Tuesday, April 24, 2012

TalkTo raises $3M in Series A Funding

TalkTo, Inc. announced today the launch of talkto: BostonÔ, a version of its messaging service that enables Boston-area residents to text any store, restaurant, salon, hotel or other type of business. TalkTo also announced the closing of its $3 million Series A funding from Matrix Partners, which will be used to fuel a national rollout later this year.

TalkTo first emerged in limited beta in September 2011 with an audacious goal: to make it possible to text any business whenever you want, and get a text response from the business in return. Designed to look and feel like SMS, the app lets anyone inquire about products and services, book appointments and reservations, or ask other questions with a text message.

“For too long, businesses have told us how and when to contact them,” said Stuart Levinson, co-founder and CEO of TalkTo. “It’s time to blow up the old model and put the consumer first. We want to contact businesses as easily as we text our friends so we can get on with our day. We want our time back.”

“For the last few years, the onslaught of mobile technologies has redefined how consumers relate to each other and almost everything in their world, but nothing has dramatically improved the way in which they can interact with businesses,” said Antonio Rodriguez, general partner at Matrix Partners and TalkTo board member. “TalkTo breaks down the barriers between consumers and businesses without compromising the ways in which each prefers to communicate.”

Since businesses already have lots of ways to respond to customers via email, SMS, web chat, phone and third-party apps, TalkTo will route messages to their preferred channel. If a business replies via email, for example, TalkTo users still receive it as a text message. This means a business can take advantage of TalkTo without installing or learning anything new.

Businesses like the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass., have already embraced the new service to make it easier for customers to engage. “From phone to email to social media, we have always strived to be as accessible as possible to our guests” says General Manager, Alex Attia. “With TalkTo, we give our guests an ability to text with us as well.”

The talkto: Boston app is now available for residents in the Greater Boston area to text any business across America.

Users can download it from the App Store or access it via Android and other mobile devices on the Web at talkto.com. Anyone can sign up to be notified first once the app is extended beyond Boston.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Streamline your Accounts Payable System Now

Business tips from the Ascentive team

Although it may seem like a minor problem, you can lose a lot of money when your book keeping system fails to keep up with the growth of your business. A simple Excel file and a business check-writing system are usually enough to keep accounts payable adequate for businesses in their early years, but if your business has grown and you're now spending more than a few minutes a day on managing payments, experts say you should look to improve your system. With the right amount of streamlining, you should be in great shape. Here are some terrific tips for upgrading your accounts payable process.

Reevaluate your Basic Structure
If you are receiving more than a bill or two a day, you should be using an accounting program, such as QuickBooks. If your business has several employees, it's just fine to have an administrator involved in entering data into the accounts payable, but you should plan to keep final tabs of it always. Some basics you should already be doing include:

•    Every incoming bill should be entered into your accounts payable file daily, with date of arrival, date due, relevant account information and comments.
•    Business credit-card items should be filed on the same day they are expensed.
•    Employees should trained in filing expense reports. If evaluations show you that it's a drag for them, consider implementing a piece of software that will help. Also, segmenting all employee expenses onto individual business credit cards can both eliminate false reporting and ease uploading expenses.
•    For classic paper bills, retain the stub and envelope for records as well.
•    Bills should be paid promptly, but en masse. Set a time at least once a week for yourself or your accounts payable staffer (or assistant) to do this. If it's someone other than you managing payments, be sure to review approve the list before sending out checks.

Get an Advisor
Next, delegate some of your bookkeeping responsibility to an assistant. You may also consider a certified public accountant or even a part-time CFO. An accountant with a regular monthly relationship with your company can help streamline the process by advising you on timesaving methods and they can catch costly errors. A part-time CFO can also step in if your needs are more strategic in nature, or if you are setting up the business to scale.

Avoiding Fraud
To avoid fraud, you can institute a variety of checks and balances. One simple method is to separate duties. A junior employee can process and print a check, but a senior one should be required to review and sign it. This dual duty can be incorporated into most basic business accounting software, so employees can only access and perform assigned functions. For checks that exceed a predetermined amount, requiring a second signature from you or your CFO is a best practice. Separating the process of adding a new supplier to your system from the ability to issue payment is also advised.

Working with Your Accountant
Finally, when you're transitioning to a new accounting software, accountant, or part-time CFO, it's best to make a transition to a streamlined accounts payable system at the start of your fiscal year, or ask your accountant to help you ease the transition from the start, by inputting the rest of the year's previous data into your new system. Working with the same accountant throughout the year and through reporting your taxes is the best way to streamline the process. If that's not possible, you'll want to make sure you have documentation to support your own accounting of payments, including transaction confirmation from all your suppliers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Is CRM Software a good fit for you SMB?

Business tips from the Ascentive team

There's no doubt that a small business' success depends upon a strong relationship with its customers. Cultivated by a sales force and a well-structured sales process, a strong relationship without your customers will lead to high sales. And one of the components of a well-structured sales process is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software.
CRM software is actually most successful when used as a widely implemented strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers, and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients, nurture and retain those the company already has, entice former clients back into the fold, and reduce the costs of marketing and client service.
Although many CRM tools are designed with large corporates in mind, there are plenty of application suites available that are well tailored for Small to Medium sized businesses (SMBs).  In fact, the right suite of customer relationship management tools can help your business save money as well as generate sales. It is therefore crucial for SMBs to choose a suitable CRM solution for their specific business needs.

If you are in the market for a customer relationship management solution, a web based CRM suite is a great choice for SMBs, since you get to enjoy unparalleled flexibility that too at unbeatable rates. In addition, your online CRM software can be tailored to match your specific needs and requirements to ensure that you get the most out of your investment. No matter how unique your needs are, the web based CRM would be a much better and cost effective option for you as compared to on-site CRM.

Contrary to on site CRM, web based CRM does not require investing in a dedicated server and, gives you the flexibility to log on to the CRM tool using just your Internet connection. In addition to accessing all the information that you may need, you can also set different access levels to ensure that only relevant information is passed on to the staff members in your company.

Finally, Small business CRM software allows you to stay connected with your business even if you are traveling or are holidaying abroad. With 24X7 connectivity, it is easier to manage your business activities at the click of a mouse. Sensing the growing popularity of web based CRM systems, many vendors who earlier specialized in on site CRM only are now selling customized web based CRM tools and CRM software applications to improve their sales figures. Of course, you need to shop around to find a CRM solution that is not only suitable for your business but also right for your pocket.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vringo raises $2.5 million, will acquire Zlango Ltd.

Business news from the Ascentive team

On Wednesday Vringo, Inc. a provider of software platforms for mobile social and video applications, announced today that it has closed a private placement of convertible notes in the aggregate amount of $2.5 million primarily to leading venture capital firms Benchmark Capital and DAG Ventures.

The convertible notes bear interest at the rate of 1.25% per annum and mature on January 1, 2012. Upon the closing of a subsequent financing by the Company, the convertible notes will automatically convert into the same securities as the subsequent financing except that the conversion price for the convertible notes will be equal to the lower of: (i) today’s closing price of the Company’s common stock; or (ii) the closing price of the Company’s common stock on the date the funds were received; or (iii) a 10% discount to the securities issued in the subsequent financing.

Vringo also announced that it had executed a Letter of Intent (”LOI”) to acquire and merge operations with Zlango Ltd, a mobile messaging company (”Zlango”). The parties intend to enter into an asset purchase agreement whereby Vringo will acquire substantially all of the assets of Zlango Ltd. Under the terms of the LOI, Vringo will issue 3,000,000 shares of its common stock and provide Zlango’s management with a retention package comprised of options to purchase 250,000 shares of common stock. In connection with the LOI, Benchmark Capital and DAG Ventures, who are affiliates of Zlango, agreed to enter into the financing announced today.

The combined company intends to leverage Zlango’s rich media messaging services together with Vringo’s strong portfolio of mobile social and video applications to create a new leader in the mobile social arena. Zlango’s technology can effortlessly add icons, themes and images to standard text messages. Zlango provides a set of technology platforms through a managed services environment for enabling rich media messages over the existing mobile text infrastructure. It also offers a platform for premium and syndicated content, as well as user-generated content.

“We are thrilled to announce this investment from Benchmark and DAG, along with our LOI to acquire and merge operations with Zlango,” said Jon Medved, Chief Executive Officer of Vringo. “The financing led by Benchmark Capital and DAG Ventures is a significant vote of confidence in Vringo. We believe Zlango’s exciting messaging platform will allow us to enter the massive mobile messaging market, which ranks second in mobile revenue only to voice. This additional funding and the Zlango transaction will be highly beneficial as we continue to grow our business.”

Benchmark Capital is a leading venture capital firm and has been an early investor in leading technology companies such as eBay (EBAY), Twitter, Zipcar (ZIP), Juniper Networks (JNPR), Red Hat Software (RHAT), and MySQL. Michael Eisenberg, General Partner at Benchmark Capital, will join Vringo’s Board of Directors at the closing of the Zlango transaction. Mr. Eisenberg has been named by Forbes Magazine to its prestigious Midas List of leading venture capitalists.

DAG Ventures is a leading venture capital firm and has been an investor in leading technology companies such as AdMob (acquired by Google), Plaxo (acquired by Comcast), Chegg, Segway, and Yelp. John Cadeddu, Managing Director at DAG Ventures, will join Vringo’s Board of Directors as an observer at the closing of the Zlango transaction.

Mr. Eisenberg said, “Combining Vringo and Zlango carves out a wide viral footprint in mobile social applications. The rate of social interaction on mobile devices is even higher than on the web and I believe the potential of this combined company will be unlocked by offering a range of innovative social products at the intersection of video and messaging technology.”

Mr. Eisenberg continued, “Both Vringo and Zlango are experiencing growing rates of early customer adoption on the important Android platform. The two companies service a complementary group of carrier partners including Orange, Vodafone Maxis, Viettel and others. I believe that together their growth will accelerate and will result in a significant player in the mobile social market.”

Roni Haim, CEO of Zlango commented, “Zlango’s popular messaging products have always been about ‘messaging with attitude’ and personalization. Similarly, Vringo’s social and personal video applications provide a whole new level of mobile social experiences. We believe there are significant upside synergies between our two firms. By combining Zlango’s passionate 4 million users with Vringo’s products and additional capital, the future is bright.”

The proposed transaction with Zlango is subject to satisfactory completion of due diligence by Vringo, completion of a definitive asset purchase agreement, regulatory review by the SEC and the approval of both the stockholders and boards of both companies. Upon the execution of a definitive agreement, Vringo expects to prepare and file with the SEC a Registration Statement on Form S-4 covering the shares to be issued in this transaction.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

10 Key Marketing Trends for 2011

Business tips from the Ascentive team

Halfway into the year, the need for trust, value and brand transparency are as important today as they were in 2010. However, the emergence of Social Media Marketing, Geotargeting, and mobile marketing have inspired many businesses to adapt their marketing strategies in order to surpass the competition. Here are the 10 marketing trends of 2011 that businesses everywhere should incorporate into their strategies.

Build Brand Advocates
The theory that you need a legion of friends and followers to build your business through Social Media Marketing is over. What you need is quality connections who are loyal to the business and the brand to spread your message.

Stick to your Niche
Businesses need to focus on their niches and position themselves as the definitive sources for information, products and services related to their products or services.

Keep Creating Quality Content
Social media marketing and content marketing work hand-in-hand, and you need to create useful content that adds value to online conversation and to people's lives. The Internet is a noisy place. What you need is quality content in order to be heard through all the noise.

Spend More on Social Media
Statistics are showing that both large and small companies are shifting their budgets to spend more on social media and other digital marketing initiatives.

Invest in Branded Online Experiences
You need to invest in Branded Online Experience in order to meet diverse consumer needs. Having a Twitter account or Facebook page isn't enough. You need to provide consumers with multiple branded online destinations, including a blog, LinkedIn profile, YouTube channel, and Flickr profile.

Pursue Mobile Marketing
Mobile Marketing is now a marketing imperative. With mobile advertising, branded mobile apps and apps like Foursquare, consumers now expect businesses to have a mobile presence.

Make Geotargeting and Localized Marketing a Priority
Localized discount websites like Groupon and review sites like Yelp are making it easier for consumers to find deals and reviews about businesses in their neighborhoods. Creating targeted, local marketing campaigns using these popular tools is now the norm, so learn to love it.

Just Say No to Silo Marketing
Use Offline, online and mobile marketing initiatives to create an opportunity for your business to lead consumers from one message to another by through integration. You can drive a significantly higher return on investment by cross-promoting branded online destinations, discounts, contests and events.

Use Co-marketing
Use Comarketing to boost returns and lower marketing costs. With the economy still struggling, businesses can benefit from economies of scale by partnering with complementary businesses to develop co-marketing plans. Promotional partnerships not only lead to reduced costs but also can lead to increased exposure to new audiences.

Track brand reputations on the social Web
Social media has given consumers a large platform to voice their opinions, and business owners are realizing the importance of actively monitoring their reputation on the Internet. With dashboards and social media aggregators like Hootsuite, Spredfast, and Klout, it's easier than ever for businesses to develop and track their presence and influence online.