Tag Archive: startups


canary

There are some 90 million homes in the U.S. without any security system whatsoever. Many of them are renters who don’t want to invest heavily in a place they don’t own, among hundreds of thousands of home owners who are simply priced out. There has never been a convenient, all-in-one system that could offer home security at an affordable rate, much less one you could pick up at the local Best Buy.

But that all changes with Canary, the latest crowd-funding sensation to hit Indiegogo. We caught up with NYC-based founder Adam Sager to discuss the project.

Canary is a little console, slightly smaller than the size of a paper towel roll, that’s packed with a host of sensors, a mic, and an HD camera.

For $200 down, this little guy will connect to the Wifi, sync with your phone, and constantly watch your home. I say watch, and not monitor, because Canary can only see as far as its sensors will allow, whereas most home security systems are wired in to monitor every crack and crevice of a home. Canary can only hear as far as the mic allows, or the camera sees, or the sensors can sense.

However, Sager believes that when you place the Canary in the central part of your home, near the front door perhaps or watching over the living room, that a real threat, like a burglar, will likely set off the Canary no matter where it enters from.

Plus, if you have a larger space or want added security, you can always link more than one Canary (up to four, Sager tells me).

Canary’s sensors include night vision, motion detection, temperature, air quality and humidity, along with a live feed to the HD camera at any given time. The phone will instantly alert the user whenever the home experiences a random change, like a temperature fluctuation or sudden movement.

But Canary is also smart enough to learn your home, sensing the difference between a burglary and a pet. It even understands when regularly scheduled events occur, like the arrival of a nanny or a dog walker at the same time each day, so that you don’t have a panic attack each time Rover needs to take a wizz.

Canary’s distribution model is different from any other home security system in that you will eventually be able to go pick one up at a local electronics store on the cheap. This has never really been available before, and the potential market is huge with 90 million homes completely unprotected and priced out of the alternatives.

Sager admits that margins on the hardware itself won’t be that high, but the plan is to offer value-added services like monitoring (delivered by a TBD third-party) for $10/month.

Canary has been on Indiegogo for four days, and has blown far beyond its $100k goal to be at $550k at the time of writing. It only took a few hours to reach $100k, according to Sager.

If you’d like to back the project, head on over to the Canary website or check out the Indiegogo campaign.

loblogo

Want to build your own Postagram? You could with Lob, a new developer API for integrating printing and shipping services into applications that’s officially opening its doors today. The company makes it possible for a business to implement a programmatic means of printing, packaging, and shipping items on demand, including things like business cards, photos, posters, letters, postcards, checks, stickers, and more. During its brief testing period, Lob saw sign-ups from customers like CrowdTilt, ZenPayroll, LendUp, and others.

Founded just a couple of months ago by University of Michigan grads Harry Zhang and Leore Avidar, Lob is participating in Y Combinator’s summer 2013 program. Today, it already has hundreds of customers and is generating revenue, the founders say.

Prior to Lob, Zhang worked as a product manager at Microsoft, where he saw first-hand the need for such a service. “I was working on a campaign at Microsoft where we had to put together offers for all these different customers – all having to go to different destinations, all of which had to be customized,” Zhang explains. “And when it got to the part where we had to have them printed and mailed, we realized there was no good way to actually automate that process.” Instead, the company had interns sitting in a mailroom for a couple of weeks, stuffing envelopes.

Meanwhile, Avidar’s background includes time spent first at Citigroup then at Amazon Web Services, where he learned more about how cloud platforms work. He says that basically, with Lob, they’ve taken the AWS model and applied it to a different type of industry.

The service arrives at a time when many of today’s printers aren’t as technically savvy as the startups and other businesses that need to use them. Their older systems use SOAP and XML, limiting access to what’s possible. Meanwhile, the need for online printing grows – it accounted for 18 percent of all printing in 2011, and is expected to reach 30 percent next year, and 50 percent by 2017.

But unlike services provided by consumer-facing retailers like FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko’s), or Uprinting.com, for example, Lob is not meant to be a consumer-facing solution, but rather a tool for developers. Using the company’s RESTful API, developers can send one-off print jobs as needed, or can request volume pricing when buying in bulk.

The founders see a few primary use cases for its service. One is fulfillment for businesses that don’t want to hold inventory – like a company that sells posters, for instance. Because Lob supports variable data and customizations, another area being targeted is in industries like finance or real estate, where businesses may be required to send things like bills, invoices or statements through the physical mail. It could also be useful in HR, where companies are continually mailing out forms to employees, like new hire packets. And finally, Lob can be used to send out physical checks, like those handled by a payroll service.

Lob’s API offers an address verification service (free for U.S. address and $0.15 for each international address), plus Smart Packaging, where it will pick the best packaging type automatically unless a developer specifies otherwise. And it routes jobs to the nearest printer in its network to save on shipping times and cost.

Avidar says that Lob’s network of printers is one of its strong suits. The printers are not ordinary print shops, but ones which have been standardized by having custom integrations built into their systems and workflows. The are the HP Indigo’s and the Heidelberg’s of the world, he adds, not the Vistaprint’s.

The Sunnyvale-based startup is only a couple of months old, and has been growing by 300 percent every week during its brief alpha and beta trials. Today, the founders are the only two full-time employees and they want to keep things small for now, and hold off on fundraising as they have paying customers. Interested users can sign up for Lob here or read through the developer documentation.

Prim Feature

You can call it a first-world problem. Or you can say it distracts people from their passions and contributions to the world. Either way, laundry is a chore, and new Y Combinator startup Prim wants to do it for you. You can schedule Prim online to come to your place, pick up your laundry, have it washed and folded at a top-notch laundromat, and deliver it back to you. $25 for a bag. It’s that easy.

Prim’s Stanford-educated founders originally came into Y Combinator to build an in-video advertising platform, but the business wasn’t there. The idea for Prim was scattered all over their floors. See, co-founder Yin Yin Wu’s boyfriend worked at Facebook, where they have free laundry service. His clothes ended up neatly washed, folded, and in his drawers rather than in heaps waiting to be done. That meant he could focus on his job and life. Yin Yin thought, “why couldn’t this service be available to anyone?” So they created Prim.

Uber For Laundry

Currently Prim operates in San Francisco, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park – home to the world’s busiest techies. You go online and select from their upcoming 9am-11am or 8pm-10pm pickup and drop-off windows. You throw your clothes in a garbage bag and wait for Prim’s text that it’ll be there in 15 minutes. The driver calls when they arrive. You can hand them the bag, leave it with your doorman, or if you’re comfortable, give them a copy of your key or send a photo of it and they’ll make a copy so they can just come into your place and grab the bag.

Their driver takes the sack of clothes to be tagged and brings it to a well-rated local laundromat with a track record of flawless jobs. Within two days you get notified to confirm your delivery, and Prim brings the washed and folded clothes back in high-quality nylon satchels. It even ties together your stacks of shirts or whatever you wouldn’t want wrinkled so they stay prim and proper. See! That’s where they got the name! You got that already? Sorry.

The cost is $25 for the first bag of each pickup and $15 for the additional ones. That’s a bit more expensive than you can expect from a laundromat’s wash and fold, but you get the pick-up and delivery included. Because Prim brings in so much business, it gets discounts from the laundromats so the price stays reasonable. Prim strives for perfection, but in case anything gets lost or damaged, Wu says Prim has insurance and will refund you 100% of the cost of your clothes. “If there’s any mistake, we try to bend over backwards for our customers” says Wu.

The idea is that as Prim gets bigger, it can use economies of scale to improve its margins and lower its costs. While it’s only in the Bay Area now, expansion plans don’t include the sprawl of LA (where Wash.io operates) or fighting the specialized competitors in NYC. Instead it’s looking at Seattle, Boston, and other dense cities full of time-strapped knowledge workers. In SF, Prim will have to battle LaundryLocker where you drop your clothes in a public locker, and delivery services like Sfwash (where you pay by the pound), Sudzee (which requires special lockable bags), and some other local services.

Prim differentiates through simplicity and its flat rate. The risk is that the price is too high and it can’t get traction, or too low that it can’t squeak out a profit. Getting the balance right and giving people a great experience will make or break the startup.

Luckily, I loved Prim. It got my laundry done in 24 hours, everything came back clean, dry, soft, unwrinkled, and nothing seemed shrunk. Oh, and I did basically zero work. No dragging my clothes to the laundromat, fiddling with change for the machines, and most importantly, no waiting for hours. Even if you have machines in your home or apartment, doing loads one at a time can be quite annoying. My laundry often languishes because I dread the rigamarole. With Prim, I’m a lot less likely to make it to the bottom of my sock drawer. A more flexible morning pickup schedule would help, but Prim says they’ll always work with customers to find some time that works. Adding in dry cleaning would also be a big plus, and help them compete with other services that handle all your clothes-washing needs.

Wash And Flow

No, Prim isn’t going to save anyone’s life, but it could still help improve the world if you think about it. Convenience doesn’t just breed laziness. It can enable productivity. In that way, I’d say Prim shares DNA with Dropbox and Asana, not just Uber and TaskRabbit.

Prim lets you concentrate on what you love to do, what you’re responsible for, or how you contribute to the universe. I’m decent at writing, terrible at laundry, and busy. Spending a ton of time washing and folding is just inefficient for me. I feel better stimulating the economy and letting someone good at laundry do their thing. And imagine how this could free up a CEO, doctor, charity director, or parent to take on the duties only they can fulfill?

Think how long it takes you to do laundry. If that amount of your time is worth more than $25 (or $40 if you’ve got a big wardrobe), use Prim.

And use Prim with the promo code “techcrunch” to get $10 off your first pickup.

Prim Co-Founders (From Left): Xuwen Cao and Yin Yin Wu

drawbridge-logo-1

Drawbridge, an ad targeting startup backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, is expanding its offerings today with a new feature allowing mobile advertisers to reach consumers with retargeted ads, regardless of whether they’re using an app or on the mobile web.

Founder and CEO Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan said that while ad retargeting (i.e., ads targeted based on your past visits and activity) is possible within apps, things get trickier when you try to cross the boundary between apps and websites: “It’s literally two devices on the same device, separated by an iron wire.” (I question her question use of “literally”, but I think you get the point.) App developers can also try to reengage their users through alerts and notifications, but users can always turn those off.

In order to solve that problem, Drawbridge is “piggybacking” on its core technology. That technology examines user activity to help advertisers identify when multiple devices are likely being used by the same person. That allows advertisers to use data collected on the desktop to target ads on mobile. The company’s two products launched last fall include PC-to-mobile retargeting and mobile app marketing. The mobile-to-mobile retargeting is intended to fill out the mobile marketing product, Sivaramakrishnan said.

Drawbridge has already run test campaigns with e-commerce companies, who were either trying to bring old customers back to the site or to convince current customers to buy more. Sivaramakrishnan said that in a campaign targeting lapsed users, the client reached 100 percent return on ad spend within three weeks. Another campaign targeted active users and reached 100 percent ROAS within a single day.

Advertisers will have a chance to test this out for themselves, Sivaramakrishnan said, because the new capabilities include an A/B testing framework. So advertisers can run part of their campaign with Drawbridge’s retargeting and part of their campaign without it and see which ads perform better.

Earlier this year, Drawbridge announced that it was partnering with TRUSTe to allow mobile consumers to opt out of its targeting. Since then, Sivaramakrishnan said that some users have indeed opt out, but that the rates haven’t been “heavy”.

timehop

While present-focused social networks like Facebook and Instagram make plenty of room for the narcissists in us, there’s not really a dedicated and focused place to reflect on the past.

Timehop, which started out as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, has evolved into a mobile-first startup that surfaces old memories from your social networks. The app will pull up status updates from a year or more ago, reminding you of friends you’ve lost contact with or thoughts you had a year ago on this day.

The New York-based startup says it just rounded up another $3 million in funding led by existing investor Spark Capital. O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures, which had also previously backed the company, participated as well. Andrew Parker, a principal at Spark, joins Timehop’s board.

Timehop’s CEO Jonathan Wegener says that the company will use the round to build out the team beyond seven people and focus on mobile apps. Timehop just shut down its e-mail service last week.

“The big, long-term vision is to be a place to reminisce online,” Wegener said. “Basically in this world, all social networks are real-time. They’re about what’s happening right now, but there’s no place online to discuss the past.”

While the Series A crunch has made fundraising tough for all kinds of consumer-facing mobile and web products, Wegener said it was Timehop’s stickiness that made a compelling case. He said one-third of Timehop’s user base opens the product on any given day, which is a very respectable retention figure.

“Users who try to the product fall in love with it. This helped us make the argument that people are working Timehop into their everday lives,” Wegener said. “At first, people don’t understand why they would want this. But they get really addicted to it. They see it as a mirror of their own life, and a reflection of their past self.”

He said he’s used the app to remember which friends he’s lost touch with over the years. The app will pull up old group photos, reminding Wegener to reach out and reconnect.

Timehop’s earlier investors also included angels like Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Naveen Selvadurai and Alex Rainert, Groupme’s Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht, Rick Webb and Kevin Slavin.

nomorelimits1

Spotify’s advertising engine and paid customer conversion funnel are finally working well enough that today it eliminated all limits on free, ad-supported web listening in all countries. It’s an important milestone for the scalability and sustainability of Spotify’s business that contrasts with other streaming music services like Ex.fm and Rdio that are stumbling or shutting down.

Previously, Spotify gave free web users unlimited listening for a six-month grace period, but then limited some international free web listeners to 2.5 hours per week. Considering some people like to listen to albums or playlists for hours on end at work, the cap could come up pretty quickly.

Now, there are no limits on ad-supported free web listening at all, anywhere.

The move matches Spotify’s push to become more accessible across platforms. Last month it opened free ad-supported on-demand listening on tablets. It also launched a free, ad-supported version of its smartphone app that previously cost $10 a month, which we got the drop on a week before the announcement.

523c8c963a9ec.image

This free mobile version is limited to shuffling songs rather than allowing on-demand song choice. It’s positioned to beat Pandora Mobile, where if you choose an artist you only hear them 20% of the time but there’s no ad-supported time-limit as of August. On Spotify’s free smartphone app, you can choose to hear one specific artist, just not the order of the songs.

Today’s announcement also attacks Pandora, but on the web. There, Pandora dropped its listening cap way back in 2011 when it hit web advertising scalability.

Now Spotify has acheived the same feat of sales efficiency as it reaches 26 million users and 6 million paying subscribers, so it’s dropped its web limit. Raising $250 million in November also gives it the runway to think about the long-term when its ads organization will keep getting more efficient and conversions to paid customers will generate recurring revenue. [Update 6:45pm: Spotify has always plenty of cash and lots of competition, but the recent $250 million funding and increasingly heated battle for our ears could also have contributed to it dropping the listening limit.]

Update 8pm: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has efficiently confirmed my thinking that Spotify’s business is getting more efficient

@JoshConstine yes!-
Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) January 16, 2014

All these moves will give Spotify a boost as it faces its biggest challenge yet: gaining traction as mobile platform owners Google and Apple get serious about streaming music. Their control of iOS and Android give them big advantages on mobile, such as built-in install bases that dwarf Spotify’s independent service and threaten to choke it out.

There’s also new entrants like Beats’ music streaming service that launches later this month, as well European streaming fixture Deezer to compete with.

spotify-everything

To win, Spotify’s strategy must become the omni-jukebox, with on-demand, radio, contextual, and playlist streaming available across all platforms. And that means dropping as many listening limits as it can.

For more on Spotify, read:

Spotify Launches Free Mobile Version

Spotify Wants To Be Everything To Everyone

[Image Credit: Melissa Downing Via The Racquette]

Lob

This summer, the Y Combinator-backed startup Lob launched a new developer API which lets companies easily integrate printing and shipping services into their applications. Today, the company is announcing $2.4 million in seed funding from various YC partners and angel investors. Participating in the round were Kevin Hale, Dalton Caldwell, Sam Altman, Joshua Schachter, Alexis Ohanian, Paul Buchheit, Garry Tan, Polaris Partners, and other undisclosed investors.

With Lob, whose early adopters include CrowdTilt, ZenPayroll, LendUp, LocalOn, and others, developers can automate or print a variety of products on demand, including postcards, photos, flyers, posters, bills, checks, invoices, and more.

The company says it now has over 1,000 paying customers, and just hit $40,000 in revenue at the end of last month. It has also printed a million dollars worth of checks. On the horizon, there’s the potential for Lob to grow even larger, with now two Fortune 500 companies testing the service on a smaller scale. If those trials come to fruition, they could be multi-million dollar deals, the founders tell us.

A graduate of Y Combinator’s summer 2013 program, Lob was started earlier this year by University of Michigan grads Harry Zhang and Leore Avidar. Zhang had been inspired to create the service after previously working as a product manager at Microsoft, where he saw the difficulties involved with customer mailings – the company had interns stuffing envelopes in a mailroom for weeks, at times.

Today, Lob’s use cases go beyond your typical printed materials, like postcards, invoices or promotional mailings, for example. The company already offers tools like address verification, and “Smart Packaging” (where it picks the best packaging type automatically), and now it’s also working to enable printing of other products, too, including photo albums/photo books, and even t-shirts and mugs. Longer term, the team is considering moving into physical books as well, given customer demand.

“When we think of printed products, it’s anything that ink can touch,” explains Zhang. He wants Lob to be a one-stop shop where companies can manage all their printings. And although it’s still early days, the solution is growing in popularity. Customers generally come in with a single request, but then realize how they can use Lob in other areas, too. Today, almost every customer is using two products at the minimum, even though over half had arrived seeking just a single solution.

The team was also surprised to see international sign-ups, given its U.S. focus, with customers arriving from South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, then opting to have Lob print and ship items overseas. “A lot of international companies don’t have local ways to do this, so they’re willing to pay a little more,” Avidar says.

In terms of its pricing, Lob has been competitive, but maybe not the cheapest option, though that’s changing as it begins to scale. In a few months’ time, Lob’s pricing will drop by an average of 10% across the board, we’re told. (Some products might not change, while others may drop by as high as 20%-30%, to give you an idea).

But Lob’s advantage hasn’t necessarily been one based just on price – it’s about the model. Competitors have traditionally required businesses to pay large amounts upfront, or even pre-pay for their entire order, but Lob lets its customers pay as you go.

“The fact that it’s a variable expense and you can do everything on a minimum quantity of one – that’s really the differentiator,” says Avidar. “You can’t really go anywhere and say: ‘I want to print one postcard’,” he adds.

With the additional funding, Lob is working to add new product categories and hire engineers to help build out its API. The company wants to double (or more) its four-person team over the next few months, and support for photo albums and t-shirts is arriving soon.

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