News Article | November 3, 2015
Short videos, looping videos and GIFs are some of the hottest types of user-generated content on the web today, and have everyone from Instagram to Twitter and even Facebook and Google getting involved in offering support and tools for creators. Today, a new app called SPUN wants to capitalize on this growing trend by allowing users to mash up videos from their phone along with topical pop culture videos and then personalize their creations using the app’s own library of animations, cutouts, special effects and text. The idea for SPUN comes from serial entrepreneurs Andy Miller and Avi Dabir who have known each other for a decade and have worked in the past at m-Qube (mobile payments, sold to VeriSign), Quattro Wireless (sold to Apple; Miller was CEO) and, most recently, gesture control startup Leap Motion, where Miller was COO. Explains Dabir, both he and Miller are passionate about mobile and have seen the organic growth in content creation, where people take moments from pop culture – like movies or TV, sports or even politics – and then turn them into short clips or GIFs which are then shared out on social media. But the process for doing that today can still be fairly cumbersome, he says. “People are downloading a screenshot or taking a video from somewhere then putting it into After Effects or Photoshop, putting it together, then uploading it to Instagram,” says Dabir. “People are already doing this, so let’s make it easier for them to express themselves more visually through video and through creativity. [That’s how] we got to SPUN.” The app itself, live now for iOS, is really simple to use – even if you’re not used to working with video. To create your own mashup in SPUN, you first select video from your Camera Roll or SPUN’s community, or you can film using your camera. Once a video is selected, you can trim it, add other videos along with it, then decorate those videos with text, animation, and cutouts. There’s also a way to cut out people’s heads from videos and swap in others in a goofy (but thankfully, not photorealistic) way. And for those who prefer content consumption over creation, or those who are just looking for idea, the app’s feeds include featured and new videos which you can tap to “respin” – meaning, make a mashup of your own using their video as the source material. The process for making a video is roughly a minute or two, and you’ll get better the more you use the app, we’re told. And it’s still quicker than using pro-level editing tools like many do today. When your creation is finished, you can share the resulting 6-second max video back to the community as well as to a number of social channels, like Vine, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, SMS or your can save it to your Camera Roll. While the sort of silly nature of the app immediately appeals to a younger demographic, Dabir believes SPUN could have broader appeal – especially as some of its users are mashing up videos from sports figures or politics, instead of just internet memes. The app has been in private testing before today’s public debut, and now has a catalog of thousands of clips available for use. Eventually, the startup would like to partner with brands to introduce more content to its community. In the meantime, however, SPUN has a number of content partners on board, including Shaquille O’Neal, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” writers, NBC comedy writers, political satirists, and popular Instagramers. SPUN is a free download on iOS, and plans to launch on Android next year. The startup is backed by $2 million in seed funding from CRV and Highland Capital, along with angel investors David Kenny (CEO of Weather Companies), Tony Kahn (Owner of Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC Soccer Club) and Mark Mastrov (Founder of 24 Hour Fitness/co-owner Sacramento Kings).
News Article | February 26, 2015
Google Search was not built for mobile. It’s all about lists of web pages, but the small screen is ruled by apps. That’s why if Google launched today, it might look a lot like Vurb…which did launch today. Vurb is a mobile search engine that pulls info from partnered apps like Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes, and deep-links you out to apps like Uber and Google Maps. Rather than send you clicking through links, it cobbles together critical content and contextual suggestions into saveable, shareable, actionable cards. You could plan a whole dinner-and-a-movie night without ever typing or going back to your homescreen. Whether challenging Google on search is brave or just delusional, only time will tell, but Vurb is surely one of the most audacious startups I’ve seen lately. And since investors love big, risky bets, Vurb has $10 million in firepower Redpoint Ventures and some A-List angels. What’s encouraging is that Vurb manifests in the West a trend that China is already demonstrating: the future of mobile lies in uniting fragmented functionality from across the app ecosystem into a centralized hub. On the web, Google’s conduit model worked fine. Everything was an indexable website that served many functions, and Google could use PageRank to deliver you to the right one. It could show a list of links, and let you pop open multiple browser tabs that you could quickly switch between or even show simultaneously. It was easy to multi-task. It searched for information, you aggregated the answers. Mobile is different. Information is trapped in siloed, single-purpose apps and walled gardens that PageRank doesn’t understand as well. Everything is being unbundled. App discovery in the crowded stores is a mess. Opening multiple tabs is a chore and so is switching between them since you can only view one at a time. Multi-tasking is clumsy. That’s why Vurb wants to aggregate the answers for you. It has some strong role models out east. As Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans detailed, Chinese apps WeChat (social) and Baidu Maps (location) are thriving by “bundling multiple services into one app”. Evans explains that “This changes the layer of aggregation” from a phone’s home screen launcher to a single, multi-purpose app. This relieves users from discovering, downloading, and opening every app they need information from. Vurb wants to be the portal for mobile. Yahoo and AOL reborn to return order to the app sphere after The Great Unbundling. Vurb’s ascent to become a legitimate challenger to Google search started in 2011. By 2013 it had raised around $2 million from Charles River Ventures, CrunchFund (started by TechCrunch’s founder), Atlas Venture, and DCVC, plus angels like Max Levchin (PayPal, Drew Houston (Dropbox), and Naval Ravikant (AngelList). When Vurb came out of stealth, it took the grand prize in the TechCrunch Disrupt NY Startup Battlefield 2014. That clout helped it raise $8 million more led by Redpoint. Since then, Vurb’s been testing and pulling in users of its waitlist. To stay laser-focused on mobile, the startup scrapped its full-featured web version. “Mobile search is totally wide open, because everything is gravitating towards usage of apps” Vurb founder Bobby Lo tells me. His goal became to determine “How do we create a more cohesive mobile experience around finding, planning, and sharing information?” Google has its own plan fix search, but it has to carry all its historic design baggage. So rather than completely redesign search, it’s focused on augmenting it with contextual suggestions through Google Now and starting to index mobile apps. For pulling in immutable facts and actionable info from your other Google products like Gmail and Calendar, Now works quite well. But Google Now is editorially driven, so it will take time for its humans to learn how to deliver content about the long-tail of the web. It also doesn’t address saving and sharing searches. Googling from home felt like a natural solo experience, but on the go with mobile, search needs to be social. Today, Vurb opens its iOS app to the US, Canada, and the UK with explicit support for searches of Places (restaurants, landmarks, stores), Movies, TV, Video, and Music. Events and shopping are two more verticals it plans to attack soon. An Android app is in the works. Here’s a run-through of what you can do with Vurb. From the homescreen, you can search across all of Vurb’s verticals or swipe to start browsing in a specific one. Say you searched for a movie like 50 Shades Of Grey. In-line on the search results, you’ll see IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and MetaCritic scores trying to warn you the film is awful. Tap through anyways, and you’ll get a full, rich media card with details about the film, showtimes, recent news, cast and crew, video trailers, reviews, and options to deep-link to pages about the movie in other apps. Tap through showtimes and you can bounce into Fandango to buy tickets for the lukewarm S&M romp. Once Vurb knows what theater you’re going to, it can contextually offer up suggestions of nearby restaurants, from fancy-pants bistros to holes-in-the-wall. Each eatery’s Vurb card can show reviews, an option to book through OpenTable, and deep-links into Uber and Lyft to instantly call you a ride with the restaurant pre-populated as the destination. You’ll be munching aphrodisiacs in no time. All along the way, any card you come across can be saved into a “Deck” for later reference, and each card or deck can be quickly shared with others. A swipe left reveals a friend selector that delivers mobile web links to the card or deck, plus an in-line image of it, so Vurb helps people without its app, too. Tap your significant other, and they can audible you to a better film or hipper restaurant Recipients can even like or comment on plans sent to them to help finalize a night on the town. Shoot friends a deck with a few movies and restaurants, and you have a full night laid out. Vurb hopes people will follow friends, tastemakers, and influencers and view the to check out decks of recommendations they’ve made public. Theoretically, someone could become a star searcher, creating popular decks of hotspots. Lo beams that Vurb is “very different than traditional search with 10 blue links.” He knows it’s still a long shot, but is happy to take a swing for the fences. He says “VCs don’t want a 3X return. They want a 100X return otherwise this is a failure as an investment.” To return that money, Vurb has plenty of opportunities. With search results comes the option for sponsored placement. And with developers pouring cash into app install ads on platforms like Facebook, Vurb could charge to suggest them for different tasks. One disadvantage of Vurb is that other portals from AOL to WeChat to Snapchat Discover were built atop messaging, something you do many times per day. Vurb is built atop search, which isn’t quite as frequent an activity. That will make it tougher to get people who download Vurb to remember to use it consistently and not slip back to Google. Vurb will have an uphill climb to the homescreen. Vurb does a lot. That might sound good but it can make an app feel bloated or confusing. Search is one of our most deeply rooted behavior patterns. We’re trained to scan blue links. Even if change is inevitable, it can be slow to gain momentum. Lo concludes that the Internet started with the age of surfing the web through portals to browse one’s way to information, before evolving to search where we went to find information. Now Vurb wants to catalyze the next phase, the age of context, where information comes to you.
News Article | May 5, 2015
SessionM, a mobile marketing startup based in Boston, is on a hot streak. The latest win came Tuesday, when the company announced it has raised a $12 million funding round. The round brings the total SessionM has raised to $38.5 million since it was founded in 2011. Causeway Media Partners led the round. The firm is a growth equity investment firm founded by Wyc Grousbeck, the principal owner of the Boston Celtics. NTT Docomo Capital and Commerce Ventures, both new investors, and prior investors Highland Capital Partners, CRV (formerly Charles River Ventures), and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers joined the round. SessionM makes software used for mobile marketing campaigns. The startup’s approach isn’t focused on delivering ads, though. Instead it manages engagement and loyalty programs. SessionM’s customers install its software as part of their apps and users can opt in to loyalty campaigns SessionM runs. App users are rewarded with points that can be redeemed for real-world rewards such as gift cards or coupons. Their “mPoints” accumulate across multiple apps that incorporate SessionM’s software. The idea is that SessionM offers app users something more than pop-up mobile ads that they ignore and might get annoyed at. The reward program encourages people to keep using the app—ideally every day—and the increased engagement means app makers can make much more through ad sales. SessionM offers an in-house creative team to create content, such as videos, branded games, and polls. It also has audience targeting, acquisition, and analysis software. The company claims more than 1,500 app developer clients. It also says it manages more than 1,500 loyalty programs and reaches 100 million-plus mobile devices a month. Its clients include media companies such as the Weather Company, which is the parent company of the Weather Channel, sports teams and leagues such as the hometown New England Patriots and Nascar, and mobile app developers such as Zynga. “Big brands now know that mobile is the central point for customer engagement and isn’t just about apps,” SessionM CEO and co-founder Lars Albright said in a release. “With the SessionM mobile enterprise platform, they’re now able to act accordingly across the whole consumer experience to better engage, message, and target their most valuable consumers.” The latest funding will allow SessionM to roll out its new enterprise solutions faster and execute on a growing number of major multi-year deals, the company said in a release. The company’s goal is to reach more global Fortune 500 companies. SessionM said annual revenue has doubled each of the past three years as it has booked eight consecutive quarters of double-digit sequential growth. Albright told Bloomberg he expects annual revenue to double again this year to $50 million. Albright has a successful track record in mobile marketing. He co-founded and was a senior vice president of Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising company Apple bought in 2010 for a reported $275 million. Apple incorporated the Quattro team into its iAd mobile advertising unit and Albright was a member of the iAd executive team.
News Article | June 29, 2015
The round was led by CRV with participation from Caffeinated Capital, Crunchfund, Data Collective, Founder Collective and Freestyle Capital, Brennan O’Donnell, Ilya Sukhar, Othman Laraki, and Joshua Reeves. In conjunction with the funding, Max Gazor, partner at CRV, joined Airtable’s board. The company, which has raised $10.6m in total funding, intends to use the funds to grow operations. It is hiring. Led by CEO Howie Liu and newly named vice president of growth Francis Larkin, Airtable is a flexible organizational tool allows users to organize and collaborate on everything. In addition to its grid-based desktop web interface, the company offers a mobile app that formats table rows, add and remove rows and columns, attach files, and share tables. All changes are instantly synced to all the devices.
News Article | August 30, 2015
BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME PORT HARCOURT – Vanguard newspaper Columnist, Donu Kogbara has been abducted in Port Harcourt by unknown gunmen. The state Police Public relations officer, DSP Ahmed Muhammad confirmed the ugly development, saying police was on the trail of the kidnappers. Dornu Kogbara who maintains a column in the Vanguard was whisked away in the early hours of Sunday by unknown gunmen at her Nkpogu residence in a CRV jeep. It could not be confirmed if the kidnappers has established contact with the family for ransom at press time, Meantime, the Rivers state government has condemned the abduction. Governor Nyesom Wike who spoke through his media aide, Mr Opunabo Nko-Tariah expressed strong hope that she will be released unhurt. He said the government was making effort to ensure every resident in the state enjoyed adequate security. “Although the government is not seized of the issue, no responsible government will brook such acts of criminality. On thus premise , the kidnap is roundly condemned and we believe that by God’s grace, she will come out alive. The government is working assiduously to ensure a crime free state and that is why he has stopped at noting to provide the necessary tools including the donation of 64 security fitted vans to the Police. By God’s grace , she will be released in good health”, he assured.
News Article | August 20, 2015
WeChat dominates China with its messaging hub that lets you shop, call a taxi, and pay bills — all from one app. Now, mobile search startup Vurb wants to bring the monolithic app style to the United States with the help of Tencent, WeChat’s developer which has secretly been an investor in Vurb’s $10 million of funding. Step 1 happens today with the launch of a chat feature in Vurb. Vurb is launching openly on Android today and no longer requires waitlisting on iOS. It normally allows you to browse or search through cards of nearby restaurants, movies, and more that pull in extra info like Yelp and Foursquare reviews, or Rotten Tomatoes scores and IMDB data. Now you can plan a night out easier by sharing those cards with friends through Vurb’s new internal messaging feature. No need to bounce over to SMS or use the clumsy iOS share sheets. But what’s perhaps more interesting is the opportunity this primes for Vurb. In China, rather than every little business or utility getting its own app, they create “official accounts” on WeChat. These work similar to connecting with a new friend to talk, but instead offer unique functionality like ecommerce that taps into WeChat’s mobile payments wallet. Vurb’s founder Bobby Lo tells me that’s the direction his app is going. Eventually, businesses could build official accounts into Vurb so people could order their movie tickets, book reservations, and more without leaving the app. “There are too many apps. 1.5 million of them. 25% are never opened. There are things that shouldn’t be apps. They’re one-time-use functions.” Lo tells me. He says WeChat has proven the power of microapps inside a messaging hub, so “Why is there no U.S. version?” Vurb got started in 2011 and raised $2 million in 2013. At the time it didn’t reveal that Tencent was an investor, but now it’s saying the Chinese tech giant was in the round alongside CRV, Data Collective, CrunchFund [Disclosure: It’s run by TechCrunch’s founder], and angels like Drew Houston and Naval Ravikant. Its ambitious approach to stealing mobile search from Google won it the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014 Battlefield Grand Prize. Next it raised $8 million more in a Series A led by Redpoint, and joined by Tencent and its previous investors. Vurb launched on iOS with a waitlist in February 2015 and was named a “Best New App” by Apple…who probably doesn’t mind it competing with Google. Vurb won’t disclose its user count beyond saying it has double-digit month over month growth. It hasn’t done too well according to App Annie, hovering around #175 amongst iOS social networking apps. But in-app messaging has been shown to boost retention, so adding the feature could help Vurb with growth. Now when users find an interesting card, they can just swipe left or hit a share button to instantly see a list of friends they can send it to. If that friend doesn’t have Vurb, they’ll receive the card as an image via SMS. You can see a walk-through of using Vurb chat to plan an outing with friends without jumping back and forth between apps in the video above. Eventually, though, you could imagine messaging a hotel concierge to book excursions, or local restaurant to order takeout. The question will be whether users in the west actually want monolithic apps. Tencent is hedging its bets. Besides Vurb, Tencent also just put $50 million into messaging app Kik, which is focusing on media content like a music services and helping users meet new people. Vurb is more focused on utility. How much of messaging does Vurb want to subsume? “It’d be great if it was all of it” Lo says with a laugh. “While there are a ton of messaging apps today around text, photos, and video, there’s still no great way to communicate things — places or intents” he explains. But I suspect the company may try to partner with big messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and its investor’s favorite child WeChat. This way, when you want to just chat about whatever, you use your normal messaging app, but when you want to plan something with friends, you use Vurb but the messages are transmitted by your main messaging app. Otherwise, Vurb might need to build some kind of mobile wallet integration to power future commerce. Until now, the U.S. apps like Facebook have neglected the monolithic app format, and instead create constellations of related apps. But this “unbundling” has led us to the current predicament, where you have to have dozens more apps on your phone than you usually need, and jumping between them is a pain. Lo concludes “We’re totally sick of downloading apps. The time is ripe for disruption in the mobile space. We know app constellations don’t really work. At least at Vurb we’re moving in the direction towards solving this app silliness and discovery problem.”
News Article | April 16, 2015
Making robots sure isn’t cheap. Consider Rethink Robotics, a Boston-based maker of bots meant to work alongside humans in manufacturing and similar industrial jobs: Since its founding in 2008, Rethink has raised a whopping $113.5 million in venture investment. The last bit of that cash, $13.4 million, was announced today by the company, featuring Boston’s Wellington Management Company as a new investor. Rethink said the financing represents the final piece of its Series D investment round. The new money comes as Rethink has attempted to expand its nascent market with a new product, Sawyer, a one-armed robot that specializes in precise jobs such as testing circuit boards. Rethink’s original product, the two-armed Baxter, was aimed at a wide variety of research and industrial uses. But Rethink has at times struggled to build a market for the next-generation robot, and the company had to lay off about 20 people in 2013 as it streamlined to focus on its best customers. Rethink was founded by Rodney Brooks, a robotics pioneer who also co-founded Roomba maker iRobot. Its other investors include GE Ventures, Goldman Sachs, CRV, Highland Capital Partners, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s personal investment company.
News Article | July 30, 2015
While the economic demand for computer science skills continues to surge, introducing coding to the classroom can be an intimidating overture for teachers without a technical background. To ease this transition, Wonder Workshop, creators of smart robots that teach students the basics of coding, has developed a new version of the Blockly touch app in consultation with education experts. Through drag-and-drop programming and diverse puzzles, the app’s new content brings coding to life during STEM instruction. Students use the app to program Dash & Dot robots to sense and react to the world around them. Blockly’s project-based puzzles are designed to engage students of all genders and backgrounds, with personalized tracks that consider students’ diverse interests. The app integrates with Wonder Workshop’s digital curriculum, which is aligned to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. “Our goal is to alleviate the pressure and anxiety teachers often experience when it comes to coding instruction,” said Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop. “Teachers don’t have to do it alone. Coupling Blockly with our vetted curriculum allows educators to address this 21st-century skill without needing to research unfamiliar concepts, develop lessons, assemble products and page through manuals.” Blockly’s careful scaffolding of coding concepts ensures students in various grade levels remain engaged and in control. Younger students who are still learning to read can use the app’s visual interface to navigate challenges with introductory programming concepts, such as command sequences and algorithm design. In addition, the app helps older students visualize advanced concepts like variables and comparatives. Blockly’s puzzles were carefully developed in collaboration with experienced computer science teachers to maximize ease of use and meaningful instruction. New lesson plans will be available for download regularly, ensuring fresh learning experiences for students. For more information about Blockly, visit http://www.makewonder.com/apps/blockly. About Dash & Dot Dash & Dot are smart robots for curious minds! Targeted at teaching creative problem-solving and computational thinking, Dash & Dot help students learn fundamental cognitive processes relevant to all 21st-century skills that they’ll carry on throughout life. Students can define how they want to play – whether solo, in pairs or in small groups. Dash & Dot are characters that ignite curiosity and confidence while providing fun and engaging ways of learning the essential skills of collaboration, communication and digital literacy. Teachers are using Dash & Dot to teach a variety of subjects, including math, science, social studies and English language arts. Dash & Dot come with four free apps enabling students to explore a variety of learning experiences at different levels depending on their age and ability. Wonder Workshop accessories from Dash’s Xylophone to Building Brick Connectors (including LEGO™) bring endless creative possibilities, plus students can involve their existing resources around the classroom into the fun. The apps are compatible with more than 20 iOS and Android devices, including the iPad 3, iPad mini, iPad Air 1 & 2 and a variety of Nexus and Samsung Galaxy devices. About Wonder Workshop Wonder Workshop launched Dash & Dot in December 2014 and within its first month, delivered more than $3.5M in robots to 37 countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, European countries, India, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Based in San Mateo, CA, Wonder Workshop was founded in 2012 by Vikas Gupta, Saurabh Gupta and Mikal Greaves, inventors, designers, programmers and parents with the mission to make coding a new creative tool that is accessible for children from age five and beyond. The company has currently raised $15.9 million in funding from Madrona Venture Group, CRV, WI Harper, Google Ventures, Bright Success Capital, Maven Ventures, Vikas Gupta, Reza Hussein and Jeff Schox. For more information, visit http://www.makewonder.com.
News Article | May 5, 2015
Wonder Workshop, a San Mateo, CA-based developer of Dash & Dot smart robots, raised an additional $6.9m in funding. Backers included new investor WI Harper Group and existing investors Madrona Venture Group, CRV, Maven Ventures, Bright Success Capital and angels. The company, which has raised $15.9m to date, will use the funding to continue to expand into new markets, develop manufacturing and strategic business channels. Founded in 2012 by Vikas Gupta, Saurabh Gupta and Mikal Greaves, Wonder Workshop provides Dash & Dot robots, which allow kids to develop their creativity while advancing problem solving and curiosity capacities. Kids can learn the concepts of coding and define how they want to play – whether with friends, siblings, solo or with parents. Dash & Dot come with four free apps for kids to connect with to explore play experiences that match their development stage. Launched in December 2014, over $3.5M robots have been delivered to 37 countries including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, European countries, India, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
News Article | April 16, 2015
Rethink Robotics, a Boston, Massachusetts-based advanced robotic technology company, raised further $13.4m and closed its $40m Series D funding round. Backers included Wellington Management Company LLP, GE Ventures and Goldman Sachs. As previously announced, existing investors Bezos Expeditions, CRV, Highland Capital Partners, Sigma Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Two Sigma Ventures also participated in the round (read here). The company, which has now raised $113.5m, intends to use the funds for global expansion and product innovations. Founded in 2008 and led by Scott Eckert, President and CEO, Rethink Robotics recently launched Sawyer, a single-arm robot that performs a variety of precise tasks in manufacturing environments including machine tending and circuit board testing. It expands the market pioneered by Baxter, the company’s flagship offering, launched in 2012. Baxter and Sawyer robots, which are driven by advanced software platform Intera, are used by manufacturers and distributors in automotive, plastics, consumer goods, electronics, etc.