Fintech panel gets real about the challenges facing app economy

NEW YORK—“Is the app economy dead? When was the last time you bought an app?” The question was directed at Vivek Nasta, founder & CEO, Scout Finance at the panel discussion on fintech by Empire Startups last October 17 at Rise

Nasta was suddenly speechless, as the audience chuckled nervously. Who bothers to purchase an app when many of them are free to download?

Even if Nasta didn’t respond, he did say how it’s tough to satisfy customers these days. “They want speed…They’ll ask for everything. And use one percent (of a feature),” he said. Still, he thinks it’s important to address this and find an answer, even if he it’s very hard to make money on mobile.

“It’s about anticipating what people need,” he said.

In the talk about the challenges of mobile fintech, Nasta was joined by Ed Robinson, cofounder, Stash; Raffaelle Breaks, VP of Global Digital Experience, American Express and Travis Skelly, SVP of Venture Investing, Citi Ventures. It was moderated by Matthew Hooper, VP of Open Innovation at Barclays.

It was Breaks who probably gave the most relevant question of the night, “How do we emulate customer experience online on a desktop and from one’s smartphone?” She also craves for some proper automation in fintech.

Skelly, for his part, thinks it’s still hard to aggregate all accounts.

Hooper asked the panel about the sustainability of apps, as there’s only so much space you can use on your smartphone.

“Apps will still be there,” Robinson said.

Answering for American Express, Breaks said, “Desktop still comprises most of our user base. While engagement is higher on mobile, people just don’t check their account all the time.”

This was echoed by Skelly who said fintech apps are not meant for heavy use or activity compared to some social media apps, naturally.  However, he thinks apps will still be there. He even sees incumbents and startups fighting it out.

Breaks noted how its customers still prefer to call someone at the company instead of interacting with an app.

On making apps relevant, Nasta said apps should have some two-way interaction and good user experience.  He doesn’t believe in a mobile only solution for fintech.

What makes them successful in this challenging environment?

Robinson believes it’s his 24/7 approach to the business. He believes in building trust and engagement. “We provide information ASAP or we lose them.”

For legacy companies, targeting millennials has not been easy as they’re likely to use instruments that are popular in their age group. “These customers may heavily skew toward iOS which is hard to infiltrate,” Breaks said.

In terms of targeting a broad audience, Breaks thinks small countries are good test areas for new fintech initiatives, especially underserved and underbanked markets.

Fintech is also looking into replicating their platforms with artificial intelligence, but it’s still early to tell where that is leading.

What do new fintech startups need to do to succeed in this space? Robinson said, “The more you can get the cadence of iterating, making changes and updating the app, the better off you’ll be.”

With fintech becoming more democratized, however, Skelly thinks branding will take a hit. “People don’t need to know what card they use on an uber, for example.”

This development should allow small underserved markets access to new fintech tools which is in contrast with countries like the US where banks are strictly regulated.

“(In the US), it’ll take a year’s worth of specking to make an app for a bank,” Nasta said.

“We’re still in the early innings,” he concluded.

Story behind Just Not Sorry’s 100,000 downloads in a month

NEW YORK– If you haven’t heard Just Not Sorry, don’t be sorry for yourself. The gmail plugin helps email users avoid using “just”, “sorry” and other weak words that undermine your message. It makes sure to strip out the highlighting before you hit send. In a month’s time, the app was downloaded 100,000 times, thanks to a healthy dose of media coverage that included morning TV shows and publishing sites.

http://www.meetup.com/agile-lean-practitioners/events/229934910/

Tami Reiss, CEO of Cyrus Innovation who had the idea, and Steve Brudz, who built the app, thinks that when you are creating an app, “simple is smart” and you have to be solving a “real problem.”

Reiss and Brudz walked the audience through its agile development at the Lean/Agile Practitioners meetup last April 18 at Kaplan Center in the Upper East Side. Reiss has worked with teams to develop technology solutions on platforms ranging from mainframe systems to modern microservice architectures and iOS.  Brudz is an engineering lead and agile coach at Cyrus Innovation with more than 16 years of experience in software development.

In building the app, Tami and Brudz said it is important to build fast, even if it gets messy in the beginning. They searched for how others have done similar things, researched open source libraries and wrote code in a week. They say never spend more than day on a spike.

They built it by getting feedback and iterating accordingly. Their advice. “Demonstrate progress regularly, listen to feedback and limit your work in progress.”

“Write automated tests where the benefit outweighs the cost,”Brudz said. There are faster types of code that you can use/test– recursion. “Code has lots of conditionals. Testing can help you get faster.”

In the iterations of the “trigger words,” they also took us to the time it first highlighted the words (iteration 1), then upon review, changed it to a dotted line (iteration 2) before it became a dotted line with explanation (iteration 3) and finally, a dashed line (with explanation) after feedback that said the previous iteration was too close to Google’s Spell Check.

After doing several landing page optimizations and Instapage AB tests, they recall launching on Product Hunt. On the day it launched on that site, they instantly got 79 downloads. With its media coverage later, which started with a media contact and a catchy name of course, the app eventually got its 100,000 downloads.

They are clearly not sorry about the name, because they knew Just Not Sorry would make a good hashtag — and the rest is history.

TripExpert opens API to developers

NEW YORK–Last March 9, TripExpert, Pass the Plate LLC, Criteek and TenViz presented at the NY Tech Breakfast at Microsoft in Times Square.

http://www.meetup.com/NYC-TechBreakfast/events/226907378/

TripExpert, the platform for expert (media) reviews on travel, announced its API at developer.tripexpert.com and an upcoming beta of its app weeks from now. TripExpert gets eyeballs through media syndication, according to Emily Hughes and Andrew Nicol.

Referring to the difference between media-based reviews and user reviews? “There are huge disparities in the reviews,” he said, citing the prevalence of fake reviews in high-end hotels.

TripExpert extracts a piece of information (from media), so it doesn’t need permission, although in some cases, they negotiate with individual publications.

TripExpert puts more weight on opinion or reviews of some pubs.

Next presenter, Pass the Plate makes giving to charities easier with its phone app as it pointed out the $360 billion opportunity in donation industry, citing a Blackbaud index.

It also sees a fragmented market and think his app can address the needs of 1.6 million registered non-profit companies in the United States. A donor can give to non-profit companies from one location. A 501 c3 company,  it charges 50 US cents per transaction fee and get 2.65 percent. For every donation, it mails the check to the recipient. It needs to vet non-profit companies and one way to do that, as suggested by an audience, is to have mission statements visible on the app.

Criteek presented its Saas platform , which automates the process of sourcing, hosting, curating and streaming video product reviews. Beyond eyeballs, it hopes to get clients, brands and retailers on board its B2B platform. Right now, it focuses on sports reviews.

“We are going (for) retailers (as) they are already in touch with their customers,” Kyle Wilkinson said.

Predictive analytics for finance and investment management is TenViz’s business It offers a range of data-driven solutions using both traditional statistical and most recent machine learning tools to solve complex problems for customers.

It will focus in the following areas: asset management, retail banking, commercial banking, retail and consumer goods, energy and utilities. It is $90 a month after its free trial.

Addressing comparisons with Bloomberg, Konstantin Fominykh said TenViz is more analytical.  Getting critical information days ahead of an investment would really be good, one pointed out.  

Apps are becoming more humanized

NEW YORK– New year, new name. Last February 22, the NUI (Natural User Interface) Meetup on its fourth year became the HUI (Humanized User Interface) Meetup. It was said to be a more accurate description as “the advancements today enable apps and devices to interact with us like we do with other people,” the organizer Ken Lonyai and Debra Benkler said.

http://www.meetup.com/HUI-Central-NY/events/226386935/

As the hosts, the organizers talked about where HUI is headed, how to best use it in projects and products and how to develop HUI-based user experiences as well as use the plethora of APIs available right now.

Differentiating NUI from HUI, Benkler said NUI  as coined by Steve Mann, are actions that come naturally to human users–the user of nature as an interface itself. For many, the definition has supposedly come to mean any interface that is natural to the user.

Natural is not without without its issues while HUI is said to unify human-like experience, reducing barriers to human machine interactions, extending the benefits of technology and engaging greater segments of the population.

“HUI is multi-sensory and bi-directional. It mimics real world interactions. It’s immersive. It can make devices effectively invisible,” the hosts said.

The hosts discussed HUI technologies from touch, gesture, voice, eye tracking, object/facial recognition, among others.

On touch, supposedly the most underdeveloped HUI technology, Lonyai talked about trends in haptics. “Future haptics will stimulate temperature and viscosity. At this point, screen touch will be considered an HUI for a telepresence, in-air haptics, conductive fabric and real-world objects.

On gesture, Lonyai said there will be more uses of body movements to interact with a system. Typically, it requires a specialized equipment: 3D depth sensing camera (Kinect); electromyography device (Miyo); and ultrasound transducers. 3D depth cameras are largely peripherals but that is said to change in 2016.

How do 3D depth sensing cameras work? They project a field of infrared points and the points are read by the cameras to determine depth.

The point data is processed and a primitive image is created. It can also be used for skeletal tracking using algorithms. Changes in position can be measured and correlated to mean or do almost anything. Depth sensing cameras can also track heart rates.

For Lonyai, UX Best practices on gesture must know system limitations; design large interaction areas; minimize gorilla arms, avoid customer gestures and avoid creating occlusions in addition to using contextual-based affordances and consider cultural issues.

With gorilla arms, he was referring to how you can’t have your arms hanging for long periods of time, pointing out how Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” even got tired having his arms up during the shoot of the film.

What about object/facial recognition? Since humans can distinguish over 30,000 visual objects in a few hundred milliseconds, it definitely makes object-facial recognition interesting to explore. He cited how 2D and 3D APIs can make determination of facial “landmarks.” This means that the minute details of your face can be captured–the distance between the eyes, the width of the nose, the depth of the eye sockets, the shape of your cheekbones.

“It’s going to be all about ‘authentication vs identification’,” he said.

Mental Canvas thrills with breakthrough 3D drawing tool

NEW YORK–“Prepare to be blown away,” a co-host teased an audience of 400 at the NY Tech Meetup last February 9. Mental Canvas did just that as the presenters showed how they drew on a tablet computer and it just came to vivid 3D life. It can certainly revolutionize storyboarding for a host of industries — film, graphic arts, comic books and advertising, just to name a few.

http://www.meetup.com/ny-tech/events/226570627/

Mental Canvas was developed by two developers in only 4 months but after considerable research that took 10 years. It presented last among a diverse field of presenters such as Cognitoys, Didit, Funnster, NeverLate, NYC Councilmatic, Trade It, Shareablee, Virgil and Voodoo. Some of them, including Mental Canvas and Funnster, will be available soon.

NYC.councilmatic.org is ready to advance tech legislation and better track what’s happening in the NY Council, especially as it fights for the rights of its citizens, including freelancers. It reported that freelancers lose 6,000 in annual income for unpaid jobs. The site hopes to increase local engagement and public dialogue to better address concerns of New Yorkers.

Do we need another online brokerage firm? Trade It thinks you need not even go to one, if what it presented can take off. What if we told you that you could already start trading from the site you’re reading about a particular company? Trade It says it has pre=set APIs and SDKs and all the documentation you need to find out if it will work for you. It reportedly has security encryption.  

3D prints are everywhere these days, but if you wondered how fast you can print in high volume, Voodoo claims it can do the work in less than two weeks.

Are apps making our lives easier? Funnster is a platform that reportedly makes every occasion planning between friends fun, easy and simple. CEO Amnon Israel was almost unnerved by the technical difficulties in his presentation but he managed to make light of the situation which endeared him to the crowd. It helped that his app offers a solution to pressure on party hosts. With the app, invitees can figure out what anyone is bringing and paying for to make the party successful.

There’s Linkedin and then there’s scoring your career via Virgil, which aims to help you better navigate your career path. There’s DidIt NY, which offers you ways to create your own list of go-to places. There’s Shareablee now in its third year, measuring all social interactions, so you can find out the networks you need and those you need to discard.

From Coalition for Queens, NeverLate had the crowd chuckling. It’s an app to keep you from being late, because it commits you to paying a fine.

Making the rounds of New York is CogniToys and how how the smart toy, powered by Watson and a huge crowdfunding success on Kickstarter, learns and grows with your child.

$70K App Idea Awards launches at General Assembly

NEW YORK–For those who say they had an idea but did not know how to make one, you don’t have an excuse anymore. Last February 4, General Assembly hosted the Launch Party of the App Idea Awards with $70,000 worth of design and development costs at stake for anyone or a team to build their app with full ownership of the intellectual property of their idea and no equity ownership when they join the contest.

https://generalassemb.ly/education/app-idea-awards-launch-party

Nnamdi Okike, co-founder and partner of 645 Ventures, shared his thoughts and experience on the fundraising process at the launch. “Ask yourself what pain point (you are solving) The app is meant to improve the nature of the service,” said Okike whose firm’s portfolio includes Fly Labs, acquired by Google.

To join the contest, you must be all over the age of 18 with a good idea for an app or an app in early stage of development (less than 1,000 users). You could be students, developers, designers, product managers— even a team of ten or a team of one.

Criteria for judging is as follows:

  • General strength of concept
  • Monetization strategy
  • Entrepreneurial vision (and general ability to execute app’s proposed business plan)
  • User design
  • Team’s ability to execute

Okike’s talked about his company’s criteria, which may also be worth keeping mind during the contest. “(Ask yourself) what’s the impetus for starting a company. I’d like to see more unique and innovative thinking as well as the team.”

Okike’s 645 Ventures is one of the judging group consisting of Greycroft, Samsung Venture Investment, First Round, Oak Investment Partners and Norwest Venture Partners  

Deadline for application is March 31, 2016. However, the contest will be choosing finalists on a rolling basis. A select a group of 6 finalists will be chosen from the pool of applicants. After receiving mentorship from established entrepreneurs and investors, these 6 teams will polish up their presentations and pitch their app idea to judges in May 2016.

Every applicant will reportedly have an equal opportunity for success. There will be no barriers of financial resources, or locating technology talent. Also, the finalists will receive free classes, no matter what your background or education. The contest will provide online and physical classes about the following topics from experts within the mobile community:

  • App Design
  • UI/UX
  • Wireframing
  • Design Specifications
  • App Business & Monetization Models
  • App Marketing
  • App Advertising
  • App Product Management
  • App Analytics

The contest is being conducted by ROKO Labs, General Assembly, Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of NY, and Columbia Venture Community.

Benefit Kitchen, Slash, Everbliss stand out at NY Tech Meetup

NEW YORK-A screening benefit tool for low-income families, a stock market crowd-rating platform, an instant coach or therapist hotline app and elegant toy apps for kids stood out among the nine presenters at the NY Tech Meetup last January 5 at the Skirball Theater.

http://www.meetup.com/ny-tech/events/226594137/

A winner at the NYC Big Apps for its civic tech initiative, Benefit Kitchen is a web and mobile app that helps connects working Americans with the $80-billion underutilized food, health and child care assistance industry.

The tool only needs an email address to answer and — for safety — doesn’t ask for a social security number. It answers how much you can get. It was described at the meetup as “the TurboTax for poverty.”

Slash wowed the audience with its supercharge keyboard that makes it easy to share anything. Available on iOS app, you can share links by tapping “/” to unlock Foursquare, GIFs, Spotify, Stickers, YouTube and many more without switching apps.

Everbliss got the crowd laughing when the presenters called it “basically Tinder but not self destructive. “ Doing a live demonstration can be a hit or miss, but it showed how in a few taps, it connects people to a qualified coach or therapist in a live video call anytime, anywhere. It just did that by having a coach respond to a call.

For its part, Tinybop, demonstrated how its apps, three voted the best of 2015 by the App Store (The Robot Factory, The Everything Machine and Simple Machines). It makes elegant educational apps for kids to dive deep into ideas and see how things work.

Vetr likens its app to the “wisdom of the smart crowd” the way it delivers stock market insights from people and the news sources they follow. If you join in “you can build your own homepage and watch list.”

Other presenters included GreatHorn, a cloud security platform that helps detect and prevent spear phishing and credential theft attacks in real time as well as The Segovia, which fights poverty through software tools.

LiquidTalent is an talent marketplace where you can connect with and hire vetted developers and designers within hours. Job seekers must have evidence of past projects and repositories in Github. It offers instant chat and calls to developers.

The meetup’s hack of the month was http://www.justnotsorry.com/ which works like spell check for email; only difference is that it checks your over-reliance of words like “just” and suggests options for you to provide a more authoritative voice in your emails.

Caring for your cat and skin with a device and app

NEW YORK—It was not your typical meetup in the city. For one, it was scheduled on a Friday night last December 18 (most meetups in the city are from Monday to Thursday). Second, it was held at a store, the new Microsoft Flagship Store on the shopping district of Fifth Avenue. But the crowd trickled in to watch the presentation of devices at the meetup curiously billed “Understanding Live Video Streaming with Periscope and Meerkat.”

http://www.meetup.com/siliconalleycouncil/events/227269542/?a=mc1_grp&rv=mc1&_af=event&_af_eid=227269542&https=off

Lee Miller presented Kittyo, a Kickstarter-initiated device (priced at $249) and app for viewing, recording, playing with and dispensing treats to pet cats. It is available on iOS and Android .

“Cats love chasing laser (beams),” Miller said, showing how the lasers work to preoccupy the cats, especially when their owners are not around. As soon as he showed the lasers, the audience crowded around the device, impressing many, even the shoppers curious to see what was going on. To keep it from tipping over, Miller said it can be harnessed with a clamp.

If you’re curious how long it took Kittyo to materialize, Miller said 2 years. Someone suggested having a cat to go with Miller’s demo but everyone knows how nonchalant cats can be–and in a crowded space like the Microsoft Store, a challenging proposition.

How would you like a device to be your personal skin coach?

OKU is an iPhone connected anti-aging device and app designed specifically to help you get your skin into its best shape.

How does it work? You connect OKU to your iPhone, download the App, answer a few simple questions about yourself to get started, scan your skin using its device and get real-time, personalized skincare advice.

It reportedly uses a special and safe light source to illuminate the skin’s layers. This visible light penetrates a few millimeters of the skin and its imager reads tissue structure like oil glands, collagen and elastin.

The meetup was hosted by Silicon Alley Council.

 

German startups Keeeb, Night Advisor come to NY

By Dennis Clemente

German startups in New York to seek funding, gain more exposure and reach

NEW YORK–German startups Keeeb, Favendo and Night Adivsors took turns demonstrating their platforms at the German Accelerator NY last December 15 at Rise NY. 

Conrad Gulla of Keeeb got the most votes for his presentation of his platform. Touted as a personal Google for everyone, it helps you clip anything online, similar to how Evernote’s Skitch and other similar tools work but one that you can even put to good use on MS Word as well.

Gulla said the company has mostly relied on word of mouth to reach 75,000 beta users at the moment, some of them making productive use of their clips at $9 a month with large organizations paying higher for its additional services.

“We started with large organizations in mind. If we can get them into this product category, we (believe we can get the small companies),” he said.

Keeeb is hoping to get a slice of the e-commerce industry which raked in $87 billion dollars in the third quarter with 200,000 etailers enjoying that windfall. Amazon even managed to get 15% of the pie through its constant consumer innovation.

The German startup is seeking Series A funding within 3 to 6 months.

The panelists who took turns asking the presenters some questions were Jessica Peltz-Zatulove, principal of kbs+ ventures; Deepen Parikh, venture partner of Interplay Ventures and Mitchelle Kleinhandler, venture partner of  Scout Ventures.

Would you believe the GPS was invented in 1978? It certainly sparked a revolution in how people interact with the world around them. In the digital age, it has become more than just a navigation application. GPS is on Google Now, Google Maps, Foursquare, Uber and Waze.

With Favendo, David Keil said it has brought GPS indoors using beacons installed at retail stores, for instance. “Retail is just the beginning,” he said. It ultimately seeks to become the search for the physical store, even car finder.

“We are also working with hospitals now,” he said. Eventually, he wants to add airports, museums, train stations and office buildings.

The bulk of sales comes mostly from its software. Keil said Favendo has amassed $2.3 million in revenue  with 50 installations and 30,120 beacons deployed to date. The beacons cost $25 to $30 each. It charges a monthly service fee that depends on the size of the venue. Customers have to download the app.

How much do NYC venues need to earn per night? More than 250 customers but the money earned also goes to the average rental fee of $54,000 a month. That’s New York for you.

Last presenter, Johannes Herzer, CEO of Night Advisor, talked about how his company brings people to venues and how it addresses the limited time for online  marketing. Its Saas tool empowers venues and events to create and manage ad campaigns in minutes.

Since inception a year ago, it has raised $40K from angel investors, including club owners with an average revenue per customer of $165 month.

Dog Parker, State of Place lend new meaning to hyperlocal service

NEW YORK–Last November 9, Coinvent held a whole-day tech startup fair with several startups and inspirational talks at the Metropolitan Avenue in Chelsea.

http://pulse.coinvent.co/ny15

Dog Parker was one of the most popular startups as it showed a “doghouse” that provides secure dog parking when you’re out and about in the city with your dog and you need to run an errand. Dog Parker partners with businesses to place Dog Parkers in front their stores.  

Launched in Brooklyn in October 2015, the plan is to expand to the rest of New York and then to as many cities. This service will be offered to members only. Dog owners must sign up online at www.dogparker.com/membership to get an access card to use Dog Parker.

Annual memberships cost $25 per dog. Once approved, a membership card will be mailed to you and allow you to access the network of Dog Parkers. Membership works similarly to ZipCar and Car2Go if you have used those services before.

But how long can you park a dog? Dog Parkers have a maximum time limit of three hours per 12-hour time period. The price is $0.20 per minute ($12 an hour). Membership is an annual fee of $25.

Each Dog Parker is reportedly cleaned by a Dog Parker sanitation crew on a scheduled weekly basis and then as-needed if there are any specific issues. Sanitation wipes are available to users at each location to anyone who may want to use them in addition to its sanitation system.

Each Dog Parker aims to keep the temperature inside comfortable for the dog in both the summer and winter. In the summer it plans to have solar-powered fans for air circulation.  On extreme temperature days where the temperature inside the Dog Parker goes below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above 85 degrees, it will not be available for use.

Complementing Dog Parker’s business model somehow is State of Place. Founder Mariela Alfonso said it aims to harness the power of predictive urban data analytics to not only enhance the public good, but also to maximize economic development and engage the community.

State of Place quantifies walkability of existing neighborhoods; identifies built environment assets and needs; prioritize built environment changes with maximum impact on walkability and economic development; forecast the walkability impact of planning scenarios & development proposals; objectively compare planning scenarios & development proposals based on their walkability potential and measure the walkability impact of planning, urban design, and development projects post-implementation.

The benefits is predicted to help provide data–driven evidence of walkable development opportunities; economically justify urban design “asks” of developers; maximize resource allocation and get the biggest bang for your walkability buck; establish an evidence-based RFP process; foster community engagement; turn your planning team into walkability experts and tap into State of Place’s walkability thought-leadership.

State of Place also allows developers, investors, and brokers to leverage the pent-up demand for walkable places while also facilitating stakeholder buy-in by quantifying how delivering walkability is more than just a social good.

For communities, it offers a comprehensive diagnosis of their built environment assets and needs that can be benchmarked against other communities. It serves as an advocacy tool to more effectively justify changes to existing policies, garner developer support, and target key design interventions.

In the talk-workshop portion of the event, Coinvent delved on several diverse subjects ranging from building a world-class startup and the future of phone services to selling your company and hyperlocal marketing.