ASMALLWORLD launched its invite-only social network for the rich and famous in 2004. Today it’s becoming even more exclusive and pivoting away from its advertising model, as its relaunching as a subscription travel club where the elite meet to enjoy perks around the globe. With $100 a year and an invite, ASMALLWORLD (ASW) helps you make friends with its trusted 250,000-member community wherever you go.
Though it was supposed to be ready this morning, ASW tells me its site should go live this afternoon. Until then the site is password-protected, but you can get a sneak-peek below.
Have you ever been on sites designed for “meeting new people”? They’re often pretty seedy, filled with spammers, fakes, and swarms of sketchy dudes. They’re by no means premium, and not where you’d want to find a stranger to hang out with far from home. But there’s a real market for meeting not just new people, but great people. Whether for some laughs, networking or romance, paid access to a curated subset of humans and activities to share with them could work. Every concert, conference and travel method already has a VIP option for this reason. ASW could be a VIP club for the world if it keeps its standards high.
CEO Sabine Heller explains that with ASW, “You can turn up in a city where you don’t know anyone and you can have a social travel experience, a sense of belonging. You can go to Capetown and through ASMALLWORLD you’re entitled to five hotels that will do something nice for you, five tours where you get a perk, and groups of locals and travelers you can tap into. It’s not about logging onto the website, it’s that you might meet your husband through ASMALLWORLD, or get a job, or meet a whole new group of friends.”
To create a trusted community that people aspire to join, though, ASW had to give some bad actors the boot. “We did a round of thousands of membership terminations,” says Heller about expelling people from the old ASMALLWORLD club. Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods were among the people kicked to the curb as the startup seeks a more reliable image. If you’re meeting strangers off of ASW in the middle of the night in Beirut, you might not want them to have Lohan’s nasty habits.
The business model needed an overhaul, too. ASW was profitable for a while, which helped convince film producer Harvey Weinstein to buy a majority stake in the 45-person company before selling to Swiss investor Patrick Liotard-Vogt. But with membership previously capped around 1 million users, selling tiny ad campaigns to luxury brands around the world was a drag. No matter how influential the audience, advertising is still a quantity game. The startup’s new subscription model trades on the quality of its community. Travel destinations give ASW perks and free services to pass on to its members in hopes that they become regular customers.
Considering most social networks are free, what does $100 a year get you? First there’s the website with authenticated profiles to help you meet other ASMALLWORLDers. The ASW app helps you plan trips and read custom ASW travel guides. But what’s special is the membership card that gives you access to a wide array of perks including:
Those perks add up to well over the $100 subscription fee. Hell, a desk in Manhattan alone is worth much more. The idea is that by getting high-powered ASW clientele to try their services, these hotels, airlines, clubs, and what have you will develop loyal customers. It sounds good on paper, but ASW will need to show its sponsors return on investment if it hopes to make the model sustainable. Luckily between Liotard-Vogt and a small, secret funding round it recently raised, ASW doesn’t have to break even right away.
Today, ASW will begin emailing existing members of its old site ASMALLWORLD.net about the transition towards travel, and Heller tells me it will invite its “more valued members” to subscribe to the new service. A percentage of members will have the ability to invite others to join.
And that is what will decide whether ASW thrives or fails. Managing membership of any exclusive community is a dark art, requiring a careful balance of beauty, wealth, success, excitement, and interconnection. Too little of any and the whole thing breaks down. Nobody wants to be in a club of creepy old tycoons, gold-digging young moochers, or boring people willing to pay a price for friends. Creating a vibrant, coveted community will be ASMALLWORLD’s real challenge. With the right buzz and people, it could have everyone clamoring for an invite. Otherwise, it might end up a glitzy ghost town.
Foursquare has taken its fair share of flack lately, as the company rolls into its fourth year in business. Some claim the company’s userbase had stagnated; others claim that the company lacks a sustainable business model.
After denying the negative user base claims earlier today, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley went on clarify that they do have a business model in place — in fact, March was their biggest revenue month to date.
I think there are a lot of people that think we don’t know how to generate revenue, that we aren’t generating revenue. This is wrong… We’ve been building merchant tools all along. We’ve seen revenue growth every month, and March was our biggest revenue month so far.
As for how that revenue is coming in:
We’re signing six-figure deals with national merchants. We’ve already got a million merchants claiming their business page — we can just say ‘Would you like to spend $50, $100 dollars to drive X number people into your store?” These aren’t just ad impressions they’re paying for. We only count when we actually bring people into your store.
Alas, Dennis declined to comment on just how much total revenue Foursquare expects to see in 2013.
“We’re a private company, so we don’t have to disclose our master plans to you” he said, “but we’ve set ambitious goals for the year, and we’re very much on target to hit them.”
“The numbers aren’t huge yet, but they’re starting to come together.” he added. “The smartest people we talk to… they can understand what we’re doing. There’s a reason that all four of our original investors are back in.”
But what’s Foursquare’s long-term goal here? Will they eventually go public? Will they sell?
We never really comment on exit strategy. The way we think about it: we spent 4 years building an amazing company. While we’re still working out exactly what this product can do, we’re in this sweet spot where people are finally building this hardware that you wear on your wrist, that you wear on your face. [That's perfect for us.] We can continue to operate as an independent company.
Sorted, the UK startup that originally soft-launched as a reverse marketplace for local jobs akin to TaskRabbit in the U.S. (or a number of local “clones”, such as Sooqini, and TaskPandas), has relaunched today after rejigging its model.
Instead of users having to post what is essentially a classified ad for each job they want done, and then wait for a response, the new site turns the user-path on its head by having the task-doers (or “Sorters”, of which there are already 12,000 signed up) do the upfront work by creating a detailed and structured profile which forms the basis for matching the task-doers with those searching for a specific task to be carried out.
There are 9 categories of task: “Admin”, “Cleaning”, “Cooking”, “Delivery”, “DIY”, “Dog Walking”, “Driving”, “Gardening”, “Manual Labour”, and “Other”. The latter will work like the original model, enabling users to post bespoke tasks that they want carrying out, which are then seen by Sorters who have specified that they are willing to go off the beaten track, such as “dress up as a gorilla and terrify my friends”. Or presumably anything legal and safe.
The end result is a service that solves the original problem — finding local, casual labour — but with a very different user experience, and one that doesn’t have the customer re-invent the wheel every time they want to commission a task to be carried out.
“We basically realised that a reverse marketplace model won’t work in the UK,” says James Pursey. “The British public have so many trust issues and putting them in a scenario of having to be pitched by Sorters is counter intuitive. When somebody is looking for a supplier they typically ask their networks, and failing that they turn to Google, call up a supplier and see if they’re available. They don’t say ‘hey, why should I trust you’, and they definitely don’t send a message through a contact form, like creating a task, and wait for someone to get back to them.”
Instead, Pursey thinks a user interface more akin to Airbnb, which emphasises search and large profiles, will work better. “You land on a beautifully designed page with a search box in the middle asking you to detail your task. Sorted then applies your task needs as filters to its Sorter database and returns the best people for your needs.”
What you end up seeing is a detailed profile page for each result, which includes links to a Sorter’s presence on social networks, and a list of their rates and tasks. You then book and/or correspond with your chosen Sorter. And, as before, Sorted holds the payment until you confirm that the job is completed.
AppGratis, the French app promotion and discovery platform startup that was recently ejected from the App Store on the grounds that it violates Apple’s developer T&Cs, is protesting the ban by petitioning its users to send supportive emails on its behalf. The petition, spotted earlier by PocketGamer, has apparently garnered close to half a million emails so far (and 23k tweets*) — which, considering AppGratis has some 12 million users of its app to rally to its cause, doesn’t seem hugely surprising. Especially as generating ‘bursts’ of action from its users is exactly what AppGratis has made a business out of doing thus far.
The platform has apparently been selling its ability to drive titles up the App Store rankings, taking payments from developers to promote their apps — and arguably therefore ‘gaming the App Store charts’ – which is evidently why it has fallen foul of Apple’s T&Cs. Apple tweaked its developer guidelines last September, adding a clause that states: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.”
AppGratis has confirmed that Apple banned it for violating this clause. Its use of push notifications for advertising promotions/direct marketing purposes has also got it in trouble with Cupertino — specifically, Apple said it broke another App Store clause which states: “Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.”
Reading between the lines, Apple appears unhappy that AppGratis’ behaviour was distorting and undermining merit-based App Store rankings. Last week AllthingsD cited sources close to Apple who said it was troubled that AppGratis’ business model appeared to favor developers who have the financial means to pay for exposure. “The App Store is intended as a meritocracy,” a source familiar with Apple’s thinking was quoted as saying.
From the outside looking in, AppGratis’ violation of the App Store T&Cs seems pretty clear – although there is some blurring of the line between app discovery and app promotion. The main component of Apple’s actions that could be questioned here is why it took so long to clamp down on what AppGratis was doing, having previously allowed it to operate. Perhaps Cupertino was monitoring it to see how the business evolved.
We’ve contacted AppGratis with questions and requests for comment. We’ll update this story with any response. Update: See below for responses from AppGratis’ CEO. At the time of writing, Apple — also contacted for comment — has not yet responded.
Last week AppGratis CEO Simon Dawlat posted a very long-winded blog about how the ban is unfair, which you can read in full here. The gist of which appears to be that ‘Apple used to be ok with us, but now it’s banning us’. Dawlat’s explanation does not, however, make any mention of paid promotions being part of AppGratis’ business model.
Soliciting payments from developers in exchange for high App Store rankings is something AppGratis has done, according to Conor O’Connor, CEO of discount hotel app Hot.co.uk. He told TechCrunch that, after noticing his app was being beaten by “some really low quality Apps” in the App Store rankings, he contacted AppGratis in April 2012. “I started to investigate. This lead me to talk directly to Simon Dawlat, CEO of App Gratis, where I was promised the number one position in Spain for 2€ per download and a minimum spend of 45,000€,” said O’Connor.
“I was hesitant as I was unsure if all of their downloads were legitimate. I asked repeatedly if they were using automated download mechanisms which he denied. Later in the conversation he admitted they had used bots to inflate their download numbers in the early days.”
Commenting more broadly on the issue of paid app promotions and whether he thinks the app store ban for AppGratis is justified, O’Connor added: ”I don’t want to see any startup fail and 45 people lose their jobs but it shouldn’t be possible to just buy your way to the top of app store rankings. It should be the best apps win not just the better financed. I think what Apple did is overall a good thing for developer and start up ecosystems.”
Hot.co.uk told TechCrunch it was also contacted in late September 2012 by another sales person from AppGratis — “offering 15,000 downloads for 1.2€ each”.
We’ve put O’Connor’s comments to Dawlat and will update this story with any response from him or AppGratis. Update: Dawlat has sent an initial response via email, denying the company has used ”any shady and/or incentivized tactics to grow our userbase”, saying: “We have clearly stated that we have never used any shady and/or incentivized tactics to grow our userbase. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER.”
We’ll update this story with further comment from AppGratis as we get it. See: Update 2.
As you might expect, France’s digital industry minister Fleur Pellerin has spoken up in support of AppGratis, describing Apple’s actions as ”extremely brutal”, unilateral and “without explanation”, and calling on Cupertino to “behave ethically“.
Update 2: Here’s Dawlat’s response in full — which rebuts criticisms of the paid promotion model by saying the business focuses on editorial app picks to find “gems”, coupled with discounts it has negotiated with app publishers and that its sponsored app slots, sold on a cost-per-install basis, are a “market standard”:
At the core of the AppGratis App Discovery experience is a continuous stream of editorial picks.
Our team of 20+ publishers does the hard job of scouting the App Store, unveiling the gems, and featuring them along with two important things:
1. High quality editorial copy to enrich the product experience.
2. Cool discounts our team has been negotiated — such paid-to-free Apps, freemium Apps with in-app promotions, or simply a discounted paid App.
This makes for an exceptionally compelling, simple and efficient App Discovery experience that has attracted 12 million users in the world.
To make this stream of editorial picks happen, we work with thousands of app developers around the world and we feature their app for free.
Please read this post for an example of what I’m saying:
Then for advertisers, we offer sponsored slots that are being displayed within our regular stream of editorial picks.
These advertising campaigns are clearly label “Sponsored”.
They are sold on a “CPI” Cost-per-install basis, which is the market standard used by Facebook Mobile Ads and all the other big players.
We have a strict quality policy with these advertisers (we only work with advertisers that have apps relevant to our audience).
And we obviously observe restricted quota of sponsored slots, otherwise we would have never been able to attract and keep such a wide community of users.
Last but not least, everything is 100% NON-incentivized, so if an App we feature isn’t good – paid or not – it just won’t fly.
It’s important that you remember we started and have always been a consumer service since 2008.
That was years before there was an actual advertising market, and by evolving our model along the years, we have been able to build a model around high-level curation that actually helps everybody: users, indies and mobile brands, while enabling us to build a sustainable business that employs 45 people and has recently attracted $13,5M in venture capital.
Also, we have asked for the support of our community so please make sure you check out this link
Asked whether AppGratis solicits payments from developers in exchange for reaching the number one slot in a particular country’s app store, Dawlat said the number of installs required to achieve a top slot is well known to mobile media buyers but denied that AppGratis’ business is about selling positioning in an App Store. Rather, he said, the focus is on app discovery:
Mobile media buyers know exactly what # of installs they need to reach the top of any App Store in the world.
Since the App Store algorithm has been based on download velocity only for so long, advertisers know exactly what they are doing. Reaching the the top of any App Store is a simple and logical equation.
But we’re not in this business.
We’re in in the business of helping the end users discover new apps, and to serve this mission, we’re playing the long run. We’re building a community. We’ve never been in the business of gaming the top charts or anything. This is a very strong statement from us.
A strong statement it may be — but it’s also a statement that Apple evidently disagrees with.
Here’s a screengrab of AppGratis’ user petition page:
* At the time of writing, AppGratis’ first tweet about the petition (via its own Twitter account) had received just 10 retweets, at least two of which were by AppGratis employees:
Our favorite makers in the Bay area, Xetum, have just released their new line of Kendrick watches in time for racing season. The watches, designed in California and assembled in Switzerland, are fairly unique in the watch industry as Xetum is one of the few American watch brands – besides Bathys – to make it in a very competitive marketplace.
I pared down the elements on the dial to just a minimum, but made each feature bolder, from the hands, to the markings on the dial, to the numerals,” said founder Jeff Kuo. “To stay within the ‘instrument-style’ vein, I looked to automotive dashboards for inspiration. Not any one particular car or brand, but rather looking at dashboard instruments that made a strong statement, but in a subtle and nuanced way.”
Xetum traditionally sells watches with an embedded leather strap so these new Kendricks are a departure. The watches feature striped NATO nylon or solid rubber straps.
Watches are obviously an aged technology but Kuo has tried to bring the industry into the 21st century by selling his work online. He is, however, beginning to partner with retail stores, a move that would seem a little backward to some. However, given the hoity-toity nature of many watch shoppers, it’s obvious that opening a few industry doors can help Kuo spread the Xetum message.
“We have also realized that some of our customers want to see the product in person, and we have recently stepped up our efforts to selectively work with great retail partners to provide an in-store experience that is highly complementary with our online sales. Companies such as Warby Parker have done this through pop-up shops or in-store displays, and our approach has been instead to sell with a small number of like-minded retailers to offer a physical store presence,” he said.
The watches are available now and come in white, black, and light blue. The model we looked at, in blue, has a certain “faded” look to it akin to old Kodachromes and the nylon straps are much more durable than the leather models. They are, as expected, a bit on the expensive side: $995 for the NATO model. However, for the price you get an increasingly rare ETA 2824-2 inside a solid, handsome, and locally designed 40mm automatic watch.
See the original post here: SF-Based Watchmaker Xetum Releases New Racing-Themed Line, The Kendrick