Canary Shatters Its Indiegogo Funding Goal For Its Smart, Dead-Simple Home Monitors

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There are some 90 million homes in the U.S. without any security system whatsoever. Many of them are renters who don’t want to invest heavily in a place they don’t own, among hundreds of thousands of home owners who are simply priced out. There has never been a convenient, all-in-one system that could offer home security at an affordable rate, much less one you could pick up at the local Best Buy.

But that all changes with Canary, the latest crowd-funding sensation to hit Indiegogo. We caught up with NYC-based founder Adam Sager to discuss the project.

Canary is a little console, slightly smaller than the size of a paper towel roll, that’s packed with a host of sensors, a mic, and an HD camera.

For $200 down, this little guy will connect to the Wifi, sync with your phone, and constantly watch your home. I say watch, and not monitor, because Canary can only see as far as its sensors will allow, whereas most home security systems are wired in to monitor every crack and crevice of a home. Canary can only hear as far as the mic allows, or the camera sees, or the sensors can sense.

However, Sager believes that when you place the Canary in the central part of your home, near the front door perhaps or watching over the living room, that a real threat, like a burglar, will likely set off the Canary no matter where it enters from.

Plus, if you have a larger space or want added security, you can always link more than one Canary (up to four, Sager tells me).

Canary’s sensors include night vision, motion detection, temperature, air quality and humidity, along with a live feed to the HD camera at any given time. The phone will instantly alert the user whenever the home experiences a random change, like a temperature fluctuation or sudden movement.

But Canary is also smart enough to learn your home, sensing the difference between a burglary and a pet. It even understands when regularly scheduled events occur, like the arrival of a nanny or a dog walker at the same time each day, so that you don’t have a panic attack each time Rover needs to take a wizz.

Canary’s distribution model is different from any other home security system in that you will eventually be able to go pick one up at a local electronics store on the cheap. This has never really been available before, and the potential market is huge with 90 million homes completely unprotected and priced out of the alternatives.

Sager admits that margins on the hardware itself won’t be that high, but the plan is to offer value-added services like monitoring (delivered by a TBD third-party) for $10/month.

Canary has been on Indiegogo for four days, and has blown far beyond its $100k goal to be at $550k at the time of writing. It only took a few hours to reach $100k, according to Sager.

If you’d like to back the project, head on over to the Canary website or check out the Indiegogo campaign.

Y Combinator-Backed Lob Debuts A Cloud Printing & Shipping Service For Developers

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Want to build your own Postagram? You could with Lob, a new developer API for integrating printing and shipping services into applications that’s officially opening its doors today. The company makes it possible for a business to implement a programmatic means of printing, packaging, and shipping items on demand, including things like business cards, photos, posters, letters, postcards, checks, stickers, and more. During its brief testing period, Lob saw sign-ups from customers like CrowdTilt, ZenPayroll, LendUp, and others.

Founded just a couple of months ago by University of Michigan grads Harry Zhang and Leore Avidar, Lob is participating in Y Combinator’s summer 2013 program. Today, it already has hundreds of customers and is generating revenue, the founders say.

Prior to Lob, Zhang worked as a product manager at Microsoft, where he saw first-hand the need for such a service. “I was working on a campaign at Microsoft where we had to put together offers for all these different customers – all having to go to different destinations, all of which had to be customized,” Zhang explains. “And when it got to the part where we had to have them printed and mailed, we realized there was no good way to actually automate that process.” Instead, the company had interns sitting in a mailroom for a couple of weeks, stuffing envelopes.

Meanwhile, Avidar’s background includes time spent first at Citigroup then at Amazon Web Services, where he learned more about how cloud platforms work. He says that basically, with Lob, they’ve taken the AWS model and applied it to a different type of industry.

The service arrives at a time when many of today’s printers aren’t as technically savvy as the startups and other businesses that need to use them. Their older systems use SOAP and XML, limiting access to what’s possible. Meanwhile, the need for online printing grows – it accounted for 18 percent of all printing in 2011, and is expected to reach 30 percent next year, and 50 percent by 2017.

But unlike services provided by consumer-facing retailers like FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko’s), or Uprinting.com, for example, Lob is not meant to be a consumer-facing solution, but rather a tool for developers. Using the company’s RESTful API, developers can send one-off print jobs as needed, or can request volume pricing when buying in bulk.

The founders see a few primary use cases for its service. One is fulfillment for businesses that don’t want to hold inventory – like a company that sells posters, for instance. Because Lob supports variable data and customizations, another area being targeted is in industries like finance or real estate, where businesses may be required to send things like bills, invoices or statements through the physical mail. It could also be useful in HR, where companies are continually mailing out forms to employees, like new hire packets. And finally, Lob can be used to send out physical checks, like those handled by a payroll service.

Lob’s API offers an address verification service (free for U.S. address and $0.15 for each international address), plus Smart Packaging, where it will pick the best packaging type automatically unless a developer specifies otherwise. And it routes jobs to the nearest printer in its network to save on shipping times and cost.

Avidar says that Lob’s network of printers is one of its strong suits. The printers are not ordinary print shops, but ones which have been standardized by having custom integrations built into their systems and workflows. The are the HP Indigo’s and the Heidelberg’s of the world, he adds, not the Vistaprint’s.

The Sunnyvale-based startup is only a couple of months old, and has been growing by 300 percent every week during its brief alpha and beta trials. Today, the founders are the only two full-time employees and they want to keep things small for now, and hold off on fundraising as they have paying customers. Interested users can sign up for Lob here or read through the developer documentation.

Prim Does Your Laundry. Pickup, Wash, Fold, Delivery, Awesome

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You can call it a first-world problem. Or you can say it distracts people from their passions and contributions to the world. Either way, laundry is a chore, and new Y Combinator startup Prim wants to do it for you. You can schedule Prim online to come to your place, pick up your laundry, have it washed and folded at a top-notch laundromat, and deliver it back to you. $25 for a bag. It’s that easy.

Prim’s Stanford-educated founders originally came into Y Combinator to build an in-video advertising platform, but the business wasn’t there. The idea for Prim was scattered all over their floors. See, co-founder Yin Yin Wu’s boyfriend worked at Facebook, where they have free laundry service. His clothes ended up neatly washed, folded, and in his drawers rather than in heaps waiting to be done. That meant he could focus on his job and life. Yin Yin thought, “why couldn’t this service be available to anyone?” So they created Prim.

Uber For Laundry

Currently Prim operates in San Francisco, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park – home to the world’s busiest techies. You go online and select from their upcoming 9am-11am or 8pm-10pm pickup and drop-off windows. You throw your clothes in a garbage bag and wait for Prim’s text that it’ll be there in 15 minutes. The driver calls when they arrive. You can hand them the bag, leave it with your doorman, or if you’re comfortable, give them a copy of your key or send a photo of it and they’ll make a copy so they can just come into your place and grab the bag.

Their driver takes the sack of clothes to be tagged and brings it to a well-rated local laundromat with a track record of flawless jobs. Within two days you get notified to confirm your delivery, and Prim brings the washed and folded clothes back in high-quality nylon satchels. It even ties together your stacks of shirts or whatever you wouldn’t want wrinkled so they stay prim and proper. See! That’s where they got the name! You got that already? Sorry.

The cost is $25 for the first bag of each pickup and $15 for the additional ones. That’s a bit more expensive than you can expect from a laundromat’s wash and fold, but you get the pick-up and delivery included. Because Prim brings in so much business, it gets discounts from the laundromats so the price stays reasonable. Prim strives for perfection, but in case anything gets lost or damaged, Wu says Prim has insurance and will refund you 100% of the cost of your clothes. “If there’s any mistake, we try to bend over backwards for our customers” says Wu.

The idea is that as Prim gets bigger, it can use economies of scale to improve its margins and lower its costs. While it’s only in the Bay Area now, expansion plans don’t include the sprawl of LA (where Wash.io operates) or fighting the specialized competitors in NYC. Instead it’s looking at Seattle, Boston, and other dense cities full of time-strapped knowledge workers. In SF, Prim will have to battle LaundryLocker where you drop your clothes in a public locker, and delivery services like Sfwash (where you pay by the pound), Sudzee (which requires special lockable bags), and some other local services.

Prim differentiates through simplicity and its flat rate. The risk is that the price is too high and it can’t get traction, or too low that it can’t squeak out a profit. Getting the balance right and giving people a great experience will make or break the startup.

Luckily, I loved Prim. It got my laundry done in 24 hours, everything came back clean, dry, soft, unwrinkled, and nothing seemed shrunk. Oh, and I did basically zero work. No dragging my clothes to the laundromat, fiddling with change for the machines, and most importantly, no waiting for hours. Even if you have machines in your home or apartment, doing loads one at a time can be quite annoying. My laundry often languishes because I dread the rigamarole. With Prim, I’m a lot less likely to make it to the bottom of my sock drawer. A more flexible morning pickup schedule would help, but Prim says they’ll always work with customers to find some time that works. Adding in dry cleaning would also be a big plus, and help them compete with other services that handle all your clothes-washing needs.

Wash And Flow

No, Prim isn’t going to save anyone’s life, but it could still help improve the world if you think about it. Convenience doesn’t just breed laziness. It can enable productivity. In that way, I’d say Prim shares DNA with Dropbox and Asana, not just Uber and TaskRabbit.

Prim lets you concentrate on what you love to do, what you’re responsible for, or how you contribute to the universe. I’m decent at writing, terrible at laundry, and busy. Spending a ton of time washing and folding is just inefficient for me. I feel better stimulating the economy and letting someone good at laundry do their thing. And imagine how this could free up a CEO, doctor, charity director, or parent to take on the duties only they can fulfill?

Think how long it takes you to do laundry. If that amount of your time is worth more than $25 (or $40 if you’ve got a big wardrobe), use Prim.

And use Prim with the promo code “techcrunch” to get $10 off your first pickup.

Prim Co-Founders (From Left): Xuwen Cao and Yin Yin Wu

Cross-Device Ad Startup Drawbridge Adds Mobile App-To-Web Retargeting (And Vice Versa)

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Drawbridge, an ad targeting startup backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, is expanding its offerings today with a new feature allowing mobile advertisers to reach consumers with retargeted ads, regardless of whether they’re using an app or on the mobile web.

Founder and CEO Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan said that while ad retargeting (i.e., ads targeted based on your past visits and activity) is possible within apps, things get trickier when you try to cross the boundary between apps and websites: “It’s literally two devices on the same device, separated by an iron wire.” (I question her question use of “literally”, but I think you get the point.) App developers can also try to reengage their users through alerts and notifications, but users can always turn those off.

In order to solve that problem, Drawbridge is “piggybacking” on its core technology. That technology examines user activity to help advertisers identify when multiple devices are likely being used by the same person. That allows advertisers to use data collected on the desktop to target ads on mobile. The company’s two products launched last fall include PC-to-mobile retargeting and mobile app marketing. The mobile-to-mobile retargeting is intended to fill out the mobile marketing product, Sivaramakrishnan said.

Drawbridge has already run test campaigns with e-commerce companies, who were either trying to bring old customers back to the site or to convince current customers to buy more. Sivaramakrishnan said that in a campaign targeting lapsed users, the client reached 100 percent return on ad spend within three weeks. Another campaign targeted active users and reached 100 percent ROAS within a single day.

Advertisers will have a chance to test this out for themselves, Sivaramakrishnan said, because the new capabilities include an A/B testing framework. So advertisers can run part of their campaign with Drawbridge’s retargeting and part of their campaign without it and see which ads perform better.

Earlier this year, Drawbridge announced that it was partnering with TRUSTe to allow mobile consumers to opt out of its targeting. Since then, Sivaramakrishnan said that some users have indeed opt out, but that the rates haven’t been “heavy”.

FullContact Acquires Cobook To Build A Better Universal Address Book

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Cobook, the scrappy startup out of Latvia which grew its universal address book application to over a million users, is being acquired by FullContact, a larger Denver-based operation also working on contact management solutions for businesses and individuals. Going forward, the entire six-person Cobook team will relocate to Denver, where Cobook CEO Kaspars Dancis will assume the role of Product Manager for the FullContact Address Book.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Dancis says it’s a mixture of cash and stock. His company had previously raised $500,000 in seed funding from the European-based pre-seed fund HackFwd, which stopped accepting new startups in fall 2013, admitting that it had gotten some things wrong along the way. The organization had invested around $8 million into HackFwd and its portfolio companies it said this past September, and Cobook’s exit, it seems, will now become one of the highlights.

Though the two companies wouldn’t talk acquisition price, Dancis says it was “a positive outcome” for investors. “Let’s put it this way, I think [HackFwd] are probably happy with the outcome, especially since we are the first company from their portfolio with an exit,” he says.

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Cobook, for those unfamiliar, is a cross-platform (iOS, Mac) address book application that allows users to sync their default OS X/iCloud address book with Google contacts, and those from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, AngelList, LinkedIn, and XING. The company monetizes through in-app purchases for the additional networks a user wants to add.

Dancis wouldn’t confirm how many of Cobook’s users were converting from free to paid, only saying that the rate was “okay.” But he told us that the team realized that they would soon have to switch to a subscription-based business model in order to continue work on the other features they wanted to add, including improvements to the address book’s auto-updating functionality.

“We would need to build our own cloud-based service from scratch. We already started doing that, to some extent, but it wasn’t our core expertise,” Dancis admits. Though he was confident they could learn the ropes, it was also a risk to move into this area. “Eventually we would just compete directly [with FullContact],” he adds. “It might have worked out well, it might have not.”

The two companies had been in touch since 2012, and finally met in person last year. The more they talked, the more they realized they shared the same values, says Dancis. And FullContact agrees, noting Cobook’s goals and ideas “meshed perfectly” with its own.

“We’ve admired Cobook’s work and team from afar (literally across the Atlantic ocean),” says FullContact CEO Bart Lorang, announcing the news, “and I’m super excited to build some insanely great products with Kaspars and the entire Cobook team.”

What’s Next

TechStars Boulder grad FullContact has been working on an address book application of its own, as well as other products aimed more at professional users. It’s also well-known for its suite of APIs for developers who want to provide address book functionality in their own applications.

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For now, Cobook’s apps will remain as is, but the two teams will begin to integrate their respective technologies in the months ahead. The idea is that the FullContact address book will eventually become a master address book that aims to solve all your contact management problems, taking advantage of Cobook technology. Specifically, Cobook had developed some interesting functionality around de-duplicating address book entries, which is a common problem today as users tend to have the same contacts across a host of disparate services.

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Other universal address books, like Brewster for example, have also focused on this problem. But in my personal experience (with a seriously chaotic address book with over 10,000 entries, nearly all dupes or even triplicates somehow) Brewster’s merging technologies have left a lot to be desired. Cobook, meanwhile, may not have the clever interface that Brewster does, but seems to better manage duped contacts on the backend.

Like Cobook, there will always be a free version of the FullContact address book available, the companies tell us, though they don’t know how long before the two services become one. They will also work to bring the product to additional platforms, starting with Android.

Pingboard Secures $1.25M In Seed Funding To Modernize Office Management

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Office management isn’t exactly an area most startups tackle, but Pingboard, which is launching in beta today, aims to become “an office manager’s best friend.” The company argues that it’s the first really modern service that was built for office managers. Pingboard also announced today that it has raised a $1.25 million funding round.

While enterprises have often developed their own solutions, Pingboard says, it wants to become the go-to office management solution for small and medium businesses and startups. The company says these still tend to rely on seldom-updated spreadsheets (we’ve got a few of those at TechCrunch as well) and manual processes. Pingboard, on the other hand, stores all employee information in a single place.

The service also offers an API, so companies that need to connect their directory to more complex applications and have the resources to do so can expand the service to meet their own needs.

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Indeed, while the company is starting out with this directory service, it does see itself as a platform. It’s starting out small because it believes that having the core directory data allows it to then power more interesting use cases. The team says this could be anything from powering company lunch orders to getting into human capital management. Over the long run, that’s where the Pingboard team believes the real value of its service will be.

“We are launching focused on the employee directory first because virtually everything that needs to be automated in an office centers around employee information,” the company told me.

As part of the core service, Pingboard includes some basic messaging functionality (using email or text messages) so employees can easily notify each other or receive notifications from their office manager when they have a visitor or a package has arrived for them, for example. All of the data in the system can be imported from spreadsheets and auto-synced with Google Apps, social profiles and HR systems. The service also allows users to sign in with the Google Apps accounts.

The service was founded by Bill Boebel (CEO) and Rob Eanes (CTO). Boebel is an Austin-based angel investor and part of Capital Factory, together with OtherInbox founder Joshua Baer and WP Engine founder Jason Cohen. He previously built Webmail.us, which was acquired by Rackspace in 2007. He stayed with Rackspace until 2011. The project was incubated at Capital Thought, an incubator founded by Boebel, Baer and Cohen.

The lead investor in Pingboard’s funding round is Silverton Partners. Baer and Cohen also invested in this round, as did Webmail.us founder Pat Matthews, Rackspace funder Pat Condon, Indeed.com founder Rony Kahan and RightScale founder Jonathan Siegel.

Spotify Will Launch Limited Free Mobile Access At Dec 11th Event, Source Confirms

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Spotify plans to make mobile access to its music service free, The Wall Street Journal reports. Now a source confirms with TechCrunch that the free mobile tier will launch December 11th at a press event in New York. We’ve also learned users won’t get unlimited on-demand access, but will be less restricted if they listen to playlists or collections they’ve previously created.

Spotify sent out invites for the December 11th event on December 3rd, but didn’t say what would be launched. It simply noted “We’re having a media event. Like to come? There will be donuts.” But now we’ve confirmed that unveiling limited free mobile access is a big part of the show.

Until now, Spotify has only allowed premium subscribers paying $10 a month to stream music from mobile devices. Free, ad-supported access was available on desktop and laptop computers, and for $5 a month users could remove the ads from those devices but not listen on mobile.

But those rules were put in place years ago when smartphone penetration was lower, high-speed wireless networks were less common, and there were fewer competitors. Now the world is going mobile, and shutting users out of listening on the go unless they pay over $100 a year seems restrictive. It could also endanger Spotify’s ability to grow its paying subscriber base beyond the six million customers it has today (out of 20 million total users).

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Presumably, the idea before was that you’d get a taste of Spotify for free on the web, and that would tempt you to buy mobile access. However, now many people hardly use traditional computers, especially in developing markets where people never owned them and skipped straight to mobile. With no way to try out Spotify on mobile, the company had no way to upsell them to paid plans.

Meanwhile, Spotify’s advertising infrastructure has matured over the year. It may be able to more efficiently sell its audio ads, making them a more viable way of earning money or at least breaking even from ad-supported listeners. That means it may be more cost-effective to support free mobile users now than before.

Finally, the last year has seen Google launch a streaming music service while Apple launched iTunes Radio. It still faces competition from startups like Rdio, Slacker, and Deezer. And new music streaming services from Beats and YouTube are slated for next year, making music a crowded market. Spotify can’t risk going into the new year without a free mobile option.

As for how that option will work, The Wall Street Journal’s Hannah Karp reports Spotify has spent a year quibbling with major record labels Sony, Universal, and Warner about how much control free users would get over what they listen to on mobile. The WSJ says Spotify has successfully struck a deal with the labels but users will only be able to play a limited number of songs on demand. After that, it says they’ll be restricted to listening to Spotify’s Pandora-like radio service that’s based on their tastes and input.

A source gave TechCrunch more details on the restrictions, saying that users may have more freedom to listen to their previously compiled playlists or starred collection of songs. The reasoning may be that Spotify sees these subsequent plays of songs users have already shown interest in as less valuable than on-demand access to what they’ve never listened to before. Reserving infinite search-and-listen capabilities for premium customers ensures people don’t get the milk if they don’t buy the cow.

When the free tier launches, these limits may not be especially easy to understand, our source says. That could confuse users, leading to poor user experiences where people think they should be able to listen to something but they can’t. They’ll blame Spotify, but sadly, they should really be blaming the labels, as they’re the ones too stingy to realize a simple user experience creates the delight that keeps users coming back, and maybe even opening their wallets.

We’ll be at the December 11th event covering exactly how things shake out.

Maxthon Reaffirms Commitment To PC With New Windows Desktop Browser

Maxthon new Windows desktop browser

Cloud-based browser maker Maxthon’s latest announcements have been for mobile products (including its deal with MediaTek to be pre-loaded onto 100 million mobile devices next year). Despite keeping pace with the rapidly growing mobile market, however, Maxthon is still focusing on its desktop products. Today the company announced the release of its latest Windows PC browser (download link), with features like proprietary multi-threaded downloads and a third-party cookie policy meant to protect users’ privacy.

Maxthon’s 120 million monthly users are divided between 60% who access its browsers mainly on desktop and 40% on mobile products. Although its mobile business is growing three times as quickly as PC, Karl Mattson, vice president of Maxthon’s International Division, says the company believes that releasing new or upgraded PC products is still a crucial part of its overall business strategy.

Maxthon users are located in 150 countries. Over the last two years, its main base has shifted from the Asia region and users are now divided equally among the U.S., Russia, China and India.

One of its fastest growing markets is Russia, where close to a quarter of Maxthon users are now based. According to IDC, PC shipments there decreased 30.7% in volume year-over-year to 2.7 million units in the third quarter of 2013, a decline that reflects the desktop market’s slowdown throughout the world. But sales in the business sector, as well as new purchases after the expiration of the Windows XP operating system in April 2014, could still propel quarter-on-quarter growth, says the research firm.

“We still have a number of users around the world on the PC side and we’ve found that this is not a small market. For a company like us it would be foolish to disregard it for a couple of reasons,” says Mattson. Most people still prefer using a PC to work. Making desktop browsers is also an important part of Maxthon’s cross-platform philosophy.

“You still can’t beat PC or Mac browsers for monetization at a higher RPU. Mobile still has some catchup to do in terms of lifetime value per user,” says Mattson. “So any little bit that we can grow on our PC side is good for not only our cross-platform strategy and markets, but also for our bottom line financially.”

Maxthon’s new Windows PC browser includes these features:

  • Broad support of HTML5
  • Support for WebGL and GPU accelerator for enhanced graphics and image processing
  • Reduced memory footprint and CPU usage
  • Proprietary multi-threaded downloads
  • Improved mobile app-promotion
  • Lower RAM usage
  • Third-party cookie policy that protects users’ privacy

So how does this translate into user experience? Maxthon claims that its new Windows PC browser is 10% faster than Chrome 30. The third-party cookie support enables “do not track” without users needing to download a plug-in first. Maxthon’s browser separates cookies from subframe pages, which means its cookie is saved in a different place. That means users can still take advantage of personalization features, including instant login, without worrying about the subframe page’s third-party cookie sharing information with other domains.

The new features also reduce bandwidth consumption, which is important for users paying for flat rate data packages or per gigabyte.

The multithreaded downloads, which are supposed to boost download speeds up to five times, means that your browser downloads files through five different connections at the same time.

“We’re really proud of the multi-threaded piece because we’ve taken something that’s been relegated to a plug-in used by power users and made it a default experience that actually makes it a lot faster,” says Mattson. “What that translates into for users is that that movie, that video clip, that enormously large PowerPoint file that someone emailed you is going to arrive five times faster in a lot of cases.”