MessageMe — a messaging app that launched in March with a little Facebook controversy thrown in — has raised another $10 million, according to an SEC filing earlier today. The Series A round was led by Greylock Partners; and as part of it, John Lilly, the ex-CEO of Mozilla who is now a partner at Greylock, will be joining the board of LittleInc Labs, makers of MessageMe.
TechCrunch understands that others participating in this round are the same investors from LittleInc Labs’ $1.9 million seed round, including True Ventures, First Round Capital, Google Ventures, SVAngel, Resolut.vc, Andreessen Horowitz, and Social+Capital Partnership. The company’s angels also include Airbnb’s Brian Pokorny, Hiten Shah, Eric Wu and TinyCo CEO Suleman Ali.
Although the seed round was announced in March, just weeks after the launch of the app, it actually closed last year and went towards the company’s launch. This newest round will be used to help MessageMe keep up with growth in the future, as it faces up to an increasingly crowded field of competitors. They include biggies like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, both of which are popular across a number of regions; those that have built up strong followings in local markets, such as KakaoTalk in South Korea and Line in Japan; and newer contenders like the new Hangouts app from Google.
Amidst (or perhaps despite) all the competition, MessageMe continues to grow fast.
Two months ago, the app was seeing 500 notifications per second among 1 million users — despite the fact that Facebook cut MessageMe off from Social Graph access one week after it launched. The reason for that appeared to be the same as for other apps that faced the same fate: they are not allowed to use “Find Friends” features to seek out Facebook contacts on third-party apps, when those third-party apps are deemed to be competitive to/replicating core Facebook services.
Today the sent rate is apparently significantly higher, as are user numbers. We understand that the company will be sharing more specific numbers next week when it also will be announcing details for how LittleInc Labs plans to make money from its ad-free, free-to-download app.
On that front, there have already been some fairly obvious clues as to what those plans might entail: In addition to multimedia options in the app to send messages as pictures, doodles, video, voice, location and music, there are also tabs for stickers and money.
Conversely, although the two co-founders, Arjun Sethi and Justin Rosenthal, have had extensive experience with social gaming in past roles, including long periods for both at LOLapps, it’s noticeable that there is no games tab on that dashboard.
Stickers, of course, have been a very popular value-added service for other apps like Line, which makes millions each month from stickers; and other messaging apps like Path are now adopting them, too.
Money is a newer area in messaging but one that is also being chased by more than one party: Google just yesterday announced that Google Wallet would be integrated with Gmail, letting users send money as attachments. Peer-to-peer money transfers via mobile, meanwhile, have been a much-used service particularly in developing markets, where users may not have bank accounts. MessageMe could play on both of these concepts, depending on who it partners with to provide the service.
Tripshare, an iPad application for travel planning, is joining a crowded space. But its CEO knows a little something about the industry – Bob Dana was the former employee No. 1 and first CFO of Virgin America. He once wrote the business plan and feasibility study for Sir Richard Branson in 2003. And now he’s doing a travel startup.
Dana tells us the inspiration for Tripshare was based on a personal experience he had years ago. As CFO, he spent 10 hours on a plane each week flying back and forth from New York to California. In 2006, Dana was trying to convince his family to come out to California for a vacation, so he put together a proposed itinerary to help sell the idea.
“I ended up preparing this 10-page Word document that included text and photos I cut and pasted from various websites. It was intended to be persuasive in nature, and collaborative, too,” he explains. “I thought afterwards, that collaborative travel planning was something that was rather difficult to do.”
But not only was it difficult to plan, it was also hard to move from the point of inspiration and discovery to actually booking the trip. This idea later formed the basis for Tripshare, which he founded two years ago.
The app was originally built in conjunction with then co-founder and CTO Ken Goto, a former director of engineering at Apple. Goto has since moved on but his ex-Apple development team, including acting CTO Eric Kapke, now continues the work.
The app itself has actually been live in the iTunes App Store as unpublicized beta since August 2012. However, though that app was functionally similar, it drew some criticisms from early users because of its user interface. Today’s version is an overhaul and much improved.
Still, despite having done no publicity or marketing, Tripshare has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times while still a work in progress. In other words, today’s release is technically a version 2.0, but for all intents and purposes, this is the big debut.
Designed for those planning vacations or other complex trips with multiple destinations or activities, Tripshare allows you to browse, collect and share information with others before booking. Using the iPad’s big screen, you can flip through photos of destinations and lodgings, create itineraries and discover flights, hotels, restaurants, activities and more.
Today, the app allows you to explore more than 20,000 cities worldwide, plus 500,000+ lodging options, thousands of flights, and more than 200,000 tours, activities and restaurants.
After creating a sample itinerary, you can then share it to other Tripshare iPad users, or via email, Facebook, and Twitter. For those not using the iPad application, the shared trip displays in the web browser. These trips can include all the details, too – photos, descriptions, reviews and prices – so your family and/or friends won’t have to redo the work on their end before giving you their feedback. Pricing and availability also update in real time, something another new planning app, Pintrips, offers as well, but on the web.
Users can also communicate with the trip organizer within the application using an IM-like chatting function, or leave suggestions if the trip’s planner is offline.
While there are quite a few trip planning applications and services on the market (and that’s an understatement ) what makes Tripshare stand out is not the uniqueness of the idea, but the overall package. The app’s user interface is easy to use, which is critical when planning complicated trips where you’re trying to pack in a lot of activities and outings.
At first glance, Tripshare seems inspired by Khosla-backed social travel app Jetpac, which uses smart technology to index photos from social networks, allowing you to see where friends have traveled in order to find inspiration for trip-planning purposes. It has the same general layout, and it shares some common features, such as the idea of making a list of places you want to go.
But Tripshare’s photos don’t come from Facebook. They’re high-resolution images from its travel partners, including HomeAway, Fly.com, the Expedia Affiliate Network, and Viator.com. Plus, the overall vision for the application is not one of just inspiration, but converting that inspiration into an actionable itinerary by actually allowing you to book the trip, including the flights, hotels, outings and more, directly in the app.
Dana says the company plans to integrate content from more travel aggregators and services into the app in time, including things like vacation rentals from Flipkey, car rentals, restaurant reservations, cruises, safaris, and even travel insurance. By year end, the plan is to have many of these live, as well as an iPhone-optimized application. Afterwards, the goal will be to further build up the social community.
Tripshare is backed by $1.47 million in angel funding; some of that is founder money, and the other part comes mainly from the New York angels community, including David S. Rose.
The app itself is free to users, as it will earn revenue via a percentage of the bookings users make. Tripshare is live here on iTunes.
Continue reading here: Social Trip Planning App Tripshare Converts Travel Inspiration To Bookings
There’s a change at the top at Facebook….in Japan, where the company has hired former McDonalds and Boston Consulting Group marketing exec Atsushi Iwashita as its new Managing Director.
The news is reported in Markezine — via Asiajin – although Iwashita, who was most recently CEO at brand consultancy firm Interbrand Japan, is still to update his LinkedIn profile to reflect his new role. The move comes at an interesting time for social networks in the country, as the top sites are refocusing their management to capture young audiences and double-down on mobile.
Local rival Mixi replaced its founder with a new (and notably very young) CEO on Monday. Now 30-year-old Yusuke Asakura will lead the company, becoming only the second CEO in Mixi’s 9-year history.
That change to inject more youth and appeal comes in response to Mixi’s continued decline and Facebook’s growth in Japan. Last September, Facebook overtook Mixi as it hit 15 million monthly active users in the country. That was a significant moment since Japan had been one of the few remaining markets where Facebook was not the dominant network.
Asiajin speculates that the two are near neck-and-neck right now, so there’s still all to play for in the lucrative market, where Twitter is actually the most popular social service (thanks to its simple and efficient mobile experience).
Locally developed messaging app Line has shown the kinds of revenues that social services can make in the country. A whopping 80 percent of the $58 million revenue it made in Q1 2013 came via Japan, and Mixi and Facebook will be aiming to grow their user base and presence on mobile in pursuit of a piece of that pie.
You can also add private social network Path to that list too.
The company launched its Asia-inspired Path 3.0 service, featuring stickers and virtual content popular in the continent, in March having appointed a general manager for Japan/Asia last year. Path has long said that Asia is its fastest growing region, with Japan and Korea two of its key markets.
Headline image via laughingsquid / Flickr
Bloglovin, a site where readers can follow blogs about fashion and other lifestyle topics, is getting what CEO and co-founder Mattias Swenson said is its first major redesign.
Until now, Swenson said Bloglovin has been adding new features in a more incremental way. This time it’s getting a new look and new social capabilities that the Bloglovin team hopes will please both the hardcore users and more casual visitors.
Bloglovin raised a Series A from New York City-based incubator betaworks and others last summer, and at the time, Swenson emphasized the devotion of the Bloglovin community. For example, he said that the average Bloglovin user follows 37 blogs. He told me yesterday, however, that the team has become aware of a more casual audience, one that doesn’t follow any particular blog or author, but instead is looking for the latest content on topics that interest them.
To improve the experience for those users, Bloglovin has redesigned the page featuring “popular” posts on a given subject. Looking at the old and new pages, I wouldn’t say that it’s a dramatic change, but it allows Bloglovin to pack more stories onto the page without making things feel crowded — I’d say it looks more magazine-y. (It will probably remind some people of Pinterest, and while I think that description gets a little overused nowadays, Swenson doesn’t back away from the comparison.)
Each post on those redesigned pages also displays how many Bloglovin users have “liked” it. Visitors can expand that number into a full list of users. For bloggers, that can provide a much better sense of who likes their content, and for readers, it’s an opportunity to identify users with similar tastes, who they can then follow to find more interesting content: “So we’re turning our users into curators.”
Swenson also compared Bloglovin to Tumblr, where many users don’t produce original content but simply re-post photos that were taken and shared by others. That kind of sharing becomes a way to “express yourself,” he said, and “Bloglovin is going to be the ultimate platform for doing that,” in part because users aren’t limited to following publications on a specific platform (like they are on Tumblr).
“In the beginning, some of our investors were skeptics [about the redesign], but then they showed it to their wives and daughters, and they said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this tomorrow,” he said. I asked why they were skeptical, and he replied, “I think it was more in connection with Google Reader shutting down. … But they realized now is the right time to do these big changes.”
Swenson added that after Google Reader’s demise, the other RSS reading apps are going to be stuck in a “feature war” as they go after the tech-centric audience, whereas Bloglovin could eventually encompass everything and everyone else. For one thing, even though Bloglovin allows users to follow the RSS feeds of their favorite blogs, it doesn’t really market itself as an RSS reader. And the increased emphasis on “discovering the best content” should push the site further in this direction, Swenson said.
Ultimately, he predicted that Bloglovin’s audience, which has grown to 4.7 million monthly active users, will consist of 10 percent “heavy-duty users” and 90 percent visitors “who just have interests that they’re passionate about, like fashion, and they just want to know what’s popular.”
Ebay has announced a major update to its iPhone and iPad apps, featuring a re-tooled user interface, new shopping cart functionality, photo editing on the iPad, and drivers license scanning on the iPhone which it hopes will speed up the signup process for new users.
Before this update, eBay users only had access to a functional shopping cart on the Web and via its Android app — it was a confusing absence on iOS, given how essential and elementary such a feature is for customers purchasing more than one item at a time.
Moving on, the drivers license scanning feature is particularly interesting — if you’re not too protective of your privacy. It’s now available to iPhone users “in select US states.”
eBay’s new shopping cart functionality, on the iPhone
The update comes a month after eBay reported its Q1 2013 revenues. The company ended up missing analyst expectations, even as PayPal’s revenues rose 18% to $1.5 billion.
Top Image Credit: Brian Cantoni
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