Luvocracy, a recently launched, Pinterest-like social marketplace where people can buy products recommended by friends and other tastemakers, has raised $11 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Marissa Mayer, Ali Pincus, Jim Lanzone, Tony Robbins, CrunchFund*, RPM Ventures and XG Ventures. Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon is joining Luvocracy’s board.
Sharing products has become mainstream thanks to Pinterest and Facebook. But Pinterest lacks the ability to actually buy many of the products curated on the site by friends, and there is too much noise on Facebook to make it a dedicated e-commerce platform for recommendations. Enter Luvocracy, a startup co-founded by Nathan Stoll and Roger Barnett.
Stoll was an early Googler who ran and expanded Google News. The last company he co-founded, social search service Aardvark, was acquired in 2010 by Google. Barnett was the founder and CEO of Beauty.com and the CEO of Arcade Marketing, the largest perfume-sampling company in the world. He is also the chairman and CEO of Shaklee Corporation, the leading natural nutrition company in the U.S.
The premise around Luvocracy is to be the social marketplace where people can buy products recommended by those they trust. At a macro level, the startup is bringing the power of recommendations, which have driven purchase decisions for centuries, into the world of online shopping. Stoll recalls the story of his grandmother, who was a longtime Avon lady, as demonstrating the power of human recommendations. Even today, nearly 90 percent of all online and offline purchases (or 8 billion transactions) start with a word of mouth recommendation.
But there hasn’t been a streamlined way to easily share, discover and buy great products recommended by the friends you trust and tastemakers whose styles you admire.
Once you register for the site, you can check the products you are interested in (i.e. home goods, men’s style, women’s style), import your Facebook friends, and more. You can filter your shown product feeds by trending (by recommendations), the people you trust for recommendations, the latest product added, and featured products and tastemakers. When I first registered for the site, I immediately made my first Luvocracy purchase, a “Shopping Is My Cardio” sweatshirt.
Luvocracy lists a maximum you will pay for the product. To make buying a recommendation dead simple, Luvocracy created a “Buy It For Me” service. When there is something you “luv” from a trusted person, it’s as simple and easy as clicking the “Buy It For Me” button, and Luvocracy takes it from there, locating and purchasing the item and even dealing with any shipping or return issues on their behalf.
The startup will manage merchant returns for you, and offers a 30-day return policy.
Similar to Pinterest, Luvocracy also lets you easily create collections of products that you adore and want to recommend, so that others can discover and purchase from you. All recommenders receive a portion of the sales in Luvocracy (and Luvocracy makes a cut from each purchase) as well.
The challenge Luvocracy will face is to create an audience in a social commerce world that is already being dominated by Pinterest and the most recent up and comer Wanelo. But my immediate impression by Luvocracy is that it could accomplish this among the design-focused audience that e-commerce standout Fab has been able to tap into. The quality of the products posted on Luvocracy is high, and I had not seen most of the items I browsed through on other e-commerce sites (and as my purchase indicates, shopping is my cardio, especially online). Even the user experience itself of Luvocracy and the presentation of products is sleek.
If Luvocracy can maintain this quality and design-focused brand even as it grows, the site could create a loyal (and high-purchasing) user base. Based on my intial purchase, the startup already has my attention.
*TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is a General Partner of CrunchFund.
Larry Yu, the public relations executive who has headed up Facebook’s corporate communications operation for five years and helped steer the company through the publicity blitz surrounding its IPO, is leaving the social networking company. He announced his departure this morning in a post on Facebook, writing:
“Nearly five years ago, I joined some friends at a privately-held company called Facebook to help a small team scale and expand upon the company’s story. That journey was, in a word, crazy. And fun. Terrifying. And gratifying. So I’m off to do it again. I’m joining my friends Brandee, Brian and Sean to help build The Pramana Collective, a project-focused communications consultancy that works with cool companies.”
Yu is not the only tech PR big wig on the roster at the Pramana Collective, which first emerged earlier this spring. The Brandee he refers to above is of course Brandee Barker, who headed up Facebook PR from 2006 to 2010; Brian is Brian O’Shaughnessy, who previously led communications at Skype after four years at Google; and Sean is Sean Garrett, who previously headed up PR at Twitter.
Sean Garrett wrote in a post on his personal blog that Yu will be joining Pramana as a partner next month, and added a few details on the specialties he’ll be bringing to the firm:
“Brian, Brandee and I have all worked with Larry in the past, and we know that his close-to-20 years of experience is a perfect fit for The Pramana Collective and our clients. Beyond being a thoughtful guy who is universally liked and respected, Larry knows how to navigate companies through chaotic growth stages with confidence and calm. And we all admire how he makes financials, process and operations look easy, maybe even fun (well, almost).”
It’s a loss for Facebook, to be sure, but a big gain for the startup world. We’ll certainly be watching to see how Pramana shapes the conversation as it takes on clients.
Foursquare on Friday announced a new feature for its website: location filters. The feature is live now (you can check it out over at foursquare.com/explore) and Foursquare say it plans to bring it to your phone next.
There are multiple filters to choose from, including Specials, Haven’t Been, Friends, Price, Open Now, and Saved. Here’s how the feature looks in action:
Specials and Saved are self-explanatory, the former is for Foursquare to make money (by offering you deals that save you money) and the latter is for your personal use. The rest can be boiled down to: price ranges (based on how much you want to spend), check-ins (both yours and those of your friends), and hours.
Foursquare notes you can personalize these recommendations further, but you’ll need to log in to do so. The company offers some examples to woo you:
Foursquare says it will be rolling out “more options” eventually, but wouldn’t say when. Presumably the company is referring to more filters, though it appears to have the basics covered.
This reminds us of a two-step version of Facebook’s Graph Search. Instead of typing in your whole query all at once, you have to think of a basic query and then filter your results.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this approach: it’s arguably easier for users as they’re used to it. We’re wondering if filters will work the same way on mobile; we’ll keep you updated as the feature rolls out to Foursquare’s apps as well.
See also – Foursquare reportedly keen to sell advertisers check-in data for targeted ads on other platforms and After nearly 3 billion check-ins, Foursquare reveals its top places across the US for 2012
Top Image Credit: Andrew Beierle
The latest to join the cadre of startups offering tools for more private sharing outside of Facebook’s massive footprint is not, in fact, another startup, but rather another media giant: Disney. Citing its “rich heritage in storytelling,” Disney’s Interactive division, best known for games, sites, and virtual worlds like “Where’s My Water?,” “Temple Run: Brave,” “Club Penguin,” Disney.com, and more, today launched a personal, mobile memory maker simply called “Story.”
The new app, which debuts first on iPhone, takes the photos and videos saved on your device, then automatically organizes them into sharable, but by default, private albums that can also be personalized with captions, text and various themes and layouts. The albums’ content is also saved in iCloud, so it can be backed up and synced to other Apple devices.
Separating a collection of photos into albums isn’t exactly a new trick. Practically every photo-management application today, including Apple’s own Photos app, allows for some level of organization. What makes Disney’s app a bit more cutting edge is the way it automatically organizes the content for you based on the time and location of the photos and videos it finds.
Though our saved digital memories have long since included time, date and location information, only more recently have we begun to see a steady stream of newer mobile applications that use that data for grouping photos or creating shared albums with friends. Color was the big example standing out in everyone’s mind of how not to handle location-based photo albums, but others that followed, including Flock, Cluster, Tracks, Flayvr, Moment.me, Everpix, and many more, have been experimenting to varying degrees in this space.
But because of Story’s scrapbooking-esque annotation and customization features, it also shares a similarity to mobile photo-book makers like Mosaic, SimplePrints and KeepShot, for example. Unfortunately, Story stops short of actually allowing you to order a printed book at the finish of your creation. However, Scott Gerlach, Senior Director of Engineering at Disney Interactive, says that’s something that’s “definitely” being considered for the future.
“In our extensive usability testing of Story, we heard clearly from our users that they’d like to purchase high-quality printed materials for themselves and others,” he tells us, adding that the company is “absolutely looking at different options to help users share their stories.” Those options may even include other photo-based gifts, too.
These extra options would likely be added to Story as in-app purchases alongside other premium features the company has in the works, such as upgraded themes, for example. But for now, the app itself is entirely free, with no ads.
Story itself is simple to use. To further edit any of Story’s automatically created albums, you can tap a button to add more content, including photos, videos or text, or change the theme. You can also tap on any individual item to caption it, remove it, or change the size. You can also drag and drop items around to swap their positions in a way that’s reminiscent to what the Kleiner Perkins-backed startup Erly once offered years ago on the web, before it sold to Airtime in March 2012.
Once you’ve created your “story,” you can then email it to your family or friends, or choose to share it a bit more broadly by posting to Facebook. Stories can also be embedded on your own website, if you choose.
If there’s any complaint with the app, it’s that it has launched only half-done, despite having the resources of a larger corporation at its disposal. Story would make the most sense on iPad, but support for both that and Android isn’t yet available, nor is the option for printed books or other trendy features like photo filters or stickers.
That being said, from the sounds of it, Story will slowly morph into a micro social network for families and/or other close friends over time, as Gerlach hints at plans for “more social and collaborative” features in time. That speaks to things like commenting, liking or shared albums, perhaps, and could put Story up against other family-first mobile apps like Famil.io, Familiar, or Tweekaboo, for instance.
But for now, Story sits somewhere in middle of all these competitors, not quite finished on any front. If you’re leaning towards photo-book creation or private, family-focused social networking, there are other apps that still lead this space for now.
Story is available here in iTunes.
Look over to one of the upper corners of the room you’re in. What’s there? If you’re like me, probably nothing.
Three Stanford product design majors are building a speaker to take advantage of the wasted space and natural acoustics of the corners of your room.
The Tiptop speaker is a small pyramid that can stand alone or fits into a mold made for the upper corners of a room; like a Jambox, it’s wireless and Bluetooth-enabled. When mounted in a corner, the speaker takes advantage of “room gain,” using the natural acoustics of a room to make the sound richer and more appealing.
“[The shape] changes how you use the product, but it also changes how the product uses the space” co-creator Jack Brody tells me, arguing that too many speakers are “repackaged goods” rather than actually fresh ideas.
They are aiming to raise $215,000 by June 1, just two weeks before the three seniors will graduate, to start producing the speakers. On Kickstarter, they’re selling Tiptops for early bird specials of $175 (first 200) and $199 (next 300), as well as the standard price of $249.
They also have philanthropic goals, pledging to give a portion of their proceeds to a Bay Area non-profit music foundation if they surpass $400,000 on Kickstarter, and lower, lighthearted goals, offering to do a push-up for every $1 donation “so we can get ourselves in Tiptop shape.”
The three product design majors worked on a social media aggregation site last spring, which they quickly abandoned.
“We knew we could never actually bring that to market,” Brody says. “This time around was totally different.”
They were in a capstone class for the product design major, where their classmates were working on a wide range of projects—from another successfully funded project Grip Clip to recyclable backpacks to run of the mill iOS apps.
Walker says they thought about the problems they and their friends had, particularly as college students and young adults living in small spaces.
One night this past fall, the three were in Walker’s room discussing ideas and music. Thompson was surfing Kickstarter for inspiration, while Walker sat at his desk; Brody lay on the floor looking up at the ceiling, when using the corners of the room struck him. They held the speaker up to the corner to test the sound and loved it.
“Things have kept happening like that,” Walker says. “It feels like the right use of our time because it’s almost developing itself. The idea came up very organically.”
They began making prototypes in Stanford’s Product Realization Lab, changing small details like smoothing the corners of the wall mount to make up for rooms’ imperfect corners.
They had friends come into a room with their eyes closed and would play songs for them with a speaker in the middle of the room and then with the speaker up in the corner. Walker says their friends thought they were playing two different speakers, and thought the “corner speaker” was much better.
They ran a similar test on me and it was my “aha” moment of reporting when I knew they were on to something. The same song sounded a lot richer and fuller when it was up in the corner. Plus, with a desk and room as messy as mine, I can use all the help I can get in de-cluttering.
Thompson, who is currently in New Jersey playing professional soccer for Sky Blue FC, balances training, schoolwork—she’s still an enrolled student and travels back to Palm Drive for the occasional test or meeting—and developing the product. As a result, Brody and Walker handle more of the physical iterations, while Thompson does more online work.
The trio hopes to raise their lofty Kickstarter goal to pay for more prototypes before settling on a final product and shipping to Kickstarter supports and potentially new customers by the holiday season in December.
View original post here: Tiptop Speakers Launches On Kickstarter To Take Advantage Of Your Room’s Natural Acoustics