Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hot Hotels: Cheap, Last-Minute Hotel Rooms, Now Also Carbon Neutral

Spanish startup Hot Hotels recently announced that they will be offsetting carbon emissions for every hotel stay booked through their last-minute hotel-booking app. Though most holiday booking companies that purchase carbon credits pass on the expense to the customer, Hot will be carrying out their eco-friendly program at no extra cost to their users.

“We charge an industry standard commission to hotels and are happy to absorb this cost to make the stays of our guests carbon neutral,” says founder and CEO Conor O'Connor. According to him, Hot buys carbon credits in bulk and therefore gets discounts.

Because studies show that 10 to 102 kg of greenhouse emissions are produced per room per night,  Hot Hotels will purchase 100 kg of offsets from carbon expert Allcot for each night booked. Hot, which operates in 23 countries and 167 cities, began their carbon offsetting policy after several users expressed their interest to buy carbon credits.

Prezi: Beautiful, Engaging Presentations

PowerPoint is so yesterday. For 18 million people around the world, Prezi has become their presentation tool of choice. Co-founded in 2009 by Peter Arvai, Peter Halacsy, and Adam Somlai-Fischer, Prezi helps you share and organize your ideas in a more cinematic and engaging format. Unlike the slideshow-based PowerPoint and Keynote, Prezi displays your ideas in 3D, allowing you to zoom out to show the overview of your “prezi,” zoom in to focus on the details, and guide your audience through a spatial experience.

Similar to the blackboard and whiteboard, Prezi lets you present your ideas visually and engage your audience to join the conversation. Additionally, you can use Prezi to brainstorm and collaborate with up to 10 people in real time, whether they're in the same room or in a different part of the world. And because you can store your prezis in the cloud, you can work on them on your laptop and then show them on your phone or tablet.

Prezi, which began as a humble startup in Budapest, now sees more than a million new users per month. According to co-founder and CEO Peter Arvai, they're expecting to attract 2 million new users per month over the next year. Five books have been written about using Prezi, and a Google search of “Prezi tips” turns up a number of articles that will teach you how to create a good prezi. At least one prezi is created every second, and in 2012, 250 million prezis were viewed online. Yes, you can check out other people's prezis on the website and even reuse some of them.

The fast-growing Prezi employs more than 100 people in their Budapest and San Francisco headquarters. Fans of the SaaS presentation software include Stanford University, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and bestselling authors around the world.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Circa: News Delivery for a Mobile Generation

Many people rely on their phones for almost everything, including keeping abreast of current affairs. The way we consume the news has changed with the rise of mobile, but the way the content is presented hasn't caught up yet. This is where Circa comes in. Three months ago, the San Francisco-based mobile news delivery startup launched their free app, which claims to be “the best way to read the news on your phone.”

As the first mobile-native news experience, Circa delivers the stuff matters and only that. The company's editors collect the day's top stories and break them down into small chunks, so you see just the essential facts and photos, in a format especially designed for the phone. With Circa, those who don't have a lot of time to read long stories can catch up quickly and easily with the rest of the world wherever they are, even while offline. In addition, the app updates a story you're following whenever there are new developments instead of making you read a new article.

Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, Circa last week announced version 1.1, which introduced new features such as a cleaned up design, a featured story marquee that highlights multiple stories in each category, and sharing by email (the previous version only allowed sharing to Twitter and Facebook).

Co-founded by Matt Galligan, Arsenio Santos, and Ben Huh, Circa recently raised $750,000 in funding. Participating in the round were Lerer Ventures, Menlo Talent Fund, Advancit Capital, Eamon Leonard, and Alex Bard, who join existing investors David Karp, Gary Vaynerchuk, Josh Spear, Eric Norlin, Soraya Darabi, and more. Currently covering news in the top stories, US, world, and politics categories, Circa will soon deliver technology news as well. The app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times since launch.

Pushpins: Save Time and Money on Grocery Shopping

Named a top mobile shopping app by the Anderson Cooper Show, the Washington Post and Consumer Reports, Pushpins is a free app that helps users plan and save on their groceries. Founded by Jason Gurwin, Dan Lambert, and Peter Michailidis in 2010, Pushpins allows you to build your shopping list, which you can share with your family and sync to your other devices, by searching or scanning over 200,000 products. The app then automatically brings up any digital coupons and weekly specials that match the items on your list, and you can redeem those coupons instantly when you use your store savings card at the register.

Available in over 2,000 grocery stores across the US, Pushpins also lets you see an item's price, quantity, size, notes, nutritional information, and product image. Additionally, the app sorts your list by aisle to help you find things quickly and easily. Backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners, Pushpins was recently acquired  by Performance Marketing Brands.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

99events: Find Something to Do in Your Neighborhood

Entrepreneur Chris Russell loves to network. What he's not too fond of, is visiting several different sites to find events to attend. Thinking there has to be a better way to network, he created local event search engine 99events. Initially a personal project, he quickly realized that it needed to be shared with the world.

Currently available in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington DC, 99events pulls information from various event directories and displays it in one place. So when you type in a topic and/or a zip code, the site will gather all local events from Facebook, Eventbrite, Eventful,, and Ticketleap. Results can then be sorted by date or relevance.

99events is still in the early stages and is presently supported by ads. Russell plans to add more features eventually, but you can already use the site to look for something to do this weekend.

ChoreMonster Makes Kids Love Chores

Parents, wouldn't it be great if your kids begged to do their chores? That's exactly what Cincinnati, Ohio-based startup ChoreMonster is promising. Available for iOS devices and online, ChoreMonster makes doing household chores fun by “gamifying” the process. Designed to encourage kids to do chores, the app engages them through an attractive user interface and rewards them with points that can be exchanged for actual prizes when they complete tasks. So if you've been having difficulty getting your child to set the table, unload the dishwasher, or make their bed, this could be the solution.

Parents assign scheduled chores with point values for their child on ChoreMonster. They also set the rewards and how many points are needed to claim them. The child then logs in to their account to view their chores and rewards. After a task has been completed, the child marks it in the app and the parent is prompted to verify it. The child receives the points once the parent has approved the chore. “There are usually enough chores in a week to redeem some sort of reward,” says co-founder and CEO Chris Bergman. Children also earn random monsters for extra fun and surprise as they use the app. Each monster has its own personality and voice, most of which were narrated by Bergman and co-founder Paul Armstrong.

In an eight-month test before its official launch at the end of 2012, ChoreMonster helped 21,000 kids carry out over 300,000 chores. Popular tasks included picking up toys and books, cleaning the bedroom, and feeding pets, while favorite rewards included computer time, sleepovers, and an allowance.

Bergman and Armstrong took home the top prize in the Cincinnati Innovates competition in 2011 with ChoreMonster. They were subsequently accepted into startup accelerator Brandery and received $350,000 in funding from CincyTech and private investors.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

WEI Mortgage Corporation: Profile of a Thriving Real Estate Lender

An award-winning mortgage servicing firm based in Rockville, Maryland, WEI Mortgage Corporation has enjoyed notable success over the course of the past ten years thanks to a proactive business model defined by conservative lending strategies. Founded in 2002, WEI employs a staff of highly trained and knowledgeable loan officers thoroughly versed in the complex standards and mandates that dictate modern lending practices. Leveraging this understanding to help clients achieve their dream of home ownership, WEI specializes in top prime A paper loans, reverse mortgages, and FHA/VA government-backed loans. The company also offers a comprehensive array of competitively priced high balance agency and jumbo fixed rate solutions for consumers interested in speeding up the closing cycle. 

Regardless of the product WEI provides, the enterprise channels a great deal of time and energy to ensure that a loan’s stipulations are specifically designed to suit a borrower’s individual needs and financial situation. This approach has proved beneficial for WEI in numerous capacities and continues to drive increased referrals from vendors and satisfied clients alike.  Recognizing that success in the current economy hinges largely on innovation, WEI recently began extending custom-term fixed rate loans for homeowners who want to take advantage of historically low interest rates and refinance. Other key developments that enable WEI to remain steadily profitable include a “paperless” initiative implemented by the company’s President Wesley Yuan. By digitizing all documents processed through its office on a completely secure internal network, WEI has minimized the amount of paper waster generated on a day-to-day basis and more importantly, has created a streamlined system that further maximizes client privacy. 

Approved as a Seller with Freddie Mac, WEI operates as United States Department of Housing-approved lender as well and proudly defines itself as an equal opportunity lending institution. To obtain further information about WEI and its unsurpassed portfolio of loan products, visit the organization’s blog at  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Yiftee: Gifts That Strengthen Local Communities

Based in Menlo Park, California, Yiftee is a gifting service that lets users send real gifts, usually $20 or less, via smartphone or the web in just two minutes. To send a gift, open the Yiftee iPhone or web app, choose a gift at a local merchant, add a personalized note, and pay for it with PayPal or a credit card. The giftee, who is notified via Facebook, email, or text, shows a prepaid digital Mastercard on their smartphone to the merchant to claim their gift. Yiftee gifts that are not picked up after four weeks can be donated to charity or credited back to your account.

A winner of the 2012 Stanford BASES Forge Accelerator program, Yiftee was founded to help local merchants increase foot traffic into their stores. By connecting merchants and consumers, the startup helps strengthen local communities. At present, there are 2 million local establishments listed on Yiftee.

ZBoard: A Skateboard That's Electric and Fantastic

Designed in Hermosa Beach, California by mechanical engineers Ben Forman and Geoff Larson, the ZBoard is the world's first weight-sensing electric skateboard. The idea for the Zboard came to the pair while they studying mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), where almost everyone rides a bike or a skateboard to class as “traffic sucks and there's no parking.” But because bikes get stolen and skateboards have to be pushed up hills and over the city's uneven streets, Forman and Larson decided to create a device that is more fun and portable than a bike and faster and easier to ride than a skateboard. Initially the duo's final semester senior project at USC, the ZBoard is now commercially available to commuters in search of an innovative ride after three years of development.

Perfect for trips that are too far to walk but too close to drive, the ZBoard features a maple deck, front and rear foot pads, off road tires, a 400W electric motor, and regenerative braking, among others. To go, lean forward on the front foot pad. To stop, lean back on the rear foot pad. More than just on/off buttons, the foot pads sense how much weight you apply and analyze this information with the onboard computer. Thus, if you lean on the front foot pad, you speed up, and if you lean on the back foot pad, you go into regenerative braking. The harder you press on a foot pad, the faster you'll go or stop.

The ZBoard also includes a built-in handle for carrying or to lock up. Every skateboard comes with a charger and recharges in five hours. There are currently two models being offered – the ZBoard Classic ($649) and the ZBoard Pro ($949). The Classic is equipped with sealed lead acid batteries, while the Pro is outfitted with lithium-ion batteries, making it lighter, improving its range, and allowing it to reach a top speed of 17 miles per hour.

Davide Grasso: Notable Nike Marketing Strategies, Including the 2008 "Just Do It" Anniversary Campaign

For the past 20 years, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing Davide Grasso has led Nike, Inc. divisions throughout the world in strategic planning and marketing capacities. In 2008, as Vice President Brand & Category Management with Nike Inc.’s Asia Pacific region, he guided one of Nike’s largest ever campaigns, centered around the Beijing Olympic Games.

The memorable global advertising campaign celebrated the 20th anniversary of the “Just Do It” slogan and featured past and present athletic greats. Originally conceived in 1988 by the Portland, Oregon, ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, “Just Do It” became the focal point of a $20 million campaign that ultimately extended across sports eras. The phrase itself was envisioned as being the process by which an athlete transformed himself or herself into a great competitor. The impact of this catchphrase was such that "Just Do It" was ranked by Advertising Age as second on its list of Top 10 Slogans of the Century. Bringing the "Just Do It" slogan and Nike ethos full circle, the 20th anniversary ad campaign was once again directed by Wieden+Kennedy.

In tandem with the Beijing Olympics, Davide Grasso also worked to increase brand awareness and market penetration in China through a sponsorship agreement with Olympic Gold Medal hurdler Liu Xiang. From 2009 to 2010, Mr. Grasso leveraged past experience in soccer apparel and footwear marketing as Nike’s Vice President of Global Football Marketing. Currently based out of the company’s Portland headquarters, Davide Grasso is focused on developing and coordinating online and traditional media campaigns throughout the world.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Room 77: Helping Travelers Find the Best Hotel Rooms

Founded in February of 2009 by entrepreneur, investor, and avid traveler Brad Gerstner, Room 77 is a hotel metasearch engine that allows users to find and compare prices from top travel sites including Expedia,, Priceline, Agoda, Get a Room, Orbitz, ReserveTravel, CheapTickets, IHG, and Based in Mountain View, California, Room 77 offers the most advanced and comprehensive hotel shopping and booking experience on the web today by letting travelers simultaneously look at multiple hotel room categories and book more than 200,000 hotel rooms around the world. Users start their search by entering a city, hotel, address, or landmark, and refine it based on common filters (location, amenities, price, star ratings) and not-so-common ones (view type, free parking, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, free airport shuttle). From there, Room 77 takes care of the rest by scouring the web for the best hotel prices, including special rates for motor club members, senior citizens, government employees, and military members.

In addition, Room 77 provides super specific details about each hotel room such as room number, bed type, square footage, distance from elevator, and whether it's adjoining or not. The first travel website to reveal such information, Room 77 gives travelers a better idea of what to expect when they search for hotel rooms. Moreover, the site uses technology from Google Earth to stimulate the actual view from each room. For travelers who book 4- to 5-star hotels or stays more than $400, Room 77's room concierge team will work directly with the hotel to get them the best rooms according to their preferences for view, size, and noise level.

Named the Best Overall Startup at the 2011 Launch Conference, Room 77 today closed its Series C funding round, raising $30.3 million that will be use to scale its product globally. Among the participants in the round were Expedia Inc., Felicis Ventures, Concur Technologies, and Hotwire co-founder Spencer Rascoff.

ThisLife: A Safer and Smarter Way of Storing Life's Moments

Founded by husband-and-wife team Matt and Andrea Johnson, ThisLife is a web (and soon, mobile) app that stores your photos and videos on the cloud. A personal library containing all of your life's moments, ThisLife instantly imports every photo and video you've ever taken from your desktop, camera, phone, and social websites, automatically updating itself with each new capture. In addition to keeping your photos and videos, ThisLife is a “magic box” that's equipped with smart tools such as smart facial recognition, auto image enhancement, duplicate detection, and more. You can also quickly search your photos and videos by person, place, and activity, even if you have tens of thousands of files. Speaking of which, ThisLife accepts all types of files, even RAW images. And because all your moments are safely stored in the cloud forever, you don't have to worry about losing your phone or damaging your hard drive.

ThisLife is free to try for up to 1,000 photos. If you have more than that, you can access all the features for only $6 per month for every 25,000 photos or 100 GB.