Startups On TV: TechStars Teams Up With Bloomberg To Offer An Inside Look At Building A Business

Move over American Idol, and move over Survivor? There’s a new reality show (okay, documentary-reality series) in town, but luckily no one’s getting voted off the island. In this tech TV version, it’s startups and their founders iterating, scrambling through feature sets, and competing for the affections of investors.

It’s a great premise, as the reality surrounding an early-stage startup can be a kinetic one: It may not quite be the car chase in Bullitt, granted, but it’s certainly tense, fast-paced, and, if founders play their cards right, can have significant bearing on the future success of their company (for the better).

But, by and large, the early evolutions of startups — and the role that the big technology incubators have in fostering this growth — happen behind closed doors. Or in low rent, shared office space, with lots of empty pizza boxes. Now, thanks to a partnership between TechStars and Bloomberg TV, all eyes will get a comprehensive peek at what it’s like to be on the founding team of a startup going through the gauntlet at a top technology incubator.

This “reality-documentary” miniseries, called “TechStars”, will premier on September 13th at 9 p.m., with the six episodes running through October 18th. It will air on Bloomberg TV, both on cable and the web.

As to the participants: The series will feature the eleven startups that participated in TechStars’ New York City program, which ran from January of this year through early April and includes OnSwipe, Immersive Labs, Nestio, Veri, ToVieFor, Shelby.tv, RedRover, MigrationBox, CrowdTwist, FriendList, and ThinkNear.

David Tisch, Managing Director of TechStars in NYC and David Cohen, Founder and CEO of TechStars, who are both featured in the show, tell me that viewers can expect a real glimpse into what it’s like to be a TechStars company: “Everything is 100 percent real and representative” of what it’s like to be a part of the incubator.

TechStars had been approached by several networks looking to do reality-type shows on the incubator, but ultimately chose Bloomberg TV, they said, for the reasons cited above. They wanted it to be an objective, fact-based series that captured the actual essence of what it’s like to be a founder going through an incubator, rather than something that’s over-produced and skewed in favor of dramatization. Bloomberg seemed the right fit.

Of course, that being said, both Cohen and Tisch assured me that there will be some drama — startup drama, of course. Yes, there will be a few pivots. But, not to overstate: This will hopefully be an “objective” look at what it’s like taking an idea to execution, developing a workable business model, finding users, and discovering the best way to pitch to investors.

Viewers can also expect to see cameos by many of the TechStars mentors in NYC, including Foursquare Founder Dennis Crowley, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC, Chris Dixon (Founder Collective, Hunch), Alexandra Wilson (Gilt Groupe), Gary Vaynerchuk and “dozens more”. You can check out the TechStars mentor list here.

What’s more, it should also be interesting to watch as Bloomberg TV’s board of judges, along with Cohen and Tisch, and many of the TechStars mentors dissect business models and offer startups and their founders pointed criticism and advice as they move through the program, reality-show style.

All eleven of the startups make an appearance in the series, though some are on camera more than others. TechCrunch has covered a few of these companies, which you can check out here for OnSwipe, Nestio, Immersive Labs, Veri, and ThinkNear. Seven of the eleven TechStars Winter Program startups have also gone on to raise funding, with a few more soon to close, Tisch and Cohen said. So, there could be a good demo day finale in store. As long as it’s better than the last episode of The Sopranos, I’m in.

Applications for the Boston winter program and NYC spring program are open now, and you can apply here.

For the “TechStars” trailer, look out, video below:



Broadcaster Or Blogger, Cent2Cent Helps Anyone Charge For Video

Generally speaking, video producers have a much easier time producing content than monetizing it. This is because the monetization side of the equation has two x-factors that are hard to get right. The first being the ‘with what to monetize’ factor–that is, the mechanism that facilitates the billing aspect of the user-flow. The second, being the ‘how to monetize’ factor– this being the model(s) under which the content is charged for.

Enter Cent2Cent, an Israeli company with a video monetization solution that is versatile enough for both high-end tv broadcasters (NBC is a client), and low-end bloggers. And with over 200,000 paid transactions to date, they might be on to something, too.

One immediate benefit with Cent2Cent is that choosing its monetization solution doesn’t require the content owner to bet the entire house on it. By this I mean that monetizing via Cent2Cent doesn’t require the content to be migrated to Cent2Cent’s hosting infrastructure. Content can be encased within a JavaScript wrapper, or for those that want more programmatic control, there are also a SOAP/REST APIs. For those however that do require hosting, Cent2Cent is integrated with Kaltura, so that’s solved as well. And to round off, there are also plugins for Drupal & WordPress.

The second key benefit with Cent2Cent’s solution is that monetization options are quite varied. These include: Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Recurring Subscription plans, Pay-per-View, Bundles and Packages, and Metered plans (by number of views, or time viewed).

On the face of it, all these options can be overwhelming, but this is where Cent2Cent’s built-in diagnostic tool can assist the content owner make monetization decisions. The module collects viewing data that it segments for insights to be deduced. For example, a content owner can discover that 2% of users viewed more than ten videos, while 5% viewed more than five. Both segments fit more of a subscription model, as opposed to the rest of the users which could be offered only a pay-per-view purchase model.

Cent2Cent began its commercial activity in October 2010 and has raised $500,000 from private investors to date.



360: TeliportMe Brings Its Killer Panorama App To Android (Oh, And It Works On Over 200 Phones)

Last November, TechCrunch’s own Sarah Lacy sat down with Vineet Devaiah from “social streetview” startup, Phototour.in, which, at the time, had just received term sheets from a number of high-profile U.S. investors and had recently been awarded the “Top Emerging Technology Company of 2010″ by Nvidia. The startup was the first international, non-funded, under-20-member company to win the award, according to Devaiah.

Since then, Phototour added Academy Award certificate-winner and entrepreneur Bala S. Manian as an advisor (who was honored for “technical achievement” for his contributions to optical technologies used in films, including Star Wars) and has gained more than 47,000 users for the alpha version of its image and panorama crowdsourcing app, “360″, on Android. Users have logged more than 75,000 panoramas in a relatively short period of time, so, considering the rumors that the iPhone 5 will have a native panorama app, sources tell us that 360 might be a candidate for a potential partnership with Android, so that it can remain neck-in-neck with Apple.

What’s more, Today the startup is officially announcing that it is rebranding as TeliportMe and is bringing 360 out of alpha and into the public sphere in ready-to-wear form. For free. Granted, 360-degree panorama apps for smartphones are nothing new. There are quite a few cool apps and gadgets that have these capabilities on the market, like “You Gotta See This!”, Occipital’s 360 Panorama, and Microsoft’s Photosynth, to name a few.

In light of this competition, TeliportMe wants to distinguish itself from the field by building a high quality Android app, that works across OEMs. According to Devaiah, panoramic apps tend to be very hardware centric because of their reliance on a smartphone’s camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, RAM, and so on. Because Android relies on so many different OEMs, it becomes a tricky proposition to build a good 360-degree app for Android and is the reason why most panorama apps are built on iOS (thanks to the vertical integration it has with its hardware).

Another obstacle for Android is that only about 20 percent of its smartphones have the processing capability of the iPhone, and as panoramic apps require a lot of image processing during photo stitching, many Android phones don’t have enough RAM to make this possible (at least at speed). Devaiah cited the example of a phone like the HTC wildfire, which has the processing capability lesser than that of an iPhone 2G.

This is where the technology that won the startup the “best emerging tech” award comes into play. TeliportMe brought its photo stitching technology to the Android phone, which to a large extent negates the issues caused due to multiple hardware configurations, allowing it to function smoothly over 200 models of android phones. (The startup has also built a version of its photostitching app that works on the browser, which it will be launching soon.)

So, 360 allows its users to quickly take high quality panoramas, which they can then view on the apps 3D viewer. Users can share panoramas via Facebook and Twitter, as well as view, comment, and “like” photos taken by people all over the world on 360′s public realtime feed. The app also taps into the phone’s location to allow users to discover other people using 360 in close proximity, using its “Around Me” option.

Check out 360 in the Android Marketplace here, and for the 360′s humorous take on “the Google+ guy” dissing other photo apps, check out this video. For more on 360, look out, video below:



PressOK’s PlacePlay Lets Developers Integrate Location Features And Local Advertising Into Games

Seattle-based PressOK Entertainment, a game development company, launched an interesting new service this week in public beta called PlacePlay, which the startup describes as a “location enablement platform” for games. Location is something that hasn’t really been explored much in gaming as of yet, so simply put, PlacePlay aims to tackle the obstacles that prevent location from becoming a relevant facet of the games we play every day.

For starters, the platform is focused on giving game developers the ability to quickly add local tournaments into gameplay, so that a user can, for example, play a virtual game of Battleship with other players that live on the same block. Though tournaments are the primary feature of the platform at this point, PlacePlay also supports location-based virtual goods, objects, achievements, and more.

PlacePlay is targeting Apple iOS as its main platform, but it just so happens that Apple prevents mobile developers from displaying location-based advertising in apps if they don’t include location based features. Happily for developers, because PlacePlay gives them easy access to location-based features for gameplay, developers also have the ability to take advantage of integrated local advertising networks to not only drive more engagement via in-game activities like tournaments, but also gives them access to higher ad revenue from targeted local advertising.

PressOK CEO and Co-founder Ryan Morel says that the simple truth is that it’s much easier to drive consumer action as part of gameplay than to drive action outside of gameplay, i.e. implicit user behavior versus explicit. In other words, if game developers were to add no reward for a user to join, say, a game’s leaderboard (other than it being free), but added incentive for users to play in certain locations (like free level packs for completing location-based challenges) — engagement is still going to be much higher in leaderboards, which are implicitly part of gameplay, rather than actions that are not.

There’s less friction for a consumer to participate in a local tournament than there is to get them to take some specific action at a specific place or time. When it comes to appeal for advertisers, it’s hard to find location-based games that overcome these challenges and still have a large enough user base to be relevant, he says.

In allowing third party developers access to PlacePlay’s SDK, the startup hopes that it will be able to collect data from a large number of users, across a wide set of games, by integrating features gamers love (like leaderboards, tournaments, virtual goods, etc.) around location. In the short term, Morel says, PlacePlay will monetize through integrated local ad networks, and longterm the startup plans to monetize through direct deals with brands and sponsors. Widespread distribution of its SDK among game developers will obviously be key if this is to happen.

Thus, the value proposition for PlacePlay is that it allows developers to drive both engagement and revenue; based on early testing, PlacePlay increases end-user engagement by 1.6-times and offers eCPMs of up to $20 — which should be music to the ears of game developers.

The startup is bootstrapped at this point, but it has already begun working with developers like Joybits and Brisk Mobile, and is in the process of converting more.

For another gaming startup making some cool strides in location-based features, especially in regard to gaming check-ins, check out our recent coverage of Heyzap.

For more on PlacePlay, check out the video below:



Stocial Launches In Beta To Blend StockTwits With Yahoo Finance (Invites Herein)

With the recent success of StockTwits, the market seems to be showing that there’s ample demand for a social micro-blogging service that targets stocks, trading, and financial information. Or at least that’s what Stocial is hoping. The Seattle-based startup, which is launching today in public beta, wants to be, in conception, the love child of StockTwits and Yahoo! Finance — or, said another way, Bloomberg for the people, by the people.

Essentially, Stocial wants to give its users access to realtime market data and trending stock sentiment in a virtual and “game-ified” venue. Of course, most tickers are capable of the those first two, and StockTwits has certainly shown that Twitter can be a great resource for realtime financial information. But Stocial Founder and CEO Fahad Kamr says that, with its 140-character limit, Twitter doesn’t embody the full potential for sharing stock information.

Stocial wants to incorporate the Twitter feed, but go a couple of steps further, by giving users access to the top stories from Business Insider, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Bloomberg, etc., all curated in a live feed. So users not only have their Twitter feed but a social feed, where they can see information coming in from friends and followers, as well as a “Stock Pick” feed that tracks, you guessed it, which stocks people are picking and sharing on Stocial. More feeds equals more engagement.

Users can also customize their Stocial stock platform to view news and trends for the overall market, or for specific stocks, keep watch on those stocks, or create circles of experts and follow top investors on Twitter and Stocial, as well as experience news and tweets in realtime or by top items. And much of its infrastructure is powered by Echo, so it’s all scalable and realtime.

But, perhaps the best part is that Stocial offers “contests” in which its users can win cash and, eventually, even land a job. In these contests, users get to pick stocks, go long or short, and pick their price. Contests generally last for two days or a week, at which point the winner receives $50 in cash. And, eventually, $100 and more.

Stocial is thus incentivizing its users by offering a carrot at the end of the string. The startup is currently working with investment firms and banks to source top trading jobs. So, as the startup allows its users to collect badges and lift their reputation score on the platform by picking stocks, interacting, and sharing, when one reaches a high enough level of engagement, the user becomes eligible for a nifty prize: An interview at one of those top firms.

While startups like Zecco are taking new approaches to social stock trading by offering users the ability to trade in real markets — on Facebook in the Zecco’s case — Stocial is instead focusing on virtual trading. Rather than be a site where users can trade in real markets (and there are plenty of these), the Seattle startup wants to be a resource for personalized content, a training ground for users looking to jump into real markets.

To make trading stocks less scary, Stocial created a simple virtual stock trading platform. Stocial only focuses on making stock picks, or, in other words, make forecasts over where the stock may be headed, taking portfolios and the risk-laden aspect of speculation out of the equation. At its core, stock trading can really feel like a game, but of course, when you’re playing with real money, it’s anything but. Thus, with its virtual stock market, Stocial seems positioned to take advantage of the inherent game-ification in trading, yet without the risk and plus the rewards.

The Stocial value proposition, at least in comparison to StockTwits, is that the startup offers realtime, personalized financial news curation, and allows users not only participate in stock conversation via Twitter, but also via the platform in threaded comments (that look a lot like Facebook comments). Like StockTwits, Stocial is also going after social discovery, by allowing users to discover new friends and experts based on the stocks they’ve selected. It also incorporates your existing social circles, so that when a friend on Facebook joins Stocial, users will immediately be alerted.

Currently, Stocial’s team of four is in the process of testing the viability of its business in the space, and is fully bootstrapped at this point, though it is looking to begin raising its first round of investment in the coming months.

TechCrunch readers can grab early access to Stocial’s beta here.



Crowdtap Raises $7 Million To Help Brands Connect With Their Influential Customers

Crowdtap, a service that allows marketers to easily collaborate with and mobilize targeted crowds of influential consumers, announced today that it has raised $7 million in series A funding. The round was led by Foundry Group, with participation from GSA Venture Partners and social media agency Mr. Youth.

Mr. Youth invested $3 million of seed funding in Crowdtap back in 2009 (and served as an incubator for the company during its early stages), which brings the startup’s total current investment to $10 million. Crowdtap said that it will use its infusion of capital to ramp up hiring in both its sales and engineering teams.

With an ever-widening gulf between consumers and brands, Crowdtap is attempting to retool marketing to make it a more collaborative and participatory process. It’s certainly an ambitious goal, which the startup hopes to catalyze by allowing brands and marketing agencies to access its growing member base of 150,000 Crowdtappers. The startup wants to become a network “for Brand Influencer Communities”, or, in other words, a resource that aggregates groups of influential consumers that can be tapped for realtime research, collaboration, or word-of-mouth marketing.

Leveraging existing customer bases, along with locating potential new customers, is no easy feat for brands. Crowdtap hopes to enable brands to identify, centralize, and activate key consumers by more easily tapping into their Facebook, Twitter, and CRM channels. Crowdtap offers brands the ability to poll their top customers, view profiles of these customers, and receive breakdowns and analysis of the polls, which can then be retargeted based on answers provided. Brands can also form panels of consumer to quickly start discussions, posing questions to which consumers can then respond, comment on, and vote.

For its community of Crowdtappers, the startup attempts to increase brand engagement by offering a game-ified experience, allowing these members to level-up, gaining status among their favorite brands, earn perks, get access to the latest products, and make donations to charities of their choice.

Since launching its beta platform in August of 2010, Crowdtappers have completed 4.6 million brand actions, which include polling, online panels, social sampling, etc., and the startup’s communities are now averaging nearly 400,000 actions per week. Crowdtap launched officially at SxSW in March and has since added another 100,000 members in the U.S.

Brands currently working with Crowdtap include Old Navy, AMEX, Pinkberry, MSN, Diageo and Bing, and the startup has also forged partnerships with PR, creative, and digital agencies like Weber Shandwick, GolinHarris, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal, and Mullen.

For more on Crowdtap, check out the video below:

Company:
CROWDTAP
Launch Date:
1/10/2009

Crowdtap is the network for Brand Influencer Communities. Crowdtap allows marketers to easily collaborate, mobilize and market with their targeted brand crowd of influential consumers. Crowdtap makes...

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Solve Media Is CAPTCHA-ing 620K Type-In Ads A Day

Ads are everywhere: They’re in our content, they’re online and offline, they’re on buses, billboards, and more. I’ve been told just to “get used to it” — that the advertising proliferation is only going to continue — so I’m thinking of selling some space on my forehead. Might as well take advantage. Of course, those who are successful in digital advertising are generally those who can find these to non-traditional areas to use as advertising space, especially if they prove more effective than typical display (or banner) advertising. Late last year, a young startup called Solve Media began taking ads into a new niche digital territory by reformulating … CAPTCHAs.

Yep. You heard that right. “Captcha” boxes, for those unfamiliar, are those prompts that require users to input an odd array of letters and numbers so that the ticket vendor from which they’re buying tickets (for example), can be sure that the user is not some kind of evil spam robot. Thus, Solve Media’s unique approach is to use its “TYPE-IN” platform to replace those fuzzy words and numbers often used in puzzle-based CAPTCHA systems with a simple logo, or a brand message in quotes — along with a simple input box. Users type in what brand they see, or answer the given question, for example, and then proceed on their merry way.

It’s an interesting approach and has actually tested quite well. For the most part, consumers are far less likely to struggle with Solve Media’s CAPTCHAs than they are with those annoying fuzzy puzzle CAPTCHAs. On the other hand, publishers get to employ a security buffer (when needed), and advertisers get guaranteed views and impressions for their brands. In fact, according to Solve Media CEO Ari Jacoby, consumers who saw a Solve Media type-in ad engaged 29 percent of the time during June of this year — far higher than traditional engagement in other forms of advertising.

Compared to banner ads, in particular, which are nearly universally disliked and rarely clicked on, Solve Media’s type-in model is seeing a much higher level of engagement. And, for the consumer, at least interacting with a Solve Media ad gets them somewhere.

Of course, the fact that a user is basically forced to interact with Solve’s ads would seem a deterrent, but according to Jacoby, so far there have been few complaints. Because, in short, typical CAPTCHAs really are a pain in the ass, and Solve’s type-ins save the user time in comparison. It’s much faster to type in Pepsi than it is to figure out what kind of devil-speak a traditional CAPTCHA is asking you to regurgitate.

Furthermore, in regard to its new approach testing well: Since launching in September of last year, Solve Media has attracted more than 2,000 publishers and more than 75 advertisers. Advertisers, including names like Toyota, Microsoft, Universal Pictures, AOL, and Tribune are now using the platform.

Solve Media saw nearly 15 million successful type-ins across its platform in June, which, according to Jacoby, would be the equivalent of serving 15 billion banner ads — assuming the industry average CTR of 0.1 percent. And considering the average for rich media is about 3 percent, that’s still a significant lift.

What’s more, Solve is also averaging 620,000 type-ins per day in July (up from just over 500K in June), and is growing 15 percent month-over-month, according to Jacoby. And the network has grown over 460 percent since launch. It seems they may be onto something.

In fact, IHG, which owns Holiday Inn, ran an advertising campaign in May and June on Solve’s platform (for its so-called “Vacation Pay”) that delivered a 122 percent lift in brand awareness and 15-times the average CTR, according to comScore.

Solve is growing like gangbusters, and the startup really seems to have hit on a valuable niche space that supports advertising and guarantees brand interaction in ways other solutions (and forms of advertising) can’t. For more, check out Solve’s video below, and tell us what you think.