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Kicksend Launches in India; Now Print Photos from Mobile

kicksendWhen was the last time you printed that picture you took from your mobile phone? At the max, you probably Instagrammed it, or shared with friends on social media.

Photo printing service is mainly used by professionals and enthusiasts. Services like  Canvera that cater to this demand are thriving. For those who are living a digital life, Kicksend comes as a handy solution.

Kicksend, the photo printing service based out of California, has launched their photo print mailing service in India. Now customers in India can order photo prints straight from their mobile devices and get them delivered to family or friends anywhere in the country.

All you have to do is choose photos using Kicksend‘s Android, iOS, Windows desktop apps or their website and once the selections and payment transactions are completed, the photos will be printed and shipped to your chosen location.

The company says that its service has been live and successful in the US for over a year and a half, and adding India to their international printing integrations service was of prime importance to them.

The service, Co-founded by  Pradeep Elankumaran who hails from Chennai, is available currently in USA Mexico and Canada, allows non-technical users to easily print photos using their apps or from the web and have them delivered in days directly to any doorstep.

Kicksend appWith the India launch, users in the country will have access to the similar service they provide in the USA. Kicksend’s print service in India is home-delivery only and prints are delivered in less than four days (usually 2 days) via courier, to any address, anywhere in the country.

Prints can be ordered in sizes ranging from 4X6”, which costs Rs 15.49 each, all the way 8X10”, which costs Rs 131.40 each. Standard shipping takes 5-7 days and costs Rs 52.93.

When we tried using the service, the web app offered to ship for free on the purchase of 10 prints. But the same was not the case with the Android app, where we were being charged a total of Rs 68.42 for getting a single print shipped and delivered.

Update: The service does not provide free shipping in India as of now.

Users will also be able to send albums of full-resolution photos digitally to any email address or phone number and the recipient can choose to save them to their devices or print for themselves.

As India is being integrated into the international print network, users in the US will also be able to print photos to India and vice versa. A feature that will be really helpful and cost effective to Indians living in the USA wanting to send photos prints to family and friends back home.  The service also supports printing to Canada and Mexico.

Earlier in August this year, Hewlett- Packard owned digital photo sharing and printing company Snapfish shut down its services in India along with Belgium, Netherlands and Spain.

Kicksend, founded in 2011 by Pradeep Elankumaran and Brendan Lim, is based out of Silicon Valley in California and is funded by True Ventures, Y Combinator and Digital Garage.

Q. At these printing costs, will customers in India prefer the local brick and mortar print service to the online mail delivered service?

AKG Technologies Launches Facebook Ad Tool adSpringr Based on Wharton Professor’s Auto Bidding Algorithm

adspringrPhiladelphia based AKG technologies has launched adSpringr, a tool to help increase the scale, performance and return on investment of Facebook Ad Campaigns.

The tool uses an Algorithmic Bidding, an auto-bidding algorithm written by Dr. Kartik Hosanagar, a professor of Internet Marketing at The Wharton School and CoFounder at Yodle.

Dr. Hosanagar says “The algorithm compute bids in real-time based on multiple factors including targeting settings, click-through rates, conversion rates, CPA, conversion quality, virality, etc., thereby serving the advertiser and achieving best ROI.”

The company developed the adSpringr tool using the $350,000 it raised through angel round from investors in the US, UK and Turkey. The round was led by Prof. David Bell from The Wharton School and Prof. Michael Wolf from University of Zurich.

The tool is  now available at a special launch pricing, where the advertiser will only pay a small percentage of the money saved by using the tool.

AKG’s product arm has also developed NyooTV, a Social Bollywood entertainment platform. The services division at AKG, SocioSquare provides premium social media management to companies like Zee Group, The Mobilestore, 99acres.com, FirstSource Global, DBS Bank and others.

Compass Launches Tool For Startup CEOs to Track Metrics that Matter

Compass_logoFacing a 90% failure rate, startup CEOs have to deal with multiple key challenges from acquiring users to penetrating markets, while nearly 80% focus on one of 3 primary metrics to guide success, according to a new report.

While slightly more than half (55%) of startup CEOs are focused on one of three issues at any one moment i.e acquiring new users, improving the product or creating the right balance of staff and corporate culture, many other difficult tasks compete for their attention, from penetrating new markets to raising money to pricing strategies and beyond, the research by Compass.co says. The report is based on a survey of more than 800 startup CEOs.

The benchmarking solutions company Compass, previously known as StartupCompass and Startup Genome, has launched a new solution for startups and software companies to solve this problem. The new tool, Compass.co, will help users identify issues, set and prioritize objectives, allocate resources and control results.

The tool comes with a contextual dashboard that aggregates a company’s critical data from more than 30 cloud-based sources, including Google Analytics, Salesforce, Mailchimp, Quickbooks, Mixpanel and PayPal, as well as direct inputs.

In the future the company plans to add more industry specific benchmarks, like average shopping card size for e-commerce or DAU/MAU for games, high resolution benchmarks for filtering aspects like customer acquisition cost etc. and additional data sources to the tool.

Compass is headquartered in San Francisco, CA, and is also the author of the reports like The Startup Genome Report.

500 Startups Batch 7 Announced; SilverPush From India Makes It

US based accelerator 500 Startups has announced its latest batch. SilverPush, a mobile advertising company from India is one of the 30 startups selected for the accelerator program.

Silverpush helps advertisers retarget the existing users over mobile and social networks. We’d written about them in detail sometime ago (Read how Silverpush is making mobile ads easy). The company, founded by Hitesh Chawla and Mudit Seth, was earlier part of the GSF Accelerator. 500 Startups Batch 7

The new batch has 30 companies from many countries including Sweden, UK, Mexico, India and Brazil. The startup accelerator also made its first investment in the biotech sector. uBiome, a microbiome sequencing company made it to this batch.

Here’s a look at the companies that made it to the 500 Startups Batch 7

3Sourcing: A search engine that helps people find, connect with and hire technical talent.

AdEspresso: SaaS to manage and optimize Facebook Ads for SMBs and media agencies.

Anyadir Education: Social recruitment solution for universities.

Bounty Hunter: A contest platform for brands to run creative contests.

Buzzstarter: A distribution as a service (DAAS) platform that takes content from an advertiser, creates a value reward for sharing, and then has the brands’ most ardent followers make it go viral.

BTCJam: A peer to peer bitcoin lending platform.

Builk: Digitizes the construction industry by providing free SaaS for small and medium contractors.

Carreira Beauty: Destination site for Beauty Professionals.

Cityblis:  eCommerce platform to discover unique fashion brands.

EquityZen: A stock market for private companies. Shareholders get cash for their stock and small investors
access investments in large private firms like Warby Parker, ZocDoc, and DropBox.

Goods: A platform designed for the modern wholesaler. Goods provides a service that enables any wholesaler to accept B2B transactions, manage inventory, and create digital catalogs.

Grata: Live, ondemand travel concierge on your smartphone.

LaunchTrack: Intelligent ticketing that turns each ticket into an opportunity to build a relationship with simple communication tools, analytics, and reporting.

MailLift: Twilio for handwritten letters. Real handwritten letters, automated for enterprises. The $42B direct mail industry just got personal.

OLSET: A proactive virtual travel agent that saves travelers time and automatically finds them the best hotels based on their preferences.

Partender: Via a few taps and swipes on iOS, Partender brings bars into the 21st century and reduces the time it takes managers to do bar inventory from 6 hours to 15 minutes or less.

PlateJoy: Creates personalized weekly menus based on health goals, lifestyle, and dietary preferences.

Popbasic: Designs and manufactures limited edition micro collections for women. Each collection includes three pieces of clothing and accessories, sold as a set for under $100 with free worldwide shipping.

Populr: A micropublishing platform that helps business people easily deliver information through single web pages.

RealtyShares: An online investment platform that uses crowdfunding to pool investors into private real estate investments.

Sales Beach: Automates your outbound sales. With our technology, you can send personalized emails to hundreds or thousands of possible contacts in your target industry and turn responses into meetings.

Shopeando: Online retailer for unbranded products in Latin America.

Shopseen: Simplifies running a retail business and help merchants reach more customers.

Sidelines: Crowdsource and deliver comments to improve the quality and engagement potential of discussion/comment sections on sports websites.

uBiome: Direct-to-consumer microbiome sequencing company.

ViralGains: Viral Marketing at scale through technology that measures how consumers watch, share, and talk about video content.

WePlann: Way to discover and book unique vacation experiences.

WishPlz: A web and mobile shopping app that lets you bookmark any product, from any retailer website, and get alerted when the price drops.

Zboard: Designs, builds, and sells the ZBoard WeightSensing Electric Skateboard.

Full announcement here.

Travelling Abroad? Use Suggestme to Get Personalized City Maps Home Delivered Before You Start

To make the best of a place you are travelling to, its probably a good idea to know what’s going on there. You need a map. You need information. Maps are available in plenty. But real time information is scarce. A good place to start would be the social media. But then, information on social media is disorganized and there is way too much happening on it to be of any help. This is where Netherlands based startup Suggestme comes into the picture.

Suggestme allows you to discover and organize things to do in a particular destination from which you can generate your own personal travel guide, have it printed and shipped to you before your journey. To make your trip unique, the website will scour the social media to give you information on exactly what is happening in a city. It also gives you the regular- most famous sights and things to do.Suggestme

Its founder Henk Jan Bijmolt says that no two travel guides will be the same ever because the site constantly adapts and evolves in line with social media mentions. Suggestme uses information from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram through their APIs.

To make money, the bootstrapped startup sells printed maps and offers white label services. In future, the idea is to get businesses to pay to be on the site. The startup, with an 8 member team, is working on city maps to include detailed public transport information as well.

“It is not our goal to have 100 destinations live in one moment, we would much rather that we offer top quality information before moving on to more cities,” said Henk Jan Bijmolt, who sold his previous company Cleafs to affilinet. Currently, it operates in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Istanbul, London, New York, Paris, Prague, Rome and Stockholm. This month, the company has plans to go live in Lisbon, Vienna, and Athens.

We think the service is extremely useful. A mobile app would have been a nice addition. Startups like Trip38 operate in the same space.

Ex Googlers Want to Put the Zen in Driving by Quantifying the Experience; Jerry Yang, Max Levchin Back the Startup

At a coffee joint on the outer ring road in Bangalore, where a major traffic jam two weeks ago had held up thousands of vehicles, I’m being asked a fundamental question : If a driver’s happiness can be quantified could it be improved? Ex Googlers Jonathan Matus and Pankaj Risbood think so.Zendrive Jonathan Matus Pankaj Risbood

“Driving is a broken experience. It is something we all do but it is stressful, boring and dangerous,” says Jonathan, an American-Israeli who has teamed up with Bangalore based Pankaj to start a company called Zendrive. The duo want to quantify the driving experience and apply technology to bring down the elements that make the driver miserable.

Jonathan,32, isn’t ready to talk about the specifics of the product yet. But the company has already raised $1.5 mn from First Round Capital, Paypal co-founder Max Levchin, Yahoo’s founder Jerry Yang and author Tim Ferriss.

But driving is a complex problem and how on earth do you quantify happiness?  

“Imagine a formula where there are parameters that contribute to making the experience negative and we go tackling them,” says Jonathan, President & CEO, Zendrive. The idea is to break down the problem into many quantifiable parts like the amount of time a driver spends on the road, the amount of time the car is going slower than it can, the time at which the driver leaves home among other things and optimize them.

Both Jonathan and Pankaj have worked on big problems before. The duo worked on Google’s speech recognition project which is now part of Google’s voice search. As Jonathan moved on to the initial team which built the Android operating system and spent nearly five years there before joining Facebook, Risbood was taking on data infrastructure at Google Compute project and later at Walmart Labs.

“The space we want to be is to take insights and data and help people with better experience,” says Jonathan as he points out how his UP wristband by Jawbone tracks the sleep pattern and helps improve his life. “If I know that I have had only a couple of hours of deep sleep, it is probably a good idea to catch a nap so that I can work better,” he says. Max Levchin, one of the investors in the startup is a proponent of the quantified self.

There are large companies looking at similar problems. Google with driverless cars, Ford with its “cars are computing platforms,” theory, Nissan with the Nismo smartwatch and others are trying to make cars smarter. “We love the companies that share our vision. But any solution that is married to a car is flawed by definition,” says Jonathan, who learned at Facebook and Google that mobile phones can be one of the most frictionless ways of distributing Zendrive’s solutions.

“We are more about the person in the drivers seat. Car companies are more about smarter cars,” says Pankaj, a data geek. Zendrive will focus on markets with a large smartphone penetration to begin with. The startup has built a lot of “piping under the hood,” and is adding engineers to its growing team. Meanwhile, designers and researchers employed by the company are interviewing drivers to understand their pain points.

Get Rid Of Bookmark Clutter With FavSync, an Automatic Bookmark Organizer

favsyncMost of our bookmark folders are cluttered with link and at times it becomes difficult to find the wanted links amongst this clutter. It takes time and patience to organize bookmarks, and most of us are lazy or don’t feel the necessity to do it.

This is where FavSync, a Belgium based startup, with its automatic bookmark categorization comes into play. The service helps us maintain our bookmarks lists as short and categorized as possible.

FavSync takes your long lists of uncategorized bookmarks, categorizes them, stores them on the cloud and presents them to you in a clear way that is accessible from anywhere and any device. It also allows you to easily share and sync groups of bookmarks with other users. More like a DropBox for bookmarks.

Existing bookmarks managers solves problems for a specific types of bookmarks, in this case FavSync tries to provide solution for all your bookmarking needs.

The product offers a number of tools for organizing your bookmarks, other than just collecting them, like you can hide your bookmarks, publish them, assign keyboard shortcuts, clean dead, unused and duplicate bookmarks, archive bookmarks, search inside bookmarks without opening them and more.

Favsyn features

FavSync add-on for browsers allows you to add or import bookmarks directly from the browser and access bookmarks from anywhere. The add-ons are available for both Chrome and Firefox at their addon stores.

The service currently has 1200 users and is growing everyday. In the bookmark management space it competes with service like Zootool, Delicious, Bookmax.net, Symbaloo, FaveBucket and knowledge management tool like Diigo.

The company has planned different revenue models for different audience. A Competitive Suggestions model through which the service will suggest a competitor’s websites to the added bookmark. For example, you will get a suggestion of CNN when you add BBC or any other website CNN asks to be suggested. A Premium model for more professional users with lots of bookmarks or big organizations that need to collect bookmarks together in a massive scale.

In the future the service plans to build a gamification concept on the website through which users will gain points for accomplished tasks and will get free premium features accordingly.

Some new premium features are also being planned, like an option to take a snapshot of your FavSync page to restore it later, undo button, unlimited users you can sync categories with and others.

Rate Everything & Make Informed Choices With Social Scoring Service Bugscore

BugscoreImagine, if you had access to a platform that can rate a product, an establishment or a personality based on your experience or other attributes? And what if you could see what others think or have to say about something your are interested in before hand? Meet Bugscore, a crowd sourced social rating platform, that helps you make informed choices.

London based Bugscore, allows you to score and compare any person, establishments or other products from around the world on a range of attributes, across time. The crowd sourced rating system rates them on score ranging from 0-100.

You can score and compare celebrities, actors, politicians,  and other individuals like your friends. You can do the same for establishments like companies, restaurants, hotels, schools, colleges, etc and products like apps, vehicles, foods, gadgets, fashion, accessories, movies etc.

The service also shows you links between people, such as friends, relatives, colleagues etc. In case of products it can show you substitutes and in case of establishments, show you competitors, clients, subsidiaries etc.

You can score on the platform by simply visiting the portal or by adding the Bugscore button on your website, an easy way to be scored. Adding a button on your website can be done for free.

Signing up and creating a profile is free. Once you sign up you are automatically a part of the ‘Earn As You Bug'(EASYB) incentive program, through which you will be rewarded points everytime you add and score profiles or invite other onto Bigscore.

When you perform a search on the Bugscore website, the results displayed are based on the preferences of the people you know on the network.

According to the portal, it has more than 5000 users and about 500,000 API calls in a month. The startup plans to generate revenues through subscription access to their data-portal and ad-portal and also through sale of some of the special consumer report they plan to compile.

German industrial giant, Pfeiffer Vacuum has joined the scoring platform, listing over 800 of its products on the platform.

The service just recently launched the Personal Score Card and Score button. Soon the startup is launching Bugscore Blast and Personal Tastes Report.

The service will come in especially handy in case of establishments or products, by figuring out how well you have scored. Similarly before making a purchase, the service can help you figure out how others have score on your choice compared to the rival product.

The effectiveness of the platform will be ascertained by the reliability of its scoring database. Once this problem is taken care of, the platform should be able to succeed well, after all most of us like know what the social crowd things before making a decision.

Broken Links Suck, SpringTrax Can Fix it For You

Broken links suck. If you run a website, you’d know. You could be losing traffic or even potential customers. Most tools out there are will only find broken links on your website, but Denver based startup SpringTrax will not only find them but also fix them.

springtraxThe extent of the broken link problems increase when you have a website with constantly changing content. For instance, an e-commerce site where products are added and deleted regularly.

SpringTrax tries to analyze broken links from a user standpoint. Other than just providing a list of broken links, the service also tells you where the broken links were found and what people did on the website after encountering the ‘not found’ error.

Some of the most common reasons for broken links;

  • Old or outdated bookmarks. When content on pages changes so does the links on the website and outdated bookmarks will lead to a broken link.

  • Incorrect URL shares. When URLS are shared over social networks or otherwise, even a slight change in the spelling or ‘/’ can lead to a broken link.

  • Other websites pointing to broken links. When you have a backlink to your site that is outdated or not updated, they will lead to a broken link.

springtrax features

How SpringTrax works

The service monitors a website’s traffic to see what broken links visitors encounter. A simple crawl tool can only tell you about broken links on the website that crawl tool crawls. Broken links on your site only account for a small segment of the broken links visitors encounter from all sources combined. So, you need to do more than use a crawl tool. To help with this SpringTrax will tell you not just about those broken links on your site that visitors encounter, but also the links from everywhere else.

Also since the service monitors your website traffic, it can also tell you about what people do after reaching an error page. Do people stay on your site or do they leave your site? Most people who encounter a 404 error page leave that website altogether. Depending on how many people reach a 404 error page, you can get an idea of how much traffic is being lost.

SpringTrax will also give a recommendations on how to fix a broken link. For example they will tell you that broken link yoursite.com/some-dead-product-page needs to be redirected to yoursite.com/a-good-product-page.

The service also provides an interesting feature which will send alert emails when you suddenly get more traffic to a 404 page.

The pricing for the service starts at $9 per month for monitoring two website. You can see the pricing plan details here.

It is a great tool for fixing broken links and If you are a website owner give the service a try or recommend it to a friend who has a website.


This Startup Coverage is part of NextBigWhat’s ‘India. Get Independent. #StartupCampaign’, supported by Canaan Partners and Shopify India. During this campaign, NextBigWhat will profile upcoming startups. If you want to have your startup featured, please submit details here.]

Skift raises undisclosed funding from Times Internet

New York based travel intelligence and information portal, Skift, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Times Internet Limited. skift

Satyan Gajwani, CEO, Times Internet, has confirmed the development though he declined to disclose the amount of investment.  It is a part of Skift’s last fundraising round, he said. No one from TIL will be joining the board of Skift.

Satyan, on being asked why he chose a travel business to invest in as TIL does not have any related venture in Travel as of now, he said, “Skift is about a lean new media company, travel happens to be the category. We are impressed with their ability to build a high quality digitally savvy media company”

Skift, which offers news, information, data and services related to travel, raised $1.1 million of funding in May this year in a round led by Lerer Ventures with participation from a group of eight angel investors along with seed funds Ironfire Angel, MESA+, Advancit Capital and Grow lab+LX Ventures.

Rafat Ali, Founder, CEO, Skift told us in an email, “Awesome to have T-Labs/Times Internet as an investor. One of the largest media and Internet companies in the world, lots to learn from them and use their help in expanding, possibly into India in the future”.

Earlier this month, TimesCity, a venture by Times Internet Limited (TIL) acqu(h)ired “Gawbl” an Android based app which suggests food based on the user’s mood. In December 2012, Times Internet group invested in Social commerce site, Fab.com.

Recommended Read : Startups are Riding the Change in Domestic Travel in India; It’s all About Adventure

Disclosure: Times Internet is an advertiser at NextBigWhat.

African Startup SafariDesk Wants You To See What Africa Is Really About

SafarideskExperience based travel is not just a trend we are seeing in India, it’s happening around the world. SafariDesk, is an African startup, which provides offbeat experiences and luxury travel. The company, backed by Kenya’s Savannah Fund, is a marketplace which connects travellers and service providers.

From meeting his co-founder on Twitter to exhausting the generosity of his parents and having to sleep on his best friends floor, Irvine Ndwiga, Co-Founder of SafariDesk has a great story to tell. Edited Excerpts.

How did you start on the idea?

Ever since my days in high school, when MySpace was a really big deal, I always dreamt founding a tech startup. Then in 2010, when I was studying in Perth, Western Australia I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing mentors who encouraged me to make the leap. So one day, after months of going through a bunch of ideas that weren’t really great, I was at a coffee meeting with one of them and we got to talking about what fun stuff there was to do in Kenya. The chat soon turned into a discussion of the viability of making Africa more accessible online. That’s the day I decided to seriously explore travel in Africa. Initially I just wanted to have an online tour operator, but after seeing how inefficient the existing industry model was, I decided to try and do things differently. That meant trying to see where travel would be in about 10 years or so and trying to make it happen. That’s what lead to me starting work on the idea of SafariDesk itself in March 2011; A collaborative travel platform that made it really easy to connect travellers with the perfect deals for the best travel experiences in Africa.

Tell us about yourself and how you met your co founder?

I was born and raised in Kenya. My parents were the first one’s in their families to go to university so from a very young age I understood the value of education. While in high school I decided I wanted to go to university abroad so that I could be exposed to more of the world. Somehow in 2008, right around the time I found out about Hacker News and Y Combinator, I started losing interest in the hard core tech side of life and I decided to get into figuring out how to leverage tech to create a viable startup. That’s when I switched to a Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurship which was a pretty new course at my school. It turned out to be great!

I met my co-founder Paul Hunkin through Twitter in August 2012. We’d both applied for the Savannah Fund accelerator and when the coding test was sent out, he solved it in about 20 minutes. Savannah Fund tweeted about it and I was just astounded. I decided to find out who this coding ninja was. Fortunately, he’d tweeted them back. Within an hour, I’d reached out to him and we set-up a Skype call. The call was about 2 hours and by the end of it, we’d decided to both work on SafariDesk.

When did you start building the product and when did you go live?

I started working on some initial concepts way back in 2011. When we settled into the Savannah Fund accelerator in November 2012 we used these as the foundation for the platform. We went through several iterations based on user feedback and finally launched our beta mvp in May 2013. It took us a pretty long time to get it out since we had to build the entire platform from the ground up as we weren’t relying on traditional Global Distribution Systems for our inventory like most travel startups do.

What destinations do you showcase currently?

Currently we’re focused on showcasing East Africa with the primary focus being on Kenya.

Why Africa?

It’s just how it happened. SafariDesk was meant to streamline travel in Kenya. But it was soon evident that any solutions that worked for Kenya would work for the entire continent.

What were the initial challenges?

I started working on this alone in 2011. My skills in coding were not amazing so my first concern was raising funds to get someone to develop an mvp for me. I’m grateful that my parents helped were able to lend me some money to get the ball rolling. I had a very minimal mvp developed in 2011 but it never saw the light of day. It ended up being a very expensive lesson. I learnt then that I needed a technical co-founder and spent a lot of time networking trying to find one in Perth. As you can imagine, not very many people were very keen on going to do a startup in Africa. The biggest barrier was of-course money. Having exhausted my parents generosity, I started looking for angel investors in Perth starting off with some of my mentors. That didn’t work out too well I have to say. They wanted to see a working product and traction, but I need the money to make that happen. It was a classic catch 22. Right before SafariDesk got accepted into the Savannah Fund accelerator, things were looking pretty bleak as I spent about 20 weeks sleeping on my best friends floor. Any money I had coming my way I spent trying to push things forward with SafariDesk.

Basically starting off by myself with limited technical ability, no technical co-founder and no money was pretty challenging.

What other services do you provide?

So what we’re doing at the moment is identifying local tour operators that have identify with our vision and we’re working with them to handle logistics. We have some amazing partners who handle everything from when a clients lands in Kenya to when they leave.

You recently raised funds?

So we raised 25K from Savannah Fund when we joined the accelerator. I always knew raising tech focused VC money was the way to go for SafariDesk due to the very audacious vision at it’s core. Actually we’re currently raising another round.

What are your plans for expansion?

We’re finding that most of the encountering in the African market are actually present in a lot of places worldwide. If our solutions prove to be scalable enough, then we’ll definitely make a play for other regions. I have tons of friends from India and they think SafariDesk could be quite useful there.

You guys accept Bitcoins. What made you integrate Bitcoin payments?

There’s been a lot of interest in Bitcoins over the past few years and it made sense for us to have it as an option. Online payments are still not as widespread in Africa and we think the adoption of bitcoins would be an awesome solution around this.

Are there any payments done from Bitcoins yet?

Not at the moment. But we’ve certainly had some people ask about it.

What traction have you seen so far?

We currently have 77 high end properties on the platform and are scrambling to bring on about 90 more. The number increases significantly when we factor in all the other mid market destinations and offers. The explosive growth of our Facebook page is also a testament to the growing interest in what we stand for despite being a very early stage startup.

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Recommended Read : Startups are Riding the Change in Domestic Travel in India; It’s all About Adventure

Launching Something? Get Your Website Peer Reviewed on Criticue

CriticueIf you are a bootstrapped company, a web designer or a startup, you would know how difficult it is to get a feedback on your website unless you are established or known in the space. There are paid reviewers and other such services available but when you are on a limited budget you might not be able to afford it. This doesn’t mean you can let reviews take a backseat, as it is always helpful to have another set of eyes examine your design.

Criticue.com, based in Poland, is trying to resolve this in a way that is mutually beneficial to you and other entrepreneurs or bootstrapped companies in the community. It is a website feedback exchange site that will help you exchange feedback and critique your web designs among a community of web designers, startup owners and other entrepreneurs.

A flawed and unintuitive design can negatively affect the website traffic. You would also want to get feedback from peers before your portal goes live to public, as it is represents your company or startup on the internet.

This way you can be ensured that none of the basic and other design requirements are left off  from the website. The service has a fair one-for-one policy according to which, for one site you review, you get one review of your own website.

How the service works

To begin with you don’t have to sign up and you just need to submit your website url on the portal, then the service will automatically take a snapshot of the page you submitted for feedback. The service also lets you upload a snapshot of the url manually. Before you can get reviews and feedback on your site, you need to review a portal submitted by another user in the community, this is the next step.

In this step you will have to submit your post design, usability and optimization feedback to the portal you are reviewing. Once this is over, you website is sent out for a similar review and you will receive the feedback on it. Once the critique and feedback are received, you can make the suggested changes if you like.

You can also start a follow-up conversations with your reviewers, that way you can continue exchanging ideas and feedback. By ensuring that the you review another site before the one you submitted is reviewed, will make sure that the community remains active and free of leechers.

The service also checks that feedback is spam-free. All reviews are moderated so you won’t get bot or human generated spam.

Future Plans

Currently you can only get reviews by doing a review for another portal, but in the future the service plans to offer a pay per review service also. A model for cross-selling of products and services targeted at people is also planned.

The service will be competing with feedbackroulette.com  and other similar free service. Portals like conceptfeedback.com and a few others who offer a paid review model can also become competition once the service starts to charge for reviews, in the future.

In the next iteration of the service, the company plans to add a plan to buy reviews in packs of 5 or more. Another major focus will also be on turning the community into a more effective one by giving more ways website authors can help each other and communicate about their products and websites.

Services like this will help small bootstrapped startups and companies. That doesn’t mean that bigger or larger companies should not use the service. After all a second opinion is always a good one to have.

Soundice Lets You Listen to All Your Favorite Tunes Ad Free

One of my favorite pass times is listening to music online and the place I usually head to is YouTube. Not only because it contains almost all the songs but also because I can watch the music videos.  But the problem is, search is not the best experience and I end up with unrelated videos being thrown in my face. While that is sort of tolerable what I can’t stand are the ads.

There are a couple of web services which help you skip these things, and we have covered two of them –  Yougle and FMGem – before and found them to be excellent but with the user interface lacking. A similar service called Soundice by a duo from Poland seems to have solved that issue. The team has spent over a year on designing and developing the website.

Soundice is a music player application accessible via the web browser, that users can use for free, without any limits and in-ads. It has readymade radio chart playlists and also gives you a way to create your own. Perfect for queuing up music for a long day.

The site itself is very fast and responsive. The search functions works like a charm and sorts out results by songs, artists, playlists and also users. You can add songs directly from here into your playlist queue.

soundice-screenshot

Like other music services, Soundice also allows you to save your favorite artists, songs and playlist so you need not search later.

One issue that some users might have is that since it relies on video to play music, there may be some amount of buffering involved but users can choose the quality from 240p to 1080p  by using the gear icon. In future this will be done automatically.

The project was developed by Hubert Kowalczyk, who is the UX/UI designer and Marcin Sadowski who handles the programming for the website.

In future, the developers plan to introduce more languages, add more radio listings and also add music channels based on genres/styles, like 80’s, POP, Metal, HIP-HOP, Love, Classic, etc.

They are also working on a music recommendation engine which will suggest artists you might like.

While you can presently share playlists and also have your own profile pages, the site is looking at building a community of people that want to listen to music and share favorite songs/playlists with others so that there is interaction between users over time.

They also plan to release mobile dedicated and SmartTV applications soon.

So if you’re in the mood for some Doors, Coldplay or Beatles, head on over to Soundice and sit back and relax to your favorite tunes.

Startup Lessons from Israel : Yiyeh B’seder [It’ll be ok!]

Tel Aviv : The Israeli Startup Ecosystem
Image Credit: Spencer Waldron

Six years ago I landed in Tel Aviv with no job, no idea about the country at all, and not the faintest idea about what I was going to do to earn money. I was a total outsider – British, not Jewish and no idea how to speak the language.

I knew that Israel was famous for successful startups (Waze being the most recent) and having cutting edge R&D centers of many of the world’s largest companies, such as IBM, HP and SAP to name a few.

I started with learning Hebrew and enrolled on an intensive course studying 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 5 months. Outside of this, I got a job in a start-up in Tel Aviv working after Hebrew school until late at night which was my first real introduction to the ecosystem.

I went on to work in a medical device company but eventually after about a year in the country I decided it was time to break out on my own and I co-founded a marketing agency that specialized in helping Israel start-ups and high-tech companies market themselves abroad.

Over the next few years I met and worked with hundreds of start-ups and high tech companies and learned a lot along the way. I heard and saw many different start-up ideas, some of them I thought were amazing but didn’t have a good team in place, some had a great team but a weak idea and then, a little over a year ago, I met someone who I truly respected as a business person and had an idea that really spoke to me as a small business owner.

I quickly agreed to became one of the co-founders of Zoostr, a SaaS start-up that provides a free to use business software for micro & small businesses in India for finance, marketing and CRM.

I’ve found that Israel and India are pretty similar in some respects when it comes to the whole start-up world. Both are quick to accept new people, have a tough environment to operate in and have a natural flare for business and innovation – it’s a case of getting on with it despite the obstacles of your environment.

Israel has the highest density of tech start-ups in the world and they consistently attract more venture capital than anywhere else in the world. There are more companies on the NASDAQ than any country outside the U.S., more than all of Europe, Japan, Korea, India, and China combined. So why is it? Why does Israel have such a flare for start-ups and what can you learn from them?

A bit of History

To understand the Israel start-up world you have to understand a bit of history. Israel started as one big start up when lots of people came to settle here more than 60 years ago. There wasn’t a lot of anything back then, no natural resources to speak of and in order to survive they had to be extremely innovative, especially in agriculture. So they acted, in a way, like a startup –bootstrapped, with a passion for an idea and just worked extremely hard at making it work.

Along the years, this constant need to adapt & innovate or die grew an inherent culture and mind set of “we can do it”. Whereas in most countries people may stop at the thought of doing something like start their own business because it seems very risky. In Israel this attitude is much less prevalent.

Israeli attitude

Israelis who create start-ups or work in start-ups tend to have similar traits – confidence, tenacity, determination, passion and curiosity. They have a habit of making things happen fast and you’ll probably hear something like “Don’t worry about the detail, just get on with it. We’ll work the rest out as we go along.”

There is a very famous saying in Hebrew which you will hear a lot – “Yiyeh B’seder” which translates as – “it’ll be ok”. Challenges or obstacles just seem smaller or non-existent to most Israelis.  They just give it a try and think “Yiyeh B’seder”. These two words explain a lot about the psyche of a start-up founder in Israel.

Another famous word in Hebrew is “Chutzpah” which is tough to explain but is another important element in the success of a lot of start-ups. It is a mixture of having the guts to try or the nerve to do something that others would consider impossible or foolish plus disregarding the rules with a certain type of arrogance that is unique to Israelis and which is less negative than the word arrogance implies.

So what can you learn from Israeli Entrepreneurs?

David & Goliath

Learn to be excited and not scared by the whole David and Goliath situation. Have a passion for taking on the industry giants and take market share from underneath them. As a startup you are agile and have the ability to move and make decisions very fast. You should be dancing around large corporations who are slow, sluggish and can’t match you for speed. Use this to your advantage.

Tackle challenges

Tackle challenges head on. When you are up against the wall and it seems the fight is lost, innovate your way out of it. Try 20 things in succession and jump on the one that has the headroom to work. Israelis are very good an innovating when the pressure is really on.

Don’t fear change

Don’t fear change. Learn to thrive on constant change and uncertainty. Use it to your advantage. If you are an Entrepreneur then change IS your business. As soon as things haven’t changed for a while, start wondering why and look to how they can!

Don’t be satisfied

Don’t be satisfied with anything. Always question the status quo, your product, the market, the competition – everything. Break things down and make them better. Have a belief that it can ALWAYS be better.

Learn to network better

Israelis are exceptional networkers. Everybody knows someone who can help and it’s perfectly ok to go and ask for help. But this works both ways – you need to go help others out also. It’s this “we’re in it together” approach that brings big benefits for all involved.

At the end of the day, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to succeeding as an Entrepreneur. It’s a mix of hard work, tenacity, passion and a healthy dose of luck and having the right idea at the right time.

You can learn a lot from Israeli startups and likewise they can learn a lot from Indian entrepreneurs!

[About the Author: Spencer Waldron is the CMO of Zoostr.com, a free to use SaaS for micro and small businesses in India. With Zoostr you can create price quotations, invoices and purchase orders, as well as track payments, create SMS marketing campaigns and schedule meetings.  For a free account click here.]

- Recommended Read : Sri Lankan Startup Ecosystem

A Look at LinkLk and How Sanath Fernando is Creating Platform Business in Sri Lanka

I earlier covered the rise of Sri Lanka as a startup hub and one of the key drivers of this growth is the set of people who returned from Silicon Valley and have brought a great product culture to the country.

One such individual is Sanath Fernando. Sanath runs LinkLK platform  and is driving change at a much deeper level.

LinkLk is essentially a platform play that has launched services like FinanceLK (Mint for SL), CabsLK  (online cab booking service), SportsLK  and TicketsLK  (online ticketing service). Importantly, Sanath is incubating a team of entrepreneurs who are taking the LinkLK platform to different verticals.

Sanath left Sri Lanka for the United States in 1988 due to the political strife in Sri Lanka that led to the closing of local universities. 

I had completed my GCE A/L in 1986 and gained admission to the University of Moratuwa, but only attended 1 day of classes in the next 2 years. During this time I did some part time internships and towards the mid/latter part, worked on gaining admission to US Universities. I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship from an Ivy League institution – the University of Pennsylvania. There I was able to get a B.S.E & M.S.E in Electrical Engineering and a B.S.Economics from the Wharton School during the next five years.

He then spent a couple years after graduation, doing hard core engineering work but then moved on to a Wall Street career.

I spent over a decade in Wall St. related jobs, finally serving as Managing Director of Charles Schwab Capital Markets. During 2005/2006, my wife & I decided that we wanted to raise our children in Sri Lanka and thus we returned back home.

NextBigWhat: Your vision for LinkLk and FinanceLk? How has been the traction so far?
Sanath Fernando: The vision for LinkLK is to be a platform for innovation in online and mobile transactional services. While social media links, messaging (via LinkBox), etc. are supported by the platform, these services are there to facilitate other transactional businesses, e.g., TicketsLK. The platform provides single sign-on (SSO), a community that includes both individual and corporate consumers, communication facilities (email, SMS, P2P/broadcast messaging, etc.) and a payment platform.

Sanath Fernando
Sanath Fernando

Globally, more so in this region, online is a small fraction of total commerce. For any application on the platform, LinkLK offers a distribution channel that includes mobile and offline as well. We have integrated with all 5 local mobile carriers who run a “LinkLK Channel Console” that allows us to push any application that is then available for the carriers to make available to their consumer base. The same “Channel Console” is available at numerous offline locations (bookshops, coffee shops, etc.), where consumers are able to transact LinkLK services in person, using cash if necessary.

TicketsLK is currently the most popular LinkLK service with around 70,000 customers who transact up to Rs. 1 million per day on that service. TicketsLK offers the benefit of online/mobile and offline ticket purchasing to movies, concerts, dramas, business events such as seminars and other corporate events, sports events such as motor racing, etc. TicketsLK has built the brand and trust where consumers are comfortable using their credit cards online – yesterday (May 15), a single ticket purchase transaction was consumated at over Rs. 70,000.

The FinanceLK service brings the convenience of single portal manageability across bank accounts, credit cards and bills. While the service is built to support both individual and corporate users, our marketing efforts to date has only focussed on corporate clients and that too only on the “Mobile Bill Management (MBM)” module of FinanceLK. Up until the end of 2012, we were totally focussed on building our products – with our first sales/marketing hire coming on board a couple months prior to year end. In under 6 months of sales effort, the FinanceLK MBM module is today deployed at numerous blue-chip corporat clients.

Via the module, we reach over 16,000 corporate staff members today with the goal of pushing that number to 500,000 within 18 months. With all manner of non call related charges on mobile bills, every company has to process payroll adjustments based on mobile bill charges of their employees. To facilitate this need, we have the corporate structures of all our clients defined in a cloud environment that in turn gives us the ability to push other value added services – payroll processing, expense management, etc.

NextBigWhat: You also run an EIR (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) model..Let’s talk about that.

Sanath Fernando: While I would ideally love to have an EIR model, what we currently practice is a somewhat different. An EIR model would not be understood in Sri Lanka – not yet. With parents having a large influence on the job selection of young persons, the traditional model needs to be followed until we can get some success stories around direct university to Entrepreneurship.

Sanath with Gayani, the first Incubatee (now, CEO of FinanceLK)
Sanath with Gayani, the first Incubatee (now, CEO of FinanceLK)

We follow a traditional recruiting model, but with new hires, the emphasis is on entrepreneurial traits rather than specific technology skills. It is stressed to each person that interviews – and reinforced more for new hires – that they have the freedom at Ridgecrest (the parent company) to follow their impulses and ambitions. It is clear to everyone that they are free – and in fact encouraged – to build a LinkLK platform business and if we see traction, that the company will seek investors/partners and spin-off an entity around that business.

Even this is in fact quite a high risk model given that you are mixing a real company with experimentation and multiple businesses that may be unrelated (beyond the commonality of the LinkLK platform) and with it diluting your focus. The goal is for Ridgecrest to be an incubator with a dedicated division handling the core LinkLK platform.

NextBigWhat: You are also taking the platform to colleges, right?
Sanath Fernando: I believe the success of the LinkLK platform will ultimately depend on student projects much more so than on our psuedo-EIR program. Initially we started working with final year students, but then after a while realized that this doesn’t work… when they graduate, there has not been sufficient time for the product to gain traction/revenue and thus, following traditional norms, they move on to a regular job.

With this realization, we switched to working with students at the beginning of their 2nd year. This gives us 3 years to work with them while they are still in school and today, over half of the Moratuwa University IT Faculty do their 2nd year projects on the LinkLK platform. The current batch are doing projects in healthcare, social networks, kids/education, location based services, etc.

Ridgecrest provides all the facilities these students need to be entrepreneurs while still in school. This includes hosted source code version control systems, continuous integration facilities, test and production deployment machines among infrastructure and then constant tutoring and mentoring done by Ridgecrest staff. Ridgecrest acts as a part time University for these students. All of this is non revenue generating cost which does add to the riskiness of the model, but albeit with huge potential upside.

NextBigWhat: Hows is the startup ecosystem in SL? What do you think is the biggest opportunity/blue ocean for SL market, given that Internet penetration is still below 5mn.
Sanath Fernando: I have been working towards promoting entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka for 4+ years. For the initial couple of years there was little progress and I was actually getting quite frustrated and near ready to give it up. During the last 1 1/2 years or so though, we have seen not just traction, but almost an explosion of activity. Venture Engine (VE) has been a huge success.VE led to the formation of the Lankan Angel Network (LAN) that meets once a month. LAN has restricted membership with it being made clear to members that they must be prepared to give their time to entrepeneurs in addition to funding.

While internet penetration is low, there are extremely encouraing signs that this is changing. The ratio of mobile subscribers to population is greater than 1:1 and there is exponential growth in smartphone sales. Without reference to a particular industry or sector, I believe there is huge opportunity to completely bypass online in Sri Lanka and focus on a mobile only (or mobile first) strategy.

Any entrepreneur in Sri Lanka though, must face up to the limited market size – locally. This however does offer some advantages. The first mover advantage is huge – once you gain a reasonable market share, it is simply not cost effective for a 2nd entrant to exist. More importantly, Sri Lanka is a great proving group. All our employees and our student community are always reminded of this – test your product in the local market, but always plan/build for the global marketplace.

Like we shared earlier, if you’re from Sri Lanka and reading this, we’d love to stay engaged. Please feel free to share more about the Sri Lankan startups with the Indian Startup community.