Have I Got a Pizza for You! An Unscientific Survey of Austin Mobile Deals

mobileTech Tuesday by Steve Guengerich

As the supremacy of the freemium app and appcommerce business models over the fee-based, paid apps becomes more evident every month, deals have become among the most hotly contested mobile app categories.

Given the heat of competition and that one of the hotter Austin-headquartered ventures WhaleShark Media is a deals-oriented consolidation of a fragmented market (not unlike Homeaway is, in the travel sector), I thought deals apps were worth a closer look this week.

Two quick footnotes of the caveat emptor variety, before I continue: (1) as the title says, this survey is unscientific – no purchases were made and a thorough search of Austin deals apps wasn’t conducted. So, if you have a deals app that you think is “killer” that we don’t mention, then by all means let us know about it in the comments below, and (2) we’re excluding any work-for-hire or apps development projects to produce deals apps that Austin-based companies are building (or have built) for others. It’s good that we have local expertise to do it, but not relevant to this survey of apps.

Back to WhaleShark Media, unfortunately their deals web properties, at least at first glance, appear to be a mobile UNfriendly at present. For example, their flagship property, Deals.com, is extremely info-packed but doesn’t make any attempt to mobilize the web interface for the display format of a phone. It looks ok in a tablet-sized form factor, but nothing appears mobilized. I suspect that will change soon enough.

In terms of Austin-native deals companies, Moximity made a valiant run at the space a couple of years ago but was too early and is nowhere to be found. Of more recent note, local entrepreneur Ben Boral has launched Clip! to allow local Austin businesses to create time-controlled promotions through the use of digital coupons, filling slow hours without sacrificing during busy hours.

In Ben’s words: “I chose to reach customers on their mobile devices because those customers are most geared to impulse decisions. For example, an iPhone-toting customer walking down South Congress is more likely to spend money than one sitting in front of their iMac at home.”

Clip! is an interesting idea and I like the simple interface. But, I’d call it a functional prototype, at best, with a lot of work ahead of Ben across the board from analytics to good old-fashioned inventory acquisition (i.e., populating the app with the deals themselves). But, he’s off to a good start and I like the predominantly local-merchant flavor of the deals offered.

Speaking of deals inventory, of course, no survey would be complete without mentioning the deep-pocketed, big-brand players. What follows is first impressions of their apps with respect to usability in general and Austin deals in particular.

Groupon – yum…who doesn’t like pizza, especially Neapolitan (isn’t that the kind that combines vanilla, strawberry and chocolate)? Groupon seems to always a reasonably good inventory of deals, most of which are good for multiple days. My question: does anyone actually pay attention to the “Time left to buy” counter in the upper-left corner of the app?

While I’ve not personally served as a Groupon vendor, my understanding from those that have is that the real value is in new customer acquisition; because, from a revenue standpoint, featuring your products or services in the deeply discounted format, combined with Groupon’s cut, tends to result in a break-even proposition.

Facebook – as anyone that uses the Facebook mobile phone app knows, its springboard approach is already chock-full of various functions that one can tap. I receive a daily deal via email and, for this example, got what looked like a totally-bad-for-the-diet (in a tasty kind of way) hot dog deal from DOGellos.

Unfortunately, clicking on the link in my email opened a Facebook page (in Safari, no less, rather than my Facebook iPhone app), where I was only presented the option of “Like”ing DOGellos, not actually buying the deal. To buy the deal, I had to view the link on my iPad or laptop. Odd.

Living Social – newer than Groupon or Facebook, Living Social broke on the scene bigtime earlier this year when it offered a $10 deal for a $20 gift card to purchase anything on Amazon (shortly after Amazon had made a very large $10s of millions of dollars investment in it).

While Living Social’s mobile phone UI offers a clean, colorful palette to get you started, the deals I found were less than desirable. The one daily deal listed in “Austin” – the Hill Country Ranch Pizzeria – is in actuality about halfway to Fredericksburg. A quaint weekend dinner adventure to tempt more than one party, but hardly a do-able lunch or dinner destination for most Austin-ites, as anyone from around here would know.

The final two big name deal apps to mention are Yahoo Deals and Deals by CitySearch. Of the two, I was more impressed with Citysearch app. First, what’s not to like about an app that features a pomegranate martini on its sign-in screen – classy. Second, I liked the ability to quickly switch between a map view and list view of the deals displayed.

Now, about those deals, Citysearch is basically the Jolly Roger of deals, pirating (I suspect via licensing arrangements) the deal content of the other majors. So, sure enough, that Neapolitan pizza we saw earlier in Groupon is there on the Citysearch deals map for the taking as well.

By comparison, Yahoo Deals is more like a Sears of deals to Citysearch’s Macy’s…more durables goods-oriented in its deal inventory with a bit more of an insular, utilitarian feel to the UI – definitely slower in loading and just plain unresponsive in certain sections.

Lastly, Google gets a special nod for spending oodles of promotional dollars on Google Places in advance of the service we’d really like to see in Austin ASAP, Google Offers.  While Google Offers is currently only available Portland, New York, San Francisco, and Oakland, it’s clear when you look at Places’ iPhone UI that it is primed and ready to have Deals added to it.

Shoot, it’s even got the requisite Pizza icon as one of the primary options, right there on its home screen. For Austin Startup regulars, don’t miss the added incentive to try out the Places service before the June Austin Tech Happy Hour.

Have I Got a Pizza for You! An Unscientific Survey of Austin Mobile Deals

Dachis Group Acquires Headshift

Austin-based The Dachis Group announced this evening that it has acquired international company Headshift, Ltd. Headshift has its headquarters in London, and also has offices in New York, Paris, Sydney, and Zurich. Back in April of 2008, Austin Ventures first announced that it was backing Razorfish founder Jeff Dachis with a $50M capital commitment to build a company focused on enterprise class social software. Since then the company has hired talented analysts and strategists in the space, including Peter Kim and David Armano.

Headshift is Europe’s leading social business consultancy helping organizations use smarter, simpler, social technologies to improve business performance, communication, and customer engagement. “When I first saw the announcement that Jeffrey Dachis was building a company in this space, my ears perked up as his unique mix of experience, effectiveness, and ability to sell change is precisely what is needed to help take the emerging field of social business design to the next level and to go mainstream within the enterprise,” said Lee Bryant, Co-founder and Director at Headshift. Jeff Dachis concludes, “This is a meaningful first step in creating our global footprint. I am delighted to be able to work with Lee Bryant and his team. The combination of Headshift’s strategy and technology resources add directly to our already strong and growing talent base.”

Dachis Group Acquires Headshift

RenewData Acquires Digital Mandate

RenewDataAustin-based RenewData, a leading provider of services for the discovery, archiving, and governance of electronically stored information (ESI), today announced it has successfully completed an acquisition of Digital Mandate, provider of discovery lifecycle management solutions including Vestigate document review software. This acquisition further strengthens RenewData’s commitment to investing in technology that delivers market leading information governance solutions, significantly lowers costs to clients, and meets requirements for both legal and IT professionals. To support the acquisition and other growth initiatives, existing investors ABS Capital Partners and CIBC Capital Partners provided the equity financing.

“With the acquisition of Digital Mandate, we are able to further extend our eDiscovery offerings, significantly lower costs for clients, and meet significant requirements for both legal and IT professionals. The acquisition will also add new jobs here in Austin despite the current economic climate. We’re excited to be bringing on the exceptional Digital Mandate team and Vestigate technology platform both of which will give RenewData tremendous opportunity for growth in the market,” said Steve Horan, CEO of RenewData.

“With review being the most significant portion of the growing costs of eDiscovery, law firms, corporations, and government agencies are continually searching for more efficient and accurate methods for review,” said George Socha of Socha Consulting. “Leveraging advanced analytics to more quickly identify relevant data, as well as utilizing sampling to measure the accuracy of results are logical next steps to helping organizations achieve these lofty objectives.”

“We’re excited about being a part of the RenewData team and the opportunity to integrate two great organizations,” said Greg Osinoff, CEO and Founder of Digital Mandate. “I am extremely impressed with RenewData’s understanding of the market and technology vision. This acquisition greatly benefits both RenewData and previous Digital Mandate clients, as it enables us to offer comprehensive solutions. Vestigate has already enabled numerous clients to greatly reduce their review time and costs, and being part of RenewData will enable us to really drive this value proposition further into the market through a larger, scalable, and more integrated platform.”

The Vestigate solution is particularly beneficial for early case assessment (ECA) and first-pass review, which is often the best opportunity for lowering eDiscovery costs.

RenewData Acquires Digital Mandate

TAKE Supply Chain Acquires Division of EntComm

TAKE Supply ChainTAKE Supply Chain (formerly ClearOrbit), a leading provider of software solutions to power demand-driven value networks, today announced the acquisition of the product division of privately-held, Gardena, CA-based, EntComm. In April, the two companies partnered to combine TAKE’s supplier collaboration capabilities with EntComm’s software as a service (SaaS) commerce platform. The acquisition solidifies TAKE’s portfolio expansion of SaaS-based applications and leverages TAKE’s global presence across North America, the Middle East and Asia Pacific to provide immediate access to EntComm’s business process automation solutions.

EntComm’s solutions streamline supply chain collaboration and extend lean processes for companies across oil and gas, aerospace and defense and manufacturing industries. Customers use EntComm’s solutions to connect with thousands of their supply chain partners worldwide to procure goods and services. In the oil and gas industry, a community of over 20,000 suppliers use the EntComm platform to seamlessly conduct business online with their customers.

John Reece, president of TAKE Supply Chain, explained that initial plans focus on delivering a world-class enterprise collaboration solution. “Our clients have used TAKE Supply Chain’s solutions to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from their manufacturing and supply chain costs,” he said. “SaaS is beyond the tipping point. Companies are looking for software sold in a pay-as-you-go model that funds itself. The EntComm acquisition enables us to deliver the much sought-after value proposition that customers are seeking.”

“SaaS is a top priority for the line-of-business buyer who wants technology process enhancements, greater user adoption, and a low-cost option,” said Mickey North Rizza, research director at AMR Research. “TAKE Supply Chain has years of experience helping companies automate their supply networks. With EntComm powering the company’s transformation to SaaS, I anticipate that this will be a company to watch in the future.”

“EntComm has always focused on delivering world-class solutions that produce tangible results for industry leaders,” said Sundaresh Ramayya, EntComm’s president and CEO. “As customers continue to look for solutions that produce predictable business benefits across the globe, we believe that this partnership will deliver more for less. EntComm’s customers benefit from the increased scalability that this acquisition brings to EntComm’s R&D, product management and global delivery capabilities.”

EntComm will become a unit within TAKE Supply Chain, a division of Chennai, India-based TAKE Solutions. EntComm’s offshore operations will merge with TAKE Solutions’ global delivery center, located in Chennai.

TAKE Supply Chain Acquires Division of EntComm

Texas Tribune Acquires Texas Weekly

The ink is just getting dry on our report of Austin Ventures partner John Thornton’s new startup, and the hiring of Alisha Ring and Evan Smith. Now, incoming Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith announced today that the non-profit public media organization has acquired Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter for government and politics in Texas, and has hired longtime Texas Weekly editor and owner Ross Ramsey as its managing editor. Smith also formally announced the hiring of the first five reporters on the Tribune’s newsroom team: Brandi Grissom, Elise Hu, Emily Ramshaw, Abby Rapoport, and Matt Stiles.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to attract journalists of such high caliber,” says Smith, “as each one brings incredible experience and perspective on matters of statewide interest, along with a high level of energy and passion and ambition. I couldn’t imagine a better foundation for the kind of work we intend to produce.”

Before taking over Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey spent twenty-eight months as associate deputy comptroller for policy and director of communications in the office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. From 1991 to 1996, the West Texas native reported on state politics and policy from the Houston Chronicle’s Austin bureau. From 1986-1991, he was a reporter on the business desk and in the Capitol bureau of the Dallas Times Herald, eventually serving as the paper’s Austin bureau chief. He has also been a radio reporter in Dallas and Denton.

“Ross is one of the two or three best-respected reporters at the Capitol,” Smith says. “He’s fair, scrupulously nonpartisan, whip-smart, and crafty in the way he pries information out of sources. He’s also funny as hell, which makes him a great story-teller. That’s why we’ve asked him to write and report as well as lead our newsroom.”

In acquiring Texas Weekly, the Tribune will give its readers access to the venerable publication’s vast archives—a searchable electronic trove of stories dating back to the early 1990s that amounts to a modern history of Texas politics. Upon the Tribune’s launch this fall, current Texas Weekly subscribers will receive, for the duration of their subscriptions, a new weekly publication featuring premium content not available to regular readers of the Tribune.

Texas Tribune Acquires Texas Weekly

Mumboe partners with General Counsel Solutions

Mumboe, an Austin-based company designed to give businesses a simple, affordable way to track and manage their agreements with customers, partners and employees, has announced a partnership aimed at helping companies reduce contract costs and improve business accountability General Counsel Solutions, a leading provider of corporate legal services.  We’ve previously covered Mumboe here and here.

With the new deal, GCS’s corporate legal services with be paired Mumboe’s on-demand software application, providing customers with a complete solution for their contract management needs.  The partnership came about when GCS discovered that key contract details, such as automatic renewals, expiration dates, rebate windows and termination clauses, were often catching companies by surprise. GCS clients wanted software with automatic email notifications and reporting capabilities. At the same time, Mumboe was fielding requests from its customers for services to help them identify and develop opportunities for better contract management. The companies decided to join forces to offer businesses a complete solution.   So, starting today, Mumboe will be offering  GCS clients a free 90-day trial of Mumboe Pro, the company’s on-demand contract management application while GCS is offering Mumboe customers a free assessment of their legal requirements and the opportunity to try its managed legal services for 90 days at discounted rates and will waive any quarterly commitments for the first year.

“Mumboe includes some of the most advanced contract management features on the market, yet their on-demand pricing makes it very affordable for any business,” said Gregg Schor, General Counsel Solutions’ CEO. “We were also very impressed with Mumboe’s simplicity and ease of use. We think our clients will love it.”

Bill Kane, Mumboe CEO, said that the partnership will help Mumboe’s customers get more out of the company’s application. “Many of our customers are small and growing businesses, as well as corporate departments, that do not have the resources available to plan and manage their contract management initiatives. GCS has the experience and expertise to help our customers realize the benefits of good contract management in a way that’s cost-effective for their business.”

Mumboe partners with General Counsel Solutions

Boundless Network Goes Social With Acquisition

Boundless Network, a technology-enabled branded merchandise distributor, announced today that Chicago-area distributor Big Frey Promotional Products has joined the company. Boundless Network has completed 11 acquisitions since the beginning of 2008, including the addition of four branded merchandise distributorships in the Midwest region, significantly expanding the company’s presence in the area. The company continues to seek additional branded merchandise partners across the country.

“Seth Frey is a thought leader in the promotional products industry. It’s exciting to see innovative, entrepreneurial minds partnering with Boundless. I truly believe that Boundless’ technology and infrastructure will enable Big Frey to become an invaluable partner to its clients. I expect to see an immediate positive impact on Big Frey’s business,” said Boundless Network President Jason Black.

Seth Frey started Big Frey Promotional Products in 2003 following the success of Granny’s Goodies, an advertising specialty and corporate gift company he began in 1994. Frey has built a solid customer base with numerous Fortune 500 companies and professional service firms, securing a niche in the recruitment space. Recently, in response to the growing demand for Web 2.0 technologies, Frey incorporated social media tactics to further engage his client base and create a strong virtual presence.

“The ultimate goal of any sales organization is to capture ‘eyeballs,’ and hence, recurring sales opportunities,” said Frey. “Working with Boundless, we are able to integrate our social media strategy with Boundless’ customer technology platform. The combination of these key tactics will certainly strengthen our existing relationships and attract new business from those looking for real value from their branded merchandise partner.”

Frey’s use of social technology includes blogging on his website, posting short video clips to his active YouTube channel and frequent updates via Twitter.

“Our customer base is technologically savvy, and they demand a partner with the tools to improve brand control while simultaneously maximizing their marketing dollars. Boundless Network’s technology is the only platform in the industry that can help companies achieve this goal. Joining Boundless was a strategic move for my business and my customers,” Frey continued.

Frey was attracted to Boundless Network’s use of innovative social media and marketing tactics, as well as the patented technology that enables customers to manage their branded merchandise purchasing. In addition, Frey cites the company’s strong financial partners and stability, seasoned executive team and continued commitment to innovation and value for the customer.

In 2009, Boundless Network plans to continue recruiting top independent promotional professionals, while acquiring top promotional products distributors with revenues between $2 million and $10 million that are located in key regions throughout the country. In three years Boundless Network has grown from two to more than 150 employees; 70 are located in Austin. Since the beginning of 2008, the company has completed 11 acquisitions and expanded nationwide from a single location to 20 regional offices located coast-to-coast.

The Austin Business Journal recently ranked Boundless Network as the No. 2 fastest growing company in Central Texas in the more than $10 million in revenue category. The company was also recognized as the No. 6 best place to work  in the promotional products industry by the Advertising Specialty Institute out of more than 16,000 companies in the industry.

Boundless Network Goes Social With Acquisition

Bazaarvoice Signs Virgin Mobile

Bazaarvoice LogoBazaarvoice, the market and technology leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, today announced that Virgin Mobile USA is using Bazaarvoice Ask & Answer on www.virginmobileusa.com. Shoppers can simply click the “Got Questions? Get Answers” link available on every product page to get the information they need on the full line of stylish and affordable prepaid cell phones for sale through Virgin Mobile USA. A “Got Questions?” tab in the product detail section highlights directly relevant questions and the most helpful answers from customers who have direct experience with the product in order to help shoppers choose the right cell phone online or at more than 40,000 top retail locations nationwide.

“Virgin Mobile USA is always on the lookout for great ways to engage our very social, community-oriented customer base,” said Virgin Mobile USA, Vice President of Digital Marketing Stacy Schwartz. “Bazaarvoice Ask & Answer gives us a platform to use our customers’ knowledge and passion about Virgin Mobile USA to help other shoppers. We’re also able to better understand our consumers’ needs and questions, so we can continually improve the experience and messaging we provide to them.”

Virgin Mobile USA chose Bazaarvoice on the strength of its industry-leading social commerce platform, used by over 525 brands worldwide. The SaaS-based Ask & Answer service integrates seamlessly with the Virgin Mobile USA site alongside standard marketing information on product features, specs, and accessories. Questions like “How sturdy is this phone?”; “Is there a vibrating option?” and “Does this camera have special features?” can now be answered by other customers who have direct experience with the product in order to help shoppers make the best purchase decisions. All Questions and Answers are also aggregated in a central repository that can be searched by keyword or browsed and sorted by most helpful, most recent, and more.

“Bazaarvoice understands the nuances of using ‘social commerce’ to drive online conversions, not just for the sake of adding user-generated-content to the site,” continued Schwartz. “They truly understand our needs as a consumer-focused brand, helping us connect our customers in an open dialogue with one another to drive engagement and boost sales.”

“Virgin Mobile USA is known for its award-winning customer service and high customer satisfaction and recommendation rate,” said Brett Hurt, founder and CEO of Bazaarvoice. “Our Ask & Answer solution is another great way for Virgin Mobile USA to build satisfaction and brand loyalty through authentic, credible consumer-generated content that directly addresses the unanswered questions that can stop purchases and lead to returns.”

Bazaarvoice Signs Virgin Mobile

Century Payments to Acquire National Merchant Solutions

Austin Ventures, one of the nation’s leading venture and growth capital firms, and Century Payments, a payments services company funded by AV, today announced the acquisition of National Merchant Solutions.

In January 2009, AV announced the formation of Century in partnership with AV CEO-in-Residence Robert Wechsler and the completion of three initial acquisitions. AV committed up to $50 million of equity capital to support management’s strategy of additional acquisitions and organic growth. Following the acquisition, NMS employees will remain with Century and Mr. Wechsler will continue to lead Century as President and CEO.

NMS represents Century’s fourth acquisition in four months and is part of its stated strategy to partner with strongly performing sales organizations led by proven managers. Management teams that join forces with Century will continue to drive their own sales organizations and will benefit from Century’s infrastructure, relationships, and capital to significantly accelerate growth. Through organic growth, channel partnerships, and acquisitions like NMS, Century aims to establish a market-leading position in the small and medium-sized merchant acquiring space.

“The acquisition of NMS allows us to strengthen our regional footprint in the Southeast and further our goal of building a premiere, nationwide payments business,” said Robert Wechsler. “We are pleased to have Michael Singleton, founder and CEO of NMS, join the Century team. Michael’s steadfast dedication to strong growth and outstanding customer service make him a great fit with our efforts at Century,” said Mr. Wechsler.

“NMS is excited about the opportunity to join Century and AV and to be a part of a rapidly growing, well-capitalized organization in the payments industry,” said Michael Singleton, founder and CEO of NMS. “We are already starting to see the positive results from this combination, and our new account volume is up more than 50% between February and March,” said Mr. Singleton.

AV’s relationship with Mr. Wechsler is part of a stated strategy to partner with talented executives with proven track records to build growth companies in attractive markets. AV has a dedicated in-house talent function that identifies executives that want a hands-on partner in building their next business.

Century Payments to Acquire National Merchant Solutions

Versata Continues Acquisitions

Austin-based Versata announced the acquisition of Alterpoint today, but there aren’t many details arising out of the deal. In a moment of news release clarity, Versata says it will operate Alterpoint as a “standalone entity” yet will bring all customers into Versata’s “Customer Success” program.

It is unclear how much of Alterpoint was actually remaining in operation. The Alterpoint executive team seems to have left Motive around the time that the earnings overstatements were being investigated. Danielle Royston will take over duties as CEO of the former Alterpoint group, which is a sign that there’s going to be some housecleaning.

Versata is owned by Trilogy, and has been on a real acquisition streak. They acquired NUVO in December of 2007, Clear Technology and ETI in May of 2008, and Ecora Software in September of 2008. Trilogy is known for being a pretty well run organization, and Versata seems to be building up a significant product line to offer the IT departments of corporate America.

Versata Continues Acquisitions