Business News

Uber’s raising up to $600M in a secondary round at $62B valuation, Q1 sales grew to $2.5B

Startup News - 2018, May 24 - 5:35am

Uber’s CEO is in Paris this week meeting with the French president to talk tech in Europe and expanding its insurance coverage in the region, but back in the U.S. the company is moving ahead on another kind of expansion.

TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Uber is raising another secondary round of funding of up to $600 million, on a valuation of $62 billion. The fundraising development comes at the same time that Uber is also releasing its Q1 financials — which indicate that the company pulled in $2.5 billion in net revenues, with a net loss of $601 million, and negative EBIDTA of $304 million on a pro forma basis.

Raising between $400 million and $600 million on a valuation of $62 billion (at $40 per share) would indicate that while Uber is recovering from the drop in valuation from its last round with SoftBank at the end of 2017 — another round with secondary components that valued the company at $48 billion — it’s still not back up (or higher than) its loftiest valuation of $69 billion. 

From what we understand, investors participating in the offering, which has yet to close, include Coatue, Altimeter and TPG. Uber employees with at least 1,000 shares can also participate in the financing. According to the terms of offer, no one can sell more than $10 million worth of shares.

That general upward trend is also being reflected in Uber’s financials.

An investor presentation that was shared with TechCrunch indicated that the company’s $2.5 billion in net revenues was a seven percent quarter over quarter increase, and a 67 percent increase year over year. Uber’s $304 million losses, meanwhile, were about half the amount they were last year: in Q1 2017, Uber’s adjusted losses were $597 million. Gross bookings — the total taken for all of Uber’s transportation services — was $11.3 billion in Q1, a 55 percent increase compared to $7.5 billion a year ago. At the end of Q1, Uber had $6.3 billion in gross cash.

GAAP numbers indicated net revenues of $2.6 billion with a GAAP profit nearly as big: $2.456 billion. “We had $3 billion of income on a GAAP basis because of the ‘gain’ from the Yandex and Grab deals,” a spokesperson said. “That’s why we prefer to focus on EBITDA as the best number to show our underlying business in the quarter.”

“We are off to a terrific start in 2018, with our rides business beating internal plan and continuing to grow at healthy rates, while we significantly reduce our losses and maintain our leadership position around the world,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “Given the size of the opportunity ahead of us and our goal of making Uber a true mobility platform, we plan to reinvest any over-performance even more aggressively this year, both in our core business as well as in big bets like Uber Eats globally.”

In other words, that could mean losses might get worse in the short-term as Uber continues to invest money in businesses like Eats and JUMP, the bike-share service it acquired for about $200 million earlier this year to expand them into more markets. As with many tech companies, Uber appears to be focused more on growth than profitability, even as it eyes up an IPO, possibly as soon as next year.

Uber has raised over $21 billion in funding to date.

Categories: Business News

GUN raises more than $1.5M for its decentralized database system

Startup News - 2018, May 24 - 4:25am

GUN is an open-source decentralized database service that allows developers to build fast peer-to-peer applications that will work, even when their users are offline. The company behind the project (which should probably change its name and logo…) today announced that it has raised just over $1.5 million in a seed round led by Draper Associates. Other investors include Salesforce’s Marc Benioff through Aloha Angels, as well as Boost VC, CRCM and other angel investors.

As GUN founder Mark Nadal told me, it’s been about four years since he started working on this problem, mostly because he saw the database behind his early projects as a single point of failure. When the database goes down, most online services will die with it, after all. So the idea behind GUN is to offer a decentralized database system that offers real-time updates with eventual consistency. You can use GUN to build a peer-to-peer database or opt for a multi-master setup. In this scheme, a cloud-based server simply becomes another peer in the network (though one with more resources and reliability than a user’s browser). GUN users get tools for conflict resolution and other core features out of the box and the data is automatically distributed between peers. When users go offline, data is cached locally and then merged back into this database once they come online.

Nadal built the first prototype of GUN back in 2014, based on a mix of Firebase, MySQL, MongoDB and Cassandra. That was obviously a bit of a hack, but it gained him some traction among developers and enough momentum to carry the idea forward.

Today, the system has been used to build everything from a decentralized version of Reddit (which isn’t currently working) that can handle a few million uniques per month and a similarly decentralized YouTube clone.

Nadal also argues that his system has major speed advantages over some of the incumbents. “From our initial tests we find that for caching, our product is 28 times faster than Redis, MongoDB and others. Now we are looking for partnerships with companies pioneering technology in gaming, IoT, VR and distributed machine learning,” he said.

The Dutch Navy is already using it for some IoT services on its ships and a number of other groups are using it for their AI/ML services. Because its use cases are similar to that of many blockchain projects, Nadal is also looking at how he can target some of those developers to take a closer look at GUN.

Categories: Business News

Ring’s Jamie Siminoff and Clinc’s Jason Mars to join us at Disrupt SF

Startup News - 2018, May 24 - 1:37am

Disrupt SF is set to be the biggest tech conference that TechCrunch has ever hosted. So it only makes sense that we plan an agenda fit for the occasion.

That’s why we’re absolutely thrilled to announce that Ring’s Jamie Siminoff will join us on stage for a fireside chat and Jason Mars from Clinc will be demo-ing first-of-its-kind technology on the Disrupt SF stage.

Jamie Siminoff – Ring

Earlier this year, Ring became Amazon’s second largest acquisition ever, selling to the behemoth for a reported $1 billion.

But the story begins long ago, with Jamie Siminoff building a WiFi-connected video doorbell in his garage in 2011. Back then it was called DoorBot. Now, it’s called Ring, and it’s an essential piece of the overall evolution of e-commerce.

As giants like Amazon move to make purchasing and receiving goods as simple as ever, safe and reliable entry into the home becomes critical to the mission. Ring, which has made neighborhood safety and home security its main priority since inception, is a capable partner in that mission.

Of course, one doesn’t often build a successful company and sell for $1 billion on their first go. Prior to Ring, Siminoff founded PhoneTag, the world’s first voicemail-to-text company and Unsubscribe.com. Both of those companies were sold. Based on his founding portfolio alone, it’s clear that part of Siminoff’s success can be attributed to understanding what consumers need and executing on a solution.

Dr. Jason Mars – Clinc

AI has the potential to change everything, but there is a fundamental disconnect between what AI is capable of and how we interface with it. Clinc has tried to close that gap with its conversational AI, emulating human intelligence to interpret unstructured, unconstrained speech.

Clinc is currently targeting the financial market, letting users converse with their bank account using natural language without any pre-defined templates or hierarchical voice menus.

But there are far more applications for this kind of conversational tech. As voice interfaces like Alexa and Google Assistant pick up steam, there is clearly an opportunity to bring this kind of technology to all facets of our lives.

At Disrupt SF, Clinc’s founder and CEO Dr. Jason Mars plans to do just that, debuting other ways that Clinc’s conversational AI can be applied. Without ruining the surprise, let me just say that this is going to be a demo you won’t want to miss.

Tickets to Disrupt are available here.

Categories: Business News

Hugging Face raises $4 million for its artificial BFF

Startup News - 2018, May 24 - 12:08am

Chatbot startup Hugging Face has raised a $4 million seed round led by Ronny Conway from a_capital. Existing investors Betaworks, SV Angel and Kevin Durant are also participating.

I already reviewed Hugging Face so I won’t write the same thing again. But the startup has been building a chatbot app with a strong personality for bored teenagers. Instead of focusing on customer support or convenience, Hugging Face is focusing on emotions and entertainment.

It’s been available in the App Store as a standalone app and on Kik. Today, the company is also launching Hugging Face on Messenger. It should help bring new users.

Even without Messenger, Hugging Face now handles 1 million messages per day. In total, Hugging Face has received over 100 million messages.

It’s also worth noting that Hugging Face accepts text messages, photos, emojis, everything. So you can take a selfie, send a sad emoji, and the chatbot will know how you feel.

And it’s clear that Hugging Face is betting on surprise and enjoyment. The app doesn’t have to be perfect to be entertaining.

Beyond the consumer app, the team behind Hugging Face has written a couple of research papers about artificial intelligence. It’s clear that the startup plans on building a great team of engineers when it comes to natural language conversations. The team will double over the coming months.

Categories: Business News

Tempow raises $4 million to improve Bluetooth

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 10:50pm

French startup Tempow has raised a $4 million funding round. Balderton Capital led the round, with C4 Ventures also participating. The company has been working on improving the Bluetooth protocol to make it more versatile.

Smartphones, speakers and connected devices all use Bluetooth in one way or another. There are only a handful of Bluetooth chipset manufacturers in the world, such as Qualcomm and Broadcom. While Bluetooth chips have become incredibly efficient as they use much less power than they used to, it’s been stagnant on the software front.

Tempow is a software company that wants to rewrite the Bluetooth stack from scratch. The company started with an audio profile.

Thanks to Tempow’s technology, you can connect a phone to multiple Bluetooth speakers at once. This is just a software improvement — it works with standard Bluetooth chipsets and all Bluetooth audio devices out there.

Lenovo liked this idea and licensed the technology for its Moto X4 handset. More than 5 million devices with Tempow’s Bluetooth stack have been sold.

With today’s funding round, the startup wants to tackle more use cases. For instance, Tempow wants to optimize the pairing process, enhance the security of the protocol and work on battery consumption. “Maybe you could pay using Bluetooth instead of NFC,” co-founder and CEO Vincent Nallatamby told me.

At the same time, the startup is negotiating with multiple manufacturers. You can expect to see Tempow’s technology in more devices in the future.

The company currently has 7 patents pending and just got its first patent last week. Eventually, Tempow thinks it can build a team of Bluetooth experts who push the protocol forward.

Categories: Business News

Platform.sh raises $34 million to simplify cloud deployment

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 7:01pm

French startup Platform.sh has raised a $34 million funding round. The company wants to help you manage your cloud infrastructure by handling the most tedious part of the job.

When you use Platform.sh for your application, the startup is going to handle testing and deployment to your cloud infrastructure. Every time you want to iterate and update your application to a new version, deployment is as easy as a git commit.

Partech is leading the round, with Idinvest Partners, Benhamou Global Ventures, SNCF Digital Ventures and existing investor Hi Inov also participating.

Platform.sh targets big clients. The company is currently working with 650 enterprise clients, such as Magento, Gap Inc. and The Financial Times. In 2018, revenue has more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

Platform.sh can create new instances and deploy clones of your web applications in less than 60 seconds. That’s how you can deploy with confidence and save time.

The idea is that Platform.sh helps you deploy 10 times or 20 times per day. Your users won’t see a difference as your website will remain available during the entire day. Behind the scene, Platform.sh uses multiple cloud vendors for its infrastructure, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Orange Business Services.

Platform.sh isn’t the only continuous deployment solution out there. And many tech companies are going to build their own continuous deployment process on top of open source technologies.

But many companies don’t have a big tech team and can outsource this part of their infrastructure. If you’re building a media or e-commerce website, you might want to focus on other parts of your business for instance. In that case, Platform.sh provides a one-stop shop for your cloud hosting needs.

Categories: Business News

YouTeam is a marketplace for offshore developer talent

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 6:21pm

While software is said to be eating the world, software developers and other technical talent remains in short supply. Not only is this seeing major tech companies compete hard to hire the best engineers, but it has also meant a rise in the use of remote working freelancers or turning to offshore agencies. The problem with either solution, however, is the same: how to ensure outsourced work will be of high quality and that the individuals working on your project will be a good fit with the rest of your team.

Enter YouTeam, a U.K. startup and recent graduate of Y Combinator, which has created what it calls a marketplace for offshore talent. The company’s platform connects individual developers at agencies (and large companies that have spare developer capacity) with companies needing to add to their own development teams through outsourcing. In this way the aim is to bridge the gap between hiring an individual freelancer and the added vetting and accountability using an agency affords.

“Numerous times in our former companies we were let down by our software development partners and suppliers,” YouTeam co-founder and CEO Anton Mishchenko recalls. “For starters, it’s hard to objectively identify a reliable company because there is no unified industry standard for doing so. Secondly, it is impossible to know whether a company has the right team for the project because they rarely disclose information about their engineers until the contract is signed. Thirdly, the interests of the client and the supplier can often fork in different directions and so there is often limited trust, especially in the beginning of their relationship”.

To mitigate this, the YouTeam marketplace features profiles of individual developers at the agencies it has partnered with on the supply-side. Instead of simply hiring an agency and entering a crapshoot in terms of who will become part of your outsourced team, the idea is to contract with named individuals at the agency, either for a set amount of time or throughout a much longer-term project.

For the agency worker themselves, they arguably get a reliable and potentially more interesting stream of work without the hassle of spending time looking for and pricing the next gig. For the company seeking to outsource development work, they benefit from the vetting a reputable agency provides, and the fact that YouTeam sits in the middle, including taking payment and handling any disputes.

“In many offshore markets in Europe, Asia and Latin America local development agencies are the gateway to the best talent,” says Mishchenko. “But the way the market works is completely wrong. Our bet is simple: it is people that matter much more then companies, and so you should meet the people first. And that’s exactly what happens on the YouTeam platform. First you find engineers that you want to work with – and only then you get to meet their agencies. So now employees also have a say over which projects they want to work on”.

Noteworthy is that, until entering YC, Mishchenko and YouTeam’s other founders Yurij Riphyak (CPO) and Nikita Voloshyn (CTO) had bootstrapped the company to £500,000 in annual run rate revenue without any external investment. They are now on the verge of closing a seed round, if it hasn’t already happened.

Meanwhile, aside from hiring an agency direct, Mishchenko says competitors broadly fall into two camps. Freelancer platforms, which are mostly for short-term projects, and supplier recommendation platforms, which help match you to an agency but are “ineffective when you need to find the right team”.

“Shortage of engineering talent is one of the key problems the tech industry is facing today,” he adds. “We believe such shortage can be avoided when companies know where and how to look. Most of the time this involves learning to navigate other countries’ labour markets and finding reliable suppliers which is hard and time-consuming. We are the only solution that help clients throughout the whole journey from learning how to start their remote operations to scaling their development centre”.

Categories: Business News

Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 5:44pm

Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!

The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.

What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.

We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:


Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital


Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp


Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures


Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures


Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel


George McDonaugh, KR1


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners


Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel


Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker

How To Get Your Ticket For FREE

We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.

Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.

That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.

So you can grab tickets here.

Vote for your Favourite Startups

Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!

Awards by category:

Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup

Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup

Hottest Education Startup

Hottest Startup Accelerator

Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup

Hottest Games Startup

Hottest Mobile Startup

Hottest FinTech Startup

Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup

Hottest Hardware Startup

Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace

Hottest Health Startup

Hottest Cyber Security Startup

Hottest Travel Startup

Hottest Internet of Things Startup

Hottest Technology Innovation

Hottest FashionTech Startup

Hottest Tech For Good

Hottest A.I. Startup

Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year

Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year

Hottest Startup Founders

Hottest CEO of the Year

Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year

Hottest VC Investor of the Year

Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)

Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project

Hottest Blockchain DApp

Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project

Hottest Blockchain Investor

Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)

Hottest Financial Crypto Project

Hottest Blockchain for Good Project

Hottest Blockchain Identity Project

Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe

The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)

The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.

Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.

What is The Europas?

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
Petra@theeuropas.com
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

Categories: Business News

Drink-a-day startup Hooch raises $5M as it plans blockchain initiative

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 1:53am

Right on the heels of launching its concierge service Hooch Black, Hooch announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding.

The company’s basic subscription of $9.99 gets you one free drink per day from a variety of partner bars and restaurants. Hooch Black (which you have to apply for, and which costs $295 per year) adds hotel deals, concierge service and other perks on top.

Even though Hooch had already raised $2.75 million in two pre-seed rounds, co-founder and CEO Lin Dai said it was more important to bring on strategic investors than it was to raise a lot of money: “We feel like the most important thing for our business is really the relationships.”

After all, he said the hospitality industry is controlled by “a few key companies,” so success is determined by working with those companies — it’s not a situation where someone can just beat you by outspending you.

The funding was led by Revelis Capital Group and Blue Scorpion Investments, with participation from Access Industries Holdings, Warner Music Group (Dai said that Hooch will be working with Warner Music on content, events and promotions), FJ Labs, Diesel CEO Stefano Rosso, former Comcast CTO Sree Kotay and others.

At the same time, the company is expanding its advisory board to include Bob Hurst (previously vice chairman of Goldman Sachs), Bonin Bough (former chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelez) and Teymour Farman-Farmaian (previously CMO and CRO at Spotify and now managing director of Bitcoin wallet company Xapo).

Dai also said Hooch is preparing to launch its blockchain initiative this summer. What does blockchain have to do with free drinks? Well, Dai didn’t go into detail, but he suggested that by launching its own cryptocurrency token, Hooch could work with partners to create a “decentralized model for consumer rewards.”

Looking ahead, Dai said that Hooch might raise a “proper” Series A in 12 to 18 months, though he expects to reach profitability before then.

“At that point, we will have already built the moat around us with exclusive deals with all the top hospitality and experiential players,” he said. “That would be the appropriate time for us, if needed, to go back to a traditional round of funding.”

Categories: Business News

Slack introduces Actions to make it easier to create and finish tasks without leaving

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 1:30am

As Slack tries to graduate beyond a Silicon Valley darling to the go-to communications platform within a company, it’s had to find ways to increasingly pitch itself as an intelligent Swiss Army knife for companies — and not just a simple chat app — and it is trying to continue that today once again with a new feature called Actions.

Companies can now bake in a user experience of their own directly into the Slack application that isn’t yet another chatbot that’s tied into their services. Developers can essentially create a customized prompt for any kind of action, like submitting a support ticket, within the Slack core chat experience through a drop-down window called an Action. While Slackbots may have been an early incarnation of this, Slack’s platform has grown to include more than 200,000 developers, and there’s still constant need for robust tools internally. This offers partners and developers a little more flexibility when it comes to figuring out what experience makes the most sense for people that sit in Slack all day, but have to keep porting information to and from their own tools.

“There’s such a demand for specialized software, and for great tools that are easy to use and interoperable with all applications you use,” Slack chief product officer April Underwood said. “We think this is good, and we think more tools means customers have more choice. Ultimately there’s more competition in the marketplace, that means the best tools, the ones that truly help companies do their best work, rise to the top. But your work experience becomes increasingly siloed. Slack needs to be highly configurable, but in doing so we believe Slack is the collaboration hub that brings all this together.”

Each company that wants to build in an integration — like Asana for task management or Zendesk for ticket management — works to create a new flow within the core Slack experience, which includes a new dropdown inside a message and a prompt to bake something into the chat flow. Once that happens, all that information is then ported over to the integration and created in the same way an employee would create it within that environment. If someone creates a Zendesk ticket through an action in Slack, Zendesk automatically generates the ticket on their side.

Slack has sprawled out over time, and especially as companies using it get larger and larger, the company has to figure out a way to show that it can remain a dead-simple app without turning into a bloated window filled with thousands of instant messages. Actions is one potential approach to that, where users can know from the get-go where to coordinate certain activities like equipment procurement or managing some customer information — and not have to go anywhere else.

The other advantage here is that it makes the destination for completing a task not necessarily a “what,” but also a “who.” Slack is leaning on its machine learning tool to make it easier and easier to find the right people with the right answers, whether those questions are already answered somewhere or they know who can get you the information right away. Actions is another extension here, as well, as users can get accustomed to going to certain coworkers with the intent of completing tasks — such as their IT head in their office that they walk by every morning on the way to grabbing coffee.

The company says it’s also working on what it’s calling the Block Kit, which integrates those tasks and other elements directly into the Slack chat flow in a way that looks a little more user friendly from a kind of visual sense. The idea here is, again, to create an intuitive flow for people that goes beyond just a simple chat app, but also offers some additional way of interactivity that turns Slack into a more sensible feed rather than just a window with people talking to each other. Actions are available from Jira, Bitbucket, Asana, Zendesk, HubSpot, and several others.

Actions is a tool that Slack is unveiling at its own developer conference, Spec, this morning. That in of itself is yet another example of Slack looking to graduate beyond just a simpler information feed that works well with smaller companies. Developers are often the ones that figure out the best niche use cases for any platform, as it means Slack can focus on trying to figure out how all these integrations fit into its design ethos. The company has to figure out how to convince larger companies that they need a tool like this and it won’t get out of hand, and also ensure that smaller companies don’t graduate into something a little more flexible that can serve those niche cases as they get larger.

To be sure, Slack is growing. The company said it hit 8 million daily active users with 3 million paid users earlier this month. That’s helped it quickly jump to a $5.1 billion valuation (as of its most recent funding round), and the company has been carefully rolling out tools that might make communication within larger companies a little easier — including the long-awaited launch of threads a little more than a year ago.

But Slack also faces increasing competition as time goes on, not only from the traditional companies looking to build more robust but simpler tools, but also from companies that have spent a lot of time working on collaboration tools and are now exploring communication. Atlassian’s opened up its communications platform Stride to developers in February this year. Microsoft, too continues to update its Teams product. Slack was able to expose pent-up demand for this kind of an approach, but it also has to defend that approach — and making it a little more flexible without feature-creeping is going to be its biggest challenge going forward.

Categories: Business News

Real Vision, a media platform for finance and business, raises $10 million

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 1:23am

Real Vision is entering the crowded business and financial new space with a bang. The company, which recently raised a $10 million Series B after a $5 million A round, is working on a number of new initiatives including distribution on Apple TV, a content distribution partnership with Thomson Reuters and an upcoming documentary on PBS.

The documentary, “A World on the Brink,” will focus on threats to the global economy. The team is aiming at viewers ages 36-45 instead of the older Boomers who prefer cable financial news far.

“Unlike most video-based media businesses where short-form video is deemed to have the highest user engagement, Real Vision have found that almost 70% of their customers who start a half, or an hour-long, video will watch all of it. This engagement in long-form content is breaking boundaries within the industry,” said co-founder and CEO Raoul Pal. “Sensationalism and clickbait is at an all-time high. Traditional financial news has continued to degenerate into attention-seeking sound bites that are at best of little value and at worst, downright dangerous.”

Pal worked at Goldman Sachs before moving into media.

“I lamented on the state of financial media – how it had let the ordinary person down repeatedly in 2000 and 2008 and was busy treating finance as entertainment and not taking into account that this was people’s life savings they were dealing with. I also noted how far financial programming had become versus the fast-changing world of on line video. Viewing habits and content types were changing but the financial TV incumbents hadn’t changed,” he said “I decided that it was time for someone to disrupt the way in which television worked – particularly with regard to financial and business information.”

The team will use the cash to create programming aimed at “those who want to create new business opportunities and startups, manage new enterprises and leverage new technology.” The videos can run as long as 90 minutes but usually hit the five to thirty-minute mark. They are also distributing their content to Thomson Reuters . It uses a subscription-based model and costs $180 annually.

The team met at a bar in Jesus Pobre, Spain. Pal and his co-founder Damian Horner found each other during their travels and had drinks at a place called Rosita’s where Horner, a former ad exec, learned of Pal’s experience in finance and they both mapped out a new type of online news channel with some real energy. Thus was born a model that mixes on-demand with high-impact news, something that few cable stations can manage.

“Almost all traditional media outlets rely on an ever-dwindling advertising revenue model. Real Vision is subscription-based and built that way from the ground up,” said Pal. “Most media business are still trying to figure out a subscription model to diversify away from advertising. In a highly competitive digital world, the pressure ‘to get clicks’ has a massive impact on the tone, direction and quality of the editorial content itself. Real Vision’s subscriber model means there is no need to sensationalize, no dumbing down of ideas, no incessant ‘breaking news’ headlines, no clickbait soundbites and no cutting things short for commercial breaks.”

Categories: Business News

Po.et launches lab for developers to build apps on publishing blockchain

Startup News - 2018, May 23 - 1:15am

Po.et is an open source, not-for-profit publishing network built on the blockchain with the broad ambition of changing how we distribute, license and monetize content on the internet. Today, it announced it was opening the Po.et Development Labs, a place for developers to experiment with new ideas on the po.et platform.

It also announced the first company to launch an app out of the lab called Inkrypt. It’s an application designed to provide a way to publish content in a distributed fashion, meaning the article doesn’t live on any particular server. That makes it nearly impossible for sensors to block it.

“The first project to build on Po.et is Inkrypt, a global decentralized system providing a censorship-resistant solution for journalism hosting and delivery that will render journalism content permanent and immutable,” Po.et CEO Jarrod Dicker wrote in a blog post announcing the launch of Po.et Development Labs.

Dicker, who formerly ran the innovation team at the Washington Post, says the company wants developers to see po.et in a similar manner to Ethereum, a place where they can build applications making use of the underlying blockchain technology.

“Think of what Ethereum did for the spawn of new applications on the blockchain. We want to do the same for media applications on the blockchain by allowing them to leverage the protocol to build and push the media industry in the right direction,” Dicker told TechCrunch.

Po.et Development Labs offers a mechanism for developers to work with the po.et blockchain protocol. “With Po.et Development Labs, we’re introducing an innovation marketplace for all creators to build products on the blockchain. Companies can leverage Po.et and build vertically to introduce new innovations or solve problems in the space on top of that foundation,” Dicker explained.

Dicker says Inkrypt is just a starting point. “Inkrypt is an example and many more will come, especially as we invest and push more features that others can leverage and build [upon].”

Dicker points out that po.et is not just a platform for developers though. It’s also for media companies to define how they want to share and license their content, giving them a platform outside of advertising to monetize it. “Where it gets real interesting is that media companies can start taking advantage of it as well,” he said.

If you think about Creative Commons licensing, it provides a way for publishers to decide how they want to share their content, but it doesn’t give the content producers any way to enforce that license beyond the good will of users. Po.et takes that licensing concept one step further, giving content owners a marketplace to sell their content on the blockchain, creating an enforceable and immutable way to license the content.

Categories: Business News

Instagram now lets you mute accounts

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 11:35pm

Instagram today introduced a way to mute accounts, giving users a way to continue following accounts without seeing their posts all the time.

Muted accounts will not be made aware that they’ve been muted, and users can unmute accounts at any time. Users can still see posts on the muted account’s profile page and get notified about comments or posts they’re tagged in.

Users can mute accounts by tapping the “…” in the corner of the post and choosing between muting posts, stories, or posts and stories.

First and foremost, this continues Instagram’s effort to block bullying and harassment on the social network. While users have had the ability to block accounts for a long time, muting is a next step in blocking out someone without any of the consequences that might come from blocking them.

This could also come in handy for folks going through a break-up or some other social split, as they don’t necessarily want to see every single post from their ex but don’t want to be seen unfollowing them either.

Of course, the broader demographic will simply have more control over Instagram’s algorithmic feed, which prioritizes accounts and posts it thinks you will like (read: promotes engagement at all costs).

The algorithmic feed has added a layer of complexity to Instagram, making users think more cautiously about the way they throw around likes. Posts, and accounts, that you like may very well get top billing in your feed because of it, even if you only liked the post to show friends some love.

Muting gives users a bit more control over what they see regardless of what they’ve liked or what Instagram’s algorithm deems relevant.

Categories: Business News

Researchers recreate a brain, piece by piece

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 11:31pm

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have created a method for growing and connecting single neurons using geometric patterns to route the neurons more precisely, cell by cell.

The article, “Assembly and Connection of Micropatterned Single Neurons for Neuronal Network Formation,” appeared in Micromachines, a journal of molecular machinery.

Thus far researchers have created simple brain matter using “in vitro cultures,” a process that grows neurons haphazardly in a clump. The connections associated with these cultures are random, thereby making the brain tissue difficult to study.

“In vitro culture models are essential tools because they approximate relatively simple neuron networks and are experimentally controllable,” said study author Shotaro Yoshida. “These models have been instrumental to the field for decades. The problem is that they’re very difficult to control, since the neurons tend to make random connections with each other. If we can find methods to synthesize neuron networks in a more controlled fashion, it would likely spur major advances in our understanding of the brain.”

Yoshida and the team looked more closely at how neurons behave and found that they could be trained to connect using microscopic plates made of “synthetic neuron-adhesive material.” They look like little frying pans with extra handles and “when placed onto the microplate, a neuron’s cell body settles onto the circle, while the axon and dendrites – the branches that let neurons communicate with each other – grow lengthwise along the rectangles.”

The researchers then connected the neurons, testing if they would fire simultaneously as predicted.

“What was especially important in this system was to have control over how the neurons connected,” Yoshida said. “We designed the microplates to be movable, so that by pushing them around, we could physically move two neurons right next to each other. Once we placed them together, we could then test whether the neurons were able to transmit a signal.”

It worked.

“This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first time a mobile microplate has been used to morphologically influence neurons and form functional connections,” said investigator Shoji Takeuchi. “We believe the technique will eventually allow us to design simple neuron network models with single-cell resolution. It’s an exciting prospect, as it opens many new avenues of research that aren’t possible with our current suite of experimental tools.”

Unfortunately, this is just the first step for this technology, especially considering the millions of neurons necessary to eat, breathe, and sleep (and use the internet). It is, however, a good start.

Categories: Business News

Quit Genius, helping smokers quit, picks up an extra $1.1 million in seed

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 11:00pm

Quit Genius, the YC-backed app that helps users quit smoking, has today announced the close of an additional $1.1 million, bringing their seed round to a cool $2 million. Village Global VC, Pioneer Fund, Arab Angel VC, Max Mullen of Instacart, Olivia Teich of Dropbox, Paul Rosania of Slack, Ariel Polar of Strava, Eric Reis, David Langley of Zesty, Juha Paananen of NonStop Games, and Junaid Bajwa of Merck & Co participated in the round, among others.

Quit Genius was built by doctors — Yusuf Sherwani (co-founder and CEO), Maroof Ahmed (co-founder and COO), and Sarim Siddiqui (co-founder and head of product) — who met on the first day of medical school. They saw the terrible effects of smoking on patients’ health but didn’t see doctors giving those patients a clear path to quit smoking.

So the team started building out Quit Genius, which uses cognitive behavioral therapy to change a user’s behavior.

“CBT breaks down situations into three areas: your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviors,” Ahmed told TechCrunch in February. “What you think and feel can affect how you behave. CBT focuses on replacing any negative thoughts and feelings you may have that trigger you to smoke, with healthier and more positive thoughts that will help you to quit smoking.”

Quit Genius uses CBT to take smokers through stages of quitting, using a number of different types of content, from audio sessions to animated videos to interactive exercises to help people think differently about destructive addictions.

Since launch, the company has introduced new ‘packs’ for other addictive behaviors such as drinking alcohol. Packs aren’t quite as comprehensive as the Quit Genius program around quitting smoking, but they do offer troves of additional content around other addictions.

The company already has packs for alcohol, stress, motivation, and health, giving users extra content around the issue they’re dealing with most. Alcohol felt natural, according to Ahmed, because alcohol is such a trigger for many smokers, and one of the issues they dealt with most in their quest to quit.

Soon, Quit Genius has plans to launch packs around pregnancy (for women who are smoking when they become pregnant and want to quit), weight management, social pressure to smoke, and self esteem.

Since launch Quit Genius has grown to 300,000 registered users, with over 20,000 people officially smoke-free in the app (which Quit Genius defines as having not smoked for over 28 days). The company’s internal goal is to get to 100,000 smoke-free users by the end of the year, and will track their progress publicly on the website.

While consumers are the primary focus of the company, there is also a growing opportunity for Quit Genius to start working with big-name employers around well-being and health. Healthy employees save the company money and are more productive, and Quit Genius thinks it can not only help employees get healthier but give employers a way to track that progress. In fact, Quit Genius has already signed on a tech giant as a customer, but wouldn’t disclose which one.

Given that the company was founded by doctors, it comes as no surprise that the Quit Genius team is participating in scientific research papers around their process. One paper, published by JMIR mHealth, found that Quit Genius outperformed the NHS Smoke-free app. An upcoming paper, which will be published in the next few weeks, found that Quit Genius yielded a 36 percent quit rate among participants, with a 59.6 percent reduction in cigarettes among participants.

Categories: Business News

Amuse scores $15.5M for its free music distribution service and ‘next gen’ record label

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 11:00pm

Amuse, the Swedish startup that offers a free distribution service for artists wanting to get their music on Spotify, Apple Music et al., coupled with what it’s calling a “next generation” record label, has raised $15.5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by Lakestar, and Raine Ventures, and will be used to expand the company operations globally, including building out a bigger presence in the U.S.

Founded in Stockholm in 2015 by a team of music industry experts including Diego Farias, Christian Wilsson, Jimmy Brodd, Andreas Ahlenius, and Guy Parry — and later joined by music artist and entrepreneur will.i.am — Amuse is aiming to create a new way for musicians to distribute their music globally and, crucially, to be discovered.

As co-founder and CEO Farias explained in a call, it does this via a free music distribution service that makes it easy and cost-free for new and unsigned artists to get their music into all of the major music services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Deezer etc., and in a way that means they keep 100 percent of the royalties. Similar services typically either charge an annual fee or take a cut of any revenue generated or both.

Amuse also provides a dashboard displaying and helping to make sense of data relating to how well your tracks are performing on the streaming apps and download stores you have chosen to distribute on. And its this data — or, rather, the value of it — that underpins the startups unique business model: come for the free distribution, stay for the record deal.

Namely, Amuse uses the data that it has access to via users of its music distribution service to analyze music consumption and listening habits to identify “rising talent”. The company then offers to sign the most promising artists to its own re-imagined record label through a licensing deal whereby they still own their work, rather than a traditional recoding contract. This consists of a 50/50 split of streaming and download revenue and means artists have access to what Amuse claims is large-scale promotion.

Throughout our conversation Farias was very keen to stress that he sees this as a partnership of equals, where the interests of scaling up the success and reach of an artist signed by Amuse are equally aligned. The type of value-add that the Amuse team will bring will vary depending on artist and what they need most, but will include things like public relations, marketing, branding, and having a more direct line to the online distributors it partners with. Farias didn’t rule out more traditional A&R services either, such as help with recording or preparing an artist for follow-up releases.

Meanwhile, I’m told Amuse’s board of directors includes Edgar Berger, former Chairman and CEO of Sony Music International, and Jörg Mohaupt, former Warner Music Group board member. Gordon Rubenstein, Managing Partner, Raine Ventures, is also joining as a board observer.

Dharmash Mistry, General Partner at Lakestar, says that the Amuse team have “reimagined every step of the A&R process from inverting the commercial model to be artist-friendly and discovering new musicians to changing how individual songs are marketed”. He is also talking up Amuse’s early success in Sweden — I understand the startup has already signed licensing deals with 40 or more artists — and says the investment will help the company roll out the model across the U.S. and Europe. To that end, Farias tells me Amuse is opening an office in L.A.

Categories: Business News

Openpath raises $7M to help you access your office with your phone

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 10:30pm

If you’ve ever worked in an office building, chances are somebody issued you a keycard or NFC-enabled badge to open the doors to the building. Those cards and badges do their job, but they can be both cumbersome and prone to problems. Openpath wants to do away with all of these issues and add a new level of convenience to this whole process by replacing these access cards with the phone you already have.

Until today, Openpath, which currently has about 20 employees, remained in stealth mode since it was founded by Edgecast co-founders Alex Kazerani (CEO) and James Segil (President), together with a number of other former Edgecast execs. The founders are putting their own money into this startup and are leading a $7 million seed round. A number of institutional investors also participated in this round, though, including Upfront Ventures, Sorenson Ventures, Bonfire Ventures, Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Fika Ventures.

Over the course of the last few years, the team developed — and patented — both the hardware and software for allowing employees to securely open doors and for security teams to manage their access. Instead of NFC, the company’s so-called SurePath Mobile technology uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE to authenticate the user. The system integrates directly with G Suite and Office 365 so that users and IT teams don’t have to create multiple user accounts to give employees access to their spaces.

Segil argues that employees have come to expect a certain level of convenience in the workplace and while our homes are getting smarter, most offices aren’t. During our conversation ahead of today’s announcement, Kazerani also stressed that the company’s platform had to be enterprise-grade and ready to be used thousands of times a day.

The Openpath team developed its own reader hardware, which businesses have to install at their doors. The hardware uses the same wiring as existing services, though, making it easy to replace a legacy system with this new solution.

 

Categories: Business News

Yubico launches an SDK that lets iOS devs add support for its NFC keys

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 9:00pm

Yubico, the company behind the increasingly popular YubiKey security keys, today announced the launch of a new SDK for iOS developers that allows them to add support for two-factor authentication over NFC with the company’s YubiKey NEO keys. With this, the company now offers solutions for all the major platforms. The first company to support this new feature, by the way, is LastPass, which already supported the Yubico one-time passwords over NFC on Android.

While it was already possible to build an integration with the YubiKey NEO once iOS 11 launched, the new SDK will make it significantly easier for more developers to support these keys over NFC.

“It’s absolutely critical to have a hardware-based root of trust, like the YubiKey, to establish an approved relationship between a mobile phone and the apps we use,” said Stina Ehrensvard, Yubico’s CEO and founder, in today’s announcement. “Mobile authentication methods, like SMS or push apps, cannot be considered as trusted second factors to authenticate in a mobile app setting.”

The company argues that NFC authentication is about four times faster than getting traditional one-time passwords. Developers can use the NEO keys for giving users access to an application, as well as for step-up security to initiate actions like money transfers or password resets.

Users simply have to touch the phone with their key (assuming they have an iPhone 7 or newer and run iOS 11) and they should be good to go.

“Integrating the Yubico SDK into the LastPass iOS app was a quick and painless process, mostly because the NFC API matched almost 1:1 with the Yubico SDK API,” said Akos Putz, Principal Product Manager for LastPass in the announcement. “We’re excited to offer this new authentication method for our iOS users right out of the gate, giving them another option for adding an extra layer of security to their LastPass vault.”

Categories: Business News

This UK startup thinks it can win the self-driving car race with better machine learning

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 8:25pm

A new U.K. self-driving car startup founded by Amar Shah and Alex Kendall, two machine learning PhDs from University of Cambridge, is de-cloaking today. Wayve — backed by New York-based Compound, Europe’s Fly Ventures, and Brent Hoberman’s Firstminute Capital — is building what it describes as “end-to-end machine learning algorithms” to make autonomous vehicles a reality, an approach it claims is different to much of the conventional thinking on self-driving cars.

Specifically, as Wayve CEO Shah explained in a call last week, the young company believes that the key to making an autonomous vehicle that is truly just that (i.e. able to drive safely in any environment it is asked to), is a much greater emphasis on the self-learning capability of its software. In other words, self-driving cars is an AI problem first and foremost, and one that he and co-founder Kendall argue requires a very specific machine-learning development skill set.

“Wayve is building intelligent software to decide how to control a vehicle on all public roads,” he tells me. “Rather than hand-engineering our solution with heavily rule-based systems, we aim to build data-driven machine learning at every layer of our system, which would learn from experience and not simply be given if-else statements. Our learning-based system will be safer in unfamiliar situations than a rule-based system which would behave unpredictably in a situation it has not seen before”.

To explain his thinking in laymen’s terms, Shah points to the way a human who is relatively proficient in driving in one city can quickly adapt to the differences in a completely new city, without having to be given extra training or instruction beforehand. It may take around 30 minutes or even a few hours to become fully climatized to new driving conditions or environment, but humans don’t need very much new data to do so.

“Humans have a fascinating ability to perform complex tasks in the real world, because our brains allow us to learn quickly and transfer knowledge across our many experiences,” he says. “We want to give our vehicles better brains, not more hardware”.

The problem, thus far, the pair argue, is that companies like Google and Uber are throwing an engineering mindset at making vehicles autonomous, in the sense of designing rule-based systems that try to pre-empt and deal with every edge case, whilst in tandem adding more sensors and capturing more data. This might produce encouraging results in the specific, narrow setting it has been engineered for, but won’t have maximum payoff longer term.

“Right now, big tech companies have cars with many different sensors of a handful of different types. Their attitude is to have more and more sensors to do more and more difficult driving tasks,” says Shah. “If I ask you to do a difficult athletic obstacle course, something like Ninja warrior, having more eyes isn’t really going to help you much. What you need is better coordination – it’s the mind-muscle connection that’s the limiting factor. In driving, it’s really the way you use your sensory information that’s key (the AI-wheel connection in the car), not the number of cameras and radars and LIDARs”.

But if a more sophisticated machine-learning approach is the correct one, surely Google (which has several AI efforts under its parent company, including being the owner of DeepMind), would already be going down that avenue, too?

“The big teams are distracted by getting something working because they have stakeholders who have been investing for a decade into autonomous driving. They are getting impatient,” the Wayve co-founder pushes back. “How will Alphabet tell their shareholders ‘we’ve invested X billion USD into Waymo and its predecessor with a team of 1,000s, but we are now throwing that approach all down the drain and hiring more AI people to solve driving’. It’s a hard sell having spent billions and when they are close to a simple product. Same reason politicians make bad long-term decisions… their output is only short-term”.

“Wayve has a very differentiated technical approach versus most other autonomous vehicle startups,” echoes Fly Ventures’ Gabriel Matuschka. “It’s a 10x improvement over the rules-based approach taken from legacy robotics to hard-code the driving actions that the vehicle takes once it understands what it sees. Wayve uses end-to-end machine learning to drive cars autonomously, with little data, in novel environments. This means that their software enables a car to drive itself using only understanding of what it can see, just like humans do”.

To that end, the ten-person Wayve is said to be made up of experts in robotics, computer vision and artificial intelligence from both Cambridge and Oxford universities, who have previously worked at the likes of NASA, Google, Facebook, Skydio and Microsoft. Their work ranges from using deep learning for visual scene understanding to autonomous decision-making in uncertain environments. Noteworthy also is that Professor Zoubin Ghahramani, Chief Scientist of Uber, is an investor in Wayve.

“There are very few teams out there with the academic background and technical capabilities to at all have a credible shot at this. Wayve is one of them,” adds Matuschka. “Some people in the industry question if Wayve’s novel approach will work. You only stand a chance to compete against Google, Uber, et al. if you try, and are able to do something that the large players haven’t done so far or don’t believe in yet. Then you can have a head start”.

Categories: Business News

Maze turns your InVision prototypes into flexible testing tools

Startup News - 2018, May 22 - 6:19pm

Meet Maze, a startup building a user interface testing tool for your app prototypes. Maze is a simple web-based service that lets you turn InVision and Marvel files into UX tests.

While most designers work with InVision and Marvel, it’s hard to turn those designs into a quantitative test. Maze isn’t a video recording tool and doesn’t require you to watch video footage.

It isn’t a new prototyping tool either as the startup wants you to keep using InVision and Marvel. Maze can record a user path from a web browser on desktop or mobile without having to install anything.

After setting up your test, you can share a link with a bunch of users. When you open this link, you get clear instructions telling you what you’re supposed to do (“find the nearest Lebanese restaurant” or “add John as friend” for instance). After each test, Maze automatically shows you the next one so you can keep going.

Developers then get a dashboard with a clear overview of the different tests. You can see the success rate, the time it takes to do something and the screen areas that get a lot of taps. You can also look at individual tests.

You can use Maze for simple A/B tests by sending two different designs to different groups and comparing the results.

Thousands of designers have tried the service so far, including people working for Amazon, Airbnb, Uber and Shopify.

The company has raised a $470,000 pre-seed round with Partech and Seedcamp (£350,000). Maze uses a software-as-a-service approach with a limited free plan and multiple paid subscriptions.

I played with the product for a few minutes and it’s a polished experience. You wouldn’t expect that from such a young startup. While I’m not a designer, I think many designers are probably going to use it regularly.

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Categories: Business News

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