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Zendrive Lets Ridesharing And Delivery Companies Know If Their Drivers Are Distracted


Zendrive, a startup that uses smartphone sensors to measure drivers’ behavior, today announced ZenFleets, its first paid service. As the name implies, ZenFleets is meant for companies that have a large number of cars on the road at any given time.

With ZenFleets, businesses can track where those cars are, but more importantly, the service also tries to figure out if the driver is focused and paying attention to the road. Unlike similar services — most of which get their data from the car’s sensors — Zendrive wants to focus on the driver and not only the car.

To do this, Zendrive regularly looks at basic data like speed, acceleration and other data points most similar service also consider. While you’d think that the car’s own sensors would be more accurate than a random phone’s, Zendrive argues that the phone data is just as accurate. In addition, Zendrive also looks at whether the driver is distracted and using the phone, for example.

The company is targeting this new service at ridesharing, carsharing and delivery companies. “The ZenFleets service helps the On Demand driving economy– including the fast growing rideshare, carshare and last-mile delivery companies– scale safely and efficiently through driver-centric analytics,” said Jonathan Matus, co-founder of Zendrive, in a canned statement today. Because companies like Uber and Lyft don’t typically own the cars their drivers work with, using smartphone sensors is much easier for them than trying to integrate a hardware-based solution.

Zendrive also today announced that it has closed a strategic round of funding led by  BMW i Ventures, Bill Ford’s VC firm Fontinalis Partners, Expansion Capital and First Round Capital. The company previously raised a $1.5 million round in August 2013. This time around, Zendrive didn’t want to disclose the size of this new round.


Featured Image: Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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Tumblr Overtakes Instagram As Fastest-Growing Social Platform, Snapchat Is The Fastest-Growing App


With 1.35 billion active monthly users, Facebook continues to be the world’s largest social network by some margin, but  when it comes to picking up new users, it appears to have reached a saturation point. Research out today from the Global Web Index notes that Tumblr’s active user base in the last six months grew by 120%, while Facebook’s grew by only 2%.

And in overall member growth, Pinterest took the lead with 57% growth while Facebook’s member base grew by 6%.

Instagram, LinkedIn,Twitter, YouTube and even Google+ all grew faster than Facebook.

In mobile apps specifically, while Facebook is the largest app today, Snapchat — with an emphasis on teen and 20-something users — is the fastest growing of them all, up 56% this year. It is however followed closely by Facebook Messenger and Instagram — a sign of not just how Facebook’s mobile apps continue to represent the company’s growth drivers, but also how its push to drive more users to the standalone app by cutting out Messaging from the main app has helped it grow.

Interestingly, when GWI released numbers earlier this year, covering the six months prior to the six included in today’s report, Instagram topped the list for fastest-growing social network. The photo-based social network, owned by Facebook, has now dropped down to number three, both in terms of overall members and active users.

One takeaway from this is that while Facebook is ahead of the rest of the pack by a big margin, there is a lot of flux among the rest of the field of social platforms. Indeed, when GWI released numbers earlier this year, Instagram topped the list for fastest-growing social network. It’s now dropped down to number three, both in terms of overall members and active users.

Another is that Facebook may well be looking to pick up yet more of these smaller apps — or develop more of them in-house — to keep fuelling its growth regardless of the slowdown trend in its core app.

“Facebook has some major challenges to face,” Jason Mander, head of trends and author of the report, writes. “Firstly, people are growing tired of it, with 50% of members in the UK and US saying that they’re using it less frequently than they used to (rising to 64% among teens).” He says that the stats appear to show people using Facebook much more passively today than in the past: “Since the start of 2013, we’ve seen behaviors like sharing photos and messaging friends fall by around 20 percentage points.”

Still, you cannot deny the size and strength of the world’s largest social network. To put Facebook’s dominant position into some context, the ITU yesterday announced that there are now 3 billion people online worldwide. Facebook’s active user base of 1.36 billion means that over one-third of the world’s population is now on Facebook.

GWI — which bases its data on interviews with 170,000 users across 32 markets — provides some of its own stats to demonstrate just how big it is. It notes that outside of China, 4 in 5 internet users have a Facebook account, with the proportion even higher in some markets like Latin America, where a whopping 93% of respondents reporting having an account.

Among those with Facebook accounts, 1 in 2 say they are actively using Facebook each month, “giving it about twice as many active users as the three sites which compete for second position: Twitter, YouTube and Google+.”

(Yes, you can argue that a Google+ “user” may possibly never actually engage on the platform but simply sign in with it on other Google properties. Indeed, GWI notes that when it comes to visitation rates, Google’s YouTube ranks at number one, with 85% of online adults visiting it each month, nearly ten points ahead of Facebook.)

I’m embedding the full, 45-page report below, but here are some other interesting stats that caught my eye:

Mobile. As we are seeing played out at companies like Facebook and Twitter, who both now make more from mobile ads than from desktop ads, mobile devices are really leading the charge for social networking services. But overall they are not outweighing usage on PCs and laptops just yet. Although usage on the bigger screens is “contracting”, in the words of the report, 6 out of 10 users are still accessing social networks via a PC/laptop, while 4 in 10 are using mobiles. The younger the consumer gets, the more prevalent mobile becomes. In the 16-34 age group, mobile is the social platform of choice for more than 50% of users.

Daily use versus growth. While Tumblr and Pinterest appear to have seen the most growth, they are not seeing as much use when it comes to frequency, where the numbers almost appear to invert.

China continues to be dominated by home-grown social networks. Google+ is the top network when ranking those from outside the country with Facebook in second position.

GWI Social Report Q3 2014

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Lyft Appeals To More Casual Drivers By Matching Them With Passengers To Share Commutes


For years, the founders of Lyft had imagined a world in which carpooling would become mainstream, a world in which people wouldn’t necessarily ride alone to work if they didn’t have to. Today they move another step closer to that world with the release of a new feature allowing its drivers to get matched up with passengers heading in the same direction they are going.

With the launch of Driver Destination, Lyft will for the first time give its drivers some freedom in being able to accept rides based on where a particular passenger is going. It also could open up its service to a more casual group of drivers.

Previously, Lyft only showed drivers a passenger’s destination after they accepted a ride. Now, however, drivers will be able to see only passengers that can be picked up while on the way to their own destination.

The new feature was built using some of the same technology the company uses for Lyft Line, which the company launched to match up passengers who are traveling along similar routes. The Driver Destination feature will match drivers with passengers who entered their destination because they requested a Lyft Line.

Linking this to Lyft Line could limit the number of rides those drivers see in the near-term. However, the company is aggressively trying to find ways to get more people using Lyft Line and, in general, to pack more passengers into its drivers’ cars.

Last month, it began a test in which it would send an SMS message to users who had requested a standalone Lyft but had entered their destination and could be matched up with nearby Lyft Line passengers headed in the same direction. (I know because I received one of those SMS messages.)

As it converts more Lyft rides to Lyft Line rides, we could see broader adoption for ride-sharing (or, if you’re old school, carpooling) on its platform. And that could mean more money for drivers who are basically just adding more passengers who are traveling along the same route.

Opening Lyft Up To A New Class Of Driver

But it’s not just about money. The new Driver Destination feature is designed to create more efficiency in driver routes, by making sure they don’t have to go out of their way when picking up or dropping off a passenger.

Lyft also hopes it will appeal to more casual drivers — i.e. those who merely want to supplement the cost of their commute to and from work but don’t necessarily want to be on the platform picking up rides all day.

To date, much of the driver recruitment for both Lyft and Uber has been around signing up contractors who will drive more or less full-time. That’s been necessary in part due to the huge demand those services have seen over the last few years. It’s also led to drivers working for both services, or switching between them based on various recruitment promotions over time.

By giving drivers the power to only pick up rides on their commute, however, Lyft is targeting a much larger subset of casual drivers who don’t plan to drive for Lyft all the time. The pitch is that they’ll be able to occasionally make some money for rides they were already taking, just as long as they’re willing to make a minor detour along the way.

As a result, Lyft is hoping to recruit drivers even if they’re not looking to log 30-plus hours a week. They’ll still go through the same application and onboarding process, which includes background checks and driver record checks, as well as a car inspection.

By doing so, the company hopes to get more drivers on board during the peak commute hours — when they really need the supply — without those drivers committing to long hours.

As a result, Lyft could end up look more like the peer-to-peer ride-sharing platform that the founders first envisioned, as opposed to just a taxi replacement you hail with an app.

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Two Rallies


Today Apple topped the $700 billion value market cap threshold during regular trading, a remarkable achievement. The company’s shares have since slipped some, but it’s impossible to deny the technology giant’s massive rally. Apple, a company that was once small enough to be dismissed whole-cloth is now not only the world’s most valuable technology company, it’s the world’s most valuable public company of any industry.

Small fact: Three of the four most valuable public companies, by my last check, were technology firms. Apple, Microsoft, and Google share the top four slots along with ExxonMobil.

However, a recent change of the guard in the ranking among the four, and the growing gap between Apple and its competition highlight two rallies: Both Microsoft and Apple have seen their shares soar since their current chief executives took over the reins. (It’s worth nothing that Apple did go through a public rough patch thorough 2012 and early 2013, but those declines have since been erased, and more.)

Since Tim Cook has taken charge of Apple, it’s share price has risen 119.9 percent.  And Microsoft has seen it’s shares rise 31.58 percent since Satya Nadella took over. Keep in mind that Nadella has been CEO for less than a year, while Cook has been in charge since 2011, so the latter has had a bit more time.

Both companies have managed impressive runs this year. Apple, for example, is up around 48 percent so far this year alone.

Given the rallies, it’s a fair question to ask how long the gains can be sustained. Apple is expected to see declining iPad sales. Microsoft’s new business efforts in the SaaS space remain, compared to its other revenue lines, nascent. But certainly the two executives can be content with their performance to date, at least in the financial sense.

The question now becomes what part of the rise in their companies’ shares can be attributed to the executives, and what part to pre-existing positive corporate momentum. Depending on how you answer that question, either company could be a buy or a sell. Hold onto your hats and lay your bets.

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Dropbox’s Mobile Apps Are Now Integrated With Microsoft Office


Earlier this month, Dropbox and Microsoft announced a partnership that would see Dropbox offer better support for Microsoft’s Office Suite, including the ability to edit Office docs from the Dropbox mobile app among other things. Today, those integrations have gone live for users of both the Android phone and iOS Dropbox applications.

Explains Dropbox in a blog post announcing the news, users can now edit their Office files when they’re “on the go,” editing them directly from the Dropbox app and accessing the files directly from the Office apps. To use the new feature, you’ll first need update your app to the latest version, then open any Office document, spreadsheet or presentation that’s stored in your Dropbox.

From here, a new “Edit” icon (see above picture) will be available that will allow you to switch over to the new mobile Office apps to make changes to the file. When you’re finished working, those changes will be saved back to Dropbox automatically.

The Dropbox/Microsoft partnership is an extensive deal aimed at increasing collaboration between the two firms, and may have surprised some given that the two companies offer competing products. Microsoft has a Dropbox-like service called OneDrive, but Dropbox’s larger service reaches hundreds of millions of users, including 80,000 businesses.

The agreement announced at the beginning of November included four parts, as TechCrunch previously reported: the ability to quickly edit docs from Dropbox on mobile, accessing Dropbox docs from Office apps, sharing Dropbox links of Office apps, and the creation of first-party Dropbox apps for Microsoft’s mobile offerings.

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Pomplamoose Details The Cost Of Being An Indie Band


In a surprising display of transparency, Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn aka Pomplamoose detailed what it took to run a 28-city tour of the US. The bottom line? The band made $135,983 in income… and incurred $147,802 in expenses. Essentially, they lost a little over $11,000.

But what does this mean for a modern Indie band? Conte writes that all is not lost. First, obviously, is the indebtedness phase but, if you’re doing things correctly you can make money doing what you love. He wrote:

As someone with an interest in Indie creation – writing, primarily – Conte’s data is fascinating. As an artifact of the touring process it is amazingly valuable. You could use his post as a blueprint to musical success, following it step-by-step in order to plan, implement, and sell a tour. As an artifact of the Indie thought process, whose message is that we no longer need large actors to smooth out the risk of the creative process, the post is inspiring and impressive. And, as a feel good story, it’s great to know that even though they lost money, Conte and Dawn actually make a monthly income from the band, something any artist would love to claim.

“The point of publishing all the scary stats is not to dissuade people from being professional musicians. It’s simply an attempt to shine light on a new paradigm for professional artistry,” wrote Conte.

“We have not made it,” he said. “We are making it.”

The best part is that bands like Pomplamoose can finally share milestones on their road to success and, more important, Indie writer, artists, and musicians can learn from their experiences.

Full disclosure: I saw Pomplamoose on tour in NYC and they were awesome.

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Against Acceleration


Editor’s Note: Malay Gandhi serves as the managing director of the digital healthcare investment firm Rock Health, which recently announced its third seed fund.

Startups should give up equity for only one of two reasons: work or cash.

Startup employees and advisors work in exchange for equity (and salary) and they can be fired if they don’t perform, shutting down their vesting. I’m an advocate of bringing on advisors with defined deliverables, earning somewhere around 100 basis points or less unless they’re working part-time at the company or insanely valuable. Investors provide the cash that help startups grow and receive equity in exchange for their risk capital.

Recently, I’ve noticed a third reason for startups giving up equity: an exchange for “services.” This growing trend for “accelerators” and their ilk to take equity in companies without providing any capital is alarming. (These services are not comparable to those provided by proven service providers like law firms that defer or reduce billings in exchange for equity—that is essentially the same as cash.)

I’ve been seeing more and more startups with an admission or expiring “term sheet” from these organizations, looking to us at Rock Health to simultaneously fund them. We understand the initial attraction to some of these organizations—it’s a platform to launch your company, flush with name-brand industry partners and networking events.

You want to believe that eventually the capital will follow.

This practice, of taking equity solely in exchange for “services” is great for the organization that ends up with the equity. When you don’t have to expend any capital, it’s easy to flood the ecosystem with features instead of products and hobbies instead of companies.

But the trend on the other side of this is disturbing—the market isn’t a fan. Lisa Suennen noted it in her recent report on digital health accelerators, quoting a healthcare industry sponsor:

“The accelerators have too much overlap and too many companies vying to create too many redundant ideas. They are pumping up these companies with unrealistic expectations about their odds of success and their ability to be transformative, and it is a disservice to the whole industry when the funnel gets overloaded; it is dilutive of talent and bandwidth and capital.”

Let me be clear: this model will fail to create large scale, venture-backable companies that transform the industry. I question why entrepreneurs would willingly give up equity in their company—up to 10%—in exchange for ambiguous services. This is equity that should be going to employees and exceptional advisors.

Any well-reputed early stage investor could convince an entrepreneur to give them equity in exchange for their promised support, with no capital attached. But they don’t, because the practice is predatory and frankly, would result in selection bias.

Investing nothing for equity turns entrepreneurs into lottery tickets and makes the goal to collect as many as possible. Investing cash for equity forces organizations (like Rock Health and other funds) to make hard decisions on capital allocations. This isn’t a good thing for entrepreneurs, or our sector, and I encourage you to reject this concept before it seems like a norm.


Featured Image: Jim Larrison/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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