Published by Catherine Shu
in category DesignPlusD
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SparkLabs, the startup accelerator that wants to inject South Korea’s startup ecosystem with Silicon Valley expertise, announced its second intake today. Its latest class is an international lineup of companies that represent a variety of sectors and are at widely different stages of funding, from bootstrapped financing to those that have closed a Series A round.
Founded in 2012, SparkLabs’ offers a three-month-long mentorship driven program. Co-founder Bernard Moon says that one of the main challenges faced by South Korea’s startup industry is the lack of role models and guidance for founders. For example, many angel investors and venture capitalists have a financial background but lack entrepreneurial experience. SparkLabs has focused on building an impressive roster of mentors, many of whom are Silicon Valley founders.
“We’re not the first accelerator or incubator in South Korea, but we are the first with a tangible outside network that is easily accessible by Korean entrepreneurs,” says Moon. “We also get applications from China, India, Taiwan, everywhere in Asia. Our dream is to be a gateway not just into Silicon Valley, but also to high-level people these founders never thought it would be possible to access.”
While SparkLabs’ first class consisted of South Korean companies hoping to break into overseas markets, the latest intake include companies from Singapore and the U.S. that view South Korea as a gateway into Asia.
“They see South Korea as more developed in terms of technology and a large early adopter base. A good foothold and feedback in South Korea helps them expand into Japan and possibly China,” says Moon.
SparkLabs is also hosting its first annual conference, NEXT, on June 14 in Seoul. The event will focus on innovation and technology, with speakers including Ray Ozzie, the founder and CEO of Talko, Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Maria G. Gotsch, president and CEO of Partnership Fund for New York City and Jonathan Levine, CIO and CTO of Rakuten Group.
SparkLabs’ inaugural cohort included educational tech startup KnowRe and WePlanet, the developers of Step Journal. Here is its second class:
StyleWiki: A Seoul-based social wiki platform for fashion enthusiasts.
iBabyBox: A Palo Alto-based online community where parents can share and sell secondhand baby products.
Megaphone: Founded in New York City, this participation TV platform’s clients include NBC, Bravo, BBC, Amex, LG, Sprint, NFL and the New York Knicks. Megaphone integrates game graphics that can be controlled by Web browsers into TV shows and allows viewers to see aggregated results of all user activity and 30-second ads in real-time.
MangoPlate: A mobile app that offers personalized restaurant recommendations in Seoul. Its search engine fine-tunes results each time a user adds a review or wish-list entry.
Zoyi: A Korean tech company that has built products including AdbyMe, Korea’s first social media advertising platform and Cooki, a news summary curation service. Zoyi is backed by StoneBridge Capital, a leading Korean venture capital firm.
HeyBread: One of Korea’s leading curation commerce companies, HeyBread focuses on delivering premium organic breads from local bakeries to customers. The company plans to expand its service to the entire fresh food industry.
Petsbe: A Seoul-based premium subscription service that delivers personalized orders of pet food and monthly supplies.
Lateral: Headquartered in San Francisco, Lateral wants to redefine the fundamentals of online search by revamping outdated search methods.
DesignPlusD: A Seoul-based productivity app that includes note taking, alarm reminder and calendar functions. The company’s Remember-Block memo app was the App Store’s number one productivity apps in 12 countries and was the top paid app in South Korea during January.
TrakInvest: A Singaporean online social investment platform for equities that will be launched next month. The company, which is led Bobby Bhatia, the former managing director and head of principal investments at AIG for APAC, provides tools to identify and create future “alpha” generators. It has partnered with Thomson Reuters to provide research and analytics to its user base.
Y Combinator’s Paul Graham revealed a bunch of personnel news in a just-published blog post.
Let’s see if I’ve got everything: The incubator has added one full-time partner (Wufoo’s Kevin Hale) and four part-time partners (Socialcam’s Michel Seibel, Hipmunk’s Steve Huffman, imeem and App.net’s Dalton Caldwell and Groupon’s Andrew Mason). Current partner Harj Taggar, meanwhile, is leaving “to start a new startup (in the long term) and travel the world (in the short),” but Graham writes that Taggar will stay on as a part-time partner.
YC first began bringing on part-time partners two years ago — it now has 10 partners, plus eight part-time partners. As with the other, previously announced part-timers, these additions are mostly YC alums — the exceptions are Caldwell (who I’ve seen speak at numerous YC events) and Mason, who was recently fired from the CEO job at Groupon.
The obvious significance here is that YC has basically doubled the team of part-time partners. Graham also notes that with the addition of Hale, two of the incubator’s partners are designers, “which partly reflects the increasing importance of design in startups, but frankly mostly reflects the fact that they’re really good.”
Update: Mason also has his own blog post announcing that he’s joining YC, but also stating that he’s starting a new company, moving to San Francisco, and releasing an album of “motivational business music.” On the company front, he doesn’t say much:
I feel very lucky to be alive at a time when someone like me can have a simple idea like Groupon that ends up impacting millions of people. If there’s a silver lining to leaving Groupon, it’s the opportunity to start something new. I’ve accumulated a backlog of ideas over the last several years, my favorite of which I’ll be turning into a new company this fall.
Loop co-founder and CEO Rajit Marwah argued that “surveys and reviews are everywhere” — but they’re often ignored or delayed. With his new startup, on the other hand, Marwah said he’s giving businesses a way to create and conduct those surveys easily and quickly.
When a business downloads the Loop iOS app, they can use one of the app’s survey templates (the templates are based on business type, such as restaurant or hotel) or create a survey from scratch, then share it via email, Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else you can post a link.
The most interesting use case, however, is the ability to open a survey from an iPad. So instead of hoping a customer will fill out a survey in a day or two, businesses can just hand them an iPad, and they can give their answers in just a few seconds. That means you get a much higher feedback rate, and that feedback is immediate, unlike “receipts surveys, 1-800 numbers, and clumsy email surveys,” Marwah said.
“After visiting a business, most customers move on and don’t bother to give feedback after the fact,” he added. “Feedback in the moment is something consumers actually respond to.”
Marwah also said that the Loop app was just built by two people — himself and his co-founder/CTO Mike Liu. He painted that as a plus, because it shows that Loop is a lean company. (It has raised seed funding from Archimedes Labs, an incubator whose chief product officer Keith Teare also co-founded TechCrunch.) He added that Loop is taking a mobile-first approach — it’s not just that the surveys are conducted on iPad, but businesses can also create and share surveys, as well as view results, directly from the mobile app.
I don’t conduct many surveys myself, but at Marwah’s urging, I tried out the app. With the templates, it took only a few taps to launch a new survey from my iPhone, which I could then open on an iPad. Once I turned on Guided View, I could lock the iPad onto the survey screen; you can imagine giving it to a customer to fill out without any distractions. And after I completed the survey, the results were immediately live in the iPhone app.
Loop was previously available as a limited beta test — during that period, Marwah said it saw response rates that were up to 30 times higher than traditional surveys. Today it’s launching globally, and it’s available in 34 languages and 155 countries.
Published by Rip Empson
in category Adam Draper
, Fundings & Exits
, Venture Capital
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As a fourth generation venture investor, Adam Draper was pretty much predestined to work with startups. The son of Tim Draper, the founder of global VC firm Draper Fisher Jurveston, Adam has made it his mission to do everything in his power to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life — without relying on his family name to do so. After taking the plunge as an entrepreneur himself, co-founding a capital raising and trading platform and an equity crowdfunding portal, the 26-year-old again finds himself back in the Draper wheelhouse: Early-stage finance.
In the summer of 2012, Draper launched his third venture, Boost.vc, a San Mateo-based accelerator that offers housing (in an on-site hotel), office space, mentorship and seed funding as part of its 12-week incubation program. But by today’s standards, considering the glut of startup accelerators that have emerged over the last two years, what was once an attractive model now almost sounds run-of-the-mill. I’d argue, and Draper would agree, that accelerators can provide more value for startups over the long-run by focusing on a particular vertical.
Today, Boost.vc is taking its first (experimental) step in that direction by focusing on one of the hottest verticals in the tech industry: Bitcoin. About three months ago, the decentralized, ungoverned currency became “an obsession,” Draper says, and since then, it’s been the focus of his blog, meetings and now, in part, his accelerator. Boost.vc will be dedicating half of its second batch (seven startups total) to companies building products and technologies around the Bitcoin ecosystem.
When it comes to Bitcoin, Draper unabashedly wears rose-colored glasses, calling Bitcoin “one of the most exciting innovations happening in the world today.” While the kind of endorsement might give some pause, Draper isn’t alone. Last month, Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Jeremy Liew penned a post for TechCrunch explaining why VCs “love the Bitcoin market.” Liew himself has been a champion of Bitcoin and its incarnations, having recently backed OpenCoin, the developer of open source payment protocol, Ripple, for example.
Now Liew and other VCs are ready to ante up and continue to put their money where their mouths are by helping to establish the “Boost Bitcoin Fund.” The Fund, Draper exaplins, is a follow-on or “start” fund for all Bitcoin companies that graduate from the accelerator program. Each of the fifteen companies in Boost’s cohorts receives $15K in seed capital (in exchange for a 5 percent equity stake), but with the new fund, Bitcoin startups will receive an additional $50K investment upon completing the program.
The fund is anchored by Lightspeed, Rothenberg Ventures, The Bitcoin Opportunity Fund and Beluga founder Ben Davenport, all of which have begun to invest more aggressively in Bitcoin startups. Draper says that the team began to toy with the idea of a follow-on fund when the founders decided to accept seven Bitcoin startups into its summer session.
In floating the idea for a Bitcoin Start Fund to the investment community, the team was surprised by the warm reception that followed. In fact, Draper says, the capital came together in a week. With the Bitcoin movement continuing to gain steam, both entrepreneurs and investors are eagerly jumping into the space and testing new ideas in hopes of finding business models that will stick.
True to form, Draper says that the Boost.vc team is fully “committed to pushing Bitcoin toward becoming the next digital frontier.” Even if, as part of that experiment, the eight startups not focused on Bitcoin have to look on with envy as the other half of their cohort pockets an additional $50K at the end of the program.
Not only that, but as part of moving to commit (half of) itself to the vertical, Boost.vc will be bringing in “a number of Bitcoin-focused mentors,” including Davenport, who has recently dedicated himself to the space, along with additional speakers, experts and investors.
As a testament to the growing interest in the Bitcoin market, the digital currency now has its own conference, Bitcoin 2013, which is scheduled to take place this weekend in San Jose. Naturally, the conference will also play host to a Bitcoin-focused hackathon, and Draper tells us that Boost.vc plans to pick one of the seven startups that will participate in its program from the field.
As to the program: Applications for Boost.vc’s second cohort are being accepted on a rolling basis, with a final deadline of June 1st. The program will kick off June 24th, concluding in a demo day in the middle of September (the date has yet to be set). Those interested in applying can do so here.
Co-founder Sean Percival is walking away from his CEO position at the children’s subscription clothing startup Wittlebee after it had trouble raising a Series A. Amidst a tough fundraising climate for e-commerce startups, Sean says he thinks Wittlebee will continue operating but it’s up to the board of directors. No replacement has been selected yet for the renowned content ninja and former Myspace VP.
Percival originally broke into the startup world after starting a website in 2006 and then selling it for $100,000 in 2009. In the meantime he worked at Docstoc and Mahalo before becoming the VP of online marketing at Myspace. He left in July 2011 to get into subscription commerce.
Wittlebee launched out of Los Angeles’ Science incubator in January 2012. It was designed to get parents great deals on kids clothing by sending them monthly packages with eight items. At the time Percival said the main draw of the subscription service was that it packs about $80 worth of clothing in a $40 box. He told us “With Wittlebee we save parents time, money and reduce those ‘mall meltdown’ moments.”
Wittlebee raised a $2.5 million seed round from Google Ventures, Matt Coffin, Crosslink Capital, and Rincon Venture Partners. Sometimes referred to as the “Birchbox for babies,” Wittlebee made its first acquisition of Cottonseed Clothing. Last we had heard, Percival and his co-founder Gabe Harriman were trying to raise a Series A.
That apparently wasn’t so easy even though Wittlebee’s revenue was growing. Percival tells me “While the company has done fairly well, the market conditions for e-commerce funding are not great. So the last few months have been a challenge for both the business and myself. We have been working hard on finding the best go forward plan but time has run out, at least for my involvement.”
As for a new CEO, Percival says, “This is still being worked out so nothing to announce at this time.” I asked if Wittlebee would keep operating and outfitting kids, to which he answered, “I believe so and this is to be determined by the BOD. The company was continuing to show revenue growth this year despite the challenges of being undercapitalized.”
Percival started the company just as he became a father. Now a little older and wiser, he’s looking to the future. What’s his next adventure? “At this time I’m not certain. I’m talking through a few opportunities and might even do something crazy, like start another business.”
The issue for Wittlebee seems to be that, while seed funding has become easier to find, the flood of startups that it permits is indeed causing a Series A crunch. While engineer-heavy software startups may be able to find a soft landing through an acquisition, e-commerce startups like Wittlebee may have a tougher time. Regardless of what happens, in the age of startup success theater, it’s nice to see a founder be so frank about his company’s challenges. Not everyone has to be “killing it” all the time.