Fresh from closing its purchase of newsreading app Pulse, LinkedIn has made another acquisition to dive deeper into the mobile space. TechCrunch has found out, and confirmed, that the social network has aqui-hired Maybe, the social polling startup founded by Omar Hamoui — the man who set up, ran and then sold mobile ad company AdMob to Google for $750 million.
All staff from Maybe, except for Hamoui himself, are now at LinkedIn and working in its mobile division. That includes four engineers and one designer, LinkedIn has told us. Meanwhile, Maybe itself has now shut down. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed.
Maybe first emerged in June of last year, a startup that was incubated and spun out of Hamoui’s now-defunct startup generator Churn Labs.
Maybe was one of the contenders in the area of polling startups — an area that has seen some other M&A activity, specifically with the acquisition of GoPollGo by Yahoo. Others include Seesaw, Fashism and Thumb.
It’s not clear why Maybe closed up shop so fast. Maybe because the polling space is so crowded? Maybe because Hamoui is working on something else? Maybe because LinkedIn made Maybe an offer it couldn’t refuse? LinkedIn is not commenting further, and we have not yet heard back from Hamoui himself. Maybe we will update when we do.
Update: Hamoui has now responded to confirm the acqui-hire as well, and explain a little more of what went on:
“After a number of different product directions we didn’t feel that what we were building was having the impact we wanted,” he says.
Putting aside competitive pressures in the polling space and startups in general looking for just the right product for the market, there is a connection between LinkedIn and Admob: Kevin Scott, SVP of Engineering at the social network, was previously VP of Engineering at AdMob. TechCrunch understands that after Hamoui and his two co-founders, Haider Sabri and Wayne Pan, met with him, they all decided it would be a natural next step for the mobile-focused team that they had built up.
“Although we had plenty of cash of in the bank, we were really impressed with the team and vision at LinkedIn,” says Hamoui. “Having the excellent mobile focused team we had built join them was clearly a way to have the kind of impact we were hoping for.”
Hamoui says the his own next steps “aren’t locked down yet.” We’ll definitely keep you posted with what we find out.
GiftCards.com, a Pittsburgh-based company that has been around for more than a decade and has sold 5 million gift cards, agreed to buy San Francisco startup Giftly to grow out a mobile platform.
The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Giftly had raised about $2.8 million from investors including Baseline Ventures, SoftTech VC, Floodgate, Thrive Capital, and Techstars’ David Tisch.
Giftly’s acquisition follows a number of other ones. Karma was picked up very early by Facebook although it may not produce meaningful revenue for some time for the social network, according to its earnings results earlier this year. Another gifting startup, Giftiki, which pooled together people’s money to get gifts, was acquired by Launchrock.
Giftly built a platform that avoided the hassle of individually dealing with merchants and point-of-sale systems. They came out with a native mobile app last fall that made it easier to send presents to friends and family.
The company’s platform didn’t put any limitations on what kinds of presents you could send because the company had a web of relationships with banks and credit card processors. When a recipient would go to redeem their gift, they would pay out of their own pocket, but Giftly would reimburse them that amount through their credit card.
GiftCards.com said Giftly will be rolled into their operations, but will maintain offices in San Francisco.
“We will continue to build out Giftly,” said Giftly’s CEO Timothy Bentley. “Our backend infrastructure will be used for their next generation products. We’ll continue to expand
the ways our technology and services are available to developers, through our API, and merchants, through our merchant services.”
The company is also looking to raise a first venture round, even though it’s been around for more than 10 years. That round will go toward completing the acquisition of Giftly. GiftCards.com has been around since 1999; they sell personalized, pre-designed and discount gift cards.
Another step for Adobe in its bid to become the go-to place in the cloud for those working in design and other creative industries: it is acquiring Thumb Labs, a bootstrapped, New York-based mobile app design agency.
Jared Verdi, one of the co-founders of Thumb Labs along with Rich Kern, tells TechCrunch that financial terms of the Thumb Labs acquisition are not being disclosed.
The news follows on from Adobe’s acquisition of another New York-based design startup, Behance, a platform for designers and others in the creative industries to share their work, which Adobe picked up in December 2012 reportedly for around $150 million. Earlier this month, Adobe put the Behance acquisition into context when it announced a massive push on its Creative Cloud strategy, with social/community features powered by Behance.
Verdi tells TechCrunch that Thumb Labs will see out existing contracts it has with other clients, but as of May 31, it will focus its efforts exclusively on making mobile apps for Behance.
That’s a position it knows well. Thumb Labs, which officially launched as a business in 2011, created the first mobile app for Behance, and as it points out in a note announcing the deal on its site, “We have been working closely with their talented team ever since.” That’s included a new version of the Behance app, and its Creative Portfolio app. There are under 10 people working for Thumb Labs right now, Verdi says, and all of them are joining Adobe, based out of New York.
Thumb Labs’ other clients have included a roster of startups, such as TechStars alum Bondsy (a platform to trade goods with friends); CanDoBaby (an app to make baby books); and ReadyForZero (a debt management app).
The main part of Thumb Labs’ work will now be focused both on maintaining Behance’s existing apps, as well as developing new ones. This will include “definitely some tablet work”, including an iPad app, as well as apps for more platforms beyond Apple’s, and in general making Behance’s main site design responsive so that it’s more mobile-web friendly.
Over time, there will be more focus on other Creative Cloud initiatives, which makes sense considering how linked the rise in cloud services has been with the boom in smartphone and tablet use. “We’ll also be working with other teams at Adobe for integration into the Creative Cloud. Mobile is a big part of that,” Verdi said.
In a way, getting acquired by Adobe is a natural fit for a design house like Thumb Labs, and Verdi says that it’s coming at a key time of change for its new owner. “In the creative profession everyone uses Adobe products, and the new focus on Creative Cloud is the biggest change we’ve seen in a while,” he said. “They’ve announced a number of exciting things, and hopefully we will be a part of them, too.”
Have you ever wished that you could navigate through the apps on the phone as easy as clicking links on the web? Such a thing may now become a real possibility thanks to a new service from Cellogic, called Deeplink.me. In a nutshell, it’s a bit.ly for mobile app deep linking – meaning not necessarily just linking to the app itself, but to a specific page, section or - in the case of a mobile game – a specific level, within an application.
The link (deeplink.me/yourname), meanwhile, works from anywhere, whether web, mobile web, or any other native mobile application.
It can automatically detect where an end user is coming from and whether or not they have the necessary mobile app installed on their device. If the link is clicked on the web, it would simply point the user to the developer or publisher’s web version of that same content. If on mobile with no app installed, it could be configured to point to the app store or mobile website instead. And if the app is present, it could take you right to the relevant screen.
All of this is configurable, of course.
The idea came about as an offshoot of what Celllogic is currently building with Nextap, a content discovery network for mobile applications. Nextap is a much bigger product built on top of this deeplink technology, and, even pre-launch, it has paying customers. These include several large news publishers and a few big-name app and game developers.
During the development process for Nextap, the team decided to spin off the Deeplink tool, which will allow end users to move horizontally through apps.
As Cellogic CEO Itamar Weisbrod explains, Nextap’s customers wanted to use the technology as something of a “bit.ly for deep linking” so they could tweet out links, share them on Facebook, email and elsewhere.
“One of their biggest issues is that they’ve invested so much in these native apps, but they’re still silos,” says Weisbrod. “So we said, well, we have the analytics, we have this platform, we could just give you this one URL and you can generate the links for your apps, and you could then link to specific parts in your apps.”
The implementation requires minimal configuration on the app developer’s side since the function the link is calling is already present. Developers only have to add a few lines of code, Weisbrod says. And on Android, the company offers a sample “Intent” filter, as well, to help developers get started. (Intentions let Android apps kick off a specific action. They’re a part of the Android operating system, which handles deep linking fairly well, in comparison with iOS).
As you may know, the technology which enables app deep linking itself is not new.
In terms of simply opening up apps for you, Facebook has long since pointed its mobile users to apps on their phone from its own mobile application. It has now turned its ability to connect users to apps into a potentially strong revenue stream, as well. And with the debut of new Twitter “Card” types, it, too, has begun to explore how it can move users more seamlessly between Twitter apps and and content found in the broader mobile app universe, including products, photos, videos, articles, and more.
These are only the more recent efforts, however. A lesser-known example called PhotoAppLink, is an older open source initiative aiming to simplify photo editing by tying multiple photo-editing apps together using similar app-linking technology. Plus, an even earlier example came from a company called Zwapp, which tried to solve the problem by launcing OneMillionAppSchemes.com, a database that tried to open source the unpublished custom URL schemes for iOS applications.
Facebook and Twitter’s moves are still somewhat limited, however, and none of those earlier efforts really took off.
Weisbrod says the reason why those initial efforts failed is because there was no impetus for developers to use them. ”This is an actual service,” he says of Deeplink.me. “There’s value on top of just being database.”
With Deeplink.me, developers will have access to analytics, which details things like clicks per platform, the click-through rates, where users are coming from and more. This analytics feature will be improved in time, and the service will support plugging into other app analytics platforms in the future, too, like Flurry or HasOffers, for example.
Pricing for Deeplink.me has also yet to be set, but it will be a freemium service after the beta period completes.
A handful of Nextap’s customers are already using the platform, after joining a private test a few months ago. Now the beta is opening up a bit further: 100 beta accounts have been reserved for TechCrunch readers who sign up using this link.
This service could help solve some of the problems facing the ecosystem today – namely app engagement and usage rapidly declines after install, as apps are tucked away off of users’ homescreens in forgotten folders. Developers in turn, have to use increasingly spammy push notifications to encourage re-opens. Frustrated, users simply delete the apps bothering them. Having specific, deeplinked app content appearing when users click links they actually wanted to follow could instead be a more natural way to draw users back in to apps.
Though the details of how all this works is technical, if the company can spur adoption – still an unknown – the end result could be something which would allow a more natural way to move through apps on our phones and tablets, as well as from the mobile web to apps. Using apps could even begin to feel more like the web itself – that is, less isolated, more connected.
For years, the iPhone has carried a small etching on the back that says ‘Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.’
It’s fueled the stereotype that China is the world’s factory, but hasn’t had a flexible enough education system to produce R&D talent that can also design world-class products for a global audience.
But that’s a stereotype that isn’t exactly true anymore.
A small group of companies — both small, bootstrapped app startups and multi-billion dollar giants like Tencent — are showing that they can design apps or higher-end hardware with international appeal.
Tencent, one of the country’s gargantuan Internet powers with a market cap of $72 billion dollars, often likes to point out the international reach of its messaging app Weixin or WeChat. That app has blossomed to more than 190 million monthly active users over the past year and with about 40 million of registered users outside of China.
“I’m very glad to see the internationalization of Tencent,” said the company’s CEO Pony Ma this month at the GMIC conference in Beijing. He later added, “The manufacturing sector in China went globalized and the service industry can be internationalized as well…. It’s difficult, but if we can make it, it would be a revolution.”
Interestingly enough, WeChat’s growth abroad is being fueled by the Chinese diaspora — immigrants are taking WeChat with them to stay in touch with their families back home, according to app-tracking services like Onavo. They base this hypothesis on the correlation of WeChat active usage with that of other Chinese-language apps.
Younger Chinese startups are also building internationally as well. I met a Shanghai-based startup called Intsig two weeks ago that has a business card scanning app called Camcard with 50 million registered users and 10 million monthly actives, with half of them outside of China.
“A lot of people are surprised when they find out we’re a Chinese company,” said Louisa Cao, who heads marketing for the company. It helps that exchanging business cards is much more ritualized and formal in China and Japan than it is in the West, so that gives startups in Asia a competitive edge on understanding what consumers want in a product in this area. Similarly, messaging apps out of Asia like Line, Kakao and WeChat are leading the way, with Western startups like Path arguably borrowing some of their strategies like stickers.
Blux, another company out of Xian, the second-tier Chinese city that’s home to the famous army of Terra Cotta warriors, has built a higher-end photo app called Blux Camera that’s been featured by Apple more than 100 times on the iTunes homepage for global audiences. As the cost advantages that China has over Western markets narrows, the co-founder Jo Yin told me that it now can make economic sense to run global market-facing startups outside of the traditional hubs of Beijing and Shanghai (as they’ve become too expensive).
One of the reasons that all of these startups can built products for foreign audiences is because they’ve been trained either at Western universities or through working for multi-nationals. Some are run by “sea turtles” or Chinese who have returned home after years of working or studying abroad. Intsig’s CEO Michael Zhen spent years at Motorola where he picked up ideas on how to manage teams and think globally.
It’s also helped that the Chinese government has gone far in protecting and nurturing domestic technology companies and startups, a trend which continues with the government’s recent investment into a GPS alternative called Beidou and an Ubuntu-based OS that would help Chinese firms move off Western software platforms. Now that companies like Tencent have reached a certain prowess in domestic markets, they can look outwards.
To be fair, achieving global reach is something only a small fraction of local Chinese startups can do. It requires an international fluency; founders have to understand what kind of design and marketing attracts foreigners. Chinese web services can seem noisy and busy; they can be filled with more links and text as Mandarin characters are complicated to create on QWERTY keyboards.
There are even a few U.S. growth-stage companies that haven’t been dissuaded by Google’s very public about-face on the Chinese market and are hiring design and developer talent locally. Evernote recently launched a China-focused version of its enterprise service and they very intentionally took on local hires to develop product.
“It’s easy to sell your products everywhere. But when we say we want to be a global company, it’s because we want to make our products everywhere,” said Evernote CEO Phil Libin, when he launched Evernote for Business locally in China.
He went on to say that China’s copycat reputation is unfair.
“Chinese companies don’t have a good reputation for innovation in the West. The reputation that Chinese companies have is that they don’t really innovate. They just copy and I don’t think this reputation is right. It’s not a problem that Chinese companies copy. It’s that everyone copies. Chinese companies don’t just copy. They copy and improve. Copy and improve is what everyone does everywhere. That’s what Apple does. That’s what Microsoft does. That’s what Facebook does. Very few companies start with a first-of-a-kind idea.”
Indeed, probably the most interesting company to watch as it expands globally is Xiaomi, which did just that. They took Android and improved upon it.
They’re probably the best example of how China is moving up the value-chain from low-cost manufacturing into high-end design.
Just three years afters being founded, the company is on track to do $4.5 billion in handset and accessory sales. Some have made the metaphor that Xiaomi is the “Apple of Android” in that it’s an integrated hardware and software maker that has built its own special skin of Android and sells high-end hardware at or around the cost of materials. They compete head-to-head against Samsung in mainland China, and according to third-party mobile app analytic services like Umeng, they’re in second place.
Although Xiaomi will only publicly talk about its plans to sell handsets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, a source close to the company says it’s been on the lookout for a general manager that could bring their Android skin, the MIUI, to North American audiences.
They’ve been able to develop a rabid fan base locally in China because they allow people to participate in the designing of the phone by requesting features. Internally, they have small teams of engineers, product managers and designers that work alongside each other on a very fast cycle. They release a new version of the MIUI every week.
But they don’t know if the model will translate abroad yet. Chinese consumers are very comfortable with paying for the full-cost of the phones upfront and buying devices online instead of through brick-and-mortar stores.
“We don’t know how developed regions like Taiwan and Hong Kong will accept products like Xiaomi,” said co-founder Lin Bin in an interview. “Greater China is just one step beyond mainland China.”