Архив метки: VC

Consumer Is King: Record $4B Raised In Mobile VC In The First Half Of 2012, 25%+ In Consumer Apps

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Attention mobile entrepreneurs: if you are looking for funding for your big idea, now might be a good time to work in a consumer angle if you haven’t already. According the latest figures from boutique investment bank Rutberg & Co., consumer apps were by far the most popular area for investment among VCs in the first half of this year, accounting for $1.008 billion in value, or just over one-quarter of the $3.9 billion invested in mobile companies worldwide — itself the highest level of mobile investment activity since Rutberg initiated coverage in 2001, and growing by $1 billion over the same period a year ago.

That makes consumer apps the single-biggest area for VC investment at the moment, but the story here is one of quantity of deals, rather than the size of individual fundings: when looking at the 10 biggest investments in mobile, the most valuable investments remain in non-software, capital-intensive areas like devices and carrier infrastructure. The biggest VC deal so far this year has been for Xiaomi Tech, which picked up $216 million in a Series C round from undisclosed investors. The first consumer app in the rankings is Evernote’s $70 million Series D round — coming in at number-seven.

And the next recognizable consumer names are hotspot shield AnchorFree, at number 10 for its $52 million round; Foursquare, coming in at number 12 for its $50-million round in March; and SoundCloud for its $50 million round.

Indeed, although consumer apps represented 26% of all VC value, it is strength in numbers: they made up 35% of all deals. In all, Rutberg tracked 166 VC investments in consumer mobile apps, out of a total 479 investments in the first six months of the year.

Investor interet in consumer applications, as you can see from the table below, has been rising over the last couple of years — a consequence of the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets and the apps  that run on them and other mobile devices like feature phones. But as the number of investments has grown, their mean value has declined.

Whereas the median value of investments in consumer apps prior to the introduction of the iPhone was as high as $9 million in one period (2nd half of 2006), today it is at a much more modest $2.5 million.

This is not a straight dilution in value, though: there has been a rising interest in lower-value seed and other early stage rounds. Rutberg notes that taking the full 479 mobile investments in H1, 61% them had round sizes of $5 million or less. Investors seem to be spreading their investments much more widely, and getting in on the action earlier, these days.

Mobile now represents 46% of all VC investments — so not quite the majority, but the highest proportion of total investments it has had to date.

Just as consumer app interest has grown very steadily, it looks like interest in other areas has been significantly more choppy. Some areas, like telecom infrastructure and semiconductors — once taking a significant proportion of mobile VC funding — appear to have fallen off the radar by quite a lot. That could also have to do with the maturity of the sector: a lot of the building work has been done (for now), and now it’s time to milk those networks for all the revenue they can give.

The full slidedeck telling the story is below:


Consumer Is King: Record $4B Raised In Mobile VC In The First Half Of 2012, 25%+ In Consumer Apps

YogiPlay Debuts “YogiMeter,” An Educator-Based Rating System For Children’s Learning Apps

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YogiPlay, a Menlo Park-based company from husband-and-wife team Cedric and Michal Selling, is attempting to tackle the critical problem of surfacing appropriate, trusted, and carefully vetted educational apps for children. The company recently raised $1 million in VC funding from DN Capital and Richmond Park Partners, in order to develop a system for rating apps for kids, specifically targeting the ages 2 through 8. Today, YogiPlay is announcing the results of those efforts with YogiMeter, its new app rating system designed to help parents find learning apps for children that have been vetted by a team of educational experts.

The Sellins are both Stanford-trained engineers, with Cedric hailing from Aruba Wireless and Michal an early Google employee. But they’re also parents who grew frustrated with how difficult it was to find quality learning apps for children. Cedric says they were inspired to start the company after watching their two-year old daughter interacting with mobile apps, and realized what powerful learning tools they could be.

In June, the company hired Dr. Jim Gray, who previously served as the Director of Learning at LeapFrog, where he was in charge of all curricula for the last seven or so years. At YogiPlay, he led the development of the YogiMeter system, which has been designed to assess the engagement levels and educational qualities of mobile apps.

“It’s using the same principles I’ve been using all along from my knowledge of child development and interactive media,” he says of YogiMeter. “I’ve structured in a way with some very specific ways to look at how and why kids would be engaged, and if they’re engaged, how and why they might learn.” He also vetted this rubric with other colleagues not associated with YogiPlay to get their feedback and input.

While there are a few startups working to rank and review mobile apps, like KinderTown, for instance (which also vets apps with educators), Dr. Gray says that he believes the YogiMeter system uses a more developmental approach with techniques common to those familiar in child development and education. “The others are not as rigorous, research-based, structured and consistent,” he says describing YogiMeter’s competition.

The system he developed ranks and analyzes apps in two main areas — engagement and educational quality. For determining an app’s engagement, it looks at things like user interactions, user experience, intrinsically motivated engagement, extrinsically motivated engagement and socially motivated engagement. And to analyze the app’s ability to teach, it looks at whether the app will actually engage the child in learning, as it proposes to do, and whether that learning is deep, authentic, personalized, differentiated, and whether or not parents can track the child’s progress throughout. On that last front, it should be noted that YogiPlay also offers mobile developers an SDK which allows them to integrate parental communication tools within their iOS or Android app. Less than twenty developers on iOS and Android are now using this SDK in their apps today.

The YogiMeter rankings will soon be featured visually in the company’s online parent-facing app discovery center and personalized dashboard as well as within its standalone mobile apps, all of which are undergoing massive redesigns right now.  (Hence, no screenshots are appropriate here). YogiPlay’s mobile app is available on Android currently, but has been held up in Apple’s approval queue for around three months. However, since the apps are HTML5-based, it seems that even if it was rejected from iOS, the company could easily make it accessible on mobile devices.

To date, YogiPlay has rated over 600 apps with YogiMeter, and is adding new apps to the system daily. The company has also seen some 45,000 parents register on the site, providing their email and their child’s age and other details. Although parents can’t see the YogiMeter rating just yet on YogiPlay.com, all the apps have now been vetted through the system.


YogiPlay Debuts “YogiMeter,” An Educator-Based Rating System For Children’s Learning Apps

Look Out Pair, Cupple Is Out To Break Up This Cosy Private Sharing Party

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While Pair are popping champagne corks at their funding round today, they better not swig too much bubbly because tomorrow they may have to check out their rear-view mirrors. Co-founder Oleg Kostour seems to think the company’s closest competitor in the ‘private sharing’ space is Path. He’s basically wrong, but then he lives in the Valley echo chamber, so he’s excused…

Cupple is, frankly, at least as excellent a private sharing app for couples app which actually launched before Pair (and has an equally god name). Its had steady growth since November after being featured on the Apple in the Date Night section of the US store iTunes store (iTunes link).

Currently talking with investors, both Angel and VC, we gather the startup is poised to close a round in the next couple of weeks.

The private sharing app is, like Pair, designed specifically for two people in a relationship. It allows you to share content privately, build a gallery of photos together, message, tag favourite locations, create a timeline of memories and moments, send and collect ‘Stickers’ and remember places you want to go.

Currently 70% of their users are in the US and a just launched version now has integration with the Foursquare API.

Pair has five founders compared to Cupple’s two. Let the best pairing win!


Look Out Pair, Cupple Is Out To Break Up This Cosy Private Sharing Party

Cloud Emailer Mailjet Hits 1 Billion Emails Sent, Launches Apps For Tracking Emails In Real Time

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Mailjet, a cloud emailing service for tracking marketing and transactional emails, has just launched a mobile application for its business customers offering real-time email tracking. Within the mobile application, users can monitor email deliveries, plus keep an eye on metrics like bounces, opens and clicks.

The company, which just rolled out a new version of its platform a couple of weeks ago, is also announcing today that it has now reached 1 billion emails served.

For those unfamiliar with Mailjet, the startup is taking on more established and VC-backed players like SendGrid, Postmark, and Mailgun, to name a few. The service targets businesses who need to buy or rent SMTP email servers, by offering a cloud-based solution. Emails sent out through Mailjet are tracked in a number of ways, including through the use of specialized links, transparent images that tell Mailjet how many times it was displayed, through the analysis of SMTP exchanges for bounces and deliveries, and more.

Mailjet is one of the first companies in this space to add a mobile app (for iOS and Android) which allows customers to track their emails while on the go. The app requires a Mailjet account to use, of course, but it’s a freemium service if you’re interested in testing it out. Included in the app are tabs featuring the email feed, campaign activity, analytics and personal settings.

The company, based in France, also recently went global, with the opening of offices in San Francisco, London, Berlin and Madrid. Mailjet raised a small round of 180,000 euros from Brussels-based eFounders back in December and now reports having some 10,000 active users on its platform (up from 3,000+ in December).


Cloud Emailer Mailjet Hits 1 Billion Emails Sent, Launches Apps For Tracking Emails In Real Time

Too Drunk To Drive, But Still Wanna Get Your Car Home? There’s An App For That

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You know what I hate most about getting too drunk to drive home? The hangover. No, no, I’m kidding (well, sort of) – it’s having to go retrieve my car from wherever I left it the next day. Sometimes, it’s been towed. Other times, it’s been broken into (true story). That’s why I’m hopeful about the possibilities a new service called StearClear has in store. The startup, which is backed by $500,000 in founder-led and VC funding, has been up-and-running for just a month in parts of New Jersey. What StearClear offers, simply put, is a way to get you and your car home. Safely.

Oh god, please let this work.

According to co-founder Craig Sher, the idea for providing a designated driver service is hardly new. “I found 50 or 60 companies across the country,” he said. “But most of the companies that do designated driver services are mom-and-pop shops…and it’s a very difficult business to make money on. Most people who embark on a designated driver service do it from a community service point of view – they’re very focused on volunteer drivers.”

So the big idea with StearClear, then, is how do you make a service like this work to make it profitable for all involved? Their solution: local franchises.

Instead of launching this as their own service from scratch, StearClear takes on a lot of the cost that goes along with creating a business, while leaving the day-to-day to others. The franchises don’t have to process credit cards, handle paying employees or doing their tax reporting; they don’t have to hire HR staff to ensure compliance with U.S. employment law, or worry with insurance and liability protections. StearClear also handles vetting the drivers, handling background checks, criminal and sexual predator checks, driving record checks, and even drug tests.

But, says Sher, “our real magic is the software, and the fact that we have a real end-to-end solution.”

The software he’s referring to is a suite of three mobile applications: an iOS/Android app for end users (them being the drunks), one for the drive teams, and a third iPad app for franchise owners which lets them view a heatmap of their drivers’ cars in action, customer requests, and all the management reporting functions necessary to run the business.

The drive teams are a team of two people – one who drives the customer’s car, another who chases it in their own. Both are hired locally and paid as W-2 employees ($8/hour while waiting, $12/hour while working; plus, for the chaser, 55 cents per mile – the going federal rate). It’s not career-making money, of course. The “waiting” pay is barely above minimum wage. But the drive teams split tips, so there’s a chance to earn a bit more.

Drivers are assigned shifts to keep the busy times covered, but can also make themselves available at any other time, if they want to make extra cash. When customer requests come in, drivers “bid” for the pickup via their own app by saying when they can get there. The customer usually picks the closest driver, of course.

As for customers, the sign-up process is similar to that of black car service Uber: a credit card is kept on file so there’s no need to swipe cards or hand over cash at the end of the ride. Rates are $20/per pickup plus $2.50/mile. Premium members (aka regular drunks), can pay $5/month then get discounted rates of $15/pickup and $2.25/mile.

Sher says the pricing can either be around 5% more or less than local cab rides, depending on your area, but is on average 20-30% cheaper than a black car service.

Meanwhile, franchise owners pay $30,000 to buy a block of 70,000 people (around 6 to 12 zip codes’ worth) for their business. They then get access to the turnkey solution, and keep 80% of the revenue.

The business’s subsequent failure or success, then, is on them. Marketing, raising awareness, finding employees, managing schedules, everyday customer service, etc. – it’s all on them. In Sher’s view, this makes them stakeholders. Well, sure. But it also means that getting the company off the ground has been essentially handed off to a bunch of unknowns in whichever far-flung regions of the country where someone decides to take a risk. Anyone with $30K and a dream of keeping drunk drivers off the road can sign up. Some, like some of the mom-and-pop operations, will make it work. Others will not. And it will all reflect back on StearClear.

Sher believes that this can work, though. “It makes the franchisee profitable. Within their first six months, they’re making money. If they would have started from scratch…number one, they wouldn’t have a software solution, they’d have a phone number – all the things that make the business difficult to implement, we take care of.”

Build a platform, and they will come?

“None of these [mom-and-pops] have been able to scale, none of them have been able to make any money, and worse than that, none can offer a nationwide service,” he says. Now, maybe, they can.

The founders, Craig Sher, Ken Schwartz and Harjinder Sidhu, have technology backgrounds which involve their two previous firms – a consulting firm and software company – which did engineering projects for most of the big banks on Wall Street. Over the years, they accumulated the IP and staff needed to launch something like StearClear. Of the $500,000 in funding, only 20% is outside funding from Accelerant Capital Partners, the rest is from the founders themselves.

StearClear is live in parts of N.J. now during its first public test, a 3-month beta where the idea is put into action for the first time. Stay tuned.


Too Drunk To Drive, But Still Wanna Get Your Car Home? There’s An App For That