Archive for the ‘eCommerce’ Category

Amazon is moving deeper into at-home grocery
delivery with AmazonFresh, which is expanding to
L.A. as of last week, and which is set to continue to
roll out to further markets over the course of this year
and beyond. But it learned to take things slow from
Webvan (the name and web presence of which it now own), the famous home grocery delivery flare-out of
the 90s, and also to limit delivery areas to only high
density urban areas, and to pursue as efficient a
warehousing strategy as possible, according to a new
Reuters report. How did Amazon learn those lessons? Well it helped
to have the guys who made the mistakes to begin
with in the room, for starters. Amazon has four former
Webvan executives on its staff, and acquired Kiva
Systems last year, a robotics company that was
founded to solve some of Webvan’s original problems and answer questions raised during its brief tenure
before IPO and collapse in 2001. While AmazonFresh does potentially offer the chance
to disrupt a massive market in a way that could run
parallel to how Amazon has already forever changed
electronics, home furnishing, clothing, accessory and
other retail markets, groceries are a different beast.
Margins are low, inventory is infinitely more perishable, and delivering quotidian supplies to an
entire market’s worth of grocery shopper is an entirely
different type of logistical problem compared
with occasionally sending them off a hard drive or t-
shirt. Which is why it has taken AmazonFresh over five
years to go from Seattle, to L.A. But now the goal is
to cover San Francisco Bay later this year, and then
to spread to as many as 20 markets throughout 2014.
But the expansion needs not only be city-to-city; a
key component of sustainable growth is building up regions within cities to maximize route efficiency, so
that plotting customer additions at the level of the
neighborhood becomes crucial to successful
deployment, the Reuters report says. Another key ingredient, according to the report, is
Kiva. The robotics company that Amazon bought
presents an incredible advantage for warehousing, as
a robotic workforce can work much more efficiently
and quickly than the conveyor belt system which was
in place at Webvan, and which broke down completely when just a single element went wrong
thanks to its linear nature. Those factors, combined with Amazon’s massive
existing user base, are what the company is betting
will help it succeed where Webvan failed. But
Amazon also has something that Webvan didn’t
necessarily, and that’s massively entrenched brands
that have huge existing retail presence, like Walmart, which didn’t really get into groceries in a big way until
after Webvan’s collapse, and which is also at least
trialling at home delivery. In the U.K., Canada and
other locales, other chains are also either trialling or
have implemented their own delivery services for
groceries, too, which means it’s no longer an uncontested space. Still, there were online stores before Amazon, too,
and we’ve seen how that played out. If indeed
Amazon’s five year experiment with AmazonFresh
has provided the know-how needed to make online
groceries work at scale, the next decade could be one
in which everything we know about shopping for food dramatically changes.


Telefonica is today announcing a deal with Samsung
that will see it make an even bigger move into the
area of carrier billing. Samsung will integrate the
carrier’s billing backend directly into its own mobile
services, meaning that the Telefonica customers (it
has 316 million worldwide) who use the Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps portals on Samsung smartphones
will be able to buy apps, music, videos, books,
games and more and charge them directly to their
phone bills. The agreement, which will use Telefonica’s BlueVia
payment APIs, is a significant one for Telefonica. So
far it has inked deals with app portal operators,
including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and RIM, and
with billing providers like Bango; this effectively
closes the loop for it by securing a deal with the world’s largest handset maker, although a recent deal
to help the carrier finance the procurement and
distribution of BlackBerry devices could point to
Telefonica gearing up for a similar deal with that
handset maker, too. In addition to Bango, Telefonica also works with
BOKU, where it led a $35 million investment last
year. It’s not clear how this deal with Samsung will
play out between these two rival billing providers. In
the past Telefonica has been vague on the subject,
saying that it will work one or the other depending on the situation. Telefonica has been especially bullish on trying to
come up with a way to get a piece of the action on
apps and other content that is getting purchased on
smartphones and tablets. Apple’s early move into the
area with its very popular App Store (just this week
marking its 50-billionth download) set a precedent for all but cutting carriers out of the picture, with Apple
handling the payment on its own platform and then
dividing up resulting revenues with the app publishers. Mobile advertising alongside often-free apps is one
other area where carriers and others have tried to
play, although these revenues are still small in
relation to those collected from downloads and in-app
purchases. But the promise of carrier billing, as we have noted
before, is that it not only offers carriers a look in to
the growing pot of money being made from
smartphone content, but it also provides a route for
publishers to better target consumers in parts of the
world where smartphone usage is growing rapidly, but payment card penetration is not so much. The carrier framework can be used not only for
consumers who take monthly plans, but also for
prepaid accounts, with each purchase deducted from
there, as already happens with phone minutes, data
bytes and SMS messages. This is an area where
Spain’s Telefonica, which has more users in emerging markets in Latin America than it does in any single
market in Europe, can hope to gain a foothold with its
carrier billing offering, even if it has (so far) missed
the boat in more developed markets. Nevertheless, this deal will be implemented in
phases, starting first with a rollout with Telefonica’s
subsidiary in Germany “in the coming months.” “We strongly believe that carrier billing has the
potential to drive the monetisation of digital content,”
Wayne Thorsen, vice president of Global Partnerships
at Telefónica Digital, said in a statement.
“Partnerships like this allow us to harness the power
of the billing relationships we have with our customers to make it easier for them to consume content on
their tablets and mobile devices.” For Samsung, meanwhile, it gives the company the
ability to promote its own content portals as easy to
use — one way of driving more users there instead of
to Google’s services. As Samsung tries to further
differentiate itself from the other OEMs using Android,
and Google itself, little things like this could help it along the way. “Samsung is committed to ensuring that our
customers have choice and convenience when
purchasing content on our devices,” Lee Epting, VP
of Media Solutions Centre Europe for Samsung
Electronics Europe, said in a statement. “Our
partnership with Telefónica Digital allows us to deliver yet another easy and convenient purchasing
experience to our Samsung Hub and Samsung Apps
customers.” Telefonica and Samsung are not strangers to each
other in the area of new services; they have co-
invested in the latest round for semantic, real-time
search startup Expect Labs.

BitPay, the startup with ambitions to become the
PayPal of the bitcoin world, is today announcing that
it has raised another $2 million. And in a kind of
poetic justice, the round is led by none other than the
Founders Fund, the VC started by what’s commonly
called the PayPayl Mafia. The Atlanta-based startup says that it was not
planning to raise any money at the moment — it
announced an initial raise of $510,000 only in
January. That was its first outside funding after being
bootstrapped internally. However, the company also
says that it couldn’t say no, considering who was asking: “We were not looking to raise any capital until later
this year, but we could not ignore the opportunity to
have Founders Fund involved with BitPay,” Tony
Gallippi, co-founder and CEO of BitPay, notes in a
news release on the deal. “There’s no single
investment firm we would rather have on our team right now than Founders Fund.” Nevertheless, it looks like the extra money will be
used for hiring: there are currently two jobs open for
node.js developers “who are excited about bitcoin.”
BitPay is also looking for a UX designer. There will
also be more investment in its platform and further
product development. Founders Fund partners know a thing or two about
payment platforms — given their past experience as
founders and senior execs at PayPal and other
companies. Their interest in BitPay comes from the
fact that it, and bitcoin, in general, appear to be
growing like wildfire. “BitPay’s ambitions have been global from the outset,
and at Founders Fund we have been impressed with
the company’s tremendous growth as they sign up
hundreds of new customers a day, turning the
potential for opportunity into a reality,” said Brian
Singerman, a Partner at Founders Fund, in a statement. When we covered the company’s first raise in
January, we noted it had already signed up 2,100
businesses that were using its platform to process
bitcoin payments. In April, it added nearly that many
again: 1,900 merchants, and they are now processing
$5 million per month in bitcoin transactions covering areas like electronics, precious metals, “and other
low-margin products.” The promise of using bitcoin
over dollars is lower fees, and companies are seeing
“a large increase in profitability by accepting bitcoin
payments,” the company notes. In addition to Founders Fund, Max Keiser’s fund
Heisenberg Capital, a London-based fund focused on
bitcoin companies, is also involved in this seed
round. It comes as a number of other VCs are also
jumping into the bitcoin landgrab. The terms of this most recent round were not
disclosed, the company notes, “although 100% of the
existing seed shareholders exercised their pro rata
rights to maintain their ownership percentage in
BitPay.” Previous investors in BitPay included Shakil
Khan (the Path and Spotify former head of special projects, who has also launched his own bitcoin
information resource, Coindesk), Barry Silbert, Jimmy
Furland and Roger Ver.

Walmart, via its Silicon Valley innovation lab
@WalmartLabs, today announced the acquisition of
two startups: cloud computing newcomer OneOps
and the software development shop Tasty Labs, from
Delicious founder Joshua Schachter. Tasty Labs
offered two services and – both domains which are now redirecting to
Walmart’s acquisition announcement, along with that
of their corporate parent. Walmart declined to disclose deal terms. OneOps developed a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
capability that Walmart explains will enable it to
“significantly accelerate” its PaaS and Private Cloud
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) strategies. The
company offered developer tools built from the ground
up for those who host their applications on cloud services like Amazon Web Services, for example, as
well as Rackspace and HP Cloud. Developers could
publish to any cloud and seamlessly port their apps
elsewhere as needed, eliminating lock-in. The company offered a library of predefined building
blocks to quickly bootstrap an application, which
could be visually assembled in its interface. A variety
of categories such as content management (ex.
Drupal, WordPress), e-commerce (ex. Magento),
enterprise portals (ex. Liferay) and more were available. OneOps was named one of the 12 Hot Cloud
Computing Companies Worth Watching by Network
World, and was a finalist at the GigaOM LaunchPad
Competition. “Walmart is looking to create a best-in-class global e-
commerce platform to power ‘anytime, anywhere’
shopping for our customers. The Platform team has
been working tirelessly to build the tools to help our
developers deliver big site changes faster,” explains
Walmart Public Relations Director Ravi Jariwala in a statement. “We are innovating on a very large scale,
and OneOps brings us tools that will allow us to move
even faster toward a global platform.” Meanwhile, Tasty Labs was founded in 2010 by a
team that includes ex-Mozillian Nick Nguyen,
HousingMaps creator Paul Rademacher, and Joshua
Schachter, who was best known for founding of of
“web 2.0″‘s finest: the social bookmarking service
Delicious. The company had raised $3 million in Series A funding from Union Square Ventures,
Andreessen Horowitz, and other unnamed angel
investors. The startup launched its first product in 2011,
which was described as a “marketplace for needs” —
meaning users would post “I need…” and others
would respond to help them. The following year, it
debuted, a micro-task service operating in
the same general space. This application targeted businesses with small requests – like wanting to
know how many people were in line at a store, for
example, or getting people to take short surveys on
their phone. Schachter once described as a way to
“build tiny little microapps and distribute them to a
mobile client.” He said it was a combination of things
the team loved: “Mobile, Mechanical Turk,
MapReduce, and Twilio.” Going forward, Tasty Labs staff will join Walmart’s
Product and Mobile teams, Walmart says, in an effort
to build out the company’s e-commerce platform. Walmart Labs is known for snapping up early-stage
startups to test new ideas in e-commerce some of
which eventually get folded into the company’s e-
commerce site and other online operations. In the
past, it has acquired startups
like Kosmix, OneRiot, Grabble, Small Society and others. Kosmix’s Social Genome technology was
used in an earlier @WalmartLabs creation known as
“Shopycat,” a social-gifting platform that debuted just
before the 2011 holiday season, and Kosmix later
formed the basis of a new search engine named
“Polaris,” which now powers

A number of startups have been trying their hand at
subscription-based children’s books services, or
something like a “Netflix for kids’ books,” so to speak.
Today, another entry called Zoobean joins the flock,
with the debut of its own handpicked catalog which
parents can either subscribe to, or choose to just shop online like a standard e-commerce website. The company was co-founded by Jordan Lloyd
Bookey, Google’s head of K-12 Education Outreach,
and her husband Felix Brandon Lloyd, who is a former
Washington, D.C., Teacher of the Year. Like the
founders of similar services in this space, including
the recently launched Sproutkin and The Little Book Club, for example, the founders are also parents. “About a year ago, when our daughter was born, we
were looking for a book for our son that would help
him understand what it would mean to be a big
brother. And in this particular case – we’re a multi-
racial family – we were looking for something that
might have kids that more resembled our family,” explains Lloyd. That challenge proved harder than they thought. The parents wanted a way to find a recommended
book that matched their interests, but one they knew
was also quality reading. So they built Zoobean to
address this problem. The site, at launch, has nearly 1,500 books for sale,
all of which are parent-recommended, curated by a
team of parents, teachers, librarians and others, and
which are cataloged more extensively with topics,
characters’ backgrounds, recommended ages,
keyword tags and more. That way, when a parent is looking for a specific book on a topic, they can click
to see all those that address that topic – like “self-
esteem,” “anger and frustration,” or “growing up,” for
example, as well as find books that match their own
family structure and characteristics (e.g. “brother &
sister,” “mother & child,” “black,” “Chinese Americans,” etc.) The site will directly sell five featured items per month
centered around a theme, and one of these will be
available through an optional subscription.
Subscribers pay $14.95 for the featured book of the
month, a high-quality, hardcover. However, the
majority of the cataloged books on Zoobean are being sold through affiliates like Amazon. Zoobean also
offers a weekly reading guide for parents detailing the
books in its featured collection along with activities
parent and child can do together to learn more about
the topic. Though when the founders were speaking of their
site’s uniqueness, their focus was on the curation
aspects and the way the books were cataloged in
more detail. But one of the more interesting things
about this service with respect to its competitors is
the diversity its selection reflects. There are books about many different ethnicities and subjects, and
even harder-to-find books that cover transgender
issues or bullying, for example. “Any kid, parent or loved one who’s coming to find the
right book can find one that the child can see him or
herself in,” explains Bookey of the Zoobean
collection. The company has raised $500,000 in a seed round
led by Kapor Capital, along with other private angels,
friends and family. The plan is to raise another
$250,000 on top of that. Until today, Zoobean was in private, invite-only beta
with some 200 testers. Now, it’s opening its doors to
all parents or anyone else in the market for kids’