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Walmart is working with Eko to create interactive content

Walmart and Eko announced a partnership this morning to create a joint venture for interactive content called W*E Interactive Ventures. The best example of the interactivity that Eko enables is probably “That Moment When,” a comedy web series that the startup created last year in partnership with Sony. In a series of short videos, you take on the role of Jill, a young-ish woman struggling to get her life together — the viewer decides what Jill says and also plays mini-games to help her achieve her goals. According to the announcement, W*E content will include a variety of formats like cooking shows and interactive toy catalogues. Eko CEO Yoni Bloch said they aren’t announcing any specific shows yet, but they will be “free and distributed everywhere,” and will be united by an aim to make the viewer “be the hero, be a part of the decision-making in the story.” The plan is to start releasing this content sometime next year. Walmart might not seem like the most obvious partner on something like this, but the company has been expanding into digital media with efforts like Vudu (it just announced a partnership with MGM) and, more recently, Walmart eBooks. Bloch said the deal also includes a Walmart investment of undisclosed size into Eko. Apparently the joint venture will work primarily as “the funding vehicle” for this new content, with Walmart staying out of the creative decisions. “Walmart has been an incredible partner, allowing us to have creative control, which we are passing on to the creators,” Bloch said. Tribeca Productions co-founder Jane Rosenthal will serve as strategic advisor to W&E Interactive Ventures, and Eko Chief Media Officer Nancy Tellem will be on the board. “Our partnership with Eko will help us accelerate efforts to deepen relationships with customers and connect with new audiences in innovative ways and is one part of an overall entertainment ecosystem we’re building,” said Scott McCall, senior vice president for entertainment, toys and seasonal at Walmart U.S, in the announcement.

Origin launches protocol for building cheaper decentralized Ubers & Airbnbs

The sharing economy ends up sharing a ton of labor’s earnings with middlemen like Uber and Airbnb, and $38 million-funded Origin wants the next great two-sided marketplace to be decentralized on the blockchain so drivers and riders or hosts and guests can connect directly and avoid paying steep fees that can range up to 20 percent or higher. So today Origin launches its decentralized marketplace protocol on the ethereum mainnet that replaces a central business that connects users and vendors with a smart contract. “Marketplaces don’t redistribute the profits they make to members. They accrue to founders and venture capitalists,” said Origin co-founder Matt Liu, who was the third product manager at YouTube. “Building these decentralized marketplaces, we want to make them peer-to-peer, not peer-to-corporate-monopoly-to-peer.” When people transact through Origin, it plans to issue them tokens that will let them participate in the governance of the protocol, and could incentivize them to get on these marketplaces early as well as convince others to use them. Origin’s in-house marketplace DApp Today’s mainnet beta sees Origin offering its own basic decentralized app that operates like a Craigslist on the blockchain. Users can create a profile, connect their ethereum wallet through services like MetaMask, browse product and service listings, message each other to arrange transactions through smart contracts with no extra fees, leave reviews and appeal disputes to Origin’s in-house arbitrators. Eventually, with the Origin protocol, developers will be able to quickly build their own sub-marketplaces for specific services like dog walking, house cleaning, ridesharing and more. These developers can opt to charge fees, though Origin hopes the cost-savings from its blockchain platform will let them undercut non-blockchain services. And vendors can offer a commission to any marketplace that gets their listing matched/sold. It might be years before the necessary infrastructure like login systems and simple wallets make it easy for developers and mainstream users to build and adopt DApps built on Origin. But it has plenty of runway thanks to $3 million in seed token sale funding from Pantera Capital, $6.6 million raised through a Coinlist token sale, plus $26.4 million in traditional…

Ware2Go: UPS Launches Flexible Warehouse Fulfillment Solutions

The industry of e-commerce is on the rise. While already crucial to a business’s financial success, efficient e-commerce practices are predicted to become more and more essential in a society that expects goods to be purchased conveniently and delivered quickly. According to leading market research provider Statista, 360.3 billion US dollars worth of physical goods were sold in 2016, and that number is only expected to increase to 603.4 billion US dollars by 2021. Another study by Statista states that currently, 9% of retail sales in the United States are goods purchased via the internet, but if trends in countries like China, in which online sales of physical goods amount to 23.1%, and the UK, in which online sales of physical goods amount to 19.1%, are to be evaluated, the United States is soon to follow in their tracks. This emerging trend of e-commerce has been putting small businesses, who are already facing heightened competition as a consequence of global growth, at a significant disadvantage to larger businesses. While large businesses have the funds and resources to open warehouses all over the country, or to purchase the services of career warehouses (which require long-term volume and time commitments, as well as individual contracts for each warehouse) so as to get items to customers as efficiently as possible, small businesses cannot afford to do so. As a result, small businesses often must ship items from far-away locations and take days or weeks longer than their larger competitors to reach customers. According to Dotcom’s Distribution’s 2016 study, 87% of online shoppers say delivery time affects their decision to buy a product and 44% of online shoppers say quick delivery increases their trust in a brand. Bloomberg News claims that 60% of buyers expect 1-2 day delivery. Research by KPMG’s network of independent consulting firms, published in 2017, states that 43% of consumers cited “delivery options” as the most important factor in deciding where to purchase an item from online, following only “lowest price” at 57%. While large corporations are making moves to meet this demand for quick service, smaller companies have been…

The clock is ticking for e-cig companies to block underage users

The FDA is giving makers of e-cigarettes 60 days to come up with a more effective, forceful plan to combat underage use of the products. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb is yet again moving the goal posts for e-cig companies. He now considers underage use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) an epidemic, forcing the government to make a choice that we all knew was coming: save the smokers or save the kids? “I believe in the power of American ingenuity to solve a lot of problems, including this one,” said Gottlieb in a statement. “I’m deeply disturbed by the trends I’ve seen. I’m disturbed by an epidemic of nicotine use among teenagers. So, we’re at a crossroads today. It’s one where the opportunities from new innovations will be responsibly seized on right now, or perhaps lost forever.” E-cigarettes, like the Juul (which owns more than 70 percent of the market by revenue), offer smokers what some say is a healthier alternative to so-called “analog” cigarettes. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, according to the CDC, with 6 million deaths per year worldwide, and that number is expected to rise to 8 million by 2030. Public Health England says that e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes. Addiction, which in this case is caused by nicotine, is always harmful, but not nearly as threatening as the harm caused by actual smoke from traditional cigarettes. On the spectrum of risk, e-cigarettes should seem like a huge win in the decades-long battle against smoking. But that was before teenagers started using e-cigarettes, including the Juul, at a surprisingly increasing rate. The FDA says more than 2 million middle and high school students were regular users of e-cigarettes last year. While nicotine isn’t all that harmful to a fully developed brain, the developing brain of a teenager is inordinately susceptible to addiction, and underage use of nicotine delivery systems may leave these users addicted to nicotine for life. This dilemma obviously leaves e-cig makers in a tough spot, but it is also a sticky situation for the FDA. In…

10 Ways to Drive Holiday Sales on Pinterest

Stand out from the competition and reach holiday shoppers that are already looking for brands like yours. We’re still at least two months away from peak holiday season—when retailers start blasting their holiday playlists and offering their steepest deals of the year. But on Pinterest, holiday shopping has already begun! That’s right: Christmas-related searches and saves on Pinterest start ticking upward as early as September (two times earlier than when shoppers tend to begin exploring products on other platforms). So, why does this happen? Because shoppers use Pinterest to help them decide what to buy (finding the perfect holiday gift or tracking down the ingredients for a festive recipe). And here’s the best news: Most of the inspirational ideas that people find on Pinterest actually come from brands—87% of people on Pinterest say brands help them find the right products when planning for the holidays. So, what’re you waiting for? Here are 10 easy wins to help you reach more holiday shoppers on Pinterest this season. 1. Meet holiday shoppers where they’re at We’ve identified four main types of holiday shoppers on Pinterest: The time-saver, the gifter, the guest and the planner. Check out our holiday shopper insights to learn who they are, what they care about and how your brand can reach them with tips on relevant messaging and creative. 2. Tune into what your customers really want this holiday season Log in to our Audience Insights tool (you’ll need to have a business profile) to find out what they’re searching and saving. You’ll also be able to find data on your audience’s age, gender, location and device use to help you decide what products to feature in your ads. 3. Like gift shopping, it’s best to start earlier than you think Since holiday shoppers primarily use Pinterest to discover new ideas, it’s important to launch your holiday campaigns on Pinterest earlier than you might on other platforms. If you can reach people as they start making that list and checking it twice—before they’ve decided on a brand or product—you’re more likely to pop back into their mind when they’re ready to make a purchase. As a general…

Shopping on Instagram (and Beyond) – What to Expect

Instagram as it stands is crucial to the development of businesses everywhere. Whether it’s paying Instagram influencers to promote brands, managing user-generated content campaigns, or purchasing Instagram ads, Instagram has developed as one of the premiere apps for businesses looking to increase their brand awareness. Since the 2016 launch of the “Instagram Business Profile,” in which Instagram began to offer analytics data and a user-friendly advertisement creation system, the number of businesses marketing on Instagram has risen from 1.6 million in 2016 to 15 million in 2017 to a whopping 25 million today. According to Instagram’s internal data 80% of Instagram users follow business accounts, and according to eMarketer, 71% of businesses in the United States have Instagram accounts. Instagram Business users have been employing tools such as branded hashtags (hashtags increase engagement by at least 12.6%), user-generated content campaigns (users are 4.5% more likely to engage with your brand if you employ influencers), and Instagram analytics and public data that reveals information such as top-performing post-types (tip: photos with faces get 38% more likes) and the 80/20 rule (20% of content should be promotional and 80% should focus on engagement) to gain followers and increase brand awareness (https://sproutsocial.com/insights/instagram-stats/). Now, Instagram has developed a method to translate that brand awareness directly into sales. According to The Verge, Instagram is in the process of developing a tie-in shopping app that allows Instagram users to browse the goods of businesses they follow and directly purchase them. This app intends to make it easier for users to reach and purchase content they already enjoy, and in turn makes it easier for businesses to remind individuals who enjoy their content that they are more than just a page with great content, but a brand with products users can take home. This app will be particularly helpful in promoting small businesses in the world of online shopping, which attracts 79% of shoppers in America. Online shopping for small businesses has been historically dominated by websites such as Amazon that bring products of all different types together on an accessible platform, but that does not promote individualized content…

Instacart is now available to 70 percent of U.S. households

Toward the end of 2017, Instacart penned a partnership with one of the country’s biggest grocery retailers, Kroger. At the time, it was a smaller deal with one of Kroger’s chains called Ralphs. But today Instacart is expanding its partnership with Kroger, bringing Instacart delivery to 75 additional Kroger markets, growing Instacart’s Kroger footprint by 50 percent nationwide. The expansion will be completed by late October, bringing Instacart delivery to more than 1,600 Kroger stores. This builds on Instacart’s momentum, following partnership deals with chains like Albertsons, Aldi, Sam’s Club, and Loblaw. In all, Instacart is now available to 70 percent of all households across the country. Last year, the company announced its goal to reach 80 percent of U.S. households by the end of 2018, and its most recent funding round seems to be propelling the startup to achieve that goal. In February, Instacart raised $200 million led by Coatue Management, as well as Glade Brook Capital Partners and existing investors. The round valued Instacart at $4.2 billion. Since Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, Instacart has been put in a challenging position. But, in many ways, that challenge has represented opportunity. The nearly $14 billion acquisition has spurred an even more rapid evolution of the grocery industry, leaving incumbents with a choice: Acquire (or build) your own delivery platform or partner with Instacart to compete with online grocery purchase and delivery from Amazon. Some retailers, like Target, have chosen to purchase their own platform. But other big players, such as Albertsons and Sam’s Club, seem to have been motivated by the Whole Foods deal to partner up with Instacart. This has grown Instacart’s marketplace to feature more than 300 different retail partners on the platform, which has in turn helped grow Instacart’s community of shoppers, which has topped 50,000 this year. As this growth continues, a great deal is dependent on Instacart’s ability to maintain the quality of the product. But the company is also taking steps toward shoring up the platform. Instacart has begun testing a partnership with Postmates to help make deliveries during peak hours in San…

Hear how to build a brand from Tina Sharkey, Emily Heyward and Philip Krim at Disrupt

For startups, especially e-commerce companies, branding is everything. A slogan, an ad, even the design of the logo can make the difference between success and failure. But understanding how to develop a brand and strategically evolve that brand over time isn’t the easiest task. Luckily, three experts are coming to Disrupt to talk through the ins and outs. Red Antler’s Emily Heyward, Brandless’ Tina Sharkey, and Casper CEO Philip Krim will join us at TC Disrupt SF in early September, and it’s a conversation you won’t want to miss. Emily Heyward cofounded Red Antler in 2007 after working in advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree focused on postmodern theory and consumer culture. At Red Antler, she serves as Chief Strategist and has helped brands like AllBirds, BirchBox and Casper find their unique voice in a cluttered market. Tina Sharkey hails from Brandless, the new e-commerce company that brings its own line of household and food items to the market for $3 each. Brandless has raised nearly $300 million since launching in 2016, an impressive feat on its own. What makes Brandless so attractive to investors? Tina Sharkey’s unwavering focus on understanding her customers. Alongside democratizing these products, and bringing eco-friendly and FDA-approved ‘safer choice’ goods to the masses, Sharkey makes data around consumer behavior a priority at the company, which helps with insights on how to sell Brandless’s portfolio of more than 300 products. Heyward and Sharkey will be joined by Casper CEO and cofounder Philip Krim. Casper sprung onto the market in 2013 with a relatively simple premise: sell a quality mattress for cheaper. While it makes sense, it’s not the sexiest brand proposition. But with the help of Heyward and Red Antler, and a keen sense of the type of customer who chooses Casper over a traditional mattress, Casper has become one of the most effectively marketed brands out there right now. We’re thrilled to hear from this trio of greatness at Disrupt SF. Check out the full agenda here. Tickets are still available even though the show is…

Plant-focused startup The Sill raises $5M

The Sill, a startup that sells potted plants online and in physical stores, announced this weekend that it has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Raine Ventures. The company was founded in 2012 and has now raised a total of $7.5 million. It was bootstrapped until last year, when it raised seed funding from Brand Foundry Ventures, Halogen Ventures, BBG Ventures, Tuesday Capital, Blueseed and The Chernin Group. (BBG Ventures is backed by TechCrunch’s parent company Oath.) That seems like a long time for a startup to go without outside funding, and indeed, CEO Eliza Blank acknowledged that she “probably waited too long to go out and raise.” Still, she said those first few years also gave her time to find the right business model (like focusing “exclusively on the direct-to-consumer business,” rather than selling to offices as well). And while it’s easy to group The Sill among all the startups using the internet to build a consumer business around a traditional category of retail, Blank said her vision is bigger than “just putting plants online and being another direct-to-consumer brand.” After all, there are plenty of people (myself included) who are interested in owning plants but don’t really know how to care for them properly. And our casual interest level probably isn’t going to get us to the local horticultural society to learn more. Blank said she founded the company in response to her own experience wanting to buy plants, and realizing how limited the resources were for learning “how to approach the category as a newbie.” So The Sill doesn’t just sell you a plant (along with basic care instructions). It also allows you to ask questions of the company’s plant experts — and with the opening of its first brick-and-mortar stores in New York City, it also offers weekly workshops. “We have a much longer relationship than a typical transaction business,” Blank said. “Making the purchase is almost like the start — or maybe the middle — of a conversation.” The company says it sold more than 75,000 products in the last six months, with…

How One SMB Gained 30 Percent More Customers by Turning to Subscriptions

The subscription business model is one of the hottest trends in commerce. Subscription e-commerce has doubled over the past five years, according to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, and roughly half of U.S. consumers have signed up for an online subscription of some nature. For businesses, this rise in popularity of online subscriptions presents an opportunity for significant growth. Capitalizing on this very trend has helped Freedom enable users to reclaim 10 million hours of their time from distracting websites.Freedom launched as a tool to block distracting content on desktop computers so internet users could concentrate on the work they set out to accomplish. As more of our work migrated online, we started seeing a significant rise in demand for the product. The way customers consumed content also began to shift with the increased adoption of mobile and tablet devices. For example, in December 2010, U.S. internet users spent a total of 543 billion minutes online, with 74 percent of that coming from desktop computers. By December 2016, usage skyrocketed to 1.50 trillion minutes, with just 31 percent of that from desktops and the remainder from smartphones and tablets. These shifts in behavior presented a strong need for us to offer multi-device functionality for customers, which called for a requirement to design pricing that was suitable for device-specific usage. With the growing adoption of subscriptions, we decided to take a plunge and make a shift to a recurring revenue business model so customers could pay us a monthly fee to block websites across multiple devices. What We Learned: The Need For a Customer-Focused Subscription Solution One of the earliest lessons we learned after making the shift to subscriptions was that under a subscription model, monthly recurring revenue is directly related to customer retention rather than one-time sales. Every member of our business began to have a role in expanding and retaining our customer base and revenue. Streamlining the subscription experience while making it easy for our team to control customer subscriptions became a priority for us. The original online payment gateway we selected to manage subscriptions was initially…

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