Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Small Improvements: Simple and Accurate Performance Reviews

Small Improvements is performance review software simplified. The Berlin-headquartered startup believes that performance review systems do not need to complicated to be effective. In fact, the longer the process takes, the more people hate it, and the less accurate the results are. Small Improvements believes that a short and sweet process achieves more. Designed for small to medium-sized companies that want to improve productivity and communication, the web-based software offers “really easy to use” performance assessments, anonymous 360-degree feedback, goal sharing, minimal reports, and reward badges.

Small Improvements is free for up to 10 users, while larger organizations can try the software for 30 days at no cost. Plans start at $4 per user per month or $40 per user per year. Customers include Pinterest, ModCloth, One Kings Lane, Atlassian, Opera, Quiksilver, Coursera, and more. Earlier this year, Small Improvements was named one of the “Top 5 European Startups to Watch in 2014” by VentureBeat.

Life360: Keeping Families Together Through Technology

Based in downtown San Francisco, Life360 helps keep families connected even when they're apart. The app is “part location, part communication,” with features such as messaging, location sharing, check-ins, and more. With Life360, family members no longer have to ask and answer, “Where are you?” and “Did you arrive okay?” several times a day. You simply open the Life360 map to see where everyone else is. Likewise, you check in with the app to let the rest of the family know that you had made it to your destination. Favorite locations can be saved so you don't have to check in every single time. In case of emergencies, an alert button sends an email, voice mail, and text message to everyone immediately.

Groups on Life360 are organized into circles, which require an invite to join. A family circle is created by default, but you can add more for the other people in your life. Create a circle for aunts and uncles, close friends, babysitters and dog walkers, the Little League team... You get the idea. Only circle members can see each other's messages and locations, and circle creators get to decide who's invited, who stays, and who goes.

Life360 is available on iOS and Android for free. There's also a premium version that comes with a host of extra features. One of them is a 24/7 life advisor, a real person who can direct emergency responders to your exact location, access your emergency profile, and provide personalized crisis care. Premium users also get $100 stolen phone protection, extended history, unlimited places, and unlimited location lookups – even friends and family members without smartphones can be located. Life360 Premium costs $5 per month or $50 per year.

Life360 has received numerous awards over the years, including the Google Android Developer Challenge Grand Prize, About.com Readers' Choice Award, Webby People's Voice Award, and more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Madefire: Interactive Graphic Novels Revolutionize Storytelling

Aiming to advance the art of storytelling, Madefire transforms static comic books into interactive experiences that evolve with each new episode. By adding movement and sound to every page, Madefire turns graphic novels into Motion Books. Comic book fans can immerse themselves in an onscreen audiovisual experience, discover original content, follow stories as they develop through free new episodes, and see their favorite classics in a new way. Motion Book titles include Batman, Transformers, Hellboy, Star Trek, and My Little Pony.

Madefire was launched by entrepreneur Ben Wolstenholme, award-winning U/I architect Eugene Walden, and world-renowned artist and writer Liam Sharp to combine sequential art with cutting-edge technology and to give storytellers a new creative freedom. While it is a tech company, Madefire has a “creator-first” philosophy and believes that artists should lead innovation in both thinking and practical terms. Madefire hopes that its Motion Books technology will bring a new dimension of originality and expression to storytelling.

Asana: An App for Greater Team Productivity

While employed at Facebook, Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein realized that teams were doing too much “work about work” despite having smart and organized members. The tools that people were using to be productive – email, documents, wikis – just weren't cutting it anymore. In fact, the duo concluded that technology was failing us. With so much time and energy spent writing and reading emails, attending status meetings, and tracking down updates, people were being prevented from moving forward faster, producing more results, and chasing larger goals.

Frustrated, Rosenstein and Moskovitz decided to build a web application that would remedy this loss of productivity. After the app was adopted by Facebook's teams, employees had fewer meetings, sent fewer emails, and got more done with less effort. Moskovitz and Rosenstein knew that the opportunity to increase team productivity was not unique to Facebook or tech companies, so they launched Asana in 2009 to “help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.”

Aiming to be the next step in productivity, Asana puts conversations and tasks together in one place, eliminating or reducing the need for email, status reports, and meetings. With Asana, teams can create, assign, and comment on tasks; see what's getting done and who's doing it without asking; view other people's tasks and priorities; create calendars from tasks; and more. Accessible via the web and iOS and Android devices, the application re-imagines how work gets done and keeps everyone connected without overwhelming them.

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Asana is supported by a group of investors and advisors that include Benchmark Capital, Founders Fund, Andreessen-Horowitz, Peter Thiel, Aditya Agarwal, Peter Deng, Sean Parker, Eric Ries, and Owen Van Natta, among others. Organizations that use Asana include Dropbox, Uber, Virginia Tech, Pinterest, Nyaya Health, Variable, Bare Fruit, Disqus, Mission Bicycles, and more.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Flag Disrupts the Photo Printing by Offering Free Prints

Successfully funded on Kickstarter just less than 24 hours ago is Flag, a mobile app that prints your digital photos and mails them to you or your friends and family for free. How's that possible, you ask? Flag covers its costs and makes money by placing an ad on the back of every print. The team promises that ads “will always be tasteful” and that advertisers will be encouraged to make them inspiring. If you don't want ads on the back of your photos, you can order ad-free prints for a small fee. To order prints, simply select 20 photos and tap “print” in the app. Flag will then print them using museum-quality printers on German 220 gram photo paper from sustainable resources and mail them to you or a loved one. Shipping within the US is free, but international shipping is not.

Flag makes it easy to customize your prints, using laser-cutters to create rounded corners, scallops, and borderless prints. The service also lets you “jumboize” your images – this option cuts a big print into smaller sizes, which you then can assemble into a poster-size print. In addition, you can turn any photo into a postcard with Flag. Just pick an image, type or handwrite a note, and tell Flag where to send it.

Flag was founded by Samuel Agboola, who came up with the idea for the service after he manually cut sheets of printed paper into 10,000 baseball card size rectangles for his wedding. He wondered why taking photos has never been easier and cheaper but printing them has remained expensive and difficult to do. Agboola likens Flag to “the difference between the effort involved in taking your car to the garage and getting your oil changed, compared with leaving your car in the driveway, and having someone come and do it for you.”

Flag has been featured in Cult of Mac, Gizmodo, CNET Australia, TechCrunch, Yahoo!, NBC News, Pando Daily, and more.

Duolingo: A New Way to Learn Languages

Named one of Google Play's “2013 Best of the Best” apps, Duolingo is changing the way people learn languages. Available on the web, Android, and iPhone, Duolingo makes learning Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, and English (with more languages on the way) fun by turning the process into a game. You're given chunks of text to translate and you receive badges when you complete your lessons. If you answer incorrectly, however, you lose hearts. You can also connect your Duolingo account to Facebook so you can compete with your friends.

Duolingo is 100 percent free – there are no ads or hidden fees. This is possible because users create value by translating real-world documents (and learn a new language at the same time). Backed by Union Square Ventures, NEA, Ashton Kutcher, and Tim Ferriss, Duolingo was found to be more effective than university-level language training. Duolingo has also been lauded by PC Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

The Center for Counseling and Health Resources: A Place of Hope

Established in 1984 by internationally known mental health expert and best-selling author Dr. Gregory Jantz, the innovative Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc., takes a whole-person approach to its therapy programs. The facility, based in Edmonds, Washington, with 40-plus locations around the country and in Canada, provides a range of therapy programs for women, men, and teenagers, including celebrities, and families to address such problems as stress, addiction, unhealthy body image, depression, weight loss, and relationship difficulties. The Center for Counseling and Health Resources also treats such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Washington-based facility creates unique, customized treatment programs for its clients. Housing options, at no additional cost, include housekeeping, laundry, and linen services. Clients pay on a per diem basis for day treatment, and the center works with insurance plans whenever possible. For eating disorders, The Center for Counseling and Health Resources offers a free initial consultation to discuss options and answer questions. In this area, the treatments include the Men’s Program for Eating Disorders, the Adolescent Eating Disorder Program, and the 30-Day (4-week) Intensive Program for Anorexia Help, Bulimia Help, Binge Eating Help, and Other Food-Related Disorders.

The center also provides a multi-dimensional Personal Wellness Recovery Program in a safe, private, and confidential setting for celebrities and other VIP clients such a professional athletes, top-level executives, and other high-profile individuals. All programs, typically lasting 4 to 12 weeks, with a Transitional Care Program available as well, include a majority of time in personalized individual counseling rather than in group sessions. “Carol is doing incredible right now; she looks awesome and is enjoying life,” wrote one happy father. The life-affirming and hope-filled treatments have enabled hundreds of individuals to resolve root issues that led to addictions, compulsive behavior, and other disorders. For more information on The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, visit www.aplaceofhope.com.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

BleepBleeps: Cute Devices Make Family Life Easier

BleepBleeps is a London-based startup looking to make parenting easier and more fun. Its launch product, Sammy Screamer, is “a cute little movement sensor” that helps you keep an eye on your stuff. With a magnetized back and loop fixing, Sammy can be placed on just about anything you want to watch over, be it a door, a bag, a stroller, a cookie jar, or your fridge. Sammy connects to the BleepBleeps smartphone app, which you can use to set its sensitivity and volume. Then if someone moves your stuff, Sammy screams and sends a notification to your phone.

The first device created by BleepBleeps, Sammy Screamer is currently being Kickstarted. You can still avail of early bird pricing and get a red Sammy Screamer for $60 or a set of three (in red, orange, and pink) for $150. BleepBleeps is offering free worldwide shipping and aims to get Sammy into the hands of its backers by August.

BleepBleeps has more family-friendly devices on the way, including an ear thermometer (Tony Tempa), GPS bracelet (Cecil G), ultrasound pregnancy scanner (Ultra Stan), male fertility tester (Master Bates), video baby monitor (David Camera), ovulation tester (Olivia P Sticks), and GPS device (Lilly Loco). Each character has a face and a unique bleep bleep sound when activated. The aesthetics of the lineup is inspired by the simple geometric shapes of children's building blocks, Japanese vinyl toys, and Italian kitchenware brand Alessi.

Headed by CEO and creative director Tom Evans, BleepBleeps is run by a small but talented multidisciplinary team with backgrounds in branding, design, communications, new product development, digital, user experience, and hardware and software development. The crew has extensive experience with creative businesses and has delivered major projects for some of the world's biggest brands.

Despite being a new company, BleepBleeps has already received much media attention, having been mentioned by The Telegraph, PSFK, Geek Insider, Geekosystem, Livingetc, and Wired.

Photojojo Brings Shutterbugs the Coolest Photo Projects and Gear

Photojojo is on a mission to make photography more fun and more awesome. The San Francisco company publishes a newsletter on photography and runs an online store full of photo goodies, bringing over 600,000 fans the best photo tips, projects, DIY ideas, and gear.

Founded in 2006 by Amit Gupta, Photojojo was born out of a simple conversation between two friends. Gupta and his pal Kara were walking down the street in Brooklyn when they started talking about photography. Each of them knew fun stuff that can be done with photos that the other didn't. Excited by their discovery, they ran to a coffee shop and began writing down all the great photo ideas they could think of.

Photojojo launched a few months later. Since then, Gupta and several contributors have been scouring the web and the world for “the coolest photo stuff ever” and sharing them with other photography enthusiasts. Photojojo has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Gizmodo, Macworld, ABC News, Discovery Channel, and more.