Lego should snap up this rapid-fire brick-finding iOS app

Lego has worked extremely closely with Apple over the years, experimenting with unreleased iOS tech and demoing it onstage at launch events like WWDC; this has included some pretty heavy tinkering on the augmented reality ARKit platform that they’ve integrated several of their play sets with, adding digital experiences to the physical toys.

But one of the most impressive integrations between iOS tech and physical Lego bricks just popped up on the App Store, and it’s built by a team of fans. The new app Brickit is aiming to one-up what even the Lego Group has created with an app that uses computer-vision tech to quickly make sense of a mountain of bricks.

All users need to do is haphazardly dump Legos into a single layer on the floor. From there the app is able to quickly analyze and identify bricks in the collection and serve up some fun little projects that users have all or most of the bricks they need to build. The most impressive element of the app is its speed — the app is able to make sense of hundreds of bricks in a pile within seconds.

While I unfortunately don’t have access to a pile of Legos at the moment, a TechCrunch colleague demoed the app on iOS and had similarly smooth results to the demo above, with some added loading time in between discovery and when users are able to scroll through suggested projects. While navigating instructions, users are even pointed to the area in the brick pile that a particular needed piece is in.

What the Brickit team has done highlights the power of object recognition in the latest versions of iOS in a way that’s surprisingly useful for this very, very niche use case.

As is, the app is a bit limited by the fact that it’s a third-party design. The App Store’s disclaimer page is quick to specify that this is not an app built by the Lego Group and that its developers are just fans of the product, not employees of the company. Hopefully that’s enough to prevent Lego from overzealously siccing its lawyers on them, but given the app’s impressive use of Apple hardware, it really seems like the company would be better off acquiring the app.

There’s a lot more that Brickit could do with first-party access, mainly in terms of access to integrations with existing libraries of Lego instructions. With Lego’s 2019 acquisition of BrickLink, it’s clear the company has been aiming to capture more of the community fandom around aftermarket creations. Allowing the company to build up a database of the actual bricks that a user has in their possession, thus gaining some insights into the collections of sets that they own, would undoubtedly be valuable data to Lego.

For now the Brickit app is limited to iOS, but the company’s website indicates the team has aims to launch an Android app by the fall.

#android, #app-store, #apple-inc, #augmented-reality, #brands, #imessage, #lego, #lego-group, #software, #tc, #toys

Instagram launches a new section for shopping product drops

Instagram today announced it’s adding a new feature to help connect online shoppers to product drops through its app. Drops, which are a newer e-commerce trend, help sellers create buzz for forthcoming products in the days and weeks leading up to their availability. The products themselves are often only available in limited supplies or for a short period of time, increasing demand.

On Instagram, drops will now have their own destination inside the app at the top of the Shop tab, where consumers can discover, browse and shop all the latest product launches as well as view upcoming launches. Shoppers can also sign up to receive reminders about products they’re interested in from here, and look through products and collections from other drops that recently took place on Instagram.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

Like other online shopping offered through Instagram, consumers can make their Drops purchases directly in the Instagram app itself via Checkout on Instagram, not by visiting third-party websites. This model will eventually allow Instagram to collect fees on purchases — something that’s become a more important part of Facebook and Instagram’s overall business model in the wake of Apple’s privacy crackdown on iOS apps that impacts Facebook’s ad revenues.

However, Instagram has temporarily waived its selling fees to both help businesses who are recovering from the last year of Covid. The move will also help it to gain ground in online shopping against new competitors, including TikTok.

Brands on Instagram had already been running drops before today, following Instagram’s release of a product reminders feature back in 2019 that allowed consumers to get notified when an item they were interested in became available for purchase. To date, brands across fashion, beauty, streetwear and others have leveraged the feature, the company says, including Hill House Home, Dragun Beauty, adidas, and others.

The new Drops location simply organizes the product launches in one place to make it easier to browse and shop. Instagram tells us it’s curating the featured drops in this section. To be considered, brands need to use the product launch feature which is available to businesses on Checkout with Instagram.

At launch, some of the drops available include today’s Drake x NOCTA ‘Cardinal Stock’ collection and upcoming drops like Wren + Glory hand-painted summer collection and Charlotte Tilbury Exclusive Pillow Talk Lips & Dreams Lashes Kit. This week, there are five total drops available. This number will vary from week to week as Instagram continues to test the new feature, the company tells us.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

On an individual brand’s page inside Drops, consumers can view info like when the product became available, pricing, and other item details. They can also bookmark the item to add it to a wishlist or share the drop with a friend through Instagram’s direct messaging feature. From the top of the Drops page, users can return to their Cart or Wishlist at any time to complete the checkout — assuming they aren’t too late, of course.

In addition, the brand’s Live shopping can be scheduled to align with their product drop. When the brand goes live for a drop, there’s an on-screen countdown and confetti animation when the product becomes available.

The new feature is currently only available in the Instagram app in the U.S., and only on mobile devices (iOS and Android), not the web.

#apps, #brands, #drops, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flash-sales, #instagram, #mobile, #mobile-shopping, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopping, #shops, #social, #social-media, #social-shopping, #united-states

Snap to launch a new Creator Marketplace this month, initially focused on Lens Creators

Snap on Wednesday announced its plan to soon launch a Creator Marketplace, which will make it easier for businesses to find and partner with Snapchat creators, including lens creators, AR creators and later, prominent Snapchat creators known as Snap Stars. At launch, the marketplace will focus on connecting brands and AR creators for AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022.

The company had previously helped connect its creator community with advertisers through its Snapchat Storytellers program, which first launched into pilot testing in 2018 — already a late arrival to the space. However, that program’s focus was similar to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, as it focused on helping businesses find Snap creators who could produce video content.

Snap’s new marketplace, meanwhile, has a broader focus in terms of connecting all sorts of creators with the Snap advertising ecosystem. This includes Lens Creators, Developers and Partners, and then later, Snap’s popular creators with public profiles.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will open to businesses later this month to help them partner with a select group of AR Creators in Snap’s Lens Network. These creators can help businesses build AR experiences without the need for extensive creative resources, which makes access to Snap’s AR ads more accessible to businesses, including smaller businesses without in-house developer talent.

Lens creators have already found opportunity working for businesses that want to grow their Snapchat presence — even allowing some creators to quit their day jobs and just build lens for a living. Snap has been further investing in this area of its business, having announced in December a $3.5 million fund directed towards AR Lens creation. The company said at the time there were tens of thousands of Lens creators who had collectively made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.

Using Lenses has grown more popular, too, the company had noted, saying that over 180 million people interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — up from 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app in 2018.

Now, Snap says that over 200 million Snapchat users interact with augmented reality on a daily basis, on average, out of its 280 million daily users. The majority (over 90%) of these users are 13-25 year olds. In total, users are posting over 5 billion Snaps per day.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will remain focused on connecting businesses with AR Lens Creators throughout 2021.

The following year, it will expand to include the community of professional creators and storytellers who understand the current trends and interests of the Snap user base and can help businesses with their ad campaigns. The company will not take a cut of the deals facilitated through the Marketplace, it says.

This would include the creators making content for Snap’s new TikTok rival, Spotlight, which launched in November 2020. Snap encouraged adoption of the feature by shelling out $1 million per day to creators of top videos. In March 2021, over 125 million Snapchat users watched Spotlight, it says.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Spotlight isn’t the only way Snap is challenging TikTok.

The company also on Wednesday announced it’s snagging two of TikTok’s biggest stars for its upcoming Snap Originals lineup: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The siblings, who have gained over 20 million follows on Snapchat this past year, will star in the series “Charli vs. Dixie.” Other new Originals will feature names like artist Megan Thee Stallion, actor Ryan Reynolds, twins and influencers Niki and Gabi DeMartino, and YouTube beauty vlogger Manny Mua, among others.

Snap’s shows were watched by over 400 million people in 2020, including 93% of the Gen Z population in the U.S., it noted.

 

 

#advertising, #advertising-tech, #apps, #ar-ads, #augmented-reality, #brands, #creators, #lenses, #marketplace, #media, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #snap, #snap-inc, #snapchat, #social, #spotlight

A new YouTube feature will make its connected TV ads more shoppable

YouTube today gave advertisers a sneak peek at its plans to make its video platform more shoppable. The company will soon be introducing a new interactive feature aimed at advertisers called brand extensions, which will allow YouTube viewers to learn more about a product they see on the screen with a click of a button.

The new ad format will allow the advertiser to highlight their website link or another call-to-action in their connected TV video ad. The viewer can then click the option “send to phone,” which then sends that promotion or URL directly to their mobile device, without interrupting their viewing experience.

From the mobile device, the consumer could then shop the website as they would normally — browsing products, adding items to the cart, and completing the transaction. But they can do it when they’re ready to engage with that product information, instead of having to stop their video to do so.

The advertisers will also be able to smartly target the ads to the correct audience, based on the video content. For example, a fitness video may feature a brand extension ad that shows a new pair of running shoes.

Advertisers will be able to measure the conversions generated by these brand extensions directly in Google Ads, YouTube says.

In a related e-commerce ad effort, brands can now also add browsable product images to their direct response video ads, in order to encourage interested shoppers to click to visit their website or app.

These are only a few of the efforts YouTube has been working on with the goal of expand further into e-commerce.

Consumers, and particularly younger Gen Z users, today like to watch videos and engage while they shop, leading to the emergence of numerous video shopping services — like Popshop Live, NTWRK, ShopShops, TalkShopLive, Bambuser, and others. Facebook has also invested in live shopping and video-based shopping across both Facebook and Instagram.

Meanwhile, TikTok has become a home to video-based e-commerce, with Walmart (which also tried to acquire a stake in the app when Trump was trying to force a sale) hosting multiple shopping livestreams in recent months. TikTok also found success with e-commerce as it has rolled out more tools to direct video viewers to websites through integrated links and integrations with Shopify, for example.

But YouTube still has a sizable potential audience for video shopping, as it represents 40% of watch time of all ad-supported streaming services, per Comscore data. And of the top five streaming services in the U.S. that account for 80% of the connected TV market, only two are ad-supported, YouTube noted.

Ads are only one way YouTube will drive e-commerce traffic. Creators will also play a role.

A report from Bloomberg this past fall said YouTube was asking creators to tag and track the products they were featuring in their clips. YouTube later revealed more about this effort in February, saying it was beta testing a shopping experience that lets viewers shop from their favorite creators, and that this would roll out more broadly in 2021.

Brand extensions are separate from that effort, however, as they’re focused on giving the advertiser their own means to drive a shopping experience from a video.

YouTube says the new brand extensions ads are only the first of more interactive features the company has in store. The feature will roll out globally later this year.

#ad-technology, #ads, #adtech, #brands, #digital-marketing, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #google, #google-ads, #marketing, #online-advertising, #online-video-advertising, #shopping, #streaming-services, #video, #video-ads, #video-advertising, #youtube

Heirlume raises $1.38M to remove the barriers of trademark registration for small businesses

Platforms like Shopify, Stripe and WordPress have done a lot to make essential business-building tools, like running storefronts, accepting payments, and building websites accessible to businesses with even the most modest budgets. But some very key aspects of setting up a company remain expensive, time-consuming affairs that can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses — but that, if ignored, can result in the failure of a business before it even really gets started.

Trademark registration is one such concern, and Toronto-based startup Heirlume just raised $1.7 million CAD (~$1.38 million) to address the problem with a machine-powered trademark registration platform that turns the process into a self-serve affair that won’t break the budget. Its AI-based trademark search will flag if terms might run afoul of existing trademarks in the U.S. and Canada, even when official government trademark search tools, and even top-tier legal firms might not.

Heirlume’s core focus is on levelling the playing field for small business owners, who have typically been significantly out-matched when it comes to any trademark conflicts.

“I’m a senior level IP lawyer focused in trademarks, and had practiced in a traditional model, boutique firm of my own for over a decade serving big clients, and small clients,” explained Heirlume co-founder Julie MacDonnell in an interview. “So providing big multinationals with a lot of brand strategy, and in-house legal, and then mainly serving small business clients when they were dealing with a cease-and-desist, or an infringement issue. It’s really those clients that have my heart: It’s incredibly difficult to have a small business owner literally crying tears on the phone with you, because they just lost their brand or their business overnight. And there was nothing I could do to help because the law just simply wasn’t on their side, because they had neglected to register their trademarks to own them.”

In part, there’s a lack of awareness around what it takes to actually register and own a trademark, MacDonnell says. Many entrepreneurs just starting out seek out a domain name as a first step, for instance, and some will fork over significant sums to register these domains. What they don’t realize, however, is that this is essentially a rental, and if you don’t have the trademark to protect that domain, the actual trademark owner can potentially take it away down the road. But even if business owners do realize that a trademark should be their first stop, the barriers to actually securing one are steep.

“There was an an enormous, insurmountable barrier, when it came to brand protection for those business owners,” she said. “And it just isn’t fair. Every other business service, generally a small business owner can access. Incorporating a company or even insurance, for example, owning and buying insurance for your business is somewhat affordable and accessible. But brand ownership is not.”

Heirlume brings the cost of trademark registration down from many thousands of dollars, to just under $600 for the first, and only $200 for each additional after that. The startup is also offering a very small business-friendly ‘buy now, pay later’ option supported by Clearbanc, which means that even businesses starting on a shoestring can take step of protecting their brand at the outset.

In its early days, Heirlume is also offering its core trademark search feature for free. That provides a trademark search engine that works across both U.S. and Canadian government databases, which can not only tell you if your desired trademark is available or already held, but also reveal whether it’s likely to be able to be successfully obtained, given other conflicts that might arise that are totally ignored by native trademark database search portals.

Heirlume search tool comparison

Image Credits: Heirlume

Heirlume uses machine learning to identify these potential conflicts, which not only helps users searching for their trademarks, but also greatly decreases the workload behind the scenes, helping them lower costs and pass on the benefits of those improved margins to its clients. That’s how it can achieve better results than even hand-tailored applications from traditional firms, while doing so at scale and at reduced costs.

Another advantage of using machine-powered data processing and filing is that on the government trademark office side, the systems are looking for highly organized, curated data sets that are difficult for even trained people to get consistently right. Human error in just data entry can cause massive backlogs, MacDonnell notes, even resulting in entire applications having to be tossed and started over from scratch.

“There are all sorts of datasets for those [trademark requirement] parameters,” she said. “Essentially, we synthesize all of that, and the goal through machine learning is to make sure that applications are utterly compliant with government rules. We actually have a senior level trademark examiner that that came to work for us, very excited that we were solving the problems causing backlogs within the government. She said that if Heirlume can get to a point where the applications submitted are perfect, there will be no backlog with the government.”

Improving efficiency within the trademark registration bodies means one less point of friction for small business owners when they set out to establish their company, which means more economic activity and upside overall. MacDonnell ultimately hopes that Heirlume can help reduce friction to the point where trademark ownership is at the forefront of the business process, even before domain registration. Heirlume has a partnership with Google Domains to that end, which will eventually see indication of whether a domain name is likely to be trademarkable included in Google Domain search results.

This initial seed funding includes participation from Backbone Angels, as well as the Future Capital collective, Angels of Many and MaRS IAF, along with angel investors including Daniel Debow, Sid Lee’s Bertrand Cesvet and more. MacDonnell notes that just as their goal was to bring more access and equity to small business owners when it comes to trademark protection, the startup was also very intentional in building its team and its cap table. MacDonnell, along with co-founders CTO Sarah Guest and Dave McDonnell, aim to build the largest tech company with a majority female-identifying technology team. Its investor make-up includes 65% female-identifying or underrepresented investors, and MacDonnell says that was a very intentional choice that extended the time of the raise, and even led to turning down interest from some leading Silicon Valley firms.

“We want underrepresented founders to be to be funded, and the best way to ensure that change is to empower underrepresented investors,” she said. “I think that we all have a responsibility to actually do do something. We’re all using hashtags right now, and hashtags are not enough […] Our CTO is female, and she’s often been the only female person in the room. We’ve committed to ensuring that women in tech are no longer the only person in the room.”

#artificial-intelligence, #brand-management, #brands, #canada, #cto, #intellectual-property-law, #machine-learning, #marketing, #shopify, #tc, #toronto, #trademark

Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#america, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #brands, #butler, #california, #ceo, #cities, #clara-brenner, #companies, #construct-capital, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #frank-reig, #joby-aviation, #miami, #mit, #new-york-city, #oakland, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #remix, #revel, #san-francisco, #sequoia-capital, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #washington-d-c, #world-economic-forum, #y-combinator, #zipcar

Spotify opens a second personalized playlist to sponsors, after ‘Discover Weekly’ in 2019

Spotify is opening up its personalized playlist, “On Repeat,” to advertising sponsorship. This playlist, launched in 2019 and featuring users’ favorite songs, is only the second personalized playlist on the music streaming service that’s being made available for sponsorship. Spotify’s flagship playlist, “Discover Weekly,” became the first in 2019.

The sponsorship is made possible through the company’s Sponsored Playlist ad product, which gives brands the ability to market to Spotify’s free users with audio, video and display ad messages across breaks, allowing the advertiser to own the experience “end-to-end,” the company says.

It also gives brands an opportunity to reach Spotify’s most engaged users.

When Spotify opened up “Discover Weekly” to sponsorship, for example, it noted that users who listened to this playlist streamed more than double those who didn’t. Similarly, “On Repeat” caters to Spotify’s more frequent users because of its focus on tracks users have played most often.

Since the launch of “On Repeat” in September 2019, Spotify says the playlist has reached 12 billion streams globally. Fans have also spent over 750 million hours listening to the playlist, where artists like Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, and Ariana Grande have topped the list for “most repeated” listens.

Though Spotify today offers its numerous owned and operated playlists for sponsorship, its personalized playlists have largely been off-limits — except for “Discover Weekly.” These are highly-valued properties, as Spotify directs users to stream collections powered by its algorithms, which Spotify organizes in its ever-expanding “Made for You” hub in its app. Here, users can jump in between “Discover Weekly,” and other collections organized by genre, artist, decade, and more — like new releases, favorites, suggestions, and more.

With the launch of sponsorship for “On Repeat,” brands across 30 global markets, including North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific will be able to own another of Spotify’s largest personalized properties for a time.

The first U.S. advertiser to take advantage of the sponsorship is TurboTax, which cited the personalization elements and user engagement with the playlist among the reasons why the ad product made sense for them.

“Like music, taxes are not one size fits all. Every tax situation is unique and every individual’s needs are different,” said Cathleen Ryan, VP of Marketing for TurboTax, in a statement about the launch. “We’re using Spotify’s deep connection to its engaged listeners to get in front of consumers and show them that with TurboTax you can get the expertise you need on your terms. With Spotify, we’re able to get both reach and unique targeting that ensures the right audiences know about the tools, guidance and expertise that TurboTax offers,” she added.

#ad-technology, #adtech, #advertising, #advertising-tech, #brands, #media, #personalization, #playlist, #spotify, #streaming-music, #turbotax

Flowhaven raises $16M to evolve brand licensing management beyond emails and spreadsheets

The media licensing business is a massive market, but much of the work involved is still handled manually through emails and spreadsheets. A startup called Flowhaven is working to change that. The company, which has now closed on $16 million in Series A funding, helps brands to manage their licensing partnerships, including the account management aspects, the individual product information, the financial information, and more.

The new round was led by Sapphire Sport, the part of Sapphire Ventures that specializes in sports, media and lifestyle brands. Existing investors Global Founders Capital and Icebreaker.vc also returned, bringing Flowhaven’s total raise to date to $21.5 million.

Flowhaven software

Image Credits: Flowhaven

The idea to modernize the media licensing business comes from a founder who had direct experience in the industry.

Flowhaven CEO Kalle Törmä previously worked on licensing for the Angry Birds mobile game franchise while at Rovio, starting back in 2012. While there, he created the global blueprint for managing the merchandising side of the business, which later expanded to include partnerships for the Angry Birds Star Wars and Angry Birds Transformers games.

“It was evident that the workflows were very broken — from managing the commerce, or the agreements, the product approvals, and financials. The information was very siloed. Also, there were a lot of things that fell through the cracks,” explains Törmä.

In addition, it was time consuming and difficult to pull together data that would allow management to understand how the business was doing.

The challenges Törmä faced at Rovio led him to understand what would be needed to create a solution like Flowhaven — particularly, the difficulty of managing tricky licensing workflows and timetables through manual methods.

He left Rovio in 2016 and founded Flowhaven, where he’s joined by university pal and CCO Timo Olkkola, whose background is in sales.

Flowhaven software

Image Credits: Flowhaven

Today, the Flowhaven licensing management platform automates the brand licensing workflow process, including the planning and strategy, account and agreement management, content distribution, design approvals, royalty reporting, and more.

It also helps to keep teams on schedules that can often be tight in the media and entertainment businesses.

“There’s always a timeframe that they follow — whether it’s a film release or game release,” Törmä says. “There are lot of moving pieces in closing all the agreements and then moving the products through the approvals [so when], let’s say, a film comes out, a couple of months prior, the merchandise hits the retail shelves,” he says.

“If you don’t have the products approved and ready, then you didn’t really seize the momentum,” Törmä adds.

Flowhaven software

Image Credits: Flowhaven

Flowhaven pitches that its software isn’t just saving time, it also saves money. The company estimates that licensing professionals waste 50 hours per month at $70 per hour on work that could be automated. This equals approximately $42,000 per year wasted for a single professional.

As of its new funding, Flowhaven’s software-as-a-service platform has been adopted by close to 100 companies, ranging from smaller business to Fortune 100 companies in markets like media, entertainment, sports, fashion, and by corporate and consumer brands Though some customer names can’t be shared, Flowhaven says it’s working with Nintendo, LAIKA, Games Workshop, Acamar Films, and Crunchyroll.

Its pricing is based on how many users will be on the platform. This doesn’t include those with guest access outside the organization, who are always free of charge.

The company also reports 400% year-over-year growth and says it’s expecting that trend to continue, but declines to share its current revenue figures.

The additional funding will help Flowhaven fuel its growth, expand its product and platform, and aid in hiring, Törmä says. Today, the company’s staff is split between offices in Helsinki, London and L.A. but says it’s seeing the most growth in the latter two.

In terms of the product itself, the plan is to further develop Flowhaven’s analytics and speed up the process of exchanging information between the brand owners and their licensees.

Already in 2021, Flowhaven is growing. It began the year with a team of 30 and is now 43 people. Throughout the year, Törmä says the team will grow to nearly 100.

#brands, #entertainment, #funding, #licensing, #media, #sapphire-ventures, #software, #startups

Facebook introduces a new Messenger API with support for Instagram

Following the updates to Instagram and Messenger that delivered cross-app communication and other features, Facebook today announced its Messenger API has also been updated to allow businesses to manage their communications across Instagram, in addition to Messenger .

Before today, businesses could only respond to customer inquiries through the Instagram app and through Facebook’s unified business inbox. This could work for some smaller businesses, but for larger brands with a high volume of messages, it could be difficult to be efficient this way.

The update means businesses will be able to now also integrate Instagram messaging into the applications and workflows they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations. Specifically, they’ll be able to use rich media — like photos, URL links and more — and work with developers to integrate the API with their product and customer databases to provide the same experience on Instagram as they do today on Messenger.

For example, a business with a CRM system integration would be able to view the customer loyalty information and take that into account when they respond.

Businesses using the API can also manage their Instagram presence, including their Profile, Shops and Stories, Facebook says.

Image Credits: Facebook

The change comes at a time when Instagram is pushing Shopping as a core activity on Instagram, and follows the launch of Instagram shops and visual changes to the app to highlight shopping features.

According to Facebook, daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram combined grew over 40% over the last year.

With the launch of the new API, Facebook is also introducing new features on Instagram that will allow businesses to respond immediately to common questions using automation, while still offering to connect customers to live support, if needed. An alpha test with partner Clarabridge on this feature indicated that client brands improved response rates on Instagram by up to 55% by managing DMs through its platform.

The updated Messenger API is launching into beta testing with businesses like Adidas, Amaro, Glossier, H&M, MagazineLuiza, Michael Kors, Nars, Sephora and TechStyle Fashion Group, among other consumer brands. The beta is also open to a limited number of developer partners. Today, other businesses and developers can join a waitlist to request access to the API post-beta.

Cross-app communication, a key part of the recent Instagram and Messenger update, is not available in the API at launch, however. For now, the messages will appear a brand’s Messenger or Instagram tab depending on where their customers are messaging from. However, Facebook confirmed it plans to “eventually” bring cross-app communication to businesses and developers in a later update.

#api, #apps, #brands, #developers, #facebook, #instagram, #messages, #messenger, #shopping, #social, #social-media

Bolt Threads partners with Adidas, owners of Balenciaga and Gucci, and Stella McCartney on mushroom leather

Bolt Threads has brought together some new and existing partners including Stella McCartney, Kering (the fashion house behind brands like Balenciaga, Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta), Lululemon and Adidas to create a consortium that will explore the company’s use of mushroom-based leather substitute in products, the company said.

These companies will be among the first to bring products made with Bolt Threads mushroom-based leather substitute to market in 2021, the company said.

“I have always been convinced that innovation is key to addressing the  sustainability challenge that luxury is facing. Finding innovative, alternative materials and fabrics can potentially drastically reduce the environmental impact of our industry over the long term,” François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and chief executive of Kering, in a statement.

The announcement is the culmination of at least two years of work from Bolt Threads, which first announced it would join the hunt for a leather substitute in 2018. The company announced its first product soon after — a $400 “Driver Bag” designed in conjunction with the Portland-based bag company, Chester Wallace.

The company, which has raised over $200 million since its launch nearly eleven years ago, faces some pretty tough competition. Companies like MycoWorks and Modern Meadow both have alternative leather products in the works. However, these partnerships may go a long way toward separating Bolt from the rest of the herd.

Swatches of Bolt Threads mushroom leather product, “Mylo”. Image Credit: Bolt Threads

Investors in Bolt Threads include Foundation Capital, Baillie Gifford, Founders Fund, Formation 8, and the Nan Fung Group, a privately held, Hong Kong-based conglomerate with significant holdings in the textile and fashion industry.

What the redoubled interest in leather goods means for the alternative spider silk that was the company’s original product is unclear. There hasn’t been much news on the silk front since the company debuted its $314 necktie back in 2017.

There’s clearly interest in the fashion industry’s ability to clean up. Consumers are demanding it and new brands focused on sustainability are launching regularly.

As Reducetarian Foundation president and co-founder, Brian Kateman, wrote last year, “traditional fashion is killing the planet.”

Every year, the textile industry alone spits out 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases — more than all marine shipping vessels and international flights combined — and consumes 98 million tons of oil. Textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of clean water, and on the whole, the apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of all greenhouse emissions worldwide. Worst of all, the clothes produced by this massive resource consumption produces clothes are rapidly discarded: In 2015, 73 percent of the total material used to make clothes ended up incinerated or landfilled, according to a study by the Ellen MacArthur foundation.

#adidas, #bolt-threads, #brands, #companies, #culture, #fashion, #francois-henri-pinault, #gucci, #leather, #lululemon, #luxury-brands, #modern-meadow, #mycoworks, #oil, #tc

Capsule’s video Q&A platform helps brands reach their community in the post-COVID era

A new startup called Capsule has launched a new way for brands to create original video content with their community in the form of Q&As. But unlike a simple Instagram Stories’ Q&A session, Capsule provides a full platform for designing the Q&A session, branding the content, curating the responses from users and tracking the resulting data. But the most notable feature is Capsule’s automated editing process that adds branding, effects and music to the final product, allowing brands to skip the post-production process and more quickly publish their video.

The product comes from the same team behind the animated GIF capture tool and social network Phhhoto, which eventually lost out to Instagram’s clone, Boomerang. Following Phhhoto’s shutdown in late 2017, the team pivoted to an experiential marketing business, Hypno, that provided photo booths, plus other camera platforms and interactive experiences, for live events, retail and attractions.

The idea for the new startup directly emerged from the challenges now facing Hypno in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Capsule was born out of the need for some of our events and live experiences customers to figure out a way to activate their audiences because they couldn’t do it in real life,” explains co-founder Champ Bennett. “The Hypno business pretty much dried up in terms of its opportunities as soon as the pandemic hit,” he says.

The team refocused its efforts on the new software platform instead, and received an immediate, overwhelming response from its existing customers. It also quickly added new ones — including those outside the live events space.

In the two months following its MVP launch, Capsule has been generating revenue from its now 35,000 users, including some big-name customers like Netflix, Samsung, Chicago Bulls and a handful of colleges and universities that wanted to create solutions for virtual graduations. Consumers, meanwhile, have also used the product for virtual birthdays, weddings and baby showers.

The platform itself works something like a Squarespace for the video Q&A format.

To use Capsule, the brand will first pick a template that can customize to match their current campaign by changing the logos, colors, buttons, backgrounds and URLs.

Image Credits: Capsule

They then choose their own questions and prompts designed to get their customers/users/community members talking.

To respond, users visit the Capsule URL — which can be a custom domain for an extra fee — to record and upload videos via their phone or laptop. These videos can only be a max of 60 seconds in length to keep the content short and snappy.

Brands can curate the responses they want to use in the resulting product, aka the “capsule.” They’ll also have access to the raw video footage for use elsewhere on social media, if needed.

Capsule’s best trick is that it instantly and automatically processes the video, adding music, lower-third graphics and a pre-roll and a post-roll, so the video looks professionally edited.

“It makes everybody look a little better than what they would normally look like if they were just recording right from their phone — which generally looks pretty raw and unedited,” explains Bennett. “That editing feature is the magic of that whole thing, as it makes it feel really special.”

The automated editing involves a scripting language the Capsule team created, which includes a set of instructions on how to process a given video. Capsule’s customers simply select the “type” of video they want, and Capsule does the rest.

“One might be really energetic, with flashing graphics and pumping music. And one might be a little bit more somber and may have an acoustic guitar playing behind it,” Bennett notes. “Ultimately, what will happen is when you create a Capsule, you’ll be able to pick that that feel.”

Right now, Capsule offers 10 of these “templates,” but is working to have around 50 available within the next couple of months.

Depending on the type of solution a brand needs, Capsule’s service can cost anywhere from $10 per month to as much as $20,000 per year. It currently works via the web and mobile web, but Capsule is developing an iPhone app that will allow the capture of higher-quality video.

While the original focus was to create a new engagement platform for brands that have lost the ability to host live events, the range of post-COVID use cases is continuing to grow. Netflix, for example, ran a focus group using Capsule to ask questions and get video, instead of written responses from viewers. Will Ferrell used Capsule to leave a video message for graduates. Media company OkayAfrica’s community used Capsule to talk about the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, organized in thematic sections.

Bennett says the company is also thinking about how Capsule can be used to provide a platform for people’s voices who may not otherwise be heard.

Following its launch, it’s clear Capsule became a more flexible format than perhaps originally envisioned. But to what extent customers’ usage will change over time remains less certain. If a coronavirus vaccine is developed, for example, the need for video to stand in for live events may not be as in demand as it is now, for example. Of course, no one knows when that time will come at this point.

In addition to Bennett, Capsule’s co-founders include Russell Armand and Joseph Jorgensen, also of Phhhoto and Hypno. The company is planning to spin out Capsule from Hypno and is already receiving inbound interest from investors. Capsule has not closed a seed round at this time.

#brands, #capsule, #media, #social, #video

YouTube’s FameBit rebrands as YouTube BrandConnect, shuts down its self-service program

FameBit, YouTube’s influencer marketing platform acquired by Google in 2016, is today undergoing a rebranding. The new platform will now be called YouTube BrandConnect, and will remain open to eligible creators in the U.S. with over 25,000 subscribers. The update follows FameBit’s recent announcement regarding the closure of its self-service website which allowed creators to independently find brands to work with, submit deal proposals, and complete campaigns.

Now, YouTube BrandConnect will only focus on the full-service side of its offering, where a team of experts proactively matches creators with brands and provides end-to-end campaign management and delivery. The company said creators to earn 30 times more from full-service deals compared with self-service deals, and self-service only represented 4% of total FameBit payouts to creators.

The self-service website and all accounts will be closed on July 31, 2020.

From this point forward, creators eligible for the full-service program will be able to sign up for YouTube BrandConnect through YouTube Studio. The company says it will add more campaign management features to the YouTube Studio platform in the months ahead.

For participating brands, the goal of the revamped program is to provide measurable campaigns related to their branded content deals with top YouTube creators.

On this front, YouTube has added new measurement tools designed for greater accountability —  like Brand Interest Lift, Influencer Lift, and organic view-through conversations. Brand Interest Lift measures consumer search behavior resulting from the creator’s video. Influencer Lift measures consumer sentiment on Purchase Intent, Brand Recall, and other factors. Brands can also use Google Insights and other tools to measure the impact and the ROI of influencer marketing for the first time on YouTube, the company notes.

YouTube says it will also soon expand its ad technology offerings to include an updated “shopping shelf” that appears below a YouTube video. Soon, it will roll out the option for a “media shelf” which will allow viewers to rent or buy movies a video recommends, instead of only featuring merchandise for sale or apps for download, as the shelf can do now.

On the creator side, YouTube claims its insights-based matchmaking tools allow for access to more branded content deals. Over the past two years, the average deal size resulting from these matches across the full-service platform grew more than 260%, the company says.

Meanwhile, the influencer marketing industry as a whole is projected to reach $15 billion by 2022, YouTube says, citing Business Insider Intelligence data from December 2019. This forecast, due to its timing, does not take into account the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on influencer marketing, of course. The fallout from the spread of the coronavirus — including things like travel restrictions, business closures, and event cancellations — led to a related reduction in influencer brand deals, eMarketer reported in April. More than 1 in 4 U.S. influencers said in March they were receiving fewer collaboration offers from brands as a result.

The longer-term impacts from these changes mean brands working with influencers will want more reliable, measurable data, about their campaign’s success. In addition, a more robust platform for brand deals and measurement will also give YouTube a competitive advantage over TikTok, which has seen usage increasing during the pandemic, particularly with a younger user base.

“We’ll continue investing in our technology and expanding internationally to bring new experiences to creators, brands, and their fans globally,” said YouTube, in an announcement about the rebranding and update. “This is just the beginning for YouTube BrandConnect, and we’re excited to bring even more value to creators, brands, and viewers through branded content campaigns in the months ahead.”

#advertising-tech, #brands, #influencers, #media, #youtube