Архив метки: Union Square Ventures

Twilio’s European March Continues With Its First Full-Time Hire Outside The U.S. [And Telefonica Loses One]

Twilio Logo

Twilio, developer of a VoIP API that is used by companies like eBay, Airbnb and Hulu to add voice services into their consumer apps, has been adding support for European countries as part of its expansion strategy, first the UK and then Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland and Poland. Now Twilio is giving that effort a bit more muscle with the appointment of its first full-time, permanent employee outside the U.S.

James Parton is joining the company as its new European marketing director. His hiring is also effectively a jab at the carrier market that Twilio very much has the chance to really disrupt: Parton has been poached from Telefonica, the Spanish mobile powerhouse, where he has most recently been running developer marketing for Telefonica’s multi-regional API effort BlueVia, and before that for BlueVia’s more local precursor, Litmus at O2 UK.

Parton’s experience of explaining and connecting telephony services with developers, and his existing connection with the developer community in Europe, are both essential for Twilio right now as it looks for more traction in the region.

Parton will be starting officially on June 1, and will be based out of London. And Parton is also hiring more people to join him, according to a post on his blog. Specific skills mentioned are those interested in developer evangelism and customer support — which indicates that Twilio is looking to develop a full set of services more local to Europe, not just hire a bunch of sales people.

No permanent replacement yet has been determined for Parton at Telefonica, but the company is now actively on the lookout to replace him.

“Having done the developer work for a large company for the last five years created an itch that I needed to scratch,” Parton told TechCrunch when asked why he took the job. “I wanted to get out of the big company culture and Twilio is on a huge growth trajectory. This means a lot to me and I can’t wait to get cracking.” (Yes, he is British.)

Twilio up to now has been fairly quiet in Europe as it has been getting the building blocks in place to launch a full service in the region. That’s taken longer to sort out here than in the U.S. because of that old chestnut, European fragmentation: even the process of getting VoIP lines and access requires country-by-country applications and negotiations.

One of the things that has caught people’s attention up to now has been the company’s ability to pick up a lot of big customers, as well as a number of smaller developers, using its service. Parton says that while up to now Twilio has started to tap into the “long tail of developers,” he will be focused on picking up more “marquee customers” in the form of big brands and other interesting companies that the company can use as case studies to promote the use of Twilio.

Parton knows all too well, from the other side of the competitive field, the challenges of trying to add disruptive and new services into the entrenched world of telecoms as a way of developing new streams of revenue — and making sure companies like Twilio don’t eat carriers’ proverbial lunch.

“One of telcos’ biggest challenges is the perception issue, and trying to convince developers and startups to work with them. They have a history of over-promising and under-delivering. We overcame some of that with BlueVia but Twilio has been faster.”

Twilio, he says, has been faster to cut-through because of how they’ve developed and executed on the product. “It’s super easy for developers to pick up and get started.”

Twilio has to date raised $33.7 million in funding from an A-list of backers including Besssemer Venture Partners, Union Square Ventures and Dave McClure.

Update: To be clear, Parton is the first full-time and permanent employee outside the U.S. but he’s not the very first person to work for Twilio in Europe. Stevie Graham has been a UK developer evangelist for the company on a contract basis since September 2011: that’s a link to the blog post announcing his arrival, where he refers to himself as “the first and only Twilio employee outside of the United States.” He has also been working full-time.

Twilio’s European March Continues With Its First Full-Time Hire Outside The U.S. [And Telefonica Loses One]

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


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

Heyzap’s Amazing 404 Page, Created In A Day

heyzap 404

Gaming startup Heyzap has found a way to take some of the pain out of stumbling on a 404 error message on its website.

Now, Heyzap’s 404 page comes with a little bonus — a simple spaceship combat game, where you move your mouse to shoot off a flood of enemies. Co-founder Jude Gomila says this was actually built by an engineer named Micah during one of the company’s monthly hack days.

Gomila says the game is designed to resemble Heyzap’s new web pages, but there’s no direct tie to any of the other products. For now, the 404 page works best on a non-mobile browser. That’s a bit strange, since the startup, whose investors include Union Square Ventures and incubator Y Combinator, is now focused on adding social discovery features to mobile games. Gomila says Heyzap will be launching a mobile version soon.

However, if you’re looking to the game as an easy way to relieve stress, you may want to think twice — I, at least, keep getting killed. Asked why the game is so, Gomila (who should probably just blame it on my crappy hand-eye coordination) quotes the page’s creator Micah: “Because 404 should be a frustrating experience.”

Heyzap’s Amazing 404 Page, Created In A Day

A Whole Lot Of Reading: Social Publisher Wattpad Hits 1B User Minutes Per Month

wattpad chart

Wattpad, a Union Square Ventures-backed platform for sharing stories and interacting with writers, has been growing steadily, and it hit a nice milestone in January — during that month, users spent more than 1 billion minutes on the service.

Co-founder and CEO Allen Lau tells me via email that the growth comes from a combination of attracting new users and convincing each of those users to spend more time on the site. The average session for Web users was 30 minutes, while visitors on Android devices spent an average of 28 minutes.

“We are relying more and more on new users now,” Lau says. Given the Android stats, in particular, “There is simply not much room to grow further (we only have 24 hours per day).”

And not surprisingly, the majority of that activity is happening on mobile devices. Of those 1 billion minutes, Lau says that about one-third came from the Web, while another third came from Android, 20 percent came from iOS devices, and the rest comes from other mobile platforms like BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

In announcing the numbers, Wattpad also emphasizes the sheer quantity of content being shared. There were 300,000 stories uploaded in January (the site has 3.2 million total), and given the average word count per story, that adds up to more than 4 billion words — the equivalent of 8,856 Lord of the Rings trilogies.

A Whole Lot Of Reading: Social Publisher Wattpad Hits 1B User Minutes Per Month

Dwolla Raises $5 Million Series B From Union Square Ventures & Others


Disruptive payments network Dwolla confirmed today it has raised $5 million in Series B financing in a round led by Union Square Ventures. Also participating in the round are Village Ventures, Thrive Capital, Artists and Instigators and Paige Craig of Betterworks. As a part of the deal, Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures will join Dwolla’s board.

The company says that additional funding will be used to continue product development, expand its API and “maybe buy some Doritos.” (Yeah, you gotta love these guys).

Dwolla, which offers both an online and mobile payments platform, is primarily a new payments network, not a tool for enabling payments through the existing credit card network. In other words, it’s not the new PayPal. It’s an all-new payment option.  The idea behind the company is to rethink what a payments network would look like if it was built today using web technologies. By eliminating the legacy issues, fraud and overhead, it can lower costs for end users and merchants alike.

Explains founder Ben Milne, “Dwolla’s network isn’t just about mobile wallets and sending money to your friends with Facebook, it’s about creating an entirely new network architecture to disrupt the $332 trillion electronic payments landscape.”

The company has had a busy year, rolling out new features and services like Spots, FiSync, Proxi, GRiD and Instant, among other things.

Over the course of 2011, Des Moines-based Dwolla says it increased its userbase by 3,200% to over 80,000 accounts and increased its merchant community by 3,000% to over 7,500 accounts. It now processes between $30 and $50 million per month in transactions, both online and on mobile. Due to its lower fees, users end up saving 2%-8% over traditional transactions as well as the typical 30 cent processing fee.

Last month, BetaBeat reported that Dwolla was raising $10 million in financing, but today’s confirmation of the Series B is at half that.

Dwolla Raises $5 Million Series B From Union Square Ventures & Others