JustFab Goes Up A Size In Europe, Acquires Fab Shoes To Take Its Fashion Subscription Service To France And Spain
JustFab, the subscription-based fashion commerce site, is putting the $109 million that it has raised so far to use: today it is announcing the acquisition of The Fab Shoes, a European e-commerce shoe club in France and Spain, to build out its global operations. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The deal will give JustFab a stronger foothold in the European market: it already has operations in Germany, where it has a European HQ in Berlin, as well as in the UK; now it will be adding France and Spain, with the integrated site coming in July 2013. Growth in Europe has been coming at a fast pace for the company so far. In 2012, JustFab did $2 million in sales, co-founder and co-CEO Adam Goldenberg tells TechCrunch (he shares the CEO role with co-founder Don Resller). ”This year we are on track to exceed $30 million.” The Fab Shoes has slightly more than 500,000 users; combining that with the 1.5 million across Germany and the UK, JustFab will now have over 2 million members, with 15 million worldwide, and is on track to do $250 million in revenue globally ($215 million in the U.S.).
Call it a funny coincidence, but this isn’t the first acquisition JustFab has made of a would-be competitor with the word “Fab” in its name. Earlier this year, the company acquired FabKids to spearhead a move into children’s fashion. “We have a running joke that whoever is called ‘Fab’, we’ll buy them,” says CEO Adam Goldenberg. (And indeed that may not extend to the biggest Fab of all, Fab.com, which apparently is now raising a $250 million round at a $1 billion valuation.)
More seriously, Goldenberg says that his company is not singularly focused on buying up so-called “clones” of its own service. Taking a lesson from some of the challenges companies like Groupon have had digesting large, inorganic acquisitions to scale up their services — from what we understand Groupon has yet to migrate many of its extensive global assets on to a single common platform with the U.S. operation — JustFab has a different approach.
As Goldenberg describes it, the company’s M&A policy is based on acquiring smaller businesses that complement JustFab’s and are also built on the same subscription model. This means that they can be easily integrated into the bigger company’s infrastructure.
There is another reason for this: it’s increasingly a challenge for e-commerce fashion companies these days to raise money, with much of it going instead to those that have proven to have the most scale. “This is part of the reason why we raised such a big round last year,” Goldenberg noted. The Fab Shoes, founded in early 2012, was raising financing — or trying to — when JustFab came knocking.
“Scale and infrastructure are key if you want to grow quickly in the fashion business,” said Pablo Szefner, CEO of The Fab Shoes, in a statement. “While The Fab Shoes has had a lot of early success, we are thrilled to take our core business to the next level. With JustFab, we can provide our existing members and potential new customers with excellent styles, quality and service for an outstanding shopping experience.”
“We met Pablo and Xisco” — Pablo Szefner, CEO of The Fab Shoes and Xisco de la Calle, its COO — “and we decided this would be a great talent acquisition as well.” De la Calle will become the VP of operations for JustFab Europe, while Pablo becomes General Manager for France and Spain, overseeing 12 employees in Barcelona and Paris.
While some have waved a red flag over subscription-commerce sites — the implication being that they are not transparent enough about how they charge users on a regular basis — Goldenberg is insistent that this is a model that works well and is a hit with its customers, and investors. “There is a subscription commerce funding craze right now,” he says. “But because it is so low-cost you have to have the scale to make the economics of it work. We have millions of satisfied customers.”
Looking ahead, he says the company is planning to launch more products beyond the shoes that are the basis of the company’s model. In addition to childrens’ clothes that will go online in June, there is already denim and handbags that altogether make up about 30% of the company’s sales. And he hints that there will be another fashion category being launched later this year. “We’re building the next generation of H&M and Zara,” he says. Through all of that, “we’re staying entirely focused on subscription-based commerce.”
Twitter today made the latest push in its bid to cozy up to Madison Avenue and the world of big-budget advertising, by tapping more into the kind of mainstream mediums where advertisers like to spend their money. Today the big focus is TV and your living room. In New York, the company announced Twitter Amplify, a way of bringing real-time video into the site, with initial partners including the broadcasters BBC America, FOX, Fuse and The Weather Channel. And it also announced TV ad targeting, one of the first fruits of the company’s acquisition of BlueFin Labs.
Twitter ad targeting works like this: an advertiser or media buyer uses a special dashboard that Twitter has created for the service, which lets a brand monitor when an ad has aired on TV. Through this, the campaign manager can then send out Promoted Tweets that coordinate with them. They synchronise, Twitter says, using “video fingerprinting technology to automatically detect when and where a brand’s commercials are running on TV, without requiring that advertiser to do any manual tracking or upload media plan details,” Michael Fleischman, one of the co-founders of BlueFin Labs, and now a product manager for Twitter, notes in a blog post.
Through this, the advertiser is able to measure how socially responsive people are to the TV campaigns and vice versa. Using Twitter handles and hashtags on the TV ads will be how those advertisers shuttle people to the social network.
Twitter says it will be able to determine where and when an ad ran on TV, as well as track those who have subsequently tweeted about the ad and the TV program that it ran against. “We believe a user engaged enough with a TV show to tweet about it very likely saw the commercials as well,” the company notes on its blog.
The company is banking on a crucial stat as the leap of faith that this will all work: it says 64 percent of mobile-centric users on Twitter use it in front of the TV at home.
For now Twitter’s targeting service will be available only in the U.S.Broadcasting clips
Meanwhile, the instream broadcasting clips that are part of Twitter Amplify, starting with BBC America, FOX, Fuse and The Weather Channel, will be very closely tied to ads and video directly on the platform. This is something that Twitter has already been doing with partnerships with, for example, the NBA, where a video also features a link to an ad:
What’s interesting is that it looks like Twitter will be limiting use of this new kind of Twitter card to paying users, with Glenn Brown, director of promoted content and sponsorships, noting that they will be “powered by Promoted Tweets.” The idea appears to be that rather than replacing the TV experience (not yet at least!) these in-stream videos will be used as “spectacular, timely content that rounds out their TV experience or reminds them to tune in.” In other words, ways of getting people to the TV with teaser clips rather than simply offering them a way of seeing what they want on Twitter and cutting out the tube altogether.
Speaking at the New York event, CEO Dick Costolo talked about how the company has made advertising a more “frictionless” experience because of its emphasis of real-time updates. It’s clear that adding more broadcasting-like experiences into Twitter will further that concept.
Twitter has been making increasingly strong moves this year to get its platform to be more ad-friendly (and revenue-friendly). That kicked off in February with the launch of an advertising API so that larger advertisers can better manage their campaigns on Twitter; an improved advertising analytics dashboard; and Google AdWords-style keyword targeting (TC coverage here, here and here). Just earlier this week the company also unveiled the official launch of Lead Generation Cards, something Twitter had been testing for a while already, which lets advertisers include actions like requests for more information that users can get automatically by clicking a button in an advertising tweet. (You can see how this last one also sets the stage for Twitter making the leap into commerce, with one-click purchasing.)
While Twitter has not provided any official public guidance on how much it expects to make in advertising this year or in the future, there has been a lot of speculation about the number because many expect Twitter to go public, with a likely date in late 2013 or 2014, according to observers. A report from eMarketer in March noted that it was raising forecasts for the company to $583 million in 2013 and $950 million in ad sales in 2014, 60% coming from mobile.
The stats that Twitter’s president of global revenue, Adam Bain, provided last year shows just how much the company has grown over the last year. Bain noted at the time that Twitter had 140M+ active users; now that figure is estimated to be closer to 300 million.
Bain also had noted that 55% of users access Twitter on mobile, with 40% growth quarter over quarter, and that among Twitter’s active users, only some 60% actually tweet, but all of them “listen.” And in a sign that Twitter was always going to figure out a better way of leveraging ads on the platform, even a year ago, some 79% of people on the site were already following brands.
More to come.
Image: Jim Prosser
Another day, another acquisition by Yahoo.
Yahoo said this morning it’s acquired PlayerScale, a California-based startup that makes software infrastructure for cross-platform gaming. Financial details haven’t been disclosed.
PlayerScale, which was self-funded and cash-flow positive as of this past January, was founded in 2009. According to a VentureBeat article also from January, the company had a staff of 14. It’s not clear yet how many staff are involved and will be joining Yahoo — we’ve reached out for details and will update this with any information we receive. Update: Yahoo tells us that 7 people from PlayerScale are joining Yahoo as part of the transaction.
The four-year-old PlayerScale says its platform now has more than 150 million players, which marks significant growth from just this past January when our own Anthony Ha reported the platform had crossed the 100 million user line. For now this does not look like a straight acqui-hire situation, as both Yahoo and PlayerScale say the gaming platform will remain active post-acquisition and continue to be developed.
Here is a statement provided by Yahoo PR:
“The team has built an incredible gaming platform that is used by over 150 million players worldwide. We intend to continue to support and grow PlayerScale’s technology, and we look forward to building great new experiences on Yahoo! using the PlayerScale platform.”
“Today is a great day — both in our journey with PlayerScale and for users of our Player.IO product. We are happy to announce the next big step toward our goal of building the best possible gaming infrastructure platform: we have been acquired by Yahoo!. And don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere. Our platform will continue to support the same great games that you love playing today … and in fact, it will only get better from here!
Our goal has always been to help developers build the best possible games, without having to worry about building and scaling the infrastructure required to operate today’s biggest successes. In working with the folks at Yahoo!, it has become clear that we share this passion.
We have spent the past four years growing a three-person startup into a product that powers games played by over 150 million people worldwide and we are adding over 400,000 new users every day. In the last four months alone, we have increased our daily user growth rate by almost sixty percent. With Yahoo!’s backing, we can crank out awesome products and improvements to our platform faster than ever before. We will continue to support our existing product and deliver new services to help you grow and manage your success in cross-platform gaming — whether it’s casual, social or mobile.
Today marks a milestone for PlayerScale and I want to sincerely thank the team, our developers and millions of users for the adventure so far and can promise there will be more to come.
- Jesper Jensen”
The Fedora Project has been supporting Raspberry Pi, the diminutive $35 computer, for some time. Today they’re making the Pidora “remix” of the core Fedora distribution available. Like the Raspbian distribution of Debian, Pidora is compiled specifically to take advantage of the hardware already built into the Raspberry Pi.
Pidora offers a couple of interesting little additions to your standard Fedora desktop experience. The reduced oomph of the RPi means that the full-blown GNOME desktop is replaced with the lighter-weight XFCE. Pidora also offers an easy-to-use headless mode for folks running without a monitor. If you attach speakers to your RPi, it’ll helpfully say out loud what it’s IP address is. Clever trick.
The Pidora build was performed at Seneca’s Centre for Development of Open Technology, where they’ve been working with Fedora ARMv5tel/armv7hl build farms for the last couple of years. That experience was directly responsible for Pidora, since the RPi uses the ARMv6 architecture with a dedicated FPU, which is not strictly part of the ARMv6 spec.
According to CDOT’s Chris Tyler, there were three main challenges to getting Pidora out the door:
- Ordering the build — sequencing the initial build of over 10K source packages that have complex and sometimes circular dependency chains can be challenging.
- ARMv6-specific issues — armv5 and armv7 are the most common targets for ARM builds. Some packages make incorrect assumption or are missing code for armv6.
- Native building — Fedora has a native-build philosophy, which requires that package builds be performed on a system capable of executing the compiled code.
Tyler shared some additional details of why Pidora is an interesting option for Raspberry Pi owners:
Pidora contains a number of Raspberry Pi-specific Python modules and native libraries, such as WiringPi, bcm2835, and python-rpi.gpio. The kernel is also compiled to expose the Raspberry Pi interfaces such as I2C, SPI, serial, and GPIO, and several of these can be accessed with /sys file interfaces (even from bash) without using any special libraries or modules. In addition, Pidora contains Raspberry Pi-specific utilities and libraries for access to the Broadcom Videocore IV GPU.
I’ve only just recently acquired an RPi, and last night I installed Pidora onto an SD card. I was off to the races with no trouble at all.
The Fedora folks have a long history of giving out USB sticks with Fedora pre-loaded. I suspect we’ll soon start seeing SD cards pre-loaded with Pidora being handed out at conferences and events.
Paper by FiftyThree is one of the most beautiful digital products on the market today.
The immersive drawing app for tablets has won Apple’s Design Award, a Crunchie, and was most recently honored at Time Inc.’s 10 NYC Startups To Watch party. So how do you build on that kind of success?
Well, according to the founders, Paper is but the first product in a series of creative tools. The team is thinking pretty seriously about what comes next, and it seems as though a stylus is where things are headed.
“The human hand has evolved to use tools,” said co-founder Georg Petchnigg. “You have wrists to do fine-detailed work, so the idea of a stylus is really interesting to us. It’s something that we’re thinking about because we want to deliver the best creation experience on tablets, so a stylus is right at the forefront of that.”
Currently, FiftyThree recommends customers on its website buy a stylus, linking to an Amazon stylus page as well as promoting the Pogo Connect.
But new products aren’t the only concern at FiftyThree. The team is also constantly thinking about how to reach a broader audience. As co-founder Julian Walker put it, “everyone out there is creative.”
That said, the company recently launched a new stream of content called Made With Paper, to help users get inspiration from other works created in the app. This is just a first step in building out more social, community-based features that will not only attract new users but keep loyal ones engaged.
More signs today the HTC First might also be the last smartphone to ship with Facebook Home pre-installed: UK carrier EE confirmed today that the first Facebook Home phone won’t be launching in the UK soon as planned, as Facebook has decided to concentrate its efforts on making improvements to the Home software before looking to add international markets. EE says it will soon be contacting customers who already used its pre-order system to express interest in the First to let them know about the delay, which is indefinite in length.
Here’s the full statement direct from EE:
Following customer feedback, Facebook has decided to focus on adding new customisation features to Facebook Home over the coming months. While they are working to make a better Facebook Home experience, they have recommended holding off launching the HTC First in the UK, and so we will shortly be contacting those who registered their interest with us to let them know of this decision.
Rest assured, we remain committed to bringing our customers the latest mobile experiences, and we will continue to build on our strong relationship with Facebook so as to offer customers new opportunities in the future.
We’ve also received a near-identical statement from Orange in France, where customers were also able to register their interest, so this isn’t limited to just the UK.
This is not great news for either Facebook or HTC. We’ve seen reports that Facebook Home has been performing poorly as a download, and that the First isn’t selling well in the U.S. Home currently has a 2.5 cumulative average rating in the Google Play store, and AT&T is reportedly in the process of discontinuing the HTC First, though we’ve not heard definitely either way if that’s the final word as of yet.
A so-called “Facebook Phone” under-performing is nothing new; the HTC Status did almost just as poorly, lasting only 36 days before AT&T started considering a swing of the axe.
As of press time, there’s still a button on the Facebook Home splash page that directs you to a page where you can express interest in a pre-order, but presumably that will come down as the carriers move to reflect this change in their own pages and alert customers of the change in the First’s status.
Update: Facebook has povided the following official statement regarding its decision, which mirrors those issued by EE and Orange France:
We’ve listened to feedback from users on their experience using Home. While many people love it, we’ve heard a lot of great feedback about how to make Home substantially better. As a result we’re focusing the next few months on adding customization features that address the feedback we received. While we focus on making Home better, we are going to limit supporting new devices and think it makes a lot of sense for EE and Orange to hold off deploying the HTC First in Europe.
The launch comes amidst an apparently strong period of growth for the San Francisco-based Nextdoor. In an interview this week, CEO Nirav Tolia said that Nextdoor now has private networks created for 12,600 neighborhoods across all 50 states, which is more than 50 percent up from just three months ago when Nextdoor had some 8,000 neighborhoods created on its system and a significant boost from late March when it crossed the 10,000 neighborhood line.
The launch should also be a welcome debut for Nextdoor’s users, as up until now 30 percent of visits to Nextdoor.com have been coming through mobmile browsers, with 30 percent of new user invitations occurring through a mobile browser as well. “A mobile app was our number one requested feature and has been for past year,” Tolia said. The company is currently working on an Android app that should be released at some point in the next few months.
In our phone interview, Tolia said that the mobile launch could be a “game changer” for Nextdoor’s usage, from being aware of urgent issues such as crime (like Alexia’s jog-discouraging local robbery) and natural disasters to more everyday neighborhood fare like lost pets. “When you have a camera and an instant content delivery device in your hand, all of these things become better,” Tolia said. You can also use the app to easily private message your neighbors.
Nextdoor, which first launched in 2011, has raised $40.2 million in funding from a heavy-hitting list of venture capital firms including Greylock Partners, Benchmark, DAG Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Allen & Company, Pinnacle Ventures, along with new investors Bezos Expeditions and Google Ventures. The company has around 50 staff.
Editor’s note: Gavin Newsom is Lieutenant Governor of California and the former Mayor of San Francisco. In 2004, he defied state law and married same-sex couples. He recently published “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.” Follow him on Twitter @GavinNewsom.
It is outrageous. Once again the gay community is reminded of where it stands with the political leadership, both Democrats and Republicans. Their rights have been traded away for the sake of a political deal in Washington, D.C. The Senate Judiciary Committee, after five days of deliberations, passed out the “Gang of 8” comprehensive immigration reform bill, but without protections for same-sex couples.
The rights of the gay community are being dealt away once again for political expediency. This issue is not about policy or principle for Congressional Republicans, it is about homophobia and bigotry. There is no moral courage for Republicans in this debate; there is only tactical positioning.
Would we allow Congress to treat women this way? No.
Would we allow Congress to treat African-Americans or Latinos this way? No.
Why is it acceptable for Washington politicians to treat gay and lesbian couples this way? It is not!
Congress cannot continue to treat the gay community as second-class citizens. I applaud Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) for having raised the issue and preparing two amendments to the immigration reform bill. One amendment allows immigration rights for same-sex couples with permanent partners, and the other affords immigration rights to married same-sex couples.
But at the end of the day, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) held the bill hostage for the sake of bigotry and hatred. There is no morality or conviction here for Republicans, there is only politics. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) recently reminded Americans what this debate is about for Republicans when he pointed out that without the immigration reform bill, they cannot even “begin the conversation with our Hispanic voters, and all you have to do is the math.”
Republicans need this bill to remain relevant with Latino voters, and Democrats need to call their bluff. This is an opportunity to put our principled democratic values up against the right’s homophobia.
Rubio called the same-sex amendments a poison pill that would have killed the deal. But Rubio and his Republican colleagues cannot afford to lose immigration reform for fear of losing elections. If there is one thing Republicans despise more than gays, it is losing elections.
The gay community and their allies need to speak loudly and let leaders in Washington know that enough is enough. They need to count on Congressional Democrats to protect their civil rights, and if they fail to do so, they should expect to lose campaign money, volunteers and support.
At what point do Congress and the president decide once and for all that civil rights are universal and not subject to the whim of a minority party, representing a dwindling minority view about gay and lesbian couples.
It is time for Washington to get on the right side of history.
Becoming an investor is easier than it’s ever been, and yet the vast majority of people today aren’t making individual investments. To help get more people investing, Loyal3 has built a platform enabling consumers to invest in companies without paying transaction or management fees. And to meet that goal, the company has raised more money in an effort to democratize stock ownership.
Loyal3 brought on another $18 million in Series C financing, which was led by DNS-L3, an entity controlled by the business interests of Michael Pucker and Gigi Pritzker Pucker. Additional investors include former Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly and Loyal3 Chairman and CEO Barry Schneider, both existing investors in the company. Altogether, it’s now raised $45 million to make investing easy and accessible for regular investors.
Despite falling transaction and management fees, as well as wider availability of online tools for investing in stocks, only about 18 percent of people in the U.S. have made individual investments, according to Schneider. Part of the reason for that is the costs involved with making stock purchases, but part of it is also connected to the ease of use — or lack thereof — on most online trading platforms.
Loyal3 seeks to change that, by enabling its users to easily invest in brands that they know and recognize. It allows investors to purchase as little as $10 in stock for the top 50 brands on Facebook, as well as some other brands that the company works with.
Rather than having its users sort through various tickers or search for public companies themselves, Loyal3 provides visitors to its platform with the logos of brands they can invest in. Once they choose a brand they have an affinity for, it takes about three clicks to actually put money into those companies.
Being the curious dude I am, I tested out the platform for myself, putting $10 into a company I have an affinity for — AB InBev.* Sure enough, the process was drop-dead simple, even for someone like me, who tends to think he’s too dumb and poor to make individual investments.
And that is the point: Loyal3 makes it easy enough and cheap enough for basically anyone to buy stock. With a ridiculously low minimum purchase price and a simple purchasing interface, the company makes stock ownership accessible to pretty much anyone. In addition to individual purchases, individuals can choose to schedule monthly transactions to be automatically deducted from their bank accounts. There’s a minimum of $10 per investment, but a maximum of $2,500 per stock per month.
How can it provide this fee-free service? Loyal3 does it by getting brands to pay whatever transaction fees are associated with the trades. For them, giving common investors ownership is another form of brand marketing, and it creates greater affinity between the purchaser and the company itself. According to Schneider, people spend more, refer their friends more, and shop more often with companies they have direct ownership in.
From a capital markets perspective, the program also brings incremental demand for participating companies’ stock. While it won’t necessarily move markets, in the long term this type of program could help stabilize the price of certain stocks. Loyal3 doesn’t allow stock shorting, and it doesn’t lend shares to speculative investors who wish to short certain stocks. Schneider says it also provides a lower cost way for companies to manage retail shareholders.
* I would have invested my $10 in a tech company like Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, or Google, but that would have been a HUGE CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
The biggest names in technology have normally been unflinching champions for the rights of same-sex couples. Yet, they were conspicuously silent this week as the Senate rejected the right for American same-sex couples to petition for visas for their foreign-born partners.
“I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy after pulling a provision for foreign-born gay partners after Republicans threatened to abandon support for the fragile comprehensive immigration reform bill.
High-skilled immigration reform has been priority No. 1 for leaders in the technology industry who have aggressively lobbied for more immigrant scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Despite near unanimous support for more high-skilled immigrants, disagreements over border security, undocumented workers, and (now) gay rights have threatened reform for any part of the immigration system.
“I’m a politician. That means I have chosen my life’s work in the constraints of the system to accomplish as much good as I can. I accept the tough choices, the painful but necessary imperfection of compromise, which is a part of our system of government,” admitted Senator Chuck Schumer, who voted for the compromised draft in the influential Judiciary Committee, which is charged with crafting the law.
But, the battle for immigration reform is far from over and the technology community still has time to prove it’s morally strong enough not to sacrifice the rights of one group for another.
In the past, they’ve been big supporters of same-sex rights. Apple, Facebook, and a laundry list of other companies sent an unequivocal affidavit to the Supreme Court on why gay rights are essential to competing in a global economy, where many of our national competitors are more supportive of their gay employees.
Google, almost every year, unleashes a full-fledged social media campaign to stoke grassroots support of state amendments legalizing same-sex marriage (watch one adorable video below).
Indeed, the temptation to compromise on civil rights progress is not new to the United States. In the 19th century, abolitionist and feminist leaders erupted in vicious internal struggles over whether black abolitionists should also support female equality at the risk of their own causes. Eventually, black rights hero Frederick Douglass was persuaded by icononic feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that we should not choose between the rights of groups for political expediency.
“I have never yet been able to find one consideration, one argument, or suggestion in favor of man’s right to participate in civil government which did not equally apply to the right of woman,” Douglass said, after years of debate.
The 21st century civil rights struggles face the same dilemma. If supporters claim to the be on the “right side of history”, then we should recognize that well-intentioned piecemeal civil rights for political expediency has historically been the most biting form of bigotry.
The tech community I know and love is not a culture of moral compromisers. This is your moment. Speak up.
Being behind in a market sucks, and it’s understandable to want to lash out at the top dog, as Microsoft has shown it’s willing to do with Google in search and email, and now with Apple in tablet computers. A brand new Windows 8 ad pits the iPad against Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet, in an attempt to show how much more versatile the Asus VivoTab is vs. the iOS device.
Microsoft uses Siri’s voice (which isn’t difficult, given that it’s a fairly generic computer-generated female tone) to highlight what the Windows 8 tablet can do that the iPad can’t, including things like live tiles (it took me a couple views to figure out what “I don’t update like that” even meant), Windows Snap multitasking, and… PowerPoint. Then finally we get a price comparison, showing the much cheaper price tag for the Asus.
The problem is that not only is the Siri construct weak and her actual lines poorly written, but the abilities Microsoft chooses to highlight show exactly why it doesn’t “get” the tablet market. People aren’t looking for multitasking PowerPoint slide deck-creating machines; they have computers for that.
The closing bit here is maybe the worst part; showing that Apple’s iPad can easily provide a remarkably realistic experience for playing Chopsticks on the screen is not the way to trash your competition, especially if you noticeably can’t offer up an equivalent experience on your own hardware. Apple uses that in its own ads for a reason, and that’s to highlight the magical, delightful experiences users can have on its device. Countering that with a bunch of sober (though admittedly useful) features isn’t the way to turn the tide back in your favor.
An earlier version of this post mistakenly identified the Asus VivoTab in this ad as a Surface.
Sometimes, when a truly innovative startup is acquired by a larger company, innovation slows to a crawl. And other times, when an acquisition happens, a company gets the backup and investment it needs to keep on innovating. It seems like that latter case is true for Mailbox, which, two months after being acquired by Dropbox, is now ready to release its iPad app to the world.
Mailbox has been working on the app since well before the acquisition, testing out various form factors and iterations in an effort to get it just right. In a video interview last week, Mailbox founder Gentry Underwood showed us the app, explaining how the company reformatted its features specifically for the larger screen of the iPad. For one thing, the app works only in landscape mode, with a list of messages that have yet to be read on the left-hand side, and a preview pane so that users can read emails in full on the right.
“The iPad is an interesting design challenge,” Underwood told me. “It sits halfway between a mobile device and a laptop. Sometimes we use them like luxuriously large phones and other times we use them almost as laptop replacements.” As a result, that changes what people do with their email client.
“Our goal was to create an experience that was as fast and fluid for processing mail as you might do on a phone — so very quickly being able to go through and triage your messages like you can on Mailbox for iPhone,” he said. “But also, leaving enough real estate for those times when you might have a keyboard up… and you’re actually trying to use your iPad as you might use a laptop to actually get through messages in a more intentional way.”
The goal for Mailbox was to try to find a marriage between those situations that satisfied both conditions. To do that, Mailbox took advantage of the greater screen real estate to give users a greater view into the mail that they had to get through. It starts with landscape mode, which brings in both the ability to see which messages you have yet to read through, while also being able to view entire emails at once.
“A large number of people use these [devices] as laptop replacements, particularly people on the road a lot who want to take advantage of the lighter weight, the longer battery life, no need to plug it in during the day,” Underwood said. “For those people, we wanted to create an experience that was as good, or better, than they might find on their own laptops.”
To replicate the experience of those so-called road warriors, Underwood even went without a laptop for a while, living only with his mobile phone and tablet, as a way to “build empathy” for the mobile-only email user. While testing it for himself was helpful, Mailbox also relied on the Dropbox testing community to get feedback for the iPad app before release as well.
What the company learned was that just because it had more screen to work with, that didn’t mean it should add unnecessary clutter. Notably, next to the email list and the preview pane, Mailbox doesn’t also give a window into all of the different folders that you can pre-sort items into. Underwood said that the team had tested that out, but found the experience ultimately too busy. So, like the iPhone app, the iPad app hides the list of folders.
“We spent a fair amount of time trying to create an experience that was consistent with what people are used to today,” he said. Even so, the new app takes advantage of the bigger screen to enable longer-form composition, whether that means using the built-in touch-screen keyboard, or some sort of Bluetooth-enabled iPad accessory designed to make composing on the device even easier.
This is the first major release that Mailbox has had since its acquisition by Dropbox. Being part of the larger company means more infrastructure support, and Mailbox has hired a few new faces in engineering since the acquisition. Some of the other advantages include being able to take advantage of Dropbox’s support team, as well as its recruiting, operations, and administrative infrastructure.
While it’s great that Mailbox now has an app for iPhone and iPad, there are still other platforms for it to conquer. What comes next? Android? Desktop?
“We don’t really speak about the specific order of the future [road map], but I will say that people ask us often for an Android app. We hear often requests for a desktop app as well. We’re going as fast as we can to get Mailbox on as many device and get support for as many email providers as we can,” Underwood told me.
Great non-answer, Gentry! For all you non-iPhone or -iPad users, hold your horses while they work to get the app on more devices. In the meantime, check out the video and demo above to get a look at what you can expect from Mailbox for iPad — that is, if you haven’t downloaded it already.
Cloudera Founder's Enterprise Data App Management Startup WibiData Raises $15M From Canaan Partners, Eric Schmidt And Others
WibiData, the enterprise data management startup co-founded by Cloudera founder Christophe Bisciglia and Aaron Kimball, has raised $15 million in a Series B funding led by Canaan Partners with participation from existing investors, including NEA and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Canaan Partners partner Ross Fubini has joined the WibiData board. NEA Partner Jon Sakoda will continue to serve on the board as well. This brings the company’s funding to over $20 million.
Simply put, WibiData builds large-scale data applications for companies. WibiData wants to help companies manage and analyze complex business data about users so you can predict how they are going to interact with the product in the future. Data such as email records, web histories and other interactions cannot be easily analyzed together, but WibiData aims to solve this problem. Specifically, the technology can be used for personalization for a number of web companies, including consumer web, e-commerce and gaming companies.
Bisciglia explains to us that the focus of the startup is connecting the models that data scientists build on backend of large online businesses in realtime to front end applications.
The company’s client base counts Wikipedia, Rich Relevance, Opower, and Atlassian. For example, Wikipedia has used WibiData to better understand their contributor community, such as analyzing revision histories, understanding individual areas of expertise, and identifying trends in contribution patterns. Another retail Big Data Application suite allows organizations to personalize content, improve search relevancy, deliver targeted recommendations and integrate anomaly detection directly into application channels across the web, mobile devices and in store.
On the backend, Cloudera leverages Apache Hadoop to manage and analyze large amounts of data. Bisciglia has in-depth experience with the technology as the founder of Cloudera, a developer and commercial distributor of Hadoop, the open source software that powers the data processing engines of the worldʼs largest and most popular web sites. Prior to Cloudera, Bisciglia was a senior engineer at Google where he founded and led Google’s Academic Cloud Computing Initiative, which provides Google hosted computational resources to facilitate education and research to universities around the world.
WibiData applications, says Bisiglia, are based on the open source Kiji.
Canaan Partners’ Fubini explains the firm’s investment in the company: “Christophe and the team have been at the vanguard of the Hadoop movement, providing unparalleled insight into the resources involved deploying Hadoop across Fortune 500 companies…WibiData’s Big Data Applications will be essential in delivering on the promise that Big Data offers enterprises.”
As for what the new funding will be used for, Bisiglia says that Wibidata, which now counts several large enterprises as customers, will be used towards major expansion. The company will be hiring more staff in sales, marketing, product and engineering and will likely triple in size in the coming year.
It comes of no surprise that investors and doubling down on the enterprise data space. And with Bisiglia as a founder, VCs are betting that he’ll be able to build another successful data and infrastructure company.
Cross-Platform Messaging App Imo.im Raises $13M, Wants You To Meet New People By Broadcasting Yourself
Social networking and messaging firm Imo.im has an interesting new take on social networking, and it’s raised money to get more people on board! The funding was led by co-founder Georges Harik, who also just happened to be one of Google’s first 10 employees, and therefore is swimming in money.
The funding of Imo.im is designed to help it become a sort of next-generation social network. Today’s social networks are too focused on connecting you with people from work and high school and college. To your annoying neighbors and their pets. But the truth is, why would you just want to talk to people you already know?
This is the 21st century. Get with it. The new social network is all about finding new people you haven’t been introduced to and annoying them with your stupid status updates and teenage-and-pregnant baby pictures.
And so Imo.im, which started out as a platform for communicating with people on various messaging services but has evolved to become a social network in and of itself. Until recently, that was based on a “Meet New People” feature, but now users will be able to try to get to know one another with the addition of a thing called “broadcasts.”
With the Broadcasts feed, users will be given a channel to easily discover new people, information, and topics based on their own interests. Since Imo.im will learn about those interests in the least creepy way possible, it’ll be able to suggest people to you without you even having to make an explicit ask about things you have in common. They’ll be able to take and share photos into that feed, which will be broadcast out to other users.
Shazam Revamps Its iPad App For Second Screen Action, Can Now “AutoTag” In Background While You Watch TV
Although the majority of Shazam‘s over 93 million U.S. users still use the app on their smartphones to identify, tag and share the songs they’re “hearing,” a growing chunk of that user base – around 10 million in the U.S. last year – has used Shazam to identify TV programs and ads. Today, the company aims to better serve this audience with the release of a new, universal iOS application which introduces a number of new features, including the ability to have the “shazaming” process run automatically in the background.
This feature, called “Auto-Tagging,” is the standout in today’s release. Before, users had to kick off the tagging option by tapping on the screen, then waiting while Shazam listened and then identified the sounds they were hearing, whether that was music, a TV show or a TV ad. While that’s still how things will work on the smartphone version, the updated iPad app now offers a more passive experience, designed for those using the app as a second screen while watching TV.
Notably, the feature will not be switched on by default.
Instead, after downloading the updated version, users will be walked through a brief tutorial that explains what Auto-Tagging is all about, then allowing users to switch it on, if desired. If they do so, the app will run in the background, listening for anything it can identify, and loading those items into a carousel at the top of its homescreen.
From here, users can interact with the content much as before – sharing it on social media, buying the song, show or movie from iTunes or Amazon, or in the case of TV shows, learning more about the cast and episode, viewing a playlist of songs in the broadcast, or heading off to sites like Wikipedia, IMDb, the official website and/or store, and more.
Some TV shows will work continue to work with the company to offer enhanced experiences, like “American Idol” had done in the past, and “The Voice” is doing now. These experiences are generally offered to TV show producers for free, with the stipulation that they have to promote Shazam on air.
However, the Fiat Brand and Fox Broadcasting Company are sponsoring the new app for the first three months after today’s debut, which is a paid relationship.
“Auto-tagging sets us apart from the industry,” explains Shazam’s EVP of Marketing, David Jones of the app’s big new feature. “The whole idea is that Shazam was already lightning fast and couldn’t be easier – it was press one button and, in a couple of seconds, you got the answers. We just one-upped ourselves. We got rid of that step,” he adds.
The company started working with television content as far back as 2010, and slowly began to build up its database with several dozen TV shows. It enabled “Shazaming” of many major events, including the Grammys, Super Bowl, and MLB games. Then, in September 2012, Shazam announced the app could now tag any show on any channel.
Today, the app supports 160 channels of live or DVR’d TV, including all nationwide programming and most nationwide TV ads as well – even the ones which have not been Shazam-optimized by those paying to run ad campaigns. To date, over 150 brands have run over 250 TV ad campaigns, leading to a “double-digit millions” revenue stream run rate, that is “doubling every quarter,” says Jones. “It’s a ‘green field’ situation. We can grow this as fast as we can move,” he says.
Meanwhile, he notes his company’s second screen competitors are struggling to get a couple of million downloads. (To be clear, he means apps used to ID content on TV. SoundHound is a Shazam competitor with over 100 million users, but its focus is on music.)
Though auto-tagging is the biggest of today’s new features, the updated app will also offer a revamped user experience on iPad which includes a way to view songs and TV shows trending around the U.S., as well as popular songs around the world. The social features which previously let users see what their friends are tagging so they could comment on that, are also now available on iPad, as are the full screen “LyricPlay” lyrics for music.
And Shazam has extended its relationship with Rdio, now allowing subscribers to hear a song in its entirety, instead of just a preview. Users can also sign up for trials, and Shazam will earn affiliate income for those who convert to paying customers. Jones declined to go into the details of the two companies’ specific deal, here, though.
With now over 300 million users worldwide, 93 million in the U.S, plus $300 million in music sales last year, and double-digits millions more in TV ad sales, the company is leading the pack of listening companions and second screen apps today. The updated iOS app will help it progress even further, and an Android tablet app is now in the works, as well.
After the aesthetic elegance of Dots, prepare for another injection of minimalist puzzle game beauty. Blip Blup is the new game from London-based design house and app studio ustwo — maker of Whale Trail, a mobile game that snagged an e-book deal, plus a raft of other interesting apps including most recently Rando (random photo-sharing) and Honk (visual messaging).
Blip Blup has just launched on iOS for iPhone and iPad, either free with ads, or $1.99 ad free. It’s also available free with ads on Android (upgradable to ad-free via in-app purchase). The basic gameplay involves triggering pulses of light so that they fill in all the empty space in each level. Light pulses can be blocked by walls, and won’t travel around corners but will travel diagonally. There are also other elements introduced as your progress, such as arrows that force the direction of the light and explosive tiles to avoid. The fewer light pulses (blips) you use to fill in a level, the higher your score.
The first thing that stands out about Blip Blup is that ustwo has gone for a minimalist, abstract design aesthetic, rather than a skeumorphic look and feel — despite apparently experimenting with the latter. Too much realism just didn’t fit the puzzle gameplay, says ustwo. “Getting to the final treatment was an exercise in finding a balance between our love for beautiful design as a studio and simple graphics that allow the puzzle-solving to be centre-stage,” it explains in a blog.
“Skeuomorphic design in this instance would have stifled the complex puzzle solving nature of Blip Blup,” adds ustwo co-founder Matt Miller. “The puzzle and the solution needed to be at the front and centre stage with nothing getting in the way of that focus. We believe in the core gameplay of Blip Blup and feel that the minimal design supports that without overwhelming it with unnecessary graphics.”
Miller says Blip Blup is designed specifically to appeal to people who are also interested in visual design, and who therefore might not be turned on by traditional gaming aesthetics. “Over the past decade and as a direct result of mobile app-based gaming, gamers have increased in terms of numbers and diversity. This shift has meant that creators, who previously had to appeal to large and ‘safe’ audiences, can instead cater to more specific and targeted audiences. For example appealing to players who are interested in interacting with great visual design, rather than those who prefer cartoon characters and fantasy locations,” he tells TechCrunch.
“Minimalist design in game visuals presents interesting challenges. In a way, you are reducing your available visual toolset, to a few essential tools. But with these tools, you still need to convey success and failure, important objects, objects that are on or off, and so on. The mass audience definitely reacts favourably to matching shiny gems together, or seeing projectiles strike a tower of glass and wood blocks. But there’s an audience out there that love the cleanliness of a grid, or the satisfaction of filling an abstract space completely with colour even more.”
“We see visual design and interaction design as one area in gaming and this means we can ultimately create new experiences and potentially speak to a new audience,” he adds.
Blip Blub’s minimalist design certainly brings to mind betaworks’ Dots (not least because ustwo wanted to call it just Blip, before realising that name had been taken), which also recently caught our eye. Or even Peter Molyneux’s Curiosity. But with so many mobile games still opting for a cartoon aesthetic — a la Angry Birds — taking a different tack by stripping back the visuals feels refreshing — likely making these puzzlers stand out more than they would have on gameplay alone. It also seems to echo the wider digital design trend that’s been flattening graphics and decluttering visuals all over the web and mobile, doing away with realistic bells and whistles and replacing them with plain blocks of colour to allow shapes to shine through.
Blip Blub doesn’t feel entirely flat — the light pulses move via subtle colour gradations — but it’s certainly minimalistic. Its look is complemented by an ambient soundtrack that weaves in gameplay actions, with each light pulse adding a few more notes to the soundscape. (In fact ustwo says the sound is “50% of the Blip Blup experience”.) The overall effect is reflective, meditative and very relaxing. This would be a great game to play to destress after a hard day.
The slow, relaxed paced is matched by the gradual gameplay progression, with basic tutorial puzzles leading you step by step to proper levels and from there turning the screw to up the difficulty by adding new elements to the mix. There are 120+ puzzles in the free game distributed across nine levels, and 140+ across 10 levels in the paid game.
Jawfish Games, a Seattle-based startup run by a former professional poker player and the engineering team that built the Fult Tilt Poker site, launched a gaming platform that can host more than 100,000 simultaneous players in real-time tournaments across iOS, Android and the web.
While asynchronous, turn-based games have done well on mobile platforms and Facebook over the last five years, pure, real-time multiplayer games haven’t caught on as quickly partially because data connections haven’t been fast enough and because a game developer would need a critical mass of players to match them synchronously.
But Jawfish, which has raised $3.65 million in funding from firms like Founders Fund’s angel fund, Right Side Capital and other angels, says it has built a platform to do just that. Their platform can support more than 100,000 simultaneous players and host 1 million tournaments for less than $10 in bandwidth.
They initially came out with a few games in partnership with Seattle’s Big Fish Games, but now they’re bringing out more of their own titles.
Because Jawfish’s CEO Phil Gordon is a championship professional poker career who has hosted The World Series of Poker and published five books on the game, the company is doing a poker game (of course). The poker game is designed to have the look and feel of a broadcasted game with Gordon’s running commentary throughout play.
They’ve also launched a basic word search game, called Jawfish Words, that lets players compete on the getting the highest scores, finding the longest words or the most diagonals. There more obscure goals too, like finding the most words with a single vowel. They launched that game last month through a partnership with Amazon. The company has pointed out some promising stats: the average player spends 21 minutes and plays 10.7 tournaments a day. Each tournament is about 60 to 90 seconds long.
They plan to building out a suite of classic games, from casual to casino titles that make use of the platform. “Basically what we’re looking to do is to take games that people know and love and reinvent them for multiplayer real-time tournaments,” Gordon said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do across a wide spectrum of games.”
While Jawfish hasn’t opened its platform up to third-party developers, there are other gaming networks that add multi-player mode to indie titles that are blowing up. Nextpeer, an Israeli startup, went from having just a few games in its network to well over 1,000 developers in the last several months.
“Barring a top 10-kind of franchise wanting to use our platform for multiplayer mode, it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to work with other studios,” Gordon said. “Certainly not for anything but the top tier. We know that our platform is the only one of its kind in the world and we think that it’s in our interest to keep the platform close to the vest and develop our own games.”
Amazon Takes Kindle Fire HD Tablets To 170 Countries As It Ramps Up Its Appstore To Nearly 200 Markets
No, we still don’t have any word from Amazon on where it stands with a smartphone, but it’s definitely making its mobile ambitions clear anyway. Today, the e-commerce giant took two more steps in its strategy to scale up its Kindle Fire tablet business. It announced that it will now sell the two higher-end versions of the device, the Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, in 170 countries. And it also said that its Amazon Appstore will now be available in 200 countries.
Pre-orders in 170 countries begins today with the first models shipping out June 13, priced at the local equivalents of $284 for the 8.9″ model and $214 for the 7″ model.
Up to now, the Android-based Appstore, which works both on Amazon’s Fire tablet range but also other Android devices, has only been live in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, China and Japan, with Brazil next in line. It makes sense that Amazon will have opened it up at the same time as it’s ramping up its Fire tablet distribution.
“We are thrilled to be expanding the reach of our global app distribution to nearly 200 countries,” said Mike George, VP of Apps and Games at Amazon, in a statement. “By further expanding the distribution of apps to millions of customers around the world, we are continuing to make it easy for customers to enjoy their Amazon apps on Kindle Fire and any Android device.”
Amazon will be kicking off with a couple of free games — a tradition of Amazon’s when it opens up a new store front to focus on some bestsellers. In this case, it will be “Fruit Ninja” and “Cut the Rope: Experiments,” which will be free respectively on May 23 and May 24.
On a more long-tail note, it’s important for Amazon to make its Appstore as globally available as possible as a way of enticing more developers to the platform. In addition to giving them the promise of wide audiences, Amazon has also turned on features like in-app payments, subscriptions and even its own virtual currency, Amazon Coins, to give developers more flexibility in how they make money on its plaform (and, taking a page from Apple’s book, tie them and users further into the Amazon ecosystem in the process). It comes also on the heels of the company previewing the global Appstore availability in April, when it began to invite developers to start submitting their apps.
The company, as usual with Amazon, has remained tight-lipped on how many tablets it has sold since launching the Kindle Fire range in 2011. Today, however, Dave Limp, VP, Amazon Kindle, noted that the Kindle Fire HD (the 7″ model) has been the company’s “#1 best-selling item in the world” since being launched.
Although the HD is available with an optional LTE component in the U.S. it looks like this rollout is WiFi-only: to improve range and service, it comes with dual-band Wi-Fi capability for both 2.4 GHz network and 5 GHz network services. As with other Kindle Fire products, the two models going on sale today will work with Amazon’s existing and wide range of content, including apps, films, TV, games and 300+ books “exclusive to the Kindle Store.”
The move comes two months after Amazon dropped the price on the bigger two tablets, with an 8.9″ screen, to $269. At that time, it started selling it in Europe and Japan.
To date, Amazon has been selling the two HD tablets in the U.S., UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. For a company like Amazon, which operates on a basis of competition-beating prices and low margins, it’s important for it to add as much scale as it can to its operation, so expanding Fire HD sales globally is an essential part of that strategy.
Square Starts Mobile Payments In Japan, Its First Country Outside Of North America, In Partnership With Visa's Ally
Mobile payment platform Square has announced that it is now publicly available in Japan, its first country outside of North America. The iPhone is very popular in Japan, making it a potentially strong crossover market for Square, which first launched on iOS before also becoming available on Android.
The move is a bold one for Square, considering that Japan is already a mature market for mobile payments, which were pioneered there by NTT docomo and KDDI. PayPal, Square’s main rival, already has a foothold in Japan, where its partners include mobile operator Softbank. Square’s advantage there may be CEO and founder Jack Dorsey’s emphasis on the platform’s aesthetics. In fact, Dorsey stated that Square’s priority on design influenced the company’s decision to make Japan its first stop in Asia.
“I am honored to introduce Square to a country with a rich history of design, innovation and tradition. Square shares the same values and attention to detail in our products,” said Dorsey.
Square’s association with the iPhone will also help it in Japan, where Apple’s smartphone is still beating out Android devices. According to data from Kantar, iPhones make up 66% of sales there, compared to Android’s 32% share.
The company has taken a slow-and-steady approach to its international expansion, stating that it has no “specific timeline” for Square’s deployment in other countries. Its first step outside the U.S. when it launched in Canada in October. At that time, there was much speculation that Asia would be the next target in Square’s international expansion strategy.
While it’s taken its time tackling global markets, Square has recently launched several new features that shows it is growing increasingly serious about positioning its payment services as a rival to PayPal’s dominance. Earlier this week, the beta version of Square Cash, which enables payments to be sent by email, surfaced. Square also recently hired the former Google SMB of global sales and operations, Francoise Brougher, to serve as their business lead. Brougher will help Square with customer support and partnerships, in addition to growing out the company internationally.
Square has partnered with Sumitomo Mitsui Card Corporation (SMCC), the company that introduced Visa to Japan.
The Square Reader allows businesses to accept credit card payments from mobile devices for a transaction fee of 3.25% per swipe.
News of the acquisition comes one day after a lawsuit filed by OtterBox against LifeProof for patent infringement was dismissed. OtterBox told the North Carolina Business Report that the acquisition was not related to the lawsuit or any settlement. Headquartered in San Diego, LifeProof also makes protective cases and accessories for smartphones and tablets.
Over the next 30 days, OttberBox will beginning incorporating the LifeProof brand into OtterBox’s product lineup. More information about product availability and alignment will be available after that period. OtterBox currently has about 650 employees worldwide, while LifeProof, which was founded in 2009, employs about 250 people, who the companies say will remain in their San Diego location “for the foreseeable future.”
“Our strategy is to utilize our combined brand momentum, and world-class talent to create a great customer experience that generates OtterBox brand ambassadors for life,” Thomas said in the acquisition announcement.
In addition to its extremely durable smartphone cases, which are designed to withstand drops, water immersion and debris, OtterBox also makes protective coverings for other mobile devices such as tablets, as well as screen protectors and accessories. LifeProof’s cases are designed for people with very active lifestyles (or who are especially accident prone around mountains, concrete and bodies of water). Both companies’ cases performed well when they were subjected to abuse in the name of consumer research by TechCrunch during CES in January.