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Don Mattrick, the new Zynga CEO announced at the beginning of the month, offered his initial on-the-job observations today during the conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings.

Mattrick (on the right of the photo with Zynga founder and former CEO Mark Pincus) started out by offering some positive commentary, saying that the company “caught lightning in a bottle” and “achieved in only a few years what most companies took a decade or more to do.” However, he acknowledged, “We’re missing out on platform growth that Apple, Google, and Facebook are seeing. In short, we can do better.”

So how is he going to try to turn things around? He said he’s going to be working with the company’s leadership to “challenge previous assumptions” and to focus on “business fundamentals – which, candidly, we’ve struggled with over the past year.” Mattrick predicted that there will be two to four more quarters of volatility as the company tries to find a new direction.

“Getting a business back on track isn’t easy and isn’t quick,” he said.

Pincus, now Zynga’s chief product officer, was also on the call, and among other things, he said he was impressed that Mattrick set up his desk in the middle of the Farmville studios. Both Pincus and Mattrick described their relationship as one between “partners”.

Mattrick said he’s also going to discuss his priorities on this call – I’ll update this post when he does.

Update: Later in the call, Mattrick said his priorities for his first 90 days on the job include “getting under the hood” to evaluate the business, identifying the real market opportunities, improving product quality, looking at how people are deployed across the company, and reassessing the product pipeline. He also suggested Zynga is a young company that has “the ability to break some bad habits” but that while he’ll be in listen-and-learn mode initially, “When it becomes clear what change is necessary, I’ll move quickly and decisively to do what’s in the best long-term interests of our players, our employees, and our shareholders.”

He concluded, “There are some good winds at our back, and my job is to get our sails up and Zynga pointed in the right direction.”

Prim Feature

You can call it a first-world problem. Or you can say it distracts people from their passions and contributions to the world. Either way, laundry is a chore, and new Y Combinator startup Prim wants to do it for you. You can schedule Prim online to come to your place, pick up your laundry, have it washed and folded at a top-notch laundromat, and deliver it back to you. $25 for a bag. It’s that easy.

Prim’s Stanford-educated founders originally came into Y Combinator to build an in-video advertising platform, but the business wasn’t there. The idea for Prim was scattered all over their floors. See, co-founder Yin Yin Wu’s boyfriend worked at Facebook, where they have free laundry service. His clothes ended up neatly washed, folded, and in his drawers rather than in heaps waiting to be done. That meant he could focus on his job and life. Yin Yin thought, “why couldn’t this service be available to anyone?” So they created Prim.

Uber For Laundry

Currently Prim operates in San Francisco, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park – home to the world’s busiest techies. You go online and select from their upcoming 9am-11am or 8pm-10pm pickup and drop-off windows. You throw your clothes in a garbage bag and wait for Prim’s text that it’ll be there in 15 minutes. The driver calls when they arrive. You can hand them the bag, leave it with your doorman, or if you’re comfortable, give them a copy of your key or send a photo of it and they’ll make a copy so they can just come into your place and grab the bag.

Their driver takes the sack of clothes to be tagged and brings it to a well-rated local laundromat with a track record of flawless jobs. Within two days you get notified to confirm your delivery, and Prim brings the washed and folded clothes back in high-quality nylon satchels. It even ties together your stacks of shirts or whatever you wouldn’t want wrinkled so they stay prim and proper. See! That’s where they got the name! You got that already? Sorry.

The cost is $25 for the first bag of each pickup and $15 for the additional ones. That’s a bit more expensive than you can expect from a laundromat’s wash and fold, but you get the pick-up and delivery included. Because Prim brings in so much business, it gets discounts from the laundromats so the price stays reasonable. Prim strives for perfection, but in case anything gets lost or damaged, Wu says Prim has insurance and will refund you 100% of the cost of your clothes. “If there’s any mistake, we try to bend over backwards for our customers” says Wu.

The idea is that as Prim gets bigger, it can use economies of scale to improve its margins and lower its costs. While it’s only in the Bay Area now, expansion plans don’t include the sprawl of LA (where Wash.io operates) or fighting the specialized competitors in NYC. Instead it’s looking at Seattle, Boston, and other dense cities full of time-strapped knowledge workers. In SF, Prim will have to battle LaundryLocker where you drop your clothes in a public locker, and delivery services like Sfwash (where you pay by the pound), Sudzee (which requires special lockable bags), and some other local services.

Prim differentiates through simplicity and its flat rate. The risk is that the price is too high and it can’t get traction, or too low that it can’t squeak out a profit. Getting the balance right and giving people a great experience will make or break the startup.

Luckily, I loved Prim. It got my laundry done in 24 hours, everything came back clean, dry, soft, unwrinkled, and nothing seemed shrunk. Oh, and I did basically zero work. No dragging my clothes to the laundromat, fiddling with change for the machines, and most importantly, no waiting for hours. Even if you have machines in your home or apartment, doing loads one at a time can be quite annoying. My laundry often languishes because I dread the rigamarole. With Prim, I’m a lot less likely to make it to the bottom of my sock drawer. A more flexible morning pickup schedule would help, but Prim says they’ll always work with customers to find some time that works. Adding in dry cleaning would also be a big plus, and help them compete with other services that handle all your clothes-washing needs.

Wash And Flow

No, Prim isn’t going to save anyone’s life, but it could still help improve the world if you think about it. Convenience doesn’t just breed laziness. It can enable productivity. In that way, I’d say Prim shares DNA with Dropbox and Asana, not just Uber and TaskRabbit.

Prim lets you concentrate on what you love to do, what you’re responsible for, or how you contribute to the universe. I’m decent at writing, terrible at laundry, and busy. Spending a ton of time washing and folding is just inefficient for me. I feel better stimulating the economy and letting someone good at laundry do their thing. And imagine how this could free up a CEO, doctor, charity director, or parent to take on the duties only they can fulfill?

Think how long it takes you to do laundry. If that amount of your time is worth more than $25 (or $40 if you’ve got a big wardrobe), use Prim.

And use Prim with the promo code “techcrunch” to get $10 off your first pickup.

Prim Co-Founders (From Left): Xuwen Cao and Yin Yin Wu

timehop

While present-focused social networks like Facebook and Instagram make plenty of room for the narcissists in us, there’s not really a dedicated and focused place to reflect on the past.

Timehop, which started out as 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, has evolved into a mobile-first startup that surfaces old memories from your social networks. The app will pull up status updates from a year or more ago, reminding you of friends you’ve lost contact with or thoughts you had a year ago on this day.

The New York-based startup says it just rounded up another $3 million in funding led by existing investor Spark Capital. O’Reilly Alphatech Ventures, which had also previously backed the company, participated as well. Andrew Parker, a principal at Spark, joins Timehop’s board.

Timehop’s CEO Jonathan Wegener says that the company will use the round to build out the team beyond seven people and focus on mobile apps. Timehop just shut down its e-mail service last week.

“The big, long-term vision is to be a place to reminisce online,” Wegener said. “Basically in this world, all social networks are real-time. They’re about what’s happening right now, but there’s no place online to discuss the past.”

While the Series A crunch has made fundraising tough for all kinds of consumer-facing mobile and web products, Wegener said it was Timehop’s stickiness that made a compelling case. He said one-third of Timehop’s user base opens the product on any given day, which is a very respectable retention figure.

“Users who try to the product fall in love with it. This helped us make the argument that people are working Timehop into their everday lives,” Wegener said. “At first, people don’t understand why they would want this. But they get really addicted to it. They see it as a mirror of their own life, and a reflection of their past self.”

He said he’s used the app to remember which friends he’s lost touch with over the years. The app will pull up old group photos, reminding Wegener to reach out and reconnect.

Timehop’s earlier investors also included angels like Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Naveen Selvadurai and Alex Rainert, Groupme’s Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht, Rick Webb and Kevin Slavin.

snapchatdollar640

Only a few months after closing a Series B round of $60 million that valued the ephemeral messaging company at $800 million, Snapchat has been in talks for another funding that values it at up to $3.6 billion, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources also added that the funding itself would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and that the lead investor might be a strategic party from Asia.

Such a deal could still fall apart, of course, but the effort has become well known among several Silicon Valley venture firms, who have considered investing.

A spokeswoman for Snapchat declined to comment.

The investor is neither China’s Alibaba Group nor Japan’s Rakuten, which has put a lot of money in Silicon Valley startups of late, said sources. One interesting possibility would be China’s Internet giant Tencent, which makes money from in-app transactions.

The move by the Los Angeles-based company comes on the heels of another massive funding round raised by social scrapbooking company Pinterest, which announced earlier this week that it just raised $225 million at a $3.8 billion valuation.

Besides the huge piles of investment dough being poured into them, here’s what else the pair have in common: Little to no revenue.

That does not seem to have stopped a panoply of venture and other investors from jumping in and ponying up with huge amounts of cash for the privilege of investing in several fast-growing startups, hoping to grab ahold of the next Twitter or Facebook early.

Launched in 2011, Snapchat has grown wildly popular in a relatively short span of time, effectively creating an entirely new genre of messaging category with its “ephemeral” pictures and videos that last for only a matter of seconds.

Snapchat’s last round – which it called a “scaling round” for infrastructure improvements – was announced in late June, led by Institutional Venture Partners, with participation from General Catalyst Partners and SV Angel. Previous investors Benchmark Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated. With that round, the company had raised around $75 million in total.

Snapchat's Evan Spiegel

Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel

All the fervor has been due to Snapchat’s fast growth and younger demographic. Only a few months ago, co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel boasted that the service had more than 200 million snapped pictures and video taken by its users on a daily basis, up from 150 million just months before. Then in September at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, he said that the number had grown to 350 million self-destructing messages daily.

At the time, there was also an additional $20 million in a secondary offering just four months ago.

At the time of the June funding, in an interview with AllThingsD, Spiegel noted: “We’re excited about in-app transactions because of what we’ve seen in the Asian markets.”

A clue!

Snapchat has clearly been a phenom of late.

Indeed, the app has proved so popular – and potentially worrisome to established social players – that sources said when Spiegel continually rebuffed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition offers, Zuckerberg cloned the app outright with a service called Poke. Zuckerberg’s offering famously flopped, while Snapchat continues to grow.

Most recently, Snapchat has begun to experiment with features outside of its core ephemeral messaging service. The company launched its Stories product last month, essentially a long-form play on Facebook’s status update in the form of a picture or video. And recently, Spiegel has grown more keen on the idea of monetization, experimenting with bands and listening to music inside the app.

The company, however, has not been without its problems. Early on in its history, Snapchat had to fight the perception that it was a “sexting service” for tweens, a fly-by-night app used to easily spread lewd photos. And it is still involved in ongoing litigation with Frank Brown, a collaborator from the service’s early days, who is suing the company he was pushed out of.

20111026.213347_oct2611_nextdoor

Nextdoor, the locally driven private social network for neighborhoods, announced on Tuesday that it raised a round of funding, adding another set of high-profile venture firms to the list of the company’s backers.

The $60 million round was led jointly by new investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Tiger Global Management, with participation from Comcast Ventures and existing investors Benchmark, Greylock Partners and Shasta Ventures.

The move, which comes just as Nextdoor celebrates its second anniversary since launch, brings the total amount of funding raised to about $100 million over the last 18 months, according to the company. CEO Nirav Tolia positions it as a strategic move, bolstering the company’s coffers as it gears up for a push into international expansion.

“We needed first of all to make sure we had our domestic house in order; then, second, to get the right talent in building,” Tolia said, pointing to Minna King, his hire for VP of International. “Third for us is to be demand-driven about our international road map. Where are we receiving most demand in foreign countries?”

Nextdoor plans to move into English-speaking countries in the first part of 2014, targeting places such as Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa before moving on to other areas, like Brazil and Japan, which Tolia said are next on the road map. The company, which does not disclose specifics on its user numbers, said it was now being used in more than 22,000 neighborhoods across the U.S., with nearly half of its members regularly contributing content. Earlier this year, Nextdoor released its first smartphone apps for consumers.

nextdoor_hand_newsfeed_tall

The very nature of the service, however, makes growth a particularly interesting challenge. Positioned as a privacy-focused network for those within neighborhoods to communicate with one another around local issues, the startup strictly limits communication to those within the same general nearby areas. Identity, too, is checked through address verification or other methods.

For these high-profile venture firms, it is a big continued bet on a startup focused on the local space, a problematic area that has seen many companies try – and fail – to solve it. (AOL’s cash-bleeding Patch initiatives immediately come to mind.) Nextdoor makes no revenue to speak of as of yet, though it will have $90 million in the bank to expand abroad after this round.

Kleiner’s John Doerr, who is bullish on the social-local-mobile sector, and will take a position as a special adviser with the new investment, thinks Nextdoor is uniquely positioned to approach the issue of local – especially when contrasted against Patch.

“There’s nothing inherently social about Patch, no viral properties that go along with it,” Doerr said in an interview. “While Patch owns the content, it doesn’t really own the graph,” he said, referring to a common term first made popular by Facebook’s large map of social members, and later by LinkedIn’s professional user base. “The converse is true for Nextdoor. There are strongly viral properties, neighbors are strongly encouraged to invite others.”

Kleiner’s Mary Meeker will also help advise Nextdoor as part of the investment, while Tiger Global’s Lee Fixel will focus mostly on helping the startup’s international growth efforts – his firm’s particular area of expertise.

empty wallet shutterstock

Want to sell your startup to Facebook or Google? Don’t try doing it in late summer.

Both Web giants, which have been very active acquirers for the last few years, slowed down considerably in the third quarter of the year.

Facebook, which had spent $246 million buying companies in the first six months of 2013, spent $14 million in the next three months. Google had a similar pattern: In addition to Waze, the mapping startup it bought for $1 billion, Google bought 15 other companies for $344 million in the first half of 2013. But Google only shelled out $25 million, on five purchases, in Q3.

Two quick off-the-cuff theories to explain the slowdown, which aren’t mutually exclusive:

  • Perhaps both Google and Facebook have concluded that the startup shelves have been pretty picked-over, and there’s not a lot else they need to buy.
  • Bankers need breaks, too.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/PTstock)

Facebook’s mobile image took a bit of a beating in the weeks that followed the April launch of its Home software for Android.

Ondrejka, right, with Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

Ondrejka, right, with Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer

But, more than six months later, Facebook mobile engineering VP Cory Ondrejka said that the company learned a lot from the experience – knowledge that is going into both improving Home and into developing other mobile products.

“We will keep iterating on Home,” he said during an interview at this week’s Techonomy conference near Tucson, Ariz. “We really have a better understanding of where to take Home in the future.”

One of the most recent changes is the capability to add photos from other services to be part of the Facebook Home experience (Home replaces the standard Android lock screen and home screen). That and other improvements mean that those who try Home now may have a more favorable impression than those who did so in its early days.

“Most people have never seen Home,” Ondrejka said. “They may have heard about it.”

More broadly, Ondrejka said the Facebook Home experience has helped the company better develop overall Android software. By digging deeply into the operating system, Ondrejka said the company has a keen understanding of the kinds of products it can create going forward.

Google has also turned on options in its Google Play Store that let the company simultaneously offer early alpha and beta versions of its products to willing testers while maintaining an earlier version for general consumers. That is a big deal, he said, since even a large company like Facebook can’t possibly internally test on all the different combinations of devices and operating system versions that the software will be run on after release.

Meanwhile, a project to preinstall Home on phones appears to still be in hiatus. Facebook touted a wide range of expected hardware partners when it launched Home, but the effort was put on hold after initial critiques of Home and slow sales of the HTC First, the lone device to ship with Home preloaded. AT&T eventually sold through the initial batch of HTC First devices, following price cuts.

Ondrejka said that preloading Home has become less necessary after a range of changes that Google has made in recent updates to Android.

Instead, Facebook has been focusing on its core app, as well as companion programs such as Facebook Messenger.

“It’s certainly something we are always exploring,” Ondrejka said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook Home launch event.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Until, that is, it starts to get annoying.

Facebook has definitely reached that point with some look- and act-alike sites outside of the U.S., according to Mark Zuckerberg. So much so, in fact, that it has hurt the company’s international growth prospects.

“Clones actually end up being a pretty big nuisance. People have made such great clones of Facebook outside the U.S., it made us harder to grow,” Zuckerberg said at the Y Combinator Startup School event over the weekend. Russia in particular, he pointed out, has done the best job of mimicking Facebook’s abilities.

“They’ve made such an awesome clone of Facebook it’s been hard to beat them,” he said. “It’s almost been 10 years since we started Facebook, and we still haven’t beaten them in Russia.”

Zuckerberg gave interesting reasons for the struggle. Besides the fact that the so-called “clones” were first to market in home countries like Russia, he said, many startups would make Facebook lookalikes and then introduce the sites to European countries. From there, Zuckerberg said, the first-movers would appreciate the network effects of viral growth, and make it that much more difficult for Facebook to grow.

One other thing: Some Facebook “clones,” like the ones in Russia, are also home to illegal file-upload hosting services, which makes it a more attractive proposition for those seeking free music and movies to pirate.

Indeed, if you compare Facebook’s quarterly European user-growth rate to other regions (like Asia, which also hosts stiff competition to Facebook with homegrown social sites), it has slowed quite a bit over the past year. Europe, in particular, is important to Facebook, as it is home to far more consumers with money to spend than, say, developing-world nations that are also slowly being introduced to Facebook.

In other words, it’s a big problem that Facebook needs to solve.

One solution? The “lockdown” approach, started in Facebook’s early days by Zuckerberg and co-founder Dustin Moskovitz – basically stopping just short of literally locking the employees inside the building until they come up with a way to fix a problem (though I imagine this isn’t kosher with OSHA).

Or there’s another approach: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Facebook has cloned competing services in the past (Snapchat, Quora, Foursquare). Perhaps the company could take a few cues from what its foreign competitors are doing well.

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