onsdag 31. mars 2010

Round-up: Wolfram Alpha drops its $50 app price, Hulu profitable

Here’s the latest action:
Wolfram Alpha gets the message: The quirky computational search engine dropped the price of its mobile web app to $1.99 from $49.99. They also launched a mobile web page and are promising a refund to buyers who came in at the app’s original unusually high price. Barak Berkowitz, the company’s newly-minted managing director who came from Six Apart, said the move was to “democratize” access to the app.

Distimo launches free analytics tool for comparing app performance across platforms: Where is your app selling best? Android? iPhone? Distimo launched a tool today that lets developers track their daily download and revenue figures across different app stores. You can compare how your app is doing against competitive ones. It monitors unlimited numbers of applications and handles foreign exchange conversions for major currencies.
Hulu is apparently profitable: Jason Kilar, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times to video site has been profitable for two quarters while its public relations department made sure to trumpet its $100 million in revenues, I suppose this is a good thing. But then again, considering that it doesn’t factor in all the very expensive production costs for its premium content, maybe not. Plus, Hulu’s future is unclear given that Comcast is set to become a partial owner of the site through its NBC Universal purchase and has a competitive vision and offering through TV Everywhere.
IBM tries to court startups through new Global Entrepreneur Initiative: IBM is trying to make some room for itself in the world of early-stage companies. It’s launching a program that will let young companies access its software portfolio through a cloud computing environment. Selected companies will get to work alongside IBM researchers and tap project managers and mentors for advice through the program.
Tags: computational search, mobile analytics, online video
Companies: Distimo, Hulu, IBM, Wolfram Alpha
People: Jason Kilar

Playdom acquires Three Melons social game company in Argentina

Playdom, the fast-growing social gaming company in Silicon Valley, announced today that it has acquired Buenos Aires-based game development studio Three Melons. The terms were not disclosed.
Playdom’s General Counsel Brad Serwin said in an interview that his company is bullish on social game talent in Argentina. He added, “There seems to be a style there (in game development) different from what is seen in the U.S., which adds a dimension to our game design and art.”
He cited Three Melons game Bola, a Facebook soccer application, saying that “this is a game designed for an international audience.” He explained that, “Americans (entrepreneurs) can be US-centric, but Argentines appear to be international” in terms of which markets their products appeal to, a big plus for Playdom and its’ global ambitions.
This is its second foray into South America just this month. On March 16, it announced a $5 million investment in Argentina’s Metro Games.
As part of today’s announcement, Three Melons CEO and co-founder Mariano Saurez Battan now becomes a Playdom Executive Producer. His main role will be to continue to run Three Melons in Buenos Aires, but when asked if he will play a role in Playdom business development in Latin America, Serwin said that, “we certainly hope so. He and his senior leadership are our Senior Representatives in Latin America for the foreseeable future.”
He did however caution that, “I would not look for additional deals in the region in the near future.”
I also reached Suarez Battan today and asked why he sold now instead of holding out and perhaps even launching an IPO from Buenos Aires. He said that, “the gaming industry is consolidating now and it is the big players that are growing very rapidly.” He maintains that this was his best option to keep up with the pace of the industry.
We have written about Three Melons before. It was one of the first companies selected for the Endeavor Mentor Capital Pilot program, launched in Montevideo, Uruguay last September. Endeavor is the New York-based non-profit that seeks to promote entrepreneurial networking in the developing world.
We have also written about how not just Argentina but the Southern Cone including Chile and Uruguay is rich with gaming companies. In Buenos Aires, other gaming companies include QV9, Sabarasa, Hungry Games, and Atommica. French company Game Loft also has development here. Suarez Battan estimates that 1500 people work in game development in Buenos Aires.
Three Melons is known for its Daiquire technology, a game engine that makes 2D with flash appear three-dimensional. It was also an early adopter of Unity 3D technology. It has developed games for Lego, MTV, and Disney.
The company was founded in 2005 with $150,000 from friends, family and fools, according to Suarez Battan. In 2009, it received $300,000 from Argentina’s Banco Santander Rio’s Nexo Emprendedor program, a fund started to promote entrepreneurship here.
Suarez Battan credits the program for helping Three Melons transform from a service company to a product-based company.
While many in Silicon Valley only think of South America in terms of outsourcing, the few times they think of it all, Suarez Battan is part of a new generation of Argentine entrepreneurs who are increasingly product-focused and globally oriented.
This acquisition is likely to boost their spirits as well, according to Wences Casares, an Argentine gaming and entrepreneurial pioneer and now CEO and co-founder of Palo Alto-based Bling Nation.
Casares co-founded Wanako Games in Santiago, Chile in 2002. Vivendi acquired it in 2007.
He calls today’s deal “the first of a kind” for Argentina and says that Three Melons now becomes a bridge between other entrepreneurs here and Silicon Valley. He says that now, “a lot more young developers from Argentina are going to come to Silicon Valley, and a lot of knowledge transfer is going to take place, whether they like it or not.”
Casares also believes that Three Melons serves as another example of how young Argentine companies can bypass the traditional business-political dynamic in Argentina, which remains laden with cronyism and corruption. Twenty and thirty-somethings like Suarez-Battan are discovering they can skip the hassles of selling in Argentina and instead launch global companies from here.
Casares says that, “this is what these kids are figuring out today.”
Casares appears to have played a facilitating role in the Playdom-Three Melons relationship. Bling Nation board member Chamath Palihapitiya is also on Playdom’s board (in addition to his day-job as Facebook executive) and helped introduce Playdom CEO John Pleasants to Argentina, according to Casares.
Companies: Playdom, Three Melons

Lawyer: Jesse James is no neo-Nazi

Jesse James' Nazi hat was a gift from a Jewish mentor and does not make him a neo-Nazi, his lawyer said Wednesday.

The only thing missing at Kleiner Perkins’ iFund event? An iPad

$200 million still won’t buy an iPad that you can show off before Saturday’s launch. At least, that’s one of the messages I took from venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ iFund event this morning, where it announced it’s doubling the size of the iFund from $100 to $200 million.
Kleiner Perkins and its portfolio companies were all full of praise for the iPad, with partner John Doerr declaring that it will “rule the world.” There were Apple representatives at the event, and they had nice things to say about the iFund. But there was no iPad.
So Doerr couldn’t demonstrate the “swoosh of liquidity” that he seemed so excited about when describing the interface, and startups like Ngmoco and Shazam couldn’t show us their iPad applications in action.
During the presentations, there were even some jokes about Apple’s incredible secrecy and the nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) the company made its partners sign. After the event, I asked Kleiner’s Bing Gordon confirmed that he’d wanted to have an iPad at the event, but presumably he couldn’t get Apple’s blessing.
VentureBeat has had a brush with Apple’s iPad secrecy too, because a couple of companies launching at DEMO, the conference that we co-produce, wanted to show off their applications on an iPad emulator running on their computers — but even then, Apple said no, without an explanation. One of those startups, mobile presentation company MightyMeeting kept trying, even sending an email to Apple chief executive Steve Jobs (hey, it may have worked for other developers). A week later, Apple changed its mind — again, with no explanation.
On other hand, if you want to see the iPad in action, it looks like famous tech reviewer Walt Mossberg has been playing with one for the past week.
Tags: ipad
Companies: Apple, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
People: john doerr

Review: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 map pack is just so-so

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has sold well above 15 million copies since November. So you can bet that the $15 downloadable multiplayer map pack that arrived yesterday is going to be one of the most popular ever.
The so-called Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Pack debuted yesterday as exclusive downloadable content on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online game service. They’re part of a trend toward the release of digital add-on content to keep gamers engaged with a game even months after launch.
But this Stimulus Pack with five new multiplayer maps isn’t necessarily a bargain at $15. Two of the five maps are reruns from the previous game, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare game. I paid for those maps in 2007 when I played the game back then. They’ve now been retooled for the new version.
I tried the new maps out last night on Xbox Live. I waited until Activision Blizzard and Microsoft fixed the initial glitch that prevented gamers from playing the map pack. I played multiplayer up until level 51 out of 70 and became intimately familiar with the best places to fight it out and survive inside 16 multiplayer maps. But I had to take time off to finish other excellent games such as Mass Effect 2, BioShock 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2.
One of the cool things about Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer is that you can always look at your statistics. When I played my last multiplayer match more than a month ago, I was ranked at 3.6 million. Now, when I logged back in last night, I found I was ranked around 5.3 million. That’s what a month of inactivity will do to your record. When I walked onto the battlefield, my reactions were pretty dull and I got my head handed to me a lot.
The new maps are called Crash, Overgrown, Bailout, Salvage and Storm. (They’re pictured in order, from top to bottom). Crash and Overgrown were fan favorites from the original Modern Warfare. Crash is the scene of a helicopter crash in the middle of a city with multi-story buildings. That was one of my favorites because I liked going to the top of the tall building to play sniper.
Overgrown is a battlefield with a combination of buildings and fences with lots of growth as well as long vistas where you can get a clear shot at someone far away. I found it exceedingly hard to stay alive for a long time on that map.
Salvage is a snowy junkyard setting that is more like a maze for close combat. Storm has lots of rain pouring down over an industrial complex. Bailout is a scene from Washington D.C., where you fight it out in a suburban apartment complex with an empty swimming pool and lots of indoor and outdoor action. Everything looks realistic and the attention to detail is great, down to the bullet holes in walls and flaming wrecks.
The good news is the maps are well designed. You can never dominate a map from a single position, and someone is always sneaking up behind you. I expect I’ll be able to put a lot of hours into multiplayer, thanks to these new additions. But I really need to regain my skills in playing this ultra-fast game. Even the Crash map seemed fairly fresh. Although I knew how to play on that map, I could barely stay alive on it. I should have had a tactical advantage, but the environment in all of the maps was truly murderous.
The problem with the map pack is that it is expensive. By contrast, Electronic Arts says its new maps for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 are free for anyone who bought the original game (and has a working VIP download code).
A lot of companies are still testing the waters on prices for downloadable content. If you nickel and dime customers, they might go somewhere else where they can get an “all you can eat” plan. Even if it isn’t a bargain, this is going to be a stimulus for Activision Blizzard’s profits. If the company sells five million of them at $15 each, that’s $75 million in revenue right there, which is a lot more than the sales of many full $60 console games.
Activision Blizzard is set to keep on milking this franchise. You have to figure that the company will release more map packs soon, even if there is some disarray at the game studio, Infinity Ward, that made the game. (Activision Blizzard recently fired two co-founders).
Check out the trailer for the maps below.

On the Internet, every day is April Fools’ Day

My April 1st feature for The New York Times asks The Onion, Facebook, corporate pranksters The Yes Men, and anti-fraud firm Identity Theft 911 to explain how to tell what’s real on the Internet from what’s not.
The problem is that new Internet inventions can read so much like practical jokes. Remember April 1st, 2004, when Google announced a free email service called Gmail? A gigabyte of free personal storage was paired with an ad server that reads your mail. Hilarious, until people learned it was real.
As it turns out, the same buttons pushed by a good April Fools’ prank are similar to those that get people to fall for online fraud. Be careful of anything that makes you excited and angry at the same time. If it’s too good — or too bad — to be true, it probably is.

Whoops:YouTube upgrade takes down the site

Google-owned video sharing site YouTube, whose marketers have billed it as the word’s second largest search engine, is currently throwing HTTP error messages at some of the Web surfers trying to check out the site’s new look or, more likely, just wanting to watch some clips.
There’s a lesson for startup founders here. Too often, companies who approach VentureBeat for coverage try to schedule a big launch event, in which news about the company is published at the same time the engineering team throws the big red switch on an all-new website.
Bad idea. It’s better to update the site quietly, even if you’re making the move from private beta to public availability, and risk having a few people find it before you get the word out. A high-profile launch risks knocking the site down just when it’s being looked at critically.
From my experience, launch events are often pushed by investors who want to create buzz around their funding decisions. It’s tough to say no to the people holding the purse strings, but show them this screenshot and ask if that’s what they want potential customers to see as their first impression. YouTube can get away with it. You can’t.
Companies: YouTube

Toura helps museums build their mobile apps

Toura, a company that wants to help cultural institutions offer virtual tours in the form of mobile applications, just announced that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from unidentified angel investors.
The New York company says that using its web-based tools, an attraction like a museum or a zoo could create interactive multimedia tours that can then be distributed on iPhone, Android, Nokia, and BlackBerry devices. These tours are a form of marketing for Toura’s partners, but they can also be seen as educational tools, allowing a museum to share its art collection with a broader audience, for example.
There are no upfront fees, Toura says. Presumably it shares the revenue if the application drives ticket sales or other purchases.
Though there are plenty of mobile app creation startups out there, Toura’s focus appears to be unique. None of its applications are live yet, so we can’t judge the results, but the company did announce its first partner, the Art Institute of Chicago.
Companies: Art Institute of Chicago, Toura

Vivaty shuts down site for user-generated virtual scenes

Vivaty announced on its site today that it will shut down its user-generated “virtual scenes” site on April 16, another victim of the malaise around virtual worlds.
Jay Weber, chief technical officer and co-founder, announced on the company’s blog that the site will close because its business of letting users create their own 3D virtual spaces has never taken off.
“I apologize to our loyal users that this must be so,” Weber wrote. “Vivaty.com is a rather expensive site to run, much more than a regular web site, and Vivaty the company has been running out of money for some time. Our business model was to earn money through Vivabux sales, but that has never come close to covering our costs. We tried for months to find a bigger partner that would support the site, but that didn’t work out.”
Users will have about two weeks to take snapshots and videos of their decorate scenes, which are not quite virtual worlds but are more like 3D scenes. Users could create their own avatars and chat in the rooms that they decorated. Those who bought virtual currency with real money since Feb. 1 will get their money back. But the company won’t be able to reimburse those who adopted various offer contracts, such as cell phone subscriptions, via the Gambit offers, where players accept an advertising offer in lieu of making a payment.
If it seems like there is a funk hitting virtual worlds, it’s not your imagination. Recent closings include Forterra, Metaplace, and There.com. Some of this is hit or miss. IMVU and Linden Labs’ Second Life have boasted continuous growth. But Google Lively never got off the ground back in 2008.
By contrast, social networks such as Facebook and social games such as those made by Zynga have taken off, leaving stand-alone virtual worlds in the dust. Big budget online games such as World of Warcraft, which high production values, are also going strong. By contrast, Vivaty’s visual spaces didn’t look outstanding from the get go. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Vivaty received $9.5 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Mohr Davidow Ventures. It was founded in 2007 and back in late 2008 it had 25 employees.

NeNe Leakes's son arrested a second time

NeNe Leakes's son Bryson Bryant was arrested Tuesday for possession of a controlled substance and carrying a weapon, a Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department official confirms to PEOPLE.

Daniel Dae Kim on 'Lost' twists and 'The End'

After last week's meaty mythological feast, "Lost" producers gave fans a bit more to chew on Tuesday, with an episode revolving around Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (real-life newlywed Yunjin Kim). PEOPLE checked in with Dae Kim for his thoughts on what went down -- and managed to pry a little series-finale scoop out of him in the process.

Record number of cleantech deals in Q1 as green transportation heats up

The cleantech sector continues its strong rebound as the economy gradually comes back to life. The first quarter is notoriously slow for most industries, but the number of cleantech venture deals hit record heights up 29 percent from fourth quarter and 83 percent from Q1 of last year, according to the quarterly report released by the Cleantech Group.

The other major revelation: Advanced transportation solutions broke out as the number one category for cleantech investing, trumping former leader, solar. Cleantech Group President Sheeraz Haji says he found the strength of the green automotive niche surprising, and suggests that it was driven by U.S. HSBC Group’s $350 million investment in Better Place — the leading company working on vehicle charging infrastructure — much like the solar sector was last year by Argonaut Private Equity’s $198 million investment in cylindrical solar module maker Solyndra. Also fueling the rise of transportation: Fisker Automotive bringing in $140 million, and CODA Automotive landing $30 million.
Energy efficiency also received more funding as a category than solar, boosted by federal efforts to increase building efficiency, like the government’s “cash for caulkers” program HOME STAR. Energy efficiency spans a broad array of companies, including carbon tracking startups and energy monitor makers. But the biggest winners here were lighting makers, with Lemnis Lighting attracting $37.5 million and Luminus Devices bringing in $19 million.
Solar came next with the $41.4 million investment in SpectraWatt, followed by energy storage, led by the $31 million investment in Cymbet, and the $22 million investment in Prudent Energy; then Smart Grid; and finally water technology — which Haji predicts will become a much bigger area for investment as soon as next year.
He cited the announcement French water and energy company Veolia made at this year’s San Francisco Cleantech Forum — that it is looking to partner with cleantech startups to make its own practices more green and tech savvy.
“Guys in the water space were shocked to see a 150-year-old company talk aggressively about water efficiency and innovation,” Haji says. “That feels game changing… Applying the same technology seen with the Smart Grid to a smart grid for water feels like a huge opportunity.”
A third important point made by the Cleantech Group’s report is that the IPO fervor generated in Q4 and early Q1 hasn’t really come to fruition. Granted, the market is no longer frozen solid like it was before A123Systems went public in September, but most analysts predicted there to be more movement, considering the profile of the companies that filed — namely Solyndra, Codexis and Tesla Motors. But Haji says this is set to change rapidly as soon as next quarter.
“The pipeline is building up quite significantly,” he says. “It’s choppy out there and deal’s aren’t being brought to market very quickly.”
In a similar report released last year, the Group predicted that the A123Systems IPO would open the floodgate to a bunch of new filings and sales. But Mark Jensen, managing partner at Deloitte & Touche, who co-authored the newest report, says that IPO candidates are still waiting for the right valuations before avidly pursuing the option. On top of that, many are waiting for the big guys in each vertical to file, to see how they fare.
“What we need is several cleantech companies to lead the way, and you’ll start to see other companies come in right behind them,” Jensen says. “By this time next year we could be seeing a susbstantial number of companies going public.”
Tags: cleantech
Companies: Cleantech Group
People: Mark Jensen, Sheeraz Haji

Foursquare location game generating real-world rewards as it approaches 1M users

As Foursquare approaches a million users a year after launching its location-based game, the company is making formal alliances with brands and stores that want to exploit its popularity. And that is turning into real money for an app that many people believed was pointless when it started.
Dennis Crowley, chief executive of Foursquare (right), said at the Where 2.0 conference today that more stores, restaurants and brands are joining the company’s new digital coupon program by putting stickers in their windows that offer coupons to Foursquare users who visit them.
With Foursquare, you check in at a given location using your mobile phone. The location information is uploaded to the service, and you can earn the title of “mayor” of a place if you have spent more time there than any other Foursquare user. The achievement is then automatically posted on Twitter. It sounds silly and simple, but Crowley said the app will hit a million users in a few weeks. Those members have “checked in” to locations more than 22 million times. The mission, Crowley said, is to “turn the whole world into a video game.”
“We want to know if you can get the same feeling from Foursquare as when you play Zelda [a video game series] for six hours,” Crowley said.
Foursquare got a ton of users because it made the app game-like, with lots of rewards. People can get badges for being a karaoke expert if they visit a karaoke bar three times in a month. Those badges are so popular that Foursquare users are changing their regular behavior to win badges, Crowley said. Parents use Foursquare at playgrounds to organize play dates. Badges have multiplied like crazy.
“It encourages people to create more interesting lives,” Crowley said.
And the app is now so popular it is starting to generate commercial results, as you can see from the above picture of a digital coupon offered via the Ridge Lytton Springs winery in Napa Valley, Calif. AJ Bombers, a burger joint in Milwaukee, said its sales went up 30 percent after it posted Foursquare stickers in its windows and gave out coupons to Foursquare users who visited it. Foursquare has created partnerships with MTV and Starbucks (pictured left).
In a comic example, Seattle sex toy store Babeland offered a free vibrator to its Foursquare mayor. At JFK, patrons can get a free taxi ride if they become the mayor at the taxi stand. In another example, a medical marijuana dispensary in Beverly Hills offered 15 percent discounts to whoever became the mayor of its location. A cemetery in Maine offered a free tour to anyone who checked into it more than 100 times. And a lawyer in Miami offered a free consultation to anyone who checked into Foursquare at five jails in town.
At the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin, Foursquare showed the biggest parties in real time so members could go to parties where the most people were. See the picture at right for a real example of that in action.
It remains to be seen if Foursquare can make a lot of money out of this or if the service will be somehow crushed by Twitter, which is launching its own location services. And it’s worth noting that location-based rivals such as Booyah’s MyTown, which has 1.5 million users, are also planning on cashing in on Foursquare’s popularity.
Companies: Foursquare

YouTube redesign aims to reduce clutter, raise traffic

YouTube is in the process of rolling out a new look and feel. The Google-owned video sharing site will, according to a briefing given to Mashable writer Benn Parr, be less cluttered and more inviting toward longer video-watching sessions.
The company’s goal is to get you to watch more videos. The update is scheduled to be completed by 7 PM Pacific time tonight.
The most interesting part of Parr’s briefing was that YouTube officials told him, “at least 37% of YouTube’s users simply don’t want or use these features; if they could just have a webpage with a title, a giant video and a search box, they’d be ecstatic.”
With that in mind, YouTube designers have reduced the number of elements on each page, so your eyes can more comfortably rest on the video clips. The pages don’t look radically different, just less junky. It’s not so much a rethink as a cleanup, with lots of subtle changes adding up to a more watchable site. For example, the one-to-five-star ratings are being replaced with a simple up or down vote.
One new feature will probably annoy a vocal minority of users: YouTube has added windows that pop up when you hover your mouse over some parts of the page. The idea is to make it easier to get to video descriptions and statistics. But for many of us, the boxes will feel like unbidden intruders. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz notably removed the hover effects from Yahoo’s front door as one of her first executive decisions.
Companies: Google, YouTube

Motorola Droid finally receives Android 2.1 update with multitouch web browser

Verizon has finally begun rolling out the Android 2.1 update to Motorola Droid users, according to Engadget.
As we mentioned in our previous coverage of the update — which was initially supposed to land sometime in early February — it includes pinch-to-zoom multitouch capabilities in the web browser, maps, and gallery applications. It will also include Google Goggles, a visual search app for Android that generates search results from photos.
Other new features include speech-to-text support for any text box, a 3D layout in the pictures gallery, and support for Yahoo e-mail. Inexplicably, Verizon notes that Yahoo e-mail isn’t accessible over Wi-Fi.
The update started rolling out at noon yesterday to 1,000 Droid owners and reached 10,000 users by midnight last night. Verizon planned not to roll out any updates today, possibly for troubleshooting purposes in case something goes wrong with the update. The roll out will continue tomorrow, April 1, at 200,000 users a day until all Droid owners receive it. If you’re anxious to receive the update right away, you can try manually updating as demonstrated by TechCrunch.
Tags: Android, droid
Companies: Google, motorola, Verizon

TokBox adds features for large-scale video meetings

There are plenty of companies that offer online video chat sessions. TinyChat and Dimdim are two of my favorites. But San Francisco-based TokBox has just added some specific features designed to handle meetings of, say, twenty people rather than three.
Tokbox vice president of marketing Micky O’Brien led a small session on Tuesday to demonstrate the new features.
The core concept is the moderator, a person who has superpowers over the other participants in the conference. A moderator can hide someone’s video feed from the others, or block them entirely. The moderator can also accept short video questions from participants, and choose whether or not to show them to the entire meeting. The moderator can operate behind the scenes, like the sound man at a real-world conference, or can be present onscreen and clearly marked as a leader by a bright yellow icon atop his or her video image.
In our test meeting, I had trouble getting TokBox’s player to turn on my camera when I joined my first meeting. One we got past that hurdle, there were no other technical glitches.
TokBox isn’t cheap, at least not for large groups. Smaller groups can meet for free, but to host twenty or more participants in a meeting will cost $19.99 per meeting. Customers can also subscribe to the extra features for $9.99 per month, which cuts the price of meetings to $12.99 each.
The pricing is a refreshingly brazen bid that business users will pay for a reliable video conferencing service, if it can allow larger groups to meet. Twenty bucks is a lot cheaper than the time some teams waste fumbling with the speakerphone in a meeting room.
There’s still no substitute for an in-person meeting, bit TokBox makes the next best option manageable. And their business model is a welcome break from “we’ll figure it out.”
TokBox, founded in 2007 , has raised $14 million in capital, most notably from Sequoia Capital.
Companies: Tokbox
People: Micky O’Brien

Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr: iPad ‘will rule the world’, not a giant iPod

Most of the focus at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ iFund event today was on Apple’s upcoming iPad, with five startups (Gogii, Ngmoco, Pinger, Shazam, and Booyah) confirming on-stage that they’re developing iPad applications. Kleiner partner John Doerr sounded especially excited about the device, claiming that it will “rule the world.”
“I hope I can sleep with it Saturday night,” Doerr said. “It feels gorgeous. It is not a big iPod. It is a very big deal.”
The iPad will spur a “third renaissance in software,” he added. It’s a completely different kind of interaction, with interactions moving from WYSIWYG interfaces, where “what you see is what you get,” to WYTIWis, where “What you see is what is.” Two of the stealth iFund companies will be launching iPad-only products within the first five weeks. At the same time, Doerr declined to predict specifically whether the iPad will be a bigger business opportunity the iPad.
“I don’t know what the new applications are that are going to be built,” he said.
Neil Young, co-founder of Kleiner-backed iPhone and iPad gaming startup Ngmoco, also said that calling the iPad a giant iPod Touch is “missing the point.” When you handle the device, he said, the smooth user experience means that “a switch goes off in your head.” The iPad is going to compete effectively against both “living room” gaming devices, namely consoles like the Wii and Xbox 360, and desktop and laptop gaming, he said. That’s why Ngmoco will be launching with seven iPad games, some of them conversions from the iPhone, others iPad-only.
Tags: ifund, ipad
Companies: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Ngmoco
People: john doerr, Neil Young

Leno: Conan and I got 'screwed'

Jay Leno expects Conan O'Brien will return to late-night television as a head-to-head competitor against NBC's "The Tonight Show."

Kleiner Perkins doubles iFund to $200M, embraces iPad buzz

Leading venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced today that it has raised another $100 million for the iFund, its fund focusing on mobile startups, especially those building applications for Apple’s iPhone.
Partner John Doerr spoke at a press event in Menlo Park, Calif. where he said Kleiner has invested in 14 iFund startups (three of them still in stealth mode). The fund was basically depleted, which is why the firm raised another $100 million, bringing the total fund size to $200 million. That’s not just a sign of Kleiner’s continued faith in the iPhone, but also its excitement around the iPad, the tablet device set to be released on Saturday (more on that in a separate post).
In addition to announcing the fund, Kleiner also shared the progress that current iFund companies are making. Those startups will make more than $100 million in revenue this year, their applications have been downloaded more than 100 million times, and 18 of their apps have reached the top 10 list in the iPhone/iPod Touch App Store.

Forget the iPad, Asus readying two tablets for release soon

You’d think that Asus chairman Jonney Shih would be worried right now, given the impending release of Apple’s iPad in just a few days. But he’s far from it, according to Forbes. Instead, Shih seems confident that his company will be able to compete with Apple, and he announced that Asus has two tablets in the works for release in the coming months.
All we know about the tablets so far is that one will run one of Google’s operating systems — either the Android mobile OS or Chrome OS — and the other will run Windows (most likely Windows 7). By offering different operating systems and hardware options, Shih believes that Asus will offer consumers flexibility in the tablet market, something which they won’t receive with Apple’s iPad.
Asus will likely have price in its favor as well. Given the company’s experience with producing inexpensive hardware, plus the fact that Google’s operating systems are free and open-source, I suspect that its tablets will also be much cheaper than the iPad (which starts at $500). Even the Windows tablet has the potential to be much cheaper than the iPad.
Forbes speculates that Asus will unveil the tablets at June’s Computex trade show in Taipei. The company has previously used the conference to announce major new products, like the original Eee netbook in 2007.
Despite the tablet craze, Asus isn’t giving up on netbooks either. Shih sees netbooks as a quickly maturing segment of the computing market, and says that the company is hard at work at making its future netbook products thinner, more battery efficient, and more reliable. He also reports that it will develop more business-oriented netbooks in the future.
The company is also vying for a place in the mobile industry as well. It’s currently producing phones together with GPS-maker Garmin, and Microsoft reps have been relying on prototype Asus devices to show off Windows Phone 7 Series.
Based in Taipei, Taiwan, Asus is currently the number-six PC maker in the world, and Shih hopes that it can become number three by the end of 2011.
Tags: ipad, tablets
Companies: asus

Ford joins forces with Microsoft to tackle EV charging challenge

With Nissan and General Motors already hyping their plug-in vehicles due out later this year, Ford seems to have fallen behind. Its all-electric Ford Focus hasn’t commanded as much attention. But today it looks like it’s pursuing a different strategy, teaming up with Microsoft to devise a system for charging electric cars faster and cheaper.
Announced at the New York Auto Show, the system will tell electric vehicle owners when they should charge their cars during the day — namely when peak demand is lowest and electricity is at its cheapest, probably in the wee hours of the morning. Microsoft is applying its home energy management platform, wittily dubbed Hohm, which already gauges energy demand and pricing for a range of household devices. The system will be paired first with the electric Ford Focus, which is slated to be released by the end of next year.
The announcement is well timed. With a wave of EVs set to launch this year and next, utilities and grid operators are becoming increasingly nervous — actually, panicked might be a better word — about how the current electric grid will accommodate plug-in cars. If too many residents in a single neighborhood decide to buy the cars, and end up plugging them in all at the same time, neighborhood grids are in serious trouble. Blackouts, brownouts and other service outages could become much more common, costing utilities millions in maintenance costs that will ultimately hike electricity rates.
While Google PowerMeter, Tendril, OpenPeak, Control4, and a bevy of other companies have the same capabilities as the Microsoft Hohm platform to keep tabs on energy use and automate car charging, Ford’s existing relationship with Microsoft seems to have made it the clear choice. The computing giant already provides Ford with support for in-car devices like GPS displays and cell phones via its Sync connectivity system.
Like many of the energy management providers named above, Ford is already anticipating the move to mobile interfaces. The car company says that it will probably also work with Microsoft to develop applications for smartphones allowing homeowners to charge their cars remotely based on real time demand levels and electricity prices. Here’s what that might look like:

Tags: electric vehicles
Companies: ford, microsoft

Foursquare Everywhere goes live on Bing Maps

Microsoft announced a new partnership with the location service Foursquare last week in New York. Today, the company launched the Foursquare Everywhere application on Bing Maps, Microsoft’s mapping service.
Speaking at the location-centered Where 2.0 conference in San Jose, Bing Maps’ architect Blaise Agüera y Arcas showed the audience a live version of Foursquare Everywhere running on the Bing Maps platform. He zoomed out of Bing Maps to a world view and showed how Foursquare check-ins were streaming in live, showing up as pinpoints on the map with the feed running in a sidebar.
Blaise Agüera y Arcas desrcibed the service as a mash-in instead of a mash-up, with Bing Maps working as a surface on top of which different applications and services can be integrated.
“With a mash-in model like this, the interaction is much more richer and fluid than with a traditional mash-up technique. With the mash-in model, everything is discoverable in one place. With a mash-up model all the interaction is not there. For instance, you have to launch your own marketing campaign to promote your mash-up, and so on,” Agüera y Arcas explained.
The Bing Maps’ architect went on to announce other news as well. In addition to the Foursquare app launch, another app for the classifieds service Oodle.com went live today, too. The Oodle Rentals app maps rental housing on Bing Maps, and it works by pulling in Oodle data, letting users check out available rental housing.
Bing Maps also got another new feature today in the shape of the World Tour app, which will replace the website used for Bing Maps’ updates. All of Bing Maps’ map coverage updates will be on the World Tour app instead of bingmapsupdates.
Companies: Foursquare, microsoft, Oodle.com

China online games market to hit $9.2B in revenues by 2014

China’s online games market is set to nearly triple to $9.2 billion in annual revenue by 2014, according to market researcher Niko Partners.
Revenue for China’s online game industry was estimated to be $3.57 billion in 2009. That’s just about all of the measureable game revenues for China, since piracy essentially eliminates any offline game revenue. The online game companies such as Shanda Games and The9 are growing fast, leading to huge stock market valuations.
This year, the industry is expected to grow 20.9 percent to $4.5 billion. Most of the games are free-to-play, where players play them for free and then pay real money for virtual items such as swords via micro-transactions. That business model, started with online games in Korea, is now sweeping through the U.S. game industry. While China has huge numbers of users playing games in its Internet cafes, each player doesn’t spend a lot of money.
““While the global economic downturn hurt video game publishers in much of the world, China’s online game industry reflected no pain in 2009 and gamers continued to embrace online games as the best inexpensive source of social entertainment available,” said Lisa Cosmas Hanson, managing partner of Niko Partners.
In China, about 63 percent of gamers surveyed increased their spending on online games in the past year. Some 88 percent of the gamers play games on social networks. About 65 percent of gamers use Internet cafes at least part of the time.
At the end of 2009, there were 68 million online gamers in China. By 2014, that number should be 141 million, a 15.5 percent compound annual growth rate.
• There were 68 million online gamers in China by our definition at the end of 2009 and by 2014 the number should reach 141 million, a 15.5% CAGR. Niko collects its data in China via surveys in 10 Chinese cities.

IBM offers free software for startups through new Global Entrepreneur program

IBM just became the latest company to offer free software and other resources to startups, with the announcement of what it’s calling the IBM Global Entrepreneur initiative.
The program is meant for startups that are less than three years old, and that focus on the industries covered in IBM’s Smarter Planet program, including energy and utilities, health care, telecommunications, and government. Participating companies get free access to IBM software (though if you run the software on web-based infrastructure such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, you’ll still have to pay for that), the opportunity to work with scientists in IBM Research, and to participate in IBM’s SmartCamp workshops.
In some ways, such as the younger-than-three-years requirement, IBM’s new program sounds similar to Microsoft BizSpark. Like BizSpark, the Global Entrepreneur initiative will help IBM connect to companies that might become huge successes a few years down the line, and to tie those companies to IBM technology and services.
IBM is also working with industry associations to help it find startups in countries like the United Kingdom, Israel, and France. In the United States, those partners include SD Forum, TiE Silicon Valley, Mass Tech Leadership Council, TiE Austin, and MassInno.
As for why you’d choose IBM over Microsoft or other competing programs, the company says:
While many companies make their technologies readily available to entrepreneurs, only IBM also has the relationships with large clients and the skills of its business, technical, and marketing leaders.
IBM can offer the industry context in which to develop the technologies, customer insight for market validation of the technologies, and the additional skills an entrepreneur needs to bridge that gap towards building a business.

Tags: IBM Global Entrepreneur
Companies: IBM

Scoreloop offers new ways to make money off mobile social games

Scoreloop is announcing today that its social game platform can now more easily support new ways to monetize mobile games on the iPhone and Android phones.
The Munich, Germany-based company is adding support for downloadable content and in-game currencies to its social game platform, said Marc Gumpinger, chief executive of the company, in an interview. In the past, Scoreloop let game developers generate sales through purchases of virtual currency for challenge matches. With the new system, gamers won’t have to exit a game to make a purchase.
The system can be used to build revenue-producing features — such as the sales of weapons — in both existing and new mobile games. Two games taking advantage of the new Core Social software developer kit are Astro Ranch and the brand new Parachute Panic HD for the iPhone and iPad. (The latter game is being released April 3, with the launch of Apple’s iPad).
The new model lets developers take advantage of the freemium model, where developers and publishers give apps away for free and hope to make money through player purchases of virtual goods. Scoreloop’s platform, which competes with OpenFeint and Ngmoco’s Plus+, lets users connect with other players, increases how much a player engages with a game, and helps developers to monetize the additional usage through downloadable content.
Gumpinger said that his company differs from rivals in that it offers a white-label service, where the game makers can put their own brand on the social game features. And Scoreloop also does not compete with its customers by making its own games. Earlier versions of Parachute Panic have been downloaded over 4 million times. Scoreloop’s platform is the social game platform of choice on MySpace. The company has 25 employees.
Companies: Scoreloop

Broadcast journalists turn to Bambuser’s live-streaming mobile video apps

Forget the TV crew. Broadcast journalists may turn to their Android devices and iPhones to file reports on the spot.
Swedish mobile video startup Bambuser just signed a deal with Dutch mobile news agency ProSkope to let journalists stream live footage directly into their main control room. The deal is the latest in a string of partnerships the Swedish company has signed that are gradually outlining the future of mobile live video. Bambuser’s technology is already used by emergency responders to securely record accident and crime scenes and ask for advice from headquarters. They also signed a partnership with Finnish broadcaster YLE last year as an experiment; YLE’s journalists also used Bambuser’s technology to file news reports. (A video is embedded below.)
There are around a half-dozen companies trying to close in on the live mobile video space, including Ustream, Qik and Knocking.
Bambuser is the fun, if slightly eccentric, entrant from Sweden. The founder, Mans Adler, studied entrepreneurship with a Danish group called the Kaos Pilots, and went on to live in the San Francisco. He soaked up ideas in Silicon Valley and then came back to Sweden, where he created a “Big Brother”-style online show where a group of people lived in a house and continuously recorded their lives with mobile phones for 48 hours.
It became a viral phenomenon. Out of the publicity came the company, Bambuser, which is Swedish slang for a lousy sailor who can only handle the easiest tasks. Eventually they started releasing live-streaming apps, once Apple signaled that it would finally allow them last fall.
By the time Steve Jobs started allowing the first live video apps into the store, Bambuser actually had one ready to go. One of their developers had already built it because he wanted a way for his girlfriend to remotely advise him on what to wear every morning. Their app works on multiple models of iPhones from the video-enabled 3GS to older versions because it uses a hack that takes around two dozen screenshots a second when the phone’s viewfinder is turned on. The company also offers Symbian, Windows Mobile and Android versions of the app too.
The killer use cases for mobile live video have yet to be fully realized. We’ve experimented with it through Ustream with varying degrees of success. My colleague Anthony Ha took Ustream’s mobile video pack with him to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year and used it to interview companies in the convention center. While we did attract several hundred viewers, sometimes there were gaps in coverage as he walked around to find interesting people to interview. We realized that to make it work, there’s a lot of preparation involved and you need to have interviewees lined up and ready to go. It’s definitely a learning process on both sides, for publishers and for technology companies.
Also, as speed improves with faster 4G networks, we might finally start to see the real pay-off.

Tags: live streaming, live video, mobile video
Companies: Bambuser
People: Mans Adler

Placecast offers up free open API for location-based services

Placecast, a company that lets retailers send mobile advertisements to nearby shoppers, today announced that it has made available it’s Match API for free. The tool is positioned to help correct a looming problem that is multiple references to the same location across the variety of location-based systems.
Services, such as Foursquare or Gowalla, each have different location databases and use a variety of ID systems to tag individual locations. Placecast’s Match API will help location providers and application developers to translate referenced locations across databsed and match them to one true location.  A developer, for example, who tags a location may reference it differently than another, but with Placecast’s Match API both locations will be recognized as same location (see image below). Automating the process of matching locations will free up time and let services focus on monetization.
The company’s announcement explains:
The Placecast Match API resolves the two worst problems of working with large location-based data sets. First, it disambiguates addresses – identifying that all of the different ways to express the address of a location do in fact refer to the same place on the planet. Second, it maps all the relevant IDs from different content providers to that same place on the planet, so that it is always referred to correctly by any other system. The system has already been pressure-tested for scale: the Placecast Match API has been in place for more than a year and has already processed millions of location records worldwide.
Several location-based services, including WCities, Urban Mapping and Buzzd, have agreed to test trial the API. If you’re interested in testing  you can sign-up here.
The announcement comes just after Placecast landed $3 million more in second round funding from investors Quatrex Capital, ONSET Ventures, and Voyager Capital. Placecast has now raised $12 million.

Companies: Placecast

The 10 most tempting software startup categories

(Editor’s note: Dharmesh Shah is a serial software entrepreneur and the founder and CTO of HubSpot, which provides marketing software for small businesses. This column originally appeared on his blog. )
I’ve been in the software startup business for a long time – long enough to spot a few trends. One I’ve found particularly interesting is that amongst first-time software entrepreneurs, certain “patterns” of applications kept recurring.
Time and time again, entrepreneurs are lured to one of 10 application categories.  It’s not always a bad thing, but it’s certainly curious. Here’s the list:
Project Management / Time Tracking / Bug Tracking – This is likely because the developer had to work at some point with existing software that just sucked and thought “Hey, I can build something better in a weekend and it will do exactly what I want.  It’ll support custom fields, and query-by-example and persistent views and all sorts of neat stuff.”
Community / Discussion Forums – The developer/entrepreneur was perhaps kicking off a new online community for whatever hobby area she was interested in and began poking around, looking for something to meet her needs, but saw nothing appealing.  “Hey, this is easy,” she might have said. “The data model is trivial and I can use this project to learn about this new web framework I’ve been meaning to play with.”
Personalized News Aggregation/Filtering – I’m not exactly sure why this one keeps cropping up.  I think the reason is that it seems obvious that there’s just much more information out there than any normal person can consume.  The entrepreneur arrives at some interesting angle on how to better filter the information, whether it’s individual voting/learning mechanisms or social features (i.e. your friends liked this stuff, so you will too).
Content Management (website, blog) – Another one of those seemingly simple apps (“how hard could it be?”) combined with the fact that it’s often harder to learn some existing system and make it do what you want than just hacking together a “minimalist” application (that over time, becomes less and less minimal).
Social Voting and Reviews – This one’s newer to the scene.  These applications allow users to vote/rate/review something (movies, books, wines, whatever).
Music/Events Location Application – What the world really needs is a way to figure out when their favorite band is going to be in town.  Connect with your friends!  Figure out where they’re going!  Hook-up! It’s a guaranteed winner, right?
Dating and Match-Making – This one requires no explanation.  As is the case with most of these application categories, entrepreneurs often like to “scratch their own itch”.
Personal Information Management -I think this one is really common because it’s often one of the early applications developers build to learn something new.  “Hey, I can use this new ORM system to track my DVD collection.  It’ll take just 50 lines of code!”
Social Network For ______ – These were happening well before MySpace and Facebook.  In this case, the application is not completely trivial — but that’s what makes it a bit more tempting.  The data models can be rich and if one has some UI chops, it’s often a fun application to work on.
Photo/video/bookmark/whatever sharing – As humans, we like to share stuff.  The appeal of this application is it’s broad appeal (hey, my girlfriend needs a way to share her photos from her recent trip to Brazil).
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that building an application in any of these categories is doomed to failure.  I just find it curious that these specific themes tend to occur again and again.
Did I miss any?  Which application categories do you think entrepreneurs are lured by?  And do any of you just happen to be working on a fun little project that falls into one of these categories?
Tags: startup categories

PrimeSense confirms its motion sensors used in Microsoft’s Project Natal

PrimeSense has confirmed that its 3D sensing and recognition technology will be used in Microsoft’s  Project Natal, one of the biggest changes coming for video games during the holiday season of 2010.
Back in May, 2009, we reported that PrimeSense had signed this deal with Microsoft to create the foundation for motion-sensing games on the Xbox 360 game console last year, but the companies didn’t confirm the relationship until today. Israel-based PrimeSense is one of several vendors working with Microsoft, which also bought 3DV Systems and has a software agreement related to motion-sensing games with GestureTek.
Project Natal isn’t just a simple knock-off of the Nintendo Wii. While the Wii senses what you’re doing with a controller, Project Natal is designed to capture your entire body movement and translate it into the control of a game. The point is allow someone to move fluidly and realistically when performing game actions such as swinging a sword. You are the controller with Natal.
It remains to be seen if this will work as advertised. Sony’s research team studied the same technology and rejected it. Instead, they used precise position detection systems in handheld game controls that have been branded as the PlayStation Move. The Move system debuts for the PlayStation 3 this fall, at the same time as Natal.
Microsoft has pledged to show off Natal at E3 in Los Angeles in June. But I’ve seen a demo of it and it appears to work very well to me. It isn’t slow or inaccurate, as rivals suggest. And Project Natal is not going to require the dedicated use of one of the Xbox 360’s three processing cores. Still, no one really knows yet if the games based on Natal are going to be really fun.
It includes 3D movement sensing cameras, face recognition, and voice recognition as well. PrimeSense makes chips that serve as the image sensors in a 3D camera, which captures motion and translates it into controls for a game. Once the chip processing the image, the results can be translated via software into game controls.
Ilan Spillinger, vice president of Xbox 360 hardware, said in a statement that “PrimeSense has delivered an important component to the technology, helping us deliver revolutionary controller-free entertainment experiences in the living room.”
Inon Beracha, (pictured) chief executive of PrimeSense, said that video games are just one of a number of areas where motion-sensing technology is useful. Aviad Maizels, president and founder of PrimeSense, said that Xbox 360 hardware engineers developed the Project Natal sensor based on a reference design (basically a sample prototype) created by PrimeSense. The equipment includes a depth sensor, RGB camera, multi-chip array microphone and software. By the time of launch, Microsoft plans to have filed for more than 200 patents on Project Natal technology.

Motally lets iPhone/iPad developers live with Apple’s approval process

Software developers have a love-hate relationship with Apple’s App Store. Getting into Apple’s store is both personally and financially rewarding. But the company is coy about its approval process. Apps are sometimes rejected for unclear reasons.
More important, the amount of time an app developer has to wait for a yea or nay from inside Apple is way too long. It can take weeks or months to be approved or rejected. In the fast-moving app world, who has time for that?
Mobile app analytics firm Motally has solved at least part of the problem. The company will announce today that it has enabled what it calls 2-Way Communication in its analytics tools. What that means is, app developers will be able to change Motally-specific settings in iPhone apps without needing to re-submit the apps to Apple for approval.
2-Way Communication works for Android and BlackBerry apps, too. Here’s how it works: Previously, if an app built with Motally’s software toolkit transmitted data to its maker from an iPhone, Motally’s API would respond with a simple message saying, “OK, got it.” With 2-Way Communication — can we just call it 2WC? — the app’s maker can send marching orders back to the app that tell it to change Motally-specific settings for tracking and debugging the app.
Motally founder and president Arte Merritt patiently explained the inner workings of 2WC in a long phone interview today. In short: Merritt didn’t specifically talk to someone at Apple about this new feature. But he’s pretty sure that thanks to Apple’s review process, the system Motally had already built into its analytics tools doesn’t reach far enough into the app’s bowels to cause security or privacy problems. 2-Way Communication, he said, is limited to telling the app to change the values of certain settings used by Motally to collect stats from real-word app users.
“We’re not doing this so developers can change gameplay,” he said. “It’s so they can turn on different tracking options” within the Motally system, and “so an engineer can debug a customer’s problem without needing to re-submit to Apple.”

InsideView raises $11.5M to combine social media and sales tools

San Francisco-based InsideView, which makes a software product called SalesView, today announced an $11.6 million second round of funding led by current investors Emergence Capital Partners, Rembrandt Venture Partners and Greenhouse Capital Partners.
SalesView seeks to maximize lead generation and qualification for sales teams by aggregating news about companies and their executives so salespeople can automatically identify the right prospect at the right time. SalesView brings social media updates into existing sales tools such as Salesforce.com and SugarCRM because, as the company’s site says, “There’s no time to maintain the parallel universes of social media and business information for the busy sales professional.”
SalesView is sold on a freemium model: There’s a free version to lure in new customers and more advanced features for sale starting at $99 per month, per user.
The company says its products are used by more than 26,000 sales professionals and more than 2,000 companies worldwide, including Adobe, BMC, CapGemini, IBM, Polycom and VMWare.
InsideView partners with several customer relationship management (CRM) vendors, including Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, NetSuite, Microsoft and Oracle.
The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2005.
Companies: InsideView, Salesforce.com

Yelp CEO teams up with event site Eventbrite as investor, strategic advisor

Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO of business-recommendation site Yelp, has joined the board of advisors for event-management site Eventbrite. He has also invested an unspecified amount in the company, according to a press release from Eventbrite. Stoppelman will serve as a strategic advisor, contributing his experience in local market development and social media.
Eventbrite, which allows eventholders to create and manage ticketing online, has focused much of its growth strategy on social media. It will be interesting to see how Stoppelman’s input affects this. Stoppelman was criticized by some for not implementing Facebook Connect on Yelp fast enough. “We have gotten Jeremy involved because he’s been a strong startup operator and has built a very impressive consumer site,” said Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz. “Jeremy is the leader in developing local markets. Our events are really local in nature and geographically bound,” said Hartz.
Stoppelman joins an impressive list of investors and advisors, including YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, Yammer founder and CEO David Sacks, Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital and, most recently, former CEO of Ticketmaster Sean Moriarity.
Stoppelman co-founded Yelp in July 2004 with former colleague and friend Russel Simmons. As VP of Engineering at PayPal, he was part of the PayPal Mafia, and he and Hartz have known each other for a number of years. Yelp has over 26 million unique visitors per month and over 9 million reviews. Eventbrite had 4.6M unique visitors in March, which is up substantially from the last quarter and amounts to 20% monthly compounded growth over the last few months.
Companies: Eventbrite, Yelp
People: Jeremy Stoppelman

Why Palm’s headed for a buyout — by RIM

Palm was king of the handheld screen when it launched its popular Palm Pilot handheld device back in the 1990s. But it’s since been almost forgotten in a flurry of competitors vying for a slice of the smartphone market. And when it recently tried to launch a phone and underlying operating system that rivaled Apple’s iPhone in elegance and ambition, the phones failed to sell. Given its recent earnings and desperate cash position, it’s clear the company is heading for a spectacular failure.
Can Palm turn itself around by raising more cash and tweaking its strategy? I say no. The only promise for Palm’s future is a buyout. And the only buyer that makes sense is BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (I’ll tell you why in a minute).
Many attribute Palm’s failure to bad decisions. There was the WebOS operating system that was open to only a limited number of developers initially. There was the wrong choice of first carrier in Sprint. And there was the bad launch timing of the Palm Pre Plus with Verizon Wireless right after the launch of the Google-powered Droid as well as some manufacturing and design issues.
Whatever the reasons for its failure, it’s chances of catching up again without an acquisition are slim.
First off, despite its slick design and a promising operating system, Palm does not stand out in any single category. BlackBerry is known as an email and enterprise device, Android is liked for its openness and innovation, and iPhone excels in user experience and abundance of apps. That leaves Palm more closed than Android, not as cool as iPhone, and not nearly as enterprise-focused as BlackBerry.
Second, developers already have their hands full with Android, iPhone OS, BlackBerry, and the upcoming Windows Phone: They don’t want yet another operating system! Without many apps developed for Palm, users are less likely to buy it over competing products, and without a significant user base, developers are less likely to develop for WebOS.
Why is RIM the only logical buyer for Palm? Let’s walk through the others often named by Wall Street as potential acquirers and see why they’re not a fit.
Who will not buy Palm?

Not Apple — at least not at a price investors will stomach. Apple obviously does not need Palm, though it might buy it at a knockdown price to reclaim some of the talent Palm has poached from Apple in recent years, and to scoop up some patents.
One might think that Google could buy Palm to make up for its much-noted lack of hardware expertise, and perhaps then make a phone in-house instead of relying on designer-manufacturers like HTC. That strategy is fraught with flaws: Google, even if it buys Palm, has more reasons to kill WebOS than not; it would alienate its myriad partners, whether mobile operators or device manufacturers, and in the process would hamper the ecosystem it has succeeded in building around Android.
Microsoft could have been a good potential buyer before it invested significantly in its new operating system, Windows Phone, due for release later this year. Even then, Microsoft would have struggled to reconcile Palm’s integrated strategy with its long-standing preference for licensing software to hardware partners.
How about PC manufacturers such as Dell and HP? Supercharged smartphones are becoming replacements for netbooks. And it’s clear PC makers are finding it hard to transition to mobile manufacturing given their lack of expertise and the tremendous competition from newcomers like Google and Apple as well as existing mobile manufacturers. They’d clearly benefit from buying Palm.
Two problems: First, Dell and HP are hardware players who risk alienating partners like Google and Microsoft. Second, even if this strategy makes sense for Dell or HP, it will spell a disaster for Palm as an entity. Palm is meticulous about style and design, neither of which is a forte of Dell or HP. When a larger tech player swallows a smaller one, all too commonly the acquisition becomes a declining asset, with the distinctiveness that made it an attractive purchase swiftly disappearing.
Similar arguments hold true for cell phone manufacturers such as Motorola, HTC, and Samsung: They have invested heavily in other mobile operating systems, especially Android, and would risk angering their partners and spreading their R&D resources thin if they do buy Palm. Nokia and Sony could benefit from acquiring Palm, but I don’t think they’re good strategic complements for Palm: Nokia has recently invested in Meego, a new OS developed in partnership with Intel. And Sony is simply too big and fragmented, with its mobile assets stuck in a joint venture with Ericsson.
Why RIM and Palm would be a powerful combination

RIM was the undisputed leader in the smartphone market a couple of years ago. It now faces significant threats from iPhone and Android. Its touchscreen models like the Storm paled in comparison to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Nexus One. Despite being an integrated solution, RIM has allowed its devices and OS to become fragmented. Developers not only have to account for several different versions of hardware (keyboard, touchscreen, different sizes etc.), but they also face the challenge of making sure their apps run on most or all different OS versions. As a result, BlackBerry’s applications marketplace is struggling to compete with Apple’s App Store or Google’s Android Market. And RIM’s hopes of modernizing its OS are weakening day by day.
Despite its weaknesses, RIM is still in a strong position, and it’s not too late to stop the downward trend. It still leads market share in the smartphone market (see table below). Its push email system is still unrivaled in the marketplace, and it is the phone of choice for many working executives and companies. Crucially, it has a strong revenue stream from software and services installed in tandem with the deployment of its phones in businesses.

Top Smartphone Platforms
3 Month Avg. Ending Jan. 2010 vs. 3 Month Avg. Ending Oct. 2009
Total U.S. Age 13+
Source: comScore MobiLens

Share (%) of Smartphone Subscribers

Point Change

Total Smartphone Subscribers






Integrating Palm with RIM does not come without risks. The variety of RIM’s devices means its platform is fragmented, and it’s not clear how WebOS can fix that. In the short term, there will be two disparate operating systems, and therefore different app stores. It will be critical for RIM to phase out the BlackBerry OS quickly while integrating Palm’s WebOS with its push-email servers and services.
In the long run, when WebOS and BlackBerry devices converge, RIM will come across as a formidable competitor to iPhone, Windows Phone, and Android. Last but not least, the new company formed from the merger would still be an integrated mobile vendor — the preferred position of both RIM and Palm. They already share a vision. Separately, they lack the means to achieve it. That’s the best possible scenario for making a technology acquisition work.
Tags: Blackberry, webOS
Companies: Palm, Research In Motion, RIM

Prosper raising $13.3 – $15.8M round for peer-to-peer lending market

Peer-to-peer lending market Prosper is in the midst of raising a $13.3 – $15.8 million fourth round of funding, the company announced today.
The company’s lending market currently has nearly a million members, and so far, those members have funded 32,000 loans totaling more than $193 million. The company said it has signed a letter of intent with new and existing investors to raise the round, which is expected to close by April 15.
To date, the San Francisco-based company has raised $43 million. According to Deutsche Bank Research, Prosper is the largest peer-to-peer lending marketplace. Gartner forecasts this industry will grow to $5 billion in outstanding loans by 2013. In February, Prosper said the average borrower credit score was 724 and that 40 percent of loans are going to borrowers with credit scores of 760 or higher. Borrowers generally use Prosper to consolidate their loans. Users have posted requests for $1.8 billion in loans.
Prosper announced in November that it had raised $1 million in a third round. Before that, Prosper raised $41 million in two prior rounds. That last round was noteworthy, though, because the money came from Nigel W. Morris, co-founder of Capital One, a major credit card and banking company.
Competitor Lending Club raised $12 million in March, 2009, and has raised more than $22 million in all.
Companies: Prosper

'Scarface' featuring kids meant to provoke

The delivery isn't the smoothest, the guns are obviously fake and some of the language has been changed to avoid offending young ears. And the death scene -- well, it's one of the most comical since Brad Pitt's big bounce at the beginning of "Meet Joe Black."

'Stand and Deliver' teacher dies of cancer

Jaime Escalante, the math teacher portrayed in "Stand and Deliver," died Tuesday after a battle with cancer, according to Sony Films.

'Lost's' Yunjin Kim gets married in Hawaii

She may be "lost" for a few more episodes but Yunjin Kim has found the man of her dreams. The South Korean actress who plays Sun Kwon on ABC's hit "Lost," married her boyfriend, Jeong Hyeok Park, in Hawaii on Sunday.

Rare comic of Superman debut fetches $1.5 million

The comic debut of Superman has sold for an out-of-this-world price.

tirsdag 30. mars 2010

Game-based marketing takes off from frequent flyer programs to social media

Gabe Zichermann coined the term Funware to describe the use of video game mechanics in everyday, non-game applications. It was a big idea that has now become a rallying cry for the spread of video games beyond their traditional borders into industries that seem remotely related to games.
What Zichermann, chief executive of beamME and a 12-year game industry veteran, realized was that games motivate people to do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do. The book (subtitled “Inspire customer loyalty through rewards challenges and contests”) debuts this week and is a must read for marketers, including the folks who are attending the MI6 game marketing conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
Funware is an intuitive concept. If you turn work into game, people willingly do it. If you make a tedious school assignment into a game-like competition, kids will become engaged with it. If you add a rewards-based loyalty program to your product, people will choose it over rivals. The time has come to “game-ify” all of the boring industries so that users will be motivated to use products and services because they want to, not because they have to. In fact, the authors argue that just about any task can be designed so that it can be more fun.
Over the past couple of years, the idea has gained steam. Venture capitalists such as Bing Gordon, former chief creative officer at Electronic Arts and Kleiner Perkins partner, believe that Funware has the potential to change all of advertising.
Game-based marketing is one of those things that has been around forever, but is only now getting recognized for what it is. Games have grabbed a bigger share of the entertainment market because they’re sticky. They get people to come back over and over in a way that ordinary ads or marketing programs do not. (Pictured right: Zichermann).
The book begins with a couple of telling anecdotes. One relates how one of Zichermann’s former bosses in the ad industry just didn’t understand the point of marketing to gamers. Another shows how the Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates commercials — advertising the launch of Windows 7 — failed horribly in winning over audiences. The authors say that the failure of these commercials harkens the death of traditional ads.
Brands are starting to catch on. The old way of reaching people through 30-second commercials isn’t working anymore because people are skipping commercials with their digital video recorders. And a new generation of young people isn’t watching TV at all. About 80 percent of these youths are playing video games, so they are naturally amenable to game-related motivations, such as competitive leaderboards, enhanced status in a community, or achievement points. They are a generation that looks at things like and wonder why it wasn’t designed more like a game. One example: a leaderboard inspired Brazilians to boost their usage of the Orkut social network so their country could be the top of the leaderboard. As a result, Google’s Orkut is the No. 1 social network in Brazil, not Facebook.
Some of this is basic psychology. If you put up a velvet rope and create a VIP area in a bar, people will want to get into it. They will be nice to the host and offer bigger tips if they can get the better service and status associated with being a VIP. The bar makes more money and can charge higher prices in the VIP area. The fundamental product, alcohol, is still the same. The marketing of the product is what changes, and that’s what companies should realize, says Tim Chang, principal at Norwest Venture Partners. (Pictured right: Linder).
Part of the problem with today’s marketing is that marketers grew up thinking that brands should be inserted into games as commercial breaks. And game companies grew up thinking that their games were only for hardcore players. But now the growth of the mass market for games means those lines are blurring. Zichermann and Lindner say that the marketers should realize that the BRAND CAN BE THE GAME. In this melding, game experts can lend their expertise to the brand marketers, who in turn can help the game companies reach the non-gaming masses.
An example is the NBC trivia game, iCue. For years, NBC wanted to find out how to make money from its archive of videos. No one was watching them. Then NBC created a video trivia game where players had to guess a movie’s details based on watching a clip. The result was a sticky application with 100,000 users per month.
This book rests on the shoulders of others that have come before it, such as Changing the Game by David Edery and Ethan Mollick, and Total Engagement by Bryon Reeves and J. Leighton Read. Both of those games argue the same case as Game-Based Marketing, though with different examples about how to turn work into fun.
One of the common examples that comes in all of the books is America’s Army, the online combat game created by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool to reach young people who grew up playing video games. America’s Army costs very little to run, but it has had a huge impact in educating youths about the ways of the Army. Nike, Coca-Cola, Mary Kay Cosmetics and lots of other companies are sharing in the fun by designing Funware.
The fact that other books have come before this one suggests that thesis of the book is part of a larger movement. The ideas that were once considered radical are now becoming an accepted canon. Bunchball, founded by entrepreneur Rajat Paharia, is actively helping brands to game-ify their web sites.
But Zichermann and Linder point out out that some of the pioneering ideas behind Funware are, in fact, really old. They were embedded in the old Green Stamps program where you could earn stamps by making purchases at participating stores and then redeeming the stamps for merchandise. The germs of the Funware idea were also in the first frequent flyer program created by American Airlines in 1981. And they were part of addictive nature of slot machines in Las Vegas and sweepstakes contests as well.
That gets us to the good thing about this book. People who know games should read it because they’ll learn about other industries which have already done what the game marketers want to achieve. And people who know brand marketing should read this for the new tips that the game companies have created to hook users. I must admit I got sleepy when I read so much about frequent flyer programs, but I also learned a lot that I didn’t know.
Game makers may think that they have learned all of the ropes, but the research in the book shows they would do well to study the effects that rewards programs have on users. The Boy Scouts, for instance, figured out that giving out low-cost badges instead of big monetary awards was more than enough to keep young boys motivated. Indeed, in everything from sweepstakes to reality TV, it is a fact that large prizes are not required to encourage continuous engagement and loyalty. And the game makers may have to watch out. As the designers of social networks have figured out, it is possible to create an experience such as Facebook that is possibly more fun than games. It’s also worth noting that gamers will try to game any system; just ask Las Vegas casinos why they have huge security staffs devoted to cracking down on cheaters.
Meanwhile, the creators of loyalty programs at institutions such as McDonalds would do well to modify their contests to be replayable, as most games are, to inspire long-term loyalty. Why can’t the Internal Revenue Service create some incentives so that filling out your taxes is fun?
If the game makers and the brand experts get together, figure out how to create long-term brand loyalty through engagement, then everybody is going to make a pile of money.
Tags: Game-Based Marketing
People: Gabe Zichermann, Joselin Linder

Google, ACLU, AT&T and other tech companies team up to reform privacy law

Google, Microsoft, Intel and other tech companies have teamed up to overhaul privacy laws enacted more than 20 years that define how the government can access user data.
The law the companies are targeting, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, is 24 years old and was created ages before the Internet became mainstream. As a result, there isn’t a lot of clarity about whether documents stored in the cloud or location data from cellphones are protected communications that require search warrants to access.
“The law just hasn’t kept up with technological changes. It doesn’t reflect how people use cloud services,
which creates challenges in terms of compliance,” said Mike Hintze, an associate general counsel at Microsoft. “It creates friction between companies and law enforcement.”
The companies, along with other civil liberties groups, want to update the law so that the files, e-mails and chats they store are considered as protected as the paper documents you might keep in your file cabinet. The coalition is pushing to require government officials to have search warrants before:

They can access user’s private communications or documents stored online
They can track, prospectively or retrospectively, the location of a cell phone or other mobile communications device.

Location data is a particularly sticky point. There are nearly three dozen legal decisions on how and when mobile carriers, ISPs or other types of tech companies should hand over location data to law enforcement officials. Most courts have ruled that government officials need warrants if they want to track a suspect in real-time, but it isn’t codified into law.

The companies are also pushing to have the law require that government officials prove that the requested data is relevant to a criminal investigation when they want access to:

Transactional data in real time about when and with whom an individual communicates using email, instant messaging, text messaging, the telephone or any other communications technology
Transactional data about multiple unidentified users of communications or other online services when trying to track down a suspect

The companies that are part of the coalition don’t expect the law to be reformed this year, but they want to start a dialogue and have policy ideas that legislators can easily pick up and incorporate once the bill gets moving.

Tags: Electronic Communications Privacy Act, privacy
Companies: ACLU, Google, Intel, loopt, microsoft

Padma Lakshmi 'wants nothing to do' with baby's father

Since Adam Dell was revealed as the biological father of Padma Lakshmi's baby daughter Krishna earlier this month, the venture capitalist has been trying to "get back into [Lakshmi's] life," said a friend.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 map pack launches with glitch, competition from Bad Company 2

The modern combat brawl started anew today as multiplayer map packs arrived today for both Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2.
Gamers can download the map packs via Xbox Live. Early reports suggested that the Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Pack wasn’t working correctly for users who bought it early this morning for 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15 on Xbox Live. Activision Blizzard, which publishes Modern Warfare 2 (right), hasn’t yet responded.
Of course, it’s possible that the map packs are working fine and that too many people are working on it. Xbox Live programming director Larry Hyrb said Microsoft engineers are working on the “MW2 Stimulus Pack Problem.” That gives an opening to Battlefield Bad Company 2, the competing title from Electronic Arts.
EA is launching a second VIP downloadable map pack for Bad Company 2 (right) today. Those who bought the game new (and not used) can use the VIP code in it to get the map pack for free. The last published numbers show that Modern Warfare 2 has sold more than 15 million copies since November and Bad Company 2 has sold more than 2.3 million since early March.
One thing is for sure. Multiplayer combat fans are going to be busy with these downloadable maps, which extend the gaming experience in new terrain. If you’re trying to launch a brand new game right now, it might not get noticed by the hardcore crowd.
Companies: Activision Blizzard, electronic arts

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 map pack launches with glitch, competition from Bad Company 2

The modern combat brawl started anew today as multiplayer map packs arrived today for both Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2.
Gamers can download the map packs via the PC, Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. Early reports suggested that the Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Pack wasn’t working correctly for users who bought it early this morning for 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15 on Xbox Live. Activision Blizzard, which publishes Modern Warfare 2 (right), hasn’t yet responded.
Of course, it’s possible that the map packs are working fine and that too many people are working on it. Xbox Live programming director Larry Hyrb said Microsoft engineers are working on the “MW2 Stimulus Pack Problem.” That gives an opening to Battlefield Bad Company 2, the competing title from Electronic Arts.
EA is launching a second VIP downloadable map pack for Bad Company 2 (right) today. Those who bought the game new (and not used) can use the VIP code in it to get the map pack for free. The last published numbers show that Modern Warfare 2 has sold more than 15 million copies since November and Bad Company 2 has sold more than 2.3 million since early March.
One thing is for sure. Multiplayer combat fans are going to be busy with these downloadable maps, which extend the gaming experience in new terrain. If you’re trying to launch a brand new game right now, it might not get noticed by the hardcore crowd.
Companies: Activision Blizzard, electronic arts

Sandra Bullock has no plans to adopt Jesse James's kids

Despite reports, Sandra Bullock isn't aiming to become a legal parent to her husband's three kids.

Facebook freebies can build a strong customer base

(Editor’s note: Brendan McManus is co-founder of Startup Digest. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
By now, you’ve probably heard from so many social media evangelists that you roll your eyes when the topic comes up. Can’t blame you.
The thing is: Social media can beneficial for startups – but the different between being a slight help and a real game changer comes down to a few things.
Here are 5 steps I’ve learned over the years that your sales and marketing team needs to follow to see a real boost from Facebook and Twitter.
Step 1) Start with what you’ve got - Social media is not your channel to reach new customers; it’s their channel to find you through their friends who already know you. It doesn’t matter if you’re Starbucks or Buck’s Star Cleaners, your business has a core group of family, friends, and fans that make up your current customer base. You wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t.
Don’t try to simultaneously convince new people to like you and make a purchase. That’s insanely hard to do, as evidenced by the microscopic conversion rates of new users to buyers from even the most-well-targeted advertising sources. Instead, incentivize your current customers to introduce your business to new ones.
Step 2) Free stuff = incentives - Social media makes it faster, cheaper, and easier than any other marketing channel to leverage the Rule of Reciprocity.
When you do a small, unsolicited favor for a potential customer, they feel an obligation to repay you. It’s the Rule of Reciprocity, and effectively leveraging it is a proven sales method. Before Facebook and Twitter, it was impossible for you to scalably give to your customers. Giving things away for free helped sell more, but it cost too much and there was no way for current customers to get their friends involved.  Not anymore.
Step 3) Group freebies > individual freebies - If you give something away that benefits only one person, no one has any reason to tell anyone else about it. If they did, they would lower their own chances of winning. Instead, think about offering something that benefits a winner and a few of their friends.
A great example would be to give away tickets for 4 to the next Lady Gaga concert. It’s a group prize, one that rewards a winner and the 3 friends he or she coverts to join the promotion. Additionally, it incentivizes entering the giveaway, sending invitations to friends – and friends actually accepting them.
I’ve found that requiring an entrant to convert one to three friends works best because it forces participants to choose among their friends instead of blindly inviting all of them. When you make people choose, you make them care. This means that your current fans will actually care about whether or not their best friends discover your business.
Step 4) Follow-up properly after the giveaway - Everyone who participated in your giveaway just received an unsolicited favor from you. This fact makes them much more likely to do something for you (i.e. convert to a sale) than anyone else on your mailing list – so don’t just dump them into that list. Rather, send them each a personal message with a single call to action. (Too many companies insist leads do multiple things in their follow-up emails.)
Here’s a real case study: 99designs ran a $1,000 design package sweepstakes with my company, Startup Digest, back in December.
291 people participated in the contest. Non-winners were invited to create new accounts at 99designs.com and offered $20 off of their first project. Over 100 of those people created new accounts and 10 purchased new projects, which covered the cost of the promotion.
Remember, 99 designs is a small business and a design project is a product which people need rarely and only at very specific times. What if you were selling coffee, hotel rooms, or fast food? How would a roughly 3 percent sales conversion rate compare to your current display advertising numbers?
Step 5) Be consistently generous to current customers - Social media is a reflection of the real world; those who give the most value will get the most in return.
One of the best big splash examples is Edible Arrangements, which gave away a free six-pack of chocolate covered strawberries to anyone who became a fan.  It was the perfect approach because it was simple and uniquely interesting to both their current customers and target potential customers.
The Edible Arrangements Facebook Fan count jumped from 8,000 to 55,000+ in 36 hours and now stands at over 181,000.
Understandably, most startups can’t afford to give something special away to everyone, but running a regular, simple sweepstakes instead can be just as effective. Giving to your current customers on a regular basis will create more incentive for them to give back to you – in the form of sales and referrals.
Consistency builds trust, and trust builds loyalty.
(Image by erin m via Flickr)
Tags: Facebook, marketing

Vodpod’s new Groups feature lets you easily collect and discuss online videos with others

Online video discovery and sharing site Vodpod has announced a new “Groups” feature that will help you collect videos around a specific topic, and easily share them with others.
Vodpod has allowed you to collect your favorite online videos on its site for some time now, and you can also vote up videos submitted by others in a Digg-like fashion. Groups adds a collaboration layer to the site that will make it even more useful for groups of friends, colleagues, or just people with similar interests.
You can create a group about any topic that you like, and then create a specific tag which members will use to submit videos to the group. Videos are ranked on the group page based on when they were submitted and votes by members. You can check out a group created by Vodpod’s employees to see the feature in action.
While its certainly convenient to have a bunch of related videos on one page, Vodpod makes the feature all the better by streamlining what you can actually do with the video on a single page. Unlike the site’s normal approach, videos in group pages can be viewed inline — which means you don’t need to leave the page to watch them. You also have the ability to add comments to the video without leaving the page as well.
Vodpod seems to have created the perfect little productivity waster for people addicted to online videos, and who also love to share them with their friends. It also stays true to the site’s personalized approach for sharing video –  unlike Magma, which has an algorithm for tracking web videos as they become popular.
The San Francisco, Calif.,-based company raised $1 million in funding from True Ventures back in 2007. It’s grown steadily over the past few years — the company reports it receives 11 million unique monthly visitors, and hosts over 4.5 million videos from 14,000 separate video sites.
Tags: online video, video, Vodpod Groups
Companies: Vodpod

mandag 29. mars 2010

Reply.com lands $1.08 following IPO filing

Reply.com, the advertising marketplace targeted at local and niche companies, has raised $1.08 million in options, securities and debt financing, according to a filing with the SEC.
The San Ramon, Calif. company made big news at the end of last month when it filed for a $60 million initial public offering.
Reply distinguishes itself from other ad networks, claiming to convert 50 to 100 percent of customers who click on an ad into buyers, because it’s so narrowly targeted at customers based on their past purchase and browsing behavior, or self-selected preferences.
As VentureBeat reported earlier, Reply works by collecting this kind of information from web surfers, and then selling their clickthroughs on ads to buyers looking for matching profiles. This method of lead generation has proved to generate higher returns on buyers’ investments, the company says.
Reply previously raised $27.5 million from Scale Venture Partners, Outlook Ventures and ATEL Ventures, among others.
Companies: Atel Ventures, Outlook Ventures, Reply.com, Scale Ventures

Payvment puts $1.1M in its basket to power online shopping carts

Payvment, a service that lets you add a fully-functional shopping cart to your web site or Facebook Page using PayPal as the payment mechanism, has just landed $1.15 million of a targeted $1.7 million round of equity and preferred stock sales, according to a filing with the SEC.
Payvment uses PayPal’s Adaptive Payments API to let anyone set up an e-commerce site and start selling their goods or services online and the popular social network. The company makes setting up an online shopping cart as easy as copying and pasting one line of code.
It’s free application for Facebook takes the concept one step further, allowing users to upload, manage and organize inventory in a way that makes it easy for prospective customers to search and browse. It also handles shipping information and makes setting up terms of service simple enough for people with no prior e-commerce experience. Basically, it creates an online store within Facebook for you in a matter of minutes.
To prevent shopping cart abandonment (it happens a lot when shoppers unwittingly click off of web sites), the service remembers what customers have added so that it’s there waiting for them the next time they use a Payvment shopping cart. Users can also select whatever currency they want, but can also make international sales with Payvment doing all the heavy lifting on the conversions.
Launched just last November, Payvment previously raised $250,000 in seed funding. It’s based in San Francisco.
Companies: paypal, Payvment

Landis+Gyr to supply smart meters to British Gas on way to IPO

British Gas, the major electrical and gas utility in the United Kingdom, has decided to go with Landis+Gyr to build the 1 million smart meters it plans to deploy throughout its coverage area. This is a big victory for the Swiss meter maker, which is racing against American contenders like Itron and Echelon.
Landis+Gyr builds meters that are capable of wirelessly transmitting energy consumption and pricing data in real time between utilities, their customers, and the meters themselves. These meters sit at the heart of the global push toward a cleaner, more efficient Smart Grid. It already partners with utilities like Oncor in Texas and Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California to supply the meters they deploy to their rate payers.
British Gas is a big-name company to add to this roster of partners, giving Landis+Gyr another boost it needs to hit its goal of going public within three years — an ambition reported today by BusinessWeek. Right now, it’s beating Itron, and Chinese competitor Ningbo Sanxing, with 11 percent of the smart metering market in its pocket. But it needs to keep pulling down the big clients if its going to keep it that way. Itron is catching up with 10.5 percent of the market.
Silver Spring Networks, widely predicted to be the next IPO in the Smart Grid space, will most likely beat Landis+Gyr to market. It’s already recruited underwriters in preparation for a filing. Itron is already public, trading on the NASDAQ under the symbol ITRI.
The meters Landis is building for British Gas will keep tabs on both electricity and gas. They will come with touchscreen displays installed in homes to show consumer exactly how much energy they are using, and how much it is costing them (much like what Control4, OpenPeak and Tendril are offering). The hope is that these devices will convince homeowners and commercial customers to conserve, if only to save money on their energy bills.
The deal is also a win for British Gas, which is trying hard to accelerate its Smart Grid efforts. The U.K. has taken a lot of flack about being so slow on the uptake when it comes to revamping its antiquated grid. But British Gas is out to prove them wrong.
Last fall, the utility joined forces with home energy management company AlertMe and wireless networking company Trilliant to sprint ahead. It’ll be interesting to see if it hits its deployment goals on time.
Landis+Gyr landed $100 million last November from its existing backers to fund a big leap in production capacity. It also has key partnerships with the likes of SAP, Cisco and Microsoft, making it easy for these companies to build open-standard applications on top of the metering platform, offering customers a wider array of energy efficiency options.
Tags: Smart Grid
Companies: British Gas, Echelon, itron, Landis+Gyr