Dianping, China’s Largest Restaurant Review Site, Turned Down An Acquisition Offer From Google China
Dianping, the restaurant review platform that is sometimes referred to as the “Yelp of China,” turned down an acquisition offer from Google China in early 2007, co-founder Edward Long revealed at the TechCrunch/Technode event in Shanghai. Google China valued the company, which was then four years old, at less than $ 100 million. After Dianping refused its buyout offer, Google China made a Series B investment in the site of a few million dollars. Dianping's other investors include Trust Bridge Partners, Sequoia Capital, QiMing Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners and it has raised almost $ 180 million in funding.
Long said Google China licensed its content for local search products. But then in 2010, Google pulled its search engine out of China, which Long says was a loss for Chinese consumers.
“If Google had stayed, Baidu wouldn't have become so strong and it wouldn't be able to charge so much for online advertising,” Long says, referring to China's largest online search company, which now holds a 63% share of the market according to analytics firm CNZZ.
He added that large international companies like Google and Yahoo have had a hard time gaining a foothold in China because their massive size prevents them from localizing quickly enough.
Rumors that Dianping is gearing up for an exit in the near future are untrue, Long says. The ten-year-old restaurant review platform, which has more than 75 million monthly active users and 6 million merchants in 2,300 cities throughout Asia, recently denied reports that it is being courted by Baidu with an acquisition offer of $ 2 billion. Dianping CEO has said that the company wants to go public in five years with an estimated valuation of more than $ 10 billion, but Long refused to confirm that amount at the event.
In an interview after his panel, Long explained that he feels Internet companies shouldn't go public until their market becomes more stable, because if a company issues too many quarterly forecasts that don't pan out, it will quickly lose the faith of investors.
Dianping monetizes through a combination review and e-commerce model, selling membership cards and e-coupons, and analytics and data for restaurant owners. It plans to open a marketplace for offline services soon.
Image source: Dianping.com
You may remember the name Blippy from such startups as the one that shared your credit card purchases with friends.
The concept died. But the name lived on.
Another team of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs bought the domain for Blippy, and they're using it for a new app that makes it dead simple to find and make animated GIFs. Because we all wish we could find that perfect facepalm or dog GIF to strike the right note.
Co-founder David King, who previously built up a social gaming company Green Patch and sold it to Playdom (which was then sold to Disney), said the app taps into an emerging trend of visual communication.
Not only are we seeing stickers take off in apps like Line, Facebook Messenger and Path, ephemeral messaging app Snapchat is also about very fast, visual communication. Anxious bears, woeful bunnies and typing cats capture feelings words can't quite match.
But one obvious and missing link seems to be in animated GIFs. They run wild through platforms like Tumblr and our internal TechCrunch newsfeed, but there hasn't really been a breakout mobile app for animated GIFs. Basically, it's just technically difficult to make a messaging app with working animated GIFs outside of products like iMessage. There are issues with speed, or problems with creating an effective GIF search without proper tags or keywords.
The new incarnation of Blippy is starting from a pretty basic place. It's not a full-on chat service. It instead just makes it easy to find the right GIF to share through iMessage, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.
“We want to be just focused on finding and curating great GIFs,” King said.
There are categories for pets, celebrities, sports, #fail and so on. Then there's a basic search engine that you can swipe down from above.
Once you pick one, you can overlay a personal message in any number of absurd or “elegant” fonts and colors.
Then you just zip it off to iMessage or any other of the big platforms. One feature not available now is the ability to create animated GIFs from your phone's video or photo library. But it's one that may come shortly.
TechCrunch » Social
Sunsets? Landscapes? Latte art? Look back at your old photos and you'll notice they're boring unless there's a human face in them. Now think about teens on social media. Immaturity fuels bullying and drama-filled comment reels. So RockLive has taken funding from Justin Bieber to solve these problems with Shots of Me, a self-portrait photo sharing iOS app that launches today.
Selfies - photos you shoot of yourself, often with the front-facing camera. That's what you do on Shots of Me. Take selfies. Share selfies to the app's Instagram-style internal social network or to Twitter (with Instagram sharing coming soon). Like Selfies from other people.
Yes, you read that right. It's a social network entirely for selfies. The premise is simple, but it hides the amount of work and detail that went into Shots of Me.
“We were creating these games and had a good, young demographic. Always high schoolers,” RockLive CEO John Shahidi tells me. “We giggled that we knew how to market to high school girls so let's build something even bigger,” he says.
The idea for Shots of Me came from Shahidi looking at the photo app craze and realizing “People enjoy looking at humans. Not just yourself. People like looking at other people. It doesn't ever really get old. Looking at a coffee or salad…”, Shahidi trails off, but the implication is clear. Instagram is the home for photos of food and inanimate object photography, as the filters make them look interesting. But they're not. And people are sick of staring at your lunch.
Does the world need another photo app? Maybe not. But if you suspend your skepticism for a moment, seeing the smiling faces of your friends more often probably isn't such a bad thing.
Instagram For Selfies
RockLive's five-person team began building Shots of Me in May and today it becomes available for download. Open the iOS-only app and you'll find a full-screen feed of selfies from your Shots of Me friends and anyone you pull from your Twitter contacts.
In a cool chameleon design trick, the name/location and caption/likes bars above and below each photo take on the colors of the pic and change as you scroll. It's like you're looking through a steamy window. Shahidi proclaims “We want to be a top of the line product. You spend $ 500 on a phone. Does this app fit the quality of the iPhone, does this feel like a like Mercedes or a Ferrari?” That might be pushing it, but the app has number of flourishes like letting you pick the color of the navigation chrome.
To enforce the selfies-only rule, you have to take photos using the front-facing camera. And similar to Snapchat, you can only shoot Shots of Me within the app. No uploading means the emotions you see in a newly uploaded Shot Of Me is how that person is feeling right now.
What makes Shots of Me functionally unique is actually what it lacks: Comments. “People share photos because they felt so positive at that moment” Shahidi explains. “Drama kills that moment.”
If someone makes fun of your photo of the ocean, whatever. But selfies leave people vulnerable. A hateful comment about your face could really hurt, especially if you're a sensitive teenager. So rather than comments, Shots of Me has a direct messaging system where you can ping anyone who follows you, similar to Twitter. This way, any drama stays private and randos can't troll you.
The Bieber Seal Of Approval
It was this philosophy of positivity that attracted Justin Bieber to Shots of Me. The pop star was introduced to the RockLive and Shots of Me, and Shahidi says “Honestly, he loved it. He was a bit annoyed by other platforms” referring to the constant homophobic slurs and hate Justin gets on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks.
“The commenting thing was something he really cared about. Not just for himself, but for the kids. He said ‘I want a platform where my fans don't have to deal with this. We didn't ask him for money. He said ‘I want to be part of this.'”
RockLive had already raised $ 1.6 million from Shervin Pishevar, boxer Floyd Mayweather, early Apple employee Tom McInerney and NALA investments. NALA had set terms to put in some more money, but RockLive let Bieber in at the last minute to let him contribute the majority of the $ 1.1 million second round.
This is Bieber's first publicly announced personal investment without the help of his manager Scooter Braun, who he's invested in a few startups with. Shahidi says Bieber “did a lot of due diligence. He asked a lot of questions and he calls all the time.”There's no business model to analyze, though, as Shots of Me is focused solely on growth, which will be a tough fight.
Some will undoubtedly say Bieber has no business investing in tech, but if he can consistently sell millions of record and huge numbers of concert tickets, he must have a knack for understanding what kids want.
A Photo App Shootout
Overall, Shots of Me feels refreshing because every face is fascinating. There are no botched attempts at artful photos of stale scenes cluttering the feed. Sure, Shots of Me could become a vehicle for vanity, but that's human nature. You can say it will fail. You can say it's dumb. But it doesn't change the fact that people are taking selfies at an alarming rate. Someone's going to capitalize. Some say selfies are a fad, but we've been painting and shooting portraits for a long, long time.
The question now is whether Shots of Me's focus on selfies, no-drama feed, and aid from the Bieber-nation will be enough to carve out an audience amongst the slew of other photo apps.
Most obviously, Shots of Me will be taking on Instagram and its 150 million highly engaged users. Then there are stalwarts Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat has become a destination for sharing silly self-portraits, and maybe the mysterious, unlaunched startup “Selfie” will seduce some users.
The biggest threat may be the recently launched Frontback, which cleverly lets you share two-photo diptychs that feature a front-facing selfie plus a rear-facing shot to show where you are. With 300,000 downloads since its launch in August and $ 3 million in new funding, Frontback is capitalizing on its unique format. It permits funny photo mashups, also prohibits comments, and combines eye-catching faces with added context. Beating out all these apps will be a serious challenge.
Shahidi remains confident, noting that “Taking one photo is already a lot of work” and that the non-selfie part of Frontbacks could get stale because “people are typically doing the same thing every day. If you're in the office, the office is kind of boring”. RockLive actually considered offering the diptych style, but concluded “There's more opportunities to take photos of yourself than figuring out the other side.”
With any luck, Shots of Me will get Bieber to share selfies exclusively on its app to attract some of his 47 million Twitter followers and 57 million Facebook fans. It could blow past Frontback if just 1 percent of those people checked out Shots of Me. Still, Shahidi hopes his product can stand on its own two feet.
“Before Instagram, there were dozens of apps that could let you take photos with filters, but Instagram was the first to create a home for your filtered pictures. You knew you were going to see elegant photos.” He hopes Shots Of Me will do the same for selfies. “People are going to enjoy seeing their life documented through the app. They're your memories. If you're not in the photo, it didn't happen.”
TechCrunch » Social
An unsuccessful applicant has complained that we ran a Google search on him before interview. Are we in the wrong?
Financial Times - Entrepreneurship
Amazon is a wonderful store for getting great deals, but it’s not always the easiest to browse. Scroll.am makes it a little nicer with a Pinterest-like infinite scrolling layout you can search by category.
There are a fair few European startups attacking the travel aggregation space to make it less of a headache to get from A to B when crossing multiple national borders. Just last week, at our very own Disrupt Europe, Wanderio launched its take on simplifying European trips by letting users book planes, trains, and automobiles in one place. There's also GoEuro taking the multi-modal travel route. But what if you want to see Europe by train only? Then U.K.-based startup Loco2 – which stands for ‘low CO2′ – has your back.
The train travel search and booking startup has been beavering away at the space for years - starting with the idea of creating a one-stop-shop for low carbon travel back in 2006, and slowing building out a rail-booking specialist service, backed by a seed round from low carbon traveller Ed Gillespie in 2009 and angel investment, via the Angel Investment Network, in 2011. Slowly because of the complexity of dealing with monopolistic entities that haven't exactly been in a rush to change how they operate, having a vested interest in funnelling travellers cash through their own (typically fiendishly complex) booking systems.
Loco2 launched its first commercial iteration two years ago, and went on to secure integration with the French and German national rail operators' booking systems. These companies have been reluctant to offer APIs to third parties but the European Commission has been pushing through regulation to open up the market so things are starting to move.
Loco2 co-founder Jamie Andrews argues that European geography makes the French and German national operators especially key for connecting up rail journeys around the continent. And, being as Loco2 is the first third party to gain integration with their booking systems, rival travel startups offering rail booking as a component of their service can't currently offer as comprehensive a service as it can. For certain train routes rivals such as GoEuro simply won't show up any results, he claims, or will show far fewer results than Loco2 because they haven't (yet) integrated with SNCF and Deutsche Bahn.
The other big blocker for all European train travel booking startups is getting access to comprehensive timetable data - which rail operators aren't currently making available. This data is required so the software systems that are integrating with rail operators' booking systems know which system to query for a given search. Loco2 has come up with a workaround by crowdsourcing data from its own users - harvesting data about journey times and logical routes as users run searches on the site. This then allows it to offer an integrated search-and-booking experience, it says.
Loco2 is now gearing up to cement its forerunner position in the European rail travel booking space by adding integration with the central booking system for all U.K. rail operators, managed by the Association of Train Operating Companies. Adding this piece of the puzzle will mean Loco2 users will be able to book tickets for rail journeys starting from any U.K. station to thousands of European destinations in one transaction - not just to Paris via Eurostar, but to all sorts of European destinations starting from wherever their U.K. home station happens to be.
The U.K. rail service is due to go live on Loco2 on November 12. In the mean time, Loco2 users can see a preview of the new service by signing up for an account at Loco2.com, clicking the link in the confirmation email and then clicking the following link when signed in: https://loco2.com/uk-rail-preview
Although its focus is on pan-European rail travel, Loco2′s integration with U.K. rail operators' central booking system means it will be able to sell domestic rail journeys - putting it in competition with U.K. rail booking sites such as The Trainline.
It’s pretty much agreed that Google’s Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption is a good thing. Why not get a little free protection given that our search queries are often a good way of piecing together exactly what’s going on in our lives?
Lily Hay Newman
When things go wrong, we look around for whom to blame. Often, we could benefit from a mirror.
Countless apps have tried to nail down the recommendations space, with not one rising to dominance. Today, another launches out of public beta to try and win the space that’s been so highly sought after.
The app is called Vowch, and the main idea is that users can search anything they like, without any limitations. For example, if you want to like Rachel Berry on Glee, but you’re not too keen on Lea Michele (the actress), Vowch can make that happen for you. If you want to like Angelina Jolie’s lips, you can do that, too.
Once you’ve searched for your passions, Vowch helps you put together an interactive package around that item, restaurant, place, song, artist, or whatever.
You can search images on Google as a cover for your Vowch, or add in camera roll photos, and add a status update. You can even add in extra media like a video from YouTube or more images simply by searching on google within the app itself. Users who are Vowching for artists can add music, and then share on Facebook or Twitter.
What’s interesting is that, without any limitations on what you can Vowch, your stream of recommendations becomes a lot like a user profile, representing you through your likes.
In the stream, users can see what their friends are Vowching for, as well as like, comment and Re-Vowch.
Vowch also has a leaderboard of recommenders, called the Boss List. This shows who has the most Vowch points, received for engagement with your Vowches, in each category.
If you’re interested in getting your recommendation on, head on over to the App Store and check out Vowch.
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TechCrunch » Social