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Get epic business growth by instilling these data gathering habits

David Arnoux is Head of Growth and co-founder of Twoodo, helping your team organize itself using simple #hashtags.


A business whose true north is growth will know that collecting quantitative and qualitative data is critical. Organizing your company’s data and knowledge from the beginning is not optional. Without this system, you might struggle to understand why your visitors and users are doing what they do, how they value your product and how they pass on information about it to others.

This means setting up your technical information (such as updates, tests, feature developments) and “business” information (such as design changes, copy updates, blog posts) in a way that the team has a holistic overview of the state of affairs.

The aim is to improve your team’s ability to identify correlation and causation – was there a surge in visits after the new feature was uploaded, or was it because of the new SEO’d blog post published the same day?

Growth philosophy from Day 1? Recording everything

I’m going to start by telling you to record and store everything from Day 1 of your business. Why? Because you don’t really know your users yet.

When we started on our journey to turn hashtags into a principle of team collaboration, all we had were assumptions, a hope and a dream. You may already have a working product – and congratulations to you! But unless:

a) the novelty level is off the charts

b) unless you’ve carried out your customer discovery interviews like a god

- you probably still don’t know who your ideal users are, what they really want and even worse: if they really understand the value of what you’re offering.

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Image via Flickr/smemon

Your idea will very possibly evolve over time; and data that once seemed trivial to collect will suddenly become precious. I’m not talking only about metrics and hard data here: I’m talking about soft data, qualitative data, both internal and external, getting into the heads of your user, clients, visitors.

It’s not easy to get the soft data. It’s hard to get people to stop and give you their opinion, to open an email, or to take a survey. SurveyMonkey’s data shows that the average click-through rate for emails is 4 -5 percent (MarketingProfs put it at around 8 percent).

Email is the cheapest way for you to do research, but not the only one. It’s important to grab every opportunity to squeeze a reaction and a suggestion out of those you have identified as ideal personas, as your ideal early adopters.

You can do this through Skype chats, live chats, in-app messaging, questionnaires, widgets or even meeting your users in person (yes that still exists). Lo and behold, you will find a slow but steady accumulation of data that will ultimately drive your business decisions in more ways than one.

Gathering this qualitative data will prove extremely useful for future copywriting, finding the right channels to acquire visitors, removing/adding features to the product… and the list goes on.

In the early days, it might seem urgent to start driving huge numbers of visitors to your website. However, this is the time to do serious qualitative research, and to stick with it until you reach product-market fit.

The product should charm and delight upon the first user experience. It should be simple enough for that person to explain to another without getting into a tongue-twister. There’s no point driving huge quantities of traffic to your app or product if you haven’t figured out what value people get out of it – people rarely return to a website once abandoned.

“Most early stage startups won’t have enough users/customers to heavily rely on quantitative data. You need to be acquiring hundreds of customers every month (preferably thousands) in order to have enough data to support A/B tests and detailed analysis. So focus your time on qualitative data. Remember, your main goal at this point is to find product/market fit. And talking to your early adopters every chance you get will help you find it the fastest.” – Hiten Shah

OK, don’t record EVERYTHING… but record most of it

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Let’s be reasonable here – not everything is important; As a business you will most definitely want to get the biggest bang for your buck. Weeding out pointless tasks early on is part of it.

This is where my trusty friend – the Google Spreadsheet – comes in. It’s free, shareable, commentable, and best of all, accessible.

Your first qualitative research will be important to help you identify the “tech enthusiasts” who sign up for everything just to play around with it, and the genuine early adopters. Your feedback needs to be based on the early adopters, not the “passing by” techie nerds thirsty for novelty (whom I love, truly).

How to set up an excellent set of spreadsheets

This is the minimum set of information you need to have at your fingertips in my opinion when you are running a Web business or startup. Being this organized is good for you, for the team, and for your stakeholders – they’ll appreciate the transparency and trust you more. It’s also exceedingly convenient for you to have it all nicely laid out!

1) Technical developments

  • Core feature requests + progress
  • “Nice to have” feature requests + progress
  • smoke tests + results and hypotheses on failures
  • list of resources

2) Usability tests

  • Usability videos
  • Usability test findings
  • “What motivated you to sign up?”
  • “How would you describe our tool in one sentence?”
  • responsiveness – mobile devices, PC
  • AB tests to reduce friction (e.g. fewer steps to sign up, less scrolling/reading)
  • list of resources and tools used

3) Customer research

  • KPIs
  • key opinion leaders in the niche
  • superuser feedback
  • average user feedback
  • feature requests
  • best user quotes, share comments (social validation)
  • list of resources and tools used

4) Growth tactics

  • email campaigns
  • content marketing campaigns
  • outreach campaigns
  • websites to get listed on
  • ideas + A/B tests to try
  • list of resources and tools used

5) PR

  • list of mentions in press
  • list of places where we want to be mentioned
  • list of niche journalists + bloggers
  • list of conferences/competitions to apply for
  • list of resources and tools used

I italicized “list of resources” for each spreadsheet category because of the diversity of ways that each of my team member’s stores their links to the best stuff. This way, we all get access to the link whenever we need.

So, now you have the basics of starting a business laid out over a bunch of lovely spreadsheets.

Where does my customer research fit into all of this?

In every spreadsheet, you will have a column labelled “hypothesis” or “why am I doing this?” All of your decisions should be customer-driven with the aim of solving a pain point.

Where applicable, I would also recommend using the PIES framework that I discovered by reading some of Peep Laja’s blog posts. The system works like this: For every feature, test, campaign, hypothesis, effort you and your team are going to carry out make a score from 1 – 10 on the:

Potential: What is my gut feeling (based on past experience, knowledge) on how much this can impact my company positively? This could be increase in conversions, increase in brand awareness, a better user experience, and so on.

Importance: How important is this? Does this have to do with some small feature that not many people use (score = 2) or does this have to do with optimizing something on my home page which is the most visited page of my website (score = 10)

Ease: How easy is it to implement this idea? Does it involve the CTO + the Designers + a copywriter? Will it will take 2 weeks to test (score = 2) or does it involve one person that can test it easily (score = 10)?

Score: The sum of the above will give you an indication of what you should be working on right now.

This system means that all decisions must be based on sound evidence – not just gut feeling. The intention isn’t to curb creativity but to make you think deeply and honestly about why you are conducting any test, campaign or making a change.

Real learning and understanding of your personas comes from this. You will get inside your user’s heads and know why they do what they do, what works for them, and what doesn’t.

PIES Get epic business growth by instilling these data gathering habits

You should also have some of these pies!

Good docs organizing is developing good recording habits

I admit, I fall off the wagon every now and again. But we have an agreement in the team to remind each other to catch up on the information we are responsible for recording. Inconsistent and fragmented data-gathering will mean that your interpretations on causation and correlation could be flawed. This could set you back a lot, and waste time.

What can also waste time is poor labelling. Be clear, not clever. Have the tabs in a logical order. Make sure there are no “filler” columns or “repetitive” columns (i.e. a column where all the data is the same).

Here’s an example of what can done for the “results” tab of a blog campaign spreadsheet:

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Turns out I should have written about dogs instead… but you get the picture. I can:

  • instantly visit the article
  • I have the tracker to identify it on my analytics platform
  • I have the date published so I can search for correlations in the analytics
  • I have the keyword listed so I know what I was trying to rank for
  • I have the social sentiment indicating [lack of] interest, and
  • I have my results with a reasonable hypothesis

People want to see a “done” list, not a “todo” list. This system is the evidence of your accomplishments and mistakes along the way. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much work you have done!

Here is one version of the template we tweaked for running tests. You can use it as a guide.

Revisit the language and behaviour of your visitors and users

Following a guide such as this will reinforce good habits, cause some repetition (which is great for HALLELUJAH insights!) and trust me – you will be constantly amazed by what you learn about your visitors and users!

Growth expert James Currier believes in language and psychology: “Behind every great company is a powerful insight about human psychology.”

If you don’t record what your users and visitors are saying about your product, or observe their conversations about it and take notes, you cannot understand how they perceive the value of your product to them. That’s what will make or break your startup.

Save up to 40% on Last Minute Flights with Hotwire Limited Rates!

Watch Currier speak about the topic and see for yourself.

Continued here: Get epic business growth by instilling these data gathering habits

Google Gets In On Ground Level With Drone Maker Titan Buy

Titan Aerospace, the drone maker Facebook had been in acquisition talks with prior to being bought by Google (as we’ve now confirmed following The WSJ’s initial report), was a name that took many in the industry by surprise. How was it that a company that reportedly has solar-powered drones that can fly at 65,000 feet above sea level for five years without needing to land, did not have more public attention or media coverage? The answer, as it turns out, is that there may not have been too much to actually cover yet, as the company was very young.

For starters, it hasn’t been around long enough to prove that its drones can fly for five years, because the company itself isn’t that old. This is partly why investors were passing on further fundraising, we understand — it was too soon. However, we hear that Titan, though early, was still further along in some regards than other drone makers getting bought, including recent Facebook acquisition Ascenta, which went for $20 million.

Titan’s number, when it comes out, will be much higher than that, we hear, as news that Facebook was sniffing around played a role in terms of negotiations.

Titan had registered just one aircraft with the FAA in 2011 – the remaining small handful have been registered in either 2013 or 2014 – indicating its still-early nature. The team worked out of a nondescript New Mexico house, one source pointed out to us, referencing a Titan employee’s YouTube video titled “walk through of the Titan crew’s new house in new Mexico.”

A number of Titan’s hires are also more junior-level people who believed in founder Maximus (Max) Yaney’s vision. Only around a year ago did the company make its first notable hire worth issuing a press release about, when it brought in CEO Vern Raburn, who previously founded Eclipse Aviation, to run things.

In its early days, Titan bootstrapped itself through a small grant from the state of New Mexico. In this document from the New Mexico Economic Development Department, dated Q2 2013, Titan Aerospace is described as being in the “final stages of R&D” for its solar-powered unmanned vehicles. The company at that time had 12 employees and was working with Technology Ventures Corporation (TVC), a nonprofit foundation by Lockheed Martin that helps companies commercialize technology invented at Sandia National Labs and other New Mexico-based research entities.

According to the report, Titan was working with TVC on an application for a Small Business Innovation Research grant, and it was also meeting with JTIP, an incentive program that pays for on-the-job training to help “fund training for future staff.”

This is an interesting way to go about funding a company which has come up with breakthrough technology – but there’s a reason why Titan may have gone after grants like this, as we alluded to before: Raising from traditional investors was still tough, and Titan wasn’t at the point where it could prove anything about whether or not its ideas would work.

For example, though there are recordings of flights on YouTube, they aren’t demos of what the final product promises. There is this video of a prototype taking flight, but it’s at about 2,000 feet in the air (not 65K) and it’s at a smaller scale than the proposed Solara models. The 2013 proof-of-concept test, which took place in Moriarty, N.M., was the company’s biggest, publicly detailed achievement to date. Titan didn’t have plans to begin production of the Solara 50 aircraft — weighing 400 pounds with a 162-foot wingspan, until mid-2014, it was previously reported.

We hear that Titan will have another milestone to publicize soon, however, following this Google deal.

That above report also pointed out that high-altitude, solar UAVs have been tried in the past, including by Boeing, which had been making progress on its SolarEagle until DARPA funding was cut, and AeroVironment, who developed the Helios prototype for NASA, which failed. Titan believed it could do better.

But patent searches for Titan Aerospace and founder Yaney come up short (even variations like Titan Holdings or Corporation), which is curious. There’s a Titan Aerospace Electronics Division with several non-drone patents, but it appears to be another company pre-dating this Titan.

Titan itself was an interesting entity. A cached version of the Titan website showed that the company used to use the Waldorf Astoria’s NYC address as its New York location. This was because Yaney was based in New York, and at one time had an office there with a small team for Titan.

Titan’s drones were still in the R&D phases when Facebook came knocking. Facebook wanted to accelerate the production of the aircraft, which the company knew would be tricky because, in the development stage, the process is serial, not parallel. But Facebook’s effectively unlimited capital could speed up some things, like production planning or automating equipment purchases. Google could now do the same, under its Project Loon umbrella, or elsewhere –potentially using the tech to augment its work with aerial imagery or having the drones carry atmospheric sensors, notes The WSJ.

Or, in other words, as Google buys Titan, it’s definitely getting in on the ground (ahem) level here.

Additional reporting by Josh Constine

Original post: Google Gets In On Ground Level With Drone Maker Titan Buy

Indian Software Product Startups Pitch Ideas To Fortune 500 CIOs

After years of working with India’s over $100 billion IT services industry for maintaining their software systems, application development and back office work, CIOs of Fortune 500 companies are now looking to tap into the country’s software product ecosystem. And this time, it’s not just about setting up a corporate accelerator like Target did and Coca Cola is exploring – instead, technology leaders from Citibank, Proctor & Gamble and Colgate Palmolive are among 50 top executives planting themselves in the front rows of a day-long startup pitching session organized by iSPIRT on Thursday.

InTech50, an event organized by Indian software product think-tank iSPIRT, selected 50 product startups in India to pitch their ideas to these global technology buyers controlling billions of dollars in IT budget.

Two of the biggest challenges faced by startup founders anywhere in the world are — getting early users, customers and raising money from investors to fund growth, experiments. While there are enough networks, accelerators and VCs helping startups pitch their ideas to investors, getting customers is still a daunting challenge.

For software product entrepreneurs based in India, and looking to serve customers based in the U.S., understanding real customer needs takes too much of time.

Piyush Singh, CIO of Great American Insurance who was also the co-host of this event, said Indian startups need to learn early from enterprise customers.

“It’s the end customers and users who determine whether a product will be successful or not. So we are trying to bring end customers early in the game, so these startups learn and go innovate,” said Singh.

“Sometimes these product startups realize too late that they may have built a wrong product and it’s too late to pivot,” Sandeep Singhal of Nexus Partners said at the event on Thursday.

InTech50′s list of software products pitching to the global CIOs included startups offering HR software, analytics, customer management, social analytics and IT help desk in the cloud.

The startups pitching at the session brought a mix of mature, few year-old companies and some of the recently launched ideas. Zipdial for instance, has already made its name by offering mobile marketing and analytics solution, and Ezetap too has had its share of early success.

Among the newer startups, gesture-based tracking solution TouchMagixiViZ that takes ethical hacking to the cloud, Capillary Technologies, the social CRM startup that got funding from Amex recently and big data startup Stelae Technologies looked interesting. Also pitching were several recruitment startups such as Interview MasterWhistleTalk and RippleHire.

Qubole, a big data startup founded by former Facebook engineers, and counts Pinterest among its top customers, also looked interesting.

As we wrote in February this year, software products can be a $100 billion industry in India by 2025, an ambition that may sound too bullish on the face of it, but not overly aggressive if you look at the rapid progress of startups such as Zoho, Druva, FusionCharts and Eka Software.

There’s a lot going for Indian startup ecosystem lately, even if it’s far from being anywhere close to the Silicon Valley, or matching the success of Israeli startups. In 2013, VCs and angels invested around $1.6 billion in 293 startup deals in India. There are over 3,000 startups in India with around 1,000 being added every year to the list. Of these, nearly 43% are product startups, according to iSPIRT.

For Fortune 500 CIOs exploring to work with Indian startups, it’s a huge shift after years of outsourcing their software development and back office work to the country’s biggest IT companies such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro.

“Some of us are disappointed with their (big IT companies) lack of innovation and ability to co-innovate even after years of relationships. Hunting for disruptive technology ideas is a board agenda and we will go anywhere from Silicon Valley to Bangalore to identify such startups,” said a senior IT leader with one of the companies looking to work with Indian product startups.

You can also view the complete list of InTech50 startups here.

Read more: Indian Software Product Startups Pitch Ideas To Fortune 500 CIOs

Saeed Amidi’s Global Accelerator Network Plug And Play Expands To Brazil

The warp and weft of Saeed Amidi’s family story – transitioning from Iranian immigrants fleeing revolution in the 1970s to running a multi-million-dollar global family office and a vast technology accelerator network  – is one that could only have been woven in Silicon Valley.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Amidi’s family bought the building at 165 University Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif., which catapulted the family from selling high-end rugs to Silicon Valley’s investors and entrepreneurs to joining those investors at the heart of the Valley’s technology scene.

The multi-use office building whose second floor overlooks University Avenue has an allure in part because of the litany of successful technology companies that once called it home. Google was there in its infancy, along with PayPal — an early investment for Amidi — and Logitech, which called the building home in the early days following its move from Switzerland.

That purchase also was the seed for Amidi’s foray into technology accelerators. Amidi launched the first Plug And Play in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 2006, and the venture has blossomed into an increasingly global network of technology accelerators that now includes São Paulo in addition to spaces in Berlin, Calgary, Moscow, San Diego, Singapore, Sunnyvale, Valencia, Spain and Vancouver.

Amidi’s accelerator is also in the process of launching new programs for Jordan, Mexico, and Poland.

“There are an incredible amount of smart people in Europe and Brazil and they have a lack of experienced startups like Paypal, Google, or Dropbox,” said Amidi. “We really feel the accelerator in Brazil or in Berlin will play a much bigger role in the development of the entrepreneurial community…. We feel we have a much bigger impact with our startups from overseas.”

Late last month, the startup accelerator program crowned its latest batch of winners from its demo day in Sunnyvale. The list included Goji, a smart lock developer; Shippo, an API that eases the shipping process for online stores; and Altitude, a stealthy software company that uses a Bluetooth low energy identity system to authenticate and process travelers as they approach touch-points such as hotel check-ins.

Unlike its program in the U.S., the accelerators that Plug And Play operates in Berlin and São Paulo are joint ventures  with corporate — traditionally media — partners. Abril, Plug And Play’s partner in Brazil, is one of the nation’s largest publishers. While Axel Springer is a dominant media conglomerate in Germany.

In all, the various Plug And Play accelerators have 150 portfolio companies globally, and several companies have gone on to raise subsequent rounds of capital.

In the U.S. Plug And Play’s strategy has been to partner with several corporations and concentrate its portfolio companies’ efforts on working with those partners around specific technologies.

For instance, the company recently launched a retail-focused program alongside a new Bitcoin accelerator. Amidi traces the partnership initiatives back to 2011, when Plug And Play began working with Volkswagen to introduce the German conglomerate to startups focused on auto-related technologies.

Other corporations embraced the idea, and Plug And Play’s partners now include an undisclosed insurance company in an insurance-focused accelerator track, and roughly 10 other auto-related corporations have inked deals with Plug And Play around its vehicle initiatives.

The new retail accelerator launched eight months ago, and will follow a similar road map, with an inner circle of “anchor” partners, and an ancillary group of relevant retailers and brands. The Plug And Play fund will invest in 20 to 30 startups in the retail accelerator, according to Plug And Play.

For a group of another 40 corporations, Plug And Play holds private startup introduction sessions on a bi-monthly basis — and for a fee. The firm said the idea was to provide an in-depth look at the early-stage companies from the 24 countries, 30 universities and in venture capital and angel investors’ portfolios. Corporations also sponsor events in addition to the work they do with accelerators.

Originally posted here: Saeed Amidi’s Global Accelerator Network Plug And Play Expands To Brazil

Mailtracker For iOS Brings Read Receipt Functionality To Apple’s Default Mail Application

Want to stalk people via email, so you’ll know the moment they read your message? Or maybe you want to know if they gave your message a good look, instead of only a glance? Mailtracker, a newly launched app for iPhone, allows you to do just that, and more.

Email stalking? Oh god, why am I telling you about this one? I’m already imagining the horror of the PR person’s well-timed, follow-up phone call thanks to this technology.

But I have to admit, it’s pretty impressive that you can now easily do this type of email tracking from your iPhone, while still using Apple’s default Mail application.

To be clear, the Mailtracker app itself is not meant to be a mail client that you would use to send and receive emails, but rather a tracking application for monitoring your email analytics. Currently, the service works with emails sent via Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo, and Outlook.com/Hotmail accounts, the company says, and it will add support for Microsoft Exchange in the future, given the obvious business implications for its software.

In addition to alerting you when an email has been read, Mailtracker offers other analytics, too, including how many times the email was viewed, how long the email was read for, the recipient’s location information, and their device details. So yes, very stalker-y.

You can also star and mute notifications and quickly take action after an email is read using Mailtracker’s ”Reply” and “Call” features.

The company, Answerbook, is the third startup from co-founders Chris Nguyen and Lee Liu, who previously built and sold an early location-based job finder acquired by onTargetjobs, and later launched TeamSave, a social commerce platform that helped publishers, including eBay, get into the daily deals market.

While there, Nguyen says they began to realize the importance of email messages and what it meant when those emails were open and read. However, it wasn’t until last summer, when he and his wife came across an ad for a San Francisco apartment on Craigslist that sounded a little fishy, that the idea for Mailtracker was born.

mailtracker

Nguyen asked Liu if he could whip up a prototype that would let them extract some basic information about the ad’s poster via email. Using this early version of what later became Mailtracker, they quickly learned that the email sender was actually based in Nigeria and read the email on a Windows PC for 31 seconds. (Yes, the apartment was too good to be true, as it turned out).

Now that prototype has morphed into the consumer-facing product Mailtracker.

Like other mail analytics providers, Mailtracker also uses tracking pixel technology - a small, transparent image that’s downloaded when an email is viewed, allowing the sender to track the image request from their own server. But what makes the app interesting is that it’s introducing this type of tracking on the iPhone.

To do so, Mailtracker requires the installation of a configuration profile on the iPhone to get started, which is what allows the app to insert the pixels before the message is sent from Apple’s Mail client.

The company is now working on a version for Android and desktop users, due out in a few months, as well as a MailTracker API that will help business customers track not just opens, but also email engagement. The API will rate recipients based on their email opens, how long messages are read, and how many times they read the message.

(TechCrunch readers can enter “techcrunchMT” in the sign-up box here to receive early beta access.)

“It’s kind of like an engagement score, or engagement as a service,” explains Nguyen. “We want to be able to be plug-and-play quick, kind of like the Twilio model,” he says of the forthcoming developer option.

For now, the consumer-facing app is free to use with two email accounts, and those who want to add more can pay for the Pro version of the service via in-app purchase (either $4.99/month or $44.99/year).

Mailtracker is a free download here on iTunes.

Welcome to MailTracker from MailTracker app on Vimeo.

Read the rest here: Mailtracker For iOS Brings Read Receipt Functionality To Apple’s Default Mail Application

Startups, Assemble! Pitch-Off Applications Are Officially Open For The TC Boston And L.A. Meetups

Hot on the heels of our thoroughly entertaining DC and NYC meetups, we’re opening up pitch-off applications for the Boston and Los Angeles meetups, going down on April 8 and April 10 respectively.

Get ‘em while they’re hot, people.

Do you imagine yourself on stage, a crowd before you, investor judges at your back, while you tell the world about your brilliant startup idea in sixty seconds or less? You do? Seriously? That’s a crazy coincidence, because we’ll be doing exactly that at our Boston and Los Angeles Meetups. Applications open today, so if you’re a startup based out of those areas and you think you have the chops to compete, get your application in quick.

The winner will receive two tickets to Disrupt NY in May, as well as a demo table at Disrupt’s Startup Alley, where investors and press-types will be scouring the show floor for the hottest new startup. Second place receives two tickets to Disrupt NY, while third place and audience choice winners receive one ticket each.

The only requirement is that you can show up, deliver a pitch in under a minute, and be awesome.

If you’d like to apply to the Boston Pitch-Off, click here.

If you’d like to apply to the Los Angeles Pitch-Off, click here.

Now for the rest of you…

If hearing startups duke it out in an ultimate, rapid-fire pitch-off competition while drinking beer and meeting cool people is your idea of a good time, we’ve got just the ticket. Which can be purchased here (Boston and Los Angeles). Seriously, get your ticket now because the super early bird pricing is about to expire.

Regular early bird pricing ($10) begins on Monday, March 31. The week of the events, if we haven’t sold out entirely, Early Bird pricing will expire altogether and tickets will be $15. In other words, move quickly.

Sponsors help make these events possible. If you’re interested in sponsoring one of the upcoming meetups, please email sponsors@techcrunch.com.

Pitch-Off Applications

Boston – April 8

Los Angeles – April 10

Tickets:

Boston – April 8

Los Angeles – April 10

Follow this link: Startups, Assemble! Pitch-Off Applications Are Officially Open For The TC Boston And L.A. Meetups

Mobile Rewards Startup Kiip Partners With Digital Agency VivaKi

Kiip continues to build its relationships with the ad world, announcing today that it has partnered with VivaKi, the digital innovation arm of Publicis Groupe.

The startup pitches its model, where brands can offer rewards at key moments in mobile games and other apps, as a new form of advertising. Kiip announced last year that Interpublic Groupe (which, like Publicis, is one of the four big ad holding companies) was a strategic investor.

Kiip says it has already worked with Publicis brands including Procter & Gamble, Mars, and Georgia Pacific. However, it sounds like the partnership creates more of a structure for VivaKi to bring Kiip rewards programs to Publicis brands and agencies. This will also provide Publicis with exclusives or early access to some Kiip features.

These kinds of partnerships aren’t new to VivaKi — it runs a ventures program that’s less focused on making cash investments and more on connecting startups to other parts of Publicis. Partnerships announced last year include SparkReel and Nativo.

See original here: Mobile Rewards Startup Kiip Partners With Digital Agency VivaKi

Unity 5 Announced With Better Lighting, Better Audio, And “Early” Support For Plugin-Free Browser Games

Even if you don’t know what Unity is, you’ve probably played a game made with it.

Unity is a game development engine that has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. Its main draw: you build a game once, and it works (natively!) on nearly every major platform (Xbox, PS3, Windows, iPhone, Android, and so on — the list at this point is nuts) without much extra work.

This morning at GDC, Unity announced the fifth major release of their engine. This comes about 16 months after the launch of Unity 4.0.

So, what does this mean for you, the gamer?

lighting 3

If you’re a gamer, just know that a fairly popular game creation tool just got a whole lot better — better lighting, better audio capabilities, greater efficiency, etc. It’s sort of like if your favorite artist suddenly gained access to a bunch of fancy new paints, or if your favorite band was brought into a bigger, better recording studio.

One of the features that might most directly affect most gamers, though, is Unity’s new found fondness for WebGL. While Unity has supported browser deployment for a while, users were required to download and install a plug-in. No one likes plug-ins. It’s really early days (the company calls it “Early Access”), so don’t expect it to be fully featured in every browser right off the bat — but as of 5.0, Unity developers should be able to start pushing Unity games directly to compatible browsers, no plug-in required.

So, what does this mean for you, the developer?

deadtrigger

I’ve broken down a list of most of Unity 5′s flagship features below. To answer the most pressing questions first: they haven’t announced a release date (or even a release window), and they haven’t locked in prices yet. With that said, Unity CEO David Helgason tells me that he “doesn’t expect there to be any surprises” with the pricing.

(For reference, the base version of Unity is currently free, including the ability to publish to iOS and Android — but if you want some of the fancier features [like publishing without a Unity splash screen, support for third-party plug-ins, and the super snazzy audio/lighting effects], it’s $1,500 per developer for a “Pro” license.)

For all the current Unity developers out there: if you ordered Unity 4 after the company promised a massive overhaul of its GUI editor, don’t panic; Helgason promises me that Unity 4.x will see one more big update, and it’ll include the new GUI system.

Here’s a video showing off most of Unity 5.0′s shiny new abilities:

  • Real-Time Global Illumination — the over-simplified version: the lighting system used by games like Battlefield 4 and Eve Online (a system called “Enlighten”) for their more advanced lighting tricks is now built into Unity. See the video above for examples.
  • Light baking previews — “light mapping” (or “baking”) lets developers pre-render lighting/shadow effects that they know won’t need to change as a game is played, which takes a mountain of unnecessary strain off your system. Doing this usually takes ages, because every little tweak required a complete rebake. Light maps can now be previewed in real-time.
  • Unity Cloud: — Remember the built-in ad solution that Unity announced around the middle of last year? That’ll launch with Unity 5.
  • The aforementioned “Early Access” to WebGL support meaning no plugins required in compatible browsers (“compatible browsers” is still TBD, though the company is working in partnership with Mozilla, so Firefox is probably a go.)
  • New audio system: Both more efficient and more powerful. Unity 5.0 has a proper audio mixing board to help developers tweak the way things sound in different in-game environments.
  • 64-bit CPU support
  • Nvidia PhysX 3.3: While Unity has used Nvidia’s physics engine for years, the version built into Unity 4.0 has been outdated for a while now. 5.0 taps PhysX 3.3, which is up to 2x as fast.

Continued here: Unity 5 Announced With Better Lighting, Better Audio, And “Early” Support For Plugin-Free Browser Games

Nurph App Turns A Twitter Handle Into A Real-Time Chat Room For Friends, Brands

Back in 2010, Nurph was a tiny boot-strapped startup working on a platform which turned Twitter into a realtime chat platform. Developed by Neil Cauldwell, the app got a little Angel cash and tinkered away. Nurph chats are very easy to create with a Twitter handle (like TechCrunch) and a place to invite friends to join and chat in real-time, instead of via slower @ replies. Just be warned though. This is not a private chat room – anything you post goes onto your main Twitter timeline, so people may not quite get the context.

Now, the guys have somehow managed to survive on Ramen Noodles all this time to finally close another Angel funding round led by Paul Ratcliff and a few others. Ratcliff founded Hatton Blue, an early CRM pioneer, and has invested in Symbios Group among others. The startup has now had a total of £200,000 invested so far.

Cauldwell says: “A lot has changed since 2010!”. They are now launching Nurph Channels. These are Twitter-based real-time chats for businesses, brands or communities. Your can record these group chats and play them back like a video, get analytics and search them.

Try these out for size. The latest to use them is Entrepreneur magazine.

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Backed By Boost VC And Tim Draper, Globevestor Helps Startups In Emerging Markets Get Funded Online

Entrepreneurs in India’s nascent but fast growing startup ecosystem are realizing that getting an early investor who appreciates their idea is increasingly becoming difficult. Sometimes it’s even tougher than finding their first paying customer.

While there are active angel networks in the country, the early money and guidance is never enough for startups attempting to get the best deals on funding and access to newer markets.

Globevestor, an equity crowdfunding site launched in February this year, aims to change that by helping investors in the U.S. connect with entrepreneurs looking to raise money in the emerging markets — very similar to how a Funderclub or an AngelList would work, except that it’s cross-border and the focus is only on the developing world.

“Our investment thesis revolves around a strong focus on India and other emerging markets – we want to work with startups that are primarily based in those countries or who are tackling problems local to those markets,” Raju P.N., co-founder of Globevestor said in an interview. The other founder is Ankur Shrivastava, an IIT engineer turned management consultant.

Globevestor is backed by Boost VC, Bill Draper and Tim Draper among several investors.

“We have begun working with a few exciting early-stage Indian startups (like ZoomFlintoBlowhorn) that are or will soon be in the process of raising money. We have mandates to help raise nearly $500,000 for 5 startups over the next 3 months through our platform and will be co-investing alongside investors like Empire Angels, Tim Draper and GSF,” added Raju.

Once accredited, investors are allowed to browse through startup pitches online that are pre-screened, and participate in focused investing rounds that generates separate funds for each startup. The investments can start with as little as $1k in pre-screened startups.

For its part, Globevestor is already seeing interest from some of the big-name Silicon Valley investors such as Tim Draper who believe the platform will have a long-term impact on the Indian startup ecosystem over next decade. More importantly, investors such as Draper say the platform will help them invest in startups based in India, something they would normally avoid given the country’s existing complex venture investing rules.

“Indian entrepreneurs have been suffering recently because global investors have discovered India’s inefficient (somewhat corrupt) government and poor incentive systems. Globevestor can offer hope in cutting through red tape and even the playing field,” Draper said in an interview.

To be sure, the idea of building an online platform that allows hassle-free, cross-border investment opportunities for startups and investors is nothing new. While OurCrowd connects entrepreneurs in Israel with potential accredited investors in the U.S., Seedrs enables a similar platform for the ecosystem across Europe.

In India, Let’sVenture is another online platform for angel investing that’s beginning to gain traction by disrupting existing angel groups through a much more transparent and convenient online platform.

India has an existing and quite active network of angel investors. For instance, in the last two years the Indian Angel Network (IAN) has invested around a million dollars a month in almost 30 companies, which makes over a deal a month. IAN Incubator’s 50 companies have either become revenue earning or raised seed funding within 6 to 9 months of incubation, according to the network.

But existing angel investors in the country still leave a huge gap to be filled for Indian startups looking for funders who have risk appetite demonstrated in the Silicon Valley.

Graham Gullans, the founder of New York-based angel group Empire Angels, says there’s huge risk appetite to find companies with business models that mirror large successes in the developed world.

“The startup landscape in India has grown precipitously in the past two years, making it attractive for capital that wants to access a large market ripe for innovation,” Gullans said.

Earlier this week, Globevestor became a member of the Angel Capital Association, making it the fifth accredited platform member after AngelList, SeedInvest, FundersCub and DreamFunded.

The opportunity is huge for facilitating cross-border early stage investments into merging markets, especially considering the international diaspora controlling nearly $2 trillion in wealth and over $600 billion in savings in the U.S. alone. According to recent reports by the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and infoDev, this could be a $30 billion opportunity by 2025.

The opportunity gets even bigger since most of the VC funds are focused on late-stage investments and a large majority of them get most of their money from limited partners in the US and other developed countries.

“We want to focus on early-stage investments and allowing small/mid-wealth accredited investors the opportunity to invest in India’s growth story (by writing checks as small as $1000),” Raju said.

There are about 9 million accredited investors in the US and only about 250,000 of them do active angel investing, according to Globevestor.

“There is, therefore, an immense potential for online venture capital and equity crowdfunding if barriers to investing are removed for those 8 million+ accredited investors (a decent number of whom are Indian diaspora) who do not currently invest in startups,” Raju added.

Despite its obvious advantages, online angel investing does come with several limitations and it cannot substitute high level of due diligence that potential investors conduct through one-on-one meetings.

“Online equity fundraising platforms should not replace direct dialogue with the founders with early stage funds, they should merely serve as a guide to finding the hottest and best companies and globevestor has achieved this for emerging markets,” Gullans said.

See the original post: Backed By Boost VC And Tim Draper, Globevestor Helps Startups In Emerging Markets Get Funded Online

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