Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Carl Icahn pumps $50 million in Motricity

February 27, 2007

Corporate raider Carl Icahn has invested $50 million in equity funding in Motricity. Till date the 4 year old company had raised $150 million in venture funding from investors including NEA, Technology Crossover Ventures, Noro-Moseley Partners, Intel Capital and Advanced Equities. As part of the financing deal, Carl Icahn’s son Brett Icahn will join Motricity’s board of directors. Motricity’s carrier-grade platform enables content providers to deliver mobile content including ringtones, games and graphics downloads. Motricity’s current customers include six of the top 10 carriers in North America which includes Cingular, Alltel, Sprint. On the content side, Motricity works with MTV, BET, NBC, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Turner, more. Last year Motricity had acquired GoldPocket Wireless that has given the company a solid footing in the mobile marketing domain.



Thinkpassenger gets $2.5 million; More branded communities

February 26, 2007

ThinkPassenger is the latest startup to  the growing list of companies looking to provide platform establishing insightful customer and brand relationship. ThinkPassenger based out of Lost Angeles was founded in 2005 by Andrew Leary . The startup has till date raised $2.5 million in funding from Shelter Capital Partners.

ThinkPassenger offers an on-demand software platform to create private branded communities that incorporate customers as an integral part of the business process, while empowering customers through ownership of ideas. Thinkpassenger has already signed up some of the top brands to takes its product forward. This includes as Coca-Cola, ABC Television and Sara Lee. ThinkPassenger passenger product will have the typical feature set including realtime hosted sessions, polls, discussion boards, messaging, and analytics. The value addition occurring with this kind of setup is ’cause of the fact that most of the communication can be initiated by the brand manager that leads to direct interaction with the most valued customers.

Other companies operating in the branded communities domain that I have written about includes Eluma, Newsgator, Skinkers, ViTrue , and also heard of LiveJournal and Yahoo planning significant moves.


Newsgator looks toward branded communities

February 22, 2007

Newsgator is finally planning to enter the market of branded communities and conversational advertising. I had for long expected Newsgator moving into this area given its core strength in syndication and delivery of content. Newsgator’s new plan feels vaguely similar to RSS based brandable communities from Eluma. With the new product, brand managers will be able to create and host  “branded Hosted Conversation” around select themes and topics. Content for each of  these conversations will be extracted by the host from news media, blogs and other content sources. Users will have the ability to participate in the conversation through commenting on existing articles or publishing their own articles. Newsgator will try to keep the RSS term usage in the background to make onboarding easier for ordinary users. As you might expect, widget based deliver of ads will provide the perfect icing.

Each implementation and rollout of a brandable community will take around 2 weeks with clients working together with Newsgator and Edelman teams. From the end-product look and feel perspective, it might have similarities with Skinkers event alert tool, with additional interaction options built-in.

However I think Newsgator is entering a new world of brand marketing which requires different kind of management experience to push the product forward. Product strategy aside, selling the product to consumer facing companies, and there by getting it picked up by the end users will hold key to the success of the new venture.

On the whole, list of companies and startups, besides Newsgator, looking at building brandable communities or already doing so now include Eluma, Skinkers, ViTrue, LiveJournal, and Yahoo.

Newsgator Hosted Conversations

Koodos – branded products at great prices

January 3, 2007

UK based startup Koodos wants to play the shopping game bit differently. Launched last month, Koodos makes available quality branded products to consumers in the form of Private Sales. Each product offered through Koodos is available in limited quantity and Koodos claims to offer significant cost savings as compared to retail prices. Koodos, a Atlas Venture funded company, is led by a management team(Miriam Lahage – CEO- previously of TJX) that has extensive experience in retail and online shopping.

Koodos is working on building partnerships with a number of top brands and retailers, as well as emerging fashion designers to overcome the common overstock problem and connecting that oversupply to consumers who are looking to buy quality branded products at lower prices. In addition to this, brand owners own their inventory, thus enabling them to maintain control of their pricing and maximizing their net yield. So while Koodos takes care of inventory glut, customers can take advantage of the special pricing offered. Looking at the UK online shopping market that accounted for half of retail growth in the UK last year, and forecast to grow at least 20% this year, Koodos does sound like good opportunity.

As for comparison purposes, Koodos might sound like Jellyfish Smack Deal of the Day or Woot, but differentiates itself by offering more than one high-end branded products at the same time. From the web site perspective, I think Koodos does need lot of work in terms of user experience and overall checkout process to bring it more in-tune with web20 world. Again till the time consumers are able attain significant savings, UI improvements can be put on back-burner.

Speaking of customer loyalty and brand relationships, I am eagerly waiting for the release of Eluma’s Brandable Desktop communities software that can let you stay connected with your brand community easily. Service like Koodos in conjunction with Eluma will be a great combination for building communities around brands and getting great deals on your favorite brands.



Microsoft sets up partnership with Baidu

December 14, 2006

Microsoft has entered into a strategic alliance with China’s largest search engine As part of the deal Baidu will provide search based advertising on various Microsoft properties in China including MSN, and Live.

Financial details about the alliance have not been disclosed. Before Baidu’s IPO in 2005, Google had invested $5 million in Baidu for 2.6% stake in the company. Earlier this year Google divested its share for $60 million.



FEED Tribes offers unique mobile payments platform

December 1, 2006

FEED Tribes is looking to revolutionize mobile payment market that has failed to gain mainstream traction till now even after major announcement by PayPal and likes. FEED Tribes is lead by Rod Stambaugh, who has more than 16 years of experience in retail industry and now wants to apply that experience to build a new mobile payment+retail platform.

FEED Tribes, which is in pre-launch mode right now, has developed an interesting mechanism to enable easier purchases at retail stores. Before you can make any transactions, you will need to open a FEED Tribes account, load it with funds from your checking account, and associate the FEED account with your mobile phone. From there on, any time to want to make purchase at a store accepting FEED transactions, you need to text your PIN number to the FEED 5 digit short code to receive a unique 4-digit numeric transaction code. The retailer will take this transaction code to complete your transaction and give you a receipt for the sale. Each transaction code is valid only for 15 minutes for added security.

Around this transaction system FEED Tribes is building number of services that will target both retailers as well as consumers. FEED users will be able to signup to receive offers from local stores they are most interested in. On the other end participating FEED retailers will have access to a backend system that allows them to create promotions on the fly that can delivered onto consumers subscribed to a particular store location. Retailers will also be able to create targeted coupon and cash back offers for their customers where the funds can get debited back to the users FEED account automatically. FEED will also be offering location based services. Take a case when FEED user is located away from his original FEED account location and makes a FEED transaction which will indicate the true location of the user. FEED system will than quickly look into the users subscribed list to automatically deliver offers according to the new location.

Currently FEED is on aggressive sales and development drive with a planned extensive feature launch coming in January. Customers in Denver/Boulder area are the first ones to take advantage of the new system. Recently FEED Tribes system was made operational in all the Noodles & Company restaurants located in Boulder, and has been testing the system with mobile phones vendors, casinos, and other entertainment firms. FEED Tribes is planning to move into San Francisco early next year.

Personally I feel that if FEED Tribes delivers as per it’s plan it should offer a better value to consumers and increased efficiency to retailers as compared to what is offered by PayPal Mobile and Cellfire.

FEED Tribes


ViTrue – branded communities enabler closes second funding round

October 25, 2006

ViTrue, provider of user-created advertising platform, closed Series A-1 round of funding lead by Comcast Interactive Capital and Turner Broadcasting. Previously ViTrue had raised $2.2 million in funding from General Catalyst Partners and ViTrue’s founder Reggie Bradford. ViTrue had launched in May and immediately acquired video sharing site ViTrue is among handful of companies, including Eluma and LiveJournal, working aggressively towards enabling branded communities.

ViTrue technology enables brands to host user-created videos on a branded site instead of depending on third party site. The technology also takes care of any copyright issues by providing a stringent review module. ViTrue product suite includes Branded Video Community (BVC) and AdMixer.

Branded Video Community enables users to create and share videos, while interacting with other users in the branded community. AdMixer technology allows users can create mashups of brand’s video ad assets, in an environment that the brand can control, using online editing technology. This enables brands to connect with their loyal customers and leverage their passions and talents. Another advantage of deploying AdMixer technology is that the content created using AdMixer costs fraction of what traditional advertising content creation will cost.

Earlier this month Waterfront Media became the first media company to launch ViTrue’s full-featured community video technology service. Subscribers of Waterfront Media’s are now able to share their videos within their community, as well as, forward video links to their own circle of family and friends.

On the whole, AdMixer technology is a good application of what other startups like Jumpcut and Motionbox have been working on. Maybe Yahoo is also looking into building branded communities, which can be one of the reasons for acquiring Jumpcut last month.




DEMOfall: Eluma introduces desktop communities

September 28, 2006

ElumaEluma wants to build great communities but with a difference. Eluma’s focus group is the brand marketers. These brand marketers will get their loyal users to build communities around their products using Eluma. What Eluma will provide is its branded Desktop Community product to aid the brand marketers. This branded community can help generate discussions among users around something they have in common – The Brand! Eluma can reinforce brands, and allow users to benefit from the wisdom of crowds. Eluma, headed by Richard Buck, is located in Boston. Eluma had received an undisclosed amount of funding from Sebastian Holdings.

In my talk with Richard, he briefed me about how he and his friend Paul Christen (CTO, Eluma) came up with the idea about Eluma. First they recognized the fact that lot of consumers who have affinity for a particular brand are not able to keep track of the brand activities. On the other hand there are brand managers, who want to connect their loyal customers, but are not able to do that using the regular means like newsletter that end up in the spam folder. Also it is a time consuming and costly for them to develop and maintain their own community solutions.

So they came up with an advanced desktop communication tool that allows brand manager to push their message directly to the desktop, providing them with a targeted, one-to-many broadcast channel. This is also great for customers who get the latest information right on their desktop and also receive/give recommendations in their community. Interesting point about Eluma is that it does not have any web-version. All the content can be subscribed and read only from the desktop client. Eluma’s aim is to complement brand sites and not compete with them. It can instead increase web-site hits for the involved brands.

Brand marketers can get in touch with Eluma to build a branded community. Eluma takes just half a day to prepare the branded community which consists of Eluma Control Center for brand manager and a desktop client for the brand consumers. Eluma Control Center enables the brand marketers to easily upload and manage desktop alerts, feeds, and content for the users. Whenever the brand marketers wants to inform its consumers about a new product or a new release, he can push that content through the Control Center which will be delivered onto the desktop client through RSS. This desktop client is like an advanced form of RSS reader. Users are be able to view, comment and rate content items. Users can also rate and comment from toolbar or desktop client itself. Eluma has also developed client sync feature, like Feeddemon, so that consumers can install the client on multiple machines but don’t end up reading the same content again. Once they have the client installed on their desktop, they can search and subscribe to other branded communities as well using the same client. Eluma will also be providing a mobile based client by the year end. Currently Eluma is focused on US based brands, but will be soon offering multi-lingual desktop clients to enable a global push.

Eluma is going at great lengths to provide complete privacy to the users and also prevent community hijacking by top 20 users (read digg). Like, you can’t drill-down a user profile and get all the comments he has ever written or items he has ever rated in all the Eluma branded communities. Whatever happens in a community, stays in the community. Aside from the privacy, Eluma is not just for brand managers. If users want they can also setup their communities using Eluma.

As for monetizing their product, Eluma will be sharing advertising revenue generated through the branded desktop clients. Besides this brands also have to pay a monthly license fee to Eluma. will soon be the first company to launch a branded community using Eluma. Right now Eluma is aggressively focusing on signing up more brands.

I think Eluma is great idea. But the whole idea depends on the fact that users have to download and install the Eluma Desktop Community client. Brand managers and Eluma will have to work together to convince users that Eluma is in fact is a good option. Brand managers need to keep in mind that if they try to push out too much or false content, they might end up loosing their most loyal customers.


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