Interactions Corp. collects $40 million in new funding to make customer service calls less frustrating
Interactions Corp. helps about 22 big customers, including Hyatt and Humana, handle incoming phone calls more efficiently, without requiring callers to press 2 for billing, 3 for sales, or * to go back to the previous menu. But it also doesn’t rely entirely on speech recognition, which can often run into trouble, especially when interpreting phrases or full sentences. Instead, Interactions layers human assistance on top of automated speech recognition when necessary. If there's a lot of background noise, or the caller has a thick accent, a human listens to that fragment of the conversation and routes the caller to the right place. The company calls its solution the "Virtual Assistant"; you can listen to some examples here.
Interactions has about 80 employees at its headquarters in Franklin, and it plans to open up a second local office on Lincoln Street in downtown Boston next month. “There’s a certain group of employees that we’ll have greater access to in that location,” says CEO Mike Iacobucci, right. With the new funding, Iacobucci says he’ll be hiring across pretty much every function, including engineering, sales, marketing, and client services. The company also has offices in Indianapolis and Austin.
Iacobucci says that Interactions has “done really well” penetrating the hospitality market, where clients include Hyatt and Best Western, and that other customers come from industries like telecom, retail, and healthcare. As for this new round of funding, he says, the investors "felt we had sufficient traction," and Iacobucci felt "it was time to expand the businesses." The other VC firms participating in this round are Sigma Partners and Sigma Prime Ventures of Boston; Updata Partners; North Hill Venture Partners of Boston; Cross Atlantic Capital Partners; and RED LLC.
A new startup out of the TechStars Boston accelerator, CoUrbanize, is trying to tackle that problem, and this week the company is announcing its first partnership, with the bike rental network Hubway. Co-founder Karin Brandt, right, an MIT-educated city planner, says that other partnerships with commercial real estate developers could be announced as soon as next week, when this latest crop of TechStars Boston startups present to investors.
CoUrbanize's web-based software allows developers to "explain their projects, and the impacts they can have on the surrounding areas, like shadows and traffic and parking," Brandt says. "They can also get feedback from passive proponents" — who may not have the same opinions as people attending hearings and community meetings. "We're trying to reduce the barriers to involvement for people." The software allows developers to publish a timeline of meetings; detail a project's upside, like job creation, new retail stores, or tax revenue; and invite comments in an online forum, with posters using their real names rather than pseudonyms. The interesting balancing act here, of course, will be ensuring that CoUrbanize's sites feel like a neutral forum, rather than anything controlled by developers, cities, or residents.
But Brandt says that the company sees its "sweet spot" as helping developers and governments communicate issues that are hard to understand and visualize, and notifying people about what's happening in a way that's more sophisticated than going door-to-door with printed flyers." CoUrbanize aspires to help residents voice their opinions, but also to help developers stop misinformation from being circulated — which can often happen in anonymous forums.
With Hubway, Brandt says CoUrbanize will help the bike-sharing network "get feedback about future stations, and where they should be located" as it expands in neighborhoods like Charlestown, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and the Innovation District in South Boston. Her co-founders are Daniel Weismann and David Quinn.
– It has been around since 2004, and is run by one of the early employees of Akamai.
– With 250 employees, it is one of VMware's largest R&D offices outside the Palo Alto headquarters.
– The last VMware founder who remains with the company, Scott Devine, works out of the Kendall Square office.
– The office oversees an internal VMware venture capital program to foster new ideas that may not neatly fit into an existing product line.
Vice president of innovation Julia Austin told me a bit about how that program works. Her job at the cloud and virtualization giant is to "incubate, fund, and occasionally kill new ideas" at VMware, as she puts it. She also oversees collaborations with East Coast academic institutions like MIT. (Earlier in her career, Austin was VP of engineering at Akamai.)
"We have a VC-like board of eight people, a mix of technical and business people," she says. "Anyone can pitch an idea, whether it's in an adjacent area to our products or not. These are things that shouldn't be in a business unit while they are being developed," because they might not be seen as ready for the market yet, or they might not appear to have high enough revenue potential. "We fund the best ones, and the people stay VMware employees. We give them a stake. The goal is to sell it back to the company. With their funding, we may give them hardware, a number of people, space, and support services. But it's not an endless bank."
A handful of ideas have gotten initial funding, Austin says, and "one project just got its B round funding. We expect them to have a business plan, and some idea of how to make money." She says that it's possible that VMware could spin some of the ideas out as independent companies, though that hasn't happened yet.
Austin says that the company has committed to invest "millions" in these internal startups, and if successful, there is significant upside to the entrepreneurs running them. But there's also risk: if an internal startup doesn't click, she says, "the risk to the individual is, you need to find a new role at the company, within a certain window of time."
Austin says that more than 60 ideas have been presented over the last year-and-a-half, in areas like R&D, customer service, and field sales. But she won't be specific about what any of the projects are focused on, aside from saying that one is getting close to public release.
"It's too early to tell you it's a resounding success," she says. But it is a very interesting way for a large tech company to foster innovation...
Reben was in town for the Tribeca Film Festival; he had deployed 20 BlabDroids there as robotic documentarians, asking questions of random people and recording their answers. (BlabDroid also won the Creative Sparks competition at DIY Days, earning Reben some free office space in New York and a "micro-grant" of $500. I served as a judge.)
The 'bot is designed to look cute and homemade, and it speaks in the voice of a 7-year old boy — all strategies to induce interviewees to let down their guard and start talking freely. Among the questions BlabDroid is prone to ask is, "What's the worst thing you've ever done to someone?"
BlabDroid garned quite a lot of publicity while in New York for Tribeca (here's the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and Gizmag). But Reben's Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 in order to put the 'bot into production hasn't yet caught fire. For $299, you get a fully-assembled BlabDroid that can move around under its own steam, and connect via Bluetooth with a smartphone; a less-expensive "Starter BlabDroid" is also available. With about a month left, Reben is still $70,000 short of his target.
Reben heads to the UK later this month to speak at the Thinking Digital conference. BlabDroid's predecessor was a Media Lab project called Boxie, The Story Gathering Robot. Below is a video that BlabDroid shot at a film festival in Amsterdam back in March, and a photo of BlabDroid's Arduino-based innards.FULL ENTRY
In Google's Ingress augmented reality game, a ceasefire at MIT and a memorial to slain officer Sean Collier
Not surprisingly, a lot of squabbling over portals happens around Cambridge, and on the MIT campus.
Over the past few days, in the wake of Friday's shooting of MIT campus police officer Sean Collier, Ingress players made two decisions. They called a temporary ceasefire on the MIT campus, turning it into a neutral zone. And they created a memorial to Collier near where he was killed at the Stata Center.
Last Saturday, Christopher Davis, an Ingress player and Google employee, posted a message suggesting that two portals be placed side by side, one from each faction, near the Stata Center on Vassar Street, and also at Copley Square. "Nothing could be a stronger statement that 'We are Boston. We are united,'" Davis wrote in a posting to the local Ingress forum. The two teams worked in partnership to set up the memorial; it was completed around midnight last night.
The Copley Square memorial hasn't yet appeared. "There hasn't explicitly been anything set up in the game around Copley or Boylston Street," explains Ingress player Stephen Lewin-Berlin, a managing director at Quanta Research in Cambridge. "You have to be within 40 meters of a location to do anything, and all that area has been a crime scene." Until the past day or two, at least...
Lewin-Berlin tells me that the idea of making the MIT campus a neutral zone, and setting up the memorials, wasn't exactly uncontroversial within the Ingress community. "For some people, this is an important symbol," he says. "But for others, Ingress is a way to play and get away from real life. There were some interesting dynamics in the discussion group and the in-game chats." Lewis-Berlin says he hopes the ceasefire and memorial will endure for a week.
The screen-capture above is from the Ingress Boston community on Google+, which has 196 members. A memorial service for Collier is scheduled to take place today at noon on the MIT campus; Vice President Joe Biden will be among the speakers.
Bisceglia is co-founder of The Tap Lab, a Cambridge startup that last month released Tiny Tycoons, its second location-based game. While we haven't yet seen a breakout hit in the realm of games that depend on your standing in a particular spot to play or take some action (and Tiny Tycoons moves away from that idea), this is a pretty cool visual history of the attempts we've seen thus far. It mentions Boston-based SCVNGR, and also some of the enabling technologies that have made location-based games possible, like wifi positioning data from Skyhook, also in Boston.
Click the image to enlarge it.
Israel's Gizmox picks up $7.5 million to help companies convert existing apps to HTML5; will set up U.S. office in Cambridge
Gizmox makes it easier for big companies to get their existing software applications running on the web and mobile devices, using the HTML5 standard, without having to rewrite them from scratch. Gizmox customers can either then run the applications from their own data centers, or in the cloud using Gizmox’s servers.
"Enterprises are far behind where the consumer web is at, with respect to HTML5," Kuznetsov says. "But their employees want to use the same applications they use on their desktops on their mobile devices."
Atlas Venture partner Jeff Fagnan adds, "There are billions of dollars that big enterprises have invested in ERP, CRM, .NET, and Java applications, and it's hard to mobilize those and extend them out into the cloud." Kuznetsov says that Gizmox has developed "transposition" technology that can take those existing enterprise apps and deliver them in HTML5, without rewriting them by hand. "You can adjust and modify the output if you want," he says. About 40,000 applications have already been converted using the platform, according to Kuznetsov.
The company has about 40 employees in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Kuznetsov says it is now starting to hire locally. “We’ll be at least 15 people in the short-term, and more from there,” he says, adding that the focus is on sales and marketing employees, along with a few "technical folks and engineers." The company doesn't yet have office space — it's still working out of Atlas' office across from the CambridgeSide Galleria — but Kuznetsov says he's looking only in Cambridge. Fagnan and Chris Lynch of Atlas are joining Gizmox's board.
Moo is probably best-known for its full-color business cards that can sport a different picture on the back of each one, and it already operates a U.S. printing facility in Providence, Rhode Island. CEO Richard Moross describes Moo as "a design and technology business currently focused on printed stationery, but ultimately we deal in professional identity products for small businesses." Last week, Moo, which was born in 2004, sold to its one millionth customer.
"We have roughly 50 people in Providence, over 100 people in London, and we foresee at least ten people in Boston focused on marketing initiatives," he says. "Today, 75 to 80 percent of our revenue is outside the U.K., and about 60 percent of that is in North America. So the gravitational pull is toward the U.S." Over time, he says, "it may make sense to locate other roles here, or increase certain functions in the U.S."
Moross, who was in town last week, says that Moo had been looking at various cities on the Eastern Seaboard for its U.S. office, "but we picked Boston as a by-product of the person we hired." Shore, right, spent a little over five years at Zipcar, eventually becoming vice president of global brand; before that, she'd worked in the marketing departments of Boston.com and Lawyers Weekly.
Moross says that Moo hasn't yet found office space in Boston, but that it has been focused on the Innovation District and the Leather District, near South Station. With both VistaPrint and Staples based in Massachusetts, Moross observes, "There's a fantastic group of companies in the neighborhood catering to small businesses. We're all in the same kind of industry."
His Boston startup, which helps consumers resell their old electronic gadgets after they've upgraded, had grown to about $35 million in sales for 2011. But it was accepting 22 different categories of products for resale, including videogames, GPS devices, and even computer monitors. And it was spending a huge amount of energy working with retail partners like Wal-Mart and Staples to try to persuade consumers to part with their old devices at the moment they bought a new one.
Those partnerships, Ganot now says, "weren't working out the way we envisioned. They required a lot of resources from our side, but where it really failed was their ability to embrace and market the program. It became sort of a 'check the box' sustainability initiative for them."
Last February, Ganot told his staff that Gazelle would no longer market its "re-commerce" service through those retail partners, and that it would radically reduce the range of products it accepted. The company would focus on Apple products, and higher-end mobile phones from brands like Samsung, HTC, and Blackberry. "We went from working with hundreds of thousands of SKUs," Ganot says, referring to individual product models, "to about 1000 SKUs." Roughly $9 million of Gazelle's $35 million in 2011 revenue, he says, came from its retail partnerships and all those products it was no longer accepting.
But the streamlining didn't set Gazelle back. Revenues for 2012 were $58 million, Ganot says, and "we should do over $100 million this year. Our growth isn't slowing." (One thing that will likely help Gazelle in 2013: last month, eBay shut down its own competing service, Instant Sale.) Ganot says that 30 percent of Gazelle's customers have used the service more than once.
Ganot estimates that the re-commerce business will generate $5 billion annually by 2015. "The number one challenge for us is still building awareness for the concept of re-commerce, as opposed to just putting an old phone into a desk drawer and forgetting about it," he says. Another customer concern, he says, is getting rid of the data on the device; Gazelle performs a complete data wipe before re-selling it. About 80 percent of the products it receives are sold to wholesalers, who frequently ship them to foreign countries where they will command higher prices. The rest are resold through eBay and Amazon.com.FULL ENTRY
WaySavvy, founded in 2010 by Brandeis alum Michael Raybman, didn't take flight. The new startup, TripReactor, wants to serve up a blend of editorial and advertising content: pop-out guides that offer information about things to do, places to eat, and hotels you might book in a given destination. (A sample is below.) "The goal," explains Raybman, "is to seamlessly blend editorial and commercial lifestyle content in a way valuable to the user. As a crude analogy, we're making every travel publisher into a TripAdvisor." If TripReactor's guide persuades you to book one of those hotels, that would increase the commission revenue generated, both for TripReactor and the travel site where the ads appear. (In the old world of publishing, this line-blurring approach would've been called an advertorial. The updated term is "native advertising".)
Among TripReactor's early publishing partners is Boston.com, where TripReactor-powered ads started appearing last week. Raybman says he'll be working with the travel blog Vagabondish and several other sites starting later this month.
Raybman participated in the MassChallenge competition last year. Angel investors David Chang of PayPal, Scott Heller, Mario Ricciardelli, and former Harmonix exec Mike Dornbrook put money into TripReactor last September; Raybman didn't want to be specific about the amount, but said it was sub-$100,000. "Eventually," Raybman says, "we'll extend this native advertising approach beyond travel."FULL ENTRY
I dedicated a recent Boston Globe column to covering this new wave of experimentation, and the impact that it could have on retailers.
And if you are old enough, you may remember Kozmo.com, which promised not just same-day delivery of ice cream, razors, and DVDs — they promised delivery within an hour. (Delivery was free for most of Kozmo's existence.) I happened to visit Kozmo's Allston warehouse on the day in 2000 that the company filed to go public.
Here's the piece I wrote for the Globe.
Return to Sender
— May 1, 2000
Note the time and put the body on ice. The “Sell-a-Dollar’s-Worth-of-Merchandise-for-Fifty-Cents-and-Make-It-Up-On-Volume.com” business model is dead.
Which makes this a pretty unfortunate time for Kozmo.com, the New York-based urban delivery service, to be going public.
You’ve probably heard the raves about Kozmo, which operates in six cities, including Boston. Place your order for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, a copy of People magazine, or a home pregnancy test on their Web site, and a Kozmo courier will bring it to your door within an hour – no delivery charge. It’s truly wonderful – a Kozmo cyclist brought me two DVDs (no rental charge, thanks to a Kozmo marketing postcard I was handed on a street corner) just an hour before I had to head to Logan so that I could keep myself entertained on a long flight.
Trouble is, Kozmo loses money on just about every delivery run they make, even when they’re not acquiring new customers like me with postcards. And the plan is to increase delivery hours (they’re currently 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.) and expand to ten more cities by the end of the year, so that they can lose money even faster.
Guys: Nasdaq don’t play that no more.
I happened to visit Kozmo’s Boston operation on the day in March that they filed to raise $150 million in an initial offering. Inside the 10,000 square foot warehouse, a handful of couriers are lounging around on couches, watching TV and waiting to be dispatched. It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and Kozmo is busiest on weekends, when demand spikes for Cheetos and Cameron Diaz movies. In one corner, employees are unpacking new videos from cardboard boxes. In another, printers are spitting out order sheets, which are then filled from rows of tall metal shelves packed with books, video games, deodorant, and Nutter Butter Bites.
Startup Institute, the Cambridge-based organization that up until now has trained recent college grads to fill jobs at startups, will offer its first educational program for high schoolers later this month. The free High School RampUp series will run two Saturdays, April 27 and May 4th. But there's only space for 30 students.
Startup Institute CEO Aaron O'Hearn cites estimates that by 2020, the U.S. will have about one million more programming jobs than it has computer science students. High School RampUp targets "folks who have had zero exposure to coding — let's call them the non-nerdy students," he says. They'll spend two Saturdays getting comfortable with the Python programming language, and building simple web applications that pull in and manipulate data from social networks like Twitter and Facebook. (For instance, how many times do their friends talk about various bands or baseball teams?)
O'Hearn says there isn't a near-term goal for the initiative, like funneling the program's graduates into summer internships at startup companies: "We want these people to learn for the pure sake of learning, and expose them to coding early on." He cites the non-profit Code.org as the inspiration for High School RampUp; it promotes the teaching of programming in schools.
Olin College student Juliana Nazaré has been working with Startup Institute to develop the curriculum for the new course, which will be held in Kendall Square. Expect it to fill up fast...
I wrote last December about Belmont Technology, which reunites a team of veterans from SolidWorks, a successful 1990s-era developer of computer-aided design (CAD) software that is now part of Dassault Systèmes; at that point, Belmont had backing from two local VC firms, North Bridge Venture Partners and Commonwealth Capital.
The new funding infusion was a "pre-emptive offer," according to Belmont CEO John McEleney, who says he wasn't planning to raise more money in 2013. "We'll use the money to ramp the hiring and continue the development process," he says. The company has just 13 employees near the Red Line's Alewife stop. (McEleney is in the center of the photo, wearing the vest and pink shirt.)
"We're building product design software," McEleney says. "The process of how people design products has changed." He notes that most of the major players in CAD software still sell products that run on Windows-based machines, even as engineers and designers regularly use tablets, mobile phones, and the web to modify and access content. "This new generation of engineers expect data to be more shareable, not locked down and 'in the vault.'" And the way products are actually designed, manufactured, and assembled is much more distributed, he adds: "It used to happen under one roof, or on a corporate campus, and now it is spread across facilities around the globe." (It's clear that the cloud will play a major part in Belmont's product strategy, and McEleney's last startup, acquired by Verizon, was called CloudSwitch.)
McEleney says that Belmont has started conducting some early usability tests of its product, and will be doing more private betas later this year. The company's website is still pretty sparse, aside from listing a few skills the company is hunting for in new hires, like experience with "distributed cloud based architecture" and "rich web application development."
This second funding round was led by NEA, a Maryland-based VC firm. McEleney says that Belmont is probably just a place-holder name, but the company hasn't yet settled on a new one.
Clypd's founding team includes CEO Joshua Summers, bizdev chief Doug Hurd, and director of technology Victor Mendoza, all of whom previously worked at PayPal's Boston office. PayPal Boston exec David Chang is also one of the company's angel investors.
The founders aren't talking yet about details of the idea, but according to people with whom I've spoken, it seems to center on buying readily-available data about households — like demographics or recent big purchases — and using that to understand who is watching time-delayed TV programming like on-demand shows or material being played from a DVR. Clypd will operate a marketplace that will let advertisers bid in an instantaneous auction to have their ads shown as you watch, similar to the way advertisers currently bid to have their ads show up when you surf around the web. I don't have the specifics on how much Clypd has raised, but they were making the rounds in recent months hunting for $5 million.
Update: Clypd later put out a press release announcing that it had raised $3.2 million, and naming a few additional investors.
Back in October, I wrote about another startup that had splintered off from PayPal Boston, Happier.
It's a great idea: save money, and help curb pollution by making more efficient use of a city's taxi fleet. But obviously, SplitMyTaxi will need a critical mass of users to make the system work. So they're initially promoting the app just to Boston University students. Split went live on the campus earlier this month. Posters have been showing up around the campus, and fraternity pledges have been wearing t-shirts promoting the new service.
You'll need a .edu e-mail address to sign up at this point. But when you input your point of departure and your destination, along with the time you plan to travel, Split tries to match you with others going that way. Right now, the app doesn't get involved in hailing a cab or handling payment, but Eagle says that eventually, once you are matched with a fellow rider, Split may take a referral fee for passing your ride request along to a taxi company. The app is available for iOS and Android.
A Harvard Business School student tried to launch a similar app in 2010, GobiCab, and while the website and app are still available, it didn't seem to take off. Founder Aleem Mawani is now onto other projects.
"Gobicab didn't have any traction because it didn't market to a group like college students or club-goers," Eagle says. "We created [our] app with college students in mind, but we are planning to expand outward after we get their support."
I imagine this could get some nice critical mass when spring break begins this Friday, and the entire BU student body heads for South Station or Logan. Let me know if you give it a try...
Mosaic Storage Systems, a two-year-old New Hampshire startup that helps photographers back up their work to the cloud, and access it from any device, has just raised $875,000 in funding. The money comes from Borealis Ventures, Wasabi Ventures, eCoast Angel Network and 10x Venture Partners.
The company offers web-based services for professional and "prosumer" photographers who use Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom software to manage their images. Mosaic's MosaicView product makes a photographer's Lightroom catalog accessible on the web, or on iOS or Android tablets and smartphones. (It's available in a free version that offers access to the most recent 2,000 pictures, or a $7 per month version that serves up everything.) MosaicArchive is an online backup service geared to photographers, who store lots of large RAW image files and don't want to wait an eternity for them to get uploaded to Mosaic's servers. (The company also allows customers to mail in hard drives full of photos, or to have the company ship out hard drives in the event of data loss.) That service starts at $12 per month.
"One thing that is generally understood in the photography space," Mosaic co-founder Gerard Murphy explains, "is that companies like Carbonite throttle your bandwidth after a certain amount of uploading. Carbonite starts dramatically reducing how quickly you can upload files once you get to 200 gigabytes of space. Our market picks up where these 'unlimited plans leave off." Murphy, above, says that the company consists of 2.5 people so far: himself, co-founder Andy Young, and a part-time support staffer.
Mosaic was the winner of a recent competition that offered as first prize a trip to next week's Launch Festival in San Francisco. Mosaic operates out of the ABI Innovation Hub, a shared startup space in Manchester.
Mosaic is the second investment out of the $30 million Borealis Granite Fund, which is managed by Borealis Ventures and includes $4.5 million from the State of New Hampshire.
A screenshot of Mosaic's app on an iPad and iPhone is below:FULL ENTRY
Speech recognition giant Nuance planning new office in Central Square, focused on engineering and R&D
Update: On March 14, Nuance announced that it had leased two full floors at 675 Massachusetts Avenue, a building that also houses Harmonix Music Systems and the new Cambridge location of Workbar. Occupancy is scheduled for the fall.You might think that a software company based on Route 128 in Burlington would feel it could tap into the Massachusetts talent pool well enough.
But not so for Nuance, the speech recognition giant that enables laptops, cars, and Apple's Siri personal assistant to listen attentively and understand what you want to do. The company has just leased 28,000 square feet of space in Cambridge's Central Square for a new engineering office that will house about 175 people. It should be open by the fall.
"There's a great population of candidates that just want to be in Cambridge," says Nuance chief marketing officer Peter Mahoney. "It just opens up more opportunities for us — people who are city-dwellers, many of whom don't own cars."
Nuance acquired Vlingo, a startup based in Harvard Square, in late 2011. Vlingo had about 100 employees at the time, and those who have remained at Nuance will eventually move to the new Central Square space. (Former Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan and CTO Mike Phillips have left.) "The goal was to get much nicer space than Vlingo had in Harvard Square," Mahoney said.
"The biggest area for the new office is going to be in our mobile business, but we'll also have people focusing on research into natural language understanding and artificial intelligence," Mahoney says.
There seems to be quite a surge of speech-related activity in Cambridge these days. I wrote last month about Amazon's Kendall Square offices, where executive Bill Barton is "leading development of speech and language solutions which will enhance user interactions with Amazon products and services.” And in January, Microsoft hired TJ Hazen to build a speech team at its Kendall Square outpost.
Co-founder Dan Belcher filled me on what Stackdriver has been up to, aside from launching a new web site earlier today. "There are hundreds of thousands of businesses now who are running their applications exclusively on the public cloud infrastructure, instead of within traditional IT environments," he says. Co-founder Izzy Azeri adds, "Our core value proposition is about providing a very high degree of visibility into performance and availability." So if a customer in the media industry is using cloud computing services from Amazon to convert video footage from one format to another, for example, Stackdriver gives them a view into how well things are working, and enables them to move the work to other cloud providers if there are hiccups or surges in demand. "We're monitoring the entire stack, from the cloud to the application, and the plan is to add more intelligence and automation over time," Belcher says.
Azeri, who was an executive-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures before launching Stackdriver, says that there are now 25 customers participating in Stackdriver's private beta test (none are yet paying for the product.) He wasn't ready yet to name names.
The company found office space in Downtown Crossing last fall, across the street from Macy's. "We knew we wanted to be on the Red Line," Belcher says. "We looked at Kendall Square and the Innovation District, but we found space here for under $30 a square foot, including the build-out." Belcher says they smashed the two corner offices (see photo above) to create an entirely open plan.
Belcher says the company is hiring back-end engineers as well as sales and marketing staffers. Pic below of the current Stackdriver team:FULL ENTRY
Hopper is a five-year-old startup that has become a topic of conversation in Boston startup circles precisely because of all that. Like Charlie, the unlucky commuter who got stuck on the T, Hopper seems to be mired in an endless loop of data collection, design, and software development. The travel search site's ambitions are lofty: to help consumers plan trips better than any tool that has come before. But by comparison, even Google took just two years from its days as an academic project to public unveiling, and just $100,000 in funding. Hipmunk was founded and launched in 2010 with about $15,000 in funding from Y Combinator. Less than a year passed between Kayak.com's incorporation and the debut of its website, though that company raised $8.5 million from investors in the pre-launch phase.
Hopper's goal is to let you search based on what you actually want to do on your trip, as opposed to cobbling together an airline ticket, hotel room and rental car. Punch in "surfing lessons in Mexico in May," and Hopper will return ratings of various surf schools; prices for hotels, B&Bs, and vacation home rentals; and real-time airfares. The site will also allow you to think about where you might want to travel by browsing a map, says founder and CEO Frederic Lalonde, above. "You can click on Tuscany, and see that the focus there is wine and culture, while Sicily says 'beaches.' Every place you click, you get flight and hotel pricing. It's like a guidebook brought online." And the site will display scads of photos, mainly user-generated, with links to the blogs and Flickr sets from which they came.
But what exactly is going on? In 2011, Lalonde told me he expected the site to go live that year, and one of Hopper's investors told me the wraps would come off in 2012. When I talked to Lalonde on February 7th, he said that the website would be updated the following week, with some "partial screenshots" of the search tool released. That didn't happen, either.
"It has been a long time since someone has made a meaningful difference in the travel space," says Lalonde, who sold a startup to Expedia in 2002, and then served as an executive there for four years. "The easy problems have all been solved."FULL ENTRY
Oblong Industries, MIT spin-out focused on new input devices and collaboration tools, opens office in Boston
Almost the entire Oblong team hails from MIT, and the company has raised about $9 million from a group of investors that includes Brad Feld, another MIT alum and a managing director at Foundry Group in Colorado.
And now the six-year old company has a local presence, in Boston's Fort Point Channel neighborhood. It'll be a hybrid of demo center and small engineering outpost. Oblong CEO Kwin Kramer tells me via e-mail that "we had a senior engineer commuting from Boston to California for a couple of years. Now he has a home closer to home. We hired a second engineer and a sales guy last fall. Finally got the office open just this month. We're excited." Kramer says that Oblong has similar sales facilities in Washington, New York, and Silicon Valley, but that Boston is the only location whose staff includes engineers. The company plans to hire more engineers here "over time," he says.
The office-warming party happens early next month.
Can Cambridge-based Ditto Labs, focused on analyzing pics and creating links, help social networks boost revenues?
Ditto Labs founder David Rose, right, and chief technology officer Neil Mayle worked together on Opholio, one of the first services to make it easy for people to upload photos and create their own albums; the Boston company held several key patents around digital postcards and online photo-sharing, and was sold to a California acquirer in 2000. Now, Rose and Mayle are focused on photos as the main attraction of many social networking sites.
"On Facebook, everyone looks at each other's photos first," says Rose. "Far less frequently, they read the text. And even less frequently do they look at the ads in the sidebar. So what we're doing is taking the stream of photos, which represent people's passions and interests, and trying to make those photos actionable. Photos are basically implicit recommendations to your friends."
When you install theDitto Labs app on Facebook, you're giving it permission to examine the photos you post on Facebook. Right now, the app tries to identify logos and emblems in the photos, which might be a Nike swoosh on your sweatshirt, a Mickey Mouse face, or a Bruins hat. (Ditto hired a pair of machine vision experts with experience at Natick-based Cognex.) When a photo also includes information about a location, because you chose to let Facebook know you were at the Marriott in Maui, for instance, Ditto takes that into account, too. The Ditto app adds a comment below the photo with a link to a separate, annotated version of the pic. ("There may be a recommendation behind this photo," it reads.) That version might contain a link to buy related products on Amazon, to a Wikipedia article, to a ticket-selling site, or to Yelp reviews. Any of your friends can click to see that second version of the photo — even if they haven't installed the Ditto app yet.
The company just began an open beta test this week.
"This is a way of rethinking advertising," says Rose. "Instead of text ads in the sidebar, it's a way of getting peer-to-peer recommendations. In a utopian world, we think you'd get advice from your friends related to the things that they love, instead of ads you aren't interested in." And Ditto's president, Joshua Wachman, points out that the links that Ditto adds to photos aren't always trying to sell you something; often, they're just presenting extra information about what's in the picture.
Ditto can also show you information about which places and brands your friends most often post pictures of. And that data, Wachman observes, could be useful to companies interested in finding out what people are sharing on social networks — even if they're posting pictures that aren't accompanied by captions or text. (Most current social media analysis tools simply read the text, and so you'd need to write the word Starbucks for them to know you're talking about Starbucks. Ditto can tell just by looking for the Starbucks logo in a picture.)
Rose and Wachman are in New York this week meeting with several big consumer products companies. Both acknowledge that getting widespread adoption for Ditto as a tiny startup would be a Herculean task; more realistic, Wachman says, would be a partnership or acquisition by one of the social networks to help boost revenues by selling sponsored links within photos, or generating referral fees whenever an airline ticket is sold or a restaurant reservation made.
When last I wrote about Rose and Wachman, in February 2011, their startup Vitality had been acquired by Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in Los Angeles and a minority owner of the LA Lakers. Vitality had designed an intelligent pill bottle that could remind people when it was time to take their medication, and track missed doses.
Below is a photo Rose posted from Zen Japanese Grill in Boston, annotated with links to Yelp reviews, directions, and the restaurant's phone number. Below that is a photo one of my Facebook friends posted of a cupcake. Ditto's image-recognition software spotted the Patriots logo on the icing, and created links to the Pats' Facebook page, recent YouTube videos, and merchandise on Amazon.FULL ENTRY
Cloze launching mobile apps this week, offering a very different view of correspondence that blends e-mail and social
A Cambridge startup called Cloze, which launched its website last year, is rolling out apps this week for iPhone and iPad, with the goal of bringing most of those inboxes together in one place. (Text messages, which I often miss, remain their own problem.) The company has so far raised $1.2 million from investors including Kepha Partners of Waltham, Boston's NextView Ventures, and Greylock Partners.
"Most users are set in their ways with how they deal with e-mail on their desktops," says Cloze CEO Dan Foody. (He's on the right in the photo, with co-founder Alex Coté.) "But that's less true on mobile devices, where it is much harder to be productive. And there's a whole class of people who are on the road a lot, like people in sales or business development, who are much more detached from their desktops than the average person." And even for those of us who spend much of the day in front of a desktop, Foody observes, "the phone or the iPad is the thing next to your bed that you check before you go to sleep, or as soon as you wake up."
Cloze's new apps ask for access to your e-mail accounts, as well as for access to your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles. All that data helps the company understand who are your "key people" — the people whose messages, whether public tweets or private e-mails — probably matter most to you. Another interesting categorization in the Cloze apps for iPhone and iPad is "Losing Touch." That is filled with people you haven't been corresponding with as much recently, which can perhaps be important for salespeople trying to stay in touch with prospects, or just for altering you that they've been remiss with certain friends or family members.
Essentially, Cloze creates an inbox that brings together e-mail and social messages, and organizes it based on the strength of your relationships, rather than just when the messages happened to arrive. Cloze gives every person in your life a relationship score, from 0 to 100 — and you may be surprised that your co-workers get higher scores than your spouse or partner. If you're trying to improve your relationship with someone, and you are motivated by numerical objectives, you can even set a "score goal" in the app.
The apps are elegantly designed, and even just seeing little thumbnail photos of your contacts can help you prioritize which messages you want to look at first. But I wasn't crazy about having lower-priority Facebook status updates and LinkedIn's "Anna is now connected to Jeff" messages included along with more important e-mails.
And it'll remain to be seen if Cloze can be a success if perusing the app is simply an ancillary way to view your correspondence, or if it truly needs to supplant e-mail — a very tall order.
Foody says that Cloze will likely try to raise additional funding this year. A premium version of the service might involve a subscription fee, but he wasn't ready to share details of that yet.
A screenshot from Cloze's iPad app is below. You can see each individual's relationship score in the lower right corner of their headshot.FULL ENTRY
So Rosen has been trying to get closer to the cash register, making it possible to purchase favorite bottles of wine without leaving the app. The latest version of Drync, called Drync Direct, launches this week in conjunction with the Boston Wine Expo.
"I can never find the wine I enjoyed at a restaurant when I'm at the store later on, or I can't remember it," says Rosen. "One issue is that retailers stock less than two percent of the overall number of wines available. So we wanted to help consumers who create an emotional connection with a wine — yes, maybe they're intoxicated — and help them buy it right then and there. The idea is to buy a wine you love, in the moment."
At a restaurant, or at the Expo, you can use Drync to photograph the label of a bottle of wine. The, the app either automatically recognizes it and shows you the price and a rating (on a scale of 1-5 stars), or the image is sent to a Drync employee who tries to identify it, and the results come back in a few minutes. Once the wine has been ID'ed, you can add your own tasting notes, and "tag it" with the location where you tried it. It's stored in a list of "My Wines" in the app, and you can opt to purchase it now, or perhaps weeks or months later. If you purchase more than six bottles, shipping is free. (And Drync is offering free shipping for all purchases at the Boston Wine Expo, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday.)
Orders are fulfilled by existing retailers and distributors, Rosen says: "We can recognize 700,000 bottles of wine, and our launch partner in Massachusetts stocks 15,000 bottles or more. But our model is to have multiple fulfillment partners." Drync takes a "marketing fee" from each order as it passes it along to retailers and distributors. Right now, Drync can only ship to 22 states, because of regulatory restrictions.
Oddly, at the Boston Wine Expo and many other expos, "you can't buy the wines you taste, and it can be hard to find them afterward," says Rosen, left. Drync will change that, with pre-populated lists of wines being showcased at the expo's various tasting events, like the "Affordable Bourdeaux Seminar."
When I tried the app on 15 random bottles I had at home, it did pretty well: Drync recognized ten of the labels automatically (and the company's human helpers punched in the other five within about an hour.) The app wasn't very good at getting the correct year (see the screenshot above), but you have the ability to adjust that. Five of the fifteen bottles I photographed were available for purchase through the app. Drync worked well when there was ample or even moderate light to take the photo, but as you might expect, low light tripped it up.
Drync's three founders treated the app as a side project until last February, when Rosen decided to focus on it full-time. The company won $50,000 in the 2011 MassChallenge competition; at that point, it was focused on becoming sort of like Groupon for wine, offering discounts on bottles that had been selected by Drync employees. Drync raised a small seed round of funding last year. Rosen says Drync has four employees, and is based in Boston's Financial District.FULL ENTRY
What if there was something similar for getting a plow to come clear your driveway, or someone to blow the snow off your sidewalk?
Weymouth entrepreneur Yeh Diab has been working on PlowMe.com since last January. But you may recall that 2011-2012 was not exactly the whitest of winters around these parts. Still, Diab built a site, and recruited about 60 drivers around Boston, southern New Hampshire, Denver, and Chicago. PlowMe lets you request one-time snow removal, or set up automatic service anytime it snows.
He's hoping that the coming blizzard, dubbed Nemo, could be a massive rainmaker (snowmaker?) for his startup.
Diab says that many snow-removal companies "don't want to touch residential work, because it's a pain, and it's not profitable. But that's because it hasn't been optimized yet." By that, he means that it can be hard for plow drivers to assemble a route of houses that are close to one another, or to pick up on-demand work in East Arlington when they happen to be finishing a few jobs in East Arlington, for instance.
"They want the driveways as close together as possible," says Diab, a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Suffolk Law School. "And these guys sit around at Dunkin' Donuts when they're done with a route, waiting for their phone to ring with another job. They're criss-crossing each other, wasting time and fuel. And that makes their costs higher than they need to be." Diab hopes that PlowMe will be able to combat price-gouging on the day of a big storm, by giving consumers access to a larger population of plow drivers, and letting consumers specify the price they're willing to pay for a job. A driver can call or text with questions. (Diab acknowledges that streamlining the site's pricing process has been a challenge.) PlowMe takes 20 percent off the top of the one-time work it generates for drivers, and with recurring service, it takes 50 percent off the first storm, and 10 percent off subsequent storms.
Diab tells me that his startup has recruited almost 100 drivers in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire who are using the PlowMe app on their smartphones. (Unlike Uber, consumers use the PlowMe website, not a mobile app, to request service.) "The supply side hasn't been hard to get," he says. "It's consumers — the demand side. People don't care about snow removal until a big storm hits."
That would be... right about now.FULL ENTRY
The idea was to allow people to leave their mark on web pages, posting comments, their tweets about the page, or simply "checking in" to show that they'd been there. Marginize made a browser plug-in that would show you all this info, and several sites (including Boston.com) added Marginize as a feature, so readers without the plug-in could easily click to see the marginalia.
But Marginize didn't take off, in part because many of the tweets about a particular web page can be summarized thusly: "Hey, check out this cool web page/blog post/article!" That didn't exactly add new richness to the experience of reading the web page, blog post, or article.
So Marginize founder Ziad Sultan, right, a former entrepreneur-in-residence at the VC firm Longworth Venture Partners, cooked up a different idea, and went back to his investors to raise additional funding. Atlas Venture and several angels ponied up, and Sultan has now raised about $1.1 million for the new idea, on top of $650,000 he'd previously raised for Marginize.
The new concept, Nextly, is a nifty way to view "content streams" in your web browser. A content stream is a set of web pages from a particular source. It could be the latest articles from ESPN.com, news stories from the BBC, or simply all of the links people are posting in your Twitter timeline. You can flip forward and backward through the pages quickly using your arrow keys, just as easily as you would with a print magazine. (Here's a way to check it out with the most recent posts from this blog.) Nextly pre-loads the next few sites in your queue so that they pop up almost instantly.
Sultan didn't want to say much in advance of Nextly's official debut, but he did say he has a team of seven people working on the startup, spread across Cambridge, Montreal, France, and Egypt.
Sultan "is trying to show that he has cracked the consumer behavior with the new product," says Fred Destin of Atlas. "Marginize didn't really have a business, but people believed in Ziad enough." Destin says that the new site has "good usage metrics" so far, and alludes to a partnership with Reddit, the community-curated news site. Here's Reddit's gadgets sub-section, rendered flippable by Nextly.FULL ENTRY
"There's a pretty big range in the greater Boston area about what we predict will happen over the next year, with some neighborhoods dropping 12 percent [Plymouth] and others going up 10 percent [Foxboro]," says co-founder Tony Ettinger. (My ZIP in Brookline is predicted to rise by 1.46 percent over the coming year, while the overall Boston market is expected to go up 0.64 percent.) Ettinger says the estimates could prove useful to sellers, in terms of thinking about the right time to list their home, or for buyers who "don't want to catch a falling knife. If the value is still going down on a property, that might be relevant to them." Ettinger also suggests that Pricing Nation's forecasts might be useful to buyers negotiating the final sale price with a seller.
Ettinger says that the estimates are based on eight key data points, including unemployment figures; interest rates; home inventory nearby; and the uniqueness of the property type. The company is offering forecasts for seven counties in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, including Norfolk, Suffolk, and Middlesex. Ettinger says they'll expand into five more metro areas in the next few months, including New York.
"A lot of the information you can get is telling you what happened to home prices in the past," says Ettinger. "We think the one-year forecast, on a home-by-home level, can be really valuable to people." He says the company is already having discussions about licensing its forecasts to real estate related sites.
Brian Ramirez, Pricing Nation's chief revenue officer, explained a bit more about the company's methodology by e-mail. "Our forecasts are based upon a suite of regression models whose most predictive variables are the major influencers of local supply and demand that have been built on ten years of back-tested data. Our back-models predicted both the downturn and the bottom of home prices in the Boston MSA roughly one year before these events."
The six-person Pricing Nation team all hold degrees from Dartmouth, though they're spread across the planet, from Hanover, NH to New York to Boston to India.
Here's a map they produced that illustrates their forecasts for the Boston area, and below that, a list of the towns expected to have the biggest increases and biggest decreases in value over the coming year.FULL ENTRY
This year, there's yet another Stonebraker startup: Data Tamer, which has raised seed funding from Google Ventures and NEA. The business side of the fledgling company is being run by Andy Palmer, a frequent Stonebraker co-conspirator. And the technological underpinnings of Data Tamer come from Stonebraker's lab at MIT, as well as work done at Brandeis by Mitch Cherniack and at Brown by Stan Zdonik.
There's no website yet, and no one involved would comment on the company. But a local venture capitalist who looked at the deal tells me that the company is focused on cloud-based tools for what's called "ETL" — extracting, transforming, and loading data. That could mean combing the web for current prices of tractor trailers, for example; cleaning it up getting it into the proper format; and then adding it to an existing database.
And according to a white paper on the academic research behind Data Tamer that was presented this month at a conference in California, Data Tamer will use machine learning algorithms to help it understand what it is finding in a particular data source, but it can also ask a human for help identifying or categorizing things that the algorithms aren't sure about.
I wrote a column about Stonebraker back in 2007: "Software pioneer is 'Johnny Appleseed' of start-ups." In 2009, I covered the creation of VoltDB.
A former iRobot executive, Thomas Allen, had listed his new employer as Jibo on LinkedIn. But he removed the affiliation shortly after I started making inquiries about the company. Jibo has been talking to other local prospective employees with experience in launching consumer electronics, and my hunch is that the company will end up marketing a product for consumer use, as opposed to a bot for industrial applications.
Jibo's trademark application gives a bit of insight into what the company may be up to: it discusses "personal robots, namely, interactive social and emotive robots that provide information, entertainment, education, and communications capabilities." And among the patents that have been issued to Breazeal is one for "interactive systems employing robotic companions."
In the late 1990s, Breazeal designed one of the first social robots, Kismet, which was able to react to humans based on how they moved and their tone of voice; it is now on display at the MIT Museum. In 2008, the Nexi robot from Breazeal's Personal Robots group at MIT was named one of Time Magazine's 50 best inventions of the year. Another bot from the Personal Robots group, Tofu, is pictured at left.
Breazeal gave a talk at the TEDWomen conference in 2010 about "the rise of personal robots." I've embedded it below. (The picture of Breazeal above originally accompanied a 2011 piece in the Globe, when she was listed among the city's 25 most stylish people.)FULL ENTRY
A startup called PetPace is developing a product that could supply a solution: a collar that can continuously monitor your pet's health, and send an early warning to you and your vet when something seems amiss, via phone, text message, or e-mail. The company, based in Burlington, Mass. and Tel Aviv, is planning to launch the product later this year, according to chairman Avner Schneur. The expected price: $150 for the collar and a base station that collects data from it, and a $15-to-$20 per month subscription fee for the on-going monitoring service.
"There really is a gap in our ability to monitor pets," says Schneur, who is also PetPace's biggest investor. "They don't complain. There's no preventive maintenance. When there's a problem, you tend to discover it too late."
A matchbox-sized device affixed to the collar holds a collection of sensors, and also a radio that can transmit the data they gather to a base station any time the animal comes within 1000 yards of it, Schneur says. The sensors track the animal's movement, temperature, respiration, and pulse — no mean feat, says, Schneur, when you're trying to do it through fur. There's also a microphone that listens for sounds like drinking, barking, or stomach gurgling. Positioning and movement sensors like those in a smartphone can even tell when the animal is running, laying down, or, um, answering nature's call. The battery in the collar will run for several months in between charges.
Once the data is sent to PetPaces's servers, it's compared to what's normal for your particular animal, based on its past behavior, and also what's normal for the breed. "If there's any deviation, we can create an alert," Schneur says. "One of the things we can see is behavior that can indicate an animal is in pain, which is ordinarily hard to see." Schneur says that PetPace has been assembling data about 250 different dog breeds. The collar will also work for cats — as long as they weigh at least 10 pounds.
Schneur says the company has already been testing its technology at several pet hospitals. "Hospitals may take vital signs once or twice a day, but now they can get data every 30 seconds," he says, which can be helpful for monitoring recovery after an operation, for example. Owners who want to be sure their animal is continuing to recuperate might take the collar and base station home for several months. Schneur says hospitals will be the company's initial focus, but that PetPace will eventually sell the collar to consumers who simply want to monitor their pet's well-being. They plan to rely on veterinary practices as a primary sales channel.
Schneur says that PetPace has been developing the idea for about two years. "I thought the idea sounded too futuristic when [CEO] Avi Menkes brought it to me," he says. "But then I was really impressed by the prototype." Menkes is based in Israel, along with a half-dozen employees working on PetPace's hardware and the embedded software that controls the sensors and radio. Another three people in Burlington work on the analytics software and user interface.
Ovuline is building mobile apps and a web site to help women better understand their fertility cycles, and get pregnant faster. The company's products, combined with home monitoring devices like blood pressure cuffs, will soon also track their health once they get pregnant, in between visits to the obstetrician. "It's exactly the kind of thing I would've liked to have had when I was pregnant," MacLean says. She served as an advisor to Ovuline last fall, as the company went through the TechStars Boston accelerator program. Her business development role, she says, could include establishing partnerships with "digital media properties targeting women, quantified self device companies, and trusted service providers" that have relationships with women when they are trying to conceive, pregnant, or new moms.
MacLean starts at Ovuline next week. After 38 Studios went bankrupt, she and her husband, Michael Dawe, moved from the Providence area, where 38 Studios was headquartered, to the Boston 'burbs. Dawe had also been an employee of 38 Studios, and is now working as an artificial intelligence programmer for Rockstar New England, a videogame studio in Andover.
MacLean was fairly quiet during the extremely public winding down of 38 Studios last year — except on Twitter, where she endeavored to help the laid-off employees find new work. She was named last year as a defendant in a lawsuit related to 38 Studios' collapse. She calls it "baseless," but says she's "vigorously defending" herself against the allegations.
Sources who'd worked at 38 Studios tell me that among the company's many issues, MacLean had been on the losing end of a power struggle with founder, chairman, and majority owner Curt Schilling. She had begun her maternity leave in March, several months before her due date, and my sources say that it was questionable at the time that she would return. More than 400 employees and contractors were laid off in May after the company ran out of money. Back in 2010, Rhode Island had offered 38 Studios $75 million in loan guarantees to relocate to the state, and create 450 jobs there. (38 Studios had previously been headquartered in Maynard.) MacLean was a vice president running Comcast's games business before she joined the company, and her initial role at 38 Studios was running business development under then-CEO Brett Close.
Product development firm Dragon Innovation, partner to successful Kickstarter projects like Pebble, prepares to launch its own funding site for connected devices
As a consultancy, Dragon has operated a bit beneath the radar, but Miller, right, spent several years helping Walt Disney Imagineering design a walking triceratops robot, and then more than a decade overseeing engineering and manufacturing at Bedford-based iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. His firm has worked with Kickstarter projects like the Pebble watch, which raised $10 million on the site, as well as Media Lab spin-outs like Sifteo and local startups like Zeo, which makes a sleep-monitoring device. The firm's expertise is in prepping products to be manufactured, and finding the best contract manufacturers in the Far East to do the work.
With Dragon Launcher, Miller says, "We really want to build companies that should exist — the next wave of disruptive hardware companies." He plans to filter out the "perpetual motion machines and junk" as well as "nights and weekends projects," he says. In Miller's view, creating the next great connected device requires that you quit your day job. Miller and his team will work with inventors to "de-risk projects"; he likes to say that most entrepreneurs working on hardware products just don't know what they don't know when it comes to costs and timeframes.
Like Kickstarter, Miller says Dragon Launcher will take a fee of about 10 percent from the money raised online. But unlike Kickstarter, he says that Dragon Innovation's consulting services will be priced into each project that is raising money on the site. That will naturally increase the amount that the team needs to raise, but Miller asserts that it'll also improve the odds that the project actually crosses the finish line. (Eventually, Miller says he would like to test a way to fund prototypes on the site, meaning that backers wouldn't necessarily receive a product at the end of that stage, but would simply be helping to move an idea along to the point where they'd be able to order it.)
Miller says he may try to raise money for the new site from venture capitalists or strategic investors. Geisel Software of Shrewsbury is helping out on the Dragon Launcher site.
Apperian helps companies deploy mobile and tablet apps to their employees. Imagine an icon on your device that, instead of taking you to Apple's iTunes Store, brings you to a collection of apps that your company has curated for you. The featured apps may be ones that the company has developed especially for its employees, or third-party apps that the company recommends, like Kayak for trip-planning or CardMunch for digitizing business cards. Company IT staffers can also use Apperian to roll out updates to their own apps whenever necessary — without waiting for employees to do it.
"A company like Cisco today has about 80 apps, mostly for their global sales organization," says Apperian chief executive David Patrick. (Patrick is on the right in the photo, Goldman on the left.) "The apps might be sales commission calculators, or apps for expense tracking. They can host those privately in our cloud infrastructure, and new salespeople can download them to iPhones, iPads, or Android devices, and can use them as daily productivity tools," Patrick says. Apperian customers pay the company about $4 per user, per month. Patrick says that more than 100 companies use Apperian's technology.
In addition to using Apperian to deploy their own apps, customers can fill the shelves of their app store with free apps or paid apps developed by others. In the case of paid apps, if they've worked out a volume purchase deal with Apple, Apperian can help them manage the special download codes they receive.
Patrick says that Apperian has nearly 75 employees, most of them at the company headquarters in Boston's Fort Point Channel neighborhood. But the company also has offices in France, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The new money from Intel — nearly $5 million, according to my math — will mainly go to "growing sales and marketing," Patrick says "We'll hire a number of enterprise salespeople, and use it to fund some new marketing activity." Jeff Murphy, formerly the SVP of global sales at Endeca Technologies, joined Apperian last September.
I last wrote about Apperian in 2011. An example of an employee app store is below:FULL ENTRY
CloudHealth Technologies (formerly CloudPercept) wants to help customers get more from their cloud infrastructure
Update: In March 2013, CloudPercept changed its name to CloudHealth Technologies and announced that it had raised $4.5 million from Sigma Prime Ventures and .406 Ventures.CloudPercept wants to help them understand exactly what they're getting for their money.
"We help optimize the cost, performance, security, and availability of your cloud infrastructure," says founder and chief technology officer Joe Kinsella. "We're focused on software-as-a-service companies as our initial customers, but the problem of managing cloud infrastructure also exists in government and large-scale enterprises, too."
Kinsella left his job at Sonian, a local cloud archiving startup, last August to talk to prospective customers about his idea for CloudPercept. He temporarily became an entrepreneur-in-residence at North Bridge Venture Partners, and he says he took a "lean startup" approach to getting the company going. By October, he says, "I closed my first customer with a minimum viable product I had built. By December, I closed a second customer, and I had to race to incorporate the company at that point."
Kinsella recruited a former colleague, Dan Phillips, to be CloudPercept's CEO; the pair had worked together at SilverBack Technologies, a remote IT monitoring startup which was acquired by Dell in 2007. (Up until November, Phillips had been head of the Entrepreneurship Center at UMass Boston.) And last week, Dave Eicher joined as COO; he'd previously held that role at GenArts, a Cambridge maker of visual effects software.
The company doesn't yet have office space, though Kinsella tells me they are planning to nail down a location in downtown Boston "in the next few weeks." CloudPercept has been self-funded so far, and the early customers have been paying for the product. But Kinsella says it's possible that the company will look for outside funding sometime this year.
"Managing cloud infrastructure is so different from managing physical world" assets in data centers, Kinsella says, and so the software built to do that is no longer relevant. "It felt to me like disruptive innovation was happening before our eyes with cloud computing," he says.
We'll see if CloudPercept can take advantage of that disruption to build a big business...
Moss says Atelion is "a cloud-based platform" aimed at helping doctors and patients work together more closely to manage chronic diseases like diabetes, HIV, or hypertension. "We're focusing on how patients can be actively engaged and become part of the team," as well as helping physician practices and a new breed of healthcare provider called an ACO (accountable care organization) use data to keep their patients healthier. "As we move from fee-for-service payment to doctors being paid on performance, and accountable care, there's a real gap in the IT that's available to these ACOs and physican practices," says Moss.
Moore, a doctor who will earn his PhD this June at MIT, has been testing early versions of the software platform with the Boston Medical Center, the Joslin Diabetes Center, and the Mayo Clinic.
Atelion hasn't yet raised money, and it's based in MIT's Trust Center for Entrepreneurship.
Moss tells me he is also involved with a 3-D printing startup that he wasn't ready to name. It'll focus on "infrastructure software" that will simplify the process of "distribution fabrication" using 3-D printers, he says.
I last wrote about Moss in 2010 as he was departing the Media Lab directorship. Below is a video overview of the CollaboRhythm project:FULL ENTRY
Auto shopping site CarGurus grows into new Cambridge office space; approaches $40 million in revenues
The site uses sophisticated software models to help shoppers evaluate hundreds or thousands of a given model of used car on the market. "There may be 600 Ford Focuses being sold in Boston," Steinert says. "We help you figure out whether a 2009 with fewer miles than a 2010 might be a better deal, based on trim packages and options and other factors." About a month ago, CarGurus launched a service that also looks at new car inventory in a user's geographic area. Steinert says that when looking for a Toyota Land Cruiser for his wife, he was frustrated by having to visit or call dealerships to find out what specific cars they had in stock, in what colors. "Adding new cars to the site is the big push for this year," he says.
CarGurus has 23 employees, and Steinert foresees hiring another 15 or 20 by the end of the year. Revenues, which today come from selling "leads," or information about prospective car buyers, "are closing in on a $40 million annual run rate," Steinert says. Eventually, he says the company will transition to selling its marketing services to dealerships on a subscription basis, to help them market their new and used inventory. Steinert tells me that the company got to profitability with just $4 million of funding — "all from friends and family, and the TripAdvisor mafia" he says.
He says CarGurus receives about five million visitors each month. The category leader, AutoTrader.com, sees about 11 million uniques. It filed to go public last year, and is doing about $1 billion in annual revenues.
But Steinert doesn't plan to be left in the dust: "I want to be first — and take out AutoTrader."
Carbonite co-founder Jeff Flowers talks about new venture SageCloud, focused on 'cold storage' for corporate data
Flowers, a co-founder and former chief technology officer of the publicly-traded backup company Carbonite, is heading to the Open Compute Summit in Silicon Valley this week to demo and discuss what SageCloud has been designing. It's an assemblage of software, commodity hardware, and support services that will enable companies to operate their own on-site "private clouds" to keep large quantities of data in cold storage, at low costs, Flowers says.
"Data is growing at about 60 percent per year, and the IT staff that manage it is growing at five percent," says Flowers. As much as 70 percent of a company's data can be put in cold storage, he asserts. That might be a stock trade or a medical record that needs to be kept for a mandated time period, but doesn't need to be referenced or changed very often. It could also be the original video from a TV show that may not be needed again until someone decides to put out a "Best Of" DVD in a decade.
At the Open Compute gathering, which focuses on making data center technology more efficient and economical, Flowers will be presenting the SageCloud hardware design, for an archiving appliance that consists of just three power-efficient components. (An early prototype is pictured above.) He's offering it as a new standard for long-term data storage. The company's plan is to sell its software in conjunction with hardware built to this standard by any number of vendors. (The first vendor will likely be Arizona-based Avnet.) SageCloud may also sell professional services to help customers deploy or manage its storage system.
The company has raised $3.2 million in funding so far, most of it from Waltham-based Matrix Partners. Flowers says that SageCloud plans to begin a beta test in April with at least two customers, and spend the rest of the year working out the kinks in its offering. The ten-person company operates virtually today, but will be moving into office space in Boston's Financial District in March. (Several members of the team previously worked at Carbonite, and Carbonite chief executive David Friend serves as SageCloud's chairman.) Flowers expects the headcount will be about 30 by the end of the year. Among the people he's trying to hire are vice presidents of engineering and marketing.
In the photo, from left to right, are SageCloud team members Mark Rees, Andy Brown, Robert Myhill, Flowers, and Jim Koschella. All except Koschella were previously at Carbonite.
I last wrote about SageCloud in July 2012.
I know just about nothing about the new office, and haven't yet found anyone who does. Apple didn't respond to my inquiries, but building residents say an Apple sign appeared above an office door just before the holidays. The single door is frosted glass, and the office looks like it could fit perhaps four or five people. (Apple isn't listed as a tenant — yet? — on the floor's directory.) One neighbor told me he has only seen one person use the new space thus far, and not on a daily basis.
In addition to the employees at its stores, Apple has always had sales and support staffers working in the Boston area to serve major corporate and academic customers. But what would be big news is if this is a new engineering or R&D outpost. Those are activities Apple has historically done only at its Cupertino headquarters. "It'd be a huge strategic shift if they are hiring engineers here," says Chuck Goldman, a former Apple executive who is now chief strategy officer at Boston-based Apperian, which helps companies deploy mobile apps to their employees. "The mantra was always that everything was made in Cupertino."
And even when Apple has acquired companies — like Waltham-based Quattro Wireless, in 2010, which became Apple's iAds mobile advertising product — it has mandated that employees relocate to Cupertino, or find new jobs.
Perhaps, as Jonathan Kay hypothesizes, Apple "wants to play in any sandbox that is in such close proximity to Google and Microsoft." (Not to mention Amazon.) Kay runs Apptopia, a Boston-based app brokerage. Cambridge Innovation Center CEO Tim Rowe declined to comment on the new tenant.
I couldn't find any Apple job postings that seemed to pertain to this new office.
Know anything more? Post a comment or drop me an e-mail...
Update: Bob Cassels, a software engineer at Google who previously worked for Apple, e-mailed me with a little history about an earlier Apple presence in Cambridge...FULL ENTRY
But Kitsy Lane, a Maynard startup, wants to make it a no-brainer for style mavens to set up their own online boutiques in an hour or two. And since the company's launch last summer, more than 20,000 women have done just that. They choose the merchandise that is featured (right now, only jewelry and accessories); promote the store to their friends on Facebook, e-mail, and other social networks; and collect a commission that ranges from 10 to 25 percent on everything sold. Kitsy Lane handles the inventory, payment, and shipping. It's the Tupperware party of the Twitter era.
The model seems to be working: the company says that revenues have been growing 40 percent month-to-month, and tomorrow the company plans to announce a $3.5 million funding round, led by Data Point Capital and Longworth Venture Partners. That's on top of a $1 million seed round supplied last year by Point Judith Capital and angels. All three firms are based in the Boston area.
"There's a very broad spectrum of people that run Kitsy Lane boutiques," says founder and CEO Andy Fox, right. "We made a concerted effort to target some bloggers and stylists. We have a couple of celebrities, like Shereé Whitfield of 'Real Housewives of Atlanta' and Mashiela Lush from the George Lopez show. But the bulk of the user base are stay-at-home moms, or people who have another job and are doing this at night from the couch." (Shereé Whitfield's boutique is below.) The site plans to add men's merchandise soon.
Fox, most recently an executive at Novell, says that the new funding will go toward online marketing and trying to increase the number of people running Kitsy Lane boutiques. "We’ll also be adding employees to a number of departments, including merchandising, engineering, and community management," he says. Today, Kitsy Lane has just five full-time employees.
Videogame maker Majesco shuts down Foxborough studio, which had focused on mobile and Facebook games
The studio had developed three different mobile games, including Flea Symphony and Legends of Loot, as well as a Facebook game called Miniputt Park. Studio head Jeff Anderson confirmed the closure, which I tweeted about late on Friday, saying it was a surprise to the employees there, but that "we understand the challenges of the business" as game developers try to score big hits in the rapidly-evolving mobile and social landscape.
"Zynga's high-visibility drop in value has definitely had an impact," says Michael Dornbrook, a local angel investor and formerly an executive at Harmonix Music Systems. "There has been a sense that a bubble is bursting. I could easily imagine some...top execs at Majesco deciding it was time to cut back their investments in the area."
The Foxborough studio was created in 2011, when Majesco acquired the assets of Quick Hit, a venture-backed startup that had developed a web-based football game.
I called and e-mailed several Majesco representatives for comment, but haven't heard back.
This is the latest in a string of studio closures and layoffs in Boston's gaming scene, which I wrote about last month.
Bounce is one of Boston's most promising hardware startups. The small company is developing a tossable, baseball-sized orb that's embedded with cameras and other sensors. Pitch it into a dangerous situation, and it sends back panoramic pictures and data about what's happening there without putting people at risk. Bounce won a $50,000 cash prize in last year's MassChallenge competition, and Time Magazine named it one of the best inventions of 2012. Bounce operates out of space at Harvard's Innovation Lab in Cambridge and the MassChallenge headquarters in Boston; the startup has also been a participant in the Haverhill Hardware Horizons Challenge.
Aguilar says that since the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado, "unfortunately what we are doing is top-of-mind. The regular beat cop doesn't have access to the same kind of surveillance equipment a SWAT team would have, but they usually arrive at the scene first. Our device will be cheap enough to be in every squad car's trunk, so it can give them a view of what's going on before they have to go into an active-shooter type situation." Bounce's target price is around $500.
The company is building a handful of test units now, and plans to start working with New England law enforcement agencies this spring to see how the surveillance orb can be integrated into their work, and how it might be improved. At the Consumer Electronics Show, Aguilar says the main objectives are to talk with potential investors; meet prospective suppliers; and, of course, bask in a little media attention.
Aguilar's co-founder, David Young, won't be joining him in Vegas next week. The former Army Ranger, now an MBA student at MIT, will be heading north to Maine to attend a less glam — but probably more essential — gathering of SWAT teams.
A company-produced video is below:FULL ENTRY
Yankee was first sold by founder Howard Anderson in 1996 ($34 million, to Primark). Then it turned over again in 2000 ($72.5 million, to Reuters), in 2004 (undisclosed, to the Cambridge private equity shop Monitor Clipper Partners), and finally one more time the following year (undisclosed, to the Boston private equity firm Alta Communications.) You almost needed an analyst firm to figure out what was going on with the storied Boston analyst firm, which got its start in 1970. That was back when the telecom industry basically began and ended with Ma Bell and her equipment suppliers.
Yankee's new owner says it plans to keep the brand and the Boston office intact — despite the fact that 451 Research already operates a small Boston office of its own just a few blocks away. As it has for the past few years, Yankee will continue to focus on the impact that mobile technologies are having on consumers and businesses.
For some reason, neither Yankee CEO Terry Waters or 451 Group CEO Martin McCarthy, right, wanted to tell me how many people work for Yankee today. LinkedIn shows the number at about 90, but one former employee tells me the actual number of full-timers is closer to 30 worldwide. At one point, Anderson recalls, the firm had more than 200 employees.
"We had to right-size the business when I came in," says Waters, who arrived in 2010. He sold off a group that organized trade shows and conferences. Some of the firm's forecasting now comes from analysts who aren't full-timers, but rather "independent consultants affiliated with Yankee," Waters says. And Yankee's data modeling is now done by a partnership based in Bogota, Colombia, working under a Yankee executive in Boston.
McCarthy wouldn't divulge any of the financial details of this latest acquisition, including price. Waters will stay on as CEO.
"Mobility is just becoming more prominent and strategic, not just in our lives as consumers, but as enterprise executives," McCarthy says. Yankee will continue to focus on that theme, operating independently within 451 Group. McCarthy claims that Yankee now has more analysts focusing on mobile than any other analyst firm.
Somol will serve as director of marketing and business development at Stomp. "I’m really excited about this opportunity," Somol writes via e-mail. "I think the team is fantastic and has very deep experience in making high-quality games. We’re all excited to be in the online/free to play space. I think that’s where we will see the most growth and innovation in the near-term."
Somol's new colleagues at Stomp have worked on games like Age of Empires, NASCAR Racing, Titan Quest, Dawn of War, and Madden NFL.
Formed in 2012, Stomp is owned by Tencent Inc., one of China's most popular Internet portals. (The studio is also known as Tencent Boston.) Robot Rising, a futuristic role-playing game, is its first project. Stomp was one of several Boston-area game studios to lay off some of its staff last year.
Unclear at this point who will replace Somol at Microsoft NERD...
As Endeca exodus continues, trio of former employees start Salsify to help manufacturers distribute better product info
Co-founders Steve Papa and Pete Bell have both left Oracle as of this month. Former Endeca SVP Chris Comparato is now at Acquia, the Burlington company that peddles web content management software. Others have left for PayPal Boston, Silver Lining Systems, Sqrrl, Hopper, Internet advertising company DataXu, and Lookout Gaming, a new startup.
I wrote last week about Toast, a new mobile app developed by a trio of ex-Endecans.
And there's another local start-up, Salsify, founded by alumni of Endeca. Salsify is building a cloud-based system to help manufacturers distribute information about their products — like images, descriptions, ads, or suggested prices — to distributors and retailers. Founders Jason Purcell and Jeremy Redburn left Endeca in September; the third co-founder, Rob Gonzalez, had departed in 2010. Salsify hasn't yet raised outside funding.
Using the example of a Bento box manufacturer (we were having lunch at a Japanese place), Gonzalez says that "a lot of information about products like this are still stuck in PDFs and spreadsheets that get e-mailed around. And we think that a lot of the big makers of enterprise software are doing a crappy job of serving this space." Purcell explains that Salsify's product enables manufacturers (or perhaps their marketing or advertising firms) to upload the product data they have, and then retailers or distributors can access the content that they need. They can also subscribe to "feeds" to stay up to date about product changes, promotions, or perhaps new accessories.
"A brand might have 40 different distributors, and each needs product images in a different size," Purcell says. "We want to simplify that."
Salsify is already working with a pilot customer, and Purcell says they plan to open up a wider beta test over the next few months. While Purcell is Salsify's CEO, all three founders say they are writing code for the product. The company moves into its first "real" office in Chinatown this week. (The founders had previously been based at the Workbar shared space near South Station.)
As for choosing the name Salsify, Gonzalez explains in an e-mail:
A dandelion is a weed. It spreads like crazy. But it's a beautiful weed that you want to spread because doing so is a joy; who hasn't blown on dandelion seeds as a kid? Especially when thinking about the whole idea of a product content network where brands are pushing their product data out into the world, we thought it was a great analogy. So we liked that idea but the word dandelion is pretty long, and itself not very evocative. The Salsify plant is a cousin to the dandelion. It's served in high end restaurants, but it's still a weed...It felt appropriate, as we're trying to reinvent the way product data is distributed across the globe.
(In the photo are co-founders Jason Purcell, Jeremy Redburn, and Rob Gonzalez.)
Based at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, Bobo is working on a wristwatch-like product that can monitor your heart rate and movement, and help you get the most from your workouts. As founder and CEO Will Ahmed puts it, “The chest strap that monitors heart rate is a 30-year old technology, and people don’t wear it all the time. We want to understand what’s happening on a daily basis.”
The current prototype, pictured at right, has two optical sensors that come in contact with your skin to collect data about your pulse, as well as an accelerometer to monitor motion (in part to know when the heart rate sensors are getting good data, and when you may be moving too vigorously for them to be accurate.) Ahmed says that the company is also testing sensors for skin temperature and perspiration. The Bobo device can send data via Bluetooth to a nearby phone, tablet, or laptop, letting users log their data over time.
Ahmed isn’t yet talking about a target price for the device, but he says the company may initially market it through coaches and trainers. “They often have athletes or clients that are overtraining or undertraining,” he says. “They want to be able to monitor that, even when they’re not physically there for a workout. How intense was it? When are you recovered from it?”
Ahmed earned his undergrad degree from Harvard earlier this spring, and he also captained the squash team there. Product development engineer Aurelian Nicolae also graduated from Harvard this year, and chief technology officer John Capodilupo is taking time off from his studies there. (Ahmed and Nicolae are at left.)
Ahmed says the company has already raised about $300,000 in seed funding, and may look to raise more soon. The company name, Bobo, is intended to sound like a heartbeat.
Fredette left Endeca over the summer, and with another alumnus of the Cambridge business intelligence company, Jonathan Grimm, started Toast Inc. (At Endeca, Fredette had launched and led the mobile software development team. A third member of the Toast team remains at Oracle, the company that acquired Endeca last year.) Toast is currently operating out of the Kendall Square offices of Bessemer Venture Partners, the VC firm, but Fredette says he hasn’t yet accepted any outside funding for the venture.
The Toast iPhone app allows you to start a tab at a restaurant, linked to your credit card. You can see what’s on your tab and divide it exactly as you’d like among several diners. (Maybe you want to split it down the middle, or pay only for what you ordered — especially on those occasions when your companion downs a few cocktails and you’re sipping cola.) You can set an amount for the tip, and settle up whenever you’re ready. Toast eliminates all that back-and-forth with the check, your credit card, and multiple copies of the receipt.
On the restaurant’s end, Toast provides an Android tablet that is plugged in to the cash register. (Toast currently works only with POSitouch point-of-sale systems.) That enables wait staff to enter orders the way they usually do, and have them magically appear on the app that diners are using. Servers can also get background on customers by clicking on their profiles on the tablet: who comes in frequently, tips well, or often brings in big groups. “One problem that most restaurants have,” Fredette says, “is that as they hire new staff, their regulars aren’t recognized.”
Eventually, Fredette plans for Toast to do more. He sees it as an establishment’s “connection with their customers,” a way for them to ask you for feedback, or to share your experience on social media. There will also be a way for restaurants to send you special offers (of course.)
When we tried it last Thursday, a few things went awry, as is often the case with demos of technology that’s still in development. Our server, apparently new, had never heard of Toast. Fredette mentioned the name of another server who had used the system. A tab got started with Toast, but it only included Fredette, not me. So we asked again, and finally we were both included on it. (Servers see pictures of diners using Toast pop up on the tablet next to the cash register, and click them to add them to a tab.) Then, I could see the items we ordered on the screen of my iPhone, and Fredette and I could choose which ones we wanted to pay for. We also noticed that someone had added a mango iced tea to our order that we’d discussed with the server, but hadn’t ordered (or received.) We asked for that to be removed, the old-fashioned way, and it was. Despite the snafus, it was nice to have a way to split the bill in a very granular fashion (I paid just for my fish sandwich and side of polenta, which were $2 more expensive than what Fredette ordered), and also to pay and leave exactly when we were ready to do so. With large groups, Fredette pointed out, Toast deals fairly with that scoundrel who always dashes out fifteen minutes before everyone else, plunks down a $20, and then forces everyone else cover his overage.FULL ENTRY
"Everyone has had that experience where they forgot to get something minor fixed, and then the warranty ran out on them," says Cayer, an attorney who has worked for numerous local companies like Thermo Electron, Trellix, and Soapstone Networks. "Junk Drawer can give you a notification 60 days before it's up." You can attach info about the type of batteries, bulbs, or ink a device uses, so that it's always with you when you're shopping. And of course, you can brag about what you just bought — or received as a gift — on Facebook.
The first iteration of Junk Drawer "is a good inventory manager," Cayer says. But he has plans to eventually link products to their online user manuals; enable you to review them on popular sites; let you fill out the manufacturer's registration form on your phone; and automatically create an eBay listing when you're ready to deaccession the item.
Cayer says that the app was built with the help of an offshore development shop in Columbia, Koombea. He says he has raised just under $200,000 from angel investors to build and launch the app.
Junk Drawer is free, but Cayer says that at some point product manufacturers may be willing to pay to receive registration info via the app (fewer than 10 percent of people fill out those paper registration cards), and have an opportunity to communicate with customers about accessories, refills, and next-generation products. Companies that sell extended warranties may also be interested in communicating to users of the app.
But both of those revenue streams, of course, require that Junk Drawer finds lots of loyal users first...
But Central has emptied out (only Harmonix remains), and it seems like a new gaming community is starting to take root at Intrepid Labs, a shared "teamspace" for young companies on the top floor of the American Twine Building in East Cambridge.
Proletariat Inc., a tablet-focused games company founded by five former Zynga Boston employees is there, right next to The Tap Lab, a TechStars Boston alumnus that is working on a new location-based game, Tiny Tycoons. Owlchemy Labs, which makes iPhone and iPad games like Jack Lumber and Snuggle Truck, is a few steps away. (Dave Bisceglia, co-founder of The Tap Lab, is at right. The Proletariat team is at left.)
Proletariat has three iPad games in the works, and is starting to talk with prospective distribution partners, according to co-founder Seth Sivak. The crew is also doing some contract development work to bring in additional revenue. At The Tap Lab, Bisceglia says that Tiny Tycoons will be out in Q1; it is the second game from the eight-person studio, following Tap City, which didn't exactly catch fire. The Tap Lab also plans to invite other developers to use a new location-based games engine it has developed.
Mark Kasdorf, who set up the Intrepid Labs space in late 2011, tells me that six more indie game developers will be moving in next month; most had previously been working out of the Space With a Soul shared office in Fort Point Channel. He's planning to create an area within Intrepid especially for the game companies, called Intrepid Arcade. (And yes, there's already a cool stand-up arcade machine in the Intrepid kitchen that can serve up a zillion different classic videogames.)
Oh, and some other news from Intrepid this morning: founder Mark Kasdorf tells me that he has raised $360,000 for an iPhone app that he created, Timbre. Timbre helps you find great live music happening near you. The money comes from Atlas Venture and Boston Seed Capital, along with angel investors Joe Caruso and Marco Buchbinder. I asked Kasdorf how he'll use the funding:
Stage one is get what we have into more hands than just the 8 percent of global smartphone users that are US iOS users.
Beyond that, we've got a pretty good roadmap that involves doing more of what the app does best without messing up the UX with feature bloat.
(I wrote on Sunday about the New England videogame cluster, which had a rough year in 2012.)
First Look: Inside Staples' new Velocity Lab in Cambridge, focused on advancing the multi-channel retail experience
"We decided to get radically more aggressive about strengthening our e-commerce and digital capabilities," Staples e-commerce SVP Brian Tilzer told me, sitting in a conference room in the first-floor space, just across the street from the Kendall Square Cinema. "Digital is the glue between our different channels — our call centers, our stores, and our web site." By setting up an outpost in Cambridge, he explained, "we can diversify the talent we were bringing to Staples. Some people don't want to do a reverse commute out to Framingham." And some of the partners that Staples works with, like Endeca, Akamai, and Google, are located just a short walk from the new Velocity Lab. (Staples PR manager Mark Cautela tells me that there was some discussion last year about planting the new lab in California.)
The new facility can accommodate about 75 people, and there are more than 40 in it already, explained Prat Vemana, the lab's director. About one-third of the people working at the lab today are Staples veterans, and two-thirds are new hires, says Vemana, who also oversees Staples' mobile strategy. That's an intentional mix, to blend fresh thinking with Staples' existing corporate culture. (Tilzer is on the left in the photo, Vemana on the right.)
"The vision for this center is to create a place where we can test, learn and iterate as rapidly as possible around new technologies," says Tilzer. As examples, he cited "thinking about how to leverage big data to deliver personalized experiences" and "helping consumers understand what services are available related to a particular product, like a laptop." But there will also be some blue-sky brainstorming, too, to "produce really cool stuff that's meaningful to our customers."
Vemana says that Staples' entire mobile team is based at the Velocity Lab, and that they're hoping to continue hiring people in Cambridge. "We have a mobile site, a mobile app, and a tablet-oriented site," he says. "But we're still thinking about other on-the-go pain points." Over the Black Friday shopping weekend in November, Vemana says, Staples ran time-limited "mobile flash sales," with certain deals that could only be unlocked by showing up in a store. There's also a "rapid prototyping team" based in Cambridge that works on Staples' web site, thinking about new functionality, like making it easier to re-order frequently-used products.FULL ENTRY
First day at work: Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil signs on with Google as director of engineering
Kurzweil officially starts at Google today. I asked him over the weekend whether he would be working at Google's Cambridge office or its California headquarters; he said he'll be a full-time employee at the Googleplex in Silicon Valley. Kurzweil wrote:
The focus of the position is on new technology development, however I will be continuing my role as a thought leader through lectures, speaking with the press, and such initiatives as my recent book. That, by the way, has done very well -- #5 on the New York Times bestseller list, came out at #1 among all books on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list, went into its seventh printing within four weeks of publication.
A good portion of my Massachusetts-based activity is on these communication activities. Another project – K-NFB Reading Technology – has some important developments and those will be announced in the next month or so.
I'm guessing that Kurzweil won't have to introduce himself to too many of his new co-workers at Google...
(I profiled Kurzweil for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine in 2004. And last year, my fellow Globe columnist Alex Beam wrote a piece about two recent Kurzweil-related movies released in 2010 and 2011.)
Even more surprising: Zynga provided absolutely no outplacement support to help the 48 employees there find new jobs, according to Fareed Mosavat, who'd been the general manager there. (I've e-mailed and called Zynga to confirm that, but haven't yet heard back.)
Despite that, Mosavat tells me that more than 60 percent of Zynga Boston's team has found new jobs so far, at local startups like Abine, Rue La La, LevelUp/SCVNGR, Fiksu, TapJoy, Harmonix, Lucky Labs, Jana, and Boundless Learning. Mosavat himself wound up as VP of product at RunKeeper, the Boston-based fitness data startup.
And five former members of Zynga Boston's leadership team are working on a new tablet and mobile games startup, Proletariat Inc., led by Seth Sivak. (Sivak was the lead designer for the one Zynga game that the Boston studio released, Adventure World.) Proletariat is currently based at the Intrepid Labs shared office space in East Cambridge.
"All of the product managers from Zynga Boston have been hired, and all but two of the engineers have, and that's by their own design," Mosavat says. "It has been a little tougher for the artists and game designers."
Despite the lack of outplacement help from Zynga HQ — "we were on our own," Mosavat says — Mosavat and former Zynga Boston chief Nabeel Hyatt received lots of offers of help via Twitter, LinkedIn, and e-mail. (Hyatt is now a partner at Spark Capital, the Newbury Street VC firm.) "Nabeel was super-helpful and super-involved in connecting people to Spark portfolio companies like Jana and RunKeeper," Mosavat says.
Two Zynga Boston folks wound up relocating to San Francisco, for jobs at Zynga's main office.
One more interesting factoid about the Zynga Boston diaspora: Zynga had hired two employees who'd lost their jobs when 38 Studios, the Curt Schilling gaming startup in Providence, closed its doors in May. But after going through two shut-downs in one year, Mosavat tells me both of them have new jobs, at Lucky Labs and Fire Hose Games.
(The pic above is from Zynga's Central Square office, before the team moved to Harvard Square.)
Ex-SolidWorks execs reunite to take another swing at product design software, with $9 million in funding
Fifteen years after the acquisition, Dassault still maintains a substantial campus in Massachusetts, with more than 800 employees, and SolidWorks' products generate almost half a billion in annual revenue for its parent company.
Now the founder of SolidWorks, Jon Hirschtick, right, has assembled a team of former colleagues, including long-time SolidWorks CEO John McEleney, to develop a fresh take on product design in the era of cloud computing. The place-holder name for the new venture is Belmont Technology Inc., and they've raised $9 million from two local venture capital firms, North Bridge Venture Partners and Commonwealth Capital. And whaddaya know... the investor at Commonwealth who did the deal, Eliot Katzman, was the CFO at SolidWorks at the time of its acquisition by Dassault.
McEleney, Belmont's chief executive, isn't saying much about what the company is up to, beyond that the team is "building enterprise product design software using modern software tools and platforms." He tells me that there are currently nine employees in Waltham (not Belmont), and that the company will adopt a new name when it has a product to market.
Just last August, McEleney sold another startup, CloudSwitch, to Verizon. And Hirschtick only left SolidWorks last October.
Venture capitalist Fred Destin, whose firm was an investor in CloudSwitch but isn't involved in Belmont, said he believed Belmont is developing sophisticated CAD software that can run in the cloud and allow designs to be easily accessed by teams spread across the world. "CAD files are huge, and that is a non-trivial issue," Destin said. "You don't want to be moving gigabytes of data around."
But when asked about "CAD in the cloud," McEleney responded, "That's probably a bit too narrow of a view." A few CAD industry blogs, including GraphicSpeak and CAD Insider, have written about Belmont, but the funding hadn't previously been reported.
One last note: Interesting that Matrix Partners, which had also put money into CloudSwitch, isn't involved in Belmont; that VC firm has an investment in GrabCAD, which has lately been working on its own cloud-based CAD software.
• Playrific built a web site and mobile app that collect digital content that's appropriate for children, and customize it to what an individual kid actually likes. (There's also a version designed for schools, focusing on content that matches a teacher's educational goals.) The Billerica-based company is announcing a new $1.7 million round today, from a collection of angel investing groups including Golden Seeds, Launchpad Venture Group, and Walnut Angels. The Boston company, founded by tech industry veteran Beth Marcus, right, has now raised $2.8 million in total funding.
• Google Ventures and Matrix Partners are putting $10 million into Waltham-based Adelphic Mobile, which delivers targeted ads to mobile devices. Adelphic says that its technology can deliver ads not just based on the phone and network you're using, but as many as 30 other parameters, including time, place, age, and gender. Co-founders Jennifer Lum and Changfeng Wang previously worked at the ad startup Quattro Wireless, which was acquired by Apple to help that company build its mobile ad product, iAds. Rich Miner, a partner at Google Ventures and the co-founder of Android, is joining Adelphic's board. (That's a nice mix of Apple & Android experience there.) The company raised $2 million from Matrix earlier this year.
• Promoboxx, a company that graduated from the TechStars Boston accelerator program last year, is announcing a seed round of $1.3 million today. The Boston startup helps big brands like Reebok, Trek, and Volkswagen manage promotional campaigns across their hundreds of retailers. The money comes from investors like Launch Capital, Boston Seed Capital, Common Angels, Stage 1 Ventures and more than 30 angels. I wrote about Promoboxx back in January, when it helped support Chevy's Super Bowl advertising campaign. "Our business model doesn't jump off the Keynote for most investors," admits CEO Ben Carcio in a blog post about the funding. "Without understanding the difficulties that manufacturing brands face in helping their retailers with local online marketing, our market opportunity doesn't seem obvious. So, our initial investors were a brave group that understood enough of the pain, while believing in our team's ability to make it work."
One of the most interesting elements of CyPhy's product design is that its UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are tethered to a hand-held control system on the ground, rather than free-flying. The company's "microfilament" technology sends power to the UAV, meaning that its flight time is unlimited. It also transmits high-def video back down to the control system, and the company says that unlike wireless links, it cannot be jammed by an enemy.
CyPhy says that its two vehicles, EASE and PARC, may be used for tasks like helping military or police units investigate the interior of buildings without sending people in; search for survivors of natural or man-made disasters; or inspect bridges, buildings, or other infrastructure. PARC is also designed to serve as a communications relay, staying aloft for long periods without human intervention. (The acronym stands for Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance & Communications.) EASE, which stands for Extreme Access System for Entry, is pictured above, and PARC is at left. Both are designed for hovering between three feet and 1000 feet, as opposed to long-range horizontal flight.
According to my math, CyPhy Works has so far raised about $3 million in equity funding, much of it from Cambridge-based VC firm General Catalyst. But several million more has come in the form of federal research grants. The company hasn't yet announced any customers who have purchased its UAVs.
Here's a piece about the company that just appeared today on the website of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
And company-produced video is below, featuring one of its UAVs being flight-tested at Fort Benning in Georgia:FULL ENTRY
A new Boston-built iPhone app called Toucanect is tackling that disconnect. It brings events, messaging, and maps together, and it lets you create groups of people who are associated with individual events and kept up to speed on what's happening.
At launch, the app was pre-populated with events like school vacations and early dismissals, to make them easy to include on your calendar, as well as dining discounts that are part of the Mayor's Holiday Special in Boston.
Founder Shayne Gilbert says she was inspired earlier this year to start work on the app, after "I didn't have the right time for an early school dismissal and my daughter was left waiting (thankfully, there was an extended day program, so she was fine). I knew that there had to be a better way to not only schedule, but communicate with my husband and sitter around our day-to-day activities."
Gilbert says that the app was developed by Cambridge-based Intrepid Dev, and that she received some early funding and guidance from several investors who had been backers of CardStar, a mobile app acquired earlier this year by Constant Contact, the digital marketing company in Waltham. Toucanect is free, but Gilbert says its eventual business model will be charging for premium positioning in the event listings, or selling ads related to events, like a pre-theater dinner special, for instance, or hotel conference space for a business meeting.
(I should disclose that Gilbert is someone I have known for a loooong while; in 1999, we co-founded the Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation together, and have collaborated on many events since then.)
At Harvest, founder and former CEO Charlie Grinnell will stay on, overseeing technology and operations, as Kawola focuses on sales and marketing. "At Z Corp., we were building a complex product for a new market, and so this feels very familiar to me," says Kawola, who spent 15 years helping nudge 3-D printing into the mainstream. Initially, he'll focus on making sure that Harvest is reaching all the commercial plant growers who can benefit from the first generation of its 'bot, and later he'll look for other applications. While the current product is good at picking up and moving potted plants, Kawola said that new kinds of sensors and grabbers, which the company might license or acquire, could enable it to do other kinds of tasks.
Kawola tells me that Harvest investor Eric Paley and board member Russ Wilcox connected him to the company; Wilcox was formerly the chief executive of display-maker E Ink.
I last wrote about Harvest in June, when I had a chance to visit a commercial nursery in Connecticut that was testing out the company's robots. And I spoke with Kawola back in 2008, when he was launching an interesting Z Corp. partnership with videogame-maker Harmonix Music Systems.
And his startup, Robot Rebuilt, is out making the rounds of Boston venture capital firms.
The new robot, Tactico, builds upon work done at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and supervised by Rod Brooks, the iRobot co-founder who is now at Rethink Robotics. Torres-Jara, now an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says that he was "inspired by the ridges humans have on their fingers. We wanted to make a robotic hand that would mimic that, and achieve some of the same sensitivity our hands have."
While Tactico would have cameras to help it "see" an object in front of it, it would use those aqua-colored pads on its fingers to find the edges of the object, sort of the way humans use their fingers when groping in the dark for an alarm clock on a bedside table. Inside each pad is a sensor that can detect force, and understand which direction the force is coming from. That, says Torres-Jara, enables Tactico to pick up anything from eggs to wine glasses to paper cylinders.
One application, he says, would be moving prototype parts around as they are being formed by a CNC machine. Another would be pipetting liquid samples in a lab. "Right now, PhDs come in at 3 AM to take care of their experiments," Torres-Jara says. "Our robot could do that."
Robot Rebuilt is in the midst of negotiating a technology license from MIT, and Torres-Jara says it will likely be based in Cambridge, where he lives. "We're starting with the hand, but we're also working on building an arm," he says.
"People are taking more and more photos, but enjoying them less and less," says James Gardner, Litl's VP of marketing. "You might have 10,000 photos from the last few years, but it's not easy to surface the most relevant and exciting ones."
What the Woven app does especially well is give you access to your pictures no matter where they're stored. (It's available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and several other platforms.) It took me just a few minutes to sign in to services like Flickr, Shutterfly, and Facebook, and then start viewing thumbnails of my pictures on my iPhone. The new Samsung integration lets you link your phone or tablet to your TV by punching in a code it displays on the screen. Then, you can tap any picture and have it displayed on the big screen. It takes about three seconds for a photo to show up. (And it works even if your phone isn't connected to the same WiFi network as your TV.) Any captions you wrote appear on the screen.
The interface is elegant and streamlined. But I spent most of my visit to Litl HQ yesterday chatting with Garner and Kirsten Lewis, pictured above, about what else the app might do. There's no way now, for instance, to set up a slide show. It'd be nice to review all the pictures you'd shot on Christmas morning over the last few years, no matter where you'd put them, or all your photos taken on several trips to the Vineyard. It'd be nice to add voice annotations to pictures. If friends sitting on your couch all had the Woven app, perhaps they could give each photo a star rating as it appeared on the screen, creating a "top ten" list of favorite pics from the bachelorette party you'd all been to the prior weekend. But Woven doesn't do any of that — yet.
Looking at photos on a TV is a much better group experience than crowding around a laptop or tablet, but the Woven app doesn't have enough functionality to truly dazzle, beyond the nifty trick of letting you select a photo on your phone and then see it on the big screen.
Some of you may remember Litl as the company that, in 2009, started selling a $700 computer called the Webbook. It was an unsuccessful forerunner of devices like today's Google Chromebook, and Litl stopped selling it in mid-2011 to focus on developing software...like Woven. Litl itself is a division of Aquent, a global agency that helps place tech and creative talent.
Below is a company-produced video about the new Samsung integration.FULL ENTRY
As it happens, Lauzon got engaged over the holiday weekend — to a Gemvara employee, Callie Smith — so vacating the CEO's office probably makes that relationship a bit less complicated.
"I've always said I would step aside if we got to a point where we would benefit from someone else in the role, and we've hit that point," Lauzon says, mentioning growing revenues at the company, which offers infinitely customizable baubles. "We've benefitted from other management hires, and I believe we will benefit from this one."
Gemvara tried once before to replace Lauzon with an outside CEO: Deb Besemer, a software industry executive who joined in May 2009 and lasted less than a year. In 2010, Lauzon took the helm again, and Besemer told me, "You never have the same kind of passion that the founder has."
We'll see how things play out this time around... When I asked Lauzon if they board is looking for an exec with e-commerce or jewelry industry experience, he said, "We're focused on building a great, enduring retail brand. Experience with that is most important to me."
Gemvara has raised about $50 million in capital; its most recent round, $25 million, was announced in June of this year.
But that's not the case today with Cambridge-based BetterLesson, which brings lesson plans and classroom materials online for K-12 educators. The company is announcing a grant of $3.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That number exceeds the $2.7 million the company has raised thus far in equity funding. "When I told our existing investors about the grant, which is totally non-dilutive, they were insanely happy," says co-founder Alex Grodd.
Grodd says that most of the money will be funneled to teachers, to help them "capture their curriculum and their effective practices — things like classroom management and procedures." But the company will also add some full-time employees to support the new content-creation effort; BetterLesson now has eight employees.
The Gates-funded initiative at BetterLersson will start off by focusing on math for grades six through twelve. In a blog post about the funding, Grodd writes:
Basically, we’re going to create a living, breathing body of knowledge that is rooted in the common core and centers around incredible teachers. How, you ask? By sourcing and recruiting the best teachers from around the country; by giving them access to the most capable common core-knowledgeable coaches in the country; by supporting their development of full courses built from the common core up; by capturing their approaches to planning, instruction, and classroom management in the context of these courses; by sharing this with every teacher via the BL site; and by providing the community the tools to discuss, remix, and adapt these resources to meet the needs of their students.
BetterLesson offers both free and premium-level access to its site. I mentioned the company last fall, in a column titled "A real test for techies: The education market."
The app presents between six and ten questions each quarter, says co-founder Andrew Vassallo. Players can decide how many points they'd like to wager on each one. "Five hundred points may unlock free nachos, or 1500 may unlock a private party," says Vassallo. (He's on the right in the photo, with co-founder David Shack.) Spogo also enables its users to chat — or talk trash, more likely — as they wait for the next question to pop up.
Vassallo says that the company has signed up more than 50 eateries in Boston and New York to provide rewards to Spogo players, with the expectation that a free order of potato skins may also induce a new customer to purchase a pitcher of beer to go with it. Eventually, if Spogo can prove that it is bringing new customers in the door, the startup may charge bars to advertise through the app, and provide analytics about each campaign's effectiveness.
Co-founders Vassallo and Shack met as roommates at the University of Richmond. Prior to starting the company in May, Shack worked at the Boston ad agency Arnold Worldwide; Vassallo worked for the investment bank Cowen & Company in New York. The company raised a small seed round earlier this year of about $50,000 to support development of the app, but Vassallo says they hope to raise more in the coming months. The app was built by NYC-based Inertia Lab.
The company has just ten employees, but in addition to Cambridge, it has offices in Brazil, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Cignifi CEO Jonathan Hakim says that 2.7 billion people around the world use mobile phones, but have no formal credit history and thus little access to financial services like lending or insurance. Hakim says Cignifi is "actively recruiting both in technology and analytics." The company expects the first commercial deployment of its technology to take place in 2013.
Cignifi raised $600,000 from individual investors last year, and also received a $125,000 grant from the World Bank. The Omidyar Network has so far invested $550 million in for-profit companies as well as nonprofits; among its investment themes is "financial inclusion."
Mobee app sends consumers on data-gathering 'missions' to restaurants and stores, in exchange for rewards
"Companies are already spending money on mystery shopping," says Shah, right, a recent graduate of MIT's Sloan School of Management. "They might want to know how long the lines are at lunch, or how accurate the orders are, or whether the proper signage is up. In our research, we found that Panera stores spend about $200 a month to get information from four or five mystery shopper visits." Mobee's proposition is that it can gather more data, more frequently, for less money.
So far, the company has raised more than $1 million in seed funding — helped, no doubt, by the network Shah developed during stints at local venture capital firms Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst. Mobee's investors include TiE Angels Boston; former General Catalyst managing director John Simon; Netezza founder Jit Saxena; Launch Capital; Hub Angels, and Rob Soni, formerly a partner at Matrix and Bessemer.
Shah says that the app will initially focus on "quick service restaurants" like Dunkin' Donuts, Subway, and McDonald's. When users visit the store, they pay as they would normally, but when they fill out their report using the Mobee app, they get a digital credit of between $1 and $5. They can later cash in that credit for gift cards at Amazon and iTunes; have it deposited in their PayPal account; or donate it to charity. (Shah says that the app may also dangle prizes like iPads and sports tickets.) The app can even require that users take a photo of the store, or of their receipt, to prove that they really visited. Shah says that right now, there's no limit to the number of missions a user can complete, but that the app has some built-in fraud detection features, like discerning when a user may be entering data without actually reading the questions.
Mobee's board includes Neal Yanofsky, formerly president at Panera Bread and a top international executive at Dunkin' Brands. The five-person company is based at DogPatch Labs in Kendall Square. Shah says Mobee is using its new funding to add community managers, mobile developers, and salespeople.
Mobee tested its app earlier this year on the MIT campus. The big question now, Shah says, is "can we get users to use this thing?"
Screenshots of the app are below.
With $52 million in the bank, Acton-based Affirmed Networks says about a dozen wireless carriers are testing its first product
Affirmed chief executive Hassan Ahmed, right, formerly CEO at Sonus, tells me the company has about 100 employees, and has lined up about a dozen wireless carriers in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East who are testing its device, the poetically-named AN3000. Ahmed says he can't yet name any of the carriers.
"As consumers' data usage was growing like crazy, it required capital expenditures for the necessary network infrastructure to keep up with it," Ahmed says. "But our approach wasn't about just building a better box. We wanted to bring more intelligence to mobile networks." That can mean figuring out that you're trying to watch a popular YouTube video, and perhaps serving that up from a cache of commonly-requested files, or noticing that you're trying to download e-mail and routing you directly to the Internet, rather than relaying your request "along a complicated path that involved lots of boxes, before you got to the core of the network and then sent off to the Internet." Ahmed says that Affirmed's approach uses fewer network resources, and also enables operators to easily launch (and charge for) premium services, like higher-quality mobile videoconferencing.
Affirmed's backers include Matrix Partners and Charles River Ventures, two Boston-area venture capital firms.
"We got a great deal on a two-year sublease, and while we looked at other areas, it seems like you can get the best deals in the Financial District right now," says CEO Ric Calvillo. The new space is 12,500 square feet, with an option to add another 7,000. The company is currently located just a few blocks away, on Temple Street overlooking the Boston Common.
Nanigans was originally founded to be a publisher of games on Facebook — the name is a fragment of the word "shenanigans" — but by mid-2010, the company had shifted its focus to advertising. Calvillo touts the company as the biggest Facebook-oriented ad optimization platform, meaning that it helps advertisers get their message in front of the right audience, and dedicate more of their ad budget to ads that are delivering results. "On Facebook, you can deliver an ad to users based on their location, age, gender, interest, or behavior," Calvillo says. (Advertisers can even target individual users, for instance someone who once purchased from an e-commerce site but hasn't been back in a while.) "In some cases, when you measure the return-on-investment of an ad, you might find that it can be better even if you are paying for a more expensive audience."
Advertisers spend hundreds of millions of dollars through Nanigans' software, Calvillo says, and the company pockets a small percentage of that spend.
Calvillo says that Nanigans was profitable prior to raising $3 million last year, in its first round of venture capital. "We haven't used much of the money," he says.
In addition to the roomier digs in Boston, Calvillo says that Nanigans has small outposts in New York and San Francisco, and plans to establish a presence in London next year.
Here's how it works: Sidecastr captures the tweets about a particular TV show as it is being broadcast, and filters them in two ways. The first is trying to eliminate redundant tweets, spammy tweets, or tweets that aren't really of interest to most viewers: "Drinking a beer and watching 'Modern Family,'" for instance. The second filter involves a human curator — Brand refers to them as "Social DJs" — who flags and categorizes the best tweets. A catty comment about a starlet's dress on an awards show would be categorized under "Fashion," for instance. (Social DJs are paid for their time, Brand says, but aren't employees of the company.)
Users of the app can opt to either watch a show live, or they can watch it later from a digital video recorder; cable on-demand service; a site like Hulu; or a DVD. The Sidecastr app tunes into the audio of what you're watching, figures out where you are in the show — even if you've paused it or jumped ahead — and plays the relevant tweets. (I found that it took 10 or 20 seconds to figure out what show I was watching and start displaying tweets.) The app's design is nifty: each tweet is accompanied by a screenshot of the particular moment in the show that it is commenting on, and tweets scroll by horizontally. You can filter out particular categories of tweets (like those fashion-related comments on an awards show), or add your own opinions to the fray. And when you post something, you can decide whether or not it gets shared outside of the Sidecastr app, on networks like Twitter or Facebook. (It may not be relevant if you're watching on delay.)
I used Sidecastr on Monday afternoon, to watch last Saturday's episode of "Saturday Night Live" (see screenshot below.) The tweets were really well-chosen, and one pointed me to an interesting e-mail that guest host Louis C.K. had written to his fans about doing the show in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. One cool category is "VIP Tweets": comments from the official accounts of people on the show, which you can see whether you're following them on Twitter or not.
Right now, the app only collects tweets for about twenty shows, including "The Walking Dead," "Glee," "Sunday Night Football," and "The Voice." But Sidecastr also captures commentary about special events like the Presidential debates and the CMA Awards.
Sidecastr originally released the app in late June, but just updated it last Friday to better integrate it with Facebook. Brand explains, "The new app looks at your list of Facebook friends, and anyone else who uses the app can see one another's comments, and have conversations within the app among friends."FULL ENTRY
Digital marketing firm HubSpot adds $35 million in funding, some of it from Fidelity Investments, to fuel growth
CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan says the company has 400 employees at its Cambridge headquarters, and will open its first international office, in Dublin, Ireland, in January. HubSpot plans to hire about 50 people there in 2013. The company says that 8,000 customers in 56 countries use its software to produce informational content on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter -- an approach HubSpot has dubbed "inbound marketing," because it attracts customers who are already searching for a given company's product or service.
Halligan says that HubSpot still had "$8 or $9 million in the bank" from its last fundraising round, in March 2011, but that "we want to press on the gas a litte harder and grow a little faster." That means adding employees in Cambridge and Ireland, and also looking for smaller marketing companies to acquire. Halligan says that the acquisition of two Cambridge startups, Performable and Oneforty, primarily for their engineering talent, "really worked out great. We retained the key people on those teams, and they were people it'd be really difficult to hire on the open market."
In August, HubSpot released the latest version of its software, HubSpot 3, which enables companies to deliver more personalized messages to current and prospective customers.
Halligan says the company is generating revenue at an annualized run rate of $60 million, and that it has been adding board members and executives with public company experience, including chief operating officer J.D. Sherman, who had spent six years as chief financial officer of Cambridge-based Akamai Technologies.
Among the investors in HubSpot's latest round are Altimeter Capital, Cross Creek Capital, and Fidelity Investments. While Halligan said he wasn't allowed to discuss Fidelity specifically -- and the firm was not mentioned in today's press release -- he did say that "once in a while, this firm does invest in pre-public companies like Facebook and Workday," which sells human resources software. That describes Fidelity, and two sources close to the company confirmed that Fidelity is the unnamed investor. Fidelity spokesperson Sophie Launay said she couldn't comment on the HubSpot investment, but that Fidelity's mutual funds may invest a small percentage of their assets in private companies.FULL ENTRY
One of the spots it is running on cable networks like HGTV and ABC Family was made by the San Francisco ad agency Penabrand, and the other was conceived and shot by Wayfair's in-house video crew. Penabrand has produced TV ads for GE Healthcare, Jeep, and Ancestry.com. Wayfair's video crew, Ian Eshelman and Ian Kilburn -- known as The Two Ians -- typically make product videos for Wayfair's site, training videos, and recruiting videos that help the company project a fun image to prospective hires. Needless to say, they've never made a TV commercial before. (Eshelman's initial gig at Wayfair was as a customer service representative. He and Kilburn attended University of Vermont together.)
Wayfair, known until last year as CSN Stores, only started advertising on television in September, initially using a spot created by Penabrand. (The ad from the Ians started running this week.) CEO Niraj Shah tells me they're carefully monitoring the impact that the ads have on traffic to the site -- and purchases. Right now, the company is splitting its ad spending between the straight-faced, design-driven Penabrand ad and the more humorous ad created by the Ians. If one performs better, Shah says that Wayfair will tilt its spending toward that one. The company plans to spend about $1 million between now and the end of the year on the cable campaigns; last year, Wayfair raised $165 million in its first infusion of outside funding.
Here's the ad made by Penabrand:
And here's the ad made by the Ians:
Which one do you think will attract more buyers to Wayfair's site? Vote or comment below.
The caffeine purveyor has chosen 17 locations around the Boston area for a "limited time in-store trial for wireless charging," in the words of Starbucks chief digital officer Adam Brotman. "We're building the Powermat technology into some of the tabletops, just to get a sense for how our customers will react, compared to having to plug their mobile devices into the wall."
And if you don't already own an accessory for your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy that allows it to soak up electricity via inductive charging — the same technology that may already be keeping your electric toothbrush powered up — Starbucks may have a few freebie and loaner connectors. "A few weeks into the test, we'll do some in-store giveaways, and we will have some behind the counter available to loan out," says Brotman.
The first three stores where the technology is being installed are all in the Financial District: One Financial Center, 125 Summer Street, and 101 Federal Street.
Starbucks rolled out free WiFi in all its stores two years ago, in mid-2010. While the chain hasn't yet made the decision to roll out wireless charging everywhere, Brotman says that "customers are coming into our stores every day with mobile devices, and putting them down on the table. If they could be charging their device at the same time, then we've connected with that customer and met their need, maybe even before they realized they had a need for wireless charging."
I asked Brotman whether wireless charging, along with free WiFi, might encourage customers to hang around even longer in Starbucks stores. His response: "We want people to feel welcome and stay as long as they want to."
As for selecting Boston for the test, Brotman says, "Boston is a hotbed for early adoption and tech-savvy customers." Starbucks plans to test the technology through the holiday period, and then "early in the year, we'll talk to our customers and our store partners" — that's Starbucks lingo for employees — "and regroup with Powermat to figure out the next steps."
These are the 17 stores where Starbucks plans to install the Powermat technology. (Not all are up and running today.) There will be about eight charging pads in each store.FULL ENTRY
Nabeel Hyatt, who'd run the local studio until last February, when he left to join the VC firm Spark Capital, told me that he'd heard about the closure from Behmaram-Mosavat and other employees, who all said they'd been completely surprised by the announcement. Hyatt said the studio was within a few weeks of wrapping up work on a new game. "I think this is about getting Zynga back to profitability, which is a big goal for [CEO] Mark [Pincus]," Hyatt said. "And by eliminating a satellite office, maybe it's seen as something that doesn't affect the morale at headquarters as much."
I've e-mailed Behmaram-Mosavat for comment but haven't heard back. Earlier today, he tweeted, "All we have as leaders is trust and loyalty. Squander that and you lose everything."
Local game companies have been posting on Twitter throughout the afternoon using the hash tag "#Zynga" to let the laid off employees know about job opportunities.
Given access to your calendar (in Outlook, Google Calendar, or iCal), PrepWork scours it for the names and e-mail addresses of people with whom your meeting, and then goes off to do its research. You can also simply forward an e-mail to PrepWork, and it'll create a briefing on everyone who has been part of the e-mail conversation, and send it to all participants.
The site was created by Daniel Wolchonok, right, who is midway through the MBA program at Yale. Wolchonok spent this past summer developing PrepWork at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, with a smidgen of funding from the university. Wolchonok had previously studied computer science at Tufts, and he grew up in Wellesley.
"Right now I'm in a user growth phase, trying to demonstrate that I have the right strategy for acquiring users," Wolchonok says. (Fundraising will come later.) One idea is to focus on salespeople, who tend to have lots of meetings with new people each week.
Wolchonok says he's continuing to enhance the service -- for instance, folding in relevant information from a Google search, or highlighting things that have changed when you haven't met with someone for a while.
Here's the PrepWork backgrounder that Wolchonok got in his e-mail before we met, earlier this week:
Q. How many venture capitalists does it take to fund a light bulb startup?
A. Two. One to listen to the pitch, and the other to check e-mail on his phone and then ask a clueless question about the target market.
So...now the news: Cambridge-based ByteLight, which spun out of Boston University's Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center and took part last year in the Summer@Highland accelerator program, has raised $1.25 million in its first round of funding. The money comes from individual investors and California-based Vantage Point Capital Partners.
ByteLight is designing a system that's sort of like indoor GPS. Special LED light bulbs are programmed to flicker in a certain pattern. When the camera in your cell phone can "see" the light from several of them, it gets a fix on your location... even if there's no WiFi, GPS, or wireless coverage where you are. The company says its positoning is accurate to about one meter, and that it can be calculated within a second. The bulbs' imperceptible flicker pattern can also trigger information to pop up on your phone's screen, sending a special offer based on where you are in a store, or telling you the current security wait time at the nearest airport checkpoint. ByteLight's founders are Aaron Ganick, right, and Dan Ryan.
ByteLight has been working on prototype bulbs at its office space in Kendall Square's Dogpatch Labs, but the company says its plan is to license its technology to established LED lighting manufacturers. "The value proposition for LED lighting has traditionally been framed in terms of improved energy efficiency and longer life cycles," according to a company press release. "ByteLight is enhancing the commercial value of LEDs by turning them into more than just sources of illumination, thereby accelerating adoption of LED technology in the market."
The company says it is working with several stores and museums in the Boston area that will be test sites for the ByteLight bulbs. One of those is Boston's Museum of Science, according to a message the company posted on the fundraising site AngelList earlier this year.
I wrote about ByteLight last November, in a column headlined "Moving mapping technology indoors."
A company video is below:FULL ENTRY
I wrote about the company back in February, and since then, Axio has participated in two "accelerator" programs: Haxlr8r, which involved spending 15 weeks in Shenzhen, China, and Highland Capital Partners' Summer@Highland program for collegiate entrepreneurs, based in Kendall Square.
Now Axio will be the first "startup in residence" at the Central Square offices of IDEO, the renowned design firm.
"Axio is doing really cool stuff with sensors, and playing across the hardware and software boundary," says Colin Raney, IDEO's location director in Cambridge. "We think there's a great opportunity to learn from each other."
Axio's headband uses three sensors that touch the wearer's forehead to measure brain activity, and transmit the data via Bluetooth to a PC or mobile device. Software on the device helps guide the wearer to a state of intense focus. Co-founder Arye Barnehama has said the company is aiming for a price of about $100. That's your fearless blogger in the photo at left, testing out a prototype of the headband earlier this week. I was looking at a photo on the screen that would appear fuzzy when I wasn't concentrating, and sharper when I was.
IDEO has worked on products like the Palm PDA, Apple's first mouse, Redbox video rental kiosks, and an Elmo iPhone app for Sesame Workshop. As for whether the firm will open its Cambridge office to other fledgling businesses in the future, Raney says, "We're definitely interested...but fit is critical. For us, this is about learning, finding inspiration, and playing in new spaces."
When Ali Riaz, right, talks about what his Newton software company Attivio does, it boils down to helping companies figure out what they already know, giving them access to information that may be spread across e-mails, Word documents, invoice databases, or logs of customer support calls. "What we do is integrate all the silos of data that exist today, and provide you with the opportunity to do a query, or set up rules or alerts," says Riaz. Many of Attivio's early customers are financial services institutions and government intelligence agencies, he says.
Investors seem to like the product, and the momentum Attivio is building with customers: today, the company is announcing its first outside round of funding. Oak Investment Partners is leading a $34 million round. "Before this, we had money from the founding team, but no outside venture capital," Riaz says. The company got its start in 2007.
Riaz previously was president of FAST Search & Transfer, an enterprise search company sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion in 2008. Some of the team at Attivio hails from FAST, but Attivio has also hired veterans of local companies like MathWorks and Ab Initio. " There's a culture of hard-core engineering in Boston that we are leveraging," he says. "We have a team of almost 100 people who are extremely passionate about helping companies solve this problem."
Part of the problem is understanding the links between those leaves of data that may have fallen in different places. "One thing our software does is correlations," Riaz explains. "You may have an unpaid invoice that belongs to Cisco, and we help you figure out that the reason its unpaid is that you may have all these support issues with them that you need to address."
Riaz says part of the appeal of Attivio's software, which it calls the Active Intelligence Engine, is that "we can merge into their existing information infrastructure so that we're adding value in days."
The new funding will primarily go to sales and marketing, but the company also plans to dedicate some of the $34 million to additional product development. The company is hiring in all of its offices, in Massachusetts, Israel, Germany, and the UK.
Founder Joschka Tryba, right, says that the site wants to help citizens understand where politicians stand on the issues they care about most, and ideally have an impact on the legislative process at all levels. He was inspired to start work on LoveGov by the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. "Twitter and Facebook did an excellent job in getting people out on the street," Tryba says. "But in terms of impacting government and legislation, maybe Twitter and Facebook were limited in those respects. We built LoveGov to enable like-minded people to organize themselves, take action, and I'd hope, make a difference."
The site invites you to answer questions about issues ranging from taxes to school lunches to alternative energy, and then shows you which candidates you're most closely aligned with. But you can also see how your positions compare to those of your friends and family, if they sign up with the site. You can field polls of your own, create petitions, or start discussions. Tryba says the company is focusing at the outset on getting all of this fall's major races in New England into its database. "Eventually, we want to get down to the local level, with candidates for school board and state reps on the site, too," he says.
"What I liked about the idea is that it gets beyond whether you're a Democrat or Republican," says Pincince. "It lets you have issues-based conversations. Even if my wife and I support different candidates, the site shows us where we have common ground, and lets us talk about where we have differences."
LoveGov plans to feature live polling and discussions during tonight's vice presidential debate, and the remaining presidential debates.
After November's elections, Tryba says he hopes to raise additional funding to hire more employees and create partnerships that will bring users to the site in between elections. One of the company's big objectives, he says, is enabling citizens to make their voices heard more often than once every two years.
Here's a screenshot:
Her LinkedIn profile revealed that she'd founded a new business called Bella Inc. Her title was listed as "CMO." And since I'm always curious what Boston entrepreneurs are working on, I started bugging Floren by phone, e-mail, and Twitter to find out what kind of startup Bella is.
The human kind, it turns out. Floren's daughter Bella was born last December... and no, she's not yet incorporated. Floren writes via e-mail, "I'm going to be taking a little time off to be a full-time Chief Mom Officer before jumping into my next company... She's by far the most important job I've ever had."
I last covered Floren in 2010, when her book "The Innovation Generation" came out. Experience had raised about $46 million in venture capital funding, and achieved profitability in 2006, Floren told me then. She started Experience.com when she was 24, after leaving a consulting gig at Bain & Co., and cultivated the company over 16 years.
The Future of Mobile: Discussion featuring execs from LevelUp, Vlingo, uTest and PayPal Boston (audio)
The session took place on the closing day of the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Boston, and in addition to the opening topic we talked about how the mobile interface will evolve, app stores, and HTML5. We also covered some interesting mobile payment demos that LevelUp and PayPal Boston have developed.
The panelists were Michael Phillips, founder of Vlingo (acquired this year by Nuance); Seth Priebatsch, founder of SCVNGR and LevelUp; Walt Doyle, former CEO of Where and now general manager of PayPal Boston; and Doron Reuveni, founder of uTest. (Priebatsch and Phillips are pictured at right.)
The audio runs 55 minutes. You can press play below, or click mp3 to download the complete file. Audience comments and questions weren't miked, so unfortunately, they're a bit quiet.FULL ENTRY
Then, yesterday, Jones published a blog post that accused Boston venture capitalists of missing the opportunity to invest in startups that help corporate customers weave social media into their business processes. Jones wrote:
Investors on the west coast ... funded companies such as Lithium, Yammer, Jive and others initially in the community space. Later, a wave of investors funded social tools companies, and marketing/publishing platforms for social media. The response in Boston? Largely crickets.
Now, as we prep for our third consecutive Oracle OpenWorld [the conference starts Sunday in San Francisco], we expect Buzzient to yet again be one of the only companies in the room started in Cambridge/Boston. The real question is whether Enterprise Social Media companies like Buzzient can/will stay in Boston if all the action is elsewhere?
Well, while Jones didn't mention it in his blog post, it turns out that Buzzient has already departed Boston. Though Jones had been a vocal booster of the Innovation District, the company pulled up stakes at its Farnsworth Street offices over the summer, and Jones' LinkedIn profile now lists his location as Kennebunkport, Maine.
Buzzient's head of marketing, Bruce Kasrel, has left the company, as has head of field sales Scott Sullivan. A half-dozen members of the company's engineering team left Buzzient over the summer, according to LinkedIn. Buzzient had just a dozen employees last August, when it announced that it had raised $1.1 million, but Jones at that point said the company was in hiring mode.
When I spoke to him by phone yesterday, Jones wouldn't comment about where Buzzient is moving to, or the company's current situation. But several venture capitalists with whom I spoke said that Buzzient has been trying to raise additional funding.
After yesterday's blog post, Jones tweeted: "That was fast. Within 2 hours of my blog post on Enterprise Social, 2 top [Silicon Valley] VC's book me on their schedules: BOS? -0."
Know any more? Post a comment.
Co-founders David Cranor, Natan Linder, and Maxim Lobovsky (at right) attracted backing from big-name investors like Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, and Media Lab director Joi Ito. And today they launched a Kickstarter campaign to take orders for the printer, the Form 1. The first batch of 25 printers were priced at $2,300, and they sold out pretty fast, helping the company blow past its original $100,000 fund-raising goal on Kickstarter in just a few hours. Buyers who weren't so quick on the draw will pay $2,500.
Below is more coverage of Formlab's launch; company background; a photo I shot in their offices earlier this month; and their Kickstarter fund-raising video.FULL ENTRY
The new Happier was co-founded by Nataly Kogan, right, formerly of PayPal Boston, and Colin Plamondon, a co-founder of Spreadsong, developer of a popular book app for the iPhone. And it has raised a seed round of funding from two Boston investors: Mike Hirshland at Resolute.vc and Mike Tyrell of Venrock.
Kogan didn't want to say much about the five-person startup, headquartered in Boston's Fort Point Channel neighborhood, but she did mention that its first product, a mobile app, is due out in November. The startup is hiring. And while Happier raised its seed round over the summer, Kogan is continuing to meet with venture capitalists locally.
Here's how the company describes its mission:FULL ENTRY
The elegantly-executed app, Timbre, helps you find out about concerts near you; hear samples of each band's music; and, if you like, purchase tickets or iTunes downloads. (Hiawatha Bray of the Globe reviewed Timbre here.)
"Downloads went from 10-25/hr to 300-500/hr," Kasdorf writes via e-mail. (He's pictured at right.) "We're currently trending in the top 200 apps in the store, and top 15 in the music category." He says he'd been all summer to get someone from Apple to check out the beta of the app, but hadn't been successful. Until last week, apparently.
Intrepid's chief technology officer, Matt Bridges, will be at Web Innovators Group tonight to demo the app. The app was originally conceived as part of the 2012 Boston Innovation Challenge in May. (I should note that among that event's sponsors were Boston.com and the Boston Globe.)
"Our vision [for Intrepid.io] from the beginning was to be be an 80/20 company," Kasdorf says. By that, he means "80 percent consulting and 20 percent [of our own] product development." (The 80 percent has included contract work for AAA, Newsday, and Boston gaming startup Lucky Labs.)
Intrepid Pursuits has more of its own apps on the way: In October, the company plans to launch Prime's Quest, a puzzle game, and a children's flip book. The next month, it will debut a chess application.FULL ENTRY
That's how Jacobs connected with Doug Williams, right, who'd served as VP of engineering and IT at Cambridge-based Zipcar for six years, as the car-sharing network grew from a startup into a public company, and the engineering team there grew from three people to more than 40.
"My old boss at [executive recruiting firm] Howard Fischer Associates, Jeff DiSandro, introduced him to me as simply a 'good guy to know,'" Jacobs writes via e-mail. "We immediately hit it off." Williams left Zipcar in May, and was spending some time at the Waltham VC firm Matrix Partners considering his next move. While Jacobs says he didn't have a specific search going on for a head of engineering at RunKeeper, "We were starting to think about bringing in some foundational leadership to go build a big, enduring company, and to keep up with our aggressive growth. We also share a common investor with Zipcar in Steve Case's Revolution Ventures (Steve is on the Zipcar board)."
Williams joined RunKeeper this week as its VP of engineering. The Boston company says 12 million people now use its mobile app and web site to set fitness goals and track their progress. That number has almost doubled over the past year, Jacobs says.
I last covered RunKeeper in November of 2011, when the company raised $10 million.
The app enables coaches to shoot video on an iPhone or iPad and then mark it up with virtual chalk — as well as audio commentary — to help athletes improve their performance. It also allows coaches to compare one athlete's movements side-by-side with another's. Several Olympic teams used the app to prepare for this summer's London games, including USA Gymnastics and USA Volleyball. The company says that its app has been downloaded 800,000 times so far, and that more than 6 million videos have been created. UberSense says that gymnastics, baseball, and golf are the three sports that the app is most often used for.
Co-founders Amit Jardosh and Krishna Ramchandran originally started developing the app in hopes of improving their own golf games. Last year, they left jobs at Yahoo and Citrix Online to work on the startup full-time. The new funding comes from Google Ventures, Atlas Venture, Boston Seed Capital, and Ty Danco, an angel investor based in Vermont who participated in the 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympics as a luge racer.
Jardosh says that the coaches of MIT's golf and men's tennis teams are using the app, adding, "We are now starting to reach out to more local teams and coaches."
UberSense has seven employees, and is moving from Cambridge to new offices in Downtown Crossing this week. I last covered the company in June, when UberSense presented as part of TechStars' "demo day."
Rethink Robotics launches its first product: Baxter, an inexpensive and easily-trained manufacturing bot
My Sunday Boston Globe column focused on the upcoming launch:
Last week’s splashiest product announcement was the iPhone 5, introduced by Apple in San Francisco. But this week’s could very well be a humanoid robot that a Boston company is unveiling on Tuesday. Its name is Baxter, and though it will cost north of $20,000, the Boston company that developed it, Rethink Robotics, asserts it could change manufacturing in the same radical way the iPhone changed the mobile phone business.
A big part of Rethink’s pitch is that Baxter will be a friendly robot, one that won’t obliterate manufacturing jobs here but make it economical for manufacturing sent offshore to be done domestically once again. To which I must say: Really?
No start-up in Boston has a pedigree that can match Rethink’s. The company was founded by Rodney Brooks, a renowned robotics researcher who was one of the three founders of iRobot Corp., the publicly traded maker of robots that roam the battlefield and the living room floor. Rethink’s first investor was Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. Rethink’s chief executive Scott Eckert was responsible for launching the e-commerce business at Dell Inc., the Texas computer maker, in the mid-1990s.
You'll be able to see Baxter on display at next month's EmTech conference in Cambridge.
Here's more coverage of Rethink's launch:
• IEEE Spectrum has detailed photos of Baxter
• "Rod Brooks and Rethink Reveal an Industrial Robot for the Masses," in Xconomy
• "A Robot With a Reassuring Touch," in the New York Times
• "I Made the Robot Do It," by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times
• "Robots That Work for the Little Guy," from the Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2012
• "Thinking Twice on Rethink Robotics," by Dan Kara in Robotics Business Review
• "Will lower-skilled workers get pushed out by robots?" a column of mine from June 2012, comparing Rethink Robotics and Harvest Automation, another local robotics startup.
• "Will Our Consumer Goods Always Be Manufactured By Hand?" – Rodney Brooks talk from May 2012:FULL ENTRY
Block Avenue has divided up the U.S. into 1.89 billion squares, each one with 300 feet on each side, says founder Tony Longo. (He's on the right in the photo, with director of engineering Drew Myers.) "Then, we went and we collected as much data as we could about each block," he says. That includes information about whether there's public transit, car-sharing, or bike-sharing locations; recent crimes and sex offenders who live in that block; amenities like gyms, parks, dry cleaners, grocery stores, and restaurants; and schools. "There are players out there who do each of those things on their own," says Longo, "but nobody has brought it together." Based on the information Block Avenue collects, its software algorithm assigns a grade, from A through F. As you zoom in and out on Block Avenue's map, the system calculates an overall grade for the area you're looking at, which shows up in the upper right corner. (See the screen shot below.)
Visitors to the site can also write reviews of blocks they live on, or are familiar with. They can also add even more information to Block Avenue's database, rating a block on matters like noise, cleanliness, traffic levels, and community spirit (all things which Block Avenue couldn't find in existing databases.) Longo says that user reviews and ratings will influence those automatic grades that Block Avenue assigns.
The company is focusing on three cities in its launch phase: Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., and Longo says that during its testing this summer, the company has already gathered about 2,000 reviews from users in those cities.
Now, on to the potential for controversy. Longo has plans to overlay U.S. Census data about race, income, average age, and ethnicity onto Block Avenue's maps, which could upset people. (Though there are already sites like Mixed Metro that offer up some of that information.) Second, no homeowner will want to admit they live on a Grade D or F block, especially if they ever hope to sell their property, and so I predict there will be a natural tilt toward grade inflation. (I also think it will be a challenge to keep boosterish real estate agents from writing gushy reviews about the areas they represent.)
Longo, as it happens, was previously the founder of the online brokerage CondoDomain, and he acknowledges the potential for problems. "We will have a very careful eye on real estate agents, developers, and property managers," he says. (CondoDomain was acquired by Better Homes Realty last month.)
The site plans to make money by licensing its data to real estate sites — think Zillow and Trulia — as well as selling a service to realtors that would enable them to create reports about specific neighborhoods for their customers. There also will be advertising on the site, Longo says.
Santalo is CEO and founder of CareCloud, which is in the same business as Athenahealth, the public company headquartered in Watertown: selling software and services that help doctors run their offices, manage their patients' medical records, and collect money from insurance companies. He boasts that CareCloud's web-based system offers a better user interface than Athenahealth, can run on Macs (unlike Athena), and doesn't require that doctors outsource their "revenue cycle" — IE, shaking down insurance companies for the money they're owed — to CareCloud. His company has so far raised $24 million from Intel Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, and individual investors.
Santalo, incidentally, has hired eight veterans from Athena, including his VPs of sales, corporate communications, and product management. (CareCloud has 135 employees in total.) "We have nine or ten people who are working for us remotely in Massachusetts and Rhode Island right now," he says, "mainly in field sales and implementation and marketing." But the company is hunting for office space in Cambridge and Boston, and is planning to hire a VP of engineering locally who will build a team here. "We have a lot of healthcare in Miami, but not a lot of tech," Santalo says. "The attraction of Boston is that it has a lot of talent, and a lot of the earlier generation of healthcare IT companies have been built here." Santalo says the Boston office will also likely include business development and product marketing employees.
CareCloud's VP of marketing is Joe Sawyer, a veteran of Boston-based American Well, a Boston company that connects patients with medical providers via video and the web. But Sawyer is now based at CareCloud's Miami HQ....which is conveniently located right next to the airport.
The kit, called Prodigy, shows how a WiTricity-designed base station can transmit about a watt of power omni-directionally, lighting up one or two plastic disks that contain an array of LEDs. (A video demo is below.) WiTricity uses magnetic fields oscillating at a particular frequency to transfer power efficiently over short distances. The approach was first demonstrated at MIT in 2007.
"We get thousands of inquiries about potential applications of the technology, where people have ideas and they want to get their hands on our stuff," says David Schatz, right, director of business development and marketing at WiTricity. He says the Prodigy kit is targeted at engineers who want to explain to management how the technology works, as well as independent product designers and inventors who are working on new products. (The kit is also available to science educators and academic researchers at a slightly reduced price, $750.) WiTricity hopes that some of the companies purchasing the kits may eventually become licensees of its technology; thus far, WiTricity has been working primarily with consumer electronics and automotive companies, to enable cordless recharging of devices like laptops, mobile phones, and electric vehicles.
The kit consists of a "base station" and battery pack, which transmits "less than one watt of electricity," Schatz says, to two discs that light up. There's also a rubber pad that contains a passive coil and capacitors, which can be used to roughly double the effective range of the base station, to about two feet.
The first 40 of the kits will go to WiTricity employees, Schatz says, who will now presumably be able to show off to friends and family the rather amazing stuff they've been working on at the office.
I last wrote about WiTricity in April of 2011, when Toyota invested in the company. WiTricity has so far raised $20 million in funding, Giler says.
The company built widgets that enable any website to poll fans about how they feel about a team's prospects, and display the results as a "fan confidence" index. "The indexes are similar to stock quotes and are trackable over time, enabling marketers and franchises to see how fans actually feel about the team year-to-year or even day-to-day," explains co-founder Scott Cohen.
You can see FanTab's widget in the right-hand column of this Sporting News page, collecting data from Pats fans. (Confidence in this year's crew is almost 9 percent higher than it was this time in 2011.) Cohen says The Sporting News has plans to integrate the data more extensively throughout the site.
FanTab never raised VC funding. It was founded in 2011 by Cohen and Frank Hertz, who were part of the team that built and launched Boston.com in the mid-90s, along with Roesler.
I last covered FanTab in January of 2011, prior to its launch.
After attaining profitability last year, SimpleTuition CEO Kevin Walker, right, says, "We started to look around for other products and services we could either build or buy. ValoreBooks was the best fit." Students shopping for loans can be introduced to Valore's textbook marketplace, and vice versa, he says.
Given the title of a textbook, Valore serves up numerous options: buying it new, used, or in e-book form, or renting it. "Valore takes a commission on the transaction, but doesn't have to fulfill the books," Walker explains. Purchases of textbooks will also enable students to earn rewards points — SimpleTuition calls them "SmarterBucks" — that can go toward paying off a student loan.
Walker says that seven of Valore's nine employees agreed to move to Boston, and two have already been hired locally to work on the site. "It's a pretty young team, and most people didn't have to uproot their families," he says. And compared to San Diego, Walker says, "they felt there were a lot of things going on here for tech-focused people." (He adds that negotiations were probably helped along by the fact that last winter was especially mild.)
SimpleTuition has 33 employees in Boston's Fort Point Channel neighborhood. The company has raised about $18 million in venture funding, some of it from local firms like Atlas Venture and Flybridge Capital Partners. Walker says he is "actively looking for other acquisitions." Earlier this year, the company launched an online banking service targeting students, SmarterBank, which enables them to accure rewards points (those aforementioned SmarterBucks) that go toward paying down student loans.
"We expect a decent-sized overlap in the playing populations for both [the web site and the new mobile game]," says Femi Wasserman, DraftKings' head of marketing, "but that each market segment will remain fundamentally different."
Both Big Baller and the DraftKings web site are part of the"daily fantasy" gaming genre, which focuses on the day-to-day results of sports match-ups, where traditional fantasy sports have focused on building a team and following its progress over the course of a season.
The Big Baller app allows players to follow live scores of the games they care about — and, of course, trash talk their opponents. There's a hard-bitten virtual coach named Coach O'Keefe who offers tips on playing. At launch, the app supports football, baseball, and basketball. And as with many mobile games — think Draw Something — it'll remind your friends when it's time for them to pick new players.
DraftKings built the new apps in-house over the course of the summer; the company had announced in July a funding round of $1.4 million, led by Atlas Venture of Cambridge. I originally covered the company, founded by a trio of ex-VistaPrint executives, back in February.
I know the odds are good that the recipient will use it to buy something fun or useful, but I always feel like I've taken some crass shortcut by not sending a box wrapped up in a bow, or even a paper gift certificate in the mail.
A new MIT startup called Delightfully is addressing that conflict head-on. The three-person company wants to add a layer of personalized experience to digital gift-giving. And they've raised about $100,000 in angel funding, led by Avid Technology founder Bill Warner.
"Gift-giving is intended to be about a relationship between two people — not a vendor and a recipient," says co-founder Jason Shin, an MBA student at MIT's Sloan School of Management. "When we talk about digital gift-wrapping, what we mean is showing some effort, the same way you do when you do a great job wrapping a physical gift." Instead of simply opening an e-mail, the recipient of a gift sent with Delightfully might encounter a collage of photos chosen by the sender, and have to move them around to find out what's underneath. (Perhaps an iTunes gift code, for instance.)
Shin also talks about developing videogames — think "Angry Birds" with the faces of family members — that must be played before unlocking a gift, or augmented reality "scavenger hunts" that might require the recipient to take their mobile phone to a series of locations before receiving their gift.
As for the business model, Shin says that consumers may be willing to pay a premium to have their digital gifts delivered with a bit more panache — and it's possible that e-commerce sites might be willing to license Delightfully's technology to differentiate their e-certificates.
You can sign up now to be notified when Delightfully launches later this month. Initially, you'll be able to use the technology to send someone a gift code that you purchase, as part of a separate transaction, from just about any e-commerce site.FULL ENTRY
After spending more than $11 million, Boston-based Swap.com acquired by Finnish startup for undisclosed amount
But the swap movement never arrived, and Swap failed to build an enduring business. Taking a 50 cent fee per swap, even over a million transactions, didn't add up to much revenue. The company also tried a freemium model, making basic swaps free and charging for add-on services like shipping assistance, but Swap simply couldn't achieve scale. The site's traffic slid from more than 200,000 visitors a month last year to barely 50,000 a month recently, according to Compete.
And back in April, a Finnish company called Netcycler, also in the swapping business, acquired Swap.com for an undisclosed amount. The acquisition wasn't announced until this week, when Netcycler sent an e-mail to former Swap.com users. The subject was, "The lights are on again at Swap.com!" Netcycler executives promised that "going forward, we are planning some exciting improvements that we will tell you more about during the fall." (Four-year old Netcycler has raised just $1.5 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, and has not yet launched in the U.S.)
Swap vacated its South End offices in April. Netcycler CEO Juha Koponen wouldn't be specific about how many Swap.com employees still work in Boston. (The company once employed 15 people.) "A small staff will continue to support Swap.com as we look to expand our presence," he wrote via e-mail. LinkedIn lists four people as still working for Swap in Boston. Bennett, the CEO, and CTO Steve Cross both left Swap.com in April.
Neither Koponen or Bennett would discuss the terms of the acquisition. Bennett and Cross are now developing a new company called Raptor Sports Properties as part of Boston-based Raptor Group Holdings. (Raptor Group CEO James Pallotta is an owner of the Boston Celtics.) According to its website, Raptor Sports Properties "provides commercialization services to sports properties around the globe, including fan management, licensing, merchandising, marketing, activation, eCommerce and sponsorship."
Swap raised more than $11 million over the course of its existence as an independent company. Among Swap's investors were former Fidelity money manager Peter Lynch and investment firm Safeguard Scientifics. The company was founded in 2004.
Still, the Cambridge company managed to lure about 2,800 people to the Hynes Convention Center for sessions on "Email Marketing That People Love," "Mobile Marketing," and "Closed Loop Social Selling Strategies."
HubSpot coined and helped popularize the term "inbound marketing," which refers to creating useful content in order to get discovered online by prospective customers, rather than buying traditional advertising. I caught up with CEO Brian Halligan earlier today. (Halligan is in the photo above. You'll see Cyndi Lauper in the background; she performed a song at this morning's opening session.) A couple bullet points from our chat.
• HubSpot wants to help spread the gospel of inbound marketing "the way Nike powered the fitness revolution, or the way Whole Foods is associated with healthy eating," Halligan says.
• I asked Halligan about the perception that HubSpot's brand and awareness of the company in the market may have outpaced the company's revenues. "That's a high-quality problem to have," he says, "but we're catching up to where people think we are." Revenues over the last twelve months were in the neighborhood of $50 million, he says. Halligan adds that the company's Q2 revenues this year increased 90 percent over Q2 2011.
• Halligan says he and co-founder Dharmesh will talk tomorrow morning about "the next six years of inbound marketing." (They originally coined the term six years ago.) Halligan didn't want to be too specific, but says the focus of HubSpot's future strategy will be about how to pull prospective customers "through the funnel" and persuade them to make a purchase commitment. Referring to how Amazon.com presents a different front page to every user based on what they've bought before and the products they've perused, Halligan hinted that future iterations of HubSpot's software will be about "radical personalization."
My Boston Globe column this week tells the story of two startups built on what seemed to be promising tech trends: WiFi-connected photo frames, and location-aware mobile phones.
The former company was Wellesley-based Frame Media (which later became known as Thinking Screen Media.) They quietly went out of business last summer. The latter was Where Inc., acquired by eBay/PayPal last spring for $135 million. Both companies were started by Alan Phillips, and Jon Finegold played a key role in building both Frame and Where (though he was only a founder of Frame.)
Last summer supplied a learning experience for Jon Finegold, but it was not the sort he’d like to repeat. First, Finegold hunted for investors who might put more money into his five-year-old Wellesley start-up, Frame Media Inc. Then, he sought potential buyers. Finally, he filed papers to dissolve the company, laid off the last of his employees, sold the furniture and computers, and wrote thank-you notes to investors who had put about $6 million into Frame.
Walt Doyle was the MapQuest alum who joined Where in 2006 as its CEO, and was largely responsible for its eventual success. I asked him for his take on the company's sometimes circuitous path toward a successful acquisition. (Doyle is pictured above.)
Doyle wrote via e-mail:FULL ENTRY
They are:FULL ENTRY
"The idea was that one of the big barriers in apparel e-commerce is that you can't measure people like you could if they were in a retail store," he explains. But it was a different notion that earned Kimmel entrance into the Kinect Accelerator in Seattle. (He was the lone Massachusetts entrepreneur to participate in the joint TechStars/Microsoft program this year.)
He proposed using the Kinect to keep an electronic eye on senior citizens living alone.
"Forty percent of seniors say they fear losing their home, independence, and privacy more than they fear death," says Kimmel. "What we've created is a kind of smart radar that monitors movement without using video, and can look for deviations from normal activity."
For an alpha test earlier this year, which involved five seniors, Kimmel installed a laptop and a Kinect in either their living room or kitchen, and connected the laptop to a WiFi network. The Kinect didn't record images or video of what was happening in the room, but instead relied on its depth sensors to track people moving in and out of the room in a way that made them look like amorphous blobs on the screen.
Obviously, if grandma usually comes into the kitchen for breakfast at 7:30, and on one particular day she still hadn't shown up by 9, her children or friends might want to receive an alert. But Kimmel, who is that rare MD who also holds a master's in computer science and an MBA, says he's going a few steps further than simply sounding the alarm when normal comings and goings change. "The way you move indicates your state of health," he says. "When your walking speed changes, that is predictive of fall risk, and it could also mean you're depressed, or that you have pneumonia." Kimmel says he is also beginning to use the Kinect to analyze the movement of individual joints like knees and ankles, and how it changes over time. He believes that information will prove useful for doctors and physical therapists.
"My goal is to acquire signals from how people move, but protect their privacy," he says.
Participating in the Kinect Accelerator required that Kimmel cough up six percent of his startup's equity in exchange for $20,000. Kimmel says he's now in the midst of raising a $300,000 funding round for the Cambridge startup, which he has dubbed ZebCare. He's also adding team members, and talking with hospital chains and insurers to gauge their interest in the technology.
We'll see whether ZebCare might be the startup that helps introduce Microsoft's Kinect to a (much) older demographic...
The video of Kimmel's presentation at the Kinect Accelerator is below. It took place in June 2012.FULL ENTRY
But it's also the true-life story of the latest "big data" startup to get funding from Massachusetts venture capital firms. It's called Sqrrl, and the founding team is still in the process of relocating from the Washington, D.C. area. They'll be operating out of the new hack/reduce space on the edge of Kendall Square. The $2 million in funding comes from Cambridge-based Atlas Venture, one of the underwriters of hack/reduce, and Matrix Partners of Waltham.
Sqrrl is planning to sell and support its own commercial version of the open source database software known as Accumulo. Accumulo has an interesting history: it was originally built at the NSA, and based on a data storage architecture called BigTable that Google created to store vast amounts of information — like Google Earth's satellite images of the entire planet — across multiple data centers. Somewhat amazingly, the government decided to release the code for Accumulo to the open source community, so that others could use it and improve it. "That's a growing trend in government, but it's still not exactly commonplace," says Sqrrl CEO Oren Falkowitz.
So what makes Sqrrl so special? First, the Accumulo database can handle enormous amounts of data, says Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners: "You can imagine the volume of data the NSA was working with, like gathering records of every purchase of fertilizer everywhere in the world to try to identify people who might be up to no good." Second, says Falkowitz, is a "cell-level" approach to security that can grant or refuse access to individual elements of information — like a Social Security number or medical diagnosis within the database. "That means that multiple users or applications at a company can have multiple levels of access to the data," he explains. And third, Rodriguez says, "Sqrrl is the only company trying to commercialize Accumulo, which we think can be a powerful competitor to HBase." (That's another kind of open source database software, used by companies like Facebook.)
The Sqrrl team left the NSA only last month, but earlier in the year they'd begun talking with investors and prospective customers, mainly in the healthcare and financial services industries. Falkowitz says, "We only got about halfway through our pitch with Chris Lynch at Atlas when he said, 'I get it." (Lynch, pictured on the left with Rodriguez of Matrix, was previously chief executive of the database company Vertica.) Falkowitz says they had offers to invest from several VC firms, but "we felt like the academic community in Boston would allow us to recruit the best talent, and it's exciting to be part of the growing big data community here."
Plus, Lynch made it clear that he wouldn't invest in the company if it remained in the D.C. area. "Being up here increases their probability of success," he says. "I told them, 'I don't care if you have 100 term sheets [from other VC firms offering to invest]. If you want this syndicate [Atlas and Matrix], you're moving to Boston.'" (Lynch sprinkled in a little profanity so they knew he was serious.) This is Lynch's first investment since joining Atlas in May.
Lynch is traveling New York this week with the Sqrrl team to meet with prospective customers on Wall Street. Falkowitz says the company is hiring in marketing, sales, and engineering.FULL ENTRY
How a Massachusetts angel investor wound up putting money into Pinterest, the latest social media success in Silicon Valley
And there's just one person in Massachusetts who was smart enough to invest in Pinterest's very first round of angel funding, back in 2009.
Jit Saxena is a serial entrepreneur who started database companies like Netezza and Applix, and these days mainly makes angel investments. Most of the checks he writes are to Boston-area software companies like ParElastic and CloudSwitch.
But in 2009, Saxena was out in Palo Alto for a family wedding. "I had nothing to do in the morning, and Ed [Zander] has suggested I go meet this guy Ben Silbermann," he explains. Silbermann had previously worked at Google, and at the time he was working on something called Cold Brew Labs, a "social commerce" incubator that eventually spawned Pinterest. (Saxena had worked with Zander, formerly a top executive at Motorola and Sun Microsystems, at Massachusetts minicomputer-maker Data General back in the day.)
"I went and had lunch with the guy" at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto, Saxena says. "I didn't understand completely what he was trying to do. But I invest in people. To me, that is everything. I think understanding the space is overrated. It just creates biases." Afterward, Saxena e-mailed and talked with other members of the Pinterest team, but Silbermann remained the only one he'd met in person. "I don't think you need to make investing very complicated," he says. "You just get a gut feel that the person is great."
Saxena decided to invest, and so did Zander. All told, the fledgling company raised $500,000 from investors at that point, in a first round of funding that also included legendary Silicon Valley angel Ron Conway and Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO of Yelp.
Since then, Pinterest's user base and valuation have grown like a beanstalk. But Saxena says that he doesn't have a Pinterest account of his own. "I'm not a user," he admits, "though I've looked at the site a lot to see what's new."
Is Rest Devices' baby onesie, designed to monitor infants as they sleep, the cutest tech product in town?
So what about a onesie embedded with sensors that can report on baby's breathing, temperature, and movement? A Boston startup called Rest Devices hopes to have the product on the market later this year, aiming for a price somewhere between $100 and $200. The package would include three onesies, a small turtle-shaped transmitter that clips onto the front with magnets, and a plug-in base station that would send data from the nursery over a home's WiFi network. (Another option is that the transmitter could communicate directly with a Bluetooth phone.)
The last time I wrote about Rest, the company was known as Nyx Devices and was developing a form-fitting SleepShirt that could help diagnose problems like sleep apnea. CEO Thomas Lipoma says they're still selling a version of that shirt to sleep researchers, but that the onesie is their main focus. (Lipoma is on the right in the photo, with Dulcie Madden, Rest's head of business development.)
"New parents want to know how their baby is doing at all times," says Lipoma. "This can tell you if your baby is on her stomach or her back, if her temperature spikes, if she's moving around, and if she's breathing normally." That last factor, of course, is a major fear for parents, who worry about sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDs.FULL ENTRY
Airshow in a parking garage: MIT researchers build an airplane that can navigate indoors, without GPS (video)
MIT's news release is below the video.FULL ENTRY
Asia's richest man and Kleiner Perkins lead new $12 million funding round for MIT spin-out Affectiva
The facial expression software, called Affdex, is primarily of interest right now to ad agencies and market researchers, who might want to show a TV spot or movie trailer to a test group and see which parts made them smile, frown, or look confused. The Q wristband sensor can also be used in that kind of market research, but it's also employed by researchers who focus on conditions like autism, epilepsy, and anxiety.
The new money — $12 million — "will accelerate development of both products," says Affectiva CEO David Berman, right. "We're lining up partners that have hardware manufacturing and distribution already in place for the Q Sensor, and we think that being able to test an ad or any content around the world, using a webcam, is really disruptive. It's something that we think will allow creators to optimize their content, especially by taking into acount how different cultures respond to it." Eventually, Berman predicts, we might share videos or other online content with our social networks based on how they made us feel: IE, "Here's a link to a YouTube clip that made me smile, cry, or wince in agony."
"We think the Facebook 'like' button is going to be obsolete," he says. "Instead, you'll be able to share a range of emotions while you're interacting with social content." You can try out the technology for yourself here, by viewing and responding to recent Super Bowl ads.
Affectiva co-founder and chief scientist Rosalind Picard is still on the faculty at MIT, and co-founder and chief technology officer Rana el Kaliouby also works as a research scientist there. Berman says that the company is approaching 40 employees, and "we should double in the next year." The company has raised $17.7 million in equity financing thus far.
Several summers ago, an MIT student named Drew Houston showed up for an internship at Bit9, a Waltham network security company. After graduation, he landed a job there as a software engineer, but left in May 2007 to do his own start-up.
Since then, Bit9 has had a pretty good run. It has grown to 150 employees and set up sales offices in Europe and Asia. Among the customers it helps protect from hacker attacks are the Air Force, 7-Eleven, and Toyota Financial Services. Last Monday, it announced a fresh round of venture capital funding: $34.5 million, bringing the total amount Bit9 has raised to more than $70 million.
But the business that Houston started in 2007, Dropbox, has proven to be a rocket ship. Dropbox helps more than 50 million people store and synchronize digital files so the latest version can be accessed from any device. Investors have pegged the San Francisco company’s current value at $4 billion. Steve Jobs, the late Apple chief executive, tried to acquire it. Dropbox has raised $257 million in venture capital — some of it from Sequoia Capital, the same Silicon Valley venture capital firm that just put money into Houston’s old employer, Bit9.
Has there ever been a summer intern who has done so much, so quickly? (Forbes estimates Houston’s net worth at $400 million. He is 29.) And how did Houston become the latest product of the Bay State to become an entrepreneurial rock star in California?
Here's a bit of "bonus material" related to the column, including one of the first demo videos Houston created for Dropbox. Would you have invested if you saw this?FULL ENTRY
Ex-Microsoft evangelist Abby Fichtner will head new 'hackerspace' in Kendall Square focused on big data
Hack/reduce aims to be a central node of Boston's burgeoning "big data" scene, serving as both a gathering place and office space for entrepreneurs and developers. It'll also offer its members access to high-powered servers, data storage, and sample data sets that can be used for projects. (Members may pay an annual fee to support hack/reduce and access certain services, but the space will be open to the community.)
The new space has so far raised about $3 million a group of venture capital firms and tech companies like IBM, Dell and EMC, says Chris Lynch of Atlas Venture, who has been spearheading fundraising. And back in May, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick announced that the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative would give hack/reduce $50,000 over two years.
The prime movers behind hack/reduce are Lynch and Hopper founder Frederic Lalonde, who recently moved to Boston from Montreal. Steve Papa, co-founder and CEO of Endeca (which is now part of Oracle) is also an advisor.
On the choice of Fichtner to head hack/reduce, Lynch says, "We kissed a lot of frogs. We found good business people and super-technical people. But Abby already has a following, and she has experience building a community. She has a larger-than-life personality, and she is a developer. She can also really relate to younger people. She's a little edgy and left-of-center."
"Big data is a real opportunity for Boston to excel," says Fichtner, who is perhaps better known by her Twitter handle @HackerChick. "We have so many smart people here. We can bring in all these domains like life sciences and finance and even musicians and artists, and connect them with developers to really foster innovation."
Hack/reduce will be located in the Kendall Boiler & Tank Building, on the edge of Kendall Square. The hack/reduce space isn't open yet, but Hopper, an online travel site that hasn't yet launched, is based in the same building.
Fichtner stars the new job on Monday: "I just want to hit the ground running, and get the space opened as soon as possible."
There's no release date yet for the Facebook-based game, which Radoff says has been in development since last December. But Radoff hints that it'll be later in 2012 or early 2013.
Earlier in his career, Howie was president of Blue Fang Games, the creator of Zoo Tycoon, a top-selling PC game, and also the Facebook games Zoo Kingdom and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? In 2009, Howie tried to shift Blue Fang from a developer of PC & console games to a more Facebook and mobile-oriented studio. But Blue Fang dissolved in 2011. Howie's next venture was Beach Cooler Games, a virtual studio — it relied on contractors rather than full-timers, and didn't have an office — that produced the mobile game Universal Movie Tycoon in partnership with the Toronto-based game publisher Fuse Publishing. Beach Cooler has also been working on a second game with Fuse, which Howie wouldn't name, but which will be released later this year.
"I'm trying to finish up Beach Cooler's obligations, and I'll be starting full-time at Disruptor Beam on August 1st," Howie says. He'll be responsible for business development, licensing, distribution deals, and publisher relationships.
Disruptor Beam's staff, along with an army of more than 30 contractors, is working solely on the "Game of Thrones Ascent" game right now, Radoff says, working with HBO and George R.R. Martin, the author of the novels upon which the cable series is based. "We're trying to bring triple-A, console-like game sensibilities to social gaming," he says, "with higher production values and more immersion than people have seen so far." The fans of "Game of Thrones," he points out, have "super-high expectations" for anything linked to the epic TV series, which is set in medieval times and focuses on the rulers of a fictional realm called Westeros.
Disruptor Beam raised a seed round of funding earlier this year from a group of investors that included CommonAngels, Romulus Capital, and current and former executives at Cambridge-based Harmonix Music Systems, one of the area's most successful gaming companies. At the time, Radoff said it was under $1 million.
What's the best way to launch a new crowdsourcing startup? Just crowdsource the marketing campaign, says Cambridge-based PieceWise
Cambridge-based PieceWise is designed for people who are trying to plan out a project "and they don't know exactly how to do it," says co-founder and CEO William Neely. "Instead of hiring a consultant, you can put some prize money out there, and everyone can give their ideas."
So PieceWise is practicing what it preaches, offering $1000 to those who supply advice about how the four-person company should conduct its first marketing push. "We haven't been very creative in coming up with marketing ideas," Neely admits. "We want to gather some crazy ideas from this campaign, like when [RunKeeper founder] Jason Jacobs ran the Boston Marathon." (He did it dressed as an iPhone, to promote his new iPhone app.)
Neely says PieceWise is similar to 99Designs, where users create a bounty for the best-designed logo, for example. "But the really cool feature we have is that the prize is collaborative," he says, meaning that it can be split up among multiple contributors. (At 99Designs, only one winner takes home the cash.) Users can vote on the best ideas, and that determines how the cash is allocated — even though the person who posted the prize in the first place may choose to run with an entirely different set of ideas. (Neely says the PieceWise team will review winners to try to figure out whether there has been any vote-rigging going on.) And when there are projects that communities of people feel strongly about — say, making their neighborhood safer after dark — any user can add money to the prize pool.
Neely says PieceWise was founded by three friends who met at Kansas State University, and a fourth founder from University of Kansas. They began moving to Cambridge last September, seeking out a supportive startup ecosystem. They've raised about $70,000 in angel funding to build the site. At this stage, Neely says, "we're trying to get people to post projects and participate." The company is based at the Cambridge Coworking Center in Kendall Square.
Since it's always fun to look back at the early days of successful startups, I went into the Globe's archives...This may be the earliest coverage of the company, from my "@large" column in the Globe on August 23rd, 2004.
Despite travel slump, online firms flourish
Remember that economic downturn? 9/11? The war in Iraq? Spiking oil prices, and airlines introducing fuel surcharges?
While that witches’ brew of nasty factors sent much of the travel industry into a prolonged funk, the online travel companies based in the Boston area hardly noticed. They not only survived – they thrived.
“When the travel industry overall was doing very badly, online travel kept growing,” says Terry Jones, the founder of Travelocity, one of the most popular travel sites. “Travel is now bigger than the next five categories of e-commerce, combined.” This year, consumers in the U.S. will spend $53 billion booking travel online, according to Cambridge-based Forrester Research. That number is expected to soar to $110 billion by 2009.FULL ENTRY
Adam Stober, right, wants to change that. His new startup, Mystery Gift Machine, aims to make it easier to organize group gifting through the magic of Internet technology. You tell the web site who the recipient is, what the occasion is, and how much you'd like each person to contribute. Then you share the gift campaign with others, and they can choose to chip in (or not). Everyone suggests their own idea for a gift they think would be a hit with the recipient, and the web site makes the final decision. (Stober says, somewhat mysteriously, that humans at the company the pick now — but he's hoping eventually it'll be automated.) Neither the givers nor the recipient know what gift has been selected until it arrives.
"We've done massages and concert tickets and nice dinners already," says Stober. "We just gave someone a remote-controlled quadcopter and he was thrilled. If we ship a gift that the recipient doesn't like, they can easily return it."
The site also offers to send you a daily birthday report by e-mail, filling you in on today's birthdays so that you can post a Facebook message, and alerting you to upcoming birthdays in time to send a group gift via Mystery Gift Machine.
Stober says he has been working on the project for about ten months; he left his full-time gig at Fiksu, a Boston startup that helps its clients promote their mobile apps, back in May.
One of those MIT alums, Thad Starner, is now a technical lead at Google, and also a professor at Georgia Tech.
Starner told me last week that his initial motivation for developing a wearable computer was that he wanted to be a better student: "I was spending $20,000 a year at MIT, and I wasn't remembering it. I decided to make a system that would let me take notes while I was also paying attention in class, and better retain things."
Starner has been wearing a computer regularly since the summer of 1993. "It's just part of my life," he says. And during our phone interview, he mentioned that the Globe was the first newspaper to cover his work, back in 1994, in a mini profile. I hadn't yet stumbled across that article in my research. Starner was wearing a pair of info-glasses of his own design at the time (not a prototype of Google Glass), so I asked him if that system was what reminded him of the coverage 18 years ago. You know it...
Here's that feature on Starner, and the photo that ran with it.
Carbonite co-founder and CTO Jeff Flowers hiring and raising money for SageCloud, new cloud storage venture
And Flowers mentioned that the company is "hiring operations folks to build and run our data centers."
So far, the company has been bankrolled by Matrix Partners of Waltham and a half-dozen individual investors, including Carbonite CEO and co-founder David Friend, who has collaborated with Flowers on numerous other startups, including Sonexis and Faxnet. Friend also sits on the board of SageCloud. Boston-based Carbonite sells a data backup service to individual consumers and small businesses for an annual fee; presumably SageCloud will be focusing on a different slice of the storage marketplace, or offering a different kind of storage solution. (In the photo above, Flowers is on the left, Friend on the right. Photo credit: AP.)
A first formal round of venture capital funding is in the works, according to Flowers, likely led by cloud and software-as-a-service specialist David Skok of Matrix.
Flowers ceded the CTO title at Carbonite in April of 2011, and finally resigned from the publicly-traded company in April of this year — though he remains on the board. Carbonite's IPO took place last August.
"Carbonite is not involved directly in SageCloud other than both David Friend and I sit on the boards for both companies," Flowers explains via e-mail. "I still retain an office at Carbonite in my role as board member and consultant to the company."
What does it take to raise that next round? Founders of Kinvey and Backupify, which just collected $14 million in total, weigh in
So I asked two Cambridge entrepreneurs what they thought the critical factors were in raising their most recent round. Both Sravish Sridhar of Kinvey (pictured at right) and Rob May of Backupify announced new funding today: $5 million for Sridhar's company, and $9 million for May's. Sridhar's new money comes from Avalon Ventures and Atlas Venture, both with offices in Cambridge, and May's includes Symantec, the security software biggie, as well as Avalon, General Catalyst, and Lowercase Capital.
Setting goals and hitting them is crucial, says Sridhar. His 14-person company, Kinvey, handles much of the back-end infrastructure required by mobile app developers, offering it as a subscription service.
"After our seed round last August, one goal was getting our first 2,000 users," he says. "We beat that by three months earlier this year. Another was creating partnerships with companies like Adobe, Urban Airship, and Microsoft. Despite not having a vice president of business development, we got them to sign up to work with us." A third milestone was making the Kinvey service available to any user — not just beta-testers. Finally, he says, investors wanted to see that the company could bring on board technical folks who had experience scaling up complex systems — and Kinvey managed to hire veterans of Akamai, Raytheon, Brightcove, and Fidelity. One of the company's investors, Rich Levandov of Avalon, told Sridhar that he though the founder's sense of humor was helpful in building the team: "He said being funny and charismatic could help our company hire just about anyone." He also invited the company's early investors to just about any significant company meeting, to keep abreast of Kinvey's progress.
Kinvey's $5 million in funding today is considered the company's A round, following last summer's $2 million in seed investment. The company participated in the 2011 TechStars Boston program.
At Backupify, which helps companies and individuals make backup copies of the data they create with various online services like Google Apps or Salesforce.com, May says one obvious thing investors like to see is metrics heading in the right direction. "We pulled into the low single-digit millions, in terms of revenues," he says, "and we crossed 5,000 paying business customers." But he also says that demonstrating that a company has figured out how to effectively sign up profitable customers is vital: "I think we showed that we could take money, hire sales reps, do advertising and grow our monthly recurring revenues." When sales reps talk with prospective customers and demonstrate the Backupify service, May says, "they have close rates of 40 to 50 percent." The company has 30 employees, and is now "mostly hiring salespeople, but also some engineers," says May. Backupify's latest $9 million in VC money represents the company's third round of funding; the company has raised almost $20 million so far.
PowerPoint presentations and promising prototypes may help entrepreneurs raise their initial capital, but clearly metrics and momentum are what matter when it comes to keeping the money flowing.
The company is building "dead simple" uploading tools for digital files that can be used by web sites and mobile app developers; an example of the early product can be seen at Filepicker.io.
"The four of us rented a house [in Palo Alto] and are cranking away," CEO Brett van Zuiden, right, writes via e-mail. "We're actually planning a launch of our mobile product soon..." Zuiden, who is originally from the Bay Area, says that "investors" and "culture" played a role in CloudTop's decision to head west.
Bill Aulet of the Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship tells me that CloudTop won entrance to Y Combinator shortly after winning the $100K, but before MIT started taking applications for a new summer accelerator program of its own, the Founders' Skills Accelerator. Y Combinator, born in Cambridge but now operating exclusively in Silicon Valley, offers $150,000 in convertible debt to every startup that gains entrance, as well as exposure to a wide range of angels and venture capitalists at its concluding "demo day" event. But it also takes an average of 6 percent of a startup's equity at the outset. (The Founders' Skills Accelerator doesn't ask for any equity, but also doesn't guarantee as much funding...and it's only in its first year.)
It sounds like several local lights, including Rich Miner of Google Ventures, Jo Tango of Kepha Partners, and serial entrepreneur Andy Palmer, tried to persuade van Zuiden and the CloudTop team to build the company in Boston. In particular, they emphasized the challenges of hiring programmers in the Valley, and the assistance that the MIT alumni network could provide them in Boston. But the company may have seen bigger benefits in being close to major cloud players like Dropbox (founded by another group of MIT alumni), Facebook, Apple, and Flickr, says Russ Wilcox, an entrepreneur who spoke with van Zuiden around the time that CloudTop won the $100K.FULL ENTRY
That's the belief at a quiet new Cambridge startup, Quant5. The company has been working since last September on a new software-as-a-service offering that will perform "predictive analytics," and this summer, it is conducting beta tests with eight customers.
The team includes Doug Levin, formerly CEO of Black Duck Software and Ayeah Games; Monster and HP veteran Todd Wildman; and Marcelo Ballestiero, founder of Spirits Tecnologia in Brazil. They've been collaborating with a group of PhD candidates at MIT's Operations Research Center, Wildman says, "to take cutting-edge academic research and turn it into working solutions." (Wildman is on the left in the photo, Ballestiero on the right.)
"At a high level, we're trying to take the data that companies collect — whether it's from business intelligence tools, customer transactions, social media, or financials — and help them use analytics and visualizations to find new revenues," says Levin. Quant5's first application will focus on helping companies analyze their customer base, looking for opportunities to cross-sell other products to existing customers, reduce customer churn, or identify products that should be priced differently. "We've been working with a bed and bath products retailer," Levin says, "and one thing they'd like to know is what is the next product they should offer to a customer who has just bought a set of bed sheets. We looked at 90 million records of purchases, and applied some very sophisticated math, to get at these really interesting relationships between one purchase and the next."
The company can also examine customer data to try to forecast churn — for instance, customers shelling out a lot for a software company's product, but not using it very extensively. Levin says Quant5's software-as-a-service offering will be complemented by a professional services group that can help link the software to various existing sources of data at a company. "Many companies have these Fort Knox data depots, where they collect enormous amounts of critical data that's inaccessible, or just not analyzed regularly," he says. He touts the company's "Fisher Price" approach to user interface design, allowing users to easily alter the factors that shape different predictions using sliders, for instance. (Levin's in the photo at left.)FULL ENTRY
And yet, says, Plexxi co-founder Mat Matthews, the communication networks that move all that data around are "still really rigid. Applications have become fluid, but networks haven't really adapted to that." The company is developing new software and networking hardware that can help networks adapt to the demands of the applications their users are running, whether they need extra bandwidth, low latency, or extra-strict security.
The company is announcing a new infusion of venture capital funding today: $20.1 million, bringing the total amount the startup has raised to just over $48 million. This third round of funding came from North Bridge Venture Partners and Matrix Partners in Waltham, as well as Lightspeed Venture Partners in Silicon Valley. The company's most recent venture round happened last summer.
In July, Matthews says, the company plans to start its first wave of beta tests, "starting first with cloud providers and also some financial customers, like big banks and hedge funds." Plexxi's product should be commercially available later this year or in early 2013, he says.
The company has 30 employees, and expects to be at about 45 by the end of the year. Employees are split between offices in Cambridge and Nashua, New Hampshire. "Nashua is perfect for datacomm and networking talent, but the other aspect of what we're doing is software that understands network topologies, advanced analytics, and visualization techniques. That talent pool is really around Kendall Square and MIT." (They consider Cambridge the company's headquarters.)
Plexxi calls its approach "affinity-based networking," and its web site cleverly suggests that it allows networks and applications to simply "crack a beer and get along."
Update: Talk about a quick change-of-heart...
Last night (August 8th), YouSpot founder Jonah Lopin sent an e-mail to friends telling them that "as we've gotten a bit further down the path, we have determined that our current incarnation and timing is not sustainable." He said that instead of YouSpot, he'd be dedicating his time to M80 Labs. I asked him about that, and here's what he said via e-mail:
M80 will be launching multiple products that we are super psyched about in the coming months. As we launch these products, we'll be looking for traction that will serve as the basis for building a company. We want to test our ideas on the web and move quickly based on what is working.
Our first launch will be in September, and it is going to be awesome.
Lopin didn't want to say much about M80 at this point, but did say that it won't be operating in the digital marketing space. While HubSpot had been willing to "carve out" part of his employee non-compete agreement agreement so that he could develop YouSpot, that agreement still prohibits him from competing with his old employer with a different venture, he says.
My original article on YouSpot is below...
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=YouSpot, one of the newest digital marketing startups in town.
Earlier this month, executives at HubSpot, a Cambridge firm that helps mid-sized companies market through search and social media, were talking about the possibility of developing a new product to target small businesses. But the decision was that "it would've been hard to pursue two markets at the same time," says Jonah Lopin, who was employee #6 at HubSpot. "Doing it internally would have been a distraction, especially since HubSpot still has a lot of market share to build with medium-sized businesses."
So Lopin left the company last Friday to start YouSpot, which is developing a "radically simple" HubSpot-like offering for sole proprietorships and small businesses. (The company isn't licensing HubSpot's software.) Lopin says that HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah came up with the YouSpot name, and that HubSpot itself is the first investor in YouSpot. The startup is currently operating out of Deloitte's incubator space in Waltham. (Lopin also happens to be a Deloitte alum.)
HubSpot has helped pioneer the practice of "inbound marketing," a set of techniques around creating useful content on blogs, web sites, and Facebook that prospective customers will discover on their own, often with the help of search engines. But a subscription to the HubSpot software starts at $200 a month, and it is most relevant, Lopin says, to companies big enough to have a marketing department — or at least a staffer dedicated to marketing.
"There are millions of small businesses that aren't doing inbound marketing yet because of the cost and complexity," Lopin says. "We want to help these small business owners do marketing the right way on the Internet in a way that gets results." And, he adds, "We will be much cheaper than $200."FULL ENTRY
And yet, you can work for Facebook in Boston, right across from South Station on Atlantic Avenue. If, that is, you're an extra special engineer that Facebook absolutely must have on its payroll.
The company confirmed to me yesterday that a small number of Facebook employees now work out of a shared office space in Boston. "We're always hiring the best engineers we can find," a spokesperson wrote via e-mail, and sometimes those top programmers simply don't want to relocate to New York, where Facebook has an office, or the company's Palo Alto headquarters.
The shared space in question is WorkBar Boston, which rents desks starting at $250 per month. (A dedicated office is $1000 per month.) The Facebook crew showed up earlier this year, sources tell me, and while it's still just a handful of folks, the number is growing. Could it eventually serve as the seed of a larger Facebook presence? Interesting notion... Several WorkBar employees haven't returned my phone calls or e-mails.
Since Facebook doesn't advertise for employees in Boston, presumably these are people the company has actively recruited. (Some of them are also people who've worked at other Facebook locations in the past, but needed to move to Boston for personal reasons.) A little LinkedIn trolling turns up software engineers like Edwin Smith, Olivier Chatot, and Ryan Mack, who all list their location as Boston.
In its early days, Facebook had an advertising sales office in Boston, which it shuttered in 2006.
Yesware gets $4 million in new funding to help salespeople manage e-mail communications (and soon, phone calls too)
Yesware had launched its product and announced a seed round of $1 million last September. "We wanted to make as much progress as we could possibly make on that $1 million, to help increase our valuation," Bellows says. "We had investors who were talking to us about putting more money in last December or in January. But we were thinking about pushing the company as far as we could, while also thinking about the likelihood of getting the money into the bank before you run out."
The checks cleared in April, from new investor IDG Ventures as well as previous backers Foundry Group and Google Ventures. (Bellows knew the team at IDG from his days as VP of sales at Vivox, one of their portfolio companies.) Yesware raised $4 million more in this second round of funding.
Yesware helps salespeople keep tabs on who is opening their e-mails, on what kind of device (a mobile phone or a desktop computer, for instance), and which links they click. Bellows says Yesware has so far only been available for Gmail users who also use the Google Chrome browser. As of today, the service will also work with the Firefox browser, and Bellows says the company eventually plans to support Microsoft Outlook, the e-mail client used by the bulk of corporate America. The company also wants to support users on mobile phones and tablet computers.FULL ENTRY
Now, a group of EqualLogic alumni are doing another startup, DataGravity. It's also located in Nashua, NH, and it sounds equally ambitious. Co-founders Paula Long, right, and John Joseph have just raised $12 million from two Boston venture capital firms, Charles River Ventures and General Catalyst, and they expect their eight-person company to grow to about 25 employees over the coming year. Long says the company is mainly adding engineers, along with some product management executives "to help make sure we build the right thing for customers."
Long left her last job, at a Boston robotics startup, last May, and Joseph peeled off from Dell around the same time. They're both being cagey about what DataGravity is up to.
In the world of data storage, Long says, "people talk about dollars per gigabyte and dollars per IOPS [input/output operations per second]. We think there's going to be a new model that looks at dollars as they relate to information. What is the value of the information you can extract?"
Rethinking old name, Heartland will henceforth be known as Rethink Robotics; Boston company adds $30 million to coffers
To go with the new name, they've revamped their web site. But it still doesn't include product images or even a vague description of what their first product will be. Founder Rodney Brooks, right, the former MIT prof who also helped get iRobot off the ground, has only said the company wants to introduce robots to manufacturing environments where they haven't been used previously, and help make American manufacturing more cost-competitive globally. Back in November 2010, I collected all the scuttlebut I could about what the company is up to. Sources back then said the company was developing an inexpensive bot that would be easily trained to do repetitive tasks, and would be safe working around humans. Brooks has apparently likened Rethink's product to Apple's iPhone, meaning it'd be intuitive to use, and that the company will try to create a community of developers who'd write software for it.
Rethink is planning to exhibit at next January's Automate trade show in Chicago, but company spokesman Mitch Rosenberg confirms that the product will be unveiled before then.
From today's press release:FULL ENTRY
Appeering, new site from Puretech Ventures, turns disjointed tweets into conversations you can follow
Unless you're immersed in Twitter all day long like certain Twitter obsessives (raising hand), the probable answer is "yes." A new site called Appeering wants to make it easier to identify hot topics on Twitter and follow sometimes lengthy exchanges among users — even if you don't have a Twitter account yourself. The site was developed by a team at Boston-based Puretech Ventures, which more typically builds new biotech and medical device businesses. Puretech is taking the wraps off Appeering this week, as the big BIO International Convention descends on Boston.
"If you sign up for Twitter and you're interested in biotech, figuring out who to follow is a huge task, and then you only see pieces of a conversation," says Puretech CEO Daphne Zohar, right. "It can be hard to figure out what people are saying." Appeering has created curated lists of 1000-2000 influential tweeters in politics, finance, tech, and biotech, and that allows it to surface the topics, companies, and hash tags that are trending in those industries.
Zohar says that two software developers at Puretech started working on Appeering earlier this year, and that the current site is a beta. "We'd like people to use it and give us feedback," she says. Eventually, the economic model will be to maintain a free site for individual users, but also create a premium version to help professionals track news in their fields — including conversations on Twitter about their employers and competitors.FULL ENTRY
New startup, Price Intelligently, wants to help mobile developers and SaaS companies figure out whether their pricing is right
"Most people will base it off of competitors' pricing, or do cost-plus," says Campbell, right. "But value-based pricing — finding out what a product is actually worth in the customer's mind — is really the gold standard. We're making that easy to do."
Campbell is leaving the online retailer Gemvara to launch Price Intelligently; his two co-founders, Aaron White of Boundless Learning and Christopher O'Donnell of HubSpot, are keeping their day jobs. (White and O'Donnell have been pals since their prep school days at Phillips Exeter.) The trio started developing the idea for Price Intelligently earlier this year.
"You can hire an expensive consulting firm to go out and interview customers, but we wanted to create a less expensive approach that'd be equally good," says Campbell. They've developed a five-question survey that, if sent to 40-60 prospective customers — or users who've been participating in an alpha test — can provide a price range, or help structure different pricing tiers. "You can't ask what the price should be," says Campbell, "but you can ask things like, 'At what point is the product starting to get so expensive that you might not purchase it?' or 'At what point is it so cheap that you question the quality?'" The survey also asks how likely the respondent is to purchase the product on a scale of 1 to 7: not likely at all, or extremely likely.FULL ENTRY
The company says that 3,000 merchants in eight cities now accept LevelUp as a form of payment. Users are spending about $2 million monthly with the app. The new funding will enable the company to roll out LevelUp in more cities, the company says.
SCVNGR has now raised about $32 million in total. The new round includes prior investors like Google Ventures and Highland Capital Partners, but also new participants like Transmedia Capital and Continental Investors. The company's press release indicates that the $12 million is part of a larger round the company is raising, and CEO Seth Priebatsch told me it will also include some corporate backers.
I asked Priebatsch about the decision to announce the funding before the round was completed. Here's what he said:FULL ENTRY
Publicly-traded Athenahealth helps physicians manage their patients' electronic medical records, communicate with patients, and also get paid by insurance companies — all with cloud-based software and services. Spearheading the "More Disruption Please" program is Kyle Armbrester, a recent Harvard Business School grad. "We're trying to create new relationships with entrepreneurs and innovators and developers who are doing out-of-the-box thinking around healthcare," he says. "That could be a new scheduling tool for doctors, business intelligence software, or ways for different doctors who may use Athenahealth or other networks to share images or charts when they refer patients back and forth."
The initiative will entail sponsoring hackathons and holding a big annual conference in Maine each September (last year's inaugural edition attracted more than 200 people). But it'll also involve creating APIs so that startups can easily plug in to the Athenahealth system — while protecting patient data, of course — and also doing some seed investing in early-stage businesses. "We'd host the startups at Athena, pilot their technology, and help them roll out through our provider base," Armbrester says, adding that a few million dollars have been set aside for that purpose. And the company's search for and support of disruptive ideas in e-healthcare, he adds, "will drive our acquisition strategy." (Armbrester, incidentally, first met Athenahealth chief executive Jonathan Bush while Armbrester was serving as the chief information officer for Charlie Baker's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2010.)
One key focus of "More Disruption Please" will be creating value for the doctors in Athenahealth's network, Armbrester says: "We want to make their lives better, not sell them out to pharmaceutical companies." He says that two models Athenahealth looks at, in terms of companies that have created successful ecosystems around them, are Salesforce.com and Apple. "They've created huge value by supporting developers and startups that want to plug in to their businesses."
I have just one question about the new Athenahealth initiative, which sounds great: do real disruptors say "please"?
But it is not every day — nor every decade — that I get an e-mail from someone who is working on a new venture that will design and manufacture nuclear reactors.
So I was somewhat stunned when Russ Wilcox, former CEO and co-founder of the display-maker E Ink, e-mailed Friday afternoon to let me know that he had signed on as CEO and co-founder of Transatomic Power. The company, Wilcox informed me, is designing a "modular and rail-shippable" 200-500 megawatt reactor, "suitable for the replacement of coal plants." It could be manufactured at a central facility, and then shipped to where it is needed. His co-founders are Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan, both PhD students at MIT's nuclear engineering department.
The reactor will rely on nuclear waste to produce power. They call it a "waste-annihilating molten salt reactor," and it can run entirely on the used fuel pellets produced by today's reactors, while reducing the volume of that waste. It's targeted initially at replacing coal plants, and later older nuclear plants, Wilcox explains, "which together make up about 60 percent of U.S. electricity production." He says the company's reactor design could produce roughly thirty times the electricity per pound of fuel, compared to traditional light water reactors.
Transatomic has so far raised $760,000 from individual investors, Wilcox says. I obviously asked about the high cost of developing a new reactor technology and bringing it to market.FULL ENTRY
Gemvara was started by Lauzon and Jason Reuben in 2006, while the duo were undergrad students at Babson College, and originally incubated by Highland Capital Partners. (I first wrote about the company in 2008.) The Gemvara site displays about two million items, but the company doesn't own any inventory. The pictures you see online are computer-generated, and the jewelry is manufactured only after you place an order.
"We think the market is moving toward made-to-order, and a very personalized experience," Lauzon says. "We want to lead that." The new funding will go toward expanding the products the site offers — adding bracelets, for instance, and more products at an entry-level price point. "We're also continuing to improve the user experience and our own analytics," he says. The company has 75 employees, and is setting up a more permanent presence in Manhattan, Lauzon says, where most of Gemvara's products are manufactured.
Gemvara raised $15 million last spring, led by the British VC firm Balderton Capital. (All of Gemvara's previous investors, including Cambridge-based Highland Capital, participated in this latest round.) In total, the company has now collected about $50 million in funding. Lauzon has recruited executives from Rue La La, Zappos, and Victoria's Secret, among other established e-tailers. Last year, Lauzon was named to Inc. Magazine's list of 30 entrepreneurs under the age of 30 (he's 27.)
It's a scary scenario, and some companies, Srivastava tells me, try to deal with the vulnerability of USB ports by simply filling them with epoxy so users can't plug in anything, or trying to ban USB drives from corporate campuses.
Gigavation, co-founded by Srivastava and Charles Herder, another MIT alum, is working on a combination hardware/software product it calls the Gigashield, and targeting customers in defense, healthcare, and financial services. "For the first time, you can secure the USB port," Srivastava says. "It's a huge claim." They've been cultivating the company since 2008, relying mainly on funding from friends and family. (After MIT, Srivastava went on to earn a degree at Harvard Law School; Herder, the CTO, went to work at Texas Instruments.)
The Gigashield (a product rendering is at right) is a USB hub that has a software layer that guards against "data leaking out, or attacks coming in," Srivastava says. "As long as our product sits in between a computer and a USB device, communications in both directions is totally secure." The software is a collection of algorithms designed to detect things like complex attacks and device spoofing. What's that? "It's when you plug in a mouse, and it looks and feels like a mouse, but after a few months it sees a file it is looking for, and it can download it and send it somewhere else," Srivastava explains. "Any device connecting over USB can carry malicious code, so we treat every device as untrusted."
Marks tells me the East Cambridge facility will remain open. The Disney web site lists three employees and a consultant as working there (in addition to Marks, whose picture hasn't yet been removed.)
But one of those employees, Amber Brown, is joining Marks at his new venture, Upfront Analytics. The company will be based in Dublin, Ireland. It's in stealth mode, with no web site yet. (Marks, who ran a Mitsubishi R&D lab in Cambridge before joining Disney, grew up in Ireland, and he also set up a Disney research lab there.)
Among the projects Disney has been working on in Cambridge are 3-D printing of large objects; tracking mentions of Disney in the blogosphere; delivering "a Disney cinema experience to the developing world in a way that makes economic sense"; and supplying information via mobile devices to help theme park visitors steer clear of crowded areas.
I've contacted Disney by phone or e-mail to inquire about the future of the Cambridge facility, and whether a new chief has been chosen yet, but haven't heard back. When I visited the lab last Friday, no one answered the door.
Update: a Disney spokesperson informs me that Jessica Hodgins is now overseeing the Disney lab in Cambridge. Based in Pittsburgh, she also oversees Disney labs there and in California.
Update #2: Jonathan Yedidia informs me by e-mail that he's the only senior researcher currently working at the Cambridge lab, but that the staff includes "a junior researcher, three professor consultants who visit regularly, four post-docs (three hired and starting soon, one in the process of finishing the hire), and seven lab associates." (Lab associates are paid interns who usually stick around for anywhere from three months to a year. The professor consultants he mentions are Hanspeter Pfister of Harvard, Wojciech Matusik of MIT, and Marc Alexa of the Technical University of Berlin.)
Former SpeechWorks chief executive out raising money for Xtone, startup that wants to speech-enable mobile apps
Now, the former CEO of SpeechWorks, Stuart Patterson, is out talking to local venture capital firms to raise money for another speech-related business. Xtone, founded in Virginia in 2004, wants to help developers of mobile apps add a layer of "Siri-like" speech functionality to them. Patterson tells me that once he closes the company's next round, he'll be setting up shop in Boston and hiring staff up here; Xtone already has several consultants in the area — some of them former SpeechWorks employees.
"We're not in core speech technology," says Patterson, who became CEO of Xtone in January. "We're building a platform to help customers develop new services that use this new modality of speech with their mobile devices, which has been proven by the success of Siri." He says the Xtone platform will let app developers add speech functionality without having to develop it differently for different mobile operating systems, like Apple and Android: "It's a write once, run anywhere platform." (The simplicity of using Xtone's platform to script conversations that users can have with an app will make Xtone more appealing for developers, he asserts, than trying to work with different APIs to take advantage of the built-in speech recognition capabilities of different operating systems.)
I spoke with game industry executives and venture capitalists who've invested in other developers of massively-multiplayer games. Not everyone wanted to talk on the record, but here are some of the scenarios they sketched out for what happens next at 38. (I left a message today for 38 Studios seeking comment, but haven't heard back.)FULL ENTRY
New mobile app, About Last Night, will chronicle mischief and triumphs after dark (and of course, offer deals)
Their iPhone app, developed in collaboration with Cambridge-based Mobinett Interactive, is "a social network especially for nightlife," says Darren (he's on the right in the photo). "It's about the party last night, the concert, or the date. It's very photo-centric, and you can follow people or locations like a bar or nightclub." The app is intended to help guide users to where the best action is on a given evening — venues and events can be rated by users of the app — or show them what mischief their friends were up to the night before. (Yes, you can keep certain things private so that only you can see them.)
Businesses can use the app to send out special offers to the people who follow them, such as two-for-one appetizers. And the most active users of the app can earn bronze, silver, and gold medals, which make them more visible to other users of the app.
"We're raising money now," says Derek. "When the kids come back to school in the fall, we think that'll be a huge factor in getting people to spread it around."
Derek Dodge tells me that he dropped out of University of New Hampshire to start another company, 1Mind, aimed at "helping you find people who are really awesome and whom you should know." The About Last Night app sprang from that business, and took only about three months to create, he says.
Their father, Don, is a developer advocate at Google. Aside from being a supportive parent, he says he has no official role with the company — though he is serving as an unpaid PR consultant to the pair, and introducing them to friends like MC Hammer.
Travel site Kayak buying tickets for IPO road show; take-off could be impacted by Facebook share price
Kayak CTO and co-founder Paul English told me that he couldn't comment on the company's IPO plans because of the "quiet period" mandated by the Securities & Exchange Commission. Interestingly, English owns a bigger percentage of Kayak than the company's CEO, Steve Hafner: 8.9 percent of the company, versus 6.9 percent for Hafner, formerly an executive at Orbitz. (And English recently also acquired the title "president," as of an SEC filing on May 8th.) General Catalyst, the Cambridge VC firm that incubated Kayak in its earliest days in 2004, owns the largest chunk of the company (30 percent). Kayak brought in $224 million in revenue last year.
Kayak's IPO has been delayed because of stock market "choppiness," says Boston investment banker Peter Falvey, but also because of the emergence of a potential new rival: Google Flights, the product of Google's 2010 acquisition of ITA Software, a Cambridge company.
Now, Kayak's IPO fortunes could hinge on the aftermath of the Facebook IPO last Friday. Falvey says that the social network's offering "has been the most anticipated IPO ever, and now its stock is trading down 11 percent from the offering price. We may all be reading too much into the Facebook tea leaves right now, but I suspect that will be deemed a negative" for other tech IPOs in the pipeline, like Kayak.
So here are five links from (or about) Facebook's early days. Would you have bet on Facebook becoming the planet's dominant social network, back in 2004 or 2005? If you were a VC who met with co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, then a Harvard sophomore, in 2004, would you have invested — especially when he insisted that he was perfectly suited to keep on running the company?
- February 2004: "Hundreds register for new Facebook website," from the Harvard Crimson.
- April 2004: "Are we a match?", the first New York Times coverage of Facebook.
- September 2004: "Online adversaries: Rivalry between college-networking websites spawns lawsuit," from the Boston Globe (the paper's first coverage of Thefacebook.com.)
- September 2007: "Why Facebook went west," my column on Facebook's decision to leave Cambridge for Palo Alto.
- June 2009: "Where in the world is Eduardo Saverin?" from Boston venture capitalist Larry Cheng, who introduced Facebook's founders to the VC firm where he worked at the time, Battery Ventures.
Radoff didn't want to be specific about how much Disruptor Beam had raised in this seed round, but he did confirm it was less than $1 million.
"We're spending a lot of time thinking about the convergence of tablets, TV, and social gaming," Radoff says, adding that the company has plans to announce its first licensing deal with a television show in the next few weeks.
It sounds like the new funding will allow Disruptor Beam to go from a small firm building games for outside clients to one that creates products of its own. (Disruptor Beam worked with Waltham-based GSN Digital to build "50 Cent's Blackjack" recently, and had built another game for Ayeah Games, a startup that called it quits last year.) Radoff talks about making "story-oriented" games linked to popular TV shows and books, which will allow players to "interact with characters they know and like, and really live in those worlds."
When I spoke with him two years ago, Radoff mentioned that the studio was working on a social game called "Gods of Rock" that would invite players into the world of music superstars. That game never launched. "We never found good partners in the music industry," Radoff says.
Radoff co-founded Disruptor Beam with his wife, Angela. Investors in the seed round include CommonAngels; Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopoulos, CTO Eran Egozy, former COO Mike Dornbrook; and Wilcox. The company operates out of the WorkBar shared space in Boston's Leather District.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was the company's first investor. Rodney Brooks, founder of Heartland and previously a co-founder of iRobot, left a tenured faculty position at MIT to dedicate more time to the company. The team includes a CEO with experience at Dell, and other employees from Bose, NASA, 3M, and Dean Kamen's DEKA Research.
And the company has a big vision: "Robots will change the way we work," Heartland's web site proclaims. "They will have intelligence and awareness. They will be teachable, safe and affordable. They will make us productive in ways we never imagined."
Brooks has apparently told people that Heartland is working on the robotics industry's version of the iPhone — an affordable-enough device (their target price is about $5000) that will be intuitive to use, and that will spawn a community of app developers who write software for it. It'll be designed to perform a variety of packaging or light manufacturing tasks, sources have told me. The robot may also be capable of being "trained" to perform a certain repetitive task just by moving its arm and gripper. Heartland's product, according to those who've seen it demoed, could potentially put robots in lots of small and medium-sized business. (Here's my 2010 background report on what the company is up to.)
Now, it looks like Heartland is laying the groundwork for a launch, perhaps at the 2013 Automate trade show in Chicago, put on by the Association for Advancing Automation. Heartland CEO Scott Eckert (pictured at right) confirmed that the company will be an exhibitor at the show, but wouldn't say much else.
That makes it seem like the company could have something to announce fairly soon — perhaps even before next January.FULL ENTRY
Former E Ink chief executive Russ Wilcox joins board at Harvest Automation, details angel investments
First, Wilcox took his family on a year-long trip around the world, which ended last July.
Now, Wilcox, who helped start E Ink back in 1997, is once again getting plugged in to Boston's startup scene. Harvest Automation is announcing today that Wilcox will join its board; Harvest makes robots that move potted plants around at nurseries. (I last wrote about the company in November, when Harvest raised $7.8 million from investors.) Harvest is "poised for an exciting product launch and sales growth," Wilcox writes via e-mail. "As a director I hope to actively share the operating lessons we learned at E Ink."
Wilcox tells me he's hoping to start a new venture in the energy sector, and he has also been making a string of angel investments. (You can find him on AngelList.) They include:
- PowerInbox, trying to make the inbox more interactive (I wrote about them here recently)
- Calimmune, working to "engineer immunity" to patients with HIV
- DriveFactor, collecting data about how you actually drive.
- Imprint Energy, working on flexible, low-cost, rechargeable "zinc poly" batteries.
- AmberWave, a materials company working on new solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductors.
- Gen9, building the first "fab" for synthetic biology, enabling low-cost production of custom genes.
That last one was co-founded by Joe Jacobson, an MIT Media Lab prof who was also a co-founder of E Ink with Wilcox.
A team of Northeastern students and profs have built a prototype that could point the way to the future of coaching and personal training for some elite athletes — and perhaps eventually hard-core gym rats, too. The Squid shirt is a tricked-out short-sleeve shirt from Under Armour that monitors how your delts, pecs, and lats are performing. (It also tracks your heart rate.) The shirt knows if you're hitting your exercise goals, and also if both sides of your body are doing equal amounts of work. It can relay that information via Bluetooth to a mobile phone or laptop, which would allow a coach or personal trainer to keep tabs on how you're doing. The shirt can also give you feedback via vibration if you're slacking off.
"It's a way for a trainer or coach to sign up an athlete for a workout, and collect data on how they do with it," says Adam Morgan, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. "They can target different muscle areas that they might want to develop with an individual or a group of team members."
Trevor Lorden (pictured here) showed me how it worked, using a seated row machine. He said that it only takes him about two minutes to don the Squid shirt and affix the dozen disposable sensors. (The shirt can be washed in a machine, as long as it's dried on low heat.) Since the team is still developing the Bluetooth connection, he was connected to a laptop by a cable. Ali Aas, who helped develop the mobile app and web site, showed how the information about Lorden's workout could be viewed. You could see a calendar showing which days he'd worked out, and how his average intensity compared to the goal he'd set on various exercises. It also showed on a spectrum whether the exerciser is favoring one arm versus the other, or working out in perfect symmetry.
Faculty advisor Mark Sivak told me that they'll be testing the shirt with Northeastern athletes this summer. They see the initial market as college and professional sports teams. The Squiddoos may soon add additional sensors to monitor the biceps and abdominal muscles, and Constantinos Mavroidis, another faculty advisor to the project, said they've had some early conversations with a medical device company interested in the Squid shirt about tracking blood pressure and breathing.FULL ENTRY
Two remaining employees of Play140 picked up by Oomba, new 'digital objects' startup from Atari's founder
Well, T.A.G.N.Q.B.O. (The Acronym Game Never Quite Broke Out.) Last August, the company's Twitter account and blog went quiet. Play140 employees — including two of the three founders — started finding other jobs. By this month, only chief executive Shawn Broderick (pictured at right) and CTO Michael Johnson were left.
Tonight, Broderick announced on the company's blog that the company was being acquired for an undisclosed amount by Oomba, a stealthy California startup. One of the company's founders is Nolan Bushnell, best known for creating Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, and also inventing the early videogame Pong. Broderick, now Oomba's president, tells me that the company will soon be headquartered in Massachusetts.
Oomba's profile page on AngelList describes the company this way:
Oomba is a Digital Object Trading™ platform that communicates with the virtual goods databases of online and mobile games through a secure, robust protocol. Working with the voluntary cooperation of game publishers, transactions can be initiated, escrowed and recorded by Oomba with complete accountability to the buyers and sellers.
(Broderick says Oomba has raised money from angels and a venture capital firm, but hasn't yet disclosed the details.)FULL ENTRY
Giving one of the talks is Media Lab lecturer David Rose. He's a local entrepreneur who founded Ambient Devices and, more recently, Vitality, a Cambridge startup that created a line of smart pill bottles that could remind you to take your medicine — and notify a family member or doctor when you'd missed a dose.
Rose's latest work at the Media Lab focuses on household objects that have wireless connectivity, barcode scanners, and displays built in. Essentially, what if your coffee table could display your Facebook photo albums as you talked about a recent vacation? What if your trash can could scan empty packages and automatically re-order products from Amazon? What if your doorbell could chime when your kids were on the way home, using location info from Google Latitude?
Update: In February 2013, SilverLining changed its name to Infinio Systems, and announced that it had raised an additional $10 million from Highland Capital Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners.
Silver Lining Systems doesn't divulge much on its web site, but it does have $2 million in initial funding from California-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, Cambridge's Founder Collective, the NYC Seed Fund, and several angel investors, including Endeca founder Steve Papa; Rob Soni, a special limited partner at Matrix; David Murphy of Blue Coat; and BladeLogic co-founder CEO Dev Ittycheria.
Silver Lining co-founder and chief executive Vishal Misra, a Columbia computer science prof, tells me the company wants to demolish some of the data center bottlenecks that can impair the performance of cloud-based applications and services. Dan Rubinstein, another Columbia prof, is another founder, as is Joshua Reich, a Columbia PhD who is now a fellow at Princeton.
"We're targeting data centers and virtualized environments, and trying to solve the performance problems with storage and networking," Misra says. When a company has hundreds or thousands of virtual machines running on servers in a data center, Misra explains, "if you think about it, every machine is running similar software, and that means the bits are almost identical on all those virtual machines. But the way storage and networking works is that those servers go and fetch the same bits again and again from the storage system. Our thinking is, if the same bits are traveling over a network to multiple CPUs, why not store them or cache them locally?" He says the idea springs from a new kind of networking architecture called "content-centric networking."
Today, PowerInbox is releasing its Connect API, which makes it easier for companies to deliver these more functional and interactive e-mails, and for users to see them in their inbox without having to download any special software. (That's assuming you use e-mail clients from Fuser, Unified Inbox, or Smak; others will still require a download.) It'll be interesting to see if larger e-mail companies, like Gmail or Outlook, decide to embrace the Connect API.
"We think that interactive e-mail can be as big of a trend as mobile and social are," says Matt Thazhmon, founder and CEO of PowerInbox. (He's pictured at right.) The company isn't yet focused on monetizing the product, but Thazhmon hints that it may eventually be able to up-sell certain services to marketers, in return for bringing more visitors to their web sites or making more purchases happen inside the inbox.
Already, PowerInbox makes it possible to see a live Groupon countdown without leaving your inbox; view a video from Boston-based Vsnap; or make a donation via Boston-based Fundraise.com.
Thazhmon says the eight-person startup is outgrowing its current Kendall Square space. PowerInbox has so far raised $1.9 million from venture capital firms like Founder Collective, Atlas Venture, and Egan Managed Capital, along with angel investors including Mike Dornbrook (ex-Harmonix COO), Russ Wilcox (former E Ink CEO), and Eric Groves (ex-Constant Contact SVP.)FULL ENTRY
From the column:
In Boston, it can seem like most of the city’s population has either authored a textbook, assigned one for a course they teach, or purchased one recently.
So that makes a recently filed lawsuit our city’s version of Viacom v. YouTube, or the Department of Justice v. Microsoft, one of those cases that everyone in our tech- and education-oriented town will follow. Three of the largest publishers of textbooks are suing Boundless Learning, a Boston start-up trying to popularize free, Web-based textbooks.
Techies and students may line up on the side of Boundless, which asserts that printed texts are too expensive - and often out of date by the time they hit bookstores. And isn’t it about time the placid textbook industry was shaken up by some disruptive innovation?
But textbook writers and some educators may find themselves sympathizing with the publishers suing Boundless for copyright infringement. They say the digital texts resemble their copyrighted works a bit too closely, which could over time chisel away at the economic rationale for writing and publishing high-quality, peer-reviewed texts.
It’s one of those cases that pits content creators trying to earn a living in the digital age against consumers who would prefer to get everything for free.
Here's a bit of supplemental material worth reading...
• I wanted to talk a bit in the column about different models of offering texts for free, including one developed by Flat World Knowledge. They make new textbooks available online for free, but charge reasonable prices for the paperback, audio book, or e-book versions. And of course, the textbook authors get a decent chunk of that revenue. But as usual, I ran out of space in the column. So here's my correspondence with Boston College management professor John Gallaugher, who has published a text with Flat World.
• Here's the lawsuit filed against Boundless by Pearson, Cengage, and MacMillan:
• And here is Boundless' response to the lawsuit, posted on the company blog.
So why can't you text message a business?
Making that happen is the goal of a new Cambridge start-up called TalkTo, which just released its iPhone app. (There's also a mobile web version.) "We wanted it to be incredibly simple to text any business in America just as easily as you text a friend," says co-founder and CEO Stuart Levinson. (He's pictured at right.) "The business doesn't have to install anything new to communicate with customers, or learn a new piece of software, but the consumer can send a text to do things like make a restaurant reservation or find out if a particular product is in stock."
To demonstrate, co-founder and CTO Riley Crane sent a message to the Whole Foods Market on River Street, asking whether they carried Nutella. Within a few minutes, he got a response: nope, but they do carry similar hazelnut and chocolate spreads.
You can use the TalkTo app to ask any question of a business, but it also streamlines the process of asking common ones. For example, confirming the operating hours of a business, making a reservation, or asking how much a particular product costs.FULL ENTRY
AisleBuyer developed technology that allows consumers to scan a product's barcode in a store, see reviews and ratings, and, if they choose, pay for that product with a credit card without having to stand in line at a register. I test-drove the technology in 2010 at Magic Beans, a small local chain that sells kids products. Last year, AisleBuyer announced a partnership with Big Y Supermarkets, based in Springfield, but the startup hadn't announced any other users of its technology since then.
AisleBuyer chief executive Andrew Paradise tells me that the Intuit relationship began last October, when he spoke at a conference in Chicago immediately after Chris Hylen, who heads up the Payment Solutions business unit at Intuit. "We started talking afterwards," Paradise says. The companies began a very quiet pilot test earlier this year with a few Intuit customers, exploring how AisleBuyer's mobile check-out technology could be integrated with various Intuit software products.
"While we were pursuing the partnership path, we realized that there were a lot of things we could do together if we were more fully integrated as one organization," Paradise says. "The vision around creating a mobile point-of-sale offering for small businesses turned into acquisition talks."
AisleBuyer had 37 employees prior to the acquisition, and not everyone will join Intuit. A three-person team in Palo Alto will go to work at Intuit's Mountain View headquarters. The Boston employees who'd been working on AisleBuyer's small business product will stay where they are, and become Intuit employees. But a significant number of people who'd been working on an enterprise version of AisleBuyer's technology will lose their jobs; Paradise wouldn't be specific about the number.
AisleBuyer was a semi-finalist in the inaugural MassChallenge startup competition, in 2010. Intuit has long had a software development office in Waltham.
"I started the company because I had the problem," says co-founder Jeff Seibert. "There weren't any good tools for gathering information about why crashes were happening." (Seibert is pictured at right, with co-founder Wayne Chang.) He tells me Crashlytics' software code is now incorporated in more than 1000 iPhone and iPad apps, including apps from Yammer, Path, Kibits, Hipstamatic, Delta Air Lines, and Domino's Pizza. The Crashlytics code works only with Apple's iOS operating system, and Seibert wouldn't comment on a timeline for supporting Android or other operating systems.
The new funding round is led by Flybridge Capital Partners of Boston. It also includes Baseline Ventures, which had a very big payday yesterday with Facebook's $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, a Baseline-backed startup.
David Aronoff of Flybridge says that after last fall's seed round, "Jeff and Wayne built their product better and faster than we had even hoped for," and that "customer adoption went viral and shattered the end goals for the seed within the first month of private beta."
"This is money for the next two years," Seibert says. "It lets us ramp up the team quite a bit, and the goal is to get the product to profitability." Right now, Crashlytics is still running a private beta test, and hasn't yet started charging customers.
Seibert says the company will primarily be adding engineers to its team, but may also hire a few marketing or public relations employees as well.
I profiled Crashyltics co-founder Wayne Chang last November.
And next Wednesday, the president of Estonia, Toomas Henrik-Ilves, will be in town to help GrabCAD inaugurate its new offices at the American Twine Building in East Cambridge. (The company got started in Tallinn, Estonia. Locally, GrabCAD had previously been shacking up at the Kendall Square office of Matrix Partners.)
The company has built a site that brings together mechanical engineers who design products and components of products, in part by offering a free library of 3D CAD (computer-assisted design) models that they can use in their work. Engineers can also set up profiles on the site and showcase their work. Companies that want to crowdsource the design of a new product or part can run challenges on GrabCAD, and potentially get dozens or hundreds of engineers thinking about their particular problem. The companies award prize money for the best design, and may later continue working with an engineer to move the product forward. GrabCAD charges an administrative fee for each challenge.
Meybaum says the Cambridge office currently has four employees, and the Tallinn office has 12. Meybaum says he expects the company to add another four jobs in Cambridge over the next few months. He splits his time between the two sites.
GrabCAD was part of the 2011 TechStars Boston class, after winning the Seedcamp London program earlier that year.
Here's a screenshot from the GrabCAD site:
Aframe is a cloud-based service that helps customers like MTV and the BBC run their video production processes more efficiently. Basically, anyone working on a media company's production team who needs to access raw or edited video can get it, securely, through Aframe. The Aframe service frees media companies from the headache of having to manage their own storage infrastructure for video; all they need is an Internet connection and the editing software they normally use. Monthly pricing starts at $99.
Aframe has now raised $10 million in total, all from European venture capital firms. I asked chief executive David Peto (pictured at right) whether he'd had any any talks with Boston-area investors. He told me he'd met with a few, but all of them "wanted to see us with a proper presence in the U.S. first."FULL ENTRY
Plus, I'm sharing a bit of additional perspective from MIT Sloan School of Management professor Ofer Sharone and Diane Hohen of Milford, NH, who runs errands for TaskRabbit. I'm also publishing my e-mail exchanges with TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque; Tom Gerace, the founder and CEO of Skyword; and Stephen Reed, an attorney at the Boston firm Beck Riden Reed.
(Update: This column led to an episode of NPR's "On Point" that aired April 3rd, 2012.)
Here's the column...
The "micro-labor" trend seems great for businesses and consumers, but a tough way to make a living for micro-laborers
A few weeks ago, tired of the niggling questions of editors and the constant press of deadlines, I decided to chuck it all and become a Turker.
What is a Turker? It’s someone who performs small tasks that can’t be automated. Once you sign up on the Mechanical Turk website, operated by Amazon.com, you can choose from an array of jobs that might take a few seconds or a few hours: you can translate documents from Tibetan to English, fill out surveys for academic researchers, or transcribe a 71-minute lecture about gastroenterology. How’s the pay? That last task offered $2.85 for work that would likely take several hours.FULL ENTRY
The app was developed by Cumberland Farms in collaboration with the Boston office of PayPal. (Last April, PayPal acquired Fig Card, a small Boston startup that was developing mobile payment technology.) It requires that you have an account with PayPal, the online payment service that is owned by eBay. In addition to the iPhone and Android versions, there's also a mobile web version for other phones.
My biggest qualm about trying the app was that I'd always been told that using your mobile phone at the gas pump would inevitably produce a Michael Bay-size fireball that would consume the surrounding neighborhood. But Dave Banks, the chief information officer of Cumberland Farms, said there were no known incidents of mobile phones sparking fires or explosions. (Static electricity is another matter.) And the company has had to get approvals from fire departments in each of the towns where it is deploying the SmartPay app.FULL ENTRY
Veterans of Cambridge Technology Partners getting the band back together...at Cloud Technology Partners
Greendale was a founder and head of sales and marketing at Cambridge Technology Partners, and he says about one-third of the team at Boston-based cloudTP has that other CTP on their résumés. Founded in 2010, cloudTP has 35 employees, and Greendale expects it to be at 75 by the end of the year. "Our biggest challenge right now is hiring people," he says.
CloudTP focuses on helping large enterprises take advantage of the lower costs and increased flexibility of cloud computing, whether that entails using a public cloud or software-as-a-service offering (think Salesforce.com or Amazon Web Services) or creating a more secure and manageable "private cloud" inside the corporate firewall. Greendale also talks about "community clouds," designed to be used by a company's business partners and customers.
"Our customers want advice about what hardware and software to use, and they need help migrating their legacy applications to the cloud," says Greendale. "We're also one of the few vendor-neutral options that they have, when it comes to selecting the right vendors for a particular situation."FULL ENTRY
Tracelytics is a software-as-a-service company that helps its customers monitor and improve the performance of their web applications: how quickly, for instance, did a web site respond to a visitor's query about the inventory level of a specific product, and where were there problems? Tracelytics aims to provide a single view of complex applications that may run on numerous different servers across the Internet. It's already used by sites like GitHub and SeatGeek. Pricing starts at $95 per month.
The company was founded by a trio of Brown University grads in 2010; it now has eight employees. Vigeant, who joined as CEO in January, says the plan is to double in size over the next three months, primarily adding salespeople and engineers. (Access to talent is one key reason for the move to Boston.)
Investing alongside Bain in this latest funding round are Flybridge Capital Partners, Google Ventures, and Battery Ventures, who supplied seed funding to Tracelytics last year.
After departing HP, ex-Vertica CEO Chris Lynch has plans to make 20 investments in burgeoning 'big data' sector
Vertica had been acquired by HP for $350 million the prior February, and while the employees didn't expect Lynch to stay forever, they were surprised when he told them that he'd be leaving in March. "I said, 'I love you guys. This office is my gift to you.'" Lynch told the rank and file that he believed that a revolution was brewing in Boston around "big data" — collecting and analyzing vast amounts of information in real-time — and he wanted to be part of that revolution as an angel investor. While HP CEO Meg Whitman and COO Ray Lane tried to persuade Lynch to stick around at the company, his last day was last Friday. (Ex-VC and Vertica executive Colin Mahony is now running the Cambridge office.)
Lynch says that the HP purchase of Vertica was the second-best payday of his career (the top was ArrowPoint Communications, which went public and then was acquired by Cisco for $5.7 billion). He's now positioning himself as an angel investor focused on big data startups, primarily in Boston. His plan is to make 20 investments in the near-term; already, he has put money into a handful of local startups, including Hopper, Kinvey, Mortar Data, Power Inbox, and Hadapt. He says he often shares dealflow with Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners and Jeff Fagnan of Atlas Venture.
"I grew up in the tech industry in this area," Lynch says. "And it felt like for the last 10 or 15 years, we've been hibernating, and the West Coast is taking all the mojo. We've been at the front of waves of technology in the past, with minicomputers and then data networking. I want to help revitalize Boston. Big data is going to be to this region what networking was in the late 80s and early 90s."
"If you look at the way the web played out, at first people were creating discrete new businesses online, and then Main Street took it and integrated it into their existing businesses," Lynch continues. "Today, you have companies like Zynga and Groupon that have built their businesses on real-time analytics and big data, but the megatrend over the next year-and-a-half is that companies like Gillette and Fidelity are going to get on board. In a year or two, you'll be asking them about their analytics strategy, and how they're using data to gain competitive advantage. How are you using the information you have about customers to provide a better experience, and sell you more stuff? Big data is at the foundation of all of the megatrends that are happening today, from social to mobile to the cloud to gaming."
"I love people and a lot of how I invest is about stories," Lynch says. "I think about people and their mission, and I think if they're in the right market space, we'll figure it out."
Lynch's five investments so far are all in Boston, but he says he'll consider investing in other regions, too — just not Silicon Valley, which he regards as "over-invested" and "plastic."
In Boston, he says, "you have the best data scientists in the world here. You've had great companies created like Vertica, Netezza, and Endeca. I want to bring that mojo back that we had in the 80s and 90s."
But out along Route 128, there's another group hard at work on Facebook games: the Waltham office of GSN Digital, the game development arm of TV's Game Show Network. The 105-person office divides its time between developing web-based games for GSN.com, mobile games, and Facebook games — but lately, there has been a growing emphasis on the latter, according to Peter Blacklow, who runs the operation. (That's Blacklow at right, sporting a pair of the championship rings he has won playing fantasy sports.)
GSN Digital has just launched "50 Cent's Blackjack" on Facebook, a collaboration with the rap star. It has a 25-person social games studio in San Francisco, and last year hired two social games entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C., who'd formerly been working on a Bain Capital Ventures backed start-up called Join the Company. (Blacklow said he simply hired the founders, though Bain's website describes it as an acquisition.)
GSN Digital exists in Waltham because GSN acquired a local company that developed web-based games, Worldwinner. (Worldwinner allowed users to play games of skill and, if they were good enough, win cash.) Blacklow says that GSN.com is now the #3 games portal online, after Yahoo and Pogo. On Facebook, the GSN Games app is among the top 20 apps, and it includes games like "Wheel of Fortune," "Bingo Blitz," and "Deal or No Deal."FULL ENTRY
Social media has evolved into an endless parade of significant moments, trifling snippets, and everything in between. A Boston start-up called Lifeables wants to help you cull the most important memories from that parade and stash them away in a digital scrapbook. Last week, the company started an open beta test of its service — which so far is entirely free.
Lifeables is focused at first on parents (and moms, more specifically.) You start it off with some basic profile information about your kids. Then, it lets you upload and organize photos and videos of your own, but more importantly, it lets you plug in to social networking services where you and your family already likely share pictures: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram right now, with plans to support others (like YouTube and Flickr) in the future. The Lifeables software can look at the stream of content in your social networks and label it as "things we're pretty sure are about your kids" and "things we think are about your kids." You then tell it that you want to "collect" a photo or video or status update for your digital archive, or ignore it.
Once you've decided to stash something, you can give it a title and add additional details. You also collect the Facebook comments about that item, but Lifeables will also allow you to invite non-Facebook users in your family to add more.
"We don't think this displaces the act of posting pictures from your mobile phone to Facebook," says Lifeables CEO Karen Macumber. Instead, "we want to be the ultimate collector for you, pulling the content from the sources that are most relevant and important to you." In one sense, Lifeables offers you a way to "sequester" the content that matters most, storing it for posterity, but in another it lets you organize and annotate your family's content and then share it again on social networks.FULL ENTRY
Kiva was founded in 2003, and the company had raised just $33 million in funding; its original backer was Bain Capital Ventures of Boston, where partner Ajay Agarwal made the investment and also helped broker an introduction to Staples, an important early customer. Last November, Kiva CEO Mick Mountz told CNN Money that the company's revenues had surpassed $100 million, and that Kiva had 240 employees.
This is Amazon's most significant acquisition of a Massachusetts company ever -- and its first since the late 1990s, when it bought a couple of Cambridge start-ups, including Exchange.com and PlanetAll. (The only bigger purchase Amazon has made in its corporate history was paying $1.2 billion for Zappos.com.)
I wrote last December about a management shake-up at Kiva, involving the quiet departures of five senior executives.
In 2010, I wondered when Amazon might become a Kiva customer, following its purchases of Diapers.com and Zappos.com. From that piece:
[CEO Mick] Mountz says that his company has been in discussions with Amazon for a while, and that "we're both interested in working with each other." As for the Zappos and Quidsi acquisitions, that "just accelerates the conversation with Amazon, if nothing else. Everywhere Amazon looks, they're buying a Kiva system."
One individual close to the discussions between Kiva and Amazon says that the Seattle e-commerce pioneer may want to own a chunk of Kiva before agreeing to work with the company, or buy Kiva outright. Amazon is also apparently interested in having access to the software code that runs Kiva's system and its robots, to better integrate with its order fulfillment processes, which Kiva considers proprietary. (Amazon didn't return calls seeking comment.)
And in 2008, I wrote about Kiva as part of the growing robotics cluster in Massachusetts.
Here's some video I shot at the company's "demonstration warehouse" in 2008:
Back in October, Back Bay e-tailer Wayfair hired Kristine Kennedy, the former East Coast editor for Better Homes and Gardens, to oversee its new content strategy. The home goods site has always been at the top of its class when it comes to attracting searchers to its site, but has never maintained a design blog before.
Now, Wayfair is starting to promote Kennedy's new My Way Home blog, which features design ideas from about a dozen contributors that she calls the Wayfair Homemakers. There are subtle links at the bottom of each blog post for anyone interested in purchasing some of the items featured, like an Aalto vase.
In June of last year, Wayfair brought in its first outside capital — a ginormous $165 million round — and ditched its somewhat generic original name, CSN Stores.
I asked Kennedy a few questions via e-mail.FULL ENTRY
The beer apps niche is as crowded as the Cask n' Flagon on a game day, with two successful apps, BrewGene and Pintley, developed in Boston. Both focus more on reviews, ratings, and making recommendations than Beerdog, and both have 4.5-star ratings in the iTunes Store. Like Beerdog, both are free. A third beer app built in Boston, RedPint, encouraged drinkers to share their favorite ales with friends, and was acquired last year in an all-stock transaction by Untapped, yet another company that makes a beer app.
Beerdog may have a leg up on competitors; its founding team includes CEO Kevin Bradshaw, a mobile gaming veteran, Devin Kelly, a former VP of marketing for AB Inbev (which makes Beck's, Budweiser, and Stella Artois), and Eric Spitz, the ex-CFO of Narragansett Brewing Company.FULL ENTRY
Nick Chory from the Cambridge start-up SwayMarkets sends along an interesting infographic about the best-performing 3G wireless carriers in Boston, based on factors like data speed and signal strength. And SwayMarkets monitors the experience of actual subscribers, as opposed to relying on marketing claims made by the carriers.
The top-line results? Verizon subscribers get the best signal strength, fastest data transfers, and least latency. (See the infographic below.)
SwayMarkets was founded by a trio of EnerNOC alumni, and their plan is to collect data about mobile carriers' performance in big cities that could then be sold to companies that, for instance, have a large sales force relying on 3G tablets and want to know what carrier to use in different cities to ensure solid coverage. The data could be valuable for consumers, too, Chory says: "If your subscription is up for renewal, wouldn't it be great to know what carrier is the best for you if you work downtown and live in Cambridge?"
SwayMarkets has already produced two free apps for iPhone users: DataMonitor, which keeps tabs on your monthly data usage so you don't incur extra fees, and NetSnaps, which tells you how the WiFi or wireless network is performing where you are.
"We've been collecting anonymous data with both of the apps and analyzing it," says Chory. "We're presenting it for Boston first, but we can do it in any geography." Though the data is collected only from iPhone users at present, the company asserts that it's valid no matter what sort of device you're using on the Sprint, AT&T or Verizon networks. (And SwayMarkets plans to soon start collecting data through other devices.)
Here's SwayMarket's infographic on the best cellular service in Boston:FULL ENTRY
Quattro veterans launch Adelphic with $2 million and visions of delivering more relevant mobile advertising
Most people have gotten pretty good at tuning out the ads that intrude on apps and mobile websites, in part because they're not well-matched to what you're doing. (Unlike, say, Google's textual ads that use your search terms to try to intuit what's on your mind.) A new Lexington start-up, Adelphic Mobile, hopes to try to grab your attention — and make mobile ads more valuable for publishers, marketers, and app developers — by delivering more relevant messages.
The company is coming out of stealth mode today with $2 million in funding from Waltham-based Matrix Partners, and a trio of veterans of Quattro Wireless on its team. That company was bought by Apple in 2010, and its product became Apple's iAd system, which delivers ads to many apps distributed through the iTunes Store.
"We're living through the hangover from the first generation of mobile advertising," says Jennifer Lum, Adelphic's co-founder and CEO. "The device is personal, and it's location-aware, but if you look at the click-through rates of mobile advertising and the performance stats, it's not where it needs to be." Lum's co-founder, Changfeng Wang, is also a Quattro veteran, and earlier in his career he worked for Enpocket, a mobile marketing start-up acquired by Nokia, and Engage, an Internet advertising company that was part of the CMGI empire in Andover. "What's missing in the mobile advertising space is so clear," Wang says. "Advertising is about sending the right message to the right audience at the right time, and that's not really happening in mobile." The third Quattro alum at Adelphic is Joe Grabmeier, the company's chief financial officer.
The company hopes to make mobile ad inventory more valuable for publishers and app developers, in part by better understanding the user's recent activity, the device they're using, where they are, and the content they're currently interacting with. "Right now, it's very hard to purchase advertising at scale that let's you reach, say, males carrying an iPhone 4S at 9 a.m. in the morning, in a major metro area," Lum says. Mobile advertising availability — what those in the industry call "inventory" — is growing at "explosive rates," Lum says. "But the agencies and marketers buying that inventory need to be able to do so in a way that makes sense."FULL ENTRY
In the web boom era, Bill Seibel was running Zefer, a web development firm founded by Harvard Business School alums that raised $150 million, tried to go public twice, and went bankrupt in the aftermath of the dot-com bust, in 2001. At its peak, Zefer employed nearly 500 people.
These days, there's a similar need in corporate America for service providers who can quickly design and deliver mobile apps. And Seibel is once again at the helm of one of the fastest-growing in town: Wellesley-based Mobiquity. Launched last March with $5 million in funding from Sigma Partners and Longworth Venture Partners, Mobiquity has already surpassed 100 employees and set up three branch offices, Seibel tells me.FULL ENTRY
I broke the news just before Christmas that Amazon was laying the groundwork for a Kendall Square office, and my understanding was that they hoped to open it in February. Things seem to have progressed a bit slower than Amazon might have liked on the real estate front, perhaps because there's no hotter (or pricier) neighborhood for tech and biotech employers than Kendall right now.
The number of Cambridge jobs listed on Amazon's HR site has been growing; today, I counted 32 open positions, from software engineers to technical recruiters to quality assurance testers who will work on products like the Kindle Fire and Amazon's Video on Demand service. Amazon is also hiring a few research scientists, presumably to work on blue-sky ideas rather than current offerings. Despite the job listings, the Seattle e-commerce company still hasn't made any public statements about its presence in Cambridge.FULL ENTRY
Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs developing therapeutic video games to enhance your cognitive functions
Akili is being incubated at PureTech Ventures, a Back Bay firm that seeds new life sciences start-ups, and its acting chief executive is PureTech founder Daphne Zohar. But Akili is pretty different from the typical PureTech project: the start-up has brought on board veterans of Lucas Digital Arts and Electronic Arts who have worked on games like "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" and "Medal of Honor."
"This is a whole new way of delivering therapeutic benefit in the field of cognition," says Zohar. "What if a child with ADHD symptoms, instead of taking Ritalin, could play a game?" She says the company will likely focus on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder first, with plans to study how games might affect other conditions, including stress, depression, and anxiety.
Akili has been working first on games for iPhones and iPads, and testing them so far with about 50 healthy individuals, "to hone both the science and usability," Zohar says. The company is in the process of "setting up collaborations to run pilot tests in multiple patient indications with leading academic investigators," she adds.
The new structure "will allow us to pursue new opportunities more aggressively," says Angle. "Before, if you wanted to create a small business unit to pursue some new application, you had to beg for resources from a division that was designed to do something else. We think this will give us a more efficient, steerable organization that's able to put energy against these new market opportunities."
What, specifically? I asked Angle if the company was interested in the kinds of warehouse robots that companies like Kiva Systems and Symbotic (formerly CasePick) are selling. "We're less interested in that," he said. "We're active in healthcare, with our InTouch partnership that's working on remote presence technology for doctors, and we're interested in mobile, connected robots for security and retail." A retailbot, he said, "could interact with customers, help them find products they need, and serve up information. The shopper can have the best of both worlds: the kind of comparison of product features that you get online, with the instant gratification of taking home the product." All three of those new applications could take advantage of iRobot's Ava platform for mobile robots (pictured at right.) And all three areas, Angle added, "are multi-billion-dollar markets ripe for disruption with our technology."
StarStreet, which has up to now operated a fantasy stock market where traders use real money to buy shares in professional athletes, is launching its daily fantasy site Tuesday at noon. Levine says the company is focusing on basketball first, with plans to do baseball next. Users play head-to-head against other users, and they can do so for free, or by putting anywhere from $1 to $50 into a pool. "Let's say you want to put in $10," Levine says. "We add a 7 percent commission, so you're paying $10.70, but you have a chance to win $20." This kind of online wagering is legal because fantasy sports are considered a game that requires skill, rather than a game of chance.FULL ENTRY
Fleye sets up an array of HD cameras atop poles along the side of the slopes — especially around the terrain parks. The cameras run all the time, storing the video on computer hard drives in the base lodge. (It's eventually uploaded to Amazon's cloud storage infrastructure.) For $10, skiers or snowboarders can purchase an RFID tag that communicates with the cameras, letting them know when you're zooming past their field of view. That essentially creates a "label" on the few seconds of video that are relevant to you.
When you get home, the Fleye website can show you only the clips that you appear in, and give you a chance to delete certain clips (wipe-outs, perhaps), or rearrange the sequence. Eventually, there will be the option of adding music or other enhancements. The $10 fee includes access to one day's worth of video content; if you return to the mountain on another day with your tag, Fleye will let you access those clips for $7.50. In addition, Fleye can set up big-screen TVs in the base lodge that know when you're standing near them, thanks to that RFID tag hanging from your zipper pull, and can play the video clips that star you.
And today, Shiva, an MIT professor, is in Washington to donate the original code for his e-mail system to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Shiva started building the e-mail system at Newark's University of Medicine and Dentistry when he was just 14, in 1978. He copyrighted the term "EMAIL" in 1982, shortly after he'd started attending MIT as an undergrad.
"There was no way to patent software then, so I submitted the first U.S. copyright on e-mail, and also the manual," Shiva says.
His e-mail system consisted of about 60,000 lines of code (see below), and it ran on an HP mainframe. Instead of using the @ symbol, e-mail addresses employed periods to separate the username from the location where they could be found. (For instance, kelly.rms would represent a user named Kelly at Rutgers Medical School.) The system had 80 or 90 users in the early days, a number that rose into the hundreds after Shiva headed off to college.FULL ENTRY
Dean left the company last June to go work at Nanigans, a Boston start-up that helps its customers run ad campaigns on Facebook. Not too long after that, according to a lawsuit that Dean filed in December in Massachusetts Superior Court, his former employer decided to terminate stock options that are worth about $2 million. Visible Measures claimed that Dean had violated the terms of his non-compete agreement (Nanigans and Visible Measures are rivals in a broad sense, in that both sell services to marketers) and his non-solicitation agreement (even though Dean claims not to have solicited any Visible Measures employees or customers), as well as that he disclosed confidential information about Visible Measures. Dean (pictured at right) says none of that happened. Dean worked at Visible Measures for the company's first five years, and while Shin tried to persuade him to stay at the company, according to the suit, neither he nor anyone at Visible Measures expressed concern that Nanigans was a competitor.
Dean's lawsuit asserts that he was one of the largest holders of Visible Measures stock options at the time he left, and that Shin and the company's board "each will gain personally from the wrongful termination of Dean's stock options, because their stock or options will not be diluted through Dean's exercise of his stock options." You can read the full text of Dean's legal complaint here.
One left, one stayed. One was founded by a first-time entrepreneur, the other by an entrepreneur who'd built a public company before. One wasn't able to raise money here, and one was. One focused on consumers, the other on solving a business problem.
Facebook's forthcoming IPO is expected to value the company at about $100 billion. Brightcove will be worth somewhere around $300 million when it goes public.
I asked Todd Dagres, founder of Spark Capital in Boston, for his take on why Boston can be so hospitable to start-ups like Brightcove while it gives fledgling companies like Facebook a cold shoulder.
Here's his take:
When co-founder Scott Borgerson showed up at a VC mixer at Quincy Market last month, his name tag read just "Scott." No company affiliation. When I tried to confirm with him afterward that he'd been at the party, his response was: "Maybe."
His investors at the Boston office of Summerhill Venture Partners wouldn't tell me who made the investment in CargoMetrics, when it was made, or how much they invested. "It benefits the company to be in stealth mode right now," e-mailed Summerhill partner Will Kohler.
But the company has been hiring steadily in Boston, and LinkedIn currently lists a dozen employees, including co-founder Rockford Weitz. (Both Weitz and Borgerson are Fletcher School alums, and fellows at the Gloucester-based Institute for Global Maritime Studies.)
So what is the company up to? CargoMetrics is collecting data about the movement of commodities by ship, and selling that data to hedge funds. (Ships report on their location through tracking systems like AIS, but CargoMetrics seems to be combining that with information about what's on board.) According to a job posting, the company "has developed a groundbreaking analytics platform which offers comprehensive, dynamic information on the movement of the global supply of the world’s commodities." Useful if you're trying to make a profit buying or selling commodities futures.
Borgerson (pictured at right) is former Coast Guard officer, and was the founding director of the Coast Guard Academy's Institute for Leadership. He's also an expert on Arctic shipping.
I considered three factors:
- Impact (how big of an organization do they oversee, how large of a fund do they manage, how much revenue does their company generate, etc.)
- Connectivity (how well-networked are they, and how much mentoring of younger executives/entrepreneurs do they do)
- Thought leadership (speaking, writing, and commenting in the media)
The top ten are followed by five rising stars. When individuals are active on Twitter, I've included their Twitter handles.
The Cambridge office of Zynga launched its first game, "Adventure World," last September, and has grown to about 40 employees. "The office is still strong and growing," Hyatt writes via e-mail, "with a solid success with 'Adventure World' and some other projects underway." (The game became "Indiana Jones Adventure World" a few months after its debut.)
Zynga went public in December (the picture at right is from Hyatt's blog). Hyatt tells me he plans to announce his next move soon.
Conduit was funded by Charles River Ventures and Prism VentureWorks, and Hyatt helped start the weekly OpenCoffee meet-up in Cambridge with Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital.
Axio, Cambridge start-up working on a wearable device to enhance concentration, gets into new accelerator program in China
And not just by playing Parliament Funkadelic really loud?
A Cambridge start-up called Axio is working on just such a device, leveraging an auditory phenomenon called binaural beats. Essentially, the theory is that playing two tones of different frequencies in each ear can have a beneficial effect on the listener's brainwaves.
Axio founder Arye Barnehama isn't saying too much about the start-up's product. But he says that "focus is a huge problem, for athletes, programmers, students, and business executives. Our goal is to be a consumer health product. We're looking at a couple different form factors, but one is a headset that would integrate with a smart phone and a PC." The headset would include an EEG sensor for monitoring brain activity. And similar to the Zeo sleep monitor, Axio would be able to chart the ups and downs of your concentration level over the course of a day or week on a phone or PC screen.
Barnehama says Axio's headset would work in tandem with "cognitive training feedback software" that would help users "train their brain to maintain that optimized state."
The company has already raised a seed round from local angels, including Bill Warner, and has also won admission into Haxlr8r, a brand-new accelerator program especially for start-ups working on hardware. The program runs for fifteen weeks in Shenzhen, China, where it focuses on designing and testing a prototype, and then wraps up with investor presentations in Silicon Valley. "The idea is that you're close to the manufacturers who are going to make your device," Barnehama says, "and that lets you do faster iterations because you're right there."
Barnehama and co-founder Laura Berman are both students at Pomona College in southern California; they're both studying cognitive science and computer science. Barnehama is originally from western Massachusetts. "I started the company last summer, and for our college winter break, I sort of came home and stayed," he says. Ben Rubin, co-founder and CTO of Zeo, has signed on as an advisor to Axio.
"It's one of those companies that could end up back in Boston after three months in China — or not," Rubin writes in an e-mail. If it boomerangs back to Boston after Haxlr8r, it would be "part of the cluster we are building around consumer health technology," he says. The start-up is currently working out of the Cambridge Co-working Center in Kendall Square. Barnehama and Berman head to China later this month.
"Everyone knows those days when they felt amazing, whether it was on the golf course or in the library studying," Barnehama says. "You don't have them every day. But we believe we can use technology to make that possible."
Who wouldn't love that? I'm eager to try it out...especially since it took me much longer than it should have to write this post.
Like Microsoft in the 1970s, Facebook was, in the first decade of the 2000s, gestated on the Harvard campus, and key moments of its early history took place in Harvard Square. Bill Gates and Paul Allen had been inspired by an issue of Popular Electronics they purchased at Out of Town News featuring an early personal computer, and Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin had their first meeting with a venture capitalist at Henrietta's Table.
Both companies, of course, left Massachusetts, creating jobs and enormous wealth in Seattle and Palo Alto, respectively.
As Facebook's long-anticipated IPO approaches, I've been thinking both about the company's Cambridge roots, and also some local people and institutions who will make bags of money from the public offering.
The money first...
A Boston-area VC firm, Greylock Partners, one of the grand-daddies of the venture capital industry, led Facebook's second major round of funding in April 2006. The round gave Facebook $27 million in funding, and valued the company — which at the time had just seven million users — at roughly $500 million. (As of January 2012, the site had about 800 million users.)
"That was a way out-on-a-limb investment — a very controversial deal," one local venture capitalist told me this morning. "There were arguments within Greylock about why it could be a bad investment."
While the Greylock investment in Facebook's 2006 round was led by David Sze, a partner in the firm's Silicon Valley office, another Boston VC told me that Bill Helman, a Greylock partner in Waltham, did some key analysis that showed "that Facebook had a reasonable amount of revenue, and was growing like a weed. His position was, 'I can guarantee you 100 percent that we aren't going to lose money.' Of course, no one would've thought the up-side was going to turn out to be what it was." Greylock's 1.5 percent stake in Facebook could be worth a billion dollars or more after the IPO. (Helman didn't want to comment on his involvement in the Facebook investment.)
Who'll get a share of Greylock's winnings? Harvard's endowment, for one, which has been an investor in Greylock since the firm's founding in 1965. (Ironically, Harvard could've made much more: the university's money managers had been consistent supporters of Accel Partners, the Silicon Valley firm that led Facebook's very first round of venture capital funding in 2005, but decided not to participate in the Accel fund that made the Facebook deal. Accel owns 11 percent of Facebook, compared to Greylock's one percent and change.) Amos Hostetter, the Continental Cablevision founder, is another who'll benefit. Bill Kaiser and Bill Helman, the two investing partners in Greylock's Massachusetts office, will pocket handsome sums, as will Henry McCance, Greylock's chairman emeritus. (Helman sits on the board of the Harvard Management Company, which oversees Harvard's endowment.) In 2009, three years after making the Facebook investment, Greylock moved its headquarters from Massachusetts to Silicon Valley, and the firm's center of gravity is most definitely out west now.
For John Kestner and David Carr, who'd started a company called Supermechanical together, the answer turned out to be Kickstarter. The crowd-funding site enables anyone from filmmakers to artists to would-be entrepreneurs to raise money from individual supporters. But few have used it as effectively as Kestner and Carr.
They set out to raise about $35,000 so they could produce a few hundred of their Twine devices (pictured at right). Twine was designed to be what Kestner calls "a minimal Twittering object" — essentially, a wireless node that could send information via e-mail, texts, or Tweets about what was going on in its environs. Was there water seeping into a basement, a heating system failure, or a door being opened? Twine would report on it. And the two-inch square device could be programmed over the Web, using a simple, menu-based interface.
As students at the MIT Media Lab, and later as founders of Supermechanical, Kestner and Carr had been thinking about embedding intelligence and communications capability in everyday objects, like wallets and tables. But they realized that one key component needed to be created: "We found we were spending 80 percent of our time implementing the wireless technology that would make all these things work," Kestner says.
They narrowed down the features to the point where they thought they could sell the Twine devices for about $100. Then they created a video (see below) that encapsulated the concept.
They launched their Kickstarter campaign last November, early in the week of Thanksgiving. "We weren't expecting to raise a lot of money," Kestner says. "We just wanted market validation and enough momentum so that once we started making [the devices], we'd be able to sell them." A $99 pledge on Kickstarter promised you a single Twine device — batteries and shipping included — from the first production batch. For $125, you'd get Twine plus an external moisture sensor or magnetic switch. (Twine users can also plug in their own sensors to the device.) They promised delivery in March.
A post on the blog ReadWriteWeb called the project "amazing," and two days later Engadget noted that "Twine connects your whole world to the internet." "The blog coverage gave the project some initial rocket fuel," Kestner says.
Later that week, as Kestner and Carr were preparing their respective Thanksgiving dinners in Somerville and Cambridge, the project had blown past their $35,000 goal: "We were at $100,000, and it was like, 'Oh, boy.' We're ambitious people, but we weren't expecting this."
I've written about the company throughout the years, like when it was acquired by C&S Wholesale Grocers, a privately-held New Hampshire company, and when it named Jim Baum, formerly chief executive of the data warehousing firm Netezza, as its new leader. (Lert, the founder, moved on last year.)
But I didn't get a chance to see the bots in action until last Friday afternoon, when Baum (pictured at right) invited me over to the company's Wilmington headquarters to see a demo. He wanted to talk about the company's new name — it'll be known starting today as Symbotic — and also the hiring spree its on. (Baum mentioned they're about to outgrow the Wilmington facility, and are hunting for new space.)
Baum had just returned from a company event in Newburgh, New York, where Symbotic's first production system is deployed at a massive grocery warehouse owned by C&S. The warehouse assembles cases of merchandise onto wooden pallets, which are then trucked to Stop & Shop stores around New York. The Symbotic system only operates a portion of that warehouse, but it consists of 168 bots that move boxes at up to 25 miles per hour.
Symbotic's proposition is that bots are not only more efficient at moving product onto and off of warehouse shelves as needed, but that companies that purchase its technology can store more product in less warehouse space.
Baum didn't want me shooting any video of the bots in action — "we're still slightly paranoid," he said — but I did get to see them moving merch around a test track. (See the image below.) The bots followed white tape on the floor, and used finger-like metal rods that extended horizontally to pull boxes off of a shelf. They communicated wirelessly with a central computer that told them where to pick up and drop off the items, and also ensured that they'd avoid collisions which each other. They can also ride elevators to get from one level of a warehouse to another.
While C&S remains the majority owner of Symbotic, Baum says that he hopes the company will do its first non-C&S deployment sometime in 2012. "One reason we haven't had to talk much about what we're doing is we have an amazing pipeline of business," he says. "The connection to C&S has give us an opportunity to talk to very big, very risk-averse buyers."
How is Symbotic different from Kiva Systems, the better-known warehouse robotics company located just a few miles away in North Reading? Kiva's short, squat bots typically move big racks of open boxes to an order-picker who removes individual items and then packs them into a box that'll be sent to a customer. One example would be filling a box with three different pairs of shoes for a Zappos.com order. Symbotic, on the other hand, builds short, squat bots that grab closed boxes of merchandise and bring them to another robot (made by a third-party vendor) that puts them onto wooden pallets, at which point they're loaded onto a truck and sent to a retail store. Kiva's bots help to fill boxes full of items, and Symbotics' bots build pallets stacked with boxes.
Baum says the company will probably double in size this year, to 200 employees. As he has been setting up Symbotic as an independent company, he has also created a board of directors that includes Tony Affuso, chairman of Siemens PLM Software, and Jit Saxena, the founder of Netezza.
One last note: Baum tells me the robots are built primarily from locally-sourced components, and assembled in Wilmington.
Photo: Two Symbotic robots move boxes around a simulated warehouse; they navigate by following the white tape on the ground.
Promoboxx founder Ben Carcio tells me that it was one of those phone calls he wasn't sure would be worth making. "Whenever you talk with mentors and investors, they're always trying to introduce you to other people in their networks, and you always wonder if the call will be worth the time," Carcio says. Dave Balter, founder of BzzAgent, suggested that Carcio get in touch with a media analyst and occasional investor in New York named Richard Greenfield, who in turn introduced Carcio to Avi Savar, a founder of the social media agency Big Fuel. The agency was working with Chevrolet on its Super Bowl XLVI campaign, and "they'd always tried to have a program that would better involve Chevrolet's dealers, but they could never execute it right," Carcio says. During their first meeting, Savar "was finishing my sentences."
So Big Fuel signed up Promoboxx to create co-branded pages for 3,000 Chevy dealers, who in turn help share the Super Bowl-related content (like the TV ad below) to their audiences on Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels. Carcio adds, "We also created a dealer scorecard, so each dealership can see how they rank among other dealers" in terms of generating Bowl-related buzz for Chevy.
Carcio says that the Big Fuel collaboration turned into the start-up's biggest project thus far; Promoboxx was founded in 2010, and participated in the TechStars Boston program last year. The company raised $565,000 in funding last month. Promoboxx's primary focus is helping brands customize promotional campaigns with their retailers or distributors.
"What I learned," Carcio says, "is that you've got to make every phone call, because you can never be sure what could happen."
Here's what the Promoboxx-created Facebook page looks like for one local Chevy dealer, Herb Chambers Chevrolet of Danvers:
And here's the ad Chevy will be running during next Sunday's Super Bowl. It's pretty funny:
Two of Ambient's three founders have gone on to other ventures — David Rose now runs Vitality, which makes intelligent prescription pill bottles, and Ben Resner was developing a new kind of information display for cars when I caught up with him last January. Former Ambient product development chief Nabeel Hyatt runs the Harvard Square office of Zynga, the social gaming company that went public last year. Carl Yankowski, the former Palm and Reebok CEO brought in in 2007 to lead the company, only stuck around for two years.
But the third founder, Pritesh Gandhi, is still there, running a slimmed-down Ambient that he says turned profitable last year. (The company has eight employees.) And this week, he's heading to San Antonio to announce a new focus for the company: digital displays for homes and businesses that will show how much energy they're using, and ideally encourage them to conserve. He'll be showing off new Ambient prototypes as part of the Distributech conference and tradeshow, which brings together utilities and vendors working on "smart grid" technology.
Here's how the new devices work: some utilities now charge consumers more at moments of peak energy demand — like a hot day in August — than days when there's less demand. It's called "time-of-use billing." Gandhi says that no major Massachusetts utilities have started doing it, but "utilities in states like California have realized that the most effective way to alleviate some of the stress on the grid and educate their customers about energy consumption is with variable pricing." When consumers have a display (see below) that shows them how much energy they're using and how much it costs, Gandhi says it can reduce their energy consumption by about 25 percent. And like previous Ambient products, the Energy Joule changes colors to get your attention. When prices are average, it's green. When they're above average, it's yellow. And when prices are at their highest, it's red.
"We think utilities would buy the devices and give them out to their users, or they'd be available at retail locations with a subsidy, not unlike what you see with compact flourescent bulbs today," Gandhi says.
The company has been working for about four years to deploy devices with Pacific Gas & Electric's business customers, Gandhi says, but the new push is about getting the devices into homes. The company has done some pilot consumer testing with Baltimore Gas & Electric, but is hoping to land a large-scale commitment this year.
Cignifi, a small Cambridge start-up with roots in the UK, believes it does. The company is out raising $2 million in funding to commercialize its technology this year, after a pilot test in Brazil in 2011.
"There's a vast market of consumers in countries like Brazil, China, India, and the Phillipines who want access to financial services like credit cards, loans, or insurance," says Jonathan Hakim, Cignifi's chief executive. "But while they may have jobs, and some have bank accounts, there really is no credit history for them." One thing they do have? Mobile phones.
Cignifi has developed sophisticated modeling software that can look at usage data from consumers' mobile phones and make predictions about who that person is and how they live. There's no single data point — like making lots of short calls between 2 and 5 a.m. every morning — that suggests that someone is a bad credit risk. But Hakim says, "The way you use your phone is a proxy for your lifestyle. It's not random. So we're looking at things like the length of calls, the time of day, and the location you make them from. Also things like whether you top up [a pre-paid SIM card] regularly. We want to see how stable the patterns are. When you look at that, you can create these behavioral clusters that give you information about users' appetite for new [financial] products, and their ability to repay a debt."
Cignifi plans to pitch the technology to financial services firms in Brazil first, and perhaps Mexico next. (The firms would obviously need to hash out a partnership with mobile operators to get access to usage data.) Last year's test in Brazil ran data for three million cell phone users through Cignifi's software, and produced a behavior-based score that resembles the FICO credit score many U.S. consumers are familiar with, which runs from 300 to 850 points. Then, the company compared its predictions about their credit-worthiness against actual credit card debt information for that same group.
"After that big lab experiment in Brazil, the next phase is to go and commercialize it," Hakim says. He describes the start-up as an "arms merchant," providing software that enables financial services companies to sell products profitably to consumers they couldn't previously reach.FULL ENTRY
First, Goodman had a drink with Miller at the MITX Innovation Awards last June. (She was there to pick up an "Innovation Hall of Fame" award for building the Waltham company into a major force in digital marketing for small businesses, with 900 employees; CardStar took home two awards, too.) Then, she was on a panel with Miller as part of FutureM week in September. What started out as vague discussions about how Constant Contact might partner with CardStar, which makes an app that lets consumers store their frequent-shopper card info on mobile phones, turned into conversations about how Constant Contact might acquire the small Boston start-up.
"The two teams started to get really excited about the potential as the weather got colder," says Goodman. By early December, they'd agreed on the terms — which aren't being disclosed. The purchase is being announced this morning. It is Constant Contact's third acquisition since 2010, as the company seeks to diversify beyond its core business of helping its customers conduct e-mail marketing campaigns.FULL ENTRY
"Suddenly you had phones with cameras built in, and we started talking about taking pictures of the donut cases in our stores," Kimmel recalls. "You can tell a lot about how well-run the restaurant is if the donut case is well-stocked and beautiful."
The spit-balling didn't go anywhere... until 2009, when Palmer and Kimmel decided to start Survey On The Spot, a business that would use mobile phones as data collection devices. Their premise was that if businesses asked customers to use their own phones to fill out a survey, the feedback would be fresher, and the response rate higher than with traditional paper-based survey forms. The company, based in Newton, recently raised its first outside funding: $750,000 from Kepha Partners, a Waltham venture capital firm, Angel Street Capital in Providence, and Mike Sheehan, CEO of the Boston ad agency Hill Holliday.
Survey On The Spot offers a Web site for creating surveys, and both an iPhone app and mobile-friendly HTML5 Web site for collecting information from users. Subscription fees for using the service start a $40-per-month for each location a business operates. The company's customer list already includes chains like 7-11, The 99 Restaurants, Not Your Average Joe's, and Carrabba's Italian Grill. Most use it to gather information from customers, but some use the surveys as part of store inspections, or in the case of The 99, for gathering employee feedback on new menu items being developed internally. And not all businesses expect their customers to use their own mobile phone to fill out the survey: at Not Your Average Joe's, servers hand diners an iPod Touch with the survey on it, which can be filled out as the diner's credit card is being processed. (The Joe's set-up is pictured in the photo at right.)
"When you're collecting data quickly, as opposed to the next day or two days later, you have the ability to fix problems before they affect more customers," says Kimmel. "Certain kinds of complaints" — those related to under-cooked food, for instance — "can automatically go to the manager of the restaurant, and they can deal with that right away."
While the company's first customer was Finale Desserterie & Bakery, Survey On The Spot's technology has more recently been adopted by veterinary clinics, tire stores, hospitals, and even a Whole Foods Market in Scotland, Palmer says. The partners had self-funded the business until late December, when the seed investment round took place.
The new funding "gives us an opportunity to build a team," says Palmer, who was a co-founder of uLocate, a start-up that became Where Inc. and was acquired by PayPal last year. "Up to this point, it has been just the two of us, working with outside contractors." (That list includes Raizlabs of Brookline and OneStopTechnology of Holyoke.) He says Survey is now hiring in engineering, marketing, sales, and customer support.
But last year, Thompson (pictured at right) was still the president of PayPal, the electronic payments division of eBay, and he was at the State House to talk with the state's top two officials about expanding PayPal's presence in Boston. Accompanying Thompson were two Boston-based executives — Walt Doyle and David Chang — who had joined PayPal after their company, Where Inc., was acquired last spring. The company currently employs just over 100 people at its office in the North End, which is evolving into a "center of excellence for mobile development and ad technology," in Doyle's words.
Doyle told me earlier this week that PayPal could be adding "several hundred people" in Boston over the coming years. (There are currently only three open jobs in Boston that I could find.) While Thompson has since moved on from PayPal, eBay's government relations staffers plan to pay another visit to Beacon Hill next week to continue the discussions.
In November, the governor and lieutenant governor "made the case for Massachusetts: the strong and growing industry cluster, the talent pool, etc.," explains Greg Bialecki, the state's secretary for housing and economic development, via e-mail. With companies headquartered elsewhere, he says that "we invite them to ask Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Novartis, Sanofi, etc. about how their decisions to take a major position here have been very good for them."
But in the November meeting, "there was not a discussion of financial incentives" to encourage eBay to grow its PayPal presence here, Bialecki says. While the topic of a tax break for adding jobs in the state could be discussed at future meetings, he says, "incentives often aren’t the primary issue for companies like this." (Presumably, being able to hire talented software developers is.) But last December, the state did OK a $3.4 million tax credit for open source software company Red Hat, which plans to add 181 jobs at its Westford engineering headquarters. (Red Hat also got almost a million dollar break on its property taxes from the town.)
Before its acquisition by eBay, Where had built the largest location-based advertising network, Doyle says, which enabled it to display ads as you used apps on your mobile phone that were relevant to where you were standing. Now, as PayPal seeks to be a payment system that consumers can use for bricks-and-mortar purchases, not just online ones, the Where group will be responsible for "demand generation," Doyle says. That means delivering ads and special offers to your mobile phone that might encourage you to buy some fresh flowers or try a new restaurant for lunch. (And eventually, pay using the PayPal "mobile wallet" app on your phone.)
"You might be listening to music on your Pandora app," Doyle says, "and you see an ad for a Dyson vacuum cleaner or a Sony Blu-ray player. Because of the information we have from eBay, we might know that you've been searching for those items, or maybe you lost an auction for something similar. We'll be able to show you those products available locally, and possibly deliver discounts that will get you to utilize your mobile wallet in a store."
Doyle says that while other mobile advertising start-ups, like Quattro Wireless and M-Qube, saw their Boston offices disintegrate following acquisitions, his goal is to keep the Boston office growing within PayPal. (A few weeks before PayPal acquired Where, it purchased a much smaller Boston company focused on mobile payment technology, Fig Card.)
Already, Doyle says he is in the market for expanded office space. He says the group will most likely stay in Boston, as opposed to moving to Cambridge or the suburbs.
Media Lab director Joi Ito talks about the Valley's weaknesses, open technologies, global opportunities, and whether the lab is 'selling itself too cheap'
This morning, Ito gave one of his first talks to the Boston tech community at the British Consulate in Kendall Square. (Ito is at left in the picture, with interviewer Larry Weber of Digital Influence Group.) Ito mentioned that he maintains three residences, in Dubai, Tokyo, and Boston, and travels around the world about twice a month. Only occasionally, he quipped, does he feel properly adjusted to the time zone he's in.
Video of the talk is below.
Some highlights (these are rough notes on Ito's comments, and not a complete transcript of the talk):
- On Silicon Valley's weaknesses
Silicon Valley is so good at what it does. But certain categories of venture don't get a lot of attention in Silicon Valley. It doesn't make sense for Reid Hoffman [founder of LinkedIn and an investor at Greylock Partners] to start spending time with hardware start-ups. Silicon Valley tends to hunt in packs. So there are big blind spots, areas that they're not interested in. Reid has these basic golden rules: don't work with start-ups that have to deal with big companies, or start-ups that work in heavily-regulated areas. The flip side of that is, those aren't the kind of companies that get funded there.
[On the east coast,] we're closer to regulators and big companies. With things like big data, you need to talk to government, work with big telcos, and understand privacy. The west coast guys don't care about policy, and they don't want to talk to Washington, D.C.
Hardware is another area [of opportunity.]
Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley may be international, but they're not good at thinking globally. Silicon Valley has no culture. Have you ever tried to get food in Palo Alto? I don't think Silicon Valley spends a lot of energy on art, culture, and the humanities. When you're building 3Com and [data] switches, all you need is people who sit and focus on bits. But as we get to the World-Wide Web and think about how does social media impact politics, how does it affect fashion, how do we bring museums online — that is much more New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. There are hopefully some regional advantages.
- On the future of the Media Lab
We may be selling ourselves too cheap. For $200,000, the price of hiring one engineer, you get access to 350 crazy ideas that may completely change your company, and access to all the intellectual property we generate. For the price of one person, you get a super-advanced research group.
I'm trying to change the Media Lab to be much more of a platform. Membership should be about companies working together, an ecosystem. When the Media Lab started, you had products like the Sony Walkman — a single product from a single company. The iPhone is an ecosystem. Ten companies will create the ecosystem. Can we convene the meetings, nurture a platform, and get those companies to hang out with each other. Not just a hub-and-spoke model where people come to the Media Lab with their clipboards and then bring ideas back to their companies.
I want it to be that we only bring companies in that contribute knowledge and wisdom and ideas and interesting things. I don't want to use the word "club," but it will be somewhat exclusive. You won't just get in because you have money. I want it to be a team of people.
[Ito told me afterward that the way he can have the biggest near-term impact on the lab's research focus is by bringing in new faculty. He mentioned that there's currently a search going on to fill two tenure-track faculty positions. When I asked about research gaps at the lab that he'd like to fill, the first two things Ito mentioned were "games and government," followed by "food."
- Advice for college students after graduation
I would spend time in Brazil, Russia, China, and India, and if you have an inclination, the Middle East. I would spend a year or two roaming around.
- On international expansion
Many companies end up doing international later. But in a lot of these really big markets, you can't go late. We don't have eBay in Japan because they were late.
- Quick thoughts on some of tech's big names
Apple: One of the few remaining companies surviving as a closed ecosystem.
Amazon: One of the few companies doing what they originally set out to do.
HP: I'm not sure, but lots of smart people.
LinkedIn: Interesting monopoly, with one of the few ethical people I know [executive chairman Reid Hoffman] in control.
Twitter: Tons of potential, but interested where it's going.
Oracle: Do people still use Oracle?
Stanford: We need to learn a lot from Stanford.
MIT: Tons of potential. Needs a kick in the butt.
(Photo above courtesy of MITX director Debi Kleiman.)
Ozzie is perhaps best known as creator of the 1990s collaboration product Lotus Notes, and more recently as the person Bill Gates chose to succeed him as Microsoft's chief software architect, in 2006. Ozzie spent four years in that role, departing at the end of 2010.
Ozzie wrote that Cocomo is "being bootstrapped with a few folks that I've worked with before. In the short term, I probably won't be posting much more than 'they're recruiting,' because the team won't be ready to talk about what they're working on for some months."
When I asked more about whether Ozzie was an advisor to the new company or part of the founding team, he replied, "I'm devoting the vast majority of my attention right now in helping to get the project off the ground with the team, so yes, in that respect I founded it and am part of the founding team. That said, it's a really strong set of players who are quite capable of doing and growing this on their own; quite fun. I'm also doing some other advisory work but, on balance, I think focus is essential to get any new venture off the ground." It seems that former Microsoft executive Matt Pope is also a co-founder of Cocomo. Ransom Richardson, another ex-Microsoftie based in Boston, is also part of the team.
Cocomo's first public job posting seeks a lead user interface designer with extensive mobile experience. But it doesn't describe the company's focus in any detail, saying only that Cocomo is building "a new communications product for this new world. ...We aspire to deliver compelling tools for social interaction that people will use, value and love."
Ozzie wouldn't tell me whether the new company has raised any money yet. While it doesn't yet have office space, most of the team members are located in Boston. When I spoke this evening with a Boston-area individual who has worked with Ozzie in the past, he told me, "Ray is one of those guys who could raise a decent amount of money based on his reputation." Several people told me that they expected Ozzie to try to bring a core team of software developers he'd worked with at Microsoft and Groove Networks to Cocomo. (Groove was the collaboration platform Ozzie built after leaving Lotus, which Microsoft acquired.) "Ray is a very loyal guy," one person said.
Don Dodge, a Google executive who worked with Ozzie at Groove, said he'd recently run into Ozzie at an airport. Ozzie mentioned that his non-compete agreement with Microsoft expired at the end of 2011. Via e-mail, Dodge wrote, "I think times have changed significantly, but I'm not sure Ray has. Ray is a big thinker [who tends to work on] big ideas that take years to develop, and more years to sell and get to scale. That worked well for Lotus Notes and to some degree for Groove, but I don't see many recent examples of success using that model. Today everything is mobile, social, games, and small apps. Not exactly the sweet spot for Ray. But, he is one of the smartest guys I know, so he will probably come up with something interesting."
Asked whether the name Cocomo stands for "collaboration" and "mobile," Ozzie replied that "there are many other interesting/apropos words that begin with 'co,' such as communication, coordination, conversation, coherence." Or coconuts, I suppose.
This January's real estate news may not be quite that big — only about 100,000 square feet — but it involves the headquarters of a similarly high-profile, publicly-traded company. LogMeIn, a Woburn company that sells products that enable users to remotely access files on their PCs, is close to signing a lease at 316-322 Summer Street. The buildings, originally built as wool and dry goods warehouses just over a century ago, are located within the zone that city officials like to call the Innovation District. But many people — myself included — still refer to this particular neighborhood as Fort Point Channel.
LogMeIn, currently headquartered in the Unicorn Park complex in Woburn (pictured at right), has signed a letter of intent on the new space, according to several neighborhood and real estate industry sources, who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk about the deal. They also tell me that officials in Mayor Menino's office were involved in making the pitch to LogMeIn, contending that younger tech talent will be easier to access in a location just a few blocks away from South Station.
LogMeIn chief executive Michael Simon writes via e-mail, "We have not finalized anything yet regarding our future real estate plans and are looking at options both in the Innovation District and outside of Boston." Good hedge, if he's still negotiating deal terms with the landlord. I'll keep you apprised...
AutoVirt once had 40 employees, and raised
just over $24 about $20 million from local venture capital firms Sigma Partners and Kepha Partners. (Landberg says the $24 million figure was overstated.) The start-up's CEO, Josh Klein, departed in November. Vice president of engineering Caesar Naples left around the same time.
The company developed software to assess and analyze the data stored on Windows-based file servers and network-attached storage hardware, and move it around as necessary. Files used regularly might sit on more expensive solid-state hard drives, while files accessed only occasionally could be shifted to less-expensive storage media. AutoVirt was founded in 2007, and it launched a reseller program last fall.
"Unfortunately, the company is unwinding," confirms Jo Tango, founder of Kepha Partners and a board member at AutoVirt. "They made some good progress, but the market didn't develop for them."
Storage industry analyst Steve Duplessie first mentioned AutoVirt's demise on Twitter earlier today. Duplessie explains that AutoVirt was "a classic example of a great solution to a non-problem — a nice-to-have versus a need-to-have. People spend money on need-to-have, not nice-to-have." Duplessie, founder of analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group, says that most IT groups are content to shuffle data around manually, even if it is more time-consuming. Besides, he adds, "Windows IT administrators can't justify their jobs" if their company decided to purchase the AutoVirt software.
AutoVirt's phone system wasn't working when I tried to get in touch earlier today.
The first person to comment on my blog post cautioned, "...If you get Amazon gift cards for Christmas, you might want to use them as quickly as possible." The taxman cometh!
The particulars of the Amazon situation still aren't clear, as the office hasn't opened, and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue hasn't yet shared its position on whether Amazon will need to start adding tax to the tally.
But the bottom line is that states sales tax could be added to all e-commerce transactions soon, for any company that chalks up more than $500,000 in out-of-state sales a year. A bi-partisan bill introduced in the Senate in November, the Marketplace Fairness Act, seeks to collect an estimated $23 billion in annual state and local tax revenue that today doesn't get collected. The bill leaves it up to each state whether or not to collect the taxes, and also attempts to simplify the process of ponying up for e-tailers.
No one likes paying more taxes, but here's why I'm in favor of allowing states to require e-commerce sites to collect sales tax.
That's the premise of a new Rockland-based start-up called 1Purpose.com; the company is trying to turn every day into a walkathon.
Users can set a challenge, like racking up 500 miles on a bike, and pick the non-profit they'd like to support. 1Purpose relies on Guidestar's database of over one million organizations, or you can direct the money into a college savings account. When you hit milestones along the way, you and others supporting you make automatic donations using a credit card on file. For instance, you or your friends might commit to donating $10 for every 50 miles you ride. (An employer might also choose to match your donations.) In addition to the Web site, 1Purpose also has mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices that let you log your progress. Network for Good handles all of 1Purpose's payment processing, taking 4.75 percent of the money being donated.
"For non-profits, we think it can help them increase the amount of donations they receive, and turn donating into a daily thing, as opposed something you do once or twice a year because of some fundraising event," says Jason Skolnick, founder of 1Purpose. (I should disclose that Skolnick is a friend, and is married to another friend. But I'm writing about 1Purpose because it seems like a good idea.) So far, Skolnick has funded the start-up himself; he says the official launch will happen in early 2012. He's out now having partnership discussions with various Boston-area non-profits who might help promote the site — and use it as part of their fundraising strategies.
That strategy will change in 2012, when Amazon opens up its first outpost in the Boston area. The company has been communicating with software developers who've previously been reluctant to head west, informing them that a Boston office will be open in February. And Amazon has also posted four public job listings for PhD-level research scientists who will work on "a variety of technical initiatives" in Boston. The research positions are apparently under the umbrella of Amazon's a2z Development Center, a subsidiary that works on software to "enable great retailing experiences."
For Amazon, a Boston office actually means Cambridge: the company has been hunting for about 40,000 square feet in the Kendall Square area, according to two people with knowledge of the search, both of whom requested anonymity. That's enough space to ultimately house anywhere from 100 to 150 employees. Amazon has been trying to keep things quiet, asking to be described only as "confidential company" in dealings with prospective landlords.
Amazon seems to be on the fast-track to set up in Cambridge; while the target date for opening is February 1st, members of Amazon's engineering team will be in town the week of January 23rd to conduct interviews. On the software development side, Amazon is looking for engineering managers, software engineers, and quality assurance engineers who will work on Amazon's digital products team, which handles services like Amazon's MP3 store, online video delivery, Kindle e-books, and Amazon's Cloud Drive storage service.
In the late 1990s, Amazon acquired two Cambridge companies, PlanetAll and Exchange.com, but never set up a local office. More recently, it has recruited tech executives like Raju Matta from local companies — Matta had been a senior director of engineering at TripAdvisor — and moved them out to Amazon's headquarters.
"I'm intrigued by the idea of a Cambridge office," says Jim Savage, the former CEO of PlanetAll who now works as a venture capitalist at Longworth Venture Partners. "Google has quite a big presence here, but from a consumer perspective, there's no bigger brand than Amazon." Savage says the local outpost is likely a way for Amazon to hire people who want to stay on the east coast.
Jeffrey Bussgang, a VC with Flybridge Capital Partners who previously worked for e-commerce pioneer OpenMarket, says an Amazon office will "contribute heavily to the ecosystem. We continue to be a talent pool that big companies want to tap into. And those offices can help create relationships that can lead to acquisitions of local start-ups or business partnerships. They can also help train engineers and technical talent who may eventually go off and start their own companies."
But is Amazon now competing with Boston's home-grown tech companies for talent? Bussgang doesn't think so: "People have different points in their lives where they want to work on different things, and there are some technical people in particular that just want to work on big, hard problems. If Amazon lets them do that, I think it's terrific."
Why is Amazon opening a Massachusetts office now? It may have to do with sales tax. Ever since people started shopping on the Internet, online retailers have only been forced to collect sales tax in those states where they have "nexus," meaning significant numbers of employees, or a substantial business operation like a warehouse or call center. That kept online retailers from setting up offices in heavily-populated states like New York or Massachusetts or California, where suddenly they would have had to collect sales tax on all their transactions.
But federal legislation that would enable state and local governments to collect sales tax on Internet commerce is gaining steam in Washington, D.C. (It'd enable governments to collect about $23 billion annually in taxes that today are pretty much uncollectible: consumers are supposed to remit them on their own, which no one does.) If the proposed legislation takes effect, as many now assume it will, it would eliminate the "penalty" that online retailers used to pay for setting up outposts in other places around the country. Hence, Amazon Cambridge.
Amazon hasn't yet responded to my e-mails or phone calls today seeking comment.
One Filene's Basement, announced that it would close after 102 years in business.
And another, Rue La La, founded in 2008, was acquired into and then spun back out of eBay. Like the Basement, Rue La La's business is built on buying surplus high-end goods and selling them at a discount. But rather than owning brick-and-mortar stores, Rue connects with customers through its Web site, a daily e-mail, and apps that run on mobile devices. Most merchandise that appears on Rue is only available for two days, hence Rue is often described as a "flash sale" site.
Since the spin-out from eBay, Rue has been part of a newly-formed Pennsylvania holding company called Kynetic, though it is still run by Rue founder Ben Fischman. (eBay retained a 30 percent stake, and put $70 million in cash on Kynetic's balance sheet.) Rue has 400 employees. I caught up with Fischman last week to talk about what's next for the company, and the depressing end of the road for Filene's Basement.
On the Basement: "What was most unique about Filene's Basement was the brand that it built in Boston. There was so much emotion and passion, and they sourced merchandise so well for that Boston store. I just think they couldn't carry that to other markets. In Boston, they were an icon, but it just didn't matter in New York as much, or Chicago, or the west coast. I think their biggest mistake was making bad real estate decisions." Could someone acquire the Basement brand and revive it? Fischman says that former Filene's Basement CEO Sam Gerson — who died in 2003 — "isn't coming back, and I think it'd be tough sailing for anyone else."
On what works in brick-and-mortar retail today: "I was just in Chris Birch's new store, C Wonder, in New York. It's an incredible retail experience, with lots of proprietary product. That is the future of retail. It's people who develop their own shopping experience with their own unique product that can't just be copied by Wal-Mart and Amazon. It's great retail theater. Newbury Comics here in Boston is a great example of a cultural experience that is so rich and good, as is Brookline Booksmith. But I think Barnes & Noble goes away. Wegman's wins. Try walking into a Wegman's, and then walk into a Shaw's."
On phones and tablets: "Over 30 percent of our sales are being done through a mobile device, and more than half of that is being done through an iPad. By having this device tethered to your body, it creates a level of engagement that is driving incremental sales."
On offering free shipping during the holiday period: "What we're doing instead of offering blanket free shipping to everyone is a new approach to free shipping. When you make a purchase, and pay your $9.95 shipping, for the next 30 days you can buy anything on the site and get free shipping for that next purchase. It's driving tremendous incremental sales."
On the future for Rue La La and Kynetic: "When we were spun out, it was kind of a 'died and gone to heaven' scenario. We became a private company, with no institutional or venture investors or private equity. The company is owned by Michael Rubin [chairman of Kynetic], me, and the management team. I love the flexibility that we have. We can do with the business what we believe is most important. Public markets could be an interesting place for us in the not-too-distant future. And we think consolidation is really interesting. This is a hard business, with a low barrier to entry but a high barrier to success. We look forward to playing a role as a consolidator."
I first wrote about the company back in July 2000. The company was five months old. Dot-coms everywhere were hitting the wall. And TripAdvisor's strategy was to collect user-generated reviews of hotels and attractions, and then license the content to portals. (Remember portals?) Here's that piece, which ran in my "@large column" on July 3, 2000.
Thriftiness is in
Running a frugal Net start-up seems to be the trendy thing this summer. Langley Steinert and Steven Kaufer, chairman and CEO, respectively, of Needham's TripAdvisor, are two adherents of this lower-profile mode of building a Web business.
TripAdvisor, a search service that collects and organizes information about travel destinations from trusted authorities (like Fodor's) as well as typical Net users, has just 12 employees. And most are software developers working on the product.
"Our burn rate is extremely low," says Steinert, who is also a partner at Boston's OneLiberty Ventures. Trip Advisor raised $1.3 million in February (most of it from OneLiberty), and sources say TripAdvisor could stretch that sum past the company's fall launch and into the middle of next year. Just to be safe, Steiner and Kaufer are signing term sheets on an additional $2 million, which should be announced any day now. The theory: Raise it before you need it.
TripAdvisor also won't make the mistake of trying to create its own destination site and then spending gobs of money attracting visitors.
"We want to provide informational services in the same way that Sabre provides transactional services," Steinert explains, "through partners like America Online, Expedia, Yahoo, and Travelocity." Smart.
That strategy didn't work out, and TripAdvisor — on the verge of running out of money — eventually decided to focus on its own Web site. The company now runs the most popular collection of travel sites on the Web, including Cruise Critic, Flipkey, Seatguru, and the anchor property, TripAdvisor.com, which attract more than 40 million visitors a month.
TripAdvisor, going public tomorrow after 11 years in business, seeks a higher profile in travel industry
Eleven years after it began life above Kosta's Pizza in Needham, and seven years after it was acquired by Barry Diller's InterActive Corp. for about $200 million, TripAdvisor is finally gaining a NASDAQ listing of its very own. The company starts trading tomorrow under the symbol TRIP, and it will also be included in the Standard & Poor's 500 index. (TripAdvisor is being spun out from Expedia, which itself was spun out of InterActive Corp. in 2005.) With 1,172 employees, and $486 million in 2010 revenue, TripAdvisor is by far the biggest consumer Internet company in Boston.
The company is throwing parties in New York tonight for advertisers, business partners, and even some of the site's most prolific reviewers, and tomorrow, TripAdvisor chief exec Steve Kaufer is giving a 90-second speech at NASDAQ headquarters, then ringing the exchange's opening bell.
Being public will give TripAdvisor a higher profile in the travel industry, and Kaufer says it could also help the company recruit. "We're hiring in every department across the board," he says — especially in engineering. The company operates TripAdvisor.com and 18 other travel sites, which collectively attract 40 million visitors a month. No one else runs a bigger network of travel sites.
Kaufer has no gripes about TripAdvisor's time under the IAC and Expedia umbrellas, but acknowledges that "our success was overshadowed to some extent," and having to adhere to corporate policies and rely on services from headquarters "reminded people that we were part of a larger entity."
TripAdvisor was one of the earliest Internet companies to build an empire upon user-generated content, by encouraging travelers to review hotels, restaurants, activities, and attractions. Relying mainly on advertising and referral fees from various travel booking services, TripAdvisor continues to grow at quite a clip: for the quarter ended in September, TripAdvisor revenue increased 30 percent, to $181 million; revenue at Expedia, by comparison, rose 14 percent. TripAdvisor also has heftier profit margins than Expedia.
"It's great to be a standalone company, and it's great to be the consumer brand in Boston," Kaufer says.
I asked Kaufer about the potential IPO of Kayak.com, the more transactionally-oriented travel site, which has its technology headquarters in Concord. "It's a good product, and they're a local success story," Kaufer said. He said he didn't think Kayak was vying for the same advertising and referral revenues as TripAdvisor — "our clients would happily spend more money with both sites if both sites had more traffic" — but he did acknowledge that "we are probably recruiting the exact same set of engineers."
At TripAdvisor, he said, "when we think about the thing that would most move our success needle in future years, hiring top tech talent is always at the top." In the Boston area, TripAdvisor maintains three separate locations, in Newton, Charlestown, and downtown Boston.
IAC chairman and CEO Barry Diller remains the controlling shareholder of TripAdvisor, and will serve as the company's chairman.
Starting Wednesday, TripAdvisor will be one of the highest-profile companies in the online travel industry, and certainly the biggest star in Boston's travel constellation, which includes Kayak, ITA Software (now owned by Google), and smaller start-ups like Hopper and WaySavvy.
Earlier this year, I had Kaufer on a panel. He and several other local entrepreneurs talked about the "Secrets to Success." Audio is here.
At least five senior executives have quietly been ousted in recent months at Kiva Systems, the maker of warehouse automation systems that use armies of squat orange robots to move merchandise. The executive shuffle follows Kiva's hiring of a new president and COO, Amy Villeneuve, last year. (That's Villeneuve at right, cutting the ribbon on the company's new headquarters building in North Reading earlier this year, next to founder and CEO Mick Mountz.)
Out are executives like Rob Stevens, a former vice president of sales and strategy at Kiva; he landed at Backupify, a digital archiving start-up. Mitch Rosenberg had led marketing and product management at Kiva until November. Mark Mastandrea, Kiva's former vice president of customer solutions, is now at Wayfair, the Boston home decor e-tailer. Kiva's ex-VP of manufacturing operations, Jim DeSisto, hasn't yet updated his LinkedIn profile, but former VP of business operations John Dugan is now chief executive of Trylby, a deals site in San Francisco.
One very interesting new recruit for Kiva is chief financial officer Keith Seidman, who joined back in March. Seidman was CFO at Acme Packet when that telecommunications company went public in 2006. Sources tell me that Kiva has already had some early conversations with investment bankers about a potential IPO, though the same can be said of lots of companies with significant revenues. (Among Kiva's customers are major retailers like Staples, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap, and Toys R Us, who typically use Kiva's technology to help fulfill web orders efficiently.)
Former Kiva employees tell me that the shake-up had nothing to do with the company's financial situation; one said that Kiva's bookings have grown six-fold over the past four years. But the ex-Kiva-ites said that Villeneuve, the new COO, pushed out executives that didn't mesh with her strategy and style. Only one of Kiva's original crop of VPs, Benge Ambrogi, remains on the management team — and the former head of product development has been moved into a vague role overseeing "process excellence."
Kiva board member Ajay Agarwal of Bain Capital Ventures told me that "Amy's big charter was to get the company ready for the next stage of growth, and she has been executing on the organizational piece of that." Agarwal said Kiva is working to increase revenues "from nine figures to ten figures over the next five years" — that's a billion dollars — "and we looked to beef up the management team. Some people who were great contributors early on are still with the company, and others in a management role were not the right contributors to scale to the next level."
Kiva chief executive Mick Mountz didn't respond to phone calls, but sent an e-mail noting that Kiva had added 100 employees in the past year, and was in the process of opening a European office. "Things are great here," he wrote, adding that the new CFO and other executives had been brought in "to scale the business to $1b."
I wanted to dig this story out of the archives, from November of 2001. The idea of online wish lists was still relatively new, and for this Globe feature, I got in touch with Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and used his site's wish list feature to swap gifts with him. (I got him a folding canvas camping chair, as I recall.) Bezos offered some advice on proper wish list etiquette.
[ Some updates... Swagbag.com, the Reading start-up mentioned, no longer exists. Tom Hopcroft is now head of the Massachusetts Tech Leadership Council. I think LLBean.com still doesn't have a wish list feature. And obviously, many more sites have launched wish lists features in the decade since this was written. ]
Making a List: For some, online gift registries take the mystery — and misery — out of holiday gift-givingFULL ENTRY
By Scott Kirsner
As the holidays approach, it seems the world subdivides into four categories.
Among gift-givers, there are the Michelangelos of the Mall, who view the act of shopping for friends and family as an act of creativity and personal expression, and the Uninspired Laggards, who have a hard time picking out presents for anyone on their lists and generally put off the chore until the last minute.
Among gift recipients, there are Bad Actors and Oscar Contenders. Bad Actors have a hard time exclaiming convincingly over the wonderfulness of the festive plaid vest they have just unwrapped. Oscar Contenders can make you believe they were on the verge of pawning a kidney for just such a vest.
A relatively new feature of many e-commerce sites, the wish list or online gift registry, proposes to vastly improve this time of year for the Uninspired Laggards and Bad Actors. Since I fall squarely into both categories, I decided to experiment with wish lists and registries on various Web sites.
A wish list and online registry are essentially synonymous. Both let visitors to an e-commerce site tag the items they'd like to receive as gifts and then save that list on the Web site, so that gift-givers can later find it and, ideally, purchase items from it. In most cases, gifts can either be shipped directly to the recipient or sent to the buyer for wrapping and in-person delivery.
For e-commerce sites, wish lists have the potential to increase revenues since they're a mechanism by which a loyal customer can ask his friends and family to buy him gifts from a specific store. They also have the potential to decrease returns, since people are presumably less likely to be unhappy with gifts they've picked out themselves.
The goal, says co-founder Cody Barbierri, is to attract both users who will offer feedback on the early version of a product, and those who will spread the word about a product that's ready for prime-time. "We talk about those two groups as 'testers,' who want to give feedback and talk about new features and functions they'd like to see, and 'users,' who just want to use something in their daily lives," says Barbierri. (He's based in Bridgeport, CT, but his day job is as a social media manager for a Portsmouth, NH-based digital marketing agency called Piehead.) Barbierri's co-founder and CTO is Rory Thompson.
BetaBait plans to send out a daily e-mail listing new sites and apps in different categories, like "business" or "family." "You'll have a brief description of each, a URL to the Web site, and contact info for the developer," says Barbierri. Developers will have their products listed in the BetaBait e-mail for 30 days, he says.
While Barbierri is thinking about a variety of business models to support BetaBait (including advertising in the daily e-mails), it's a side project for now, and "everything is totally free," he says. "We want to build up users and start-ups and drive adoption and usage."
Customized jewelry retailer Gemvara just lured a technology executive from across the Fort Point Channel. Mobeen Syed started at the Boston company yesterday; he'd most recently worked a few blocks away, at "private sale" specialist Rue La La.
Syed will be Gemvara's top technology executive. He'd been at Rue La La for less than a year, but had previously worked for big-name retailers like Kohl's and Staples.
"We have been looking for someone to lead our technology organization for the last few months and we interviewed candidates nationwide," Gemvara chief executive Matt Lauzon writes in an e-mail. "[Syed's] main initiatives in the coming months will be to continue building out our engineering team, and he will focus a lot of time drastically enhancing site and rendering speed." (By rendering, Lauzon is referring to producing the site's images of jewelry, all of which are computer-generated based on a user's specifications.)
Lauzon says that the company has lately made offers to several prospective hires on the west coast that would relocate to Boston. Last month, the company brought on executives with experience at Zappos, VistaPrint, and Victoria's Secret.
Syed's bio says that he is a squash, badminton, and ping pong champion. That last skill will be key at Gemvara, where table tennis is a blood sport.
The ranking uses each app's total number of user ratings as a proxy for number of downloads (which the app stores don't disclose.) Most of these apps have ratings of at least four stars. When companies offer more than one app (like Kayak or SCVNGR), I included stats for only their most popular app.
Weight-loss app that claims it has helped its users shed more than seven million pounds.
Total # of Ratings on iTunes & Android Market: 309,055
Boston, MA (now owned by PayPal)
Discover restaurants, stores, and things to do near you, and access special offers.
Total Ratings: 98,457
Update your Facebook status, send text messages, or search the web by speaking.
Total Ratings: 98,380
Info and user reviews of hotels, restaurants, and activities in hundreds of cities.
Total Ratings: 77,093
Headquartered in Stamford, CT, but mobile apps developed in Concord, MA
Searching for prices of airline tickets, hotel rooms, and rental cars.
Total Ratings: 57,929
Games and social networking for mobile phones.
Total Ratings: 41,574
Free texting and photo messaging.
Total Ratings: 41,133
Note-making, organization, and reminders.
Total Ratings: 26,719
Game that encourages you to earn points (and discounts) by checking in or doing location-based challenges.
Total Ratings: 19,966
Keeping track of your runs, bike rides, or other exercise, and sharing stats with others.
Total Ratings: 19,467
But Ash Ashutosh has. The founder of Waltham-based Actifio says that organizations sometimes keep anywhere from 15 to 120 copies of the same file. "In starting the company, we talked to 40-plus customers," Ashutosh says, "and everywhere we saw evidence of this data explosion, and the need to shrink the storage footprint." In other words, the amount of data most companies accumulate is increasing fast. But why should they be spending money to store so many copies of the same stuff?
Actifio is planning to announce today that it has raised $33.5 million in its third round of funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz of California. The company had previously raised $24 million from North Bridge Venture Partners, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Greylock Partners. The new money will go toward global expansion and a marketing push.
Actifio's pitch is that its software can supplant the various backup, compliance, and snapshot software that companies use to archive copies of important files, and make those files easily accessible to any application that needs them, whether it's a customer relationship management application or inventory management software. "We don't sell disk storage," Ashutosh says, "so our customers can use whatever storage vendor they like — IBM, HP, EMC, NetApp, and so on." The company is targeting medium and large-sized enterprises, service providers, and "people building cloud services or grappling with big data challenges," Ashutosh says.
Rather than stashing 15 or more copies of the same file, he says Actifio's magic number is 1.6. "You can keep more copies, if you want," Ashutosh says, "but that's the number of copies you need to make the file available everywhere."
"Every enterprise and every Web site has storage behind it, and lots of data being created," says Peter Levine, the general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who is joining Actifio's board. "The cost of storage itself has been going down, but the expense and the management overhead of keeping track of all those copies is huge."
Ashutosh was previously the founder of AppIQ, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2005 for an undisclosed amount; several other AppIQ veterans are part of the management team at Actifio. The company has about 50 employees in Waltham, and 50 elsewhere.
Pixtronix and Qualcomm had been pursuing different approaches to low-power displays, according to this 2009 New York Times piece, but both incorporated MEMS (microelectro-mechanical system) technology; in Pixtronix's case, thousands of tiny shutters control the light emitted by LED bulbs.
Pixtronix had raised just north of $50 million in funding from investors like Atlas Venture of Cambridge and Silicon Valley based Kleiner Perkins. Neither Qualcomm nor Pixtronix would comment on the acquisition price, but sources close to the deal tell me it was in the neighborhood of $175 million to $200 million.
Pixtronix has 45 employees, and Mark Halfman, the company's senior director of business development, says they'll remain in Andover. "We'll continue to focus on developing and licensing our technology," Halfman says. The company's technology isn't yet in the market, Halfman says, but the company has announced joint development projects with companies like Hitachi Displays and Taiwan-based CMI. Halfman says that Pixtronix CEO Tony Zona plans to stick around. (One year is always a safe bet...)
Last spring, I wrote about Autom, a "social robot" initially developed at the MIT Media Lab whose job is to help dieters achieve their weight loss goals.
Autom, who looks like she could be the boxier sibling of Eve from "Wall-E," just went on sale for $199; the first units will be delivered early next year. Buyers will also need to sign up for a $19.99 per month subscription for at least one year. Autom is being sold by Intuitive Automata, the company that spun out of MIT.
Here's a video overview of the product, which features an endorsement from Caroline Apovian, director of the nutrition and weight management clinic at Boston Medical Center, who endorses Autom as "the most effective weight loss technique we've tested." (Apovian began collaborating with Autom's builders when they were still at MIT; as an advisor to Intuitive Automata now, she holds a number of stock options in the company, founder Cory Kidd tells me.)
Autom asks you about what you're eating and how much you are exercising, and shows you how much progress you're making on your weight loss goals. She also dispenses encouragement.
What do you think: could a $199 countertop robot become the Weight Watchers of the 21st century?
RunKeeper began life in 2008 as part of the first wave of fitness-focused apps for the iPhone, helping runners (or bikers or cross-country skiers) keep track of their pace and routes. But more recently, the company has been evolving into a Web site that lets you upload data from all sorts of devices — like a watch that measures your blood pressure, a wirelessly-connected scale, or a bedside sleep monitor — and share it with friends, if you choose. Just as Facebook created a "social graph" that lets you keep tabs on what's happening within your social network, RunKeeper wants to build the "health graph," by making it easy to store and share data about your epic workouts and dieting triumphs.
RunKeeper raised $1.1 million last November, but founder and CEO Jason Jacobs tells me that the company hasn't had to touch that money. The company's mobile apps are offered for free, but the more fully-featured RunKeeper Elite service costs $20 a year. (It allows you to broadcast your progress in a cycling race live to the Web, for example.)
"While our subscriber base is growing quickly, our focus in the short-term is less on monetization and more on improving the core product, user growth/engagement, and ecosystem development via the Health Graph API," Jacobs writes. (API is the application programming interface that allows other sites and devices to link up with RunKeeper.)
Jacobs says he expects the company to grow from 14 employees to 40 by the end of next year.
According to data the company published in September, RunKeeper has about 6.5 million users. Roughly 70 percent live outside the U.S. Fifty-six percent use it to track their running, 25 percent walking, and 13 percent cycling.
Spark Capital partner Bijan Sabet has been an active RunKeeper user for the past six months, and blogged about the company's competitive position relative to Nike last year. (Sabet is also an investor in fast-growing Web services like Twitter and Tumblr.)
Here's Jacobs' blog post on "What's Next for RunKeeper," announcing the new funding round.
Harvest Automation likes to say it is in the "automated material handling" business. The company's solution is "flexible and scalable," "fault tolerant," and "intuitive."
But it's a lot more descriptive to say that the Billerica company is breeding an army of robotic farmhands. The current generation are designed to lug around potted plants as they grow, but Harvest believes that as much as 40 percent of the manual labor performed in the agricultural industry today could be done by bots. And investors seem to be persuaded that it's time to modernize farms and nurseries: Harvest is planning to announce today that it has raised an additional $7.8 million in funding. The new round is being led by Entrée Capital of London and Tel Aviv. (I shot a video of the company's earliest prototypes in 2008, and wrote in 2010 about their initial round of funding, which totaled $5.3 million.)
Harvest chief executive Charlie Grinnell says that this summer, the company packed a van with three of their prototype bots and traveled to eleven nurseries and greenhouses around the country for, well, field trials. "All eleven growers gave us deposits on their first purchases, which was really encouraging," he says.
The new funding will help get Harvest's product launched sometime in 2012, Grinnell says. Harvest is targeting a price of between $25,000 and $50,000 per unit. The company has 30 employees, and is building a new indoor test facility for its robo-laborers near its Billerica headquarters.
Here's a recent Wired story on Harvest with the clever headline, "These May Be the Droids Farmers are Looking For." It includes the video below...
AdmitPad raises first round of funding from Greylock, to sell software to college admissions departments
Investors are putting several million dollars into a Cambridge start-up, AdmitPad, that had initially built an iPad app to help MIT admissions officers review student applications. The company's app was featured in the Wall Street Journal back in January, but AdmitPad didn't get mentioned by name.
With roughly $3 million in new funds from Greylock Partners and a west coast firm, I expect AdmitPad will broaden its focus, making a play to get involved in a bigger portion of the admissions process, from helping students assemble their applications to communicating with them once they've been accepted. (Several local investors who looked at the deal tell me they had concerns about the size of AdmitPad's initial market.) AdmitPad CEO Stephen Marcus wouldn't comment, beyond saying that the company will be announcing its funding, new customers, and a new name later this month.
AdmitPad's app lets admissions staffers manage the applications they're responsible for, assigning scores, highlighting parts of essays, and summarizing their thoughts. It can be used with or without Internet access, and it syncs with a university's existing systems for handling applicants.
Before starting AdmitPad, Marcus had spent three years as a venture partner at Cambridge-based New Atlantic Ventures. Scott Johnson of New Atlantic says of Marcus, "He's a proven entrepreneur, he's high energy, and he's great to work with. He's somebody who any of us would be thrilled to back." Despite that, New Atlantic wasn't an investor in AdmitPad's first round.
Another local VC who looked at the deal, but passed, said that Marcus was able to raise money "based on his track record and the quality of the product they've built, which is pretty slick." Earlier in his career, Marcus built and sold several companies in the wireless communications industry. He's also an investor in Okta (identity management) and Trefis (stock market research.)
The South Carolina-based design firm Squared Eye handled the information architecture and user interface for AdmitPad's app, and Squared Eye founder Matthew Smith told me that Marcus had tried to hire the design team and import them to Cambridge. But Smith and his crew decided to remain in South Carolina, where they now work for the local commerce start-up Zaarly.
Bill Kaiser of Greylock Partners wouldn't comment on AdmitPad's funding beyond confirming Greylock's involvement.
The duo's main mission is to try to pull new talent into the start-up scene.
Pierce writes via e-mail:
In looking at the local startup ecosystem and how we could improve it, we converged on a few related challenges: our best startups are having trouble hiring the talent they need to grow; much of the talent we do have in Boston — in schools, out on 128, in interactive agencies downtown, etc. — is either unaware of, disconnected from, or has misconceptions about startups; collectively, we could do a much better job of celebrating our successes and projecting a positive, entrepreneurial culture; and last but not least, we absolutely must do a better job of retaining the talent we do have, particularly in our schools.
Pierce and Patriquin started working on the project in September. While they hope it'll have a good run, they don't aim to turn it into a business of its own. (They did accept a "modest fee" from each company featured to help cover production costs, Pierce says.)
Patriquin adds, "We do see an acute need in the marketplace for an evolution of the ways that companies recruit and portray themselves to candidates. That said, we’re just treating this as a community project currently and have no plans to turn it into a real start-up."
Other companies that will be featured on the site include EverTrue, which helps schools communicate with their alumni, and GrabCAD, which operates a marketplace for product design services.
Pierce is best known as the founder of the late, lamented Betahouse co-working space in Central Square, and a founding trustee of The Awesome Foundation. Patriquin worked most recently for Performable and HubSpot.
Here's the first video, focusing on the Boston financial services start-up PerkStreet:
That was the case with Shareaholic, the small Cambridge company that creates tools for users and Web publishers that make it easy to share content — and analyze what visitors are sharing. Shareaholic founder Jay Meattle writes via e-mail, "We weren't even thinking about raising a round at the beginning of the summer, but our growth rate and traction started attracting a lot of inbound interest in the company." About two million people have downloaded Shareaholic's browser plug-in, which enables content sharing through services like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Tumbler, or plain old e-mail. Through publishers that use Shareaholic's tools, the company says it reaches about 250 million unique users each month. Investors took notice.
Shareaholic's new backers include Dave McClure of 500 Startups; Jonathan Kraft of the Kraft Group; Chris Sheehan of CommonAngels; Rob Go of NextView; Brian Shin of Visible Measures; Dharmesh Shah and David Cancel of HubSpot; Larry Bohn of General Catalyst; and Nicole State of Boston Seed Capital.
"This round will enable us to lay a solid foundation for building the next big company in Boston, by scaling our team and resources to expand on our current traction and growth curve," Meattle writes. "We are hiring across the board with emphasis on engineering. We generate many terabytes worth of data, and are the very definition of a big data company." Shareaholic's basic services are free, but sites must subscribe to get access to more detailed reports about what users are sharing, and how.
Shareaholic had previously raised about $350,000 two years ago, Meattle says. The 7-person company is based at Polaris Ventures' Dogpatch Labs space in Kendall Square, and recently brought on two veterans of Oneforty. Meattle had previously been an employee of Compete and Lookery, and Shareaholic began life as a side project.
Baum was running Netezza last September, when IBM purchased the company for $1.7 billion; Netezza made high-performance data warehousing appliances. Baum stuck around at Big Blue for exactly one year. Now, he's shifting from "big data" into the robotics sector, joining CasePick Systems in Wilmington as CEO. (CasePick founder John Lert also confirms that he left the company in January, "to move on to something even more interesting," he writes via e-mail.)
In almost five years of existence, CasePick has remained so quiet that it hasn't issued a single press release, or (as far as I know) publicly demonstrated the robots they're building; this blog post I wrote last December is the most detailed information out there about the company. CasePick seems to be designing robotic carts — they call them T3Vs, or "Track-guided Transfer and Transport Vehicles" — that can move through a warehouse, picking up and dropping off cases (usually cardboard boxes) full of merchandise, using a robotic arm. CasePick was acquired in 2009 by one of its early backers, NH-based C&S Wholesale Grocers.
As for the company's low-profile, Baum says, "I'm gonna change all that," alluding to a "meaningful launch" of the company in early 2012.
Baum says the company is exploring "lots of opportunities in the grocery industry and outside it. The strategy is not to keep the technology captive" within C&S, which is one of the country's largest grocery wholesalers.
The company has around 100 employees, Baum says, "and we'll go well beyond that in the next year."
Talking about his switch to robotics after a career of selling hardware and software to big companies, Baum says, "The whole robotics space is fascinating to me. Selling software is very much driven by volume, but robotics involves much bigger purchase prices, and a lot of effort to get the technology to work right in each customer deployment."
Baum says he isn't focused on raising additional capital for CasePick right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if the company brought in some new investors down the road; several Boston-area VCs have been following Baum's move from Netezza to CasePick closely.
Simeonov isn't saying much about what Shopximity will do yet. "We want to provide a new model for value-based marketing, not just coupons or price discounts," he says. The company will be focused on Web and mobile advertising. "When users don't see things that are valuable to them, they teach themselves not to click on the ad, and that penalizes both advertisers and publishers," he says. "We think people not being engaged with ads is a massive missed opportunity to make the Web more useful."
The company will focus initially on the consumer packaged goods industry — think shampoo and shaving cream — "because those are things that people are in the market for all the time," says Simeonov. Ron Elwell, formerly CEO of Goal.com, is Shopximity's chief executive.
The company has offices at Alewife, and about five full-time employees. The software development consultancy Bocoup is helping Shopximity with product development. Simeonov says Shopximity will be more specific about what exactly it is doing — beyond just "making the Web suck less" — early next year.
But could the same technology make commuting to work safer? Michael Amaru, a Hamilton entrepreneur and graphic designer, thinks so. And he has designed a prototype heads-up display that would work with any vehicle; with sufficient funding, he hopes to shift into production soon.
Here's the premise: even though texting while driving is illegal in Massachusetts, many of us still fumble with our phones to play music, navigate our way to an unfamiliar address, or read an urgent incoming text while at a stoplight (or not). All that would be much safer, Amaru says, if you could see the information without taking your eyes off the road, or your hands off the wheel.
His SmartHUD prototype includes a plastic mount that clips onto one of your air conditioning vents, and a MicroVision "pico projector" the size of a deck of cards, which uses a laser to splash an image onto your windshield. There's also a piece of see-through film that goes on the windshield to improve the brightness of the image, and a slot into which you can slip your Android mobile phone. Strapped to your steering wheel is a tiny touchpad, which lets you use a thumb to make selections on SmartHUD's simplified interface — like answering "yes" or "no" to an incoming next message, or choosing a song from your music library. (The two components are pictured at left.) Amaru is hopeful that in sufficient volume, the SmartHUD system could be sold for around $200.
SmartHUD wouldn't let you use any app on your phone — no playing Angry Birds while racing north on I-93, for instance — but rather it would let you hear incoming texts read aloud, select songs, use a GPS app, and make calls. "I think this will be a safer way to integrate the smartphone into a car," Amaru says, "since you're not holding it, or typing on it, or looking down to try to manipulate a Google map that shows you where you're going." (Amaru's demo of the smartphone software, in the works for the past seven months, is currently just a proof-of-concept slideshow, rather than a fully-built app.)
Two open questions:
1. Can a heads-up system like SmartHUD improve driver safety?
2. Will consumers adopt it, or will they prefer speech-driven systems like Apple's Siri, Vlingo's Virtual Assistant, or Nuance's Dragon apps for use in the car?
Amaru says he has invested about $8000 in developing the prototype while also working his day job; he's now hoping that additional funding will free him up to "hyper-focus" on the project.
The pictures below show what the SmartHUD prototype looks like from inside the vehicle and out.
What do you think — are you a potential user?
Tonian Systems, stealthy start-up working on storage software, adds $5 million in funding from Charles River and Cedar Fund
When I asked co-founder and business development chief Adam Kaplan about the problem that Tonian is trying to solve, and the customers it will target, I got one sentence back by e-mail: "Tonian is developing a unified storage solution that solves the misalignment that occurs within enterprises when combining innovative virtualization technology and traditional storage."
"There's a lot of complexity now to adding storage, and lots of different types of storage, including SSDs (solid-state drives) and the cloud," says Bruce Sachs of Charles River Ventures. "What Tonian aims to do is simplify the integration and use of all the different types of storage into a virtualized environment."
The company has five employees, according to LinkedIn, and offices in Cambridge and Herzliya Pituah, Israel (near Tel Aviv). According to the job listings on that site, it looks like most of the engineering and product development will be done in Israel, with sales and marketing taking place in Cambridge.
A Connecticut start-up, Hadapt, plans to announce next week that it has raised $9.5 million from Bessemer Venture Partners and Norwest Venture Partners to bring to market its own needle-finding software. The 15-person company, hatched from Yale's computer science department, is also moving its headquarters from New Haven to Cambridge, hoping to tap into the area's deeper talent pool.
Hadapt is creating proprietary software that is designed to augment the Apache Hadoop open source platform that many companies use to manage databases that run across many different servers; Hadoop was originally inspired by software developed at Google to handle its vast index of Web pages, which is spread across lots of computing clusters.
"We're applying the same Hadoop open source technology that eBay and Google and Twitter use to handle their data, in a way that can benefit the rest of the IT market," says chief executive Justin Borgman, an Acton native who put his MBA studies on pause to start Hadapt with Yale prof Daniel Abadi.
Borgman says Hadapt enables users to search both structured data (like the record of a stock trade, which might include fields for time, price, and ticker symbol) and unstructured data (the text of a Facebook status update, for instance.) It can tie into business intelligence tools sold by companies like MicroStrategy and Tableau. And it gives users a SQL interface for conducting their queries, already familiar to many businesspeople. Borgman also boasts that Hadapt's software can improve query speed by 10 to 15 times over standard Hadoop implementations.
"Being able to work with a mix of structured and unstructured data addresses a big pain point," Borgman says. "You might have a list of part numbers in a structured database, and comments about their performance in an unstructured form, and we would help you correlate part #354 with a heat problem, where someone has reported that it tends to break at high temperatures."
Hadapt was founded in July 2010, and raised an angel round of $1 million in January. Borgman says Hadapt will shack up in Bessemer Venture Partners' Cambridge office while searching for space of its own.
"We're still in our product development and beta testing period," Borgman says, adding that they hope to start selling to customers before the end of the year. The company is looking to hire software developers and sales engineers.
An employee with whom I spoke this morning said there had been lay-offs earlier this month that affected New York more than Boston, and that the company would be "refocusing." "We aren't manufacturing money the way we used to," said this employee, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the company. "Rather than frantic growth, we're going to be more about quality and less about quantity." BuyWithMe executives and investors weren't responding to calls or e-mails this morning.
TechCrunch reports that BuyWithMe is looking for a buyer. BetaBeat reports that the company had been trying to raise $100 million in fresh funding that would have valued the company at $500 million. DailyDealMedia first reported the lay-offs yesterday.
Chris Rohland, a former BuyWithMe executive who started at the company in late 2009, says, "We were once bigger than LivingSocial, and neck-and-neck with Groupon. [Founder] Andrew [Moss] wanted to run with the big dogs." Rohland left the company in January, and is now sales director for Boston.com's daily deals service, Boston Deals.
A venture capital industry source told me this morning that BuyWithMe "couldn't raise more money, and the insiders [current investors] didn't want to throw good after bad." This investor added that it will be interesting to see how BuyWithMe's troubles affect Groupon's planned IPO. Public market investors could be more skeptical about how challenging it is to compete in the daily deals arena — or they could see Groupon as the big winner, with rivals falling by the wayside.
BuyWithMe's venture capital backers installed two CEOs: Cheryl Rosner, an Expedia alum who left last December, and Jim Crowley, a videogame veteran who is still running the company.
"I think getting deals via e-mail is no longer a novelty, and companies have realized that they don't want to share half their revenue with a Groupon or BuyWithMe," says Wilson Kerr, an executive at Unbound Commerce who has followed the sector closely. "Companies would rather offer their own deals, without cutting Groupon in. They can maintain more control over pricing and the customer relationship that way."
Update: BuyWithMe CEO Jim Crowley released a statement confirming "a significant reduction in staffing this week," and asserting that the lay-offs happened "so the company is in the best position to serve its merchants and members."
Earlier this year, I wrote about BuyWithMe, Groupon, SCVNGR's LevelUp, and other discount services, asking, "...Could all this excitement about a new way of circulating coupons be an unsustainable blip?"
That's starting to look like the case...
Do you think BuyWithMe will survive?
Here are four of the most interesting companies.
- UberSense made it this week into the final round of the MassChallenge start-up competition, and the company is already selling three apps in the iTunes Store. Among them are SwingReader Golf and SwingReader Baseball, which allow instructors and coaches to shoot videos and break down the mechanics of a swing. Co-founder Krishna Ramchandran says UberSense's apps have been installed 400,000 times. The company has four employees on the payroll, and is already sustaining itself from revenue. (Free versions of the apps are available, but a premium app with more features costs $2.99.) "We will be raising our first round of money in a few months to further expand our team," Ramchandran says. Here's a video demo of the SwingReader Golf app, produced by the company:
- Segterra offers two kinds of blood tests, with Web-based reporting of the results, to tell you whether your diet and exercise are putting you on the path to good health and peak athletic performance. "The way most people manage their health is sort of like driving a car without the speedometer," says chief executive Lee Gartley. "It's hard to know if the things you're doing are optimal."
For $169 or $249 — the higher price offers a more elaborate look at your body's chemistry — Segterra's "Inside Tracker" service gives you a laboratory slip that you can take into a clinic to have blood drawn. (In Massachusetts, the company will also send someone to your home or office to poke you.) Delivered within three days, the online test results "show you your levels on a set of biomarkers that we've identified as being important for overall health and fitness, like glucose, cholesterol, calcium, and vitamin D," says Gartley. Your levels of creatine kinase, for instance, can tell you whether you have muscle damage from biking too far or bench-pressing a few too many pounds. The report can also suggest foods that can counteract low levels of a particular vitamin or mineral, or ways to vary your exercise regimen for the best results.
Gartley says that Inside Tracker, an upgraded version of the company's first analytics service, will launch sometime this month. The company raised roughly $500,000 in funding this year from the state-backed Massachusetts Technology Development Corp., as well as "friends and family" of Segterra's founders.
- RestWise is working with university sports departments, professional teams, and individual athletes to help them understand how much recovery time they need in between games or workouts. Already, world champions and Olympic competitors in rowing, cycling, and triathlon have been using RestWise, as have the All-Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team, and the Springboks of South Africa. RestWise co-founder Jeff Hunt says the company is working with an NBA team, too, but they haven't signed on as a customer yet.
RestWise sells a monthly subscription to its analytics software (and includes a free pulse oximeter, pictured at right, which tracks your pulse and the level of oxygen in your blood). The software runs on any Web-connected computer, as well as iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry mobile devices. It collects data about 11 different parameters, like your resting heart rate, how much and how well you slept, your mood state, and the tint of your urine.
"It's a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures, like how sore your muscles are," says Hunt. "The output is a score on a 1-100 scale. If you're below 40, you know you're pushing yourself too hard. A score of 100 would mean that your body is really well-positioned to absorb whatever workload you subject it to." The score, he says, is "really a measure of how much you can expect to benefit from the work you're doing." Serious athletes, after all, know that exercise isn't totally responsible for getting you in top shape, he says. "In order for the process to work, there's an optimal recovery time for each person, which depends on things going on in your life, like sleep, travel and stress."
Hunt says that when American marathoner Ryan Hall set a new record by running the Boston Marathon in 2:04:59 earlier this year, he'd used RestWise as part of his training regimen.
RestWise scraped together money to develop the product initially, and "started getting revenue in the door pretty quickly," Hunt says. The company raised about $300,000 in funding earlier this year from individual investors.
- Cambridge-based Neuroscouting hasn't said much about what they're doing, but I tried to collect what we know about the start-up in this post from last year. It seems they're using videogame-like software to evaluate — and ideally improve — the way baseball players' brains react to stimuli. "We basically create brain-training software for athletes," co-founder Wesley Clapp says in this video interview conducted by gaming entrepreneur Chris Allen. (NeuroScouting was part of the MassChallenge in both 2010 and 2011, but didn't make the final cut either year.)
The company's founders spoke at the MIT Sports Analytics conference earlier this year; here's some video.
That, I suspect, was the feeling in Cupertino this week after the news arrived that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had died.
Whenever I visited the headquarters in Silicon Valley, I found myself wondering: is Steve here? And if so, what is he doing? From friends who worked at Apple, I heard the stories about how his intense criticism of a product's design could reduce people to tears, spurring them to radically improve it (or causing them to seek work with a boss who was less involved and less demanding.) Every Steve Jobs keynote I ever witnessed in person was pervaded by a feeling of electric anticipation as the audience waited for Jobs to appear. What would the astonishing "one more thing" be today?
Apple in the second era of Jobs — when he returned as CEO in 1997, after a 12-year exile — was a company that, for journalists and the public, really only had five employees. Above all, there was Jobs. In his shadow were his understudy Tim Cook; chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer; head designer Jonathan Ive; and marketing chief Phil Schiller. Basically, no one else took the stage at Apple's tightly-scripted product introductions, and no one else spoke to journalists. Whenever you requested an interview with any of the other denizens of the Emerald City, you didn't exactly need to wait by the phone for a call back.
So the big question about Apple's future isn't, to me, about continuing its string of hit products. It's about the people. No one at the company wants the vacuum Jobs has left to be filled right away. But as the company moves on, will it require another wizard — another visionary-in-chief — to succeed? (Disney drifted for almost two decades following Walt's death, before Michael Eisner appeared.) Or can it reorient itself as a team-driven company, where not every idea originates at the top, and people other than the upper echelon can be recognized for their contributions?
Update: The answer, at least on the lawsuits part of that question, is no. Capitol Records sued ReDigi in 2012, and in April 2013, a federal judge in New York ruled that the company was infringing on Capitol's copyrights by reselling "used" digital music files. ReDigi says it will appeal.In music's all-digital era, will there be an analogue to the used record and CD shop?
The founders of Cambridge-based ReDigi believe they're building it: an online marketplace that would allow consumers to buy and sell "used" digital songs (IE, songs they don't want to keep in their personal collections any more.) They're planning to open the site to the public next week. But its still unclear how record labels and music publishers will respond.
ReDigi users will first download a piece of client software, initially available for Mac and PC, and later for mobile phones and the Linux operating system. You tell ReDigi which songs you'd like to sell, and when you upload them, ReDigi deletes the files from your machine. The company says its Verification Engine ensures that only legally downloaded files — not, for instance, MP3s ripped from a compact disc — get uploaded. (And even if you make a copy of a song and change the name of the file, the company says its omniscient software will detect that.)
For every song that you upload, you get a coupon that entitles you to purchase someone else's "used" song for 57 cents (without the coupon, ReDigi downloads cost 77 cents.) But that twenty cent discount is just the incentive to get you started uploading to the service. When a song you uploaded sells, you get a "significant" portion of the sale price, according to the company, but it varies based on how hot that given song is. On the buying side, if a song you want isn't available through the service, you can "order" it, and get notified when another users uploads that song. (The service will also sell you a "new" copy of the song right away, but at full price of between 99 cents and $1.29.)
ReDigi was founded last year by Larry Rudolph, an MIT professor who has taken a leave of absence to work on the company. He asserts that "if you buy something legally, then you own it and it has value. If you can't sell it, then it doesn't have value." (The purchase button on iTunes, Rudolph adds, is labeled "Buy," not "Rent" or "License.")
The company calls it "the world's first recycled digital music marketplace." But entrepreneur Alex Meshkin tried it three years ago, with a service called Bopaboo. It's now defunct. Meshkin told me that Bopaboo wasn't litigated out of business, but rather it couldn't make the economics of a used music exchange add up. To get record labels and music publishers to allow you to re-sell songs, Meshkin said, you need to cut them in on the revenue. "It's hard to make that work," he says, and the labels worry about cannibalizing sales of their 99 cent and $1.29 tracks on iTunes.
Like Bopaboo before it, ReDigi says it plans to cut recording artists and labels in on a portion of every sale — something they don't get from used CD or record sales, notes CEO John Ossenmacher. "We're working with big artist management agencies, and we've talked to all the major record labels," he says. "Everybody in this industry is looking for new sources of revenue, and they see music sold at lower prices as an opportunity to help reduce piracy." Ossenmacher says he's not too concerned about lawsuits, believing that the company's business is covered by the first-sale doctrine.
I called the Recording Industry Association of America yesterday, which represents the major record labels, but they declined to comment on ReDigi's resale concept. So did Sony Music. A Warner Music spokesperson with whom I spoke yesterday wasn't familiar with the service, but didn't have an immediate comment on it.
And the company not only has to worry about proving that the resale of digital goods will benefit artists, labels, and music publishers, but ReDigi also has to attract consumers. Will the inventory of songs that people no longer want be appealing? Will it lack most recent hits? How will ReDigi attract music lovers and convince them to fork over their credit cards, without much of a marketing budget or track record?
ReDigi raised $535,000 earlier this year, and Ossenmacher says they've since added funds that have taken them past the $1 million mark. The company has about a dozen employees, and is based at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Ossenmacher was previously CEO of Conserving America Corp., an energy efficiency business in Newport Beach, California.
Here's a video overview of how the service works (Ossenmacher says they've updated the pricing since this video was made):
Barry Hinckley started the Boston-based recruiting software company Bullhorn in 1999, though he's no longer on the board or involved with day-to-day management. He's running for Senate as a Republican, noting that one of his ancestors commanded the Minutemen of Concord, firing shots across North Bridge. It'd be his first time holding elected office.
Hinckley's campaign has been using technology from Boston-based ROAM Data to enable campaign workers to collect contributions by using their mobile phones to swipe credit cards. The alternative would be to write the numbers on a paper form, or tote along laptops, which would require power outlets and a wireless link. The campaign brings the swipe-enabled phones to every event, whether country club receptions, coffee talks, or benefit movie screenings. ROAM believes it is the first use of mobile payment technology by a candidate running for national office.
Despite all the hype about San Francisco's Square, ROAM touts itself as the #1 supplier of mobile credit card readers, with more than 300,000 units shipped. (See update below.) While Square works directly with merchants, ROAM typically supplies technology through other payment processors, like First Data or Sage Payment Systems, says CEO Will Graylin. By using ROAM's technology with existing merchant accounts, Graylin says that businesses pay a transaction fee that can be as much as 1.25 percent lower than what they'd pay to use Square. ROAM's card readers also work with a wider range of devices, Graylin says, including Blackberries and PCs (Square connects only to iPhones, Android phones, and iPads.)
(Update: a Square spokesperson contacted me after this blog post was published, noting that Square has shipped "over 750,000 readers across the U.S." It's readers are free.)
Graylin explains that a ROAM salesperson knew some people working on Hinckley's campaign. "They carry around the ROAMpay solution on a smartphone and tablet to pretty much every speaking engagement," he says. "They've raised tens of thousands of dollars using this method." Because the card is getting swiped, the fees are lower than they would be if the number was simply written down on paper (known as a "card not present" transaction).
The flashy new technology may not exactly change the course of the race, though. Federal records show that Hinckley had raised $155,000 through June 30th of this year — well behind incumbent Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who had pulled in $784,000.
ROAM is doing better than either candidate. Graylin told me his 60-person company has raised about $10 million in funding so far, including some from Ingenico, which makes point-of-sale systems. A new round of funding — "substantially higher" than what the company has banked so far — is in the works, he says. "Our investors are really thinking about how we can really scale ROAM Data as this de facto platform provider for mobile commerce, and how we go international," Graylin says.
Will those new investors forward funds to ROAM using an Android phone or an iPad? That'd be quite a first...
Yesware launches e-mail tracking product for salespeople, collects $1 million from Google Ventures and Foundry Group
Yesware is announcing its funding today, along with the availability of its product, which helps salespeople manage their e-mail interactions with prospects and customers.
Bellows explains that while Yesware is targeting salespeople, it can be useful for anyone who sends a lot of e-mails. "We offer e-mail templates for the kinds of e-mails you send frequently, and there's also tracking that can tell you when a message was opened, how many times, and whether it was read on a desktop machine or a mobile device," he says. "We can even look up the IP address to see what city they were in when they opened it, so you know if they were in the office or on the road." Yesware is built to work with Gmail (an Outlook version is on the drawing boards), and data about interactions with would-be customers can be saved to widely-used customer relationship management systems like Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, and Landslide CRM, Bellows says.
Yesware is free for individuals to use, but once sales managers decide to start organizing teams of salespeople who use the system — and getting reports on their activity — Yesware will start charging $20 per user, per month, Bellows says.
The three-person company is in hiring mode, Bellows says. They've been operating out of the free Dogpatch Labs shared offices in Kendall Square, which is underwritten by Polaris Venture Partners. Rich Miner made the Yesware investment for Google, and Brad Feld for Foundry Group.
Bellows tells me that about 500 people have been using Yesware since its beta test began in June. None are paying customers — yet.
Now, it's time for Yesware to prove its own sales mettle.
A New Bedford start-up, Aquabotix, thinks it has the answer to your dilemma. This fall, the company will start shipping the HydroView, an eight-pound underwater robot with twin props, a top speed of three knots, a high-def camera, and LED illumination. You control the $2995 Hydroview with your mobile phone or iPad (you can also use a boring old laptop, too.) Tilt the device forward or to the right, and the Hydroview swims in that direction. You can also upload photos and videos of your journeys to Facebook or YouTube. If Captain Nemo had lived in the social media era, this is the Nautilus he would've designed.
Aquabotix founder Durval Tavares, a former employee of both Fidelity Investments and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, says that the HydroView isn't just for boaters who want to hunt for shipwrecks or buried treasure. "A friend of mine had gone around the world on a sailboat, and he said he never had a restful night's sleep. He was always worried about whether his anchor was well set," Tavares says. "Boaters also worry about whether their propeller or the bottom of the boat has hit something. So we started thinking, what if you had a device that would let you do a safety check on the bottom of your boat?"
In addition to the HydroView, Aquabotix is developing the Aqualens (pictured at left), an underwater video camera that can be maneuvered using pole. (Aqualens has no propulsion system of its own.) It streams live video to an included 3.5-inch LCD screen, as opposed to your own device. But it is less expensive than HydroView, at $795. And while HydroView won't ship until November, Tavares says the Aqualens will be available early next month. The company first showed the two products earlier this month at the Newport International Boat Show in Rhode Island.
"Recreational marine is the primary market," says Tavares. "But people have been talking to us about other uses, like boat inspections for insurance companies or companies that do underwater construction. It can be a lot cheaper than having a diver go down into the water, and it's a much more appealing option when the water is freezing. We've also had some marinas ask us about renting it out to people, maybe just for having some fun looking at sealife."
The petite HydroView is just 19 inches long and 14 inches wide. It can run for two hours on its batteries. A cable sends commands to the underwater craft, and an optional extended wire will give it a range of up to 300 feet. (A 50-foot cable comes with the product.) It can operate at depths of up to 75 feet.
Amazingly, Tavares started the company in March, and plans to ship Aquabotix's first product just seven months later. The company's only outside funding came in the form of a $400,000 loan from the Fall River Office of Economic Development.
Tavares says the company will assemble both products in Massachusetts. "Some of our electronics are being built in New Hampshire, and the injection molding is being done in Worcester. We're trying to use local infrastructure when we can."
Mariners, what do you think: pricey toys or useful tools?
As part of the Health 2.0 conference starting today in San Francisco, Zeo co-founder Ben Rubin will be unveiling the $99 Zeo Mobile (pictured at right), a headband worn at night that communicates wirelessly with an iPhone, iPad, or Android phone. Upon waking, you can view charts of how much time you spent in light, deep, or REM sleep — or awake. Zeo Mobile will be available at Best Buy stores in November, as well as Apple Stores throughout Europe, and the company is dropping the price of its all-in-one Zeo Bedside system from $199 to $149.
Zeo's systems both contain an EEG sensor — which measures brainwaves, muscle tone, and eye movement as you sleep — and assess the quality and quantity of your sleep whenever you don the headband. The new mobile system also includes an accelerometer, which gauges your position throughout the night, and can tell whether you slept on your back, side or stomach. That data won't be used right away, says Rubin, but will be integrated soon.
"We want to price the product more aggressively," Rubin told me last week, "and increase our revenues from sleep management." That additional "sleep management" revenue could come from persuading you to download a separate mobile app to help you adjust to new time zones; selling you a sleep mask; or pointing you to a service like RunKeeper or Weight Watchers, and garnering a referral fee.
Rubin says the 25-person company doesn't sell its hardware at a loss; "we're just not raking it in." Service- and referral-oriented revenues could help that, though Rubin says that monthly subscriptions aren't part of the company's current plans. "People hate subscriptions," he observes.
The new Zeo Mobile product and the company's price cuts can be seen as a reaction to newer sleep measurement companies like Lark ($99) and Wakemate ($59), both of which communicate with a mobile phone, and both of which use only motion (not EEG data) to tell whether you've gotten a good night's rest. (I wrote about the slumbertech space last month.) Zeo's Bedside device, its first product, requires you to tote an SD memory card over to the PC if you want to store or analyze your sleep data.
The company raised $12.3 million earlier this year, some of it from Best Buy Capital and Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., the venture capital arms of those two companies.
The crack team was first brought together by Ozzie, best known as the creator of Lotus Notes, to work fast, developing prototypes that could eventually point the way to new Microsoft features and products. They worked on Bing's Twitter search capabilities; Twitter mapping on Bing; Docs, a way to create and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on Facebook; the TeamCrossword game; and recently, a way to use Microsoft's Kinect motion-detection system to enable videogame playersinteract with ads.
Some of the team has been offered jobs in Redmond, I'm told, but not everyone will go. The end result will be less "blue sky" conceptual work happening in Cambridge, sources say, and that location focusing more on basic research and integrating acquisitions that Microsoft makes in Massachusetts. A key Ozzie goal while at Microsoft had been to help Microsoft do early-stage product development work in a more distributed way — not just at headquarters. (Much of the software work taking place in Cambridge now focuses on improving existing Microsoft products like Office 365, Lync, and Sharepoint, not cooking up new stuff.)
Asked about the changes in Cambridge, Microsoft spokesperson Catherine Collins only said, "I can't comment on personnel matters."
Now, perhaps realizing that recurring revenues are better than one time sales, the company is repositioning itself as a software-as-a-service company that also happens to sell hardware. BigBelly is integrating GSM wireless connectivity into its trash and recycling cans, which allow them to report their status to a Web-based software system. The company has dubbed it a "smart grid for waste and recycling," and by sending crews out to empty only the receptacles that need it, BigBelly thinks it can eliminate at least 7 of every 10 pick-up trips that trash vehicles make today.
"I come out of the networking world, so for me, these devices are nodes in a network," says chief executive Barry Fougere. (He was CEO of Colubris Networks, a wireless start-up acquired by HP.) "Our customers at BigBelly are not used to having information. Are my guys doing their job? Where do we have problems with cans that are overfull, and trash is blowing everywhere? We give them that." They call the software CLEAN Wireless (see a screenshot below.) CLEAN stands for Collection Logistics Efficiency and Notification.
Looking at real-time data for the city of Philadelphia — BigBelly's largest customer — Fougere shows that 29 of the city's 893 networked compactors are red (meaning they should be emptied immediately), and 145 are yellow (meaning they're approaching full). BigBelly's software also shows if a door to the receptacle has been left open, or if there's maintenance that needs to be performed. It can also spit out a list of all of the locations of the cans that need to be emptied.
"The goal," Fougere explains, "is to take capacity out of their system — meaning trucks and crews — without negatively impacting service levels." In Philly, for instance, the sanitation department used to swing by some trash cans 17 times a week; now, the average is 2.5 times a week. Chicago had been collecting trash at most downtown locations twice a day, and now that number is only twice a week, according to Fougere.
The technology seems perfectly designed for politicians — not just sanitation managers. "It's an early win that elected officials can take credit for in their renewables portfolio," says Fougere. Engineering vice president Michael Feldman adds, "Having the data is great, because it proves how much gas and emissions they're saving." It also cuts down on the number of citizens who call into the Mayor's office to complain about unkempt trash cans in city parks, Feldman says.
The technology isn't cheap: leasing 10 systems that include a trash compactor and recycling container is about $1000 a month, Fougere says, and purchasing them outright would be about $60,000 (including a 5-year software license.) But they say most users will see a payback within two years from the savings on labor and truck operating costs. Customers who have already bought the BigBelly compactors that don't have wireless integrated will have the choice of paying for an upgrade — or not.
The company has deployed close to 1000 BigBelly cans around eastern Massachusetts, but most haven't yet been linked to the wireless network for reporting. (From here on out, the company plans to only sell the receptacles with a subscription to its software.)
BigBelly has been funded by angel investors and publicly-traded Waste Management. Fougere said BigBelly achieved profitability last year, and isn't currently out raising additional funding.
By inviting users to rate, review, and share pictures of individual restaurant dishes — whether they're worth ordering or not — Tasted Menu wants to help answer two questions, says founder Alex Rosenfeld. "People want to know what's good to eat at a particular place, and where can I find the best pad thai or chicken soup," says Rosenfeld, who started the site in the summer of 2009, after finishing Harvard Business School. Sites like Yelp, Zagat, and Chowhound can be useful in helping people find good places to eat, Rosenfeld says, but they don't help you navigate the menu once you get there.
Wednesday is the beta launch of the site. "We're sending out invitations to over 1000 people, focusing on the online food community," Rosenfeld says. (But if you don't get one, you can request an invitation to participate in the site's beta.) "Then, we're targeting late September or early October for our public launch." The site already contains reviews of more than 5000 dishes at about 1250 Boston restaurants, Rosenfeld says.
Tasted Menu will wind up competing with other sites that aim to direct diners to the best dishes, including Foodspotting, Nosh, and Forkly. (Goodplates, another Boston start-up that started off with a strategy quite similar to Tasted Menu, recently adopted a new name and focus.) Rosenfeld claims the start-up has built one of the most comprehensive collections of menu information from Boston restaurants, and says that the company "plans to aggressively expand nationally" following its Boston launch. "We have our next 12 or 13 markets laid out," Rosenfeld says, declining to reveal the cities on the list.
Tasted Menu has five employees in Coolidge Corner, and has raised about $350,000 in funding from 11 angel investors, Rosenfeld says. He adds that the company may attempt to raise a larger Series A round later this year. They're working on a Tasted Menu iPhone app, which would help the site gather more reviews and photos from diners who may not always tote their SLR camera along to supper.
Some screenshots below:
Tasted Menu page for the BLT sandwich at Flour Bakery and Café
Tasted Menu ranking of the best maguro (tuna) sushi in town
Tasted Menu page for Boloco
For the past decade, a Wilmington company called Lilliputian Systems has been working on what it believes is the solution: a pocket-sized generator that turns butane — lighter fuel — into power for your gadgets. (I first met with co-founder Sam Schaevitz in 2001, as he was spinning the business out of MIT's Microsystems Technology Lab.)
The company, which has raised a bit more than $100 million in funding, hopes to have a product on the market "really soon," according to vice president of business development Mouli Ramani. They haven't yet announced where you'll be able to buy a Lilliputian Mobile Power System — or whether other, brand-name electronics companies will market them as charging accessories — but Ramani did tell me that the device will cost between $150 and $200, with the price dropping as production volume increases. Fuel cartridges will cost between $2 and $5, depending on the size: a small one might be capable of recharging your smartphone's completely depleted battery 10 times, while a large would give you 20 recharges.
Last month, I put Lilliputian on my list of "12 Companies to Track," since the product seems so promising for road warriors who simply can't stay tethered to an outlet in an airport, rental car, or hotel room for very long. Yesterday, Ramani invited me to Lilliputian to see the company's prototype in action — and yes, get a little juice for my half-full iPhone.
The device is taller and thicker than your mobile phone; it resembles a cigarette pack that has grown an inch or so on the top. Inside is a chip that contains a solid oxide fuel cell, which converts the hydrogen and oxygen in butane into electricity, at very high heats (around 750 degrees Celsius, or 1380 degrees Fahrenheit.) But Lilliputian's fuel cell is insulated well enough that you can touch the hottest part of its case, and it's still cooler than a typical laptop that has been running for a few minutes. On the prototype (pictured above), indicator lights glow green to show that the Mobile Power System is charging your device; blue to show that you've clipped in a new butane cartridge (the cartridge is that metallic rectangle on top), and red to show you that you're low on fuel. The device has a standard USB output port (on the right side) that can deliver about 3 watts of power — enough to recharge a GPS, digital camera, or mobile phone, but not enough for a laptop or tablet. (The cable coming from the left side of the MPS prototype in the picture is for diagnostic purposes.)
The butane cartridges aren't refillable, Ramani told me, but they will be recyclable when empty. Many early users of the Mobile Power System may opt to get butane cartridges delivered on a subscription basis, he said. That could create a nice razor-and-blades business model for Lilliputian.
The fuel cell's only exhaust is a tiny amount of CO2 and water vapor, Ramani said — it emits about 1/20th the content of what a human exhales in a single breath, over the course of one mobile phone charging cycle. Lilliputian and other fuel cell makers have already successfully lobbied the FAA to allow consumers to use the devices — not just carry them — on airplanes, and Ramani said that the company believes a cigarette lighter (which produces a flame) or a can of hairspray (which can explode when punctured) are more potentially dangerous.
In a test lab, Lilliputian systems engineer Souren Lefian plugged a white iPhone charging cable into the Mobile Power System prototype and forwarded a few watts to my phone. There wasn't much that was thrilling about the process, aside from knowing that I can now claim to have gassed up my iPhone. Then, Lefian (pictured at left) switched cables and charged up his Android phone. On Lefian's computer screen, a graphic showed how much fuel was left in the MPS' tank, as well as how many watts it was sending to the phone, and how full the phone's battery was. (See picture below.)
It's an open question whether consumers will cotton to carrying along an accessory — and, perhaps, a spare butane cartridge — to keep their small electronics charged up. (A fuel cell that would also rejuvenate laptops and tablets would be much more useful.) But Ramani says Lilliputian will target business travelers, outdoorsmen who rely on GPS devices, and families that travel with a collection of electronics. "We think the Mobile Power System will change people's relationship with power," he says, eradicating the worry of running out at a crucial moment.
Ramani said that rolling out the Mobile Power System will be Lilliputian's primary focus for the next few years, but that the company also has plans to develop more powerful fuel cells that will be able to recharge laptops and tablets, and also integrate its fuel cells into those devices when they're manufactured. (Pictured below are several non-working mock-ups of current and future Lilliputian devices.) While Lilliputian is producing small numbers of its fuel cell chips in Wilmington, the company has an agreement with Intel to crank out larger volumes at the chipmaker's plant in Hudson.
Over the next year or two, it'll be fascinating to watch how Lilliputian rolls out the Mobile Power System; the partners it chooses; and how consumers react to it.
Above: Diagnostics screen illustrating how the prototype Lilliputian Mobile Power System is performing.
Above: Mock-ups of the current MPS and its fuel cartridges, at the bottom of the picture, and future design concepts, at the top.
Job-seekers may soon need to develop a new skill to secure their next gig: projecting confidence and competence in front of a Webcam. Cambridge-based Take the Interview, currently conducting a beta test with nearly 200 companies, wants to persuade employers to make more use of video screening as a way to find the gems amidst a pile of promising résumés. And the company has just raised $775,000 in new funds to begin marketing the service more widely.
Founder Danielle Weinblatt started working on the concept during her first year at Harvard Business School, and decided to take a leave after the spring semester to focus on Take the Interview full-time.
"We took the Eric Ries, lean start-up approach," she says. "I went and talked to customers first, and started getting letters-of-intent to use this product I hadn't built yet."
The idea is that companies post a handful questions for certain candidates to answer via video, on their own time. (The videos aren't conducted live.) The site also offers a "question bank" of questions related to job categories like sales or accounting. Two examples: "How have you established priorities to implement a new vision or directive?" and "What is the last book that you read and why did you chose to read it?" Hiring managers can then view the responses, and share them within the organization.
"You might know that someone is a 'no' within the first few minutes of an in-person interview, but you end up spending 30 or 60 minutes talking to them because that's what scheduled," Weinblatt says. "We think that asynchronous video interviewing is a great way for people to save time." Take the Interview's initial focus is on small- and mid-sized businesses who may only be looking to fill 3 or 4 positions at any given time. Pricing starts at $45, which covers filling just one job, but there are monthly plans as well.
Weinblatt participated in the Dreamit Ventures accelerator program in New York over the summer, but the company's six employees are now back in Cambridge, using space at Dogpatch Labs.
The new funding comes entirely from angel investors, though Dreamit Ventures invested alongside them. Weinblatt says she didn't pursue VC investment, since she wasn't sure she wanted to commit to the exit size and timetable that they expect.
"I promised my employees to get them on payroll in September," she says, "and I'm glad we managed to do that." The money will also go toward building a sales and marketing team, attending conferences, creating new features for the site, and developing a mobile app, Weinblatt says.
- TotalTab. View your bill at a bar or restaurant, and pay it using your mobile phone. Self-funded so far. Founder Nick Reuter says the company will look to raise money early next year, when it has a beta version operating in a local restaurant.
- Tasted Menu. Founded in 2009 by a recent Harvard Business School grad, the company is still in stealth mode, but seems to want to tap your social network to recommend specific dishes at restaurants. Has raised an unspecified amount of angel funding. Founder Alex Rosenfeld says coyly, "We're a new entrant in the restaurant social recommendation space. We'll be complementary to some existing players, competitive with others, but most importantly I think we're bringing something proprietary, unique, and (most importantly) useful to the table, no pun intended."
- Locu (formerly Goodplates). When I first wrote about Goodplates back in May, the MIT-spawned start-up was hoping to persuade diners to use their mobile phones to take photos of their food at restaurants, and upload ratings and reviews to a Web site. But as founder Rene Reinsberg began to demo the service publicly, and pitch investors, he started to notice how crowded the resto-tech space was. Over the summer, Goodplates changed its name — the company is now known as Locu (pronounced "low-koo") — and began focusing on using humans and intelligent software to digitize and categorize information from restaurant menus. They plan to help restaurants share menu information with lots of Web sites and mobile apps that would like to deliver it to their users, and create an API that will give developers access to the info. Pricing isn't yet set, but they hope to generate revenue from both parties. Raised $600,000 this month from a group of angel investors. (That's the Locu team pictured at right.)
- Leaf. Cambridge company trying to render extinct that faux-leather bill presenter that's dropped at your table at the end of the meal. What if instead, your waiter handed you a small tablet computer that allowed you to review what you'd eaten, split the check, figure out the tip, rate each individual dish and beverage, and swipe your credit card to pay?
- AisleBuyer. mDine service, announced last month, will allow you to use your mobile phone to choose what you'd like to eat and pay using your mobile phone. Company hasn't yet announced any café or restaurant partners. AisleBuyer has raised $11.5 million
- Textaurant. Brookline start-up that enables restaurants to manage their wait-lists with a PC, and buzz diners when they're ready via their mobile phones (instead of those expensive coaster-shaped pagers.) In use at Fire & Ice in Boston, Finale in Cambridge, and Jerry Remy's at Fenway (only on game days). Hoping to raise a seed round in the next quarter. (I covered them here last fall.)
- Crave Labs. Helping restaurants expand their customer base using social media and mobile devices.
- GoodEatsFor.Me. Similar to Crave Labs, helping restaurants use social media to see what diners are saying, and distribute special offers.
- Survey on the Spot. Newton company assists restaurants with designing feedback surveys that customers can fill out on smartphones or tablet computers. In use at restaurants like British Beer Company and The Ninety Nine.
(Last year, I wrote about E La Carte, another TableTech company that was born in Boston, but is now based in Palo Alto.)
Know of others? Post a comment or drop me a line.