posted about 5 hours ago on techcrunch
Editor’s Note: No one knows how to hire Hiring is the lifeblood of the world. Few people do truly singular work; instead, nearly every facet of our civilization is built by groups of humans (and increasingly machines) working in tandem. Image by PeopleImages via Getty Images That presents quite the puzzle though: if teamwork is so critical to the functioning of, well, everything, why are we so god awfully bad at building teams? Minus a couple of high functioning teams of course, the evidence for team rot is all around us. Startups go bust when teams of two (i.e. founders) can’t make simple decisions about the future of their business. Large companies exsanguinate cash while their teams spend eons debating the minutia of a pixel in the checkout flow. At even larger scale, massive infrastructure projects like California’s HSR fail because the right people weren’t planning and building it (plus ten other issues of course). How do we get this so wrong, so consistently? The first reason, and the one most challenging to overcome, is that human endeavors are fundamentally built upon aspirations. A startup is a dream, no different than improving Excel’s formula editor or adding traffic signals to an intersection. Action cannot happen without aspiration, and so we tend to be far more optimistic with all facets of a plan before execution.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
It was hard to know what to expect from “Guava Island.” Last year, Donald Glover and Rihanna filmed the mysterious project with director Hiro Murai (who’s also directed multiple episodes of “Atlanta” and the music video for “This is America”, then they said almost nothing about it until debuting the film at Coachella and releasing it on Amazon. “Guava Island” turns out to be a 54-minute, fable-like story of a musician named Deni (Glover) and his girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) on a fictional Caribbean island. Deni plans to throw a music festival for the community, but the island boss Red Cargo wants to stop him — if his employees stay out late to party, they might not show up for work the next day. On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jon Shieber to discuss our reactions to the film. It’s certainly filled with beautiful footage of Cuba, as well as wonderful musical moments — like a restaging of “This is America” that makes its anti-capitalist themes even more obvious. But the story as a whole feels underdeveloped, and it’s a bit mystifying that someone would cast Rihanna in musical, then fail to give her a single moment to sing. We also discuss an obscure little show called “Game of Thrones,” which returned for its final season last week. We have thoughts on the season premiere, and on what’s coming for the next five episodes. You can listen 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 send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Joanna Glasner Contributor More posts by this contributor A record $2.5B went to US insurance startup deals last year, and big insurers are in all the way Space tech rockets higher In a foodie’s ideal world, we’d all eat healthy, minimally processed cuisine sourced from artisanal farmers, bakers and chefs. In the real world, however, most of us derive the lion’s share of calories from edibles supplied by a handful of giant food conglomerates. As such, the ingredients and processing techniques they favor have an outsized impact on our daily diets. With this in mind, Crunchbase News decided to take a look at corporate food VCs and the startups they are backing to see what their dealmaking might say about our snacking future. We put together a list of venture funds operated by some of the larger food and beverage producers, covering literally everything from soup to nuts (plus lunch meat and soda, too!). Like their corporate backers, startups funded by “Big Food” are a diverse bunch. Recent funding recipients are pursuing endeavors ranging from alternative protein to biospectral imaging to fermented fungus. But if one were to pinpoint an overarching trend, it might be a shift away from cost savings to consumer-friendliness. “You think of food-tech and ag-tech 1.0, these were technologies that were primarily beneficial to the producers,” said Rob LeClerc, founding partner at AgFunder, an agrifood investor network. “This new generation of companies are really more focused on what does the consumer want.” And what does the consumer want? This particular consumer would currently like a zero calorie hot fudge sundae. More broadly, however, the general trends LeClerc sees call for food that is healthier, tastier, nutrient-dense, satiating, ethically sourced and less environmentally impactful. Below, we look at some of the trends in more detail, including funded companies, active investors and the up-and-coming edibles. The new, new protein Mass-market foods may get better but also weirder. This is particularly true for one of the more consistently hot areas of food-tech investment: alternative protein. Demand for protein-rich foods, combined with ethical concerns about consuming animal products, has, for a number of years, led investors to startups offering meaty tasting tidbits sourced from the plant world. But lately, corporate food giants have been looking farther beyond soy and peas. Lab-grown meat, once an oddball endeavor good for headlines about $1,000 meatballs, has been attracting serious cash. Since last year, at least two companies in the space have closed rounds backed by Tyson Ventures, the VC arm of the largest U.S. meat producer. They include pricey meatball maker Memphis Meats (actually based in California), which raised $20 million, and Israel-based Future Meat Technologies, a biotech startup working on animal-free meat, which secured $2 million. Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat. If you cringe at the notion of lab-grown cell meat, then there’s always the option of getting your protein through microbes in volcanic springs. That’s the general aim of Sustainable Bioproducts, a startup that raised $33 million in Series A funding from backers including ADM and Danone Manifesto Ventures. The Chicago company’s technology for making edible protein emerged out of research into extremophile organisms in Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs. Meanwhile, if you hanker for real dairy milk but don’t want to trouble cows, another startup, Perfect Day, is working on a solution. Per the company website: “Instead of having cows do all the work, we use microflora and age-old fermentation techniques to make the very same dairy protein that cows make.” Toward that end, the Berkeley company closed a $35 million Series B in February, with backing from ADM. Fermentation Perfect Day isn’t the only fermentation play raising major funding. Corporate food-tech investors have long been interested in the processing technologies that turn an obscure microbe or under-appreciated crop into a high-demand ingredient. And lately, LeClerc said, they’ve been particularly keen on startups finding new ways to apply the age-old technology known as fermentation. Most of us know fermentation as the process that turns a yucky mix of grain, yeast and water into the popular beverage known as beer. More broadly, however, fermentation is a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. That is, take a substance, add something it reacts with and voilà, you have a new substance. Several of the most heavily funded, buzz-generating companies in the food space are applying fermentation, LeClerc said. Besides Perfect Day, examples he points to include the unicorn Ginkgo Bioworks, Geltor (another alt-protein startup) and mushroom-focused MycoTechnology. Colorado-based MycoTechnology has been a particularly attractive investor target of late. The company has raised $83 million from a mix of corporate and traditional VCs, including a $30 million Series C in January that included Tyson and Kellogg’s venture arm, Eighteen94 Capital . Founded six years ago, the company is pursuing a range of applications for its fermented fungi, including flavor enhancers, protein supplements and preservatives. Supply chain Besides adding strange new ingredients to our grocery shelves, corporate food-tech investors are also putting money into technologies and platforms aimed at boosting the security and efficiency of existing supply chains. Just like new foods, much of the food safety tech sounds odd, too. Silicon Valley-based ImpactVision, a seed-funded startup backed by Campbell Soup VC arm Acre Venture Partners, wants to employ hyper-spectral imaging to perceive information about contamination, food quality and ripeness. Boston-based Spoiler Alert, another Acre portfolio company, develops software and analytics for food companies to manage unsold inventory. And Pensa Systems, which uses AI-powered autonomous drones to track in-store inventory, raised a Series A round this year with backing from the venture arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev. Is weirder better? We highlighted a few trends in corporate food-tech investment, but there are others that merit attention, as well. Probiotics plays, including the maker of the GoodBelly drink line, are generating investor interest. New ingredients other than proteins are also attracting capital, such as UCAN, a startup developing energy snacks based on a novel, slow-digesting carbohydrate. And the list goes on. Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat. But LeClerc noted that new products aren’t always better in the long run — they just might seem so at first. “The question in the back of our head is: Are we ever creating margarine 2.0,” he said. “Just because it’s a plant product doesn’t mean it’s actually better for you.”

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Africa has made its global IPO debut. Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia—a $1 billion-valued company—began trading live on the NYSE last week. The stock offering made Jumia the first upstart operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange. This raises expectations for unicorns and IPOs to create the continent’s first wave of startup moguls. But unlike other markets, big public listings and nine-figure valuations could remain rare in Africa. The rise of venture arms and startup acquisitions will factor more prominently than IPOs in creating Africa’s early startup successes. I’ll break down why. First, a quick briefer. Primer on African tech Not everyone may be aware, but yes, Africa has a booming tech scene. When measured by monetary values, it’s minuscule by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
Wasting time every night debating with yourself or your partner about what to watch on Netflix is a drag. It burns people’s time and good will, robs great creators of attention, and leaves Netflix vulnerable to competitors who can solve discovery. A ReelGood study estimated that the average user spends 18 minutes per day deciding. To date, Netflix’s solution has been its state-of-the-art artificial intelligence that offers personalized recommendations. But that algorithm is ignorant of how we’re feeling in the moment, what we’ve already seen elsewhere, and if we’re factoring in what someone else with us wants to watch too. Netflix is considering a Shuffle button. [Image Credit: AndroidPolice]This week Netflix introduced one basic new approach to discovery: a shuffle button. Click on a show you like such as The Office, and it will queue up a random episode. But that only works if you already know what you want to watch, it’s not a movie, and it’s not a linear series you have to watch in order. Here are three much more exciting, applicable, and lucrative ways for Netflix (or Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the major streaming services) to get us to stop browsing and start chilling: Netflix Channels For the history of broadcast television, people surfed their way to what to watch. They turned on the tube, flipped through a few favorite channels, and jumped in even if a show or movie had already started. They didn’t have to decide between infinite options, and they didn’t have to commit to starting from the beginning. We all have that guilty pleasure we’ll watch until the end whenever we stumble upon it. Netflix could harness that laziness and repurpose the concept of channels so you could surf its on-demand catalog the same way. Imagine if Netflix created channels dedicated to cartoons, action, comedy, or history. It could curate non-stop streams of cherry-picked content, mixing classic episodes and films, new releases related to current events, thematically relevant seasonal video, and Netflix’s own Original titles it wants to promote. For example, the comedy channel could run modern classic films like 40-Year Old Virgin and Van Wilder during the day, top episodes of Arrested Development and Parks And Recreation in the afternoon, a featured recent release film like The Lobster in primetime, and then off-kilter cult hits like Monty Python or its own show Big Mouth in the late night slots. Users who finish one video could get turned on to the next, and those who might not start a personal favorite film from the beginning might happily jump in at the climax. Short-Film Bundles There’s a rapidly expanding demographic of post-couple pre-children people desperately seeking after-work entertainment. They’re too old or settled to go out every night, but aren’t so busy with kids that they lack downtime. But one big shortcoming of Netflix is that it can be tough to get a satisfying dose of entertainment in a limited amount of time before you have to go to bed. A 30-minute TV show is too short. A lot of TV nowadays is serialized so it’s incomprehensible or too cliffhanger-y to watch a single episode, but sometimes you can’t stay up to binge. And movies are too long so you end up exhausted if you manage to finish in one sitting. Netflix could fill this gap by bundling three or so short films together into thematic collections that are approximately 45 minutes to an hour in total. Netflix could commission Originals and mix them with the plethora of untapped existing shorts that have never had a mainstream distribution channel. They’re often too long or prestigious to live on the web, but too short for TV, and it’s annoying to have to go hunting for a new one every 15 minutes. The whole point here is to reduce browsing. Netflix could create collections related to different seasons, holidays, or world news moments, and rebundle the separate shorts on the fly to fit viewership trends or try different curational angles. Often artful and conclusive, they’d provide a sense of culture and closure that a TV episode doesn’t. If you get sleepy you could save the last short, and there’s a feeling of low commitment since you could skip any short that doesn’t grab you. The Nightly Water Cooler Pick One thing we’ve lost with the rise of on-demand video are some of those zeitgeist moments where everyone watches the same thing the same night and can then talk about it together the next day. We still get that with live sports, the occasional tent pole premier like Game Of Thrones, or when a series drops for binge-watching like Stranger Things. But Netflix has the ubiquity to manufacture those moments that stimulate conversation and a sense of unity. Netflix could choose one piece of programming per night per region, perhaps a movie, short arc of TV episodes, or one of the short film bundles I suggested above and stick it prominently on the home page. This Netflix Zeitgeist choice would help override people’s picky preferences that get them stuck browsing by applying peer pressure like, “well, this is what everyone else will be watching.” Netflix’s curators could pick content matched with an upcoming holiday like a Passover TV episode, show a film that’s reboot is about to debut like Dune or Clueless, pick a classic from an actor that’s just passed away like Luke Perry in the original Buffy movie, or show something tied to a big event like Netflix is currently doing with Beyonce’s Coachella concert film. Netflix could even let brands and or content studios pay to have their content promoted in the Zeitgeist slot. As streaming service competition heats up and all the apps battle for the best back catalog, it’s not just exclusives but curation and discovery that will set them apart. These ideas could make Netflix the streaming app where you can just turn it on to find something great, be exposed to gorgeous shorts you’d have never known about, or get to participate in a shared societal experience. Entertainment shouldn’t have to be a chore.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
When Zoom hit the public markets Thursday, its IPO pop, a whopping 81 percent, floored everyone, including its own chief executive officer, Eric Yuan. Yuan became a billionaire this week when his video conferencing business went public. He told Bloomberg that he actually wished his stock hadn’t soared quite so high. I’m guessing his modesty and laser focus attracted Wall Street to his stock; well, that, and the fact that his business is actually profitable. He is, this week proved, not your average tech CEO. I chatted with him briefly on listing day. Here’s what he had to say. “I think the future is so bright and the stock price will follow our execution. Our philosophy remains the same even now that we’ve become a public company. The philosophy, first of all, is you have to focus on execution, but how do you do that? For me as a CEO, my number one role is to make sure Zoom customers are happy. Our market is growing and if our customers are happy they are going to pay for our service. I don’t think anything will change after the IPO. We will probably have a much better brand because we are a public company now, it’s a new milestone.” “The dream is coming true,” he added.  For the most part, it sounded like Yuan just wants to get back to work. Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here. Otherwise, on to other news…   IPO corner You thought I was done with IPO talk? No, definitely not: Pinterest completed its IPO this week too! Here’s the TLDR: Pinterest popped 25 percent on its debut Thursday and is currently trading up 28 percent. Not bad, Pinterest, not bad. Fastly, a startup I’d admittedly never heard of until this week, filed its S-1 and displayed a nice path to profitability. That means the parade of tech IPOs is far from over. Uber… Surprisingly, no Uber IPO news this week. Sit tight, more is surely coming. $1B for self-driving cars While I’m on the subject of Uber, the company’s autonomous vehicles unit did, in fact, raise $1 billion, a piece of news that had been previously reported but was confirmed this week. With funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Uber will spin-out its self-driving car unit, called Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. The deal values ATG at $7.25 billion. Robots! The TechCrunch staff traveled to Berkeley this week for a day-long conference on robotics and artificial intelligence. The highlight? Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert debuted the production version of their buzzworthy electric robot. As we noted last year, the company plans to produce around 100 models of the robot in 2019. Raibert said the company is aiming to start production in July or August. There are robots coming off the assembly line now, but they are betas being used for testing, and the company is still doing redesigns. Pricing details will be announced this summer. #TCRobotics pic.twitter.com/Vf4kUWH0fR — Lucas Matney (@lucasmtny) April 19, 2019 Digital health investment is down Despite notable rounds for digital health businesses like Ro, known for its direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction medications, investment in the digital health space is actually down, reports TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. Venture investors, private equity and corporations funneled $2 billion into digital health startups in the first quarter of 2019, down 19 percent from the nearly $2.5 billion invested a year ago. There were also 38 fewer deals done in the first quarter this year than last year, when investors backed 187 early-stage digital health companies, according to data from Mercom Capital Group. Startup capital Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer Lyric raises $160M from VCs, Airbnb Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round Ro, a D2C online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation Logistics startup Zencargo gets $20M to take on the business of freight forwarding Co-Star raises $5M to bring its astrology app to Android Y Combinator grad Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as a service Extra Crunch Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. VCs are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities. So how do you do that in such a competitive landscape? Storytelling. Read contributor’s Russ Heddleston’s latest for Extra Crunch: Data tells us that investors love a good story. Plus: The different playbook of D2C brands And finally, for the first of a new series on VC-backed exits aptly called The Exit. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney spoke to Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher about Dynamic Yield’s $300M exit to McDonald’s. #Equitypod If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about rounds for Brex, Ro and Kindbody, plus special guest Danny Crichton joined us to discuss the latest in the chip and sensor world.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Apologies for skipping day three. This kept me extremely busy yesterday. Though the Galaxy Fold remained a constant companion. Before you ask (or after you ask on Twitter without having read beyond the headline), no it’s hasn’t broken yet. It’s actually been fairly robust, all things considered. But here’s the official line from Samsung on that, A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter. Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers. I’ll repeat what I said the other day: breakages and lemons have been known to happen with preproduction units. I’ve had it happen with device in a number of occasions in my many years of doing this. That said, between the amount of time it took Samsung to let us reviewers actually engage with the device and the percentage of problems we’ve seen from the limited sample size, the results so far are a bit of a cause for a concern. The issue with the second bit  is that protective layer looks A LOT like the temporary covers the company’s phones ship with, which is an issue. I get why some folks attempted to peel it off. That’s a problem. At this point into my life with the phone, I’m still impressed by the feat of engineering went into this technology, but in a lot of ways, it does still feel like a very first generation product. It’s big, it’s expensive and software needs tweaks to create a seamless (so to speak) experience between screens. That said, there’s enough legacy good stuff that Samsung has built into the phone to make it otherwise a solid experience. If you do end up biting the bullet and buying a Fold, you’ve find many aspects of it to be a solid workhorse and good device, in spite of some of the idiosyncrasies here (assuming, you know, the screen works fine). It’s a very interesting and very impressive device, and it does feel like a sign post of the future. But it’s also a sometimes awkward reminder that we’re not quite living in the future just yet. Day One Day Two

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Last year at our TC Sessions: Robotics event, Boston Dynamics announced its intention to commercialize SpotMini. It was a big step for the secretive company. After a quarter of building some of the world’s most sophisticated robots, it was finally taking a step into the commercial realm, making the quadrupedal robot available to anyone with the need and financial resources for the device. CEO Marc Raibert made a return appearance at our event this week to discuss the progress Boston Dynamics has made in the intervening 12 months, both with regard to SpotMini and the company’s broader intentions to take a more market-based approach to a number of its creations. The appearance came hot on the heels of a key acquisition for the company. In fact, Kinema was the first major acquisition in the company’s history — no doubt helped along by the very deep coffers of its parent company, SoftBank. The Bay Area-based startup’s imaging technology forms a key component to Boston Dynamics’ revamped version of its wheeled robot hand. With a newfound version system and its dual arms replaced with a multi-suction cupped gripper. A recent video from the company demonstrated the efficiency and speed with which the system can be deployed to move boxes from shelf to conveyor belt. As Raibert noted onstage, Handle is the closest Boston Dynamics has come to a “purpose-built robot” — i.e. a robot designed from the ground up to perform a specific task. It marks a new focus for a company that, after its earliest days of DARPA-funded projects, appears to primarily be driven by the desire to create the world’s most sophisticated robots. “We estimate that there’s about a trillion cubic foot boxes moved around the world every year,” says Raibert. “And most of it’s not automated. There’s really a huge opportunity there. And of course this robot is great for us, because it includes the DNA of a balancing robot and moving dynamically and having counterweights that let it reach a long way. So it’s not different, in some respects, from the robots we’ve been building for years. On the other hand, some of it is very focused on grasping, being able to see boxes and do tasks like stack them neatly together.” The company will maintain a foot on that side of things, as well. Robots like the humanoid Atlas will still form an important piece of its work, even when no commercial applications are immediately apparent. But once again, it was SpotMini who was the real star of the show. This time, however, the company debuted the version of the robot that will go into production. At first glance, the robot looked remarkably similar to the version we had onstage last year. “We’ve we’ve redesigned many of the components to make it more reliable, to make the skins work better and to protect it if it does fall,” says Raibert.  “It has two sets [of cameras] on the front, and one on each side and one on the back. So we can see in all directions.” I had have the opportunity to pilot the robot — making me one of a relatively small group of people outside of the Boston Dynamics offices who’ve had the opportunity to do so. While SpotMini has all of the necessary technology for autonomous movement, user control is possible and preferred in certain situations (some of which we’ll get to shortly). [Gifs featured are sped up a bit from original video above] The controller is an OEMed design that looks something like an Xbox controller with an elongated touchscreen in the middle. The robot can be controlled directly with the touchscreen, but I opted for a pair of joysticks. Moving Spot around is a lot like piloting a drone. One joystick moves the robot forward and back, the other turns it left and right. Like a drone, it takes some getting used to, particularly with regard to the orientation of the robot. One direction is always forward for the robot, but not necessarily for the pilot. Tapping a button on the screen switches the joystick functionality to the arm (or “neck,” depending on your perspective). This can be moved around like a standard robotic arm/grasper. The grasper can also be held stationary, while the rest of the robot moves around it in a kind of shimmying fashion. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty simple. In fact, my mother, whose video game experience peaked out at Tetris, was backstage at the event and happily took the controller from Boston Dynamics, controlling the robot with little issue. Boston Dynamics is peeling back the curtain more than ever. During our conversation, Raibert debuted being the scenes footage of component testing. It’s a site to behold, with various pieces of the robot splayed out on lab bench. It’s a side of Boston Dynamics we’ve not really seen before. Ditto for the images of large Spot Mini testing corrals, where several are patrolling around autonomous. Boston Dynamics also has a few more ideas of what the future could look like for the robot. Raibert shared footage of Massachusetts State Police utilizing spot in different testing scenarios, where the the robot’s ability to open doors could potential get human officers out of harm’s way during a hostage or terrorists. Another unit was programmed to autonomously patrol a construction site in Tokyo, outfitted with a Street View-style 360 camera, so it can monitor progress. “This lets the construction company get an assessment of progress at their site,” he explains. “You might think that that’s a low end task. But these companies have thousands of sites. And they have to patrol them at least a couple of times a week to know where they are in progress. And they’re anticipating using Spot for that. So we have over a dozen construction companies lined up to do test at various stages of testing and proof of concept in their scenarios.” Raibert says the Spot Mini is still on track for a July release. The company plans to manufacture around 100 in its initial run, though it’s still not ready to talk about pricing.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Lil Dicky, the white comedy rapper with questionable taste but an impressive rolodex, has come up with a millennial’s Earth Day answer to the 80s celebrity-studded, charity hit “We are the World“. Dicky isn’t tackling African famine, instead he’s come up with an oddly anally-fixated paean to the Earth’s climate and the disaster the world faces if there isn’t some collective action taken to reverse our current course of carbon emissions. To hammer this message home, and raise money for Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change-focused foundation, the tricky Dicky with a fraught history has enlisted some very very powerful celebrity friends. DiCaprio appears in the video, as does Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Halsey, Ed Sheeran, Snoop Dogg, Kevin Hart, Wiz Kalifa, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and the Backstreet Boys. “Like a lot of people, I had a vague idea that something bad was happening here on Earth, but I didn’t really realize how insane our climate crisis is and how screwed humanity is about to be,” the artist told Vice’s music publication, Noisey, in an interview. “It’s full-on crazy! If we don’t get our act together now, and change a lot about our fundamental behavior, Earth will become unlivable alarmingly soon. Why did it take me so long to get wind of this? I feel like everybody on the planet should be talking about this 24/7. But that’s not the case. So I wanted to make the most entertaining and epic piece of content possible, to get everyone aware and talking. Because it’s now or never… Let’s save the Earth! We love the Earth!!!!” The seven minute video has a host of cameos, a live action sequence, a farting skunk, Justin Bieber as a baboon singing about his anus, horny rhinos, and Snoop Dogg as talking weed. And it’s racked up over 7 million views and counting on YouTube. Saving the planet never seemed so questionable.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Roughly a year ago, entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Jyri Engeström decided to form a traditional venture outfit called Yes VC. Fast forward, and the duo has nearly closed on $50 million for their debut fund, including backing from Supercell founder Ilkka Paananen, former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and the family office of Nokia Chairman Risto Siilasmaa. That investors would want to invest alongside them isn’t surprising. Fake famously co-founded the photo-sharing site Flickr, which sold to Yahoo, before co-founding Hunch, which sold to eBay. Engeström co-founded Jaiku, a mobile social network that sold to Google, before co-founding Ditto, a mobile local recommendations app that was acquired by Groupon. They’ve also written early checks as angel investors to a wide number of companies. Fake backed Kickstarter and Etsy, among tens of others; Engeström’s various bets include the popular clothing label Betabrand, and startups like Applifier (acquired by Unity Technologies) and Moves (acquired by Facebook). Now, investing on behalf of San Francisco-based Yes VC, Fake and Engeström have invested in a dozen more startups, including a clothing retailer that we reported on earlier this week called Kids on 45th that’s not in Silicon Valley and doesn’t photograph what it sells to customers online — which is a big departure from nearly every other e-commerce concept we’ve covered. In fact, because we thought it was so interesting, we asked Fake to hop on the phone with us and share what else she’s seeing — and funding. Unfortunately, one of the most intriguing investments that we wound up discussing we can’t include (the founders would not be pleased), but we can share it soon. Our conversation has otherwise been lightly edited for length. TC: Kids on 45th seems very unique in that it caters to those willing to buy kids clothing sight unseen in exchange for affordability and time savings. It’s rare to see an e-commerce company that’s not catering to status-conscious consumers. CF: They are rare, my goodness. It’s a severely under-addressed market. Its [customers] tend to be middle-class and lower-income moms who are super busy working and don’t care about brands or or have a lot of time to select kids’ clothing. So many Silicon Valley startups cater to college dudes who are trying to get out of doing their chores, I find it kind of offensive. This is a company that supports moms who really need the support, who can’t afford to have their groceries delivered or their packages dropped off and picked up — who are really pulling their weight, and everyone else’s. TC: It’s in Seattle. How did you meet the company? CF: We met [founder] Elise [Worthy] through [the consumer VC firm] Maveron. It was a little early for them so they introduced us. We often get referrals from Series A firms and from founders who know what we look for and what we like, and Maveron knew Elise was perfect for us. Only three [of our new portfolio companies] are in the Bay Area, by the way. We have one in Portland, Maine; in Boise; in Vancouver. Silicon Valley is still Rome, but other places are becoming much stronger. We’re also seeing a lot of stuff from women, partly because it’s a 50-percent female partnership here. There are so many awesome companies led by women and female entrepreneur networks. Our secret sauce is that we see a lot of these opportunities. Etsy I took all around the Valley for a seed round and everyone pooh-poohed it because they had this blind spot of not understanding businesses that cater to women. But there are huge opportunities all over the place. TC: We talked when you were launching Yes VC and you were really enthusiastic about decentralization. Are you investing in blockchain startups? CF: There isn’t a lot of compelling blockchain stuff that we’ve seen, though I do believe that the massive consolidation of power in the top five companies is not good for tech industry, startups or the broader ‘innovation ecosystem.’ What I find interesting lately is all the stuff going on in social platforms and online communities that are fine grained, meaning networks for specific or narrower communities, of developers, of women, of people dealing with a certain problem. When Flickr started a year or two after Facebook, the Internet was so huge [and open] that it could serve these faceted networks. I think we’ve since seen the results of trying to be all things too all people —  nuns, white supremacists, truck drivers — [and] you shouldn’t serving all those people. TC: You clearly think about these things a lot. You started a podcast this year, “Should This Exist,” about technologies that affect humanity.  CF: It’s stuff I’ve been talking about all along and conversations I’ve been having online for a long time. In recent years, we’ve seen the effect of blitzscaling, and ‘move fast and break things,’ and development principles that the Valley has been flaming the flames of, so we ask [on the podcast]: Can this exist? Can it get funding? And should this exist? We’re putting out an episode every couple of weeks, and we’re halfway through this first season, with a plan to put out 10 episodes altogether. We did one episode on ‘neuropriming,’ or zapping your brain to make it learn faster; another on AI therapy, with AI replacing people in the form of therapists and teachers and surgeons in diagnosing brain tumors. We’ve also talked about facial recognition and drones and supersonic flight, and stuff coming up in genetics — scary things with both huge potential to serve humanity and also to go really, terribly wrong. It’s important to [ask more questions] at the beginning of these industries rather than later, when we’re making a last-ditch effort to [solve the problems they’ve created]. TC: What are your theses right now when it comes to investing? CF: All of our confreres in VC are like, ‘You got to have a thesis.’ It all sounds kind of like crap. What we did was retrospected all the stuff that has done really well [that we’ve helped fund], including Etsy and Cloudera, and what they had in common. One is a marketplace for handmade goods, the other an open-source tech platform, but what they have in common is that they were both at the vanguard of movements. Etsy became the vanguard of the DIY movement. Kickstarter [another early angel investment] became the vanguard of crowdfunding. Blue Bottle Coffee was the vanguard of the artisanal coffee movement. Public Goods [a membership club for natural and sustainable bathroom products] is in the vanguard [away from this] glut of marketing where you’re being constantly bombarded with messaging. It’s about simplification. Sometimes, you just want shampoo without being assaulted by branding first. TC: What size checks are you writing? CF: Typically, it’s a $500,000 check into a pre-seed deal, or we’ve gone as high as $1.5 million, writing follow-on checks selectively. TC: Biggest investment out of the new fund? CF: It may be either Kids on 45th or Public Goods. TC: Are you seeing less frothy valuations in other markets? CF: That’s true to some extent, but Valley fever is a contagion that takes hold as much in Indiana as California. It really is the case that the price is whatever the market will bear.

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Tesla is cutting its board down by more than 36 percent to seven directors by 2020, a move that includes the loss of some CEO Elon Musk’s early advisers and allies, according to regulator filings posted Friday. The filing comes days before a busy week for Tesla that will include an event meant to highlight its progress with autonomous vehicle technology, its quarterly earnings call, and a hearing with a judge to determine whether Musk and the SEC were able to reach a resolution contempt of court request over his Twitter use. Longtime board member Brad Buss and Linda Johnson Rice, who joined two years ago as an independent director, will not seek re-election this year. Their terms will expire at the upcoming annual meeting. The board said in the proxy filing that it doesn’t plan to fill their seats. The changes are the latest moves by the board to gain more independence and follow the company and Musk’s settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year. Under the settlement, Tesla agreed to add two independent directors and Musk would step down as chairman for three years. Antonio Gracias, whose term ends in 2020, and venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson will leave the board in 2020. Jurvetson, an early adviser of Musk, just returned this month from a leave of absence from the board. Jurvetson had been on leave from the Tesla and SpaceX since 2017 following his resignation as partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson amid an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. Ira Ehrenpreis and Kathleen Wilson-Thompson were nominated for re-election at the 2019 annual meeting. The settlement between Musk, Tesla and the SEC grew out of a tweet in August that he had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $420 per share.  The SEC filed a complaint in federal district court in September alleging that Musk lied. Musk and Tesla settled with the SEC without admitting wrongdoing and Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine; Musk had to agree to step down as Tesla chairman for a period of at least three years; the company had to appoint two independent directors to the board; and Tesla was also told to put in place a way to monitor Musk’s statements to the public about the company, including via Twitter. The relationship between Musk and the SEC has remained strained. Musk has openly criticized the SEC via Twitter on various occasions, openly mocking the agency at times, even days after the settlement was reached. The SEC requested Musk be held in contempt for a tweet sent in February that the agency argued contained material information.

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Fastly, the content delivery network that’s raised $219 million in financing from investors (according to Crunchbase), is ready for its close up in the public markets. The eight-year-old company is one of several businesses that improve the download time and delivery of different websites to internet browsers and it has just filed for an IPO. Media companies like The New York Times use Fastly to cache their homepages, media and articles on Fastly’s servers so that when somebody wants to browse the Times online, Fastly’s servers can send it directly to the browser. In some cases, Fastly serves up to 90 percent of browser requests. E-commerce companies like Stripe and Ticketmaster are also big users of the service. They appreciate Fastly because its network of servers enable faster load times — sometimes as quickly as 20 or 30 milliseconds, according to the company. The company raised its last round of financing roughly nine months ago, a $40 million investment that Fastly said would be the last before a public offering. Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO True to its word, the company is hoping public markets have the appetite to feast on yet another “unicorn” business. While Fastly lacks the sizzle of companies like Zoom, Pinterest or Lyft, its technology enables a huge portion of the activities in which consumers engage online, and it could be a bellwether for competitors like Cloudflare, which recently raised $150 million and was also exploring a public listing. The company’s public filing has a placeholder amount of $100 million, but given the amount of funding the company has received, it’s far more likely to seek closer to $1 billion when it finally prices its shares. Fastly reported revenue of roughly $145 million in 2018, compared to $105 million in 2017, and its losses declined year on year to $29 million, down from $31 million in the year-ago period. So its losses are shrinking, its revenue is growing (albeit slowly) and its cost of revenues are rising from $46 million to around $65 million over the same period. That’s not a great number for the company, but it’s offset by the amount of money that the company’s getting from its customers. Fastly breaks out that number in its dollar-based net expansion rate figure, which grew 132 percent in 2018. It’s an encouraging number, but as the company notes in its prospectus, it’s got an increasing number of challenges from new and legacy vendors in the content delivery network space. The market for cloud computing platforms, particularly enterprise-grade products, “is highly fragmented, competitive and constantly evolving,” the company said in its prospectus. “With the introduction of new technologies and market entrants, we expect that the competitive environment in which we compete will remain intense going forward. Legacy CDNs, such as Akamai, Limelight, EdgeCast (part of Verizon Digital Media), Level3, and Imperva, and small business-focused CDNs, such as Cloudflare, InStart, StackPath, and Section.io, offer products that compete with ours. We also compete with cloud providers who are starting to offer compute functionality at the edge like Amazon’s CloudFront, AWS Lambda, and Google Cloud Platform.”

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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This is a relaxed, Friday, Equity Shot. That means Kate and Alex were on deck to chew through the latest from the IPO front. We’ll keep doing extra episodes as long as we have to, though we’re slightly sorry if we’re becoming a bit much. That’s a joke — we’re not sorry at all. So, three things this week. First, Fastly filed an S-1 (Alex’s notes here); second, Zoom completed its highly anticipated IPO (Kate’s post here, Alex has notes too); and third, Pinterest went public too (more from TechCrunch here). Ultimately, Pinterest’s stock offering valued the company at $12.6 billion (higher than its latest private valuation), but we’ve got some notes on the “undercorn” phenomenon anyway (here and here). Fastly is going public after raising more than $200 million at a valuation greater than $900 million. Founded in 2011, the content-delivery company surpassed the $100 million revenue mark in 2017, growing a little under 40 percent in 2018. It’s an unprofitable shop, but it has a clear path to profitability. And given how Zoom’s IPO went, it’s probably drafting a bit off of market momentum. As mentioned, Zoom had a wildly successful first day of trading. The company ended up pricing its shares above range at $36 apiece, only to debut on the Nasdaq at $65 apiece. Yes, that’s an 81 percent pop, and yes, we were a bit floored. Finally, Pinterest’s debut was solid, leading to a more than 25 percent gain over its above-range IPO price. What’s not to like about that? It’s hard to find fault with the offering. Pinterest got past the negative press and questions about private market valuations, went public, raised a truckload of money and now just has to execute. We’ll be watching. If you’re looking for more Uber IPO content, don’t worry, there’s plenty more of that to come. See ya next week. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

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Malware researcher Marcus Hutchins has pleaded guilty to two counts of creating and selling a powerful banking malware, ending a long and protracted battle with U.S. prosecutors. Hutchins, a British national who goes by the online handle MalwareTech, was arrested in August 2017 as he was due to fly back to the U.K. following the Def Con security conference in Las Vegas. Prosecutors charged Hutchins with his involvement with creating the Kronos banking malware, dating back to 2014. He was later freed on bail. A plea agreement was filed with the Eastern District of Wisconsin, where the case was being heard on Friday. His trial was set to begin later this year. Hutchins agreed to plead guilty to distributing Kronos, a trojan that can be used to steal passwords and credentials from banking websites. In recent years, the trojan has continued to spread. He also agreed to plead guilty to a second count of conspiracy. Hutchins faces up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors have dropped the remaining charges. In a brief statement on his website, Hutchins said: “I regret these actions and accept full responsibility for my mistakes.” “Having grown up, I’ve since been using the same skills that I misused several years ago for constructive purposes,” he said. “I will continue to devote my time to keeping people safe from malware attacks.” His attorney Marcia Hoffman did not immediately return a request for comment. Hutchins rose to prominence after he stopped the spread of the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017, months before his arrest. The attack used powerful hacking tools developed by the National Security Agency, which were later leaked, to backdoor thousands of Windows computers and install ransomware. The attack was later attributed to hackers backed by North Korea, knocking U.K. hospitals offline and crippling major companies around the world. By registering a domain name found in the malware’s code, Hutchins stemmed the spread of the infection. He was hailed a hero for stopping the attack. Prior to his release and after, Hutchins gained further praise and respect from the security community for his contributions to the malware-reversing field, and demonstrating his findings so others can learn from his findings. Justice Department spokesperson Nicole Navas declined to comment. WannaCry hero heads into Tuesday hearing as the security community crowdfunds his defense

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Another Silicon Valley company is settling with the SEC: the online lending company Prosper, which the SEC had accused of “miscalculating and materially overstating annualized net returns to retail and other investors.” Prosper has agreed to pay $3 million as part of the settlement, in which it has neither admitted nor denied the agency’s allegations. According to a new release from the SEC: “For almost two years, Prosper told tens of thousands of investors that their returns were higher than they actually were despite warning signs that should have alerted Prosper that it was miscalculating those returns.” The 14-year-old, San Francisco-based company “excluded certain non-performing charged off loans from its calculation of annualized net returns” that it communicated to investors from around July 2015 through May 2017. The mistake owed to a coding error that excluded the defaulted loans from its computations, the SEC said, causing Prosper to overstate its annualized net returns to more than 30,000 investors on individual account pages on its site and in emails soliciting additional investments from investors. The SEC added that “many” investors decided to make additional investments based on the overstated annualized net returns and the “Prosper failed to identify and correct the error despite [its] knowledge that it no longer understood how annualized net returns were calculated and despite investor complaints about the calculation.” The settlement is the second for the SEC in two week’s time. On April 2, the SEC announced that the founder and former chief executive of Jumio has agree to pay the agency $17.4 million to settle charges that he defrauded investors in the mobile payments and identity verification start-up before it went bankrupt.

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A hacker stole thousands of documents from Mexico’s embassy in Guatemala and posted them online. The hacker, who goes by the online handle @0x55Taylor, tweeted a link to the data earlier this week. The data is no longer available for download after the cloud host pulled the data offline, but the hacker shared the document dump with TechCrunch to verify its contents. The hacker told TechCrunch in a message: “A vulnerable server in Guatemala related to the Mexican embassy was compromised and I downloaded all the documents and databases.” He said he contacted Mexican officials but he was ignored. In previous correspondence with the hacker, he said he tries to report problems and has received bounty payouts for his discoveries. “But when I don’t get a reply, then it’s going public,” he said. More than 4,800 documents were stolen, most of which related to the inner workings of the Mexican embassy in the Guatemalan capital, including its consular activities, such as recognizing births and deaths, dealing with Mexican citizens who have been incarcerated or jailed and the issuing of travel documents. More than a thousand passports — including identification issued to diplomats — were stolen. (Image: supplied) We found more than a thousand highly sensitive identity documents of primarily Mexican citizens and diplomats — including scans of passports, visas, birth certificates and more — but also some Guatemalan citizens. Several documents contained scans of the front and back of payment cards. One of the diplomatic visas issued to a Mexican diplomat stolen in the files. (Image: supplied) The stolen data also included dozens of letters granting diplomatic rights, privileges and immunities to embassy staff. Diplomatic rights grant employees of the foreign embassy certain protections from their host country’s government and law enforcement. Diplomatic immunity, for example, allows staff to be granted safe passage in and out of the country and are generally safe from prosecution. Other documents seen by TechCrunch were signed off personally by Mexico’s ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Manuel López Moreno, and were instructed to be transported by diplomatic bag, which foreign missions use to transport official correspondence between countries that cannot be searched by police or customs. Many of the files were marked “confidential,” though it’s not known if the hacked data included anything considered by the Mexican government to be classified or secret. Other files were internal administrative documents relating to staff medical expenses, vacation and time off and vehicle certifications. When reached Friday, Gerardo Izzo, a spokesperson for the consul general in New York, said it is taking the matter “very seriously” but did not immediately have comment. Friday is a national holiday in Mexico. Related stories: Tufts expelled a student for grade hacking. She claims innocence Hackers publish personal data on thousands of US police officers and federal agents Chipotle customers are saying their accounts have been hacked Massive mortgage and loan data leak gets worse as original documents also exposed Two hackers behind 2016 Uber data breach have been indicted for another hack Asus was warned of hacking risks months ago, thanks to leaky passwords

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Psst! We’re looking at you, early-stage startup founders. How would you like your startup to be a media and investor darling at Disrupt San Francisco 2019? If you think your startup has what it takes to make the cut, apply to be a TC Top Pick. The application process is super easy, free and potentially — dare we say — life changing. Yup, we dare. Our TC Top Picks program is competitive and highly selective. TechCrunch editors are a notoriously picky bunch, and they’ll review every application thoroughly before choosing up to five top startups in each of these categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, SaaS and Social Impact & Education. Every startup selected as a TC Top Pick receives a free Startup Alley Exhibition package, invitations to special events at Disrupt SF — like the investor reception — and prime real estate in the Startup Alley exhibition hall. It’s one thing for us to tell you that being a TC Top Pick can change your startup’s trajectory, but it’s more effective to hear first-hand experiences from previous Top Picks — like this one. Israeli-based CAARESYS earned a TC Top Pick designation in the mobility category at Disrupt SF 2018. The startup’s vehicle monitoring system uses low-emission radio frequency radar and contactless biometrics to track the body location and physical state — respiration rate, heart rate and heart-rate variability — of each passenger in the car. According to Konstantin Berezin, the company’s COO and co-founder, the connections they made as a TC Top Pick at Disrupt SF resulted in projects with three OEM and Tier 1 companies. The company is currently in the integration phase with auto manufacturers to get the systems into cars by 2021. “We also followed up with a potential customer we met at Disrupt and, as a result of that meeting, we signed a memorandum of understanding to partner on a mutual project,” said Berezin. “I can’t disclose the name just yet, but we’re very excited. Being a TC Top Pick really put us on the map.” Another perk that comes with being a TC Top Pick is the interview with a TechCrunch editor on the Showcase stage in Startup Alley. That video interview, which we promote across our social media platforms, provides valuable media exposure long after the conference ends. “The interview was terrific, and TechCrunch did a very professional job shooting and editing the video,” said Berezin. “Sending our video to current and potential customers gives us prestige and a certain cool factor. We love it!” Of course, there’s more than one way to grab the spotlight at Disrupt SF. While you’re applying to be a TC Top Pick, why not apply to compete in Startup Battlefield, too? Our epic startup pitch competition carries a $100,000 equity-free cash prize. Yowza! Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place October 2-4. Take a life-changing step to get the most out of your time at Disrupt and apply to the TC Top Pick program today. Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt SF? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Alphabet’s subsidiary focused on urban tech development, Sidewalk Labs, is now trying to reinvent signage for smart cities. These signs aren’t to direct the flow of traffic, or to point the way to urban landmarks — they’re designed to let citizens know when they’re being monitored. The proposal is part of a push by the company to acclimate people to the technologies that it’s deploying in cities like New York and Toronto. Globally, competition for contracts to deploy sensors, data management, and predictive technologies in cities can run into the tens of millions, if not billions of dollars, and Sidewalk Labs knows this better than most. Because its projects are among the most ambitious deployments of sensing and networking technologies for smart cities, the company has also faced the most public criticism. So at least partially in an attempt to blunt attacks from critics, the company is proposing to make its surveillance and monitoring efforts more transparent. “Digital technology is all around us, but often invisible. Consider: on any one urban excursion (your commute, perhaps), you could encounter CCTVs, traffic cameras, transit card readers, bike lane counters, Wi-Fi access points, occupancy sensors that open doors — potentially all on the same block.” writes Jacqueline Lu, who’s title is “assistant director of the public realm” at Sidewalk Labs. Lu notes that while the technologies can be useful, there’s little transparency around the data these technologies are collecting, who the data is being collected by, and what the data is collected for. Cities like Boston and London already indicate when technology is being used in the urban environment, but Sidewalk Labs convened a group of designers and urban planners to come up with a system for signage that would make the technology being used even more public for citizens going about their day. Image courtesy of Sidewalk Labs Back in 2013, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission called for the development of these types of indicators when it issued a call for mobile privacy disclosures. But that seems to have resulted in companies just drafting reams of jargon-filled disclosures that obscured more than they revealed. At Sidewalk, the goal is transparency, say the authors of the company’s suggested plan. “We strongly believe that people should know how and why data is being collected and used in the public realm, and we also believe that design and technology can meaningfully facilitate this understanding. For these reasons, we embarked on a collaborative project to imagine what digital transparency in the public realm could be like,” writes Lu and her co-authors Principal Designer Patrick Keenan and Legal Associate Chelsey Colbert. As an example, Sidewalk showed off potential designs for signage that would alert people to the presence of the company’s Numina technology. That tech monitors traffic patterns by recording, anonymizing and transmitting data from sensors using digital recording and algorithmically enhanced software to track movement in an area. These sensors are installed on light poles and transmit data wirelessly. At the very least, the technology can’t be any worse than the innocuously intended cameras that are monitoring publicly spaces already (and can be turned into surveillance tools easily). The hexagonal designs indicate the purpose of the technology, the company deploying it, the reason for its use, whether or not the tech is collecting sensitive information and a QR code that can be scanned to find out more information. The issue is with experiments like these in the public sphere is that there’s no easy way to opt out of them. Sidewalk Lab’s Toronto project is both an astounding feat of design and the apotheosis of surveillance capitalism. Once these decisions are made to cede public space to the private sector, or sacrifice privacy for security (or simply better information about a location for the sake of convenience) they’re somewhat difficult to unwind. As with most of the salient issues with technology today, it’s about unintended consequences. Information about a technology’s deployment isn’t enough if the relevant parties haven’t thought through the ramifications of that technology’s use.

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Netflix is testing a new feature that can help you start streaming when you don’t know what to watch. The company confirmed it’s testing a shuffle mode of sorts, which will allow you to easily click on a popular show to start playing a random episode. The idea with the feature is to offer an experience that’s more like traditional TV — where you could just turn the set on, and there would be something to watch. With today’s streaming services, that sort of seamless experience is more difficult to achieve. Instead, viewers now have to first select a streaming app, then scroll through endless menus and recommendations before they can settle on their next title. The new shuffle feature, instead, offers something closer to the experience of turning on cable TV, when there was always some classic favorite show playing in syndication. The shows being tested with the new feature appear to be those that people choose when they don’t know what else to watch, like “The Office,” “New Girl,” “Our Planet,” “Arrested Development” and others. “The Office,” in particular, has a reputation for being a go-to pick for when you’re not in the middle of some other binge fest. The TV shows appear in a new row, titled “Play a Random Episode.” To get started, you’d click any TV show’s thumbnail, and a random episode from the series then starts playing. The thumbnails themselves are also adorned with a red “shuffle” icon to indicate they’ll play a random episode. Can Netflix and Hulu just add a shuffle button to tv series ? I know I want to watch the Office, but narrowing down the episode is just way to hard. — CHEMICAL aleX (@alexandra54637) April 19, 2019 (Above: Seems someone had the right idea) The new feature was first spotted by the folks at Android Police, who saw the option appear in the Android version of Netflix’s app. Netflix confirmed to TechCrunch the shuffle feature is something it’s considering, but hasn’t yet committed to rolling out. “We are testing the ability for members to play a random episode from different TV series on the Android mobile app. These tests typically vary in length of time and by region, and may not become permanent,” a Netflix spokesperson said. Netflix for some time has been focused on ways to get users streaming its content faster, after they log in. That’s where its decision to run autoplaying trailers comes in, for example, or why it now features those Stories-inspired previews, or why it tested promoting its shows right on the login screen. Image credit: Android Police

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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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here. 1. Zoom pops 81 percent in Nasdaq debut Thursday was a big day for tech IPOs, with Zoom opening trading at $65 a share. The company’s initial public offering gave it a fully diluted market cap of roughly $16 billion. Meanwhile, Pinterest debuted on the New York Stock Exchange at $23.75 per share. 2. Facebook now says its password leak affected ‘millions’ of Instagram users “We discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format,” the company said. “We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users. We will be notifying these users as we did the others.” 3. Mueller report sheds new light on how the Russians hacked the DNC and the Clinton campaign At one point, the Russians used servers located in the U.S. to carry out the massive data exfiltration effort, the report says. The Instagram app is seen on an iPhone on 16 March, 2017. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images) 4. Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype Hiding Like counts could reduce the herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could also reduce the sense of competition. 5. The consumer version of BBM is shutting down on May 31 While the consumer version of BlackBerry Messenger is shutting down, the service will still exist. In fact, BlackBerry announced a plan to open its enterprise version to general consumers. 6. Amazon launches ad-supported music service to Echo owners Until this week, Echo owners who wanted to stream music from Amazon could either pay for an annual Prime membership in order to access Prime Music, or they could pay $3.99 per month to stream from Amazon Music Unlimited. 7. The different playbooks of D2C brands Venture capital firms have invested over $4 billion in D2C brands since 2012, with 2018 alone accounting for over $1 billion. How are these D2C brands going to evolve and how could they sustain as businesses? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

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Ramotion is a remote branding and product design agency that has worked with Bay Area tech startups since 2014. While they typically do branding for funded, fast-growing startups, Ramotion has helped companies ranging from Bitmoji’s early brand identity to Mozilla’s rebrand. We spoke to Ramotion’s CEO Denis Pakhaliuk about their iterative approach, his favorite branding projects and more.   Ramotion’s branding philosophy: “We are a big fan of starting small: designing a small package, releasing it and then iterating on top of that. So, founders need to be focused on what’s really necessary right now for their next round of investment or product releases.” On common founder mistakes: “I think some founders think they need everything, but they actually need an MVP and product design. The same goes for brand identity. They need to have some key elements like colors, typeface and the logo. There is no need to do everything in the beginning, because the logo and brand identity becomes meaningful after it’s used. It’ll eventually improve.” “They’re the reason we have such an amazing logo today.” Kevin Sproles, Austin, founder & CEO at Volusion Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. Interview with Ramotion’s CEO Denis Pakhaliuk Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me about your journey and how you came to create Ramotion? Denis Pakhaliuk: Yeah, I started as a CG designer more than 10 years ago. I was doing computer graphics, CG modeling, digitalization of architectural design and automotive design. I was initially very focused on German cars and industrial design. Once iPhone 3G came out, I switched to doing UI design for mobile apps, which was a very hot topic at the time. From that point I met a guy who just said, “Hey, I’m thinking of building an agency,” and so we decided to do it together. It started with a few people and now we have up to 30. We focus on different products, from small companies to more established brands, like Salesforce, among others. So yeah, it’s been a fun journey. Yvonne Leow: At what point did Ramotion start working with startups?

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Julian Shapiro Contributor Share on Twitter Julian Shapiro is the founder of BellCurve.com, a growth marketing agency that trains you to become a marketing professional. He also writes at Julian.com. More posts by this contributor How do you hire a great growth marketer? How do startups actually get their content marketing to work? Editors Note: This article is part of a series that explores the world of growth marketing for founders. If you’ve worked with an amazing growth marketing agency, nominate them to be featured in our shortlist of top growth marketing agencies in tech. Startups often set themselves back a year by hiring the wrong growth marketer. This post shares a framework my marketing agency uses to source and vet high-potential growth candidates. With it, early-stage startups can identify and attract a great first growth hire. It’ll also help you avoid unintentionally hiring candidates who lack broad competency. Some marketers master 1-2 channels, but aren’t experts at much else. When hiring your first growth marketer, you should aim for a generalist. This post covers two key areas: How I find growth candidates. How I identify which candidates are legitimately talented. Great marketers are often founders One interesting way to find great marketers is to look for great potential founders. Let me explain. Privately, most great marketers admit that their motive for getting hired was to gain a couple years’ experience they could use to start their own company. Don’t let that scare you. Leverage it: You can sidestep the competitive landscape for marketing talent by recruiting past founders whose startups have recently failed. Why do this? Because great founders and great growth marketers are often one and the same. They’re multi-disciplinary executors, they take ownership and they’re passionate about product. You see, a marketing role with sufficient autonomy mimics the role of a founder: In both, you hustle to acquire users and optimize your product to retain them. You’re working across growth, brand, product and data. As a result, struggling founders wanting a break from the startup roller coaster often find transitioning to a growth marketing role to be a natural segue. How do we find these high-potential candidates? Finding founders To find past founders, you could theoretically monitor the alumni lists of incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars to see which companies never succeeded. Then you can reach out to their first-time founders. You can also identify future founders: Browse Product Hunt and Indie Hackers for old projects that showed great marketing skill but didn’t succeed. There are thousands of promising founders who’ve left a mark on the web. Their failure is not necessarily indicative of incompetence. My agency’s co-founders and directors, including myself, all failed at founding past companies. How do I attract candidates? To get potential founders interested in the day-to-day of your marketing role, offer them both breadth and autonomy: Let them be involved in many things. Let them be fully in charge of a few things. Remember, recreate the experience of being a founder. Further, vet their enthusiasm for your product, market and its product-channel fit: Product and market: Do their interests line up with how your product impacts its users? For example, do they care more about connecting people through social networks, or about solving productivity problems through SaaS? And which does your product line up with? Product-channel fit: Are they excited to run the acquisition channels that typically succeed in your market? The latter is a little-understood but critically important requirement: Hire marketers who are interested in the channels your company actually needs. Let’s illustrate this with a comparison between two hypothetical companies: A B2B enterprise SaaS app. An e-commerce company that sells mattresses. Broadly speaking, the enterprise app will most likely succeed through the following customer acquisition channels: sales, offline networking, Facebook desktop ads and Google Search. In contrast, the e-commerce company will most likely succeed through Instagram ads, Facebook mobile ads, Pinterest ads and Google Shopping ads. We can narrow it even further: In practice, most companies only get one or two of their potential channels to work profitably and at scale. Meaning, most companies have to develop deep expertise in just a couple of channels. There are enterprise marketers who can run cold outreach campaigns on autopilot. But, many have neither the expertise nor the interest to run, say, Pinterest ads. So if you’ve determined Pinterest is a high-leverage ad channel for your business, you’d be mistaken to assume that an enterprise marketer’s cold outreach skills seamlessly translate to Pinterest ads. Some channels take a year or longer to master. And mastering one channel doesn’t necessarily make you any better at the next. Pinterest, for example, relies on creative design. Cold email outreach relies on copywriting and account-based marketing. (How do you identify which ad channels are most likely to work for your company? Read my Extra Crunch article for a breakdown.) To summarize: To attract the right marketers, identify those who are interested in not only your product but also how your product is sold. Other approaches The founder-first approach I’ve shared is just one of many ways my agency recruits great marketers. The point is to remind you that great candidates are sometimes a small career pivot away from being your perfect hire. You don’t have to look in the typical places when your budget is tight and you want to hire someone with high, senior potential. This is especially relevant for early-stage, bootstrapping startups. If you have the foresight to recognize these high-potential candidates, you can hopefully hire both better and cheaper. Plus, you empower someone to level up their career. Speaking of which, here are other ways to hire talent whose potential hasn’t been fully realized: Find deep specialists (e.g. Facebook Ads experts) and offer them an opportunity to learn complementary skills with a more open-ended, strategic role. (You can help train them with my growth guide.) Poach experienced junior marketers from a company in your space by offering senior roles. Hire candidates from top growth marketing schools. Vetting growth marketers If you don’t yet have a growth candidate to vet, you can stop reading here. Bookmark this and return when you do! Now that you have a candidate, how do you assess whether they’re legitimately talented? At Bell Curve, we ask our most promising leads to incrementally complete three projects: Create Facebook and Instagram ads to send traffic to our site. This showcases their low-level, tactical skills. Walk us through a methodology for optimizing our site’s conversion rate. This showcases their process-driven approach to generating growth ideas. Process is everything. Ideate and prioritize customer acquisition strategies for our company. This showcases their ability to prioritize high-leverage projects and see the big picture. We allow a week to complete these projects. And we pay them market wage. Here’s what we’re looking for when we assess their work. Level 1: Basics First — putting their work aside — we assess the dynamics of working with them. Are they: Competent: Can they follow instructions and understand nuance? Reliable: Will they hit deadlines without excuses? Communicative: Will they proactively clarify unclear things? Kind: Do they have social skills? If they follow our instructions and do a decent job, they’re competent. If they hit our deadline, they’re probably reliable. If they ask good questions, they’re communicative. And if we like talking to them, they’re kind. Level 2: Capabilities A level higher, we use these projects to assess their ability to contribute to the company: Do they have a process for generating and prioritizing good ideas?  Did their process result in multiple worthwhile ad and landing page ideas? We’re assessing their process more so than their output. A great process leads to generating quality ideas forever. Resources are always limited. One of the most important jobs of a growth marketer is to ensure growth resources are focused on the right opportunities. I’m looking for a candidate that has a process for identifying, evaluating and prioritizing growth opportunities. Can they execute on those ideas?  Did they create ads and propose A/B tests thoughtfully? Did they identify the most compelling value propositions, write copy enticingly and target audiences that make sense? Have they achieved mastery of 1-2 acquisition channels (ideally, the channels your company is dependent on to scale)? I don’t expect anyone to be an expert in all channels, but deep knowledge of at least a couple of channels is key for an early-stage startup making their first growth hire. If you don’t have the in-house expertise to assess their growth skills, you can pay an experienced marketer to assess their work. It’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks, and give you peace of mind. Look on Upwork for someone, or ask a marketer at a friend’s company. Recap If you’re an early-stage company with a tight budget, there are creative ways to source high-potential growth talent. Assess that talent on their product fit and market fit for your company. Do they actually want to work on the channels needed for your business to succeed? Give them a week-long sample project. Assess their ability to generate ideas and prioritize them.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Reese Witherspoon’s media company Hello Sunshine already has its hands in movies, television, Apple TV+ shows, podcasts, Audible originals, books, and more. Now, it’s weighing an entry into the subscription box business, to further capitalize on its brand and its appeal to women. The subscription boxes under consideration would operate out of Reese’s Book Club — the curated selection of book recommendations whose focus is on titles with strong, female leads. The club, which some believe may one day rival Oprah’s, is already capable of driving sales at Amazon and elsewhere. It’s also now a feeder into other Hello Sunshine projects — like HBO’s “Big Little Lies,”  Hulu’s upcoming adaptation of “Little Fires Everywhere,” and others. Now the company is gathering feedback as to how to turn the book club’s online brand — which began with Witherspoon posting books to Instagram — into a revenue-generating business of its own. Hello Sunshine members recently received a survey asking for their feedback about Hello Sunshine and Reese’s Book Club. But the questions it posed were almost entirely focused on gathering information about what members would want to see in a subscription box. For example, would they prefer items that are seasonal, themed to the book club’s current pick, or those that  are related to reading — like booklamps and bookmarks? Or would members be open to anything Reese just likes herself, for whatever reason? To some extent, Hello Sunshine has already begun the process of curating other non-book items, through the site’s online shop where it features things like totes, mugs, pins, hats, notebooks, makeup bags, and even jewelry. These could be easily added into subscription boxes, if the time comes. The survey also asked for feedback about how the books would be paired with the other items. Members were asked if they would prefer the monthly book club selection or themed boxes like “favorite books,” “classics” or “summer reads,” for example. Finally, the survey asked about how customers would like to pay — monthly, quarterly, annually, and so on. While the larger subscription box craze may have passed, many that have a more female-friendly focus are still surviving — like Birchbox and Ipsy’s makeup boxes, jewelry focused Rocksbox, FabFitFun, and others. And some are even thriving — like Stitch Fix’s subscription-based clothing boxes. Hello Sunshine’s potential in this space would instead come from its growing fan base, rather than something it has to start from scratch. Today the book club has 1 million Instagram followers, up from 390,000 a year ago. That’s in addition to the 471K who follow Hello Sunshine and the 17.3 million who follow Witherspoon. Hello Sunshine did not return requests for comment.          

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Apple wants to add more iOS features to macOS according to a report from 9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo. And it starts with improvements to Siri. While Siri has been available on macOS for a while, it feels like a scaled-down version of Siri. Sure, you can ask for the weather, NBA scores or a word translation. You can also turn off the Wi-Fi or look up a file on your hard drive. But Siri on macOS doesn’t work with any third-party app. You can’t send a message on WhatsApp, you can’t send some money using Square Cash, you can’t order an Uber. According to 9to5Mac, this will change with macOS 10.15 this fall. Apple is working on adding support for Siri Shortcuts, which means that you’ll theoretically be able to create custom voice shortcuts to trigger actions in third-party apps. Existing macOS apps won’t be able to add hooks for Siri Shortcuts — the feature should be limited to iOS ports that leverage the upcoming Marzipan framework. As a result, you can also expect a Shortcuts app to create your own scripts in a visual interface. Shortcuts has become the equivalent of Automator for iOS. Let’s see what happens to Automator after macOS 10.15. The macOS update won’t just focus on Siri. You should expect to see Screen Time, the iOS feature that tells you how much time you spent in each app on your devices. The current implementation of Screen Time combines your usage across all your iOS devices, such as your iPhone and your iPad. But adding macOS data to the mix is key if you want to see the full picture. Finally, Apple will let you control your Apple ID more easily from the Mac. Instead of relying on Apple’s website, you’ll be able to set up family sharing and more from a new panel in System Preferences.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
ProcessOut has grown quite a lot since I first covered the startup. The company now has a ton of small and big clients, from Glovo to Vente-Privée and Dashlane. The company has become an expert on payment providers and payment analytics. The core of the product remains the same. Clients sign up to get an overview on the performance of their payment systems. After setting up ProcessOut Telescope, you can monitor payments with expensive fees, failed payments and disappointing payment service providers. And this product is quite successful. Back in October 2018, the company had monitored $7 billion in transactions since its inception — last month, that number grew to $13 billion. The company is adding new features to make it easier to get insights from your payment data. You can now customize your data visualization dashboards with a custom scripting language called ProcessOut Lang. This way, if you have an internal payment team, they can spot issues more easily. ProcessOut can also help you when it comes to generating reports. The company can match transactions on your bank account with transactions on different payment providers. If you’re a smaller company and can’t optimize your payment module yourself, ProcessOut also builds a smart-routing checkout widget. When a customer pays something, the startup automatically matches card information with the best payment service provider for that transaction in particular. Some providers are quite good at accepting all legit transactions, such as Stripe or Braintree. But they are also more expensive than more traditional payment service providers. ProcessOut can predict if a payment service provider is going to reject this customer before handing the transaction to that partner. It leads to lower fees and a lower rejection rate. The company recently added support for more payment service providers in Latin America, such as Truevo, AllPago and Mercadopago. And ProcessOut now routes more transactions in one day compared to the entire month of October 2018. As you can see, the startup is scaling nicely. It will be interesting to keep an eye on it.

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