Monday, October 29, 2012

GigaOm: With $3.6M, TreeRing revives the yearbook for the Facebook generation

With $3.6M, TreeRing revives the yearbook for the Facebook generation

By Ki Mae Heussner
Between Facebook, umpteen other private social networks and ubiquitous smartphone cameras, you’d think students wouldn’t want the traditional school yearbook anymore. And, increasingly, it turns out, they don’t.
But, Aaron Greco, co-founder and CEO of TreeRing, a social yearbook service, argues that doesn’t mean they don’t want any yearbook at all.
“People still want to capture their memories and they still want a way to print them,” he said. “And they don’t only want it to be about themselves and their own memories.”
Digital cameras and social networking may make it easier than ever to document and share photos and updates in real time but it seems that students (or at least the parents who pay for the books) still want to preserve shared experiences and hold on to a moment in time.
Since launching in 2010, San Mateo, Calif.-based TreeRing said it’s signed on more than 1,200 schools in 49 states and Canada. And, on Tuesday, the startup is set to announce that it’s raised $3.6 million in Series A funding led by its angel funder Flipboard CEO and co-founder Mike McCue, Second Ave Partners, Cedar Grove Investments and other angel investors, including Expedia and Zillow founder Rich Barton. With the new funding, the company said, it plans to expand its team and ramp up marketing.
It’s been a while since Greco and his co-founders (and, admittedly, this writer) posed for an awkward yearbook picture.  But he said the idea emerged when one of his co-founders noticed his daughter flipping through her unevolved school yearbook.
“[His reaction was] This is depressing. There has to be a better way,” Greco said.

So, TreeRing came up with its better way, which is this: Using the startup’s social software, school yearbook editors, as well as students and teachers, can maintain collections of photos and memories that can be added to the final yearbook. Just as they have in the past, school editors select the images that populate everyone’s books, but each person also gets two pages to personalize with their own pictures, updates (such as their favorite vacation that year or their best friend) and notes from friends.
Traditional yearbook companies like Jostens and Herff Jones have launched their own modern enhancements, including personalized pages and virtual time capsules. But Greco said TreeRing additionally offers schools a pricing model that takes the risk off their plate. To fund traditional yearbooks, schools have historically had to place a minimum number of orders and pay publishers upfront. But schools don’t need to pay for TreeRing’s software, nor do they need to play middleman, as families can purchase their books directly online.
Given all the options for storing, sharing and displaying digital images, it’s interesting to note that people still care about printed books. Greco said consumers feel very strongly about tangible books and pointed to Shutterfly, which continues to post revenue growth, as evidence that the printed book continues to have a place.
“It’s a great bellwether for where the industry is going,” he said. “With all of those pictures on their smartphones, [consumers] want to do something with them. “

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

GeekWire: A yearbook for the Facebook generation: Rich Barton, Mike McCue back TreeRing

A yearbook for the Facebook generation: Rich Barton, Mike McCue back TreeRing

By John Cook
Call it a yearbook for the Facebook generation.TreeRing, a San Mateo, California startup, has landed $3.6 million from some heavy hitters in the tech industry to radically upend the traditional yearbook industry.
Among the backers of the company are Zillow co-founder Rich Barton; Flipboard CEO Mike McCue and Seattle area venture capital firms Second Avenue Partners (Mike Slade) and Cedar Grove Investments (Tom Hughes).
TreeRing’s proposition is pretty simple. The company allows yearbooks to be built online through one’s online social network and printed on demand with personalized pages for each student. More than 1,200 schools have already signed on to the program, with 125,000 yearbooks printed to date.
Prices are comparable to traditional yearbooks. For example, an 80-page hardcover yearbook with two custom pages for the student costs $28.94. There are no minimum orders or commitments for schools, meaning that schools don’t get stuck with a lot of leftover inventory.
“TreeRing has ingeniously combined the new capabilities of print, social, and design technologies. Not only does this change the American yearbook forever, but this will change how students capture their memories and remember their youth in years to come,” said Flipboard CEO Mike McCue.
The idea is interesting in part because TreeRing isn’t looking to eliminate the physical yearbook altogether, but rather use technologies to make it better.

Press Release: Social Yearbook Company, TreeRing, Raises $3.6 Million in Series A Funding

Social Yearbook Company, TreeRing, Raises $3.6 Million in Series A Funding
With 3.3 Million Photos Shared and 1,200 customers and growing, TreeRing is changing the way students capture and share their memories.

San Mateo, CA, September 25, 2012 – TreeRing, the world’s first social yearbook company, today announced it has closed a $3.6 million investment led by their angel funder Mike McCue (CEO of Flipboard), Second Ave Partners and Cedar Grove Investments.  Additionally, several angel investors participated in the round, most notably the Expedia and Zillow Founder, Rich Barton.

As another school year starts and students set out to create another year of memories, one thing is clear: traditional yearbooks are a thing of the past. Since launching in 2010, schools have been changing the way they are capturing their memories.  TreeRing’s new model allows yearbooks to be built online through their online social network and printed on demand with personalized pages for each student.  The company now has over 1,200 schools across 49 states and Canada.  Additionally, TreeRing has printed more than 125,000 yearbooks, and users are sharing more than 3.3M photos.

With this funding, TreeRing will continue to expand its team and grow its marketing across the country.  TreeRing has recently expanded its platform to allow students, parents, and teachers to not only share photos and page content with each other, but students can also sign one another’s yearbooks, share memories, and send each other graphic based messages, which TreeRing has dubbed “book bling.”

“TreeRing has ingeniously combined the new capabilities of print, social, and design technologies.  Not only does this change the American yearbook forever, but this will change how students capture their memories and remember their youth in years to come,” said Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard.

“We’ve brought the $5 billion custom memory book industry to the $2 billion yearbook industry and glued them together with the power of online social networks. Most importantly we are allowing kids to capture and share their memories in a much more meaningful way and saving schools money while doing it,” according to TreeRing CEO and Co-Founder Aaron Greco.   

TreeRing also has overturned the traditional pricing model of the yearbook industry, which usually charges schools advance deposits, makes them guarantee a certain number of sales, and puts schools in the business of collecting payment from families.  TreeRing offers its tool at zero cost to schools, and families purchase books directly online, taking schools out of the middleman role and ensuring that no one has to juggle excess yearbook inventory at the end of the school year.  That saves schools time, space, as well as paper waste. 

Through a partnership with the nonprofit organization, Trees for the Future, TreeRing also plants a tree for each yearbook that is purchased.  And schools have the option of tacking a fundraiser premium onto their yearbook price, allowing them to raise a couple of dollars per book purchased without any additional work, serving as an easy and effective fundraising tool at a time when schools are increasingly crunched for funding.  This past year alone TreeRing schools raised over $130K.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Newsday: More school yearbooks adding online content

More school yearbooks adding online content

The yearbook experience at many Long Island schools is starting to resemble Facebook browsing -- with online content that lets students like, tag and share photos -- as the century-old tradition turns to technology to keep the industry profitable.
New computer programs from startup companies allow students to create personal electronic versions using images from the hardcover editions and even ones that didn't make the cut, yearbook makers say. 
As startups grow -- 3-year-old Tree Ring works with more than 1,000 schools, including ones in Uniondale and Lynbrook -- industry leaders Jostens and Herff Jones have launched their own digital enhancements in a bid to keep up.
"It's a competitive industry," said Drew Krejci, a communications manager at Jostens. "We're making sure that we leverage all the technology to create a stronger and better book."
Some of the startups let students create customized collage pages -- printed only in their yearbooks -- that are catching on with parents who might otherwise worry about their child's presence in the yearbook.
"It made more people actually want the book," said Margo Cargill , a parent who edited the fifth-grade yearbook at Northern Parkway Elementary in Uniondale. 
"The traditional yearbook is kind of a great memento for the school, but it's not always about each student," said Aaron Greco, Tree Ring's chief executive.
At Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset , which works with Jostens, the 2012 yearbook will come with a virtual time capsule. Over the school year, students have posted pictures, tagged their classmates and categorized images by time and place for the time capsule that will be "sealed" permanently on June 30. This fall, Herff Jones will offer a similar digital supplement for its clients. Earlier this week, the company closed down one of its four yearbook plants, laying off 130 workers.
"The entire publishing industry is in a state of transformation right now," said Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit book trade association. 
Among the most avid supporters of the changes are parents. Software programs, say some yearbook advisers, make adding photos easier and more collaborative. Students and parents can upload images from their iPod Touch devices, Facebook accounts and smartphones. Some moms even texted them in.
One benefit of the digital software, parent advisers found, is its ability to keep track of how many photos each student is tagged in. At West End Elementary School in Lynbrook, parents kept things fair by making sure that students appeared in at least two pictures for each grade's "memory page," but no more than five.
One parent editor stood outside of classrooms and snapped cellphone pictures of students who weren't in enough photos.
"There's a big deal if somebody's child is in the yearbook 20 times," Mary Calabro said.  READ MORE

Monday, June 18, 2012

ABC News: Creating high school memories digitally

Creating high school memories digitally

Like any yearbook staff, seniors at East Side Community High School put in long hours.
"At first I found it a little difficult, but then I thought about it. It's like a Facebook page," staff member Joyce Perez said.
By using website called Tree Ring, the students were able to use laptops for creating the record of their high school memories.
"They have like hundreds of different layouts and backgrounds, colors. You name it, they have it to design a page. So the kids are completely involved in the process from the very beginning to the very end," yearbook advisor Lindsay Balarezo said.
"I'm glad that we had the opportunity to make our own yearbook and put what we want in it and have a say in what we wanted our own yearbooks to look like," student Eric Russell said.
Their work will be printed with a choice of soft or hard covers.
This will be the first yearbook at Eastside Community High School in 3 years, due to cost considerations, and there have been other years when the small high school has not been able to afford a yearbook.
"It felt horrible just to decide that you couldn't get something that's part of a rite of passage for seniors," principal Mark Federman said.
But because the students have done all the work, and bulk ordering is not required. The cost is half, or less, than the school's last published yearbook. Also, they were able to include photos of a trip this spring to a Mets game, because digital deadlines are more flexible.
"The fact that we have so much time to put everything in the year book the way we wanted is the best thing ever," student Shannon Thomas said.
"I'm really proud of it because we all worked really hard on it throughout the year and I think it turned out great," Brianna Barrett said.
The yearbooks are due on graduation day.  READ MORE

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NBC News: Yearbooks get a 21st century makeover

Yearbooks get a 21st century makeover   By Dana Dean
St. Louis (KSDK) -- Graduation season is here. And for students, yearbooks are an annual rite of passage. But all the anticipation can lead to disappointment, if there are few photos of yourself, but now there is a trend that puts you in control. 
The new yearbook is actually about you and gets built online. Students can create custom pages online. The pages get printed only in their copy of the yearbook.
Companies that print these custom yearbooks are breaking tradition by letting each and every student have a say in the outcome. Students can put as many pictures of themselves as they want in their yearbook. TreeRing is one of the companies doing this.
Yearbook committees are still in charge of the core yearbook, but all students get two free pages to customize and can add more pages if they want. NewsChannel 5 knows of at least nine schools in Missouri trying out this new kind of yearbook, including McKinley Classical Junior Academy in St. Louis. Schools don't have to make a minimum order, which can save money if they don't sell enough. The cost is about the same as a traditional yearbook.
"It's cool because you're not limited to the amount of memories in the yearbook," said Mykal Dean, a student. "You can pick whatever you want."
"I like to be in as many as I can because you don't want to get a yearbook and you're not in it," said Alyson Perry

Thursday, April 19, 2012

ABC News: Personalized yearbooks let high school students make their mark

One of the most anticipated times of the year in high schools across America is the day when yearbooks arrive. This year, some local schools are turning to a new type of the annual that each student gets to personalize.
One of those students is Sarah Cummings, a sophomore at The Douglass School in Leesburg, who says that getting her yearbook hasn't always been the best experience.
Now, though, she's guaranteed to like her pictures - after all, she picked them.
"I always flip through and make sure my picture looks good, and if it doesn't, I go and cross it out in everyone's yearbook," Sarah said.
This year, the school switched to a new type of yearbook that students can customize. Instead of flipping to find a small picture of herself like in yearbooks of yesteryear, Sarah will have two full pages of personal photos.
"I'm going to put in all the pictures from the day I was born until now," she said.
The switch isn't just for fun, either. The main reason the school switched, they said, is financial. Other companies required the school to buy a minimum number of yearbooks upfront, but many didn't end up being purchased.
That wasted hundreds of dollars and left schools with stacks of yearbooks that were not sold.
"The fact we can order only the number we do sell makes it much more cost-effective for us," Douglass School principal Jack Robinson said.
For the students, though, it's all about having a say in creating their lasting memories; for some to express the things that mean a lot to them, and for other, the people that mean a lot to them.
"I dedicated one whole page to my mom," senior Jessica Redmond said.
Students have until the end of the month to design their pages, and in about three weeks, their personal yearbooks will be ready for each other to sign.  READ MORE