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Mosaic Ventures Launches In Europe With A $140M Fund Aimed At Series A


“We need density in the cluster!” as an entrepreneur raising a Series A round in London said to me only last week. Her frustration was born of the fact that while many VCs have headed toward seed investing, and some have raised later-stage growth funds, the fabled Series A has become a gradually rarer entity. It’s a problem we thought we’d solved in Europe until recently, but only a handful of firms are now shepherding startups along the whole pipeline now.

So it’s welcome news that three extremely connected investors have today launched Mosaic Ventures.

This new $140 million fund will be squarely aimed at early-stage investments in Europe, and specifically at the Series A end of the market.

The creation of Simon Levene, Mike Chalfen and Toby Coppel, this dream-team of investors has a black book of contacts as long as your arm.

Today they published “We love renegades who take a fresh look at the world and want to shape it their way,” on their site. The back story is that these guys are willing to fund the most ‘visionary’ companies in Europe. What does that mean? As Levene told me, it means backing entrepreneurs who want to “swing for the fences.”

Mosaic’s three founding partners have over 30 years of experience investing on both sides of the Atlantic. The trio has invested in more than 70 companies across 10 countries that together have created approximately $200 billion of value.

Levene, Chalfen and Coppel have formerly worked at a number of the top venture and investment firms in Europe and the U.S., including Index Ventures, Accel Partners, Allen Company and Apax Partners.

In previous incarnations, all three have invested in companies, including Alibaba, Criteo, Etsy and King. Welcome to the party, guys.

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On-The-Go Freelancers Get A Business Management Tool With PocketSuite


Calling all photographers; dog trainers and dog walkers; handymen; hair stylists and makeup artists, plumbers and pool boys. Your on-the-go businesses now have access to the same type of management software tools that other, more sedentary, small business owners have been working with for years — thanks to the efforts of PocketSuite founders Yang Forjindam and Sam Madden.

The two have been laboring away on an app for iPhones that can offer an Uber-like booking, scheduling, and payment service for the nearly 3 million freelancers and roughly 50 million independent contractors that act as their own bosses, secretaries, and maintenance and support staff.

“We help self-employed professionals run their business,” says co-founder Sam Madden. “What PocketSuite gives these people the power to do is to schedule appointments and receive payments.”

The company’s app, available in the iTunes store, integrates with software like Yelp and Thumbtack, and leverages the iPhone’s built-in calendar to ensure that schedules are up-to-date and accurate. Any appointment is confirmed with a credit card, so payments are more convenient for customers and more timely for small business owners.

For Forjindam, the work at PocketSuite, which began six months ago after a conversation with his house cleaner, is a continuation of the application development and programming he’d previously done as one of the wunderkind first engineers at the online business management software behemoth, NetSuite.

Actually backed by some of NetSuite’s executive team, including Chief Scientist William Bailey, PocketSuite extends a NetSuite-like functionality down to small businesses and independent contractors.

The company was founded by Yang Forjindam, one of NetSuite’s first engineers, and has received seed-stage funding from multiple members of NetSuite’s founding team, including Chief Scientist William Bailey.

So far, the company has 1500 business users on the app and, according to Madden, engagements and transactions have tripled as new users begin to book more and more clients through the app.

At the moment, the PocketSuite app is free to download, but the company charges a 2.99% processing fee for every payment. “You can basically analyze where your clients are coming from and what’s the average spend of each of these new leads and are you keeping them as a full-time client,” says Madden. “And the other thing we’re focusing on is growing as people’s business grows.”

Early entrepreneurs typically start with one business, and then hire more staff as they become more successful, which means that they can bring more users onto the platform, says Madden.

“We want to become the ERP tool for the fastest growing part of the U.S. workforce — the micro-business,” says Madden.

Photo via Flickr user JD Hancock

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Two-Factor Authentication Startup Duo Security Raises $12 Million From Benchmark


Five-year old startup Duo Security has emerged as a leader in providing secure but easy-to-use two-factor authentication technology to a fast-growing number of enterprise customers. To bolster its growth, the company has raised $12 million in Series B financing from Benchmark, and has added general partner Matt Cohler to its board.

Two-factor authentication is nothing new. Security-focused enterprises have required their employees to deploy the technology when logging in to applications and services containing sensitive information for the last several decades. But the world is changing, as organizations are looking to embrace more cloud services and employees are demanding enterprise solutions that look more like the consumer applications they use in their everyday lives.

For a while, enabling two-factor authentication meant using clunky, hardware-based token authentication to ensure that a user was who they said they were. Over time, more and more two-factor authentication solutions have moved to the cloud, requiring users to enter in multi-digit codes they receive via email or SMS.

In either case, the solution is less-than-ideal for a workforce that is moving increasingly to a bring-your-own-device model for accessing enterprise documents and applications. And with more enterprises moving from on-premises storage and applications to cloud services, the need to lock down sensitive data is more important than ever.

Duo Security is hoping to leverage those shifts in employee and enterprise behavior to offer two-factor authentication technology that is highly secure but also incredibly easy to use.

With its Duo Push authentication technology users can easily approve a mobile device and authenticate with one tap via push notification. While Duo Push is a key differentiator for the company, it also supports more traditional forms of two-factor authentication, including hardware-based tokens and SMS passcodes.

But making two-factor authentication easier for the user only matters so much unless it works with a variety of different applications and services. On that front, Duo Security supports a number of widely adopted enterprise cloud apps like Salesforce, Microsoft Office, Google Apps, and Box. It can also be used to log into enterprise VPNs or built into company’s own internal development or collaboration tools via APIs and a web SDK.

With the new cash, Duo hopes to ramp up sales and grow its engineering team. Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich. with a couple of remote offices on the coasts, the company currently has less than 100 employees. To date, its growth has been driven by what co-founder and CTO Jon Oberheide calls a “high-velocity, low-touch enterprise sales process.”

Unlike other enterprise sales organizations, a new Duo customer can “be up and ready within hours of getting in contact with our sales team,” he said.

Thanks to its wide support for a variety of apps and flexibility for enterprise deployment, Duo Security has been growing fast, now supporting more than 5,000 enterprise customers. In the tech world, those customers include names like Facebook, Etsy, Box, Yelp, and Threadless, which is how Benchmark’s Matt Cohler came to learn about the company.

Cohler is probably best known for his connection to consumer-facing companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Yelp, but he’s done investments in B2B companies like Zendesk, Domo, and Asana. Still, it was hearing from some employees within that former group of companies that led him to invest.

“I first heard about [Duo Security] in the same way that we usually hear about companies, which is from our portfolio,” Cohler told me in a phone interview. “These were all companies that are leaders and have very strong technology organizations, and they were embracing [Duo] with enormous enthusiasm.”

Cohler said Duo’s technology touched on three key themes that are changing when it comes to enterprise applications. The first of those shifts is the consumerization of enterprise apps, and how a consumer-class leader in security has yet to emerge. The second theme is the shift to more enterprise employees bringing their own devices to work. And the third is the shift from on-premise applications to cloud-based services.

But the most important reason Cohler gave for investing in Duo was just that everyone he talked to raved about Duo Security co-founders Oberheide and CEO Dug Song. “They are universally admired in the industry, ” Cohler told me.

The new funding comes on top of a $5 million Series A round that had been led by Google Ventures. Previous investors also include True Ventures and Radar Partners.

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Apple Sells 10 Million iPhone 6 And 6 Plus Devices During Launch Weekend


Apple has officially confirmed a total of 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sales during their initial weekend on sale. This is a new record for an iPhone launch, besting the 9 million iPhone 5s and 5c sales from that launch last year, and far outpacing the 5 million new iPhone 5 devices sold back in 2012.

Analyst estimates for launch weekend sales ranged from between 7-8 million from Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi, up to sales in the “low teens” of millions from Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um. Many had pegged launch device numbers at around 10 million, citing supply constraints as a limiting factor. Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus also launched in one fewer country than did the iPhone 5 and 5s, and that country was a significant one for Apple: China, which has recently become one of its primary hardware revenue drivers.

Apple had previously announced a record-setting 4 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus pre-orders during the first 24 hours of availability, after they originally went up for order on Friday, September 12. The previous announced, official pre-order record was 2 million, set by the iPhone 5 two years ago. The intense pre-order demand, paired with the unprecedented line sizes reported at most stores last Friday when the new iPhones officially went on sale explain the record-setting number of pre-orders, and Apple’s assurance that demand far exceeded supply during initial sales. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in the press release accompanying today’s announcement that sell-through records with this generation of iPhone were exceeded “by a larger margin” and that the company could have sold “many more iPhones with greater supply.”

By the end of this week, Apple intends to open up iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sales to 20 additional countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. As far of a breakdown of which device is more in demand, Apple generally doesn’t provide a detailed mix when announcing new device numbers, but thus far analysts seem to agree the iPhone 6 is in greater demand, though the 6 Plus is likely in shorter supply.

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Tilt My Blinds Lets You Retrofit Your Existing Blinds To Make Them Smarter


Tilt My Blinds, which is currently on track to be successfully crowd funded on Kickstarter, offers a clever way to get in on the home automation action by letting you control your blinds’ ’tilt’ mechanism via a smartphone app, dedicated wall switch, or its own built-in light sensor. No longer will you need to get up, walk across the room and awkwardly reach for the cord to let in light in the morning or to shutter the blinds for privacy or to watch a movie. Instead, the process can be automated or controlled from the convenience of your smartphone. There’s an obvious accessibility advantage, too.

Of course, automated blinds have been the stuff of home automation systems for years, but, like many of the newer breed of smart home products currently hitting the market, Tilt My Blinds prides itself on taking a small pieces, loosely joined approach, in the sense that its gizmo is designed to be retrofitted — in 15 minutes or less — to your existing venetian blinds, not part of some expensive monolithic home automation system. Whether or not another disparate smart home product is a good thing will likely depend on how far down the line you are in your own smart home setup or how deep your pockets are.

The Tilt claims to work with the most popular type of blinds in the world, those with a 2 inch slatted blind, and is designed to be fitted inside of your existing blind tray, so in theory the mechanism (i.e. motor) is nicely hidden. Power-wise, the device comes in two versions: One that uses a chargeable lithium battery, and another that operates off a solar panel, which is a very nice option. The thought of having to charge yet another device, fills me with dread.

To control the tilt mechanism, you can use the bluetooth enabled iOS or Android app, including setting various schedules. Otherwise, wireless wall switches are also being offered. But, perhaps cleverest of all, the blinds have a light sensor so you can, optionally, automate the opening and closing based on external light.

If the Tilt My Blinds takes your fancy, there are a few early bird offers still open, starting from $60, including U.S. shipping. For more details check out the full KS campaign.

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Skype Gets An iOS 8-Friendly Update With Interactive Notifications


Microsoft’s Skype messenger got a major update for iOS 8 today, which includes all-new interactive notifications that take advantage of what Apple has made possible with its latest OS update. The new notifications in Skype let you respond to various activity directly from notices as they appear, including text-based messages, voice and video calls. It makes Skype a much more full-featured voice and text replacement service, which is great if you’re using it more than your traditional cellular services.

The new notifications work for audio and video calls by letting you swipe left to answer or decline inbound voice, or swipe left to reveal a selector to either answer inbound video calls with video or with voice only when you’re at the lock screen. If you’re using your phone unlocked, you can also answer by pulling down on the banner notification at the top. Missed calls can also be responded to, either via a call back or a text reply, simply by swiping on the notification.

For messages, you can swipe left for new ones to reply on the lock screen, or pull down if it’s a banner notification. Unlike with Apple’s own Messages feature, this won’t open up a reply input box without unlocking your device – it’ll still require you to enter your PIN or use your Touch ID unlock, and then it’ll take you directly to the message where you can reply in-line.

Overall, it’s a nice update from Skype, and one of the few new big apps to take advantage of the interactive notification feature early on. I give Microsoft credit: They’ve been doing a lot more to keep on top of Skype updates for iOS, and the results have been good thus far.

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