These days, a strong online presence is the single most important – or even the only – feature of the most successful brands and companies. The mad scientist inventor trope for the 21st century isn’t the wild-haired genius playing with machinery or chemicals in his basement; it’s the coding whiz with a great concept, hunched over his laptop or tablet creating the next Tinder or Snapchat.
A simplified version of the world as we know it today would depict a world owned by Google, social lives run by Facebook, news monopolised by Huffpost and entertainment spearheaded by Netflix. Today, a fantastic digital concept can become one of the most powerful tools in the world. Thus, in 2014, it’s unsurprising that the top startups worth keeping an eye on are all based in the online app and social media industries.
The companies on this list have created revolutionary products and services that help to make our online lives simpler, less confusing, and more enjoyable. These startups push the envelope and are even potentially heralding the next chapter of the technological age. These are 10 startups worth keeping an eye on, and worth investing in.
A lot of news content is currently produced in a format approximate to traditional print news, but adapted for desktop and mobile devices. It can translate poorly to mobile devices, and Circa is trying to change that.
Founded in 2011 by Ben Huh, Matt Galligan, and Arsenio Santos, Circa seeks to create the first news experience produced solely for mobile devices by delivering a unique format. The comprehensive news updates are paired with an engrossing, sleek platform which redefines how news is produced, delivered, and consumed. The company launched its iPhone app in late 2012, and has raised over $5 million in funding. They launched an Android app in 2013, hoping to add to their user base, and updated their iPhone app to make it easier to track breaking news stories as they develop. Currently the team includes 10 reporters and the former social media editor for Reuters, Anthony De Rosa. This is one to watch.
5. Level Money
Level Money is a personal finance startup that has attracted a lot of buzz in recent months. The company was co-founded in San Francisco by Visa’a former manager of global emerging products, and they aim to make it easier for users to budget-on-the-go from their phones. The target demographic are millennials who are burdened with debt and might have lost track of what they can afford to spend. Different from online banking apps in that it doesn’t make spending easier, Level Money is a digital “money meter” that you can look at before you spend to see exactly how much cash you can dispense of while still remaining in the black.
Level Money connects with all of your spending accounts through a partnership with Intuit, and uses algorithms to figure out your income, rent, bills, and subscriptions. Your disposable income is updated automatically, and you can even set up a target amount for savings. Many people are looking forward to seeing where this goes, as many are desperate for a service that brings transparency and accessibility to their finances: It’s like your own personal accountant on your phone.
Xapo started in 2012, but it wasn’t until the early 2014 Mt. Gox hack in Japan that caused $409 million in losses that the bitcoin security company really gained attention. Founded in Palo Alto by Federico Murrone and Wences Casares, Xapo offers two distinct products: an easy access wallet where people can deposit, withdraw, and use bitcoins in everyday purchases, and a locked-down, underground vault where the virtual currency is guarded. Xapo believes that bitcoin’s ultimate success will be based on trust – whether people trust the digital currency’s stability and security, or not.
The company combines the convenience users want, with the security they require. Although they rolled out the first bitcoin debit card this year to a generally negative response (mainly due to the fees associated with it), this was just a small hiccup in an otherwise exciting company. They’ve already raised $60 million in funding in just 2 rounds of fundraising.
Flipboard has been around since 2010, but they gained some big investment in 2013, bringing their total funding to $160.5 million, and allowing them to make significant steps towards achieving Flipboard’s full potential. The Palo Alto based company is a digital social magazine that aggregates web links from your social circle (like Twitter and Facebook), and displays content in a magazine format on mobile devices, according to what you like. With a sleek and beautiful platform, Flipboard seeks to transform how people discover, view, and share content.
In 2013 they made three big steps towards their curation platform. First, they gave users the option to create their own magazines. Second, they embraced e-commerce by introducing shoppable magazines. Third, they added support for Windows 8.1, a huge step considering they are now available on all major mobile operating systems. Combining their $50 million in Series C funding, their growing user base and monetization, Flipboard is a startup you should definitely keep an eye on.
DataSift is a social data platform that allows companies to aggregate, filter, and extract insights from billions of public social conversations on Twitter and other social networks. They provide real-time and historical social data to uncover trends and insights about businesses, brands, financial markets, news, and public opinion. As a cloud platform, they do the heavy lifting for companies by monitoring social media, social CRM, business intelligence, financial trading, and news monitoring. With over $70 million in funding, and the fact that Apple recently acquired Topsy – a social media analytics company – for over $200 million, DataSift has a bright future in the world of high-profile, social media data aggregation.
Oyster has great potential as the Netflix of ebooks. They are the world’s leading subscription-based ebook company, and for a low monthly price ($9.95, same as Netflix), members can read over 500,000 titles on their iPhone, iPad, or iTouch. Unlike most of the social media startups located in Silicon Valley, Oyster has opted to reside in the publishing capital of the US, New York City. Their gorgeous user interface, a bit like a modified version of Netflix, sets them apart from other ebook subscription ventures like Scribd, and their team includes former Google employees.
Oyster just raised $14 million at the beginning of 2014 (bringing their total funding to $17 million), and these funds will help expansion efforts beyond the iPhone and iPad to reel in more subscribers, while also looking for more publishers. They’ve already signed HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin. Both Oyster and Scribd believe the ebook subscription market could be a multi-billion opportunity like music and movies, and if that’s even partially correct, expect these guys to make a big splash.
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