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Disrupt London Finalist Photomath Rockets To The Top Of The App Store


Have you tried Photomath yet? It’s brilliant. It’s a camera app that solves math equations. Just point and solve. The company launched the app earlier this week at Disrupt London, and yesterday, unseated Facebook Message to become the top free on the App Store.

The app works in real time and displays the answer to an equation in an augmented reality layer. Click a button to have the app guide you through the steps needed to solve the problem. The app’s creators said at Disrupt that the app works with equations typical of middle school math. It won’t help you with trigonometry yet.

Sadly, Photomath doesn’t support handwriting yet. It only works with printed equations.

Photomath is free and MicroBlink doesn’t see the app as the future of the company. The company also makes optical character recognition software for banks. To them Photomath is just a proof of what the company can do and they hope the app’s success will lure more companies to the other products MicroBlink offer. As for Photomath, the company understands its core competency is not educational software and is willing to license the technology to others.

MicoBlink launched Photomath at Disrupt London and won a spot in the final round. The company ultimately lost to Crate but a spot atop the App Store is the next best thing.

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Tencent Leads $350M Investment In China’s Koudai Gouwu, A Mobile-Focused Rival To Alibaba


Alibaba’s record-breaking US IPO may give the impression that the company has the e-commerce market in China sewn up, but there are plenty of fast-growing competitors with an eye on disrupting the top dog. Koudai Gouwu (known as Pocket Shopping in English) is one such company, and it just announced a significant $350 million Series C funding round, as Technode first spotted.

Notably, the round was led by Tencent, Alibaba’s biggest rival, which put in $145 million. Other investors included Tiger Fund, H Capital, Vy Capital, Falcon Edge, and Yuri Milner’s DST Group. Koudai Gouwu did not reveal what valuation the round was made at, or how much equity was exchanged.

Koudai Gouwu is a mobile-focused shopping marketplace that lets merchants sell direct to buyers, it earns revenue from fees for lead generation and sales commissions. It also integrates with WeChat, Tencent’s mobile messaging services that dominates China and claims 438 million monthly users worldwide, to enable retails to set up accounts and use the service to market their products.

That WeChat hook-in provides a potentially huge platform for sales, and is no doubt the reason Tencent has keenly backed the company. While it has dominated the Chinese internet space with its QQ messaging service for desktops and WeChat (known as Weixin in China) on mobile, Tencent has struggled on e-commerce, that explains its 15% investment in earlier this year, and now its interest in Koudai Gouwu.

Tencent integrated into WeChat this summer, super-charging its potential reach and sales. listed on the Nasdaq in May and is the nearest challenger to Alibaba, so grabbing equity in Koudai Gouwu in addition furthers Tencent e-commerce position with a focus on mobile and a company that already plays nicely with WeChat.

Interestingly, as Tech In Asia points out, there’s been speculation in China that Koudai Gouwu actually generates more traffic on mobile than Alibaba’s flagship Taobao service. While that may not be accurate, the fact that the service is laser-focused on mobile plays on Alibaba’s biggest weakness.

Alibaba’s gained supremacy in China’s e-commerce space through PC internet users, but, as is the case with Google, Facebook, Twitter and others, it was born before the mobile era and has had to roll out new initiatives and programs to adapt to changing times. Tardy to the mobile messaging race, Alibaba launched its WeChat-rival Laiwang last year, while it led a $250 million investment in US-based chat app Tango and has put resources into building its own mobile operating system, a smart TV platform, a mobile gaming platform and — most recently — Amazon-like services for developers.

All of these investments are works in progress — with differing levels of success so far — but the idea is generally to connect Alibaba’s e-commerce empire to entertainment and communication platforms that people use daily. Channeling these services can help deliver traffic, users and sales, in theory at least.

Having established WeChat — which has become the de facto social network in China — and other daily touch points with internet users in China, Tencent is coming from the opposite angle: it needs e-commerce services to plug into its platforms. Hence this investment in Koudai Gouwu is an important marker for its retail ambitions.

Headline image via Svetlana Lukienko / Shutterstock

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Progress Software Buys Telerik for $262.5M As Buying Spree Continues


In a deal today involving two companies with links to the Boston area, Progress Software, which helps companies build business software, announced it was buying Telerik for $262.5M. Telerik’s portfolio includes a .net toolbox, a mobile development platform and a CMS called Sitefinity, as well as access to a developer community of over 1.4M people.

According to Karen Tegan Padir, president of application development and deployment at Progress, her company has been around for 30 years providing tools for application development and data connectivity, and has been profitable, but they weren’t growing, so a couple of years ago the company developed a strategy to return to its core development roots and began purchasing companies to help it modernize and grow.

This began last year when Progress bought Platform as a Service provider, Rollbase in June, 2013. A year later, it purchased Modulus, a company that gives it play in Node.js. Padir told Computerworld at the time of the sale, “Running JavaScript on the server, Node.js allows developers to use the same language for the front-end user interfaces and the back-end processing. Node brings JavaScript to the full stack.”

Today’s purchase of Telerik is another step in that strategy to modernize the company. Padir said while her company has offered some front-end creation, it’s fair to say that Telerik gives Progress some serious UI chops it had been lacking and builds on these other tools.

What’s more, she told me combining the companies isn’t just about tools, it’s also about growth. She said Telerik had $60M in revenue last year and is growing at a rapid 20 percent per year. And Progress gets access to Telerik’s community of more than 1.4M developers. Plus it gives Telerik a different way of selling.

Whereas Progress has been a traditional sales and marketing company, she said Telerik gets 50 percent of its sales online without anyone ever talking to the customer. They want to develop more of that non-traditional sales style and Padir said this could be particularly useful when combined with other online properties like Rollbase.

Al Hilwa, an analyst who covers software development for IDC says it’s a good deal for Progress and gives them access to a new set of tools, but they’ll need to tread lightly with their acquisition. “Telerik’s offerings do not overlap with Progress and mostly allow it to expand its reach to other areas of development and specifically to the Microsoft ecosystem of developers. This is new for Progress, though many of its traditional users use .NET technologies, it has not typically addressed that space. To keep this growth going, Progress has to execute well on this acquisition and essentially operate Telerik with a high degree of independence,” he wrote me in an email.

Progress describes itself as “simplifying the development, deployment and management of business applications on-premise or in the cloud, on any platform or device, connected to any data source.” The company claims 4 million users and 47,000 businesses in over 175 countries run applications on the Progress OpenEdge platform and database.

Progess works on the back end providing tools to build applications, while Telerik provides tools for building the interface on the front end. The two companies together compliment one another as Telerik combined with their other recent purchases, gives Progress front-end mobile development tools it was lacking, giving them a strong portfolio of products across platforms and locations providing customers with a comprehensive development platform in mobile, cloud, on-premises or the web.

Progress is based in Bedford, MA and Telerik’s US headquarters are in Waltham, MA with it’s world headquarters in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

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Ant Financial: The Greatest Victory Is That Which Requires No Battle


Editor’s note: Christoffer O. Hernæs is Executive Vice President of Strategy, Innovation and Analysis of Sparebank 1 Group, Norway’s second-largest financial institution. He was previously a partner at Core Group, where he worked with strategy development and innovation for the TMT and financial service.

Not long after the Alibaba IPO, eBay announced that it aims to spin off PayPal as a separately traded company. The rumors of PayPal as an acquisition target are already looming, and one of the contenders is Jack Ma’s Alipay, now called Ant Financial. A deeper insight into Alipay is interesting in light of the potential changes similar players like Apple, Amazon and PayPal pose for the financial services industry.

Enough has been written on Alibaba to elaborate any further on the parent company other than restating that analysts describe the company as a combination of Amazon, eBay, Google and PayPal, but the potential jewel in the crown in the Alibaba-ecosystem is the payments- and financial services company Alipay. Alipay was separated from Alibaba in 2011 and established as a Chinese national company controlled by Jack Ma and other Alibaba executives. Since its inception in 2004, Alipay has shown a tremendous growth curve, aided by the transaction volume from Alibaba, Tabao and Tmall.

Alipay currently has a user base of 300 million and controls half of the Chinese e-commerce market. Not long after receiving a private banking license on September 29, Alipay consolidated all financial services and rebranded as Ant Financial Group. According to Alibaba executives, the name ‘Ant’ was chosen to symbolize the potential strength of a number of smaller brands working together. Ant Financial also plans to expand its overseas businesses, with the aim of providing the infrastructure for global e-commerce companies.

What makes Ant Financial stand out from the majority of other technology-based challengers to the financial industry is the fact that Alipay has a much broader focus and a more aggressive approach where it approaches the core business in banking apart from other challengers that focus on payment solutions.

Alipay was created as a payment solution for online shopping and has become the dominant player on the Chinese market with $519 billion processed in 2013, which accounts for more than double the value of goods sold through Alibaba. With transaction costs as low as 0.3 percent, Alipay has become an alluring choice for many online retailers apart from Alibaba, as well. Within traditional retail, Alipay Wallet has secured its position as the world’s most widely used mobile wallet with over 100 million users in 2013.

To strengthen this position, Alipay Wallet recently entered a partnership with Huawei that will allow Alipay users to use fingerprint recognition to verify payments similar to Apple Pay in Huawei’s next smartphone. This collaboration will undoubtedly strengthen Alipay further in physical retail in both the Chinese and Asian markets.

What sets Alipay apart from other contenders in the payments area is that Alibaba like Amazon has quietly established large lending portfolios to SMEs. This business was sold in its entirety from the parent company Alipay prior to the IPO to refine Alipay as a financial services company apart from the logistics focus of Alibaba.

But what makes Alipay revolutionary is neither the payment solution nor its lending portfolio, but last year’s launch of Yuebao, a mobile deposit and investment platform. In just eight months Yuebao acquired deposits of over $90 billion through unbeatable conditions of almost double the returns compared to traditional Chinese banks. For incumbents, this represents a major threat, as Alipay creates an expectation of much higher yield than the banks are able to provide without compromising the interest margin and ultimately the profitability.

The combination of this makes Ant Financial able to operate as a full-scale bank with deposits, investments, lending and payment platform. While we all are waiting for the next move from Apple, PayPal, Amazon and Square, Alipay is steamrolling the Asian payments ecosystem. With the IPO in mind, it is clear that China is not big enough for Jack Ma, and it is my belief that it is just a matter of time until Ant Financial becomes a challenger to both incumbents in the financial sector, as well as disruptive technology companies in the U.S. and European markets.

Through the divestment of Alipay from its parent company without the consent from owners Yahoo and Softbank, and the sudden consolidation of services and rebrand, Ant Financial has shown a trend of letting its plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when it moves, falls like a thunderbolt. With this in mind, the next move from Ant Financial is worth watching.  After all, some claim that all warfare is based on deception.    

IMAGE BY Flickr USER Sancho McCann UNDER cc by 2.0 LICENSE

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Foundation: Biz Stone On Moving From Artist To Entrepreneur


In our latest Foundation interview, I sat down with Jelly CEO and co-founder Biz Stone. We discussed his entrepreneurial roots, leaving college to jump into the world of art and design, and embarking on a social startup in the early days of the web.

Biz on shifting from an artist to a tech entrepreneur:

This is building companies, and building experiences for people to be able to design their own websites and express themselves. For an artist, its a fun thing. It’s kind of meta to have your art as a way for others to express themselves.

Editor’s note: Kevin Rose is a venture partner at Google Ventures. You can watch Kevin’s prior Foundation episode with Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, here.

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Verizon Leads Flint Mobile’s $9.4M Round As Payment Service Comes To The Web


Flint Mobile, a point-of-sale mobile payments solution originally built around snapping photos of your credit card instead of dongles or using other hardware to make payments, is today announcing that it has raised another $9.4 million in funding led by new, strategic investor Verizon via its Verizon Ventures arm; as well as an expansion of its service to the wider internet in a new service called Sell Online.

The Series C funding round includes follow-on investments from earlier investors Digicel, Storm Ventures and True Ventures, and also had participation from new investor Peninsula Ventures. It takes the total raised by Flint Mobile to just over $20 million.

Flint CEO Greg Goldfarb would not go into too much detail about the reasoning behind Verizon investing, but it sounds like this is more than just a pure financial interest.

“They see our strategy to focus on mobility for business as interesting,” he said in an interview. “I can’t talk about their strategic thinking and I can’t disclose things that are not yet announced.”

For its part, mobile carriers have long been trying to come up with initiatives to raise their profile with small and larger businesses to get them to take more enterprise services; and they also have taken many stabs at trying to figure out how to play a key role in the mobile payments industry — but with very mixed success.

Working with Flint, which has merchant and business customers in the “high tens of thousands” with average transactions in the range of $120, Verizon could have some hopes of tackling both of those.

When I first wrote about Flint in 2012 (at the time of a $3 million funding round), I noted that the absence of any kind of dongle, or needing to rely on merchants investing in any kind of new hardware at all, was part of what made Flint’s services stand apart from some of the other point of sale solutions out there.

And indeed, this case proven to be the case, Goldfarb says, with its customers coming in large part from the class of independent business people like fitness trainers and accountants who want to minimise the amount of equipment they use as they travel from client to client, but also want to have solutions help them take prompt, on-the-spot payments.

Yet just as payments alone have proven not to be a natural fit for a standalone business for the likes of Square and others, the same has applied to Flint.

The mobile payments service was doing fine, but Goldfarb said the company had started “to hear requests from customers who needed to bill in advance and send invoices,” which led them to integrate with services like Intuit’s QuickBooks to expand the product. 

It has also included being one of the first companies to integrate Apple’s Passbook into a loyalty couponing service. (“We are looking at Apple Pay, yes,” Goldfarb says in answer to my question about Apple’s newest expansion of Passbook into commerce.)

And this is where Sell Online, which lets Flint businesses add a payment option straight into their websites, fits in, stemming from requests from customers who want to offer basic payments from their sites that integrate with the rest of what they are doing with Flint.

“We’ve evolved from simple payments on the spot to giving people a way to run their businesses from the palms of their hands,” he says. “Later, we might start to look at booking services and appointments,” he adds. “It would be great to that through Flint as well.”

Sell Online is priced at the same rate as Flint’s mobile payments service — 1.95% for debit card payments and 2.95% for credit card transactions.

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