Tag Archives: Venture Capital

Startup Spotlight: ShopSavvy and iftt

28 Dec

Greetings readers, and welcome to a new monthly blog series where I will discuss all things ‘startup’ – from venture capital resources to analyses of innovative companies that I think are truly disrupting their industries, or creating entirely new ones.

I wanted to start by introducing two companies that I recently discovered, both of which leverage technology to simplify consumers’ lives and literally “put the internet to work for you”: ShopSavvy and ifttt.

ShopSavvy

ShopSavvy, a free smartphone application introduced in September 2008 by Dallas-based idea factory Big in Japan, allows users to do comparative shopping on the go. The application, which is available on Android, Windows Mobile and Apple’s iOS systems, uses smartphones’ cameras, the internet, and geolocation services to identify products and inform shoppers where they can find those products online or locally. The app can read traditional barcodes as well as QR codes, and has a slew of features that allow users to add photos and prices, post reviews, share products via various channels, stream deals aggregated from the web and other ShopSavvy users, and check the availability of products at local retailers.

After using the application for a few weeks, I have been amazed by its potential to change the way consumers shop and its broader impact on B2C product-centric business models.  Especially during such times of economic uncertainty, consumers are increasingly arming themselves with information to make smarter purchasing decisions, and ShopSavvy provides a clearly defined benefit in the form of immediate savings. For merchants, however, the application is more of a direct affront to profit margins, as they must become more aware of and responsive to competitors’ pricing schemes – a challenge that is especially daunting to smaller, less flexible retailers who cannot purchase on the scale of larger, big-box competitors. Continue Reading»

If This, Then That (iftt.com)

It seems that every week we are inundated with a new app, social network, or some other innovation served up through digital channels, but after awhile, managing all of these elements becomes almost a second job. Surely there’s a way to consolidate our tech lives, and make our online worlds more proactive, right? Enter ifttt.com. ifttt (pronounced like ‘sift’, minus the ‘s’) “puts the internet to work for you” by triggering actions when users define and implement conditional “recipes” across various channels. In November, ifttt announced a partnership with Buffer, a social media scheduling application that will expand the scope of potential recipes that users can create.

For example, you can create a recipe in which you receive a text message anytime that the forecast calls for rain, or one where favorite tweets are automatically saved to your Evernote account.  Currently, the most popular ifttt recipe is one in which every time you are tagged in a Facebook photo, the image is automatically saved in a Dropbox folder.

I have long been intrigued by the broader shift from content and product aggregation, to more proactive recommendation-based models, and If This, Then That certainly takes a leap in that direction. After a 9-month beta test that began in December 2010 and included over 100,000 tasks that triggered more than 25 million “actions”, ifttt is now open to all users.

Celebrity Venture Capitalists: A-Round Investments from the A-List

2 Nov

 

Leonardo DiCaprio at Mobli’s office (Image via Mashable)

A hallmark of American culture has been the extent to which we have been able to squeeze every dollar of celebrity out of our star athletes, musicians and entertainers. From the eponymous Air Jordans to Joe Namath’s 1974 advertisement for hosiery and Britney Spears’ perfume, merchandise and endorsements have been a great way for stars to supplement their (and their agents’) incomes, and expand their marketing reach.

A more interesting phenomenon as of late has been the foray of celebrities into the world of Venture Capital. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ashton Kutcher are some of the biggest names to handover cash to promising startups, but other notable stars such as MC Hammer and even tween heartthrob Justin Bieber are reported to be scratching their entrepreneurial itch by way of VC investments. Can you imagine the Silicon Valley headlines? “It’s not a bubble, it’s Bieber Fever!”

Are Kutcher and DiCaprio really as adept at identifying emerging technologies and talented entrepreneurs as the veterans at Kleiner Perkins and Andreesson Horowitz? I doubt they can model cash flows or advise on go-to-market strategies as well as the true VC players can, but apparently the Ven”star” Capitalists are doing fairly well for themselves. Kutcher, through his investment partnership called A Grade, was an early investor in such hot startups as Foursquare, Path and Flipboard, and was even part of a group that bought Skype in 2009 before selling it to Microsoft in April for more than three times the purchase amount. Yesterday, social video and photo platform Mobli announced that Leonardo DiCaprio was one of a handful of investors that had participated in its latest round of funding – a $4 million seed round – and in April, MC Hammer announced he was joining as an investor/mentor in a tech incubator in Silicon Valley called NewMe.

Is this phenomenon a brilliant move on behalf of prescient celebrities with an eye for “companies that solve problems in intelligent and friction-free ways and break boundaries,” as Kutcher replied in a May interview? Or are startups realizing that celebrities can increase the brand awareness many times over, seemingly overnight, as in the case of Justin Bieber earning more than 1,700 followers within an hour of posting his first picture on Instagram?

Whichever the case, I appreciate the entrepreneurism exhibited by these celebrities. I never thought I would be giving props to anyone appearing on Perez Hilton, but I can’t help but applaud the Kim Kardashians and the Olsen twins of the world who appear to be testing out the waters of the business world by using their brains – okay, their checkbooks might be more accurate – to diversify their careers. My question is, how long will it be until there is a fund we can invest in that only manages portfolios of star-backed startups? Or what about a VC training camp for the rich and famous? Now that’s innovation!