Google, Apple and the battle for Social Mapping

As the battle between Google and Apple spilled into the mapping scene (no pun intended), a handful of international startups have emerged as clear winners: Waze, Locationary and Hopstop were acquired by the tech giants to enhance their mapping services.

Google Acquires Waze:

In late June, Google announced the acquisition of Waze. Although the startup was making less than USD 70 million in revenues, the deal was investigated by the FTC.  Our friend Micah Berman from FindTheBest.com weighed in with some scenarios on how Google will integrate Waze into their ecosystem:

The acquisition of Waze, an Israel-based social mapping startup, has turned many heads as this purchase came out of nowhere. There has been speculation that this acquisition has been made simply to keep the technology out of other hands. The main suitor for Waze was Facebook, and Google was going to do everything it could in order to avoid a Facebook mapping competitor. The real question now becomes, are the reports true? Does this acquisition mean a new product is coming? Is Google about to use Waze’s social mapping to enhance their already existing Google Maps? Only time will tell, but I will attempt to speculate what will happen if indeed Google intends to use Waze as part of a new product: Google Glass.

If Google implements this technology as part of Google Glass, it’s almost like a digital camera that allows you to take pictures while also communicating with your social network, adding another layer to location based social networking (it may also cause car insurance quotes to skyrocket due to distraction!). Seriously though, this would take Google Glass over the top as it simply seems too good to be true. What is more likely to happen is the implementation of Waze within the already existing Google Maps.

 

Apple acquires Locationary and Hopstop

Apple was also rumored to be strongly in the running for Waze at the time. Less than a month later, it was announced that they acquired not one, but two, mapping related startups.

John Paczkowski analyzed Apple’s acquisition of Canadian startup Locationary in a blog post on AllThingsD.com:

Apple’s plans in this case are fairly obvious: Beef up its new mapping service. The troubled launch of Apple’s home-brewed mapping software last year sparked a world-wide consumer backlash capped by a rare apology from CEO Tim Cook. Since that time, Apple has been working hard behind the scenes to improve the service. “We’re putting all of our energy into making it right,” Cook said last December.

And this acquisition will undoubtedly figure prominently in that effort. Locationary is a sort of Wikipedia for local business listings. It uses crowdsourcing and a federated data exchange platform called Saturn to collect, merge and continuously verify a massive database of information on local businesses and points of interest around the world, solving one of location’s biggest problems: Out-of-date information.

John also co-authored a post with Liz Gannes on the acquisition of New York-based HopStop:

HopStop’s area of cartographic expertise: Mass transit directions, something Apple’s mapping service doesn’t currently offer.

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said, confirming the acquisition with Cupertino’s standard boilerplate.

At last count, HopStop had two million monthly active users and launched a Waze-like service for reporting real-time delays and other information.

Why Does This Matter:

From an entrepreneurial perspective, an important takeaway from these acquisitions is that building a company to be acquired can work. The aforementioned mapping services were never going to be publicly traded, so the founders focused on building a great product that might prove to be an acquisition target by a bigger company, and it worked.

From the perspective of Google and Apple, Micah sums it up nicely:

Apple and Google are two of the biggest innovators in the tech world buy they remain on different sides of the market. They compete on many fronts, including media content and smart-watches, There is a slight “backlash” against Apple as a company, and upon the passing of Steve Jobs it has appeared to lose its innovative touch. Time will tell which of these deals will prove more successful, but we know Apple cannot afford another product flop and Google needs to continue to ride its way to the top.

Week 8 in Dubai: Meeting the Travel Expert

Last week was great, I met Mr. Abrar Ahmad. Abrar is an expert in the travel industry with more than 15yrs experience. He is currently the General Partner of Travel Capitalist Ventures, where his firm is focusing to invest on opportunities in the travel industry around the world from early startups to hotels (currently more focused in hotels and late stage deals). He also founded an online travel agency that he sold in 2008. Abrar is also one of our mentors here at In5 and during last week he gave us a lot of great feedback and advice for our startup.

I asked him to do an interview and he was kind enough to agree to do it. I’m still having problems with the sound, I promise I’ll buy a microphone for future interviews. Enjoy!

How SEO Can Transform Your Business

The good folks at FindTheBest.com wrote us a new guest post on search engine optimization (read their previous post on venture capital here). FindTheBest is  unbiased, data-driven search engine that helps people make quick and informed decisions. Below, they offer an introduction to SEO, and how to find potential firms to help your business using their proprietary tools. Let us know your feedback and questions in the comments:

Many small businesses today are focusing on social media to drive their online presence. Facebook and Twitter are two very popular forms of digital marketing that allow a company to advertise to a mass public audience. Although these two forms of digital marketing have the potential to be key drivers of internet traffic and company branding, it is important to not forget about SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is one of the most popular buzz words in digital marketing today, but many companies simply do not know enough about SEO to make this strategy work for them.

What is SEO?
SEO is the process of acquiring traffic from “organic” listings on search engines. The major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing use SEO to rank their web pages and other content such as videos or local listings according to what they consider as the most relevant to users. SEO does not cost a dime, as all traffic is natural.

Is SEO Easy to Create?
No, especially if you are a small to mid-size business. Smaller companies tend to lack the time and resources needed to become experts at SEO. I am not discounting the small companies that are great at SEO, however I am generalizing the mass amount of small companies that struggle to create an SEO strategy because they simply do not understand how it works. My big question is, “Why waste your time focusing on SEO when someone else could do it more efficiently and effectively?” A business must always consider outsourcing its SEO strategy to firms that specialize in it or consider purchasing an SEO software that can lead to growth. If you want to stand out on the internet, I would highly suggest investing in an SEO consultant if you do not already have an existing SEO strategy.

What to consider when selecting an SEO firm:
There are two main factors that all companies should consider when selecting an SEO firm to run your SEO strategy. I will discuss them both individually and will provide a tool that I believe can help anyone interested in SEO find the right firm to work with.

1. The Tool
A new tool has recently been developed by FindTheBest, a Santa Barbara based startup. FindTheBest is an unbiased, data-driven search engine that helps people make quick and informed decisions. They have released a tool that helps people find, compare, and select an SEO firm that is the right fit for them. What makes this resource even better is that it is free! I will walk you through the steps you must take to use this tool and I will show you what the tool is capable of.

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2. The Layout
When using this comparison tool, it is important to first identify the different options that you have. As you can see on the left-side bar, you can filter your search based on Client Business Size, Additional Services, Industry Expertise, On and Off Page Optimization Features, Marketing Certificates and Memberships, and finally Popular Searches.

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After selecting a filter, the Search Results Page (SRP) will update according to your selecting a filter on the left side. To begin let’s assume I own a small business and want a firm that has either worked with or specialized in small business strategies.

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3. Client Business Size
All businesses must primarily assess what size companies an SEO firm focuses on. For all those ‘ma and pa’ shops who are looking to get your name out there, it is important to understand that working with an SEO firm that works with ABC and ESPN may not be the best fit. Small businesses must make sure that they select a firm that has worked with similar size companies in the past.

Although we have narrowed our search down to firms that work with small businesses, it is suggested that the search is filtered further. We will now assume that we are a) a small business and b) a small business in the Food, Beverage & Tobacco Industry. By selected both boxes, in addition to the steps above, you will be able to work towards finding a firm that is right for you

4. Industry Expertise
Client business size is a very important factor when deciding what SEO firm to work with, but it is essential that you evaluate what industry an SEO firm is an expert in. If you are a food and beverage company, it would not be logical to hire a firm that specialized in electronics. All businesses must make sure that the SEO firm that they pick has an aligned interest with that of their business. Selecting an SEO firm that has worked with other companies within your field can only stand to benefit you in the long-run.

5. Compare and Assess
Once you have selected the criteria that best fits your company, comparing each firm side-by-side will help narrow down the matches. To compare the firms, makes sure to click the compare box below the ratings visual and once all desired comparisons are selected, click compare selected items at the bottom of your screen.
a. Step 1

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b. Step Two

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6. The Result

After filtering for your needs, selecting individual firms, and selecting to compare, you will be brought to the side-by-side comparison. In this section you will be able to further evaluate and decide which SEO firm is best for your company. You will have a detailed description of each firm including, specializations, statistics, features, contact information, and more. Here is an example of your final side-by-side analysis.

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The Importance of SEO:
An SEO strategy is an essential aspect to any business, small or large. If you can successfully strategize to optimize the organic traffic on your website, you will have more opportunities for monetization. Facebook and Twitter are two strong alternatives, but they will more than likely not get you to the top of the big search engines. SEO firms can be a huge asset to any business who is looking to gain more traffic. I will pose the big question to all readers who own or are thinking about starting a business, “Why waste your time focusing on SEO when someone else could do it more efficiently and effectively?” I strongly advise the use of an SEO strategy, whether you actively attack this on your own or through the use of an outside SEO firm.

Fishfishme is raising money – Here is how

Yes, we are (fishfishme.com) in the process of raising our second round of funding. We are raising US$200,000 and we already have 50% committed (that means we already raised $100K). The purpose of this post is not to invite you to invest on us (well maybe you should because we will make you a millionaire), but its to share our learning’s during this process.

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As you might know by now, I’m an open guy, I like to share everything so that everyone can benefit and learn. However, I believe you’ll understand that this topic is a bit sensitive, but I’ll try to share as much as I can without screwing up the deal.

First, let’s talk about why we decided to raise money in the first place. As a startup with four full-time employees (Jose, Miguel, Christian and myself) you can imagine that most of our costs are going into salaries. During the last year we managed to survive by raising US$50,000 back on Oct 2012 from a Kuwaiti investor.

Now since business is going well and growth opportunities lay on front of us, we would like to hire more people and grow the business. We are still in an early stage and our revenue at the moment is not sufficient to grow the business to go after these opportunities, thus if we want to take this road we should raise some money.

Now the problem is where to find these investors that want to invest in such a startup. Well usually at our stage we will have two options:
1- Approach Angel investors (wealthy individuals that invests in risky startups)
2- Venture Capital firms (also known as VCs).

Now which one to approach depends on the size of the round (the amount of money you are asking for). So for our round (US$200k) we are kind of in between, but more skewed into Angels. Some will ask how did we came up with the amount we want to raise, good question. There is a general role that you should raise an amount that helps you survive 12-18months. So lets say your monthly expenses are $10,000 (after the round) then you should raise between $120,000 to $180,000. There is a great post about this by Fred Wilson here. Nic Brisbourne (famous British VC) has an interesting view as well and I had a small discussion about it with him  here.

So let’s say now you know how much you want to raise, next you need to find these investors. And for this I’ll tell you what we did. First, don’t approach an investor directly without having someone to refer you to them. So don’t go to a VC website and submit your business plan.  That rarely works. You need to know someone that knows some investors that can hock you up with. For our case we approached three different groups with three different strategies:

1- Kuwaiti Investors: Here I asked for help from our StartupQ8 community and got lots of support, especially from one guy that without him I think we will be completely lost. (If you are a Kuwaiti startup then please reach out to one of our community members and we promise to help).
2- AngelsDen.com: that was an event I did and helped in organizing to help entrepreneurs raise funding. The idea is simple, it’s called Speed Funding (yes, similar to Speed Dating). You have 10 min to pitch your idea before moving to the next table. More about that later, but from this event we met a lot of Angel Investors interested to invest in our startup.

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3- Mentors: Omar Koudsi (our mentor) put us in touch with one of the most recognized VC investors in MENA region and now we are in talks with them.

We are still in the process of raising the round and I must say it’s not that easy and it’s very demanding. I actually think a big part of the process is a waste of time, the time we spend raising money should be spent with our customers, partners and in growing the business. I wish we can close the deal as soon as possible and go back and refocus on our business. Wish us good luck!

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