Filepicker.io, the Y Combinator-backed “filesystem as a service,” is today rebranding itself as “Ink File Picker,” a name that, CEO Brett van Zuiden explains, stands for something much larger than the former, more product-focused title. In addition, the company is announcing a $1.8 million seed round of funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Highland Capital Partners.
Others in the round included SV Angel, Google board member Ram Shriram, Geoff Ralston (La La Media), Aaron Iba (Y Combinator), Pejman Nozad (Amidzad), Facebook VP of Business Development and Monetization Dan Rose, Ullas Naik (Streamlined Ventures), Hamid Barkhordar, Bobby Yazdani (Saba Software), Niall Browne (Workday), and Data Collective.
Founded just last year, Ink File Picker was created by four MIT grads, Anand Dass, Brett Van Zuiden, Liyan David Chang, and Thomas Georgiou, as a way to make cloud services interoperable. With tools for both web and, as of last summer, mobile developers, the company enables applications to connect to over a dozen of the most popular online services, including Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Box, GitHub, SkyDrive, Gmail, Instagram and more, as well as to the end user’s computer or device, and elsewhere.
Over the past year, Ink has seen increasing demand for its service, having hit 1 million files in November. Today, it sees just under 400 million files per month (over 10 million files per day). There are also 20,000 applications using the service from around 17,000 developers, including many well-known names like SurveyMonkey, Scribd, Livefyre, Fitocracy, Udacity, Haiku Deck, Crowdtilt, Urbanspoon, PlanGrid, RapGenius, Vidcaster, WeVideo, Funny or Die, TED, and others.
Van Zuiden says that the move to rebrand as “Ink” has to do with the company’s now larger vision, which is no longer just about a product that allows for uploading of files, but is instead more of a file management platform for developers. ”It does everything from connecting to all the 19 sources we work with, doing the image processing, and the further operations people want to do on this content, storing this content, and serving as this whole layer that deals with all the different types of content work that you want to do,” he says.
For example, in the new cloud-based word processor called Draft, Ink lets the app’s users import their files from elsewhere on the web (like Dropbox), then as they’re writing and editing those files, the updated versions are saved back to the service where those files originated.
“It’s sort of this notion of ‘what does a file system for the web look like?,” explains van Zuiden. “What are those APIs, what is that capability?” Originally, the answer to that was a file picker toolset (as the earlier name implied). Today, it’s about “helping applications and services work together,” he says.
With the seed investment, which actually closed back in September, the company has grown its team from four to eight and plans to reach 15 by next year. It will also continue its product development, with a specific focus on investing more resources on mobile, which has its own set of challenges.
On mobile, release cycles are different from the web, screen sizes are smaller impacting the user interface design, plus versioning is an important area to address. Longer-term, the startup plans to focus on the international market as well, in terms of not only localization, but also the services popular in other regions worldwide, as determined by customer demand.
Today, Ink File Picker offers a freemium platform where pricing is based on the number of files handled per month. Under 5,000 files is free, and a Pro plan for $99/month offers up to 50,000 files per month. Enterprise customers have custom pricing available. Around 5 to 10 percent of Ink’s customer base is on a paid plan, van Zuiden estimates.
The newly rebranded Ink website and Ink File Picker are now live for interested developers.
ZenPayroll launched in December with $6.1 million from a group of new enterprise kingpins. Following the launch of a service for accountants in April, the Y Combinator startup today announced the capability to pay contractors through its platform.
The new service automates the process of paying contractors and doing the required filings with the Internal Revenue Service. With the new capability, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) covers the entire workforce.
With ZenPayroll, independent contractors can be paid through direct deposit and payments with reported at the end of the year on IRS Form 1099. Once a contractor is added, an employer can also record historical payments made outside of the software.
Contractor payments are available immediately through ZenPayroll and pricing is the same for both employees and contractors — $25 per company, plus $4 per employee or contractor, per month. When a company grows past 10 employees or contractors, the rate drops to $2 for each additional person
ZenPayroll will do the proper filing for the contractor workers. Zen Payroll will also make sure the contractor gets a copy for income tax reporting purposes.
There are more than 43 million contractors in the United States. Can you believe that? That’s one-third of the workforce. Most of the work to pay those people is done manually, said Co-Founder and CEO Joshua Reeves. And people make mistakes. Then the IRS fines them. No fun.
The traditional services like Paychex and ADP are just not flexible enough to pay contractors in the manner that ZenPayroll does. But a service like ZenPayroll makes automation inevitable across the entire back-office. Once a part of a process gets automated, it’s often the other parts that follow. We see it across the market. The human touch is great but the humanity can be too often lacking in old systems that treat the individual in a coarse, industrial way. Automation may seem scary, like some robotic sci-fi nightmare. But automation can often make life seem a bit more bearable as we just try to keep up to date and out of the crosshairs of the IRS.
Exec, the San Francisco startup that lets you easily hire people online by the hour to run your errands and do your cleaning, will be increasing the flat rate for its flagship errand-running service Exec Errands by 20 percent and more than tripling its surcharge in an apparent bid to beef up its margins.
In an email sent to Exec users today, founder Justin Kan said that the price for errands will now be $30 per hour, up from the $25 hourly rate that it touted when it launched back in the spring of 2012 as part of Y Combinator. Exec Errands is also upping its surcharge from three percent to 10 percent. The changes go into effect later this week, on June 14th.
The official explanation for the price and surcharge hike is straightforward: “We’re making these changes to ensure that we are able to continue to provide the highest level of on-demand personal assistant services to our customers,” Kan wrote in his email to users. We’ve reached out for more details on Exec’s margins and how this will impact them, and will update this with any word we receive.
Notably, the price increases do not effect Exec Cleaning, the standalone house cleaning app that launched in San Francisco in February and has since expanded to Seattle, San Diego, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago And Boston. Cleaning had already accounted for more than 50 percent of Exec’s business before it was spun out as a standalone service, and it’s now the first thing featured on the company’s landing page.
Indeed, Exec is one of several startups that launched with a focus on helping people outsource their errands but has since expanded its purview — or changed it entirely. Zaarly, which launched in 2011 as a “reverse Craigslist” for outsourcing odd jobs to neighbors, has since ditched that business entirely to focus on virtual local storefronts; TaskRabbit, which for years focused solely on errand-running for consumers, now also caters to businesses looking for legitimate temp workers.
Of course, these kinds of changes are natural as startups develop, especially in a brand-new business category (after all, just a few years ago, getting someone else to pick up your dry cleaning was something that could only be afforded by, well, execs.) We can almost certainly expect to see more shifts as the market evolves.
Our own Jordan Crook interviewed Justin Kan a couple months ago just after Exec Cleaning launched in New York City, and it was an in-depth discussion about the company’s growth thus far, future plans, the larger competitive landscape, and more. It’s embedded below:
It’s been just under a year since Y Combinator-backed Kamcord officially launched, and the young team has spent its time raising funding and quietly fleshing out its SDK for iOS games.
The team had seen its in-game screen recording tech implemented in over 100 games, and gamers have recorded 500 million videos since those very early days, but now the team has been working on a pair of new features they hope will get even more mobile gamers sharing videos of their exploits. Starting today, Kamcord has provided tools to let players trim down their videos on the fly and add their own vocal tracks into the mix… if game developers enable them, anyway.
The ability to edit game recordings is straightforward enough — the meaty bits of your video may come out to a total of 30 or 40 seconds, so why share the whole multi-minute clip? It’s the voice overlay feature that seems the more compelling of the two, since it demonstrates a pretty solid understanding of the kinds of game videos that get spread around most often.
Here’s the idea: once the feature has been enabled, your device fires up its microphone when the gaming session begins and records your fevered mutterings as you furiously paw at your touchscreen. It seems like a problematic way to go at first — I would’ve though the game’s sounds would drown out any input from microphone — but Kamcord CEO Matt Zitzmann noted that there’s a distinct lack of echoing or audio issues (though he still thinks users should use a separate microphone anyway).
But why even go this route in the first place? A quick look at the gameplay videos that populate YouTube and Twitch reveal that many of them lean on narration — after all, there’s only so much entertainment to be had while watching straight, untampered game recordings. There’s something very compelling about listening to someone as they submit themselves to the experience of a game, which perhaps explains the phenomenal popularity of the Let’s Play video genre.
“They’re just a lot more watchable,” Zitzmann noted in a phone conversation. The sort of human quality that adding voice tracks to a game recording is exactly what Kamcord needs if it wants developers to take the SDK seriously as a potential marketing tool. What better way is there for a would-be player to make up their mind about a game they haven’t taken the plunge on than by watching (and hearing) someone have a blast with it. In the end it’s up to developers to decide whether or not they want either of features enabled, but the team has already been in talks with a handful of interested parties and is slowly staffing up to tackle more challenges.
With more commerce moving online every day, the shipping industry is in need of innovation. And one of the bigger pain points developers face when trying to integrate postage and shipping into their applications involves the antiquated technology major carriers like FedEx, UPS and USPS provide – complex SOAP or XML APIs that most developers would say are a nightmare to work with. San Francisco-based EasyPost is trying to solve that problem by offering a simpler, RESTful JSON API instead. Today, the company is announcing $850,000 in seed funding to help with those efforts.
Investors in the new round, which just now closed, include Y Combinator, SV Angel, Start Fund, CrunchFund*, Mesa+, Andreas Resch, Kevin Barenblat, Lars Kamp, Ullas Naik, Shawn Bercuson, and Rahul Vohra. (* Disclosure: CrunchFund founder Michael Arrington also founded TechCrunch.)
EasyPost co-founder Jarrett Streebin says he came up with the idea for the service based on his own experiences with having to integrate shipping into some of the websites he had worked on in the past. These were generally just weekend projects he played with on the side while analyzing venture deals for a private investment fund at his day job.
But he also spoke to other startup founders through his work, and found that they, too, had the same struggles with shipping. He would ask them about it, and routinely, the answer would be one of frustration. “Oh my god, it’s a nightmare,” they would tell him.
Explains Streebin, “if you go to Twilio, you can get an API key immediately. But if you go to Endicia or some of their competitors, you have to email them and they send you 400-page documentation, and then you have to sign a legal doc…It’s really a big mess,” he says.
“We need a Stripe for this,” Streebin realized.
To use the service, developers come to the site, enter in their account information for UPS, FedEx, or USPS, and then get an API key they can use to access all the functions provided. E-commerce sites can then call the API to verify addresses during checkout, let customers choose from all the different possible shipping options, and even purchase that shipping label as part of the fulfillment process.
Because of the complexity of the carriers’ own APIs, most e-commerce sites don’t allow for this kind of thing today – instead, they often pick a flat rate that seems reasonable. This is not only a problem for them, as sometimes shipping charges are higher than that flat rate, but it can also be a problem for the consumer who misses out on savings when rates should be lower.
This same problem has led to a number of new developments in the shipping and logistics industry, including the launch of EasyPost’s direct competitor Postmaster (with $600,000 in seed funding), as well as consumer-facing TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 audience choice winner ShipHawk, and more broadly, moves from big-name brands like Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Google, all of whom who are now trying to figure out how to make same-day shipping sustainable.
Where EasyPost wants to differentiate itself from other developer-facing tools is with its level of support. “My belief from the start is that if you’re selling SaaS, PaaS, infrastructure-as-a-service – any of those – the support is the product. Our support times are 10 minutes or less,” Streebin claims.
Currently EasyPost charges 5 cents per shipment, but offers discounted rates for larger shippers. It plans to add more long tail U.S. carriers as well as Canada Post within the next few months, then work on Europe afterwards.
Interested developers can sign up here.