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The latest news on Startups from Business Insider

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    stefan's head founders

    Attention shoppers: An app called Stefan is here to send you clothing discounts, but only if you send a text to this phone number: 646-759-0904.

    Once you send a text, Stefan will let you know when limited-edition clothing goes on sale, and you can be one of the first buyers.

    The text-a-number-to-get-something market is exploding. One app recently featured on Product Hunt let people text a phone number to get in touch with a Stanford student on demand. Another app called Magic lets you send a simple text to get anything you want delivered to you.

    Stefan is a text message-based e-commerce brand. You text 646-759-0904 to opt into texts from Stefan.

    "Stefan is a dealer of things," Stefan's Head co-founder Sathish Naadimuthu tells Business Insider. "And the only way to get them is if you're on his list."

    Once you text Stefan, he'll text you back and figure out if you’re "right" for his exclusive list. Once you’re on, he’ll send you messages about anything, and will text you about new products every couple of weeks. When you get a text from Stefan, you have to click in to buy his goods quickly, because they're limited-run and they go fast.

    When you get a text from Stefan about a new product or piece of clothing up for sale, you're sent a link. Open the link, and here's what you see:

    stefan's head

    You enter your credit card information the first time you make a purchase. Stefan remembers your size, too, after you order once.

    We asked whether Stefan was a real person or a robot. How could one person handle all these texts? Stefan is "an actual guy we met at a ridiculous party in L.A., one we had no business attending,"Naadimuthu tells us. "All we can say is that he’s a prominent artist who wanted to be part of something fresh. It just so happened that he was into streetwear and fashion as much as we are." Even as the company grows, Naadimuthu says Stefan "will continue to be the guy behind the guys."

    Stefan designs the products, and everything is created in-house working with US-based manufacturers. In the future, Naadimuthu says the startup will "collaborate with cool brands, artists, designers and other creatives."

    We texted Stefan to check it out for ourselves. He's definitely real.

    stefan's head

    NYC-based Stefan's Head was founded by Sathish Naadimuthu, Trey Sisson, and Michael Kushner. The three previously started an ecommerce businessNaadimuthu says the trio discovered that their customers were "surprisingly into communicating via text and gravitated towards limited-run products. That’s how the concept for Stefan’s Head began."

    Though it's an e-commerce company and not an on-demand delivery service like Magic — a Y Combinator alum that promises to deliver you anything you want (as long as what you want isn't illegal) — Stefan's Head has the same premise of operating within a text messaging layer without requiring an actual app.

    Magic specifically has gained traction with investors: just after it graduated from Y Combinator's accelerator program, it was reported that Magic was raising $12 million from Sequoia Capital at a $40 million valuation.

    Stefan's Head made some noise when it launched on Product Hunt last week, and people like designer Marc Ecko are tweeting out Stefan's number:

    Stefan's Head, which launched just three weeks ago, is one of 12 companies currently going through Techstars NYC's accelerator program. On Friday, the company will present at Techstars' Demo Day.

    "Most people are really pumped about the idea and text us exactly how they feel," Naadimuthu says. "Some people think we’re too risqué or weird. Either way, we’d rather be loved or hated than land somewhere in the middle."

    SEE ALSO: How a media company founded by two 23-year-olds wants to take on the Food Network with an army of college students

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Blackbox House Palo Alto CABlackbox, an intensive mentorship program for international startups, is trying something new: It chose only female-led companies for its next 18-startup, Google-sponsored, two-week residential course later this month.

    Why?

    There are a lot of good answers, drawn from research and observation, like the chronic under-representation of women in tech, or a report from Illuminate Ventures that claims that women-led startups make better use of their cash and have 12% higher revenues than the average.

    But the one reason that stands paramount, says Blackbox founder Fadi Bishara, is that female founders care more. The best, most successful startups emerge when the founders are really passionate about the work they're doing.

    "That comes from an emotional connection," Bishara says. "And it's more with women." 

    The way the Blackbox program works hasn't changed much over the last four years it's been in operation.

    Take a bunch of startups from around the globe, pack them into a house in Palo Alto, California — the heart of Silicon Valley — for two weeks at a time, and give them training, tools, mentorships, and the critical introductions to valuable connections like advisors and investors they'll need to succeed.

    Given that international focus, with companies drawn from more than 50 countries, Blackbox takes the inclusion of many viewpoints and cultures as a priority, says Bishara. 

    "Typically, we make it as diverse as possible," he says.

    Half of all Blackbox participants have been women overall, Bishara says. But this so-called Blackbox Connect Female Founders Edition is the first program that will be entirely women. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Google for Entrepreneurs program, their Blackbox fees are all taken care of, plus they get a solid day of mentorship at Google's Mountain View headquarters. 

    The actual startups are in pretty diverse fields, from art education to e-commerce to mental health to adtech. They come from places as far afield as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Lebanon, Poland, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

    One founder, Tatiana Birgisson, won Google's own startup Demo Day recently with her company Mati Energy, which has a proprietary energy drink formula she came up with while suffering a bout of depression during her time as a student at Duke University. 

    By living in that house together, Bishara says, the founders get to draw on each others' "rich knowledge" and become better businesspeople and leaders. 

    From Bishara's standpoint, focusing on female founders is both a canny business move, since "'overlooked' is a great place to focus on," as well as a professionally fulfilling one.

    "It's valuable to really see hungry and talented people getting great value," Bishara says.

    The Blackbox Connect Female Founders Edition will take place in Palo Alto from April 27 - May 8, 2015. 

    SEE ALSO: These numbers prove that venture capital is still a men's club

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    spring

    Spring, an eight-month-old shopping app that partners with hundreds of brands, has raised a $25 million Series B round to become the first big mobile shopping mall. It's also launching on Android today.

    Investors include Spring co-founder David Tisch's seed fund, BoxGroup, as well as Yuri Milner, Groupe Arnault, Google Ventures, and Thrive Capital. The company has raised more than $30 million total. 

    Launched last August by Tisch, his brother Alan, Ara Katz, and former Googler Octavian Costache, Spring currently works with 750 brands, like Michael Kors, to put their entire catalogs in one buying-friendly, visual heavy app.

    Browsing the app feels like Pinterest or Instagram, with lifestyle photos rather than product shots. But on Spring, every item can be immediately purchased with a single swipe (credit card information is stored and saved so you only have to enter it once. Spring is also integrated with Apple Pay).

    Spring acts like Seamless or Grubhub as a referral-only engine, taking orders and then sending the requests to the companies who handle inventory, shipping, returns, and exchanges just as they would if you were to buy from the site directly. It also handles customer service for each order and takes a small cut of every transaction; Spring has 47 employees, up from 22 last August.

    Tisch declined to say how many orders the app has generated, but he said Spring's repeat customer rate — how many first-time customers return to make additional purchases — is roughly 2.5 times the typical rate for other e-commerce platforms.  

    Spring's goal is to create the next big, exciting consumer app in New York and it thinks it can be a mobile mall, saving people from having to download a bunch of different retailers' apps and eat up precious homescreen real estate.

    The concept of a cyber mall is nothing new, and it never really caught on online. You could argue Amazon is one, but people still often type in their favorite retailers' urls, or they stumble across a product on social media. Tisch acknowledges this but feels the mobile environment is different enough to make a one-stop shopping app work.

    "There were a lot of cyber malls attempts early on," Tisch says. "The difference is a website and a mobile experience are so different...The check-out experience is different. On mobile it's a daunting experience. On the web you can click and fill out a form page easily enough."

    He says some e-commerce brands, like Net a Porter, have successfully aggregated multiple brands under one shopping experience. There's an opportunity to do that on mobile devices as well. 

    "This is the place where you can go to go shopping on your phone," says Tisch. "If you look offline, those places in New York City are 5th avenue and Soho. We have a huge vision that's potentially transformative." 

    Here's what the app looks like. Browsing looks sort of like Instagram and Pinterest:

    spring app shop phone

    Spring remembers your sizes and settings and stores your credit card information so you can swipe from left to right to pay.

    spring app shop phone

    SEE ALSO: How red-hot startup Fab raised $330 million and then went bust

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    flatiron school founders

    The Flatiron School, a New York-based programming school for adults and high schoolers, has raised a $9 million round of funding led by Thrive Capital with participation from CRV and Matrix. The startup is teaching a bunch of people, including Victoria's Secret model Karlie Kloss, how to code.

    The school was founded in 2012 by two men who met on Twitter, Avi Flombaum and Adam Enbar. Enbar was working in venture capital researching higher education, and Flombaum was a self-taught, college-dropout hedge fund CTO who taught people to code in his spare time

    "Avi told me his favorite part of teaching was that he could help some of his students actually get jobs," Enbar tells us. "And that blew my mind. I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm speaking to the deans of universities and they can't figure out how to get their students jobs, and this guy's doing it on nights and weekends for fun and he's getting them amazing, high paying jobs as engineers.'"

    I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm speaking to the deans of universities and they can't figure out how to get their students jobs, and this guy's doing it on nights and weekends for fun.'

    Flatiron School is a highly selective, full-time intensive programming school — it accepts just 6% of applicants. Its job placement rate is 99%, meaning normal people can walk into Flatiron School with zero coding experience and 12 weeks later, they can leave with a $70,000 software engineering gig at a place like Google or Intel. Flatiron School's courses cost $12,000, but if students accept job offers through the company's placement program, they'll get a $4,000 refund on their tuition.

    In addition to training normal people, Flatiron School has celebrity appeal. Victoria's Secret supermodel Karlie Kloss started taking classes at Flatiron School about a year ago, Enbar says. (Kloss also dates one of Flatiron School's lead investors, Joshua Kushner).

    "She was really inspired to share [learning to code] with more girls — especially younger girls. So she's donating 20 spots to girls to attend our summer high school coding program."

    Though Flatiron School was initially bootstrapped, it raised its $5.5 million Series A round of funding in April 2014 from Matrix Partners, BoxGroup, and CRV.

    Flatiron School

    After seeing the success of its adult program, Flatiron School decided to start using its curriculum to teach high schoolers how to code too. "Even at a very high level, a state and government level, people are realizing it's really important to expose kids to computer science skills," Enbar says. "But because they don't teach them in high school, not nearly enough kids even explore it as an option in college, and so we're not graduating enough people with technical skills."

    Flatiron School offers summer courses and after-school courses for high school students at its New York campus and at the country's best high schools, including The Dalton School in New York City's Upper East Side and Palmer Trinity in Miami.

    "We're really investing in building up our ability to train incredible teachers and create amazing curriculum and software so that we can actually increase access to this education," Enbar says. "We believe education is fundamentally not about content. It's about people. If you think back to your favorite college class, you don't remember that awesome textbook. You don't remember the slides in any individual lecture. You remember that really passionate teacher or the great study group you had."

    karlie kloss met ballFor its high school programs, Flatiron School is partnering with programs like Teach for America and DoSomething.org to train more teachers and give more students access to computer science. This summer, the company is planning its high school programs in six cities: Miami, Austin, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  

    In terms of growth, Enbar says Flatiron School is more concerned with keeping its adult courses selective and high quality than trying to enroll tons of people. "When we think about building a next generation education institution, we don't think about growing by enrolling tens of thousands of students and losing quality," Enbar says. "We think about growing by maintaining a really high bar for quality and having impeccable results."

    SEE ALSO: LinkedIn just bought online learning company Lynda for $1.5 billion

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Joanna Shields

    A UK government organisation tasked with helping London tech startups to grow only managed to grant a handful of specialist visas to talented foreign tech workers, Techworld reports.

    Tech City UK was given an allowance of 200 "exceptional talent visas" to attract overseas workers to come and join UK tech startups. But according to Techworld the organisation only managed to hand out seven visas in a year.

    Only 10 applications were received for Tech City UK's visa scheme, and seven applicants were approved. That might seem like a decent outcome for a pilot scheme — but Tech City UK had 200 visas to hand out, not 10.

    Tech City UK was one of five British organisations allowed to endorse and fast-track visa applications for valuable workers from foreign countries. Only 10 applications for the scheme were received between 6 April 2014 and 1 April 2015, a freedom of invitation request sent by Techworld reveals. Seven were approved, two remain under review, and one was rejected.

    Tech City UK provided a statement to The Times that defends the low number of visa applicants:

    The purpose of this visa route is to attract applicants that demonstrate world-class aptitude to ensure our sector can compete on the world stage. With nine individuals accepted since launch, the figure of 200 is not a target but rather a maximum allowance. This is testament to the UK’s leadership as a global tech hub considering this is the first year for the visa route.

    The Arts Council was another British organisation given access to the exceptional talent visa scheme. It managed to attract 83 applications, far more than Tech City UK.

    So what went wrong? Techworld suggests that Tech City failed to market the visa properly to tech companies in London. It points to a workshop held at Google Campus in London which focused on the exceptional talent visa, but seemingly had little effect on the companies who attended.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    oscar health foundersOscar, a new health insurance company, has closed a $145 million round of financing.

    A source close to the company says the new round brings Oscar's valuation to $1.5 billion, making it the latest tech company to join an expanding list of valuable startups known as tech "unicorns." Unicorns are private tech companies with billion-dollar+ valuations.

    Oscar is rumored to be generating hundreds of millions in annual revenue and it has raised nearly $300 million from investors to date. It was founded a few years ago but launched publicly in July 2013.

    Right now, Oscar has 40,000 customers in New York and New Jersey, the only two states where the service is currently available. That's up from 15,000 one year ago. Users can buy health insurance coverage from the marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act. The company uses technology and design to make its statements and services easy for anyone to understand.

    Founded in 2013 by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Joshua Kushner, Microsoft's former director of health care Kevin Nazemi, and former McKinsey & Company computer scientist Mario Schlosser, Oscar rivals established health insurance companies like Aetna and UnitedHealth.

    Oscar lets users talk to doctors on the phone for free, and it was the first insurance company to give fitness trackers to its customers to let them get rewards for walking a certain number of steps in a day.

    Oscar's new funding was led by both Peter Thiel and Brian Singerman from Founders Fund. Li Ka-shing of Horizon Ventures, the Wellington Management Company and Goldman Sachs also participated in the new round of funding. Thiel and Singerman are longtime supporters of Oscar, CEO Mario Schlosser says. "They came aboard for the first time in May 2013 when we had just 1,000 members signed up."

    oscar health

    Schlosser says that in New York, its market share is upwards of 12%. "The biggest reason why we now decided to raise a new round of capital is that we think the opportunity we originally saw is even bigger than we realized early on," Schlosser tells Business Insider. "We started three years ago with the very distinct idea of creating a better user interface for healthcare, and most specifically health insurance."

    Schlosser says his team is 185 people right now, and he expects that number to grow this year. In addition, he says, Oscar is working with regulators in other states to expand Oscar's coverage with the end goal to get Oscar into as many members' hands as possible. 

    Schlosser says Oscar oversees $200 million in healthcare spending. "We really have been growing about twice as quickly as we thought, and we'll continue going up from here," he says. "The rest of the healthcare system is so damn complicated and complex that if you really navigate it on your own you're sort of out of luck. So we're your trusted guide to help you through the system, so you can get connected to the right doctors and hospitals." 

    SEE ALSO: These are five of New York's most highly anticipated startups you need to know

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Lily Cole

    In 2013, former supermodel Lily Cole received £200,000 in funding from taxpayer-funded government grants for her tech startup Impossible, a website where people "share skills, services and resources without money as the medium,"according to an interview she gave to the Observer last year

    But it looks like the site is now moving away from "social giving."The Sunday Times, which interviewed Cole, points out that her site is now selling items including £2,200 furniture pieces made from bread (although Impossible says all profit is reinvested into the business).

    Cole is a millionaire supermodel who was the face of iconic fashion campaigns including Chanel and Alexander McQueen. But she has left the catwalk behind to become a technology entrepreneur, launching a "social giving" network called Impossible in 2013.

    Impossible says that it allows people to create their own "kindness" profiles which can help people find jobs or partners. Users can earn "Thanks," a virtual currency used to express gratitude. Advisors to Impossible include Chelsea Clinton, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and "many others who remain nameless, but not thankless."

    An investigation carried out by technology news site The Register in 2014 discovered that Cole's site had been given a total of £200,000 in grants created from UK taxpayer funds. It found that Cole had a net worth of £7 million when she applied for funding for her site. Impossible was given £50,000 from the "Innovation in Giving Fund," followed by £150,000 for demonstrating "Impact at Scale."

    The Sunday Times highlights a new section of Impossible called the shop. It sells products including the £87 "Problems are opportunities" hat and a £2,200 stool made from bread.

    Lily Cole Impossible bread stool

    The bread stool is manufactured from bricks of bread, and is expected to last around four to seven years before "deteriorating into dust."

    In case you wanted to build your own £2,200 bread stool, here's the recipe:

    400 grams of wholemeal flour

    50 grams of salt

    1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

    Bake the bread bricks separately in wooden moulds.

    Cut the bread bricks to size, glue them together and shape them into a stool.

    We reached out to Impossible for comment on this article and will update if we hear back.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    brad feld

    Brad Feld, the founder of both tech incubator Techstars and Boulder-based VC firm Foundry Group, has a message for Silicon Valley.

    In a tweetstorm Monday, Feld warned that just because a company is valued at more than a billion dollars, that doesn't mean it's a "unicorn."

    The term "unicorn" is used today to refer to private tech companies with a $1 billion valuation, but it was originally investor-speak for the rare startup that offers massive returns, and can make an entire fund. 

    A company's valuation is relative and fleeting, and not necessarily indicative of how much it's going to be worth over time.

    As chatter about billion-dollar companies continues, Feld's tweetstorm couldn't have come at a better time. On Monday, health insurance startup Oscar announced that it had just closed a $4145 million round of funding, making it the latest company with a billion-dollar valuation. 

    Here's what he had to say:

    SEE ALSO: A major tech investor says 'a whole bunch of crazy little companies will disappear'

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    Google employees, Googlers, holding balls

    Working at Google may sound like a dream job for most engineers, software developers, designers, and business executives. But the truth is that tons of employees leave the company to pursue their own ideas or to work at small startups.

    Often times, people discover that they may be able to solve a particular problem better or differently than Google, or they leave to work at newer companies that are more specialized in their areas of focus.

    We chatted with three former Google employees that worked in different parts of the company to learn about what it was like to leave such a massive company for startups.

    IrinaBlok

    Irina Blok, a former senior designer at Googlewho created the logo for Android, said things happen a lot faster when you're working for a startup. "We don't have a discussion, we just get things done," she said in a phone interview with Business Insider. Blok is now the creative director at Curbside, a company that lets you order goods through a mobile app and pick them up in person without having to leave your car. "I think it's a very easy transition because Google is so unstructured," Blok said. Even though the transition was easy, the workflow is much different, says Blok, who has also previously worked at Adobe and Yahoo too. "You're not really responsible for the whole thing, you're part of something," she said. "At a startup, you have to wear many different hats." 

    Kamakshi

    Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, who worked at Google for six months after the company acquired AdMob in 2010, is now the founder and CEO of adtech company Drawbridge. The biggest challenge for her when starting her own company from scratch was the fact that most of her experience came from technology, not business, so she had to learn about all of the aspects involved in creating a company such as team building, financing, and more. "There are new experiences that many of us first-time entrepreneurs go through," she told Business Insider in an interview. "The fact that I didn't have entrepreneurial experience didn't deter me from doing this. So the lack of entrepreneurial experience per say shouldn't deter you as long as there's merit to what you're doing." 

    paul adams 740

    Paul Adams, who worked at Google as a senior user experience researcher for three years before leaving to work as a product manager at Facebook, is now the Vice President of Product at Intercom. Adams also said it's a lot easier to get things done in a smaller company. "You just have more autonomy," Adams said in an interview with Business Insider. At Intercom, Adams says his team can release new features to customers every single week, whereas that would be considered a huge project at Facebook or Google. "We can just be more flexible and adaptive," he said. "It's very, very hard and takes a long time, whereas with us it's very fast." 

    SEE ALSO: The startup that wants to take Android 'away from Google' just struck a deal with Microsoft

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    shypShipping packages is a huge headache. So in March 2014, Shyp launched to make the process as easy as taking a picture of what you want to mail, pressing a single button to summon a delivery person, and having your package shipped.

    On Tuesday, Shyp announced that it had raised a $50 million Series B round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with participation from previous investors including Homebrew and Sherpa Ventures, and angel investors like Kevin Rose and Rent The Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman, bringing the startup's total funding to date to $62.2 million.

    In addition, the company says, Kleiner Perkins' John Doerr will join Shyp's board of directors.

    The company also announced the launch of a beta program in Los Angeles, in addition to the three cities where it currently operates: New York, Miami, and San Francisco. The new funding will allow Shyp to continue to expand throughout the US, to grow its team, and to develop new features. (In March, Shyp rolled out a feature for returns.)

    Since its last round of funding in July 2014, the company says it's seeing 20 percent month-over-month customer growth, has "tens of thousands" of customers, and its number of shipments has increased by nearly 500%.

    “This is a momentous day for Shyp. We couldn’t have hoped for a better partner to counsel us as we creatively solve extremely complex problems than John Doerr and the team at Kleiner Perkins,” Shyp's CEO Kevin Gibbon said in a statement.

    In addition to its ease of use, Shyp provides transparency about where your package is along the way, and lets you know when it reaches its intended recipient. Shyp's convenience costs more than a trip to the post office would: you'll be paying $5 per package, plus the cost of shipping. And unlike Postmates, the on-demand courier service, Shyp can send packages globally, like UPS or FedEx. 

    SEE ALSO: We tried Shyp, a startup that sends a delivery person to your house so you'll never have to visit the post office again

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    MOO office London

    London-based company MOO lets customers design business cards and other products online. MOO might not necessarily sound like a tech company, but it's using the digital space to enhance the business of reputation management.

    In 2012, for example, MOO acquired online profile site Flavors.me. The company has also launched a range of Near Field Communication business cards, which are embedded with a microchip. When the cards are touched to a smartphone, it can download contact information and other details. 

    Here are some photos from inside MOO's Old Street offices in London, as well as its printing warehouse in Stratford.

    The London office is a large warehouse-style space in Shoreditch.



    The MOO office is a colourful place.



    Even books in the library are sorted by colour instead of name.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    timehop founders

    If you've spent any time on social media recently, you may have noticed your friends resurfacing old memories, Facebook statuses, and Instagram pictures using an app called Timehop.

    Timehop works by connecting to your social media accounts and other places where your older content is stored, such as your Dropbox photos, iPhone, and more.

    Then, each day, Timehop shows you a snapshot of what you were doing a year ago, two years ago, and even further back, using what Timehop CEO and cofounder Jonathan Wegener calls your "digital archive."

    4SquareAnd7YearsAgo: Timehop's early days

    When Jonathan Wegener and Benny Wong started Timehop in 2011, they were working on a completely different project: a Craigslist replacement. Wong and Wegener — self-proclaimed "Foursquare fanboys"— participated in Foursquare's first-ever hackathon, and they ended up building out a product on top of Foursquare's API that showed users where they checked in on Foursquare a year ago.

    They appropriately called the product, which they built in eight hours, 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo.

    "The original inspiration for it was the ghost in Mario Kart, where you get to race yourself in time trials after you've done a race," Wegener says. "We thought it would be really interesting to do that with your Foursquare checkins."

    Here's Wegener's explanation for how 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo worked:

    "So you'd be friends with a Foursquare account called Maya's Ghost, but Maya's Ghost would be checking into coffee right now a year ago and at dinnertime you'd see your ghost checking in at dinnertime, and we kind of created these virtual beings of where you are around Manhattan and around the world."

    Every day, 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo would send you an email showing you where you checked in a year ago. Wegener and Wong had to beg their friends at the hackathon to try it.

    Dennis Crowley Foursquare

    They saw that people didn't get the idea until they tried it themselves, but once they convinced a few people to check it out, their product grew in popularity from 20 people at Foursquare's hackathon — including Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley — to a few thousand Foursquare users reliving their checkins every day.

    Wegener says he realized 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo's sticking power when he saw the engagement. 70 to 80% of the emails they sent were being opened every day. "It was unreal for an email to have that kind of engagement," he says.

    Then, they saw people doing interesting things with the product.

    "We saw people checking in and chatting to themselves in the  future, saying things like, 'hi, future self!'" he says. "We had one guy who saw that he had run five miles a year ago, so this year on this day he ran six. We saw people being inspired going to beat their ghost, to beat their past selves, to connect with friends they hadn't talked to."

    Within three months, they realized they needed to ditch the Craigslist replacement company and work on 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo full time. After seeing the success of 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, the duo launched a product called PastPost, which let users see their Facebook statuses from a year ago. 

    Wegener says that when they looked around the internet and social media, everyone seemed to be focused exclusively on real time. They realized they could put all your old digital content in one place so that it doesn't get forgotten about.

    Timehop hits its stride

    "Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — it's all the same," he says. "There's a newsfeed at the top and as soon as your content becomes an hour old, a week old, it falls off this cliff of real time, never to be seen again. Timehop exists largely because of those services."

    Timehop started as a daily news digest, but it's since expanded to apps on both Android and iPhone. That's when Timehop hit its stride, Wegener says.

    "I remember at some point we passed Foursquare in the App Store, about a year and a half ago," he said. "And I was like, oh my god, we're outgrowing the company whose hackathon we started at."

    Wegener says Timehop really started to explode about one year ago, when the app shot into the top 50 US iPhone apps. Now, the app is still in the top 100, where it's sat comfortably for about a year. 

    Here's what it looks like when you scroll through Timehop:

    timehop

    Wegener says Timehop, which has 19 employees and is growing, has 15 million registered users, and 7 million of those people open the app every day.

    "That's double the daily readership of the New York Times across all its platforms," he says.

    Timehop is about the old stuff of the internet. Once you make a Facebook status or post a picture on Instagram, it gets forgotten about. But Timehop helps you remember and re-engage with your old memories.

    And, Timehop doesn't see itself as a competitor to any social media platform.

    "Timehop doesn't compete with Twitter or Foursquare or Tumblr," he says. "We're valuable to Twitter and Foursquare and Tumblr.  We help increase the usage of these services. We make these services better."

    What's next?

    Despite its popularity, Wegener says Timehop isn't focused on monetization right now — the company is more concerned with growth and product development.

    "It's not something we're thinking of for this round of funding," he says. "It's something we're thinking about for the longer term. The way we're thinking about it is that all of our energy should be spent on product development because anything else could slow us down. And we've got 15 million users but there's 7 billion people on the planet, so we've got 6.99995 billion to go."

    timehop valentine's day

    It's a service built on reminiscing, and at the end of the day, that's a fundamentally human characteristic, he says. "

    You're leaving these breadcrumbs behind everywhere you go and Timehop can gather them and make use of all these digital archives you're leaving behind and enrich that, and the old archive of content and photos," Wegener says. 

    In addition to showing you what you did on social media on this day in history, Wegener says the company could eventually also be a place for things that aren't just social media posts or photos — one day, you could be shown things like your Uber rides, the songs you listened to on Spotify, your Fitbit data, and even your text messages. 

    To date, Timehop has raised $14 million from investors including Spark Capital, Randi Zuckerberg, O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Kevin Slavin, Techstars, Naveen Selvadurai, Alex Rainert, Steve Martocci, Dennis Crowley, Jared Hecht, and Rick Webb.

    At the end of March, Facebook debuted On This Day, a feature to let you see your old Facebook statuses. People were quick to call it a Timehop clone, but Wegener isn't worried.

    "It's pretty awesome," he says. "We see it as tremendous validation that we're working on something that matters and that makes a difference and making waves and it's a great compliment that they're doing a similar product. And we're not particularly scared because our aim is to get all your digital history — it's much wider than what you did on Facebook a year ago." 

    On April Fool's Day, Timehop had its own tongue-in-cheek response to Facebook's On This Day launch.

    Timehop still has some ties to its 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo roots. Its mascot, Abe, is a time-traveling, animated dinosaur who takes his name from Abraham Lincoln. One of Timehop's most notable characteristics is its quirky, whimsical nature. Abe provides cute, pop culture and news-related facts at the end of each day's Timehop update.

    Timehop's appreciation for the whimsical has manifested itself in other Easter egg-like ways too. On Valentine's Day, for instance, Timehop warned users before surfacing their old posts.

    "It comes from an appreciation for whimsy and for quirky, fun products that connect with people," Wegener says. "It's not a cold, monolithic calculated product — there's a person behind it."

    SEE ALSO: Oscar, a fast-growing startup that wants to shake up healthcare, just raised $145 million at a $1.5 billion valuation

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    Justin Bieber laughing

    Shots, a Justin Bieber-endorsed app that lets users share selfies, has raised $8.5 million in funding from WI Harper Group, Launch Fund, Upfront Ventures, 500 Startups, and Rodney Jerkins.

    Bieber led Shots' $1.1 million seed round last year. He still uses Shots to share selfies with other celebrities, backstage photos at his shows, and pictures of his dog. He also regularly promotes Shots on his Twitter account, which has almost 63 million followers.

    His star appeal no doubt gave Shots — which now has more than 5 million users, the Wall Street Journal reports— a boost: for the first few months of Shots' existence, 90% of Shots users were also following Bieber on Twitter. But now, that number has dropped to less than 10%. And its new funding shows that other investors think the selfie-powered social network has some sticking power. 

    Shots lets users take and share selfies, which are displayed in a feed like Twitter or Instagram. But unlike Instagram, Shots doesn't let users leave public comments. You can only respond to a selfie with a picture of your own. There's no text direct messaging feature. And there's no way to see how many followers another user has.

    Here's what Shots looks like:

    shots app

    Just this week, Shots gave its users the ability to upload 3-second videos and to find nearby friends on the app. Since most of its users are younger — the average Shots user is 16 —its limited features are intentional, preventing cyberbullying and harassment.

    Shots isn't making money yet but cofounder John Shahidi tells the Journal the company has spoken with advertisers who want to reach Shots' young userbase.

    Check out WSJ's story on Shots, by Douglas MacMillion, here.

    SEE ALSO: Every day, 7 million people check out a nostalgia app run by 19 people

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    Deliveroo

    Deliveroo, the London company that lets restaurants start offering takeaway delivery, is expanding its service outside of the UK and into Paris and Berlin.

    The company gives restaurants a tablet and Bluetooth printer, and that's all they need to start taking online orders. Deliveroo handles the packaging, deliveries, booking, and works with venues to establish their online menu.

    Deliveroo raised £16 million in funding in January. Its Series B round was led by Accel Partners, and included investment from Index Ventures, Hummingbird Ventures, and Hoxton Ventures.

    CEO William Shu told Business Insider in January that the company was planning on using its funding on expanding overseas.

    Now, Deliveroo is going to operate a delivery service in Paris and Berlin, as well as London and Brighton where it is currently live. It has signed up over 30 restaurants in Berlin, and over 50 locations in Paris.  

    As well as European cities, Shu said that he was planning on expanding into Gulf states and using some of the money to increase the company's marketing spend and hire more developers.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Günther Oettinger

    The EU is considering setting up a new regulator tasked with overseeing internet companies in Europe, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    Multiple companies are named as potential subjects for "supervision" in an internal policy document seen by the Wall Street Journal, with the majority of them US companies. Just five companies come from outside America.

    The document seen by the Wall Street Journal was created in February 2015, and warns that tech companies are "transforming into super-nodes that can be of systemic importance for the rest of the economy."

    Inside the document, a possible strategy to deal with the growth of tech companies is outlined, the Wall Street Journal says. The document says that Europe needs to create a "supervision framework" designed to prevent unfair behaviour. It also highlights specific companies which may come under investigation, including Amazon, Etsy, TripAdvisor, and booking.com.

    The EU recently kickstarted a formal investigation into Google's dominance of the search engine market in Europe. It filed a Statement of Objections, which outlines concerns that Google was exploiting its dominance to place listings on Google Shopping higher than they would naturally appear.

    Europe is also preparing to launch an investigation into Google's Android operating system, and it will examine whether it tried to prevent manufacturers from creating their own variations of the software (known was "forks"), as well as the way Google services are bundled with Android phones.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    jack smith shyp hustlecon

    Today, Jack Smith may be best known as a former advisor to Shyp, a successful packaging- and mailing-on-demand startup that just raised a sizable $50 million. 

    But back in 2011, he was the cofounder of Vungle, a new London-based video advertising startup looking for seed funding. And when they heard about a new startup accelerator program called Angelpad that was offering $100,000 to young startups, they knew they wanted in.

    The problem was that Angelpad had over 2,000 applications for the one remaining spot. The chances that Vungle's application would even get read, let alone accepted, were slim to none.

    And so, Smith turned to extraordinary measures: Breaking the rules of the then new LinkedIn advertising system to create an appeal for entry into the program that only Angelpad founder and ex-Googler Thomas Korte would see. 

    "Hustle means finding out the rules of the game you're playing and breaking them," Smith told a crowd at today's HustleCon event in San Francisco, where startup founders share successful tactics.

    LinkedIn was the obvious choice for this experiment because it was less crowded than Google or Facebook and easier to target, Smith says.

    Smith went through a trial-and-error process of figuring out what he could get away with in a LinkedIn ad, which is definitely not designed for this kind of individual targeting.

    For example, LinkedIn wouldn't approve any ad with a direct link to Vungle's appeal to get into the Angelpad program, so he used a URL shortener and changed where the link went after it was approved. 

    "I love breaking websites," Smith says.

    More importantly, Smith figured out the hard way that he couldn't target a LinkedIn ad at just one company — in this case, Angelpad — and that the minimum amount was seven companies. Listing Vungle itself as one of the seven, he now had to target it at six other companies.

    Smith opted to aim his ad at Angelpad, as well as a selection of Korte's ex-coworkers, colleagues, and investor friends.

    The ad itself? A big picture of Korte's face:slack_for_ios_upload

    If you clicked it, it took you to a video landing page, where Vungle cofounder Jaffers explained why he thought the company was a great fit for Angelpad:

    slack_for_ios_upload 2 

    Korte's friends who were targeted by the ad all called him, extremely amused by Smith's hustle. He gave in and emailed Vungle back:

    "You got my attention, that's cool, but take it down now," Smith recalls Korte telling him. 

    At the last second — literally days before the Fall 2011 class started — Korte and the Angelpad team took a chance and let Vungle in. The additional wrinkle was that the program needed the company to move to America, permanently, and within those few days it did.

    The punch line to all of this is that because LinkedIn (at that time) let advertisers pay per 1,000 clicks on it, and only Korte had clicked, the cost for them to get into Angelpad — and get that $100,000 — was one single solitary penny. 

    Since then, Smith and Vungle used similar LinkedIn ad tactics to get the now defunct Color Labs as a client, at a cost of $2.78. It worked on Spotify ($16) and Angry Birds developer Rovio ($3.24), too. He says that LinkedIn has since gotten a lot more strict about what it approves, but it was good while it lasted. 

    One time, he recalls, a lawyer threatened to sue, but Smith told him it was fine and that only the company could see it. Smith then asked the lawyer to let him to speak to someone in business development. 

    "And he did," Smith says.

    SEE ALSO: What it's like to build the fastest growing $2 billion startup in history

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    Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle

    If you want to get a tech company off the ground, there are no hacks, no shortcuts, and no substitutes for hard work and scrappiness.

    That was the message, time and time again, at today's second annual Hustle Con event in San Francisco. As you might guess from the name, Hustle Con celebrates the non-technical side of any tech startup — The pluck and grit that can mean the difference between a successful start-up and roadkill. 

    While the details changed from speaker to speaker, the message was the same: When it comes to getting your first customers, get ready to roll up your sleeves. 

    Here are some stories from the morning Business Insider spent at Hustle Con.

    General Assembly

    "Focus your early efforts on building a powerful core of true believers," says Matt Brimer, who co-founded General Assembly, an international coworking space and tech education program with locations in 14 cities. 

    Brimer says that when General Assembly was getting off the ground in 2009, New York City's startup scene was only just getting off the ground. Any founder he met was put on his email list, Brimer says, and he gave personal office tours before its first space was even ready just to make sure people were  on board when General Assembly launched. 

    Those first startups to use the space became General Assembly's best assets: When General Assembly needed funding, instructors for its classes or just some good old advice, Brimer was able to reach out to that network of first-generation users. 

    "If you do well by them, they'll do right by you," Brimer says. 

    Nerdwallet

    For Nerdwallet, a credit card comparison site, the path to accumulating users began with focusing on what it was good at.

    Chen did what most startups do, trying to solicit press and build word-of-mouth. But in 2010, a mention in Money magazine only turned into $300 in revenue, while a story in Lifehacker resulted in $5,000. Both were better than nothing, but neither was great. 

    That led to some changes. Chen realized he had to shut down product development, resigning himself to the fact that for the time being, Nerdwallet would look as pretty as it ever would.

    "You have no idea how horrible that feels," Chen says.

    Instead, Nerdwallet doubled down on SEO. That didn't bring in a huge amount of users, but those who came, via Google, were far more likely to open a credit card. 

    It wasn't great, Chen said, but as a founder "you better let stuff burn if you want to do what you have to do." 

    Teespring

    "There's no silver bullet for user acquisition," says Teespring founder Walker Williams.

    When the t-shirt service was first starting, Williams recalls, the company would go all-out on customer service to make sure everybody was happy.

    The time cost was tremendous. But by focusing on those early users instead of worrying about scaling up, Teespring created a wave of repeat customers who recommended the service to friends. 

    Those first months are precious, Williams stresses. You can't afford to lose time doing it over and over again, so it's better to stay in touch with users and figure out what they want. Otherwise, it's two months later and you're dead.

    "In startups, you're kind of living in dog years," Williams says.

    Meanwhile, Thirdlove, a company that uses a mobile app to measure and deliver more comfortable lingerie to women, found its own success via hiring a PR firm that knows how to work with reporters (whoa, meta), says founder Heidi Zak.

    One last thing

    Hustle Con is, without a doubt, one of the stranger conferences this reporter has ever been to. Check out the Hustle Con "code" below: 

    Slack for iOS Upload 2

    And on Twitter, a reporter for the Verge mentioned an afternoon session included a lesson in "focus" which involved handing out prayer beads to all 500 attendees. 

     

    SEE ALSO: Pandora didn't pay 50 employees for two years

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    MOO office London

    London-based company MOO lets customers design business cards and other products online. MOO might not necessarily sound like a tech company, but it's using the digital space to enhance the business of reputation management.

    In 2012, for example, MOO acquired online profile site Flavors.me. The company has also launched a range of Near Field Communication business cards, which are embedded with a microchip. When the cards are touched to a smartphone, it can download contact information and other details. 

    Here are some photos from inside MOO's Old Street offices in London, as well as its printing warehouse in Stratford.

    The London office is a large warehouse-style space in Shoreditch.



    The MOO office is a colourful place.



    Even books in the library are sorted by colour instead of name.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    There's a celebrated cluster of technology companies in east London, known as Tech City. It is all centered around the Old Street roundabout, giving name to the government's "Silicon Roundabout" initiative.

    But the UK's tech industry is not limited to a section of east London. Many of the people on the list are based outside of London. Some have factories and distribution centers to manage; others spend time in universities and labs.

    This list features some of the most interesting startup founders, CEOs, and investors in the UK tech industry. Within our ranking, we prioritized startup founders over the UK's PR heads, VCs, and tech consultants. However, there are plenty of people without "CEO" in their job title on this list, too.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Ayah Bdeir, littleBits

    Just because you have a prototype, you don't have a product. Trust Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of littleBits, who knows the challenges that it takes to to go from idea to mass market product. 

    LittleBits is a circuitry set that has been stripped of the scary wires and traditional yellow colors and turned into a simple set of modules that anyone from kids to entrepreneurs can use. Some people using littleBits have made everything from a marble sorter to a voice box that plays back a father's recordings.

    But making one of something isn't enough. 

    "The hurdle between a one-off and a mass manufactured product is still pretty big," Bdeir said at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design conference. "Because once you push a button to make 10,000 of something there is no turning back. I think that's a hard lesson that a lof people who have raised money on Kickstarter learned."

    Bdeir found this out when building littleBits. The company wasn't funded on Kickstarter, but Bdeir still faced the challenges of scaling to a manufacturing level.

    One problem Bdeir ran into was the magnetic connector that links the circuits together.

    "This was before the MagSafe came out," Bdeir said. "The idea of putting a magnet in electronics was hard." The machines were metal and you can guess what happened when you tried to put magnets through an assembly line. It took adding a covering to the magnet so it could be injected into the set during the manufacturing process. 

    Bdeir doesn't want to deter would-be entrepreneurs from prototyping, but just to be realistic. "Have the conviction and bake in some time."

    SEE ALSO: The surprising inspiration behind the design of Apple's command key

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