Rocket Internet’s ClickBus scoops up $10M to make bus trip booking better

Rocket Internet’s ClickBus scoops up $10M to make bus trip booking better

ClickBus, an online booking platform for bus travel, announced $10 million in funding from investors Latin America Internet Group, Tengelmann Ventures, Holtzbrinck Ventures, and Rocket Internet. It plans to use the capital to grow in existing markets, invest in technology, and continue expanding. The Rocket startup was founded one year ago and is now present in seven countries.

ClickBus wants to bring the sale of bus tickets online, which presents both challenges and great potential for the startup. It reports that 120 million passengers travel annually by bus in Brazil, however, less than 5 percent of bus tickets are sold over the internet. Brazil was the starting point for ClickBus’ business, and it has since has expanded at a pace customary for Rocket ventures to Mexico, Germany, Poland, and Thailand. Now, the bus booking platform is available in Turkey and Pakistan.

According to ClickBus, it has sold close to 1 million tickets by offering trips to more than 8,000 destinations in its first year of operations.

Cesário Martins, Global co-chief executive and co-founder of ClickBus, explains on how ClickBus plans to use the funding: “‘The funding’ will allow us to continue our growth trajectory in existing markets and advance our technology, especially in the field of M-Commerce, where we will launch apps for iOS and Android shortly. The new round of funding will also allow us to tackle further markets, which are mostly in the offline realm.”

ClickBus currently has around 100 employees worldwide.

-Courtesy: VentureBeat

Meedoc, The Video Conferencing App For You And Your Doctor, Raises $1.5M Seed Round

Why can’t you Skype your doctor? That was the question Mikko Kiiskilä asked before co-founding Meedoc, an app and service that lets patients connect with their doctor online via the medium of video. Telephone consultations are already widely used by the medical industry — especially for pre-screening and follow up consultations — but doctors have been slow to upgrade the ‘technology’ in the age of near-ubiquitous broadband, mobile devices and apps.

Today the Finnish startup is disclosing a $1.5 million seed round from unnamed investors from the healthcare industry — spanning the fields of pharma, care providers, pharmacists, doctors and medical regulation.

Whilst no well-known Silicon Valley or European angels are included in this list, Kiiskilä is keen to point out that a startup hoping to knock down walls in the extremely regulated healthcare industry in Europe, requires a different kind of investor profile and one that has the knowledge and connections to help with that mission.

The mantra ‘move fast and break things’ doesn’t apply so much when you are dealing with people’s health, he says.

To that end, Meedoc, which is currently launched in its home country of Finland, has successfully registered as a CE-certified Medical Device telemedicine platform, enabling it to be used for treatment across the European Union.

However, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Meedoc’s simple app to enable on-demand or pre-booked video consultations with your doctor, is the startup’s target market, which is already seeing the service find a home with companies who want to make it part of their healthcare plan for employees.

The premise being that early medical attention — in the form of a convenient video consultation — can often result in less time off work and a healthier employee in general, specifically for straightforward and easily treatable conditions that don’t require a hands-on physical examination.

Doctors can also prescribe medication after a Meedoc-facilitated diagnosis. And, of course, the employee doesn’t have to book time off work simply to see the doctor in the first place. Now that does sound like progress.

Regarding monetisation, Meedoc charges companies €10 per month per employee for unlimited use. Kiiskilä says the company counts thousands of patients as users, from corporates and SMEs, including KONE elevators (one of the largest publicly trading companies in Finland).

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

PlayFab Raises $2.5M For Its Gaming Backend Service

PlayFab

Developing a game is hard. Along with coding how the game’s rules or world works, you’ve got characters to model and animate, level artwork, music, voice, acting, and writing. Thankfully, game engines like Unreal and Unity and their respective asset stores make it so that developers don’t have to entirely reinvent the wheel every time they start a new project.

Nowadays, most studios building games for mobile, PC, or consoles are actually building services: there are servers where gamers play together, leaderboards, in-app purchases to process, inventories to manage, character stats to keep track of, and more. While extremely helpful, most game engines don’t help you implement this side of things.

Former PopCop VP James Gwertzman saw the multitude of things developers have to manage on the backend and saw it as an opportunity to create an infrastructure and software backend that could be deployed to a range of titles, from card games on mobile to first-person shooters on the console hooked up to your living room TV.

After three years of development under the name of Uber Entertainment, Gwertzman is relaunching his platform as PlayFab with $2.4 million $2.5 million (a PlayFab spokesperson clarified in an email) in seed funding from Larry Bowman of Bowman Capital Management, Startup Capital Ventures, and angels and game industry vets including Scott Banister, Jason Kapalka, Chris Carvalho, Patrick Wyatt,  and John Spinale.

PlayFab’s Game Manager, which is used for analytics as well as operations management, packs in an exhausting number of tools and services. You can manage game servers, purchases through Steam and other app and game stores, player inventories, character stats, push notifications, build deployment, and more. While the current interface is a bit cluttered, a new UI is coming in the next few weeks that brings a cleaner, more responsive design to both PCs and mobile:

PlayFab iPad

Many developers are very picky with the tools they use, settling on a game engine and toolset that works for them and sticking with those choices for a game or two. PlayFab is built to support many of the engines commonly used by studios that don’t have the resources to also build out their own backend or operations team to manage it. That means that it supports game engines like Unity, Unreal, and Cocos2D, but it also means that the company is partnering with other companies to make its service easier to adopt.

To that end, PlayFab is also announcing today that it is partnering with Exit Games, offering its Photon Server software to all customers for no additional cost. That means you don’t have to build the software that runs on PlayFab’s servers — you’ll be able to spin up a Photon server just like you’d spin up a new WordPress blog on a web host.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

3 Tips for Starting a Business with Friends

According to the Small Business Association, in 2011 there were nearly 1.8 million small businesses in the United States that were classified as partnerships. Whether these partnerships were formed by family or friends, the dynamic of owning and operating a small business together can put tremendous strain on these relationships.

Co-founders and childhood friends, Stephen Ufford and Tanis Jorge, are working on their fourth startup venture together, qualifying them as “friends with business benefits.”

“There are plenty of pros and cons associated with starting a business with your best friend, but for us, the pros definitely outweigh the cons,” said Jorge, co-founder and COO at Trulioo.com, a global identity verification provider. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and fill in the gaps as needed without the need for long drawn-out discussions about who does what and why. Most importantly, before we began our first startup together, we developed a business pact that remains strong and true since 2000.”

Establishing a set of ground rules prior to starting the business can help you get off on the right foot. Here are three tips for starting a small business with friends, and maintaining the relationships:

Commit to Communicating Early and Often

Establishing rules regarding frequency and manner of communication between the partners is the lynchpin of working with friends. Just because you both share a passion for your business does not necessarily mean that you have the same perspective on each and every decision that will need to be made. Talking through tough decisions and coming to mutually agreeable terms strengthens both the relationship and the business. On the other hand, ambiguity exposes the cracks in relationships and can be a pitfall. Regularly scheduled, open and honest communication is an essential part of a successful partnership.

Be Specific When Defining Roles and Responsibilities, But Allow for Cross-Training

While initially delineating roles and responsibilities is essential, it is probably not enough. As businesses grow and evolve, so do the roles of the partners. It is one thing to decide initially that partner A has her set of tasks, while partner B has his, but what happens when new tasks surface? An ongoing conversation is necessary to keep the roles well-defined.

Also, circling back periodically to redefine responsibilities has the added benefit of highlighting potential areas of cross-training. Businesses that are run with “islands” of responsibility are much more likely to suffer from devastating results from small setbacks, like a short-term illness of one of the partners, than businesses than that have multiple avenues to complete essential tasks.

Agree That Relationships Always Come First, Unless the Business Does

Partners must set out with the understanding that in the heat of the moment, decisions may need to be made for the good of the business that may chafe one partner or the other. Egos will sometimes need to be checked, and gentle honestly employed, in order for the business to prosper. Knowing that each partner respects the other, and takes the success of the business seriously empowers them to make wise, if not popular, business decisions. Take prisoners later. Ultimately, the profitability of the business has to take precedent over the egos involved, in order for the business to succeed.

While conducting a business within a partnership model certainly presents challenges, it can be very personally and professionally rewarding. Deepening your relationship, while affording the partners much more freedom than would be possible in a sole-proprietorship, are two distinct advantages. So, investing the extra time in preparing your relationship for the strain of shared business ownership will benefit all parties in the long run.

-Courtesy: Inc.com

Online Letting Service OpenRent Scores ‘Multi-Million’ Media-For-Equity Deal From Northern & Shell Ventures

For some startups, ‘stepping on the gas’ equates to orchestrating a media blitz, but VCs aren’t always happy to see the bulk of their investment thrown at online, print and TV advertising. Instead, they tend to favour other areas of expenditure, such as head-count and technical infrastructure. In situations like this, a far less common — but potentially more favourable — form of startup funding is a ‘media for equity’ type of deal where a media company subsidises the required ad spend through the use of its own media properties and the relationships and buying power it has though economies of scale. The UK’s OpenRent, an online letting service that operates as an alternative to traditional letting agents, has secured such an arrangement.

Billed as a “multi-million pound” investment, the London-based startup has received media backing from Northern & Shell Ventures, part of the independently-owned UK media group which operates Express Newspapers, The Health Lottery and OK! magazine (and, until very recently, TV station Channel 5). The partnership sees OpenRent kick off a national television advertising campaign and other media reach via N&S publications, in a bid to significantly increase the number of new landlords utilising its platform.

“OpenRent has been profitable from about Jan 2013 – whilst our margins are extremely tight, we didn’t need cash to expand infrastructure or build a huge team, we just needed exposure to landlords,” co-founder, Daz Bradbury, tells TechCrunch. “A VC is much less likely to spend money on advertising alone, but more importantly, with this setup we get a substantial discount on the media spent, as our deal is directly with the media owner.”

Founded in 2012, OpenRent provides a full suite of services to landlords and tenants, including property advertising and “tenancy creation and management tools”, as an arguably better-value alternative to high street letting agents. Pricing starts at £29 for its “tenant find” feature, though the service also offers other paid-for features, such as contracts, reference checking, and gas and electrical safety; the kinds of things landlords would normally pay a letting agent for.

Bradbury says the media campaign is designed simply to educate landlords that there is an online alternative to the high street letting agent, as well as helping to continue building the OpenRent brand. “We think a multi-million pound deal will take us a long way in doing that,” he says.

Finally, on how other startups might secure such a partnership, Bradbury had this to say: “If other start-ups are looking to go down this route, they should just reach out to the media partner they are interested in. Northern & Shell have been a pleasure to deal with, and our lawyer even said it was one of the most collaborative deals he’s closed, but unlike with the stories of American VCs, you’re unlikely to shake hands and have money — or in this case media — in the bank a week or two later. It takes a little more patience and perseverance, but the value of the deal speaks for itself.”

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

FreshGrade takes in $4.3M to get more teachers to take schoolwork digital

FreshGrade takes in $4.3M to get more teachers to take schoolwork digital

FreshGrade is the brain child of Lane Merrifield, Steve Wandler, and Mark Payne. Merrifield previously founded Club Penguin, a multiplayer gaming platform for kids that Disney bought in 2007 for $350 million. This venture is similarly geared towards kids.

The software is supposed to connect teachers, parents, and students to a network (à la Slack) where teachers can organize lesson planning and assessments and communicate with teachers and students.

FreshGrade allows teachers to keep digital records of homework, projects, tests, and reports in individual student portfolios, which helps with grading at the end of a term. Those same portfolios also serve as a tracking device for student progress, that both students and parents can review throughout the year.

“Ultimately, our vision is to be able to streamline lesson planning and assessment and allow administrators and teachers to spend more time working with students and communicating with parents” said FreshGrade co-founder Steve Wandler in a press release.

The company operates on a freemium model, so the basic app is free. However, school administrations will have to pay for an enterprise-level version, which has some big-data functions. Of course, pricing differs for each school.

This fresh round of seed funding will help British Columbia-based organization expand operations throughout North America. Investors include NewSchools Venture Fund, Emerson Collective, Accel Partners, and Social Capital.

-Courtesy: VentureBeat

4 Secrets to Success Richard Branson Learned From Nelson Mandela

 
 

As Virgin America announced plans for its long-awaited IPO, Sir Richard Branson confided over a late-night beer just how maddening it can be to launch any high-flying business, even with more than 350 other companies under the Virgin brand. Back when the Bay Area-based airline was getting started, Virgin America’s competitors viciously contested the newcomer’s arrival for what seemed like an eternity. Price wars, lawsuits, and regulatory battles all soaked up precious resources.

“The knee-jerk reaction you feel when you’re under attack is to assume a siege mentality,” Branson said. But your fight-or-flight instincts are “a self-indulgent waste of time and money.” Instead, the legendary entrepreneur and his partners focused on reinventing the customer experience for domestic air travel, eventually winning share in the insanely competitive airline industry.

Branson said that rather than ever feel threatened or even sorry for himself, he’s always comforted by four principles that guided his longtime mentor, Nelson Mandela, whose circumstances were obviously far more desperate than any of us will ever experience.

1. Let your mission, not your nightmare, define you.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” Mandela once said.  Vengefulness and victimhood would not erase the crimes done to him in the past, nor would they help him build a better future. Mandela could have emerged from decades of jail “still imprisoned by bitterness,” Branson said. “Instead he devoted every ounce of creativity to building a lasting legacy–just as each of us should during our lifetimes. Get over it and build a great business!”

2. Focus on what you’re for (the customer), not what you’re against (the competition).

Rather than getting sucked into a protracted, bitter feud with competitors and the government, it’s much better to let your adversaries waste their energy fighting each other. Virgin America didn’t get distracted by turf battles and name calling, and instead focused on building a community of customers who loved Virgin’s fresh, edgy vibe.

3. Being persistent does not mean being inflexible.

“Do not judge me by my successes,” Mandela admonished. “Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” When you’re suffering a setback in your startup, imagine how much worse Mandela had it–and just how creative he had to be in a cramped cell every night. From dawn to dusk, he dragged stones in the blinding heat. You can’t steel yourself year after year dreaming that hopeless circumstances will change, he said. You have to change the way you deal with the circumstances. Being flexible in finding a new door every time the last one slams shut is the difference between those who find their way and those who self-destruct. “That’s the kind of grit and creativity you need to be an entrepreneur,” Branson insists.

4. You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.

I will never forget Mandela’s warm embrace as he almost collapsed in my arms after midnight during his last visit to the World Economic Forum, the invitation-only summit in the Swiss Alps where CEOs, presidents of nations, noble laureates, artists, educators, and billionaires convene every winter. I was executive producer of Schwab.com, and I was writing a book interviewing hundreds of leaders in Davos for my sequel to Built to Last with Stanford professor Jerry Porras. Almost every thought leader I met pointed to Mandela as a role model for leadership. With a smirk, Mandela told me that perfection was never a part of his plan and he “never achieved it.”

In the years before Mandela, an activist lawyer, had been sent to a death camp, he was rarely without zealous overconfidence about his mission to end apartheid. Although Mandela initially advocated a peaceful solution, he eventually took up arms when the path of peace appeared to be a dead-end. In 1964, he was convicted of conspiracy and sabotage and sentenced to life in prison. The fact that he didn’t start out as a complete saint with perfect grace or humility before his long walk to freedom, makes his journey even more useful to the rest of us.

“You have enduring impact not because you are perfect or lucky,” Sir Richard sighed as he finished a beer, “but because you have the courage to stay focused on building a better future rather than dwell in the past.”

-Courtesy: Inc.com

GoGoVan Raises $6.5M Series A To Expand In Asia

Hong Kong-based GoGoVan, an app that connects van drivers and users for on-demand delivery services, announced today that it has completed a $6.5 million Series A led by Centurion Private Equity.

The company, which launched in July 2013 and currently has access to 18,000 registered commercial vehicles, plans to use the funding to add more features and expand into new markets in Asia. TechCrunch profiled the startup in June 2014.

GoGoVan says it is currently working with corporate clients including Kerry Logistics, SF Express and DHL and has processed more than one million transactions with a total value of over $120 million Hong Kong dollars (about $15.5 million), with 300,000 transactions per month in Hong Kong.

After expanding into Singapore this summer, GoGoVan plans to tackle other Asian cities.

In a statement, Steven Lam, GoGoVan’s co-founder and CEO, said “In Hong Kong, within nine months of our launch in July 2013, we captured close to 50% of the independent logistics providers. We are confident we will achieve the same result in Singapore.”

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Spring, David Tisch’s Latest Venture, Is Instagram For Shopping

For the past year, investor and serial entrepreneur David Tisch has been working with his brother Alan to build an enjoyable way to shop on mobile. Today, that fruits of that labor springs onto the scene.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold Spring, the most advanced effort at fashion-focused mobile shopping yet.

For all intents and purposes, you could absolutely call spring an Instagram for shopping.

But it goes beyond just that to incorporate pieces of a few other favorite apps, including Uber and Tinder.

When first signing on to the app, it looks like Instagram dressed up in white. You’re given the opportunity to “follow” brands that you like, and simply scroll through the feed to love items or to buy.

When you find an item you want, you can scroll through multiple images Tinder-style, with a description and a price all displayed on the main feed. If you’re still interested, you simply click the buy button and choose your size.

Upon your first purchase, Spring will ask for your address and credit card info, and from that moment your payment details are saved within the app.

For that purchase and every purchase after that, it takes one simple motion to complete the purchase, a swipe. Interestingly enough, Amazon has a patent on single-click buying, so the swipe gets around that in a way that lets form follow the function of the app.

I myself have slid that little buy bar back and forth a few times before fully committing to a purchase, which seems like relatively standard behavior while shopping.

Folks have been talking about building a universal shopping cart for a long time, but big fashion and retail brands want to control every part of their own experience.

Spring actually delivers on that promise of a universal shopping cart by offering a platform for brands, without forcing multiple competing vendors to dress up in the same uniform and ultimately lose a piece of their brand.

 

 

Fashion brands can upload their own looks the same way that other brands control their social media presences on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Those items are displayed chronologically and in real-time on the feed, and only the brands that each user follow gets a spot on the home stream.

However, there are a couple other tabs that hep users find items and brands outside their usual tastes. Discover offers up categorized content that is compiled by various brands or influencers. Browse, on the other hand, gives you the option the shop by clothes type or popularity.

There is no social component or public profiles, but rather a one-to-many dialogue between brands and their followers on mobile.

Spring is launching with almost 100 brands on the platform, ranging from high end designers like Carolina Herrera to less expensive brands like Warby Parker and Greats Brand.

More than 50 other brands are set to join the platform soon, with more being added every week once the platform is up and running.

Vendors handle all pieces of order fulfillment, shipping, and customer service. And in return for complete control over the experience, brands will pay an transaction fee for every purchase made.

Spring recently raised a $7.5 million Series A round to make this possible. 

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

With over 700 classes, LessonsGoWhere sets its sights on Singapore’s online-to-offline education market

 LessonsGoWhere

The internet provides us with instant knowledge at the click of a button. MOOCs and edutech platforms – from the gamified Duolingo to video-chat lessons that put a virtual teacher in front of you – have taken online learning to the next level, but sometimes a computer or smartphone screen just can’t replace real human interaction.

LessonsGoWhere, which launched out of beta on July 30, offers an online marketplace where teachers and students can list, discover, and book offline lessons in Singapore. The online-to-offline concept isn’t necessarily a new one in the city-state – Learnemy has been offering such a service since 2011 and the now-defunct Kezaar made an attempt in 2012 – but LessonsGoWhere may already be ahead of the competition when it comes to sheer numbers.

A quick perusal of Learnemy’s site reveals approximately 60 teachers offering 10 classes. Another site called Skill Ministry, which Kezaar merged with, has 75 classes.

Ng E-Fei, LessonsGoWhere’s co-founder, tells Tech in Asia that his service already has more than 150 lesson providers offering over 700 different courses. Since the beta version of LessonsGoWhere went live in December 2013, the startup has sold more than S$60,000 (US$48,000) worth of lessons.

“We currently have 685 registered users in our database since we started collecting that data in May [...] In July, we had about 293 active users who either signed up for our newsletter, booked a class, or registered interest,” E-Fei says. “We see about 12,000 unique monthly visitors and about 4,200 of them return.

” E-Fei says that the company researched more than 200 lesson categories and subcategories before landing on its current setup: four main categories (baking, cooking, music, and arts) with 17 subcategories (i.e. “arts” offers drawing, painting, calligraphy, etc.). A quick glance at the site shows a huge variety of classes being offered – from capoeira and hip-hop dance to playing the ukelele and making sausages. Listings are free, but LessonsGoWhere takes a 20 percent commission for each lesson booked through the site.

LessonsGoWhere-2

LessonsGoWhere received S$50,000 (US$40,000) via Singapore’s ACE startup grant (formerly known as the YES! grant) to get the ball rolling late last year. The company’s three co-founders also pumped in S$30,000 (US$24,000) of their own money.

The ACE scheme pays out in three waves, based on achieving milestones. E-Fei says that his startup has completed two of them, and that his short-term goal is to finish the third by mid-to-late September “so as to free up more capital for horizontal expansion in different verticals.”

As for longer-term goals, the co-founder is eyeing overseas expansion.

“We intend to expand the business to Hong Kong, Seoul, and Australia – Perth or Melbourne – by our second year,” E-Fei adds. “While we’ve yet to narrow it down to exactly which city we’ll enter first, we’re working on identifying key partners in those regions, as well as understanding the dynamics of the recreational education industry in those cities.”

-Courtesy: Techinasia

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