Gary Vaynerchuk, ‘The Sommelier of Social Media’, Partners With Consmr

If you’re anything like me, this scenario may be somewhat familiar: You’re standing in the aisle of your local supermarket, or Walgreens, and you’re looking to buy a particular type of product, be it peanut butter or shaving cream or shampoo, yet you don’t have any particular allegiance to one brand over another.

Confronted with the often overwhelming abundance of choice, you may hold the product up to the light or quickly read the back label, hoping some divine intervention will guide you to the right choice. In the end, you probably make a choice based on appearance, brand familiarity, or something you read somewhere once. (When, really, you have no idea what the difference is between Scope and Listerine, other than minty-ness.)

Now, in spite of feeling fortunate to have surfeit options baked into my shopping experience, I often find myself asking, “do we really need 40 different brands of deodorant to choose from?” The market might respond by saying something annoying like, “competition is good, bro”, but I ask, if we’re going to have this level of choice, is there a better way to be making product decisions other than by oft-times arbitrary selection criteria?

A young New York City-based startup is trying to answer that question in the affirmative. Consmr, besides not liking all of its vowels, is attempting to build the Yelp, or Rotten Tomatoes, of consumer packaged goods (CPGs). While at this point Consmr may not be able to offer you a thoroughly detailed treatise on the value of Scope over Listerine, that’s the bent of its long-term goal.

Consmr Founder and CEO Ryan Charles left his full-time job at Zagat (where he was the head of mobile and was responsible for its partnerships with Foodspotting and Foursquare) at the end of March to pursue his new startup. Why?

The genesis dates back to the height of the recession, he says, when a lot of we consumers became more discerning (and price conscious) in regard to their daily product decisions. While there’s been tremendous growth in web research on CPGs, the sources for this information are fragmented. There’s no Yelp or LibraryThing, or sites taking advantage of crowdsourced data or social integration to help you choose which product is right for you. And he has a good point; all-in-one sources for movie, TV, book, and restaurant recommendations (to name a few) are alive and well, so why not for CPGs?

While the idea is an appealing one, the question is, of course, why one should spend time writing reviews of toothpaste? What incentive is there? Consmr isn’t going to bribe you to write reviews, but it will give you badges. Whether an average day-to-day user is browsing for the answer to a question like “what’s the best green-friendly laundry detergent?” or a micro-expert (like an ice cream blogger) wants to share their particular experience, the initial incentive is a game-ified user experience: Anyone can compete to earn badges that Consmr calls “flair” (a la Office Space), or “level-up” in reputation, or become a category expert.

The appeal of being a category expert, Charles says, is that category experts are featured prominently on the site, including being recommended as someone to “follow”. Thus, users are incentivized to write longer reviews, to take time with their descriptions, in the effort to become a product expert — a veritable lord or lady of the detergents.

Consmr has been in the process, like every other data-based recommendation engine before it, of gathering user reviews and building a sizable dataset. In the next few weeks, it plans to add recommendations based on products a user has rated highly and trends it picks up in your Consmr activity. (Similar in conceit to Netflix’s recommendation engine.) Consmr is also hard at work on its mobile apps — an equally important piece of the in-store recommendations puzzle.

And, today, the startup added to its feature set by forging a partnership with Gary Vaynerchuk, the popular author, business guru, and “sommelier of social media”. Beginning today, all of Veynerchuk’s Daily Grape and Wine Library TV reviews will be added to the site, which those who follow the wine guy will be able to see daily in their personal feed.

“I get thrown a lot of stuff on a daily basis and sometimes my intuition just tells me a platform is worth trying out”, Veynerchuk told TechCrunch. “I’m thrilled to speculate at times with new platforms and Consmr hit my radar as something that was worth trying”.

Consmr launched officially to the world back in June and is in the process of raising funding. The site still has some work to do on bits and pieces of its design and will require some serious adoption before product recommendations become flawless, but the idea could have legs. Rating different types of peanut butter is surprisingly addicting.

Let us know what you think.

Nearbuy Nabs A Cool Million From Motorola Ventures, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, And More

Nearbuy Systems, the maker of indoor positioning solutions, announced today that it has raised $1 million in seed funding. The seed round was led by Motorola Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, and Metamorphic Ventures. The funding will be used to bring Nearbuy’s technology to retail stores across the U.S.

Just as startups like ZuluTime and Shopkick are finding different ways to innovate in the in-store loyalty and advertising space, Nearbuy, too is going after the “holy grail” of in-store marketing: In-store consumer location. Because GPS tends not to be able to locate you indoors — and the indoor systems that do exist tend not to be precise — Nearbuy has developed a refined WiFi technology that can locate a customer in the store within 3 feet.

With advanced positioning, retailers can offer consumers discounts, coupons, and deals in realtime as they wander through the aisles, making those tricky purchasing decisions. If a consumer is standing in the sporting goods section, the business can use Nearbuy’s technological conduit to serve them with a discount on kayaks, and so on. But, beyond targeted marketing, solutions like Nearbuy’s can offer consumers in-store navigation (which will be great for places like Ikea and Home Depot), a concierge “Help” button, etc. all through a simple opt-in WiFi setup.

And, for businesses, Nearbuy’s LocalEyes solution can integrate with existing infrastructures already in place, create enhanced mobile commerce apps, and using its micro-location data, can glean valuable shopping trends and behavior, and optimize time-consuming stuff like warehouse management and store set-ups.

While it may be slightly off-putting, the fact is that humans spend 87 percent of their time indoors, and, as mobile technology evolves, the devices in our pockets (along with complementary solutions) are becoming more and more adept at tracking our movements. It makes the security and privacy-conscious a little nervous, which is why it’s great to hear that these technologies are opt-in and come with advanced security mechanisms. That being said, these precise positioning systems have the potential to be a goldmine for retailers and advertisers, and can offer some nifty enhancements to the consumer’s shopping experience.

“We just want to make the shopping experience better for everyone”, says Nearbuy Founder and CEO Bryan Wargo. As long as they don’t sell my location data to the highest bidder, I’m buying.

For more on Nearbuy Systems, check out the video below:

With A Half Billion Pages Signed, DocuSign Launches Free Edition

Docusign, the cloud-based electronic signature platform, today announced that is has processed more than a half billion pages of “contracts, agreements and other legally binding documents”, all as part of its effort to enable businesses to go paperless in the document sharing and signing process. According to the company, this effort has saved more than 60,000 trees, and what would equate to $10 million in shipping costs. To commemorate the milestone, DocuSign has made a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation to preserve one million square feet of rain forest.

DocuSign also announced today the release of the latest edition of its eSignature solution, including the first appearance of a free version. This update to platform will bring DocuSign users the ability to “tag documents, auto-save, and make use of HTML5 enhancements”, the team said, like the ability to drag and drop files into DocuSign’s envelope to send, as well as pull documents from, Dropbox, Google Docs and Salesforce.

DocuSign’s new solution will also include interactive dashboards and reporting to let users know where documents stand in the review and signing process, and browser-aware localization, which will put documents in the user’s native language based on the user’s browser.

Most notably, DocuSign now includes integration with social networks, allowing users to sign in with Facebook, LinkedIn, Paypal, and Salesforce.

Lastly, DocuSign will be offering its users a free edition of its platform, in which they can sign up for a free account and receive 5-free “sends” (documents sent and signed) per month, with no credit card required.

Because the electronic signatures company now has over 8 million DocuSigners, when Adobe entered the eSignature space last year, DocuSign welcomed the addition “as market validation”. But, yesterday, Adobe announced the acquisition of EchoSign, an eSignature solution with over 3 million users, which it plans to integrate into its document software. This could symbolize some serious future competition for DocuSign, and it’s interesting to see DocuSign’s announcements today follow so closely on the heels of Adobe’s announcement.

However, Tim Gonser, DocuSign’s CEO, told TechFlash that the company still leads as a solution for enterprise customers, with “80 percent SaaS market share”. It also benefits from significant adoption resulting from a partnership and investment from the National Association of Realtors, according to TechFlash.

It also helps that DocuSign raised $27 million from Scale Venture Partners,, Sigma Partners, Ignition Partners and Frazier Technology in December of last year, bringing total capital raised to just over $56 million.

Check out the additions here.

Inbox Overload Begone: Taskforce Exits Beta, Goes Pro With Paid Version

Email is an essential part of our daily communication, but it can also be a real pain in the ass. Or, going one step further, as my colleague MG Siegler recently put it, “email is the absolute devil”. This fact even prompted him to channel Peter Gibbons and quit email altogether. I, personally, applaud this bold move but, instead of taking a vow of abstinence, am turning to other tools to help find a way to funnel the fire hose. Of course, this problem is not new, and many startups and products have tried to climb Mount Email, many with little success.

While it will take a near-divine intervention for me to declare a winner in this fight, Taskforce, a member of the Y Combinator Winter Class of 2011, is taking a better shot than most other tools I’ve used. (You can check out our February profile of the startup here.)

Taskforce offers an extension that integrates with Gmail to convert your emails into task lists and makes it simple to create reminders. Appearing out of your inbox like a tall Google toolbar, Taskforce, perhaps more importantly comes with collaboration and calendar tools, enabling you to add collaborators, set due dates, and comment on and hide tasks that don’t need to be completed immediately.

When you add a collaborator to a task, Taskforce alerts them to the shared task and if you make updates to the collaborated tasks, it sends further alerts — and your collaborators don’t have to be using Taskforce. (These collaborative functions are what sets it apart from GTasks.) And even though it adds buttons to your emails allowing you to convert them to tasks, Taskforce doesn’t actually access your inbox. Everything happens through the extension.

Since going into beta in February, Taskforce Founders Niccolo Pantucci and Courtland Allen have been poring over feedback from users and are today officially stepping out of beta to launch publicly. They’ve added a few more features to flesh out the extension’s usability.

Taskforce has introduced a mobile app and are now unveiling a paid version of the service, called Taskforce Pro, which includes a number of additions, including collaborative lists that enable light-weight project management to be carried out in teams, GTasks sync to enable tasks to be pushed from Taskforce into GTasks as well as GCal.

Pro will also allow users to reprioritize tasks that they can choose the order in which they work on their to-do lists, take advantage of keyboard shortcuts, as well as (and importantly) the ability to maximize and minimize the size and presentation of the Taskforce in-email app — a much requested feature according to Pantucci, including by yours truly.

Pantucci also told me that Taskforce has seen great early user adoption, with numbers in the “tens of thousands” of signups, including some by “some very well known tech companies”. Although the founders declined to share specific notable users this early in the game, we were able to find out that a particular company that just recently launched its music service in the U.S. has become an active Taskforce user.

In terms of funding, as part of YC’s class of 2011, Taskforce was included in Yuri Milner’s no-strings-attached convertible debt investment offer of $150K, which the startup accepted. And thanks to Taskforce’s incubation at Y Combinator, the founders were advised by Paul Buchheit, who is a Partner at YC and also happens to be the creator of Gmail.

Taskforce Pro provides the startup with a great opportunity to begin monetizing, and Pantucci said that, when the founders bounced the idea off of early adopters, many said that they would welcome a paid option. Pro will initially be priced at $5 a month, and all Taskforce users will have access to Pro’s features for the first 30 days of using the service, whereafter users will be asked to pay. Those who continue with the free version still have access to Taskforce’s core features — on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

Next stop: Taking Taskforce beyond task management, pushing integration with other tools, like Dropbox, for example. Document management is a possibility as well. To learn more, visit Taskforce at home here.

Applifier Hits 100 Million Installs, Brings Social Game Discovery Bar To Mobile

Applifier, the cross-promotional network of social game publishers, announced today that it has delivered over 100 million game installs for free on Facebook. Launched in 2010, Applifier set out on a mission to help game publishers find new users and get their games discovered on the social network, and has since grown like a weed. Now connecting over 800 games, Applifier gives publishers the tools to promote their games across their network of over 150 million monthly active users, via bookmarks and retargeting, and “featured spots”.

Of course, the best part about Applifier is that developers don’t pay anything to use the service, they can take advantage of the startup’s paid user acquisition campaigns simply by adding 5 lines of HTML to their Facebook pages or browser game.

Just as it is on the Web, the mobile game space is becoming crowded with games, and gamers are always looking for new games to whet their appetite, so today Applifier launched a cross-promotion solution for iOS. Android is set drop later this summer. Like its web version, Applifier Mobile is free. The mobile version will display recommended games on its bar, where users can click to get more information on the game or scroll to view other games.

It’s a great way for gamers to find new games and for publishers to have a way for their games to be discovered in the crowded sea of social games. It’s a similar model to the App Store’s “Featured Apps”, which is really one of the few options app developers have in the attempt to get their apps discovered on iOS, besides spending tons of cash on marketing and publicity. Smaller game makers don’t have access to those kinds of funds, and so Applifier’s free-to-use platform offers a great alternative.

As Apple recently banned the pay-per-install incentivized apps from the App Store, the fact that Applifier doesn’t pay its users to try out a new game is another leg up. While that may be disappointing for some gamers, it keeps things honest. After all, the company just wants gamers to have another way to find new games that they would enjoy playing. And help the people who make those games find them. “Our value proposition for the players is simple: Hey, you like games. How about some more?” said Applifier CEO Jussi Laakkonen.

Back in January, Applifier raised $2 million for its cross-promotional platform, which it has used to help launch its new mobile outfit and help independent game makers compete against Zynga and its cross-promotional tools. It’s been an uphill battle, but with over 150 million monthly active users, 100 million installs, and 800 games, it seems to be working.

For more, check out Dean Takahashi’s early review of the service.

Fighting Ticketmaster, The Edge Invests In Ticketing Startup

Ticket Text, the makers of Ticket ABC, a white label mobile ticketing solution, announced today that they have raised $350,000 in seed funding from The Edge, a.k.a. David Evans, or the guy who plays guitar for U2. Several other Dublin and London-based angels participated in the round, with Ticket Text’s total investment now at just over $1 million. The Irish startup will use this infusion of capital to expanding its service in Europe and eventually to the U.S.

Ticketmaster has long been a source of grief for consumers, with its high fees and charges, especially considering the ticket company has long had a nearly monopolistic grip on music ticketing. Today, venues, promoters, and artists are looking to bring their ticketing solutions back in-house — out of the reach of the ticket agencies that control pricing, customer data, etc. But existing choices really just consist of outsourcing to an agency or using a licensed ticketing solution.

Ticket Text wants to change all that by providing a low cost white label ticketing and venue management solution that attempts to put the control over ticketing back in the hands of the little guy. For starters, there are no upfront, annual or customization costs, and all the data is owned by the client.

The solution also offers an automated refund process, and Ticket ABC users can reissue their tickets, both pain points for a number of ticket solutions. Ticket ABC also offers an integrated wireless solution that enables clients to scan mobile and eTickets at multiple places within a venue.

Founder and CEO of Ticket Text Mark McLaughlin said that the team has made a point to architect mobile into the core of the Ticket ABC solution, because they believe that ticketing will become commoditized, so the key for venues and ticketing companies in the future will be to know where their customers are at the venue when they scan their ticket, so that they can communicate with them there and up-sell.

Ticket ABC has also been optimized for mobile so that consumers can purchase tickets from mobile browsers and apps.

Other great features include the ability to create seat maps, set zone prices, seat statuses, and seat rankings — and for the consumer the ability to choose seats when buying tickets — all baked into the solution’s UI. And because Ticket ABC recently added support for another payment service provider, if there are outages or problems, the solution has the ability to switch providers. Always good to have a “Plan B”.

Lastly, Ticket ABC comes with social features that allow its clients to promote their events on Twitter and Facebook, so that users can share what events they’re attending and when they plan to purchase their tickets. The solution also adds a “Buy Tickets” button to a venue or business’ Facebook page, which is a nifty little feature.

And because venues may not want to create a whole new separate site for ticketing, the solution provides an embeddable widgets to that ticket providers can add the solution to their own site.

As to the cost of the solution, there is a flat fee of 5 percent, plus a 99-cents per transaction, which includes payment service provider costs, credit card and hosting fees. Ticket Tex hopes that by charging transactional fees rather than charging upfront, annual or customization fees, the pricing will allow client revenue to be generated proportionally to the costs of using the solution.

Ticket ABC’s current clients include fabric, Pacha, and Bird On The Wire.

For an example of a Ticket ABC solution, check one out here.

Can Rdio Withstand The Spotify Assault? A Feature-By-Feature Look

Spotify is finally here in the US. It offers on-demand music for a relatively low price — just like Rdio. There’s several service levels including mobile listening and offline support — just like Rdio. There’s even support for third-party hardware and platforms — just like Rdio.

Rdio has a head start in this race but it might not matter. Rdio left private beta last August and has since gained a good deal of traction here in the States. It’s our hometown hero, if you will. Even though it wasn’t available until today, Spotify’s hype built the service up to near legandary status. The two services are remarkably similar on the outside, but when you dive in, there are some distinct and fun differences.

Quick specs:


  • Free account, limited playback, ad-supported
  • $5 for desktop streaming
  • $10 desktop, mobile and offline support
  • Launched in the US on July 14, 2011
  • Features the catalog of the 4 major record companies
  • “Over 15 million tracks”
  • Bitrate Quality: 160 kbps with some tracks at 320 kbps for premium users


  • $5 for desktop streaming
  • $10 desktop, mobile and offline support
  • Launched in the US on August 3, 2010
  • Features the catalog of the 4 major record companies
  • “Over 8 million songs”
  • Bitrate Quality: 256kbps

Desktop apps

Both companies take a different approach to their desktop application. Spotify’s desktop app is designed to be a catch-all, a one stop solution for all your media needs. It allows users to steam music and playback local media. It can sync songs with connected media players (including iPods) and cache streaming songs for offline playback. It’s truly meant to be the only media player you need on your computer.

That’s not the case with Rdio, whose desktop app is really just a portal to its web service. Nearly everything is the same, including the navigation paths and user interface. Rdio’s app lacks any local media playback functions, which may be just fine for some users. The desktop app does play friendly with keyboard media functions (like the pause/play key you may have) where Rdio’s web service does not.

The different approaches result in a slightly different feel. Both services are designed around music discovery, but Rdio’s desktop application, since it’s really just a skinned web app, outclasses Spotify in this area. Nearly everything is a hyperlink to more content. The album cover, the song, the artist, every user element has a link that takes you to music. Spotify goes about it in a traditional desktop way by have simple navigation paths, but they’re not as easily identifiable.

Still, Spotify’s desktop app is far more versatile than Rdio’s. It seamlessly mixes online and offline content with social sharing tools. The music discovery paths could use some work but the other functions combine to beat Rdio’s.

Winner: Spotify

Web apps

Spotify doesn’t have a web app. This is a key difference between the two services. Rdio will work in nearly any browser on any computer and maintain user settings. At work? Just log in and all your music, friends and listening history is there. This isn’t available on Spotify.

In fact, Rdio was originally just a web service. The OS X desktop app came a few months after the service launched, and the Windows flavor just dropped a few weeks back. The whole service is designed to operate from within a browser and does so wonderfully.

I’ve found that Rdio’s web app allows it to work on web-connected devices such as the Boxee Box or Google TV. Rdio doesn’t have a dedicated app on either of these Internet appliances but the device’s web browser allows you to use the service anyway. You can’t do that with Spotify although the service is available on several hardware platforms (more on this farther down.)

Winner: Rdio (by default)

Mobile apps

Neither of these services would be as popular if they didn’t support mobile listening. Both Rdio and Spotify have functional mobile apps that ports most of the service’s functions to your smartphone. Once again, on the surface, the two sound very similar and feature the same functions including offline modes.

The two apps are very similar and there really isn’t a standout. It’s more a personal preference. Rdio’s UI is a bit more simple, but still maintains a lot of the elements found in the web app. Spotify’s on the other hand is sort of busy, but nicely integrates the socal media sharing functions. Both play music and that’s the most important function anyway.

One standout in this area is MOG’s app. Not only does it flow better than Spotify’s or Rdio’s, MOG’s smartphone app is simply beautiful. It feels like a smartphone media app rather than a web app crammed into a smartphone.

Winner: MOG

Social features

Everything has to be social now and so both media services are built tightly around this thought. Both make it easy enough to share playlists, albums and songs through Facebook and Twitter. However, Spotify takes it one step farther and gives users the ability to quickly share songs and albums through a sort of internal mail system. Glee bombing is quickly becoming a favorite pastime of mine.

However, while I’m of the opinion that none of this sharing nonsense is necessary, Spotify does, once again, outperform Rdio mainly as it allows subscribers to share songs with anyone; all that’s required to listen is a free Spotify account. Rdio allows for embedding of songs, but you have to a paying subscriber pay to listen.

Winner: Spotify

Music discovery

It has never been easier to discover new music and trends. Rdio and Spotify, along with several other streaming sites like MOG, Grooveshark, and Rhapsody, built their service around this core idea. With the exception of Grooveshark, these services tend to take the album approach by presenting users with a grid of album covers. Spotify uses the What’s New section as its homescreen where Rdio’s Heavy Rotation section (the service’s most popular music) is the first page displayed.

This is where Rdio tops Spotify. Nearly everything on Rdio, either on the web app or desktop app, guides you to music. The designers placed a hyperlink where ever someone might want to click. Best of all, following the rabbit down the hole of music discovery doesn’t interrupt the music playback — even on the website. A sidebar is off to the right on nearly every page with relative songs, artists, and info. Want to hear music of the same sort? Each page has a Play Radio Station button that cues up similar songs and artists.

Both services have similar sections in new releases, most popular, and top charts. Rdio also features a recommendations section that displays new artists based on your listening habits. This section alone allows Rdio to topple Spotify in the music discovery category.

Winner: Rdio

In the end, though, I doubt these differences will really matter. Rdio is an amazing tool to discovery new music and Spotify is the media player from the future. There’s more than enough space in this huge market for several major players. Spotify might quickly outpace Rdio simply because of advertising and its slightly more recognizable brand. But the real winner are us consumers. As Louis C.K. wisely put, “The shittiest cell phone in the world is a miracle.” This also applies to streaming music services.