Tuesday, February 28, 2012

File Sharing, Minus the Hassle

Minus was created to make file sharing simple, which is how founders John Xie and Carl Hu believe it should be. Even the name itself is short and sweet.

Launched in October 2010, the free service is easy to use, allowing users to drag files from their desktop and folders and drop them onto the Minus website. Music, videos, pictures, and documents can also be shared through mobile and desktop apps. Additionally, each user gets a customized URL and 10 GB of disk space – for free.

Why is Minus offering all of this at no charge? According to its website, “Our goal is to create a world-class product and experience for our users and the business model will follow.”

And as Xie said in an interview, “If you build a great product that users love, you should have no problem finding a way to make money from it. But if you get distracted by turning a profit too early, it could come at the expense of growth and customer satisfaction.”

A Young Entrepreneur's Earth Friendly Startup

With a mission to “invite” a greener future, electronic invitation service Greenvelope originated in founder Sam Franklin's dorm room. A Seattle native, the 21-year-old entrepreneur and Washington University in St. Louis student has always loved the outdoors, which led him to start his eco-friendly business.

With $50,000 in startup funds and 20 wedding invitation templates, Greenvelope was launched in late 2010. Franklin, who didn't come up with any sales targets or a formal business plan, hoped that a good product and good customer service would be enough to grow the venture.

And he was right. Word of mouth and Google helped generate a $2,000 revenue during the first month. By Greenvelope's first birthday, it had raked in $70,000. So far, over 300,000 invitations have been sent via the Greenvelope website.

While Greenvelope was originally geared towards the needs of engaged couples, Franklin learned from the company's sales statistics that organizations were also using the service for corporate events. The website now offers invitation templates for business and religious occasions as well.

Unlike other electronic invitation sites, Greenvelope doesn't display ads in order to maintain an upscale image and personal feel. Instead, users pay for the service, with pricing options starting at $19.99. The most basic package includes envelopes and save the dates. Higher priced packages come with invitations, response cards, thank you notes, and an event details page.

In addition to the many ready-made designs, clients can choose to upload their own graphics or work with a Greenvelope designer. Moreover, the site allows users to manage their contacts and guest lists, as well as track which guests have opened and responded to their invitations.

True to its green mission, Greenvelope donates a percentage of every sale to the non-profit organization Mountains to Sound. In the near future, the company will partner with other charities and customers will be able to decide where the donations will go.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Seeing Green is Not Always a Bad Thing

We all know that recycling is good for the environment, but one company wants to make it good for your pocket, too. Recyclebank encourages people to recycle and take green actions by rewarding them with actual premiums. For every eco-friendly act they carry out, such as pledging to use less water or taking a green online quiz, members of the Recyclebank website earn points, which can then be used to purchase products or avail of discounts and coupons. For example, one can get $1 off a Kiss My Face item for 50 points or save $35 on a T-Mobile activation for 125 points.

Led by CEO Jonathan Hsu and CFO Kris Heinrichs, Recyclebank is a firm that is passionate about the environment. Its mission is to inspire others to do positive things for the planet.

As Hsu said, “We help communities and individuals realize a world where nothing is wasted.”

And with over 3 million members in the US and the UK, Hsu and company are doing a pretty good job.

Recyclebank has also teamed up with several well-known brands, including Ziploc, Pantene, and Barnes & Noble, all of which are offering members opportunities to earn more points. Users receive 7 points for recycling 50 Ziploc Sandwich Bags, 10 points for taking a quiz about Pantene's new plant-based bottles, and 500 points for going paperless with a Barnes & Noble NOOK eReader. Depending on the reward, it can be redeemed by printing out a coupon at home, entering a promo code online, or following a special link. Some are sent via snail mail.

In addition to offering points and rewards, Recyclebank provides information about living green on its website as well. One recent article teaches readers how to turn plants into wall art, while another shares tips on recycling wine.

Fashion Power to the People

On Polyvore, anyone can be a fashion editor. The Mountain View, California startup, which attracts 13 million unique visitors to its site each month (more than any other fashion website), allows users to create stylish collages or “sets” using any image on the Web. Looking just like pages torn from fashion magazines, sets indicate which looks and trends consumers are currently into, and brands and advertisers are taking note.

Last year, luxury goods department store Bergdorf Goodman hosted a contest wherein Polyvore users were tasked to put together a New York Fashion Week outfit for fashion director Linda Fargo, subsequently sending the winner to the Michael Kors show. Clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters asked users to create sets with its products, and the best ones were featured on its Times Square billboard.

More recently, Polyvore and Cover Girl presented the Polyvore Live fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The event was streamed live on the Polyvore website and showcased the work of four Fashion Institute of Technology graduates, with popular fashion bloggers modeling the designs.

Says CEO and co-founder Jess Lee, “We're democratizing fashion. We're giving people, not fashion editors, the voice to define taste.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Online Games for Smarter Brains

Can playing online games make you smarter? Lumos Labs, a cognitive neuroscience research and development company based in San Francisco, California, believes so.

Founded by financial services professional Kunal Sarkar, Stanford neuroscience grad student Michael Scanlon, and game and web developer David Drescher, Lumos Labs builds software tools that enhance brain fitness and performance. The company was established in 2005 with the mission of promoting better mental health, as all of the founders has had a family member who had been adversely affected by cognitive decline.

Lumosity, the first general brain fitness program created by Lumos Labs, is a website filled with fun, Flash-based games. Each game is designed to improve a particular area of the brain – speed, attention, flexibility, memory, or problem solving.

For example, in Familiar Faces, users play the role of a restaurant server and are tasked to remember their customers' names and orders to earn tips and get promoted. According to Lumos Labs, this game helps players remember people's names after meeting them for the first time.

Speed Match, a fast-paced favorite among Lumosity members, asks players to identify whether the symbol flashed on the screen matches the previous one. This exercises information processing, which can help users think faster. The games were developed with the help of a scientific advisory board, which is composed of some of the world's top neuroscientists.

Lumosity can be accessed with a paid subscription or for free with limited features. Members can enroll in various courses intended to fine-tune their brain, help them do better in school, or assist them in rehabilitating from certain medical conditions. Additionally, a brain profile page allows users to see how well they're doing so far.

Lumosity's members range from young students to baby boomers to senior citizens. Satisfied customers claim improved memory, better organization, and enhanced focus as some of the benefits of using Lumosity regularly.

A Single Pair of Shoes for Multiple Occasions

For many women, switching shoes throughout the day is not uncommon, as each pair serves a different purpose. The style of the shoe, as well as the height of its heel, determine whether it is to be worn at daytime, during evenings, for walking, at work... and the list goes on.

Sales and marketing professional Candice Cabe is one of those aforementioned ladies, and she often brought more than one pair of shoes with her on business trips.

“I thought it would be really great to have one pair of shoes with multiple heel heights,” she says.

And that's when inspiration struck.

In May 2010, Cabe founded Day2Night, a startup that creates shoes with convertible heels for women. Its only product at the moment, the “Marissa” peep toe slingback, comes with five interchangeable heels.

And while the company is still in its infancy, Day2Night has already won at traveling event Startup Weekend and was a finalist in business competition MassChallenge.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

PJP Health Agency’s Customer Service Protocol

PJP Health Agency maintains a staff of approximately 100 customer service representatives, each of whom takes pride in providing fair and impartial advice, finding appropriate plans that serve the best interests of customers.

The firm’s highly trained professionals employ a streamlined and Internet-driven approach, allowing them to efficiently source from among 50 health insurance provider partners nationwide. The consumer-friendly model ensures that only the most affordable, quality plans are selected as options.

Transparency is key to PJP Health Agency’s customer service approach, with a diversity of informational resources readily available online. Representatives take the time to communicate directly with health care seekers, providing them with the tools they need to make intelligent and informed decisions.

Unfortunately, many people only consider the benefits of employing a reputable firm to navigate the complex health care market after a medical crisis emerges. In the aftermath of a personal injury or illness (or the diagnosis of a loved one), they frantically contact their insurance company, hoping to receive a straightforward and supportive response. Instead, they are met with a litany of health care restrictions and rules limiting covered procedures. PJP Health Agency representatives work to prevent such a situation from occurring, targeting plans that optimally meet the consumer’s budget and health care requirements.

One customer writes of having benefitted from the firm’s customer service protocol. A dedicated agent helped to guide her through the health coverage selection process. She notes that while she had joined various health care plans before, she had never had the benefit of a professional voice ready to answer questions about various options on the table. Another customer lauds his referral by PJP Health Agency to Prescription Hope, noting that the firm helped to facilitate an immediate MRI procedure, which the insurance company initially stated would take over a month to process and approve. 

Curating Online Interests With Pinterest

For a company that hasn't even reached its second birthday, Pinterest has already accomplished quite a few achievements. According to online intelligence organization Hitwise, the invite only social network received a total of 11 million visits during the week of December 17, 2011, which was nearly 40 times its number of hits during the week of June 18, 2011 – an impressive growth in just six months. In addition to becoming one of the top ten most trafficked social networks, Pinterest bagged the Best New Startup of 2011 honor at the recent Crunchie Awards, winning over Fab, Codeacademy, Nest, and Turntable.fm.

The Palo Alto, California startup was co-founded by Ben Silbermann, who has turned his childhood hobby of collecting tchotchkes into the newest social media rock star. Pinterest is an online pinboard that lets users organize images from all over the Web into collections or “boards”. “Pins”, which are the images added to Pinterest, can then be liked, “repinned”, and commented on.

Pinterest lets you pin anything from architecture to sports to technology. The majority of its users, however, are 25- to 44-year-old females who have a penchant for DIY and crafts, home d├ęcor, food, and fashion, as can be observed from the site's homepage.

But that's not all Pinterest can do. According to a recent study by content sharing platform Shareaholic, it now drives more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Reddit put together. In fact, retailers and brands such as Whole Foods, Nordstrom, and West Elm have now joined the Pinterest bandwagon and are using the website as a means to interact with their customers.

Silbermann believes Pinterest helps people find things on the Web easier. “Amazon or Google does an awesome job of showing you what you're looking for if you know what it is. If you're not sure what you're looking for, there's so much else that comes up and gets in the way.”

Taking Publications From Paper to Computer Screen

Described as “a web-based PDF viewer that does not suck” by TechCrunch, Issuu is a digital publishing service that lets users create digital magazines, newspapers, books, and other print media. Launched at the end of 2007, Issuu currently attracts more than 50 million monthly readers that pore over publications in various categories ranging from business to creative to politics to sports. Notable clients include Google, The New York Times, Toyota, NASA, and Nokia.

Aside from being a digital publishing platform, Issuu has become an online venue where publishers and organizations can reach and build their audience as well. Publications on Issuu feature animated page flips and useful statistics such as the number of readers and referral sites. In addition, they can be embedded on other websites and social networks.

Listed as one of the 50 best websites of 2009 by TIME, Issuu is also a two-time SXSW Finalist, two-time Webby Honoree, World Technology Award nominee, and LeWeb App Star Award runner-up.