Australian startup, Airtasker, is keen to expand out of its home country into Southeast Asia, which it says hasn’t been touched by large competitors yet.
The year-old startup provides job matching for freelancers and employers, similar to what oDesk and Elance do. For its first steps outside of Australia, its first port of call will be Singapore, where it wants to hire two country managers.
Airtasker joins a scene that already has a few huge competitors. oDesk, for example, has been around since 2005. Last year, the company raised $15 million, bringing its total funding $45 million to date. The site processes $300 million in jobs on an annual basis.
Some early oDesk employees also founded Rev.com, which in March announced $4.5 million in Series A funding.
Another big competitor, Elance, raised $16 million in funding early last year as well, as its business has continued to grow in the past two years. 650,000 new job postings were listed on the site in 2011, it said.
But big as these sites are, they don’t seem to have made a huge impact on freelancers in Southeast Asia. A quick search for freelancers in Singapore on oDesk showed 248 listings out of 742,113. Hong Kong showed a dismal 84, Kuala Lumpur 7 and Bangkok 31.
Jonathan Lui and Tim Fung, Airtasker’s founders
While it appears indeed untouched by the large sites, it could just mean that the freelancing scene is a lot less vibrant in Asia, with the majority of workers preferring full-time jobs. It could also be that fewer freelancers rely on online matching sites to get their jobs, as well.
Airtasker’s founder and CEO, Tim Fung, said temp jobs in the region are less organized into verticals. He said some common jobs in Asia include handing out flyers at a train station, or a one-day PA. These can’t really be categorized by industry, and Airtasker has organized its job ads and job seeker profiles in a broader fashion, so that more matches can be made by both sides.
The bulk of Airtasker’s workers, for now, are based in Australia, and its upward trajectory does indicate some sort of pent-up demand on the freelancing scene. Airtasker now processes about $120,000 worth of jobs per month.
Fung hinted that Airtasker will announce a partnership with a global jobs network soon. “I think that’s an indication that the larger ‘mainstream’ job scene is taking part-time job listings more seriously,” he said.
The site will also roll out a new design in about a months’ time, with a “responsive design” adapting to mobile interfaces when accessed through tablets and phones. This is going to make a lot of sense as it expands into Southeast Asia, where mobiles are more popular in emerging markets compared with PCs. About 40 percent of users accessing Airtasker’s site are already coming in on mobile devices, said Fung.
Airtasker has seven people, including co-founders Fung and Jonathan Lui. It’s raised $1.5 million so far.
The news that Google has launched its own all-you-can-eat music steaming service, catchily named ‘Google Play Music All Access‘, didn’t come as a surprise. There had been rumours that the search giant was planning to create a Spotify/Rdio/Deezer competitor for some time. Why has it done so? Apparently it had to. Music is at the centre of the mobile computing experience, which is where Google wants to remain.
And yet — and yet — it appears to have brought nothing new to the music streaming table. Certainly from a consumer proposition, Google Play Music All Access looks just like Spotify et al, right down to the business model and pricing. This from the company that’s bringing us self-driving cars.
It’s therefore nice to see a startup trying something different and garnering some promising traction along the way. The UK’s Bloom.fm is a mobile-first music streaming service — it currently exists as an iOS app only — that launched four months ago out of the ashes of the deadpooled music social network mflow. Since then the service, which offers an innovative mix of free and paid tiers that start from just £1 per-month (~$1.5), has amassed 150,000 subscribers, growing 50% in the last month — though, tellingly, it isn’t saying how many are free versus paid users.
Offering a catalog of 18 million tracks, the app can be used entirely for free in internet radio mode. There are over 150 curated stations and many more based on artist. However, these are streaming only and therefore don’t support offline playback, a fairly important feature for a mobile music service. But it also serves as a natural dividing line. You want total control over the tracks you listen to and how, then you need to pay.
For many users, however, particularly the younger teen demographic, going from free to the £9.99 per month ($9.99 in the U.S.) that Spotify et al charge for mobile usage is a step too far. Bloom.fm thinks that this is holding back true mass adoption of mobile music services.
Its solution is a paid subscription that employs what it’s calling a “borrow, enjoy, return” model. Starting at £1 per month (or £1.50p as an in-app purchase thanks to Cupertino taking a cut), users can temporarily download 20 tracks at any one time. That’s roughly two album’s worth of music, which doesn’t sound like much, but these can be refreshed at any time. Besides, teens are a fickle bunch.
Need more? Bloom.fm also offers £5 and £10 plans for 200 tracks and unlimited respectively. Obviously, the latter plan is just like those of its competitors and it will be interesting to see how many users Bloom.fm can eventually up-sell to that tier. My guess is that the middle tier may well be the sweet spot. Either way, it’s nice to see some innovation in what is fast becoming the streaming music as a commodity space.
BrandYourself is expanding its efforts to take on the big names in the online reputation market (particularly Reputation.com) with the launch of a new version of its service.
The company started out as a fairly simple self-service tool for trying to improve your presence online, for example by creating a website and other content to push down undesirable results when someone Googles your name. (It has become increasingly focused on Google results over time.) The basic service is free, but BrandYourself charges $10 a month for additional features and usage.
With BrandYourself’s freemium, self-service product, it seemed to be serving a difference audience than Reputation.com, but now the newer startup is challenging its more-established competitor in a direct way. With a recently launched concierge service, users aren’t just presented with a list of to-do items for improving their Google results — they can also pay BrandYourself team members to work with them on a strategy and actually do the work for them. So if, say, you don’t have the time to create and maintain your own personal website, BrandYourself will create and maintain one for you. And co-founder and CEO Patrick Ambron said that where Reputation.com can cost thousands of dollars per month, BrandYourself’s concierge services can cost as little as $200 or $300.
Why the dramatic price difference? Ambron insisted that it’s not because BrandYourself delivers lower-quality, cheaper work — he showed me one of the websites created for a BrandYourself customer and it did look like a real personal page. In contrast, he showed me content that he said had been created through his account with Reputation.com, and it was basically just an empty template. (I emailed Reputation.com to discuss how the company saw itself stacking up against BrandYourself, but I did not receive a response.)
The big difference, Ambron said, is that existing online reputation services are built around a model of high acquisition costs and low retention rates — they pay for a lot of advertising to attract customers, and those customers don’t stick around for very long, so the companies have to charge high rates. BrandYourself, on the other hand, can treat its free tools as the marketing funnel for its paid version and concierge service. Plus, Ambron said that with lower prices, customers can use BrandYourself on an ongoing basis.
“We’re really trying to fix the online reputation space, ” he said. “Until it was only meant for rich people and it was notoriously ineffective.”
In addition to the concierge service, BrandYourself is launching a new interface that makes it easier, among other things, to submit links that you want to promote in your Google results. And there’s a new report card showing users BrandYourself’s score of their current search results, the progress that they’ve made with the service, and details about who is actually visiting your BrandYourself website.
The company says it has been used by more than 200,000 people. It has also raised more than $1.5 million in funding and is now based in New York City.
$FB is still stuck at $26.25, way down from its $38 IPO price, but it’s made important progress since going public a year ago. Daily users up 26%, mobile monthly users up 56%, and revenue up 38% are some highlights. It’s running out of people to sign up in the developed world, but with this growth and no serious competitor in sight, it’s survived its hardest year yet.
- Likes – 4.5 Billion – Up 67% – Average number of likes generated as of May 2013, up from 2.7 billion likes generated daily in August 2012
- Content Items Shared – 4.75 Billion – Up 94% – Average number of content items shared daily as of May 2013, up from 2.45 content items shared daily in August 2012
[Stats and images provided by Facebook]
Likes and sharing are growing faster than Facebook’s user count, indicating strong engagement. This contradicts rumors that people are tuning out of Facebook. Zuckerberg’s Law, the CEO’s Moore’s Law-style theory, states that people will share twice as much every year. Facebook almost made good on Mark’s claim. It’s important that Facebook keeps that number growing as it’s shared content that keeps people visiting Facebook and seeing its ads.
To do that, Facebook is working on the more immersive mobile experience Home which has increased time spent on Facebook by 25% for its small number of active users. More time spent could lead to more sharing. This year it doubled the speed of its massively popular iOS and Android by switching them from HTML5 to native architecture, which lead to longer session times. It added content-specific news feed to boost browsing, and launched Graph Search to pull additional value out its data and get people to contribute more.
It’s also been beefing up its mobile SDKs for iOS and Android to make it easier for apps to share content to Facebook. That’s a big reason Facebook cares about helping its developers grow — they’re scratching each other’s backs.
- Monthly Active Users – 1.11 Billion – up 23% – As of March 2013, up from 901 million MAUs in March 2012
- Daily Active Users – 665 Million – up 26% – On average as of March 2013, up from 526 million DAUs on average in March 2012
- Mobile Monthly Active Users – 751 Million – up 54% – As of March 2013, up from 488 million mobile MAUs in March 2012
- Instagram – 100 Million Monthly Active Users – As of February 2013
Facebook is still signing up people pretty quickly, but all users are not created equal. While it earned $3.50 per user in the U.S. and Canada in Q1 2013, it only made $0.50 per user in much of the developing world including India and Brazil. Those emerging markets are where Facebook is getting most of its growth, meaning each subsequent 100 million users added is worth less than the last.
Growth in mobile has a similar issue. Facebook can show as many as seven ads per page on desktop whereas it has to be more careful not to overwhelm the small screen on mobile. So as Facebook’s users shift their access medium to mobile, it may earn less on each of them. Facebook is hoping that getting developers to pay for mobile news feed ads to get their apps discovered could counteract this, and that market is poised to grow as more businesses launch apps and the developing world switches to smartphones.
Overall, though, Facebook is still growing strong nine years after launch. The network effect of its ubiquity should not be underestimated. Dislodging Facebook as the premier general purpose social network will require something that’s not just better, but much, much better. Competitors might pick away at certain use cases, but are unlikely to replace it as the core identity provider for the web. Considering Facebook’s willingness to buy out threats like Instagram (which is still growing quickly in the first world), could stave off disruption and let it reign for years to come.
- Local Businesses – 16 Million – up 100% – Number of local business pages as of May 2013, up from 8 million in June 2012
- Promoted Posts – 7.5 Million – Number of promoted posts made from June 2012 to May 2013
- Revenue – $1.46 Billion – up 38% – In the first quarter of 2013, up from $1.06 billion in the first quarter of 2012
- Ad Revenue – $1.25 Billion – up 43% – In the first quarter of 2013, up from $872 million in the first quarter of 2012
- Employees – 4,900 – up 38% – As of March 2013, up from 3,539 in March 2012
- Game Payers – 24% more – Increase from March 2012 to March 2013
There’s no doubt about it. Going public made Facebook focus more on making money. It went from nearly zero revenue on mobile to $375 million a quarter, or about 30% of its total ad revenue. That in large part came thanks to the mobile app install ads it launched late last year. These let developers promote their apps in the Facebook news feed with ads that link straight to download pages in the Apple App Store and Google Play. These stores are getting more and more clogged with apps, inspiring developers to pay Facebook to get found.
Facebook also made big headway with Facebook Exchange, its retargeted ads that use people’s browser histories to show them highly relevant ads. FBX is absorbing advertiser budgets set aside for retargeting. Less successful has been Facebook Gifts, its entrance into direct e-commerce. Gifts has failed to produce meaningful revenue and may need to be overhauled to get more users purchasing real-life presents for their friends. Growth in payments revenue has been relatively slow too, as more game developers move from Facebook’s web canvas where it earns 30% to mobile, where Apple and Google get that cut.
One opportunity that should excite investors is that Facebook started showing ads in Graph Search. While they use the standard Facebook targeting now, they’re expected to incorporate keyword targeting, which could make them a more direct competitor to Google’s wildly lucrative AdWords business. The increasing technological savvy of local businesses could be a boon to Facebook in the future. Right now few of them actively buy social ads, but expect revenue to shift towards Facebook and away from less targeted print and telephone book ads in the future.
Still, Facebook isn’t trying to make as much money as it could. Another year went by without TV commercial-style auto-play video ads (though they’re rumored to be getting closer to this), and it even paused its experiment with a mobile ad network. If Facebook built out these streams it might piss some people off or make them feel like they data is being exploited, but it could definitely produce a huge boost in revenue. Off-site and off-app ad networks could let Facebook leverage its enormous wealth of personal data to power ads elsewhere so it can earn money without showing more ads on its own properties. That potential more than any is an argument for why Facebook is undervalued.
Most importantly of all, Facebook’s efforts to earn more money have not significantly impeded its mission of connecting the world. There are definitely more ads on Facebook, especially on mobile, but the data shows that they’re not annoying users enough to reduce their engagement.
Facebook has grown up. It’s no longer the red-hot startup that could double its user count every year. And it’s not the mature corporation churning out amazing profits by squeezing every last dime out of its data and usage. But Facebook has weathered the storm of going public without letting it destroy its regard for the user experience. It’s now a fundamental utility for most of the world. If it can keep from getting too greedy and stay focused on the long-term health of its community, it will have plenty of time to figure out how to turn the world’s life story into serious business.
It’s becoming increasingly commonplace for startups in the so-called “sharing economy” to take heat from regulators who seek to hold them to the same business standards as incumbent businesses. The latest company to come under fire from regulators is peer-to-peer car-sharing startup RelayRides, which received a cease-and-desist notice from New York State’s Department of Financial Services (DFS).
The DFS has charged RelayRides with “false advertising and violations of insurance law,” which it says could put the public at risk. Along with the cease and desist, the department has issued a “scam alert” due to intricacies in New York insurance law that could leave those who use car-sharing services like RelayRides liable in the case of an accident.
In short, the DFS warns that the insurance from RelayRides’ provider Hudson Insurance Company may not cover damages that occur while a car is being rented through the service. Furthermore, participating in these types of car-sharing programs could be a violation of their existing policies and could result in the cancellation of their insurance.
As a result, RelayRides has agreed to suspend new rentals in the state while it tries to work with the department on the issue. In a blog post, CEO Andre Haddad said the company would honor existing reservations in the meantime.
The suspension of service was announced one day after the startup acquired San Francisco-based competitor Wheelz. That acquisition was meant to add some technology in the form or proprietary hardware that could be used to make car sharing more easily accessible.
RelayRides isn’t the only “sharing economy” startup that has come under fire recently. The cease-and-desist against the car-sharing startup comes at the same time that ride-sharing startup SideCar is coming under regulatory scrutiny from local officials in Austin, Philadelphia and New York City. Airbnb also is being looked at more closely in major metropolitan cities like New York, where half of its rentals are deemed illegal.