Cuil Goes Down, And We Hear It’s Down For Good

Cuil, the much maligned search engine that at one time had hopes of toppling Google, has gone offline. And from what we hear from former employees, it’s not just a temporary outage, it may be done for good. Those employees who are still with the company apparently weren’t paid this week, and they’re starting to say they’re looking for new jobs.

The company had raised $33 million in venture capital in 2007 and 2008. we first started covering Cuil in late 2007 when it was in stealth. It launched in July 2008 but a month later their VP Product had bailed. By December 2008 it had little traffic and since then things have only gotten stranger.

To be clear, we’ve confirmed nothing right now except that the site is down, the rest of what we’re hearing is from former employees. We’ll update as we hear back from the company and/or investors. Meanwhile, it’s in the DeadPuil.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Why Groupon Needs a Backlash

It’s starting. The inevitable “wait-a-minute-this-start-up-isn’t-the-second-coming-of-Christ-after-all” backlash has officially hit Groupon. First there was the dodgy fake deals in Brazil, then there was a business owner saying offering a Groupon deal was the worst business decision she ever made, then there was the sketchy photography offer. These are all serious issues, but clearly don’t reflect the general performance of the site or views of the majority of its merchants. Still you could almost hear the schadenfreude popping throughout the blog and Twittersphere.

Generally I think the hype cycle is one of the lamest things about the tech/social media blogosphere—no one is as great or as horrible as we all make them out to be. But this turn of the cycle might be helping Groupon. Simply put, the company could use a discount on some humble pie.

It’s a law of startup nature that the easier a business is to create and rip-off the less defensible it is. To wit, there are upwards of fifty Groupon clones in most large countries—several hundred in China— and they’re almost all making money and flooded with small businesses wanting to offer deals through them. There seems a limited network effect because the deals are one-off, many of the clones don’t require exclusivity, and Groupon hasn’t had much of a first-mover-lead on the copy-cats. The company has said that customers look at Groupon deals like an ad purchase—so the company is more like Google than eBay, just a part of a small businesses’ marketing strategy not their entire virtual storefront.

And yet, despite all this, Groupon seems wholly unconcerned about any threats to its business. In our August 20 interview with Rob Solomon he seemed to be a bit ahead of himself, saying it was a trillion dollar market opportunity that had completely disrupted offline advertising and indeed possibly “the biggest category the Internet had ever seen.” I asked several times about threats to the company’s momentum, and he said no one else had innovated on the category, the company had perfected the model and that the ability to do these deals at scale was a major advantage. He was clear that Groupon doesn’t see any threats on the horizon other than keeping up with its inevitable growth.

Really? I can think of a few threats:

1. Yelp: It’s not the sexy new kid on the Web 2.0 block but Yelp as a massive install base, has stronger network effect in many cities already, has already copied your business model and seems to be selling at scale just fine. They may well stumble as they add more cities and more deals, but if this is really a trillion dollar opportunity, I’d argue Groupon hasn’t been tested on the scale issue yet either.

2. The Digg-Button Problem: Sometimes the most transformational consumer Internet businesses wind up just being features. Think of how radically Digg changed the distribution of news with its Digg buttons that are now a staple of the Internet and larger companies like Facebook and Twitter. Groupon too may become less of a distinct business, and more of a way of offering discounts that loads of businesses adopt, it could even become a classified revenue replacement for whatever daily newspapers are still in businesses. Is it really a company or just a brilliant new way of marketing? I’m not sure we know yet.

3. An utter lack of focus: I give Groupon huge points for sheer ballsiness. I have never seen a US-based startup explicitly go after a global opportunity so quickly. The company has become nowhere close to locking up the US market or even picking all the low hanging fruit, and best case when something grows that fast they’re going to start stumbling here or there and as we saw this week, competitors and the press will be ready to pounce on them when they do. It’s like a fat man at an all-you-can-eat buffet—even if the food is there for the taking he can’t eat it all at the same time.

I say this out of love, Groupon. Because I have been waiting for a smart company to disrupt ecommerce for a long time and God knows we all need more ways to sell ad-like-products-that-actually-work on the Internet. (cc:Yahoo) But Groupon’s demeanor reminds me of two moments I’ve seen before in the Valley. The first is when Tom Siebel declared his customer relationship management software was so predictive he could “see around corners”…and then he turned a corner and his business fell off a cliff and never recovered. The other was when a WebVan executive—infuriated by a story I wrote that the business wasn’t defensible enough—screamed at me “We have built for scale! You should see our warehouses! It’s like the Jetsons in here!” And a month later, WebVan was delisted from the Nasdaq, and soon after the WebVan ads were being scraped off of every cup holder at, then, Pacific Bell Park.

Simply put, startups should be more paranoid. Groupon needs to be humbled by something small, so later on it’ll be able to anticipate something big.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Journalism Student Won’t Leave Steve Jobs Alone

Gawker just published some emails where Apple CEO Steve Jobs comes off as pretty rude to journalism student Chelsea Issacs. We here at TechCrunch we have a tradition of Peter Kafka-esque skepticism when it comes to emails from journalism students, but especially ones that seem to be at the center of some shady Internet fame seeking business themselves.

“In 1998, Isaacs was the most desirable hand model in the United States and Canada. Isaacs has been described by the Cantolino Press as having an “electric presence that is both entertaining and very believable” with “an extremely evolved sense of the human psyche.”

The whole thing comes off as incredibly fishy, especially right after the “Steve Jobs Ninja Stars” incident and especially on this especially slow news day. So after asking Chelsea Issacs whether this was some kind of grand blogger setup and receiving no response, I sent Steve Jobs an email of my own. And am waiting to hear back, from him or anyone at Apple really.

Hey Steve,

Is this for reals? Seems like this journalism student is trying to figure out if we TechCrunchers fact check … 🙂

Alexia

Here is the alleged Jobs/Issacs exchange as emailed to us below. Parts that seem notable in bold.

On Sep 17, 2010, at 12:44 PM, Chelsea Isaacs wrote:

Please take a look at the email correspondence I just had with Steve Jobs. I am a student in a journalism course and after asking him a question, he responded rather rudely. See for yourself. Thanks.

—————————————————–

From: Steve Jobs

Date: September 16, 2010 6:27:36 PM PDT

To: “[email protected]

Subject: Re: Mr. Jobs – Student Journalist Concerned about Apple’sMediaRelations Dept.

Please leave us alone.

Sent from my iPhone

—————————————————–

On Sep 16, 2010, at 5:32 PM, [email protected] wrote:

You’re absolutely right, and I do meet your criteria for being a customer who deserves a response:

1. I AM one of your 300 million users.

2. I DO have a problem; I need answers that only Apple Media Relations can answer.

Now, can they kindly respond to my request (my polite and friendly voice can be heard in the first 5 or 10 messages in their inbox). Please, I am on deadline.

I appreciate your help.

—————————————————–

From: Steve Jobs

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2010 17:10:12

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Mr. Jobs – Student Journalist Concerned about Apple’s

MediaRelations Dept.

Nope. We have over 300 million users and we can’t respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry.

Sent from my iPhone

—————————————————–

On Sep 16, 2010, at 4:37 PM, [email protected] wrote:

Thank you for your reply. I never said that your goal should be to “help me get a good grade.” Rather, I politely asked why your media relations team does not respond to emails, which consequently, decreases my chances of getting a good grade. But, forget about my individual situation; what about common courtesy, in general — if you get a message from a client or customer, as an employee, isn’t it your job to return the call? That’s what I always thought. But I guess that’s not one of your goals. Yes, you do have a creative approach, indeed.

—————————————————–

From: Steve Jobs

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2010 16:19:13

To: [email protected]

Subject: Re: Mr. Jobs – Student Journalist Concerned about Apple’s Media

Relations Dept.

Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.

Sent from my iPhone

—————————————————–

On Sep 16, 2010, at 3:22 PM, [email protected] wrote:

Dear Mr. Jobs,

As a college student, I can honestly say that Apple has treated me very well; my iPod is basically the lifeline that gets me through the day, and thanks to Apple’s Final Cut Pro, I aced last semester’s video editing project. I was planning to buy a new Apple computer to add to my list of Apple favorites.

Because I have had such good experiences as a college student using Apple products, I was incredibly surprised to find Apple’s Media Relations Department to be absolutely unresponsive to my questions, which (as I had repeatedly told them in voicemail after voicemail) are vital to my academic grade as a student journalist.

For my journalism course, I am writing an article about the implementation of an iPad program at my school, the CW Post Campus of Long Island University.

The completion of this article is crucial to my grade in the class, and it may potentially get published in our university’s newspaper. I had 3 quick questions regarding iPads, and wanted to obtain answers from the most credible source: Apple’s Media Relations Department.

I have called countless times throughout the week, leaving short, but detailed, messages which included my contact information and the date of my deadline. Today, I left my 6th message, which stressed the increasingly more urgent nature of the situation. It is now the end of the business day, and I have not received a call back. My deadline is tomorrow.

Mr. Jobs, I humbly ask why Apple is so wonderfully attentive to the needs of students, whether it be with the latest, greatest invention or the company’s helpful customer service line, and yet, ironically, the Media Relations Department fails to answer any of my questions which are, as I have repeatedly told them, essential to my academic performance.

For colleges nationwide, Apple is at the forefront of improving the way we function in the academic environment, increasing the efficiency of conducting academic research, as well as sharing and communicating with our college communities.

With such an emphasis on advancing our education system, why, then, has Apple’s Media Relations team ignored my needs as a student journalist who is just trying to get a good grade?

In addition to the hypocrisy of ignoring student needs when they represent a company that does so much for our schools, the Media Relations reps are apparently, also failing to responsibly handle the inquiries of professional journalists on deadlines. Unfortunately, for a journalist in the professional world, lacking the answers they need on deadline day won’t just cost them a grade; it could cost them their job.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Chelsea Kate Isaacs

Senior

CW Post – Long Island University

And besides, if this is real, Jobs is totally in the right.

Update: Issacs responds.

Absolutely not.

—————————————————–

From: Alexia Tsotsis
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2010 19:04:41 -0700
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Steve Jobs’ Emails to Me: “Leave us Alone”

My question: Is your Steve Jobs email part of a project to see if you can trick the media?

See:

http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/11/elyse-porterfield/

I’m pretty good at telling the truth, so be honest with me.


Back To School: Cameras For Campus


There will be many times you will want to remember during your years at college, and many you will be unable to remember. In both cases you’ll be glad to have taken pictures, though you may wish to keep them off Facebook. And of course there is the whole question of what you’re going to take these pictures with. Well, there’s no shortage of cameras to choose from, but depending on budget and your photographic aspirations, we can probably narrow it down a bit.

Here are our recommendations for the college-bound shutter-hound.

Continue reading this article…


Apple Finally Lets A Google Voice Application Into The App Store (Again)

Google Voice applications have had a pretty tumultuous history in the App Store. At first, Apple approved them, and the people rejoiced. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they were pulled, with “duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc).” cited as the reasoning. The people were, understandably, pretty friggin’ mad.

Over the past few days, the developers of at least two such applications have been indicating that they’d been hearing good news from Apple, suggesting that the Apps would be making an Apple-approved, no-jailbreak-required return. Sure enough, they’ve just started popping up in the App Store.

Read the rest at MobileCrunch >>


Satish Dharmaraj Answers Your Questions (TCTV)

What is it about doing video interviews with me that makes VCs start swearing? Dave McClure, David Hornik, Fred Wilson and now Redpoint’s Satish Dharmaraj. OK, in most of these cases, I’m the one who starts the swearing, but still, I have a feeling most people don’t have to put “NSFW” on this many posts about wonky old venture capital. I’m thinking about just renaming the show “Fuck You Money.”

Appropriately, the theme was “assholes” on this week’s “Ask a VC.” We talked about Fred Wilson’s hope that the industry weed out the assholes and asshole-ish VC behavior that Dharmaraj refuses to engage in now that he’s moved from the entrepreneur side of the table to the VC side of the table. We also talked about his angel investing in India– and why Redpoint as a firm doesn’t invest there. We talk about what the role for business people is in a engineer-obsessed Valley. We talk about why VCs rely on their networks for deal flow and why that’s not quite as well, asshole-ish, as you might think. And we talk about the diminishing importance of patents. There’s some swearing in that segment too.

Next week, our guest is Josh Kopelman, the original Super Angel. Send your questions to askavc(at)techcrunch(dot)com.


Facebook Job-Hunting App BranchOut Raises $6 Million From Accel And Super Angels

When you want to hang out with your friends online, you go to Facebook. When you want to look for a job, you go to LinkedIn. Well, maybe not for long. BranchOut, a startup that is essentially building a LinkedIn for Facebook, raised $6 million in a series A round. Several news sites reported the funding yesterday when the SEC filing came out, but other than Accel Partners, none of the investors were known. Here they are:

In addition to Accel, which led the round (partner Kevin Efrusy sits on the board), the other two VCs were Mike Maples of Floodgate and Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners. But the round also attracted a lot of high-profile super angels, including Napster founder Shawn Fanning, former Facebook platform manager Dave Morin (Fanning and Morin are now co-founders of Path), Bebo founder Michael Birch, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, Tickle founder James Currier, former Tickle CEO Stan Chudnovsky, Blippy founder Philip Kaplan, Googler Ben Ling, Naval Ravikant, and Josh Elman (former Facebook, now Twitter).

Many of the angel investors are, appropriately enough, friends and former colleagues of BranchOut CEO Rick Marini, who was also a co-founder of Tickle. (Michael Birch of Bebo fame also used to work there).

The basic idea of BranchOut is to find jobs through your real friends. It is a Facebook app that lets you search for companies and then it shows you all your friends who either work there or know somebody who does. It only goes two degrees of separation out, unlike LinkedIn which goes three. It doesn’t show the names of the people who work at the target companies, just their titles. You ask your friends for an introduction.

Why is this better than LinkedIn? Well, because it is on Facebook. “Basically we have this thesis that the social graph will change a lot of internet businesses,” explains Efrusy. “We fundamentally believe it will change jobs and recruiting. If you look at how most people really get their jobs it is through their real friends.”

Right now BranchOut gets all of its data from Fecebook profiles, including employment histories, but it plans to add more data from other sources, perhaps even LinkedIn. It also allows you to post jobs to your friends for free, and will eventually let companies post jobs for a fee.


Does Quid Have The Most Pretentious Website of Any Startup Ever?


The overly ornate website copy of investment trends startup Quid (tagline: “Mapping the world’s technologies”) has now become a subject on Quora, and is therefore famous enough to warrant objective analysis. So here goes …

First of all I literally spat out my morning coffee when I saw the header “Our Secondary Typeface.” Secondary typeface!? How about a primary business model?

Other highlights:

“Quid is from the Latin ‘quid,’ what.” What?

“In law, quiddity is used to refer to a fine point, the essential difference. Shakespeare includes it in a speech by Hamlet, referring to a lawyer, “Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures.” WTF?

“This contribution is particularly evident in the swash tail of our Quid ‘Q.’” Swash tail!

“We selected it for its clarity, its modernist tone, and its ability to both complement and contrast with Bulmer and Baskerville.”

“Our team brings backgrounds in engineering, finance, physics, computer science, biochemistry, and design to bear on this lacuna.” Lacuna!

Quid recently launched in private beta and is backed by Founder’s Fund for an undisclosed amount. Oh, and I almost forgot, good news for those who have recently finished their Rhodes Scholarships in Classics/Particle Physics and are looking for a gig in between singing in an Art Rock band, learning their 16th language and joining the French Foreign Legion! Quid is hiring.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Social Gaming Market Reaches Its Final Stage…and It’s Not Looking Pretty

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Alex St. John, President and CTO of hi5, on the state of the social gaming market.

When Facebook recognized that early social media games were getting a free ride on their network, they shut down the free viral channels these games relied on for audience, started charging market prices for advertising, and demanded a cut of all commerce transactions (see “Facebook Credits”). This changed the economics of social games dramatically. Reaching a large audience easily and for free ceased to be a benefit of developing social media games. In the downloadable casual game business, game developers get a 25%-35% share of the revenue their games generate online when published via channels other than their own. With Facebook charging a 30% premium for Credits and taking an additional cut on advertising, it’s likely that the cost of marketing a social media game is converging on what it costs in the mature downloadable casual game business.

With free virality shut down, social game developers are now forced to compete in the full online game market where a slew of great multiplayer games (such as Club Penguin and Runescape), which interestingly are not called “social media games” because they don’t NEED a social network for distribution, succeed and thrive purely on their viral merits with no investment support or dependence on Facebook for their enormous popularity. This creates a very interesting situation: games that nobody wants to play unless they are inside a social network competing against great viral multiplayer games that monetize and spread more efficiently than social media games once “normal” market pricing for promotion is introduced on Facebook. The only advantage social media games have currently is that the Valley thinks they are “hot” and is willing to invest lots of money in them.

The next stage we’re likely to see is a replay of what happened in the casual game space between 2004-2006 when capital flooded downloadable casual game companies enabling them to buy audience and distribution at prices ABOVE the monetizable value of the games they were selling. Casual game companies went to war, propped up by investment dollars that enabled them to overspend on audience acquisition, which produced the illusion of user and revenue growth even as every customer acquired in this manor returned less revenue than the cost of acquisition. As long as the investment money flowed, casual game publishing seemed to grow, but once the bubble popped in late 2008, it became very clear which companies had built sustainable publishing businesses and which ones had overextended themselves. RealNetworks, once flush with cash from its victory over Microsoft in an anti-trust lawsuit, was apparently the largest and fastest growing casual game publisher, today it is spiraling into decline.

This same cycle is now taking place in social media. When Facebook changed the rules, the early leaders in the space faced two extremely unpleasant realities: 1) Unlike casual gaming, their popular franchises were ineffective at acquiring Facebook audience directly and 2) Paying market rates for audience made their books look a whole lot less pretty. Faced with this challenging circumstance, social game development studios have started taking aggressive steps to remedy their situations, including:

  1. Finding buyers as fast as possible before people realize that their growth and maybe even their businesses are not sustainable
  2. Leveraging the abundant capital available to try to buy their way out of dependence on Facebook by either acquiring their own standing audiences or by acquiring non-Facebook dependant game companies
  3. Overspending on marketing to try to buy audiences to preserve their apparent growth even as their books leak money and their earned audiences decline

What does it mean that Zynga abruptly canceled its deal with MSN to carry Farmville? Probably that they paid a lot for the distribution only to discover that the game did not perform well enough there to justify the expense. Outside of Facebook, Farmville simply can’t hold its own against games like Bejeweled and Scrabble when it comes to monetizing a casual audience, and these games set the market price for advertising on the sites they dominate.

Want to see which games dominate the online economy in a competitive market where distribution doesn’t come for free? Simply check out the front pages of the leading downloadable casual game publishing sites. The minute that Farmville genuinely has superior online economics, it will displace these games. But, until then, it appears that Cubis monetizes best on MSN, and Zynga will lose money by buying its front page position to promote Farmville.

In the end, I believe that “social games” as we know them will be a forgotten internet fad, ultimately consumed by the already mature online market for downloadable and multiplayer games. The only NEW discoveries that remain will be the realization that social networking itself is a new kind of game play, social graphs are an extremely efficient way for games to market themselves and that microcurrency business models blended with advertising are a superior way to monetize online games in general. Everything else will be consumed by the highly competitive and established downloadable and multiplayer online game market. If some of the big names in social media gaming survive, it will be because they leveraged their abundant access to capital to transform themselves away from dependence on Facebook.


Google To Distribute Mobile Devices To Businesses For Checkins, Ratings And More

In an effort to compete with services like Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare, Google is preparing to distribute millions of custom mobile devices to small businesses around the U.S., says a source with knowledge of the program. These devices will allow customers to check-in and rate the businesses and perhaps even purchase items via Google Checkout. Eight million of the devices will be distributed, says the source.

Another source has said the 8 million devices figure may be significantly higher than the actual number of devices being rolled out.

Google clearly wants to get a lead in the potentially very lucrative local business market for both checkins (Foursquare, Facebook) and reviews (Yelp). Online to offline commerce is “a trillion dollar opportunity.” Money spent at coffee shops, bars, gyms, restaurants, gas stations, plumbers, dry-cleaners, and hair salons, etc. makes up a very large percentage of overall spending, and online services want a piece of that. Yelp touches this world, as does Foursquare and others. Groupon’s growth can be attributed to the huge untapped potential in local online to offline promotions as well.

Google wants their piece.

The devices will presumably allow customers to check in to businesses, leave reviews and possibly even purchase items via Google checkout. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We’ve heard that Google will give these first devices away for free, but we don’t know if they’d plan to charge once the product is more established, for example.

We’ll update as we get more information. We’ve reached out to Google for comment.

Information provided by CrunchBase

We’ve reached out to Google for comment.


MySpace’s Last Stand: Project Futura Coming October 15

It’s no secret that embattled MySpace is working on a complete redesign of its site in hopes of reversing the staggering loss of users and traffic over the last couple of years. In December 2008 MySpace had 125 million unique visitors and 43 billion page views. Today they have 95 million unique worldwide monthly visitors and…wow…just 12 billion page views (Comscore).

The redesign is meant to be a dramatic restart to get users excited about MySpace again. Futura, which is the internal name for the project, is set to launch for some users on October 15, although our sources say that date may slip. It will include a much simpler interface, lots of white space, and a focus on the activity stream, say our sources. Much like Facebook.

Many of the design elements were lifted from the Remaking MySpace project that was terminated after CEO Owen Van Natta left the company earlier this year, we’ve heard. And many of the changes are just obvious and are intended to clean up the site.

Parent company News Corp. will be watching how Futura is received very closely, say sources close to MySpace. The hope is that there will be a positive spike in traffic, and that momentum will help News Corp. package the company for a sale or spinoff. News Corp. has already pushed Fox Advertising Network into MySpace after President Adam Bain bailed for Twitter last month. Before those entities were merged it would have been difficult to sell either company.

We’re keeping an open mind until we see the redesign ourselves. But no matter how full of awesomeness it is, it’s unlikely to bring the masses back fast enough to make MySpace relevant again.

Information provided by CrunchBase


Bloomspot Blossoms $9 Million In Funding For Luxurious Local Flash Sales

The whole “flash sale” phenomenon is interesting. Traditionally, the idea of “impulse buying” has been viewed as a somewhat bad thing. Purchases are supposed to be thought out and studied — made only after you’ve considered things for a while, right? The Internet has flipped that idea on its head. But that’s not a bad thing.

Bloomspot is one of the newer players in the flash sale scene. Launched in January of this year, they currently cater to three cities: San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. But unlike competitors in the space, they’re not all about as moving as much of a product as possible in a short amount of time. Instead, they’ve about creating relationships between clients and customers. The features (they don’t call them “deals”) are simply the first step to facilitate this relationship.

And Bloomspot also differs in that they’re going for a very specific type of both client and customer: luxury hotels, restaurants, and spas that cater to more affluent, mature clientele. And now Bloomspot has just raised a $9 million Series A round of funding to further pursue this market.

I sat down with Jasper Malcomson, Bloomspot’s CEO and co-founder (and a former manager of travel and commerce at Yahoo), to talk a bit about the service today. He has very clear vision for what he wants the company to go after. They’re not trying to be Jetsetter, selling people dreams of traveling around the world on a whim. They’re trying be cater to the more practical-minded but still affluent audience who perhaps just want a weekend getaway.

Bloomspot is focusing on places people want to go already — such as a winery in Napa Valley — but hesitate for whatever reason. These aren’t places across the world, these are places relatively close by. By giving them a limited-time offer attractive package, it pushes them over the edge. It’s not so much about deeply discounting rooms as it is about adding experiences on top of the price (such as spa treatments, etc) that make it that much more appealing.

This idea is important because Bloomspot isn’t aiming to become the way that everyone can experience luxury cheaply. They just want to entice the people who would likely be suited for these types of places, to go. The venues love that because they know that these type of people will fit in with the overall experience and will still be willing to spend the money on other things like food once they’re there.

In other words, they won’t be cheap.

And, if those people enjoy the experience enough, the likelihood that they’ll come back greatly increases. In that regard, Bloomspot is almost like an interactive advertisement or a try-before-you-buy service for these venues.

The long term way to attack the space is customer quality,” Malcomson says. In group buying, that doesn’t matter because a merchant doesn’t care who buys an article of clothing as long as it’s sold. It’s different with these more experience-oriented clients that Bloomspot deals with.

And Bloomspot offers them a way to help move unsold slots if it’s a slow time of the year or business is down for whatever reason. Bloomspot just needs a few days to put a new feature in place.

Malcomson says that 68 percent of Bloomspot’s audience is 30 years old or older. You can compare that to group buying sites where around 70 percent of customers are 18 to 35. Again, affluent and older, that’s what Bloomspot is going for.

Bloomspot gets a 30 percent commission on sales pretty much across the board, no matter which feature they’re selling, Malcomson says. This means that they’re already pulling in a fair amount of revenue, though they are not yet profitable.

While Bloomspot is currently live for the three aforementioned cities, they will also be launching in Boston and Washington D.C. on October 3. After that, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston are up next.

This Series A round of funding was led by Menlo Ventures with participation by seed investors True Ventures and Harrison Metal.

This $9 million is on top of the $2 million seed round from March 2009 that included investors Jeff Weiner (CEO of LinkedIn), Erik Blachford (Chairman of TerraPass and former CEO of Expedia Inc.), and Brad Garlinghouse (President at AOL, Consumer Applications Group).

Information provided by CrunchBase


One Kings Lane May Have A Little Groupon In Them

One Kings Lane isn’t just a hot flash commerce site. It’s a hot commerce site that has been backed by Kleiner Perkins, First Round Capital and Reid Hoffman. And cofounder Ali Pincus is married to Mark Pincus of Zynga fame.

The site launched in May 2009 and offers users deeply discounted high end home furnishings via daily sales. Like Groupon most of the inbound traffic comes from daily emails sent out to registered users. And repeat buyers are basically camping out on the site, driving 80% of total orders. The really rabid ones don’t even wait for the email, they just hit the site at 8 am to buy stuff before it sells out.

Revenue is nicely up and to the right, up 500% over last year. New CEO Doug Mack started in May when the company had 30 employees. Today they have 65 and are hiring like crazy.

They’ll announce three new executive hires tomorrow – Ed Komo as vice president of engineering, Jim Liefer as vice president of operations and Yulie Kim as head of product. This group has experience from Walmart.com, eBay and Hotwire…and in the case of Ed, the dreaded Jigsaw.

I’m a customer of One Kings Lane, and have made a few purchases for my new house. They always have really interesting curated stuff for sale at every price range, and they buying process is simple. Like Groupon and Gilt they seem to have found a business model that really works.

It works so well, in fact, that it isn’t out of the question that the Pincus household could have not just one but two IPOs in the coming years – Zynga and One Kings Lane.

Mack is aggressively building out his executive team, he tells me. They are recruiting a VP Marketing and a CFO right now. So if you’re looking, they may be the right fit for you.


Appbistro Wants To Help You Remodel Your Facebook Place Page

One month ago, Facebook unveiled Facebook Places, its long-awaited location feature that lets friends check-in to real-world venues. Unfortunately, Facebook’s main website still hasn’t quite caught up to the new feature — for example, there’s still no way to get an at-a-glance view of where your friends are. Places also has a few shortcomings that normal users might not have noticed, including the fact that adding an application to a Facebook Place Page is a pain.

It’s possible to do it: Facebook is willing to port over the apps you have installed on your normal Facebook Page once you provide it with documentation proving you own the venue in question. But Facebook hasn’t done anything to showcase which applications actually make sense to include on a Place Page, and it’s unnecessarily difficult to find the option to install an application to a Place Page yourself. TechCrunch Disrupt finalist Appbistro wants to help.

Appbistro offers a marketplace for Facebook Page applications, allowing developers to charge for their apps (which Facebook doesn’t facilitate) and for users to review the apps they’ve used. Today the site is launching a section dedicated to applications that are suited for Facebook Places — at this point, there is no comparable section in the official Facebook Directory. Note that you can actually install any application to a Place Page, but many of them don’t make sense, which is why Appbistro is curating them.

Appbistro is also making the flow for installing an app to a Place page a little easier than it currently is. Normally, it’s pretty straightforward to install an app to a Facebook Page directly from Facebook: you find the application and hit the ‘Install to my page’ button. But there isn’t currently an ‘Install to my Place Page’ button, which means you have to go through a roundabout process of navigating the directory using a link at the bottom of your Facebook Places Page. Yeah, it’s extremely confusing.

The install flow for installing an app using Appbistro is a bit more straightforward, mostly because you don’t have to go hunting for the directory. That said, it’s not perfect — at one point you have to click an “Install on Facebook” button in two different places, which isn’t intuitive.


Yahoo Loses Another Long Time Exec: SVP David Ku

In yet another executive departure, David Ku, who’s been with Yahoo since 2002, is leaving the company. His most recent title was SVP, Advertising Products.

Yahoo confirms the departure:

Yahoo! confirms that David Ku, SVP for Yahoo’s advertising products group, has decided to leave the company. He’ll be working very closely with Mark Morrissey, who will expand his current role as SVP of the Search Alliance transition to include this group.

In the eight years David worked for Yahoo!, he led strategy and execution across a number of key advertising product areas, ranging from the launch of Yahoo’s Search Marketing Platform (Panama) and APT platform, to playing an instrumental role in the Yahoo! Microsoft Search Alliance agreement. We thank him for all of these contributions and wish him well on his next endeavor.

This isn’t just another run of the mill departure. Like Ash Patel, who left Yahoo earlier this year, Ku was both a long term Yahoo’er and was known as a guy who gets things done.

I can’t imagine what morale must be like over there right now.

Information provided by CrunchBase