Category Archives: Technology

Pingup’s Mark Slater: Why ‘Task Completion’ Scheduling is Key for LODE

More than 75 companies are now providing scheduling solutions, resulting in a super fragmented marketplace where no single company has even five percent of the existing market. One by-product of the glut: the need for a one stop, API-driven product that can confirm bookings across the different platforms.

MyTime, which has been developed by Red Beacon founder Ethan Anderson, is one aggregator. Another is Avalon Ventures-funded Pingup, which has been in development for two years and just announced a deal with CityGrid Networks’ Citysearch and InsiderPages to embed task completion on their pages.

Pingup CEO Mark Slater talked with BIA/Kelsey about the space. He says it has become especially critical with the development of the Local On Demand Economy (LODE), which allows consumers to set up appointments on an on-demand basis (and is also the subject of BIA/Kelsey’s June 12 LODE conference in San Francisco.)

“We want to be the platform that powers LODE,” he says, noting that the traffic that had once been focused entirely on search has now broadened to also include task completion. Services such as Pingup are “an extremely efficient way to provide access to businesses,” he adds.

Pingup, which is based in Boston and has 19 employees, is “only about integrating the software,” says Slater. It has no aspirations of its own to be a media player or a destination in its own right. “We don’t represent a competitive threat to the demand side or the supply side,” he says.

Slater adds that its deal with CityGrid Networks’ Citysearch and InsiderPages will bring in thousands of businesses on the appointment supplier side. The company expects to name at least five more publisher announcements in 2015, potentially including listings partners, search engines, ecommerce companies and messaging companies.

Booker Software Raises $35 Million; CEO Josh McCarter Talks to BIA/Kelsey

Booker Software announced today that it has raised $35 Million, which it will use to invest in sales and marketing capabilities and in developing vertical-specific products that “drive more value to merchants,” said CEO Josh McCarter, in a discussion with BIA/Kelsey.

McCarter noted that 9,000 locations are under contract and over 60,000 business users. These are users who are “logging in every day. They are not just signing on once a month” to create a promotion or similar feature. They use Booker’s services as an integral part of their business.

Next steps for the company will further leverage all the trends impacting services-based SMB marketing, including CRM; retention marketing; Point of Sales services; scheduling; and mobile apps via a partnership with Como.

“Last year, we refocused on things that help you grow and operate more efficiently,” said McCarter, noting that the company rebranded from Gramercy One to specifically focus on the SMB space, which now accounts for 80 percent of its revenue. “The data that Booker can aggregate really powers the growth engine,” he said. Services such as email and CRM are only as powerful as the data they can use.

While spas and salons continue to account for a significant portion of the company’s business (dating to its origins as SpaFinder), a number of verticals hold great promise, said McCarter. Pet services, daycare and after-school services (music lessons, art lessons) are doing “very well.” Another area of growth is a JV with The Golf Channel that enables customers to book tee times and other services.

The new round of funding is on top of $40 million previously raised. Several mid-sized funders that specialize in SMB services were included in the round, including Signal Peak (InfusionSoft) and Jump Capital (Swift Pages). The round was led by Medina Capital, a cloud infrastructure specialist.

Other investors included Revolution (Steve Case and Ted Leonsis), Bain Capital, TDF Ventures and Grotech Ventures. In addition, a “strategic investment” was made by First Data, the payment processing giant, who will be announcing details of its relationship with Booker in coming months.

McCarter noted that each investor brings a unique appreciation of Booker’s goals in serving the SMB community, which has been “underserved” by larger VCs, which McCarter called “SMB-averse.” But there is a definite need for SMB services, which focus less on return policies or other ecommerce issues. They are more about everything that a business needs, from scheduling services to POS innovation to equipment rentals. It is a $2.4 trillion space, he argued.

Booker Software CEO Josh McCarter

New BIA/Kelsey Report Shows Momentum for Card-Linked Offers

BIA/Kelsey is out with my new paper on the status of card-linked offers, which is based on detailed discussions with 14 leaders of the card linking ecosystem, including credit card firms, tech vendors, payment processors, publishers and merchants. Most of the respondents are members of The CardLinx Association.

This week, I presented report highlights to The CardLinx Association’s Mobile Summit in San Mateo. Among the findings: universal agreement that card linking is seeing momentum among merchants; that some budgets for card-linked offers have begun to move from experimental to seven-figure spending; and that many key categories are participating, including Quick Service and Fast Casual restaurants, specialty retail and subscription services.

Challenges remain, however. Once seen in simple terms as a successor to the prepaid model pioneered by Groupon and Living Social, there have been some slow-downs in the business. As Coupons.com SVP Bruce Sattley noted at The CardLinx Summit, “There is not as much fervor among retailers as I would have thought a year ago.”

Clearly, the ultimate success of card-linked offers will be linked to better coordination among the various segments of the CLO ecosystem; the development of a constant stream of attractive offers; greater awareness of CLOs; the elimination of structural sales blockages; and the development of industry standards for card-linked transactions.

More information about the report, including purchase information, may be accessed here.

A Few Quick Thoughts on Apple’s Big Announcements

A lot of us were glued to our screens today to watch or catch the feeds on the Apple announcements re iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Pay and Apple Watch. What will the new announcements mean to our local ecosystem? To date, Apple’s focus on local has mostly been geared to Apple Maps. But here are a few things:

1. More content for larger screens. When the iPad was introduced, vendors such as Matchbin bet the bank that it would lead to higher paid subscriptions and new types of advertising. It didn’t really happen. But more content is behind the firewall now than before. The intro of the larger iPhone 6 and the really big iPhone 6 Plus – on top of other Phablets by Samsung et al might push this evolution further – and spur the develop of new tablet-ready and phablet-ready local content.

2. A jumpstart for Digital Payments. Apple Pay is being launched as an NFC wireless payment mechanism. Unlike the struggling Google Wallet, it is being supported by most of the industry’s payment processors and financial institutions; allowing consumers to tie their payment cards to their phones. The introduction of Apple Pay won’t turn plastic extinct overnight – the payments card infrastructure is extremely deep. But it does validate NFC as a wireless payments technology, and should help build acceptance for digital payments. The challenge here: It is not converting Apple users. It is converting Millenials.

3. Enter the Apple Watch. It may take a while for iWatch and other wearables to really catch on beyond the early adopters, who do not really impact local outside of tech centers such as San Francisco. But combined with Apple Pay, the Apple Watch should help build acceptance for local store payments, public transport and other services (and impulse cash less buying.) Again, their immediate importance is in Apple’s validation of both wearables and NFC. See how LevelUp is excited about the prospect .

Apple’s system appears to be overloaded, but don’t forget to download the free U2 album, Songs of Innocence, which will be available on iTunes until 9/13.

Satya Nadella: Our SMB ‘Ringer’ at Microsoft

When a new leader is announced for the giant ocean liners in technology, we tend to sift through the tea leaves to see what kind of insights, perspective and focus they will bring via SMBs and local. Yahoo‘s Marissa Mayer, for instance, ran local for Google. AOL‘s Tim Armstrong, launched Patch as a private investment. Their predecessors did not have any background in local (and that was unfortunately reflected during their tenure.)

Microsoft’s announcement that it would bring in Satya Nadella as CEO is a real milestone, as he handles the transition of the company from one that is primarily based on software to one that is cloud based and oriented towards mobile experiences.

Nadella has been a true believer in the importance of enabling SMBs with rich software from the start of his career. As Vice President, Microsoft bCentral Marketing & Business in 2001, we were pleased to have him as a keynote for our Directory Driven Commerce conference in Orlando. (yes, our conferences tend to be a great scouting ground for industry leaders.)

Nadella’s job at that time was to integrate the company’s acquisition of Great Plains Software into a platform that would give SMBs the same level of services as Microsoft’s enterprise customers. For Microsoft, it proved to be a much smarter way to go than its earlier effort to go hyperlocal with Sidewalk, a consumer-facing hyperlocal portal — although Microsoft continues to evolve its SMB strategies.

At our DDC conference, Nadella emphatically stressed the importance of SMBs to the future of Microsoft. Now, as CEO, Nadella must treat SMBs as just one channel for the company’s growth. But one can expect Nadella to be as aware as anyone of the rich potential in this essential but underserved market.

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Notes from Seattle Interactive: Microsoft and the Multi-Device User

Hot trends in Web and marketing were all on display this week at Seattle Interactive, a large regional show with 190 speakers and an audience largely comprised of Northwest agencies, startups and technologists.

The change in media was brilliantly illustrated by a single question posed by a speaker. “How many of you responded to a Nielsen diary entry since this session started? (no hands raised) And how many of you have updated your social media status or posted?”(many hands).

Big data, social media, responsive web sites and all things mobile were among the key topics at the event. And so, clearly, was the hoped for revival of Microsoft, which is sharply pivoting with the launch of Windows 8 to a multi-device outlook.

The mixed reviews that have greeted Windows 8 suggest its strategy may have trouble catching on. There are deeper issues, too. Last week, at OMMA M Commerce in LA, fewer than four people in an audience of 80+ raised their hands when agencies and developers were asked if they were planning to support Windows 8. Apple iOS and Android rule the nest, for now.

But the turf at Seattle Interactive is naturally friendly to Microsoft. At least 5 percent of the phones were Windows phones (OK, not many). But you could see that the company’s dramatic gyrations energizing much of the tech community.

One of Microsoft’s big initiatives is to be the first of the major Website leaders to engage the “responsive Web” to personalize solutions and conquer “message overload” and “channel attribution.”

Those are “old world problems, “ noted Microsoft General Manager Abe Thomas, during a conference keynote . The “new world” problems, he says, are “social noise.” A leader will develop strategies for the new multi- device consumer, “who wants a specific device in front of them at different times.”

The challenge is the tremendous fragmentation among the operating systems, and now, the devices as well. Sixty percent of iPad owners have an Android device, not an iPhone, Blackberry or Windows phone, he notes. Almost everyone has a Windows PC. “Sooner or later, you will say: Microsoft, Apple, Google – Get it together.”

Microsoft isn’t necessarily working to work inter-operably, but it is “living and breathing the customer journey,” becoming more transparent, and “knowing and respecting the competition,” he says.

MeNetwork Aims at the One Stop Mobile Marketing Platform for SMBs

One of the most promising concepts in local are “Write Once, Publish Everywhere” platforms for SMBs. With local businesses needing to communicate more and more deals, new features and special events to their customers, it makes sense to get them on a network to reach more people with one effort.

Yext and Google’s “tag” networks really got the concept going. These enabled an SMB to self-serve a promotion (“$2.00 off tonight”) throughout a network. The tech has since been applied to a wide variety of networked features, including photos, videos and menus — all wrapped in a suite of marketing services.

They’ve also been applied to mobile, which enables more “on the go” activity. Constant Contact’s $65 Million + acquisition of SinglePlatform in June was a strong validation of the space.

The services are terrific, but they haven’t been an instant hit. Pricing has been tough. Is it worth $30 a month? $100 a month? Or should it be bundled in for free? So has the challenge of getting SMBs to pay for one more “value added” service.

Last week, we talked to MeNetwork, one of the more established contenders in the emerging space. The company is based in Boulder, CO and was started in 2010 by banking, technology and ad agency vets.

MeNetwork sees itself as an SMB promotion platform that provides a comprehensive set of “write once, publish everywhere” services. One of its differentiators is that it is pushing a dedicated MeNetwork mobile app in addition to white-labeling its services with strategic partners. It’s risky, but potentially rewarding.

The company also enables easy point-of-sale redemption of offers via QR codes and Bar codes (with compatible POS devices) — something that will make increasing sense as more smart phones are plugged in, asserts COO/CTO Craig Page.

While the service helps manage and process promotions for its customers, it is also mindful that many of them already work with loyalty programs. MeNetwork seamlessly integrates with them, says Page. The aspiration is for MeNework to become the central hub for all of its customers’ promotional activities.

Pricing has been set at $500 a year (approximately $41 a month). Sales channels include self-serve, local media and vertical partners as well as convention bureaus and downtown associations.

Visitors bureaus in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Austin are already actively selling. The New Orleans center sold 200-300 SMBs off the bat, says Page. The company is also working internationally with a division of European Directories in Austria.

Working with outside sales sometimes produces higher than expected churn, and MeNetwork initially saw annual churn rates at 52 percent (actually, pretty low in this area). Churn rates have fallen to 12 percent however, as the company worked to train its reps to provide comprehensive and consistent customer care.