Inside a bustling Victorian flat on Haight Street, a team of merchandisers led by serial entrepreneur John Poisson has just launched a service to “help solve your gift-giving dilemmas.”
Didn't think you had any such dilemmas? Think again.
You don’t have to have lived in San Francisco very long to realize that Halloween is this city’s idea of a pretty good holiday.
And it’s not necessarily just for kids, either–although most of them make out like bandits (or whatever else they’re disguised as) by visiting the stores along our neighborhood commercial strips, as well as houses on the specific blocks in various neighborhoods that specialize in goblinery.
WePay’s co-founder Bill Clerico can sum up his company with a simple phrase: “We’re not PayPal.”
The online payment giant claims 94.4 million users, but if you Google the firm, above the fold search results include a link to PayPal Sucks, with horror stories of frozen accounts, scams and other bad consumer experiences.
“One of the problems is that PayPal was built back in 1998, but the world has changed a lot since then,” Clerico observes. And one of the biggest ways the world has changed is the emergence of social media, especially Facebook.
“A huge piece of the friction between financial services institutions and the customer historically has been identity verification,” says Clerico. But now, thanks to the way people share their true identity on Facebook, “it’s much easier to verify who you are and have that validated by the many people who agree you are who you say you are.”
Since its public launch at the beginning of the year, BranchOut has quickly grown into the largest professional network on Facebook, with three million people using its free service to find jobs, or alternatively, the talent to fill job openings.
Now, the startup is bringing recruiters into the fold as well with a new product called Recruiter Connect. This move places BranchOut into even a more direct competition with LinkedIn.
The startup likes its odds.
“Facebook is just much bigger with its 800 million users than LinkedIn, with 100 million,” says Chris Merritt, VP of Sales. “And, people spend 164 times as much time on Facebook as on LinkedIn.”
True, but pretty close to all of those 100 million of those LinkedIn accounts, I’d wager, are devoted to professional networking of the type BranchOut is building at Facebook, which most people still consider a place to connect with family and friends.
Merritt counters that that is precisely why BranchOut’s Facebook location makes sense.
Want to zip down to SoCal? Zimride is building a marketplace where drivers can sell empty seats in their cars to passengers who want to travel along the same route. The company added the San Francisco - Los Angeles route last month, and it's already seeing over 200 seats filled per week at the going rate of about $35-40/seat.
The way it works is simple. Go to the company website, log in with your Facebook ID, and search for a ride (if you are a passenger) or riders (if you are a driver).
Zimride bills itself as the largest ride-sharing service in North America, not to be confused with car-sharing services like Zipcar and Getaround. “We consider car-sharing companies like Zipcar to be complementary, not competitors,” explains co-founder and COO John Zimmer. “In fact we have a partnership with Zipcar.”
If it sometimes seems like Facebook has taken over the world, the most recent report from Nielsen on social media usage in the U.S. provides lots of evidence for that belief.
Americans are spending over 50 billion minutes on Facebook a month, which is more than three times as many minutes as on the second leading website, Yahoo, and over four times as much as on Google.
Women dominate that usage time, accounting for 62 percent of all page views at Facebook, and Millennials (ages 18-34) have the highest concentration of visitors there and at most social media sites among all the age groups.
“Social media’s popularity continues to grow, connecting people with just about everything they watch or buy,” stated the report. “Whether it’s a brand icon inviting consumers to connect with a company on LinkedIn, a news ticker promoting an anchor’s Twitter handle, or an advertisement asking a consumer to “like” a product on Facebook, people are constantly being driven to social media.”
Another week, another message from Facebook about which of your friends have birthdays this week. You could post a message to their wall. You could purchase a virtual gift for them -- the very essence of a symbolic act.
Or, starting today, you could join with others in their social network to make a small cash gift ($1-10) that just might add up to a tidy bundle for the recipient of your collective largess.
Meet Giftiki, a collaborative gifting engine that attempts to extend commerce into social media in ways that may just alter gift giving as we’ve known it up until now.
“Your social network is a lot bigger than your wallet,” says CEO Justin Stanislaw. "With Giftiki, you can contribute small amounts of money to a friend and it won’t break the bank. But, along with 20 or 30 others in their network, it will add up to a significant gift for the recipient.”
For all those who loathe chain stores (and wearing what everyone else is wearing), rejoice! A feisty and stylish startup called Boutiika launched its discovery directory this week. The savvy site highlights independent boutiques in neighborhoods around San Francisco.
At launch, there are about 30 stores featured, like The Residents Apparel Gallery in Hayes Valley, Heartfelt in Bernal Heights, and Loft 1513 in the Castro, and the site will be adding many more in the coming months.
After perfecting its search and directory service for boutiques in New York City, Boutiika relocated its headquarters to San Francisco earlier this year.
Recently, I caught up with the company’s charming and energetic founder, Ruchika Kumar, to find out a bit about the inspiration for her startup. Kumar grew up in Manchester, England, a city known more for soccer than for shopping.
"Where I grew up, it was mostly chain and high street stores, and I disliked those options. There was always someone else who had what I had, and wore what I wore. I had to go to great lengths to feel like an individual and find one-of-a-kind pieces."
Within the first ten days of launching one year ago, the mobile video phone service Tango had one million users. As it celebrated its first anniversary last Friday, the Palo Alto-based startup counted 23 million registered subscribers to its free service, all of them using the company’s mobile apps.
Now Tango has added a PC product as well, and Microsoft is promoting Tango on its W-7 Mango platform. People can call each other from PCs, iPhones, the iPod touch, the iPad, and hundreds of Android phones and tablets.
The move to embrace the PC market would seem to be a direct swipe at Skype, the giant Internet phone service. Recently purchased by Microsoft, Skype has had trouble adapting to the mobile market, an opportunity that has been the central focus of Tango’s efforts.
“We are a communication services company and we are mobile first,” says co-founder and CTO Eric Setton. “But we initially underestimated the demand for video calls over the PC.”
Potrero Hill-based Zynga is announcing today a partnership with international popstar Enrique Iglesias that will kick off next week in its most popular game, CityVille.
Under the deal, which starts next Tuesday and runs for seven days, players will be able to build “Euphoria Arenas" for their virtual cities, collect some free branded virtual items, preview a video of his single, “I Like How It Feels,” and interact with the singer’s avatar.
The partnership comes just as Iglesias has kicked off an international concert tour, which is branded “Euphoria.” This is the third celebrity event for the large social game company, following one with Lady Gaga in May and Dr. Dre last December.
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