posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
The esports world is evolving quickly and so are the professional organizations that drive it. FaZe Clan is among the world’s most popular. At TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 we talked to FaZe Clan CEO Lee Trink, investor Troy Carter, and Nick Kolcheff, better known as NICKMERCS, about the shifting industry landscape. Carter first explained the motivation behind his interest in investing in FaZe Clan. “My diligence in this process was different from the diligence that I usually do in companies because I went and asked my son, who was 14 at the time, what do you think about me investing in FaZe, and he lit up. He lit up,” Carter told moderator and TechCrunch Managing Editor Jordan Crook. As a veteran streamer, Kolcheff also shed some light on his work ethic and how he keeps producing. “I’ve been a streamer for 10 years now, so it’s it’s getting to the point now where it’s like… I’ll go to bed some days after a long stream Kolcheff said. “So it’s just my mind is so wired, I’m so in it 24/7 that I think that it just becomes your routine and your life and that’s what it is for me.” Kolcheff touched on the responsibilities of streamers to act responsibly and the challenges that can emerge for younger streamers to deal with seeing their influence expand so rapidly. “A lot of these kids blow up fast on the internet and go from having like four or five viewers to hundreds or thousands and then they have to be more careful — like you can’t say all these crazy things.” NICKMERCS boasts a substantial following across the platform with 4.3 million Twitch followers and more than 2.8 million YouTube subscribers. He talked about how he balances maintaining his following while also competing professionally. “I think one of the best things about being on FaZe for me is that I’m already so busy on a day to day with everything I’ve got going on with the stream and YouTube and all of that stuff,” Kolcheff told TechCrunch. “You know, a lot of other orgs have been out there always trying to draw you away from some of those things and put a lot more on your plate, and that’s okay, but like for me, I already have enough on my plate as is. So I need people who are going to support the things that I’m doing.” Trink addressed the recent settlement with eSports Turner “Tfue” Tenny after a 15-month legal dispute over his contract and sponsorship deals and discussed how the group was hoping to keep its athletes happy with their contracts. “We’re continuing to reexamine contracts as we go because this industry is moving at such a pace that it requires that so we do an audit on on what what our contracts have in them and what are the rights, what are the obligations, and we do that review a couple of times a year and have the opportunity as contracts are expiring, we’re doing new ones and there’s another opportunity to say do we have it right?” Trink said. Trink says the industry is progressing so quickly and that it isn’t always easy to “get things perfect.” “My philosophy around FaZe Clan and the industry is different than it was a year ago, it’s different than it was even six months ago,” Trink says. “You know, we’re really living in like dog years here. I’ve been CEO for just about two years, it feels like a decade to me.” Watch the interview in full below:

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posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
“Wireless” is probably the best showcase so far for Quibi’s Turnstyle technology. That’s the technology that allows the streaming video app to switch seamlessly between landscape and portrait mode depending on the orientation of your phone. With other Quibi shows, you’re essentially getting two views of the same footage — but with “Wireless” (which is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh), you’re switching between traditional cinematic footage (in landscape) and a view of the protagonist’s phone (in portrait). In this bonus episode of the Original Content podcast, director Zach Wechter told me that he and his co-writer Jack Seidman wrote the initial script — about a college student played by Tye Sheridan who gets trapped in the snow after a car crash, with only his iPhone to save him — before they decided on the phone-centric format. But when they heard about Turnstyle, “It just felt like a match made in heaven that would allow us to facilitate this idea.” I wondered whether that required going back and adding a bunch of phone interactions to the story, but said Wechter said, “It was quite the opposite. One thing we found in testing was when the phone plot moved really fast, it would be hard, because there are these two perspectives happening at once.” So that actually meant “reducing some fo the intriacy of the plot happening on the phone” to ensure that viewers didn’t get lost. And if you’re wondering which mode to focus on as you watch, Wechter has some simple advice: “Go with your gut.” He said he had a “roadmap” for when he was hoping to nudge viewers to turn their phones — like when there’s a notification sound or Sheridan focuses on his phone — “but I think the most important part of the experience is that we’re not indicating when our viewers turn, that it becomes this sort of passive-but-active viewing experience.” Wechter described making the show — essentially a feature length film divided into episodes of 10 minutes or less — as shooting “two films that had to dance together” in just 19 days. And he made things even more challenging by insisting that all the phone/FaceTime calls and even the text messages be filmed live, rather than just recording both ends separately. “When I think about directing and my job, really the most fundamental part of it to me is making the actorss comfortable, and I think that having a scene partner is paramount,” he said. “It was a long conversation about why we couldn’t just have them act off of a recording and shoot it separately — because it took a lot of logistical effort and resources to do it — but it really makes the scenes feel very alive and realistic.” You can listen to the full interview in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
A few days ago, the U.S. Commerce Department published a series of rules that aimed to block the downloading of TikTok and WeChat by American users, following an executive order signed by President Trump back in August. TikTok got a last minute reprieve yesterday following its signing of an investment and cloud services deal with Oracle and Walmart, which delayed the implementation of its download ban at least for a week. However, WeChat was effectively going to be shut down today, with a ban on downloads and a ban on any services that powered the service. President Trump reportedly has approved the Oracle deal for TikTok’s US operations Now, there is a new wrinkle in the battle over the future of the social app, which is widely used in Chinese-speaking communities and is owned by China-based Tencent. A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban, following a lawsuit of WeChat users arguing that the ban undermined the free speech rights of American citizens. That court case, U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump, will be allowed to proceed. In her short opinion published yesterday, United States magistrate judge Laurel Beeler, argued that the government’s case showed weaknesses on First Amendment grounds, its authority to act within existing legislation to allow the government to control industry, and its overall vagueness compared to the damage a ban would likely have on the Chinese-speaking community in the United States. From her opinion: Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national- security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns. And, as the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security. Given the likelihood of a lawsuit proceeding and the immediate damage a ban would have if implemented, the judge initiated a nationwide injunction against implementation of the Commerce Department’s order to ban the app. Commerce will have a chance to respond to this development, and whether it chooses to edit its order, pursue other avenues through the courts, or just rescind the order entirely, we will see in the coming days.

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posted about 8 hours ago on techcrunch
It used to be “easy” to tell the American and Chinese economies apart. One was innovative, one made clones. One was a free market while the other demanded payments to a political party and its leadership, a corrupt wealth generating scam that by some estimates has netted top leaders billions of dollars. One kept the talent borders porous acting as a magnet for the world’s top brains while the other interviewed you in a backroom at the airport before imprisoning you on sedition charges (okay, that might have been both). The comparison was always facile yes, but it was easy and at least directionally accurate if failing on the specifics. Now though, the country that exported exploding batteries is pioneering quantum computing, while the country that pioneered the internet now builds planes that fall out of the sky (and good news, we’ve identified even more planes that might fall out of the sky at an airport near you!) TikTok’s success is many things, but it is quite frankly just an embarrassment for the United States. There are thousands of entrepreneurs and hundreds of venture capitalists swarming Silicon Valley and the other American innovation hubs looking for the next great social app or building it themselves. But the power law of user growth and investor returns happens to reside in Haidian, Beijing. ByteDance through its local apps in China and overseas apps like TikTok is the consumer investor return of the past decade (there’s a reason why all the IPOs this seasons are enterprise SaaS). It’s a win that you can’t chalk up just to industrial policy. Unlike in semiconductors or other capital-intensive industries where Beijing can offer billions in incentives to spur development, ByteDance builds apps. It distributes them on app stores across the world. It has exactly the same tools available to it that every entrepreneur with an Apple Developer account has access to. There is no Made in China 2025 plan to build and popularize a consumer app like TikTok (you literally can’t plan for consumer success like that). Instead, it’s a well-executed product that’s addictive to hundreds of millions of people. So much as China protected its industry from overseas competitors like Google and Amazon through market-entry barriers, America is now protecting its entrenched incumbents from overseas competitors like TikTok. We’re demanding joint ventures and local cloud data sovereignty just as the Communist Party has demanded for years. Hell, we’re apparently demanding a $5 billion tax payment from ByteDance, which the president says will fund patriotic education for youth. The president says a lot of things of course, but at least the $5 billion price point has been confirmed by Oracle in its press release over night (what the tax revenue will actually be used for is anyone’s guess). If you followed the recent Hong Kong protests for a long time, you will remember that patriotic youth education was some of the original tinder for those demonstrations back in 2012. What comes around, goes around, I guess. Development economists like to talk about “catch-up” strategies, tactics that countries can take to avoid the middle income trap and cut the gap between the West and the rest. But what we need now are developed economists to explain America’s “fall behind” strategy. Because we are falling behind, in pretty much everything. As the TikTok process and the earlier Huawei imbroglio show, America is no longer on the leading edge of technology in many key strategic markets. Mainland Chinese companies are globally winning in areas as diverse as 5G and social networks, and without direct government intervention to kill that innovation, American and European tech purveyors would have lost those markets entirely (and even with those interventions, they may still lose them). In Taiwan, TSMC has come from behind Intel to take a year or two lead in the fabrication of the most advanced semiconductors. I mean, we can’t even pilfer Chinese history and mythology and turn it into a decent god damn film these days. And the fall-behind strategy continues. Immigration restrictions from an administration hell-bent on destroying the single greatest source of American innovation, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, have fused into the largest single drop in international student migration in American history. Why does that matter? In the U.S. according to relatively recent data, 81% of electrical engineering grad students are international, 79% in computer science are, and in most engineering and technical fields, the number hovers above a majority. It’s great to believe the fantasy that if only these international grad students would stay home, then “real” Americans would somehow take these slots. But what’s true of the strawberry pickers and food service workers is also true for EE grad students: proverbial “Americans” don’t want these jobs. They are hard jobs, thankless jobs, and require a ridiculous tenacity that American workers and students by and large don’t have. These industries have huge contingents of foreign workers precisely because no one domestic wants to take these roles. So goes the talent, so goes the innovation. Without this wellspring of brainpower lodging itself in America’s top innovation hubs, where exactly do we think it will go? That former aspiring Stanford or MIT computer scientist with ideas in his or her brain isn’t just going to sit by the window gazing at the horizon waiting for the moment when they can enter the gilded halls of the U.S. of A. It’s the internet era, and they are just going to get started on their dreams wherever they are, using whatever tools and resources they have available to them. All you have to do is look at the recent YC batches and realize that the future cohorts of great startups are going to increasingly come from outside the continental 48. Dozens of smart, brilliant entrepreneurs aren’t even trying to migrate, instead rightfully seeing their home markets as more open to innovation and technological progress than the vaunted superpower. The frontier is closed here, and it has moved elsewhere. So what are we left with here in the U.S. and increasingly Europe? A narrow-minded policy of blocking external tech innovation to ensure that our sclerotic and entrenched incumbents don’t have to compete with the best in the world. If that isn’t a recipe for economic disaster, I don’t know what is. But hey: at least the youth will be patriotic.

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posted about 20 hours ago on techcrunch
Well… that was pointless. After debasing the idea of free commerce in the U.S in the name of a misplaced security concern, stringing along several multi-billion dollar companies that embarrassed themselves in the interest of naked greed, and demanding that the U.S. government get a cut of the profits, the TikTok saga we’ve been watching the past few weeks finally appears to be over. A flurry of announcement late Saturday night indicate that the TikTok deal was actually a politically-oriented shakedown to boost the cloud infrastructure business of key supporters of the President of the United States. Oracle, whose cloud infrastructure services run a laughable fourth to AWS, Alphabet*, and Microsoft, will be taking a 20 percent stake in TikTok alongside partner Walmart in what will be an investment round before TikTok Global (as the new entity will be called) goes public on an American stock exchange. According to a statement from TikTok, Oracle will become TikTok’s “trusted technology partner” and will be responsible for hosting all U.S. user data and securing associated computer systems to ensure U.S. national security requirements are fully satisfied. “We are currently working with Walmart on a commercial partnership as well,” according to the statement from TikTok. pic.twitter.com/jWxjnAIwZQ — TikTok_Comms (@tiktok_comms) September 19, 2020 Meanwhile, Oracle indicated that all the concerns from the White House, U.S. Treasury, and Congress over TikTok had nothing to do with the service’s selection of Oracle as its cloud provider. In its statement, Oracle said that “This technical decision by TikTok was heavily influenced by Zoom’s recent success in moving a large portion of its video conferencing capacity to the Oracle Public Cloud.” The deal benefits everyone except U.S. consumers and people who have actual security concerns about TikTok’s algorithms and the ways they can be used to influence opinion in the U.S. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance gets to maintain ownership of the U.S. entity, Oracle gets a huge new cloud customer to boost its ailing business, Walmart gets access to teens to sell stuff, and U.S. customer data is no safer (it’s just now in the hands of U.S. predators instead of foreign ones). To be clear, data privacy and security is a major concern, but it’s not one that’s a concern when it comes to TikTok necessarily (and besides, the Chinese government has likely already acquired whatever data they want to on U.S. customers). For many observers, the real concern with TikTok was that the company’s Chinese owners may be pressured by Beijing to manipulate its algorithm to promote or suppress content. Companies in China — including its internet giants — are required to follow the country’s intelligence and cloud security law mandating complete adherence with all government orders for data. The Commerce Department in its statement said that “In light of recent positive developments, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, at the direction of President Trump, will delay the prohibition of identified transactions pursuant to Executive Order 13942, related to the TikTok mobile application that would have been effective on Sunday, September 20, 2020, until September 27, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.” So that’s a week reprieve. So all this sound and fury … for what? The best investment return in all of these shenanigans is almost certainly Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz’ investment into Trump, who in addition to being a heavy donor to the Trump administration, also joined the presidential transition committee back in 2016. Thank god the U.S. saved TikTok from the crony capitalism of China. Let’s just hope they enjoy the crony capitalism of Washington DC. *An earlier version of this article referred to AWS, Amazon and Microsoft. AWS and Amazon are the same company. I was typing fast. I’ve corrected the error.

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posted about 22 hours ago on techcrunch
President Donald Trump said has has given his stamp of approval “in concept” on the Oracle bid for the U.S. operations of the wildly popular social media app, TikTok, according to a report from Bloomberg. According to the Bloomberg report Trump said, “I have given the deal my blessing,” as he left the White House for a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday. “I approved the deal in concept,” Trump reportedly said. The spinout of TikTok’s U.S. operations from its parent company Bytedance was something that Trump administration had demanded on the grounds that the company’s data handling policies and popularity in the U.S. posed a national security threat. The President’s push to sever the applications ties to China also followed TikTok users’ alleged prank that turned what was supposed to be a triumphal rally for the President in Oklahoma City into a Presidential campaign embarrassment that cost the job of Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale. That said, the U.S. has been looking to curtail the operations of several Chinese technology companies on the grounds that they pose security threats to the U.S. Indeed, the Presidential order that demanded TikTok’s spinout also called for the discontinuation of the U.S. operations of the messaging service WeChat, which is owned by Tencent — one of China’s largest technology companies. And the U.S. government has also put a target on the telecommunications and networking technology developer, Huawei. In the WeChat, TikTok US shutdown order, TikTok gets Nov. 12 stay, keeping it up through the US election and Oracle dealmaking With the TikTok deal set to be approved, a new company called TikTok Global will be created as part of the deal, according to statements from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earlier this week. Bloomberg reported that Trump said the new company would be headquartered in Texas, would hire as many as 25,000 people and would contribute $5 billion toward U.S. education. The bulk of TikTok’s U.S. operations are now in Los Angeles. As the Trump Administration continues its push to disrupt the operations of Chinese tech companies in the U.S., strange bedfellows are uniting to voice opposition to the deal. On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the head of Facebook’s Instagram subsidiary both came out with statements opposing the proposed transaction. Instagram CEO, ACLU slam TikTok and WeChat app bans for putting US freedoms into the balance “This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement on Friday. And the dragnet against Chinese influence through ownership of U.S. technology companies has reportedly widened to include many of the top U.S. gaming companies, which have been backed (or are wholly owned) by Tencent. Gaming companies are reportedly the next targets in the US government’s potentially broader Tencent purge All of this could be exceptionally bad for U.S. technology businesses, as Instgram’s chief, Adam Mosseri pointed out in a series of Friday tweets. “A US ban of TikTok would be meaningful step in the direction of a more fragmented nationalized internet, which would be bad for US tech companies which have benefited greatly from the ability to operate across borders,” Mosseri wrote.

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posted about 23 hours ago on techcrunch
Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit has issued a rare emergency alert to government departments after the recent disclosure of a “critical”-rated security vulnerability in server versions of Microsoft Windows. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, better known as CISA, issued an alert late on Friday requiring all federal departments and agencies to “immediately” patch any Windows servers vulnerable to the so-called Zerologon attack by Monday, citing an “unacceptable risk” to government networks. It’s the third emergency alert issued by CISA this year. The Zerologon vulnerability, rated the maximum 10.0 in severity, could allow an attacker to take control of any or all computers on a vulnerable network, including domain controllers, the servers that manage a network’s security. The bug was appropriately called “Zerologon,” because an attacker doesn’t need to steal or use any network passwords to gain access to the domain controllers, only gain a foothold on the network, such as by exploiting a vulnerable device connected to the network. With complete access to a network, an attacker could deploy malware, ransomware, or steal sensitive internal files. Security company Secura, which discovered the bug, said it takes “about three seconds in practice” to exploit the vulnerability. Microsoft pushed out an initial fix in August to prevent exploitation. But given the complexity of the bug, Microsoft said it would have to roll out a second patch early next year to eradicate the issue completely. But the race is on to patch systems after researchers reportedly released proof-of-concept code, potentially allowing attackers use the code to launch attacks. CISA said that Friday that it “assumes active exploitation of this vulnerability is occurring in the wild.” Although the CISA alert only applies to federal government networks, the agency said it “strongly” urges companies and consumers to patch their systems as soon as possible if not already. As ransomware gets craftier, companies must start thinking creatively

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading.  Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors. Was Snowflake’s IPO mispriced or just misunderstood? With an ocean of neat stuff to get through below, we’ll be quick today on our thought bubble focused on Snowflake’s IPO. Up front it was a huge success as a fundraising event for the data-focused unicorn. At issue is the mismatch between the company’s final IPO price of $120 and where it opened, which was around $245 per share. The usual forces were out on Twitter arguing that billions were left on the table, with commentary on the question of a mispriced IPO even reaching our friends at CNBC. A good question given the controversy is how the company itself felt about its IPO price given that it was the party that, theoretically, left a few billion on some metaphorical table. As it turns out, the CEO does not give a shit. Alex Konrad at Forbes — a good chap, follow him on Twitter here — caught up with Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman about the matter. He called the “chatter” that his company left money on the table “nonsense,” adding that he could have priced higher but that he “wanted to bring along the group of investors that [Snowflake] wanted, and [he] didn’t want to push them past the point where they really started to squeal.” So Slootman found a new, higher price at which to value his company during its debut. He got the investors he wanted. He got Berkshire and Salesforce in on the deal. And the company roared out of the gate. What an awful, terrible, no-good, mess of an IPO. Adding to the mix, I was chatting with a few SaaS VCs earlier this week, and they largely didn’t buy into the money-left-on-the-table argument, as presuming that a whole block of shares could be sold at the opening trade price is silly. Are IPOs perfect? Hell no. Are bankers out for their own good? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that Snowflake screwed up. Market Notes No time to waste at all, let’s get into it: Lots of IPOs this week, and everyone did well. Snowflake was explosive while JFrog was merely amazing. Sumo Logic and Unity had more modest debuts, but good results all the same. Notes from JFrog and Sumo execs in a moment. Disrupt was a big damn deal this week, with tech’s famous and its up and coming leaders showing up to chatter with TechCrunch about what’s going on today, and what’s going on tomorrow. You can catch up on the sessions here, which I recommend. But I wanted to take a moment and thank the TechCrunch sales, partnership, and events teams. They killed it and get 0.1% of the love that they deserve. Thank you. Why is Snowflake special? This tweet by GGV’s Jeff Richards has the story in one chart. What are the hottest categories for SaaS startups in 2020? We got you. There’s a new VC metric in town for startups to follow. Folks will recall the infamous T2D3 model, where startups should triple twice, and then double three times. That five-year plan got most companies to $100M in ARR. Now Shasta Ventures’ Issac Roth has a new model for contention, what he’s calling “C170R,” and according to a piece from his firm, he reckons it could be the “new post-COVID SaaS standard.” (We spoke with Roth about API-focused startups the other day.) So what is it? Per his own notes: “If a startup entering COVID season with $2-20M in revenue is on track for 170% of their 2019 revenue AND is aligned with the new normal of remote, they will be able to raise new capital on good terms and are set up for future venture success.” He goes to note that there’s less of a need to double or treble this year. Our thought bubble: If this catches on, a lot more SaaS startups would prove eligible for new rounds than we’d thought. And as Shasta is all-in on SaaS, perhaps this metric is a welcome mat of sorts. I wonder what portion of VCs agree with Shasta’s new model? And, closing, our dive into no-code and low-code startups continues. Various and Sundry Again, there’s so much to get to that there is no space to waste words. Onward: Chime raised an ocean of capital, which is notable for a few reasons. First, a new $14.5B valuation, which is up a zillion percent from their early 2019 round, and up around 3x from its late 2019 round. And it claims real EBITDA profitability. And with the company claiming it will be IPO ready in 12 months I am hype about the company. Because not every company that manages a big fintech valuation is in great shape. I got on the phone with the CEO and CFO of JFrog after their IPO this week to chat about the offering. The pair looked at every IPO that happened during COVID, they said, to try to get their company to a “fair price,” adding that from here out the market will decide what’s the right number. The CEO Shlomi Ben Haim also made a fun allusion to a tweet comparing JFrog’s opening valuation to the price that Microsoft paid for GitHub. I think that this is the tweet. JFrog’s pricing came on the back of it making money, i.e. real GAAP net income in its most recent quarter. According to JFrog’s CFO Jacob Shulman “investors were impressed with the numbers,” and were also impressed by its “efficient market model” that allowed it find “viral adoption inside the enterprise.” That last phrase sounds to us like efficient sales and marketing spend. Moving to Sumo Logic, which also went out this week (S-1 notes here). I caught up with the company’s CTO Christian Beedgen. Beedgen, I just want to say, is a delight to chat with. But more on topic, the company’s IPO went well and I wanted to dig into more of the nitty-gritty of the market that Sumo is seeing. After Beedgen walked me through how he views his company’s TAM ($50 billion) and market dynamics (not winner-takes-all), I asked about sales friction amongst enterprise customers that Slack had mentioned in its most recent earnings report. Beedgen said: “I don’t see that as a systemic problem personally. […] I think people in economies are very flexible, and you know the new normal is what it is now. And you know these other guys on the other side [of the phone], these businesses they also need to continue to run their stuff and so they’re gonna continue to figure out how we can help. And they will find us, we will find them. I really don’t see that as a systemic problem.” So, good news for enterprise startups everywhere! Wix launched a non-VC fund that looks a bit like a VC fund. Called Wix Capital, the group will “invest in technology innovators that are focused on the future of the web and that look to accelerate how businesses operate in today’s evolving digital landscape,” per the company. Wix is a big public shop these days, with elements of low and no-code to its core. (The Exchange talked to the company not too long ago.) And, finally my friends, I call this the Peloton Effect, and am going to write about it if I can find the time. I am chatting with a Unity exec this evening, but too late to make it into this newsletter. Perhaps next week. Hugs until then, and stay safe. Alex

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here. While TechCrunch was busy producing our first-ever online Disrupt this week, the IPO market got even more exciting than expected — so here’s a quick look. Snowflake, Jfrog, Sumo Logic and Unity each raised price ranges days before IPO, to meet what had seemed like growing enthusiasm from public markets. Yet each still opened higher than its offering price, with cloud data-warehousing company Snowflake’s value doubling to make it the largest software IPO in history and Unity up 30%. Despite the pandemic and various major turmoils around the world, the promise of these companies is helping to maintain optimism from retail investors to people thinking about founding a company. Here’s a quick look at our coverage of the main companies in the IPO process this week, in chronological order: Snowflake and JFrog raise IPO ranges as tech markets stay hot (EC) As it heads for IPO, Palantir hires a chief accountant and gets approval from NYSE to trade What’s ahead in IPO land for JFrog, Snowflake, Sumo Logic and Unity (EC) JFrog and Snowflake’s aggressive IPO pricing point to strong demand for cloud shares (EC) Unity raises IPO price range after JFrog, Snowflake target steep debut valuations Go public now while software valuations make no sense, Part II In its 4th revision to the SEC, Palantir tries to explain what the hell is going on It’s game on as Unity begins trading Unity Software has strong opening, gaining 31% after pricing above its raised range And don’t miss Alex Wilhelm’s additional notes coming later today over on The Exchange weekend newsletter. Image Credits: Canix Disrupt 2020 Our tenth annual startup conference was remote-first this year, but it managed to capture the same sort of vibe in my humble opinion. First, a cannabis SaaS company took home the grand prize at the Startup Battlefield competition… we are truly living in the cloud these days. Here’s more, from Matt Burns: Growing cannabis on an industrial scale involves managing margins while continually adhering to compliance laws. For many growers, large and small, this consists of constant data entry from seed to sale. Canix’s solution employs a robust enterprise resource planning platform with a steep tilt toward reducing the time it takes to input data. This platform integrates nicely with common bookkeeping software and Metrc, an industry-wide regulatory platform, through the use of RFID scanners and Bluetooth-enabled scales. Canix launched in June 2019, and in a little over a year (and during a pandemic), acquired over 300 customers spanning more than 1,000 growing facilities and tracking the movement of 2.5 million plants. Next, here’s an especially pithy take on the future of startups, from senior Benchmark partner Peter Fenton. I think this opportunity to build the tools for a world that’s ‘post place’ has just opened up and is as exciting as anything I’ve seen in my venture career. You walk around right now and you see these ghosts towns, with gyms, classes you might take [and so forth] and now maybe you go online and do Peloton, or that class you maybe do online. So I think a whole field of opportunities will move into this post-place delivery mechanism that are really exciting. [It] could be 10 to 20 years of innovation that just got pulled forward into today. The truth is that I have not had time to watch all of the talks — I was busy with the Extra Crunch stage and other stuff, and that’s not even counting other programming we had going on. So check out the quick selection of picks below. To catch up more, you can browse the full agenda and watch the videos here. We’ll also be offering coverage of the EC stage plus analysis from our conversations in the coming weeks, for subscribers (which includes anyone who bought a ticket and redeemed it for an annual subscription). Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer Daphne Koller: ‘Digital biology is an incredible place to be right now’ Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars Indian decacorn Byju’s CEO talks about future acquisitions, coronavirus and international expansion Fabletics’ Adam Goldenberg and Kevin Hart on what’s next for the activewear empire Southeast Asia’s East Ventures on female VCs, foreign investment, consolidation Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19 — Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted (Photo Illustration by Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) Tik Tok and geopolitics Over in the real world, Tik Tok is still on track for a full shut-down despite the frantic dealmaking efforts by innumerable parties. At one point this week, it looked like Oracle and various business interests had a plan to keep Tik Tok alive as an independent company that would IPO (with some sort of national security oversight), and maybe that will still come about? I doubt Trump and his advisers will go along with that plan, given the national security problem of leaving algorithms controlled from China, and the long-term trade problem of US consumer tech being banned there too. Meanwhile, the Bytedance-owned company also just announced 100 million users in Europe. Apparently it was a press push to counter the bad news, but as Ingrid Lunden notes, it’s hard to know what this user base means without the US. To which I’d add, European regulators are already busy going after foreign tech companies. I can’t imagine that they’ll leave an app this popular alone. It’s another reminder that the next era will not offer startups the same possibilities for global success. How to hire your first engineer (if you’re a nontechnical founder) Lucas Matney talked with technical leaders and startup founders to figure out a key problem that many readers of this newsletter have had before (including me). How to get someone who can make your company a tech company? Here’s the intro, with the full thing on Extra Crunch: Their advice spanned how to handle technical interviews, sourcing technical talent, how to decide whether your first engineering hire should become CTO  — and how to best kick the can down the road if you’re not ready to start worrying about bringing on an engineer quite yet. Everyone I spoke to was quick to caution that their tips weren’t one-size-fits-all and that overcoming limited knowledge often comes down to tapping the right people to help you out and lend a greater understanding of your options. I’ve broken down these tips into a digestible guide that’s focused on four areas: Sourcing technical candidates. How to conduct interviews. Making an offer. Taking a nontraditional route. Across the week TechCrunch Calling VCs in Zurich & Geneva: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC Opendoor to go public by way of Chamath Palihapitiya SPAC Black Tech Pipeline proves the ‘pipeline problem’ isn’t real Gaming companies are reportedly the next targets in the US government’s potentially broader Tencent purge Equity Monday: The TikTok mess, two funding rounds and Nvidia will buy ARM Extra Crunch 3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020 The stages of traditional fundraising Making sense of 3 edtech extension rounds Facebook investor Jim Breyer picks Austin as Breyer Capital’s second home Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers? #EquityPod: Schools are closing their doors, but Opendoor isn’t Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week Natasha Mascarenhas, Danny Crichton and myself hosted a live taping at Disrupt for a digital reception. It was good fun, though of course we’re looking forward to bringing the live show back to the conference next year, vaccine allowing. Thankfully we had Chris Gates behind the scenes tweaking the dials, Alexandra Ames fitting us into the program and some folks to watch live. What did we talk about? All of this (and some very, very bad jokes): The Great American SPAC-Off: As both Opendoor and Desktop Metal approach the public markets on the wings of SPACs, we ask why. And why we have to keep talking about SPACs, which we do not want to do. But the public markets are hot and active, with companies like JFrog and Snowflake going public to great effect. JFrog had a great IPO. Snowflake had an insane IPO. But there was a lot of action from the private markets as well, including Airtable raising $185 million, ApplyBoard raised a $55 million extension and Tonal raised $110 million, because connected fitness is hotter than SaaS at the moment. We also riffed on Natasha’s venture trends’ piece, digging into how to get to conviction in a remote-only world. As it turns out, we have notes on video games. And there were two new funds, including one from the Chainsmokers (hot, fun, great) and another from Greylock (traditional, Victorian and huge). In more serious commentary, the Greylock raise continues the mega-fund era. And then we tried to play a game that may or may not make it into the final cut. Either way, it was great to have Equity back at Disrupt. More to come. Hugs from us! Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Welcome back to Human Capital, where we unpack all-things diversity, inclusion and labor in tech. This week, we’re looking at Google’s internal message board problem, as well as some highlights from TechCrunch Disrupt, where I had the pleasure of chatting with actress, producer and tech investor Kerry Washington about her investment strategy and her thoughts on The Wing’s internal turmoil. Later, we’ll also highlight some other gems from Disrupt speakers on imposter syndrome, representation syndrome, the hidden burden of being a Black founder, and the importance of encouraging other Black and brown folks to enter this industry and stay. Also, Human Capital will soon be available as a weekly newsletter. You can sign up here. Google’s internal message board problem Google found itself asking employees to be more active in moderating some of the internal message boards, according to CNBC. The issue is that Google has reportedly seen more posts being flagged for racism or abuse on its message boards. Some of these posts reportedly reinforce negative racial stereotypes, use harmful gendered phrases of insult Google employees based on their nationality. Here’s a snippet from Google’s internal blog, via CNBC: “Our world is going to get more complicated as the year continues,” the team stated in the internal blog. “Tensions continue specifically for our Black+ community with Black Lives Matter, and our Asian Googlers with coronavirus and China/Hong Kong. All of this is compounded by the additional stress of working from home, social isolation, and caregiver responsibilities — to name a few. This new world creates urgency to keep work a welcoming place.” Yes, tough conversations are the theme of the year. But we also know Google has had issues with employees before. You may remember James Damore, the now former Google employee who sent around an anti-diversity manifesto back in 2017. Google ultimately fired Damore that same month. We reached out to Google for comment but have not heard back. Kerry Washington on The Wing scandal At TechCrunch Disrupt, I had the pleasure of virtually interviewing Kerry Washington, best known for her work in Hollywood as the lead actress on “Scandal” and “Little Fires Everywhere.” But she’s also invested in a handful of tech companies, including Community, Byte and The Wing. The Wing, however, went through some turmoil earlier this year. Employees alleged mistreatment of Black and brown workers, which ultimately led to The Wing CEO Audrey Gelman’s resignation. “Well, you know, I’m not new to scandal, so there’s that,” Washington told me in response to a question about her reaction to the news. “I was and I am really deeply still inspired by the original vision of the company. And, I think like a lot of companies in this time, because of the several pandemics that we’re facing, whether it’s our awareness around racial injustice, or COVID, lots of people are in a moment of recalibration and self-reflection. So I think that there is incredible space to improve the dynamics. And as somebody who’s an investor, as a woman of color, it’s important to me that there is increased transparency and also accountability.” Over the past few months, Washington said her role as an investor has been “really just supporting leadership in this transition,” as well as expressing to those leaders a “deep desire” for transparency and accountability. On imposter syndrome and representation  Also at Disrupt, my homegirl Kirsten Korosec led a wonderful conversation with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins of PromisePay and Jessica Matthews of Uncharted Power, two Black female founders, about how they both successfully pivoted their companies while navigating the pressures that come with being an underrepresented founder in Silicon Valley. Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, founder and CEO at PromisePay: It feels like tech has failed so significantly in investing in people they don’t know and missed out in growing companies because of that. So I think our obligation is to help make sure that we are not the only ones. Jessica Matthews, founder and CEO at Uncharted Power: It’s not imposter syndrome, it’s representation syndrome because I feel the exact same way. When we raised our Series A, the immediate thing I thought was, ‘Oh, man. I can not lose these people’s money.’ This is huge and if we don’t work, it’s not even about us, it’s about every other person who looks like me. Michael Seibel on the Black founder experience In a panel on the Black founder experience at Disrupt, Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel spoke about a “hidden burden” for underrepresented founders. “I think that there’s so much deserved activism around access to this world for underrepresented founders, that I feel as though there’s like, more pressure to succeed, in a weird way,” he said. “And I think that can be helpful to a point, but I think that it can be challenging. I also think that there’s so much emphasis around the toxicity in the technology world that a lot of really talented people believe it’s horrible, like believe that our world looks like Jim Crow South. And so therefore they shouldn’t even step any foot into it where like, I would challenge anyone trying to be successful in any industry to be able to avoid the types of problems that exists in the technology industry, if they come from an underrepresented background. So I don’t think the environment’s significantly different in our world than other worlds. I think that the environment is hard. You know, there is bias if you’re underrepresented, across the board, no matter what industry you go to. So if you’re gonna be successful, you’re going to figure out a way to get around it.” But that’s not to say you’ll have to figure it out on your own, Seibel said. He pointed to how there are people who are willing and able to help. That includes him and the many other Black founders present in Silicon Valley. “But if we somehow scare talented people away from this world, we won’t ever fix this world,” he said. “And we won’t ever, even more importantly than fixing this world, there’ll be huge swaths of the world that don’t have products and services that they deserve and that they need. And so I think we have to be careful to make sure we communicate that opportunities exist here. And that if you’re trying to be a high powered lawyer, or if you’re trying to be, you know, a top banker, you’re gonna go through the same bullshit. Like, different industries, same bullshit. So if you’re trying to make an impact in the world, strap in. If you’re an underrepresented founder, you’re gonna have to deal with these issues, no matter where you do it.” Don’t miss Black Tech Pipeline proves the ‘pipeline problem’ isn’t real IBM plans $100M investment in HBCU computing program Amazon Looks to Use More Contractors for Grocery Delivery

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
A yellow-eyed cat tilts its eyes at the camera, gazing up from a grey bedspread. ‘London Trip’, is the AI’s title for this photo-montage ‘Memory’ plucked from the depths of my iPhone camera-roll. It’s selected a sad score of plinking piano and sweeping violin. The algorithm has calculated it must tug at the heart strings.  Cut to a crop of a desk with a 2FA device resting on a laptop case. It’s not at all photogenic. On to a shot of a sofa in a living room. It’s empty. The camera inclines toward a radio on a sidetable. Should we be worried for the invisible occupant? The staging invites cryptic questions. Cut to an outdoor scene: A massive tree spreading above a wrought iron park fence. Another overcast day in the city. Beside it an eccentric shock of orange. A piece of public art? A glass-blown installation? There’s no time to investigate or interrogate. The AI is moving on. There’s more data clogging its banks.  Cut to a conference speaker. White, male, besuited, he’s gesticulating against a navy wall stamped with some kind of insignia. The photo is low quality, snapped in haste from the audience, details too fuzzy to pick out. Still, the camera lingers, panning across the tedious vista. A wider angle shows conference signage for something called ‘Health X’. This long distant press event rings a dim bell. Another unlovely crop: My voice recorder beside a brick wall next to an iced coffee. I guess I’m working from a coffee shop. On we go. A snap through a window-frame of a well kept garden, a bird-bath sprouting from low bushes. Another shot of the shrubbery shows a ladder laid out along a brick wall. I think it looks like a church garden in Southwark but I honestly can’t tell. No matter. The AI has lost interest. Now it’s obsessing over a billboard of a Google Play ad: “All the tracks you own and millions more to discover — Try it now for free,” the text reads above a weathered JCDecaux brand stamp. There’s no time to consider what any of this means because suddenly it’s nighttime. It must be; my bedside lamp is lit. Or is it? Now we’re back on the living room sofa with daylight and a book called ‘Nikolski’ (which is also, as it happens, about separation and connection and random artefacts — although its artful narrative succeeds in serendipity). Cut to a handful of berries in a cup. Cut to an exotic-looking wallflower which I know grows in the neighbourhood. The score is really soaring now. A lilting female vocal lands on cue to accompany a solitary selfie. I am looking unimpressed. I have so many questions.  The AI isn’t quite finished. For the finale: A poorly framed crop of a garden fence and a patio of pot plants, washing weeping behind the foliage. The music is fading, the machine is almost done constructing its London trip. The last shot gets thrust into view: Someone’s hand clasping a half-drunk punch.  Go home algorithm, you’re drunk. My iPhone has invented a 2014 'London trip' that wasn't. It calls this absurd & creepy construct "a new memory" – trying to pass off its weird fiction as my own. Do algorithms dream in camerarolls? More importantly, when & where did we agree to surveillance by lying AIs? — Natasha (@riptari) September 17, 2020 Footnote: Apple says on-device machine learning powers iOS’ “intelligent photos experience” which “analyzes every 
photo in a user’s photo library using on-device machine learning [to] deliver 
a personalized experience for each user” — with the advanced processing slated to include scene classification, composition analysis, people and pets identification, quality analysis and identification of facial expressions

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis. Top Stories How iOS 14 and Apple’s other new plans impact apps At Apple’s hardware event this week, the company announced a new Apple Watch Series 6, an Apple Watch SE, an eighth-generation iPad and a new iPad Air, among other things. But the bigger news for app makers was the surprise release of iOS 14. Typically, developers are given a much longer heads-up and at least have the updated version of their developer tools well before the actual iOS launch day. This year, however, Apple shocked app developers with an announcement during its live event that its new software platforms, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7 and tvOS 14, would arrive in less than 24 hours. Apple burns developer goodwill with surprise release of iOS 14 The move was a low blow from Apple at a time when its developer community was already feeling disrespected by Apple’s tougher stance on the use of in-app purchases and increase in capricious app rejections, not to mention the language Apple used to describe their contributions to iPhone’s success in Apple’s lawsuit with Epic Games. But now iOS 14 is here, and with it comes a radical change to how apps are presented and used on iPhone. App Clips will allow users to launch “mini app” experiences when a full app download isn’t needed, like in the case of needing to pay at a parking meter using a native app. Widgets will allow developers to increase their presence on the home screen, potentially increasing their importance to their most loyal users. But on the flip side, infrequently used apps may now be abandoned in the new App Library. Any app that doesn’t get a home screen spot in the new version of iOS either as an app icon or widget may soon find that its MAUs and DAUs decline after users upgrade to iOS 14. New iOS 14 widgets you can try today Being relegated to the App Library is the equivalent of being stuck inside a folder on the back screen — out of sight and forgotten. App developers who suspect they haven’t made the cut in the big iOS redesign will need to make clever use of push notifications to rekindle their relationship with users. But this, too, is a fine line. Too many notifications or pushing low-value notifications will see users turning to other iOS tools — like the option to easily silence or switch off notifications entirely for the app in question. And then, without any visibility or a way to connect, the app will be truly forgotten. Apple also challenged the entire fitness app industry with its launch of a Fitness+ subscription service. Wall Street investors weren’t too worried about the long-term potential impact to top brands, like Peloton and Fitbit. But these companies are not necessarily representative of the smaller fitness app maker. For $10 per month or just $80 per year, Apple is offering a home gym membership of sorts, with deep integrations with Apple Watch. Fitness+ offers workouts and instructions set to music that can be used across Apple devices. Because it’s from Apple, the workouts will also correctly sync to the Apple Watch for accurate recording of various workout metrics, like calories burned, pace or distance, for example. The fitness market doesn’t seem too scared by Apple Fitness+ The service is also being bundled in Apple’s new Apple One subscription in the upper tier, which may appeal to Apple’s current subscribers looking to save money by paying for an all-in-one service instead of individual apps. And what could a fitness app maker do to compete with this? Or a music app, for that matter? Third-parties don’t typically have the option to get bundled into a high-value package alongside other top apps from unrelated industries, unless the company goes out and forges those deals itself — like Spotify once did with Hulu. Given that Apple is still being investigated over antitrust issues, it’s rather bold to launch a bundle deal like this while continuing to commission its competitors — rivals who have no other means of reaching iPhone’s audience outside the App Store. Apple One bundles iCloud, Music, TV+, Arcade, News+ and Fitness+ for $30 a month Another new Apple service puts family tracking apps on notice. Though apps like Life360 have become must-have tools in the helicopter parent era, Apple’s new Family Setup aims to transform the kid-tracking industry by taking a different tactic: it’s for families who aren’t buying kids an iPhone just yet. Instead, Apple will lure new customers by making its Apple Watch — and specifically, the more affordable Apple Watch SE — kids’ first Apple device. Kids get to use Apple Watch’s key features, like Emergency SOS, Maps, Siri, Alarms, Memoji, Apple Pay, and more, while parents get to restrict who the child can call or text. By the time the child upgrades to iPhone and the wider world of apps that comes with it, families may see no need for a third-party alternative for family safety. That means kid trackers will need to upgrade their offerings to include features that Apple doesn’t, like Life360 does with its driving features, like crash detection or weekly driver reports, for instance. Continuing chaos around the TikTok ban There is nothing straightforward about the TikTok ban. Like much of the Executive Order activity coming from the current administration, a broad order is issued but the details are left to be worked out on the fly, leading to chaos. In the case of the TikTok deal and the app’s potential ban in the U.S., at the beginning of this week we learned China would rather see TikTok banned than forced into a sale, and that neither Oracle nor Microsoft would get to acquire TikTok’s U.S. business. Microsoft was said to have apparently pissed off TikTok owner ByteDance by calling the app a security risk and was cut out of the deal. Later in the week, Oracle put out a press release saying it would be the technology partner for TikTok, and Walmart separately claimed to still be involved. Oh, and it seems Instagram founder and former CEO Kevin Systrom was approached for the TikTok CEO job at one point. Lord. So what’s happening now? The U.S. government and ByteDance continue to negotiate on specific terms. As of late, the U.S. wants Oracle to agree to review TikTok source code for backdoors, ByteDance to create a new organization for its U.S. operations with a board approved by the U.S. government and for there to be a license agreement for TikTok’s algorithms. As TechCrunch reported, these terms beg the question as to how TikTok could possibly continue to refine its algorithms in real time without access to U.S. TikTok user data, or when it has to rebuild its infrastructure on Oracle, separated from a core product being developed elsewhere. But nevertheless, reports claim ByteDance has agreed to the government’s terms and also plans to IPO TikTok’s global business. On Friday, the Commerce Dept. announced the details of how it plans to enforce a shutdown, saying that both TikTok and WeChat, the other Chinese app impacted by the ban, would no longer be distributed on U.S. app stores as of September 20. But TikTok gets an extension that allows it to still operate until November 12 as the parties attempt to hammer out the complicated deal. That deadline means the app will continue to work through the U.S. elections, based on how the terms are spelled out now. But those could change at any time, given the chaotic nature of how this potential ban has progressed so far. Despite being one of TikTok’s chief rivals, Instagram — which recently copied TikTok with its own feature, Reels — has come out against the ban. Instagram head Adam Mosseri said a U.S. ban of the app would be bad for the internet more broadly, including companies like Facebook and Instagram. TikTok interim CEO  Vanessa Pappas then publicly asked him for help with its litigation. We agree that this type of ban would be bad for the industry. We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation. This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law. — Vanessa Pappas (@v_ness) September 18, 2020 By the time you read this, several more updates about the TikTok deal may have been released. Stay tuned. Weekly News U.S. government scrutinizes Epic and Riot Games’ deals with Tencent. First TikTok and WeChat, then the full slate of Chinese investment in tech? The TikTok-Oracle partnership isn’t even a done deal yet, but the U.S. government is moving on to its next targets. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has now sent letters to Epic, Riot and other gaming companies to inquire about how they’re handling U.S. users’ personal data due to their ties with China’s Tencent. The Chinese giant has made over 300 investments, including those in many of the top gaming companies worldwide. (Jenny Leonard, Saleha Mohsin and David McLaughlin/Bloomberg) Google bans stalkerware from Play Store. Apps that allow a user to track someone’s location, movement, phone calls or messages, and record other apps’ activity — a category broadly known as “stalkerware” — are marketed toward people looking to track cheating spouses or spy on their kids. Google has hosted hundreds of these apps to date. This week, the company updated its Developer Program Policy to specify that any apps of this nature have to inform the end user or gain consent and show a persistent notification that their actions are being tracked. The updated policy also added other new restrictions, including on misrepresentation and gambling. (Catalin Cimpanu/ZDNet) Tinder relaunches Swipe Night, its in-app interactive video series, in the U.S. on September 12. Tinder claims the pandemic has not heavily impacted its business. But the company is working to add video dating and is readying another run of a video series in its app — indications that the primary focus for Tinder these days is not on helping users make real-life connections. (Tinder) Google banned India’s Paytm from Play Store for gambling violations. Paytm is India’s most valuable startup and claims over 50M MAUs. Its app, a rival to Google Play, was removed from the Play Store in India this week. Paytm is accused of repeatedly violating Play Store’s policies around gambling. The app had recently launched “Paytm Cricket League,” which Google believed to be in violation of its newly updated policies around gambling apps. The app returned to the store in a few hours. (Manish Singh/TechCrunch) YouTube launches a TikTok rival, Shorts. YouTube this week launched a new short-form video experience called YouTube Shorts. The feature will allow users, initially in India, to upload 15-second or less short-form videos using a new set of creator tools, including a multi-segment camera, similar to TikTok, speed controls and a timer and a countdown feature. The videos can also be set to music, thanks to YouTube’s access to a large library of songs that it says will continue to grow over time. (Sarah Perez/TechCrunch) Apple calls Epic Games a bully in latest court filing. Apple attacked the game maker, saying Epic follows a “strategy of coercing platforms for its own gain.” Pot, meet kettle. (Stephen Warwick/iMore) Facebook Messenger adds “Watch Together.” Facebook joins the co-viewing trend with the launch of a new feature that lets up to eight friends in a Messenger video call or up to 50 in Messenger Room watch video content together via Facebook Watch integrations. (Sarah Perez/TechCrunch) Summer sent travel apps consumer spend up 30%. Despite the pandemic, consumer global spend in travel apps indicate there was 30% growth in travel apps during summer months, compared with the three months prior. Still, those prior months were at the height of the lockdown, when almost no one was going anywhere. So this may not be as rosy a picture of a recovery as you’d think. (Lexi Sydow/App Annie) Triller capitalizes on TikTok drama to onboard influencers. At TechCrunch Disrupt, Triller CEO Mike Lu talked about recent high-profile additions, including influencers and public figures like TikTok star Charli D’Amelio and family, Addison Rae, and even Trump. (Sarah Perez/TechCrunch) iOS 14 bug resets Mail and Safari as the default apps. A bug you say? Okay, I believe you. (Chance Miller/9to5Mac) Suggested Reading Addicted to losing: How casino-like apps have drained people of millions, by Cyrus Farivar, NBC News. The story delves into the casino app industry, which is almost entirely unregulated. The story features interviews with 21 people who got hooked on these apps and lost significant sums of money. In-App Purchase Rules, by Marco Arment, Marco.org. In a blog post, Arment highlights how convoluted Apple’s IAP rules have become by listing out all the exceptions Apple has carved out for itself over the years as it attempts to justify its right to collect from all IAPs. Funding and M&A User-generated e-learning site Kahoot and maker of a range of learning apps for iOS and Android acquired Actimo for up to $33 million to focus on the corporate sector. Indoor training app Zwift landed a massive $450 million in funding led by KKR, which took a minority stake in its business, now valued at $1 billion+. Social gaming startup Bunch closed on $20 million in Series A funding for its Discord-like video chat app for multiplayer mobile games. MAUs are up 50x since March, topping 1 million. Funding was led by General Catalyst and included major gaming companies, like Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive and Krafton, the maker of PUBG. Mobile bank Chime raises $485 million at a $14.5B valuation in a Series F round. Downloads Aviary Image Credits: Aviary (widget shown in top right) Aviary’s recently launched Twitter app ($4.99) is ready for iOS 14, with home screen widgets and support for multiple columns on iPad. Color Widgets Image Credits: Color Widgets A simple app is No. 1 on the (non-game) App Store because, clearly, iOS users were ready for widgets. The Color Widgets app lets you pick a color, font and theme for a basic widget that displays the date, day of the week, time and battery level. Isn’t that pretty?  

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posted 2 days ago on techcrunch
Whoever said you can’t make money playing video games clearly hasn’t taken a look at Unity Software’s stock price. On its first official day of trading, the company rose more than 31%, opening at $75 per share before closing the day at $68.35. Unity’s share price gains came after last night’s pricing of the company’s stock at $52 per share, well above the range of $44 to $48 which was itself an upward revision of the company’s initial target. Games like “Pokémon GO” and “Iron Man VR” rely on the company’s software, as do untold numbers of other mobile gaming applications that use the company’s toolkit for support. The company’s customers range from small gaming publishers to large gaming giants like Electronic Arts, Niantic, Ubisoft and Tencent. Unity’s IPO comes on the heels of other well-received debuts, including Sumo Logic, Snowflake and JFrog . TechCrunch caught up with Unity’s CFO, Kim Jabal, after-hours today to dig in a bit on the transaction. According to Jabal, hosting her company’s roadshow over Zoom had some advantages, as her team didn’t have to focus on tackling a single geography per day, allowing Unity to “optimize” its time based on who the company wanted to meet, instead, of say, whomever was free in Boston or Chicago on a particular Tuesday morning. Unity IPO aims to fuel growth across gaming and beyond Jabal’s comments aren’t the first that TechCrunch has heard regarding roadshows going well in a digital format instead of as an in-person presentation. If the old-school roadshow survives, we’ll be surprised, though private jet companies will miss the business. Talking about the transaction itself, Jabal stressed the connection between her company’s employees, value  and their access to that same value. Unity’s IPO was unique in that existing and former employees were able to trade 15% of their vested holdings in the company on day one, excluding “current executive officers and directors,” per SEC filings. That act does not seemed to have dampened enthusiasm for the company’s shares, and could have helped boost early float, allowing for the two sides of the supply and demand curves to more quickly meet close to the company’s real value, instead of a scarcity-driven, more artificial figure. Bear and bull cases for Unity’s IPO Regarding Unity’s IPO pricing, Jabal discussed what she called a “very data-driven process.” The result of that process was an IPO price that came in above its raised range, and still rose during its first day’s trading, but less than 50%. That’s about as good an outcome as you can hope for in an IPO. One final thing for the SaaS nerds out there. Unity’s “dollar-based net expansion rate” went from very good to outstanding in 2020, or in the words of the S-1/A: Our dollar-based net expansion rate, which measures expansion in existing customers’ revenue over a trailing 12-month period, grew from 124% as of December 31, 2018 to 133% as of December 31, 2019, and from 129% as of June 30, 2019 to 142% as of June 30, 2020, demonstrating the power of this strategy. We had to ask. And the answer, per Jabal, was a combination of the company’s platform strength and how customers tend to use more of Unity’s services over time, which she described as growing with their customers. And the second key element was 2020’s unique dynamics that gave Unity a “tailwind” thanks to “increased usage, particularly in gaming.” Looking at our own gaming levels in 2020 compared to 2019, that checks out. This post closes the book on this week’s IPO class. Tired yet? Don’t be. Palantir is up next, and then Asana .

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“Like most of the best things in my life,” Conan O’Brien explains, with a wry smile, “the success of the podcast was a complete surprise.” The answer is a typically self-effacing one from the comedian. Since launching “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” nearly two years ago, the show has quickly risen up the podcasting charts to become one of the country’s most popular. For those who have followed his 30-odd-year career in entertainment, it’s easy to see why. Quick-witted and almost superhumanly affable, the transition to podcasting seems almost a given in retrospect. After all, hosting a series of late-night network talk shows for decades isn’t exactly starting from scratch when it comes to launching a new entertainment venture. Nor, for that matter, is having tens of millions of Twitter followers and your own online media company, Team Coco. Not that things have always been easy. A long-promised Tonight Show slot wasn’t all he’d hoped for, leading to a very public exit from the most-coveted show in late night after just under eight months. It was the shortest tenure in the series’ history, culminating in a televised “exit interview” with Steve Carrell that found The Office star shredding his NBC badge. But O’Brien’s late-night hiatus was short-lived. Later that year, he returned with TBS’ Conan, which will celebrate its 10th year on the air in November (and is renewed at least through 2022). The 2018 launch of “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” found the comedian embracing the new-found freedom of podcasting. “There are a couple of things about doing podcasts that are superior or more fun than doing a talk show,” a quarantine-haired O’Brien said in an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt this week. “When I’m doing the traditional talk show, I’m limited. For years and years and years, when it was on network television, I had to take six- and seven-minute turns, which mean I’m having a conversation with you or I’m having a conversation with someone I’ve always dreamed of talking to, whether it’s Tom Hanks or Jim Carrey or Robin Williams. Then after six or seven minutes, there has to be a laugh and we’ll take a break and we’ll be right back. “That’s not a natural conversational flow,” he continues. “What you can do with a podcast is really incredible. I can talk to someone for an hour and 15 minutes. We try and trim them back, but for the most part, people let their guard down. The other thing I prefer: no hair and makeup. It sounds like I’m kidding. But after almost 30 years of people caking my very white face with makeup so that I look like I’m still alive.” Team Coco has produced 10 shows in all, including shows from longtime sidekick Andy Richter and actor Rob Lowe, writers Mike Sweeney and Jessie Gaskel’s intimately titled Inside Conan and a six-part mini-series interview with SNL alum, Dana Carvey. “I don’t want to set a number goal,” O’Brien says. “I’m amazed — in two years, we’ve rolled out 10 different podcasts, some of them unscripted, but some scripted ones, as well. I’m not sitting around saying, ‘hey, we’ve got to get to 35 podcasts by this point.’ Because I’d like them to be good.” As my hair grows, so do my powers… pic.twitter.com/BqVGj4s8VI — Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) September 17, 2020 The talk show has soldiered on, as well, undergoing its own transformations in the process. In 2019, the program was retooled for a half-hour format. O’Brien dropped the desk and the suit, adopting a looser format perhaps inspired in part by the new freedoms afforded by his podcasting ventures. When COVID-19 made the in-person show an impossibility, he started working from home like so many others, switching to remote Zoom interviews. Throughout it all, “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” continued posting weekly interviews. Asked whether he planned to continue his late-night show after the contract runs out in a couple of years, O’Brien seemed unsure. “I think it’s a mistake to think of it as, will you stop doing the show, and only do the podcast? Or will you retire and then quietly work on your letters in a shack? I love to create things. I have a lot of energy. I love to try and make people laugh. And so I see All of this converging, I think the message that I would have for everybody watching TechCrunch Disrupt right now is that people need to open up their minds a little bit. If I’m making podcasts, it doesn’t prohibit me from also maybe do maybe doing something, it doesn’t have to necessarily be for Turner, it could be for anybody.” Image Credits: Bryce Durbin Multiple decades of success, it seems, have put O’Brien in the relatively unique position of being able to be somewhat platform-agnostic. Not being tied to a single medium is a strong place to be when it comes to bracing oneself for the unexpected technological changes that will continue to disrupt and upend the entertainment industry. “Five years from now our entertainment may come in pill form,” he says. “You could binge The Sopranos. You could just take a whole bottle of Sopranos and then just drink a lot of water and then, you know, just don’t need any red meat. “This is gonna sound far-fetched, but I think this is the most excited I’ve been in my career, because there were so many ways to be creative. There are so many ways to make people laugh, and I enjoy these new opportunities. I think when you’re someone who has been around as long as I have, you have a choice. You can be afraid of change, or you can be delighted by it.”

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SPACs are going to rule the world, or at least, Chamath’s future portfolio. Chamath Palihapitiya, the founder of Social Capital, has already tripled down on SPACs, the so-called “blank check” vehicle that takes private companies and flips them onto the public markets. His first SPAC bought Virgin Galactic last year, and his second SPAC bought Opendoor this week in a blockbuster deal valuing the instant home sale platform at $4.8 billion, less cash. His third SPAC officially fundraised in April, and has yet to announce a deal. Now, it looks like he’s going to double down on his triple down. After the bell rung on Wall Street this Friday, the venture capitalist filed three new SPAC vehicles with the SEC. Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. IV has a headline value of $350 million, Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. V has a headline value of $650 million and Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. VI has a headline value of $1 billion. Those headline values are targets: each SPAC will need to go through an investor roadshow process and officially raise capital before they can begin trying to find an acquisition target. Each SPAC is independent, and may share investors or have entirely independent investors around the table. Can’t stop, won’t stop: Social Capital Hedosophia just filed for its fourth SPAC, says new report The three new SPACs share similar managers: Palihapitiya himself; Ian Osborne, who manages Hedosophia; Steven Trieu, the CFO of Social Capital; and Simon Williams, the chief administration officer of Hedosophia. However, each has a different fifth director, who perhaps sheds some light on how each SPAC differs in strategy. Nirav Tolia, a co-founder and CEO of popular social network Nextdoor, is joining the fourth SPAC. Jay Parikh, a former head of engineering at Facebook, who left earlier this year, is joining the fifth SPAC. And finally, Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter and current venture capitalist, is joining the sixth SPAC. We’ve been talking about the accelerating pace of SPACs this year, and that appears in microcosm here around these Social Capital vehicles. It seems as though Palihapitiya and Hedosophia not only have great ambitions for these vehicles, but are increasingly mechanizing the process of fundraising them and taking advantage of markets that seem excited for any avenue toward growth.

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The Trump administration moves forwards with plans to ban TikTok and WeChat (although TikTok gets a partial extension), Unity goes public and we announce the winner of this year’s Startup Battlefield. This is your Daily Crunch for September 18, 2020. The big story: US TikTok ban is imminent The U.S. Commerce Department has released details about how it will be implementing the Trump administration’s domestic ban of TikTok and WeChat. Both apps will no longer be available (and will not be able to distribute updates) in U.S. app stores starting this Sunday, September 20. At the same time, TikTok will be able to continue operations in the country until November 12, leaving the door open for a deal with Oracle or another partner. TikTok, WeChat and their users aren’t the only ones unhappy about this decision. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said a TikTok ban would be “bad for US tech companies which have benefited greatly from the ability to operate across borders,” while the ACLU said the order “violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States.” The tech giants Salesforce announces 12,000 new jobs in the next year just weeks after laying off 1,000 — Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff announced in a tweet that the company would be hiring 4,000 new employees in the next six months, and 12,000 in the next year. It’s game on as Unity begins trading — Unity Software, which sells a game development toolkit primarily for mobile phone app developers, raised $1.3 billion in its initial public offering. Apple will launch its online store in India on September 23 — Apple currently relies on third-party online and offline retailers to sell its products in India. Startups, funding and venture capital And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020 is … Canix — After five days of fierce pitching in a wholly new virtual Startup Battlefield arena, we have a winner. Amid layoffs and allegations of fraud, the FBI has arrested NS8’s CEO following its $100+ million summer financing — Adam Rogas, the co-founder and former executive at the Las Vegas-based fraud prevention company NS8 was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Outschool, newly profitable, raises a $45 million Series B for virtual small group classes — Outschool’s services, which range from engineering lessons through Lego challenges to Spanish teaching by Taylor Swift songs, are now high in demand. Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers? — RevenueCat’s Jacob Eiting writes that for all the hype around Apple’s 85/15 split for subscription revenue, very few developers are going to see a meaningful increase. The stages of traditional fundraising — What you think when you hear “seed funding” and “A rounds” might be different from what investors think. 3 VCs discuss the state of SaaS investing in 2020 — Commentary from Canaan’s Maha Ibrahim, Andreessen Horowitz’s David Ulevitch and Bessemer’s Mary D’Onofrio. (Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.) Everything else How the NSA is disrupting foreign hackers targeting COVID-19 vaccine research — “The threat landscape has changed,” the NSA’s director of cybersecurity Anne Neuberger said at Disrupt 2020. NASA to test precision automated landing system designed for the moon and Mars on upcoming Blue Origin mission — The “Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution” (SPLICE) system is made up of a number of lasers, an optical camera and a computer. The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Most venture capital firms are based in hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. These firms nurture those ecosystems and they’ve done well, but SaaS Ventures decided to go a different route: it went to cities like Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska. The firm looks for enterprise-focused entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a different set of problems than you might find in these other centers of capital, issues that require digital solutions but might fall outside a typical computer science graduate’s experience. Saas Ventures looks at four main investment areas: trucking and logistics, manufacturing, e-commerce enablement for industries that have not typically gone online and cybersecurity, the latter being the most mainstream of the areas SaaS Ventures covers. The company’s first fund, which launched in 2017, was worth $20 million, but SaaS Ventures launched a second fund of equal amount earlier this month. It tends to stick to small-dollar-amount investments, while partnering with larger firms when it contributes funds to a deal. We talked to Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures, to learn about his investment philosophy, and why he decided to take the road less traveled for his investment thesis. A different investment approach Gutman’s journey to find enterprise startups in out of the way places began in 2012 when he worked at an early enterprise startup accelerator called Acceleprise. “We were really the first ones who said enterprise tech companies are wired differently, and need a different set of early-stage resources,” Gutman told TechCrunch. Through that experience, he decided to launch SaaS Ventures in 2017, with several key ideas underpinning the firm’s investment thesis: after his experience at Acceleprise, he decided to concentrate on the enterprise from a slightly different angle than most early-stage VC establishments. Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures (Image Credits: SaaS Ventures) The second part of his thesis was to concentrate on secondary markets, which meant looking beyond the popular startup ecosystem centers and investing in areas that didn’t typically get much attention. To date, SaaS Ventures has made investments in 23 states and Toronto, seeking startups that others might have overlooked. “We have really phenomenal coverage in terms of not just geography, but in terms of what’s happening with the underlying businesses, as well as their customers,” Gutman said. He believes that broad second-tier market data gives his firm an upper hand when selecting startups to invest in. More on that later.

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Some of the biggest names in online gaming in the United States have received letters from the U.S. government requesting information about their relationship with the multibillion-dollar Chinese technology company, Tencent, according to reports. Even as the U.S. Department of Commerce moves to block new downloads of the Chinese company’s popular messaging and payment app, WeChat, it has sent out letters to U.S. gaming companies like Epic Games, Riot Games, and others about their data-security protocols and their relationship to Tencent, according to a report in Bloomberg. Citing people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is chaired by the Treasury Department, is looking for information about how these companies handle the personal data of their U.S. customers. Tencent is the world’s largest gaming company, with stakes in multiple U.S. gaming companies, including the Los Angeles-based Riot Games and a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, which is one of the most popular multiplayer online games in the U.S. The requests could presage a push by the United States to force Tencent to sell off its gaming interests in America and would follow similar steps taken to crack down on the Chinese-owned social media network, TikTok. In the WeChat, TikTok US shutdown order, TikTok gets Nov. 12 stay, keeping it up through the US election and Oracle dealmaking The tumultuous TikTok saga has centered on the ways in which the wildly popular social media company handles user data and how that data could be misused by TikTok’s Chinese parent company, Bytedance. And the announcement earlier today from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross uses language that could be applied to Tencent’s gaming holdings just as easily as TikTok’s social media service. “Today’s actions prove once again that President Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee our national security and protect Americans from the threats of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Ross in a statement. “At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.” Technology companies account for an increasing share of global economic output, and social media companies like Facebook have been denied access to the Chinese market. Some have speculated that the forced sale of TikTok’s U.S. assets could be an attempt to impose the same restrictions on Chinese companies that U.S. companies experience in China’s domestic market. TikTok rumors beg the question: Did Trump solve anything? Security concerns have been at the heart of U.S. trade restrictions against other Chinese technology companies — like the networking and communications technology developer Huawei. Extending the same argument to gaming may open another front in the ongoing trade war that’s been waged between the U.S. and China for the duration of the Trump presidency. But it would be yet another unprecedented step to wall off what historically has been unfettered commercial access to U.S. markets by foreign competitors in most of the tech arena (excluding things like weapons systems). Tencent has over 300 investments in its portfolio, including Riot Games which it acquired outright in 2015 after buying a 93% stake in the business back in 2011. The Chinese company also owns a huge stake in Epic Games, the $17 billion game technology developer that created the runaway multiplayer smash hit, Fortnite, and Activision/Blizzard, which produces the Call of Duty franchise (among others). Any movement by the Trump Administration to further restrict the economic activity of foreign companies operating in the U.S. could have unintended consequences for the nation’s technology industry, as well. Even the top executives at some of the companies that would ostensibly benefit from TikTok’s disappearance from the competitive social media landscape have decried the approach taken by the US government. Earlier today, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri took to Twitter to decry the announcement. The ACLU also wasted no time in criticizing the announcement. Hina Shamsi, the director of the agency’s National Security Project, said in a statement: “This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms.” Instagram CEO, ACLU slam TikTok and WeChat app bans for putting US freedoms into the balance

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At Disrupt 2020, we got a chance to see some never-before-seen footage from HBO’s upcoming documentary The Perfect Weapon. The documentary, which was executive produced by John Maggio, is based on the book by the same(ish) name written by David Sanger, Washington correspondent for the New York Times. We got to sit down for an interview with Sanger where we discussed the cybersecurity threats the United States faces, the definition of an appropriate response, and in general, whether or not we should be worried. You can check out the full interview below, as well as a never-before-seen clip from the upcoming documentary. The conversation was an excellent lead-in to Zack Whittaker’s interview with the NSA’s Cybersecurity Chief Anne Neuberger, which you can check out here.

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In a case of bizarre timing, Salesforce announced it was laying off 1,000 employees at the end of last month just a day after announcing a monster quarter with over $5 billion in revenue, putting the company on a $20 billion revenue run rate for the first time. The juxtaposition was hard to miss. Earlier today, Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff announced in a tweet that the company would be hiring 4,000 new employees in the next six months, and 12,000 in the next year. While it seems like a mixed message, it’s probably more about reallocating resources to areas where they are needed more. Salesforce will add 4K jobs over the next 6 mos & 12K over the next year. Join our 54K employee strong Ohana defining the future of software. Salesforce is the worlds fastest growing Top 5 enterprise software company. [email protected] @salesforcejobs https://t.co/ffzlmeHhCz — Marc Benioff (@Benioff) September 18, 2020 While Salesforce wouldn’t comment further on the hirings, the company has obviously been doing well in spite of the pandemic, which has had an impact on customers. In the prior quarter, the company forecasted that it would have slower revenue growth due to giving some customers facing hard times with economic downturn time to pay their bills. How Salesforce beat its own target to reach $20B run rate ahead of schedule That’s why it was surprising when the CRM giant announced its earnings in August and that it had done so well in spite of all that. While the company was laying off those 1,000 people, it did indicate it would give those employees 60 days to find other positions in the company. With these new jobs, assuming they are positions the laid-off employees are qualified for, they could have a variety of positions from which to choose. The company had 54,000 employees when it announced the layoffs, which accounted for 1.9% of the workforce. If it ends up adding the 12,000 news jobs in the next year, that would put the company at approximately 65,000 employees by this time next year. Salesforce confirms it’s laying off around 1,000 people in spite of monster quarter

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We started this competition with 20 impressive startups. After five days of fierce pitching in a wholly new virtual Startup Battlefield arena, we have a winner. The startups taking part in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. It was an unprecedented year as we moved all of the nail-biting excitement of our physical contest to a virtual stage. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup. After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Canix, Firehawk Aerospace, HacWare, Jefa and Matidor. These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Caryn Marooney (Coatue Management), Ilya Fushman (Kleiner Perkins), Michael Seibel (Y Combinator), Sonali De Rycker (Sequoia), Troy Carter (Q&A) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch). We’re now ready to announce that the winner of TechCrunch Battlefield 2020 is…. Winner: Canix Canix has built a robust enterprise resource planning platform designed to reduce the time it takes cannabis growers to input data. It integrates nicely with common bookkeeping software, as well as Metrc, an industry-wide regulatory platform. The founders say that their platform can help growers increase margins through improved labor costs. You can read more about Canix here. Runner-up: Matidor Matidor is building a project platform for consultants and engineers to keep track of projects and geospatial data in a single dashboard. It offers an all-in-one data visualization suite for customers in the energy and environmental services fields. You can read more about Matidor here. Watch the announcement below:

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Jacob Eiting Contributor Share on Twitter Jacob Eiting is CEO of RevenueCat, a platform for managing cross-platform in-app purchases, products and subscribers and analyzing in-app-purchase data. Ever since Apple opened up subscription monetization to more apps in 2016 — and enticed developers with an 85/15 split on revenue from customers that remain subscribed for more than a year — subscription monetization and retention has felt like the Holy Grail for app developers. So much so that Google quickly followed suit in what appeared to be an example of healthy competition for developers in the mobile OS duopoly. But how does that split actually work out for most apps? Turns out, the 85/15 split — which Apple is keen to mention anytime developers complain about the App Store rev share — doesn’t have a meaningful impact for most developers. Because churn. No matter how great an app is, subscribers are going to churn. Sometimes it’s because of a credit card expiring or some other billing issue. And sometimes it’s more of a pause, and the user comes back after a few months. But the majority of churn comes from subscribers who, for whatever reason, decide that the app just isn’t worth paying for anymore. If a subscriber churns before the one-year mark, the developer never sees that 85% split. And even if the user resubscribes, Apple and Google reset the clock if a subscription has lapsed for more than 60 days. Rather convenient… for Apple and Google. Top mobile apps like Netflix and Spotify report churn rates in the low single digits, but they are the outliers. According to our data, the median churn rate for subscription apps is around 13% for monthly subscriptions and around 50% for annual. Monthly subscription churn is generally a bit higher in the first few months, then it tapers off. But an average churn of 13% leaves just 20% of subscribers crossing that magical 85/15 threshold. In practice, what this means is that, for all the hype around the 85/15 split, very few developers are going to see a meaningful increase in revenue: Image Credits: RevenueCat (opens in a new window)

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Engineers at MIT, in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, have devised a way to build a camera lens that avoids the typical spherical curve of ultra-wide-angle glass, while still providing true optical fisheye distortion. The fisheye lens is relatively specialist, producing images that can cover as wide an area as 180 degrees or more, but they can be very costly to produce, and are typically heavy, large lenses that aren’t ideal for use on small cameras like those found on smartphones. This is the first time that a flat lens has been able to product clear, 180-degree images that cover a true panoramic spread. The engineers were able to make it work by patterning a thin wafer of glass on one side with microscopic, three-dimensional structures that are positioned very precisely in order to scatter any inbound light in precisely the same way that a curved piece of glass would. The version created by the researchers in this case is actually designed to work specifically with the infrared portion of the light spectrum, but they could also adapt the design to work with visible light, they say. Whether IR or visible light, there are a range of potential uses of this technology, since capturing a 180-degree panorama is useful not only in some types of photography, but also for practical applications like medical imaging, and in computer vision applications where range is important to interpreting imaging data. This design is just one example of what’s called a ‘Metalens’ – lenses that make use of microscopic features to change their optical characteristics in ways that would traditionally have been accomplished through macro design changes – like building a lens with an outward curve, for instance, or stacking multiple pieces of glass with different curvatures to achieve a desired field of view. What’s unusual here is that the ability to accomplish a clear, detailed and accurate 180-degree panoramic image with a perfectly flat metalens design came as a surprise even to the engineers who worked on the project. It’s definitely an advancement of the science that goes beyond what may assumed was the state of the art.

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It was a trickle at first that has evolved into a slow and steady stream. Now, a wave of new electric vehicles is building, promising to deliver an unprecedented number of models to North America, Europe and China over the next two to three years. There might not be a better time to dig into EVs and we have two superstars coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2020. JB Straubel, co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials who pioneered the battery powertrain design for Tesla as its longtime CTO, and Celina Mikolajczak, the vice president of battery technology for Panasonic Energy of North America, will join us on our virtual stage to talk about all things electric vehicles. This virtual event takes place October 6-7, and we’re excited to hear from these two technology leaders working at the forefront of the industry. Straubel’s role at Tesla cannot be understated. The co-founder and executive was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology during his 15 years there, including leading the cell design, supply chain and the first Gigafactory concept through the production ramp of the Model 3. But Straubel’s story isn’t just tied to Tesla. The former Tesla executive went on to found another startup in 2017 called Redwood Materials . The battery recycling startup is focused on circular supply chains, essentially turning waste into profit and solving the environmental impacts of new products before they happen. Its first named customer is Panasonic; and just this week announced Amazon has joined that list. Mikolajczak has a long history researching and developing better lithium-ion batteries. Her technical consulting practice at Exponent focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety and quality. She then took a senior management position at Tesla that was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. During her time at Tesla, Mikolajczak developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Roadster Refresh. After leaving Tesla, Mikolajczak went on to serve as director of engineering focused on battery development for rideshare vehicles at Uber Technologies. Last year, she joined Panasonic Energy of North America, where she is vice president of battery technology. Mikolajczak leads a team of more than 200 engineers and other technical staff to improve lithium-ion cell manufacturing and to bring the latest cell technologies to mass production for Tesla at the Gigafactory facility in Sparks, Nevada. In short: these two know a lot about battery technology from how it has developed in the past decade to where it’s headed and the implications it will have on automakers, consumers and the economy. Mikolajczak and Straubel are just two in a long list of all-star speakers, including Bryan Salesky, co-founder and CEO of Argo AI, Tekedra Mawakana, chief operating officer at Waymo, Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun as well as folks from Nuro, Aurora, Cruise, Lyft and Uber. There are startups as well including Refraction AI, which came out of stealth on our stage at last year’s mobility event. We hope you can join in October 6-7, 2020 at the event. As you might have heard, TC Sessions: Mobility is a virtual event. Don’t worry, we know many of you want to network. We’ve built out features into our platform to give attendees unparalleled access to speakers, investors and fellow founders. Get your tickets before prices increase in a few short weeks! There are discounts for groups and students and exclusive opportunities for exhibiting for early-stage founders. 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Zoox, the automated vehicle technology startup that was acquired by Amazon this year, has been issued a permit from California regulators that will allow it to test driverless vehicles on public roads. The permit is not for all public roads in the state, but it’s still notable considering the company will be able to test its vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that regulates automated vehicle testing in the state, has issued a permit for a designated part of Foster City in San Mateo County. Mark Rosekind, the former director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who is now chief safety officer at Zoox, called it another important milestone in the company’s “efforts to deliver safe, fully electric, and affordable autonomous mobility to riders in California.” Zoox has taken the “all of the above” approach to autonomous vehicles. The company is aiming to build a purpose-built electric vehicle, develop, test and validate the automated vehicle technology and operate a robotaxi fleet. That mission seems to be intact. Amazon has said that Zoox will remain a standalone company. Zoox has had a permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2016. This new permit allows the company to test two autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified streets near its Foster City headquarters. The vehicles are approved to operate in fair weather conditions, including light rain or fog, on streets with a speed limit of no more than 45 mph, the agency said Friday. While dozens of companies — 60 in all — have active permits to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver, it’s far less common to receive permission for driverless vehicles. Only AutoX, Nuro and Waymo hold this driverless permit. Companies who receive these driverless permits have to provide evidence of insurance or a bond equal to $5 million and follow several other rules such as training remote operators on the technology. Zoox also has a permit, which it received in late 2018, to transport people in its automated vehicles on public roads. These ride-hailing permits fall under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and have a variety of other requirements and rules. This permit, which allows Zoox to participate in the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, doesn’t allow companies to charge for rides. Zoox has also been testing its technology in Las Vegas, which is considers another target market. Zoox received permission from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles in early 2019 to drive autonomously on state roads. The startup was mapping and test-driving new routes in the greater Las Vegas region last year.

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