Uber has launched its mid-tier UberExec service in London today, extending the range of pricing options Uber customers have when choosing to book their next taxi journey with the company.
While it already operates its lower-cost UberX service and its more lavish UberLux service in London, it also thought giving corporate users an equivalent service in the form of UberExec would go down well with city types.
As it’s aimed at busy people on the move, each car also includes useful things like in-car phone chargers too. To access UberExec, simply open up the regular Uber app and select the Exec ride option from the bottom of the screen.
➤ Exec is arriving in London [Uber]
See the rest here: Uber brings its Exec car service to London
Catering to a smartphone-happy user base that skews young and female, the fashion site The Hunt has released its first iPhone app. The startup closed a Series A round of $5.5 in early July led by Javelin Partners, having accumulated a roster of high profile seed round investors including Ashton Kutcher and Tyra Banks.
Since its launch in January, the site has allowed users to post “hunts,” or pictures of unidentified clothing items from Tumblr, Pinterest, or the like that they want to track down. Community members then jump in to either identify the exact product or to provide suggestions for similar ones. Unlike sites that trade in inspirational photos — the Tumblrs, Pinterests, and Instagrams of the world — The Hunt’s aim is to serve those people who want to act on that inspiration.
At this point, users are joining 200,000 hunts each week, twice the number they were seeing two months ago.
With its iPhone app, The Hunt is focusing in on mobile, and will next be making their website mobile optimized. CEO Tim Weingarten said that at this point mobile accounts for 50% of traffic, with 85% of that coming from smartphones — largely iPhones — and 15% from tablets. The team noticed a significant jump in mobile usage last spring, and that percentage has been growing steadily since, a trend Weingarten chalks up to their young user base’s preference for mobile overall.
“What happens is that you see someone on the street and take a picture of their jacket,” Weingarten said. “You’re browsing Instagram or Pinterest and take a screen cap. That’s really the key experience… You add products as you’re out and about.”
So mobile makes sense. The bigger question is how The Hunt, which is essentially a log of the specific items that people want to drop money on, is planning to leverage commerce and the wealth of data it is accumulating on consumer intent.
“We know what people are looking to buy. Not what people were buying two months ago, but what people want to buy in the future. That information is very helpful for brands,” Weingarten said.
The site currently uses an affiliate model for purchasing products suggested by community members. Personalization is still minimal, meaning the site doesn’t employ a true feed that floats hunts to the top based on user relevance. According to Weingarten, that’s on the roadmap for the next six month, a good plan since it would almost certainly result in higher purchase rates; the conversion of outbound clicks to ecommerce sites to purchases now stands at 1.5-1.75%.
That said, the new app does employ a tagging system that surfaces related tags for users, which the team is also building out in the next six months.
“The personalization that we’re pursuing is challenging you to solve appropriate hunts as a stylist and also hunts that are most interesting to you as a shopper. That surfaces itself as a feed,” Weingarten said.
Based on users’ intention to buy and a significant amount of traffic driven to other sites, The Hunt has been getting a lot of inquiries from ecommerce sites. As far as brand involvement goes, those that want to get involved with The Hunt typically do so by having their social media manager solve hunts with links to their most relevant products. The Hunt has also begun to offer brands relevant data on user activity.
If the brand starts getting too overtly spammy — posting queries and then solving them with their own products — community vigilantes tend to call them out on it, Weingarten noted.
The Hunt also has the potential to make use of user-generated product photos, which many ecommerce sites are picking up on as a tactic to increase conversion rates. If hunts concluded users posting photos of themselves in the items they finally tracked down, you can see how this could encourage further purchases. While this isn’t in the startup’s immediate plans, it’s one of many roads that they could go down, and we’ll be looking to see how that pans out in the coming months.
[Image: Flickr / Joseph Brent]
Here is the original post: For On-The-Go Clothes Stalking, The Hunt Releases An iOS App
Two developers who met at Harvard University 15 years ago, are the winners of the Salesforce.com $1 million hackathon for its service to create mobile reports for sales people using the Salesforce.com platform.
The app, called Upshot, was developed by Thom Kim and Joseph Turian. The service parses data in plain english, connects via API and then presents results for the smartphone or tablet user. Users can also use Google’s voice capabiity to do queries.
The other winners were:
Kim and Turian did a demo that showed an app that allows for reports to be created with drill downs on specific information points. Queries can be done on the fly by inputting into the mobile device or by Google Voice.
The hackathon began Monday with the start of the Dreamforce event. Dozens of teams participated. The teams were judged on their innovation, the customer experience, its business value and use of the Salesforce platform.
As a disclaimer, I was one of the hackathon judges.
Everything’s a messaging app now! Potluck, the link-sharing service from the team behind the social conversation service Branch, began as a simple tool allowing users to share their interesting findings from around web with a community where the focus was not on the people doing the sharing, but rather on the content. Today, with the release of Potluck version 2.0, the app is transforming itself into a hybrid messaging and news service, where people comment around topics they want to discuss.
That’s not entirely different from Potluck’s core idea – that, according to the Internet’s 1 percent rule, only a small minority will activity participate in content creation, so Potluck wanted to become the network for the majority of the so-called “lurkers.” In its original version, a smaller number of people would post a link, and a larger number of people would then like or comment on that link. From a high-level, this experience hasn’t changed much with version 2.0. It’s still very much about link-sharing and comments from the crowd.
But what has changed is the user interface, which now feels more messaging-like. As Branch CEO and co-founder Josh Miller explains today, in the updated app, conversations are based around topics, not people. That is, he says, “instead of tapping on the names of your roommates or co-workers to start talking, you tap on topics that you’re interested in — such as ‘Banksy’s NYC residency,’ or ‘Eminem’s new album.’”
He says that the earlier version of the app had a very engaged, core community, but it wasn’t growing very fast. “Each spend an average of 7.5 minutes on the site every time they visit, and our most addicted users visit something like eight times per day,” Miller tells us.
This shift in design puts Potluck in a category where it’s trying to carve out a niche for itself that sits somewhere in between a social news site like Digg or Reddit, and a mobile messaging app like Whatsapp. But at the end of the day, the service it may have to compete with most is Twitter. On Twitter, users often do post links, and others reply to them with their short comments. In fact, Twitter recently even experimented with how to better highlight these conversations by introducing a blue line (now gray) which reversed the network’s default reverse chronological order, much to users’ dislike.
But on Potluck, there isn’t a limitation in how many characters you can type, and users’ avatars are smaller – the thing that draws you in is the story, not the person sharing it.
Perhaps Potluck better described, then, as a product that falls in the middle of the spectrum between Twitter, and a more robust blogging platform like Medium - a product, like Branch, which was backed by Twitter founders’ incubator The Obvious Corporation, before the creators decided it would take a back seat to the individual projects it had funded.
POTLUCK TAKES ON CIRCA, ADDS ORIGINAL CONTENT
The other major change in Potluck 2.0 is original content created by the team at Branch. This is, perhaps, the bigger shift in focus. Similar to a news app like Circa, the team will be sharing short summaries of news articles and other topics, designed to take no more than 20 seconds to read. In fact, it might even be a shorter blip of news than what you would find on Circa, as Potluck’s version of the news is only three slides deep.
The slides, or cards, are inspired by Tinder, Miller says, who heard from friends that the dating app was cited as their favorite in terms of the navigation. Today, the new version of Potluck lets you swipe through a stack of cards, and tapping on each one will reveal the content (the summary behind the headline), and the conversation where you can comment if you choose. Articles can also be skipped, or kept by clicking an “X” or heart icon, respectively – sort of like a “hot or not” for news.
The potential for the data gathering based on what people like, skip or click through to could hint at where Potluck could go next, with more personalized news recommendations. But that’s not something that’s a part of today’s release, to be clear.
It will be interesting to see if Potluck can find room for itself by borrowing so many of the better ideas from a range of services, from messaging and news apps, and combining those with best-of-breed design ideas.
You can grab the updated Potluck app here.
Quip, a new word processing app with an impressive pedigree (co-created by ex-Facebook CTO Bret Taylor and the father of Google Apps Engine, Kevin Gibbs), has seen hundreds of thousands of documents created, and millions of messages generated, since its launch in July of this year. Today, Quip is getting updated with new features to drive those numbers higher. It’s rolling out a new feature to import documents from other popular software and services — Microsoft Word, Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox; and it is adding more options to customise the experience with inbox filters, notification settings and “focus mode” to turn off alerts.
With the release of today’s version 1.5, Quip is also unveiling some early usage metrics: in addition to the hundreds of thousands of documents and millions of messages, Quip says that half of its users are on iPad, and 40% use it on multiple devices (it’s also available on iOS and on the web, with an Android version currently being previewed).
While importing documents from other apps is definitely a step forward for making Quip fit in better with products that people are already using, what Quip has yet to add is the ability to export back out to those same programs. “That is definitely coming,” Taylor told me in an emailed interview. “We want to make it as easy as possible to get your ideas in and out of Quip. Import was more requested, so it came first, but I expect we will enable export to formats like Word early next year.”
What that request for importing over exporting points to, however, is another interesting trend: people are moving away from using word processing programs as the de facto place to store information. “The feedback we have from our early customers is that their use of ‘documents’ has changed dramatically since the advent of smartphones,” Taylor said. “Many things that would have been ‘memos’ in a document before are now in email conversations or in internal collaboration tools like wikis or SharePoint. Most companies are replacing these tools with Quip. They are using it as a mobile collaboration tool and using their previous word processor only for older, formal documents like contracts.”
It is in this vein that adding more customizing features into Quip is an important measure of its progress: Quip’s features point to different ways that people can not just view information, but control how it gets communicated. If Quip can prove to people that it can make them more productive with its particular mix of tools, that could become the measure of its success. “Our focus is on mobile collaboration, and our focus will continue to be in that area, which is different than most competing products,” Taylor said. “Like most startups, our main challenge is gaining mainstream awareness of the product.”
Indeed, he points out that while Quip has come out of the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s trying hard to be a product that is appealing beyond it. “We have been excited that most of our initial customers, e.g., Colorado Hazard Control (an asbestos abatement company in Colorado) and Trinity Valley School (a private school in Fort Worth, Texas), are extremely mainstream organizations, well outside of the ‘echo chamber’ of Silicon Valley,” he said. “This gives us confidence that the problem we are solving — mobile collaboration — is a problem that is impacting a large number of mainstream organizations, and we are excited with the traction we have so far.”
Other developments since July have included opening Quip up to several international markets. Taylor said that the company’s international ambitions have been “going great,” with particularly strong traction in China and Italy.
Going forward, what might we expect from Quip? I noticed that the company’s blog post announcing the 1.5 version updates kicked off with a case study of Pop-Up magazine using it to plan an issue. I wondered if Quip might at some point look at ways of creating custom skins to tailor the platform to specific verticals. For example, the way that a marketing person would use Quip will be different from how a legal person uses it, and those would be different again from how a publisher or blogger might use it. Turns out that this is on the cards. “Definitely on the way next year,” he said.
TaskRabbit, the U.S. startup that runs a marketplace for people who need help with short-term work and errands, is hopping over the pond for its first international city launch. On Thursday, it will open for business in London, starting with 50 Taskers ready to take on your every need in the areas of Christmas-related errands, cleaning and handyman-type work. Further UK cities will come in the months ahead, Stacy Brown-Philpot, TaskRabbit’s COO, told me on Wednesday.
Prices for the initial errands on offer while TaskRabbit is still in beta in the UK range from between £12 to £25 per hour (40).
TaskRabbit has seen some knocks in its home market — manifested in the form of layoffs to refocus on what the company believes are opportunities in enterprise, mobile and geographic expansion. And some of its would-be competitors like Zaarly have also faced business challenges. In that sense, expanding internationally and the move to greener pastures could be a way for the company to spur growth. The London launch follows on the heels of a five-city expansion in the U.S. in August. London brings the total number of cities where TaskRabbit is active to 20.
But TaskRabbit is not entering a new market without its own hurdles. The UK, as Zadie Smith recently noted, is not exactly known for its service culture around food delivery, partly because the people who bring the food are surly, and partly because customers find the whole exchange so awkward. Taking that another step further, and going on my own experience as a longtime London transplant, I’d venture to say that perhaps many UK consumers are not naturally inclined to call on strangers to do lots of other things for them at the spur of the moment. The pictures that TaskRabbit supplied to me, in their stilted staging, only emphasize that feeling to me even more.
There are other challenges in the UK, in the form of existing players in the delivery market. Among them, the UK has TaskPandas, Sorted, Sooqini, Mila, along with at least one casualty, Milk.ly, which started as TaskRabbit clone but now has pivoted to e-commerce.
Interestingly, although there are a ton of offerings in the UK already, TaskRabbit says that London has been the most-requested city outside of the U.S. for the company. “Paris is a hot city that has the largest amount of demand after London,” Brown-Philpot says. “Toronto and Sydney after that.” (All those expansions would make a big dent in the $37.7 million the company has raised to date.) You could argue that the fact that these other startups are here working will make the market more receptive to TaskRabbit, too.
So what will set TaskRabbit apart from the rest? At its base, TaskRabbit is coming into the UK with the feeling that it is the market leader. Even if there are others, none have “our reputation,” she says, with 75% of its business coming from word-of-mouth. (And, from my own experience, using TaskRabbit in San Francisco, I have wished we had it here in London — although the service I have used it for, slightly odd purchasing and delivery requests, doesn’t fall into the three categories TaskRabbit’s launching with here in London.)
Brown-Philpot says that TaskRabbit has also done its homework, with a survey of some 2,000 consumers. The three areas where it is first concentrating (Christmas shopping/wrapping/preparing; cleaning; small repairwork) came directly from those results. The target audience, she says, are professional women who are married and have kids and just want more time in their lives.
On the supplier side, Brown-Philpot says that TaskRabbit had no problems getting people to sign up to become Taskers. She says that TaskRabbit found them through Facebook and Google advertising, and as part of getting onboarded they were vetted for fraud and other security-related areas, “and to make sure they had the skills they said they had.” There are more applications coming in, as there always have been in its home market, she says. Putting demand and cultural norms in the UK to one side, “We never have a problem with supply. There are always people looking for extra income.”
After his company, Android app marketplace 91 Wireless, was acquired by search giant Baidu for $1.9 billion in the largest deal in the history of the Chinese Internet, CEO Joe Wu says he plans on turning his attention to other up and coming startups by becoming an angel investor and mentor to other entrepreneurs. During Wu’s fireside chat at the Technode/TechCrunch event in Shanghai yesterday — his first in public since the deal was announced in July — he also talked about life at one of China’s largest Internet companies after heading a startup.
Before its acquisition, 91 Wireless was already one of the top players in China’s lucrative but highly segmented Android app industry. But Wu says he knew that competition would only become more heated thanks to the country’s rapidly growing smartphone penetration rates.
“I struggled with the idea of selling for a long time. When I talked with other companies they were shocked that I was considering the idea,” Wu said. “But I could only see the mobile Internet industry becoming even more competitive. 91 Wireless was a NetDragon subsidiary and we were doing well, but I thought we could collaborate with Baidu because of the synergy between us. $1.9 billion is not the end of our story, I hope we’ll get bigger and bigger.”
Wu says he also liked Baidu’s culture, which he says emphasizes “simplicity and reliability” in their products.
When asked about the record-breaking $1.9 billion deal, which critics considered an extravagant valuation, Wu responded, saying “we can’t say if the price was too high or too low. We just needed someone who could see how 91 Wireless is changing the Internet in China. I thought that maybe we could collaborate with Baidu or Alibaba since the giant companies control the strategic landscape.”
In 2008, when Wu joined 91 Wireless, there were only 10 people in the NetDragon subsidiary. He took over as CEO the next year. Though 91 Wireless grew rapidly, it also had its share of growing pains. At one point, a third of its employees were poached by large tech companies. Wu said that he once became so agitated while thinking about money owed to 91 Wireless’s creditors that he nearly crashed his car.
“It made me think that if I had been killed, then those people wouldn’t have caused my death. It would have been my fault. I had to start thinking about how to get away from my depression,” says Wu. “That’s the mindset. No matter what kind of business you start up, everyone is going to get grilled at some point and you have to figure out a solution. You can’t be threatened or crushed by challenges. You need to see them as tests that will fully enhance your capabilities.”
Despite 91 Wireless’s setbacks, Hu said the team had a very “easygoing” attitude. Now that he works for Baidu, Wu says he is busier than ever. “At 91 Wireless I was content as long as I saw growth every day. I wasn’t obsessed with our market share. But at Baidu we’re facing different kinds of competition from other big companies and Baidu has very high targets for its metrics and market share.”
One of the original architects of the Internet wants to remind us that privacy is a relatively new concept. “Privacy is something which has emerged out of the urban boom coming from the industrial revolution,” said Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist and a lead engineer on the Army’s early 1970′s Internet prototype, ARPANET. As a result, ‘privacy may actually be an anomaly,” he told a gathering of the Federal Trade Commission.
Looking back at history, Cerf is mostly right.
Up until the 19th century, most houses had few or no internal walls. Bathing was a public act. For most of the post-Roman era, the very concept of “solitude” was limited to clergy, who dedicated their lives to private worship. “Intercourse, birth, death, just about every aspect of the life cycle plays out with some sort of audience,” architectural historian Bernard Herman explained to me.
An expert in early American housing, Herman found that the average home was about 16×10 ft with multiple families living under one roof. Indeed, the invention of the “Bed Chamber” really doesn’t become popular among the European wealthy until around the 1600s. The few Medieval aristocrats who could afford a bed still used to sleep with house guests and servants on extra large mattresses.
In Rome, bathrooms were public; evidence suggests people chatted while relieving themselves in open multi-toilet rooms. Indeed, in Rome, even for those who could afford to build houses with internal walls, still chose to put their private lives on display. Ostentatious displays of one’s wealth to the world with an open house was a status symbol.
There may have been once exeption to this rule: excavations of ancient greek houses reveal architecture with partitioned rooms and windows that obscured views inside the home [PDF]. But, for the most part, privacy didn’t really exist in ancient cities.
Perhaps the real concern is with information privacy? Well, that’s new too. The “right to privacy” was not coined until 1890, by future Chief Justice Louis Brandeis. The right to privacy would not be recognized by the Supreme Court until the landmark 1967 case, Katz v. The United States.
In some ways, informational privacy isn’t a concern until the modern age, because few people had the technology or knowhow to write anything down. Still, privacy regulations did not catch up with literacy until the mid 19th Century. For instance, while there scattered concerns with the very first census in 1790, the results were still posted publicly so that citizens could double-check their accuracy [PDF].
“So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be interested in privacy, but I am suggesting to you that it’s an accident, in some respect, of the urban revolution,” concludes Cerf.
Now, our liberty-loving readers could argue that the invention of privacy is just a natural evolution of social advancement, like democracy or medicine. “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy,” said libertarian heroine, Ayn Rand.
Cerf’s comments have gotten pickup due to increased scrutiny of Google’s ad targeting policies and Glass project. Government’s around the world want to rein Google’s ambitious mission to organize the world’s information.
Regardless of the law, Cerf’s point was that transparency “is something we’re gonna have to live through.” It’s quite difficult to find technological solutions to privacy. Savvy data scientists are getting increasingly clever at identifying individuals from anonymous datasets. Even if an individual chooses to keep information private, its getting easier to ID someone’s tastes, gender, and sexual orientation from the public activity of their share-happy friends.
The more sustainable solution maybe to rekindle the social norms we had around tolerance. Like Cerf, I lived in a small town (in Brazil); knowing everything about everyone else isn’t the end of the world. In some ways, it’s beneficial. We often suffer alone unnecessarily.
Perhaps, there is something in our history that can help us adapt to a life that is, once again, radically transparent.[Image Credit: Flickr Joi]
Go here to read the rest: Google’s Cerf Says “Privacy May Be An Anomaly”. Historically, He’s Right.
French startup LeCab announced that it has raised $6.8 million (€5 million) in Series B funding. The company operates a black car service that is very reminiscent of Uber — but it works a bit differently and bets on premium services. It didn’t disclose who invested in this traditional equity round as there is a non-disclosure agreement.
“All I can say is that they all have a similar profile,” founder and CEO Benjamin Cardoso told me in a phone interview. “They are 40-something French entrepreneurs who created their startups around 10 years ago,” he continued.
Many usual suspects fit the bill. For example, Meetic founder Marc Simoncini, Vente-privee founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Free founder Xavier Niel or PriceMinister founder Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet could be involved.
When it comes to so-called black car services, the French market is still wide open. Most services are only available in Paris and everything is very fragmented, with traditional cabs sill leading the way. Chauffeur-privé, SnapCar, Allocab, Voitures Jaunes, Uber and LeCab are all competing for the mindshare.
As this industry is a very capital-intensive one, the money will be used to expand LeCab’s services. Contrarily to Uber, LeCab isn’t a network that connects drivers with customers — it directly operates its Peugeot 508. It hires and trains the drivers. “We consider that we don’t have any real competitors,” Cardoso said.
After saying where you want to go, LeCab provides a fixed price that doesn’t vary with the traffic. The company knows where all of its drivers are and can redirect drivers in real time. Reliability is the key element to convince professional customers.
Every car comes with an iPad. This week or next week, the company plans to release an update for its iPad solution. Users will fine a complete infotainment solution to view the car on a map, access movies, newspapers and more directly from the backseat. The idea is to provide the same kind of system that you find on a plane.
The company wants to reach 350 cars before the end of the year, and a thousand cars next year. Moreover, LeCab plans to hire senior executives now that it has more cash. “We want to attract experts in their areas in order to bring LeCab to the next growth level,” Cardoso said.
For now, thousands of people use LeCab every day and the company has 70,000 active users (customers who ordered a LeCab over the past five months). Most of them use it more than once a month.
Previously, LeCab had raised $4.1 million (€3 million). But now is a good time for it to raise. In October, the French government said that black car services will have to wait 15 minutes before taking a customer as these new services would hurt traditional cab drivers. Nothing is set in stone yet.
“I think that there is a contradiction,” Cardoso said. “The government wants to support our business. At the same time, it wants to stay friendly with those people who are close to the government.”
(Photo credit: Maxime Bonzi)
Read the original here: LeCab Raises $6.8 Million To Take Over The French Market Before Uber Does
The founder and CEO of Thai startup Singles Solution, however, has spotted a gap within the market — and is going all out to occupy that space with social dating app Avalable (pronounced as Available).
Nikki Assavathorn tells TNW that dating apps on the market now are typically focused on one-to-one interaction, where you look at a profile to decide if you want to date that person. For Avalable, however, the focus is on engagement via a Facebook-like timeline: “We emphasize on posting stuff onto a timeline… I see you going out with your friend to celebrate a birthday, and then it’s easier to engage in a conversation.”
The app has been live in Thailand for about six months, but it recently rolled out to iOS and Android platforms worldwide — with the exception of China, where the startup is still working on integration with Twitter-like microblogging platform Sina Weibo.
Assavathorn comes into the dating app scene with eight years of experience in the dating industry, after having founded a Thai matchmaking agency called MeetNLunch to help professionals find a compatible partner.
She describes dating as a “number game” — where the more profiles you see, the more possibilities you get at chancing upon someone you like. Therefore, she prides Avalable on being as open as possible, a key differentiator from Facebook which is a (somewhat) private social network.
Avalable also takes social networking a step further into dating territory by actively introducing people to one another. The app sends daily matches to users based on compatibility scores, as well as interaction with other users. Its approach is a combination of personality equations, Facebook social graphs and computer pattern recognition.
Otherwise, Assavathorn is happy for users to treat Avalable just like another social network — where people can post their activities on a timeline and chat with each other using stickers. There is even a ‘Popular’ timeline where users with the most likes on their posts will get featured.
Assavathorn has ambitious plans for Avalable — she expects to see 30-50 million active users across Asia, Europe and the US in the next three years. She tells TNW that currently in Thailand, on average 40 percent of the users already open the app 15 to 50 times a day.
However, standing out among such a saturated market is a huge challenge, and Assavathorn has a trick up her sleeve: a game. To be more specific, she is seeking to develop social games on Avalable “where users can chat and flirt with each other while playing the same game.” The first game will be submitted by the end of this year to the App Store, but will likely land only early next year.
To gain inroads into the various countries, Assavathorn is also seeking local partnerships to attract more eyeballs to Avalable.
Whether or not Avalable can actually disrupt the current dating app scene remains to be seen, but going by how messaging and networking platforms are all the rage now, Assavathorn could have a shot. However, it is pretty annoying that searching on Google for Avalable keeps showing you results for ‘available’ — so that may very well have an impact on the take-up of the app.
Headline image via Shutterstock