Archive for the ‘Funding & Exits’ Category

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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.

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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 Jig.com and Human.io – 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 Jig.com 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 Human.io, 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 Human.io 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 Walmart.com.

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Lucky Sort, a Portland, Oregon-based startup behind
a visualization and navigation engine called
TopicWatch that helped to discover patterns in live
data streams, has been acquired by Twitter. Terms of
the deal were not immediately available, but the
company has announced via its website that it will be shuttering its service in the coming months, and
several members of the team will now be relocating to
Twitter’s San Francisco offices to join the company’s
“revenue engineering department.” The startup had operated somewhat stealthily until
early 2012, when word came out that it has raised a
half-million seed round from Neu Venture Capital,
Invite Investments (founders of Invite Media) and
several angel investors, including Adam
Riggs (Shutterstock.com), BankSimple co- founder Alex Payne, plus chaos theory physicist,
quantitative trading pioneer, and roulette wheel
hacker Norman Packard, Ph.D., who became the
Chief Science Officer at the firm. Packard is not joining Twitter, but CEO Noah
Pepper, Jesse Smith, and Daniel Fennelly, are
moving to San Francisco. With the company’s first product, TopicWatch, users
could sift through social media, government filings,
news and commentary in real time to find, summarize
and analyze any text-based content. It was more than
a “social listening” or “sentiment analysis” firm –
those were only subsets of its overall capabilities. Analysis of Twitter data was also only part of what
this platform could accomplish, as well. In effect, Lucky Sort was a big data play – it
used NLP (natural language processing) techniques to
discover information from huge, unstructured data
sets. What made it unique was its ability to derive
structure without having to first define a database of
nouns, verbs, etc. as traditionally would be the case with NLP. Instead, Lucky Sort was moved towards
data mining through statistics rather than input
ontologies. Last November, the engine was put to practical use
through a partnership with the social network for
traders, StockTwits. The relationship offered the
entire historical database of StockTwits (everything
that had been tweeted or shared within the
community), as well as a real-time feed coming into its service. These data sets were made available in
Lucky Sort’s analysis interface, allowing investors to
come in and examine how chatter in the StockTwits
community has correlated with price action. This could produce visualizations (like the one below),
which could be operated via touch – including on the
iPad. Today, Lucky Sort says that three of its team
members are headed to Twitter, and a plan to
transition customers off of its platform is underway.
Asked what he meant by Twitter’s “revenue
engineering department,” Pepper would only say, “it’s
where we’ll be shoveling coal into the money printing machine.” However he did say that as far as he knew, Twitter is
not interested in getting into the finance vertical itself.
“They wanted our technology and expertise for other
things,” he says. Lucky Sort had raised a total of $600,000 before
the acquisition, with $100,000 coming from Howard
Lindzon, StockTwits CEO and co-founder. The startup joins other recent Twitter acquisitions,
including another previously data-focused service
called Ubalo, as well as others like We Are Hunted
(which led to Twitter Music), Vine, Crashlytics,
Bluefin Labs, and more. The company’s official announcement is below: Lucky Sort acquired by Twitter! Two years ago I started Lucky Sort with several
friends. Our goal was to make huge document sets
easier to analyze, summarize and visualize by
building elegant and user friendly tools for text
analysis. Today I’m very excited to announce that our journey
has entered a new phase: Lucky Sort has been
acquired by Twitter! Several of us will be moving to San Francisco to join
Twitter’s revenue engineering department, so if you’re
in the neighborhood and want to talk about text mining
or data visualization give us a shout. We’ll be helping current customers transition off our
system in the coming months such that we can focus
fully on our future at Twitter. In building Lucky Sort we had an enormous amount of
support from friends, employees, advisors and
investors. It has been uplifting to have so many
people help us and it highlighted just how much
business is a social endeavour.

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Q: Why does a to do list application need $3.5 million in funding? A: Because it’s becoming more than a simple to do app. Today, Any.DO one of the more popular to do list applications for web and mobile,
announced a seed round of funding led by existing
investor Genesis Partners, with participation from
both current and new investors Innovation Endeavors
(Eric Schmidt’s fund), Joe Lonsdale, Blumberg
Capital, Joe Greenstein and others. The company had previously announced $1 million in
angel funding in late 2011 from Innovation Endeavors,
Blumberg Capital, Genesis Partners, Palantir (Joe
Lonsdale), Felicis Ventures (Aydin Senkut) and Brian
Koo. For those unfamiliar, Any.DO got its start on the
Android platform after the success of the team’s first
app, Taskos, which proved the market was ripe for
such a concept. That app had grown to 1.3 million
users by the time Any.DO arrived in November 2011,
and today has more than doubled its install base. Any.DO, however, has since surpassed it. The
company says its flagship application now has more
than 5 million users across iOS, Android and web.
Referencing data from Onavo Insights, Any.DO
claims to be the market leader in the to do list app
space. (Its nearest competitor, Wunderlist, announced earlier this month having more
than 4 million users.) Unlike many apps, Any.DO has more Android users
than iOS, having initially taken advantage of that
platform’s popularity, its need for well-built apps, and
the potential built-in install base coming from Taskos,
who were encouraged to switch over to Any.DO when
it first debuted. Any.DO is beautifully designed, which has the side
effect of making the app appear deceptively simple.
But in reality, there’s some heavy lifting going on
under the hood. “We believe the tools you have on your homescreen
are going to be smarter and smarter over time,”
explains Any.DO founder and CEO Omer Perchik. “In
terms of the to do list…it will help you accomplish the
things you have on your list, and we’ve developed a
semantic engine that extracts intents and tries to find the relevant action,” he says. “And on the other hand,
it’s basically predicting what you’ll be interested in
doing.” So for example, if you tell the app today that you
want to plan a trip or workout at the gym more often,
it will recommend other applications that will help you
complete those tasks, including things like Kayak,
TripAdvisor, MyFitnessPal, and many others. Also, if
you tell the app you need to do something like “pay taxes,” it’s smart enough to start reminding you about
that task in advance of tax day, even though you
never provided an exact date or time. In some cases, Any.DO has affiliate relationships
with the dozens of apps it points users to, but in other
cases it does not. Perchik says that conversion rates
are high – more than three times above the market
average of 1 to 5 percent, in general. Asked whether or not the company had the intention
of using the funding to further develop Any.DO or to
expand its lineup by launching more apps in the
personal productivity space, Perchik says “possibly
both.” However, the company isn’t heading into other
spaces like email or calendaring just yet, he adds. That being said, Perchik did cite the recent trend in
startups developing alternatives to the core
applications on users’ homescreens – things like
email (Mailbox, Triage, e.g.), calendaring (Sunrise,
Tempo, e.g.), and messaging, etc. “There’s a lot of
things in the day-to-day personal productivity space that are relevant [to us], but we’re less working
towards building something like Google Docs or
Office for mobile – we’re focusing more on the
individual,” he says, defining Any.DO’s interests. The company will have some announcements around
what its future plans may be in about a month’s time,
Perchik also notes. In the meantime, the 12-person startup is using the
funding to staff its new San Francisco-based office
where Perchik now works. The R&D and product team
remains in Israel, but the new office will hire those on
the marketing and business development side of
things. In addition, an update to the Android version of
Any.DO is rolling out now which will allow Astrid app
users (one of Yahoo’s many recent acquisitions) to
import their data in advance of the app’s shutdown.

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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’
books.