Founders of Skype raising big funding for Atomico

AtomicoFor those who don’t know, Atomico is the investment arm started by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis (Skype founders), with their payday from the eBay acquisition. Atomico is a new breed of player in the European (and global) investment scene, the kind of player that will step up and fill the void left by 3i.

Atomico has done a few investments so far, in companies that have some disruptive traits that could make them global successes : Last.fm, FON, Joost,…  While last.fm was successfully sold to CBS for $280M, the latter two are still in the growing pains.

Now Atomico is rumored to have raised a new 300 M€ fund. This is excellent news, seen as conquering Europe (from a VC perspective). I like to see it also as a chance for the best European startups to partner with a team that has proven they can scale a project to global ambitions and success.

Lookery guarantees $0.25 per social ad for European traffic

During the startup presentation at TheNextWeb, founder Scott Rafer introduced Lookery, which allows to monetize applications on social networks.

The company made itself famous for guaranteeing application developers a $0.125 CPM. They have been extremely successful with this, serving 1 billion impressions in less than a year. Recent figures include 630M impressions in February, and 60M a day in March. Scott Rafer announces 25 cents ad

Scott came up with a breaking news during his presentation: $0.25 guaranteed for the European traffic.

Even with the sliding value of the dollar, this is great news for European developpers of Facebook apps.

Scott Rafer also insisted that the other side of their business (the targeting of ads using -aggregated- information from users) was compliant with EU privacy laws.

Update : Scott Rafer told Mike Butcher some specifics of the program: firms have to work exclusively with Lookery for this, on social networks such as Facebook or Bebo, and commit for 90 days minimum. They’re seeking another billion impressions from this.

Serial (and parallel) entrepreneurs at TheNextWeb: Digg lessons

Note : David Verbustel is covering TheNextWeb event in Amsterdam for Europe 2.0. If you are over there, he will always be happy to discuss with fellow entrepreneurs, with bloggers, investors. Contact him : david.verbustel[at]gmail.com. Other coverage of the conference TechCrunch, TechCrunch UK, and at TheNextWeb.

Digg logoKevin Rose is the successful founder of Digg.com, the poster child of user-generated news (that has generated an array of clones in Europe, subject for another post). He also (co-)founded Revision3, a webTV production company (producing his Diggnation show), and Pownce (once announced as a Twitter-killer, but more quiet now).

He went on stage at TheNextWeb to share some of his experience with Digg, interviewed by Scott Rafer (another successful serial entrepreneur of MyBlogLog, Mashery, and Lookery fame). Here are some highlights.

To manage several ventures in parallel requires to have the management and board responsabilities right. Digg is Kevin’s main job, about 60 hours a week, but seems to satisfy him :

“I don’t like to work for a huge company […] I think this is the best job I can have”

“I’m happy to be doing what we are doing […] Working on digg, is something I enjoy, I love”

The beginning of Digg we fairly easy, because there were not much trafic, it allowed to devote attention to developing the features. Now is a much more complex endeavor, with thousands of servers, code to be rechecked, etc. Fortunately, there are 55 employee on board to help him with the task.

As far a monetization is concerned, Kevin is not too worried : ads are there, bringing revenue ; they are kept ‘light’, not to bother the users

“We are profitable, we don’t won’t to be more profitable”

“It’s about the consumer experience, not about the money”

Yahoo’s new Buzz does not seem a dangerous competitor to him (“I haven’t told to my self- wow this one make me freak out”). Digg will keep coming with new features, such as a recommendation engine, based on patterns of how other users have voted on stories.

One warning to keep in mind: “Three years ago it was easier to launch a startup. Now there is too much going on.”

So new startups have better distinguish themselves in this crowded market. We’ll see how the ones from the startup competition fare in that respect.

ZiLok interview: changing the world of rental

ZilokI had the chance to meet at Plugg with Gary Cige and Thibaud Elziere, the founders of ZiLok, a website where people can rent just about anything (offers and demands of rental), in their area (in a space where we should also mention RentMineOnline.com, a Seedcamp finalist, more focused on the house and appartment rentals). ZiLok will also be on stage at TheNextWeb, and they are certainly one very promising startup .

Thibaud Elziere (who has also founded photo trading platform Fotolia.com, and is seen in the picture below) answered some of my questions.

What elements (technical, marketing, luck ?) played an important role during your launch phase (first 3 months) ? What lessons / advice would you share with entrepreneurs ?
In our opinion, we are still in a launch/preparation phase, at least for the next few months. Our web background and experience helped us a lot to deal with the practical and technical aspects of the launch, so we have enough time and resources to focus on what we really want to achieve, on the big picture.

We have enjoyed a very wide press coverage since the beginning, and the main TV channels, radios and newspapers already covered Zilok. It shows that the concept itself is very “communicative”: people are interested, they get involved, and journalists and media professionals have great material to create compelling stories. Nowadays, it is not that complicated to create a new web service, as technical issues get easier to overcome. Getting visibility and building a community is where the real challenge is, and youThibaud Elziere really have to focus on communication and marketing to be sure that your wonderful service will be discovered… An easy-to-explain concept is a very good point for your business, you must never forget that! Maintaining a clear, simple and powerful vision and mission statement throughout the development and launch phases is crucial in my opinion. Marketing is also a very important part to reach some visibility. We have been working on this since the beginning, and in the following week, we will roll it out to the next level. Stay tuned!

Can you tell us more about the Business and Consumer orientations of the site ?
With Zilok we focus on both C2C and B2C markets. The B2C market corresponds to the existing rental industry, rental businesses to consumers. This already existing market is an opportunity for us to reach critical mass quickly. Critical mass is always an important issue for marketplaces and internet services, and in our case this critical mass is large since our service is locally based, which means that we must list a critical number of rental items in any local area. The Professional rental market will play a big role in overcoming this challenge.
Peer-to-peer renting, that is the C2C market, is something new that we would like to support and develop. It is the most fun part of our business model but is also the trickiest. We have to evangelize people, and it will take some time even though our first months have been very promising. We already get hundreds of rental listings a day posted by individuals, people.

You are aiming internationally very soon, opening the US, and other national markets. What is your rationale for doing so ?
Six months after opening up Zilok in its beta version, we are already operating in four countries with websites in three languages. We were able to do so because we have been aiming and designing internationally since the beginning. Zilok is offering people a new way of consuming, responding to today’s trends and concerns (scarcity of resources, availability of information, cost of storage, environment). These concerns are shared by people all over the world. That’s the first rationale: the vision and value proposition for Zilok is valid identically in every country we approach.
If you adopt an effective and realistic approach to your international organization, you can do that very early in your development, and we have done just that.
Now, in the business of marketplaces, size matters, and timing is a key factor. That’s eBay 101. Conversations are now global, especially between entrepreneurs and the tech savvy. A local success story related in any country will inspire dozens of similar businesses in the matter of weeks, all over the world. We eventually want to own our success, as far we can reach.

From what I can tell, we have here a focused entrepreneur, driving his startup in a way that changes the rules of the game of a very large (and fragmented) sector. When I see this, I can’t help but recall what a VC such as Danny Rimer from Index Ventures was telling Business 2.0 about why he loves European startups :

[…] the innovations that do arise in Europe tend to be paradigm-shifting, industry-upending, world-changing stuff. Think of Linux. Think of Skype. Hell, think of the Web itself.

Let’s now watch the space for online rental.

Roundup of some incredible news today: Google, TechCrunch, …and Engadget

Maybe it’s because of the date, but incredible news abound today. Let’s have a look at some of these breaking stories.

Google peeks into the future

There are reports of Google’s new feature: the gDay. Using artificial intelligence ( MATE™ Machine Automated Temporal Extrapolation), Google can give you the results of stories one day in advance.

Google gDay

This is great news for sport fans (and bets), newsmakers and indeed for bloggers:

Plus, using language regression analysis, Google can even predict the actual wording of blogs and newspaper columns, 24 hours before they’re written!

TechCrunch sues Facebook

TechCrunch owner Michael Arrington argues in his rather long post (complete with legal references):

So we’ve been increasingly concerned about developments at Facebook over the last few months that allow advertisers to post ads using my picture and name to endorse their products without my explicit permission.

Arrington sues Facebook

Basically, the use of his name and picture in newsfeed items is seen as an outrageous use of his “personal brand”. As compensation for this damage, Arrington is asking:

At this point we’re prepared to settle the case for $25 million in Facebook stock (priced at the employee option price, not that ridiculous $15 billion Microsoft valuation)

This is where the “attention economy” is leading us to ! This is likely the first high profile legal action in a series to come, as users realize the value of their “personal brand”.

T-Mobile sues Engadget Mobile over the use of the color magenta

T-Mobile EngadgetEngadget just received a letter from T-Mobile’s legal department (they point out their German legal department) requiring that they cease the use of the color purple in Engadget Mobile. This is very ironic since Engadget themselves underlined this whole color-trademark issue a while ago.

Engadget is already defending themselves by arguing that there can hardly be any confusion: they are not a mobile operator, they don’t have a problem with US 3G, they have more than 5 friends.

Wait… the one on Engadget is NOT an April’s fool.

Virgle logoUpdate : the Google gDay was first, because of Australia were early risers to April 1st. Using this gDay feature should have allowed us to foresee Google HQ announcement of their joint venture ‘Virgle‘ with Virgin and their plans for a trip to Mars (this has been picked up at many places, with the extra pinch of salt of TheNextWeb people having actually cyber-squatted the Virgle.com domain for some time). In less stellar news, there was also the Google wake-up kit, custom time and paper airplane. It looks like getting ready for April’s fool is a full-time job for several teams at Google.

On the other hand, if you are looking for serious, april fools-less news, breathe and go to RedHerring and CNET: it seems that they sport none.

Online classifieds: Craigslist expanding in European languages

I recall back around 2005 a string of moves by eBay : they took a 25% stake in Craigslist. A huge success in the US,classifieds Craigslist was virtually unknown in Europe besides expat circles. Maybe that international opportunity is why eBay went on a shopping spree, and bought dutch classifieds site Marktplaats.nl (for an astonishing $290M in cash), german classified OpusForum, London-based Gumtree, and Spain’s LoQuo. All this while starting its own classified site Kijiji.com in several languages and countries, which eventually led to eBay competing with Craiglist. (On a side note, I see that several years later, the acquisitions have all kept their original identities, living alongside the Kijiji sites in those countries. It looks like Yahoo is not alone in having a hard time to digest / rebrand its acquisitions).

This has given eBay / Kijiji a serious headstart in the online classifieds business in Europe, with most other competitors being enclosed in national borders (there are exceptions, like VivaStreet, OLX, or Adoos which opened in a number of countries).

In that context, the current announcement by Craigslist (by Craig Newmark himself, actually, also picked up by TechCrunch) to become available in French, German, Italian, and Portuguese is great news, but seems to come a bit late.
But then in the meantime Microsoft’s equivalent offering Expo.Live.com is still limited to the US (and in english only).