Exclusive: Wrapp CEO goes toe to toe with Samwer bros.

Social gifts startup Wrapp says it is massively speeding up its expansion plans as a direct response to a copycat funded by the notorious German Samwer brothers — and the company’s CEO is warning retailers that doing business with the clone could prove costly.

Samwers clone Wrapp: Have they gone too far this time?

Europe’s most notorious cloners have built their reputation by copying big American companies. But now they appear to be readying a new rival to small Swedish startup Wrapp — a change of tactics that has ‘surprised’ Wrapp CEO Hjalmar Winbladh.

Art discovery service Artfinder draws new funding

London-based art discovery service Artfinder is set to step up its plans for taking high culture to the web, after bringing in a second round of funding from Northzone, Greylock, and Wellington Partners.

A surprising early investor in Nanosolar: Reid Hoffman

When PayPal went public in 2002, then executive vice president Reid Hoffman, spent some of his winnings on investing in an early round of Silicon Valley’s first solar thin film startup Nanosolar. Will the investment ever pay off?

How big data can offer a competitive advantage

A new way of thinking about data and data scientists illustrates the broader shift that is slowly under way in the economy, a shift from simply collecting big data toward gathering and using data in order to make businesses better informed.

Big data is real, but only when you ask the right questions

Alistair Croll’s post on O’Reilly Radar this week may have been titled “There’s no such thing as big data,” but Croll believes the exact opposite. Rather than just collecting data, he argues, you have to ask the right questions of it. Coincidentally, DJ Patil joined Greylock Partners this week as its first data scientist in residence, working with portfolio companies on making better use of data. And Factual released a new API, simplifying the task of working with place data from multiple sources. Together, these illustrate the broader shift that is slowly under way, a shift from simply collecting big data toward gathering and using data in order to make businesses better informed.

Croll’s post discusses the experience of a frequent flier in the premium cabins of United Airlines, and he asks why United did not quickly get in touch when this traveler stopped flying with it. Spotting and reacting to these changes in behavior should be exactly what decent data analysis would permit, but for some reason United didn’t do either of these things. It appears to be missing an opportunity to gain competitive advantage by understanding the behavior of its customers and responding accordingly.

Patil could certainly help United out here, and venture capital firm Greylock Partners seems keen to ensure that its portfolio companies don’t miss such obvious uses of the data they horde. Discussing Patil’s appointment, Greylock partner Reid Hoffman wrote, “Our companies have strong appetites to learn more ways to leverage data as a competitive tool.” Greylock is not alone in spotting the need to understand and gain value from the data being generated by the companies it funds. IA Ventures took a similar step earlier in the summer, appointing Drew Conway as scientist in residence.

Greylock is acting to ensure that its portfolio companies extract as much value as they can from the data they hold. Hoffman and others recognize that timely and effective analysis of data can offer real competitive advantage, even in mature markets like retail. Within Greylock’s portfolio, companies such as Zipcar might analyze data to ensure that its cars are parked in optimal locations, and Cloudera could tailor the products and advice it offers in order to make it even easier for its customers to work with data at scale. Over at Factual, the company is continuing to put the pieces in place to combine data from different sources. With the new Crosswalk API, developers can easily relate U.S. places identified in third-party services such as Foursquare, OpenTable and Yelp.

Factual and other similar data providers have the potential to greatly diminish one of the final barriers to entry for many innovative startups: their need to build large databases and populate them with relevant data that is not the focus of their business. Foursquare, for example, is about users’ sharing its check-ins at locations like Starbucks, not determining where every Starbucks is located. Building and maintaining that database, though, is a necessary (and high) cost of doing business; Factual removes the need for every new Foursquare to build that database from scratch. There are similar opportunities in areas from product data (how many companies store undifferentiating data about the features of the latest televisions or microwaves?) to company details and historical sales figures.

Companies like United Airlines (and, as I discussed recently, those in the manufacturing sector) are sitting on a gold mine. The timely analysis of data they already own aids customer retention, enables fine-tuning of routes and pricing, and provides insights that might be the difference between profitable growth and going to the wall. Factual is an early example of a company seeking to make data created by other people more usable. Consistent APIs and crosswalks that join silos of incomplete data are critical in preventing the endless re-collection of the same basic facts, freeing both new and old companies to concentrate on creating value rather than rebuilding foundations. DJ Patil, and those like him, bridge the gap between the two, transforming the way traditional companies like United use data and creating opportunities for newcomers like Factual to capitalize upon. Web 3.0, perhaps?

Question of the week

Will data scientists change the ways their employers work with and use big data?

Greylock boosts big data investment with new hire

Greylock Partners, the VC firm backing companies such as Cloudera, Airbnb and ZipCar hired DJ Patil, formerly the chief product officer at Color, as a data scientist in residence. Greylock’s trying to help its companies monetize the rich vein of user data on the web.

Can the web make art better? Artfinder thinks so.

All sorts of media have been disrupted by the online world: music, video, news, books and more. But after years of digital revolution, the rarified world of visual art remains largely untouched. Enter one British startup that thinks it can change all that.

Why the LinkedIn IPO Is Bad for Cleantech

Amidst all of the champagne cork-popping, and bubble talk in the wake of the LinkedIn IPO Thursday morning (high-five to Reid Hoffman) I’ll offer up this downer of an article: the LinkedIn IPO is bad for cleantech.

LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman’s $2B Bonanza

Updated. LinkedIn’s huge debut today may have left some money on the table for initial investors, but it was still very lucrative especially for founder Reid Hoffman, who is now worth $2 billion more based a market cap of $10 billion.