Jolla Confirms It Will Show Its Debut Handset Next Month And Kick Off “Pre-Sales Campaign” For Fans After Mid-May
Jolla, the Finnish startup comprised of ex-Nokians who left to keep the MeeGo fire burning, has confirmed it will be showing off its first handset next month, and kicking off a “pre-sales” campaign to allow fans to register to buy the phone. Although Jolla has demoed its Sailfish UI in some detail before, it has generally been tight-lipped about its plans for the device’s hardware design — so next month will mean another big reveal.
Jolla had previously pegged the second half of this year for its debut device launch. Today it has confirmed to TechCrunch that this launch timeframe is not changing, despite its intention to show the phone next month. It provided the following emailed statement confirming the pre-sales campaign and noting that the shipping timeframe remains the same:
Jolla will showcase its first device in May. The exact timing of the introduction will be announced later. A pre-sales campaign is expected to start after mid-May. The campaign is currently being planned and further details will be available at the time of the product introduction. The sales start of the first Jolla device will take place during the second half of 2013 as earlier announced.
The pre-sales campaign was reported earlier in Finnish publication digitoday, which ran an interview with Jolla chairman Antti Saarnio. According to the interview (translated from the Finnish by Google translate), the pre-sales campaign will be a “Kickstarter-style” crowdfunding campaign, whereby early backers can expect to get a device with a few special extras compared to buyers who pile in later.
Jolla told TechCrunch via Twitter that the pre-sales campaign is not a crowdfunding campaign to fund the initial production run, rather it’s a “pre-sales is for the fans to sign up their interest and make sure they get the device first”. However the distinction between a pre-sales campaign for fans and a crowdfunding campaign to fund production is a minimal one, and mostly a difference of emphasis.
In its interview with digitoday, Saarnio apparently talks about taking “advance payments” and “pre-payments” from fans who register to buy the device — payments that “will not be so great as to constitute a threshold for the fans” but will be tiered, allowing them to get a more “tailored” phone, the more they pay.
Jolla has not, however, confirmed this down payments detail separately to TechCrunch. Its statement suggests it is still finalising plans for the pre-sales campaign.
The pre-sales campaign is clearly part of Jolla’s marketing and community-building efforts to spread the word about Sailfish and build momentum behind it. But taking down payments ahead of production would also make sense for a startup with limited resources to build hardware and one that is competing in such as fiercely competitive space, against smartphone makers with such huge resources.Read More →
Oovoo has been on a tear of late, tripling its user base in the past year with Jay Samit at the wheel as president. We brought him into the studio to chat about Oovoo’s growth, the video chatting space and forthcoming features on the Oovoo platform. He was surprisingly forthcoming.
He hinted at a feature that would let users preview how they look before they begin a call, explaining that the number one reason why most people don’t video chat is because they don’t like how they look. After previewing your looks, you can also apply a filter to make you look even better. “Think Instagram,” he said.
Samit also hinted at a video voicemail-type feature, which would let users enjoy video chat in an asynchronous way rather than having everyone participate in realtime. After all, not having someone to chat with is a pretty big deterrent in the world of video chat.
The company has almost crossed 75 million users, and Samit attributes much of Oovoo’s incredible growth to the global shift toward mobile. And to him, it’s not just about being available across multiple platforms, as Oovoo is with Facebook, Mac, PC, iOS and Android. It’s also about having the very best quality application at the right value.
Since Oovoo isn’t peer-to-peer like its biggest competitor Skype, the app performs much differently from a user perspective, and thus the usage is quite different from one app to the other.
“Skype was a great technology 10 years ago,” said Samit. “Since we host our service in the cloud, we adjust bandwidth to particular users’ constraints and use 60 percent less battery.”
Because of this, says Samit, users don’t go to Oovoo to triage scheduled international calls or have professional meetings like they do with Skype. Instead, Oovoo users tend to skew much younger and typically leave the service running in the background, chatting with groups of friends as they do other things.
This struck a chord with me, since video chat has never really taken off the way it was expected for that very reason. Though people are used to being able to multi-task on the phone, that freedom doesn’t translate to video chat, and so people tend to steer clear. I asked Samit why Oovoo users feel different, and he said it comes down to age.
“Younger people don’t have the same ingrained habits as older generations,” said Samit. “Voice communication was only a habit after Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone, but for thousands of years before that we were visual people. Since younger generations have used text more than calling, they don’t have the same habits as older people and feel more comfortable in the visual environment of video chat.”Read More →
A new report from online advertising company Turn suggests that costs for display advertising, video ads, and other rich media are rising, while those for mobile and social ads have fallen. The report also looks at a category of consumer that advertisers are spending heavily to reach — a group that Turn calls the “digital elite.”
The report is based on activity on Turn’s ad-buying and data-management platform between January and March. The company says its technology makes more than 50 billion advertising decisions every day.
Between January and March, the average eCPM (the cost per thousand impressions) for video ads grew 6.16 percent, from $9.41 to $9.99, Turn says. Display eCPMs grew from $0.92 to $1.06, up 15.2 percent. The company says this reflects advertisers’ desire “to reliably reach consumers through familiar, big-canvas formats.”
Mobile, meanwhile, dropped 45 percent from $1.31 to $0.72 — something that Turn attributes to concerns over the lack of standards for anonymous tracking. The company says that social eCPMs fell from $.30 to $.24, down 20 percent. At the same time, Turn says social ads (basically Facebook ads and Facebook retargeting) have become “immensely popular” and now account for billions of impressions per month on the Turn platform alone.
As for the “digital elite,” Turn says it’s the report’s “biggest discovery” — a particularly desirable audience that includes 2 percent of consumers. They see 24 times more ads than the average consumer, and advertisers pay eCPMs that are 85 percent higher than average to reach this audience. Here’s how Turn describes this elite:
The Digital Elite are typically aged 21–34, live in cities, and love foreign travel. Earning more than $76,000 a year, they’re fond of gadgets and upscale brands such as Banana Republic and Sephora. They have diverse media tastes, enjoying public radio, Family Guy, Elle, and GQ. You’ll find them at concerts and bars.
You can download the report here.Read More →
Foursquare, the social, location-based check-in app that has been pivoting into becoming a more of platform for local search, has finally closed its Series D round of funding. Foursquare tells TechCrunch that it is $41 million, led by Silver Lake Partners in the form of a multi-year loan from the Silver Lake Waterman growth debt fund; and convertible debt from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and Spark Capital. It takes the total raised in the company to an eye-watering $112.4 million.
The news was first reported by BusinessWeek, and puts to rest speculation that has been swirling for over a year about how the company needed to raise money to avoid running out of cash; and questions over whether it would be able to do so because of lingering skepticism about its business model.
Despite its size and reach — Foursquare’s user base at the end of 2012 was 30 million; and it powers location information in some 40,000 apps — the company reportedly pulled in only about $2 million of revenue last year. Meanwhile, its last raise in 2011 valued the company at $600 million.
Earlier this year, we reported that a D-Round that would have involved equity was potentially being done at a $700 million valuation, but that investors were hesitating because of worries of a too-high valuation. When I was researching a story on the company in March, I was assured by one reliable source that this latest round — the one announced today — would not be a down-round, with a valuation lower than $600 million it had in 2011. By opting for what BusinessWeek reports as a loan-and-debt deal with no immediate equity (the debt has the option of converting to equity in the future), that puts off the question of valuation for a while yet.
And it also somewhat puts off the question of whether Foursquare is an acquisition target.
In the meantime, CEO and founder Dennis Crowley and his team have been working hard to continue building up the business, both to create actual revenue streams, and also to counterbalance the fact that many have checked out of making check-ins. In February, Dennis Crowley told me Foursquare was seeing 5 million check-ins per day, but that’s also what the company said a year ago.
In addition to major app updates that put search front and center, and deals like the one with credit card companies American Express, MasterCard and Visa for member discounts for check-ins, Foursquare has been working hard to build bridges with handset makers, carriers and other content providers that could potentially result in commercial licensing deals.
Crowley’s trip to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, spanning just a few days, saw him take in at least 30 meetings in that timeframe. Working with the old-school world of telecoms, though, is a long-term and long-odds game; this was not Crowley’s first year at the event.
Indeed, Crowley tells BusinessWeek that this round is about buying time for the company to play those long-odds out. “This allows us to get closer to being able to prove that there’s a real business here,” he said.
One area that looks like it will be getting more attention is advertising and marketing — specifically opening its platform to merchants to pay Foursquare to market themselves there. This is still a nascent part of the service — BusinessWeek points out that Foursquare “allows” only 50 large advertisers currently to buy ads. Some of the $41 million will be getting invested in a way to widen that pool, starting with bumping its sales staff up from 10 now to 40 by this summer.
“The biggest challenge is to take revenue-generating products that we launched in Q3 last year and take them out to the market,” Crowley told me in February. “The businesses using these are mostly national retailers [the 50 mentioned by BusinessWeek]. But we’ve got over 1 million merchants who have claimed their businesses on Foursquare, running specials and doing other things. What we want to do is take these tools used by the 50-100 national retailers and make them accessible to our 1 million merchants. Then you’ve got something really powerful.” These tools currently do not integrate with other point-of-sale systems, so that’s another area where the company might need to make some investments, too.
One thing we might expect is more of a Google-style approach to search marketing.
“If you look at what we’re doing in terms of harvesting intent from users, we have millions searching for things, and we’re helping them find places,” Crowley told me. “It doesn’t look that different from what google has done with AdWords. If you search for ‘Hawaiian vacation,’ Google shows you websites to get you there. And ‘Italian tasting menu’ will bring you a list of venues on Foursquare.”
BusinessWeek notes that by the end of the year, checking in at a particular location will get ads served relevant to that place — such as a brand of orange juice when you are at the supermarket. This could turn even more people off from checking in, though, unless there is a reward at the end of it.Read More →
Wandera, a startup that offers enterprises a cloud-based solution to reduce the costs of mobile data through compression and better management, is announcing that it has closed $7 million in funding. The Series A round comes entirely from Bessemer Venture Partners, and is in addition to a seed round Wandera quietly raised last year from angels including Klaus Hommels and Alex Zubillaga. Wandera, which is based in London and San Francisco, is led by Eldar and Roy Tuvey, the two brothers who founded and then sold SaaS security player ScanSafe to Cisco for $183 million.
The ongoing growth of smartphone usage in the enterprise sector has seen an explosion in the use of mobile apps in the enterprise. Strategy Analytics says mobile business apps globally had revenues of $25 billion in 2012 and that 200 million people will be using them in 2013, with revenues rising to $50 billion by 2017.
That has led to the rise of a number of companies that want to help businesses better control the many costs associated with that. A lot of those solutions have focused on security on handsets (mobile device management) and policy control around certain apps (mobile application management). The recent, $200 million funding for AirWatch is a testament to how big that market is.
What Wandera offers is something different that it calls “mobile data optimization,” or MDO for short. This is an SaaS service, which is charged per user per month. Its software sits between a device and the wider Internet to apply compression techniques to reduce the amount of bandwidth for a particular application, giving enterprises access to the process, and information as well. Wandera claims that businesses can save an average of $100 a month on individual’s bill as a result.
The Wandera service, with its classic SaaS per-user, per-month charging format, can be used by smaller businesses of 10-25 users, through to the very largest companies. Some of the bigger names, and bigger enterprises, using the service today include IKEA, Shell and GE.
CEO Eldar Tuvey points out that Wandera is banking on the fact that currently 43% of an enterprise user’s mobile bill is related to data, with the projection is that this will continue to grow to 100% as more services move to mobile data networks — evidenced by the rise of voice apps like Skype and messaging services like WhatsApp taking users off legacy mobile voice and messaging services. Tuvey notes that mobile data use in the enterprise in particular has grown by 133% in the last year.
“The data element is the biggest part of your bill and arguably the most important part, so we think MDO the missing piece,” Tuvey points out to TechCrunch. “Wandera is unique in that it’s the first aimed at companies to deliver savings on that data through compression techniques.”
While companies like BlackBerry have actually offered products like this themselves, Wandera is also banking on the growing fragmentation in the market, and the gradual migration away from BlackBerry in the enterprise, to get more people using its service. “BlackBerry still has this feature for compressing data, but as the corporate world moves to different platforms and you begin to factor in tablets and 4G this will become a bigger issue,” he says.
The same technology, Tuvey points out, can also be used by enterprise data administrators to also look closer at which apps are getting used and (and which are not), to help shape app policies and data purchasing for the business in the future. “Up to now data has been effectively a black box for businesses. We’re giving them some itemization into that data with analysis and reporting,” he says.
The enterprise-as-target-customer is key here: there are a lot of data optimization companies out there already but much of that effort has focused on carrier networks and helping them better manage their wider data networks.
Tuvey notes that Wandera is talking to carriers, too, but for a different reason: they will likely resell Wandera’s service as part of their larger bid to offer enterprises more services to better manage their mobile workforces. Tuvey is not saying yet who its carrier partners might be but points out that among them are two tier-one carriers, with one in the UK and the other in the U.S.
For now, the plan is for Wandera to stay focused only on enterprises rather than expand to consumers. For that, they have a second venture, Snappli.Read More →
We all know the Foursquare story quite well, the app launched at SXSW five years ago and a fair amount of people have been using it to check-in ever since. The company is releasing a new version of its flagship iOS app, which will put those 3.5B check-ins in the forefront with search and explore functionality. It’s a move that we saw coming, ever since they did practically the same thing on their website back in October.
Having just made it easier to check-in on the app, Foursquare now wants you to dive head-first into locations around you, hopefully using the app to help you decide on where to go next. The moves come off as a bit manic, even though it’s clear that the company has a ton of information and just desperately wants users to start interacting with it.
The new app, which will be available sometime Wednesday morning, is now split up into four parts. The search box is at the top of the screen, and a map of your nearby friends is below. These main areas are followed by personalized recommendations for this particular moment in time and then of course…the check-in button at the bottom. Basically, Foursquare wants you to go somewhere, and go there fast.
We’ve heard that the company has had a hard time raising its next round and might be in acquisition discussions. Some feel like Yahoo! would be a perfect home for the service, which I happen to agree with. All of these things would be contingent upon this particular version of the app striking a new cord with consumers.
Having said that, there aren’t any other overhaul-esque iterations that Foursquare can go through at this point, and this particular update is labeled as version 6.0. It’s a matured product, and this latest version must grip with a new set of users who have relied on services like Yelp and Google for information about venues and suggestions on where to go and hang out.
The conversation that people must have now is that Foursquare is an app to help keep you busy with things to do in the real-world. The app, in a way, must be your personal assistant, using all of the information that you give it, and the information that your friends have given it, to help steer you to your next destination. But this is the last version of the app that Foursquare can release to grab a set of consumers that it doesn’t already have. If it can’t do it this time, the future is not looking good.
Badges were fun for a while, checking in was addictive, collecting points and being at the top of a leader board made up of your friends was a riot and becoming mayor of a venue was a hoot. That was then, and this is now.
The data is there from those of us who have provided it over the years, the ability to discovery is up-front and the recommendation technology is in place. The 30M+ members of the community have done their job.
Will new people flock to it? Will Foursquare make our lives better? We’ll see once it launches. It’s stayed around this long, and that alone is impressive. The question that remains is: how many more rounds can it fight without an earth-shattering-jaw-breaking knockout?
[Photo credit: Flickr]Read More →
Instagram has been around for what feels like forever, but it seems like just yesterday that the app migrated over to Android after being a long-time iOS exclusive. Today marks one year of Instagram’s presence on Android, and to celebrate the company shared on its blog that in just that short time almost half of its users come from Android.
Last we heard, Instagram had over 100 million active monthly users in February, growing at a rapid pace at that. The push over to Android was a huge part of that, garnering over 1 million downloads in the first 24 hours.
At the time, Instagram had around 30 million installs on iOS.
Since then, Instagram has been acquired by Facebook for $1 billion.
Both iOS and Android have maintained steady growth since that fateful April afternoon. In fact, just two weeks after the acquisition Instagram announced that it had surpassed 50 million active users, with 5 million new sign ups per week.
Eight months ago, that number climbed to 80 million, as Android entered its fifth month of availability.
The photo-sharing app is one of those “so-basic-you-hate-yourself-for-not-thinking-of-it-first” kind of success stories, but there is clearly so much strategy going on in the background. Instagram beat everyone to the game with a way to make mobile photos beautiful and share them quickly. Simple, but such a crucial problem solver and game-changer in the trajectory of mobile technology.
And taking it a step further than that, you have to remember that Instagram spent more than a year on iOS as an exclusive before opening up the Android-flavored flood gates. A year later, Instagram’s decision to include Android seems to have paid off handsomely.Read More →
Content discovery startup Trapit is launching a new Publisher Suite today, with tools for publishers to build their own branded, customized versions of the Trapit experience.
Spun out from research institute SRI International, Trapit uses the same artificial intelligence technology as Siri and allows uses to create “traps” that find content that’s relevant to a given topic. Last fall, the company said it was looking to power other content recommendation apps beyond Trapit itself, and it announced Asian TV conglomerate Astro as its first partner (as well as a strategic investor).
With the Publisher Suite, Trapit is making its technology available to a broad swath of partners. A company can build an app that they can easily update with their own content, and then supplement that content with related articles that Trapit has pulled from other sources.
Trapit co-founder and Chief Product Officer Hank Nothhaft contrasted this approach with Flipboard, which allows publishers to build a presence within the Flipboard app itself. By automatically aggregating content from more than 100,000 sources, Trapit can ensure that the app is more than just “a retrospective” of what has already published, he said. Nothhaft also argued that if you’re not a big-name publisher, it can be hard to get discovered in an app like Flipboard, so it’s important to build your own app. And Trapit allows publishers to run their own advertising without taking a cut for itself (instead it charges a fee for the tools).
“[In an app like Flipboard] there’s a mountain of different titles, all contained within their own feed,” Nothhaft said. “It’s not an optimal experience. After talking to all these publishers, we’re hearing that the revenue is not generous and it’s not compelling in any way. But for as low as $1,000 a month, you can get a really professionally designed, sophisticated application.”
Here Media, the publisher of a number of titles for gay audiences, already used the Publisher Suite to create an Advocate Discovery app (pictured above). As the name implies, the app is tied to the magazine The Advocate, but it includes content from all of their properties, and using Trapit technology, it can include the most up-to-date news on breaking stories like the U.S. Supreme Court case on gay marriage.Read More →