Ello. The Facebook Slayer?

ello2

It was only a matter of time wasn’t it? People have been writing about the imminent decline of Facebook for a few years now. There are several arguments as to why, with some focusing on the fact that it’s too personal (not pseudonym friendly), others unhappy with the massive increase in burdensome ads, and others simply feeling that it’s too “old”. Mark Zuckerberg’s baby still might be the top bookmark on millions of browsers around the world, but the truth is, the cracks have been becoming ever more evident.

All that was left was for a challenger to emerge, as a David to gradually start facing off with the Goliath which is Facebook. But a company still in it’s beta phase? Welcome Ello to the stage.

Who?

I know, I’m late. Ello has been making a lot of noise on the web recently. To get the basics out of the way though, it’s an invitation only (for the moment) beta stage startup looking to add a more free-spirited, human touch to social media.

The creators of Ello, namely Paul Bunditz don’t hide from where they see the company fitting into the market, or the competitive advantages it holds in comparison to its more popular competitor.

Once someone visits the site they’ll find a self-described manifesto explaining the company’s concept. To begin, the network is ad-free, and will not sell user information to third parties. This is of course in direct contrast to Facebook, and its controversial decision to allow ads on the site, along with the manner in which it’s dealt with user data.

In its privacy section, Ello explains that it runs user information on Google Analytics in order to gather necessary personal data, but that should any individual profile holder request it, they can “op-out” of the feature.

The manifesto ends with a telling phrase. “You are not a product”.

Will It Work?

As would be expected regarding any newcomer looking to challenge an established firm, there are going to be naysayers, pointing out potential flaws in the site. Many see its dynamic growth more as a reaction from the masses of disillusioned Facebookers, as opposed to the selection of a genuinely superior service. To put it as Jess Zimmerman does in her recent article in The Guardian:

Ello will not be successful, in the long run. But if it appears successful in these early days, that’s not a referendum on the service itself; it’s a referendum on how disillusioned we are with the options we have right now.

Pardon me for being hopefully optimistic, but I beg to differ. It’s not because I can claim the site is any better than what exists (they still haven’t accepted my invitation), but because it now has the market recognition to appeal to a massive consumer base as a viable alternative. Controversy sells, and when you’re selling to a market of nearly 2 billion people (the number of individuals around the world using some social network) there’s more than enough room to find a place in the market.

Of course, at this point I can’t claim that Ello will ever overtake Facebook. If anything it might serve as a wake up call to that company’s management to start taking some of the legitimate qualms users have with it seriously. However, tech firms, no matter how big they might be, will always be slaves to consumer trends, and fads of a given age.

The same way Myspace was eventually sent into oblivion, if Ello invests in features offering a new edge to the social media experience, combined with its respect for user privacy, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t continue to grow as a viable alternative.

(The image used is the licensed trademark of Ello)

Advertisements

The Mighty. Real Heroes.

smile

We all have challenges in life. No matter how big or small, there’s always a guarantee that at some point we’ll face hardships, and have to overcome them.

Some of us though are more unfortunate than others, at least in that regard. People living with a life threatening disease, or major physical, and mental disabilities who through it all though find a way to keep pushing on. Theirs are stories that should be heard, and one startup is looking to make sure that’s exactly what happens.

The Mighty, is a digital publishing platform out of Los Angeles vying to make that task easier than ever to achieve.

The Basics

The company was founded by CEO Mike Porath, an experienced digital media executive who has contributed to some of the world’s most prominent news organizations. Mike
explains his own reasons for coming up with the idea in a blog post on the company website.

The Mighty works to provide a user friendly channel for individuals facing disease, and disability, and their loved ones to publish, share, and distribute stories related to motivational, heartwarming events in the said individual’s life.

Once a story, image, or video is posted, the site makes it easy to share on a variety of social media platforms, promoting awareness, along with emotional support for countless others who might find themselves in similar situations.

In Terms of Outreach

Overall, and in the short time the site has been active, it’s managed to appeal to a broad, and quickly growing user base.

The site’s first 350 stories have been read a total 2 million times, and it has a growing readership on Facebook, along with Twitter.

Given the challenges faced by so many around us, and the inspiration we can find in their commitment to living life to the fullest, this seems to be a concept with the potential to go viral.

Going Forward

For so long, disease and especially disability have been aspects of human live shut out from the public eye. It’s understandable to a point, and different people will find different ways to cope and manage the challenges they, and their loved ones face. But as a society it’s encouraging to see that there are now more than ever effective outlets for people to share their stories.

The model the company is based on is part of a growing trend, fueled by social media, that lets people who might once have been invisible members of society have their voices heard. It’s something bound to grow, and as it does so will awareness about the diseases, and disabilities people all around us are facing on a daily basis.

At some point, issues like these will touch all of us personally, and The Mighty is a great way for us to gain support from individuals around the world, establish lasting connections, and truly understand that as difficult as a situation might seem, there will always be moments worth cherishing.

Cont3nt. Be the News.

greenrev

Home sweet home. Before moving to Europe almost a decade ago, and long before I had any idea what a startup was, yours truly was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area.

When D.C. comes to mind, most people choose to think of the federal government, lobbyists, NGO’s, and mediocre sports franchises. In spite of the perception most might have though, the nation’s capital is also home to a growing startup scene, with a few new businesses looking poised to break onto the global stage.

One of my favorites happens to be Cont3nt.com, a media distribution platform connecting freelance journalists to some of the world’s most prominent news outlets.

Tell Me More

In an age where the demand for up to date coverage of major events is endless, and competition to be the first to any breaking story around the world puts pressure on major news providers to expand their horizons, Cont3nt is looking to fill the void by offering both independent journalists, and established firms the opportunity to connect through the site, exchanging valuable information.

Led by CEO Anton Gelman, who was featured in BisNow’s ’30 under 40′ segment, the company was founded in 2011, and has been growing ever since.

The accolades don’t stop with its leadership itself either. The site won Startup America’s National Pitch competition in 2012, along with being listed as in the top five of the Knight Foundation’s 2012 News Challenge.

The Concept

Cont3nt calls itself an “ebay for breaking news”, and once you become accustomed to the system it’s easy to see why.

The premise of the firm is to serve as a market for photo, and video journalism. Freelancers can sign up (for free initially), post their stories on the site, and sell them to news outlets around the world. The site offers assistance with licensing, and provides a channel for mass distribution. Once you’ve uploaded your photo or video, you can send it directly to prominent news agencies, which in turn will purchase the content, meaning profit for the individual, and real time updates for a corporation constantly in need of them.

As the content a user posts grows, so should their reach. Cont3nt has over 5,000 organizations utilizing its service in more than twenty countries. Needless to say, it also offers freelancers the opportunity to efficiently network with some of the world’s leading news makers.

There are numerous perks for the buyers (i.e. the media organizations) as well. Besides the invaluable up to date information they receive, it also allows corporations to more efficiently manage their affiliates, easing the search process, and opening the market to a substantial pool of information they can choose from (over 30,000 contributors).

Why Does It Matter?

In the age of “Twitter revolutions”, news is spread at the click of a button. The world today is gripped by a number of major stories consumers are looking to be kept up to date on. With Cont3nt, whether you’re on the front line in Syria, at the ballot box in Glasgow, or part of a demonstration in Bangkok, there’s a previously unimaginable method of letting the world’s news makers know exactly what’s going on.

The internet, and social media have revolutionized the way people inform themselves, and have given countless individuals the ability to be on the edge of breaking stories. The essence of the service as I see it is the opportunity it provides any passionate freelance journalist (or even anyone with an iPhone) to chase their dream, and contribute to the information the rest of us consume on a daily basis.

Cont3nt is a tool both freelancers, and company’s can’t afford not to use. Many major outlets already have their own integrated platforms for covering events first hand, but this service is unique in its organizational advantage. It’s easy to use for both sides of the spectrum, and significantly limits the length either has to go to in order to buy or sell the content they need.

D.C. is on the rise, who knew?

Locish. The Guide to Outside.

ibiza-bars-2012

It happens to all of us. We’re out, in a part of town we aren’t quite familiar with, and want to find the answer to that burning question….”what can I get to eat around here?”

Think of Locish as your neighborhood guide in a case like this.

How does it work?

Locish is a mobile app which allows users to discover the world around them. The platforms allows individuals to ask questions related to going out, and receive answers from the rest of the system’s user base. You can think of it as something similar to Yelp, but more to the point.

Besides asking questions, Locish also allows you to follow users who’s interests you might share, be notified when they check in somewhere, and read reviews they’ve left, all with the aim of progressively expanding your own knowledge of the city around you. If you find someplace that you might not be able to visit at the moment, there’s also a “save” option which allows you to store that location for the future.

As you’d expect, the app makes it easy for users to reach out to their friends, and contacts on other networks, inviting them to the site, or sharing their whereabouts.

The Run Down

The company is based out of Athens, Greece, and led by co-founders Alex Christodoulou, and Greg Zontanos.

The initial launch of the app was in 2013, and with the help of a substantial recent investment (Greek source) totaling $820,000 the company recently introduced their upgraded version 4.2 which features an array of improvements.

If its four star rating on Google Play is any indication, after nearly 10,000 downloads, its consumer base seems to be responding well.

Nice to meet you

To learn more about the changes going on at Locish, and what the company’s staff feel the future holds for it, I interviewed marketing associate, Sophia Simunec.

  • Where did the idea for Locish arise?

“Our co-founders, Alexis Christodoulou and Greg Zontanos were on a holiday in Budapest a couple of years back and, like most tourists, they were looking for nice places for food and drinks but had no idea where to start. They kept getting lost and going to all the wrong places. In their frustration, they started discussing how awesome it would be if there were an app that could provide them with tips from locals on which places to visit when abroad.  When they went back home, they decided to build this awesome app and Locish was born”.

  • Is there a specific hole in the market that the app was looking to fill?

“We feel that here is no fun, meaningful and efficient way for people in an area to exchange their views on places, whatever those may be. They can include anything from a restaurant, bar or cafe to art galleries and museums. Any place that people are interested in visiting. Locish is basically trying to enhance the social aspect and facilitate this communication among people in order to help them discover new places”.

  • Apps like Foursquare, Yelp, etc. also have interactive recommendation tools, what makes Locish different?

“Locish is focusing on microreviews; short, to the point, insightful reviews on places. We’ve focused on this because we want to provide fast results to mobile users on-the-go who do not have enough time to read through lengthy reviews on sites like Yelp or, sometimes, irrelevant tips on foursquare”.

  • Apps like this cater to word of mouth between consumers, was this also key to the marketing strategy Locish undertook to build up its brand name, or were there other marketing techniques used to a large degree as well?

“We’re constantly learning and trying to improve our marketing strategies. We’ve primarily explored the benefits of viral marketing, email marketing and social media to achieve traction”.

  • What are some of the main changes to the new app? Are there any new features users can expect?

“We are constantly testing our product, trying to apply innovative methods as well as listen to the feedback our users give us to make the appropriate updates. We truly appreciate and rely on the feedback of our users. Locish is at a great point but it’s not a finished product and that’s the beauty of it; we are excited where our users will take us. The things we are currently working on is to make it easier for our users to ‘search’ for places on Locish”.

  • How does it work with social media? Can I tweet recommendations I get, or even my question (or post it on Facebook, etc)?

“You can absolutely share the content you put on Locish on other social media such as Facebook and foursquare”.

  • What does the future look like for the company? As it grows is the management looking to expand outside of Greece, and target other parts of the world?

“Our primary focus has always been Greece and the U.S.. We launched the first version of our app in only three cities; Athens, San Francisco and New York so that goes to show you that these were our primary markets. As the app grows, we would definitely plan on opening offices in other parts of the world and focus on other areas as well”. 

The Verdict

Credit to Locish for finding a hole in the market, and exploiting it. Offering a platform based on quick, chat like recommendations, as opposed to the more bulky reviews we’ve become accustomed to on Yelp, and Tripadvisor is indicative of what I view as a general trend in the industry.

People appreciate quick information. When someone posts a question asking “where can I get a good burger”, a simple recommendation/tag is going to be more helpful than a well thought out review nine out of ten users won’t bother to read.

Locish has grasped this concept, and is now building an entire social media themed engine around it. As they pick up pace, companies like this have the potential for viral growth. Of course, having the right ingredients doesn’t always mean you’re going to produce the best meal, but it’s still early stages, and the startup has every reason to be optimistic.

  • Thank you to Sophia, and the rest of the Locish team for going out of their way to make this post possible.

Decibel. Tracking Tunes.

blues

 

While it’s not the first time a music related startup has been profiled as part of the blog, the industry itself is unique in its constant drive towards innovation. From the early days of Napster to current giants Spotify, and Pandora, the entertainment industry has generally been on the forefront of any new wave in technology. 

 
For any fun that’s to be had though, there has to be the work horse making it happen. Like a chef in a hot kitchen preparing a meal at a five star restaurant, Decibel provides the tools, and data for the music discovery and recommendation engines we use daily. 
 
 
What Is It?
 
Decibel is a growing company in the music intelligence market. What’s that you ask? 
 
Let’s put it this way, as their website states, they provide up to 160 bits of data per track, offering metadata based on a series of graphs, and enabling app creators to access a seemingly endless amount of information related to the songs they want to include on their respective platforms. 
 
The company is based out of London, and is headed by the duo of CEO Evan Stein, and Senior Counsel Adrian Corbett. It was founded in 2010, and has already been making a name for itself. 
 
Along with a Finalist position in MidenNet Lab 2011, the company also can boast a number of prime clients including EMI for their ‘Blue Note App’, and music app ‘Jugglit’.
 
 
How Does It Work?
 
Decibel offers data collection as its service to potential customers. The metadata it provides will not only provide intelligence on the details of a single track (including copyright, producers, and engineers), but it also includes API access, and tools which will connect different songs trough a recommendation procedure.
 
This in-depth information is showcased via graphs, and other tools which allow the company’s clients to access an array of detailed data related not only to the track they’re looking into, but other similar content that might also run along those lines. 
 
In addition to this, Decibel also offers numerous customized services, including data cleansing, and its data mining procedure which can offer up to date research for select clients. 
 
Of course, as with any startup providing such a detailed insight into the music world, the service does come with a cost. Decibel currently employs three different membership scales which vary on (besides the price of subscription) access to bandwidth, copyright information, and Bespoke data services. 
 
 
The Verdict
 
I’ll be honest, before Adrian Corbett introduced me to the company, I wasn’t aware of its existence. That probably isn’t rare, given the nature of the firm, selling data to the companies which produce the music apps we all listen to. However, becoming accustomed to it has shed light on the value it holds for those it serves. 
 
Being able to access such a comprehensive archive of metadata, chart it through graphs, and work with the company for custom research assignments means that the possibilities for further expansion are abundant. 
 
Music is a field that’s never going to stop growing, and offering a dynamic service centered on an industry like entertainment is the equivalent of selling oil from an endless well. There will always be a market, and as long as Decibel manages to continue providing data with the same efficiency, from an outside point of view I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to add more partners such as EMI to their list.  

Madrona Venture Group. Where Startups Happen.

Photo illustration of one hundred dollar notes in Seoul

 

While discussing the startup industry with a friend, we ran through the subject of venture capital and how critical it is to supporting that new idea everyone will be crazy about a few years from now. 

It gave me the idea to approach this post from a different angle. Instead of profiling a startup, this blog will be dedicated to a company that makes startups financially feasible. Specifically, Madrona Venture Group.

 

Who?

To be fair, venture capital funds generally keep a low profile, so not having heard of them isn’t unexpected. The specific company was founded in 1995, and is based in Seattle, WA. 

They focus primarily on early-stage investments, helping newly created startups in the Pacific Northwest grow. Their past history is impressive too, with an early funding of Amazon sticking out as a high point, along with thirty other businesses to their name. 

They aren’t short of capital either. As recently as 2012, and in the midst of a recession the company raised $300 million, the largest amount they’ve gathered since their inception just under two decades ago. 

 

The Present

Madrona has a diverse portfolio. From consumer internet, and digital media, to software services. Here are a few companies they’ve sponsored that have struck my interest. 

  • Placed: This location panel allows users to log into the app, and display where they are at any given time. The service offers valuable data to marketers, and insight into visited areas in order to improve anything from advertisement, to business movement based on human tracking. Knowing where the world moves is key to understanding how to reach out to it.
  • Buddy TV: This site offers TV viewers the opportunity to stay up to date with their favorite programs, and also provides a valuable platform for them to connect with one another, exchanging information about whatever it is they’re watching. With almost a million iOS downloads, and high ratings among its users, Buddy TV looks poised to continue growing as a hot spot for TV viewers.

 

  • Bag, Borrow, or Steal: I don’t usually profile fashion accessory companies, but hey, this concept is cool. They might not need publicity from me either, having already been featured in The New York Times along with the Sex and the City movie. The firm allows its customers to buy, rent, or sell accessories such as purses or shoes. So, next time you really need that Chanel bag for a night out, but might not have the cash on hand to buy it yourself, you know where to turn. 

 

The Future

The company is still making big moves, including getting academia online through a recent  $2.4 Million investment in Algorithmia, a startup meant to provide a market place for algorithms. 

What I personally find interesting is its business plan, investing in new ideas poised to break out in the future is a risky technique, but one that can pay off down the road. It’s what drives me, and so many others to be passionate about the industry. Startups innovate, change markets, and alter the way we view the world around us. While Madrona might be one of thousands following this path, it certainly looks poised to continue developing the big names of tomorrow. 

InHiro. Find your match.

inhiro3

 

When we talk about the job market there’s a tendency to look at it from the side of the applicant. There’s good reason for that too. From a supply and demand perspective there’s an ever-growing labor pool for a select number of available positions, and the competition for a place at a top company can be fierce. With that being said though, what about the employer?

Given the number of potential candidates for every vacancy, selecting the right applicant can be a daunting task for any HR manager. That’s where InHiro comes in. The startup out of Slovakia, led by CEO Andrej Steiner has been making a name for itself in the employment field, including a ‘Finalist’ position at the 2013 European Venture Summit, and the opportunity to assist companies such as Google, Mercedes-Benz, and Intersport with their hiring process. 

How it works

The process is simple. For a small fee InHiro will provide employers access to its online platform. They can then create job listings, choosing from either ready made layouts or one of their own. Once that’s done, they’ll be able to publish the ad through InHiro on any one of the company’s existing web outlets, including social media channels. If the employer is a newly created startup, without an established contact base, InHiro will assist with the distribution as well. 

At that point, the site offers the ability to track the ad’s progress through a series of web analytics options. Furthermore, employers are provided a ‘Social X-Ray’ feature which will scan incoming applications in order to better match candidates who have relevant experience. 

Finally, InHiro stores its data on a cloud system, meaning it’s easily accessible for customers. They also offer a free trial option for companies who might want to test the waters before investing long term. 

The Future

It’s easy to see where InHiro fits into the market. At a time when employers receive dozens of applications for every job they post (which in many parts of Europe is even higher due to rampant youth unemployment), having an efficient mechanism to distribute, collect, and sort such data is a necessity now more than ever. 

Being able to effectively consolidate such information eases the employment process, and as such I can see InHiro becoming an effective tool for businesses looking to add to their workforce. 

The company’s main challenge for the moment will be further developing its client base. Employers already using established platforms to select candidates might be tentative to move, but winning consumer trust is a normal part of growing a business, and there’s no reason to believe InHiro shouldn’t be able to do so over time.