20 April, 2012



A daily dating deal? Say hello to Coffee Meets Bagel

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 09:35 AM PDT

couple dating looking at an ipad

Tired of the pithy online dating profiles, messaging systems, quick match games, “algorithmic matching,” and rating random people you’ve never met in real life? Take a big sip of Coffee Meets Bagel, the newest refreshing online dating play, which launched this week in New York City.

Arum Kang, the female founder and Harvard Business School graduate wanted to make online dating easier, less random and more private. She was inspired by daily deals sites and her sister Soo’s frustrations with dating in New York. Rather than having to search a database of daters, she wanted to deliver a date per day, at noon on the spot, to your email inbox. By linking through Facebook authentication, CMB is able to set the user up with a friend of a friend, instead of just some random stranger, hopefully vetting for quality.

Once you receive the noon e-mail, you can see the your match’s uploaded photos (1-3), some basic information (astrological sign, age, employment, likes, dislikes), and then –again, back to this dead simple concept — either Like or Pass on the match. If you Like the match, CMB sets the two of you up with a private phone line for 7 days on which to text and decide where and when they’ll meet. If you pass, a box shows up asking for feedback on why (looks, profession, etc) and by giving feedback to the other dater, the user may receive a CMB “bean.”

Beyond the simple matching system, CMB adds an aspect of an online shopping and gamification to their dating play. A user accumulates coffee beans, which can then be redeemed for drinks, events, products, and more. If a member refers new members, they’ll accumulate more beans to redeem.

Robert, a recent CMB convert in NYC says, “Since matches are emailed daily and those mutually interested are connected instantly by SMS, users have a high sense of momentum in meeting their match…the ease of CMB makes it a no brainer for any singleton in the city.”

If you’d like Coffee Meets Bagel to launch in your city, simply sign up on the site and get 1,000 of your friends to as well. The company plans on launching in 4 more US cities before the end of 2012.

Photo via Shutterstock

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Cloudflare’s Instaflare is an Instagram for all the images on your website — Seriously

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 08:31 AM PDT

Having a bit of fun with all the Instagram hype these days, the website optimization service Cloudflare has launched Instaflare, a cheeky new feature that will let users of its platform apply filters to all of the images on your site.

“Only with Instaflare can you be sure that all the images on your site, whether you made them yourself or not, have instant flair!” Cloudflare writes on the Instaflare product page. “Use of this app will significantly improve the valuation of your business (perhaps).”

Instaflare is available as a free app for all Cloudflare users. The idea started out as a joke, but ended up becoming an actual feature within 12 hours, a PR representative told us. In addition to being just plain fun, the feature shows how Cloudflare’s platform can easily make widespread changes across any website.

Cloudflare’s service aims to secure websites and speed up load times. It’s reportedly seeking a new funding round at a $1 billion valuation, according to a TechCrunch report citing multiple sources. The company landed $20 million in funding in July 2011.

The company is clearly poking fun at Instagram’s $1 billion purchase by Facebook, but there’s also an added layer of snark since it was able to launch the feature in 12 hours. It’s as if Cloudflare is indirectly saying “if this stupid photo filter app is worth $1 billion, then why not us?”

However you read the Instaflare feature, I just can’t wait to see what will be the first site to apply one of the filters. I can think of more than a few sites that could use the Madison filter: “You like to think you’re Don Draper, but you’re actually Pete Campbell.”

Filed under: media, offBeat, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

YouTube could get slapped with huge music royalty fees after German court ruling

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 08:24 AM PDT

Of all the overly oppressive music industry groups in the world, German royalty collections body GEMA definitely ranks near the top — especially after a recent court case the group won against Google’s YouTube.

GEMA, which represents over 60,000 German writers and musicians, brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube in 2010 due to 12 music videos that were uploaded to the streaming video website without permission. The German court ruled today that YouTube didn’t do nearly enough to prevent its users from posting that content.

As such, YouTube could get slapped with a huge bill to pay for all the music royalties from the 12 videos in question, as well as other videos in the future. The court also ruled that YouTube must implement more stringent filters for video uploads — this is on top of YouTube’s current filtering technology, which seems to do fine here in the U.S.

Forcing YouTube to pay royalties on music that its users uploaded actually gives the copyright holders an incentive to have their music illegally placed online. In the U.S., this type of situation is avoided with the DMCA, which state that the site in question of violating a copyright must remove the material within a reasonable amount of time after being alerted to it.

It’s likely that Google will appeal the German court’s decision. We’re reaching out to the company for further comment, and will update the post with any new information.

Photo via korosirego/Flickr; Via ZDnet

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The DeanBeat: GamesBeat 2012 to focus on crossover strategies

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 08:00 AM PDT

GamesBeat 2012 is going to be all about crossover strategies. The game industry as we know it is changing. We’re seeing established companies cross over from one market to another, where once they faced barriers. As companies adapt to change, we are witnessing disruption, change, consolidation, innovation, and the arrival of big money. We’re talking billions of dollars that are at stake.

Crossover strategies are proving critical: I’ve seen leader after leader adopt these strategies as the market moves under their feet. Activision Blizzard is crossing over from console games to mobile by launching iOS games in its Skylanders franchise.

Many are wondering whether they should join the social game market where companies like Zynga are making big money. But Zynga itself isn’t staying still. It’s rapidly crossing over into mobile games; and it’s in the mood to acquire more companies on the way, thanks to a war chest of $1.8 billion in cash. Electronic Arts is busy dueling Zynga and Activision Blizzard at the same time. Over time, EA has adapted through acquisition, acquiring firms such as Jamdat, PopCap Games, Playfish and BioWare/Pandemic to extend its reach beyond traditional games into the new realms of social, mobile, and online. The result has been games ranging from Tetris on the iPad to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

There are consequences to the big rush into social and mobile. As big companies with well-known brands flood into the market, the cost of user acquisition is soaring for everyone on iOS and on Facebook. All of this is driving huge changes in the game business landscape. In the first quarter of 2012, 30 merger and acquisition deals generated $1.7 billion in transaction value at an average of $57 million, according to Digi-Capital. In the first quarter, 38 transactions generated $248 million in transaction value, at an average value of $7 million.

"We see mobile/tablet, mobile-social, cross-platform (iOS/Android/social network) and free-to-play MMO games companies attracting serious interest from both investors and acquirers this year,” said Tim Merel, managing director at Digi-Capital and one of our speakers.

Mobile gaming giants in Japan — Gree and DeNA — are busy crossing the Pacific Ocean. China’s game giants — Tencent, Shanda Games, Perfect World and others — are crossing into the U.S. and European markets. Bigpoint, Game Duell, Spil Games, Wooga, and other European firms are on the move. Nexon, born in Korea and based in Japan, also has a billion dollars to spend on crossover strategies, thanks to its recent initial public offering. The armies are in motion.

Big and small companies alike are now in the midst of crossing over from one market to the next. We’ll see winners and losers in the process. GamesBeat 2012 will focus on speakers who can help navigate and show the rest of us how to do it right.

“I enjoyed the saying from the Matrix movie: ‘Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye…’” said David Perry, chief executive of game streaming firm Gaikai and one of our speakers. “Change is forced by four key things: price (the perception of saving money), convenience (saving time and effort), ease of use (easier to learn and master), and quality (new and improved). What room remains in the game industry for those forces to drive change? I think we are nowhere near done yet, and 2012-2015 will be some of the most disruptive years the industry has ever faced.”

We’re inviting 500 movers and shakers from throughout the game industry — social, mobile, online, and console. Our newest speakers include Kristian Segerstrale, executive vice president of digital at Electronic Arts. Segerstrale is a veteran of the digital game business, starting first in mobile at Glu and then as a founder of Playfish, the social game company which EA bought in 2009 for up to $400 million.

Also speaking is Riccardo Zacconi, chief executive of King.com, which is a great case study in crossing over from the web to Facebook. By any account, this transition is going well, as King.com has moved into second place among game publishers on Facebook and now has more than 2.5 billion game plays a month, up from 300 million a year ago. King.com was slow to move to Facebook and saw its users migrate. It was slow and deliberate about its transition, proving that the first company to cross over isn’t always the winner, and how the company plans to shift into mobile as well.

Another new speaker is Chris Petrovic, general manager of GameStop Digital Ventures. GameStop has thousands of stores that may very well get disrupted as games shift to digital distribution. But to defend itself against that, GameStop has acquired online game portal Kongregate and game streaming firm Spawn Labs. GameStop is enhancing its loyalty programs and taking advantage of the fact that 500 million people walk into its stores every year. Is it moving fast enough? We’ll see.

Our previously announced speakers are Will Wright of Stupid Fun Club; Atul Bagga of Lazard Capital Markets; Bing Gordon of Kleiner Perkins; David Perry of Gaikai; Mitch Lasky of Benchmark Capital; Peter Relan of YouWeb; Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio; Seamus Blackley of Innovative Leisure; Tim Chang of Mayfield Fund; Will Harbin of Kixeye; and Tim Merel of Digi-Capital. It’s going to be a very merry group by the time we’re done recruiting speakers.

[Photo credit: Obakeneko on Flickr]

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The top 25 technology books of all time

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 08:00 AM PDT

Technology teaches us to forget the past. Last year’s tech news seems like it has no use whatsoever. Thankfully, historians beg to differ, and they have begun to preserve the history of the tech industry as it becomes more and more important to the evolution of our lives and world. Those who understand the history of technology and the people who made it happen can probably figure out more quickly how to build on the shoulders of giants and advance technology further. Here’s some books that are great fun to read because they either relate great ideas that influenced a generation of technologists or because they chronicle the lives of people who changed the world. This list includes books that have stood the test of time and are worth a look for the history lover. And it includes new books, such as Walter Isaacson’s tome on Steve Jobs, that are likely to be the new classics. It doesn’t, however, include any tech textbooks. My focus is on books that deliver not just a technical understanding of how something works today, but hard-earned wisdom.

1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011). This 571-page tome captures the key moments and thoughts of Steve Jobs, c0-founder of Apple. Isaacson built a moving portrait of the life of the tech icon after 40 interviews with him. Aware of Jobs’ reality distortion field, Isaacson also interviewed more than 100 key players about what Jobs told him, getting a full picture of the man from many points of view. All of the key players in the life of Jobs — his ex-girlfriends, former employees, board members, wife and children, and industry luminaries such as Bill Gates — talk about their interaction with Jobs, from his days growing up in Silicon Valley, to his pot-smoking days at a commune with an apple orchard in Oregon, until his death from cancer in 2011. Isaacson’s book captures the complexity of a man who could be a tyrant at one moment and an emotional wreck the next. Whatever you think of Jobs or his accomplishments, it is a must-read for anyone remotely related to the business of technology. The book makes you feel like you know the man behind the legend by the time you’re finished. It is so well done that it inspired me to write this list.

2. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen (1997). It took a Harvard Business School professor to see why new technologies can cause great companies to fail. After studying industries from steel to hard drives, Christenson discovered that listening to customers can cause a great executive to misread the market. Typically, customers ask for new features, and the most enthusiastic customers ask for lots of new features. The managers who accommodate requests and put them into the next version of the product run the risk of failing because they make their products too complicated. They don’t notice that for ordinary customers, the technology is good enough. When a technology becomes good enough, the market leader may fail to notice, only to be disrupted by a competitor who comes into the market and offers a good enough product. Too many companies are afraid to disrupt their own products, and so they are disrupted instead. At the same time, businesses that routinely improve their products often miss the boat when a new technology comes along and becomes a huge wave. While the book focuses on business strategy, it offers a lot of insights and it had a huge impact on the tech industry. And Christensen’s “Innovator’s” series of books became a cottage industry. For innovators of any stripe, the whole series is worth reading.

3. The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder (1981). This is the classic tech product creation story. Kidder writes the book so that you feel like you are a fly on the wall in the meetings at Data General, a minicomputer vendor in the 1970s. The author chronicles the turf war that takes place between two internal design groups within the company that are trying to create the great next-generation machine. The two teams are pitted against each other and they test whether a “quick and dirty” computer made by recent college graduates will make a better product or one that is painstakingly designed by an elite group. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in another era, but what hasn’t changed is difficulty of dealing with egos in team dynamics or the frenetic pace of product innovation. The book has inspired countless other business tales, including my own books on the history of Microsoft’s Xbox video game business.

4. Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard S. Tedlow (2006). Before we move on to making a god out of Mark Zuckerberg, it’s good to remember who came before him. No one had a more remarkable rags to riches story than Andy Grove, the former chief executive of Intel. He was born a Hungarian Jew in 1936 and he survived the Holocaust while his father did not. During the bloody Hungarian revolution of 1956, he fled the country, crawling across the Austrian border in the mud. He arrived in America penniless, found help and managed to work his way through college. He graduated in time to catch the wave of change sweeping through the new Silicon Valley with the creation of seminal chip companies such as Fairchild. He was the third employee at Intel and became its CEO, taking no prisoners along the way. Grove became a statesman of the valley and a feared boss for those who didn’t have their act together. Among his decisions: engaging in a strategic retreat, where he and Gordon Moore decided exit the memory chip market to focus on microprocessors. Then came IBM, looking for a microprocessor to put in its first personal computer. After that, Intel was golden and Grove was a key reason that Intel became the world’s biggest chip maker.

5. The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story by Michael Lewis (2001). This tale showed how all roads led to Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Healtheon. Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker, swept into Silicon Valley and cozied up to Clark, the brilliant graphics expert who became the most important technology entrepreneur of the 1990s. The tale shows how the boom surrounding the internet turned the geeky Clark into one of the valley’s first billionaires. Clark rewrote the rules of Silicon Valley and capitalism itself. Lewis also chronicled Clark’s creation of Hyperion, a high-tech yacht that was more complex than a 747. Like Kidder, Lewis is a great storyteller who captured the poignant moments of Clark’s life. Clark didn’t set the world on fire with Healtheon, but his protegé, Marc Andreessen, has inherited the mantle of the uber-entrepreneur and investor of Silicon Valley.

Filed under: deals, dev, enterprise, games, media, mobile, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Is this the Galaxy S III? Mystery Samsung device could be an early prototype

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 07:55 AM PDT

We’re only a few weeks away from Samsung’s May 3 press event, where it’s expected to unveil the long-awaited Galaxy S III. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing tons of rumors and leaks surrounding the device, which we’ve mostly avoided reporting because they all rang false.

But leave it up to the Vietnamese website Tinhte, which is known for revealing high-profile devices early, to dig up the most compelling Galaxy S III news yet. The site posted video and photos of a new phone, the Samsung GT-i9300, which could be an early prototype for the Galaxy S III. Notably, Tinhte’s post has been removed, which makes us think Samsung was worried about the information getting out.

Luckily, someone translated the site’s video showing off the phone and uploaded it to YouTube (see below). And the site’s photos showing off the phone have already spread around the web.

As the video below makes clear, the outer case of the device seems completely separate from the internals. It’s likely a move by Samsung to keep the design of the Galaxy S III secret for situations such as this. According to specification screens, the device is running a dual-core 1.4 gigahertz processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM. It has a 4.6-inch screen with a reported 1184 by 720 resolution (it’s actually 1280 by 720, but Android doesn’t count the on-screen navigation buttons).

Notably the device’s battery is a massive 2,050 mAh (significantly higher than the 1650 mAh battery in the Galaxy S II), and it is also NFC-enabled. The phone also sports an 8-megapixel camera.

Via The Verge

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

iPhone 5 to be thinner with in-cell touch panels, say rumors

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 06:57 AM PDT

iPhone 4S 1

While we expect the iPhone 5 to be thinner than the iPhone 4S design, a rumor today points to one way Apple could make that possible.

Apple is apparently interested in adopting in-cell touch panels from Sharp and Toshiba, which could shave off some fat from the next iPhone’s waistline, reports the Taiwanese news site Digitimes.

In-cell tech makes touchscreen panels thinner by placing touch sensors within the color filters of the screen. In comparison, existing on-screen technology puts the touch sensors on top of the color filters, taking up precious space in the process.

Citing supply chain sources, Digitimes says that an increase in yield for the in-cell touch panels has sparked Apple’s interest. Additionally, the panel makers are said to be ramping up production of the new technology in the second quarter. Digitimes notes that the move will impact current Apple touch panel makers TPK Holdings and Wintek, though TPK has said it’s developing a thinner new “touch on lens” technology that could compete with in-cell panels.

Digitimes has a rocky history with Apple rumors, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Apple adopt this new technology. It’s reminiscent of how the iPhone 4 was the first to adopt a high-resolution 3.5-inch display, and how Apple popularized the use of capacitive touchscreens with the first iPhone.

Adding a bit of legitimacy to the rumor, DisplaySearch analyst David Hsieh told Taiwan Focus that it makes sense for Apple to adopt the in-cell panels from Japanese suppliers. “Of course, Taiwanese panel makers are also developing this technology, but Japanese suppliers still run faster,” Hsieh said at the DisplaySearch Taiwan Flat Panel Display Conference.

Via AppleInsider

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Kickstarter funding explodes, on pace to triple this year to around $300M

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 05:56 AM PDT

We’ve been reporting on a lot of very cool tech and gaming projects that have found huge success on the New York based crowdfunding platform Kickstarter this year. The site, which never had a million dollar project before 2012, keeps breaking its own records, with the Pebble smartwatch, which has now raised more than $5 million, leading the pack.

But tech projects represent just one portion of Kickstarter’s funding base. Back in February Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler said the company was on pace to distribute more funding than the $146 million given out each year by the National Endowment for the Arts.

I decided to take a look at all the successful projects funded since the beginning of 2012 to get a sense of  how the startup was growing.

Based on that data, Kickstarter is on pace to raise around $300 million this year, triple what it did in 2011.

For a young startup, that means serious revenue for Kickstarter, which takes 5 precent of all successfully funded projects.

The stats aren’t actually so shocking when you go back and look at Kickstarter’s growth curve from 2011. Here is a chart the company shared when it hit 1 million backers.

While gaming and tech projects have represented the majority of the company’s multi-million dollar projects, they are not the majority of funding on the platform. As Strickler wrote in a blog post, the funding breakdown for all projects is roughly:

Film — 33%
Music — 21%
Design — 11%
Art — 6%
Publishing — 5%
Games — 5%
Technology — 5%
Theater — 4%
Food — 3%
Comics — 3%
Photography — 2%
Fashion — 1%
Dance — 1%

If big name professional filmakers and musicians take to the platform this year in the same way that game designers have, Kickstarter funding is likely to grow even faster.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, games

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Bubble shrinkage? U.S. tech startup funding weakened in early 2012

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 04:30 AM PDT

Titanic 3D wasn’t the only thing that went down in Q1 2012. Startup funding, both the number of deals and the total amount raised, experienced a significant slouch in the beginning of the year.

Altogether, U.S. startups took $6.3 billion in venture capital in a grand total of 717 venture capital deals. Year over year, this represents an 18 percent drop in the amount of money raised during the first quarter of 2011 and a 9 percent decrease in the number of deals.

Figures from Dow Jones VentureSource show that the tech industry, which had generally been a bright spot in shaky seasons over the past few years, also suffered this quarter.

For contrast, in Q2 2011, we saw VC activity in general leveling off and quieting down, but investment in consumer-facing software companies was showing no signs of weakness. For 2011 overall, web companies took the lion’s share of funding. But in Q1 2012, we’re seeing another story.

What we’re learning is that, while we’ve long known the recession is still in effect, it’s starting to impact the web and mobile app sector.

"The declines were pretty evenly spread across industries, so there weren't any big winners or big losers in the quarter, but there were some surprises,” said VentureSource global research director Jessica Canning in a statement. “Investment in consumer Internet companies fell after two exceptional investment years.” Canning did note that IT software startups were still doing well.

"Now that some of the mature Internet companies that soaked up billions in venture capital the last couple of years have gone public or are near an exit, we'll see if venture investors approach a fresh crop of startups with the same zeal or if investment remains at the level we saw in the first quarter," said Dow Jones VentureWire editor Zoran Basich, referring to a few notable exits from recent months, including Groupon and Zynga on the IPO side and Instagram on the acquisition side.

IT, in fact, was the only major industry that showed an increase for both deals and capital raised between Q1 2011 and Q1 2012. IT startups took $2 billion in 257 deals, up 14 percent in terms of dollar amounts and two percent in deal volume.

Also of note for Q1 2012, early stage investments, including seed rounds and Series A funding, accounted for 44 percent of deal volume and 21 percent of capital.

Venture firms themselves saw a fundraising slump of 35 percent in Q1 2012, following a struggle to raise funds during 2011.

Filed under: deals

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Bicycle card game owner to launch Zeniz mobile social casino games platform (exclusive)

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 02:00 AM PDT

Online casino games are hot. So much so that we’re renaming our site Casino GamesBeat. Just kidding, but The United States Playing Card Company (owner of the Bicycle playing card brand) and Digi117 aren’t. Those two companies are partnering to form Zeniz, a mobile social casino game platform.

Together, they will launch the Zeniz Social Casino platform for iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) and Android this spring. Casino games are the rage, according to a first-quarter acquisition and investments report by Digi-Capital. Just yesterday, Playsino announced it had raised $1.5 million.

The United States Playing Card Company is based in Erlanger, Kentucky, and is a subsidiary of Jarden. Vancouver, Canada-based Digi117 is a mobile strategy agency. Their Zeniz Social Casino will operate under a freemium model, where you can play casino games for free and pay real money for virtual goods such as virtual currency.

They plan to launch a new casino game for the platform every two months, eventually creating a full suite of casino games. Zeniz will be a social gaming network that is like a shell, with a Main Stage, where players can engage with mobile games before entering branded game rooms.

"Our product is more than just another poker app, it's a virtual casino: one lobby with digital entertainment as well as many games," said Marc Hill, president of USPC.  "The platform is targeted to social gamers with high-end graphics optimized for mobile devices and tablets that bring together critical game attributes and branding opportunities that don't exist in any other mobile game application. Our platform introduces new technology and exciting new ways to play casino games in both single-play and social-play modes. "

USPC is the largest provider of playing cards in North America and owner of the Bicycle, Bee, and Aristocrat playing card brands. The company is moving into digital and repositioning itself for a new generation of consumers. That’s a big step for a company that has been in business for 125 years.

"We are excited to be partnered with USPC and feel lucky to be involved with a visionary like Marc helping to implement the USPC digital strategy," said Vadim Chernega, president of Digi117.  "After designing, developing, and promoting over two hundred mobile applications with millions of downloads, we feel confident our experience will make this game a winner.  We have some of the most talented designers, and we have launched a new-to-the-world social gaming concept."

The company isn’t yet describing any of the digital games.

"As entertainment becomes centered on digital, we know we have to offer our customers a new way to play," said Hill. "Our vision is to leverage our heritage and develop a revenue-generating social gaming company to compete in the mobile application space."

[Photo credit: Andreas Rueda, Flickr]

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Funding daily: Let’s video chat with our robotic vacuums

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 06:03 PM PDT

video chat with robotAt VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we're rounding up the quick-and-dirty details about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our "Funding daily" column.

Evernote may be grabbing $100M

File that in your Evernote notebooks, with the tag “that’s a lot of cash.” The popular note taking/organization service is apparently raising a new round of $100M at a $1 billion valuation. Meritech Capital partners is said to be leading the round. Evernote has already raised $95.5 million in funding, so this new round would double its total funding.

Get social and chatty with Tango — it just raised $40M

Th video chat app that could rival Apple’s Facetime, Tango, just raised $40 million from Qualcomm Ventures and Access Ventures. The cross-platform app has snatched up 45 million users in the 18 months it’s been available.

Lifecrowd parties with a new $5M investment

Social events startup Lifecrowd has raised $5 million in its first round of funding from Lightbank, Bullpen Capital, Baroda Ventures, and Prism VentureWorks. Lifecrowd lets anyone create a social event, but curates its social calendar so only the best ones show up — no more lame meetups in someone’s parent’s basement.

BranchOut grabs $25M for a better LinkedIn

If you hate LinkedIn but like Facebook, BranchOut has you covered. The service has the same functionality as LinkedIn but operates on Facebook, so you can share business contact information and find jobs. BranchOut raised $25 million from Mayfield Fund, with participation by Accel, Norwest Venture Partners, and Redpoint Ventures.

Robot vacuum producer Neato Robotics gets funding

Neato Robotics has just snagged $12.2 million in fourth-round funding for its robot vacuum cleaner. Vorwerk Ventures and Noventi Ventures led this fourth round, which will be used to grow the company's business and launch a new vacuum model.

Insieme gets a $100M investment from Cisco

Cisco has invested $100 million in a networking startup called Insieme that was started by three Cisco employees. The company also has the option to pay $750 million more to buy Insieme, should Cisco choose. Insieme tackles issues in software-defined networking (SDN), a somewhat easier and less expensive way to deploy cloud computing systems.

NComputing raises $21.8M for desktop virtualization

Desktop virtualization and thin-client computing firm NComputing has raised $20 million in a new round of funding. QuestMark Partners led the round with existing investors Menlo Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, and Daehong Technew. The company has raised a total of $57.8 million to date.

Greenlight Planet raises funds for solar lights

Greenlight Planet has raised $4 million. The company provides solar lights for rural villages in Africa and India, hoping to replace the kerosene lanterns most off-the-grid villages use. ZA Associates led the round.

Treehouse snags $4.75M to teach you how to code

Codecademy competitor Treehouse has raised $4.75 million for its online coding school. The company offers classes on how to do web design, write JavaScript, and build iOS apps. The Social + Capital Partnership led the round, with Reid Hoffman and David Sze from Greylock Discovery Fund participating.

If you’ve got funding new for us, send it to tips@venturebeat.com

Filed under: deals

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Scientists create a real Doctor Who sonic screwdriver

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 06:01 PM PDT

Sonic Screwdriver

Researchers at Dundee University have created a device that mimics the basic functionality of a sonic screwdriver from the classic British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who.

In testing, the device is able to lift and rotate a rubber disc floating in a cylinder of water using ultrasound waves. Scientists have long known that ultrasound could push an object, but the recent tests confirm that it can also control direction in a more precise manner.

On Doctor Who, the sonic screwdriver is capable of manipulating mechanical and digital machines, such as getting money from an ATM or opening a locked door. The device developed by researchers isn’t quite to that level of functionality. VentureBeat Executive Editor Dylan Tweney did, however, pose the following question to me: “So you’re saying, if the lock mechanism is a rubber disc floating in a cylinder of water, Doctor Who could actually unlock the door in real life?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

The researchers aren’t really concerned with picking locks, but they are studying how to use the real sonic screwdriver for medical application — specifically, for very precise surgery. BBC News points out that surgeons use ultrasound to treat a variety of conditions without having to cut open a patient. In theory, the real sonic screwdriver could be used to guide a drug capsule to the location of a tumor inside someone’s body, then activate it from within.

“[The sonic screwdriver research] is an area that has great potential for developing new surgical techniques, among other applications,” Dr Mike MacDonald of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology at Dundee told the BBC. “Like Doctor Who’s own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around.”

Image via the BBC

Filed under: offBeat, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

And the winners are … Check out this year’s DEMO Gods

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 05:41 PM PDT

demo peoples choice

After two days and 81 companies, it’s time to find out which startups had the most gumption, the best product, the best business model. Though we love everyone at the DEMO conference equally, it’s still a competition, so here are the DEMO Gods!

DEMO God Awards


Virtual panorama photography app TourWrist gave the DEMO audience a sneak peek of two new features due out in May. First are PanoSpots, which link multiple panoramas together Google Street View-style, and give them more depth by linking to photos, videos, brands, audio, websites, and Facebook profiles. The real fun demonstration was of the trippy planar acceleration controls, which will allow you to physically step forward or back while holding up an iOS device to move between panoramas, go through doors, and check out other linked panoramas or information.


Zboard is saving the Razor and Segway genre from insignificance. The San Francisco-inspired board has a stronger motor to handle the big hills, and a Giants orange-and-black design. The Santa Monica special edition (pictured above) has increased range and a surfer aesthetic. Coolest of all, the Stereo Special board has Bluetooth-enabled speakers so you can play tunes directly from your smartphone or music player.


Voxeet is a startup attempting to bring radical transformation to the infuriating space of conference calling. The company focuses first on crystal-clear conversations, where you always understand perfectly who is talking and what's being said. It accomplishes this through an app — for Windows PCs and Android phones, for now, but later for iOS devices and Mac PCs. The app provides greater clarity through sophisticated audio processing and also lets you manage your call and the people in it through an attractive visual interface.


The Showoff Home Stager hopes to give contractors, interior designers, landscapers, and more an opportunity to digitally reach customers, despite being a very off-line industry. It does this by allowing customers to request quotes from contractors in the Showoff Home Stager community while playing with the visualizer. Those contractors know these requests are valuable because the homeowners, in theory, are showing an intention to buy while digitally renovating their homes.


With Jumala, you can create 3D games using an interface that requires no technical skills. The more you create, the more you can unlock the ability to create more complex and interesting games. You can collaborate with friends and earn in-game currency that you can spend on virtual items to use in your games. The Jumala Marketplace has thousands of game content items.

Alpha Pitch Winner


Terms of service agreements suck. They're long, no one reads them, but they’re still pivotal to understanding your privacy. Tosigram instead provides outlines of terms of service agreements and creates a simpler way to view how your privacy is going to be protected.

Filed under: DEMO

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Save money on the drugs you need with My Coupon Doc

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 04:42 PM PDT

My Coupon Doc cofounder Kishore Eechambadi at DEMO Spring 2012

My Coupon Doc, a Chicago-based startup, gives you access to coupons that can save you hundreds of dollars in prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

The company launched its website today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

The site couldn’t be simpler to use: You type in the name of a condition or a drug, press the red “Start Saving” button, and the site displays a list of relevant coupons. For example, we typed in “allergies” and found coupons for $2 off Dimetapp, $20 off Singulair, $3 off Claritin, $1 off Tylenol, and so forth. Drugs are accompanied by simple, plain-English descriptions of what they are for, whether they’re over-the-counter or require a prescription, and what the savings amount is. To redeem a coupon, you just click on the “Redeem” button and the site redirects you to the source of the coupon, where you fill out any needed information to get the discount.

One VentureBeat staffer saved $180 in 60 seconds by finding discounts on regular medications.

The company has partnerships with 500 pharmacies that will go into effect in June, so consumers can push their discount coupons electronically to their local pharmacy, and it is also working with doctors’ offices to integrate with their systems.

“I think My Coupon Doc has the highest probability of success of what I saw,” said Shervin Peshavar, a managing director at Menlo Ventures, on a panel discussion after the set of presentations in which My Coupon Doc appeared. “It was very simple to explain, and I can see it reaching a large number of users.”

Greylock partner James Slavet was less optimistic, saying, "I don’t think it has as much upside as other things we saw, but I think it has a business model."

My Coupon Doc is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

With Xbox 360 sales slowing down, Windows Phone desperately needs to succeed

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 04:05 PM PDT

Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone

Microsoft had mostly good news to report in its third quarter earnings today, although one division stood out as the biggest loser: Entertainment & Devices, home of the Xbox and Windows Phone.

The division reported revenue of $1.62 billion, down 16 percent from a year ago. Microsoft blamed “a soft gaming console market” for the decline. Indeed, the company remains the leader in the video game console market, with a 42 percent share, even though Xbox 360 sales were down 48 percent at 1.4 million units sold.

Microsoft also noted that Xbox 360 platform revenue was down 33 percent at $584 million, due to the slower console sales (and reduced Kinect sales), which was offset by higher Xbox Live revenue.

As always, Microsoft didn’t break out Windows Phone sales in the earning report, likely because there isn’t much to report just yet. But with the console market slowing down — which won’t pick up until the next generation console war begins next year (not including Nintendo’s Wii U release this Fall) — it’s becoming increasingly clear that Windows Phone will have to start earning some money for the Entertainment & Devices division. Microsoft can’t afford to have two major product lines sagging and bringing down an entire business division.

We’re only a few weeks past the launch of the Windows-Phone based Nokia Lumia 900 in the U.S., so it’s a bit too early to tell how well the phone is doing. But with multiple reports of sellouts online and in retail stores, there’s a good chance the Lumia 900 will finally put Windows Phone on the map.

At this point though, Microsoft can’t afford to take things slow with its new flagship device. It needs to work double-time on encouraging sales before Samsung’s Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5 steal all of its thunder.

According to Microsoft’s 10-Q quarterly filing today, the division’s operating income also decreased, due to payments made to Nokia (Microsoft is paying Nokia $1 billion over the next few years for the Windows Phone partnership), a 33 percent increase in R&D costs, and a 50 percent increase in sales and marketing expenses.

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

ZBoard unveils special editions of its electric, weight-sensing skateboard

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 04:00 PM PDT

Electric scooters and Segways are both legitimate forms of transportation, but they’re just so dorky looking. A new product called the ZBoard from Intuitive Motion might save the genre, with a combination of cool technology and attractive design. Also, it just looks hella fun to ride.

“Figuring out how to make it go took about two months. Figuring out how to make it stop took about two years,” founder Ben Forman told VentureBeat. The board is unique because instead or requiring manual controls, it senses the rider’s weight, surging forward when they lean forward, and slowing when they lean back.

Ben Forman with the ZBoard

At the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. this week, the company unveiled three new 2012 special editions of the ZBoard, each costing $1,000.

“Who here likes cool new shit?,” Forman said before introducing the new ZBoards to the DEMO crowd. “This isn’t Twitter for dogs,” he added, calling the ZBoard a “sidewalk-shredding” and “Segway-smoking” transportation device.

The San Francisco-inspired board has a stronger motor to handle the big hills, and a Giants orange-and-black design. The Santa Monica special edition (pictured above) has increased range and a surfer aesthetic. Coolest of all, the Stereo Special board has Bluetooth-enabled speakers so you can play tunes directly from your smartphone or music player.

The original $500 ZBoard was first launched in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. While not yet shipping (the first boards should be ready in May), the company is taking pre-orders and has hosted a very successful Kickstarter campaign. To date, Intuitive Motion has raised $35,000 from Kickstarter, friends, and family.

A panel of experts was completely wowed by the futuristic skateboard. Cisco’s SVP of IT communication and collaboration Sheila Jordan said she would be buying one for her son tonight but added that she’d like to see future ZBoards built with the female rider in mind. And Menlo Ventures managing partner Shervin Pishevar said the ZBoard reminded him of Back to the Future.

The Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based company is the brainchild of mechanical engineers who met at the University of Southern California. They wanted something faster than a skateboard, cooler and smaller than a bike, and able to lend a hand going up hills.

ZBoard is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, mobile, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

The best deal? LykeBox aggregates all the companies you follow through social media

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:59 PM PDT

We’ve all shared the experience of awkwardly refusing to give out an email address when the cashier finalizes your purchase, even if you actually like the store. The same is pretty much true for daily deals and online bargain shopping newsletters. Either that, or you create a dummy email account to filter all that mess from hitting your “quality” email inbox.

But if you’re frustrated at the number of deals you’re missing out on, you should check out LykeBox, which launched today at the 2012 DEMO Spring event in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We were tired of being inundated with marketing in all aspects of our lives and believed that everyone needed a better place to interact with the companies they like and spend money with,” LykeBox told VentureBeat. “Every day we’d go through ‘select unread – delete’ in our inboxes and then be pissed later when we realized we’d missed a great deal at an online or real store.”

LykeBox is basically a new app that lets people follow all communication and deals from brands they like in one place. It promises to clean up your inbox and social streams in the process. “If Facebook is for people you like, LykeBox is for brands and products you like,” the company says.

The service automatically imports companies whose newsletters you receive in email. It also aggregates all the company/brand accounts for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and others. The idea is that you shift your focus on the companies/brands you like to LykeBox, and ignore all the rest, which is nice since those social networks are already a tornado of communication from friends, family, and acquaintances.

The startup also gives affiliate brands a LykeManager, which lets them create unique deals, games, and communication with fans. The manager service also gives those brands a set of analytics to find out how best to market to their customers.

Founded in 2011, the startup is based in New York City, with its six employees working across the globe. The company declined to share its investment history. LykeBox faces competition from Slice, OtherInBox, AdKeeper, and others.

We’ve embedded a demo video and some screenshots from the LykeBox service below.

Following the startup’s presentation at today’s DEMO conference in Santa Clara, Calif., investors made somewhat pessimistic statements about the overall value proposition of the startup, but Greylock partner James Slavet said, “The founder has a strong and relevant background … There’s something there.”

LykeBox is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: cloud, DEMO, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Whiteman Technology readies Windows-based set-top box

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:48 PM PDT

The tiny startup Whiteman Technology unveiled a Windows-based set-top box that will handle many living room entertainment tasks, which are various enough to include displaying cable TV programming and playing 3D games for the PC.

The Clovis, N.M.-based startup made the announcement of the all-in-one Delta digital video recorder (DVR) device today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. The company is trying to take advantage of a lull in the launch of high-end consumer electronics equipment. Companies such as Microsoft and Sony have delayed the launch of new video game systems, leaving an opening for the firm, said Ryan Whiteman, president and co-founder, in an interview with VentureBeat. The idea is to consolidate multiple boxes into just one.

Whiteman Technology at DEMO

“We can handle the recording of six channels at the same time,” Whiteman said.

The Whiteman Technology box will be able to handle cable card programming and store a whole entertainment collection on a three-terabyte hard drive. It will have the hardware to handle advanced 3D gaming and plenty of space to store pictures, music, movies, and videos. It could use both voice control and gesture recognition for input.

It may not be easy for the company to pull off. Whiteman acknowledges that it is tough starting a company in a small town in New Mexico. And with only five employees, the self-funded Whiteman Technology could have its hands full if the product takes off.

“We’ve taken people off guard with a hardware startup,” Whiteman said. “We have gotten a lot of attention, and we intend to build this in the U.S.”

The device will have a Blu-ray playback drive, and it will be able to run Android apps via the Blue Stacks emulator software.

Whiteman hasn’t set the price yet, but it will be comparable to Tivo-like DVRs. He said it will use a new multicore accelerated processing unit (APU) from Advanced Micro Devices, which can put a microprocessor and graphics chip together on the same integrated circuit. It will run the Windows 7 embedded operating system from Microsoft, and it will have the Windows Media Center user interface. Over time, it could be upgraded to use Windows 8. Whiteman hopes to launch the product in the fourth quarter.

Rivals include Sony, Microsoft, Ceton, Dell, Scientific Atlanta, Tivo, and Motorola.

Whiteman came up with the idea in 2008 and started the firm last year with co-founders Blake Jordan and Shaffin Baldwin. Whiteman was previously a contractor for the Air Force and spent five years in the U.S. Navy.

Whiteman Technology is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, media, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Tucoola’s social sandbox lets parents and kids learn through games

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:36 PM PDT

“You know what’s the best investment you can make in your child’s education?” asks Tucoola founder Eli Porat. “It’s not college. It’s preschool. Studies show kids who get the best education at that age go on to earn the most money and have the biggest houses.”

As a native New Yorker I’m familiar with tales of parents spending tens of thousands of dollars to get their children ready for kindergarten. It seems kind of sick, but it’s certainly a very big market opportunity.

Tucoola’s premise is fairly simple. It offers a wealth of fun online games that children can play for training in everything from spelling to math to spatial intelligence. Parents who register can track their kids’ progress and see where their strengths and weaknesses are.

Tucoola founder Eli Porat

In an onstage presentation at DEMO Spring 2012 in Santa Clara, Calif. today, Porat walked the audience through Tucoola’s site, which, in addition to educational games for kids, includes games for moms and dads and an area for the entire family.

“Baby Einstein can’t give you feedback on how well your kid did this week to the next, because they don’t have that data. We can help parents understand their kids’ educational needs and adapt the program to fit that,” said Porat.

Tucoola received $350,000 in angel funding back in 2009. With no outbound marketing, Porat says the site has signed up tens of thousands of users and attracted 300,000 visitors in the last month.

Porat is a mechanical engineer by training and worked at Intel building semi-conductors, but he says he has the neccessary experience to design educational games and software. “Father to six, grandfather to four, I understand how children learn.”

Tucoola is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, games, social

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Search and browse simultaneously with Slikk

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:24 PM PDT

search browse

What if your search engine doubled as a web browser? Would you flit about the web and quench your queries in record speed? That’s the theory startup Slikk is testing with a two-for-one search engine that includes embedded browsing features.

Slikk’s search engine, launched today at DEMO Spring 2012, melds search with web browsing in a single page experience meant to provide you with more information in less time.

“We are trying to help you find what you’re looking for faster and easier when you search the web,” Slikk founder and CEO Feivi Arnstein told VentureBeat.

click to enlarge

What’s different, you ask? Like Google and Bing, Slikk takes a standard approach to search, so you’ll enter your queries and get results as usual, but here’s where things get interesting: On the results page, you can click the “open” button next to each result to view the destination page in full. You can even browse the destination site on the results page, just as you would if you navigated to the site itself.

In essence, the feature, called “SearchBrowsing”, is like Google Instant Previews, but with a completely browsable webpage in place of a page preview.

Slikk also includes multi-view functionality that lets you view different types of search results — videos, news, images, tweets — all on the same page.


The startup’s stance, like many novelty search engines that have come and gone, is that innovation in web search has been stagnant over the past 10 years, leaving room for a new entrant to capture the attention of searchers with something more efficient. “It’s not a question of competition, it’s a question of innovation,” Arnstein said on stage at DEMO.

But Slikk will need to do more than deliver an incrementally more elaborate offering than Google should it wish to convert searchers away from the market leader and avoid the fate of long-forgotten Cuil.

One investor found the idea behind Slikk impressive but thought the product lacked a fresh design. “I think taking clicks out is a great idea,” Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Aileen Lee said in a panel discussion following the demonstration. Lee added, however, that she wished the user interface was much better.

And slick or not, Israel-based Slikk will need millions more than the paltry $560,000 the small company has raised to date should it wish to become a formidable competitor. For comparison, search upstart Blekko, just one of a handful of alternative search engines semi-successfully forging ahead, has raised more than $53 million in funding.

Founded in 2010, Slikk has been in closed beta since January of this year and has roughly 1,000 early users.

Slikk founder and CEO Feivi Arnstein on stage at DEMO

Slikk is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Filed under: DEMO, search

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Web companies are ignoring the lucrative 50+ demographic

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:18 PM PDT

Matt Marshall, Steve Jurvetson, and Jody Holtzman speaking on a panel at DEMO Spring 2012

If you found that 60 to 80 percent of your customers belonged to a particular demographic, you’d probably retarget your marketing and product development efforts to focus on that market.

Yet many internet companies are failing to do just that.

The population in question is the growing slice of the American population 50 years old and up. According to Steve Jurvetson, a managing director at venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Jody Holtzman, a senior vice president at AARP, many digital companies are doing nothing to accommodate older consumers. The two spoke in a panel discussion today at DEMO Spring 2012 in Santa Clara, Calif., an event co-produced by VentureBeat.

According to Jurvetson, people in this demographic:

  • consume 60 percent of all consumer goods,
  • consume 80 percent of all leisure travel, and
  • shop online 3X as much as 18-34 year olds.

“Demographics is destiny. This is going to shift markets all over the world,” Jurvetson said.

Additionally, the total annual consumer spending by baby boomers is $2.5 trillion, with $1 trillion of that spent by those 65 and up, Holtzman said. By comparison, people in Generation Y spend only $800 billion per year.

“You go onto Expedia, or Travelocity, you wouldn’t know that 80 percent of leisure travel buyers are 50+ from looking at those sites. It’s like they don’t know who their customers are,” Holtman said. For example, fonts are small and difficult to read with older eyes, and there’s no option to make the type size larger.

Travel sites aren’t the only unwitting beneficiaries of an older user demographic. For example, in the popular PC multiplayer game Wizard 101, which is aimed at 7-12 year olds, it turns out that many players are quite a bit older.

“The amount of intergenerational play between kids and their parents and grandparents is a huge part of the game,” Holtzman said.

Similarly, startup LegalZoom, which provides legal documents, has found that many of its customers are 50 or older.

In the end, designing for the broadest possible demographic just makes sense, because it opens you to the largest market.

“It’s an opportunity for making sure that you maximize your market,” Holtzman said. “When you build something that a 5-year-old or an 85-year-old can use, like an iPad, you’re maximizing your market opportunity.”

Photo: Matt Marshall of VentureBeat, Steve Jurvetson, and Jody Holtzman (L-R). Photo credit: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

Filed under: DEMO

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Senate passes bill requiring “Black Boxes” for cars, but you may already have one

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:14 PM PDT

Senate pass black box for cars billThe U.S. Senate just passed a bill requiring all new cars in America to come equipped with a black box-like data recording device starting in 2015, InfoWars reports. Similar to the tell-all black boxes on airplanes, event data recorders (EDR) record information about an automobile crash. If you bought a car in the last decade, it may already have one installed.

Black boxes, or flight data recorders as they are formally called, have been crucial in analyzing plane crashes since about the mid-20th century. The tamper-proof devices record the activity of a plane’s electrical systems and can even record conversations in the cockpit to understand what led to a plane crash.

Likewise, an EDR can record the details leading up to an automobile accident. Several different types of EDRs exist, some that continuously record information and others that are activated by accident-like conditions, such as sudden decreases in velocity, airbag deployment, or slamming on a car’s brakes. EDRs often integrate with a passenger car’s restraint system and after an airbag is deployed, car system data are recorded to the device for later examination. The data can be used for insurance purposes and in court cases to determine precisely what happened during a car accident.

Senate Bill 1813, titled the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” was proposed by Senators Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid and is expected to pass in the House. The text of the bill states, “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.”

Bill 1813 also stipulates that the car’s owner or lessee owns the data recorded by the EDR and no one else can retrieve it unless there is a medical emergency from a car crash or the data is needed in a legal investigation.

InfoWars attacked the bill for its “Big Brother” nature, saying it takes away a driver’s privacy and lets others find out where we are driving and when. They also criticized it for laying the ground work for more invasive automobile communication devices in the future.

However, EDRs have been voluntarily installed in commercial automobiles for several years. A 2006 report from The National Institute of Highway Safety showed that at least 64 percent of cars surveyed in 2005 had an EDR installed. One hundred percent of cars made by General Motors, Ford, Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Suzuki came equipped with EDRs. It’s likely that my 2003 Suzuki Aerio came with an EDR that would activate should I ever be in an accident. Check you owner’s manual and you might find a section with warnings and information about the device in your car — your car’s manufacturer was required to put it there.

Despite privacy concerns over the bill, it may end up reducing privacy problems in the long run. It explicitly states that the owner of the car owns the EDR data, an issue that has been debated in the past.

Does an EDR raise privacy concerns for you? Let us know in the comments.

Car crash image via Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

It’s like fantasy football, but for politics junkies

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 03:00 PM PDT

Fantasy football is a huge and very lucrative multibillion-dollar industry in the United States. Politics are equally competitive and ruthless, and its fans just as passionate, but it lacks the fun as well as obvious way to profit (you know, unless you’re a politician).

Fantasy Politics is a new site that combines Fantasy Football and politics. Sign in with Facebook or Twitter and start building your own fantasy team of politicians and pundits. You can organize a league of four to eight friends, or go all in and join a public league. You can play daily and rack up points, draft or drop players, and pick a starting player. It’s free to play, but there’s a fee if you want to compete in the national championship. The startup showed off its game at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. on Thursday.

fantasy politics ceo demo

Fantasy Politics CEO Aaron Michel

“It all started with a really bad idea,” said CEO Aaron Michel. “In 2010 I decided to put together a political game … I threw $1,500 into it, hired an outsourced developer and a young guy right out of college to run things. It wasn't good.”

The pet project got some media coverage and over time grew into an idea for a real company. The San Francisco-based startup’s first investor was treasurer of the DNC, Andy Tobias, who also happens to be a software entrepreneur. Between Tobias and family members, Fantasy Politics has raised $50,000 in seed money to date.

The two-year-old startup was founded by a cadre of five founders with an impressive mix of political, programming, game, and business experience. CEO Aaron Michael is a Harvard Business School grad who spent two years working on a presidential campaign. Chief technology officer George Marootian has 15 years’ experience building equity trading platforms. Head of product Matt DiVito is the token expert fantasy-game player. Morgan Muchnick has tons of political experience as director of government affairs for a lobbying firm. Finally, Deepak Saxena, head engineer, previously founded a fantasy sports company.

Michel described the game as “a gateway drug to a great civic education.” The founders are hoping what begins as a time-killer can grow into a genuine interest in and understanding of American politics. Judging by the great team, slick interface, and lively political climate in the U.S., they’ve got my vote.

Fantasy Politics received mixed reviews from a panel of expert judges following the company’s demonstration. Menlo Ventures partner Shervin Pishevar said it was too niche, but Cisco SVP of IT Communication & Collaboration Sheila Jordan appreciated the potential political educational value of the startup.

Fantasy Politics is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Filed under: DEMO, games, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

BranchOut secures $25M to take on LinkedIn through Facebook

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:59 PM PDT


Professional social startup BranchOut has raised a $25 million third round of funding, the company announced today.

BranchOut is a professional network that operates as a Facebook application that lets users organize business connections, search for jobs, and view data about where their friends have previously worked — essentially performing many of the same tasks as standalone professional social network LinkedIn.

One thing the company makes clear in its announcement is what differentiates it from the other professional social networks. BranchOut says it’s more palatable to a wide range of professionals.

“Online networking is not just for managers and executives. New college graduates, retail workers, nurses, software engineers, and military veterans re-entering the workforce can all benefit substantially from having strong professional profiles on Facebook,” said founder and CEO Rick Marini in a statement. “We’re making it easier for our users to find jobs through their established and authentic Facebook relationships.”

The startup is also experiencing rapid growth, with 25 million registered users, and new users signing up at a rate of three per second, the company claims. Much of BranchOut’s growth has come from its emerging mobile user base. In February, BranchOut said 40 percent of its new users now join from mobile devices. The startup has native applications for Android and iOS devices.

The new round of funding was led by Mayfield Fund with participation by Accel, Norwest Venture Partners, and Redpoint Ventures. BranchOut said the new capital will allow the company to expand its San Francisco-based team of 45 people. BranchOut has raised a total of $49 million in funding to date.

Filed under: deals, social, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Welcome to Yogurtistan, a 3D shopping universe inside Facebook

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:54 PM PDT

The Yogurtistan plaza is a 3D world on Facebook for e-retailers

The popularity of open-ended 3D worlds peaked with Second Life around 2007. But for e-commerce companies, the dream of virtually replicating the experience of going to a mall lives on.

Yogurtistan is a 3D world aimed at simulating real-world retail environments for e-commerce companies on Facebook. With this technology, retailers can create 3D environments where customers can make custom avatars, try on virtual clothing, interact with one another online, and make purchases.

It’s built on Adobe’s Flash player version 11.2, and is accessible to users on Windows PCs, Macs, and tablets (via an Air 3.2 app). It’s also integrated into Facebook.

“We are creating a new experience by mimicking real-life engagement by going from store to store without changing a tab, or entering the web site address of the store,” said Yogurt AS chief executive Cemil Turun (pictured below), in a press release. “This is one centralized system. I can run into a promotion, a friend, or simply begin to chat with a stranger in the street, all of which is accessible on any browser or even an iPad.”

Yogurt presented its new 3D world today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Currently, Yogurtistan is a small, retail-focused universe with just one plaza. On that plaza are several stores, including Migros, which is Turkey's largest supermarket chain, and Quiksilver, a global clothing brand for surf, snow, and skate enthusiasts. Other Turkish and international brands building presences in Yogurtistan include TheFirstClub (an online games, books and music site, based in London), BiggShop, Aral, Oxxo, iddaa (online betting) , Tefal (a French kitchenware brand), Swissotel, Yummy Cupcakes, Magic Form, Fenerium, Intema, and Babylon Jazz Club.

To set up shop in the universe, retailers first need to create a storefront, using industry-standard 3D editing tools, such as 3D Max, Softimage XSI, AutoCad, or Maya. Yogurt AS provides guidance about how many polygons the files should use and the kinds of texture files needed. Once the retailer delivers a 3D file to Yogurt AS, the company converts it and annexes it to Yogurtistan, then delivers an Adobe Flash file (.SWF) that the retailer can embed in a website or Facebook page.

There’s no upfront fee for the service, but Yogurt AS charges a percentage of the transactions made in Yogurtistan. The amount varies, but currently runs about 10-to-15 percent for apparel retailers. Yogurt also provides CRM tools for engaging customers.

As a bonus, real-world apparel brands can cash in on the craze for virtual goods, because they can sell virtual clothing for customers avatars within Yogurtistan.

An additional attraction, Cemil said, is that “It is very cool to have a virtual 3D store.”

Cemil started out as a programmer and 3D animator in the 1990s, then founded Yogurt technologies in 1997, providing corporate customers with 3D development as well as making games. In 2007, he pulled together a team of former colleagues to build an open-source 3D engine, which now forms the basis of Yogurtistan.

Yogurtistan is currently in private beta.

The parent company, Yogurt AS, is based in Instanbul, Turkey. It has 20 employees and has raised a total of $3.8 million in funding to date, led by Golden Horn Ventures.

"Ecommerce in Turkey is really taking off,” said Menlo Ventures managing partner Shervin Pishevar said in the judging panel following the startup’s DEMO presentation. I can see it being popular there and… expanding to other markets, but I’m not sure U.S. consumers will shop in that way — yet."

Yogurt AS is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Screenshots courtesy Yogurt AS.

Filed under: DEMO

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

DealAngel finds hotel steals, protects you from rip-off rates

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:48 PM PDT

When was the last time you were 100 percent confident that the price you paid for a hotel stay was a steal? Just-launched hotel search-engine and aggregator DealAngel eliminates the guesswork with an at-a-glance look at the quality of the deal you’re getting.

“Who’s got the time and patience to go through nine pages to find the best deal?,” DealAngel co-founder and CEO Roman Peskin said about competing hotel search engines on stage at DEMO Spring 2012 in Santa Clara, Calif. today.

DealAngel analyzes historical hotel pricing data and spits out rankings meant to help you determine how the available rate at Caesars, for instance, compares to the fair market value. Basically, the site will let you know if you’re getting a bargain or being ripped off.

click to enlarge

“The lowest price isn't always the best deal,” Peskin told VentureBeat. “DealAngel's mission is to give peace of mind that you've paid the least for the best hotel. We crunch the numbers, you get the deals.”

But does DealAngel really work? Without the test of time, we can’t say one way or the other, but we do know that if consumers feel like they’re getting a great deal, the startup will be rewarded with repeat business and some word-of-mouth referrals. With stiff competition from well-known incumbents such as Priceline, Hotels.com, and Kayak, and even up-and-comers like Hipmunk, the real challenge for DealAngel will be campaigning for consumer attention.

The consensus of a panel of experts was that DealAngel is on to something pretty big. Sheila Jordan, SVP of communication & collaboration IT at Cisco System, and Shervin Pishevar, managing partner at Menlo Ventures, both put DealAngel at the top of their lists. Jordan went on to say that she hopes the company applies its model to shoes.

The San Francisco-based DealAngel was founded in 2011. So far the startup has raised an undisclosed sum of seed funding and has a staff of 10 people.

DealAngel CEO Roman Peskin at DEMO

DealAngel is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Photo credit: throgers/Flickr

Filed under: deals, DEMO

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Humanizing online travel search, Eva allows for Siri-style queries

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:42 PM PDT

Looking for a three-day cruise to Mexico in mid-July? Startup Evature aims to help ease the pain of searching for said vacation via web or mobile.

Evature, a business-to-business search service provider for online travel companies, today launched a version of its text and voice-based travel engine, called “Eva,” for the cruise industry, and has released a mobile app platform for Android.

Natural language processing is the name of Evature’s game. So a search for “Mediterranean cruises from Istanbul in July on a sailing ship” will yield real-time search results just as if the searcher had queried using more robotic terms.

As Menlo Ventures managing partner Shervin Pishevar said in the judging panel following Eva’s DEMO presentation, “We seeded Siri when it was a research project at Stanford… What Eva showed was actually pretty magical."

The Israel-based company has already received acclaim for Eva (Expert Virtual Agent), an algorithmic engine capable of deciphering free-form text and voice speech and meant to take the hassle out of your online travel search experience. Eva can automatically parse travel queries to identify key travel elements in real-time.

Founder Barry Volinskey describes the offering as a, “unique technology based on cutting edge algorithms, enabling high precision understanding of requests in the travel domain.”

But, in the simplest of terms, Eva is to travel search what Siri is to search on the iPhone. The intelligent travel search assistant is already being used by Skyscanner, Fight and Hotel, and 118 Travel.

On Thursday, iCruise.com launched Cruise Finder Plus, a free-text cruise search tool powered by Eva. Evature is also open sourcing its mobile technology and enabling developers to add voice search capabilities to their mobile travel apps.

Founded in 2009, Evature has raised $100,000 in Angel funding and is currently profitable.

Evature is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Photo credit: ecstaticist/Flickr

Filed under: DEMO

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Want to get acquired by Google? Google VP explains how to go big

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:41 PM PDT

Google's David Lawee advises entrepreneurs to go big.

David Lawee is Google’s vice president of corporate development, the latest in his string of high-profile positions at the search giant. As the company’s M&A leader over the past seven years, he has been responsible for some of the company’s biggest acquisitions.

Onstage at the DEMO conference today in Santa Clara, he told VentureBeat founder Matt Marshall that before working at Google, he actually started (and sold) four companies himself as an entrepreneur. As a result, when it comes to being acquired or making an acquisition decision on the other side of the table, no one is more qualified to advise startups on how to get bought by a tech giant like Google.

His first piece of advice: Go big. When your vision is large in scope, it’s easier to get the capital you need, the top-shelf employees you want, and ultimately, the acquisition offer you hope for.

At times, Lawee said he would start working on a narrow idea, but he doesn’t recommend following in those footsteps. “I was very focused on my niche,” he said. “That is actually a harder way to go.”

Google in particular, he said, avoids talent acquisitions and tries instead to acquire companies that are big in scope.

Google's David Lawee speaks at DEMO Spring 2012 with Matt Marshall
Source: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

David Lawee in conversation with VentureBeat's Matt Marshall.

Mentioning two of the companies biggest buys, Android and YouTube, Lawee said, "These were extraordinary entrepreneurs who had a huge vision with what they wanted to achieve, and they achieved it with Google… it was an alignment of vision."

At a company run by entrepreneurs, Lawee said, executives expect services and features to change all the time. So in moving into new product areas (email, documents, etc.), Google tends to see common threads rather than differences or conflict.

In light of the biggest social acquisition we’ve seen, Facebook’s buying Instagram for $1 billion, Lawee explained that he had worked with Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom in the past. "The challenge is, a lot of people describe that acquisition as being analogous to YouTube…. Fundamentally, they had a different vision than we had at Google doing Google Video."

He continued to explain, "When you acquire these companies and you have visionary founders, you either believe in them or you don’t." And when the founders have that ideological buy-in from the acquiring company, he said, "That is very intoxicating. They’re getting everything they want."

During the interview, Lawee said that two thirds of Google acquisitions do succeed, but there are notable examples of failure.

For example, there’s Dennis Crowley, whose company, Dodgeball, was acquired then shuttered by Google. Crowley went on to found Foursquare, a runaway success. Lawee said that how Google handled Dodgeball is internally considered a mistake.

About Admob, which Google bought for a whopping $700 million, Lawee said, "That was right in our wheelhouse. Like with YouTube, we were already in the market, and that made it easy to have conviction."

Photos: Heather Kelly/VentureBeat

Filed under: deals, Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Health tracking app NeedToEat keeps your waistline in check

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:30 PM PDT

meal planner app

Diet and exercise tracking service NeedToEat helps you stay on top of what you eat and when. It uses real-life factors such as mood, habits, and preferences to track your health and keep you on a healthy eating regimen.

NeedToEat is hoping to cater to people who want variety in the diets and who would rather throw a dry chicken breast through a window than eat baked chicken four nights in a row. Instead of strict meal plans, which is one of the most common reason diets fail, NeedToEat offers alternatives based on the weather and your mood.

The company debuted its app today at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

NeedToEat diet iPhone App

NeedToEat iPhone App

Created by a physician who wanted a smarter health tracker, NeedToEat is designed to understand that humans have good and bad days. The app isn’t just for dieters, it also creates meal plans tailored for people with medical conditions, such as diabetes or high cholesterol.

The app works by tracking what you eat, how much you exercise, and taking into account life factors that can get in the way of a healthy living plan. You might be a gung-ho exerciser and eat a balanced diet all week, but on Friday you want to go out for drinks with friends. If you tell the app about your plans, it will help you amp up your workout or suggest a less-caloric meal to balance out the booze you plan on drinking.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the app on stage at DEMO Spring 2012, CEO Dan Nguyen first showed a old picture of himself at a heavier weight and then ripped off his shirt to show off his leaner body (pictured below).

MyFitnessPal, a popular online diet and exercise tracker with an iPhone and Android app, is the service to beat for NeedToEat. Other weight loss and exercise websites Fitocracy, Swole.me, and FitDay have strong fan bases and offer similar features. The idea behind this new app is novel, but in an already crowded space, NeedToEat will need to impress users and offer something truly unique to edge out the competition.

At the very least, a panel of experts were impressed by the shock value of NeedToEat’s presentation. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Aileen Lee called it the most creative demo of the day, and Greylock Partners partner James Slavet said he hasn’t seen an entrepreneur tear off his shirt in six years of venture capital.

NeedToEat is based in the Los Angeles area and has seven employees. The company is self-funded.

CEO Dan Nguyen rips off his shirt at DEMO

NeedToEat is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Woman on a diet image via Shutterstock

Filed under: DEMO, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Splunk ends incredible IPO day with 109% jump in share price

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:15 PM PDT


Enterprise data software company Splunk ended its first day on the stock market with an amazing 108.7 percent bump in price from its $17-per-share IPO.

The San Francisco-based company offers businesses software to better analyze and interpret “big data.” The company's mission is to "make machine data accessible, usable, and valuable to everyone." It claims that more than 3,300 customers, including most of the Fortune 100 and various government agencies, use its software. Major Splunk customers include Bank of America, Salesforce, Zynga, LinkedIn, and T-Mobile USA.

PrivCo CEO Sam Hamadeh told us that Splunk had an astounding debut all-around and that it could be a sign of changing market interest in tech.

“The first day close of 108 percent is the highest major tech IPO first day pop since LinkedIn’s over a year ago, and we think it’s justified,” Hamadeh told VentureBeat via e-mail. “IPO investors are moving away from interest in consumer Internet names (Zillow, Pandora, Angie’s List, Groupon, Yelp), most of which are trading below their offering prices (and far below their first day closing prices). In Groupon’s case, investors who bought at the offering price of $20 have now lost 40% in just 5 months.”

Instead of consumer Internet companies, Hamadeh said, the interest for IPOs is now shifting mostly to business technology firms like Splunk.

“The bottom line is tech IPO investors have, for now, moved on from consumer Internet (with the exception of Facebook of course) and now want enterprise software and other business-to-business technology names, including Splunk,” Hamadeh said. “Wall Street underwriters have egg on their faces still from Pandora, Groupon, and Zynga and are returning to their “gatekeeping” role of bring quality companies to market to avoid angering their real clientele: the IPO investors.”

Stock trader image: Shutterstock

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now