directory quickly narrows down those 31 platforms to just one. Or if you’re looking for a donation model in the same sector you’ll find there are four options to choose from. The rewards model is generally more populous, with two pages of results to sift through. But as a signposting service it’s still doing some useful legwork.
The directory also summarises what each crowdfunding platform offers, details their conditions of use and links through to each website. Add to that, Nesta has put together a crowdfunding how-to guide. So far, so handy. But at the same time, 31 crowdfunding platforms does feel like an awful lot of local players for a single market. Consolidation feels inevitably and probably necessary. Or, as my colleague Steve O’Hear jokily puts it, how many crowdfunding platforms does it take to get a lightbulb funded? Not 31 surely…
Of course there is variation in the crowdfunding platform offerings, with levels of specialism — including some very niche offerings, such as SolarSchools: a platform for U.K. schools to raise money to buy solar panels to fund clean energy. That’s not the place to go to fund your next great business idea, clearly. But there is also still plenty of crossover, especially for the rewards model in creative sectors — which is really where the whole crowdfunding phenomenon kicked off.
Also worth flagging that the UK Crowdfunding Association, a self-regulating trade body for the sector, counts about half the number listed on Nesta’s directory among its membership — so there may be some useful cross-referencing to be done there. The Association does also include some platforms that aren’t apparently on Nesta’s list. So, depending on how you count it, the U.K. appears to have (even) more than 31 crowdfunding platforms…Read More →
What would the new K-Tel “22 Original Hits” collection be for Crowdfunding? Chances are, it would include must-have (and top-funded) presale products like a fly-killing salt gun, a 3D doodling pen, a networked video doorbell, a robotic insect toy, spring-cushion shoes, migraine-relieving eyeglasses, a gourmet cooker that clips onto any pot, stickers that prevent you from losing things, and little clips that mean you’ll never have to tie your shoelaces again.
As a lifelong admirer of such clever things, I love how crowdfunding has unleashed a wave of ingenuity in consumer products. The immediacy of their appeal reminds me of some products advertised on TV, like the Robo Stir or Rollie EggMaster. As with crowdfunding, these Direct Response (DR) products are sold directly to consumers from the entities that make them. That’s why I consider online “pretail” crowdfunding, in which backers fund production runs of products as a way of hopefully buying them in advance, as a new, indie, riskier form of DR. The crowdfunding portals have discovered that campaigns fare much better if they include a video, but the DR people have known this all along.
Dan Williams serves on the board of directors and chairs the Internet and Emerging Media Council of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA), the main trade organization for the DR industry. ERA member companies spend about 3 billion dollars per year on advertising, mostly television, including both spots (“short-form”) and infomercials (“long-form”). I recently spoke with Dan about crowdfunding and DR. Here’s part one of a three-part conversation:
Direct Response and Crowdfunding
Paul Spinrad, Crowdsourcing.org: What are some examples of ERA member companies or their products?
Dan Williams, Electronic Retailing Association: Some of the larger companies include Guthy-Renker, who make Proactiv and Meaningful Beauty skin care products; Beach Body, known for the P90X workout kit; Euro-Pro, who make Shark vacuums and Ninja blenders, and Telebrands, who make the Flip Jack pancake pan and RoboStir pot stirrer. Electronic Retailer magazine publishes lists in every month for the top 25 spenders in both long form and short form categories, and you can go to the website of each of those advertisers to see the video and ecommerce experience that the users are having.
Is anyone in the industry using crowdfunding, for example to test interest in prototype products?
I don’t know of anyone in the Direct Response space doing this yet. But for indie inventors and product developers who are using crowdfunding themselves, I think there’s an opportunity at ERA conferences. That’s where people with ideas and new products can pitch direct response marketing companies and agencies who can help them on the manufacturing and media sides.
With crowdfunding, I’ve noticed that the campaigns that raise the most funds are often clever gadgets or other things that demo well, and you can buy them in advance. It’s the hardware. You see a video and you say, that’s something I want– it would be great for my kitchen, or great for my house. And you buy it direct from whoever makes it. So I think crowdfunding for products like that resembles traditional electronic retailing.
Yes, but I think there’s a bit of a gap. On the crowdfunding side, it’s mainly inventors. But if you want your new product to succeed at a large scale, you also need people with other expertise: how to get the item manufactured and packaged right, how to market it, how to buy media, ship it on time, offer customer service if someone calls. Inventors typically don’t want to worry about those things. But all of these suppliers and experts who are part of the ERA membership or the direct response community in general– that’s what they do. So I think there’s a great opportunity on both sides.
Yeah, I agree! One thing I’ve seen on the crowdfunding side is that there seems to be a whole ecosystem of companies growing up to support crowdfunders in parallel ways. For example, a company called Dragon Innovations helped the Pebble watch developers get their product manufactured after they were swamped with orders. Companies like Crowdhut, Wrappled, Swish, and Crowd Supply are also helping crowdfunders develop new products or sell them once they’re funded. And I can’t help but think that the wheel is being reinvented here, know what I mean?
You guys are a mature industry. You already have all of the pieces in place for direct retailing; you have it down. Meanwhile, crowdfunding has been great on the new idea and innovations side, and maybe all of these companies that are looking to support crowdfunded consumer products can learn from you. So I think we’ve got to get our folks together.
Yes, for a lot of our companies, it’s formulaic– it’s like “here’s something new, let’s stick it in the machine and see if it works.” Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Most of them are good on the ideas and great on the execution. You can have lots of money and implode, right? A good idea and money don’t necessarily mean success. But a bad idea and good execution often can be very successful. We see that often– you’ll see a television ad and think, “who would buy that?” Six months later, you see the same commercial and you know that people are buying it.
I think the missing piece that the Direct Response community has is the expertise in bringing a product to market and having the channel expertise to do it right. Some people are really good at health and beauty, others are good at housewares, or at fitness. And sometimes companies that are very successful in one vertical don’t do well when they go to another vertical, because it’s a different methodology. There’s an art and science to it, it’s not just whether you’ve raised some money.
Stay tuned for the final two parts of our conversation later this week…
Addendum: Since this interview took place, the schedule for the 2013 ERA D2C conference in Las Vegas has come out, and it turns out that there will be a 15-minute presentation on crowdfunding there: “How to Successfully Raise Money Through Crowd-Funding,” by Chas Salmore, on September 25 at 10:45am.Read More →
It’s easy to forget that Yahoo has had a long on-again-off-again love affair with online video. Remember Broadcast.com, which kicked off the Mark Cuban Era? But you might not remember that, because other online video platforms long ago left Yahoo in the proverbial dust. Today, as Yahoo streamed its Flickr product and Tumblr acquisition announcements, we were given a demonstration of why Yahoo has been left in the dust — and why it’s had to turn to acquisitions for help in, well, nearly every department.
The event was nearly impossible to watch. Because, well, you know, Yahoo! As you’ve heard by now, Yahoo has been on an impressive buying spree over the last month — including, by the way, a scuppered deal to boost its video tech and buy the “YouTube of France,” Dailymotion — snatching up a new company seemingly every week.
But today, the company raised the bar even higher with the $1.1 billion acquisition of Tumblr, hoping to turn back the clock and gain access to Tumblr’s millions of young users.
The company held a media event in New York City this afternoon to formally announce the acquisition — along with sharing the news that it will be moving into new digs in Times Square — but something was stealing the spotlight from Mayor Bloomberg and Marissa Mayer. And that would be Yahoo’s questionable video tech. Those who watched the event from home spent most of that time enjoying a hiccupy stream. Or none at all.
You can see the error message above. The video-streaming technology is Yahoo’s own, running through Yahoo! Screen, first launched back in 2006, renamed Screen from Yahoo Video. With all the acquisitions Yahoo has been making of late, it makes one think that, for its next acquisition, Yahoo should go for some new video technology. Of course, after Tumblr, it may be broke.
But, come on, Yahoo has somehow become the Rudy story of the tech industry. At the very least, someone should launch a Kickstarter page so that it can continue to make acquisitions.Read More →