Facebook goes public, buys more startups

What does billionaire Mark Zuckerberg want to buy with his (ok, Facebook’s) money? Startups, startups, and more startups. Just minutes after the closing bell rang on Facebook’s first day of public trading, the company announced its acquisition of social and mobile gifting startup Karma.

Here’s the post from Karma’s blog:

We’re thrilled to announce that Karma has been acquired by Facebook. The service that Karma provides will continue to operate in full force. By combining the incredible passion of our community with Facebook’s platform we can delight users in new and meaningful ways.

A few days ago, we offered our own predictions about  what startups Facebook should acquire. Karma wasn’t on the list, but hey, we’re not fortune-tellers. With billions in its cash vaults, Facebook can afford to grab any upstarts that catch its eye. -Laurie 

'Tis the season

It’s that time of the year when our inboxes are full of holiday cards from the companies we cover (and those we don’t). But I received a strange package today that prompted me to write an open letter to PR people. At the risk of sounding scrooge, here it goes…

Dear PR people,

Seasons Greetings to you too! Thank you for the cards and boxes you kindly sent to my office. Thank you for the calendar featuring studs in the new york tech world. That was weird, but I’ll take it. Thank you for the three books I likely won’t read and the one on Foursquare that made me realize if we’re at a point where people are making money on a book about Foursquare before Foursquare is making money on its own business, the bubble will surely pop.

But for the PR person who sent me age defying cream, dietary supplements and goggles in the shape of a shark, I must put my foot down. I cover technology and startups. Not wrinkles. I am not on a diet — although after the 4 brownie flavored energy bars you sent me, I will likely consider it. I live in New York where I likely won’t use goggles. And the mango oven dried fruit slightly resembles beef jerky, and that scares me. You also didn’t leave a card, and that scares me more.

Best wishes,

Laurie

CNNMoney Startup event tomorrow — here are the finalists!

For the past few weeks, we’ve been working on something new and different for us. Tomorrow CNNMoney will host its first startup event, at which three entrepreneurs will pitch their ventures — and talk up how their companies will help our brand.

We received more than 100 submissions, and winnowed it down to three finalists: Qwanz, Roboinvest and Visual Revenue. They’ll face a panel of CNNMoney experts, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who will shoot off questions a la the Spanish Inquisition.

The event will be hosted by our own Stacy Cowley, the tech editor here at CNNMoney.

The panel of judges includes John Cantarella, president of digital at Time Inc. News Group; Charlie O’Donnell, principal at First Round Capital; David Tisch, managing director of TechStars New York;  Alexa Von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest.com; and Margaret Tuohy, director of product for CNNMoney.

The pitches and the Q&As are all going down tomorrow night, in front of a real live audience. They’ll be graded on three categories: Fit with the CNNMoney brand; the business model; and the product vision and roadmap.

Check out Qwanz, Roboinvest and Visual Revenue to decide which is your favorite. And follow @CNNMoneyTech, where we’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #StartupCNNMoney — and announcing who’s chosen as the winner tomorrow night.

Your iPhone. Your car key.

What if you could unlock your car using your phone? Don’t bother opening the trunk — your iPhone will handle that. 

GetAround is a startup that wants to make it easy for people to conveniently share cars without the hassle of swapping keys. Using a technology called CarKit, customers can turn their iPhones into car keys. 

Presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt 2011’s startup battlefield, the crew mentioned the fact that 250 million cars in America are parked 22 hours a day. 

Free up some parking space, make some money — seems logical to me. 

Taking a step back, I wonder (and so did investor Fred Wilson) — what happens if someone trashes my car? GetAround provides complete insurance with each rental, but I’d still be hesitant to rent away my car in the click of an iPhone. 

But let’s be honest, unlocking someone else’s car with my iPhone definitely has the ‘wow’ factor. -Laurie

Investing in the cultural revolution

Fred Wilson has a pretty interesting investment strategy — invest in the cultural revolution. In an interview with Techcrunch’s  Erick Schonfeld, Wilson mentioned his partner’s theory: It’s better to be an anthropologist than a technologist in the business.

The gist - many of these technologies are changing our culture. Identify those technologies and invest.

Wilson mentioned the role of Twitter, anonymous, WikiLeaks and a host of sites that have made a significant impact on society.

"We’re in for some pretty big social upheavals," he said. "Someone like Twitter not only benefits from that but helps facilitate that."

Wilson defined four trends: the movement to all data to the cloud, mobile, social, and global.

Follow my tweets from Disrupt! 

-Laurie

No rapture? Bring on TechCrunch Disrupt

Ok, so the world didn’t end as many had thought. Now that we’ve survived the weekend, the madness of TechCrunch Disrupt is upon us!

Another tech conference? Here’s why you should care: The tech world LOVES panels. As you can imagine, there will be plenty of panels with many familiar faces. But Disrupt is a conference where news generally breaks. Last year, Mayor Bloomberg dropped in to announce NYC’s new Entrepreneurial Fund.

It’s also a conference that helps cut through the noise. It’s safe to say there are more startups emerging now than in the last couple years. Some of the ones we’ll hear about months from now get their debut at Disrupt.

Last year, I met the crew from Art.sy. Less than a year later, they’ve raised more than $1.4 million from people like Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, and Wendi Murdoch.

Oh yes, and we covered them..

We also got our first taste of Makerbot’s 3D home printer and found a number of noteworthy startups.

And who could forget GroupMe? The group-texting-messaging startup raised over $10 million after creating its prototype product at last year’s overnight “hackathon,” which leads up to the conference.

I stopped by the hackathon this go around. Let me set the scene – red bull, Chinese food, air mattresses and a whole lot of code.

Here are a couple startups I came across:

Snatch Me, a “Groupon for dating” concept. Instead of a daily spa deal, what if you got a different email every day featuring a potential date? The crew hacked together a site to make that happen. “This brings online dates to people who don’t think of themselves as online daters,” Tim Koelkebeck says.

Terrible at following through on lunch dates? Lunch List is here to help. Using your contacts on LinkedIn, the startup provides you with a weekly email asking whom you’d like to have lunch with. Pick a person, and an email is automatically sent to them. The crew is hoping to make us all follow through when we say, “Let’s do lunch!”

Perhaps one of the lucky hacks will get $10 million in funding. Who knows?

I’ll be at Disrupt first thing tomorrow, tweeting, writing, etc etc!

-Laurie

Startup 2011: tech experts weigh in

Some interesting quotes from Startup 2011, Silicon Alley Insider’s annual conference:

Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson on Apple vs. Google: “Android will end up being the device leader in the mobile market.”

Entrepreneur Gina Bianchini on closed vs. open: “Google - they represent the open web, and they represent a business model and are highly motivated that the Internet stays open.”

EDventure’s Esther Dyson on Apple’s competition: “Being the elite player is a nice position as along as they don’t try to be broad. Be the best at what you do – Apple should not attempt to be Google or Facebook. It should stay closed and be different and then they have a chance of succeeding.”

Dyson on whether Facebook will be bigger than Google: “I think they will be. They’re the platform, they own the audience, that’s the thing you can’t reproduce.”

And everyone seems to be weighing in on Twitter’s future:

Dyson: “Most companies don’t’ get murdered. They commit suicide.”

Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan: “I’d be concerned.”

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget: “Twitter….hallucination or next huge media company?” -Laurie

TechStars: The final countdown

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photo by CNNMoney

In downtown New York, steps away from Union Square, in a building eight floors up, through a set of glass doors, startup founders are talking to themselves.

They’re walking around an open office filled with computers, iPads, and all sorts of tech devices, gesturing their hands, looking expressive, passionate, and convincing.

It’s all in preparation for their ultimate pitch during TechStars NYC Demo Day.

In 5 days, 11 startups will present their ideas to an audience of no less than 400 investors who have flown in from around the country to hear them. No pressure, huh?

Back in January, the mentoring-and-seed-cash program selected finalists for its first crop of New York startups. Out of 600 applications, just those 11 made the cut.

For the last three months, the startups have been working night and day to build their companies and prepare for demo day.

"Present[ing] in front of 500 investors is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," TechStars director David Tisch said.

Investors like Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, Betaworks co-founders John Borthwick and Andy Weissman, Brad Feld, and VCs from Accel, Sequoia, and Greylock will be in the audience.

Two of the 11 startups already have funding, while another 5 have started on funding rounds.

Until the big day, the group of founders arrive early. They leave late. The downtown office, painted with New York City landscapes is full of people coding, polishing their products, working on financial projections, changing presentation slides and keeping downtown coffee shops in business.

Right now we can’t provide specific details about the companies, but from what I saw yesterday, it should be an interesting show. We’ll be covering. -Laurie

Fandor: Netflix for indie-film lovers

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image supplied by Fandor

Fandor, a startup that offers a Netflix-like service featuring independent films, announced today that it’s out of beta and ready to meet the world. Fandor says it’s been testing its subscription service for months and now offers more than 2,000 titles. Indie-film aficionados “don’t care about the same things as traditional movie-goers,” the company’s press release says — and it’s banking heavily on that assumption.

Fandor’s hope, it seems, is that a highly curated catalog coupled with sharing tools will appeal to this community. In that vein, Fandor is also throwing a lot of weight behind social features. Users can choose a free film to watch, clip a scene and share it with friends on Facebook. In turn, each new person to login via Facebook gets a free movie to watch and share.  

Users can sign up for a free one-month trial; subscriptions cost $9.99 a month after that.  Fandor says “a large part” of its revenue goes back to filmmakers.

This makes Fandor the newest upstart in the streaming-video market, which is getting crowded with would-be Netflix competitors. Yesterday, Warner Bros. started testing streaming movie rentals via Facebook. And last month alone, Amazon announced free streaming video for Prime customers and rental kiosk company Redbox said it is planning its own streaming service.

What do you think of Fandor’s approach? Is targeting a niche market the way to go? -Julianne