All posts in “Apps”

La Belle Vie wants to compete with Amazon Prime Now in Paris

French startup La Belle Vie announced a new funding round of $6.5 million earlier this week (€5.5 million). Julien Mangeard, Thibaut Faurès Fustel de Coulanges, Louis Duclert, Kima Ventures and Shake-Up Factory participated in the founding round.

Online grocery shopping is becoming quite competitive in Paris. You can order groceries from Amazon using Amazon Prime Now. And all the traditional supermarkets are launching or relaunching services to order and receive groceries within a couple of hours — Carrefour Livraison Express, Franprix’s mobile app, etc.

But all those services aren’t necessarily designed for this kind of offering. With Franprix’s app for instance, a rider is going to pick up your groceries in the nearest store and bring them to you. With Amazon Prime Now, Amazon has a big warehouse in the North of Paris filled with Kindles, books and tomatoes.

La Belle Vie wants to focus exclusively on your groceries and optimize all the steps. It starts with a big inventory. La Belle Vie sells you basic groceries, organic stuff, meat, fish and vegetables. Last year, the company acqui-hired 62degrés to sell fresh prepared meals too.

La Belle Vie has developed all its tools from scratch, including its ERP, a warehouse management service and a delivery management service. In 2017, the startup generated $3.5 million in sales (€3 million) in sales.

With this funding round, the company plans to launch a second warehouse in Paris and new cities, starting with Lyon. But the best part is that you can order croissants without going to the boulangerie — finally a croissants-as-a-service startup.

A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing

Facebook’s next money-maker could be this tool for connecting marketers to social media creators so they can team up on sponsored content Facebook ad campaigns. The Branded Content Matching search engine lets advertisers select the biographical characteristics of creators’ fans they want to reach, see stats about these audiences, and contact them to hammer out deals.

Leaked screenshots of Facebook’s promotional materials for the tool were first attained and published in german by AllFacebook.de. TechCrunch has now confirmed with Facebook the existence of the test of the search engine. Facebook first vaguely noted it would build a creator-brand tool in March, but now we know what it looks like and exactly how it works.

Even though Facebook will not actually broker or initially take a cut of the deals, the tool could equip brands with much more compelling and original marketing content. That could in turn encourage them to spend more on Facebook ads to spread that content, while also making the ads users see more entertaining and tolerable so they spend longer on the social network. By getting creators paid, even if not directly by Facebook, they’ll invest more in the quality of their content and size of their following on the app instead of with competitors.

How Facebook’s influencer marketing search engine works

A Facebook spokesperson explained the motive behind the tool like this. Facebook wants to help businesses find creators who can reach their target audience in an authentic way, while allowing creators a path to monetizing their Facebook content and fan base. Creators opt in to participating in the test and set up a portfolio showcasing their audience size and metrics plus their best branded content. Facebook is starting the program primarily with a set of lifestyle brands and creators.

Advertisers in the test can search for creators with specific audience demographics using a wide range of targeting options. Those include both general and industry-specific parameters like:

  • Top countries where they’re popular
  • Interests
  • Gender
  • Education history
  • Relationship status
  • Life events
  • Home ownership status
  • Home type

The search engine’s results page shows a list of creators with each’s audience match percentage to the search terms, percentage of their followers they reach, engagement rate, follower count, and video views. Advertisers can save their best matches to private lists, and reach out to contact the creators, though Facebook is still figuring out if it’s best to connect them through their Facebook Page or traditional contact info. One question is how Facebook will ensure it’s only connecting businesses to brand-safe creators who won’t get them in trouble by posting racist, sexist, or objectionable content the way star YouTuber PewDiePie did.

The deals for product placement or sponsored content creation and sharing are then worked out between the brand and creator without Facebook’s involvement. The platform is not taking any revenue cut during the testing phase, but longer-term will evaluate whether it should. The only thing Facebook doesn’t allow is pure re-sharing deals where influencers are paid to just post the brand’s pre-made content they didn’t help create.

The crowsourced future of advertising

Foreshadowed the launch of its dedicated Facebook Creator app in November, this is the company’s first serious foray into influencer marketing. This emerging industry holds the potential to overhaul the way advertising content is produced. In days of old, brands couldn’t target very narrow segments of their customers since they were using broadcast mediums like TV commercials, magazine ads, and billboards, or endoresements from mainstream celebrity like movie actors. They might only make a few separate styles of marketing compaigns that would appeal to wide swaths of their target audience.

With the Internet and targeting data-rich social networks like Facebook, they can reach extremely specific subsets of their customers with marketing messages tuned to their identity. But reaching these niche audiences with corporate content that feels authentic rather than fake and smarmy is difficult. That’s where social media creators come in. Not only do they have a pre-existing and intimate relationship with their fans who’ll take their endorsements to heart. They’ve also already spent years figuring out exactly what type of content appeals to these specific people. When they team up with brands, the businesses get their products recontextualized and interpreted for that audience with content they could never come up with themselves.

Twitter realized this early, which is why it acquired creator-brand deal broker Niche for a reported $50 million back in 2015. [Disclosure: I got fascinated with this industry because my cousin Darren Lachtman is one of the co-founders of Niche] But now as Facebook seeks to attract influencers and their audiences to its social network, it’s trying to find ways to get them paid. Otherwise, they’re likely to stray to YouTube’s ad revenue shares and Patreon’s subscription payments. So far Facebook has tested tipping and subscriptions from fans, as well as letting creators host ad breaks — essentially commercials — during their videos. But brands want the creators’ help designing the content, not just distributing it.

But what about Instagram and YouTube influencers?

The Branded Content Matching search engine will help brands find those creators…but only on Facebook for now. The tool doesn’t pull in their audience sizes and metrics from other important platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, or Twitch. Brands don’t get a holistic view of the value and reach of a creator, who might be way more popular on another platform than Facebook.

And really, Instagram is where all these influencers spend their time and share their content. Though Facebook owns it, it says it’s not showing Instagram influencers in the tool at the moment. Adding them in, the same way advertisers can push ads to Facebook and Instagram from one interface, would make the search engine much more powerful.

There’s already a whole industry of independent creator search engines and databases for marketers like Hypr, Whalar, Fohr Card, Tap Influence, and Creator IQ. If Facebook built one with first-party data from across its properties, or even pulled stats from competing platforms, it might squash these startups. Alternatively, it might buy one to ramp up its efforts here like how Twitter bought Niche.

Facebook is running out of ad inventory in the News Feed. It needs to make each ad better and more watchable so it can grow revenue by charging more per ads rather than selling more ads. Meanwhile, yesterday it started testing ads in Facebook Stories, where brands will need help navigating the more personal, vertical video format. Awesome content made by creators could be the answer. And Facebook could finally start helping more of these artists, comedians, and storytellers to turn their passion into a profession.

WARD is an app for placing fantasy bets on esports games

Prediction markets, such as those that exist in the realm of fantasy sports, have taken off amongst consumers in the last few years. But fantasy sports have yet to make much of a play in one of the hottest areas online right now, namely esports. And it’s a big market.

Fantasy esports have been thriving across international markets. In 2017, more than 360 million viewers watched League of Legends alone, significantly overtaking the Super Bowl viewership. By 2020, the esports industry is estimated to be worth more than $1.5 billion, with the target audience being 21-35 years old. But quite how to take advantage of this arena has been a conundrum.

Now a new startup thinks it has the answer. What if you could create a live predictions market around esports as it happens?

That’s the aim of WARD, a startup out of Berlin that has created a “pick and predict” real-time prediction smartphone game, where players can win real prizes.

Billed as a fantasy esports game that provides a second-screen real-time experience for tournaments, WARD has now secured a $600,000 seed round. The backers are Impulse VC, SmartHub and a number of European angel investors. The seed investment will be used to build out the product, but also to expand in the lucrative markets of Asia and the U.S.

So how does it work? Well, fans who watch a championship or a specific esports game can predict their version of in-game events in real-time. So, for example, in the League of Legends game, a user can make a prediction about who will spill “first blood” or which team will destroy the first tower in the game, and so on.

For every prediction users make correctly, they are awarded points. Users who acquire the most points can top the leaderboard and go on to win prizes. These can include headphones, tickets for championships and signed merchandise such as team jerseys. Of course, this depends on the partner paying WARD to be featured. But, the more the user wins, the better prizes they get and the bigger the brand uplift for the team or sponsor.

Kirill Belov, managing partner at Impulse VC, says he was “stunned by the WARD technology, team and global vision. It is our first funding in the esports industry, and WARD is one of the best platforms to expand the scope of further investments.” High praise indeed.

WARD has so far run beta tests in Berlin based around the European League of Legends Championship Series, but the official launch is set for June 2018 with an aim to attract 3 million downloads by the end of the year.

The plans also include global expansion to Asia and adding new esports disciplines, such as Overwatch, CounterStrike (CSGO) to the app.

You can download the app here.

Facebook Stories reveals 150M daily viewers and here come ads

After 14 months of silence since launching, Facebook Stories has finally announced a 150 million daily active user count for its Snapchat Stories clone. And now it’s time to earn some money off it. Facebook Stories will start testing its first ads today in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.

They’re 5- to 15-second video ads users can skip, and while there’s no click-through or call to action now, Facebook plans to add that in the coming months. Advertisers can easily extend their Instagram Stories ads to this new surface, or have Facebook automatically reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched borders and text at the bottom. Facebook also plans to give businesses more metrics on their Stories performance to convince them the feature is worth their ad dollars.

Advertisers can extend their Instagram Stories ads to Facebook Stories (left), or have Facebook reformat their News Feed ads with color-matched image borders and ad copy text shown at the bottom

Facebook has to nail Stories ads to preserve its business, as CPO Chris Cox said this month that Stories sometime next year will surpass feed posts as the top way to share. CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that Facebook must ensure “that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds. If we don’t do this well, then as more sharing shifts to Stories, that could hurt our business.” Despite criticism that the feature is obtrusive and redundant with Instagram Stories, Facebook is proving there’s no retreating from the ephemeral slideshow format. And Snapchat could see ad spend slip over to Facebook, especially since the big blue social network has so much targeting data on us.

The race for storytellers

My first question was how Facebook is defining a daily user for Stories. It’s anyone who watches a Story on Facebook’s app or site. That’s useful, because it means it’s not counting users who simply cross-post their Stories from Instagram or Messenger to Facebook, which would inflate the number. It’s a testament to the coercive power of the top-of-feed Stories design that Instagram pioneered and Facebook brought over, and it’s already testing bigger Stories preview tiles.

For context, here’s a breakdown of Stories daily user counts and total monthly user counts across the top players, ranked by size:

  1. WhatsApp Status: 450 million daily out of 1.5 billion monthly as of May 2018
  2. Instagram Stories: 300 million daily out of 800 million monthly as of November 2017
  3. Snapchat (whole app): 191 million daily as of May 2018, launched
  4. Facebook Stories: 150 million daily out of 2.2 billion monthly as of May 2018
  5. Messenger Day/Stories: 70 million daily out of 1.3 billion monthly as of September 2017

Instagram Stories also started showing ads when it hit 150 million users, though that was just five months after launch, while it’s taken Facebook Stories 14 months to get there.

The real opportunity for Facebook’s future engagement growth is bringing the Stories format to the international market that Snapchat has largely neglected for four years and only recently got serious about by re-engineering its Android app. WhatsApp capitalized on Snap’s focus on U.S. teens by surging to become the top Stories product thanks to youth across the globe. And now Facebook is specifically building Stories features for countries like India, such as the new audio posts to help users with non-native language keyboards, and cloud storage so you can privately save photos and videos to Facebook for those without room on their phones.

Facebook Stories lets you shoot 360 photos without a 360 camera with this cool “paint with the lens” interface

Since testing in January 2017 and then launching in March 2017, Facebook has been rapidly iterating on its version of Stories in hopes of making it more unique and apt to its audience. That includes adding cross-posting from its other apps and a desktop interface, advanced shutter formats like Boomerang and new augmented reality features like 3D doodling and real-world QR and image triggers that anchor AR to a location.

Oh, and there’s one bonus unannounced feature we’ve spotted. Facebook Stories can now shoot 360 photos without a 360 camera. It uses a cool interface that shows you where to “paint” your camera over your surroundings, so unlike a panorama where you only get one shot, you can go back and fill in missed spots.

Snap’s beaten; time to monetize

All of Facebook’s efforts seem to be paying off. Snapchat sunk to its slowest daily user growth rate ever, a paltry 2.13 percent last quarter, while the much more saturated Facebook grew a strong 3.42 percent. Snapchat actually shrank in user count during March.

That might have been the signal Facebook needed to start putting ads in its Stories. It’s effectively beaten Snapchat into submission. Without as strong of a competitor, Facebook has more leeway to pollute the Stories user experience with ads. And that comes just as Snapchat is desperate to ramp up ad sales after missing revenue estimates in Q1 and mounting losses of $385 million.

Ads in stories have added a lot of value for businesses on Instagram, and we believe we can do the same on Facebook,” Facebook product manager Zoheb Hajiyani tells me. “Ensuring that this is a good experience for people using the product will be our top priority.” Facebook has lined up a number of ad test partners it’s not disclosing, but also will be running its own ads for Oculus inside Stories.

With existing Facebook and Instagram advertisers able to easily port their ads over to Facebook Stories, and much greater total reach, they might not go to the trouble of advertising on Snap unless they seek young teens. Stories could in fact be the answer to Facebook’s issue with running out of ad space in the News Feed while it shuts down its sidebar units. Stories could generate the ad inventory needed to keep pushing more marketing into the social network.

Stories were inevitable. First launched by Snapchat in October 2013, it took almost three years for Facebook to wake up to the format as an existential threat to the company. But with the quick success of Instagram’s clone, Facebook has wisely swallowed its pride and pivoted its apps toward this style of visual communication. It was another moment, like the shift to mobile, where Facebook could have faltered. But willingness to admit its mistakes and ruthlessly compete may have won another epoch of social dominance.

For more on Stories, check out our feature piece:

Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports

The worst thing about Spectacles is how closely tied they are to Snapchat. The proprietary circular photo and video format looks great inside Snapchat where you can tip your phone around while always staying full screen, but it gets reduced to a small circle with a big white border when you export it to your phone for sharing elsewhere.

Luckily, Snapchat has started beta testing new export formats for Spectacles through the beta version of its app. This lets you choose a black border instead of a white one, but importantly, also a horizontal 16:9 rectangular format that would fit well on YouTube and other traditional video players. The test was first spotted by Eric Johnson, and, when asked, a Snapchat spokesperson told TechCrunch “I can confirm we’re testing it, yes.”

Allowing Spectacles to be more compatible with other services could make the v2 of its $150 photo and video-recording sunglasses much more convenient and popular. I actually ran into the Snapchat Spectacles team this weekend at the FORM Arcosanti music festival in Arizona where they were testing the new Specs and looking for ideas for their next camera. I suggested open sourcing the circular format or partnering so other apps could show it natively with the swivel effect, and Snap declined to comment about that. But now it looks like they’re embracing compatibility by just letting you ditch the proprietary format.

Breaking away from purely vertical or circular formats is also a bit of a coup for Snapchat, which has touted vertical as the media orientation of the future as that’s how we hold our phones. Many other apps, including Facebook’s Snapchat clones, adopted this idea. But with Snapchat’s growth slipping to its lowest rate ever, it may need to think about new ways to gain exposure elsewhere.

Seeing Spectacles content on other apps without ugly borders could draw attention back to Snapchat, or at least help Spectacles sell better than v1, which only sold 220,000 pairs and had to write-off hundreds of thousands more that were gathering dust in warehouses. While it makes sense why Snap might have wanted to keep the best Spectacles content viewing experience on its own app, without user growth, that’s proven a software limitation for what’s supposed to be a camera company.

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