(Founder Stories) Meebo’s Seth Sternberg On Hiring, Growth And Flying High.

Like many start-ups, Meebo has been on a recent hiring spree. In this episode of Founder Stories, CEO Seth Sternberg tells Chris Dixon, “for 12 weeks we had to hire a salesperson a week and if we didn’t we would have missed our revenue numbers later this year.”

But it’s not just new salespeople populating Meebo’s workstations. “We started this year at about 130 employees.  I think we are at 175 now, and so for us that is really fast growth” says Sternberg.

From CFO to engineer, Sternberg discusses how Meebo weeds out candidates by running them though, “the sim.” This is a simulation of Meebo’s real-world working environment.

In our “rapid fire” segment below, Sternberg tells Dixon some of his favorite products, what he would do if he ever left Meebo and discusses his thirst for hitting the road—and air.

Make sure to watch Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview, as well as prior episodes of Founder Stories here.

Vente-Privee And AmEx Team Up To Bring The European Flash Sales Site To The U.S.

Vente-Privee, the European flash sales giant, has announced a joint venture with American Express to bring the site to the U.S.

Vente-Privee, which was founded in France in 2001, is one of the pioneers of the flash sales model. Because of the site’e massive reach and scale, companies like Amazon and eBay have been rumored to be eying the company for an acquisition.

Currently, Vente-Privee has approximately 13 million members and more than $1 billion in European sales. As part of the agreement, each organization will own 50 percent of the new U.S. entity. This marks the first non-European market entry for vente-privee.com, and allows American Express to expand its presence in the flash sales business.

Of course, a Vente-Privee’s U.S. site has a host of established competitors in the country, included the well-funded leader of the pack, Gilt Groupe. Gilt just raised $138 million and has a growing family of flash-sales sites, including the original Gilt, Gilt Home, Gilt City, Gilt Children, Gilt MAN, and Jetsetter. Other flash sales sites in the U.S. include HauteLook, RueLaLa, BeyondTheRack and Ideeli.

For AmEx, the new site is another way the credit card and payments company is investing in e-commerce and technology, The company just partnered with LevelUp and also teamed up with Foursquare as well.

Are Comcast And Other ISPs Now Actively Blocking ThePirateBay?

Talk about sinking to a new low. It seems that Talk about sinking to a new low. It seems that Comcast and perhaps other ISPs are blocking access to the notorious torrent site, ThePirateBay.org. The word comes from TorrentFreak who also reached out to the TPB team who indicated that they can’t confirm if an ISP is blocking the site but “there’s a significant drop in visitors from the U.S.” All I know is I, a Comcast subscriber, cannot access the site.

Comcast isn’t exactly known to be friendly with the downloaders or streamers. In the past they’ve limited and even blocked seeding of torrent files. The term throttling was synonymous with Comcast a few years back. The company eventually entered into a partnership with BitTorrent, Inc and was later asked by the FCC to stop the practices, but perhaps the company just moved to block specific sites in an effort to kill the bandwidth-sucking practice of torrenting.

Update: Comcast responded.

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Demandbase Raises $10 Million For B2B Marketing Software

Demandbase, a company that develops B2B marketing software, has raised $10 million in funding led by Sutter Hill Ventures with Sigma Partners, Altos Ventures, and Adobe Systems participating in the round. This brings the company’s total funding to $18 million.

Demanbase allows B2B marketers to improve marketing conversions and turn web traffic into sales. The company provides a B2B marketing performance-improvement software to deliver a more personalized web experiences and a higher ROI from sales and marketing programs.

Demandbase, which was founded in 2006, offers a Real Time ID service that identifies business web traffic without using cookies, and delivers that information to businesses on demand. Demandbase says it has mapped over 85 percent of B2B traffic on the web and its software is currently being used by over 1,000 companies.

The funds will be used for sales and marketing as well as further expansion of the data network globally.


Information provided by CrunchBase

Search Contrarian Blekko’s Next Move: Limiting Its User Data Retention To 48 Hours

Search engine Blekko, ever eager to differentiate itself and make headlines with its countless product development advances, is announcing today that it will reduce its data retention period to 48 hours, retaining far less user personal information (like IP addresses) than the the dominant players in the space.

For comparison, competitors Google and Yahoo are currently at 18 months of user data retention and Bing is at six months, which is the European standard. In fact, Yahoo recently extended its data retention policy from 90 days to 18 months because it needed it to “compete” with Google in offering personalized recommendations. With this move Blekko is essentially saying, “Unlike Yahoo, we don’t need to compete.” Search engines like DuckDuckGo and Startpage do not collect any user info.

Granted, with $24 million from US Ventures, CMEA Capital and Marc Andreessen, Blekko can keep pulling stunts until the cows come home. In addition to this move Blekko will now be introducing its HTTPS Preferred offering, which will automatically point searchers to HTTPs secure websites when available.

Blekko has also amped up its ad opt up services with Super Privacy and No Ads privacy opt out settings which allow users to opt out of advertising while searching. ”Search engines know too much about their users. Our goal at Blekko is to find a balance between retaining information to improve our search engine, and not retaining information that a user prefers to keep private,” said CTO Greg Lindhal.

Blekko is basically pulling out all the bells and whistles, performing parlor tricks like adding Facebook comments to search because it has to, as the search market is currently comprised of Google at 65.7%, Yahoo at  15.9% and Microsoft at  14.1% with Blekko not even ranking in the top five.

Right now the company, which completed 50 million searches last month from 750K uniques (up 33% since March), indexes 3.5 billion URLs, compared to Google and Bing which are both over 15 billion.

And a search engine’s gotta do what a search engine’s gotta do. But is garnering press attention with its weekly reactive maneuvers necessarily worth the effort? We’ll soon find out.

Information provided by CrunchBase

Score Media Plays Ball, Acquires Rival Mobile App SportsTap

Score Media has acquired sports-focused mobile apps maker SportsTap, whose Android and iPhone apps compete with Score Media’s multi-sport app ScoreMobile.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but SportsTap will be maintained as a stand-alone smartphone and mobile browser app.

Launched in 2007, SportsTap is currently the third most popular free sports app on Android (right behind the 2nd most popular app, ScoreMobile). Both apps offer users access to real-time sports results and statistics from major professional sports leagues.

This acquisition makes a lot of sense for all the right reasons.

According to comScore’s MobiLens March 2011 report, which ranks mobile sports app audiences in the United States, the combined monthly audience of ScoreMobile and SportsTap would rank as #3 behind ESPN and Yahoo and ahead of competitors FOX and CBS.

The strategic acquisition of SportsTap will increase its global monthly unique user base to more than 3 million.

Score Media is a media company delivering interactive sports entertainment. Created in 1997, the company operates the theScore television network in Canada as well as a number of digital media assets, including theScore.com, a theScore iPad app and mobile sports apps ScoreMobile and ScoreMobile FC which are available for BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7.

Facebook Loses Much Face In Secret Smear On Google

Facebook secretly hired a PR firm to plant negative stories about Google, says Dan Lyons in a jaw dropping story at the Daily Beast.

For the past few days, a mystery has been unfolding in Silicon Valley. Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.

The plot backfired when the blogger turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. It got worse when USA Today broke a story accusing Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”

Not good.

The source emails are here.

I’ve been patient with Facebook over the years as they’ve had their privacy stumbles. They’re forging new ground, and it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re changing the world’s notions on what privacy is. Give them time. They’ll figure it out eventually.

But secretly paying a PR firm to pitch bloggers on stories going after Google, even offering to help write those stories and then get them published elsewhere, is not just offensive, dishonest and cowardly. It’s also really, really dumb. I have no idea how the Facebook PR team thought that they’d avoid being caught doing this.

First, it lets the tech world know that Facebook is scared enough of what Google’s up to to pull a stunt like this. Facebook isn’t supposed to be scared, ever, about anything. Supreme confidence in their destiny is the the way they should be acting.

Second, it shows a willingness by Facebook to engage in cowardly behavior in battle. It’s hard to trust them on other things when we know they’ll engage in these types of campaigns.

And third, some of these criticisms of Google are probably valid, but it doesn’t matter any more. The story from now on will only be about how Facebook went about trying to secretly smear Google, and got caught.

The truth is Google is probably engaging in some somewhat borderline behavior by scraping Facebook content, and are almost certainly violating Facebook’s terms and conditions. But many people argue, me included, that the key data, the social graph, really should belong to the users, not Facebook. And regardless, users probably don’t mind that this is happening at all. It’s just Facebook trying to protect something that it considers to be its property.

Next time Facebook should take a page from Google’s playbook when they want to trash a competitor. Catch them in the act and then go toe to toe with them, slugging it out in person. Right or wrong, no one called Google a coward when they duped Bing earlier this year.

You’ve lost much face today, Facebook.

UpdateSleazy PR Firm Throws Scummy Facebook Under The Sordid Bus

How TechCrunch Got Onto The Apprentice… Just.

Well, TechCrunch readers, we thought we owed you an explanation as to why the hell we got onto the BBC TV show The Apprentice last night, and here it is.

Back in September last year I was contacted by TalkBack Thames TV, the independent production company that makes The Apprentice for the BBC. They said they were going to make the creation of a smartphone app a task on the show and would I be a judge. “Why the hell not?” I thought, and a date was set for filming.

Longreads Goes Social With Community Picks And Aims For Sustainability

If you’re a fan of reading long-form content online, you probably already know what Longreads is. If not, you should. It’s the best way to find content between 1,500 and 30,000 words on the web. And today they’ve upped the discovery element a bit by making it more social.

“Community Picks” is a new area of the Longreads website which scans Twitter for the most tweeted (and retweeted) Longreads articles. It then displays these on the website ranked by either most popular or newest. This adds another layer of stories on top of the traditional stock of Longreads editors’ picks.

“This is a new breed of community-powered curation,” founder Mark Armstrong says. “We thought it was important to give the community new ways to share their own personal picks. We feature 3-5 story recommendations per day, and roughly 80 percent of them are generated by the community on the #longreads hashtag. And thousands of stories have been shared on #longreads over the past two years,” he continues.

With this new feature also comes profiles for members. If a member has ever tweeted out a #longreads link, they will show up and be compiled on this page. In other words, this is a sort of Longreads reading list.

“Everyone is a curator now — and just like we enjoy looking through at other people’s bookshelves when we go to their house, there’s something wonderful about getting a sense of a person’s personality through their #longreads #lists. We hope to feature these individual tastes and continue to serve as a discovery engine for great storytelling and outstanding curators,” Armstrong says.

Longreads has another feature they’re unveiling today as well: a subscription model. For $3 a month or $30 a year, users of the service will be able to get early access to new features while supporting the service they love. And if you subscribe for a year, you get a Longreads mug too. Armstrong is quick to note that these subscriptions are totally optional and the service will always remain free. This is just a way to help ensure the service is sustainable as well.

This idea follows what partner Instapaper has been trying out. Partner Readability also uses a subscription model.

Armstrong notes that Longreads has come a long way in its two years of existence, when it started out as a Twitter account. Last October, when the website was unveiled, that account had roughly 7,000 followers. Now it has over 23,000 and support from publishers like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, GQ, Time, and ProPublica.

Is Microsoft About To Overpay For Skype?

The deal buzzards are swirling around Skype, and Microsoft may end up with the prize. Om first reported the rumor, which is now getting major play by the WSJ. Microsoft is in final negotiations to buy Skype for $7 billion, according to the WSJ report. The final price might go closer to $8 billion.

Google and Facebook were also sniffing around Skype, which put off its IPO earlier this year to buy more negotiating time. Microsoft will certainly be overpaying for Skype, which is a better fit for Google or Facebook. But Microsoft is desperate for a legitimate Internet business beyond Bing.

MG Siegler@parislemon
MG Siegler

So Microsoft is paying $7 billion to lose even more money online each quarter. Makes perfect sense.

Skype would fit into Microsoft’s enterprise business as a communications hub for telephony, video conferencing, and online meetings. But is it worth 8 times revenue and 26 times operating profits (Skype had no net income to speak of last year—it lost $7 million)? Maybe, if Microsoft doesn’t screw it up.

The chances that it does screw it up if the deal goes through, however, are large. To make Skype work financially, Microsoft would have to turn it into more of an enterprise play to go up against Cisco’s WebEx, for instance. Skype is already making money from businesses to some extent, but it’s roots are with consumers who want to bypass the traditional phone companies and their outrageous bills.

When you think of Microsoft, you don’t exactly think about voice communications. You think about productivity, and to some extent collaboration (although I find its products to be designed more for solitary use). Skype is not a natural fit. Just like it wasn’t a natural fit for eBay, which bought it and then spun it off.

But what about Windows Phone, Microsoft’s mobile OS? Well, that’s where it gets interesting. Skype baked into Windows Phone would be a powerful combination, exactly the type of tight integration that could give it a fighting chance. Except that Skype on iPhone and Android is already pretty good.

So yes, there is logic to the deal. But $7 billion to $8 billion for a company still hasn’t figured out how to turn 663 million users into a profit machine is a stretch. But then, Microsoft was never any good at making money on the Internet either. It feels like Skype really wanted to sell to another company like Google or Facebook, but when the bankers started to shop it around, Ballmer bit and now he won’t let go. Could Google or Facebook have done the deal for less? I think so.

Attention ‘Dear Sophie’-Inspired Parents, You Can’t Actually Create A Google Account For Your Kid

“It’s probably something that Don Draper would come up with if Larry and Sergey were his clients.”

– Steven Levy “Google’s Sophie’s Choice”

By now you’ve probably seen or read about Google’s warm and fuzzy ‘Dear Sophie’ commercial, which debuted last week and aired during a coveted spot on Saturday Night Live this weekend. In the commercial, which was inspired by a true story, Sophie’s dad Daniel sends her emails about the special moments in her life like her first birthday, Father’s Day and the birth of her sister, as well as general dad silliness like clips titled “Giggles.mov.”

While the emails are addressed to Sophie, and the author refers to her in the 2nd person, (“You wanted to name her ‘Salt.’”) it is actually against Google’s TOS to create a Google account for your kid, or anyone who is not over thirteen years old.

One frustrated Dad emails:

“After finally deciding on a name for our unborn girl, I wanted to create a Google account for her even though I know that she’ll laugh at me 12 years from now that she has some outdated email account. I sent a Gmail invitation to myself since I couldn’t figure out how to create an account otherwise. I found an available email and filled the whole form out with our girl’s info. There was a field for birth date that I found to be odd, but I just filled in the current date to keep going. I received an error and I thought it had something to do with another field. I tried submitting a couple of more times when I finally received the attached message (the hyperlink sends you here).

That’s when I realized it had to do with the birth date. I tried going back and using an acceptable birth date, but i was already screwed. I’ve tried a couple of times since (my original attempt was a week ago), but I get the same message. apparently I’ve made it on the Google pedophile blacklist.”

When I asked Google about whether the “Dear Sophie” ad is actually against the Google TOS, a representative explained why it was exempt as follows, “This story is about a father who opens a Gmail account and uses the web to communicate with his daughter from birth into the future. This story is not about a parent opening a Gmail account for his child to use; our system will block users identified as under 13 years of age from opening an account.”

Okay there you have it web savvy parents, as long as you open a Gmail account in order to “use the web to communicate with [your kid] from birth into the future” you’re fine. So set the age on the Gmail account to a hundred or something, capisce?

Information provided by CrunchBase

AdGenesis Aims To Be The Match.com of Video Advertising, Pair Brands With The Right Viewer

As online video advertising continues to grow, and expands to mobile, brands are looking for ways to get more bang for their advertising buck, and viewers continue to yearn for and expect video advertising that is more personalized, targeted, and relevant. And obviously the same is true for brands and advertisers — they, too, want to be able to customize their ad experience to reach consumers that they know will care about their products. So, as technology and the web tools we use on a daily basis continue to get smarter, so should advertising, right?

AdGenesis, a New York-based video advertising startup, wants use the dating, or match-making game, to make the serving of video advertising a more intelligent arrangement. It hopes that its service will bring consumers and brands together for a rewarding, lifetime relationship of loyalty and happiness — not just in a marriage of convenience. In other words, the startup is a white label video advertising platform that partners with publishers to match branded content to a large network of eager, opt-in customers.

And, today, the startup today announced that it is launching a new API that will enable Web and mobile publishers to deliver stand-alone video advertising service to their perfect user. As we all want to be rewarded for having to sit through advertising, the service naturally incorporates a points, badges, and rewards into a program that gives viewers incentive to watch the video, and, in turn, giving advertisers the satisfaction of knowing that they are reaching their target consumer — and that those consumers are actually watching their videos.

So, how does this all work? In the case of publishers, they tell AdGenesis what type of consumer they want to view their video, based on demographics, future purchase intentions, interests, hobbies, and so on prompted by AdGenesis once a publisher joins the service. They then provide AdGenesis with a video, be it 15 seconds to 10 minutes-long, which then loads the video into their system. Based on the data AdGenesis has gathered from its 4 million registered users, it then notifies consumers with corresponding interests via SMS or email that they’ve been “matched”.

Let the swooning begin. These viewers then watch the video, on-demand on mobile or desktop, and confirm that they’ve watched the video in its entirety by entering 2 digits that are overlaid in the video’s content. If the viewer doesn’t enter those digits, the advertiser doesn’t pay. If they do, then the brand pays once for that unique view, but only once, even if the viewer watches the video 80 times.

The advertisers are then asked to present some kind of reward to the viewer for watching the video. This can be credits on AdGenesis, which viewers can later redeem for gift cards, etc, or the brand can enter the viewer in a contest to win a trip to Hawaii, or offer discounted coupons, and so on.

For the consumer, AdGenesis is totally free to join, it’s opt-in, so you’re not forced to do or see anything you don’t want to, and the more you tell AdGenesis about yourself, the more targeted the ads it serves you become, and the more videos you watch, the more rewards you earn.

It sounds a bit like being in a focus group or being paid to do medical testing on a new line of shaving cream, but AdGenesis has become very popular among coupon clippers and aggressive savers. Four months from its launch, AdGenesis has served 1.6 million viewed-videos and generated more than 150K click-throughs to advertiser websites, Facebook pages, etc.

Online video has not been a particularly successful source of click-through rates, and many advertisers have become wary of it, because it’s hard to measure the ROI of video advertising. (Same as it ever was.) AdGenesis, on the other hand, has been demonstrating a fairly impressive click-through rate (an average of 11 percent), which is much higher than the average of about 1 or 2 percent, according to AdGenesis CEO Richard Smullen.

AdGenesis has also announced a partnership with PARADE Magazine, the first publisher to launch with the full array of AdGenesis’ functionality, and Smullen tells me the startup has several big partnerships in the pipeline, both on the publishing side and the rewards/points side.

With many, many advertisers struggling to come to terms with significant spend on advertising campaigns without tried-and-true measures of customer retention, click-through, etc., advertising loyalty solutions are popping up across the Web. AdGenesis is an interesting take, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the match-making, brand-dating game proves to have some traction. After all, I’ve always wanted to date Nike.

Check it out.

Evernote-Rival SpringPad Now Supports Honeycomb And Offers Offline Access Via Chrome Web App

Evernote rival Springpad is announcing support for Android Honeycomb tablets and is also debuting offline access via its popular chrome web app.

Similar to Evernote, Springpad serves as a multi-platform digital notebook. The service allows you to jot down notes, save websites, images and more. Springpad will then categorizes your saved content, and allows you to share your notes, set reminders and more. The app goes a step farther to analyze your content and then serve you alerts to relevant news, offers and deals. The app’s semantic data technology allows you to save products, books, movies, recipes and more, and automatically get enhanced information, including price drops, local availability and coupons.

The support for Honeycomb includes features such as optimized display for the larger screen size and configurable widgets to create, save and view their notes for immediate access on the tablet homescreen. The app delivers cross browser and app sharing making it easy to save information from other sites and apps. Springpad’s Chrome web app, which is ranked as one of the top 20 most popular apps in the Chrome Web Store, allows users instant and universal access to their Springpad account, even when offline.

Honeycomb tablet support is significant for Springpad because the app’s growth has been fueled by mobile adoption. Nearly half of its users are using its Android app and a third are using Springpad via an iOS device.

Evernote has around 9 million users now and SpringPad just passed the million mark so the startup definitely has a ways to go. But the company’s ability to add intelligence to notetaking and possibly monetize off of users with personalized deals, content and more could help boost usage.

Gillmor Gang 5.9.11 (TCTV)

The Gillmor Gang — John Borthwick, Robert Scoble, John Taschek, and Steve Gillmor — inaugurated a new kind of Gillmor Gang. To the undisclosed, it looks the same: silly chat, mangled technology disruptions, and dead air. To the more clueful, who recognize we’re entering a new age of social media, the intersection of social monitoring and proactive brand creation tools spells big trouble for old media and their thin-skinned attacks on the realtime enterprise.

As @scobleizer describes Rackspace’s move to Chatter, you get the idea that social media is not just the province of the Ashton’s and Lady Gaga’s, but a million personal clouds that resonate with accumulated authority and credibility. Mainstream media can play a role here; @borthwick describes the velocity with which a New York Times reporter validated the Bin Laden story as it broke on Twitter. @jtaschek reminisces about the speeds and feeds days of recognizable software giving way to micro-authority and pushrank.

LevelUp Now Lets You Swipe Your AmEx Card To Redeem Deals, No Print-Outs Required

Back in March location-based game SCVNGR launched a spinoff venture called LevelUp — a direct competitor to Groupon, Living Social, and other daily deal sites. LevelUp’s key twist is that it has a heavy focus on generating repeat visitors, as opposed to customers who only stop by a venue once to redeem their deal. And today it has some significant news: it’s partnered with American Express to start allowing LevelUp users to redeem their coupons simply by swiping their credit cards — a feat that they say is the first in the daily deal space.

To use the new feature, users connect their AmEx cards with their LevelUp account (a process that you only need to do once). Then, once they purchase a deal from a merchant that accepts American Express, they’ll see a button that prompts them to ‘load’ their card with the deal. When the card is swiped at the merchant, the user receives an immediate push notification and email notification informing them that the coupon was applied successfully, and they don’t have to bother pulling out a printout or showing their phone to an employee.

This steup may sound familiar. That’s because Foursquare had a similar pilot program at SXSW, which used the same American Express ‘Smart Offers API’ (you could check-in at specific venues and have deals loaded onto your card). That pilot program is over for now, but don’t be surprised if you see it make a return down the line at a broader scale. LevelUp’s arrangement with American Express is also considered a pilot, but it doesn’t sound like there’s any finite time limit established (in other words, expect the feature to stick around).

In conjunction with the news, LevelUp is also announcing that it’s landed Levis as its first national brand to use the service. Levis is  offering ‘$10 for $20′ at Level One, ‘$10 for $30′ at Level Two, and ‘$10 for $50′ at Level Three. LevelUp is currently only available in Philadelphia and Boston (the service plans to open in more cities this summer), but Levis is temporarily offering the deal in San Francisco as well.

For those that haven’t used it, LevelUp’s model works as follows: first, customers are offered a special deal that’s very similar to what they’d receive from Groupon. They’re also informed that if they return to the same venue a second time down the line, they’ll be able to receive an even better deal (the same is true for the third trip). The model is designed to build customer loyalty — businesses have to offer some pretty steep discounts at Levels Two and Three to keep users coming back, but SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch says that results from the first 6-8 weeks of the service have been very promising.

Information provided by CrunchBase