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If Apple Makes A Move Into Mobile Payments, It Could Not Come At A Better Time

As Apple inches closer to its news event on September 9, there has been growing speculation that mobile payments will be a part of the action. Apple, the reports say, will add NFC technology to the iPhone 6, and it will debut a mobile wallet-style service that could include integrations with American Express, Visa and MasterCard and possibly PayPal to enable physical, in-store payments using the smartphone.

The reports of Apple finally making the mobile payments jump seem to have redoubled this year, boosted by positive payment comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook himself.

If the reports are accurate, a mobile payments service from Apple would have been a long time in the making, coming after years of speculation involving potential acquisitions; lots of patents; a steadily growing pile of consumer credit card data from its (likely over) 800 million iTunes accounts; and as a counterbalance to moves from would-be competitors.

It also could not come at a better time, considering how many other mobile payments promises have fumbled or failed, so far, to live up to the promise.

Carriers have failed to get the ball rolling fast enough. Mobile operators used to be seen as an essential lynchpin in how a mobile payments service could work. That was partly because of their position in the mobile ecosystem — holders of payment details, bank licenses, handset deals, and customer relationships. All this has combined to paint carriers as a likely source from which mobile payment services could flow. It it’s partly because telcos are always on the hunt for more services to complement their stale bread and butter of voice and text revenues. Sure, there have been some successful services in some markets, like Japan. But independent and consortium-based efforts in countries like the U.S. (such as the soon-to-rebrand Isis) and Europe (such as the many years-old Weve in the UK) have been slow to take off.

Interestingly, from what we have heard, Apple may focus on point-of-sale technology initially rather than the wider applications of mobile payments that might involve services like carrier billing. But from what we understand this is also something that Apple is continuing to focus on as well.

Startups that could have been mobile payment leaders appear to have lost their way. For a while, it looked like Square would be the standard bearer of the mobile payments space, riding into the market on the top of Apple’s iPhone. There was a lot of hope and promise around Square’s dongle-based system, a format replicated by competitors near and further afield. Initially catering to small businesses by letting them take card payments easily using smartphones and tablets, Square then started to look much more ambitious after a deal with and investment from cafe chain Starbucks, and then a number of other services subsequently developed around and beyond that basic offering. But something didn’t seem to click, it seems. Now, with a new funding round at a $6 billion valuation on the cards, it seems people are wondering if the margins on these services are just too thin, if growth has simply not come fast enough to make a decent return, and if Square’s other lines of business are going to work out longer term.

And while companies like Square and PayPal have made a lot of inroads with retailers, they are not the only ones. Apple, with its own successful chain of stores and resellers, has a lot of insight into how to build out a retail-based payments service that I suspect gives it a lot of credibility with businesses. Apple’s relationship with IBM could also potentially come into play here as well, especially in relation to integrating systems for larger retailers.

NFC has long been an object of ridicule. As Natasha once pointed out, NFC — the acryonym for near-field communication, or the technology that allows a handset to effectively be transformed into your credit card at a point of sale — actually stands for “Nobody F****** Cares.” But while the technology has long been a niche idea, it appears that we may finally be approaching some kind of critical mass: While there were only some 275 million NFC-equipped phones shipped in 2013, IHS researches predict that by 2018 that number will be 1.8 billion, representing penetration of 64%.  That kind of critical mass will see more services and acceptance come in its wake.

For a company like Apple, what’s interesting is not just the prospect of the company supporting and enabling NFC on the iPhone, but how Apple may choose to link this up with other new technology, from iBeacons for in-store alerts for shoppers, to fingerprint sensors for extra authentication, and its Passbook as a way of aggregating orders and storing receipts, linked up, of course, with Apple’s existing billing information by way of iTunes. Given that so much of this has been put in place already over the the years, the prospect is for a fully-developed product right at launch.

Like it did with the iPhone amidst a range of other existing smartphones, Apple will not the first mover in mobile payments. Just the one that brings everything together the best.

Link: If Apple Makes A Move Into Mobile Payments, It Could Not Come At A Better Time

Tables, Tablets, Data And Eating

Editor’s note: Vladimir Edelman is the chief development officer of NTN Buzztime, a bar and restaurant social entertainment and integrated marketing platform.

Restaurants as we know them have remained the same for over 200 years, and fables about amazing restaurant tech have inevitably leapt to futuristic ideas: robot waiters, food printers, talking refrigerators. Today’s reality is far more interesting and complex than those sweeping visions. A tsunami of technology, both from established industry providers such as POS and IT companies, as well as nimble startups such as olo and NoWait, are changing the way the hospitality industry functions and what consumers will grow to expect.

This new tech creates the “Dorothy Effect”: We are all at once enthralled by the “magic” we now experience on a daily basis, while also being forced to face and fight the lions and tigers and “bugs” that come with it. The role of the restaurateur now involves embracing technology while making sure customers don’t feel like they are overwhelmed or inconvenienced. It’s honestly a very tough job – but here are some insights I have gleaned from my years in the business.

Don’t Fear Big Bad Data

Small and medium businesses are increasingly relying on data to better understand their customers. Innovation in data analytics and business intelligence enable businesses to collect more information than ever before about their customers’ preferences and values. But the trick is not in the collecting data – it’s in how you use it.

Take Pizza Hut, for example. In 2013, the international franchise enjoyed a 12x return on ROI thanks to its partnership with customer analytics company Capillary Technologies. Capillary helped capture, structure and leverage large quantities of customer data, but more importantly, they helped Pizza Hut take its massive customer base and segment it based on expressed characteristics, purchase tendencies and behavioral indicators to better engage each consumer.

By implementing data analytics into their everyday marketing endeavors, Pizza Hut has created 6,000+ customer behavioral groups, empowering the brand to predict future purchases and execute campaigns at preferred times via customers’ preferred engagement channels (direct mail, email, text message and more). Investing in such analysis has shown widespread sales growth across its restaurants and delivery business. Pizza Hut has seen a 38 percent improvement in its customer retention rate.

Customers respond well when their favorite eateries take the time to understand their likes and dislikes. And if you’re not in a position to work with an analytics firm or technology provider that includes data analysis as part of their product, there are alternatives. Whether investing in tabletop tablets, ordering kiosks, mobile apps for food ordering, reservations, or waitlist management, or any of the other myriad solutions – always ask vendors to supply the data generated by customers.

There are plenty of online tools you can feed that data into, such MixPanel or Google Analytics, as these tools provide similar insight into your guests’ dining habits and desires. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, it’s time to start exploring your options and turn thoughts of “big bad data” into “big beautiful data” that can help boost your sales.

Stop wishing for a brain – buy one instead

Americans spend thousands of dollars a year eating out: Restaurants account for one of the largest parts of discretionary spending, with sales expected to hit a record $683.4 billion in 2014. It is a fiercely competitive industry, and yet restaurant owners and managers have been remarkably slow to adopt new forms of technology that could make their business more efficient and attuned to the desires of diners. They spend a lot of time fighting trends instead of exploiting them.

Take mobile devices, for example. Every day there is a new story about how people use phones or tablets at restaurants – whether to play games, text with friends or document a meal. Many restaurants bemoan the days of the somber, quiet meal, wringing their hands about how to engage these consumers, or at very least how to get their patrons to put their devices down.

These devices aren’t going away – not if Apple or Google have anything to say about it, anyways. Since your customers are already tapping away on their smartphones, tablets and computers, why not make these technologies an integral part of each patron’s dining experience, and learn a thing or two?

Major food chains have already recognized this potential, with tablets that allow customers to order food, customize their entertainment, and even pay the bill. By implementing this technology, restaurants can use this established behavior in their interactive environment, complete with brand messaging.

For example, Buffalo Wild Wings is bringing Buzztime’s BEOND tablet-based entertainment platform to all of their North America restaurant locations by the end of 2015. The BEOND tablets let Buffalo Wild Wings Guests order food, request songs and television programming, play games (both multi-player and arcade-style), and, pay the bill. Initial research has shown customers arestaying 75 minutes, compared to the industry average of 50 minutes, and they’re returning at least twice a month compared to other restaurants where guests may visit once a month or less.

Other national chains that have embraced tabletop tech have seen similar success. In the past year, Chili’s Grill and Bar installed 7-inch Android Ziosk tablets at all of their locations; the devices,allow patrons to interactively peruse menu items, order beverages and desserts, play games together, share real-time feedback with the brand, and pay the check at the table. In a six-month trial period, Chili’s saw an increase in per-person spend per check, translating to higher income for both the restaurant and wait staff. Servers also reported seeing more tips, as the system increases the spending on their shift.

These results show that tabletop technology can be beneficial to servers, not a replacement for them. Additionally, these types of tablets can make it very easy for people to join loyalty clubs: “We saw improvements in guest satisfaction and engagement from many different touch points within the restaurant, including Chili’s guest feedback surveys and Email Club,” said Wyman Roberts, CEO and president of Brinker International and president of Chili’s Grill & Bar.

Applebee’s has also rolled out 100,000+ E la Carte Presto tablets in its U.S. restaurants, with emphasis on ease of payments. Customers can use the tablets to view menu items, browse and add items to a cart, (a la online shopping), play some games, and pay the bill. Applebee’s has seen similar positive results, as TechCrunch reported in 2013: “(In) a two-year pilot program where Applebee’s tested the tablets across 30 restaurants around the U.S. During these trials, the company found that having tablets available tableside allowed them to reduce the overall table turn time and transaction time for their guests, and guests who were surveyed about the tablets reported a better overall experience.”

While tabletop tablets are the latest innovation, the customer’s own phone remains an incredibly powerful tool. Countless companies can help restaurants harness social activity, monitor online reviews, create lightweight loyalty programs, help customers check out, and even create in-store games (through augmented reality) to make sure that the restaurant becomes part of their mobile experience – and not just a place to fire up a phone and read some blogs.

Technology can make customers and staff feel warm and fuzzy…

Restaurants have been reluctant to jump on the tech-driven dining experience for a number of reasons. Maybe tablet tech isn’t suitable for a fine dining atmosphere, or the futuristic feel clashes with a retro-themed aesthetic. However, the opportunities to implement technology extend beyond consumer-facing, front-of-house operations. They can also streamline food buying, order taking, and even cooking.

“Many brands and operators are thinking even further outside the box, adding innovative technologies in the kitchen and at the front counter,” QSR’s Keith Loria explained in his article ‘Beyond the Tablet. Panera, having invested in kitchen technology with color-coded screens that deliver orders to the kitchen staff, is one example of such outside the box thinking: A red stripe over an ingredient means leave it off, a green stripe indicates an addition. Other colors signify takeout.

Similarly, in an attempt to keep its kitchen staff from having to memorize recipes and food preparation policies, Tex-Mex style fast food chain Taco Bueno added tablets managed by mobile device management company AirWatch to push recipes to its line cooks.

Put simply, if your staff is happy, customers will (usually) be happy too. Kitchen technology like Panera’s and Taco Bueno’s can help cut down on stress and provide happy meals all around. Companies worried about technology pushing humans out of jobs and making employees more stressed out should instead educate their staff about how it is making their jobs easier, letting them focus on being the heart of the dining experience  – not just a set of arms and legs rushing from table to table.

It’s not just a dream, Dorothy. This is real.

As the New York Times’ Stephanie Strom put it, “Restaurants have been late to the tech party, and many are now scrambling to incorporate tablets, apps, computerized kitchen equipment and data analysis capabilities.” When proper strategy and implementation applied, technology solves problems that are fundamental to how restaurants operate and compete. And late is a lot better than never. A whopping 51 percent of restaurant operators said they will devote more resources to technology this year alone. As this trend continues to gain momentum, technology will become increasingly critical for any restaurant’s success.

At the rate we’re going, tables and tablets will soon share more than a common etymology – both derived from the Latin “tabula,” meaning plank, tablet, list. One will be incomplete without the other, with technology inextricably linked and indispensable to the casual-dining experience. It may be only a matter of time before your tablet is your table (check out this video of Pizza Hut again pioneering the modern dining experience).

While this may seem like a dream scene from a movie, this type of tech is very real and holds great potential for both businesses and customers in streamlining the dining experience and making it more fun. Now is the time for bar and restaurant owners and managers to research and try new technologies, and make the most of the vast trove of data that falls into their laps every day.

IMAGE BY Shutterstock USER Pavel L Photo and Video (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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Amazon Promotes Its Student Program With 50 College Scholarships

Amazon announced this morning that it will be offering 50 full-time, undergraduate students with a college scholarship that includes $5,000 toward their tuition as well as an additional $500 to spend on textbooks at Amazon. The scholarships, which will be merit-based, will be distributed in time for fall semester 2015.

According to Ripley MacDonald, Director of Student Programs at Amazon, the scholarship is designed to “reward students who demonstrate extraordinary ability in leadership and innovative thinking.”

Students who apply will be judged on their GPA, community involvement, leadership experience, and will need to complete an essay in order to advance to the final round – pretty standard college scholarship stuff. Winners will be notified by April 2015, with the scholarship awarded in July 2015.

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The announcement is not a purely philanthropic endeavor on Amazon’s part. It’s choosing a selection of the brightest, most engaged and active students in the U.S., and helping them become Amazon brand ambassadors of sorts.

The scholarship’s larger goal is to spread the news and increase sign-ups for Amazon Student, the company’s program designed for college students which is something of a discounted version of Amazon Prime. The program is half the price ($49/year), while still offering free two-day shipping and other Prime benefits like Prime Instant Video, Prime Music, access to the Kindle Lending Library, along with other promotions aimed at students.

In order to qualify for the scholarship, potential candidates have to be Amazon Student members. That’s how they getcha, so to speak.

Students, who must also be enrolled in a two- or four-year school in the U.S., can apply now through November 20.

IMAGE BY Flickr USER S. Carter UNDER CC by-SA 2.0 LICENSE (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

Read more here: Amazon Promotes Its Student Program With 50 College Scholarships

Cotap, A WhatsApp For The Workplace, Adds Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive And Desktop App

Cotap, a startup founded by former Yammer executives Jim Patterson and Zack Parker that launched last year with the premise of becoming a “WhatsApp for the workplace“, is today unveiling a new build of its product, and a wider remit. Cotap is going beyond mobile messaging and moving into file sharing, with integrations with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive; adding web and desktop apps (native to Mac first) to use Cotap when you are not on a smartphone or tablet; and releasing updated mobile apps for iOS and Android.

The moves come as the company passes 10,000 business customers — although it is not specifying what that translates into in terms of individual, active users just yet, says Patterson, who is Cotap’s CEO. The aim is to hit one million users, which has yet to happen.

As a bit of background on Cotap, current customers typically range from between 50 and 100 employees and include businesses like Philz Coffee and the Hyatt chain of hotels. 

And, as we’ve noted before, what’s interesting about Cotap — beyond the Yammer pedigree and backers (which includes the likes of Charles River Ventures, which also backed Yammer before it sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion) — is that it is trying to go beyond the typical enterprise IT product and messaging app by targeting more than just the white-collar segement of office workers and their employers as clients.

In other words, for a client like a cafe or a hotel, users include not just those in the back office, but those working at the front line of the retail experience. “Think of Cotap on a smartphone as replacing and improving on how a large business might have used a walkie-talkie,” Patterson explains.

The Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive integrations that are being announced today are a part of that bigger concept, Patterson tells me, with the idea here being that you can send flyers to staff with information, pictures of lost property, or other communications — as well as the latest marketing strategy.

The integrations are also notable because they are all built on top of Box’s Box View, a standalone service that Box launched earlier this year that lets users upload, convert and view content. After a user has connected up the service in question, sending a file, Patterson tells me, is as easy as sending a photo in a messaging app.

Effectively, what it means is that Cotap sits as the mediation point between the four storage services — imporatant since in many businesses you often end up with a mixture of services between official company accounts and those you have created for your own documents when you are working on a nonwork device. Recently modified files show up first in the service.

Meanwhile, the web and desktop apps are perhaps a tip of the hat to those who are more bound to be sitting in a chair with wheels, Patterson tells me.

“Cotap launched initially with iOS and Android but being mobile first doesn’t mean mobile only,” he explains. “A lot of our usage was driven by people using iMessage before, and they would like to continue to go seamlessly between what they are doing at their desk and what they do on mobile.”

Synchronised notifications between the two will mean that notes that are read on one platform will be marked on the other, and discussions or projects initiated on one can be carried on elsewhere.

ios-screen2-fullThe mobile app updates there for better parity with the desktop app functionality, with users now also able to set up favorites, and groups.

When Cotap first launched last year, I was curious about how it would differentiate from Yammer — another enterprise app and product that taps into the idea of consumerization and social media. The answer I got was that Cotap was “almost the opposite” of Yammer.

While Cotap continues to expand what it is trying to be to its users, Patterson maintains that this is something that has remained constant.

“The difference between us and Yammer is like the difference between Whatsapp and Facebook,” he says. “Yammer is not targeted to anyone specifically while this is very specifically about who you choose to target.”

Similarly, he is less concerned with what a new, buzzy service like Slack might pose as a competitive threat.

“I look at Slack as an internal email replacement,” he says. “It’s topic-based chatrooms that are more similar to IRC or Hipchat.” Which is how Slack’s Stewart Butterfield has also described it. “If you are a small company are are still using email internally, something is wrong. You should change over to something like Slack if you are communicating at  your desk. Especially if you are a dev shop, it’s great for development teams. They are integrated with Github and the other tools that they use.

“But Cotap is about targeting the wider array of businesses. It’s grocery stores and consulting firms. It’s not inside baseball.”

The new apps are available today in the Mac App Store, the iTunes Store and Google Play, with the web app soon to come.

View post: Cotap, A WhatsApp For The Workplace, Adds Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive And Desktop App

Honest Co., Jessica Alba’s E-Commerce Startup, Has Raised A $70M Series C

Honest Co., an e-commerce startup co-founded by actress Jessica Alba that makes and sells eco-friendly personal care products, has raised $70 million in a series C funding round, the company announced yesterday.

The new round was led by funds affiliated with private investment management firm Wellington Management Company with the participation of existing investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Institutional Venture Partners, General Catalyst Partners and ICONIQ Capital.

This brings the total amount invested in Honest Co., which was founded in 2011, to $122 million. The company’s current valuation is reportedly $1 billion, and Honest’s executives have said in press interviews this week that an IPO could be in the future. Co-founder and CEO Brian Lee told the Wall Street Journal that Honest is on track to bring in $150 million in revenue this year (Alba serves as Honest’s president.)

Honest is best known for its flagship line of baby products including baby wipes and diapers, but the company has also expanded to offer items for a wider range of ages, from children to adults.

Alba and Lee stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco a couple of years ago in 2012 to discuss their inspiration for starting the company and the lessons they’d learned in building it thus far. You can watch that in the video below.

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Is Burning Man Just Work?

It’s that time of year again. Summer is over for most people and has just begun for San Francisco. And this week, the city becomes emptier than a VC parking lot at 5 p.m. as many of SF’s denizens head to Burning Man, a festival that celebrates human expression — importing over 70,000 people to Black Rock City, Nevada, to party.

And because many of these “burners” work in the tech industry, notably Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Drew Houston, the festival has a hoard of tech press attending this year.

Nick Bilton, from his relevant new post at New York Times Fashion & Style, has already written about how the tech nouveau riche are using the conference as some sort of Versailles. He referred in that article to a $25K per head posh camp that boasts a suspect 2:1 servant-to-camp member ratio.

Because the attendee line-up is better than your average tech conference, Re/code is sending someone to cover it, VentureBeat is sending someone to cover it, Valleywag is sending someone to cover it, and we, in addition to the die-hard TC burners who attend of their own volition, are also sending someone to cover it.

One of our writers is in a camp with three other tech bloggers. “Great. You all can write about each other,” I said when she mentioned it.

Gore Vidal (or perhaps Leonard Cohen?) once said that you need to try drugs to be able to write convincingly about them, so I was a burner a couple of years ago just so I could one day express a well-informed opinion on the subject — and have fun. I didn’t see any of the crap that Bilton wrote about even though I had a relatively fancy, at least upper-middle class, experience.

As ridiculous as it seems, there is a rationale behind the pile on of investors, founders and executives that use the festival as a networking opportunity: Yes, you can win “deals” at Burning Man. Yes, it’s easier to ace a job interview when you’ve glowed and tripped and watched a burning effigy of Wall Street with the hiring manager. After all, Eric Schmidt got his Google job because he could hang.

Don’t hate the Playa, hate the game.

Think about it this way, startup people: Have you taken something that was supposed to be a spiritual experience, an opportunity to commune with nature and your fellow man, and turned it into work?

I’m not talking about legitimate work like the thousands of hours spent building art cars or icebergs or cheese sandwich restaurants in the desert, or the months of coordination and planning it takes to set up a well-functioning camp, I’m talking about work like positioning yourself in front of your bosses and/or deal flow and trying to build sources. Networking is networking, whether you’re exchanging business cards or Ecstasy.

So ask yourself as you push your bedazzled bike across the white sands of Nevada: Am I here to party or am I here because I think it’ll benefit my career? Could I justifiably expense this? If your answer to the latter is yes, consider not going. Go to Hawaii instead.

The rest is here: Is Burning Man Just Work?

DraftKings Raises Another $41M And Acquires Daily Fantasy Sports Competitor StarStreet

Fantasy sports startup DraftKings has raised another $41 million in funding led by The Raine Group. The company is also announcing that it’s acquired competitor StarStreet to capture an even larger portion of the daily fantasy sports market.

In addition to The Raine Group, existing investors Redpoint Ventures, GGV Capital, and Atlas Venture all joined in on the Series C round of funding. That raise comes less than a year after the company raised $25 million last November. In all, the company has brought in nearly $75 million in outside financing.

All that money was raised in part because DraftKings has grown rapidly since being founded just two years ago, riding the wave of interest in fantasy sports competition. The company differentiates itself from most of the major fantasy sports leagues out there, however, by operating a series of daily contests that its users can log in and join.

Making its contests daily — or in the case of football, weekly — as opposed to operating season-long leagues means that DraftKings users are less likely to lose interest over the course of the year.

Every day there’s a new series of contests to participate in and try your hand at beating the competition. And, of course, if your roster isn’t very good one day, you can always change it the next — as opposed to being stuck with a bunch of underperforming bums all season.

That’s a model that consumers seem to love, based on the growth of its user base and the size of the prizes that it is now giving away. According to co-founder and CEO Jason Robins, DraftKings expects to pay out about $200 million in prizes this year. It will have four monthly prizes of $1 million each during this year’s NFL season. Compare that to the $100,000 grand prize that it promised during its first NFL season two years ago.

Preparing for the NFL season is one reason DraftKings decided to take the most recent investment from The Raine Group, Robins told me. The company hadn’t been shopping around for new funding so soon after its most recent round of funding, but the firm was interested in making an investment in and offered decent terms, Robins told me.

“It’s a very seasonal business when it comes to customer acquisition, and the NFL season is the best time to acquire them,” Robins said.

According to him, DraftKings hope to leverage The Raine Group’s connections in the media, entertainment, and gaming worlds to help grow its business. It will use the funding to accelerate customer acquisition through a number of different media channels, including TV, radio, digital, and mobile ahead of the NFL season.

DraftStreet will also use the funding to invest in product development, especially as it seeks to improve its mobile products. Until about a year ago, the vast majority of the business was on the company’s website. But increasingly it’s hiring to go after the mobile opportunity, since mobile is where most fantasy sports seem to be going.

Of course, DraftKings isn’t the only daily fantasy sports site out there, but it’s by far the largest — and it keeps getting larger thanks to a couple of acquisitions the company has made. About a month ago, it acquired DraftStreet and today it’s announced the purchase of StarStreet.

In both cases, the acquisitions were about acquiring new users, as it has shut down those sites and moved users over to its own platform. In the case of DraftStreet, DraftKings kept a good part of the team and the company’s office in New York City. But for StarStreet, DraftKings will be acquiring the company’s assets only, as its founders move on to work on different projects.

Read more: DraftKings Raises Another $41M And Acquires Daily Fantasy Sports Competitor StarStreet

The 10 best startups from Y Combinator’s summer 2014 mega-demo day

Something happens to you when you sit through 75 Y Combinator startups all vying for press coverage and investment dollars. Well, besides the fact that you body goes numb from sitting in a plastic chair for nearly seven hours, you see the patterns of a pitch: intro, product explanation, financials, team experience and a call to talk while they wander the event floor.

But while the patterns are similar, this latest batch included companies that were vastly different. From valet services for commuters to nuclear fusion. From a fellowship for data scientists to a projector for furniture showrooms. The Summer 2014 Y Combinator was long, sometimes confusing, but a good barometer on where technology is headed.

Here are the startups that we think are not just the best of the day, but potentially could be larger than what was presented on stage.

Vizera

Retail showrooms take up a lot of space. Especially furniture showrooms. Many retailers end up with multiple versions of the same couch each with a different fabric. Vizera wants to change that with its projector technology.

The company proposes that there be just one couch with swappable fabric images beamed on to it. The results are impressive to look at, but it lacks the tactile feel of different fabric types. Still, if all you’re worried about is the look of the pattern, it’s cool way to see multiple versions of your next couch.

Backpack

“Is this even legal?” was my first thought about Backpack. The service connects a traveler with customers in their destination country who want to purchase products that are cheaper overseas.

For example, in the United States, a laptop might be cheaper than it is in New Zealand. Via the peer-to-peer service, I post that I’m going to New Zealand and someone in that country might ask me to buy that laptop for them. I then fly to New Zealand, give them the laptop and collect a proceed of the sales, while they get a cheaper laptop.

Basically, you’re a mule. Now you might be breaking some tax or commerce laws, but hey, if it offsets some of your airline ticket, it can’t be all bad right? Right?

Bayes Impact

Here’s something you don’t hear a lot about in the Bay Area. People leaving high paying jobs to spend one year working on project that can bring about social good. But it’s happening at the Bayes Impact.

Screenshot 2014 08 20 13.40.36 730x307 The 10 best startups from Y Combinators summer 2014 mega demo day

The non-profit takes 8-10 data scientists a year and throws them at 10 to 15 problems that will benefit society. For example, the same sort of data research that makes it possible for your Uber to arrive in a few minutes could be used to do the same thing with ambulances.

The team isn’t exactly hurting for scientists up for the tasks, the say they have already received 250 applications for the next round of eight spots.

Helion Energy

0819 FusionEngine V8 01 big 220x311 The 10 best startups from Y Combinators summer 2014 mega demo dayNuclear fusion is cheap, clean power. It’s what powers the sun. Too bad no one has been able to make it work. But startup Helion Energy says it can have fusion ready to go in three years using magnets.

Is there anything magnets can’t do? It’s not only intriguing, but if they pull it off, the company could change the world. But, fusion is tricky and it’s going to take more than a slick presentation and fancy charts to make it happen.

We wish Helion Energy the best of luck in its endeavor and will check back with them in three years.

UPower

Let’s keep the nuclear theme going shall we? UPower creates shipping container-sized nuclear reactors that can be transported to and installed in remote locations.

The “kit” comes with two shipping containers. One has the tiny reactor that’s powered by thorium and buried in the ground. The other sits above ground and contains all the necessary instruments to needed to transform that power into electricity.

Now the UPower team assured me that the even if the reactor was breached, it would not create a radiation leak that would decimate a country side. In fact, you could safely venture near the reactor the next day because instead of spewing out, if breached it would stop the reaction and actually create a vacuum.

It sounds cool and potentially safe. Plus, it lasts for 10 years.

Naytev

Like it our not, social media is a giant bucket of traffic just waiting to be poured on your site. But figuring out exactly which headline or image combination resonates best with your Facebook or Twitter followers is tough.

Naytev claims it can cut through the guessing with real world A/B testing of social media posts. Sites using the service get real-time analytics from their posts and can adjust their social media strategy accordingly.

Fixed

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Parking tickets suck. Fixed fixes those tickets by contesting them for you. All you need to do is take a photo of the ticket and Fixed does the rest. If they win, you pay 25 percent of the original ticket’s fine.

The company is looking beyond parking mishaps, however. It’s planning on a future where it disputes everything from speeding tickets to cable company overcharges. In other words, it’s aiming to be everyone’s favorite app.

Shift

There were a lot of Bitcoin pitches at the YC demo day. Hell, there was even an ATM that I didn’t use because I currently have like four Bitcoin wallets with potentially money in them. That’s the problem of Bitcoin. It’s still too confusing and weird and where do you spend these things… and what’s a Satoshi again?

Shift takes some of the confusion out of the crypto-currency by tying it to a debit card that you can use anywhere you use your regular debit card at. You can finally use Bitcoin to buy anything anywhere. Plus, the company is planning on using the debit card to let you cash out your airline mileage rewards and other types of digital currency.

Local Lift

It’s Kickstarter for local businesses. Before you roll your eyes so hard they get lodged in the back of your head, Local Lift provides a valuable service for businesses that might not be able to get a loan from the bank.

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Like Kickstarter, backers get rewards for their support. But instead of backing some random person on the Internet with a 3D printer and a dream, Local Lift campaigns are put on by a local business hoping to expand with access to customers that not only want to see a local business excel, they want to be part of that success.

Product Hunt

We’ve written about Product Hunt here, here, here, here, and here. Yeah, we’re fans of the service. Today they talked about expanding beyond tech to games and other subjects. That sounds cool.

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Evermind allows you to keep tabs on a vulnerable relative from afar

Launched last week by Nashville entrepreneur Dave Gilbert, Evermind is a smart system that allows you to monitor a vulnerable relative

The idea here is that by using the device, you’ll be able to take a step back from constantly going round to a relative’s house, which can cause a lot of worry.

It’s very easy to get to grips with, simply requiring you to plug each sensor into your relative’s AC outlet and then appliances they use regularly into that.

What will happen then is that when they turn that device on, you’ll be sent a text message straight to your mobile phone, keeping you in the loop.

Prices for the Evermind system start at $199 respectively, with its monitoring system at $29 per month.

 Evermind [Via Gizmag]

HTC One with Windows Phone is only a Verizon launch exclusive, coming to more carriers ‘later this year’

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Talking On Tablets On The Rise In Asia

The phone-sized tablet — aka the phablet — was born in Asia, so it’s fitting that the region is now apparently driving a trend for talking on even larger slabs of glass and plastic. Aka: ‘I’m on the pad phone.’

Analyst IDC says tablets with a screen of 7 inches or larger are increasingly shipping with cellular voice capabilities — and getting increasing traction the Asia/Pacific region, excluding Japan (APeJ), pushing past the 25 per cent mark in the second quarter of this year, up from around 15 per cent in Q1.

According to its Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker report, some 13.8 million tablets were shipped in the APeJ region in Q2 2014, of which around 3.5 million units had voice calling over cellular networks as an option built-in to the device.

So, to be clear, it’s not actually tracking whether people are talking on their tablets — but more vendors are adding cellular capabilities to tablets and more of these voice enabled slates are being shipped (ergo the implication is why would growing numbers of vendors be including a feature if it’s not being used/asked for?).

IDC says cellular voice enabled tablet shipments in Q2 equate to more than 60% growth, year-on-year in unit terms, for this category of slate — all of which happen to be Android-based.

And while it notes that tablets with cellular voice capabilities aren’t new — having been around for multiple years, since the first generation of Samsung Tabs — it says it’s tracked a surge in shipments and vendors since the beginning of this year. Ergo talking on tablets is on the march.

Growth is especially strong in some emerging markets, such as India and Indonesia, according to IDC, which says shipments of cellular voice capable tablets in those markets have come close to a 50 per cent share of overall shipments.

What’s driving this massive phone trend? The analyst points to the desire for people in emerging markets to have one converged device for multiple use-cases as one driver — especially given the cost savings involved. So cheap Android slates are evidently cannibalizing some mobile phone sales.

“This shift highlights the sustained interest among consumers, at least in emerging markets, to have a single mobile device for all their needs — be it watching movies and soap operas, taking pictures, texting or making calls, even if the device has a huge 7” screen on it. It also helps that these devices are quite affordable, playing in the entry-to-mainstream price bands in most markets,” notes IDC analyst  Avinash K. Sundaram in a statement.

Sundaram adds that he expects the trend of Android tablets used as a single converged mobile device in emerging markets to continue to gather momentum, driven by the cost advantage.

So maybe Asus was onto something with its 2011 Padfone tablet-phone hybrid, although the effort they went to to fit a handset into a tablet-sized screen-dock was likely wasted — failing to foresee that if the larger hardware is capable of calls and cheap enough to buy then users are happy to talk on the big slab. No smaller gizmo required.

[Image by Cheon Fong Liew via Flickr]

See the article here: Talking On Tablets On The Rise In Asia

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