Thursday, October 31, 2013

MailLift Brings Back Handwritten Marketing Letters

Entrepreneur Brian Curliss used to rent homes by the night. He would handwrite a note for each guest prior to their check-in. Guests not only loved the gesture, but also loved Curliss for it. When Curliss left the company, a mentor asked him what he would have paid for to save him time and/or make him more money. That question led him to start his next venture, MailLift.

Based in Austin, Texas, MailLift is a handwritten letter service for marketers and sales professionals. A tool to build customer relations through emotion connection, MailLift helps boost sales and make life a little more simple. “A handwritten letter is impactful, it has emotion, and it's not spam,” says Curliss.

Each letter is handwritten by a real person in the United States – most of them are retired teachers and artists. Customers create the template message, select the recipients, and customize other details such as the return address and stationery. Small orders typically take one to two business days to complete, while big orders usually require seven business days of lead time. Curliss has every letter and envelope scanned at 300 dpi and verified by at least three sets of eyes before it is sent out. Customers can also opt to see the scan of their letter first. For business accounts, letters cost $8.29 per piece and are written on high-quality stationery.

In an early trial of the service, Granite MedSystems sent handwritten correspondence to potential customers who had ignored all previous sales campaigns. The MailLift letters saw a 35 percent response rate, eight times the average for direct mail.

Recently, MailLift joined the 500 Startups accelerator. The company received $50,000 in funding, and Curliss and CTO Daniel Jurek will be working alongside experts in design, distribution, and business during the four-month program.

Mygola: 15-Minute Travel Planning

Mygola is a web and mobile travel planner that lets travelers put together their next adventure in just 15 minutes. Powered by patent-pending technology, Mygola offers a curated collection of inspiring trips, which users can customize as much as they like. Founded by Anshuman Bapna, a former member of Google's Strategic Partnerships team, Mygola boasts the world's largest collection of curated itineraries, sourced from real travelers and respected publications and covering 20,000 destinations around the world. Additionally, stunning photos, informative videos, and useful tips help travelers prepare for their trip and experience their destination before they get there. Users can also book their flights and hotels within Mygola.

Since its inception, Mygola has assisted more than 2 million travelers in planning amazing trips quickly and easily. Committed to bringing authentic experiences to travelers, Mygola has been nominated twice for the Top Innovator award at PhoCusWright's Travel Innovation Summit. The startup has offices in the US and India.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Craftsman Kevin Craffey Founded and Leads Several Companies

Third generation Boston carpenter Kevin Craffey founded his first company, K&J Interiors, Inc., in 1988. From its base in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the company provides finish carpentry, framing, and drywall throughout New England. Within five years, the journeyman carpenter had orchestrated project completion totaling nearly $80 million, and he has employed as many as 350 at the firm over the years. Kevin Craffey’s early success with K&J led him to become a full-service general contractor. In 1995, he established Craffey & Co. Builders Inc. in Plymouth, which has long since become a national business focusing on the retail industry.

Craffey & Co. specializes on large projects such as the renovation of big-box stores and additions to shopping malls. With as many as 150 employees at any given time, the general contracting firm has fulfilled projects in more than 45 states. Kevin Craffey also acquired and completely renovated the Mountain View Grand Hotel in New Hampshire, a property listed in the National Register of Historic Places of the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service. For this project, the skilled craftsman oversaw a restoration that included a clubhouse, tennis course, a spa, and other amenities.

In another business venture, Kevin Craffey founded KJ Realty Trust Corporation/Court Street Trust Corporation in 1990. This entity develops residential, retail, and office properties in Plymouth, Avon, and Hanover, Massachusetts, including Plymouth’s historic Buttner Building. Craffey began his career as an apprentice at Cape Cod Lathing and Plastering, Inc., in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in 1976, quickly working his way up to foreman. He also served as a superintendent and carpenter steward at Quinn Construction in Brockton, Massachusetts, before striking out on his own as proprietor and president of K&J Interiors.  He trained at the Massachusetts Carpenters Training Center and The Associated General Contractors of America and studied business administration at Massasoit Community College.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ketchuppp Promotes More Real-Life Interaction Among Friends

One Dutch startup believes that social media is killing real-life relationships. Do you remember the time when maintaining relationships did not involve accepting friend requests on social networks and having conversations through screens? Created to encourage friends to meet up and spend time together more often in the real world, Ketchuppp is a mobile app that notifies you whenever a friend is nearby so you can “Ketchuppp.” Get it?

Available on the App Store and Google Play for free for a limited time, Ketchuppp helps you meet up with people you actually know and like. It's not an app for making new friends or business connections; it can only be used with the people who are already in your phone's contact list. Ketchuppp works by running GPS tracking in the background. You get an alert when a buddy is nearby, but your actual location is never broadcast to anyone. When both people agree to meet up, the app suggests a list of cafes and restaurants within the vicinity where you can catch up.

You can also control the distance setting, so how close a friend needs to be before the app shoots out a notification is up to you. In addition, there are three visibility settings that let you socialize or lurk as much as you want. Online, the default setting, means your buddies will be alerted if you're within the same area. In hidden mode, you'll still be notified about your friends' locations but not the other way around. If you're offline, no notifications will be sent or received.

Since launching this past August, Ketchuppp has attracted about 3,500 to 4,000 active users. And according to the startup, that figure is increasing daily. Ketchuppp is self-funded by its founders, who also own a social media consulting and concept development company, and DayLike, the app's developer.

Briggo Uses Advanced Technology to Make the Perfect Coffee

Founded in 2008 by a team of execs who are passionate about coffee, Briggo combines the best coffee ingredients and robotic technology to empower people to create their perfect cup of joe. The first Briggo Coffee Haus is located at the University of Texas at Austin's Flawn Academic Center. It's actually more of a kiosk than a coffee house, in the sense that there are no baristas, tables, or chairs. Designed by award-winning industrial designer Yves Behar, the self-service kiosk features fake wood paneling and a touchscreen where customers place their orders. Orders can also be made via mobile or the web.

Briggo CEO Kevin Nater says the Briggo Coffee Haus provides a solution for coffee lovers who are frustrated with an “inconsistent experience.” “Trained” by champion barista Patrick Pierce, the kiosk is able to make the perfect cup of coffee each and every time. Briggo plans to install more kiosks in universities, airports, hospitals, and other strategic locations.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Green Toys: 100 Percent Recycled Children's Products

Founded in 2007 by Robert von Goeben and Laurie Hyman, Green Toys Inc. manufactures classic children's toys made from recycled plastic and other eco-friendly materials. Specifically, recycled milk jugs are the main ingredient in Green Toys products, all of which are 100 percent made in the USA. From milk container recycling to toy production to final assembly, everything is done locally in California, where the company is headquartered. Because nothing is shipped from overseas, Green Toys products require less transportation and less energy to make. On average, each pound of recycled milk jugs used in the Green Toys manufacturing process saves energy equivalent to 3,000 AAA batteries and enough electricity to power a TV set for three weeks and a laptop for a month. To date, the company has recycled more than 18 million plastic milk containers.

Green Toys products are unique in the toy industry as they are the only toys on the market made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials and packaged exclusively in 100 percent recycled and recyclable cardboard. Furthermore, Green Toys uses as little packaging material as possible and does not use plastics, cellophane, or twist ties that have to be thrown away.

The leader in environmentally friendly and socially responsible children's products, Green Toys has received a number of awards for its toys, including the Fat Brain Toy Award, Dr. Toy's “Green Toy Company of the Year” and “Best Classic Toy” honors, the Parents' Choice Gold Award, the B. EcoChic Seal of Approval, the Right Start Baby Essentials Award, the Creative Child Toy of the Year Award, and more. Tested by nationally recognized, independent labs, Green Toys products have passed several tests, including the Consumer Products Safety Standard Specification, FDA regulations for food contact, voluntary testing for no BPA, and international standards EN71 and ISO 8124.

Strikingly: Beautiful, One-Page Websites in Minutes

Need a one-page, mobile-optimized website and fast? Whether it's for your business, personal branding, or a project, Strikingly lets you create one in mere minutes, no code or design experience required. Whip up a beautiful website from Strikingly's dashboard and publish it instantly. The best part is, you don't have to make different sites for different devices; Strikingly's responsive templates can be properly viewed on any device, be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Aside from being attractive and accessible, Strikingly sites are search engine optimized and connect easily to your social media accounts. Additionally, the page analytics feature allows you to keep track of your visitors.

Strikingly is free for single sites that do not exceed a monthly bandwidth of 5GB. If you have more than one site, want to use a custom domain, and need more bandwidth, paid plans start at $8 per month. Strikingly offers discounts for students and non-profits.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Aisle Planner Connects Brides-to-Be With Wedding Professionals

Based in Cardiff, California, Aisle Planner is a startup that aims to make planning a wedding less overwhelming for brides-to-be. On Aisle Planner, users can not only find advice and inspiration for their big day, but also connect and collaborate with vendors, venues, and other wedding professionals in their area. In addition, Aisle Planner serves as an all-in-one publishing platform for wedding photographers, planners, bridal designers, caterers, and any professional in the wedding industry.

According to Aisle Planner president and CEO Rob Farrow, the company wants to end the media perception of the “bridezilla” and the animosity towards wedding planners. “There is no way that anyone can truly do a wedding by yourself,” he says.

Even DIYers need help, and this is where Aisle Planner comes in. “We want to make it easy to work with and collaborate with planners,” says Farrow. “Here it is 'we/us/and' – there is no 'them/either/or.'”

Guardian: Wearable Device Prevents Children From Going Missing

Every year, about 8 million children are reported missing around the globe. In an effort to decrease the number of missing children worldwide, Taiwanese startup BeLuvv has created Guardian, a small accessory that helps parents and other trusted adults keep track of little ones.

Described as “a parent's virtual babysitter” by Mashable, Guardian is a wearable device that can be placed on virtually any part of a child's body as a buckle or bracelet. The Guardian device works with an app that is used to set a safety perimeter and co-guardians for each child. You will get an alert if your child is about to go beyond the safety perimeter. If your kid disappears, you can activate a search immediately from within the app, and everyone who has downloaded the Guardian app will receive an emergency notification. Moreover, you can see which areas have already been searched and will be informed when someone finds your child.

Right now, the Guardian app is compatible with iOS only, but an Android version is being developed. The device is comfortable to wear and waterproof, so it can stay on while swimming or showering. Guardian uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology, which is smaller, lighter, and more energy-efficient than GPS. The Guardian device's battery can last for 4 to 12 months, while most GPS trackers have a battery life of 24 hours. Guardian is currently available for pre-order for $24.95; after that, it will cost $29.95 apiece.

BeLuvv CEO Johnny Fong got the idea for Guardian after briefly losing his son in a department store. “I'm always concerned that my children will get lost in a public space,” he says. “I've been thinking about this for a long time.” Fong believes now is the right time to launch Guardian as Bluetooth technology is already ripe.