Justin Miller says there is more to the recent $1.1 million funding round for his Raleigh-based startup WedPics than money. “It’s a win for the area,” says Miller, who founded the company originally known as “Deja Mii” near the end of 2010.
The company, which created a free photo sharing app for wedding couples and guests, is not in the Research Triangle area’s sweet spot, Miller says.
“While North Carolina is a rather abundant place for startups,” Miller says, “they’re often overshadowed by the presence of Fortune 100 companies and the typical startup pre-funding here is for revenue producing B2Bs. The traditional investors in this region run from anything else such as social media and pre-revenue B2C.”
Miller and his 12-person crew refocused WedPics, changing more than the name. Originally started with an early revenue model, the firm dropped that to focus on user acquisition for a free service that is data and analytics backed.
Because of that, the company presented potential investors with data-backed forecasts. It convinced them – although it took nine months, Miller notes.
Lands oversubscribed round
In mid-April, it closed an oversubscribed $1.1 million round comprised of a diverse group of strategic local and nationwide investors. The round was ded by the Brenden Family Growth Fund and including Bob Young (Red Hat Co-founder, Lulu.com Founder); Jed Carlson (Reverbnation Co-founder); Henry Copeland (BlogAds CEO); Chandler Rose (ProVantage Corporate Solutions Founder); Alex Osadzinski (former Trinity VC); Culin Tate (Co-Founder ofMissNowMrs.com); and TAP (Triangle Angel Partners).
Miller explains, “From our initial launch as deja mi – the location based photo/video sharing platform which was often pitched as a theoretical idea of what it might be able to do – pivoted to a data and analytically backed platform, which has disrupted the traditional wedding space in a big way. We currently have over 130,000 users and acquire 1400+ daily, with over 1200 weddings per weekend, and sharing over 100,000 photos each week (1 every 6 seconds).”
While many other photo apps died off, WedPics “Applied its technology to a niche market and capitalized on it,” Miller says.
He expects the company will be back on the fund-raising trail again soon and eventually should be a “cool acquisition play for a larger company,” he says.
Collective Bias, a social shopper media startup, has closed a Series A investment round led by Updata Partners for $10.5 million.
Based in Bentonville, Arkansas, Collective Bias is a social shopper media company that weaves organic social content into engaging, real-life stories to create millions of impressions leading to increased share of voice, SEO, and ultimately sales for brands and retailers such as Tyson, Nestle and Smart & Final. The company has satellite offices in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Toronto and London.
Collective Bias was named one of America’s Most Promising Companies in 2013 by Forbes.
The company concluded 2012 with its third consecutive year of triple-digit growth, along with validation from major Fortune 500 companies.
We only cover a handful of startup funding stories at the TechJournal these days, but Collective Bias touches a lot of the bases we cover here, social media, ecommerce, and Southeast and Southwest startups.
Social shopper marketing evolution
“We believe that social shopper marketing is the evolution of shopper media, and supplants tired traditional media like FSI’s, retail circulars and digital display advertising,” said John Andrews, co-founder and CEO of Collective Bias.
“This investment round provides Collective Bias with runway to extend our four year leadership role in this new media category. We will employ these dollars to robustly enhance our Social Fabric content management platform, enter new markets and grow our team.”
Collective Bias is based on the insight of Andrews and co-founder Amy Callahan that advertisers could create greater engagement with their shoppers through the channels in which they engage today – be it Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or a simple, pre-shop search.
Drive brand recognition
“Harnessing the power of social media to drive brand recognition, loyalty and sales are C-level priorities for consumer-focused companies, and Collective Bias has a record of delivering impressive results for its customers,” said Jon Seeber of Updata Partners.
James Socas, a general partner at Updata Partners, added, “Collective Bias’ combination of shopper marketing expertise and brand and retail experience are a powerful combination in the new era of marketing, and we look forward to helping them drive even more value and growth.”
Collective Bias operates Social Fabric, a proprietary community of over 1,400 shopping-focused influencers, blending members’ shopping experience and product usage through engaging stories that are published online and shared with like-minded friends and followers.
With an aggregate multichannel reach of more than 50 million, the Social Fabric community represents a true extension of the Collective Bias team, providing continuous, valuable feedback that has redefined the relationship between brands, retail clients and consumers.
The financing process was facilitated by Gridley & Company, LLC, a New York-based boutique investment bank that provides financial advisory services to companies in the digital and information services industries.
Social Fabric is a proprietary community consisting of approximately 1,400 shopping-focused influencers with an aggregate multichannel reach in excess of 50 million.
As 2013 begins, small business owners are excited about the year’s prospects according to a new survey of more than 600 small business owners by ONTRAPORT - and many plan to hire.
This is the second report we’ve seen noting that small businesses are optimistic – if cautious – about the new year.
Entrepreneurs are almost universally expecting to grow in 2013, with that growth translating into hiring – more than half of all small businesses surveyed plan to hire staff in 2013.
Financing still sluggish
The market for financing a small business remains sluggish, however, as those surveyed indicated that securing financing is more difficult today than in the past and those seeking financing are outnumbered 4-to-1 by those who are waiting for better conditions.
If your small business is looking for funding, you may want to apply to present at the 7th annual Southeast Venture Conference set for March 13-14 in Charlotte, NC. It is currently (January 2013) seeking presenting companies.
Through a survey of more than 600 small business owners ranging across a number of industries including financial services, information marketers, restaurants and retail, ONTRAPORT secured a snapshot of small business sentiment today.
Highlights of the survey include:
Holiday sales were great this year. More than 80% of small business owners reported seeing or expecting an increase in December/holiday sales this year. Last year, a study by Intuit stated that small businesses saw a 5% growth in sales volume over the holiday season. Small business owners seem particularly optimistic this year because almost 40% of respondents forecasted their holiday sales will increase this year by 10% or more.
Small businesses will continue to be job creators in 2013. Small business owners were almost universal in their expectations that their businesses will grow in 2013. This optimism is reflected in the fact that nearly 60% of those surveyed plan to hire additional staff in 2013. Talent acquisition isn’t a concern though as almost half of respondents indicated that hiring staff is easier today than it has been in the past.
The market for small business financing remains tight. Despite the fact that financing pressures were listed as nearly the top issue that keeps them up at night, 60% of small business owners stated that they will not be seeking financing in 2013. The choice to operate on a shoestring budget may be due to the fact that more than 40% of respondents indicated that it’s harder to secure financing today than it was in the past.
They may be pursuing their passion, but what small business owners really want is more personal time. When asked the biggest factor in deciding to start their own business, 42% of respondents indicated that they wanted to pursue their passion. When asked what they would do if they had an extra hour every day, however, the number one response was “take more personal time” (34%), which beat out more focus on marketing, product development and customer service.
ONTRAPORT sells the business and marketing automation platform OfficeAutopilot.
The Southeast Venture Conference is headed to Charlotte, NC, in March 2013. The event offers firms a chance to present to top national venture capitalists and angel investors.
If you’re a high growth innovative company looking for funding, you still have a chance to present your business plan in front of top national venture capitalists and private equity professionals at the 2013 Southeast Venture Conference March 13th and 14th at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, NC.
The event seeks high growth, innovative companies from diverse technology industries including Software-as-a-Service, New Media, Bio-IT, Clean-Tech, Medical Devices, Mobile, Security, among others.
You’ll meet hundreds of the region’s leading entrepreneurs and high growth company executives (from startups to pre-IPO), National Venture Capitalists and Private Equity Professionals, M&A facilitators and other leading professionals serving the high growth technology community.
SEVC highlights both early and later stage investment opportunities from: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC.
Last year’s SEVC Average Presenter Profile:
Average Annual Revenue: $5.9 million
Average Capital Raised to Date: $6.7 million
Average Number of Employees: 35
While the presenting companies are from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, the investors fly in from all parts of the country, including California, New York, and Massachusetts, as well as those that are regionally focused.
Exclusive panels, speakers, programming
The SEVC features market relevant investor and executive panels, exclusive networking opportunities, featured speakers and dozens of the region’s top private technology firms presenting to a national audience of venture capitalists, investment bankers and private equity investors.
As a TechMedia company and sponsor of the event, the TechJournal has reported on many firms that subsequently landed angel or venture backing. Venture capitalists tell us, they find new firms to put on their radar and track at each year’s event and many have returned year after year to spot hot Southeast opportunities.
SEVC is also an unparalleled networking event in which innovative firms meet potential partners, customers, and employees, in addition to making invaluable contacts within the venture and angel funding community.
Additional information on presenting and registration can be found at seventure.org andyou can view a list of past presenters here.
Shape Security, a Mountain View, CA-based startup developing a new type of web security technology, has closed a $20 million Series B financing round led by Venrock, with additional participants including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Allegis Capital, Google Ventures, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s TomorrowVentures and former Symantec CEO Enrique Salem.
Business Insider recently noted that Silicon Valley insiders seem to love this startup.
Ray Rothrock, partner at Venrock, has joined the company’s board of directors, which includes Series A investors Ted Schlein, managing partner at Kleiner Perkins, and Gaurav Garg, special limited partner at Sequoia Capital and personal investor in Shape.
Unlike anything seen before
The new funding brings Shape’s total amount raised to $26 million. The company previously raised a $6 million Series A round in April, led by Kleiner Perkins.
Additional participants in that round included TomorrowVentures, Google Ventures and Baseline Ventures, as well as top executives from Dropbox, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
“The rise of botnets and crimeware-as-a-service have led to an untenable situation where websites are now cheap to attack and expensive to defend,” said Rothrock. “Shape’s technology will alter this balance. It is unlike anything the industry has ever seen before.”
Founder Shuman Ghosemajurnder isn’t providing details about exactly what the firm’s product does, but it apparently sits between a user’s PC and malware in such as way that it vastly increases the difficulty automating the hacking process.
Security incidents on the rise
The number of large-scale web security incidents has increased exponentially in the past decade. Symantec estimates the overall cybercrime market at $388 billion per year. Last month, the FBI took down a single botnet which alone stole over $850 million.
“Signature and heuristic-based detection have proven unsuccessful in keeping pace with the complexity of modern web attacks,” said Salem. “I’m excited about Shape’s technology because it will allow websites to deflect attacks automatically, using a far more sophisticated approach.”
Over the past year, Shape has recruited several key executives, including Google’s former click fraud czar, Cisco’s former VP of Application Delivery, and Walmart’s former chief information security officer.
“Cybersecurity is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Every week, major corporations that have invested millions in best-practice security technologies still get hacked,” said Derek Smith, Shape Security CEO. “This doesn’t have to be the case. We now have the opportunity to completely change the economics and efficacy of web security.”
In today’s Net-go-round: consumers are using connected TV apps and second screens in changing patterns of media consumpion.
Hotel meta-search firm Room 77 books a $30 million round, bringing its total capital raised to $43.8 million.
Cisco and NXP invest in a car-to-car wireless firm that could vastly increase traffic safety.
And CES promises a number of top musicians, Hollywood stars and TV personalities will attend its annual January event.
Consumers are using the built-in features on their HDTV at a high rate, with an increasing number gaining access to Web-enabled content directly through their televisions, according to new research from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)
More than one in five U.S. adults owns a smart app-enabled HDTV and almost all (90 percent) use the apps available on their displays in some capacity.
In addition, more than four in ten HDTV owners connect their primary displays to the Internet, with 76 percent connecting at least one external device with smart app capabilities to their primary displays.
Half of all HDTV owners connect a video game console or a DVD/Blu-ray player to their primary displays.
Smart app users are most likely to stream video content from the Internet (61 percent), browse the Internet (56 percent) and view pictures (54 percent) using smart apps on their televisions.
Consumers are also looking for displays with built-in Wi-Fi and Internet browsing when purchasing a new HDTV, which trail only high-quality audio and video as the most important purchase factors of HDTVs. Approximately one in three consumers plans to purchase a new HDTV within the next 12 months.
Social networking common on second screens
Another way many consumers are experiencing Web-enabled content for HDTV is through a second screen on a portable connected device. Social networking is the most common activity on the second screen.
Among HDTV owners who also own a tablet, two-thirds (67 percent) use their tablets for social networking while watching TV. Among HDTV owners who also own a smartphone, more than half (58 percent) are using a social network on that device while watching TV.
“We are living in an app-dominated world, whether it’s on your smartphone, tablet or television,” said Kevin Tillmann, senior research analyst at CEA. “Consumers want access to their apps at all times and they will use whatever device, TVs included, that offer the best and most convenient user experience.”
Popular musicians, Hollywood starts, TV personalities attending International CES
Popular musicians, movie stars and television personalities will promote the latest innovations shaping the consumer electronics industry during the 2013 International CES. Owned and produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the 2013 CES, the world’s largest annual innovation event, is scheduled for January 8-11, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Actress Felicia Day will serve as the Entertainment Matters Ambassador for the Entertainment Matters at CES program. Entering its third year, Entertainment Matters at CES is designed by and for Hollywood’s film, television and digital communities.
Cisco, NXP Invest in Cohda wireless to enable connected cars
Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) and NXP Semiconductors N.V. (NASDAQ: NXPI) have each made an investment in Cohda Wireless to advance intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and car-to-X communications.
Cohda Wireless is a leading specialist in wireless communication for automotive safety applications.
The companies say that this brings together the expertise of the three organizations to make the Internet of Everything a reality for the automotive industry, creating a safer and more enjoyable driving experience while improving the traffic flow.
Car-to-Car (C2C) and Car-to-Infrastructure (C2I) communications enable active safety systems that can affect 81 percent of all crash scenarios, as a result helping to reduce fatalities and injuries on the roads.
In addition to improving safety, car-to-infrastructure (C2I) communication holds great potential for intelligent transport system (ITS) management and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
Hotel mega search engine Room 77 keys in $30.3M round
Hotel metasearch engine Room 77 today announced it has closed $30.3 million in Series C financing with participation from new investor Expedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE).
The company’s existing investors also participated, including Sutter Hill Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Concur Technologies, Felicis Ventures as well as Expedia’s founder Rich Barton, former Expedia CEO Erik Blachford and Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow.
This brings Room 77′s total capital raised to $43.8 million.
Room 77 instantly searches hundreds of travel sites at once to find hotels at the best price.
Based on internal analysis of more than five million hotel searches, Room 77 uncovered at least one lower price for travelers in two out of three searches, averaging $72 per stay.
Room 77 offers free Room Concierge service, which leverages the company’s proprietary room data, such as blueprints and simulated RoomView(SM) technology, to help travelers get in a great room when they book through Room 77.
Leap Motion, the motion-control software and hardware company, has closed a $30 million round from existing investors.
Leap Motion’s technology can track movements to 1/100th millimeter — smaller than the tip of a pin — with no visible lag time. The Leap Motion controller has a 150-degree field of view, and tracks individual hands and all 10 fingers at 290 frames per second.
The company says more than 40,000 developers have asked for Leap Motion units to create applications, and it has sent out more than 12,000 free units to developers globally. Investors in the company include Highland Capital Partners.
New Atlantic Ventures launches new VC fund: Reston, VA-based New Atlantic Ventures has launched its fourth venture fund, expecting to raise $125 million. It nabbed $42.5 million in its initial sale. It holds stakes in more than 24 startups, six in the DC-area.
Antivirus software makers struggle to adapt: NYTimes says antivirus makers are having a hard time keeping up with malware. Venture Capitalist Matthew Howard with Norwest Venture Partners who set up security strategy at Cisco said, “The bad guys are always trying to stay a step ahead…and it doesn’t take a lot to be a step ahead.”
As a journalist, I often find conference calls a pain. Some of the dial-in numbers are long enough to rope a steer. Others require you to install special software. A Sterling, VA-based startup wants to change all that.
The Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) has invested $100,000 in Speek Inc., a simple and groundbreaking alternative to conference calls for both web and mobile users.
CIT President and CEO Pete Jobse said, “For businesses looking to cut travel costs, and small businesses whose budgets do not allow for travel, Speek offers an alternative solution to connecting people remotely in a more personal way than is currently on the market. Their innovative solution is changing this marketplace, and those are the types of companies in which we invest.”
Conference calling is a $3.2 billion market, generating over 56 billion minutes of usage. Traditional conference call providers offer services that are expensive for small business users, rely on long phone numbers with PINs and lack easy-to-use web interfaces, and often require software downloads.
As a SaaS web-based product, Speek requires no downloads, and is more affordable than the competition. It let’s users connect via a personal link instead of a phone number and pin. Speek offers a “conference table” visual experience that allows participants to see who is on the call and who is currently talking. Additional features include note taking, file sharing and muting certain speakers.
The mobile experience offers the ability to seamlessly join a conference call with a “click” or a simple text message.
Locu,the data-focused startup launched from Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s lab at MIT has nabbed a $4 Million Series A round of venture capital led by General Catalyst Partners, with participation from Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital, Lightbank and SV Angel.
Locu’s existing angel investors, including Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi of AngelPool, Quotidian Ventures, and Matt Ocko of Data Collective, also participated in the round.
The company. which has offices in Cambridge, MA and San Francisco, is building technologies to efficiently digitize real-world content, through a novel combination of document analysis, machine learning and online human computation workflows.
Locu’s mission is to structure the world’s information. The company is particularly focused on large, distributed, and complex data sets that previously could only be tackled with costly and hard-to-scale manual labor.
“We started Locu to harness the sea of unstructured information that is all around us,” said Rene Reinsberg, Locu’s CEO. “Giving people and companies an easy way to tap into it, will change the way we live and work by adding a new level of intelligence to the applications we use every day.”
Locu’s patent-pending approach features an elastic hierarchy of crowd workers and advanced machine learning, developed by a 10-person engineering team composed of MIT computer science researchers who have worked on data-related projects at companies including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Bloomberg and ITA Software.
While virtual work marketplaces like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk are geared towards micro tasks, Locu has built infrastructure to train and manage crowd workers to generate more complex structured data sets at scale.
“The next generation of web and mobile applications requires rich data sets that can only be generated with sophisticated machine learning techniques,” said Larry Bohn, partner at General Catalyst who will be joining Locu’s board.
“Locu’s proven technology combined with an innovative human computation approach has shown dramatic results for leading application providers.”
Concentrating first on the local data space, Locu spent the last year creating the world’s largest real-time, structured repository of small business offerings data.
The company has already processed hundreds of thousands of semantically annotated merchant pricelists, such as restaurant menus, and has been licensing its data to big web players and small developers that want to tap into more relevant local data.
While the majority of its data is currently for the US, Locu also has data for the UK, Canada and is adding other international markets.
With the proceeds from this funding, Locu is planning to scale its team, technology and customer base.
Columbus, Ohio-based Manta, which says it is the largest online community dedicated entirely to small business, has received a $44 million minority equity investment from Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), a global investment firm.
Manta has built the leading online community that more than 89 million small business owners are leveraging to improve their online presence, gain increased visibility with customers and prospects and ultimately increase sales.
While we don’t report a lot of funding stories these days, we pick a couple a week we think will be of interest to TechJournal readers, particularly those focused on small business or digital commerce.
Manta enables small business owners to create, manage and share their online identities, promote their companies, products and services, build and engage with an extensive network and access shared knowledge and insights.
“Manta provides a one-of-a-kind online community for small businesses and the company’s remarkable growth speaks to the clear demand for its unique value proposition,” said Jon Kossow, general partner, NVP.
“Manta is the de facto platform for small businesses to connect with customers and each other, as evidenced by the company’s more than 25 million unique monthly visitors and over 3,000 business owners joining the community daily.”
“Our investment in Manta is in line with NVP’s strategy to invest in profitable, rapidly growing business leaders,” said David Su, vice president, NVP. “The $40B+ addressable market in which Manta plays is immense, and the company continues to grow rapidly as small businesses look to expand their online presence.”
“Our investors share Manta’s commitment to helping small businesses grow, and NVP’s support will allow us to stay focused on delivering the most powerful online community for these businesses,” said Pamela Springer, CEO of Manta. “Eighty percent of U.S. businesses have fewer than nine employees and we will continue executing our vision for meeting the unique needs of this important market.”
With this investment, NVP’s Jon Kossow and David Su have joined Manta’s board of directors. The board includes directors from existing shareholders, Athenian Venture Partners and Reservoir Venture Partners, who have supported Manta in its growth to date and will continue their support going forward.
Among the many comments from the tech world mourning the death of Apple’s Steve Jobs, one of the more unusual comes from Vivek Wadhwa, the former Research Triangle entrepreneur and executive who is now a university academic who examines work force issues for Duke University and writes for the Washington Post Innovations section and other media.
Wadhwa issued this statement on Jobs’ death:
teve left a deeper mark on an entire generation than anyone in recent memory. He has changed the way we work and, in the tech world, the way we think. He taught us the importance of design, elegance, and quality. He defied the conventional wisdom about price being the key motivator for technology. He proved that people will pay premium prices for easy to use, elegant products.
With Spotify now in the U.S. and a host of other competing free music streaming services online, Pandora has eliminated its limit on free listening. Previously, free users who listened for 40 hours would have to either sign up for the firm’s premium, ad-free, service with better sound. I once paid .99 cents to finish out a month of the service after hitting its 40 hour limit.
I have to say, this is one move I applaud. I still like Pandora as much if not more than any of the other music streaming services, perhaps because I’ve used it longest. But it has an easy-to-use interface that has never given me the first bit of trouble, not something I can say for Spotify. I’m a fairly sophisticated user of digital media, but the first time I used Spotify, it felt like the first time I picked up a smartphone and pecked away at the buttons learning to navigate it.
We’re still not sure how Pandora’s business model is working out, but if they’re relying on add revenue and a piece of music sales via the site, making listening free without limits should increase its traffic. I know I would use it relatively sparingly to avoid going over that 40 hour limit, even though I can also access it on my Squeezebox Internet radio.
iPhone 4S sales begin
Will Apple fans line-up for the iPhone 4S the way they have for previous versions of the coveted smartphone?
The Internet has been critical of the iPhone 4S. It was expecting seas to part and other miracles from Apple, while the new iPhone 4S is not a completely new phone. It does boast the fast dual-core A5 processor and an 8-megapixil camera and run the iOS5 software that has 200 new features.
The new iPhone 4S is available for pre-order from Apple.com (it will run on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon).
Xfire lights up with $4M round led by Intel Capital for gaming social service
Xfire , a social service for gamers with more than 19 million users, has received $4 million in funding led by Intel Capital and several prominent angel investors. The company is based in Los Angeles.
Xfire has also strengthened the executive team by adding Mark Donovan as president, Juston Brommel as chief marketing officer and Autumn Radtke as director of Business Development.
The new additions to the team and funding are the first of several major announcements expected this fall from the company. As part of this investment, Xfire has been split from Titan Gaming so both businesses can operate independently.
“Xfire is already the most advanced social service for gamers with group chat, group voice, and user generated content sharing tools like live game broadcasting. Think of Xfire as Facebook meets Skype for gamers,” says Mark Donovan, president of Xfire. “This round of capital is allowing us to make many enhancements starting with an entirely new look for the Xfire website and chat application.
He adds, ”Our users have already created tens of millions of game videos, screenshots and live broadcasts which they’re sharing every minute on Xfire. Soon they will be able to useXfire to share them to other social networks and numerous top-tier websites.
Tower Cloud Inc., a wireless backhaul services provider, has secured $49 million in additional equity to fund its expansion into new markets throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama.
The latest round of funding was led by two of Tower Cloud’s existing investors, The Burton Partnership and Knology Inc. Tower Cloud’s other existing institutional investors include: Sutter Hill Ventures, El Dorado Ventures, Ballast Point Ventures, Kinetic Ventures, ITC Partners Fund and Noro-Moseley Partners.
For this round, two new investors joined the consortium, The Florida Growth Fund and CLR Investors. The funding was done in two phases with $13 million completed in January and $36 million completed in July. This funding follows a $20 million equity commitment by the same investor group in October 2009.
Buckle Up was founded by Kory Sherman and Chris Snyder while studying in the game program at Wake Technical Community College. As part of Joystick Labs, they will develop “Flipped”, a puzzle game for mobile devices that takes advantage of the accelerometer and physics to create a unique gameplay mechanic. The game was originally conceived and prototyped as a class project at Wake Tech.
Joystick Labs, founded in 2010, provides startup video game entrepreneurs a unique mix of early-stage seed funding, mentorship, services, and networking. Seven teams have been funded and the first games developed by Joystick teams will ship in Q4 2011.
“We had a great idea for our game, but did not have the resources to focus on full-time development or the business expertise to form a studio,” said Kory Sherman, Buckle Up Game Studios co- founder. “The Joystick Labs program provides opportunities and resources that will accelerate the development of our studio and our first title.”
Joystick Labs next session will begin in Q1 2012 with an application deadline in December, 2011. Joystick Labs looks for teams who possess an entrepreneurial spirit and an innovative game concept.
DC-based LivingSocial, Groupon’s largest competitor, may delay plans to file for an initial public offering of stock and take a new $200 million financing round instead, according to Bloomburg, which sites anonymous sources.
The round would value LivingSocial at $6 million and might include equity and debt the report says. It has raised $632 million in backing so far.
The company was discussing a potential IPO of more than 10 billion, but a delay may be prudent in the current volatile market for both it and Groupon.
Jon Carpenter, Director of Marketing, LivingSocial, will be at TechMedia’s upcoming Digital East conference in Tysons Corner, VA, Sept. 28-29.
GrubHub grabs whopping $50 million for mobile restaurant ordering service
CHICAGO -GrubHub, a web and mobile service that connects diners to restaurants and simplifies online ordering for delivery and pick up, has raised $50 million in Series E funding to aggressively focus on its mobile development and acquire New York-based Dotmenu, the parent company of Campusfood and Allmenus.
This Series E funding is led by Lightspeed Ventures with Mesirow Financial, Benchmark Capital, Greenspring Associates and DAG Ventures participating. Terms of the acquisition will not be disclosed.
“Since starting GrubHub with my partner Mike Evans in his apartment in 2004, we’ve sent over $200 million in delivery and pick up orders to independent restaurants across the country,” said Matt Maloney, GrubHub co-founder and CEO. “With our unwavering focus on providing the best service to diners and the most efficient technology to restaurant owners, we have grown to become the leader in the online ordering space.
“It is precisely for this reason that we are acquiring Dotmenu. Dotmenu has shown great expertise in servicing the college market, and by combining our extensive networks, we will become the foremost resource for diners and restaurants for their online ordering needs.”
The Series E and Dotmenu acquisition comes just six months after GrubHub raised $20 million in funding led by DAG Ventures. The funding rounds, coupled with the acquisition, strengthen GrubHub’s position as the category-defining leader in the industry.
Largest restaurant listing in the country
Through the acquisition, GrubHub will have the largest restaurant listing in the country with 250,000 restaurant menus in over 50 major cities and countless college towns across the US. The two companies are projected to send over $225 million in combined order revenues to independent restaurants in 2011, and will continue together to achieve more aggressive growth in the years to come.
“GrubHub has a strong presence in the top US markets,” said Michael Saunders, Founder and President of Dotmenu. “This, combined with our network across more than 300 college campuses, allows us to build upon the strong relationship we have with our diners long after they graduate. The acquisition will enable us to make an immediate impact on our restaurants by sending more orders their way.”
GrubHub is free for diners who order and pay for their meals with cash, credit or PayPal. Restaurants pay commissions for each online order they receive from GrubHub, and every order is supported by GrubHub’s 24/7 customer service. Restaurants that do not currently partner with GrubHub can still list their telephone numbers and menus for free.
Visitors to the site or mobile users enter their address to see every local restaurant that delivers to them. Diners can view menus and coupons, read reviews and order for free online, by phone or through the GrubHub iPhone and Android apps.
There are more than 300,000 delivery and takeout restaurants in the country. On average, GrubHub users order out more than 10 times a month and over 22 percent of GrubHub’s revenues come through mobile orders. Pickup and delivery are the fastest growing segments in the restaurant industry, which is one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy. With more people searching for restaurants and ordering food on-line and through smartphones, the opportunity for continued growth is substantial.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergy disclosed huge changes to the social network, which he says now has a record billion visitors a day.
They include a new feature called Timeline, which curates news, apps and visuals. The feature, which sorts content with an algorithm.
While Zuckerberg and Facebook made a lot of hoopla over the Timeline changes to users’ profiles, it is sure to stir up more controversy among users, who have been notoriously unfriendly toward the continual alterations Facebook makes to the site.
The company also added a lightweight status steam called “Ticker.”
One user told us recently, “They just don’t know how to let it alone.”
On the other hand, perhaps it will quell the Facebook fatigue that more than a few of our friends show signs of experiencing.
Here’s a video showing an overview of what Timeline looks like:
Windows 8 is grabbing good press across the net for the features disclosed at the Windows Build Conference earlier this week. With the exception that it still doesn’t work right with the drivers for some of our equipment, Windows 7 was certainly an advance over Vista and XP. We particularly appreciate its fast loading time compared to Vista, which, it sometimes seemed, would grind on and on for interminable lengths.
Windows 8 will boot in about 8 seconds, due to a new method that puts the kernal session to sleep rather than shutting it down completely so that it needs to completely reboot. Eight seconds! Now that’s an improvement we like.
Here’s a video demo of the quick startup:
Other features in Windows 8: it provides an Android like touch and swipe method with a picture password for unlocking your PC, as opposed to the text password used now.
The lock screen will display your battery information, time, instant messages and email you missed while away, and upcoming calendar events. Here’s a slideshow Windowof all the changes.
UNC Chapel Hill launching Virtual Digital Humanities Lab
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will launch a new virtual Digital Innovations lab that will encourage collaborative, interdisciplinary and innovative digital humanities projects.
Brett Bobley, director of the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, will give a free public talk Oct. 10 to celebrate the kickoff of the Digital Innovation Lab, which will be affiliated with the American studies department in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Bobley will speak at 2 p.m. in the University Room of Hyde Hall, home of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, located off East Franklin Street.
The Digital Innovation Lab will encourage the production of digital “public goods”: projects and tools that are of social and cultural value; can be made publicly available; are scalable and reusable; and/or serve multiple audiences. One immediate focus will be the use of large-scale data sources – maps, newspapers, city directories, public records – by scholars and the public in understanding the history of communities. The lab, accessed at http://digitalinnovation.unc.edu,
was created with a startup grant from the college.
“Digital technologies have the potential to transform how our faculty in the humanities ask questions about the world, engage with local communities, create learning environments for our students and collaborate with partners within and beyond the University,” said William L. Andrews, Ph.D., senior associate dean for the fine arts and humanities in the College.
The lab will build on the nationally funded digital humanities work of its UNC co-directors and co-founders – Robert Allen, Ph.D, and Richard Marciano, Ph.D. Allen is the James Logan Godfrey Distinguished Professor of American studies, history and communication studies. Marciano is a professor in the School of Information and Library Science and affiliated professor in American studies and director of Sustainable Archives and Leveraging Technologies (SALT).
Cloud storage firm Zetta lands $9M round
Sunnyvale, CA-based Enterprise cloud storage provider Zetta today announced that it has raised $9 million in its third round of funding, bringing the total funding to $31.5 million. Both existing investors Foundation Capital and Sigma Partners participated. Funds from this new investment will be used for sales, marketing and product development that will help the company increase market share of its award-winning cloud backup services in the small-to-medium business (SMB) market.
DURHAM, NC -The company that may put at least some journalists out of work, StatSheet, which sells real-time content automation, has raised a $4 million round of funding led by Court Square Ventures and OCA Ventures, with participation from IDEA Fund Partners and other existing investors.
In conjunction, the company changed its name to Automated Insights to reflect the broad applicability of its innovative technology to data-intensive verticals beyond sports where high content generation costs can make comprehensive coverage prohibitively expensive. The company’s sports offerings will continue to grow under the StatSheet brand.
“We believe this new corporate branding better reflects the long-term potential of our company, and underscores the value of our technology to any vertical with large amounts of structured data,” said Robbie Allen, the company’s CEO and founder.
Automated Insights’ technology transforms vast amounts of raw data into compelling narrative content and powerful visualizations. The content is written entirely by software and can be formatted as headlines, summaries, and long-form articles. In addition, the content can be published cost-effectively at just about any scale via the web, mobile applications, and all types of social media.
“Our technology has worked extremely well with sports, but it is also well suited to verticals such as finance, real estate and weather, or even sales productivity and business intelligence applications. In essence, our technology humanizes big data by automating knowledge and insight so the new name is a perfect fit” added Allen.
Automated Insights’ technology can be seen in action in its StatSheet sports content network. StatSheet currently powers fully-automated, real-time coverage of all 375 Major League Baseball (MLB) and NCAA Division I College Basketball teams via dynamically updated team-centric websites, iPhone and Android applications, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and e-mail newsletters. In September, the company will also launch team-centric sites and mobile apps for all 32 NFL and 244 NCAA Division I College Football teams.
“Automated Insights is revolutionizing the creation of compelling high-quality content and they have proven they can do it at scale through their StatSheet sports content network,” commented Randy Castleman, General Partner with Court Square Ventures. “We are excited to help them continue to grow their sports coverage and apply the technology to new verticals.
“We are thrilled to team up with such a strong management team and experienced investors,” noted Jim Dugan, CEO and Managing Partner of OCA Ventures. “We believe the timing is ideal for Automated Insights’ highly scalable content development solutions.”
Investors are giving Twitter something to tweet about: the microblogging service is in the process of raising an additional $400 million in backing – the second raise of that amount this year at a valuation of about $8 billion, according to reports. CNN Money first reported the story about the new raise.
The company, which claims more than 300 million users, more than 100 million of them active, raised $400 million earlier in the summer in a round led by Yuri Milkner and Russia-based DST, the same firm that has backed Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon.
SAN FRANCISCO – Swrve, which is launching a realtime feedback platform for game developers, has nabbed $2.7 million in seed money.
Investors include: Intel Capital, SV Angel, Mochi Media founders, Playfish founders, the AIB Seed Capital Fund Limited Partnership, the Bank of Ireland Start-up Accelerator Fund, the AIB Seed Capital Fund, Enterprise Ireland and angel investors.
Swrve says its platform helps developers test, target and tune a game. The Swrve cloud-based platform works as a feedback loop providing content owners an opportunity to understand user behavior and then tune content. Swrve automatically pushes concepts the developer wants to test to targeted segments of players, so the effect on users can be analyzed in realtime and changes can immediately be made.ent to provide a better user experience.
Finding the right mobile app for your needs can be more of a pain in the nether regions than necessary. A West Coast startup just landed funding to help mobile device users find the apps that do what they want without jumping through a lot of search hoops. Palo Alto, CA-based Quixey — a search engine for apps – has raised $3.8 million in Series A funding. The $3.8 million investment will help fuel growth and partnership development.
Quixey invented a new type of search — functional search — specifically for apps. Quixey’s functional search scans blogs, review sites, forums and social media sites to learn exactly what each app can do. Quixey has hundreds of pieces of data about each app. Quixey searches apps across all platforms — including mobile, web, desktop and browser apps.
Quixey is fundamentally different from other search engines. Other search engines require users to know an app’s name or official description to find the right app. Since Quixey knows exactly what each app can do, users can search by answering the question, “What do you want to do?”
The investment was co-led by U.S. Venture Partners and WI Harper Group with participation by Webb Investment Network in addition to a follow-up investment by Innovation Endeavors.
The popular blogging service Tumblr, which hosts more than 27 million blogs, many of them photo or graphically oriented, is about to close on a funding round of from $75 million ot $100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ pegs the company’s valuation at $800 million, which may not rock the Facebooks and Groupons if the world, but does show that companies can attract significant funding without making money if they have large enough audiences.
Tumblr raised $30 million in 2010 from Sequoia Capital, Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital and a total of about $40.2 million. Teh WSJ says Graylock Partners, an investor in Facebook and Groupon, as an investor in the new funding round.
The service has exploded in popularity this year. Tumblr, which employs 50, had 13.4 million unique visitors in July, up from 6.7 million in December, according to digital measurement service comScore.
We just started using Tumblr recently. About 20 percent of Tumblr blogs are fashion oriented and it include numerous other visually focused blogs, including those of porn starts and amateur nude models.
It has features that can make it addicting: you scroll easily through the blogs you follow with a mouse wheel and it’s very easy to reblog posts. You can “track” subjects such as film, technology, or Game of Thrones, say, and scroll through all the posts on that topic. It only takes a click on a blog’s “follow” button to start receiving its posts. Posting is also a quite painless endeavor.
All in all, we find it pretty easy to kill a couple hours scrolling through Tumblr blog posts.
Text posts do not seem to draw the attention or “notes” that visual blogs do, but we’ve found specific blogs and posts exposed us to stories, ideas and images we would have otherwise missed. We particularly like the “Future of Journalism Project” blog, which touches on many topics we cover here, such as social and digital media.
We’ve noticed people complain regularly about changes to the Tumblr service, to bloggers reposting items without attribution, and the other social media carping that we hear also about Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (although less so about LinkedIn).
We suspect Tumblr is about to become the social network everyone talks about for a while. It’s not a Facebook/Twitter killer or a Google+ competitor so much as it may be competition for Blogger and to some lesser extent to WordPress. — Allan Maurer