posted less than an hour ago on techcrunch
Labor markets, particularly those in the tech industry, are incredibly lopsided against employees. Companies screen, interview, and negotiate with thousands of candidates per year, while employees may only go through recruiting a handful of times in their lives. Inevitably, they can select the wrong positions, pick the wrong managers to work with, and end up with a salary well below market rate. New York City-based Free Agency wants to become the advocate of choice for this high-priced talent. Taking its cue from Hollywood and the sports world, the growing startup wants to identify great workers and offer them the career counseling, interview guidance, and salary negotiation prowess to let them do their best work — and at the right wage. The company, which was founded last year by Sherveen Mashayekhi and Alex Rothberg, exclusively told TechCrunch that it has now reached 100 “Free Agents” on its platform, and it also announced that it has netted a combined $5.35 million in seed investments led by Resolute Ventures and Bloomberg Beta last year. The way Free Agency works is simple. In exchange for the service’s help in finding and negotiating a career change, the startup takes 5-10% of its client’s first-year salary at their new company. As an example, given that median tech salaries at top companies have hovered around $200,000, that would be a fee of $10,000-$20,000. That may sound exorbitant, but for the founders of Free Agency, it is anything but. They believe that many employees regularly fail to find the most ideal companies to work for and to negotiate the best salaries, which means that a significant amount of money is being left on the table by their potential clients. Free Agency founders Alex Rothberg, COO, and Sherveen Mashayekhi, CEO. Photo via Free Agency. “Our business model keeps us incentive-aligned with the candidate, driven by outcomes rather than upfront fees,” Mashayekhi, who is CEO, explained to me. “But it’s also important to note that Free Agency is, philosophically, also aligned with what employers want. Happy candidates who feel fairly paid will remain at their jobs longer and contribute more productivity. We help make happy candidates.” Free Agency is in many ways a parallel to the rise of income-share agreements (ISAs) in the edtech world, which my colleague Eric Peckham has written about extensively in recent months. In lieu of tuition, some new education startups are using ISAs as a way to guarantee better employment outcomes for students while limiting their debt burden. Their growing popularity has spawned significant investor interest. WTF are ISAs and can they transform education and spark a startup wave? Today, Free Agency is barely one year old with just about 11 employees on the payroll. Longer term though, it wants to manage the budding careers of tech workers in much the way that Hollywood agents often do — finding new projects to work on, helping its talent develop their own skills, brands, and thought leadership, and helping them network with key decision-makers so they get called upon when great new opportunities arise. “Today, we’re focused primarily on the job search inflection point, but Free Agency is really a career-long partner. You’ll see us continue to add ways to help our Free Agents succeed along 5 or 10 years of partnerships through intentional career management,” Mashayekhi said. Talent agents exist in industries like Hollywood, book publishing, and sports because the talent themselves often don’t want to take on the burdens of managing their own careers. Film directors and baseball pitchers want to practice and hone their craft, not spend hours negotiating with studio execs and club owners. Agents also are more up-to-date on industry salary trends, and also where new opportunities are arising. Plus, they often work with talent managers to optimize all the ancillary revenues that comes from these careers (product endorsements, speaker engagements, etc.) Furthermore, these industries have extremely strong superstar income patterns, where top talent can easily make tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a career. While the tech industry has traditionally not had agents, tech talent is increasingly having similar superstar properties. Star engineers, product managers, and designers can make tens of millions of dollars across salary and equity packages, and often have a range of ancillary revenue sources from consulting engagements with VC firms to lecture circuit payments. Even better, new talent is often making six-figures, whereas the early years in an entertainment or sports career is often focused on securing any paying job. What remains to be see is whether engineers will willingly give up a segment of their income in order to get better career help. Certainly Free Agency is not the first company that has tried to tackle this emerging field. 10x Management is a talent agency that has focused on vetting top freelance developers, and was profiled in The New Yorker a few years ago. Other startups have also entered the space over the past decade. Free Agency believes it has the timing and service quality to win this market. While it is early days, much like the excitement around ISAs in education, I expect models like Free Agency to increasingly become popular as a way to manage our careers, and this is one startup worth paying attention to in the coming years. In addition to Resolute and Bloomberg, Ludlow Ventures, Background Capital, Parker Thompson, Will Oberndorf, Amrit Saxena, Jenny Fielding, Greg Schroy, Gordon Wintrob, and Orrick LLP also joined the round as investors. How income share agreements will spark the rise of career accelerators

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posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
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. All users can now access Facebook’s tool for controlling which apps and sites can share data for ad-targeting Facebook is making its “Off-Facebook Activity” tool, which allows users to manage and delete the data that third-party websites and apps share with Facebook, available to all users worldwide. The feature was first introduced in 2018 at Facebook’s annual developer conference, but only launched to users in select geographies last year. As Facebook explains today, other businesses send Facebook information about your activity on their sites and apps, which Facebook then uses to show you relevant ads. With the new Off-Facebook Activity tool, you can see a summary of that information and clear it from your account. 2. ServiceNow acquires conversational AI startup Passage AI Passage AI helps customers build chatbots in multiple languages, something that should come in handy as ServiceNow continues to modernize its digital service platform. 3. Flipboard expands into local news The goal with the new offering is to give Flipboard users an easy way to catch up with local news, sports, dining, real estate, transportation and weather from a variety of sources, including local newspapers, local TV stations, radio stations, college news sites and even blogs. 4. Tech valuations versus tech-enabled valuations: 2020 IPO edition The value of tech-enabled companies is coming into focus as several American unicorns test the public markets, with data showing that some venture-backed companies that are often grouped with technology companies are in fact worth just a fraction of their tech-first cousins. (Extra Crunch membership required.) 5. With Tony Fadell’s help, Advano is building battery components to power an electric future The technology was innovative enough to earn the Louisiana-based startup a place in Y Combinator’s accelerator. It has now attracted the attention of Mitsui Kinzoku, which is investing in the company as a strategic partner, and Tony Fadell, the famous product designer known as “the father of the iPod” and the founder of the smart thermostat company Nest. 6. Scroll launches its subscription offering ad-free access across 300 partner sites CEO Tony Haile previously led analytics company Chartbeat, and he said he founded Scroll because of his frustration with the way news sites were becoming dragged down by ads and trackers — and despite those performance-slowing/privacy-defying practices, publications were still struggling to make money. 7. Filmic’s DoubleTake app brings simultaneous camera shooting to the iPhone 11 The most visually compelling use here is Shot/Reverse Shot, which takes video from both the rear-facing and front-facing cameras at once. Obviously there’s going to be a gulf in image quality between the front and back, but the ability to do both simultaneously opens up some pretty fascinating possibilities.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
If parties came with an alert system, this post would qualify as Def Con 4. Now hear this — we just released the final batch of tickets to our 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize, which heats up on February 7 in San Francisco. If you want to be there with more than 1,000 of Silicon Valley’s finest, act now with all due haste. Buy your ticket right here. Hang out with your crowd and enjoy cocktails, craft beer and tempting appetizers. Branch out and meet new people in a relaxed, laid back setting. Startuppers, you work hard, and now it’s time to let loose a little. Bust out your crazy karaoke skills, get ready for other party games, activities and photo ops. It’s also a chill way to broaden your network, see a handful of exhibiting startups (wow, those demo tables sold out fast) and maybe even meet a future investor, partner or mentor. Startup magic happens at TechCrunch parties. Is this your year for magic? Wanna know who else will be in the house? Check out some of the companies ready to meet, greet and network in a casual setting. Here are the party particulars. When: Friday, February 7, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105 Ticket price: $85 It’s just not a TechCrunch party without door prizes, and we will not disappoint. You could win TC swag or win tickets to Disrupt SF, our flagship event coming in September 2020. Speaking of Disrupt SF 2020, here’s another way to go gratis. It takes a big team to pull off a party of this magnitude. Volunteer to help us throw this party, and you’ll earn a pass to our flagship Disrupt event. Pretty sweet. Startup fans don’t miss out on one of the great Silicon Valley traditions. Buy your ticket to the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize, right now before they’re gone for good. Is your company interested in sponsoring the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-bc4f9854dc10ea97f096ae593bd4335b') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-bc4f9854dc10ea97f096ae593bd4335b' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
I need a new phone.                               A big chunk of my time on the iPhone was spent taking pictures, so I’m heavily basing the next smartphone on its camera capabilities. After playing around with the Pixel 4 for Brian’s review, I’m considering switching teams. Price-wise, it would make sense to compare the iPhone 11 with the Pixel 4, as they both start at around $700, but I’m interested in the best Google and Apple have to offer. Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro There are a lot of fancy terms between the two — slow sync, true tone flash, phase detection, etc. I really don’t care. I just want to know which one is better as an everyday camera. To that end, here are some pictures in various settings and lighting situations (all images are clickable to view in high-res): Landscape/cityscape Brooklyn from Manhattan, right after the rain. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro (.5x) Portrait Arman suffused in pinkish-red light, backlit with afternoon window light. Both were shot from the same distance.  L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro Food Hotpot in incandescent lighting. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro Japanese and Mexican in low light. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro Group selfie One of these guys is an Emmy award winner. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro Low lighting I always find venue lighting unnatural, and unflattering. Also, put your phone down and enjoy the show. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro Pixel 4 yields brighter images, but the iPhone 11 Pro kept the bar’s ambiance. Plus shooting super-wide on humans adds a certain quirkiness. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro (.5x) Really low lighting with moving objects. In this case, a dog. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro (.5x) Street photography: Manhattan skies were too cloudy that night to see stars. L: Pixel 4, R: iPhone 11 Pro Digital zoom Both cameras have 10x digital zoom. Digital zoom is garbage and I don’t recommend ever using it, except to creep on your friends. Hi Brandon. iPhone 11 Pro (1x) HI BRANDON. iPhone 11 Pro (10x) Conclusion Pixel 4’s photo editing tools are superior, though its quality is slightly better than the iPhone 11 Pro by just a smidgen. The difference was so subtle that I had to check several times to make sure I labeled the images correctly. It really boils down to aesthetics. I’ve left commentary minimal for the most part so you can scrutinize the images and decide for yourself. iPhone 11 Pro (.5x) The two things that ultimately kept me with Apple: the super-wide lens and the immediacy of sharing high-res images via Airdrop. Until Google releases their version, texting a download link to the high-res image is just an extra unnecessary step I don’t care for.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
GM has improved its hands-free driving assistance system Super Cruise, adding a feature that will automatically change lanes for drivers of certain Cadillac models, including the upcoming 2021 Escalade. This enhanced version of Super Cruise, which will include better steering and speed control, puts it back in competition with Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system (specifically the Navigate on Autopilot feature), which is considered the most capable on the market today. The improved version will be introduced starting with the 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 sedans followed by the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. The vehicles are expected to become available in the second half of 2020.  Super Cruise uses a combination of lidar map data, high-precision GPS, cameras and radar sensors, as well as a driver attention system, which monitors the person behind the wheel to ensure they’re paying attention. Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system, users of Super Cruise do not need to have their hands on the wheel. However, their eyes must remain directed straight ahead. The automatic lane change feature in Super Cruise will still require the driver to keep their eyes on the road. When the system is engaged, the driver can engage the turn signal to indicate a desire to change lanes. Once the system has determined that the lane is open, the vehicle will merge. Meanwhile, the gauge cluster will display messages to the driver such as “looking for an opening” or “changing lanes.” GM’s new digital vehicle platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power, enabled engineers to add to Super Cruise’s capabilities. The company also improved its rear-facing sensors and software to be able to better track vehicles approaching from the rear, Super Cruise chief engineer Mario Maiorana said. The new version Super Cruise will change lanes for the driver on highways where the feature is allowed. The user interface and hands-free driving dynamics have also been improved, according to Maiorana. Super Cruise, which launched in 2017, was limited to just one model — the full-size CT6 sedan — and restricted to divided highways. That began to change last year when GM announced plans to expand where Super Cruise would be available. A software update expanded the thousands of miles of compatible divided highways in the United States and Canada . Super Cruise is now available on more than 200,000 miles of highways. The automaker has also started to make the system available in more models. GM is expanding Super Cruise as an option on all Cadillac models this year. GM has said the Super Cruise system will start hitting its other brands such as Chevrolet, GMC, and Buick after 2020.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit is teaming up with Israel’s ImageSat International (ISI) to develop a launch services that would be able to deliver small satellite-based Earth observation on remarkably short notice, basically anywhere in the world. This is a service aimed specifically at national security and intelligence customers, and combines the benefits of ISI’s remote sensing expertise and capabilities, with Virgin Galactic’s ability to launch on relatively short notice from basically any allied spaceport facility using its LauncherOne system. LauncherOne uses a two-stage rocket to deliver small satellites (those weighing up to 660 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, after being deployed by a modified aircraft that takes off like a traditional jumbo jet. The LauncherOne vehicle then deploys from a high altitude, reducing the fuel costs of launch and making it possible to deliver small payloads to space for as little as $12 million per launch. Because of its unique design, Virgin Galactic and ISI suggest that this is an optimal way to serve the needs of intelligence and defense customers who might have a need for satellite-based observation arise suddenly, and require immediate fulfilment in order to deal with a time-limited situation. It’s true that agencies like the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) specifically seek vendors who can fulfil needs with a fast turnaround time, and specifically introduced a program called ‘Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket’ (RASR) to source these. Launch startup Rocket Lab announced that its first mission this year would be part of that program, and it’s a likely target for this cooperation between Virgin Orbit and ISI as well. By offering essentially launch-on-demand capabilities combined with a full range of high-resolution imaging satellites, and analytics services for the resulting data, this definitely has the potential to be an appealing product for the national security industry. Virgin Orbit still has to clear the key hurdle of actually demonstrating a successful orbital launch, but that should take place sometime this year if all goes to plan.

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posted about 2 hours ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. While the IPO cycle reprices former unicorns and concern imbues the private market with profit warnings, it turns out that there is still appetite for scooter startups. Even more, there’s hunger for both combinations in the space (not a surprise), and for scooter startup shares (which may be). As TechCrunch reported yesterday, Bird, an American scooter startup worth several billion dollars, consumed one of its European rivals and raised $75 million in the process. Circ, the formerly independent scooter shop, was struggling to have enough cash on hand and had undergone layoffs, despite having raised €55 million a year ago (that round was announced in January 2019). The electric scooter wars of 2019 The subsumption of Circ comes after other scooter companies underwent layoffs themselves, and in some cases, struggled to raise fresh capital. Tie all of that to the fact that 2019 brought several sharply negative financial reports from Big Scooter, and the result is a milieu that’s been hard to track from a purely financial perspective; this is all the more complicated when we take product and geography into the mix, of course. This morning we’ll fix that by racing through what’s happened since mid-2018 in Scooterdom in accounting terms. Timeline What follows is a financial highlights reel, naturally, but one that should provide us with a good overview of the ebb and flow of the world of scooters and micromobility over the last six quarters or so:

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Securiti.ai, a San Jose startup, is working to bring a modern twist to data governance and security. Today the company announced a $50 million Series B led by General Catalyst with participation from Mayfield. The company, which only launched in 2019, reports it has already raised $81 million. What is attracting all of this investment in such a short period of time is that the company is going after a problem that is an increasing pain point for companies all over the world because of a growing body of data privacy regulation like GDPR and CCPA. These laws are forcing companies to understand the data they have, and find ways to be able to pull that data into a single view, and if needed respond to customer wishes to remove or redact some of  it. It’s a hard problem to solve with customer data spread across multiple applications, and often shared with third parties and partners. Company CEO and founder Rehan Jalil says the goal of his startup is provide an operations platform for customer data, an area he has coined PrivacyOps, with the goal of helping companies give customers more control over their data, as laws increasingly require. “In the end it’s all about giving individuals the rights on the data: the right to privacy, the right to deletion, the right to redaction, the right to stop the processing. That’s the charter and the mission of the company,” he told TechCrunch. You begin by defining your data sources, then a bot goes out and gathers customer data across all of the data sources you have defined. The company has links to over 250 common modern and legacy data sources out of the box. Once the bot grabs the data and creates a central record, then humans come in to review the results, make any adjustments and final decisions on how to handle a data request. It has a number of security templates for different kinds of privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, and the bot finds data that must meet these requirements and lets the governance team see how many records could be in violation or meet a set of criteria you define. Securiti.ai data view. Screenshot: Securiti.ai (cropped) There are a number of tools in the package including ways to look at your privacy readiness, vendor assessments, data maps and data breaches to look at data privacy in broad way. The company launched in 2019, and in just 5 months has already grown to 185 employees, a number that is expected to increase in the next year with the new funding.

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
RealityEngines.AI, an AI and machine learning startup founded by a number of former Google executives and engineers, is coming out of stealth today and announcing its first set of products. When the company first announced its $5.25 million seed round last year, CEO Bindu Reddy wasn’t quite ready to disclose RealityEngines’ mission beyond saying that it planned to make machine learning easier for enterprises. With today’s launch, the team is putting this into practice by launching a set of tools that specifically tackle a number of standard enterprise use cases for ML, including user churn predictions, fraud detection, sales lead forecasting, security threat detection and cloud spend optimization. For use cases that don’t fit neatly into these buckets, the service also offers a more general predictive modeling service. Before co-founding RealiyEngines, Reddy was the head of product for Google Apps and general manager for AI verticals at AWS. Her co-founders are Arvind Sundararajan (formerly at Google and Uber) and Siddartha Naidu (who founded BigQuery at Google). Investors in the company include Eric Schmidt, Ram Shriram, Khosla Ventures and Paul Buchheit. As Reddy noted, the idea behind this first set of products from RealityEngines is to give businesses an easy entry into machine learning, even if they don’t have data scientists on staff. Besides talent, another issue that businesses often face is that they don’t always have massive amounts of data to train their networks effectively. That has long been a roadblock for many companies that want to see what AI can do for them but that didn’t have the right resources to do so. RealityEngines overcomes this by creating realistic synthetic data that it can then use to augment a company’s existing data. In its tests, this creates models that are up to 15 percent more accurate than models that were trained without the synthetic data. “The most prominent use of generative adversarial networks  — GANS — has been to create deep fakes,” said Reddy. “Deepfakes have captured the public’s imagination by highlighting how easy it to spread misinformation with these doctored videos and images. However, GANS can also be applied to productive and good use. They can be used to create synthetic datasets which when then be combined with the original data, to produce robust AI models even when a business doesn’t have much training data.” RealityEngines currently has about 20 employees, most of whom have a deep background in ML/AI, both as researchers and practitioners.  

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
We’re counting the days (35 to be precise) until TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 takes place on March 3 in Berkeley, Calif. But we’re also counting the days that you can save on the price of admission. The early-bird pricing ends in just three days on January 31. Buy your ticket right here before that bird flies south, and you’ll save $150. This single-day conference features interviews, panel discussions, Q&As and demos with the leaders, founders and investors focused on the future of robotics and AI. TechCrunch editors will interview the people making it happen, explore the promise, expose the hype and address the challenges of these revolutionary industries. The lineup, as impressive as ever, also includes workshops and demos because who doesn’t want to see robots in action? From autonomous cars and assistive robotics to advances in agriculture and outer space, our conference agenda covers the leading edges of the complex and exciting world of robots and AI. Here’s a taste of what we’re serving. Engineering for the Red Planet: Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades and is about to send its sixth robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian, general manager of robotics at Maxar, will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets. Investing in Robotics and AI — Lessons from the Industry’s VCs: Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. Dror Berman, founding partner at Innovation Endeavors; Kelly Chen, partner at Data Collective DCVC; and Eric Migicovsky, general partner at Y Combinator, bring a combination of early stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing. We’ve added a new, exciting element this year. It’s Pitch Night, a sort of mini Startup Battlefield. The night before the conference, 10 teams will pitch to an audience of VCs and other influencers at a private event. Judges will choose five finalists, and those teams will pitch again from the Main Stage at the conference. We’re taking applications until February 1, so apply right here. It’s free, and a great way to showcase your startup to the people who can supercharge your startup dreams. Don’t miss your chance to learn from, share with and pitch to the brightest minds, makers, investors and researchers in robotics and AI. And don’t miss out on serious savings. Buy an early-bird ticket to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 — before prices go up on January 31 — and you’ll keep $150 in your wallet. Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics & AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-a4fad19c68e846fecc75f11477e3b068') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-a4fad19c68e846fecc75f11477e3b068' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Bringing a startup from idea to IPO isn’t an easy task, but if you can build something successful, one major milestone is to go public. Before your Nasdaq debut, however, there’s a major step — building a deck and taking it on the road for investors. Cloud computing company Nutanix went public in 2016, so we spoke to CEO Dheeraj Pandey and CFO Duston Williams, both of whom were with the company for the big event, to learn about how a company should define itself for investors as it seeks to go public. Who are you? Building a roadshow deck is an exercise in communications as founders attempt to carefully lay out their company’s core purpose and how they built it, along with their ethics, aspirations, financials and value proposition. In a nutshell, an effective roadshow deck summarizes who you are, what you stand for and why your company will make a good investment. CEO Pandey says that in addition to investment bank Goldman Sachs, a number of people from the company helped craft the presentation. “Fifteen people across different functions were involved in building the deck. That included product and marketing, to finance and corporate communications, to legal. I think there were at least six different departments,” he said.

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posted about 4 hours ago on techcrunch
Miso Robotics, the designers of the world’s most popular robotic fry cook “Flippy”, is giving their burger-flipping, french fry prepping robot a new look. The company has designed a new installation for its robotic arm that slots under the hood above a fry station instead of planting the robot on a kitchen floor. It’s a move that’s designed to save space and improve efficiency as the company starts pitching its robotic chefs to quick service restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King around the country. Miso’s move comes even as other startups attempting to automate the preparation of everything from pizza to burgers are getting burned. Zume, the formerly high-flying would be robotic pizza maker and packaging company, recently had to lay off a chunk of its workforce, and Creator, the automated burger prep restaurant, is still operating from a single location in San Francisco two years after its launch. Taste test: Burger robot startup Creator opens first restaurant   By contrast, Flippy is now being used in both Dodger Stadium and the Arizona Diamondbacks Chase Stadium along with its installation in restaurants backed by Miso Robotics investor Cali Group. Speaking of investments, Miso Robotics is hoping to leverage the over 1 billion views the company’s promotional videos have received on social media by launching a crowdfunding campaign through SeedInvest that could net the company up to $30 million. For Ryan Sinnett, Miso Robotics co-founder and chief technology officer, the new design will be able to boost adoption among quick serve restaurants and help solve some of the staffing problems that have hit the fast food industry. “They can save on food costs, labor costs and improve the real estate footprint,” with the new design, says Sinnett. “We are showing how this robot will improve profit margins by a set amount.” The ultimate goal is to offer the robot for free and charge restaurants a fee for the use of the robot, according to Sinnett. The robotics-as-a-service model is already popular in the logistics industry where warehouses are improving margins through increased automation, but robots have yet to make significant enough inroads into the restaurant business to make the business model work … so far.  Flippy’s new look is only a prototype right now, cooking up batches of fried chicken strips, onion rings, and french fries at Miso Robotics’ test kitchen headquarters in Pasadena, Calif. But the robot will be certified and available for kitchens by the second half of the year, according to Sinnett. The company has already signed an initial contract with Caliburger, which will net the business $11 million over five years for its burger flipping robots. Miso Robotics said that it already has over one million reservations. “This can go into 80 percent of kitchens,” says Sinnett. “We designed this whole system to generalize what it means to cook in a kitchen.” Flippy solves the vision problem — identifying what items to cook; the scheduling problem — how to time and prioritize different menu items; and fulfillment of multiple orders says Sinnett.

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posted about 4 hours ago on techcrunch
Satellite communications startup Kepler will manufacture its small satellites going forward at a new 5,000-square foot facility in Toronto, Ontario, Canada . The company is working with partners including the Canadian Space Agency and the University of Toronto on the new facility, which will also incorporate design and development of its satellites in addition to manufacturing. Already, Kepler operates two satellites currently in orbit, and has demonstrated the capabilities of its technology by delivering a high-speed internet data connection to the North Pole for the first time late last year. These spacecraft were designed by Kepler, but manufactured via third-party’s through contracting agreements. With the new facility, Kepler says it’ll be able to “vertically integrate the development, production and testing of its future spacecraft.” This will help the startup achieve its goal of producing, launching and operating a constellation of 140 satellites in total, which will provide high-bandwidth connectivity aimed fo ruse in a range of industries including agriculture, transportation and maritime shipping and logistics, to name a few. This new in-house facility will support mass production of the small satellites it requires to build out its fleets, while providing cost benefits vs. outsourcing over time. The small satellite industry is one of the parts of commercial space that has seen the biggest increase in demand, especially since relatively affordable launch vehicles like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 have expanded the pool of potential companies building and operating satellites and constellations. Bringing satellite manufacturing in-house puts Kepler in rare company as one of the few small sat companies that owns the whole stack, which should be a big competitive advantage relative to the market going forward. In terms of when the facility will be putting out satellites that Kepler plans to actually launch, the company currently plans to launch its final demonstration satellite, which is already built under its prior contractor arrangement, this spring. Then, it intends to launch the first commercial satellites produced by this new facility starting this summer, with an additional two launches planned for later in the year.

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posted about 5 hours ago on techcrunch
Facebook is making its “Off-Facebook Activity” tool, which allows users to manage and delete the data that third-party websites and apps share with Facebook, available to all users worldwide. The feature was first introduced in 2018 at Facebook’s annual developer conference, but only launched to users in select geographies last year. When the tool was initially announced in 2018, it had a much more user-friendly name — “Clear History.” But Facebook believed that could confuse users who may think that the tool had something to do with wiping out their Facebook data published to the social network itself. The new name is meant to better clarify what kind of data is getting deleted — “Off-Facebook Activity.” The name also puts more distance between the data collection processes and the data-sharing bit. But data collection isn’t the real issue. If the apps were careful to protect the data they collected and kept it to themselves, users wouldn’t mind as much — but instead, users’ data is brokered and sold to support the free, ad-supported web. As Facebook explains today, other businesses send Facebook information about your activity on their sites and apps which Facebook then uses to show you relevant ads. With the new Off-Facebook Activity tool, you can see a summary of that information and clear it from your account. Most people don’t understand the intricacies of how the ad-supported web works, which is why they assume Facebook is listening in through their smartphone’s microphone to target them with those frighteningly accurate ads. But, in addition to Facebook’s powerful and granular ad-targeting capabilities, it’s also benefitting from other businesses that are sharing the data they’ve collected through their own apps with Facebook. Users, meanwhile, aren’t able to keep up with which apps and sites are sharing data or what that data includes because it’s not just one or two — it’s nearly everything. And this is also difficult on mobile, as people with smartphones now have over 80 installed apps and use around 40 of them monthly. The Off-Facebook Activity tool will offer a clear summary of which apps and sites have collected data, how Facebook received the information, how many interactions (logging in, searching, purchases, etc.) it has received, and more. You can then choose to break the third-party’s connection to Facebook. (To get the third-party to delete whatever data it’s collected on you, you’ll still need to follow its own procedures to delete your account or clear your data there.) The feature is complicated — it would not be surprising to see over 1,000 sites and apps in your list of apps and sites sharing data with Facebook. It also requires Facebook users to enter their password again to view this tool, even if they’re currently logged in. The “clear history” button doesn’t stop the third-parties from future data-sharing — that’s a whole different section. And finally, it warns you that clearing history will log out of dozens of apps and won’t prevent you from seeing ads — warnings obviously intended to get users to reconsider.   This feature’s existence is a direct result of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, which compromised the data of up to 87 million Facebook users by way of a Facebook app. Since then, the company has been working on improved privacy controls and tools to offer more clarity and user control over its data collection and sharing practices. The company says the launch of the Off-Facebook Activity tool has taken this long to arrive because Facebook had to rebuild some of its systems to make it possible. It’s rolling out today to users worldwide. (Here’s how to access it.) In addition to the global availability of the Off-Facebook Activity tool, Facebook says it will also roll out a prompt over the next 2 weeks that will encourage users to review their privacy settings. This prompt will show up in users’ News Feed and direct them to the recently updated Privacy Checkup tool. Facebook already this month rolled out alerts for third-party logins, which let you know when you use your Facebook Login to sign into an app. This allows you to stay informed about which apps are connected to your Facebook account, so you can edit those settings or, now, clear their data if need be.

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posted about 5 hours ago on techcrunch
ServiceNow announced this morning that it has acquired Passage AI, a startup that helps customers build chatbots in multiple languages, something that should come in handy as ServiceNow continues to modernize its digital service platform. The companies did not share terms of the deal. With Passage AI, ServiceNow gets a bushel of AI talent, which in itself has value, but it also gets AI technology, which should fit in nicely with ServiceNow’s mission. For starters, the company’s chatbot solutions gives ServiceNow an automated way to respond to customer/user inquiries. Even more interesting for ServiceNow, Passage includes an IT automation component that uses ” a conversational interface to submit tickets, handle queries, and take direct action through APIs,” according to the company website. It also gets an HR automation piece, giving the company an intelligent tool it could incorporate across its Now Platform in tools like ServiceNow Virtual Agent and Service Portal, Workspaces in multiple languages. The multilingual support was an aspect of the deal that appeals to Debu Chatterjee, senior director of AI Engineering at ServiceNow. “Building deep learning, conversational AI capabilities into the Now Platform will enable a work request initiated in German or a customer inquiry initiated in Japanese to be solved by Virtual Agent,” he said in a statement. Companies are increasingly looking for ways to solve common customer problems using chatbots, while only bringing humans into the loop when the bot can’t answer the query. Passage AI gives ServiceNow much deeper knowledge in this growing area. Passage AI, which launched in 2016, has raised $10.3 million, according to Crunchbase data. The company website lists a variety of large customers including MasterCard, Shell, Mercedes Benz and SoftBank. The acquisition comes less than a week after the company purchased another AI-focused startup, Loom Systems, one that concentrates on automating operations data. The deal is expected to close this quarter. ServiceNow will be announcing earnings on Wednesday afternoon. ServiceNow acquires Loom Systems to expand AIOps coverage

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Chatbots have had a patchy track record world of tech, where early efforts not only failed to deliver on the magical idea of a computer producing the exact answers you were looking for in a chat-based-Q&A, they even produced surprising (and not in a good way) results instead. Things have moved along, though, and today a startup that’s built a platform to help improve chatbots’ responses is announcing a round of funding from a key strategic investor, a sign of demand and evidence that its solution is working. Directly — which has built a platform to help train companies’ chatbots by crowdsourcing experts and analysing chatbot usage to better “teach” the AI systems underpinning them — has raised $20 million in funding led by Samsung NEXT (Samsung’s VC arm), with participation also from Industry Ventures, AvidBank, and existing investors M12 (Microsoft’s VC), Costanoa Ventures, True Ventures and Northgate. Along with this, the company is announcing some executive news. Mike de la Cruz, who had been the company’s chief business officer and has held executive roles overseeing customer service products at SAP, HP Enterprise and elsewhere, is stepping up to be the new CEO. Antony Brydon, who co-founded the company with Jeff Patterson (currently head of product), is moving over from the CEO role to become head of platform, where he will focus on how and where to take Directly’s technology beyond its current market focus on chatbots built for customer service. The idea is to give over company growth to an expert in that area, while giving a company founder the chance to help figure out how best to focus the company to forge into newer areas. “We are thrilled to have Mike at the helm of Directly,” Mark Selcow, partner at Costanoa Ventures, said in a statement. “He has driven record-setting growth for the company in 2019, and we look forward to the impact he’s going to have into 2020 and beyond.” Brydon and de la Cruz have known each other since college, which speaks to a long friendship and trust in each other too — a good sign, in my opinion. The valuation is not being disclosed except Brydon and de la Cruz, in a joint interview this week, confirmed to TechCrunch that it is north of $100 million. When this round was being raised, PitchBook data noted that the valuation was $110 million, which roughly lines up with that. They added that the idea is that this funding was opportunistic — Samsung is a customer, along with biggies like Microsoft (also a strategic investor), and Airbnb (not an investor!). The bigger plan is to raise a much larger Series C round in 2021 — which implies it has enough runway for at least the next year. Directly has emerged at a key time in the world of customer service, and in AI. Although call centres are still a fundamental cornerstone of how businesses interface with users, the rise of social media and messaging services has created an opportunity to complement and in some cases replace how those more traditional channels work. While in many cases human agents are still at the other end of those messaging, typed conversations, sometimes you only might think they are, or when they really are, they are still using a lot of AI tools to help them be as informative as they can be. That’s where Directly comes into the picture. While there may be some true superstars in the world of customer service who know the product they are representing backwards and forwards, chances are that the vast majority of people helping customers are not omniscient gurus, and are just human like the people complaining or asking questions. Directly has therefore built a platform that helps businesses identify and reach out to ‘experts’ in the business or product in question, collect knowledge from them, and then fold that into a company’s AI to help train it and answer questions more accurately. It also looks at data input and output into those AI systems to figure out what is working, and what is not, and how to fix that, too. The information is typically collected by way of question-and-answer sessions, and Directly has even built a way to compensate these experts both for submitting information, as well as to pay out royalties when their knowledge has been put to use, “just as you would in traditional copyright licensing in music,” Brydon noted. This system is used for technical support for games — Microsoft uses it to power its Xbox assistant for example — or devices, or for those who are engaging in building businesses on platforms, such as in the case of Airbnb providing an assistant to hosts to help answer questions about how to list on the platform. At a time when we are talking a lot about bias in AI and other pitfalls of how these systems are trained, a company that is working on ways of giving the best shot possible, by limiting the training data just to what is most likely to be correct and verifiable, is an interesting prospect that lines up with the approaches that companies like Samasource and others focused on ethical AI are taking. It seems ironic that tech giants like Microsoft and Samsung, which have put a significant amount of investment into acquiring businesses and organically building their own customer-facing AI systems — Samsung’s Bixby is built in part through the acquisition of Viv and a multitude of other related deals; ditto Microsoft’s Cortana — would rely on another company to help these along, but the role that Directly occupies somewhat sits outside the core technology, which needs computer vision, natural language processing, a larger machine learning engine to process all of the inbound data and more. Training those AI systems — the area that Directly is focusing on — is likely to remain a key area for how these are used and develop, since it could be many years before we see what Brydon refers to as the “holy grail,” a general AI that can do the training for itself, and work across a diverse range of fields and specific interests. In the meantime, it can take as little as 100 experts, but potentially 1,000 to train a system, depending on how much the information needs to be updated over time. The Xbox implementation, for example, includes 1,000 experts, but has to date answered around 2 million questions (and will likely answer many more as games and consoles get updated). The longer term picture is that Directly is likely to work with a growing number of businesses as the use of chatbots continues to expand among organisations. With that bigger trend, it’s also likely to run into some of the biggest players in consumer information like Google and Amazon. Neither are customers of Directly yet — and truth be told they might just as easily end up competitors — but it makes for an interesting prospect, as AI finally starts to get more intelligent.  

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After a long period of invite-only beta testing, Scroll is officially launching today, offering ad-free access to sites like BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Salon, Slate and Vox for an introductory price of $2.49 per month. CEO Tony Haile previously led analytics company Chartbeat, and he said he founded Scroll because of his frustration with the way news sites were becoming dragged down by ads and trackers — and despite those performance-slowing/privacy-defying practices, publications were still struggling to make money. “Basically, we were trying to think through: How would the internet have evolved if it didn’t have to rely on ads [from the start]?” Haile said. “What would the economics look like?” The solution that he and his team came up with is a subscription where consumers pay (the price is starting at $2.49 for the first six months after launch, then goes up $4.99 per month) for “a that’s web that’s twice as fast, with no shadowy trackers, no ads, no pre-rolls.” Publishers, meanwhile, make more money than they would have by showing ads to those same visitors. The consumer experience may resemble what you can already get with an ad blocker, but Haile said it offers a few key advantages. For one thing, you won’t run into the issues you currently might with partner sites that detect ad blockers. For another, it works smoothly on mobile — once you’ve logged into your account on the Scroll site, you should be able to visit any of the partner sites and view them without ads, and you can also read via the Scroll mobile app. Plus, there’s what Haile described as the “good karma” of knowing that you’re supporting the publishers behind the news and stories that you actually read. He noted that every reader’s payment is dispersed separately, based on their own “engagement and loyalty,” rather than putting all of the subscription revenue into a single pool. So your money will never go to a site that you’ve never visited — and you’ll even get a monthly report showing which publishers your money is supporting. Haile said Scroll has already signed up around 300 partners. (TechCrunch isn’t one of them, but I hope that changes.) The startup estimates that a normal page view brings in only $0.011 through advertising, versus $0.016 with Scroll. And the startup also offers a revenue calculator to help publishers confirm that they won’t be losing money. Speaking of publishers, Haile said he’s trying to bring a “broader range of sites” into Scroll, representing a similarly broad range of viewpoints — again, because the money isn’t going into a single pool, you don’t have to worry about supporting a site that you don’t like (unless you’re doing a lot of hate clicking and reading). Still, he will be exercising some editorial judgment: “I’m too fucking old to deal with Nazis. I don’t want to give them money.” Of course, many (non-Nazi) publishers are also experimenting with their own paywalls and subscriptions. Haile argued that Scroll is complementary to those efforts, because it allows publishers to offer a better experience to readers and make more money from them, even if they’re not yet “superfans” who are ready to sign up for that specific subscription. “We don’t get in the way of that,” Haile said. “We’re trying to solve that other problem, to make the internet not suck.” Subscription startup Scroll acquires news aggregator Nuzzel

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Using scrap silicon as its feedstock, a New Orleans-based company called Advano has raised $18.5 million to manufacture battery components to enable more powerful, smaller, and longer lasting batteries. The technology was innovative enough to earn the Lousiana-based startup a place in Y Combinator’s famed accelerator and has now attracted the attention of Mitsui Kinzoku, which is investing in the company as a strategic partner, and Tony Fadell, the famous product designer known as ‘the father of the iPod’ and the founder of the smart thermostat company, Nest . Alongside Mitsui’s SBI Material Innovation Fund, Fadell’s investment firm Future Shape along with PeopleFund, Thiel Capital, Data Collective and Y Combinator are investing $18.5 million in new financing to develop Advanos manufacturing capacity and take its silicon anode material to market. “Adding silicon to li-ion batteries can 10x their run-time. Imagine eliminating ‘range anxiety’: more EVs, less CO2. But no one has been able to solve four key issues concurrently: material expansion, cycle-life, cost, and drop-in manufacturing scalability,” said Fadell, in a statement. “Advano’s battery experts are the first to successfully tackle them all. In addition, Advano’s unconventional full-stack approach allows for the battery customization manufacturers require. Plus, they’re using sustainably-sourced silicon to combat the environmental effects of our transition to electric everything! Advano’s innovative work with silicon is the holy grail for batteries.” Advano reuses scrap silicon thanks to a novel materials science process that Advano founder, and chief executive Alexander Girau first developed as a student at Tulane University. Other companies, like Sila Nanotechnologies, have raised significant amounts of money to develop ways to integrate silicon into the battery production. Sila Nano’s battery tech is now worth over $1 billion with Daimler partnership and $170 million investment   Basically, batteries consist of anodes, where current flows into a battery, electrolytes which conduct electricity and cathodes, where current flows out. In a lithium ion battery, anodes are typically made using graphite, which has limitations related to how much charge it can store. By replacing graphite with silicon, batteries should be able to store more energy, requiring less material thereby reducing cost and size, according to Advano. Girau began his studies in molecular engineering and initially started working on gene therapies. The initial technology that the executive developed focused on creating surface functionalization in nanoparticles allowing those particles to behave in novel ways. The innovation was taking that research from biology and porting it over into materials science and battery development. The process typically requires several steps to make the create the functional nanoparticles and attach them to silicon, but Advano’s founder says his company has developed a single-step process. For Advano, the key is attaching a reactive nanoparticle to silicon scrap as those scraps are being crushed. Using that process, the company is able to produce functional silicon, according to Girau. “We can improve the performance of any lithium ion battery,” says Girau. “We’re working with consumer electronic battery manufacturers first because the volumes are smaller and we can service those customers sooner.”

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
A new Pinterest feature will allow users to virtually try on products, starting with lipstick, before they shop from retailers like Estée Lauder, Sephora, bareMinerals, Neutrogena, NYX Professional Makeup, YSL Beauté, Lancôme, and Urban Decay from L’Oréal. To use the new feature, pinners will first open Pinterest’s smart camera, “Lens,” while in Search, then click “Try it” to explore the different lipstick shades available. To shop the products, you just swipe up. Another way to access Try on is by typing in lipstick-related terms into Pinterest’s search engine — like “plum lipstick” or “red lips,” for example. Pinterest says that it won’t alter your photo using skin smoothing or other techniques, so you can be sure of what the lipstick looks like on the real you. In addition, the feature has been integrated with Pinterest’s existing skin tone range feature, so users can shop for similar lip shades on skin tones that match their own. While makeup and beauty is a topic that’s often featured on platforms like Instagram and YouTube, Pinterest is also a top destination for those who are shopping for beauty and personal care items. According to Pinterest, more than 52 million people search and engage with beauty content on its platform in the U.S. every month. In addition, a 2018 study from GfK found that 87% of beauty and personal care Pinners come to Pinterest when actively considering what to purchase, the company says. Pinners also regularly turn to the platform to seek out particular lip styles, whether that’s something more traditional like “glossy lips” or “pink lips,” or trendier styles like “ombre lip” or “black lipstick,” for example — all of which were top lip searches in 2019. The company says it started “Try on” with lipstick because it’s one of the most searched beauty-related items on the site. We should point out, it’s also easier to develop technology to virtually try on lipstick than some other makeup items, though. Pinterest says lipstick will be followed by more Try on-enabled beauty products and categories in the future. Pinterest is not the first to launch a virtual makeup experience. YouTube last year debuted an AR Try-On experience that allowed viewers to virtually try on makeup (also initially lipstick) while watching video reviews on its site. But that feature isn’t broadly available across videos as it was offered as an option for brands working with YouTube’s FameBit division as a way to market their makeup via YouTube influencers, not a core YouTube feature.   Other virtual makeup experiences include AR beauty apps like YouCam Makeup, Sephora’s Virtual Artist,  or Ulta’s GLAMLab; as well as selfie editors like FaceApp, Perfect365, Facetune, and others. L’Oréal also offers Live Try-On on its website, and had partnered with Facebook last year to bring virtual makeup to the site. In addition, Target’s online Beauty Studio offers virtual makeup across a number of brands and products. In Pinterest’s case, however, the idea is to capture shoppers’ attention before they know what brand or shade they want to buy, then let them experiment with different shades until they find the right fit. The larger goal is to attract shoppers to Pinterest before they’re ready to type in a brand name on Amazon or Google, so they’ll instead find their way directly to the retailer’s site through Pinterest instead. However, Try on is not an advertising product for Pinterest nor is there a revenue share on sales it inspires. Instead, Pinterest will continue to monetize through advertising. That said, the new feature is meant to draw in users who are ready to shop. And this, in turn, drives engagement for those brands investing in ads on Pinterest. Participating brands may receive insights on the performance of their shopping features, like Try on. But they’re not collecting personal data. We understand the information about engagement and conversion is used in aggregate to make relevant recommendations to Pinterest users. (And users can also disable personalization from their Settings, if they choose.)   The launch of Try arrives as Google finds itself inching further into Pinterest’s territory with recent updates to its competitive bookmarking tool called “Collections,” as well as with its new Shopping vertical, which includes its own smart camera, Google Lens. The new Try on feature is launching today on Pinterest in the U.S., on both iOS and Android mobile. The feature will later expand internationally as well as to more platforms.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
Cooks Venture, the agtech company looking to revolutionize the chicken industry, has today announced the close of a $4 million funding round led by Golden West Food Group. Cooks Venture has been working in stealth for many years, but launched onto the scene in 2018 with a plan to reshape agriculture from the ground up. And the key to that strategy? Chickens. Cooks Venture geneticists and scientists have spent years isolating genetic lines of chickens to create a new breed, called the Heirloom chicken. Most folks don’t know that, no matter what brand of chicken you buy at the store, chances are that it’s one of two breeds, the Cobb 500 or the Ross 308, which are produced by Cobb and Aviagen respectively. Both of these breeds of broilers are fast-growing (they’re ready to be processed in about a month) and use a three-phase feed system for growth. This system, and these breeds, are a big reason why animal activist groups express so much concern over the wellbeing of chicken livestock, often explaining that the birds are too young to carry around all the weight they put on so quickly. Cooks Venture looked to science to solve the problem. The company’s Heirloom chicken can eat a highly diverse diet, and can be raised in about two months. This means that the Heirloom chickens are truly free range, wandering around the farm. It also means that these chickens, with a digestive track that can handle a diverse diet and the ability to exercise, are actually healthier to eat and taste better than your average Cobb 500 or Ross 308, according to the company. But the chickens themselves are only part of the solution. A byproduct of the proliferation of these fast-growing chickens produced by Cobb and Aviagen is that they have to eat, and their diet is very specific. That means that farmers must produce a great deal of one or two crops to feed the millions of chickens out there. The result is that our agricultural land is not being used in an efficient or eco-friendly way. In fact, Cooks Venture founder Matt Wadiak says that 97 percent of our crop production in the United States is used for ethanol or animal feed, which indexes towards corn and soy. Many farmers would love to implement regenerative agricultural practices, a big part of which includes creating a biodiverse ecosystem with many different crops, but who would they sell the extra low-demand crops to? Cooks Venture picks up $12 million to rethink agriculture from the ground up The answer now can be Cooks Venture. With strong digestive systems, Cooks Venture chickens can eat a diet that comes from a more biodiverse farm. Moreover, when Cooks Venture is ready to expand globally, the chickens are able to eat crops local to the ecosystems of emerging nations, such as yucca and quinoa. Cooks Venture has its own farm, and works with farm partners to set up regenerative agricultural practices around producing Heirloom chicken feed. Cooks also does its own processing at its own plant. Golden West Food Group is a manufacturer of meat products and value-add food products like marinated chicken, such as Jack Daniels pulled pork. It’s worth noting that GWFG is not a competitor to Cooks Venture, as it produces no meat products whatsoever, but rather an important distribution partner for the brand. Through the partnership with GWFG, Cooks can start to ramp up commercialization of its chickens, which are currently sold through some retailers, on the Cooks website, and on HelloFresh. As part of the announcement, Cooks Venture is also bringing on Ankur Agrawal as Chief Financial Officer. Wadiak, a cofounder at Blue Apron, worked with Agrawal back in the Blue Apron days and says that his understanding of agricultural finance is top of the line.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
Flipboard, the personalized news aggregation app used by 145 million users per month, is today launching a new feature aimed at bringing local news coverage to 23 cities across the U.S. and Canada, including major metros like New York, L.A, San Francisco, Seattle, D.C., Boston, Dallas, Chicago, and many others. The goal with the new offering is to give Flipboard users an easy way to catch up with local news, sports, dining, real estate, transportation, and weather from a variety of sources, including local newspapers, local TV stations, radio stations, college news sites, and even blogs. Local media outlets have been one of the hardest-hit by the internet, but a Knight Foundation study from October found that people trust local news more than national news. They also think their local reporters are more caring and unbiased compared with their national counterparts. But until now, there hasn’t been an easy way for readers to follow all their local news in a given city or metro — you still have to visit the individual news publications and area blogs separately. Flipboard initially tested the local news product with Toronto, and found it resulted in an almost 10% lift in engagement from those who ended up adding Toronto’s local news to their Flipboard interests versus those who didn’t. At launch, Flipboard users will be able to find the 23 Local sections inside the Explore tab in the Flipboard app. Once added, they’ll then be able to browse their local news in Flipboard alongside the other content they’re interested in, across Flipboard’s wide variety of topics. In addition, some local publications also organize their content based on local interests. For example, The Miami Herald today publishes 15 different magazines to Flipboard on topics like The Miami Heat or even Cuba. The Chicago Sun-Times publishes 24 magazines, like Chicago Politics and Chicago Education. And The Mercury News has 37 magazines on topics like The San Francisco 49ers and the California Wildfires. When articles are added to their Magazines, Flipboard’s topic engine classifies the content then recommends it to people interested in related subjects. For the local news initiative, Flipboard will also now recommend stories to local audiences, based on their IP address. However, Flipboard says it doesn’t track a user’s precise location — the IP address gives it a rough idea of who to suggest these local news topics to. Flipboard’s advertisers don’t care about precise location, either. They target based on user interests, like travel. Now they’ll be able to add a city metro region as an “interest” they can consider when targeting ads. In the longer term, Flipboard sees the addition of local news and information as a jumping-off point that could allow for further partnerships in the future. For example, Flipboard could partner with ticket sellers or event platforms like Ticketmaster and Eventbrite to connect readers to tickets for local events, or to Airbnb for opportunities related to travel. But one thing it won’t do is try to compete with Facebook as a place for local community members to interact, as they do today in local Facebook Groups. Instead, Flipboard’s Local news product is only about connecting users to their interests. “We applaud Flipboard’s thoughtful efforts to elevate local news to its users and are delighted that two of our largest metros, the Miami Herald and The Sacramento Bee, will be part of this inaugural initiative,” said Jessica Gilbert, Senior Director of Product and Experience at McClatchy, in a statement about the launch. “We’re excited that our high impact local journalism, including investigative, opinion, sports and ‘news you can use’ will be surfaced and look forward to continuing to collaborate with Flipboard on spotlighting local journalism,” she added. The new initiative requires that local publishers participate by publishing their content onto Flipboard. To do so, they have to first create an account then use the Flipboard bookmarklet to start curating content into the platform. To automate submissions, they can instead submit their RSS feed to Flipboard. From then on, their content will automatically be analyzed and indexed by Flipboard’s A.I. Flipboard plans to expand the list of local metros to smaller cities and even smaller boroughs or communities over time. In the case of the latter, this could involve rounding up more local bloggers and curators, rather than only relying on the wider metro region’s bigger newspapers. This is an area where Flipboard could be useful, as it’s capable of ingesting all sorts of content — including things like Twitter feeds, RSS feeds and blogs. For instance, the local section could be augmented with the Twitter feed from the local high school sports team or college newspaper. Local news is still an area tech companies are looking to solve. Digital news company Patch now uses a combination of humans and software to write its local news. And both Google and Facebook have made investments in local news, despite having been complicit in harming local news in the first place. For participating publishers, being available on Flipboard will give them a different way to engage with and expand their audience, rather than relying on other traditional advertising and marketing opportunities, including social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, and digital ads. There’s no cost for publishers to participate on Flipboard. But for now, that means it only indexes free content — for paywalled content, users are sent to the website instead, where they either get a certain number of free articles per month or can log in as a subscriber. At launch, the 23 metros regions covered include: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washingon, D.C.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
A security flaw in LabCorp’s website exposed thousands of medical documents, like test results containing sensitive health data. It’s the second incident in the past year after LabCorp said in June that 7.7 million patients had been affected by a credit card data breach of a third-party payments processor. The breach also hit several other laboratory testing companies, including Quest Diagnostics. This latest security lapse was caused by a vulnerability on a part of LabCorp’s website, understood to host the company’s internal customer relationship management system. Although the system appeared to be protected with a password, the part of the website designed to pull patient files from the back-end system was left exposed. That unprotected web address was visible to search engines and was later cached by Google, making it accessible to anyone who knew where to look. The cached search result only returned one document — a document containing a patient’s health information. But changing and incrementing the document number in the web address made it possible to access other documents. The bug is now fixed. Using computer commands, we determined the approximate number of exposed documents by asking the exposed server if a document existed by returning certain properties about the file — such as its size — but not the document itself. This allowed us to see if a document was on the server without accessing large amounts of patient information, and thus preventing any further exposure to the patient’s privacy. The results showed at least 10,000 documents were exposed. Of the handful of files we examined to understand what kind of data was exposed, the documents largely appeared to affect cancer patients under the laboratory’s Integrated Oncology speciality testing unit. The documents contained names, dates of birth, and in some cases Social Security numbers of patients. The documents also contained lab test results and diagnostic data, a class of data considered protected health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). A couple of the documents we reviewed contained a footer notice, which said: “This document contains private and confidential health information protected under state and federal law.” Running afoul of HIPAA can result in heavy fines. “This is a massive privacy issue — and one that could impact affected users and patients for years to come,” said Rachel Tobac, a hacker, social engineer, and founder of SocialProof Security. “The sensitive nature of those documents and the leak of private medical status is a huge privacy violation for those patients for obvious reasons, but also sadly for some possibly less glaring reasons, as well.” Tobac, who reviewed our findings, said medical information can be “terribly useful” for criminals in identity theft, extortion, and phishing, because the victim may be more likely to trust the sender “under the assumption that the message is legitimate because it contains information only their medical provider could or should know.” The vulnerability was found in-house at TechCrunch and was reported to LabCorp, which later pulled the server offline. Although the web address remains in Google’s search results, the link is now dead. “I can confirm that we have terminated access to the system,” said LabCorp spokesperson Donald Von Hogan. But the company would not ay if it planed to inform patients and state authorities under data breach notification laws to the security lapse. LabCorp’s Von Hogan said in a call that the company would not confirm the documents found on the exposed server “are in fact LabCorp information.” TechCrunch reached out to a number of patients to verify their information. Only one person confirmed by phone that the information in their exposed file was accurate, but expressed that they did not want to be named for this story. Two other people whose names were in the files had since passed away, according to obituaries. 7.7 million LabCorp records stolen in same hack affecting Quest

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
Pecan.ai, a startup that wants to help business analysts build machine learning models in an automated fashion, emerged from stealth today and announced an $11 million Series A. The round was led by Dell Technologies Capital and S Capital. Along with a previously unannounced $4 million seed round, the company has raised a total of $15 million. CEO Zohar Bronfman says he and co-founder Noam Brezis, whom he has known for more than a decade, started the company with the goal of building an automated machine learning platform. They observed that much of the work involved in building machine learning models is about getting data in a form that the algorithm can consume, something they’ve automated in Pecan. “The innovative thing about Pecan is that we do all of the data preparation and data, engineering, and data processing, and [complete the] various technical steps [for you],” Bronfman explained. The target user is a business analyst using business intelligence and analytics tools, who wants to bring the power of machine learning to their data analysis, but lacks the skills to do it. “The business analyst knows the data very well, knows the business problem very well and speaks directly to the business owner of the problem — and they are currently conducting basic analytics,” he said. Pecan includes a series of templates designed to answer common business questions. They divide these into two main categories. The first is customer questions like how much churn do we have, and the second is business operations questions related to things like risk or fraud. If the question doesn’t fall into one of these categories, it is possible to build your own template, but Bronfman says that is really for more advanced users. Pecan template catalogue and screen pulling churn data from various data sources. Photo: Pecan.ai. After you select the template and point to a data source such as a database, data lake or CRM repository, Pecan does the work of connecting to the source and pulling data into a dashboard. You can also export the algorithm for use in an external service or application, or Pecan can automatically update a data repository with data the algorithm is measuring such as churn rate. The founders have been building this platform since 2016 when they founded the company, and have been working with beta customers for the last 18 months or so. Today, they emerge from stealth and bring Pecan to market in earnest. Bronfman plans to move to New York City and open a sales and marketing office in the US, while Brezis will remain in Tel Aviv and oversee engineering. It’s early days for this startup, but with $11 million in capital, it has a chance to take the product to market and see what happens.

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posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
The UK government will allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to play a limited role in supplying the country’s 5G networks, it has been announced today. The government said the package of restrictions being announced on “high risk” 5G vendors will allow it to “mitigate the potential risk posed by the supply chain and to combat the range of threats, whether cyber criminals, or state sponsored attacks”. The plan for managing risks related to the next generation of cellular network technology ends months of uncertainty over the issue — which has seen warnings that the delay is harming the UK’s competitiveness and its relations abroad. Commenting on the decision in a statement, digital secretary Baroness Morgan said: “The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high risk vendors. “This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now. It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.” The decision not to bar Huawei from upgrades to domestic networks signals a failure of U.S. diplomacy at the highest level. In recent days American has been applying top-level pressure to its European ally — with secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, tweeting Sunday night that the country faced a “momentus” decision. “The truth is that only nations able to protect their data will be sovereign,” he wrote. President Trump has also made his preference for US allies to ban Huawei amply clear in public. While the decision by UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, not to bow to US pressure is likely to cause shockwaves of displeasure in Washington, the move had nonetheless looked likely for months. Last summer a UK parliamentary committee concluded there was no technical reason for excluding Huawei — though it suggested “there may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”. And while a report last March by a UK oversight body set up to evaluation the Chinese networking giant’s approach to security was withering in its assessment of its approach to security it did not call for an outright ban. Then in April a leak from the National Security Council indicated that the prior Conservative administration was preparing to provide a level of access to Huawei. Since then the government had said it was waiting for a Telecoms Supply Chain review to be completed. (A UK General Election also intervened, as well as the ongoing national preoccupation of Brexit.) Today marks the conclusion of the review, and with it the announcement of new restrictions to manage 5G risks. The government says vendors such as Huawei will be allowed a limited role in UK 5G networks — with exclusion from “sensitive ‘core'” parts of networks. There will also be a 35 per cent cap on high risk vendor access to non-sensitive parts of the network (aka the access network, or periphery, where devices connect to mobile phone masts). This cap will be kept under review — and could shrink further “as the market diversifies”, it suggested. More generally, the government says it intends to work to support market diversification — saying it’s developing “an ambitious strategy” to further that goal. “This will seek to attract established vendors who are not present in the UK, supporting the emergence of new, disruptive entrants to the supply chain, and promoting the adoption of open, interoperable standards that will reduce barriers to entry,” it adds. A key issue related to the decision is that Huawei is the leading global vendor in 5G, with relatively few alternative providers — such as the European firms Ericsson and Nokia — none of whom are considered to offer a like-for-like option at this stage. So a full ban on Huawei at this stage risks delays to rolling out national 5G networks which could hamper national competitiveness on an international stage. “We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security. High risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks,” Morgan also said in her statement, adding: “We can now move forward and seize the huge opportunities of 21st century technology.” The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) will issue guidance to UK telecoms operators regarding the limits on high risk vendors — which also include that such providers should be: Excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks in Critical National Infrastructure Excluded from sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases Questions remain over how the ‘core’ of a 5G network is being defined; and even whether “sensitive” parts of the network can be isolated in 5G network topology, given the extensive role software plays across such next-gen networks. But the government has ignored critical voices claiming there’s no way to securely isolate a 5G core — such as former Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who has said there isn’t “a satisfactory mitigation of the risk” where 5G networks are concerned — and is spinning the restrictions as “the most stringent set of controls ever”. It further claims they will “substantially improve the security and resilience of our critical telecoms networks” — and it’s doing so with the public blessing of the security services (which have previously signalled confidence that any risk associated with Huawei can be managed). In a supporting statement today, Ciaran Martin, CEO of the NCSC — the public facing arm of GCHQ — said: “This package will ensure that the UK has a very strong, practical and technically sound framework for digital security in the years ahead.” “High risk vendors have never been – and never will be – in our most sensitive networks,” he added. “Taken together these measures add up to a very strong framework for digital security.” Martin said the agency has already issued advice to telcos “to help with the industry rollout of 5G and full fibre networks in line with the government’s objectives” — suggesting telcos are being encouraged to get on with rollouts and avoid any further delays by waiting for formal legislation. The government says it will seek to legislate “at the earliest opportunity” to put in place the necessary powers for implementing the new telecoms security framework. But the signal to get on with 5G in the meanwhile looks clear. Unsurprisingly Huawei has welcomed the decision. In a statement, Huawei VP Victor Zhang said: Huawei is reassured by the UK government’s confirmation that we can continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track. This evidence-based decision will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future. It gives the UK access to world-leading technology and ensures a competitive market. We have supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in the UK for more than 15 years. We will build on this strong track record, supporting our customers as they invest in their 5G networks, boosting economic growth and helping the UK continue to compete globally. We agree a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology.

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posted about 7 hours ago on techcrunch
The value of tech-enabled companies is coming into focus as several American unicorns test the public markets. The data show that some venture-backed companies often grouped with technology companies are worth just a fraction of their tech-first cousins. By tech-enabled business, we mean a company that has a technology element to its operations but doesn’t generate the sort of high-margin or recurring revenue that tech companies are famous for today, especially in the software market. The impact of this increasingly clear divergence in how companies are valued will continue to shake out over the next few years as some of the hundreds of private unicorns attempt to go public. Today, with new information from Casper and its fellow unicorn One Medical — not to mention some historical data from flops like Blue Apron, WeWork and others — we can begin to piece together an understanding of what counts as tech, what doesn’t and the value delta between them. Two companies, two prices Picking fresh ground as our starting point, One Medical is hoping to best its private valuation in its IPO, while Casper is not.

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