Twitter just announced a new feature that it calls “broad match for keyword targeting.” Supposedly, this will allow advertisers running keyword-targeted campaigns to reach users who are using synonyms, alternate spellings, or “Twitter lingo.”
When the company announced keyword targeting in April, Senior Director of Revenue Products Kevin Weil told me that the goal of the program was to make tweets (as opposed to the “interest graph” of who you follow) a “first-class citizen” in Twitter’s ad targeting, and to allow advertisers to reach users at the right moment, i.e., when they’re actually discussing a relevant topic.
By adding these broad match capabilities, Twitter can presumably do all of that while also exposing a given campaign to a broader audience. As you can see in the graphic to the left, a coffee shop that wanted to target “love coffee” could also reach users who were tweeting about how much they “luv coffee” or “love lattes”.
At the same time, Twitter says advertisers can structure their campaigns so that they’re not too broad:
Just like on other keyword advertising platforms, if the coffee shop sells lattes but not espressos, they can use the “+” modifier on the broad matched terms to prevent broadening. Targeting “love + latte” will match to users who Tweet “luv latte,” but it won’t match to users who Tweet “luv espresso”.
Amid rumors of a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook and a potential $200 million funding round, turns out that ephemeral messaging sensation Snapchat has actually raised $50 million in Series C funding.
Co-founder Evan Spiegel has exclusively confirmed with TechCrunch that the $50 million was from a single investor, with no secondary offering. However, there is no word on who that investor might be, or whether or not it was a previous investor.
Spiegel did say that the money will go toward growing the business.
The SEC filing reveals nothing.
Rumors have been swirling recently that Snapchat was looking to raise $200 million, potentially from Tencent, at a valuation north of $3 or $4 billion. Spiegel has mentioned Tencent, and it’s chat subsidiary WeChat in particular, as an interesting company to learn from.
However, it’s now confirmed through court documents and TechCrunch’s inside sources that Tencent has already invested in Snapchat, likely during the Series B round. But that doesn’t mean that Tencent isn’t solely responsible for this latest round, either.
According to Crunchbase, this $50 million puts Snapchat’s total investment at no less than $123 million, and without a revenue stream in sight. And honestly, it doesn’t seem to matter right now.
Snapchat announced recently that it sees over 400 million snaps sent per day, which is more than Facebook’s daily photo uploads.
Though the company doesn’t publicly disclose numbers, it is rumored to have around 30 million monthly active users. However, TechCrunch has confirmed that Snapchat actually has more than that.
Previous investors include Light Speed Ventures, who led a small seed round, Benchmark and SV Angel, who joined Lightspeed and invested $12.5 million in Series A, as well as IVP and General Catalyst, who contributed to a massive $60 million Series B round in June. Word on the street is that the last round was actually closer to $80 million, with $20 million going toward founder liquidity.
If, like me, you’re old enough to remember the original Pets.com, then this funding story will make you smile. The iconic pet supplies online retailer, not to be confused with new owner PetSmart, sits alongside Boo.com and Webvan in Dot Com history. Folklore has it that Pets.com, which went from IPO to liquidation in 268 days, was selling its wares for one-third the price it paid for them, and that’s before taking into account the huge advertising spend. Oh, how things have changed…
Enter Petsy.mx, Mexico’s “premier petcare e-commerce retailer”. Hoping to make a land grab in the burgeoning Mexican e-commerce market, the young startup has announced a modest seed round. It’s raised $1 million, led by Venture Partners, with participation from Capital Invest, and Dila Capital, as well as unnamed angel investors. Money, Petsy says, that will be used to fund its growth and product development.
Launched in June 2013 with the aim of bringing “US-style” customer service to the Mexican e-commerce market, Petsy.mx sells a wide variety of pet care products, including premium dog and cat food brands such as Royal Canin, and Eukanuba. Like a lot of e-commerce activity in Mexico and the wider LatAm region, it looks to be gunning for something close to first-mover advantage.
“Mexican pet owners suffer from a lack of retail options, both brick and mortar and online, when seeking the best products for their pets,” says Toby Clarence-Smith, Petsy.mx’s co-founder, in a statement. “We want to solve this problem while offering fantastic customer service at all times. Our goal for Petsy.mx is to play a central role in the Mexican pet community, as both a partner and an advocate.”
E-commerce in Mexico seems to be quite a hot space right now, probably because its burgeoning nature means that, for the time being, competition is limited compared to maturer markets. In traditional e-commerce, timing is everything. Move too early, and the market is too small. Move too late, and incumbents make the barriers to entry that bit higher. To that end, Petsy is talking up an increase in the number of debit and credit cards in Mexico, and the government’s active role in supporting the Internet sector.
Of course, in emerging markets like Mexico, Rocket Internet, the hugely well-funded German e-commerce incubator, is the elephant in the room. As an example, Rocket’s ‘Amazon of Latin America’, Linio, picked up $50 million in funding last month from the likes of JP Morgan Asset Management, Investment AB Kinnevik, the Tengelmann Group, Summit Partners, and Rocket Internet itself.
Perhaps counteracting (or complementing) the Rocket effect, however, local startup activity more broadly is also on the increase. Initiatives like 500startups’ presence in the region, with its 500 Mexico City accelerator, are proof that the local startup scene is maturing. Meanwhile, VCs, such as Spain’s Seaya Ventures, are becoming a lot more bullish about the LatAm market, not least Mexico.
Google has brought its Chrome Apps to the Mac, letting users install apps to their desktop for use just like native software. There’s a Chrome App Launcher for Mac, too, which resides in your dock and provides centralized access to all those Chrome apps in the same place.
The apps available work offline, and can sync their state across computers where a Chrome user is logged in with their Google account. They update automatically when a new version comes out, and “behave and feel just like native software,” according to Google. To find Chrome apps that work with the Mac Desktop, you can visit the “For Your Desktop” section of the Chrome Web Store, which essentially collects any Chrome software that functions offline, and includes things like 500px, Any.Do, Autodesk Pixlr Touch Up and more.
Google bringing Chrome apps to the Mac desktop isn’t strictly new: The search giant revealed its plans to do this back in May when it launched Chrome Apps in beta, but now it’s taking the beta label off and making it available to all. If you’ve ever used a site-specific browser like Fluid to turn web pages into desktop apps on your own, you’ll know the value of having this stuff live outside of Chrome itself.
That said, don’t expect apps from the Chrome web store to replace Photoshop or anything like that just yet. Still, it’s a good way for Google to get people using their software on their current platforms, so that they can get an advance look at how Chrome OS works, essentially. The fact that these sync settings with Google accounts also means that users who embrace them on Mac will be primed to start right where they left off should they ever pick up a Chromebook, which helps with Google’s long-term strategy for its browser-based desktop OS.
Torn up by a complex decision you need to make, and that pro/con list just isn’t helping? A new app called Feels can help. Feels is a recently launched app designed by three students at the Savannah College of Art and Design that offers a clever, quick way to work through your decision-making process via a simple and colorful iPhone app interface.
Think of it as the pro/con list for the smartphone, emoticon-favoring generation, perhaps.
To use the app, you enter the name of a decision you’re struggling with (e.g. where to move, taking a new job, etc.) and then the various factors influencing that decision. For each option, you can attach a photo, then swipe over the text label next to every influence to add your “feels” (that is, your feeling) about the matter. A new apartment that’s close to work might get the smiling emoticon, for example, while the fact that it’s expensive might get the frown. And there are several emotions to choose from in between, of course.
It’s almost silly, but there’s something to having all these decisions before you, not just in black and white as with pros and cons lists, but weighted by a variety of factors and your emotions associated with those items. For instance, the app told me — pretty accurately, I think — that my pipe dream of a decision to move to a downtown condo is probably not the best one with regard to the other factors that are important to me and my family. (I’ll admit I’ve been blindly devoted to this idea for some time, but Feels is right in telling me that it should not be my top consideration.)
To be clear, the app doesn’t just spit back one decision, but rather displays your list of options and your overall feeling about each, based on all the influences you previously provided. The idea, co-founder Joseph Albanese explains, is to offer an emotional scale designed to give users a more in-depth approach to gauging how they really feel. For decisions with a larger number of factors, Feels will also offer a “Details and Trends” section about the data you’ve submitted.
The app was a joint effort between Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) students Albanese, Wyatt Gallagher (recent grad), and Ameer Carter. They put the app together in nine weeks, says Albanese, as part of a class project.
“This is the first iOS app any of us have ever shipped,” says Albanese. “We came together because we wanted to build something even though we had no idea what it would be. We worked relentlessly for weeks to get this from initial concept to shippable product,” he explains. The class required that, by week nine (of a 10-week quarter), the students had something submitted to Apple for review.
For a student project, Feels is surprisingly well done and fun to use. The team will now work on UI enhancements, and making the process even simpler and more collaborative, they say.
You can snark if you like about the need to use an app to help you think through things, but some people need to work through their thoughts by putting them down on paper. This is the modern-day update to that. I feel I might actually use this one.
The app is a paid download, $2.99 in the iTunes App Store here.
Google launched Android Device Manager back in August, but it curiously made the tool web-only, eschewing a native Android app and causing a lot of confusion in doing so. The Android Device Manager is now in the Play Store, and does most of the things that Apple’s Find My iPhone service does, but for Android gadgets instead of iOS-powered devices.
The new app, like the web interface, lets you locate your Android device on a map, see when it was last located and when it was last used, as well as ring, lock and wipe the device. Plenty of people I spoke to about the service early on were excited it was finally bringing some device security features to Google’s mobile OS, but also confused when they searched the Play Store only to find that no actual app for the service existed.
Of course, in theory having it operate on the web makes more sense: if you’ve lost your phone, an Android app running on it won’t do much good in terms of helping you track it down. It makes more sense to have an Android Device Manager on the web, where it was born, but people were bound to look for it on the Android mobile app store, especially given the example provided by Apple’s competing service. Having an app also means that people who have multiple Android devices, including tablets, will have faster access to the security features contained therein.
Vellum is an app for the Mac developed by a team led by two Pixar software veterans that are trying to make the process of creating ebooks less painful. The app allows authors to publish ebooks on Apple’s iBookstore, Amazon Kindle and Nook devices, but the advances here are in how the app enables live previews and fine-tuning.
Ebook creation is an awful experience. The Kindle process is especially poor, with dozens of interlocking parts that must be juggled in order to convert, format, tweak and publish a book. And even then, authors are largely taking a stab in the dark as to how their books will look when they’re live on the store.
Apple took some steps to make this process easier with iBooks Author, but I’ve spoken to some folks who have published there and even its tools have their quirks. And it’s not even close to being cross-platform friendly. Once you’ve gotten a project to look how you’d like it to there, you have to do it all over again if you want to publish on Kindle or Nook or any other platform.
And, after all of the massaging through the laborious multiple-tool process, authors are often left with a product that looks fairly boring and generic. Well-crafted books with gorgeous fonts, nicely presented chapter and header formatting and a highly customized feel are too often the sole purview of publishers with teams of formatting experts.
Those are the issues that spurred Vellum’s Brad West and Brad Andalman to look into creating a tool to help authors get the same kind of access to great book design as major publishers.
“Authors care about how a book looks,” says West, but he notes, “when a book is self published, you can tell. If they had the tools, [authors] would want to make better looking books…the barrier is the tools. Vellum tries to address that.”
West and Andalman spent over a decade each at Pixar (West started there in ’96) working on building software and animation systems used on films like The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2. West helped develop Pixar’s next-gen animation system that was first used on Brave (under ToyTalk’s Oren Jacob). Doubtless their expertise in building software tools for creators informed their decision to move on to…building software tools for creators.
Vellum is a free Mac app that allows you to import your projects from your writing platform of choice like Microsoft Word. It then lets authors tweak and edit their books, taking advantage of the full suite of tools. Once it’s time to publish, a single book export runs $49.99, with unlimited re-export privileges for any platform on that book. You can also buy bundles of 3 books for $99 or 5 books for $149.
The core of Vellum’s experience is based on live previews that will show authors exactly what it will look like on a variety of platforms. The agnostic nature of Vellum means that it doesn’t have any agendas as far as the platform that they will support, like iBooks.
West acknowledges that Apple’s decision to limit iBooks Author is likely strategic but notes that when it’s siloed to a platform it’s simply not as powerful as it ever could be. With one Vellum file, an author can tweak and serve their project to any platform they wish.
The way Vellum handles typesetting is one example of how it improves on the complex process for Kindle publishing. Normally an author must use a series of tools to first convert a Word file, then lay it out, add customized fonts, preview and then export in a file readable by Kindle. If any formatting or type issues are found, the process must start all over again. Vellum allows industry-standard typesetting to be performed dynamically, updating as the content changes and handling spacing and indentation.
Vellum also allows the quick addition of copyright, epigraph and acknowledgement sections, all with an instant preview of the book. An author gets to see the book exactly as a user does without having to export to devices to check and manage them all. In addition to one-click support for iBooks, Kindle and Nook, Vellum also allows exporting to Epub files for distribution to beta readers.
The process of cross-platform ebook creation has remained almost incredibly static for years, all while the ebook market has been exploding and the barriers of entry to new authors has fallen. Amazon makes it easier than ever for independent authors to publish on the platform, but the tools they’ve given them are anemic and frustrating. It seems like there’s a real opportunity from a software team with experience in creating tools for creators to do something good for the industry. Vellum is available directly from 180g’s site here.
What do you do when your school can’t afford a 3D printer? If you’re Shai Schechter and Andrey Kovalev you build one yourself. Their printer, called Deltaprintr, has just launched on Kickstarter and the pair has already hit $102,000 out of a $195,000 goal. Their goal is to create an inexpensive, extremely usable printer for students and those on a budget. I think they’ve succeeded.
Shai goes to SUNY Purchase and Andrey goes to Cooper Union School of Engineering. Andrey was working on his sculpture homework and realized he could really use a 3D printer. With a $1,000 grant from the school, his small team built a very basic delta-style printer which uses three tall tracks as opposed to a MakerBot-style Cartesian printer. Their first model was hand-made but now they are working hard to make a commercial product, pricing kits as low as $475. In fact, it looks like they’re already oversold for the Kickstarter version of the machine and are scrambling to figure out how to sell more.
The printer automatically calibrates itself – a godsend if you’ve ever used non-self-leveling devices – and it can print PLA at 100 micron resolution. It doesn’t yet print ABS plastic because the bed is not heated.
I sat down with Shai and Andrey and watched their printer in action. It’s an impressive piece of kit, especially when you consider it was built by a team of students. Their intensity and drive is impressive and I’m really excited to see where these guys take their product.
Square has just announced that it has acquired Evenly, a company that was built to make it easy for friends to send and receive payments for splitting bills and other expenses. The company was founded in 2012, and was similar in concept to Venmo, an NYC-based startup that was acquired by Braintree last year.
Evenly offered a mobile app that let people send and receive requests for funds from their contacts list, organized around events and experiences. For each participant in a pool, it would list what a user owed and what they’d already paid, if any, and you could see progress towards the total cost of an event displayed visually, as well as send reminders to all parties involved that they have to pay up. There’s also an activity feed that tracks progress and adds a social element to the bill sharing.
Evenly will remain open and active until January 15, 2014 for existing users, and the team says on its own blog that it will give existing users “plenty of time” to get money out of the app and finish collections. Users can find out more here at an FAQ designed to guide those who will be transitioning off of the service. The app has been removed from the App Store, however, and new user registrations are turned off completely.
On Square’s Engineering blog, the payment company’s Product Engineering Lead Gokul Rajaram says that the Evenly team will be working on “seller initiatives,” and it seems likely this is designed to bring Evenly’s talented five-person engineering and design team into the fold to boost Square Cash and help it continue to ‘square’ off against the now Braintree-owned Venmo and Google Wallet.
New mobile payments startup Loop has closed on $10 million in Series A funding in what’s being described as an “oversubscribed” angel round involving undisclosed investors. The company, which is working to build both smartphone fobs and cases that allow you to pay at point-of-sale by emulating a magstripe credit card swipe, had previously said they were raising the A round from the same group of angels who had invested in the founders’ previous companies.
Loop co-founder and CEO Will Graylin previously founded WAY Systems (sold to VeriFone) and ROAM Data (sold to Ingenico), while Loop’s other co-founder and chief technologist, George Wallner, previously founded Hypercom, also sold to VeriFone. The founders still decline to provide Loop’s investors’ names, but Graylin says the list includes “many high-powered CEOs, including people from the payment industry.”
The company also says the funding will set the stage for Loop’s Series B in early 2014, which will include participation from both strategic and institutional investors.
Loop is targeting the U.S. market with its hardware devices, which include fobs and a more practical charge case product line which will both allow for mobile payments, as well as provide extra battery power.
The company, for those unfamiliar, came up with a somewhat ingenious technological solution which would serve as an alternative to NFC – a technology that’s yet to gain widespread adoption here in the States, due to lack of merchant support and, so far, lack of adoption by Apple, which has decided to not include NFC technology in the iPhone.
But similar to NFC, Loop’s fob or case allows users to pay at point-of-sale by placing their phone near the magstripe reader on the terminal.
Critics of Loop’s plan point out that magstripe technology is on its way out – the U.S.’s transition to EMV (chip cards, like what’s used in Europe) is only years away. The U.S. is supposed to switch by 2015. In addition, it’s unclear how Loop will be received by the industry if it catches on – for now, it mimics a “card present” transaction, even though no credit card is being swiped. “Card not present” transactions, meanwhile, carry higher rates for merchants because of the increased potential for fraud. At some point, this could become an issue for Loop.
But for now, Loop is focused on putting its hardware into the hands of early adopters for continued testing. It’s beginning to ship out its first product, the Loop Fob, to its Kickstarter backers this month. The company obviously didn’t need to raise funding on Kickstarter, but as Graylin has explained before, it wasn’t about the money (they were raising $100,000 there), it was about the community. Kickstarter provided them with access to the “ “world’s largest focus group,” he said.
The company is still planning on shipping its ChargeCase, too, in matte back and glass white. A ChargeCase ($99, 1200 mAh battery) has been expected to ship in Q1 2014, and a premium ChargeCase shipping in Q2 (1500 mAh battery and much thinner) will follow. The premium case is still being worked on with design changes, says Graylin. There’s another form factor in development, too, he adds.
Graylin had told us before that they were working on a Bluetooth LE-enabled plastic card, which could be handed to cashiers for swiping at point-of-sales that are behind the counter, or anywhere else where someone has to do the swiping for you. That development sounds a lot like Coin, the payments startup building a “universal” card that can mimic any payment card in your wallet on the fly.
Loop takes a subtle jab at Coin today, stating that “unlike solutions proposing programmable cards with limited security, memory, battery capacity, and plagued with reliability issues,” Loop’s technology is PCI compliant, holds a variety of cards (payment, gift, loyalty, reward, ID, etc.) and fits in any form factor. The company also hinted that smartwatches are in consideration, referencing those as one of the form factors Loop could support.
In addition to selling direct to consumers, the company is also talking with handset makers about including Loop in 2015 phones, but no deals are yet confirmed.
It also recently signed a deal with Campus Nation Network to create a Campus Loop product line, which will be a digital wallet product aimed at college students, and that includes support for campus IDs, cafeteria plans, loyalty and rewards plans, and other payment cards.
“Thanks to one of our partners, who is also an investor, we expect to promote Loop at over 1,500 Campuses in the next 18 months,” says Damien Balsan, Loop COO. “Students are just one of the segments that we are targeting,” he adds. In a video being posted later today to YouTube, the company also features moms and others with overstuffed wallets as big as George’s once was.
For almost a decade and a half, mobile customers – and Americans in particular – have enjoyed a certain economic perk: phone subsidies from the major carriers. This meant you could, on sign-up, get a very expensive phone for at most a few hundred dollars and, as an incentive to hang around, upgrade that phone every few years. These subsidies seemed as God-given as freedom of speech and apple pie, but they may be on their way out.
I don’t want to stir up fake outrage at this move (and it’s not even a move, just an comment by the AT&T CEO at some conference but in the Kremlinology of online babbling that’s as good as a contract) but it smacks of perfidy. Said Randall Stephenson:
[blockquote]“When you’re growing the business initially, you have to do aggressive device subsidies to get people on the network. But as you approach 90 percent penetration, you move into maintenance mode. That means more device upgrades. And the model has to change. You can’t afford to subsidize devices like that.”[/blockquote]
Instead of allowing you to upgrade your $500 phone for $200, AT&T is already offering cheaper plans to users who don’t upgrade, thereby lengthening the upgrade cycle of phones from the traditional 18 to 24 months. This means you will miss two iPhone versions before AT&T even considers giving you a discount, if that happens at all and it means more BYO handsets.
To be clear, we need to remember that phone subsidies are actually imaginary. Europe’s refusal to subsidize phones has led to a number of service improvements including pre-paid SIM cards, cheaper, simpler handsets, and a number of roaming benefits. There’s no reason to lock a phone to a carrier if that phone is crossing borders every few days. However, the U.S. market is monolithic. We rarely roam and we rarely look for pre-paid deals.
If there are two things I agree with here it’s that we upgrade our phones far too often and that hardware manufacturers think we are stupid. I think, then, Stephenson isn’t directly addressing us, the consumer, but the handset manufacturers. They depend on regular updates to keep making money. Samsung and Apple have to release new phones for a number of reasons, primarily to maintain the perception of forward momentum and to please shareholders. Look at this panoply of Galaxy phones, for example, each destined to be AT&T’s next “free” phone. Just as a shark dies if it stops swimming, phone manufacturers die if they stop selling phones. Therefore phone subsidies are great for manufacturers and, if you think about the incremental differences between iPhone versions, not so great for us. There is plenty of supply and, thanks to subsidies, artificial demand.
This move by AT&T stops that endless circle. But it isn’t fair. Why should the consumer suffer with a bum phone for three years or pay hundreds of dollars on top of an already expensive rate plan? Carriers pay lip service to low prices but if you want their “best” plan you’d best be ready to pay. To add BYO handsets and slow upgrade cycles to this is insult to injury. Essentially Stephenson is saying that back when AT&T was still trying to get customers, subsidies worked. Now that it has all the customers it could want, subsidies are unfair. What’s really happening? Carriers got into bed with the manufacturers and now they want out. We pay the price.
Google today is launching a major update to Sheets, its Google Drive spreadsheet app that’s part of Google Drive productivity suite. With this new version, Sheets joins the rest of Google’s productivity apps in letting users create and edit spreadsheets offline, a feature many of Google’s users have long been asking for.
Anybody who has already used Google Docs or Slide offline before will be able to use this feature immediately. Everybody else will have to follow these instructions to get going. Just like with Google’s other offline apps, all your changes will be automatically synced back to Google Drive once you are back online.
Also featured in today’s update is a new way to make collaboration in Sheets easier. Previously, whenever you changed how you viewed the spreadsheet, everybody you collaborated with saw the same view. Sometimes, however, different users want to filter the data in different ways while still working together on the same spreadsheet and data. With the new “Filter Views” feature, Sheets now lets you create custom views that don’t influence how others see your spreadsheet.
Google also says that it made a large number of performance tweaks to Sheets that now make it feel significantly faster, especially when working with very large and complex spreadsheets. Indeed, this update removed many of the limits that previously governed the maximum size of the spreadsheets it could handle.
Other updates in this version include a new in-line help system that adds links to Help Center articles and a bit more guidance when you start typing formulas, the ability to change the colors of different tabs in Sheets and a couple of similar minor changes.
Over the last few weeks, Microsoft has been attacking Google’s Chromebooks with the argument that they don’t offer any offline editing capabilities. Today’s update isn’t likely to make Microsoft stop its latest “Scroogled” campaign, but it definitely takes the punch out of it.
No, this might not be the sexy new disappearing messages app. However, it’s a startup that takes software and applies it to an unsexy but potentially lucrative market.
KeepTruckin is an eight-person, San Francisco-based startup that’s trying to make it easier for trucking companies to manage their fleets and have their drivers legally log their hours.
Long-haul trucking is a half-trillion dollar business in the U.S., employing 3 million drivers nationwide. Currently, drivers record their hours in paper books that they have to have with them at all times for potential inspections. Not only that, dispatchers who organize trucking fleets still use whiteboards and spreadsheets to manage their drivers. Then brokers have to make phone calls to look for truckers to move their loads.
It’s cumbersome and clearly in need of an overhaul, argues Shoaib Makani, who started the company after leaving Khosla Ventures.
Now that smartphone penetration is high enough in the U.S., Makani believes it’s time for an easier solution.
So he teamed up with Ryan Johns, who was previously a vice president of technology at Tapjoy, to start KeepTruckin. It’s a combination web and mobile service that helps drivers keep track of their hours on their phones. While developing the product, the founders interviewed hundreds of truckers, brokers, shippers and carriers while hanging out at truck stops in California.
“It’s a market area that has been really underserved,” Makani said.
They created a skeuomorphic user interface on their mobile app that almost looks like the paper logbooks so that truckers would feel comfortable using an app that felt familiar. It works with the current legal regulations and recognizes if a trucker might be running into a violation like driving for longer than eight hours. This is key because errors can cost drivers thousands of dollars in fines.
“The trucker wants to be in control,” Makani said, explaining why the app doesn’t auto-populate or passively detect when the driver is on the road or not. They’ve deployed the app to about 200 drivers so far in the field.
On the dispatcher side, trucking companies can direct message their drivers, audit their logbooks and track their location if the driver consents to it.
The plan is to let the app grow organically as truckers pick it up. Because all fleets are registered in a public database, KeepTruckin can use that to reach out to the employers of their users and market the fleet management software. The software is free for now, although they will charge a nominal amount per month per driver later on.
KeepTruckin has raised $2.3 million from investors, including Google Ventures and angels like Karma and Tapjoy co-founders Lee Linden and Ben Lewis, Playhaven COO Charles Yim, Greenoaks Capital and Zubair Jandali, who heads Google’s mobile app developer ad sales.
Microsoft would greatly appreciate it if you could knock off that Gmailing business and move to its Outlook.com email service. I refuse to, and so do more people than Microsoft prefers, so the company today released a new tool that will make it easier for Gmail users to jump ship.
The Outlook.com switching tool is designed to make changing inbox homes more seamless and less an exercise in re-tagging. It will propagate over the next few weeks to all 400 million-plus Outlook.com users — as well as current Gmail users who have yet to make the move — a simple path to a new email home.
The tool, which you can find directions for here, will hold your hand when changing teams, though expect to wait a bit as it could be a while for your email to slip over. The transition will bring over your most recent email more quickly than the rest. But, you should be sorted in short order. The new tool will land over the next few weeks. If you don’t have it now, sit tight.
The company has research indicating that people are more willing to change email providers if the friction betwixt the two is minimized. That’s logical. So, as Microsoft wants to knock Gmail off its tech throne (name a technology leader who swears by Outlook.com over Gmail), it is working to lower the delta between leaving Google and dropping into its own product.
Outlook.com is a worthy tool that is far superior to its Hotmail predecessor. Buckled with functionally unlimited storage, Outlook.com grew quickly organically, and then benefited from the end of Hotmail itself.
Top Image Credit: Flickr
Tipalti is one of those startups that flies under the radar and gets little press, but is growing faster than many other payments companies out there. The startup takes a slightly different approach than the big names to managing global payments for companies. Its SaaS streamlines and automates the way companies make payments to the masses. Basically, this is a solution for any company that is making hundreds of payments at one time, to different payees all over the world.
What makes Tipalti’s offering unique is that is covers all the phases of the pay-out — from payee registration and payment-method selection to funds disbursement — while keeping the payer in full tax and regulatory compliance, which is challenging when paying recipients in different countries. Tipalti’s framework allows companies to pay vendors in 190 countries.
This kind of product is particularly effective for companies with a large number of disbursed payments, such as affiliate networks, ad and monetization networks, publishers and others. With one line of code, these networks can embed Tipalti’s capabilities. When an affiliate or publisher signs up to be paid, a payments tab from Tipalti pops up and asks the payee where and how he or she wants to be paid, what forms they need to fill out and more. In these situations, says co-founder and CEO Chen Amit, payees will often designate varied ways of payments, including check, wire transfer, direct deposit and more. Managing this can be a huge challenge, he adds. Tipalti allows payees to be paid the way they want, and payers to avoid the hassle of dealing with all the regulatory issues and payments challenges.
In terms of the competition, some companies like Google and Microsoft, have developed proprietary tools that rival Tipalti, says Amit. But he believes his software is the best out there, especially with new fraud-management tools the company is releasing today. Tipalti is debuting a database for payers to report suspected fraudsters and anonymously share information with the community.
Amit explains that fraudulent activity in advertising and affiliate networks, app monetization networks, and other e-commerce sites cost network operators hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The most common types of fraud to affect electronic goods networks are click-fraud, the use of stolen payment-method details to purchase goods online, and attempts at money laundering. The database and fraud technology utilizes proprietary algorithms to detect and identify suspicious payees.
Once flagged, Tipalti assigns them a “risk review” status to alert the administrator who can decide to then block or manually review them. Payers can also opt to add suspicious payees to a global network shared among Tipalti mass-payers and to subscribe to automatic alerts when suspected payees try to join their network. Suspended payees aren’t paid until reviewed, while blocked payees aren’t paid at all and are flagged in the global database, alerting other Tipalti customers.
Ben Ishisaki, corporate controller at Tapjoy, says that since using Tipalti, the workload associated with mass payouts has decreased by over 50 percent. Amit tells us that the company has processed close to $1 billion in remittances, and has grown 15-fold over the past year. In terms of funding, Tipalti, which is three years old, has raised a little over $3 million from Oren Zeev, the investor behind Audible, Chegg, Houzz and others.
There are a number of ephemeral messaging apps out there (some might say too many), all of which are trying to give their users the ability to send self-destructing text messages or photos or videos, or some combination of the three. But those apps aren’t always intuitive, and that sometimes leads them to be used in ways that weren’t intended.
In a world where ephemeral messaging apps run wild, wouldn’t it be nice to have one that was fun and easy, but would still allow you to communicate with groups and share photos, videos and text messages all in one place?
That’s what Leo hopes to be.Enter Leo
The idea behind Leo, which is available for both iOS and Android, is to provide an ultra-lightweight platform for one-on-one and group conversations. The fact that its messages disappear will cause some to draw comparisons between it and all the other ephemeral messaging apps out there, but that kind of misses the point.
Yes, its messages self-destruct after a few seconds, but the rationale behind doing so isn’t necessarily about privacy. For Leo co-founder Carlos Whitt, the ephemeral nature of the app is more about getting rid of the “cognitive load” that comes with photos or videos being saved or shared in public.
People act and share differently when they know that a photo or video will live forever, the thinking goes. One need only look at Instagram and the all-too-perfectly filtered photos that appear there to know what Whitt is talking about. The impetus behind Leo, then, is to be able to share what you’re doing without having to worry too much about what happens to it.
In this new world, though, photos, text, and video are all disposable. And that will (hopefully) make users want to share more.
Making sharing lightweight isn’t just about having messages that float off into the ether after a few seconds. It’s also about getting the message out in the smallest number of clicks possible, and being able to quickly skim through a conversation as it’s happening.
That’s where Leo really excels.
Once you’ve started a conversation or been added to one, you follow what everyone in a group says through a linear conversation “stack,” with each photo or text message disappearing after five seconds. (Videos can be up to 10 seconds long.) Or if you’re impatient, you can skip to the next message by swiping the current one away.
To post your own message, it takes just a few clicks to contribute to it. At the bottom of the screen there’s one button for video, one for photos and one for text. Just select your media, shoot your moment, add (optional) text, and send to the group. It’s that simple.
“We wanted to make the easiest way to share things going on in your life, with the least amount of clicks to get there,” Whitt told me.A Man Walks Into A Bar
One of the other nice features of Leo is the ability to share to a group and participate in a many-to-many, ephemeral conversation. While Snapchat Stories lets you broadcast to your follower list, you get no real direct feedback from that communication. And while people can comment or respond to an Instagram post, the follower model means that not all viewers are able to participate in the conversation together.
With Leo’s implementation, anyone can create a new group and invite any of their friends. And anyone who has been invited to a group can invite someone else. So what happens if you’re invited to a group after it’s already kicked off and there’s a lively conversation going on?
Whitt says it’s kind of like if you came into a bar and started talking to a couple of your friends. You’d pick up on what they were talking about at that moment and could contribute to the conversation, but you wouldn’t know what they were talking about before you showed up.
In the same way, you can leave a group at any time — sort of like how you can just ghost at a party – but you won’t know what happens after you disappear.
I’ve been testing out Leo with a limited number of folks on the app — which includes the founders and a random assortment of their friends and family, not to mention the usual early adopter set — and it seems to work well for engaging people in conversation.
Different users in a conversation might not know each other, but they can easily friend one another and begin sharing in a separate conversation. And, of course, the app allows users to block one another if they don’t want to be bothered. But blocking a person means not being able to be contacted, as well as not seeing them in any conversations that you’re both a part of.
While the group dynamic speeds up the ability to capture a moment and share it with others who you’ve already started conversations with, my one quibble is that starting a new conversation isn’t as easy as it could be. If you haven’t already started a conversation with a friend, you have to ‘start a new group’ and then pick the people who you wish to share with.Founding Team And Backers
Leo is the brainchild of Whitt and co-founder Austin Broyles, two engineers who most recently worked together at Square. Whitt was a tech lead there, and before that was CTO at e-commerce data startup Adku, which had been acquired by Groupon. Broyles, meanwhile, worked on Square’s payments processing system and integration with Starbucks’ POS system, as well as the development of Square Cash. Before that, Broyles worked at Google, where he and Whitt overlapped for about five years but never really knew each other or worked together.
Both Whitt and Broyles left Square about four months ago and began working on building an app together. But, surprisingly, it wasn’t this one. They spent the first six to eight weeks working on an app that was designed to help groups share photos and experiences with each other.
In particular, they found there was too much work for too little payoff, and besides, people only used the app every now and again when there was a big group event to engage with. So they set out to build something that was just the opposite — quick, lightweight, and would bring people back several times a day to engage with each other.
Along the way, the founders brought together a pretty decent syndicate of investors, including Battery Ventures, Freestyle Capital, Greylock Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and SV Angel. Angel investors include Bob Lee, David King, Elad Gil, Mike Chu, Sara Haider, Steve Lee, Kent Goldman, and Raymond Tonsing. The company has raised $1.5 million to get things off the ground.
Now that it’s launched on the Apple App Store and Google Play, we’ll just have to see if it can get adoption. There’s plenty of competition out there, after all. Then again, users aren’t exactly religious about the messaging platforms that people use. And maybe, just maybe, a lightweight alternative is just what the market needs.
Ever since it launched five months ago, Appidemia has been on a rough ride thanks to Apple’s app policy. After weeks of exchanging emails with the review committee, the team decided to pull a plug on their most successful app because it cannot meet iOS 7 policy changes.
Appricot’s founder and CEO, Igor Salindrija said for TechCrunch that in order for the app to work, it has to be updated but the last version just couldn’t meet Apple’s rigid set of rules. Cupertino-based tech giant has turned down the app because it mimics certain aspects of the App Store. Applications that include filtering, bookmarking, searching or sharing recommendations are not considered significantly different from the App Store, therefore they cannot be approved by Apple. This forced Apppricot, the company behind the app, to make a final decision considering the future of Appidemia.
“Appidemia is a social discovery app and as such was getting a significant traction as well as positive feedback from users who preferred our solution for discovering new and useful apps. This latest and absolutely necessary update was, once again, kept on hold and then rejected which frustrated the team”, said Salindrija.
Before the final decision to shut down the app, Appidemia has managed to acquire more than 200,000 users with an almost perfect rating in the App Store. However, none of this mattered to Apple as none of the versions were approved by their app review service. Clearly disappointed, Sallindrija told TechCrunch that his team kept changing the app so much that they ended up with something completely different from their original idea.
This was never an option for Appidemia. Since shutting down, the team has shifted focus to a different project aiming to disrupt cross-platform collaboration.
“This was the only option and we hope our users can understand this”, said Salindrija.
Apple continues adding new channel partners to its Apple TV hardware, and now it’s rolling out four new ones today (via 9to5Mac), including Watch ABC for streaming local ABC affiliate content, Crackle for movies and TV, and KOR TV, a Korean language channel. There’s also Bloomberg, which is going to be streaming a live 24-hour news channel that provides content seven days a week.
This launch is just the most recent in what’s been an increasingly fast-paced rollout of new content partners on Apple’s set-top box, but it brings some interesting ingredients to the mix, including local broadcast TV streaming and a 24-hour news channel, which are key ingredients to what many users would consider basic TV service. Apple TV didn’t start off as a really viable cord-cutting alternative for people looking to ditch their cable subscriptions, but it’s been building up a piecemeal library of a la carte content that begins to become a truly worthy option.
It’s true that many of the services are still tied to cable service and TV packages, including the new Watch ABC channel and the HBO Go app that was launched previously, but it’s best to take all of these launches as baby steps in a larger plan that sees content unbundled from traditional sources. Apple’s Apple TV bet is a long play, and I think we’re only just starting to see the next curve around the bend on the long road to what will ultimately be a robust alternative to subscription-based bundled TV services.
Of course, that takes for granted these service providers can deliver content in a high-quality, reliable way. I’ve heard less than flattering things about the WSJ channel, which delivers live news content, but only during certain hours, unlike the Bloomberg effort. Still, the building blocks are falling into place, and Apple just needs to continue this rollout while avoiding a big blockade from legacy players along the way
Trouble At Yahoo: Partial Webmail Outage Hits Day Two, Surprise Small Business Websites Shutdowns Anger Customers
Normally a report of a web services outage goes like this: web service goes down, reporter writes post, hits publish, web service comes right back up. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for Yahoo Mail, which has been down for some users for well over 24 hours, and in some cases nearly two days, if the reports on Twitter and those rolling into our tips inbox are to be believed.
According to these reports, users have been seeing messages about “scheduled maintenance.” Yahoo’s Customer Care account @YahooCare confirmed this partial outage yesterday afternoon, and said that a fix was expected to arrive by 1:30 PM PT. The account also noted that users experiencing the outage could access their email via tablet or smartphone instead in the meantime.
However, based on the growing number of complaints on Twitter and via TechCrunch tips, it appears the issue has not yet been addressed as promised. “Yahoo mail has been down for 48 hrs. Literally unable to even check your inbox period,” wrote one unsatisfied customer. Another claims, “mine was down all last week.”
Though every web service has its issues – even Gmail this September experienced a “slowdown” where email arrivals were delayed – the company was perhaps more diligent in updating its users about the problems through its Apps status dashboard, where regular updates provided the current status of the problem. Yahoo, meanwhile, has posted a couple of tweets. The latest, acknowledging the ongoing problem, was posted after we reached out to Yahoo for comment.
We’re aware that some of our users are unable to access Yahoo Mail. We are aiming to restore all access by 1:30pm PT. Apologies.
— Yahoo Customer Care (@YahooCare) December 10, 2013
Yahoo Mail may be a free webmail service that most use for personal emails, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not mission-critical for some of its users. It may not be powering business communications on the scale of something like Microsoft Exchange or Google Apps, but a multi-day outage still needs to be communicated about and addressed in a more upfront fashion, which Yahoo has so far failed to do.Yahoo Small Business Website Deactivations Overwhelm Customer Service
The issues with customer service and communications are not limited to Yahoo Mail, it seems. For example, the company is also currently dealing with the fallout from its recent shuttering of email and web hosting services to customers related to the company’s former relationship with AT&T/SBC. Yahoo says it did notify users, but many business owners who missed this tidbit had their business websites shut down, and are now having trouble getting help bringing them back online.
Some have even taken to trolling the Yahoo Small Business Facebook page, when phone calls didn’t work. And this was a paid service for businesses.
Yahoo Small Business claims to have sent several emails and mailings about this impending shutdown, of course some users slipped through the cracks, as is usually the case when these things happen. The problem now is that these customers are not able to get the help they need to reactivate their sites, due to an overwhelmed customer service department.
Wrote one user to TechCrunch, “Yahoo is so overwhelmed they cannot answer phone calls or reply to emails. I’ve been on hold for hours and hours since last Sunday, spoke twice to a real person who in both instances sent me to another number that is absolutely unreachable.”
“They have shut down the websites of countless businesses. The last person I talked with [via phone] acknowledged they have no idea how many people they’ve impacted,” said the affected user.
Another complained to us, “many of us have been trying to figure out where our websites went and why we have no email access. This happened suddenly and without warning. Yahoo won’t answer its phones or emails and isn’t responding on Facebook either,” she says.
Coincidentally, the websites were activated just a day after “Shop-Small-Business Saturday,” a movement to encourage consumers to visit the small businesses in their own neighborhood.
We’ve reached out to Yahoo for further details on Yahoo’s Mail outage, and will update if a response is provided.
[Image credits: Yahoo, Twitter user Rozzystar, Yahoo on Facebook]View the story "Yahoo Mail Outage" on Storify]
New York-based Magzter, a startup founded in 2011 to help magazine publishers get their pubs in the hands of digital readers, regardless of which platform they choose to use to read. In two years of operation, the company has managed to rack up over 900 publisher partners and put out over 2,850 issues of magazines, the company says, all powered by its proprietary web-based simple publishing tool, which pushes out editions to iOS, Google Play, Windows 8, the web and both Amazon and Huawei’s dedicated app stores all at once.
Magzter has done a good job bringing on new clients so far, and has managed to secure some high-profile U.S.-based publications recently, including from publishers like Hearst, Condé Nast, Newsweek and more. That growth, and the ongoing push for the company to become the provider of choice for a wide variety of pubs, and their localized editions, to all potential digital subscribers, is what’s behind the new $10 million round of Series B funding the company is announcing today.
“Over time, we have seen a lot of the publishers in other geographies, a lot of the licensees in different parts of the world, are using Magzter,” explained Magzter CEO Girish Ramdas in an interview. “If you go to Magzter and type in ‘Maxim,” for example, you’ll find 10 to 15 editions of Magzter from different countries, including Switzerland, South Africa, India, Singapore, etc.”
Ramdas says that making it easy for publishers to publish all their international editions and make them available on the same platform to a worldwide audience is the big opportunity for Magzter, and the funding will go to helping push that opportunity so that more and more publishers are aware they can do it cheaply and easily.
I asked Ramdas why he believes Magzter stands a chance against strong legacy players like Adobe, which makes a digital publishing suite specifically targeted at the same customer group his company focuses on. He says that it has the advantage of being priced based only on usage via revenue share agreement, rather than subscription, so Magzter gets paid only when publishers do. It’s also an open platform, which provides simple one-click publishing tools for basic digitization but also allows people to build their own interactive functionality right in using HTML5.
The investors for this round are led by Singapore Press Holdings, which is a strategic partner in that it publishes over 100 magazines in Singapore and the surrounding region, reaching a total audience of around 3 million individuals. Magzter is also working on product solutions that better automatically format content from magazines for small screen devices, so that publications can reach an audience on iPhone at the same time as they reach the iPad and tablet crowd, but with a delivery method better suited to the smaller screen.
Digital publishing is an interesting space to be in, because while publishers have enjoyed some success from Newsstand and other initiatives, these haven’t really provided the drastic turnaround required to fend off sluggish print sales. Better tools are one ingredient for attracting and keeping audiences, but magazines will probably have to dig deeper to turn things around in general.