Архив метки: Spark Capital

Pokémon Go creator raises $200 million ahead of Harry Potter game launch

 Pokémon Go creator Niantic has raised a new $200 million in funding, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Series B raise was led by Spark Capital, and includes participation from Founders Fund, Meritech, Javelin Venture Capital, You & Mr. Jones and NetEase, Inc. Spark partner Megan Quinn is also joining Niantic’s board as part of the new financing deal.
Niantic is known for its… Read More

Pokémon Go creator raises $200 million ahead of Harry Potter game launch

How Kik Survived The Group Messaging Wars And Built A Sweet Mobile App For Controlling TVs

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If a consumer mobile fad comes and goes, and you don’t play consolidation musical chairs, what do you do next?

This is kind of what happened to Kik, a Canadian startup that took off with the explosive growth of its messaging app last year. Amid the hype around messaging, Kik raised $8 million in funding from RRE Ventures, Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures. Not too long after, Kik’s rivals Beluga and GroupMe got acquired in some respectable (but not crazy huge) deals by Facebook and Skype last year.

Meanwhile, Kik has stayed independent and is charting a completely different course.

About two months ago, they launched Clik, a mobile app that lets you control a TV right from your phone. There are a few steps to making it work, but the major plus to Clik is that it doesn’t require additional hardware. You point your desktop or smart TV browser at ClikThis.com, which generates a unique QR code (a two-dimensional barcode). Then you open the Clik iPhone or Android app, aim the camera at the screen, and the phone syncs to the TV or computer. Once they’re connected, you can use your phone like a remote control to play YouTube videos on your TV.

You can see a demo here:

So now the company has two major products under its belt: the messaging app Kik and the TV app Clik. There are no plans to spin either product out of the company.

Chief executive Ted Livingston says this isn’t a pivot. Really.

Kik is very much alive and well with 10 million registered users and 1 billion messages sent per month. It’s maintained a Top 25 ranking in the social networking category in the U.S., according to App Annie, and it currently has a better rank than high-profile apps like Path and Foursquare. The issue is that messaging is a service that could be easily cannibalized by Apple’s iMessages, Facebook Messenger or any change in the way the carriers handle SMS.

But the company’s other product Clik addresses a real hole in the market because most TV controllers are horribly designed. That’s the part that has a real revenue opportunity.

Plus, Clik has attracted interest from more than 100 potential partners that want to explore using it for video or gaming. “Clik has had huge response from developers who see it as a white-label version of Apple’s AirPlay,” Livingston said.

Since Kik has the user base that most mobile developers could only dream of having, the idea is to use Kik to cross-promote and seed Clik’s usage. “We think that Kik will provide viral distribution for Clik,” Livingston said. “We look at Kik as a way to get content from person to person and Clik as a way to get content from person to screen.”

Livingston says that Clik is actually a return to the company’s original vision. You see, back when the company started in 2009, it had the vision of making music very easy to play and share between phones and desktop computers. But licensing from the music labels is a pain, so they used the technology to build a messaging app instead.

Now that messaging has had its moment in the sun, it’s time to move on.

“We always thought that group messaging was a fad,” Livingston said. “We never looked at Kik as a social network. We always looked at it as a way to get content from person-to-person.”

Livingston has shown off Clik in a couple different ways. You can use it to send a YouTube playlist on your TV directly from your smartphone. You can also use Clik to play a game on a TV using an iPhone or Android device as the controller, which has piqued the interest of game developers.

“We’re looking at the entire stack and how to enable pre-existing experiences to be transferred from the phone to the browser,” he said. Kik should remain free indefinitely, but there will probably be some kind of freemium revenue model behind Clik for partners.

And if Apple launches an iTV? Well, that’s just extra marketing for Clik, since Apple would probably pursue a closed solution that would only work on its devices.

“The rumors around the Apple TV and awareness around AirPlay has been great for us,” he said. “We let you connect any phone to any screen and we’re open.”


How Kik Survived The Group Messaging Wars And Built A Sweet Mobile App For Controlling TVs

The Inside Story of The OMGPOP-Zynga Deal From The CEO, Investors & More!

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We caught up with OMGPOP chief executive Dan Porter, Zynga’s chief mobile officer David Ko and board member and Spark Capital partner Bijan Sabet to get the inside story of how OMGPOP’s sale went down. It’s been a whirlwind six weeks for OMGPOP, which transformed from an also-ran social gaming company into the maker of the most successful casual mobile game in the market right nowThe company was picked up by Zynga today for what we heard was $210 million.

TechCrunch: So how did you choose Zynga over other companies that were talking to you?

Dan Porter: It was a bromance. Well, irrespective of this deal — and this isn’t the first time I’ve gone through this process — I met David Ko and Mark Pincus. Then I met a bunch of people on the mobile side. In my mind, there was this idea of Zynga. But here were all the real people and they really wanted to build fun games.

TechCrunch: Your company culture seems really different from Zynga. They’re known for being very analytical and data-driven and OMGPOP’s culture sounds looser than that. Is that going to work out?

Porter: Dave had this vision of having an environment that would actually let people be creative. We talked about how the Words With Friends group [who came from the Newtoy acquisition] could keep their culture. It was really, really sincere and I wouldn’t have done the deal otherwise.

I’ve said this before but we’ve only had one mission at the company. I really, really wanted to make a game where you sit on the bus and see everyone playing our games. This is the first time this has really happened. It is a really amazing feeling. And now we have the resources and support. At the end of the day, you’re making creative content and you’re putting your heart and soul into it. It’s so personal.

TechCrunch: How many press hits did Dan have to do before Zynga really picked up on this game?

Ko: This game was obviously rising on the charts very quickly. I’ve got a lot of apps and there was this moment where we realized how powerful Draw Something was. I said on the press call earlier that I was using Draw Something on my way from the San Francisco airport and Mark was playing it against his family and friends.

We’ve had tremendous respect for this team. They’ve been around for a couple years and we both want to differentiate ourselves by creating high-quality social experiences. These guys are literally focused on the same values. It was a meeting of the minds.

TechCrunch: Are all of OMGPOP’s employees going over?

Porter: Yes, they’re all fired up. They’re already changing their LinkedIn profiles.

TechCrunch: So what changes with the game now?

Porter: Starting tomorrow, we’re going to be adding cows. No really. So, Words With Friends has a chat feature and we’d like to focus on that.

We’d like to give people a better opportunity to capture their drawings. There should be a save feature for saving your pictures. I didn’t really get this idea until I was playing with one of my kids. You know how you like to save your kids’ pictures and put them on the refrigerator and they draw these crushingly heart-breaking stick figures. We’ve got to make this feature fast.

TechCrunch: How is the monetization of the game changing? It’s very front-loaded right now with paid app downloads and in-app purchases of color packs. But eventually, it may end up being far more advertising-dependent like Words With Friends.

Zynga: We’re not talking about changes in monetization.

TechCrunch: How many extra unique users is this adding?

Zynga: We can’t talk about that.

In a separate call, we caught up with OMGPOP board member Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital. Sabet has also led the firm’s investments in Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare.

TechCrunch: How much of a conversation was there at the board level about whether to go down the acquisition route versus stay independent?

Sabet: We had a lot of conversations. There were lots of companies that were interested in OMGPOP. But we saw that Zynga’s price was good for all shareholders and employees so the board was unanimous. Zynga kept all the employees, who are coming along and staying in New York City. Dan got along with Mark Pincus and David Ko. It just felt really right.

TechCrunch: Why Zynga over the other suitors?

Sabet: We all came to the same conclusion that it was a good offer and that we should take it seriously. It felt like everyone thought it was the right thing to do. Everyone also felt like Zynga was the most entrepreneurial partner of all the buyers. Dan Porter and Mark Pincus spent a lot of time together to make sure there was a cultural fit.

TechCrunch: What was it like to see this company through the years and then through this hit?

Sabet: This was a quite a journey. We were the first VCs in this company and I was the first outside director. We made our investment back in 2008 and we invested in every single round.

So I have all of this history. OMGPOP had some really cool games, but they never kind of broke out. They never got massive. So when Dan showed us this game, Draw Something, we all thought it was really cool. But we had no idea whether users would like it.

Then it became absolutely amazing. Every day, Dan would send out the stats from the day before, like what happened in terms of downloads or what celebrity had tweeted about it. Each day was more amazing than the previous one.

TechCrunch: Dan wasn’t the original founder though. It was a Y Combinator company originally called Iminlikewithyou, right?

Sabet: Yeah, we had invested $1 million when Charles Forman was still running the company. He was the chief executive and founder. It was a dating site that then pivoted into gaming. Shortly thereafter, Dan came into the company and then he became chief executive. A year ago, Charles left day-to-day operations but stayed on the board.

TechCrunch: What does this teach you as a venture investor about the gaming industry?

Sabet: The interesting lesson is that these things take time. These companies sound like overnight successes but they take awhile. We were the first investor in Tumblr, but it was not an overnight sensation. We were early investors in Twitter, but after one year, it had just 500,000 users. People can get seduced with the idea that these companies get their breaks quickly. This is a good reminder that if it doesn’t happen the first year, it can work out. It just takes time.

This team worked really, really hard and they built the most popular social game on the planet right now. Dan’s an unbelievably talented guy. Even after all of these years, they stayed on and worked really hard every single day. It’s not easy to do.

I hope they get the recognition. I know they’re all happy. It’s pretty cool. It’s Drawsome.


The Inside Story of The OMGPOP-Zynga Deal From The CEO, Investors & More!

Foursquare Is Doing Big Things, So Existing Investor Spark Capital Buys $50M Of Employee Stock

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Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley spent this afternoon in Barcelona, explaining his location company’s potential to Mobile World Conference attendees. Someone else didn’t need to hear the presentation, though. Existing investor Spark Capital is buying $50 million worth of its stock, according to sources, in a deal to provide at least some employees with liquidity.

The result is a valuation north of of the already-impressive $600 million from its last round, I’ve heard. This is even though the company continues to focus on product development instead of trying to maximize revenue.

So what’s making investors excited? Well, the location app appears to be doing a lot of things right, despite the questions some have asked about its still-nascent business model. While Foursquare might not be the biggest social network in the world, the data it does have, and the ecosystem that is growing around it, makes for a promising story.

“Everyone thinks of Foursquare as check-ins and badges,” Crowley said at the conference today. “No, no. We’re recycling data and making recommendations for the real world.”

One example of what Crowley’s talking about here involves Foursquare’s new “Explore” feature, which recently arrived in the company’s mobile applications. Essentially a local recommendations guide, Foursquare Explore allows users to discover nearby restaurants, bars, coffee shops, nightlife spots, and other venues, either by category, name, or even something more specific, like “sushi” or “hamburgers.” The feature taps into Foursquare’s own social graph in order to recommend places your friends have visited and liked, while also providing tips and comments from Foursquare’s wider network. Initially, Explore was limited to making recommendations around your exact location, but with the most recent update, it now allows you to find recommended places anywhere in the world either by moving the map around on the screen or by typing in an exact location.

To date, Foursquare’s 15 million registered users have checked in 1.5 billion times, which in turn has generated rich information about some 750,000 restaurants and other venues. The company is working on creating visualizations of this data on any map, so users can see places nearby that they might want to go.

For businesses, it can break down visitor demographics for individual stores, letting them better tailor their wares to their customers. And, it’s of course also been busy running its coupons via its American Express deal from last year. And for developers, it can provide data via its API, which is already used by popular mobile applications like Instagram and Path.

However, the company only says that “we can’t comment on funding matters.”

And a closing note: TechCrunch writer Ingrid Lunden did an interview with Crowley at MWC today (which is not how we got this story), and she’ll be following this up with another post once she gets off the plane back to London.


Foursquare Is Doing Big Things, So Existing Investor Spark Capital Buys $50M Of Employee Stock