Startups

Bandit opens a ‘mobile-only’ coffee shop in New York

Posted by | Apps, coffee shops, eCommerce, Mobile, Startups | No Comments

If you wander into the Bandit coffee shop in Midtown New York, you won’t be able to just walk up to the counter and order something. Instead, you’ll need to download a mobile app.

I experienced it for myself yesterday afternoon, when I — along with several other customers — pulled out my phone, downloaded the Bandit app, then used the app to create a profile, order and pay. A couple of minutes later, a barista called me up to the counter and handed me a pretty good cup of coffee.

In other words, while Starbucks has been experimenting with mobile ordering and payment, Bandit is betting entirely on what co-founder and CEO Max Crowley called a “mobile-only” store.

Obviously, this model can lead to some initial awkwardness, particularly if random passersby don’t understand it. But there are friendly Bandit staff members on-hand to help, and Crowley (who was previously the general manager of Uber for Business) said that this model offers an opportunity to create “a whole new type of experience.”

He pointed to the rapid growth of China’s Luckin Coffee as an inspiration, and suggested that, ultimately, Bandit should offer customers the most convenient way to satisfy their coffee cravings: Wherever they are, they open the app and order the drink they want. Then they’ll be told when it will be ready, and where to pick it up.

Bandit can’t deliver that level of convenience for most customers quite yet, as it only has a single location. But Crowley said he’s rethought other aspects of the coffee shop model.

For one thing, this first Bandit store is located in what’s essentially a raw retail space. Crowley said his team has developed an 11’x11′ countertop where all the coffee is prepared — it’s assembled elsewhere and just needs to be plugged in, eliminating the need for an extensive buildout.

“We can launch [a new location] in a few hours, and we can do it at about a tenth the cost of a traditional store,” he said.

So the plan is to launch four or five more New York stores in the coming months, and to expand beyond New York by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Crowley added that by keeping costs down, Bandit can also keep its coffee affordable: “I don’t think an iced latte needs to be $6 or $7. Our goal is to be less expensive than Starbucks.” (My coffee yesterday, for example, cost me $2.) It’s also experimenting with other pricing models, starting with a $20 subscription that gets you an unlimited number of $1 drinks for a month.

And if this phone and pop up-focused mentality sounds a little transactional — maybe even a little soulless — I will note that the actual coffee shop didn’t feel that way at all. While the space was a bit bare, it was eye-catching, with several large games like cornhole set up for customers. Most importantly, people weren’t just rushing in to pick up their coffee — they were actually hanging out.

“When we did some rudimentary scouting of coffee shop locations, we saw that about 80% of customers are grabbing their coffee and leaving,” Crowley said. “That is definitely core to us, making it super easy to grab it and leave, fulfilling drink orders in less than a minute. All of that said, in the future, we’re going to have this portfolio of different kinds of spaces, different kinds of experiences.”

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Email app Spark receives update with new design

Posted by | Apps, Europe, Mobile, readdle, spark, Startups, TC | No Comments

Spark, the popular email app from Readdle, has been redesigned on iOS and Android. The interface has always been a bit busy in the mobile app. That’s why the updated app now features a cleaner design and a handful of new features.

On the design front, Spark now uses simple headers to separate smart sections, such as newsletters, notifications and personal emails. It looks better than the rounded boxes with a colorful background.

There’s a lot of whitespace now, but the company has also taken advantage of this update to add dark mode. When you tap on a thread, the thread view has been updated as well.

When it comes to new features, the app tries to autopopulate your inbox with profile pictures. Just like Vignette, it pulls images from popular web services. For instance, if somebody who emails you has a Twitter account under the same email address, Spark can add the Twitter profile picture to your inbox.

Everybody has their own way of dealing with their email inbox. That’s why Spark lets you choose the buttons that appear at the bottom of an email thread. For instance, if you use folders a lot, you can put a folder button. But if you want to replace that button with a snooze button, you can.

Spark is now a better citizen on iPadOS 13. You can open multiple instances of Spark. This way, you can work on a document with an email thread using Split View and you can open a second Spark window to check your inbox in a separate workspace. Spark on iPadOS also supports the floating keyboard and new iPadOS gestures.

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Bunch, the Discord for mobile games, raises $3.85M from Supercell, Tencent, Riot Games

Posted by | Apps, Bunch, Gaming, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

Growing up, Selcuk Atli spent a good deal of his free time playing video games with his friends. And when I say with his friends, I mean actually with them. They’re called LAN parties, where everyone brings over their consoles and the group gets to play together virtually and in real life, all at the same time.

Atli, a grown man now, still loves games, but misses the memories made during LAN parties.

That’s how Bunch was born.

Bunch is a lot like Discord, but for mobile games. Users who download the game can connect with friends and join an audio or video chat with them. From there, users can choose a game to load and the whole party is instantly taken not just to the game, but into a multiplayer game session with their friends.

Today, Bunch has announced the close of a strategic investment round of $3.85 million from top game makers, including Supercell, Tencent, Riot Games, Miniclip and Colopl Next. Bunch’s previous investors include London Venture Partners, Founders Fund, Betaworks, Shrug Capital, North Zone, Streamlined Ventures and 500 Startups.

Bunch has a handful of first-party games on its platform to ensure that new users have a starting-off point. However, one of the biggest challenges of scaling is creating relationships with third-party game makers to eventually integrate that deep linking technology into the Bunch app.

With this new money, Bunch finds itself under the arm of a handful of some of the biggest mobile game publishers in the world. This new funding also brings Bunch’s total financing since launch to $8.5 million.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a company try to bring the nostalgia of ’90s gaming into the 21st century. Discord has made quite a name for itself in the gaming world with a platform that allows gamers to communicate before, during and after a game.

However, Discord is more targeted at PC gamers, and is meant to give users the chance to meet and communicate with other gamers, rather than just hopping on a call with existing friends.

TeaTime Live, founded by QuizUp founder Thor Fridriksson, is another competitor focused squarely on mobile. However, TeaTime Live is going hard into Snapchat-like filters and avatars for video chat. And, like Discord, TTL wants users to meet other gamers, not connect with their IRL friends.

Bunch is primarily focused on connecting gamers with their actual friends. Once you’ve both loaded into a game, Bunch keeps running in the background to power voice chat. By focusing on real friends, Atli believes the impact of Bunch can be much greater for both users and the games themselves.

In fact, Atli says that user retention on a specific game grows 1.3 times with every new friend added on the platform. Indeed, between Day 7 and Day 30, Bunch Cohorts’ retention rates are 2x the retention of normal players, according to the Bunch CEO.

For now, Bunch is focused entirely on user acquisition and scaling to more games, but could see an opportunity to generate revenue through a subscription or in-app purchase model around premium Bunch features.

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SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, Enterprise, Exit, funding, Fundings & Exits, M&A, Mobile, Personnel, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

What do you do when your startup idea doesn’t prove big enough? Run it as a scrawny but profitable lifestyle business? Or sell it to a competitor and take another swing at the fences? Social audience analytics startup SocialRank chose the latter and is going for glory.

Today, SocialRank announced it’s sold its business, brand, assets, and customers to influencer marketing campaign composer and distributor Trufan which will run it as a standalone product. But SocialRank’s team isn’t joining up. Instead, the full six-person staff is sticking together to work on a mobile-first professional social network called Upstream aiming to nip at LinkedIn.

SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub

Started in 2014 amidst a flurry of marketing analytics tools, SocialRank had raised $2.1 million from Rainfall Ventures and others before hitting profitability in 2017. But as the business plateaued, the team saw potential to use data science about people’s identity to get them better jobs.

“A few months ago we decided to start building a new product (what has become Upstream). And when we came to the conclusion to go all-in on Upstream, we knew we couldn’t run two businesses at the same time” SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub tells me. “We decided then to run a bit of a process. We ended up with a few offers but ultimately felt like Trufan was the best one to continue the business into the future.”

The move lets SocialRank avoid stranding its existing customers like the NFL, Netflix, and Samsung that rely on its audience segmentation software. Instead, they’ll continue to be supported by Trufan where Taub and fellow co-founder Michael Schonfeld will become advisors.

“While we built a sustainable business, we essentially knew that if we wanted to go real big, we would need to go to the drawing board” Taub explains.

SocialRank

Two-year-old Trufan has raised $1.8 million Canadian from Round13 Capital, local Toronto startup Clearbanc’s founders, and several NBA players. Trufan helps brands like Western Union and Kay Jewellers design marketing initiatives that engage their customer communities through social media. It’s raising an extra $400,000 USD in venture debt from Round13 to finance the acquisition, which should make Trufan cash-flow positive by the end of the year.

Why isn’t the SocialRank team going along for the ride? Taub said LinkedIn was leaving too much opportunity on the table. While it’s good for putting resumes online and searching for people, “All the social stuff are sort of bolt-ons that came after Facebook and Twitter arrived. People forget but LinkedIn is the oldest active social network out there”, Taub tells me, meaning it’s a bit outdated.

Trufan’s team

Rather than attack head-on, the newly forged Upstream plans to pick the Microsoft-owned professional network apart with better approaches to certain features. “I love the idea of ‘the unbundling of LinkedIn’, ala what’s been happening with Craigslist for the past few years” says Taub. “The first foundational piece we are building is a social professional network around giving and getting help. We’ll also be focused on the unbundling of the groups aspect of LinkedIn.”

Taub concludes that entrepreneurs can shackle themselves to impossible goals if they take too much venture capital for the wrong business. As we’ve seen with SoftBank, investors demand huge returns that can require pursuing risky and unsustainable expansion strategies.

“We realized that SocialRank had potential to be a few hundred million dollar in revenue business but venture growth wasn’t exactly the model for it” Taub says. “You need the potential of billions in revenue and a steep growth curve.” A professional network for the smartphone age has that kind of addressable market. And the team might feel better getting out of bed each day knowing they’re unlocking career paths for people instead of just getting them to click ads.

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Angell is a smart bike with an integrated display

Posted by | Angell, Europe, France Newsletter, Gadgets, Marc Simoncini, Startups | No Comments

Meet Angell, a new smart bike from a French startup led by Marc Simoncini who is mostly known for founding Meetic. The company is announcing its first electric-bike today. And the goal is to make an e-bike that is smarter than everything out there.

“We dedicate half of public space to cars even though cars only represent 12% of trips,” Angell co-founder and CEO Marc Simoncini told me. And according to the company’s data, only 2% of people use bikes to move around a city in France, compared to 31% in the Netherlands and 13% in Germany.

So there’s a market opportunity for a newcomer in the e-bike space in France, and eventually in other major cities around the world. “Our goal is to become the global leader in the smart bike space,” Simoncini said.

When it comes to hardware, the Angell e-bike is a 14kg bike with an aluminum frame, integrated lights and a removable battery. It has a 2.4-inch touch screen to control the bike. The battery should last 70km on a single charge. There are also turn signals that you can activate with a button.

The Angell e-bike comes with everything you’d expect from a connected bike and that you can already find on Cowboy and Vanmoof e-bikes. It connects with your phone using Bluetooth and has an integrated lock and alarm system. If somebody tries to steal your bike, the bike will play a loud sound. If somebody manages to steal your bike, you can track it using an integrated GPS chip and cellular modem.

But Angell wants to go one step further with its integrated display. First, you can select different levels of assistance directly on the bike itself. You can display information on the screen when you’re riding your bike, such as speed, calories, battery level and distance on the screen. You can also set an emergency contact so that they automatically receive a notification if your bike detects a fall.

More interestingly, you can set a destination on your phone and get turn-by-turn directions on your bike. In addition to arrows that tell you when you’re supposed to turn, your handlebar vibrates as well.

“70% of the Angell project is software,” Simoncini said.

The Angell e-bike will be available at some point during the summer of 2020. It’ll cost €2,690 ($2,966) with pre-orders starting today. Customers can also choose to pay €74.90 per month for 36 months. Angell will also partner with an insurance company to offer a theft and damage insurance product for €9.90 per month.

The Angell e-bike is just the first step of the company. Eventually, Angell wants to dedicate 5% of its revenue to a smart city fund and incubator, the Angell Lab. The company wants to create an ecosystem of startups that want to reinvent city mobility. Angell is fully funded by Marc Simoncini for now.

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SmartNews raises $92M at a $1.2B valuation

Posted by | ACA Investments, Apps, funding, Fundings & Exits, Japan Post Capital Co., Media, Mobile, Recent Funding, smartnews, Startups | No Comments

Looks like there’s still money to be made in news aggregation — at least according to the investors backing the news app SmartNews.

The company is announcing the close of a $92 million round of funding at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The funding was led by Japan Post Capital Co. and ACA Investments, with participation from Globis Capital Partners Co., Dentsu and D.A. Consortium.

This includes the $28 million that SmartNews announced in August, and it brings the startup’s total funding to $182 million.

News aggregation apps seemed to everywhere a few years ago, and while they haven’t exactly disappeared, they didn’t turn into unicorns, with many of them acquired or shut down.

However, Vice President of U.S. Marketing Fabien-Pierre Nicolas told me that SmartNews has a few unique advantages. For one thing, it uses machine learning rather than human curation to “thoughtfully generate a news discovery experience” that’s personalized to each user.

SmartNews team

Secondly, he said that many news aggregators treat the publishers creating the content that they rely on “like a commodity,” whereas SmartNews treats them as “true partners.” For example, it’s working with select publishers like Business Insider, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed and Reuters on a program called SmartView First, where articles are presented in a custom format that gives publishers more revenue opportunities and better analytics.

Lastly, he said SmartNews has focused on only two key markets — Japan (where the company started) and the United States. And it sounds like one of the main goals with the new funding is to continue growing in the United States.

Nicolas also suggested that there are some broader trends that SmartNews is taking advantage of, like the fact that the shift to mobile news consumption is still underway, particularly for older readers.

And then there’s “the loss of trust in some news sources — political news, especially,” which makes SmartNews’ curated approach seem more valuable. (It also recently launched a News From All Sides feature to show coverage from different political perspectives.)

As for monetization, he said SmartNews remains focused on advertising.

Yes, there’s a growing interest in subscriptions and paywalls, which is also reflected in subscription news aggregators like Apple’s News+, but Nicolas said, “Eighty-five to ninety percent of Americans are not subscribing to news media. We believe those 85 to 90 percent have a right to have quality information as well.”

Update: Also worth noting is that SensorTower says SmartNews has been downloaded 45 million times since the beginning of 2014, with 11 million of those downloads in 2019.

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More layoffs at pivoting London ed tech startup pi-top

Posted by | edtech, Education, Europe, Gadgets, London, pi-top, Raspberry Pi, Startups, STEM learning, TC, United Kingdom | No Comments

London ed tech startup pi-top has gone through another round of layoffs, TechCrunch has learned.

Pi-top confirmed that eight jobs have been cut in the London office, saying the job losses resulted from “restructuring our business to focus on the U.S. education market.”

In August we broke the news that the STEM hardware-focused company had cut 12 staff after losing out on a major contract; pi-top told us then that its headcount had been reduced from 72 to 60.

The latest cuts suggest the workforce has been reduced to around 50 — although we have also heard that company headcount is now considerably lower than that.

One source told us that 12 jobs have gone in the London office this week, as well as additional cuts in the China office, where the company’s hardware team is based — but pi-top denied there have been any changes to its China team.

Pi-top said in August that the layoffs were related to implementing a new strategy.

Commenting on the latest cuts, it told us: “We have made changes within the company that reflect our business focus on the U.S. education market and our increasingly important SaaS learning platform.”

“The core of our business remains unchanged and we are happy with progress and the fantastic feedback we have received on pitop 4 from our school partners,” pi-top added.

Additionally, we have heard that a further eight roles at the U.K. office have been informed to staff as at risk of redundancy. Affected jobs at risk include roles in product, marketing, creative services, customer support and finance.

We also understand that a number of employees have left the company of their own accord in recent months, following an earlier round of layoffs.

Pi-top did not provide comment on jobs at risk of redundancy, but told us that it has hired three new staff “to accelerate the SaaS side of our education offering and will be increasing our numbers in the U.S. to service our growth in the region.”

We understand that the latest round of cuts have been communicated to staff as a cost-reduction exercise and also linked to implementing a new strategy. Staff have also been told that the business focus has shifted to the U.S schools market.

As we reported earlier this year, pi-top appointed a new executive chairman of its board who has a strong U.S. focus: Stanley Buchesky served in the Trump administration as an interim CFO for the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He is also the founder of a U.S. ed tech seed fund.

Sources familiar with pi-top say the company is seeking to pivot away from making proprietary ed tech hardware to focus on a SaaS learning platform for teaching STEM, called pi-top Further.

At the start of this year it crowdfunded a fourth-gen STEM device, the pi-top 4, with an estimated shipping date of this month. The crowdfunder attracted 521 backers, pledging close to $200,000 to fund the project.

In the pi-top 4 Kickstarter pitch the device is slated as being supported by a software platform called Further — which is described as a “free social making platform” that “teaches you how to use all the pi-top components through completing challenges and contributing projects to the community,” as well as offering social sharing features.

The plan now is for pi-top to monetize that software platform by charging subscription fees for elements of the service — with the ultimate goal of SaaS revenues making up the bulk of its business as hardware sales are de-emphasized. (Hardware is hard; and pi-top’s current STEM learning flagship has faced some challenges with reliability, as we reported in August.)

We understand that the strategic change to Further — from free to a subscription service — was communicated to staff internally in September.

Asked about progress on the pi-top 4, the company told us the device began shipping to backers this week. 

“We are pleased to announce the release of pi-top 4 and pi-top Further, our new learning and robotics coding platform,” it said. “This new product suite provides educators the ability to teach coding, robotics and AI with step-by-step curriculum and an integrated coding window that powers the projects students build. With pi-top, teachers can effectively use Project Based Learning and students can learn by doing and apply what they learn to the real world.”

Last month pi-top announced it had taken in $4 million in additional investment to fund the planned pivot to SaaS — and “bridge towards profitability,” as it put it today.

“The changes you see are a fast growing start-up shifting from revenue focus to a right-sized profit generating company,” it also told us.

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Brave launches version 1.0 of its privacy-focused browser

Posted by | Android, brave, Brendan Eich, Firefox, free software, google-chrome, linux, microsoft windows, Mozilla, online advertising, privacy, Software, Startups, TC, Web browsers | No Comments

Brave, the company co-founded by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his ouster from the organization in 2014, today launched version 1.0 of its browser for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In a browser market where users are spoiled for choice, Brave is positioning itself as a fast option that preserves users’ privacy with strong default settings, as well as a crypto currency-centric private ads and payment platform that allows users to reward content creators.

As the company announced last month, it now has about 8 million monthly active users. Its Brave Rewards program, which requires opt-in from users and publishers, currently has about 300,000 publishers on board. Most of these are users with small followings on YouTube and Twitter, but large publishers like Wikipedia, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate and the LA Times are also part of the ecosystem. Using this system, which not every publisher is going to like, the browser will show a small number of ads as a notification in a separate private ad tab, based on the user’s browsing habits. Users then receive 70% of what the advertisers spend on ads, while Brave keeps 30%.

As users view these ads, they start earning Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), Brave’s cryptocurrency, which they can keep or give to publishers. In its early days, Brave actually started with Bitcoin as the currency for this, but as Eich noted, that quickly became too expensive (and because the price was going up, users wanted to hold on to the Bitcoin instead of donating it).

Brave also comes with a built-in ad blocker that is probably among the most effective in the industry, as well as extensive anti-tracking features. “Everybody’s bothered by the sense of being tracked and bothered by bad ads,” Eich told me. “But I think ad aesthetics are not the problem. It’s the tracking and the cost of tracking which is multifarious. There’s page load time, running the radio to load the tracking scripts that load the other scripts that load the scripts that load the ads, that drains your battery, too.” Eich argues that with Brave, the team found a way to tie this all together with anti-tracking technology and an approach to ad blocking that goes beyond the industry-standard blocklists and also uses machine learning to identify additional rules for blocking.

For those users that really want to be anonymous on the web, Brave also features a private browsing mode, just like every other browser, but with the added twist that you can also open a private session through the Tor network, which will make it very hard for most companies to identify you.

At its core, Brave is simply a fast, extensible Chromium-based browser. That’s also what the company believes will sell it to users. “The way you get users, […] I think speed is the first one that works across the largest number of users. But you can’t just leave it at speed. You want to have all your benefits tied up in a pretty knot and that’s what we have done,” he said. For Brave, speed and ad/tracking protection are obviously interconnected, and all the other benefits accrue from that.

Looking beyond version 1.0, the Brave team plans to implement better sync, with support for tab and history syncing, for example. Brave also aims to make participating in Brave Rewards an experience with much lower friction for the user. In the early days, before it was on Android, the opt-in rate was around 40%, Eich told me, and the team wants to get it back to that.

If you want to give Brave a try, you can download it here.

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These sneakers vibrate

Posted by | droplabs, Entertainment, Gadgets, Startups, susan paley, TC | No Comments

Sometimes it seems like you can hear a song all the way in your toes. With these new sneakers, you actually can.

Meet the new EP 01 sneakers out of DropLabs. Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about sneakers.

Invented by a man named Brock Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet.

It started when Seiler, who works in the music industry, was standing in a side room at a recording studio while a band was recording. He could feel every beat and low note in the song in his feet while standing over this particular patch of floor, and wanted to experience all music like that, as though he could feel the energy of the stage itself.

Eventually, Paley signed on as CEO of DropLabs and the EP 01 was born.

The EP 01 is a slightly chunky sneaker that’s equipped with Bluetooth, a speaker-grade transducer and a power source to sync with almost any audio. As a movie or music or video game plays, the sneaker picks up the audio and sends it as a perfectly synced vibration right to the soles of your feet. For big, thunderous steps of a T-Rex in Jurassic World, the vibrations are heavy and full. For the pitter-patter of the townspeoples’ footsteps in Red Dead: Redemption II, the vibrations are light and muted.

What’s more, the vibrations are slightly directional. Noise that’s coming from the right vibrates on the right, and vice versa, which can be particularly impactful while playing video games.

Indeed, Paley sees gaming as a huge opportunity to enter the market. Audio, and particularly good directional audio, is incredibly important for gamers who compete at a high level. The growth of esports has allowed a number of brands to emerge as the “X for gamers,” not least of which being energy drinks.

DropLabs has an opportunity to market to gamers, offering a more immersive experience across their games and potentially even a competitive advantage.

Paley explained to TechCrunch that the brain actually functions at a higher level when three or more of the senses are engaged. Feeling something, alongside hearing and seeing it, flips a switch when it comes to processing information.

For this reason, Paley sees a huge potential to target gamers as an early demographic, particularly big-name streamers and gaming influencers.

In fact, DropLabs has given the shoes to various researchers and universities around the country to learn more about how these shoes might be used. After meeting with them, Paley believes there are applications that extend well beyond entertainment and into the health space.

I got a chance to try on the shoes and play around with them for a little while last week, and while I’d like to reserve my complete thoughts for a proper review, it goes without saying that wearing the shoes surely leaves an impression.

But the EP 01 have challenges ahead.

For one, the shoes cost upwards of $500. It’s a mighty high price point for a gadget that most folks will need to try before they feel committed to buying.

“Whenever you create a new category and a new product, you have the challenge of asking consumers to change their behavior,” said Paley. “And this, in particular, is so visceral. How do you communicate viscerally what is an emotional experience? You can talk about it, but it’s very different to put someone in the shoe.”

The EP 01 must also find their place in a category that’s defined by fashion and personal style. Our shoes say something about us, and for now, the EP 01 comes in one style and one color (black). It’s as universal a shoe as it can be, considering all the electronics packed in there, but it doesn’t leave customers many options to change up their own look.

Of course, DropLabs is deep in the learning phase, soaking up as much information about its first-gen sneaker as possible as it looks to iterate for v2.

The EP 01 is available for pre-order now, and DropLabs has plans to launch pop-up shops and other IRL experiences for folks interested in the shoes.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Brock Seiler as Ross Seiler. It has been corrected for accuracy.

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With $6.5M in funding, Aircam offers a fast, easy way to share photos at events

Posted by | Aircam, Apps, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, photo sharing, Recent Funding, Social, Startups, upfront ventures | No Comments

Aircam is a new startup that allows anyone to get instant access to pictures taken by professional photographers at weddings, parties and other events.

The company was founded by brothers Evan and Ryan Rifkin, who previously co-founded Burstly, the company behind mobile app-testing service TestFlight (which was acquired by Apple).

In addition to officially launching Aircam today, they’re also announcing that the company has raised $6.5 million in seed funding led by Upfront Ventures, with participation from Comcast Ventures.

“The process of finding a great photographer still sucks and the tools photographers use to share photos are antiquated for an industry worth over $10 billion,” said Upfront Ventures Managing Partner Mark Suster in a statement. “Aircam provides real-time, location-aware and enhanced photos that today’s consumers expect with booking simplicity that will change the current playing field.”

The Rifkin brothers are pitching Aircam as “a real-time photo-sharing platform for professional and consumer photos.” To try out the technology, I visited the Aircam website and hit a button to see nearby photos. Then, as the Rifkins took photos with a DSLR camera, those photos appeared on the site nearly instantaneously. I, in turn, could send the photos to a printer in their office, or share photos from my phone.

Manufacturers already offer software to transfer photos wirelessly from their cameras to your computer. But with Aircam, the photos became accessible to everyone at an event, without requiring anyone except the photographer to install an app.

Aircam

Ryan explained that the company is taking advantage of cameras’ Wi-Fi connections (it currently works with Canon, Nikon and Sony devices) to send the photos to an app on the photographer’s phone, which then uploads the photos to the cloud.

He also said the team initially believed that Aircam would become the repository for photos taken by everyone attending an event. But in early testing, they saw that “the opposite is happening — people are putting their phones away.”

In other words, once attendees realize that they have access to professional-quality photos, they can spend less time worrying about taking their own pictures with their phones and instead focus on being present at the event.

This should also make life easier for photographers, particularly since Aircam includes automated photo editing — the photos are color corrected (with nice touches like teeth whitening) without requiring any extra work from the photographer.

“If you ask photographers what’s their least favorite part of photography — one, it’s finding new business, and two, it’s the edits,” Ryan said. “Some people limit the number of events they’ll accept because of the editing work … With automatic edits, they shoot and they’re done.”

Evan Rifkin

Evan Rifkin

As for finding new business, Evan said that the company tested this out by allowing photographers to offer Aircam as an additional option for their customers. (The company charges the photographers $50 per event.)

But once customers had seen Aircam in action, they wanted to order it again, so Aircam is also launching its own marketplace (currently focused on Southern California) where you can book professional photographers for $99 per hour, with the Aircam service included as part of the package.

Or, if you want to try it out without hiring a pro photographer, you’ll be able to upload photos from your iPhone for free.

The Rifkins told me they haven’t had any issues around privacy or content moderation so far, but they also noted that customers who are concerned about these issues can limit their guests’ upload capabilities. They also can create a custom URL for their event rather than making it discoverable to anyone nearby.

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