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Skillbridge logo

A startup called Skillbridge is trying to create a new kind of marketplace for freelance work – not for the programming and writing jobs that you’d find on a site like Elance, but for strategy, finance, marketing and other professional services.

The company is announcing today that it has been backed by First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, the firm’s student-run investment arm that offers mentorship and $20,000 in funding to each company. (Skillbridge is also part of Highland Capital’s summer incubator and the MassChallenge accelerator..)

Co-founders Brett Lewis and Raj Jeyakumar have worked as consultants themselves – Lewis, for example, spent nearly three years at Bain & Company. They’re both recent graduates of Wharton Business School, and they said that when they were students, they wanted to use their experience for freelance work. However, they discovered that it was incredibly difficult to actually find interested companies, so they created Skillbridge to match qualified workers with businesses looking for professional services.

Lewis outlined the vision in a post for the Wharton Entrepreneurship Blog, where he said that the United States’ freelancers have grown from 6 percent of the total workforce in 1990 to 20 to 30 percent now: “Elance, an early talent marketplace, has focused on low-end providers of technology and creative talent. Yet the biggest growth trends are in areas of financial planning and analysis, accounting and legal strategy, where only behemoth white-shoe firms have dominated until now.”

Lewis and Jeyakumar said their core talent base consists of stay-at-home parents and graduate students who have either an MBA or at least three years of experience at a finance or consulting firm. These are people who either aren’t in a position to work full-time or aren’t interested, but they are willing to take on smaller projects or part-time work with flexible hours. And by hiring these workers, companies don’t have to pay for the overhead of a traditional consulting firm.

Not that Skillbridge is trying to replace the big firms. Jeyakumar compared them to Ferraris: “There will always be a need for Ferraris, but there are people for whom a BMW is just fine.” If the BMW doesn’t seem like much of a compromise, that’s Jeyakumar’s point. With Skillbridge, companies that probably couldn’t afford to hire a traditional consulting firm can still pay for high-quality work. He added that there’s already been interest in companies ranging from “pre-revenue startups that need help with market sizing for their pitch decks” to large e-commerce organizations.

The company supposedly delivers a “highly curated” experience, where it provides customers with templates for work requests, identifies two or three of the best matches that they can choose from, and helps to create milestones for the project to ensure that things stay on track. It’s currently in beta testing, with plans for a full launch later this year.

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kindle_rabbit_video_player_1

Amazon Cloud Drive Photos, the photo-uploading utility that helps move photos from a mobile device into Amazon’s online storage, may have to change its name. Now, the tool doesn’t just support photo uploads, it supports videos, as well. Videos can be manually uploaded one by one, or users can opt to have videos auto-save from their devices directly into Amazon’s cloud.

This automatic upload option was already available for photos through an update out at the beginning of the year, but videos within Cloud Drive Photos had not yet been supported, whether manually or through the auto-upload feature within the application.

Amazon says that videos are restricted to 2 GB in size or 20 minutes in length, whether they’re being uploaded or downloaded from the Cloud Drive service – that’s slightly longer than YouTube’s default setting ahead of account verification. This is fine for the majority of users’ personal videos, of activities, pets, kids or events, for example, recorded on their mobile devices.

After the files are in Amazon’s cloud, the video can be played back to any device, including, of course, the Kindle Fire and other Android tablets. According to a post on Amazon’s Web Services blog about the technical underpinnings to the new feature, Amazon’s Elastic Transcoder service was used, which supports over 20 file formats and 40 video codecs. The team says its goal was to have videos transcoded within 15 minutes after uploading, but ended up achieving videos that are often ready within a minute or two. They also went ahead and processed all the videos stored in Amazon users’ Cloud Drive libraries ahead of launch.

Though the company offers a version of its Amazon Cloud Drive Photos app on iOS devices, too, only the Android version has received the video support at this time. That makes sense because not only is the Kindle and Android-based tablet, and therefore Amazon’s priority, the Android app was also the first to launch, back in November 2012.

The iOS version didn’t arrive until this May, and it serves as a viable alternative to Apple’s own iCloud sync and storage service, with reasonable pricing of 5 GB for free, then $10/year for 20 GB, $25/year for 50 GB and so on, all the way up to 1,000 GB for $500/year. Keep in mind that the storage goes up so high not because users need so much space for photos (and now videos, too), but because Amazon Cloud Drive is meant to serve as a competitor to Google Drive or Dropbox, with support for a variety of file types, including office documents and music, which can also be streamed back through Amazon Cloud Player.

In other words, this isn’t the first time users could upload videos to Amazon’s cloud. This is just making it possible to do so within the Cloud Drive Photos application.

The updated Cloud Drive app is available now on Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore.

european-vacation-roundabout

In preparation for TechCrunch Disrupt Europe I’ve been running around the Continent for more than a month, hitting the Balkans for a huge tour and Warsaw for an amazing meet-up. Now I’m back for a meet up+pitch-off with our own Mike Butcher and the rest of the UK team. Tickets are free so grab yours now.

There will be great networking opportunities, and a battle to the death to see which entrepreneurs can dazzle and excite in under 60 seconds.

PitchOff details:

LONDON INFO HERE

  • Participants interested in competing in the pitch-off will have 60 seconds to explain why their startup is awesome. These products must currently be in stealth or private beta.Application form for London is here or simply enter below.

    ONLY FILL OUT **ONE** APPLICATION.


Office hours details

  • Office Hours are for companies selected for the Pitch-off, these 15 minute 1 on 1 talks will be held on the day of the event. We’ll hear about your company, give feedback, and talk about the best pitch strategy for the 60-second rapid-fire competition. More information on Office Hours will follow in a post on TechCrunch.

Pitch-off winners

  • We will have 3 judges who will decide on the winners of the PitchOff. First place will receive a table in Startup Alley at the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in Berlin. Second Place will receive 2 tickets to the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt. Third Place will receive 1 ticket to the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt.

Venue in London

  • Ground Floor – CAMPUS LONDON, 4-5 Bonhill Street, London EC2A 4BX
  • Event runs from 3 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. on Monday July 29th, 2013
  • We will de-camp to a local bar afterwards, sponsors welcome to support (email sponsors@techcrunch.com)

Remember we are holding our Berlin meetup later this week so if you don’t want to wing your way North we’ll come to you. Application form for Berlin is here.

Questions about the events? Please contact: events@techcrunch.com.

How To Become A Sponsor

  • For more information on sponsorship packages and to discuss becoming a sponsor, please contact sponsors@techcrunch.com.

And whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, dreamer or tech enthusiast, we want to see you at the event, so we can give you free beer and hear your thoughts. Come one, come all.

wunderlist-pro-files

Berlin-based 6Wunderkinder is adding more features to its new Wunderlist Pro paid tier of service today, answering the number one request of its users with the addition of file upload and sharing. Users can add files to tasks and synchronize them across devices and team members for collaboration purposes. That, along with newly introduced pricing plans for Wunderlist Pro aimed at businesses, should help growth of the revenue-driving service skyrocket, says 6Wunderkinder founder and CEO Christian Reber.

“We had large corporations contacting us the first day we launched Wunderlist pro and ask us ‘Can we use this in our business, what can I do to sign up my entire team of 250 people?,’ etc.” he said in an interview. “That was exciting for us but unfortunately we didn’t have the business accounts yet, we didn’t have the dashboard to manage those people.” This change will help them sign on these new customers who have just been waiting for an opportunity to get on the platform.

The changes today aren’t only aimed at business customers big and small, however; Reber says that file sharing is something that should appeal across its user base, and drive up the value perception even for individual Wunderlist users who have been considering the paid option. “We think that files is a feature that everyone wants, and we think that we will see a very high conversion rate of free users to premium users also, because it’s a feature that everyone just asked us to build,” Reber explained.

Reber says they “quadrupled” their own internal expectations for new user growth with the introduction of Wunderlist Pro. The entire user base of nearly 5 million Wunderlist users (including free and paid) is around 29 percent U.S.-based, he said, but 40 percent of the paid customers come from the States. Over 40 percent of paying customers are businesses, too, which is why the business plan rollout is designed to unlock more of that potential market.

Ultimately, 6Wunderkind’s strategy is to become just as essential and widespread a productivity tool as a Dropbox or an Evernote, Reber tells me. Those have validated their business model, he says, though they target a completely different market. The aim is to grow from a simple to-do list to more full-featured collaboration software, while retaining focus on both individuals and business customers, instead of just one or the other.

Reber wasn’t ready to share specifics about conversion rates on Wunderlist Pro just yet, but he says that 6Wunderkinder does plan to be much more transparent about that kind of data with future releases, since it believes there’s value in showing other startups how it’s doing building a business, so expect to see more granular detail about how Wunderlist’s monetization strategy is working out in the near future.

uber logo

On-demand car service Uber is looking to raise another big round of funding, this time led by private equity firm Texas Pacific Group we’re hearing. And so is Dan Primack. And Liz Gannes. The round is expected to be between $150 million and $200 million, at a valuation of about $3.5 billion. The round hasn’t closed yet, but it’s close to being completed, or so our sources say.

The funding comes as Uber is growing fast, expanding into new territories and adding lower cost services. AllThingsD reports that the company is expected to pull in $125 million in revenue this year, which is higher than had been expected.

Uber is now available in more than 35 cities around the world with its on-demand black car service. But it’s quickly adding lower-cost options in many of those markets. In several cities, that means lower-cost hybrid cars taking passengers, while in others, the company is partnering with local taxi companies to use its e-hail service. With the funding, it will likely expand even more quickly.

TPG isn’t your typical tech investor, although it has held stakes in companies like SurveyMonkey and Travelocity parent company Sabre Holdings. But it has done a fair amount of investing in travel and leisure companies, including a number of airlines and hospitality businesses.

On that front, Uber seems like a good fit, as it’s not your typical tech investment. The company is looking to disrupt the urban transportation industry, which has been stifled by decades of regulation. But it’s also built a logistical framework that could be used for any number of things: in the past it’s experimented with barbecue and ice cream delivery, and it’s even been used to order canal boats in Amsterdam and water taxis in Sydney.

Google Ventures is also expected to be an investor in the round, according to Gannes and Primack, though we hadn’t heard about that.

Uber has raised $57 million since being founded in 2009. Its most recent funding round was for $37 million in late 2011, and came from investors that included Menlo Ventures, Jeff Bezos, Goldman Sachs, Benchmark, CrunchFund*, and Troy Carter. Other investors include Benchmark Capital, First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital, Founder Collective, and a whole bunch of angels.

Uber, TPG, and Google Ventures all declined to comment for this story.

==
* DISCLOSURE: Some time ago, Michael Arrington founded TechCrunch. Later, he founded CrunchFund. And at some point after that, CrunchFund wrote a check to invest in Uber. But that all has nothing to do with why I’m writing this story about someone else possibly writing a check to invest in Uber.

Image (2) full-color-3d-printing.jpg for post 133037

Home 3D printers – particularly FDM, Makerbot-like devices – are still in their infancy and, as such, are untested when it comes to safety. That’s why some researchers at the Built Environment Research Group at the Illinois Institute of Technology decided to test a popular model for ultrafine particle emissions, a measure of how much junk these things emit while in use.

The result? PLA, a starch-based material, emitted 20 billion particles per minute while ABS, a plastic, emitted 200 billion. This is similar in scale to using a gas stove, lighting a cigarette, or burning a scented candle. In short, it’s a significant bit of potential pollution in an unfiltered environment but it’s nothing we don’t do to ourselves on a daily basis already.

The study didn’t take into account what materials were being expelled, which makes it a bit more troubling. For example, according to PhysOrg, ABS is known to be toxic in lab rats but PLA, oddly enough, is used in nanotechnology for the delivery of medicines.

What’s the takeaway? Ventilate your 3D printer.

Because most of these devices are currently sold as standalone devices without any exhaust ventilation or filtration accessories, results herein suggest caution should be used when operating in inadequately ventilated or unfiltered indoor environments. Additionally, these results suggest that more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate particle emissions from a wider arrange of desktop 3D printers.

Obviously these devices are designed for home and office use and probably will never end up under a lab-grade ventilation hood. However, given the various processes used to make 3D objects, it’s important that this research is done to reduce the effects of UFPs on children who may be using these in schools as well as the teachers, designers, and makers who use them on a daily basis.

You can read the entire paper here or just turn on a fan.
via Physorg

2014 World Cup

Millions of people across the United States will be glued to their televisions, laptops and mobile devices over the next month to keep up with the 2014 World Cup. But how social of an experience will it be?

Influenster, a community of social media tastemakers, polled over a thousand American men and women, 18-45 years old, to find out what else these f tbol fans would be doing while watching the games. One-third will download an app (the most popular are the FIFA official app, ESPN FC and Yahoo Sports) to follow along, while 86 percent of Twitter members will live-tweet while watching.

But who is everyone rooting for? 71 percent will cheer for Team USA, followed by Mexico, Brazil and Spain. But those Team USA fans are realistic – only one-third see the US taking home the trophy – and dedicated: 75 percent will continue to watch the games even if Team USA does not progress, and those fans favor Brazil for the win.

Click here to see Influenster’s infographics, and see all the poll results here.

World Cup Poll

2014 World Cup

Soccer fans around the world would rather be in Brazil right now than anywhere else. But most will stay home for the 2014 World Cup. If you’re not spending the next month in Brazil, you can still catch every game, no matter where you are. WatchESPN will live-stream all 64 games, available both online and on your mobile devices. Univision will also stream every match of the tournament’s first two rounds for free on Univision Deportes.

If you are going to Brazil – or you’re already there – here’s how to prepare your tech the trip, thanks to Verizon:

  • Make sure your phone will work. Check out Verizon’s Trip Planner to see whether your device will work abroad. Trip Planner provides information on the global services you’ll need, as well as pricing and coverage information.
  • Global Ready Check, now accessible through My Verizon Mobile, is an easy way to determine if your device is ready to make the trip with you. And you won’t need to call or visit a store!
  • Got an incompatible device? Don’t worry. Under the Global Travel Program, Verizon can ship you a device to use for the duration of the games. There are no daily rental fees or security deposits-just pay for the calls you make and receive-and you can keep your regular phone number and transfer contacts using Verizon Cloud or Backup Assistant Plus.
  • If your device is compatible, you’ll need a Global Services plan. Choose from a variety of plans for service in more than 220 countries.

And, until July 13, you can get the International Value Plan and/or World Messaging Unlimited free for 3 months.

WorldMap-War

While iOS games started out as either simple physics or casual simulation titles when the platform launched about five years ago, the bar has gotten steadily higher and more hard-core. Midcore studios like Kabam started to rise in prominence.

Now the iOS platform might be seeing is most hardcore title to date – a very, very massive multi-player title from YC- and Menlo Ventures-backed Machine Zone.

The company, which started out doing text-based RPGs a couple years ago like iMob, is launching Game of War: Fire Age. It’s a title where players build and grow empires, train massive armies, forge alliances with other players to win kingdoms.

The game can handle hundreds of thousands of players concurrently in the same universe, which is not an easy technical feat. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, in contrast, typically handles a few thousand players simultaneously in a single realm. All movement on the game’s map is visible to everyone else.

“We wanted to take the company to the next level and be really ambitious,” said Machine Zone CEO Gabriel Leydon. “We decided to build some things that had never been done before. We had the capital to do it and the willpower.”

Leydon didn’t hire just typical game designers to build the title. He also found people who had experience in scaling massive systems. The game’s user interface is in HTML5 and is rendered natively, allowing the company to handle different screen sizes.

The other really cool thing about the game’s social capabilities is that there is a mechanical turk-like translation system where the players themselves translate chat in exchange for virtual currency rewards. That helps Game of War have really interactive play with a proper critical mass of users who can talk to each other, even if they don’t speak the same language. The in-game chat system helps Game of War get manage slang and gamer speak, which a third-party translation system probably wouldn’t handle correctly. If say, 50 players translate the same words in the same way, then the game will start using that translation automatically.

“It’s like a highly structured Facebook,” Leydon said. “My goal as a game designer was to create a feeling of what it would be to be a king, where you’d have a lot of people under you. You’d have to subjects, wealth and land.”

Assuming say, the game grows to 1 million players, there might only be 20 kings in the game. To reach that level, players have to woo others to form alliances with them. Within those alliances, there are ranks for different officers.

“This is a very hardcore game. This is not Candy Crush,” he said. “This is a complex system with a lot of potential trees of outcomes. If you’re the type of person that’s fascinated by systems like this, then this is for you.”

Machine Zone used to be known as Addmired, and rebranded last year when it took $8 million in funding from Menlo Ventures. Leydon said this is what the company took the round for, even though its older titles like Original Gangstaz and iMob 2 were pretty lucrative early on.


wallet-gmail

In May, Google announced that its online and mobile payments solution Google Wallet would be integrated within Gmail in the coming months, but no exact time frame for the rollout was given. Now, it appears as if more users are gaining access to the Google Wallet in Gmail feature, as invitations are hitting Gmail inboxes.

These invites are arriving in Gmail’s new “Updates” tab. (Update: Originally, we were hearing they were arriving in the main inbox, but Google informs us this is not the case.)

Anyway, below is the example of what the invite looks like:

For those unfamiliar, Google Wallet is the company’s payments platform and answer to PayPal, which allows users to store their debit and credit cards in a secure service for easy access. Wallet can be used when shopping online, including on e-commerce websites, and within Android applications where virtual goods, in-app purchases, and even physical goods and services, are sold. On Android, an NFC-based Google Wallet mobile app allows for transactions at supported point-of-sale and other NFC-based terminals, but adoption there is limited due to mobile operators’ restrictions enacted because they invest in their own competitor called Isis. (Greed is why we can’t have nice things, folks).

With the announcement in May, Google informed us that it would soon offer another way for the payments service to be used – that is, within Gmail. A new dollar sign icon in Gmail will appear, allowing you to “attach money” to your message. The icon sits near the attachment paperclip icon and Google Drive icon for attaching files from the cloud in the new “Compose” experience in Gmail.

Since early beta testers could invite others to Google Wallet for Gmail by sending money, some came up with ingenious ways to invite others by sending small amounts – like a penny – to those who asked. But most of us simply waited for Google to send the invitation after registering our interest. These invites are arriving first to Google Wallet’s early adopters, before the feature is more broadly rolled out to all of Gmail’s user base.

After clicking on the “Get started” button in the invite, or heading directly to wallet.google.com/p2pAccess, you’ll have to confirm your identify in order to comply with U.S. financial regulations before being able to use Google Wallet in Gmail. This will involve providing your date of birth and last four of your Social Security Number, Google explains.

This verification process takes only a second or two, and then the new “attach money” icon will appear when you return to Gmail. (Note that users who have declined to upgrade to the new “Compose” interface in Gmail won’t have the option to send money until they make that switch.)

We reached out to Google to ask for more details as to the progress of the rollout itself, and the company explains that the invites arriving now are going to those who had previously signed up to receive the next version of Wallet at http://www.google.com/wallet.

It also appears that several users have been excited enough to post about their invitation’s arrival on Twitter. (I’m about to do the same.)


Google Wallet has hit some hurdles in recent months, following the departure of Google Wallet head Osama Bedier. Google also scrapped plans to launch its physical Google-branded payment card which had been tested as an alternative to NFC, but found to not be up to par by CEO Larry Page.

Wallet in Gmail gives the maligned service another way to grow – by tapping into a user base of some 425 million plus email users. However, Wallet for Gmail is only available to those over 18 and in the United States for now. Expansions to other parts of the world have yet to be announced.

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