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.
Emotions play tricks on our memories, making our recollections of events much happier or heart-wrenching than they actually were. Smartphone app Expereal seeks to cut through those cognitive traps by allowing you to rate your day on a 10-point scale and organizing that data into easy-to-read charts.
The iOS app (Android and Web-based versions are planned) is the brainchild of Brooklyn-based digital strategist Jonathan Cohen, who was inspired by psychologist Daniel Kahneham’s 2010 TED talk “The riddle of experience vs. memory.” Kahneham argues that our memories are often distorted by cognitive biases. For example, one bad day can completely spoil someone’s memory of an otherwise pleasurable two-week vacation.
When designing Expereal, Cohen decided to stick to a 10-point scale to help users keep their ratings objective.
“I could have potentially asked people to pick a word to describe their mood, but what I like about numbers is that in order to get the full breadth and benefit you also have to enter tags and give meaning to it,” says Cohen.
Expereal’s first screen allows you to rate your day (or part of the day, depending on how often you use the app). Then you can note your location and the people you are with, add tags and snap a photo. A drop-down menu takes you to a set of charts that visualize your ratings by day, week or month, and compares your numbers to all of Expereal’s users or your Facebook friends who also use the app (data is aggregated anonymously). The “Expereotype” option is an album of your in-app photos with embedded ratings, tags and locations.
Cohen says Expereal fills the gap left by journaling apps and life-tracking wearable tech products like Jawbone UP and Nike Fuelband.
“None of these services in my mind really address the fundamental question–’how is my life going and how is it trending over time?’ I thought that by having a better understanding of this over time, it would be an interesting way to look back in order to move forward,” says Cohen.
Of course, Expereal is only as useful as the data you enter into it. The app’s notifications can be set to remind you to use it 1-5 times per day. While testing the app out, I found I was more likely to enter a rating if I was having a bad day because adding tags allowed me to vent. If my day was going okay, however, it was tempting to ignore Expereal’s prompt on my iPhone.
“It’s not immediately sticky,” Cohen admits. “But for many of us who are relatively happy in our lives, I think there is value in those moments of self-reflection.” He adds that Expereal is meant to “counterbalance to the immediate promises of contemporary best-selling self-help books and programs.”
I committed to using the app five times a day for two weeks and was surprised by my data charts. A couple days I had written off in my memory as a total waste of time (because of a headache or a task left undone) were actually rated quite high, and I realized I’m much more pessimistic than I thought I was. I already use Timehop as a scrapbook and Step Journal to keep track of my daily activities, but I like Expereal’s focus on mood tracking because it’s already motivated me to stop being so negative.
Cohen tells me he is continually working on the app’s data analysis so that the aggregate numbers aren’t skewed toward any particular part of the day or people who log onto the app more consistently than other users. He declined to give me specific numbers, but says Expereal currently has several thousand users.
Aside from being a handy life-tracking tool, Expereal is also beautiful, with minimalist graphics inspired by mid-century California design, graphic designer Reid Miles and Monocle magazine. The app was bootstrapped by Cohen, who is currently looking for investors and investigating several revenue models. Cohen envisions Expereal as part of a larger ecosystem that will eventually include books, seminars and other tools that tap into people’s desires to improve their lives.
“If you look at the world of self-help, that segment of the marketplace, there are all of these amazing books by behavioral psychologists out there,” says Cohen. “If Expereal can capture a piece of that marketplace, I think the potential is huge.”
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twin Harvard graduates who famously sparred with Mark Zuckerberg over the founding of Facebook and are now working as tech investors through Winklevoss Capital, are part of the growing group of venture capitalists who have taken a keen interest in Bitcoins. Last month, it was revealed that they personally own roughly one percent of the currency, a stake worth the equivalent of some $11 million. And now, the Winklevosses tell TechCrunch they have invested in Bitcoin in another meaningful way — by leading a funding round for a startup in the space.
BitInstant, a New York City based startup that operates an online platform for buying and selling Bitcoins, has raised $1.5 million in a seed funding round led by Winklevoss Capital with the participation of other strategic investors including money services veteran David Azar. The investment was closed this past fall, but the Winklevosses are just now publicly announcing it in the lead-up to the Bitcoin Foundation’s 2013 Conference being held in Silicon Valley this weekend.
BitInstant, which has a full-time staff of 16 led by CEO Charlie Shrem, has emerged as a key player in the nascent Bitcoin market: The company already processes approximately 30 percent of the money going into and out of Bitcoin, and last month alone facilitated 30,000 transactions, the Winklevosses said in a phone call this week. The funding is meant to allow the company to further scale up its staff and product as it angles to become the go-to site for Bitcoin transfers.
The Winklevosses say they were attracted to invest in BitInstant in large part because of its leadership. CEO Shrem is the vice chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, and CIO Alex Waters previously worked with the core developers on the original Satoshi Bitcoin client. “Charlie has been in the space for a very long time, and he has an impeccable reputation among Bitcoiners. He knows everyone in the space and everyone in the space knows him,” Cameron Winklevoss said. “One of the most exciting things about people who are into Bitcoin it’s that they’re a really passionate community, and Charlie is a passionate entrepreneur. He would be in that category of someone who lives, breathes, and sleeps Bitcoin.”
Speaking of that community, the world of Bitcoiners does indeed have an interesting edge to it: There’s an underground vibe that seems like it would contrast with the more traditional East Coast prep style of the Winklevosses. In our phone call, Cameron and Tyler said that they’re intrigued by the current feel of the Bitcoin space — and its potential for becoming a bit more structured in the coming years.
“We’re definitely pretty fascinated by it. The classic issue with Bitcoin is that it’s very early days,” Tyler said. “The entrepreneurs in the space are very impressive, but it takes really two areas of expertise: One is technology, and the second is understanding money services and regulation and all those things that are important for sustainability. Most entrepreneurs and companies we see in the space have the tech down, and they’re super strong there, but in terms of being buttoned up and looking like an average bank, it’s hard to couple both of them together. We think that BitInstant and Charlie do a fantastic job of doing both.”
This marks the third big-name funding news for Bitcoin startups in just a few days. Earlier this week Adam Draper announced that half of the companies in his next Boost.vc accelerator program will be focused on bitcoin, and yesterday Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund led a $2 million investment in Bitcoin processing startup BitPay. It will be interesting to see how the Bitcoin space in general evolves as even more buttoned-up types and traditional money managers get involved.
It was a light week of Microsoft news, as Google dominated the headlines with its impressive, and long-running I/O event that saw it update and refine its host of software products. That said, Microsoft didn’t stop moving to make room for its competitor.
This week marks the start of the slow decline of the moniker ‘Blue.’ It’s been fun, but Microsoft confirmed that Windows Blue will in fact be known to the world as Windows 8.1. Also out this week was the news that Windows 8.1 will be free, and distributed through the Windows Store.
That Windows 8.1 will come at now cost is not a surprise. It would have been a relations nightmare if Microsoft had tried to sell a new set of code to folks that had purchased Windows 8 itself less than a year before; that and Microsoft wants to improve the Windows 8 experience for all its users, and this is the only way that it has a chance to do so.
Distribution through the Windows Store is neat, but again not a surprise; Microsoft wants its users to spend more time in the digital marketplace, and this is a way to bring stragglers and holders-back into the fold, at least once.
Also, eating your own oats sets good precedent for the developers that are depending on Microsoft to expand and grow the Store.
This week Microsoft released a number of upgrades to the SkyDrive product. They are incremental, welcome updates. As TNW’s Emil Protalinksi reported:
Arguably the biggest new feature is the new photos timeline view. The main idea here is to give you a way to see all your SkyDrive photos across all your albums and folders based on when they were taken. There’s also a new filmstrip view, which lets you breeze through photos in a slide show.
Last but not least, the thumbnails view has been tweaked. Microsoft has also introduced new thumbnails for PowerPoint and Word files.
SkyDrive has more than 250 million users. That number will rise as Windows 8 usage rises. Forget the television show, the storage wars are real.
The Lumia 925 will ship with a different build of Windows Phone 8. The new version will sport a few new features that Microsoft calls “small,” though they are in fact large enough to warrant notice.
FM radio support will return to the platform. Data Sense will become available on more carriers. Xbox Music has been improved to help with music selection, and metadata accuracy. However, most importantly:
[The update] will contain support for Google’s sync protocols CalDAV and CarddDAV. This means that if you use a Windows Phone handset, you can keep using your full suite of Google mail, calendar, and contact services.
If you were worried about your handset’s relationship with Google services taking a hit, well, this is good news.
This week Microsoft brought Google Talk to Outlook.com. A small change, but one that lowers barriers to switching. Outlook.com now has more than 400 million active users. Gmail is more popular than Outlook.com, but Microsoft’s rebuilt email service has been the company reverse a long decline in the product category.
Outlook.com recently received a massive influx of users from the now defunct Hotmail service. Outlook.com has thus burned its chief steroid. Now, growth on the platform will only come organically.
Top Image Credit: Robert Scoble
Continue reading here: This week at Microsoft: SkyDrive, Windows Phone, and Blue
Nokia has officially pulled back the curtain on the Lumia 928 Windows Phone 8 device, which advertises its PureView camera as its marquee feature. The new flagship phone offers an 8.7-megapixel rear-facing camera, which boasts optical image stabilization for better low-light photography and more stable pics overall.
The new phone has wireless charging and NFC, as did its predecessor, and comes with a 4.5-inch OLED display, which has a 1280 x 768 display with 334PPI, the same as the Lumia 920. Overall, the phone looks to be fairly similar to that device, with Nokia emphasizing the camera difference as its major selling point.
Other stats include the same touch-sensitive tech that can work through gloves and with long fingernails that was introduced with the 920, a 1.5GHz dual core Qualcomm processor, a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera, 1GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. It’s also sleeker than the 920, which should be a good way to convince buyers its an upgrade from the last one. The fact remains that Nokia is essentially just re-skinning an existing phone, however, so it’s not likely to upset the cart too much in terms of mobile industry composition.
Nokis is likely pushing the camera tech as the big difference here as a way to help highlight why the 928 might appeal to Android and iPhone customers, as the tactic of playing up the Windows Phone 8 angle hasn’t done much in terms of attracting customers so far. But overall this launch feels a little off-key, as the official reveal came by way of a simple press release, wedged between Nokia events for the new Asha 501 (in Delhi) which Elop attended, and one next week, which is definitely a Lumia event but about which not much else is known for sure so far.
Nokia is probably going to be rolling out a number of announcements next week, which could include tablet or phablet hardware, according to recent speculation. They’ll still have time to hype the 928, too, but it is unusual to see a pre-announcement like this ahead of a big splashy press event like the one next week. The Lumia 928 goes on sale at Verizon for just $99.99 on a two-year agreement just two days after Nokia’s event on May 16.