Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s new and mysterious startup called Jelly still isn’t saying what it’s up to, but it has announced funding. According to details posted to the official company blog this morning, the team has raised a Series A from a notable lineup of investors in a round led by Spark Capital, with additional investment from SV Angel, and a group of angels that includes Square CEO Jack Dorsey;Reid Hoffman; Bono (what!), Evan Williams and Jason Goldman via Obvious; Al Gore; Emmy-winning director Greg Yaitanes; and Afghan entrepreneur Roya Mahboob.
As a part of the funding, Spark General Partner Bijan Sabet now joins Jelly’s board of directors.
The company explains that it chose the angels for their diversity of experience, something that’s important to Jelly’s team as well as to its product, whatever that may be:
“We chose angels like Al Gore, a Partner at KPCB and Chairman and Co-founder of Generation Investment Management, Greg Yaitanes, a Hollywood director, and Roya Mahboob, an entrepreneur doing amazing work for women in Afghanistan partly because they work in divergent fields. Knowledge diversity is something we prize highly and is also something that will be represented in our product.”
The post also revealed that the Jelly product is only in the early prototyping phases right now, which is one reason why the company has yet to reveal product details to the general public.
The additional funding – no amount was provided – will be used for hiring and development, as is par for the course.
Jelly has already been busy on the hiring front as of late however, having recently hired former Twitter engineering manager and Fluther co-founder Ben Finkel as Jelly’s co-founder and CTO, as well as Kevin Thau, the man responsible for Twitter’s new app, Twitter music.
Though details as to what Jelly is up to are scarce, earlier hints seem to point to some sort of “social good” intention with the service, like perhaps offering a way for users to connect to social causes and show off their contributions. Stone recently explained that “People are basically good—when provided a tool that helps them do good in the world, they prove it.”
Philanthropy and volunteering don’t have many central homes on today’s web, as TechCrunch previously noted in a discussion about Jelly’s possible plans – save for something like Causes, which works on top of Facebook’s open graph, having never taken off as a standalone service of its own. In fact, social media-based activism has been under fire for years as being a poor substitute for real-world action. Liking and sharing and posting and re-tweeting does not necessarily have the desired impact on effecting change, though it may raise awareness.
Today’s announcement from Jelly still gives no hints as to how it plans to help people “do good in the world,” only noting that the proliferation of mobile devices is a big factor in its plans. “As mobile devices have taken an increasingly central role in our lives, humanity has grown more connected than ever—herein lies massive opportunity.”
A number of startups have been trying their hand at subscription-based children’s books services, or something like a “Netflix for kids’ books,” so to speak. Today, another entry called Zoobean joins the flock, with the debut of its own handpicked catalog which parents can either subscribe to, or choose to just shop online like a standard e-commerce website.
The company was co-founded by Jordan Lloyd Bookey, Google’s head of K-12 Education Outreach, and her husband Felix Brandon Lloyd, who is a former Washington, D.C., Teacher of the Year. Like the founders of similar services in this space, including the recently launched Sproutkin and The Little Book Club, for example, Bookey and Lloyd are also parents.
“About a year ago, when our daughter was born, we were looking for a book for our son that would help him understand what it would mean to be a big brother. And in this particular case – we’re a multi-racial family – we were looking for something that might have kids that more resembled our family,” explains Lloyd.
That challenge proved harder than they thought.
The parents wanted a way to find a recommended book that matched their interests, but one they knew was also quality reading. So they built Zoobean to address this problem.
The site, at launch, has nearly 1,500 books for sale, all of which are parent-recommended, curated by a team of parents, teachers, librarians and others, and which are cataloged more extensively with topics, characters’ backgrounds, recommended ages, keyword tags and more. That way, when a parent is looking for a specific book on a topic, they can click to see all those that address that topic – like “self-esteem,” “anger and frustration,” or “growing up,” for example, as well as find books that match their own family structure and characteristics (e.g. “brother & sister,” “mother & child,” “black,” “Chinese Americans,” etc.)
The site will directly sell five featured items per month centered around a theme, and one of these will be available through an optional subscription. Subscribers pay $14.95 for the featured book of the month, a high-quality, hardcover. However, the majority of the cataloged books on Zoobean are being sold through affiliates like Amazon. Zoobean also offers a weekly reading guide for parents detailing the books in its featured collection along with activities parent and child can do together to learn more about the topic.
Though when the founders were speaking of their site’s uniqueness, their focus was on the curation aspects and the way the books were cataloged in more detail. But one of the more interesting things about this service with respect to its competitors is the diversity its selection reflects. There are books about many different ethnicities and subjects, and even harder-to-find books that cover transgender issues or bullying, for example.
“Any kid, parent or loved one who’s coming to find the right book can find one that the child can see him or herself in,” explains Bookey of the Zoobean collection.
The company has raised $500,000 in a seed round led by Kapor Capital, along with other private angels, friends and family. The plan is to raise another $250,000 on top of that.
Until today, Zoobean was in private, invite-only beta with some 200 testers. Now, it’s opening its doors to all parents or anyone else in the market for kids’ books. Users can sign up or browse the collection here.
The writing’s on the wall. Mobile is the future, and it requires different skill than the web. Entrepreneurship is more fetishized than ever, making standard hiring tough. The result is days like today where Yahoo, Twitter, Salesforce, and Box all bought startups, and Facebook and Microsoft were reported to be in talks for major acquisitions. Big is a scary thing to be right now.
The tech giant story goes something like this. You start as a visionary founder with a crazy dream. You recruit your friends to give it a shot. Suddenly there’s a breakthrough or some traction, and everyone wants to work for you. You’re small and nimble. Employees are trusted to make quick decisions, and the whole company can pivot on a dime to pursue a new opportunity.
But to beat competitors to the punch with the muscle to accomplish your dreams, you have to get bigger. Bureaucracy sets in and decisions take longer. You have too much momentum to shift directions. Allocating resources to chase a hunch gets tougher. You’re no longer the startup; you’re the giant. Despite your perks and hefty paychecks, no one wants to work for the giant. They want an adventure. The adventure you already had.
Then some punk kids come out of nowhere with the company you would have founded if you started five years later. You could try to build it now, but that’s too slow and they’re already winning. Or you could try to partner with them or someone else, but that’s messy and unreliable. You end up with a choice: They either eat your lunch or you buy their lunch. They disrupt you, or you acquire them.
So you buy them. Then you either keep their product running and reap the benefits while knowing they’re not a real danger to you anymore like Facebook did with Instagram. Or you shut down their product, fold their team in, and have them keep your core products relevant and evolving, like Box did today buying Adobe Acrobat-killer Crocodoc.
This same story has played out over and over again throughout the lifespan of Silicon Valley. But there are new factors putting even more pressure on the big guys to swallow up the little guys.
On the web, you threw everything at the wall, and anything that stuck even a little got left in the product. With plenty of screen real estate and instant rollouts of changes, you could afford to do too much. But mobile is minimalist. People want one app to nail one use case. It has to work in bite-size sessions. Bloat is painfully apparent.
You need not just mobile designers, or even mobile-first designers. You need mobile-best designers. The advent of the web happened slowly, and several generations of startups were built on it. A star product lead from a few years ago could work magic again. But mobile came on fast. Not necessarily in the advances in technology, but in adoption. Even just a year ago, mobile was thought of as an option. Now some giants like Facebook have more users on mobile than the web. You either “get” mobile, or you’re doomed. If you can’t build it, and you can’t hire it, you’re pretty much forced to buy it. Yahoo didn’t buy GoPollGo to concentrate on polling. It did it because the startup was mobile in its heart.
Blame it on the finance sector’s collapse, the seed funding explosion, Y Combinator, Instagram, and tech blogs like us. Chalk it up to an entitled generation where everyone wants to be their own boss, not a loyal soldier. Or say it’s mobile and the cloud’s fault for making it so easy to get a business to market. But whatever the cause, great tech talent is fragmenting. People are willing to gamble on the chance of having a huge impact on the world and getting rich at the same time. The people you want to hire aren’t applying and interviewing, they’re running their own companies.
Meanwhile for VCs, everyone wants to be the toast of the town by being the seed investor in a hot startup. That means anyone with a good idea, or some combination of an okay idea and a good track record/connections/academic pedigree can raise money and take a swing. And why not? Best-case scenario: You change the world, grow into one of the new power-players of Silicon Valley, and maybe sell or IPO for a boat-load of money. Worst-case scenario: You fail and lose (mostly) someone else’s money. You end up with a fundamental learning experience that will build character, maybe make you a better person, and quiet your professional wanderlust forever.
Plus now, thanks to the old giants’ scrambling to stay young, there’s a mediocre-case scenario: You sell while you’re still small, take a cushy job at a big company, work on something making a difference, and learn skills while you bide your time for your “next adventure.”
You could argue that all these acquisitions and acqui-hires are kneecapping innovation. That they’re preventing potential giants from ever hitting their stride. But few people are fighting for the abstract cause of “Innnovation” with a capital I.
Thanks to disruption insurance through acquisitions, it could be hard to truly kill Yahoo — a company many thought was marked for death years ago. Mark Zuckerberg disrupted Myspace in a blink of the Internet’s eye. But if he keeps buying talented teams and phenonema like Instagram rather than letting them mature into real threats, it could take a lot longer to displace Facebook.
Giants want to keep their dreams alive. Founders want to chase them. Acquisitions make both less likely to wake up to a nightmare.
Excerpt from: As Tech Giants Scramble For Talent, It’s Buy Or Die
YouEye, a usability testing service that uses a pool of screened candidates to help designers and developer get feedback for their sites, today announced that it has raised a $3 million funding round led by investors Bobby Yazdani, the founder and CEO of Saba Software and an investor in Dropbox, Google, Qwiki, Brian McClendon, the co-founder of Keyhole, Inc (which later became Google Earth) and Beth McClendon. A number of additional investors also participated in this round, which also includes a $400.000 raise from early 2011 led by Bobby Yazdani.
The company, which describes itself as a “UX lab in the cloud,” takes a different approach from other online usability test service. The focus for YouEye goes beyond asking users questions about a site and tracking their cursors. Instead, the service records the participants interactions with a site and tries to capture their emotions. The service is also currently alpha testing eye-tracking as another data point for its studies.
YouEye’s face recognition algorithms, the company says, can recognize over 50,000 micro-expressions and “can accurately show when a user’s facial expression aligns with several feelings, including happy, surprised, puzzled, disgusted, afraid and sad.” Companies that want to use the service can pick the exact demographics of the testers (age, gender, education level, income, etc.). Users can also annotate their videos. YouEye says some of its customers include Airbnb, Microsoft and Eventbrite. Here is a sample of what those final videos look like.
Typically, these kind of studies are pretty expensive and can take a long time to complete, but YouEye’s prices start at $39 per participant (including webcam and audio recording, as well as emotion recognition data and written answers to post-study survey questions) and most results should be available within 48 hours.
YouEye is also using today’s funding announcement to officially launch a new product: Insite. This service allows you to ask any visitor to your site to opt-in to participate in a usability study. Companies can then capture the full webcam video and audio from those visitors that opt in to these studies. For developers, adding this feature to an existing site is as easy as adding a single line of code. Users then see a little widget on the site that asks them to participate (and sites can sweeten the deal with a discount or other incentives, too.). The service is based on a freemium model.
Insite is currently only available as a limited beta, but you can get on the waitlist here.